The old British Rail offices Paddington, London
The former Paddington Maintenance Depot, now the Monsoon building
23rd October 1999
Pendulum and loads of other systems

Leaving the safety of Norwich, I go see my squatter friends in their 19 story high rise squat in Hackney. They get the location of the party from their own contact and around midnight or so, we go find a taxi.

We tear across London in a cab driven by an old skool DJ with a pumping sound system who enjoys a smoke of skunk weed. His car has very good breaks and first rate road holding...

We get to the Westway motorway and see the building ... oh, oh oh.

First off, this party is no secret. Its in a very respectable area (London's "Paddington Basin"), and the building is a famous landmark, albeit one that had been empty and unused for a long time.

It's actually one of the stranger examples of 60's architecture, a pre-privatisation British rail Maintenance Depot which had been converted into offices during the 1980's before being abandoned. Inside the style was unmistakably British Rail. Dating from 1968 along with the westway motorway it was built into the motorway junction on the side of a hill, a real concrete fairyland.

We enter under the motorway which is on a flyover bridge, push past the barricades (this party isn't going to be shut down), pay 3 quid "donation" and go in.

Darkness and pounding techno echo around a vast stairwell, a huge sort of spiral staircase which gets wider as you climb and winds up about 5 stories to the first office level. The staircase heaves with people, I go explore.

Essentially three levels of techno, jungle and stuff with a somewhat lonely techno room at the bottom. I stash my coat in here (an old one I used for parties), and that's the last I see of it.

The techno level in the main part of the building is the best in my opinion, a huge room with a big pumping system with a very nice sound. There's something like ten or more systems kicking off around the place all told though.

There was no power in there, the electricity for the rigs coming from a large genset outside so the main problem is the lack of lights. There was one small strip to light the stairway and the systems had lights of course, but beyond that, we had to live with the light coming in through the windows from the motorway outside.

The other problem is no running water, and only one (non flushing) toilet which soon became minging. But it didn't seem to upset anyone. Well, it was a London squat, these things get improvised...

The view in the main techno room was breathtaking, a massive room which eventually filled up with several hundred ravers, the big widows giving a backdrop of the Westway motorway with people dancing in silhouette, I spent a lot of time in here.

Although it hadn't been used for around 10 years or so, the place hadn't been cleared out and the rooms were still furnished.

There were huge metal storage cabinets in the room with the massive techno rig and people were dancing on these high above the dancefloor. Some had collapsed into a twisted heap of metal - actually I suspect the unstable ones had been collapsed on purpose and the remaining ones were actually quite firm, they didn't fall over anyway.

The rhythm of the people dancing on the metal shelves added a strange quality to the pounding bass of the music, so the sound was all around as you danced, plus it had this echo that you only really get in warehouses and dead office blocks. This is what I like about squats, a quality you just don't get in sanitised clubs. Seriously, the place was alive.

The London parties can have a darkside though, and this one was a bit on the darkish side. Some of the events of that night really did my head in and overshadowed the rest of the party, just a bit.

Sections of the two main floors were offices, once plush 80's style suspended ceilings, smart window blinds and so on, the rooms too small to use for the party. I wandered around the offices which had already been a bit roughed up by the time we got there - tables overturned, chairs thrown through the suspended ceilings and filing cabinets and shelving units

overturned spreading 80's yuppie leaflets all over the floor. As the night progressed, the place became a playground and the once plush offices didn't remain plush for very long.

The remaining shelving units in the offices, still full of 80's style "yuppie" promotional leaflets, get pushed over, doors pulled off hinges and chairs thrown through the suspended ceiling, which fluttered down like confetti. There was a sort of continuous good natured general mayhem and the place got trashed.

It's worth noting that offices are strange places, the walls and ceilings aren't real, rather the they're made of fiber board walls held together with aluminum tracking. It's not too difficult to walk - or perhaps jump - through them. Likewise the ceilings are suspended from the real ceiling with light units simply sitting on the metal frame. This sort of place doesn't last long when faced with hordes of pilled up ravers.

As the night goes on I find a "body", still breathing but out to the world lying in a heap of trashed office furniture (I guess deep in a ketamine hole). There's no lights of course, so by the flickering light of a ciggy lighter and with help from a couple of others I give him a quick check and roll him into the recovery position.

I find another staircase which leads up to the roof, there are a lot of people up here, then the sound of a big window being smashed and another. I come down.

Later in the darkness a voice says "rocks?" - crack cocaine. You don't often get that at parties even in London.

In one room the music stops with a flash of sparks as the suspended ceiling collapses, not sure what happened after that.

Daylight comes eventually to show a scene of utter devastation in what was once a very smart building. Walls covered in graffiti, broken glass everywhere, trashed offices. Everyone is off their heads, walking round through the scattered yuppie literature, ceiling tiles and general chaos or else going wild in what was left.

A strange thing happened as a result of the trashing of the offices though. The place had been given this makeover sometime in the mid-80's. Before that it had been this strange kind of British Rail warehouse, which it had suddenly become again, the place had totally changed, reverted to its original form.

I go back up the staircase - actually a water tower - with some other people this time. The view from the top is mind blowing, the whole of west London laid out like a map, a lot of people up here running around, looking over the edge. There are shear drops through broken windows. We find a door to the outside and there's the window cleaning machinery, we resist the temptation to play in the cradle, but I'm sure someone would have done.

Around 9.00am and I'm finished. It's been a long day (I was in work at 7.30 in the morning!) and the body was saying "sleep". I had to go and like I say, my head was done right in. The party continued of course, it was still going at 4.00pm when my friends crawled home anyway.

So I leave and suddenly I'm in the real world again, clean people, walls not covered in graff, windows not smashed, reality takes a bit of coming to terms with sometimes.

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Footnote: By the time the photo's were taken, a few months later, the place was being gutted and refitted for the new use as the Monsoon building, nothing of any value was trashed.

 

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