Pride Week: A Boozy Afternoon with Sonic Yootha
With Sonic Yootha staging their annual post-Pride party on Saturday, Shaun Ponsonby sat in a pub with the Yootha team, poring over records and talking trash.
It’s hard to believe that Sonic Yootha has only been with us for three years.
The monthly new wave, old wave, disco, electro, rock, pop and soul social for homos, heteros, drag shows and don’t knows has become such a staple of the city, with a reputation that looms so large, that you would be forgiven for thinking that it has been here for as long as something like Liquidation.
“It’s sort of a gay night, but it also sort of isn’t,” co-founder Ian Usher tells us as we sit in the corner of a pub. Obviously that is an extreme contradiction, but one step inside and you know exactly what he means; Sonic Yootha is a place where everyone is welcome.
Projections on the walls reflect key moments in popular culture; both those that are instantly recognisable, and that have found a cult audience. The same goes for the promotional posters for each event, which have featured everything from Patti Smith to Deidre Barlow, stopping off at Bros and Jarvis Cocker.
Although now permanently housed at 24 Kitchen Street, Yootha actually began at the behest of Camp and Furnace, with the view of creating a night for LGBT people who no longer went out on the local gay scene.
Camp and Furnace is obviously a massive space, and it is no surprise that this new venture didn’t take off immediately. The venue cancelled Sonic Yootha after just three months.
When Usher returned to retrieve his records after the cancellation, he happened to walk past 24 Kitchen Street and noticed the door was open. “I just went in and saw these two young guys sat there. I just went ‘I know this is really weird, but we put on this night that didn’t really work at Camp and Furnace, and I’ve got a date that I had in mind for the next one…’
“I wasn’t explaining it very well, but he was just like ‘Nah, mate, we’ve got enough on’. And then, while I was standing there – and this is why I believe that things happen for a reason – an email came in with a cancellation on that date.”
The rest is history, the feel of the night and the venue meshed perfectly and it is now impossible to imagine Sonic Yootha anywhere other than 24 Kitchen Street. It would be like Jagger without Richards, or rather Waterman without Aiken and Stock.
Consider that Kitchen Street is a 300 capacity venue, and that for Yootha‘s last Pride party over 600 came through the doors throughout the night. At various times, people have been turned away at the door for being over capacity. It is one of the true success stories of the Liverpool gay scene.
Planet Slop have been wanting to do something on Yootha for the longest time, but we wanted to do something that best reflects the controlled chaos that is at their heart; “Sonic Yootha exists” isn’t exactly the most exciting crux for an article.
So, ahead of their Liverpool Pride party, we decided that we would sit in the pub with the Sonic Yootha team, and they would pick five records that say something about Yootha, and we would use those records as the jumping off point for the conversations.
Joining us were the aforementioned Ian Usher, John Aggy and Shaun Duggan (who, on top of kickstarting Yootha, was also the man behind Brookside‘s iconic lesbian kiss).
It got messier the more we drank, but there is method to the madness, and somewhere in the middle of it all, we probably managed to capture something of Yootha‘s essence.
Sylvester: You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) 
Planet Slop: I think you said that you resisted playing this for the longest time.
Ian Usher: When we first started, we were a lot more adventurous in terms of what we wanted to play. When you’re just playing to your friends in an empty club, that’s all fine and dandy, and we were happy to do that. It’s not that we were being snobby about it, but it’s like if we were gonna play a Sylvester record, you wouldn’t play Mighty Real, because it’s such an obvious one to play.
PS: Personally, I would play Dance (Disco Heat). That’s my Sylvester jam! Prince played that the first time I saw him.
John Aggy: No! Really?!
PS: Yeah, he went from that into Baby I’m a Star.
IU: Well, there you go! Let’s play that at the next Yootha! But we were resisting playing with big hitters anyway. We didn’t play You Spin Me Round, we didn’t play Relax, we didn’t play any of those.
PS: I remember you saying that during the Pete Burns panel at Sound City.
IU: We didn’t play it for so long, we just thought it was such an obvious song to play.
PS: Why would you when you can just play My Heart Goes Bang?
Shaun Duggan: That’s my one! I play My Heart Goes Bang!
IU: Or you see three people shuffling along, and then you put on You Spin Me Round and the whole place erupts! We never played Mighty Real, but Tracy [Wilder] ended her set with it one day, and I have never to this day seen a record erupt like that at Yootha. It was this weird moment where we were like “Why are we being weird about it?”
