Words - RL
Flyers - Dave Beer & Nic Gun Design.
Photos - Dave Beer
I am not entirely sure why back to basics has tended to change venues every three to four years. Maybe promoter Dave Beer sees venues like cars that need to be upgraded regularly. Maybe it's because a cycle of three years is also about right for clubs too. Usually; there is an initial excitement about the new place, a regular crowd forms, a peak period and a gradual tapering off. Occasionally venues can last far longer (fabric / Sub Club) or they can also close far more abruptly like The Pleasure Rooms. Despite both Fridays and Saturdays being successful the venue was reportedly losing money due to an increase in city centre rents as Leeds became a fashionable place to live in the 90s. The writing was on the wall in March 1997 when the company that owned the building went bust and the venue closed. There were behind the scenes negotiations and it re-opened for a few months but it didn't work, the momentum had been lost. Despite several attempts to make the venue work as one large space it never happened again and has since been split into smaller units.
I have always been into dub reggae, in fact it was my first love in dance music before house. So on a night off I enjoy hitting a dub club. One night in 1997 I was invited by my friend and original basics crew member, Moose, to a Sub Dub night at Fiddler's Club on Harrison street off the top of New Briggate. It had sticky beer encrusted carpets, low ceilings and a surprisingly good sound. I didn't think much about it at the time but when the troubles started at The Pleasure Rooms the visit came back into my mind and I mentioned the venue to Dave. The timing happened to be perfect as Fiddler's had recently been bought by a lady called Val Rose and she was keen to turn it around and more than happy to talk to Dave. After all, basics had already won two awards for best club in the country at the DMC and Muzik Magazine awards so what venue owner wouldn't want basics ?
Dave and Val agreed a deal and started work on a new look for the club. The concept was that it would be a fresh new start for both of them and the club would also be 'blinding'. Dave came up with the idea of 'Mint', the word worked well to convey both 'Minty' freshness and 'Mint' meaning class. The interior was lightened up with a green and white colour scheme and nice touches like Polo mint bar stools. The lighting system was upgraded and a sound system bought in from the company that had fitted Sankeys in Manchester. The Mint Club was born. Back to basics opened there under it's shorter nickname 'Basics' on 23rd May 1998. The first flyer had a picture of a barking dog and the slogan 'Back to Bite Your Legs Off'.
The Mint Club was an immediate success, it's relatively small size compared to previous basics venues meant it was easy to fill and the low ceiling ensured a great atmosphere. The timing was perfect as it coincided with a move away from the huge 90s Superclubs towards more intimate spaces. The Mint club was a Rose family affair with Val's daughter Sonia on the door and Val herself always at the club, helping behind the bar and even sweeping up at the end of every night. It still remains the only club I have ever been involved in where the owner cleaned the place up. You needed to keep well clear of Val's brush at the end of the night though as she would wield it at any stragglers! She was seen as a tough lady but underneath a total diamond. She would also have no problem with having a go at the DJs, she wasn't one for airs or graces. I remember doing the warm up once and must have been playing too loudly so she came up and told that it was "too bloody early to have it that loud!". She was right as it goes.
To this day I hate the music being too loud when a club is filling up as people have no time to socialise and chat. The warm up should be just that - a warm up. It seems a lost art form today. We'd keep the volume down really low for the first two hours and play slower tempo music with brighter ambient lighting. Then every week at roughly midnight I'd give the nod to the lighting op and he'd turn the lights down at exactly the moment I turned the volume up. When you are doing a proper weekly residency it becomes possible to break tunes or give them a certain place in the night's programming. I started to play Moodymann's - 'Day We Lost The Soul' every week as the track to kick off proceedings at midnight. People would know what to expect when they heard the intro and start whooping and stamping their feet. So it made perfect sense to start my DJ Mix for The Mint Club Years (below) with this record.
Musically back to basics, at The Mint Club, had a clear separate identity from it's previous incarnations. It was a smaller space so we didn't have as much need to play the big room New York tracks that had ruled at The Pleasure Rooms. The three major influences became; the more jackin' boompty house of Chicago, the percussive sounds of the West Coast scene and the new wave of French funk that flowed freely in the aftermath of daft punk. Derrick Carter became the biggest and most popular guest DJ, always selling out and often playing on the big nights like birthdays. He was joined by DJ Sneak, Mark Farina with their slammin' hi hats, heavily swung rhythms and cut & paste samples, which became our staple diet of beats.
The other factor in the Mint Club Years music was French.
