The Rise, Fall & Return of Universe – The Full Story

All flyer & dance music related discussion not covered in the other forums goes in here
Post Reply
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 9230
Joined: 28 May 2009, 07:01
Location: Essex

The Rise, Fall & Return of Universe – The Full Story

Post by Wigs » 07 Mar 2010, 16:24

The Rise, Fall & Return of Universe – The Full Story

The name Universe has now come to an end, any future events organised by what was Universe, will now become Omniverse. The word Omniverse actually means ‘lots of Universe’s’, therefore being an even larger concept than before. It is a word they didn’t even know existed until they spoke to Terrence Mckenna in San Francisco, which is where they got the idea from.

The first Universe was in August 1991, prior to that Rob and Paul, the main men behind it, were arranging illegal parties in the name of Brainstorm. They hooked up with a hippy convoy, and when they first tied up with them the traveller’s were still listening to Indian Goth music, they just happened to have everything they needed for a party; a generator, sound system, tents, inassistability from the law, and they actually put on parties before, first starting back in ’89.

When they were at the court hearing for the second legal Universe party, they were approached by the pay party unit that had just been formed, the head of the police unit took them aside and told them he knew they had been responsible for some of the largest illegal parties that had taken place before. He took his hat off to them, he said the police appreciated the fact they always choose their venues very carefully, well away from houses, and were always in structurally sound buildings. He was also pleased they always finished at a reasonable time in the morning, like 10am, they didn’t carry them on to annoy people.

The police knew they were too clever to be caught, and to ever have it come back on them, and the events always happened, they were set up like military operations.

But why did they go legal?

They were blitzing into buildings and doing an illegal party, often setting up within a hour. They found they were becoming frustrated at not being able to put on the type of production they wanted, not able to put into effect all the ideas they had for the big pay parties.

They were also annoyed because the pay parties around were so crap and such a rip off, they knew they could do something better. This is exactly what they did, not only gaining a reputation in the South West where they put on all their parties, and not only nationwide, but a world wide reputation for being good promoters and putting on some of the best events around.

The reputation they built up caused other countries to contact them and beg them to go and do parties in their country. Eternity magazine sold some of their readers in the USA, tickets for Universe event, and were not really surprised when these people booked to come over purely for this as the purpose of their visit.

No Hype!

Universe have never over hyped their parties, but let them grow at a natural pace. Reputation went by word of mouth. They never said, as many do, this will be the best party in the world, until Tribal Gathering, when they knew they would deliver exactly what everyone wanted. Some organisers describe every party they do as the World’s best party? It does make you wonder about what they have done before.

Roger, the backer, became involved when they started Universe, and a lot of trust went into the whole thing. Paul and Rob now feel some of the trust has been betrayed, but they know life goes on and with a theory of live and learn, they will continue to do the same thing without him.

They set a standard in which they gave so much for so little, this was a comment raised by another promoter, the promoter felt with the budgets they had they could not compete. Paul simply voiced that he doesn’t mind what other promoters are saying, his answer was “at the end of the day it was the customer that benefited, it simply increased competition”.

Tribal Gathering!

Tribal Gathering was a financial success and proved an average wage, no more and no less. “It is a free market” says Paul Shurey, “people will vote with their feet, you will never hear the punter say they were given too much, and it is the punter who matters”.

Tribal gathering set themselves, and others, an incredibly high standard to follow. The amount of money spent, and the amount of entertainment, that went on, was not a good business venture – but as a party it was, absolutely mind blowing.

After Tribal Gathering they knew if there was any hope of Universe surviving they had to have a different type of approach. They had to try and reduce the cost if they were going to succeed, and as they had already brought the outdoor parties a year past its actual life span they had a difficult task to complete. At the end of 1992 so many people were prepared to write the whole thing off, due to bad experiences. The fact Universe managed to persuade 22,500 people to go to Tribal Gathering, plus guest list of 4,500 was a clear indication the people still wanted to go!

