The end of a few more long running club nights recently got me thinking about what is left, if anything, of my clubbing past – and a post on my Facebook page resulted in over 200 comments with readers sharing all kinds of memories and events from their pasts.
135: A Night on the Town
So, this week isn’t so much about the music, but instead about the nights and venues where I danced to, listened to, and discovered music, where I made new friendships, rekindled old ones, and in some cases even became part of the teams that actually play the tunes. Twenty years of my own, and my friend’s, history.
After this, I’ll be looking for your stories for a future post, so we can pool our memories as I suspect some of them will be rather hazy indeed!
(Dates, by the way, are the time periods I’m covering for each place)
Mid-90s to about 2004
I can’t remember where I first went clubbing, or when, exactly. In the mid-nineties, social networking didn’t exist, and I only had email from about 1996 or so. My paper record keeping is non existent from this time, too, mainly as I lost all my old tickets and flyers from the period in the many house moves and clear outs subsequently.
One thing I do remember, though, is that in my then home of Huddersfield, there wasn’t an alternative club night until The [Sheffield] Leadmill opened an offshoot of its night Step On on a Friday night at a now long-gone club in St George’s Square (the location was a cafe last time I checked, and I think is now offices – if I recall correctly it was called Beyond Beach Babylon). It was a big hit from the start – tapping a clear need at the time as indie/Britpop hit the big time, and during my sixth form years we were there quite a bit. Musically it wasn’t spectacular – indie hits all night – but it did the job!
Otherwise, the grimy KU Club – a club with a ‘reputation’, to put it mildly – just down Chapel Hill (a bloody steep hill to walk back up when drunk) from the town centre was used on occasion for a few gigs and club nights long gone from my memory, and I genuinely can’t recall what happened until Abraham’s, coincidentally the other side of the block from Beyond Beach Babylon, on Westgate, took on the mantle of alternative club nights on Fridays at least.
Abraham’s became, for a few years anyway, pretty much the focal point of the alternative scene in Huddersfield (which was actually surprisingly big, I guess), at least in conjunction with the West Riding, a pub rather “out of the way” in the town centre that was already the daytime/evening drinking point (and had DJs Friday/Saturdays too – and indeed was where I first started DJing in 2004) for the alt. scene. Friday nights there could be surprisingly varied, with a revolving selection of DJs that meant metal, nu-metal, punk, ska-punk, hip-hop, hardcore and even some industrial getting a look in dependent on who was DJing, and who was requesting. And, the booze was cheap, which always helped. I even remember an early gig from Skindred there that later on in the night had Benji from the band dancing and moshing away to his old band Dub War…
It couldn’t last, of course, and the Friday nights moved eventually to their new home at the Camel Club, where I believe they still are, although I’d be surprised if it was with the same DJs still – I’ve not been out in Huddersfield clubbing in many, many years! Interestingly others have been looking back, too, if this Examiner article is anything to go by…
Mid 90s to present
There was, perhaps a good reason why there wasn’t much for an alternative kid to do in Huddersfield – as in many things, the town exists somewhat in the shadow of Leeds, and to a lesser extent Manchester (it has always been cheaper and quicker to get to Leeds). Leeds, of course, is a city two or three times the size of Huddersfield and with two large Universities, it has always had a strong alternative scene, be that for gigs or clubs, but the scene has gone through ups and downs.
I know exactly when I started going out clubbing in Leeds. It was early November 1995, and after a (still) memorable gig featuring Whale and Placebo, my friends and I stuck around at Cockpit for the Saturday night club night The Garage. I don’t recall a great deal about the night itself, but when in the area over the next eight years, I was a fairly regular (every month or so, maybe) attendee at this long-running night, particularly if there was a gig worth attending beforehand, until at least the heavier end alternative rock began to be phased off the playlists. The club finally closed last year, and by reports I’ve heard, was long-since past it’s best (I think it was about 2007 that I last went for a gig).
As friends – and I – began to gravitate to Leeds for work inbetween and after University, needless to say we started going out more in the city. I’m not proud to admit that occasional socialising with work resulted in at least a couple of visits to the commercial dance horrors that were nights in Majestyk (whose one saving grace was the glorious building it was in, recently badly damaged by fire), but mainly weekends around the turn of the millenium and beyond were at one of three places – one of the two University Student Unions, or at Bar Phono.
