Club Owner: Welcome to the Superstore
Club owner and respected DJ Dan Beaumont talks musical purity, New York pizza and dancing in tunnels…
British bar culture: it’s an odd thing.
Bars are wonderful places, in theory. They welcome us in when no one else will have us. They feed us strange, colourful, brain-befuddling concoctions. And they attempt to take us out of our own comfort zone… and well into someone else’s. These are places for new friends, uninhibited conversation, spirited dance moves and good craic.
Why then, is bar culture in this country often so painfully predictable?
If we’re honest with ourselves, our bars tend to fall into several categories:
Average bar –
a straight, hetero-normative community knocking back vodka redbulls and sambucca chasers. Men in button-downs that are baggy at the cuffs and badly cut at the shoulders, barely able to contain their burgeoning erections as they trundle around after women in short skirts, hoping to cop a feel.
Student Bar –
More vomit, more tears, arguably more STIs, but essentially, the same principle.
Gay Bar –
Similar, but replace the button-down with a tight t-shirt. Slightly more interesting rules of attraction, rather than the average straight bar’s: “I’ve had a lot of tequila, she has a vagina, therefore she will do” ideology, but essentially, everyone is still trundling around after someone else, trying to take them home. And you’d better throw in the odd (delightfully monikered) “fag-hag”, there to escape wandering hands and to get in on some of the fabulosity.
Boutique Bar –
everything that attempts to diverge from the above. Expect to be served something in a jam jar, or a hibiscus infused secretion the size of a teardrop in a 1930s champagne coupe, sold to you for the very reasonable price of £18 a pop. You’ll likely be propping up the vintage suitcase, rather than the bar. And as far as pulling goes, you’ll be so concerned with your own hauteur that you’ll probably render yourself totally celibate.
So, what does it take these days to create something new?
According to Dan Beaumont, it takes the whiff of an idea, supported by a background of knowledge and experience, the guts to implement it, a grasp of your demographic, a genuinely good relationship with your peers, your competition and other nearby businesses, a dash of luck and the total, unshakeable belief that no one else is doing what you are trying to do. Simple, right?
Obviously, this is not simple at all. Many establishments have tried and come up short…pretty much all of the ones that have been condemned to that fourth, fairly sterile category. But when you are able to put all of these ingredients into the pot, you end up with something quite magical.
In this case, Dalston Superstore – an awesome conglomerate of noteworthy pro- and underground-DJs, art, food, performance, genuinely nice cocktails, straights, gays, a-little-bit-queers, hipsters, music devotees and lifelong Dalstonites.
Having opened just over four years ago, the Superstore has had time to figure out its message. Keen to take “gay culture” out of the narrow confines of Soho, the Superstore boys wanted to create a space that embraced “queer”, without alienating everyone else or compromising on food, drink, service, atmosphere and, most importantly, music.
“We wanted to provide an alternative, that had a meaning beyond the gay-ghetto, where you could get good drinks and hear music from all over the world. The sort of thing that wouldn’t be out of place in Fabric (London) or Panorama Bar (Berlin),” Beaumont explains.
Dalston Superstore is more than just a gay-friendly watering hole with good music. There is a certain flavour, which separates it from other venues. Much of this is down to Beaumont’s (and his team’s) commitment to going that bit further than everyone else.
“Bars should be community hubs and they should be places that people can use in as many different ways as possible. I think we have a responsibility to the people who live locally, to provide a platform for what people are feeling or saying at any moment,” he says. “There’s a rolling exhibition on the upper level. Every six weeks we change it so that we can showcase different artists. We also host screenings and talks. It is really important for us to be a resource for people,” Beaumont adds.
When it comes to underground music and the arts, Dalston has a rich history. “We chose it because Dalston was an exciting place, full of opportunities, where all of our friends lived,” says Beaumont, “It had a vibrant and diverse local community and a long heritage of night-time club culture, dating back to the Four Aces in the ‘60s and Labrinth in the ‘90s. It’s always been an interesting part of London.”
When it comes to bar and club pedigree, it’s not just Dalston that’s got history. This ‘aint the Superstore team’s first rodeo. “We all ran clubs”, Beaumont goes on, “I ran a club called Disco Bloodbath, on Amhurst Road, and the other two ran a club called TrailerTrash.”
