Conceived as an alternative to the superclubs that dotted the party landscape in the mid '90s, Layo Paskin and Richard West did something that seems obvious in retrospect: They put the clubber—and the music—first. At the time, it was a revolutionary concept, but now it seems like such a simple one. All great ideas work like that.
As the End prepares to close its doors later this month, we caught up with some of the major players to tell us the story of The End: How it came to be, what the venue meant to them and how it transformed itself into one of the most popular clubs in London.
Layo Paskin: I was throwing warehouse parties in London and I had worked a few jobs in the music industry—the ones where you work for six months with no pay—and I realized that I didn't want to work on the industry side of the music industry. I wanted to work in the creative side. My dad is an architect, so I told him, "Let me know if you find any spaces that we can use, before they're turned into something else." And one day he came back to me and said, "I found a space that the owner thinks might make a great nightclub." I was 22 and didn't have money, so I called up Richard (Richard West, AKA Mr C) and he came to the space the next day and said, "Yeah, let's do it." Without Mr C, it never would've happened.
Ty Vigrass: I first heard about The End from one of the teaser flyers on the street. The flyer simply said, "The End is coming." I had no idea what it was, but then I saw an ad in The Evening Standard and was asking for bartenders in a new trendy nightclub that had yet to be completed—which was The End. So I got an interview and was lucky enough to get a job. Liam O'Hare showed me around, and I was struck by the little things like the free water fountain. I knew that this was going to be one of the trendiest places to work, and also a place designed by clubbers for clubbers.
Johnno Burgess: I was running a magazine called Jockey Slut up in Manchester, and when the club opened up to much fanfare, we decided of course to cover it.
Ty Vigrass: That first night, Mr C was DJing and he was wearing a lime green suit.
Layo Paskin: When I turned the corner and saw it for the first time all lit up with people and everything…it was just the most amazing feeling. But at the end of the night, I can't ever remember feeling more awful.
Ty Vigrass: I threw tons of free alcohol down people's throats that first night. It was one of those nights where the bar staff was probably as drunk as the punters.
Layo Paskin: We made a terrible mistake by offering free drinks all night.
Ty Vigrass: The floor was polished oak, and we used glass for the alcohol. We didn't know any better, but by the end of the night, all of the glass had been trod into the nice, polished floor. I remember Layo's Dad had his head in his hands after that first night.
Dancing around the DJ booth island
In a world where worshiping the on-high spinner is commonplace, The End changed all that. By putting the DJ in the scrum, the club made each night intimate and personal.
Epic all-nighters with Danny Howells
We didn't want to play favourites, but since our distinguished panel failed to mention him, we wanted to pay tribute: The floor-level DJ booth was perfect for this populist, and made it all the easier to feed him countless shots throughout the night.
The free water fountain
A minor thing, surely, but it's the little things that made The End so special. Every punter has filled up their water bottle in a bathroom sink at one time or another—The End simply legitimized the practice.
Underrated throughout the club's history, AKA was the perfect pre- and post-night venue for clubbers that needed a break from the hedonistic confines of The End. Light, airy and essential to the experience.
The top-notch soundsystem
You may have heard tracks like Layo & Bushwacka!'s "Love Story," but it's hard to say that you've heard them until you've sampled them on the speakers at The End. Sterling sound for a sterling club.
Layo Paskin: Mr C and I were both into a certain ethos from our warehouse parties that was in opposition to what was going on at the time. We thought that things had become hugely commercialized, and one of the main things that we tried to do was actually cater to the public rather than what worked for the club.
James Holden: I remember that The End was one of the first places in London where I would go out and have fun, whereas many of the other big clubs in the city felt like effort and it just wasn't a great experience.
Erol Alkan: I first heard of The End when Boutique and Wall of Sound were putting on parties there in the late '90s, being into The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim and that kind of sound. Although there weren't that many people of my persuasion there—because alternative music back then was a super niche thing, to me, The End always felt like the superclub that an indie kid could feel comfortable at.
James Holden: At The End, it kind of felt like they'd invited you, if that makes any sense. The attitude of the place—the free drinking water—were just different than any other club like it.
Erol Alkan: It's a good example of something being run by people who are passionate and committed to what they're doing. That's a rare thing, especially in London. It's a club which was built entirely from scratch.
A club's atmosphere owes much to its music, of course, and The End had some of the best nights of the week on the London partying calendar. From tech house to drum & bass to indie, The End covered all the bases and took chances on sounds that wouldn't normally be regarded as club-fillers.
Layo Paskin: Subterrain with Mr C and Bushwacka and I, DTPM—the gay night on Sundays—and Speed, which was the first drum & bass all-nighter really defined the blueprint for what The End became.
Ty Vigrass: One night at DTPM Grace Jones came and one of the bartenders asked for her autograph. She beckoned him closer, only to take what seemed like half of his ear off.
