@ 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
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
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
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.
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
- The club was busy but not rammed or even full. It got
going later than it used to - after 11 - and it started
- 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.
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!).
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.