Disco biscuits, gurning, raves, sartorial bonkersness, and, um, Guru Josh! The ACID HOUSE scene brought us many things when it exploded in 1988; it also just happened to change the face of music and was the last great youth culture uprising since punk. E bygone: ANDY CRYSELL (words)
HO-HUM, here comes another summer. Here comes Creamfields, Universe ’98 and a dance tent at every festival of worth. Fatboy Slim on the cover of NME, sure-to-be-ace albums from Underworld and Leftfield, plus, it’s a safe bet, at least one or two new genres to remix the rulebook.
Also, here comes the usual feverish increase in house, techno, big beat, speed garage and jungle parties at this time of the year. Another season of debauched shenanigans in Ibiza; Friday and Saturday night dance shows on Radio 1, booming from every open window. Another summer when, according to drugs advice agency figures, more than 500,000 Ecstasy pills will be consumed each weekend. Ho-hum indeed, because it’s hard to remember a time when it was any different.
It was, however, and to find out what it was like we must back-track 11 years. It’s 1987, Thatcherism is at full steam and you want to go dancing, do you? If you’re ‘in’ you’re entitled to look a bit like Bros and smug-it-out with other ‘in’-sters at a central London rare groove nighterie. The soundtrack: incessant old records. If, on the other hand, you’re more ‘out’ than ‘in’, you can instead don Chinos, brogues and a Next tie, look a bit like your dad, and dance in a local Ritzy. The soundtrack: incessant Stock, Aitken & Waterman records. And if you’re really lucky, you may even get your head kicked in by someone else dressed like their dad.
Admittedly, there were UK DJs (Colin Faver, Mark Moore, Graeme Park) playing house music — which first filtered into the north of the country in the mid-’80s — before 1988. Problem was, they often suffered the derision of crowds who considered it ‘faggot music’, preferring macho hip-hop by a mile. The pervading atmosphere at the clubs they played bore little resemblance to the full-thrust, populist culture-quake that ascended throughout 1988. That was to be something else altogether.
Because what came next was the last great youth culture uprising Britain, or indeed, the world, has experienced. Not a one-band show a la Oasis or the Spice Girls, but that now seemingly extinct affair, ‘a real underground scene’. One in which the main players were so determinedly faceless, it was the punters, not the artists, who ended up on the front covers of the tabloids. It was, as quite literally everyone was wont to holler back then, very mental indeed.
So, the big change finally occurred towards the end of 1987. And firmly in keeping with dance music’s devil-may-care passion for hedonism, the chief catalyst was a bunch of DJs deciding to go on a summer holiday.
ON THE recommendation of various friends, Danny Rampling (then a young soul DJ on pirate station Kiss), Paul Oakenfold (an established DJ and dance music promotions expert), Nicky Holloway (organiser of the famous Special Branch soul weekenders) and Johnnie Walker (a respected funk DJ) jetted off to Ibiza in the summer of 1987, then came home a few weeks later as immeasurably changed people. It’s the stuff of clubland folklore what happened when they attended Argentinian-born/Ibiza-based DJ Alfredo’s opulent Amnesia club for the first time, taking E after E amid a crowd which varied from Euro jet-setters to hippy travellers, a large gay contingent and a smattering of British youths on cheapo package holidays; with the music making quantum leaps from delirious Chicago house to reggae, rock and off-kilter pop.
Besides Amnesia, there was similar fun to be had at Pacha. Then there was Cafe Del Mar: incongruously located amid the grim holiday apartments of San Antonio, where Union Jacks inscribed with the names of football teams flutter from every window, it was the location for DJ Jose Padilla to soundtrack the setting of the sun every day, with a chill-out selection which acknowledged no boundaries. The dull ennui of 1980’s Britain, with its tepid indie, tacky discos, obnoxious yuppy and style culture, this sure as hell was not.
