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Original publisher: Muzik Magazine
Left to right: James Barton, Paul Oakenfold and Darren Hughes
"If you want to see me in '97, you'll have to go to Cream"
halls of residents
With Paul Oakenfold and Rocky from X-Press 2 playing exclusively at Cream on Saturdays in 1997, and with such deals potentially becoming blueprints for the future, will some of the UK's leading DJs find themselves frozen out of the guest DJ circuit?
words Ben Turner pictures Raise-A-Head
1996 HAS BEEN A GREAT YEAR FOR MUSIC and clubbing. There are so many things to be positive about. However, nobody can deny that the guest DJ circuit has got completely out of hand. For too long now people have complained about DJs who turn up to the gigs with just five minutes to spare before they're due on.
Being led astray (both musically and socially) is what clubbing is about. So if a DJ has spent the evening on the motorway trying to cram in three clubs, then how are they to know which records have already lifted the roof off? We don't want to hear the same tracks five times in one evening.
To some DJs, this is not a problem. Judge Jules claims his box contains such a lot of acetates from his job as an A&R, that no other DJ in the world could play the same set as him. To Jules, who enjoys travelling around the UK, this is what it's all about. But for certain clubs, such as Renaissance and Cream, and DJs like Rocky and Paul Oakenfold, enough is enough.
AS OF JANUARY 25, OAKENFOLD WILL BEGIN A 42-week Saturday residency at Cream, which means no other club in the UK can book him on the premier clubbing night of the week.
"I want to get back to what I used to do at my Spectrum club," explains Paul. "I want to break records again and I prefer doing that to travelling around the country. It's time for me to move in a different direction and that means going back to what I did in the first place. I'll still play abroad, but I no longer want to be playing up and down the country.
Paul Never doubles-up in one evening, allowing him to feel at home in a club and to play a full part in both the night and whatever goes on afterwards. Admittedly he earns enough from one gig to not need to play elsewhere on the same night, but many believe that if there is one man who's always conducted his business in a truly professional manner, it is Oakenfold.
So why choose Cream? Well, Renaissance actually made the first offer to Oakenfold, but, with the club still having no fixed abode, the decision was made for him. Rumours also linked him to other clubs, including London's Ministry Of Sound. Increasingly certain promoters were attempting to book Oakenfold once a month and hoping he wouldn't realize what they were really trying to do.
Darren Hughes, director and promoter of Cream, states, "We see Paul's career at a similar stage to that of the club. We both need to get back to what's important, and that is having a unique sound in a unique club. It's about the music."
Why Oakenfold? Anyone who has seen the effect he has on the club will know why they chose him. Take their fourth birthday, when the back room suddenly became packed. It was as if someone had let another 1,000 people into the venue. After 10 minutes, you couldn't move. All this because Oakenfold was due on in an hour!
"He was the obvious choice," says Cream's James Barton. "He's also the DJ we respect the most. Look at how much effort he puts into a three-hour set and imagine what he'd be like with his own space, a sound system and our help."
"I already feel so comfortable in that back room and all I want to do now is take it a step further," adds Oakenfold. "This room will feel like my very own club."
Which is exactly it. Weatherall's Sabresonic, Jon Pleased Wimmin's Pleased, Vasquez at the Sound Factory, Garnier at The Rex, Fabio at Speed, Humphries at the Ministry, Park & Pickering at the Hacienda, Vath at the Omen, Levan at Paradise Garage. All of these great clubs featured historic residencies which helped provide a focal point for their style of music.
And isn't that exactly what the UK lacks? Don't we need a night we feel we should be at for fear of missing something? Where we know we can hear a certain track dropped at that certain point in the evening, where we know when the DJ will reach ignition point and take us somewhere special. Maybe it's too safe for some, but the beauty of familiarity is that, when something new does drop, it has twice the effect. Such residencies allow DJs to be more experimental because the crowd trusts them. Oakenfold fans will also feel the need to travel again. With every city in the UK now having big name DJs, it's something people have felt less inclined to do recently.
"If people want to hear me in 1997, then they have to come to Cream," says Oakenfold. "I want to make it exclusive. I believe people will travel from all over for this. They'll be missing something if they don't."
