Kane Towning interview: Meet Tom Zanetti's business partner and the trailblazer behind Leeds bars Dollhouse and Playroom

As the trailblazer behind VIP hotspot Dollhouse and new day-to-night venue Playroom, Kane Towning knows how Leeds likes to party.

By Abbey Maclure
Sunday, 27th February 2022, 7:26 am

After spending 15 years performing all over the world, DJing for long-term friend and business partner Tom Zanetti, Kane hit the pause button on his music career as he ventured into the business world.

The 34-year-old, who grew up in Whinmoor, has been immersed in the Leeds nightlife scene since he was barely in double figures. .

He's watched as trends changed, sped up by social media over the last few years, and is on a mission to create an empire of bars across the country.

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Kane Towning, 34, has been immersed in the Leeds nightlife scene since he was barely in double figures (Photo: Bruce Rollinson)

Kane was introduced to the club scene as a child when his mum opened one of the first after-hours clubs in Leeds - Glasshouse.

“I saw this club being built in front of my eyes," he told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"It was the first time I’d seen decks, speakers and DJs and I remember hearing this enormous sound system.

“I was obsessed with nightlife, clubbing and music from then on. I never wanted to do or be anything else."

Kane and Tom Zanetti opened new drink, dine and dance venue Playroom in January (Photo: Bruce Rollinson)

Kane's mum bought him his first set of decks when he was 12 and by the age of 15 he was performing across the city and promoting events.

He met Tom Zanetti a couple of years later when the pair were making a name for themselves in Leeds, Tom as an MC and Kane as a DJ.

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It was a natural partnership, with Tom "jumping on" Kane's sets, but their association with the bassline scene - which had become linked with incidents of violence - meant they found it difficult to get booked for events.

"Leeds was ready for Dollhouse"

"We decided to do our own events and Insomnia was the first big night," Kane said.

“That’s when we really partnered up and turned everything into a business.”

Kane and Tom, by then close friends, founded their events company Sleepin is Cheatin in 2010 - hosting their Freak and Insomnia nights at Club Mission every Friday and Saturday.

The events ran for more than 10 years, until the pandemic hit and Mission closed down in 2020.

Kane will spend the next six months getting the Playroom concept nailed down, before opening more bars across the country (Photo: Bruce Rollinson)

"It’s unheard of now for a night to last that long," Kane added.

“We never relied on big headliners to fill the events, the whole ethos was bringing in local talent.

“Social media has completely changed the face of clubbing in recent years. As crazy as it sounds, it’s now about where you can get a picture, wear that outfit, get content and post the next day where you’ve been.

“So being in your run-of-a-mill nightclub on a Saturday night lost its appeal."

Kane said the nightlife scene is split between people who lean towards big events and those who want to get dressed up, go to a nice bar and have VIP treatment.

It's the latter market that he's captialised on with Tom, launching VIP bar Dollhouse in 2019 and drinking and dining venue Playroom this year.

"Leeds was ready for Dollhouse," Kane said.

“It was scary because it was the biggest risk we’ve ever taken, we put everything into it - all our life savings.

"I stopped DJing, stopped drinking, I stopped partying. I committed to it 100 per cent.

“It never came into my thought process that it wouldn’t work. It just had to.”

And it did; table bookings flew out before the bar had even opened.

There was no big marketing campaign, just word of mouth and Instagram posts helping the Dollhouse hype spread like wildfire.

The bar was heaving with guests, including many famous faces, until just eight months after opening when everything came to an abrupt halt.

“It came at such an important time in my life," Kane added.

"I'd not stopped since I was 15, I was consumed by work and doing what I loved. After I got past 30, there was always a little voice in my head saying, ‘is this what you want to be doing?’

"But having had it taken away for the first time in my life, it gave me a new purpose and more confidence going forward.

"It made me appreciate what I do and how fortunate I am to be able to do it."

Reaching the heights of his music career

The pinnacle of Kane's music career came in 2018, when he played at Ibiza superclub Ushuaia with Tom.

It was always a dream for the pair to play at the island venue and it marked the end of a chapter in Kane's career - a catalyst to focus their efforts on launching Dollhouse, content with the heights they'd reached as a duo in music.

"It was the perfect set," Kane said.

"Everything was bang on and I came off stage and I started crying, because I knew that chapter was done and I was ready to go on to open venues.

“It was a bittersweet moment, I knew after that nothing would compare. I’d fulfilled everything I wanted to do.

"Now, if I get the urge to play it’s purely for the love.”

Opening new drink-and-dine concept Playroom

After getting Dollhouse back up-and-running this summer, Kane and Tom launched their second Leeds bar, Playroom, last month.

The new dance, drink and dine concept combines a menu of small plates with live entertainment, sleek booths and a dancefloor, hosting tribute acts and themed events every Sunday.

It's inspired by the pair's favourite Ibiza venue, STK, which combines exquisite steaks with some of the best parties on the island.

"Everyone is still working it out," Kane said.

“Is it a restaurant? Is it a bar? Do I dine, do I dance? People are coming in not knowing what to expect, and leaving still not quite understanding it - but knowing they absolutely love it.

“It’s been interesting for myself, as an operator, to see that reaction. Our main priority was getting the food right and it’s getting nothing but good reviews.

“We’re tweaking it every weekend and it’s just getting better and better. It’s a really special venue.”

Leeds was always going to be the first focus for their business ventures, and Kane will spend the next six months getting the Playroom concept nailed down, but he has big dreams for the next five years.

He said: "We'll start looking to other territories and other cities where Dollhouse and Playroom will work, rolling them out over the next five years.

"Then we'd love to open beach clubs in all the main tourist destinations."

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