Le Phonographique (better known as The Phono) ran from the late 70’s right through to the early noughties and is noted for its new wave/alternative nights and its influence on the Gothic subculture.
Relaunched in 1981 as a new wave/post punk club by “The Twins” (John & Alan), the Phono provided a sanctuary for alternative music fans. In the early days it hosted djs like Marc Almond and Anni Hogan (later of London’s ‘The Batcave’) and was often frequented by the members of The Sisters Of Mercy, The Mission, March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and many other influential goth bands.
A lot of us would say that Leeds was a bit grim back in the 80’s: the soot blackened buildings, the mining communities decimated by strikes and the fear of the Yorkshire Ripper all contributed to an atmosphere of fear and antagonism. If you were the guy with a bit of make up or the girl with coloured, backcombed hair venturing into the centre of an evening you could easily end up assaulted, verbally or even physically. But, if you made it past the gauntlet of drunken townies, there was a little safe oasis hidden in the bowels of the brutalist concrete box that was the Merrion centre where you could be yourself regarding your sexual orientation, dress style or hair or piercings.
Whatever your weirdo factor, you were accepted.
It’s a popular myth, that the infamous “Gothic two step” dance originated there due to the pokey layout and massive mirrored pillar slap bang in the middle of the dance floor. Keeping the upstairs shop, well, upstairs.
Time moved on, as did the Phono in some ways. The early 90’s saw the birth of grunge and the transition from indie into Britpop. Being a small club (150 capacity), the Phono could accommodate up and coming, minority genres; this was at the heart and soul of the Phono, the ability to move with the times and still stay faithful to their loyal customers. Throughout the 90’s and noughties the regular Saturday nights would incorporate classic punk, new wave and goth whilst introducing the newer sounds like industrial, alternative rock, grunge and so on.
The Sunday night always stayed faithful to goth and new wave both from the past and then the present.
It is a testament to the Phono being a community of friendly weirdos and misfits that even after the Phono closed its doors (door) in November 2005 its spirit lives on, as its clientele celebrate a few times a year to the soundtrack of songs from the era of the Phono.