Interview: 909originals chats to Stretch & Vern about keeping the spirit of the 90s alive…
There was a time in the mid 90s when you couldn’t set foot inside a nightclub without hearing Stretch & Vern’s I’m Alive, such was the crossover success of Jules ‘Vern’ Peake and Stuart ‘Stretch’ Silvester’s dancefloor smash.
The duo followed that up with the stomping Get Up! Go Insane! in 1997, a pivotal record in the development of the big beat scene, along with a series of pumped-up tracks on FFRR, VC Recordings and of course, Spot On Records, operated by Vern alongside Seb Fontaine. They even DJed at Fatboy Slim’s wedding.
But since then? Both Stretch and Vern have been active on the DJ and production front since the 90s, remixing tracks for artists as diverse as Saint Etienne and Kings of Leon, and recently enjoyed a second run of success for both I’m Alive and Get Up! Go Insane!, which were re-released on London Records with a host of new mixes.
The Get Up! Go Insane! release, last October, saw the track received two mixes from the Fatboy himself, as well as a Plump DJs rework, and house workouts from KDA and K&K.
909originals caught up with the duo.
909originals: The name Stretch & Vern is inexorably linked to the mid-90s dance scene, but obviously you’re still busy now. What’s new for Stretch & Vern as we head into a new decade?
Stretch & Vern: We have new material coming out very soon. We took a breather from releasing new Stretch & Vern tracks while London Recordings did their stuff but the releases will start around April/May.
How did the re-release of I’m Alive, and more recently, Get Up! Go Insane!, come about? Who called who?
Both singles, which were signed to FFRR/London Records in the 90s, were bought up by because.tv, of Ed Banger fame, along with a whole raft of classic 90s tracks. We got a call a couple of years ago to go and discuss the release with the new London Records and it all carried on from there really.
We’re going through a serious 90s revival at the moment, both in terms of fashion, music and pop culture references – what is it about that period that leads people back to it, time and time again, do you think?
The 80s and 90s were massively creative periods, not only for dance music, but for all musical genres and art in general. As democratised as the whole music making process has become in recent years – which is a good thing – I think music lovers appreciate what went into making great records in those decades.
Artists were living the life, not googling it. You were either there or you weren’t, and I feel that came through in the records of the day.
Also, coupled with the fact that dance music in particular always looks back to help it move forward. The 80s are still an endless resource for producers and now the 90s is similarly getting tapped into by a new generation.
What always struck me about your 90s output was how it was all good, old-fashioned fun, no airs or graces about it. Do you think that ‘fun’ element was lost from dance music over time?
We were friends and clubbers way before we made records together – going out every weekend to iconic London clubs such as Choice, The Wag, Boys Own, the Raid parties, and so on. We totally absorbed the whole London clubbing scene and we did it with a smile and always with positive vibes.
When we started making records, we did do a couple of more serious tracks, but they just weren’t us. When we started really infusing our tracks with the kind of music we were actually listening to and were hearing in clubs, our sound really came together: house, disco and samples from hip hop records.
We threw it all into an Akai S1000 and out came the Stretch & Vern sound.
It used to be a lot more challenging to discover new tunes and clubs back then – everything these days is available at the click of a mouse. What’s your take on that?
We love getting new tunes from the web and having direct links to our favourite producers. It is also great to be able to source tracks that may never have made it onto vinyl due to the financial burden that cutting records incurs.
But there was nothing quite like building up a relationship with your favourite record shop, knowing what days the imports arrived, and meeting up with the other DJs and playing the hard to come by 12-inches that weekend. You had to know your stuff, know your shops, and just ‘be there’.
In terms of working together, what does Stretch bring to the party, and what does Vern bring, in terms of musical styles/influences?
Stretch brings energy, great ideas and enthusiasm. He’s a music lover and has a super upbeat attitude to the whole music making process.
Vern brings his knowledge of vintage synths and drum machines coupled with a love of obscure 80s disco and synth tracks. As both of us are similar ages, we grew up loving the same kind of stuff and rarely do we not see eye to eye when it comes to ideas and styles.
We both have vast record collections and a knowledge of music to call upon when getting in the studio. We once read David Morales would have four or five remixes on the go in different studios at once that he would oversee, to make sure things were shaping up.
That’s something we could do with, as speed in the studio is not something we excel at.
Get Up! Go Insane! was one of those tracks that helped kick start the ‘big beat’ genre – what are your memories of that time?
Big Beat was a refreshing change from 4/4 music at the time. We used to frequent the Sunday Heavenly Social where the likes of the Chemical Brothers (née Dust Brothers) and Daft Punk could be heard DJ’ing left of centre music to a pogo’ing crowd.
Again, we soaked this up and made Get Up! Go Insane!, which was our ode to that scene. The Big Beat scene was actually quite short lived with a lot of its movers and shakers jumping ship to the house scene, presumably to start getting paid properly and grab a bit of the Ibiza scene.
The 90s were a pretty hedonistic period. What was the most batshit-crazy scenario you found yourselves in?
To put things into perspective, our gigs used to come via a fax machine every Thursday with details of our itinerary for that weekend.
One particular fax came a couple of weeks ahead of the WMC in 1997 with details of a gig in association with Playboy Magazine. Upon arriving at Heathrow, we were ushered to our business class seats, and a stretched limo was waiting for us at Miami Airport to take us to our poolside bungalows at the Delano Hotel Miami Beach. We did the gig with Danny Rampling and it passed without incident really.
But what we did do was manage to rack up $13,000 on account over four nights at the Delano. Not so much batshit crazy but a great time was had. We both have a dot matrix print out of the bill as a souvenir.
The likes of Clockwork Orange and Cream Classics have created this new ‘nostalgia clubbing’ genre, and a lot of the old faces from the scene are hitting the dancefloors again. Do you see this as a good thing?
It’s all good. If that’s what you want, then you can go out and get it. They were great days, why should they not be celebrated?
Do you think that the kids that go clubbing these days are more cognisant of how the scene developed over time, or are they similarly ‘living in the moment’ like we used to?
The dance scene will always produce the obsessives who know their stuff and have knowledge of where the scene has come from. But there will be those who are just in the moment and enjoying it for what it is. As good as it is to have an educated crowd, quite often they can be the ones hugging the walls.
Dance music is for the masses and long may it be that way.
What’s your take on the ‘vinyl’ vs ‘digital’ debate?
On one hand, we simply don’t care. On another, if you walk into a bar or club, and the DJ is spinning vinyl, you can’t help but give him or her some respect for going out and sourcing their music and playing it out on turntables. There’s just something proper about that whole process.
We certainly would not think anything less of DJs playing digitally though. It’s all good.
Dance music continues to evolve. What new artists and/or genres are you most excited by?
Everything from Running Back Recs, Permanent Vacation, Bordello A Parigi through to the house staples such as Defected. Not forgetting we have our own labels, Nude Disco, Comfort Food and Bring Back The Future.
Thanks to Stretch and Vern for the interview. For more information, and details of upcoming releases and tour dates, visit Stretch & Vern’s Facebook page.