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 radio and record label veteran, who has been pushing underground music for more than 30 years… Dave Pearce.
Q. Do you remember what you were doing as the Summer of 1988 started?
In a way I probably shouldn’t even be able to remember back in 1988, because it was so full on and frenetic, and a bit of a blur. I was holding down two full time jobs and partying a little too much..!
During the day, I was A&R director of Urban Records, which was Polydor’s dance label, and at night I was presenting a daily show on BBC Radio’s GLR in London playing the latest club tracks: spinning early house music alongside hip hop and street music with stuff like early Soul To Soul.
The record company job gave me the opportunity to go to Chicago and New York a lot – luckily I got to experience some amazing club nights and get to know DJs like Frankie Knuckles and label owners like Rocky Jones, who set up DJ International in Chicago.
Also, at the record company, I had Johnny Walker doing the club promotion for me – he of the infamous trip to Ibiza with Nicky Holloway, Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold.
As a DJ I was playing out dance music but also was working in the early days of hip hop with acts like Public Enemy, Run DMC, Eric B and Rakim and the Beastie Boys whose early shows I introduced in London. Both the emerging styles of music had really appealed to me and I grasped the opportunity to immerse myself with them.
After the nightly radio show, we would go out more or less every night in the week, so I hardly slept.
At Urban Records I inherited a label that was primarily known for releasing rare groove; and one of the big projects for me that year was signing Urban Acid, which was the biggest selling acid house album and led to many a messy night in Soho where the album was recorded.
We went on to launch the album at Paul Oakenfold’s Spectrum night at Heaven in London. I remember being called into the managing director of Polydor’s office, because he couldn’t understand how this weird music was outselling their biggest act of the week, Level 42.
Q. When or where did you first realise that ‘something different’ was happening with music, particularly dance/club music?
I was in New York a lot in the early to mid ‘80s and was lucky enough to be in the booth with Larry Levan at Paradise Garage and visit many of the clubs, which were so different to anything in the UK. I knew how good things could be, given the chance.
Although I had been playing all the early Sleeping Bag Records, Trax and DJ International tunes on my radio shows, it was totally different to what was getting played in most clubs here. Prior to the scene kicking off, the best UK crowds were gay clubs or black music clubs.
I think one night I remember that sticks in my head was going to one of Nicky Holloway’s first nights at the Astoria and just seeing how everyone was dancing, and the whole vibe. It was totally going off! I climbed into a giant speaker stack that night – my ears were ringing for days.
I remember thinking how everything was going to be a bit different now.
Q. Was there a particular tune from the Summer of 1988 that stood out for you? Why?
I suppose one track that stands out is Joe Smooth’s Promised Land. It actually first came in on import in ’87, but we released a cover version by Paul Weller and the Style Council on Urban. I felt a bit guilty as I loved Joe’s track, but Paul’s was actually a good version and Joe had his official UK release around the same time.
I think the Promised Land lyric just moved me… you could tell we were on a journey to great change. Mandela was still in jail, The Berlin Wall was still up, but people wanted change.
The whole notion of a track telling us we were all ‘brothers and sisters’ and it was ‘all going to be ok’, coupled with some beautiful music – playing to a loved up crowd of white, black, straight and gay clubbers – was a potent combination. It still gives me goosebumps.
Funnily enough, I hooked up with Joe in Chicago a couple of years back and rather modestly I still don’t think he really realises just how deep and important that track was to some people.
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?
Everyone has a different perspective and there are a great many untold stories. Maybe, one day, I’ll tell my own stories in a book.
I think what was exciting about this period was it was a great time for innovation and creativity. Through early technology like drum machines/samplers/keyboards and so forth, DJs were able to make their own music.
I think people have a love for it because they also know many of us who ran labels or promoted gigs etc were just learning on the job, or making it up as we went along. There was an innocence to it, in a way. Most DJs I know from that era spent more money on records than we ever earned from DJing… it was just a passion.
Q. If the ‘you’ from 1988 could give the ‘you’ from 2018 a piece of music-related advice, what would it be?
Thats a tough one, because through the years I made a lot of mistakes, and now know a lot more than I did back then. When you eventually become successful, it can be easy to feel a bit burned out and bogged down with things.
Probably the advice would be to keep ‘Reaching’. I named my 1990 rave label Reachin’ records, inspired by the lyrics to Phase 2’s Reachin… “If you believe in what you do, you gotta keep on Reachin”.
[Thanks to Dave for this week’s interview, photo taken from www.davepearce.co.uk. Kudos to Monty Blaze for the YouTube upload. Postcards from 88 continues next week. Check out the other interviews in the series by clicking here]