Techno lovers of a certain age will probably remember where they were the first time they heard Dave Clarke‘s World Service, which was released on 21 May 2001, setting a high bar for mix CDs of the period.
With 47 tracks set across two blistering CDs – one techno, the other electro – World Service included killer cuts from the likes of Surgeon, Jeff Mills, Umek, The Hacker, Adult, Anthony Rother, Joey Beltram and others, and helped spawn one of the most-revered electro tracks of all time, Fischerspooner’s Emerge. Even Radiohead made an appearance, with the ethereal Idioteque, a track that helped lay the foundations for their future direction.
Released on React, and mixed live on vinyl, World Service also helped establish Clarke as one of techno’s go-to artists, and he’s maintained his status as a leading custodian of tough, uncompromising beats in the years since – to illustrate the point, his weekly White Noise radio show has just hosted its 800th episode.
909originals caught up with Dave via Zoom to chat about the development of World Service, and the environment into which it was released, 20 years ago today.
Hi Dave, thanks for talking to us. Let’s set the scene – going into World Service, you had obviously done the Electro Boogie mixes for X-Mix, you had done Fuse Presents Dave Clarke, but this was a much more ambitious project. Also, it was inspired by your sets at Atomic Jam, Bugged Out and Voodoo at the time, where you would do one techno set and one electro set?
The first compilation I was asked to do was a Network CD for DJ Magazine, and then I think I did a Creamfields one, a triple CD with Roger Sanchez and Fabio, the drum ‘n’ bass DJ. Then I got asked to do X-Mix Electro Boogie, and I came up with the idea of doing it as a series – as well as my own mixes, I got Depth Charge and Aux 88 to do mixes for those.
Obviously I was known for techno, but a lot of people also knew me for electro, and my manager at the time – Paul Benney – got approached to see if I wanted to do a mix CD for React.
I think it was Paul that came up with the idea of doing a double CD, and then I came up with the idea of doing one techno mix and one electro mix, because it made a lot of sense. In those days, 20 years ago, I would do main room techno and then I might do the back room or side room later on, playing electro. That first started off at Atomic Jam, and I also remember doing it at Slam at The Arches, and also Bugged Out in Liverpool.
React were a pleasure to work with. World Service was mixed on vinyl, and with vinyl mixes, it’s not like digital files where you can change them round and see what works very quickly. You sort of have to work out the order you are going to play them in, or work them out in groups of three or five, and know that ‘this track goes pretty well with that track’.
It’s a bit like an A to Z of London, before the days of GPS, you could work out where you were and where, say, Camden, was, and how to fit it all together.
Plus, after getting the tracks ready, you had to make sure nothing happened to them, because if something happened to one of them, you had to wait for another one to be delivered. If it was available, of course.
That was the good thing about Electro Boogie actually, with some of the 12-inches that I have on that mix, the only copy I had would have been on one of the Street Sounds albums from back in the day. I didn’t have the 12-inch, so I said to the label, ‘I need two copies of the 12-inch of this or that for the mix’ and they were able to provide them. And then I was like ‘f**k! I can’t believe I now have this on vinyl!’.
With some of the tracks on World Service, I had ben playing them for some time – Fischerspooner Emerge, for example, I got for the first time from John Selway’s label, Serotonin. It was a really poorly pressed 12-inch, and I think it was the last track on it.
I was playing that from the very beginning, before it was signed to any other label. And then Lizzy [Yoder], one of the group’s vocalists, got in touch with me, and I did a remix of it for them.
At the time that World Service came out, it was almost at the end of the lifespan of the mix CD. I think by the time World Service 2 came out [in 2005], that really was the end, because you obviously had DJ mixes starting to appear on the internet at that point, and you could find whatever you were looking for quite easily.
It was also the time that people started having CD players in their cars instead of cassettes for the first time, and they would take it with them in the car when they were heading off to a gig or something. It wasn’t like you could go on the internet and download a mix; if you wanted something to listen to on the way to the club, you had to get a mix CD. Or one of those poorly-bootlegged tapes of live gigs, that were sold for a fiver or tenner in some shops.
The thing that never made sense to me though was when they released the CDs as an ‘unmixed vinyl compilation’. I couldn’t get my head around that – were people going to buy two copies and then try to mix the tracks together themselves?
I think World Service sold 120,000 copies overall, which for something that was quite underground, and had my name attached – I wasn’t exactly a ‘commercial DJ’ – says a lot about React believing in it and also a lot about the times.
React had obviously released the Carl Cox F.A.C.T. mixes, they had released Laurent Garnier’s Laboratoire Mix, they had released Jeff Mills’ Live At The Liquid Room, so they had previous experience in this area. One thing you mentioned just there – you were talking about selecting the tracks in batches of three or five. When it came to putting together World Service, were these tracks already grouped together in your record box, because you knew they went well together? That some of the segues in the album are literally a carbon copy of what you would have played at Atomic Jam, for example?
I wouldn’t say it was a carbon copy, because every mix is happening in real time, and you react to what is going on around you. It’s not like I had a stopwatch and was like ‘ok, now is the time to mix in this’. I think on the back of the album, it says that it ‘takes as long to listen to it as it took to make’, because that was important to me. There were a few DJs at the time that were putting together mixes on Pro Tools, and then later on Ableton.
But I wanted people to know that this was an ‘organic’ mix, it was live. If you listen to Jeff Mills, that was live, also Laurent Garnier. It’s important to say that, it’s the ‘art of DJing’. It’s authentic, and it’s from the heart, and it’s all done in one go.
At the time it was released, you had just come off the back of a serious run of remixes – Underworld – King Of Snake, Zombie Nation – Kernkraft 400, Goodfellas – Soul Heaven, Leftfield – Phat Planet. It was a busy time for you?
Phat Planet was actually couple of years old at that stage, actually. At the time I had one of the very first Internet only releases, which was the I-Crunch release Before I Was So Rudely Interrupted, which then had to come out as a limited vinyl release. It was the first internet-only techno release. I-Crunch didn’t last very long after that, but I think they were ahead of the game a little bit.
I did the Depeche Mode Dream On mix around that time, and there was Fischerspooner Emerge of course.
At that particular moment, though, I was sort of ‘on strike’, because I wasn’t getting paid by my record label at the time. I was told I had only sold just over 2,000 copies of Red 1 & 2 together, those twelves were pretty big at the time. I bought the label into Deconstruction too, I have a silly loyalty thing. Then, after a few years, I wasn’t getting accounted for those 12’s, so I went on ‘strike’ and legally won my freedom to record elsewhere, after a long court battle.
Getting out of that contract took some time, and in the meantime the remixes were important for me. It was my way of keeping my oar in the water, so to speak. Plus, with the money I was getting from remixes, I was using it to invest in my craft, and invest in my studio. So, by the time I signed to Skint in 2002, I had a fully functioning studio that I was really proud of.
When you did remixes in those days, you had the courier waiting outside the studio for your DAT tape, because the deadlines were real – you would finish the mixdown at 9pm and then a courier would take it straight to the mastering house that evening. It was real pressure, but it worked at that time. Plus, I used to wrap the DAT tape up in tin foil – often, the courier, to keep it super safe, would have the tape in their breast pocket, close to their walkie talkie, and you would hear horror stories that when a tape arrived at the mastering house, that it was blank because of that.
I think the first remix I sent via the internet – via dial-up, from the British countryside – was a Terence Fixmer mix, and it took 12 hours to send. I remember thinking ‘please don’t drop, please don’t drop’. My neighbours at the time would occasionally hear me screaming ‘f**king c**t bollocks’ at the top of my voice, and they would be like ‘ah, Dave’s internet must have dropped again’.
Obviously there’s one of your own remixes on there, of Midfield General’s Coatnoise, that was quite a significant track for you, it was a regular in your shows at the time. Am I right in thinking that it was that remix that helped you get signed for Skint?
In a way it did. At the time a lot of people in the industry didn’t really have faith in me, but Skint made sense to me because they were in Brighton, and they were local guys.
