A SHORT HISTORY OF...
Words by Jake Gable @JournoJake
From little acorns, grow great oaks, and in the case of UK mega-brand Cream, each branch continues to blossom vividly following inception in 1992. Co-founded by James Barton, Darren Hughes and Andy Carroll, the Liverpool-based business instantly struck a chord with ravers around the country and beyond, as hoards of party-goers started to venture to Merseyside, with Cream defining a revolution in dance music culture.
Based at the Nation venue in Liverpool's Wolstenholme Square, Cream hosted a weekly night at Nation until June 2002, playing host to international DJ superstars including Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, Pete Tong, Carl Cox, Fatboy Slim, and The Chemical Brothers. It soon became the focal point of the dance music boom, becoming a home for young people to spend their Saturday nights, attracting more than 3000 people each week as thousands adopted it as a lifestyle, rather than just a source of entertainment.
“I was one of the resident DJs from the first night,” explains Paul Bleasdale, who still performs at Cream events to this very day. “There were big nights all over the country such as The Hacienda so we wanted to do something that put Liverpool on the map and brought people to the city. On the second night there was hardly anyone there and we wondered if it was going to take off. Darren (Hughes) was a real driving force though, with the promo and the posters etc. After Christmas it really took off and it seemed to capture the imagination of people and became a proper culture.”
Further immortalised in pop culture by 1999 movie ‘Kevin & Perry Go Large’, Cream - which also witnessed a live performance by Kylie Minogue at Nation for the club’s 2nd birthday in 1994 - can even boast one very famous barring, when Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne was thrown out of the venue during his Everton days.
“It was a big time for electronic music,” added Barton, who was recently named as ‘The most important person in electronic dance music’ by Rolling Stone. “Dance was dominating the charts, Cream was being described as a ‘superclub’. It was the era of the DJ. It was a crazy, hedonistic time, and there was nowhere more hedonistic than Ibiza in ‘95. If you were British and into dance music, you were going to Ibiza at some point between June and September, no question about it.”
Tapping into the Balearic market, the legendary club nights in Liverpool soon touched down on the white isle, with Cream launching their own Ibiza residency in 1994, alongside their UK based events at Nation. Celebrating a vast array of talent across several sub-genres, there was a firm emphasis towards trance with Amnesia playing host to the Thursday bonanza as acts like Paul van Dyk, Ferry Corsten, and later, Above & Beyond, Sander van Doorn, and ‘EDM’ talents such as Calvin Harris, delivered euphoria under the dry ice cannons in what soon became one of the hottest tickets in town.
“There was lots of money to be made from club culture back then,” Barton continues, recalling the rivalry between Cream, and London’s biggest superclub, Ministry of Sound, which was owned by James Palumbo. “Ibiza as an island was full of DJs, promoters and TV crews. The club scene there had gone overground in a big way, and Manumission was huge.”
“It got to the stage where everyone in Ibiza knew Cream,” added Bleasdale. “It’s a well known brand like a Mercedes of the clubbing world. I think what’s kept Cream so popular is the level of production and organisation. You can always guarantee a big show from Cream and I think it became more about quality rather than quantity. Cream had always strived to be the best since the early days and when it became such a huge brand, it became more about high standards.”
Not content with dominating clubland across the continent, Barton and his co-founders moved quickly to attack the outdoor event business in 1998, launching the now legendary ‘Creamfields’ festival. Planting this particular acorn in the rural fields of Hampshire, just outside the sleepy city of Winchester (a small area only avoiding ‘town’ status on account of owning a cathedral), Creamfields very quickly established itself as one of the industry’s leading outdoor events, making the move back up north towards Daresbury in Cheshire. Recognised with the ‘Best Dance Festival’ gong at the UK Festival Awards for the first time in 2004, Creamfields started to sweep towards a monopoly on the market, scooping similar accolades on numerous occasions over the course of the next decade and further. Beating rivals such as Glastonbury, Reading/Leeds, and V Festival to the coveted ‘Festival of the Year’ award at the 2010 Music Week Awards, Barton and co once again seized the opportunity to expand the ever-growing Cream empire, adding events to the international market, in Ireland, and soon, Argentina. To date, the festival has been staged in more than 15 countries around the world, including Spain, Brazil, Mexico, and Australia.
Expanding to a 2-day camping festival in 2008, the overwhelming success of Creamfields and increasing surge in demand, later saw the August bank-holiday weekender move to 3, and eventually 4, day events, selling out year upon year, with 280,000 music-lovers treading through the grassy entrance gates at the most recent edition. Making a name for themselves on account of their scintillating line-ups, Cream have never held back when it comes to booking the most in-demand names, with 2019 a true testament to that as Swedish House Mafia closed the festival with their first - and only - UK show in the 9 year period between 2012-2021, a festival exclusive for the Liverpool-based brand.
With Nation facing closure in 2016 due to the ongoing £40 million redevelopment of Wolstenholme Square, news of the move soon spread through a mourning Merseyside, but for Paul Bleasdale, the memories will prove a lasting legacy. “It’s sad that the original home of Cream got knocked down,” he said. “But we’ve got to remember it’s just bricks and mortar. It was about the people and the memories.”
A full double (and almost treble) decade later, Cream remains at the forefront of ‘cool’, expanding to the record and compilation market, shifting over 5 million units to date. With further events including Cream Classics nights, Cathedral gigs and FACE (Friends Against Cancer Events), the company has raised tens of thousands for charity in the process. In the case of Cream, there’s no end in sight for the eternal blossoming of one of dance music’s mightiest oak trees.