Boing Boom Tschak 
After an unprecedented outbreak of controlled bleeps, booms and the occasional boing in Yorkshire, Record Mirror sent Phil Cheeseman north to find out what the heck was going on. A classic scene report from 1989 at the birth of Warp Records and the ‘Bleep’ scene....
‘Dance music with bleeps’ they called it, just for a giggle. Then it caught on. People began to use the term seriously. Soon there weren’t just bleeps but blips and all other manner of electronic noises beginning with ‘b’. After being cult music number one for three years, techno’s finally mutated into something that’s really taken off, Amongst all the nonsense that’s been spouted this year about what’s supposed to be the next big thing after house, few have been canny enough to predict that it would in fact be, urm, house. But Record Mirror sensed something stirring back in February and made the ultimate bleep record – Sweet Exorcist’s ‘Testone’ – single of the week. LFO’s astonishing catapult into the higher echelons of the chart is the fruition of a style of music that’s always been massive in the North and the Midlands. While all the focus was on a few ex-rock bands from Manchester, the serious action was happening the other side of the Pennines. In Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford, people who’d made the long journey from the electro scene in the early Eighties were finally beginning to realise their ideas.
Stafford’s Nexus 21 were probably among the first people, along with Baby Ford, to release a British techno track to get any real attention, with the Inner City influenced ‘Still Life’, but the first indication that things were gelling came in the form of Bradford’s Unique 3 whose ‘The Theme’ introduced bleeps in no uncertain manner. When new Sheffield label Warp fired into action with The Forgemasters’ ‘Track With No Name’ all technological mayhem broke loose. With the success of LFO and Tricky Disco, Warp has become a prime mover in the Northern sound, using their association with Rhythm King offshoot Outer Rhythm to get their tunes in shops all over the country.
“We’ve got this far,” says Steve of the label, standing outside the Warp shop which is the sole outlet for upfront records in Sheffield, “by being purist”.
Varley Street Specialists
This is the music that was never meant to hit the charts. The new British techno sound is harder and more minimal than even the Detroit model that inspired it. Tracks like LFO strike an unreal degree of fear and loathing into the heart of the record industry. Twenty-year-old Jez Varley of LFO is just an ordinary kid who made the sort of track he wanted to hear – no more, no less.
“I’m not really bothered about the charts, though the money’s all right. I’m not complaining about that because I was unemployed. LFO was made just for the scene in Leeds and Sheffield.” Jez is quick to name the influences behind LFO, who already have six tracks on vinyl and make so many that the ones they get bored with they just wipe off the computer disc.
“I was into electro six years ago and I’ve stayed with that music, plus Detroit and early Kraftwerk. A lot of this has come from the breakdancing scene, but there’s been no outlet for it until now. I’d been doing crap jobs and when I got sacked from the last one I dedicated myself to music.’”
LFO’s takeover of the chart comes at a time when parties on two consecutive weekends hit the national news after being, from many accounts, brutally broken up by the police. Obviously, people want to go out in Leeds. Jez confirms that hard house, hip hop and even Belgian new beat are massive in the city. Then he trashes Manchester. “Manchester’s a sell-out. The scene’s over hyped, Happy Mondays: they’ve sold out, haven’t they? They’re an indie band doing dance remixes.” Winston from The Forgemasters, who along with Parrott of Sweet Exorcist was responsible for breaking house music in Sheffield years ago DJing at local clubs, concurs about Manchester but offers a more considered overview. “Manchester’s a really good place for shopping, but the scene the hype has killed it. You can’t go out and enjoy yourself anymore.
“The Northern sound is not what the clubs are orientated around. It’s something else, that people don’t see as a particular thing that’s ours. It’s for everybody. ‘Track With No Name’ isn’t just for Sheffield. What’s big here is good music, whether it’s soul or house. The scene’s integrated here and the music’s all mixed together.
