Feature Interview : David Vincent – The success of any great club is residents, building a musical policy and building musical consistency.

Imagine Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels meets 24 Hour Party People mixed with an Alfred Hitchcock ending and you have my life story.” says David Vincent. Barely into his 40s, he’s crammed a lot in already and shows no signs of slowing down. David has been living the dream for over 20 years, taking his club brand Sankey’s from the fertile breeding grounds of Manchester during the boom of clubland in the 90s, to Ibiza and beyond.

But it’s his new night on the rave Island he’s most excited about these days, taking the clubbing aesthetic back to basics with Dance 88/89 set for Wednesdays at Sankey’s Ibiza from May 25th and a massive one off event under the same name this Easter Sunday at Victoria Warehouse in Manchester.  With all this in mind, we sat down with David to talk about his plans for 2016, his favourite clubbing memories and his life as a globally respected promoter.

Hi David, really great to meet you. Thanks for finding the time to chat with us at Decoded Magazine. You’ve been very vocal in the past about the residents you have playing for you. You’ve also remained faithful to DJs you’ve booked in the past which adds a consistency to your line ups. Has resolutely sticking with House music artists and not just picking the flavour of the month been a conscious decision?

I’ve always tried to run Sankeys as a musical venue. I believe that the success of a good nightclub is down to the residents.  I was explaining this very thing to the women from Sankeys Sabados yesterday, that when you run parties or events you’re a team.   You are not playing for yourself, you’re playing for a team.  It’s like being a football team, you’ve got Messi, he always scored the goals, but if he didn’t have a good defender or a good midfielder he wouldn’t be scoring those goals and Barcelona wouldn’t be winning those championships.  So it’s important to have good residents who know what they’re doing.  If they’re warming up, that they’re not taking the glory all for themselves, they’re doing it because they’re part of a team.

I wouldn’t say Sankey’s is a house music club, obviously I love house music, I grew up on it. I love house music more than I love any other form of music. But Sankeys is not only a house music club we play garage, we play tech house, we play techno. The success of any great club is residents, building a musical policy and building musical consistency.

How you you feel about younger promoters who choose not to invest in building a brand based on quality residents, preferring to book a line up of headliners and one or two mates to warm up?

That’s their decision at the end of the day.  That’s what makes them do what they do and makes what I do unique.  It depends what school of mentality the come from.  I come from the old school, I hate that expression.  But what I mean is, from where it all started, where it was all about residents and a musical consistency and a musical policy as I have described. The younger generation promoter is more concerned with booking an artist because you know he’s going to sell a lot of tickets, you are not necessarily booking that artist because you know he plays good music.  But at the same time I have to operate like that as well.  I have to work in those formats too.  I have to book headliners.  But at the same time we still look at building a musical consistency within those artists.  So, it’s slightly different to what I do, but I respect what they do.  If I’m booking a big event that’s exactly what I have to do and we will book some regular residents but that’s what I do.

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Dance 88/89 looks great. There’s a few UK based parties which focus on the older sounds like Retro and Wax Format for instance. Whats going to set Sankey’s apart from the rest, and what sort of crowd do you expect this party to attract?

I know Paul Taylor and I respect him but you can’t compare Retro to Dance 88/89. They don’t really have any of the original artists playing for them. It’s a completely different product, this is the real deal. When people look at the line up for Dance 88/89 they think they’re looking at an old acid house flyer, that’s how close it is. It’s as real as it gets.  It’s all the original artists. Whereas Retro, for me, was artists that weren’t fully in that period but were playing that music. It’s different. I respect it but the difference is clear by the word itself, it’s retro. Dance 88/89 is a musical format, I don’t like using the word retro, I don’t like using the words old school. I want to take people to that period and take them on a time warp, but at the same time, it’s now.  It’s like going back to the future!  On a spaceship!

Any particular weeks you’re especially psyched up for?

