Words - RL
Flyers - Dave Beer & Nic Gun Design. With thanks to Michael for archive.
Photos - Dave Beer, Jane Smith
The Pleasure Rooms was the second incarnation of back to basics. The club started at a venue called the>music:factory in 1991 (read more here). By early 1994 the promoter, Dave Beer, was looking to move. His partner in the club, Alistair Cooke, and my girlfriend Jos Higgin had died in March 1993, we had suffered a totally over the top and ill advised police raid in February and the owners of the venue were not improving the venue as we'd have liked. Entering the building every week felt like returning to your flat after a loved one has gone and the police were causing problems with the building's license. At the same time Dave was getting other offers. The most attractive was from the Lamont family, who owned a large space in the Grand Arcade at the other end of Leeds city centre. It had previously been known as The Gallery, which had been a landmark club in the city from 1984-92, the owners were keen to see it return to it's heyday. They offered a budget that would allow a total structural overhaul of the venue, including filling in the once famous hole between the two levels of the main room to create an extra floor. The design work was carried out by Judge Gill Associates but a lot of the build was completed by friends of the club. All DJs were drafted in to help paint which, in a 3 floor venue, was a big job in itself. It was fun though to help build your own club.
The opening night on September 10th 1994 featured a line up of DJ Harvey alongside Doc Martin, from Los Angeles, and Shoom DJ Danny Rampling. All are bona fide house music legends in their own right. It's interesting to note on the flyer the opening times of 10pm-6am. Leeds was the first city outside London to benefit from the changes in licensing hours as local councils were now allowed to extend past the archaic 2am closing times imposed as far back as 1914. There was a forward thinking Labour councilor called Laura Cohen who envisaged Leeds becoming the 'Milan of the North' with vibrant clubs, cafe culture and excellent shopping attracting both students and professionals to the city. You could easily suggest that 20 years later her vision of the future has become a reality. She also saw back to basics as being a part of her plans and became like a fairy godmother for us. Back to basics in turn played it's part in this grand design and The Pleasure Rooms was the shining light in the city's nightlife for the formative years of the mid nineties. If only we had a penny for every student who chose to come to Leeds because of basics eh! I wonder how many people also owe Mrs Cohen a deep debt of gratitude.
It wasn't easy to get The Pleasure Rooms open. We had wanted to take our doormen from the>music:factory but Dave was summoned to a meeting by the notorious Paul & Errol, who ran the doors at that end of town. I have no idea why I agreed but I ended up going, as his moral support, to the meet them in a pub. My memories have a cinematic sepia tinge - we sat opposite them while they calmly told us that buildings could easily catch fire. I couldn't believe the situation was real or that Dave had got his mild mannered resident DJ, namely me, into being jointly threatened by gangsters. In the end it wasn't a hard decision and we opened the doors of The Pleasure Rooms without the help of the fire brigade.
Everything came right at The Pleasure Rooms. It is a very hard job to design a space that works in reality rather than on paper. The best intentions of architects can end up being totally wrong. Nothing is perfect and there was a really poor flow of traffic coming up from the floor below directly onto the main room dancefloor. That caused a bottleneck as people were also trying to get across to the toilets in the corner adjacent to the stairs. But apart from that the venue was superb. The main room DJ booth was situated on a mezzanine, accessed by a ladder, looking down over the entire dancefloor which perfectly suited the New York style club we were aspiring to be.
We had been travelling to NYC since 1992 to visit the Winter Music Conference (before it moved to Miami). There, we were exposed to Junior Vasquez at the height of his powers at The Sound Factory. It was literally life changing for me. I learnt more about DJ technique, programming and performance, through Vasquez, in one night than I had in all my years previously. Listening to him was also a lesson in DJ History. He was the continuation of a long line of New York DJs dating back through Grasso, Mancuso, Siano, Cappello, Kazor, Knuckles and Levan. At the time he was the king of New York and at the very top of his game. I took advantage of the later opening hours (and the fact that Dave was too tight to pay for more Djs) to learn how to play longer sets. A normal Saturday was 4 hours. There were also many guests that were only used to playing 2 hours, which would then mean 6 hours sets for the resident. This was nothing compared to the all night sets of Vasquez but compared to the rest of the UK at that time it was unusual to play that long. I loved the 10-2am slot best. On that set you could really set the room up how you wanted it and play a wider range of music. I have always been obsessed by the moment a dancefloor ignites for the first time. If you get it right you can use volume, pitch, track intensity and lighting all at the same time for maximum effect. If anything we have gone backwards in clubs today with the overall programming of how a night can work.
