There are DJs in the music business that transcend genres, scenes and fads. They are the purveyors of an older, wiser sound devoid of cutting edge gimmickry. Terry Farley is one such DJ. His is a story of music discovery before House came to be, is a story of an inner city kid drawn into a world he would become a champion of. From attending his first nightclub as a fresh faced 16 year old, to world wide success as one half of Heller & Farley and on to residence par excellence at Fabric in London, arguably one of the best nightclubs in the world, Terry has had a thrilling roller coaster of a journey. And its still far from over.
As an avid music fan, talking with the guys that had been there, done it and made the factories the tee shirts are made in, is always an enlightening time. None more so than with a bona fide House music legend like Terry Farley. With a new album on Defected and numerous gigs around his home town of London on going, A&R man Simon Huxtable caught up with the Junior Boys Own man to talk pre-House music London, JBO and the future of the scene.
Hi Terry, it’s an absolute honour to meet you. Thanks for finding the time to chat to us at Decoded Magazine. How are you?
I’m fine n dandy just digesting Chelsea’s surrender in the Champions League last night. All rather pathetic, yet so preventable if only people at the top planned properly in advance.
Sometimes its tough being a football fan huh… So, how easily does the tag “House Legend” sit with you?
It’s a bit silly really. I’m a House lover who’s been lucky enough to work with and alongside some amazing talents which provided by ideas with a outlet . Also fair enough if you’re talking about Frankie, Ron, Larry and David (you’ve all seen the T Shirt) but its a term thats banded about far to easily these days and doesn’t really mean anything.
Tell us about how you met Pete Heller, and what prompted you to team up?
Pete was Danny’s warm up DJ at Shoom, he played some great music that really dug deeper into the heritage of the music – ‘Whistle Bump‘ by Deodato, ‘Love and Happiness’ by First Choice and ‘Start the Dance’ by Hamilton Bohannon. Pete’s a wicked DJ.
Lets talk about the new album: Defected presents House Masters – Heller & Farley. What was the vision for the CD and given the bewildering back catalogue you’ve acquired, how much control were you given with compiling the tracks?
‘Vision’ sounds a bit like ‘legendary’! We never had a vision, we just got a huge back cat to pick from. You want to make things interesting and over 3 CD’s we could pick from our stuff on Junior Boys Own, the underground stuff like our work with Robert Owens, Danny Tenaglia and Jasper St Company, plus the pop acts we remixed like U2 and New Order. The big multi nationals are well known as not being arsed, so we couldn’t get the Janet or Michael Jackson remixes and some smaller House label stuff wasn’t traceable – my fave mix of ours was Armando’s ‘Radikal Bitch’ something we couldn’t find (Armando passed away a long time ago now).
You mention in a recent interview, the best record you’d heard in a club for a while was ‘Elements’ by Danny Tenaglia, and that in fact you were playing ‘Music is the Answer’ again yourself. In conversation with a studio engineer friend, the subject of why records become anthems came up, and he believed it was down to the way older records were put together. Would you support this statement? Why do you think there aren’t as many great records these days?
There is no one answer to ‘Why‘, but the sheer volume of records being made and 90% by DJ’s mean the majority don’t break out of their self imposed Ghettos. Its also a fact DJ’s can’t make music as well as a DJ in a lovely studio with a trained engineer, a trained keyboard player and perhaps a percussionist. The fact that there is fuck all money in making music makes that traditional set up where people vibe off each other and magical things happen a thing mainly of the past.
The vast majority of dance music is now made as a business card for DJ’s to get gigs. There are simply far too many DJ’s nowadays and far too many records, so very few records can organically become ‘Anthem’s’. We also don’t really have a top quality UK radio show that plays the best of the genres that make up House Culture. Back in the mid to late 90s Pete Tong played across the board and an acetate on his show would, within weeks, be played by every DJ at almost every house club in the country. Nowadays I don’t even know 50% of the records Pete Heller plays.
If you’ll indulge me, can we go way back to the first club you frequented on Wardour Street. We understand the DJ there played 6 nights a week… was he the inspiration for you to become a DJ, or was that later?
