It's 4.30pm and, as a tall Lithuanian dancer swings from a bar affixed to the ceiling, shaking her booty in the face of the cackling Grant Mitchell lookalike in the front row, the sounds of Rudimental's remix of Ed Sheeran's "Bloodstream" blast through the gaudy venue.
We are at Sunset Strip in London's Soho. With its geezers in pinstripe suits chatting up girls in neon lingerie this 'gentlemen's club' is a throwback to the days of lunchtime expense-account sleaze that London's red light district used to be known for. Head down the stairs and you'll find yourself in a room with metallic walls and faux-Grecian-style murals of naked, bathing women. There's a low stage where the girls dance, and a solitary chaise longue. Further back there's a doorway, through which starry-eyed punters are led for their private dances.
And what punters! In front of the stage, sunken in red-velvet cinema seats, the mid-afternoon flesh-junkies sit, their bellies pushing through faun M&S Blue Harbour slacks or dark pinstripe suits. A dude with mad, candyfloss hair and the rheumy gaze of a terminally-dull inebriate grasps the grubby supermarket carrier bag on his lap and gazes raptly, watching Rebecca dance. As her turn draws to a close the men clap and she puts her knickers back on, pouting, smiling, and offering out private dances to any takers in the audience (£20 a time). Another girl takes to the stage. All the while in a booth behind us a DJ plays on, dropping Wiz Khalifa's "I'm On," and introducing "the very lovely Isobel."
Imagine spinning here for a living. It's hardly Amnesia.
We have pretty clear idea of what DJing looks like, don't we? The term conjures up a very specific picture, one that has been inculcated through the two ages of superstar DJs, Paul Oakenfold's and now Nina Kraviz's. One that has been enforced in movies from Kevin and Perry to last year's Emily Ratakowski vehicle We Are Your Friends. Most DJs imagine ripping the roof off DC10, or indulging in coke with groupies after headlining SW4. They don't envisage this— throwing down chart-hop for the incoherent, potentially incontinent denizens of Sunset Strip on a wet Tuesday afternoon. It's not sundown on Salinas or Ocean Drive, kids.
But strip club DJ-ing is still DJ-ing, and the people who bump Rick Ross joints while girls take their Ann Summers undies off deserve some due credit. Rather than getting a dancefloor heaving, their role is to provide a fitting soundtrack for the age-old form of erotic titillation.
Later that evening, across town in Mayfair, I visit an altogether more upmarket venue. A fancy, velvet-draped club with VIP booths that also hosts dance parties on Saturday nights. It's early in the week and therefore quiet, so most of the girls sit around playing Candy Crush on their phones, while one, her halterneck dress untied and breasts exposed, dances languidly around a pole to The Weeknd.
This is the kind of place where Russian billionaires go to drop a couple of hundred grand on Krug and lap dances before heading back to One Hyde Park for sex and sniff parties that make The Wolf of Wall Street look like tea and biscuits with the vicar. But given the place also boasts a Funktion One sound system, it is at least a venue that takes music and the art of strip club DJ-ing seriously.
Nikhil Envy spun here for a year back in 2010, while also holding down a residency at Fabric supporting the likes of Chase and Status, Jaguar Skills and Skream. He got the strip club gig through contacts at Club King Concierge, primarily as a way to fund his way through a Media and Cultural Studies degree at university. So what's it really like to throw down tunes for a bunch of naked women, priapic old millionaires, Arab royalty and Hackett city boys who probably don't know their Avicci from their Aphex Twin? And how does it differ from conventional DJ-ing?
THUMP: DJ-ing in a strip club is clearly very different to DJ-ing in a club
Nik: Very different. The main purpose for this sort of environment is playing music to keep the girl on stage as happy as possible, so that she dances the best that she possibly can to entice the customers to spend money. Different music has different effects on different people. Some girls, when you play a Romanian club banger, start going nuts.
The Romanian house scene is massive
Mega. And a lot of these girls come from that scene to the West End of London to look for jobs like this.
