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Ben UFO and twenty years of exemplary club culture at The Bongo Club

In many ways Ben UFO is the ideal artist to open the Bongo Club’s 20th birthday celebrations. His musical spirit and ability to determine which tracks are the right fit for the crowd remain one of his strongest suits, and subsequently he is one of few DJs who is renowned purely for his ability as a selector and mixer behind the decks, as opposed to indulging in any production of his own. This unique musicality, and sense that no two nights with him will be the same, seems right at home with the Bongo Club’s eclectic musical policy.

With the tagline, “Putting cult into culture”, perhaps it is no surprise that Bongo’s endorses such a variety of alternative and sub-cultural music; one only has to look at the array of events taking place during the month’s celebrations, with artists as wide-ranging as the electro pioneer DJ Stingray, and Grime behemoth Spooky Bizzle – alongside the mighty Electrikal Sound System. What might be more surprising is that, in a period where independent, alternative venues are becoming increasingly under threat, Bongo’s is thriving.

That said, the club has had its share of ups and downs. Born in a New Street ex-bus-garage-office, the Bongo Club began as a tie-in with community arts initiative Out Of The Blue, running workshops, classes, live music nights and everything in between. Sadly, the wrecking ball soon beckoned, meaning OOTB was forced to relocate to an old drill hall on Dalmerry Street, allowing the Bongo Club to move into its own premises in Moray House. This did not last long before the club moved again (its use of a University of Edinburgh building was questioned) to its current home in Cowgate, four floors beneath the Edinburgh Central Library – somewhat fitting given its roots in underground music.

This last move was made possible only by a 2013 ‘Save the Bongo’ campaign, showcasing the loyalty that had been established by years of quality club nights; it is hard to imagine another establishment generating such support, and perhaps it was its early link to OOTB that has meant loyalty and community have always been close to Bongo’s heart, standing out amongst its competitors.

One might imagine that the Bongo Club’s move to Cowgate may cause an issue, lost amongst other sub-cultural establishments that also reside there, with Sneaky Pete’s, La Belle Angele, The Liquid Rooms, Studio 24 (albeit slightly further down the road), all vying with Bongo for what seems to be an increasingly competitive market. Yet Bongo could be seen by some to have come up trumps.

Most clubs offer a plethora of world-class talent on weekends and on one-offs, yet some might think that what sets Bongo’s apart are its regular, be it weekly or monthly, offerings. Just a cursory glance at its website’s event calendar shows Notion (House/Techno every Tuesday), Loco Kamanchi (Bass/Jungle/DnB), Electric Theatre Workshops (monthly Thursdays), Messenger Soundsystem (Reggae/Dub, monthly Saturdays), and Four Corners (Funk/Soul/Disco, monthly Saturdays) to name but a few.

It really is no cliché to say that the Bongo Club is one of many clubs that can be seen to offer something for everyone; Bongo’s even offers a student and ‘good cause’ discount on hiring facilities. Again, we return to this community spirit that Bongo’s seems to exemplify, from its roots as an arts initiative to their modern day stance as a purely musical establishment and not a business, something that seems increasingly uncommon in the rows and rows of soulless clubs offering the empty combination of dangerously cheap drinks and generic music. In the words of the March 2013 edition of The Skinny, Bongo’s is an “Edinburgh institution”.

Looking to the future, one might wonder what lies in store for the Bongo Club, with strong opposition in its history, unrecognised by a city and its regulators that often undervalue the positive effects of a thriving club and nightlife culture. However, a string of 5am licenses granted for its birthday celebrations indicate that maybe Bongo’s is finally being seen as it should be, not only as an “Edinburgh institution” but as an example of how a nightclub should be run.

Photo: The Bongo Club

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The Student Newspaper 2016