It’s 1994. The rave scene has exploded into another level and the originators have mostly moved back into the clubs, while the raves get bigger, the music gets faster and the crowds more mainstream as the scene becomes largely unmoored from its English rave roots. It’s not underground any more. The original batch of DJs play in the side ‘house’ rooms or chill out ‘ambient’ rooms at these new, massive and mostly legal raves.
I’d started a series of parties called Organic earlier in 1994 after travelling a bunch of times to San Francisco, bringing out some of my favourite DJs from the States, like Derrick Carter, Mark Farina and DJ Spun, who were all unknown outside of America at the time.
Sugar Ray, the owner of Reachin Records, had kicked off the rave revolution in Sydney by holding the first warehouse rave in a film studio in Redfern in January 1990. There was in fact, strangely, another party that night advertised as a rave, but Ray’s was advertised first and started earlier, so he still claims the title of first rave;)
Reachin Records was a hub for the scene, where the punters acquired not only vinyl records, but also mix tapes, rave tickets, flyers, street press and other info on what was happening from those of us working behind the counter.
At the time, we were already throwing a weekly Friday party together called Jus’ Right at what was called The All Night Boogie Dance Café at the time, but which most Sydneysiders now know as the infamous Club 77.
After doing that for a while, Ray and I wanted to do something new, something with a bit more of an edge, partly in response to the mainstreaming of the culture. Somewhere that we could play the emerging sounds of the time.
Music was evolving fast, with new genres and sub-genres popping up all the time, and true to the spirit of Sydney’s dance culture and the Balearic philosophy imported via the British ravers, we played an eclectic mix of a whole bunch of stuff, and Sabotage was the platform for us and the crew to play the more edgy and techy stuff as an alternative to the prevalence of places where we could play more house based sounds. Ray had also just returned from his first DJing trip to Berlin, where he had seen how huge techno had become.
The first Sabotage party happened on Saturday 10 December 1994 with special guests Gemma, who was a regular at Club Kooky on Sunday nights at Club 77, and Abel El Toro of Happy Valley fame.
From there, things escalated quickly, and soon we were putting on our first parties at the Metro, with a capacity of 1500 people, on the long weekends, while also throwing parties at Skygarden in the city and the Underground and the Rooftop in Kings X..
The bigger room at the Metro required bigger sounds, and the emerging movements of techno and big room harder house fit the bill.
We were proud of the fact that we could fill the room with epic locals-only lineups, including live sets by artists like Infusion and Pocket, who were on associated label Thunk Recordings at the time, but we also brought out some amazing DJs from Europe and North America, including Richie Hawtin, Derrick May, Craig Richards, Mr C, Pure Science, Eddie Richards, Andy Morris and Chris Duckenfield
We took the opportunity, as we often did at our other nights, to introduce DJs we knew were great but few people in Australia had ever heard of, and drawing on our US connections we brought out DJs like DJ Dan, Graeme and Terry Mullan to play, many of which licensed tracks to our Sabotage mix CDs
We also tried to help bridge the gap between Melbourne and Sydney by collaborating with Hardware to throw Hardware vs Sabotage parties in both cities, and we toured Sabotage to Canberra, Brisbane and Perth.
When I look back at the evolution of the artwork associated with Sabotage, from the early business card size, minimalist camouflage flyers, designed by Paul Findlay and SMART in Melbourne, through the military stuff (which admittedly we might have naiively run with a bit too long;) to the more refined and sleek look of the later parties, with flyers designed by Timon Harrison, a co-founder of Thunk and also the graphic designer for that label.
Looking back at the flyers, it’s funny to see that the parties used to go til 6 or 7 am, and there was always a recovery party somewhere afterwards, in the grand Sydney tradition of the recovery party. Basically, just another party starting at 6am that went for at least another 8 hours. These are the kinds of things that need to be remembered in the history of Sydney clubbing. They say you need to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going, and Sydney used to be a global powerhouse in the world of clubbing history and had a 24 hour weekend culture to rival those of Europe and which put the American cities to shame.
Décor was pretty simple. We bought a bunch of camo nets and did lots of projections with slides and visuals, along with a heavy reliance on strobes, smoke machines and the obligatory mirror balls.
We saw a lot of different music styles appear and evolve over the years we were doing Sabotage too, spanning tech house 1.0, west coast house, breaks, minimal, tribal house, electroclash and, of course, many flavours of techno.
We also sometimes took advantage of the old Dendy cinema that used to be part of the complex (it’s now a cavernous side room at the venue), showing films like Bladerunner and 2001: Space Odyssey, and a few times we actually got DJs and electronic musicians to create new soundtracks live over the top of movies like Baraka.
Sabotage (and really most of the parties we did) were about pushing things forward musically and culturally, hence the slogan ‘Hear The Future’.
There are a few others to acknowledge in the Sabotage story, most notably Rob Easton and his team for doing an amazing job with the sound and lights every time; Stig, who was an integral part of the team for many years; Cath, Deb and Jodi who looked after the door, Marco who helped us out with all sorts of things, all the DJs and the team at Reachin, along with a few who are no longer with us, but will forever be part of the story… Jad McAdam, Adrian ‘Ajax’ Thomas and Roger ‘Ramjet’ Close.
Written by Phil Smart