Lisa Loud turns up the volume

No-one messes with Lisa Loud. Under her original name, Lisa McKay, she was an early traveller to Ibiza thanks to cheap flights from a dad who worked for British Airways and an older sister, Joanne, who was friends with Nancy ‘Noise’ Turner. These Walworth Road girls were the magic connectors between Ibiza, Trevor Fung, Ian St Paul and the notorious Ibiza quartet (Oakenfold, Holloway, Walker and Rampling). Not shy at coming forward, within a few years Lisa was internationally known as a DJ and running her enormously successful dance promotions business Loud & Clear. Those early experiences have never left her and you can hear it in her ebullient stories and passion for the rave.

Interviewed by Bill in London 15.10.21

What year did you first go to Ibiza?
1985 was the first year.

How long did you go for?
I was in and out of Ibiza. My story’s a slightly blessed one. My father worked for British Airways, and my sister Jo who’s three years older than me, she was a real party girl and traveler. The fact that I was a few years younger, I kind of got a pass from mum and dad because I wasn’t on my own. So, I experienced a lot of things at a very young age. So, my first years in Ibiza, I was just a teenager. We recently found a book that we made for Joanne on her birthday with pictures of us all in Amnesia in 1987, and me dancing on the stage in Amnesia. So in ’85, I just went for a holiday and then I think it was ’86 when all the girls ended up staying out there.

Nancy told me that there were four of them including Joanne that went for the whole summer in ’86.
That was Jo, Michelle, Nancy and Max (we called her that because her real name was Claudia Bygraves). I managed to blag myself a job as some kind of financial consultant. I did really, really well at sales. I sold an account to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Everyone on the Walworth Road had one! I’d go on a weekend, because I was earning good money, and I’d leave work on a Friday, get on a flight on one of dad’s cheap-as-chips flights for British Airways staff, get over there, go mad all weekend, and then get back by Monday morning and go on appointments with my clients, selling more savings accounts. It was pretty mental.

What was really funny though, is I had a cool boss. Her name was Sally. She was super cool, gorgeous, and had a really funky boyfriend and all that. I ended up talking about Ibiza one day, and she was like, ‘Oh, we go to Ibiza all the time’. Anyway, in 1987 I went out there and saw Sally. That was the only year that Glory’s was open, so we all used to go to Amnesia, and then Glory’s. So it would be like morning-time, and they had a big swing in there and you’d get coffee and croissants that no one was interested in. Anyway, I was swinging on this swing and I saw my boss, Sally, and I was like, ‘Sally!’ I don’t know whether that was the right thing to do or not, especially because that was the year that I stayed out there and didn’t go back. So, yeah. That was my reckless year!

What was it about Amnesia that was so attractive and amazing?
Well, aside the fact that Alfredo was the most incredible playlist maker, we all hung around together, like all of us Walworth Road girls. Nancy actually had a real music business connection, because her dad was managing Nik Kershaw. But we was all kind of born and bred on going to concerts, do you know what I mean? So 20 of us would go to see The Cure or  Bowie. Plus, we were all into dancing and being out and culture and stuff and I think that what you got with Alfredo was there was no sort of genre-specific style going on with his sets. He’d play ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ by U2, then he’d play Mr. Fingers’ ‘Can You Feel It’, then he’d play the Beastie Boys. And it was just this mental musical eclecticism that I was really drawn to.

When I first heard ‘Jibaro’ by Elkin & Nelson, I was like, ‘What is that?’ I was like that Nikki off of Big Brother, ‘What is that?’. It was so Balearic. Mind you, I didn’t even know what Balearic meant. We were teenagers. It was just good music, a selection of everything. You’d hear the Gipsy Kings as well, which was something that you’d remember hearing in Benidorm on your family holiday played by a cheesy guy with the ruffled shirt. 

