How world-renowned club event Renaissance went from town to Ibiza

It was on the dance floor of Manchester’s world-famous nightclub The Hacienda in 1992 where an idea was born that would change Mansfield forever.

The idea came about by two men with a passion for house music but who felt their beloved Hacienda was no longer a “best kept secret”.

The plan was for a dedicated residency nightclub event where people would travel the lengths and breadths of the UK to see their famous DJs perform.

But they wanted to do it in a place that was separated from inner-city problems of gangs, violence and thuggery.

And so, Renaissance was born – with the most unlikely of hometowns.

The world-renowned club night started in Mansfield’s Venue 44 in 1992 and attracted people from all over the country, with some of the “heavyweights” of the dance scene playing regular sets in the town.

And it was all started by the minds of these two men – promoter Geoff Oakes and DJ Alexander Paul Coe, better known by many as ‘Sasha’.

The club night has gone on to become a mainstay of the worldwide dance scene, hosting events across the globe and becoming a regular during Ibiza’s summer season.

Geoff Oakes, chief executive, founder and promoter of Renaissance.

Speaking to Nottinghamshire Live, Renaissance promoter and now chief executive Geoff Oakes explained how the world-famous event evolved from a 1,000 capacity venue in Mansfield to an internationally-acclaimed phenomenon.

“It was the sort of era when people travelled the lengths and breadths of the country to see their favourite DJ,” the 58-year-old said.

“Through the Hacienda I started to become friends with people who are now some of the world’s most famous DJs and that is where I first met Sasha.

“And he said to me one day when we were in the Hacienda: ‘I would really like to start a residency somewhere, playing weekly in one club rather than travelling all over the UK’.

“At the same time the Hacienda had gone from being one of the best kept secrets to being dominated by gangs.

Venue 44 in Mansfield painted with an Alice In Wonderland theme. Image: Matthew Right, The Humble Art Company.

“We wanted somewhere that people could travel to and enjoy the events for what they are, and it needed to be somewhere without these problems.”

The promoter says he wanted to find somewhere which was a bit remote, out of a city and where people could travel “for the right reasons” – the music.

It was at this point, in 1992, when the Stoke-on-Trent man decided to create the Renaissance brand and move to Venue 44 in Mansfield.

“I specifically chose Mansfield because it was a small mining town and because everyone will come out, travel together and come for the right reason, for the music,” he said.

“I wanted to avoid inner-city problems and Venue 44 had an all-night licence, so we had the option of staying open until 6 or 7am.

“And when it first opened we would get the normal crowds until about 2am, and then people would arrive from places like Nottingham or Leeds as they knew we were open so late.”

Mr Oakes says opening the events happened “in the right place at the right time”, with police’s attitudes towards all-night venues changing during this period.

So he used his knowledge of promoting to take out full-page adverts in national music press like Mix Magazine, advertising the Renaissance events to the rest of the country.

However, he and Sasha couldn’t ever imagine how popular the events would become.

“There was a real buzz developed about it as the promoting went on,” he said.

“I remember driving down towards Mansfield with Sasha on the first night having the usual stresses of ‘is it right that we chose Mansfield’.

“But there were 3,000 people standing outside for 1,000 capacity club. We had people who travelled from Brighton and Scotland and we had to turn 2,000 people away on the first night.

Get our top stories sent to you every day

Want us to send you a daily round-up of our biggest stories, and breaking news alerts, direct to your email inbox?

Sign up to our newsletter here.

“It went quiet for a few weeks while people waited for it to die down a bit, and then all of a sudden it exploded.”

People began travelling for three or four hours each way to come to the Renaissance events, while the UK press began picking up on it and articles were written in numerous magazines.

But Mr Oakes knew there was a need to “keep things fresh”.

The brand stayed in Mansfield for more than a year after its 1992 opening night before moving to The Conservatory in Derby in 1993.

However, Mr Oakes began running events in stately homes like Colwick Hall before Renaissance really took off – with resident DJs Sasha and John Digweed then approached in 1994 to create a compilation album.

The mix compilation sold 40,000 copies within its first week and went on to sell more than 200,000 in total – garnering interest for the DJs from much further afield.

“We had our own music identity and the deal went on to start a whole mix compilation market”, Mr Oakes said.

A Renaissance poster from 1992 advertising events at Venue 44.

“With this amount of sales we started to get enquiries from all over the world, and this coincided with when Renaissance was in a sense homeless as the Derby club closed.”

The club night went on to do festival seasons right across the globe, with a synonymous slot in Ibiza’s world-famous nightclub Pacha – an event it has held ever since.

They have also ran events in “pretty much every country” in the world and continue to release new mixes for followers online.

But still to this day, Mr Oakes credits those nights in Mansfield’s Venue 44 as the place where Renaissance really found its feet.

“Venue 44 was Mansfield’s finest hour,” he says. “It’s really incredible that we managed to turn this small mining town into the most famous event town in the country.

“Both Mansfield and Derby are important but particularly Mansfield, the venue was iconic.

“There’s so many of our followers who still to this day will wax lyrical about those events. It was the right time, right place and we made magic.”

A copy of Renaissance’s mix compilation.

The events at both Renaissance and Venue 44 itself are still remembered fondly to this day – both by Mansfield residents and people right across the country.

Jono Edwards, who co-owns eight venues in Mansfield including Andwhynot, Canvas and Industria, was a regular guest at the events and would attend after shifts as assistant manager of Limo’s.

“Renaissance and Venue 44 were completely ahead of their time and that’s something which really needs saying”, he told Nottinghamshire Live.

“It needs acknowledging for Mansfield’s nightclub scene because it was so ahead of its generation.

“Obviously at that time none of us knew what impact it would have on the scene, people would travel for miles.

“I remember once Geoff had to turn people away who had travelled from Newcastle, and the membership database had 46,000 people on it.

Jono Edwards, owner of seven venues in Mansfield, wants to shed a positive light on the town’s first night with reopened pubs.

“I’ve had times where I’ve been on holiday and told people I’m from Mansfield, they will say ‘oh I went to Renaissance’ but they’re from Wales.

“That gives you an idea of how popular it was. It gave Mansfield credibility in the UK dance scene, that’s not just Renaissance but Venue 44 in general.

“DJs from around the world, the heavyweights like Carl Cox, Frankie Knuckles, Jeremy Healy, they all played here on a regular basis.

“As a punter none of us realised just how lucky we were to have this on our doorstep, it was like our very own Hacienda.”

After Renaissance left Venue 44 in 1993, the Mansfield club continued to hold events which attracted many thousands of people.

Events such as Zest, Vibealite, Hot to Trot and Arcana helped continue the legacy borne with the successes of Renaissance.

However, a few years later the Belvedere Street venue eventually closed down before becoming derelict.

It was demolished in around 2010 and is now a car park, but its legacy will last a lifetime.


Nottinghamshire Live – Local News