Kath McDermott preaches pride and passion

Homoelectric and Haçienda shero Kath McDermott is a firm believer that dancing is political action. Read More




Lisa Loud turns up the volume

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

Ibiza ’89

Ibiza ’89

As acid house crossed over nationally in the UK and the tabloids started whipping up their manufactured outrage, Time Out Nightlife Editor Dave Swindells went to Ibiza with i-D writer Alix Sharkey to see where this culture had come from. They planned to reconnect the ‘Balearic beats’ that had kicked things off the previous year to the island of their birth. But their editor Don Atyeo told them to take a whole week and forget any preconceptions. He was a veteran reporter who had spent months in Zaire for the Rumble in the Jungle, getting to know Muhammad Ali, and he gave them the dream assignment – ‘Ask questions and let the story tell itself.’

Dave’s visual chronicle of that week in the sun has finally been packaged up into a glorious book, and while you’ve doubtless seen a couple of the more famous shots before – like the couple reflected in the Amnesia pyramid – seeing the full collection is brilliantly evocative. It’s like owning holiday snaps from a clubbing moment most of us missed out on. For the magazine (it was 20/20, Time Out‘s monthly lifestyle title), Dave concentrated on capturing a few dancefloor portraits and those all-important sunrise moments, picking out the incongruous mix of aristocratic Eurotrash and seasoned clubbers on the blag. Nightclub photography was a different game back then – the technology meant you needed an intrusive flash to catch any after-dark action. With a full book to expand into he’s been able to add all the contextual shots, showing the sleepy rural nature of ’80s Ibiza, giving us some great images of the epic club architecture, acres of fashion nostalgia, and a hint that Brits-abroad lager-boy lairiness was already in evidence.

1989 was the year before Ibizan authorities made the clubs build roofs over their dancefloors, so there’s a poignancy to the carefree partying. They were there for the opening of Amnesia, which figures large in the book – the club where Alfredo Fiorito’s playlist did so much to energise British music. Read the captions and you get a great idea of who was there – it’s a roll call of the more exploratory members of London nightlife. Alix Sharkey was very much a face about town and between him and Dave they could spot a London DJ or promoter at 20 paces. In fact the first person they encountered in Ibiza was Boy George, always an early adopter. Sharkey’s original piece is included and it’s a great scene-setter: scallies dancing with Italian princesses, labourers chatting up girls fresh from daddy’s yacht. There’s a nostalgic intro from Terry Farley, and Dave adds plenty of stories too. Blaggers rushing the door by getting on their hands and knees, ecstasy urchins shooting water pistols filled with liquid MDMA. All in all a wonderful time capsule. Frank Broughton

Es Paradis Ibiza, 1989
Ku, 6am in the rain, 1989
Ibiza 89 Amnesia Pete Heller (left in black T-shirt) and Portia Bishop greet the sunrise
Adamski and friends, Ku, Ibiza, 1989
Ibiza 89 Cafe DM The Sun on the beach (as read by ‘Spit’ Fenton and Megs Osler)

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton. All pics © Dave Swindells

Dave Swindells snapped it up

Dave Swindells snapped it up

His photos are famous – the defining record of the early acid house years. There’s Danny Rampling Christlike against a yellow sun at Shoom, the can’t-go-home crowd spilling out into the YMCA car park after The Trip at the Astoria, Paul Oakenfold DJing behind an impressive mullet at Future, sunrise by a lake in East Grinstead. There are baby faces, blissed-out smiles, straw hats, smileys, bubbles, and a lot more paisley than you thought possible. And those iconic images of the second Summer of Love are far from the whole story. Dave Swindells has an immense photographic archive of London clubbing from the mid-’80s right up to the present. As Nightlife Editor of London listings magazine Time Out, he had an access-all-areas pass to the whole after-dark city. You saw his work blown up to wall size in the 2019 Saatchi Gallery show Sweet Harmony: ­Rave Today, and now you can buy it for yourself in two books he’s produced, Ibiza ’89 and Acid House As It Happened. Looking back over his long career, Dave muses on the ups and downs of UK clubbing and the importance of documenting it all.

Interviewed by Frank in Hackney, 2.5.23

Frank Broughton: When it comes to clubbing in London I can’t think of a photographer who’s got a greater body of work spanning so many years and so many different scenes.
Dave Swindells: Being able to go to all those things is such a privilege. At times I’ve amazed myself, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got pictures of that.’ Suddenly, last week, I found these pictures of Jah Shaka that I really didn’t think I had.

I was super lucky to be in a position where I could go to almost anything, you know. I could rock up and either blag my way in or do it by arrangement. To be able to go to Brazilian things, or a Bhangra night, a rock and roll thing, and feel I’ve got a right to be there, because somebody has either commissioned you or given you a job, which allows you access.

I would have liked to have lived more in the clubs that I was photographing. I would go along and take pictures and get into the vibe really quickly. But I often think, why didn’t I go to the afterparties? Why didn’t I go down to Clapham Common and see people on the Sunday?

Don’t be so hard on yourself. You didn’t go to the afterparties because you had to file a story.
It was also about getting back to real life. I didn’t want to go on and on for 24 hours.

There’s so much creativity that goes into nightlife – the fashion, the decor, the music, the graphics, but it’s so ephemeral. It’s not even chip paper the next day. It’s just trashed. So it’s so important you’ve documented all of this.
Yeah, because for so long, we felt like we were the bad boys of culture. You only ever heard bad news about club culture. Oh, it’s drugs, it’s people throwing up in the street. It took so long to get any respect. I think the first time I went on anything that felt as if there was some, what you might call ‘establishment recognition’, was going on a British Council event in the late ’90s, going to Israel with VJs and DJs. Because museums and galleries, they were like, ‘It’s just people having a party, isn’t it?’

Outside the Astoria after The Trip, 1988
Shoom, 1988 at the Fitness Centre with Jaqui (or is it Louise?) Chantrell lost in the smoke
Shoom, 1988 – Simon Wilkinson, Steve Margrave, Sue, Mark ‘Spit’ Fenton and friend

So where would you bequeath your collection if you were to give it to the nation?
I know of other photographers who gave their archive to universities. I suppose that’s a possibility. I did go and meet the V&A once, at the instigation of [Notting Hill Arts Club founder] David McHugh, because he had just done an event there. They were interested. But I think they felt, ‘What would we do with this?’

The Saatchi Gallery did that show on rave, which was quite brave of them at the time, and they did some very lively, sweaty events during it. There was that Leigh Bowery exhibition in the chapel in Fitzrovia. The V&A does collect some photographer’s work, and and they do recognise the cultural value of it. They did that Club To Catwalk show. And back in 1994 they did the Streetstyle show. But it’s only now you feel there’s a kind of recognition.

I guess because people started to understand what club culture has brought to the world.
The New Romantics – even though everyone always disputes that name – that generation made a lot of music that went around the world. But for the most part, it didn’t feel like it was designed to dance to. It didn’t feel like it was part of the same equation as the music coming from New York and Chicago and Philadelphia.

But then London came of age. In the late ’80s a lot of DJs and producers started making music. And then we went on to create actual new musical forms. When jungle and drum and bass came through, UK garage, dubstep, all these things came out of London and the wider UK. That gave a different validity to what was happening in club culture.

And the fact that rave was such a mass culture thing. It was such a cultural movement. It wasn’t just a little bunch of trendies and bohemians in London, or Manchester. It really shifted things, and so many people were involved.

Tell me about Time Out. When did they realise that clubs were something to write about?
I think it was about ’81 or ’82. It was the whole one-nighter thing that got them into it. I remember looking back through the Time Out archive for the 20 years’ anniversary [in 1989], looking for what had been written about in the late ’70s. They had done the occasional nightlife story, about different discos and rock clubs where people danced, but there wasn’t much there. Even though, obviously, really good things and underground things were happening. And definitely there was a massive reggae scene in London. That was hardly ever documented.

I joined in ’86. Nightlife Editor. And at that time, they weren’t doing a brilliant job of it because [Time Out rival] City Limits was definitely better. That was Sheryl Garrett and John Godfrey. They were definitely more tuned in. Lindsey Shapiro, who I took over from, did a good article on Dougie’s and some of the other reggae clubs around Hackney in about ’87. We listed those things, but I don’t think we went out looking for them. When I went for the job the question they asked was, ‘Would you get to a new club quicker than Leigh Bowery?’

I’d been about a year and a half doing pictures for i-D – ‘straight ups’ [the magazine’s pioneering street fashion portraits]. I was so lucky, the guy who had been doing it before kind of got tired of it. He went off to Ibiza and did a whole lot of clubbing for the next 15 years. So I was really lucky to walk in at the right moment. Dylan Jones was editor then. Alix Sharkey was there. And Caryn Franklin. So that’s what got me the job at Time Out.

Time Out played an important role because it had almost an academic view of London. It didn’t want to miss things. That was definitely part of the ethos.
I feel now that it’s quite hard to find out about what’s going on because there isn’t an overview. Obviously Time Out wasn’t perfect and couldn’t be comprehensive. But it was really useful. You were trying to write for the general reader. But to a degree you can also tell people about things that were a little bit edgier, a little bit underground. And you could support things, like Dingwalls or Plastic People, you know, obviously, Fabric when it opened. There were so many good things. There really was an embarrassment of riches. We had a constant supply of potential news stories every week. There was never a shortage of things to write about.

Taking pictures in clubs was quite unusual, wasn’t it?
When I started there were a few people who were regularly taking pictures, but not very many. There was Normski, there was Derek Ridgers. I always give due credit to Derek, he’s phenomenal. I love his pictures. There was Oliver Maxwell and one or two others. It wasn’t like later. I remember going to The End one night in 2006 and there was a bloody queue of people waiting to take a picture of the DJ. And, of course, now it’s totally a different vibe because of smartphones. There are probably some secret archives out there. Because people on different scenes definitely took pictures. Even if they took them with some throwaway 35 millimetre camera.

Where did you grow up? How do you get into all of this?
I grew up near Bath and went to uni in Sheffield, but when I came to London, my brother Steve was already running clubs. He’d started in ’82. He did the Lift, and partnered with Kevin Millins who was doing the Pyramid to do Jungle and Bad and various other nights. It was great having somebody who’s already in the scene. He’d say, ‘Come down to Heaven and see what that’s like. Don’t be shy!’

The Lift was at Stallions, which was a brilliant little venue at the back of the Astoria. With a massive fish tank. I went there in ’83 and to a little warehouse thing that he did. I took a few pictures, and got lucky and they worked. It took quite a long time to get the feeling that I could do this.

I went to one of Steve’s parties at the Titanic, just off Berkeley Square. I think it closed in about ’85. One of those great lost venues. Anyhow, he did a party there in ’83, and it was great. I went into the loos, and the conversation was so fun and camp, and the people were so visual: wild outfits. I’d seen Derek Ridgers’ show The Kiss at the Photographers’ Gallery and I thought, wow, how brilliant to photograph situations like this. I love to capture people when they’re really having a good time. When it’s just the banter and they’re being themselves. But at that stage I wasn’t confident enough to approach people and start snapping.

I remember a lot of the gay clubs in New York wouldn’t allow cameras, because people might not want their image out there, they might be in the closet.
I mean, to be honest, I’m amazed looking back because I took pictures in The Lift in ’84 and most people were really relaxed with it.

Did you ever did you ever get in trouble for taking pictures?
Yeah, definitely. You always had to avoid snapping gangsters and wide-boys. If you walked into a central London house club in the late ’80s and early ’90s the first people you’d meet were usually dealers, and sometimes a whole line of them – no pun intended.

Or Twice As Nice, when it was at The End. There were so many characters there. So many Premiership footballers – though I wasn’t there the night the Beckhams went and did a bit of DJing – and no shortage of gangsters. I knew I’d have to ask people before I took their picture. I don’t want the grief. But it does dilute it somewhat if you go around saying, ‘Do you mind if I take a picture?’

Because you miss the moment.
You can always go back. Or you can do what I sometimes used to do, which was to take one more picture than people really wanted you to. You can see them starting to glare at you.

Twice As Nice at The Colosseum, 1999 with percussion passion from Travis
Twice As Nice at The End, 2000
Twice As Nice at The End, 2000

Tell me more about acid house. That was the scene you dived most deeply into.
I really felt a part of it. Even though I was about two months later than everyone else, that spring – I was a little bit late to the party. But nonetheless, I knew everyone involved. Nicky Holloway, Paul Oakenfold… Danny Rampling had done The Dos at the Zoo, The Dinosaur Do and all these things. So yeah, I did feel very much part of it. And I had felt very much a part of what was going on in ’85 and ’86, the warehouse thing. Because that was a really exciting time to discover London, and have a camera and be able to record it.

What was the first thing you went to that was part of what would become acid house
Well I had had been to the Dinosaur Doo, and Johnnie Walker and Danny Rampling were saying ‘We’ve got some ideas, we’re going to do something, you’ll have to come down.’ And that was late ’87. At the same time there was this whole ‘flare groove’ thing going on, which brought fun and silliness and dressing up to the rare groove scene, in clubs like Discotheque at Busby’s.

The really interesting thing about ’88 was it started fast and got faster, all through the year. You know, it wasn’t only acid house and Balearic beats. At the start of ’88 there was so much energy suddenly, so much positive vibes. ‘We can do this!’ ‘Let’s make this better!’ And of course ’87 had been amazing for the scale and ambition of things – like the Westworld parties. They were the only thing that compared with the scale of what was going on in Ibiza. London was mostly small clubs, you know, except for Heaven. Not many other places were remotely organised and well-run and had decent sound systems. So those Westworld parties were incredible. Four and a half thousand people, and they did four or five parties. Then they did Wet World parties in swimming pools.

Westworld, 1987, setting the scale for rave
Westworld, 1987

It’s funny looking at pictures from 1987 because a lot of people were really ambitious. There was a ghost train operating on the Astoria stage, there was Delirium with all sorts of adventures, a skate ramp, BMX bikes, a helter-skelter – they were doing all that in the Astoria.

So there were a lot of promoters who were really seizing the moment and trying to put on something that was a lot more of an event than just a little nightclub. The ambition that led to the raves was born in in warehouse parties. They just thought, ‘Let’s, scale this up. Let’s really try and do something.’

People knew how to find one-off venues, where to borrow a sound system. You could publicise it on pirate radio. It’s like you say, acid house was definitely not year zero. It was just that suddenly there’s this new thing that takes advantage of all this know-how.
And of course, it was it was the availability of ecstasy. Which some of the club promoters were very much involved in.

Were you aware that that was the thing that kicked it off?
You knew that it needed a prompt. And of course, a drug like that – that made people feel that liberated, was what kicked it off, yeah. What was gonna happen next was anybody’s guess. But of course, for someone like little old innocent me, who’d been to Taboo and seen half the dancefloor on ecstasy, because somebody had brought back a case from New York. I remember seeing it immediately: ‘OK, this is ecstasy. Right. Okay. Great.’

Leigh Bowery and friend on the floor at an ABC party, 1985

So Taboo was the first place you saw ecstasy in action?
Yeah. Half the club was on it, including the DJs. And they were all jumping into a pile with Leigh Bowery at the bottom, because he’d fallen over spinning around with [dancer and BodyMap founder] David Holah on his shoulders, and then everyone jumped on, including the DJs. And the record’s going around. We’re like, wow, this is really the trendiest club in London. Look at it!

And so, having seen that and experienced that, when I walked into The Future… Paul Oakenfold had told me, ‘Look, Dave, come down, have a look because it really is happening. Ibiza was fucking amazing and it’s about time we didn’t have just one style of music being played.’

And the Balearic thing had already been happening at warehouse parties in so many ways. You didn’t go to a warehouse party that played only funk music. Those parties were all about mixing it up. Apart from anything else, you could get 3,000 people into some of those places

The warehouse parties were generally more more than one room.
Yeah, generally two or three floors, if you were lucky, if the space allowed it. So it certainly wasn’t year zero. This whole ecosystem was already in place. And this new music, which had really been around for two or three years. And consequently there were so many brilliant tunes, you know, some of them were a couple of years old already. But that didn’t matter.

Back then I did feel very much a part of it, and that gave me licence to go into the clubs and photograph there because I was trusted. I was familiar. You’ve been invited. And then I went to Rockley Sands, I arranged my book Acid House As It Happened in the order that I went to places.

You wrote one of the very first pieces about the scene, in Time Out in March ‘88. Which was quite coded about what was happening: talking about ‘ecstatic dancing’.
Yeah, very rapidly we avoided mentioning ecstasy, but of course, as long as you took out the pictures of people gurning, most people didn’t know, they just thought wow, those people are having a really great time.

Ibiza 89 Amnesia pyramid

Tell me about Ibiza. Your Ibiza book is based on a single trip, isn’t it?
Yeah, one week. With Alix Sharkey who wrote the article for 20/20 Magazine. The editor Don Atyeo gave us an open brief. We said we think we ought to go and do something on Ibiza, because it was so important to London last year. And he said, ‘Just go there and see what you find’. Which is a dream assignment. And this was partly because he’d been in Zaire. Don Atyeo was the only reporter who stayed in Zaire for the Rumble in the Jungle after George Foreman got injured in training. He didn’t have the money to go back to the UK. And so he stayed in Zaire for six weeks and got in with Ali.

Did you know where to go?
Oh, we knew really. Our story was that that the clubs were going to have to have roofs put on them. This would be their last year open-air. It was a dream to go and take pictures of people having these crazy times with palm trees all around. We just thought, well, we’re gonna go to Amnesia with Boy George hosting the night because it was his birthday party. And we’ll see if we can go to Ku and then we’ll see what else is happening.

We’d been told  there were these really good bars paying music along Las Salinas. In the end, the story is quite long. And I was so happy Alix allowed me to include it in the book. It’s a good counterpoint to the myth that everything was perfect. Because even back then I’m moaning about all these bloody Brits puking up and jumping into hotel swimming pools from the balconies. That started right in the beginning.

And the other thing was it was multi-generational. We went to Pacha and the whole family’s there, even grandma, just like they would be if you went to a reggae dance or a bhangra night. And that was really, really good.

And you’ve updated the book for this new edition.
Yeah. It’s fun to put out the book again, there are some pictures that weren’t in the first one, and I also improved a few of the other shots.

Any other books in the pipeline?
Yes. I’ve got two books I’m working on. But both of them are secret in terms of what we can mention.

Your pictures have had a busy life because there are so few others of the whole acid house time.
At the time, the fact that I had pictures, and Oliver Maxwell had a few pictures, of Shoom meant it got all the attention. That’s a real factor, isn’t it? Of course, once things got written about, then the other clubs, like RIP, down at Clink Street, did get the props and the recognition. I mean, Shoom was a brilliant club. It had an incredible atmosphere. This crowd who were being incredibly nurturing of each other and, you know, a lot of them were only 16, 17. They were kids. They were bringing along teddy bears and all that. The whole vibe of Shoom was really amazing.

There was a newsletter, wasn’t there? with Jenni Rampling advising people on relationships and whether you should give up your job.
I remember when I was offered ecstasy at the first night of Spectrum, you know, I was like, No, I want to take some pictures. And I knew how many people had already chucked in their jobs. And I also knew it’s 25 quid. I felt a bit of a wuss, but on the other hand, I took the pictures. I just did some cheeky halves that summer and that was about it. Because there’s no way I could have taken pictures otherwise. I met people later on who were really high while still taking pictures, but by then you had autofocus.

