A club night with a twist: Hacienda Classical comes to Dubai Opera this weekend

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The sounds of Hacienda helped shape dance music. Decades after its demise, they’re back – remixed and live…

It seems an incongruous mix. The seminal house music classics that send Manchester clubbers into all-night raptures at the Hacienda in the 1980s and early 1990s, that made hands-in-the-air anthems out of K-Klass’ Rhythm Is A Mystery or A Guy Called Gerald’s Voodoo Ray, transposed into the polite, rarefied surroundings of a concert hall, with orchestra and conductor. Odd? Tell that to the 250,000 people who have made Hacienda Classical a touring sensation over the best three years.

“It was honestly meant to be a one-off in Manchester,” laughs ex-Hacienda DJ Graeme Park as he prepares to bring his show to Dubai Opera. “Before we knew it we were playing the Royal Albert Hall. But then, these are timeless songs that soudtracked people’s lives”.

So timeless, in fact, that Park was getting slightly sick of playing 808 State, Marshall Jefferson or New Order night after night as a ‘Hacienda DJ’.

And that’s how Hacienda Classical came about – Park figuring out with fellow DJ Mike Pickering how to make these songs exciting again.

“So we argued over a set list of 20 songs – and as I was doing the final edit, I got the final say,” laughs Park. “I created a DJ mix and gave it to Manchester Camerata’s Tim Crooks to score and arrange.”

The result is genius – rather than a polite, chamber orchestra feel to a Hacienda Classical, they kept the electronic backing track to “maintain the energy of the originals” and made sure the bass lines and beats remained in the mix. Far from diluting the power of the originals, the live aspect of the show – complete with choir – actually adds more depth and soul.

“We get a lot of people coming who are over the age of 40 who grew up with these tunes,” admits Park. “But they’ve given up clubbing for whatever reason – age, family commitments, not being able to recover like they used to.”

Park explains that House legend Marshall Jefferson actually came to the first Hacienda Classical tour, eager to experience his songs in this new guise.

“When Marshall heard his cheaply made electronic house tracks from 1988 played by an orchestra with a choir and great vocalists, he was absolutely blown away,” he says. “For me, I just thought, this is good, but it could be even better.”

And that meant evoking some of the original ethos of the Hacienda, where new music would be played every week. Park was not only keen that each tour had new songs in the set, but that with Crooks they could create completely new arrangements for familiar tunes. That included House anthem Show Me Love by Robin S – a song that Park was originally the first to play in the Hacienda back in the early 1990s.

“That was the thing about the Hacienda – people beg me to play the classics when I DJ but I do have to remind them that in the late 1980s, early 1990s, the songs they now love were brand new. Along with Robin S, I got sent Alison Limerick’s Where Love Lives to play at the Hacienda, and I vividly remember playing them for the first time. No-one had heard it but the place would go mental. The records has dome kind of aura about them. I hammered them for a couple of months and then you’d move onto the next new song.

Which, in a way, is still Park’s approach decades later, as he works out a new Hacienda Classical set list for 2019. In the meantime, he promises the Dubai shows will be the best of the year. “We know this set inside out now,” he says. “But it is kind of nerve-wracking because I know the audience is there in Dubai – I’ve been DJ’ing here since 1997, I can’t wait to show them Hacienda Classical.

But he’s not giving too much away in advance.

“What I really love is the anticipation of knowing what’s about to happen, what classic song is about to drop, and then seeing the crowd go absolutely crazy. That’s when you think ‘yes, I’ve done my job properly’.

Hacienda Classical at Dubai Opera, Downtown Dubai, 9pm onwards, Thursday November 22 and Friday November 23, from Dhs250. Tel: (04) 440 8888. dubaiopera.com

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