Time Machine, What happened?

Universe events have always been promoted by Paul Shurey, the month before the Time Machine event he was in America, trying to set up the California show. Unfortunately he feels the promotion of the party was left to someone who wasn’t qualified for the job. Along with that the reasons it didn’t go too well was it was probably too soon after the Tribal Gathering, it was bang in the middle of exams, it had rained all week, and people hadn’t been paid since the last show. They did actually sell more tickets on the night than any of their previous parties and as always was still a good night.

Paul admits they did get a bit complacent on the run up to Time Machine. They thought after Tribal Gathering, which exceeded most people’s expectations, automatically the next party would be packed, obviously a sign of the changing market. They now know however big your last party you still have to work to get the people there, especially as a large percentage of the crowd were the people who gave up going to the pay parties a long time ago. The old skool, they had been persuaded to come back to Tribal Gathering are a difficult audience to hang onto, always looking for something new.

They also admit they probably got the line up a bit wrong, underestimating how big the hardcore scene still was, as the line up was based around Techno and Trance.

Big Love, the last Universe party, was a different kind of party altogether. They didn’t have tents and they knew they were taking a bit of a gamble. They were counting on the fact that they had never had a drop of rain, and even when it had rained all week it go to the Friday morning and cleared up. At 7.00 o’clock the clouds parted as if by divine intervention, Universe had begun to feel as if the bad boys were getting rained on, and they were getting rained on, and they were being smiled on by the gods.

Although Big Love didn’t turn out to be a great success the surprising thing is that the mail bag that followed the Big Love party was the biggest they had ever received, and all bar one letter were very positive. People evidently had a very good time, but unfortunately Big Love did have a few things missing. Due to the way the ticket sales were going things had to be cut, and production was changed at the last minute. Stage 1 was supposed to be as Stage 2, and Stage 1 was supposed to be a 5 sided pyramid. They had only sold 6,000 tickets with a 22,500 break even point, it had to be dropped.

The budget for artists and production was massive, and to reduce the budget greatly reduced the final result a lot. Flood lights were planned along with the arrival of Richard Bransons hot air balloon. The balloon was lined up to fly over the site, to the sound of ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’. Lasers would have been bursting into the sky. Because the organisers didn’t have control of the budget, things were being cut, but at the end of the day everything was there that was on the flyer apart from a few things out of their control.

Westbam didn’t appear and we are told John Kelly was pissed in a bar in Ibiza and missed his flight, Lisa Loud didn’t think she was playing, and told Universe she never received a contract, although she was given a flyer personally. The Aphex Twin didn’t appear, but that’s another story. Another thing cut from the budget was a 80ft projection screen that was planned to go around the site with cartoon video, laser video, movie projection and animation.

Under Hand Operations

All this was not helped by two other promoters who Universe feel held back on cancelling the inevitable cancellation of their events. Two weeks before the Universe party Universe had a meeting with all their contractors, they were told nothing had been booked for one of the other parties, which was only 3 weeks away. Paul Shurey’s comments were “If you are planning the world’s largest weekend party you would have had things contracted well before three weeks before the event, and if its not contracted three weeks before the event, it probably means you don’t intend to do the show”.

“The organisers of the other parties insisted right up until the day of Universe that the party they promoted was going on, despite the fact there was rumours flying around that they wouldn’t. They deliberately held back to stop us from picking up on the benefits of their parties no going on, I do not think that is being in the spirit of doing things at all. Universe didn’t object to other parties going ahead, and of course wanted them all to work, but only if they are doing them for the right vibe!”.

Universe have never resorted to under hand tactics, and always remember these are parties for people who are spending hard earned money to go to, they always get value for money and a good party. Because of the type of parties they provided it did cause them to deal with a lot of red tape, a lot of people in authority, the government and its many departments, all making it virtually impossible for these kind of people to put these things on.

