Dave Beer interview: (White Man) in Brixton Academy

Marko Kutlesa caught up with living legend of the UK party scene, Dave Beer, to chat nosebleeds, The Clash and Leeds' famous 'disco granny'

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 6th Apr 2018

Image: Dave Beer (source)

Dave Beer is the club impresario who has helmed the UK's longest running club night, Leeds' Back to Basics, since it opened it's doors in 1991 at The Music Factory. It has since has many homes. 

Inspired by having spent time at acid house and rave events, not to mention his years on the punk scene and as a roadie for travelling bands, Dave Beer co-founded the club with friend and original Basics DJ resident Ali Cooke. Sadly, Cooke passed away in 1993 in a car accident that also almost took Dave's life too and since then, he shunned numerous opportunities to grow Basics as a brand or as a superclub, and continued to run it in line with the original ethos he and Cooke set out.

Back to Basics prides itself on having the best resident DJs of any house music club and has counted among their number names like Ralph Lawson, James Holroyd, Huggy, Paul Woolford and Tristan da Cunha. Nevertheless, the best house DJs on the international circuit have at one stage all passed through its doors to play for its notoriously enthusiastic audience.

Dave Beer could often himself be seen in the middle of the melee, leading by wild example. He joined the residents team in the mid 90s and now plays as a guest DJ in his own right at clubs and festivals. As well as still running Basics, he also currently co-owns the Church Leeds venue.

Prior to his set at Atmosphere Festival, Seel Park, Mossley near Manchester on Saturday 26th May, Marko Kutlesa caught up with Dave Beer to ask him about raving, punk rock, Back to Basics and the strangest scenario he's even woke up in.

How do you think growing up around Wakefield in the 1980s, a time of left wing miners and rebellious alternative punks, affected your life? 

The one saving grace was The Clash. I  went away with them when I was 15. I was actually from Pontefract, which is even more like that than Wakefield. It's a small mining town and you had had only two choices there; you either go down t'pit or you don't go down t'pit. That's it. I chose not to go. It was an easy decision, a no brainer. The Clash or the pit. Coming from a town like that can be the making of you, I think it can make you appreciate a lot of things as you get older. I suppose everything else is a bonus after that. It's a historical town. The Royal Mint was there at one time. That's where Pontefract cakes come from. 

The Criminal Justice Bill damaged the illegal rave and free party scene in the UK. Do you think in doing so it benefited legal nightclubs?

Well I suppose it created a club scene again, one that didn't exist until the Criminal Justice Bill. Nevertheless it was a massive infringement on everybody's civil rights. It shouldn't have happened. I was at the Castlemorton rave, one of the last big ones which went on for days. We were all togged up in designer clothes hanging out with all these crusties with dogs on strings. Brilliant. It was one of the best times I've ever had. 

It was a really interesting time just before that bill was passed because, as you say, you had all these crusties, hippies, travellers, new age people and ravers meeting on the same outdoor events...

Yeah. When I say crusty I don't mean it in a derogatory way at all, that was just the terminology. But, yeah, it was like that. People were free to do what they wanted. 

There were a lot of travellers on that scene. I think that was one of the big issues for the police and for the impact of the bill. They could kill two birds with one stone, the travelling people and these drug crazy cheesy quavers. It was ridiculous. I don't even know if they still enforce it. You used to get 10 years for more than 50 people dancing to repetitive beats. What?? It'd be alright if you were listening to opera, but if it was house music you'd be fucked. 

Do you imagine the dance music scene in the UK would have evolved differently had that bill not been passed? 

Well they didn't have a bill like that on Ibiza or in Rimini, Italy. But I don't know. I think it probably would've been a little more free, like it should have been. I think a lot of young people today perhaps don't understand what actually happened. Some of those raves we did actually have to fight for your right to party, it was so violent sometimes from the police's side, perhaps because they'd only just been through the miners strike.

They didn't know how to deal with large crowds of people like that. Everybody was loved up, all we wanted to do was dance. They just couldn't get their heads round it. But there were some brutal reactions to it, especially by some of the Greater Manchester police. 

The difference between the audiences at places like acid house nights and illegal raves compared to some of the clubs, like Basics, which followed was that at acid house/illegal raves you really could meet just about anybody, all kinds of teenagers and young people, gangsters, football hooligans. You and others have said in the past that at this time you felt like a change in society was on the verge of happening, a greater understanding and connection perhaps between disparate members of this society was achievable. Do you think in some respects that optimism and embrace was lost when the later clubs started to be more choose-y about who they would let in?

Ooh, gosh, that's a good question. I'd like to be able to say that I wasn't part of the nazi regime that wouldn't let in people who were wearing trainers, but I'm afraid that when I opened Basics, I was.

It was a different time, you've got to remember. Like you said, you had a lot of gangsters and football hooligans and once the Es had worn off and the gangsters realised how much money there was to be made... it was like the wild west at some points in Blackburn. On the M25, the magic roundabout, there were more shooters than they had at the OK Coral. 

We'd been raving for a good few years, since 87, and it was 91 when we opened the club. By that time we already thought we'd hung our raving boots up. We wanted to open somewhere that was maybe more Balearic, for the more discerning clubber. How poncey does that sound? “More discerning clubber”! That sounds really wanky ahahaha.

Having worked with so many great resident DJs at Basics like Ali, Ralph, Huggy, James Holroyd, Paul Woolford and others, did you feel any pressure to be judged against them when you stepped out as a DJ yourself? 

