For Rollacoaster’s Utopia issue, we asked powerhouse nightlife documenter Derek Ridgers to snap the crowds at Angel’s long-standing, anarchic goth night, Kaos. Joseph Delaney chats to the club’s co-founder, Lee Adams.
“Nothing is true; everything is permitted.” As suggestive as it is ambiguous, the slogan footnoting the intentionally paired-back website of London club night Kaos says a lot about its place as one of London’s most mysterious and open-minded underground nights.
11 years ago, Lee Adams and Bradley Kaos launched Kaos into a clubbing landscape that doesn’t sound too different to 2016’s. Having experienced a certain breed of nightlife during the clubbing heyday of the 90s — “they often had a fetish angle, but always with really hard techno,” Adams tells me — the arrival of the early 2000s electro-clash era, of fashion over musical form, put an end to that world altogether. “Music styles and fashions changed, and we got bored of what was on offer,” he remarks.
It was then, in Soho’s lavish, legendary basement Madame JoJo’s, that Adams and Kaos launched their Sunday afternoon techno party. “I wanted to revive that old-school rave feeling,” says Adams, “but keep it contemporary and keep the ethos: ‘Anti-corperate, independent and fun.’”
For the past 11 years, the night has played out in a number of locations – from its Soho starting point, through homes at Stunners transvestite club in Limehouse to a one-time stint at the Kings Cross venue now known as the Big Chill (seriously) – before finding its latest home at Islington’s Electrowerkz, a converted metal works nestled in a dark alley behind Angel station.
With a background in fine art, it’s no surprise that walking up the metal-clad staircase into one of Adams’ events is like tumbling down the rabbit hole. Kaos is a world of opposites: in flashing lights and dark corners where debauched acts can play out unnoticed amongst the cluster of partygoers; some half (or sometimes fully) naked, others decorated with full faces (and bald heads) of dramatic goth make-up.
“The people are fiercely loyal,” Adams states of the night’s dedicated crowd of followers — the “Kaos family” — who have continually called each venue home for more than a decade. “I think that’s to do with finding a space where they can actually fully express who they are — and that’s increasingly rare.” Remarkably, the night has experienced none of the acts of aggravation often synonymous with London nightlife, of uncontrollable intoxication and intolerance, which he puts down to the atmosphere of inclusivity the environment breeds.
“We need to make decisions on the door of course, but those decisions are never based on gender or sexuality,” he explains. “If straight guys or whoever else want to come to Kaos because they’re into techno, and they don’t have a problem with people being half-naked or men in make-up or whatever, then great. It’s all about attitude.”
With all the dark mystery and drama that surrounds the clandestine event, it would be easy to overlook its music-first focus. Until, at least, you hear the music. The Kaos line-up is as eclectic as the club-goers domming its dance-floor. “I like to keep people on their toes,” Adams says of his programming. “I think it’d be really boring to run a techno-only party.” Hosting DJ sets and live acts covering everything from dark electro mixes to live drone performances, it’s a stage for expression and experimentation. “I hate techno — that’s just four-by-four, over and over, where I feel like I’ve been listening to the same record for seven hours. The music we play is, I don’t like the word, but it’s intelligent. The people we work with aren’t just musicians, they’re artists.”
The story behind Kaos’ proclamation that “Nothing is true; everything is permitted.” is equally academic. It’s the well-worn motto of “Islamic cult leader” Hassan-i Sabbah, brought to Adams via William S. Burroughs. “The profundity in that statement is in the uncertainty of what that means,” Adams tells me, citing the advice of avant-garde artist and cultural engineer Genesis P-Orridge to never accept anything as it is. “I think it’s about questioning the validity of the three-dimensional universe.” Abstract though it may sound, it makes sense that when the world is getting you down, stepping into another can offer a new kind of freedom.
And what impact will endless thinkpieces bemoaning the closing of London’s nightclubs have on Kaos? “I don’t think it means anything, because we exist in our own parallel universe as we always have, and always will.”