S'Express artist Mark Moore explores London's clubbing history with Skiddle's Mark Dale. From The Blitz and the New Romantics, to acid house and the underground's rise.
Date published: 21st Oct 2015
Mark Moore is a product of London's nightclubs. Nothing else from his formative years has had such a dramatic effect on his life. Among his first clubbing experiences were regular trips to the highly influential Blitz Club, where DJ Rusty Egan would play a David Bowie and Roxy Music inspired mix of underground and pop electronica.
Its clientele, which included nightclub promoter and Visage singer Steve Strange, Boy George, Marilyn, DJ Princess Julia, members of Spandau Ballet and gay London socialite and sometime club promoter Philip Sallon, were famous for their DIY outfits which impacted highly on the fashion of the time. The club is held responsible for launching the New Romantic movement.
Inspired to DJ, Mark got his break at The Mud Club before moving to the much larger Heaven venue, playing for a gay/mixed crowd. Thanks to this residency, Moore would become a very popular DJ in London. His electronic playlist was one of the first to incorporate the earliest house music records that would begin to arrive on import from Chicago in the mid eighties.
Moore's musical knowledge and tastes became highly respected. Early UK dance music label Rhythm King, an offshoot of electronic titans Mute, were so grateful to him for suggesting acts to sign they granted Moore's request to be given some studio time and hooked him up with co-writer/co-producer Pascal Gabriel.
The product of Moore and Gabriel's studio work would be the early material of the group S'Express whose first single 'Theme From S'Express' (above) unexpectedly went to number one in the UK pop charts. Their follow ups, 'Superfly Guy' (which contained the b side 'Lollipop', a track popular with Detroit's underground club DJs) and "Hey Music Lover" went to number 5 and 6 respectively.
Gabriel left the S'Express project after the debut album and has since become a highly respected music writer and producer having worked with Dido, Goldfrapp, Kylie Minogue, Will Young and Little Boots.
Moore continued S'Express, working with Detroit producer Carl Craig on the group's second album. He's also worked with Phillip Glass, William Orbit, Billie Ray Martin and Sonique on S'Express material and remixed the likes of Prince, Soft Cell, Dead Or Alive and Erasure.
2008 saw S'Express release their first original material in 15 years, with the track 'Stupid Little Girls' being issued on the highly respected Kitsuné label. Moore has himself just launched a new imprint entitled Needleboss, its first release being the Excursions EP which features new remakes of S'Express classics by I-Robots, Punks Jump Up, Vanilla Ace and Supermen Lovers. Throughout his career Mark Moore has continued to be a popular DJ.
Because of his longevity as a clubber and a DJ Mark Moore has an encyclopaedic knowledge of London's nightlife history. He's also a really nice guy and was happy to share some of his recollections with us, prior to playing Trade's 25th anniversary on Sunday 25th October 2015.
When you first started clubbing, what were the characters at The Blitz like compared to the clubbers of today?
Oh, it was quite different! [laughs] Back then you would go out every night. And there was only one club that was amazing that you could go to, so pretty much everyone would be there. The amount of people clubbing in London, the people you would mix with, it was probably just a few hundred people.
And the characters did spend most of their day just getting their outfits ready so they would look amazing. You knew it was something special, you knew that these looks were influencing fashion, you just knew these people were going to do something with themselves. And most of them did - Boy George, Spandau Ballet, Marilyn, Steve Strange. It was such a small bunch of people but the influence was felt pretty much around the world.
With the benefit of hindsight, don't you think it's kinda remarkable that so many of them did live up to their self belief?
It just feels like they ended up where they should have been. It didn't feel unusual, it just felt like, yep, that makes sense.
How did you first meet Phillip Sallon and what was he like to work for?
The first time I met him was at Golders Green bus station, I think I was about 14. We'd meet there every Saturday in order to find out where the party was and then a horde of us would go there, gatecrash it. Sallon was the ringleader.
The first time I met him properly was at the Scarlet Cinema, probably at a John Waters allnighter and he invited me to come to his parents house, where everyone would meet up. There'd be about three people who had cars and 20 people would cram into these three cars, then we'd go and hunt the parties down. We'd do about five parties in each night, staying about half an hour at each. So, that's how we first met.
He went on to open a night, Planets, in Picadilly, where Boy George DJed with Jeremy Healey. The place was tiny and it was amazing. Then he opened The Mud Club and I would go there and take records for the DJ, Tasty Tim, to play. Tim let me fill in for him when he was away, and Phillip would ring me up every night beforehand and say "Do not fuck up my club or I will kill you!" Haha! So, a bit nervewracking. But everyone went crazy when I played and I got a permanent job there.
