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Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Ministering to the lame

For its final night, the hapless Millennium Dome is teaming up with the Ministry of Sound, the giant of the UK's club scene. Will either institution benefit from the New Year's Eve soirée?

Desirous of going out with a bang, rather than a whimper, the Millennium Dome has engaged the services of one of the biggest names in British club culture to organise its last hurrah.

Party people, give it up for ... the Ministry of Sound.

P-Y Gerbeau
Where's the body zone, P-Y?
Although the gate receipts from the party won't be going to the financially-troubled Dome, the bash for 16,000 young people at the Greenwich site may represent a last-ditch effort to push the attraction's credibility account into the black.

Having failed to woo the number of families it was banking on for success, the Dome may be hoping the Ministry of Sound brand will bring in 16-24-year-olds in its final months.

Dome boss Pierre-Yves Gerbeau may have looked somewhat nervous posing with MoS "employees" when the party was announced, but if he is indeed keen to win over the young, P-Y couldn't have picked a better partner.

The Disney of dance

Much of the vitality of the UK's dance music culture comes from its chaotic pattern of growth and its anti-establishment attitudes.

Organisationally, the Ministry of Sound likes to think of itself as the "Disney" of the dance world. As for being anti-establishment, the superclub's Eton-educated founder is an advisor to the government.

Peter Mandelson
"I knew I'd never get in wearing trainers."
One-time merchant banker James Palumbo, the son of the former Arts Council boss Lord Palumbo, is a friend of Northern Ireland secretary and "spin doctor" Peter Mandelson.

At the time of the last General Election, much was made of this relationship. While organising his party's campaign, Mr Mandelson even rode in a chauffeur-driven car provided by the club owner.

One Conservative dubbed Mr Palumbo "The Minister of Sounds", to Mr Mandelson's "Minister of Soundbites".

Sound support

The club's endorsement was seen as ringing proof of New Labour's "Cool Britannia" credentials.

Although "Cool Britannia" has since lost its sheen, Mr Palumbo remains close to the government. Despite his preference for Beethoven over "house" music, his thoughts on a catchy campaign theme tune are eagerly sought.

How can the approbation of a night-club in an unfashionable corner of south London mean so much to the likes of Messers Mandelson and Gerbeau?

Inside the Dome
"Is that Tall Paul?"
Since opening in a cavernous bus depot in 1991, MoS has become a global brand. With estimates of its turnover ranging up to £80m, Mr Palumbo is the only dance music mogul to feature in The Times "Rich List" besides the likes of Sir Paul McCartney.

Just a fraction of MoS's revenue comes from the club itself. Nor even the visits to venues from Norwich to Las Vegas or its annual summer decamping to the Mediterranean.

Club disc jockeys with names, such as Tall Paul and Artful Dodger, are the real idols of the club scene. MoS sells £20m worth of albums featuring "mixes" by its stable of DJs. These records enjoy chart positions other independent releases can only dream of.

Cliques and mortar

The MoS website claims 3.5 million page impressions each month. The company also shifts 95,000 copies of its Ministry magazine.

MoS branded clothes can be found on almost any High Street. Digital radio and TV production projects are also in the company's portfolio.

"We genuinely understand what young people want," said the firm's creative director Mark Robol.

HM The Queen visits the Dome
The Ministry of Sound might not be to all tastes
Other companies seem to agree. Everyone from Playstation makers Sony to the more controversial British American Tobacco have cut sponsorship deals with the club.

The club has also been linked to the Dome before, offering to fund its "spirit zone". Religious groups took none too kindly to Mr Rodol's assertion that: "Clubs are the churches of the next millennium."

A New Year's Eve party could again upset some. Mr Palumbo is a staunch critic of the drugs which fuel the revelling of many UK clubbers and the Dome will be a "zero tolerance zone".

Bitter pill

"We've done more than any other club to educate both clubbers and the authorities about drugs," says Mr Rodol.

"But I think that there is an acceptance that if you put 2,000 young people in one place at one time, you're going to get a certain amount of drug-dealing."

Revellers at the Dome
Will this year's Dome party go without a hitch?
Any hint of such illegality at the Dome would be more fodder for the attraction's critics.

But in tying its hard-won brand to the lameduck Dome, some may consider that the Ministry is the one taking the greater gamble.

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See also:

24 Oct 00 | UK
Major club finale for dome
24 Oct 00 | UK
Club night for Dome finale
10 Dec 99 | Entertainment
National Anthem's 'trance' remix
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