Cant remember anyone wanting to be a DJ when I first started going out. The hot music came into the import stores in the west end on a friday lunchtime from NY / Miami and you expected – demanded the DJ in the clubs you went to to have and play the hot cuts if they never you went somewhere else . Looking back what Dancers were in a club was more important than the DJ , As long as he played the hot music that was in the stores everybody was happy.
This was in a time before House music, the scene then, as now was fractured into many overlapping but unique scenes. Of the music you were into – Soul and Rare Groove – who were the main players and what were the clubs like then?
Things changed quick not like these days. In 74-75 the imports were Street Funk – stuff like Kool and the Gang’s ‘Jungle Boogie‘, Rueben Wilson’s ‘Got To Get Your Own’ and Fatback Bands ‘Wacky Wacky‘, then a year later its changed to Disco and everybody’s now dancing to Harold Melvin’s ‘Bad Luck‘ and Salsoul Orch’s ‘You’re Just The Right Size’ – same clubs, same dancers, same DJ’s, just what Black America was making had changed. London then took a swerve away from what NY discos were playing, and the dancing got harder and the DJ’s dug deeper into a jazzier route firstly with new release stuff like Lonnie Smith and Herbie Hancock but then rarer stuff that had been missed – jazz fusion tracks like Flora Purim, Airto, Ritchie Cole. You now had a whole new younger generation of kids aged 13 – 17 all dancing to extremely complex jazz music.
At the same time, the original Punk crowd of 1975 / 76 came back to clubbing and brought back the mid 70s funk sounds at clubs like ‘Le Beat Route’ with DJ Steve Lewis – the crowd at the Fridays there included Sade, Wham, Spandau Ballet etc, very cool and really hard to get into, but amazing music: Louis Jordan into early Hip Hop then War’s ‘Galaxy’ into a Was not Was record!
The thing is, the music being played in London in the mid to late 70s was the same as what was being played in the best New York disco’s – everything that [David] Mancuso played at The Loft made it to the UK on import. Nothing truly great that Larry played at the Garage wasn’t played at the Global Village or Bangs in London. One thing that I continually get annoyed with is all the 30 something DJ’s in London obsessed with what Larry played at the Garage, or Ron Hardy played at the Muzik box – fact is, most straight white boys wouldnt’ have even got in to these clubs, and secondly you don’t have to read a book about Disco in the 70s and 80s, they could simply ask there uncles and aunties about them dancing to Patrick Adams records in cool East London clubs.
Can you tell us about the Special Branch boys?
Suburban soul boys in polished Bass weejans and pressed 501’s. Nicky Holloway’s crew. I went to a few of their parties and knew most of the crowd, but we had our own thing going on ‘up west’ at the time they were doing Special Branch down Tooley St.
1988, and all hell breaks loose in the London club scene, as Acid House takes hold after Danny Rampling, Pete Tong and the others return from their boys holiday in the sun. Popular history tells it like it was a rebirth, but in fact, would you say it was bubbling under for a long while before?
As I said, what records came in from the importers was as important as any DJ back then so people were playing and buying House music long before anyone even knew about a Chicago House scene. JM Silk’s ‘Shadows’ was played at most warehouse parties I went to alongside D Train. Raze ‘Jack the Groove’ alongside the big Electro tracks.
London DJ’s had become very, very eclectic and the idea of ONE style of music mixed all night was a niche market – you could hear that at Heaven on weekends or go see Frankie Knuckles at his summer 87 residency for Delirium – most crowds wanted a Jazz track from the 50’s, then a Chuck Brown Go Go track into Run DMC then Daryl Pandy’s ‘Love Can’t Turn Around‘ not a 2 hr set of the same music.
I think its fair to say you’re a dapper fella. You’ve talked extensively about the fashions you were exposed to as you grew and how those fashions permeated into society. How do you see fashion expressed in todays society?
Im an old man I’ve no idea about todays society! The clothes I love nowadays (Japan’s take on Americana) isn’t that different to what I wore as a teenager, so either I had good taste as a kid or I look a right div nowadays!
