Friend of Sasha, founder of Renaissance and the man who 'discovered' John Digweed, Geoff Oakes is more than your average clubber-turned-promoter. He's now a bona fide businessman more likely to be looking at a spreadsheet than standing in front of a 1,000-watt speaker. His empire is global and tomorrow night (October 14) sees DJs Parks and Wilson in town under the Renaissance banner.
Listening to Oakes explain how the metamorphosis came about, parallels between the early 90s UK club scene and modern-day Hong Kong's become prescient. 'I'd been through the whole acid house thing with the Hacienda [club] in Manchester and big parties in warehouses outside London and seen the best and the worst of all that,' he says. 'Sasha and I were good friends. We had become jaded and fed up with substandard clubs and thought it would great if we had a club which we had control over.'
In short, after years of small venues and ad-hoc raves in warehouses and fields, the UK was about to invent the concept of the corporatised superclub (think Renaissance, Cream, Ministry of Sound). Fast forward to Hong Kong 2000 and, after years of small venues and ad-hoc raves in hotels and conference halls, Pink opens under the concept of the corporatised superclub.
'Venues have always been the difficulty with Hong Kong,' says Oakes, who has been to Hong Kong to stage parties at least five times. 'I've heard good things about Pink. It is a natural progression. When the clubbers are ready for it, people see there is a gap in the market. It's probably time they moved into a better environment.'
Parks and Wilson are not playing at Pink, but the larger capacity Hitec facility in Kowloon Bay. Oakes is aware that what was once a small, mainly expat, club scene has transformed into a huge, mainly local, domain. 'It's the way it needed to go,' says Oakes. 'It's a bit pointless coming to somewhere like Hong Kong and just servicing the expats. It doesn't really develop things for us and we're not offering anything to the community.'
Oakes started Renaissance in Nottingham in the English midlands in 1992 when he was 31. The emphasis was on quality, marketing and a 'fairly strict door policy', which enabled it to find a niche in the market. 'We went to great lengths to make it aesthetically pleasing, so clubbers were getting the whole experience,' Oakes says. 'We paid so much attention to the decor, people were blown away.' People were turned away as well, creating an exclusive feel which would reinforce Renaissance's reputation and branding.
The rest is clubbing history. Hot on the heels of Sasha came Digweed. 'A tape arrived on my desk from John. I was totally blown away by what I heard. He came up to see the club and I told people I had a hot new DJ. When he played two months later there was an air of anticipation and the place just went off.'
Renaissance spiralled into a big business, with recordings, international distribution deals and parties across the globe. 'I have changed from a clubber to a businessman,' Oakes concedes. 'I have had to take a step back and take an overview of the whole business so I don't get involved at dance-floor level like I used to.'
Does he regret that, or the irrevocable change in the nature of clubbing? 'It's been development for the good,' he says. 'But in a nostalgic kind of way, I miss the underground feel of the early days.' At least, it appears, Oakes is still a clubber at heart.