March 18, 2011
March 17, 2011
Story: Terry Farley Photographs: Chris Abbot
On April 11th 1988 the vast space that was (and still is) Heaven opened its doors to an ‘Acid House’ night. The problem was apart from around 200 people who frequented Shoom and Future nobody knew what Acid House was, let alone how to dance to it.
The promoters were Ian St Paul and Paul Oakenfold and the club held around 2,500 people. On the first night there were 124 people and everyone passing through the doors got a free E. Two weeks later there were still a hundred or so people wearing an odd mixture of Ibizan hippie and mid 80s football casual clobber trance dancing to music imported straight from Alfredo’s playlist of the 87 season at Amnesia.
Week three saw an influx of curious souls and young kids who had heard whispers around town. The following week the queue went up the hill onto the Strand. The next week had 1200 bods, and then by the following one the 2500 club was packed to the rafters. London had never, and never has since, had a clubbing phenomena like it. The club had a sound system unmatched by any other in the UK and a lazer show straight out of NY’s finest gay clubbing culture. The queue started 2 hrs before opening, and at 3.30 am when the club finished the Strand became a huge party with thousands of kids on E jacking on car roofs and stopping the West End traffic. This was the club that heralded Acid House as an explosion of biblical proportions and its legacy still lingers on today around the world. Fucking awesome…
It was also the start of the superstar dj cult with Oakenfold perched high above the massed crowd in a huge dj booth playing mad classical orchestral recordings of Wagner mixing into heavy Detroit beats with Fini Tribe’s ‘De Testimony’ and Nitzer Ebb’s ‘Join in the Chant’ jostling for peak time action alongside House hits such as Black Riot ‘A Day In The Life‘ and Derrick May’s seminal ‘Strings Of Life.’
The main room also ended up as the birth place of the Acid Ted with bandanas and smiley t shirts replacing Chevignon and Chippie as the look of the sweaty fledgling foot soldiers. On the middle floor the kids who considered themselves too cool for downstairs, the three month Acid House veterans, danced to the more Balearic grooves of Roger the Hippie and Terry Farley. Big anthems up there ranged from Yello’s ‘The Race’, The Woodentops ‘Why Why Why’ to the Mamas and the Papas ‘California Dreaming’ and even Jackie Wilson’s 60s hit ‘The Sweetest Feeling.’ The look up there was more ‘future’ inspired – baggy jumpers, Lee dungarees and beat up Kickers.
This piece originally appeared on Faith, home of acid house banter. Click here to read more from the chaps.
March 16, 2011
January 3, 2011
December 4, 2010
September 27, 2010
Here’s the second part of our interview with Dave Dorrell moving from the RAW days up to acid house, major label deals with Polydor Records, ‘Pump Up The Volume’ and it’s lack of follow-up. Images by james McLintock.
So going forwards, many of the Soul/Jazz Funk DJs took a while to adopt to the acid house thing whereby you, from what I understand, seemed to jump straight in and feel right at home. What was the appeal to you?
It was at RAW when I played my first Acid House record. I had a copy of ‘Funkin With The Drums’ and I didn’t really know where it fitted. It was kind of an anomaly and no-one was writing about this stuff, no internet, so nowhere to find out what it was about. So it just existed as a bit of vinyl which I had but couldn’t play [out].
There was no scene to attach it to…
There was no scene. There were no vocals. It was just a drum machine. And I think there were at the time early attempts to make similar music going on in Nottingham and Manchester. I say Nottingham specifically as Graeme Park was recreating sounds from these records in the studio. So one of these records I was playing at Raw was T-Coy ‘Carino’ which no-one saw as a house record at the time but you look back on it now and it was obviously an attempt to make a house record.
Yeah it sounds like a Latin tune…
Yeah that whole Latin thing out of NY was also kind of doing stuff that was a bit more hip-hop. It was toying with a scene that was growing up around the Paradise Garage but Chicago probably inspired it. Maurice and Noel were trying to play more up-tempo records at that time. I remember them playing Fern Kinney ‘Groove Me’ on plus 8 because it had a 4/4 beat and if you went really fast on it it sounded like a house record and those were the kind of moments when you thought ‘mmmn – there is something in this’.
