Scants opened on the 19th August 1983 at 180 Fox Street. The owners, Stan Herson and Bruce Kennedy would later go on to open Heaven, but this was the pair’s first foray into the nightclub business (although in the 1970s, Stan was involved with the first incarnation of Mandy’s in End Street when he converted it from Adam Leslie’s theatre into a nightclub)
The resident Scants DJ was Andrew Wood assisted by Jannie Vermaak. Both used to DJ at Mandys, but Jannie preferred operating the lights (and later the lasers) leaving the music to Andrew. Scants was also the first club in South Africa to have lasers. They came a few months after the club opened resulting in the club also being known as SCANTS Laserdrome.
The timing was perfect in catching the wave of new club music that was burning up underground and mostly gay dancefloors in Europe, USA and Canada. This was High Energy (or HI-NRG). Coming out of the ashes of disco in the late 1970s, this music was largely synth and drum machine driven influenced by more experimental disco producers like Georgio Moroder and electronic bands like Kraftwerk and Cerrone. Leaders in this new sound were producers and musicians like Bobby Orlando (who worked with Divine, Flirts and Roni Griffith) and Patrick Cowely (who had worked with Sylvester in the 1970s) as well as producers out of Italy and Germany who nurtured a sound that was to be known as Italo Disco and Euro Disco. Many today cite them as godfathers of modern dance music and their sound has a massive following even though to unfamiliar ears, it may sound dated, sometimes a bit camp and corny. This sound fueled gay dancefloors across the world and was the sound of liberation for many young gay men and women at the time. Of course, the music crossed over to other dance fans reaching the mainstream via the likes of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’, Frankie goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’, Pet Shop Boys (it was Bobby Orlando that first recorded and produced them before their initial success) and later, Stock Aitken & Waterman productions like Dead Or Alive ‘You spin me round’, Mel & Kim’s ‘Respectable’ and Bananarama’s cover of ‘Venus’.
At the time of publishing, there were no tapes from Scants, but I’ve put together a special DJ mix as well as playlists of some of the popular tracks.
My introduction to this music came by way of two compilations released in South Africa in 1984: Monster Hits Vol.1 and the High Energy Double Dance series. Before this, older friends would buy 12” singles of songs they heard in the clubs and they would tell me stories about the nights while playing these and other tracks by Depeche Mode, Yazoo and New Order. I was only 11 at the time but actively searched out this music, buying up the albums as they came out using the money I earned from pushing trolleys at Eastgate on Saturday afternoons.
One Sunday night near the end of 1985, I managed to get into Plumb Crazy in town to watch the Working Girls. It was fronted by Julia Jade Aston who was the voice behind Café Society who had an international HI-NRG hit with their version of ‘Somebody to love’. The club was empty that night and the Working Girls, along with E’Void, played to the few of us and the assembled staff.
Like Heaven that succeeded it, Scants was guys only on Fridays and straight on Saturdays. The practice of charging a high price entrance/membership and free drinks was started by the gay clubs to circumvent police raids. According to Andrew, police would target gay clubs looking for liquor license infringements as well as closing down clubs and looking to arrest people for ‘dancing on a Sunday’, which was illegal back then.
Another article published in the Sunday Express in 1984 pointed to gang violence, club rivalry and police harassment. Scants PR and club manager are both photographed for the article standing behind the club’s security gate.
In Dec of 1984, Scants hosted HI-NRG diva Marsha Raven of ‘Catch me’ and ‘False alarm’ fame. She performed two sold-out shows at Scants singing to backing tracks.
Andrew left Scants after some time to DJ at The Dungeon and other clubs and returned to Stan and Bruce’s next club Heaven in 1986. In the late 1970s, Andrew started out ‘changing records’ at Mandys before the resident DJ Peter Ritchie arrived. He joined SAA for a few years, where, on his travels, he would bring back the latest 12” records for his friend and talented DJ Patrick Talmadge (RIP) who was resident at Mandys at the time. This paved the way for Andrew’s first proper DJ gig at Scants.
I worked with Patrick at Look & Listen in Hillbrow and heard some of his later sets at clubs like ‘Therapy?’. I also remember him playing a short set at Heaven one night and remember it being disco heavy.
Scants was forced to close down in 1985 as the block that the club was on was sold to Rand Daily Mail (who went bankrupt shortly thereafter). The owners immediately set out to build a new club a few streets away and Heaven was its replacement 6 months later.
The Scants block was eventually redeveloped. Today a large ABSA building covers several blocks with the original position all but gone. I remember coming across the premises around 1988. It was all closed up and one could still see the outline of the shell and the red painted lines in the darkness through the security gate. I could only imagine the sweaty bass-heavy haze of nights long since passed.
Special Thanks to Andrew Wood for all the names and information and Stan for the all the photos.
Over the next few months, I’ll be covering other 70’s and 80s clubs in the series. These will include amongst others: Mandys, Zipps, The Doors, Bella Napoli, Junction, Decodance, Le Club, Subway, Dirt Box, Plumb Crazy, Thunderdome, Q’s, Top club, Idols and The Res Club.
The first part of this series featuring Heaven can be found here
Thanks to JHBLive for supporting and promoting these posts and the history of Johannesburg’s nightlife