Shoom: An Oral History of the London Club That Kicked Off Rave Culture

Danny Rampling and fellow DJs look back on how their 1987 Ibiza trip helped jumpstart a British dance-music revolution

In September 1987, four London club and pirate-radio DJs – Nicky Holloway, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling and Johnny Walker – spent a week on the Balearic island of Ibiza, a place where, legend had it, as journalist Chris Heath wrote in 1990, “it was even possible to get drugs on room service.” The British quartet was visiting Trevor Fung and Ian St. Paul, with whom Oakenfold had thrown parties. Eventually, the group wound up at Amnesia, a large open-air space run by DJ Alfredo.

Suddenly, this knot of MDMA-fueled English soul boys with few musical interests outside black American imports like go-go, funk, hip-hop and jazz-funk were suddenly grooving like mad to indie guitar bands and pop songs – and especially to the minimalist house records coming from Chicago and bleep-y techno from Detroit, which didn’t hew to pop-song structure but spoke fluently to bodies in motion. “I could see their minds, their brains ticking overtime,” St. Paul said in 2001. “It was like Wacky Races – who could get back quick enough to get it sorted.”

Though Oakenfold threw Balearic-style parties both before and after the 1987 Ibiza trip – he and St. Paul would start Future shortly after returning – it was Rampling’s Shoom that effectively kicked off the acid-house craze in London. Rampling’s weekly began on December 5th, 1987, running on Saturdays in the basement of the Fitness Centre in Southwark, before moving first to a larger YMCA basement on Tottenham Court Road, and finally to Busby’s in Charing Cross Road. Rampling shut Shoom down in early 1990.

These were small venues: Rampling’s then-wife, Jenni, guarded the door, picking and choosing the crowd with an iron will. She needed to, because thousands of punters were trying to get into a gym basement that held 300. Shoom was the crucial model for what would become the entire global rave scene, and therefore EDM culture as we know it. “It wasn’t just me, and my energy as a DJ, it was the enthusiasm from the crowd,” Rampling tells Rolling Stone, looking back on the party’s impact. “Whether it be the Cavern [Club] with the Beatles or the Paradise Garage or the Warehouse in Chicago, it’s a combination of the crowd and the music and the room and the vibe and the spirit of that room.”

Rampling, along with Oakenfold and fellow London DJs Carl Cox (who played Shoom’s opening night) and Terry Farley (a second-room resident at Shoom’s YMCA location) spoke with RS about the wild, pivotal days of Shoom.

I. Prehistory

Carl Cox: Danny Rampling was basically playing funk, soul and disco music at the time. I used to go and see him play at the local wine bars and pubs and certain funk and soul parties in the area.

Danny Rampling: I was DJ’ing at parties and on pirate radio with Kiss FM – a late-night slot, which was a real fortunate break. I worked with Nicky Holloway as his assistant. He was an established, leading club promoter in London. He did one-off events. I learned the business of promotion and how to set up an event.

Terry Farley: In that time in London, if you looked at what was being played, musically, it was a real mishmash. DJs would play a Pharaoh Sanders record next to Run-D.M.C., and then a New York club record like “D” Train. The DJs were black music enthusiasts. We wouldn’t play any records by white artists. The idea of a whole night of just house music being mixed wasn’t in the scheme of things in London: “Why would you want to do that? That means you can’t play jazz records. It means you can’t play hip-hop records.”

Paul Oakenfold: I remember spending my money on an import Isley Brothers album and then having to dodge the landlord because I didn’t have enough money to pay rent.

Carl Cox: When I heard the first tune by Chip E. called “Time to Jack,” I was in. We never had a scene for that type of music in the UK. We had to create that scene.

Paul Oakenfold: At that time I was dealing with Public Enemy, L.L. Cool J, Beastie Boys. I was always a fan of house music because I was playing it as a DJ. So I started to get more involved in that side of things. I was looking after DJ International and Trax Records, signing a lot of it to Champion. Steve “Silk” Hurley – I promoted that record [“Jack Your Body,” a U.K. Number One in January 1987] for London Records. It surprised everyone. Those records were bubbling under – you knew one would break through, and that was the record.