What did you miss that you wish you could go back and photograph?
As far as the whole ’88 thing, there’s obviously ones I didn’t get to. I should have gone to Hedonism. I would definitely go back to that. Especially because so many of the black promoters in London were there. That’s where they got the revelation. The people who had heard this music on pirate radio. And thought, ‘What the fuck is that?’ Then when they heard it in a club, it suddenly made sense, on a proper sound system.

What are some of your greatest memories from that time?
Dancing along to the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in a club was amazing. Dancing to ‘Promised Land’ – hearing gospel house was incredible. And also ‘Yeke yeke’ another tune from that summer that often gets forgotten. That was all amazing. And obviously ‘Can You Feel It’.

I remember the first night of The Trip. They were really nervous: ‘Is it gonna be full?’ ‘Have we gone too big too early?’ You could lower the ceiling in The Astoria because it was such a huge venue. To start with they had it lowered. Then after only about two or three weeks they lifted up the ceiling and you can suddenly see from the bottom of the stage right up to the top of the room. It’s full of people going wild. ‘Wow, look at this energy rush!’ It really was phenomenal. And then there was too much energy in the room so it spilled out onto the street.

Those famous pictures of people partying outside. Was that happening every week?
Every week I heard about it happening. And I wrote about it in Time Out because I wanted it to definitely happen again so I could photograph it for The Observer. And I was so happy because of course it’s a different deal altogether when it’s outside. And years later to see people like Fabio and Grooverider in the pictures. I didn’t know who they were at the time.

‘Can you feel it?’ Ecstatic energy spilling into the street after the Trip, 1988
Fabio & Grooverider getting a taste for acid house at The Trip, 1988

Going down into the YMCA car park and people bashing on the top of cars. These poor people were just trying to drive home and suddenly 200 people are all jumping around, shouting ‘Can You Feel It!’ and ‘Acieeeeed,’ and all that stuff. One car drove up playing Public Enemy ‘Fight The Power’, and there was this feeling of rebellion, rebellion in the streets, people having an amazing time.

And the police were visible maybe about 100 yards away. We were outside the Dominion Theatre and there were only about two or three policemen, and I thought, what are they going to make of this? They’re gonna see a lot of people jumping around and think, Well, they’re having a good time. But they’re not actually causing any trouble.

And of course, later on, that all changed. This was the honeymoon period. For about four or five months. A few months down the line there were the first shock-horror stories. And it was basically the music press, the NME. Because they they were not holding back, they said there’s loads of drugs in there.

You must have been back to Ibiza plenty of times?
I didn’t go back for 11 years. I eventually got back there in 2000. Everyone started telling me about these DC10 parties next to the airport, how people were saying, this reminds me of the old days when we didn’t have any roofs.

I guess we should touch on your little team at Time Out over the years. Sam Pow and Reetu Rupal I know well.
Yeah, and Ben Bellman, who was with me for ten. Yeah. I was really lucky to have a lot of other people contributing, because there’s always more than one person can reasonably know about or find out about, or experience. So it was brilliant having having a bit of a crew.

Do you think there’s been a shape to club culture? A kind of historic curve or something?
It became a popular culture surge. It happened first with acid house, then with ’90s rave culture, and then that spilled out into festival culture. So many festivals got established, which started basically as dance festivals. Who were finding legal ways of doing it after you had such a repressive situation.

Obviously, if acid house hadn’t happened, there was no way they were going to shift the licensing hours. That wasn’t even a thought. The only change in the licensing hours before that was to let wine bars open in the afternoon.

And so many people went out in the rave years, and so many of those people are still going out. It might only be once a month or once every six weeks or whatever, but they’re still up for it. And they’ll definitely go to festivals and one thing and another.

But the variety and sheer volume of nightlife changed. In the ’80s and ’90s you could go to little one-nighters every night of the week. People definitely still want to go out. But there’s nothing like the range of opportunity to experience club culture, seven days a week. There’s really great bars, and they’ve got brilliant music, but people are not paying five quid to go to a club on a Tuesday night.

And so many clubs have closed. Clubs like Plastic People, The Cross, Bagleys. When venues close it breaks your heart a little bit. Because of what happened in those places. And what could still have happened if they’d stayed open… Because every social space matters. But there’s a brutal economic reality – if you have property values and rent rates like London, there’s a limit to how much you can do before it just becomes uneconomic to run a club. To be honest, I’m amazed that somebody has put a reported £70million into Koko. And they seem to be making a go of it.

Even back in the day, for many of the clubs it wasn’t economic either. It was just passion. Like Ultimate B.A.S.E. at the Velvet Rooms, It was only a small venue and they had all their running costs, but they’d subsidise it to have big guest DJs. Felix Da Housecat would come along. They were so good. But of course, the reality of running a mid-week club night was it was always going to be a struggle to break even. I think a lot of people now would say, ‘God, what a slog to try and do that’. How many weekly club nights are there now? I don’t know. Not many.

What makes a great night?
It’s a combination of so many little factors. You want brilliant music. But in the end it’s got to be the people who go. No party is happening without dancers who want to go there. And that’s why I always wanted to photograph the people who went to the party, not just the promoters and the DJs, and a couple of ace faces. It’s the people who make it happen. You can call it call-and-response, the relationship between the dancers and the DJ, or the music maker, or the live band, or whatever it is.

One of the things I really loved about doing the club section was, it was never just one type of thing. There’ve been so many different types of clubs we cover. Clubs can be a cabaret performance, they can be techno, or exclusively West African music… There’s so many different vibes and things that you can respond to and get into. So what makes a great club? In the end, the most important thing for me was always the vibe, the vibe that people created together.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton. All pics © Dave Swindells.

Nancy Noise brought Ibiza home

Nancy Noise brought Ibiza home

She was one of ‘The Walworth Road girls’, the angelic urchins mixing it with the international jet trash of Ibiza’s legendary open-air Amnesia in 1987. When a bunch of likeminded Ibiza veterans imported the sunshine and pills formula into dreary old London, Nancy Turner became Nancy Noise. Armed with a plastic bag of records, she showed herself to be a DJ of sensitivity and deep music knowledge, not least because while her mates were going doolally in Amnesia she had made time to obsessively note down the wild and weird records Alfredo and Leo Mas were playing. Haunting Rough Trade and the Virgin Megastore, she amassed the Balearic canon and employed it to great effect at The Future and Spectrum. ‘I didn’t really want to be a DJ, I just had loads of records,’ she told i-D in 1990. Today she’s one of the finest, with a forward-looking Balearic style that still owes a huge debt to those formative years.

interviewed by Bill in London 9.3.18, main pic Dave Swindells, all others from Nancy’s collection

Nancy in San Antonio in 1987

When was the first time you went to Ibiza?
I went there in 1984 but that doesn’t really count, we just went on holiday twice. I was quite young then and stayed in San Antonio. I met a gang of people from Stoke – striking miners who’d gone out to Ibiza as workers. But I saved up and went back there for the whole summer in May 1986. I rented an apartment with three mates, Tanya, Michelle and Joanne, who is Lisa Loud’s sister. Over that summer my sister Katie came out a lot and also Lisa and her boyfriend.

What did you do when you were there?
We were just hanging out. We’d saved up quite a bit of money through the winter and paid rent on this flat for four months: May, June, July, August, and then we moved into another flat for September. We were dossing around really. I did try a few jobs but I didn’t really do much.

Had you started DJing by then?
No I wasn’t a DJ. I was just a person going out there to have fun.

Did you go to any clubs?
When we first got there we were only in San Antonio so we were just going around the West End and then was Extasis, Star Club, Es Paradis. There were lots of drunk people, people snogging and handbags! It really wasn’t our scene. We found Cafe Del Mar first and then got invited out to this night with all the workers and they were bit older than us and we went round all the West end and then the last club we ended up at was Amnesia.

It was really late and turning from night to day. We walked in and we were like, ‘Oh my God!’. Couldn’t believe it. Open air, loads of lovely looking people. Colourful characters. That was it! That’s when we started going every single night. We’d hitch up there, or if anyone had a motorbike… We didn’t have money for cabs or anything. To get in free you had to go early, so we’d get there at like 1am or something and it would be empty. I’d be standing there, hovering around. Sometimes it would just be me and one other person, or there might be five people or a few crews. There were swings in there in 1986: a small one that went over the dancefloor and another one on a tree around the back. There was a room with cushions in it and different areas and we’d just hang out.

What music would be playing?
I wasn’t taking much notice. I fell in love with it because it was so eclectic and in London it was mainly jazz-funky soul, then rare groove. I worked with Pete Waterman. We had an office with a hi-NRG record label. I’d go to those nights, with Divine, so I’d been to loads of clubs, but different genres in each place. Amnesia was all different stuff in one night. A lot of pop. Loads of things we didn’t know. Liaisons Dangereuses ‘Los Ninos Del Parque’, which was European new beat-y sounding. The Clash, The Cure and because I got in there early it was quite floaty. They might throw in a bit of jazz-funk that we knew from London and some house.

Getting in there early was great, though, cos you got to see the night grow. Each night would be different and we’d discovered it not long after it had opened that year, and we watched it as the whole summer changed. After a while it got busy every single night. It was the club that workers from other clubs would come to, like the dancers from Pacha and the Loca Mio people would come in there in ’86. They were a band, I didn’t know they were a band, I just thought they were really cool, with people with big shoulders and long shoes, and they had fans, quite mad clothes. In ’86, so many people people dressed in mad things, I’ve got photos somewhere. A guy with Barbie dolls coming out of his hair. It was the same DJs throughout the whole summer: Leo Mas and Alfredo. That was it. No guests. I don’t even think there were any PAs. They played the same music all the way through the summer. It was like Balearic brainwashing! I loved it. In ’86, it was ‘Woman of the World’, by Double, Art of Noise ‘Paranomia’, ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’, The Cure.

Were there loads of records you loved but had no idea what they were?
Yeah. ‘Would I Find Love’ by Dizzi Heights was one of the biggest tunes that summer. I never spoke to them in ’86. I wasn’t someone who hung around by DJs. But I used to wander over and peek over the side to see if I could see the record sleeve. I don’t even remember writing anything down but when I got back to London I remember going to the massive Virgin on Oxford Street and buying ‘Would I Find Love’ on 12-inch in there, Jeffrey Osborne’s ‘Soweto’ which was a big record I found in there. When I got back I started working for my friend’s record label and my boss mentioned the label Teldec and I must’ve clocked the sleeve of this tune ‘Too Much’ by Hong Kong Syndikat. And I was like Teldec?! Can you get me a copy of Hong Kong Syndikat? So we rung them and got a load of copies sent over. We actually released that on E&F Records that winter well before Balearic Beat was released. That was one that got played early in the night, but I really loved it.

After the summer in 1986 literally all we spoke about was Amnesia. We were like lunatics. Every time we got together we’d just and talk about it. My mum and dad were like, ‘What is going on?’! I had Amnesia posters on my wall and I had a little underground sign and where there’d be the name of the station I had Ibiza written on it! We all started saving and we had a little crew. There were no mobile phones, so we swapped addresses and home phone numbers and these northern (Sheffield, Manchester, Corby) guys we got on so well with. We’d gone to RAW in the winter. I didn’t know my friends had bumped into some of the boys during the day in Covent Garden so I got there that night and they were there! We’d partied so much together we were all really close. So the crew was quite small the first year but it got bigger the next.

Nancy at Glory’s in 1987 with Vince and John
Lounging at Amnesia, 1987, with Simon and Jo

Then we went back in 1987. The next summer there was a real buzz around San An, and a few more people had turned up that had heard about Amnesia, quite a big Beckenham and Bromley crew. We were talking about Amnesia to them before the first night, and we got there and every single record was different! I turned up waiting to hear the same stuff and every single track was different. It was all amazing but it took a few days to get used to that. That was the year of ‘Jibaro’, Thrashing Doves, Cyndi Lauper and all that stuff. All the house stuff: ‘House Nation’ etc. I met Paul [Oakenfold] in there around August, but we’d been going there every night. And I’d been hanging out with Ian St Paul quite a bit. Him and Trevor [Fung] had The Project bar, and a lot of people used to go there before going up to Amnesia. Ian had a Jeep so I used to get a lift in that quite often and hang out in his apartment. Paul turned up and it was really weird cos I knew Nicky Holloway from London cos I used to go to all the soul things he did at the Royal Oak. So I was dancing around in there and bashed into someone and it was Nicky. What are you doing here?! What do you mean what am I doing in here, what are you doing in here?! I’ve been here for bloody ages. Oh I’m on holiday. He was there with Paul, Danny Rampling and Johnny Wallker. Didn’t really say much to Paul then but then I got invited to his birthday thing in a villa somewhere in the hills and I just remember saying, ‘No I can’t go there because I might miss Amnesia’. Thinking back now, I was a lunatic. I could’ve missed an amazing party but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be in Amnesia. Couldn’t get enough of it.

Was ecstasy evident in ’86?
Towards the end of the summer there were a couple of boys that had it, who had more money than us. A lot of LSD for our lot in ’86 which was just as much fun in Amnesia. ’86 was a lot of talk about it and, ‘Oh my god it’s amazing.’ Then I think in the winter we went to Amsterdam and it was going on there. ’87 was just full ecstasy the whole summer. In ’87 I’m thinking was it powder or pills? When it first came to England it was powder and we were dropping it in Rizlas.

And you brought the vibe home with you?

Yeah. We were having house parties in Essex in 1987 before clubs like Shoom even started.

When did you learn to DJ?
When I came back after that second summer. I met Paul and when I got back I started hanging out with him a bit. I started going to things with him, and he’d come and pick me up, and he came up to the flat and put my records around the room so you could see the sleeves and he said, ‘Who’s are these records?’ ‘Oh, they’re mine.’ This is the stuff I’ve been buying that I heard in Amnesia. That was it.

Then a few weeks went by and he did the night at Ziggys where Alfredo flew over and the police raided it. Bloody nightmare. They found Soundshaft and I think it was people’s birthdays so they had a party. After being together for four months it was a much bigger crew, and we were all desperate to get together as much as we could. So they did the first one with Paul playing and either Paul or Ian or both said, ‘Oh, do you wanna play some records before Paul?’ I said, ‘Er, I don’t know if I can!’ Then I thought, It’s only playing in front of a few friends. I’m sure it’ll be fine.’ So I turned up with a carrier bag with my records in it and did it. Within a few weeks it was packed and magazines were writing about it and I was like, ‘My god, I can’t cope with this!’ I used to send people to find Paul: go find him and tell him I’ve run out of records! He’d say: ignore her, let her sweat. Then he turned up at my flat one day with one those units that mobile DJs used to use. This is for you, you’ve got it for two weeks. There was no varispeed, but I sat on the floor playing my records, thinking oh that Prince one goes well with this. Did that for a few weeks. Couldn’t mix. I actually went back to Ibiza for a month and told Paul I couldn’t cope. Then when I was away I changed my mind and I came back.

In the Soundshaft booth at The Future, with mates Max and Sandra

Was it literally everyone you’d hung out with in Ibiza?
Yeah. The word just spread via friends. My friend Chris Abbot who’d also been to Ibiza said when he was queuing to get in someone in the queue said oh this is an E club! 

Where were the drugs coming from?
Oh god don’t ask me. I think it was something to do with the Sannyasin lot.

When did you know this was going to be massive?
Spectrum. It was empty for weeks and then suddenly one week there were queues all around the block. Lots of people I knew from London who’d found out about it. Word had spread. Future was busy from the beginning. It lasted till about 1990, around two years.

What is acid house’s legacy?
Ecstasy changed a lot of people’s attitudes. I had friends who had racist friends who really changed. It was a lot about love. The style of clubbing that happened in Amnesia, it changed the style of clubbing from what I’d been used to before. It could be a combination of the music and the drugs. More friendly, more open, more friendly. The nights that are happening now come from that.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Trevor Fung invented Ibiza

Trevor Fung invented Ibiza

The Ibiza origin story, made legend by Paul Oakenfold, sees Oakey, along with fellow London DJ/promoters Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker, discovering the sacred open-air dancefloor of Amnesia, with its uniquely cosmopolitan crowd, its genre-busting DJ Alfredo Fiorito, and its ‘ecstatic’ drug habits in the glorious summer of ’87. The quartet sampled the musical and pharmaceutical delights on offer, danced their socks off, and vowed to recreate this hedonistic sunshine vibe in London as soon as they could. And so was written the foundation chapter of acid house.

Less has been written about the hand that guided these Balearic explorers. The figure who introduced them to the music of Alfredo, the wonderfully mixed crowd of Amnesia – and the dancefloor emotions in a little white and orange capsule – was Trevor Fung, a young DJ and promoter who’d been playing and promoting on the British jazz-funk scene, and had been coming to the White Island since 1979. Trevor had even DJed at Amnesia as early as 1982. By ’87, he and his cousin Ian St Paul were running a little bar on the island called The Project Club, selling tickets and T-shirts for all the big clubs. As a DJ, Trevor Fung became a mainstay of acid house, playing at Shoom, Spectrum, Love, Rage, as well as at many of the M25 raves, including Sunrise, Energy, Biology and World Dance. In this wide-ranging and often hilarious interview he talks about the earlier DJs who influenced Alfredo, throws in a few wild tales of DJing at raves, and sets the story straight about the acid house creation myth.

Interviewed by Bill and Frank in Soho, 3.2.05

How did you get started as a DJ?
I’d met Steve Walsh who was doing his big Monday Soul Night Out with Tony Blackburn. I started playing in Slough as his warm-up disc jockey. And later the Lyceum, that was one of the main ones.

What was the thing in Slough?
It wasn’t a club; it was like a big hall. I’d been up there quite a few times. But a massive punch up broke out! We’d go up there, three coach loads from London and then one day this massive fight broke out with people throwing bottles. I ducked behind the DJ stand. Don’t know what they was fighting about, it was like this Slough – south London thing. We got on the coach, they smashed up the coach. Put all the windows through.

That’s how I met Paul Oakenfold. I was going to Slough, on the coach, and he sat next to us and started talking. He’d come to all these gigs before. I was probably 1 at the time. We used to do loads of things, Hammersmith Palais, was it LBC or one of those things that did the promotion.

What was he doing then?
He was a chef. He’d never played music in his life! He came up, quiet guy, started talking to him and it went from there. He was always asking me these questions. What’s this? Where do you get the records from? How’s this? He didn’t know fuck all about the music, but he wanted to know. I didn’t know he wanted to get in the business, all I knew was that he was a chef and he used to come to all these gigs. I started doing these spots at a place in Dartford

Yeah. I started getting some guest work up there with Colin Hudd, Jeff Young, Pete Tong stuff like that. I started getting involved in the soulboy thing. I was going up to Hilltop, going up to Dartford, Lacy Lady. Oakenfold used to drive us up these places, we used to make him! And in the worst car I’ve ever seen in my life. It was his dad’s, a brown Austin Maxi. Quick get out, don’t let anyone see us!

This was when the ‘Soul Mafia’ had things sewn up.
There was a core of people and to get in there you had to break that core. I was going to things like Caister and I wanted to get on to gigs like these, but there was no way. I couldn’t get in because of the usual suspects, Chris Hill. It got really stale. Same old music. You know, I could play those old things as well, but in the parties we did, I always put forward new music. Always.

