Clubbing in the 90s

Freewheeling through time and space, our renegade columnist ventures out on his further adventures in audio. This month, clubbing in the 90s…

Watching Brian Welsh’s marvellous coming-of-age/end-of-rave film ‘Beats’ got me remembering that time in the 1990s when the UK had a genuinely happening club scene. Every weekend would see me DJing at Liverpool’s Voodoo, Glasgow’s Slam, Leeds’ Back To Basics, Manchester’s Bugged Out, London’s Heavenly Social or many more; all rammed with kids like the characters from ‘Beats’, best mates Johnno and Spanner, liberated by ecstasy and coming together, their euphoria stoked by the era’s immortal sounds (as brilliantly cherry-picked by veteran DJ JD Twitch for the soundtrack).

After the much-derided Criminal Justice Act hit the illegal raves, these new, legal clubs got their own back. Ironically, I witnessed much worse behaviour at these than any warehouse mega-gathering.

After DJing for The Orb and Primal Scream then with Secret Knowledge hitting with ‘Sugar Daddy’, my diary found itself crammed with club bookings for the rest of the decade, going through the roof after the 1995 Prodigy tour.
A typical month could see visits to the most of the following, each carrying their own special memories (that started the moment I set off, usually accompanied by the infamous Aylesbury Posse). 

Every Saturday at the funky Le Bateau, the Voodoo night boasted one of the UK’s most up-for-it crowds in one of the best-run clubs, going apeshit to a DJ roll-call that can only inspire awe, including Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin, Carl Cox, Andrew Weatherall, Dave Clarke, Claude Young, Darren Emerson, Chemical Brothers, David Holmes, Mr C and many more. As the club closed at two, there was inevitably a crazed after-party, sometimes continuing until the following evening (where I would spin Ken Dodd’s ‘Where’s Me Shirt?’ if someone asked for “something we know”). Happily, Voodoo is set to return, Claire Coombs still at the helm after Sam sadly passed away. We need such passion and devotional mania in this sanitised day and age. 

Back To Basics needs no introduction; an institution started in 1992 by the legendary Dave Beer with punk attitude and relentlessly-dazzling resident funsters Ralph Lawson and Huggy manning the decks (Never forget those residents, who knew how to detonate their club better than any visitors). B2B became such a regular port-of-call this lovely bunch became like a second family. Most surreal memory may be over a dozen grown party monsters cramming into Carl Finlow’s studio after the club and attempting to record the now-fabled ‘Chicken Song’, sampling Altamont carnage and Ray Stevens’ cluck-fest ‘In The Mood’ before a banging techno section. At one point, the assembled squeezed into the booth to cluck and bjerk like maniacs when the light was turned off. Could have been the acid. 

Techno hotbed Bugged Out was at held at Sankeys Soap by Jonno and Paul from the late, lamented mag ‘Jockey Slut’. I particularly recall warming up for Slam with UR’s ‘Jupiter Jazz’ and, as ever, adjourning afterwards to a nearby flat to do the ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ rowing dance at five in the morning. Talking of Slam, their night at Glasgow’s Arches was another volcanic celebration every time, Wonder getting mobbed when Secret Knowledge did a PA there (and the Sub Club, which is still going!). Five in the morning there could end with Orde, Stuart and Dave Clark playing air guitar to Clash records.

Closer to home, we loved Full Circle on a Sunday afternoon, a haven for the damaged having one last burst to round off the weekend. It hit me witnessing names like Tony Humphries and ever-astonishing Weatherall work their magic behind the decks that two decks and a mixer had now become another electronic instrument, weaving and bending records into startling new mutants. So many landmark tunes were broken at these places, from Hardfloor to Plastikman, even ‘Sugar Daddy’. 

That’s just a few, although mention must be made of the Heavenly Social broadening the musical menu to include anything that could inspire mass whoopee or blow the bollocks off a warthog. As a veteran of punk’s previous revolution, I saw all this as a next step with music you could dance to and better drugs. ‘Beats’ perfectly catches the era’s punk-like DIY defiance and ecstasy epiphany that changed so many lives, against a backdrop of a Criminal Justice Act that often seemed more of a hindrance, as opposed to the beatings heaped on the punks. But if it hadn’t been for these clubs (and their anything-went back rooms), electronic music may not have survived trends like grunge or spread its wings to become today’s multi-tentacled monster. 

It seems I’m involved with another band and this one’s great fun. The Lost Stoned Pandas were born from conversations with Sendelica’s Pete Bingham during the sessions for Helen’s ‘Windmill’ record, with the name coming from a GIF of cavorting pandas. Sadly, I had to miss July’s magical session with strings at Mwnci Studios but, judging from the astonishing ‘Pandamonium’ EP that’s selling like hot cakes on Bandcamp, it’s just as well as, over three tracks, the sound gushes, flows, winds like a cosmic rattlesnake and occasionally sprouts a rhino’s todger. 

There’s a double album coming and I’ll soon be adding Third Ear Band bongos to a track (which means as “Panda Kris” I’m entitled to sport a giant panda’s head in pics!). As the LSP manifesto says, “We are slowed down, sped up and manipulated sound waves, a walking entanglement of frequencies tuned to the universe. We are pandas dressed up in sacred biochemical garments and our bodies are attuned instruments… expect the unexpected. There are no barriers for us travellers”.

Also must mention Sendelica associate (and fellow Panda) Marc Swordfish, who’s produced a fabulous 12-inch called ‘Lalo Elijah’ by the Mushroom Project (Friends Of The Fish). With Swordfish on synth and tape fuckery, the six-piece band pay tribute – as its title suggests – to Lalo Schifrin soundtracks and Spirit, whose ‘Elijah’ provides a launch-pad for an epic cosmic jam that can embrace ‘Lorca’-like electric keys or Michelle Devonshire’s anarchic flute in this shimmering, spaced-up exercise in spontaneous telepathic combustion.

Like those immortal clubs, no barriers; exactly the way it should be. 

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