Celebrating Old Skool Music, Culture and Legacy
On the 9th of November 2018 legendary club night Labrynth will be celebrating it’s 30th birthday.
Starting life as a series of illegal warehouse parties in the late 80’s, Labrynth truly came into it’s own in early 1990 when it found itself a permanent home at The Four Aces Club on Dalston Lane, London. Under growing pressure from the authorities, what was the illegal rave scene had to eventually put down it’s roots in legitimate premises, and Labrynth at the Four Aces was at the forefront of that movement. Helping to launch the careers of Billy “Daniel” Bunter, Kenny Ken, Eamon Downes (Liquid) and Sarah HB among others, Labrynth attracted party-goers from all over the country every Friday and Saturday night, week-in, week-out, for six and a half years – securing Labrynth’s status as one of the most prolific and longest running club-nights.
Labrynth not only helped guide punters through several shifts in the rave scene – with the original sounds of acid house giving birth to hardcore and eventually jungle/drum and bass – but also played a pivotal role in the lives of four young lads from Braintree, Essex. As regulars at the club they eventually approached the management and secured their first live gig under the name of The Prodigy. Without a doubt, Labrynth is well and truly embedded in the history and folklore of rave and club culture in the UK.
The success of Labrynth is owed to the blood, sweat and tears of Joe Wieczorek (pronounced Vee-Chor-Rek) and Sue Barnes. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet and interview Joe where he currently works as Site Manager for a charity in west London. Joe was very generous with his time, and equally patient with my numerous follow-up questions, as I tried to gain an insight into his experiences at the helm of one of the brightest jewels in the crown of UK rave/club culture.
How did you first discover the acid house scene?
I had a pub in Hackney Road which was very well known in East London. There were lots of faces in there – gangsters, all the football faces – and I suppose you could call it a fairly violent street. I’d certainly seen gunfights, and been on the edge of many situations definitely not appertaining to peace and love, and I’d grown weary of it. Quite by chance, when the pub had come to an end in ’87 a party presented itself to me. It was okay but no big deal, but then another one came along, then another, and one night I happened to bump into a friend of mine – Christy – who was running a snack bar on Clink Street which we all now know as Clink. I had no idea what the significance was back then but she asked me to help her run her snack bar while she was in Spain. While I was there I met a group called The Pasadenas and another called The The – and just for the record The Pasadenas didn’t pay their bill! – and consequently I bumped into Ray Kane, the owner.
Then, one day, while I was working, a parcel arrived full of tee-shirts, and I’ll never forget those tee-shirts… They had a yellow smiley on the front – the one that we all know and associate with acid house and its beginnings – and it said “you have been invited to the Boy’s birthday party”. The party was at Clink Street and it was for Boy George’s birthday. That was the moment when I thought “hang on, this is a glam version of that party I went to the other week”. I was very fortunate to get to know the people at Clink Street and you can’t have a much better friend than Ray Kane. So that was me sorted, I was into Clink Street whenever I wanted. This was early ’88 and things came together very quickly. I remember the time because it was after the cup final and it was only a little while later that I discarded the football thing completely. I was probably half a dozen parties in when football was the last thing on my mind – I wasn’t interested at all, it was another age.
That was you as a punter, so how did things move on to the illegal Labrynth parties?
Right… so when I had the pub on Hackney Road there was another pub further down called “The Marksman”, and that was how I came to know Heidi and Richard John. I’d bumped into them at probably the second party I’d been to and in their company was Sue – who later became my partner and started Labrynth with me. Heidi and Richard gave me a massive amount of help and financial support, and it was with them that I did the first ever Labrynth. It wasn’t really meant to be at all – it was quite by accident. The original party was on a Friday night called “Another Serious Wicked Rave” and we only really got the second night by chance. When the police came to see what we were up to on that first Friday night Inspector Howarth from Haringay came to see me and I had to show him all this printed documentation – false insurance documents and fire certificates. We did it correctly as best we could but we gambled that their knowledge of such things would be limited – and it was. He said “okay son, well done, congratulations on running a good party” and he put his hand out and shook mine in front of the guys from Genesis and a few other people involved in parties at the time. As soon as I heard “enjoy your party”, as far as I was concerned, that wasn’t just Friday in the bag, that was Saturday too. Labrynth was born…
What were those early “pre-Dalston Lane” parties like?
