Salute to the clubs that got Leeds raving

Clubbers at techno club Orbit at Afterdark, Morley, Leeds in 1994, from the exhibition One Foot in the Rave at Leeds International Festival. Picture: James Lange
Clubbers at techno club Orbit at Afterdark, Morley, Leeds in 1994, from the exhibition One Foot in the Rave at Leeds International Festival. Picture: James Lange
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They were the nightclubs that changed the face of dance music in the UK and worldwide in the 80s and 90s – and they began in Leeds.

Now, 30 years on, a series of events celebrates the contribution of Back To Basics, Hard Times, Kaos, Orbit, Soak, Up Yer Ronson and Vague to the city’s arts, culture, fashion, music and night-time economy.

One Foot in the Rave, part of Leeds International Festival, is an exhibition of photographs, memorabilia and documentaries at Trinity Leeds shopping centre that runs from Saturday April 28 to Friday May 4. It will be accompanied by a series of nightly ‘Chinwag’ interviews by Chris Madden with key figures from the scene including George Evelyn of Nightmares on Wax, Nic Gundill of Hard Times, Suzy Mason of Vague and Speedqueen, Steve Raine of Hard Times, DJ Graeme Park and Dave Beer of Back To Basics.

Kaos will also mark its 30th anniversary on Saturday April 30 with a concert by Classical Uproar with DJs Mark Alexander, Marshall and Brandon Block at the LIF Spiegeltent in Millennium Square, followed by an after-party at Angelica.

The events have been curated by Tony Hannan, founder of Kaos, Soak, Orbit and Up Yer Ronson, in conjunction with Leeds BID, Sharon Brigden of SLB and Cathy Dickson of Leeds International Festival. In the 80s and 90s Mr Hannan was responsible for bringing the likes of Sasha, Paul Oakenfold, 808 State and Orbital to Leeds.

He estimates that between 1988 and 1998 3.5million people visited clubs in Leeds. “Based on them spending an average of £20 per head, those people brought £70m-£100m to the economy of Leeds, in restaurants, hotels, clubs and fashion. It’s unbelievable. It proved how important this generation of clubs were to the economy of Leeds.”

Tony Hannon, curator of One Foot in the Rave at Leeds International Festival.

Tony Hannon, curator of One Foot in the Rave at Leeds International Festival.

Mr Hannan remembers his conversion to the sounds of acid house started at the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester.

“We used to go over on the Friday night. There would be 150 people from Leeds, girls and boys. Then we started getting to know people from Manchester.”

Many of them were also football fans who would once have been fierce transPennine rivals; through music they became friends. Using his past experience of promoting gigs by the likes of The Wedding Present and the Bridewell Taxis, Mr Hannan decided to start his own acid house night in Leeds. Called Kaos, it began at Ricky’s nightclub in the Merrion Centre before later transferring to The Warehouse where a student night called Joy had already opened the ears of a select band of clubbers to the type of music he was keen to promote. Soon there would be queues around the block.

The success of acid house, he believes, “changed the attitudes and a lot of the beliefs, certainly in Leeds”. “In the 80s Leeds was a working class town. When Kaos started it changed everything. It started bringing people together. For me it sums up a lot of what the house scene did for Leeds.”

In the 80s Leeds was a working class town. When Kaos started it changed everything. It started bringing people together. For me it sums up a lot of what the house scene did for Leeds.

Tony Hannan

The popular Kaos nights helped “break quite a few acts” too. “K-Klass had hits in the charts; Orbital went on to become a massive festival band,” Mr Hannan recalls. “It was a platform for all these people. Sasha played his first gig for me on a Wednesday night at Ricky’s. M People played their second gig in Leeds.”

Kaos ran for three years before Mr Hannan recognised that “music was changing” and clubbers wanted “more American-style house”. Soak was born when he read a Kaos T-shirt backwards in a mirror. He ran 26 events at the Corn Exchange. “It closed at 5.30pm and then it was crazy for three hours setting everything up to get the doors open for 9pm. You learn a lot. My apprenticeship was a box of flyers and some posters. I would go around town talking to people, getting people on the guestlist.”

Later came Up Yer Ronson – its name suggested by DJ Brandon Block – which became a major success at Space in Ibiza, regularly attracting thousands of clubbers. Mr Hannan has fond memories of the reaction Block got when he played French Kiss by Lil Louis for the first time. “People ask me why I do this and it’s for moments like that,” he says. “Success is great but when you have a special moment like that then it makes it worthwhile. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few of those.”

Up Yer Ronson brought BBC Radio 1 to Ibiza for the first time in 1996. The broadcast, that featured Sasha on the decks, was heard by more than five million listeners. “That was another moment when you think it can’t get any better than this,” Mr Hannon says. “I’m very proud to have started the scene in Leeds and carried it all over the world.”

A cigarette girl at Vague, from the exhibition One Foot in the Rave at Leeds International Festival.

A cigarette girl at Vague, from the exhibition One Foot in the Rave at Leeds International Festival.

Up Yer Ronson’s record imprint, which was signed to Polydor, even spawned three top 30 hits. “That really took the club to superclub level,” Mr Hannan says.

The clubnights themselves became internationally famous brands, with mailing lists and adverts in publications such as Mixmag. Some of that material will feature in the One Foot in the Rave exhibition, which takes place in the former Armani Exchange unit in Trinity Leeds.

Mr Hannan was also keen to celebrate the contribution of other Leeds clubs from the time, such as Back To Basics, Hard Times and Vague.

“This whole scene spawned such a creative environment in Leeds,” he says, pointing to the likes of Nicolas Dixon who has gone on to become a well-known artist and Suzy Mason, now a well-known name in fashion. Dave Beer now co-runs city venue The Church and with the Orchestra of Opera North has staged Back To Basics Classical concerts in Millennium Square. Steve Raine has staged Hard Times events in London.

“I don’t think that can be underestimated,” Mr Hannan says. “It gave people a different way of looking at how they wanted to conduct their lives, doing something that they love rather than going out and getting a job. They did things that they loved rather than doing a job because they had to, like their parents.”

The One Foot in the Rave exhibition runs in the lower floor at Trinity Leeds from Saturday April 28 to Friday May 4, daily from noon to 6pm. Admission is free.

The Garden Party at Vague, from the exhibition One Foot in the Rave at Leeds International Festival.

The Garden Party at Vague, from the exhibition One Foot in the Rave at Leeds International Festival.

The Chinwag sessions cost £5 and begin on Sunday April 29 with George Evelyn and Tony Hannan, followed by on April 30 Nic Gundill; May 1 Suzy Mason; May 2 Steve Raine; May 3 Graeme Park; May 4 Dave Beer.

Kaos Classical takes place in the Spiegeltent, Millennium Square on April 28 and features Classical Uproar and DJs Mark Alexander, Marshall and Brandon Block. It starts at 7pm, admission £25. It will be followed by an after-party at Angelica in Trinity Leeds, featuring DJ Tony Ross and “a big surprise guest”.

For details visit www.leedsinternationalfestival.com

A poster for Hard Times from the exhibition One Foot in the Rave at Leeds International Festival.

A poster for Hard Times from the exhibition One Foot in the Rave at Leeds International Festival.