People often ask me what my favourite ever night has been at back to basics. It is a hard question considering there have been over 1000 basics shows but I do always chose the one and only time daft punk played at our house. I love this D.I.Y flyer (above) announcing Goldie being added to the line-up. I played 9pm-2am (notice the earlier opening time on the flyer) before daft punk and it was packed to the rafters in under an hour. I remember playing one of those sets where you can do no wrong and daft punk were just insanely good. We had booked them at just the right moment, on their first and only club tour of the UK, before they moved into bigger live venues, arenas and festivals. Thomas had his SP1200 drum machine set up alongside the decks and he cut in and out of tracks and remixes they had done in the studio, alongside the records. A highlight was a version he'd made of 'Lil Louis - I Called You' cut up with their trademark daft punk drums, which tore the roof off. It never came out, but to this day, I would love a copy. Thomas was super friendly (even when I jogged his record) while Guy Manuel hardly uttered a word. The only thing he said to me all night was when people had got up to dance on the speakers. He said, "But it is dangeruese, zey must come down." But back to basics wasn't known for it's health and safety record.
At the Pleasure Rooms I started to meet my idols, and play alongside them. I was massively inspired by the New York house scene but musically it was Detroit that blew me away. In particular the music of Derrick May and Juan Atkins. Their sounds were so strange, futuristic and alien to my ears that I would just play their records over and over. They have all stood the test of time and Rhythim is Rhythim - 'It is what It is' and Model 500 'Off to Battle' are included in the mix below. It gives me an odd feeling to look at the picture (above) of Derrick May watching me spin a tune. I'm not looking too nervous but I must have been! Interesting to note that I have only ever used the same Technics rp-DJ 1200 headphones since I started DJing and only had 3 pairs of them. That's roughly 8 years a pair. I still have the same Technics decks I bought in 1990 too. Good quality things last if you look after them.
The Pleasure Rooms had three floors and four dancefloors with DJ Huggy (doing the Yorkshire vogue above) residing as Lord Hoth in the basement, playing pure Detroit techno, Chicago jack trax and early European electronic music. The floor above was hosted by Lee Wright, who played soulful US Garage and the bar area saw James Holroyd and Simon Mu play balearic beats, disco, funk and even ambient sounds. A night in The Pleasure Rooms covered all bases. People would wander from room to room and even have certain times when they'd visit a particular floor.
As I mentioned I was hugely influenced by my times in New York and started to work hard on the programming aspect of my sets. I was playing a lot of Sound Factory style music including many productions from Francois Kevorkian, Deep Dish, Angel Moraes, Prescription, Danny Tenaglia, DJ Pierre (especially his wild pitch sound) and Roy Davis Jnr. But I was also supporting the emerging UK house scene that was very strong at the time including releases from Nuphonic, Paper Recordings, Junior Boys Own, Chris Duckenfield & Richard Brown, Classic and the fledgling 2020Vision itself. That would then have my Detroit influences thrown in the pot. Chez Damier and Ron Trent, Alton Miller and Stacey Pullen became firm favourites from Detroit.
The next big impact though came from Chicago and Mr Derrick Carter (pictured above with myself in 1997). We first met DC at an after hours in New York when he had long dreadlocks. Once again we were early to invite him over to play at basics. He brought a totally different style from the NYC tribal sounds but his technique and mixing were equally as astonishing, albeit in a very different way. The Chicago scene had spawned a style of DJIng that was faster, more frenetic and relentless due to the high numbers of DJs in the city competing for tight slots. You had to show what you could do in a short space of time, without the luxury of long programmed sets. DC is also a huge personality and fitted into the basics party mentality perfectly. DC introduced me to Cajmere and his Cajual records empire in Chicago which then became another important source of beats for basics.
The main room had a high ceiling with a vaulted roof (above) which let the light in. In the summer months this meant that the last session from 4-6am turned into daylight. This had an effect like an open air Ibizan club and was the time the regulars would really get down. Dave would hand out sun glasses and other props would appear. He was known to get a broom out and start sweeping the dancefloor. Sometimes this would include sweeping up a stray punter that had had too much for one night. There were many memorable last sets. I remember Mark Moore being a perfect fit for that time and, at the end of his set, everyone having flowers in their hair and dancing hand in hand in a circle as the sun came up. I'm sure that was down to Mr Beer again.