And then acid as a sound landed in a pile of records in front of me and I still have all three of them. ‘Land Of Confusion’ was the first one that I heard and I was like ‘what is this?’. And it wasn’t as if I was from a purist background so I was like does it have a German influence? No. Does it have an industrial background? Yes, sort of but not really. And it didn’t sound like anything. I didn’t get it. We were getting most of our records from New York and I bought all three acid house records that day that had come in and I played them back-to-back. Another one was Phuture’s ‘Acid Trax’. I played them early as I wanted to see what they were like on the big system at RAW, we had an amazing sound system there, and they sounded incredible. And everyone just kind of stood there in horror (laughs). I told this story a few times. The club started filling up over the course of playing three acid house records back-to-back and at the end of it I thought ‘where can we go from here?’ so I put on ‘Cross The Tracks’ which was the biggest track in London at the time and everyone ran on the dance floor. And I thought whatever that was before, that is really something. Danny and Jenny (Rampling) came down, they were already doing Shoom, it was running parallel, and they did a Wednesday night at RAW with Kid Batchelor. I think about 80-100 came. You know, smoke was going all night, they had Smiley t-shirts and we were like ‘it’s all a bit weird this’ and something’s happening but no-one could quite work out what it was…
So it was the suburban kids that came along and kicked that whole thing along…
Just like with punk, absolutely, maybe it was about money, maybe they are just out there in the suburbs and they are more adventurous…
Something to do…
But yeah, I knew Oakey and all that anyway and it all meshed.
We like that whole Balearic thing at Test Pressing. What records were your favourite records at that time?
I might have to take another pill to feel the same way about Mandy Smith as I did then, but there was a particular little niggly mix by PWL that took Finitribe and mixed it over Mandy Smith. I still listen to Finitribe. I was going to Rough Trade a lot so I guess Split Second and all of those Front 242 records. I was listening to a lot of electronic music to be specific. The funny thing was my old school friend, Luca Anzilotti (one half of SNAP!) had moved to Frankfurt with his family during his last year of school and we got back in touch about ‘86 and I was going to Frankfurt to the Dorian Grey. I mean that club was like nothing in London at that time. You had to go in through Frankfurt airport, past people with trolleys and suitcases, in through what looked like an outdoor café, and from there you’re in. They had huge strobes built into the floor. So you’d go into the club and DJ Hell was the warm-up DJ for DJ Dag and Dag was a legend in Germany at the time. He played stuff that no-one in England was hearing, though some bits were slipping in from Ibiza, which was the kind of Front 242, Split Second sort of tracks. Skinny Puppy, Severed Heads ‘Hot With Fleas’ and things. KFMDM. So I am standing there looking at the DJ, the sound system is incredible, the music is really industrial and clangy and then suddenly this massive Star Trek laser, super strobe goes off for second and it was like ‘shit’. So those elements were really important to me and I came back with tons of records from Frankfurt. Anyway, for me its Finitribe, Mandy Smith and Split Second. Who would put those three in a box together?
So taking it a step forward again, like a lot of people you went from DJing to the studio, when was that an angle?
I was DJ-ing at the RAW one night and this American guy came up to me at the end of night and said ‘I really enjoyed your set – I’m here setting up a music channel called MTV that you might have heard of’. They were setting up MTV Europe. He asked if I’d like to make a musical identity for the channel and offered me an inordinate amount of money to go in to the studio. He wanted me to create a series of 15-second ‘idents’ to go with the animations but we didn’t have those so we had to make them blind. I had a friend of mine called Martin Young who was in Colourbox, and I asked him if we could get a studio as I had all this money. That was the first attempt to do something and it was hugely influenced by what was going on in New York at the time but with a British slant. We were just taking bits and pieces and just layering them all down and it was soon after that in Spring Summer ’87 Martin called me up and said I am in the studio and its going nowhere, do you want to come back in and go back down the avenue we were mucking about with for MTV. I was like ‘yeah sure’. I think he had this kind of basic rhythm track going and the initial idea (from owner of 4 AD, Ivo Watts-Russell) was that he’d work with AR Kane but they had kind of fallen out so he had to deliver something and so went in there and that became the prototype for ‘Pump Up The Volume’.
