The history of Strongroom started when Richard Boote opened Strongroom as a single studio in Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London in 1984.
At the time, it was one of very few active businesses on or around Curtain Road – two notable others being Franco’s cafe and the Barley Mow pub. Both were heavily patronised by Strongroom clientele in those early days and, like Strongroom, continue to thrive today.
The studio occupied part of a former furniture warehouse, built around a courtyard accessed through an arch off the main road. At the time other occupants of the premises included a builder’s merchants and a printers. Richard moved into 120 Curtain Road and immediately brought in other small independent businesses to share the space with, including Malcolm Garrett’s influential Assorted iMaGes design agency, laying the foundations of a creative community whose spirit remains central to Strongroom.
From the beginning, Strongroom’s guiding principles were clear – the best, most innovative technology in a vibrant and creative environment. This determination to do things differently whilst retaining the highest technical standards quickly established Strongroom as one of the best studios in London in which to record and mix music.
Strongroom’s first album credit was John Cale’s self-produced ‘Artificial Intelligence’, released on Beggar’s Banquet in 1985, followed shortly after by Nico’s ‘Camera Obscura’, again produced by Cale. Classic albums from the Housemartins (London 0 Hull 4) and Nick Cave (Your Funeral… My Trial) soon followed as the studio’s reputation grew. Spurred on by the success of his venture, Richard opened a second studio above Strongroom 1 the following year. This smaller space was dedicated to the emerging MIDI technology, and featured an Atari 520ST and one of the earliest Apple Macintosh computers. At the time, this was a radical move for a recording studio. Elsewhere studio owners played down the significance of the new technology, fearing the affect it would have on traditional recording methods and the studio practices that had led to healthy profits throughout the 1980s. Strongroom however embraced it and passionately advocated its use, offering musicians, producers and engineers endless new possibilities.
This small studio overlooking the live room paved the way for Strongroom 2, which opened in 1989. The first commercial studio in the UK to fully integrate MIDI with traditional analogue equipment, the decor was as revolutionary as the technology. Reinforcing Richard’s passion for nurturing a creative atmosphere, distinct from the functional approach of other studios, Assorted iMaGes associate Jamie Reid was brought in to inject the studio with a colourful interior that furthered Strongroom’s reputation for radical and innovative thinking.
Following a flood in 1990 (during an Erasure session engineered by – who else? – Flood), Strongroom 1 was refitted and Jamie Reid was again given the role of artistic director, continuing and developing the theme he’d established in Strongroom 2. These distinctive interiors were not limited to the insides of the studios; leisure rooms, offices, stairwells and kitchens were all incorporated, leading to the creation of a unique identity that to this day means Strongroom is one of the most recognisable studios in the world.
The small studio above Strongroom 1 continued to draw clients, in particular writers and producers looking for space to rent on a longer term basis. Again sensing a new trend, and mindful of the increasing affordability of professional audio equipment, Richard saw an opportunity for Strongroom to offer its clients something unavailable elsewhere and in 1990 opened three programming rooms – smaller studios, acoustically treated and with access to the technical support and admin infrastructure provided to clients in the larger rooms. Early residents of these studios included The Beatmasters and Orbital, along with songwriters Pascal Gabriel, Phil Harding and Ian Curnow and Richard ‘Biff’ Stannard, in whose studio the first Spice Girls album was created. As well as contributing to the creative community atmosphere at Strongroom, these residents continued to book the original, larger studios when necessary too, prompting the creation of another three similar rooms in 1993.
On the day Tony Blair’s Labour government was elected in May 1997, Strongroom opened two brand new studios, Strongroom 3 and Strongroom 4. This was a major redevelopment of a large part of the building that had been derelict and included the creation of a large bar and restaurant. Extra office space was also created to house more music-related businesses, along with a treatment room for on-site acupuncturist and physiotherapist, Jane Wilson.
The Weary Traveller, as the bar was initially known, was an immediate success and today remains a stalwart of the Shoreditch scene. Home to some legendary parties, often spilling out into the courtyard, and impromptu performances by bands working in the studios, it serves as a hub around which the Strongroom community revolves.
Having started in one corner of the industrial space at a time when Shoreditch was a place to avoid, over fifteen years Strongroom succeeded in colonising the entire building and contributed heavily to the artistic vibe of the area, helping transform it into one of the most popular and fashionable parts of London.
Strongroom joined forces with the legendary Air Studios in Hampstead in 2006, and in 2009 AIR Post, a new HD post production facility, opened just up the road in Singer Street. The original studios however continue to thrive and evolve, both through the community that has grown up around it and by remaining true to the original mission – the best technology in a vibrant and creative environment.