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Whilst it is accepted that The Beatles' innovative music and cultural impact helped define the 1960s, it is also clearly perceivable that 30 years on, a club in Liverpool went some way to do the same for clubbing as the Beatles did for pop. That club was Cream and its spiritual home will always be Nation, Liverpool.
Had Stuart Davenport (a former owner of Nation) followed his rumored original intentions of closing Cream in its early, poorly-attended stages, this review would most probably have never been written. Luckily, for many thousands of privileged clubbers, he did no such thing.
In Liverpool city centre, a minute or so away from the renowned Concert Square area, lies an unobtrusive and humble red-brick building. Nation is only distinguishable from other buildings by a prominent name sign set amongst the common urban sprawl of barb-wire and walls. Set opposite an obsolete roundabout mounted with twisted sculptures of coloured lights and arty-bulbs that lighten a darker area, the exterior facade only hints at the richness of this venue's experiences.
The complex itself is an assortment of 3 rooms each of varying shape and size. The colour of the walls blends from light blues in the entrance corridors to deep, absorbing purples across the club walls. The rooms are: Main (1000), Courtyard (1300) and Annexe (700) with a total capacity of around 3400. Laid out as if it were in a triangular shape, each area distinguishes its own feel with a mix of light and colour. On a night as highly reputed as the quarterly Cream events (Easter, May, October and Boxing Day) the venue is guaranteed to be at full capacity and the diversity of customer impressive. Although inside is dated and dressed with old décor, the club doesn't rest on fancy wall-paper or pleasant toilets as its selling points, and consequently there aren't any.
Although faded, the colours inside still hold true to their original blends, and brick-wall corridors wear a coat of luminous blue paint that adds to the character the venue, and provide for an interesting walk-through. Huge promotional banners and posters mark on the walls the occasion, and regularly their positioning generate the impression of permanence. The bars are bright and appealing with a yellowish glow generated from the paint that surrounds them. They are well lit and big, so a quick chat with some excited strangers is a common experience. Neon signs hang from the wall breaking up the rigidness of the bars, and brightly lit fridges clearly demonstrate their stock. High up screens provide a set-times list with the clear emblems and bright, identifiable club-signs clearly visible emanating a bright neon light. Even the price list adopts the flashy signs of the night they're occasioning, and the catchy logo of the evening being promoted is evident allover.
The variation of each room only adds to the depth of the club. The open and large Main room provides an unusually elevated central area. This is due to the concreting over of an old World War fuel container under the building, and in prominence place at the centre of the dance floor. This elevates a large section of the main room, and provides interesting negotiation for space to dance in front of some of the world's biggest name DJs.
Classic visuals and the lighting system are second to none and provide a suitable back-drop for the best name DJs. Flashes of intense bright light illuminates the crowd with deep shades of blue, green and red. The famous Cream logo is often seen spinning and sliding across the dark walls creating a fantastic laser pattern. Alongside this, the strobe lighting flickers constantly in time with the beat to reveal the brightly dressed clubbers below. Two screens are positioned either side of the DJ booth, and these provide a continuous loop of bright, enticing visuals with swirls and symbols consistently changing to represent the musical direction. Steps at the rear of the room allow a unique position to look across the whole dance floor, and be absorbed by the powerful and erratic light displays. The visual experience is ablaze as the radiant mix of simple colours fuse and beam throughout the room. Such a blend of people, colour and sound allow for a rewarding club experience.
The well-established Courtyard provides a large and less intense region, with further step platforms and a focal point being the central booth. Having hosted a legacy of popular nights this room is by no means second best to the main, and can even be deemed better due to its uncompromising layout. With a brightly lit stage and a high ceiling, attention is drawn to the actions of the DJ. Illuminated by a bank of lights and counters, this allows for some novel and energetic actions from the front which fires up the crowd even further. Huge speakers stand at different intervals around the room, and their large, dark form is revealed by the pounding, solid bass line generated. Corners of the Courtyard are darker and allow for a less dazzling position away from the consistent flash of the strobes. Shades of darker red and faded green interject the bright blues and purples that adorn the walls.
