Following on from Part 1
By the time I moved away from home at 18, raving was a blur of dream and reality for me. Not, sadly, in the sense that I was out there so much that it all blurred into one crazy whirl, but in that most of my raving was imaginary. I was still quite a homebody and could count on the fingers of one hand the number of proper events I’d been to since breaking my rave cherry at 16.
OK, there was also dancing to extended DJ sets at the end of gigs, or in friends’ gardens, or in their bedrooms, or at village hall discos, or down the park with a ghetto blaster, or gathered round my schoolmate Edwin’s white van parked up on the Downs blasting out Easygroove and Ratpack tapes, but I’d have been very hard-pressed to call myself a raver in the same way that a load of my friends could. I’d still – for reasons I find it hard to fathom now, but which probably amounted to simple stinginess with a side order of cowardice – never even taken ecstasy.
But then – all of those scrappy experiences did add up to something. They, and the money spent in Manic Hedgehog Records, and the time spent lying awake zoning out to tapes of The Orb or poring over reviews of records I’d never be able to get hold of and clubs I’d never go to, did amount to real cultural immersion of a sort. I was a nerd and a lot of my friends were nerds – I would send tapes back and forth round the country, and one chance meeting could be enough to open up a whole other musical world, as with the lad from Swansea I met at a university interview. He clocked the carrier bag full of records I’d picked up on the way from the station to the interview, we bonded over R&S and Guy Called Gerald obsessions, and before I knew it I had a new pen-pal who was sending me tapes full of vocal house and garage, opening up a whole new rabbithole to dive down, while I sent him Rising High and Red Planet tracks. I might have been a dweeb tucked away in a little market town but I was a participant: this stuff consumed my life, and if I wasn’t raving in body, I certainly was in spirit.
That university interview was for Sussex, and that quick stop into two Brighton record shops on the way was pretty much what decided me on going there – that and the fact that Primal Scream lived in Brighton. Look, I know, right? But Screamadelica still felt like a revolution, like the death knell of the guitar band’s dominance, and I let myself half-dream that one day I’d be in a band that ambitious. OK, that dream took a slap to the face a little while later when I moved near to where Bobby G lived and would see him trailing round after his girlfriend, grizzling like a toddler due to some comedown or other. The facade of Brighton had a habit of cracking pretty quickly like that… but to start with at least, it felt like one big impossibly sophisticated and wild party. Suddenly, from having to travel miles to participate in the music, there it was on my doorstep, in more flavours than I knew what to do with.
This was autumn 1992, and nothing felt more than a degree of separation from anything else. Sure, there was a division between the legacy of the old Balearic lags which was beginning to coalesce into the tastefulness of progressive house, the fractal-twirling hippie-squatter world, heads-down techno, shirt-and-shoes “ahse’n’garridge”, and the gritty madness of hardcore and proto-jungle, but they blurred into each other at the very real level of personnel and location. The same people could be found crossing the road into each other’s clubs, the big raves accommodated pretty much the full range of sounds, and whatever sub-scene you gravitated towards, it was pretty much guaranteed you’d know people from all the others at least on a going-round-for-a-smoke level.
The first day I arrived at university, I discovered I’d been put in a shared room in halls of residence, and there I met my new roommate Dave from Romford who liked jungle and hardcore and nothing else. He did a lot of speed and listened to his Weekend Rush FM tapes on repeat on a tiny little tape player. He was also out raving all the time, only coming back to sleep briefly and fitfully every few days, leaving me with a massive room more or less to myself. On the second day I heard the Shamen’s In Gorbachev We Trust album (already three long years old) blasting through the walls, went around the block to the next set of rooms and discovered my neighbour was a guy called Simon. Simon came from Oxford, knew some people I knew, had grown up on traveller sites, had gone raving with his mum, and seemed alright. We became firm friends and raving partners.
