The History of Heaven
The 80s Johannesburg Nightclub
Heaven was a nightclub that ran from 14 June 1985 to late 1987 in Johannesburg at 165 Marshall Street. Many will know this address as the original Doors nightclub that opened in 1990 and operated there for many years before moving to Edenvale. Stan Herson and Bruce Kennedy started Heaven. Six months before, they had owned SCANTS which was at 180 Fox street. It closed as the block had been sold for redevelopment.
The music at Heaven was a mixture of High Energy, Eurobeat and Italo Disco with current radio hits and classic club & disco thrown in. The DJ, Andrew Wood (ex SCANTS), was also responsible for compiling and mixing the popular High Energy series of 2LPs from Vol. 5 onwards. At the time of my first visit, Vol. 7 or 8 was out and many of the tracks from those compilations were played on any given night.
In addition to dance music, Andrew also mixed in Depeche Mode, Marc Almond/Soft Cell, Yazoo, DAF and New Order and lighter alternative stuff like Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and Billy Idol later in the night. Friday’s were for guys only and the music selection leant to a more refined classic disco and club sound.
Outside of going to the clubs, the only way to hear proper club music was from the few compilations commercially available, buying the actual 12" singles (from Moolla’s or, as Heaven did, from a close friend who was a flight attendant on the London route who brought back records requested by Andrew) or getting a tape recorded by the DJ at the club. These tapes were like gold and widely copied.
Heaven never had a liquor license so in addition to signing up for membership, one paid R14 entrance which was a fortune back then. For this, all the alcohol was free except for mixers which were priced at 50c for coke/cordial, 80c for orange juice and R1 for a Dom Pedro (a whiskey milkshake from the little bar upstairs).
Heaven was my first proper nightclub experience. I managed to get in on old years’ eve in 1986 thanks to a friend who worked at the bar who passed me off as his brother. Some discreetly applied make-up and being a tall 13-year-old also helped.
One Saturday night in 1987, I snuck out of the house and walked from Kensington to town with a pocket full of cash from a few weekends worth of saved up gardening money. When I got to Heaven, the queue was around the block and you could feel the thump of the bass filtering out of the building. It was one of those nights where everything fell into place. I walked up to the entrance and my friend ushered me in ahead of the massive queue.
Walking into the main club from the double doors at the entrance, I was hit by the crystal clear sound and rib-shaking bass of New Order's 'Bizarre Love Triangle'. Above my head were twisting planes of green laser light sweeping through the smoke and bodies on the dancefloor. It was magical. According to Stan, the laser, which was imported from the UK, cost the equivalent of R90 000 and was originally installed in Scants.
I was taken up to the DJ box and introduced to Andrew and Jannie (who operated the lights). I stood between them while they worked their magic. There were scanners of all colours, strobes, dice balls, helicopter lights, neon flashes and mirror balls in addition to the lasers. I only went to Heaven a few more times after that before it closed its doors toward the end of 1987 when the lease expired.
Below are Mixcloud links to tapes recorded at the club in 85, 86 and 87. They capture a moment in time and are a relic of 80s Johannesburg clubland.
Whenever I listen to them I’m taken right back to nights filled with whiskey and ice cream, tequila and orange, poppers, beams of light, waxy smoke and bone-shaking bass followed by a Sunday morning sunrise walk back home with ringing ears. It was a very different time.
Read the full updated version of the article by the brilliant Marc Latilla here.