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24 September 2014

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You are in: Manchester > Features > People > Woman of the house

Dr Hillegonda Rietveld

Dr Hillegonda Rietveld

Woman of the house

Tony Wilson, Peter Saville, Ben Kelly, Peter Hook, Mike Pickering… when you think of the Hacienda, it is the men involved that spring to mind, but there were plenty of women involved in the original superclub too, including Dr Hillegonda Rietveld.

Her name isn’t instantly recognisable, but then at the time, she didn’t answer to such a formal title. Back when she worked at the Haçienda, she was simply ‘Gonnie’. In town to help celebrate the opening of the club’s twenty-fifth anniversary exhibition at Urbis, she told us of the reality of "being a woman in a man’s world."

The famous Haçienda doors

The famous Haçienda doors

She freely admits that it was difficult, but is quick to underline the fact that while there may have been fewer ladies involved, they were as pivotal to the Hacienda’s story as the men. It’s just that they don’t shout about it.

"There were some very prominent women at work in the Haçienda. There’s this whole concept in Manchester of the strong woman, who keep s everything together without actually having a pronounced ego. The ego, I think, seems to belong to the guys."

From the shop floor to the stage

Gonnie would have more reason than most to shout about her contribution. She was involved with the club from the very beginning and spent time fulfilling many roles during her 12 years there.

Gonnie in her Quando Quango days

Gonnie in her Quando Quango days

"I started off as a receptionist two weeks before it opened. I’ve been cloakroom lady. I’ve been kitchen aid. I looked after the bands for about four years, backstage, I made butties, cleaned the dressing rooms and got headache tablets.

"I also played there in Quando Quango and, much later on, I DJed there a few times at Flesh. That’s about it!

"They were all very different roles. I liked busying myself as part of the organisation and it’s took me a long time to be a punter when I stopped working there. That was a learning process, but I really enjoyed being a punter as well. It was nice to let go."

So many stories…

Haçienda 25 The Exhibition aims to tell the story of the club, something that Hillegonda says it does well, though she insists that, inevitably, some things have not been included.

"I always see the Haçienda as a playpen for people who love music."

Gonnie sums up how she remembers the Haçienda

"I think it’s really exciting. What I think is a real achievement is to produce an exhibition, which in itself can be quite static, of something that is very dynamic, and maintain that some of that dynamism. In fact, it makes it look a very exciting place to have missed!

"In terms of a legacy, it tells a good story; a cultural history with the creative energy, which is really important to show. But I guess it doesn’t say much about the pregnancy and the pain of the birth. It’s a ready-made baby!"

Happy accidents and careful plans

Hillegonda says that the club was crucial to many artistic ideas and changes both within and without of Manchester simply because of its policy of being willing to try anything, regardless of the potential of success.

"I always see the Haçienda as a playpen for people who love music and therefore [they] had to make mistakes to come upon happy accidents, and then [they] used the happy accidents. Without the bad moments, we wouldn’t have had the good moments."

Flesh flyers

Flyers for Flesh, where Gonnie DJed

Perhaps the Haçienda’s most important legacy though has been the one to its home city, something which Gonnie says didn’t happen by chance.

"The Haçienda was very much part of the frontline of post-industrial Manchester and self-consciously so. I remember that Rob Gretton was aware of the City Council’s plans to develop the G-Mex and redevelop the area around it, and [he wanted] to make the Haçienda very much on the forefront of those developments. They were ten years there before anyone else started to do anything."

Yet, for all that, to Gonnie, the Haçienda had a more personal effect.

"The Hacienda had a crucial impact on my career. It brought me to Manchester and allowed me play electronic music in a club. Eventually, I got a doctorate in house music, which I don’t think I could have ever done if I hadn’t been in the Haçienda."

A female reader in dance culture who’s a doctor of house and has a past filled with experimental electronica? Could anything sum up the free-thinking progressive spirit of the Haçienda better?

Haçienda 25 The Exhibition runs at Urbis until Sunday 17 February 2008. Entry is free.

last updated: 18/07/07

You are in: Manchester > Features > People > Woman of the house

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