After joining now world renowned dance act Underworld at just
18, he helped propel the group into the mainstream and contributed to
one of dance music’s biggest tracks in
‘Born Slippy’. Initially signed to legendary London imprint Junior
Boys Own, Emerson and Underworld were one of the label’s most prolific
and successful artists. We caught up with him to discuss his punk rock
roots and the group’s influence on the Acid House explosion.
Darren - one of
our UK House music dance heroes. Another outstanding year. Where have
been your highlights of 2009?
has been brilliant - as always. 'Pure Pacha' was incredible. Also, Sander
Kleinenberg who I love playing with, we did the 'Exit Festival' together
in Serbia back to back this year. We are old friends, loved getting
it on again with him spinning tunes we both loved. France and Singapore
really great also - especially the Formula 1 after party. "
Junior Boys Own
- an immense part of the world of House Music. It's where we kids got
started, the tunes made our lives. An amazing part of dance music culture...
Good, fantastic times.
We had great parties with a great bunch of people. They were mostly
older than me as I was one of the young lad's back then - I was the
whippersnapper knocking about with my brother and his friends so I was
always knocking about with older people. Also people like Steve Hall,
Terry Farley, Pete Heller and Simon Eccles were there - and they were
all the cool guys."
So some big respect
as an 18 year old for this pioneering crew...?
I respected what they were doing, especially with the parties, and I
ALWAYS respected Andrew Weatherall. I was a big fan of him and he was
doing some killer mixes at the time. His James ‘Come Home’ and his
Happy Mondays mixes - I was really inspired into that kind of thing
because it wasn’t all about House and Techno - this was the alternative
side to our sound which I was really pulled in to. I was going to ‘Phuture’
on Thursday nights and I used to love going down there because it was
all about good music, not just House music. House music was exploding
at the time, but down there, they moved away from that slightly and
played stuff from The Cure and a bit of Carly Simon - that’s what
got me into alternative music even more. I was always an electronic
kid, cutting and scratching in my bedroom and always into DJing but
that was what really pulled me away - and also knocking about with punks which really opened my mind and got me into guitar music and stuff like
"Yeah they were.
It was the Acid House explosion and everything was new and it was a
new era and with a new explosion of music coming through. It was the
Acid House 303 sound and that’s what it was all about..."
So how did the
adaption from loving music, being a bedroom DJ, admiring producers and
DJs too, to actually making music and
"At 18 I kind
of moved into making records. I was DJing since I was 16 in the clubs
in Essex and I worked my way up, then one day I was asked to play at
the Milk Bar on a Monday nigh with Nicky Holloway. The first gig I did
in London though was at The Limelight and that was on a Saturday night
and I played downstairs, it was really fantastic and proved to be a
good break into London for me. From then I never looked back really
and from there I played at the Milk Bar off Tottenham Court Road - and
that’s where THE people were coming down. I managed to get the DJ
Of The Month Award's in The Face and i-D magazine's, both in the same
month. It was all blowing up for me and I was still only 19 at the time
and the Monday night's were really going off for us and it was packed.
The night was called 'The Recession Session' and it made Monday night
a night to look forward to."
How did the mental
sound of Acid House and also the drug side influence your own musical
direction that took you to musical stardom with Underworld and as superstar
"I was a proper
House fanatic and I was listening to LWR which was a rock pilot radio
station and I was a proper train spotter. I knew everything that was
coming out. It wasn’t like today when there’s thousands and thousands
of tracks coming out on Beatport or Juno and practically anyone can
make music from a laptop. In those days, we used to go to the studio
and it was when I met Rick Smith (Underworld) who was in a rocky/new
wave kind of band which had just been dropped. He was looking for a
DJ and at the time I was the local DJ in Essex and I knew his brother-in-law
and that’s how we hooked up. I started to show Rick what was good
and bad in the dance scene because he didn’t really know much about
dance music and he was teaching me a lot about the studio and before
long, we were writing tunes. Then we started to get a few remixes under
the name ‘Stepping Razor’. Karl came back from L.A, he was doing
session work over there in order to make ends meet. He came in and at
first he didn’t know how to fit in with me and Rick because we were
doing all of these instrumental tracks and it was dance music. We started
cutting up Karl’s vocals in a William Burrows kind of style and that
was the birth of us working together. I was DJing but was also able
to be in the studio with two talented musicians."
How did the introduction
to Junior Boys Own come about?
"I think Andrew
came down to check me out one night at the Milk Bar and he liked what
I was doing because I was really mixing things up and cutting things
and scratching things up - nowadays you just have to hit a loop button,
but in those days I used two of the same record and that was my style.