How did CJ come into it?
CJ was in the band I was managing at the time – Nasty Rox. He was the DJ. Nellee Hooper was the percussionist, John Waddell on guitar, Leo T on bass and Dan Fox on vocals. I’d just swung them a deal with ZTT I thought this was the best thing that could ever happen…
Of course, Trevor Horn at the time was pretty special…
We did the deal, and I was writing about them, promoting gigs and then Trevor got called into court with Frankie Goes to Hollywood so Trevor didn’t produce the record and Steve Lipson did, and he is great as well, but with Trevor Horn it may well have been a different record.
So back to M/A/R/R/S – why no follow up?
Well we started on it. We did a couple of things. We took studio time. We had a very Acid based track we were working on and a few other things then we got a law suit from Cadburys or whatever and it just got a little weird and it fell to pieces. It was kind of odd and it just ended up as a one-off and probably for the best. I guess if we’d been a little bit more focused but CJ was in Nasty Rox, Martin had Colourbox with his brother Steve and his commitments lay there. There’s demos somewhere but we never gave anyone anything.
On the surface you wouldn’t think 4AD (the label that released ‘Pump Up The Volume’) was a good record label for an out and out dance record but the more and more I listen to music on the label there’s a lot of drum machines going on, they are just better at hiding it under layers of guitars or whatever…
I think the walls of music culture were fairly permeable at the time. I think if you look at what was going on you could see that. People were like what is the difference between New Order and Bobby O and it was basically a northern vocal and that’s it. And then you can kind of see there’s not a big leap between New Order and the Cocteau Twins. So you see its all different micro shades from the same spectrum.
So from there you and CJ went off and you were in the studio a lot…
We got asked to go in. A lot of people wanted to trade on the name. We weren’t really mercenary about it but people were asking if we wanted to remix stuff, so we were like ok.
Who was the engineer on your records?
Robin Hancock was our preferred, he now owns Wright Brothers over in Borough market supplying Oysters to the best restaurants in London…
So what were you remixing at the time?
Well we got to do Nu-Beat records like Jade 4U, KAOS ‘Definition Of Love’, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers….
Whose idea was it to lay Aaron Neville’s ‘Hercules’ under your mix of ‘I Come Off’?
I can lay claim to that. I loved that record but it was a bastard to do. 4th & Broadway had it for the UK and they asked us to do it but they said they needed it by January 2nd. CJ was like I don’t want to do it and I was like ‘nah, I really want to do it’, so we booked time on Boxing Day and the day after that. That Aaron Neville break featured on an NME cassette and Neil Spencer had turned me onto it and I was like ‘ok this is ripe for abuse’. So we asked Andrew Hale (Sade) to come in to play keyboards so he came down with his keyboard and set up and we were like ‘we haven’t got a fucking clue’. Then we were like actually – ‘you know that bit in Once In A Lifetime’, it fits perfectly over this’ and if you listen carefully that keyboard line is nicked from Talking Heads. So we delivered it and they (Delicious Vinyl) hated it and I was like ‘we have given up fucking Christmas to do this’ so Julian Palmer who was the head of 4th & Broadway used it as the last track on the B-side of the American one but when it came to the UK they slapped it on the A-side.
What was happening club-wise for you at that time?
I’d been doing Love at the Wag.
Ah, before we go there I’ve just remembered you had a label as well with Polydor…
Yeah that’s right. I’d met Dave Angel in Berwick Street market one afternoon and we got talking. He’d done a bootleg of Sweet Dreams and I thought you know what I know everyone in the record companies so I phoned up RCA and they said we love that but we can’t put it out and then I managed to ok it with Dave Stewart and they couldn’t find the multi-track so Dave and me went in the studio and that was the birth of my relationship with Dave, who I then signed to Love Records…
So Love (Dorrell’s label with Polydor) was one of the first ‘dance’ affiliated labels?
