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@ The Sanctuary

This is stream of experience writing - I keep adding bits as I experience more, rather than re-writing the whole thing from scratch. In some ways there's a gradual sense of disillusionment with this club which I think you'll find evident in my writing though I believe it has been felt by many of the old ss devotees too. Perhaps that's what happens as clubbers get older or experience more?

Past home to Tony deVit, (but then you can say the same thing of The Nightingale - though not without choking - as well as Trade), Lisa Lashes, Fergie, Andy Farley, Paul Kershaw, Nick Rafferty, Sarah G. and others.

Sundissential's crowd is young, very young in some cases, and it bills itself as "the maddest club in the world". Clubbers reflect the madness in their home-made wacky costumes, and the atmosphere in the club is one of a fun, friendly party where you can be as loony as you want. The music tends to be hard, generally mixing standard commercial hard house and anthemic commercial trance, though Sundissential North in Leeds, has the reputation of playing harder tunes.

Though not exactly a musically sophisticated crowd, some people have unfairly likened it to clubbing with trainer wheels, while others refer to it as "My First Club". Such people must have forgotten their first clubbing experiences, which were probably nothing as wonderful as going to Sundissential can be. Though "Harder! Faster! Louder!" rules for many, for me this club is, or perhaps now I should say "was", about much more than "gettin' off yer tits". (I've written about what Sundissential represented for me elsewhere on this website - namely in the section on how I got into club promoting).

A lot has been written about Sundissential over the years, much of which can probably be found elsewhere fairly easily. The club has weathered some pretty traumatic storms which might well have finished off other clubs and promoters and it is these which I'd like to describe here

After they had been running Dust in Wolverhampton, (where Lisa Lashes, Paul Kershaw, Andy Farley and Nick Rafferty used to play regularly) Paul Madan, (Madders) and Danny Kirk, established Sundissential in 1996 as a Sunday club, (hence the name), opening in the afternoon, to cater to the post-Saturday, don't stop the party crowd, many of whom came over after Tin-Tin's and the gay clubs had closed.

Though their Sunday events at the Pulse, (now unrecognisable as such since it was transformed in 2001 to Zanzibar), were popular, and the club had something of an underground feel about it, the promoters decided to switch to Saturdays, which of course offered a bigger potential market.

This didn't appear to be working for the first few events, as numbers started to slip, until brilliantly, the promoters got club-related tv coverage, followed by booking Judge Jules, who gave them further publicity. From that point onwards there was no turning back and the club just exploded, packing people in by the thousands at Bank Holidays.

Everything came to a crashing stop however with the death at Sundissential of a young clubber, Robert Lowe, in January 2000. Pulse closed, and Sundissential was without a home. Though the club continued to hold other events in Leeds and occasionally in Bristol, Birmingham was the event which had the largest attendances and was where the club had its origins. This was a crushing blow.

More were still to come however, with further deaths when the club held an event in Birmingham at the Que club in March, as well as during the Summer after the Radio One Love Parade in Leeds.

With restrictions being imposed on their events, and difficulties finding another venue, it looked like the Sundissential party might be over, at least in Birmingham.

In 2001 Madders and Danny launched a new hard house event, Hard House Heaven, incorporating the promoters and supporters of a newly established night being held at The Steering Wheel, Ouch! on Fridays at the Sanctuary, but as hard house was by now diffusing into the mainstream, this mainly attracted a beer-boy crowd. The old Sundissential fanatics, (and this club more than any other in my experience generated the kind of loyalty that brands like Coca-Cola or British Airways could only ever dream of), stayed away in droves.

The salvation of Sundissential eventually came about through the failure of a new arrival, Slinky, and the move of an old rival, God's Kitchen.

The promoters of God's Kitchen, which had been well-established at the Sanctuary on Fridays, had decided to build their own venue, Code, which opened nearby in 2001. Slinky, which had originated in the South East, had opened at the Sanctuary as part of a wider national expansion, after God's Kitchen left. However, the established local promoters were not happy about a new southern rival trying to establish themselves in their area.

There had been talk of Sundissential buying up a disused venue, what was The Hummingbird, now The Academy, but when, after a few weeks, Slinky failed, and the slots scheduled by them at The Sanctuary became available, the Sundissential promoters quickly stepped into the vacuum. So in mid-2001, Sundissential re-opened on Saturdays at The Sanctuary.

Update: February 2002

After some lackluster months at The Sanctuary, (and the quiet closure of Hard House Heaven in the meantime, along with the effective disposal of the potential rivals the Ouch! boys might have been), rumours began to circulate about the moving of the club to a much better venue. After the New Year's celebrations and the January doldrums Sundissential re-opened at DNA in February, 2002.