I’d love to say they were well attended but they really weren’t. I remember our first night in Bermondsey and it was one o’clock and going nowhere. I was taking down a UV light when this one bloke came up to me and said “what time does it start mate?” I looked around and he was our one punter who’d paid a fiver to get in. We had a crowd of thirty to forty people but just one paying punter. It was soul destroying but we went back there 3 or 4 times. Those first few Labrynths were quite deserted. It wasn’t until later that we had a stroke of good luck in so far as The Tunnel Club got raided. That particular night everyone needed somewhere to go and we weren’t that far away. That night we also had Ratpack there which we’ve got to give some credit to – they’d just stopped doing parties and Sue and I loved them. I think that night we got six hundred people and to us that was quite something. That was also the night that we had a generator go off mid-way. When we tried to re-start it the thing kicked right back and split Adrian Age’s nose from top to bottom – there was blood everywhere, it was awful. It was in the back of a fish van if you can imagine it!
Some of those early days I despair what we went through and I’d even go so far as to say we were more like a squat party. I can’t even compare us to something like Genesis or Sunrise back then. We were certainly ‘through the back door’, but in terms of perseverance, luck and consistency we had it. In March ’89 we went on to have a further five nights where we pulled in fourteen hundred on the first Friday and every Friday after for four weeks. It was brilliant, they just kept coming, but everyone wanted to go to a party back then. It was no real hassle, all we had to do was one thousand flyers and we’d get mobbed, whereas now you could do a hundred thousand and get nothing there’s so much competition. Back then it was very different indeed.
In Wayne Anthony’s book – “Class of 88” – he says there were a few occasions when the Genesis parties would benefit from someone else’s party being busted – did that happen a lot?
What inspired the move to a legal venue at Dalston Lane? Was it the difficulties of promoting illegal parties or pressures from the law?
It was a combination of the two to be honest. Bear in mind that I loved Sue to bits so consequently I was always thinking about the possibility of things coming our way from other angles. We had quite a bit of that actually – pressure from old bill and pressure from gangsters – and I felt that it was only a matter of time before something changed it all. Eventually they changed the law and 2 guys got nicked for doing a boat party getting 10 and 8 years inside – that was the invention of the “Acid Squad”. This was 1989 and I knew one of them – Leslie Jones – quite well. He got 10 years for putting on an acid house party on a boat! That’s when I realised that the Acid Squad could do what they want and I ended up getting a tug myself. I was walking into Mile End when I had “my governor wants to chat with you”. I was taken to the police station and saw someone sat at the table, not having a clue who he was. I saw him on the telly later on and he was the governor of the Acid Squad. He said to me “Joseph my boy, if you carry on with these acid house parties, we are going to stop you – you do know that don’t you?” So that was it… Dalston Lane. These were different times – no CCTV everywhere. Bear in mind I was just picked up randomly in a car by serving police officers and taken to a police station for a preset chat with the governor of the Acid Squad. Now, just the logistics of putting that in place, and that being allowed to happen, is quite something. So, putting Sue and the rest of us at risk? No, no, no.
What do you think their issue was?
I think it scared the shit out of them. One night we were supposed to be in Paddington Bowl and they estimated we stopped London for 3 hours. We had three or four thousand people at the meeting point and we marched from Kings Cross station along Euston Road. We almost got to Paddington Bowl but they sussed out the venue. We already had 1100 people inside and if it had gone ahead it would have been the biggest Labrynth party ever. They thought that we were political and the fact that we could raise such numbers scared them. I could understand where they were coming from to a certain extent. The governor was right when he told me “go find somewhere you can hide behind because this is all going to change very quickly”. It doesn’t get much clearer than that – that’s the game. If someone tells you something like that you either listen or you’re an idiot.
