Oceanic ‘Insanity’

Oceanic’s David Harry and Jorinde Williams talk us through the making of ‘Insanity’, their 1991 dance mega-hit

David Harry: “I met [third member of Oceanic] Frank Crofts on CB radio. For my 15th birthday, my mum bought me an old mono Yamaha CS-5 synth. One day, I plugged it into the mic input on the CB rig and was just making weird noises to piss someone off, and Frank heard it. He had a Bontempi organ, and we just started talking, messing around and playing each other noises over the CB. About 1987 or ’88 we put a band together called Smart Patrol, named after a Devo song.”

Jorinde Williams: “I’d started doing backing vocals for a couple of Liverpool bands that went nowhere. At the same time, I worked in a bar where all the bartenders were gay. We used to go out clubbing afterwards, and that’s when I got into hi-NRG. I worked out that a lot of hi-NRG 12-inches had instrumental B-sides. So I started going on the road doing the gay clubs, with a tape that had my own cobbled-together backing vocals. Then I met those two.”

DH: “Oceanic didn’t exist until Jorinde came along. I started a small recording studio above a music shop in Birkenhead. While I was doing stuff with my proper band, I was experimenting with dance stuff. We were asking around for singers. Jorinde comes in, and right from the get-go it was like, ‘Fucking hell, this is awesome!’.”

JW: “It was a complete fluke because my mate, who was the girlfriend of the guy in the shop downstairs, had gone and wasn’t right for it. She told me about it. I came in to an 8-track sequence they’d knocked up on the Ensoniq ESQ-1 synthesiser. It was just bass and drums at that stage.”

DH: “Some of the dancey stuff we were doing was under the name Systems Exclusive. I thought one track was worth a bit more than just being some weird instrumental. That’s what Jorinde listened to.”

JW: “I’d been doing a sound tech course, and the guy teaching it had a rave-y thing going. He had this instrumental, and I went, ‘I could write to that’. So I sat and wrote, ‘Dream tripping, tripping on my dream / You’re the only thing I want to believe in’. But it never happened – he kept it as an instrumental, so I had that kicking around. Then I wrote the chorus in the room with Dave and Frank, and I did the other half of the verse. I wanted ambiguity in there. The lyric was actually written about sex, but I wanted it to sound like it was about drugs.”

DH: “It didn’t take much convincing for the populace to think it was about drugs! Especially when you’re in a club full of people on ecstasy…”

JW: “Then I was like, ‘How do we change it?’. So the tempo changed. I had the sustained note – the ‘Take m–e-e-e-e-e’ – and it was Dave’s idea to take it to the major. We literally wrote it then and there.”

DH: “It came together that fast. We weren’t a signed band, so we had no preconceptions, no pressures. It took maybe two days to batter down some more bits and pieces. But it was all effectively a day’s work.”

JW: “We knew we had something, because the hook stayed with you.”

DH: “Me and Jorinde were both on the same page – pop music. We wanted to do something with catchy lyrics.”

JW: “Pop dance, no samples.”

DH: “That was a very deliberate move – it was a purist thing about not ripping off somebody else. If you give a five-year-old a bunch of samples they can throw it in the air and its gonna come out sounding like something. ‘Insanity’ was the arse-end of a four-track EP initially – Side B, track two. We pressed up 1,000 white labels, and it did fuck-all. We literally sold 20 copies.”

JW: “Then some DJ in Legends in Warrington started playing the arse out of it, and it started to build. The A&R guy from Dead Dead Good was on a night out in Legends, saw it take the roof off, and went, ‘What the fuck is that record – and is it signed?’.”

DH: “I basically remixed that track overnight before we got signed. We turned up to the label with a DAT [of the ‘Legendary Mix’] that we’d literally finished off a few hours earlier.”

JW: “That was where we came up with the middle eight, the ‘Taking me higher’ bit. I did it that night, and gave myself a rod for my back for the next 30 years.”

DH: “People typically associate indie with guitar music, but we were the best-selling indie single of the year. I wouldn’t say that was bigger than being in the Top 10 singles of the year [‘Insanity’ was Number 9], but that was a massive achievement.

“It became an albatross for us, though. When you’ve had something that is such a big seller, unless you’re signed to a major and have serious money behind you, there’s no way you can ever follow it up. It was a nightmare.”

JW: “I got vocal nodules very badly. We were gigging four nights a week. I was working at the top of my range, at one o’clock in the morning, in rooms where you’re allowed to smoke and there was dry ice, so I fucked my voice good-style. That’s why I haven’t worked in the music industry much since.”

DH: “We got caught up really badly with the success of the song. It’s the commercial pressure and the fact that everyone around you at business level is making money out of you. They’ve got no interest in your welfare, mentally or physically.”

JW: “It’s still the best thing that’s ever happened to us, though, because it gave us the confidence to do everything else that we’ve done in our lives. It gave us validation that we could achieve what we wanted to achieve.”

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