Will Saul: The Subterrain night was always great there. That was when tech house was being born as it were. I remember Layo and Bushwacka! were in the Lounge playing amazing sets when their first album came out.
Ty Vigrass: I was a drum & bass head, so Speed was one of my favorite nights early on. I remember seeing Grooverider, Alex Reece, LTJ Bukem.
Johnno Burgess: Classic with Derrick Carter and Rob Mello was also an amazing night that I would go out to see, even when I was running my own night.
The co-founder and creative director of The End, his unerring ear for quality has helped guide the club.
This one-time bartender thanking his lucky stars worked his way through the ranks to become general manager of AKA.
The Yacht Rock lover and man behind Bugged Out helped program many celebrated nights at the club.
The Simple/Aus label head started his night relatively late in The End's history, but he clubbed there from the very beginning.
The sensitive techno of this producer and his Border Community label helped soundtrack The End for a number of years.
Indie and dance don't mix? Hardly. Just ask Erol Alkan and anyone that attended his legendary Trash parties.
Johnno Burgess: Our first Bugged Out night there was in October 2002. We had been homeless for a number of months, and Layo and I had gone to Brazil together for Carnival and danced together as green birds. I think it was around that time that he told me that there might be a spot opening up at the club.
Layo Paskin: We felt that there was no reason that a really good club couldn't also have really good music. It sounds funny now, but at the time it really wasn't the case. So many of the clubs that were around were so into that commercial sound.
James Holden: Having a label night there was great, but quite daunting at first. We never really saw Border Community as the type of label to fill a club.
Johnno Burgess: Around the time that we started there, electroclash was breaking and we were inspired by that. It felt like a total breath of fresh air at the time, even if history has maligned it somewhat. It was a real sea change that needed to happen. We were bringing in people like Ivan Smagghe for his first London gig.
Erol Alkan: It was great to see bands like Klaxons and Bloc Party in the club, and to see them go on to great success.
James Holden: I remember going to a great all-night gig by Laurent Garnier. By the end, he was playing Latin drumming records. Similarly, our last night that we had there was great. It was kind of like the best funeral ever.
Anyone who talks about The End inevitably comes back to the innovative layout of the club.
Will Saul: The fact that people could get behind you as you DJ'd was great. It made you raise your game as a DJ. And when it went well, everyone knew it was going well. And when it goes bad, everyone knew that too.
Johnno Burgess: The DJ booth was in such in an unusual place in that the DJ had to walk through the crowd to get to it. The norm at the time was that there would often be a back door where the DJ could go straight into the booth without having to get anywhere near the public. That added to the excitement, though. I remember when we had Mylo play at the 10th birthday, and Rob Brighton played The Pixies' "Here Comes the Man" as he walked to the stage.
Will Saul: The End had a real feeling of intimacy to it—almost the polar opposite experience of Fabric. It had a low ceiling, everything was connected in an obvious way and it just felt really personal. I like the Fabric experience, The End was just a very different one.
Layo Paskin: It's funny, because even though Fabric hit us very hard—went after the same crowd, same sort of nights, etc.—in the end, it was the best thing possible. We ended up getting stronger, and better at what we tried to do, because we had to do so to compete. In many ways, that was a defining moment for us.
With the closure of a variety of venues in 2008 in London, and The End closing its doors in a few short weeks, we asked our panel of experts whether there would ever be another venue like The End in the capital city.
Erol Alkan: Will there ever be another venue like The End? I hope so. I think it would be quite brave—braver than before—to consider opening a club, but I'd applaud anyone that tries to open one for the same reasons that The End did. I think there are enough creative, forward-thinking people in London that it could happen.
Johnno Burgess: The size is perfect. But to get all those elements together—location, size, staff—is going to be tough.
Layo Paskin: I don't know if there will ever be another venue in London like The End. A lot of clubs have people with passion, and a lot of clubs look fantastic. But most clubs exist for the bottom line, and I don't think that was ever the case at The End. We had to pay back all of our debt, and we ran it as a business, but doing it well always came first in all of our decisions.
Johnno Burgess: One of the things about The End that was great was that it had the same staff for much of its run, from the people manning the door to the general manager. Our relationship with the staff became very close and that's one of the things that I'll miss the most.
Ty Vigrass: I never really started at the club with the idea to make a career of being a bartender. All I knew was that the club was the best club in London at the time that it opened, but I slowly became aware that it was a club that attracted some of the best people to work with. I didn't stay for as long as I did simply because I liked working there, but also because of the great friendships that I have made.
Will Saul: There will always be clubs that come and go, but I can't really see a club with a location that central in London with so much history. It would be very surprising to see one. By that point I would imagine that I won't be clubbing anymore. [laughs]
James Holden: All it takes is someone with a pleasant, semi-altruistic attitude to running a club. That's not a big ask...is it?