BLOW UP HISTORY
A bona-fide legendary club night, and now in its 25th year, Blow Up was at the centre of the early to mid Nineties Brit Pop explosion, cited as the catalyst and birth place of the Brit Pop scene and influencing the style and sound of a generation. Blow Up was voted as No.4 in Time Out’s Top Ten Clubs of the 90s, one of ‘5 Classic Clubs of Our Time‘ by Vox Magazine (alongside The Blitz Club and Shoom) and as ‘The club that changed the world’ by Melody Maker. Describing Blow Up in Time Out’s London Calling book as “the breeding ground of the Brit Pop sound” and in NME’s Original’s Top Ten Britpop Moments.
From its origins at The Laurel Tree, Camden Town (1993-1996), to Soho venues the Wag Club (1996-2001) the Metro Club (2002-2009), and through various London venues since (2009-2014), Blow Up is one of London’s longest running club nights. We’ve hosted events in Europe, USA, Russia and Japan, whilst the Blow Up club compilations (‘Blow Up A-Go-Go!’ and ‘Blow Up presents Exclusive Blend’) have increased the Blow Up reach to audiences worldwide.
2015 – 2019 St Moritz Club – 25th Anniversary concert 100 Club
Blow Up began a weekly Soho event from January 2015 where it is still in weekly residence. During this time Blow Up has also held monthly events at the Troubadour Earls Court and has held various events at the Groucho Club Soho.
In 2017 Paul Tunkin performed a DJ set at Somerset House as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Antonioni’s classic film Blow Up. Thursday 24th October there will be a special live concert event at the 100 Club, London.
See more: Blow Up press here and flyers in the Blow Up scrapbook here
BLOW UP, BRIT POP AND BEYOND
Blow Up opened its doors for the first time on October 16th 1993, when DJ and promoter Paul Tunkin hired the upstairs function room of a Camden pub The Laurel Tree. He had wanted to create a club night with a new agenda, a direct reaction to the musical climate of the early 90s and its infatuation with the US Grunge scene (and its lack of style), alongside a UK Indie scene that was missing the colour, energy and ambition needed to make a serious raid on the charts. The first club flyer went straight to the point with a Pop Art target and arrow, synonymous with the sixties Mod scene, and was accompanied by the tagline “For the 90s Swinging London”. It was more a statement of intent as London wasn’t exactly swinging at the time – an attempt to bring the energy of a lost 60s London into a head on collision with the then emerging British Pop Scene.
The early Blow Up scene was initially small and self-contained, many of the first club regulars having contacts with Southend where Paul had been promoting club and live events previously. Londoners in the club were drawn from friends, customers of Camden Town record shop Out On The Floor where he was working, and others who had spotted the photocopied posters and flyers around the Capital.
Paul had moved up from his hometown of Southend in late 1991, finding a London that seemed to be lacking the buzz of strong pop scene. Between ’92 and ’93 Paul DJed at London shows for Suede, My Life Story and Blur – all acts with a British Pop sensibility which he felt a strong affinity with; all had elements that seemed to be missing from the current musical landscape which seemed pretty flat, after the baggy/Manchester scene of the late 80s had come to premature end. The UK was still in Recession and the country, like the music scene, needed a real lift. It was “time to sharpen up, time for some new blood and time to put some fun into the proceedings” and to reclaim “the word Pop from being a dirty word”. Paul’s DJ set for Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish London Forum show a week before Blow Up’s opening night would be a blueprint for the club’s sound: bands from the emerging new British Pop scene (which would later be termed Brit Pop) mixed with a whole host of 60s dancefloor flavours. Easy Listening, Dancefloor Jazz, Beat and British R’n’B, Swinging Soundtracks, 60s Club Sounds, French Pop, Psych, British TV Themes, 60s electronica, Music Hall Knees-Ups, 70s New Wave and Glam all were featured.