So then you moved to Dalston Lane…
Yeah, nine years virtually uninterrupted. Six and a half of those with every Friday and every Saturday. Labrynth, Labrynth, Labrynth, non-stop. I don’t think another promoter will ever do two nights in the same club every week for six and half years. It’s still the longest running club night in terms of the number of nights. It was unbelievable that someone would give me a set of keys and just say “get on with it”. That’s exactly what happened and at first I was very suspicious. Newton Dunbar – the owner of the club – was the guy who said “here are the keys – get on with it”. “You sort the door out, you take the money, deal with security, deal with the bars, deal with everything downstairs and come see me in the morning – give me a few quid”. That was basically as close to a deal as we ever got. We didn’t sign anything ever – not a single document was ever put in front of me to read.
Every morning I’d go in there with a sheet of paper and go “this is how much we spent, this is how much we took, that’s your whack, see you later” and it was pretty much as short and sweet as that. He always had people up there. It never failed to amaze me the number of middle-aged women that would turn up over the course of the night. It was hysterical, you could not make that place up! While there’d be anything from 500 to 1000 people downstairs, all off their face having one, he’d be having his own private party week in, week out. It was quite remarkable that place.
The music went through a lot of changes during the Dalston Lane years – what were your thoughts on that?
I loved the early ’87, ’88, ’89 or even to an extent 1990 stuff but then I had to make a decision where the main floor just wasn’t for me. When it went breakbeat and drum and bass I was down in the basement. I preferred the housier stuff with vocals – the lyrical stuff, the pianos, that sort of thing. When I felt the music changing I just wasn’t sure at first – I thought “what is this?” I wasn’t a great jungle or drum and bass fan at first but as time went on it did start to grow on me. If they were going to stick some anthems in that was fine but when you get a jungle or drum and bass DJ who just wants to play the pure underground stuff that not everyone knows then I’m out of there mate, that’s not for me. I like my house, I like my trance, that sort of stuff. I suppose that was when I crossed over – I wasn’t a punter anymore, I was a promoter.
One of the things that attracted me to the rave scene was the ideology of peace, love and unity. How real was that?
It changed over time. In Dalston Lane we had really good security but none of us were idiots and if I ever saw something in the club I’d just deal with it. I’m not someone who’d run off and get security. We had this momentum going where if anything happened in the club – if anyone went in there and caused drama or trouble – they were getting it. If the security, me or one of my mates got hold of you you were going to get it. I didn’t care who you were, who you knew or who you were attached to, you were going to get a dig. I suppose that’s not always the nicest of rules to have but it became known that if you did something bad in Labrynth you’d get sorted out, and because of that understanding nothing ever happened. We had football mobs come in there… we had gangsters in there… all sorts of people but any bad attitudes just vanished – it all just disappeared.
While we were doing the illegals – sort of 88/89 – that was slightly different, there was always that edge to it, but at Dalston Lane we handpicked the security team – our security was known by everyone. When we used to go to Tasco, or when we’d go to The Astoria or the Rocket we would take eight of our own security and they’d be there to look after the people. The Astoria had a terrible reputation for robbing people of their stuff and reselling it in the venue, but when we went there none of that happened. At the Rocket we had problems one night where we almost took over the venue because we had to prove a point that we were not going to be bullied. Rightly or wrongly our rules and regulations were pretty much zero – the only rule was “don’t cause trouble if you know what’s good for you!” We occasionally used to have cars broken into and things like that, and at one point it got so bad we had to put security up outside on the streets with the sole purpose of patrolling the cars. One night I remember I was standing in the queue with a duffel coat on and a rubber hammer in my pocket waiting, and when we found them they never came back.
Labrynth famously hosted the first ever Prodigy gig…
Yes, yes, my memories of that are pretty good to be honest. I remember this group of people who used to come in from Braintree and they were very different in comparison to some others. I certainly remember Keith’s black and white diamond-style outfit, and there was another person amongst them called Jo that I was quite taken with to be honest. Over 2 or 3 weeks I got to know this little crew and I just remember this one night being in the company of Jo and along comes this Asian guy called Ziggy, talking about a band – he was their first manager. I said that we didn’t really have bands because they’d get booed off because it’s not really a band club. Then I remember Jo telling me to give them a chance because Keith’s an amazing dancer and stuff like that.
