leeds

More Back to Basics Leeds Stuff

Original Post

[Originally published in the Northern Star magazine in November 1992. Excellent photo of Dave and Ali by Mark McNulty]

IT’S nine o’clock on a cold Saturday evening and Ali Cooke and Dave Beer are in their tiny office in the labyrinthine Music Factory, looking suitably shagged out after a trip to the Royal Albert Hall to collect Back to Basics’ prestigious Mixmag club of the year award last night.

The two bleary-eyed promoters clearly enjoyed the occasion to the full. They are not at their best. And all this less than a year after the club’s first night.

“I didn’t even realise you got awards for stuff like that,” Beer says. “When we set the club up, it’s not as if we did it to put ourselves in the limelight.”

“Dave wanted to go to a club where he’d like the music and the people around him,” adds Cooke, who also DJs at Basics. “And I wanted the chance to play the kind of music I want to play.”

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Back to Basics was different to the ravier end of the market right from the very start, promising to “go three steps further than any other fucker” and over the past year it has redefined, to a certain extent, what’s cool and what’s not on a notoriously fickle club scene.

“We wanted something more relaxed that all the usual mental raving,” says Beer. “That’s why we have a strong door policy. We want people who are into the music rather than people who are coming down and getting wasted and sitting around on the floor all night.”

The club’s flyers emphasised the difference between Basics and everyone else, using both humour and Jamie Reid montages to set out the club’s stall. Whereas most club and rave flyers (then and now) were full of sunbeams and thinly-veiled references to ecstasy, Basics flyers included the warning: “The management reserves the right to politely fuck you off.”

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“We were just pissed off with all that Loveboat shit,” explains Beer.

“It just seemed funnier to have a picture of Elvis with his dick out on the front,” adds Cooke, managing to get a sentence in edgeways as Beer takes a rare pause for breath. “And it’s nice to swear on flyers.”

But above all, it’s the music that has played the largest role in establishing the club’s reputation.

“We have a policy of no policy, really,” says Cooke in between bleeps from the intercom as someone else tries to blag the door downstairs. “It’s about playing what you want.”

Residents Cooke and Ralph Lawson provide a solid base of proper, grown-up house and more alternative fare for guests like Andy Weatherall, Lisa Loud, Terry Farley and Mike Pickering to work from [one of Cooke’s charts from earlier in the year features Severed Heads, Boney M and My Bloody Valentine as well as Espiral, Elixir Vitae and Coco, Steel and Lovebomb].

Of course, all this didn’t happen overnight. Basics, it seems, took years of planning.

“We’ve known each other for years,” says Cooke. “We used to play in bands together in Wakefield. They were pretty shit but we always knew what we wanted to look like. It never really happened until now.”

“We weren’t even sure it was going to work in the beginning,” says Beer. “We came into a gay club in town, nobody went there, in fact nobody would be seen dead there…”

Apart from the regular clientele, no?

“We got one floor on a Saturday night, decked the place out like a grotto and got 250 people who were into the same things we were.”

The pair firmly believe that, as Cooke puts it, “you can create a really good atmosphere by having a little bit of an attitude. Like, dressing up to go out, not posing but feeling good about themselves.”

“Some people can’t understand why we had Elvis Presley on but you can’t take it too seriously .. it’s all a bit of a laugh,” adds Beer. “We’re into anything that’s slightly off the wall, anything that people can be stimulated by. That’s why we have wizards wandering round doing magic, little bits of performance art, the Jamie Reid exhibition. It’s all part of it.”

The highpoint of this mad year for Cooke was Andrew Weatherall DJing at Basics for the first time:

“I felt like it had been christened. He’s a bit of a hero to me.”

And as for Beer:

“It was my mum coming down, I reckon, and getting it on with Jon Kelly on the dancefloor.

And the lowpoints?

“They tend to be on Monday morning when you’re recovering from what’s just happened.”

Monday mornings excepted, Beer and Cooke are sitting pretty at the moment. The club is full every week and offers of work are coming in from all over the place. It’s been a good year and the sky is the limit.

“We get a nice wage out of it, it must be said,” grins Beer. “We’re lucky lads aren’t we? We realise it. Luck shone on us one day and said, have a bit of this.

“We’ve had our fair share of shit as well though.”

 

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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.