And The Disco V Fiasco!
Not the iconic one up on the balcony, but the initial side of stage location.
This bit of history comes courtesy of Hewan Clarke, the original Haçienda DJ, who had to put up with what was one of the worst thought out DJ booths I’d ever come across, located in a separate room down some stairs to the side of the stage, with a narrow slit window enabling you to view little more than the feet of those outside in the club. With the eccentric French VJ, Claude, for company, Hewan, and the other DJs that would work in there during the venue’s first few faltering years, myself included, had never experienced the like – it was more akin to being in a radio control room than a nightclub. This was all topped off by the infamous Akwil Digitheque mixer, a state of the art piece of kit, but far too clever for its own good – I’d built a reputation for mixing by this point, and people, who’d seen me at Wigan Pier and Legend, now had expectations of me, but this mixer was the bane of my life. For starters, it was positioned at an unnatural height, as you’ll see in the photo – 5 years on the dancers there became legendary for their hands in the air vibe, but back then the only hands in the air were those of the DJ in that bizarre booth. Another thing I recall was the automatic crossfade on the mixer, where you pressed a button when you’d lined up the beats, so it, in effect, took control and mixed the track for you. It’s one of those things that might sound like a good idea, but was far more hindrance than help. I just wanted something more hands-on functional – this was just a load of confusing knobs and buttons when it was faders I was used to. So I’d say to the manager, Howard ‘Ginger’ Jones, “Can’t you get another mixer? I can’t work with this one”, and he’d look at me as though I was some sort of heathen, telling me there were only 2 of these mixers in the world, as though this was validation for what I had to put up with. Needless to say, when the DJ booth moved to the balcony, it came complete with a new Formula Sound mixer (too late for me though). Akwil would go on to install equipment into other clubs, including Stringfellows and The Hippodrome in London, and later Sankey’s and Bowlers in Manchester, and is nowadays a successful audio visual company of 40 years standing.
So, as the Friday night resident there during the final third of ’83, I can totally empathise with Hewan’s predicament. Seeing this photograph (actually 2 photos expertly spliced together by Trojan Dan) was a real trip down memory lane, and not necessarily an altogether pleasant one – as I’ve said elsewhere, working in there was like deejaying with a hand tied behind my back. Thankfully, after constant badgering, the management ended up taking our advice and re-located the DJs to somewhere suitable, where they had direct contact with the audience they were playing to, rather than having to run up the stairs onto the stage to try to gauge the atmosphere. Madness!
Blues & Soul’s Frank Elson reported at the time that:
Factory records (The owners of The Haçienda) is, of course, owned at least partially, by Granada TV personality Tony Wilson whose much used quote about being totally against recorded music and totally for live music may well be the reasoning behind tucking the deejay console away in a room behind the stage. Instant paranoia for a jock who cannot see much, except through a spyhole, of the club itself”
Hewan dug out these significant snapshots when we asked if he had any images we could include in his Electrospective interview, which has just been uploaded at Electrofunkroots:
It’s a fascinating interview, with some wonderful insights into The Haçienda during those early days, when the venue was still struggling to find its direction. It shines a light on what it was like to DJ at this World famous venue, but before it became famous – when it was far more likely that it’d turn out to be a heroic failure, forever regarded as Factory’s folly, than a cathedral of dance.
Back to the photograph, and if you look to the right hand side of the window you should be just about able to make out a proto-photoshopped postcard of the then Lady Di with hubby to be, Prince Charles. It was the official engagement shot that was everywhere at the time, with his hand on her shoulder, but this altered version, thanks to a bit of jiggery-pokery, had her topless, rather than in the conservative blue suit she was really wearing. I laughed when I spotted it there, it took me right back into that booth – Hewan was buzzing about me remembering the pic, as it was something he put there himself – it had the title ‘Subject or Object’. Not only that, he still has the very postcard, reclaimed when the booth was moved.
