This piece originally was originally written for DIY Leeds
(for those not in the know, Google does not penalise this kind of duplicate content)
I need to stop going to gigs on acid.
Well, I don’t, because it’s brilliant, but I probably should when I intend to review them objectively because it makes everything sound so completely different. Tunes sound four dimensional. Mixing on acid is either awesome or impossible. But anyway, I digress…
I’d not actually even been to Mint Club for three years when I went to the first of the closing parties I attended.
Mainly, I went to Mint for Louche, and occasionally for System. Often I just ended up there because I was in town and someone suggested going. A lot of other nights happened there that I wasn’t hugely interested in, and a combination of us starting our own night at Wire and various other locations – meaning I had less free time on weekends in the early hours – and Louche being no more, meant that I was no longer there, every week, on the dance floor, grinning, gurning and out of my mind.
Memories… And that’s what a lot of this was about – for a lot of people, I think.
I spoke to many people, at the three closing events I went to, who said that they’d not set foot in the place in four or five years. For me, Mint Club was, above all else, a moment in time – a memory of being so young and so smashed. A nostalgia for a time that faded away without me even realising until it was long since gone.
Nearly two years ago a very close friend of mine died. It was completely unexpected and it changed everything. Like me, he spent a lot of time on the dance floor of Mint Club and he remains a big part of my memory of the place.
We ended up running a night together, but long before that, when we barely knew each other at all, there he always was, in the middle of the crowd, sweat dripping down his face, big beaming smile and ridiculous, garish clothes – and in my mind that’s where he would always be and nothing had changed.
When I think of Mint Club, say, five years ago, there were certain people who were always there, and without realising it, in my head, it was still exactly like that.
And so, last summer, when my mates had the idea to go to Mint – I can’t even recall what for now – I suddenly realised all this, thought of my friend, of my mental encapsulation of what had once been and I thought ‘Fucking HELL’ and bolted.
So when the closing parties came around I did very briefly consider not going at all, but when it came to it I knew that would be silly.
Louche was one of my favourite parties in Leeds. That and Butter Side Up have always been a huge inspiration to me, and I used to wander out to those nights on my own at times, because above all else it’s about the music, and besides, you always make new friends.
Out of all the final Mint Club Nights, Louche, back in January, was the one I enjoyed the most. Aside of all else, they didn’t oversell. I never enjoy a too crowded club.
Returning to my original point, I shouldn’t go to to gigs on acid.
Not because it’s not fun (it’s the best fun ever), but because if I’m intending to be objective about the tunes then that’s not the way to go, because the acid makes all the music take on a new and all-encompassing shape and turns it into something a lot bigger and more wonderful than it possibly really is.
Obviously, Louche was good anyway. Probably my favourite night in Leeds back in the way back when, I was excited to hear that it would be returning, for one night only, to its old home.
Gene On Earth stood out for me in particular on the night. Apparently Craig Richards wasn’t all that, but I was loving it, being enveloped in the four dimensional psychedelic audio – which is what I meant when I said that I shouldn’t go to gigs on acid, because according to a few reliable sources he wasn’t all that on that night. Craig Richards is one of my favourite DJs, but I’ve heard him play a less than brilliant set before and I don’t doubt that happened.
I had the best time ever though, and I’m glad I got completely off my nut because that’s exactly what I did in the old days, when I had no reason to be objective about anything.
The weirdest thing about it all was that it all seemed almost exactly the same as it had always been. I’m not usually – outwardly at least – a particularly emotional person – but it had occurred to me that it may be a bit overwhelming stepping back into Mint Club after all that time and looking in all the corners and seeing what should be there and what wasn’t.
It wasn’t like that at all. It was all eerily normal, and all eerily the same as it had ever been. I guess this was probably because it was the same old crowd from the old nights – people I knew, friends, and people who back then were just faces and who now I actually knew. I suppose if I had been in on any other night it may not have been like that and it might have been weird.
In a lot of circles, right now, it’s almost fashionable to hate Mint Club. I never could though. Fair enough, as I said, I hadn’t set foot in the place for three years or more, but that’s not the point really. A lot of my generation prefer a grimy box or a house party to a proper club – and in some moments I’d have said I felt the same – but I don’t think I do. I’d say I have an all round appreciation for everything for exactly what it is. And Mint Club was a club in the real, old fashioned sense of the word. The lights and the platforms and the Ibiza style clubbers with fans and people actually dressed up for a night out – and you can’t possibly hate it for that, because it all worked so well. It had a magical decadence that you can’t contrive. (It always entertained me when people were surprised by the unisex toilets.) And with all of this in mind, it was still a small club. It wasn’t a 2000 capacity hangar with a sea of anonymous faces. It still felt like an intimate venue.
