London Parties, That’s what an Expat Kiwi came here for!
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London – April-June 1997
I spent my first six weeks in London staying in a hostel in a huge old building between Paddington and Lancaster Gate. I recall that it was on Eastbourne Terrace. The name of the place is forever lost to time… Or perhaps it was just called ‘Eastbourne House’ or something like that.
This hostel was full of travellers who were just passing through and long-termers who were working in the area to either gather more funds for travelling or couldn’t afford a proper place to stay. It was cheap and rough and interesting. Most rooms had 4 or 6 beds and had lower rates for long-termers.
In the basement was a café-restaurant run by a French guy called Remy. I don’t know if that was actually his name, but it feels right in my brain so that’s what we’ll call him. He’s not a particularly important character in this story, other than a case of mistaken identity with a hat. It’s not even a particularly good story about the hat, but perhaps if you keep reading I might be inclined to tell you about it at the end, but you’ll just have to fill in the blanks yourselves for now.
Come to think of it, perhaps Remy is a little more important than I first thought. I was sitting in that basement café on Saturday night when I attended my first London dance party!
My first dance party in London happened on my first weekend in the Capital, without looking for it or trying to find one…
I had been a bit of a party boy in New Zealand, (thought mostly alcohol and weed to this point) with a wide group of friends in my native town of Hamilton. And now here I was, an Expat Kiwi in London not knowing anyone at all, but still being a bit of a party boy…
Part of my desire to go to London was to get a taste of the music scene. I had recently become more interested in dance music, after an upbringing on mostly guitar music. The still recent Grunge explosion of the early ’90s had reshaped my general musical taste away from the awful Hair Metal of the ’80s, but more recent experiences in the underground party scene in Hamilton had turned me on to dance music, particularly Techno and Trance.
London and the UK, in general, was in the later stages of a dance music boom that had started in the mid-’80s. London was full of clubs and parties, playing host to DJs and producers making ridiculous amounts of amazing music! This was the London of House and Techno, Raves and Basement clubs… And yes, of Ecstasy…
This was a few years after the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill had become an Act in 1994, essentially banning groups of people from gathering in the open spaces of Britain and listening to ‘Repetitive Beat Music’. To be honest, this new act didn’t seem to deter Ravers in the slightest, in fact, they seemed to thrive on the opposition and just find new ways to party.
By this point dance music had become so mainstream that all new popular music seemed to have a Dance or House music sound, at the very least a dance beat… Even the Spice Girls album was packed with dance beats and dance production. Not that it made them any better in my view, it’s just notable because when I arrived in London they seemed to be the biggest music phenomenon since… Sorry to say it, the Beatles…
I was sitting in the basement café of that hostel on Eastbourne Terrace, perhaps reading a book, probably about London, most likely the London Timeout guide. The young woman with olive skin and short spiky hair was dancing around the café who I had been watching while dipping into my book, made eye contact with me, smiled and suddenly asked me ‘Did you take something?’
I hadn’t taken anything, so I said no, but this started a conversation that quickly got to the point, which was ‘We’re going to a party, do you want to come?’
I said yes and joined in with a group of 4 French people, two girls and a guy, plus the French guy who ran the basement café, Remy…
After the café closed we walked to a nearby hostel that was holding a dance party in its basement bar.
I forget how it came about, but the Frenchies had Ecstasy and I was given a tablet. I can’t remember if it was a half or a whole pill but not long afterwards it was doing its thing and the music was moving my body… The music made sense, the rhythm was right, everything was flowing… I had arrived in London! The party had found me, in less than 72 hours…
Now it turned out that we weren’t exactly invited to that party, at some point later in the night as I was grooving to or from the bathroom, I passed two older men standing on the edge of the dance floor surveying the scene with furrowed brows, and talking in a serious manner… One was certainly the owner of the establishment, the other was perhaps the manager…
“I don’t know how they got in”
indicating to me as I floated past “There’s one!”
Well, it’s not like it was a double fenced Glastonbury Festival… I literally walked in the front door with my new French friends and nobody so much as asked me anything…
In my opinion, it was close to a total success! If I’d remembered the name of the hostel I would have been tempted to move there… I think theirs was more a problem of branding!
Not everybody was dancing of course… A huge black American guy, let’s call him Detroit, was dancing in a corner, adding his own refrain to the song that was being played by the DJ at that moment.
“Dance to the Music” was the song’s chorus, and he added “Or Not!” directed to the smaller white guy NOT dancing next to him… Let’s call him Texas… I’m not sure if he was even an American, let’s face it, he could have been from anywhere…
The night rolled on, the Frenchies were excited to have turned me on to my first Ecstasy experience! I was grateful that they had found me sitting in that basement. I can’t image the night would have been as exciting otherwise.
The spiky-haired French girl was kissing Remy but was keen to explain to me that sometimes friends just kissed, which I was fine with, and it seemed like a little bit of an invitation to me, but it also seemed a little bit crowded… I wasn’t ready for another first on this night…
Part four of The Adventures of an Expat Kiwi is coming soon…
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P.S. Since you did such a great job of reading all the way to the end, let me tell you the hat story…
The basement Cafe-Restaurant of the hostel was a meeting place for the residents and their friends. One evening while chilling in the bar I struck up a conversation with a french guy. Let’s call him Pierre, because it’s a good French name and I’ve already used up Remy. (In case you’re wondering, I studied German at high school and my stock of French boys names is limited).
So Pierre was telling me about a night out with some French friends (yes, lots of French people in this part of my life) where they had bought some black fedora or trilby style hats made of a kind of paper material and gone out drinking and had a good laugh with the hats. He still had the hat with him, and at the end of telling me the story, he gave me the hat because he didn’t want it anymore.
This was my first trilby or fedora style hat. Over the years since I’ve owned quite a few. So thank you, Pierre, for passing on this little piece of style advice to me!
Later that evening, sitting and watching TV in the Cafe, I had the hat sitting next to me on a small table. The Cafe manager guy, Remy, sat down on the chair on the other side of the small table and started messing around with my hat, creasing the lines between the taper and the crown, then putting it back on the table.
I, in turn, picked up the hat and smoothed out the creases he had just put in, before putting it back on the table.
This went back and forth for a while. Me wondering why he was doing that and him apparently thinking the same.
Until after what was probably too long for two fairly well-grown men to not actually ask ‘What the Hell Dude!’ or similar, Remy abruptly got up and walked into the kitchen area of the Cafe in the basement of the hostel. He returned moments later carrying an identical, albeit more creased, hat to the one I had been given.
It turned out that he was the other friend in the hats and drinking party that had recently occurred.
We had a little giggle at the confusion…
And we all lived happily ever after!
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