Charlie Hall

Production duo the Drum Club were rave revolutionaries in the early nineties. But ten years down the line, is ex-Drum Clubber Charlie Hall turning into a 'bitter auld fucker'? Not so, thinks Overload's Alex Ward

By Alex Ward

 
Charlie Hall can't hide his feelings that things have gone a little bit, well, off course with dance music culture over recent years. "Hope I didn't sound like a bitter auld fucker. Fings ain't what they used ter be!!" he jests via email, one week after chewing the fat with Overload in a West London boozer. But then he's right. Things aren't what they used to be. When the Drum Club joined the likes of Orbital, Underworld and the Aphex Twin on the legendary Midi Circus tour in 1993 (a project initiated by Hall and production partner Lol Hammond), the vibe that ran thick through parties and clubs of that era was a fresh, positive wave of energy. "People were inspired by the whole story rather than now," he imparts, "now it's a living for people and they don't do it to be 'in the scene', they do it to play the mortgage or pay the rent – which is fair enough, because you can't expect the scene to continue really inspiring people for ten, twelve years."

In '89 Charlie Hall found it relatively easy to slot in as a DJ in an understaffed market, landing a residency at Soho's Wag club on his third gig. "I used to get a really hard time from all the local DJs round here," he recounts. "These guys from this record shop where used to slag me off so much cause I was 'posh Tarquin' getting into the DJing business, but I stuck it out..." Indeed, by 1990 he was becoming an integral player in the burgeoning dance scene, promoting groundbreaking nights on the London scene (notably the seminal Drum Club) and finding active involvement with notorious free party organisations such as Spiral Tribe and Sugarlump.

He met Lol Hammond at one of his parties called The Loft, subsequently forming a production partnership. Following their debut release, U Make Me Feel So Good on Spiral Tribe's label, the duo quickly became one of dance music's hottest remixing outfits, reworking Jah Wobble, Psychick Warriors Of Gaia and even Killing Joke, and going on to produce two albums before the pair parted company in 1994. "Yeah, we kind of fell out, but that was just an ego thing," he explains, "We got dropped by Big Life because the music wasn't really good enough and then I wanted to do another album but we'd lost our income – which was fine because I was DJing. Lol formed another band with Nina from Sabrettes and I got pissed off that he was doing another band so we split the band up. We both lost our senses of humour for a while, but I DJ'd at his club Funkt last month and I had a really good time."

As with former DJing colleagues such as Steve Bicknell and Andy Weatherall, he's seen plenty of change in terms of "the psychology of the philosophy". "Don't forget that the same time the club thing was developing there are so many other things" he comments, "Spiral Tribe, the Megadog thing... There were lots of different stands for people who had just found electronic music that could provide a good springboard for their talents or their activities. The Spirals made their music uncompromising but also it was their politics that was the strong thing." Harking back to the dawn of rave, he's the first to acknowledge how Ecstasy was a fundamental catalyst in the explosion that followed and how major cultural movements are often underpinned by huge, unpredictable developments. Charlie: "I'm sure something will come from this, lots of things, but I'm sure there'll be some other explosion of optimism, another scene. It's usually coupled with a drug. I think the new scene will happen when someone figures out another way of getting out of it."

Unsurprisingly, changing times have seen Charlie Hall's enthusiasm for club culture fade. "Since I've become a dad I've got something else to do that keeps me awake at night" he smiles. Yet a large part of his disillusionment appears to lie in the focus shift from social interaction to star attraction. "The essential thing about a club is that it's a 'club' – it's a group of people who club together to have a particular experience" he theorises. "It's where people can meet and have a laugh or exchange music and can find some quiet corner to discuss shit that relates to their lives or their particular love of music, which is very healthy. Now that it is much more DJ orientated people will go along to see Dave Clarke or whoever. I think that when DJs became bigger than the club, DJs then became mercenaries and would DJ because the promoter would say 'Dave Clarke equals 2000 people through the door', and then you'd get people who wouldn't really care about the club or wouldn't really care about the music – they'd just care about the DJ because they were equal to a certain amount of people, and personally I don't think that equals a great thing because often that DJ isn't on form. The onus is put on the DJ to provide the entire entertainment."

