Water, water everywhere… and not a drop to drink

One of the most-read articles on 909originals over the past year was about the availability (or lack thereof) of free water in clubs, and whether nightclub owners are unnecessarily putting clubbers in danger by turning off the taps. Picking up on this, Chandler Shortlidge of Pulse Radio spoke to health experts and industry leaders about this complicated issue. It’s a long read, but an important one. [This article first appeared on www.pulseradio.net – thanks to Chandler for allowing us to share it]

In April of 2016, the dance music community was reeling from five drug-related deaths at Time Warp in Argentina. It was one of the worst incidents of its kind, and the Buenos Aires mayor temporarily banned all electronic music festivals from the city in the aftermath. Overheating, overcrowding and bad drugs were blamed, and the local production company’s organisers were arrested.

That May, at Ibiza’s International Music Summit, industry figureheads were passionately discussing ways to keep tragedies like this from happening again. Panelists agreed—drugs testing and free water are the future of our industry.

Few health experts and industry leaders would argue that drugs testing isn’t vitally important. It’s something I fully support, and watching it grow in the UK recently has been very hopeful. But many countries still view the issue of drug deaths as a criminal one, and cannot be counted on to suddenly change long-standing laws and cultural norms.

This is especially true in places like China and Singapore, where the dance music market is poised to grow substantially in coming years, and where getting caught in possession of drugs could mean the death penalty. An incident like the one in Argentina might result in a permanent ban on dance music events in those countries, instead of a temporary one.

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But the need for water is universal. Without it, we simply cannot stay alive. Yet at clubs and festivals nearly everywhere, water is being sold at a premium. And sometimes at such high prices that clubbers can’t realistically afford to stay hydrated, as they consume drugs and alcohol while dancing for hours in hot and cramped environments.

Even where water is cheap, forcing clubbers to buy it can lead to situations like that in Paris, where this March a man died after drinking GBL out of a bottle he picked up off the floor, thinking it was water.

Situations like these are deeply tragic for the individuals involved. But tragedies can also jeopardise the scene as a whole, as governments levy draconian crackdowns on clubs and festivals in their attempts to keep people safe.

As we’ll see, giving water away—and more importantly, making sure it’s easily accessible—is likely the most straightforward solution for keeping tragedies at bay. At least until drugs testing becomes universally accepted.

Empty glass stands on the bar 2

Making A Margin

This may require a large shift in thinking. Potential profits are at stake in an industry where margins are sometimes razor thin. But as Technopol President Tommy Vaudecrane says: “We’re coming to the end of an era, we can’t just play with people’s lives.” And without a new model for how water is thought about and treated in our culture, lives and livelihoods and will remain at risk.

To be clear, advocating for free water at clubs isn’t new. Its history in the UK stretches back to Manchester in 1993 where safer dancing guidelines were introduced, forcing all clubs in the northern England city to provide free tap water to patrons.

Four years later, and the first Club Health conference was held in Liverpool at Cream in 1997, where among other issues, Ibiza’s high water prices were discussed.

“I certainly spoke strongly about this 20 years ago, and denounced clubs for not having access to free water,” Dr. Chris Luke says via Skype from his busy office at Cork University Hospital.

Along with working as an A&E doctor in Ireland, Dr. Luke specialises in emergency treatment for nightclub related problems, and is a longtime advocate for better health and safety practices in the nighttime industries.

“Clubs charging 10 quid for a bottle of water, I think that is criminal negligence.”

“Back in the mid-’90s, the big clubs in Ibiza and elsewhere were charging up to 10 euros for a bottle of water”—I cut him off. “They still are,” I say. “Are they?” he asks. “That’s the worst of capitalism. The very worst. Clubs charging 10 quid for a bottle of water, I think that is criminal negligence,” he says. “If any clubber came to grief because the club made the water excessively expensive, that club should be called out.”

Technopol president Tommy Vaudecrane shares similar sentiments towards clubs that charge, as some do, 12 euros for a 330ml bottle of water. “I think they should go to jail, probably,” he says. “These guys are putting people in danger, because you are creating a filter where people will not be able to afford a bottle of water.”

Along with running Technopol, a French lobby association for electronic music that launched in 1996, Vaudecrane organises the Techno Parade in Paris and Paris Electronic Week. Like most people I spoke with, Vaudecrane isn’t opposed to clubs and festivals selling water, as long as the prices remain affordable.

“More than three euros is just a rip off,” he says. But he staunchly believes in the unequivocal right to free water, provided in tandem with inexpensive bottled water. “It should be a universal law that anyone who throws any type of event should be able to give free water to participants,” he says.

Finding The Balance

As an advocate for clubs, Vaudecrane fully understands the financial difficulties many clubs face. He recognises that by asking venues to make water free and easily accessible, he’s also asking potentially struggling businesses to cut a revenue source that’s often reliable and sometimes large.

“It can be a touchy point,” he says. But it’s one he believes is worth talking about. “It’s a balance. It’s an everyday battle. We defend clubs and festivals, so we’ll always be careful of what we say and what we want to implement that will put them in a dangerous position where they can lose their business or shut down. But with ethical questions like water, I think we need to come to a point where we don’t negotiate, and they need to respect the minimum of what people need to stay alive.”

Robert Johnson founder Klaus Unkelbach echos Vaudecrane’s statements, though only to a degree. His Offenbach club recently installed a water fountain, allowing free and easy access to cold water for anyone with a glass or empty bottle (no plastic is allowed to reduce waste).

