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Even the capital’s wildest venues have a grown-up side. From conferences to product launches, nightclubs are bang on beat for corporate events, says Mike Fletcher
Looking for a large-capacity venue with acres of open-plan space, razor-sharp sound and lighting and A-list cachet? You might not yet have considered one of London’s numerous nightclubs. These thumping great spaces may be taken over night after night by throngs of gyrating clubbers, but, as the more successful venues are increasingly aware, it’s daytime business such as conferences, product launches and receptions that keeps the balance sheets stacking up. The opening of superclub matter within The O2 last September breathed fresh life into an industry that has seen a number of closures over the past 18 months. It also reminded corporate planners of the appeal of staging events at high-profile club venues.
‘Nightclubs make great-value venues as they often have high-specification technology included in the hire charge. In terms of catering, their bars are always handy, and there’s usually scope for easy transition between daytime and evening events,’ says Emma Barker-Muzzell, event manager at Seal Events, who recently used the Ministry of Sound for an event.
There’s no need to worry about frightening door staff and membership policies either: corporate events open a surprising number of doors. ‘The perception of No5 is that it’s exclusive members-only, but this is only true on two floors. We accommodate event activity throughout the rest of the venue,’ says Mark Whittle, sales and marketing manager at the swanky No5 Cavendish Square. With fierce competition in the industry, the race to stay ahead of rivals means continued investment in refurbishing spaces and upgrading technology. In the past year, millions of pounds have been spent on clubs across the capital., which of course is another boon for event organisers. ‘London is in short supply of venues with larger capacities so nightclubs understand that they play an important role,’ says David Harriott, MD of Purple Panther Events, a company that specialises in bringing corporate business to bar, club and restaurant venues. He suggests checking out each nightclub’s USP to find the right setting. ‘Venues like Cuckoo Club offer very high standards of food while, 24:London (tel: 020 7494 9835, squaremeal.co.uk/24) is a great new venue because it’s equipped with state-of-the-art projection technology that can transform the room and create panoramic visuals with logos.’
The New Wave
The hottest clubland launch of 2008 was undoubtedly matter, a new venture by the owners of Farringdon superclub Fabric, which had London’s disco dollies dusting off their dancing shoes and dashing to The O2. The city’s event organisers weren’t far behind – here was a purpose-built giant with a capacity of 2,600 guests across its three tiers, bursting with AV technology.
Unlike many of the city’s older clubs, this one was conceived with just as much thought for the wider events market as the Saturday night party crowd. ‘matter was designed as both a next-generation club and flexible events space,’ says Fabric London events manager Celine Khor. ‘Details such as catering space and conference set-ups were meticulously planned throughout.’ Since opening, the venue has hosted product launches and parties for Diesel, Atari and Motorola as well as a conference and presentation of the 2012 Olympic plans by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG). ‘LOCOG was typical of why matter has proved so popular with event planners,’ explains Khor. ‘They wanted a showpiece conference space that would showcase London’s newest venue and the entertainment district within The O2 to other global sporting bodies while outlining their plans for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.’
It’s a dramatic venue, all stark concrete, ceramics, zinc and steel, with three tiers framed by curved balconies on each of the two upper floors. A suspended steel Sky Bridge allows VIP guests to look down onto the ‘Body Kinetic’ dance floor, which has strobe lighting built within it, along with 80 sound-activated pistons that make the flooring bounce – ideal for creative product launches that require a high-impact reveal. At ground level, matter’s largest area can hold receptions for up to 800 or sit down dinners for 260. Upstairs, the venue has a second, more intimate dance floor and a mezzanine level, which can be used to stage smaller, self-contained meetings or product reveals, accommodating up to 350 guests. The most exclusive space is, of course, the club’s VIP room, reached via the Sky Bridge at the top. With capacity for 350 guests, this level has its own entrance with private lift. There’s also a dance floor with LED panels that operate concurrently with LCD screens hanging directly above to create a more immersive event environment.
