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Test Pressing

Dave Dorrell / Part Two

Here’s the second part of our interview with Dave Dorrell moving from the RAW days up to acid house, major label deals with Polydor Records, ‘Pump Up The Volume’ and it’s lack of follow-up. Images by james McLintock.

So going forwards, many of the Soul/Jazz Funk DJs took a while to adopt to the acid house thing whereby you, from what I understand, seemed to jump straight in and feel right at home. What was the appeal to you?

It was at RAW when I played my first Acid House record. I had a copy of ‘Funkin With The Drums’ and I didn’t really know where it fitted. It was kind of an anomaly and no-one was writing about this stuff, no internet, so nowhere to find out what it was about. So it just existed as a bit of vinyl which I had but couldn’t play [out].

There was no scene to attach it to…

There was no scene. There were no vocals. It was just a drum machine. And I think there were at the time early attempts to make similar music going on in Nottingham and Manchester. I say Nottingham specifically as Graeme Park was recreating sounds from these records in the studio. So one of these records I was playing at Raw was T-Coy ‘Carino’ which no-one saw as a house record at the time but you look back on it now and it was obviously an attempt to make a house record.

Yeah it sounds like a Latin tune…

Yeah that whole Latin thing out of NY was also kind of doing stuff that was a bit more hip-hop. It was toying with a scene that was growing up around the Paradise Garage but Chicago probably inspired it. Maurice and Noel were trying to play more up-tempo records at that time. I remember them playing Fern Kinney ‘Groove Me’ on plus 8 because it had a 4/4 beat and if you went really fast on it it sounded like a house record and those were the kind of moments when you thought ‘mmmn – there is something in this’.

And then acid as a sound landed in a pile of records in front of me and I still have all three of them. ‘Land Of Confusion’ was the first one that I heard and I was like ‘what is this?’. And it wasn’t as if I was from a purist background so I was like does it have a German influence? No. Does it have an industrial background? Yes, sort of but not really. And it didn’t sound like anything. I didn’t get it. We were getting most of our records from New York and I bought all three acid house records that day that had come in and I played them back-to-back. Another one was Phuture’s ‘Acid Trax’. I played them early as I wanted to see what they were like on the big system at RAW, we had an amazing sound system there, and they sounded incredible. And everyone just kind of stood there in horror (laughs). I told this story a few times. The club started filling up over the course of playing three acid house records back-to-back and at the end of it I thought ‘where can we go from here?’ so I put on ‘Cross The Tracks’ which was the biggest track in London at the time and everyone ran on the dance floor. And I thought whatever that was before, that is really something. Danny and Jenny (Rampling) came down, they were already doing Shoom, it was running parallel, and they did a Wednesday night at RAW with Kid Batchelor. I think about 80-100 came. You know, smoke was going all night, they had Smiley t-shirts and we were like ‘it’s all a bit weird this’ and something’s happening but no-one could quite work out what it was…

So it was the suburban kids that came along and kicked that whole thing along…

Just like with punk, absolutely, maybe it was about money, maybe they are just out there in the suburbs and they are more adventurous…

Something to do…

But yeah, I knew Oakey and all that anyway and it all meshed.

We like that whole Balearic thing at Test Pressing. What records were your favourite records at that time?

I might have to take another pill to feel the same way about Mandy Smith as I did then, but there was a particular little niggly mix by PWL that took Finitribe and mixed it over Mandy Smith. I still listen to Finitribe. I was going to Rough Trade a lot so I guess Split Second and all of those Front 242 records. I was listening to a lot of electronic music to be specific. The funny thing was my old school friend, Luca Anzilotti (one half of SNAP!) had moved to Frankfurt with his family during his last year of school and we got back in touch about ‘86 and I was going to Frankfurt to the Dorian Grey. I mean that club was like nothing in London at that time. You had to go in through Frankfurt airport, past people with trolleys and suitcases, in through what looked like an outdoor café, and from there you’re in. They had huge strobes built into the floor. So you’d go into the club and DJ Hell was the warm-up DJ for DJ Dag and Dag was a legend in Germany at the time. He played stuff that no-one in England was hearing, though some bits were slipping in from Ibiza, which was the kind of Front 242, Split Second sort of tracks. Skinny Puppy, Severed Heads ‘Hot With Fleas’ and things. KFMDM. So I am standing there looking at the DJ, the sound system is incredible, the music is really industrial and clangy and then suddenly this massive Star Trek laser, super strobe goes off for second and it was like ‘shit’. So those elements were really important to me and I came back with tons of records from Frankfurt. Anyway, for me its Finitribe, Mandy Smith and Split Second. Who would put those three in a box together?

So taking it a step forward again, like a lot of people you went from DJing to the studio, when was that an angle?