The prices for water at the 250-capacity club have always been low: one euro for a 300ml bottle or two euros for half liter. And before the fountain, the club allowed people to fill their empty containers in the bathroom. “But our sinks are very small, and we have damages weekly,” Unkelbach says. So to “keep the sinks alive,” in went the fountain.

The fountain wasn’t his initial answer to the problem, first lowering the prices on bottled water. As he sees it, “[water] is not a fundamental right,” he says. “If I go to a club, I know I have to spend some money so that the club can cover its costs.”

Unkelbach is viewing the issue through the lense of a business person. As a club owner, he’s acutely aware just how costly running his business is.

“When I started, we had a VAT rate of 10 percent. Now we have 19 percent. We have GEMA, and their costs have increased and increased. Then we have to pay for social insurance for artists; although they will never receive this insurance because they are from abroad, we have to pay for them. So the club can’t hide or run away, the club always has to pay.”

He also says the government is asking for a million more euros this year, which the club can’t afford. Despite this, the club hasn’t raised prices on anything since the fountain was installed. Though speaking with Unkelbach, his wanting to avoid the inevitable social media blowback was at least part of the reason for doing so.

“People behave like detectives and watch the beer prices. So we do not fall into that trap, and left every price as it was. And we lowered the prices of water.”

In terms of lost income, Unkelbach says that water sales were “not a major part” of revenues, but they were “quite significant.” However, most people who like to drink still water buy it bottled, either wanting to “play the game” and support the club with their purchase, or because they simply like having water in a “proper container” without having to walk to the fountain.

Deciding to install the fountain wasn’t easy for Unkelbach. He admits the success of Robert Johnson, which has been running for nearly 20 years, played a large factor in the economics of the situation.

“We have a very good contract with the landlord and we have it for 40 years, since the beginning of the ‘90s, so it runs until 2030 with a low monthly rate. So the first step was to watch my costs, have a proper economic performance, then I can afford something like having free water.”

Unkelbach clearly did what he thought was right for his club and his customers. Not every club is in the same position, and each club has its own decisions to make. But if the club can afford to give water away, it’s a no-brainer for Unkelbach, because ultimately, he believes water helps save lives.

“If we talk about those people who need more water because they took drugs and they are in danger of being dehydrated, then they need more water and they need it instantly, so this prevents people from going through any health accident. If I then can lower the probability of having an accident because of drug use if I have free water, I think so.”

Plus, it keeps people partying longer. “And that’s what it’s about,” he says.

The Health Question

But what does water actually do to keep you safe while partying? And how much should you be drinking in a typical club or festival setting?

Firstly, you can drink too much water. The death of Leah Betts is probably the most famous example of overhydration. On November 11th, 1995, Betts took an ecstasy pill before collapsing into a coma four hours later.

On November 16th, she was taken off life support, dying not long after her 18th birthday. But it wasn’t the ecstasy that killed Betts. Scared by warnings about dehydration and dancing, she drank approximately seven litres of water in a 90-minute period. She was still home with friends as she drank, not sweating or dancing, and the pill may have reduced her ability to urinate. The end result was water intoxication and hyponatremia, which led to serious swelling of the brain and irreparable damage.

Chugging water isn’t the answer, but neither is skipping water all together. As Dr. Luke explains, the body faces an array of hazards in the typical clubbing environment, which can overwhelm a dehydrated body. Excessive heat can cause illness on its own.

When combined with marathon-levels of exercise—”which dancing for several hours is,” he says—dehydration can quickly become a problem. Then there’s the toxicity of the drugs, and toxicity of the ethanol in alcohol. All of those are challenges or threats to the body, and hydration is necessary to keep your body running optimally. Especially when drugs and drinking are involved.

“The toxicity of ketamine, MDMA, alcohol, all of those depend on the concentration in the bloodstream, which in turn reflects the dehydration or hydration levels,” Dr. Luke says. “In other words, dehydration will increase the concentration of any solute or drug. And conversely, the more fluids you take in, the more it tends to dilute.”

Diluting your drugs with water might sound like a buzzkill. But by staying properly hydrated, you’re allowing the body to maximise its own equipment. This not only helps in dealing with overheating, exercise and toxicity, it may help keep you more alert, and help speed recovery time.

Or as Dr. Luke puts it: “You will avoid any delay in detoxification or metabolising. So your optimising the body’s own metabolism.” Optimising the body’s metabolism will only make you feel better faster once the party is over.

So what’s the right amount of water? “A sensible amount would probably be a few hundred milliliters an hour,” he says. “So in the same way you see marathon runners being thrown bottles of water every few miles, I suppose that would be the way you’d approach taking water on a long night.”

Not Thinking Straight

Staying sensibly hydrated can be easier said than done. Partly, it comes down to personal awareness. “If you’re very intoxicated with alcohol or other sedatives, you may not be aware of dehydration,” Dr. Luke says. But it’s also about cost.

In an 8-hour night at some clubs, you could easily spend nearly 100 euros when following Dr. Luke’s guidelines. And even where it’s cheaper, not everyone always plans accordingly.

“Kids spend money most of the time on entrance and on drugs. Everybody is pretty clear on that,” Tommy Vaudecrane says.

Former ID&T CEO Ritty Van Straalen is clear on that too. Having spent a few years working in America for SFX after the now-defunct company purchased the Dutch brand, he’s seen first hand the dangers of water profiteering. “Their kids just die because they are dehydrated. They spend their money on the wrong things,” he says.

