Danny Rampling: “We knew after the first night that this was something special”
We met with Danny Rampling to discuss the birth of Acid House and his famous Shoom parties, THAT trip to Ibiza, the state of UK clubland and what clubbers can expect from the 30th anniversary of Shoom
30 YEARS ago four friends went on holiday to Ibiza. When they returned to the UK their lives had changed forever. Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker went on to pioneer arguably the biggest youth culture movement in history, the reverberations of which are still felt today worldwide and dance music and club culture is a multi billion dollar industry.
Tonight, Danny Rampling celebrates the 30th anniversary of Shoom, the party he started in South East London 3 months after his return from the white isle in 1987. We caught up with him this week just down the road from where it all started.
Clips from this interview were used in The Sun newspaper on Friday December 8, 2017.
Three decades after the Acid House explosion almost to the day here we are discussing it in the pages of a newspaper that once demonised it? That’s progress!
Haha! The tabloids actually helped the scene by scandalising it. They helped it boom, drawing people towards it by sensationalising it. They did a great job promoting the Acid House and rave scene!
OK, let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us how you met your friend Nicky Holloway who was instrumental and influential in your early career and the birth of Shoom and Acid House?
Nicky was a leading soul/funk DJ and promoter and I learned a lot of the craft of DJing from him. I met him in Ibiza in’84 and worked for him for a few years. We hit it off immediately. Nicky was very successful DJ already in the prelude to the Acid House explosion DJing on the Soul circuit. He was everything I aspired to be.
In those days the doors weren’t open for young DJs like they are now. Of course it’s still difficult to break through, it’s a very competitive industry but it really was back then too. I was determined however and I think that’s what got me to where I am today. You’ve got to stay focused, you have to stay driven and have a lot of self-belief. It’s a business where if you get knocked down you get back up again. You have to have a pretty thick skin as it can be pretty cut throat but I think all creative industries are.
That infamous trip to Ibiza in 1987 with Nicky, Johnny Walker and Paul Oakenfold which changed everything wasn’t your first visit to the white isle was it?
The first time I went to Ibiza I went there with a girlfriend in 1981 but I didn’t see the other side of Ibiza then, it was a holiday in the sun. The other side only became apparent in ‘87 during the trip everyone knows about with Nicky, Johnny and Paul for his 24th birthday. Amnesia and DJ Alfredo changed everything. We were heavily influenced by our experiences there from the music, the party people and the night time culture of Ibiza. We transported it back to London and channelled those experiences into our own respective parties.We knew after that first night that this was something very special.
I understand there is a film / TV series being written about that trip to the island?
Yes there is. Irvine Welsh is writing the script with Dean Cavanaugh for Sony Pictures International who have signed the rights to the film / TV Series . The working title is Ibiza87 and it’s very likely that early next year it will be going into production.
Who would you like to play you?
Haha, that’s a good question. I think you need to ask my wife Ilona that one! I just want to see it get made. It’s going to be Irvine Welsh’s twisted fiction based loosely on the facts and events of that holiday. It’s a great project and I can’t wait to see it on the big screen. Irvine has a great angle on it and was at the forefront of the culture himself. He was heavily influenced by Acid House culture on his way to becoming the hugely successful cult writer that he is. He has a lot of knowledge and passion for the scene.
Can you tell us about the beginnings of Shoom?
Well the first party was a bit of a loose arrangement and I partnered up with a guy who was a rare groove DJ so there were two crowds. The rare groove guys weren’t really into the House stuff and vice versa so it didn’t really work so well on that first outing in the fitness centre in Southwark Street. That first one was a bit of a road test as the crowds did become one after that party. I mean we hadn’t even decided on the name then either as it was going to be called ClubX before we decided to go with the title Shoom. So that party was really an unofficial start to Shoom.