How much of The Blitz was in The Mud Club?
I guess The Blitz made the blueprint for a lot of clubs at that time, so there was certainly some of it in The Mud Club. But, to be honest, it wasn't like The Blitz at all, because Phillip Sallon is his own creature, so it was more about him, his slant on it. He was around in the pre punk days and he is there in all those Bromley contingent punk photos.
He was around way before the New Romantics, so he was definitely a trend setter, someone people were looking at and taking inspiration from. So, when he opened The Mud Club it was definitely his style that he put into it, which was kind of like the dressing up thing that The Blitz had, but there was a lot more humour about it.
It didn't take itself so seriously. It was a great melting pot of different kinds of people. You had the funkabillys, rockabillys, you had the buffalo look. In fact, Malcolm McLaren opened The Mud Club and did a barn dancing class on the opening night. It was a lot more humourous, more tongue in cheek.
How much of an influence was Rusty Egan on you and what made him stand out from other DJs?
He was such a big influence on me because he would go and find all these records that we didn't know about. The first time I heard Yellow Magic Orchestra was through Rusty, the first time I heard Gina X 'Performance' was through him as well. There were so many. He would seek out these electronic records from around the world and they would become huge, just from him playing them at The Blitz.
Strange to think that so many people from the club went on to become very well known, but Rusty was kind of underrated. Certainly his name didn't seem to travel that far outside of London. That's in sharp contrast to today's clubs, where the DJ is regarded as the focal point of the party, not the dancers and what they were wearing like at The Blitz.
In those days the DJs were only revered by those who went to the clubs who were really, really into their music. It wasn't until hip hop that DJs were seen as anything more and they became seen more as pop stars. The hardcore clubbers always revered their DJs, but outside of the club environment I think it was hip hop that put DJs more on the map.
After The Mud Club your next residencies were at Heaven, you played two nights there. How different an environment was that to DJ in compared to The Mud Club?
It was a similar crowd, it was definitely an alternative crowd. Mainly gay, but a lot of straight people who wanted to dress up freaky and who didn't want to get harassed by others for looking freaky. It was definitely from that same melting pot of London, post The Blitz etc.
But it was just on a bigger scale, because Heaven was so massive. The lighting rig was amazing and they'd do special light shows for some of the epic records, like New Order 'Blue Monday'. It was definitely more of a big night out, even though it was on a Wednesday.
Colin Faver and Eddie Richards, who you DJ'd alongside in Heaven, both went on to become known for playing a darker, harder sound - techno - a few years later. Was that bent evident in the music you were all playing at Heaven?
We played a lot of left-field electronic stuff, things like Front 242, DAF, Liaisons Dangereuses (above), so it seems like a natural progression. But in those days we were always eclectic, it was never just one style of music. In 1988 it was still eclectic.
In the acid house clubs you'd get all kinds of music played - acid, soulful New Jersey house, Balearic, disco - it was all mixed up. I think, as the years went by, probably after 1990, things became genrefied and you were a 'techno DJ' or you were a 'deep house DJ'. I think things got slightly more boring when they got put into boxes.
What was Taboo like compared to the other clubs that were happening at the time and what was Leigh Bowery like as a host?
[Laughs] Well, Leigh Bowery was great! Taboo came out of all those clubs that went before, but the way it was different was it was almost like the dial was turned up to 11. I guess the drugs were probably turned up to 11 as well [laughs]. It was definitely more frenzied than what came before.
And Leigh Bowery suited that perfectly, hosting in the most avant garde way possible. The whole thing was a mix of celebration, hedonism and the avant garde. To me the most perfect thing was the fact that the DJ, Jeffrey Hinton, could be off his head and forget to play a record, so there would be silence, or he would play the slip matt by mistake and it didn't matter, everyone would cheer.
When a great record came on everyone would lay on the floor and fall on top of each other in this orgiastic mountain of people [laughs]. You don't really see that in clubs nowadays, do you?
Do you think club culture misses having people like Leigh Bowery as a focal point?
You still find a lot of colourful characters in the alternative gay clubs. But there was nobody like Leigh Bowery, even at that time. Now, when you do see these colourful characters, it's hard for them to be original, because you can see that they've taken things from the past.
It's hard to outdo what came before, especially when it's something as extreme as Leigh. So, it's not quite the same energy. It's not quite the thrill of the new, the thrill of someone like Leigh taking these looks to further and further extremes and you really don't know where it's going.
Nowadays you can tell where things have come from and you aren't guessing where it's going to, because you already know where it's been.
What's the most infamous thing you remember Leigh for?
