While you were protesting Fabric’s closure, signing online petitions with the fire of a thousand suns (just so long as you didn’t have to register first), the idea of opening a gym inside Ministry Of Sound was rumbling around. “Do we dare?” it was surely asked. And yes, they bloody do dare!
I know – but don’t worry: it’s not like other gyms. When it launched last week, organisers made the promise of “sticking two fingers up at pretentious gym culture”. Judging by the anti-Instagram propaganda on the wall and the actual bar selling booze, they seem to be serious. So naturally, I, a serious man, showed up to one of their Thursday night “Core” sessions (one of five classes available, six days a week).
It’s strange, winding around the redbrick shells of Elephant & Castle, not to see vest-wearing meatheads queueing – doesn’t Ministry attract the evil spawn of “pretentious gym culture”, giving them a place to rut and snarl at each other? My head imagines them hidden in the changing rooms, sniggering as I slip my large, milky thighs into George by ASDA trackies. These fears dissipate, however, when I enter a casual, dimly lit bar.
The people waiting around are Normal Humans! So I ask one of the staff how they’ve managed to resist gym culture and, after hearing things like “life is for living” and a desire to “allow the good to work alongside the naughty”, I feel sick. Half expecting her to follow this with a question about my Thetan count, I’m on alert until the trainer arrives.
Bursting around the corner, headset on, is Lion. “Let’s go!” Wide-eyed, jaw shaking, sweat already pouring down his face – usually if you see this guy here, you slip him some Extra Ice White. Tonight, however, I follow. The gym is pitch black, neon lights, trainers waiting on plinths. We’re separated into groups, and get going on interval training. Large sirens sounding through a throttling sound system, timers going off and trainers hopping around yelling “quicker bear crawls!” – this is less Bannatyne, more Robot Wars.
Laying down on the floor at the end of the session, I’m knackered. Lion says that this is “you time” – a chance to reflect that we’re seldom afforded. So I oblige him. And thinking about it, this session is a lot of things, but it’s not pretentious. In fact, it’s one of the most unashamedly uncool things I can think of. But that’s the charm. And in striving to be unlike other gyms, it is successful.
Bonding workout culture with club culture, however? One shivering, vertigo-inducing comedown should tell you this isn’t really possible. But in gathering people together, forcing them to bond with one another in intense, unusual ways, Ministry seems like a natural home.