But I think what you got in Amnesia that you got nowhere else was the people. This colourful selection of the most amazing people. We met all the northern boys there who were like the naughty northern boys who were on Inter-rail and you’d always think, ‘What do they actually do?’ They’d be everywhere at every party. I’m talking worldwide. We’d go and meet them in Amsterdam, then meet them again in Thailand. They were everywhere. And then we had all these Italian mates. They were all like the cool, slick cruising up the beach in San Antonio on their motorbikes and parking them right outside Cafe del Mar with all their hair slicked back, and the high-waisted denim with all the holes in it, and the leather jackets. Then there’d be the nutty French kind of proper gay guys in Lycra. Lycra everywhere, the tightest Lycra, like they were permanently going on a bike ride. But with more madness, like luminous colours and all that. And then there’s a couple of things that I would never, ever forget about Amnesia. There was the girl with the cake on her head. 

What, an actual cake?
No, it wasn’t. Like a wedding dress and the wedding cake hat on her head. I was on the raised level, so opposite the pyramids, and then Alfredo would be over there, and Papa Nino would always be on the pyramid dancing. Nino was very spiritual, he read cards and palms, and looked like an electric current was running through him. Anyway, I was dancing, I’m looking at the movement of this thing going through the crowd, and it was basically someone with a swimming hat with Barbie dolls stuck on the hat by their heads, with all their legs everywhere. You weren’t seeing that in San Antonio, do you know what I mean? Pacha was notoriously glamorous in sort of evening wear. Ku was big, not as intimate as Amnesia, and was a bit more housey. You know, Cesar and Pippi; so a bit more of that Italian vibe. But Amnesia, for me, it was just this mix. Everyone went to everywhere else, but it all seemed to feel like it started in Amnesia, that look, that collection of personalities and colour. And it just seemed to really fit the music, because it was never one way or the other. It was completely all over the place.

Was it the same every night? Because Nancy said she was going every night. 
Yeah, pretty much. I mean, you did see them all again and again and again. Obviously we never slept, but you’d always be like, ‘When does anyone sleep?’ You’d just all meet back for the Cafe Del Mar sunset, and there’d be very little downtime going on in between that and Amnesia. Nicky Holloway had bars in the early days in Ibiza Town. Then you’d go to Amnesia, and that would be some kind of mission getting in, because you’d never have any money. And in the end, you all end up handing out flyers for Alfredo just to be able to get into Amnesia. We’d bunk over walls and all sorts to get in there, you know?

How did you survive without any money? I mean, what the hell did you do?
Well, I was earning all this money in this thing, but I went and got a job in the music business. My first job was Virgin Records, so I promoted Soul II Soul, Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry, Inner City. I did all of the promo for all of the bands and these really iconic albums. That was ’87 to ’91, and then ’91, I set up Loud And Clear, which was me mailing out my own records, and that was when I did all the Leftfields and the Underworlds and all of the underground independent labels, like Guerilla, Junior Boy’s Own, Tomato, Cowboy etc. I always worked, apart from that summer where I just saw my boss and never went back to England.

Alfredo, Ibiza’s grand conductor

What about Trevor Fung? Because him and Ian St. Paul had some kind of bar in ’87, didn’t they?
Yeah, the Project in Ibiza Town.

Tell me a bit about that.
I think what you probably got out of the Project Bar that wasn’t necessarily what was going on in the clubs in Ibiza was the UK DJs. So, Trevor would play, Nicky Holloway would play, Oakey would play. Because in those really, really early days, none of those DJs were playing in the big clubs or anything. It was all the Spanish and Italian DJs. The Project was the start of your night. What you always saw in Ibiza, even right way back then, was the parades. Project was right on the strip where it would always go by. It was a meeting place for all of us a lot of the time. They had tickets and things like that. It was like part of the culture of how it all gets ticking at the beginning of the night, really. I suppose that’s the best way to describe it. They’d have tickets for Amnesia or Ku or this or that, you know? And now and again, you’d see those Spanish DJs in there having a drink. They all felt so important. They did to me, anyway. I was a bit shy around them, really. Felt like they were a really big deal, you know?

