E-COMMERCE meant something very different to what it means today.
It’s not like we didn’t have good reason. It seemed like Thatcher had been around forever and she didn’t appear to be in a hurry to relinquish her icy, vice-like grip on the throat of the body politic. We were in recession again, apparently, though I don’t remember noticing the last recession ending. Must’ve missed that bulletin.
Under the circumstances, it really did seem like drugs were the only rational response. Just say Yo!
Perhaps not surprisingly, I remember much of this time in big, broad memories and odd, disembodied bits of detail about green trousers, mushroom hair and a terrifying encounter with an eerily exact doppelganger in the Royal Park. Looking back now, it almost seems like I went entirely nocturnal for a while. I didn’t, but all I really remember is a general impression of a lot of going out and a lot of getting fucked up.
Mired in a self-imposed head-fug, and party, party, partying like there was no tomorrow – despite being on a DHSS budget. Natural light was a phenomena experienced only rarely as I stumbled out of some disused supermarket in Hyde Park or student cellar in Burley, blinking and giggling and dancing to the music in my own head in the warm, bright, early morning sunshine.
It was all about signing on, skinning up and chilling out. Rocky, squidgy black, a bit of homegrown when there was nothing else. Pretty much all day. I was doing a bit of writing for local lefty news and what’s on mag, the Leeds Other Paper – think a more radical version of Time Out – and even the NME, occasionally, but mostly making plans for projects that never seemed to happen.
Making cups of tea. Skinning up. Playing with the cat. Listening to music. Chatting shit. And repeat. Ad infinitum.
It was around this time that Leeds indie poppers the Hollowmen released an album with a cover that was made up to be a variety pack of blotter acid – purple ohms, Gorbachevs, peace symbols, Mickey Mouses, smiley faces, Popeyes, take your pick. I’d been into all that malarkey for a long time before acid house came along and it tickled me no end.
A freebie local what’s on mag used to sell the front cover as an ad and this month they’d got the Hollowmen album cover on the front. It’s a measure of how much time I had on my hands that I pasted a sheet of white paper to the back of a couple of mag covers and carefully cut out the individual fake-trips, sorted them into little piles of Mr Spocks, red indians, sunflowers etc and then stuck them in separate envelopes.
The idea was I’d just randomly give them to mates, and that would somehow be amusing. All I can say in my defence was that I was doing a lot of real drugs at the time and probably not at my most together. Dallas, who was working behind the bar at the Duchess of York, was one of the lucky recipients of my fake-largesse. He told me later that he’d flogged a load of this faux acid to Blur after a gig there.
He ended up taking them to the Phoenix in Chapeltown where they’d sat around looking glum and asking if they could get some speed from somewhere “because this acid isn’t working”.
Eventually, Doug and Rachel decided that I was too much of a liability for them to carry any longer and ejected me from the premises, as kindly and gently as they could under the circumstances – I was a lazy and untidy full-time stoner who was prone to sarcasm and showed no intention of ever getting a proper job or re-engaging with normal, mainstream society or just generally getting myself together. I still had an unrealistically high opinion of myself, obviously.
Out of sheer desperation, at the suggestion of a Peruvian student girl I’d unsuccessfully pursued, I ended up living in a tiny room in the cellar of a big old four-storey house in Woodhouse. My housemates were all students, most of whom were studying at Leeds College of Music. Sadly, I never got to shag any of the girls, or their friends, as I imagined I would. I don’t think I got to shag anyone, for quite some time.
I kept myself occupied with house music – despite having no decks or the means to buy any – DJing at parties in student cellars in Hyde Park, doing the singularly unsuccessful VLF nights with Jez (pictured) at the 1in12 in Bradford. We even did a few gigs with Chumbawamba, including a very strange evening with the Wedding Present at the university.
We decided to form a collective with a load of other people as it was too difficult doing it with just our own meager resources. Jez, a bit of a trip-head in his time, came up with the name of Microdot. We gathered together our co-conspirators, many of whom I’d never met before that night officer, in the kitchen of Jez’s homely end-of-terrace squat on Burchett Grove.
