If you've been frequenting dark basements round these parts lately you may have noticed the unmistakable sounds of Thunder. A quarterly party with an extremely selective music policy, Thunder has so far welcomed Sven Weisemann, Patrice Scott and Neville Watson into the fold for their dedicated crowd. A collaboration between a trio of seasoned London music heads Miles Simpson, Rick Hopkins and Joseph Apted, the next party is happening this Friday up the road at the Waiting Room. We spoke to them about things that go bump in the night...
Tell us about your introduction to house music - what clubs and records got you hooked?
Rick: Me personally, I got sucked in by the sounds of Chicago and early Detroit in ‘89. Wasn't a club but a local DJ named Doug Osbourne, who was a Shoomer, a few years older than me, and listening to him force feeding music to us like any good DJ would, I succumbed to the House Sound. Pre 1989 I was really into my hip hop and you’d often hear early Trax records like Adonis - No Way Back or Raze's – Jack The Groove interspersed in the early sound-system nights out and these records always stood out with the distinctive 808 drum machines and basic looped bassline that drew you in. Another one was Nitro Deluxe but too me that seemed like a combination of early freestyle and even earlier house productions. Club wise, we’d go to Dingwalls and hear Colin Favor spin rap along with house too, so Mr. Favor had a very strong influence on why and how the house and techno sound became so prevalent in my late teens and early 20's. Where I live in the suburbs, we were only a stone’s throw from the smoke, so London’s influence was drip fed to us and by then you were looking at so called raving like an epidemic. Most, if not all, my friends were going out to big raves or clubs in town. We had a local boozer on a Thursday night that Doug Osbourne did and it was mayhem, and there was not much drinking which never pleased Peter the landlord, bless him, meaning we were pretty much going out Thursdays, Friday, a big do in Cambridge or in London on a Saturday then back down the pub on the Sunday with everyone proclaiming they were coming back up, those were indeed the days.
Miles: I can remember hearing house on the radio in the late ‘80s, things like Nitro Deluxe - Let’s Get Brutal, Sterling Void - It’s Alright, Kym Mazelle - Useless and then Inner City - Big Fun on Pete Tong’s Friday night show on Capital, but not even really being aware that some of it was house rather than just dance music, especially the more soulful stuff. I didn’t really catch the house bug properly until I went to my first acid house party at the end of 1988 in The Dome in Tufnell Park. The party was called Space, there was lots of smoke, a strobe and even some lazers – all of which are still dear to my heart! I started work in a shop on the Goldhawk Road in Shepherds Bush literally a day or two later, and that was opposite Discount Records, which sounds crap but was one of the best record shop in west London! So as I immersed myself in the north London rave scene of 1989, at places like Silver City, Labyrinth and Camden Place on a Monday, and the supporting pirate radio stations, like Centreforce, Sunrise and Dance, I could pop over the road and hum the tunes to them and then buy them. 1989 was such an amazing year for year of records, as it felt like the world was changing around us …
Joe: I’m a bit younger than Miles and Rick and grew up in rural Angus – Scotland, so it’s safe to say I didn’t have the same influences. I lived a fairly sheltered life until the age of 15/16 at which point various clubs and parties just seemed to explode in our area. It was the summer of 1992 and the little town that I went to school, Forfar, suddenly had a regular Friday night club and was bringing up DJ's like Steve Bicknell, Evil Eddie Richards, and Michael Kilkie every week. It became really popular, really quickly, and at one point had buses coming through from Edinburgh, Aberdeen, etc, all to go this mental little club in this little town they’d probably never heard of. To say it was an eye-opener was putting it mildly, I was 15 sneaking into an over 18's night and it literally was a case of one week I was going to a youth club, drinking cheap cider and trying (failing) to pull girls, and the next week I was dancing around in dry-ice to Chimo Bayo, having the time of my life and wondering how I could afford a Destroy jacket. That summer was my introduction to that scene and I absolutely loved it, it was a whole genre of music that I hadn't been exposed to, clothes and fashion I hadn't seen before and the fact that most people were much older just made it ridiculously exciting. Music wise, I’m not going to get into revisionism and pretend I was dancing about to Underground Resistance records aged 15 as that wasn’t the case. The tunes that stick out are things like the afore-mentioned Chimo Bayo - Asi Me Gusta Mi which just sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before....it hasn’t aged well and sounds very euro-cheesy, but to me, at the time, it sounded sleazy and exotic. The other tune that’s ingrained in my brain was Age of Love - Age of love, which again sounded so exciting and different to what I’d been exposed to previously. The next year, 1993, a local guy called Shawn Moir started a night called Aphrodisia in another nearby town called Kirriemuir, it was in a completely lawless, anything-goes little venue called The Og. It had zero security, was filled with smoke, had a wild crowd and was extremely debauched. That was our 'clubbing home' for the next few years and was probably the most fun I've ever had.
