The impact of the Warriors Dance label has been quietly seismic. Most obviously upon the jungle and drum ‘n’ bass that succeeded it but its wider reverberations are still being felt across the hardcore continuum and beyond. To say Warriors Dance was a house label is a bit like saying On-U Sound was “just” a reggae label. Its blueprint might have been the nascent US house music first making its impact felt on our shores in the late 80s, but its roots were deep in the British diaspora. Make no mistake, this music could only have come from one place, it was proudly black and British. Amongst other things Warriors Dance created a thrillingly authentic hybrid of reggae and house that hasn’t ever been surpassed.
For all this its history has not been well documented. Only now are the records being reissued and up until very recently you’d have been hard pushed to find much information online. As such we were incredibly excited to get the opportunity to pose some questions to label’s lynchpins – Tony Addis, Kid Batchelor and Nicky Trax. And boy did they deliver the goods, going deep into their music histories, the conditions that gave birth to Warriors Dance, its working practices, what happened next and how they feel about the label’s enduring cultural legacy.
First up Tony Addis…..
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I grew up originally in Lagos, Nigeria and then moved to St Johns Wood in London. I hung around Ladbroke Grove spending much of my time in the area as a dreadlocks rastaman. We were all dreadlocks rastamen back then. So when we started Addis Ababa local artists and black musicians, such as Aswad, knew of us from word of mouth. Aswad recorded ‘their ‘Live N’ Direct’ album at Addis and many singles during 1984-85.
Another friend of Addis was Radio 1’s reggae DJ, Ranking Miss P (the sister of Rita Marley) and she recorded some singles here. Of course my No 1 superstar Big Youth recorded at the studio after being introduced by my good friend the late Jah Tetla. Dennis Brown recorded his ‘Promised Land’ album here and Wham! did their early demos in the studio, enlisting our receptionist Pepsi who joined them on backing vocals alongside Shirley.
UK reggae band Matumbi recorded a lot of tracks here and were one of the early success stories.
I was known as an African dreadlocks who could help solve people’s music problems. I had the studio, engineers and producers for them to work with. At that time none of the UK guys were getting signed – only Island Records and Virgin were signing black artists and they were very selective – no real street sounds or artists were getting a look in. That’s where we came in and the attention and heat on the studio helped artists move into the spotlight they deserved. My crew were known as the Addis Posse and many of them were recording artists in their own right.
Before I set up Addis Ababa my longstanding friend Pablo Gad already had an international reggae hit with ‘Hard Times’ and he did lots of different music, from reggae to hip hop, including an album for Rhythm King, who were a dance offshoot of Mute Records. Pablo was also great friends with Winston Fergus, they were always making music together. Winston was a church trained musician in the Gregory Isaacs lovers rock style and was already known from his ‘Corner Girl’ track.
And of course Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – we got on like brothers and he spent lots of time recording at Addis.
Was music a big part of your early life? What kind of music was around you as a child and what do you remember making an impact?
We loved music when we were growing up and were always there with Fela Kuti. You hung out with Fela or King Sunny Ade – they were brilliant people. Cream’s drummer Ginger Baker was in Lagos then playing and recording and then the soldiers came to kill us and we all had to run away. I was sent to London to stay with an uncle and go to school.
My cousin Dusty Odelawe Johnson was Fela Kuti’s manager – we were all Lagos boys and all a bit crazy then.
I’m assuming that soundsystem culture was a formative part of your life. Can you recall any dances that were key to your journey?
Yes, I used to go to lots of the sound system clashes – all bad rastamen did. On Sundays we would go and listen to Jah Shaka at Phoebe’s. One of my favourites was the Rolling Twenties where we would check out Sir Coxsone and his crew and there was a big hall in Harlesden which held some great sound system battles. Me and my crew, Pablo Gad, Junior Delgado, Keith Douglas, Tony Douglas and Michael Prophet, were always together listening to dub and reggae.
Any plans to reissue those incredible dub LPs you put out in the 80s?
Yes I would like to out them out again but there’s no real distribution for heavy dub reggae anymore – is there? Mr Palmer at Jetstar was the main man for all the distribution of reggae in the UK and things have all gone out the window since then it seems to me.
Can you talk about the formation of the studio and the thinking behind it?
Addis Ababa Studio was set up in 1980 on the Harrow Road because there weren’t any music studios catering to black musicians and recording artists at that time. It was originally an illustration and printing studio producing reggae artwork albums, posters, postcards etc and then I took it over and turned it into the Addis Ababa recording studio.
It seems like quite a cast of stars moved through the place – Tony Allen to Soul II Soul. Anyone you particularly enjoyed working with? And anyone your particularly did not….
One of the biggest success stories to have come out of Addis was Soul II Soul, who I met through my friend Jennifer, their in-house artist at the time. I used to go to to Soul II Soul’s Sunday sessions at the Africa Centre and very soon we started working with them. Jazzie B came to record at Addis with Nellee Hooper & the rest is history. They recorded their first single ’Fair Play’ with Rose Windross there, and then the huge ‘Keep On Moving’, ’In The Heat of The Night’, ‘African Chant’ – in fact quite a lot of tracks from the first and second Soul II Soul albums were produced here.
