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Remembering Boombox
James JeanettePhotography Alistair Allan

Remembering Boombox, London’s seminal clubnight

Blazing brightly but briefly, the weekly party captured the creative spirit of the city – ten years on, its protagonists reflect on its significance

As is often the case when it comes to talking about clubs, the best nights of our lives are often the blurriest. Fragments of memory that come back to haunt us, embarrass us, make us sigh with fondness or scream with laughter. When it comes to the triumvirate of club nights that Richard Mortimer hosted between 2004 and 2007 – starting with Golf Sale, then Family and finally Boombox – everyone has their own highlight to impart. Whether it be Kylie Minogue dancing on the bar, then-unknown actress Gwendoline Christie screeching and high kicking her 6’5” frame on the stage, bumping into Kate Moss or Hedi Slimane on the dancefloor or the excitement of witnessing what new couture creation the fabulous door bitch Jeanette (and later his successor, Cozette) had on this week.

Ever since Boombox closed its doors on New Year’s Eve 2007, Sunday nights in the capital have never been the same again. In the best tradition of iconic London clubs from Blitz to Taboo and Kinky Gerlinky, Boombox blazed briefly but brightly. It brought back a love of dressing up – becoming a safe space for experimentation where you could go to let your freak flag fly (no doubt encouraged by Boombox’s own court photographer, Alistair Allan, who would display photographic evidence of the night’s debauchery on In an era of raucous gay and gay-friendly parties from Trailer Trash to Kash Point and Nag Nag Nag, Boombox helped bring back fun and glamour to the equation. For the DJ, music writer and original Blitz kid, Princess Julia, who was a regular at the club nights and at 57, is the beloved mother of London’s underground scene, it was the sense of unpredictability that made Boombox. “It was a weekly night but every week WAS different!” she says. “And that’s really hard to maintain. It became seminal because it gave a platform for people to express themselves at the night and outside of it.”

“It became seminal because it gave a platform for people to express themselves at the night and outside of it” – Princess Julia

Mortimer moved from Bradford to London in 1999 at the age of 19. “Growing up, I knew I was gay,” he says. “I was drawn to London and as soon as I could get out, I did.” Inspired by decadent club nights at the Café de Paris, he set out to create a night “which felt more like an event rather than just a place to go when the pub shuts”. In 2004, together with his friend Danilo Milic he created the jokingly titled Golf Sale that was held at the unprepossessing Hoxton Bar & Grill on a Sunday night “because it was the only night anyone would give us.” This was at a time when a community of other creative minds had started to coalesce around East London. David Waddington and Pablo Flack had opened their restaurant Bistrotheque and hosted experimental nights at their Cabaret Room. Recent graduates from Central Saint Martins like Gareth Pugh, Jonathan Saunders and the late Richard Nicoll had just started their own labels. And the drag artist Jonny Woo hosted his rowdy Radio Egypt parties at the infamous (and now sadly closed) George & Dragon boozer. As Princess Julia recalls, “The whole clubbing demographic in London was shifting towards the East End of London. There was a new wave of people coming to London, busy conjuring up new and exciting ideas. It was exciting and jolly and community spirited, not intimidating.”

Without any hype, Golf Sale quickly attracted crowds drawn to its hedonistic Sunday nights where freaks and geeks could be found getting down with supermodels on the dance floor to an eclectic set that might have been curated by Sam Taylor Wood or Wolfgang Tillmans. “We targeted the fashion crowd because they were our friends,” explains Mortimer as to how the club quickly became a magnet for fashionistas. He also brought in a DJ policy where “the DJ was either funny or famous” which goes some way to explain how ‘proper’ DJs like DJ Mehdi or Justice would share the booth with the likes of Pugh, Henry Holland, Katie Grand and Roisin Murphy. Says Princess Julia of the eclectic guestlist, “That was always highly amusing. You have to give Richard credit for it because no one had done that before. He had a great imagination with some of those projects and ideas.” 

For Henry Holland, the former fashion editor who made a splashy entrée as designer in 2006 with a series of cheeky pun-tastic slogan t-shirts (emblazoned with ‘UHU Gareth Pugh’ and ‘Get your freak on, Giles Deacon’), his brand was virtually a product of the club night. “I started making shirts as something for me and my friends to wear to Boombox,” remembers Holland who met his stylist, Sam Ranger and fellow collaborators Stuart Vevers and Katie Hillier at the club and together with his best mate, the supermodel Agyness Deyn would go on to be filmed by Tim Blanks for a video about the club. “So many important things in my career happened there. It was an important place in my life – a new and exciting place that I wanted to be part of.”