Not really, because they’re all as good as each other. I am looking forward to each and every one of them. When I created this event, I programmed it with all my heroes.  There’s 5 of my heroes playing every week I can’t say one week is going to be better than the others. They are all really special events.

We understand your first party was paid for from a grant to attend Manchester University. Can you tell us about some of your experiences as a lad.

When I was a lad I was in London. Londoners are very unique individuals and we didn’t go past the Watford Gap! I didn’t go to Hacienda until University in 1993, so if you are talking about when I was a lad then in 88/89 I was going around illegal raves from East London to the big raves around the M25 Counties – Surrey, Sussex, Essex, Kent – that’s where all raves were in fields and warehouses; Ecstasy Airport was a famous one.  We were part of this subculture movement, we were ‘The Trippies’!  We’d go to Clapham Common on a Sunday and sit and look at the sky!

I didn’t even know Manchester existed at this point. Manchester was a different universe, we were Londoners, we were very snobbish – we were the best! It was only when I went to University in Manchester and went clubbing there that I realised it was different, more friendly.

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Early Northern clubbing is reportedly ‘marred by gang violence’ but was that the case for the club goer?

Yes it was the case.  I remember working in Hacienda and they had video cameras. I saw some really bad things in Manchester. When you walked into the Hacienda there was this balcony on the left and underneath there were three alcoves and in each alcove there was a different gang of Manchester. You had Salford running one, Cheetham Hill in another and Moss Side in the other. Imagine if you were a student and you didn’t even know, you didn’t know anything about gangs or anything like this and you just went to sit in one of these alcoves not knowing that it was controlled by a gang.  Some of them were literally glassed or stabbed going in there and this went on at the Hacienda for a while. I saw a lot of this. There was a lot of violence.

I remember one quite famous incident in 1996, one of the security had a situation and they actually knocked a guy out. They carried him into the club and a girl saw this and called an ambulance. This ambulance came to the door and they were asking where this person was. They asked me and you know, I couldn’t say anything. I had to keep quiet. Next minute, because the ambulance couldn’t get in to get this person, the police came. And it wasn’t normal police it was Euro 1996 riot police! They shut down Whitworth Street and 200 police arrived! I was standing on the door and the police came. It was my last event that I was doing for my University friends, it was our final year and kind of like the last party of the whole summer. Imagine!

You’ve got all these students ready for their final ‘hoorah’ ending of University party, 1500 people in the club, all my friends and the police come and they say “where’s this body?”  I turned round and there was no security and no management on the door, just me: I was just the promoter. They’re saying, “who’s the management?”  And I’m like,“I suppose I am”.  They said, “Ok look we are going to shut the club down right now.” I’m like “you’re joking. Let me shut the club down. If 200 police go running in there right now with 1500 students inside it’s going to be pandemonium.  Why should they get scared, please let me do it in the correct way.” They gave literally me 2 minutes to close the whole club down. I jumped on stage and said, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.  The bad news is we have to shut right now”.  People started booing, if they’d have had tomatoes they would have thrown them I’m sure. Quickly I added, “but the good news is, the party continues at Home nightclub.”  My partner at the time looked at me and said, “Dave what are you doing?”  I said, “run over to the Home nightclub right away, we have to get everyone in there, do whatever deal you have to do”.

Anyway we ended up taking over and it was a great event, all of our DJs went on, I even remember Judge Jules playing on his bloody trumpet! But coming back to the point, these are the kind of things that would affect people, the way Manchester was, how unstable it was.  These are the sorts of situations I had to deal with as a promoter, it wasn’t like I could just focus on the party and getting people into the party, I had all these gang problems that I had to deal with.  Manchester was anarchy and I had to organise anarchy.

How did the scene you were involved with in Manchester match up to London?

I worked for Ministry, but as a consultant. Although even during University I was getting groomed for a role with them, I was being told I was going to take over the best club in world.  But I always wanted to stay as a consultant and I was an international tour manager, I cherry picked the best work with them. I’d go off on tour to Norway, Sweden or of course, Ibiza.

Manchester was different. I’d be on tour one minute with the glamour of a place like Ibiza, and then I’d come back to Manchester where it was cold and rainy and people were getting shot. Of course there was a difference. But at the same time, I’m proud of my Manchester roots,. It’s very hard to compare things. I got different kicks out of them. The kick I got in Manchester was to run a successful club in a city that was renowned for gang violence and avoid being killed you know! That was a certain kind of kick! It was crazy. The international stuff was just as enjoyable, but they were different.

Can you tell us about your involvement with Sankey’s Soap in ’94, how was the scene in Manchester?

Manchester in 1994, was a time when dance music was going into an ascendancy, it was the period when the superclubs came in.  The Acid House era peaked in 88/89, then you had the hardcore period and the mid-nineties was the superclubs.  You had Hacienda, Up Your Ronson, Back to Basics, Ministry, Cream – they were the superclubs, they were a scene; warehouse culture ended and it became club culture.  Sankeys was never a superclub, it was a super underground club.  They had a brand called Bugged Out on Friday’s which discovered people like Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers and acts like that. Then there was a party called Golden on Saturday’s.

But it wasn’t easy they were trying to do something different to the Hacienda.  What I respect about the Hacienda and it’s a part of what I do too, is that it was based around residents. Graeme Park played every week for three or 4 years, Tom Wainwright too, there was a musical consistency, it never changed, you know what to expect, you knew why you were going to the Hacienda. Yeah things changed, people started booking guests and things like that.

But Manchester still had its edge and still had it’s problems. You had 5 or 6 gangs fighting and anarchy in the clubs, people started to choose not to go to Manchester because of the gang problems. You know, why would you choose to go to Manchester when you had all these gang problems, when you could go to Leeds or Liverpool that didn’t have that. That is what we always had to deal with. However, on the other side of it, because of this anarchy in the city, there was no atmosphere like Manchester, when it went off there was nothing like it anywhere. You’d have the scallys and the students and everyone all mixed together, it was like this fruit salad you know.  I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the quote from Steve Rubell the owner of Studio 54 when he said that the best type of club is when you have this salad, this mix of people when you have gays, Hispanics, gangsters, city people –  when you have that mix that’s what creates a great club and that’s what Manchester had. But sometimes it did get too dark. Some of the things I saw. I was just walking up the stairs in the Hacienda one night and there’s a guy just standing there holding a gun, outside the DJ box…

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A staple of Mancunian clubland for many years, Sankey’s Soap became synonymous with the legacy Northern clubs were creating. What was it for you, that made the brand so recognised?

The legacy of Sankeys is that it broke a lot of artists. They were the first club that Daft Punk played for. There’s not many clubs that can say Daft Punk played for them, how many people can say Daft Punk played in my club?  It was the club that broke The Chemical Brothers. A lot of artists that have become successful were broke by Sankeys, that’s it’s legacy above most clubs. It always pushed the boundaries, tried to be the first and that legacy continues. We always try to be that first club that breaks artists. That period was before my time by the way, it was Andy Spiro and Rupert Campbell – God rest his soul, he passed last year and was the Godfather of Sankeys Soap.

The funny thing is though, sometimes the market forces make you to do that. With the way the dance music industry is, DJs play within a circuit, certain clubs, if you’re a new club you can’t book those artists, it’s like a closed door, it’s a monopoly, so what you have to do is you to try to do something different and what Sankeys Soap did differently was to book the next wave of artists, and it’s always been like that; we always had to do that.  But whereas in the past we had to, now it’s part of the policy and people expect that from us.

We understand the gamble to buy Tribal Gathering in 1998 left quite a bitter taste in your mouth. You took 2 years away from the scene to re-evaluate things, and came back stronger than ever in 2000 with a rebranded Sankey’s. No doubt a lot of soul searching took place during that dark time in your life. What got you through?

A dog actually! I had a girlfriend at the time and she had these puppies and couldn’t keep them.  During this period I was unemployed for 2 years because if you’re someone in my position that’s had such highs it’s really hard for you to go and work for somebody, you’re unemployable…I am unemployable! I can’t work for anyone. So if I fuck this up I can never work for anyone in dance music, I’m too single minded.

My girlfriend at the time had two dogs with three pups who started becoming dogs and her family said they couldn’t have 5 dogs in the house and to give some away. There was one I really liked called Buffy, and she said she was going to Battersea dogs home and I said “no don’t do that I like Buffy I’ll take him home!

So I did, and the thing about dogs is, they give you pure unconditional love. I didn’t have much love then. In the music industry you’re only as good as your last party. You can have the best CV in the world but the moment you start to fuck up you become like a leper, no-one wants to know you, that’s what I hate about the music industry, they’ve a very short memory, one minute you’re a superstar and the next minute you’re a nobody. The thing about dogs is, they don’t give a shit about all that! They love you regardless. This dog made me happy, and when you’re happy you can start being creative again and I would start thinking about, “How do I get out of this mess?”, cos I was completely skint. I’d no money.

Eventually one night I came up with the idea of re-opening Sankeys Soap against all the odds.  I didn’t think oh no, this clubs shutdown. There were various ideas. People might think how do you open a nightclub in Manchester, how did you get the money? How did you get this how did you get that? But when you’re in a positive frame of mind you very easily change the cant’s into the can’s.  You don’t say how come I can’t do this, you ask HOW can I do it? The problems we had, the questions were like, “How can we stop the gangsters from taking over the club? How can we get the DJs we want to play for us? How can we get an investor?” You start thinking positively and eventually I re-opened the club. But I’d say the reason for my success at that time was down to that dog. The dog made me happy and he got me out of the dark times.

Photography by: https://www.facebook.com/justingardnerphotography

 

 

We understand you believe Danny Tenaglia is a single greatest DJ on the planet! Can you tell us the story behind the first time you booked him?

This all ties in actually to how I got back into the music industry. The first time I booked him was in 1998. He’d done his first ever UK tour and he had to do 3 shows in one night, Manchester, Nottingham and London. I’d heard a lot about him and I’d heard a little bit of his music. Each show he could only play an hour and a half and that hour and a half I listened to him, I witnessed and heard the greatest music I had ever heard in my life. Danny Tenaglia, if you really get it, was the first DJ to play tech house.  You have to understand, it was either techno or house then, tech house didn’t exist. Danny Tenaglia was the first person to do the tech house thing and I listened to him and was just like, “WOW!”

Then in 2000 I went to the Miami Winter Music Conference and this is when it WAS the Miami Music Conference. I’d bought Tribal Gathering but I didn’t have any money and the WMC was for networking, you never quite knew who you were partying with you know, it could be your next business partner. That’s the way it rolled. At the time I was down to my last £1000 and I thought, “fuck it do you know what, this is my last roll of the dice, if I don’t get something out of this conference, I’m leaving the music industry!

There were so many parties, every DJ in the world was playing, 10 or 15 nights every night, maybe 500 DJs a night, every promotion and club brand in the world.  You know you’d look at these line-ups and there were like 100 DJs.  But there was this one party that just said, Danny Tenaglia, 12 hour set. I thought, “THAT’S who I want to listen to!”  My flight was going at 6am that morning and I had no money left, this was before I’d had Sankeys Soap and I had nothing, I was gone! Up until this point yes I’d had a good time but I hadn’t really achieved much from the conference and I went to this party at Groovejet with Danny playing a marathon set. I was completely in a trance listening to his music. I remember it was the first time he ever played his track called Be Yourself, it had just come out.

He played it at the beginning and he played it in the middle and as I was getting more and more into the party the time was ticking and my flight was getting closer and I was just loving the music so much, I didn’t want to leave. I remember I was with Carl Cox and some other people and friends in the industry were telling me just to stay and miss my flight, they didn’t know my financial situation!  I had no money left but it’s not something I’d say to people in the music industry, you know, you’re trying to big yourself up.  In the end I thought “Fuck It!” Everyone was telling me to stay and Tenaglia’s music was just sooo good and I wanted to see if he would play ‘Be Yourself’ at the end.

