JOE JACKSON takes us inside London’s psychedelic wonderland.
I remember my first Whirl-y-gig, of course. Before we discovered the existence of online tickets, and deemed the additional £4 charge to the £12 on-the-door entrance fee a worthy sacrifice, a group of friends made me queue nearly two hours for it. Now, although I am British, I bloody hate queuing. If a queue is small, quick and necessary – like a queue for service at a busy cash-machine or a Macdonalds – I am perhaps indifferent at best. If a queue is not small, quick and necessary – like the queue for Moonies every Monday – then I want to jump down a well.
As a result of this philosophy, I very nearly stormed off into the night after my first twenty minutes outside Whirl-y. This was, however, no ordinary queue. This was a fun queue, and so my pals and I were happy to maintain our level of drunkenness as we chatted away to a friendly group of fairies.
I love the Whirl-y dress-code: I’ve seen animal onesies, glittery jumpsuits and Trevor ‘Tinman’ who always comes as a robot-space-cowboy (I think.) Some people might adopt ties and suits before scurrying off for a night in Mayfair, others might prefer to adorn wings and a tiara as they prepare for something slightly more low-key, yet both would seamlessly fit into the Whirl-y fabric. And it was through tiara-clad nymphs that I braved the queue. I followed fairies into Whirl-y.
The event occurs once a month at Cruciform Lane under the watchful eye of the Shard. What is Whirl-y? A psychedelic trance rave, a kaleidoscopic ejaculation of noise and colour. Upon paying in a dark, nondescript foyer, the unsuspecting reveller turns a corner, lifts back a sequined sari-come-curtain and steps out of the ordinary into a vibrant kingdom.
More bright saris cascade over the walls and ceilings and the vividness of colour is intensified by the light-show. There are two main rooms at the Whirl-y-gig: the dance room and the chill room. The latter is filled with cushioned chairs and benches for weary dancers to enjoy. The chill room also has two stalls: one specialises in oddities and intriguing Eastern paraphernalia, while the other sells food and non-alcoholic drink, offering a hallowed Whirl-y diet of tea, oranges, watermelon and cake.
The reveller progresses through the chill room, deeper into the depths of Whirl-y, entering next the dance room. The bar is on your left and the rigs are on your right. This is where the magic happens: in this dynamic chamber one will find tribal drummers, professional dance-duos, vuvuzelas and seemingly frail old women who can stand on their heads.
The fantastically-named DJ Monkey Pilot, a sombrero-crowned champion and living proof that the Second Summer of Love isn’t over, leads proceedings with a repertoire ranging from electro swing and dubstep to psytrance and tribal music. His crowd are extremely friendly: there is no violent Fabric-esque pushing for space and dancers actively apologise if they do bump into you (once or twice, I have also been offered hugs of reconciliation.)
If one dares to stay until 5.30 in the morning, the reveller will witness the sacred occurrence of the Whirl-y parachute. A whisper spreads around the club, the music turns mesmeric and dancers in the main room suddenly drop to the floor. The organisers draw a large parachute over the sitting crowd, waving it up and down as sensual lights are projected from above. It’s a gloriously surreal moment, beneath the waves of colour, as Mary the Fairy, Monkey Pilot’s partner in matrimony and crime, proclaims (yet again) that this is ‘the best Whirl-y ever’ and asks if anyone ‘can feel the love?’ (No, Mary, but we can bloody hear it.)
Whether you’re a Mayfair man or a fairy called Mary, it’s hard not to be absorbed by Whirl-y because there really is a strong sense of friendliness and community. All ages are welcome: under twelves are permitted to attend if they are accompanied by a parent and many elderly dancers cut shapes into the night. I always notice one particularly smiley man, not a day below sixty-eight, who parties annoyingly hard and can dance for a lot longer than this feeble writer. Unlike testosterone-fuelled scraps of drunken bravado, such a phenomenon as a happy old man dancing the night away is rare in the Pachas and Fires of London.
In order to sufficiently prepare the next potential wave of intrepid Whirl-y explorers, I should note that the dancefloor can get very hot (stick near one of the two giant fans next to the rigs) and that genres of music come and go at the whim of the wide-ranged Monkey Pilot, much to the frustration of some of my friends when they momentarily hear a style of personal interest and have it snatched from their ears.
My personal interests provoke me to suggest that one should embrace the wackiness of characters such as Monkey Pilot because, I believe, this wackiness defines the event. During my first Whirl-y venture, I cheekily/very rudely asked the DJ if I could have his sombrero for my own selfish purposes. He gave a wry smile and said he needed it, but revealed – to my delight – that he brings a couple of spare hats to every gig in order to appease greedy fools such as myself. I couldn’t give a shit if he played Mika on loop for three days straight: he gave me a sombrero.
Five hours of queuing, three sombreros and seven Whirl-y-gigs later, I’m still hooked. A rabbit-hole out of London into Wonderland, Whirl-y is that hilarious tent you stumble across during the early hours of a festival. Experience it: kiss a fairy, enjoy some carrot-cake, lose yourself in a wobbly world of peace, love and green tea. I remember my first Whirl-y and, unless you consume as many naughty substances as Monkey Pilot did during his heyday, so will you.
Whirl-y Gig takes places once a month @ 7-9 Crucifix Lane London SE1 3JW. There are only around 300 tickets on the door, so I’d recommend getting tickets in advance. http://www.whirl-y-gig.org.uk/info.html