happy hardcore

Scottish Techno

Original Post here

“I just died in your arms tonight…” Midnight on Friday at Tek 2000 in Hamilton. The vintage rock strains of Cutting Crew are speeding, pitched-up and condensed over distorted 180 bpm kick drum. A hefty MC in saggy grey tracksuit and baseball cap lumbers about the stage offering a barely discernible stream of rhetoric. The classic rave scenario, perhaps. Yet close your ears and this could be a house club. The bar is packed. No lightsticks or whistles in sight and maybe only one E casualty, lunging around haplessly, eyes bulging in glassy oblivion. There’s a few lycra-clad babes gyrating on the edge of the dancefloor, sure. And two guys doing that classic double-speed skip-on-the-spot, like extras from an SL2 video. But the majority of this predominantly 16 to 19-year-old crowd – lads in check shirts, girls in T-shirt dresses and satin tops – display no interest in the fashions or conventions of yesteryear. And as the DJ shifts into the sneering, growling synth lines and rhythmic assault of Lowlands gabba, the dance floor fills up with awkward bouncing bodies, jerking and contorting themselves to the furious, punkish machine-gun invective emanating from the speakers.

This, then, is ‘Scotland the Rave’ 1996. Not so much the ugly sphere of drug addled, frenzied, nihilistic aggression that both the tabloids and city centre clubbers would have it. Rather, the week-to-week social life of ordinary teenagers in satellite new towns like Hamilton, Motherwell and Livingston. It is, however, a scene that’s in decline. Not due to any lack of popularity: the record labels are flourishing, the DJs booked for months in advance. The clubs, though, are closing. The same weekend we visit Trek 2000, the Metropolis in Saltcoats – one of a handful of hardcore venues left – announces it’s sacking resident DJs Joe Deacon and Billy Reid and finding its more house-oriented replacements. The Fubar in Stirling, another rave Mecca, recently moved to change half its nights to house, bringing in the Tunnel’s Michael Kilkie. Even rave giants Rezerection are planning to stage their next event in Burton-on-Trent rather than Scotland. In their wake, house promoters Streetrave are moving in to stage a massive all-nighter at the Royal Highland Exhibition Centre that features Pete Tong, Sasha and BT.

“It’s ironic, because there’s probably more hardcore record labels in Scotland now than there are clubs,” considers Jamie Raeburn of Clubscene Records, whose sales have increased threefold over the past year. “Club owners are switching to house because they’re afraid they won’t get a license for a rave club. It’s sad, because there’s a 100 per cent demand for it still. I mean, sacking Joe Deacon and Billy Reid from the Metro caused a sit-in, for God’s sake. It was about as popular as the poll tax.” He’s right. Out in Ayrshire, in the suburban sprawl of 60s concrete conurbations that stretches between Edinburgh and Glasgow, up in Fife and Elgin and Dundee and Stonehaven, on the housing estates; the piano-driven crescendos, the urgent warbling divas and the hammering basslines float free from cars, open towerblock windows and discount clothes stores.

And as the licensing boards clamp down on the clubs, following the precedent set by the closure a year ago of the controversial Hanger 13, few are rushing to rave’s defence. It’s nothing new, though. “This isn’t a new problem for the rave scene – it’s something we’ve had to cope with since day one,” continues Jamie Raeburn. “That’s why Clubscenemagazine was started, because we couldn’t get our records reviewed in any other publication.”

Track the genealogy of Scottish rave and its marginalisation, both geographically and culturally, has been a slow but sure process. Back in 91 and 92, hardcore was the sound of the city centre. The break-beat-driven, lightstick-waving, Vicks-wafting ritual of the all-night rave was fundamental to the success of clubs like Pure and Soma. Middle class students, fashion victims and hipsters would all make the pilgrimage to events at Livingston Forum, the Streetrave parties, Rezerection, Awesome 101 and Fantazia.

Ironically, just as the infrastructure of Scottish dance music was beginning to expand – bands like TTF gaining national recognition, labels like Clubscene and Evolution setting up – the popularity of hardcore in the cities began to wane. As the leather-trousered elitist backlash of progressive house and trance took hold, places like Glasgow’s Tunnel and Edinburgh’s Citrus Club began to manoeuvre themselves away from the fervour of rave which was gradually becoming that little bit too sweaty, that little bit too egalitarian, that little bit too populist for the fashion-conscious clubber.

