THREE or four years after hearing Brandon’s seminal acid house tape, music was coming at me from all directions.
The shock waves from the initial slo-mo house detonation continued to roll around the world – bouncing between Chicago, Detroit and New York, reverberating across the Atlantic to London and Milan before booming back to New York and then back again to Ghent and Antwerp and Frankfurt via Sheffield and Manchester and beyond.
And all of these shockwaves seemed to collide in Leeds in 1992.
It was a formative year in Leeds’s ascent to clubland mecca. Orbit was going off on a weekly basis, Basics and Up Yer Ronson were getting into their stride at the Music Factory, and the Gallery was rammed for the Utah Saints on Fridays and Steve Luigi on Saturdays.
The Warehouse, High Flyers, Digby’s, the Phono, the Ritz, Mr Craig’s and the Phoenix were equally busy. Ark was doing big business at the Poly.
Large-scale illegal raves had been largely stamped out across the north by this point. Castlemorton, which took place over seven days in May 1992, was more of an endpoint than the beginning of anything.
In Leeds, people like Dave Beer, Tony Hannon and Rob Tyrell were beginning to realise just how much money there was to be made from promoting club nights in licensed city-centre venues. Raving was just too much hassle.
I had a show on up-and-coming Leeds pirate Dream FM and I was going out a lot, but I was still trying to figure out what I was into. I started the year still part of the Microdot collective as we launched our new monthly Interface night at the Warehouse, on a Tuesday night a week after New Year’s Eve.
I’ve no idea why we decided that January would be a good time to start a new night. Nobody goes out in Leeds in January. The weather is fucking horrible and everyone is skint.
We got a few brave souls in for the debut UK gig by CJ Bolland – who memorably remarked that he’d enjoyed DJing so much that he was going to have to buy a pair of decks when he got back to Belgium – but the night never really reached the heights we’d hoped.
I was never much of a purist. I could appreciate big, obvious Italian piano tunes and the subtler emerging NYC house/garage sound as much as slinky old school acid house and stomping European techno, all at the same time.
Who wants to listen to one kind of music all night?
Everyone, it seemed for a time, except me.
Truth be told, after the unrelenting electronic assault of Microdot, I’d begun to tire of the endless drive to be louder, faster and more extreme.
And while I adored Joey Beltram’s earlier stuff, I’d had him on my Dream FM show and remember being a bit dismayed by the tempo and relentless hardness of the stuff he played.
Lovely bloke, but one of the new tunes he played sampled Slayer FFS.
Where was the subtlety? Where was the nuance?
Hilariously, for a time, I found more subtlety and nuance in the breakbeat hardcore made by British reggae, soul and hip hop freaks when they heard American house, acid and techno.
All the things that people say about jungle – that it was intrinsically British music that couldn’t have happened anywhere else but the UK at that time, that it represented a fusion of past and current ingredients that produced something groundbreaking and unique and previously unheard, that was born from a genuine grassroots working-class, multicultural experience – all of those things were true of hardcore too.
Except hardcore came first.
House music had as much impact on me as anyone else who stepped outside their front door in the late 80s, but as a reggae fan who’d been blown away by disco, punk rock and 2 Tone long before acid house – and had an appreciation if not a love of hip hop – hardcore initially seemed like the music I’d been waiting for all my life.
And yet, even by 1992, it was all starting to get a bit fast and furious, and simultaneously, too stupid for me. Once soulful and affecting vocal performances, sampled and pitched up to fit the ever-accelerating beats, became Pinky-and-Perky karaoke numbers. There was less room for interesting ideas, less space for space.
For me, the best hardcore – let’s say, We are E or I Need Relief – took its cue from the wide-open spaces in dub and allowed the music the space to breathe, while the worst hardcore choked those spaces with shitty fairground rides soundtracked by a never-ending 1980s power ballads.
By 1992, I was hearing much less of the former than the latter.
While that year’s hardcore highlights included On a Ragga Tip by SL2, Some Justice by Urban Shakedown, Sweet Harmony by Liquid and Trip ll the Moon by Acen – all of which I could happily listen to now – you’d also hear track after track of this banal, derivative infantile rave shit and literally feel your mind being erased, synapse by synapse.
It felt like the scene was beginning to run out of ideas. Early adopters like the Moody Boys, Meat Beat Manifesto, Renegade Soundwave and Leeds’s own b-line heroes Ital Rockers pointed the way forward but no one else seemed remotely arsed. I was running out of patience with the whole thing.
The more credible side of the scene ended up pimp-rolling down one path, towards jungle, while the less credible side skipped off to the adult romper room that was happy hardcore.
