To those o y'all not paying attention at the back, house music has gone back underground. Into the dark, sweaty basements of Dalston apparently according to a recent article... but I won't bore you with a massive long intro of 'NME scene' proportions better that I tell you that Thunder has been quietly creating amazing scenes up and down the Kingsland Road for a while now. We caught up with one of the founders, Beyond The Stars blogister and all round gent Miles Simpson for his thoughts on all things house, Thunder and a fair bit else besides. They also play R$N vs SOCIETY stage at FARR festival this year. More on that later.
What is is Thunder?
Thunder is a small, underground, house music party, that I run and DJ at with my friends Joseph Apted and Rick Hopkins. It's bit of a movable feast and an ever changing beast. But the basic ingredients stay the same. One guest DJ. A small East London basement. A smoke machine. Sweat. Deeply underground house music. And most importantly, an up for it crowd who know their music, are into all of the above and really like to party.
Where'd the name come from?
It didn't come from one place as such, it just kind of wormed its way into my brain. We wanted to call the night something bold that people would want to be associated with. Thunder felt right and kind of says "This is serious. Ain't no messing. Turn up the bass. Heads down. Into the smoke. And lose control". Well it does to me anyway. We discussed other names but I basically stamped my feet up and down until they agreed with me!
You're a bit old like me... tell us about your first years within the confines of a dark room with a few lights and probably a rubbish soundsystem.
I first went to an acid house party wasn't anywhere cool like Shoom or Clink Street though, it was in a dancehall above an Irish pub in Tufnell Park and was called Space. Lots of dry ice and lasers that spelt the word 'Space' out on the back wall. I caught the house bug there and then, and spent the next year getting into it. I wanted to go to the big orbital raves that summer but lack of transport and enthusiasm from mates limited me to places like Silver City in Wood Green, the Camden Palace, which had a massive Monday nighter back then, and then the Astoria. At the end of that year I got a job in a clothes shop in Soho, where this guy who was also a DJ came to work. He took me and my friend and colleague Steve to Danny Rampling's night Pure Sexy at the recently opened Milk Bar, where I became a member, went every single Wednesday. That really became my gateway into clubbing rather than raving. I was going out at least twice a week back then - Pure every Wednesday and out at least once at the weekend, mainly around Soho and to parties in film studios and so on. Steve then got a job in New York and started sending me Tony Humphries tapes, I went over to see him but by that time he'd discovered the Sound Factory and Junior Vasquez. Suffice to say, I liked it in New York and that period has shaped a lot of what I am into to this day.
Your rather fine Beyond The Stars blog has brightened up many a day of mine. Wonderful name but the film looks fkkin awful: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096921/
Are you mad? That film looks great Cristian Slater and Martin Sheen in a space bandwagon b-movie with a rubbish alien/sc-fi bit at the end? I'm going to buy it. Oh and glad you like the blog.
Why are you so rubbish at maintaining it? It's ace! I demand more...
The reasons are fairly boring really. I like good writing but I'm not a very good writer, so for it to be even halfway decent, I need to put a lot of effort into it. And I'm quite lazy too. It's not the greatest combination for high productivity. I've got some nice little bits that will hopefully see the light of day in the coming months: a look back at Tee Scott's life; the story of Gherkin Records; something on Breeze, a London DJ who sadly passed away in the 1990s; and an article about someone I met who kept an acid house scrap book throughout the late 80s, which is an amazing snapshot in time, sans trendy revisionism.
You're part of this bubbling up Kingsland Road underground house scene. Tell us a bit more about it and what it means to you. Are we stepping into NME 'scene' territory here?!
I'm not sure it's a scene as such, but more a fertile patch of London in which small club nights can take root and flourish. I think we can safely say Shoreditch has had its day and going out round there really can be akin to a night out in Leicester Square. So you need somewhere away from the wallies and the Kingsland Road provides it. Lots of small venues, mainly in basements, run by people who seem fairly amenable to what we want to do. I remember the first time I went to the Superstore, being really taken with the vibe not just of the venue but the area. It’s really where people who go because they love it go out, rather than because it’s where the office party is heading - and this translates into having a receptive, open minded, sexually diverse, racially mixed crowd on the dancefloor, which is exactly what you want.
