Ocean. The Big-O. Uni of’s official Friday night for the past 10 years. The marmite of the Nottingham club scene: dark, sticky and with a very distinctive smell, Ocean is arguably as much a part of the Nottingham experience as any society or lecture you might attend in your time here. Last week I was fortunate enough to spend the evening shadowing the legendary Andy Hoe, the man behind those Friday nights and self-proclaimed ‘King of the Ocean’. What makes this man tick? Why hasn’t he updated the décor since 1979? And who is ‘Vimto’ Steve? I was going deep into the Ocean, deeper than anyone has been before. Uncharted waters. I hope you brought your snorkel (and some money for a cab home).
It’s five-to-nine and I am waiting nervously outside the club. Amazingly, a small queue for those without tickets is already forming, portentously warning of what was yet to come.
If you can find another club with a queue at this time of night on a Friday, I’d like to see it.
We’re soon ushered inside and upstairs, offering us that rarest of opportunities; a view of the Ocean floor untouched by human contact. Breathtaking.
Greeted in the office by the man himself, I’m instantly struck by how laid back he seems. Dressed in t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip-flops Andy welcomes us in with an easy smile and relaxes behind his desk, preparing himself for the night ahead. His manner and youthful charm instantly assure me that I’m going to find it very difficult to find any fault with the David Beckham of Nottingham.
Introductions made, it’s time to move down to the frontline.
Outside, Andy faces his first obligation of the evening: dealing with those who have forgotten, lost or simply not bothered to buy tickets. Andy had spent the majority of the day dealing with the influx of Facebook messages sent to his own personal account from people trying to blag themselves, or their friends from home, into Ocean. He responds personally to every single one, “My messages get a bit blunter towards the end”, he sheepishly admits.
As the night continues, three queues form outside Ocean: the non-ticket queue, the ticket queue, and the Andy queue; a vast mass of people bustling around the fencing with Mr.Hoe at its epicentre.
Andy is very careful about who he lets in. Before he lets in anyone who isn’t from UoN, they have to go through his vetting process; this can involve anything from being made to quietly wait for 10 minutes outside the gate, to having Andy playfully riff on your unappealing haircut. Why is he so stringent on this policy? “It’s just to make sure that people are as well behaved as possible, for you guys as much for us – you don’t want people in there who are going to disrupt the atmosphere”.
This zero tolerance attitude also extends to his drug policy. “Ocean isn’t the place for that sort of thing” he declares, “last year we had a bit of a problem with it, a spate of a couple of weeks where the same group kept coming in and taking stuff, but we stamped it out pretty quickly when we had a few of them publicly arrested in the entrance. Since then it’s cooled off”.
Andy’s close involvement with this part of the evening has certainly engendered a noticeable sense of familiarity between him and the students that steadily file into the club. Standing next to him, I feel like I’m with a celebrity. People chant his name from the pavement and girls fanatically gather around him, one trilling “Oh my god it’s Andy Hoe!”. All is dealt with in the same easy manner.
When I broach Andy on the potential ramifications of the close attention of so many young women, he brushes it aside, “Apart from the fact that I’m a married man, I think it would ruin the trust I have with the students here. One girl once said to me, “I really like you Andy, you’re not a sleazeball like other DJs” which I found particularly encouraging. My wife loves it here, she comes down sometimes. So does her Mum”.
“My wife loves it here, she comes down sometimes. So does her Mum”
With the queue for those who hadn’t bought tickets cordoned off, and the club filling up, Andy retires from his position on the steps for a brief respite in his office before his main DJ set. As we move upstairs I notice that something is missing; the smell. Ocean is infamous for its musty, pungent odour. Following a recent carpet change this issue seems to have been somewhat alleviated, the classic blue/purple design replaced by red and orange cheques. “If you can’t smell it now, come back tomorrow morning” Andy laughs, “the morning after the night before, that’s when it’s at its most fragrant”.
Back in the office, Andy keeps an eye on the unfolding scenes outside from a set of monitors on his desk, occasionally rushing out to apprehend drunken punters attempting to sneak into the club on the sly.
It’s whilst in here that I find out just how hard Andy works to keep Ocean a club for students. The security are very carefully selected and kept on a tight leash, tolerance being promoted above all else. ‘As long as a student isn’t going to hurt themselves or others and they’re not puking on the floor, we generally don’t try to throw too many people out. If we do remove them for being too drunk we make sure they get into a taxi or their mates look after them…When people are drunk their behaviour is very childlike and you have to help them.’
I ask if he’s ever tempted to play anything other than the wall to wall cheese and pop that is a mainstay of the DJ sets in Ocean, but he’s adamant that it’s integral to the success of the club, “We play very female orientated music, girls like pop so they come to the club, which in turn attracts the boys. Although we know they love the music just as much. If we played House we’d have a club full of boys. The music helps create the atmosphere where everyone can just enjoy themselves without worrying. Everyone will hear something they like. We like to think we cater for everyone”.
I follow Andy through the club and into the DJ booth (which was fucking cool). Andy swaps places with fellow DJ and long-time collaborator ‘Vimto’ Steve, so named because he was so young when he started it was the only drink they would serve him.
Behind the decks Andy skilfully steers the crowd through four decades of pop music, the crowd roaring and seething throughout, showcasing his formidable experience of 20 years as a DJ. I was constantly inundated with requests from drunken students to ask Andy for a song, or if they could come in the booth and pose with their hero. He was more than happy to accommodate all offers.
The set highlight was of course Baywatch.
It says a lot about a man, this particular tradition. Take your shirt off too soon into the song and you’re arrogant – not take it off at all and you will be socially shunned. A brief moment of faux reticence before giving in and whipping your t-shirt off and spinning it around your head appears to be more acceptable route.
Also of interest from the DJ booth was the view of the infamous ‘fingerers’ corner’ in the top right hand corner of club. The spot for many an amorous couple’s first furtive sexual experiences, Steve informed me that Trent nights are usually more likely to feature the most prolific fingerers. Come on Uni, sort it out.
Trent nights are more likely to feature the most prolific fingerers
02.00 – 03.30
His DJ set finished, Andy moves back outside to make sure everyone is getting home alright (including one of my housemates, who he helps me clean up and bundle into a cab). The love for Andy from those leaving is even more than earlier on, with many pictures having to be posed for and monologues to listen to.
The night is drawing to a close. I think back to the rest of my evening. The dated décor inside, the limited drink selection, the cheap door prices, the repetitive pop music and the fact all of this only opens twice a week. Isn’t Andy ever tempted to completely overhaul the place and make some more money? “No”, he replies without hesitation, a smile on his face: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. This place hasn’t changed in ten years and it’s always been just as popular. Why would you mess with the formula? I run this place on a shoestring compared to other places and I keep a close eye on it, so there’s no waste. It’s too much hassle opening up the public, there’s too much violence and drugs which always leads to places getting closed down. I wouldn’t risk what I’ve got”.
He heads back inside, joining Steve in the DJ booth to play out to the motley crew who have lasted into the wee hours to hear the Erection Section; a selection of slowie tracks which harks back to another age of DJ technique. I decide to join the ecstatic throng, wondering at the effortless ease with which the night is held together.
Ocean is a rare beast, a popular student club free of pretension. A place where you can go at the end of the week to let your hair down and be yourself, safe in the knowledge that absolutely everyone in there has bought into the same set of values, even if it is just for a few hours on a Friday night. Andy Hoe can be very proud of what he has created, for it is truly his own creation.