Penny Arcade Aka Susana Ventura is a performance artist, author…
The culturally queer roots are often overlooked in the UK history of acid house. DJ and producer Mark Moore was there at the raving dawn. He played in the gay clubs that influenced a generation. With his band, S’ Express, Mark created house tunes that topped the charts and turned a subversive queer sound into a global pop phenomenon.
Which clubs sowed the seeds for your career as a house DJ?
Sowed the seeds? There were none. Obviously, there were lots of clubs that were life changing. Because it was my first club, Steve Strange’s Blitz. Rusty Egan DJing. That was life changing. But I suppose that DID sow the seeds, ’cause it was electronic.
When I started DJing, we were playing a lot of alternative electronica; Cabaret Voltaire, Yello, DAF, New Order. Things like that. They slotted in with imports from Chicago and Detroit. We didn’t know what it was. It was just an extension of the electronic stuff.
Were you aware of Soft Cell’s Non Stop Erotic Cabaret and its Ecstasy narrative?
Of course. It was a rumour. Then, when the video came with of the remixes? Well, it was trip, trip trip. A lot of us had heard of Ecstasy, but didn’t get a chance to try it. The first time we did it, was at Taboo in ’85. They’d come from America. You could get it on prescription in the US. And then you’d just dish them out. Or sell them. In those days they went for between £20 and £40. So, that was when I was introduced to ecstasy.
Those Soft Cell records were caned at Heaven. ‘Memorabilia’, which had Cyndi Ecstasy rapping on it and ‘Sex Dwarf’ were huge at Asylum. Don’t forget, Matt Johnson of The The. What was the album? Soul Mining! He said it was made on ecstasy. And you can tell. Even though it’s not house or dancey.
Last night, I was listening to Nitzer Ebb. It’s kinda like, acid house?
It’s semi proto house. Mark Kamen’s mix of Quondo Quondo, Mike Pickering’s band. That’s just proto house. It’s years ahead of its time. The right tempo.
What did you play at the Mud Club?
When I first started DJing, Jay Strongman was on the main floor. It got so popular that Philip (Sallon) opened upstairs. I used to carry records for Tasty Tim. He’d let me put on the odd record. Then Tim went away one week and I stood in and played the whole night.
In those days we were playing glam rock, disco and a bit of Dead or Alive, Cabaret Voltaire. And lots of show tunes. The sillier the better. Everyone would go crazy. When Heaven saw what we were doing, they booked me and Tim for upstairs. Then, we got promoted to the main floor. My set at Heaven would start with hip-hop and electro. Begin at 90 bpm. Then work my way up to 130 bpm, over the course of the night, playing everything. It was quite eclectic.
How was Asylum at Heaven?
Laurence Malice did the door. He was the host. The sound was pretty much alternative and electronic soul. Like Janet Jackson’s ‘Control’.
Jamie Principle did a show, right?
It was me and Colin (Faver) who wanted him. We were buying records from Detroit and Chicago. The sound didn’t have a name then. Nobody settled on ‘house music’ for quite a while. We booked Jamie ‘cause he’d just been signed to FFRR. It was fantastic. Just him, alone on stage, with a backing tape. He looked very, er, fey.
And his queerness?
Well, for us, it was like having the new Sylvester.
Jamie’s quite mysterious, isn’t he?
He was mysterious. When you first saw Prince, you thought he might be gay. I think most people assumed Prince was gay. I did. Jamie principle didn’t declare anything. Aside from, ‘anything is possible’. We like that attitude. In those days, people didn’t separate themselves into categories. Gay guys would suddenly be going out with their girlfriends. Straight guys would be experimenting, before knocking it on the head and leading a straight life. It was a lot more playful.
Do you feel the queer contribution has been left out of the UK house history?
I do. It gets occasional lip service. The odd mention of Asylum and Pyramid. I made the mistake once, of recalling to the press, how the mainstream scene kind of rejected it. We were ‘the black sheep of the gay scene’. In the eyes of most journalists, that made it sound like the queer house clubs weren’t important.
But everyone who went to those clubs has told me off for that. Because of course they were important. It was JUST as important as the 30 people who saw the Sex Pistols in Manchester. It was MORE than 30 people. It was over 1,000 people. Every midweek at Heaven.
DJs, performers and promoters emerged from those nights. Straight AND gay.
