Just one great long party
He runs the most successful club in Europe and must be worth a mint. Yet he swears he's only in it for the fun; interview: andy manumission
Sunday 25 May 1997
Every Monday night between June and September, 8,000 wild-eyed clubbers - including the likes of Naomi Campbell and John Paul Gaultier - queue outside a gargantuan glass-domed venue in Ibiza for their share of the Manumission experience. Just the numbers are extraordinary: only one-off events like Tribal Gathering in Britain and Berlin's Love Parade pull bigger crowds, making Manumission the most successful club in Europe. More importantly, Manumission is credited with putting Ibiza back on page one of the hedonist's handbook as the only holiday destination for the E generation.
What makes Manumission so different is the sheer spectacle involved. This club isn't just about the usual hordes of disco kids jumping up and down to ear-splitting house music. Andy and Mike create scenes which resemble a cross between a porn film set and a Monty Python out-take, featuring explicit sex shows, trapeze artists, fire-eaters, oh, and a team of nutters who stroll among the gobsmacked punters, pick litter off the floor, polish it, then replace it where they found it.
Yet little is known of the reclusive Manumission brothers (they've moved beyond last names). Dad is a retired airforce officer, Mum a gestalt therapist. They work as a tightknit team with their girlfriends and business partners Dawn and Claire. They flatly refuse to do clubs in Britain. They should be millionaires by now, but don't flash money about. And that's about it. Intrigued, I tracked Andy and Dawn down to their modest terraced house in East London where they are putting the final touches to plans for their fourth triumphant season in Ibiza.
Initially, Andy seems too, well, nice to be involved in this seedy and dangerous demi-world - although he freely admits the close-knit brother / boyfriend / girlfriend axis behind Manumission often generates Gallagher brother-style explosions. "Oh, yes, we're always disagreeing. I have a business mind. Dawn is more purely creative, and I don't think Mike and Claire would mind me saying that if they were doing Manumission on their own they'd probably produce the most phenomenal party in the world, but they would end up in a colossal financial mess."
Before Ibiza the brothers' only experience of promoting was running a small 500-capacity venue in Manchester. It was January 1993. "At the time the atmosphere in most straight clubs in Manchester was very threatening, lots of gangsters, knifings. So we decided to play on peoples' homophobia. We said we were a mixed gay club and made all the guys French each other before letting them in. No self-respecting gangster would touch us," Andy laughs.
Displaying a crisp grasp of supply and demand economics, Andy also insisted Manumission would only run for 12 weeks. "People couldn't wait to see what all the fuss was about, they had to come now." On the final night the brothers announced they were moving to New York to open a club, stepped into a white limo and disappeared into the distance ... well, as far as the first service station on the M62, anyway. "We'd lost so much money that's as far as we could afford to hire the limo. My dad had to come and pick us up."
Unfortunately, the stunt backfired. When Andy and Mike returned to Manchester and brazenly reopened the club, Manumission became a victim of it's own notoriety. "We'd generated so much hype even the gangsters were prepared to snog each other to get in. One night this big ox of a bloke I'd had removed came back and bashed down the door. He picked me up and threw me down some stairs, then poured petrol over me. I knew then that Manumission in Manchester was over. "
According to Andy, Ibiza was originally intended to be a cheap holiday to get over the ordeal. Yet by the end of the summer Manumission's trademark mix of surreal cabaret and uplifting house had created the biggest buzz Ibiza had witnessed for six years.
It's now a hugely successful business, judging by reports that Andy recently turned down a pounds 250,000 offer from a rival Ibizan venue for his services. "People think we're millionaires. We are not rich yet, we're comfortable. We could have put a zero on the end of what we earn by putting out Manumission compilation tapes, or doing the UK club tour thing like everyone else. We see ourselves as people who throw fabulous parties rather than promoters."
The only time he gets riled is when I suggest that the spreading fame of Manumission is contributing to the destruction of the island he claims to love. It is a fact that with every major British club relocating to Ibiza in a (largely hopeless) attempt to emulate the Manumission brothers' success, more and more slack-jawed 18- 30 blockheads seem to be polluting the beaches. "First of all, we're not a British club, we're Ibizan. The Spanish feel comfortable at Manumission. And you can trace Ibiza as a beacon of liberalism back to the 1960s. It has a track record that has stood the test of time. How many of the critics can say the same?"
This summer Andy is launching his most ambitious project to date: a full- length feature film of the scandalous goings on at Manumission, starring their own punters, which will be shown at Cannes next Spring. "Our ambition is to make everyone in our club a participant rather than an observer. "
Now, if any other promoter said that to me I'd laugh in his face. The difference is, this quiet young man, who freely admits "I only dance in the shower", usually delivers what he promises. With knobs on.
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