Was that the first time you kind of had a sense of the importance of a DJ?
No, not really. I mean, we’ve always gone out drinking to people playing music, so for us lot, we were always going out to see Nicky Holloway DJ in a pub in the Old Kent Road, or Steve Walsh DJing in the Lyceum, or Chris Hill DJing at Pwelhi Prestatyn on the weekends away.

Did you do ecstasy for the first time when you were in Ibiza?
Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t be talking like this if my mum and dad were still here. I really wouldn’t. But yeah, it really did float my boat. I’m a high vibration girl anyway, do you know what I mean? Just dance and dance and dance and dance. It just really, really suited my personality. But probably Amnesia. I mean, it would’ve been at Amnesia, because that was the only place for us.

Can you actually remember doing it for the first time?
I’ve got some very vivid memories of my first relationship with ecstasy, yeah, including getting stuck in Amsterdam because we’d all go and meet in Amsterdam sort of April time as well. Yeah, I’ve got very vivid memories of how fucking brilliant it was. Just this association to the music that made everything sound incredible. Kind of kaleidoscopically, everything was brighter. Everyone was friendly. Everyone was smiling. The need to dance. Feeling really, really light and lifted, you know? Just completely and utterly lifted. I don’t have to take it to get off on music at all, but it was a great way to feel something different to playing a track at home and being in amongst that euphoria and the hedonism. But there’s obviously a dark side that comes with drugs…

What do you think it was about you that helped you succeed as a DJ when so many other women didn’t?
I think that ultimately in the very early stages, there was so few of us. I mean, you could literally count on one hand.

You could name them all, couldn’t you?
I was actually someone that was going out and buying records constantly. For me, the technical side of DJing really turned me on. I always sort of thought, ‘Oh, this mixing thing is amazing’. I wasn’t a playlist DJ. I was really into nuts and bolts of how it worked, and mixing records not just from beats, you know? Things that Oakey taught me, those things about how you actually mix music, and the different stages in a record where music becomes more prevalent, the intros and outros and things like that. That really appealed to me. And more and more, because I was in this scene that was erupting, I was watching people doing it, and you could really hear it. So there was no better learning curve, if you like, than being in Sunrise with 25,000 people in an illegal rave playing in a big top with two boxes of records that have been donated to me by Paul Oakenfold, playing alongside Carl Cox and seeing it really happen.

There was very, very few of us. I think that I was in an incredibly fortunate time, hanging out in Ibiza in the late ’80s and then meeting people like Oakey and Carl Cox and people like that who were completely accessible to you. I mean, I used to go and sit in their houses with them just playing tunes.

Lisa at Future,1988, photo Dave Swindells

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you as a woman DJ?
This is going to sound very non-controversial, but I think that I have been incredibly blessed because of my career when it started and the fact that I had this music business career running alongside me being a DJ. I was taken very seriously because I was the one that was dropping all the cool records on the decks. When I was promoting music, I was up and down the country, not only as a DJ, but as a record promoter. So I was bringing acetates of Inner City’s ‘Big Fun’ to the Haçienda for Mike Pickering and Graeme Park. 

However, there were times when it looked like there were people that would just wait for me to mess up. For example, when I went out to Rimini and I DJed for Charlie Chester on the Flying trip in the early 1990s, I was the only girl amongst 10 to 15 DJs. And when I went on the decks, put my two record boxes up there, and suddenly I looked up and there was just a wall of Italian men. It looked like the lighting guys and security, every DJ in the house, the promoters, the owners were just standing there as a wall. Now, I don’t think they were looking at my cute little ass. I think they were like, ‘Right, okay, can this girl actually spin records?’ Because I didn’t have a music profile or anything. To my astonishment, I actually pulled it off and built a career in Italy with a promoter there called Barbara. She ended up being like the main girl doing everything in Ethos Mama and Echoes and Peter Pan, and all of those really cool, big Italian clubs. And I ended up touring with her and did monthly sets in Italy for five or six years, until she went on and did something different. But there was definitely an air about that vision for me that was like, you really don’t have faith in me. You don’t think I’m going to do this. You don’t think I’m going to crack this. It was pretty intimidating.