We used to put on these gigs in Scamps in Croydon once a month on a Wednesday, and we used to book everyone: Hilly, Robbie Vincent, Jeff Young, Pete Tong. Also some other guys who used to work with us on the gigs, a guy called Tony Thorpe…

Of the Moody Boys [production and remix team]?
Yeah, and a guy called Mick McGuire. He’s a guy that used to work for Greyhound distribution, he worked at a record shop in Croydon and he now works in Japan playing techno! So by booking them, they started to return the favour. That’s how it works! Isn’t it? And I was telling Paul all of this!

Was he DJing by now?
No. But we used to go round his house and play records. One day we said shall we do something? Started doing some little bars and parties. From there we found this little gay club in Streatham. Didn’t even know it was there, lived there for a good seven years before I found this place. It’s underneath a pub, great little place, holds about 350, dark, really dingy, with a stage. It was like a gay cabaret place. Met the guy; asked him for every Friday. He said yeah. It was called Ziggy’s at the time, terrible name. But we just didn’t think of a name so we went with that.

So you called it Ziggy’s too?
Yeah! And we started putting on our nights every Friday. Packed solid. Me and Paul and we had a warm-up guy called Carl Cox. We had that place for seven years, from about 81-89. We changed the name twice, it went from Ziggy’s to the Funhouse to Project. Same place.

By that time, I’d started travelling, I’d gone out to Ibiza in 1980 and ’81. I went out there every year, consistently from 1979 to 1994. So there was lots of different kinds of music, soul, jazz booking people like Tongy, but then as Funhouse we were trying to play different types of music.

The Project Club we were slowly bringing in hip-hop. Paul, at the time – fucking hell he done this fast – he’d started working for Def Jam. He’d get acts over to the UK, bring them on to Westwood’s show and afterwards he’d come down to see us. We had loads of people down there. Marshall Jefferson, Darryl Pandy, Run DMC, Beastie Boys. We’d shut at 2 o’clock, get everybody out and down a little side alley. Then half an hour later, we used to re-open and go on till 5 or 6 in the morning. No one troubled us. Police didn’t know. Alcohol, the lot. This went on for years. Some nights we wouldn’t even work, and Carl’d play for about five hours. Carl used to love it; he couldn’t get enough of it. He used to come up from Brighton, set up the sound system, take it down and go home. I swear, we only gave him about 30 quid, then it went up to about £50. I remember doing an interview once a long time ago and they said who do you think is your up-and-coming DJ and I always said Carl Cox.

What took you to Ibiza the first time?
I was working in the travel business; I got a free holiday with… Club 18-30! So I go over there on a Club 18-30 holiday and I had the wildest time. Loved it. I loved it because it was the first time I’d been down to the Café Del Mar. First time I’d been to some of these clubs.

What was Café del Mar like in 1979?
It was just a little bar. It wasn’t done up. There was hardly anything around it then, it’s not like it is now. It was the only bar there. There were no flats. So everybody would just sit there at sunset and listen to the music, including the locals.

Before Alfredo, the big DJ on the island was this guy called Carlos Diaz. Brilliant disc jockey. He used to play all the indie stuff. At the time, I thought where the fuck did he get all this stuff? I used to look through his records going ‘where did you get this from?’ And then I looked at the labels and it was all English stuff. It was from Leeds and places like that. It was way he played it. He had a really good style. He was the first disc jockey who really changed my views.

Where did he play?
Es Paradis in San Antonio. Es Paradis, at the time, was amazing. Nothing like it is now. San Antonio was not like that at the time. Nothing. Es Paradis was one of the biggest clubs. There was Es Paradis, Pacha and Glory’s.

Describe Es Paradis.
Not as built up as it is now, it just used to have that centrepiece. You’d go in there and it was mainly Scandinavian holidaymakers, Swedish, Danish. Then Germans. The English market was small then, maybe 10-15%, maybe even less. There were more English workers than holidaymakers. It was mainly Scandis. That’s why he used to play this kind of music.

What was the capacity?
About 1500. It was all outside and inside. There was only the centrepiece fountain that was covered. In those days, they used to put these fountains on every night. You walk into this place and all you see is fucking gorgeous women, and it’s not full of Spanish guys, because they were all working.

So you’ve got Carlos playing all these different kinds of music, things like Jellybean mixes, a bit of Madonna, a real mish-mash. A lot of American pop stuff remixed by Benitez. It just seemed and sounded different, probably because of the atmosphere. It was electric. I wasn’t even doing drugs. I didn’t even know what drugs was, at that time.

Did it look like people were doing drugs there?
Well, when I think about it now… Yeah! It was wild. I loved it in there. It was a combination of the people, the music and the atmosphere. Everyone was dancing all over the place, it was like a coliseum, so everyone danced on the steps and at the end of the night they put on the fountains, which came out of the middle so everyone in the centre got absolutely soaked.

How did you meet Carlos?
I met him just going up and talking to him. I used go and pick up some sounds in the UK and take them to him.

So were you going over for two weeks at a time?
No I’d go for like five days. I’d got for weekends. Any time I could get out I’d go.

So you went more than once a year?
Oh yeah, I’d be going out there three or four times a year. I used to get flights for £15. I was earning quite a lot of money at the time cos I was working during the day and at night. Sometimes I wouldn’t go at the weekend, I’d go out Tuesday and come back Friday. Didn’t make any difference to me. Every night was a weekend out there anyway. Couldn’t tell whether it was Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Actually weekends were the worst because everyone would change over. During the week everyone settled down.

Tell us more about Carlos Diaz.
Carlos is one of the best Ibizan disc jockeys ever. Without doubt. This is where Alfredo got it from, this style of playing.

What was it about these guys that grabbed you?
Well a lot of these guys who lived on the mainland would go to Barcelona and Madrid so they’d be working in their clubs. It was a different concept. Pacha was unbelievable. Even though I’d be going to Ibiza, I hadn’t been to Pacha until my third or fourth year in. I’d never even touched that because I thought why do I need to go all that way when I’m having such fun here! [meaning Es Paradis] I was quite young as well then and it was a lot older at Pacha, so I think the music, because they’d spent the summer working in these other venues, they’d got better shops and they’d got time to prepare and know the music. Because they were working with different nationalities they had to do it in a way where they please everybody.

So in a way, the dancefloor’s cosmopolitanism shaped the music?
Exactly. But I liked that, I really did enjoy that.

And you tried to recreate that vibe in the UK?
There was a big difference between doing that abroad and doing that in England. This is what the Funhouse was about. We set it up in ’84 [in Streatham] trying to do this. It just failed miserably. A lot of the people hadn’t been to Ibiza so they didn’t get the experience of it without going to Ibiza.

It was a bit like that club that Rusty Egan and Steve Strange did… they had a club in Lyceum that failed, the one with the TVs and that. Steve tried it and that didn’t work either. I knew Steve; he used to come down, and Rusty.

Did you inject any other things like décor to try and get it to work?
I was trying to, but people were just like ‘what the fuck are you doing?!’

How early did you see the rich, jet set party side of things on Ibiza?
Later, much later.

Were you aware that it existed?
I wasn’t clueless… but I didn’t need it. I knew it was there, but I knew it was expensive.

Was Pacha were they hung out?
There was Pacha, there was Glory’s. Glory’s used to be in between Amnesia and the end of that road, before the roundabout. I think it’s a car showroom now. That used to be the after-hours club where everybody would go down from all the other places. That’s where you used to see the people mashed in there. They were the two best clubs, and Es Paradis, too.

When did you first go to Pacha?
’83. I’d decided that the music was going really well in the club. Jacked my job in and wanted to go and stay in Ibiza. Went over in April with my cousin Ian Paul, stayed there and came back in November. I met loads of people.

Ian St Paul?
Dunno why he put the St in there for! I was supposed to go with Ian but he bottled out the day before. I thought, fuck that I’m not hanging round for no one. At the time, there was loads of rare groove and I was bored of it and wanted to do something different. Met up with Carlos, and he started giving me little jobs in bars. I was working in a place called the If Bar. I’d do some nights at the Star Club. Met loads of Spanish people. Just little jobs here and there.

Did you speak Spanish?
No not really. I met a guy called Sid from Liverpool in 1979; met a good bunch of English people who had bars. I was doing loads of stuff with them. Just hung out for the summer. I used to fly back to London every month, go and see me good old pals like Johnny Walker, Mike Sefton, pick up loads of tunes and then I’d sort all the DJs out in the island. The two little guys at Pacha, can’t remember the names, but I’ve got all that stuff at home. I used to sort them all out. Ten copies of one record.

Must’ve been good for your standing among the other DJs
Of course. I never used to give it to them; I used to charge them, then whatever’s was left I took down the local record shop.

Were you hustling for gigs out there?
No not really. No! The reason why I went that year to Ibiza was because I worked for a guy at a place called Fred & Ginger’s at Old Burlington St opposite Legends. Two Belgian guys, it was. They bought a club; I went to play in Amnesia. I played in there. There was no one in there. No one. Dead.  I played there for about two weeks. It had just been bought and they’d just got it going. Didn’t happen. Lost my job. So I went back to England did temping and went back the following season.

What was Pacha like the first time you went there?
It was unbelievable. It was richer, much older people. Really glamorous, all models, mainly. You could tell that people were just flying in for the weekend and then flying out again on Monday. Drinks were really expensive. I was really young then, I didn’t have money to enjoy myself. I was just dancing, hanging round the DJ booth.

How was the music compared to Es Paradis?
Completely different. Nothing like Es Paradis. It was pure dance music. Quite forward. What I’ll always remember about Pacha before it started to change, a lot of it was quite tribally, a lot of drum music. A lot of tribal music.

Stuff like George Kranz?
Yeah, like that. In the old days, the girls that used to dance with the guys, there’d be about seven of them and they’d all be dressed up to the nines. I’d be there with my eyes hanging out!

And the DJ were these two little guys?
Yeah, two guys from Madrid. There was another one that joined them from Barcelona.

I used to go to Ku as well. That used to be amazing in the early days. Before it had the roof on it. A lot of the clubs were amazing before the roofs went on in 1990. Ku was like a mixture of the two, but much wilder. It was like a massive playground. It was completely wild. People jumping in the pool, doing anything, anywhere, anytime. There weren’t any restrictions. Completely different type of people, though, which is why I think the behaviour, was different. It wasn’t aggressive. It was all fun. It used to amaze me that in Ku there’d be 5,000 people, in Es Paradis there’d be 1,500 people and in Pacha you’d have a couple of thousand but, fuck me, you’d never see anyone during the day. Where did they all come from?! You’d turn up at Ku and the car park would be packed solid, the club would be packed solid. It was brilliant. I’ve seen Roxy Music playing there. James Brown. Visage.

After that year, I came back, that’s when I started to do the Funhouse, which we did around London. Still doing the Friday night, with more hip hoppy stuff. When I got back everything started to come together, started playing at Caister. All of a sudden you come back refreshed and it’s happening. I was doing a lot of things with Nicky Holloway.

What was your first experience of ecstasy?

So you’d been going quite a while before you realised?
Well, this is a funny story. I used to play carrom, this game where you knock pieces into the corners. I used to go and play it with this German guy Walter. Really friendly guy. Knew him really well. Knew him for years. Used to go and see him all the time. People’d come and see him, he’d say, ‘Be back in a minute’, ‘Yeah, alright’. One day in ’86 he says, ‘Hey Trev, do you want some of these?’ Looked at it and he had this little tiny tub. I said, ‘What’s this?’ He said, ‘ecstasy’. Gave me a couple and said, ‘here, try it…’ Well, that was it!

So you did them at his house?
No I was out, I went out with Ian. Cos Ian came out with me the following year, in ’84. But that same guy, he went on to buy a big club on the island.

What did you do the first night you did ecstasy?
I was working! At the end of the night we done this thing, we’d finish at 3 and go to Es Paradis. He said, ‘Only take a half, don’t do it all at once’. Eugh, disgusting this powder. Done it. From when I walked from the bar to the club I started chucking up. My body didn’t know what it was and I’d been drinking loads. Then… I started to feel alright. Ooh, this is great. Ian has a different resistance to drugs than me, and he swallowed the whole lot. He was off!

It was a powder, then?
Never forget it: it was an orange and white capsule. I saw loads of them after that! To tell you the truth, the first one was a bit hazy, but the next one was better. That was late in ’86 and I’d only been there for the weekend.

When you’d done it did you realise, retrospectively, what had been going on in these clubs?
Definitely. Of course. Everything came into the picture. I remember when I went to the Paradise Garage in New York. I was only 17 at the time. Me, Oakey and Paul. We was in there at 1 o’clock. Where is everyone? Three o’clock. Where is everyone?! Went to buy a drink: ‘No, we don’t serve alcohol’. What the fuck’s going in this place. Hung around a bit more and everyone started piling in and then everything just went BANG!. And then it clicked: they’re all on drugs, the whole bloody lot of ‘em! Fucking mad. It’s that gay scene.

And in Ibiza?
It was mainly gay. Mainly.

Gay, mainly.

Where you aware of that straight away?
Oh yeah. I’d worked with people like Steve Strange, you don’t miss much.

You said you met Alfredo through Carlos…
I met Alfredo when I was selling Carlos records. He used to look up to him. But then everybody did. He was the disc jockey. And I could see where Alfredo got that from, I could see where that influence came from.

So Carlos was the granddaddy of that style?
Oh yeah. Carlos left in ’85 he went to work at a place called Tito’s Palace in Majorca. He was there for about three years, and then he left and I lost touch with him. I’d love to find him. I’ve got some friends who live in Majorca who used to see him and they don’t see him no more. I tell you what: top disc jockey. He was the one.

Better than Alfredo?
Well, Alfredo didn’t come on to the scene until ’87, really.

Was Alfredo copying Carlos’ style?
No. He was bringing his own style to it. But that’s where he got the influence from. This is what I like about Alfredo. I used to get a lot of my stuff from Jazzy M in Croydon. In ’87 I went over to Ibiza to work again. I thought right, if I’m going to go over to Spain I need to do something or have something. So we rented a tiny bar in San An. Me and my cousin Ian. It was really hard because you have to have people from Spain involved and special permits.

What about gangsters?
I think there was that stuff, but you’re talking about bigger clubs. With Ku that was definitely some kind of… money. Es Paradis was privately owned and Pacha was. But Ku, definitely. I know that for a fact. I used to know people who used to go there and buy coke over the bar with a credit card. God’s honest truth. And the card was bent! The thing is they knew it was bent, too, but they knew the banks would pay it out. The guy would come round and say meet me in the toilet I’ll sort you out. Everyone on the way back to England would pop into Ku Club, get a couple of T-shirts and fuck off back to England. It was the norm, everyone knew it!

Anyway, your bar…
We rented this bar and called it The Project Club. We changed the name of the club in Streatham to the same, at the same time. The Project Club in San An was already a club downstairs, but we rented the upstairs bar. We set up the sound system. We were just playing music and selling drinks. We used to be packed every single night. Not just packed in the bar, it was packed in the street, too. We’d be meeting people in the clubs, we started selling their T-shirts: Ku, Pacha etc; started selling tickets. So people’d come to us.

Were you the only Brits doing this?
No there was loads. There was a community there. That was a good thing.

Was it still mainly non-Brits.
It had started to change. More and more workers from England. In ’87 about 30-40 percent Brits, but a lot of working Brits there. I was doing the music, Ian was serving the drinks. I was playing all the Chicago stuff mixed in with Prince cos that Sign O The Times album had just come out. But it wasn’t to do with the music in that bar, it was to do with the people. And in the crowd, there was Nancy Noise, a young worker, Lisa Loud. Loads of people used to come over and see us. We had a brilliant time. It was a fantastic summer. That was when Amnesia started to kick in. The music from amnesia is imprinted in my head. It’s like know Alfredo’s set from start to finish. I know it. I know what he’s going to play after this song, I know what he’s going to play after that one. I’ve got a few of his tapes from this period. I could copy them. I know it off by heart. He done the same thing, but it worked. Even though he knew what he was playing, it was brilliant.

What was it he did that was different to Carlos?
I think he was a lot more dancey. The house thing was completely different. When you hear something like Frankie Knuckles’ ‘Your Love’. Fucking hell, just the beginning bit, everyone on E. God almighty, everyone use to go mad to that record. It was a mixture of things; being out there; listening the music. And, you’ve gotta remember that a lot of the people out there was working people. I think Ibiza mainly started with the working people.

Amnesia finished quite late didn’t it?
Yeah. We used to finish at three or four o’clock by the time we’d get out it would be four and we’d go down there. It used to go on till 12. That was when the modern Ibiza started, the old Ibiza, which I knew but not a lot did. That’s when it first started hitting the British scene.

Reflecting upon it now, what’s happened subsequently, do you think we ruined it?
Not necessarily. I don’t think it’s the Brit’s fault, I think it’s the Spanish fault for being too greedy. I don’t think you blame the English, they’re gonna want that experience. I think what’s really fucked it up is it’s too damn expensive.

But didn’t they do that intentionally, though to try and cull numbers?
They knew people would take it.

So it’s a double edged sword for you, really, because ’87 kicked it off, but also killed it, too?
Yeah, it is sad in a way. 1994 was the first year I’d not been. I’ve seen it slowly change. In a way, I was part of making that happen, though!

How did the fabled quartet end up coming over then?
What happened was, it was someone’s birthday, not sure whose, I think it was Paul’s Paul had come over earlier in the season, but he didn’t like it and went back. Anyway, he rang us up again and said he wanted to come out and he wanted to bring Nicky, Johnny, Danny. We found them a place to stay. I said, ‘you’ve gotta come over and see the place, it’s going mental!’

Had you told them about Es?
Not to Danny or the others but to Paul.

Were you going back to England at all?
Yeah, backwards and forwards all the time.

So you’d had a chance to see the whole combination working in Ibiza, of house music and drugs?
Down in London there was only a few places playing it, Eddie Richards, Colin Faver and Mark Moore. And Jazzy M was selling it. But over there, yeah, it was kicking off. When they came over, I took them to the bar. And they were like fucking hell, can’t believe this, which I think was more to do with the staleness in the scene at the time. Then we went to Amnesia. Fucking hell! We was all off on there. Danny Rampling skipping round the room and jumping speakers. Chaos. Wish I had pictures, they’d be worth something now.

What was Nicky doing?
I don’t remember seeing Nicky much that night, but Johnny… Johnny was sitting in a speaker. Danny was jumping up and down. Paul was like ‘I can’t fucking believe this, it’s changed since I’ve last been here!’

And you said, ‘Do you wanna try one of these?’
Oh yeah, I’d give them all one at the bar. I didn’t want to say too much, I just said, ‘Try this, it don’t do too much to you’ [laughter]. That was it. Came back and started to do things with Paul.

When you came back didn’t you try and replicate the Ibiza vibe in Streatham?
We was doing that. But it wasn’t the same type of vibe. It was the music. It was okay, but a lot of our crowd there was still out in Ibiza.

So it was starting to work?
Yeah. But it was different still.

How or when did someone bring Es into the UK for the first time?
Straight away. Not from Ibiza, from Holland. I know someone who supplied.

How long did it take you to get something together?
Not long at all. At the time I used to go and see Colin Faver, he was playing at Delirium on a Thursday at Heaven and they were thinking of stopping. They offered us next door, Soundshaft. Spectrum started after Christmas.

How involved were you in Spectrum or was it Paul’s baby?
Nothing to do with Paul. It was Ian St Paul’s club. Ian ran Future as well. Paul was only doing the music side of it.