HOWEVER, THE CREAM DEAL HAS already touched a nerve with many people. A number of Saturday night clubs are greatly offended that they can no longer book Oakenfold, while other DJs on the touring circuit are being frozen out of what was previously one of the premier dates in their diary. They will still get dates at Cream's Full On monthly affair on a Friday, but for many, Saturdays will never be the same again.
"I'm really gonna miss it," says Mark Moore, a Saturday Cream regular. "I love going up there because it feels like I'm going home to my family. I think the resident idea is a good one. But if they're going to do it, then why not really go out on a limb and do it with their own residents?"
It's a fair point. However, current Cream residents, Paul Bleasdale, Les Ryder and James Barton, will play a more significant role in the club. Bleasdale will now be at the club every week to open up for Oakey, Barton will continue in the main room before Rocky, while Les Ryder will spin in the courtyard, which will now be home to the likes of Carl Cox and Grooverider. But where does this leave the new talent?"
"That is one criticism I have to take on the chin," accepts Hughes. But what's important is where we're coming from and what we're trying to achieve. There'll be no new talent in any clubs if things carry on the way they are going. And people like Derrick Carter, John Acquaviva and Angel Moraes are new blood for us compared to Healy and Jules."
What about the party crowd who want the instant smile of a Jules set?
"The kids at Cream are bored of these sets," believes Hughes. "They don't want easy listening house anymore."
"We put Ashley Beedle and Rocky & Diesel on three months ago, and it was the best thing anyone has done in the main room for a long time," says Barton. "But the kids are going to have to trust us. And they're going to have to listen. If, after a couple of months, they're not into what we've done, then they'll have to root out the DJs they like and go where they're playing. If we lose some punters it will be a shame. But it'll be worth it in the end."
But what if all clubs sign up DJs? What happens when Anthony Pappa becomes exclusive to a club in Porthmadoc? It's getting more and more like football every day. And how would Cream feel if Carl Cox signed exclusively to the Ministry Of Sound and was no longer allowed to appear at Cream on a Saturday night?
"We wouldn't be too happy about it," admits Hughes. "But it's not about what other people are doing. It's what we're doing."
Does Cream have any sympathy with the other Saturday night clubs?
"Maybe they've had it too easy," replies Barton. "Maybe they shouldn't be in the business. No disrespect to any of the DJs who play at our club, but not one of them is bigger than the club."
But with Oakenfold pulling out of the guest circuit and playing exclusively for Cream on Saturdays, he'll turn himself into the biggest guest DJ on the scene. One of the more positive aspects of monogamous DJing is that the changeover between Bleasdale and Oakey will be smoother. At Cream, we've seen Darren Emerson go on after Boy George! Oakenfold's residency will help give the room a clearer musical direction.
"The last time we had a musical focal point it was called handbag! says Barton. "That was the last musical term aimed at Cream, rightly or wrongly."
"Cream is one of the biggest perpetrators of raising guest DJs to the level they are now at," says Hughes. "We're not saying that's wrong, we're just saying it doesn't turn us on as much as what we have planned for 1997."
That's putting a hell of a lot faith in the hands of one DJ. What happens if Oakenfold decides he wants to start taking happy hardcore to the masses?
"Well, it's up to him," replies Barton. "But if Paul suddenly goes missing, you'll know what happened to him! No, we'll have to go with it. Something tells me his residency is going to be a massive success. I think when January 25 comes, the club will explode like it did two years ago."
WHO KNOWS? OAKEY'S residency at Cream could become as much of a focal point to the big picture of UK club culture as Pete Tong's Radio One "Essential Selection". Whether you agree with the exclusivity or not, they're trying to make clubs special once more. With Liverpool University attributing their highest ever number of new applicants to the club, it's hard to believe that the move will fail. At least they are trying hard to feed better music to the masses.
And at the end of it, Cream can do what the fuck they want with their nightclub. The punters vote with their feet. Watch this space.
Cream is relaunching on January 25 with Paul Oakenfold, X-Press 2, Pete Tong, Nick Warren, Paul Bleasdale, James Barton and Les Ryder. Grooverider makes his debut at the club on February 1
Rocky from X-Press 2 on why he's now a Cream Resident
"I'm fed up with travelling 300 miles to a place where 30 people turn up who often aren't even into the sort of music I'm playing. Every time I've played Cream, the response has been 100 per cent. It doesn't matter if I play techno, classics or a big vocal record, people go mad for everything. The other reason for joining Cream is they look after you so well. I've played at clubs where I don't even meet the promoter. What sort of PR is that?
Oakenfold on his residency plans
"The Cream residency will allow me to be more experimental. One of the things I really want to do musically in clubs is what I've done with the 'Perfecto Fluoro' album, where I've used excerpts from movies. I would like to see how far I can take that. Most records have breaks in them, and I want to mix in the film stuff live. I also think Paul Bleasdale will benefit from the focus on this night, and he'll start to get more tunes and acetates. The whole night will be a theme, rather than people waiting for me to come on."
Justin Robertson [whose Sleuth night is re-opening at Cream on bi-monthly Fridays]
"We're doing two things with Cream in 1997. Firstly, Sleuth will alternate with Carl Cox and Ultimate for a monthly Friday slot, and we'll also be putting on a monthly Thursday even called Speakeasy, playing anything from Carl Craig to Chuck D. I'll be using DJs such as Bob Jones, Gilles Peterson and Ben Wilcox. Sleuth will concentrate on more melodic techno and the more adventurous side of house. I'm definitely pleased at what Cream are going to do next year. There is so much great music around but the scene just needs a good kick up the arse. It needs to go back to being about clubs. Clubs like the Hacienda had the odd guest playing, but it was more about the night and the quality of the vibe. With Sleuth we were getting to the stage where we had to have the biggest name possible to the fill the club. We want to be more adventurous than that. Moving Sleuth from Manchester shouldn't harm the club and we'll be putting on coaches anyway. Plus Richard Hector-Jones and I will also be opening a monthly event in Manchester from February. I think what Cream are doing is very bold and I'm sure it will work for them and for everyone."
David Levy from ITB [Oakenfold's agent]
Paul was approached by four different groups of people but he felt Cream offered him the most freedom to achieve his aims. As far as the effect on the club industry goes, if the knock-on of this is the top 10 DJs pulling out of the circuit, then that's good for clubland. Is it really a problem if a few DJs step out of the merry-go-round? If all clubs want to follow Cream and Renaissance, they will have to look at the next generation of DJs. As for it being unfair for clubs who can't get Paul, there are still 52 Fridays in a year. And it has never been that easy to book Paul. For every gig he does, we get over 20 enquiries. I'm excited about what we have done. It will have a huge impact and I'm quite prepared to take any criticism.
Judge Jules [self appointed DJ's Union Shop Steward]
"It's arrogance on Cream's part because they're ignoring what they've got. It's like me starting to play underground Detroit music. You can't go completely PLC with a club that size, spend thousands of pounds on corporate identity, own a bar and shop, have club nights and tours across the country and then say, 'We're not part of this, we're part of the underground elite'. It's blatantly bollocks. I also imagine that Golden in Manchester will mop up. Watch that club rise in 1997. In any business, you must know your product and your clientele. Cream obviously don't know either. You can have a face-lift but there's no point having a lobotomy. I also feel there is an implied, if not explicit, criticism of the "touring DJ" culture, where spinners play two or more gigs in one night. As the self-appointed shop steward of the DJs union, it seems strange that all of a sudden, one or two promoters are objecting to a practice which has existed since the late Eighties. As long ago as 1989, I remember playing my two residencies on a Saturday and then travelling to the orbital raves to spin. I believe playing different clubs on the same night doesn't encourage "playing safer". If anything, the opposite is true. Finally, playing more than one club in a night has helped rather than hindered the explosion of dance culture. The top 20 DJs in the UK receive at least 40 enquiries for each Saturday night. If each of them had confined themselves to a lone gig, then the special magnetism of top DJs would be dramatically reduced and the size of the UK dance scene would be proportionally smaller, with a lot less clubbers going out."
WHICH DJ WOULD YOU HAVE AS A RESIDENT IN YOUR CLUB?
Russell Davison (Progress, Derby)
"Jon Pleased Wimmin. He's glamourous, talented... everything a super club DJ requires. I really believe in residencies. That's why me and Pete [Progress resident DJs] finish off the last 90 minutes in the club every week. Derby has really benefited from having different DJs in the club."
Scott Bradford (Shindig, Newcastle)
"Danny Tenaglia because he never ceases to amaze us. As for the exclusive DJs, I think the punters will get bored. I don't think it's very healthy either, as a lot of the smaller clubs have no chance of booking the big-name DJs. If I had my way, I'd go back to just residents but it's gone too far."
Mark Black (Love To Be, Sheffield)
"Allistair Whitehead or Jon Pleased Wimmin because they play for the crowd. As for exclusive DJs, it's bollocks. The clubs want bums on seats and they want to fuck everyone else. It's not about the music. All that'll happen in 1997 is the bigger clubs will get bigger and the also-ran clubs will fall by the wayside."
Sian Thomas (Rise, Sheffield)
"Ian Ossia, Danny Hussain and LTJ Bukem! And we've got them anyway. The more ruthless clubs are forcing the hand of other clubs which were, until now, focused on the vibe. I think the key word is non-progressive. It's a conservative and monogamous ideal, which goes against the whole ethos of clubbing."
Paul Shurey (Universe/Voyager, London)
"Laurent Garnier. He's the one DJ who has consistently proved to have catholic taste. As for exclusive deals, I can see it's good for the DJs because it helps reduce their annual mileage. From a clubs point of view, working with one DJ helps build up a strong rapport with the crowd. After all our years promoting, our 10 biggest crowd pullers are the DJs we have stuck by for the past five years."
Charlie Chester (Canal Club, Wolverhampton)
"I spoke to Oakey about it when he was thinking through the offer, and I totally understand his reasons for taking it. Obviously I'm gutted that I won't get a date for him in 1997, but I respect his decision and I respect Cream for having the bottle to do it. I say fair play to both parties. If I could do it I would!"
Feri Kaimanesh (Passion, Coalville)
"We've just confirmed Jeremy Healy and Adrian Luv Dup as monthly residents for 1997. For a club as big as us, we have to get bums on seats first and we can't risk unknown DJs. I'm not sure if this is good for the industry, but that's the way it seems to be going. I just wonder what will happen to the small clubs."
Barney Barnett (Fun, Birmingham)
"Oakey should spread himself across the country. If he goes exclusively to a club like Cream, how can a life-long fan in somewhere like Bournemouth get to see him on a Saturday night? Not everyone can afford to travel to Liverpool. Having said that, you can always build a very good music policy around this."
Phil Gifford (Wobble, Birmingham)
"My residents, because they educate and give the crowd what they want. If I could have one exclusive DJ, it'd be Andrew Weatherall. But I don't think it's healthy. What happens when a new club opens and they need a big name to get the club off the ground? How can the scene expand if people can't get the DJs?"
Dave New (Checkpoint Charlie, Reading)
"Laurent Garnier because he plays across the board and it's a board we like. As for exclusivity with clubs, it's a case of usual fucking suspects on a corporate fucking power mission to sew up clubland for themselves. As for Oakey needing to cut down his travelling, well thank god for people like Billy Nasty who works fucking hard playing every small town for the people who want him. What's the future? Carl Cox in his bedroom doing 20 gigs to 20 clubs by ISDN link."
Jon Hill (Golden, Manchester)
"Our residents Pete Bromley and Dean Wilson because they've grown with the club and they remain an integral part of it. Golden has already felt some benefit from Cream's change of policy, as DJs like Allister Whitehead and Judge Jules are already playing for us more and they've brought people with them. But we only hold 1,000 people and we're full as it is. If anything, Cream will fill the gap left behind by the Hacienda, which was always a resident club. I think you have to applaud Cream for such a brave move and, if anyone can pull it off, they can."
Lynn Cosgrove (Ministry Of Sound, London)
"I think it's good for Paul Oakenfold and Cream and, if it goes some way to breaking records in the north, then great. Ultimately, it's all about breaking records. If the quality of the DJs work also goes up as a result, rather than people playing five gigs per night, then this is a healthy situation.
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