A Basement, A Red Light, And A Feelin’.
Andy Maddison was born just outside of Newcastle in 1973, but raised from the age of 4 in North Doncaster. He was 16 years old during the ‘second summer of love’ in 1989, but, like many young people of the day, had been a regular on the Doncaster nightlife scene from the age of 15, and experienced the height of Acid House. He is currently the Yorkshire & Humber Drug and Alcohol Lead and Programme Manager at Public Health England.
Acid House Kids
When history recalls the phenomenon of acid house and the late 80s/early 90s techno explosion they often and most obviously tell the well trodden tales of the Ibiza four, the M25 circular parties such as Sunrise or Energy and of course the legendary clubs and nights such as Shoom and Heaven (London) or The Hacienda (Manchester). But the movement that arguably created the greatest and most seismic youth culture movement of the past 30 years was often felt (and needed) more acutely in fading industrial towns and cities like Doncaster and Sheffield.
For those either too young to know what Acid House is or was, or for those who are just unfamiliar with the term, let’s put it this way; if you listen to music nowadays or go to a pub, club or bar anywhere in the UK or Europe then its safe to say that you will in some way be experiencing elements of the legacy left by Acid House in the aesthetic of design, fashion or music.
The sound that defined Acid House was the Roland TB-303, and it was all a kind of a happy and fortunate mistake. Roland had intended this new bass synthesizer to mimic the sound of a bass guitar. After just two years in production (1982-84) Roland decided to cease production of the 303. As the discontinued piece of equipment began to find its way into junk shops some financially challenged Chicago kids began picking them up at bargain prices.
The sound of the 303 became known as acid, and the collective known as Phuture released “Acid Tracks” in 1987 as one of the first tracks to define the Acid House sound. They found that by pushing the 303 to its limits they could extract the unique ‘squelching’ noise that is now synonymous with the genre. I’m pretty sure that at this point they had no idea of the impact they would have upon the kids of the UK.
1988/89 The Second Summer of Love
Similarly, if you ask any resident of Doncaster when the first wave of electronic dance music took hold in the town most will reference the ramshackled but still (sporadically) operational Warehouse club (BYO) on the North Bridge heading out toward Bentley. Those who were involved in the acid house and techno scene in its early days will probably mark the opening of the club not as the start of something, but as the beginning of the end, and a move toward the bastardisation of a beloved, inclusive and unifying grass roots scene that positively changed the lives of many forever. The youth of Doncaster and South Yorkshire were not just followers riding the tail end of a London/Manchester centric scene. Some were in fact fully engaged early adopters and participants. To anyone too young to participate or for those born after the events of those years it must be really difficult to totally understand the changes that took place as a result of acid house or the ‘second summer of love’ in 1988/89. It really was a line in the sand. Then and now. Before and after. To put some context to those times, we have to describe the cultural and political environment that those coming of age found themselves in during the tail end of the 1980s.
The Post–Strike Generation
Doncaster, much like the rest of South Yorkshire, was living in the long dark shadow of the turmoil created by the miners strike five years earlier. We were sons and daughters of miners and associated heavy industries, raised in striking households and on free school meals, and if we weren’t, our friends and wider families were. Unemployment for youth was at record levels and opportunities and hope were in scarce supply. A YTS or the dole was pretty much on the cards for all school leavers of working class families. It was a fading industrial town, with a violent night life fuelled by a heavy drinking culture. The nightlife scene was stuck in a bygone era, men wore suits and ties, women wore heels. Both had permed hair. It was the era of the ‘fun pub’ with incessantly chattering djs with delusions of being amusing who talked over the latest novelty song or middle aged chart lingerer , while making derogatory and misogynist comments to women enjoying a night out with friends. It really was ‘grim up north’ and in much of the UK. However; amongst all of this cultural stagnation as in the wider UK, the seeds of change were producing tiny green shoots. Sometimes in places where it perhaps wasn’t even initially recognised.
Chicago and House on Duke Street
‘Clouds’ was an offshoot room away from the main dancefloor of Seventh Heaven and was the hangout for the small but tight knit group of young second generation west Indians, and white electro enthusiasts dancing predominantly to soul and a new form of music emerging from Chicago called ‘House’; not yet Acid House but firmly paving the way. The dress code in clouds was still formal wear. Ties, jackets, waistcoats, trousers and shoes were expected. The venues and door staff wouldn’t have it any other way and this was a policy that would oddly endure at the majority of Doncaster establishments for many years to follow.
Acid House at Oscars
Just a short walk away in the premises that are now Paris Gate was a bar by the name of Oscars; this was where you could say that the Acid House scene of Doncaster was born without ever playing a single record of the genre. Upstairs near the window overlooking what is now McDonalds was where a small number of young people who didn’t want to participate in the aggressive meat market that was Doncaster town centre in 1988/89 congregated. They were noticeable in their dress and by their hairstyles and the lack of apparent ‘effort’ made to dress for a night out on the town. Boys had longer hair, not dissimilar to the girls they hung out with. Both wore jeans or dungarees and oversized sweatshirts and desert boots, kickers or trainers.
The presence of two key clothes shops also played a part in contributing to the identity of the young people coming together in this fledgling scene. Rabina was an independent shop in the once thriving Waterdale shopping arcade that specialised in streetwear and stocked items that no other store in the town carried; Aztec print t-shirts, BK Knights high tops, and dungarees. Bankrupt Clothing was situated on the market place (then later on high st) where you could buy looser fit jeans and oversized sweatshirts. Key Acid House apparel.
