The rise and fall of Tequila
Britain’s most infamous clubnight is on its last legs. We tell the story of Tequila, the Leeds institution that ran out of friends.
There was a time when one night reigned supreme in Leeds – a towering behemoth that left all other club promoters seething with jealous rage.
It advertised with nothing more than a debauched online video and a few crassly-worded posters, yet they were guaranteed a sell-out crowd every week.
Now, with the closure of its long-term venue and a public campaign to close it down, it’s time we ask the question: is this the end for Tequila?
Founded as a Tequila Appreciation Society in 1993, the organisers’ events quickly became associated with the sort of hedonism and debauchery that led to an outright ban from Leeds University Union.
The society was rebranded as a weekly clubnight, and went from strength to strength. It stands as the oldest student night in the country, not to mention one of the most famous.
According to the website of its former host venue, Mezz: “Tequila is not just another ‘night’, it’s a cult.” With the fierce loyalty of its regulars and the blinding rate at which tickets sell out, the “cult” label is not wrong.
The brand is popular beyond comparison, and has gained notoriety for its celebrity endorsements from the likes of One Direction’s Harry Styles and the cast of Made In Chelsea.
Speaking to The Tab during the night’s 20th birthday celebrations earlier this year, founder Sam Welply said: “The success of Tequila means that we’re still offering what students want. As long as people enjoy the hedonism we provide we’ll keep fuelling it.”
But despite Welply’s assertion, this hedonism is clearly not everyone’s cup of tea.
In 2011, the company attempted to capitalise on its success by expanding to Newcastle. It wasn’t long before it was subject to a city-wide ban, mainly due to a misguided advertising campaign that sparked outrage when it saw sexually suggestive leaflets being distributed to family homes.
Tequila has always been respected by some and condemned by others for its uncompromising attitude towards its controversial brand of publicity, and its ever-popular weekly videos always revelled in their audaciousness.
Although Tequila had often courted controversy in its advertising, no-one predicted that one such video would start a chain of events that would culminate in a police investigation and the closure of Mezz.
On October 3 this year, Tequila hosted a night called ‘Freshers Violation’. Soon after the event, a video was posted online in which the host asked female students how they were going to “avoid being violated”.
Many sexually aggressive comments were made, one of the most notorious being a drunken male pointing to a girl and telling the camera that “she’s going to get raped”.
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’re probably familiar with the rest. The complaints came thick and fast and, even though the video was taken down within hours of being posted, the damage was done.
A petition to close the night quickly gathered over 3,000 signatures, while the next event saw over 100 students turn up outside Mezz to protest. Rag dropped Tequila as a sponsor for its Safer Sex Circus.
The national press joined the uproar and a media storm raged. Many believed the incident characterised the threat of ‘rape culture’ in modern Britain.
The night’s supporters argued the club should not be held responsible for a video in which the worst comments were made by drunk patrons. Many accepted that the video was a massive error of judgement, but seemed content with the apology Tequila issued. The clamours for the night’s closure started to die down, and it seemed as though Tequila may have escaped the guillotine.
But there was another twist in the tale. An incendiary police report published in the wake of the video scandal accused Mezz of selling out-of-date drinks, under-pouring and encouraging female students to perform stripteases to crowds.
Mezz had been cramming 1,000 people into a club with a capacity of 400, and ramping up the heating to get customers buying more drinks.
The issue was no longer only one of sexism and bad taste. Just a few months after Leeds hotspot Bed was forced to close for its own dishonest business practices, Mezz suffered a similar fate.
Tequila was without a venue for the first time in years. The news pleased many, but was a big disappointment to those who still held the night in high regard.
Lizzie, a Leeds student I talked to before the club’s closure, said: “I love Tequila. Those of us who attend do so willingly and knowing full well what the mission statement is, if you will.
“I obviously know plenty of people who hate it, and for valid reason, but they just don’t attend. It seems to me to be a simple binary decision – you go, or you don’t.”
Sam, a Leeds graduate, didn’t think Mezz’s closure would affect Tequila too badly. He said: “I was a frequent goer when it used to be at Warehouse, and I kept going when it moved to Mezz; the venue isn’t an issue at all – it’ll just move somewhere else.”
And indeed Tequila tried. The night was cancelled last week, but a defiant statement from the company promised that it was “here to stay”.
But just hours before yesterday’s event was due to take place, Tequila was forced to cancel yet again. This time it was due to “pressure from the authorities” on Halo, which promoters claim was threatened with a license review if it agreed to host the event.
Now it looks like Tequila may never return.
I’m the first to admit that some of my favourite nights in Leeds were at Tequila – an opinion which, though shared by many, has proven unpopular in the last few months.
With each new revelation, however, it becomes harder and harder to disassociate the night with the controversy it has recently courted.
To quote a friend of mine: “In its heyday Tequila was the only Thursday night, but now, after all that’s gone on, I don’t know how it can re-establish itself. Maybe it’s best to just accept that it’s run its course.”