The first real Shoom party was December 5th 1987 which was the night Carl Cox came and put the soundsystem in. Carl was working for Paul Oakenfold and breaking through as a DJ at a club in Streatham. The first time I saw Carl play I was like many people blown away. He was incredible even back then, playing on 3 decks when i could just about mix on 2 decks like most of us starting out back then. I was mesmorised by Carl’s skills and invited him to play along at Shoom and he did.
What was the atmosphere like at those early parties?
It was a very innocent time. I’d learned a lot about promotion through Nicky Holloway and followed what he was doing dressing the club up with decorative banners, drapes on the ceiling and just making the room look different.
The vibe was electric and an eclectic colourful wild mix of people who attended it became a temple of music and escapism for everyone a free space of positivity, happiness and unity togetherness and opportunity . The music was so fresh and exciting. Everyone there knew something special was happening. That vibe was very earthy and very raw with loads of energy.
It expanded very rapidly after that first December night.
How did you get the word out promoting the parties?
We used to go out flyering all over the trendy areas of London, Kings Road, Covent Garden, Art Schools, Universities etc… It was very ground level, on the street promotion. That’s how it was back then, very different from how it’s done today. Back then it was about getting out there and talking to people and spreading the word that way. It was very effective.
Initially it was intended to be a monthly party but after the second party in January we decided to go weekly as we were selling out. It made it very difficult on the door as there were so many people queueing to get into a venue that held only 300!
The Shoom parties only ran for three years but had such a big impact? Why was this?
They brought so many different youth tribes together. But we had to move on, it was getting too much with the amount of people that wanted to come and experience it and we outgrew the original venue. We did a couple of one off larger scale parties called Joy at Samurai Studios after that for 1200 people but it was hard to leave that basement in Southwark Street and move back into the West End. SE1 back then was not an epicentre for clubbing. It became that in later years but more recently that has almost been lost again with the closure of clubs like Cable where we had our 25th Shoom anniversary back in 2012.
So it was sad leaving that basement but we had to progress and we eventually ended up at Busby’s in Tottenham Court Road which was the first time that Tony Humphries came over to play for Shoom. That night was electrifying.
How was the smiley face adopted as the emblem of the Acid House movement?
I spotted a stylist at a club in London who had a denim waist coast covered in smiley patches just shortly after I had been got back from Ibiza and I thought that’s it! It represents the state of freedom and happiness and releasing that on the dancefloor. It’s timeless and it of course then went on to become a symbol of the whole movement.
I remember The Sun at one point was selling smiley face T-Shirts from Gary Bushell’s Bizarre column. On the one hand demonising the scene on the front page telling everyone to lock up your children and then inside selling these smiley face T-Shirts!
Following Shoom the superclubs took hold in the 90s heralding a golden era for dance music and for you as one of the biggest superstar DJs leading the charge. There is a huge amount of nostalgia not only for the Acid House period but also what followed with the raves and the superclubs isn’t there? I’m really looking forward to the Cream show coming up next year in Fokestone.
That time was unique and can never really be repeated. That feeling however is still on the dance floor today but it was a time of great revolution in the music, youth culture and clubbing and set the bench mark. It created a huge wave of opportunity going from a sub culture to a global worldwide industry. The rave scene was the blue print for the festival scene we all enjoy today. Before that time the festival scene was the preserve of rock bands. The rave scene changed the festival landscape. Rock and electronic music was allowed to fuse together and the Balearic spirit.
When the Criminal Justice Act was introduced the rave scene began to get quite dark and the parties went back indoors which in turn created the rise of the superclubs like Cream and Ministry Of Sound. The scene then was allowed to become commercialised creating a booming industry of opportunity. The 90s was a great period economically if you were involved with dance music not just with the clubs but also with music sales. That decade was a bonanza time for music, artists, record labels and club promoters. And people were having a great time throughout the 90s. Everyone was out partying! All over the country there were big clubs opening.
Acid House and the rave scene however came from a period when things weren’t so good. Can we draw any parallels between then and what is happening in the country now?