But the DJ that we really wanted in there was Danny Tenaglia. DT had, by 1995, taken Vasquez' crown and residency in New York (The Sound Factory became Twilo) with his hard & soul tribal sound and incredibly precise technique. He had also made a reputation for himself in Miami where he hosted all night sessions at a club called Groovejet. We finally managed to drag him over and once again I dropped lucky with the first slot before him. He took it from night to dawn perfectly and in the final hour the regulars started voguing in honour of the New York drag queens who were a part of his dancefloor at home. He thought it was hilarious. He was also one of the rare DJs to return the favour. He invited me out to New York to warm up for him at his legendary 'Be Yourself' nights at Vinyl Club a few times.
This is a shot of 'fish tank corner' on the way to Room 3. I always wondered who fed those fish and how they stood the vibrations. We are all so used to having photos and videos on our phones now that it is easy to forget how new this development is. It may seem like ancient history to some but in the big scheme of things (and in my mind) this club existed just a few years ago. But that huge change in technology means that there are hardly any photos of The Pleasure Rooms in action. It also means I would be massively grateful to anyone who does have media of any shape or form. I hope that this piece is just a kick starter for other people to get involved and add their own stories, pictures and memories. Please leave your own experiences as comments below.
I use a mix of old and new technology to make the mixes with one golden rule - they must be recorded in one take to give the feel of a live set. I do allow a little post editing but it's mostly fine tuning levels. The Rane 2016 rotary mixer was not actually what we had in the Pleasure Rooms but it gives a beautiful sound and warmth and also makes you DJ in a different way from slide faders.
Rane MP2016 + XP2016
Re-conditioned Technics 1210 (Leeds Pro Audio)
Pioneer CDJ-2000 Nexus
Master Sounds vinyl weights
Eventide Time Factor
Recorded into Apple Mac Pro
So without further ado here is the main attraction, the star turn of the night - the music, which itself tells the story. As I've mentioned before these mixes are a labour of love. I have promised to add to them yearly around the time of basics birthday in late November (I'm a little late as usual). If it was back in the day they would be on triple CD and cost you a few dollars. But luckily for you we live in different times and the mix is available for free. I'm not sure if this is right or wrong, but for now, it is what it is. Of course there are also hundreds of artists and many labels involved in the project. So how do we repay them? Firstly there is a full track listing below, secondly I highlight every track used in the 'Records I Love' section of the blog and lastly I try to tell their stories as well as my own. I hope that you seek them out and show them love. I also strongly feel this is, currently, the best way to document the life and times of one of the longest running house music clubs in the world. Words are good but it's all about the music. I have tried to re-create a session at The Pleasure Rooms for those of you who were there, as well as, for those of you who didn't hear it the first time...
The Pleasure Rooms mix
Ani - Love is The Message (Prescription)
Round Two - New Day (Main Street)
Mark Grant -Touch Me (Dub) (Cajual)
Groove Patrol - Lost in The Groove (Strictly Rhythm)
Ruben Mancias - I Rise (Look at You)
The Chicago Connection - Dancin' (Cajmere Mix) (Cajual)
Johnny Fiasco-Conduction (Cajual)
Francois K - Mindspeak (Danny Tenaglia mix) (Wave)
PSB - A Red Letter Day (DT’s Twilo dub / RL Edit) (Unreleased)
Kraze / Moonfou - Voodoo Sun (RL Edit) (Project X)
George Kranz - Din Da Da (Personal)
Lil Mo Yin Yang - Reach (Strictly Rhythm)
Angel Moraes - Heaven Knows (FFRR)
Swingtime Dee - Your Wildest Dreams (Dub) (Z Records)
Photon Inc - Generate Power (Acappella) (Strictly Rhythm)
Underground Sound of Lisbon - So Get Up (Acappella) (Tribal)
Gary Martin - Gigi Galaxy (Teknotika)
Jeff Mills The Purpose Maker - In The Bush (Axis)
Mike Inc - House Arrest (Force Inc)
Robotman - Do Da Doo (Definitive)
Model 500 - Off To Battle (Metroplex)
Rhythim is Rhythim - It is What It is (Transmat)
51 Days - Tracktion (Touche)
Angel Moraes - The Cure (Hot n Spycy)
Kenlou III - What a Sensation beats (MAW Records)
Black Science Orchestra - New Jersey Deep (Junior Boys Own)
Sessomato - Moody (dub) (Junior Boys Own)
Paper Music Issue 1 - Downtime (Paper Recordings)
Round One - I'm your Brother (Main Street)
MAW - I Can't Get No Sleep feat India (MK Mix)
Faze Action - In The Trees (Nuphonic)