In-Ter-Dance at Sterns 1990-1993 – Part 2 – Peak and Downfall

1991-92 was a golden period for manic, homemade electronic dance music. Rave culture was peaking. Tunes – “choons” – were created cheaply and independently in home studios across the country using analogue synths, samples and chopped up breakbeats. Released as 12” vinyl singles, they were played by DJs, bought in their tens of thousands by clubbers, and sometimes even made the national charts. In short, raving was a national pastime.

In-Ter-Dance at Sterns, on Highdown Hill, just outside Worthing, was a prime location for this wild, wide-eyed scene. Last month we followed its rise through the eyes of Andy Bannister – AKA resident DJ Quantum. This month we dive straight into the mayhem. Take a typical night at Sterns. Say Saturday 5th September 1992.

DJs included Kenny Ken from London and Lenny D from New York. The former would go on to become one of drum & bass music’s founding fathers, the latter an instigator of the gabber/speedcore movement. This night, however, as with dance music itself, nerdy genre categorization is a few years off. Instead they hammer out juggernaut tunes as if their lives depend on it. The “hoover” sound from Joey Beltram’s seminal “Mentasm” (under the name Second Phase) is never far away. Whether 4/4 kick-drums or rampaging breakbeats, Sterns’ packed, sweaty, dripping Underground is going bananas, many doing the era’s defining hands-go-cubic dance, others blowing whistles, releasing air-horns. “Lenny D’s only for the headstrong, the rush is comin’ on strong,” booms MC Stompy. The average speed of the music is 140-150 BPM (compared to the fluffy, bar-friendly 125-127 BPM of most contemporary DJs)). At Sterns in 1991 and 1992 there was a euphoric, once-in-a-lifetime mania in the smoke-filled air.

“There were lots of baggy trousers, baggy tops, Kickers,” recalls Steve Munroe, who used to DJ house music at Sterns under the name Rhythm Twister, “It wasn’t the days of bandanas, but there were a few bucket hats and a lot of tops off. The whole thing really did affect people, took a lot of football hooligans out of circulation because they became ravers. A lot of the faces round Worthing became no trouble because they were self-medicating. There wasn’t a person who didn’t do anything back in those days.”

The “self-medication” to which he refers was, of course, Ecstasy, MDMA pills, which fuelled the all-nighters, going under “brand names” such as Doves, Rhubarb & Custards, New Yorkers, Dennis the Menaces, Pink Callies, Yellow Callies, Speckled Callies, and the dreaded Snowballs, which weren’t actually MDMA at all, but an MDA cocktail stewed up in Latvia. The drugs were a part of it, but it was very much about music and community.

In his late 20s as the 1990s revved up, Mensa was the man behind In-Ter-Dance at Sterns, at the heart of the venue’s boom times. His real name was Adam Todd and he’d been putting on In-Ter-Dance events with partial success prior to his involvement with the historic House on the Hill.

“How did he get the name Mensa?” Steve Munroe asks, “The answer is he was a very, very good hairdresser and could fix anyone’s hair so everyone used to call him a genius at fixing people’s messed up hair [Mensa is the name of Britain’s high IQ society]. I know it sounds funny, but that’s how he became Mensa.”

He was also an astute promoter who was, it turned out, too good at it for his own good. While the local authorities had initially been supportive of his efforts, they eventually turned on him. Ecstasy culture had become a tabloid bogeyman and local government wanted to rein it in.

“Sterns grew so popular people would park their cars along the middle of [the A259],” recalls Andy Bannister, “That’s when the police started to get inquisitive. Before that they didn’t really know what was going on, they didn’t know what this culture was all about.”

“Initially the club didn’t get raided,” he adds, “but there was a car park on the left of the road up to Sterns and one week the police were waiting there, all these forensics vans, and they were pulling people in as they arrived. That scared people off a bit, and then there were sometimes undercover police in the club.”

By 1993 Mensa was having regular problems with the authorities. On 5th April that year the council decided not to renew the venue’s Entertainment Licence. Mensa appealed but the final end arrived that summer with the last In-Ter-Dance at Sterns being held on 14th August.

The game, however, wasn’t quite over. Mensa relaunched In-Ter-Dance as a private members’ institution at a club called WaveNation on Hayling Island, near Portsmouth. He held a couple of successful parties there, one that autumn and one on New Year’s Eve. Another was planned for the 12th February 1994 but on the 9th he was killed in a freak car accident, a shocking and sudden loss. The community around In-Ter-Dance was devastated, but the event went ahead. Bannister and others played, an emotional celebration of Mensa’s life attended by his girlfriend and family. The reality, however, was that this was the end.

Andy Bannister and Steve Munroe both went on to have locally successful careers in dance music for the rest of the 1990s. And, quarter of a century later, a hotel and carvery inhabits the property that was once home to a great British rave madhouse.

“We went up there to have a meal last year, my mum and auntie and uncle,” smiles Bannister, “It’s strange being up there. They still have the tea house where everyone used to congregate outside. I’ve so many memories from that place, had so many laughs. I didn’t get paid masses, it really wasn’t about money, it was all about a good time.”

There will never be another In-Ter-dance at Sterns as it was so much part of a socio-musical phenomenon which briefly, brilliantly sent Britain doolally. But the Worthing night could light up bright and crazy again. That part is up to you…