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Richard Boote at Strongroom studios
Photograph: Andy Parsons

‘Back then, there was nothing’: how Strongroom transformed Shoreditch

Written by
Manu Ekanayake

Shoreditch has changed beyond recognition since Richard Boote set up his studio complex there in 1984. Strongroom is still going strong – but for how much longer?

I first got into the music business through being a truck driver. I spent a few years after university driving the likes of the Rolling Stones, Rick Wakeman, The Who and David Bowie around on tour for Edwin Shirley Trucking, the firm that moved all the big ’70s rock bands. That led to me getting to know people, so I ended up tour-managing and later managing a few bands. It was nobody famous – but that’s how I ended up in Shoreditch.

In 1984, I found this space on Curtain Road after losing my old office on Denmark Street. Back then, there was nothing in Shoreditch apart from some warehouses that sold fittings for really old furniture.

I had decided to build a studio as I was sick of going to record companies and asking for a grand just to make some bloody demos. So I built two studios that were really high-tech for the time, and people who’d never come to Shoreditch suddenly gave it a chance.

The first albums produced here were The Proclaimers’ ‘This Is the Story’, ‘London 0 Hull 4’ by The Housemartins (Norman Cook’s first band), John Cale’s ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and Nico’s last album ‘Camera Obscura’. By the ’90s, people like Spiritualized, Orbital and The Chemical Brothers all wanted to base themselves here permanently. I built them smaller studios and that’s how we grew; renting out space to managers, publishers, graphic designers and the like.

Studio 2 was booked practically every day with DJs doing dance remixes, a trend we helped supply. The likes of Jamiroquai and The Prodigy, two of my favourite acts, did their first albums here – their long-serving producers both started out as assistants here too. The Spice Girls used to practise dance routines in the car park before becoming Number One everywhere in the world virtually overnight.

New businesses would arrive as a one-man band, then they’d expand. Our interiors by Jamie Reid, who did all the iconic Sex Pistols designs, offered something no other studio could come close to. Everybody would hang out in The Bricklayers Arms nearby – at least until I opened what’s now the Strongroom Bar the night Tony Blair won the general election in 1997, mainly because there was nowhere else for all the people based here to get anything to eat or drink!

Around 2000 or so, big businesses moved in ‘for the vibe’ and things really started to change. I got a ‘Businessman of the Year’ award from Hackney’s mayor in 2006, but now that developers want to build a six-storey office block right next door, we’re having to get heavy with Hackney Council. The new building will put our courtyard in permanent shadow – and the vibrations from the construction work will cripple us as a place to record. Our vibration experts are talking to their vibration experts now, and we’re gathering signatures on a #SaveStrongroom petition. We’re doing everything we possibly can to keep the area creative.

It still surprises some people that despite running such a renowned recording studio, I’m not a musician or an engineer. The way I see it, I don’t need to be to put the really creative people together. That’s really all I’ve ever done.’

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