He’s the creator of the iconic Therapy clubbing brand and a DJ legend. Now, five years after Therapy closed and on the eve of its anticipated re-launch in Joburg as a weekly Saturday night, Stuart Hillary talks to Mambaonline. Ironically just weeks before the big night, Stuart was diagnosed with a serious back injury that has seen him laid up in bed and frustratingly forced to organise the re-launch from his bedroom over the phone and via e-mail.
How is your back today?
As long as I am flat on my back the pain is bearable.
Will you be able to play at the opening?
I will play at the opening, even if it is from a stretcher bed! These types of injuries take six weeks to heal, and it will only be five weeks on the 29th [of March], but I will be able to play, just not dance or walk around too much.
Why re-launch Therapy now, after five years? Why was this the right time?
Therapy should never have closed in the first place. There was a chain of events that brought us to the decision not to sign another lease on the premises at the time. It was always my intention to find new partners and another venue, but that is easier said than done. Immediately after Therapy ended I joined Fulvio De Stefanis at [the now defunct] Club Bitch in Randburg, and that working relationship led to a business partnership in Legends in Pretoria which took some time to establish and build up. So I was very busy and also did not see any venues on offer that could match up, or improve upon the very popular Braamfontein venue. Liquor Licences are also a huge problem’ and it’s almost impossible to find venues with 4 am licences like we have now with Carfax.
Some might say that you’re trying to recapture a lost era. Should you not move on to something new?
Oh I am so not trying to recapture or re-create! The fact is Therapy is known for innovation, style and consistency, and because of that it will continue to be successful. The music moves on, as does the artwork, the DJs, the venue…. but the brand will be fine as long as it always adheres to those core values. It stands out because it sets trends. Therapy remains the best known gay club in South Africa, and the only one with an international reputation. Why throw away over a decade’s worth of hard work to start a new brand?
Who are you targeting as your market? Does the younger clubbing generation recognise the Therapy brand?
Therapy is about ‘polysexual’ culture – which is gay people and their straight friends. The younger generation know and support the brand, and those that don’t know, are about to find out!
Does the location of Carfax for a weekly venue worry you, in terms of people’s perceptions and fears around safety?
People’s incorrect negative perceptions do worry me yes, but we have had almost no negative feedback about the location really. It’s the one fear that other club promoters may try to fuel I guess, but once people have been there once or twice they develop a routine and get over their fears. Don’t forget, we have already had seven or eight “Special Therapy” events there over the last five years, all very successful and without any incidents of crime. There have also been other developments, like security cameras, the new turnoff from the M1 South that comes out right at Carfax, the drive over Mandela Bridge when you come in from Jan Smuts Avenue… Personally I believe there is far less crime in the city than in the North. People should live in the suburbs not go clubbing in them!
It seems like you’re pulling some of the original Therapy team back together for the re-launch. Was that a conscious decision or did it just happen?
Yes completely conscious. The reason they were in the Therapy crew originally was because we liked what they did and how they did it… but there will also be a lot of new blood in the mix.
What excites you the most about the re-launch?
To have a Saturday night club that the Joburg gay scene can call home and that puts the city back on the international gay clubbing map.
“…it feels good to know that I continue to have an impact…”
What’s wrong with the gay clubbing scene in the city?
Nothing wrong as such; there is just no proper nightclub with good music and sound at the moment – only pubs, bars with dancefloors, lounge bars or sex clubs. That’s too boring for a city like Joburg, don’t you think?
What will the music and DJ policy be?
We will have two specialised dancefloors catering for the lighter and also more twisted side of house music, so no bad radio music here! There will be different local guest DJs every week, and we boast a very capable and professional resident DJ team.
What kind of international DJs are planning to bring to Joburg for the monthly “Extra Therapy” parties?
We’re not aiming for the “superstar” DJs that you might hear at an H2O party. We will bring out Therapy favourites like Alan X, Luke Hope, Mark Bambach, as well as new friends that we meet through our “Global Sisters Network.” Naturally we are quite fussy about their style of music so we only choose DJs we have heard or that come by trusted referral.
Will you continue to DJ at Pretoria’s Legends?
Oh yes of course. I love Legends and I am a partner in the business, so I won’t neglect it.
And how does the Pretoria clubbing crowd differ from the Joburg crowd?
There is a bigger scene in Joburg, which allows for more specialised clubs to exist, with more progressive music. I find Pretoria people more laidback, similar to Durban people, and much more polite. Pretoria also has more drag queens, and Legends has a ‘family’ atmosphere, that I have yet to experience in a Joburg club. Joburg people are more intolerant of each other in clubland, but there is more style and money in the Joburg gay scene.
What’s it like having a boyfriend, Rude Rory, who is also a DJ? Do you compete with each other?
I always said I would never have a DJ boyfriend – and look what’s happened! No, we don’t compete. The music is half the reason we are together. We live and love house music.
Would you say that you are more settled and content these days than since the end of Therapy?
Are you suggesting that I am a wild party animal when I am single? When Therapy ended I was exhausted after six years of running Joburg’s best-known club. I only wanted to DJ and not stress for a while after that experience. I do tend to work better when I am in a relationship, so the timing is good for Therapy now.
How has Stuart Hillary changed; firstly as a person and secondly as a DJ in the last five years?
I have definitely calmed down and focused on myself and worked out what it is I want from life. As a DJ the closing of Therapy made me focus on the music, which made me busier than ever. I am more tuned as a DJ than ever. I’m recognised for having my own style and sound and that has paid off. But the pace of so many gigs has caught up with me, and I am ready to focus only on two residencies now, namely Legends and Therapy – with guest slots occasionally at ESP and of course the QC events.
What kind of music is grabbing your attention these days?
Electro music is the latest thing and I must say I do love it. Sometimes it’s a bit noisy but there is a time and place for almost everything, as long as it’s not predictable and formulaic. I am still a funky house junkie, so people can expect hands in the air vocal sets from me at Therapy.
Do you only listen to dance, or is there space for other kinds of music in your life?
It is actually very rare that I listen to beat-based music at home, unless I am preparing for a set. I love a diva, especially if she has suffered in her life… Think Edith Piaf, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Grace Jones, Massive Attack, Moloko, and too many more to mention…
After decades of the clubbing scene are you not bored with it all? Does it still excite you?
I am bored with having to recover from a long weekend, every weekend, so I am cutting down on the DJ gigs, but I am not at all bored with clubland. The music and people change constantly. Also, I know people complain about the state of clubland, but I can really see how things have improved in the industry, and it feels good to know that I continue to have an impact.
Therapy re-launches on Saturday 29 March at Carfax in Newtown, Joburg, and will continue thereafter every Saturday night. Saturday 5 April will see the first of a series of monthly nights featuring international DJs, with Alan X from the UK.