What really set Oscars apart though was the lack of a ludicrous dress code and the policy of allowing young DJs a chance at playing a mix of hip hop, soul and some of the more progressive chart songs of the day. Its close proximity to Seventh Heaven/Clouds where the crowd listening to soul and early house would have drinks before heading into the club and mix with the younger crowd was also a key factor. Oscars was the base from where this group of young people from across the borough would start to venture out to surrounding areas in South Yorkshire; most notably Sheffield and Rotherham, where some newly established nights in appropriated surroundings were starting to take place.
‘Hyper’ in Rotherham was a short lived night in the basement room of a pub called Shipmates that played a mixture of UK and Detroit/Chicago techno and where the young people of Doncaster first established a collective out of town presence; the confidence to explore further was grown. Being in a pub basement, the then restrictive UK licensing laws meant that we were still out on our ear with a desire to continue the party, as licensed venues closed at 11pm and nightclubs at 2am.
Sheffield and Acid House
Pirate radio also played a huge part in the development of the South Yorkshire scene and it was Sheffield’s SCR (Sheffield Community Radio) that captured the hearts, minds and imagination of the youth of Doncaster. Its transmission range was significant enough that if you angled your radio antenna correctly you could pick up a clear signal in much of our town. Through this station we could learn about all the latest tunes, the upcoming nights and most importantly the after hours happenings that meant that your night would not come to an abrupt end when the house lights came up at 2am.
Warp Records, now most famous as the production company behind the ‘This is England’ series, were then a Sheffield based record shop on Division Street that had used a government enterprise allowance scheme grant to finance the release of young artists from around the region that were creating electronic music. Sheffield trio Forgemasters (named after the steel works), LFO (Leeds), Nightmares on wax (Leeds), and Sweet Exorcist (Sheffield) all benefitted from the hard work and vision of Warp and soon became essential records to own. Warp Records was one of the most influential and important forces behind the emerging dance music scene that quickly began to release left field dance music that against all odds began to make a commercial dent on the national charts. Although not on Warp, Unique 3 were another Yorkshire duo (Bradford) making waves on the emerging and uniquely British slant on the techno scene.
Unlike the in vogue and media spotlighted Manchester scene of the day, Sheffield was an altogether more real and grimy affair. Manchester had a purpose built New York style club financed by New Order and Factory Records while Sheffield maintained the Acid House ethos of taking over repurposed spaces such as basements and shabby down on their luck discotheques.
Occasions and its Techno City night was one such venue that was the beating heart of the Sheffield scene and served as a melting pot for like-minded youth from across South Yorkshire where friendships and alliances were forged. The unity felt between Acid House kids back then was such that you could happily bump into a group of strangers and before you knew it you were back at a house somewhere partying for the next 3 days. The opportunity to carry the party on after the restrictive government set parameters was a huge thing back then, again difficult to understand with the European style licensing hours that were introduced back in 2005. However; for those willing to seek it out it was always available.
Shebeens or ‘Blues’ such as CJ’s in Broomhall, Sheffield were one such establishment that, like those across the UK, were illegal, but had grown out of necessity during the 50s, 60s and 70s as they were the only space where black communities could be celebrated and untroubled during times of often shocking racism. Their existence, open door policy, welcoming and inclusive environment and relaxed opening hours were perfect for the Acid House generation to continue the party into the following day.
Doncaster‘s Acid House Kids
The growing Doncaster collective travelled far and wide to events such as No Worries at Milton Keynes, Santa Pod Raceway, Wigan Pier and beyond, but were also beginning to organise back in their home town. It was not unusual to find up to 100 young people dancing in secluded spots such as Sandal Beat Wood or travelling in convoy to and dancing in the grounds of Cusworth Hall until dawn. The now defunct Afro Caribbean centre (now Adrian Welch Glass and Glazing) just off Carr House Road was home to the Mentazm night that attracted large gatherings of young people from around the region into the small,sweaty space.
The police and authorities were caught completely unaware and floundered while trying to control behaviours that they had not previously had to deal with. The response was crude and heavy handed and much of the young people of the day now carry criminal records for minor drug and public order offences. It was around 1991 that the nightlife of Doncaster began to alter and bend to the shift in culture, largely as a result of those young people travelling further afield to experience the happenings. It appeared that overnight there had emerged a huge cultural and generational gap; even those just a few years older now seemed out of step and out dated.
So, back to the Warehouse. It is stated on the current Facebook page of the club that it opened its doors in 1989, a statement that isn’t correct. I can only surmise that this was the purchase date by the original owner Graham Rhoden because those who were around at the time categorically and collectively remember it opening in 1991. I also have a personal reference point to this as a) my father installed the fire protection equipment in 1991 and without this the venue would not have been granted a licence to open, and b) I went to the opening night.
For a few short months, and thanks to the vision (and investment) of Mr Rhoden the collective group had found a local home, purpose built on their doorstep. But as with most movements the larger exposure brought with it an element that did not understand the original unifying spirit and inclusive ethos underpinning the original acid house scene, and before long the first Doncaster Acid House kids had dispersed into the wind. Some escaped to warmer climates such as Ibiza. Some never returned. Some were inspired by their experiences and went on to create businesses based upon their passions, and others sadly never made it out of their youth or were caught long term in the heroin epidemic that would plague much of the next two decades in Doncaster and the rest of the UK. But for most, their part in this movement would leave an indelible and long lasting impact upon their lives, forging lifelong friendships, beliefs and attitudes that will stay with them forever.
A Basement, A Red Light, And a Feelin’.
Find Andy Maddison on Twitter here.
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