Yeah I guess so. I got a deal out of David Munns the head of Polydor and I was on my way to ink the contract by the flyover in Hammersmith and I had a mobile phone and London records called me up and said what are you doing? Why are you going to Polydor with this? Bring the contract and we’ll cross out Polydor and write London (Records) on it. The rivalry between the two labels at the time was intense. I probably regret not doing that because David Munns was saying ‘we’re going to put dance music on the map’ so I was like ‘ok… sign the contract’ and then he stuck it to me cause he disappeared after 8 months and got moved upstairs to run the whole group and I got completely screwed. Completely screwed. I remember the first record I put out, which we were told was going to go top ten, went in at 41. Someone tipped me off that the head of marketing, I know who you are and what you did (laughs), had taken the ‘barcode’ off our record and put a Jason Donovan ‘barcode’ across all our 12s. Jason Donovan went in the top ten and we were stranded. It was one of those things, I was suddenly aware of the vicious nature of record companies and a year and a half it all come to an end.
So was it back to DJing then?
No not at all. The last band that I wanted to sign to the label on the back of a three track demo was called Future Primitive, and I knew the singer from the London club scene, Gavin Rossdale. I thought ‘oh fuck this I’m going to manage this instead’. I hated the label so I went off and managed bands again and they became Bush and off we went.
When was the last time you DJ’d?
The last gig I did was for Craig Richards. It had been a really great night and he came up and I said ‘well that’s the last record’ and he said ‘you can play another one’ and I said ‘no that’s the last record I am playing as a DJ’ and I cancelled all my gigs and went to the States with the band. And that was it. I went to chase it.
Do you regret cutting back on DJing to go into management?
The house wave had kind of crashed, Movement 98 anybody? I’d been doing Love at the Wag for two and a half years, a really good run, great DJs coming through the door, Trouble and stuff. Oh and Steve Proctor. (To the dictaphone) ‘What’s with this I was your warm up DJ Steve? It was my club!’ That’s what his website says. ‘I employed you! Big kisses Steve’.
After that I got a phone call from Nicky Holloway asking if I wanted to do the Milk Bar so I thought a Saturday night there would be brilliant. I said to Pete (Tong) do you want to DJ there with me and we called it Hot for the first few months and it had become more Balearic again and House no longer dominated the playlist. You had Soul II Soul and stuff and Italo was coming in and it was a right old mix up and that made it feel like a really good club again. We did it for a couple of years on a Saturday night. The Milk Bar was one of the best clubs I ever did. The bouncers were dancing, the bar staff were on the bar pushing the kids off and everyone singing along to ‘Like A Prayer’. You are in DJ heaven.
They were good nights and then clubbing took this other leap forward and I used to spend my nights running between jelly shots and bottles of Sol at the Milk Bar to go and see Weatherall DJing at Flying across the alleyway, getting knocked out hearing him drop the Primals for the first time down there in a cloud of smoke. I made friends with that whole Flying lot and then all of a sudden I’m dong gigs in Nottingham and Glasgow… I did Boy’s Own in Sussex, one of the best gigs I went to, and I had a nightmare that night and I played Salsoul 3001 (a disco soul version of the 2001 theme tune) and I was so off my head I couldn’t DJ. It was so hot that the sweat was dripping from the roof of the marquee onto the records and the needles were just skidding across but it was a beautiful night. So there were those boys and the Slough posse and Charlie (Chester) had found the next wave really. It was another door opening and another peek into a new world. That period, and the music, were fantastic. You could play what you wanted and the crowd were really responsive…
So it all joins up…
I think I went from RAW to Love to The Milk Bar into the Flying mob for a bit. We did the first gig with Sasha in London, Milk Bar Saturday night. The first gig Sven Vath did, Milk Bar Saturday night. So we had all these connections and bringing them in but there was a point around ‘93 when it all went a bit handbag and by ‘94 I didn’t like the music anymore. I didn’t like the predominant sound at that time. There was no soul in it and it felt extremely white and that was never really what I was for. So at that point it felt time to put it down as I wasn’t as in love with it as I had been over the past years.
What do you think about club reunions?