SD: But also, things have changed. It’s gone from a club that our mates were just coming, to just a club full of people that we didn’t know and so it’s a different pressure, isn’t it? It gets a bit scary, really, because you’re like “Shit, I don’t want everyone to sit down”.
IU: We were talking yesterday about records that clear the dancefloor, and we’ve never cleared a dancefloor, apart from Amanda Lear. And what happened was, we’d played I Feel For You by Chaka Khan, and some guy came up and said “I don’t come to Sonic Yootha to hear I Feel For You, I can go to Concert Square for that”. And I was like, “The origins of that record, it wasn’t made for Concert Square, just because it became a hit record, it doesn’t make it any less of a good record. But what would you like to hear?” And he asked for Amanda Lear, so we put Follow Me on next, and I’ve never seen anything like it…it was just…
PS: Did you feel vindicated by it at all?
IU: He ran up after it cleared the floor, and said “I’m sorry, you were right”!
SD: Sometimes it can depend just on the crowd who are in. On another night, everybody might have got up to that song. We’ve all played songs where one month we’ve gone “Oh my God, everyone’s gone crazy, so I’ll definitely play that next month”. Then you play it next time and you get a completely different reaction.
IU: Nothing ever really clears the floor, it’s just that some people will just shuffle along the floor to records, and then Like a Prayer, that’s been played many times. But this one time, it was played by one of our guest DJ’s, James Conlan, and it just went off. It’s like the timing of the night.
SD: It was Boxing Night that night, wasn’t it? And everyone was in that whole Christmas mood.
JA: It was just the right moment.
IU: But Mighty Real has become the Yootha anthem, so she finishes her set with that. And that’s her gift to us.
JA: That’s her “Call me a cab” record.
IU: Generally, we follow it with I Feel Love. Which just totally makes sense, and where we go either side of that, it doesn’t matter then, because it’s almost like the pinnacle of the night, where everyone in that club is there for that moment.
PS: Wasn’t it the anniversary of Mighty Real last week or something? I was reading a Guardian article on it.
JA: 40 years, yeah!
PS: I think with Sylvester, there is no way he could have existed in any other time. Before then, he would just be another suited and booted soul singer in the closet. There was something about the freedom of that era, where he was able to be who he was. In fact, I was watching the Bette Midler film The Rose, and when they go to the gay club, he was one of the Drag Queens on stage.
IU: Have you read the book?
IU: Oh, man! It’s called The Fabulous Sylvester. I mean, he just didn’t give a shit. It was such a brave thing to do. And people wanted to play those records, but they just couldn’t believe that it was fronted by a man.
PS: …and Two Tonnes of Fun! [Sylvester’s backing singers who went on to record It’s Raining Men as The Weather Girls]
IU: Black radio wanted to play that record, and he just refused to tone it down.
PS: Was it the Sell My Soul album where showed up to the photo shoot for the album cover in full drag? And he took a picture with a champagne bottle between his legs and he uncorked it and it was frothing over? And then the label freaked when they saw it and made him change it.
IU: Well, in the book, it kinda insinuates that he wasn’t into the disco stuff. He was a soul guy and he wanted to write those kinds of records, but he struggled because radio wouldn’t play them.
SD: Thank God he did though. If he didn’t we wouldn’t have had those records.
PS: I don’t think he is celebrated quite enough for what he did in that time.
IU: But it’s nice when you see people like Jay-Z sampling those records. Ones that weren’t hits are all sampled all over hip hop. And you go “Fucking hell, they’re sampling Sylvester”.
PS: It’s especially interesting when you think of the history of homophobia in hip hop. Sylvester was so flamboyant, it wasn’t a secret.
JA: I can remember being at school when that record came out, and people didn’t even know how to launch an insult, because what was the point? It was like saying “That’s a table”. He was so out there. Just listen to that record, it was unstoppable. And the thing that record had, and it’s still got, it’s got the feeling of a night out. Every time I heard that record as a teenager, I was on the bus to town five minutes later.
IU: And it’s very crucial to the success of Yootha and how we changed and where we went after that, and we did start dipping our toe in things. We did eventually play Relax – although I don’t think we’ve played it again in three years. We’ve played You Spin Me Round and Don’t You Want Me.