Although, in many ways, happy hardcore represents the dreary, unimaginative arse end of rave, it is useful in that it provides proof that Pope John Peel – happy hardcore’s most high-profile champion – was not infallible and sometimes got it wrong (although, let’s not forget, people said the same thing when he began playing reggae and punk).
And while I’d been half-stepping, militantly, to hardcore ever since I’d first heard it, despite being a relatively young man, I couldn’t cope with much more than 130bpm for longer than five minutes. Let’s face it, jungle was never going to be for me.
Ultimately, it was too stripped back, too sparse for my tastes. I needed more substance, more light and shade, more soul.
And so, our rave Goldilocks – no, bear with me on this – having tasted the hardcore porridge, finding it too sickly and sweet, and the jungle porridge, finding it too heavy and stodgy, thought long and hard about it and decided she’d play more progressive house records instead.
Cue elaborate bongo solo.
In my defence, I didn’t buy many of these progressive house records.
Although I was terminally unemployable and permanently broke, I was getting a lot of upfront music to review in the pages of the Northern Star and, once I started working on Dream FM, I immediately blagged my way onto the mailing lists of various labels and promotion companies.
I might’ve been naïve but I wasn’t stupid.
Having said that, the only difference between me then and me now is that, these days, I know how much I don’t understand about music. Back then, not only did I not have a clue, I had no clue about the extent of my cluelessness. I genuinely thought I was on it.
Even worse, I didn’t even have a record player for much of this period, never mind actual decks. As a result, I made sure never to refer to myself as a DJ.
Fortunately, at some point in 1992, Lee Newman, of Tricky Disco, GTO, John & Julie etc, took it upon herself to recommend me to a couple of influential promo companies – I can’t remember why but I might have written about their stuff or played it on the radio or something.
I made a good impression, somehow, and I still have record shelves full of reasons to be grateful to Lee.
Much of this free music was the then in-vogue progressive house, ie instrumental, percussive head music that was often a conscious return to the underground by producers who’d come to regard mainstream chart success as selling out.
For me, this vibe translated to playing stuff like Orson Karte’s Tonight, Sunscream’s cover of Broken English, Passion by Gat Decor and Leftfield’s mixes of You’re Mine by Pressure Drop featuring Joanne Law.
And, okay, Don’t You Want Me by Felix.
Yeah, exactly. I think it’s unlikely that we will see a progressive house revival anytime soon.
Having said that, one strand of progressive house did end up mutating under the weight of its own self-importance and lack of imagination into the existential day-glo tragi-comedy that is big-room 90s trance, so, come to think of it, there’ll probably be a revival any minute now.
Other big tunes for me that year were Funky Guitar by TC 1992, Papua New Guinea by FSOL and Thrash’s remix of Requiem by Killing Joke. Stylistically, I was all over the place. But they were all tunes. You’ll notice they’re all instrumentals too.
Luckily, at the same time as all this was happening, real songs, with lyrics, vocals, and y’know, soul, all that, were once again coming to the fore in the shape of stuff like Finally, I’ll Be Your Friend and I’m Gonna Get You (this version is much better though).
I remember CJ Mackintosh’s spine-tingling mixes of The Pressure by Sounds of Blackness just blew me away. Game over. Everyone else may as well as just gone home.
Other favourites from the time include Carry On by Martha Wash, the Clivillés & Cole-produced Special Kind of Love by Dina Carroll, and (the sadly unappreciated but totally ace) The Thought of It by Louie Louie.
There was even more great house music coming from Europe. Blake Baxter released a run of killer singles via Logic in Germany, while the Swemix sound broke big with the inescapable Show Me Love (although I preferred Nothing to Say by Sadie).
Even R&S got in on the act. I dug Plastic Dreams by Jaydee and Golden Girls by Kinetic, even if proto-trance stuff like Stella by Jam & Spoon left me a bit cold. Who would have thought it of our European friends?
The next thing you’ll be telling me is that they’ve started making decent house music in France. I know, ridiculous, right?
In retrospect, while 1992 was undoubtedly a great year for top-quality dancefloor-orientated music of all kinds, one track in particular stands out.
Reach for Me by Funky Green Dogs from Outer Space was probably the first Murk production I ever heard. I might’ve got Outta Limits by Mission Control around the same time but I didn’t have any inkling there was any connection until I started to write this piece. Yes, I know. I’m a rubbish music knobber.
Reach for Me pointed the way to a deeper and perhaps even more meaningful future for house music. I loved the all-singing, all-dancing, big-budget productions of people like Clivillés & Cole and David Morales, and the similarly expansive and lush remixes of CJ Mackintosh, but Oscar Gaetan and Ralph Falcon’s stripped-back, bass-driven, funky-as-fuck groove took me to another place entirely.