The nature of the venues mean that smaller, more niche nights have a chance of gaining a foothold, so things like Thunder, Legendary Children, Hardlife, The Idiots Are Winning, Special Request and Northern Purpose have all found basement homes along the road and all doing well, booking exciting DJs and throwing some fairly wild parties. You would just have to spend a few minutes in a curtained toilet cubicle in Vogue Fabrics around 3am to know what I mean.
There’s also a realness to the area that comes with the established local community, so hopefully it won’t go the way of Shoreditch, which was genuinely a semi-derelict waste land in the 1980s and thus a blank canvas.
Essentially, if you like a proper party, with real people, you can do it here.
What is house?
It goes beyond a four to the floor beat and is not just a clichéd feeling. I guess it's an attitude. House was born on the dancefloors of American clubs that were mainly gay and/or black. So whatever 'house' is, it needs to retain a little bit of that. I don't mean loads of derivative bitch tracks but some essence of what house was born out of.
Some things can seem fairly similar but one oozes house and the other does quite the opposite. For example, perma-tanned Essex kids wearing sunglasses on a murky London day swaying along to Lee Foss at the Village Underground is not house, whereas skinny kids and butch queens sweating to Severino or Boris Dolinski in the basement of the of the Dalston Superstore is.
It’s not corporate, it’s not mainstream, it’s not normalised and when it becomes that, it ceases to be house and becomes something else. The mid to late 90s were horrible, not because there wasn’t loads of great house music and house clubs, but because what was once a deeply underground counter culture, become packaged and turned into a commodity for the masses to consume. No wonder young people kicked back against it for so long. No self respecting teenager would want to be associated with that sort of sickly sweet, highly marketed crap. It kind of saddens me that 90s chart music will be some people’s enduring perception of house music. I’m actually glad it’s underground again. Let’s keep it that way.
Why is house?
It's the reason. Without it, I’d be lost.
What is your enduring perception of house music?
The perfect underground culture and most amazing, energising, joyful music known to mankind. I am biased though.
You're obviously still a complete vinyl obsessive. Do you see this as something that will eventually die out or is there still hope for the vinyl enthusiast? Sales of vinyl were up 50% last year so I've obviously argued against my point somewhat!
I’m sure it will die out, one day. I think those sale figures are from a relatively low base but I still think it probably outlive CDs, which must die out as digital technology marches on relentlessly. The thing with vinyl is it’s been around so long, there’s so much of it, collectors will be kept happy way beyond our life times. And for reasons that seem to be documented in some lifestyle magazine article or another every week these days, people who are new to the medium are turned on by what it has to offer – tangible ownership, physicality, durability, aesthetic beauty etc.
Personally, I stuck with vinyl no reason other than I like playing records and the idea of dicking around with CDs just didn’t appeal. As for laptop DJing, I’d rather eat glass. As a DJ, how can that possibly be enjoyable?
On a similar note do you think vinyl has helped create the myth, legend and mystique around electronic music over the past 30 or so years...
Yes! Obscure pressing with photocopied labels and a Detroit area code number as the contact, cover ups, limited editions, sleeve artwork that cost more than the record was sold for, Alan Oldham drawings, hand stamped, hand numbered, white labels with cryptic titles, cheeky bootlegs, faux imports, bits of sneaker in Larry Sherman pressings, warehouse finds in Estonia, warmer bottom ends and all that stuff that makes records desirable must have played a part. Mp3s are inherently non-exclusive and thus more disposable. What desirable about something everybody in world with an internet connection can download?
Let's talk about the recent spate of reissue culture going on. I noted recently that you were on the fence about the incredible Dream 2 Science mini-lp being reissued. For likes of people like me with just a shitty mp3 version of it, it made me very happy but for someone like yourself who probably invested a fair wedge in the original it obviously is a bit of a bittersweet pill?
Ha! I was hamming that up a bit, to be honest, but there is some history to my being annoyed.
I actually first heard Mixmaster Morris play the ‘Padappella’ version of ‘Love Turns to Liquid’ , which is on the remix EP, and was after it for a few years before I finally found it for £1 in a Cash Convertor in Edmonton a couple of years later. I then found a lovely sealed copy of the LP whilst digging in a second hand shop a Finchley a few years ago. It was a fiver.
