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15 years on, it’s bright as Button

As indie dance club night prepares to celebrate its 15th birthday at Koko, founder Christian Laing reveals how it's stood the test of time

05 October, 2017 — By Róisín Gadelrab

Buttoned Down Disco founder Christian Laing

ONCE a month, as the pub crowd begins to head home, a familiar queue snakes around the side of Koko, full of young people looking for a party.

Buttoned Down Disco (BDD), which celebrates its 15th birthday on Saturday (Oct 7), is not the ordinary cheesy club night that it might appear. Founded by music obsessive Christian Laing, the night is billed as Britain’s biggest – with a capacity of 1,410 – and most unique indie dance club night.

That does not mean that this is a dingy night aimed at a grungy crowd, more that it is a fun evening, not too proud to play pop number ones but just as likely to play eclectic indie covers or original versions of songs that were later made famous by others, says Christian.

The night focuses on creating an all-inclusive atmosphere, with face-paint artists, projections onstage and hundreds of balloons, which are deemed so important to the BDD vibe that it has its own “head of balloons”.

Christian, who became obsessed with music from a young age, puts his diverse setlist down to his youth.

“I didn’t have too many toys, we just had a record player,” he said.

“The person that made me obsessed with music was Elvis. It was Elvis, The Beatles, T-Rex – hearing all those people when I was five years old. We had instruments lying around the house so I played guitar, piano. We had disco records, people like Chic.”

He cites everything from Motorhead to Boney M, Kraftwerk to Tangerine Dream as informing his musical tastes and having influenced the music he plays, setting BDD apart from other club nights.

He said: “The main thing that sets BDD aside is that it’s genuinely musically eclectic but not random, it kind of floats, it’s got a flow to it. I’ll play completely different songs from different eras but it flows. It feels natural. It’s not that I sit strategically planning, I play a lot of remixes and cover versions, but I’m not opposed to playing a massive number one hit. We’re not trying to be underground, we’re a party, we mix it up. I’ll play Shake It Off by Taylor Swift but often play a metal remix.

Buttoned Down Disco at Koko

“We play loads of original versions or cover versions of well-known songs, so it’s accessible.

“It’s always had that extension of my musical taste and personality but always kept up to date.”

Fifteen years after first founding BDD – initially as a cult, invitation-only, monthly event in a secret location, Christian doesn’t seem to have lost any enthusiasm. How does he keep it up?

“By doing it once a month,” he said. “I don’t tend to do paid DJ guest slots, I don’t do weddings or DJ during the week. I don’t play other cities, and because I do it once a month all my enthusiasm goes into it, it’s compressed enthusiasm.”

He came up with the idea for BDD when he first moved to London.

After a night DJing in Heaven, where he happened to play a song called Buttoned Down Disco by Cornershop spin-off Clinton, Christian was inspired.

He said: “I had the idea at 4am after that DJ set – that hadn’t been successful – and I thought, I’m going to start my own night and call it Buttoned Down Disco. I pretty much thought of it in one second.”

Christian managed to secure a regular Thursday night spot and, soon after, a Saturday night.

“I became interested in having an invite-only club night – by mailing list – and it was a secret location. We’d announce the venue via the mailing list and we’d move around. We were doing that secret location, invite-only thing in 2003-7. We did 40 venues all over London.”

BDD soon gathered a cult following, playing its first dates at Koko in 2006, becoming a monthly residency in 2008. Saturday’s birthday celebrations will have everything that gives BDD its atmosphere – and more.

“We’ll have 1,000 glow bands for people in the queue, birthday cake for early arrivers, birthday badges, we’re doing a selfie wall in the face-painting room, we’ve got two massive balloon drops and 50k of glitter,” said Christian.”

Entry is invite-only, register on the BDD website, free entry before 10.30pm and £10 afterwards. The party lasts until 4am and last entry is at 3am.

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