Next thing I know they’re asking about seriously doing a gig and I said “what about money, you’re not doing it for nothing”. Ziggy came back with “just sort them out with expenses”. I asked “how many are there?” and he said there were eight in total – four in the band and four dancers. I told him “I’ll give you 80 quid otherwise I ain’t interested”. Do you know what, I remember at the time thinking “that’s 80 quid down the drain” because I’d been in there all night and probably powdered my nose. I was definitely on one when the deal was sorted and I think if I’d been straight I’d have probably said no! But I didn’t, I said yes, and the rest is history – The Prodigy were born for a tenner each! Had it not been for that girl Jo I don’t honestly think they’d have got that gig! I remember on the night thinking “what have I done here” but it just went mad. They did their stuff, playing “Everybody in the Place” and “Android” and they just took the roof off – took the absolute roof off. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Incredible.
Didn’t they come back in 1993?
Yeah, I think we had them back 2 or 3 times after that but then everyone started to book them. They did the 5th birthday party in Bagleys and that’s the night people say that over 5000 people were in that building, which is a lot of fucking people! We were like sardines. There’s a big stairway in Bagleys and honestly I remember just being lifted and thinking “fucking hell this is bad”. There were people climbing over the roof – it was unreal. We had to stop letting people in at 2 o’clock and that was their last gig for Labrynth. I haven’t heard much from them since then. I went to Alexandra Palace and tried to say hello to them but it’s easier to get to God.
They’ve got a new album coming out…
Yes, with Four Aces slapped all over the front of it – you can’t get a better tribute can you? I’m over the moon with it – it’s almost like recognition. I’ve got a video of Keith, Maxim and Liam being interviewed and Keith pops up and says “Joe broke the band. After we played for Joe we did not stop working for 5 years”. I’m chuffed to bits it started in Dalston Lane. Do I deserve credit? No, but it’d be nice to hear from them. I think someone said to me that they’re the 2nd or 3rd biggest selling rock band in this country ever, so that’s somewhere up with the Stones, the Beatles and The Who! Before I did all this rave stuff I used to do rock concerts and it’s another world. I did the Stones, I did The Who, I did Floyd… I even did the dressing rooms at Live Aid – it was like my dreams had come true.
Were there any standout nights at Labrynth?
There were nights we planned meticulously that went nowhere and others where things just came together by chance. Sometimes we had events that had been meticulously planned, where we’d spent thousands, where we thought we had it sussed – like the one at Paddinton Bowl – and then wallop, it’s all gone and you think “is this really worth it?” Then, on the other hand, I remember we were raided one afternoon in York Way, Kings Cross, because they’d sussed us in the warehouse. I was up on the girders at the time fitting a UV light when the old bill came in. I had to stay there for about an hour and a half waiting for them to leave. That same night, we went to Ferry Lane instead – where Genesis had been 3 months earlier – and we smashed it completely. We broke in at 11 but by 12 we didn’t know where to put people. We took so much money one night that me and Sue thought “this is going to go wonky in a minute” because so many different firms were turning up. So, we took what was ours and just went. We left it to the other half of the partnership, and if they happened to take a few grand more then they deserved it for staying, but we weren’t. Little things like that you can’t make up, but another issue then is if you go home with 35 grand in carrier bags, where do you put it?
I don’t want to say under the mattress… but under the mattress?!
Ok, we’ll put a layer under the mattress, but now where? You’re fucked! We had to face that 10 times where we had carrier bags of money on a Sunday or a Monday after being out all night and we were off our nut. One day we did a party with Paul Ibiza and I had these gangsters on my case. They wanted me to do a party down at Metropolitan Wharf which I’d sort of semi agreed to, but at the same time I knew I was doing a party at Ladbroke Grove with Ibiza – the fantastic Paul Chambers, my mate. So I said “Paul, I’ve got gangsters on me”. He says “don’t worry about it, do what you’ve got to do to lose them”. So I go and do Ladbroke Grove with Paul and we get thousands of people, but the gangsters only get 120. So, they get the fucking hump with me and they come around my house in Bethnal Green. I’m there with my partner Sue and her friend Sandy when the firm turns up, one of them has got a gun, and they want their money. I’ve got £14,000 in the bedroom and four angry lumps who want their whack.
