Surgeon inteviewed by Jim Ottewill for Out of Space

5 Minute Read

Jim Ottewill’s ace Out of Space book on how UK cities shaped rave culture has been given a polish by the author and extended it to include a chapter on Birmingham. In this chapter he spoke to revered techno legend Surgeon on how his adventures in Brum shaped him… we’ve got the honour of republishing that interview below and a note from the author.

“Originally published in 2022, my book ‘Out of Space: How UK Cities Shaped Rave Culture’ traces the past, present and future of nightlife in various towns and cities across the UK. It explores how nightlife has acted as a playground, refuge and community as well as the challenges it faces in what can be a hostile urban landscape for culture and creativity.
In this new version, I’ve given it a polish and extended it to include a chapter on Birmingham, the UK’s second city with a rich and diverse nightlife that has long been overlooked in club histories. In my new chapter, I tried to get a handle on it and in this excerpt, I spoke to revered techno legend Surgeon on how his adventures in Brum shaped him…



In UK techno circles, few producers, DJs and artists are as revered and, in some ways, as feared as Tony Child, aka Surgeon. Operating since the tail end of the eighties, initially out of Birmingham with a love for improvisation and hardware, his take on electronic dance music is as abrasive and mind-melting as it is obscure and off-kilter. From his early ‘Surgeon’ EP to 2023 album ‘Crash Recoil’, his music has bent the original techno blueprint into a series of idiosyncratic contortions.

Surgeon’s roots in electronic music are wrapped around a punk DIY attitude and anarchic streak that lurks beneath a demur exterior when we speak. He grew up in a village outside Northampton before moving to Birmingham in 1989 to attend Sandwell College for an audiovisual design course where he was able to flex his creative muscles in sound as well as photography, TV and radio.


“When I moved to Brum, there were loads of people into all sorts of odd music, it really broadened my musical palette,” he says. “It was amazing to hear so many different things I’d never heard. It was in Brum where I heard Faust for the first time, they were a really important band for me.”

Among these new-found friends was Mick Harris, a fellow music lover and creative, and their coming together proved to be a pivotal moment. As the drummer of Napalm Death in the late eighties, he invented the term ‘grindcore’ and connected Surgeon with fellow techno producer Regis, helping kickstart Downwards Records. Surgeon initially bonded with Mick over a love for Coil, Basic Channel and Mike Leigh films.

“He influenced me in two ways – one really key moment was when he bought me the double CD of Miles Davies’ ‘Bitches Brew’,” he says. “He would do that, buy important music and give it to me. It took me 15 years to understand that album, it was way over my head at the time. He also had a small studio at his house, which was basically a cupboard. He let me use it on my own, which was great as I had very little access to any equipment after the course and no money either. I had to borrow gear and would carry what I could round to his place. The first EP that featured ‘Magneze’ was recorded at Mick’s house.”

Surgeon’s way of working on his own productions has been informed by those around him and a DIY-approach to learn new ways of making music while doing. At college, he rebelled against the tutors’ more formal approach to creativity, eventually dropping out from the course.

“When I started out you couldn’t just go on YouTube and look something up,” Surgeon says. “Instead, you’d hear a sound, ask how it was made, and try and figure out how to produce it. I look back and see the value in having basic equipment and having to be really inventive in how I used it. I know some younger producers create amazing music on laptops with all these pieces of software available but for me, it really helps to have limitations.”

His career as Surgeon speaks for itself. A mighty discography features plentiful albums, remixes and collaborations, released through his own labels Counterbalance and Dynamic Tension alongside established imprints, such as the much-loved Soma and Tresor. A relentless DJing schedule has taken him all over the world, yet this globe-trotting career was born out of Birmingham. It was the city that first offered him a playground for his musical activities and introduced him to defining connections, fresh sounds and influences. These days, he resides outside of Brum and is slightly sceptical about the idea that moving from the countryside to a big urban municipality suddenly led to the harsh and abrasive techno he was known for.

“It’s not quite as literal for me,” he says. “Birmingham has a wonderfully diverse sound – even when you think about the history of metal – Black Sabbath, Napalm Death. From the outside, it might seem heavy and intense but from living here, I’ve always recognised the very self-deprecating sense of humour.”

Surgeon was in Birmingham when the cork came off the bottle of dance music culture at the end of the eighties and early nineties. As for so many, it was a powerful and influential force that had a significant impact on his life.

“You saw dance music in the pop charts and on the TV, it really smashed through into the mainstream, without the mainstream wanting it to be there,” he says. “I’ve since travelled a lot and seen how revered British dance music is in other countries, it’s so well regarded. However, here it’s seen by the authorities as something to stamp out, it’s seen as this dodgy, dirty world – they’d much rather have nice, expensive flats instead.”






The new edition of ‘Out of Space: How UK Cities Shaped Rave Culture’ is out now.


Get a copy from Velocity Press


And who were the biggest and best DJs?

Carlos Simó was the first and created the scene, but the most influential DJ was probably Fran Laners, who stopped playing records in the 90’s to focus on music production with his electronic cult combo Megabeat.

Can any part of the scene still be found today?

Not really. In 2000 the scene was completely renewed and new and smaller clubs were opened in the city. And this time the opening times of the clubs were no longer like those of a rave, haha.

Luis Costa’s Bacalao (Historia oral de la música de baile en Valencia 1980-1995) is available now // Bawrut’s Rumba EP is also out now – buy from our Bandcamp