ITM's Local Icons: Mad Racket, Sydney

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If you’ve ever found yourself on the Mad Racket dancefloor at the end of the night, you’ll probably recognise this scenario. 6am has ticked over and colour is creeping into the sky outside. The house lights go up, and instead of inciting a mad rush to the door, the remaining believers stay dancing to the next couple of records in the sudden, frankly-unflattering brightness of the Marrickville Bowling Club. Well, you wouldn’t want to miss the closing jam, right?

This moment, and the happy Sunday morning spill onto the street that follows, is just one of the reasons Mad Racket isn’t your run-of-the-mill night out. The parties are full of ‘moments’: arriving to warm, mood-lifting house on the Bowl-O-Sonic system and lining up at the (wallet-friendly) bar, finding a spot on the dancefloor under the copper ceiling, taking in the costumes and decorations around the room, and then, of course, the elastic, incident-filled stretch of time until that final record. At its best, Mad Racket is a night remembered as a blur of high-points: the record that swelled through the whole room at 3:30am, the re-meetings on the dancefloor (“I always see you here!”), the warm-up set that tells you this Racket will be good.

It’s a feeling the party has been delivering since 1998. Going by the flyers on the Mad Racket website, this weekend’s show with Levon Vincent will be 90th throwdown. That first outing in '98 happened at Waverley Squash Club in Bondi with the same four DJs who now lead the dancing: Simon Caldwell, Zootie, Ken Cloud and Jimmi James. In 1999, the Bowl-O-Sonic soundsystem was born at Marrickville Bowling Club, and it has been the home of Mad Racket ever since.

The Bowlo’s website amusingly splashes the tagline, ‘The club under the flight path’, but its charms as a venue go beyond that. As well as that famous ceiling and the bar with RSL prices, there’s a locker room out the back that can fit a DJ, a sound system and a rotating cast of curious roamers. Dancing next to rows of lockers that clatter with each bassline is just another thing you don’t find at clubs. The Racketeers describe their home as “an oasis in a clubbing desert”, and that’s a pretty perfect way of putting it.

To celebrate a party I personally love, and one worthy of following Adelaide's Sugar club in our Local Icons series, I spoke to the guys and a couple of their favourite guests from far away.

Mad Racket splits its guests pretty evenly between local artists and fly-ins from further afield, and there are a few recurring favourites. The party’s first international was Matthew Herbert and he’s been back several times over the years in different incarnations, while Jamie Lidell has graduated from live sets in the Bowlo and on the green to Mad Racket shows at Sydney Festival and The Forum.

MAD RACKET CLASSIC #1

Davina – Don’t You Want It. “A massive vocal Detroit house track, produced by Mad Mike of Underground Resistance.”

When it comes to DJs with an innate feel for what works at the Bowlo, though, Tom Clark and Chris Duckenfield have it cornered. “I think I’ve played at seven parties, but for one of them I wasn’t advertised,” Tom Clark tells me from the offices of Highgrade Records in Berlin, the label he has spearheaded for 12 years (almost as long as Mad Racket’s been around). “It’s really an honour and I know that not many people have had the chance to play there. The special thing is the location. An old bowling club from the ‘70s is in itself stylish enough, and then the boys put a lot of effort into providing an excellent sound system. It’s the best rig I’ve heard so far for a party in Sydney.”