Inviting different guests to DJ with him each week, Paul soon offered Watford’s Andy Lewis a regular spot, and in January 1994 when Blow Up expanded to both two floors of the Laurel Tree, he invited DJ duo The Karminsky Experience to join the weekly line up. The Karminskys added their own blend of obscure soundtracks, Bossa Nova, French Pop and Easy Listening to the mix, being replaced for a short time by Japanese DJ Nori (aka Mansfield) in 1995 until they returned in 1996 (when Blow Up moved to The Wag Club), Nori staying on too until he returned to his native Japan in 1998. Ian Jackson, a stalwart of UK Mod/Soul scene, and a 60s Soul, Boogaloo and Ska specialist also started to DJ at Blow Up in 1994.
In November 1993 The Weekenders played the first live show at Blow Up, followed by an early appearance from The Bluetones. However, the weekly live guests quickly became more occasional in order to make way for the club’s increasing attendance, though the drawing together of the like minded meant that bands also formed at Blow Up, the most well documented being Menswear in 1994. Early on the club regulars developed their own strong sense of identity and style, and less than a year after opening, by mid-1994, Blow Up was the club sound and the look of a new London “immersed in the past but joining the dots with the now”. Club regular and journalist Sian Pattenden had noted how so many new bands had started to frequent the club, and interviewed several for the music monthly Select. The resulting 4-page article complete with a double-page spread of the audience lined up outside the club and quotes from Blow Up regulars was published in Summer 1994, lighting the final touch paper for the club’s explosion. More articles on the club followed in broadsheets and style magazines in the UK and overseas in Europe, USA and Japan – all eager to document the vibrancy, music and fashion that was emerging from Blow Up and the new British Scene. The Select piece brought the club to an even wider audience, and the already packed pub soon became fit to burst with lengthy queues made up of people journeying from all over the UK and abroad. A long list of members of other London-based bands regularly frequented the club over the first year including: Huggy Bear, Comet Gain, Buzzcocks, Blur, Elastica, Pulp, My Life Story, The Bluetones, Gene, Stereolab and Saint Etienne.
In May 1994 Blow Up DJs Paul and Andy accompanied Blur on their UK Parklife Tour, including the Alexandra Palace in the Autumn (Pulp, Supergrass and Corduroy also appearing) and the Mile End Stadium show in 1995. Style magazine The Face interviewed Paul at the head of the tour with Davies & Davies photographing the DJs for the piece. The same month, Blow Up Records also released its first record, The Weekenders’ All Grown Up a mail-order single that was sold at their shows. The label would go on to release the influential Blow Up club compilations: the ‘Blow Up presents Exclusive Blend’ Series that introduced many to 60’s Music Library, and ‘Blow Up A-Go-Go! Dancefloor Classics from the Legendary Blow Up Club’ (released in conjunction with V2) which was a calling card for the sixties flavoured sounds heard at the club. Artist releases on Blow Up Records continued too, to date including debuts from Add N To X, Big Boss Man, The Bongolian, The Rifles, Silvery and Baltic Fleet amongst others.
November 1994 saw Blow Up celebrate its First Birthday at The Leisure Lounge in Holborn, with guest appearances from Earl Brutus, My Life Story, The Weekenders (featuring The Buzzcocks’ Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley) and The Stairs. It was an incredible and celebratory end to the club’s first year, and the first of many Blow Up one-off events which continued in 1995 with an Easter Special at Camden’s Jazz Cafe featuring Corduroy live, and several more at the Iceni Club in Mayfair. (Blow Up would also return to the Leisure Lounge in 1998 for its 5th Birthday with a live appearance from Brian Auger.) In Summer 1995 Blow Up hosted a stage at Brighton’s Essential Festival (and also had a Brighton residency around this time), with more club dates in the UK, Europe, US and Japan. In December 1995, when Blow Up was still in weekly residency at The Laurel Tree pub, it was voted into the Select Top 10 Clubs of 1995 alongside superclubs Cream and Ministry of Sound.