Economically its a very parallel time now. It was quite challenging for a lot of people back then and I think there are quite a parallel set of circumstances. Can we see something similar emerge again? Who knows there is a reaction to challenging conditions and with a reaction comes new ideas. Problem is everything in the digital age is so disposable and things aren’t allowed to grow. Music has become devalued, the current new younger generation generally don’t want to own music like we did either, they want to stream music which has impacted many artists and labels revenue streams.
Modern club land all over the country is facing a real challenge today with clubs closing for a variety of reasons from urban development to draconian measures from authorities. What are your feelings on this?
It’s a sad state of affairs. Just today we have heard about the Rainbow Rooms in Birmingham being shut down for similar reasons as to why they tried to close fabric last year. It’s a major blow and it was a huge contributor to the Night Time economy of Birmingham with people travelling from all over the country to go to that venue for a night out. It’s fortunate though that we are beginning to get a handle on it with the appointment of a Night Czar in London and the Night Time Industries spearheaded by Alan Miller doing great things in London and beyond to give a voice to the Night Time economy and preserve the Night Time culture, club and music scenes and grass roots music. There is a lot going on behind the scenes.
We are so far behind our European neighbours though with cities like Amsterdam and Berlin where they celebrate night time and club culture. Here in the UK we should never forget that we have a creative melting pot, not just in London but all over the UK. So many genres of music have been born in the UK and we are the envy of the world in that respect and have exported it successfully worldwide. There is a lot of attention globally for our music scene and it needs to be encouraged and preserved.
It seems London has been following what happened in New York. The NYC scene used to be the envy of the world and then in came Mayor Giuliani and completely homogenised the city and decimated the nightlife. Fortunately it has recovered there to an extent but it will never be what it was. Hopefully London won’t go the same way. I’m confident it won’t because there is such fierce opposition and we are addressing the situation.
What can we expect from you at Shoom30?
I will play modern Acid House along with the original sounds combined. There is so much great new music out there. Shoom was always about new music. I’ve always been about new music but on the other hand people do want to hear those classic tunes and it is a night of heritage and a celebration of that so people will experience a good balance of quality music both new and also favourites that have transcended generations and still sound fresh today.
Can you talk us through some of the artists joining you at Shoom30 which reflect the balance you have just described?
Firstly Tony Humphries, he was the first US DJ to play at Shoom. I have so much respect and admiration for Tony. He is an oak tree in this industry and is revered in the same league as the late great Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan. He is a very expressive and adventurous DJ. He knows how to play that record at the right time. That really is the art form and the essence of a great DJ.
Then we have Bushwacka! One of the UKs greatest DJs and producers. He was at the forefront of the early scene and was greatly influenced by Shoom. He is one of my favourite DJs, he programs music very well and delivers it with phenomenal energy.
We have Farley and Heller, the original Shoom residents. The guys will be opening up the main room and have given so much to house music culture.
My wife Ilona is playing. She is producing some amazing Techno and has just produced a fantastic track called ‘Keeping Me Awake’ which has great energy. I’ve already played it out a number of times and it really does rock the floor. You will be hearing more of her on the techno scene next year.
We also have XPress2 joining us. They have produced so many timeless records over the years. Their music particularly with the wave of retro clubbing across the country continues to resonate and are getting a whole new lease of life with a new audience.
Then we have Saytek who arrived on my radar through my wife Ilona. I got sent some of his music and loved it as do a wide variety of DJs across the house and techno spectrum so really looking forward to watching and hearing him perform live. Outstanding new wave homegrown talent .
As a DJ I think it’s really important to cross genres and not pigeon hole yourself with one genre. That’s the spirit of what we all have created and the line-up reflects this.
Is there anything you would like to say to the clubbers that will be joining you to celebrate your Shoom 30 year anniversary?
I’d just like to say thank you for all your support though-out all the years. And to those that have not experienced Shoom before I can assure you will not be disappointed. We will be putting on a great show in great style, with quality music and a friendly crowd in a very comfortable cool venue. We will present the spirit of the scene with Shoom30.
Shoom30 takes place on Friday December 8th at Pulse, London. For more information and for tickets head here.