Mike Pickering

Legendary Hacienda DJ Mike Pickering talks about his roots

The Hacienda is almost synonymous with Manchester and, indeed, the modern clubbing experience.

Owned by Factory Records, the club took its name from the radical Situationist philosophy that underpinned the 1968 student riots in Paris. Promising to show avant garde film as well as the latest bands, the Hacienda eventually became famous as a bastion of the emerging house scene – such was life at Factory!

The Hacienda revolutionized clubbing with its lush interior and astonishing atmosphere – it is no exaggeration to say that the Hacienda changed people’s lives. The Chemical Brothers were inspired to create dance music after a visit there, and countless smaller clubs and labels formed in its wake. However, nothing lasts forever, and the club closed in 1997 after being plagued by years of gangland violence.

Legendary DJ Mike Pickering took the time to talk to us about his early days in Factory band Quando Quango, and his role as a pivotal figure at the Hacienda.

Q – What was it that got you into music? And what was your first experience of a nightclub?

It was like a secret society almost

Blimey! I feel I’ve always been into music: my parents listened to a lot of music and then they got me into Motown, and soul. The first clubs that I went to were youth clubs playing Northern Soul and Motown. I was too young to get into Twisted Wheel – which was a really famous Northern Soul club – but we used to go to the Blackpool Mecca on a Saturday night. That was my first experience, really.

Q – That’s the famous Highland Room. What impression did it make on you?

It was brilliant. Watching so many people dancing to soul music, it was amazing. It was like a secret society almost.

Q – How did you become involved with Factory? You were mates with Rob Gretton first, is that right?

Yeah I was. But I was also a manager, I used to sing in bands in the Manchester punk scene, around 1977. I used to hang around with Joy Division and Rob, but then I went to live in Holland and people that I squatted with in an old waterworks had an old hall and they said “if you want to use the hall, you can do”. So we cleared everything out and got a generator in, built a temporary stage and had loads of stuff on. I did my first real DJ-ing there, in Rotterdam. I was playing Chic and so on which was weird in those days. Also, we put loads of bands on. Amongst other things I put on New Order’s second ever gig after Ian died, and when Rob came over he said “we want to open a club in Manchester, you’ve got to come back you can stay at my house”. So I actually went home almost immediately – I wanted to come back anyway. They had just bought the building that became the Hacienda at that point.

Q – Did Quando Quango form during your stay in Holland?

Yeah. The other girl in it was Dutch. There was quite a good music scene out there at the time, with bands like Tuxedo Moon, Allez Allez and Liason Dangerouse, influenced by the No Wave New York scene with DNA and James White and the Blacks. There was quite an electronic feel to the left-field stuff.

Q – To what extent was Factory a community? Were you all friends?

A lot of us were. Quando Quango’s band was augmented by Donald Johnson and Simon Topping from A Certain Ratio, then we had Barry’s brother on bass. We’d all tour together – you used to get a Factory night with three bands from Factory on. We’d all be touring Northenr Europe or France – it was great.

Q – The early days of the Hacienda are said to be a bit of a flop – is this true, would you say?

It was my job to book DJs, bands, events everything on that side. Yeah there were nights when there were only a 100 people in, but I have to say that those 100 had a fantastic time. It was a great night.

Q – What were the acoustics like for bands?

Well if it was empty it was a bit of a nightmare really. I remember on the opening day they’d finally finished the PA and I thought “oh shit this is awful” and while people go on about it, it was actually better than all the other clubs as they were like four transistor radios firing together. I remember Liz Fraser from the Cocteau Twins crying during her soundcheck – poor thing! We sorted that out with acoustic battling, it wasn’t like that in the Acid House era. By about 85 / 86 we’d sorted that out. It was all concrete and metal, plus it was a huge space so the sound just vanished.

Q – The Hacienda is portrayed as an overnight success – was this the case?

It was before that, to be honest, the Saturday nights were always full. We had other nights that drew a lot of people – people just didn’t start coming in 1988. I had the Nude night on a Friday fro about 1986 and it was always 400 under capacity – 1600 people on a Friday. Saturday night was always full, though it was a more Face-orientated crowd – it was at that time when the Face was a really big magazine. It was that kind of trendy crowd. It was just during the week that we had problems.

Q – You mentioned the Face crowd, Nude was a Perry Boy audience – how did this come about?

It was the first of its type, because what I wanted was for my mates to get in. Everywhere in clubland in Britain at that time, if you were a complete thug and wore a shirt and tie then you got in and could cause trouble. But if you wore a nice Armani top and some nice trainers, then you couldn’t get in – and that’s what we all were. That’s what New Order were, what Rob and I were so we shook it up a bit. We made it free to people who were on the dole and it was brilliant – it was the first place to accept those kinds of people.

Q – What was the music policy at Nude?

We had everything. We had electro, we had what I suppose would evolve into house – Colonel Abrahams, all that kind of stuff. Then we’d have Northern Soul tracks, and Simon Topping used to have thirty minutes where he’d play Latin stuff he’d picked up in Lower East Side New York. We set the tempo, as it wasn’t really the kind of stuff that other clubs would be playing. If I liked it and the crowd liked it then that was it really. So we had records that were really, really big at the Hacienda that have never been big anywhere else.

Q – You are also pivotal in getting the Happy Mondays signed – what was it about them that stuck out?

They’re like fucking accountants in tight jeans

I thought that Shaun had a great voice, and as a band they were good. I saw them in Salford Youth Club and I just thought they were perfect to come out of the whole Perry Boy scene. The Mondays had a beatnik look, with flared trousers and big baggy jumpers – they looked quite different. They just had it. In A&R you can just walk in say “they’ve got it”. Little did we know what we were letting ourselves in for!

