It’s amazing to think how much clubland has evolved over the last thirty years. House music was first being played at midweek parties in Manchester and London as early as 1985, spiralling into illegal raves before it became a mainstay of the weekend as the nineties swept in.
The dawn of the superclub followed, before that too was consigned to history. Now media attention focuses on the supposed death of the nightclub, replaced by one-off parties in unusual locations and the UK’s insatiable thirst for festivals as venues are swallowed by the gentrification of our cities.
You’d be hard pressed to find an institution which encapsulates many of those changes quite like Liverpool brand Cream, arguably the most infamous and revered nightlife institution of all time. After opening in 1992, Cream defined big room abandon with a formula of first US house and then pumping trance, following that with Ibiza domination before establishing the UK’s first true dance music festival in Creamfields.
They were also the first big casualty, so to speak, of the end of the superclub era when they stopped being a weekly club in spring 2002. That move was seen at the time as the death of clubland as we know it, but it was really just evidence of the savvy that has defined Cream all along.
Creamfields became bigger alongside an event portfolio that includes concerts from stadium superstars such as Zedd and Steve Aoki alongside the Asylum, a collaboration with Freeze which sees dance music transported to a former mental hospital as opposed to the usual club formula. 23 years since they first opened, Cream is still one step ahead of the curve.
Recently they even managed to squeeze the gentrification angle into their resume. Cream as many had known it was no more - it hadn't been for years, its evolving musical palette moving on from the days when every Saturday Liverpool was the centre of the electronic universe. But the reaction to Nation closing in 2016, announced in the summer, caused a huge response from clubbers who'd cut their teeth raving in those hallowed walls.
Never mind that the club was being replaced, this was the destruction of a building with a huge emotional tug for thousands. People met their best mates or the people they would have children with on those dancefloors. Personally, it was where this writer first fell in love with electronic music, a career eventually spawned from those precious moments in Nation at the turn of the century.
October 17th saw the chance to relive those days when the first of three finale events took place. It's likely that for ravers under the age of 25 this event will have passed many of them by, but for those longer in the tooth it was the only place to be. It boasted a simply stunning line up made up of many of the greats that defined Cream during that glorious stint from 1992 to 2002.
We arrived unusually early for a 6am finish party, just before ten, but already the club was filling with a huge number of people. We waltzed in via the Annexe as Andy Carrollwas playing to a heaving crowd lapping up his every move, the strands of Daft Punk's timeless remix of Scott Grooves' 'Mothership Connection' (above) rumbling out of the infamous soundsystem to a sea of grins.
Moving towards the bar, we looked up to see the dreaded 'one in one out' sign above the Courtyard's door besides a ridiculous cloakroom queue. The set times had been announced earlier which meant that if you wanted to be in that hallowed room you needed to do so before 10:30 or wait until the man most had come to see, Paul Oakenfold, had finished. High on the prospect of trance led nostalgia we camped in there from the off.
Those inescapable feelings of being back in that room instantly came flooding back. Making your way to the toilet via that dark sinuous staircase, struggling to get served at the bar, and the sweltering heat as people crammed in - it was exactly the same as it was during the big nights of the nineties. So many of the old faces had returned too; aged of course, but no less friendly and up for it.
For all its international renown and global lustre, Cream, particularly during the halcyon Oakenfold dominated days, had a touch of the everyman about its crowd. It may have been in Liverpool but it was made up of huge numbers from elsewhere, as convoys of vehicles snaking in from the Midlands, North Wales, South Scotland and the North of England would deliver scores of partygoers week after week.
They made up a musically passionate audience devoid of snobbery yet exactly aware of what they wanted. The chants that accompanied the sea of raised hands were a Cream trademark, for one night reappearing to a soundtrack which celebrated everything from that near perfect era.
Musically it was all you could have asked for. Anthony Probyn kicked off with a set which eschewed the classic notion of warm up in place of a blistering assault of anthems, Sebastien Leger's Rolando aping 'Jaguar' and Mark Knight's Laurent Garnier homage 'Man With The Red Face' among them.
His excellent start was continued by ninety minutes of stunning progressive house from Tilt, the producers who arguably delivered more Courtyard anthems than any other. Taking in 'West On 27th' from Killahurtz and the majestic Der Dritte Raum's 'Hale Bopp', their measured approach ratcheted excitement to dizzying levels, particularly when closing with their version of piano monster 'Children'.
Following on was the first superstar resident of the night in Seb Fontaine. His groove driven onslaughts which would rapidly turn into euphoric barrages of trance were a cornerstone of his residency in the Main Room, and transplanted to the Courtyard did nothing to dim that devastating effect.
From the off he was hell bent on traversing through a litany of classics, the unmistakable vocals of Andrea Brown covering Jill Scott's 'Trippin' starting the ball rolling. In they flew - Signum 'Comin on Strong', Delerium 'Silence' and Felix 'Don't you want me' among them - but what made it so memorable was how well pitched the set was.
#CreamMemoriesThis is one of our favourite memories from the Cream Grand Finale Part 1 with Seb Fontaine What is your favourite memory / video / photograph from the last 23 years?Cream at Nation will come to an emotional end this Boxing Day, be a part of history – The final remaining tickets available now at Skiddle
The pace at any point never let off and it resulted in a near flawless offering from a true master of driving euphoria of the highest order. As he took to the mic to utter his last words, letting the crowd know he came back to say goodbye after the best three years of his life, he left to the strains of mega hit 'Fiji' from Atlantis which defined his tenure (above), causing misty eyed abandon from the crammed to the rafters room.
Then it was time for the don himself. Paul Oakenfold's two-year residency is arguably the most revered and influential stint in clubland, a weekly exercise in slowly unleashing classic upon classic to an adulating crowd for 24 months, a run which epitomised main room dance music in the nineties.
His set had already been pre-decided in a fan vote, and overall it was exactly as promised; a rip-roaring two hours through the records which defined his residency. The bouncy grooves of Groovezone 'Eisbaer' and Amoeba Assassin 'Rollercoaster' were offset by the dreamy melodies of Push's 'Universal Nation' and Solarstone's 'Seven Cities, topped off by the final track and ultimate Oakey anthem - CJ Bolland's foreboding 'The Prophet'.
This wasn't a classic Oakenfold set in regards to the delivery or timing (Fontaine clearly edged that), and the emotionally gripping superhero circa 1997 is clearly no longer the force he was. That said, it was an unrelenting trip through memory lane, a reminder of when this man and this room was literally as good as it gets. Even the odd dodgy mix, something which was prevalent during his less judgemental heydey, couldn't dampen what was a special unrepeatable moment in time.
Once he finished it finally freed up the opportunity to explore the other rooms. We caught Roger Sanchez dropping rump shaking house grooves, greeted the second airing of Felix via K-Klass with wide-eyed abandon and witnessed Dave Seaman and Paul Bleasdale both power into the early hours with measured and dark sets delivered with considerable technical acumen.
Despite a crowd with an average age well over their thirties, plenty were wringing as much time out of their last few moments in the building, each room throbbing to a throng hell-bent on partying for as long as possible. People belied their age to fall back in love with dance music at its most alluring.
Everything about Cream was always centred on an experience unattainable anywhere else. The marketing managed to encapsulate this with devastating simplicity, and for close to a decade a creaky building in Liverpool housed the finest DJs in the world playing to the best and most responsive crowd the planet could deliver.
For nine dreamy hours that lost era once again became a reality. We'll never see a club quite like this again, and in the interests of evolution and progress, we probably don't need one. But for one more time Nation was again the hot ticket, the ultimate Saturday night.