WHP FEATURE 010
JOHNNO – BUGGED OUT!
JOHNNO – BUGGED OUT!
Bugged Out has been flying the flag for underground house and techno longer than some of the artists who play the event have been alive. The night kicked off in 1994, when dance fanatics Johnno Burgess and Paul Benney, disappointed that there was nowhere in Manchester putting on the kind of techno they were writing about in their (defunct and much missed) magazine Jockey Slut, decided to put on a party themselves. They went ahead and booked Autechre and LFO for their opening night, and haven’t looked back since. The night has run uninterrupted- if not without the occasional blip- for the last 22 years, evolving as dance trends change. They’ve got it right so often that Johnno and Paul have seen numerous DJs that they gave a break to grow become some of the biggest names in dance –it often feels like pretty much anyone who has made it in the UK’s underground dance community has played at Bugged Out on their way to the top. By constantly championing the underground over the obvious they’ve become a British institution, one of the rare parties to have as much cache down South as it does up North, earning as much respect for their parties in London as they do for raves in Liverpool and Manchester.
So having journeyed through every high and low of promoting you’d care to mention, Johnno is uniquely positioned to break down the process of staying relevant in an industry that’s can be fulfilling and exhausting in equal measure. Unlike most of his 90s peers who long since dropped off, he’s still striving for that peculiar alchemy of music, darkness and dancers that creates something magical. We asked him to break down what he learnt about staying in the game for so long, and here’s what he told us...
We asked people like Green Velvet and Derrick Carter who’d never toured the UK before. Daft Punk were another one who had one of their first UK shows at Bugged Out.
1. First off, don’t follow the crowd
“Jockey Slut only really had stuff we liked in it – it wasn’t a platform for the more commercial DJs- we didn’t write about them because, to be honest, we could only afford a certain amount of paper..! So we’d just write about stuff we wanted to champion. It was an interesting time because it was still quite close to the birth of it all - it was only around ‘91, ‘92 that dance became really embedded across the country, so when we started in ‘94 it was still quite young, quite a nascent scene. New genres kept on coming – in ‘95 you had drum n’ bass, then the Mo’ Wax label with that Bristol sound, and you had big beat from the Wall of Sound and Skint labels – in the space of a few years you had three massive sub-genres. It was moving so quickly, and at the time we mainly covered what was still considered quite underground music. We left out all the Saturday night Judge Jules and Paul Oakenfold stuff that was supported by the super clubs. It was quite a split scene I suppose.”
Stick to your guns long enough and everything comes back in fashion
2. If you find a niche, you can often be the first to break acts – even if that means that sometimes, no one shows up
“We were one of the only clubs up North putting on these sort of acts, other than Back II Basics in Leeds, the Orbit, and Slam in Glasgow. There were a lot of techno clubs in London but it wasn’t being represented that well in Manchester. There was Herbal Tea Party and Bugged Out. We were bringing over a lot of DJs for the first time, because of the magazine- we’d be doing interviews and almost at the end of the phone call go ‘do you want to play in our club?’ So the club was almost like walking into a copy of the magazine. We asked people like Green Velvet and Derrick Carter who’d never toured the UK before. Daft Punk were another one who had one of their first UK shows at Bugged Out. With Green Velvet, we bought him over as Cajmere – he wasn’t that bothered about coming over, he was such a business man, and so busy running the Cajual and Relief labels that we really had to coax him over. It wasn’t a particularly busy night, the show was mainly full of all the people who bought his records. But the good thing about the layout of Sankey’s (where Bugged Out was held in the early days) was that you could have 400 people on the dancefloor and it would look packed. So there were nights that weren’t sold out, but still looked OK.”
we had Underworld, the Chemical Brothers, Richie Hawtin, DJ Hype, Carl Craig – it’s almost like a Warehouse Project line up now…
3. Stick to your guns long enough and everything comes back in fashion
“Our fourth birthday was in 1998, and the line-up still seems mental now – it had Daft Punk, Green Velvet, Surgeon and DJ Harvey on the bill –someone like Surgeon who we booked a lot in ‘97/ ‘98, he’s at the top of his game now, and being booked in places like Ministry of Sound. All these people who came through in deep house and techno in ‘95-‘96 are having a renaissance. Robert Hood is another one we used to book, that Floorplan album is massively fresh and relevant. It’s very heartening- and good for me because I’m probably about the same age as Robert Hood and Surgeon and all these people (laughs). And it’s good that people like Mike Dunn are having this thing that’s almost a second career – he’s probably earning more money now than he ever did, which is also heartening, seeing these people finally get what they deserve.” 4. Sometimes a disaster tells you it’s time to change direction.
“The first weekender we put on lost a lot of money. In hindsight we put it on sale far too late. The line-up was fucking mental – we had Underworld, the Chemical Brothers, Richie Hawtin, DJ Hype, Carl Craig – it’s almost like a Warehouse Project line up now… But the problem back then was that there was no social media, and we just didn’t get the message out quickly enough. You’d have to put posters up and print flyers back then. We didn’t have the same tools as you do now. It had a lasting impact, and took quite a lot of our confidence away for a few years. It was the end of 2000, and it almost heralded the end of a scene in a way. Those massive parties we were putting on at London’s Heaven with 3000+ people, we weren’t really enjoying them as much. Instead we found ourselves going to mid-week clubs in London that held 200 people and were £4 to get in – Nag Nag Nag, or Trash on a Monday.
Bugged Out has become quite a different beast because it’s run by quite a small team and we go where our hearts go.
“By 2001 we were working with people like Erol Alkan, Tiga and Miss Kitten – it was almost like the 2000 Weekender was the end of a phase of Bugged Out, and 2001 was Bugged Out Phase 2. We went back to basics and stopped doing the massive parties in Liverpool because we just wanted to put on music we were into, and our taste had changed quite quickly. We had to cancel our last show in Liverpool because it didn’t sell enough tickets – we left with our tail between our legs (laughs). But at the same time we were putting on the parties we wanted to put on in London. I guess if you ask why we’re still around it’s because we evolve every four or five years – Bugged Out has become quite a different beast because it’s run by quite a small team and we go where our hearts go. 5. Understand that everyone has a nightmare every now and then
Even though we’ve got 22 years of experience, every year you’ll drop a ball on a couple of shows – I don’t think any promoter is infallible. You’ll either put something on sale too late, or you will have put it on the Friday after a bank holiday and that’ll be a shit date to do, and you’ll be like, fuck! why have I done that! Most promoters are borderline alcoholics –the first thing you do when the doors open and the club is empty is head to the bar (laughs). I think it was Anthony Wilson from the Hacienda who said that there’s nothing worse than that long walk through an empty club – I’m sure he had plenty of those in the early days of the Hacienda. 6. But trust in the new talent and you’ll stay on top
“I think about four years ago a lot of the new breed came through who are headliners now. People like Ben UFO, Jackmaster and Daniel Avery have become headline DJs who’ll have long careers because they want it. Daniel wants the kind of career that Andrew Weatherall or Laurent Garnier has had. He’s got quite a young following and I can definitely imagine him being around in ten years time. We’ve seen people like Maya Jane Cole and Bicep getting massive very quickly –I think we first booked Bicep for the small room of XOYO in 2012 and they very rapidly rose to the top. Underground music has become big again – bigger than it’s ever been really. “It’s been great working with Dusky, we’ve been working with them for three years and now we’re promoting their live shows – they’re just massive music heads, really talented producers. They’re obsessed with that early 90s era of rave, it’s reflected in some of their music and their Yoo Hoo video. We put on a really fun party last year called ‘Dusky Takes a Trip’ where they played all night and we had a proper early 90s style chill out room with bean-bags, ice pops and old skool visuals on the wall. I like working with like-minded people, and they’re really nice blokes as well.” 7. Finally, keep on having fun
“We’re trying to do more parties that we really enjoy – I know it sounds obvious, but we’re looking at next year and thinking, let’s put on parties that we really want to go to. We’ve started turning shows down if we think they’re too much of a stress. We’ll still put on the bigger events like the show in Margate (Bugged Out In Dreamland), or the Warehouse Project, but we’re doing a really small New Years party this year; a 500 capacity venue with Erol Alkan and another favourite I can’t reveal yet. It’s an event I’d want to go to - and I consider them both friends. They’re both real gentlemen as well. Erol is one of the only DJs that will text the next day to say thanks for the gig, which is always appreciated!