“People have imitated the style but not the sound of Detroit. If this was London, the rest of the country would be swamped. The guys that are doing it have got a love for what they’re doing and their ideas are endless. They’re not going to be dictated to by the media saying what’s in and out”
Peeping past the all-pervasive influence of Detroit, Sheffield has a history of electronic music, the most obvious exponents of which are Human League and Cabaret Voltaire. Richark Kirk of the Cabs, who’s also involved with Parrot’s Sweet Exorcist, plays down his own influence.
“I think a lot of the people who go to the clubs are too young to remember early Human League, but Sheffield since the mid-Seventies has had a tradition of white electronic music. There is a strong identity attached to the music played at Occasions (where Winston and Parrot play). ‘Testone’ was made with that club in mind – it was Parrott’s idea to make a record using the test tones from a studio – the tones you use to line up tape recorders etc. That may sound small minded but the fact that it appealed to other people in the South and abroad means there’s more to it than that.”
Leeds’ Nightmares On Wax are the people behind ‘Dextrous’, a (bleep-free) track that exploded on dancefloors nationwide earlier this year. Both Kevin and George of the group DJ around the Leeds area, and their new wax, ‘Aftermath’ is ready to go despite a number of setbacks, which include the original master disc getting damaged (unheard of) and getting arrested in the studio, which we won’t go into here. I can handle a little of the indie dance stuff but some of it to me is raping dance music,” says Kevin. “I get tired of going out and being surrounded by fakers. Warp is about being with friends. There’s no pressure, you’re not told what to do and it’s on Street level.”
Rivalling Warp is the new Network label set up by Birmingham based Kool Kat, the original British house label to put out the new, hard styles. One of their first releases, Rhythmatic’s bass-frenzied ‘Take Me Back’ uncovered the heavy bass worship that exists around the country. But the Nottingham duo are no newcomers. Mark Gamble and Leroy Crawford were the musical part of Krush whose early UK house track ‘House Arrest’ went to number two three years ago.
“I went out one night and heard something totally different and Rhythmatic was born,” says Mark. “We want an identity with Rhythmatic. This music is just an advancement of Detroit, but it’s a nice lift to know that you can be part of something.” And getting in the charts again? “You can make a living out of being underground.” Nexus 21 recently signed to Network, contributing two tracks, ‘Biorhythm.’ and ‘Self-Hypnosis’ to the excellent ‘Biorhythm’ compilation. Starting out some time back, Nexus have wised up and begun to create their own sound. “When we started all we wanted to do was ‘The Dance’ and things like that,’ admits Chris Peat. “Derrick May wanted to break our kneecaps when he heard what we’d done!”‘ They do however, put the bleep factor into perspective. Bleeps aren’t actually an important part of the sound. What really matters is the bass, the percussion and the keyboard line. “It’s just a trademark of the North in the same way that Detroit introduced the 909 drum machine.
“There’s no really bad thing about techno. There’s no way the media can put a downer on it – like with acid they had the name before they’d started. But it’ll turn into a new bandwagon because it’s so simple to make.” As The Forgemasters’ Winston indicated, it isn’t a sound that’s limited to anywhere. Already tracks like Man Machine’s ‘Man Machine’ and ‘Denkimi Shakuhachi’, and ‘Low Frequency Overload’ by 100 Hz (all from London), and the ‘Ten To Midnight’ EP by Luton’s Original Clique are fitting into the pattern. And Tricky Disco come out of London rather than from the outer reaches of outer space. Though they’ve tried to throw a cloak over their identity, it doesn’t take a lot of detective work to suss out that they are, in fact, hard beat act Greater Than One and also behind the Belgian style techno track ‘Pure’ by GTO.
But the last word goes to Nightmares On Wax. “‘This music is just so different. It’s what people want to hear and it’s still underground. LFO might be number whatever in the charts, but it’s not commercial.”
Viva la difference. Bleep.
© Phil Cheeseman, 1989.
Originally published in Record Mirror, 1989.
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