Friday, February 23, 2007

Just A Little Higher: Tales from the Dub House Disco

Music takes you… Lord, you know it’s true. This week, I have been walking my usual route to work; from London Bridge, past HMS Belfast and Ken’s house, over Tower Bridge and on into St Katherine’s Dock, but the musical soundtrack playing through my headphones meant I was anywhere but there. My feet were treading the pavements, but my mind - courtesy of Guerilla Records and their seminal ‘Dub House Disco’ compilations - was soaring up, up and away, back to 1992/1993. I don’t know whether this music has dated or not but it still sounds great to me, a timeless reminder of a carefree period in my life. I feel lucky to have been around prior to the Criminal Justice Bill and the resulting corporate sponsorship of every single festival and event, which seems to me to have which sucked the life and soul out of the scene. The free party movement was nearing its inevitable swan song, and the underground was just that. I felt like an exclusive member of a secret club full of the hedonistic, all operating on roughly the same wavelength as me. I don't think I'm trying to say things were better then, but I probably am. It's inevitable I'll remember my past through a pair of rose-tinted Lennon-specs. I guess everyone feels the same about their youth. I hope so anyway. There’s no way I’d want to do it all over again; it’s gone now, part of the past and I’m happy to have escaped with my marbles just about intact. But the memories are still so intense and with the aid of the music, I can recreate some moments. Here’s three songs from the ‘Dub House Disco’ albums, along with the hugely subjective and hazy memories they conjure up. These were the songs that were playing in the clubs, and the soundsystems in fields across the West Country and beyond; blasting out of the stereo's of cars parked up in lay-by's for illicit late night smokes; thudding out of speakers in the box-like rooms of my Halls of Residence in Bath... these are mine – what are yours?

D.O.P. - Groovy Beat (Rock-It Mix)

I’ve come back from college to my hometown for the weekend. I’ve only been away for about three weeks so everything there is still new and a bit awkward. It’s good to be back with old friends where there’s no pressure or questions about who I am and what I want to be. I’m me; able to slip into familiar old routines like a comfy pair of trainers. I’m here; sat in Dat Geezer’s attic bedroom, which he rarely leaves after a mugging left him in a neck cast. We’re surrounded by dark, heavy-bound Persian rugs covering both the floor and the walls, along with other global nick-nacks he’s collected on his travels. The whole room is bathed in the alien, bluey glow of the UV light he’s so proud of. His bucket bong, constructed from a cool box and an old 2-litre coke bottle is still smouldering in the corner of the room. We’re all wrecked, eyes like strawberries and lungs painful from the Marlboro Red baccy he insists on adding to the mix, contemplating whether we are capable of heading to the pub for contact with the real world. There’s no rush though, Optrex Red Eye will save us when the time comes. Until then, we all lie back and listen to Dat Geezer’s favourite tune - D.O.P’s ‘Groovy Beat’. It’s a bit naff really; “groovy” is a Sixties concept innit? But Dat Geezer loves it, and he follows the vocal line with a lazy finger, drawing the rhythm in the smoke-filled air and mumbling the words, ”Rockin’ to the rhythm of a groovy beat…”. It has become his anthem (we’ve even invented our own words to gently take the piss, “Chilling in the bedroom with the UV light”) and the tune is synonymous with the secluded room where we waste endless hours escaping from whatever it is we can’t face up to, or just getting plain wasted.

React 2 Rhythm - Intoxication (Clubfield Mix)