The most substantial contribution Rampling, Oakenfold and co made to UK dance music was not to do what most would’ve done upon returning from Ibiza: they did not merely shrug, ‘Great holiday, must go again next year.’ Instead, with evangelist-like fervour, they set about constructing their own take on the Balearic experience in Britain. Oakenfold started his Project Club in Streatham, eventually relocating it to the Sanctuary (now Soundshaft), near Charing Cross Station, and renaming it Future. Rampling with girlfriend (now wife) Jenni began Shoom in the sweaty subterranean confines of a fitness centre in Southwark.
Though baffled at first, the DJs’ mates and the mates-of-mates who turned up for these early parties were soon equally hooked by the mix of radical house sounds, bizarrely varied Balearic beats and attendant attitude that here was something unabashed, outrageous yet down to earth, and quite unlike anything else happening in Britain. Of course, the turbo-charged power of E at the time may also had something to do with it. The ‘love drug’, MDMA, had been co-opted by the kids, having previously been the sole preserve of the media and fashion industry. As a result, playing records by Chaka Khan, Marshall Jefferson, The Woodentops, Mandy Smith and Nitzer Ebb back-to-back suddenly seemed to make strange sense.
Shoom, which brought its own energy to the Ibizan design in a manner Future never quite did (and thus is now most credited with having kicked off the phenomena), took place in fits and starts as ’87 became ’88. Oakenfold and promotion partner Ian St Paul, on the other hand, upped the odds dramatically in the spring by holding court at the 1,600- capacity Heaven club every Monday night. Called Spectrum, the party was an instant success, offering the first proof that this scene would become much more than the property of a small clique.
Rather, this was acid house for all, an insane temple of frugging, grinning and gurning inhabited by youngsters who in many cases had no previous interest in clubs. People who’d never dreamed of dancing before were now doing so with a frantic intensity, arms aloft as if locked in religious experience. Indie kids and former B-boys joined the party — all throwing caution to the wind and unashamedly donning the scene’s retina-worrying dress code of bandanas, fluoro- colours, Converse trainers, the ubiquitous smiley logo, and for some quite unfathomable reason… waistcoats.
Terry Farley and Andrew Weatherall from the Windsor-based Boy’s Own gang, publishers of an enormously influential fanzine (which mixed football, club and fashion commentary with acerbic wit and surreality), had already DJed at Shoom and Future, but it was at Spectrum they made a name for themselves. While seismic basslines and 303 squiggles raged away on the main floor, they hosted an upstairs room, segueing dub, rock and Philly soul amid weird European electronic records. In just two years, they’d be applying the same kind of open-ended logic to remixes of Primal Scream, Flowered Up and The Farm.
Though of course traditionally a bastion of all things guitar-powered, NME was swept along by the potency of the new movement, too. Afte numerous musings about the novel brilliance of house music in ’86 and ’87, the first piece on acid house in ’88 was written by John McCready, in February. Next Steve Lamacq awarded Bomb The Bass’ ‘Beat Dis’ Single Of The Week, with BTB’s Tim Simenon appearing on the cover the week after; alongside a Morrissey-baiting coverline proclaiming: ‘Hail the DJ!’. Then the club-hungry triumvirate of Helen Mead, Paolo Hewitt and Jack Barron took over the reins — with assistance from Richard Norris, later of The Grid. Alongside the style press, they announced the second summer of love was upon us, and a stream of interviews with artists and DJs like Todd Terry (a cover story, no less), M/A/R/R/S, Oakenfold, Holloway and Derrick May ensued. As did manifold reviews of clubs, which, in line with the temperament of the time, were assessed with gushing positivity. And hey, they were even allowed to write things like: ‘Pump it up Britain!’, ‘Ride that trip!’ and ‘Get right on one matey!’. Which, arguably, was nice for them.
E mania at NME reached a zenith the following year, when Mead reviewed Happy Mondays at Manchester’s Hacienda club: *vry singl* E was *xtract*d from th* articl*. And at the end of ’89, this week’s cover fella Norman Cook popped up to review the year’s best dance tunes.
