The Beams: Printworks co-founder Simeon Aldred on London’s new cultural powerhouse

·7-min read
 (Haydon Perrior)
(Haydon Perrior)

When Simeon Aldred first visited Tate & Lyle’s east London base to scope out whether the echoing factory halls could become London’s newest cultural powerhouse, the deal didn’t need much sweetening. As strategy director of events behemoth Broadwick Live, Aldred has history with this kind of thing — Londoners will know him best as the man who helped transform an abandoned newspaper printing press in Canada Water into Printworks, one of the world’s best clubs — and so this humongous 55,000sq ft site was, on paper, very much his kind of thing. But stuck to his shoes was also a pretty literal metaphor that this might be a tasty proposition: the floor was covered in golden syrup.

This venture will be a new club called The Beams, due to open later this year, and it’s set to grow into the latest example of what has become Broadwick’s speciality: taking underused, under-loved spaces and giving them a cultural rebirth. This latest site, sat on the north bank of the Thames in Silvertown, is less than half a mile away from another new opening from the group, Dockyards, whose massive, repurposed open-air space will burst into life with a dance music weekender on September 10-11. Aldred and his partners, then, are determined that it’s not just old ravers who never die, but old buildings too.

Dockyards’ inaugural event follows in the much-loved steps of exactly the blockbuster club events Printworks has become known for, headed up by big-hitting dance favourites Above & Beyond and Anjunadeep, with more than 50 DJs performing across two days. The rest of the music programme will follow suit, and Aldred lights up when he talks about the place — as well the prospect of a programme that will favour quality over quantity, with residents in mind: “There’s lots of community around there, so we’re going to be really careful how we do it,” he says.

The Beams, named for the light that streams in through the roof and windows, is set to keep the city’s clubbers dancing till they drop. Though Broadwick are working through the planning process alongside the local council and venue partners Projekt, the opening schedule is set to consist of 12-day-to-night parties, running from noon until after nightfall, starting in October. The sounds will span disco, techno, house and beyond, and though Aldred is keeping schtum on the line-up until next month, big names are promised — given Broadwick Live also run Field Day festival and are teaming up with Junction 2 organisers LWE for the music, you’d be inclined to believe it’s no idle hype.

The huge interior space at The Beams, which will host everything from club events to film sets (Haydon Perrior)
The huge interior space at The Beams, which will host everything from club events to film sets (Haydon Perrior)

With these two openings, Broadwick are helping to spark a clubbing revolution at a time when the sector needs it most. The UK’s late-night scene was already under siege from spiralling costs and encroaching property developers — pre-Covid, London alone had lost more than 20 big clubs in a decade — but the pandemic hit like a meteor, with a quarter of the city’s clubs lost since it began.

Now, as the scene picks up the pieces, Broadwick is showing the industry how to do things differently. To secure the future of clubbing, they’re looking beyond the dancefloor: both The Beams and Dockyards will stay afloat by hosting other things on the side. It’s a simple but actually quite radical approach, considering most clubs keep their buildings empty during daylight hours.

Of their extra-curriculars, Aldred says car shows and movie shoots are just a little of what’s in the pipeline, and name-checks Netflix and Adidas as the kind of big names interested. In this post-pandemic world that flexibility is, Aldred says, the key to survival. In other words, the clubbing is a passion project that we all get to benefit from; the money to keep it going comes in when the DJs stop playing and the suits do their thing.

The Millennium Mills will provide a backdrop for Dockyards (Handout)
The Millennium Mills will provide a backdrop for Dockyards (Handout)

“It’s everything,” he says of Printworks’ wide-ranging ability to host all sorts: film sets, music video productions, beer festivals, conferencing events and, in the last few weeks, even scooter racing. It’s an approach that, as well as securing the future, proved priceless during the past couple of years. “It’s difficult to say it out loud, but if we hadn’t been doing filming at Printworks over Covid, we would have been closed, full stop. We would not have survived,” Aldred says, audibly moved, before adding: “We were in utter survival mode.”

And while Printworks’ existence was secured during the pandemic, the plan was always for it to be temporary and for it to shut, at least in its current form, this year. An online petition to “save Printworks” has drawn 10,000 signatures — proof of how dearly the venue is held — but Aldred says discussions regarding the next stage are underway. “[I’m feeling] really good about the future,” he smiles.

Printworks, known for its clubbing prowess, was kept afloat during the pandemic by its multi-use abilities (Jake Davis)
Printworks, known for its clubbing prowess, was kept afloat during the pandemic by its multi-use abilities (Jake Davis)

And beyond Printworks, it’s not just two new clubs in London that Broadwick have their eye on. In fact, the group are looking to transform venues across the UK — and the world. And with each success, their lofty ambitions become ever more within reach.

“We’re not really chasing these buildings — they’re coming to us now,” Aldred says, and lists shipyards in Sunderland, a wire factory in Brooklyn or an old power station in Spain as a small handful of roughly what is to come. While Broadwick’s sizeable roster already includes 20 repurposed venues, “we’ve got another five opening [soon]”, Aldred adds. Of the “30 to 50 conversations” currently underway, “10 or 15 we can really see happening”. Something big, you sense, is about to happen on a global scale.

This reuse-and-revive mantra is part of what Aldred describes as the “modern industrial revolution”, and The Beams particularly feels very much part of that. The venue will have to remain an industrial space — the law insists on it — but instead of producing golden syrup, it will generate modern, cultural goods. “You might make a sculpture and then show it in this space, or you might build the theatre set there and then show the theatre there — that’s the raw idea,” Aldred says. When we visit, HBO is in the house, filming an upcoming production.

And with that all going on during the week, the weekends will be reserved for days and nights when music throbs through the building. “It’ll be an interesting pulse.”

The light-filled interior of The Beams (Henry Woide)
The light-filled interior of The Beams (Henry Woide)

Aldred has two clear strengths that make it easier to see why he’s the man saving a clubbing industry that for too long has looked a shaky proposition. It’s clear he has real business acumen — you don’t create something like Printworks without it — but he’s a proper music man. After a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Arts, he toured as a trumpeter and pianist for Paul McCartney, Björk, Blur, Pulp and what he jokingly lumps together as “all the big ones”.

He is also more hands-on than your stereotypical exec; he’s a regular feeder of the foxes outside Printworks, and when we walk around The Beams, the first thing he does is free some pigeons stuck in the space. “Obviously this is about some deeper psychological problem,” he grins sweetly.

It’s clear how much he cares about London’s clubbing scene, commenting positively on the spirit of collaboration that was strengthened by the hardship of the pandemic. And though Aldred doesn’t say this during our conversation, it feels as if the shape-shifting Broadwick approach could definitely provide hope to struggling clubs up and down the country — even if they aren’t able to reproduce it on the same scale.

For Aldred, though, it’s now full-steam ahead. “You could say we’re keeping ourselves pretty busy,” he says with the flash of a wry smile. And then, with words that will electrify London clubbers: “I’m as excited about The Beams as I was when I first walked into Printworks.” See you on the dancefloor.

Above & Beyond Group Therapy Weekender comes to Dockyards on September 10-11, dockyardslondon.co.uk. The Beams will begin its weekly clubbing series on October 1, thebeamslondon.com

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