Now running his own company, Fourmation, which creates live entertainment concepts, Van Straalen worked with ID&T for 15 years, including as Chief Operations Officer. As COO, he oversaw operations for some of dance music’s biggest events, including Tomorrowland and Sensation, and says “selling water was a third of the revenue for food and beverage.”

So when Lisca Stutterheim, the wife of ID&T founder Duncan Stutterheim, suggested the company begin giving water away at festivals to reduce plastic waste, Van Straalen initially balked. “It was a big business model for us,” he says. He wasn’t exactly eager to see such a reliable revenue source vanish. “Especially with festivals that are 12 hours or longer and it’s nice weather.” Misgivings aside, they made the move.

In terms of profits, “it didn’t change anything,” he says. People were drinking more water, which ID&T was thankful for. “But we also were not selling less beverages. Maybe people started to drink other things because of that.”

Looking back, Van Straalen seems astonished at how he and his former company viewed water before giving it away. “It’s crazy. If now I think about how stupid I was, about if we didn’t provide free water before that, or that we put stickers on hand-washing stations that said the water was not ‘drinkable,’ that’s just stupid. The water was drinkable. It’s just trying to sell more water.”

He now clearly sees the value in making water free and easily accessible for his customers: “It only made things now more positive. Our fans were happier, it was safer, you’re not wasting anything.”

The Tapwater Project

In some ways, the Dutch are ahead on the issue. In 2014, Amsterdam Dance Event teamed up with ID&T for The Tapwater Project, which helped supply reusable water pouches to everyone at at the conference and festival. That same year, the Amsterdam city council decided it would “only grant licences to festival organisers if they guarantee festival goers will have unlimited access to free tap water.”

Similar measures have been adopted in the UK, where in 2010, the Home Office passed a law forcing all licensed premises to offer free, cold tap water as part of their licensing agreement, thanks to the efforts of Fiona Measham.

More recently Measham is known for fighting to bring legal drugs testing across the UK as founder of non-profit organisation The Loop. And today she’s the strongest and most sought after voice on the topic of safety in the UK nighttime economy. But her water crusade began in 2006, during a time she describes as “the height of the binge drinking concerns in the UK.”

For months, Measham and a team of about 25 researchers went undercover into hundreds of venues, studying how alcohol was sold, consumed and controlled. The major aim was providing the government with recommendations for harm reduction related to drinking, but it also included drug use.

“We were looking at drug-related deaths in dance clubs in relation to overheating and dehydration,” she says. “So it was about the importance of being hydrated, involved in the nighttime economy, whatever substances they’re consuming.”

It was a major achievement. “One of the things I’m proudest of in my whole professional life,” Measham says. But if it comes as a surprise to you that offering free water is the law in the UK, you’re probably not alone. Measham herself acknowledges that the extent with which venues actually follow the letter of the law can be incredibly varied. Some clubs, like fabric, are way ahead of the curve. “They’ve led the way and set the bar high,” Measham says.

The London club has always provided free tap water, but in 2010 created a single water point to reduce queue times. And as part of its plan to reopen in January of 2017, the water bar became a key welfare provision, where anyone is allowed freely take a cup or fill an empty container. There’s even a staff member on hand monitoring the amount of water people are drinking, ready to get help should the need arise.

“It is something that we feel strongly about from a welfare perspective,” fabric’s Luke Laws says. “It is a legal requirement, but has so many other benefits over and above licensing that it is a bit of a no-brainer for us.”

Not every club operates that way, Measham says. “Some [nightclubs] will fill up bottles and won’t give you the cap back. And some have a member of security going into the toilet to check people aren’t taking empty bottles into the toilet to fill them up.”

Others will only provide tap water at the smallest bar in the back room with lengthy queues upon arrival.

“And if you’ve got a club with 3,000 people who are dancing and dehydrated,” Measham says, “clearly they’re more likely to stop off and buy a bottle of water than try and make their way through all that. And quite often they’ll only give you a little tiny cup, or they won’t let you fill up the bottle you’ve already bought.”

‘Difficult, If Not Impossible’

Disconnect between law and reality isn’t just a UK problem. The same year Amsterdam passed its festival licensing requirements, research published by De Telegraaf showed that more than half of festival-goers find it “difficult if not impossible to find tap water.” The French government can also impose fines on venues that don’t supply free water to customers.

But as Tommy Vaudecrane explains, “there’s always a difference between what’s written on the paper, and how it really happens.” Cheekily describing finding the free water at clubs and festivals as “a game of hide and seek,” Vaudecrane says oftentimes, “water points are either hard to find, they don’t always work, or it’s warm water.”

And he strongly advocates that water should not just be free, but cold, and most importantly, easy to find. “It’s easy to find the food, it’s easy to find the merchandising, it’s easy to find the bar, it should be easy to find the water. It should be in the middle of the event with big flags and balloons.”

Flags and balloons might sound like overkill. But some Argentinian promoters are now taking similar measures in giving away water, hoping to forego a repeat of 2016.

“I was down in Argentina in December, and literally in the middle of the dance floor, there was a guy sat on a raised chair, like an umpire at Wimbledon, handing out free water,” IMS co-founder Ben Turner says.

“I’ve never seen it that visible, and I think that’s the key. Not just flowing water in the toilets,” he says. “If a territory like this is leading the way, it kind of puts the rest of the world to shame. That should be the minimum that people are doing.”

Increased Communication

Vaudecrane is quick to point out that many events might not purposefully make free water hard to find—it’s not always about greed. But he stresses the importance of communicating exactly where the water is to attendees, and explaining why they should drink it.

