WHEN Michael Eavis decided that the Glastonbury should take a year off in 1991, he spent a lot of his time trying to work out a way of keeping freeloaders and other non-paying fellow-travellers out of the festival. The idea he came up with was to surround the entire site with a very big fence.
The following year Tom Jones, Blur, Television, the Fall, Curve, Primal Scream, the Levellers, PJ Harvey, Carter USM, James, the Breeders, Billy Bragg, Van Morrison, Kitchens of Distinction and Spritualized were on the bill – and numbers of fence-hoppers were right down.
Among the thousands of lucky festival-goers were my then-girlfriend and me, inveterate freeloaders both. We’d managed to blag into the festival by writing a lengthy preview for the magazine we both worked for at the time.
I don’t recall seeing any of the bands above – not even the mighty Fall – but we did manage to catch the Shamen, which I think was just about the first time a dance act had played on one of the bigger stages at Glastonbury. Unfortunately, “good lights” is about the most either of us can remember about this groundbreaking performance. But they were always pretty good live, weren’t they, the Shamen?
“I think you and I only stayed two nights and didn’t sleep at all. We were up all night and too hot to sleep in the tent in the day. I do remember it wasn’t a lot of fun really,” says that same ex-girlfriend now. “Too hot, too skint, too tired, too paranoid, too scared of the toilets, going off crowds so only really being able to cope at night… Maybe you enjoyed it more.”
I probably did. I didn’t even notice how bad a time she was having, which probably says a lot.
I’ve just got a loose jumble of disembodied memories from the weekend. One of the most vivid is of an ambulance inching its way through a very packed crowd after one of the big acts had finished on the Pyramid stage one night. Some drug-nut planted himself square in front of it, crying and bellowing and wailing his heart out, not letting them by until they promised to take him away too. We’ve all been there, I’m sure.
1992 was the year that rave hit Glastonbury in a big way. There was an after-hours party tent called the Sugar Lump, which we spent quite a bit of time in, on and off. And were the Microdot boys there that year? In some mad, empty techno gazebo? Or was that another year? I am clueless. I didn’t have a clue what was happening at the time, mostly, so trying to piece it together a couple of decades later is next to impossible.
My strongest memory of the entire festival is necking a couple of old school New Yorkers early one evening and stumbling upon the experimental sound field, where we found a little scaffolding tower at the bottom of a gentle natural bowl. Surrounding it were hundreds of raving maniacs and what turned out to be Pink Floyd’s legendary quadraphonic soundsystem from their old UFO happenings planted on the brow of the bowl above us, pointing inwards.
It turned out that the incredible organic techno wooshing from speaker to speaker in a very disconcerting but pleasing fashion was Underworld’s debut gig, an improvised continuous performance by the band and like-minded DJs which lasted from noon one day until dawn the next.
I remember it being very intense and trippy and, despite occasional moans from the miserable old hippy contingent about new-kids-on-the-block ravers and their dreadful music, we had a blast.
“That really was the blueprint for Underworld,” Karl Hyde has said. “We couldn’t go back after that. And we’d still like to play for 18 hours.”
The funny thing is, the only tune I can recall from that night wasn’t actually played by Underworld or their friends. Every time we stepped out of the sacred sonic circle of weird, we’d hear Some Justice by Urban Shakedown on one or all of several more modest systems that had been set up in the same field. We’d hear it time and time again over the weekend.
The internet tells me that it would have been getting played out for months before that, but from what I can remember it was a completely new tune to me – at the start of the weekend anyway, even if it wasn’t by the end. Maybe it just didn’t hit my little bit of the north. Maybe I’m just getting confused again. Who knows? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.
According to Discogs user Tommy Boy, “Some Justice was actually written on two Amigas. To synchronise them they had a pattern of clicks on each Amiga which looped before the tracks started. They basically kept starting the tracks until the clicks were in sync. That’s how they got eight track audio before the Amiga 1200 came out and without using programs such as OctaMED which further degraded the eight-bit sound quality when using more than the Amiga’s four hardware sound channels.”
The story goes that Gavin ‘Aphrodite’ King and Claudio Guissani had put the basic track together and were playing a demo to Ray Keith in City Sounds when Mickey Finn heard it and introduced himself. The trio ended up reworking the original, adding a few samples and finding themselves with a major hit on their hands. A hardcore classic was born.
It was a prime example of producers pushing their limited technology as far as they could at a time when the possibilities seemed endless. The product of a beautiful collision between dub, hip hop, soul and the newer sounds of house, acid and techno, breakbeat hardcore tunes like Some Justice could only have come out of the UK at that particular point in time. Everyone involved – DJs, producers, promoters and audiences alike – all of us, we were making it up as we went along.
For someone who had experience of the anarcho-punk scene a decade earlier, the lack of any unifying political or ethical philosophy was actually quite refreshing in some ways. It made everything a lot simpler. Simpler for me, anyway, though I think women in the rave scene often found themselves fighting the same battles their elder sisters had ten years before. The drugs engendered a non-specific and often entirely false sense of collective grooviness and that was good enough for me.
I went on to buy Some Justice from Jumbo Records and play it on Dream FM quite a lot, I think, along with the majority of other DJs on the station. But as that year went on, to my dismay the tempo started to pick up in both the hardcore scene and the wider rave scene, and I started to play less and less breakbeat stuff. Happy hardcore always seemed a bit of a contradiction in terms to me, as well as being utterly absurd and ridiculous on a musical level.
Hold the front page: Miserable old bastard in ‘teens listen to shit music’ shocker!
Ultimately hardcore gave birth to jungle, by which time I’d pretty much lost all interest, just as I had in Euro-techno, and was concentrating on slower in tempo but equally psychedelic and/or uplifting house music. What can I say? I have a short attention span.
I had even less chance of playing my old hardcore records when I lost most of them moving into Southview House a couple of years later.
I think I paid a tenner for another copy of Some Justice I founds in Vinyl Exchange last year.
The sad truth is, I’m just not feeling it. It’s like running into an old girlfriend (not the one in this piece, obviously) and realising that a) you don’t fancy her anymore and b) you can’t even remember why you fancied her in the first place. Listening to it is a hollow, empty sensation, made all the worse for the fact that it once meant so much.
Why does it have to be so loud and fast? Why so bloody obvious?
I know for a fact that I danced to this record a lot, not just at the festival, back in Leeds too and I know that I had a killer time doing it. I can’t remember much in the way of detail but I can recall enough to know that. But now, that big vocal breakdown sounds a bit lame and cheesy, the beats sound a bit frantic and cluttered, those keyboard stabs cack-handed and artless.
Other tunes around that time, the Horn Track by Egyptian Empire, Baptised by Dub by the Criminal Minds, Mind, Body & Soul by Fantasy UFO, Future Sound by the Phuture Assassins, still sound fucking fierce today. By contrast, Some Justice sounds a little dated – to these ears at least. And the accompanying Summer Break isn’t much better.
Of course, a lot of this cut-and-paste stuff wasn’t meant to be anything but quick, disposable music. It came from a scene where turnover was fast and the hottest tune in the world could be as dead as a dodo within a month. But some tunes that came out of the hardcore scene were more disposable than others.
All things considered, I would have been a lot happier if I’d actually found Mmm Skyscraper I Love You but it was not to be. Maybe another time.
So does anyone want to buy a nearly new copy of Some Justice or what?