Sneaky Pete's Turns Four
Nick Stewart, the owner of Sneaky Pete’s and the man who decides which bands and DJs that play there, is wondering how the club, which sits on the Cowgate in the heart of the Old Town, has managed to get the label of ‘underground’. “I don’t feel our music is underground and it’s certainly not aggressive. Most of our music is actually very celebratory. I love it when our DJs make people have the best ever time and it does happen a lot – all the time in fact.”
The origins of the club’s name go back to a prohibition term in the States that refers to the practice of hiding a bottle of spirits in a brown paper bag when drinking so as to avoid the eyes of the police. More locally, the club’s name has a history going back a few decades and is still well remembered by music lovers across a few generations when it used to be a spit ‘n’ sawdust club, which ultimately led to the name being revived.
“When I first got a taxi to Red Vodka Club [the previous name] no one knew where it was until the driver dropped me off and said “oh, it’s Sneaky Pete’s,” which it hadn’t been called for 15 years. When it was still Red Vodka Club it started to turn into a fairly good place and then after we bought it there were about six months when it was in transition before it officially became Sneaky Pete’s. It just seemed obvious to call it that again, especially if there is a folk memory of it. It was a dive bar and I am quite happy to call it that... a lot of my favourite places have been dive bars.”
Much has been made of the apparent demise Edinburgh’s clubbing scene but Stewart is quick to defend it while shrugging off any expectations that his club has any wider duty to the city beyond the people who regularly pack it out. “I think Sneaky’s is independently busy because it is good. We didn’t really see an upsurge in trade when Cab Voltaire shut for a few months; we were full then and we are full now and it’s probably the closest to us in music policy. I would like every club to be full of amazing music, people and culture and I can only keep my end up of that. What anyone else does is their business and we only have room for 100 people so I can’t fit the entire club scene in there! Edinburgh’s scene is a thriving one and there are nearly 40 nightclubs in the city. A lot of them are full a lot of the time, it’s just that not all of them are music focused the way ours is.”
For a club that is in many ways all about the music there is very little pretension when it comes to talking about how what is played there is decided. “I am not a music snob at all, I think I just like what most people like except it’s my job to seek new music out. A lot of what I’d like to put on won’t work to 100 people but occasionally someone who is really big wants to take a step down to play us, and we have had quite a few shows that are far too big for us. Drop the Lime will be back for the fifth time on the 5th August and it’s the smallest club in the world he ever plays.”
The size of the club, which initially would appear to be a hinderance, has actually become one of the key features for creating an atmosphere where people want to dance. “You will never get two people dancing right next to each other on an empty dancefloor but it’s never too hard to get a party started in Sneaky’s. People come here to dance whereas other clubs might be about different things but we don’t have the functions for anything else – there’s a bar and dancefloor and that’s it.”
“We wanted a place where it looks like a lot of people hang out and kind of smash it up a little as long as you don’t feel that your feet are sticking to the floor. At the moment we are replacing the dancefloor because people have danced so long and so hard on it that they’ve gone through the 25 year-old lino flooring, through the concrete screed that’s on top and now it’s revealing the cobblestones underneath. That’s just rubber trainers dancing that has caused it. It’s a shame to cover it but in ten years time it will be uncovered again!”.
Being a venue that can host bands earlier in the night and then pack out a club later has led to the creation of an interesting blending of the two called Night Music. “There’s loads of really exciting and amazing electronic music that we love that has too much going on for it to be played exclusively between the hours of 1am and 3am. We wanted to make an environment that was late enough to make it seem right but also not so late that you might just have had a Jägerbomb and want to dance and instead this will be playing. Also, we do recognise that frequently a lot of people who will be huge electronic fans will be slightly older and might have to go to work the next day, but who can still stay out till midnight on a weeknight in order to catch a really exciting show. We have also been producing these two minute films of each show that manage to capture the essence and the intrinsic vibes of the night far better than photographs do, and it means there is something to take away.”
In August there will be three big guests for Night Music and the price will still be £5 in. “Com Truise, whose drummer is amazing, and Koreless, who makes brilliant music but not for a club at 1am, are both returning and we have Factory Floor playing too, who I’ve been trying to get for two years, all of which is happening during the festival. We’re lucky that we get to put on shows like this as we know we are going to be full most nights later on, so why have a crowd that only wants to party when we can give electronic artists an audience who will offer a different attention span.”
Stewart is also quick to pay tribute to the alternating, once a month nights showcasing LuckyMe and Numbers talent who both linked up with the club around nine months ago. “We’re really privileged that the two Scottish labels that are changing dance music all around the world right now are both really comfortable playing here. As far as I know it was Jackmaster’s idea and he just said ‘Let’s do some parties and let's just have a rammy.’ I had never heard of a ‘rammy’ before but as soon as we opened the door I realised that it was a case of ‘let’s have lots of people very close to each other, sweating and listening to amazing music.’ And that seemed to work. It’s good that we have them because if we didn’t we’d still be playing all those records because they are the best records around.”