Beaumont happens to also be a DJ of some clout. He’s played festivals all over the world, including Lovebox, Farr and Eastern Electrics. He’s warmed up for James Murphy (most notable for LCD Soundsystem), ItaloJohnson and delights in opportunities to work with any member of Berlin’s Ostgut powerhouse, like Tama Sumo or Prosumer.
This certainly helps when it comes to ensuring quality of line-up.
“I don’t think you can deliver a programme as good as the one that we provide without being totally immersed in and dedicated to the culture of it. I love going to Kristina Records, which is an amazing record shop over the road, about once a week. I buy records, discover a label that I really like, buy other records off that label, contact the label and then get them to do a showcase here or at Dance Tunnel (his younger venue).”
He has the kind of singular, pure love for music that makes for the best sets. Dalston Superstore, Dance Tunnel, Kristina Records and also Dalston’s local radio station NTS have something very important in common. They all champion eclecticism. “To paraphrase Jimi Hendrix,” says Beaumont, “the idea that there are only two different types of music – good music and bad music.”
Operating a bar-club venue has got to be one of the toughest entrepreneurial challenges.
“You’ve got to negotiate with the police, the council, the residents…”, says Beaumont. “Also, the night time economy is a contentious issue in an area that is growing.”
To explain, for the last few decades, London has been experiencing a kind of regionalism that isn’t necessarily characteristic of other cities. “You have these burgeoning areas, such as Brixton, Peckham, Dalston, Clapton and in a different respect, Clapham and Islington,” he explains. “Some become a model of gentrification – it’s like the Williamsburg effect in New York – it’s a recognised pathway. Artists move in, night bars open, clubs open, restaurants open, house prices go up. The house price boom is very difficult for a lot of our original audience. It pushes the kind of natives out of their areas. I don’t really see how this problem is going to be solved when our whole economy is seemingly pinned on house prices. But that’s a whole other conversation.”
Beaumont and his team have a very particular way of approaching this. “I think you just have to remember how much of a responsibility you have to your customers, other businesses and to people that already live locally. We enjoy very positive relationships with all of these people.”
As Dalston Superstore developed it’s particular zest, so it occasioned the opportunity for an offshoot. Beaumont’s skill at sourcing and supporting the best in underground musical talent had gone viral. So it seemed like a good idea to channel some of this energy into a second enterprise – enter Voodoo Ray’s and Dance Tunnel, which opened in November 2012.
“Dance Tunnel is an underground dance club. We’ve been so lucky to have been able to forge good relationships with our own heroes within particular strains of music. This is where we showcase the geekier, left-field sort of house, techno and disco. We just didn’t feel there were many other good places in London where you can really listen to that sort of music in the right context.”
And as if that wasn’t enough, in the venue’s upper level, you’ll find Voodoo Ray’s. “We wanted to develop the idea of a New York style pizza place. Slice culture in NY is so big and important and it’s not the same here. When people in London think of pizza by the slice, it’s usually the terrible produce of Leicester Square or Camden,” says Beaumont. “We wanted to do something where there was absolutely no compromise in ingredients – good Italian cheese and meat and a dough recipe that we have perfected over time. Pizza and dancing, what more could you want?”
The really interesting thing about Beaumont is his lack of the sort of snobbery you might expect from a Dalston club-owner. He concedes that the “scene” has changed and laments a certain commercialism, but his commitment to new things precludes him from the sort of pretension and exclusivity that so often goes hand in hand with these sorts of enterprises.
“Because of the way people consume music now, I don’t think music scenes physically exist anymore in an area in the way that they used to. Dalston is now a very diverse, but also fragmented place in terms of music,” he explains.
This understanding of cultural shifts seems to be one of Beaumont’s best assets. His understanding of the immediacy of music and the increasingly aggressive lust for the next thing and the newest thing allows him to pander to a modern audience.
Hopefully this is something that other clubs can learn from, because let’s be honest, if people paid more attention to providing a range of things that people actually want, rather than just enough alcohol to make them forget what they were looking for in the first place, British bar culture would be in much better shape.
If you had to pick a drink to represent you, what would it be?
Fernet Branca – nobody drinks it!
If, in another life, you could come back as anything else, what would it be?
A well-loved Salsoul 12” single
Best city in the world musically?
One tip for anyone wanting to open a bar:
If you want to open a bar, you should be working in a bar already. If you are not, get a job in a bar. You can’t just open a bar because you like going to bars.
WORDS: Natasha Bird with James Barton