Richard Sen Relives UK Rave
Strange as it may seem, back in the 1980s there was no such thing as "nu-rave" or even "post-rave." There was only real, actual rave, and although it took a lot of different forms in a lot of different places, it hit the UK in a wave of hedonism and Hacienda-fueled euphoria, compounding sounds from Chicago, Detroit, Berlin and a host of other places.
A new compilation, This Ain’t Chicago, seeks to explore the unique and timeless sound of the period from a UK perspective, through a lovingly compiled selection of underground acid and UK house tracks, courtesy of a man better placed to comment on the scene than most: Richard Sen, a producer and DJ who was in the thick of it, and whose own material in Padded Cell and Bronx Dogs was influenced by the sounds of era.
There are plenty of gems on the compilation, including Baby Ford’s lasery, acidic “Crashing” and Ability II’s trippy, bleepy journey, “Pressure Dub” to pick just two.
Société Perrier caught up with Sen to talk acid house and parties in aircraft hangars.
It’s obviously difficult to sum up, but why was the acid house scene so important to UK music and the culture of the time?
Richard Sen: I think with the explosion of electronic music and dance culture at the time, like punk before, there were many independent labels springing up, and people were able to make music relatively cheaply. The club scene acted as a catalyst for a lot of creativity, whether it was making music, starting your own club night, fashion label or just writing about it. The political climate then mirrored today’s in some ways, as there was high unemployment and a recession going on, and I guess this do-it-yourself attitude was a reaction to what was happening.
What elements of the Chicago sound did UK artists use?
It wasn’t just Chicago. New York, Detroit and Europe were also influential — I’d go to clubs and hear European dance music mixed up with US house, techno and garage. The UK artists may have used some of the same drum machines and synths as the Americans, but definitely had their own unique style. Many of the tracks on my compilation have a certain naïve charm to them and are a bit rough round the edges. I think the reggae soundsystem culture among the West Indian community and the working-class kids of the inner cities was a huge influence then, as it is today with dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass.
Tell us about the concept behind the compilation:
I bought most of these records at the time, and the ones I’ve chosen are just a selection of some of my personal favorites from that era. The US stuff has been documented and compiled many times, as they were the originators, but I’m English and wanted to represent the underground sound of the UK which was largely ignored. I’ve kept a few well-known classics on there, but mostly wanted to dig deeper and darker.
Any favorite memories from those years?
I can’t remember too much but I did go to the famous Sunrise orbital rave in an old aircraft hangar in the summer of 1989, I think it was called "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." There were thousands of people there, almost like a small town of ravers, E’d up, dancing in this massive hangar. I’d recently come out of prison (for graffiti – but that’s another story) and bumped into someone I was inside with who’d escaped! I remember either Eddie Richards or Judge Jules playing Phil Collins “In The Air Tonight,” and it suited the mood perfectly. I know, it sounds awful, but you had to be there. You’d never get someone playing such a slow record to 10,000 people in a massive warehouse these days! The next day, The Sun newspaper wrote a massive feature which carried the headline “Ecstasy Airport!” with a drawing of an aircraft hangar and people flying out of it! I still have the flyer.
Listen to “Take Me High” (Mansion Mix) by Colm III, taken from This Ain’t Chicago.
This Ain’t Chicago will be released in July on Strut Records.
Image by Alexis Maryon