Thus in the schemes and the satellite towns, in clubs like Fubar in Stirling, the Metro in Saltcoats and Hangar 13 in Ayr, this fiercely independent scene evolved. The economic infrastructure – provided by labels like Clubscene, Evolution, Twisted Vinyl, Notorious Vinyl, Stepping Out, Shoop (now folded), Massive Respect, Bellboy, Storm and Screwdriver – flourished from 1992 onwards. Rave PA faves TTF hit the charts and a clutch of other groups sprung up in the wake of their success: The Rhythmic State, Ultrasonic, Q Tex, QFX, Bass X, Chill FM. And bereft of any national media support, they founded their own publications like Clubscene, or colonised existing Scottish monthlies like M8. Record sales grew.

Through 1993 and early 1994, Scottish rave seemed unstoppable. Sure, it was despised by the city centre clubbing elite – all they saw were a kind of ‘lumpen proletariat’ of dance, eyes rolling, white gloves waving, jogging up and down to music they now deemed deeply unfashionable. It also received no national press recognition whatsoever. But the kids, well the kids couldn’t get enough. The raves swelled to gargantuan proportions. “The big one for me was fantasia at the SECC in November 93,” recalls Forth FM jock and ravers’ hero Tom Wilson. “There were 12,000 people there. It was unbelievable – the staging, the lighting, the bands.”

Meanwhile, Scottish house and techno heads were priding themselves on the innate intellectual inferiority of hardcore – in their eyes, an eternally static, remake of 1991’s cheesiest moments. And indeed, until around 94 when the Lowlands gabba sound emerged, many Scottish rave bands and PAs followed a fairly formulaic musical path. In fact, as long as you had melodramatic piano crescendos, accelerated diva vocals or, alternatively, dark Beltram Mentasm synths and over 150 beats per minute, you could be fairly sure of a place in the Scottish dance charts. Tunes like Q Tex’s Natural High and TTF’s Real Love hit the spot with their shrill treble melodics and high velocity programming. “When the scene first started here, you had piano anthems and you had hardcore,” remembers Scott Brown, who was recently voted top Scottish DJ by M8, produces as Q Tex and Bass X and runs a multitude of record labels.

Around 92 and 93, when rave’s stronghold became the suburbs and the schemes rather than the city centre, Scottish acts were tentatively finding their own identity and discarding the breakbeats which characterised the emergent English happy hardcore and jungle movements. And this was where the four-to-the-floor sound of Lowlands gabba came in, reckons Scott Brown. “The piano stuff got really, really stale and commercial and the English stuff had got really breakbeat led and people didn’t like too much of that up here. The only thing that started to come through was a lot of the Italian stuff on Brainstorm and some obscure German things. A lot of Dutch producers just hit the nail on the head: Sperminator’s No Women Allowed and Poing even, I reckon when that got into the charts it made a big impression on a lot of people.”

The rise of Lowlands gabba in Scotland was almost exactly tangential (if a little later) with the advent of ‘dark’ on the English jungle scene. A ferocious underground backlash against the commercial high watermark of rave. And even more despised and misunderstood than rave itself. By 1994, the fast anarchic spleen of high-bpm US and Dutch sound had usurped happy pianos and chirpy vocals as the Scottish ravers style of choice. “There was one Rezerection where every single DJ they booked from the US gabba scene,” recalls David Smit who runs Nosebleed in Rosyth, one of the handful of regular hardcore nights left north of the border. “And from then on, Lenny Dee was God up here!” Lowlands PAs Ruffneck Alliance, Human Resource, Charlie Lownoise and Mental Theo headlined raves while English jocks like Loftgroover, The Producer, Scorpio and DJ Freak, marginalised by happy hardcore down south, found their unrelenting kick drum-dominated sets in huge demand. “I’d say gabba finally peaked around last February or March,” considers Tom Wilson. “Rezerection seemed to be pushing the Dutch sound a lot. I even started calling myself Tom Van Wilson to try and get booked for it!”

