Zap: 25 years of cultural innovation

Photo:Zap club flyer

Zap club flyer

Image from the Zap archive

Opening of the arches, 1984-1997

By Cora Bailey

The opening of the seafront arches in 1984 gave Zap its first ever permanant home in Brighton. Prior to that Zap existed solely as a touring club from 1982-84, taking live art and entertainment to venues across the city - regularly at the Brighton Belle, Royal Escape, Pavilion Theatre and the Richmond. Brainchild of Neil Butler, the new Zap Club aimed to fill a space in the city's current choice of entertainment with new nights of alternative cabaret, music, dance, food and drink. Sheer hard work, determination and years of experience in business and the arts were what helped turn this vision of Butler's into a reality and 150 tons of earth into a spanking new club that attracted performers from across the country and packed-out crowds. Even on the opening night, the new club drew queues and queues of people all hoping to get in. Marc Almond, Wet Wet Wet, Soul II Soul, Kathy Acker, Paul Oakenfold, almost every Brighton based performer - the list goes on; Zap brought thousands of performers to the club.

It was architect Anthony Browne who was responsible for the actual conversion work of the two arches and in the years that followed, as the Zap grew in popularity and success, it eventually became possible to expand the club to fill four arches, turning it into what it remains as today: the biggest established club on the seafront.

Remember this? Remember similar events in Brighton and Hove around the same time? We want to hear from you. Use the Add a Comment link below or contact cora@mybrightonandhove.org.uk with photos or information.

In particular, we want to know what your first impressions of the club were. Do you remember who played on the opening night? Or perhaps you were involved in the conversion work. Can you tell us something about that?

This page was added on 13/09/2006.
Comments about this page

As a precursor to the Zap days, The Expressive Arts Course was established at Brighton Polytechnic in 1979. This proved a breeding ground for many of the cross-media artists that became involved in the Zap Club ethos, amongst them myself, Birds with Ears, Billy Cowie, Liz Aggiss, Steve Edgar, and Roy Hutchins. When the original Zap Club was being developed - converting two of the Kings Road arches ready for the opening in November 1984 - staff and artists volunteered labour, from digging out foundations alongside the real builders (me, specifically) to painting the damp walls with endless waterproofing (everybody). Who else remembers these days?

By Ian Smith - original Zap Club compere (02/11/2006)

At the time I was an aspiring art student. It was Ian's mad energy and his casual mention to me when he saw the band I was in (we played many times in the old Zap arches) that "Did I know there was a place I could do this stuff at college....?" that was [my introduction to] the expressive arts course. Life in Brighton is like that. It is a small world. Thanks for the memory, Ian, and sorry I never helped with the waterproofing.

By Jane Finnis (02/11/2006)

When the Zap moved into the arches I made a heap of tables for them with little faces visible at low level on all 4 sides of the bases. They were Zappy Eaters, named for the high quality eateries around the country. When the arches were redeveloped most of them still survived and it was hard work to destroy them. I had undone myself with a planned obsolescence that never happened...
I believe Ian Smith still has copies of my original Zap Tapes of cut up music for the intervals from The Escape days. Anal.

By Dave Clayden (23/02/2007)
I lived in Middle Street, opposite the Zap, from 1989-1990, and I remember the Zap as being one of the most extraordinary clubs in Britain. Many of my friends at the time ran some of London's leading semi-legal or warehouse clubs. The Zap had an incredible range of music and some of Britain's best deejays, such as Paul Oakenfold and Carl Cox. Without doubt, the best nights were the regular but special Mondays (for serious clubbers), when Harvey and Choci would visit (from Cambridge, I believe) and play probably the most extraordinary sets I have ever heard or danced to. Then the party would continue, usually well into Tuesday morning or afternoon, farther down the beach, with the Brighton police surprisingly tolerating it, as I recall. The Zap also hosted performance art-type events. I still recall seeing a young woman pushing a supermarket trolley with an 8mm projector projecting images onto her belly. The icing on the cake for all of this was that the Zap was right on the beach, and if you wanted a breather, you could step outside the club and walk to the water's edge. Many of us even swam in the sea when the club closed. The Zap truly was a remarkable experience.
By Alexander Stuart (20/07/2009)

I'm pretty sure the band I played in, Frazier Chorus, played at the opening party for the new four arches Zap with support from the Indian Givers from Edinburgh. We were doing a UK tour to promote our album, Sue, released on Virgin Records. I think we got the gig because the band was doing quite well after all the years of playing unpaid Sunday lunchtimes and benefit gigs in the days of the two arches. I'm sure Chris Coco was the DJ on the opening night of the four arches as well. It was a great party and really exciting seeing the Zap with all that extra space!

By Michele Allardyce (03/10/2010)

I am member No.83 and we all came down from the I.C.A. with the director driving -oh, what fun we had!

By Lurca (03/08/2014)

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