JA: Well, you could become po faced about approaching records like that and be like “Well, everybody knows these”. But it doesn’t make them bad records.
PS: There’s a reason everybody knows it, it’s because it’s a great record.
JA: When you have an entire room full of people singing the chorus to Don’t You Want Me, you want to play it again!
IU: I think there is an element of we have to reclaim those records from Sharon and Tracey. Spin Me, Ain’t Nobody, Don’t You Want Me, they were not written for those people.
JA: It’s the way you surround those records with other, more obscure stuff. Which we’re not frightened to do, but it puts them in another context than just being in a wine bar banging out Now That’s What I Call Whatever. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
IU: It’s a very British thing as well. There’s this DJ called Danny Tenaglia and I was doing the licensing for this compilation album that he was doing once. And he put in a request for Modern Romance and Nomad’s (I Wanna Give You) Devotion.
JA: Modern Romance? Best Years of Our Lives?
IU: Yeah, in America they’re seen as a sort of jazz-funk, underground disco records. Over here, they’re seen as a bit of a joke because they made one record that was on Top of the Pops, where they wore pink suits. So Danny says to me “Oh, I love Modern Romance, I just don’t get you Brits at all. Literally the minute something becomes a success, you then trash it”.
PS: It’s funny that you mention what they were wearing on Top of the Pops, cos I remember George Michael saying that when he was about 19 he was basically writing and producing all those Wham! records by himself, and nobody acknowledged his talent because he was wearing silly shorts in the video.
JA: I think music fans knew. I left music college in 1986 because I bought a copy of The Final the day it came out, walked in with it and people were just taking the piss out of me for it. And I was like “This guy is a major songwriter”.
PS: So many ate their own words later on, and probably all became fans. Actually, a lot of the time I prefer the Wham! stuff to some of his more serious stuff.
SD: Even going back to the 80s when Madonna first came out and people resisted her. I had friends writing in Melody Maker, who really fought a corner and got loads of stick for it in the early days and it probably wasn’t until the Ray of Light album where they just got totally vindicated. They had been fighting this corner for about 20 years.
JA: She is important. Some of the records that girl made. Nobody could argue with Borderline.
PS: Oh, yes! Seriously, that’s one of my favourite songs ever.
JA: So just for that reason. If you’re the kind of artist who can produce even one record, like Glenn Campbell with Wichita Lineman, you might not be into country music, but you hear that and wow.
PS: And then to consistently write dozens of them like Madonna has. Everyone in the world knows so many of those songs.
IU: We’ve worked our way through her catalogue, and it is getting to the point where it’s like, what do we play now? We always go back to Borderline, though, don’t we?
SD: Borderline, Give It 2 Me, Deeper and Deeper.
JA: I’ve always wanted to play Don’t Stop, but I’ve been told I can’t.
IU: You can’t play Don’t Stop at peak hour!
JA: Not peak!
IU: That’s when we play, John!
JA: But we’ve got to vary it!
IU: We’ve had murder on the phone already today!
SD: This is why I like doing it on my own!
IU: I said I wanted to play Flock of Seagulls.
SD: Which song?
IU: I Ran.
JA: Awful, nine minute, torturous, progressive piece of garbage!
SD: I used to think exactly that, but I’ve got these friends who have got a really cool taste in music. You know, really alternative. But because of that, they overlooked loads of really great stuff at the time – the more obvious chart stuff.
PS: Did he actively choose to overlook it because he felt he was above it?
SD: Probably to a degree. But when you come back to revisit something years later and you get over that kind of snobbishness, and it came on at some event, and he was dancing all night. And he was just like “I used to be so sniffy about all these songs, and every single one of them just sounds fantastic”.
IU: I think it was different back then, because even the bands who broke through as pop bands, you look at things like Duran Duran and Culture Club, they were musicians who wrote, and played. They were proper bands, who became pop stars. It makes me laugh all the indie kids taking the piss out of them. They could play those guys under the fucking table. I think the long and short of it is, we’re trying to reclaim the records that were essentially club records, that then became pop records, that then became naff records, that are now becoming…
PS: Post-modern cool?
IU: Post-modern cool!
SD: It just makes people happy!
PS: That’s what I don’t get. Why isn’t happiness cool? You get this with rock bands as well, if you deal with fantasy or escapism, people look down their nose at them. I don’t get this aversion to fun.