The Greenwich location might have elicited a few grumbles from clubbers but has not proved a deterrent for corporate clients, who can entertain guests on the river beforehand. ‘One of the most unique aspects of our location is the fact that matter can be accessed by boat,’ says Khor. ‘We work with Thames Clippers on providing transport solutions 24 hours a day. Hosting a welcome reception on the boat has a positive impact on delegates.’
The Long Runners
After their success with Fabric (tel: 020 7549 4844, squaremeal.co.uk/fabric), matter’s owners know better than to listen to skepticism about location. ‘In the mid-90s, people said a club in Farringdon would never work. Now, Fabric is celebrating its 10th anniversary,’ says Khor. Over the past decade, Fabric has successfully straddled two key markets, establishing itself as a world-renowned superclub, while quietly targeting corporate clients who understand the appeal of a happening event space with up-to-the-minute AV technology.
‘The challenge is always to get people to realise the potential of the venue when they may only know of it as a weekend party destination,’ says Khor. ‘Contrary to popular belief, the amazing facilities used at the weekend are available during the rest of the week, from the sound system to the lighting system, stages, screens and projectors.’ Across the river in Elephant and Castle, clubland stalwart Ministry of Sound keeps its finger on the pulse through continual investment in AV technology. The club currently attracts more than 50 events a year.
Since the beginning of 2009, £500,000 has been spent on boosting its vital specifications. In the venue’s main 250-capacity room The Box, a new custom-made lighting desk has been installed and the sound system has been upgraded. There’s also a new lighting rig in the 300-capacity Courtyard and the entrance tunnel has been refurbished. In March, a new event space and cocktail lounge called the Loft was launched.
In May and June 2008, Ministry hosted a series of five-day seminars for Carphone Warehouse to educate 150 sales staff on new products each day. And this year, the venue has seen the launch of anti-knife and gun crime campaign STOP (Solve This Ongoing Problem), produced by Jack Morton Worldwide. Unlike many of the capital’s boutique clubs, which offer restaurant-based catering, the larger capacity club-only venues have turned to specialist caterers to compete and ensure they provide food to the standards of corporate expectations. The advantages include more flexible kitchen set-ups within the venue, bespoke menu selections and the freedom to tailor food and beverage according to any budget. Purple Grape Catering managing director Emily Gillan says: ‘At Ministry we can create the kitchens we need per event, giving additional flexibility for the client. This has seen us create mini-kitchen hubs throughout both floors or a simple cold prep area in the Baby Box room.
The Boutique Brigade
Those boutique clubs that bring together restaurant, bar and nightclub space under one roof see the reputation of their chefs and mixologists as a major pull. The quality of catering available has certainly proved a major selling point for Marylebone’s No5 Cavendish Square, which has drafted in Ready Steady Cook star Gino D’Acampo to consult on its restaurant menus. BBQ-style food can also be served outdoors to 50 guests in the venue’s Georgian courtyard garden or to 60 guests on the lovely roof terrace. Over in Kensington, The Roof Gardens, tempts with the destination restaurant Babylon, which has a private dining room with its own balcony. But the main draw here will always be the stunning gardens themselves – all 1.5 acres of them!
A spokeswoman for Pantene explains why her company chose the venue to launch its new hair care range to 30 European journalists: ‘The event required a level of nature theming so the venue was perfect, not just for its floral surrounding, but also because of its unique appeal to high-end beauty editors from outside the UK.’ The main indoor area here is ‘The Club’, a flexible sixth-floor event space (including the fabulous cow-hide-clad VIP Moo Room) which packs in partygoers for club nights at the weekends. For private events, the facility has its own dedicated banqueting chef and catering for 180 for a seated dinner-dance or 500 for a standing buffet or reception.
Recent renovations have smoothed the venue’s night-to-day transition from club to corporate venue. ‘The refit in 2007 has made the event space much more open-plan, light and airy,’ says the venue’s events manager Annie Tsang. ‘As a result, we attract more day conferences and product launches, including some big names which are bringing their events here.’
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