So Phonox (no, I don’t know how it’s pronounced either) has opened in Brixton, on the site of former Brixton nightclub stalwart Plan B. Think of it as Plan B’s plan B. Or Plan C, if you will. All very intriguing developments, not least because it raises the tantalising prospect that, should a certain popular East London hip hop/soul star ever play here, they could legitimately call the night ‘Plan B’s plan B, ft. Plan B’, which would obviously be a fantastic decision.
The old Plan B was bought out by the Colombo Group, who are the people also behind the Old Street clubbing institution XOYO. They’re an organisation with a keen current interest in Brixton – at some point this autumn they’re set to open the third branch of their above average restaurant/bar mini-chain ‘Blues Kitchen’ on the old site of Brixton’s Electric Social.
All of which already makes Phonox a compelling prospect. Arriving on the Friday evening (headliner: Julio Bashmore, on dependable form), there’s certainly a lot to love about Phonox: it’s been thoughtfully designed with some impressive technology for a club of this size. Staff are warm and chatty. Sound levels are perfect.That warm chattiness extends to the customers, who are a surprisingly friendly (for, you know, London), fun loving crowd. It feels like an affable neighbourhood club.
However, you’re 100% guaranteed to fall over one of the raised stage areas at some point. As for bar prices, they’re what you’ve been bludgeoned into believing is acceptable for London clubs to charge: there’s no draught options, so we pay £9.50 for two 330ml bottles of lager.
Only two things are spoken over the soundsystem all weekend, both detailing another key part of the club’s ethos: “put the camera phones down people and have a good time. We don’t do that in here”. You might charitably call it an ambitious goal, given that a) it’s not 2006, b) some people boo the announcement, and c) the whizzy lighting here seems almost specifically designed to be infinitely Instagrammable.
The extent to which Phonox seem oddly keen not to be talked about extends to its Saturday night policy. Seemingly every single time the owners have spoken about the club they’ve included talk of their wish to build a ‘community’, full of ‘like minded clubbers, sharing in an experience week in, week out’. Therefore, with regards to Saturday DJ line-ups, “there’ll be no announced guests, ever”, which they hope will foster a loyal customer base.
It’s certainly brave to attempt to fill a new club each week just on the strength of a relatively unknown resident DJ, and indeed, you have to give them credit: on the afternoon of their first Saturday they demonstrate their admirable confidence in their promise to never, ever announce guests by announcing their big surprise guests, via the DJ act in question’s 496k follower Twitter account: Disclosure. The Saturday night then, doesn’t so much feel like the future collective of ‘like minded week-in, week-out customers’, as it does a room filled with Disclosure’s fanbase, and the club loses much of its friendly community charm as a result. Even the staff seem less keen on enjoying themselves.
However, this feels like a minor quibble when you consider how much Phonox has already got right. The Friday nights seem destined for success. Getting the same people regularly through the door on Saturdays may prove a trickier sell, but for now, a new community that comes together once a week is a good start.