“It’s a kindergarten, an electronic music festival. If you don’t direct [festival-goers], explain to them where where they can drink, why they should drink, and distribute the water, many people wont think about it and won’t go to the water points. Then you sometimes see people picking up half-empty water bottles on the floor because they are thirsty. This is so dangerous. And 50 meters behind there’s a water point.”

Making sure everyone knows exactly where the water is won’t just keep people safe. With a little ingenuity, it could easily become a promotional tool, especially as attendees begin demanding better from the clubs or festivals they visit.

“Imagine you’re in the middle of the summer festival, it’s 35 degrees under the sun, and you have smiling people walking around with ice water that you can just grab and drink. This would be great!” Tommy Vaudecrane says with a laugh.

Some Dutch festivals have already realised water’s potential power as a unique selling point, offering customised water pouches with the festival’s logo emblazoned on one side, and a sponsor logo on the other. At around six euros a piece, they cost about as much as two bottles of water. They’re refillable, and they drastically cut down on waste.

“People go back home with these containers, probably come back the year after with it, get access to free water with it, and the festivals have a bigger satisfied customer base,” Vaudecrane says. “So I think long term, they win.”

Changes like these won’t come without fans demanding them. As Klaus Unkelbach knows all too well, clubs and festivals are highly receptive to what fans say on social media. So don’t be afraid to use your voice, especially when you see a situation that puts attendees in danger.

Representative bodies like IMS and the Association For Electronic Music (AFEM) are getting involved too, helping to set an industry standard and pressuring venues and promoters who don’t comply.

“It is critical to build the business case for giving away free water,” AFEM Regional Manager and Health Group co-chair Tristan Hunt says. “AFEM will be working with clubs and festivals to determine how the industry can ensure that free, cold water is provided and clearly promoted at every event.”

But it’s also about changing how we look at water as a society. “When you see the way Nestlé and all these companies sell free water, in the mind of most people, it’s now normal to pay for water,” Tommy Vaudecrane says. “It’s very linked to how the market is growing around this terrible water business.”

Ethical Behaviour

Bottled water is a massive business, worth an estimated 200 billion dollars globally by 2020. The need for more ethical behaviour in the water business is apparent.

Electronic music is now big business too, worth nearly 10 billion dollars a year and growing. This isn’t a bad thing, and everyone has the right to make a profit—venues, promoters and events are no exception.

But “a club can be profitable and ethical at the same time,” Dr. Luke says. And as I see it, remaining ethical in an industry based on a music that claims to be one of the most egalitarian in the world is paramount to its future viability.

So is keeping people safe. As Fiona Measham puts it: “If you’re running any service or any premises in relation to the general public, then there’s basic conditions that you have to abide by, and it’s not acceptable to say [giving water away] cuts into your profits. So the question is, what do you want the minimum standard to be?”

[Thanks again to Pulse Radio for letting us share this article]

Heading out this Friday night? Let the Graeme Park Radio Show be your soundtrack!

Heading out this Friday night? Let the Graeme Park Radio Show be your soundtrack…

This week’s two hour mix features features Winachi Tribe, Chip E, David Morales, Chaka Khan, Angelo Ferreri, Sharam Jey, Steve “Silk” Hurley, Lisa Stansfield, Donna Summer, Scritti Politti, Aretha Franklin (RIP) and more.

Hour 1:

Hour 2:

Turn it up… loud!

Tracklisting, 17 August 2018: [Title (Mix), Artist]

Transition (Daisy O’Dell Remix), Winachi Tribe
Meet Me On The Corner (Crazy P Vocal Mix), Honeyfeet
Accelerate (Original Mix), Mellow Cat & Kathy Diamond
Mondo Disco (Greg Wilson & Henry Greenwood Rework), El Coco
Like This (House Mix), Chip E feat. K-Joy
Hold Up (Mike Dunn BlackBall Vokal RemixX), Lonely C feat. Kendra Foster
Feel My Needs (Purple Disco Machine Remix), Weiss
Da Change (Miguel Migs Salty Rub), DJ Mes
Believe (David Morales Church Mix), David Morales
Like Sugar (Extended Mix), Chaka Khan
Music (Greg Wilson Original Mix), Syncbeat
I’m Surprise, Angelo Ferreri
Let There Be Love! (Frankie Knuckles Classic Mix), Shirley Murdock
Your Body, Sharam Jey
Sunshine Hotel, Jamie Lewis & Nick Morris
Jack Your Body, Steve “Silk” Hurley
House Nation, The House Master Boyz & The Rude Boy Of House
People Hold On (12″ Version), Lisa Stansfield
Melody Of Love (Just Wanna Be Loved) (Classic Club Mix), Donna Summer
(I’m Under) Lovestrain, Clubland
Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin), Scritti Politti
Jump To It (Original Extended Version), Aretha Franklin
Get It Right (Original 12” Version), Aretha Franklin

For more information, visit thisisgraemepark.com

THROWBACK THURSDAY: 2 Men A Drum Machine And A Trumpet ‎– Tired Of Getting Pushed Around [1988]

One of the more unusual acts to emerge from the early UK house scene was 2 Men A Drum Machine And A Trumpet – a spinoff group from She Drives Me Crazy songsmiths Fine Young Cannibals.

The ‘2 Men’ in this case are the Cannibals’ Andy Cox and David Steele (also previously in The Beat), with collaborator Graeme Hamilton assuming ‘trumpet’ responsibilities.

The original, released in late 1987, could be described as quirky, pop-friendly house music, in much the same vein as Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s Jack Your Body, the smash dance hit of that year.

The group’s Top of the Pops performance was certainly a memorable one – check out the moment at 2:45 where the trumpet player misses his cue… 🙂

A few months later, an up and coming Detroit producer named Derrick May (credited as ‘Derek May’ on the sleeve) got his hands on the track to produce a more club-focused remix, and it doesn’t disappoint (comedy vocal snippets notwithstanding), adding some extra whoomph to the driving bassline of the original.

Sadly, for 2 Men A Drum Machine And A Trumpet, Tired Of Getting Pushed Around was their high water mark, reaching 18 in the UK charts, and their one and only release.

But at least we’ll always have that TOTP performance…

[Kudos to Caliggiasound80 for the YouTube upload]

On her 60th birthday, check out this video of Madonna’s first gig.. [December 1982]

Question. What links pop siren Madonna and Factory Records’ post punk faves A Certain Ratio?

The Material Girl, who celebrates her 60th birthday today, was quite the ‘face’ on New York’s nightclub scene in the late 70s and early 80s, a period of decadence immortalised in venues such as Studio 54 and Danceteria.

The latter was the Michigan-born Madonna’s personal favourite following her arrival in New York in 1978.

“Danceteria was its own beautiful thing,” Steve Lewis, former nightclub impresario, told Vice in 2014.

“It was so inclusive of ideas and people, just an incredible burst of creativity. The VIP’s weren’t the most successful or famous people, it was the ones who were on the verge of something”.

In other words, a young Madonna Louise Ciccone.

And thus, when on December 16, 1982, when Factory brought A Certain Ratio to the Danceteria, it was Madonna who would support the Wythenshawe band; performing just one song, the recently-released Everybody, as the clock struck midnight.

The performance, immortalised forever thanks to the medium of YouTube, hints at the soon-to-be Queen Of Pop’s future career path, with well-structured choreography and a classic fade to black outro.

She may have been just 24 at the time, but already there were signs that the world hadn’t heard the last of Madonna Louise Ciccone. As the lone voice bellows just before the music starts… “Go on girl!”

As for Danceteria? The club closed in 1986, with the building now playing home to an outlet of New York Stone, ‘one of the largest natural stone wholesalers on the East Coast‘ of the US. For a venue previously renowned for its dancefloor, it’s perhaps apt that one of the business’ specialties is floor tiles.

Happy birthday Madonna!

[Flyer taken from Record Mecca, video from absmadonna‘s YouTube page]


POSTCARDS FROM 88… Sheryl Garratt

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 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’ comes from a renowned journalist and author, who in her role at The Face was at the forefront of documenting acid house, as it happened… Sheryl Garratt.

Q. Do you remember what you were doing as the Summer of 1988 started?

I was at The Face, but not yet editor. Having been seen as the ‘style bible’ of the 80s, the magazine was in a slow, graceful decline, and its owner was even thinking of closing it after the 100th issue.

The explosion of energy in British club/youth culture couldn’t have been better timed in terms of giving the magazine a new direction, a new focus, and I was lucky to be right in the middle of it all.

It wasn’t just about music, or even the parties. It gave us the impetus to change the way we covered fashion, to discover a new generation of photographers, to start using new models (such as Kate Moss), to bring in new writers, to cover everything from science to big social issues.. For me, it energised everything.

Q. When or where did you first realise that ‘something different’ was happening with music, particularly dance/club music?

There are lots of ways I could answer this. In 1986, I went to Chicago to cover the house music scene there, and I was so excited by what I saw, making a friend for life in Frankie Knuckles. I was also going to NY a lot at that time, and always made sure I’d get to the Paradise Garage, which was also amazing not just for the music but the energy.

The music came back into London clubs, but only as part of the mix along with hip hop, electro, funk, rare groove. People like Coldcut, M/A/R/R/S, S’Xpress were making credible British dance music, for the first time; Soul II Soul were coming up, along with loads of other collectives taking their ethos from sound system culture; and there were signs of something really interesting happening musically in places like Manchester, Bristol and Sheffield.

Friends of mine – especially Nicky Holloway – went to Ibiza and came back radically changed. In the first few months of 1988, it became clear that something really new and exciting was stirring.

Shoom at the Fitness Centre, the Clink St parties, and then The Trip sealed it for me: I’d found my tribe.

Q. Was there a particular tune from the Summer of 1988 that stood out for you? Why?

It’s all a blur! I loved tracks like Rhythim Is Rhythim’s Strings Of Life – the opening bars still make my stomach churn with excitement – and Joe Smooth’s Promised Land.

It also felt really radical and new to hear indie bands like The Woodentops played in clubs, and then later to see bands like Primal Scream embrace what was happening.

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 it was the last great unifying youth movement, and I’m not sure music will ever be that central again. There was that moment later on when it seemed everyone in the UK wanted to go see Oasis at Knebworth, but that was just one band.

In that period from the summer of 88 through the huge outdoor raves of 89 then Madchester and the Stone Roses at Spike Island in 1990, it felt all the separate strands of youth culture were getting knitted together, that the old divisions between surburbs and the city, north and south, indie rock and dance, black and white, were dissolving.

Club and music scenes that had started in Chicago, Detroit, New York, Sheffield, Manchester, all flowed into one and for a while it seemed like everything was up for grabs: the authorities, the media, the major labels had lost control, and anyone could have a go and promote a party, make a tune or a T-shirt, or just organise a coach or a car and get to the latest big event. There were all these new networks and relationships forming.

