There’s an absolute riot of a party planned for the Bristol Sounds harbourside finale this month… We found out more from ex-Haçienda DJ Graeme Park – who’s undergone a bit of classical conditioning
“Probably the best rave since 1997,” said the New Musical Express of famed house DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering’s adventurous live collaboration with Manchester Camerata. They’ll take that, we reckon – just as Bristol is bound to lap up the Madchester rave-cum-classical shindig when it hits the Harbourside as part of Bristol Sounds at the end of the month.
The Haçienda Classical ensemble, inspired by the glory days of late-Eighties and Nineties venue The Haçienda, is going to great lengths to gear up for the gig – playing the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury the day before. And while that’s sure to be a fab follow-up for the morning slot that last year saw Damon Albarn and the The Orchestra of Syrian Music open the festival, secretly, our money’s on the Bristol gig being the more epic. We can see it now – darkness descending over the harbour while we ready our game faces and prepare our most outlandish dance moves for reinterpretations of seminal dance classics, performed with a 40-piece orchestra to bring The Haçienda’s vibrant heritage dramatically to life via the medium of classical music.
Haçienda Classical doing what they do best… image © Craig Barker
We spoke to Graeme – one half of the club’s original DJ duo – as he prepared to bring a rousing new set to the West Country…
The Bristol Magazine: So… Is it a concert or is it a rave?
Graeme: That is a great question because when we did the first show, everyone thought it would be a grown-up concert, but it turned into a rave which threw us a bit. The second show still felt like a rave so we went off to tweak and adapt it further to make sure it was a combination of both and people could sit and listen if they wanted – but most people choose to dance. It’s a classical show in the sense that Manchester Camerata bring out beautiful versions of the classics we have chosen. The rave factor is where we come in with the decks. Because of the content and nature of what we’re doing, people forget their inhibitions and let loose, which is a great thing to experience.
Conductor Tim Cooks is key to the show and helped the duo work out the set, image © Steven Sibbald
How did the idea to involve an orchestra come about?
It was thrown about many times. The thing about the Haçienda brand is that a lot of people who used to go to the club are all grown up now. We still do club nights and the people who come along have either heard of The Haçienda or want to see what it’s like. We noticed the audience was getting younger and younger, and they expected contemporary music – and as a DJ, you cater to your audience. Then the older crew became less prominent and would moan that they didn’t know the songs, which we wanted to fix. One night, Peter Hook, Paul Fletcher and I were sat in a bar at 6am when two musicians came down with their instrument cases. We spotted them and joked that that was what we should do. After a few minutes we thought; hang on! So we decided to do a tour and it worked out greater than we expected. It’s got a wide appeal – the older crowd get to witness their favourite songs in a grown-up environment and then you get the younger crowd who want to experience what they grew up listening to or what their parents have talked about over the years.
The spirit of Manchester’s Haçienda club lives on in Haçienda Classical, image © Craig Barker
It must be nice to have a new generation feeling the spirit of the club?
It is – so many people are way too young to have gone to The Haçienda, but they have parents who harp on about it all the time so they come out of curiosity. As a DJ it’s great because you don’t want to stand still; you want to keep moving. Another big thing to note is that the songs we select have never been performed live by the people who created them in the first place so it’s exciting. It’s just great when I look out into the crowd and see kids that are as young as mine dancing away and enjoying the experience – so we must be doing something right.
Do you change up the set much?
Many months go into the planning of a set and with a 40-piece orchestra there’s a lot of work involved. So once you’re committed, that’s pretty much it – you can’t just change it. Mike Pickering and I play alongside the orchestra and we can add to and shorten the set but we can’t make last-minute edits. When we created the set list last year, we started with warming up the crowd, slowly building up, but we realised that we wanted to hit people with a big song to kick things off so now we always start with a massive, in-your-face anthem before taking it down a little bit and building up again.
We’ve performed our new set a couple of times now and it has gone really well with the orchestra. It’s different compared to the world of DJing, where you can make it up as you go along. An orchestra has an arrangement and a score – they have to read and play what is there.
“Every city, venue and show is different…”
Who orchestrates the music, and how do you get the right balance?
Another great question. Mike Pickering and I picked the tracks and sat down with Tim Crooks who is the conductor at Manchester Camerata to discuss what was possible. Tim went away, scored and arranged the tracks and then came back with some ideas while we recreated the parts that an orchestra can’t do – mainly the electronic parts. We worked on it until literally a few days before the show to make sure it worked and the next thing we knew, we were on stage in front of 6,000 people. It’s a proper collaboration where two worlds collide and I think we’ve managed to fix all the issues and address the problems so now they exist in harmony.