Convergent with the invasion of Dutch DJs and PAs, Scottish acts Ultra Sonic, Chill FM and Q Tex found a growing market for their records in Holland, Germany and America. In 1996, Saltcoats-based Ultra Sonic are a global concern. And, though you may have never heard of them, they sell more records worldwide than Leftfield, Orbital or Goldie (around a million copies of their last LP, according to Jamie Raeburn at Clubscene). “Our albums sell best in the UK, Australia and Germany,” reckons Mallorca Lee, Ultra Sonic’s vehemently anti-elitist 24-year-old spokesperson. “We’ve just landed a deal with Avex in Japan for our first album as well.” Tracks like their hammering, acid-tinged 95 hit Check Your Head not only assimilated perfectly into four-to-the-floor segue of visiting Lowlands DJs but set raves alight all over Europe.

Closer to home, the DJ at Tek 2000 has moved through Scottish rave and gabba to the breakbeat-meets-kick drum amalgam of four-beat. A diminutive MC in white Ralph Lauren strolls confidently around the stage. And as the breakbeats roll from a vintage snatch of Beverly Craven into whiplash four-four and amply synths, the floor fills up and a kind of manic energy is almost tangible. Unwittingly, DJ Nicky Modlin’s set is itself a neat microcosm of the musical trajectory of Scottish rave. For after gabba’s 18-month stranglehold, the English four-beat sound has firmly established itself north of the border. “When gabba came in, a lot of people could get their frustrations out by dancing to the music and going for it full-on,” says Mallorca Lee. “But it died because promoters were putting on gabba solidly all night, and I don’t think anybody alive could physically dance to 200 bpms for 12 hours – although I suppose if you’ve got a skinhead and a sports tracksuit, you’ll give it a try!” The closure last year of Hanger 13, Scotland’s most popular gabba venue, after the Ecstasy-related deaths there of Andrew Dick, John Nisbet and Andrew Stoddart, signalled the end of Rotterdam’s reign.

And this perhaps was where the English sound came in. DJ Seduction’s four-beat strain of happy hardcore, which foregrounded the four-four beat, happened to tessellate perfectly with the records Scottish acts like Ultra SOnic, The Rhythmic State and DJ Scott Brown were making. The result? Rezerection began bringing Slipmatt, Brisk, Seduction and Dougal up to play and Tom Wilson, Mark Smith and Scott Brown found themselves booked to play hardcore nights in England. “We seem to have a lot of crossover with the English happy hardcore sound at the moment,” notes Tom Wilson. “As long as they get onto the ‘boom, boom, boom’, eventually the Scottish crowds aren’t adverse to a bit of breakbeat here and there.”

Ironically, with the closure of all but a couple of Scotland’s hardcore nights and the increasingly restrictive attitude of councillors like Jim Coleman in Glasgow (now trying to instate a ban on chill-out rooms, which even contravenes the government’s harm reduction guidelines for nightclubs in its conservatism), the Scottish hardcore scene is now more alive in England than Scotland itself. “The Scottish rave scene is dead on its arse. I’ve seen it dying for the past year,” says Scott Brown. “It’s ironic, because sales are better than ever.” Jamie Raeburn agrees: “There’s nowhere left in Scotland for Scottish rave acts to play… all the venue owners want to do house now, because there’s this feeling that they don’t want to be associated with the image of the ridiculous Scottish raver – y’know, all big staring eyes. I mean, nobody wants to be associated with that any more. And as a result, we sell more records now in England than we do in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the the archetypal Scottish raver: top off, lightstick bearing, lycra wearing, grinning out from the pages of M8 in glassy-eyed oblivion. But just how true i it any more? According to Liz Skelton of drugs advice agency Crew 2000, that legendary Scottish overindulgence is becoming a thing of the past. “As far as our experience of the hardcore scene goes, there’s definitely been a shift. People do seem to be a bit more sensible and a bit more informed. People are taking time to chill out – we noticed at the last Rezerection that the dance floor wasn’t as packed as it used to be, there are times when more people are in the chill out. And they’re not wearing so many mad hats and things like that.” However, the closure of weekly hardcore nights has led to a trend for ravers to view tri-monthly events like Rezerection with an urgency and fervour that leads them to overdo it. “There are still ridiculously high levels of drug use going on,” confirms Liz. “It’s better than it was before, but it’s not ideal. Very young people come down, very inexperienced, who know very little about what they’re doing. They seem to make an exception for big events – ‘it’s Rez so we’ll go for it’ kind of thing. Instead of having a couple of grams, they’ll go for ten grams of speed and a couple of Es. Then they say they feel a bit funny and they don’t know why.”

