A quarter century after it existed, the legend of Worthing rave mecca Sterns only grows.
When people mention it, they usually mean In-Ter-Dance at Sterns, which ran from 1991 to 1993 and turned the place into one of the UK’s leading clubs. However, dance music events took place at the Highdown premises for a year before that. One of these was Kaos, run by the 20 year old Mandy Austen.
Raised by her mum, a hairdresser, Mandy grew up in Rustington. She grew up a music fanatic, spending Sunday evenings religiously taping the Top 40 off the radio. As the ‘80s turned to the ‘90s, she was drawn to the exploding dance culture and used to attend one of Worthing’s earliest rave nights, Purple Haze.
By 1989 she was working at a printers in Brighton. On her lunch breaks she’d go to rising DJ Carl Cox’s My Price record shop and buy dance 12”s. Aspiring to be a DJ, She bought two Technic decks.
“I called myself DJ Dale,” she laughs, “One Sunday afternoon I did a cassette tape which I gave to the Purple Haze guy. He liked it and said, ‘You’ve got a spot next Saturday night’.”
Mandy played for Purple Haze a few times but one day, hanging out with her friends in Arundel, she had a brainwave. She’d prefer to put on a rave herself.
“I had no idea how to go about it,” says Mandy, “so I went to Richard Garrett who owned Sterns and said, ‘I’d like to put on a rave, how much is it to hire?’ He said, “£2000.’ ‘OK, can I pay on the night.’ He said, ‘I really need some money up front.’ I gave him £200 with the promise I’d not leave on the night until I’d paid him.”
Mandy was a fan of the DJs Colin Dale and Terry Frances and had their phone numbers already, but she needed a headliner. She visited Carl Cox at his shop.
“I said “I’m going to put on a rave at Sterns – what shall I do?” He looked at me as if to say, ‘Whhaaaaat???’ But he was lovely. He gave me [DJ] Fabio’s number and said, ‘OK, you need a good flyer and to work out which [record] stores to take the flyers to. If I can do anything to help, let me know’.”
Titling the event Kaos “because it sounded ravey”, Mandy hopped on a train and distributed flyers to record shops in London, Portsmouth, Bognor and Brighton. Eventually Saturday 28thJuly 1990 came around: “I didn’t know how it would go but I sat behind the till and it was non-stop – bang, bang, bang, £10, £10, £10 – all I could see was pound signs in my eyes and I thought, ‘Bloody hell, this is going down a storm.’ It was just incredible. They were going to have to close the doors but I said to Richard Garrett, ‘Check the clicker,’ and he allowed a few more in. It was absolutely heaving so I got quite a reputation from that. Fabio didn’t turn up so I said to Colin Dale, ‘Do you mind continuing?’ and he was happy to, he was right enjoying it. I paid him some of Fabio’s money too.”
The next day as she sat amongst all the cash on her bed, her Mum walked in and said, “Where did you get all that money?” Mandy replied, “I done a rave, Mum!” Her Mum misheard, thinking Mandy said, “I done a raid.” Fretting her daughter had become an armed robber she briefly freaked out until the truth finally hit home.
After such success Mandy decided on a second event – Direkt Kaos. She kept Fabio and Colin Dale in the line-up but added Luke Skater, who worked at Cox’s record shop and would later be a don of ‘90s UK techno. She also had local band Big Corporation play the middle floor. She was late getting the DJs sorted so the flyer was rushed.
“Carl Cox came round to my Mum’s house to help with it, “ she recalls, “He coloured in the flyer, we did it really quick so, while the back looks professional, the front is really crap, like a child’s written ‘Direkt Kaos’ and tried to colour around it. It still sold out.”
On the night – Saturday 3rd November 1990 – Colin Dale had to fill in once again. Fabio turned up at 2.00 AM as the night was closing. He promised he’d make good if there was a third event, but when Mandy went back to Sterns it was all booked up and she “couldn’t get a Saturday night for love nor money”. The In-Ter-Dance years had begun. Mandy co-promoted one further rave on Hastings Pier – Kaos presents Twilight Zone on Sat 31st August 1991 (“10 Hours of Solid Hardcore!”). This time Fabio did turn up, but she’d had enough.
“It did OK but it wasn’t sold out,” she explains, “If it isn’t a sell-out, I don’t want to put it on. After that I just went and danced at Sterns, saw the likes of The Prodigy, brilliant, such a steambox, sweat like the walls were crying, the energy was terrific.”
At Sterns she met someone who took her to the TV show ‘The Word’ where she became a dancer for two years, hanging out with Terry Christian and seeing the likes of Skunk Anansie, Jamiroquai, L7 (“the guitarist actually got undressed, got everything out!”) and Happy Mondays (“Shaun Ryder was ruined”). As the ‘90s progressed she formed and led male strip troupes, initially a comedy one called Comic Strip in the wake of ‘The Full Monty’, but eventually a more serious outfit called Arena who were quite successful.
Later Mandy worked in event security and at Fontwell Park Racecourse. Until quite recently she’d spend every weekend clubbing and dancing, but nowadays she’s more interested in competing her champion Bernese mountain dogs. Even so, she still revels in the fact she put those raves on. “If I could have those days back…” she says wistfully.
By Thomas H Green
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