SD: I think that’s been the magic of Yootha. It’s a place where some people go when they haven’t been out for years.
IU: And it does depend what part of the night, because it’s almost like a show. Shaun’s section at the beginning where literally anything does go. He will play anything from Sandie Shaw, into Uptown Top Ranking, into The Smiths, then he’ll drop Mis-Teeq’s Scandalous and the place will go nuts, into Sister Sledge, and then he’ll go back to Belle and Sebastian. That’s what it’s meant to be.
PS: Well, actually, since you mention Belle and Sebastian, I do believe that was your second choice…so now might be a good time to move on…
Belle and Sebastian: The Boy With The Arab Strap 
Ian Usher: This is a song I never knew.
Planet Slop: Well, I actually knew it as the theme tune from Teachers, the Channel 4 show from the early 00s.
Shaun Duggan: I just always loved Belle and Sebastian, but if there’s one tune that works on the dancefloor it’s The Boy With The Arab Strap. And we used to play that a lot at previous nights, and it just carried over. I’ve seen it just back at my house putting records on after nights out with mates, you put that on and everyone went “Wheey!”
John Aggy: Once people have had a bit of a drink, they tend to just want something they can sing.
IU: What we’ve learned is that it is fine to play what you want – we try to take risks every now and again, which don’t always pay off. When I say that, I mean you just feel the energy drop. Shaun warms people up, Tracy comes on – and God knows what goes on in Tracy’s mind, she takes you on a journey of madness. She plays like heavy jungle records into Starship Trooper.
PS: Hot Gossip? From the Kenny Everett Show?
IU: I was walking down the road the other day, and some lad came running across the road at me on Renshaw Street going “Oh my God, the last Yootha was amazing! Two of my favourite records ever” Eminem into Shakira!” I was like “Who played that?” And he said “Tracy!” And then he just ran off again with his mates. When she played that it didn’t even register with me, and yet you’ve got this kid running across the road to me.
PS: Ian said he didn’t know the Belle and Sebastian track. Did you, John?
JA: Yeah, I’d been introduced to them by a friend of mine in Manchester about five or six years ago. I used to DJ in Manchester a lot. I’d stay in his a lot and we’d just be sitting off listening to music. And it would always come on and I’d always ask who it was, and then eventually I got the BBC Sessions.
PS: They’re one of those bands where I’ve always thought they were more successful than they’ve actually been.
SD: I remember when they brought out Legal Man, and it was a big surprise that it got to number one for about three weeks. But with The Boy With The Arab Strap, there is that one line that I want on my gravestone; “We know you’re soft cos we’ve all seen you dancing/We all know you’re hard cause we’ve all seen you drinking from noon/Until noon again”. And everybody always goes wild for that line. I think that sums up our crowd.
IU: For me as well, I don’t know anything about Belle and Sebastian, but we went to London one time. And this is where the song…it was like a Mighty Real moment. We were booked to play Dalston Superstore. So we went down, and we were hammered.
SD: It was a day out to London, and it was a Saturday afternoon, bladdered before I even got off the train.
IU: It was like another seven hours before we were due to be at the venue, so we just carried on. And we were so fucked…
PS: How did you even manage to do the gig?
IU: Well, we arrived at the gig, and we couldn’t work the equipment. And they were like “Are you DJ’s?” and we were like “Not really, but we kinda throw our parties”. And that itself, the guy was looking at us like “Are you fucking kidding?” And he was like “I know you are vast in what you play – so play whatever you want, but try to not play indie stuff”. So, Shaun puts on The Coral, followed by Belle and Sebastian in Dalston Superstore! You’ve got all these hipster kids and they were all dancing to Chaka Khan and Mariah Carey. But then he put them two on, and the guy was looking at me like “I can’t believe you’ve done that”. But I remember some guy coming up to me just saying that they don’t hear music like that down there.
SD: Yeah, but if you’re told you can’t do something, it just makes you want to do it.
IU: We didn’t get asked back.
PS: But it sounds like it went down well, so what was the problem?
IU: It went down really well.
SD: When I used to write for Brookside, we had this Scottish gangster character. He was meant to be on holiday abroad, but somebody back on Brookside Close had caused him bother. And he said “Oh, I hate it when I’m on holiday, sitting by the pool, listening to music”. One of the notes that came back said “Name a specific band who he is listening to”. And I had just gotten into Belle and Sebastian at the time, so I used them. What I didn’t know was that the band were all massive Brookside fans and they all went mad because they got mentioned on Brookside. Then I got to meet them and nearly worked on a project, because Stuart did a film not long ago and he called me because he wanted some advice on writing the script. It was very surreal!
