The dress code seems to be black leather, lots of latex and more piercings than the busiest branch of Claire’s accessories. In the cobble-stone courtyard, a figure wearing antlers and a gimp mask sips a Lucozade through a straw. A man dressed in Game of Thrones-style leather armour is checking a sports bag into the cloakroom.
A person in Maleficent horns and McQueen Armadillo shoes totters over to greet a friend across the dry ice and laser-filled dancefloor. In the smoking area, black-eyelinered twenty-somethings embodying the TikTok trend ‘whimsigoth’ share a roll-up. In the main room, a live performance featuring body piercing is happening in a cage. Whatever the collective noun for a group of goths would be — a gaggle? A sulk? — you’ll find them here. This is Slimelight, the longest-running dark club night in the world. If you’ve even dipped a black nail-polished toe into the London goth scene (or one of its many subgenres), you’ve heard of it. Founded by Dette Marsh and Mayuan Mak in 1987, when it originally advertised itself to the burgeoning post-punk goth scene as ‘the only alternative’, Slimelight has achieved legendary status for anyone drawn to the dark side.
Writer and entrepreneur Dave Darcy Edmond from Kensington is topless tonight, his black hair long to his waist. He has been coming to Slimelight since the early days, when it was a members’ club with one dancefloor. ‘Electrowerkz was a squatted club back then,’ he explains. ‘It was one of the few places people who looked like us could go and not get punched in the face. There was no drinks licence so people just bought their own beers in a plastic bag. There wasn’t any security either, so we kind of just looked after it ourselves. There was one incident with a biker gang that I recall, but apart from that there was never any trouble. Bar the odd bitchy comment about someone’s outfit.’
“‘It used to always be body piercers from Croatia that you’d meet at the bar, and now it’s more likely to be tech analysts from New Zealand”
In the late 1990s, Electrowerkz became a licensed premises and Slimelight has continued running ever since. Even during the pandemic, the club’s DJs and performers played sets on to stream Twitch. Everyone dresses to impress — whether you’re into trad goth, cyber, industrial, fetish, drag, punk, burlesque, living doll, rock’n’ roll, cabaret, uniform or militaria (non-racist only), showgirl, electroswing, steampunk… (the list goes on). The only thing not allowed is ‘street wear’. For the regulars there’s no place like it, and even though London has changed since the 1980s, the club has stayed true to its essence. A still point in a turning world — if that still point had a septum piercing and was covered in tattoos.
‘If anything, it’s better than it ever was,’ says Darcy Edmond. ‘It used to be more anarchic and revolutionary, but now it attracts a really diverse crowd and loads of world-class DJs.’ And just as the club’s music and fashion has evolved, he says the types of people being drawn there have changed, too. ‘It used to always be body piercers from Croatia that you’d meet at the bar, and now it’s more likely to be tech analysts from New Zealand.’
Over three floors, Slimelight today plays a range of music, from 1980s goth to new-wave dark electronica, with regular performances from live bands and international DJs. Francesca Mendola has been a resident DJ at Slimelight for more than 20 years. ‘I came from Sardinia in the early 1990s because I’d read about the club in fanzines,’ she says. ‘It was quite something to see all these beautiful people and the atmosphere was so friendly and welcoming. My first time I remember being so nervous but I ended up sharing hairspray with a couple in the queue, which back then would snake all the way back to the Tube.’
Mendola started DJing after giving Mak, who later went on to own Electrowerkz, a mixtape. ‘He really took a chance on me and encouraged me,’ she says. ‘There weren’t many female DJs in those days. I miss him so much.’ After 33 years of running Slimelight, Mak died in 2020. A tank carried his coffin through the streets of Islington. His loss is still felt by all the diehard Slimelighters.
‘Mak was an amazing person — it’s because of him that Slimelight lives on when all the other alternative club nights have died away,’ says Louis Joon, a Slimelight regular and costume designer who made Alexander McQueen’s horse-hair dresses. ‘For me, Slimelight is about the people you meet. Everyone is cool and interesting and strange with a weird and wonderful backstory. I met this Korean woman there once who said she was an opera singer. I said, “Okay, give me an aria then,” and she belted out four verses of Carmen.’ Although Joon has been Sliming for decades, he says he loves seeing a new generation discover the club. ‘The new promoter Ricardo Castro has really given the scene new life and spreads the word about it to a new audience,’ he says. ‘We now get more flamboyant, queer clubbers who really make the effort with their outfits, and that’s given the old goths a kick up the bum.’
Part of the new wave is Kaya Lili, aka the YouTube influencer ToxicTears, who travels from her home in Belfast to come to Slimelight. ‘I first came about a year ago and I was surprised at the scale of it,’ she says. ‘Back home clubs are like one or two rooms but this has so many floors and so many like-minded people. I was just running laps of it — it was so exciting!’ Lili says that coming to Slimelight has helped her through a difficult year. ‘I was really struggling with a lot of things, but at Slimelight the vibe is so good and I’ve met so many great people.’
For Paris Ricci, the model and dominatrix, going to Slimelight for the first time four years’ ago was ‘love at first sight’. Tonight she will perform at the club — ‘a five-minute dungeon routine where I choose slaves from the crowd’ — and has painted her entire body in black paint so that she resembles a goth Minnie Mouse. ‘There is no place like Slimelight if you want to express yourself,’ she says. ‘It’s a really safe space where anyone can be whoever they want to be and that can be hard to find these days.’
Darcy Edmond agrees that Slimelight is unique. ‘There’s Torture Garden, but that’s a sex club. There’s Berghain, but that’s just a load of tourists. Everything has become so corporate now, but Slimelight still has that enigma. Everyone wants to say they’ve been here, to say they’ve played here. It’s like Glastonbury in that respect. People come just to touch the ground. Everyone is talking about diversity now, but Slimelight’s been doing this for 30 years.’
Things will wind down around 6am. Ricci will wash off her body paint in the club’s green room before getting the Tube home. Lili will travel back to Belfast. Another Slimelight will be over, and London will become a little more ordinary. Until next time.
Slimelight Halloween Part 2 is on 31 October (electrowerkz.co.uk)