New Year’s Eve should be the biggest night of the year for the local club scene. RORY KELLY paid a visit to Phase, a new venue hoping to transform Croydon’s night-time feel
Clubbing in Croydon has a problem.
Despite being an incubator for some of the most influential dance music of the past decade (grime and drum and bass), the club scene in Croydon has always been deeply uncool. Croydon’s Tiger Tiger (may she Rest In Peace) was even cheesier than its counterpart in central London. A recent addition to the town centre scene, Funhouse, is a night-club meets jungle-gym venue that has the unsettling vibe of middle-aged men wearing overly-tight T-shirts trying to chat up girls half their age. Somehow its main attraction, a plastic ball pit sticky with booze, and maybe worse, has done little to rehabilitate Croydon’s night-time image as naff and out of touch.
Phase hopes to change all that.
Phase is trying to exemplify all the trends popular in clubbing right now, in decor, music, and atmosphere. The venue, on Crown Hill, just off Surrey Street, sports a mix of the now expected post-industrial chic, with coloured lights breaking through the darkness at every opportunity.
Smooth, grey concrete floors sweep from end to end of every room, sleek and pristine, at least for now. The two bars are decorated with pipes and caging, illuminated by lights that fade and flash. At the same time rigging with strips of LEDs criss-cross the ceilings, and in the corners what appear to be enormous, translucent white water tankers flicker from colour to colour.
The combination of dark furnishings with abundant lighting keeps the place suitably atmospheric without being too gloomy. Mirrors cover the wall furthest from the entrance, keeping the first-floor dance room from feeling too much like a sinister basement. There is plenty of seating, some in the form of booths where groups of men drink and laugh and scowl and try to work up the courage to leave the safety of the herd. In another corner, about 10 small tables with accompanying stools are lit by hanging bulbs, surprisingly pub-like for a room trying to mimic the look and feel of a warehouse rave.
The seating points us to the first problem.
When I visited, last weekend, on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year, when you might normally expect a venue to be heaving, most of the stools, as with most of the dance floor, are conspicuously empty even at the peak time of post-2am (Phase is licensed to be open until 4am, what the management calls “Curfew”).
It’s a testament to the atmosphere of Phase that it doesn’t feel completely tragic to be in a club so empty. The crowd are mostly young, the majority of whom do not seem especially embarrassed to be in the largely empty room.
Most importantly of all, it is not cheesy.
The look of the place helps, but it is also greatly down to the music. Headliner Bontan is a more techno-oriented DJ than I expected (the club promises to offer the heavier sounds of drum and bass in the future). But it is contemporary and cool, evocative of the Croydon people praise when they talk about Stormzy, not the one they mock when they reference Tiger Tiger.
Bontan also has the sense to pitch to the size of his crowd: the music isn’t too heavy, nor are there too many drops, which keeps the music and the customers – even me, whose dance moves are usually bad enough even in the safety of a crowd – moving enough so that he doesn’t look like a teenager spinning decks at his little sister’s birthday.
Regarding the cheese-factor, he also does the most important thing of all: he keeps his mouth shut.
This is not imply Bontan is without eloquent remarks or wry observations. But when an overly eager DJ starts doing his Radio 1 voice while giving shoutouts, making bad jokes, offering creepy comments, and self-promoting, the “cheesy” rot really starts to set in. If your venue isn’t dead already, a musical act that doubles as a town-crier will kill it for you.
Entry is affordable, often free before midnight (which admittedly would surely have been as lively as the British Museum) and £5 after. Their New Year’s Eve party tonight – over-18s only – is £11.20. The venue has a mixed programme laid out for the coming month, including cabaret shows with jugglers, and stand-up comedy nights.
At £5.60 for a spirit-mixer, bar prices are decent when compared with the usual blood-letting in London clubs.
Phase is of its time: industrial-chic, concrete everything, and techno music are the dominant trends. Phase’s only real innovation is to do it in Croydon. In our humble borough’s clubs, it has been the kitsch that rules supreme.
Phase is managed by a Lambeth-based club operator who run the Prince of Wales in Brixton, and their Wayne Saunders told the Evening Standard that, “We’re committed to offering a platform for emerging artists and a hub for established acts from the underground electronic music scene, as well as developing a performance space for local and London-wide talent from spoken word, cabaret, comedy and live music.”
The council has even jumped on the bandwagon, claiming Phase to be part of the Town Hall’s Croydon Music City campaign and calling it “a welcome addition to Croydon’s musical ecosystem”.
But as clubbing will undoubtedly keep changing in London and elsewhere, the question is if Phase can stay fresh and bring something of the cool Croydon to mainstream consumers, or if it will fall back behind the curve and become another Croydon relic?
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