Home Nightclub: Turning a new Page

As the saying goes, ‘a change is as good as a holiday’, and of late Australia’s most renowned nightclub has undergone some highly publicised, and eagerly anticipated, transformations. Simon Page, the man responsible for originally establishing the Sublime name in the mid 90s at its original premises on Pitt St, has returned to the fold, purchasing both the Home venue and Sublime brand from UK company Big Beat. His vision for the venue is grand, but if anyone’s able to pull it off it will be Page. If you’ve been wondering, ‘What’s happening to Sublime?’, ‘What’s happening to Saturday nights?’, or, ‘What’s this I hear about rock music at Home?’, read on as ITM’s editor Tim Hardaker speaks with Simon Page about his plans for the venue.

To a generation of clubbers your name is synonymous with the Sublime brand at its original home in Pitt St. With Sublime having just celebrated its 9th birthday, obviously there’ll be a whole new generation of clubbers that may not be so familiar with you and your history. Can you give me a bit of background on yourself and your work in the dance music industry – where and when did you start out?

I got into dance music quite late in life. I was General Manager of Casio Australia, so I was wearing a suit and tie, and I was in my early 30s traveling to Tokyo every 6 weeks. I had my BMW in the company car park, my 1st class trips to Tokyo… and I was bored shitless, thinking ‘what am I doing here?’ I earned a living as a musician from the age of 14 until my mid-20s, then I got lost in the corporate world. I went to a nightclub in Tokyo called Gold. It was an awesome nightclub and the night I went Frankie Knuckles was playing. You couldn’t get better house music, and I’d never even heard it before. This club was fantastic though, they had 1 room about the size of Home’s mezzanine, and they’d put skate ramps up on each side of room and had people skating around to crazy dance music and Frankie Knuckles playing. I cam back to Australia and said, ‘fuck this, I’m going to leave my job and build a nightclub’. Most of my friends and colleagues thought I was a lunatic, to sell my family home and build a dance club. But that’s what I did, and the club was Sublime at Pitt St.

Sublime was the name of the venue on Pitt St with the three nights running there being Beatfix, Cargo and Voodoo. You combined all three nights and then moved it to Home, which is where it has stayed now and continued to grow. Having established such a strong and successful club night, what was your initial reason to move and then sell Sublime?

As a venue I felt that it had to grow bigger and had to move out of Pitt St to get to the capacity it should be. My idea was that we’d put all the different styles together and do one night per week. The idea was to take Sublime and try and get a liquor license for a warehouse in Alexandria, Waterloo or Mascot. So I rang a few people to see if they’d be interested in doing that with me, and one of them was Ron McCulloch who owned Home. He said, ‘why would I want to do that, I’m having difficulty making Home work as well as it should, would you like to come down to Home?’ So that’s when we put all three nights of Sublime together, which was in January 2000. I was here for 20 months and my wife Susannah got throat cancer. The story is quite well known, but that’s when I got Ron to buy Sublime and I headed off to look after my wife.

After selling Sublime, did you ever imagine you’d find yourself back in control of it again one day?

Everything I do is related to music. I went off [after selling Sublime] and did a little boutique hotel called Moog Hotel in Surry Hills. It has a beautiful recording studio in it; it was designed for musicians to stay in it. I had intentions to develop an entertainment venue; I’m interested in all musical styles now, not just dance. Right back in the Pitt St days the long term plan was to put live music in. When Ron said a few months ago that he wanted to sell Home, I thought that buying my brand and the club back was something worth looking at. I looked at it from the perspective of whether we could make it ‘Sydney’s House of Music’? Can we bring in a rock & roll element, can we bring in hip-hop, can we bring in all styles? If you look at the clubs in Sydney it’s hard to think of a place that can do a 2,500 person dance event, and a 1,500 live music event. We’re a nice size. Sublime will continue to be the most important thing that this place does, it’s the rock that the whole thing is built on. That’s why I’m putting a lot of effort into reconfiguring Sublime with a new sound system, décor and so on.

How do you feel the Sublime brand has grown and changed since you stepped back from running the club?

It’s still very strong, and it’s still the largest – as far as people through the door – that the city has. But I feel that in my absence it was left to just roll along, to rest on its laurels a bit. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do for the Sublime punters. Sublime really is an 18 to early 20s club. By the time you get to your late 20s you’re most welcome to come down, but understand that it’s a club specifically for 18 to 24 year olds. The beautiful thing about that is there’s always people turning 18, but the question is why aren’t we still doing the under 18 parties and then giving them a ticket to Sublime for their 18th birthday? I think it needs more theatre and enthusiasm put back into it. I think that the music policy wasn’t firm enough, in that Sublime was always about really strong residents. So my intention is to go back to that, the best names in their genres, so that you know every week when you come along you’re going to hear Nik Fish at a certain time, or Pee Wee at a certain time, or Kate Monroe at a certain time. We’ve also got Craig Obey coming back in to the mix, and we’re reinvigorating Beatfix with Elroy, Klaus ‘Heavyweight’ Hill and Kemuri. I think Sublime, coming up to its 10th birthday, is a great time to get it back to its original strengths.