I went to the opening and here's what I wrote:

"After a period "in the wilderness," as Madders described it, Sundissential Birmingham has found itself a new home worthy of the spirit of the club when it was at Pulse. Madders predicted this would be Sundissential's new home for at least the next four years.

DNA is a glittery glass and chrome venue, with an excellent sound and light system, three-storey high ceilings located right in the center of the city, an easy walk from New Street station.

The contrast with The Sanctuary couldn't be more pronounced. The club was packed for the opening night in February 2002, and it was great to see people there that I haven't seen since Pulse closed. It really was like old times.

Criticisms? Not many - lots of stairs, many littered with bottles, look like an accident waiting to happen. Not enough people were putting an effort into dressing up, the way they used to, but I have a feeling this will come with time."

One other notable thing happened at the DNA opening. Madders gave a brief speech, in which he referred to the Sanctuary as "that shithole," which was surprising. After all, everyone needs a shithole when they're crapping their pants with nowhere to go.

After a second visit about a month later, some things became more apparent:

  • The club was busy but not rammed or even full. It got going later than it used to - after 11 - and it started emptying early.
  • Not enough people were dressing up. There seemed to be too many beer-boy types. This was probably a remnant from the Sanctuary days, but could have been dealt with by tightening the dress code.
  • I was wrong about the age. Sundissential used to be quite young, but the impression was that the average age has drifted upwards.
  • The old Pulse crowd had largely disappeared. This wasn't too surprising as the average "lifespan" of a clubber is estimated at around two years.
  • Though I was charged £3 for an energy drink, full marks go to the DNA bar staff - I first asked for a glass of water and was given one without any quibble.

Update: Summer 2002

Right then, that didn't last long did it? From February to July 2002 - that's how long it took for DNA to decide it was turning itself into a table-dancing club, and for Sundissential to look for and find somewhere new to do their thing: The Academy.

I've not been but reports are that lots of people don't like it. As you can see, Sundissential has weathered many a storm in the past, and they'll probably weather this one too. Stay posted.

(One day I'll get 'round to telling you the story of how I came to be thrown out of Sundissential North by Madders and how he subsequently ruined my enjoyment of the place, but right now I really don't have the time - really!).

Update: October 2002

Well, I've been to The Academy now, and now I understand all the complaints. It's another big - one might almost say "vast" - box, with a stage, on which the DJ looks like an ant. Little atmosphere and even less chill-out space. None of the old ss crowd were in evidence, though the lifespan of the straight clubber is far shorter than that of the gay clubber, but Pulse this ain't. I had thought the ss promoters had cracked it with DNA but this can surely only be another stop-gap measure, or maybe they just don't care any more.

Whatever, there was nothing here I hadn't seen done better elsewhere. Neither the venue nor the music were inspiring and I was only sad that other people didn't know better. Cyber looks so done to death now and many of the clubbers there look like sad parodies of their elder brothers and sisters who went when they were that age but now do other things.

Update: February 2003

SS has returned back to The Sanctuary, after another period in the wilderness when club promoter Paul Madan and the management of that venue fell out. Stories were circulating that he was banned by the previous manager for inappropriate behaviour with one of the female clubbers... who it is said just happened to turn out to be the manager's daughter! Rather than suffer the ignominy of being banned from his own club, he decided to move - first to DNA, the club's "future home for the next four years", which promptly was turned into a table dancing club, then to the vast box that is The Academy, who had little idea that the club was to return to The Sanctuary until the last minute. The SS management obviously believe in "Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto You!"

Well the management at The Sanctuary has changed so the ban no longer applies, and it's back to business as usual with a huge turnout for the re-launch in January. Things had settled down when I went, (22.02.03) and though the place was busy it wasn't rammed. Karim and Paul Glazby (3hr. set) were playing so it promised to be a corker. Unfortunately, I just found it boring.

The night started around 11pm with a detailed search on the door, and there was a lovely and quite playful sniffer dog looking out for people bringing in naughty things. Despite this, almost everyone looked totally drug-fucked by the time they left at 4am, so either there's lots getting in and sold on the premises or people are bringing in their own despite all the searching and the sniffing.
Musically I've heard both Karim and Glazby play better elsewhere, and this style of hard dance music has been soooo done to death, re-hashed, and re-slaughtered that it's hard not to feel that you're at a retro night. However, as I've remarked elsewhere here, most of these clubbers are new to the scene and therefore don't know better. Frankly I've heard Strange Dave play better music at Afterssential than either of these masters played on that night. Perhaps they simply gave the audience what they thought or were told they wanted to hear. Whatever, I was bored. Had a few nice chats and saw some people who know me from elsewhere but for me the magic has long gone on this club. I'm sure it will continue being a raging success sucking in early, mid and late teens to their first adolescent clubbing experience, at least until such time as someone comes a cropper again.

