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Interview: Geoff Oakes - 18 Years of Renaissance

1992. 'The Resoration of Sasha to the North', Venue 44, a town called Mansfield. The boss reflects 18 years on from this piece of quintessential clubland folklore.

Spotlight: Hello Geoff, 18 years of Renaissance, how fresh are the memories from Venue 44?

Geoff Oakes: Well, the memory of each Venue 44 event was usually a little hazy at the time, let alone after 18 years!

Seriously, it was a very different time back then. People were prepared to travel every week. Renaissance at Venue 44 was one of the first true after-hours, it opened at midnight and clubbers would come straight over from other legendary nights throughout the Midlands and North, such as the Hacienda, Back2Basics and Venus. Things ran till 7 and Sasha traditionally played the last 2 hours, so everything built to that point. No one left, when the lights came-up the place was still rammed to the rafters.

Venue 44 Today

Without looking back too much, those first years set a pretty high benchmark of what people would expect from a Renaissance party?

We were the first weekly party to present a cohesive image where the art and visual identity carried right the way through; we ran a comprehensive advertising and flyer campaign with these amazing Chris Howe images that were also a major part of the décor we installed. It was amazing and rewarding to watch clubbers arrive at the club and see their reactions as they realised what we had done and put the ‘overall' theme together.

We were also the first to offer an alternative to rave culture in the area. Everything was baggy sweat-shirts, kickers, dummies, whistles and glo-sticks. Rave as a concept was truly at its peak and, without taking our eye off the atmosphere inside, we consciously wanted to offer something different.

The very first Renaissance flyer

You've got a long association with Pacha Ibiza, there was a time when Wednesdays in Ibiza were only about Renaissance?

Again, this was a very different time in clubbing and the island's history. We were one of the first brands to do a night on the island. Yes we were fortunate to enjoy a huge amount of profile at the time, but in the interests of humility should declare there wasn't the same degree of competition as there is now. We adapted the nights to suit Pacha's housier vibe and built our relationship with Def Mix featuring the likes of Morales, Knuckles and Satoshi (Tomiie).

How do you look back on the Renaissance Live project? People seem quick to remember Kylie and All Saints but perhaps don't so readily recall some of the other artists who performed and the strength of the DJ line-ups in 2001 as well?

Oh, I don't know about that. I think Moby and Leftfield generated quite a bit of buzz as well. Hats-off to Andy and Dawn with what they've achieved with Ibiza Rocks, but that night was the first to bring weekly live acts to the island and remains one of our greatest achievements as a brand.

Present day, you're continuing the Pure Pacha link up with Sasha featuring again... there was a time when that seemed like it would never happen?

Yes, but that was a while ago. It's hard to believe, but Sasha has been playing for us again for the past 7 years now. In fact, his return was in 2003 at Pacha, so it's both fitting and great to get him back to the decks here this season. Pacha invested very heavily in their sound system last year and the results have been significant. I'm really looking forward to hearing him get to grips with it. I think those lucky enough to be front and centre on the dance floor will be in for a real treat.

Two iconic Mixmag covers - Sasha in 1991 (left) before Renaissance had begun and in 1994 (right) at the height of his Renaissance legend

And the 18th Birthday party with M.A.N.D.Y. and Gui Boratto... on top of their compilation releases recently, are they representative of Renaissance in 2010?

I think the word progressive has become somewhat dirty these days and, due to the genre classifications of music download sites, has mutated toward the trancier end of the spectrum. Whatever the true definition, I think it's probably more accurate to say we've always been forward thinking with our music. Most of the DJs we have long-standing relationships with have, in turn, taken their sound forward and are closer to what we call tech-house and techno, but this doesn't mean to say there isn't room for new blood on the roster and, in their own way, both M.A.N.D.Y. and Gui were natural choices. The response to both projects has been amazing so it's really exciting to be able to bring them together in a live environment for the first time, made all the better for it being the 18th birthday as well.


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