A WHILE before we started doing the Microdot parties in Leeds, me and Jez did a few nights at the 1in12 in Bradford called VLF, which stood for Very Low Frequencies or Vegetable Liberation Front, depending on who we were talking to at the time.
On the flyers, we added the subtitle “dub techno touchdown”, which reflected the mix of dub reggae, techno and acid we played.
I don’t think anyone came down to it, ever – apart from our guest DJs Mark and Farrah from Kaos, who not unreasonably demanded their money despite playing to a completely empty venue (except for me and Jez, most likely tripping our heads off and doing stupid dances regardless).
We wanted to create a very specific vibe. I was always very impressed by Renegade Soundwave’s The Phantom, a muscular, serpentine amalgam of dub, techno, hip hop and, with its cheeky White Riot sample, punk rock too, come to think of it.
I liked the way The Phantom combined the heaviness of dub with the trippy energy of acid house, but still had the funk. I wanted to hear more of this kind of stuff, but apart from honourable exceptions like Meat Beat Manifesto and Leeds’s own Ital Rockers’ and their classic Mental Dub, nobody else seemed to be making it – and certainly nobody was playing it in Leeds at the time.
Hardcore seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. It ticked all my boxes. Unlike many other people who were into it, I was coming at it as a reggae fan who was also into house rather than anything to do with hip hop. Though I had a soft spot for odd tunes by people such as EPMD, Digital Underground, Queen Latifah, Public Enemy and KRS-1, I didn’t really know how to dance to any of it – and after years of listening to punk rock maybe I was just a bit weary of blokes shouting stuff at me too.
Like 2Tone a decade earlier, like jungle and drum and bass, I’d imagine, a few years later, it was tremendously exciting to hear new British music that was totally unlike anything else you’d ever heard before. The best hardcore was uncompromisingly experimental and tripped-out, and it worked like a dream on the dancefloor. It was a stylish but unpolished and unapologetic hybrid of different styles and ideas that couldn’t have originated anywhere but Britain at that precise moment in time.
Prior to that, house music was all about America. Then it was all about Italy, and it was even about Belgium for a while. But for now, the focus turned towards dance music produced in Britain.
The first big hardcore do that I went to was some rave at a roller-rink in Edmonton. I was down in London with Helen, visiting a couple of her chums from Cambridge. The way I remember it, we may have gone there because I was able to get us in for free – possibly through Nicky at Phuture Trax.
Louise, one of Helen’s pals, was happy to make the long journey from Westbourne Park because this geezer she was keen on had told her he was going down too.
When we got to the massive, empty venue, we went up to say hello to one of Nicky’s colleagues, a garage DJ named JM Easy who’d somehow got himself on a bill headlined by the Rat Pack and Top Buzz, if I recall correctly. It slowly got busier but, coming after the freewheeling excesses of the Dream nights at the Trades Club in Leeds, the atmosphere seemed strangely muted. An alternately bizarre and scary procession of hard-faced skeletor-ravers were still coming into the place but nobody seemed to be having too good a time.
Luckily, Michael was also bringing a load of Es along too, so it was particularly nice to meet this smiley, charming West London boy when he finally turned up at 2am, just as our own pills were starting to wear off. Me and Michael got on well – not half as well as him and Louise, granted, although our relationship was ultimately longer lasting.
He was bright and affable but with a bit of an edge (you could tell he was no angel, but his heart was in the right place), he was as dry as fuck and a mad Tottenham fan. He seemed to know everyone and was the perfect guide to London’s after-hours party scene.
We all went back to Louise’s, got into a right state, stayed up all night being daft, drinking, smoking weed, taking the piss out of each other’s spliffs, necking more Es, all that stuff. We hit it off. It was a meeting of minds. We were both normal, working class lads, who, while we weren’t by any stretch of the imagination what you’d call high achievers at the time, had a bit of potential.
Michael ended up getting me gigs at a couple of Rhythm Method parties, one in a stately home near scenic Hay-on-Wye (the exteriors for the Basil Rathbone version of The Hound of The Baskervilles were filmed there, allegedly), one in a bus depot in not-so-scenic Hackney. I don’t think I impressed anyone with my decks-terity.
I didn’t get asked back twice, put it that way. But given that I didn’t have decks for the first 15 or so years or my DJing ‘career’ – in fact I didn’t even have a record player for much of the time – and had to snatch a couple of hours practice on mates’ decks when I could, it’s probably not that surprising.
I wasn’t going to let a little thing like having no means of playing records stop me from buying them, obviously.
I’ve never been one for getting intimidated in record shops. I’ve worked in a few of them myself and anyway, nine times out of ten I’m just as nerdy and geeky, if not nerdier and geekier than any record shop staff member. Just take a look at this fucking blog.
But Blackmarket is the kind of record shop I probably would’ve been intimidated by, if I’d not gone down with Michael one busy Saturday afternoon. He was friendly with Nicky Blackmarket so he introduced us and I told him the kind of stuff I was into – not too fast, not too busy hardcore, with dubby basslines, ragga stylings, and no daft hoover or fairground noises, thank you very much.
And it’d be good if it was stuff nobody else up north would have, while we’re at it.
I’m pretty sure one of the records Nicky sorted me out with was Bad Girl. It was a bit fast for my tastes but that’s what the pitch control is for, right?
