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Mark C talks Empire & THAT John Digweed tape..

So as I've mentioned over on the Facebook page one of group members had a mix that he wanted to share in the PHC group, turned out this mix was by John Digweed and after a bit of a chat we decided to get some background on where the mix was recorded and what type of nights they put on. Now the thing with this particular mix is it looks pretty rare, we're not saying its exclusive but so far we've not found anyone with it.

With many thanks to Mark Challacombe read on and check out the classic Digweed mix he's been good enough to share..

Afternoon Mark, we've spoken in the PHC Facebook group about this club and it has a couple of dedicated groups online . For anyone thats not aware of it give us some info on where it was and what it was about.

Bognor Regis FFS! The Ultimate graveyard.. Mixmag thought they had been totally stitched up after being turned away from Sterns.. hearing that they were then on the way to.. and I quote "one of gods waiting rooms" to visit 'Empire' must have been a bit of a surprise!

Empire had been putting on events for years in and around the south coast, I would describe it as.. a club where people queued for 2 hours from 100+ miles away hoping to get in to the small but intimate venue, we're pretty sure the capacity may have been exceeded once or twice.

What was the venue like and who set things up ?

It was hot and sweaty with tropical plants and alcoves everywhere – to quote Mixmag.. "we’re not sure what has just happened going through those small doors – this is not Bognor, we have been teleported 1000 miles.. this is hot.. hotter than Barcelona or Ibiza!"

It was run as a hobby for Eddie and Lorrain Stenner, they invited Dj’s to come play to their "well-educated crowd" (quote from Record Mirror). Every DJ who has played there has always commented on THAT crowd and being blow away by the atmosphere. Many big names remember that club fondly. To quote a couple.. BPMs visit – "the best club we have ever visited", Time Out visit – "London this is how you do it".

You know Ministry of Sound regulars even came down to visit, it really did attract clubbers from all over. It was so much more than just another local "underground house club".

So how did the club nights map out over the weekend ?

Saturdays nights & the monthly allnighter's were early to mid 90s and mostly UK garage/US house nights filled with legendary DJ’s supported by live acts and the local DJs/residents, guys like ELS, Nick Parr & myself. We also pulled many more from surrounding areas, it was a bit of a club ethos. Dj wise we had the Feel Real Crew, Harvey, Mr C, Terry Francis, Timmi Magic, Eddie Richards, Mathew B, Wildchild, the late Phil Asher and Noel Watson. On a US tip, John Acquaviva, Terry Hunter, we even had DJ Pierre playing off tapes one night. The live acts came from the likes of Barbara Tucker and Michael Watford, that type of thing.

Interestingly Fabio, Grooverider, Carl Cox and Richie Hawtin all played house sets and it was only for Empire on the Tonic nights. Often many of the Djs would stay after the club had closed and attend the afterparties, its not every day you see Carl Cox and Fabio play in the back of a hairdressers which was the owners normal business for an after party. It really was 'happy daze'.

Ah the famed after parties in the early 90's. I remember we had a similar set up in Colchester of all places. I saw Carl Cox and Frankie Bones play in the Piccolo pub one Saturday night, crazy to think that now. So how did Fridays work and when did the prog sound start to set in ?

Friday nights were originally for the hardcore, techno, breakbeat heads, the likes of Krome & Time, Carl Cox, Fabio & Grooverider, Luke Slater and Dave Angel. However the music started to change, it was that deeper sound, it went on to become progressive and so did Fridays.

Who did you have coming down to play when the progressive sound started to break?

We had John Digweed, Mr C, Nick Warren & Daddy G, Parks & Wilson, Ian Ossia, Dave Seaman and Billy Nasty.. these guys were regulars and they nearly all ended up playing on the Saturday nights. It was this new sound. We had a mixture of house and progressive and it was unstoppable. This wasn’t just a local underground club anymore it was attracting worldwide talent and they wanted to play at Empire. Thinking about it we even had a waiting list of DJs wanting to play and that was as long as the queue to get in !

I understand there was an associated record shop that did very well. Where was this situated?

Yeah not only an incredible club, it had its own independent record shops, two of them. One in Brighton and one in Portsmouth – Jellyjam Records. I mean at the time a legendary club with two record shops, what more could you ask for! Needless to say we were very busy in the shops especially after the weekends.. countless people coming in to buy what they heard the week before. We were also pretty busy supporting the headline DJs, it was not unheard of to see Digweed and Carl Cox having a browse.

So summing it up for 2021 what are your thoughts ?

Well.. it was a club where life long friendships were made and many of us still have contact 30 years on. You know we still sell out events even now, just a couple of get togethers a year but that's how strong the bond is with the Empire family.

And to finish things up you've got a mix for us ?

Yeah we do, it only felt right to share this particular mix, we've had a hunt around and it looks pretty rare. This is one of the nights John Digweed came down to play at Tribal Confusion. Its a 90 minute mix full of tracks that you will really associate with Digweed, one of our MCs is also occasionally on there and you can hear some crowd noise, its a great snapshot of 1993.. It was a really special night. I really hope you all enjoy it.

Many thanks Mark


Available to stream and download in 320kbps


For more info on the club and various nights check out the Facebook group

Empire The Club, Tonic @ Empire The Club (Bognor Regis).

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