Dave Beer Interview: The life and times of Back To Basics founder and Leeds’ own clubland hero

There are very few people who have lived a life as full as Dave Beer.

By Abi Whistance
Sunday, 8th May 2022, 11:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 8:37 am

With a phonebook that could rival the royals, and the photos to corroborate it, Dave has long been a cultural icon of Leeds.

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From tour manager for Run DMC, to fashion designer winning the favour of Lily Allen and Jude Law, the Back To Basics founder has built an illustrious career from humble beginnings.

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Pictured: Dave Beer in his studio in Leeds. Photo: Tony Johnson

After falling in love with punk music at an early age, a young Beer set about infiltrating his favourite band in perhaps a more ballsy attempt than many would dare.

“I got thrown out of [The Clash’s] gig so I went and climbed in through a window round the back,” Dave said.

“I dropped right onto their rider and the table with sarnies, luckily they weren’t big on sandwiches then!”

Cowering under a table to avoid being caught by the bouncers who’d seen him two legs up in the air, tumbling through the dressing room window, Beer was soon adopted by the band as their top groupie, albeit under the guise that he was eighteen, not fifteen.

Pictured is Dave Beer and Ali Cooke, founders of Back To Basics, as they received the Best Club in England Award. Photo: Dave Beer

From then he gyrated through punk scenes across the UK, mingling with the likes of Cocteau Twins and, of course, The Sisters of Mercy.

“I was living with [The Sisters of Mercy] back when Leeds was just like Gotham City, it was brilliant. By then we’d grown out of punk and got into drum machines; we loved the tightness of it.

“It was more or less house music really, in a strange way.”

By his early twenties Dave had migrated to America, acting as a tour manager for the likes of Run DMC and Public Enemy when hip-house was in its heyday.

Pictured is Dave Beer's mother and DJ Fatboy Slim (Norman Quentin Cook). Photo: Dave Beer

Loading up gear into trucks after sold-out shows in New York, Chicago and Detroit, Beer and the gang fell into the only clubs open at 3am.

“We’d go [to gay clubs], Paradise Garage and Loft, and they were playing music that I just got straight away.

“I knew it was for me. The subversiveness of it, how decadent it seemed; it was just punk in a different way.

It was for outcasts, people on the fringes of society and that’s how I had always found myself.”

Keeping the very ethos of the clubs he visited in America close to his heart, Beer found himself embracing a life of illegal raves when he returned to the UK, from Blackburn to the M25.

But that era of dance music built around love was met with a sinister backdrop of police brutality, creeping in as acid house took its hold.

“The [police] would beat women, batter young girls on the floor and it was like, why are you doing this? We just want to dance. That’s all we wanted to do.”

Over thirty years on, Dave has given countless talks in conjunction with The Arts Council of England and various universities to raise awareness of the police violence seen in the club scene during the late eighties.

On his role as a public speaker, Dave said: “We went from being outlaws to pillars in society and I thought, when did that bit happen?

“You’ve given me the keys to the city but I thought I wasn’t even allowed on the steps.”

After drinking it all in Dave, and his partner in crime Alistair Cooke (who died in a car crash in 1993), decided to start a new kind of club night in 1991 - Back To Basics.

Now one of the most important nights in the UK clubbing scene, Back To Basics challenged the extravagance of the eighties and instead served as a reminder of what clubs are all about: good music and good people.

Basics remains unrivalled in the city of Leeds to this day, bringing together young and old on the dancefloor for a night of pure love.

"All we want is for people to come to [Back To Basics] and express themselves; all sexualities, colours and musical tastes.

"We just want people to have a good time."

Back To Basics at Sheaf Street

After a successful debut at Sheaf Street in March, Back To Basics returns to the same venue on Saturday 28 May.

The new club night, titled F–k It Let’s Dance, will feature sets from some of Beer’s closest companions, including Irvine Welsh, Rowetta and Bez from the Happy Mondays.

On this new strain of Back To Basics, Dave said: “I almost hung my boots up [after the pandemic] but when I saw the state of how things have become, how clubbing has become this mass produced, bums on seats kind of thing...

It seemed an eye for detail had gone, and it’s our duty to do something to liven [clubs] up again.”

Back To Basics returns to Sheaf Street on Saturday 28 May. Further details to be announced.

I’m With The Band

‘You get my son bloody home!’ Beer’s mum bellowed down the phone at none other than Joe Strummer. After several weeks of touring alongside The Clash under the pretence he was of age, Dave Beer had well and truly been caught out.

Holding the phone away from his ear, trying to avoid the screech of motherly rage, Strummer pleaded with Mrs Beer.

‘He’s my bloody lad and he’s going to art school so get him back home or you’ll have me to answer to!’

‘Right, okay,’ murmured Joe. ‘I’ll do my best.’

Unbeknownst to young Beer, his mother had signed him up to a course at Wakefield Arts School when he’d absconded with the punk rockers.

“I told [Joe Strummer] I wasn’t going,” said Beer.

“I wanted to go on tour with them instead. But he told me that [The Clash] all met at art school, so had The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

“I thought, oh, really? I can get in a band then! So I went to art school for that reason and I did.”

During his first year at Wakefield Arts, Beer met best friend Alistair Cooke and formed his first punk band.

Signed to 4AD Records for their looks and band name alone (Beer’s words, not mine), the pair experimented with a mish-mash of sounds before falling head over heels for the mighty drum machine heard in shoegaze, and then, house music.