Where were you?
I was doing music.

Is it true you brought Alfredo over to the Project Club?

How did that go?
It went really well, but it was small, very small. We did it a few times. It wasn’t the same atmosphere as, say, Spectrum or Future. It was more local.

What was the night where there was a decent supply of Es in a club in London?
We’d tried to get in this club and it had fallen through. And we all went up to Babylon something [Thursday night, vague memory on this]. Anyway this guy had a load of Es lined up. But we didn’t have no party lined up so we had to go to someone else’s. It was quite funny seeing these kids like this… I thought, I don’t think London’s ever seen this before! All the gays in the club going, what the fuck?! Heaven was the ideal place for us to start Spectrum and Future, because it was a gay club. We’d mustered up about 250 people from the summer, said we was gonna put on a party, but then it fell through. So instead of putting it off we went to Babylon wotsit. Brilliant night. Everyone dancing funny. What does this look like: fucking hell. The club owner, Paul Churchill, came to us, and we said we wanna do something straight away and the next week we was doing Future. So Thursday became Future and Monday was Spectrum. I worked with Kevin Millins at Rage which opened at the same time.

The story Oakey tells is it wasn’t that good for the first few weeks.
No it wasn’t. It was slow, but then a month later you couldn’t get in there. We had kids coming from everywhere.

How did they find about it?
Word of mouth. You see, all the [Ibiza] workers, they’d come from everywhere: Aberdeen, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds. They’d get people together and they’d come down. At the time we had a lot of northerners. They weren’t all London kids. It grew from a core of about 200 and expanded from there.

Danny said you gave the name for Shoom.
Yeah. There was a friend of mine from Wolverhampton who always used to say it and I picked it up from him.

What was the difference between Shoom and Spectrum?
Smaller and more select. You know Heaven, just trying to get 1500 people through that door on a Monday, you can’t afford to pick and choose. I did like Shoom. I did the first ever one there. That bloody smoke machine! Then Nicky did The Trip and he really took it to the masses then. Saturday night.

Was it easy to find those Balearic tunes?
Well there was a couple of Spanish things that were hard to find, but I got hold of them. There was another James Brown sounding thing Enzo something. That was really hard to find. That’s when Pete Tong came up and asked me to do the Balearic Beats album.

Do you think Alfredo’s something of a forgotten figure in dance music, given what a massive influence he’s had on UK club culture.
I think he is, but it was the Brits that made it happen.

Yes, but Paul Oakenfold lives in a $2.5 mansion in LA and Alfredo is living in obscurity. It’s about context.
No I agree with you. Most people like him never are remembered. To tell you the truth, I thought I was the catalyst for a lot of this stuff. The to-ing and fro-ing and so on. Keeping it going, trying to make it work.

Looking back, what would you describe as the thing you brought?
Well, the reason I went out there in the first place was because I thought it was too stuffy here, the clubs, the people, the music. With Ibiza, it’s changed people’s ideas of clubbing, to certain extremes, admittedly, but it’s changed the way you go out and the way you enjoy yourself.

So what’s the bad thing?
Too many drugs. Out of control. Drugs are for enjoying yourself at the club. It was mad back then, though, I was doing Energy, Sunrise all of those. I was doing five gigs on a Friday, six on a Saturday. I remember going home to see my mum and she said, ‘Trev, you don’t do any of these drugs and play music to these crazed people do you?’ ‘No, come on mum, don’t be so stupid’. Anyway, at that same time there was a news flash and they were talking about acid house and they scanned in on the disc jockey and I’m standing there DJing!

Did she see you?
Course she did!

Did you feel a little bit proud to see all of this happening?
I didn’t really look at it like that, but I was glad to see it there. It was a shame to see Ibiza go the way it did, but then I liked Ibiza the way it was… mixed feelings. I go two or three times to Ibiza each year and I play with Paul at closing party at Pacha which I’ve been doing for the last four years. I do my deep house thing and then he does his trance thing.

What was it like doing those outdoor parties?

What were the more memorable ones?
Sunrise in Oxfordshire. Brilliant. 20,000 people. I’d done about four gigs that night and I got down there and I was coming on at 7.30 in the morning. I remember standing there, with three juggernauts, two with speakers either side of the one in the middle with mixing desks and decks. I went all the way round and I remember that feeling of putting on the first record. I stopped all the music. I put on Kariya’s ‘Let Me Love For Tonight’. You’d think people would be dying at that time in the morning, but everyone just went mental. Brilliant moment. I know how rock stars feel now. Carl Cox was on acid at that thing. I never even realised he did drugs. He was falling all over the place! ‘Carl do you do drugs?!’ Oh my God! There were some bad times, too. When all the gangsters and the serious drugs came into it, it killed it.

There must have been gangsters in it before.
Yeah, but on a different level, though.

How quickly did that creep in?
Didn’t take long. Certain ones were plainly set up with that in mind.

Is it true that some of the ICF were out in Ibiza in the first place, so they were on it in the first place?
Yeah. They were well on it.

Were they fairly benign?
Yeah. I remember I was doing Energy in West London, I think it was, and I’m walking in and there are people going ‘Es, Es, do you want Es?’. Fuck that, it ain’t nice. It’s always gonna happen. I used to get gigs, and there’d be plastic bags full of money on the floor and they’d go: ‘just go and help yourself’. Seriously! Then there’d be other times, and I’d go, ‘Look I need to get off, I’ve got another gig. Just to pick up my money.’ And there’d be a big bouncer there, and he’d pull his jacket aside to show me his gun. And I’d go, ‘Just tell him I need the money, alright?’ That was at Linford Studios. There was this other one I did in Ripon, north of Leeds, big outdoor thing, and I had to do another one in Hull afterwards. I stuck a record on and the promoter came up to me and said, ‘Listen everyone’s turned him down, but we need to put this act on now’ I said, ‘Who is it?’ ‘It’s Orville and Keith Harris’. So I played two records, went to the office collected £700 and drove over to Hull for the next gig!

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Yo! The Early Years of Rap, 1982-84

Yo! The Early Years of Rap, 1982-84

We’re in the train yards, at the Fever, in Bronx River, in the Roxy. We’re tagging on the subway, looking through Bambaataa’s crates, backstage with Melle Mel. We’re in D.ST’s bedroom crammed with studio gear, at the Fun Gallery downtown. These unguarded moments tell you exactly where you are on the timeline: right at the start of things. This is hip hop when it was still fresh and fly. The first records are coming out, the breakers have just been on daytime TV, the writers watch their train-art loop the city daily. Hip hop energy is the biggest thing in New York. It’s a young scene, baby-faced and smiling, a little unsure of what’s next, but really excited to get there.

One photo shows kids queuing up to get into the Roxy. A black tape holds them in line. As the flash pops, a lad of 17 or so ­– his cap announces ‘Deeski’ – raises both hands in peace V’s for the camera, in front of a sea of faces. His smile tells us all we need to know about the excitement bottled up behind him. In a moment these kids will charge into the club for another weekly episode of the best night of their lives.

The stars are dressed in silver leather or leopard-print, with fur and tassels, studs, buckles, boots and head-dresses. They’re looking fine, but they haven’t got used to it yet. Few will ever be famous beyond the five boroughs. And the faces of future legends still look teenage. Jazzy Jay, Melle Mel, Scorpio, Afrika Islam, Cold Crush, Rock Steady, Red Alert, Fab 5 Freddy. There’s a photo of Bambaataa and Herc together, and even Kool Herc – the grandaddy of the scene – still hasn’t hit 30.

The DJs are grinning as they pass each other the next great breakbeat. There’s fun ready to burst. The breakers are still discovering all the ways their bodies can flex. The b-boys in a circle watch them battle. Sophie Bramly was clearly family. Her photos capture innocent moments that bring home how wild and new all this must have felt. She would go on to create Yo! MTV Raps for MTV Europe, copied a year later in the US.

As veteran hip hop publicist Bill Adler points out in his intro, from the birth of hip hop at Kool Herc’s back-to-school jam in 1973 up to the end of that decade there’s no photography beyond a few snaps. When the visual record begins, most is focused on graffiti or breakdancing. French Tunisian Bramley gave us the first body of work that takes in the whole joyous scene. This book drops you into those glorious years when hip hop emerged from the clubs and started making its way in the world. This is when it was all still just a party, and when the science of fun behind it: DJing, MCing, breaking and graffiti, was discovering new bombs every week. Amazing times. From the lovely people at Soul Jazz, this great book is an access-all-areas pass to see hip hop’s first steps. Frank Broughton

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Fab 5 Freddy made it fresh and fly

Fab 5 Freddy made it fresh and fly

‘Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody’s fly,’ rhymed Debbie Harry in Blondie’s ‘Rapture’, before namechecking Grandmaster Flash and François Kevorkian in the next line. Graffiti artist, film-maker, MC and TV presenter Fred Braithwaite, aka Fab 5 Freddy, was early hip hop’s most dedicated ambassador. As downtown Manhattan caught on to the exciting noises brewing in The Bronx, Freddy was the key connector zipping between scenes – bringing DJs downtown and introducing them to the no-wave clubs and galleries, and taking Lower Eastsiders uptown to meet the protagonists on home turf. While most commentators saw rap as a fad, Freddy was determined to gain it critical respect, specifically by unifying the somewhat separate street cultures of graffiti, breakdancing, DJing and MCing, and by staging gallery shows that propelled graffiti into artworld magazines and auction houses. He made the classic movie Wildstyle with director Charlie Ahearn, a film that’s near as dammit a documentary of the early hip hop universe, and which makes up in authenticity and period detail what it lacks in Hollywood polish. In 1988 Fred cemented his role as hip hop’s most vocal champion when he presented the groundbreaking Yo! MTV Raps, the TV show that took hip hop into living rooms globally. This interview was for the first edition of Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, and as well as the roots and shoots of hip hop, Freddy was a fount of knowledge on the black mobile DJs who were the scene’s direct antecedents – entrepreneurs who used their sound systems to rock college beach parties and bourgie jams in Manhattan restaurants. He was also great on The Paradise Garage, a club very close to his heart, and on the inevitable connections between disco and hip hop. As he says here, despite the rappers eventually taking centre stage, for him it was always about the power of the DJ.

interviewed by Frank in Manhattan, 5.10.98

Frank Broughton: I guess the first question would be, when did you first hear what was going on in the Bronx?
Fab 5 Freddy: I grew up in Brooklyn, and before I knew about hip hop in the mid ’70s, I grew up with the beginning of DJing. There were people who inspired the guys in the Bronx, DJs who came from Brooklyn, possibly Manhattan. These are the guys who invented disco. Long before disco was borne into the public’s consciousness by way of Saturday Night Fever etc, it existed in black and gay clubs – I didn’t go to the gay clubs I went to the black and Latin clubs – where DJs became the icons of the street.

The DJs were people like the first Grandmaster, who was a guy named Grandmaster Flowers, who died about six or seven years ago, a guy by the name of Pete DJ Jones, a guy by the name of Plumber, guy named Maboya – and there were several other guys – who would give parties and they didn’t do any cutting or scratching, but what they did is mix. They had two turntables and a mixer, and the most incredible thing that they did was the music never stopped – ’cos that was the beginning of seeing that for the first time – and they played records that you didn’t hear on the radio. They played the extended versions of records like ‘Fly Robin Fly’ by Silver Convention, records like ‘Love is The Message’ by MFSB, records like ‘Rock The Boat’ by George McCrae.

And there was a radio DJ at the time in New York who was very influential in black music across the country, a guy by the name of Frankie Crocker, who programmed a station called WBLS. He innovated FM radio programming and sophisticated the presentation of black music on the dial. He was tuned into these DJs and he started to play these records before anybody, and he broke the whole mould of radio station DJs who just followed a playlist. Frankie Crocker broke these records nationally and it became this media thing known as disco.

Those DJs, I went to those parties, I was a young person dressing up trying to be older, going to the parties where these guys were god. What they were doing was incredible. You would ask: who’s DJing? who’s the DJ? That was what made the party hot, and if Flowers or Pete DJ Jones or one of these guys was on the flyer it was a must-go-to event.

They didn’t even play clubs. What you had were these independent party promoters, who would rent restaurants in Manhattan for the weekend, take the chairs out and put up a few lights and you would consider them discos. Coming from Brooklyn and the outer boroughs, a lot of people didn’t realise these places were average restaurants in the daytime, but the whole sense of coming into Manhattan, coming into these pseudo-posh joints gave you this whole air that you were doing something really special and added to the whole excitement of it.

WBLS would advertise these parties heavily on the weekends, so you would know the names of the different clubs. They were places like Nemo’s or Nell Gwynn’s. Sometimes they’d give these big holiday events at a hotel, there was one at the time which was infamous, the Hotel Diplomat, where they’d give these big extravaganzas. Or there was this place on 34th Street, I think it was called The Riverboat. With Grandmaster Flowers, Pete DJ Jones, Plumber, Maboya etc.

So that was the big attraction There were these promoters, you could tune into this radio station that was reflecting what you would get at these parties, this supercool radio DJ who would give credibility to the scene. I can’t describe what you could go to now and have that same feelings that you had as a kid going to one of these places. Like going to Carnegie Hall…

How old were you?
I was a teenager. These parties were promoted as college parties. I was high school age but I was playing like I was already at college. It was a fake bourgie scene as well, they would put on these flyers, ‘NO SNEAKERS’.

So after having my flirtation with that scene, I got this whole thing as the DJ as god, or the club as a shrine – I made all these analogies when I was a kid back then. Because these DJs became icons. Then there started being another kind of DJ. Everyone in the urban areas wanted to be a DJ. So you had guys going out, getting their speakers, getting their two turntables, any how, any way, wiring them up and trying to be DJs. Like these DJs that were gods.

That’s what Flash said: he was inspired by them.
He was completely inspired by them. The first wave of hip hop DJs were all inspired by those guys. That’s where Flash got the name ‘Grandmaster’ from, was from Grandmaster Flowers. He was the first Grandmaster. That’s really important.

I’m sure when you talk to Flash, or when you talk to some of these other guys, they can bring you some of that energy, like, ‘Yo money, this is the real story.’ This is where they got their inspiration. Very few people know about it.

So for me, a kid in Brooklyn, figuring it out, I didn’t have a clue about Flash or anyone at this time. But these local guys in the area started trying to be DJs on their own. Particularly a guy named Frankie D, and Master D, these were our local guys in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, who would play in the parks and the block parties. And they started doing something a little different to what Flowers and Plumber and Pete DJ Jones would do: they started manipulating the records a little bit. Nothing too phenomenal…

When did they start doing that?
I don’t have exact years, I would have to sit down and get with some other heads to really lock into years, but this is mid ’70s now, moving into late ’70s, let’s say from ’74 to ’78, as a rough span. Now these new guys are coming out into the streets and every other guy becomes a DJ. Now I started noticing them playing a different group of records, that you didn’t hear, even from the disco parties, a record that had another kind of a feel than a disco record.

More like funk?
They were basically breakbeats, is what I’m trying to say. You would hear things like ‘Apache’, and you’d be like, ‘what’s that?’, and it made you move a little differently. They had a very crude and early version of scratching: very, very minimally, but it sounded incredible. And they had MCs. Their MCs weren’t great lyricists, at the time it was more the call and response: ‘Wave your hands in the air,’ ‘Somebody say hooo,’ and they’d mostly talk about how dope their DJ was. Which was the emphasis to this whole era for me. One of the reasons I wanted to do this interview was because the DJ has always been the focus of this whole thing. When rap became rap, the focus moved and a lot of people forgot the DJ. But for me, and closest to my heart, even to this day, is the effect that the DJ had on me.

I was one of the kind of kids when you went to jams I’d have to stand in front. You had your gangster kids… everyone came for the music, but within the party there were different things going on. But at every party you had a group of people that stood at the rope, watching what the DJ did. Those were the guys that wanted to be DJs and MCs.

And you would stand there… watching. That was still the era of chilling at a party in a b-boy stance. You would stand a certain way, because that was about being cool, but it was also about ‘I’m not to be fucked with’, because you were always intimidated that there were some really dangerous guys at these parties. So you wanted to chill in the b-boy stance. [he adopts it: arms crossed tight, shoulders turned inwards]. I was joking with my man, reminiscing: ‘Remember when you used to go to a party and stand like that, with your feet in a certain way?’

This is all in Brooklyn?
For me, yeah. Grandmaster Flowers was also from Brooklyn, so Brooklyn was important in the scheme of things. And he also was a graffiti writer, which was highly influential on me, ’cos that was where I came into the scene, as a painter, a graffiti writer.

So how does it fit in with the scene in the Hevalo and the Bronx in general?
Im’a tell you. Here’s the thing about me. I was mad curious, always, so when I began to go to a lot of jams and began to figure out the science of it, and observe the DJs, the things you would talk about was how much amps he had: ‘Oh money, that muhfucker, he got five-hunnerd amps, he got 500 watts, son.’ ‘Really? Yo, my man got two thousand,’ ‘Worrrd?’ ‘Yo he got 18-inch woofers, he had the piezo tweeters.’ This was the conversation around the DJ and his set. One thing Brooklyn guys were known for was having really strong, clear-sounding sets. ’Cos later, when I began to venture uptown to parties, the guys were much more advanced in terms of turntablin’ and rap but the sets were horrible.

So as I began to go to more parties I asked ‘Yo money, where did this shit start? Like what do you call this?’ And guys would say, ‘Oh it’s the uptown sound,’ or, ‘It’s from uptown,’ and uptown used to be a combination that could either be Manhattan or The Bronx. And then you began to hear a very slight inkling about a guy named Flash. who was supposed to be the fastest DJ, ’cos speed became the thing.

So I asked questions, asked questions, couple of times I even ventured out on the train up to Harlem and just walked around. In Brooklyn in the summers you’d look for a jam. You’d roll up on some heads on the corner, ‘Yo money where they jammin’ at? Anybody jammin’? Just to be out, the energy, just the classic shit, tapped into the street pole [for electricity], 2 o’clock in the morning some hot hazy Saturday night, you’re just bored, literally on the verge of doing some ill shit. It definitely kept me from doing some crazy shit.

I heard there were these tapes you could buy, from these uptown guys. Through some graffiti connections, in Manhattan, on the Lower East Side, this is now about ’78, I met Lee Quinones. That’s when me and him were getting ready to do the whole Fab 5 thing, bringing graffiti out into the mainstream. So I got with this kid, and he had a Flash tape, and that’s how I heard my first Flash tape. I’ll never forget because it was still the Furious Four. It wasn’t even the five of them at the time.

He was tellin’ me that they sometimes play in the community centre in the projects on the Lower East Side. So this was where I saw Flash with the Furious Four, but they were introducing Raheim, as the fifth member. He had just joined the group. I could remember it as if it was yesterday.

An interesting ironic fact, I went up to Melle Mel in between the sets. I was like ‘Yo man, wassup. Are you aware of how big this is? You guys should make a record.’ I remember him going, ‘Yo, who would buy it?’ I said, ‘Well at least all the people comin’ to these parties.’ But it wasn’t about that. It was just about being somebody. I’ll never forget that. So I got to see Flash do his thing. It was amazing, it was state of the art.

This was on the Lower East Side?
Yeah, at the Smith projects. Community Center of the Smith projects.