Even so they are the only company in England to pull off any big show this year. They told us how they have been offered venues and licenses after they have been refused to other organisers, which they wouldn’t accept because they feel it wouldn’t have been in the spirit of things. They have an impeccable record with the police and wish to continue to do so.

They Changed The Scene

Rob and Paul have achieved a lot over the years, and have between them introduced a lot of things into the UK dance scene. Paul told us how they were the first people to introduce a lot of big names that have been brought over from Europe, such as Laurent Garnier, Sven Vath, the names people are now familiar with. They were the first people to book them, they went to Europe, saw something different and brought it back with the courage that people would enjoy DJ’s that no one had even heard of, a lot of money often spent in a gamble for people to enjoy.

When DJ Tanith played in 1992 it was the first time 95% of the audience had ever been exposed to full on, banging, German Industrial Techno. At 2.00 o’clock in the morning following Mickey Finn they knew the crowd would be at their most responsive. Mickey Finn was convinced when he met Tanith it wouldn’t work, and as a favour said he would hang around after his set to go back on. On the night, after a 30 second dumbstruck, the crowd totally rocked, and as Paul said “f**king incredible”.

The first Universe was the first organisation to offer a House alternative to the Hardcore tent, they booked Sasha at a time he wasn’t going down too well because he had changed his music, usually going on between Fabio and Grooverider with something very different. They persuaded him to play in the small tent along with Laurient Garnier who was a totally unknown, living in a flat in Manchester, with Sasha, working as a chief. But as Sasha didn’t drive and Laurent did it was the only way to guarantee Sasha would get there.

Tribal Gathering was the first event to introduce a Ambient tent, and they were the first people to have a Funky, Disco vibe, DIY being someone from a free party organisation which is the same place Rob and Paul came from. Time and time again they proved they were coming from a completely different place compared to most people putting on the big outdoor parties.

Out Of Business

Due to spending too much on parties this year they effectively put themselves out of business. Their intentions and ethics remain true and they assure us they will continue to put on the same value for money parties they are now well known for. Paul now feels the big outdoor shows are un-economically viable, he tells us why he thinks that is so. “The authorities are trying to price people out of business by imposing ridiculous police bills, the police bill on the last Universe party was £45,000 which is over £3 per head of everybody there, and it wouldn’t be so bad if they did a really good job. When they were needed to cover any sort of incident the police were nowhere to be found, but they were guaranteed to be there when it came to hassling the customers when they were going in”.

“The only kind of outdoor party that will work next year, because of economics, will be a weekend festival – which we are looking at. We have a few interested backers at the moment, and plan to do a weekend dance festival very different from the one that Murray from Dreamscape had planned this year. It is planned to cross over into the existing festival market more than that one did, to acknowledge common ground for people to gather, having a very big live music stage”.

A lot of promoters have ‘lifted’ Universe ideas. Paul and Rob wish good luck to all other promoters, but wish they would come up with their own ideas. They are confident enough in the fact that they’ve got more ideas than the other promoters out there, and will always remain one step ahead of the game. They are 100% involved passionately for the music, which is the most important thing of it all.

Their Achievements

Universe have tried to open peoples eyes to something new, and not tried to put out the same formula time and time again. Paul tells us about when they did the first ever Universe: “The people running Perception knew that Rob and I would be a threat to them, they deliberately did a party 30 miles up the road, round the corner in terms of all night, outdoor, dance parties, and the flyers even came out on the same night. When our flyer went on the streets for that event it was so different people thought we were mad because it didn’t look anything like a rave flyer, people couldn’t even understand it, some names had never been seen before”.

“Without Universe people would still be listening to the same 7 or 8 DJ’s they were listening to 5 or 6 years ago. We have given opportunities to DJ’s from abroad and a lot of young DJ’s as well, always been interested in new talent even if that meant taking big commercial gambles, and put on something interesting and different”.

