WHP and Parklife's Sacha Lord - What I’ve learned from a life in nightclubs

By Manchester's Finest | 12 April 2024

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Sacha Lord with The Prodigy

Over the years, Warehouse Project and Parklife co-founder Sacha Lord has been variously shot at, bundled into cars, followed by police helicopters and once had his club firebombed.

Undeterred, he’s gone from promoting student nights, opening one of the biggest nightclubs in the world, and putting on one of the biggest inner city festivals in Europe, attracting over 80,000 people to Heaton Park.

As his book Tales From The Dance Floor hits the shelves, written with Luke Bainbridge and chronicling a life lived mostly in the twilight, he revealed a few things he’s learned along the way…

Krysko, Sacha Lord, Dave Vincent
Krysko, Sacha Lord and Dave Vincent at Sankeys

Clipboards aren’t bulletproof…

“I was doing the door at Home nightclub on Ducie Street, and I remember vividly, I was hold a green perspex clipboard, with the guestlist on it. A car pulled around the corner and starting spraying bullets at the front door. All the security ran inside, all the big lads, pulled the shutters down, and left me on the outside. A gun spraying bullets at a nightclub door would be national news today. I don’t think it even got reported on. In those days, that was just very much how it was. That wasn’t an unusual occurrence in the slightest.”

Tell you mum nothing…

“The first thing I thought after the incident at Home was ‘I’m not going to tell my mum’. Can you imagine going home and your mum says ‘how was work last night?’ and you say ‘oh, it was great, I was shot at’. Or a few years later at Sankeys, ‘it was OK, but I was petrol bombed’. Sometimes it’s best not to tell your mum these things.”

Sacha Lord
Sacha Lord and his mum at the Hacienda

Qualifications aren’t everything…

“I never set out for this to be a career. It started and I thought ‘I’m doing alright with this’, so it carried on. I had no choice, I left school with no real qualifications – two Us and an E. All my friends, and classmates, all went off to Uni. And good ones, too. Never at one point did I think ‘right, I’m going to be a promoter now’. The decision was made, I think, New Year’s Eve, 1997, and I put a party on at Granada Studios, 4,500 people, and I thought ‘OK this is it, this could work’.”

A streaker mounts the stage at Warehouse Project

But spelling is important…

“I was 23, running student nights for 500 or 600 people every Tuesday. I took a call from ‘Mr Big’ from Salford, who told me I had to meet him outside the Dry Bar on Oldham Street at 3pm the following day. You couldn’t say no in those days. I’m there panicking. A seven series BMW pulled up, and I got in the back. He turned and gave me an Asda bag with £20,000 in cash. He said he wanted me to hire the Manchester Academy for New Year’s Eve, sell it out, get their £20,000 back and split the profits 50/50. I was so confused. I asked who they wanted to DJ. They said ‘you, you sold out the Hacienda last weekend’. I said ‘no, that was DJ Sasha, it’s spelled slightly differently’. They pulled over and threw me out on the pavement.”

Chic at the Warehouse Project
Chic at the Warehouse Project (Credit: Rob Jones)

Logistics, logistics, logistics…

“At Warehouse Project we have 400 bar staff, 128 security, four sniffer dogs, six knife arches [metal detectors], a team of 12 ‘angels’, we call them, making sure people are ok. 12 paramedics, a doctor, three ambulances, another 60 production crew behind the scenes. There was a time last year when Privilege in Ibiza closed that we were the biggest nightclub in the world.”

Sacha Lord and Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg and Sacha at Parklife

Always know where your power is coming from…

“We opened Sankeys in October 2000. It had been previously opened 1994 to 1998, and the door was run by [the Salford gangs]. They wanted the door back again when we reopened it. The police told me if I did that, they’d shut me down immediately. The night before we open, I get a call from the fire officer, saying ‘you’d better come down, there’s been a fire at the club’. There was a substation behind the club in the car park, surrounded by a metal fence. The old door firm sent people down with a mattress, soaked it in petrol and set it alight, blew up the substation. What they didn’t realise was that because Sankeys was an old mill, it had its own substation inside. The first night we were raving, the rest of Ancoats was pitch black. But they were sending a message. For the first three months, I basically had a bodyguard who would pick me up and take me home.”

The team at Warehouse Project

Education saves lives…

“There was one point where we all questioned what we were doing, and that was when Nick Bonnie died in 2013. We very nearly stopped the Warehouse Project at that point. Immediately, you think about his family and friends. It was devastating, and I can’t explain what the feeling is like knowing that perhaps if you hadn’t put that party on, someone would still be alive. We decided to carry on because we thought ‘if we stop, people will carry on partying, just in different places’ and we were confident in our systems, with the paramedics, with searches, so at that point we moved towards educating people. Ironically, we started [testing drugs on site] a week before Nick died. If you can’t stop drugs getting into Strangeways, a category A prison, what am I supposed to do with a nightclub or a field. I have seen testing, with my own eyes, save a life. We had a girl who was very, very, very poorly. The doctor managed to ask her friends for a description of what she’d taken, they found something similar from confiscations, tested it, and within seconds the doctor knew what they were dealing with, and saved that person’s life.”

Sacha Lord at Parklife
(Credit: Darren Robinson)

Mistakes aren’t failures…

“You must always learn from your mistakes. But every mistake you make, don’t treat it as a failure. It’s just another way of learning. I still make mistakes now, on a weekly basis. Still learning.”

Tales From The Dance Floor is out now via Harper North.