ITM’s Local Icons: Sugar, Adelaide

As an offshoot of the inthemix Looking Local series, we’re turning the spotlight on some of the country’s iconic institutions. For our first Local Icons feature, we’re heading to Adelaide to hear the story of Sugar, a club where disco thrives and the dancefloor is buzzing seven days a week.

Take a scroll through Sugar’s flyers from 2002 till today and you’ll see a who’s who of soul, house and disco. In just the last couple of years the intimate space has been graced by Theo Parrish, DJ Harvey, Tensnake, Dan Bell, The Revenge, Optimo and Greg Wilson, to name but a few. What’s more, the doors to Sugar are open every night of the week, so international guests are just one part of the picture. The club is also home to local luminary HMC every Friday night for a party that always draws the dancers.

More than just a faceless club, Sugar has fostered a community with music at its core. Whether it’s a Chicago house legend or a hometown hero in the booth, there’s a party to be had. The man who presides over it all is managing director Driller ‘Jet’ Armstrong, and inthemix bailed him up to hear all about the reign of Sugar.

Let’s start at the beginning. How was Sugar born?

Sugar started in 2002, as a brainchild of Simon Modra, who has a long history of nightclubs in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. Simon started Q Sydney and Q Melbourne. I used to DJ at Q Adelaide but I actually first met Simon at The Astor Hotel where I was the DJ and he was the general manager.

We’ve been best mates pretty much since 1989 so when he suggested we open a club together I jumped at the chance. There were a lot of owners – seven – back then and it was a bit of a head-fuck actually, but I think what we started back then, the basic vision and the principles we held dear are the things that keep us fresh almost 10 years later.

Did you want the club to be something different from what else was happening in Adelaide?

We wanted it to be different to what most other clubs were becoming, that’s for sure. We wanted it to be a real club where people felt welcome and relaxed. We wanted the focus to be on fun and great music. We wanted to be open every single night so people have somewhere nice to go whenever they want to go out and dance with DJs playing all the time, from 9pm until close 7 days a week.

We’ve stuck to that and it’s something I am very proud of. Not many places do that anymore. Of course it’s also all about the little things. The crazy DVD we have playing on the TVs which features clips from ‘60/’70s arthouse soft porn flicks is pretty unique. The Syrup as well, which is the club’s in-house fanzine that we publish monthly.

The support we give to young local artists by showing their work in the club on a monthly basis and not charging them for the privilege or taking any commission from any sales they make. For that we have an ever changing space. That’s our benefit. I am an artist myself and I know what it’s like to have 40-percent taken from your efforts just because someone has a wall.

Check out the slick video below from HMC’s now-legendary Friday residency at Sugar.

Who were some of the DJs who played a major role in the early days of the club?

We had a lot of DJs playing in the early days. Three of the owners were DJs including myself so basically we played for free and employed the rest. In the early days we had Nicky Siano play and for me that was a real treat because of his history in club culture in New York and his connections within that scene that I needn’t go into here. I must say getting HMC out of retirement to come and play for us was a major coup and his Friday nights are an institution that just keeps getting bigger and bigger, as he is ‘discovered’ by whole new audiences.

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