Though it has perhaps the most devoted following of any London club night, Low Life has stubbornly remained under the mainstream radar for the past two decades. It’s a club night that has never been advertised and has always operated solely on word-of-mouth, growing around a core community of regulars who span the generations and religiously attend every event.
Low Life was created in New York in 1995 by British writers and DJs Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, who brought the party with them when they moved back to London a couple of years later. The first London event happened in a loft on Kingsland Road in 1998, with a bizarre list of attendees that included Damon Albarn, Björk and Alexander McQueen. It soon became one of the most exciting and unique nights in the capital, famed for its curveball fancy dress themes, the choicest house and disco and its carefree, house-party vibe.
Though it spiralled into a boat party and a festival (Wildlife, handily subtitled ‘Low Life in a field’), one thing has continued to unite all of the pair’s parties: a disarmingly friendly atmosphere that few – if any – other club nights can rival. In the words of their official motto: ‘Low Life is a registered good time’. At least for the next few weeks.
It seems that Low Life is as exciting and successful as it’s ever been. So why end it now?
Frank: ‘Basically, we’d rather go out on a bang rather than a whimper. It’s been amazing for 20 years and we don’t want it to fizzle out. The first rule of showbusiness is always leave them wanting more. End on a high.’
Bill: ‘When we did the twentieth-anniversary party in February – which one of the best parties we’ve done – it just felt like a fitting way of ending it, having reached some sort of milestone. It felt like it was the right time to stop, draw a line under it all and start again.’
It’s obviously going to leave a big hole in the lives of all the Low Life regulars. What is it about the night that inspires such devotion in its crowd?
Bill: ‘I think it’s rooted in how we started it years ago, which was to not advertise it. We built it really organically, by word-of-mouth. So you could only really know about it if someone told you about it. Even though it’s quite well known within a certain coterie of people, there are plenty of others who have still never heard of it.’
‘We’ve had Low Life weddings, Low Life babies.’
That’s definitely one of the things I love about it – even though it’s always rammed, it still feels like your little secret.
Bill: ‘Yeah, I like that. And I think that’s why people regard it as a special place, because it’s like its own little community. Three or four of my friends have met their partners there; we’ve had Low Life weddings, Low Life babies.’
Frank: ‘It’s a big family, really. It’s part of people’s lives. In that way, it’s carried the spirit of the glory years of the rave era – that you come to a party because of the people, not because it’s the hot place to go. We wrote about this in ‘How To DJ’ [the 2006 book by Frank and Bill that has become a DJing bible].
‘We said: “If you throw a party, make sure it’s a party and not a club.” And that for me is the philosophy of Low Life. I still do the decor and put a lot of effort into making it look nice; stupid stuff that takes a long time but is really rewarding because it makes people have an amazing night. The lights are one thing I’m really proud of. People often don’t notice that the lights are much better at Low Life than at other nights, because we have really good lighting people. I remember parties where people were like: “What were those pills?” But it wasn’t the pills – it was the lights!’
You’re surely going to miss Low Life.
Bill: ‘Yeah, I will. It’s been my favourite place to play for the last 20 years. It feels like it’s my home, and I’m the only one who’s played at every single party, so yeah I will absolutely miss it.’
Frank: ‘I think I’ve kind of lived in a little bubble where you know that Low Life is special but there’s still a feeling in the back of your head that it’s not that different from other nights. But then you actually go out to another night and you’re like: “Fucking hell, it really is!”’
So what’s next for the two of you?
Bill: ‘Well we’re planning on carrying on the festival. We’re sort of partnering up with Corsica Studios, which will give us some support that we’ve kind of lacked up to now. But we don’t have any big plans for something else that we’re going to do.’
Frank: ‘More than anything, Low Life being over frees us up to do new things. But, one way or another, I’m sure me and Bill will do some great parties together in the future.’