Legendary London club promoter Simon Hobart dead at 41
Dynamic promoter and DJ who brought imaginative flair to the London gay club scene
Wednesday November 2, 2005
The club promoter and DJ Simon Hobart, who has died unexpectedly at the age of 41, made a major contribution to London's gay club landscape, providing a haven for thousands of young gay people who felt out of place elsewhere. A courteous, charming and unassuming man, he stamped his mark on an arena awash with overinflated egos, exhibitionists and hyperbole.
Though born in Peru, Simon was brought up in Hemel Hempstead, where he attended Cavendish comprehensive school. Like many, he escaped the boredom of small-town life through a love of music, embracing post-punk and the outsider allure of the fledgling goth scene. At 16, he moved to London to become a trainee chef at the Ritz hotel, but soon left to study for his A-levels at Kingsway College, Westminster.
By this time he had already discovered London's nightlife, hanging out at clubs such as the Blitz, presided over by an early hero and inspiration, Steve Strange. Simon got his first break from infamous punk gig promoter Jock McDonald, who invited him to DJ at the Kariba club in Soho in 1982.
Simon launched his first club night as a promoter, Fly Trap, in June 1983. This ran for a few months, and was followed by the Kit Kat in February 1984. Opening at Studio One on Oxford Street (now the Metro), it moved to a converted warehouse known as the Pleasure Dive in Westbourne Grove, where it became London's premier goth hangout, providing a more glamorous and tongue-in-cheek alternative to its more po-faced rival, the Batcave in Soho. The Kit Kat gave Simon his first taste of notoriety, when in January 1985 it landed him on the front page of the Sun. Police had raided the club for drugs and arrested Simon, a photographer snapping "the godfather of goth" as he was led away - he was just 21 at the time.
The Kit Kat attracted a cross-section of goths, punks and outsiders of all sexual persuasions. Simon felt infinitely more comfortable there than on the commercial gay scene, which was still preoccupied with high-energy pop and disco: "I hated the mentality of the people. I hated the music that was being offered, and found it insulting to your intelligence and tastes. We don't want to all act like teenage girls. We don't all want to go to a nightclub just to take drugs or to have sex." This sense of alienation kept Simon in the straight club world, and he went on to launch the rock night Bedrock and house club Fusion, both at the Marquee on Charing Cross Road. But it was the arrival of Britpop in the mid-90s that prompted his entry into the gay club scene.
"I sensed bands like Blur, Pulp and Elastica had an ironic, theatrical element that ran counter to its shoe-gazing, indie dirge side, so I decided to trial a night called Popstarz, where the emphasis would be on boozing not cruising, as an antidote to the mainstream gay scene." The night launched, somewhat ambitiously, in 1995 at the 900-capacity Paradise club at the Angel, Islington, but Simon had few fears of failure. "If Popstarz had failed I wouldn't have embarrassed myself, because I didn't know anyone in the gay community!"
Popstarz didn't fail. It quickly became a huge success, providing an escape for gay lovers of rock and indie music, and anyone else who felt out of place in more mainstream gay venues. Over the last 10 years it has moved from north London to the West End, before settling in its current home, the Scala at King's Cross, and becoming the country's biggest indie night, gay or straight.
Simon was taken aback at how quickly it established a loyal following, and felt encouraged to expand. Following its launch at the Cross Bar at King's Cross, Popstarz spin-off Miss-Shapes recently celebrated its ninth birthday, while three years ago Simon took over the lease of a basement venue in Falconberg Mews, Soho, transforming it into Ghetto, a seven-nights-a-week hangout for alternative gay tribes.
At the end of last year, he bought his first premises, a former Chinese restaurant on Wardour Street that he relaunched as Trash Palace, providing an early evening option for his crowd and an intimate club space. At the time of his death, he presided over a clubbing empire, either promoting his own nights or hosting a diverse collection of offerings, from Red Eye to Nag Nag Nag, Don't Call Me Babe to Pimp, and many others. Uninterested in material success, he entertained only other club promoters who had a passion and belief in what they were doing.
In 2003, The Observer included Simon in its list of the 20 most influential gay people in the country. That year, he launched the annual Ray Of Light event at the Crash club in Vauxhall, raising money for MacMillan Cancer Relief. It was conceived in response to his mother's death from the disease. He is survived by his father and brother.
· Simon Hobart, club promoter and DJ, born September 29 1964; died October 23 2005