There was Brandon, a charming ‘outside agitator’ from the wrong side of the Pennines who’d introduced me to the joys of acid house in the first place (and ended up self-publishing pamphlets denouncing Chumbawamba) and Dallas, ladies man and photographer, who I first met in Darlington five years before. He’d moved to Leeds and started up the Flame In Hand collective with Becky, Sara and Nick (last I heard Dallas was working for National Express).
There was also Gill, vivacious flame-haired Chinese student and Fat Freddie’s waitress with whom I ended up having a spectacularly ill-advised liaison, and cute, wasted Rob, who was working his way through Leeds’s tiny gay scene with gusto.
Jon (pictured), a naïve young lad fresh from the travelling scene. Mikey, the amiable former guitarist in Bastard (LS6’s answer to Hawkwind) who was fast gaining an appreciation for dance music. And Mark, a rather confrontational motor mouth folk musician from Blackburn.
Plus Jez and me – the straightest gay man and the gayest straight man you’ve ever met in your life.
If memory serves, our first Microdot production was a party in a disused corner shop, just down the road from Hyde Park Picture House. Typically, Jez had wanted to hire a ton of really expensive lights, golden scans, strobes, maybe even a fucking laser. In the end we made do with a smoke machine and a single strobe.
We got quite a crowd in and it went on until six or seven in the morning, with a couple of visits from the cops but nothing to worry about too much. Jez told me afterwards that he’d had to go down into the cellar a couple of times to shore up the dancefloor – which was bouncing up and down in a fairly alarming fashion – with whatever old bits of crap he could find down there. It was, quite literally, an accident waiting to happen.
A few months later, we graduated onto a full-on multi-media experience by getting a load of old televisions, sticking them on tables and playing slightly trippy fractal videos taped from Horizon at the West Indian Centre. We may have even borrowed an old oil projector and projected stuff onto white sheets.
Despite my misgivings, we opted to concentrate on the ravetastic techno starting to come out of Europe on labels like R&S and Music Man. People who’d been into punk and metal always seemed to gravitate towards the heavier, harder stuff. Same kind of dynamic, I suppose, energetic, often not exactly the most subtle or complex music you could ever hear – and almost tailor-made for people who didn’t really now how to dance.
We did the first Microdot party for free, got a big crowd in and just banged out all this wacko electronica. What the little old men playing dominos on the other side of the bar thought of it all, we can only guess.
It was all a bit chaotic and messy, and not necessarily in a bad way. Having said that, I don’t think we had anyone on the door, so towards the end of the night, a few local kids steamed through the lobby and one girl had her handbag swiped.
I was just hopeless at mixing stuff at first. I didn’t have decks, I had the oldest, shittest, literally held-together-by-cellotape headphone (singular) you’ve ever seen. I had a few records but I was never particularly discerning in my purchases, both in terms of genre and, I’m afraid, quality. I liked mad old acid and newer techno stuff but I didn’t have that much of it and it was never all I wanted to play anyway.
I usually ended up with earlier slots because I preferred playing slower stuff, not sticking to one groove – which was probably just as well.
At more or less the same time, I met a mate of this rich-kid college drop-out from Clitheroe who lived in the attic of my student house – and who would eventually go onto to nick a large part of my reggae collection. While the pair of them had ridiculously broad, daft sing-song East Lancashire accents and affected an air of roguish working class bonhomie, ultimately it became clear that they were just middle class kids slumming it for a bit.
Anyway, this guy was going to a night called Audacity at the Phoenix, the new name given to Cosmo’s when it reopened after the first unfortunate incident of arson. I tagged along.
Audacity opened up a very different side of Chapeltown to me. Even with the Microdot parties, it wasn’t an area I spent a lot of time in. I used to go to gigs at the Trades Club and the West Indian Centre, and occasionally attempted to buy pot in the car park of the Hayfield further up Chapletown Road (some likely lad once sold me and Garbage a sixteenth of car bodyfiller for a fiver. How we laughed) but that was about it.
I met local kids like Adam, Aaron, Nicky, Justin, Leafy, Corby and JJ on the dancefloor at the Phoenix, as well as Billy and various sisters, and all manner of crazed oddballs from the other side of the Pennines – Mick Ventolin, the legendary Steady Eddie of Hardcore Uproar infamy. And the poshest man I’d ever met, Tuhin, rocking out like a Bangladeshi Bez.