Lauryn Hill: Doo Wop (That Thing) 
Ian Usher: Another one that we resisted for a while because we thought it was too obvious, and I think something went wrong one night and we sort of scrambled for a CD and we just went “OK, we’ll play that”, and it went fucking ballistic.
John Aggy: It was like “We’ve got 15 seconds!”
Shaun Duggan: I had actually played it much earlier on in the night, but it was the first time it had gone down.
IU: But then it was one of those moments where the reaction was so strong that we started dipping our toe more into R&B.
SD: But that’s what people always said about Yootha. You get all these great tunes, but you can’t pigeon hold them. So you might get Lauryn Hill, followed by The Cure.
IU: The thing is, the people who come to Yootha – you’ve got people who are 60, and people who are 19. In between, you’ve got everything. There’s no age…
Planet Slop: There’s no like obvious demographic or anything?
IU: There’s no target audience. And it’s hard to get records that make everyone come together and go mental at the same time. But this is one of those songs.
SD: You forget, because we’re just playing all our favourite records, but at the last Yootha there were these 18 year old kids there, had never been before and loved it. But they didn’t know most of the music. You forget that you’re kinda providing someone with an education. They knew some of them, but they just came along to see what was going on, and they wanted to get to know all of these artists. We take it for granted that they’re all classics, but for some people it’s brand new.
JA: Sometimes it’s a happy accident. That’s why it’s worth taking the risk, because you might just get that moment where the place is right for it.
IU: I think it’s fair to say that we don’t play records that we don’t love. I bought that Lauryn Hill album, I went to see Lauryn Hill play live…
PS: Did she show up on time?!
IU: Do you what? She was fine! I went to see her at Wembley and a big fight broke out in the middle of it. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was just this wave of violence.
JA: Was it a fight?
IU: Yeah! But it spread a bit.
SD: I remember going to see the Fugees at Brixton Academy, and it was an incredible gig, and we were up in the balcony with a bottle of poppers.
IU: Who does poppers at a Fugees gig?!
SD: It was a perfect marriage! But that was around that period where there was a bit of a controversy because she supposedly said there were too many white people coming to her gigs.
PS: She never actually said that, though. Just to be clear for the recording! It was all from some idiot on The Howard Stern Show, and then the rumour just snowballed.
IU: She never needs to make another album, and I hope she never, ever does. It’s a statement, and when you’ve gone to that point.
PS: It’s become such an iconic album, especially after this amount of time, you can only fail.
SD: You can, but at the same time it doesn’t stop that album from being iconic.
IU: I always think it does.
SD: If she recorded a follow-up and it only had one great track on it, would it be worth it for the one great track?
PS: I think it would ruin the myth of Lauryn Hill a bit, but I don’t think it would ruin the album.
JA: It would lessen the interest. But as long as there’s hope that she’ll do another one, you can’t be disappointed.
SD: It was sort of the start of that period of pressure. I don’t know how well documented it is in the media, but within the industry it is known that she struggled with that level of fame. There were mental health issues, which is why she stopped making music. I don’t think it was a fear of following it up.
IU: The intense pressure that comes from the record industry to follow up success…
PS: Yeah, and she was coming off the back of both Miseducation… and The Fugees.
IU: Like in the George Michael case, they didn’t give a shit about him.
PS: Well, they tried to destroy him. They put that memo out saying “It’s now your job to destroy his career”, or something.
SD: Every great artist has that pressure.
IU: And good for her for not bowing to that pressure.
PS: I remember when she was sent to prison over that tax thing…
IU: Did she go to prison?!
PS: Yeah, over unpaid taxes. It was like they were making an example over her though.
IU: This is the gay version of when I tell straight people that Pete Burns and George Michael went to prison, or Boy George, and they go “REALLY?!”
SD: Have we got Lauryn Hill’s mugshot to use for a poster?!
IU: You know what, though? It’s just one of those records that will bring the entire club together. And not many of them do. There’s certain segments; you know if you play Britney, there’s a segment that will go off, if you play The Smiths, there’s a segment that will go off.