Paul Oakenfold used to come down. By ’87, at Pyramid, they were all coming. Pete Tong, Mr. C, Danny Rampling, Johnny Walker. The lot of them. They were checking out the records which worked. From the moment it was released, ‘Strings of Life’ (Rhythim Is Rhythim) was massive at Heaven. All those tunes, they weren’t picked up ’til two years later in the second Summer of Love.
The record companies wouldn’t promo those releases. 20 years later, DJs say they played them. Those records weren’t played, or receivedin the way they were at Heaven. Most DJs and dancefloors rejected that sound as ‘gay music’. Stuff like ‘Jackmaster’ Funk’s ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’.
Why was it seen as gay?
Daryl Pandy rolling around the floor in a glittery top? (laughs). They also thought it was an extension of Hi Energy. They probably couldn’t tell the difference. So, even when some of those tunes went to the top of the charts, they didn’t explode. They were novelty. Dismissed as gay. When the second Summer of Love happened, Shoom and blah blah blah. THAT’s when people changed their minds.
What is Pyramid’s musical legacy?
It was the first london club to play predominantly house.
What role did Taboo play?
I always loved Jeffery Hinton’s DJing. And the mayhem and chaos there. It was held on the same night as Pyramid. I’d finish my set and go down there. It was very Hi Energy and Italo. What made it beautiful, were Jeffery’s mix tapes. He’d prepare them before and they were completely, er, druggy and amazing. It was the first place in London where there was mass ecstasy taking.
You were quite keen on playing house. Even when it wasn’t popular?
They didn’t understand what it was. They said it ripped off old disco bass lines. Had a lack of ideas. I thought those records were incredible and being ignored.
I got a residency at Planet Love at The Fridge, Brixton. We put a sign on the door saying, ‘we play house music’. Lots of locals wanted to hear rare groove and we were worried they’d come in with guns. So, we put that warning on the door. Two years later those records DID become classics.
How did S-Express come about?
I always wanted to make a record. When I got the chance; it was a case of putting in everything that had influenced me. To be honest, I wanted something that fitted in with the house music thing that was going on at that time. I didn’t want to do a straight forward copy of the Chicago/Detroit sound. JUST as a big an influence on me was hip hop. And the way that Double D & Steinski would do all those edits, throwing in samples? I wanted to do that. But with a disco and house influence. So, really, hip hop principles applied to disco and house.
It was mainly something I made to play at Heaven and the Mud Club, which all my friends would get. Disco was still a dirty word. So, there was a bit of me thumbing my nose at that. I thought the press were gonna crucify me. Pet Shop Boys were dabbling with disco. But it was the Boys Town, hi energy end of disco. So yeah, I went ahead and made it. For myself.
Did the success surprise you?
Yes and no. Our game plan was to make cult records for a few years. Then sell out and go pop. In the meantime, I played with the idea of having a band and putting my glamorous club friends in it. We were playing the part of pop stars before we became pop stars. But the thing is, we made our records at the same time as Bomb The Bass.
By the time ‘Theme from S-Express’ came out, Bomb the Bass had already gone in the charts at Number 2. So there was all this talk that it might do well. So, we were kinda ready. Was I surprised? I don’t know.
Myself and the girls in the band, we all came from the same background. Teen punk rockers. We’d seen people become famous. We’d seen pop stars happen. We were a bit blasé about pop stars. So when it did happen, we were a bit like, ‘yeah alright, whatever’.
At that time, it was about extreme nightlife characters. If you could work a look…
Exactly. The first interview I did with The Face, they hit the nail on the head. They said, ‘you’re one of the biggest DJs in London and you’re already getting free clothes from designers, free records from labels’. Everyone already knew your name. It just got bigger.
Were you aware how novel it was to top the charts with house?
I did remember thinking it was amazing that people were buying it. Purely on the strength of it being played in clubs. Radio 1 wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.
Really? Yeah! It went in at 28, but they refused to play it.
It sounded too weird. Too crazy. Even before it came out, Rhythm King asked us to make something that sounded a bit less mental. At the time, it stood out like a sore thumb from everything else on the radio.
Me and Pascal and Gabriel went into the studio and were forced to do a more toned down version. We didn’t want to do that. We decided to do the shittiest mix we could, so they’d reject it. So, we did a shit mix. Just awful. They heard it and went, ‘Alright, you win’. Thank God I stuck to that, because what you hear, is what we wanted.