And therein lies the reason for my irritability. When that record came out, you would have had to be in the shop when they came off the import van, miss it and that was it, it was gone. No internet, no online resources, no YouTube, no downloads, just luck. If you figured out what it was afterwards, then you had to go out to second hand records shops and actually look for it. For year after year, until one day, in some god forsaken pawn shop, bingo, you find a copy. It’s like striking gold and makes sifting through the trillions of ‘Best of Bach’ albums worth while.
Then some smart arse in Holland re-releases it and half the internet is saying “Hmm, yes, this is probably the finest example of Ben Cenac’s post-electro work and I have sought a copy for many years, but have not been able to find one in the mint condition required to do justice to the true majesty of his music” or some such nonsense, the lying gits.
So yeah, I’m fine with it. Re-presses are great.
I think my early musical upbringing is fairly typical of kids on London council estates back then. I got into electro as a young teenager, through the Street Sounds comps and then progressed into a bit of hip hop and even modern soul, like Luther. I started collecting records around then too.
I remember first hearing house and liking it but not really understanding it. In fact, I thought records like Sterling Void ‘Alright’ and Kym Mazelle ‘Useless’ were just upbeat modern soul records. Then, as discussed earlier, I went to an actual house club rather than a club that played some house records. Then it all made sense and I never looked back.
In terms of actually DJing, two brothers who were school mates, Ipen and David Otzen, got me hooked. They were entering DMC and learnt to DJ on crappy little belt drive decks, cutting with one 12” version and one LP version of a track because we couldn’t really afford two copies of the same 12”. They were both very talented and I still think they are two of the most naturally gifted DJs I’ve ever met. Seeing what they could do sparked my interest and bought a set of crappy belt drive Technics SLBD22s off another mate who was upgrading to 1200s, invested in a Realistic mixer from Tandy and I was away!
My first real influence as DJ musically was Danny Rampling. He had a very eclectic style when DJs were generally settling into a one pigeon hole or another. There were many DJs you’d hear play CJ Bolland, Crystal Waters, Chimo Bayo and the Rolling Stones in the same set, but Danny use to do that every Wednesday down at Pure Sexy. With hindsight, this had a massive impact and probably helped shape hotch potchness of my record collection.
The next significant influence was Tony Humphries, whose more regular appearances in the UK coincided with my friend Steve sending me tapes of his mix shows from New York. Humphries had an amazing energy and his mixing style really added to the music. Technically it wasn’t always perfect, with key clashes and stuff like that, but when you think he’d throw live mix radio shows to together with records he’d hardly ever heard, it’s pretty incredible.
I aspire to DJ like that.
Tell us about the Kenny Hawkes house tree T-Shirt.
As you know, Kenny sadly passed away last year. He was a very talented man, who has played a big part in the London house scene. In fact, during the late 90s when house was at it’s most mainstream, he was running one of the most steadfastly underground house nights in the world, in London’s west end. All that aside though, Kenny was also a warm, genuinely lovely person and a bloody funny one too.
Someone came up with the idea of starting a fund to pay for a bench on the Brighton seafront in Kenny’s memory. That idea developed into a musical bench like the Ian Dury one. And people have been coming up with ideas to raise money for it.
I first did the London House Tree, which is kind of a map of London house clubs, back in 2008 for Faith Fanzine. I was asked if I would update it so it could be used on a t-shirt to raise money for Kenny’s fund. And of course, I was more than happy to do so, as were the others involved. We’re just applying the finishing touches now...
Who does your artwork? It's lush!
We’re really happy with it and it’s the handy work of Neil Edward, who is one third of the legendary Children, and one half of Best Ever, a street art duo. They do massive, photo-realism murals all over the world, so we’re pretty lucky that he finds time to do our artwork too. I’m hoping he becomes really famous so I do a series of limited prints, forge his signature and retire.
Tell us about your upcoming Thunder dates?
Part of the Thunder ethos is only one guest and we’re trying to make each booking very special in its own way. The brilliant Neville Watson kicked things off for us, we managed to get John Heckle just as he was blowing up and then we had Sven Weisemann, who is one of if not our favourite European DJ.
Next up, on Friday 18 May, we’ve got Patrice Scott over from Detroit, which is a booking we never thought we’d be able to swing. Fortunately, Neville liked playing for us so much he’s been singing our praises and he actually told Patrice about the party. We buggered about for a bit and Patrice chased us up through Neville, so we really had to get him over. I’m still finding the idea of hearing someone like Patrice play in a 120 capacity venue fairly mind boggling, so it would be fair to say I’m excited.
