Lifestyle, Music, Topman Talks

Celebrating 26 Years Of Ministry Of Sound – Topman Interviews The Founder

When you think of dance music you’ll probably think of two things: one is that you can’t wait for the weekend to go out and end the night with a delicious but questionably grey kebab, the second is Ministry Of Sound. The organisation is so firmly rooted in the culture of British music from its inception in 1991 that everyone now knows of them, with chances being that you’ve probably got a MOS playlist on your phone, they’ve soundtracked one of the best nights of your life, and that your mum has one of their CDs rattling around in the glove compartment of her Corsa.

We caught up with founder of the iconic group, Justin Berkmann, to find out how they’ve got this far when so many clubs have shut their doors, as well as what the future holds for them.

Ministry has been around for over 25 years while lots of clubs have been shutting down – what keeps Ministry going?

“If you keep reinventing yourself you survive. I just played the club last weekend and it was totally packed full of happy nice looking people having a great time. It’s all about that room though for me. The main room is one of the greatest rooms I’ve ever danced in; it’s ageless. That is the core of the club.”

Ministry has always been about building the club around an impeccable sound system, is that still the number one priority?

“Having the right people to come to party is always the first priority. A true dance music nightclub is basically a dark room with great sound to get lost in great music. Having bone induction with the speakers sitting on the floor, where the music comes from within the body, the DJ knowing how to build a set and having a fundamental knowledge of sound, having a lighting LJ understanding the DJ and the promoter attracting the right people are all essential and non negotiable. You have good nights and you have magical nights, just depends on the elements coming together just right.”

Does nightlife nowadays live up to the ’90s heyday?

“I’m not keen on disrespecting today’s scene as it is just as valid as any other. I was lucky and born early enough to have experienced firsthand the 70s, 80s and 90s, and fading memories are always somewhat rose tinted. But we used to dance more together with moments of Pure Love, between friends, a dance floor and the DJ. It is the objective of a great DJ to do that, create miracles and make everyone fall in love together. Today seems more often its about the adrenaline rush, like when a goal is scored, everyone jumping and screaming, which is also good but not exclusively as they are not the same thing. This for me is the biggest difference. I loved John Digweed’s netted-off DJ booth when he played the club, no-one could see him, which changed the focus and improved the vibe completely. It needs to be brought back to the floor.”

What’s been your wildest night in ministry?  

“The best parties in the early days were always the Members Parties. A private party on the Sunday before a bank holiday would be a free door event with special guest DJs. Was a way of saying thank you to the loyalists, and always had a very special vibe. A family party in a 1000+ capacity club. Maybe the best one was the weekend of Carnival in 1993 when we did a sound system in the daytime in the Grove, and were down the club in between, there wasn’t a lot of sleeping happening that weekend.”

What’s been your favourite set in Ministry?

“That I heard or played? That I witnessed would be one of many: Larry’s first time, Kevorkian’s all nighter, Kenny Carpenter first time in London, Bobby Konders opening for Todd Terry all in the first year. My favourite set I played was the memorial for Larry Levan in 1993 when we all cried all night together.”

Where did the idea come from to set up fitness classes in the club?  

“A sign of the times. I work out myself and it didn’t occur to me at any point. Someone else did that. Over the years I’ve worked on some really sky-high mad cap projects at Ministry, it seems like someone had an idea that was simply affordable. The local area has transformed itself over the 26 years the club has been there. So maybe for that reason it seems to be doing quite well.”

 Ministry isn’t just about the club in London, it throws parties all over Europe, has its own record label and radio shows – what’s next for the brand?  

“I think the main focus is keeping the club current and relevant, and any other ancillary businesses are to keep the creative juices flowing. You are only as good as your last gig, so what is next is the next weekend and making it as good as possible. Apart from that I’m sworn to secrecy. There’s something big rattling down the tubes as I speak.”

What advice would you give to some who wants to start their own club?  

“Make it simple. Find a room that has good acoustics, and doesn’t leak sound. Put in a wooden dancefloor, no-one wants to dance on concrete. Treat the room for reflection and have a good sound designer install the sound system. Build really good toilets especially for the girls, you need to keep them happy at all costs. Train your staff well and employ people who work hard but are lots of fun. Find yourself a very good club manager, otherwise you’ll have to do it. Don’t book expensive DJs or you will have to forever. Make your investment back in 18 months or you’re in trouble. Expect a difficult time ahead. There’s little glory, that goes to the DJs.”

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