SD: Once in a blue moon, an album comes out that unites absolutely everyone. Like when Soul II Soul’s album came out, it didn’t matter if you were an indie kid or whatever, everyone loved that album. Amy Winehouse Back To Black.
PS: Do you think Back To Black is the last one that we’ve had?
SD: I can’t think of any others.
PS: Do you think we’ve kinda lost that?
SD: We always think it’s gonna be the last one.
PS: It’s been a long time now, though.
SD: But to get all of those ingredients; the raw talent, the individuality, the voice of a generation…
IU: They don’t come along often.
PS: But what would you say was the one before Winehouse? Cos that was over ten years ago now.
SD: I can’t think off the top of my head. But you can go back to the 70s and look at Blondie or someone. The punks love it, the nans love it.
PS: I honestly think The Darkness’ first album had a similar effect.
JA: The Darkness?!
PS: Yeah, it wasn’t deep, and it didn’t last very long, but I remember going to see them and I’ve still never seen such a vast age difference in a crowd.
SD: Maybe you’d have to ask younger people.
IU: But that’s the whole point, that you don’t have to ask younger people, because the album reached everyone.
S Club 7: Don’t Stop Movin’ 
Ian Usher: John Aggy freaks me out, because as you will have learned from this conversation, he is A) a grumpy old shit, and B) doesn’t really like anything that me and Shaun like.
John Aggy: We do cross over!
IU: There is some crossover, but he is very aggressively certain about what he doesn’t like. The day he played this at Sonic Yootha, my head fell off. You can’t read him, ever! I just don’t know what’s going on in his twisted little mind.
Planet Slop: What would you play?
JA: At the moment, I’m listening to John Coltrane. But at Yootha, me and Ian do it together, and it’s literally just us screaming at each other.
IU: We have murder, and I’ll go upstairs for about half an hour because he’s shouted at me.
JA: You have actually stormed up on occasion! The things that people would normally argue about, we never argue about. The things that where people would just think “Why would you argue about that?”, we kill each other over. You should have seen the argument we had over the poster. It went on for days! He put the phone down on me!
IU: We do argue constantly!
JA: But they’re creative arguments.
Shaun Duggan: I think it goes back to what we were saying before about risks. Those pop songs are two and a half to four minutes long. Even if it’s a disaster, as long as you’ve got something lined up, so you can go BANG! Straight back in!
IU: I think S Club 7, it’s probably the most commercial thing we ever play. But somehow we’ve made it like a cool record. We get some of John’s crowd dancing to that, and I just can’t believe they’re dancing to it.
JA: But it’s because it’s a good record. Same as Mmm Bop by Hanson.
PS: Is there a nostalgia level to that? Because I know as I’ve gotten older, I’ve revisited things from my youth that I never would have listened to at the time, but now it gives me a sort of warm glow.
JA: It’s like you try red wine when you’re ten, and you have no interest. But try red wine when you’re 30…
PS: I dunno, I was drinking lots of red wine when I was ten!
SD: I think you create a space, then you create a following, and people have an element of trust with you. They trust the fact that you like those songs.
IU: Some people will just go “OK, well I’m gonna go outside and have a smoke”, and then following S Club 7 could be New Order. The fact that we can play Lauryn Hill, Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock, then we can go into MIA’s Paper Planes. And like we don’t always see those magic moments because we’re busy putting it all together, but luckily we’ve got our own little Andy Warhol here. Shaun films away and puts all these little clips online. Sometimes there’s people clamouring to jump on stage. Sometimes you just miss that moment.
SD: I’ve always loved, before phones came along, filming, taking photographs…
IU: Like a stalker! And those videos are like a journey through the night, so they start at the beginning when there’s nobody in, and it just gets more and more crazy.
PS: There was one clip that you’ve shared a few times, and it was two guys…
SD: During I Feel Love! I just spotted that moment, they were these two young male lovers in the moment, feeling all the love in the room, just snogging. And I was like “Oh, this is a gorgeous moment, I have to capture this!”
IU: I actually know who it is. They come just on their own every single month. I emailed them first before we shared it, because you have to think about those things…
SD: Yeah, they might be closeted or something.
IU: But I just said that it was just the most beautiful clip I’d ever seen, and it represents our club. Do you mind if we post it? So I got both of their consents before posting it. But that’s the thing, although we’re not a gay club, we are a gay club. We didn’t set it up to be that, but I’m glad that people see us in that way.
