Posted by: martinworster | July 8, 2009


Spending my formative years in London growing up with the emerging drum and bass scene I am left with many vivid memories. It was a fascinating scene to watch unfold, starting with my first forays into nightlife with the late 80s orbital raves – massive parties on the outskirts of London (hence named orbital after the recently finished M25 ring road around the capital). They were the ‘summer of loves’ – Chicago house, electro, balearic, hip house, Detroit techno and hip hop soundtracked the long days and nights. It felt revolutionary at the time – musically it was, a break with tradition of boring guitar music and whineing indie. We found our soul in the 303 and 808 drum machines – our vision of the future was electronic. The music sounded from another world; spacey, hypnotic, deep, repetitive, twisted, futuristic and perfect. Now, as electronic music IS the mainstream, it’s hard to imagine and remember how out of this world it first sounded back in the day. 


I went to many of the seminal clubs; Rage, Fitness Centre, AWOL, Labrynth,Telepathy, Energy. All of them merit pages of description but one of them merits the focus right now – AWOL. A Way Of Live. Absent When On Leave. AWOL took place at the Paradise Club in Angel, Islington which has since been demolished to make way for a shopping centre with coffee shops, HMV and Borders etc. AWOL took place roughly from late 91 to sometime in 1995. It stands out for me for being the single most hardcore dance with the rudest sound and clientele. By rude I mean bad. By bad I mean good. 


I don’t think I am exaggerating in saying jungle music was invented at AWOL. DJs like Mikey Finn, Ray Keith and Kenny Ken dropped the rumbling, earthquake basslines. Call and response basslines. Rewinds. Ragga chanting and patois inspired tongue twisting MCs. ‘Dibby dibby DJ, zibbidy, rude bwoy gwan mash up da dance, North South East West, raving massive wave your spliff!’ Original bad boy material. It was also perhaps the most drug enchanced dance – the whole club would be out of their collective minds on ecstacy – and lots of it. It made for some strange atmospheres.


Drenched in sweat and dry ice, the dance floor often took on a post apocolyptic air, especially on the atmospheric breakdowns with spacey synth lines filling the room, padded out with sub bass oscillations and the occasional urge of the MC to commence battle. Rat-a-tat-tat military snares rattled around the room like the call of a marching band. Figures hunched alone waiting for the beats to come back in, running their fingers through their hairs feeling the rush. Fog horns echoing around the space like air sirens warning of imminent drum attack. The MC would prowl around the room, cap perched on his skeletal skull, eyes rolling into the back of his head, spliff hanging off his bottom lip, a throng of rude girls encircling the master of the dance.


Looking up the DJ was perched in his eagles nest above the floor. Occasional glimpses were allowed as the lazars traced up to the booth showing the DJ bent over the spinning, melting vinyl, deep in concentration, sweat dripping of the nose. The punisher. Who can go harder and darker? Deeper and faster? Bigger and badder? The DJ as torturer pushing those buttons, unrelenting in his mission to mash up the dance and crowd as much as possible. Mash it up. This was the ‘mash up’ before it’s present meaning of melding two disparate entities, like records or Web 2 internet technologies. Old skool mash up meant mincing your brain with a masher so it was mulched like over boiled potatoe. 


Hardcore massive. Only for the headstrong. The popular lexiconography amongst the ravers and often sampled on the records urged that it was ‘only for the hardcore’. To be part of this cult you had to push it to the max – and as far beyond as possible. And the people did. I regularly saw people being taken out on stretchers – casualties of the dance. Some of them writhing around, perhaps having fits, pale and sunken, victims of the drum and bass trenches. Others looked less well off, strung out and expressionless, paralysed with post traumatic stress disorder. I am ‘out of my nut’ – literally. I have gone mad. People actually did die at the rave. It wasn’t called AWOL for nothing – it was more than A Way Of Life when people actually died at the hardcore frontlines. Only for the hardcore. You know the score. RIP.


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