Suddi Raval returns to his The Ultimate Escape Project guise with this third album in a series of events. Totalling fifteen tracks, including a sparkling Mathew Sargent remix of Peng Win, what is immediately apparent is the breadth of scale employed here musically – like he has been soaking up just about everything. The rough and tumble drums of the caustic Xyloid are soon offset by the gentler, atmospheres of Orbit. As industrial sounds are employed on Akwizishun, and you can also hear that echo on Laser Beams And Mirror Balls. Not surprisingly Acid House plays its part too with the devilish Quark sounding fizzy and robust. The tense landscapes of Egg Mobile then finish in a blaze of undulating atmospheres that ripple across the stereo with a fevered rendition of voices. And all the while there is a sense of exploration at play here, both in terms of rhythms alongside production prowess, that is never afraid to poke at what’s possible.
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.
Hello and welcome to Magazine Sixty, Suddi. How excited are you about the launch of your new book: A Brief History Of Acid House? And what is it about the Acid sound that is so special to you?
Excitement levels are pretty high. I really wanted to get this out this year due to the 30 year thing. The main reason why Acid is so special to me, is because of the impact it had on me when I was just a kid. I discovered it when I was 15 years old and fell in love with it immediately. I was just the right ages to get totally consumed by it. I had hundreds of smiley t-shirts and embraced it like it was the most important thing in the world. I never could have imagined all the controversy surrounding it would have happened after it spread across the UK and then for there to be huge parties revolving around the music just as I was turning 18. It was a wake-up call for me as it was for many others and nothing was ever the same again.
(photo by Paul Husband)
Can you tell us about who are the founding figures in Acid House for you and who would you say were the key electronic music producers before then?
One of the most important figures has to be DJ Ron Hardy. As the legend goes, he played Acid Trax 4 times in one night causing the early House scene to shift in direction. Ron was always more abstract than Frankie Knuckles and after Acid Trax things blew up in Chicago things moved more in Ron’s musical direction. After the first night he played Acid Trax he continued to hammer it without anyone knowing what it was so his followers called it Ron Hardy’s Acid Trax accidentally giving the track and the genre a name. Another great for me is Armando Gallup. He was renowned for his parties in Chicago before he made one of the first Acid House records 151, very shortly after the very first one was made by Phuture.
Obviously Phuture for they created the genre and went to create more absolute gems. Mike Dunn isn’t talked about as much as some of the acid originators but if you listen to tracks such as Face The Nation and Personal Problem, I find his unique take on Acid so beautifully melodic I am amazed he isn’t praised more. Adonis is one of the great unsung heroes of not just Acid but House. Some of his House records were essentially Acid before the genre was even born. I firmly believe that Phuture were listening to Adonis before they created Acid House. Larry Heard, although he has made some of the best Acid House music with tracks such as Sun Don’t Compare, it is his House music that is the most inventive because again, like with Adonis he was making Acid House before it even existed with tracks such as Washing Machine and Ecstasy. I am a firm believer that Acid is both a genre of music and an electronic instrument sound too that can be made on machines other than a TB-303. Larry Heard proves that with some of his Mr. Fingers productions. I never expected Acid House to become as popular as it is again today but the great thing about that is, new music by new producers. Paranoid London are making some blinding new music as is Marquis Hawkes.
Prior to Acid House, I was obsessed with Electro with producers such as Arthur Baker and Juan Atkins with his Model 500 outfit who later went on to give the world Techno.
How long has it taken to research the book? And what inspired you to write it?
Research for the book began many years ago, possibly up to around 10 years ago but as I got busy with musical projects and having a day job things got put on hold. The final product has evolved somewhat as I scaled down the original plan of making an “Acid encyclopedia” called Encyclopedia Acidica. Depending on how things go with this, I will look at finishing that rather ambition project again but much of the work I did researching it has resulted in this smaller project.
Tell us about three of your favourite electronic instruments (drum machines, synthesisers etc) and why their sound resonates with you?
The TB-303 is the single greatest machine ever made. Although there are now a million clones and imitation and some of them replicate it very well, nothing else out there has the same depth of bass and more importantly despite boasting being computer controlled, in a way, it sounds so organic and alive. I absolutely love some of the newer machines that have been built to cash in on the demand. I have bought as many as I can afford. I have 6 now I think. I also think the Korg Monologue is one of the most amazing machines I have ever heard. They got Aphex Twin to create some of the patches and he has even included some of his riffs on there. I have played live sets and incorporated them into the sets they are that good! And finally, the Jupiter 8. I used to have one but had to sell it when I got laid off from work to pay the bills. As depressing as that was, it was possibly the first and most mature thing I’d ever done. People say I am mad to have sold it but it really was a question of house or synth.