Because people, in general, tend to fear change – do you feel apprehensive at all that the changes you’re instituting to Sublime may not be accepted quickly by the loyal punters?

If last week’s birthday is anything to go by… Everyone raved about the new stage, decorations, everyone was excited about what we were doing. In the end doesn’t it really come down to the quality of the product? If you’ve got a good product people will seek it out, if you’ve got a shit product people won’t bother. We’re taking what’s already a reasonable product and improving on it. The sound system at Pitt St was the best the city had seen. We’ve just spent a fortune putting the best sound system Sydney’s seen in to Home. Yes I think people fear change, but we’re not doing anything radical with Sublime. We’re taking it back to the energy it originally had.

A lot of people I’d speak to who went to Sublime in the mid to late 90s speak with great fondness about the ‘Sublime at Pitt St days’, it’s almost as if it’s grown into a legend. How does that make you feel to know that you’re responsible for something that holds such a strong place in many people’s hearts?

I think it’s awesome! It makes me really proud, but it wasn’t just one person. If I had to single out a few people, there’s absolutely no way I could have done it without Jonothan Wall and Ming Gan, Fuzzy were a massive part of it. There’s no way I could have done it without Victor Moriates who had Smiling Security. He was a huge part of it, and he’s brought his new company in to Home now. I couldn’t have done it without Tim Waugh, who was prepared to stay up until 9am in the morning. I’m a lot older, obviously I need to go home and sleep! In particular though, John and Ming – and their partner Adelle, who started working behind the bar at Sublime on Pitt St! I share the pride with them, and I think we can create the same myth here.

You touched on this before, but in more detail I’m wonder with Sublime having just celebrated its 9th birthday and still going strong, what do you have on the horizon to keep things fresh and exciting?

I think that the core residents are perfect. Sublime is Nik Fish, Pee Wee Ferris, Jumping Jack, Amber Savage, Kate Monroe, Craig Obey and the Beatfix guys. What I think the club needs is more theatrics and live stuff… And I don’t mean bongos or a sax player blasting over the top of house records (laughs). We’re putting trapeze points in the ceiling, so imagine strapping the guitarist from Shihad into a trapeze and him shredding a Fender Stratocaster, swinging in the air, while Nik Fish is playing?! I haven’t spoken to the guitarist from Shihad, but I hope he thinks it’s a good idea and he’ll call me! (laughs) That’s the sort of thing I’m excited by.

You spent quite a bit of time and money getting the C-Moog enterprise up and running in Byron Bay and Sydney. Your goal seemed to be to create something really quite different to your average club – especially in Sydney, where the name was given to a café bar and one suite hotel with recording studio. Overall, are you happy with the way it was received, and then accepted?

With Moog Hotel in Sydney it was fabulous, it worked very well for us – it was a lifestyle choice, not a money choice. Everything my wife and I do is a passion, some make money and some lose money – that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about. With C-Moog in Byron Bay I overestimated the population, and there were too many offerings in town for the number of people. C-Moog was a real struggle, which is why I sold it to my partner, and he’s found it a struggle. Anyone that offers him a nominal price right now he’ll happily sell to. That said, it’s still been the only credible club in Byron Bay, and it’s hosted the cocktail tent at Splendour in the Grass, so it’s achieved some really good things, it’s just been too hard financially.

Do you have any continued involvement in C-Moog?

No, I sold it about 2 years ago now.

It can be argued that superclubs, internationally at least, had their heyday around the turn of the millennium, with many of the larger brand names struggling to stay afloat – at least in the same fashion they had through the late 90s. Over the past few years it has been a case of adapt or die for many brands and clubs. What’s your general feeling on the superclub phenomenon, and how do you think Home fits into the puzzle?

People love to think that nightclubs only last a short time, or that they make a lot of money then don’t make any at all, but if you have a look at places like Ministry of Sound in London, Fabric, Ibiza, these places all continue to go along. The word ‘super’, I hate it. Superstar, superclub, super size me… it’s horrible. I see Home as a performing arts venue, and that’s why I’m so interested in bringing live music into it. I have this crazy dream, because I’m a song writer and did quite well with it in my teenage years on radio and TV, I’ve been writing a lot recently because of the studio I built in Moog Hotel. I’ve got this idea of doing a modern rock opera and having it play every week here! I’m going to bring my recording studio down here now that Moog Hotel is for sale, and one of our ideas is to have live mic lines running over the club so we can do live recordings. I reckon the term ‘superclub’ is irrelevant to this venue.