After going in at 28, the following week, it shot up to Number 3. And that was it. Radio 1 thought that if it went to Number One, they’d look really stupid. They played it and we went to Number One.
How did it affect your work?
I had to stop DJing. Suddenly it was magazines, photo shoots, radio, TV. Travelling to promote it. This territory. That territory. Across Europe. Over to America. It went on for quite a few years. At the time, I wanted to promote the album by doing DJ sets, but the label thought it was a ridiculous idea. It was just too early. People couldn’t get their heads around that. They wanted a live band. I remember doing the first acid house night in Paris. This guy used to come and hear us at the Mud Club. He’d been DJing at the Hacienda, which hadn’t taken off at that point. Anyway, his name was Laurent Garnier. He reckons that kick-started his career.
While we had the hits here- Love Can’t Turn Around, Jack Your Body etc, in Europe, they didn’t know what the fuck it was. I felt like an ambassador. Trying to explain it.
I was with Tony De Vit in the DJ booth when he first played his mix of ‘Theme From S-Express’. About 8am. Main floor at Trade. The place went wild. Tony was ecstatic. We were jumping up and down, screaming, ‘Drop that ghettoblaster!’ with the crowd. Joyful lunacy. How did it come about?
I was lured back into DJing by the Chuff Chuff parties in stately homes. Cream and Gatecrasher had just started throwing really brilliant warehouse parties. Suddenly, I was doing the northern circuit. That’s where I met Tony.
He said that if we ever remixed Theme from S-Express, he wanted to do it. I never forgot. So, when the time came, I rang him up.
Were you into hard house?
Oh yeah, I was. Not as extreme as Trade. And not all night long. It would feature. But my sets were still eclectic.
How did you get involved in electroclash?
I was doing the northern circuit. The first few years were amazing. It all went a bit hardcore. Then people started dressing up again. Gay people were mingling in, with drag queens dancing on the bar. It was mixed again. Then it became either hard house or banging trance. I’d play sexy and eclectic, but the Gatecrasher kids wanted it banging.
With their glo sticks…
Yeah. I wanted to pack it in. Then this weird music appeared and the electroclash zeitgeist came. A bit like acid house, I suppose. You had people like Larry T, and a similar thing happening in New York. I was asked to play at 20th Century Body Rockers and Return to New York. All these things were happening. Amazing bands; LCD Soundsystem and Ladytron. It could be anything from post-punk to Moroder techno. Even rock. It was brilliant.
What prompted it?
The whole thing was a rebellion against these clubs that became really obvious. That whole bloated thing of people staring at the DJ. It stopped being about the people and the club. That’s what a good club is. The people. With an amazing soundtrack. When electroclash happened, it went back to that. The people were the stars. They formed bands. They started designing clothes. That was a reaction against the superstar DJ. And now, where are we? Back to EDM and the superstar DJ.
The gays were quite embroiled in electroclash…
Totally. And boys wearing make up again. Including the straight ones. It had that punk spirit. There were so many bands forming. They all had at least one good song. It’s a shame this happened just as the digital revolution was taking off. If it wasn’t for the downloading, I reckon those records would have enabled them to make a living and carry on. So, it would have progressed from being this shambles of a band, like the Sex Pistols were, to being something amazing.
What’s the secret to staying in the game?
Dunno, I’ve just always done the things that I feel. I’ve never been motivated by the money. I came from that punk rock scene, where we sneered at people motivated by cash. Art came first. That might sound pretentious, but if you did it and loved it, hopefully, money would be a by-product. So, I guess that might be it. I think it’s harder to do that now. People have got their backs against the wall. It’s SO difficult. It’s harder now to pay your fucking rent, than it was back then. People have to conform. Stay in line. Not go out on a limb. They gotta put food on the table. They can’t take as many risks.
In the ‘80s, there was still a possibility…
Still wasn’t easy. You DID starve.
What excites you about the queer scene now?
Downlow at Glastonbury. I love people like Jonny Woo and John Sizzle. The Glory. What I would call the alt. gay scene. Sink The Pink- they’re the fun, smiling face of it. The characters. The people you love to see. If you have a club and it doesn’t have that family feel, what’s the point?