Did you feel that you had to work doubly hard to prove yourself as a female DJ?
Do you know what? I actually feel that more now.

Why is that?
What I feel is whilst there is great new talent coming through, and you’re watching as if it’s like a seed that you planted. You’re watching that grow, which I think that’s all great. But I think that it is still a man’s world. There are still a few of us. I mean, obviously Nina Kraviz is absolutely massive. Honey Dijon, I just love watching her career. It’s so inspiring. It’s so wicked. But as much as I celebrate all of that, I’m now 30+ years in the game. I’m in my fourth decade of being a DJ, and as much as I will always deliver on the decks, I don’t feel like there’s as many of us. So I’ll always say to promoters, ‘Have you heard such and such?’ Like Clockwork Orange, who I always DJ for. They put something up on their site the other day saying, ‘What DJ would you love to see?’ And a lot of the Clockwork goers are still saying the same names. Thankfully I appeared, which means that I’ve still got some clout. But I put Honey Dijon, because you’ve never seen her at a Clockwork. It’s still a very tough industry. And I’d love to do more to change that, but I’ve now got a child and I’m 52 years old. I don’t have the same energy as I used to have. was talking to Carl Loben, actually, and he was saying, ‘I want to do a big feature in DJ Magazine about the sexism and stuff like that.’ And I said, ‘It’s really hard, because you want that to be about me when I first started, and I didn’t really experience it when I first started.’

Do you not think that’s kind of partly down to just who you are as a person? I’ve known you a long time and you were always very kind of take-no-shit.
Yeah. I definitely tried to deliver an attitude when I was younger that I was not to be fucked with, because I felt like I was in a very fortunate position, and I didn’t want anyone to take it away from me. I was in this wicked job barely out of my teens, working for the biggest British music mogul that I’ve looked up to all my life, Richard Branson, promoting records that I was playing as a DJ, going, ‘Oh my God, I’m living the dream’. But I was also a record promoter, so I had to be on people’s cases. I had to be going, ‘Get that in your chart’, and stuff like that, or else… 

Yeah, I remember it well!
I was hardcore.

I’ve really noticed over the last five years there’s just so many more women DJs now. What do you think has changed? Do you think that MeToo movement has had an effect on dance music? 
Well, I think that now, we’re actually getting to a point where across all of the media angles, so radio, press, there are powerful females involved in making things happen and trying to work very hard to assure that voices are heard. Like the Lady of the House book that I feature in, which is 150 stories of women in dance music. It’s just about to be published. More of a coffee table book, but you can see just by that and what it is, how it looks, that there’s a seriousness about it. Now, there’s Jaguar on Radio 1, Sarah Story on Radio 1. All of those kind of avenues didn’t really ever have girls presenting as well, you know? A girl would be your Zoe Ball on a daytime radio show. I mean, Lottie did some stuff with Radio 1 for a bit, didn’t she? And that was great because it was like proper, dirty house music by a flippin’ lovely, brilliant girl who’s a wicked DJ, being able to speak through her music on one of the biggest channels that was broadcasting.

What’s the difference in the thrill of playing an illegal party rather than a club one?
I just think everything about Sunrise and Biology; it was the getting there where you don’t really know where you’re going. It was all about picking up messages, communicating with people. The whole thing about phone numbers, it was a reality. It did happen. That was the real deal. That’s how you found out about those things. That alone was incredibly exciting. Then you’d get to somewhere and it wouldn’t be started yet, because nothing ever goes the way you think it does. You get there and half of the big top would be on the floor. Trucks would be rocking up with the sound system in it. And then you’d wait and watch this magic happening, and happening on a scale that was like, how did that go from watching a half of the big top on the floor to 20,000 people, lights, rigs, music, banging sound systems, car jams … It’s just all of it. It’s like, whoah!