No Smoke is one of my brothers that recorded with us in the studio and for Warriors Dance. When he came to the studio we just clicked and from then we were brothers. He went on to set up Addis Ababa 2 when he moved to Paris. No Smoke co-produced the project alongside Paul Waller and me. Jazzie B also helped on a No Smoke track too.
No Smoke used to play with drums with Tony Allen who was Fela Kuti’s drummer. Tony Allen recorded ’NEPA’ – ‘Never Expect Power Always’ – which was was the slogan for the electricity shortage in Nigeria at that time. We go back years as he used to stay in a flat owned by my cousin in Finchley Road and we hung out with him and Fela. Fela recorded his last album at Addis, which was engineered by Cliff Hanger.
No Smoke also introduced Manu Dibango to Addis and he recorded lots of music with us.
Longsy D also recorded his ‘Hip-Hop Reggae’ single at Addis and Shut Up & Dance started there with their early demos.
Addis Posse manager Mambo (who worked with Neneh Cherry and Pete Tong at that time) introduced Apache Indian to the studio and he recorded his ’Chok There’ hit here.
Another early supporter was Rhythm King, part of the Mute Records set up, which was based just up from us on the Harrow Road. We worked with various hip-hop artists like Schooly D and the Three Wise Men, as well as commercial artists such as Depeche Mode, Renegade Soundwave and S-Express (aka DJ Mark Moore, another West Londoner). There was a huge creative buzz in the 80s and as well as house, all kinds of styles were being thrown down.
How did you first hear house music. Can you remember where you were, who you were with and what you thought about it? Did it “click” then and there or did it grow on you?
I first started hearing house music on the radio…stuff like Farley Jack Master”Jack The Groove’ and Steve Silk Hurley ‘Jack Your Groove’, ‘Acid Trax’ by Phuture – all those early house tunes were amazing. Also I was good friends with the DJ Kid Bachelor and also introduced me to house – it was an exciting time. I was a big fan of West London DJ & Kiss FM’s the late Colin Faver. House music just exploded – there was nothing like it. It reminded me of the 70s punk movement as its vibration was incredible and similar.
You heard house music on the pirate radio stations like LWR and Kiss FM but there were smaller local stations such as Time FM in Harlesden and I actually had a Friday afternoon show on there for a time in 1988-1989.
For me, the only person who came close to successfully fusing house and reggae as well as you was Bobby Konders. Were you aware of him? Who else from the world of house did you like?
I’m not good with names…ha ha but knew Bobby Konders through listening to house and Kid playing tracks like this. I really liked the acid house sound when it broke as it was unlike anything that came before and also techno which was another out there sound.
Where did you meet Lawrence and Nicky?
I knew Kid’s rastaman brother and he introduced us and we got on really well from the start. Kid was always laughing and we would end up in his flat chatting and listening to music – we were great friends.
When house music exploded it was natural that Kid would record at Addis Ababa Studios. He started his Bang The Party stuff with Keith ‘KCC’ Franklin and Leslie Lawrence. He was an evangelist for house music – really ahead of the game and his infectious enthusiasm attracted lots of fans including me. He was really hooked up with influential American DJs like Tony Humphries and had a huge breadth of musical knowledge. I used to go and watch him play incredible sets every Sunday at Confusion, which was run by Nicky Trax, who also worked as PR and Label Manager for Warriors Dance. The whole thing at that time was tight knit like a family. We were all hyped up about house music and wanted to see how far things could go…the possibilities seemed endless then.
Kid also did edits and mixes for other Warriors Dance artists like No Smoke and he was instrumental in breaking Warriors Dance tracks such as No Smoke’s ‘Koro-Koro’, his own BTP releases such as ‘Release Your Body’ and ‘Bang Bang You’re Mine’ and ‘Let The Warriors Dance’ by The Addis Posse at his RIP warehouse party and Confusion club residencies. He was an incredible DJ and one of the figureheads of the Warriors Dance label and sound.
Warriors Dance was almost scarily ahead of its time, particularly in terms of drum ‘n’ bass / jungle. But it seemed you didn’t really get involved by then. What happened and were you interested in the later developments you kicked off?
I started producing breakbeats early on, and knew it was going to be big because we had a few American companies like Profile wanting to buy us on the back of ‘Let The Warriors Dance’ and ‘Koro-Koro’. Looking at the sounds now you can see it was the early template for jungle and drum ‘n’ bass but it’s all an evolution of funk and black music reinventing itself and incorporating elements in its creative process.
I know a lot of people have been interested in reissuing the Warriors Dance catalogue for a little while. Why now?
I’ve had my hands full working on other things not around music and the timing was right with Above Board, who seemed genuinely keen to put Warriors Dance back on the map. They also understand how we work and have helped guide the new release schedule so we make a great team and they love music – like I do.
Can you tell us about your current involvement with music?
Well it’s an exciting time for Warriors Dance as we’re being acknowledged for our pivotal role in the formation of the UK electronic music scene. Its great to see our original grooves selling again and getting lots of love from DJs and fans, as well as releasing new mixes like Max D’s wonderful version of Watts Noize ‘Its My Life’.
I keep in touch with Tony Allen (who’s working with Damon Albarn of The Gorillaz) and we’re talking about getting back into studio and are planning to go to Monserrat to make an album.
Some records from the Warriors Dance catalogue have been reissued and there is also a run of t-shirts.