THE WAG YEARS TO THE METRO
Previously known as the Whisky A-Go-Go, The Wag Club in Soho was situated above what was once the legendary 60’s Flamingo Club; with a much larger capacity than The Laurel Tree and dancefloors on two floors it was tailor-made for Blow Up. In March 1996 Blow Up moved its weekly residency there, which was to last over five years and take the club to a new level. The first night at The Wag opened with guests The James Taylor Quartet, followed by late night live shows at midnight every week. Acts that played over this period included: Cornershop, Add N To X, Broadcast, Nancy Boy, David Devant & His Spirit Wife, My Life Story, Stereototal, Chicks On Speed, The Make-Up, Desmond Dekker with Prince Buster, The Selecter and an early show in 1999 from The Libertines. Alongside the Blow Up residents there were also guest sets from DJs such as David Holmes, LA’s Rodney Bingenheimer, Jerry Dammers, Konishi (Pizzicato 5), Tim Gane (Stereolab), Belle & Sebastian, Bob Stanley (St. Etienne) and Ladytron.
In 1999, Blow Up was name-checked when The Wag was named as the 5th best club in the World by The Independent newspaper and in December Blow Up was voted No. 4 in Time Out’s Top Ten Clubs of the ’90s (at The Laurel Tree and The Wag). This year also saw the release of the ‘Blow Up A-Go-Go!’ club classics album, which collected together 20 favourite tracks from the club.
Blow Up remained at The Wag club until May 2001, and hosted the last ever night of The Wag when the venue was finally closed. Blow Up at the Wag was the late night place in Soho running from 10pm to 5am each week, and members of almost every key up-and-coming British band could be spotted hanging out there (Mick Jagger even once had a shake on the dancefloor).
By November 2001 Paul had taken over the running of The Metro Club on Oxford Street, and moved Blow Up there in February 2002, where it stayed in weekly residence every Saturday until January 2009. (With The Wag’s closure, Blow Up had made a quick move to The Syndrome on Berwick Street and then to The T2 Club on Wardour Street until The Metro Club.) Branding the venue Blow Up Metro, Paul programmed the live shows and club nights at the venue, and it was soon dubbed “the home of New Rock’N’Roll” by the NME and similarly by Time Out as at “the epicentre of the New Rock’N’Roll explosion”, and in 2003 it received the Time Out’s Live Venue of the Year award. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Kings of Leon, The Killers, The Kills and Bloc Party all made early or breakthrough appearances at the venue.
The Blow Up club’s time at The Metro was the longest of all its residencies to date, and at almost seven years lasted until January 2009, when it was forced to relocate due to The Metro Club’s closure (along with The Astoria) for the London Crossrail project.
With the sudden closure of the Metro Club, (due to TFL Crossrail Project) Blow Up moved after seven years Bar Rumba in Soho for several months (close to the club’s former home at The Wag), live guests including The Bongolian, Stereototal (Germany), Gliss (US), Edgar Jones’ Free Peace and Hafdis Huld (Iceland).
In September 2009 Blow Up staged weekly events at 4 Denmark Street, the same building that once housed Regent Sound recording Studios where the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix all once recorded. Live guests in this time saw the return of Little Barrie to the Blow Up stage. The year was rounded of in December with a return to the USA with 16th Birthday dates in New York and Sacramento.
In early 2011 Blow Up hosted the opening night at HMV’s Next Big Thing Festival at The Garage, Highbury North London, along with an artist showcase from Blow Up Records, Blow Up returned to the USA for dates in LA, San Francisco, and Sacramento, followed by a Blow Up in Japan at Tokyo Liquid Lounge, which brought together Paul Tunkin and Masanori Ikeda together again for the first time in a decade, whilst back in UK Blow Up made an appearance at the final night of the Latitude Festival, Suffolk. 2011 and 2012 also saw a monthly residency in West London at Ginglik, Shepherds Bush and return dates in the US. 2013 started for Blow Up with a sell-out one-off night in East London at The Macbeth, Shoreditch which featured Stereo Total live, whilst Blow Up launched a new bi-monthly residency this Autumn at The Bussey Building in Peckham in South London. Blow Up reached its 20th Birthday on October 16th 2013 on which day it announced that an official 20th Anniversary Party will be held at The Bussey Building on Saturday 15th February 2014 across two floors – so stay tuned for line up announcements!