SD: I went to a club in Amsterdam called Detrot, very Sonic Yootha. I became friendly with the people who ran it, but they’re very much into that “safe space” thing. And they wouldn’t allow any filming or photographs.
PS: Sounds like a dark room!
JA: But when you think of Amsterdam, it was way ahead of its time.
SD: But it’s a very conservative country
JA: Outside of the Amsterdam, Holland is very conservative.
SD: Apart from those small pockets, it’s become even more conservative.
PS: Is it because of those small pockets that the rest has become more conservative? Like a push back against the image.
IU: Yeah. But I like that our club is like that. It isn’t a sexual club, there’s never any trouble.
SD: A few people have said to me that no matter how busy the club is, there’s never any aggression…
IU: For three years in, that’s incredible.
PS: Yeah, usually the dicks have taken over by now.
IU: We haven’t even had them in the club, never mind taken over!
JA: They don’t stay, because either the music makes them go “What’s this?”, or they’ll look at the screens and it’s painfully obvious what the night’s about.
PS: Who does the projections?
JA: I do.
PS: How do you decide what to put up there?
JA: Normally, we have a very loose theme, or I will in my head.
PS: It’s interesting to walk in and see – like one time I think I saw Marsha P Johnson, Kerry Katona and Bruce Springsteen all together.
SD: That’s just summed up Sonic Yootha perfectly!
PS: It was Kerry Katona when she was on This Morning too.
JA: Oh, we never use the nice pictures! The thing is, every time people come it’s a different venue because we’re using different pictures. You can be topical, political, funny. You can do everything all in the space of 20 minutes.
SD: One of my favourites from the last one was Morrissey and he was holding a sign saying “Do you still love me like you used to?”
PS: And the answer is no!
JA: Probably not! The Pride one has a whole section showing the history of Pride. Prior to Stonewall there was the Cooper Do-nuts Shop Riots, which happened six years before. So you put all of those little pointers in, so either people who aren’t sure go “Hang on, what’s that?”, or the people who do know understand the reference. So it’s a visual language, without getting too pretentious, and you can just have a lot of fun with it and tell a story. One of the best moments was when Sol Papadopoulos, the filmmaker, came up to the club and said “Do you do these? I absolutely love them!” So something’s paying off.
SD: It was great at our last birthday, because you flashed every image we’d used on every poster.
PS: How do you choose those images, because they’ve all become quite iconic?
IU: Why don’t you ask John? Do you want me to read you his last message about it? “I’m done!”
PS: Oooh, tell me the juicy shit!
IU: I’ll tell you the juicy shit!
SD: Were you threatening to walk an hour ago? He’s turned into a right diva!
JA: You have to understand that prior to that, there were nine other posters that had been refused, so I think I’m entitled to piss on the floor and have a moment occasionally!
SD: Sometimes we can just be on a similar vibe without realising. Once I was just bored at home, googling things, and I’d come across a picture of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, and I sent it to you saying “Maybe this could be a projection”. One second later you said “Here’s the new poster”, and it was a different picture of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe!
IU: Shaun came up with the idea of that poster, and it was the poster that elicited the strongest reaction ever, but our least attended night.
PS: Oh, really? When was that?
SD: It was only a few months ago.
IU: You were there!
PS: Oh, was I?
IU: Yeah! When I say lowest attendance, it was still about 200 people.
PS: We should probably go back to S Club 7 before we leave it.
IU: For me, I was an S Club fan.
PS: How old were you at that time?
IU: Erm…well, I was born in ’75. So mid-20s.
SD: Everyone knew that was a tune the minute it came out.
PS: I actually think they had a couple of good tunes.
IU: Bring It All Back, S Club Party…
PS: Oh, the best bit of that was that “Moochie Mama show you nanas/Ah Ah Ah Ah!”
SD: I’d seen people dancing to it, and it was a New Years’ Eve party when they played Don’t Stop Movin’, and everyone was wasted, it was about ten minutes to midnight, and I’d never seen anything like it. It’s always when you see a different crowd dancing to a song.
PS: I actually think if someone like Justin Timberlake recorded the exact same song, it would be much more fondly remembered.
IU: Justin Timberlake is a funny one.
PS: Fuck him for what he did to Janet Jackson!
