Leeds Leeds Leeds
by Oliver Jackson·
Leeds Leeds Leeds:
Leeds was the first 24hr city officially in the U.K. granted by the Local Council in the early 90's and championed by the then councillor Lorna Cohen RIP, who understood the value of nightlife to its economy. Leeds nightlife was fuelled by legendary clubs and nights, where the influx to the city was probably at its height in the mid 90’s.
My elder brother had gone to Leeds in 1989 to study and I had heard many stories of some of the nights and clubs he was going to. Living in a shared house with similar likeminded individuals, one of which was a DJ from London, meant there was a heady mix of going out and studying. They used to Soak it up and cause Kaos at the Corn Exchange, which is a stunning building again and must have been pretty jaw dropping in more ways than one for those nights. They also spent time in Arcadia and nights like Back 2 Basics.
Leeds holds a warm spot in my heart, my parents used to go ballroom dancing in Leeds back in their heyday and Majestyk as I knew it (amazing building but some rough nights) were where they used to take the floor. Every generation has their heyday.
Leeds though had some amazing clubs, my time was 94-2000, but I had some flyers from my brothers’ time 89-92, where places like The Gallery/ Ricky’swas a go to, the Music Factory which was still around when I was there, which was home to the legendary Back to Basics! I remember watching via video taping (yep...) BPM with Brenda Tuohy and Dave Dorrell as it was late night, and waiting to see what clubs they previewed, one of them was B2B at the Music Factory, it was the same night my brother had gone with his mates. It was nuts...3 floors of madness (funk, House, Techno), all honed by the excellent Dave Beer and Ralph Lawson as resident DJ (his Essential Mix live from the club in 96 is next level!), along with the not forgotten Ali Cooke RIP. Now for the years I was in Leeds, I queued and queued but could never get into Basics! but fast forward a couple of decades and living in London it would be rude not to go to the B2B 20th Anniversary party at the Village Underground, where the guvnor, Lord Sabre himself, Andrew Weatherall had the prime time 3 hour slot, which as you can imagine blew my tiny mind. He is and always will be my favourite music shaman, what an absolute genius. Not to go off on a tangent, but this night was a celebration of what Basics was all about (or so I had heard), so having a few classics thrown in for good measure, along with the cutting-edge selections that basics and Weatherall is known for, made for a great night. Weatherall for me, outside of the less than 120 bpm acid chug selections of the stupendous Alfos (with his co-pilot Sean Johnston), or his Music’s Not for Everyone NTS radio show, just shows what a virtuoso he was. The room was a little flat when we got there... but the palpable expectation (at least that’s how I felt) of Weatherall playing an old school but new school set...this is as close as nostalgic as he would go...pure banging techno! He had his eyes closed most of the time, divining the gnostic sonics no doubt. It’s a very hazy night...but tune after tune and expertly curated to a point as the DJs ultimate job, when the dancefloor was that melting pot and in complete harmony. Ah man would I love to have a time machine...he weaves in and out, brings the crowd back in then bang, have some of that! When the massive Aceperience, energy flash and a red planet classic came on, I was pogoing like a 5-year-old and whooping and hollering like any music lover would be...no DJ has ever made me feel like that, not even the man like Harvey. It was recorded and is on Ralph Lawsons Soundcloud.
So that was Back to basics, the go to for up front, innovative and proper house music. I still have all the Flyers I collected (that I never went to!), I remember Harvey did a History of Disco session there, and Weatherall was always on the flyer most weeks. Big US names, just quality DJs. Ron Trent, Derrick Carter, DJ Pierre, Dave Camacho (RIP), Doc Martin, Danny Tenaglia and the man Frankie Knuckles (RIP), David Morales, Satoshi Tomiie. Its basically a who's who.
Going back to 94, there was The Gallery (with Ricky’s in the basement) in the Grand Arcade, which had a gallery of paintings around the dancefloor, and I think a glass roof...anyway, I remember the Utah Saints doing nights in there which was always a bit mad. The Gallery had a legendary status and was renamed The Pleasure Rooms later in my tenure, where Basics moved to (which I still couldn’t get into), and had grown with residents James Holroyd (who makes the most amazing house music) and Huggy.
The Pleasure Rooms for me (that wasn’t a 1 in 1 out), held a night called Up Yer Ronson, which was my first time of a heightened experience of electronic music in its some say, natural form. God knows who was playing (vaguely remember Heller & Farley), but I do remember a few nights and a rumour going about Sasha was in the building and people wandering from room to room working out which one he would be playing in... dont think he was in the country in the end!
Around this time NATO opened up on Boar Lane, where Hard Times had moved into after being in the Music Factory (and outgrowing its original Huddersfield location). I remember it was the big US DJs, one night being Roger Sanchez, he seemed to be a firm favourite and it was always a packed-out club. Massive main room and a library where I used to spend most of my time from memory.
There was a club and night for any type of music that took your fancy...including the cheap and cheerful...the ones which really didn’t take my fancy. I wanted to dance, I love electronic music, the thud of the subs as you walk into a club still makes me smile and getting lost in the music is where you should be.
Leeds had everything, great bars, clubs and Universities of course. As I could never get into Basics without camping out, I ended going to a night calledVague. This club night was bonkers! If basics was hedonistic, then Vague was a theatre of absolute madness...it had all started off as a night called the Kit Kat Klub (named after the infamous Berlin one), and I think was at Hi Flyers (which turned into Planet Earth...it had a light up revolving dance floor). Run by Suzie Mason and Paul Fryer, it then moved to The Warehouse (which I spent far too much of my university time in, saw countless DJs anyone from Judge Jules COUGH to Allister Whitehead to Dave Clarke) and was renamed Vague. It was the first Mixed club; anyone goes as long as you are not a T*** basically. They had two infamous door pickers/ screeners...A palpable fervour was felt while queueing as if you didn’t pass the test from JoJo and Chico, then it was back to the Faversham...They wanted inclusivity yet patrolled the queue for a rooting of like-minded individuals or in reality keeping the no gooders out. Once in (and you could be queuing for hours like Basics) it was a sweaty colourful mess, and anything could confront you. I remember one time they turfed out the club for a picnic party and then sand for a beach party. The music was disco with a harder edge, which morphed into Hard House and Techno with a splashing of Trance, pretty much the sound of the time from 93 - 97. The residents were TWA - Trannies with Attitude who are now big dogs in the art (Paul Fryer) and music world (Nick Raphael). Both mental and both having energy that the crowd, who were already up for it, fed off even more. The warm up resident who kicked things off was Phil Faversham, who I also remember did a Pete Tong Radio 1, 30 min hot mix, which was bang on, his mixing was perfection. I remember that the birthdays and NYE parties were just ridiculous. One time I was shouted at/ tapped on the shoulder by Paul Fryer to lead out onto the dancefloor from the DJ booth (which was in the middle of the floor and used to be a bar), a roll of toilet roll...basically the whole roll was weaved in and out and then quickly deteriorated with the sweat and dancing. It was another time when Paul Fryer managed to climb up onto the lighting rig and was swinging from it, when he slipped and almost squashed a clubber... It was a very welcoming environment, always friendly, always up for fun and the smell of liquid gold was pungent to the nostrils...
I was able to get a Vague membership, which helped reduce the queue time, as my brothers’ mates were regulars, well Dicky, he only missed one night of the reign of fun from 1993 to 1997, then this carried on into I-Spy then Speed Queen. When Vague closed its doors with the last night, they had the VAGUE letters (huge lit up characters) up on the stage to the left of the bar and on that evening was changed to UGAVE, which was a nice testament to the strength of the punters who went. In its heyday, it was always rammed, always full of fashionistas, queens, celebs, who knows and dont knows. The fashion was outrageous but calmed and became a bit Vivienne Westwood and Patrick Cox heavy but was lightened with Cycling tops and the many fancy dress nights, like a Space theme, which could have been a NYE. The music, well as it was hard, I think Access - DJ Misjah & DJ Tim kind of typifies the energy and madness...when this track came on, my god did the dancefloor light up...pogoing, fist pumps and a general mele of movement. The queens would start voguing and you would have to watch your head for high kicks. Size 9 - I am ready on Virgin records was another monster, Li Kwan - I need a man, Golden Girls - Kinetic...Future Breeze - Read my Lips. Basically, there first Essential Mix presents the music, and its energy! Still a mix to put on for the post lunch slump. Upstairs was equally good, but much slower, where you could also buy fags from the fag hags and general naughtiness. The Vague Album, Now and Then is a perfect accompaniment to the sounds of then. One special night was when the Essential Selection came to town, it took literally 3 hours to get into the club, just as Pete Tong was going live on the radio! Again, another night I have no recollection of…
When Vague ended, there still was an appetite for a safe place and I-Spy became it but had started in club NATO. I remember a number of nights and one in particular when suddenly all the lights came on and the place was surrounded by Police. A raid it seemed, the floor was awash with white things and plastic bags. After shuffling out, being searched, it was onto the Faversham, which was normally the de facto place to meet before Vague but was also a place in its own right for a night out. I remember hearing Francois Kevorkian’s Wave Music masterpiece FK-EP "Hypnodelic" in here, what a tune that is.
I remember an I-Spy NYE (97), it was intimate and at Digby’s in York Place, which was a basement club, only went to one NYE which was a Kings & Queens theme. I remember going to the toilet about 5 mins to midnight and not coming out till 1245...God knows what happened but ended up chatting in the toilets. As always, you met some colourful characters in these clubs. Speed Queen took over the mantle and that was where we went, and again the madness continued.
It has been said many a time and it sounds old and contrived, but those were different times, there was no social media, no smart phones, just an excitement of going out on a Friday or Saturday night and maybe going completely going bonkers. Then back to the lectures on a Monday. As Weatherall might have put it, a DJ in a club is there to provide a tribal soundtrack, there is a deep need for the human spirit to be released and be channelled, the fact that people back then were hearing music in a different light to now, shouldn’t have changed the human psyche but it seems there is less brazen hedonism and less openness to release yourself. But anyway, it’s only a fucking disco init.
**This brilliant piece of writing comes to you from ULikeMusic. Check out his page here: https://www.instagram.com/ulikemusic/