“I fucking lived for Friday nights!”
From the get-go, I knew this wasn’t going to be your typical artist conversation.
Having finished his dinner after a long day, this bald, massive man covered in tattoos settled in and began to share what would turn out to be one of the most brutally honest tales I have ever heard.
Having spent more than half his life in nightclubs, Gareth Harding a.k.a. Sholan, detailed his journey in becoming one of the more popular DJ’s at London’s The Gallery @ Ministry of Sound. But, as you’ll read, this giant of a man is also as fair and humble as a slice of apple pie.
“It began for me at probably the best club in London,” said Gareth. “The Gallery at Turnmills held 700 people but could ‘easily’ hold 1000. There was nowhere to move with their low ceilings, archways, and tunnels. The sound system was massive with brilliant lighting, and the bass just used to ripple through your body! I always enjoyed seeing Eddie Halliwell and Judge Jules perform there.”
The Clerkenwell, England, Turnmills building was owned by Danny Newman until its closure and demolition in 2008 to make way for an office building. In the early 1990s, it was the first U.K. nightclub to obtain a 24-hour dance license and paved the way for many club nights that are now the norm in England and beyond. “The Gallery” is the branding name.
Always a fan of the music and a constant club-goer, Gareth began to think he could mix records himself and began his training, albeit later in life than most DJ’s, at 23. His first mixer was “garbage” but, “I always had the best decks,” describing his Technics 1210’s. “I would practice every day trying to mix hard House into Trance,” said a laughing Gareth. “I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing!”
“After grafting my bollocks off as a clubber and submitting CD after mix CD for years, I knew I had to step my game up as a DJ,” said Gareth. He remembers the night vividly The Chemical Brothers were playing and he went to the club where the head promoter of Turnmills, Gavin Mitchel finally called him into his office. “When I first met (Gavin) him, I thought he was the craziest mother fucker ever! But, when you get to know him, you realize that he’s just a very clever and fair businessman,” admitted Gareth. “But, I kept progging him, and he finally said, ‘I’m gonna give ya a shot.'” Gareth’s first performance, a vinyl one, was with Menno de Jong, Paul van Dyk, and the promoter, Gavin in 2006.
The early days of him DJ’ing weren’t that memorable, as you may expect. “One of my first shows was a set following Stuart Lange, and I can remember playing to six people on the dance floor,” said a bashful looking Gareth. He would continue to pay his dues, heavily for the next two years until that afternoon in 2008 when Turnmills would close its doors forever. “After two years of working my ass off, I was fortunate enough to play the last track on the last day that Turnmills was open,” said a proud Gareth. “It was absolute carnage in there with sweat dripping off the ceiling! Nobody cared! We didn’t turn the sound system off until 3 p.m. that afternoon, and I took home a piece of the floor with all of the DJ’s names on it that played that night. It was crazy!”
After The Gallery moved to London’s Ministry of Sound, things changed not only for Gareth but in the overall dance music scene as well, and Ministry was part of the hype. Electronic music began to take a stronghold across Europe, and London was becoming the epicenter for it. “Ministry was a totally different vibe, and none of us liked it at first,” proclaimed Gareth. “We all wanted ‘The Gallery’ to go to Fabric, (another club in London) but they weren’t interested at first in Trance.”
Note: Ministry opened in 1991, and was considered an underground club until a couple of years later. Compilation albums bearing the club’s name became hot commodities across the world beginning in 1993 for those wanting to experience electronic dance music. To date, more than 55 million compilation albums have been sold, and the club has become somewhat of a tourist destination.
“A lot of DJ’s were being booked at Ministry for their mixing abilities, but in the last five years, you have to produce your own stuff now,” declared Gareth. “Nobody today cares about a DJ, it’s what you can bring to the table. Everyone uses USB’s now, so DJ’ing has become a bit too easy if you want to be honest.” To keep up, Gareth has begun to learn the art of production with the help of his good friend, James Dymond. “James, is one of my best friends,” said Gareth. “I’ll start producing a track, and I’ll let James finish it for me.”
It is this free admission of help that Gareth is not ashamed to admit. “You’d be amazed at some of these blokes out here,” said Gareth. “The DJ’s used to rule the scene, but now it’s the producers who are being ghost produced by everyone that are getting the gigs and making money.”
And, the number of artists Gareth has performed with over the years is staggering. Name an artist, and he’s probably shared the decks with them. “I’ve seen a lot in my ten years here at Ministry,” Gareth said. “I’ve supported a lot of up-and-coming artists, but the only one I’ll continue to support is Amir Hussain.” Amir and Gareth are close because of one thing, reciprocation. Gareth goes on to say, “I’ve gotten people gigs at Ministry, which is an impossibility to do, and they’ve not supported me in return with the playing of my tracks. I’ve sent six people tracks in recent months, and all but one have not supported me. It’s an insanely competitive business, but I’m a true believer in helping one another to achieve, and Amir is the only one so far that will give back. The rest of the lot can fuck off.”
And, when supporting artists, you would think the term “warm-up DJ” to be a common concept to understand, but adrenaline can sometimes give way to misjudgment in the overall tone of the evening, and nothing irks Gareth more than a warm-up DJ who plays at 140 b.p.m. “I wanna rip them right off the fucking decks!” shouted Gareth. “The clue is in words, “warm-up.” You’re playing at 140, what am I supposed to do, ramp it up to 150? Give me a fuckin’ break!”
A solid warm-up DJ in his own right playing 122-130 b.p.m., but nowadays Gareth is now known at Ministry for closing the night, an insanely difficult task following the headliner. Gareth’s “hard” style has developed a following, and those in the know are quick to hold their ground for a set not soon to be forgotten. When asked his secret in holding a room Gareth was quick to say, “Within the first ten minutes, you’ve got to absolutely blow their bollocks off!” as this 2017 home video shows:
Gareth doesn’t play the same track twice unless it’s a secret favorite and mixes Tech, Trance, PsyTrance, and Uplifting. “I just want people to dance and not give a fuck,” said Gareth. “I hate a pretentious crowd or DJ that just stands there and are more worried about not getting their shirt sweaty than having a good time. That’s just boring as fuck to me! I have to bring it to another level when I play.”
Now great friends, but Gareth’s contract with Gavin and The Gallery is non-negotiable, and he’s ok with that. “I’m very grateful everyday to Gavin and The Gallery for what they have given me,” Gareth humbly said. “It’s been a wild dream come true!” Gareth isn’t allowed to play anywhere else that has a conflict with any event under The Gallery name, which is about 1-2 times per month or “whenever Gavin wants me to play.” He revealed his pay, which is “peanuts” compared to some of the other talent that the club hires and tells stories of the ruthless nature of Gavin. “It’s his club,” Gareth reminds us. “They come to him, he doesn’t go to them.”
As a part of his contract, Gareth also has a rider, (extras an artist receives for performing. I.E., drinks, food, etc.) and is happy to share it with the club-goers. “People come up to me and say, ‘I’ve never seen a DJ hop down from the decks and offer us drinks before!'” It’s this interaction with the crowd that helps Gareth maintain a unique and genuine bond because at the end of the day, he’s still one of them.
When the last track is played, and the lights come on at 6 a.m., Gareth maintains his humility by coming down to the dance floor saying ‘hello’ to the people that stayed and have supported him over the years. It’s the simple gestures that keep people coming back, and after a decade with The Gallery, he seems to have found his niche.