This may seem cynical of me but how does one square the platitudes mouthed by the club's promoters after the deaths of young Robert Lowe and others with the iconography displayed in the club's videos and advertising blatantly taking a drugged-up, mashed-up, fucked-up theme, and where punters stagger out of the place so obviously fucked out of their heads?

If someone else does die at Sundissential I have no doubt that dear sweet Uncle Madders and his posse will be heard bleating to anyone who'll listen, how he never got into club promoting to have people carried out in boxes, after all that's what he's said before. I wonder though, if it should happen, and I hope to god it doesn't, who, if anyone, will be listening?

Update: December 2003

British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics. The same could be said of promoting

During the Summer of 2003 clubbers were wondering "Where's Madders?" as, though he was the public face of the club, he hadn't been seen there for weeks. Rumours were circulating of a crazy binge involving the Sundissential van, of a clubber being punched by Madders at the club, of people wanting to be paid, and of Madders eventually turning up looking in a very unhealthy state.

Whatever the truth, the clubbing world was still shocked when after the Summer Paul Madan posted statements on clubbing web boards stating that the partners behind the club had split, that Danny Kirk had "stolen" the club from him, and that legal proceedings were underway. Whatever the truth of the claims it rapidly became apparent that the partners had indeed split, and that that was one of the main reasons he had not been seen in the club. While people speculated about what exactly he would do next, the problems the club had been facing after it moved back to The Sanctuary were becoming very apparent.

Numbers had been declining and clubbers' gripes about the venue were not being attended to. The "shithole" as Madders had referred to it when he left it, but the place he dragged the club back to, was proving to be a difficult one to work with for the club's promoters. With declining attendances and a large space to fill, another move seemed almost inevitable. Needless to say the split and the neglect did nothing to bolster the morale of those who had stayed loyal to the club.

During this time Ben Thompson, who had formerly worked for Gatecrasher, was brought in to help run Sundissential North. Rumours circulated that he had a financial interest in that club, which later in the year announced that, following a prolonged period of police drug unit monitoring, it was moving from Evolution to Heaven and Hell in Leeds.

After intense speculation on the Sundissential web board the Autumn of 2003 saw the club move to Cobarna, (formerly McClusky's and Exiles), ironically opposite Zanzibar, where the club's long decline had started back in January 2000. Clubbers were split over the move, with some preferring The Sanctuary, though it's unlikely that that would have been a viable option financially, even if the Danny, the remaining promoter, had wanted to stay.

After a period during which the club's management seemed to be asleep at the wheel - or perhaps just too stretched dealing with all that was going on to effectively handle all the issues they were faced with - the club was finally getting back to being what it had been - a clubbers' playground. Shortly after opening at Cobarna, the club also launched Funkissential at Kudos on Fridays, and held a successful birthday (its' 7th.) at The Works, a huge venue on Broad Street. Many said that that had been the closest the club had got to its' old Pulse days, (bar perhaps the period at DNA).

One further change occurred during this period. Afterssential, Sundissential's after-party had been franchised to Subway City, meaning that Subway paid Sundissential for the use of the name. With the crowd now nicely built up, Subway ended its agreement with Sundissential and decided to hold its own after-party which it named "Afters". After a trial to coincide with Sundissential's opening at Cobarna Afterssential is now reputed to be opening for regular business on New Year's Day 2004 at 9 Bar on Broad Street.

Plans for Sundissential for 2004 are for The Works to become the venue of a number of occasional events in the coming year starting with the New Year's Day event, while regular weekly events will continue to be held at Cobarna, with one room playing funky house, while the other plays hard house.

Sundissential has undergone some major shifts organisationally partly reflecting the decline in the market, but partly also reflecting more intense competition. Over the past few years Good Greef has emerged as an increasingly significant force in the UK hard dance clubs scene, as it has gradually expanded from its base in Manchester. The Polysexual brand, set up in Birmingham by God's Kitchen's promoters to target the hard house fans which go to Sundissential had become increasingly recognised as a quality product. The Tidy Boys had emerged as very significant competition of another sort, organising major hard house three-day weekend events and more recently in 2003 a 5,000 person spectacular at Magna 7 in Sheffield. Tidy were reputed to be planning to expand these events significantly nationwide in 2004, and each one affected attendances at clubs throughout the country. Gatecrasher had rebranded itself as 'crasher, with plans to open new clubs under that brand throughout the country. They also held massive spectaculars at places like the NEC holding 15,000 clubbers.