I loved the fact that in the early 90s, you’d start out in a London club on a Friday, end up in Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham or Birmingham on Saturday night and then drive back down to Full Circle in Slough on the Sunday afternoon. Usually without sleeping in between! It was also about rebellion, big-time.

Everything had felt so grey and restricted during the Thatcher/Major years. Suddenly, we were dressing in bright colours, dancing all night, hugging strangers, and defying the police to join huge illegal raves off the M25, then later in places like Blackburn.

It was like some huge, collective, joyful creative roar, and for a while it seemed like everything was changing: the Berlin Wall came down, Nelson Mandela walked free. It seems daft now to equate all of those things, but it did all seem merged at the time.

Q. If the ‘you’ from 1988 could give the ‘you’ from 2018 a piece of music-related advice, what would it be?

You should get out more.

[Thanks again to Sheryl for this week’s interview. Check out her new website, The Creative Life, here. Postcards from 88 continues next week. Check out the other interviews in the series by clicking here]

Check out this news report on Liverpool’s Cream nightclub in its mid-90s heyday… [February 1995]

Founded in October 1992 in Liverpool, Cream is still one of the biggest names in clubland, and while its residency at Nation lasted a little under a decade, the brand lives on through festivals, compilations and a longstanding Ibiza residency.

Back in February 1995, Cream was very much in its Bacchanalian pomp… enough of a reason for northern TV network Granada Reports to send along a camera crew to capture the madness.

The segment also features an interview with co-founder and resident James Barton, who attempts to sum up the club’s appeal.

“The atmosphere we create helps bring some great people here, and those people bring other great people with them,” he explains.

“We’re replacing the pop stars – if you like – for the teenagers coming up. Kids, instead of picking up guitars are picking up records, decks and samplers and synthesizers, and they’re making dance music. […] We’re filling the void that was left by Echo & The Bunnymen, and people like that.”

And as for the notoriously difficult doormen? 

“No moustaches, no gold sovereigns, and no gold necklaces,” general manager Claire Lambe explains. 

I guess Harry Enfield’s ‘Scousers’ weren’t regulars then…

[Kudos to oldskoolliverpool for the YouTube upload]

909originals presents ORIGINS: Dave Clarke

Welcome to ORIGINS, 909originals’ series of interviews with leading DJs and producers, examining their early careers, the tracks and clubs that influenced their sound, and the individuals that helped them on their journey.

From his early years spinning hip hop and disco to Brighton locals, to the recent release of his latest album, The Desecration of Desire, it’s fair to say that techno legend Dave Clarke’s career has been anything but boring.

As he approaches his 50th birthday next month, 909originals had the chance to sit down with the ‘Baron of Techno’ on a recent visit to Dublin’s District 8, to chat about his early career, the tracks and the clubs that influenced his sound, and the path that has led him to become one of the most-respected DJs and producers on the international circuit.

There’s even a guest appearance (albeit brief) by Milli Vanilli. No, seriously 🙂

Ladies and gentlemen, Dave Clarke

Q. What was the clubbing scene like in Brighton as you were growing up?

Brighton was one of this places where people came from all over; and ended up there because it was the end of the train line. The clubbing scene basically involved people that were coming down from London for the weekend.

I first started DJing in a roller disco when I was 16 or 17. I was playing hip hop, and a bit of disco, and then mixing that with acid house. I actually got fired from the roller disco for playing acid house.

I also used to go to a disco called Coasters. They had an under-18s night during the week. I used to hang out in the lighting booth, and the DJs would make me cassettes of their sets.

I actually saw my first live PA there, by Divine. It was a bit scary, but really eye-opening.

Then there were places like The Zap Club, where I had the chance to play alongside artists like the Jungle Brothers.

Q. Was there a defined ‘scene’ in Brighton at the time?

People were trying to start movements, but it was very cliquey. There was no real scene; there were a lot of illegal house parties, and I would play at some of them without realising they were illegal.

One time, I was arrested and all my gear was taken to the police station, but they were kind to me.

Soul II Soul were quite big at the time – that downtempo type stuff – so it was a good time to learn to DJ: how to warm up at the start of the set, and then how to build that into a middle and then a finale. There were so many different types of music around, you learned how to make a story out of it.

Q. Where were you getting your records?

There was a good record shop called Rounder Records in Brighton; that closed down around five years ago. I used to go to London as well, to a place called Bluebird’s on Edgware Road.

I was also reviewing records for magazines like Mixmag and Generator, and speaking to a lot of the labels directly and getting them to send me promos.

I was also getting lots of promos from Belgium – New Beat stuff – from artists like A Split Second and Lords of Acid.

Q. Where did your interest in music come from? School?

I actually got my first mixer from my chemistry teacher at school. I wasn’t teachable, because I got bored easily. Then, one day, my teacher realised I was really into music and he loaned me the mixer over the summer holidays.

I bumped into some old school friends last November in Brighton, and one of them told me, ‘you know, you were always single-minded when it came to music’. I never thought of it that way, but it’s true.

Q. Did you get involved in the early rave scene at all?

I was too far away; that was up around the M25. I felt a bit left out, but at the same time, it was getting too commercial for me. There were things like bouncy castles and fireworks.

Even if I really tried, I wasn’t able to convince myself that ‘that’s where I want to be’. It just didn’t feel right, , so I started making music.

Q. Your first release was on XL Recordings, as Hardcore. Is that when it all kicked off for you as a producer?

Yes. In 1990, I got signed to XL Recordings, and then R&S Records started getting interested, and invited me over to work in their studios in Holland. That was probably the second or third time I had been abroad in my life. I remember thinking at the time that the food over there was unlike anything I’d ever tasted before – in retrospect, though, it was probably quite normal.