Do you remember the date or the month?
It was probably September, November ’78. ’Cos it wasn’t freezing. But anyway, boom! And when you went to these parties, there would  always be guys giving out flyers, which were a kind of connect the dots for other joints where I needed to go. I can remember all the imagery and shit. Began to get my hands on a few more Flash tapes. So I could hear the differences between what they did and what guys in Brooklyn did. Once I plugged into Flash I started getting a few flyers, I started seeing the other names.

And that was who?
Shit, money, it was Grand Wizard Theodore, and Fantastic Five MCs, it was Flash, it was Bambaataa, it was, ohmygod, other DJs? It was Charlie Chase from Cold Crush…

You haven’t mentioned Kool Herc.
No, I missed Kool Herc. When I asked people where they learnt from I began to hear ‘the legend of Kool Herc.’

A great clip from Wildstyle, with Grandmaster Flash cooking up a beat for Fab 5 Freddy as Lee Quiñones and Lady Pink throw up a piece and The Rocksteady Crew run through their moves.

Tell us about Wildstyle
Not long after that whole experience I got this idea that a movie should be made. I was serious about trying to be a painter, and I wanted graffiti to be seen as a serious movement like Futurism or Dada, or other great movements in painting. I didn’t want us, through racism and ignorance, to be looked on as folk artists. I was aware of Andy Warhol, who had become an icon for me, and I wanted to let people know that this was a complete culture, which I had read somewhere included dance, painting and music. So I wanted this film to demonstrate that this graffiti thing which was the focus, was a complete culture: that it was related to a form of music and related to a form of dance. Prior to that nobody had seen these things as being connected.

And that was the inspiration for making Wildstyle. I hooked up with Charlie Ahearn, we collaborated on making the film, I ended up starring in it, doing all the music, Charlie wrote and directed, and we basically produced it together. But in the pre-production and research process, I had to take Charlie up to the Bronx. We took a year going up to parties and researching, doing research on the whole hip hop scene.

And you made original music for it.
Well nobody was sampling yet at the time, and the rap records that were being made were just replaying the popular tunes, like what Sugar Hill and Enjoy was doing. But we wanted to capture the energy of these breakbeat records. We’re making this little independent film and Charlie was real scared about being sued. So I said I know what we’ll do. I’ll go into the studio and we’ll make our own breakbeat records. I went in with some musicians, created ten little one-minute pieces of music that would give the feel of different breakbeats, that the DJs would then take and then pick the beats they want, and then that would be our soundtrack.

I remember the day I took them up to the DJs so they could rehearse, they were saying, ‘This is incredible. You made records?’ I was like yeah, and y’all should be able to do this too. You guys are my heroes.’ But they weren’t thinking like that at the time.

Later, the best producers in hip hop were DJs, but this was before they could see the process of making records. Sampling wasn’t even a part of the game yet. That technology wasn’t there. But the ideas were there. Flash actually did it first, if you think about it. ‘Adventures on the Wheels of Steel’ was the precursor to sampling. He just did what he would do at his show. And recorded it all.

The DJ was always the focus in the development of hip hop. His name went first. It was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, representative of their status. That the DJ used to own the set. And he was giving them a reason as a rapper to have a reason to rhyme.

Was there any Jamaican connection for you? Herc says he was directly inspired by the Jamaican parties of his youth. And you’re coming from Brooklyn where there’s a big Caribbean community.
No inkling. None whatsoever.

None at all?
No. What was dope about it, it was parallel. It was a parallel cultural development. Journalists have liked to imagine that everybody in Brooklyn or everyone in hip hop knew everything that was going on in Kingston, it was totally not the fact.

What’s incredible about Jamaica to me, where I’ve spent a lot of time, Jamaica to me is a combination of Africa and New York. In terms of the sensibilities. There’s this very African vibe, feeling, climate, aesthetic, mixed with this very modern thing.

Herc brought it to a point where he started to play these beats and talk over them in a way that inspired a lot of people. But I’m not sure that Herc predates Plumbers, Pete DJ Jones and Maboya. But Herc was a perfect link, in terms of what he brought to the picture. If he did experience Jamaican dub in its early form: a guy talking over the mic, use of the echo chamber. If he did hear that first it could very well be the case.

And later when Herc and them freaked it with the echo, there was a way they used to rock it: ‘And I’m going all the way-ay-ay-ay down to the last stop-stop-stop.’ That’s how Flash used to rock the echo. And DJ Breakout of the Funky Four. They were known for the echo. ‘And this is the sound-sound-sound, of the Funky Four-four-four. Plus one more-more-more, into the girls Shara-ra-ra.’ It used to be ‘Ohmygod, what are we hearing?’

It used to be so ill, the energy and the vibe. Motherfuckers used to smoke dust [angel dust, PCP] on the scene. Like back then in the hip hop scene it was very weird, it’d be really dark, the DJ would have a couple of light bulbs rigged up on a board. There might be one strobe light, and that was the lighting. And a lot of guys would sell angel dust. At least up in the Bronx, that was a popular drug at the time, and it makes a really fuckin’, sickly ill smell, when guys are smoking that, in a fuckin’ hot funky room. It used to be a really ill vibe. There used to be a lot of heavy dust-heads. That might have inspired a lot of the sound. I don’t know. I’m not saying any DJs were smoking that shit, but the scene was weird. It was cool though.

I just know, for me early on, I can remember looking at a big stack of speakers and going, ‘Money, this shit is like some kind of altar.’ ’Cos that used to be the big thing: How high a DJ could stack his shit up. How big his speakers went up. ‘Oh shit!’ Come to a party and be looking up.

And you heard some of the early MCs?
It’s really before rocking the mic was a big issue. It was just about these DJs, it was just about this energy. But they had heard Kool Herc at the Hevalo and seen his MCs Coke LaRock and Clark Kent rock the mic. They wasn’t rhyming about nothin’, they was just, ‘Yes, yes, y’all-y’all-y’all.’ That’s all they were saying, but it sounded like the coolest shit. And then later that summer everyone went out to try and do it. And the rest is history, man.

When did the battles start?
Battles seemed to start early on. I remember some ill sound system battles. I remember one back in the day in a big-ass armoury in Brooklyn. Four sounds in there. It was Frankie D, Master D, might have been Divine Sounds, and maybe the Disco Twins from Queens. Who actually I’m working with now.

The Disco Twins were real foundation DJs, as important as Frankie D and them. What was fly was they were identical twins with big Afros, They were the foundation of Queens, they’re from those projects called Queensbridge, which later gave birth to Marley Marl, the whole Juice Crew, and then Nas. Identical twins, and they would do this thing called going around the warpath, where they would move around this table cutting one after the other, and go bam, bam, bam, and then the other one would be bam, bam, bam, moving around the table, cutting up ‘Apache’ or ‘Good Times’: good time, good time. good time. good time. Oh shit!

That final scene in Wildstyle, that energy we captured, where D.ST’s cutting ‘Good Times’: good, ga, ga ga-good, ga-good, g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g ga ga good g-g-g-g-g-g-g GOOD TIMES!!! That’s how DJs played back then, they used to build you up, ’cos they knew, that was your favourite part of the record.

It’s a tease.
Pure tease, money. Just tease. That’s the skill of it. It’s the right time of night, and when you let that shit go, it‘s like aaaaaaaahhhhhhh. You so happy. It’s a science. A lot of motherfuckers don’t know how to do that no more.

The epic Wildstyle finale.

Could you hook us up with any of these Brooklyn guys?
Let me tell you a tragic story. It’s about six years ago. I’m in the middle of directing some video. We’re doing MTV, the whole shit, and I’m running around town in pre-production. So I have to run into Tower Records to buy something, on 4th and Broadway. I’m in a van with some people on my crew, a million things on my mind. And there’s a couple of guys panhandling, begging, outside Tower Records. Busy day, people walking up and down Broadway. I’m about to step into the door, and I glanced at this guy, disheveled, obviously he’s a crackhead or something. And for a second, I pause, looking at him. I’m literally in mid-step, and the guy makes eye contact and he goes, ‘You recognise me, you know who I am right?’ He’s with some other guy and he goes, ‘See, he knows me.’ And I don’t know where the fuck I know this guy from. I come back, I stop and I turn. I walk back to him and I’m like, ‘Who are you?’ And he goes, ‘You recognise me, you recognise me right. I’m Flowers.’

I felt, in a second, the whole shit just came out. I went in my pocket. I musta had about 25, whatever I had in my pocket I just took it out put it in his hand. I said, ‘Yo, you’re Flowers, you’re Grandmaster Flowers.’ I didn’t want to ask what happened. It was obvious. This was when crack still had a huge part of the community under grips. It was sad, money. Anyway, this brother I was vibing with, a year or two later, said, ‘Yeah, I seen him too, and I regret to tell you that he died. He passed on.’

That crack epidemic. If heads didn’t go to jail and get incredible, unrealistic amounts of jail time, then you know, they died. Just like Cowboy, Grandmaster Flash’s first MC. That’s another part of the whole story of rap.

Tell me about how you helped to bring hip hop downtown.
I brought it downtown in pursuit of my career as a painter. Started meeting people like Blondie, David Byrne, Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, John Lurie. I was in the midst of that whole new wave scene.

It was from graffiti becoming a part of the artworld?
Exactly. For me, people like Glenn O’Brien, the original editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview, he was like a mentor to me. Chris Stein and Debbie from Blondie, they kind of were patrons to me. And I was allowed to flow on their scene. I was introduced to the Mudd Club, the whole downtown swirl, which was a very small scene at the time. People like Jean-Michel Basquiat were coming on the scene, trying to be a painter too. I was making my moves, I was meeting heads that were open to what I was talking about, what I was doing.

Which of the galleries was it?
The first gallery to really represent us effectively, was the Fun Gallery. Which was run by Patty Astor, who starred in Wildstyle as the reporter. She was a good friend of ours, an East Village icon. It was my idea that she become a gallery dealer. I said if SoHo had Mary Boone, who was a hot sexy brunette, East Village should have you as the bombshell blonde. She didn’t know too much about selling art, but she loved to give a party. The idea of the Fun Gallery was that the artist was supposed to change the name of the gallery every month. Kenny Scharf, he was on some fun-type shit, so when he had a show he called it Fun.

We were in preproduction on Wildstyle at the time and I said, ‘Well I’m gonna call it the Serious Gallery. I’m gonna flip my shit like serious.’ But Patty didn’t have any money to change the stationery that she had made for Kenny’s show, so she asked if we could still keep it Fun. It was the first gallery in the East Village; within two years there were 60. That’s how fast it happened.

I met Keith Haring who was also trying to become a painter. I also met Jean-Michel [Basquiat] around that same period. Art was the hot thing and we were this new crew trying to get a piece of it. Keith had put together this big show at Club 57 called the Invitational Black Light Art Show, where everybody had to make art that somehow or other glowed in the dark. And anybody who knew me at that time, I would tell them what kind of music I was into, which was rap. And Keith was like wow, I’ve heard some of those rap records. So I told him, look, I know the real guys. And I had Afrika Bambaataa come down and play at Club 57. And everybody was like, ‘Wow, who’s this DJ playing this new music?’

Where was Club 57?
57 St Marks Place. It was the answer to the Mudd Club, for that whole little scene. John Sex, Keith Haring, Anne Magnusson, that was their own hip little nightclub they invented for themselves, ’cos a lot of them weren’t cool enough to get into the Mudd Club.

Was that the first time a DJ came downtown from uptown?
Yeah. Effectively and officially, but it didn’t really become official official until I was asked to curate an art show at the Mudd Club, and I called it Beyond Words: graffiti based, rooted and inspired work. In which I included a lot of graffiti artists but also a lot of downtown punk rock type artists, whose work I thought had a graffiti thing, like Alan Vega from Suicide.

Which year?
1980. There was a big art frenzy going on because the Times Square Show had just happened, which was in June 1980, so it was later that same year. Even before that, I performed at the Mudd Club. Steve Maas, who owned the club was like, ‘Why don’t you bring in some more of this rap stuff? I was never trying to be a rapper. I just did it ’cos it was a great way to earn some rent money. I never tried to present myself as a rapper. I was experimenting with different shit, like two DJs cutting in and out of each other. It was kind of crazy, but it looked cool, because I knew nobody downtown had seen that.

Who were the DJs?
It was a kid from my block named DJ Spy and this white kid that used to DJ for me named DJ Nick the High Priest. He was cool, he used to DJ for Jean-Michel. He was a good friend of Jean-Michel. So when I curated a show, Steve Maas was like, ‘Let’s do some rap,’ and I was like, ‘OK, but I’ma set this shit off right.’ By this time we’re in pre-production on Wildstyle, so I’m well-connected with all the big uptown DJs. So I was able to get Grand Wizard Theodore and the Fantastic Romantic, I had Bambaataa come down, I had Cold Crush. It was like a rap review. Three or four groups came, Bambaataa DJed all night.

Bambaataa’s title was Master of Records. He would always play some crazy records in the midst of this whole b-boy frenzy. He would put on a Monkees record and people would be like ‘What the fuck?’ but the uptown crowd would love ’em. People would invent dances, like there was this dance called the Patti Duke, that was inspired by some of these sounds. Bam always wanted to play for a white crowd like this, ’cos he’s got these kind of records in his collection. And that inspired him to go and make ‘Planet Rock’. Because now he had played for this audience, he had a feel for what they would like.

He hooked up with Arthur Baker at these downtown parties?
More or less. I forget how exactly that happened. That was a Monica Lynch, Tommy Boy thing. Somehow that was her idea to make that record.

It inspired so much.
Unbelieveable, the way that record just opened up a whole thing.

Taking that Kraftwerk sound…
Six months ago, Kraftwerk played in New York for the first time in about 15 years. I went to see them and it was so incredible, because they were such a big influence on me, when I was a kid in Brooklyn. Discovering that record, and buying that album. And just being into that whole attitude. And now 20 years later, with everything from websites to samplers, to the fucking Powerbook, all this shit connects to Kraftwerk. While they were playing I was thinking of everything you can connect back to them, that’s cool now, that they did first. Those sounds, they were so new to hear.

How did people react uptown to those kind of records?
They loved those kind of records.

They didn’t care where they came from?
Oh, nobody knew where they came from. They just sounded… The whole major thing about all of these records that were played: None of them, NONE of them, with the exception of maybe one or two, were heard on the radio. The records that were the foundation of hip hop, it wasn’t about the hot record of the moment. Maybe one or two would be played – like Parliament Funkadelic hits or some hot Michael Jackson record like Off The Wall. But what made hip hop parties were these records you didn’t hear anywhere else. It was ‘Apache’, ‘Dance to the Drummers Beat’. You went to the parties to hear these kind of records. Like ‘Welcome aboard disco airline flight 78, dum-dum dah d-dah [Eastside Connection’s ‘Frisco Disco’]. Records that made breakdancers want to breakdance. Or Chic’s ‘Good Times’, that became an anthem way after the record was a hit. ‘Bounce, Rock, Skate’ [by Vaughan Mason]. All those records you can buy now on series upon series of breakbeat compilations. Those were records that these particular DJs made their careers on.

Tracking them down.
Yeah, they and only they had those records. They would soak the labels off, so you would never know what the fuck is that record? Records like ‘Super Sperm’ [by Captain Sky], that you never heard on the radio. Records that’d just make you go crazy. That’s what made it so cool, even as a kid, you knew you were gonna hear something you couldn’t hear anywhere else. That’s why you wanted to go, you wanted to be a part of that world, hear that sound, just be in a cloud of angel dust smoke, all that energy, just funky perspiration odour. All that shit was a part of the party. Some stick up kids that could rob you. It was a whole world. that’s what hip hop was at the time.

And the DJ for me was literally god. In the ghetto. To be coming of age in a time when that person was the star that I looked up to was just incredible for me. It’s affected my whole life.

But it took so long for people to catch on that this was happening.
Well that’s why films had to be made, and stories had to be told. Our reasons for making Wildstyle were not for me to be sitting here being interviewed by you, it was just to make a film that the true hardcore members of the culture would go and see. Our dream was to have a movie that would play on 42nd Street in Times Square for like a year.

And they’d see themselves.
Exactly, that was our key thing. We wanted to make something that was real, to the real heads of the game. And we were happy as all hell that we did that. Now it’s revived, I know they just re-released it in London. It’s where this culture starts, as far as doing your research, as far as rap, it starts with Wildstyle, there’s no earlier record of this stuff on film. And there’s no truer record, which is why other Hollywood films, which were done for a lot more money, are glanced over. ’Cos you look at Wildstyle, you’re seeing Crazy Legs, you’re seeing Flash, you’re seeing Cold Crush, you’re seeing Fantastic. These were the stars of the streets at the time. It really does capture what those parties were like then. When I look at the movie it feels really old, even though it was late ’70s, early ’80s, but kids were still rocking Afros and shit… and tight jeans!

I used to be so embarrassed about the movie, technically. ’Cos we didn’t know a thing about all that real technical shit. And I used to watch the movie thinking about why this scene ended up like this, or that one like… Now I just laugh the whole way through. I’ve forgotten all the nightmare stories behind making it.

Can you date when people started using the term hip hop?
Technically it didn’t become known as hip hop until the early ’80s, but I knew early on that that was the one unifying term. And the reason that became the name of the culture was because that was the one thing that almost everybody said at a party: ‘To the hip, the hop, the hibby-hibby-dibby-dibby, hip-hip hop, and you don’t stop.’

It was coined by Lovebug Starski wasn’t it?
Either Lovebug Starski started saying that, or DJ Hollywood. Between the two of them. When you would be describing to somebody what kid of party you were at you would say, ‘Yo it was one of them hibbedy-hop things, you know, that hibbedy-hop shit.’

But it wasn’t seen as a culture. When I came up with that idea to show all these things in a movie, it wasn’t like every other breakdancer, or every other graffiti artist, was thinking about these other two forms as a part of their world.

Breakdancing and graffiti came long before the music.

They were self-sufficient cultures that kind of got roped in?
Totally. It was all roped in by Wildstyle. The perception that these things were one world. Nothing had put it all together like that, until Wildstyle. Prior to that graffiti was the scourge of the city. It was looked at by the administration like dogshit on the street. And although a lot of it was very aggressive and angry, within that anger and aggression there was great art. It challenged a lot of shit. It still does. ‘I’m gonna spray paint on your fuckin house!’ That’s really what it’s saying, ‘…and you can’t catch me!’

Then it was about communicating to other heads like you. Sayin’, ‘Oh, that muthafucka got more heart than the next nigga, ’cos look how many times his name is up.’ Muthafuckas was loving the idea of fuckin up the system. I didn’t want people to be dwelling on that. I wanted to play off the whole aesthetic attitude: ‘I’m an artist.’ It was insane, money. You’re running around spray painting, stealing paint, every chance you get, your whole life is consumed with acquiring paint, and painting. I still get an ill fucking chill when I think about painting. Or when I’m around graffiti. If I even smell spray paint I still get like – ‘Oh shit.’ That shit drove me, money, and I tried to translate that energy into everything else I did. Try to project my shit to the top.

Tell me about the Roxy parties. Were you involved with Kool Lady Blue right from the beginning?
Uh-huh. She was a really great girl. She come offa that Blitzkrieg scene or whatever [he means the Blitz club], – I’m sure she told you – Boy George and them, New Romantics. She didn’t have a clue. But she was a great girl, she had great energy, and she knew all the cool English heads on the scene at the time. Hooked up with a guy named Michael Holman who I knew, who went on to manage the rival breakdancing crew to the Rocksteady Crew [New York City Breakers]. They decided they would give a party, a la the parties that used to happen uptown, at a joint downtown, called Negril.

