Welcome to Magazine Sixty, Ste. Along with Paul Gill you started Freaky Dancing back in 1989 and it has now been republished by TQLC (an imprint of the Quietus). Tell us about the story behind how that happened?
Paul arranged the publication of the book with The Quietus, so I’m not quite sure how that actually happened. My role was more technical, preparing the book itself. Paul had been keen to get the fanzine restored and republished in some form or other for a while, and to be honest I was always a bit reluctant. To me it felt like a great memory, a lovely moment in the past, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring it into the present. Paul persisted and eventually convinced me it was worth doing. We were originally going to get the book out for the 25th anniversary, in 2015, but that date came and went. We were both busy with work and it was hard to find time to give the book the attention it deserved. I think hooking up with The Quietus gave us a bit of a kick up the arse to actually get it finished.
On the technical side, I had most of the original artwork, so my job was to scan and clean up every page, and design and build the book itself. There were a few missing pages that had been stolen or returned to the original artists over the years, so a few of them had to be put together from scans of the fanzine itself, but most pages were scanned from the A4 sized originals. We also wanted to do some new material, so I drew a three page comic strip, as an intro, which ended up taking me about six months to complete! Paul drew a page at the end of ever issue of me and him chatting about the contents, and reminiscing about the time.
One major issue was that we weren’t actually in touch with all the contributors. In fact, some pages were anonymously submitted, so we never knew who drew them. Also, a lot of the work was done under pseudonyms, so we had to consider how or if we needed permission from all the original contributors, IP rights, and how we would split any money the book might make. Taking everything into account, particularly the fact it wasn’t possible to contact everyone involved, and that the spirit of the magazine was to give it away where possible, we decided to stick with the pseudonyms for all the contributors, and once we’d covered the costs involved in making the book, we’d donate any money we made the the Manchester Digital Music Archive https://www.mdmarchive.co.uk
What influenced the comic-book/ graphic style in which it was constructed? Who did the artwork and who wrote the text? What was the philosophy behind it all and how important was it for you that it was free?
Both Paul and I both wrote and drew our own comics, and had made our own fanzines and small press comics before Freaky Dancing. That’s how we met, in fact – I picked up a copy of one of his fanzines from a small press fair in Piccadilly in 1986 or so, and he picked up one of mine from the same place. We noticed each other’s’ addresses, both in Stockport, and we started writing to each other about comics and video games and music, both in our early teens, and before either of us had ever had a pint of beer, let alone been to a pub or a nightclub!
But, once we had the idea for Freaky Dancing, everything happened so fast. We didn’t really plan very much, we just spurted out whatever was going in our heads into comic strips and printed them. We both worked separately, writing and drawing our own comics, and bringing them together every week or two, to see if we had enough stuff to make a new issue with. What was really surprising, and exciting, was that our friends joined in. Friends who weren’t especially into comics, or who weren’t writers or artists. They just caught the same wave of excitement and enthusiasm that gripped us, and threw their own pages into the pot. Some of the early issues were literally put together between 5pm and 7pm on the Friday night they came out, with people turning up to my office after work, handing in pages they’d drawn, while Paul and I would arrange them into some kind of order. Then we’d start the photocopier running at about 7pm, to get 100 or so copies ready to hand out next door by 9pm.
Giving the magazine out for free felt massively important at the beginning. It was almost the main idea behind Freaky Dancing – giving something back to the people around us. Over time that idea receded and covering costs and becoming self-sustaining became our goal. If we’d carried on, we’d probably have wanted to turn it into a money making business. I guess this is a natural trajectory, and perhaps it was for the best that it never went that far.
Why was the Hacienda and Friday’s Nude night in particular, as opposed to the other nights, such an important place for you at that time?
I feel a bit reluctant to mention the drugs, but you can’t get away from the drugs. We all started taking ecstasy together – and by ‘we’, I don’t just mean our friends, but I mean everyone in The Hacienda on a Friday night – and it was incredible. I’d been going out for years in Manchester already. Generally indie nights at The Venue, Boardwalk, The Ritz and places like that, and The Hacienda sometimes on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Clubbing was ‘alright’, and I enjoyed it, but suddenly in 1989 (for me – I know it was earlier for some), it was like I’d been woken from my sleep, and going out on a Friday became a mystical experience. It felt IMPORTANT. Once I’d been grabbed by the place, then I started to appreciate just how bloody good the music was as well, and I think the music has stayed with me more than anything else.
You poked fun at Boys Own and London culture. Did it feel like there was a North/ South divide – what made the North better?
Haha, yeah, I think everyone in Manchester feels that north / south divide thing, don’t they? We used to read NME, and once the acid house thing started up, you’d read these articles where they’d send a journalist up to Manchester and they’d just be talking about a couple of indie bands and a few gigs, and not mention the house music that was in the air in Manchester, that was everywhere, they’d not mention acid house at all, and it seemed bizarre. They might be covering The Stone Roses in the article, but The Stone Roses would be dancing to acid house in The Hacienda that week, and that influence wasn’t being mentioned in the music press at all, or only in the most condescending ways, it seemed bizarre.