I had quite a few records at that stage, and I brought them to Amsterdam and said to Richters [a longstanding Amsterdam club that closed in 1996 – Ed] that I felt they should get me as a DJ, and they gave me a chance.

It was a really empty night, on a Thursday I think. It got me used to the whole ‘touring DJ’ thing as well; the day after I played in Richters, I was back in Brighton playing my residency.

Q. Was Amsterdam, or the Netherlands in general, more ‘tuned in’ to dance music at the time?

For me, it felt really behind. I’d been playing acid house for ages, and they were just sort of getting into it.

At the time, there was some really good stuff coming out on labels like Stealth Records, with Speedy J and artists like that, but there was no real club scene. It wasn’t on a par with what was going on in London, for example.

Actually, one of the nights I played, Milli Vanilli showed up. I don’t know why they were there, they just turned up.

Things were changing right across Europe at that time. I remember being in the R&S offices when they first heard one of Joey Beltram’s records, coming out of New York. Second Phase – Mentasm I think it was.

I was one of the first people to hear it, and I was like ‘f****** hell!’ But I remember the conversation in the office, they weren’t sure what to do with it.

Q. By this stage you had a few releases under your belt – did you start to think ‘right, I need to get out there and start marketing myself’?

For me, it was never about marketing or selling myself. I leave those marketing sort of things to people like Richie Hawtin. It’s not my thing to do marketing; it’s my thing to do music.

I had so many releases under so many different names, like Graphite, Directional Force, Fly By Wire – but then Red 1 and Red 2 came out, and I felt I had developed a sound that I would feel comfortable putting my name to. I’d done the hard work at that stage, and I was already DJing under the name Dave Clarke, so it made sense.

Q. Once you got established, you had a lot of people starting to emulate that sort of ‘Dave Clarke’ sound, particularly towards the end of the 90s and early 2000s. Did that frustrate you at all?

To be honest, I’ve only ever been interested in doing my own thing. To change what you do is to kind of betray yourself as well, you can only ever do your thing.

I remember saying things to journalists, and then seeing the same quote somewhere else, from some other DJ or producer.

I was one of the first to dress in black – one reason for that isn’t public, but the other is that it’s just common sense, you travel a lot and you don’t want to get ketchup all over your trousers. But then you read about other people dressing all in black, and you go ‘oh, ok…’

Q. You also developed a reputation for being a bit guarded, a bit grumpy?

I’m still guarded. I always sit with my back to the wall, to observe.

I can be grumpy when I’m tired. I travel a lot, I generally catch the last fight out, and first flight back. I prefer to wake up in my own bed. But also I’m not one of those geezers that ‘hangs around’ after the night is finished, you know. I don’t do drugs, and I’m not overtly chatty. I just let people be.

There are some people in the industry I have a close connection with, but there are others where I’m just happy to take a back seat.

Q. On the back of the Red series, and Archive One, it took a long time for the next album to come out – Devil’s Advocate, in 2003. Why was there such a delay?

I was essentially on strike. I was DJing a lot, but was a bit at war with the record label – I’m not going to say what one – who expected me to do an album, but they weren’t even showing me my accounts.

My manager at the time got me into the studio to do a lot of remixes; that’s when I was remixing things like Fischerspooner, DJ Hell, Leftfield’s Phat Planet. The last one I actually asked to do, because I saw the advert on television and it blew me away. Actually, I enjoyed that period, because it gave me plenty of time in the studio.

Eventually, I got out of my contract and signed to Skint, and I was ready to make an album, which turned out to be Devil’s Advocate.

Q. To me, the latest album, The Desecration of Desire, is a more ‘complete’ work than Devil’s Advocate – a more mature sound. Do you think that you could have recorded an album like that back then?

No, I don’t think so. The Desecration of Desire is much more personal. It’s not a ‘dance’ album as such – not that I have any problem with dance, but the album for me is more about emotion, intellect, and the ability to work technically with some amazing artists.

The reason it took so long to record the new album was that there was so much going on – I got divorced, moved country [to the Netherlands] and the whole recording industry was changing. I thought I’d take a back seat for a while, and just see what happens.

It took me a while to get back into it, as well, because technologically, the hardware was more digital. Then I got a second computer, and it all started to fall into place. I spent six years trying to perfect this digital sound and get comfortable enough with it to record an album.

Q. Amsterdam has been your home for the past few years – why do you feel so at home there?

Amsterdam changed me. I’m not living out in the countryside, miles away from the people I want to be near. I’m close to my friends, I’m working, I have a social life, I don’t need a car – everything is just here. It’s a city I fell in love with back in 1990.

It’s probably the place that I can call ‘home’ for the first time in my life, actually. In England, I never really felt at home, to he honest.

Dave Clarke celebrates his 50th birthday in style at Fuse in Brussels, on 22 September. The Desecration of Desire is available at www.daveclarke.com.

[Kudos to Xx – Oldschool-Techno – xX, Andrew Lucas, baldesalgR&S Records and Dave Clarke for the YouTube uploads. Main photo by Marilyn Clark. Thanks also to the Subject team at District 8 for facilitating the interview]

The origins of Aphex Twin’s Didgeridoo (and its curious link to Leeds United)…

The enthusiastic response to Aphex Twin’s newest track, T69 Collapse, indicates just how much the electronic music industry has missed Richard D James, who, while aged just 46, has been making music for an incredible 33 years.