Finally a smaller, unassuming Annexe completes the trio of rooms with a more in-your-face position for the DJ, both lower and closer to allow for a more intimate vibe. With a lower roof, the Annexe provides a distinctly personal feeling for those fortunate enough to cram in. Two large bass bins stand at the back of the room, and the bare brick wall gives it a more make-shift feel. Although more grimy than the other two rooms, the Annexe makes up for weaker brightness with a closer stage. As it's smaller and darker, light impacts harder and the vivid red and blue colours reflect off surfaces seductively.
The first encounter of the people is...the queues. Queuing outside the club is best avoided by timing your arrival. Often prepaid ticket queues are left outside far longer than those that manage to get one on the door, and this is primarily down to poor organization on the checklists on the busiest nights. Fortunately this is only the case at the busiest arrival time, which is normally around 10-11pm. Once the queues start moving everyone gets in relatively easily, and the bouncers are amicable enough for a chat during the wait.
The queue 'mood' is excitable and eager. The classic club-heads are usually to be seen out in their bright, fluorescent glory along with bright coloured clothes, paint and even hair. A mix of vibrantly dressed students stands alongside veterans of the scene bearing classic t-shirts emblazoned with logos and signs of nights gone by. Alongside these are gorgeously dressed girls in deep colours, whose effort in preparation for such nights appears to be infinite. Compared to certain local rival cities, Liverpool appears to have far less of a "pretty-boy" image amongst its locals, and the shorter, sharper hair-cuts and darker t-shirts reflect this. You won't find too many multi-coloured scarves once inside. The blend from ill-fittingly dressed students donning bright trainers and quirky tops, through to the chic designer shirts of the older crowd allow for a great variation in the mix of the crowd.
Bouncers wear the universal all back, and some are highlighted with lightly-florescent jackets. Other staff are well-presented and adopt simple, plain uniform. In terms of attitude, on the bar it's hit or miss for a smile from the bar staff, and getting served at any speed is a different story altogether. Bouncers are un-intrusive and respectful, and fellow clubbers happy and excitable. Big name nights generate huge levels of anticipation and revelation, the better the set, the bigger the cheer. Trouble doesn't seem to be an issue on nights where the atmosphere is as if everyone's abroad on holiday. Bouncers are quick and well-trained in resolving any issues that arise, and security is reassuring.
The locals are amazing and deserve credit for their contribution. Bouncy and enthusiastic, their vibrant attitude only lifts the overall vibe that bit further.
Cream is paramount to Nation's history, along with many other infamous nights, and its regular visits back to the venue generate the same excitement as all those years ago. Big name DJs held residencies at this venue in the prime of the Cream era, and they're never forgotten their roots. From the old school big names of Paul Bleasdale, Nick Warren, Jon Carter, Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, Seb Fontaine through to Armin Van Buuren, Felix Da Housecat, Fatboy Slim, Carl Cox Tiefschwarz, Claude Von Stroke and many more new faces that have the pleasure to play at Nation at a range of events such as Circus, Chibuku and Godskitchen to name a few.
Nation is steeped in unique, colossus dance history. The system is impeccable, and the sound defined, loud and of fantastic quality in all the rooms. The envy of those that attend Nation for the first time is only in having missed such a legacy of a venue until now.
For the mid-week student eager to study hard, play hard, Wednesdays provide Medication: a hugely popular student night where the prices come down and memories are made amongst fellow students in a club environment. A huge blend of Liverpool's student population is represented, and university rivalries stop at the door. A mix-mash of colour is donning the back of many inside as style is not relevant. Swathes of fancy-dress groups traipse the venue; from soldiers donning dark green camouflage gear through to brightly lit luminous 70's disco kids, no one week is the same. The music is varying to the typical club nights however, with a fair range of dance in the main room, RnB in the Annexe and Indie/Rock in the Courtyard. The mix of cheap drinks, students and a large domain provides for a good atmosphere and a good time. Although not on a par with Nation's major events, Medication is admirable in the context of a diverse student night out.
The number and size of the bars in the venue is impressive; the number of people serving on them is not. On more popular nights certain areas are destined to become back-logged with congestion of people moving about the venue. This is most observable at the bar areas, and knowledgeable punters are often seen walking away with as many drinks as they can hold in order to try and refrain from repeating the miraculous feat that is getting served at the bar. Folklore tales of getting served a drink within ten minutes are often told by party-goers to each other during the tedious time of queuing. This can be at times 4-5 deep and 30 abreast.
