Dave Beer and the Lost Kings of Clubland

Get Back to Basics Ahead of VICE’s House Party in Leeds.

by Angus Harrison
05 June 2015, 11:22am

Oi, Leeds, what are you doing this weekend? Still nothing? You sad fuckers. Well we've got some great news. The infamous VICE house party is coming your way. Clearly bored of London (with its extortionate cost of living and estate agents breeding like rabbits) we have made the decision to stretch our legs and throw a couple of parties up North, in Sheffield on Friday and Leeds on Saturday.

It is the first time the house party will have come to the jewel of West Yorkshire, and the fun will be going down in one of the city's finest watering-holes the Nation of Shopkeepers. Here at THUMP we reckon, along with boxes full of beer and a pre-agreed puking station, a little bit of cultural context is vital to any successful party. With this in mind, we set our sights on Leeds and, in particular, one figure who has undoubtedly shaped the clubbing culture of the city, and the international scene at large: Dave Beer.

The dance music landscape, at the turn of the 90s, was looking bleak. The empire of acid house had risen, but was falling in swift decline thanks to the Criminal Justice Act of 1991 that gave new powers to the authorities, essentially allowing them to shutdown a potential rave faster than you could say "smiley face". It was in this gap that Dave Beer, and his best mate Alistair Cooke (who tragically died in a car crash in 1993), took it upon themselves to start a night. Back to Basics was born, and with it a Beer became the walking, talking embodiment of the party.

To call him a forgotten hero would suggest he himself has gone away, which couldn't be further from the truth – Back to Basics still runs in Leeds with Beer firmly at the helm – yet he does represent a vestige of club culture that we have since lost. The iconic promoter, the master of ceremonies, the King of Clubland. We have arrived at a time where the DJ can be a superstar, but the clubs and the characters that populate and promote them, have been disposable, if not completely invisible.

Dave Beer's start is a story of chance and opportunism, similar to many dance icons of the late 1980s and 1990s. With roots in punk music he became a roadie and then eventual tour manager for the likes of the Petrol Emotion and the Ramones and it is likely that the punk ethos is what was responsible for how freely he pursued his urge to carve out against a clubbing malaise in his home town. With an absence of options in Leeds, and a growing discontent amongst maligned ravers, Beer and Cooke began Back to Basics. Beer has stated in interviews that he never saw the parties as a full time career, telling DMC World magazine that, "as everything else in my life just seemed to snowball".

Back to Basics blew up. Before long the club had a literal roadblock on their hands, cars trailing through the city centre as punters poured in from all corners of the UK. This flood of attention placed the spotlight firmly on Beer who rose to the occasion. To be fair, with a name like Dave Beer, he was probably born to be the face of a mint British party. It's basically the clubbing equivalent of a bloke called Alan Nectar-Points working in Sainsbury's.

His responsibilities ranged from booking the DJs, designing the posters, all the way through to policing Back to Basics' unconventional door policy. Beer was known to personally turn large groups away for being badly dressed, or sucking dummys. His attitude was one that prioritised the party above all, and if this meant sending the wrong crowd home he would do it.

His hedonistic instinct also stretched to booking acts. One are-you-shitting-me level anecdote took place in Paris, in an inconspicuous bar, where Beer heard a couple of DJs that caught his attention. Struggling with the language barrier, Beer tried to tell the two selectors he liked whatever it was they were doing, and eventually they handed him a mix of their productions on a cassette. Eventually the DJs made their way across the channel to play the main room of Back to Basics. They called themselves Daft Punk.

This is one in a string of similar stories. Basement Jaxx, Sasha, Frankie Knuckles and Groove Armada all made appearances at Beer's parties, that over time became more than just a club night, and instead a pilgrimage. As recognition grew, Back to Basics began to travel all over the world, taking the party everywhere from Ibiza to Miami. Beer now DJs as well as promoting, spinning cuts behind the decks all over, making appearances at Glastonbury, Creamfields, Space and the Ministry of Sound.

It is a wonderful and powerful truth that Dave Beer is still a behemoth on the UK clubbing landscape, but a shame that we now consider him a veteran. The promoter as a clubland character is a vestige of a bygone era, the days of Tony Wilson and Philip Salon represent an era when throwing a party was done to offer an alternative to mundanity. These figures were part of the DNA of the celebration. Put simply, having such a belting time themselves it was certain everybody else there would follow. Now, the famed promoter has become an entrepreneurial figure. The likes of David Grutman are more likely to do a feature with Elite Daily than they are DJ Mag.

So when you are getting pissed up in Leeds this weekend, whether it is at the VICE House Party, or Back to Basics, know that the streets you are stumbling through, trying to find somewhere to have a secluded wee, gave birth to a powerhouse of UK club culture. A man so intent on keeping the party going, he'll drop MK's "Burning" in a forest in Wales...and then crowd surf.