Graduates' acclaimed ‘Two Monkeys’ nightclub documentary to be screened

Rob Kilburn (patterned shirt) and Lewis Dodds

Published on 21 August 2019

A documentary about two infamous city nightclubs will form part of this year’s University of Sunderland Welcome Week for new students.

The film is the result of months of work from University Digital Film Production graduates Rob Kilburn and Lewis Dodds.

The pair decided to document the history of Sunderland’s Blue Monkey and New Monkey venues, which were as controversial as they were popular.

Both venues are now closed but the impact of the clubs, their music, and their reputation on cultural life in the city remains relevant today.

The film, Two Monkeys, will be screened at the University cinema at St Peter’s Media Centre on Wednesday, September 18, at 6.30pm.

Rob, 25, from Seaburn in Sunderland, said: “This turned out to be quite a complex project but we are delighted with the result and have had some really positive feedback.

“The film has had more than 50,000 views online and we are looking forward to the screening at the University next month.”

While Rob was much younger at the peak of the clubs’ popularity, he still remembers the impact and reputation they had on young people growing up in Sunderland.

He said: “They were the most talked about places; they reached beyond being just nightclubs. The music they were playing was quite wide-reaching.”

The venues highlighted music genres including Makina, a form of hardcore techno which originated in Spain with a keen following in the North East, and Monta, the events held to dance and listen to it.

Sunderland’s Blue Monkey was located in an old bingo hall on Bedford Street in the city centre, the site has now been demolished to make way for the new Empire cinema. But during the 90s, it was a haven for ravers before it burned to the ground.

In 1999, efforts began to turn the former Plaza Bingo Hall in Pallion into a new nightclub, this time called the New Monkey. However, residents living near the venue objected to the plans, claiming their lives would be disrupted by late night comings and goings, loud music and antisocial behaviour.

But bosses behind the club resubmitted plans, this time saying they aimed to open a private members’ only dance club, serving only soft drinks - thereby removing liquor licence control by the local authority.

So began the era of the New Monkey which finally ended in March 2006 when more than 100 police officers raided the venue, seizing drugs and making 14 arrests. Search warrants were also simultaneously executed at the homes of senior management and staff from the trouble-hit venue.

Now the graduate filmmakers, working under the banner of Tyne and Weird, have joined forces with Dubai-based Moving Adverts to make Our Cup of Tea, which looks into the past and present of West Auckland FC.

The Northern League side won the Sir Thomas Lipton trophy – considered as the precursor of the World Cup - in 1909, winning 2-0 against FC Winterthur, and then again in 1911 after beating Juventus 6-1.

In January 1994, the trophy was stolen from a workingmen’s club in the town, with the original still missing.

The award-winning team are working on a release date next month, with its release coming in the wake of their graduation from their digital film production programmes.

They hope to show the 15-minute feature at film festivals and are looking into putting it online.