Perfect Sound Forever

Two Tales from the Rave

The Hacienda, 1999: Photo copyright by Aidan O'Rourke

by Greg Wilson
(January 2004)

all good things come to an end

I remember once taking someone from Detroit along to The Hacienda in the early ‘90’s. I hadn’t been for a while and the club had to close in the meantime due to all the trouble with the gangs. She was really looking forward to the Hacienda experience, having heard so much about it, but when we arrived, the place was flat. The Ecstasy crowd were no longer there and had been replaced by drunken students. Things had gone full-circle and it was back to the pre-dance days of a half-empty club devoid of any atmosphere. The DJ was playing Indie-Dance oldies, harking back to better times, but only adding to the whole depressive impression. We didn’t stay long and I tried to assure her that this was once a great venue, for now it was little more than a tourist attraction for club kids who wanted to tick it off their ‘I’ve been to’ list.

Way back in 1983, when I’d been brought into the club in order to introduce their audience (then very much regarded as ‘alternative’) to the kind of music I was playing to a predominantly black crowd across town at Legend, nobody would have foreseen that The Hacienda would eventually be revered, on a global scale, as something of a Temple of Dance. The initial reaction to the music I was playing, mainly on import from New York, was hardly encouraging, with numerous regulars berating me for playing this ‘dance shit’ when bands like Bauhaus and Siouxsie & The Banshees were much more to their taste. The club’s biggest dancefloor tune of ’83, “Native Boy” by Animal Nightlife, wasn’t the type of record I was carrying in my record box back then.

Although The Hacienda reacted to, rather than instigated, the Manchester dance era, it was much to the club’s credit that they’d noted what was happening at Legend and decided that this was a direction they wished to pursue. Broken Glass, the Manchester breakdance crew, played a big part in helping acclimatise their clientele to the Electro sounds I was playing (especially during my hour long Saturday night spots, when they took to the Hacienda stage). At this point breakdancing was regarded as extremely cutting-edge (still some months before the media overkill destroyed its cool) and even if a sizable section of the club’s regular punters weren’t yet prepared to dance to Electro, they were more than happy to stand back and admire the energy and athleticism of Broken Glass (including a young Kermit, who, a decade on, would hook up with Shaun Ryder to form the band Black Grape).

When I stopped deejaying at the end of ’83, Mike Pickering, then the club’s promotions manager, continued the dance direction, taking to the decks himself and eventually achieving the breakthrough with his ‘Nude’ night, which, like my own specialist dance night at the club, took place on a Friday. As both Mike Pickering and Laurent Garnier (another pre-rave Hacienda resident) have pointed out, the original House crowd in Manchester were mainly black kids, but somehow this fact has never been properly acknowledged, with many young people (as the manager of a well known record shop recently pointed out to me) under the illusion that a group of DJ’s went to Ibiza and discovered dance music!

By the end of the decade the underground club scene had become a nationwide phenomenon and things would never be the same again as legions of white boys, aided by a little pill, finally lost their inhibitions and learnt how to dance! Before we knew it, Manchester was Madchester and The Hacienda was destined to become (with the exception of Liverpool’s Cavern Club of the ‘60’s) arguably the best-known British nightspot of all.

My abiding memory of the Hacienda in those ‘rave on’ days was the overwhelming response to the track “Rich In Paradise” by the FPI Project (an instrumental version of the classic “Going Back To My Roots”), which I witnessed during a visit from London, where I lived at the time. I stood chatting to Kermit (then of the Ruthless Rap Assassins) in one of the alcoves when, while continuing the conversation, he raised his hand in the air as the track’s piano breakdown filled the room. In my heightened state I then noticed that all the people standing near us were giving the same type of salute. As I looked around it became apparent that everyone in the club was sharing this outpouring of togetherness, hands held high in the air! It was the most unifying moment I’ve ever experienced in a club and, although I witnessed similar sights subsequently, everything that followed seemed to be just chasing shadows, trying to re-capture something that was no longer there, at least not in its purest form.

To have truly ‘been to’ a club like The Hacienda, or Legend, you would have had to have been there at a certain point in time, when they were pushing back the musical boundaries and providing a unique experience for those who attended. Only a rare breed of clubs fall into this category, and only at a time of change, for it’s the changes that deepen the experience, the knowing that you’re part of something that is only happening in this building, now. Real changes only come along once in a while and many people never get the chance to be there at the cusp of a youth revolution.