Every dog has it's day and all great countries have their period in time and 1998 certainly belonged to France. Writing this piece immediately following the tragic events of November 13th 2015 when 129 people lost their lives on a normal Friday night out in Paris, it is even more poignant to think about the special times I had there and how important the musicians, DJs and producers of France have been to the back to basics story. In 1998 France won the world cup on home turf, daft punk were the coolest band on the planet and Paris was burnin'. I was introduced to the Paris scene by Ivan Smagghe, a young DJ who was playing on a station called Radio Nova and resident DJ on Wednesday nights at Queen Club on Av. des Champs Elysée. Ivan spoke perfect English, oddly with a Birmingham accent, and was one of the cool guys; rake thin with tattoos and a beard - long before either were a twinkle in the eyes of Shoreditch fashion. We hit it off immediately and forged a friendship on and off the pitch for a few years, including putting out his first ever record on 20/20 Vision under the name Volga Select.
My eyes were opened by Paris. The art, the culture, the food, the wine, the music and of course the beautiful people. It was like a sensory overload coming from the brass tacks of Leeds. It was also one of the greatest times in history to be in Paris. Ivan introduced me to a guy called Jeff Labelle who was an agent and also help book parties there. They invited me to play at an after-party called Kwality on a moored boat called The Batofar. If I had to make a top ten list of my favourite nights ever then this one would be firmly in there. It was a life changing experience as a DJ. The sound in the Batofar was exceptional, maybe something to do with it being underwater and dampening the reverberations ? It was a small crowd, perhaps 300, but super cool people. The really freaky thing for me though was the whole after-hours scene. The party didn't start until all the other clubs had closed around 4am and went on until mid-day Sunday. The resident DJ at the party was an upcoming local DJ called Dan Ghenacia. We also hit off it off from the start, with a shared love of the emerging West Coast sounds from San Francisco. I hung out with Dan and his friends in Paris, one of whom was a really young guy by the name of Didier who I later found out to DJ as Dyed Soundorom. That one gig set me up in Paris for a good few years. I played at The Rex Club, L'Enfer, Open House at Elysée Montmatre and many others. We also started to bring over the French Djs to Leeds. Alongside Ivan and Dan came D'Julz. We went on to record one of my favourite mix CDs in 2002 in honour of the Batofar party for Families / Reakt. This party was the starting point for the French underground sound that also fit so well at DC10, the core after-party crew from Batofar went to Ibiza in the summer of 2002 and became long standing residents DJs at Circoloco.
The other major contributing factor to the music at The Mint Club was the introduction of two Leeds born and bred resident DJs Tristan Da Cunha and Paul Woolford. Both had been attending the club as regulars for years before getting their opportunity to play. Woolford had been bringing me mix-tapes to listen to since the the:music>factory and Da Cunha had been hanging out in the booth at The Pleasure Rooms since he was 16. Looking back, it is incredible that they waited for so long and so patiently for their chance but when it came they took the opportunity and each made a huge impact. They were stylistically very different but both technically superb. They also had a crew of friends who became the next wave of regulars.
The outdoor area at The Mint Club was bizarre. It was created by Evian and the idea was to make an ice grotto with white plastic walls (It looked a little like the Ice cave set from 'Empire Strikes Back' when Luke is captured by a Wampa). On big nights we would put decks out there and it would have the feel of a Terrace party. Tristan made that session his own, mixing disco and house. I have a great memory of him dropping Tiefschwarz - 'Disco Music' out there, which I have included on The Mint Club years DJ Mix, but the track originally came from TdC. This was actually often the case as both Woolford and Da Cunha had spells working in record stores; Play Music and Barkin' Records (both in The Corn Exchange). So they had another active influence on the music at back to basics. They were not just playing the records, they were selling the records. They were also buyers for the shops, so it was their taste that was being reflected on the shelves. They could make a record big in the city just by supporting it in-store. This is another thing that has fallen along the wayside with the demise of the record store - the record store guys. It is a tried and tested route to becoming a great DJ, just think of the knowledge you acquire on a daily basis. Off the top of my head I can name several other top DJs who made their name in stores before dancefloors - DJ Heidi, Hector (both Phonica), Jackmaster (Rubadub), Justin Robertson (Eastern Block), Nicky Black Market (erm, Black Market). Both Woolford and Da Cunha now have successful projects as Special Request and Dungeon Meat respectively.
