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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