I was DJ-ing at the RAW one night and this American guy came up to me at the end of night and said ‘I really enjoyed your set – I’m here setting up a music channel called MTV that you might have heard of’. They were setting up MTV Europe. He asked if I’d like to make a musical identity for the channel and offered me an inordinate amount of money to go in to the studio. He wanted me to create a series of 15-second ‘idents’ to go with the animations but we didn’t have those so we had to make them blind. I had a friend of mine called Martin Young who was in Colourbox, and I asked him if we could get a studio as I had all this money. That was the first attempt to do something and it was hugely influenced by what was going on in New York at the time but with a British slant. We were just taking bits and pieces and just layering them all down and it was soon after that in Spring Summer ’87 Martin called me up and said I am in the studio and its going nowhere, do you want to come back in and go back down the avenue we were mucking about with for MTV. I was like ‘yeah sure’. I think he had this kind of basic rhythm track going and the initial idea (from owner of 4 AD, Ivo Watts-Russell) was that he’d work with AR Kane but they had kind of fallen out so he had to deliver something and so went in there and that became the prototype for ‘Pump Up The Volume’.

How did CJ come into it?

CJ was in the band I was managing at the time – Nasty Rox. He was the DJ. Nellee Hooper was the percussionist, John Waddell on guitar, Leo T on bass and Dan Fox on vocals. I’d just swung them a deal with ZTT I thought this was the best thing that could ever happen…

Of course, Trevor Horn at the time was pretty special…

We did the deal, and I was writing about them, promoting gigs and then Trevor got called into court with Frankie Goes to Hollywood so Trevor didn’t produce the record and Steve Lipson did, and he is great as well, but with Trevor Horn it may well have been a different record.

So back to M/A/R/R/S – why no follow up?

Well we started on it. We did a couple of things. We took studio time. We had a very Acid based track we were working on and a few other things then we got a law suit from Cadburys or whatever and it just got a little weird and it fell to pieces. It was kind of odd and it just ended up as a one-off and probably for the best. I guess if we’d been a little bit more focused but CJ was in Nasty Rox, Martin had Colourbox with his brother Steve and his commitments lay there. There’s demos somewhere but we never gave anyone anything.

On the surface you wouldn’t think 4AD (the label that released ‘Pump Up The Volume’) was a good record label for an out and out dance record but the more and more I listen to music on the label there’s a lot of drum machines going on, they are just better at hiding it under layers of guitars or whatever…

I think the walls of music culture were fairly permeable at the time. I think if you look at what was going on you could see that. People were like what is the difference between New Order and Bobby O and it was basically a northern vocal and that’s it. And then you can kind of see there’s not a big leap between New Order and the Cocteau Twins. So you see its all different micro shades from the same spectrum.

So from there you and CJ went off and you were in the studio a lot…

We got asked to go in. A lot of people wanted to trade on the name. We weren’t really mercenary about it but people were asking if we wanted to remix stuff, so we were like ok.

Who was the engineer on your records?

Robin Hancock was our preferred, he now owns Wright Brothers over in Borough market supplying Oysters to the best restaurants in London…

So what were you remixing at the time?

Well we got to do Nu-Beat records like Jade 4U, KAOS ‘Definition Of Love’, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers….

Whose idea was it to lay Aaron Neville’s ‘Hercules’ under your mix of ‘I Come Off’?

I can lay claim to that. I loved that record but it was a bastard to do. 4th & Broadway had it for the UK and they asked us to do it but they said they needed it by January 2nd. CJ was like I don’t want to do it and I was like ‘nah, I really want to do it’, so we booked time on Boxing Day and the day after that. That Aaron Neville break featured on an NME cassette and Neil Spencer had turned me onto it and I was like ‘ok this is ripe for abuse’. So we asked Andrew Hale (Sade) to come in to play keyboards so he came down with his keyboard and set up and we were like ‘we haven’t got a fucking clue’. Then we were like actually – ‘you know that bit in Once In A Lifetime’, it fits perfectly over this’ and if you listen carefully that keyboard line is nicked from Talking Heads. So we delivered it and they (Delicious Vinyl) hated it and I was like ‘we have given up fucking Christmas to do this’ so Julian Palmer who was the head of 4th & Broadway used it as the last track on the B-side of the American one but when it came to the UK they slapped it on the A-side.

What was happening club-wise for you at that time?

I’d been doing Love at the Wag.

Ah, before we go there I’ve just remembered you had a label as well with Polydor…

Yeah that’s right. I’d met Dave Angel in Berwick Street market one afternoon and we got talking. He’d done a bootleg of Sweet Dreams and I thought you know what I know everyone in the record companies so I phoned up RCA and they said we love that but we can’t put it out and then I managed to ok it with Dave Stewart and they couldn’t find the multi-track so Dave and me went in the studio and that was the birth of my relationship with Dave, who I then signed to Love Records…

So Love (Dorrell’s label with Polydor) was one of the first ‘dance’ affiliated labels?

Yeah I guess so. I got a deal out of David Munns the head of Polydor and I was on my way to ink the contract by the flyover in Hammersmith and I had a mobile phone and London records called me up and said what are you doing? Why are you going to Polydor with this? Bring the contract and we’ll cross out Polydor and write London (Records) on it. The rivalry between the two labels at the time was intense. I probably regret not doing that because David Munns was saying ‘we’re going to put dance music on the map’ so I was like ‘ok… sign the contract’ and then he stuck it to me cause he disappeared after 8 months and got moved upstairs to run the whole group and I got completely screwed. Completely screwed. I remember the first record I put out, which we were told was going to go top ten, went in at 41. Someone tipped me off that the head of marketing, I know who you are and what you did (laughs), had taken the ‘barcode’ off our record and put a Jason Donovan ‘barcode’ across all our 12s. Jason Donovan went in the top ten and we were stranded. It was one of those things, I was suddenly aware of the vicious nature of record companies and a year and a half it all come to an end.