After the government restrictions on the prescribing of Temazepam last year, Crew 2000 have noticed a decline in the ‘jelly head’ syndrome once synonymous with the Scottish rave scene. “A year ago you could spot people wandering about who were totally off their face on jellie. They’re still there but not half as much as before.” And as bpms revved up to 180 and 200 in 1994 and 1995, when Lowlands gabba peaked, many noticed a fast music-fast drugs correlation. “When the gabba sound came in, people stopped taking so much E and started taking speed to keep up with the music,” observes Jamie Raeburn. Liz Skelton agrees: “There’s been a general trend towards less E and more speed for some time now.” Sadly, just as the hardcore scene seems to be absorbing the message of moderation and education that Crew 2000 have taken to ravers across the country, there are few clubs left to exemplify this slightly more aware sensibility.

Where now then for Scottish ravers? The most obvious answer seems to be traveling on coaches down to events in Newcastle and Doncaster every weekend. Tom Wilson sees many similar qualities in the accelerated trance-meets-rave synthetic of nu-energy. “I reckon that Tony De Vit sound will take over from hardcore, the fast stuff – Red Jerry, Tall Paul – music with balls.” With Streetrave’s all-nighter, Colours, in the offing this month at the traditional site of Rezerection, it could well be house. In Jamie Raeburn’s opinion, the exodus from rave to house has already begun. “You’ll find the same people going to Colours and Cream as the ones who were going to raves one, two and three years ago.”

And whilst the house and techno purists might bask in the knowledge that ahrdcore didn’t last, their complacency can only be shortlived. “The good thing about hardcore was that there was absolutely no way you could associate it with what was going on in the Mecca discos. This was 200 bpm music and an underground scene, whether you thought it was credible or not,” concludes Jamie. “It was outside the major record labels, it was working class, the people into it loved it like nothing else… not there’s no way you’ll find that in a house club these days.”

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In depth Happy hardcore article

from ID Mag – Originally written in 1995, just re-released.

 

Well worth a read – original post here . Also worth clcikign that link to see teh worst ever attempt at a happy hardcore playlist or Spotify. Obviously the 2016 intern that made it didn’t actually read the article.

 

Saturday Night at Club Labrynth in Dalston, London E8, and there’s an eerie sense of time travel in the air. There’s the music, for a start – old skool ‘ardkore, all frenetically staccato synth-stabs and octave-skipping piano oscillator-riffs that flicker like the aural equivalent of a strobe, topped with soul-diva histrionics and even the occasional, sped-up ‘Mickey Mouse’ vocal (one tune sample-accelerates “life is a mystery” from Madonna’s Like A Prayer).

Dancing, they make the kind of geometric hand-moves you haven’t seen in London clubs for years, and during the rinky-dinky fairy-tale keyboard interludes they outstretch their hands to the heavens. A few kids even sport white gloves! And there’s the MC exhorting the crowd in an east London accent with not a trace of junglist patois, asking “Can you feel the rush?”, chanting “Oi oi! Oi oi!”

It’s like we’ve gone back to 1992, like jungle never happened and the rave dream never died. Except there’s these subtle differences that betray the fact that hardcore is three years older. The music’s faster, for a start: a palsied 165-beats-per-minute (92′ hardcore was about 140 bpm). And the atmosphere is different – luv’d up but not mental, friendly yet reserved. People smile, ask for a sip of your Evian, gently pat your shoulder as they push through the crowd. But the eye contact is ever so slightly guarded. It’s like the scene is tentatively feeling its way back to the effervescent euphoria of hardcore’s golden age.

