‘Evil’ Eddie Richards is one of those few DJs who had the chance to chase the money, and instead chased the sound. He first came to prominence as resident at Camden Palace, the 80s venue that has as strong a claim as anywhere for being the Year Zero point of rave culture. With Richards and Colin Faver at the helm, The Camden Palace took the musical innovation of underground meccas such as Heaven, The Blitz or The Wag Club and bought them – well, if not quite into the mainstream, then at least within spitting distance of the mainstream (although, let’s be clear, by this point, the punk activity of spitting was terribly passé). The Camden Palace played the music that formed the backbone of rave; electro, early acid, new romantic, funk and industrial to a mixed bag of goths, fashionistas, casuals, punks and celebrities.
When Richards was bored of the Palace, he ended up as resident and curator of Britain’s first mega-raves, the Sunrise and Back to the Future parties that saw tens of thousands partying in the British countryside to the chagrin of a repressive government and a hapless old bill. From here, and with the top 20 success of Richards’ 303 classic Acid Man giving him a wide appeal, Eddie could have easily ‘done a Tong’ and stepped over into the 90s dance mainstream. He wouldn’t have been alone; the mid to late 90s were distinguished by DJs who had made their name playing in sweaty basements and illegal fields suddenly popping up on Radio 1, or fronting cynical remixes of disco tracks (“just add a kick drum…”).
Instead he turned back to the underground, and became resident at the night Wiggle, the place where – for better or worse (and Richards would probably argue both sides) – the term tech-house was invented. Since then he's stuck to his original mantra, playing exactly what he wants to play to whoever wants to hear it, with zero artistic compromise. It may not always make him popular, it certainly makes him authentic.
For Gone to a Rave, I wanted to talk to Eddie specifically about the early days, about the forging a sound in a bikers pub in Milton Keynes, about the not entirely uncontroversial creation of Acid Man, and about his relationship with rave’s very own Arthur Daley, Tony Colston-Hayter…
How did you get started? There wasn’t really much precedent for having a career as a club DJ in the early 80s
When I started DJs weren’t even mixing, When I first went to Heaven in 1982 I heard Ian Levine mixing between records, and that’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I hadn’t heard it before then – in fact the industry was trying to make people not mix, they had this little slogan that said “when you PLAY IT SAY IT” because they wanted people to know the tracks.
Haha- how did they get that info out there?
On little stickers that would be on the records. That was the attitude in the early 80s. I was running a big mobile disco at the time that I’d take into youth clubs around the country. I had a massive stack of speakers that I’d put in the van, and a bunch of lights. And when I wasn’t doing that I was doing a local thing here in Milton Keynes. The only place I could get a gig was a biker’s pub, the other pubs were a bit too smart to have me, so I took my mobile set up in there. It attracted a lot of kids from the area. Milton Keynes had just started out, they’d offered cheap rent to attract companies and a lot of people had moved to the area with their kids – it seemed to be that people were kind of thrown together here, there wasn’t really a community as such. So all those waifs and strays, those people who didn’t really fit in with what Milton Keynes was about, which was quite smart, designated areas for stuff, they ended up coming to the pub I was playing at. They were all kinds of people, some gay people. goths and punks, and I was playing anything I wanted to play, and some music they bought in.
What year was this?
This was 1981. I was told to go to a gay club in London called Heaven. I'd been told I'd really like the music, so I went there and that’s where I heard Ian Levine mixing and I decided to start mixing myself. While I was there I met Colin Faver, he was playing in Heaven, in the Soundshaft. I started talking to Colin, saying I’m really interested in all this music, I’d never heard any of it before, it was a revelation, I’d never seen people dance like that or been in a club like that, I was from Milton Keynes! So Colin was telling me about tracks and where you could buy them from and I invited him to come and play in this pub, and he did, he actually turned up. I think he liked what I was doing, playing whatever the kids would dance to, a bit of gay disco like Patrick Cowley or Bobby Orlando, then there was punk like Killing Joke or Devo or DAF, then I was playing a little bit of electro – at that time Grandmaster Flash had just put out Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel, just a bit of everything really.
Were the bikers still going in?
The bikers were still there, and they were happy enough just to look at the weirdos that were in there and sit at the bar with their pints. There wasn’t trouble there, people felt like they could come together. The other pubs in Milton Keynes were all brand new and didn’t want that kind of crowd in there.