So was it back to DJing then?

No not at all. The last band that I wanted to sign to the label on the back of a three track demo was called Future Primitive, and I knew the singer from the London club scene, Gavin Rossdale. I thought ‘oh fuck this I’m going to manage this instead’. I hated the label so I went off and managed bands again and they became Bush and off we went.

When was the last time you DJ’d?

The last gig I did was for Craig Richards. It had been a really great night and he came up and I said ‘well that’s the last record’ and he said ‘you can play another one’ and I said ‘no that’s the last record I am playing as a DJ’ and I cancelled all my gigs and went to the States with the band. And that was it. I went to chase it.

Do you regret cutting back on DJing to go into management?

The house wave had kind of crashed, Movement 98 anybody? I’d been doing Love at the Wag for two and a half years, a really good run, great DJs coming through the door, Trouble and stuff. Oh and Steve Proctor. (To the dictaphone) ‘What’s with this I was your warm up DJ Steve? It was my club!’ That’s what his website says. ‘I employed you! Big kisses Steve’.

After that I got a phone call from Nicky Holloway asking if I wanted to do the Milk Bar so I thought a Saturday night there would be brilliant. I said to Pete (Tong) do you want to DJ there with me and we called it Hot for the first few months and it had become more Balearic again and House no longer dominated the playlist. You had Soul II Soul and stuff and Italo was coming in and it was a right old mix up and that made it feel like a really good club again. We did it for a couple of years on a Saturday night. The Milk Bar was one of the best clubs I ever did. The bouncers were dancing, the bar staff were on the bar pushing the kids off and everyone singing along to ‘Like A Prayer’. You are in DJ heaven.

They were good nights and then clubbing took this other leap forward and I used to spend my nights running between jelly shots and bottles of Sol at the Milk Bar to go and see Weatherall DJing at Flying across the alleyway, getting knocked out hearing him drop the Primals for the first time down there in a cloud of smoke. I made friends with that whole Flying lot and then all of a sudden I’m dong gigs in Nottingham and Glasgow… I did Boy’s Own in Sussex, one of the best gigs I went to, and I had a nightmare that night and I played Salsoul 3001 (a disco soul version of the 2001 theme tune) and I was so off my head I couldn’t DJ. It was so hot that the sweat was dripping from the roof of the marquee onto the records and the needles were just skidding across but it was a beautiful night. So there were those boys and the Slough posse and Charlie (Chester) had found the next wave really. It was another door opening and another peek into a new world. That period, and the music, were fantastic. You could play what you wanted and the crowd were really responsive…

So it all joins up…

I think I went from RAW to Love to The Milk Bar into the Flying mob for a bit. We did the first gig with Sasha in London, Milk Bar Saturday night. The first gig Sven Vath did, Milk Bar Saturday night. So we had all these connections and bringing them in but there was a point around ‘93 when it all went a bit handbag and by ‘94 I didn’t like the music anymore. I didn’t like the predominant sound at that time. There was no soul in it and it felt extremely white and that was never really what I was for. So at that point it felt time to put it down as I wasn’t as in love with it as I had been over the past years.

What do you think about club reunions?

You know honestly I don’t really like these ideas. I try to avoid them. I’m not really for nostalgia. I don’t think it smells as nice as you think it will. Reunions feel to me like a pair of old shoes. They never feel right even though they were perfect at the time, but when you try and put your feet back in them, they just don’t look right. They don’t feel right.

What do you see the difference between doing things then, making your own flyers compared to now and they way you can get all your information to people in minutes.

The basic elements don’t change. Watching footage of the Dirtbox in Stockwell recently, someone had left a comment that it ‘looks like Dalston today’ and I thought you know what it is like Dalston today. And though it’s probably much easier to make your own flyer on your laptop and print up your own flyer it’s still pretty much the same thing to promote your own night. You don’t have to go round clubs giving out flyers, but if you aren’t actively out there anyway then no-ones going to come. You have to be out there promoting your own thing even if by word-of-mouth and that doesn’t change. I could open a Facebook page and start up a club night but whose going to come unless I actively promote it.

Finally, what’s more important, the art or the money.

The art! I now work as an artist with Melissa Frost and Mihda Koray under the name Slayer Pavilion. We ‘ghost’ Biennales. It’s a lot of work and I probably lose money but ultimately it’s very rewarding. The money? That was never the reason. The crack was the reason. If you could get money out of a label, great, but the things I felt the most connected to were connected to having a good time and meeting people. If it’s good it tends to make money anyway. I don’t think anyone should go without remuneration for their efforts.

Thanks to Terry Farley, Pete Tong and Frank Tope for the additional questions.

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