Back in 1992, the ‘Twin’ gave a memorable interview to Mixmag alongside fellow underground legend Mixmaster Morris, in which the duo recalled their influences, early noise experiments and the politics of ambient music.

While James spends most of the interview behind his Gameboy (this is 1992, after all), the conversation soon turns to ‘new age hippies’, and the origins of one of Aphex Twin’s most-revered early works, Didgeridoo.

“The parties we used to throw in Cornwall and on the beaches after hours mainly got local youths and travellers,” he recalls. “The travellers never had any money and used to pay in grass, and they would throw their weed into it for us. They would play their didgeridoos at the back of the club and I knew I had to get that sound into a track.

“One of the clubs we used to do had this problem that we had to shut at 2am but the atmosphere was so mad that no-one wanted to go. So I decided to make some music that was so fucking mad that it would blow their minds and they would be ready to leave. Didgeridoo was one of those tracks. There’s another four that I haven’t released, they’re too mad.”

The demo for Didgeridoo was famously sent to Caspar Pound’s Rising High Records stuffed in a drainpipe covered with brown paper – a Blue Peter-esque Didgeridoo if ever there was one – before it was picked up by Dutch label R&S Records.

It even reached No. 55 in the UK charts, sandwiched for one glorious week in May 1992 between Leeds Leeds Leeds by Leeds United AFC (there’s the football link, fact fans!) and Julian Lennon’s Get A Life.

Despite this early chart setback (!), Aphex Twin would go on to carve a career as progenitor of a cavalcade of epic electronica and an icon of both the IDM scene and wider music industry. As the Mixmag interview illustrated, he was just getting started.

“I’m working with metal instruments, metal tubes with my own circuits to make new sounds,” he explained. “The first thing I wanted to with my music was make it completely original. I didn’t want to make a track that used anyone else’s sounds, even the drums. I don’t want sounds that some Chinese bloke has programmed into a black box so I’ve been customising and building my own equipment.”

Not bad for a then-21 year old.

As for Leeds Leeds Leeds? 1992 would prove to be their last hurrah at the summit of English football.

And as for Julian Lennon? Don’t ask.

[Article snippets from Mixmag, December 1992. Kudos to mrrubenlufc1 and HouseMaster75 for the YouTube uploads]

Premier League? Nah, I’d rather be listening to the Graeme Park Radio Show!

The football season may be about to begin, but regardless of which team you support, let the Graeme Park Radio Show be the soundtrack to your weekend!

This week’s two hour mix features features Basement Jaxx, Seamus Haji, Kevin McKay, The Smen, David Penn, Whitney Houston, Degrees Of Motion, Incognito, Jamiroquai, Frankie Knuckles, Inner City, New Order and more.

Hour 1:

Hour 2:

Turn it up… loud!

Tracklisting, 10 August 2018: [Title (Mix), Artist]

Come Back Baby (Kenny Dope Remix), Dante Payne & Rubedo Walker
Fly Life (Flashmob 2018 Remix), Basement Jaxx
Do U Got Funk? (Gianni Bini Remix), Seamus Haji presents Big Bang Theory
God Loves 2 Dance (Original Mix), Kevin McKay & CASSIMM
Watch Out For My Heart, Sandy Turnbull
Da Change, DJ Mes
The Grind (Original Mix), Dateless
Who We Are (Extended Jacked Mix), The Smen
Shake Avec Frites, Birdee
Losing You, David Penn
Risky Biznizz (Joey Negro Bionic House Mix), Doug Willis
I’m Your Baby Tonight, Whitney Houston
Do You Want It Right Now?, Degrees Of Motion feat. Biti
Always There, Incognito
Know How, Young MC
Theme From S’Express, S’Express
The Greatest Dancer, Chic
Rock The House, Nicole
Space Cowboy, Jamiroquai
Too Blind To See It, Kym Sims
Workout, Frankie Knuckles feat. Roberta Gilliam
Back In My Life, Joe Roberts
Big Fun, Inner City
Blue Monday, New Order

For more information, visit thisisgraemepark.com

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Aphex Twin – Polynomial-C [June 1992]

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you will know that IDM maverick Aphex Twin, aka Richard D James, is releasing a new EP, Collapse, in the coming weeks.

The opening track, T69 Collapse, is already doing the rounds on YouTube, having reportedly been pulled from a TV launch on Adult Swim earlier this week due to the potential sensitivity to photo-epilepsy sufferers (oh, Richard!).

For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we go back to the summer of 1992, when the then-20 year old James released the seminal Xylem Tube EP, featuring one of the most melodic, yet tough-as-nails tracks of the early 90s, Polynomial-C.

Released on Dutch label R&S, Polynomial-C takes its name from a mathematical function that can be applied to chemistry, physics, economics and any number of social sciences, and, with that in mind, the track weaves between breakbeat, ambient, trance and techno, across a blissful four minutes and forty-four seconds.

It’s considered such a classic that when Maceo Plex issued a techno remix of the track in 2013, he was forced to include a disclaimer on Soundcloud alongside it, for fear of the social media backlash: “Dear haters, this is not a remix, it’s an edit, and the intention is to make it possible for a DJ to play Aphex’s beautiful classic in a modern techno set.”

For us, the track’s ethereal, blissful soundscape is best summed up in this review by Discogs user zykotik, who puts it plain and simple: “Polynomial-C is simply one of the greatest tracks ever written. From the moment it starts the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end. It completely absorbs you.”

Some 26 years and countless Aphex releases later, it has lost none of its lustre. 

[Kudos to Aphex Twin and thelostreef for the YouTube uploads]