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The Zap was a nightclub in Brighton, England that became famous in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly for the acid house nights that were held there. It has been described as an "influential ... club which pulled together many of the underground strands of visual art, fashion, music, design, comedy, cabaret and theatre which were circling at the time".
The Zap first opened at the New Oriental Hotel, Brighton in April 1982. Founded by Neil Butler, Patricia Butler and Amanda Scott, it was an experiment to mix radical art with cutting edge entertainment. The first shows were presented in a cabaret format mixing performance art, poetry, comedy, dance and theatre with the opening night featuring Ian Smith, Roger Ely and the band Resident Zero. It soon moved to the Royal Escape and then to the Northern before finally settling at its own venue in the King's Road Arches in October 1984.
The Club was organised by the four directors: Neil and Pat Butler. Dave Reeves and Angie Goodchild. Ian Smith was the resident MC and in the new venue the Club started to develop a music policy that won acclaim for its live music and its place at the forefront of the late 1980s house music boom. Meanwhile, The Zap continued to promote and commission radical art and entertainment through its regular performance programmes, commissions and festivals.
The Club's commitment to "New Art for New Audiences" led to a range of projects across the UK, including curating seasons of performance at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and London's South Bank and developing the Streetbiz Street Arts Festival as part of Glasgow's 1990 European Capital of Culture. These external projects were managed by Zap Productions where The Zap directors were joined by Robin Morley. In 1994 Zap Productions joined with Edinburgh's Unique Events to create Glasgow based UZ Events. UZ went on to create a range of festivals and events including the Shine on Festival, Glasgow's Hogmanay and Millennium celebrations, Big in Falkirk, Glasgow Art Fair and Glasgow's Merchant City Festival. Internationally UZ created programmes for the Scottish Government (Executive) in New York, Canada, and Sweden and a range of projects on nearly every continent.
The original Zap directors sold the club in 1997 with Zap Productions continuing for some years before handing over all projects to the charity Zap Art which continues to create programmes and commission artists and companies in the field of street arts.
Neil Butler is Artistic director of UZ Events. Dave Reeves is Chief executive of Zap Art. Angie Livingston works with Cherie Blair. Patricia Butler is a teacher. Robin Morley is Director of Magnetic Events. Ian Smith co-founded Scottish street theatre company Mischief La-bas ( with Angie Dight )in 1992 in Glasgow and was Artistic director until his death in 2014.
Key club nights that became associated with The Zap were "Tonka" with DJs DJ Harvey, Choci and Rev (Mondays), "Club Shame" (Wednesdays), "Protechtion" with DJ Eric Powell (Fridays), and "Coco Club" with DJ Chris Coco (Saturdays).
Tuesday evenings at The Zap were staged by Josh Dean and Martin Southern, two promoters booking a broad variety of bands and usually attracting audiences too large for the venue such as The Lemonheads, Rollins Band, Teenage Fanclub and Hole. The success of these nights greatly enhanced the reputation of the club as a pivotal live music venue.
Located in 5 arches on the King's Road (seafront) in Brighton, the mixed cosmopolitan audiences would party until 5 am, with many continuing the motion (or more often sleeping) on the beach opposite until sunrise, depending on the time of year. The Zap is mentioned in the book The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi.
A large part of The Zap's appeal was its location. It was for many years the only nightclub on the lower seafront and as a result, attracted a less mainstream clientele. It was popular with a broad mix of people and helped define clubbing regardless of sexual orientation thanks to the vision of the owners and staff. 'Club Shame' on Wednesdays was regarded as "the blueprint of gay clubbing in the nineties" and was directly involved in bringing gay clubbing into the mainstream, thanks to the efforts of promoter Paul Kemp.
After a balcony was added in the early 1990s giving club goers direct views of the beach while indulging in a spot of chill out. The Zap was also one of only two nightclubs in the town to be given an extended licence in the early 90s allowing it to remain open after 2 am (the other venue was the Royal Escape). These two clubs competed for Brighton's late night club goers despite the licence restricting entry after 1 am.
Another famous act was "Andy Walkers Frame Fame" on early Friday evenings, which showcased new performers and acts on the stage, introduced by Andy walker and Adrian Bunting. The shows were popular and the audiences were usually invited to stay on at the following club promotion afterwards free of charge. The Zap club also played host to a number of (humerus adult) pantomimes over the Christmas period, helping establish a reputation for being an artistic venue.
Kings Road Arches
The arches were originally used by the fishermen of Brighton for storing their equipment. These were long and narrow with curved ceilings. Originally, The Zap consisted of two of these arches (entrance and performance area) before another one was added for a bar. In 1989 it underwent a massive overhaul which saw the opening up of two more of the adjoining arches. This gave it a proper stage with a balcony and bar overlooking it. It was further enlarged in 1996 to include another arch.
Acid house, rave, house and the early dance music era
"Tonka" nights continued for five years, ending in the summer of 1993, and "Protechtion" evolved into a new promotion later the same year. The following year, Chris Coco brought his Saturday nights to an end with a packed and extended house party. From the late 80s to the early 90s, these three nights had continually played music that had showcased the newest and best sounds of underground dance. While "Tonka" straddled the acid house and early trance eras, "Protechtion" went for a more British style of techno, championed by Eric Powell which was later further developed by DJs such as Dave Clarke, and Powell's Bush Records label; a happier, British house sound, played by London DJ Paul Newman (better known as "Tall Paul") Smokin Jo, John "double O" Fleming and DJ Paulette. Additionally, Chris Coco's Saturday night showcased a more American style of dance music, predominantly Chicago house and then US garage. The success and popularity of the Coco Club was due to a combination of the music and the hard work and dedication of Chris Coco and his wife Helene who developed a unique relationship with their audiences, taking time to talk to and welcome clubbers to the venue.
In the 1990s
Having ridden the acid house wave and added its own chapters in the story, The Zap continued to showcase emerging DJs and newer styles of electronic dance music, during the 90s. While other acid house clubs like The Haçienda in Manchester hit trouble after the heyday of acid and early rave, The Zap adapted and thrived, well into the era of the newer, larger type of dance club known as the Superclub. All this despite The Zap only having a maximum capacity of 500 people.
While the club continued the previous policies of tech-house, and Techno (Red) on Fridays, and House music and garage (Pussycat Club) on Saturdays with Residents Nippa and Neil Rhoden, Monday nights were given over to a range of nights, showcasing everything from trip hop to trance music. The Zap was instrumental in bringing trance, then emerging from the Frankfurt underground, to the UK, with regular Monday night sets from Sven Vath and DJ Dag (of Dance 2 Trance). Popular European DJs such as Laurent Garnier and CJ Bolland also performed at The Zap around this time.
The Zap's Monday nights during mid nineties also provided plenty of opportunity for American and British DJs. US house legends David Morales and Frankie Knuckles both played at The Zap on a Monday night, while DJs Sasha and John Digweed, already superstars in the North and the Midlands of England brought their magic to the South Coast with the launch of their 'Northern Exposure' night, in the autumn of 1993. These nights – and the progressive dance music style that Sasha & John Digweed brought to the club's turntables were a huge hit with The Zap crowd and the atmosphere in the club evoked the frenzied energy and positivity of the club's early years. Despite The Zap's sound system often being criticised, Sasha was quoted in a dance music magazine as saying his two favourite clubs were The Haçienda and The Zap.
In the mid nineties, Danny Rampling was invited by promoters Wayne Seven-Kurz and Sdaegh Al Hilaly to hold a monthly residence at a new promotion called "South" which showcased his new, trancey, Euro style. This led to the now familiar long queues outside the club. Rampling often commented on the positivity and friendliness of The Zap crowd during his BBC Radio 1 show. Saturday nights also adapted, bringing a more "pumped up", Superclub style of House Music to the Club. This led The Zap becoming popular with superstar DJs such as Paul Oakenfold and Jeremy Healy who both played in the club during these years.
The club closed for a week and re-opened under new ownership and management in December 1997 following the sale of The Zap to a larger company; the owners, management and promoters all changing. Only the Friday Promotion was kept on with the help of DJ Eric Powell until 1999.
The millennium and beyond
The Zap closed in early 2005, reopening as The Union, which didn't seem to work so three months later, the club was renamed The Zap. It was closed and refurbished yet again and re-branded as Digital in 2008, reselling again in 2014 and being re-branded as The Arch.
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