The developers, of course, don’t care about all of that. In the words of Martin Guttridge-Hewitt, who wrote the closing review for Resident Advisor, “Major UK cities are in the midst of a crisis when it comes to cultural spaces. No venue seems safe from the authorities, who are happy to let everything slip away unless it has protected heritage status or multi-million-pound corporate investment. Countless vital spaces across the country have been buried under soulless apartments and office blocks.”.
And that, sadly, is exactly it. Mint did well really, lasting just over 20 years in a climate where there is so much adversity.
In 100 years or so people will probably realise what their predecessors have done.
Weirdly, a while before the closure of Mint Club was announced, in an interview with Al Bradley for this blog, my friend Marve (Marcus Kitchen of Kitchens Inc. and Schwein & Bad Ornament) had an eerie premonition of the whole thing. We were discussing The Hacienda and its closing, a year before Mint Club opened, and its subsequent sale to property developers, and the constant threats to Fabric and Marve said ‘Mint apartments.’
Spooky. Or maybe not really, because, as I said, it’s hardly surprising.
I think what surprised me is that I thought slightly better of Leeds City Council. Because here – or there even? – (I am writing this on a train) club culture thrives, independent businesses thrive, and that seems to foster an idea that the council, on some level, actually care. Perhaps not after all.
I’m also not entirely sure exactly what’s planned for the space where the club was. I’d heard apartments and I’d also heard an extension of the theatre. Because obviously that’s culture and this isn’t. Funny old world.
Anyway, moving away from the requiem and back to the club nights, I had to go on the final weekend.
If I had less to do I’d probably have made it to a few more of the closing parties, because there were some awesome bookings, but life, work and other gigs happen.
I got a ticket for the final Friday. It was a Mint Classics night, and not massively my thing, but some friends I don’t see a great deal of were going, and while most of it wasn’t my preferred kind of music, I absolutely love Inland Knights and obviously it would all be good.
My mate Moorey opened up. I didn’t get out early enough to make his set (me and Marve were playing in Headingley until 11) but I’m glad he got to play, because we’d both been discussing a few months before how gutted we both were that we’d probably never get a chance to play at Mint Club now that its closure was imminent.
Inland Knights did not disappoint. They are always something special. I’ve heard Inland Knights countless times and Andy Riley on his own a couple of times too – including when we booked him for Distrikt – and they have never dropped a beat or played a set that I could describe as anything less than outstanding.
Derrick Carter was the headline act, and didn’t really do it for me. I’ve seen him live a few times, because I’ve happened to be at an event or a festival where he’s playing. Obviously I respect him for being the legend that he is, but that style of house music isn’t my choice of listening, so I’ve never bought a ticket for anywhere specifically because Derrick Carter has been playing. On most of the occasions when I have heard him though, I certainly couldn’t fault his sets. On that night, however, he was tweaking the high end to a painful degree and I didn’t enjoy most of his set. I guess it must have sounded a lot different in the booth.
Overall, on that last Friday, the atmosphere was great. The club was very packed but not so packed that it was an ordeal, and everyone seemed to be having an excellent time. I also saw a lot of old faces there – not the same kind of old faces as Louche, but a lot of the real old crowd that you recognised from Basics and people I knew from back home. A lot of people in their forties and beyond. I observed, when we walked in, that me and Marve were probably the youngest people in there.
Eventually, Derrick Carter’s ear-stabbing breakdowns got too much for us and I’d say we left around 20 minutes before the end. By that point Oli (Russell Master) and Sian from 212 had been in and left, bouncing through the dance floor with the afterparty invites. They’d given me a wedge of them to hand out myself and I’d distributed them to various friends, old faces and people who looked like they’d appreciate the goings on – and I was ready for some fresh goings on myself.
I’d initially intended to buy a ticket for the Saturday night too, but it was Sub:Terranea at Wire, and so decided to do Mint Wire Mint that weekend, although I’d be catching the Mint afters on the Saturday. Sub:Terranea is usually one of my favourite nights in Leeds and Wire is one of my favourite venues, but Moomin was a disappointing headliner and the night was much quieter than usual. I guess a lot of people who would have gone were either at Mint or had gone to On Rotation the night before. These things happen. You can’t forsee what will happen on a specific weekend a year before and sometimes a supposed hero will disappoint. We’ve all had nights like that.