We did have a bit of a sneering attitude to London and the south, but on reflection I think that was a bit silly, and I can’t really defend it now. I think partly it might have been that we just didn’t get much coverage or recognition, as the main magazines were based in London, but I dunno.
Obviously the city gained a reputation (as did the club) for violence and gang activity around doors and the supply of drugs. What are feelings about that, both at the time and now, in relation to the Hacienda?
I guess it was inevitable. There’s a neat parallel with the effect of the drugs themselves. You start off with a euphoric burst of energy, and everything is amazing, then eventually you feel strung out and stretched too far, followed by twitchiness, paranoia and a feeling of doom. That trip played out over the life of the magazine, and over the course of a few years in Manchester’s club scene as well.
I don’t think nightclubs work as long-standing institutions, and the Hacienda not being around now is probably for the best. Let younger generations build their own legends, without any baggage from the past.
What for you were the original ideals (socially and/or politically) of Acid House? And how do you feel about the way in which DJ culture and Clubs themselves have evolved and changed into more of a business model?
It felt like we were at the dawn of something special in 1989. A whole generation (or so it seemed) full of optimism and effortlessly removing the barriers and the differences between us all. It felt like more than just hedonism, but only in the vaguest, non-specific ways. I guess that’s kind of evaporated since. Maybe that’s a feeling everyone has at that time of their life, no matter where you are or who you’re with? I don’t have any strong feelings about DJ culture or clubbing. I still like house music, still listen to people like Sasha, but very rarely go to nightclubs any more.
In terms of ethnicity and class. How well do you think each was represented at The Hacienda?
A few years ago I saw an acquaintance on twitter complaining about a clip he’d seen of The Hacienda, from the acid house days, saying it just looked like a bunch of straight white blokes getting off their head, and that rave culture was a load of bollocks. I can’t speak for rave culture, but The Hacienda wasn’t that at all. It felt to me like the best possible mix of people you could get in Manchester, in terms of ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, etc. A wonderful combination of everything the city had to offer. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how it felt to me at the time.
Was Tony Wilson a spokesman for the generation? If so, how did you identify with him?
Tony Wilson was an odd character for anyone my age from the North West. We grew up with him as this super smarmy TV host on various news and current affairs programmes. The natural reaction for any young, cynical teenager was to hate him. Then you learn from someone at school that he’s got a record label or something, and you get an inkling that he’s not quite what he seems. You listen to what he says on those music programmes he presented a bit more closely – maybe he’s more than just a smarmy presenter? Then as you grow older you learn a bit more about Factory and The Hacienda, and the bands, and he changes in your mind into something else. Something inspiring.
I’ve been in business in creative fields a couple of times, and I can honestly say that Tony Wilson was a big inspiration in terms of how I went about things. I don’t mean writing terrible contracts on napkins, necessarily, but more in terms of wanting to make something great, something special, something that will be remembered, and getting the best out of creative people you’re working with.
From the time of Freaky Dancing could you name a couple of tracks which signified everything the magazine was about?
Ralphi Rosario – You Used To Hold Me. I think that was my first, stand out memory on the dancefloor, seeing the crowd reacting, the way everyone in the place knew the tunes, it was wonderful.
Kid n Play – 2 Hype (that UK mix, not sure the proper name of it). My second dancefloor memory. The way the whole place would just freeze when that intro started.
Stakker – Humanoid. Just incredible. Still sounds awesome today.
Why did you stop producing Freaky Dancing? And would you be tempted to do it again?
Mainly we were just knackered. We’d put out 11 issues in not much more than a year, while also holding down fairly high pressure full time jobs, and being in a band. The magazine was actually starting to get really good by the end, so I can’t actually remember exactly why we stopped. I think the energy from the scene itself, that had been propelling us, had dissipated, and we didn’t have enough energy ourselves to keep it going without that wave behind us.
I’d publish comics again, and give them away, but I don’t think I could do anything at the speed we managed back then.
Tell us about what you and Paul are up to these days. And what would you say you taken from those experiences which has informed your life now?
I still design and make video games, now as an indie, working with my brother as The Pickford Bros. Our last game was nominated for a BAFTA, but made no money. We also do a comic together, Plok, featuring the star of one of our SNES games from the 1990s.
I think I’ve still got, and always had, the do-it-yourself ethic that led to us making a fanzine, and that’s reflected in the games and comics I’ve made since then. And I honestly thing the acid and the ecstasy have made me a better person.
The Quietus Presents The Freaky Dancing Book Launch at The Soup Kitchen, Manchester on Saturday March 2.