Once, after yet another poorly attended but fun Thursday night – featuring Drew, now minus his platform heels, Shack from Monroe’s in Great Harwood, Graham Dixon from Ilkley and an up and coming DJ named ‘Cockney’ Rob Tissera – I met a bunch of smart, funny, leathered lads from Wakefield. Dave Beer, Mickey and a very sleepy Huggy were accompanied by an airline hostess, which was amazing enough but this girl, a mate of theirs, pulled out some excellent weed she’d brought over from far off, exotic climes.
I was tremendously impressed with all of this.
Eventually, on the couch at Drew and Adam’s another Friday morning, I met a woman, who despite having a few problems of her own, was sufficiently together to provide a degree of understanding and support. I did my best to reciprocate.
Suddenly, subsidised by my obliging lady, it became all about cheeky halves and double drops, getting on a mission, getting on one and getting loved up. We were in the middle of a veritable pharmacopoeia of New Yorkers, Doves, Disco Biscuits, yellow and purple Rhubarb & Custards, red and black Dennis the Menaces (legend has it that someone once opened one of them up to find a bit of speed and a tab of acid), nasty, corrosive, wet speed that really did taste like it had been made in someone’s bathtub.
We went over the Ossett for the second or third night at the Orbit. All I can remember of the night is a long, thin venue just rammed to the rafters with a seething mass of humanity piling up against the stage like a succession of wobbly, gurning, sweaty waves. Rave waves?
There was a live PA that was either the Prodigy or Dream Frequency, I’m not sure. I couldn’t tell you whether this was the very first night I heard Charly by the Prodigy but either way, I associate the night with the tune.
Charly was big and bold, rough and ready and resolutely unpolished and unsophisticated, but it fitted the mood of the times perfectly.
Essentially a collage of sound made up of bits and pieces of other records – heavily disguised, mostly – shuffling, pounding breakbeats from Radio Babylon (also used to great effect by Future Sound of London) and Helter Skelter by Meat Beat Manifesto, Hi, I’m Chuckie (Wanna Play?) by Stu Allen’s 150 Volts project and the pervy Juno alpha hoover synth sound recently debuted by Joey Beltram and Mundo Muzique on Mentasm: Second Phase, Charly was topped with a vocal hook snatched from an old Seventies public information film (voiced by Kenny Everett):
“Charly says, always tell your mummy before you go off somewhere.”
“I thought it was so hilarious”, Liam Howlett has said of the infamous sample which supposedly kick-started the era of ‘kiddie-rave’. “It was the bollocks. I thought that if I put that to a really hard sound it would result in something totally new.”
He wasn’t wrong. I was a big fan of the whole of the Prodigy’s second EP for XL Recordings, but it was the Alley Cat mix that really got me going. The idea that music as raw and deranged and leftfield, as unashamedly druggy and daft as Charly could get to number three in the pop charts was a measure of how big the scene had suddenly become.
I started playing a bit of hardcore at Microdot, including Charly, and I always felt like I was letting the side down a bit. As ecstasy became more and more of a feature, hard and fast acid and techno became less and less of a big deal, to be replaced by songs, you know, vocals, pianos, melodies, soul. Well, y’know, rave music. What could I do? I was on the Love Boat.
I left Charly behind when I moved house a few years later and only got it again recently, from Vinyl Exchange for 15 quid. It still sounds truly out there. It’s a mad, mad tune. The other stuff on the EP, even the “massively sought-after piano rave-anthem Your Love”, I can take or leave, to be honest. They sound a little bit dated to these ears. But Charly remains, I’d say, one of the classics of the genre.
There was some club night on at the Music Box in Manchester a couple of years ago featuring a Microdot reunion with Jon (who’s gone onto a career as a producer of some note with Mikey) and Mark EG, who we had guesting at a few events. I was going to turn up and I dunno, stage a protest or at least demand a cut of their fee and access to their enormous DJ stash – but something else came up.
I’m only messing about. I’m not that bothered, really.
It would be good if someone made some money from Microdot, somehow, somewhere, some time.
But please remember I am also available for bookings too, at very reasonable rates .. And I can even mix properly these days, after a fashion. Bonus.
[Excellent vintage rave photography courtesy of Dallas]