Back to basics moved to No.1 Brick Street, better known as Stinky’s Peephouse, on 11th February 2006.
Words : Ralph Lawson
Photos : Tom Horton (unless credited)
Art & Design : Dave Beer / Nic Gundesign Inc
Stinky's Peephouse was formerly a gay club, situated on the outskirts of the city centre, behind the now fashionable media quarter that houses the BBC. But Stinky’s had fallen on hard times when original owner Guy Quilliam became seriously ill and subsequently died. The venue changed hands before eventually being taken over in 2005 by Chris Barnsley. I first visited the venue that year to go to a club called Madhatters run by future basics resident Iain ‘Frenchy’ French. Madhatters was a cross over of basics regulars who had decided to start their own smaller party after becoming disillusioned with how basics was going at it’s current location ‘Rehab’ - a much larger city centre venue. At Stinky’s they found a small intimate space that was perfect for underground house music and invited key players such as Domenic Cappello from the Sub Club, the late Kenny Hawkes & Luke Soloman of Classic Recordings fame to guest. Madhatters enthusiastic crowd had created a ‘word of mouth’ buzz in the city and news had travelled to back to basics promoter Dave Beer, who was becoming increasingly unsettled at Rehab.
Beer was approached by Chris Barnsley, whose son James was also a basics regular and budding DJ, about the venue and once again the timing was right for basics to move. The Barnsley’s are builders by trade so were able to carry out the extensive renovation and conversion work themselves. This included extending the bottom floor out into the derelict land adjacent to the back of the building and creating a large outdoor terraced garden area. The garden was built at an incredibly fortuitous time as the venue was open for less than a year before the nationwide ban on smoking in pubs and clubs came into effect in the UK on 1st July 2007. Stinky’s found itself with the largest outdoor space in the city where people could still sit and smoke. Although as a side effect this meant that there were often more people socialising outside than on the dance floors. It was a great place for a terrace party but these were very rare due to noise restrictions. Flux managed to throw a great one though in the summer of 2011.
Built of red brick the venue had the feel of a classic northern terraced house so Dave Beer decided to re-brand the venue as ‘My House’ and create a homely feel across the three floors. The top floor was called ‘The Bedroom’ and featured a large four poster bed and comfy chairs while the main floor boasted vintage leather sofas. The opening night featured the perfectly named Felix Da Housecat from Chicago, and as usual for a basics opening, a long queue snaked around the block. The ‘My House’ branding was short lived however as everyone, including the city taxi drivers, continued to call it ‘Stinky’s. It also suited the club far better with it’s sleezy speakeasy feel. As you approached the door you were greeted by Gary Lethbridge, the same stalwart greeter and ardent Northern Soul fan that had stood outside every Saturday night, braving every possible type of Yorkshire weather, since the very first back to basics in November 1991. If you managed to get past him you would pay the door tax through a tiny porthole on the right hand-side wall before walking along a narrow red lit corridor and turning right into the main room bar or continuing straight up a flight of stairs no wider than a normal house’s to the upper floors.
The main room dance floor had a wooden floor and low ceilings which, combined with the first ever permanently installed Function One soundsystem in Leeds, created an excellent sound. Room acoustics and the distance sound waves travel or ‘throw’ are vitally important for Function One systems to sound their best. Stinky’s had all these elements in the correct balance needed to produce a really great sound. It also really helped that on his one and only show at the venue Kerri Chandler personally spent time EQ-ing the system and balancing the amps until they were singing. We made sure we kept his settings.
Although the capacity of the venue was 1200 people the multiple rooms and large garden area meant that each dance floor remained compact in size. So, the music at the club could once again go underground and become more experimental than it had been in the big room at Rehab. The excellent sound system also meant DJs could play tracks with more clarity and deep bass driven grooves worked well. The venue’s feel of being an exclusive after-hours party, often ending at 7-8am, also dictated the need for music that suited the space and vibe. 2007 saw the emergence of a wealth of homegrown DJ/Producers from the UK favouring a return to deep house sounds including Jamie Jones, Maya Jane Coles, Subb-an & Shelton and Huxley. As well as new basics residents Burnski & Denney and homegrown talent from the city such as Leeds bands Audiojack and The Electric Press. Also important were the new breed of French DJs D'Julz, Dan Ghenacia, Ivan Smagghe, a young Dyed Soundorom and one of the biggest guests at Stinky's - Matthias Tanzmann. Their guest performances, combined with like minded sessions from the basics resident DJs, in particular Tristan Da Cunha, forged a strong identity for the basics sound during the years at Stinky’s.
A social phenomena that greatly influenced noughties clubbing was the ‘city break’ made possible by direct cheap charter flights from the UK’s regional airports. The most common destination for clubbers to take their city breaks became Barcelona and Berlin. Both cities have always had great nightlife with Berlin, being known as a permissive decadent city as far back as the 1920s. While Barcelona remained a bohemian enclave during Franco’s years of fascism in Spain. But it was from the 1990s that a new wave of techno clubs emerged and clubbers and promoters from all over started to travel to both cities, bringing back their ideas and a passion for the different way they did things.