What was the pub called?
It was called the Starting Gate, in central Milton Keynes, but I think it was just the publicans there decided they’d let their mates in and their mates happened to be bikers.
Anyway, after I invited Colin, he asked me if I wanted to do a new night in London that was starting up, I said OK, and that was the Camden Palace. It was hosted by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan, so I went from being a local kid who'd just started out, to playing in this big venue.
I had been going to college in Southbank doing electrical engineering, and I didn’t like it, so I ended up going out in lunchtimes to DJ in strip clubs. I actually started DJing before then – my sister used to go out with a skinhead guy and they’d listen to Motown – sometimes they’d ask me to put some records on. There was a working men’s club they used to go to and I was there putting on compilation albums. I was doing that when I was 16, or even before that.
How did you end up DJing in strip clubs?
Well I just went out in lunchtimes at college to try and earn a bit of money, there were a lot of pubs that were in the Southbank area and they just happened to have strippers that were on at lunchtime. So I ended up sitting in the little DJ booth right next to the strippers waiting to come on. I was just playing pop at that time – when I did the mobile disco I was just playing wedding receptions and parties and stuff, so I was just playing whatever 7”s were in the charts. I was only doing it because I liked playing music, there was no thought of a career, there were no other DJs I even knew of. When I went to Camden Palace the whole thing changed. It was kitted out with three Technics turntables, a Revox reel to reel, built in reverbs, it was top of the range equipment. I found myself resident at this place and all the press were going crazy over it. Boy George was a regular there and Spandau Ballet. Grace Jones, Afrika Bamabaataa went there, everyone who was in town went to the Camden Palace, it was voted best club in the world, it was like Berghain is now. Steve Strange and Rusty Egan had been running the night at Blitz and they basically got too many people going there, it was only a small space, so this management company that ran the Camden Palace asked Steve and Rusty to host the Camden Palace and of course all their friends were pop stars.
Did you have Technics yourself at this point?
I didn’t have Technics, I had these little belt drive turntables with a tiny little knob on them. I couldn’t afford Technics so I had these things that took ages to pick up speed, not like the Technics, so I got really good at beat matching, so when I got Technics they seemed simple to use – if you can learn on something like that, Technics seem so simple.
Would you be using the reel to reel player as well?
Yeah. Camden Palace was built around New York club culture, they wanted to base it on Studio 54, so they had all these moving lights, and they tried to get Richard Long the guy who designed the soundsystem for Paradise Garage and Zanzibar. They couldn’t get him but they got someone similar, and it was that quality of sound they were aiming for. So anyway if you see the video of New Order’s Confusion, in it, Arthur Baker gives a tape to Jellybean Benitez, and he mixes it in on the reel to reel – that’s what they used to do, record companies would bring in acetates for us to play, things they’d just mastered that they wanted to hear in a club. To get a white label pressed would have taken several weeks. It happened quite a bit, Yello used to come in with stuff like that. I used to go round to all the majors every week and get hundreds of records.
I get the feeling that the acid house explosion of ’88 has been oversold a touch, and, if you were in the clubs at the time it would have felt like the music crept in gradually, was that the case?
Yeah, I was playing some tracks in 1986, and it didn’t really take off til about 88. It took a couple of years, and in fact at first people were saying to me why are you playing things like that? It’s just a drum track. I used to go to a store in London called Smithers & Lee, it was a department store and I’d buy imports from there, the buyer in there was a guy called Dave Lee (who went on to become Joey Negro). I also shopped at Groove Records in Greek Street, Record Shack in Berwick Street, and later at Jazzy M’s shop Mi Price in Croydon
So how did making Acid Man come about? I think it’s fair to call it one of the UK’s first acid tracks.
I got a 303 – I bought it for £30. I actually had two, I sold one to Laurent Garnier, and sold the other online for about £900 a few years ago. I had a 303 and a 909, but I couldn’t figure out how to sync them together. At the time me and Colin Faver had been playing this acid track Shout by Jack Frost & The Circle Jerks – not Jumping Jack Frost, a different one – and I was saying to Colin that it’d be great if there was a longer version, so we made one just to play out on the reel to reel. I made the track and couldn’t sync the 909 and 303 so they kept on drifting out. I had to keep stopping the tape, if you listen to it you can hear where I’ve stopped it and edited some samples in. I gave it to Colin to play and he played it once or twice on his Kiss FDM show, then someone from Virgin phoned me saying that they wanted to sign it. I didn’t think it was going to be successful – I hadn’t even planned on releasing it, originally it was just a project for me and Colin to make Shout longer.
