House ’88 – Paradise Glimpsed

guest post by Louise Gray

featured in Catch The Beat, The Best of Soul Underground

Dear Shoom… Thank you, thank you, thank you for creating the happiest club ever. Lots of love and smiles, Julie
Shoom is not a club; Heaven is a club; Delirium was a club, even Stringfellows is a club. Shoom is part of our lives… the only part of my life and I mean that. Danny and Jenni, I want to say thanks for the best part of life; Morris.

Maybe Julie and Morris aren’t the types who, over their mid-morning coffee, plan long and involved letters to the Times on the current state of the metaphor, but in terms of a retrospective for London’s year in House Music, that’s a consideration of little significance, You can bet that the likes of these two letters – pulled at random from Danny and Jenni Rampling’s Shoom postbag – aren’t piling up on the doormats of the Hippodrome, Limelight or even the Fridge. Yet the fact that events like Shoom, Hedonism, Confusion or RIP (Rave In Peace), not so much clubs as parties, are changing the lives of a thousand Julies and a thousand Morrises is significant.

Thanks to clubs like these, to DJs like Mark Moore, Eddie Richards and Colin Faver, pioneering spirits who were promoting House as far back as ’85, 1988 is the celebration of that moment of intangible joy, dance – where any critical worth resides not in the word, but a beat capable of transforming people, a musical texture that adds significance to life, ‘Getting right on one’ (to coin a phrase) was never so easy; House has merely brought the subject out of the closet.

Yet if music has always had this transformational power, why has House taken the lead? Slinkey, the man behind the four legendary Hedonism parties held between February and May, believes that the answer lies in a reaction against the superficiality of pop: ‘House derives from its space, it’s all about feeling. You can think within it, live and breathe within very simple, very unstructured and beautiful music. You’re not being bombarded with pathetic lyrics. Words in our day and age have been diluted, they’ve lost their meaning. House is pure soul music’.

But if there’s any single reason why House has dominated ’88, it lies in the space that clubs led by Shoom, Delirium, Transatlantic and Hedonism gave it. Freed of the more commercial or fashionable considerations that dictated the moods of most West-End dancefloors, DJs made their marks not so much through their choice of tracks, but the way they treated their music. Mark Moore and Eddie Richards, each to score individual chart successes as S-Express and Jolly Roger respectively, continued to produce eclectic and ever-idiosyncratic DJ mixes that defied all rules of fashion and evidenced their encyclopaedic understanding of dance music. Bang The Party’s DJ Kid Batchelor, the mainstay behind Mr Stone’s RIP and Nicky Harwood’s Confusion, blended the dub spaces of Deep House with Freestyle and Acid. It’s no surprise to learn that Batchelor’s latest work includes collaborative projects with Fingers Inc’s Robert Owens, a singer whose impressionistic vocal lines stream between agony and ecstasy.

Danny Rampling used his space at Shoom to feature European bands like Code 61 and The Gipsy Kings, as well as all brands of House and ‘alternative’. With his lbiza background, Rampling was soon regarded as the king of the Balearic Beat, a term that remained curiously undefined. Rampling shied away from the marketing hype that labels like London Records initiated around Balearics. If the label meant anything beyond a cursory lipservice to the holiday atmosphere that Rampling, Paul Oakenfold and Nicky Holloway hoped to perpetuate in their clubs, it referred to a certain laid back attitude where dancefloors resisted the musical straitjackets of old. Balearic came to be a sort of conduit for European music to filter into England, be it hi-NRG, disco or the much-vaunted Belgium New Beat.

With a club confidence strong enough to experiment with presentation, live MCs Mr C (now recording On Eddie Richards’ Baad! label) and E-Mix (who features on S-Express’ forthcoming album) appeared, functioning as trainers, pacing the RIP and Hedonism crowds through the nightlong gigs. DJ Ian Beta would play live keyboards over his mixes at Pyramid, and Blow trumpeter Gordon Matthewman, accompany Colin Faver at Shoom. Playing at Future and Hair, Nancy Noise and Lisa Loud joined a platform that had previously been exclusively male, and at Shoom, Andy Weatherall, Terry Farley and Steve Proctor got their first breaks. The inspiration for clubbers to become DJs, musicians to participate, was there, Providing private musical visions in public spaces, these were the fundamental features of House early this year. No wonder the new mood was infectious; small wonder that other clubs wanted a piece of the action.