And so I got stuck right into it all. I started going out once, twice, three times a week. I would scrounge time on the decks at the university nightclub in the daytime and try and learn how to mix – although this usually degenerated into a hallucinogenically demented use of “ambient” as an excuse to just leave two completely unconnected records playing at once. I built utterly preposterous tunes on Simon’s roommate’s Amiga. I ran into some of the older boys from my hometown that I used to smoke buckets with at the house by the gasworks, and discovered that they’d moved down and were selling weed and putting on parties, so with their help I started selling weed and putting on parties too, with spectacular lack of financial success but enormous benefits in terms of meeting people beyond the scope of my own fairly rudimentary social skills. I bought a puffa jacket. I was as rubbish as ever, but I was nonetheless finally a raver.
(Yes, that is the bus that DJ Remould lived in)
To my shame, I missed the beginning of jungle. I knew about it, and my old schoolmates were all over it, but getting it blasted on the crap stereos of their mums’ cars and on Dave from Romford’s tiny tape player, all I heard was a chaos of clatter and gunshots and distorted MCs and stop-start mixing. Yes, I realise that sounds great on paper, but compared to the by-now predictable solidity of house, techno and hardcore, it just seemed like a mess, and a scary one at that. I hadn’t been to the right events, and Brighton didn’t have any at that stage. It’s weird because a lot of my absolute favourite, played-to-death records were what you might call mutant breakbeat hardcore – Holy Ghost Inc., Friends Lovers & Family, Earth Leakage Trip, A Guy Called Gerald’s Juicebox tracks – only a whisker away from “real” jungle but the real stuff remained just beyond my levels of comprehension.
There’s an elephant in the room, here, and it smells of patchouli and rollies. The biggest problem with getting to grips with jungle was that I was by this stage, essentially, a hippie. Acid and speed and weed were the drugs, and there was enough of the acid in particular flowing round my veins to convince me that ancient knowledge and futuristic technology were combining to create some new kind of collective consciousness and… oh honestly my anus is cringing just thinking about it. Part of it, of course, was that I was a fairly asocial youth being given access to teeming social milieu while hopped up on goofballs, so of course dancing crowds seemed like something new and alien. Also I was extraordinarily skinny and looked not a million miles from a young Mick Jagger, so I managed to pull off tumbling henna-ed hair, scented oils and billowing shirts without getting the stomping I probably deserved.
It wasn’t 100% socially unacceptable to be a total space-case either: this was the era of Mondo 2000, of Douglas Rushkoff being a thing, of The Shamen having hit records referencing Terrence McKenna and saying “ooh coming on like a seventh sense”. You couldn’t turn round in a rave of any kind without bumping into someone who believed that aliens seeded civilisation, that if you put 23 speakers in a circle their soundwaves would create a crystal formation and invoke higher intelligences, that ketamine turned your brain into an astral aerial etc etc etc. And despite all the silliness, musically, this wasn’t such an awful place to be. The free parties on the beaches and the South Downs attracted all walks of raver life and were often glorious, and nights like Megadog and Megatripolis were incredible parties, with their omnipresent UV and alien motifs creating a space for total abandon. Dancing in a Club Dog “BOIL YOUR HEAD” t-shirt in the middle of the floor to Aphex Twin and Orbital live sets at the Megadog /Midi Circus tour, on my 19th birthday, then stumbling over the road to fire bolts of pure blue lightning out of my face into the night sky* definitely counts as one of the most intense experiences of my life.
The soundtrack to my daytime life consisted almost entirely of two tapes: one that Simon had by DJ Remould and one I found on a market by Andy (as he was then) Weatherall, both of them in their way space cadet music. Remould was an Oxford DJ and lived in a double decker bus; ‘Maniac Music’ [stream above], with its crossfader madness to match anything Carl Cox was doing at the time, perfectly caught the moment at the start of ’93 when breakbeat hardcore, Euro and Detroit techno and hard trance had not yet separated from each other; when brilliant, prankster-ish silliness and intense darkness not only coexisted but reinforced one another. The Weatherall mix [wrongly tagged as a Hacienda set on the embed below] was just called “Studio Mix” on my tape, and also touched on trance and techno, on Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia and Blake Baxter, but it was the yin to ‘Maniac Music’s yang, with impossibly smooth blends instead of brutal chop-and-change, long seductive narrative arcs instead of barrelling headlong into the abyss, a night-glide through a sci-fi city instead of a Mad Max bacchanal.