BACK ON the dance-floor’s of ’88, the acid invasion continued unabated. In Manchester, it was more a development of the minority house scene which had existed for some time, rather than the Year Zero explosion in the south. Inevitably, it was the Haçienda that led the way: DJs Jon Da Silva, Graeme Park and Mike Pickering mixed hard underground instrumentals with disco-informed garage, attracting a blissed-out, hyperactive crowd of students and locals — including the Happy Mondays. Writing in NME in October of ’88, Sarah Champion explained: “They were the first Haçienda clientele to discover the trance dance and first to support the all-important acid scally look of baggy shirts, baggy trousers and trainers. One week there were two or three of them dancing like flower-pot men; the next week the entire club of 1,800 caught on.”
Similar goings-on were soon springing up in Liverpool, Blackburn, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Leeds. Nevertheless, there was nowhere quite like London for experiencing the full force of acid house’s theatre of madness.
After Spectrum came The Trip, Nicky Holloway’s Saturday nighter at the Astoria, which spread the word further. By the summer of ’88, clubs and warehouse parties like Unit 4, Enter The Dragon, Love, MFI and the scarily intense RIP raves (co-organised by The Shamen’s Mr C) at Clink Street were all adding their own slant to the scene, and it was as if after-dark London belonged solely to luminous, preposterously enthusiastic club kids.
It also seemed the nation was overrun with superlative house and techno records, as new releases swept across the Atlantic, joining resurrected tracks that’d been released over the previous couple of years and the first spate of homegrown Brit dance began appearing.
From the US there were the lysergic jack tracks of Armando’s ‘Land Of Confusion’, Bam Bam’s ‘Where’s Your Child’ and Phuture’s original ‘Acid Trax’, plus the more soul-infused sounds of Joe Smooth’s ‘Promised Land’, Ce Ce Roger’s ‘Someday’, The Nightwriter’s inspirational ‘Let The Music Use You’ — and that’s just scratching the surface.
From Britain, meanwhile, there was the Latino house of ‘Carino’ by T-Coy (aka Mike Pickering, now of M People), A Guy Called Gerald’s mutant techno freak-out, ‘Voodoo Ray’, and the Balearic rhythms of ‘Jibaro’ by Electra (aka Oakenfold and various chums).
By the end of ’88 it was clear acid house was here to stay. Fears the scene would die out in the autumn proved false and, despite the first glut of police raids on warehouse raves — Robert Darby was sentenced to a shocking ten years for running parties where ‘drugs were openly available’ — the stage was set for a momentous showdown in 1989. Writing in NME‘s end of year issue, Paolo Hewitt enthused: “Out of all the options open to British youth, acid house had proved to be the most attractive. For the musicians involved, acid house is a case of ‘can you steal it?’, for the club goer it is ‘can you feel it?’. And the answer on both counts is a resounding ‘yes!’.”
THE NEWSPAPERS’ coverage of acid house is an astounding tale in itself. The relationship began positively enough, with pondering, ‘what is this new craze?’ pieces appearing in the broadsheets in August of 1998. A Today newspaper story in September declared the ‘Innocent Face Of Acid House Hides A Sinister Drugs World’ but no matter, because astonishingly, The Sun actually had nice things to say about acid house that month. Gary Bushell’s Bizarre page offered smiley T-shirts for sale (‘It’s Groovy And It’s Cool — It’s Our Acid House T-Shirt!’), then cheerfully explained what to wear at raves the week after.
The change in tabloid coverage could not have been more acute, however, when in October an undercover Daily Express reporter discovered kids were buying Es at Richard Branson’s Heaven club, home of Spectrum. Soon after, The Sun kicked off such an anti-acid fuss that Burton’s decided it would no longer stock smiley-adorned garments, the Mecca group banned raves from its venues and acid hits like D Mob’s ‘We Call It Acieed’ and Jolly Roger’s ‘Acid Man’ were excluded from coverage on Top Of The Pops. Displacing football hooligans and lager louts, the dance scene swiftly became public enemy number one. Still, it wasn’t all bad, because some high profile figures were still backing it. Oh, it was all bad actually, because there was Radio 1’s Simon Bates telling the Daily Mirror he intended to keep on playing the music. “Acid is all about the bassline, nothing to do with drugs,” he announced pompously, like he actually knew what he was talking about.
