Trade – often copied, never equalled

Thirty years ago, in October 1990, an idea was born that changed the face of night clubbing forever!

03. Trade night club, early 2000s WP
          Trade night club, early 2000s

The 1980s’ London gay-club scene was already thriving, playing disco, alternative electronic and early house music in venues such as Heaven, the gay ‘superclub’ in Charing Cross. Then the arrival of dance music and a new drug, ecstasy, in the late 1980s changed the face of clubbing forever. Trade, the capital’s first legal after-hours dance club, was to take it to yet another level.

All-night bender
Advertised as ‘the original all-night bender’, Trade was launched in Islington by Irish-born Laurence Malice on 29 October 1990 at Turnmills, 63b Clerkenwell Road, EC1, near Farringdon Station. Laurence’s aim was to create a safe haven where people could be themselves and to help stop the risks gay men faced after clubs closed, such as ‘queer-bashing’ or arrest from cruising. Above all, he wanted it to be a place where clubbers could escape the fear and homophobic backlash that the AIDS crisis brought during the 1980s. Trade also had the unusual opening times of 3am and 5am (until 1pm) on Sunday mornings! This set it apart from other clubs and it soon became ‘the’ place to be. Its exclusivity further fuelled the desire to be a part of what Trade had to offer.

01. The first flyer for Trade nightclub, EC1, 29 October 1990

First flyer for Trade nightclub, EC1, 29 October 1990

Spiritual home
Clerkenwell itself was to become a spiritual home for the followers of Trade. For centuries the area had a history of being a sanctuary for those not wishing to conform to conventional living. Initially, the area seemed an unlikely place to go weekend clubbing; city workers frequented the district during the week, while the weekends were quiet with little passing business. The arrival, however, of Trade dramatically altered the situation.

Trade changed club culture through the people that it brought together. While the club night was perceived to cater for the LGBTQ+ community, as long as an individual had the right attitude they were welcome at Trade. The freedom to self-express through art, music and fashion saw this unique after-hours experience become a haven for creativity.

02. Entrance to Trade nightclub at Turnmills, 63b Clerkenwell Road, early 1990s WP
Entrance to Trade nightclub at Turnmills,
63b Clerkenwell Road, early 1990s

The host location, Turnmills, quickly became one of the UK’s most renowned and state-of-the-art night clubs presenting other famous events such as The Gallery, Heavenly Social (featuring The Chemical Brothers) and Smartie Party. On special events, such as Trade ‘birthdays’, the rear-located gym and other rooms were opened to cope with demand; club capacity could reach over 1000 people. It was Trade, however, that was most admired and the club’s motto quickly became “often copied, never equalled.”

Trade would regularly employ go-go dancers and drag queens and, on special occasions, such as its birthdays and themed nights, extra performers and singers were hired to intensify the production. Staff also enjoyed running other special Trade events. These included Pride, London’s annual LGBTQ+ march and festival, and Christmas Day when 10pm was the opening time and the atmosphere totally different; it felt even more decadent to be partying that particular night!

04. Poster for Trade’s 12th Birthday, 26 October 2002 WP
‘Trans Europe Excess!’ Poster for Trade’s 12th Birthday, 26 October 2002

Journey through sound
The music at Trade was innovative. It was first to offer club goers the concept of a journey through sound. Hard-edged Techno music intensified the whole experience. Due to the creativity of Trade’s DJs, who included Malcolm Duffy, Tony De Vit, Ian M and Pete Wardman, it became the birthplace of Hard House. As a result, albums were released and tours outside London were undertaken, boldly taking Trade’s distinctive sound to a mainstream audience. Gender at Trade was never an issue either. Among the sought-after female DJs brought in by Laurence were Smokin’Jo, Sister Bliss, Queen Maxine, Vicki Red, EJ Doubell and Rachel Auburn.

Trade went on to have a hugely influential and profound effect on the British and international club scene, as well as to all those who stepped onto its dance floors. The club didn’t restrict itself to just Clerkenwell. It often toured with its resident DJs, taking Trade music and the experience to new clubbers. From its base in EC1, Trade visited most of the UK’s major cities and it enjoyed its own arena at Creamfields dance music festival.

Trade across the world
Trade was also a brand whose name and music reputation was to spread across the world, with events in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dublin, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, Miami, Rio, Sydney, Tel Aviv and many more international locations. Trade enjoyed residencies in Ibiza, Los Angeles, New York, Paris and even Moscow. It made appearances on TV, most notably in 1998 with the Channel 4 documentary Trade: The All-Night Bender.

Last dance
Sadly, due to the closure of Turnmills as a clubbing venue,  Trade’s final club night in EC1 was Sunday 16 March 2008. The club opened its doors at 05:00, finishing over 12 hours later! During the event, Laurence Malice thanked clubbers and associates for their support and requested that everyone “really go for it!” Trade DJs past and present, including Malcolm Duffy, Ian M, Steve Thomas, Daz Saund and Pete Wardman, all performed to a sell-out crowd, and it fell to Wardman to play the last set – the final record being Schöneberg by Marmion.

05. Turnmill, 63 Clerkenwell Road, EC1, August 2020 WP
Turnmill, 63 Clerkenwell Road, EC1, August 2020. This six-storey
office building replaced the former club venue in 2015.

Glorious celebration
Trade continued having one-off events in venues around London before settling at Egg on York Way, Islington, and then only celebrating its birthday each year. It was decided that Trade’s 25th birthday event at Egg in October 2015 would be its last, ending in a glorious celebration of Trade history. The sheer drive and creativity of Trade saw it become the first gay super-club night, an innovator in music and fashion and a unique brand, promoting for many, a unique way of life. And, it all began 30 years ago in EC1!

Mark Aston
Islington Museum | Islington Local History Centre, 2020

Article first appeared in the EC1 Echo, No. 6, October/November 2020. Reproduced with thanks.

Images reproduced courtesy of Islington’s Pride Archive (at Islington Local History Centre), collecting and celebrating Islington’s LGBTQ+ Heritage.

Visit Islington Museum’s 2015 exhibition celebrating the 25th anniversary of Trade: Trade – often copied, never equalled

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