They say all the best clubs are downstairs, and they might just be right. The legendary reputations of The Cavern and Eric’s laid the foundations of this theory – espoused largely in Liverpool – and the model has proved massively popular not just in these here parts, but across the world.
Our namesake, Bido Lito’s club on Cosmo’s Alley in LA, was a famed underground bolthole, a place where The Seeds, The Doors and Love found a home alongside likeminded individuals. We may just be able to add one more to this chapter to this story in the form of LIQUIDATION, the long-running Liverpool club night that is resuming its weekly operations in the newly refurbished EBGBS, the subterranean pleasure den beneath Heebie Jeebies. After 23 years entertaining Saturday night indie disco revellers in various venues, Liquidation has defied so many trends in music and night-time habits to actually go from strength to strength, and it’s all down to a little bit of magic.
“Liquidation has always been about the music and the people and respect, and that’s not going to change,” says Jules Bennett, Liquidation’s founder, promoter and principal DJ. Having decided to start his own night playing the kind of independent, alternative pop music that defined his own passions – from Kate Bush to The Clash and right back to LCD Soundsystem – a year after Cream started up their own pursuit of hedonism in Nation, Bennett sees the alchemy of Liquidation as lying in its acceptance of both mainstream and niche attitudes. “A lot of it’s just [down to] the fact that it’s fucking magic – it seriously is magic when it comes together,” he says when pressed to look back over the night’s legacy. “And I think we did it for the right reasons, which was: good music, good people and no pressure. Pulp were one of our first identifiable bands, and when Mis-Shapes came out, the whole lyrics were about our crowd.”
“Yeah, exactly – it’s not about the music, it’s about the type of people that it attracts,” chips in Chris Mackintosh, the flyerer-turned-trusted-sidekick who accompanies Bennett on the decks each weekend. “For 23 years Liquidation has represented a certain standard and engaged with a certain kind of audience – it’s not something that’s a fleeting kind of idea, it’s a stalwart, a Liverpool institution.”
If Liquidation were a stick of rock, you’d find that classic Jarvis Cocker lyric from Mis-Shapes running right through it: “We don’t look the same as you/And we don’t do the things you do/But we live around here too.” Working on the loose average of 400 people a week for 23 years, around 450,000 people have passed through the club’s doors, sung their hearts out, grabbed their mates around the shoulders and imparted a piece of themselves onto the Liquidation legacy. I distinctly remember the first time I stumbled into Le Bateau with my mates, laughing at the ‘No scarves’ sign, marvelling at Blur being played before Oasis, and generally having that realisation that Liquidation was speaking to me.
“I think all the best club nights have people who say that,” agrees Mackintosh. “I guess Cream would’ve had people who went there for the first time and felt at home, and I think it’s the same for Liquidation. With all great club nights you have that sense of ownership and that feeling of belonging. Not that it’s like a mad kind of Goth club – it’s not that niche – but there’s that kind of nice community.”
If Mis-Shapes is Liquidation’s sort-of manifesto, there are a few other songs that have attached themselves to it. Although unconfirmed, it’s pretty certain that The Wombats’ Let’s Dance To Joy Division is a reference to a Liquidation-fuelled night out, while Hot Club De Paris’ track Shipwreck is a more obvious paean to getting sloshed in Le Bateau to a Liquidation soundtrack (sample lyric: “Grappled by the epaulettes/These are the new rough dance steps/The boys they lost the script/In the club where they first met.”). Even Mackintosh himself – who performs and releases music under the name Silent Sleep – gave a nod to the night in his track On The Steps Of The Bombed Out Church. And, given that whole swathes of Liverpool’s music scene have almost certainly whiled away the late-night hours at Liquidation at some point over the last two decades, there are probably dozens more references to this Liverpool cornerstone that have gone unnoticed.
Le Bateau, the Duke Street venue that played host to Liquidation’s longest tenure, was the scene for lots of these memories, and Bennett admits himself that it came to feel like home. “There was definitely a sense of ownership because we were invited there when it was kind of not in a good place, and we got to kind of define it for a long time.” When that venue closed down in 2012, Liquidation was forced to take on a nomadic existence for a while, pitching up at The Magnet, Shipping Forecast and The Cabin, before eventually settling in an old haunt downstairs at Heebie Jeebies. There’s a significance in the magnetism of that particular venue that isn’t lost on Bennett, who feels like he’s able to put down some roots again.