You know honestly I don’t really like these ideas. I try to avoid them. I’m not really for nostalgia. I don’t think it smells as nice as you think it will. Reunions feel to me like a pair of old shoes. They never feel right even though they were perfect at the time, but when you try and put your feet back in them, they just don’t look right. They don’t feel right.
What do you see the difference between doing things then, making your own flyers compared to now and they way you can get all your information to people in minutes.
The basic elements don’t change. Watching footage of the Dirtbox in Stockwell recently, someone had left a comment that it ‘looks like Dalston today’ and I thought you know what it is like Dalston today. And though it’s probably much easier to make your own flyer on your laptop and print up your own flyer it’s still pretty much the same thing to promote your own night. You don’t have to go round clubs giving out flyers, but if you aren’t actively out there anyway then no-ones going to come. You have to be out there promoting your own thing even if by word-of-mouth and that doesn’t change. I could open a Facebook page and start up a club night but whose going to come unless I actively promote it.
Finally, what’s more important, the art or the money.
The art! I now work as an artist with Melissa Frost and Mihda Koray under the name Slayer Pavilion. We ‘ghost’ Biennales. It’s a lot of work and I probably lose money but ultimately it’s very rewarding. The money? That was never the reason. The crack was the reason. If you could get money out of a label, great, but the things I felt the most connected to were connected to having a good time and meeting people. If it’s good it tends to make money anyway. I don’t think anyone should go without remuneration for their efforts.
Thanks to Terry Farley, Pete Tong and Frank Tope for the additional questions.
August 30, 2010
We haven’t done an interview for some time so after thinking about who to speak to we plumped for Dave Dorrell. Dorrell was involved in many of the seminal London night clubs – The Dirtbox, Batcave, RAW, Love and The Milk Bar – as well as being a journalist and manager of note for the Pet Shop Boys amongst others. There was almost too much to cover so we just started at the beginning and tried to work through the key years. Thanks to Frank Tope, Terry Farley and Pete Tong for additional questions.
Dave Dorrell images by James McLintock. Wild Bunch image by Beezer.
So Dave, where does it all start?
Well as a child I was a hippy. My sister worked at Biba so if you want the first thing I was seven with my hair down to my waist and she took me to see the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park for the free concert. That was my first concert. Barefoot, we walked the length of Oxford Street. That was a day.
What was the first scene you really got into youth culture-wise?
The first thing that we really got into it was kind of the Disco/ soul scene I guess. So Disco, but then at the same time it was Punk. I was about 15 when Punk happened and we started a fanzine at school called The Modern World (after the Jam song). We got an exclusive interview with two of the Sex Pistols – Paul Cook and Steve Jones – cause they lived in a flat in Bell Street, the same street as our school. I skipped first break at 11 o’clock and went up to the top of this old Victorian building and all these nubile punk nymphet’s came skipping about between rooms and we were like ‘it’s eleven o’clock in the morning this is ridiculous’ and then I remember when we did it Sid Vicious went past on a Suzuki motorbike with no helmet on.
So from the off you were brought up on an eclectic mix of music?
Definitely, definitely. From youth clubs days listening to Ska and Soul same as everybody else and then everything from T-Rex and Sweet and all that nonsense and my sisters into Jimi Hendrix and Bowie and all those things were getting fed into the machine at some point.
So you’re out dancing to the records, when did playing them to other people seem like an option?
For me it was at school. There were a few us really into music. Gary Crowley was in the year above me and he was a huge influence on all of us in being so ahead of the curve. He was going to see The Jam really before anyone knew about them and The Clash at The Roundhouse. Me and my old mucker Chris Clunn, a fantastic photographer who did all the pictures for our fanzine, really got into smoking dope and listening to Reggae and were asked to DJ at the 6th form party. Chris said ‘I’m going to call my cousin up (his cousin was Jamaican) and get him to come down as well’. We turned up with a box of seven inch records and they turned up with a sound system that had to be lifted off a lorry. After that we played when we could. From like 16 on we were DJing in local pubs and stuff like that.
When did you get a name for yourself?
