This September, the Ministry of Sound celebrates its 30th anniversary as London’s first superclub. The nightclub was a trailblazer for London’s club scene in more ways than one: it is also the first club dedicated to house music. But the flashy, large, and successful club the world has come to love now actually started out as a bus garage! Here is an overview of the Ministry of Sound’s 30-year history, from its humble beginnings to growing into the multimedia entertainment international business of today.
The club was founded by DJ Justin Berkmann and entrepreneurs James Palumbo and Humphrey Waterhouse. Berkmann was merely 26 years old when he walked into the building that would become the Ministry of Sound for the first time. A few months before opening night, he stumbled into a garage and saw a vision.
That vision would come to fruition when the Ministry of Sound became the world’s first nightclub with a room built purely for exceptional sound quality. What once was a cement floor littered with pigeon droppings and tire tracks became a dancefloor made out of springy squash court material, so that music would vibrate into dancers’ bodies. As Justin Berkmann nostalgically recalled in 2016, “The dancefloor is the only thing in the club that’s been there since day one. That’s 25 years of glorious parties. That’s sacred turf. If they ever pull up the floor, I want a piece of it.”
The London nightclub was heavily inspired by New York and Chicago’s club scene at the time. From New York, the Ministry of Sound drew upon the cavernous house venues that were a popular scene for parties. From Chicago, the club idolized the brilliant house DJs. On opening night, though the founders were unable to obtain a liquor license in time and so no alcohol was served, people danced the night away to house music.
The club consists of four rooms: The Box, The 103, The Baby Box, and The Loft. The box is the main room and can hold up to 600 people. While operation was temporarily closed due to COVID-19, the Ministry of Sound normally holds three weekly club nights: Fridays feature The Gallery, which is primarily trance music, Saturdays host a number of nights which are primarily house music. On Tuesday, the club hosts a student session called “Milkshake,” a tradition since 2002.
The club also has a number of tours, the most popular of which is the annual “Ministry of Sound Classical,” in which classical sounds are reinterpreted into EDM. In 2019, the Ministry of Sound sold out all of its London shows, and so the club relocated to the Royal Albert Hall for 2020 (though the tour was interrupted due to the coronavirus).
In terms of ownership, co-founder and CEO James Palumbo handed over day-to-day operations to Lohan Presencer in 2008, and Presencer became chairman in 2018. In 2016, Sony Music had acquired the Ministry of Sound’s A&R and compilations recorded music business.