Youth Club: An Advertiser's Dream

23/12/2011 13:38 GMT | Updated 15/02/2012 10:12 GMT

At first glance, hidden behind Carnaby Street in Kingly Court, two floors up above the bars and clothes retailers, Youth Club resembled just another clothes shop selling some fine art prints - a sort of slick secondhand shop - but when you looked a little harder and noticed that all the pictures on the wall of Blur, Snoop Dogg, Oasis and Paul Weller were the work of Lawrence Watson, the British photographer famed for his iconic portraits of the world's brightest music stars, you realised you were dealing with a couple of men who had had enough of the safety of mainstream advertising. Kingly Court is where they were. East London is where they'll be next.

So what exactly is Youth Club? "Youth Club can best be described as a creative hub," says Steve Cook. "We're the interface where creatives can get in touch with business, and vice versa, so we're professional, not prescriptive. We are the link to audiences." Cook's background is in advertising. Before working at Youth Club he freelanced for Saatchi & Saatchi.

"I got fed up with the 'smoke and mirrors' approach of traditional advertising," says Cook. "With Youth Club we wanted to be much closer to the people and their passions rather than sitting in an office somewhere playing clever buggers. It's all about authenticity with Youth Club, from the content we have, the people in our network and the ideas we come up with, it's got to be real."

Originally based in Farringdon, Youth Club was founded in 1998 by Jon Swinstead, the founder of magazines Sleazenation and Jockey Slut. Swinstead looks after Youth Club's PYMCA {Photographic Youth Music Culture Archive), the vast photographic archive wing of Youth Club, while he and Steve Cook run Youth Club. It moved to Soho last year.

Long-time Youth Club collaborators are photographers Lawrence Watson and Dean Chalkley. Chalkley recently premiered his short film Young Souls at Youth Club.

Youth Club has 30,000 creative contributors, be they filmmakers, writers, artists dancers or singers. If you are creative in any way, Youth Club can put you in touch with other likeminded people. It's an urban artists' colony if you like, with strong links to the advertising world.

Youth Club's income stream derives from the licensing of images and content to media agencies, universities and brands like Arcadia's TopMan.

"We operate an open-door policy. We will turn away no one because, particularly in recession times like this, all ideas are valid and necessary. All are welcome, but ideas must be fresh,' says Cook. 'London is ideal for us because the capital possesses an energy. People in London are more receptive to new ideas."

One of Youth Club's contributors is the writer-director Sara Dunlop, whose film Where Is Your Line? won the bronze award at the 58th Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The film - which was praised by Mayor of London Boris Johnson - focused on The Havens, a London-based Crisis centre that helps victims of rape and sexual assault.

"The recession has bred a lot of fear and insecurity, but this in turn breeds excitement and creativity," says Cook.

Of the future, Cook says that Youth Club has plans to expand into the untapped youth market of India which has a long-held love of British popular culture. Youth Club plans to hold conferences in Mumbai next year and in the US to raise its business profile.

A successful one-off enterprise illustrative of Youth Club's style of working was the uniting of PYMCA with the clothing brand House of Billiam. With a PYMCA image emblazoned on the jacket's lining, a bespoke £300 jacket sold very well with Youth Club devotees.

To sum up Youth Club in word, Cook says: "Stories. It's about harnessing the stories of popular culture, past present and future."

Swinstead once worked with Banksy when Swinstead ran a company called Pictures on Walls, so Youth Club's association with the leading lights of the UK's art and photographic worlds is firmly established. So who knows, with London currently packed with untapped artistic talent, perhaps Youth Club will have the next Banksy walking through their doors soon.