After that, we’ve got Domenic Cappello down from the Sub Club in Glasgow for our party on 20th July. I wouldn’t say Dom is an unsung hero of house, but he’s so good he should probably be bigger. He doesn’t play in London that much either, so it’s great to get him down.
Beyond that, we talking to a few people but we want to carry on getting DJs you wouldn’t normally expect to hear play such a small venue. Most DJs we speak to are kind of up for it too, so hopefully we’ll get some exciting people along to play.
?How much are you looking forward to FARR Festival?? Well tasty line-up eh... who could've put something that good together?! :-)
Tell me about it, it’s like some sort of rave version of Frankenstein’s monster – and now it’s alive and going to go crazy! I think that makes you and SOCIETY a rave Dr Frankenstein though.
It’s Thunder’s first festival and looks like it’ll be absolutely cracking – Dan Beaumont, who we have strong sexual feelings for, Terry Farley, who is great but not as fit, Twitch from Optimo, Hannah Holland, the Bicep boys, Trevor Fung, and a couple of thousand people in a field, dancing all night till the July sun comes up. It’s going to be like 1989 all over again, but without the ex-heavy boxers running security with attack dogs and tear gas. I might even play The Beloved ‘Sun Rising’…even if we are playing in the evening!
You've got a great story about interviewing Frankie Knuckles... care to share.
Terry Farley asked me to interview Frankie ahead of him playing at Boys Own last year. I was quite nervous but Terry introduced us and I arranged a time with Frankie to speak. Well I say arranged, he told me what time to call. That day I was getting good luck messages from people, like Terry who had interviewed him before, and nipped off early from work to brush up on my questions before getting on Skype. But when I logged onto my computer, there was a message from Frankie, who was mid-packing up his house to move, saying he’d been waiting almost an hour and the interview was off. I called him and got a very grumpy Mr Knuckles, to whom I had to try to explain what was a GMT/BST mix up.
Frankie said he’d look for another time and called off, leaving me to break the bad news to Terry. After all that, I needed a drink and headed down the pub to meet Neville Watson, to discuss the first Thunder. Terry text me to say he’d spoken to Frankie and then a few minutes later, whilst I was at the bar, my phone rang. I didn’t recognise the number but it wasn’t a UK one, and when I answered, it was Frankie Knuckles, calling me in my local to apologise for being short with me earlier and to check I wasn’t too upset. We then had a very pleasant little chat about moving house and the like, and agreed to reconvene for the interview in an hour or two.
So buoyed by our friendly chat and a couple of beers, I headed home and got on Skype. It didn’t start well, with Skype cutting us off mid-introduction and Frankie, who loomed large on my laptop screen, was becoming visibly impatient with my ineptitude.
I explained I wanted to set the scene with some questions about his early days and work up to the present, and kicked off with question about the influence some of his peers have had on him, which went down like a dog turd sandwich. A couple of equally well received questions on, I started to ask him about the story I’d read about Tee Scott lending him records for his first gig and he cut me short abruptly, to, well, let’s just say question the quality of my questions, which in essence he’d heard all before. I hardly got another word in as I spent the next 10 minutes first of all being told off in the style of the ‘Miss Thang’ doorman on Lil Louis’ ‘Club Lonely’, then being lectured a bit about being rubbish, and eventually advised in an avuncular fashion about how to improve the interview, by The Godfather of House, in my kitchen, in North London. It was kind of surreal.
Fortunately, I had loads of good questions too, which I just hadn’t got to, and managed get another hour out of Frankie and in fairness to him, he was a great sport and those first few question were a bit rubbish.
Care to do us a mix? Or at least a 10 track selection of your favourite tracks of the moment, old and new.
I’d love to do you a mix, but I’m even tardier on that front than I am with updating my blog. I might just have something up my sleeve though, but these are ten records slightly random records I love to keep you going.
Ron Trent - Pop, Dip and Spin - The record I associate most of all with Thunder. Deep but heavy and funky as hell. Quite simply one of the best house records ever made.
Trevino - Derelict – I’m a sucker for coloured vinyl and this is a purple vinyl 10", so yes please! It’s also really good, fairly and quite ravey. But in a good way.