That’s what Paul [Oakenfold] and Ian [St Paul] did with Spectrum was as near to putting that into a club environment. In a way, I think that those raves were the precursor to what a festival is today. That was what we now call a festival. You know, how do you get fairground rights up the M25 and flippin’ big wheels and big tops and 25,000 people while no one knows about it? The councils don’t know about it. The Old Bill don’t know about it. And then suddenly it’s like when the Old Bill do find out, there’s no health and safety, oh my God, death pits, really. But it’s all that. It’s all that, the magic of watching something built from the ground up, I think, and the fact that being at those things, you definitely knew that you were going to experience something that you weren’t experiencing anywhere else.

What’s your most outlaw DJ moment?
A police escort back to Moscow Airport. I was one of the first DJs to go to Russia. I DJed at a club called XIII that was in the very early ’90s. It was a club that was like oil tycoons kind of partying, and beautiful, beautiful, beautiful people, mega wealthy. The guy took all of his influence from Pacha in Ibiza. I used to DJ there about once a month, and then there was a festival called the Fort Dance Festival that was on a fort in the middle of the river, so you could only get there by boat, speedboat, yacht, whatever. And this guy bought this fort for the only period of 99 years to have a party on it. Like, that’s the sort of Russian kind of stuff that I experienced which is absolutely amazing. It was just amazing. Anyway, I was running late. So, I was police escorted to Moscow Airport to make sure that I got the flight. Little old me, eh? So that’s pretty bandit, yeah. 

Do you think DJs are natural outlaws? In the early years, it did feel like there was a lot of lawbreaking going on.
In the early days. I think these days, a male tech house DJ goes to the gym five times a week, he’s vegan, and drinks water on tour. Do you know what I mean? But yeah. I mean, we certainly paved the way for some hedonism, let’s put it that way. I think that it’s funny, because we’re all these years down the line and I don’t think any of us have changed much, do you know what I mean? Barry Ashworth is still stage diving off of festival stages to 12,000 people. I still can’t sleep. Dave Beer is still rocking anything he puts his golden touch to. And we’re certainly not sitting in the green room drinking water, you know?

Why do you think governments are scared of people coming together to dance?
Because they’re the sort of people that just don’t understand it, you know? They don’t understand the magic of it. They don’t understand that some people absolutely need this. I would put money on 99% of people that we all know getting through lockdown because of music. I don’t even know anyone that I’ve spoken to that hasn’t done something about their music within the lockdown. The Kitchen Disco came alive because we had to do something. If it’s in your bones, I don’t think you can live without it. But I just think that people in government, they’re a different breed, you know? 

Did you ever DJ on pirate radio?
No, actually, I didn’t. I was promoting a lot to pirate radio, like Kiss FM helped me break Soul II Soul, because notoriously, Radio 1, Capital Radio, they weren’t playing black music. They wouldn’t play dance music. It just wasn’t happening. So, all of my days at Virgin Records with Soul II Soul, Inner City and all that, I was banging that door down in West London like Fort Knox to get in there. There were pirate radio stations everywhere that I used to go to with the actual vinyl so that you’d get power play and stuff like that.

So you’re basically saying that pirates were actually key to breaking a lot of these acts at that time.
Absolutely. I was number one in all the dance charts with records that you were hearing everywhere, but how were you getting it out to the next lot of people that weren’t in the club? Inner City’s ‘Big Fun’ went in at number eight. Soul II Soul’s ‘Back To Life’ went straight in at number one. ‘Keep On Movin’’, number eight. We were having a lot of success. Massive Attack was different because there was a lot of visual aspects with the video and stuff like that that was much more sort of the marketing tools for Massive. Even Neneh to a degree was massive on Kiss. You know, ‘Buffalo Stance’. It was a huge aid to breaking records. Huge.

What’s the most extreme or offensive DJ diva behaviour you’ve come across?
It was on a Moby tour. I was warming up for Moby. Mind you, he wasn’t DJing. He was live, so no. He did smash the stage up, though, which was pretty extreme. He picked his keyboard up and started smashing it up, and I was like, right, okay, I’ve got to actually go on after that. It was pretty hectic. I was a bit scared, actually. I don’t know, let’s just say I don’t do princes and princesses. I just walk away. but you know what and I think it’s absolutely true, is that there’s a reason why people like us lot are still around is because despite the fact that we have had major success, we’ve had it all, we’ve lost it all, but we’ve remain humble and polite, because we were around at such a significant time. It all came from nothing. So, we’ve just managed to carve a career out of something that we really, really love.

