In-Ter-Dance at Sterns 1990-1993 – Part 1 – Beginnings and Rise

If you drive west on the A259 from Worthing, past Goring into Ferring, there’s an unobtrusive right turn that leads up a hill, Highdown Hill, with views over the whole area. There’s also a mansion house there, built in 1820. It looks horror filmic at first glance but is, in fact, a hotel and carvery.  What few people realise is that, for a couple of years, at the dawn of the 1990s, it was one of the most iconic clubs in Britain: Sterns, a true rave mecca.

Andy Bannister, under the name Quantum, was a resident DJ and well recalls those glory days. “It became famous across all clubland at the time, everyone on the south coast knew about Sterns,” he laughs, over a cup of tea, “They came from Bournemouth, Portsmouth, everywhere, and we started getting people from London. In those days there was nothing to do round here so it was what everyone looked forward to, one big family, every other Friday night.”

Andy moved to the area from Burton-on-Trent with his mother, a tax inspector, when he was two. Twenty years later, in 1989, he’d been through the school system, had a BTEC Diploma in Business Studies and was a trainee accountant. But he was bored. His main interest was collecting records – hip hop and disco, but mainly reggae, ragga and dancehall which he’d go all the way to Dub Vendor in Brixton to seek out.

Across the rest of Britain, however, a socio-musical revolution was beginning to occur. House music and techno, initially from the States, and Balearic styles popularized in Ibiza, combined with widespread use of MDMA, AKA Ecstasy, kick-started an explosion in utopian, hedonistic partying. Andy’s friends started attending the Sunrise raves, vast dance extravaganzas, usually bordering the M25. They would return after dawn evangelizing about acid house, bringing mix tapes. Andy would spend time in local record shops absorbing the new electronic club sounds. He was becoming a convert.

One night a local promoter known as Skunk put on a rave night at the Karaoke Club (Rowlands Road, now flats). It was, says Andy, “an eye-opener”. Next Skunk put on a couple of nights called Purple Haze up at “the house on the hill”, Sterns, which took its name from Sir Frederick Stern, a horticulturalist and gardener who’d lived there from 1909 until 1967. These parties opened the door to what followed.

At the time, local authorities across Britain were seriously concerned by the illegal rave phenomenon. Among much else it was affecting income from more traditional evening leisure industries. They wanted to bring dance music culture into more controlled environments and were willing to hand out coveted late licenses to do so. In the Worthing area a promoter known as Mensa had run successful events under the title In-Ter-Dance, a company he’d set up during 1990 with help from a Government Enterprise loan. He was offered the opportunity to put on monthly all-nighters at Sterns on a members’ club basis, staying open until 2.00 and 3.00 AM the rest of the weekends. At the end of the year, he began to do so.

Sterns had a unique lay-out, multiple rooms to chill out in, a development that would become customary across clubland, and three main arenas, the Top Floor, the Garage and the Underground, each playing different styles of dance music, also an innovation at the time. Andy got to know Mensa and his partner Rachel, who would run the door, through attending In-Ter-Dance at Sterns from the start.

“Mensa would pop round our flat,” he recalls, “He’d come and chill out with me and my mate Dave Knapp, sometimes ask our advice about what outside DJs to get in. I’d started to get really into DJing, sometimes practicing mixes eight hours a day. I had one Technics 1200 [a quality turntable], one crappy one, and a rubbish Tandy mixer. One day Mensa was round and said, ‘One of my decks is bust, can I borrow yours?’ We said, ‘Yeah, you can, if you give us a DJ set?’.”

“Dave and I did a couple of sets in the Gallery, the attic room where Mensa gave beginners a try,” says Andy, “Then he gave us residencies. Dave was resident in the Underground, under the name Cloud 9, while I warmed up on the Top Floor, where people came in. I never knew what to call myself but a friend of mine suggested ‘Quantum’ – a leap in time – and it stuck. I played breakbeat material, alongside the likes of John ‘00’ Fleming, Pigbag, and Rock & Vibes.”

By summer 1991, Sterns was really hitting its stride. Major DJs would make sure they played there, such as Carl Cox and Moby, while there were also PAs from live acts, including Shades of Rhythm (of the hits ‘Extacy’ [Sic] and ‘The Sound of Eden’) and Dutch house duo Fierce Ruling Diva. The Prodigy, on the cusp of fame, still during their “rave pyjamas” phase, even put in an appearance.

“The floor below me was the Garage,” recalls Andy, “Where there would be the likes of Evil O, Rhythm Doctor, Aubrey and Femi B, then you’d go down to the Underground where it was absolutely bonkers, sweat raining off the walls, laser shows, dry ice, strobes, everything just went a bit crazy down there. The cliché is that it was drug-fuelled and all that. To some degree it was, but you didn’t have to drugs. For me it was about the music. Every other week I’d go up to London to get the latest promos from Lucky Spin in King’s Road, take the tube to Soho to Blackmarket Records where I started to get to know [then-famous DJs] Nicky [Blackmarket] and Ray Keith. They’d hold back promos for me and I’d take Sterns flyers up for Mensa. It was round this time that Sterns really started to become a national phenomenon….”

For what happened next, check Part 2 in April’s Time Machine.

Thomas H Green