“There’s always been an incredible energy that’s kept us going, with the venue itself part of that, contributing to it. I love it being downstairs; I loved Le Bateau, obviously, I loved Hardy’s when I was there, but to stay in the same space and the club to metamorphose around you… EBGBS, is going to be a massive step up. It’s like Lost: not ‘Where is the island?’ but ‘When is the island?’. It’s going to be like stumbling to Shangri-La at a festival, like down the rabbit hole kind of thing.”
Under its new guise of EBGBS, the downstairs club on Seel Street has had a From Dusk Till Dawn-esque makeover – all red leather Chesterfields and sleazy rock ‘n’ roll – stripping things right back so that the recesses and arched ceilings can work in unison with the vibe of the nights it hosts. “The energy from the design and the décor and the kind of showcase part of the venue are going to add to it,” Bennett explains. “It’s going to feel like a club in the outskirts of some weird European city that no one’s ever told you about and it’s not even on Facebook and TripAdvisor. It’s going to be scuzzy, but not skanky.”
“The experience is why you’re here,” explains Mackintosh, who ran an offshoot Liquidation for two years when he lived in Berlin. The club’s owners were in agreement with Bennett and Mackintosh that they wanted to make EBGBS the kind of place you’d stumble upon accidentally, without the need for a showy sign out front; an alternative reality hiding in plain sight.
Bennett: “It’s interesting because Liquidation has generally always been off the beaten track, and people have generally had to make an effort to come to us. Even though we’re bang on one of the main arteries, it’s still a hidden gem and a paid-in club rather than a bar, so you’ve still got that filter there: you’re not getting people staggering in for the hell of it, people are making a choice. Also, it’s going to be even more of this underground crazy world that just happens to be in the centre of town. Every time I talk to anyone about the venue, it’s like, ‘Eric’s was amazing’ – you know, about clubs being downstairs – but this isn’t going to be just downstairs, this is going to be out of this world. Or under this world!”
As well as the new look, the venue has had a high-spec PA and lighting system installed, which Liquidation is making use of with a free-entry pre-club (between 7pm and 11pm). Hosting a couple of live acts each week, the aim is for the pre-club to help them reach out to a different audience that might not want to stay up ‘til 4am to get their teenage (or middle-aged) kicks. There’s also the hope that it will broaden the appeal of Liquidation’s 23-year-long history, opening up the full scope of its unique vibe and energy to the uninitiated. “It’s got positive energy and it’s respectful and it’s non-judgmental,” says Bennett, “and I think people get that, even if they don’t know we’ve been doing it for 20-odd years.”
What intrigues me is finding out why Liquidation has been going strong since the year In Utero, Pablo Honey, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Bjòrk’s Debut were all released: is there one magic ingredient or explanation for its longevity?
“Primarily [it’s] because we care about music,” says Mackintosh after a long exhalation. “Because I think it knows what it is; it’s very sure of its own identity. And I think it’s always going to attract that turnover of young people who are interested [in] and care about music and aren’t just interested in the latest scene or the latest fad; they want to learn about the whole spectrum.”
“I like the fact that we’re still here, fighting the good fight, and not changing anything from the original ethos of it, really,” answers Bennett philosophically. “When it opened, clubs never lasted more than five years. You’d have your pulling up year, three years at your peak, shit year, shut. And I’m sure when we started the night, there was no idea it would last any longer than that. And it’s still the norm – you’re lucky if you last more than six months – but it’s not unique. There are house nights, and there are soul nights that have been going on for a quarter of a century. But I’m still proud of Liquidation. Liquidation is basically me since 2000, and that’s right for the music, for the imagery. I’m very happy.”
Liquidation returns to EBGBS’s basement club every Saturday night, open 7pm til 4am. Bido Lito! are hosting a takeover of the Liquidation pre-club party on Saturday 8th October, featuring Bido DJs and live performances from Pure Joy and Mysterines.