I've been looking forward to covering Production House, simply because they are one of the most consistently excellent labels to have come out of the hardcore scene. I can say with confidence that any Production House 12” released in their prolific golden age of 1991 - 93 is guaranteed to be banger (catalogue numbers PNT022 – PNT059 for all you crate diggers). And, as well as putting out solid gold hits, the label maintained high production values – all the 12”s are pressed good and loud, and all the tracks were crisply mastered in the first place – like a few other iconic hardcore labels, the Production House stuff sounds nearly as loud as the highly digitally compressed stuff that comes out today, but with way more warmth to the sub frequencies.
The label was set up by Phil Fearon – those of you with deep UK knowledge are gonna recognise that name – Phil was the lead singer and master mind of Brit Soul act Galaxy. Here's Phil at 27 dropping some proper steppers soul on his first Top of the Pops in 1983 -
Phil and Galaxy went on to have a decent 3 year run of chart hits, cementing their place as UK soul mainstays - in fact, Fearon still enjoys this status as a soul Godfather, regularly appearing on the UK revival circuit. By the mid 80s he was switching his sound up to embrace the the digital revolution sweeping through disco, recording the lock grooved proto-house jam 'Ain't Nothing But A House Party'.
A year later he was setting up Production House with two guys called Laurie Jago and Raj Malkani. The label was running from Fearon's house in a quiet part of Willesden, and for the first few years, they largely put out swing beat, electro, soul, and early mutations of house. Their first release was a bass heavy breakdance track from Floyd Gossington Dyce, aka Dyce (or sometimes Dice) called I Can't Take It– it's a pretty sweet groove, but doesn't give much indication that Dyce was going to go on to produce some of the sickest hardcore ever made.
Interestingly, it does show the hardcore scene's roots in the UK soul scene – so often the hoover sounds and vicious stabs of Belgian new beat are stated as being the main catalyst of hardcore (with some justification), but this often leads to a kind of white washing of the sound, a suggestion that hardcore was created by and for European skin heads, whilst it's actual genesis is far more complex. The stuff Fearon was putting out in '87 also goes against the “house music came to the UK from a selection of DJs going to Ibiza in '87” narrative that has been predominant for so long (Greg Wilson has written a fine article on that fallacy over here) – the black British Production House crew weren't involved in any of the events Oakenfold and Rampling have managed to get set as UK house history – somewhat ironically, they were too busy actually writing UK house music rather than DJing American imports. With Dice producing the majority of the early Production House stuff, the years 87-89 saw the label score minor hits, without any real breakthrough success. The '89 release 'Casanova' - a cover of the 60s soul track popularly recorded by Loleatta Holloway in 1973 - is of historical interest, as it featuring the first appearence of Baby D - who would later have one of the few genuine cross over hits of hardcore - and Syed Ahsen Razvi aka Acen - an incredible producer who would go on to record numerous classics. Again, Dyce was involved, this time collaborating with Acen as The Brothers Grimm, a working relationship that would deliver some excellent work a few years down the line.
After this, the first Production House cut that had any real impact was 1989s hip-houser 'All We Wanna Do' by in house production team The House Crew. The House Crew was Dyce (again!) alongside regular Production House engineers/ writers/ producers Terry Jones, Jamal and Raj Malkani
The track was a protest record, recorded in support of the Freedom To Dance campaign that had sprung up in opposition to the Tory government's 'Increased Penalties' bill, a bill designed to destroy the free party scene by massively ratcheting up the penalties for un-licensed promoters. All the profits from the track were given over to the campaign, and the lyrics to 'All We Wanna Do' are the kind of pure early house optimism that I love. They also pretty much nail why the bastards in charge were trying to kill the rave scene;
“ Don't reject it, understand it/ cos it's something you can't command/ It's music of all colours and classes/ the force and cause that unites the masses/ yo, you better hear this song/ cos the dance goes on// People// Don't believe the lies/ Don't check another headline about drugs, trouble, noise, fuss/ That ain't the way for most of us// All we wanna do is dance....// 'Unacceptable' say the media/ While the tabloids are getting seedier/ The chancellor he's getting greedier/ The poor people have never been needier/ Don't understand the demand for enjoyment?/ Just take a look at the figures for employment... the warehouse concept/ Im not saying its perfect/ But the utopian hope of this culture/ is being moved by the big blue vulture.."
You can hear kids quoting 'All we wanna do is dance' in this great footage from the 1990 free rave that followed the Freedom To Party demonstration in Trafalgar Square -
So while this cut brought Production House some attention, they still hadn't found their feet sound-wise. It took the speeding up of tempos in the early 90s for Dyce and Acen to really come into their own, turning Production House into the closest thing the rave scene ever had to a Motown. And the dictates of time and space mean your gonna have to wait for next week for all that rave action to kick in...*
* Since writing this piece, I found out that the original video for 'All We Wanna Do Is Dance' has just made it online - it's as great as I remembered, even if the quality is a little bit jerky - check it out: