THE SECRET PARTY HISTORY OF LONDON'S £1 MILLION TOILET

From 2006-2012, Public Life held the best afterparties in the capital


In the mid 2000s East London as we now know it - street art hub, tourist trap, playground for young professionals and hipster HQ – was in its infancy. Most of Shoreditch was still quite derelict, a forgotten part of the city where few bothered to venture and where an underground party scene flourished. For one reason or another, the gritty desolation attracted a new generation of ravers, DJs and promoters and several legendary spots popped up. They are the spaces and parties that so many of us now hear our current superstar DJs name check; Lo*Kee, T-Bar, mulletover and secretsundaze. Public Life was also among these special places, a dingy little 60-capacity, ex-public toilet on Commercial Street that served as a naughty setting for some outrageous parties. Between 2006 and 2012, it played host to events such as Kubicle, where Jamie Jones was a regular feature, and Lost Souls, where techno powerhouse Perc held residency. Now, after having its licence revoked back in 2012, the tiny space has gone on the market for £1 million. And its history must be told before it gets turned into another gourmet burger joint.

"It was pretty messy back then," says Geddes, the man behind mulletover and NoFitState. "That whole end of Commercial Street, you'd still see prostitutes walking up and down near the toilets. It was a bit of a no-go area, a complete contrast to what it is now."

Having the freedom to hold parties in an almost lawless part of the city allowed promoters at Public Life to encourage a permissive atmosphere which attracted an equally hedonistic crowd all weekend. Despite, or perhaps because of, it's miniscule capacity, after-party fiends flocked to the deserted streets around Spitalfields in search of the inconspicuous underground toilet.

Inside they'd be met with a space that would usually be filled with 100 or more inebriated ravers, though the official capacity was supposed to be 60. Much of the toilet's original make-up was still intact, adding to the clandestine allure of the place. It felt dirty and it was – a private enclave for those who wanted to squeeze the last moments of enjoyment from their already rinsed-out weekend.

 

 

Saturday daytimes were hosted by Antony Difrancesco and the Lost Souls crew, whose techno ethos counteracted the minimal trend, which was so prevalent at the time.

"It's one of my favourite venues I've spend time at, in all the time I've been partying in London, which is 14 years now," says Antony. "When you get that special connection between the DJ and the crowd, when everyone is in unison, it usually only happens in intimate spaces with smaller crowds. We had that vibe week in, week out. There were a lot of young, discerning people coming down who were completely up for it. It was like a big rave environment that had been distilled into this tiny space."

Due to its reputation and the sheer novelty value of being a former bog, Public Life attracted a wide range of renowned DJs during its time, often headliners from fabric, who would swing by before or after their appearance at the club. The anarchic little venue's size also meant that larger clubs felt no threat from it, and so the big guns kept rolling in: Chris Liebing, Paco Osuna, Richie Hawtin, Mr. C, Anja Schneider, and then young guns Jamie Jones, Dyed Soundorom and FB Julian.

"It was like fabric's naughty daughter. Their DJs would come down to play, and the guys at fabric were fine with it as long as it was unannounced," says Antony.

Perc was one of those relative newbies who found himself booked for a set at Public Life for the first time in 2006. He now runs the highly regarded Perc Trax label and has established himself as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to potent, abrasive techno. "I always played for Lost Souls, I was booked there as a guest once and they asked to stay on with a flexible residency. So I was there, on average, once a month," he says. "It was my first real residency. That was where I learned my craft as a DJ and it was one of the stepping stones to getting me to where I am now."

He adds, "I always had a great time there, I liked the tiled floors and walls. A great thing to note was that it was so small you could have an amazing time with 20 or 30 people in there. Often it would be rammed, probably going against health and safety regulations – I played at some very busy parties there which were lively and probably a bit dangerous!"

 

 

Kubicle rose to prominence during this time, becoming everyone's favourite cheeky Sunday afters. As it grew in popularity, people would get there as early as possible to avoid being turned away once the club had reached its unofficial capacity.

