From Roundhouse Kicks To Tokyo Tricks: Felix Dickinson Talks
From the North East of England, to raves and sound systems in the South East. Through nearly a decade DJing in Tokyo and festivals across the globe, to finally settling along the Avon in Bristol a year or so back, near his pals. Felix Dickinson seems to have been troubled with itchy feet.
“Definitely. I had quite a nomadic childhood, moving around every two or three years until I was sixteen. I’ve kind of got that in my blood”, he laughs.
He’s off again as we chat, packing his Speedos for a much needed family holiday in Thailand. Somewhere he can get no reception. He swiftly finishes ripping some vinyl. We’ve got plenty to catch up on, with a new record due soon on a new label, and festivals and a fabric appearance coming fast. Before the present, I wanted to dial back to the past. Felix was key in hosting some illegal raves and free parties back in the Nineties. With a firm idea on what the music policy needed to be, his first event ended up surprising him.
“My first party that I put on, when I was 20, was this big free party up on a hill in Sussex, and about 4000 people turned up to it. It was the week after Castlemorton in ‘92, and the free party scene was in full flow at that point”.
It was a big stage to jump straight to, but he never imagined thousands would turn up. The land had more than enough room to cope, but Felix and his mates had no idea that many would come. Was he equipped to handle the dance?
“It was quite a big deal, I didn’t even have a mobile phone, I was just running around. The police were there, and their helicopters and they were trying to shut it down. And I was borrowing mobile phones off people, trying to phone the farmer who’s land the police had told I’d damaged. They were like ‘Shut it Down, shut it down, you’ve caused criminal damage’. It was quite hard work, but it was worth it. It was a good party!”
The party was done in collaboration with Nottingham’s DiY Sound System, one of the first free parties to move away from the traditional rave sound of the time, which was mainly hardcore and techno and embrace house music.
“There was one system playing like dub and live stuff, and then DiY, who had the big rig, playing house and some acid house maybe. I had this plan to get this other sound system to come down on the Saturday and make the whole sound a bit bigger, because it went on for about three or four days. They came down and they wanted their DJs to play, more sort of techno/ hardcore leaning and I didn’t want that type of music to be played. I just didn’t really like that type of music to be honest, I just wanted one sound and less aggressive. I remember my mate playing DJ Pierre’s ‘Box Energy’ on the Friday night and it tore the place apart, but that was about as hard as I wanted it going”.
Down in Brighton, Felix and pals would have a night called ‘Slack’ going on. With a little legit club night running at regular hours, the party would then continue on the beach, or a warehouse with a sound system set up too that the music could go on all night.
“We did that for a few years and sometimes borrowed other people’s sound systems, playing up and down the country, collaborating with other people. DiY, Smokescreen, Positive Sounds, Babyboom and others. The Criminal Justice Act sort of put a lid on it, but there was a loophole. Basically we did a lot of parties on the beach in Brighton, and that was the Coastguard’s responsibility as opposed to the Police. So the Police would come down, but we knew that they didn't have the rights to shut us down. As long as we were on the beach, and our speakers too, it wasn’t their authority”.
Any thoughts of some David Hasselhoff figure running down the beach to cut the power are quickly put to one side as the real enemy of the scene starts to become a problem.
“Haha, no, that was the thing. The Coastguard didn’t give a shit as long as we didn’t have lights pointing out to sea affecting the shipping, and the way the speakers were positioned they didn't keep anyone awake, with a cliff in the way as a noise barrier. As long as we didn’t upset anyone we got away with that, and carried on for quite a while when it was illegal everywhere else. That actually became a problem after a while. Firms from up in London, and people who had been making a decent living out of putting parties on, saw what we were doing and decided they wanted to get a piece of our action. At some of the free parties in Brighton, people who had nothing to do with the party would try to charge others to come in. There was one time when this firm came down that wanted to take over the party, like ‘Our DJs are going on now, and there's nothing you can do about it'. They surrounded the generator, so the power couldn't be cut, and one of the dudes had a gun. There was a friend that hung about with us back then, who was UK kick boxing champion, and he just roundhouse'd the guy with the gun, disarmed him and knocked him to the floor with one kick, hehe. That was a good one, but not really the vibe that you wanted to have. That sort of stuff kinda took the fun out of the free parties”.
The opportunities that opened up from the ‘Slack’ parties were a decent reward. His good friend Nick The Record had got picked up by Massa Horie to do a residency at Lifeforce in Tokyo, doing it for five years or so. Later they would take turns to play out there every few months over the next ten or so years. It was an experience that offered him several things; how a party can be ran and the chance to spread his selecting skills and build his musical education.