I guess from 19 I thought there is more out here. We were going clubbing and seeing bands all the time and we had an eye on doing a party. I think the first thing that we ever did was at Battle Bridge behind Kings Cross. In those days Battle Bridge was still squats, everything from hippies to punks, and they had a hall there and we did a night. We charged to get in and people turned up. We alternated a few times with another clique from West London, which was Sean Oliver and Neneh Cherry and that whole gang. I think they were good days. Those were good parties.
What was the party called?
I think it was Emergency Ward 10.
So was that at the start of warehouse culture?
I mean for me definitely. It’s kind of before any other warehouse parties that I knew about. I think the Dirtbox was around the same time and I DJ’d for the Dirtbox when they opened up a big warehouse in Chelsea. Around the same time there was D-Mob in Beak Street – Chris Brick and co., these crazy Welsh kids. They were doing various bits and pieces. They had an illegal party in the basement on Rosebery Avenue in Islington called the Doghouse which had Maurice and Noel Watson as residents. So that was the beginning of the 80s I guess…
So what came next? You mentioned Neneh Cherry – was she the link to a new crowd?
Well that kind of came about after. I’d been going to the Beat Route where Steve Lewis (above) was Djing and listening to Fela and Gill Scott Heron and Material.
Yeah absolutely. And that was where my focus was. The mix of things was extremely appealing and soon after that the guys got the Wag Cub and everything properly happened in the space of 24 months yet it feels like it was spread out over years. I started to DJ at The Batcave occasionally. I was starting to write at The NME as a result of a new fanzine we were working on, and it all happened pretty quickly. Across ’80-‘83 I remember going to all sorts of different scenes. Going to see The Specials, going to the The Jam at The Rainbow, watching Skinheads beat up Dexys’ fans at the Electric Ballroom, I guess ‘81 or ‘82, and soon after that I’m writing for The NME and DJing at warehouse parties and the whole thing has a run of about three years.
When you hear a tape of a warehouse party from that time they sound like they have a kind of have a naive amateur edge…
It was. It was completely made up. There were the established clubs, The Mud club, The Batcave was running kind of alongside that, early warehouse parties running alongside that, so you had very divergent scenes that were kind of open to everybody and though I was having a massive Goth moment at one point I was still going out to the warehouse parties the D-Mob guys were throwing as the NME offices were on Carnaby St. I was DJing at one end of Carnaby St at the Batcave then going to D-Mob at the other end.
It was quite unique in that there were an number of very strong scenes, Punk had moved into being almost Gothic, ‘82–‘83, the warehouse scene was coming out of efforts that Chris Sullivan and Ollie were doing at Billie’s in Covent Garden. The Blitz was going at the same time and I’d go there as it was on my doorstep and my sister went out with one of Spandau. I came home one night and there was bloke (Steve Norman) in a Hawaiian shirt playing guitar to her . I was like what is this??? (laughs). You had this very strong youth movement, not even youth movements, they were more explorations into music and style and none of them seemed to be too clear-cut. I’d go to the Beat Route and have a flat-top and mashed up jeans. I’d go to Batcave different jeans, same flat-top and it was odd how it all interlinked but was quite separate.
So obviously there was a point when your tastes refine and you get your own palette – was hip hop the crux of this?
I think that probably is about right. A friend of mine was the editor of Black Echoes and she came back with a 12” of Rappers Delight that she had managed to get from Sylvia Robinson herself. It was the first rap record I’d ever heard and that was an absolutely revelatory moment. It was like ‘what is going on here???’ I guess that opened the floodgates. From there it was trying to get anything I could out of any shops that had records of that nature. Places like Groove Records you know…
So do you think that was the unsaid link that you had with the likes of The Wild Bunch, Nellee Hooper and all that lot?
I can pretty much lay claim to bringing the Wild Bunch up from Bristol. I was going out with a girl from Bristol so I’d go down and see her. I went to one of their parties in St Paul’s and I was doing an occasional night at The Wag on Wednesdays and I got the guys to come up. I remember them coming up and blowing everyone’s minds as they had all these breaks that people in London weren’t plugged into…
Were they on the mic at that time?