I like to think I would have grown out of mushroom-fried alien worship naturally, but who knows. Maybe if it hadn’t been for a few fortuitous meetings I’d have ended up selling beads in Goa or going full Syd Barrett – but as it happened, in my second year at university, I started knocking about with (OK, selling weed to, then knocking about with) some rather more interesting people with music taste that bust me out of getting locked into a musical trance. In the new intake of students were a bunch of Essex music freaks and skaters and a couple of their Londoner and Brummie mates, who were hilarious, had amazing Detroit techno collections, read Robert Anton Wilson, and one of whom even owned an SH-101.
We had set up a university “Trancendental Society”** by this point, pretending to be a spiritual organisation in order to get funding for parties and meet people who might want to buy weed – it was at one of these I did my first White Dove as it happens – and I invited these boys to come and play at one of our parties alongside some crusty hard techno DJs from the Brighton scene. They rocked up, deeply stoned, and proceeded to play gabber, Wu Tang Clan and gun-crazed dancehall 7”s, horrifying a lot of the hippies, including me at first… until I realised that this was the greatest thing ever. I don’t tend to believe in epiphanies, but having the nice linear groove of the rave broken by these massive pisstakers was definitely one. A few of them would shortly after go on to set up the Spymania label to release tracks by their old schoolfriend Tom ‘Squarepusher’ Jenkinson – and this would become quite a big part of my life.
Meanwhile, my friends at home who had been consistently laughing at my failure to get jungle, finally cracked me with that Ray Keith ‘Terrorist’ / ‘Something I Feel’ 12” on one visit back to the Shire – and with the fervour of a true convert I immediately went hell-for-leather digging into all the jungle I could find. Probably out of guilt at my previous dismissal of all the MC chatter and gunshots, I went straight for the rudest tunes and DJs too – looking down on the other students around me who were getting into “intelligent jungle”, piling up DJ SS, Kemet Crew, Tom & Jerry and Shy FX 12”, and making awkward spidery attempts to “brock out” to Jumping Jack Frost and Dr S Gachet. I finally got my own decks and finally learned to mix – still trying unlikely and wrong combinations, but just occasionally making it work this time.
Back in Brighton I discovered that in my year was Cristian Vogel, who was putting on techno parties that were anything but hippie-squatter: they were mental, yes, with relentless smoke and strobes and films like ‘Tetsuo’ showing in the backroom, but they were on-edge, modernist mentalness not crusty-mystical mentalness, and they opened me up to all sorts. Cristian was the first person I’d met who put out records, and he and his friends – particularly one Mat Consume, who did the clubs’ artworks and backrooms – were into things like The Church Of the SubGenius and Gilles Deleuze. They showed me that if you were going to deliberately fry your brain, you could do it with a lot more style than the hippies. I shaved my head in Budapest while inter-railing with my girlfriend, then grew it out into a Beastie Boys-inspired bleached crop. I wore bondage trousers, and Consume-designed t-shirts with skeletons on. I stopped wearing beads. It was good.
If any of this for a moment makes it sound like I was becoming cool, be very clear: I wasn’t. I was still a flake’s flake, a lightweight of the lowest order, always running to catch up and barely if at all “getting it” in any gathering. I progressively blew my first serious relationship thanks to being paranoid, self-absorbed and not a lot of fun (though my girlfriend Emma would be very significant to my rubbish raving over the next few years as a good friend and musical influence as a manager of a lot of the techno artists in our wider circle). My attempts to make music were silly, and my career as a promoter was inglorious to say the least. For every magic raving moment there were a dozen of being scared, tripping and alone in the middle of a room full of gargoyles, or sitting at home with skin grey and inelastic from too much speed, struggling for 30 minutes to form a single thought. But as we rolled through 1994 and into 1995, rave splintered into a thousand sub-sects, and life after university loomed up ahead, it was becoming very clear that I was fully immersed: however much I failed, this was now what I did. I was, I realised, a rubbish raver for life.
* This definitely happened.
** Yes, it was spelled like that. *sigh*