Everyone is aware of The Haçienda’s legacy, but usually only from ’88 onwards, when it became nationally, then internationally known, following the Rave explosion. Tim Lawrence’s ‘Discotheque Haçienda’ liner notes, unlike most of the writings about the club (including the Wikipedia entry), doesn’t skip over the early years, but makes the less known pre-Rave era its main focus, asking not only ‘what happened?’, but, more pertinently, ‘why did it happen in the first place?’:
Peter Hook’s book also helps put the record straight. Here’s my blog post about it from just over 12 months ago:
To whet your appetite for his interview, which also includes a wealth of information about the black scene, I’ll leave you with Hewan’s thoughts about how House music lost its original audience in Manchester (and the initial Jazz Fusion inspired dance style), when the music policy at The Haçienda became House, House and more House:
What we did (on the black scene) was we integrated the House with all the other different styles of music. It wasn’t just House music all night long. You know, you’d play four House records, then you’d play your Soul, then your Funk and your Disco, and whatever… That was the point that really killed it for the black audience in Manchester because the black audience definitely took House music off me in The Gallery. Definitely, they were into it, they were moving with it. Because of the tempo of the music, and the energy of the dance that goes with House music, it couldn’t last all night long, and so you’d play like a couple of House records and then you’d break it down. The thing that The Haçienda did was that they played House ALL night long, from 9 o’clock ‘til 2 in the morning. That was when, for me, I felt that the black audience in Manchester just kind of like “well, we’ve had enough of House now, we don’t want to listen to House anymore” and I think that was that period that sort of like killed House music for the black audience in Manchester, so we just went back onto the Jazz and the Funk and the Soul and everything, and left The Haçienda to do whatever they wanted to do with the House music”
Check out this remarkable footage from Manchester’s Moss Side in 1986, at a time when House music was very much the domain of the black clubs in cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Nottingham, and Ibiza was but a faraway isle. As you’ll see, the style of dance is vastly different to the ‘big box little box’ movements that most people associate with House circa 88/89, when it’s audience became predominantly white, with, as Hewan mentions above, the black kids moving on:
By way of contrast, here’s some footage from The Haçienda in 1990:
Big thanks to Hewan, Dan Smith, and Andy & Eddie Akka at Akwil AV for pulling these fantastic images together.
There’s a further in-depth interview with Hewan here:
The Disco V Fiasco!
Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry!
Following on from February’s post about the extraordinarily ill-conceived Haçienda DJ Booth (original side of stage location), I’ve since found out something that takes the entire bungling tale, as slapstick as it already was, into a whole new realm of ineptitude!
Before I go any further I should link the original piece for those who haven’t read it – to get the full weight of what I’m about to disclose you’ll need to check out the photo of the booth from hell, paying particular attention to what I described as ‘the infamous Akwil Digitheque mixer…the bane of my life’:
For close on 3 decades, whenever I’ve discussed the predicament I found myself in during my time as Friday night resident at The Haçienda in the latter part of 1983, I’ve cursed the designers of that damned mixer for making it impossible for me to measure up to the reputation I’d acquired, via my mixes on Piccadilly Radio, as well as at Legend and Wigan Pier, as one of the UK’s leading ‘mixing DJ’s’ – I know a bad workman always blames his tools, but, come on, you only need look at the photo to understand exactly what I’m talking about. It was an absolute nightmare to use.
People here in the UK generally had no idea of what was necessary for a DJ to properly mix records back then. Earlier in 1983, when I’d appeared on ‘The Tube’, to demonstrate mixing for the first time on British TV, the show’s presenter, Jools Holland, had asked me to point out what a turntable was, for the benefit of ‘people who don’t know what a turntable is’ (a record player then being the commonly used name) – and this was a much revered cutting-edge music programme. You can view the clip here:
In 2009 I wrote an in-depth article about the evolution of mixing in the UK, which, whilst obviously inspired by, was distinct to what had happened in New York. In the early 80’s, only a small minority of British DJ’s had placed the emphasis on mixing, the overwhelming majority still microphone based in their presentation – hence the title of the piece, ‘How The Talking Stopped – The UK ‘s Microphone To Mix Metamorphosis’:
One of those British mixing pioneers, Froggy, had helped design the Matamp Supanova, which was what I’d bought at the end of 1982, when setting up my home DJ studio, where I recorded my radio mixes for Piccadilly in Manchester from this point onwards. It was the Matamp that I’d used on ‘The Tube’, and this is what I was suggesting The Haçienda invested in to help make my job more bearable, but my pleas, of course, fell on deaf ears.