Open season proper was declared on acid house in November of 1988, when a young nurse died after taking E at a club in Kingston. The Sun promptly launched its ‘Smash Smiley’ campaign and instigated the search for ‘Mr Big’.
After a few wide-of-the-mark stabs, they correctly decided it was now Tony Colston-Hayter (the 22-year-old from a privileged background who first cut his teeth in party promotion running notorious ‘toffs’ balls’), who’d effectively removed acid house from the small-scale confines of Rampling and Oakenfold’s scene and set about marketing it nationwide. Running parties as Sunrise and Back To The Future, Colston-Hayter and rival promoters Energy, Biology, Genesis, Joy and World Dance organised massive raves in the countryside, laying down the blueprint for Tribal Gathering’s festivals. Often hiring out farmers’ fields under the premise they were staging a Young Farmers event, it’s open to considerable debate whether the organisers of these M25/orbital parties (so-called because many were located on the outskirts of London) considered the future of rave or their bank accounts the highest priority but still, the number of fanatical conversions to the scene was spectacular.
Consequently, 1989 was the year acid house went ballistic, with raves attracting upwards of 10,000 punters; who’d buy tickets from agents listed on the mammoth-sized flyers, phone an 0898 number or tune into pirate radio stations like Centre Force to find the location of the bash, then head off in expansive convoys, dodging the police in the hope they’d eventually make it to the field where DJs like Carl Cox and Judge Jules were holding court on massive stages. The dancefloor mantras of ‘Acieeed’ (number of Es optional) and ‘Mental!’ overtook Harry Enfield’s ‘Loadsamoney’ as the buzzwords of the time. Fashion, meanwhile, went utterly crazy. Suddenly it was OK to wear ponchos, Wallabees and Kickers footwear, dungarees and baggy tops adorned with vomit-inducing designs. No really, it was. And they all drank Lucozade, too.
SOME YOUTH scenes only reveal their greatness in hindsight, but there was little doubt among the rave brigade of ’89 that they were entwined in a monumental happening. There was the major frisson of knowing you were involved in the most rebellious, ‘anti-social’ happening since punk; as cod utopian as it sounds, the chance to meet and actually get on with people whose backgrounds varied dramatically from your own.
Then there was the thrill of the chase, of actually making it to the party, regardless of whether it involved five laps of the M25 and nine hours hanging out at a petrol station waiting for directions. That and the chance to dance like an over-excited chimpanzee, obviously.
By the summer of 1989, tabloid coverage and the frequency and size of the outdoor raves both whizzed into the red. Youngsters would return home from events like Sunrise 5000 at the Santa Pod racetrack, Sunrise’s Midsummer’s Night Dream at an airfield in White Waltham, Berkshire, and Energy’s Summer Festival in Effingham, Surrey, trying their hardest to explain to concerned parents that, no, the party they went to last night definitely wasn’t an acid house party.
Then the papers would come out the next day bearing front cover headlines like, ‘Ecstasy Airport’, ‘Scandal Of The Giant Acid Party’, ‘Stop These Evil Acid Parties’. Damn…
According to The Sun, The Mirror and Daily Mail, these raves were mainly patronised by 12-year-olds who invariably had “horribly vacant eyes”. “No parent could help but be terrified by these scenes,” frothed the tabloids before, on one occasion, claiming they witnessed drug-crazed youths ripping the heads off pigeons. Nonsense, of course, though Ozzy Osbourne would’ve been impressed.
The police had little choice but to come down hard on the scene at this point. They set up the Pay Party Unit to tackle the orbital raves. Helicopters were duly sent soaring above Britain’s fields each weekend, looking for potential party sites. Pirate radio stations were monitored for information of upcoming events, and in the case of Centre Force and Sunrise FM (both of which had strong links with former members of West Ham United’s notorious Inter City Firm) were raided and shut down. Plainclothes police dressed in rave wear (yet still stood out a mile), attempting to mingle with clubbers, while anyone with the scantest involvement in organising the parties was watched day and night.