Well, bless you for mentioning Ali. I didn't even think about DJing way back then. When I did, I wasn't really thinking too much about what I was doing because I was surrounded by all these amazing DJs. I've always prided myself at having the best residents in the world. That meant I could always just go out and have a great time.

As time went on, we started to realise that sometimes we were paying all these guests to come over from overseas... overweight, over here, overpaid, ha! Some of them would be falling over the mixer, couldn't put two records together and so you start to think to yourself, I better take this in hand. 

But, as far as I'm concerned, the residents have always helmed the ship. 

Basics is the longest running club night in the UK and the way you've run it is pretty unique, so it's difficult to compare it to anyone else. But over the journey of the club's life, who have you considered were your peers? 

Ooh. Gosh. That's a tricky one. Bearing in mind that I was lucky enough to be on tour in America several times from the early 90s, spending time in New York, Chicago and Detroit, I got to go to places like The Limelight, Sound Factory. I think I'd have to look overseas for our peers. Places like Angels Of Love in Italy, Space and Pacha on Ibiza. As far as the UK goes, I think we've always been... “two steps further than any other fucker” I think it says on the tin. 

Haha! Basics has had many different homes over its lifespan. Which do you think was the best and, given the benefit of hindsight, were there any that you now think weren't a great fit for the night?

[Laughs]. Given the benefit of hindsight I think a few of them must have seen me coming! I seem to have been shafted at virtually every club I've ever been involved with. 

I think moving venue every four or five years, it helps you regenerate. It shows you again why you're doing it. It's not just about making money or whatever reasons some people may have for doing clubs these days. For us it's what we do, it's a way of life, it's real. We opened that club just for our mates, in a punk rock, Balearic fashion, it wasn't ever supposed to be some big corporate business, a brand, something that would take on advertising or sponsorship. When Ali died I didn't even have a choice to go down that route. I had to stand by what we believed in, what we were about. I couldn't just change the rules without Ali being around to make half of the decisions.

The best venue? I think it would have to be the lawlessness of the Music Factory. There was nothing quite like it. For a year it was one of the top clubbing destination spots in Europe. It was insane. We had people turning up with sleeping bags from all over Europe. In a way it put Leeds on the map. Of course it wasn't just down to Basics. At one point five or so of the best club nights in the country were in Leeds, Hard Times, Up Yer Ronson, Soak, Basics, Orbit, Vague, Speedqueen. Crazy times. Thousands of people turning up. It changed the face of the economic backdrop of the city. Hotels and shops were suddenly opening instead of more kebab shops and more racist pubs. 

Nightclubs aren't always best mates with bodies like the council and police. How has your relationship with local authorities changed over the years? 

That's true. But the council have always been kinda forward thinking. It's weird. We had the 'disco granny', as we used to call her, bless her. She realised that there was no good reason we shouldn't stay open, as long as we didn't serve alcohol, and that would help stop all the trouble on the streets. All the different places used to all empty at 2 o'clock in the morning. She decided to overrule that and allowed us to stay open and that set the foundations for what Leeds wanted to become.

It gave itself 10 years to turn itself around to a more European model, like Barcelona or Amsterdam, places with a thriving counter culture. It took longer, maybe 20 years, but they actually succeeded. So, fair play to the council. 

And the police? Really, compared to everywhere else, again, they're brilliant. We're quite lucky in Leeds. It's probably one of the safest cities in the country. Touch wood, we don't really have the gang violence that many other cities have to suffer. It's such a shame, putting people on edge, you never know what's going to happen. It can kill scenes. That's what happened with Manchester, sadly enough. The Hacienda was the best place in the world to be on a Friday and Saturday night. But then, well, everybody knows what happened there. Such a shame.

Before you went into the nightclub game you were a roadie for quite a few bands. What the best live band you saw?

Best live band without a doubt, The Clash. Unbelievable energy. The say the first cut is the deepest and they sure were something else, at least while they were all still getting on. They were a force to be reckoned with.

After that, I think touring with Public Enemy, Run DMC and Pop Will Eat itself was pretty interesting. We were the only white act on the bill. It was a world tour, just after the version of 'Walk This Way' with Aerosmith had come out. Crazy tour. I remember getting hit one night at Brixton Academy by about £5 in loose change that was thrown at the band.

After that, it'd have to be Motorhead. They're part of the reason why I don't have any teeth.

Where's the strangest place or strangest scenario you've woken up in?

Oh, fuckin' 'ell, hahaha. I couldn't possibly tell you that! Even if I could remember it properly. I've woken up in some really odd scenarios. I remember one time, and I'm not 100% sure how I got there, maybe I had to get a connecting flight back from Ibiza, but I woke up outside the airport, I think in Mallorca. Me and Charlie Chester, one of my best mates, we'd got off the plane and while we waited for the next one we'd decided to go to sleep under a tree outside the airport. Unbeknownst to me I'd had a nosebleed. We woke up in a panic, we'd missed the flight, came into the airport not realising I was covered in dried blood and with ants all stuck to the blood and my face.

There are much stranger ones than that but I can't really say. Especially in New york. Sometimes we'd wake up, well, not even wake up, we'd just find ourselves in these crazy scenarios with cross dressers and transvestites in downtown Brooklyn at places like Alphabet City. We always managed to find trouble but we always managed to get out of it, thankfully enough.

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