Not long after I started my nights at The Haçienda, a recently launched magazine called Disco Mix Mag (later to become the major DJ publication, Mixmag) ran a piece I’d written titled ‘The DJ Of A New Breed’, in which I outlined my belief that a shift towards a more New York based approach to deejaying, with mixing coming increasingly to the fore, was now inevitable. Yet, despite championing this new direction, I was unable to practice what I was preaching at The Haçienda, where anybody wanting to hear this new-fangled mixing in full effect would no doubt have wondered what all the fuss was about as I awkwardly attempted to make the unworkable work, whilst wishing pestilence and plague on the creator of this Digitheque anti-mixer.
I’d have gone on forever harbouring this ill feeling for some faceless electrical boffin who’d strayed into the world of the DJ without having a clue about the practicalities of deejaying, as was evident from this totally unfacile piece of kit I was cursed with having to use. However, due to some new information that’s now come to light, delivered straight from the horse’s mouth, a big apology to the manufacturers is in order. Having seen the previous blog post, and had a good laugh in the process, they’ve been able to set finally the record straight, adding an unexpected twist that takes the whole tale to new calamitous depths.
I’ve now found out that the Digitheque, which also doubled up as a sound to light controller, was never intended as a hands-on DJ mixer, but part of a dual unit in combination with the Disco V (pronounced Disco Five), which was exactly the piece of kit I needed, crossfader and all (the 2 units linked via an Aux In on the Digitheque). The problem being that The Haçienda’s management had completely missed the relevance of the Disco V and, incredibly, didn’t bother installing it, leaving the DJ’s to work with what amounted to half a mixer – unfortunately for me the half that wasn’t suitable for mixing with.
As I mentioned in the previous piece, the Haçienda’s manager at the time, Howard ‘Ginger’ Jones, would site the fact that there were only 2 of these mixers in existence as some kind of endorsement of their quality, whenever I complained about its impracticality. The Digiteque didn’t come cheap at around £1000 – so learning that it would only have cost an additional measly £40 for the Disco V only adds insult to injury, especially now I’ve learnt that 3 of these units were installed across town, at another Manchester club of the era, Placemate 7. Akwil mainman, Eddie Akka, told us that Hacienda owner, Tony Wilson, was really into the aesthetic of an all-digital mixer, so the Disco V with its faders was, as a consequence, deemed antiquated and unnecessary – only problem being that Tony Wilson, as visionary as he sometimes was, obviously didn’t have a clue about the rudiments of mixing one record into the next. Akka explained that the Haçienda management listened to the architects more than the sound and lighting advisors, resulting in big mistakes that were never fully rectified in all the years the club was running. Bands, not DJ’s were very much the club’s priority when they opened – either that or somebody had a particularly masochistic streak towards DJ’s. Apart from the mixer debacle, as Akka agreed, ‘the whole idea of the DJ being in a separate room was ridiculous!’
The owners of The Haçienda may have been over to New York, and clubs like Danceteria, the Funhouse and the Paradise Garage, and had the high idea of transferring the NY vibe they’d witnessed to Manchester, but they completely flunked out when it came to enabling their DJ’s to set about this task – they actually hindered, rather than helped them. Had Mark Kamins, ‘Jellybean’ Benitez or Larry Levan, the DJ’s associated with these key NYC clubs, and my transatlantic contemporaries back then, walked into the Haçienda DJ booth at this point in time they’d have thought they’d landed on another planet, let alone in another country.