Well, I guess it's the famous incident when he performed an enema on himself and then sprayed the crowd, you know about that one? Even now when I think about it, it was a moment when you just thought I can't believe he's gone this far.
He was supposed to be in the "Hey Music Lover" video, you know? He kind of got a twinkle in his eye when he heard I'd started working with Phillip Glass. He was like "Oh, you've conquered the music world and now you've conquered the art world!" and I said "Well, why don't you come and be in the video?" He was like, yeah, definitely and he was really thrilled about it, but for some reason he rang the night before we were due to shoot it and said that he couldn't do it.
I thought, well we've written a part for him, what are we gonna do? So we got David Cabaret to do the part. And Leigh didn't speak to me after that. When I next saw him he just ran off and I was like "What's wrong with him?" Apparently he'd told everyone that I got a Leigh Bowery lookalike to be in the video.
He wouldn't speak to David Cabaret either, although I believe they made it up shortly afterwards, after Leigh realised that David was his own creature, his own creation and not just a copy of him. But yeah, it was very upsetting the way it ended up.
Did you see the Taboo musical?
Yes I did. It was a lovely, Disneyfied version by Boy George. A cuddly version of Taboo [laughs]. But I loved it, I enjoyed it very much.
We've talked about the fashion and the music at many of these nights. As there were drugs, different sexualities and some outlandish behaviour present, was sex an overt element at any of these clubs?
Oh yeah, sex was always present. But it was a weird time then, because the news about AIDS had just started coming in. Some people were still being debauched and not worrying about it. But then someone else would fall ill or die, so it was a confusing time. Before all that sex was like really funny. You would probably end up at someone's house and people would start fumbling.
Gay boys would get off with girls, just as an experiment and people would be experimenting in a very childish, naive kind of way. I could tell you stories which are... too filthy to write, come to think of it, people experimenting with various different things they could insert inside themselves.
And it all seemed quite playful at the time, but if you were repeat it out loud now it would just sound perverse. Ha! And you know..... actually, I don't think I'll go any further! But when AIDS started coming out it became quite a dark time and a lot of people did disappear, fall ill or just not turn up to the club and you'd be wondering what had happened to them.
I think that's when things started to get a bit darker and there was this void that appeared which later acid house filled. But at the time, post Live Aid, music just became really pompous. All about filling the stadiums, bums on seats and less about experimentation. It was a strange time for music and a strange time for clubbing. Until acid house came along.
I read in a previous interview of yours that you said when AIDS became a thing that people started making a special effort to make themselves look healthy and well when they went out. Do you think that put pay to London's clubbers getting dressed up so extravagantly in post punk or experimental, outlandish clothes?
Well, the New Romantic thing was about looking as glamorous and as perfect as possible, but there were other people who took it the other way. To them, it was about looking amazing and fantastic, but not looking beautiful in a traditional sense.
It was almost about uglyfying yourself, the grotesque. Looking stunning, but ugly. That's what disappeared, that kind of dressing up in an avant garde way. But, to be honest, most of the ringleaders of that, like Leigh, actually died. So it disappeared and things became conservative quite quickly.
You got your start with S'Express at the Rhythm King record label, an offshoot of Mute Records, partially because you'd been of such help to them. You told them to sign Renegade Soundwave. Where had you heard them?
They would come down to Heaven and The Mud Club and hang out. Carl Bonnie gave me his first record which was called Underneath The Arches by The Jackal. I loved it. It sounded a bit like Tack>>Head, lots of crazy drum machine programming, quite dubby.
That's what I loved, so I said "I want to send this to Rhythm King to sign it". Carl said "Oh, I've got a new band now, Renegade Soundwave" so that's what I ended up taking to Rhythm King.
The record you broke through with on Rhythm King, your first single "Theme From S'Express" doesn't sound like it wants to be a straight rip of a Chicago house record. What were your other influences in putting it together?
The main influences were actually hip hop, the cut and paste thing of people like Double D and Steinski, who did Hip Hop Lessons 1 - 3. It was just edits that they were doing, taking other people's records and editing them together to make a whole that you could actually dance to.
So, that was the main influence for me, plus other things that I loved like Phillip Glass, punk, post punk - especially things on the Ze label - that was a post punk label that was doing disco music. Disco was a dirty word back then, but it was obviously a huge influence on that. I didn't want to do a blueprint copy of a Chicago house record or a Detroit techno record.
With "Theme From S'Express" going to number one and then its follow up "Superfly Guy" also doing so well, why didn't you stick with the successful formula of working with Pascal Gabriel?
We did do some more. Well, we did a whole bunch at the same time as those, but the thing was he's a very talented guy, an extremely talented producer and he wanted to do it by himself. So, he formed his own band. Originally we were going to do it together, but he came and told me "I'm going to do my own project", which was the Lovechild Orchestra. So he went off to do that.
You mentioned Detroit techno. How did you first meet Derrick May?
Derrick was brought round to mine by Adrenalin M.O.D. who were an early UK house act. They'd brought him over to England and he was mixing their record. They were mates of mine. In those days everyone who was making early house music knew each other, we all used to pile into the same few clubs that existed in 1987.
So they brought him round and he started running rampage through my record collection, pulling things out and we became friends there and then. Later on he would do some edits of the S'Express stuff for the clubs in Detroit.
House music was obviously a big thing for you at the time. Was it a compliment that your tracks like 'Lollipop' (above) were big with these DJs and producers from Detroit?
Oh yeah! Even though Derrick wasn't that well known at that time he was one of my favourite producers. So I was thrilled. He was up there with Giorgio Moroder to me, another of my producer heroes and he still is one of my favourite DJs. Even when I go and see him now I'm still blown away by what he does.
He actually tried to teach me some DJ tricks back in the day, when it was just decks and a simple mixer, you didn't have CDJs. He tried to teach me how you could play records backwards by putting them on a cotton reel, then inverting the cartridge and stylus so you were playing the record upside down, things like that, stuff I just couldn't do. Ha!
Derrick returned to London with a very young Carl Craig. The pair were performing together live as a duo, when Rhythim Is Rhythim supported Inner City. Do you remember meeting Carl back then for the first time?
Yeah, I do actually. He kind of got dumped at mine. My place was like the place where all the Detroit artists stayed, Derrick, Carl, I think Kenny Larkin stayed once too. It was like a haven for them, they'd come and stay in my spare room. I think Derrick kinda dumped Carl at mine or he came round.
Anyway, I ended up taking Carl to his first nightclub, which was Kinky Gerlinky, the famous drag club. He hid in the corner all night with his eyes really wide, looking terrified. Then, at the end, I said 'What did you think of that?' and he goes 'OH MAN! THAT WAS AMAZING!' [laughs] He'd never seen anything like it, it was his first time in England. He was completely blown away.
Why did you chose Carl to work with on the second S'Express album?
I heard the stuff that he was doing and I thought it was really cool. He was kinda knocking around London, living here for a little bit and he needed to keep busy. I was working on the album and said 'Why don't you come in and do some stuff?'. So he did.
What kind of stuff of his did you hear at the time? Was it stuff that was released?
Some of it might not have come out, some of it was more industrial back then. I heard that track he did with Sarah Gregory 'As Time Goes By (Sitting Under a Tree)', which I thought was fantastic. While he was staying at mine I showed him the Dario Argento film Suspiria and he went and did that track Suspiria after watching it.
You've worked a lot in underground music in recent years. What about going for another pop hit?
Another pop hit... erm [laughs]. The thing is, 'Theme From S'Express' was never designed to be a pop hit. It was playing with the whole disco thing of being bright and flashy and loud.
I'd formed the band, with friends, to look like we were all pop stars, but we were supposed to be underground for the first five years, then we would sell out and become real pop stars, but that plan got scuppered on the first release. I've never tried to have a hit, I've always just tried to do what I like, if it becomes a hit, it just happens. Same with "Superfly Guy".
Tell me a bit about the new label you're launching with these S'Express remixes. Where are you going to go next with that? Will there be more S'Express remixes or are you planning some brand new material to be released?
The next release is going to be the Enjoy This Trip album of remixes, remodels and remakes of S'Express stuff. The 12" that has just come out isn't going to be on the album. After that I guess I'll put out my own new stuff and I was thinking of signing things that caught my fancy. But it's a different world now, which I knew anyway and it is like shovelling money down a black hole hahaha. So, I need to be very careful about what I release.
The weekend you're playing at the Trade anniversary. Are you looking forward to it?
Yeah, it's always a family feel with Trade.
Thinking specifically of Trade, how do you think the sound of London's gay clubs has changed over the years?
Well, it's weird. At one point in the nineties that Trade sound, the hard house, became the gay sound and there wasn't much variation from that, unless you went to gay clubs that played pure pop music. I think now most gay clubs are playing chart music which, to me, is just like, why bother?
Obviously that's the more commercial clubs. In the alternative or underground gay clubs, they are playing a mish mash, which I like, or like Horse Meat Disco, they're playing disco or they are playing nineties influenced house, places like Dalston Superstore.
I miss the places that play a real mix, really. And I think that's what's missing at the moment is that gay clubs had a sound and I don't know if, at this time, they have a sound any more. Unless you count pop music. I don't think that's the way forward, playing chart stuff.