They had put my name on the flyer without contacting me, so I saw my name on this flyer, I’m like, ‘Who’s this Lady Blue?’ So I stepped to her, and she quickly smoothed me out, I see she’s connected with the Rocksteady, which was already my peoples. So she gave a couple of parties at Negril. I was on the mic, as the house MC. Then she came to me said, ‘Listen, I met these guys that have this rollerskating rink,’ which was the Roxy. I said, ‘Damn that place is so big. How you gonna fill it?’

What I was instrumental in doing for her was I would give her advice on people to book, because we had did the movie, so I knew who was who, uptown. She’d heard about Grand Wizard Theodore, who she put down as one of the first DJs. But the first night, Theodore didn’t show up, and the Roxy’s house DJ was playing. But this kid named D.ST was around for some reason, ’cos I think he used to be a breakdancer too, and he had a crate of records. Nobody knew him, he wasn’t a name uptown. But I knew him because we had used him for Wildstyle. He cut the final scene. Blue was standing there waiting for Grand Wizard Theodore to come, and I said listen, this shit is not happening, honey. And she’s like, ‘What am I gonna do?’ And I said ‘This kid right here. Grand Mixer D.ST, he’s incredible.’ He got on. The rest was history.

What was the greatest Roxy party for you?
The pivotal party was the night when Blue got Malcolm McLaren to let her show a copy of The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle. It was hot, because everybody was still conscious of that whole punk rock thing, but nobody had saw the film, because it was never released. So she arranged a screening, and right after was around the time when the uptown heads from the Bronx, the hip hoppers, would start coming in. These two scenes had never been mixed on this level. I had did it somewhat at the Mudd Club, but the downtown scene was pretty much predominantly white, and the uptown scene was black and Hispanic. And I couldn’t imagine it was gonna work. I just anticipated kids from the Bronx beating the shit out of weird looking punk rockers.

And true to form, she had all the fashionable on-the-edge punk rock people, the new wave people, the English glitterati, in the Roxy for the movie. And when it ended, I expected all these heads would leave. But a lot lurked around, kinda curious. And sure enough, here come all the little b-boys and b-girls, the fly guys and fly girls coming in. I was waiting for some shit to jump off. But kids was coming in, just dancing, energy was right. And it seemed to me, from that point on, you had this great mix.

From that moment on that became what the Roxy was. You had a big forum now, where uptown can meet downtown, and everybody mix, and got to hear and see what each other were into. You had punk rock kids with mohawks, standing next to b-boys [does the b-boy stance] It was the first time each other was seeing each other.

Was there much mingling, did people make friends or were they just checking each other out?
A lot of fucking going on. In short. Lot of fucking going on, because the hot dance at the time, this is when Madonna’s ‘Everybody’ is a new record. We were all moving in that same crew. ‘White Lines’ is coming out. The hot dance at the time was the Webo. It was this dance that came out of the Latin scene, where you would get all up on a girl and really rub your two pelvic areas together, furiously. Like really wind and grind on each other. If you were cool with the girl or if the girl was really wild, she would let more than one guy hop on. So you would sometimes have a guy on the front and a guy at the back. It was called the Webo, or the Freak, doing the freak.

The black and Latin girls wouldn’t want to let just any guy jump on them. But a lot of the white chicks, at the Roxy, they didn’t know that it’s cool to do this, but not like all the time, and don’t let guys get too carried away with it. So, you would see three or four Puerto Rican dudes all around one girl, and she would be like [dizzy abandon] ‘Aaah, this is greeat!,’ and them guys would be like, ‘Yeeeahhhh!’ There’d be a lot of energy like that. Just people rubbin’ on each other. Kids would be hookin’ up, you know.

So that was what brought the two scenes together.
You know… It helped! It was a really really good era. You’d see people checking out what each other’s doing. You got Madonna, a good example of that whole cross-pollenisation, cos she made her initial style what hip Puerto Rican chicks were wearing, mixed with some b-boy shit. Like, c’mon, that whole nameplate belt-buckle, that was a b-boy fuckin’ staple. That was official shit. So she incorporated that with the whole Puerto Rican disco club girl look. Took it to the world, money!

It’s quite a trip that the club was run by an Englishwoman.
There was also a kid named Jon Baker, that runs Gee Street records. He used to be the doorman at the Roxy. We used to call him Mole. He was part of that whole English crew that was running behind the Roxy. I guess through Blue, the English contribution was really important. Also for us, as far as Wildstyle, some of the first money we got was from the fourth channel [Channel 4]. So I’ve always felt a kinship there. The England scene, they gave us some money, ’cos nobody was trying to hear us over here.

What about McLaren, was he just poaching?
I had met Malcolm back then. When he first came to New York, Blue was the one taking him around. Pointing him in the direction, because he wanted to do something. But I had been connected with the punk rock scene really well. I was tight with The Clash, so I knew how people felt about him. Blue brought him to a gig I was havin’, with the Rocksteady, when he first came to town. ‘Oh, he wants to make a record!’ But I didn’t warm up to him. I was like, ‘He ripped off fuckin’ punk rock.’ So she took him over to the Supreme Team – they had one of the first hip hop radio shows – and the rest was history. Malcolm made good records. I had a lot of respect for him, I just couldn’t get down with him.

The DJ was overshadowed very quickly. Why was that?
Because of the prominence of the rapper. I just think culturally that’s how it was supposed to go. But I think the DJ’s influence is still there, just is for obvious reasons, the rapper coming out front, the DJ has a somewhat diminished role.

In any form of music, there’s not that many innovators, a handful that defined the culture. And from that handful you can make lines, drawing out, spanning out to everybody else. So as long as you understand who those key originators and innovators were, just make sure that we acknowledge who they are.

It’s not who made the most money or who sold the most records, but who made the most impact. Let’s balance who sold 50 million records with who was the first to do this. Who really invented this type of flow. This is what the real heads are conscious of. And that’s what keeps this culture so vital today. You have so many of the practitioners there still spitting game and stating facts.

You also went to the Paradise Garage
It was through my friendship with Keith Haring, I went to the Garage. That redefined his life, Keith became a part of that whole scene, he became friends with Larry, and in terms of club music, he was god. I would be able to go up into the booth. And it was indescribable, the energy in there. It was fucking incredible, you understand, it was incredible to be in that room.

The other day, I was in my car and I made a turn, and I saw King Street, I looked in my rear-view mirror, and I was like, ‘That’s where it was!’ THE ENERGY. ’Cos to be up in there was just another world. It was the only place I ever saw, where in between a DJ playing a 20, 30-minute sequence of records. When he would come out of it, people would just clap, on the dancefloor, spontaneously.

And he would play records so far before you would ever hear them anywhere else. I can remember ‘Din Daa Daa’, I remember Imagination. [Sings] It’s just an illusion. You’d hear that record six months at the Garage. Grace Jones, every time she would come out with something new. Hear that at the garage for six months. Peech Boys, ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’. Being at the Garage for that first night. The excitement. I can’t believe it, it was just fabulous.

Even after seeing how people talked about Flash, there was never a DJ I ever encountered, who people spoke about like Larry Levan. ‘Oh Larry, was OK, he wasn’t playing great.’ Or if Larry was angry, people would be like, ‘Oh shit, Larry’s not happy tonight. Something ain’t right.’ But if you were there on a great night, it’d just be ‘Oh my god.’ It was really that incredible. The way the lights would be working, it’d be phenomenal, money, the effect that shit had on the senses. I cannot describe it, man.

Nothing makes you feel like that no more, There’s nothing that’s going on with that kind of excitement. Just being in the room, waiting.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Chris Stein delivered the rapture

Chris Stein delivered the rapture

Chris Stein is the quiet genius (and guitarist) whose interest in New York street culture drove his band Blondie in all kinds of interesting directions. For many kids in the suburbs, ‘Rapture’ was their first contact with hip hop, while ‘Heart Of Glass’ was their homage to disco and producers like Giorgio Moroder (with whom they later worked). We talked to Chris in 2014 about hip hop, hippies, heroin and financial calamities.

interviewed by Bill in London, 28.2.14

What was it like growing up in New York in the ’60 and ’70s.
It was great. I was a teenager in the middle of that folkie scene, going to New York every day on the subway, it was a great period. I saw Hendrix walking round the streets. I saw Richie Havens all the time, he was always hanging out on Washington Square. The West Village, Bleeker Street, MacDougal Street was the nexus, where everyone went to hang out. It was the December’s Children period [psychedelic rock band from Ohio]. That was a really big record when it came out for all of us. I was born in 1950 so my life parallels the rise of rock’n’roll to a certain extent. I was at Woodstock. I went to Haight Street in 1967. I was at home in my communal house there when someone came running in shouting, ‘George Harrison was just on Haight Street!’ I went to San Francisco in ’67 and ’68. I got to LA the weekend of Monterey Pop,  and I was so horny to get to San Francisco I didn’t go to the festival, which I’ve always regretted. Debbie went to Woodstock, too. 

How did you move from the flower power to the Velvets. 
Well you know my Velvets story is from 1967. My friend was working for Andy Warhol as like a gofer. He was a kid, just 16. He came to my house in Brooklyn one night and said the opening act for the Velvets has not shown up, do you guys wanna do it?  So we went to the Gymnasium which was uptown on the west side and opened up for the Velvet Underground which is really a great moment for me. They let us use their amps. Maureen Tucker let us put her bass drum right side up. They were awesome. We were always aware of them in that period. I went to art school in like 1968 then I took a couple of years off and went back in the ’70s. Then I started seeing flyers for the New York Dolls in the lobby and I thought it was a drag act. And I went to see them and fell in with Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps. Everything was connected to Andy Warhol, everybody had some connection to him.

Was that stuff widely known outside the downtown scene?
The art scene was only downtown. Max’s was an art hangout but there was a music situation a little bit later. We got the Velvets record when it first came out in the middle of the flower power thing. 

You came from an arty background didn’t you?
My mom was a painter and my dad was a frustrated writer but he just had to have a normal job. They had met in the Party, and he was a Labour organiser. They were pretty leftwing. The FBI had come to my house when I was just a baby, was the family story!

What was the vibe when you left school?
My mom got me into this private school uptown called Quintano School For Young Professionals. It was across the street from Carnegie Hall. There were actually a few kids who were in showbiz. I think Patty Duke went there. Johnny Thunders went there later, too. They just wanted to get you through high school successfully so you could take a degree. 

What was your ambition when you left school?
I’d always been into music, I’d been playing since I was 12 and being in bands. But you didn’t think of it as a career in those days. It wasn’t like the kids now who see themselves like that now. It was just what we did. I was still involved in that revolutionary hippie ethic, too. Now, everyone aged 20 – 30 is a hipster. In those days, if you were a hipster you were an outsider. You weren’t part of the mainstream. 

Tell me how you first discovered hip hop.
[Fab Five] Freddy brought us to this event uptown in 1977 and it was a big moment. It was me, Debbie, him, Glenn O’Brien and Patti Astor. It was just exciting. I’d never seen it in person before, you know? The energy level was phenomenal. It was a kind of a festival in a police athletic league which is kind of like a civic centre. It was just great. And it was like a parallel of what was going on downtown, but they were completely separated. So it seemed like a no-brainer to do something with a rap in it. It just seemed the obvious way to go. 

Where did you meet Fab Five Freddy?
Maybe TV Party [Glenn O’Brien and Chris’s cable access show] or hanging around on the scene. He used to do that TV show with us. I’m not exactly sure of the timeline. 

Steinski discovered you through a WPIX guest slot.
Yeah we got close to the Funky 4 + 1 and Rodney and Sharon. We went on Saturday Night Live and they let us pick another guest artist and we brought those guys on, Funky 4 +1,  and the guys on the show just couldn’t get it together to get the turntables to work so they wound up with a tape and it was really disappointing because they didn’t get to do real scratching. But that was still the first hip hop act on either local or national TV on America. They still put them on at the end over the titles. They were just nervous about the whole thing. 

Why do you think they were nervous? 
Just all this fucking stuff. The late ’70s that period I talked to a lot of people in record companies and 100% of these guys told me: hip hop is a fad and it’s going to go away. Everyone of these fuckin’ guys. And it was racial aspect to it, gang kids etc. 

So tell me about the new album. Debbie says it was a more long distance.
Remote, yeah yeah. For most of the record I was in New York and Jeff the producer was in San Francisco. So we’d be sending things back and forth all the time, for about a year. I would send him a track, programmed, and Clem would come in a little later and play some drums, and we’d play some of the instruments, real instruments, but it just kept going back and forth. 

And a lot more programmed?
Oh yeah there’s a bit of my programming on almost all the tracks.

So how does Clem work around that?
We just put him in and he plays on top of that and it makes it sound more organic when you put the real instruments on. Real guitarists replacing programmed guitar, but I have a tendency to use guitar samples, it’s just easier to get a sound with a sample but I play it with a midi guitar. It’s just easier than plugging an amp and trying to get a sound, the sound can take an hour sometimes. If you use a sample it’s five minutes and it’s right there. 

Do you prefer working like that?
Now I really prefer working with the computer. Or I’ll just write in a guitar part with a keyboard frequently too. There are all these programmes now that will play a chord by using one finger. 

How long have you been working this way?
I was really lucky I had the guy who runs our fan club got me going with computers in the late ’80s/early ’90s. I remember when emails started and if I’d had any brains I’d have bought all those domain names! But then who the fuck thought of that? But this stuff I’ve been doing for six or seven years and still learning all the time. I’m not Skrillex, I don’t have that kind of skill, you know, all these songs that he writes just sitting on an aeroplane. 

What was the imperative to get the band back together?
When we broke up, interest in the band built up over the next ten years. Early on, I never heard people talking about it, but as time went on more and more did and then other musicians started referencing it. It seems like we’re much more accepted now than we were 40 years ago. Certainly 30 years ago, at any rate. 

When the band ended in the 1980s was it more to do with your illness?
Nah, it was management, bad financial advice. We ran out of money. We were just screwed over on so many levels. Bad management, bad accounting, our accountant, in the two year we made the most money, decided not to pay our taxes with these loopholes and we wound up owing $100k which kept going up every year with interest so it ended up being $1m. after five years. It was stupid, all that stuff. And we were doing drugs like crazy and there was no rehab in those days. Now it’s part of showbiz, the artist gets fucked up, you go to rehab

And then you write a song about it!
Send ’em away for two months and that’s it. In those days, at the same time all the A&R guys at the record companies were giving us loads of cocaine. But that was okay, because that was ‘non-addictive’ [smiles wryly] and there were tensions in the band and we’d been working for five years pretty much non-stop which didn’t help. 

Tell me about the Latin influences on the new album?
It’s what got me really excited. I started with a couple of compilation records and I wound up listening to Mega, this great New York Latin station, and I’ve always liked tracking stuff that’s a little obscure and even though there’s a huge mass of people listening to Latin music all the time, it’s not in the mainstream in America because of the language. Americans are very stubborn about the language so to me even though my Spanish is very lousy, it’s just very exciting and those grooves are very sexy. 

How did you find the collaborators. 
I had been listening to the first Systema Solar album and I was using that to reference the tracks, and I sent a track I was working on, ‘Sugar On The Side’, to our producer Jeff and then I sent some of the Systema tracks saying this is what I’m listening to, this is what it should sound like. And he said, ‘Let’s reach out to these guys’, they came back right away and Debbie has since sung on their second album which is also a really nice track. They’re great. We didn’t hear from one of the guys for weeks and we were waiting for a track from him and he wrote us an email saying, ‘Oh I’ve just been in the jungle! I didn’t have any email.’

How long have you been getting into this because it’s been a sound in New York for decades hasn’t it?
I’m much drawn to the modern electronic Latin the newer generation rather than the old school Latin stuff, Cuban etc. You know I always loved that stuff but this is just very fresh. 

How did your illness affect you and your creativity?
I had a lot of great visions while I was in the hospital. 

Was that morphine?
No I was still doing dope (heroin) too, to make my hospital stay a little better and it would be mixed with massive doses of steroids so I basically tripped out. I mean I can’t say I was in a coma, but I was in a very deep dreamstate and I had a lot of very strange visions. Maybe that helped my creativity. I can’t say that I regretted any of it.  It was interesting overall but there was a lot of annoying aspects to it. I had a spinal tap in the middle of all this. That’s fuckin’ painful. It was like getting shot. I certainly stepped back from the whole drug thing. But it still took a few years after that to stop doing coke all the time but at this point I can’t even have a toke on a joint I get too tripped out. Now I don’t do anything, I don’t drink anymore, nothing. 

Does it alter the way you view the world or music?
I think that probably smoking pot all the time it makes you see small and big things of equal importance. So if you pour coffee on your leg it’s the same importance as signing the contract and I don’t think that’s a good mental state to be in. 

How do you feel about New York with gentrification
Well it’s kinda sad, but financial everything is kind of sad. But you know it speaks more of the world situation. I really like Obama, and it’s exciting to break through. I don’t know whether 15 years ago I thought I’d ever see a black guy in the White House, but the banks still fuckin’ own everything including him. I don’t know what it’s going to take to change that situation. 

Do you think Blondie would exist now if you were 19 or 20 in New York. 
I don’t know. Who the fuck knows? If Debbie was herself and doing what she was doing back then we would stand a good shot. She was so striking and so amazingly gorgeous, nobody else looks like that but we would’ve still been in with a lot of other people doing the same thing. It’s kind of the inverse of what I would do if I could go back 40 years with all this knowledge.

Blondie’s musical influences

What was it like being part of the CBGBs scene, because they all seem to have Blondie as the write-offs. 
Oh yeah yeah. We were very scattered. A lot of the bands had a real tight focus about what their style was and our style was all over the place, but that became the Blondie style, this eclecticism. People I admired, like Bowie, were all over the place, too and reinventing himself all the time. Certainly we weren’t in the forefront of that scene, or not early on. But as soon as we got the recordings out there that all changed. 

Did that focus what you were doing?
Yeah it probably did. But we have this DVD coming out of us at CBGBs from 1977 which is terrific because these tapes are in colour,  have been lying around for years., nobody’s ever seen it before. But it sounds very punk compared to what the recordings sound like, more fast and manic sounding. 

I saw you play at Hammersmith Odeon when you blew Television off stage. 
You were at that show?

Yeah! And they were the big guys in the neighbourhood and they stole Fred Smith from you. 
Well yeah they were. I think their expectations over here (UK) defeated them and it’s always good to be the underdog. I remember it was written about and I remember a guy standing up in audience and yelling, ‘Prove it, Tommy boy’ which is obviously one of their songs and everyone was maybe a little sceptical as to whether they’d live up to those expectations. And fuckin’ Tony Parsons went and wrote how much he’d fallen in love with Debbie in the NME (he then proceeded to kill us next time we were over!). 

A very British reaction in the music press.
That was standard procedure. 

Coming over from small gigs in the US to Hammersmith Odeon must have felt like a breakthrough.
Well yeah, something about the brash American female. There’s the Lolita theory, which is one of my all-time favourite English language novels: young American seduces old Europe. So there’s an aspect of that in there. 