But in terms of music politics, the fact that dance music was moving out of its parallel universe towards mass appeal, and for once needed to be taken seriously, created problems. For the majority of music writers, convinced that dance is a retarded cousin to ‘intelligent rock’, House has been an uneasy phenomenon. Even with a BBC-led hit-list against Acid, something that might normally militate against the awful spectre of populism (by critical definition, ‘worthy’ music is outside mass consumption), the easiest route for most papers was to lake the negative option. Having looked for meaning so long in the lyrically-laden tomes delivered up by Bruce Springsteen and his pantheon of demi-gods or in the unassailable thrashings of dinosaur rock, rather than considering the imaginative dub spaces of Derrick May’s Rhythim Is Rhythim, of Laurent X’s cyborg frenzies or of Nitro Deluxe/Aldo Marin’s hypnotic washes, House music provided a hard text to read. The hack-attitude was telling: ‘oh, they can’t play, of course! just switch on the machines… click! and they all dance.. it’s hardly music’. Considering that club music has always existed as an adjunct to the main thrust of the pop industry, with a career measured out in singles and late-night PAs, rather than HMV boxed sets and Madison Square Garden gigs, perhaps these stock reactions are as predictable as they’re tiresome. Despite the creative energies of the DJs or musicians like Baby Ford, Adrenalin MOD or Housemaster General, we’re closer to the retrograde spirit of 1977 than we ever feared.

From Genesis to Apocalypse Now

Mark Moore: ‘Roll On the future when the new wave of British club-goers start turning out their own music. Having experienced for themselves what actually makes people dance… The new music is coming sooner than you think.’ (Writing in the Virgin Rock Year Book, 1987).

Patrick Lilley (PR agent involved with early Shoom days, and, more recently, Myami and High On Hope): ‘How did it all start? The magic occurred when an attitude was added to House. Hip-hop had its own attitude, but although House was played wherever Mark Moore or Colin Faver spun, something hadn’t sparked. As soon as Danny Rampling added humour, he added attitude; as soon as he wore a Shoom shirt and showed his skinny arms, it was style’.

Jenni Rampling; ‘I’d hardly say that Shoom’s fashionable or trendy. We never thought in those terms, We just wanted people to come to the club, leave their egos at the door and have fun… after all, we all sweat the same’.
Rereading Mark Moore’s Dance Report, his predictions carry an uncanny accuracy. Although, with Keith 2B3, he played Transatlantic at The Wag, London’s first total House night, the crowds at that stage hadn’t gathered sufficiently to institute a scene. ‘The people coming together seemed to be thinking alike, with a love of the same music. Basically, they were intelligent people, who, without wanting to sound too hippy, cared about their fellow man. It definitely took Shoom to spark it off. On May 19, after articles had appeared in i-D and The Face, Shoom was invaded by trendies, I knew it was happening then’.

No one person or place ignited House, but amongst clubland’s prime movers, there’s a spirit of generosity on this subject not normally shared by rivals. Opening at approximately the same time late last year as Oakenfold’s Project Club and Future, Shoom have never claimed any copyright on the scene that many accredit to them. Whilst February’s Hedonism 1 inspired Nicky Harwood to leave her PR job at the Fridge and create Confusion, Moore and Slinkey respect Robin King’s Delirium (in particular, his Up-Time Deep House convention, which brought Ce Ce Rogers and Fingers Inc over and where the first Hedonism tickets were handed out) as a key House-building event. Although Shoom’s outward style – flavoured smoke machines, frantic strobes and free ice-pops as steam belched from the doors and humidity hit max – was plagiarised a hundred times by new clubs in the market only for the love of easy cash, the ambience achieved by the Ramplings was intangible. Danced-out and soaking wet, crowds would stagger out of Shoom as new friends. After a lifetime of clubs where you had to pose, dress up or exude attitude to survive, all Shoom asked for was relaxation.

This special relationship with the Shoomers was based on something quite simple: respect. Says Jenni: ‘We always try to make everyone welcome; we talk to our clubbers, we’re all on the same level, we’re all part of Shoom. We don’t think we’re above anyone just because it’s our club’.

What also marked Shoom, Hedonism and RIP out from their emulators was their music. Often using a flexible line-up of DJs who’d been playing House elsewhere, the open attitude prevalent in these new clubs allowed them to experiment more. Although there’s a misconception that Moore, Faver, Richards or Batchelor lived only in an acid zone, the truth was that they were beyond Acid, a reason why they’re able to offer anything other than a panic ‘what’s-next?’ scenario. To be caught up in their fad-resistant mixes is an educative experience. ‘Acid was the perfect vehicle for introducing people to other forms of House’ says Batchelor. ‘That drawing out process is important.

When maturity is reached, people will be listening to everything, music will be just music, clubs will no longer be formatted. I do play dance, but I try to incorporate as many elements as possible. As minds advance, as people become more aware of what DJs can do, they’ll expect more. And if the DJ can’t cut it, he’ll be struggling because soon everyone’s going to want to hear everything jumbled up and upside down; they want to get lost’.