Were there any repercussions with Jack Frost from you basically lifting his bassline?
Well the thing is I’d tried to copy it but hadn’t been able to. The 303 has some settings on it that make it hard to hear the notes exactly, they slur on some of the notes, so I didn’t get it right exactly. Technically I didn’t copy it, I was trying to though. The guy from Trax Records, Larry Sherman, was a bit of a chancer and he decided that he would try and get some money from it- I said in press somewhere that I got the influence from this Jack Frost track, so he put a stop to my royalties. I couldn’t get royalties from Virgin, they were held in an escrow account. But they were different basslines, so I was going to take it to court and get an expert to tell the difference between the two basslines, and I probably would have won. But it dragged on for about 5 years, Sherman gave up in the end, and I was able to get my royalties.
I’m assuming it was quite a lump sum when you finally got it?
It was. I bought this amazing 40 track Allen & Heath mixing desk, which was a fortune at the time, it was about £9 grand, and I bought loads of outboard equipment and started making music properly.
You must have been surprised by the success of Acid Man, even now it sounds like such an alien piece of music…
Everything I did at the time just seemed to work out, I wasn’t really planning on anything. I didn’t become a DJ to become famous, I just did it and played whatever I wanted and it worked, and then I came to the Camden Palace and did my own thing and that worked. It was more like I wasn’t thinking about anything and it just worked – it was the same with Acid Man, I was messing around and it worked! I didn’t know how but people seemed to like it, it started climbing the charts, it over took all the other Virgin artists, people like Inner City, and it took them by surprise as well because all of a sudden they needed a video for MTV. There was no time to make one so they took all the outtakes from an Inner City to make my Acid Man video – I saw it on TV before they’d even told me they’d made it. I didn’t have any control over it, it just went off. And then I started getting phone calls from agents so I thought, let’s take it on the road. So I got Mr C who was rapping, and another friend to come along as a dancer, and I’d play turntables and a keyboard with some samples on it. I think that was pretty much the first time a lot of people had heard that kind of sound. That was Jolly Roger, and we went all over the world with it for about 6 months, it was great fun. People just did not know how to react, Mr C was rapping, I was playing samples and there was this other mad guy dancing onstage, most people had never seen anything like it, or heard any music like it, so really people didn’t dance. We were only on for half an hour or so, going crazy.
The reason I called the act Jolly Roger was that I didn’t have any equipment, any keyboards or whatever, so everything I played was a sample, and I felt like it was like piracy. Press were asking what the story of Jolly Roger was about so we made up a story between us that Jolly Roger was from Iran and his parents had taken him to London where he’d discovered acid house music. And we’d have the guy dancing on stage dressed like an Arab and Mr C would be wearing his bowler hat, it must have looked really crazy to a lot of people.
Did you get caught up in any of moral panic about acid house?
Well the song was getting played and going up the charts, then Virgin said they wanted me to go on Top of the Pops next week. So I said, fuck that, I don’t want to go on Top of the Pops, I just wasn’t interested. But they kept pushing me, so I agreed to get some dancers to go on. And that week the BBC banned the use of the word acid because they thought it had drugs connotations, so it never made it onto Top of the Pops. I feel like the track would have gone higher, there was one other track that was in the charts which was Dancing Danny D’s They Call it Acieed – that was a week before us, but no one else was releasing UK acid house. My track got to #22 then went down the charts, it wasn’t played anymore by Radio 1, but it didn’t matter because I was already getting bookings for all over.
How did you feel about the banning?
It was stupid, it didn’t have anything to do with drugs, people were taking ecstasy not acid. It was called acid because that was a description of the type of twisted sound, it wasn’t anything to do with drug taking in the UK. They just didn’t understand it, it was just a stupid reaction.
Was there a really noticeable change of energy in the clubs you played in when people started taking pills?
