"Sexual desire and exploitation is everywhere in this most youthful of cities" wrote Nicholas Blincoe reviewing Joe Stretch's debut novel Friction, which explored the erotic atmosphere of Manchester in the mid-00. Stretch, was part of a group of musicians and promoters who were reshaping the sound of the city back when everyone wore Cassette Playa, listened to 12"s on Institubes, and read Super Super. This, you'll no doubt remember, was the heyday of bloghouse and new rave.
Some of those promoters went about starting club nights in the hope that being able to give out flyers outside other club nights would be a sure fire way of pulling girls. This was before Tinder and Netflix and chill revolutionised dating and you actually had to leave the house to find a potential partner. More often than not, you'd find them on the dancefloor.
In a way it was a more optimistic time. Students, still years away from £9,000 a year price hikes, signed up for degrees in their droves, spurred on by cheap loans and even cheaper tuition fees. That influx of students lead to a nightlife flourish in cities like Manchester, which is where the four founders of the now legendary club night Micron found themselves.
Founded by Gareth Chubb, Ronny Gill, Isaac Smile and Matt Earnshaw, and named after the pen brand, the night was born almost by accent. "I often think that the strange way in which we started, with only Gareth and Isaac knowing each other at the beginning was one of the reasons it all worked," says Gill, who met fourth member Matt Earnshaw at an after party only a few days before, with the latter being responsible for their acid-house referencing logo. "My guess is that most nights are started by an established group of friends, which is completely natural. But having different social groups and ideas seemed to work. It was pretty clear after a few nights that it wasn't packed out just by luck. We really did have something magic. There was a special connection with the crowd which may have been because we tried really hard to make it about the residents."
"We were soon filling Joshua Brooks monthly and gathering a following," continues Isaac Smile, who now resides in London. "Other parties came and went over the years and I think it pissed a few people off so one week this 'wehatemicron' MySpace page appeared—which was pure boss for us as we turned it into promotion. That was a good day to be honest as it meant we were onto something. Another time I went back to an after party and the entire living room was completely covered in Micron flyers, like the entire wall was Micron." The promoters made it their mission for the night to be "a place people had to go to each month. It almost felt religious," says Gill. The night's cult status was soon certified with nominations in DJ Mag's 2009 and 2010 'Best Small Club' category, meaning they survived the birth and swift death of new rave.
Indeed, it's the music policy which Micron arguably owes its longevity to, helped by the winding down of another established house and techno night, Tangled, while the club night's venue, Joshua Brooks' proximity to the Gay Village, meant they got an overspill from Canal Street as well. The steady growth allowed them to evolve too, booking acts such as Âme, Heidi, Joris Voorn, Matthias Tanzmann and Ben Klock for one-offs and birthdays, which swathes of middle class students lapped up high on mephedrone—which was still both legal and cheap.
It wasn't all smooth sailing, and chaos and disorganisation characterised the Micron set-up. "When we started selling merchandise—key rings, lighters, t-shirts—it all got swiped because we weren't very good at manning the stall," Gaz told me proudly. In fact, some of those fuck ups are the Micron lads' fondest memories. "We always tried to predict which DJs would stay for the after parties and I reckon we called it well," says Gill of this period, prompting one high profile booking to "miss his flight home on account of a naughty switcheroo."
The antics didn't stop there; they told London based producer and DJ jozif's agent that the night he was playing was a fancy dress party. The theme? Dead celebrities. jozif turned up as Freddie Mercury. jozif took it all in his stride, telling me the Micron boys that he "had so much fun that night me mascara ran all down me face." However, things could turn a little awkward when the promoters managed to underpay DJs due to their counting skills not being up to scratch while they were totally off their tits, and so they were always walking the line between running a successful club night with industry respect, to being one step away from getting blacklisted.
The night's ability to pull in a crowd was not lost on the big players within the Manchester music scene at the time. The foursome had set out to emulate the kind of of line ups that were only really being booked in the other big club in the city: Sankeys. It didn't take long for David Vincent, the Sankeys boss, to come sniffing around. As Chubb remembers it, "Him and Greg Vickers came to Joshua Brooks one night and wouldn't go until we agreed to move there," he adds half mischievously, half ominously. Exactly what happened will no doubt be verified by the mythical autobiography Vincent is apparently penning, but as the night's swift return to Joshua Brooks certainly proved, Micron's collaboration with Sankeys venture Spektrum didn't seem to quite work out as perhaps either of the parties had hoped.
Back at Joshua Brooks where they first started, the foursome got to work on improving their set up. One simple but incredibly effective move was literally moving the position of the decks. As Gill recalls, "it instantly made the room much better. Then the venue really kicked off." As usual with Micron, not everything was as easy as that. Chubb found himself booking acts like JME for nights like Chow Down, and Earnshaw left to concentrate on other projects. Replacement was found in the shape of a guy called Graeme Ogden, who was known to his mates as Bod. As well as being handy on the decks, Bod was a Micron loyalist. "Obviously when you do nights," Gill says, "there are people who are pretty involved with everything—it's always more than just the four or five DJs and promoters, so sometimes you get a new DJ for free!"
This all-inclusive community of people dipping in and out of being involved with different nights is arguably what sets clubbing a decade ago apart from how nightlife in Manchester looks now. Tamer Rustum, aka OLDBOY, who ran local nights Nang, Bang and Eat My Beat around the same time, first became aware of Micron "at house parties where they played minimal and tech house" before attending their events. Concurring that the mid-00 was a period when promoters would "really try and make sure they didn't have something on when someone else did" with the scene not being "as serious as it is now," he says that that era was altogether more carefree as it operated "at a time when big DJ concert shows didn't exist" and therefore there was more chance of long-term success.
Indeed, city centre closures resulting from noise regulations, bar culture and the post-internet habits of millennials have forced nights to ever-more fiercely compete against each other in an increasingly difficult climate. The Warehouse Project, which also began in 2006, was nowhere near the predictable corporate machine it is now, ruthlessly taking ever more of the city's student population away from independent nights. The effect has been devastating. Even Micron's old home Joshua Brooks is currently up for sale.
Micron remained a firm fixture on the venue's roster until the night's fifth year, by which point Chubb was in charge of all bookings at the club. The work rate was taking its toll and "the final ever Micron" took place on New Year's Eve 2011 with David Morales's 'Needin' U' marking momentous the occasion and the crowd going absolutely bonkers. The night didn't die however; it simply wound down to a more manageable pace. "We went straight through year after year with no 'holiday' for five years," Smile says. "Then from monthly to yearly - which was loads easier." "What about pulling girls," I ask, "did you not miss that?" "By this point loads of sexual relationships had started at Micron," he told me, before delivering the punchline: "mainly Gaz's." Chubb refutes this, claiming to have been too busy putting the graft in. Smile concedes Gareth "did a lot of the hard work involved," and indeed, still does. Now, as the founding members come together again for a series of parties celebrating a decade of Micron, with even the elusive Matt Earnshaw returning for a set in the autumn, there's an air of inevitable nostalgia for the good ol' days, but also appreciation for all they've achieved. And the club's biggest legacy? "Well, over ten people have Micron tattoos," says Smile. I have to concede, that's pretty fucking impressive for a student night started on a whim.