There was also the strong vein of Anglophilia in Blondie. 
Oh yeah.  I’d been over here twice before. I went to the first reggae festival up in Portobello. I was staying in the house adjacent to the one used in Performance, on Powis Square, which was such a big deal for me because Performance is still my favourite music movie. It’s the only good music movie. I first time I came over in 1971, I visited the Isle Of Man, I was with a girl visiting her relatives in the UK, an aunt who lived there and it was like going back to the ’40s. She had a pump in the kitchen for water and stuff. Fuckin’ amazing. I went to the witches mill. I went to the Gerald Gardner Museum. I’ve always been into the occult. He was the first one to write about witchcraft in the ’50s. 

What was it like working with Mike Chapman?
Mike was great, he was awesome. Recently I realised that one of the best aspects with Chapman was he wouldn’t let the fuckin’ record company anywhere near us. He wouldn’t let them send A&R guys in to tinker around with the music and try and influence what was going on. There was a point where he hijacked the tapes, I don’t remember why but he wouldn’t hand them over until we’d done whatever we needed to do at that moment. The famous story is he gave them Autoamerica and they said, ‘We don’t hear any singles on here’. It had two number ones on it! But he wouldn’t let the guys into the control room. 

Debbie said he was chosen by the record company?
No Terry Ellis brought him round.

Did you know about his pedigree in the UK?
Yeah yeah, we knew Sweet and stuff. 

What was he like to work with?
He was great. It was a whole different reality, we just learned so much on that first record because he just had so…. We hadn’t been in a situation where we’d been repeating things. And suddenly he was there asking us to do our part 20 or 30 times until it met his exacting standards. It’s something I’ve carried with me ever since. You have to be able to do something over and over and still keep it fresh and I think that goes into writing, it goes into everything. In spite of all his writing abilities he didn’t do that with us, he just drew out the best of our own material. 

Why do you think Blondie succeeded when everyone was saying you were terrible?
I think the recordings helped a lot. I’d always worked with recordings on my own with my four-track. I think all our terrible references just came from the live period when we were only represented by our shows at CBGBs. When we started playing out after we’d recorded, it changed. 

Did it give you self-belief hearing how it could sound?
Certainly, yeah. I always loved the idea of recording in multi-track. Even when I was a kid listening to the Beatles I was still always listened to the recording aspect of it, you know how they were doing this thing as well as the overall sound. 

What inspires you now?
A lot of stuff. Pop music, but I’m always six months behind what’s going on. There’s such a mass of stuff. We saw Drenge at the NME awards. They were fucking great. 

What’s the secret to your enduring partnership with Debbie?
We have a similar mindset. Some kind of connection in some past life, I’m not sure, it’s just what it is. We were just lucky to find each other. 

Did you feel that when you first met?
Pretty early on yeah. We never really argued much about things. Both of us will see how much the other is wanting something and then back down. It goes to a point in the middle where both of us know not to cross. 

You’d been through a few bands together before Blondie. You joined the Stilletos didn’t you?
Yeah I went to their first show. 

At that stage did you have a vision of what your band would be?
No. There was no masterplan even on this record. It was just one song at a time. 

So what’s the impetus for making music?
I’ve always had it going and trying to get it out. I spent a few months working on this photo book, working on music three months now, it’s out it in September, I wrote a lot of anecdotes in the captions for the photos. We did this other book Making Tracks with Victor Bockris, but it didn’t get much attention. 

What’s it like being a musician now compared to when you were having number ones?
We release the music ourselves now. External pressures now are just to make a living. The kids [eight and ten years old at the time] have changed my whole perspective because if I didn’t have them I wouldn’t care about money. I spend a lot of time with those guys. But suddenly I have to think about making money which was never such a priority for me. 

How did you meet your current producer?
Gee I don’t know. I can’t remember who suggested him, but he’s worked with the Killers and Fischerspooner. My wife is friends with one of the guys from Fischerspooner, so he gave him a big recommendation. It just worked out. 

In the early days how did it feel when Television nicked Fred Smith off you?
Oh it was annoying. It was like starting all over again. There was a moment when Clem was very supportive, we were really defeated by it and he was the big pusher: ‘I know all these musicians from New Jersey!’ Which turned out to be Gary [Valentine]. 

Also Clem’s look was perfect for you. 
We were all really attracted to the suits. We were all Anglophiles. He was a big Bay City Rollers fans. It really wasn’t thought out. In those days you could go to like fuckin’ Hoboken and these towns in New Jersey and there were stores full of ’60s clothing, tab collar shirts, narrow collar suits, it was there off the rack. There was amazing stuff in the thrift shops right up into the ’70s. 

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Debbie Harry has a heart of class

Debbie Harry has a heart of class

As well as being one of the most iconic pop singers of all time, Debbie Harry kept both feet in the underground club scene that had been the crucible for her band, Blondie. She organised a baby shower at the Paradise Garage for Grace Jones, was a regular attendee at both Jackie 60 and Mother, the legendary meatpacking district clubs run by Chi-Chi Valenti and Johnny Dynell, and was even know to occasionally put in a shift behind the bar. In our 2014 meeting, we asked her about the latest Blondie album, women in rock music, and her early love of hip hop.

So tell me about your new album, Ghosts Of Download.
It’s terrific. I love it. There have been a lot of contributors to this one, probably more than any other Blondie album before. Lots of different writers. Basically the musicianship was the Blondie group but there might have been some addition stuff that our producer Jeff Saltzman put on in San Francisco. The thing that’s interesting about this one is that it’s been done just through the internet. It was a very computerised delivery. Not necessarily the music on it but the way that we did it, we didn’t all get together and live in an area and go into the studio every day. Chris would build up the tracks and then he’d send it off to the producer and he would fiddle around with it back and forth; that kind of thing. 

And how does that work creatively? How does it feel from a creative point of view?
It feels fine actually. It feels pretty much the same for me, because I always get the track sent to me either on a CD or online and I would mull them over and Chris would maybe suggest a melody line or I would add to it and work on some kind of a lyric and then we’d send that back and forth so it’s pretty much the same for me. At the end, when all the tracks were done I’d go and put on some vocals. 

And how would it be finished?
Oh he would do that in the studio. 

You’ve used a lot of modern – dance – techniques to make this and the last album. Is that a conscious thing? Is it something that’s inspired you a lot over the years?
Well you know, I guess it is. We’ve always admitted to being inspired by our peers and what’s happening. We’re very urban and open minded listeners, I think it’s not that you’re copying somebody, but the stuff just seeps in. So when you have an idea you think, ‘I like that,’ and then it carries through and becomes part of your thinking. You do have to be careful not to copy somebody. You think you’re coming up with something original but you’ve actually heard it somewhere before. But I’m not responsible for that. I only wrote one song on this album! So I’m pretty safe. 

But New York is such a musical city, you have all these ideas and directions and sounds coming at you all the time, it must have some sort of influence on the music you make.
I don’t know. Growing up that way is one thing, but it’s the state of the world now.

In what sense?
Any kind of music is available instantly. 

Is that a good or bad thing?
I think it’s great.

What music inspires you now?
Well, I listen to music mostly in the car. I really like it there. I put on music when I have people or friends over but when I’m running round the apartment doing things I don’t like having music on in the background. I like to listen to music. In that sense I listen to whatever’s on the radio. I surf. We have the satellite stations. 

Do you still buy music? Do you download?
Occasionally. I have friends who are DJs who say, ‘Oh listen to this or listen to that’. I go out, I go to clubs and if I hear something. I’m lazy, I think!

I’m assuming the song ‘Mother’ from your last album was not about your mum but about DJ Johnny Dynell and Chi Chi Valenti’s club?
It’s something that I loved and I was bereft actually when they closed it. And actually this lyric happened so beautifully that I just think it’s completely succinct, and embodied what the club was about. Not in extended detail but “in a patent-leather life” sums it all up. 

I’m assuming you went to Jackie 60 as well, which was a bit before my time. 
I went from the beginning and performed there. It was fun and a great thing. When Mother closed I was really honestly… It was terrible. 

How does it feel in New York now it has been made a lot safer and more expensive. 
Well you know I think New York has that tradition of being some kind of a centre for communications and arts. Granted it has greatly changed and expanded. NYU has practically taken over the Lower East Side. But I sort of have faith in the tradition that New York will always excite people to come there and to look for people that are like themselves and do the communication thing or the arts thing. For a lot of artists, it’s the only place they can come in the US that makes any sense. Although there are some great galleries in LA, you know, it’s spoiled in a way. But it’s so expensive you can’t afford to live there unless you share an apartment with a couple of people. Where there’s a will there’s a way. It has spread out to Williamsburg and Bushwick now, though. 

If Blondie was starting out now do you think they would be living in Manhattan?
Don’t know, can’t say. I think if Blondie were starting off now, we’d probably all just go into computers [laughs] I dunno, we used to say that in past because the music business is so dire but as musicians we’d probably be keen on playing. But starting out now? I don’t know. 

Is that what drives you now as an artist, irrespective of an audience?
That’s the fun thing. It’s really satisfying. We like playing and having fun with a lyric that you can play with. 

Blondie’s musical influences

Do you feel under less pressure now than when you had number ones and the record company breathing down your neck?
We’re our own worst critics – or best critics. We know when something is good. 

Did you feel pressure from record companies?
Occasionally I’d hear a voice that said, ‘We wanna another ‘Heart Of Glass’ or we want another ‘Atomic’.’ You can hear artists that have tried to replicate those things on one of their hits. It’s never a good idea. It always sounds like a watered down version. I don’t think we’ve ever had that kind of ambition or reputation. We’ve always tried to move out and stretch out and I think this album is more of the same thing like that. Chris has been very influenced by some of the Latin beats and rhythms. We also have our keyboard player Matt Katz-Bohen and he’s a real pop songwriter and we worked purposely with him and the Blondie history and he’s written some really great songs. We have collaborated with quite a few people on this. Los Rakas from Oakland

Is that the one on Screwed Up?
Yes. And then there’s Systema Solar with ‘Sugar On The Side’ and I did that song ‘Mile High’ with Hector Fonseca. He’s a Brazilian DJ. He had a gig and brought the music down  at this big rave party for 5,000 people and he got the whole audience to sing the ohs which was just fabulous. I think we met at the studio when I was working on the vocals. Jeff said, ‘Why don’t you make up a song?’ and I said, ‘I don’t play an instrument’ so he said, ‘Well if you have any musical lines call me up and put them on my voicemail’. So I did, just three different lines. Then he came back to me and organised them. It was very simple. 

Tell me about your partnership with Chris.
Well, we can’t stand each other! I guess he’s my best friend. I love him dearly. We hit it off. And somehow it’s a good balance. It’s effortless. 

Even now?

Has it been like that over the years?
I think there have been some rough patches and it was a little bit of estrangement when we first split up but I think both of us were pretty stressed out by that point. We talk every day. He’s a great guy. 

Whose idea was it to get Blondie back together?
It was his actually. It wasn’t mine. It felt like it had had its day but he felt that if we didn’t put it back together at some point I think he was encouraged this guy who worked for a management company . He introduced us to Alan Kovac and he reassured us and was interested. He specialised in dealing with old contractual problems with bands. 

Can you tell me about the first days you started playing at CBGBs and the atmosphere in New York around that time?
It was very fun, there was nothing precious about it. It wasn’t about the money, it was about getting your shit together, basically. 

What was your relationship with other bands? Was it a cooperative situation?
In some ways, in some ways not. There was competition. It was kind of natural you know. You liked certain people and you disliked others. It was just a bunch pf people trying to make music. The credit should go to Hilly Kristal for allowing bands to play original music and that was probably one of the few places where you could do it. There was another bar called Monty Python and CBGBs became this mecca for bands who wanted to do their own material. Then eventually Tommy Dean Mills opened up Max’s, the second one, but by then the ball was rolling. There were bands who were formed and established, though not necessarily as recording artists. 

I saw you play at Hammersmith Odeon with Television and that must have been a big breakthrough that tour, because suddenly you were playing in front of big audiences. 
Sure, it was a big breakthrough. We were real Anglophiles. Wilko Johnson came over to New York when the Dr Feelgood album came out and their success was a real boost, you know. So there was definitely some sort of symbiotic relationship between New York and London.

I know Chris was really influence by glam bands, I’m wondering whether Mike Chapman’s background in glam was a reason for choosing him?
We didn’t choose Mike. He moved over to Hollywood and we were playing at the Whiskey for weeks and Terry Ellis said, ‘Oh you gotta come and see this band I want you to produce them.’ So he came over and he said he’d never laughed so hard in his life so he felt he had to do it. But he was so experienced at making songs and he was such a good songwriter he made us much more focussed. He was strict in the studio about recording techniques so we all had to knuckle down and work a little harder. He was used to making songs that sounded good on the radio. 

And the way the songs seemed to respond to different feels and styles, like ‘Rapture’ and hip hop, ‘Heart Of Glass’ and disco….
No that was Chris, it was his responsibility. Chris is a genius. 

Both of you were hanging out at hip hop jams very early on. 
Well that’s what I was saying earlier about the beauty of living in a metropolitan area. You have the availability of all these different kinds of music. You know we benefited from that and it was very inspiring. 

When I interviewed Steinski he said he discovered rap through hearing you and Chris guesting on WPIX and playing early hip hop. 
Yes and we have heard that before from someone else… I don’t recall their name, but they were heavy duty rappers and they said ‘Rapture’ was the first thing they heard. 

You’ve often explored the dark side of life in your lyrics which carries on that tradition started by Velvet Underground.
Yeah it’s also to do with being in a counter culture situation. We were breaking away from the flower power era and there was that little section of glam rock which was shortlived and not as big in the US. The Dolls never really got their full dues in the States. 

How does it feel to be regarded as an iconic woman in rock music, someone who inspired and paved the way for Lady Gaga, Madonna and others. 
I guess I feel lucky that I got in before them! [laughs] it’s funny, I’m glad it worked. 

And it was an incredible time for women breaking through with X-Ray Spex, Raincoats, Slits and Chrissie Hynde. Did it feel like a wave?
Absolutely. On the other side, on New York, there was also Wendy Williams, Lydia Lunch, Helen Wheels, a bunch of girls that didn’t necessarily translate commercially but they were recorded. Also Annie Golden. A lot of variety, a lot of stuff. 

ADDENDUM After the interview, I had brought an album for Debbie to autograph for a friend’s daughter’s birthday, which she did. I then interviewed Chris Stein immediately afterwards. At the end of the meeting, I collected my bag and said goodbye to Chris and Debbie came back out of her bedroom with an object wrapped in tissue paper. “Could you give this to your friends daughter for her birthday please?” When I got out of the hotel, I opened the wrapper and inside it was a lovely necklace with a heart-shaped pendant. A lovely gesture. Bill Brewster

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Kool Lady Blue brought hip hop together

Kool Lady Blue brought hip hop together

As unlikely as it sounds, the club that cemented the idea of hip hop as a rounded culture – presenting graffiti, breakdancing, DJing and MCing as elements of a whole (and throwing in Double-Dutch skipping for good measure) – was run by an Englishwoman newly arrived from London. It was at Ruza Blue’s legendary Roxy nights that B-boys and girls from The Bronx and Harlem partied with downtown’s arty punks, and where the stars of the Bronx saw that their unique music, art and dance was going to have an impact far beyond their local neighbourhood. Fresh from London’s Blitz scene, wearing a black and white skunk haircut, Blue initially teamed up with pioneering videomaker Michael Holman to throw hip hop nights at Negril, a reggae club the Clash had made their New York hangout. After a fall-out with Holman she partnered with fellow Brit Jon Baker (who later started Gee Street Records) and took the concept to the massive roller rink of the Roxy. Every Friday from 18 June 1982 to the end of 1983, Kool Lady Blue’s Wheels Of Steel nights showcased the newly christened culture of ‘hip hop’. With residences from the Zulu Nation DJs: Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, Afrika Islam, D.ST and Grand Wizard Theodore, and a constant breakdancing presence from the Rocksteady Crew, the Roxy drew a uniquely diverse and dynamic mix of people. Graffiti hung on canvas sheets. Kurtis Blow, Sequence, Indeep, Madonna performed, Fab 5 Freddy MCed, a young Russell Simmons ran around networking, and Run DMC and New Edition had their first gigs there. ‘The night had a thousand styles, a hundred dialects,’ recalls club queen Chi Chi Valenti. ‘The Roxy embodied a certain vision of what New York could be – a multiracial centre of world culture, running on a current of flaming, uncompromised youth.’ ‘It was great,’ adds her husband DJ Johnny Dynell, reflecting on the Roxy’s melting pot crowd. ‘It was like both of my worlds colliding. That was really unusual. An American couldn’t do that. It took an English person.’

interviewed by Bill and Frank in Manhattan, 29.9.98

Kool Lady Blue: I came for two weeks and ended up staying… In ’81.

Frank/Bill: And you got into some scene here?

Well funnily enough I was staying in the Chelsea Hotel and one night, cos I was dressed up in World’s End gear, the whole World’s End look, from head to toe, I looked like little Annabella [Lwin, of Bow Wow Wow], and this guy came up to me and said, ‘I’m opening up a Vivienne Westwood clothing store. Would you run it?’ Just like that and I said yeah. And that helped me stay, I got my green card and ended up staying and was running Malcolm and Vivienne’s clothing business in New York. And from that, that’s how I got into promoting clubs. When I was in London I was like booking acts into some of the clubs there, like on the Kings Road there was this funny club called Wedges and I was doing some bookings. When I came over here I really wanted to do a club but wasn’t sure what to put in it. I just knew I wanted to get into club promoting and stuff.

And while I was working for Malcolm and Vivienne I came across the Rocksteady Crew and Afrika Bambaataa. One night Malcolm was doing a show at the Ritz with Bow Wow Wow, and he had Bambaataa opening up for them [booked by Michael Holman]. And I was just completely blown away, like what the fuck is this. And I just knew, that whatever it was I wanted to get involved in it. And I wanted to present it in a nightclub atmosphere.

What was it amazing about it?

Just the music. Just what he was doing and what he was playing. It was just completely…

Was he playing breakbeats?

Yeah, and just mixing weird records with each other.

And what was the crowd like?

It was a Bow Wow Wow crowd. they’d come to see Bow Wow Wow, they had no idea who this DJ person was.

How did they react?

From what I remember they were pretty wowed by it. And there were a couple of breakdancers too and it was like ‘What the hell are those?’ I just wanted to find out more about it.

Was that the first time Bam had played downtown?

I think not. I think he’d played at the Mudd Club. I think it was his second time maybe. But it was really like premature, like way… no-one knew what the hell it was. And after that show I just went up to all of them and started talking to them. Told them I wanted to open up a club end they were like OK, and that’s how it started and they started to take me up to the Bronx to check out what they were doing up in the Bronx. They took me to a club up there called the Fever, up on 165th St and Grand Concourse. That was the hip hop club. No-one downtown knew what the hell was going on up there, and that was wild. Flash was the DJ, Melle Mel was the MC and there were all these other MCs there.

And this is ’81?

Uh-huh. And all the Sugarhill Gang were hanging out there, so yeah I’d go up there and I’d be the only white face in the club, and that was wild, and I thought Ohmygod I’ve got to bring all of this downtown.

And then while I was still working for Malcolm and Vivienne I was looking for a club to host this whole new whatever it was, and I came across this reggae club called Negril, which unfortunately is no longer there. And it was a really cool spot because Bob Marley used to hang out there, on Second Ave between 10th and 11th, it was the coolest club, oh my god this club was so cool, and I convinced the owner to let me have a Thursday night there and he let me have a Thursday night and then I started promoting. It wasn’t very good at the beginning, hardly anybody came.

