R.I.P. Lazerdrome 1988 – 2005
267 Rye Lane, Peckham Rye, London SE15
A tribute to a fondly remembered drum & bass club
Calling all the ‘ardcore, Lazerdrome is no more….
Recently demolished to make way for a new housing development, the much loved location of many a good time for ravers old & new has been consigned forever to the fading memories of all those who attended.
Arguably the best club to have ever graced South-East London, Lazerdrome started out as a family orientated laser-tag combat arena back in the late 80’s, in a disused factory warehouse above a non-descript row of shops on Rye Lane, Peckham. Perhaps not the most successful of ventures, it was not long before the venue was re-launched, this time as an all-night hardcore drum’n’bass nightclub.
Opening in 1992, the venue regularly hosted two weekly events – Fridays saw _______, and on Saturdays, the legendary Innersense. Retaining much of the wooden panels and multi-level walkways that stood as testament to the venue’s original purpose, the club was given the finishing touches of de-rigor laser-light effects & smoke machines, video-projection screens, and finalised with a 20K soundsystem.
With its quaint features, and the provision of a House & Garage room that doubled as the main foyer after the entrance (albeit a very large foyer!), Lazerdrome was certain to be a success. Boasting a ‘resident’ line-up of Dr. S Gachet, Randall, Ray Keith,Nut-E-1, Loftgroover & Circuit for the main room, Saturday night’s Innersense regularly kept a solid attendance of underground clubbers ready to hear the exhilerating, uncompromising and raw sounds of the music prior to the mini-tragedy of the oft-mentioned ‘happy/dark split’ of late 1993/early 1994.
At the same time there was also a large number of people who would go strictly to spend the night in the chill-out room! With Dean Lambert, Andy Lewis & Arjaydeestanding as residents, the House & Garage arena certainly had a following in its own right. Featuring some fantastic backdrops, and some excellent if perhaps slightly more subdued lighting, the combination of the two rooms certainly served to make Lazerdrome nothing less than a complete raving experience.
Lazerdrome site, October 2005
The ‘chill-out’ arena was in fact somewhat larger than the main arena, which allowed for the provision of a number of other ‘features’ of the club, such as the drinks bar, a little caf area, and this strange, semi-curtained off rectangular area which allowed for those wanting to sit, lie down, and basically just chill-out. As well, if you were ever bored, you could jump on the arcade machines! I think Street Fighter II was pretty much par for the course back then.
As the weeks & months passed by, the club hosted a succession of exciting artist PAs and special theme-nights, such as ‘foam’ parties, DJ agency showcases, and in September 1993, Innersense’s 1st Birthday celebration. Every now and again there would be a live drummer in the house & garage room, drumming away to the music. Occasionally there would be dancers putting on a performance in the main-arena stage area. You could enjoy an Innersense membership – which allowed for such benefits as queue jumping (yes, I can vouch for that!), newsletters and best of all, half-price tickets for you and your friends to enjoy on your birthday!
Typical of the rave scene in general, the venue attracted a real cross-section of people from all cultures & walks of life. There were ‘raggas’, after-pub attendees, new-agers, as well as your typical ‘bods’. You would even find your full-on ravers complete with the obligatory white gloves and glow sticks!
Of course Lazerdrome had its bad points, too. I mean, who can forget the unforgivably awful toilets! I remember many a time having to tip-toe through entire lakes of water just trying to get in there! And my god was it dirty. Woe betide anyone who was feeling knackered – sit down on the floor and you were liable to be completely saturated in jet black grime! And with few seats to be found anywhere, you really had to be one of the ‘ardcore to last the night!
Although not, perhaps, one of the most historically relevant milestones when tracing the development of the scene, Lazerdrome was held in high regard by the people who attended. With a music policy that often favoured the darker, heavier and more aurally oppressive strains of drum & bass, Innersense at the Lazerdrome repeatedly and formidably scooped the Elevation Best Club award for the years of 1993, 1994 and 1995 – a remarkable achievement by any standard!
Innersense membership cards – benefits included
queue jumping & half-price birthday invitations!
As a weekly underground venue, Lazerdrome only really ever had two competitors – over to the North was the legendary A.W.O.L. at the Paradise Club in Angel, Islington; and over to the east in Dalston was Labyrinth, an oft-mentioned club orientated more towards the ‘happier’ side of the music.
One not so good thing about Lazerdrome was also the sound quality. Sure, it was loud. But it was also terribly overdriven and was quite fatiguing to listen to after a period of time. Still, never to rest on their laurels sometime towards the end of 1993 the promoters of Innersense went ahead and upgraded the sound system to a 50k rig. This done the venue a world of good! Now there was clarity to go with the volume, with a bass to shake your heart and rattle your bones.
1994 was the best year ever for Lazerdrome. With more special nights planned and attractions in the pipeline, Saturday night’s Innersense went from strength to strength. 1994 also saw the two main residents, Nut-E-1 and Probe really come of age. Standing as the old guard of the dark & heavy style typical of the year before, their sets were full of momentum, depth and finesse. Probe, especially, emerged as one of the strongest DJ’s there. With tunes such as Sub Sequence – Long Sex and Drum & Bass – FB1 typifying his style, Probe’s featuring on a given night certainly was a big attraction for myself.
Sometime during 1994 a brand new phenomenon emerged. It was the most exhilirating thing ever! Apparently initiated by resident compere MC Whitelocks, if ever there was a tune that was just too good to let slide, the people would jump up and smash the wooden panels in demand of a rewind! I’ll never forget Dr. S Gachet dropping The Dream Team – Yeah Man, rewinding it back driving the place to an absolute frenzy, and then… can you believe… dropping from the top the brand-new Yeah Man remix in its place! How the whole place shook as the sound of countless panels being whacked filled the air… Cue more total chaos, and yes, you guessed it, another rewind.
Innersense birthday invites –
half price entry for you and up to 7 friends!
The good times kept on coming. The DJ’s seemed to start taking the place a lot more seriously, and more and more classic sets were to be played. The 4th June saw the Innersense DJ Awards taking place, with the unforgettable Fish acting as compere for the night. One of the most charismatic and memorable persons there, Fish was a member of the security team, and would often double as about the most esoteric and strangely entertaining MC you were ever likely to come across.
With formidable performances from all the DJ’s featured that night (the 8 top nominees as voted for by Innersense members), the music eventually gave way to allow for the award cerimony to take place. That night DJ Randall scooped the title and, taking the stage in a rather sheepish & humble manner, accepted his award to the rapturous applause of a seemingly unanimously agreeing crowd!
More special theme-nights passed by, like the outrageous Innersense Beach Party. That night they kitted out the place with palm trees and make shift ‘beaches’ with real sand! I remember complaining about it to my friends, saying how I just knew that blasted sand would somehow end up getting into my mouth. And despite my very best efforts, sometime towards the last hours of the night was the unmistakable feeling of a grain of sand scritching between my teeth! Arrgh!
So many good times were had. My own group would regularily hang in the shadows towards the back-left of the arena, surrounding the large speaker to be found there. It was dark, and it was bass-ey! Who can forget tunes such as Dubtronix – Fantasy Mixed! dropping in the heady summer months? Renegade – Terrorist always went down a storm, MA2 – Hearing Is Beliving would set the place alight, and DJ Crystl – Let It Roll would touch the people with its eloquence and subtle energy.
About every big name DJ passed through there at one time or the other. I’ll never forget the time Bryan Gee played Dead Dred – Dred Bass to us for the first time. Thoughout the entire song the place was completely still – absolutely noone was dancing! I was standing infront of a speaker towards the front right of the stage, looking out across the arena and quite frankly, I had never heard anything like it in my life. Still, that wasn’t the case the next time we heard it – each and every time after that the place would go wild!
Actual, in-rave, Lazerdrome photograph –
picture of crowd at Break The Bank
(Source: The Scene magazine,
issue #4 / Nov 1994 )
1994 certainly was a special year, and almost every Saturday Lazerdrome would be literally packed to the rafters with people. It was also a year that saw “jungle drum & bass” become an out and out phenomenon across the whole of London – and even the country! With the scene moving away from the darker and heavier style of the previous year, so Lazerdrome began to embrace the more mainstream and accessable sounds of “jungle” and “jump-up”.
The year also saw a marked shift in the atmosphere across many of the events across London. Although having been always a multi-cultural environment, the ragga and reggae basslines and vocal samples characterisic of the music slowly began to draw in a much larger influx of black, inner-city youth than ever before. With an agressive and macho mindset very much from the “dancehall” scene where the reggae influences were borrowed, Lazerdrome and in fairness many other venues all started to lose their original rave-culture spirit, with many people disparing at the oppressive and inhibiting atmosphere that the scene incresingly began to represent.
As the year drew to an end, and passed into 1995, the numbers of people attending Lazerdrome dropped slightly. That didn’t stop the promoters of Innersense, and more special theme nights and artist PA’s were planned. As always, Saturday night’s Innersense still kept it strong and with a few tricks hidden up its sleeves, Lazerdrome was still marked very firmly on the map!
My own chance to enjoy half price birthday tickets finally came around in February that year. Entering the venue my first port of call was to head straight for the drinks bar to collect my special ‘surprise gift’ that had been intregingly promised to me… Admittedly, I was ever so slightly disappointed to discover it was ‘only’ a tape pack, especially as it seemingly dated all the way back to 1993 but, hey! It was a present, after all! Cheers, Innersense!