I first heard about Ecstasy through Colin who was friends with Soft Cell. They had met a girl in New York in 1981 or 82 called Cindy Ecstasy who introduced them to it- she sung on their single Torch. I knew it was around at that time but I didn't get to try it myself. Its popularity grew as House music came in and it changed the way people felt. There there was a massive hooligan problem in the football stadiums at the time, and it really changed them. I mean if you look at the pictures of some of the thugs who’d be at these parties, these guys weren’t interested in fighting, because it gave them a feelings of love & empathy and it also encouraged more guys to dance. It's been said that Ecstasy and house music were made for each other and I think it did have a big impact on how people enjoyed the music.
And was it around then that you got into playing the big outdoor raves?
What happened was the guy who started it all off, Tony Colston-Hayter was from Milton Keynes. I had decided to stop doing Camden Palace after getting fed up with it, so I was playing in a Milton Keynes club called The Point where I started doing my own night. Tony Colston-Hayter came in one night with his entourage – he always had a bunch of people around him because he was this entrepreneur – and he said he wanted to do a party. He’d been to Shoom, but he felt that Shoom wasn’t really inclusive, and he wanted to do something for everyone. He asked me if I’d help him do this party, and he gave me this title of Eddie Richards; Music Coordinator. So all those early parties, not only did I play them, I booked all the DJs for them, and I designed a lot of the early flyers. I booked Carl Cox, Colin Faver all those guys were people I told Tony should be playing. So I ended up playing all these big raves, Sunrise and Back to the Future were the biggest ones. They started off as 100 – 150 people and within a year there was 25,000 there.
Did you have any dealings with Paul Staines around that time? Not so many people know that Guido Fawkes – as he now is - he started off working with raves.
I didn’t really speak to Paul Staines – Tony bought him in quite late when the government were trying to stop the rave scene, they were sending helicopters out trying to find raves, and it was all a bit of a game of cat and mouse, promoters would do what they could to make sure they could put on a party, like they would put the soundsystem onto a lorry, drive in with one stack on one lorry, another one on another lorry, and the DJ booth in a third. So they’d drive in, plug in the wires and they’d be off. They could do that without spending a long time setting up so they didn’t get caught. As the scene got bigger and bigger the police got more heavy handed and it had to stop – Paul Staines, along with Tony Colston-Hayter, then established the Freedom to Party Campaign.
Were you in any serious raids?
Yeah I was arrested a couple of times. The police came round my house a couple of times to interview me as well, but nothing ever came of any of it, it was really just a technique from the police to harass people, to wear them down and intimidate them. They’d do things like take away the sound system and keep it for a month, they’d say they needed it for evidence or some shit and give it back in the end, but the guy who owned the soundsystem wouldn’t be making a living during that time which would put him off renting to people, or they’d intimidate the people who owned warehouses. They’d stand outside with cameras filming everyone who came in. When I was arrested they’d just come bowling in over the fields, but they wouldn’t end up charging anyone, they’d just stick the DJs and the promoters in a cell over night, then drop us all off the next day a long way away from wherever the rave had been. So our cars could be 20 miles away and we’d have to find our way back, or they’d keep my records and I’d have to wait three or four days to get them back.
I heard about the Special Party Unit putting out flyers for fake parties and to make ravers waste time searching for events that weren’t happening…
Well, I don’t know about that, but there were certainly lots of fake parties. There were people that were saying there was a rave on, claiming they’d booked these DJs, collect money from people at the meeting point and then basically scarper. And there were firms that used to turn up and threaten the promoter so they could steal all the takings. I was at a party where the promoter was held up at gunpoint.
You’ve been around for pretty much as long as anyone in UK club culture – what do you think about its current more corporate state? Do you miss the chaos of the old days or appreciate the better organisation?
I don’t really like where it’s at at all to be honest. I’m still DJing a lot, but I’m not in that ‘flavour of the month’ hipster DJ thing, I tend to play in places that are quite small because that’s where the real people are and I can play what I like, I don’t have to play to the crowd. People book me because they know that this is what I do. I do 500 capacity parties all over the world, but they’re not really known about, I don’t really do that commercial thing, or festivals – I’m still doing what I wanna do. I don't charge excessive fees because i choose to play at smaller parties and I’m doing this for the love of music– I’m excited to play new music, and as long as I can pay my bills, then that’s great. There are other DJs who started off with me who are now quite famous; they’ve made their decisions, I’ve made mine, and good luck to them.