“They have a really keen eye for detail, and obsessiveness, to make things as good as they can. With everything really, a lot of care for what they do, from cooking food through to throwing parties and sound systems and lighting, just really good. And the people that come to the parties seemed a lot more open-minded and respectful to what the DJ would do, so as a DJ I felt a lot freer to play various types of music. You didn't get people coming up and asking for requests, all of it made it easier to just do your thing. I’d get to play all night, for eight, ten or twelve hours. Play all sorts of music, go up and down again, then end the night with a couple of hours just playing records, and then clap, you know that old Dave Mancuso Loft thing at the end. Through the night though, play some techno and some acid and some crazy shit in the middle”.
He’s not been back out there for some time, telling me that the party had just ran it’s course, with everyone getting a little older and not having the same energy. He has an excuse to return though, as the Japanese label Jazzy Sport are going to be putting out a couple of Dedication records. With the new single ‘Show Me Love’ due very soon, he fills me in on the background to what seemed at first a pretty loose collaboration. I was wrong.
“We’ve got a formula of musicians, I guess maybe with the singers that’s a bit loose. When we’re making the Dedication records, it all starts in my friend Mikey’s house. He runs a clothing brand and has a studio, and I’ll stay with him and we’d get these musicians round to play. We’ve got a core group of musicians, Tsuyoshi from Cro-Magnon who plays guitars and bass, this guy called Botch who does the keyboards, that’s basically the core, us four. We’ll usually get the instrumental done out there, a jam session and record it, and then I’ll work on it in my downtime in Mikey’s studio, in between the Lifeforce gigs. Then back over here in UK we’ll get some vocals added in. Robert Owens sang on one, the track that came out on Futureboogie, which actually started out as a Dedication track. And then other singers, Brendan Reilly, Danielle Moore on the new one, and one coming with Bad Passion’s Chris Stoker. He’s got a really good voice, it’s a really rocky track and he’s belting it out! Just need to find the right label for that one”.
This single is the debut release for Adventures In Paradise, DJs Katie Barber and Michelle Kelly’s new label. He tells me he was honoured to be ask, and that despite the fact that he’s seen releases on some of the most established labels, “sometimes it’s just about working with your mates”.
On the live front, one of the several festivals Felix is playing at over the season is Houghton Festival, the debut event curated by Craig Richards. After some quizzing about how you pronounce the location (“Need someone to say it out loud to us and then we’ll know!”), he tells me how he got invited along to it.
“I think I first met Craig out in Croatia, at a Garden Festival as it was back then. Dave Harvey had booked him for that and we got to hang out. We had a few late nights, shooting the breeze and we really got on, ended up playing at a few things. He’s been really supportive of what I’m doing, and he’s actually given me two sets at Houghton. A night time one where I can do the darker, acidey type of stuff, and a daytime one where I can do the disco stuff”.
Before that reunion, he is also meeting up with Craig at fabric next month for a room one pairing. He’s not been back since the club reopened, and not had chance to see how any changes that have been implemented have changed things. Does he think that we have learned any lessons from the whole fabric debacle. Clubs, promoters and punters?
“I think we’ve learned that we have a voice and we can stand up for ourselves. A lot of small clubs didn't know that, and have just been pushed around and shut down and had their licenses revoked for petty reasons. A lot of people have been put out of business, a lot of landmarks on London’s clubbing scene are no more. I don’t think fabric really needed to change, it’s not their fault that those guys died. I think the problem is the UK’s drug policy which killed those poor boys. The lessons need to be learned by the lawmakers, not the clubs. Making clubbing safe is not about changing the lighting or restricting the BPM of the music, it’s down to drugs and a policy which means that people don’t know what they are taking. If the government had the balls, then we need to have drug testing at clubs and festivals so that it’s a safer place. They can’t just ignore that people take drugs sometimes, but they have a duty to protect them”.
He feels that fabric was “scapegoated” and that “sticking together” was instrumental in the license being re-approved. We agree that social media has made this kind of protest more vocal and significant, but he fondly recalls another venue recently lost that wasn’t so fortunate.
“They used every tool that they had. Fabric have many thousands of people go through their doors every weekend, means that they have a base that they can reach out to, whereas say Plastic People wouldn't have been able to get that groundswell of support, unfortunately”.
Dedication Ft. Danielle Moore – Show Me Love is released by Adventures In Paradise on 3rd April 2017 and can be found HERE. Felix plays at Houghton Festival, 11-13 August 2017 and full info is HERE.
Brighton beach photo credit: Stuart Griffiths