Recognising this Paul Madan has taken a job promoting Polysexual, Sundissential's direct rival in Birmingham.

The club's loyal fan based has been eroded by all this, and clubbers in general expect more, bigger and better. Sundissential currently has its work cut out to meet all these challenges.

Update: January 2005

Neither 2003 nor 2004 were particularly good years for the clubbing business. For Sundissential matters just went from bad to worse.

After taking over Cobarna, an otherwise closed venue, run by Springwood Leisure, the club then had to move again after a few months, to another Springwood Leisure venue close by, as Cobarna was being shut down. The new "venue" turned out to be part of the unused space of Zanzibar, consisting of two rooms linked by a long corridor, and SS renamed the place "Pulse Two." the peculiar irony of all this, again, is that now the club was back to part of the very building where the tragic events of January 2000 had taken place.

The club struggled on here for a while, again following the same music policy of old hard house in one room, and funky house in the other, and despite herculean help from a devoted but small core of clubbers who had pitched in to get the place decorated for the opening, attendances remained poor.

The development of the occasional large-scale events at The Works on Broad Street, also failed to take off. Those pulled in numbers in the hundreds, rather than the thousands, which the large space of The Works needed. This wasn't helped by the increasing popularity of Polysexual which was usually competing with SS for the same dollars on the same days. Madders helped Polysexual develop the "Mashtonbury" concept, which featured a fun fair in the car park, and SS seemed like a poor relation in comparison. The harsh sound system of The Works also didn't help matters, despite SS's attempts at bringing in additional systems to beef it up.

As the Autumn of 2004 approached things were looking grim. Sundissential North held at Evolution in Leeds, had had to close, due to the constant attention of the police, which had put a lot of people off from attending, and Ben Thompson had left the SS organisation. Afterssential's attempted transition to Bar 9 failed after a few poorly attended attempts, and Afters continued to pull in much of the after event crowd. And then, to top it all, Springwood Leisure went bust, resulting in the closure of SS's weekly events at "Pulse 2." Think club promoting is fun? Think again.

At the start of 2005, Danny had re-established Sundissential North at Crasher 1 in Sheffield as an occasional event, and reports of attendances there were good. Sundissential in Birmingham was limping along with a few events being held in conjunction with Subway City, but largely the club had little if any presence in that city.

However, the most surprising twist to this epic tale was that towards the end of the year, Paul and Danny announced that they had buried the hatchet and were resuming their partnership, Paul's time with Polysexual and God's Kitchen having been terminated. In a 2Klub newsletter I wonder what exactly Madders was bringing to the SS party, and I'm still left wondering.

The Sundissential name still means something to some people however, as their January 2nd. event in Sheffield pulled in 1,200 people, despite the fact that the music was still the same old hard house... "Music is Moving" got played again then, so it's moving in circles apparently.

As the competitive landscape has changed so much over the past few years, and the club has effectively been driven out of its two bases, Leeds and Birmingham, the backs of these two ever resilient club promoters must surely be against the wall. After so many moves and flops, it's amazing the club has survived so far; such trauma would have finished off lesser men. Either they're very brave, or quite mad... or perhaps a little bit of both.

One thing's for sure, if they ever decide to give it up, they've got the makings of an epic story on their hands. The film rights should be worth a fortune, and that might just be their best option eventually for making one from club promoting.

Update April 2005

Sundissential started off 2005 with plans to open at The Canal Club Wolverhampton, but their opening party was marred by an outbreak of fighting in the club, and these plans seem to have been put on hold.

However, in a stunning turn-around in Easter 2005, Sundissential came storming back with an event at The Works, Birmingham, which pulled in 2,800 people. Even more impressive was the fact that Polysexual, their nemesis, was holding the poorly named "Chavvysexual" event at the same time, and they got decimated - attendances of a few hundred - and had to close early.

The explanation for this Easter ressurection surely lies with Sundissential's collaboration with 'Crasher (formerly Gatecrasher), the event being billed as "Sundissential Vs 'Crasher", thus drawing on two crowds.

Despite this success, Sundissential aims to continue with a few collaborative events in Birmingham and to re-open Sundissential North at their old home, Club Evolution, in Leeds on May 30th.

For some Sundissential pics please click here

For a week by week take on Sundissential, along with past announcements of events, line-ups etc., see the Archive of 2Klub Newsletters.
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