Ah, Bar Phono. A tiny room, with bar, DJ box and cloakroom, underneath the dated confines of the Merrion Centre. And remarkably, the heart of the Leeds goth scene in particular for some years, until it was closed for ‘redevelopment’ about ten years ago (shit, really that long?). There were Saturday afternoons there, Saturday evenings and of course Black Sheep on Sunday nights (I also DJed there on occasions, and have been a semi-regular guest DJing for related nights ever since, indeed I am DJing at Carpe Noctum on 07-Feb), and I made a load of lasting friendships there, many which endure to this day. A lot of discussion occurred after Phono closed, and when the neighbouring Bassment went as well, various friends ended up clubbing together and opening The Subculture – which provided a home for Black Sheep and many other nights for a couple of years (including a night I was involved in, which worked much better as a live event than it ever did with DJs), before it too closed. Nowadays Black Sheep/Flock! is no more (Phono Paul having moved to the Orkneys), but Howard has taken up the mantle and Carpe Noctum has all-but-seamlessly taken it’s place and continued the lineage.
On a bigger scale were the two Uni-based nights we used to attend. Over at the Met Uni (sorry, Leeds Beckett University nowadays), Friday nights in Leeds were all about Stomp, later known as Star. Basically a metal/rock night with ludicrously low beer prices, things frequently got very messy indeed.
Up the hill at the University of Leeds Student’s Union, Glenn and Nik had begun an intriguing night in 1998 called The Wendy House, that started out in the Harvey Milk Bar, a subterranean Uni bar whose gloomy lighting seemed to fit the mould of a light-hearted goth night perfectly. It quickly caught on, and I started attending in ’99/00 sometime, and somehow ended up a few years later as one of their regular club photographers, something I kept doing until I moved down to London. Once again this was a place where I made an awful lot of lasting friendships…
The Wendy House was also notable for it’s second room – introduced a few years in as the night expanded – called Mutate, that rather than the Goth/Alternative/80s stylings of the main room, specialised in harder industrial, EBM and noise sounds. Geoff and Gilly did an ace job in there, and for a number of years it was very popular indeed. One moment that sticks in the mind from an earlier Wendy House, though, was a night of a fire alarm, and Converter’s brutal Death Time tearing up the dancefloor – the screeching electronics of the latter sounding very similar to said alarm…
I was also rather proud to be asked to assist with a third room for the Wendy House tenth birthday in May 2008 – a night of complete lunacy where Bug, Spike and myself unleashed a room of extreme metal. It even had a “petition” on Facebook afterward to make it a permanent fixture! Flattering, but I’m kinda glad it remained a special one-off…
mid-90s up to the end of the decade
The reason I missed some of the changes in Huddersfield (and to a lesser extent, Leeds) in the late 90s, of course, was because I went to University in London. OK, so that didn’t work out particularly well academically (I dropped out, and spent some time back in the north inbetween, too), but in terms of music and widening my horizons it was amazing.
Part of that was down to the fact that some scenes were at their peak in 1996/97, when I first headed south. One of the nights I attended a few times was the Heavenly Jukebox nights at Turnmills (now long-gone as a result of the redevelopment and rampant gentrification of the Farringdon area) – a dance night that the “Big Beat” scene of the time evolved out of, with an almost “anything goes” music policy, and somewhere that everyone partied hard. I vividly remember one night where Barry Ashworth from the Dub Pistols ignited the dancefloor with the bass-heavy monster There’s Gonna Be A Riot in the midst of the set of breaks and beats.
At the time, my uni (King’s College London) had an impressive club space, on the fourth floor (sixth from the entrance of the student union – the levels of King’s were numbered from ground level at the top of the hill) called Tutu’s. Saturday nights when I arrived were dedicated to indie/alternative, with a long-running and much-loved night called Collide-a-Scope that was frequently enormous fun – and when I ended up working in the Events team at said Uni a couple of years later, working these Saturday nights were far preferable to the other nights, that’s for sure. Sadly even Tutu’s has now gone (something I find extraordinary, but maybe student habits have simply changed). Another indie(ish) night I attended around that time (or maybe slightly later, frankly) was Trash at Club Metro – yet another long-gone venue near Tottenham Court Road station. That little bit more interesting than many other indie nights, it had various famous regulars from the scene, as I recall, and those late Monday nights really hurt at lectures the next morning.