Well yeah, at the time, very few people probably even thought you could make a living from this.
Oh, my mum constantly was like, ‘Would you please get a proper job?’ And I was like, ‘It is a proper job! It’s a job. I go to work and earn money’. 

Do you agree that a humble person makes a better DJ, more ready to connect with the dancefloor?
Yeah, 1000%. Because it’s not about you, is it? It’s about them. People have paid to come see you. People have paid their hard-earned money to go into that experience that you, if you’ve got any humility about you, are going to work your ass off to deliver for them, because that’s their release. That’s their night out. I think it’s about feeling the people that are in front of you, having a respect for those people. It’s not about you standing up there like some god. You’re only going to get that appreciation if you work really hard to deliver something that’s a great experience for those people. 

Also, when you go and see a band, they’re performing, and you’re consuming. Whereas with a dancefloor and a DJ, there’s a much more symbiotic relationship. You need each other in order for that evening to be a success.
Yeah, and you’re coming from a very like-minded plane right from the start. There are times when it’s absolutely magical. I did Manumission one day. It was like 10,000 people. They had to pull the stage even closer to shut more of the swimming pool because it was so rammed, and at one point, that whole crowd was up in the air. That’s magic. There was like a pulse where everybody was doing the same thing. Those things are magic, those feelings, those … Yeah, you have to land after some gigs, because they’re that good. You know? Which is a lovely thing to say, that I can do my work and I’m so high as a kite, not because of drugs, that it could take me as long to do the whole evening to land back down to earth, because it was so fantastic. I think that’s something that a DJ is privileged to experience.

One last question. Tell me about your relationship with Nancy, because you guys have been friends for an awful long time, and I guess you’re still friends now, aren’t you?
Oh my God, yeah, I love her. Well, I just love her. We didn’t all go to the same secondary schools, and I’m actually the same age as Nancy’s sister, Katie, and my sister and Nancy are the same age. So just that alone, we could be a four-people unit very, very easily, having great girly times and doing whatever. We were all into music. I just always loved Nancy. She was always with my sister, or my sister was with her. I was always with her sister. We did loads of it all together. I think traveling together at a very young age forms a very different bond than just going out on a night out to the pub, do you know what I mean? Traveling’s quite a big deal. See, that was what we had in our blood from dad being the British Airways connection. But it was always special, magical, those kind of things, and I think that they are standout moments of your life. Travel gives you a sense of something else that is not just within your everyday makeup. So I did lots of that with Nancy, which makes our relationship even more special. I admire her enormously as a music person. Her track selections, knowledge, everything. I love that laugh. I think she’s got one of the most beautiful faces in the show business. I just love her.

Do you think it kind of helped you two in the early days, having two girls that were not a team exactly, but you did a lot of things together?
I would like to think so, because I think it was such a nice vibe. And the whole thing of Lisa Loud and Nancy Noise. I mean, have you ever heard anything with a better ring to it? One’s blonde and one’s got dark hair, and we were different musically, so there was different attributes that we brought to the party each time which completely complemented each other, and we were mates. So, there was like a special relationship before you even got behind the decks. It was a whole night out, listening to me and Nancy. It was bloody good music. And I still think the Loud Noise thing [Lisa and Nancy playing together], I mean, my God, it’s still got legs. People out there constantly ask me, ‘When will you do it again? When will you do it again?’ I drive Nancy a little bit mad about it, because I am the one that’s like, ‘Come on, let’s do it!’ So hopefully, we will get together and we will do some really nice Loud Noise bits and pieces before our backs give out and we can’t walk anymore. That would be nice. I think we need to explore that. I think that perhaps next year, we should look at the old Loud Noise vibe, because it’s a nice one. It’s magical, and it’s got a nice following of great people.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton