Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Proud2 at the O2

Superclubs were meant to be a thing of the past. Made famous with the likes of Studio 54 in the seventies, these cathedrals to dance went on to become aspirational destinations in their own right. The UK was at the leading edge of the superclubs scene, from the Ibiza-inspired Cream and Pascha, through to the south London behemoth that was the Ministry of Sound (probably the defining club for my generation), and more recently to the late '90s/early noughties Clerkenwell institutions of Fabric and the now-departed Turnmills. However, in noughties in London, a combination of social and cultural changes including new licencing laws and the emergence of the British pub as a late night social option had an impact. These factors, in addition to the property boom which made building these larger-then-life establishments so expensive, saw a shift back toward the smaller (and arguably better) clubs. Take a bow, East London. But fashions are nothing if not cyclical, and since 2006, the British entrepreneur Alex Proud has combined the modern cabaret-burlesque movement with a super club twist to give us Proud Camden, Proud Cabaret, Proud Chelsea, and most recently, Proud Brighton in 2010. According to his PR, all of the venues bear the hallmark house style of vintage cool and retro entertainment. Let's see about that. So onto his latest venue, Proud2, which has taken over the now defunct Matter in North Greenwich. Proud2 positions itself as experience akin to Las Vegas meets Ibiza, something which isn’t immediately obvious given that it’s located in the 02 shopping centre. Undaunted, Proud2 has taken on many of the trappings of the superclub with confidence. For a start, it’s huge, as in a big top/circus tent way which in scale at least reminded me of a corporate Christmas party venue (albeit one from the pre-credit crunch era). The club is split over three levels, with a number of cocktail and lounge bars in which you can chill out, admire the entertainment, or do the arty photo-shoot thing that nowadays seems to be a pre-requisite for every launch or seasonal event. The centrepiece of Proud2 is the ground level dance floor/gig venue which is flanked by a 50-foot bar to the rear, and full-sized staged at front. This pulls together the Vegas-like experience, whereby you can flit from a cocktail bar, to a live gig, and then on to a lounge bar all under the same roof. The only thing that’s missing is a casino. The opening night crowd were a mix of indie-cool youngsters, and Time Out following tourists looking for London’s next big thing (although to summarise the punters in two short lines is a challenge, given there were about 2000 of them). Proud2 pulled out all the stops in terms of entertainment, with the indie bands Mystery Jets and The Bees playing live, and the likes of Friendly Fires, Henry Holland and Horse Meat Disco taking to the decks. There were also trapeze artists and circus acts aplenty to add to the overall visual experience. The resulting ambience was incredibly festive and buoyant, as you might expect from people excited to be the first to try out a hip new venue. The service was outstanding. Not a big deal, you might think, but from the numerous and very friendly door staff, to the charming and incredibly efficient gals in the cloakroom, the Proud2 crew made sure that you didn’t have to wait for very long for anything. OK, the bar staff seemed to have been picked more for their cheekbones than their experience in serving drinks, and the women clearly had to be comfortable wearing little more than a corset, stocking and suspenders (interestingly the men didn’t have to make a similar show of flesh). But there were enough of them to overcome any technical shortcomings they may have had – like taking an order. The location, however, is a challenge. It’s not so much a matter of getting there, as a combination of the Jubilee Line plus the Proud2 crew’s innovative shuttle bus service for the after-midnight crowd will make sure that everyone arrives and gets home in reasonable comfort. However, it feels a bit odd starting your night traipsing through a near empty shopping mall. Plus the fact there is very little else around Proud2 except the 02 Centre itself makes it feel like you’re at an outpost rather then in the hub of hip London. But these are surely the complaints of an aging City barfly, because to be honest, I am not and never will be Proud2’s target audience. And the punters who were there on opening night were the types who are not worried about all night partying on a school night, or when - and how - they will get home. In other words, they are young people for whom fun is the start, middle and end objective of any night. And with that in mind Proud2 delivers. Pretty much like the original superclubs.