That first year at Uni also saw me attending Tuesday night institution Feet First at the Camden Palace a lot, too. Run by DJs Jonathon and Eko, according to the old flyers, it was a real mixture of alternative music from right across the spectrum (and ran for much longer than I thought it had, too), but the crucial thing was that there was a live band each week – and this featured loads of up-and-coming bands over time. Again, a hazy memory means I can’t recall many of the bands I saw, but I do remember seeing A at some point, and more memorably, Pitchshifter in spring 1997. A comment left on my first Rearviewmirror post last year (about Pitchshifter) added some background about that show, and it turned out to be the one that resulted in them being signed to Geffen! Feet First is no more, like so many London club nights, but the Camden Palace lives on, renamed to KOKO but still a regular venue for gigs, and I’m there at least four times a year, I’d say.
Further up Camden High Street, we come to the Electric Ballroom – a rare survivor of the “old” Camden amid another area going through massive change, that seems to be threatening the very feel of the area, not to mention helping to destroy the whole reason tourists flock to it in the first place. Anyway, like many of my friends, I’ve been going to the Ballroom a long, long time. Full Tilt was the old Friday night haunt of many goths and rivetheads in London from the nineties until well into the next decade, when the night was replaced by the (very similar) Inferno and the more metal-based Sin City. Yeah, so Full Tilt was fairly predictable music-wise, but it was the place everyone went, so it was as much a social thing as it was for the music. Of the various nights in this post, probably the most-missed.
After Fridays at Full Tilt, though, it would then be onto Slimelight at Electrowerkz near Angel for Saturday nights. Back in the nineties this was a grimy, dingy club, with for some time into the decade not even a bar. But it was where industrial music and goth music really found a home in London, with clubbing until the following morning, frequent live bands and many legendary incidents. Predictably, though, pretty much everyone’s memories of this time are very, very sketchy. Can’t think why…
Returning to Huddersfield for a while after quitting Uni saw me exploring new places socially, and while things generally saw regular visits to Abraham’s (see above), we did occasionally head west over the Pennines for something different. If it wasn’t a gig at the Academy complex, it was a long night at Jilly’s Rockworld. Another all-night club, we stayed as long as we could take, then got one of the overnight TransPennine Express trains home, then – sometimes – I’d go straight into work without any sleep, surviving pretty much through my working day on Red Bull and sugary food. One thing is for sure – I’d never be able to manage that now.
Manchester also had a night called Sin City, which was also occasionally fun, while an industrial/noise night called [implant], which actually started out in Huddersfield, at Abraham’s, had far more success in Manchester than it ever did with a more conservative crowd in Huddersfield.
We also headed north to Bradford on occasions, too, to an industrial night called Dead Stars (as I recall, in the small Escape Bar at Bradford Uni before the Student Union got redeveloped) – and it had a dead useful CD stall, too – or ’round the corner to the distinctly grubby confines of Rios. Rios was an unadulterated metal venue – legendary for gigs in a good way, legendary in a bad way for the state of the toilets – and it sure-as-hell wasn’t going to be doing anything too risky, the punters knew what they liked. Still, it was fun, although a sod to get a taxi home to Huddersfield from as it was some way out of ‘town, in the heart of the-then red light district. The fun getting taxis around there continues, as the other side of Shearbridge Road is the Uni, where Infest is nowadays – and taxis seem to have this habit of never being able to bloody find us…
Eventually, after all kinds of things happened to make me hate the place for a time, I left Huddersfield and moved twenty-five miles south to Sheffield, to join an old uni friend Tanya in the “Shefgoth” scene there – a scene that had a buzzing social life, some interesting clubs and bands, and actually felt like things were happening. OK, so it didn’t last, but it was great fun while it did – and I met my fiancÃ©e Daisy there, too (we celebrate our tenth anniversary in March).