Damien Harris, aka Midfield General, used to work in Rounder Records. I used to be in there all the time; I would play pool with my father – he would let me win, let’s be honest – and there was always a bit of money involved. So I would end up in Rounder Records, buying records.
Damien asked me to do a remix of a track – which ended up being Coatnoise – and I can’t remember what the original sounded like to be honest. But I remember thinking at the time, ‘ahh, Damien is trying to make techno, bless him’. Not in a patronising way; at the time Skint were doing lots of big beat stuff and signing artists like Freq Nasty, and he was trying to do something a little bit different. And then I listened to it, and thought ‘I could do something with this’.
The first time I played it was at a Fuse gig – not in the club, but at some sort of Fuse celebration somewhere else – and the response blew me away. You never know how your music is going to go down, and this is before anybody would have had a chance to listen to it.
It’s not like now, where you can try out a track and get the reaction, and then change it a bit. I remember playing it, and there was a real time reaction; when that Elvis Costello sample comes in, people went wild. I think Skint were really impressed by that, and that’s one of the reasons I got signed.
I had a few more labels that were interested, in London, and I remember thinking ‘do I really need to sign for another London label’? That sounds ridiculous now, because everything is connected, but back then you had to go to meetings and drive through serious traffic.
My first label was XL, which was in Wandsworth, and then Deconstruction, which was in Putney, and then London Records in Knightsbridge. A couple of labels wanted to sign me for quite good money, but I ended up signing for Skint for less money, because it was just down the road, and I didn’t have to ‘make an appointment three weeks from now’ to see anybody.
In terms of the tracklisting for World Service, you mentioned on Facebook recently that you had an A-list of tracks and a B-list, because obviously the licensing was a timely process back then. Were there any tracks that didn’t make it onto the final compilation, which you had earmarked for inclusion?
I think there were two. One of the tracks was Autonation – Sparkle, which has just been re-released, actually. At the time there was a licensing issue with it; it was a track that I always played and I wanted to have it on there.
There was another track from a Detroit DJ, whose name I can’t remember, which I didn’t put on there, because they wanted a large amount of money. Considering how many tracks are on there, and the fact that the money was split evenly across all artists that appeared on it – including Radiohead by the way – that request just didn’t sit right with me. They were looking for three times the amount of everyone else.
I think I was given the option of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to it at the time, but I just thought that it felt wrong, I wasn’t up for it.
What was on the B-list, I’m sure there were some gems on there?
I can’t remember, to be honest. I think I got 95% of what I wanted in there. Even though there wasn’t the internet at the time, I was in regular contact with most of the artists, we would meet each other on the road and things like that. Most of them were actually very happy to be on there.
My main concern was whether I would be able to get Radiohead on there. I think it was the first time that Idioteque had been licenced to appear on a mix. I remember thinking, when I got it on white label, that it was so f**king good. I was playing it in my electro sets a lot at the time.
Radiohead’s Kid A had come out just a few months before, of course, and it was the start of the ‘new direction’ that the band were taking, and are still taking. I think by putting Idioteque on World Service, you sort of ‘legitimised’ that direction they were taking?
That’s right, you could see which direction they were going in. Especially with Thom Yorke’s solo project as well – his electronic noodlings were starting to take a physical shape.
Did you get any exclusive tracks for the mix?
I was often sent a lot of tracks months before they came out. When I first started in this industry I was also doing reviews for Mixmag and I would get a lot of records sent in advance – white labels, acetates. You would have great contact with people at that time, nobody was busy tending to their social media space, they were just enjoying the music.
Also, I had my Technology radio show back then – it was launched on Studio Brussels and went out on a few different FM stations around Europe – and I was on BBC Radio 1 quite a lot, so people very graciously used to send me music. I never worked with record ‘pluggers’, I tended to have direct contact.
That included the people who were on World Service – Angel Alanis, Technasia, Gaetano Parisio, Joey Beltram Jeff Mills. Surgeon – I gave him his first remix. Dave Tarrida – he was the first person to invite me to play in Scotland, at Sativa. I had relationships with all of these people for five or six years, or maybe longer.