Bad Girl was put together by Chris McFarlane aka CMC aka Bad Girl aka Potential Bad Boy and was a virtual masterclass in hardcore production with an irrepressible energy and a slightly deranged dynamic. Think jittery breaks, a mesmerising, absorbing, subby-bassline, old-skool bleeps, and an infuriatingly catchy pitched up “Bad Bad Girls .. Bad Gal” vocal which sounded like it was performed with the aid of a big canister of helium.
It was a crazy record for a crazy, crazy time. Kicks Like A Mule’s bonkers collection of sub-base and rhythmic thuds that was The Bouncer came out the same year. I remember seeing it on This Morning during the school holidays and they had some kind of phone-in poll whether they should play the video or not. I’m guessing a million kids rang in and they had to play it, with the presenters sticking their fingers in their ears, screwing their faces up, the lot. Hilarious. Can anyone tell me how it got to number one?
Semi-interesting diversion: I met my very good friend Badly Drawn Boy in the pub the other night and was chatting to him about all this shit. He told me that The Bouncer was written by the guy who signed him to XL Recordings, Richard Russell. Not a lot of people know that.
I was going to do a regular item on my Dream FM show called Why Did They Do That? where I’d play the latest kid’s TV-sampling rave-nonsense, but I never got round to it. Doctorin’ The Tardis and Charly (which, I’d suggest, remains a brilliant record to this day) were the first examples, swiftly followed by a million exploitative cut-and-paste jobs utilising bits of The Magic Roundabout, Seasame Street, Rhubarb & Custard, Woody Woodpecker, Blockbusters – there were loads of them, each one more infantile and annoying than the last.
The worst one I got sent sampled the theme tune from Black Beauty and featured what sounded like someone playing coconut shells. I wish I’d kept it.
There was a local band called PBT who got quite popular, locally. They had a couple of big tunes, one – Just 4U – that made it onto vinyl, another which was a load of breaks and a sample of the riff from the theme tune to the BBC’s cricket coverage. They used to perform it wearing cricket whites.
They were a bunch of rough-around-the-edges lads from Cleckhuddersfax way, the most charming of whom was Dave, or MC Pointblank as he styled himself, a young lad who’d joined the army to see the world and found himself invading Kuwait to liberate it from Iraqi occupation. The guy who wrote all the music was supposed to be a bit of a keyboard virtuoso but also, unfortunately, he was a card-carrying nazi too.
Of course, I only found this out after I’d interviewed them for the decidedly left-of-centre worker’s co-op what’s on mag, the Northern Star, I was writing for at the time. I didn’t have much to do with them as a band after, although Dave came in on a few of my radio shows and we got off it and had a bit of banter. I probably should’ve just concentrated on mixing the records properly.
I had different shows at different times and different days through the week. I’d always played all sorts of stuff on the radio and I went wherever my ever-expanding tastes took me. I had no problem playing a couple of hours of hardcore and then switching to housier sounds for the rest of the show.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I would’ve played Bad Girl on Dream FM though. The “herb a weed and weed a ganja, ganja a weed and a weed a marijuana” vocal sample, even pitched up to helium-inhalation levels of squeakiness, wouldn’t have passed muster with the boss who had a big, big downer on swearing, drug references, threats of violence etc over the radio. That kind of thing didn’t go down well with the local DTI guy, so if you played any dodgy stuff, and the boss heard it, you got suspended.
Jo was a listener from Wortley in fashionable west Leeds who one afternoon heard me moaning about how difficult it was to play records and answer the phone at the same time, so she rang up and volunteered her services.
Though she was, and still is, mad into electro – which translated into her taking x amount of wiz and busting some very impressive bad-ass Crazy-Legs-Crane moves at Dream FM parties – Jo really liked the ragga-tinged hardcore stuff that I played and even tolerated my excursions into house and garage, so we used to have a bit of a laugh.
I don’t think Jo will mind me saying that it was a bit of a thrill for her to be involved with the inner workings of the mighty Dream FM – it was exactly the same for me, initially, although it wasn’t really mighty then. She seemed a bit timid when she first showed up but that soon changed. Unfortunately, I was playing less and less of the hardcore which had first attracted her to my shows and it wasn’t long before I stopped playing it completely, more or less.
The scene was splitting into the hyper-infantilism of kiddie-rave and the equally hyper moodiness of jungle – ironically enough, with its pitched-up vocal, speeded up breaks and ragga stylings, Bad Girl was one of the very first jungle tracks – and neither of them were doing much for me.
I didn’t sell any of my hardcore stuff but I stopped buying it and I lost a lot of them in a house move from Harehills to Armley a while after me and Helen had split up.
These days, it doesn’t seem like anyone else really thinks Bad Girl is a particularly special record. The only place I’ve ever seen it mentioned is in, I think, Energy Flash, Simon Reynold’s book about the evolution of UK dance culture in the Eighties and Nineties.
I was in town the other day so inevitably I ended up in Vinyl Exchange. I pick up a Camper Van Beethoven album for a tenner and, you’ve guessed it, Bad Girl for just five of your English pounds.
It still sounds great to me. I can’t get my head around it. Why so cheap? I’m not complaining, mind ..