Why do old house records sound more relevant than ever?
Rick: They don' t sound any more relevant now than they did back then it’s just they were records produced by people who loved what they did and were affected by the clubs they were going to and I guess tried to recreate sounds that they the music makers were hearing. A good record will always last the test of time. Producers will always try and hark back to the vintage sound of early Chicago records because essentially the productions were so raw with a sound quality that matched, certain labels vinyl presses had that earthy sound because it was old vinyl melted down and reused for newer wax. All this combined just sounded, without being too clichéd, totally mind-blowing, hence the massive influx of younger producers trying to recreate 'that' sound with tape recordings, analogue equipment, etc. But, house music isn't just about a 707, 303, 727 or 101, in my humble opinion. It’s whatever feels right at the time so long as it’s good and the dancers react.
Miles: House records have always been relevant to me but I guess the cyclical nature of music means they haven’t necessarily to most others. If you listen to one thing for too long it can become tired. And whilst house has always been evolving in one way or another, I think a lot of younger people switched off to it after the mainstream boom in the ‘90s. And why wouldn’t they? Mainstream house became the sound of Mecca discos in the suburbs, girls dancing round handbag, blokes in shiny shirts on the pull and shit pop remixes. All the sort of stuff any teenager with an ounce of sense would run a mile from. But now that’s been forgotten, things have moved on and young people are engaging with it again, because as Rick says, good music stands the test of time, and there are literally thousands and thousands of amazing house records people under the age of 30 will have never heard. And with that new blood comes fresh ideas and suddenly people are rehashing, reinterpreting and reinventing, but in an exciting way. There’s a nod to the past but it’s not derivative blandness, so you can play a 2012 Joy Orbison tune next to a 1995 Prescription record next to a 1990 Nu-Groove record and it works. It’s great, because as a DJ that’s been buying house for years, it gives you such a broad palette to draw from.
Joe: I agree with what Miles and Rick both say, I think back then people were trying to be innovative and original and that comes across in the records even now. Since then people have tried to copy and regurgitate that style as it's drifted in and out of vogue but it never sounds as fresh so people keep returning to the original tracks. That’s not to say we should all be playing old music, but new music should offer something new, rather than just trying to sound like vintage Chicago house, in my humble opinion.
What are your current favourite labels?
Rick: Aesthetic Audio, Sistrum, Curle Records, Clone and all the little offshoot labels, RushHour, Fit Records, FXHE, Delsin Records, Pampa Records, Smallville, 7th Sign, Sushitech, MikroDisko, M>O>S, Workshop, Dekmental, Ferris Park, Uzuri, Sound Signature - the list is endless.
Miles: I try not to get too hung up on labels but I’m generally a miserable failure on that front, because I get hooked too easily, especially if the artwork is cool, or they’ve got those little cloth swatches that Mojuba use or they’re nicely hand-stamped like Workshop!
Joe: Boring answer, but I don't have allegiances to any labels - I couldn't name a single label where I like EVERYTHING off it, or even 50% of it, so my collection is a magpie-like selection of bits and bobs from the labels mentioned already and others.
Where do you buy your wax?
Rick: Mainly online from Juno, Vinyl Underground in Northampton, Interstellar Sounds from Leicester, Delsin shop in Amsterdam, Rub A Dub up in Glasgow and Phonica, as opposed to a few years back when I was in Soho constantly every other weekend circumnavigating the shops from the pre house days in Groove Records, Hitman Records, Red Records in the magic Soho square mile and Spin Offs over in Hammersmith. House wise I was purchasing vinyl from shops like Luton’s Soul Sense Records, Hardcore Records in Stevenage and in town Fat Cat Records, Atlas, Eukatech, Rough Trade below Slam City Skates, etc. The odd occasion I can get into town on a Friday or Saturday afternoon I have a rummage through the racks of Phonica and Sounds of The Universe and always manage to find something decent.
Miles: I use online shops a bit but as I live and work in London, I try and get along to physical records shops most weeks. I can walk to Phonica in about 20 minutes after work, so I'm in there a lot. The staff are cool and Nick in particular always seems to be able to pick out at least one record I love and that I would have never thought to listen to otherwise. Whilst in Soho I try to check out Blackmarket too and always pop into Sounds of the Universe, to see what’s on offer there, and have a chat to James, another massively knowledgeable chap. Kristina in Dalston is bloody great too, fantastic records and the guys in there know their shit, so their second hand stuff is HOT. We also did a pre-Thunder in-store party with them and Patrice Scott, which was cracking and they were great to work with. Hopefully it won’t be the last one either.