Fundamentally, these clubs marked going out as something larger than a social activity; the feelings, the excitement they offered was more to do with methods of life. RIP’s Lu is succinct about what her work with Mr Stone was about: ‘Politically, economically, Britain’s at a crisis point. We needed something, a cultural phenomenon, to bring people together, black and white, male and female, rich and poor, young and old. That’s what this music is doing, that’s why it’s so important It’s music to put positive vibes back onto this poor planet’,
Or, as Mr C would say: ‘You know what time it is’.

Media mayhem: getting right on the wrong one

Converse Trainers may report a 50% sales increase over the past six months for their multi-coloured baseball boots, but I suspect 1988 has been a boom year also for Kleenex Tissues. Acid House, that great catch-all phrase whose meaning fluctuated with as great a rate as a Phuture baseline, has stimulated the biggest tabloid wet-dream this side of paradise, Never has so much been written about so little. Over the past few months, Sun Journalists would have us believe that they risked life and limb (not to mention soul), donning the acid ted camouflage of shorts, trainers and bandanas to journey into Hell itself. Of course, I’m talking about Paul Oakenfold’s Spectrum; a club that, according to the tabloids, had its foundations rooted in an Amityville of LSD, ecstasy and anything else not normally found in the medicine-cabinet of a God-fearing family. The writers found hordes of young people ‘smiling and dancing excitedly’ and they published valuable cartoons so we innocents could recognise drug-pushers instantly (they have horns, little goatee Shakespearian beards and forked tails, kids). Richard Branson, chief tidier to the nation, and owner of Spectrum’s venue, Heaven, took to patrolling the club personally, and made a big show of introducing body-searches only slightly less rigorous than Heathrow customs; I found this out after my toes had been thoroughly frisked for contraband.

Meanwhile, smiley shirts, carrying the logo that Shoom adopted in November ’87 to represent happiness, took on a significance beyond the Ramplings’ wildest nightmares. Beyond his own disgust, Danny muttered ‘there’ll be a few outraged Christians, too… they’ve been using the smiley for years now’. Presumably the ecstasy of St Teresa has reached new depths… Shoom have now marked their move to Busby’s by taking on a heart insignia. After the Spectrum expose, The Sun withdrew its smiley shirt offer and attempted to reclaim ground by offering a ‘say no to drugs’ frownie in its place; Top Shop meanwhile junked thousands of shirts destined for their new fashion range.

As the Shock Sound System’s House set blared street party sounds across Notting Hill, drawing the largest, most euphoric crowds of that year’s Carnival, The Sunday Mirror spent the bank holiday following the fortunes of one Jade, a South London 16 year old, blitzed, blissed and abandoned by her City boyfriend at Enter The Dragon. The copy made for the worst kind of voyeuristic reading. The writer watched Jade having ‘her long legs fondled’ by groups of young men, before, suitably inflamed, he did the decent thing and ‘phoned her parents’. That same weekend, Today squawked headlines promising ‘The New Sex And Drugs Cult Exposed!’ alongside a picture of Mark Moore, who, since a chart-topper with S-Express, was presumably a legitimate target and a recognisable monster of evil The advertised feature actually ran about a week later than expected, delayed after Moore’s solicitor fired off a letter alleging defamation, a charge that the paper accepted. Damages are yet to be decided.

Editorial headlines like ‘Drop The Acid – NOW!!!’ (Sunday Sport) would have been hilarious if the new puritans lacked the power to propel the House scene straight into a latter-day Salem situation. As their impromptu post-Trip street parties marched out of the Astoria and into national moral panic, things got worse. Above all, the clubs and clubbers alike began to get self-conscious, an attitude that even in June, was refreshingly, liberatingly absent. The pre-fall innocence of the early Trip where Mark Moore observed body builders, girls blowing bubbles, others sitting in the lotus position and chanting, was doomed. Shoom left its YMCA location and in July returned to its SE1 birthplace, whilst hordes of writers and cameras fought to get access to the Ramplings. Their splendid isolation was a sensible move, and their refusal to cash in on the House explosion is undoubtably a main reason why Shoom has managed to retain its own highly-charged and exultant atmosphere, even since re-opening this November as a public club.

Clubs like RIP, an event that was always, worth travelling miles to, kept a professionally low profile, but the greed of others was proving to be an insurmountable problem that reflected on the good illegal parties. ‘I don’t think warehouse crews have become more responsible’ says Mr Stone, ‘The same attitude is still there. People see RIP and think “God! that’s easy!”. They go out and book a warehouse, stick something on, get the place turned over in an hour, take the money and run. They don’t give a shit… there are so many amateurs in this game’. On October 1, RIP was raided by the police on the excuse of illegal drinking. RIP’s now back, but they’re going legitimate in order to survive.