Myself and Rick had quite a few tracks by then too, and we went to Kensal
Rise where JBO had an office there which they were sharing with Pop
Promotions. We were going there to meet Pop Promotions and we started
talking to this guy called Jonathon who we thought could maybe be our
manager and look after us. We played him one of our tapes. In the corner
of the room Steve was sitting. After the meeting finished Steve got
in contact with me said "I really like that stuff, it’s really
good, lets have another meeting" and that’s how we got the show
on the road with JBO. We first started out under the name ‘Lemon Interrupt’
and we did ‘Big Mouth’, ‘Eclipse’, ‘Miniappolis’ as Lemon
Interrupt. ‘Big Mouth’ is the one with Karl playing his harmonica
and they put out these tracks just to feel around really - and then
came ‘Skyscraper’ which we put out on Boy’s Own records which
was still on London Records. That kind of finished that deal and we
went back to JBO which was when we started doing ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’,
‘Second Toughest In The Infants’ and ‘Beaucoup Fish’ – they’re
the albums that I was part of anyway."
Junior Boys Own
one in particular that stands out - usually the one's which were really
good you can’t really remember much about, but the one that sticks
out is the one where Andrew asked me fill in for because he couldn’t
make it and he asked me to play for him. I was honoured because I looked
up to Andrew and thought it was a fantastic thing to be asked to do,
at a young age as well. It was in Bogner Regis so it was a weekender,
I remember going on and doing my usual thing of using two records and
starting off with a long intro. I remember Norman Cook was there and
it was the first House party he’d been to and he always says now in
interviews that I was the first person to get him into House music.
I remember using Robert Owen’s ‘I'll Be Your Friend’ over and
over again just looping it and going back and forth. Justin Robertson
was playing there as well, it was really good fun to play that weekender.
I remember waking up the next day and feeling a bit hazy sharing hair
of the dog with promoter Charlie Chester. I spent that Sunday with him
at the bar having Sunday afternoon pints. So yeah, I’ve got some good
fond memories of that party."
Many people think
that ‘Born Slippy’ is the biggest dance record ever made. Do you
"I was actually
in Miami with Liam Howlett from The Prodigy and he popped up one time
when we we’re talking and said "I was reading the NME and there
was the top 100 dance records ever made, and you we’re Number 1 and
we were Number 2!" We laughed about it, but The Prodigy are definitely
up there, they’ve got the big tunes such as ‘Smack My Bitch Up’
and ‘Firestarter’ haven’t they? But I’ve heard ‘Born Slippy’
so many times. It’s hard for me to say. It's amazed that a lot of
people still like it and I still play it when I’m DJing at a big arena
party. I do mash-up’s of it just to make it sound better for me because
I’ve heard the original so many times. But it still goes off. It’s
quite annoying actually when you go on Youtube and type in my name and
all the first results that come up are just me playing 'Born Slippy'
even though I play so much different stuff. But it’s THE big tune
and it still manages to get people rocking."
Which other Junior
Boys Own tracks did you love and/or play at the time?
X-Press 2 ‘The Boys’ - they’ve done some fantastic and big
tunes and I love what they’ve done. That track was an early one which
really stood out. Boca Juniors and the track ‘Rays’, that was a
great track, - I used to love it. Also ‘The Dust Brothers’
which is what they were called before they turned into The Chemical
Brothers, the track ‘Songs For The Siren’ I got to know that
track when I was playing on a Thursday night at The Drum Club and I
remember this guy with curly hair coming up to me with a white label
with the title ‘Songs For The Siren’ saying "this is our
new one’, and it was Ed from The Chemical Brothers. I thought it was
a great track with really haunting vocals on it, and it was the one
which really kicked things off for them."
Do you miss the
label running side of the music industry?
"At the time
it was tough for me to say I don’t really want to do this anymore’
because I'd been running ‘Underwater’ for the previous 15 years
and started it up when I was in Underworld in 1994. I think spending
15 years running an independent dance label was pretty good going, I
had a good innings. But to be honest I think it was the right time to
move on, I don’t miss it at all. It was good though, we did have fun
times, we did some great parties and I was doing nights in Ibiza and
we had the residency at Pacha for four years. But times change and you
have to move on. We were selling vinyl at the beginning, now record
sales have completely gone. I had to change with the times and I didn’t
want to be doing it anymore because I wanted to focus on doing some
of my own stuff again. I was looking after a lot of other artists and
their creativity and not myself and my own creativity. Also as I said,
we did Ibiza for four years and each time we went it took up half year.
I’ve been writing on and off since 2002 and recently I’ve been writing
with a friend of mine called Nick who I met at 'The Big Day' out in
Australia many years ago who I actually once signed to ‘Underwater’.
Over the years we’ve wrote loads and loads of stuff and there’s
an album there that’s going to come out. I was talking about doing
a small digital label just for my own releases so that I can get them
out quick and into the digital market. I’m sure that won’t be as
big a headache as the Underwater label was…"
What's next from
digital label which will be called ‘Hard4slow Records’, where they’ll
be plenty of tunes coming out on that in the near future. I’m looking
to get the album I was telling you about finished because at the moment
I’m just sifting through a load of different mixes which are spread
over quite few files, and I’m looking to get a mate of mine called
Steve Doug who is the Chemical Brothers engineer in on it too. Then
find a home for it and put it out!"