In the late 1980s, The Hacienda — an old warehouse in downtrodden Manchester, UK — became the unlikely site of a revolution, lighting the fuse for acid house and the rave culture that would follow. Helmed by DJs Mike Pickering and Graeme Park, its weekly Friday party was the inspiration for future superclubs and a breeding ground for some of Britain’s finest bands.
Five years ago, Erol Alkan’s club night, Trash, was being tipped as the new Hacienda. At the height of electroclash, his Monday night bash became the London hub, with an unlimited playlist and the hottest bands aching to appear. Alkan was also a prime mover in the bootleg mash-up movement and made a mainstream splash with his Kylie Minogue/New Order mix. He’s now ignored the lure of pop to produce new bands, however. One of them, a promising dance-rock three-piece called the Klaxons, will be joining him in the studio later this afternoon, but first, a couple of older heads have arrived to chew the fat. . .
URB: Madchester, electroclash, you guys have all had scenes thrust upon you — is it odd being on the inside of one?
Erol Alkan: I don’t think anyone inside a scene would dare even utter its name.
Mike Pickering: There was never a “Madchester;” NME did that. As soon as it’s given a name, that’s usually the kiss of death. Hundreds of deals got signed like that. A&R men came to Manchester and snapped up the bands.
EA: From what I can gather about the Manchester thing, it was very soulful, whereas all the bands that came later weren’t, they didn’t have the same heartbeat.
MP: I remember journalists from America and Japan coming to see Graeme and I on the Friday night, and for a brief second the streets were awash with film crews. They were all really shocked, as they expected us to play what they considered Madchester — Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets. It was really weird. We were actually playing really funky, soulful sort of stuff.
Graeme Park: I was in San Francisco once, doing a gig in a record shop, and they expected me to turn up with all the Mondays and Roses records. . .
EA: Mixed together?
GP: Yeah, and I started playing some original Detroit techno, and the guy was like “Hey man, what’cha doing?” He was absolutely appalled. It was advertised as “Graeme Park, Hacienda.” The shop was full of people wearing what they thought was the Manchester look — scruffy, floppy hats. I only played four more records after that.
MP: I played the Smart Bar in Chicago, a really great club, it was like a Hacienda night, and I remember playing Joe Smooth “Promised Land,” which was a Chicago record. Joe was from about half a mile away, and all the people in the club are going “Wow, this is great, what is this?”
The Hacienda was inextricably linked with the “baggy” bands though.
MP: What people miss out about the Hacienda, it was like Danceteria in New York and your club’s the same — they were meeting places, where people came down and formed bands. The Mondays met there, the Roses met there.
EA: When bands go out, they don’t particularly want to go to places where they’ll hear their own records. It’s not like a support unit, where affiliate bands stand around and pat each other on the back.
Your clubs do have slightly different door policies.
MP: The Friday night at the Hacienda was cheaper if you were unemployed. Saturday was more expensive, more dressy-uppy.
EA: We have a bit of a door code, because we always had a high quota of girls, we make sure the boys have to make an effort. Scruffiness, or if you look like you’ve just come from work, we don’t encourage that at all.
MP: Ours was a reverse door policy. Before, we’d get thugs in ties, no trainers, so we flipped it. We wouldn’t let people in shirts and ties in.
EA: The problem was, after all the press attention we had in 2001–03, it was so intense, we had so many. . .
EA: I’d say social tourists, people who come down and bleed the lifeblood out of clubs. As a DJ, I’ve never franchised the club, I never play the sets I play at Trash outside of Trash.
GP: That’s how it felt to me as well. I’ve never, ever played anywhere that’s come even close to it. There were certain records that only worked at the Hacienda.
MP: It’s having your own crowd. I used to get certain records and think, I can’t wait to play this to them.
EA: It’s an investment that you put into a place and into the people. There’s a relationship that’s unspoken.
Do new people come along to Trash with entirely the wrong idea?
EA: I don’t know what people think — I do know that the point where everyone thought I was an electro DJ was the point where I was playing really noisy American guitar records, really abrasive stuff.
GP: People either thought the Hacienda was about Madchester, or they expected a big rave thing.
MP: We hated raves. We wouldn’t do them. We got quite militant about it.
GP: Ecstasy and house took over eventually, though.
MP: 1988 changed everything. Before that we played a massive variety of music.
EA: Did you have bands on at the club nights?
MP: We did early on.
EA: I’ve got a DVD of the Stone Roses playing there. It’s bonkers, they look completely wired.
GP: I used to come up from Nottingham to see bands before I even knew Mike.
MP: We even had William Burroughs doing poetry readings, on a Monday night.
EA: We had Gonzales play 45 minutes of solo piano in the main room. Three hundred kids sitting on the floor, candlelight — you had to whisper to order your drink.
The gangsters took over eventually, though?
GP: The Hacienda took a lot of stick for that, but it was just Manchester, really.
MP: On the old Friday nights it was just weed. The vibe in [infamous Manchester district] Moss Side was that they just smoked weed, they didn’t like anything chemical. It’s ironic that they ended up being the gangs that peddled the drugs, and ended up killing each other.
Didn’t the Mondays deal there too?
MP: They came back from Ibiza with a bagful of [ecstasy], they weren’t really dealers. The Mondays could never deal drugs, because they’d end up taking them all.
GP: Ecstasy was the catalyst. The same time I was playing the Hacienda, I was also playing in Nottingham, and eventually people would follow us down. They were always really smart in Nottingham, but when ecstasy started, overnight it suddenly went really scruffy.
The club scene became your career though, Graeme.
GP: I just loved it. I did the Hacienda for four years, but when it closed, I was just charged with this thing to keep going, and travel the world. I missed having that weekly residency, though.
MP: We used to get asked to go to Chicago and we’d be like, no, we don’t want to miss a Friday night. One of us would always stay with our crowd.
EA: I’ve only missed one Trash in nine and a half years, and that was on my honeymoon.
MP: That’s no excuse. . .
EA: That’s why I’ve never played Japan, I’ve never gone to Australia. I played Mexico last week, New York, but I made sure I’d be back on Monday morning, so I could do the club. I’m totally committed. You can’t expect your clubbers to invest in you otherwise.
Trash is very trendy, as was the Hac — were you aware of it?
MP: I hated that. What does it mean? It just meant you were more cutting-edge than anyone else, but it gives the impression you’re elitist.
EA: It’s in the eye of the beholder. If you act as a catalyst for something that envelopes a whole load of other brilliant things, then you’ll be deemed as trendy. But it’s not like I make every record I play. We’re just channels.
GP: The Hacienda every week was full of people from London — record companies, A&R departments, journalists, because it was something they felt they should check out.
Graeme carried on DJing, Mike became a chart act [with M People] — which path do you favor, Erol?
EA: I just want to make good records. Remixing or production, I do it because I have to do it for myself. It’s not like I’ve thought “I’m getting older and want to slow down the DJing and start working with bands.”
MP: I don’t think anyone is careerist.
GP: I never thought “I’ll be doing this for the next five years” although I think some people do.
EA: If I thought of it as a career, I’d roll over and die.