Barcelona’s Sonar festival became one of the most important dates in the clubbing calendar and a huge number of ’OFF’ parties cropped up around the fringes of the official festival. But is was Berlin that was to have the most impact, in particular the venues Berghain & Panorama Bar, Watergate, Bar 25, Katerholzig and later Renate. My first experience of Berghain was being invited to play at the previous incarnation of the club - Ostgut back in 1999. It was a real culture shock. I had visited gay clubs before in New York such as The Sound Factory but Ostgut was far more hardcore in every respect. Every single person had multiple tattoos and piercings, except me, and they were all, nearly exclusively, guys. They also wanted the music very, very heavy. The main room was playing the hardest techno music I had ever experienced up to that point. It also stayed open for virtually the whole weekend, only pausing for a quick clean and turnaround on Saturday evening from Friday night, before opening again at midnight and running through until Monday morning. Ostgut moved to it’s current location at Berghain in 2003 and gradually the door policy mellowed enough to allow in a more mixed crowd. Panorama Bar became the coolest spot in Europe, if not the whole world, for electronic music and clubbers started to visit in increasing numbers from the UK, which then effected what they wanted to experience in their local clubs when they returned. It also meant that a new wave of German DJ/producers became international stars and tastemakers - Marcel Dettmann, Cassy, Ben Klock, Steffi and Prosumer from Berghain and Sebo K, Steve Bug and Anja Schneider from Watergate come to mind.
Both myself and fellow resident DJ Tristan Da Cunha were playing regularly at Panorama Bar and Watergate and were heavily influenced by our trips to Berlin. We managed to connect with many artists as well help bring in the main players from the newly formed Innervisions label - Dixon, Âme and Henrik Schwarz. Now all global stars but at the time I remember having to fight tooth and nail over the Âme booking with the general manager of the club, who thought Âme was a well known soft drink. They started their Innervisions imprint in 2005 and ‘Rej’ had become a huge club hit for Âme. They were still very much on the underground gig circuit and it took a further 10 years before Dixon would be voted the world’s number one DJ on Resident Advisor. Henrik Schwarz in particular performed an astounding live session only using a dilapidated Evolution UC33 midi controller stuck together with tape and a laptop. Still made an incredible sound though.
We were not the only ones to have been bitten by the Berlin bug as most of the basics crew spent time over there. James Barnsley, by now a resident DJ at the club, had also visited Watergate and been inspired to create new lighting for the middle floor. As usual at basics we had nowhere near the budget needed to buy the huge LED screens that made Watergate’s lighting so James took the D.I.Y approach and made a series circuit of LED lights housed in plastic tubing fixed to the ceiling with guttering brackets. True to the back to basics original punk ethos it actually looked great and was really effective in transforming the room.
It was another, less fashionable, area in Germany that had another major influence on back to basics at Stinky's and that was Mannheim. Settled immediately next to Frankfurt, this was very close to the area I had first visited in Germany when I was invited by Heiko and Ata from Playhouse records to come and play at The Wild Pitch Club back in 1995. The same year that, the now massive, Time Warp festival started in Mannheim. Between 2007-2011, precisely the peak years of the Peephouse a new sound emerged from Mannheim, that went onto export many international level DJ/Producers such as Nick Curly. Curly ran several labels including 8 Bit, still going strong in 2016. But there was also crew from Oslo records headed by an Argentinian called Federico Molinari which produced an incredible run of records. There are several good ones but there are also several bona fide great records, like Orbitallife by Johnny D.
Johnny D was, and is, an enigma. No he's not the New York producer of the 90s with the same name as we all first confused. The Mannheim Johnny D first came to my attention with his track 'Walkman', which I decided to include in the DJ Mix below. I loved the indie style 'Stone Roses' vocals sitting on solid house beats, but it was the arrangements and use of live passes that made the tracks so exciting. They were fluid and changed constantly. No simple cut and paste house, this was real music with some real playing. Looking back now and researching for this piece they sound as good to me as some Moodymann or Motor City Drum Ensemble. Johnny had visa issues due to his mixed nationality right at the peak of his fame. It actually worked in his favour at first as a lot of hype built up around him playing for the first time, as he was not able to come to the UK. When he eventually came over for New Year's Day 2009-10 everyone was out in force to see him perform in Leeds. It was not at back to basics but Matt Long's Mono_Cult party at the Faversham. I warmed up and still look back on it as one of my favourite gigs. At one point the smoke machine got left on full which created a thick fog in the club. So dense that people couldn't even see their fingers if they held them in front of their faces. The owner Steve Ali came running out the office and opened all the doors which sucked out the fog. As luck would have it the record also peaked at the same time so the entire club could see again when the beat kicked back in. Seminal.
Also important musically during the Stinky's years was a very different type of artist from Scandinavia. Away from the rest of Europe, existing in it's own bubble, was a disco scene of bearded Italo mad DJs from Oslo (the city not record label). Lindstrom had been brought to my attention by 20/20 Vision label manager, Andy Whittaker. His Feedelity imprint was just incredible. It really blew us all away in the office. Expert mixes often performed live with real chops and improvised jamming, their work had an authenticity that only comes from a real connaisseur with a diverse musical knowledge of disco, jazz, rock and house. Alongside the quiet and retiring Lindstrom came the larger than life character of Prins Thomas. Lindstrom always played live but Thomas was the DJ through and through. Another absolutely obsessive collector of Italo Disco rarities. They were joined by Todd Terje, who went on to produce many scene defining records.