Do you select tracks, do the girls, or is it a mixture?
Different DJs vary. I was quite lucky— because I was up to date with the biggest tunes, that one tune that makes people react, there was trust between me and the girls. They knew that whatever I would play would be good for them to dance to. Sometimes though a girl is sitting in VIP with a client and he asks for a tune and then the girl comes over to me and says "look, can you play it?" and tips me. Everyone works together to make money.
So, whereas in a club you're playing to please the punters, on this scene you're playing to please the other staff (the girls) just as much?
It all depends. Put it this way, if a group of lads from South London with a bit of money come in, I'm gonna play Wiley or Giggs or Skepta – something they can relate to, but at the same time one of their tunes that's a bit sexy , so I can get away with playing it in a strip club. So the guys are like, "yeah, this is banging, let's buy more drinks." But then a girl will come on stage to dance and suggest a song she likes and I'll play that. It's a big balancing act. Or you get an Arab client in who doesn't care what you're playing. I've played full-on dubstep before. Dirty, dark bassline dubstep. At five in the morning when everyone's fucked, having lap-dances and that.
Do DJs mix in strip clubs, then?
The mixing generally happens in the transition time between when girls are on stage.
Have you ever dated one of the girls?
Never. Purely because you're like a big family. That sense of hot girls who are half-naked disappears and you're dealing with Amy, or Anne, or Clare – some girl who loves going on holidays and gets fucked up at the weekends or whatever.
A lot of clubs play hip-hop like Wiz Khalifa and French Montana.
That's your highlight of the night, three hours where you play banger after banger. Because there's a high turnover of people, every time someone walks in they have to feel like it's just popping off. It's heavily influenced by the US as well. It's all about making people feel an emotion, and hip-hop and R&B just happens to make people feel good and want to spend money.
On that note, you must have some tales of excess
One time a VIP came in, booked a girl for an hour and bought a bottle. Then he says to the girl "I want you for the rest of the night." The girl's like, "you can either have me for the rest of the night, or I'll go and get nine of my friends and you can have us all for half the night for the same price." The guy pulled out his card and paid ten grand. Another guy bought a bottle of Cristal for seven and a half grand, had two glasses and left the rest of the bottle.
House music seems less popular in strip clubs these days, is that fair to say?
I'll play house when there's no one in the club, or at four in the morning, or if I'm bored and want to have a mix. House is great, but it's not sexy enough for a strip club in the peak times. House is a very real music— you need to have an element of falseness, and hip hop and RnB enforces that. The whole environment is false.
That high-roller feel?
What's the strangest track you've ever played?
Coldplay's fucking "Parachutes!" It must have been two o'clock in the morning, the client's been spending all night, and the girl comes up to me and says "he wants Coldplay." I'm like, "are you fucking kidding me? There's no way I'm playing Coldplay, other people will start to leave." So she goes back to have a word with the VIP then comes back with a crispy fifty pound note and holds it out. "Coldplay," she says. I'm like "which tune?"
Any advice for DJs out there who want to get into strip clubs?
Honestly, as a life experience it's invaluable, in terms of the people you have access to and the things you see. So I would never say to anyone don't get involved in it. But at the same time I've seen people get too involved in it that they don't have any free time and can't get another job. The strip club industry is very family orientated. People will stay working at a club for quite a while. We had our Christmas dinner, all the girls came— it's a family.
And finally, what are your top ten strip club bangers, Nik?
Krept and Konan - "Freak of the Week"
Justin Bieber - "Sorry"
Major Lazer - "Lean On"
Chris Brown ft Pusha T - "Sweet Serenade"
Kirko Bangz - "What Your Name Is"
Eric Bellinger - "I Don't Want Her"
Wizkid ft. Drake and Skepta - "Ojuelegba"
PartyNextDoor - "Right Now"
Bankroll Fresh - "Bust It"
Drake ft Future - "Jumpman"