The choice at the bar is as common site to any other in the country. A selection of bottled beers, lagers and alco-pops sit alongside the usual premium spirits. The price is dependent on the night the club is hosting and so may range from as little as £1.50 a bottle of Carlsberg on the student nights through to £4 for a bottle of the exact same Carlsberg on a larger night such as Cream. The range in price hypothetically reflects the change in quality of event and it is frustrating at Nation that the bar service doesn't mirror this.
Preserved in historical legend as the club that housed Cream for a remarkable decade and regularly continuing to hold highly respected and much anticipated nights, Nation remains a jewel in the Liverpool club crown, even post its truly golden age. Spacious and diverse, it allows for an interesting and un-repetitive experience throughout an impressively long night.
Be it Cream, Chibuku, Circus or any other major night at the venue: in areas where it's congested and with no hope of finding lost friends or whilst stood tirelessly at the bar, one will still strike a smile as the enthusiastic and powerful atmosphere absorbs any feelings of impatience or minor irritations. At Nation, it is tradition that the volume is high, the crowds alive and the DJs are heroes. Go at the right time, and this club and its people generate a buzz and an enjoyment rivaled by very few in this country.
When you say the name "Cream" to people, what they think of is the huge ex-warehouse building hosting top DJ's on a Saturday night. But what many don't realise is Cream is just a promotion - the building itself is called Nation, and it hosts much more than Cream. Nation is a huge venue, with 3 main dance rooms, one huge bar and 2 smaller bars. Apparently, it was a warehouse used during the world wars! There's a bit of Liverpool history for you... So what does Nation play host to? Well, obviously, there's Cream on Saturday nights. You surely must have heard of this, if not where have you been?! OK, if you don't know, Cream is a 6-hour night (10pm-4am) of serious hard house and trance music, with big-name DJ's like Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk, Ferry Corsten, Timo Maas, Scott Bond, I could go on! Cream even helped to kick-start some superDJ's careers, like Oakenfold, who had residency in the Courtyard for years. Cream is fairly pricey, £13 entry, and even more when there's *huge* DJ's playing. There isn't really a dresscode, but you have to look smart (no trainers, etc). And drinks prices are sky-high as well - it's best to drink before you go in. Stella+Vodka+Coke = £7.80!! As well as Cream, Nation hosts Bugged Out, previously held in Manchester. I don't know too much about Bugged Out, because I've never been myself. DJ's include Justin Robertson, Dave Clarke, James Holyroyd and Carl Cox. Bugged Out has recently been "extended", from 9pm to 4am. And unlike Cream, there's no dress code. Where Cream is every week, Bugged Out is only on the last Friday of each month. And it's cheaper to get in than Cream as well! Thirdly, there's Medication on Wednesday nights, 10pm-2am. This is a students-only night - no NUS card, no entry. It's £4.50 to get in (or £3.50 with a Medication clubcard, which is a one-off £2.50), and all drinks ar
e £1! In the main room is hard house and trance (but not quite to the same level as Cream), the Courtyard has cheesy 70's disco music, and the Annexe has Indie and Rock. It's not on the same level as Cream or Bugged Out, but it's a good laugh, and it's CHEAP. Being such as huge club, whatever night you go, the queues for the bars are huge. It's best to buy about 3 drinks in one go when you get to the bar, because you won't get back there for a while! At least they have cold water on self-serve. A must-have when it's really packed.
Nation is a huge club in Liverpool. It is massive - you really wouldn`t beleive how big it is until you`ve staggered round it at 2AM trying to find your friends to get home. The decor isn`t amazing - it`s not the best looking club ever but there are must worse looking places about. The prices depend on whic night you go - weekends is very expensive but during the week it is cheaper. If you go on Wednesday it`s the student night, called Medication. Medication is brilliant - £4.50 to get in and then £1 a drink, it`s a shame it takes so long to get served at the bar. If you do go then make sure to take plenty of money to the bar - get 3 or 4 drinks in each time to save waiting at the bar. Also, the atmosphere on the Wednesday night is great - no hastle at all! One problem with nation is with drugs - although this seems to be getting sorted out after a recent police raid. Bear this in mind if you don`t want to go somewhere that there is likely to be drugs going round.