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Album Review: Ministry of Sound – 20th Anniversary Box Set

Larry Levan’s ‘lost weekend’ (he stayed 3 months) is part of the mythology of London’s early house music scene. A myth partly spread by living legend himself DJ Harvey (who hosted Levan at his then current ‘Moist’ night). And The Ministry of Sound is one of the clubs that helped shape London’s relationship with house music. The club has always divided opinion, but if you’ve ever lost hours of your life dancing to a world renowned house DJ in the Ronseal-named dry-ice zone known as The Box, you will know how important this club has been to London’s house music story.

Ministry has always had it’s haters: Boys Own fanzine listed it in their ‘downers’ list adding ‘no real clubbers like it’; Boy George sued them for queerbashing and more recently, DJ Cosmo in a radio interview with Tim Sweeney on Beats in Space reflecting on her time in London, spoke of it not being ‘her scene’. But it undoubtedly was a scene, and for a period if you wanted to dance all night to the master DJs from the US: Danny Tenaglia, Masters at Work, Frankie Knuckles, Deep Dish and eventually Body & Soul’s holy trinity, then Ministry was the place to do it. These legends all raised the roof to a packed room of dancers going crazy to the best house music in the world. Latterly a contributing factor to the horrors of the Superstar-DJ-era phase of commercial dance music, and recently linked to some of the capital’s less convincing sub-genres, Ministry is probably still capable of hosting great nights, though it has always had the ability to tip over and become something quite nasty.  Lest we forget a particularly shining time in it’s history though: for a brief spell Ministry flew the most important names in global house music at that moment (Tenaglia, Knuckles) over to play in their tent at Gay Pride events to huge, non-paying crowds, something unthinkable now on so many levels.

And one particular night in 1991 Larry Levan played there. This double-disc release is part of the Ministry’s 20th year anniversary and Mr Levan’s selection, remastered here, will always be one of the most sought after recordings from the venue, the man himself being so thoroughly entangled in the NY-LON story of house music’s development. This compilation includes literally some of the fabric of house music’s defining sound: Soft House Company’s What U Need and A Little Piano; Sounds of Blackness The Pressure; Robert Owens I’ll Be Your Friend, (Mr Owens himself being part of the ongoing story of NY-LON house). The remaining tracklisting is like an ingredient list for classic house: Crystal Waters, Basement Boys, Steve Silk Hurley. This is an amazing collection of music. A disc to be played very loud, whilst staying up late with your best friends.  As Mr Levan might have said, it’s the sound of having fun and not worrying about the consequences.

David Morales reputation hasn’t survived the evolution of house as well as some of his contemporaries like, say, Danny Tenaglia and Frankie Knuckles. Whilst Larry Levan’s music will always be frozen in time in its raw embryonic state, Morales’ particularly sweet form of house production hasn’t really lasted. But surely, the man produced some great remixes and productions in his day, particularly at Def Mix where he worked alongside Frankie Knuckles and Satoshi Tomiie, and as such Mr Morales deserves a chapter heading in your house music studies. Of course, this recording is from the most productive and most celebrated time in David Morales’s career and again is a disc laden with house classics, I could list them all here but each and every one is a classic so just buy and listen.

If you’re piecing together a collection, or simply seeking an understanding of the music called house and especially what it’s story in London has been, then this double disc release will give you an insight into the heady days of early 90s house in London, before the time when dance music was fragmented into a 1,000 sub-genres. Ministry was always the loveable rogue of London nightclubs, a scary-looking bull terrier with a heart of gold, and yet somehow this club with the most heavily enforced drug policy in London hosted many of the most debauched nights of all-night dancing to quality house music the city is ever likely to see. 

A memento and an education.

- Colin Chapman

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