SD: I played Cry Me a River and that didn’t go down well. But I haven’t got much to say about S Club 7 other than those couple of records are excellent. I don’t know much about them.
PS: It’s funny, because I’m younger, so I remember the kids show they had.
JA: Your relationship to it is very different.
PS: I remember they had this CBBC thing called Miami 7…
IU: Oh, yes! Like Cleopatra, they had one too, didn’t they?
PS: “Cleopatra, comin’ atcha!” What happened to them?
IU: They signed to Madonna’s label, and then it all fell apart.
JA: Kiss of death!
PS: It’s like anything like that; Paisley Park, Michael Jackson’s label. Nobody did jack shit.
SD: Let’s just say that when Sonic Yootha started getting a bit more successful, and younger people started coming, we did have moments where we were like “Should we be playing cooler music that we don’t know about?” But, we’ve got 50 years of classic pop music to draw on, you need to earn your right to be there. Even if you’ve only got that one song.
IU: There’s not just one song though. We haven’t even got to when they just became S Club.
PS: That’s when Paul left!
IU: Then you had S Club Juniors, who later became S Club 8.
PS: And then the girls from S Club 8 became The Saturdays!
JA: Oh did they?
IU: Yeah, two of them did.
SD: But can you name any hits from S Club 8?
IU: Automatic High, New Direction…
PS: One Step Closer. They did a cover of Puppy Love too.
IU: Puppy Love! They did! And their last song ever was called Don’t Tell Me You’re Sorry…
SD: You’re the only people I know who would know all of this!
MUNA: I Know a Place 
Ian Usher: I know nothing about these, other than they’re three girls.
Shaun Duggan: Oh, I thought it was one person.
IU: We were talking earlier about records that just drop the mood, and that’s one of them. It should be an anthem, but it’s not.
John Aggy: People don’t really know it.
IU: We are hell bent on making that an anthem.
Planet Slop: I think the teen girl audience is jumping on them a bit more because of the Harry Styles connection.
IU: What’s the Harry Styles connection?
PS: He’s been taking them on tour and just generally supporting them.
IU: Oh, OK!
SD: He said in an interview recently something like “Everybody’s a little bit gay”.
PS: Well, there’s that song he’s got, Medicine. He hasn’t released it yet, but people are analysing a bit and saying it sounds like him starting to come out as bi or pansexual with it.
IU: This is probably the worst song to come on after we’ve had a few pints. I love it and I’ll keep playing it. It needs to be an anthem, but when you play it at Yootha, it just drops. People aren’t connecting with it just yet. We did the same with Lorde, Green Light.
PS: Oh, that was a tune though!
IU: We wanted so much for people to connect to that, and it just wasn’t happening. And this is me and John playing it in peak hours. It’s really hard for me and John because we’ve probably got the worst point in so much as you’ve just got to keep them dancing.
PS: I’m sure it’s hard, but the other side to it is that by now you’ll have a fair idea of what will work and what won’t.
IU: Oh, yeah, of course, but we’re three years in and we want to get excited about playing something. I remember Tracey did Mighty Real, we went into I Feel Love, then we did I Know a Place, and the energy just went. So we’ll just persist with it. I think it’s important for us to play new music. Like Shaun played Tracey Thorn…
SD: Yeah, Queen.
IU: And you played Disappointing by John Grant.
SD: For me, songs kinda need to have that bittersweet thing. So, it can be an absolute big, dancey classic. It can be Daft Punk, Get Lucky. And there’s something in that which is such a great dance tune, but kinda cuts you right there too. Especially that line “We’ve come so far to give up who we are” – that could have been written for the gay community.
JA: That Daft Punk album could be one of those records we mentioned before that everyone was into.
PS: Do you actively look for songs like that? Or do they just jump out at you?
SD: No, they’re just the ones that hit me right there. I remember being about four in a buggy and ABBA’s Take a Chance on Me came on, and there’s something about that song, even in the pram. It was so joyous but I still wanted to burst into tears.
PS: Are there any other artists you’re looking at right now as being Yootha artists?
SD: I know he’s not exactly up and coming, but The Weeknd is one.
IU: Yeah, we discovered I Can’t Feel My Face, and that became a very Yootha anthem.
SD: I always play that towards the end of my set.
Sonic Yootha‘s post-Pride party Proud – In The Name of Love takes place on Saturday 28th July from 9pm at 24 Kitchen Street.