Joe: If online I use Hardwax, Rub-a-Dub, Juno etc, and if I'm lucky enough to escape suburbia and actually make it into London, then I love an afternoon mooching around Phonica and second hand places.
Why did you decide to throw Thunder parties in this neck of the woods?
Miles: When we were originally looking for a venue I was convinced we needed to be in the Dalston area. It’s just buzzing, maybe like Shoreditch was 15 years ago, but with added genuine local community, which will hopefully act as a bit of a safety valve and stop the area being taken over by dick heads. I remember first visiting the Superstore and being blown away not just by the venue but the crowd, and the feel of the area. And since Superstore blazed that trail, that buzz has spread to other local venues. But it’s still got that rough edge. I love it, on a summer’s evening, at the weekend, the atmosphere is electric. I don’t think there is anywhere in London like it right now, not Hackney Wick, not Peckham, it’s just right and it’s basically the place to be if you want to throw a good party and have people who live for good parties turn up. That’s why we’re there.
What is the combined age of Thunder?
Miles: You should know a lady never tells… but we are actually all in our teens, we’ve just, erm, had hard lives.
Your guests have been pretty special - what do you look for in a headliner?
Rick: Someone we all admire musically whilst trying to bring in folk who you may never get to hear in such intimate surroundings.
Miles: Like Rick says, someone we are really into and admire, not just as a producer but as a DJ too. Neville Watson, John Heckle, Patrice Scott, Sven Weisemann and our next guest, Domenic Cappello, are all very accomplished producers, but you know what? They are all at least as good, if not better, behind the turntables as they are in the studio. That is important to us, because there are plenty of ‘hot’ DJs out there, whose hotness is based primarily on cobbling a couple of tune together on a laptop. We are after greater authenticity, because that’s what Thunder is about – real people doing stuff they love for the love of it.
Joe: I'd say the primary thing is, can they properly rock a party, as opposed to just turning up and playing a few tunes. The other thing is someone who takes a bit of pride in their craft who has gone to some effort to look out a really exciting, unpredictable selection of underground house. Every guest so far has played pure vinyl, so it couldn't be further removed from the laptop DJ playing the latest Beatport anthems... there has to be a bit of love and care about what they do.
What is your fantasy Thunder line-up?
Rick: Personally love to get Derrick May down for an evening. That would be special.
Miles: Blimey. If I had a time machine, then it would have to be two rooms – the first would have London club legend Breeze warming up for 1990-93 vintage Tony Humphries and then the Junior Vasquez of 1991-92 see us through to lunchtime. Room Two would have Walter Gibbons, Tee Scott and Jim Burgess, who are basically my disco heroes.
But in the absence of a time machine, maybe Chez Damier and DJ Nature? Or Joy Orbison and Sven Weisemann back to back – that would be nuts. Actually, Derrick May is a great shout. With Theo Parrish and Kenny Dixon Junior warming up… in the original Sound Factory, with the Milk Bar bolted on as a second room and the roof terrace from Pacha stuck on top. Although I’d settle for DJ Nature or Joy Orbison though in our little basement though.
Joe: I'd borrow Miles' time machine and have a two room club as well; Larry Levan playing a happy hardcore set in one room with, DJ Rush & DJ Funk playing back-2-back in the chill-out room. I'd also have "Blocko and Peasy" doing the cloakroom just for the jolly japes they'd get up to - bloody nutters.
Miles: Right, let’s bin the time machine plan then…
What does the future hold for Thunder?
Miles: Well in the immediate future, we have a party on 20th July with Glasgow house superstar, Domenic Cappello. Then the weekend after we’re playing at the FARR Festival in Hertfordshire, with loads of other great DJs, like you (Dan), Hannah Holland, JD Twitch, Bicep, Terry Farley and Trevor Fung and two days before that on Thursday 26th, we’re playing a FARR warm up party at the Dalston Superstore. All very exciting! Beyond that we want to continue to build on the parties we’ve had so far and throw more great parties continue to play music we love and that hopefully other people like too, work with a diverse range of DJs that we admire, and most importantly, have lots of fun we people like. It’s not much of a master plan but it seems to have worked out okay so far!
Rick: That we all remain sane and continue to move and grow in the right direction that we want. Think we've achieved that thus far so we'll continue moving forward, onwards & upwards as they say.
Joe: I won't be happy until we're as big as Swedish House Mafia. Only when we're playing to 70,000 people at Milton Keynes Bowl with Rick banging out loads of old Relief records will I think we've achieved our goals…