For it’s 1995, and this is happy hardcore – a bunch of kids across the UK who are trying to re-ignite the rave fantasy of love, peace and unity. Some are very young, teenagers who missed 1991/’92, who are only now going through the honeymoon period with Ecstasy and require the appropriate rush-activating soundtrack. Others are ’92 veterans in their early twenties, who were alienated when ‘ardkore turned first ‘dark’ and then jungalistic, who drifted odd into progressive house or garage for a while, but are now getting back into it.

Hardcore, the story so far
Once upon a time, hardcore was just hardcore, no prefix. And all hardcore was happy, in so far it was designed to enhance and intensify the Ecstasy experience. Almost all of the leading lights in today’s experimental drum’n’bass scene were making luv’d up loony choons back in ’92. Take Moving Shadow, now purveyors of ambient-tinged ‘audio-couture’. Back then, their roster was firmly on the happy tip, from Blame’s Music Takes You, with its percussive blasts of hypergasmic soul-diva vocal, to the near- symphonic elation of Hyper-On Experience tunes like Assention and Imajicka. As late as 1993, Moving Shadow put out some fiercely happy tracks, like Foul Play’s Open Your Mind and Finest Illusion. Even Goldie, the pioneer of dark-core, started out making deliriously, disturbingly blissed-out tunes like Rufige Cru’s Menace, complete with helium-shrill sped-up vocals.

So what happened? Well, partly in a violent swerve away from the commercialisation of hardcore (ie, the spate of kids’ TV theme-based chart hits like Sesame’s Treet and Trip to Trumpton that followed The Prodigy’s Charley), and partly as a reaction against the cartoon zany-ness of squeaky voices, producers began to sever the musical ties that connected hardcore to rave culture. They focused on breakbeats and bass (ie, the hip hop and dub elements), and removed the uplifting choruses and piano riffs (ie, the housey/disco aspects). A trace of techno persisted, but only in the form of sinister atmospherics. Emergent by the end of ’92 with tracks like Metalheads’ Terminator and Satin Storm’s Think I’m Going Out Of My Head, this new style was called ‘dark side’. It was almost like the scene’s inner circle had consciously decided to see who was really down with the programme, to deliberately alienate the ‘lightweights’. “It was mostly DJs who were into dark,” remembers Slipmatt. From his early days in SL2 (who scored a number two hit in ’92 with On A Ragga Tip), through to his current status as top happy-core DJ/producer, Slipmatt has pursued an unswervingly euphoric course. “All I heard from people at the time,” he recalls of the ‘dark’ era, “was moans.”

In retrospect, dark-core’s anti-populist head-fuck self-indulgence can be seen as a vital prequel to the astonishing ambient-tinged directions that drum’n’bass pursued through late-93 into 1994. But at the time, it turned people off, big time. It was no fun. Exuding bad-trippy dread and twitchy, jittery paranoia, dark-side seemed to reflect a sort of collective come-down after the E-fuelled high of ’92. Alienated, the punters deserted in droves to the milder climes of house and garage.

But not all of them. A tiny fraction of hardcore fans, who wanted celebratory music but weren’t prepared to forsake funky breakbeats for house’s programmed rhythms, stuck to their guns. Through ’93 into ’94, this sub-scene – derided within the drum’n’bass community, even as jungle itself was scorned and marginalised by the outside world – continued to release upful tunes. There was Impact, the label started by DJ Seduction, creator of the ’92 classic Sub Dub (with its enchanting sample of folk-rock maiden Maddy Prior) and idol of happy hardcore fanatic Moby. There was Kniteforce, the label founded by Chris Howell using the ill-gotten gains of Smart E’s Sesame’s Treet. And by early ’94, there was Remix Records, the Camden-based shop and label started by DJ/producer Jimmy J, with funding from Howell (who also records under the names Luna-C and Cru-L-T).