The first night I went to, as Tanya recently reminded me, was The Bunker, a very busy industrial/goth night held in the cavernous confines of the subterranean ballroom of City Hall. It had a bouncy, light-up dancefloor, and it was epic fun. There were also many smaller, mid-week nights, too, that came and went, like Gloominati and Tainted, for a start – and modesty protects me from saying too much about my own nights tcf and Stormblast, other than that they both lasted longer than I ever expected.
The scene was dominated for some time by two clubs – and for one of them still is. Batfink was a glorious antidote to the whole business of “Goth” clubs being serious. Goth, Bleep and 80s music happily co-existed cheek-by-jowl, with, like The Wendy House, occasional fancy dress themes and a distinct sense that having fun, rather than posing was the default. I caught the closing months at the (by then far too small) The Raynor Lounge (a back room of the Students Union), and it then moved to the much bigger Aqua, a great idea for a club that was perhaps slightly too big but it did at least mean you weren’t pinned against the wall. Like all great things, though, it eventually came to an end – with the odd night since.
The great survivor in Sheffield, though, is Corporation. Never really one for the Monday night lunacy (ludicrously cheap vodka, younger crowd than I’m used to), or Friday nights for that matter, for those of us into rock/metal/industrial Saturday nights were the place to be. Getting there early, too, was useful, particularly if on a budget, as once again there was ludicrously cheap vodka/mixer. I’ve become quite the vodka enthusiast over the years, mind, and I’ve still never worked out what kind of vodka it is. It’s not especially high quality, though, and I’ve suffered some brutal hangovers post-Corp over the years.
As a result, memories of nights there in my early Sheffield years are sketchy at best, non-existent at worst. There was the time Ceri and I went out on a session that took us from The Nelson to Corp, to closing time, and a desperate attempt to vaguely sober up to get a taxi. I got home sometime around 0500 the following morning, and I had a distinct case of Metal Neck and a ripping hangover. There was the time I DJed around my birthday in the industrial room, and was so drunk I played the same song twice (and kept the dancefloor). There were the questionable social choices, there was the dancing to inappropriate songs. There was dancing to great songs.
I don’t go back too often, aside from Resistanz (which I will have to miss some of at least this year due to a wedding invitation in London), and miss the place – for old time’s sake at least. The vodka is still cheap, too.
There is one other club to mention in Sheffield – Tuesday Club. A now long-running Drum’n’Bass/related dance music night that has remained at Fusion/Foundry at the Student Union for as long as I can remember, it has a stellar reputation and an ability to put on acts that other clubs simply couldn’t get. I didn’t go as much as I should have done, really.
Not somewhere I’ve lived, and actually somewhere I only really visit for one thing – Judder. A crazy night run monthly by Lee Chaos, it covers everything from cheesy rave to industrial noise via metal, greebo, bleep, drum’n’bass and whatever else Lee and his revolving cast of guest DJs choose to chuck in. Every night is themed, and more people than you might think dress up to amazing effect. Strange drinks (vodka+panda pops, amongst others) add sugar rushes to the fun, and many of us travel miles to get to it.
I’ve DJed there five times, and would do so again in a heartbeat. My most cherished memory, though, goes to watching in awe as the whole dancefloor did The Salmon Dance after I’d droppped it as my first song of the night. I never played the song again in a set, as frankly I was never going to top that.
Daisy (and various others) could tell you far more about Leicester’s alternative nightlife – and I’m sure some of them will in a future post – but most of my experience of Leicester nightlife comes from one venue, and mainly one night – Autonomy at Redeemer (Leicester Square Nightclub). Dene invited me along to DJ back in the middle of the 2000s sometime, and I ended up as “resident guest” DJ there for about three years or so, although life commitments once I moved to London meant that my DJing by the end was more sporadic.
Originally much more based around the harder end of industrial and noise, things mellowed a bit in the end with rather more hard-dance influences than I was happy with, frankly, and I never missed an opportunity to restore some balance somewhat – including one infamous night where I unleashed forty-five minutes of rampaging industrial metal, packed the dancefloor, and one of the older, more goth punters stormed over to the DJ box to complain that no-one wanted to hear it. I simply pointed to the dancefloor…
Upstairs was always fun, too, with a more traditional metal night and a bit more space to dance if that was your thing.
A return to London after ten years away (with occasional visits) saw me approaching a scene that had, in some respects, changed an awful lot, and in other ways hadn’t changed at all. One big way that things had changed was that clubs had moved. Regeneration and gentrification of the city has gathered pace in recent years, with Soho and Camden in particular losing most of their notable clubland locations (the Electric Ballroom in Camden being a rare survivor), and many clubs now being found in the East, in Shoreditch, Hackney or Dalston – and occasionally (and useful to us, living in Finsbury Park) in Archway, Islington or even Finsbury Park.
Many of these clubs have seen me revisit my past in some way or another. E N D U R A N C E was probably the most striking of these – a shit-kicking, packed-to-the-rafters club night that specialised in EBM and New Beat, both new and old, and more than likely was at least partly responsible for the resurgence in EBM-influenced music ever since. The end of the night has left a massive void, frankly, as there has been nothing close to it since.
Black Plastic was also massive fun, specialising in the darker side of electro and post-punk – this was one of many nights to suffer from problems finding and keeping a venue – an issue an industrial night I was involved with (Rivet) had too after we chose to take a break from running it at Canal 125 in King’s Cross. Andy and I have had plans to bring it back for a while now, but life keeps getting in the way. I promise now something will happen on this front during 2015.
I missed out on nights like Strength Through Joy, and The Betty Ford Clinic, in the main, by being 160 miles or so north of them, so was overjoyed when Monster Truck took on the mantle of being a must-attend night – industrial, metal, and the bits inbetween. My latest cause of minor tinnitus and Metal Neck, it’s also been enormous fun to DJ at.
Which brings me to the last two nights I’m going to mention – and they are the two I alluded to in the first sentence, and they are very different! The first of the two ended at the turn of the year, as Nuis@nce became the latest victim of a venue closure (The Buffalo Bar at Highbury Corner, which garnered a lot of comment and protest but ultimately closed anyway). Nuis@nce, as some readers may recognise, was a Britpop night. Playing all the nineties British indie you either still love, had forgotten about, or didn’t like – basically there was something for everyone. Scene luminaries of the time were regulars, and even played live in some form a few times. It used to pack out the Monarch in Camden every month, before that venue foolishly turfed it out and it ended up at the Buffalo Bar. Either way, Steve, Bobby and the team put on a marvellously fun night that had an exceptionally excitable crowd and some of the loudest singalongs I’ve ever heard at a club night. Steve might have other commitments to his life nowadays – including parenthood – but Bobby and the rest of the team are keeping the flame alive with new night Star Shaped that starts off at The Garage on 07-Feb.
The other night to end is Inferno at the Ballroom. The successor to Full Tilt, it always suffered a bit by association, never quite living up to it’s predecessor, perhaps, but still providing a fun, messy Friday night out (Red Stripe hangovers are no fun). The mix of industrial, goth, punk and stuff always helped to provide a more diverse crowd, and while much of the music remained fairly predictable – it was hardly the place you were going to hear the latest and most progressive music in the scene – it remained a useful social focal point for our little corner of the scene, and as long as a group of us went out, it was always an entertaining night. The end came after the people running the venue started changing dates at short notice – having been “first Friday of the month” for years, when you change that less people will attend if they don’t know it has changed. I got the distinct impression that sadly, they wanted rid of the old night. I first went to Full Tilt in 1996 or so. Nearly nineteen years passed between my first and last nights to Full Tilt/Inferno – or in another way to put it, my entire adult life so far.
What the future brings, I don’t know. I’m getting older, I don’t go clubbing as much as I used to, and more often than not I’m DJing if I do go out. I’m not tired of doing it, I just am perhaps more discerning in where I go. The scene keeps changing, which is no bad thing, and I’ll be interested to see how it adapts as venues keep moving too.
The last entry, though, will be over to you. E-mail me (adam[AT]amodelofcontrol[DOT]com) with your clubbing memories, or message me on Facebook. I want to collate the stories to a post here in a couple of weeks. We’ve got lots to share, some of you already have.