With Tenaglia he tells a story, a beginning a middle and a conclusion and I wanted to hear the conclusion of that event. I wanted to close the party. So I closed the party, I missed my flight, he played Be Yourself and at that moment I realised I couldn’t leave the music industry. It wasn’t ready for me to leave, I still loved it and listening to Tenaglia got me enthusiastic about the whole industry again.  The funny thing is that when I left the club there was this massive torrential rainstorm and everyone was running and I had no money and I found this big wad of cash! 800 dollars! It was like God threw some money at me. Ever since then I’ve always gone to the conference been at his marathon sets.

Haha, thats wild! You’ve lived in Ibiza for a few years now, and I imagine have a better idea of the seasons and states of mind the islanders go through. We read you particularly enjoy going to the Fish Shack and Tantra in Playa den Bossa, have you found any other places worthy of a mention?

This may surprise people but I like hanging out in Ushuaia, I like sitting there and eating my Sushi and drinking my champagne at ANTS! That might be controversial but I love it! I like going to a lovely beach called Sa Caleta and there’s another great restaurant near Es Vedra called Es Boldero. There’s a great fish stew it’s amazing. I like hanging about in Santa Gertrudis too, it’s such a beautiful little village, it’s got such an amazing vibe, you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. The thing about Ibiza is that you can always discover new things, maybe I haven’t been as adventurous as I should be but there’s so many great things to discover all the time about the island and I’m blessed to say that I live here.

Many of our readers will be contemplating spending the season this year in Ibiza, what advice would you offer them as regards securing work, somewhere to live and generally living in Spain?

The first thing I will say is that in my opinion that European Health Card is not worth you know what! I nearly died the other year and I had to go into Can Misses and I had a very bad experience.  For what it’s worth pay for private health insurance, it might cost £70/80 a month, maybe less, but to have that security to know that you can go straight into a private hospital and be treated like a human being, that would be the first thing that I would do.

In terms of finding somewhere for the summer I mean it depends if you are a student you might be restricted as to when you can come but the best time to get a job is going to be in May.  So you could start by coming to the Sankeys Opening Party on May 1st haha! There is actually an interesting fact that everyone should be aware of which is that it costs the same to rent a place to live for the whole year as it does just for the summer. So actually you’re better off doing a 12 month contract than a 6 month contract because it actually works out around the same.  So you’re better coming early and finding it early and having something for 12 months.

Regarding finding work, always best the way is if you know somebody who knows somebody, to try those avenues first before you get here, rather than going to all the trials as there are hundreds of people at those and you get like a 30 second chance to make a good impression. So don’t turn up to a meeting when you went to the Space opening the day before and your jaw is like going in different directions, that’s not going to work! Make sure that you are there on time and that you know about the company that you’re approaching.

I always ask people, “What do you know about Sankeys?” And if they didn’t know about Sankeys or they didn’t even go to the club, then I wouldn’t employ them.  I want people that are passionate about the club, passionate about the brand.  Even if you have to lie, don’t ever say you haven’t been in the place you’re approaching or you’ve got no chance! Do your research, find out who owns the nightclub, find out who works there and what parties are on. Find out how old the club is. These are the kind of things that employers want to know, that you’re joining the club not just for money but because you’re passionate about it.

But if you know somebody that knows somebody that can get you a meeting, then do that. The common things is that most people work here to party, the working is just a means to an end, people are coming here to party but the people who get to the top here are the people who work hard, the people for whom the working is the important thing and the partying is secondary. If you can make that impression that that’s why you’re here and you can do that, you will stand out.

Well, I think we could talk for hours more David, it’s been really insightful to meet you. We wish you every success with the 2016 season, and here’s to 20 more years of Sankeys!