Innersense DJ Awards 1995 –
As always, I had a great time and I remember Kemistry & Stormdropping some great tunes, and as well DJ Ron, teamed up with long time partner MC Five-O, playing a very un-Lazerdrome set, more akin to the sound of his native radio station Kool FM.
At some stage Lazerdrome closed for a week for a refit, whereby another of the venue’s bad points was finally rectified. Previously, the DJ booth in the main arena had always been located at this high-off point far above the main stage, on top of the VIP enclosure. This meant that the DJ was pretty much hidden for anyone on the dancefloor, resulting in a kind of disorentation and lack of direction.
Not any more! Now the DJ booth was situated bang on the stage area clearly visible to all, making for a much tighter sense of connection between the crowd and the DJ! As well, an effort had been made to make the main arena cleaner and more comfortable. Down the far side of the arena, far towards the left hand flank of the arena, the sizeable enclosure there had been laid with carpet and fixed seating areas had been installed. At long last there was somewhere to actually sit and escape from the choas. And with more seating installed in the house & garage room, this was clearly one improvement that was appreciated by all.
These improvements served to make the second DJ Awards night an even more exciting experience than the first. Taking place unusually on a Thursday, the start of the weekend for the Easter Holiday weekend, the Innersense 1995 DJ Awards was certainly another high moment! This time the DJ line up was quite different to the first, reflecting what I think as being the change in the popular form of the music, with a clear selection of some of the more jungle-orientated deck technicians on the scene. However that didn’t stop DJ Randallfrom winning first place once again!.
Innersense DJ Awards winners –
from June 1995 flyer
In a lot of ways 1995 was like the morning after an amazing party, and and slowly there was the sense that the scene was just not quite going to be the all-out spectacular celebratory of before. Of course, there were still many anthems to come – tunes such as Splash – Babylonwere never going to go down badly! Prizna – Fire (Urban Shakedown Remix) was one of the biggest tunes of that year (and no less so than at Lazerdrome), L Double – Bass II Dark was surely one of the most refreshing and exciting pieces of jump-up to have emerged for a long while, and with dubplate previews of tunes like”The Seed” and “The Box Re-opened”, both snatched from the eagerly awaited LP Champion Jungle Sound, it was clear that the scene still had much, much more to offer.
However as the year passed into the summer, it was clear that a lot of people, many of those who had probably just followed the trend into drum & bass the year prior, were quite discernably starting to drift away… towards the house and garage scene! Possibly worn out by the faster tempos, maybe alienated by the harsh atmospheres, or simply a case of jungle drum & bass becoming too popular too fast, there was no denying that a mass exodus was slowly taking place. I remember one particular occasion for instance, when, finding the vibe in the main arena to be just a little lacking, I decided to walk over to the chill-out room for a little break… discovering to my utter surprise that the house and garage room was absolutely kicking!
Again, this was not just a Lazerdrome phenonemon, and (standing as direct testament to the ‘mass exodus’ mentioned) 1995 started to see the inception of a new style of Garage, provisonally titled “Speed Garage”. Strangely beginning to embody many of the elements and sounds characteristic of 1994 drum & bass, I’m sure I won’t be the only one to remember feeling a strange sense of deja vu listening to the music that year!! The cheek of it!!!
Unfortunately, the story of Lazerdrome was to take a sudden and drastic turn for the worse. For a long while, the club had seen its Friday night slot vacant and without a regular event, but during 1995 the club was to begin increasingly hiring itself out to other promotors for individual, one-off events. This was mostly an agreeable arrangement, but one such event, the so entitled Jungle Vs. Ragga night, was to bear witness to an awful incident in which a person was killed in a shocking machette attack. Unsurprisingly, the club was immediately closed, and many of us reeled from the shock and disbelief of what had occurred.
Innersense was not quite done, and in November that year the club reopened rebranded with a new name,Millennium. Boasting a fully licenced alcohol bar, and now choosing to host drum & bass in both arenas, Innersense looked to draw upon its past glory and continue where it had left off. But few people wanted to return and with the fledgling sounds of Speed Garage developing into a fully formed scene of its own, it seemed that sadly, the old Innersense format successful for so many years, just didn’t have anything to offer any more.
Shortly, Innersense discontinued their Saturday night events, and a new promotor took over the venue with a new, strictly garage weekly called Entity. That didn’t last long either. After that the place changed names again, and for a while the venue courted with the, by then, established Speed Garage/UK Garage scene for a while. But with the place never really being open for any long perods of time again, the infamous Lazerdrome slowly faded away, never to be remembered again, until now.
Written by Ornette Wilson, Nov 2005
(updated April 2006)
Still raving at Lazerdrome in heart & mind!…