Exiting East London's Shadwell station sometime in the early afternoon you could sense something big was happening—it's not often you find ticket-touts plying their trade outside house and techno events. On the short walk to the venue the streets were lined with 20-and 30-somethings in fancy dress, with costumes ranging from the banal (zombie) to the downright terrifying (Bane from Batman). Inside, the energy was palpable, as the blood-soaked hoards moved across the vast space. For anyone that hasn't been to Tobacco Dock, it looks and feels like a Victorian shopping mall, not dissimilar to Covent Garden. Upstairs, various rooms, including the cavernous main space and the smaller third room, feed off a large central area, while in the basement a car park houses a long, sweaty rectangle that forms room two. At Drumcode, the latter would host the hardest techno.
But before the likes of Nina Kraviz, Happa and Len Faki took to the decks downstairs, Paul Woolford span a slamming set of dark US garage and swinging techno. The sound here was crisp and loud and the lighting minimal, fusing with the bare surroundings to give off that real illegal-rave vibe. Upstairs, things didn't feel quite so edgy, though Alan Fitzpatrick did a good job of working the main room with cut after cut of his catchy, thrusting techno (his own "Truant" went off particularly hard). Later, in room three, the most intimate and least crowded space by far, Max Cooper turned out a mixed bag of his own cosmic techno, classics like Slam's "Positive Education" and The Prodigy's "Poison," and the odd experimental bit. After so many relentless 4/4s, the variety felt refreshing.
It's not easy to pull off an event of this size, but the usual problem areas—queues, toilets, overcrowding—all ran smoothly on the day. Every time I surveyed the scene people appeared to be having a genuinely brilliant time. Even for someone as difficult as Happa, who followed a slick set of funky acid from Nina Kraviz, the audience stuck about and patiently consumed his distorted beats. Drumcode and LWE have forged a winning partnership over the years, and this party will go down as one of their best.
Photo credit: Luke Baker