Legend, where I played every Wednesday would have been much more to their liking, set up, as it was, with the DJ centre stage, and with sound and lighting that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Big Apple itself. The sheer frustration of working in this ideal DJ environment on a Wednesday night, then having to endure the madness of a Friday at The Haçienda, hid away inside that room, is something I’ve never fully shaken off. Nowadays, no matter where I go in the world, people will want to talk to me about The Haçienda, expecting me to wax lyrical about the greatest DJ experiences of my life, but the reality is that my overwhelming impression from my time there is of one big struggle – it certainly took its toll on me. Manchester’s City Life Magazine would write in their review of 1983; ‘Greg Wilson’s faith in New York’s mind hammering electro-beat was confirmed with both growing crowds and colour supplement coverage. Though interestingly, the sound flopped in the vast chasms of The Haçienda. Is this why he is retiring from DJ’ing to concentrate on record production?’
Maybe this did play a larger part in my retirement than I’ve previously considered, although ultimately there were far greater forces at play, not least the emergence of Hip Hop culture in the UK, and how this brought a new dynamic that would change the existing scene (I go into my main reasons here: http://www.electrofunkroots.co.uk/misc/why_did_i_quit.html). However, hypothetically speaking, had I been given a level playing field at The Haçienda (i.e., with the booth up on the balcony and a mixer I could work with – both improvements later implemented in 1984), it might have provided me with the fresh challenge that was necessary for my love affair with deejaying to continue (whereas it probably facilitated my falling out of love just that bit quicker). There were certainly possibilities, including the proposed DJ exchange that was put to me, where I’d go to New York for a month and work at Danceteria, whilst Mark Kamins came to The Haçienda. That was a scenario that definitely appealed to me, but as fate would have it, it’d be another 22 years before I made my New York debut, and a few years more before I finally got to meet Mark Kamins, who came along to see me DJ at a night I was doing in Vienna, where he lived at the time. Although the exchange idea never transpired, he was invited over for a guest appearance at the club in 1984, and, in doing so, became The Haçienda’s first US guest DJ – something which would become a common occurrence later down the line.
Hewan Clarke, The Haçienda’s original resident, wasn’t a mixing DJ, so the absence of faders was never as big a deal to him as it was for me (although we were in total accord about the need for the DJ booth to be moved to another part of the club). Working at the Haçienda night after night, Hewan soon got used to the quirky digital ‘mixer’ he had to use. It had a certain simplicity – there were 2 buttons to press, one to make a gradual fade from one track to the next, the other providing an instant switch. He was as surprised as me when told about the Disco V, and thought it was hilarious to learn, after all these years, that there was a missing part. He concluded that “the Disco V looks like a modern conventional mixer. It would have certainly made life a lot easier – if only for not having to mix with one hand on the record and the other hand above your head!”
Had The Haçienda not been so slapdash in its earlier days, and instead instantly become a slick well-run ultra-fashionable club, it would never have gone on to acquire the almost mythical status it’s now bestowed with. It’s a victory from the jaws of defeat type tale, which only adds to its overall resonance. So, when all’s said and done, I’m happy to have my played part in the story, despite the personal frustrations I experienced at the time. Given what we now know about The Haçienda, it was pretty much par for the course. Peter Hook’s book title, ‘The Haçienda – How Not To Run A Club’, said it all, and the Disco V fiasco is yet a further illustration of how this world-renowned clubbing institution was born of a mixture high ideals and gross incompetence. You just couldn’t make this stuff up.
I must thank Dan Smith, Hewan Clarke, Andy Akka and Eddie Akka, without whose help I’d have never uncovered this hidden nugget of Haçienda history, which would otherwise have surely been forever lost to the past.
Akwil Products From The 80’s:
Originally published as 2 separate blog posts at:
© Greg Wilson, May 2012