 

"It was the afterparty back then, there wasn't really anything to rival it. The atmosphere was always good, and pretty debauched," says Geddes. "That was the time when ketamine was really arriving on the scene, a lot of minimal was played down there, but also lots of stuff from across the board."

He sets the scene, describing the journey up Commercial Street, soundtracked by the incessant thud of a distant kick drum, the volume increasing as you staggered ever closer to the final, sleazy destination.

"You'd be walking up to it and there'd be a few people scattered outside smoking, or you'd see people falling all over the place," he says. "Then you'd walk down the stairs and you'd see 60, 70 people, maybe more, all in flamboyant colours, completely off their tits, in this... toilet. It was a tiny concrete box, they'd cram all these people in there and it would just get totally out of hand."

Geddes first started going to Public Life in its heyday, around 2006, when Kubicle became the go-to spot for many of those who were involved in the capital's burgeoning underground movement. Conceived by Liz Mendez and Sophia Anderson, Kubicle is an East London institution, which was established at Public Life and set the standard as far as afterparties go.

"I'd had enough of afterparties back at my own house," says Liz. "It was Mondays at mine all the time, so Sonia and I decided to look for a proper spot. We were on it, constantly searching for somewhere intimate, somewhere that no one had ever touched before. A friend of mine suggested Public Life and we went to look at it, got the go-ahead, and cained it every Sunday and Monday for the whole of that first summer."

"They had a tarpaulin over the glass roof part, but I told them to get rid of that. We wanted it to be a proper day party, our crowd was so eclectic and colourful we didn't want it to be dark and dingy. I'd come from going to DC10 and having that daytime mentality, so we got rid of the tarpaulin," she explains. "We were always good mates with Clive Henry, Mr. C, Judy from fabric, so it became a 'thing' pretty quickly through our network."

 

 

Public Life grew in stature as a venue in tandem with Liz and Sonia's baby evolving into an essential weekend stop-off, back when the term 'underground' meant exactly that. The community was a small one, many of today's best-known DJs were still on the up and up and the vibes were strong.

"It was an amazing atmosphere, once you got in - which was hard enough with such limited space – it was a really safe haven, with no security walking around. Everyone knew each other, and if they didn't, it was small enough that they would by the end of the night," says Liz. "There were no selfies, or people taking constant videos and photos of the DJs. People didn't get their phones out because they were having too much fun. People went there to dance.

"Our New Year's Day parties were special, they'd go on for hours. You could never repeat that, those times; it was the right people, right space, right time," she continues. "People didn't take themselves too seriously in those days, DJs would come and play for fun, it wasn't about the money for them or us. It was about the passion, the music, fun and love for what we were doing."

Sadly, in London most clubs are never more than a few hundred metres from the nearest residential properties and such wanton enjoyment angered locals who mounted a campaign to get the place shut down.

"When Sonia and I first started we battled with the resident's association, it was full of bigwigs," Liz says. "There was one guy who would sit on the corner by the The Golden Heart pub every week and film everyone coming in and out of the party."

In the face of strong local opposition, Public Life managed to keep on going for several years, even though local newspaper reports sought to demonise the venue at every opportunity. Local action organisation Spitalfields Community Group started their campaign to close the venue in 2007, so it took five years for them to eventually get it shut down. In that time, all manner of fun and frivolity occurred at Public Life, memories of which will be etched indelibly into its very walls.

"That era can never can be recreated, it was a really special time. We still love it, it's still our baby. We did the best we could to make it special, to make people want to keep coming back. Out of that we now do stages at festivals, we've got a production company – Kubicle in its grown-up form. Those 11 years since it started have been monumental in my life," Liz says enthusiastically.

A million quid seems a bit steep for an old toilet, but the Public Life years were priceless.

Kubicle turns 11 years old this summer

Source: Mixmag