The House of Houses
The Ministry of Sound label (MOS) was founded in 1991 by DJ Justin Berkmann, whose dream was to create a club devoted to the house music that was coming out of New York, Chicago, and Detroit in the 1980s. When the doors first opened in September, Berkmann and two partners James Palumbo and Humphrey Waterhouse had an atypical concept for the time: they wanted to focus more on the delivery of outstanding dance and house music than on the venue: first – 100% sound system, second – lights, and design third.
Now with more than 22 years in the business, the night club and MOS label are on top of the world, considered the largest name in the industry, it remains devoted to the music and to the DJs who produce it, as well as being London’s most successful club. Not bad for something that started in a box as urban legend would have it, contained in a small abandoned bus station near the Elephant & Castle Tube Station in south London, even though Berkmann argues the space was an office car park. Yes… in a real box because the building had a glass ceiling, and not the intangible barrier that prohibits advancement, but one that required some crafty construction to insulate the noise in a hermetically-sealed room known forever as ‘the box’ with a dance floor sprung to accentuate the music.
Particularly Peculiar and Politically Perfect
There are a number of things that made MOS’s inception unique. Berkmann’s had experienced crazy, illegal raves in the UK, and while working in New York bars during the 1980s observed first-hand the potential for violence, anarchy, and crime. Mark wanted a room dedicated to sound that could break down barriers and generate positive emotions through music and dance. After receiving the UK’s first 24-hour license for music and dance, the box opened as an Alcohol Free rave, which manifested in media doubting its future success. Nevertheless, after Mark handed out free memberships, and even with little advertising, the clubbers arrived attracted by the music and the cavernous quality of the box.
Within a few weeks, thousands waited in the queue to enter and the reputation spread. The 24-hour dance license turned into 36-hour parties, and after two years they did obtain a liquor license. MOS also maintained a sense of frivolity and fun, poked jokes at the Royal family brilliantly, and kept the police in good stead through gun and knife crime seminars and tight club security.
Excellent Sound and Effects
Sound engineer Austen Derek, world renowned for his excellence, designed and installed the sound system with a capacity to deliver 156 decibels, loud enough to break ear drums. Berkmann described the sound system as a gun: “I told the DJs: If you turn it up to 10, not only will you kill everyone in the room, you will also kill yourself, which terrified a number of DJs” (Independent. 2011). Yet it was the DJs that MOS brought in and encouraged, that took the system and the music to its fullest potential.
American house DJs Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, David Morales, Roger Sanchez, and Tony Humphries solidified the Ministry as London’s premier house, acid house, rave, techno, electro, and dance club. There is an attitude and a cult within the clubs attendees, thrilled and driven by the bodies and the shadows of dancers eerily outlined by dry ice mist, and intensified by dramatic LED visuals on screens located throughout the club.
Sacrifice to Success
Significant money went into developing ‘the box’, and co-founder James Palumbo himself invested £250,000 into the Ministry of Sound at the age of 27 (now equivalent to almost $400.000 US). Their first album, Sessions Volume One, cost more than £5,000 ($8000 US), but sold only 1,000 records. A number of other factors influenced British club houses over the years. The recession hit the UK fairly hard, forcing the closure of a number of clubs due to inadequate funding and fatigue.
MOS forged ahead attracting more than 300,000 club enthusiasts every year hosted by a roster of famous DJs like Tim Cullen, Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto, David Guetta, Sasha, and Pete Tong. Not only has the club expanded its home facilities but also across the globe into Asia, Malaysia, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the United States where their events attract more than one millions people annually. MOS owns Hed Kandi, Euphoria, Hard2Beat brands, and co-owns Australia’s Hussle Recordings.
In 2012, MOS signed British rapper Wretch 32, who performed at the 2012 Olympics, whose debut album scored a UK No. 1 with ‘Don’t Go’. With sales still rising past the 55 million mark and more than 3.5 million annually, MOS has had 19 No. 1s on the UK’s singles charts including three in 2013, Bingo Player’s ‘Get Up (Rattle), ‘Look Right Through’ by Storm Queen, and ‘Need U’ from Duke Dumont Feat. A*M*E. Last year, the label released ‘If You Wait’ a critically acclaimed, platinum-selling album under Metal & Dust, which debuted at No. 2 in the UK.
MOS’s devotion to artist development continued into 2014, with the UK Singles Chart No. 1 ‘Tsunami’, by DVBBS & Borgeous, feat. English rapper Tinnie Tempah, and ‘I Wanna Feel’ by new DJ Secondcity scoring their latest No. 1 single. This year the Ministry won the prestigious Ivor Novello songwriting award. Besides top selling music, MOS has a website, apps, platforms, and produces some the UK’s top selling fitness products, workout DVDs, compilations, and digital album series.