This venerable Camden institution is still (just about) going strong.
Conveniently close to Camden Town tube, it also proved to be perilously close when the Electric Ballroom was recently threatened with demolition to make way for an expanded underground station. That danger has abated for the time being, but with several parts of the market undergoing a Council-approved makeover, combined with the Labour government declaring the building dilapidated just a year ago, its future remains far from secure.
It’s a far cry from the halcyon days when 184 Camden High Street was the first ballroom in London to have electric rather than gas lighting, which, interestingly enough, is how it acquired the name that now blazes from above the doors in a gaudy neon blue and silver.
Dilapidated may be a bit harsh, but dingy probably wouldn’t be overly critical. This is Camden though, it revels in shabby chic, and a little dinginess doesn’t deter the hordes of goths and emo kids to whom Camden is a mecca and the Electric Ballroom one of its holiest shrines.
By day, Electric Ballroom is an indoor market hosting up to fifty stalls selling a variety of fashion, lifestyle and music-related goods (so pretty much indistinguishable from the Lock and Stables markets, but with a vast capacity and three floors it is a bit more spacious). At night it becomes a live performance club, which enhances Camden’s reputation as a centre of musical credibility - except on Saturdays. On this day, the Ballroom inexplicably goes chav and turns into a bit of a meat market. The majority of the time, the weekend high-jinks are perfectly good natured, but with different social milieus colliding the atmosphere can occasionally become hostile, not helped by the bouncers and their nonsensical door policy (no trainers in Camden? Pur-lease!).
On the above-mentioned Saturdays, going by the name of Shake, the main room DJs play pop classics from the ‘60s to the present day, throwing in a little indie-lite to appease the locals, whilst the side room throbs to the sounds of noughties RnB. Fridays, known as Sin City, are more in keeping with Camden’s alternative ethos, playing hard rock, metal, ska and punk, a guitar-centric sound capturing what is delightfully described as ‘the very latest brutal riffs’.
As a midweek live venue, the Electric Ballroom tends to attract bands that have enjoyed a modicum of mainstream success without reaching the higher echelons of the charts. It can be a good place to catch the arena-filling bands of the future, with Hard-Fi, The Killers and The Raconteurs having played here in recent years, although it’s not as intimate as neighbours such as the Barfly or the Purple Turtle.
Red Stripe rules in Camden. More than £3 for a plastic-glassed pint of this swill hardly represents good value, but it seems to be one of those incontrovertible rules that gig-goers are happier to swallow far worse than trendy nightclubbers ever would. Not exactly spoilt for choice with quality beverages, and given that a good portion of your pint is likely to join the various other substances stuck to the floor, shorts could prove the best buy.
The Last Word
It’s certainly not pleasant but there’s no denying that the Electric Ballroom has a certain creaky charm and Camden would be all the poorer without it.