Picture yourself in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Bristol, 4 storeys high in what was once an office block intended for nothing more exciting than cubed admin desks. Water cooler chat on a Monday. Dress-down Fridays. In 2017, Bristol’s underground scene has something else in mind.
The Office usually plays host to a private swingers club, but on this summer’s night it was taken over by Elektro Beast’s 8th event. After a 20 minute cab ride from the city centre I was greeted at the door by host Lagoon and ushered to the front of the queue. Being a club-kid in Bristol’s gay scene, the confidence she exuded in this slightly unsettling derelict foyer made the warmth of introduction no surprise when reflecting on the encounter. I wanted to speak to Lagoon about her presence as part of the event beyond her lip-sync which she performs at every event.
However, it soon became apparent that the skills she had honed over the past 3 years as a host had left little room for serious discussion. “The possibility of a BJ” was her snap response when I enquired about her role in the event. Sensing my desire for a thoughtful response, with the drop of a blue painted facial expression she stated “entertainment”, but what followed was a theme that became increasingly apparent throughout the night. She explained that in her role (and Elektro Beast as a collective) she is offering a “homely environment that moves separate from other raves”. As I walked off, she welcomed familiar faces and directed them upstairs. But as they exchanged pleasantries, it began to dawn on me that the “homely environment” she had mentioned was not a physical comfort but something that consistently drew back the same audience event after event.
Making my way up to the 4th floor I entered through dark double doors and my eyes adjusted to an array of neon wall decorations that spanned from ceiling to floor in a manner that warped logistical perspective. Sets were performed by residents going back to back throughout the evening. The music did not ring true to one genre or ‘camp’ but seemed to serve as a soundtrack to the ever evolving eclectic crowd that joined the lengthy dance floor. One notable track came from the release of Faithless’ ‘Insomnia (Monster Mix)’ which was met by a roar from a crowd filled with positive aggression. To give understanding to the welcome inconsistency of the DJ’s selections, picture Insomnia’s Monster Mix played not long before DJ Duke’s ‘Tribal Journey’ to gain a more sonic idea of what was going down.
Exploring the venue and the event as a whole led to further desire to understand the collective’s business aim, if you will. I wanted to understand what it was that gave this crowd of misfits, university students, drag queens and more a reason to be under the same roof in such a place as it was. In conversation on a dingy staircase with one of Elektro Beast’s founders Albie Swingler, and two of Bristol’s biggest drag queens, Bobby Holiday and Dominique Fleek, we discussed the “spice” and the “flavour” that nights like this one in Bristol provide.
In agreement, the three described the city of Bristol as what “London could be”, with this I began to understand why the event had been so successful and its audience so loyal. Elektro Beast and other nights like this in Bristol are more liberally accepting on a range of levels. Venues are given creative control opposed to revoked licenses. Resident DJs are playing longer explorative sets opposed to not getting booked unless conforming to a promoters restrictive expectations. And audiences arriving ‘as they are’ opposed to strict door policies and fear of judgement.
What was once a private invite-only night had now opened its doors to a larger crowd, still operating by word of mouth instead of generic promotional methods. In conversation with Liam Baker (founder and resident DJ), I was informed that due to high demand, the Beast decided to look further afield from its original home at the Old Malt House. The priority being somewhere that allowed for the higher demand of attendees whilst still allowing creative control with that true Bristolian liberal vibe. Cue the Office fitted with everything one could desire from a stripper pole in the middle of the dance floor to a pool table at the back. This led me to consider – had they found their new home? Not quite. They explained that it intends to stay true to its West Country home town over the next year beginning with another boat party in September. But event organiser Albie told me that there are potential plans in the works to bring Elektro Beast to London permitting the ethos they have curated over the past 3 years is not compromised.
As the night went on, inhibitions were relieved, and I partied until dawn with Bristol’s underground scene. Returning to London I have considered whether the philosophy of nightlife in Bristol and Elektro Beast in particular would be translatable to the capital. Without conclusion or political ranting, I welcome the potential venture of Elektro Beast to my city – what they are providing is something that our nightlife is severe lacking.