Simultaneously, the first of autumn’s wet weather was setting in, more and more criminals had become involved in organising parties and the raves themselves were beginning to appear a little jaded and increasingly exploitative. To no avail, the promoters responded by coming up with ever more preposterous themes for their parties. The people behind Freakout 4, for instance, promised their party would be ‘evil, not mental,’ stating that everyone who attended would be given 3-D glasses and invited to take part in a seance (it was raided within minutes of opening). And it was no longer good enough to proclaim on the garish flyers for your bash that you had a 20K sound system and ten DJs playing. Now you had to promise a 75K system, at least 30 DJs and five live acts — whether it was true or not.
Though skirmishes between police and ravers had occurred since late-’88, by the autumn of the ’89 they were close to omnipresent. Rioting broke out at an Energy party in Hounslow, with ravers blocking the nearby motorway then giving the police the runabout through side streets and the vast industrial park where the party eventually took place, after police decided it was a battle they couldn’t win.
The end of the road for the orbital party scene was effectively reached when trouble between CS gas and Rottweiler-aided security and police erupted outside a party called Phantasy in Reigate, Surrey. Meaning that when Biology’s Jarvis Sandy attempted to stage a 40,000- capacity bash called ‘Brothers Of The Same Mind — Out To Prove A Point’ just two weeks later, he stood no chance of succeeding. Indeed, it’s rumoured that headline act Public Enemy were arrested at Heathrow Airport then dispatched straight back to the US.
Colston-Hayter and others set up a Freedom To Party action group that winter to fight the Parliament-backed clampdown, and a flurry of warehouse parties sprung up around Blackburn the next spring (836 were arrested at one of them, the largest ever number of people detained by the police in once incident). But the mood had changed. Acid house’s unified front had come to an end and it’s vertiginous fragmentation into umpteen subscenes had begun.
And so in the eight years between 1989 and the present day, we’ve learnt that nothing moves as fast as dance music. It’s propelled itself forward at a breakneck pace, careering from hardcore to jungle, Castlemorton to Tribal Gathering, Spiral Tribe to superclubs, avant-electronica to tabloid frenzies over E deaths; from the emergence of live techno with The Shamen, Orbital, 808 State and, um, Guru Josh and Adamski to top dog DJs earning upwards of £10,000 for a three-hour stint on the decks.
Its influence on guitar music has also been significant. The Gallagher brothers were both regulars at Justin Robertson’s Most Excellent club in the early ’90s and, lyrically, missives like ‘Live Forever’ spoke more of the self-regarding hedonism of dance than any indie reference points. Furthermore, Jarvis Cocker would never have written ‘Sorted For Es and Wizz’ if he hadn’t really left an important part of his brain in a field in Hampshire, it’s unlikely The Verve would’ve thought of sampling the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra on ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ and The Stone Roses would have been lost without the prevalent buzz of dance culture to feed off.
Paul Oakenfold remixed the Happy Mondays’ ‘Wrote For Luck’ into a sublime club mantra in 1989 and, immediately after, indie-dance, baggy, Madchester and multitudinous claims from bands that there’d always been a dance element to their music were de rigueur. A still to be surpassed pinnacle of dance/rock amalgamation came when Andrew Weatherall and The Orb made legends of Primal Scream through their work on Screamadelica in 1991.
Weatherall first touched base with Gillespie and co when, writing for NME under the nom de plume Audrey Witherspoon, he was dispatched to review the band in 1989. A plot was hatched for him to rework ‘I’m Losing More Than I Will Ever Have’, leading to The Wild Angel‘s-sampling uber-anthem of the following year, ‘Loaded’.
“The only reason I agreed to do the remix,” Weatherall quipped in an NME interview back then, providing a novel reason for coming up with a drop-dead classic, “is so I could hang out with the band and be a complete perv.”
COMPARED TO the hippy movement of the ’60s, and punk scene of the 70s the ideology (if there was one) of acid house remains hard to summarise.
Was it a mass opt-out of Thatcher’s nu-Victorian society? Or was it sheer consumerist recreation; Maggie’s grab-all-you-can principles followed to the letter by people like Tony Colston-Hayter? There were, after all, a lot of people called Finnbarr, Jeremy and Quentin involved in the running of orbital parties.