You have self published the book. Tell us about that process and what’s happening with the books distribution?
I am going to do a limited edition larger version in A4 to offer something to collect as people who love Acid House and 303’s are so fond of their scene I figured a limited edition version would be a good idea then the book will be available in standard A5 on Amazon.
What is your favourite memory from Together?
People assume being in the charts must have been best times. It was great, I am not denying that but for me, the best times of my life were long before Hardcore Uproar got into the charts: it was the period where Hardcore Uproar became the biggest tune at the Hacienda in the summer of 1990. To have shared it with my best friends Jon and Emma means everything to me as I have those memories to hold onto and cherish forever. There was one night when they played the record twice in one night on the 8th Birthday and as it hit midnight Mike Pickering released balloons from the ceiling. It was so un-Hacienda of them but it was possibly the greatest single moment of my life.
How did you first get introduced to House Music? And how would you compare those days with today’s Dance Music culture?
It was really my school friends who introduced me to House Music. I was still into Electro in 1986 and all my friends who were always really ahead of the game were listening to compilation on FFRR/London records. When I heard what they were listening to, my old Electro comps barely got a look in. I always wrote silly raps inspired by my love of Electro so when I got in House I started writing basslines and melodies. I didn’t think any of it would amount to anything until I met Jonathan Donaghy who I formed Together with.
To compare today’s scene to what happened just after 1988 is difficult as the music and the scene was so new back then, it was bound to feel more exciting but having experienced both of them separately I can honestly say some of the best nights today are as good as what was going on back then. There are 2 clubs in London called I Love Acid and Downfall and I feel due to the sincerity of the crowds they pull, the atmosphere is magical. They have such a playful vibe. No idiots. No aggression. Very few camera phones and no pretence, just pure music and dancing. It is just like it used to be and for a while in the 2000’s when things changed quite a bit I never thought it would come back and certainly didn’t think it would get this good again.
And finally. Tell us about The House Sound Of Together series? And any future musical or writing plans you have?
The House Sound of Together EP’s began with the “FFRREE at Last” EP. A celebratory record after getting out of a nightmare record deal I was trapped in. We wanted to sign to Deconstruction but somehow were forced to sign to a label we didn’t want to be on so when I got out of that deal I rushed to release a record after not having had a record out for sometime but the 2nd EP Volume 2, I really took my time with. It featured a few names that have gone on to do big things such as DJ Sasha who produced one track, Phil Kelsey (PKA) produced another and Rohan Heath (who went on to form The Urban Cookie Collective, The Key The Secret) co-wrote 2 tracks on the EP.
I wrote most of this new EP while I was off with a broken leg. Literally itching to get out, I felt inspired and basslines was filling my head whilst I had one leg propped up. The result was this
EP. The House Sound of Together Volume 3. I originally intended to call it the Alkaline EP as I wasn’t planning to have any Acid on it but Matt Sargeant who I co-produced it with in the end, contributed some essential elements to the EP and lots of them ended up being very Acidy so I had to drop the Alkaline tag.
After Together I went on to release some ambient techno under the name The Ultimate Escape Project. I have written new material which will be released under that name soon. I toyed with releasing those tunes under the name Together but I realised they’re just not Together tracks.
Writing-wise, I have been writing a column called One Foot In The Rave for a magazine for sometime and I have been thinking about expanding on those. They are memoirs related to my experiences during the Acid House era. I want to make it clear, this definitely won’t be an autobiography! Nobody would be interested in my personal life but whilst going to the raves I saw and experienced some truly amazing and at times, shocking things so I hope to write a book called something like “Real life stories from the Acid House frontline”. I like the idea of using a war-term like “frontline” as there were tensions at times and it did get quite risky, especially the night there was a riot and someone had the bright idea to blow up a Police van in Blackburn.
Neat. Concise. And thoroughly charming this breezy, compact look at the history of Acid House reads like an excitable journey through time, then to now. It’s been written from a personal perspective by Suddi Raval as someone who knows about these things from lived experience, hence the Manchester (North of England) slant at times – which makes for a fresh change. And is adorned by cartoon like illustration lending the story an almost innocent, certainly playful aspect while creating the ability to reach out beyond generations – forward thinking! However, as darker moments crossed paths with all that unrestricted, youthful energy and positivity government intervention was never to be far away and that side is also recounted. There is also an additional playlist to help shape the adventure and as with the Art most associated with the music this brief guide is guaranteed to enhance a smile. Either from memory, or indeed via a newly discovered passion.