The author (right) at a hard house night in Manchester
Every Saturday sunrise was the same. Floating out of the all-night petrol station into a 5AM mist, fingers wrapped around Rizla and two-litre bottles of Highland Spring. My friends and I dressed like competitive cyclists on a comedown, all exhibiting the early warning signs of severe heat stroke. By the age of 17, I’d fallen in love with Manchester’s hard house club scene, and I'd spend the next two years throwing my heart at it.
I’d started going clubbing a year earlier – Gatecrasher in Sheffield with Judge Jules and Tall Paul for my 16th birthday, in 1999. From then on, ‘crasher was a regular weekend destination. Every single night there – understandable, considering we were 16, in a nightclub, dancing with girls in a non-school disco setting – was banging, though they were even more banging when Paul Van Dyk dropped in for a rare six-hour trance set.
But trance was never really enough – there are only so many euphoric piano stabs one can handle before it’s time for something a little more chaotic. Conveniently, hard house made itself known.
Between 2000 and 2001, anyone whose synapses were still firing at 6AM would head straight from Gatecrasher at The Republic to the hard house all-nighter Insomniacz at Club Uropa (later moved to Corporation). Eventually, thanks to regular sets from DJs like Andy Farley and Paul Glazby, we gave up on ‘crasher altogether in favour of Insom and its 4AM doors.
It was both the music and the general culture that prompted the move. After a surge in popularity, Gatecrasher had become the domain of college students in shiny shoes and Peter Werth button-downs – a crowd that drank away its week’s wages with the sole intention of throwing them all back up on the night bus home. We were better suited to Insomniacz, where grown men stuffed themselves into Pikachu T-shirts designed for eight-year-olds and spent the best part of the night trying to stretch their jaws over their eyebrows.
Of course, every bubble has to burst eventually, and the pin to Insom’s squalid balloon was its move to the unbelievably disastrous, council-funded National Centre for Popular Music.
Now a resident of Manchester proper, it was time to find myself a new regular Mancunian ‘ard ‘ouse night. That turned out to be “Club North”, which took place every Friday in the basement of Affleck’s Palace in the centre of town.
North was a small night, and relatively unknown at this point – which was great, as it meant my friends and I quickly became recognised as the regulars and were granted all the concessions that involves (friendlier bar staff, free coat check, bouncers who wouldn’t kick you out for doing Mandy in the cubicles). It’s true that dance music has always been tribal on a macro level – bringing strangers together to share a collective experience, forging a new clan with the help of synthesised drumbeats and smoke machines. But it can also be tribal in a micro sense, every club home to its same mob of regulars, set slightly apart from the rest while still a part of the fold.
Occasionally the regulars from one club – Sundissential or Gatecrasher, for example – would travel to other nights en masse, proudly displaying their home venue’s logo on T-shirts and sweaters. It was the nightlife equivalent of the Bushwhackers and Inner City Firm converging at Crystal Palace's training ground, only with fewer fractured jaws and more Tidy Boys drops.
More often than not, though, everyone knew everyone. Nobody remembered anyone else’s names, but that didn’t really matter; faces were plenty before the smoking ban, when basically the only verbal interactions you had involved screaming “Biiiiiiiiig!” at whoever was flapping around opposite you.
Each club had its own uniform. Ours at North was what you’d look like if you fell headfirst through the roof of the Cyberdog stockroom and rolled your way out through Halfords.
Getting ourselves into this get-up would begin at around 5PM, when we’d all congregate at any house that’d been vacated by parents and pets. Mountain bike jerseys were commonplace, as were incredibly small T-shirts splattered with cartoon characters, or literally anything that flashed. Spiked collars were also popular. In fact, one of my friends had a shirt festooned with six-inch nails, which had to be filed down due to repeated injury. Footwear was strictly Acupuncture. If you owned a pair of Acupuncture trainers in 2001, you and I are born of the same soul.
Then came the hair. The hair was a two-person job (at least) and involved a wide array of tools and products. You had to keep your head shaved close on the back and sides, leaving plenty on top to twist into spikes. Gels, waxes and creams varied, but my go-to was Dax, a thin layer of which remains permanently bonded to my scalp. The hair was then sprayed with a silver base coat, followed with whatever colour you wanted to add on top. The OGs among us knew to cut a square out the bottom of a polystyrene cup, which could then be slotted over the spike while another colour was applied.
Contrasting UV paint was then applied to the tips, and I personally liked to finish this all off with a UV zip tie wrapped around the base of the spike, at the junction with the skull. It was like Extreme Makeover for the late-night serotonin squad.
It’s important to understand that all of this was necessary. It’s what began the process of transporting you out of your normal plane of existence and into the smoky, sweaty underworld of hard house. Arguably more important, of course, was the music – a simple, persistent 4/4 beat at what felt like a million BPM, overlaid with hoovers and horns, high-pitched vocals and squeaky samples. Alex Kidd. Paul Glazby. Eddie Halliwell. Lisa Lashes.
The nights tended to be held in basement clubs with very low ceilings, meaning the bass would be reverberating through your ribcage the moment you stepped in the door. That felt weird, but we found out a great way to get rid of the fizzy feeling building up in your chest was to just hurl your arms and legs around roughly in time to the music.
I recently asked a few mates about why we all stopped going to Club North, and nobody seemed sure. Common consensus dictates that there was an incident one night involving a bouncer (maybe a stabbing?) where the club was locked, all the lights switched on and no one allowed in or out until the police had been in and done their thing.
I’m not sure if that night was Club North's final curtain, but it was certainly its death knell. Soon after, the club closed down for a while, before reopening with a focus on neo-soul and R&B – not really an environment that suited our UV dog collars and 45-minute hair routine.
But, in a way, I’m glad it came to an end. Like that fleeting stage between the dream state and your alarm, it's a moment I’ll never properly get back – but a world I like to rush into whenever I close my eyes.
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