They were a little bit on the mic but mostly they were DJing. ESG, their first 6 track EP playing it covered up and at the ‘wrong’ speed, and the break from the B-side of Eddie Kendricks ‘Keep On Trucking’. Cutting between two copies. Seven inches sellotaped to twelve inches – all that stuff. I guess the situation at the time was there was a nascent version of the scene in the West with Newtrament and The Language Lab guys but that was it. It was quite a tiny scene really and you could join the dots fast. Next thing Nellee was moving to London with Miles and they (The Wild Bunch) were getting a deal with 4th & Broadway. I remember being in a studio just around the corner from here, just off Shoreditch High Street, when they recorded the ‘Look Of Love’. Miles was one of the best DJs I ever saw in my life. I remember seeing him in Tokyo around ‘86 or ‘87, at Gold I think. It was an incredible club. It was in a bank vault and the DJ booth was made of Gold bricks. He was DJing and was playing Ramsey Lewis ‘Sun Goddess’ and then mixing some jack track, underneath it… Amazing.
So from the warehouse thing through to Special Branch. How do we get from there to there?
As a journalist I was running around the world for the NME. Going clubbing in New York on the back of generous record companies so I got to do all that stuff and chasing the whole hip hop thing. So Dirtbox started to do a regular night at the Titanic which was Berkley Square and I was bringing lots of electro and playing that. Sometime around ’84. I guess a number of scenes were all starting to converge and I think I met Nicky (Holloway) through Paul Oakenfold. Paul was working at a clothes shop called Ice in St Christopher’s place and we got talking. You know Paul was always a character, and I remember him saying he was going to New York and me saying he was going to have a great time as it was so amazing over there.
Two months later I bump into him and he’s working in another clothes shop and I said ‘how did it go?’ He said ‘it was great – I’m giving up my job and I’m going to start a record pool’. I was like ‘what’s that?’ He explained that DJs in New York got their records from a ‘Promo’ person. He’d kind of fallen into this in New York and saw the classic gap in the market and the market in the gap. The next thing I know he’s wearing a Beastie Boys cap, promoting Def Jam and doing a night at the Embassy. I was like ‘wow you’re get up and go’. At that moment what had been previously very separate scenes started to connect. Meeting Nicky and Paul – years before Spectrum – and that was my connection to the suburban scene that previously I had had no connection with as I was always central. And as such, it was suddenly another door opening. Bringing it back round I can’t remember the first time I met Nicky Holloway but it’s been a lifelong love affair.
So lets go rare groove. Who was the greatest DJ on that scene and why? (Chart above from i-D September ’87)
I’d have to say Barrie Sharpe. I used to warm up for Barrie when the rare groove thing was really kicking in and Rene Gelston had just set up Black Market records, I don’t think it was even a shop, he was a hairdresser and it was just a label in his head at the time, and we got a night at the Wag called Blackmarket and Barrie was the main DJ, Lascelle was playing upstairs and I would warm up downstairs for Barrie, and he would play pretty much two hours of James Brown productions and the full breadth of that was eye-opening. I mean you can’t forget Norman Jay and the Soul II Soul boys as they pulled out some utter gems but in a funny way they weren’t as purist as Barrie. You know if you went to Africa Centre you’d hear Will Powers next to some obscure African funk track and they were throwing things in the mix so they had their own sound so it wasn’t strictly rare groove but Barrie was utterly strict and totally pure.
So where does RAW come into it?
RAW comes about ’84–’85 and ran through to ’87–‘88. RAW was Oliver Peyton’s idea. He was great at finding venues and he found a new one. We were hanging out at the Spice Of Life and going to The Wag a lot and Oliver had just come up from Brighton. Once we saw the venue, it was like ‘wow, we’ve got this amazing venue in the centre of London, what do we do next?’ Oliver had just finished a design degree at Sussex and was like ‘ok, I’m going to drape the whole place in canvas you take care of the music’. He made it look like nothing else. So, I got Rob Milton to come in and do it with me as I was DJing with him at the Dirtbox, and we were the original RAW DJs and much later on Ben and Andy (Boilerhouse). Rob left the country so I had to get someone else in to do it with me and CJ (Mackintosh) used to come occasionally and that was it. Rob was a great DJ.
So when did it really kick off?