Seduction, Howell and Jimmy J are just three of prime movers in a happy hardcore scene that operates in parallel with its estranged cousin, jungle, but has its own network of labels, its own hierarchy of DJ/Producers, its own circuit of clubs. Labels like Hectic, Slammin’, SMD, Asylum and Slipmatt’s own Universal; DJs and DJ/artists like Vibes, Dougal, Brisk, Sy & Unknown, Force & Evolution, Poosie, Red Alert & Mike Slammer, Norty Norty, DJ Ham, Ramos & Supreme; venues like The Rhythm Station in Aldershot, Die Hard in Leicester, Club Kinetic in Stoke-On-Trent, Pandemonium in Wolverhampton, and, solitary bastions of the happy vibe in the heart of junglist London, Club Labrynth and Double Dipped.

Late last year, the tide started to turn for happy hardcore, as breakbeat fans started to recoil from jungle’s moody vibe. A massive boost came when happy anthem Let Me Be Your Fantasy by Baby D unexpectedly shot to Number One – a full two and half years after its original release. The song’s creator, Dyce, had stuck with the euphoric style right through the dark era; churning out happy classics like Baby D’s Casanova and Destiny, The House Crew’s Euphoria (Nino’s Dream) and Super Hero. But “Fantasy” is especially beloved, Dyce believes, because “it was inspired by the hardcore scene itself”; the lyrics sound like a love song, but it’s really a tribute to the culture of luv’d upness. Fantasy struck a chord with a growing current of rave nostalgia, expressed in ‘Back To 1991’ reunion events and in ‘old skool’ sessions on pirate stations. For younger kids just getting into the scene, it was nostalgia for something they never actually experienced – but such wistful wishfulness can be a potent force.

Right now, happy hardcore is big pretty much anywhere the white rave audience predominates: i.e. not London and Birmingham,where the heavy concentration of hip hop, soul and reggae fans means jungle has more appeal. Even in Scotland, whose rave audience has hitherto been hostile to

breakbeat-based hardcore, happy is taking off. “Impact and Kniteforce sell well here,” says Mark Smith, who was voted top DJ in Scotland two years running. “But I couldn’t play a pure breakbeat set just yet.”

There’s a widespread feeling that jungle has peaked, and that as ragga-jungle gets ghettocentric and art-core drum’n’bass gets increasingly esoteric, the punters are turning to happy hardcore. “At Dreamscape last year, the main floor was 60 per cent jungle, 30 per cent happy,” says top happy selector DJ Vibes, referring to the raves at the Sanctuary, Milton Keynes, which – at 6000 strong – are now the UK’s biggest events. “This year, it’s 60 per cent happy, 30 per cent jungle.” According to Josh Lawford, who co-runs Double Dipped, “it’s come full circle. Last year you could book the top happy DJ’s up to two weeks before the event. Now they’re all booked up six months in advance.” Jimmy J says that when he opened Remix Records a year ago, “we were selling

DJ Sy

Great interview with a man like DJ Sy over at Ransom Note

Shouts out for Ark, shame the dates are wrong (shoudl eb 91-97), Fantazia, Obsession etc

Check the whole interview out here   Dj Sy

 

Tell me how you got into music

I’m originally from Croydon, and it was through radio stations that I got into the music. One night I was tuning across the radio and I came across Invicta Radio– I think it was Mastermind Roadshow on, they were a couple of guys, Mad Max and Dave VJ, and they were playing New York New York by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Up to that point I’d been quite heavily into ska, the Specials and all of that, but when I came across this track I’d never heard anything by it. It was funky, it was a rap, immediately I was hooked. I stayed in every night tuned into that radio station for months and months, listen to rap. I ended up getting Technics decks a couple of years after that through a Saturday job

That was quite a commitment in those days

Yeah. There was no one else in my school into the music- maybe two blokes in a thousand kids. So yeah it was really rare to be into it. It wasn’t the normal thing to do – it was even really difficult to find out what the decks were that the hip hop DJs were using cos there was no internet back then

How did you find out what the decks were?

I went to a hip hop night with an MC I used to do demo tapes with, and that was the first time I saw a DJ in front of me live. I remember staring at them for the whole show, I must have been about 14, 15, staring at these two decks thinking I want them, I want them. I did a little scratching before then, but when I got the Technics it transformed what I could do.

What was the show?

I can’t remember the name, but it was in Brixton, and all the British guys who were around then played; Hijack, Cookie Crew – I think Mastermind were DJing there which is how I knew about it.

