It’s high time London’s all-night crew had something to celebrate. So, coming hot on the heels of Hackney Council’s disappointing announcement that new nightspots in the borough will be expected to shut by 12, the opening of FOLD – the capital’s first 24-hour licensed venue – is a timely retort from Shapes Collective, who have been active in the fight against club closures in the city.
Located on an industrial estate in Canning Town, Newham, a touch further out than the traditionally popular clubbing destinations of east London, FOLD announced its arrival with some fanfare – telling press it will “surprise, challenge and inspire” and “strive to do things differently in London”.
It has also explicitly positioned itself as a focal point and meeting place for the queer, non-binary and progressive strands of dance music – with Resis’dance, Homodrop Ldn and UNITI all playing the opening party. This is a vital statement of intent; the ongoing wave of redevelopment pulsating its way out of Zone 1 and into the surrounding areas, as represented by Hackney’s licensing mandate, is part of a wider culture war currently being waged by the Conservative establishment (with the acquiescence of our liberal mayor) against those from marginalised communities or leading alternative lifestyles, especially if they are less susceptible, or actively opposed, to their re-packaging for mainstream commercial consumption.
The crowd at this weekend’s opening reflected that ambition, with a lively and diverse mix of club-goers packing the 600-cap venue to revel in the sounds of Make Me, Dimensions, World Unknown, KAOS and more. The latter’s two hour midnight set was a highlight, their thumping, bass-leaning brand of techno being served well by FOLD’s tailored 110db sound system – one which is a match for Tottenham favourite Five Miles’ impressive £50,000 rig. While that club’s acoustics benefit from it being purpose built, FOLD, located in a former print factory, is structured around a single main room that is spacious, without being as cavernous as warehouses like Printworks, resulting in a suitably engulfing experience.
A stone’s throw from the relatively inaccessible Star Lane DLR station, or a longer walk from Canning town (served by a round the clock Jubilee line at weekends), FOLD is reminiscent on approach of both Wapping’s E1 and the aforementioned Five Miles, two of its most analogous contemporaries. Drinks are (unsurprisingly) not cheap, though no more expensive than other venues of a similar size and ambition. It’s fair to say the choice inside is a bit uninspiring though, with a particularly noticeable absence of draught beers. Storing the stuff you don’t need to dance has been given greater thought, with lockers, coming in at £5, comparable to the cost of most cloakrooms (if shared between two or three people as recommended), but allowing for much easier access and preventing tiresome queues.
What remains to be seen is if FOLD’s programming truly differentiates it from direct competitors such as Pickle Factory, Oval Space and Corsica Studios in the long term. While the line-ups teased so far look promising (Ilian Tape, Clone and Pinkman label showcases), and indicate that it won’t take the commercially slanted house and techno route of both Fabric and Printworks, in the long term it will need to demonstrate a compelling commitment to nurturing new talent and acts from under-represented communities to become an exciting alternative to the less expensive, smaller clubs dotted around the east and south of London. The possibility of week night events (when its license runs til 3am) and the inclusion of recording studios are positive signs in this context.
Conversely, while FOLD beats larger clubs like Printworks on pricing, sound quality and atmosphere, with a bar area at the entrance, one main room and a moderately sized smoking terrace (reminiscent of Oval Space) that’s rammed when we visit, it could become claustrophobic for those spending upwards of 10 hours there.
Where FOLD will really come into its own at weekends is for those emerging from 4-6am close venues around the capital and eager to carry on their night. Previously there were few options (Corsica Studios’ excellent Jaded being an honourable exception), and while that situation remains largely unchanged, those prepared to make the journey to the eastern outskirts of London now have another attractive proposition.