He continued to say: “I can tell you that the budget that Murray from Dreamscape told me he was spending on that whole weekender was over £100,000, less than the amount we spent on Tribal Gathering which was a one night party. You can soon get an idea who was in it for the money. You could spend half an hour on the free fun fair to get back your ticket price, admittedly we had to charge at Big Love because it wasn’t catered for in the ticket price, it was the worst thing we had to do because we had never charged for the fun fair before. The DJ line up costing between £20-25,000 and then production and lighting. We were still the first people to offer free attractions and although Raindance offered it, they never were”.

The Future

Looking to the future Community hits Club UK on the 15th January and Omniverse will hit America later this year. If they do a weekend party it will be Tribal Gathering 1994, hopefully now an annual event that will take place to celebrate the worlds so far most successful dance party. At Club UK they will creatively encompass the big room with Techno and Trance, bringing together American DJ’s along with the best of British. What would seem unlikely DJ’s playing such as Carl Cox, Fabio and Grooverider, all playing alongside DJ’s like Darren Emmerson and Laurent Garnier who will be playing an Acid Trance set.

Room 2 will be the best of British House room. The other room will alternate on a fortnightly basis between Mix Master Morris doing a real ambient chill out room and the next week a Funk, Jazz, disco room. All for under a tenner, all night, and the kind of value for money that Universe were known for offering. To entertain the long queues that are sure to follow will be the traditional Universe entertainment, robots, jugglers, fire eaters and the lovely Universe goodie girls, all ensuring everyone feels welcome as soon as they get in the area not just in the club.


Rob, has been off in San Francisco for the past couple of months doing a Friday night club, which is doing very well. Paul has just come back from New York where they are exploring a concept where by they find money from film production companies to finance an interactive cinema idea. The dance scene in America has stagnated this summer and the whole thing serves a potential to work, they feel by addressing a whole new audience it will draw people into it, it will then explode!

Goodbye to the traditional party of whatever size, with a plan to find multi-plex cinemas around America doing midnight shows, where there will be a DJ in the foyer, surround sound and lights coming out of nowhere when people least expect it. The plan is to give an audience that haven’t been exposed to it yet a taste of the dance party experience, together with whatever is going up on screen.

The whole thing being a trailer as a promotional for a big party next June, probably on the East coast rather than the West, although there is a big market in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The San Francisco market is suspicious of anything outside of clubs and are very negative about anything remotely commercial. Los Angeles has all sorts of security problems. All of this is in the development stage and already the plans for Universe in America have been stopped last year, when the rope was pulled from under them. The Universe backer pulled out of the whole arrangement and left the organisers high and dry, such a late stage no one else could be brought it. But this year looks promising and lets hope it comes together after all the hard work.

The Summary

Paul and Rob both wish the projects they are involved with to be on a ascendant, and the Universe has always been on that until earlier last year. They started to run into financial difficulty, so rather than drag things out they decided to get involved on a new project and make that everything they wished Universe to be and more.

Their principles remain the same, to put on mind blowing entertainment and getting off on the excitement of giving people a night they are never going to forget. They like to create an atmosphere people will talk about for years to come. Even now you can talk to people who are amazed about the level of noise they experienced at a Universe party.

The atmosphere felt comes from the sheer electricity generated by thousands and thousands of people all on a really good buzz.

Posts: 41
Joined: 17 Dec 2009, 09:36

Re: The Rise, Fall & Return of Universe – The Full Story

Post by juslisten » 28 Mar 2010, 22:33

big respect wigs... thanks

User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 9230
Joined: 28 May 2009, 07:01
Location: Essex

Re: The Rise, Fall & Return of Universe – The Full Story

Post by Wigs » 29 Mar 2010, 17:11

juslisten wrote:big respect wigs... thanks
No worries, I can't take credit though. original details are from here ;)

Post Reply

Return to “General Flyer & Dance Music Chat”