Anarcho -punk to acid house
My girlfriend shouts at me. Here's why. Sometimes I come back from a gig with no money. She goes mad, and I'm like "I couldn't take any money off them! They were such nice people!!"
I've lived in North London all my life - well actually, I was born in an East London suburb (Hornchurch, Essex but we won't go into that!)
When I was a teenager I devoted most of my time to punk (inspired as I was by bands like Sex Pistols, Stranglers, Wire and the like). I was in a few bands and we never had the chance to play out, until the squat party scene took off and we played these mad free gigs in illegal venues. Such as West London's Centro Iberico Anarchy Centre and the original Anarchist Centre in Wapping (set up by money from a Crass and Poison Girls record). I was having a great time, meeting really interesting people and learning a whole new political agenda. The sheer attitude that dripped from anarcho-punk bands like Sub-Humans, Poison Girls, Apostles, Crass, etc really challenged the way I thought, whilst the burgeoning independent label scene spearheaded originally by labels like Rough Trade, Fast Records and Fuck Off Records showed that there was a very real alternative to the major label music stranglehold. It opened my eyes to things I wouldn't normally see.
Over the next few years my life changed. Somehow I managed to start and finish a degree in humanities (English and Philosophy) at Hatfield Poly (now Hertfordshire University) in between playing in bands including the infamous Hagar The Womb. After and during my degree I devoted me time to music, holding down shit warehouse jobs, signing on, living in dodgy rented accomodation or squatting and surviving on my wits.
Music always came first for me, and also a realisation that I didn't want to work for the corporate machine in the usual way. When Hagar the Womb split and the whole punk thing started to become a parody of itself, I started another band called "We Are Going To Eat You", which later became "Melt". We started to write songs and flex our musical muscles. In retrospect, some of the records we made sounded "indie" and dated, but it's the one and only time we tried to enter the music industry game by courting big record companies and trying to get a deal. We got fucked; caught between an indie label and various majors we got caught in a legal tangle that really killed the band off just as we were starting to get good. It taught me the one thing that I should have learnt already. Never sell out - and never lose control of what you do.
During the band's demise I started to get into electronic music a lot more, and inevitably dance music via Mark Stewart and the Mafia, Tackhead, Revolting Cocks and suchlike. I eventually ended up at techno around 89/90. It was at this time that I met Julian, and later Aaron, who were both into the same stuff and squatting in the same part of north-east London as me. Our mates and our scene was still very punk/squat/traveller orientated and dance music hadn't really made that much of an impact on it. Whilst me and Julian expanded our record collections and went out to raves every weekend, we still felt that this music and the new lifestyle politics of "rave" could impact on our scene without the commercial bullshit angle that was beginning to permeate it.
It was at this time that some of my friends put together a mini sound system and asked me to come down to a party in a squatted pub in Islington. It wasn't a commercial event, and it was set up like a punk squat party, but they had DJs that played techno. They called themselves The Shrape Collective, (later "Urge"). At the same time Julian was throwing similar parties in his big squatted house in Stoke Newington with bands on one floor, and techno on the other. There weren't any DJs though; just tapes. That all changed when Aaron showed his face one night; he had decks and suggested that at the next party the three of us should play together. We did, and Liberator was born.
We threw several urban parties through the autumn and winter of 1991 into 1992 whilst we became involved with many of the fledgling free party sound systems which had started up prior to and during this era, the most famous of which is probably Spiral Tribe.
Spiral Tribe was the essence of the outdoor rave scene; lots of people didn't want to pay ?30 to get into parties so they went and did it in fields, warehouses; wherever. The Bedlam crew were doing stuff around this time. We met them through Conspiracy, a party crew who we worked with during the winter of 1991, and continued to do stuff with them over the next couple of years. That period was fantastic, because the authorities were unsure of how to respond to it all until 1992 when it all exploded, culminating in the legendary Castlemorton party - and the subsequent Criminal Justice Act.
If you've never been to a free party then you're missing out. It's a shame that as a social phenomenon at least, the impact of this truly underground scene hasn't been more universally felt. It's different to club culture; more race and class divides are broken within it than anywhere else. No-one's really studied it as a social thing, maybe because it seems intimidating at first glace; I remember in the middle of the 1980s before the E explosion, the whole youth culture thing was pretty dangerous! You'd get punks fighting mods and god knows who else getting involved. E was saviour of all that, and E grew out of free parties. It turned a lot of people on to other things and made them do things a bit more meaningful than fighting rival factions. The free party scene took this a stage further and politicised it.