“I look at clubs today and everything is so money driven – that was what was uniquely different; it was never about money” – Richard Mortimer

Boombox also resurrected the legend of the fearsome door whore in the form of the imposing androgyne, James ‘Jeanette’ Main. A friend of Mortimer’s who hailed from Aberdeen, the chameleonic Main transformed into the impossibly glamorous Jeanette each week, in an array of fantastical creations borrowed from the likes of Christopher Kane, Gareth Pugh and Giles Deacon. It all started when Pugh lent Jeanette a “poodle” outfit from his breakout graduate collection. “That set a benchmark but everyone was super supportive,” says Mortimer, who also remembers times going over to Deacon’s studio at the Rochelle school and pulling out pieces from the archive “which quite often would go back very damaged!”

While Jeanette attained a cult status that would later lead to editorial and modelling jobs and opening up a boutique in Shoreditch, looking back on it, Main claims to be unaware of the hype surrounding him at the time. “I never thought much about it – it was a job and I needed a job. It was where I was at – I was going out all the time and getting wasted. If you’re into that stuff, working at a nightclub helps!” He also winces at comparisons with legendary door bitches like Trojan. “Jeanette wasn’t an alter ego or anything – it was a nickname. It definitely wasn’t a conscious thing to put on a new personality. But when you put on one of Gareth’s creations, you definitely put on armour.” Being out every night would eventually take its toll on Main, whose life started to spiral out of control and eventually led to his sacking by Mortimer (and to be replaced by the chic Cozette McCreery of knitwear maestros, Sibling). “In hindsight, I can see it was the right thing to do – I wasn’t in a great place,” says Main who has since swapped fashion and clubs to make music with the band, Wild Daughter. “I got a bit too messy for the door. It doesn’t seem that long ago but I’ve changed a lot since then.”

After generating press coverage, the club began to crossover as designers began approaching Mortimer, desperate for an infusion of Boombox’s anarchic cool in their events. So Boombox co-hosted parties with Jean Paul Gaultier and Andre Saravaia in Paris and Dolce & Gabbana in Milan and took up a residency at Prada’s temporary Carsten Holler installation, The Double Club in London. “I never felt like I made it, though,” confesses Mortimer. “Each week I would stand at the front with Cozette chain-smoking, feeling really nervous. If you become complacent in that world, then it’s time to stop.” What success did bring was the ability to bring his motley crew of club kids all over Europe, fly over more big names DJ’s and to dream up bigger and more outlandish productions. “I always paid so much attention to production values,” says Mortimer citing parties that have variously featured a giant piñata designed by Gary Card or a White Wedding themed New Year’s Eve set designed by Rachel Thomas. “We overspent on everything. I never made any money off it. I look at clubs today and everything is so money driven – that was what was uniquely different; it was never about money. Boombox was not about me – but about the kids.”

Fast forward a decade and I’m standing at the Hoxton Bar & Grill at the beginning of January during London Fashion Week Men’s at a special one-off Boombox reunion sponsored by New Look Men. Henry Holland and regulars like Jerry Bouthier and Matthew Stone are manning the decks, Alistair Allan is snapping away and I spot many familiar faces in the crowd. For Cozette who came immediately following the showing of the AW17 Sibling collection, it had the vibe of “the best school reunion ever. I didn’t even make it to the dance floor as I was ‘stuck’ in the corridor saying hello to people. I got hugged to death!” Holland tells me it was a “trip down memory lane. It felt like there were two different crowds – the loyal regulars who used to go every week and a new crowd who’d read about it. But in true Boombox style, everybody mixed together.”

“So many important things in my career happened there. It was an important place in my life” – Henry Holland

For Mortimer who closed the club at the height of its infamy (so as to avoid it going past its prime) the decision to do the reunion was equally spontaneous. “I just felt like doing it. I’ve been out of the game for quite a long time now (he’s spent the intervening years editing his own biannual, Ponystep and is currently editor-in-chief of Rollacoaster) and I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it. Everyone was drunk and dancing – that for me is a good night.”  Considering how many of the club’s regulars - from Christopher Kane, Pugh to the Saint Martins students who blagged their way in and are now highly respected editors and stylists in their own right – have gone on to extraordinary careers, Mortimer can admit to a certain degree of satisfaction for his friends’ success, “I’ve seen so many people grow up through the club and it’s amazing to see how well everyone's done. You feel quite proud.”

The return of Boombox comes as the landscape for clubs these days is radically altered with rising rents, draconian council policies and the closure of beloved queer institutions like The Joiners Arms and The George & Dragon. Mortimer claims not to pay much attention to the clubs that have sprung up in the wake of Boombox. “People are still trying to do stuff but I don’t think there’s any club that’s captured my imagination.” But perhaps it’s best left to Princess Julia who’s witnessed every important event since punk to put things in perspective. Pointing to new inspiring places like The Glory and Savage Disco at the Metropolis strip club, Princess Julia is confident the London underground scene is alive and stirring. “Boombox set a precedent for future clubs to exist and I’m sure notes have been taken. But I’m not one to be dwelling in this magical, perfect past – things were closing down and changing and shifting even back then. That’s part of the magic of London and clubbing. New people bring new things and different ways of looking. That moves things forward.”