Who was playing?

It was Bam, the Rocksteady Crew. All the early guys, Jazzy Jay and [Grand Wizard] Theodore.

Can you remember the very first party?

Do you know, I remember the very first party was a bit of a disaster. You know what was really weird, what I started to do to get people to come down and just check it out, was to put people like The Clash on DJing, we’d have guest spots like Joe Strummer would DJ some nights, and that’s how I met [Clash DJ] Scratchy and Kosmo Vinyl. I remember one night we had, Johnny Rotten was down there, DJing, and some of the Clash, and we were the only people in the place having a party. It was just The Clash, The Sex Pistols and a couple of my mates. And then combining the hip hop scene with the dregs of the punk scene brought the general public down. ’Cos they were all like, the Clash are gonna be there DJing, we’d better be there. Once they got down there they’d find what was really going on: the hip hop.

Were they open-minded?

Oh yeah, definitely. Once everybody started checking it out that scene took over and people were coming down just to check out the hip hop scene, but to get it going it was like a bit of a… you had to sort of mastermind a way of getting people down there.

Do you remember the first night when it worked?

Yeah. It was that night when the Clash were supposed to DJ but they didn’t. They didn’t show up. It was really funny because one of them was supposed to DJ and they couldn’t do it, but hundreds of people came to check them out. In the end they got Bambaataa and the Rocksteady Crew. But they weren’t disappointed because in the end it was better than… what they were originally were coming down to see. So that’s how it got going. It was a bit of a scam.

How long did it take you from the first night to that night?

I would say, after a lot of experimenting, gosh, a couple of months, on a weekly basis. But once it broke, gosh – we were closed down because of too many people in the club.

What was the capacity?

About 400. It was really small and intimate, and there were Marley posters everywhere. It was this really amazing reggae vibe. And then when it was closed down I was faced with this dilemma of where the hell do I go with it now? So I took it to Danceteria for a few weeks and we were there for a few weeks and we were looking and looking and looking, and one night ran across the Roxy which was a roller rink. I just moved it there and everyone thought I was mad because it was so big. It was from 400 capacity to like a 3000 capacity – ‘She’s crazy!’ But you know, we moved and it grew and it blew up and it filled the place. And I guess the rest is history.

‘The Beat Street Breakers’ (played by The NYC Breakers) take on ‘The Bronx Rockers’ (played by The Rocksteady Crew), in the battle scene from Beat Street, shot at the Roxy. Jazzy Jay is on the decks. The movie was based on a (much grittier) story ‘The Perfect Beat’ by journalist Steven Hager, and produced by actor and civil rights legend Harry Belafonte.

Do you remember any special nights at the Roxy?

Oh god, there were so many. I guess one special night was Madonna playing. That was pretty funny. She was up and coming on the scene.

She sang?

Yeah. You have to remember, even though it was where the hip hop scene was spawned, I never used to look at it as just that. I used to mix it all up. I mean one night I had a whole troupe of Native Americans doing sundances on the floor with the breakers. And that was like a really weird thing, but it worked. They would do their thing, and then when they’d finished, the Rocksteady Crew would come on and do their thing.

Fantastic. Did they battle?

I guess, in a spiritual kind of way. But you know the Roxy was like a multitude of things. It was dance music, hip hop, dance, electro, whatever.

There must have been a feeling that there’s so much going on at that time, let’s cram it all in.

Uh-huh. The thing is as well, is that hip hop is not rap music. Hip hop was never supposed to be about one form of music. It was all kinds of music and you’ll hear that from all the original guys. And my club embodied that. It wasn’t just hip hop, it was a bit of everything. Punks: the Pistols were down there every week. As well as Debbie Harry, Joey Ramone, It was like all walks of life. Rock, funk, whatever. And everyone mixed. Everyone got along, it was very multiracial.

Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force wearing their finest cosmic battledress perform ‘Frantic Situation’ in a (staged) scene in The Roxy for the film Beat Street.

Lady Miss Kier once said to me that that was one of the few clubs in New York where there was a really good racial mix and everyone got on. Never any trouble.

No tension. When I stopped doing the club, that’s when the tension started.

And Bambaataa and Rocksteady Crew were regular fixtures?

Yeah. Bam was pretty regular but they all got their turn. It wasn’t just one DJ. It was D.ST, Afrika Islam, Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay.

It was mostly the Zulu DJs?

Yeah. the whole Zulu Nation. For sure. But yeah, I think the driving force was definitely the Rocksteady Crew, because of their energy, their dance energy, it was focused on dancing, and they brought a lot of good vibes.

And they would dance on the dancefloor or on the stage?

When they did their performance they’d be onstage, but they were all dancing all night anyway. I mean there was a show going on all the time, somewhere on the dancefloor.

How long did the Roxy go on for?

With me there it went on for a year and a half.

Quite short-lived.

Yeah, yeah.

When did it start?

I moved it there in June of ’82 and it was there until end of ’83, and then me and the owner had a huge fight, he became really greedy, so we parted ways and then when I left the club became violent, and lost its mix, cos I wasn’t bringing in the special mix. It became like the hood, it was gangs. It’s really weird how it reflected in rap what happened, because rap became very segregated. It’s just weird, it was almost like a reflection of what happened in the scene.

Were all the old school guys friends or were they split into sections: Here’s the Zulu Nation, and then the others…

No everyone was… see back then people weren’t even into making money, It was all about having a laugh. It was fun, that was the driving force. No-one imagined that this would happen what’s happened today and it would earn people millions. It was beyond their comprehension. ‘What, they wanna make a record with me?’ It was very innocent, like all scenes are I guess. It was really special. Everyone and their mother was there. Russell Simmons started there. I can remember Russell Simmons, poor and…

…not on the phone.

Poor and not on the A-list. Calling me every five seconds, ‘Oh, can you do this, can you do that?’ Now try and get him on the phone. They all started there. Like the Tommy Boys, everyone.

And then it turned into something else.

Yes, people started to realise there was something going on. All of a sudden, people making records. And then they were doing commercials, and then they were in movies, and then, then there were tours, it just kept snowballing. Actually, this is the first tou I actually did, with these guys [she shows us a poster]. This is the first time a tour actually went to Europe. [She reads the poster] Bambaataa, Rocksteady Crew, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, DST, Dondi, Phase II, Fearless Four, 27th Nov 1982 in Paris Hippodrome La Porte de la Campagne. That was the first tour ever to go to Europe, and then from France we went to England, the Venue. The tour started and people started to make money. And I guess that changed everything. And everyone and their mothers wanted to rap. And then all this crazy gangster stuff came out and we just submerged, we hated it.

Who were the first people to make money out of it. I guess Sylvia and Joe Robinson?

Yeah, I guess the Sugarhill Gang, yeah, Sugar Hill records. Tommy Boy with ‘Planet Rock’, Arthur Baker, and then Russell Simmons.

Were you involved with Bambaataa when ‘Planet Rock’ came about?

I wasn’t managing him, no. But I remember he met Tom Silverman and Arthur Baker at the Roxy, and they started talking about doing a record. And it was more of like, let’s see what happens.

What were the parties like in the Fever? Was it very much focused on the DJ?

DJ, dancing and the MCs. Yeah, they were great. If you were there to party that was your call. If you weren’t there to party you shouldn’t be there.

What did the club look like?

It was not very big, it kinda reminded me of Negril. It was small, intimate, probably held like 300 people, 400 people. The dancefloor, very small stage, then the DJ booth. Then there was a bar and that was about it.

You said there were MCs, were they like rappers?

No, they were just commenting. They were up on stage, commenting on the crowd: who was in the house, just sort of egging people on to party. Cos that’s how it was in the beginning. There was nothing to do with social comment and political jargon, or hoes and bitches and I earn more money than you.

More like something from the disco era?

Yeah. Definitely. Flash was playing more disco breakbeats, and mixing disco records in with whatever, than he was anything else. And so were all these other guys. I mean when hip hop started there were no rap records for them to play ’cos there weren’t any yet. They’d take breakbeats and you know, keep repeating them and looping them, and doing all this crazy shit with the turntables, so it was just different. It was like bits that you’d heard from a record but you couldn’t figure where you’d heard it before. And then the way they were playing it you were like, ‘Oh that sounds familiar, what is it?’ And then it would go on and on and on and you’d think it was another record – you know a record. But it was just them playing the same bit over and over again, so it sounded like a completely new record. And then the MC would be commenting on the party, over that. It was like, wow! It just blew your mind because it was so different.

Do you have any tapes of it?

Ummm, I do, but I don’t know where. I mean then you’d go up to Flash and he’d be scratching and mixing and you’d be like wow, what’s he doing? I’m lucky to have been around back then, it was pretty amazing.

How did it compare to what was happening in the downtown clubs?

Well what you had downtown was Studio 54 which I hated, which was very sort of disco. because it [hip hop] was so real… and also because I was a punk back then anyway…

What did you look like?

I think I had blue hair. It was either blue or black and blonde like the skunk look. But what turned me on as well was it reminded me of punk because it felt so real. because it was very street, it was very, you know, anarchic, because of what they were doing, so I was attracted to that as well. But compared to what was going on downtown. Downtown was very new wavy, which I hated too. And very…

What would they class as New Wave here?

Flock of Seagulls?

Very poppy Euro?

Yeah. Very Euro-ey, poppy.

Depeche Mode and those kind of things?


But wasn’t Bambaataa playing that kind of stuff as well?

He was playing some of it, but it was like I said, they would take certain bits of those records. They were sly, they wouldn’t play the whole thing. They’d take bits and pieces and make them sound interesting by mixing them with something else.

Like they had the same raw materials but…

…they would just twist it a bit, which I liked. I was like yeah. In the end it sounded cool, even though I hated it beforehand. Like Bambaataa played Gary Numan one night, I was like Uggh.

He says he likes to get people dancing to things they say they hate. Which Gary Numan record? ‘Cars’?

I can’t remember. I was like, ‘Oh god, not Gary Numan,’ but then he did something with another record, and it was like, ‘Oh, OK.’

You’re forgiven.

But also back then it was very gothic. Downtown was very sort of umm, like the American version of punk, which wasn’t really our version of punk, it was kind of like…

Around that time was when the early gothic records like ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ by Bauhaus were out.

Mudd Club was cool. I liked Mudd Club.

They mixed things up, didn’t they?


That was the first place Bambaataa played downtown wasn’t it?

I think so.

So they beat you to it.

Yeah. I can’t remember exactly the party. It was something to do with Fab 5 Freddy. I think he was involved with it. But I don’t really know the ins and the outs. I just came and dived into it. I had no clue as to what else was going on. Around me or whatever. Cos I’d literally only been here about two or three months. I’d just arrived so I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on in the clubs. I just knew I wanted to develop this, whatever it was, more.

Wow, you just dived in feet first

Yeah. headfirst.

Did you go to any other clubs uptown?

No, just the Fever, that was like the place, apparently. There was really nothing else.

And that lasted quite a while?

Yeah. It was going on for years, before. The Fever? I think that club had been going at least five or six years really.

Billboard wrote about it in 1978

You should go and see Sal [Abatiello]. I can introduce you to Sal, he was the owner of the Fever. The Fever was definitely where… If anybody I would say it was the first club, the first hip hop club.

People talk about the Hevalo as well.

It actually really started on the streets. Didn’t even start in a club. It was sound systems. In parties. Really small parties in community centres.

When Billboard first wrote about Kool Herc in early 1978, they described him as a mobile DJ, so you’d assume he was setting up wherever.

Exactly, exactly.

Did you ever go to one of his parties?

No, no. When I started he wasn’t even around. He was like Herc the mysterious, but no-one knew where he was. I would have loved for him to DJ for me but I’m not sure where he was, but wherever he was he wasn’t accessible. you should ask him that question: ‘Where were you?’

He gets so much respect for starting it all but he was completely absent when it all took off. I read in a couple of places that he started off by playing reggae.

Yeah he did.

Do you know how that progressed?

No, I don’t really know. But I know all these guys were inspired by him. Like Flash. They used to watch him and make note of what he was playing. But I think he was playing not only reggae but breakbeats. And he’s Jamaican, no getting around that. And he would have his MCs toasting, and that probably inspired all these other guys to copy him.

Who MCd when Bam was playing?

He had a slew of different people. Gosh, all the different guys that were in Soulsonic Force, like Pow Wow, and Globe.

And it would be more of an MCing type thing?

Not in the Roxy. I didn’t have too many MCs. It was very focussed on the DJ. I’d hardly ever have an MC. Because I just found that they distracted everyone. I just kept it strictly DJs and dancing. Or whatever act was on. If I had an MC I’d have Freddy, Fab 5 Freddy, he’d come and MC. But I hardly had MCs. I mean, yeah, Run DMC played there, that was their first gig. And New Edition, I gave them their first gig. Kurtis Blow, and whoever. Yeah, if it was a show, yeah. But during the party I steered away from too much MCing.

What were your most special nights at the Roxy.

There were too many of them. Every night was special. They were all good. I can remember one night when I broke my wrist when I was completely pissed. New Year’s Eve, completely sloshed. No recollection. I’d actually fallen down and broken my wrist and didn’t know about it. Until three hours later when someone pointed it out cos I was completely mangled. It was like this or like that [twists wrist into impractical positions] ‘Err look at your arm!’ But yeah, that was a very special night. Every Friday night was pretty amazing. you just never knew. It was just magic. What might happen? Who might come? Because everyone and their mothers were coming. People coming from all over the world, it was crazy. Japan, France, Germany, you know… Every week there was someone from somewhere.

How did they find out about it?

I guess after a while, word of mouth became magazines and papers and people just started writing about it. And word just got out.

Who was the first person who thought they could make money out of this, or who realised that these guys had changed music, rather than that they just had great parties?

I realised it. When I first saw it, being a music head and coming from London. I just knew there was something there. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t have a clue what it was. But I just had this gut instinct about it. That’s how I felt. I don’t know about Freddy or anybody else on the scene. But…

The DJ was the star, the artist. Was that reflected in the way the billing worked?

Yeah, it’s funny you should say that but there’s an article in there, where I talk about the DJ being the new musician.


Yeah. I can’t remember what I said but I thought it was really good.

[She reads the article, from the East Village Eye, Feb 1983]:
‘Scratch DJs like Afrika Islam and Jazzy Jay I consider to be today’s most important musicians. they reconstruct the past to create new sounds without the help of conventional musical instruments, the turntable being the instrument. It’s an alternative direction in the sound. It’s incredible that from such a basic structure: a turntable, an amazing groove and the mixing and manipulation of beats is created. DJs take from all musical cultures: Kraftwerk, Bob Marley, the Supremes, Rolling Stones etc to do so. There are no rules or limitations as to what records should or should not be destroyed or, should I say, enhanced. Through the breakers and rappers you have a concept in live performance in which the magic is spontaneous and vivacious. It is a cultural experience which frees me to add in and around the event, whatever I feel fits, be it African dancers or double dutch girls. It thrills me to see all walks of life enjoy its overwhelming style. It excites me. The doors have now been opened to a spirit and identity tagged “fun”.’

That’s great

Every week we’d always have someone in the club, a friend of mine, taking pictures of everyone, so that everyone would always see themselves up on these humungous screens, like they’d be famous. They’d come back to see if they were there next week. It became quite a thing, because no-one knew who’d end up on the big screen for that week. And some of the pictures looked really funny because we’d try and catch people when they weren’t expecting it. Then all of a sudden there’d be this huge blown-up photograph of them on the screen and everyone ogling it.

[She reads another clipping, from Richard Grabel in the NME]
‘The feeling hits you when you walk into the Roxy on a Friday night the way it doesn’t hit you in any other New York club. Everywhere else it’s hesitation and uncertainty. At the Roxy You know you’re in the right place.’

Did you have Kraftwerk in the Roxy?

No. They did play I think a few years later.

Who were the other guests?

I can remember that night when Malcolm played, when he did ‘Buffalo Girls’. That was really funny, because he was really nervous. he didn’t want to do it.

Was he actually onstage with them, then?

Well first of all, he called me and said I’m going to the airport, I’m not gonna do it. ’Cos it was his first time in front of this crowd and I guess he got the nervous jitters. So he was like ‘I’m going to the airport, I won’t be able to do the show.’ I was like, ‘Oh no you’re not, you have to come down, ’cos everyone’s waiting for you.’ So anyway he turned up in disguise. In this raincoat. He thought no-one would recognise him and he could check out the crowd and if it was, you know, if he felt really nervous he could sneak back out. My friend Terry saw him and said ‘Malcolm’s here, Malcolm’s here. I saw him!’ So we grabbed him and we shoved him in a dressing room and had someone guard the room so he couldn’t get out, and then made him go on.

What was he actually doing?

He would walk onstage with a big megaphone. He’d just be shouting God knows what. I can’t remember if there were any dancers or if it was just him. I think it was just him and that’s why he was nervous, ‘cos it was just him and the megaphone.

You took him up to the Bronx to show him what was going on.

I took Trevor Horn up there. I didn’t take Malcolm up there. As soon as Malcolm decided that he wanted to make that album, Duck Rock, he had Trevor call me and asked me to introduce Trevor to what was going on. Show him scratching, show him breakdancing and stuff, so I did. I took him everywhere, I introduced him to everyone.

Did he go up to the Fever?

Took him up there, and he met everyone, and showed him the Double Dutch girls. ’Cos that was a complete fluke. I just saw them on TV one night in a McDonald’s commercial, and thought ‘They’d be good.’ and that’s how that happened. Double Dutch girls had nothing to do with hip hop whatsoever.

So where did that come from?

It’s old. It’s a competition thing. But all of a sudden, because it was showcased at the club one night, it was suddenly. ‘Oh that’s hip hop.’ And that was where Malcolm saw it. He got the idea and stuck it in.

What was Trevor Horn’s reaction?

Well, you know [she makes a glasses sign with hands] Buggles!? it was kind of weird taking Buggles around.

What did people make of him?

They were just, ‘Oh, another crazy English person. He was just as blown away as everyone else really. Trying to figure out how he was going to incorporate it. Wowed by it. ’Cos anyone and everyone that saw it was just like, wow! From an old granny, to… I mean we did a show for the Queen of England. I was managing the Rocksteady Crew at the time. And you know we performed at the Royal Variety performance and even she was like…

Did she whip her lino out then?

Yeah right! We met her at the end. We were told how to and what not to say to her. I think one of them screwed up. ’Cos you’re not allowed to ask her any questions, say anything, you always have to say Ma’am, or curtsey if you’re a woman. I think you have to bow if you’re a bloke. You’re not allowed to ask her anything. It was like the golden rule, and I think one of the Rocksteady Crew did ask her something. And I was like, ‘Oh no, we’re gonna get shot now.’ I can’t remember what he asked her, but it was like she almost clipped his ear.

Were they pretty impressed to be doing something like that?

Yes and no. Yunno. I mean, they didn’t really realise until a few years afterwards, the magnitude of it. At the time it was just like, ‘Oh another show. The Queen of England? Ok whatever.’ They were young. I mean I was 21, 22. Norman was 13, the tiny one. Crazy Legs was like 17. They were all between 16 and 19 years old, except for Norman who was 12, 13. I was almost their age, not much older. We were like teenagers. It was fun. Touring with them was another story.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton