Before clubbing became dominated by global brands and the false energy of EDM it was a simpler time. Producers still recorded their creations to giant magnetic tapes and you couldn’t just download the latest tunes from the Internet. In fact to hear any quality dance music you had to head to somewhere like Manchester’s Haçienda club.
Taking the euphoria of this legendary club, Haçienda Classical is turning dancefloor bangers into full-blown orchestral compositions. “We were sitting around talking in a bar, after a gig,” DJ Graeme Park tells me. “We’d seen some of these electronic classical things, but thought it had to be done properly. We wanted to turn a DJ mix into a classical score.” Now Park and Mike Pickering, as the DJs who shaped the Haçienda sound, are performing alongside 70-piece Camerata classical orchestra and some special guests in a series of retrospective shows.
Classic tunes like Pacific State, Can U Dance and Voodoo Ray just refuse to be consigned to history. This event succeeds in recreating the impact these records had, and shows why they became an integral part of many people’s personal history. “Some of the arrangements translate really well. It shows just how much depth there really is to some of these old songs which people thought were dead basic.” All of the show’s music comes from a time when records were produced by DJs. You couldn’t simply download a podcast and hear what everyone else was listening to. “All the original house tunes were created from scratch. You had to program the drum machines and synthesisers to get the sounds you wanted. I’m not knocking it, but now anyone can make a house tune.”
There’s obvious demand for hearing the records which kick-started the dance music scene. So Park and Pickering have started performing at Haçienda revival nights around the world, keeping the spirit alive and playing modern release alongside some of the less obvious classics. “A lot of kids are exploring where EDM came from. That’s when they discover people like me, David Morales and Mike. We’re doing the Haçienda nights, and the crowd are getting younger.” Even when these nights were going crazy, there was still an element demanding the ‘proper classics’.
So now the tight drum patterns and funky piano riffs of yesteryear have been turned into an orchestral history lesson of dance music. A few records were omitted, some featuring terrific string sections that the pair didn’t want to tamper with, whilst others threw up interesting challenges – particularly Lil Louis’ French Kiss. “There’s a woman having an orgasm in the middle of that one… None of the choir were willing to recreate that. I was tasked to go online and find some good examples to fit over the track. As interesting as the research was, we just had to drop it in the end!” The project also saw a clash of cultures, the spontaneous punk rock attitude of dance music colliding with the more rigid world of classical performance. “We had it all scored and arranged, then I said to the arranger, ‘so how many rehearsals?’ He said, ‘you’re playing with an orchestra, they don’t rehearse. They get the music, learn it at home and have a run through on the day.’ You’ve got me and Mike, and we don’t know what we’re doing.” Fortunately a single rehearsal was squeezed in four days before their debut show. This took place at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, poignantly near to the building that inspired it all. They’ve been attracting both old ravers and clued-up youngsters, all eager to celebrate the music and the club that defined a generation.
Started by Factory Records boss Anthony Wilson, New Order and their manager Rob Gretton, the Haçienda served as an alternative to the glitzy and vapid 80s clubbing environment. There was no chrome, carpets or dress codes like its peers, instead the interior was stark, industrial and functional. The owners seemingly made everything up as they went along. Whilst this was a success on an artistic level, it would prove disastrous financially. A venue boasting gigs from The Smiths, The Fall, and a young Madonna, it operated at a substantial loss. But its profile changed dramatically when residents Park and Pickering became two of only 20 DJs in Europe playing emergent acid house music. “It was a special time. This music that people had a great passion and enthusiasm for was less available.” Given a Factory Records catalogue number of FAC-51, the club fitted perfectly with Wilson’s obsession with doing things for the love of the art. This leftfield outlook allowed Park and Pickering the freedom to play their obscure electronic records, and triggered a national interest in clubbing. Already a place with a rich musical history, the reinvigorated city found itself dubbed ‘Madchester’ by a Factory employee. Given a label to rally behind, the media hype took over and the last great revolution in British music began.
Whilst the soaring popularity of The Haçienda and its music policy owed much to the rising availability of empathy-enhancing ecstasy pills, so did its eventual downfall. With the queues came gang culture, and soon drug-related violence began scaring the real clubbers away. The Haçienda closed in June 1997, being demolished 18 months later. Now a block of flats stands there, only a sign saying ‘FAC-51’ offering any clue as to the site’s significance.
The club’s legacy lives on for a number of reasons. It certainly had an edge which its rivals lacked. As a result the FAC-51 tribute shows attract big crowds and plenty of superstar DJs eager to play for them. “Morales, Kenny Dope, Todd Terry, me and Mike, we’re all knocking on a bit. Sometimes we’ll be in the green room saying, ‘wow man! Did you ever think, 30 years ago, we’d still be relevant in the 21st century?’ No… But it is great!”
Haçienda Classical comes to Brighton Dome Concert Hall on Fri 20 May, as part of Brighton Festival.