So finding the decks must have been hard – learning to scratch must have been harder

That’s the thing, it sounds like I’m trying to big myself up, but I had to work it out myself. There was no digital support, no videos I could watch – that hip hop show I mentioned was one of only a very few I went to and you couldn’t really see what was going on because you couldn’t get up close. So I was completely self-taught.

And the scratching became such a feature of your sets

I bought it from my hip hop grounding, then carried on doing it even when I played house music. I’m a bit gutted about that whole thing, because to keep on top of it you’ve got to practice 5-6 hours a day, and at the start I used to do that. But I got so pissed off with turning up to clubs and the set up not being right, the mixer being a weird mixer with no cross fader, or the decks being 10 feet apart, I kinda lost faith in it, so I didn’t keep up the practice. It’s a bit of an excuse, but I’d get to a gig after having practiced a new technique or pattern, and I just couldn’t do it. I’d get so pissed off – it’s something I’ve always done but I didn’t follow through because of that fact. But still, I got known for scratching, and people started tagging me as ‘the UK’s number one scratchmaster’ which bothered me a bit. I mean it was flattering, but you look at some of these guys, these proper hip hop guys who live and breathe hip hop scratching and they’re a million miles further advanced than what I do. I just use it as an addition, I use it to augment the music – if there’s a flatter bit of a track I’ll try and give a bit more rhythm to it – it’s not a main feature, I try and keep it subtler.

Yeah, very true. That’s a good way of putting it – a very political way of putting it hahaha… DJs who scratch all over a vocal are twats, you want them to shut the fuck up..

So when did you take it out and start playing

I went to university in Nottingham and got together with a load of like-minded people who were into urban music, hip hop, soul and all of that, and we put a night on for students, and then that was pretty popular. Because of that there was a wine bar in the centre of Nottingham that my mate managed to sweet talk us a gig in. It went well the first night, and within two weeks it was rammed. The owner of that wine bar owned a club in town, and he put me on there – that went well, he then moved to a club called Venus in Nottinghma that’s quite famous, and it all kicked off there. That was just at the time of tracks by LFO and Nightmares on Wax, and the rave scene really started. The hip hop had been good, but it wasn’t really club music back then, and with the summer of love of ’88, and house music coming over to the UK, I really loved it. So this fella bought Venus and it went mental – I caught it right at the right time with those tracks coming out. The manager wanted to keep it a trendy sort of London Balearic club, but because I don’t really like that sort of stuff I stuck to the proper underground hard rave stuff, and it went mad. There were queues around the block. The owner got rid of me in the end because the clientele was too rave based and he didn’t like it. He was very fashion conscious, and he wanted to be right on the cusp of every changing trend – rave has always been a bit of a bastard niche, it’s always been a bit looked down upon and he didn’t want to go down that path. I mean, of course with the drugs that are associated with it you can understand it from a certain point of view – you don’t want 2000 kids off their faces in Nottingham city centre, the national press were against it. Crazy times.

How did you get from there to a national stage?

The start of that was through DJ SS. He booked me for an event in Leicester, for one of his Nemesis gigs, which was 2-3000 people. They were awesome raves, really really good. I played that and that got my name out into record shops on flyers. Then I was booked to play in Amnesia in Coventry which was massive back then, and it went from there really. Once Gideon from Obsession – or Fantazia as it was known back then – booked me, he took me down to Exeter, down to the South coast.

There are so many stories of people getting stitched for payment, or encountering gangsters, is this something you came across?

I never did. To be honest, I never had time to hang about in raves. At that time I was really getting busy – I’d do Newcastle, over to Carlisle, then over to Exeter in the same night. It’s a bit gutting really, I would have liked to experience it a bit more, to soak up the atmosphere rather than just turn up and play, but that’s the way it was.

What were the tunes that came out around 1991 – 92 that really sounded to you like the sound was being pushed forward?