It’s New Years Eve 1992 – a DiY free party in a marquee pegged into a field just outside Bath. It smells of childhood camping holidays; grass trampled underfoot and damp canvas, combined with the less innocent, robust honk of loaded spliffs and sweaty bodies. I’m shy as always, finding it hard to let to go, even when under the influence. The vibe is good though, the tent is packed with smiley people and the music is incredible. I want to join in, but something is holding me back. I see my brother’s girlfriend Jo, dancing nearby. She’s wearing a pointy Peruvian woollen hat with flaps that come down over her ears, and looks a bit like a pixie. I point to the hat, “Can I wear it?” I ask. “I need a disguise.” She laughs, shrugs and hands it over. I pull it onto my head. It’s a bit itchy but lovely and warm. I feel cocooned and safe. This is more like it. I start to dance, near to the entrance, my hair poking out from underneath the hat. A girl I know walks straight past me, so I tap her on the shoulder and it takes a while for her to recognise who I am. Perfect. The disguise is working. Safe in the knowledge I don’t look like me anymore I start to let go. Strangers ask me for pills. Even better, I look like a drug dealer. I laugh to myself. The music is getting better. The MC isn’t some babbling imbecile, he isn’t really an MC at all, just some sound northern dude who only interrupts the sounds to make important announcements. Someone’s left their VW Camper parked up on the verge outside – the police will tow it away unless they move it now. The Leftfield remix of React 2 Rhythm’s ‘Intoxication’ drops. I don’t know this at the time, but I get a tape of the DJ’s set a few weeks later and I hear the spiel about the VW, then the tune. It’s the one with that funky, gasping beat, the ‘Voodoo Ray’-esque vocal and rolling Italia house piano. It’s hard to do anything other than bounce around like a nutter, so I do. Snug in the Peruvian pixie hat, looking like a pill dealer, finally I dance with something approaching abandon.

Dr Atomic - Schudelfloss (High On Hedonism Mix)

Another DiY party, this time in their hometown of Nottingham, in 1993. It’s held in a warehouse space underneath a shop. It’s free, but you won’t get in if you don’t know anyone. My brother knows someone, Big Sam, who gets us on the list. He’s about 7ft tall. There’s me, Ben, his girlfriend Jo and our mate Bob who drove us here. Almost safely, apart from going the wrong way down a one way and getting in trouble with the police. We’re in now though, and it’s big and dark and dusty but all good. We stick together, though everyone’s friendly. Bottles of acid punch are going around and we take tentative sips, not wanting to overdo it in a strange place or swallow any of the floating ‘bits’ as who knows where we’d end up. People stand around, waiting for the bottle and our approval, which we signify with grateful saucer eyes and grins. We crunch our way through some aniseedy Happy Shoppers, small and innocent, red and white. They live up to their names, not that I want to go shopping or anything, but we’re all happy, everything starts to go whoosh and we gradually slip in synch with the night. DiY are on fire, and musically the highlights keep on coming, each song better than the one before. We alternate spazzy dancing with heading up a set of rickety wooden stairs to a dusty room with a single broken window looking out onto the street below. It looks like it used to be a gym, with old weights benches to sit on and chill out, or in my case, exchange nervous glances with other wild-eyed ravers, take sharp intake of breaths and try not be overwhelmed by everything combined. Somewhere in all of this, Dr Atomic’s ‘Schudelfloss’ is played, a sweeping, euphoric house song with a kick. “My mind is glowing!” No shit? Mine too! The song coincides with me and Ben finding ourselves surrounded by five beautiful girls, identically dressed in tight, white tops, smiling approvingly, encouraging us to dance with them. I keep thinking they’re going to pick us up and carry us away, out of the warehouse and into the night sky. They probably don’t exist, or if they do, not in the context in which we imagined them the following morning. By the end of the night, the whole DiY crew are massed behind the decks and one of them sticks on Hardfloor’s ‘Acperience 1’ and the roof comes off the place, before we’re all sent on our way.


Hardfloor - Acperience 1

I can’t mention it and then not post it can I? Acid purists would definitely disagree (probably correctly), citing works by Pierre, Mr Fingers, Adonis etc, but I truly believe ‘Acperience 1’ by Hardfloor is the finest example of what can be achieved with the Roland 303 and a drum machine. 9 minutes of acid madness, courtesy of Oliver Bondzio and Ramon Zenker, a German duo who should surely be in straightjackets by now, considering how much time they’ve spent locked in small studio rooms, lost in the silver box. Previously on this blog, I declared ‘Rez’ by Underworld to be the ultimate last song of the night. I’d still stand by that, but this would run it a close second. In fact, both of these songs together, played in whatever order you fancy, would absolutely kill it. ‘Acperience 1’ builds from the thumping bass and crashing cymbals, with layer upon layer of tweaking acid squelch, and no matter how many times I hear it, it does me every time. Canny DJ’s will gently pitch it up as the song progresses to the final crazy snare rush, and sit back and laugh as the dance floor turns into an asylum.

Search eBay for the 'Dub House Disco' compilations
Guerilla Records discography
Official Hardfloor website
Buy Hardfloor from Amazon
DiY entry at Fantazia website
DiY Discs discography