Walking in a Whirly Wonderland

Aha! Whirl-Y-Gig! I may have gushed about this place before but I really do feel it’s worth the accolade. Whirly is a once monthly dance event held at Jacks nightclub in London Bridge. It’s been going for as long as I’ve been on this planet, and it’s the loveliest club in London.

The evening begins with a walk down a narrow corridor, lit with ambient psychedelic colours. It opens into the chill out room, which continues the psychedelic theme. There are brightly coloured materials strewn from the walls, ambient lights everywhere, and psychedelic oil lights making kaleidoscopic patterns on the walls. Here and there an image is projected, a faerie, a flower. Around the room are low comfy seats and tables, a stall selling glow sticks, CD’s, and fair trade goods, and a little café bar that provides tea, fruit, and cakes throughout the night. The ambiance of the place was the first thing that struck me, it manages to feel both comforting and exciting at the same time.

The next space is the dance room, with yet more spectacular lighting, really giving the reveler the feel of having fallen down the rabbit hole and into a strange, beautiful other world. Balloons are dotted here and there on the dance floor, some being batted about by early arrivals, who are already chatting to each other, smiles and open body language a positive sign of the night ahead. Towards the front is a stage area and the DJ stand, where DJ Monkey Pilot is at the helm to guide us all through a beautiful and uplifting landscape of global dance music. The ceiling above is draped a bit like a marquee, adding to the carnival feel. At the back is the obligatory bar, usually manned by a cheerful bartender in a hat.

As the venue starts to fill up, the range of people that this haven attracts becomes apparent. The day-glo ravers are bouncing around, luminous and shiny; hippie types drift gracefully in long skirts and baggy canvas trousers; trendy kids in the latest fashion get their faces painted for free in the corner of the chill out room, and here and there jugglers show each other new tricks. Fancy dress is also a staple in this place, I’ve seen faeries by the dozen, toga donning uni students, bugs bunny, a green man with a green ‘fro, anything goes really! And it’s not just the spectrum of night owls that varies, the age range is fantastic, recently legal students party with well established dance life timers. I for one am very glad of this contrast, there are people in that club who are fitter than me in their later years, and I am hoping that enough dancing will point me in their direction!

As the place fills up, the most powerful force in this club shows its colours, the thing that keeps us coming back again and again, the true driving force of the night. The vibe. The people here adhere to an unwritten code, one that you can’t help but adopt once you’ve walked down that psychedelic corridor and into this shiny wonderland. Everyone comes to have a good time, and everyone comes to make sure everyone else has a good time. Strangers will talk to one another with no prompting, minds are open to the variety of life here, and what a variety to discover! I have never left without an email address or number added to my phone after a great conversation in the chill out room, or a new found kindred spirit on the dance floor, and every time I return it feels more like I’m coming home as the faces of the regulars become more familiar to me.

The music takes this troupe of happy adventurers along with it as the night progresses. Around the edges of the dance floor, drum beats pound as those that have brought their primitive instruments with them add their own twist to the music. I often fancy that I feel the echoes of our past through their hypnotising beat.

At 5:30 the dance floor is packed, DJ Monkey Pilot is bringing the night to a climax. Dancers are really going for it as the music reaches it’s crescendo, but all the while occasionally glancing towards the stage area, expectant, impatient. Suddenly the people at the front of the dance floor sit down, and as a wave the rest of us follow suit. At the front of the stage, stewards carry on a parachute, the sign that prompted this mass hunkering. Hands rise up to help the stewards pull the chute across the heads of all those gathered on the dance floor, and the music changes pace, pounding beats replaced with a relaxing chill out set. Stewards and volunteers stand around the outside of the parachute, making waves and ripples in the material, and those glorious psychedelic lights are trained onto the top of it. As one the crowd look up, entranced by the moving, swooping, rippling lights. We all relax, leaned up against each other, collectively winding down and coming back to earth.

After the light show, Mary the Faerie (who runs the night along with DJ Monkey Pilot and a small crew) takes the stage to thank everyone for making the night, to make birthday announcements, and to do the “lost and found”. I’ve yet to see something go missing that hasn’t been handed in, more evidence of the attitude that makes this place unique.

Everyone trickles into the chill out room for the last hour of the evening. People sit and sip tea or munch on watermelon as they find their bags and their friends, and start to prepare themselves for their return to reality. Hugs and goodbyes are followed by the slow walk back down the corridor, the psychedelic lights dimmed out by the bright morning light, reaching to snatch us back to it’s reality. I always leave Whirly feeling uplifted, but saddened that I can’t just live down the rabbit hole forever.

My last Whirly was on the first weekend of July. I am already suffering from withdrawal from the happy vibes, and I can’t go back again until October!