Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, Whitney Houston- we…
The 30th anniversary of Trade’s upon us. The most infamous nightclub since Studio 54 is very worthy of the praise and cultural analysis that will greet its lurch into middle age. Steven React, one half of remix duo The Sharp Boys recently requested my fave Trade tunes for a Facebook jolly.
Compiling the list proved emotional. Before Trade became a brand and a hazy, debauched memory, it was defined by the music. This truth is often lost in the fevered chat about drugs, fanaticism and the characters who graced the club’s dripping corners.
The tunes which sprang to mind when pondering the club’s legacy are inextricably linked to its history. As a birthday present to Laurence and the club, it seemed only right to give a couple of those choices some personal context.
They’re in no particular order. How could they be? It would be foolish to give any track priority over another. They all played a part. As did everyone who span those tunes. And all the regulars who raved to them.
The Trade dancefloor was deep inside the club. To find it, you had to navigate an Escher-esque stairwell and wobble through a long bar known as Muscle Alley. Once in the rippling sea of steroids, tits and tatts, you’d buy a drink, pop a pill and ponder the mania.
To reach the heart of the club, you then had to clamber through an inky hinterland of steps, strobes and geometric mysteries before reaching the DJ booth. Only then could you glimpse the kaleidoscopic explosion of sound and colour that was the sunken dancefloor. If Hieronymus Bosch, the devil and Dionysus had designed a disco- this was it.
Even when the club was half full, the voyage via this obstacle roller coaster required focus and flexibility. It could very easily take hours. The temperature would rise with each step. Often, the incremental waves of heat could be overwhelming.
Some clubbers never progressed past Muscle Alley. Many fell down the stairs. The tiled floor could be slippy with sweat and dribble. Trade was not a bastion of ‘health and safety’. That was part of the appeal. After finding the dancefloor’s edge, I’d take a mental pause, cling to the railings and vada the crowd below.
Often, I’d remain there for hours, before gingerly navigating the steps and melting into the deranged throng. Watching that dancefloor and feeling the Turnmills sound system was an utterly compulsive experience. Like the Medusa, you couldn’t look away. The eyes feasted on this Hogarthian vision of sin, spliced with modern queer hedonism, to the sound of a heart-stopping kick drum.
X-Press 2 – ‘Say What!’ (1993).
One morning, Malcolm Duffy dropped ‘Say What!’ It was probably around 5am. The brain-melting laser sprang to life and stabbed the shifting darkness. In the breakdown, cheers, bell clangs and whistles are built into the track, but I didn’t know that then. I actually thought the overwhelming whoops and roars were coming from my fellow ravers. It blew my tiny mind.
99th Floor Elevators – Hooked (Tony De Vit Mix)
Tony de Vit was the undisputed Master of the Trade dancefloor. To this day, I’ve never heard anyone play like him. Tony’s mixing was flawless. He could create a wall of sound that pounded your body beyond what seemed possible. And when you thought it had peaked, he took it higher and harder.
Previously a Hi-NRG DJ from Birmingham, Tony had a pop sensibility beneath the banging wizardry. For me, this is best exemplified by his hit Hooked. The key changes, happy hoovers and soaring vocals in this tune are utterly joyful. This record would prompt the Trade massive to unite as a messy army of grinning faces, hugs and hands-in-the-air happiness.
Rest in Power
It’s been over 22 years ago since Tony died. I was in Stockholm, about to perform Twisted when the news broke. I had to be medicated to make it on stage. The grief that enveloped the scene can only be compared to the woe that greeted Princess Diana’s death. Friends and fans alike were devastated. I fell into both categories.
Tony was 40 when he died due to health issues brought on by HIV/AIDS. He collapsed on holiday in Miami and was hospitalised for 4 days. People were still dying back then, but the shock of this tragedy still resonates in 2020. Tony was so epic, talented and lovely. His death remains a cruel loss.
Taking it to church
His sets were akin to a religious experience. I knew Tony well and being in that booth while he played was a overwhelming. His enthusiasm, fuelled by the crowd’s hysteria was magical to behold.
He was a God to so many, but you couldn’t meet a lovelier gent. My 1997 release Twisted was partly a tribute to Tony, as it echoed his mix of Naked by Louise. Tony returned the compliment, by spinning it at Trade and beyond. I cried the first time he dropped it into his set. Bless him.
The Sharp Boys are Steven React and George Mitchell and they’ve been my friends and collegues for decades. They also happen to be superstar producers and damn fine DJs. Their mix of Sara Parker’s ‘My Love is Deep’ is quite simply one of the best vocal house records. Ever.
It skilfully evokes the feelings and emotions of coming up on MDMA. Well, it does for me, anyway. That piano causes a fluttering in the belly, a smile on the face and a need to get up and dance. That intro. Those chords. Parker’s vocal. It’s the absolute business. And this tune used to create absolute bedlam in the Trade Lite Lounge.
‘Tall’ Paul is the son of John Newman (RIP), former owner of Turnmills, the original and spiritual home of Trade. Had anyone been able to string a sentence together, they might have called his employment nepotism.
He’d actually been DJing in the venue from the age of 16. It’s fair to say that this 6’6” straight boy wasn’t entirely embraced his fellow DJs. However, Paul served his apprenticeship with skin like a rhino, determination and damn fine work. He usually played the last hour. This essential set often occurred around Sunday lunchtime.
The last tune would greet the dancefloor as the lights came up. One morning, as I danced half naked, vibrating with E, Paul dropped the acetate of ‘Rock Da House’. Those big fat base notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind caused the entire club to trip, flip and gurn.
I can recall with clarity the astounded faces as this futuristic, utterly unhinged mélange punched from the speakers. Jaws gaped, eyes bulged and queens passed ‘round the poppers with shuddering awe. It haunted my mind ‘til I heard it again at the end of Paul’s set a week later. It became a Trade anthem, ‘Tall’ Paul became a household name and it still send shivers up my spine.
Living it up
As the world fights with itself and nightclubs die in a diktat of social distancing, it’s sad but crucial to remember it wasn’t always this way.
Hugs, drugs and heaving dancefloors aren’t on the current menu, but hopefully they’ll be back. Until then, let’s look after ourselves, remember the good times, and live with love and hope for brighter days.
As Rock Da House says, ‘No time to pout, let’s turn it out. Just let the record spin’
All artwork (aside from photos) by Mark Wardel (Trademark)