POSTCARDS FROM 88… James Barton, Cream
There’s no doubt that the summer of 1988 marked a watershed moment in the history of dance, as the house rhythms of Chicago, artistic exuberance of Ibiza, and electronic soundscapes of Detroit surged through club culture.
With this in mind, 909originals presents ‘Postcards from 88’, a new series that will see leading DJs, promoters, journalists, club owners, photographers, and of course the clubbers themselves, shed some light on just what went on during those halcyon days, 30 years ago.
This week’s Postcards From 88 features an individual that changed the face of clubland (in Liverpool, anyway), with the opening of Cream in 1992… promoter and club owner James Barton.
Q. Do you remember what you were doing as the Summer of 1988 started?
At some point in the Spring of 88, a friend of mine in London took me to The Trip in the Astoria [Nicky Holloway’s legendary club night], which was my first exposure to a proper, acid house party. It was life changing. I realised very early on that what was happening here was something that was going to dramatically change the music scene in the UK.
Then I went back to Liverpool – I’d been travelling a little bit – and I perhaps stupidly thought that everyone was into this ‘new’ sound. But it was only just catching on; where were all sorts of underground parties, people with basic sound systems setting up in parks or on the beaches around Liverpool.
There was a nightclub in Liverpool called The State, where I used to go a lot. I spoke to the owner, Bernie Start, and said ‘listen, we want to do a party at your club’. It was a strange request; at the time in Liverpool, the idea of an outside promoter coming in to a club to run a night was pretty new, but Bernie knew me because I was a regular there. He agreed to give me a Monday night, and we set about organising Liverpool’s first acid house club night.
I was thinking of contacting Mike Pickering at the Hacienda to see if he would be able to DJ. But unbeknownst to me, Andy and Mike, the two DJs at the club, had actually been buying acid house records from Chicago, New York, and they convinced me to let them be the DJs, so I did.
We opened our first night on September 12, 1988. The night was called Daisy – it was ripped off slighting from Daisy Chain in London [at Brixton’s The Fridge]. I went around town putting up posters, putting stickers on lampposts, talking to all my friends, getting everyone excited. I think we had about 600 people come in, and then it really stemmed on from there.
Acid house steamrollered into Liverpool, and by the end of the year, it was huge.
Q. When or where did you first realise that ‘something different’ was happening with music, particularly dance/club music?
It was an interesting time for Liverpool, as we had just gone through a phase of some really good live bands in the 1980s. But at the same time, it really felt like the city was ready for a change. I guess we were in the right place at the right time.
We had all heard though the grapevine about what was happening in Manchester, with the Hacienda. Tony Wilson, the owner, had a TV show on Granada TV every Friday night, and on he had already started pitching to the northwest about this new genre of music that was coming through.
It wasn’t just in Liverpool either; it was placed like Southport, Ormskirk, Chester, Wrexham. There was definitely a scene bubbling under, but nobody was giving them a night. We came along with this Monday night party and it really connected.
The sad thing is that it connected so well that very quickly a lot of DJs were starting to play dance music in their Friday and Saturday night slots. So what you had was a midweek genre scene being co-opted by the weekend.
Daisy didn’t last that long – about three or four month – before we shut it down. But by then it was no longer an underground, hidden genre; it was much more accessible and ‘out there’ by the end of 1988/89.
Q. Was there a particular tune or tunes from the Summer of 1988 that stood out for you?
Dance music in Liverpool at the time went from Salt n Pepa through to Frankie Knuckles and Nitzer Ebb. I don’t think there were enough tracks coming through from the States, from Chicago or Detroit, to put together a full three or four hour set.
I actually quite liked that, that more eclectic, sort of Balearic vibe. You would have M/A/R/R/S mixed into Blue Monday, mixed into some of the New Beat stuff that was coming out of Belgium.
Q. How do you think the ‘spirit of 88’ changed dance music, and clubbing in general?
In between then and when Cream was founded in 1992, dance music for me felt like it had already gone through its ‘first phase’.
By that point, Liverpool already had a number of different clubs playing dance music – some were geared towards soulful house, some were on a more Balearic vibe, some would just play techno. As a city, Liverpool was really up to date pretty quick.
Then Cream came along, and I look at that as sort of the ‘phase two’ of the development of the club scene. By the time Cream opened, I could see that the club scene had fragmented into all these different genres, and that inclusive vibe of ‘playing a bit of everything’ had gone away.
Cream really set about trying to bring that back: different sounds every week, different DJs every week. DJs that were looking to mix it up somewhat, rather than stick to one genre.
Q. Why do you think that people are still so interested in the origins of the dance scene, old school and everything that goes with it?
I think the great thing about the dance scene is that it transcends, and travels really well. It touches a lot of different demographics, different age groups and different nationalities. It really does regenerate itself, it does a great job of finding and breaking through new DJs and new producers that have something to say.
It still feels very strong – maybe not as ‘new’ as it did back then, but always changing, always staying fresh.
[Thanks again to James for this week’s interview. Postcards from 88 continues next week. Check out the other interviews in the series by clicking here]