Words by Guest Writer ted.
During this time, London was one of the best places to experience arcade games. This is still very true today.
But In 1999, At the short-lived Namco Wonder Park on Great Windmill Street, Dance Dance Revolution (also known as “Dancing Stage” to Euros) created the arcade-hype that the capital had been missing.
As with much of the rest of the world, the player-base flourished and grew across the country. Other great dance games came along, but DDR was the face of this growing culture.
The eccentric, ever-popular arcade-goer that was Jason Ho once said,
"It's just a social thing".
And during those embryonic stages of arcade rhythm games, in a pre-Twitter, pre-Discord age, driven by basic websites and BBS message boards, Ho was right.
Bigger and better things started to happen; The first King Of Styles tournament was staged at London’s Las Vegas Arcade owned by the Family Leisure Group in Soho during 2000….But this was just the beginning.
Just streets away from Las Vegas resides a Piccadilly Circus tourist staple, again with involvement from Family Leisure - the Trocadero, a Grade II building with a rich history of entertainment. Within that building resides one of the premier arcades in Europe; Funland.
Funland in 2001 had risen from the multi-million pound ashes of Sega-World.
Long gone were the entry-fees and statues of Sonic the Hedgehog— very few of the "futuractive" rides introduced by Sega remained. In their place, more arcade machines, bowling alley bars, and the expectation of clean, fun, family entertainment.
Dance games were not really “family entertainment”. On peak days, hordes of young players would flock to the numerous cabinets - Dancing Stage, Pump It Up, Ez2Dancer - and the second King Of Styles tournament, which was now held at Funland.
Sponsored by community hub dancegames.com, King Of Styles 2 was held on the ubiquitous Dancing Stage Euromix, then still fairly new. Like the name suggests, this was all about freestyles, far more integral to those early generations.
Entrants came from all over the country, continent, and globe, with Italian, French, and Spanish players making their presence known. This was a tournament to rival even the earlier Super Street Fighter II events at the Trocadero.
Some players' efforts have since passed down into near legend. Take Haerang Dong, walking away to Dynamite Rave and whipping up the crowd with an infectious, gleeful abandon - MFCs were irrelevant at the time.
Dong would eventually walk away with a 3rd place title. The winning routine, set to DJ Kazu’s Luv to Me, was performed by the inimitable London Ting, also famous for giving wise words of wisdom to not bang machines, as can be seen here.
Donning a matching silver Pump-It-Up tracksuit for Stomp To My Beat, famed UK player Phil Moulson came second to Ting, and had his video posted under the title “Crazy white guy DDR” on Kazaa, and was subsequently robbed of his backpack.
Moulson would ultimately have the last laugh, however - he later reached the 2006 World Hip Hop Dance Championships in L.A. as part of UK dance group Pink Mafia. Not many other participants in KOS 2 can lay claim to such a feat.
Other freestyles were performed by the likes of Matt Marini, Kevin Amon, and Vykkye on Euromix classics like Magic Alec, Do It All Night, and Afronova - all out there and preserved, albeit in the prerequisite low resolution/bitrate video of the time…
Even in their crunchy, watermarked quality, a specific energy still emanates from some of the in-action photos. It’s exceedingly hard to imagine some of these moves being pulled on the battered 20+ year old pads of Dancing Stage cabinets still in service now.
And a specific special mention must also be made for the editor who chose to deploy early photoshop effects on a Pump-merch wearing London Ting, taking his freestyle ego down a peg-or-two through the medium of editing a low resolution .jpg images:
King Of Styles 2 was another great tournament at the height of the early generation of dance and rhythm games… over the course of 2001, several more were held, even after an armed robbery at the Trocadero.
King Of Styles 2.5, held in January the following year, and was based around Pump It Up. It drew, quite possibly, the biggest crowd Funland ever saw, defiantly affirming the Korean game’s western popularity. But 2002 would also mark the point where many moved on — as a result, a bigger King Of Styles 3 would not follow.
The old days of western freestyle came to an end, as competitive DDR became more score-based for many. The UK’s playerbase in particular tailed off after the mid 2000s, as a result of poor official support from Konami, community infighting, and the passing of time.
A dedicated circle of players continued to play other games, including the aforementioned Pump It Up, at Funland. Amid long-running internal strife at its parent company, the arcade closed its doors for the final time on the 2nd, confirming its closure on the 4th.
Funland’s unfortunate closure, the sorry demise of the Trocadero altogether, and the loss of epochal events like King Of Styles are things that should not be forgotten in arcade and gaming history. Two opposing forces come into play here: community driven hype, and corporate failure.
Many of the misgivings of the current UK scene’s remnants can be blamed on players suffering at the hands of big business. Yet, what persisted was a wonderful sense of community spirit, one sufficient enough to make a chance within the scene.
Over the past 5+ years, efforts from numerous people involved in the UK have created new, independent spaces to play - Chief Coffee, Arcade Club and others are expected to expand, making their mark on a reforming underground scene of players.
….From the original wildly successful reinvigoration of Soho’s Las Vegas by scene veteran Toby Na Nakhorn in the 2010s, to the more recent importing of many desirable machines from Asia, helping along new startups like Freeplay City…..The days of freestyle are gone in the west, and have been for a while. DDR is almost entirely a score-based proposition across the world, and playing that way only remains as prevalent as it does in Asia, with newer games like Dance Station and DanceRush.
It’s harder than ever to imagine something like King Of Styles ever happening again in many corners of the world, especially right now. Yet, with promising but small attempts at new score-based events like last year’s second DDRevival in Leeds and upcoming meet-ups, anything can happen.
Still, the 20 years later, Funland, continues to fascinate and shape people’s lives, including those who never got to experience it. Western arcade culture and players of the past 20 years will owe something to the legacy of Funland.
Further reading on the Trocadero and King Of Styles