That’s easy – Edge #1 – well, it’s called Compounded and the artist is Edge #1. I remember I was at an Ark night in Leeds – it’s something I was doing from 91-95. They were wicked nights, and I remember one night Grooverider was on, and at last I had a chance to check some other DJs out. He pulled that tune out, and it was something that I’d never heard before. Most of the other stuff was pure breakbeat then, but this had the kick to it, and that synth line. I went up to him and said ‘what the fuck is that!?’ I think that’s a real seminal track.

What point did you get into the production?

That was about ‘94. Heavy breakbeat stuff had split off into jungle, but there were a few DJs who still liked the four/four kick – it was noticeable in 92 – 93 hardcore that there were tracks that had the 4/4 kick running through, but in ’94 it branched off into a genre of just that, a lot happier as well, lots of piano breaks in there. ‘94 was when I still had a full time job, but I had so many gigs that I thought I just can’t carry on working 7 til 5 or whatever it was – I’d end up having to cancel gigs because I was so tired. So I thought, everywhere I was DJing was busy, it was a really good time for raves, so I made the decision to quit the day job and start producing. It was crazy times – I think Slipmatt’s SMD #1 did about 20,000 copies. For something that’s not being advertised on radio that’s not bad for a day’s work.

And you were pursing the happier 4/4 sound – was that a conscious decision to move away from the breakbeats?

To be honest it was forced, which is unfortunate. My favourite era, which is probably 87-90, the tunes I really liked were the bass heavy breakbeat tunes, really dark tunes like Unique 3, Nightmares on Wax, LFO… I dunno. I really liked the early 90s as well, up to 94, because there was the mixture, you could play a piano track, and then follow it with the darkest thing you’ve heard in your life and the crowd would lap it up. But when it split you kinda had to make a choice. I remember in 94, the jungle stuff was just a bit too dark and monotonous, it was all amen breaks and I wasn’t really inspired by it, but then it bothers me that the happy scene was a bit too happy – there wasn’t much variation in it. So I tried to introduce a bit of darkness into the tracks, but it split so much. It was amazing how it split so immensely. Within the space of a year happy hardcore was a million miles away from jungle. It was ridiculously popular and the atmosphere at happy hardcore raves was out of this world, but it always bugged me that there wasn’t more variety and that if you did do something a bit different it didn’t get as good a reaction as the really happy stuff.

Then in the late 90s and early 00s there was a period where vinyl stopped selling and record shops started closing down. How did you react to this? Was there ever a point where you were worried?

There’s been a few occasions like that. Around 98-99 happy hardcore had run it’s course a little bit, and the scene started to take a bit of a dip. That was a worrying time, but luckily the trance element was introduced, that gave it another kick up the balls as it were – that style is still around 16 years later. That got popular, and by 2005-06 it was absolutely massive again, it picked right up. That coincided with the decline of vinyl – vinyl sales were a big chunk of my income and I had to adapt to the digital market which at the time was nowhere near as big. That’s the reason I stopped producing, you’ve got to support yourself and now there’s just not the financial reward in producing hardcore. It’s a shame but that’s how it’s gone.

 

So you’ve got another job?

Yeah I’m in property development now, I’ve been doing it for about 10 years – with the decline in record sales and downloads I had to branch out and do something else. It’s good – Djing now I’m not doing it just for the money, I’m doing it more for enjoyment than having to pay the bills.

Are you a naturally manic person? Because to me, 180 bpm is manic. You seem pretty laidback to be honest..

Hahaha, I’m very laidback I’d say – the thing with hardcore is you get the half tempo feel to it – it sounds like 90 bpm to me, it’s the way you interpret it I suppose. I remember when the tempos started to creep up and Ellis-D put out a track called something like ‘keep rave at 140 bpm’ – and you’d hear tracks faster than that and be like Jesus Christ it’s too fast! Now we’re at 180 bpm and I don’t even bat an eyelid. It’s crazy how you get used to it.

OK, finally what’s the greatest rave you played at?

I think the 1992 Fantazia at Matchams Park in Bournemouth. I was doing a very late set, 4 til 5 or 5 til 6 or something. I drove down and it was a beautiful morning. The sun was coming up, and it was dead quiet where I parked. I walked up 500 yards, walked round the corner into this huge crowd of 10 or 15,000 people going mental as the sun came up. It was absolutely wicked.