It’s now over 15 years since Acid-House’s ‘Summer Of Love’ and club kids worldwide are still trying to catch a hold of its vibe all this time on, dancing religiously to a four-to-the-floor mantra that endlessly regurgitates itself. This hedonistic scene of Superstar DJ’s and King-Size club events bears little resemblance to the underground that spawned it. It became big business, and when there’s money to be made and a lifestyle to be paid for, nobody with a vested financial interest wants change. For these people, the dance era, as we’ve come to know it, has already reached its natural conclusion, and it’s now simply a matter of milking the sacred cow it for all it’s worth.

But, as they say, nothing stays the same forever, and maybe someone, somewhere, is about to bring forth a totally fresh idea that will eventually lead to the necessary upheaval for the now old new school to become the old, as the new new school subsequently changes everything all over again.

It’s time to move on.

(originally written in 2002, re-edited in 2003)

a mixed up time

As a DJ who started off using the microphone (as was the norm in the UK during the 70's - the personality thing being all important back then), but switched to mixing, I was really interested to read an article in Jockey Slut earlier in the year titled “Can't Mix, Won't Mix,” which began; 'Technical proficiency has never been less cool. These days, laudably, it's all about the music rather than the DJ's dexterity'. The basic premise of the piece was that perfection in mixing has become increasingly bland, with many DJ's choosing their tracks because they blend in, rather than because they're great tracks.

One of my main criticisms of the club scene in the UK during the ‘90's was that DJ's began to specialise in narrower and narrower areas of House music. Back when I was working in the clubs, the tempo of the tracks I played varied from downbeat to uptempo, with all sorts of different styles featured within the same night. Being a DJ in the ‘90's and having to stick to one small section of dance music would have driven me mad (as a black music specialist I played the best of the available Electro-Funk, Funk, Soul, Disco and even Jazz, up to the point I stopped in ‘84).

I was as vocal as anyone in support of mixing when it began to take off in UK clubs, I even wrote a main piece for the fledgling Mixmag back in 1983, heralding the coming of ‘The DJ Of A New Breed.’ Mixing obviously changed the entire face of the British clubbing, but I thought it had all gone a bit up its own rear end when I heard DJ's talking about doing 'sets'! As far as I was concerned, it was bands that did sets, not DJ's.

The emphasis on how technically good the DJ was went way too far, with many practising their 'sets' at home, knowing exactly what they were going to play at their next gig (in which order and precisely where they were going to mix from one record to the next). All very clever, but a world apart from my firm belief that you can only really know what you're going to play next by weighing up the audience in front of you. To all intents and purposes some DJ's might as well have played a tape, it was all so ultra-rehearsed that there was no room for such a thing as spontaneity.

It puts me in mind of a 'DJ' I saw in my hometown of New Brighton when I was just starting out (before 12" singles!). He had a stack of 7" singles piled up on top of each other all out of their covers (in those days we carried our 45’s in wooden crates). Anyway, I was really curious and asked him why his records were stacked that way and he replied, almost proudly, 'this is the order in which I'm going to play them.' Even then, at 15 years old, I knew that this was madness. The club hadn't even opened, yet he knew the precise order of the records he was playing!

For me it is, and always has been, about the quality of the music played, rather than the technical brilliance of a DJ who might be playing so-so tunes. The best DJ's to my mind are obviously the ones who are both technically gifted and play great music. My own feeling is that many DJ's these days don't have the programming skills of the guys from way back. Nowadays, we have a long-standing club culture and some people will stay on the floor all night, they’re out to dance and nothing’s going to stop them, whereas back then if a DJ played the wrong tune they'd be staring at an empty dancefloor.

In many respects deejaying has come a long way in the past twenty years, but in others it's lost a few key principles along the way. The greatest club DJ's, in my book, don't consider themselves to be, in some way, above the audience they play for, but on the same wavelength, reacting and responding to the crowd before them.

Contrary to what some might seem to believe, God is not a DJ, and it's time a few people came down from their pedestals and remembered that the basic role of a DJ is that of an entertainer. No doubt, there are bound to be some shattered egos amongst the superstar wannabes as the shutters come down on the House era, but the strong, as always, will survive as the scene gets a long-overdue shake-up.


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