What else do I have to say about The Mint Club ? Well, don't get me started, how long have you got ? I could ramble on for ages, as I'm sure many others could. As I've mentioned before (this is the 4th in a series of mixes I have been doing to celebrate and document the life and times of back to basics - check blog for more) this piece is meant to be just the start. The comments section is there for you to tell your tales and add details. It was a good four years basics was at the venue so there's plenty to tell.
My memories do include the night I ordered Dave Beer a stripper for his birthday, I have never seen him run so fast out of his own club, I think he missed half the night but he got away. The poor lass had to make do with doing her routine for one of our regulars 'Big' Barry. I remember a lovely new group of people who came nearly every week who are now all over the planet. I remember amusing myself on warm-up sets by watching first timers walk past the booth, give me a nod and walk straight into the mirrored wall that looked like it was another room in the club as Val always had it polished so clean they couldn't tell it was a mirror! I remember Derrick Carter not turning up so I got to play the whole night and really going out there to make the point that the residents could hold their own without the guests. I remember the girl who came and sang to us in Italian at the end of the night so beautifully, just once. I remember the door staff actually being pleasant. I remember listening to some amazing DJs in there including Masters at Work, Carl Cox, DJ Harvey, X-Press 2, Doc Martin, Slam, Harri & Domenic, Fred Everything and many others.
Back to basics won best small club at the Muzik Magazine awards in 1998 and 2002 while at The Mint Club. The last night was June 22nd 2002.
It finally needs to be added that The Mint Club is the only venue that has ever lasted after basics has left the building. In fact it has gone on to be the most successful venue in Leeds clubbing history. In 2008 the club was bought by Shane Graham, still with Val as manager, and given a very costly makeover including an LED wall based on Watergate in Berlin and a Function One soundsystem. The venue has managed to continue to attract big names from around the world including regular visits from Loco Dice, Villalobos, Luciano, Sven Vath, Seth Troxler and many more.
I have done my best to do the MInt Club years between 1998-2002 justice in the mix. As always it is impossible to be definitive and it is a personal selection rather than a reflection of all the resident DJs tastes; James Holroyd, Paul Woolford and Tristan Da Cunha or the guests. Although there are many tunes included that we all played. As always it was recorded 'live' in one take in my studio in Leeds on decks with thoughts and memories generated by each record as I played them.
Ralph Lawson // back to basics // The Mint Club Years // Track Listing
Moodymann - Day We Lost The Soul
Moodymann - Tribute (To The Soul We Lost)
The Persuader & Stephan Grieder - Naked Women (Svek)
Charles Schillings - It's About Time (Wake Up People) - Fred Everything Remix (Pschent)
Inland Knights - Hard Bread (20/20 Vision)
Mr DJ - Always (Soul Kandy)
Brett Johnson - Jiffy Pop (Classic Music Company)
Blaze - My Beat (Derrick Carter Remix)
Home & Garden ft. Colette - Find Your Love (Icon)
Jeep Grrlz - It Takes Me High (El Chocolates)
Jamie Lewis & Nick Morris - Universal Funk (Aquarius)
Russ Gabriel - Back in Charge (Soul On Wax)
Moodymann - I Can't Kick This Feeling When It Hits
Chris Lum & Jay J - Freaks Like Us (Multi-Tracked)
DJ Spen - Midnite EP (Chez)
Mike Delgado - Byrdmans Revenge (Henry Street)
Gregory Del Piero - Don't Hesitate (Subliminal Soul)
Peppermint Candy - Chocolate Girl (Julien Jabre Remix) (Project)
SYLK 130 - When the funk hits the fan (Mood II Swing mix) (Columbia)
Matt Warren - Darkness & The Light (Mazi Remix) (Afterhours)
Audio Soul Project - Back to Joy (Grayhound)
DJ Dozia - Pop Culture (Ovum)
The Producers - Flying The Funky Path (Layo Bushwacka Remix) (End recordings)
Ax:us - Callin U (Mood II Swing Dub Mix) (Guidance)
Brasil Over Zurich (BOZ Bongo Mongo Mix) (Subliminal)
DJ Sneak - Keep On Groovin' (Ian Pooley remix)
I Cube-Disco Cubism-Daft Punk Remix (Versatile)
Afropeans - No1 (Prog City)
The Twisted Pair - Horny Hustle (NRK)
Tiefschwarz - Disco Music (Benztown)
Furry Freaks feat Terra Deva - Soothe (16B remix) (Open)
Cleptomaniacs - Numero Uno (SoulFuric)
Lucy Pearl - Don't Mess With My Man (Virgin)
Isolee - Beau Mot Plage (Heaven & Earth Re-Edit) (Classic Music Company)