Sabrina Mahfouz on London’s glittering nightlife

The writer, poet, playwright and performer looks back on a memorable 1999 warehouse rave

From raves to churches, accents to gestures, E8 to SE22, no Londoner’s story is the same. In our first series, Audio Stories: London, we asked individuals from all walks of life to share an account of their city.

London knows a good party and, subsequently, many Londoners can share a story or two from their party heydays. Warehouse raves, a good old pub-knees up, nights trailing up and down Kingsland Road and everything in between – each area of London has its own nightlife narrative; whether that’s the Blitz Kids of Soho, or Hackney’s early 00s UKG scene. 

Writer, poet, playwright and performer Sabrina Mahfouz knows how to tell a good story. In her forthcoming book, The Lost Clubs of London, Mahfouz chronicles her time spent raving to jungle at a warehouse party in King’s Cross back in 1999. It’s a nostalgic nod to what has become known as the golden age’ of raving – back when getting lost in the music was more important than sharing it with your Instagram followers. In an intimate description, the wordsmith recalls Jungle music, which is the music of this city, which is my city, and my music and my people are down there waiting for me. Waiting for me to join them and I am so lucky to live in this city with this music and these people and my arms go up in the air.”

Raised in London and Cairo, Mahfouz was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and is a recipient of the King’s Alumni Arts & Culture Award – her output having been recognised for inspiring much-needed change in the industry, while a great deal of her work centres around her lived experience. 

Audio Transcription:

Hi my name is Sabrina Mahfouz. I’m a writer and performer from London and this is an extract from my forthcoming novel The Lost Clubs of London. This bit is set in Bagleys, York Way, King’s Cross, 1999

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire/​We don’t give a damn, let the motherfucker burn/​The roof, the roof. I’m in it, the roof. Ballet stepping on the rafters of this sweating warehouse. I’m 16. I am electric – literally. 

The technician in the black box responsible for the strobing rainbows and laser illuminations has taken my fresh face and balanced me on beams, heaven high above the DJ worship below. Rosary bead, heads bopping. I am open. The crowd of thousands thaw my icy teenage gaze. Never have I felt flush love for the masses until now. I wouldn’t allow even one wasp to threaten these beings below me. I would protect them with all the glitter on my eyelids, with all the cocoa butter on my elbow, with all the ecstasy in my bloodstream. I am grounded. 

As I emerge into my young adult years I will make decisions that hoist me into these beams with all the bravery of warriors and the balance of gymnasts and the awaiting proper adult world is wonderful. I can tell this from the care that is taken with my limbs, bringing them to this secretive sky of lighting rigs. I can tell this from the way my fingers tingle to this music. Jungle music, which is the music of this city, which is my city, and my music and my people are down there waiting for me. Waiting for me to join them and I am so lucky to live in this city with this music and these people and my arms go up in the air. 

The technician’s gold sovereign ring offers my sensitive stomach’s skin a cool respite as he tries to suggest going back now. He looks worried, but maybe it is the shadows up here, dancing doubt across his kind face. What a kind face!” I say. 

The roar from the MC below catches my ears again and before I know what I know I’m shouting with my eyes closed along with the crowd and the man with the mic. The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire/​we don’t give a damn let the motherfucker burn. Both my arms are up, and not my balance nor my sticky soled trainers are enough to hold my trip from grace. My face dangling. The crowd so much closer. Blood pumping through my eyelids and disappearing from my lips. About to fall from the roof of a rave. The technician has hold of my shins. He heaves me in, lifting an underage girl full of sparkles and sportswear up from her possible death and definite broken bones, at the very least.

Breathless, he lays on the planks, my legs across his, my chin scraped on the metal edge of a beam, and maybe a bruise on my collarbone but otherwise fine. I am fine. I am fucking high, but I’m fine. The technician doesn’t smile. You could have died.” I smile for the both of us, The crowd would have caught me, look at their lovely, bouncy arms.” It’s time to go. 

He guides me to the ladder, wipes my palm on his t‑shirt. Don’t let go. Thank you!” I shout once we are back by the black box in the corner of the dance floor, but the technician already has his headphones on. His fingers busy with buttons and the tattoo on his neck shiny wet. I look up to the beams I almost fell from minutes ago. From down here they look unfathomably high. A mountaineering miracle. A cliff even seagulls would stay clear of. For saving me, I mean. 


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