On the electro mix, you had people like Anthony Rother – I tried to get his Little Computer People album signed as a major pop record to BMG but they weren’t having it. I still think it had the potential to be huge. Alden Tyrell, The Hacker, Umek – I’m still in contact with a lot of these people. Tobias von Hofstein – I Love My 808. I remember playing that in Scandinavia, on a boat somewhere. A lot of these artists are still putting out great stuff.
Also, you didn’t fell obliged to use all ‘brand new’ tracks on the mix; Joey Beltram’s Metro was a good few years old at that stage?
I’ve never been scared of that. because it’s about context. If I like it, it doesn’t matter if it’s from this year or that year, or if it’s the latest ‘business techno we have to play it now before the next scene comes along in three weeks’ sort of track.
Let’s talk about the album cover, designed by Me Company, which is really striking. While you’re not that visible on the cover, you’re on there, kind of hidden amongst all the architecture. Did you have a part to play in that?
I did. Basically, I always thought I had a face for radio, which is why on Southside, there’s as a picture of the back of my head rather than the front of my head. I always found it really cheesy – there are so many compilations with someone’s face on the front cover, and they almost market themselves as the personality first and the music second. I’ve always wanted the music to come first.
I didn’t want my face on the front cover of World Service, at least not in an obvious way, so they sort of hid it a bit. Actually, when I posted on Facebook recently, and mentioned that my face is on the front cover, I got messages from people saying that they ‘had the album for 20 years and only just noticed it now’. That’s absolutely perfect for me. [laughs]
Also, I never felt that comfortable about using my own music in the compilations I work on; there are 47 tracks on World Service, and there’s only one that I was slightly involved in. In Mixmag and DJ Mag you would see people putting their own tracks into their Top 5s, and I always thought that was shameless.
The music is what matters. My name is on there, so you know it’s going to be mixed well – hopefully – you know it’s going to be authentic, you know it’s going to be credible. You don’t need my f**king face on the front cover, grinning at you.
When you were recording the album, were there any moments in which you though ‘f**k me, this is good, this is really solid’?
I honestly felt it was all solid! [laughs] I guess I felt stupidly privileged to have Radiohead on there, and also artists that people didn’t really know about, such as Tobias von Hofstein. Also resisting the temptation to finish off with Emerge, instead finishing off with GD Luxxe.
Emerge is abut 145 BPM, isn’t it? Not the easiest track to mix out of?
I think GD Luxxe was 153 BPM and Zeta Reticula was 142, so it worked. Obviously back then with the Technics, you had plus 8 and minus 8, so you had to be subtle with it, because you weren’t just changing the tempo, you were changing the musical pitch.
I always thought that gives things a sort of urgency, people react to it differently. And then you have all these key clashes, which are really interesting, because it makes everything feel more ‘on edge’.
You mentioned that people get in touch with you and say how groundbreaking World Service was for them, and it’s obviously stood the test of time for a lot of people. You must be proud of it, looking back?
Absolutely, and I feel the same about World Service 2. I have to really congratulate my manager at the time for really pushing me through what was a bit of a dead period. I felt I wasn’t going to make any more music because of the situation I was in, and he really pushed me through, and gave me the freedom to do this.
To sell something like 120,000 copies, and have people all over the world relate to it in some way – I have amazing memories of that.
I tend not to listen back to my own music – unless it’s by mistake. I might be at a dinner party, and one of my old albums is playing in the background on Spotify, and I’m like ‘this is quite cool, actually’. But everything I do belongs in one period of time. I want to keep moving forward.
If you become encumbered by the past, musically, you slow down when moving forward. So I don’t listen back to World Service for that reason. But I absolutely cherish the meaning that the album has with a lot of people.
When I think back to those times, I was doing a lot of remixes, I was travelling around the world. It was crazy, and it continued like that for 20 years. This album didn’t start that, but it was certainly chapter two or chapter three of the story, and my life would continue at a similar level for many years afterwards.
[Thanks Dave for chatting to us. The tracklisting for World Service can be found here]