Whatever, it was probably a case of (sorry) postmodernism deployed in excelsis. A scene that had no time to blush ashamedly as it haphazardly merged dippy psychedelia, reformed football hooligans, hardnosed capitalism, the legacy of disco music and mod lifestyles, the self-satisfaction of E consumption and the palpable sense of a briefly unified youth.
As close to a cliché as it sounds, there really was very little violence at acid house parties and that in itself counted for much — even now, clubs are generally far safer than pubs. Furthermore, positivity wasn’t the dirty word it is today, but instead the prevailing dictum. In hindsight, there was something tremendously naive about it all. But while acid house wasn’t perfect, it was monumentally inspiring.
Now, ten years after its inception, we’re apparently in the grips of the age of New Seriousness, the very antithesis of what went on back then. Funny thing is, just as was the case with Britpop, which many prophesised was sure to sound the death knell for dance, the club brigade will probably frug right through the middle of it and clean out the other side.
And so, here comes another summer… •
E witness #1
Chief Superintendent Ken Tappenden, ex-head of the National Pay Party Unit
“IN 1989, THE aims of the unit were to eradicate noise pollution, violence at gigs and dances and the illegality of running parties without any safety infrastructure.
“It became very serious when one party blocked a village called Meopham in Kent. About 15 or 20,000 kids turned up in about four hours, there were fairground attractions, 30kw speakers… not only could no-one move but villagers couldn’t get into their houses, their lawns were defecated on, there were kids camping in fields that got run over.
“It was a nightmare and it quickly became evident that we were dealing with villains, people with manslaughter and GBH convictions. That’s when the shotguns came out. They were selling kids tabs and £15 tickets on one side of the gate and when the kids were inside, men with Rottweilers would take the pills off them and recycle them.
“We actually set up a unit to give out false information so that we could find out who the organisers were. I wish some of them had been my lieutenants — we would take months planning an operation, they would take two hours on a Saturday night and still beat us at our own game.
“The unit had 40 computers, 150 officers and about 40 civilians, we were using fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to stop main road arteries carrying fairground attractions, and we couldn’t keep up. We were dealing with 278 parties a week! At one we collected about half a hundredweight of drugs in plastic bags off the floor.
“We were hand in hand with the government at the end. Graham Bright, who was the private secretary to Maggie Thatcher and then John Major, took a hand in it because he was getting so much flak down in the Luton area (his constituency). All the MPs who were living in nice areas were getting so much flak that they started asking us how much money we needed to stop it all. We spent millions trying to achieve the objective of making sure that parties for these youngsters that were run in a way which was safe and where the noise pollution wasn’t too bad.”
E witness #2
Terry Farley, DJ, producer, witness to the cultural tussle between house music, football, Ecstasy and dungarees
“ACID HOUSE and football. What’s the link? Ecstasy probably. Before acid house, life was pretty cool in London. There’s a misconception that acid house was the start of club culture. It wasn’t. For at least ten years there had been a really good club scene in London playing black music.
“Acid house probably drew a lot more white people in alongside people who up ’til that point would have just gone down the pub. There was Norman Jay’s club Shake’n’Fingerpop, The Wag Club and rare groove things everywhere, and they were full of the cooler London football crowds.
“Just as acid house came along, London was really picking up again. Legend has it that Ecstasy destroyed football hooliganism. That’s absolute rubbish. After Heysel, around 1985, the people who connected between dressing up and fighting in football decided that a) it wasn’t cool to fight any more and would prefer to go and listen to Norman Jay play and smoke puff, and b) that fighting was no longer viable.
“People decided that if they wanted to be involved in criminal activity, they were far better off selling drugs. They all invaded house clubs when acid started, but the cooler ones were already going to rare groove clubs.
“I don’t think anyone ever took Ecstasy on the terraces. I remember going to Chelsea in a pair of dungarees and getting laughed at by all my mates. It’s a myth that acid house and Ecstasy stopped violence. The violence had already stopped, unless you were a right div.”
E witness #3
Paul Hartnoll from Orbital
“THE FIRST gig we did was in the summer of ’89 and it was obvious from the start that people were into the idea of seeing live techno. They were crowding round the front of the stage and were genuinely interested in seeing what we were doing. And the DJs never seemed jealous because they knew we were limited to what we’d produced, whereas they could come screaming back in with a fantastic Todd Terry or whoever.
“We never dreamed we’d eventually headline a stage at Glastonbury, though. Even playing somewhere like Town & Country, as Cabaret Voltaire had done, was so improbable it was beyond thinking about back then.
“Acid house seemed really exciting to me but not rebellious as such. For me it was about getting into the party spirit of the time, not heading off into some extreme, naughty youth cult.
“As for the lasting influence of acid house it seemed really strange when people like us were getting on Top Of The Pops for the first time. Back then it was bizarre that these weird people with strange instruments were on TV but now you wouldn’t even blink an eye.”
E witness #4
Jumpin’ Jack Frost, junglist megastar and pirate radio old hand
“I PLAYED ON Lightning FM in a tower block in Brixton. We used to go in, put the aerial up on the roof, put all the equipment together and get on the air 15 floors above London and be playing music absolutely terrified in case the front door got kicked in by the police.
“It was a good rush and they were good days. Without pirate radio, a lot of tunes that got noticed wouldn’t have got anywhere, and that’s still true today even though the legal stations have picked up on dance music.
“Pirate radio is the core of it all. Fabio and Grooverider came from that scene. Ellis Dee, DJ Hype, DJ Rap, everyone was on a pirate station. Pirates are the best way for people getting into the business to feel their way through and be able to play music without restrictions.
“We were playing records by people like DJ Pierre, Armando, Inner City, a lot of Chicago house and New York garage. Everything was illegal — the parties were illegal, the stations were illegal, and it was better because it was illegal. Pirates were the way everyone got to know about the raves. It was a revolution, a rebellion.
“Hassle? People did get sent down, but I personally never got any trouble from the police. The station got raided a few times — but never when I was there!”
E witness #5
Justin Robertson, Surrey-born Manchester acid house advocate
“THE BANDANAS and smiley faces was very much a London invention, but house music was played in the North of England ages and ages before it was in London.
“Acid house caused a real change in Manchester in the late-’80s. The epicentre of clubland at the time was the Haçienda and it went almost overnight from being this pretentious place with people wearing dark suits and having art installations to being a mixture of students, middle-class Cheshire people, terrace people and scallies, basically. It also meant that a lot of other places like Thunderdome and Konspiracy opened up.
“There was an acid house party every night of the week. We were running a night called Spice and I was working at Eastern Bloc Records at the time. Tom and Ed (Chemical Brothers) used to come down, Nathan McGough (Happy Mondays manager) came down, Noel (Gallagher) used to come to Most Excellent which we started in 1990.
“Bands like The Stone Roses and Oasis were very much acid house bands because they came out of all that, even though they’re basically trad rock bands. Noel was well into it all — he did some acid house tracks but I can’t recall him ever playing them. We did a couple of parties for the Inspiral Carpets in south Manchester and I remember Noel setting up the sound system. Weird. All Liam’s mates used to come down to Most Excellent, but I never saw Liam. He must have been there though.”
E witness #6
Paul Oakenfold, acieed trailblazer and producer of Happy Mondays’ Pills’N’Thrills And Bellyaches LP
“THE CLUB scene in London was dull before acid house — it was just a bunch of guys standing at the bar, loads of girls getting their handbags nicked; pure bad attitude with no-one dancing.
“Then you go away to an island that hippies had been going to for years and honestly, it was a spiritual experience. The idea of playing all kinds of music, everything from The Cure to LL Cool J to house, seemed brilliant to me.
“I’d actually been to Ibiza before 1987. We ran a Balearic-style club in 1985 (in Purley) but no-one could get their head around it. I cleared the dancefloor.