I’d say ‘85 into ‘86 it was a line around the block. Like seriously. I think it was the last time that there was such enthusiastic mixing of every single element. We were playing Hip-Hop, Rare groove,Disco and everything went. We’d have the bleachers set up and people would stand up and dance all night whistling. It was a sweatbox. It was 6 floors underground and I’d be drenched by the time the night finished. It lasted for a good couple of years and was it pretty amazing having that as your playground for a couple of years…
So slightly different tangent, who styled the shoot of you in i-D that looked very very Buffalo? It was certainly a very London look…
You know what, no-one styled it. That’s just what we wore at the time. It was me Nellee (Hooper), Milo, Barnsley and Zorha. We were knocking out these Chanel No.5 t-shirts and I was ‘advertising’ one. Product placement I think they call it these days. Nellee had just moved to London with Zohra and Miles and they lived on Delancey St in Camden and we all hung out together. That was kind of the look we were sporting. It was kind of influenced by the Japanese style. Nellee had a Westwood shearling coat on and there was a lot of ‘styling’ going on but no-one styled it.
What other DJs did you respect at that time?
Definitely the Wild Bunch, but then again Jay Strongman stood head and shoulders above all of us. He was the DJ. When he was core DJ at the Dirtbox he was the first person I heard play Double D and Steinski’s ‘Lesson One’. The first person I heard play Go-Go. He’d throw a Cajun record in and it all kind of went together. Because of the music scene the Dirtbox had kind of spawned you’d just as likely hear Theatre Of Hate or something. Jay would merge all of that into what was warehouse culture and would happily play the Clash next to obscure old blues tracks.
It’s funny one – it seems with a few of those guys like Steve Lewis from the Beat Route – they just seem to walk away from it at all at a certain point. Do you think there’s an element of it ‘doesn’t get much better than this…’?
Of course. That’s the secret of life. It’s not the 100th glass of champagne, it’s the anticipation of the first one and it’s almost the anticipation of the first one that’s the most exciting, so by the time you get to the 100th you’re over it…
Quite a few London DJs were spinning in New York pre-acid house – Fat Tony, Noel Watson to name a few – did you get to play out there?
No. Much to my chagrin though I went to every decent club in New York. I was going over mostly as a journalist. The first time I went was in December ‘83 to an exhibition by Keith Haring at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery which was incredible because in the basement Haring had sprayed his signature figurines in fluoro green and pink and yellow all over the entire space – wall, the floor and the ceilings – and he’d installed Grandmaster Flash in the corner as the installation. I was just like ‘wow’. That was when I started think ‘ok – art and music’. The following night I went to The Area. Probably the best club I ever went to. Grandmaster Flash was DJing again, Debbie Harry was dancing on the floor with Andy Warhol, and you just think ‘this is just nuts this place’. New York at the time was absolutely incredible. Meeting people like Mark Kamins who was DJing at Save The Robots and hanging out there a lot. Going to Danceteria and dancing with Madonna, meeting Arthur Baker, just being swept away but the whole scene rather than thinking ‘I want to DJ here’. It was never really my first thought. It was much more anthropological. And that’s how it felt.
You hear about people bringing back tapes from that time, and I suppose when you know what you are going for you want to bring as much of it back as possible and distribute it amongst your mates…
That group of friends they were doing that as well. And by ’86 and ‘87 we had links into Tokyo too. Nellee was over there. Miles was over there. We’d bring over Melon. I introduced them one night at The Astoria. We were doing RAW, must have been ‘86, Nick Truelocke was doing The Astoria with Noel and Maurice (Watson), and half-way through my evening about 12 o’clock, Nellee came over and said they want you to introduce them so I had to run across the road to Astoria and introduce them (Melon) and then run back to RAW and carry on DJing.
Were Melon a big band back then?
They were a big kind of scenester band. The Face and stuff. Anything from Japan was kind of hip. Their album was on Columbia. Everyone was trying to figure out how The Beastie Boys had become the biggest band in the world and everything was up for grabs. Melon and Major Force, as a collective, kind of represented Japan’s end of the game.
Part Two covering the acid house years follows soon.