IT WAS a long, sultry summer evening in Leeds, the kind of perfect night that just seems to go on forever until you blink and suddenly it’s midday.
Nicki’s mum was having a party in the back garden of her house on Spencer Place. All manner of mad-heads, oddballs, students, hippies, yuppies, posh girls and rude boys, even a few amiable low-level gangster types, passed through during the night. It was wild.
It was an optimistic – if slightly naïve – time, despite the fact that what would become club culture was in the process of being shooed away from the great outdoors into regulated, licensed clubs. I’d tell you my theory about the great narco-conspiracy between the Tories, the brewing industry and the Colombian drug cartels but we’ve neither the time or the space.
Okay, if you insist.
By the late Eighties, the US cocaine market had reached saturation point. Everyone was at it by all accounts. Like any businesses facing a levelling off in profits, the cartels had developed new products. Crack was cheap, cheerful and highly addictive, but even with this new improved formula the cartels were moving as many units as they were ever going to. They needed to develop some new markets.
Europe was the obvious place to start but UK rave culture was all about ecstasy. A single pill was strong enough to keep you up all night. Your average raver simply didn’t need cocaine. And they probably couldn’t have afforded it anyway.
Growing numbers of people were buying Ecstasy rather than the demon drink as they sought oblivion via the traditional British weekend pursuit of getting absolutely leathered. Booze, like pot, was something for the morning after rather than the night itself. The big brewing concerns were major donors to the Conservative party and (exactly like Pablo Escobar and friends) they weren’t going to take a dip in profits lying down. They had a word.
So at precisely the same time as the Colombian cartels begin to seriously target the UK with their wares (which, with the best will in the world, aren’t the easiest things to cope with in fields, at night), another set of trans-national (legal) drug dealers begins to lobby the government to put young people into an environment where they’ll consume more of their products too.
It also happens to be an environment with lots of flat surfaces, which is handy because as well as giving users an unlimited capacity for talking shit, charlie allows you to put the booze away like there’s no tomorrow. Meanwhile the quality of ecstasy available in this country drops dramatically. All just a big coincidence, right?
Anyway, we were in this period of transition, but it was early days yet. In Leeds, the stick was being applied liberally by the forces of law and order – a year or so earlier, the police had arrested nearly a thousand people at a party down the road in Gildersome – but the carrot of later opening hours was still years away. In the meantime, clubs shut at 2am, and if sleep was absolutely out of the question, you’d probably end up at a blues in Chapeltown.
Not tonight though. Why would you want to crowd into a terraced house, a garage or an old supermarket when you could be in the open air, dancing around a bonfire to local hotshots like Dixon (Ilkley’s answer to, I dunno, CJ Mackintosh), DJ Drew from the Astoria all-nighters and the Twilight Zone, and Rob Tissera, then the king of the big Italian piano tune? It went off.
Huggy, later to find fame and fortune as resident at Orbit and then Back to Basics but at that time still working as a postman in Wakefield, also DJed. Though I’d heard him play Hip Hop by Chris Cuevas a few times before, tonight was the night I actually managed to ask him what it was called.
Unlikely though it may seem for such a big, barmy, bull-buggering bastard, Huggy had a real lightness of touch, his nimble, intuitive mixing seamlessly merging such genuine rave classics as Neverland by Matto Grosso, Out There by Friends of Matthew and even Charly by The Prodigy into one gloriously tripped-out but correct whole. The just-so rinky-dink house stylings of Hip Hop (Kenny Dope and Louie Vega’s first ever production, it transpires) fitted right in. That big, bossy bassline just sent me.
It was a laugh a minute. Everyone was in various states of randomness, the music was great and everything seemed relaxed, free and easy. But that night was the first time I saw cocaine on the scene (though this was perhaps as much to do with my woefully low socio-economic status as anything else). At times, there was definitely an edge.
I was oblivious to the ghostly figures looming out of the shadows, drawn to the bonfire like moths. As well as hosting a thriving sex industry, Spencer Place was something of an open-air drugs market, and Drew remembers various cadaverous crackheads trying to crash the party like so many extras from Dawn Of The Dead.
At the time, nobody actually realised the night was just one big metaphor for the evolution of dance culture or we might’ve taken more notice.
I bought the Record Review bootleg with the dub of Hip Hop from Steve Luigi’s shop a few months later, but the first few bars of the track were missing and I was always a little unsatisfied. Huggy had played a vocal version too.
Years after, I moved to Chorlton in Manchester. My first day there, I walked into Bus Stop Records, looked in the classic house section and there it was, right at the front. Under a tenner, secondhand but in good nick, original US pressing, all the mixes, blah blah drone. Result.
I still know nothing about Chris Cuevas himself though.
A couple of years later, me and Kenny are DJing in Leeds. The party itself is a bit hokey-cokey, and it’s sad to see how far downhill Hyde Park has gone (as we negotiate a landscape of dogshit and broken glass, some local kids chuck bricks at us). We go back to someone’s house in Headingley afterwards, leave a couple of record bags in the car and they get robbed. I lose Hip Hop, as well as many other much loved vinyl treasures. Crappy night all round really.
I end up buying it yet again on Gemm a couple of years ago. Needs must. But it’s an Australian issue which feels like it’s been manufactured with half the amount of vinyl as the one I used to have. It’s warped, not very loud, difficult to cue up.
I can’t work with this kind of material.
[This piece first appeared on the Reject Musical Trash website in 2006]
Chris Cuevas has, thanks to the wonders of the mechanical webnet, surfaced.
But country pop?