|Tales of Glamour and Excess: An Oral History of Back to Basics
Over the past weekend, the Leeds night celebrated 20 years in business. RA pays tribute to its extraordinary legacy by talking to some of its key protagonists.
I've yet to go to any club, in any city, where, upon mention of the word Leeds, the response is not "Have you been to Back to Basics?" Of course I have. Saturday evenings in the city have been inescapably dominated by the punk ethos and wilful excesses of the night and its ever-expanding fraternity since November 23rd, 1991. Back then, it was at seedy and forgotten gay club The Music Factory. Various venue changes have taken the party to Pleasure Rooms, Mint Club and Rehab before most recently settling at shabby chic space My House (which has since reverted to its original name of Stinky's Peephouse.)
Born out of the ashes of acid house, the weekly night founded by Dave Beer and the late Ali Cook quickly picked up awards from the likes of Mixmag DMC and Muzik for everything from "Best Club" to "Biggest Caners." What's always mattered most, though, are the parties themselves. It's for that reason that multiple research trips to places like The Sound Factory in the US were undertaken in the early days. Off the back of those came UK debuts for the likes of Doc Martin, Francois K, Danny Tenaglia and Derrick Carter, all of whom were unknowns in the UK at that time. Other equally celebrated names like Basement Jaxx, Sasha, Daft Punk, DJ Sneak, David Morales, Danny Rampling, Terry Farley, Andrew Weatherall and so many more also have long associations with the night.
It's the dedication of key, unwavering residents that has also been vital to the night's longevity, and it's the reason that old punters keep coming back and new ones flood in. Sojourns in London and Ibiza, appearances at places like the Edinburgh International Club Festival and tours around the UK and beyond have all helped establish the original and chaotic Leeds night as, according to fellow scene veteran Pete Tong, "the home of house music." He's not wrong. Ask anyone. Now officially 20 years strong, Back to Basics is among the finest and most experienced purveyors of pure, unaltered house hedonism anywhere in the world.
My fondest memory is when we were at our first venue, the Music Factory. We started Basics on one floor and, as the night grew, we took over other floors at the venue until we had all three. When we opened the third floor in April 1992 we invited Flying Records up from London to do a party with Rocky and Diesel and Andrew Weatherall. Mickey Hirst, who was helping with promotion at the time, came over to me as I was setting up the DJ booth on the middle floor. "You've got to come and see this," he said and he pulled everyone to the window in a store room at the very top of the club.
We all looked out of the window and down onto the street. The whole of Lower Briggate was a roadblock. There wasn't a queue, just a mass of people trying to get in at 8:45, 15 minutes before we even opened. It was 20, 25 deep with people trying to get into our club. We were just looking at each other like little kids thinking, "What have we done here? Look at this!" That is still, for me, I think my fondest memory. All the original crew together, buzzing. That was February 22nd, 1992. We had only started Basics on November 23rd, 1991. It was electric at The Music Factory: We'd taken over from the Hacienda as the best house club in the north of England, if not the world. That night really propelled us to new heights, there must have been 2,000 people trying to get into a club that held 1,200.
Claude von Stroke
I have had some extremely special nights up at Basics. The best was maybe my second or third time playing the night. There was all this camouflage netting on the ceiling, and we pulled the whole ceiling down. But even though most people will say the party is insane and Dave Beer is insane and the after parties go on for days and whatever... I have to say everyone running that party are all very cool down-to-earth people. They really care about music and they make me feel at home. It's more than just a party: It's a little family of quality music lovers up there in Leeds. Much love and respect from me.
Rocky from X-Press 2
I can remember the first time we ever went up, probably about 1993. We hadn't heard of the club by then. We'd encountered Dave once before at some afterparty, then got an invite to play, so we had no pre-conceived ideas. When we arrived there was a big queue outside, the place was packed and buzzing already. When it came to it we were actually DJing from the cab of a truck at the side of the stage which was mental anyway. There was a big foghorn on the roof which Ralph kept letting off every now and then. We were playing loads of DJ Pierre and Wild Pitch records and people were going bananas. It was the friendliness of the people, the love and energy that all the guys behind it put into the club which made for that special energy and spark you felt as a DJ when you played there. I still keep in touch with friends I met on the dance floor at Basics even though we haven't played there for years.
I was more involved in the halcyon days of Basics in the first two venues—Music Factory and Pleasure Rooms—although I have had the fortune to play at all venues despite now residing in the USA. One memory that stands out at the Music Factory is getting a rousing welcome from Rocky & Diesel at their Flying Records night because I was playing "Ma Foom Bay" by Cultural Vibe. They loved the atmosphere that was coming from the lovely truck DJ booth. Also Peter, the manager, used to do somersaults at the end of the night. He'd bamboozle the punters with his death-defying feats of acrobatics!
The Pleasure rooms were ace and offered a different vibe altogether—I commanded the basement and one fond memory protruding through is of my lovely wife to be at the time, Jennifer, rocking it out standing on top of the middle floor speaker stack around 5 or 6:00 AM. I remember peering through the trap door which led up to the middle floor DJ booth and seeing Francois Kervorkian sporting his shorts and white towel-in socks with flip-flops and a towel around his neck. He looked more fitting to be working out to some Jane Fonda '80s workout vid! Still played dope music though!
Tristan Da Cunha
One of the memories that I'll never be able to forget is the first ever night that I went to Back to Basics as a punter. It's where it all began for me. It was 1995, I was 16, I ran the gauntlet of the tight door run by our longstanding door man Gary and the bouncer Joe (who taught me karate and knew how old I was).
Once inside I was blown away by what I saw and heard. The Pleasure Rooms, where Basics was at the time, was washed in red velvet and gold guilt trimmings, a real salubrious joint far away from the big raves that I had experienced before that. The crowd were really stylish and there was an even mix of black and white, straight and gay, all getting down together to this fresh sound. The music covered the full spectrum of quality house and techno and I was instantly hooked. This experience was the gateway to my musical adventure and shaped me instantly as a music lover. Without walking through those doors that night, I wouldn't be writing this.
Resident 2000 - 2007
Even though I held a residency there for 7 years, my favourite moment will always be the first time I set foot inside the club. I was 17 or 18 years old, the club was at its first home, The Music Factory. I was buying as many records as I possibly could when I wasn't working, but the only clubs I had been in were high street booze emporiums… I'd been immersing myself in dance music in my bedroom, with zero context for the scenario in which these pieces of music would connect.
When I walked into Basics all that changed. Ralph Lawson was playing Murk records that I had at home but had never heard in this way, and then walking down into the basement, I was greeted by Huggy opening, playing one of the tracks from Red Planet 5, and I could feel the air thick with anticipation. Weatherall took over and sent the place fucking bananas. The biggest moment was the transition from Phuture's "We Are Future" into Luke Slater's "SynSun." I knew at that moment nothing would be the same in my life.
There have been a load of memories for me even though I didn't play until the night was about 8 years old. One particularly standout moment was the 18th Birthday. It's hard to put my finger on exactly why, but the birthday itself and the fact that it gave us (me, Tristan, Ivan Smagghe, Ralph) a blank canvas as far as what to play counts for something. We were celebrating 18 years so I just had a case of really old records. Everybody came and played differently and although there wasn't a retro theme, we all just ended up spanning many years of house music. The atmosphere was amazing and I actually ended up playing for four hours instead of two because Ivan's Serato packed up. I'll never forget the energy from the crowd that night.
My standout memory from Basics was the opening party at My House, and not just because it was the first time I opened myself up to a wider cerebral experience. (I did some MDMA!) The place was absolutely mobbed and I had just moved to Leeds. I was totally in my element at 18 years old and can still remember the queue when we got there. It took about 90 minutes to get in, so by the time we did we were mad for it…
The place was rammed to the rafters on all three floors and out in the garden. When Ralph Lawson was playing it was like being at a football game on the dance floor; the atmosphere that night was special. People were still talking about it for weeks and weeks after, and because it was the opening night at the new venue, it was even better. After that night I think I did about three months in a row.
Honorary resident/Regular Guest
Most of my memories of the 18 years I've been going are pretty foggy (or it wouldn't really be Basics!), but I think my all time favourite as a clubber is actually a relatively recent one… Ralph Lawson's set at the 18th birthday. The passion and love that went into the track selection just blew me away. It was like a history lesson of the last 18 years of Basics, with every tune holding a different and special place in my heart and bringing memories and emotions flooding back. Musta' been something in the water that night! It really hit home more than ever how Basics has got this far on the strength of its music and crowd, and how much it has influenced me musically and as a person.
Just as I was thinking, "this place couldn't possibly go off any more," Beero climbed out over the DJ booth and crowd surfed the entire length of the club then was passed back again over everyone's head through the crowd back into the booth again to an ovation. Then Buckley, then Denney and a few others all took turns to do the same. It was the kind of classic moment that perfectly caught the pure, hedonistic, anything-goes-between-these-four-walls punk ethos that has always been the spirit of the night from day one!
My very first memory of Basics is from being around 13/14 and one of my older friends stripping his wallpaper and painting (or attempting to!) the Basics logo on his wall. I remember looking at it and thinking, "That's pretty cool." At the same time I was collecting Basics flyers from shops around Leeds. They always had cool, weird designs and I used to cover my bedroom wall and ceiling with them. Then, when I was 17, I went to Basics for the first time at Mint and experienced the music, club and atmosphere: It changed my taste in music straight away.
A couple of years later I went to Uni in Leeds and became a Basics regular. By then, they'd moved to the much bigger Rehab, compete with fish tank and weird submarine-style toilets. I had some awesome nights in there: I remember Zabiela playing one night and the fire alarm going off all the time and Dave having to come on the microphone while the music had stopped but instead of letting it spoil the party, Zabiela kept sampling Dave speaking and then looping it back into the music once the party got started again.
The Artist Formerly Known as Linky
A long time ago, I remember speaking to Dave on the Thursday with the new club opening the Saturday. It was all hell and panic with him going "waaaoooowaaaoo, we're still painting, we need help." So, me and my ex-girlfriend caught the train from Kings Cross to Leeds and arrived at [Pleasure Rooms] about 11 PM Friday night. Ralph Lawson was up on a ladder painting ceilings until 3 AM, we stayed on until about 5 AM.
Dave had paid some local builders a day rate that night, and told them to turn up at the club in all their usual work clobber. He'd ordered about 30 bags of sand and got the builders to take it all to the top level and put it in one big pile on the floor. That was where all the VIPs used to go, people like Eric Cantona and all the Leeds players, all the loaded tarts dodging about in miniskirts. Dave got the builders to just move the sand about all night from one corner of the room to the other. "Excuse me mate, get out t'way" to anybody Dave didn't like, and told them to dump the sand right by their table. People were scratching their head going, "What's Dave up to?" He just didn't like pretention; he did it to piss them off.
As you neck more and more party prescriptions, fancy dress can be a head-fuck. Especially when three whole floors, from wall to wall, are packed with people dressed as kings and queens as they were at the 18th Birthday. Beero looked amazing as he always does at birthday time; dressed head to toe with crown, sceptre, over-sized jewels, the lot. Out in the garden area extra fancy production was hanging from the walls and, along with the usual horde of recognisable faces, the likes of ex-dope dealer Howard Marks and Happy Mondays front man Bez were also hanging out.
Ivan Smagghe was playing the main room along with a load of others (including occasional MC Dave Beer, as he likes to do from time to time) but upstairs on the middle floor was where the real magic was that night. Regular guest Andy Weatherall was on. He started his set with his own "Smoke Belch" I think. From there on in he embarked on a slowly arcing, perfectly balanced two hour set. The love for the bloke that night was all too obvious, with every other bugger in the crowd wearing tribute handlebar 'tashes. It was one classic of many.
There are just too many memories to name just one: 400 plus queues at The Music Factory in '91 for the first events. Beero stopping Ralph mid-set to put an Elvis impersonator on at Mint club. Beero stripping naked on the DJ booth above Ralph at Rehab and diving into the dancing crowd. Ralph Lawson consistently making me dance for 15 years. The Back to Basics petrol station projection. The can of Tuna! Back to Basics flyers stacked up in shops around Leeds. An ice cream van and a train running through the back garden at My House. Putting on a party every weekend for 20 years…
Regular turned 20:20Vision Events Manager
I remember the 18th Birthday rave being a particularly crazy Basics. Not because Dave Beer was up on the club roof attempting to fire breath while trying not to swallow the paraffin, and not because Osama Bin Laden was still alive and swinging on the bass bins. That was the kind of stuff you've come to expect. It was because I was aghast to see my dad's mate Moby (the guy who owns/runs the post office on Otley Road) in a huge sweaty mess, hugging and kissing me all night while absolutely off his nut. He was properly going for it hard and strong, having the best night of his life at 48 years old… and looked absolutely horrific. I remember thinking at the time: "That's me in 20 years." Probably at Back to Basics' 40th.
My first visits to Basics were around the time of the 7th birthday at Mint Club. When it moved to Rehab, I started doing a little bit of work for them and before I knew what had happened I was working full time for the next five years. It was the first job that had ever made any sense to me. Rehab tended to lend itself to the bigger guests, and we had some great nights with the likes of Francois K, Sneak and Cajmere as well as watching the new wave of European talent like M.A.N.D.Y play their first UK gigs. As always, the residents were stars week-in, week-out. After three years at Rehab we had a difference of opinion with the venue owners and, only a few days before New Years Eve, had to switch venues. It seemed impossible in that timescale but we managed it and had the first ever Basics at Stinky's Peephouse with Andrew Weatherall playing. There have been many glorious times there since and, thanks to all involved, Basics has always had and always will have a profound impact on everyone it touches… Long live the king of clubs!
Owner of My House/Stinky's Peephouse
I guess my favourite Basics memory would be the New Years Eve when the night moved to my club Stinky's Peephouse at very short notice. Basics left Rehab about two days before, so Dave came to us and asked if they could have the party here. Obviously I was buzzing, as having the legendary Basics in my own club was always a dream. Though the pressure was on, we managed to extend the club in a day or two, making it big enough for the party.
I played the main room for the first time before Ralph Lawson. The party got really messy as it often does and, of course, it's been with us every week since. In that time there have been some absolute belters including some of the best DJ sets I have ever heard from too many people to mention. In fact, most of the nights are so good they've inspired me to push my own music career much further.
Promoter, founder, DJ
From causing a roadblock to having police convoys escort us home (as hundreds of cars would get together to follow us). It was chaos. We even used to take cups of tea out to the police while the party was going on (just to be nice like). My favourite night had to be my 30th birthday. It was unbelievable: We had Daft Punk in the main room, Goldie at his peak in the basement and Sir Norman Jay playing the grooves at The Pleasure Rooms. You don't get lineups like that anymore 'cause it would be too expensive now. My fondest memory of Basics overall has to be walking out on the stage at a packed Albert Hall with Ali Cook, my home boy and partner, to collect a gold disc for Best Club of the Year from DMC and Mixmag. It was the first award of its kind back in November 1992. What a night that was. I wished I wasn't so smashed so I could remember more of it. Miss you Ali. Rest in peace mate, this one's for you.
Published / Monday, 28 November 2011
Photo credits / locorites.com