There’s often a tendency in the UK clubbing scene to be quite London-centric. Of course this happens in every country and the respective capital, but if you were to talk about UK nightlife in the past 20 years and not mention Leeds’ Mint Club, you’d be doing the discussion a huge disservice.
Back in 1998, Back To Basics head-honcho Ralph Lawson was looking for a new venue for his era defining party. He recalled a little-known club called Fiddlers’ Club with a low ceiling, alcohol soaked carpets and fantastic sound within the venue. Even the optimistic part of Lawson couldn’t have guessed that Mint Club would go on to become a club that shaped not only the city of Leeds, but UK nightlife as a whole.
In 2008, Shane Graham took control and introduced System, Mint’s main party and in control for the Saturday and Sunday closing parties. The Watergate-inspired LED ceiling was installed and DJs such as Ricardo Villalobos, Sven Vath and Zip were brought to an intimate venue in little Leeds.
However, in September, the club announced it would be closing due to ‘comprehensive redevelopment’ meaning the club could not extend or even renew their lease. It’s a familiar story for so many clubs and art spaces in the UK.
In typical Mint Club fashion, the team were only looking forward and planned a mammoth three-month schedule of closing parties. Culminating on the last weekend of February with a two-day closing party from System.
The line-up for the closing weekend was essentially a who’s who of minimal, house and techno. Over the course of 32 hours, the club would play host to DJs who they’d developed a relationship with over years, such as Ricardo Villalobos, Zip, Apollonia, Craig Richards, Seth Troxler, tINI, the FUSE contingent in its entirety and so many more.
Straight off the bat, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be your typical closing party full of mourning and melancholy. Everyone from the attendees, to bar staff to the DJs themselves were in a jovial mood and ready to give Leeds’ premier club the send-off it so desperately deserved.
With the weekend possessing emotion in abundance, the emphasis was shifted on each DJ simply playing their best, most boisterous music. The triple threat back-to-back-to-back of tINI, Enzo Siragusa and Archie Hamilton fitted the bill for this perfectly.
Whilst the FUSE duo provided much of the rhythm, it was tINI who appeared to be in charge of delivering most of the most well-received music. The face scrunching drops of Big Miz’s ‘Gear Tension’ and the anarchical acid-electro of Signal To Noise’s ‘Detroit is Burning’ felt like they were really beginning to kick the Sunday into gear.
Their set mostly consisted of hard hitters, but the closing of their set with Kerri Chandler’s Atmospheric Dub remix of The System – ‘You’re In My System‘ was the first of many heart-string tugging moments that would take place over the next few hours.
Next up were Craig Richards and Seth Troxler who continued on the boisterous music path. It’s hard to think of a DJ who brings the best out of Troxler than Richards, who always seems to guide on the path of taking more risks with his mixes and playing more daring music.
One of the most smile-inducing occurrences throughout the weekend was the laid-back nature of the DJs who darted around the club as if they were any regular club goer. Seth Troxler was seen taking pictures with fans throughout and tINI was on the dancefloor having the time of her life. Every DJ who featured on the line-up didn’t want to just collect their pay cheque and go, they wanted to have the whole experience and felt what everyone else was going to feel.
As Troxler and Richards finished up, there was already smoking area chatter of how Ricardo Villalobos, tasked with closing the night, was going to play. Perhaps it was a little hasty, as the clock pinged to within an hour of midnight, it was Perlon head honcho Zip who had to guide the crowd into his Perlon labelmate’s set.
That, however, would be doing a grave disservice to Zip’s set, which I can only describe as one of those jaw-dropping sets that I increasingly only ever get to see exclusively from Zip. The two-hour set slot felt a bit unfair to a DJ who often only takes extended gigs and prefers to slowly build a set-up and then down. However, he seemingly noticed the crowd’s energy and hopped right into it, with a now packed-out Mint Club eating out of the palm of his hand.
New and old tracks such as Binh’s Waescgerei and Dan Curtin’s ‘Convergence’ were perfectly sewn together by Zip’s seemingly innate ability to make a set flow. A particular highlight of the entire weekend came when Narcotic Syntax’s ‘Muff Diver’ was dropped during peak time. The track for me showcases Perlon and Zip’s sound to perfection. Bouncy, grin-inducing and of course, classic party music.
Then there was Ricardo. There are a few reasons as to why the Chilean and System have developed such an important relationship. Over the past decade or so, outside of his quarterly fabric residency, it’s quite difficult to see Villalobos. You may get the odd Warehouse Project or Sub Club date, but outside of the capital, you’re most likely to find him at 6am in Mint Club or his annual residency at sister-club Mint Warehouse.
For all the accusations of Ricardo coasting sets or not taking his sets seriously enough, they’ve never held true for any of his sets for the System crew. The pattern held up as he took the decks for his closing set, serial complainers of his tendency to socialise whilst playing would be disappointed to hear that during his set, he held the type of laser focus that you’d normally associate with more stonefaced DJs.
But Ricardo did Ricardo at his very finest. He blew the roof off with tracks like Cloudy City’s T.H.C but also tugged at the heartstrings by layering Depeche Mode lyrics over looping minimal. If only every Villalobos doubter in the world could have been there on Sunday night then there wouldn’t be any doubters left.
The Chilean eventually finished up at 6 before Craig Richards took control again until roughly 10am. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there at the very end but judging by multiple accounts, it was a worthy ending.
When most clubs close, that’s the curtains drawn forever. For Mint Club and the crew behind it, it’s a little different. There’s the sister venue Mint Warehouse to take care of and offers a potential avenue to build upon the legacy of it’s older brother. There’s also of course Mint Festival and Cocoon In The Park run by the System contingent.
There’s also some hope that the closing of Mint Club and the outpour of love and support during this stretch of closing parties will go some way to showing local councils and governments how important nightlife is. In all honesty, it’s pretty surprising a council in an art appreciative and easygoing city like Leeds would allow this to happen, but here we are.
I suppose the most exciting thing is, nobody knows what the future holds. One door may have closed in Mint Club, but it feels almost certain that a few more doors have opened.