February 2011 was an especially bleak time for Hastings. Just months after the pier was torched to a black exoskeleton in a dubious case of teen arson, the town's chief club, The Crypt, closed its doors after 33 years. You could argue that both had been in steady decline since the turn of the millennium, but it was a weighty blow nonetheless. Revellers from the venue's heyday and artists who had launched careers there (Danny Howells and John Digweed par example) mourned, but it was the youngsters who now had nowhere to go. Something had to be done. On March 30th, we found out just what exactly, in the form of WestExit's grand unveiling.
A project 13 months in the making, a half-assed "lick of paint" job this was not. The shabby, sweaty and occasionally sewer-stricken Crypt had been transformed into Hastings' first (mini) super club, complete with Funktion One sound. Expectations were high, bank balances were low and finishing touches were being made just minutes before the doors opened—in places you could even see the glue still drying. As the slow trickle of wide-eyed locals began filling the near-unrecognisable space, for the dedicated team of friends and fans involved, it must have all suddenly started to make sense. Tonight was a fresh chapter for Hastings, albeit christened by mostly older faces.
Photo credit: James Green
Even the evening's master of ceremonies, Danny Howells, was looking squarely ahead. Despite his cultivated affinities with the original space (the Crypt was his first club residency, landed a year before the more widely touted Bedrock gig), his five-hour set favored new material over token heritage nods. The most prominent exception was Donna Summer's timeless classic "I Feel Love," dropped with the same summative poignancy as Richie Havens' "Going Back To My Roots" was five years ago, when the Hastings native last paid homage here. It's exactly this balance between thoughtful selection and crowd-pleasing tactics that have turned the hometown hero into a globetrotting DJ—a style he proudly claims was learnt over 20 years ago in this very spot.
For the first night in the longest time, whispers of some kind of future for this end-of the-line little town became palpable: Hastings now has a club that could rival its southern-tipped UK equivalents. But the hard work is far from over. As a former Crypt-goer whose early clubbing years were spent wading through the swill—and loving it—I wish WestExit all the best.