David Pollock talks to Gareth Sommerville about his eight years at the helm of house haven Ultragroove
Given the often niche-based appeal of many of Edinburgh’s most enduring clubs past and present – from techno (Pure) to drum & bass (Manga) and retro (Big Beat) – it makes a change to be able to celebrate the life of a night with broad appeal, and which has sustained that appeal for eight years now.
When Ultragroove first started out at the dear, departed La Belle Angele in 1999, it was avowedly a house night. Yet, as co-founder and DJ Gareth Sommerville explains, that label doesn’t restrict the capabilities of the club.
‘It’s a very open-minded sort of house night, which means you can hear anything at Ultragroove from a full-on disco record to a really deep, minimal house cut,’ he says. ‘I think the main thing about house music is that it’s always evolving, and we’ve always tried to be aware of trends without being suckered into the latest, greatest fads. We’ve never been about that: we’ve always chosen the bits we’ve liked and moved on – if you don’t move on and evolve, as a house club, you can become anachronistic very quickly.’
Sommerville names classic house nights like Body & Soul in New York and Faith in London as influences on Ultragroove, places where: ‘It’s all about the party rather than slavishly following a sub-genre’. Along with fellow promoter and DJ Colin Cook (who is no longer involved with the club), Sommerville attempted to bring this musical aesthetic back to Edinburgh with Ultragroove, having been involved with the local scene in various capacities for the best part of a decade.
‘At the time Edinburgh’s clubbing landscape was pretty much dominated by trance nights,’ he explains. ‘There were one or two good house nights, like Tribal Funktion, but not very much for people like myself and my friends. So we got together and hired out La Belle one Friday a month, and it quickly exploded to the point where we were moved to a Saturday night, and then to fortnightly Saturdays within a year.’
The club has remained a twice-monthly weekend fixture ever since, and while the 2002 fire which destroyed La Belle Angele may have put a spanner in the works, Ultragroove had very fortunately already moved to Cabaret Voltaire a month earlier. The club has maintained a steady momentum throughout, buoyed by Sommerville’s status as one of the most talented and best-known house DJs in Scotland, and a repertoire of first class special guests.
‘One of my favourite guests in a long time only played the other week,’ says Sommerville. ‘It was Ben Watt, with a selection of warm electronic house and a few techno influences. Of our past guests Derrick Carter was amazing at our Easter party in 2005, Dimitri From Paris was outstanding the first time we had him in, and Kerri Chandler’s set at our last La Belle Angele date was pretty special. He stopped just before the end and gave a little speech to wish us well in our new venue.’
This birthday promises to be a bit special too, with a DJ set from The Unabombers and their live incarnation Elektrons, and an appearance by Chicago legend Justin Long. As to the future, Sommerville doesn’t like to look too far ahead – after all, eight years is already a long time in house music.
Ultragroove celebrate their eighth birthday at Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh, Sat 3 Nov.