Q – You produced their first EP – what was that like?

They didn’t even have a drum kit! We had to get an old keyboard and sample the sounds. They didn’t want to leave the studio as it had a pool table and a telly. It was the first time they’d ever been in one so they were quite fascinated, it was difficult to get them out of the studio to be honest. The keyboard player said it was better than his house.

Q – When did things start to go wrong in the Hacienda?

Well they went wrong in Manchester from about 1990 and came to a head in 1991. We shut down that first time, and it was over for me. Manchester was in the grips of this tremendous lawless, and the police didn’t want to do anything about it. There was millions of pounds spent each weekend on drugs, and it was highly likely that criminal elements would take that over – and that’s what happened really. There were so many gang wars – a gun was an everyday sight. I think about it now and it freaks me out.

Q – When was it that you left the Hacienda?

In real terms, the first Friday night was going well – we’d got a four o’clock license which maybe wasn’t the best idea. Then there was a tiny little incident at the door and the police came barging in, turned the music off and everyone had to walk past riot police banging their shields to get out of the club with helicopters overhead. It was complete over-reaction, and we just thought “what the fuck is going on here?”. At that moment I thought “it ain’t gonna work”. Then we did, I think it was the eleventh birthday party, and we got eleven DJs together. Me and David Morales were both threatened, so I walked out that night and just said “I’m not doing this. I don’t even want my guestlist coming in because its not safe”. Violence just killed Manchester at that point.

Q – After you move into M People, did you continue to DJ as well?

M People were already beginning to take off, so I just played at other places. But after the Hacienda it was a bit like playing for Stockport County after you’d played at Wembley. It got a bit boring. All the superstar DJ thing started to happen then, and that went against what I believed in – I always thought the DJ should be heard and not seen. DJs began to command mad fees, acted like they’d made the music they were playing – I just hated all of it. With M People I used to DJ round the world when the band toured. I’ve never been a professional DJ since then, I mean I still DJ in the Warehouse Project in Manchester and places like that but I only do gigs that I think are worthy and trying to do something new.

Q – How did the collapse of Factory affect you?

It was strange for me because it felt almost like it was my fault – even though it wasn’t. Rob and me had seen what was happening at the Hacienda and wanted a dance label. But Tony – God rest his soul – said “darling dance music will never happen”. When he was alive he openly admitted that, so I’m not slagging him off or anything. So with my management at the time we set up Deconstruction from a little office in Islington. I’d be getting white labels in a flat box on a Friday night and we had it signed by Monday afternoon. We were selling millions of records, and if Tony had let us do the dance label would have saved Factory. I remember visiting the Factory office and it had gone a bit weird, everything had gone a bit designer. It had always been run out of a little office, that was part of its history. All of a sudden it had more computer screens than they were selling records. Its all gone down in history with expensive tables and so on, and the next they knew it had all come crashing down around them. Everything has a life span – nothing lasts forever.

Q – The Hacienda closed in 1997 – did that bother you?

I never went there. I thought it was past its sell-by date by that time to be honest – whether that’s right or wrong that’s how I felt. I never felt safe going anywhere in Manchester through that period. When I left, I left no connection. For someone who had been there for seven years and been so close to everybody it was weird. But I was busy so I didn’t think about it so much.

Q – There’s now a massive media attention on Factory and the Hacienda, is that strange for you?

Yeah it is. I’m used to it now but when the first film came out it was bizarre. You could actually build a career around interviews on Factory or the Hacienda. It was a great time, it was a great label. There’s never been a label like it since – there probably never will be as things have changed that much. The key thing behind it all was that none of us thought about money. We never thought about careers, or money we just did it because that’s what we wanted to do. That’ll probably never happen again and that’s probably the magic behind it really. Some of the business decisions we made we fucking hilarious. But we didn’t make them as business decisions. I remember when they were building the Hacienda they had this big discussion because there was nowhere for them to go – then when they built they built this fucking amazing place.

Q –You starred in “24 Hour Party People” in a recreation of the Hacienda – that must have been slightly bizarre.

Well I didn’t enjoy it because I had bronchitis at the time. There were nice bits to it such as the young kids who came as extras and dressed so well for that period. That was incredible, and the place was identical. But then there all these old Hacienda heads there going “fooking hell its back” and you’re going “it’s a film set!”. I remember Tony and me walking across the fake dancefloor and all these kids were like “we’re fooking back, MP!” and you just think, well we’re not. It was ten years ago. Plus the old heads didn’t look that good, either! The film was only very loosely based on truth, when Steve Coogan came on board the script became more comedy based. It’s a great film though and Steve is great in it.

Q – Given the sad ending of both Factory and the Hacienda what do you feel is there legacy to modern music?

Well I think its not just the music it’s the culture. That all the bands could put out whatever music they wanted, have whatever art they wanted and when it went it profit – which it never did – you got a 50/50 split. There were no contracts. So the legacy is great but it’s not been taken up very often because, well it’s a business. The most indie bands are these days the most business minded bands. They’re like fucking accountants in tight jeans. The legacy is fantastic: Joy Division, New Order even the Hacienda – it changed the way we go out. IT changed the way we live.

Q – You’ve no desire to turn the clock back?

Well life’s like that you go through these times and then look back on them with warmth but you don’t want to go back to them. Saying that I do the odd Hacienda night around the world with Graeme Park but that’s just fun. It’s amazing that the music from the club still gets people going crazy nowadays, where-ever you are.

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