There’s fuck all to it. There’s a shimmer of syncopation, a big, bossy unavoidable bassline and a splash of wah-wah guitar accompanying a sultry, unfussy, almost matter-of-fact vocal by Shauna Solomon. And that’s it for seven and a half minutes.
It is every bit as sparse and stark and wonderful as the deepest, darkest dub where the gaps between the sounds are, once again, as important as the sounds themselves.
But Reach for Me’s precision grooves are pulled into sharp focus by Gaetan and Falcon’s confident and accomplished production. The track’s insistent, irrepressible bottom-heavy swing is accompanied by a quietly soulful vocal that simply smoulders with longing and unrequited lust.
Gaetan has described the Funky Green Dogs project as “a different concept and sound for us” and a way of “flexing” their songwriting muscles but, in reality, the Reach for Me lyric was never going to trouble the Grammys (“You need to show me boy, that I’m the only one that makes you feel like you want to do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do me. Show me boy, can you do me?”).
Even so, this tale of a woman who is not getting what she needs from her man was a significant step forward from samples of the same half-dozen Loleatta Holloway vocals to which we’d become accustomed.
Reach for Me sounded like a big record as soon as you heard it, and something that was quite unlike anything else around at the time. It’s full of odd little details and kinks in the sound – that tight little conga roll before the bassline kicks in, the scat vocal midway through – just to make sure you’re paying attention.
I could only very rarely afford to buy imported records at the time but I made the effort for this piece of 120bpm genius in B-minor. I played the shit out of Reach for Me on the radio.
Despite being sampled in due course by David Guetta and DJ Sneak for two very different but equally rubbish ‘homages’, Reach for Me has gone down in house music history as one of the most important and influential releases of the early 90s, and one that established its Miami-based creators as big news on both sides of the Atlantic.
There’s even a school of thought that Reach for Me is a low-key tribute to Moody by ESG. It’s an interesting idea.
Over the next few years, Gaetan and Falcon’s remixes and their own productions, both solo and as a duo, got bigger and slicker and more expansive, presumably as they got more accustomed to playing big-room venues like your Pachas, Spaces and Crobars. Their stuff remains the Bomb.
But the times they were a changing. Cream opened in 1992, Ron Hardy died, and Yeltsin and Bush (the elder) declared the cold war over as the former Yugoslavia splintered into its constituent parts ahead of all-out civil war.
Having replaced Thatcher as leader of the Tories and prime minister, John Major promptly won a fourth successive general election victory for the Conservatives.
It was, it seems, The Sun wot won it. I’m not even sure I voted.
Even the Queen declared 1992 an ‘annus miserabilis’, displaying her famous common touch by making puns in latin [insert your own miserable anus joke here]. She’d finally had to start paying income tax, the poor love, one of her castles burned down, and the marriages of her (literally) entitled offspring began to implode, one by one.
Meanwhile, the UK was deep in recession again. I didn’t notice the end of the last recession, to be honest.
My business hours became increasingly nocturnal. Blues were still quite a big part of Leeds nightlife and I may have begun to play for Jazzie and Rod at 45s on Spencer Place around this time. But I’ve no real idea of the chronology of this period of my life.
It’s all a blur.
I was, as they say, away with the faeries.
An old friend, who was just as immersed in the whole thing as I was, wrote about this period in a poem entitled The biggest love affair:
We loved everybody
We hugged everybody
Even the bouncers
We understood everything
But couldn’t explain it
We went way, way too far in
It seemed a good idea at the time
My copy of Reach for Me went west at some point between then and now but I couldn’t tell you where or when.
I bought another copy from Reel Around the Fountain in Stretford’s glamorous Arndale centre for a quid the other week.
It’s a re-release from 1998 on Higher State’s deep house label 99 North, complete with the original Long Ass mix – you will be glad to hear this still sounds 1000 per cent fresh and extraordinary – as well as two remixes by Dillon & Dickens and Matthew ‘Bottom Dollar’ Roberts.
These remixes are just woeful but, in truth, our unlucky trio were on a loser from the start. How do you improve on perfection?
I’d suggest that you don’t replace the original bassline with an inappropriately busy re-played slappy bassline for a start.
The whole project is the very definition of a fool’s errand, displaying consistently appalling taste and at times bordering on outright blasphemy. I mean, the sleeve even credits the track to Murk.
I want to say to them: Just leave it, lads, it’s not worth it. You’re making yourselves look daft. Think about what you’re doing.
I’m sure all this seemed like a good idea at the time too. It wasn’t.