I guess the idea spawns from franchising the name out and having people who may not share your vision running things in other cities or countries.

Yeah exactly. This whole idea of having a Home in Sydney, a Home in Timbuktu, a Home in Buenos Aires… I’m not remotely interested in that. I want to see longevity in one place. Think of, like, the fantastic shows and acts that have gone through The Basement [venue in Circular Quay], that’s what I’m more interested in creating.

Since you sold Sublime in 2001, how have you seen the dance and club scene change in that time?

I think the thing that I didn’t like to see, and I think it’s coming back again, was a trend where the music became less relevant and the ‘scene’ became more important. Clubs being about ‘the place to go’ rather than good music and a good environment. From credible hip-hop to hands in the air house, as long as it’s the best in its genre – let’s embrace it.

Arguably, Saturday nights at home have always struggled to find a groove so to speak – with quite a number of nights having run throughout the club’s time in operation. It could be contended that the nights didn’t really struggle, they just stood in the shadow of Sublime which has always flourished and retained a strong following. For Home’s relaunch you’ve decided to open Saturday nights up to outside promoters for one off and special events – what are you hoping to achieve by doing this?

I feel that any nightclub in the world has one massive night, and the others struggle. It doesn’t matter where it is, Fabric, Ministry of Sound, Cream. Privilege in Ibiza is the biggest nightclub in the world, it can hold 9,000 people. It gets that many in there on, I think, a Monday night, but gets virtually no one on every other night. Since Sublime came down to Home Saturday nights became something of a poor cousin. Why continue fighting that? Let’s make Sublime the one massive club night, and then let’s look at the venue for the rest of the week – we’ve got this incredible venue for hire! We can have our cake and eat it too. We’ve got Sublime, and of course Home Bar which does very well running 7 nights a week, so two strong pillars. We can have these two things and become a venue for hire.

There were a number of places I looked at [for inspiration] – the Blue Note Jazz Club in Tokyo and House of Blues in LA, where they split the night into sessions. On a Saturday night from 6-11pm we can do a live show, then at 11pm we can start people coming in to the Terrace and let it fill up. Clean up downstairs, and have people coming down from midnight. If the live event does really well the promoter can book for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and so on, because we don’t need the club again until Friday night. This ‘venue for hire’ concept got me thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to open it up on Saturdays to all the various genres of dance music? So the first people I went and spoke to were Fuzzy. I was thinking I’d get maybe 6 shows a year from them, and I’d do 6 myself, 6 with inthemix, 6 with someone else, etc, and very soon I’d have all the nights filled. Fuzzy came back and said they’d like to be more involved. I want to do at least 1 Saturday a month, so Home will be doing 6 HomeSexual events (replacing Queer Nation) throughout the year. The club has always been accepted by the gay community, but they’ve never had access to it on a Saturday night. We’re also going to do, every second month, Pacha events, and we’re launching that on New Years Eve with a massive house music name. And then the third thing I want to do is a ‘rock DJ’ sort of thing, with flames, AC/DC playing, women stripping on poles, all that stuff.

If you think about the first few weeks we’ve got locked in already, there’s the Technics inthemix50 (Aug 13), Nokia Connecting Beats with Mix Master Mike (Aug 20), Oneself with DJ Vadim (Aug 27), Together Again (Sep 3), HomeSexual (Sep 10), Goldie (Sep 17) and then Junior Sanchez (Sep 24). It’s phenomenal, fucking awesome!

There’s been a lot of hype around your acquisition of Home nightclub, but as is always the case in the club industry – there’s not been much legitimate reporting on it, just a lot of gossip and hearsay. One of the biggest myths in the Sydney club scene was how much you sold Sublime for to Big Beat. In stories I’ve been told the amount you sold it for has ranged from a couple of million up to $20-30 million, but in all seriousness it could be even more – do you care to put an end to the hearsay once and for all, or does a businessman never tell?

It was around a couple million bucks. I must think it’s the right price because that’s about what I’m paying to take it back!

Don’t forget that this weekend the Technics inthemix50 tour hits Home nightclub as the first event on the club’s new agenda for Saturday nights. You can see over 15 of the country’s best DJs playing across 5 rooms, voted for by you in the 2005 Technics inthemix50 DJ Poll. Presale tickets are onsale now, so to ensure your entry click HERE to buy yours today.