The LEGACY Issue: Sacha Lord: Tales from the Dancefloor

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Featured image: Bed Redshaw

“I didn’t do very well at school and the reason for that was Madchester,” says Sacha Lord, sitting down to talk at Manchester Met. Across the road is The Footage pub where he played some of his first gigs as a DJ. He’s here to talk about his new book Tales from the Dance Floor, which documents his 30-year career at the forefront of Manchester’s party scene.

As an 18-year-old, Sacha dreamed of becoming an artist and studying at Manchester Met, but the city had other plans for him. When he was in sixth form, Manchester’s music scene was at its peak with New Order, The Stone Roses, The Smiths and Happy Mondays all on the circuit. He says the enthralling Madchester scene led him astray and resulted in him getting two Us and an E in his A-Levels. It worked out for him in the end though.

‘Madchester’ was a musical and cultural phenomenon that developed here in the late 1980s as indie music merged with acid house, psychedelia and 1960s pop vibes. It was an exciting time to be a teenager and a perfect wave to catch for a driven individual like Sacha, looking to make his mark and put on a good party.

The Haçienda club on the corner of Whitworth Street West was at the centre of this movement, and this was where things began for Sacha: “It was the first type of club I had been to where it didn’t matter who you were. Everyone was in The Haçienda for music, and I got obsessed with that.”

Sacha then began to put his own nights on. His first was at The Haçienda on 4 July 1994. He organised student nights at the ‘Flea and Firkin’, now The Footage on Manchester Oxford Road. “It all fell into place from then,” he says.

A career in the creative industries would always be part of his path. This “regular bloke” who grew up in Altrincham is now the co-founder of the Warehouse Project and Parklife Festival. He is also the first Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, appointed by the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.

Sacha bought his first nightclub in 2002 called Sankey’s Soap. He admits it was good fun but he eventually grew tired and restless with the business. “I got bored because it was the same four walls week in and week out. I then came up with the idea of The Warehouse Project, which is nomadic – it can move around.”

The first Warehouse Project was held at the Boddingtons Brewery near Strangeways prison in 2006. He soon found there was an issue – the brewery wasn’t soundproof and the music could be heard in the prison. The nightclub had to switch to an underground car park at Store Street near Piccadilly station.

Sacha says: “My phone was ringing, ringing, ringing. After about the fifth time I answered it, and it was the governor of Strangeways prison.” The Warehouse Project had caused a drug spike in the prison. “We were getting letters from prisoners on Strangeways letterheads saying ‘I heard Annie Mac, can you send it on tape?’ It was ridiculous so that’s why we moved and out of that came Parklife [Festival].”

Sacha’s book Tales from the Dance Floor tells it as it was. Co-written with award-winning music journalist Luke Bainbridge, it highlights three decades of his success. Sacha says: “Sitting down to write 85,000 words was a tough task. I’ve known Luke most of my career, back when I was putting on nights at The Haçienda. I wanted to co-author with someone who understood without me having to recall all these things.”

Sacha enjoyed the dynamic of co-writing with Luke and reminiscing with someone who just “gets it”. He says: “It’s been a really good, therapeutic process.” He adds it was interesting to look back on Manchester in the 90s and reflect on how much times have changed, describing how the city’s nightlife back then was run by “nasty people”. He says: “There are a few eyebrow-raisers when people read the book,” he remarks. “I’ve been shot at twice and petrol bombed in Sankey’s.”

His own club nights have also been marred by incident, he says. “Somebody did sadly pass away in 2013 after attending the Warehouse Project. They had taken something and by the time they got to the hospital, they didn’t make it. It would be ludicrous not to include things like that [in the book]. I’ve tried to encompass it all.”

Sacha says he committed to being completely honest when writing the book and was keen to lay out the truth. He does not shy away from the harsh realities of the night-time economy in Manchester and the wider issues the city has faced, past and present.

There have also been plenty of wholesome moments during his career running events in the city: people contact him saying they’ve found love at his events or formed life-long friendships. “Someone told me their son was conceived during the Warehouse Project.”

Today, in his role as Night Time Economy Adviser, Sacha champions reforming Manchester’s nightlife and supporting hospitality. He consistently backs small and independent businesses across Greater Manchester by leveraging his profile. From picking up the tab for everyone’s meals at independent restaurants for the day to calling for the Government to protect and promote the hospitality industry, he gives back to his home and the city that made him the man he is.

Sacha’s events showcase the power of community too. According to him, the formula for successful events is focusing on the guests who create the atmosphere: “Everyone thinks when you buy a ticket to Warehouse Project or Parklife it’s all about the DJ, that the DJ is the most important thing on the platform – or the artist, or the band. But the customer is the most important thing. Unless they gel or unless they mould, it’s not going to work.”

Sacha’s influence on the city and Mancunians is widely recognised by fellow Manc legends — like when Ian Brown, lead singer of the Stone Roses gave a quote for his book. Sacha says: “[Ian] said something like: ‘Over three decades Sacha has kept the nightlife light alight.’” He jokes: “I think it probably helped that I was paying him [to headline my festival].”

Sitting in the MMU radio studio at Grosvenor East, Sacha is surrounded by young people who look up to the level of success he’s achieved. But he has two important messages for them: “Success is not about money. If you’re successful, that will come eventually. I think success is learning every time you fail.

“If you want to start a business now nothing is stopping you. If you fail, just brush yourself off and start again.”

Sacha wants to be remembered for creating happy memories, and he leaves us with this thought. “Can I just say that I already know what my tombstone is going to say,” he says.“Sacha Lord: 1972 to whatever year. Guestlist closed.”

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Makenna Ali

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