Leeds Back to Basics: Dave Beer interview

Leeds's oldest club night Back to Basics is celebrating its 18th birthday. Rod McPhee met boss Dave Beer.

It's the early 90s and Daft Punk – who have yet to become the global dance enigmas they are today – are DJing in a Parisian bar.

As they perform their set a bloke from a Pontefract council estate pops his head over the top of the booth.

* Click here for latest YEP news.

Impressed by their sound, fledgling club night owner Dave Beer makes tentative enquires but the duo, who barely speak a word of English, simply slip him a mix of their work. It was so long ago it came on a cassette.

* Click here for latest YEP news and sport picture slideshows.

Next thing De Homem-Christo and Bangalter are behind the decks of Back to Basics in The Pleasure Rooms. It was a night which has gone down in legend, but it really happened. Daft Punk – minus space suits and helmets – really did perform in Leeds, as comparative unknowns.

* Click here to watch latest YEP news and sport video reports.

Thanks to Beer, B2B was one of the first British clubs to showcase the French dancemasters. But they weren't the last big name to perform there. The likes of Groove Armada and Basement Jaxx have all passed through the doors at one time or another.

"Nurturing talent has always been a massive part of what Back to Basics was all about, it still is," says Beer. "Music has always been the starting point for me. And it makes me really proud to think we've helped some of these big names on their way.

* Click here to follow the YEP on Twitter.

"We still look out for up-and-coming talent and if we think they have potential we'll give them the chance to perform as Basics, which is real opportunity for them because we have such a massive following."

A massive following, and loyal too. This Saturday, with a royal-themed fancy dress shindig down at My House, Beer prepares to celebrate 18 years since the club night launched.

* Click here to become a fan of the YEP on Facebook.

He does so in the knowledge that they're still supported by many of the punters who patronised the place in the formative days of The Music Factory on Lower Briggate.

But despite being featured in Leeds City Museum (as part of an exhibition chronicling the popular culture of Leeds) B2B is far from a museum piece, they're still cutting edge. In fact the club night, now based at My House on Brick Lane, has spawned a whole new generation, literally.

He says: "I still get people coming up to me in the street, gesturing towards a pram saying 'This is your fault Beero', which obviously gets me a bit worried as you can imagine. But what they usually mean is that they met their husband or partner through going out clubbing at Basics.

"Worse still, sometimes I get lads and lasses coming up to me in the club telling me their mum and dad used to come out to Basics back in the day. Now that really makes you feel old."

Beer is, in fact, 44 years old. He was just 26 when he launched B2B with fellow DJ Alistair Cooke. Tragically Cooke and his partner were killed in a crash in 1993, and though Beer was in the car at the time of the accident he survived.

And, almost two decades on, Beer had another near-death experience – one which served as something of an epiphany.

"My dad and I contracted pneumonia at the same time," he says. "It was a couple of years ago and I ended up in intensive care. The doctors said I had something like a 20 per cent chance of survival.

"A lot of people thought maybe it was down to lifestyle or whatever but that wasn't the case. Alot of people came down with pneumonia at the time and there were people half my age who went into hospital and never came out again.

"There's many different ways of getting it. You can just go out in the cold, be run down or just be unfortunate enough to breath it in. I ended up in a coma for ten days though."

After battling back to health Beer and his wife separated. "Dying was the easy bit, sometimes living is harder. But you have to dust yourself off and start again, now I have a new girlfriend and the whole experience has changed my outlook on life, I appreciate it so much more now."

These days he's more content being a father to nine-year-old daughter Evie and Danny, 15.

He says: "It makes me smile when people still talk about me as still being some kind of party boy. I still have my moments but just because

I'm always at the club doesn't mean I'm always partying, often I'm busy working behind the scenes doing stuff.

"My passport might read Occupation: The Purveyor of Good Times but I'm the purveyor, not always the one who wants to be having a good time. I have just as good a time sitting at home watching Coronation Street with the kids these days. I'm a lot calmer than I used to be."

Beer has always been a high-profile ambassador for partying. Born and raised on the aforementioned council estate in Pontefract, the adolescent Beer quickly developed a taste for bars, clubs and, in particular music.

In the 80s he was a roadie and a tour manager working with a string of groups including That Petrol Emotion, Pop Will Eat Itself and the Sisters of Mercy, the latter he actually lived with for a while.

But his love of the party lifestyle extended way beyond self-indulgence. Back in the 1990s when Back to Basics was starting up he was among an influential group of people who pushed the local authority to revise their policy towards nightlife.

The key issue was licensing and the drive towards making Leeds more of a 24 hour city. He worked with Leeds City Council to ensure that if entrepreneurs invested in new and interesting projects that they would be likely to support them.

"By doing that we changed the city centre and made it what it is today," he says. "Just 20 or so years ago the middle of Leeds really wasn't a very nice place to be.

"It was just a handful of pubs, very few bars or clubs to speak of and as a result you had a load of drunken people piling onto the streets at 11pm and, inevitably, it meant there were always hotspots of trouble with violence and bad behaviour flaring up.

"But our aim was to make Leeds much more cosmopolitan in terms of what nightlife it could offer and not have these flashpoints and no-go areas, and I think in the main there's been a massive change in that respect, and for the better."

Beer is now waiting to hear back from the Guinness Book of Records who are now considering whether to enter Back to Basics in their 'clubs' section, listing the night as the longest running in the world. It's a whimsical ambition, and one which he isn't too bothered about achieving, but he's still keeping his fingers crossed.

More important to him now is the new era of Back to Basics.

"We really want to capitalise on what we've achieved because I think at 18 we've finally come of age." he says. "People have asked 'Why don't you do this and that? You know, extending the brand?'

"And it's something we're looking at now with albums coming out and I've been given the chance to write a book about my life. Then there's other things I'm considering.

"There's a big scene in Hollywood now, a lot of my friends have now moved out to L.A. Not that I'm thinking about just shifting out there – you blossom where you're sown, if you know what I mean?

"And Leeds is very important to me. It's given so much to me and the club and we want to give something back. So the next thing is opening some kind of school, a DJ and digital recording school for local artists so people can learn how to make music how to DJ.

"The music college can't cater for it all so I'm in talks with the council to create a 'Basics' academy, where people can learn the basics if you like. Like I said before, it has always been about the music for me.

"That's where I started and if it does end anywhere, I'd like it to end there, back with the music and giving something back to Leeds.