Posted by: martinworster | March 9, 2011


AWOL at the Paradise Club, Islington N1…the jump up sound is born…

AWOL in the Paradise Club (93-95) was at Angel, Islington N1 – just off Liverpool Road. A now affluent part of north London, home to yuppies, media types, politicians and City executives. In fact the original venue to the Paradise Club has now been knocked down to make way for a shopping mall housing a Borders (now closed), Yo Sushi, Weatherspoons pub and other effigies to noughties consumerism which I regularly frequent on trips back to London as I wonder around memory lane. I lived just up the road and my family comes from Islington, so the area is rife with memories and psychic geography for me.

AWOL at Paradise Club. A Way Of Life. Regular attendees were given a US military (Away On Leave) style metal bracelet with AWOL and their name stamped on it. Actually remembering AWOL makes me shiver – it was an early temple to jungle, perhaps the rudest dance I have been too, the most bass shaking, jumping joint in recent living memory, a shrine to…okay, repeated superlatives don’t do it justice.

DJs ripping it up included Mickey Finn, Kenny Ken, Ray Keith – basically the original dons. The original bad bwoys, the firm, bredren, the bosses, the originators, rude boy controllers..again repeated superlatives don’t really do them justice. Like a lot of the venues of that time it was very grotty and run down – which added to the whole gritty underground vibe. You didn’t come for bottle service in cabanas and pear mojitos – it was all about the music and dancing.

AWOL had a good smaller back room where the DJs played house music. It might even have been referred to as the ‘chill out’ room – which is what is was when compared to the unruliness of the main floor. This was more of a shake your head funky room, a bit more space between the beats, a few BPMs slower. US house was on the menu – expensive imports from New York and Chicago labels that came in shrink wrapped plastic and were fetishised at the time. Mood II Swing, MK, Masters at Work dubs, Nervous Records, Strictly Rhythm, Tribal Records, Nu Groove, vocal house, US garage – chunky beats, a deeper sound. It was in the backrooms of the main raves that the template for speed and UK garage was set, a genetic precursor to dub step that is now massively popular globally.

The main dancefloor scenes were almost apocolyptic, a kind of Dante’s Inferno with bone shaking basslines and lots of E. The DJs were fond of pumping in the dry ice and the sound system was next level. You could feel the whole building shake – the doors rattled on the beefy basslines. You could quite literally feel it in your bones. There were always MCs like GQ and EZ leading the dance. Thin raggas with big spliffs behind their ears and a bottle of Champagne in their hand. Always a circle of lithe lycra clad ladies dancing around them, as if ready to be picked for post rave coitals. You’d wander around the heavy dry ice to encounter solitary individuals emerge through the smoke locked in their own vacant world, perhaps hands raised or holding their heads, if you’re lucky a quick smile. It was almost like a battle scene, the seconds after a devastating bomb had exploded and impacted – which it kind of had with the sound and the regular bombs dropped by the DJs. And always the fog horn underpinning the noise, a clarion call to the relentless march forward.

The sound was early jungle. Devastating basslines, scattering snares echoing around the dance, walls of drums, reggae vocal samples, techno synth stabs for those hands in the air moments – the whole ‘jump up’ sound can pretty much be traced to this club. It was the dark – light / ying – yang aesthetic. Long sections of dark and menacing basslines and drums interspersed with euphoric synth and speeded up chipmunk female vocal breakdowns to add light to the shade. Heads down for the drum dance forward. Hands in the air and smiles for the ravey breakdowns.

So if I had to chose one song that sums up this night I’d go for Mickey Finn’s ‘Some Justice’. Hearing this for the first time (actually on the radio for me – the then pirate Kiss FM) it really stood out. Primarily for the drum programming which was quite revolutionary for the time – starting with echoing kicks and hats, launching into the main loping hip hop break, chopped up beats, bells and all. Always the rumbling sub bass. Other trademarks include the reggae stabs, dubby bassline and the female vocals (from Ce Ce Penniston) on the breakdown – another template tune for a scene. The dark / light motif in sharp affect. In fact after hearing the tune on the radio – I rushed to Black Market in Soho on the Monday morning when it first opened and bought one of the first copies from Nicky Blackmarket (famous DnB DJ) who worked there at the time (as did Ashley Beedle). That was how it was in those days, no relying on the internet to get your tunes, it was old fashioned slabs of vinyl which you hoped didn’t sell out. I feel old. But not yet a sell out.

Other tunes that might have made the grade at AWOL:

Jonny L – Hurt You So

Shades of Rhythm – Sound of Eden


  1. I love, love, LOVE your article about Paradise…we travelled from Gloucester every weekend for many years…reading this just took me right back there! Best years of my life back then…thank you!!!! 😄

  2. Aww, thanks Emma! It was a pretty mad night, right? I often think about the nights out there all those years ago…

  3. Just read this about AWOL. Me and my mates would venture from Essex great parties and you capture it well with your words

  4. Quality mate was a mad regular at the paradise the two tunes posted brought back some wicked memories. i recently attended a moondance last weekend,. i was chatting to my mates who were also regs at the paradise and it brought back the old skool… nothing ever came close to the paradise massive……big up..

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