So, I suggested that Sue and Sandy went and got the wages these guys were looking for but they actually left my house with the 14 grand down their knickers! When they returned I was happy to give these guys their wages just to fucking get rid of them! If they’d known that the full amount was in there all along I’d have been gone mate – we’d all have been bashed and the money would have just vanished. For the entire time they tried to get Labrynth – like they tried to get Genesis, Sunrise or Energy – we just wouldn’t have it. Me and Sue wriggled like eels and in the end they just walked away from us. When we went to Dalston Lane that’s when they knew we were strong because to get our security we had we had to deal with these fucking people. They were a different class mate – there’s security and then there’s that lot. They were as much to do with the success of Labyrinth at Dalston Lane as we were because they kept that place straight.
What can you tell us about the 30th anniversary in November?
The gig looks amazing – so far we’ve got Ratpack, Kenny Ken, Ellis Dee, Rachel Wallace, Adamski, Ragga Twins, Liquid and Alison Limerick all booked. Things have gone really well and I’m just hoping it continues – it’s been quite a journey to be honest. The venue is amazing and reminds me of The Astoria – it’s the same type of building with one great big huge room and one smaller room on the side. I’m very much looking forward to it, I can’t believe it’s been thirty years since that night in Manor House with Heidi, Richard and Sue. The one thing I really do miss is that losing Sue was like having my right hand cut off – it’s really not been quite the same without her. Sue was by my side through thick and thin. She didn’t flinch and she was my partner in all that went on – we were glued. I get a lot of credit for Labrynth but she deserves it just as much – Sue was my equal in all of it – she was a different class.
I’d like to believe that with Dan [Billy “Daniel” Bunter], Sonia and [Uncle] Dugs we can take it on to the next level and these last few months have been very special. Looking to the future we’re gonna be taking it away next May to Kavos – we have a hotel called the Labrynth Hotel, so Unity 2019 is really looking to be something special.
You mentioned Dan (Bunter) – didn’t you give him his first gig at the age of 15? How did that come about?
I’ve always been a great believer in promoting talent from within, just as I’d found Ginge, Vinyl Matt, Easy Mo and Adrian Age. I remember back then the likes of Fabio, Grooverider and Evil Eddie Richards were the ones who were smashing it, but we couldn’t afford any of those names – they were on another planet wages-wise. We’d have certainly loved to have had some of those names to start Labrynth but it just wasn’t feasible to spend five or six hundred pounds back then. We thought “you know what, we can do this ourselves”. The first Labrynth we did was these two brothers from Bethnal Green – Greg and Ivor – who just happened to have a record collection – that was their claim to fame – they just had the acid tunes that no one else had. Then Mervyn came along, and he lied to us, saying his name was Jazzy M. It turned out some time later, when I was putting up flyers in Covent Garden, that we get unceremoniously told to “fuck off” from a record shop because Jazzy M was in there and he wanted to know why we were putting up flyers with his name on! I was going “no, you’re not Jazzy M, Mervyn’s Jazzy M!” Well no… Mervyn isn’t Jazzy M, Mervyn’s a liar!
Mervyn happened to be the manager of the same record shop where Eamon [Eamon Downes – Liquid) and Daniel [Bunter] worked. I lived opposite the shop and that’s how it all came about. I really do believe in promoting from within. It gets you people who want you to succeed and don’t want to let you down, whereas it’s very easy for a stranger to come in with their price tag, collect their price tag, and fuck off. You don’t always get someone who puts their heart and soul into it, and certainly for 4 or 5 unknown kids to do what they did at Dalston Lane was amazing. It wasn’t until 93 or 94 that we started to say “right, let’s get Dougal or whoever”. These unknowns from the suburbs smashed the granny out of it and I’m very proud of them for what they did.
The punters loved them – and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.
The Labrynth 30th Birthday is being held at Electric Brixton on the 9th November – further information and tickets can be found here.
Labrynth will also play host to it’s own hotel at next years Unity in the Sun (May 20th – May 27th 2019). Check out their website for information on line-ups and bookings.