MiNT Memories: Two Decades of Decadence in Leeds Draws to a Close
An obituary for an icon of Leeds nightlife.
Riccardo Villalobos at MiNT in 2008. Photo: Soonnight
In 1998, Microsoft became the biggest company in the world, Argentina knocked England out of the World Cup and seminal Leeds club night Back to Basics was looking for a new venue. Their previous home, The Pleasure Rooms, had abruptly closed down. On his blog, Ralph Lawson – a pioneering house DJ and original resident of the club night (which is now 27 years old) – writes that he remembered a venue he'd attended not long before: Fiddler's Club, on Harrison Street in the city centre.
"It had sticky beer encrusted carpets, low ceilings and a surprisingly good sound," he wrote. It was, in a word, perfect.
Before long, Back to Basics' co-founder Dave Beer was working with Fiddler's owner at the time, Val Rose, on a new look for the club. "Dave came up with the idea of 'MiNT' – the word worked well to convey both 'Minty' freshness and 'Mint' meaning class," writes Lawson. On the 23rd of May, 1998, MiNT Club was launched with Chicago house legend Derrick Carter spinning the first tune at a Back to Basics. Two decades on, the iconic northern venue is shutting down today after falling victim to a "comprehensive redevelopment" of the area surrounding the club.
Ahead of their final parties (with Derrick Carter, Ricardo Villalobos, Ralph Lawson, Inland Knights, Apollonia, Tristan Da Cunha and Seth Troxler, to name a few) I spoke to Stuart Forsyth, Promotions and Events Manager at MiNT Club. Hunee was headlining one of the "End of Era" events and the club was packed, so the interview took place in an alleyway outside – it was the only spot we could find that was quiet enough.
"It's got this special atmosphere in there," he said, gesturing towards the club. "This place has been going for 20 years now – it's got heritage; people have met each other, got married and had kids who are coming here now themselves. It's been passed on to another generation."
"Back to Basics did parties here for four years, then Technique and Asylum took over with alternative Saturday nights," Forsyth explained. "With Technique and Asylum, they both had their own different styles: one was more techno and one was breakbeat; one was more funk disco and the other old-school house."
In 2008, a refurbishment at the venue solidified a new era of the club, which in turn ushered in a period of strengthening of the entire local clubbing ecosystem. "Shane Graham, the person who owns it now, bought it off Val after ten years," said Forsyth. "He put in the Watergate-style LED lighting panel, installed a Funktion-One system and started bringing in DJs like Sven Väth, Villalobos, Loco Dice and Luciano to System [MiNT Club's flagship night]. That took things to another level."
Leeds started to gain a reputation as a partying hub – some notable venues around the time included Stinky's Peephouse, The Garage, Beaverworks, West Indian Centre, Wire, Victoria Works, Kerbcrawler (later to be acquired by Graham's team and renamed MiNT Warehouse) and The Faversham. Nights like Dirty Disco, Louche, Teknicolor, Filth, KeToLoCo and Set One Twenty were thrown into the mix.
Music-focused bars and record shops – like distrikt and Waxwerks – opened, and the student ghettos became a hotbed of high-octane house parties. In 2010, MiNT Club was voted "Best Small Club" in DJ Mag's Best of British Awards. This all added to a sense that the area was a fertile breeding ground for electronic music.
With the end of the venue in sight, everyone with experiences there has a story to tell.
"My most treasured moment at MiNT Club is actually the time a totally unknown girl started singing at the end of the session to say thanks to the DJs," said Ralph Lawson, who chronicled the Back to Basics years at MiNT in a mix below. "She was Italian and just in Leeds for the weekend, but sang really beautifully. Everyone just stopped what they were doing to listen. She never came back to sing again at the club, but I'll always remember it, as it made me realise how total strangers can connect through music – even if it's just for the briefest moments."
Josh Butler – whose 2013 collaboration with Bontan, "Got a Feeling", was #2 of Beatport's top-selling tracks of all time – remembers cutting his teeth in the club. "I was there almost every Thursday night for three years when Teknicolor was running," he told me. "I eventually got to play. There are a fair few wonky memories from that place, but the most defining for me was playing with Joris Voorn."
Darius Syrossian, currently a resident DJ at Joshua Brooks in Manchester, said he has "too many" memories to mention. "The first time I played was after years of spending time on the dancefloor as a clubber. I'd seen Sasha play there for the first time in 1999. Two years later, when I stepped up to play to a sold out club, I had a flashback of that very first time I’d been there as a clubber."
As increasingly divergent sounds passed through MiNT over the years – pure four-to-the-floor house, jungle, breakbeat, dubstep, minimal techno, tech house, deep house, disco – the space became cemented as a bastion of clubbing culture in Leeds; the epicentre of a dizzying array of elated evenings, forgotten memories and lost mornings in the city. The programming provided a conveyor belt of stunning talent in an intimate setting. One where you could (and still can, until the final party closes at some point today or tomorrow) buy a beer for two quid.
"My earlier rave days were spent listening to the likes of the The Unabombers there and hearing Magda for the first time at Asylum and Technique," said Laura Jones, who was a resident at Louche and the first female resident of Back to Basics. "I know clubs come and go, but MiNT has been such an integral part of the Leeds scene."
"My favourite moment was when we brought Omar-S over from Detroit," Michael McMahon, co-founder of Set One Twenty, who hold a monthly residency at MiNT Club, told me over Facebook Messenger. "He was a bit tight with his tunes, though! Covering every vinyl sticker with a blank CD. But I did manage to find this gem that he played on the night."
Dave Beer says that when he thinks of MiNT, the time he booked Basement Jaxx always comes to mind. "'Red Alert' had just come out and they were just about to break, but they didn't realise it," he told me. "They were on the cusp of blowing up. I remember saying to them, 'In a year you’ll probably be one of the biggest bands on the planet.' They said, 'Don’t be stupid.' That night it was like a punk rock gig in there – I'll never forget it."
Canal Mills, a 1,400-capacity club open for six years, has also just fallen prey to regeneration in Leeds, as has Lady Beck, an artist studio complex. Now, another cherished venue, Hope Foundry – used by educational charity MAP and their acclaimed club night Cosmic Slop – is under threat. You might think the local creative community would be despairing right now, but when I visited MiNT the vibe was more celebratory than mournful.
"We just want to say a huge thank you to everyone on behalf of all of us at MiNT for supporting us over the years," Forsyth told me as we walked back through the club’s doors. "The DJs, promoters, staff and the most important people – the clubbers on the dancefloor. I'm lucky to have been part of it. Privileged, humbled, and I won't forget it for the rest of my life."
The last tune ever at MiNT Club will be played by Villalobos probably around Monday afternoon (or Tuesday morning?). If you’re in Yorkshire, you’ll want to be there.