The North East traditionally isn't known for its underground scenes as such. From the outside it's hard not to view it as an extension of an Alan Sillitoe novel - where working class men work hard all week only to turn into hard drinking weekenders looking for escapism and fun. Teesside in particular, with its border of chemical works provides steady employment but an eerie background to the bell jar of the 39 hour week -especially at night. Lit up like a Japanese metropolis - it was the inspiration for Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner', given that he was a local boy with big ambitions and even bigger dreams.
From the late nineties into the following decade it was also home to one of the best house nights in the country. Middlesbrough's Sugar Shack based in an old theatre house on corporation road was the place where North East dance fans flocked to on an Friday to lose themselves in an elastic reality. It was a spectacular night where the spiritual vibe of house music and it's link to the dancing working classes - was a throwback to Ron Hardy's day. There was no clique. No fashion policy. No dark, druggy vibe. No violence. There were chemicals sure, but it was all part of disappearing down a spectacular rabbit hole. An energy flash which is hard to do justice to unless you've danced to its peculiar, beatific beat.
With an eclectic mixture of DJ's it was a soundtrack that constantly evolved by the week. There was none of the rigid elitism, the concrete foundation of sticking to one genre of dance music that other clubs stuck to. You were more than likely to hear the soul whispers of garage turn into the sleek machine age of tech house turn into the animal nitrate of hard house all in a single night. It was fucking brilliant. All the big hitters played there too. The cool ghost dogs of house music. Sanchez. De Housecat. The Masters of Work and others, but it hardly mattered. It wasn't about badge wearing or trainspotting. There was a less cynical vibe than other name clubs. Brilliantly it evoked the idea that the person on the dance floor was as important as the person behind the decks. Regularly you could hear people scream from the balconies above. At times, with such a charged and positive atmosphere you could virtually see the electricity crackling through the air.
As such it's hard to pick out my own favourite memories but personally I can think of two. The first a genius of a DJ from Brooklyn called Angel Moraes, who on a Friday night on Teeside evoked the greatest elements of underground dance music into a stirring symphony. A four four masterpiece that went way beyond a conventional dj set,.....all Dark strings and whipping percussion. Gospel screams and basic channels. Pure fucking alchemy. It was like two hours of the future shaking hands with a revered past. If Larry Levan had been looking down he would have raised a hand appreciatively. It was incredible. I'll never forget it.
My second memory is much simpler. A piece of graffiti or was it written on the wall, I can't remember and it hardly matters. I stumbled across it one night and it's lyricism has stuck with me ever since. It perfectly sums up the joy and escape of house music for me. Under the heading of 'hate is not our drug' - it read as follows:
I've discovered a place
Where energy flashes
And people act
It makes me smile
And others too
It's pounding rhythm
No men on beer
We call it home
For a long time, on a series of magic nights in Middlesbrough, I knew that feeling well.