Having DJed extensively worldwide, serving residencies in France and also at Liverpool's long-running techno night Voodoo, he finds little inspiration in today's top vinyl spinners who rigidly stick to one style. "My favourite DJ in the world is Derrick May" he comments. "In the course of his set he'll play house and techno, he'll play proper Detroit techno and he'll play a bit of kind Marco Carola, some really looping stuff, he'll play a wide range of stuff and some very esoteric music, music that freaks people out. I can't really be inspired to dance for a whole night to the same type of music. It's just not fun."

In more recent years, alongside less-frequent DJing forays, Charlie Hall has been co-running London-based Victoria Music, a stable housing a spread of labels that extends far beyond the remit of house and techno: his own Pro-Jex, DJ Rush's Kne Deep, house labels Nepenta and Fandango, Japanese concerns U7, Housedust and Subvoice, and not forgetting Rob Jarvis's controversial Killa Bite. There's a new title on the cards for deeper, melodic techno called Inform, and also Rodeo Meat – for what he loosely describes as 'sleazy loungecore'. Having spent years running the ever-diverse MC Projects, when the label "mutated into Pro-Jex" Charlie chose to hone its output towards a more defined style – a direction influenced by his long-standing love of Chicago house and techno. "With Pro-Jex, even though every EP is not ghetto techno or jackin' techno, it'll be trying to keep that sort of idea," he explains. "I can always dance to Chicago music whatever mood I'm in – whether I'm completely sober, straight, tripping or anything. It gets the arse going and I love that. I think it's very, very important."

Naturally then, Charlie Hall seized the opportunity to invite Chicago's DJ Rush into the Victoria encampment. "I used to do a lot of DJing in Spain," he recounts. "One Friday afternoon when I was in the office a phone call came through that said Luke Slater has pulled out of doing a gig, can you come and be Luke Slater – it involves you getting on a plane in two hours? So I made it to the airport and met Rush who was standing in for Juan Atkins. It was a great gig, really good, and he came up to me and said, 'Luke, I didn't realise you played so much Chicago shit' and I was like 'Juan, I didn't realise you played so much banging shit'. We were at this beautiful outdoor party and I just sort of reeled him in." Within a month Rush had supplied the DAT for the third Pro-Jex release and plans were soon afoot for his own Kne Deep imprint among the ranks.

His relationship with Rush was augmented last year when the debut album from the Chicago don was released on Pro-Jex, but he harbours a clear desire to put out new material by other Dance Mania ghetto heroes, such as DJ Funk and Deeon. "I'm desperate to get that fucking layabout making some music," he says of Funk. "He released one EP for us and it was an absolute killer, everybody loved it. Deeon is truly ghetto – he won't get it together and doesn't fucking care."

His label involvements of recent years have also provided worldwide exposure for Japanese artists such as DJs Zank and Shufflemaster, yet he's quick to name-check home grown talent from the UK who he's eager to work with on future releases – Brighton's Cristian Vogel (who already released an EP on Pro-Jex under the name of Julia Decay), Noodles mentalist Si Begg, the ever-inventive Luke Slater and also newcomer Mark Hawkins. Having releases his own tracks on MC Projects (as Phlex), on Svek as (Charlie H), and on Pro-Jex (under his own name – most recently with his Our Kid EP, dedicated to Hall Junior), he talks of plans to further his own recording schedule, as and when time permits. "I'll get back to doing stuff at some point – stuff I am really happy with," he concludes, "It requires me to have a studio in my flat and occasionally come up with something I really love. I'll go for a few days in the studio and start from scratch and it's not enough."

So, is Charlie Hall bitter? Nah. And as the lumbering beast of commercial club culture further undermines the original 'dance' ethos, you can rest assured that he'll continue playing his part in perverting the course of mainstream music monotony.
sam posted 5 October 2008 (02:23:04)
Charlie is my brother, so nobody best call him an old fucker!! He's one of the best things that the london music scene has seen in the late 80's.
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