Wherever clubs allowed the media in, the resulting reports were obsessed only with sensationalism: drugs. They couldn’t understand that most people only needed one chemical prop: pure, natural adrenalin. Danny Rampling pulled out of Roger Goodman’s Apocalypse Now gig at Staples Comer as soon as he realised that ITN would be present. Three months later, their footage of dancers and disguised ecstasy-users still has an awful currency. Great photo opportunities, no doubt, but the clubs letting in cameras weren’t doing anything to promote understanding, they were merely signing their own death warrants. Most clubs had nothing to hide, but the scent of a good story meant that no media guests could be trusted. As soon as House music was noticed, the backlash was waiting in the wings with a vengeance.

The acid test

Mark Moore: ‘Clubbers have to listen to Acid House now just as they once had to listen to hip-hop or rare groove. The thing that annoys me is DJs who never used to play it and slagged it off as “queers” music are now really into it’. (City Limits, Sept 15, 1988).

Kid Batchelor: ‘I don’t think you should be against Acid; I don’t think you should be against anything… but I do object to all those people, certain journalists, who didn’t participate in House, didn’t support it, who have no connection with it, and yet they’re trying to stop it. They didn’t start it, they didn’t contribute to it, yet they want to kill it’.

The Paper, New York: ‘(In London) I see people waving their arms in the air and I just want to hit them on the head and yell: “do you know where this all started? have you never heard of the Paradise Garage?”’

Acid, dead? it’s never been more overground. The ferocity of the anti-acid publicity has been such that the bandwagon brigade have chucked away their near-mint copies of ‘Pump Up London’ in favour of A Split Second, or gone off to the superlative High On Hope’s Garage music seminars, but as far as the charts are concerned, the rantings of the public moralists have given House a new lease of life. As soon as Top Of The Pops instituted their ‘acid’ word ban after parents failed to get right on Gary Haisman’s smurf anthem, ‘We Call It Acid’, Jolly Roger’s ‘Acid Man’ began to rise steadily, after languishing for weeks in the lower 50s, as did Adrenalin MOD’s ‘Ecstasy/O-O-O’; As a production technique, acid remixes seem to be a pre-requisite: Kevin Saunderson with the Wee Papa Girls and Sam Fox, Martyn Young with Mory Kante; Bros acified ‘I Quit’ and promptly dropped down the charts.

1988 is primarily a year of hope for the future, The mass media can’t touch House music because its sum total is greater than the energies of Acid. Once the ecstasy storyline wears thin, House movements won’t be so widely reported, but a future is there for the making, for fulfilling the early promises that visionaries such as Fingers Inc made, of secret, imaginative, emotional spaces. The fact that all genres of House gathered to break the boundaries that have always sought to pigeon-hole and define music, is undeniable and already apparent With DJ creativity at last being recognised as a talent beyond choosing records, with House’s low-cost emphasis towards cheap technology within the reach of most young hopefuls, a rich vein of talent has been opened up.

One great development is that Philip Glass, arguably America’s premier living composer and one of the first musicians to treat the studio as a compositional tool, is set to remix S-Express’ third single, ‘Hey. Music Lover’, ‘I’ve admired Philip Glass for a long time’ says Moore, ‘he’s using the same techniques and ideas for rhythm as House, those hypnotic, repeating collages, but only in a different field of music… and he’s a rule breaker. I just had to get hold of him!’.

Despite the many attempts made this year to write House off as a transitory summer of love, as a drug-fuelled orgy, despite the predictable and ill-informed opinions of the Paradise Garage vampires across the pond who’re incapable of accepting anything beyond their own backyard, too many people came out to play in 1988 in a way they’ve never played before. Clubland need never be the same again. If a freedom in music motivates you, give this scene respect: there’s a whole future to endure.

© Louise Gray
Originally published in Soul Underground, Jan 1989

About Louise Gray

Louise has been a music critic for the Times and a culture correspondent for the Independent on Sunday, writing on music and live art. She’s worked as independent consultant for the British Council and Arts Council England. Her chapter on the use of sound in the works of experimental film-maker Nina Danino appears in Visionary Landscapes: The Films of Nina Danino. Louise’s book about discourses surrounding world music, The No-Nonsense Guide to World Music, was published in 2009 by New Internationalist Books.

She continues to write for The Wire, New Internationalist (where she is music columnist) and Musicworks, covering experimental music and its various currents.

Louise blogs at www.louisegray.net