What’s the typical audience?
Every city, venue and show is different. Our first show in Manchester Bridgewater Hall was full of classical heads who were there out of curiosity, while the Royal Albert Hall was filled with an affluent middle-class crowd, but it soon became clear that a lot of them used to go raving because of the atmosphere. You also get a lot of people who used to go to Haçienda which is a good thing.
Happy Mondays’ Bez was a special guest when the ensemble performed in Manchester,
image © Stuart Westwood
What do you see today that is a direct result of the Haçienda?
You still get the universal language of yellow and black diagonal stripes which resemble The Haçienda branding. Peter Saville designed that and you see it today on flyers and posters – in the back of your head, you associate it with The Haçienda. It opened some 35 years ago now, but you still see its influence today. Ben Kelley designed The Haçienda’s interior and a lot of the clubs these days use the same stark, industrial furniture. The warehouse culture is also more popular these days – it’s just legal now. A lot of the young producers today are making music that sounds like what we used to play and it excites me to see young people replicating their own version.
Do you think there will ever be a bricks-and-mortar incarnation again?
There’s been talk over the years. But you don’t need bricks and mortar – what you offer is more important. Modern clubbers like the variety of different venues, but places such as Cream in Liverpool and Cable in London are getting shut down at a remarkable rate. The cost is astronomical unless you’re leasing out your venue to other club nights. The whole landscape is different now. People also love festivals, one-off pop-up events and warehouse parties so the idea of a physical Haçienda is nice but not essential.
“It’s no exaggeration to say every night with Mike Pickering between 1988 and 1992 was amazing and every Saturday between 1992 and 1997 was equally as great but in a different way…”
“People love festivals, one-off pop-up events and warehouse parties so the idea of a physical Haçienda is nice but not essential”, image © Craig Barker
What’s the best story you’ve heard relating to the club?
That’s difficult… It’s no exaggeration to say every night with Mike Pickering between 1988 and 1992 was amazing and every Saturday between 1992 and 1997 was equally as great but in a different way. Every New Year’s Eve at the Haçienda was next-level and every birthday party was phenomenal. It was a rollercoaster ride for the nine years I was there. DJs don’t tend to do residencies anymore but what they don’t realise is that you develop your craft and learn how to play to different crowds. In my humble opinion, the more travelling they do and venues they play, the more likely they are to play just like everyone else because they don’t know what that town and club is into. At The Haçienda I knew what I could get away with.
Do you think other genres would translate to classical as well?
You don’t know until you try. We didn’t know how lush Voodoo Ray, acid jazz or Happy Mondays would sound with an orchestra. Hip hop has a strong bass and Revolver and Sergeant Pepper by The Beatles are full of strings, so I can’t see why these wouldn’t work.
How do you know which tunes are going to work?
We don’t! Mike and I are always throwing ideas around and putting them together in a mix. Sometimes we come across songs without any strings but we think; “Maybe they can play this synth riff instead”. We get the conductor, Tim, involved to see which tracks work. Our set list at the beginning was twice as big as what we have today but there is no way we could trial-and-error all of them.
Have you come up against purists who don’t like the arrangements?
There was one person who posted something online after a show in Leeds. We had 40 hours full of praise and compliments – which you don’t assume – but among that was one person suggesting we were just cashing in on The Haçienda name. But that was just one person and I bet he’s a bag of laughs at a dinner party… If we had received lots of negative comments, we would’ve reconsidered but that wasn’t the case so we continue to look forward.
Why is it important to preserve the history of clubs like the Haçienda?
People take so much for granted today. Those under 30 were brought up with plenty of choice, lots of DJs, clubs open until 6am – everything on the doorstep, and varied prices. In the ’80s there were a lot of grim places, and limited club options just offering what was in the charts. But there was a growing movement of innovative venues like The Garage in Nottingham, Wad Club and Lakota in Bristol that were doing something different and soon, just through word of mouth, people were travelling across from all over the country to listen to music you couldn’t find elsewhere, with like-minded people. And of course, back then, you couldn’t download the songs so the only way to hear them again would be to go back the next week…
Haçienda Classical play at Bristol Sounds on 24 June; to buy tickets visit seetickets.com
Lead image by Steven Sibbald