These guys in turn fed off the spirit of the noughties, which was indie dance. At the turn of the century the style press multilaterally decided that dance music was not cool anymore. The Face, iDJ, Vice, NME and all the major scene setting publications decided dance had had its day. If disco sucked then dance really stank. And actually some of that was true. The superclubs had become about as corporate as you can get and clubbing had lost any kind of early acid house direction and politics. But these times turn out to be great times for clubs as they go back underground, left to the people who actually love electronic music, who set about creating something of substance again. Dance music is also a chameleon. DJs and producers take inspiration from the signs of the times. A fancy word for it in German is Zeitgeist. And the noughties was all about kids picking up guitars again.
"I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables.
I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars"
James Murphy - Losing My Edge 2003.
Guitar bands were back and they didn't come any bigger than the UK's record breaking Oasis. But it was Franz Ferdinand that actually taught indie kids how to dance. But the best band of the decade bar none was LCD Soundsystem. If the Clash hadn't existed they'd be my favourite band of all time but then again without The Clash they wouldn't have existed. I was lucky enough to see them right from the get go on their first ever UK gig and then several times along their journey. They were the first band since daft punk house music DJs would carry in their record bags. Here were songs you could play in a club or go crazy to at a festival. They formed a close relationship with Soulwax who were actually even better as a pure dance band live and for most of the noughties there were hardly any festivals on the planet without one of them appearing.
Through these years I was involved in a band myself called 2020Soundsystem. Our peak years were also 2005-2010 so overlapped with the Stinky's years. I was touring with the band and learning a lot the hard way on the road. We had some great moments on stage you can never experience as a DJ. Being in a band when you are all hitting it right on the same night is just an incredible feeling. Most of the time you're just hitting each other but when it all comes right on stage it's worth all the grief. I came away realising that every DJ should be in a band at some stage in their careers. It's the only way of knowing how spoilt we are...
All of these waves of new music influenced what the DJs played at Stinky's and I have tried to do the times justice with my selection and mix celebrating the life and times of Stinky's Peephouse. As I always mention there can be no definitive mix for years of music played by so many DJs. A massive shout out to all the DJs that graced the decks there. Please feel free to leave your memories and personal track selections in the comments so we can continue to build a record of the club.
I also have to mention Dave Beer. In the year of writing, 2016, we have lost many great people. One of the best of them lived in Leeds for a large part of his later life - Howard Marks. Howard often popped into Stinky's and he was a really close friend to Dave Beer. Sadly he passed away in April 2016. It made me realise that there are so few characters like Howard left. Do we even make them anymore ? Were they just products of their generation ? Well the 'Beero' is one of that kind. We may not always have seen eye-to-eye or even got along for long periods of time but in 2016, more than ever, the world needs larger than life mavericks like Marks and Beer. They call them the crazy ones, maybe it's just the rest of the world that's crazy...
Sometimes things only make sense right at the end. Stinky's was at times really hard to keep going and a lot of water passed along the nearby canal.The peak night ever at the venue was the very last - the 20th Birthday November 26th 2011. Luckily this is the rare exception when we did manage a live recording from the night, which is also available here.
The 20th birthday marked the end of basics at Stinky's. It was one of those basics nights when you really are at one of the best house music parties on the planet and ask yourself,
"Why would I want to be anywhere else?"
That feeling soon passes on a Monday though.
Ralph Lawson // back to basics // Stinky's Peephouse 2006-2011
Please track down these amazing records and buy a copy. Support artists. Support Music.
Cobblestone Jazz - Dump Truck
Unknown - Drunky Frummer
San Soda - Kaizen (We Play House)
IO - Cabaret
Prompt - Addiction
Julien Chaptal - Balkafono
Sebo K - Diva
Jamie Jones - You!
Subb-an - What I do
Maya Jane Coles - What They Say (Dyed Soundorom Remix)
Alex Arnout - Vanishing Point
Loko - Scarlet House
Mark Broom - People
Dennis Ferrer - Transitions
Dirt Crew - Deep (We Are)
Loco Dice - Seeing Through Shadows
Art Department - We Call Love feat Soul Clap & Osunlade (DJ Harvey Remix)
Johnny D - Walkman
Gabriel Ananda - Doppelwhipper
Nathan Fake - Undoing The Laces
Alex Kid - Unknown
Audiofly - Miscalate (Partial Arts Remix)
Justus Köhncke - Timecode
Omar - feat. Stevie - Feeling You (Henrik Schwarz remix)
2020Soundsystem - Sliding Away (Johnny D Remix)
DPlay - Tschaka
Lindstrom - Another Station (Todd Terje Remix)
LCD Soundsystem - Tribulations
2000 and One - Won Poku Moro
Laurent Garnier feat. Bugge Wesseltoft - Man With The Red Face (Live at the Montreux Jazz festival)