The Saturday night afterparty at 212 was a hilarious precursor for the afternoon that followed. Moorey was playing a decent set and a well meaning but far too smashed DJ went over and started messing about with the mixer in order to ‘adjust things to suit the sound system’. What he did was just make it all really quiet. Laughing my head off I shouted over ‘Tell him to fuck off!’ Which he did.
It wasn’t particularly busy in 212 that morning – I think a lot of people wanted to carry on after Friday night, but after Saturday people wanted to sleep in preparation for Sunday. What it lacked in people however, it made up for in complete nonsense.
At one point, in the afternoon, and, to be fair, long after the advertised slot for the afters was over, the owners came in and opened the doors and pulled back the blinds – which was a horrifying experience for us all. What they didn’t do, however, was move the mannequins, who were arranged on the tables, clearly not in their usual, less obtrusive places, or de-clothe them and hand the various garments back to the session-goers they belonged to.
So when, at around 1:30pm, a group of middle aged Sunday afternoon drinkers walked in, took a look around at all the chaos, took it all in and walked straight out again I was highly amused.
A little while later, we headed to Mint Club. There was already a fair queue and it was after four when we got in (the madness started at 2pm).
I was sorry to miss the System residents. Bobby O’Donnell and Annie Errez are always a treat to hear. We actually have Annie booked for our next Schwein event at 212 and she’s one of the most effortlessly and consistently good DJs I know.
The high point of the weekend for me was Digby and Josh Tweek’s back to back set. Everything weird and wonderful that I could possibly want to hear from the dancefloor happened there. After that, I realised that I was faced with 5 or so hours of tech house nightmares (not my bag) and was advised by a mate to take refuge in Outlaws Yacht Club for a few hours and then return.
What followed was very funny, because I basically released a troupe of psychedelic warriors out into the wild terrain of quiet Sunday afternoon drinking and had to do things like go and order their drinks because they were too afraid to go to the bar. BUT… while I was busy ordering their drinks, they were not too afraid to go round the bar and ask random strangers, who were quietly minding their own business, to pose for photographs because ‘Your jumpers are just so good!’ I think I live for moments like these.
The normal world was too much, even for me, and I was quite glad to get back to the mad safety of a horrendously packed club. And my God was it packed. There was a time when it was more like being in the midst of a war zone or a natural disaster than on a fun night out. Far too many people. But exactly as I expected and you can’t begrudge the club or the clubbers that. Not on the last night.
We got back just as the odd b2b combo of Craig Richards and Seth Troxler was beginning. Usually I hate Seth Troxler. I don’t even know what genre his preferred style of old was… paint by numbers pop house maybe? Fuck knows. Again, not my bag. But… Apologies where apologies are due Mr Troxler, maybe you found some gems in Dave Haslam’s record collection, maybe your tastes matured, or maybe you sold your soul to the Devil to reverse the sell out spell. Quite honestly I don’t care why, but whatever you did last week in Mint Club was good.
Zip played a consistently decent set. Nothing that changed my life, but good.
What I heard of Villalobos was great – weird as fuck and atmospheric – but not for everyone from the conversations I had as I wandered around and found people I knew in the chaos. I heard the record skip a couple of times, but the tunes were great, and it wasn’t constant fuck ups.
I didn’t stay until the end.
I wanted to and was surprised at myself that I didn’t, but when Marve, who I had offered my sofa to after convincing him to go and getting him in as my mate’s plus one, said he had had enough, I was like ‘you know what, me too’. It was so overcrowded and I’d that moment been thinking about a friend saying that they’d been happy to say goodbye to Mint at Louche and thinking that I almost wished I had myself.
I do sort of wish I’d stayed until the very end. I am generally a stayer til the death, and this was quite a final death. But I didn’t. And apparently there were a lot more skipping records after I’d gone…
And when all you’re left with is being elbowed through a k hole while the DJ messes up his mixes, it’s probably time to say goodnight.
…and there you go, it’s gone.
Funny that I should write such a paean to a venue I rarely went to in years, and funny that someone like me should write it – I’m not exactly known for being sentimental. But Mint Club will always have a place in my heart. And beyond that, I just think it’s wrong that places like this can be eaten up by soulless developments – and that it’s considered acceptable that they should be.
Later, walking past in the daylight, I get a strange feeling – a mixture of sadness, the profound joy I’ve felt in the midst of it all, and that flat sort of feeling that you get on a Wednesday in the rain. It is what it is I guess, and in years to come – while the world continues in some heartless new place – in another reality (or in my head at least) the ghosts of all of us, out of our minds and grinning ear to ear, will be dancing on…
Photo: Russell Master