When Graeme Park recalls the colourful era of legendary Manchester club The Hacienda, the nostalgia is palpable.
As one of the in-house DJs, he had a commanding view from the decks. More than the sweaty, heaving mass of bodies on the dance floor, he remembers that hedonism pared with a positive carefree spirit and inclusiveness.
Friendships and marriages were formed at the club, he says, and provides a receptive audience with plenty of groundbreaking music and acts.
The club’s ethos is now being celebrated with Hacienda Classical. Tomorrow and Friday, Park will lead a 70-strong orchestra, consisting of key members of the experimental ensemble the Manchester Camerata, and Dubai Opera’s in-house orchestra, to perform dance music anthems synonymous with the club. And there will be a special appearance from New Order bassist Peter Hook.
A club of legends
Those looking to completely relive the moment, however, will be disappointed. Park explains that no amount of dazzling lights and expert musicianship can bring back the joys of those heady nights. “It had an atmosphere, reputation and a kind of romanticism that money couldn’t buy,” he says. “And the best thing about it was that it grew organically. Nobody planned for it to be this big, super-club, it just happened. And like any organic thing, it reaches an end. It kind of shrivels up and dies.”
While the club quietly shut its doors in 1997, owing to financial reasons, The Hacienda’s 15-year run is remembered for putting the United Kingdom’s industrial city of Manchester on the music map.
Set up by electro-pop group New Order and its music label Factory Records, the club opened in 1982 in a former warehouse that repaired yachts. It took its name from a slogan used by the European socialist revolutionary group Situationist International – “The Hacienda Must Be Built” – and the club’s artistic vision was eclectic at best. Designed by Ben Kelly (who also worked with the Sex Pistols), the venue funnelled patrons through a narrow corridor before they entered a vast cavernous space consisting of a stage, dance floor, cafeteria, balcony and DJ booth.
Two of The Hacienda’s bars – Kim Philby and Hicks – were named after the British rogue spies, the latter being the code name for Guy Burgess. Meanwhile a nod was given to the venue’s industrial roots with hazard lines painted on the ground warning patrons of forklift trucks.
Despite the legendary names that played there – from Madonna's debut UK performance in 1984 as part of the live television broadcast of the music programme The Tube, to home town heroes The Smiths – it was on the decks where the club made its reputation.
Playing all the latest sounds
The Hacienda was one of the first British clubs championing house music. Park and fellow resident DJ Mike Pickering (who will also perform in Dubai) were keen on playing the latest dance music records coming from the burgeoning electronic music movement in the United States. “We were playing all this cool and really obscure acid house music from Chicago and early Detroit techno-tracks,” he says. “Stuff from Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson.”
That adventurous spirit, best exemplified by the club’s legendary Friday night parties, which it branded “Nude”, was mainly down to the unspoken agreement Park and Pickering had with co-club owners New Order. “We were given total freedom. The band would come to the club regularly and never questioned what we were doing,” he says. “At the end of the day, I think they knew that if they started to interfere with what we did, we would tell them to go away.”
Post-Hacienda, Pickering has been focusing on developing his solo career, as well as getting involved with the odd European gig with Park for sets honouring the legendary Manchester club.
Strings and beats
Park explains that the idea for Hacienda Classical was hatched in 2016, and was supposed to be another one-off event. Its opening run of UK shows sold out in less than 10 minutes, but this doesn’t come as a complete surprise; the format is tried and tested – British DJ Pete Tong and the Heritage Orchestra also performed a sold-out beats and strings concert, Ibiza Prom, a tribute to the club sounds of the Spanish party island, at the Royal Albert Hall in 2015.
Like that performance, Park and Pickering will spin records from a high deck, while the stage below will be crammed with the 70-piece orchestra. The ensemble will be bolstered by a quartet of vocalists who will deliver the hooks to a range of seminal dance tracks such as 1994's Back to Love by The Brand New Heavies, Marshall Jefferson's 1986 hit Move Your Body and 1990's Ride on Time by Black Box.
The pinnacle of the show, however, will be New Order's Peter Hook performing the band's much-loved song Blue Monday. Where the appeal of the 1983 track lies in the cynical lyrics and disembodied sound of the vocals, Park says it takes on a more hopeful vibe with the addition of an orchestra. "Wait 'til you hear it with the string section doing these amazing, soaring, lush, beautiful, live strings over the beats," he says. "And then, the choir will back Hook on vocals. One of our singers, Ray Hall, ad-libs alongside Hook, and all the time, you got the strings in the background. And then, you got me doing the electronic bits up at the back. It's just amazing."
The Dubai Opera show also marks Park’s biggest gig in the emirate yet. The UAE regular says that the idea of him performing at such a venue was unthinkable when he first played here two decades ago. “I first DJed in Dubai in 1998 when it seemed like there were just three hotels and a road,” he says.
“I’ve seen it grow and expand over the past 20 years, and I’ve had some amazing nights in Dubai. And I’m really looking forward to coming out again.”
Hacienda Classical will perform at Dubai Opera on Thursday and Friday at 9pm. Tickets cost from Dh250 at www.dubaiopera.com