Renaissance - The End of An Era?

Words by: Polly Lavin
Posted: 20/9/10 12:36

RenaissanceSSeveral days ago when the Renaissance website put up a message saying "Site down for maintenance" rumours started on internet boards that the company had gone into administration. An email message coming from Marcus James the company's stalwart for the last 10 years advised "he no longer worked there" (he's since advised it was all ‘amicable') and it was officially announced that London based ReSolve Partners LLP administrators had sent out a notice stating the company had indeed gone into administration. It's speculative at this point if the company needs to restructure or shut down entirely but, rumours that ‘Wild In The Country' events hit the company in the pocket hard and artists such as James Zabiela's ‘Life' comp being distributed for free added to the gossip. In truth, Renaissance's woes have probably been running a little deeper for a little longer then we probably think. Other rumours circulating about the company this year included a US based producer waiting over a year and not receiving their royalties from Zabiela's compilation and that big DJs had to pay a certain amount to Renaissance for branding fees as the company had only been making their money from compilation CD tours. The perception from the artists also was that the promoters did not care about the brand anymore, did not want to pay the branding fee and Renaissance only looked to make money.

SSo, what's really going on over at Renny towers? The brand that started as a ‘quality' reaction to the baggy dungarees and acid house culture of the early 90's expanded rapidly into international tours, live events and mix CDs which sold in their millions, all part of an industry which at the turn of the century was reputedly estimated to be worth around £2 billion. As a global empire began to grow in the 90's the organisation and the ‘progressive' network associated to it begun to be referred to as a dictatorship. The company and those associated to it and the progressive scene are renowned for being sensitive to criticism and the ability to communicate on an equal level and ‘No comment' or a dismissal of the comment was frequently made in regard to criticism being delivered. By 2006 in a Newsweek article Coe was saying ‘No Comment' in relation to any questions associated with his drug usage in the past and by this point had been placed up on a pedestal and removed from the ground level core audience he once catered to. So, what went wrong for Mr. Oakes and the decadent image, as he recently tweeted he was about to board a ‘Ryanair' flight to Ibiza? Or is he just another calamity of illegal downloading and the second recession in recent years to hit the company or could this just be another elaborate PR stunt by a company renowned for their advertising campaigns? Whether you love them or loathe them they hold a special place in the heart of clubbing folklore for putting on some of the best parties to be had during the 90's. We decided to take a look at the story of boom to bust and their timeline on both Ibiza and the world.
Time line1988 to Summer of 1990
Geoff Oakes the man whose name would become synonymous with Renaissance starts clubbing at The Hacienda and then in 1990 at Shelley's in Stoke-On-Trent a club which breaks Sasha and Dave Seaman as DJs. Down the line after a mangled conversation with Sasha at one of Oakes post Hacienda house parties they decide to start a new night.

Renaissance begins at venue 44 with Sasha as resident in Nottinghamshire town of Mansfield. Hoping they would attract the ‘right crowd' removed from the gang and gun troubles of The Hacienda. Doors open at midnight with a ‘membership' only requirement closing at 7am the following morning. One of the few clubs in the UK back then to have an all night licence it welcomes around 3000 clubbers who sought somewhere to go after clubs such as The Hacienda and Back2Basics finish. The visual identity of the brand and high end image is projected through flyers depicting Renaissance art images from 15th century Italian masters such as Michelangelo and at later events gold cherubs and plush velvet drapes were part of the ‘decor'. Marketing and advertising central to the brand and clubs development as they take out ads in a number of youth magazines, first of its kind to take underground club culture into mainstream media.

Renaissance moves to prestigious venues such as Colwick Hall for NYE events and then to The Conservatory in Derby. Sasha and Digweed release the first album that pairs them together on Renaissance "Renaissance The Mix Collection" the compilation sells over 150,000 copies in 6 weeks becoming the first ever compilation to achieve gold status. Sasha and Digweed's status is cemented and the pair goes onto develop superstar status with the release 2 years later of "Northern Exposure."

Renaissance begins to be referred to as a ‘Superclub' and first international tours commence. As British holidaymakers increase in their numbers to visit the white isle of Ibiza petty politics sees the war of the superclubs that took place in the UK between Ministry of Sound, Cream, Up Yer Ronson and Renaissance hit Spanish soil. As clubs vye for supremacy on the island PR stunts to get clubbers in the doors include Manumission promoters Clare and Mike holding a nightly sex show on the stage at Privilege. Renaissance takes up a temporary home in collaboration with Manumission at Privilege. Sasha and Digweed record "Northern Exposure" and rumours of a rift between Sasha and Oakes, Renaissance don't pair with Sasha again until 2003. Monthly residency at The Cross nightclub, London begins and continues for 12 years ending in November 07. In 1996, Wednesday night commence for Renaissance in Pacha Ibiza.

Fathers of Sound, Ian Ossia, Nigel Dawson and more are heard in Pacha throughout Summer of 97, signifying the sound of the moment ‘progressive' Dave seaman and Robert Miles release on the label

Fathers of Sound & BT release first imprints off new label Renaissance Music.

Renaissance move to a converted theatre and purpose built superclub ‘Media' in Nottingham. Media owned by Scotland's Big Beat International who also owned another superclub ‘Home' in London.

Throw NYE party to value of £250,000 in Nottingham's Trent Park. Capacity for 2500 tickets priced at £110 a go, sell only 500 tickets. Event cancelled last minute due to poor ticket sales and everything was moved to Media. DJ John Digweed refunds some of his fee whilst reputedly Frankie Knuckles gets around £30,000. Renaissance ended up being down £200,000 for that one night and nearly goes under. In just 8 short years DJ wages go from £500 to £100,000. Move from Wednesday nights at Pacha to Privilege in partnership with Vince Power's Mean Fiddler organisation (a company that also went into administration earlier in 2010 with liabilities of £9.5million and assets of just £42,500 but Vince Power was able to re-inject £9million)They host big nights with Kylie Minogue, Moloko and All Saints. NME hammers Minogue in the review on the night.

Renaissance caught up in the middle of trouble as ‘Home' London and ‘Media' owners Big Beat International go into receivership due to police shutting ‘Home' over open drug dealing. In 2002 Renaissance moves to Amnesia Ibiza. Clubbers coming through doors represent only a small % of the monetary turnover Renaissance now make as brand power rules and international tours in Far East, US and more countries continue. Oakes hits New York setting up record and touring deals with American companies. Release the ‘Ibiza' album and sell 110,000 in 5 weeks.

Move back to Pacha in 2003. Oakes and Sasha make peace and Sasha play's that summer at Pure Pacha opting to play at it over his usually Space headline. Wild in The Country starts at a 17th century manor house in English countryside with Scissor Sisters headlining. It broadcasts live on BBC Radio 1. Sasha and Digweed make their first joint appearance at Renaissance event since 90. Sasha's imprint ‘Emfire' starts; part owned by Renaissance, John Digweed releases Transitions on the label.

New compilation recruits Sander Kleinenberg, James Zabiela and Nic Fanciulli recruited to label but talk ensues that best releases came before 2003. Like many others company hit by illegal downloading. Stages nights at Pure Pacha with big names such as Hernan Cattaneo but cross markets events with Satoshi Tomiie's Saw Recordings label. Faithless release an album on the label impact of illegal downloading halves previous sales figures to 60,000 units.

Brand expands into new territories and plays over 150 dates in over 25 countries such as Russia, Singapore, Eastern Europe, Serbia, Hungary. In line with the image and branding company moves further into throwing parties at stately homes and castles such as Shugborough Hall, Allerton Castle and Wild in the Country takes place at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire with big names such as Ricardo Villalobos, Sasha, Digweed and Underworld, Richie Hawtin and Carl Craig on the list. Returns to fortnightly shows at Pacha for 7 nights during the season. Sound of Eric Prydz and Danny Howells heard in the club. First artist album released on the label from Shlomi Aber.

Oakes states that the company is staging in excess of ‘175 club nights' worldwide including nights at London's matter and releasing' 8 or 9 compilations' each year. Business model appears flawed as reliance on compilation market overshadowed by artists releasing free podcasts and giving tracks away for free. Bjork cancels her headline slot saying that the organisation is ‘volatile' and an investor withdraws. Announcement follows that the Wild in The Country is cancelled due to low ticket sales. Moves from London venue The Cross as club closes to make way for a demolishment. Continues nights at matter with big names such as Danny Howells playing. Oakes states that a monthly night in New York is planned and two European 'Wild' festivals for 2009. They fail to appear.

Pure Pacha link up again with Sasha. A move into compilations with more up to date German and South American artists such as M.A.N.D.Y. and Gui Boratto comes too late. James ZabielaLife' compilation is distributed for free at gigs. Hit by closure of matter, move clubnights to small emerging London club ‘Cable' and begin programming more cutting edge artists such as Heidi and Audiofly. Deliver a number of nights at Pacha.


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