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COMMENT: A Czar Is Born: But Can Parklife’s Founder Shake Our ‘Madchester’ Love Affair?

Manchester owes much of its international acclaim and reputation for subversive counterculture to The Haçienda and Tony Wilson, who famously proclaimed: “This is Manchester, we do things differently here” – but will the arrival of Manchester’s first ‘night czar’ see the city progress beyond the hedonism of ‘89?  – WORDS: Theo Watt

In her first year as London’s new ‘night czar’, Amy Lamé faced the unimaginable challenge of saving Fabric, one of the capital’s best-loved nightclubs, following the drug-induced deaths of two teenagers. Three years on and the beaming strobe of night time culture shines on Parklife and Warehouse Project founder Sacha Lord, who has just been appointed Manchester’s first-ever after-hours czar. Lord, who is also responsible for bringing superstars like Frank Ocean and A Tribe Called Quest to Heaton Park, has already given his backing to drugs testing in venues, but the night time head honcho faces another unique challenge.

In my opinion, the mark of Lord’s legacy will be in his ability to reinvent Manchester’s club scene by pushing a new identity that doesn’t fall back on the nostalgia of The Haçienda. This month will mark eleven years since the iconic Whitworth Street club was forced to close. But despite The Haç – the birthplace of acid house and the second summer of love – shutting its doors in 1997, its memory still lives on in the hearts of people who weren’t even born in its heyday. I should know, it was the brilliance of Tony Wilson, New Order, Happy Mondays, A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State and others that brought me here in the first place. But, like others my age, Madchester lives on in my imagination, not my memory.

Someone with vivid memories of the golden age of acid and baggy, however, is ex-FHM writer and freelance journalist Joe Madden, who incensed Manchester music fans by calling out the damaging and dull addiction to nostalgia, ahead of last year’s True Faith exhibition of New Order and Joy Division artwork. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do agree with the famed DJ and author Dave Haslam in that Manchester’s music scene should celebrate its past, without living in it. “I admit it’s a difficult balance, but I think what’s sometimes forgotten is that every generation has a battle to fight,” he writes. Lord [Sacha] has done an exceptional job thus far through The Warehouse Project, but the Store Street club’s box office roster is a seasonal affair; Manchester needs a world-renowned nightlife it can get behind all year round, not just between September and December, and not just within the dance genre.

As for the identity debate, I doubt anyone is against Manchester’s past, present and future co-existing. I would much rather it this way then in my hometown of Bristol, where the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead feel more like closely guarded secrets among my dad and others his age. As Haslam said, there has to be a balance. What we need is further collaboration between genres and sub-cultures, and to provide a credible platform – as Tony Wilson did – for the emergence of homegrown, underground talent. Only then will Manchester be able to look backwards whilst looking forwards. Only then will Manchester’s nightlife feel as progressive, dynamic and inclusive as the city itself. We mustn’t forget our past heroes, but we needn’t erect any more effigies or mosaics to Madchester’s past either. Lord is undoubtedly the man to modernise our nightlife before taking it to stratospheric heights. Like Human Traffic’s Pablo Hassan, his experience, address list and authority on club culture is matched by few.

Given the impact of a night czar in London, Manchester could soon see the arrival of 24-hour clubs, 24-hour tram travel and, one would hope, more events like Parklife and The Warehouse Project for the 24-hour party people who keep our city jiving after midnight. As for us clubbers, we’ll be waiting to see if Lord can implement a year-round club culture that follows Amsterdam and Berlin in being ahead of its time, as was the case more than 20 years ago when a club that would change counter-culture forever through ecstasy and acid house was born. Let’s hope the third summer of love continues long after dark.

Watch our in-depth interview with Sacha Lord below.

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