“After going in 1987, though, things changed. I was running this club called The Project in Streatham and although I couldn’t completely change the music policy, I did a deal with the venue’s owner that, after the club closed officially at 2am, I could start an after-hours party for the Ibiza crowd. There was about 60 or 70 regulars at first, then I invited the blokes from Boy’s Own and word got around.
“Then I started Future in the West End, followed by Spectrum. When I got to that stage — of trying to put on an acid house party for over 1,000 people every Monday — all the established London promoters were saying it’d never work. But when you’re 19 and people tell you that, you get up and do something if you’ve got guts.
“The Happy Mondays and Stone Roses used to come down to Future and that’s how I first hooked up with indie music.
“My main memories of working with the Mondays was me making sure I got as much of the spirit of acid house in their music as possible. That and total chaos. Like Bez driving in reverse at high speed down a freeway in LA and turning down a date with Julia Roberts because he didn’t know who she was. Like Shaun deciding that he’d only start singing when it got dark. Ha ha! And loads of things I’m still trying to forget, to be honest.”
E witness #7
‘MY E HELL’ BY DOCTOR LOVE
I KNEW MY flirtation with the powerful synthesis of compounds known as MDMA had to stop, one morning in late ’91 when I blessed the walls of a north London post office with two bouts of fresh vomit, after yet another night of sleep-deprivation and the kind of paranoia that would’ve done J Edgar Hoover proud.
The E’s were no longer good. Personally, I never had a desire to become a junkie, but my year-odd relationship with quite expensive E was the closest I’ve come to a kind of living hell. Never mind that I’d probably ingested a certain amount of horse tranquilliser and a few dog-worming tablets, thanks to certain unscrupulous dealers or manufacturers, even the regular dosage of good stuff did substantial damage.
They were good days, those days, from what I remember, but with a nasty undertow. The music industry was changing from an indie-credible angle to complete corporate control and we danced away the last days of the old regime to the tune of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays on TOTP, hip-hop and Chicago House music on our home stereos.
Well, everyone else danced… E had the opposite effect on me. I had always appreciated the politics of dancing — and here was this synthetic drug that slowed me down and made me prefer communing with people to dancing.
Suddenly, I was the whole room’s best friend, acting as if I’d known them since kindergarten. I slowly metamorphosed into a character I’d call Dr Love, the E equivalent of Dr Jekyll’s alter-ego, Mr Hyde.
Dr Love was a serial lech, but he always meant well, and he never stayed around anyone long enough to get into troublesome situations. Dr Love just wanted to touch people. Oh, and talk a lot of nonsense, as well.
My first E came courtesy of a shady character we’ll call The Evangelist. Now, he was as odd as anyone who had seen the great E light and dropped ‘love doves’ at the time, and had spent at least six months of occasional pub conversations convincing me that E was the solution to mine and all the world’s problems.
With hindsight, which as they say always gives you 20/20 vision, it’s now clear that The Evangelist was conducting a chemical experiment on himself, and wanted to drag as many people as possible towards what he saw as a brave new dawn. In my case, this was a brave new hell.
When that first E hit, I became so euphoric I managed to get myself banned from entering a club that night for beaming at everybody like a madman. I wasn’t yet mad, though, that would come later as I somehow managed to get addicted to a drug everyone said was not addictive. Maybe my constitution was different, but I became filled with cravings for E, and my subsequent behaviour grew more and more erratic…
And then the drugs started to affect my work. The private started seeping into the public and, after E exhaustion, I thought it would be perfectly reasonable to kip for two hours under a table in the review room.
Worse still was an interview with a struggling musician that I conducted E’d off my face — wherein I did the silly thing of asking the multi-instrumentalist why all his songs were instrumentals. He wasn’t happy, oh no. But he was civil enough not to punch me out.
I had to take control of my life and so I did. Acquaintances had already begun to pull me up on my E-related behaviour, as I was becoming dangerously unpredictable when I wasn’t too nice.
Friends asked, ‘Where was my anger?’ Indeed I had asked myself what had happened to my fiery schemes to make a difference. It was time to get back to some semblance of reality.
— Dele Fadele
© Andy Crysell, New Musical Express, 25 April 1998