Le Phonographique (better known as The Phono) ran from the 1979 to 2005 and is noted for its new wave/alternative nights and its influence on the Gothic subculture.
Relaunched in 1980 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.
The club changed it’s name from WigWam to Le Phonographique in 1979 and was soon sold to John and Alan Baker (The Twins). The Twins along with DJ Jim Bates changed the style of the club nights from mainstream to a more alternative scene. Anni Hogan was one of the DJs brought in by The Twins to establish Le Phonographique as an alternative venue.
In 1987 The Twins sold Le Phonographique to Geoff Lawrence who continued to run it as an alternative club until 1991 when he ran into financial difficulties resulting in the club closing. At this time a local promoter, Rich K. moved the major nights (including the Saturday afternoon slot) to Ricky’s nightclub on Merrion Street. This time is now seen as The Phono in exile. Over the next couple of years The Phono nights moved to various clubs around Leeds.
In 1993 the club reopened as Ashfields, playing mainstream music and the decor had changed to pink and sparkly with wine bar tables. Rich K. and DJ Mixmaster Stilton begged the new owners for a night, eventually they were given a Tuesday night and they called it MELT. MELT was an indie/alternative club night, harking back to the old Phono days. Within a month the Tuesday night was more popular than the rest of the nights put together.
In 1994 Ashfields was sold to a small nightclub chain and they renamed it Rio’s. Rich K. was immediately given the Saturday night. In 1995 Rich K. along with DJ Mixmaster Stilton and others bought the club, painted it black, put the dancefloor back around the pillar in the middle of the room holding the Merrion Centre up and renamed the club Le Phonographique. The club quickly changed back to it’s alternative roots.
In December 1998 the club was sold to DJ Geoff and renamed Bar Phono. He continued to run the club in the spirit of Le Phonographique until 2005 when a new lease was refused.
In 2008 The Phono-ites pined for the old days of the alternative scene, from there Le Phono reunion was born. After a few years the name of these events changed from The Phono reunion to Le Phono (then the year i.e. Le Phono 2008). There is usually a reunion in that horrible week between Christmas and New Year, Easter weekend and sometimes there’s one at a lunchtime.
We know it sounds weird going to a nightclub on a lunchtime but this was a big part of Le Phonographique. First opening from 12 noon until 3 (later opened until 4pm) in the afternoon (due to the licensing hours of the time). Saturday lunchtimes were a staple of the Phono events.
You would arrive at 12 noon in the middle of a busy shopping centre and pay 50p entry and you would be given a large metal washer as a token. Between 12 and 12.30 these washers would allow you to buy a pint and get a pint free. After a couple of pints and a few dances you’d end up buying another pint and so on. Then the event would come to a close and they would turf you out into the heart of a busy Leeds shopping centre. You had forgotten it was the middle of the day, as you try to navigate the throngs of grannies with shopping baskets on wheels, whilst staggering out drunkenly blinded by the daylight. After listening to the Sisters and Dead Kennedys it was a different world from the one you’d just emerged from.