DJ Nature - Sexual Tension - One of the stand out tracks on his forthcoming LP, a low slung, late night groover that oozes, erm, sexual tension.
Tikkle - Outer Limits - L'N'R of 'Work it to the Bone' fame, this very different and utterly euphoric without even the faintest whiff of cheese.
Patrice Scott - Orbital Bliss - We love Patrice and we're massively made up to get him along to play at Thunder. This new release really showcases his sophistication as a producer.
Project XYZ - It's An Ecstasy – Early 90s raw bass heavy house straight of Brooklyn. I still love that sound.
STL - Silent State - A couple years old now but it won't go away. Nagging and hypnotic. Worth checking anything STL does.
Mondee Oliver - Newsy Neighbours - Gherkin is one of my all time favourite labels and whilst other tracks are highly sought after, this one is often overlooked and consequently, is cheap as chips. It’s a cover of an old First Choice song and is fantastic for singing along with a hair brush mic in your pants whilst getting ready for work.
Phuture - Spirit (Tribal Mix) – Everyone loves a bit of Pierre and that wild pitch sound is definitely having a bit of a revival. This is another one that seemed to fall through cracks, it isn’t even on YouTube [ED: it is now], but I think it’s up there with Phuturescope as one of the highlights of that era.
Holy Garage - Surprised (Isolee Mix) – This was my introduction to Isolee and is absolute off-key-wonky-sounds weirdness. It’s pure Marmite, either you love it or hate it. Although anyone who falls into the latter group is probably a sex criminal.
?"Sasha has always been a great DJ technically but there was a period, after the piano anthems of the Shelly’s era but before he got bogged down in 5 minute breakdowns that became synonymous with epic prog house, when he really was spot on musically too. And this time is perfectly summed up by a show he did on London’s Kiss FM in 1993." Tell us about - for you - the golden era of Sasha.
So Shelly’s era Sasha is the stuff of legend but he played some right crap. It was too much, properly piano break-downtastic, all peaks and no troughs. Then the New York prog era Sasha, well, that was dreadful, wasn’t it? Loads of dreary 10 minute long epic house records with every ounce of what makes house house squeezed out of them. Music for white blokes on shit drugs.
But during the period of that mix, he was spot on. His mixing was technically fantastic and he was drawing on a harder, more European sound that was finding favour with DJs like Smokin’ Jo in London. He just did it better.
With hindsight, you can see how what he was doing then informed what came later but I think it was just one of those moments in time, when the planets of Sasha’s mixing ability, imagination and musical taste aligned perfectly. Shame it did last longer.
?I loved your article on your first visit to the Sound Factory. Why won't you write us some lovely pieces for R$N?
As long as you're pretty flexible about deadlines, I will. Faith have been waiting for my Tee Scott article for about 4 years though!
Worst record from the last year.
I think I was probably pretty oblivious to most of the really rubbish records because you tend not to engage with them. There were a couple that really annoyed me though. First of all, there was Omar S 'Let's All Dance to Trance' or whatever it was called. It was massive with loads of people from across the DJ spectrum, including some DJs I really rate and respect. But I just don't get it at all, possibly because it's bloody rubbish.
More annoying than that still was Maurice Donovan/Ramadanman/Pearson Sound's 'Babeh'. My mates interviewed the Hessle Audio crew for Faith a while back and whilst the other two were into house, Ramadanman just said it wasn't and hasn't ever been his cup of tea. That's absolutely fine but then fast forward a bit and created a 'Chicago House Legend' alter ego and is making really boring house records. I think he might just be taking the piss.
Why is there no R$N link on your blog?!
Err... <for the record this has still not been rectified! :)>
Cats or Dogs?
This is a trick question, right? Cats obviously,
Beer or Wine?
London or NYC?
New York. Home of the greatest clubs the world has ever seen. I'm pretty much obsessed by it.
Biscuits or Crisps?
Biscuits. Have you ever tried to dunk a crisp in your tea?
Shirts or T-Shirts?
T-shirts. They appeal to my inner slob, along with sweatshirt and most other things you don’t have to iron.
East or West?
East. Except on Carnival weekend.
Thunder happens at The Waiting Room on sporadic Fridays.
Thunder also play R$N's vs SOCIETY stage at the very excellent FARR festival this year.
Full info on that right here
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