From Back Door to Dancefloor: Scott Manson

Scott Manson is a writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience, having served as editor of the official magazine for Ministry of Sound – the UK’s first (legal) 24-hour nightclub – simply titled Ministry. In addition to his work at Ministry, he’s contributed travel and lifestyle features for Sunday Times Style, The Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Sunday Times Travel, FHM, Men’s Health and others. In his time as a writer and editor, Scott has travelled the world with rock stars, top DJs and supermodels. Sometimes, he says, he didn’t even have to carry their bags.

Photo credit: Scott Manson

What was your role at the Ministry of Sound – and how did you arrive at it? 

Well, when I started, I used to attend gigs under the guise of covering them; I’d figured out that it was a reliable way to get into the show for free. Then it occurred to me that since I got pretty good at pretending to have this job – that maybe I could do it, like, for real. Pretty soon after, I began writing for a number of underground music mags (like Velocity and Wax) before I wound up as a freelancer for the Ministry of Sound’s magazine, Ministry. After a year, they put me in charge of the entire publication. 

I was young, only 26-years-old, and frankly, surprised. But it proved to be a great move for me, and a successful time for the magazine. I took over an ailing publication, selling around 20,000 a month and on the brink of closure. By the end of my time there, two years later, we were the biggest-selling dance music magazine in the world, averaging around 110,00 copies a month. What was once seen as a Ministry of Sound vanity project became the authentic voice of young club culture.

How important is music to you? How important is it to London?

Music feels like life – like freedom. And like enjoyment. In London, music is our lingua franca. It’s how we connect to each other. Which, in a somewhat standoffish culture, is a very important thing.

A typical Ministry of Sound event
Photo credit: Ministry of Sound (London)

Describe what MoS was like when you worked there. How closely was the magazine tied to the nightclub? How did that impact the atmosphere? 

James Palumbo, the entrepreneurial owner (to his credit), prioritised the sound system when he constructed the nightclub. But the thing was, the magazine was run out of the same building. In fact, there was a door in our office that led directly onto the dance floor. So very often, we’d be crunching late into Friday evening, trying to edit copy and finalise everything, but doing so as every item on our desks was vibrating – albeit, buzzing along to catchy melodic pulses. Anyway, there were 200 or so of us, all young people, and we had a good time when we weren’t working. Sometimes, it was just hard to press pause on the fun and get stuff done.

What impact do you think this venue has had on music in London, and in general? 

When the Ministry of Sound opened – back in 1991, almost 30 years ago – it overtook an old bus garage. A really manky place south of the Thames. The concept was purely this, 100 per cent: sound system first, lights second, design third – and always in that order.  This approach seems simple enough, but Palumbo’s priorities were the complete reverse of everyone else’s idea of how to build a worthy nightclub. It was like my generation’s 100 club – or Ronnie Scott’s.

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, a lot of live music events have been cancelled. To compensate many musical acts are streaming their shows. What’s your opinion on this? 

Fabulous. It’s so good to see DJs stepping up and streaming live sets for those in lockdown. For ‘trainspotters’, which is what we call dance music obsessives in the UK, it’s the perfect chance to see their idols in action close-up. What’s funny is that you can see these spotters in the live chat comments that accompany the mixes, all trying to outdo each other to be first in naming the next track the DJ is playing – based on the opening bars of the tune. Probably the most impressive of these live streams is from Defected Records, who are running a ‘virtual festival’ every Friday on YouTube and across social platforms. And if you prefer more retro rave tunes, then I co-host a podcast series called Pipe & Slipmats, available on Spotify or Soundcloud, which combines brilliant old tunes with amusing nightlife reminiscing.

Manson in Ibiza (undated photo)
Photo credit: Scott Manson

How has clubbing in London changed since the dawn of the superstar DJ? Is it very different now? 

For one, there’s less money in being a DJ. We’re now in the era of the producer-DJ, you could say. You’ve basically got to have two or three jobs – you  need the tunes in your box, sure, but you also need an Instagram following and, ideally, to have produced a hit dance record. 

That said, I think house music is its healthiest state in years. Venues like Printworks, huge insta friendly spaces, offer big bragging rights. At the same time though, there are a lot of underground parties all over that I’ll never hear about. Which is correct – because I shouldn’t know about them. Just like 18-year-old me wouldn’t have wanted a middle-aged man to know about the parties I was going to back then.

Are there any particularly memorable moments from your time at Ministry (that you’re okay with being published)? 

Once, when I was still a freelancer, I was assigned to interview Shaun Ryder (of Happy Mondays fame) in Ibiza. If I could only find the fellow. I spent five days looking for him. Asking around. He was pretty famously elusive – and, infamously, rarely sober. My editor made it clear that if I didn’t come back with the story, I was out of the job. 

I kept looking. 

Finally, I got a tip that he was at Bar Mambo, the restaurant and bar on the island’s sunset strip, which is where I found him. He’d been awake every day – and night – I’d been searching for him. He was in the sort of condition you’d expect to find someone in after being up for days. What could I do? I told him who I was and what I was writing. He sort of grunted as his eyes flickered with a glimmer of recognition. I ordered him some hot soup, which he stared at emptily. Then I left the table for a second to phone my editor and say I’d found Shaun. But when I turned round, looking over my shoulder, I realised he was now face down asleep in the bowl of soup. Luckily, I managed to prevent his drowning. And the story went fine.

Manson with Ministry of Sound Founder James Palumbo
Photo credit: Scott Manson

That’s a pretty lucky break. Any others? 

Another time, when I was interviewing the cast of Human Traffic – which, by the way, is nearly the only decent movie about 90s rave culture – and I was out the night before the interview, drinking pretty hard. This was one of my first assignments. The next day, I was absolutely hanging. I woke up late, actually, and had to race to get to the interview. I forgot my notebook. My tape recorder. A pen, even. Everything. 

So I’m sitting there, and the first cast member I’m to interview is Danny Dyer. I’m slogging through it, asking him a few questions. At some point, he interrupts me to ask, “Mate. Aren’t you going to write any of this stuff down?” For some reason that I’m still not entirely sure of, I decided to tell Danny Dyer that I had a photographic memory. His response was to shout at the rest of the people there that, to his astonishment, there was some bloke in front of him with a photographic memory. In any case, to save face, I couldn’t take any notes for the rest of the interview. I had to race back to my hotel room and jot down what I remembered. In the end, the piece came out well.

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