Hahaha! As a lifelong Chelsea fan, I imagine you’ve seen you fair share of violence on the terraces over the years. One of Acid Houses myths speaks of rival fans hugging each other after their first experiences of club drug Ecstasy. While we don’t completely disbelieve that, from our own experiences of raving, we imagine the reality wasn’t quite so rose tinted. So what was the introduction of this new designer drug really like?
It had been in London’s trendier clubs for a few years up until 1988, but was seen as a post clubbing come down experience. Certainly people said you can’t dance on it. Even in New York I’m told by people who went, that clubbers would take a pill as the morning broke and would leave the dance floor at the Paradise Garage and go up onto the roof to watch the sun rise over Manhattan as they came up.
Once people had seen the madness of how Ibiza used E then the cat was out the bag, it then made sense to play and mix a continual beat. Late 1987 there was a tiny crowd of mainly ex Ibiza workers who knew the ‘big secret’. By Feb 1988 it was a couple of hundred, and within 3 months it became 3,000 kids going mental on Mondays at Spectrum with 2,000 locked out (until 3am – every week for a year).
I’d briefly like to touch on your life with Junior Boys Own. Much has been written already on the seminal label, but what was your take on the label?
Open minded London-centric caught up in the eye of the storm.
The fanzine was a great success, and long before any proper music based publications were around. Did you ever want to be a journalist?
My formal education was very poor, I still can’t work out the ‘there/their/they’re. I just enjoyed writing about stuff that wasn’t being written about and writing to kids who were being ignored.
For our generation, Junior Boys Own and AM:PM were go to labels. With very little deviation, you could buy blind from either. So much so, that they have come to symbolise just how strong House music in the 90s was. Which are the labels you turn to time and again?
Todays House labels? Can’t say there is any who I would buy blind from anymore. Tribal and Def Mix back in the day for sure, but nowadays the sheer volume of music released digitally borders upon self harm. The noise is deafening and so many great records get lost because they ain’t on a trendy label or by the big Tech House DJ of the day. Sticking music out on Beatport takes so little time and money that the quality control is dead on the floor and laying in a pool of piss.
Boys Own parties were the stuff of legend. Usually flanked by Police, full of mischief and great music, which is your most treasured memory of those times?
The mix of people and music mainly we had ex-Soul Boys, Pop Stars, Criminals, Models, Journalists, DJ’s and reformed football chaps alongside music from almost every genre. And the best drugs! haha
Of course you went on to run the Faith parties, again with much success. How do you find the new generation of promoters generally? Are they in it for the right reasons still?
Same as it ever was – some are, some just want to make money or get behind the decks and start acting like a performing seal. What I think is missing is a new generation of characters like old Dave Beer at Basics or Charlie Chester at Flying.
A promoter, a really good promoter, needs to have a piped piper appeal that attracts interesting and creative people to the crew. Rob Star at Eastern Electrics and The Secret Sunday’s boys have that appeal, and although I’ve never been, I think The Fuse crew in London fit that idea very well. It’s not enough to hire a DJ, book a venue and do a FB events page.
We mentioned in the intro your affiliation to Fabric as a resident. Another hot topic for us at Decoded, are DJs wrongly focused on global success when they ought to be looking at doing the ground work a residency provides?
Promoters have got themselves into cul-de-sac of paying loads a money to the current big DJ whilst ignoring the local talent – its a mirror image of the state premiership football’s got itself into. Problem is, that a whole generation of clubbers have grown up on not going out midweek to dance, but saving up for monthly big events and those fake all-dayers calling themselves ‘Festivals’ where they get ripped off paying up to £80 to watch a DJ in a field with an 11pm finish.
My first Acid House residences were on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursday nights in 1988/89 all packed. Nowadays you would struggle to get 200 people out regularly at a midweek club. The games been changed by the money people sadly.
Its fair to say you are a strongly political voice without being overbearing. Its that ernest, humble and honest view point thats won you many fans inside and away from music. Given the sanitised, brand aware nature of modern dance music, do you think we’ve lost something important societally?
The day someone decided that standing looking at a DJ, rather than dancing with your mates to the music the DJ was playing, was the day it started to lose the real community we had created. Passive fist pumping to a breakdown while holding a drink in the other hand isn’t the same as sweating and dancing with your eyes closed… Clubbing, especially in the bigger events, is almost a spectator sport for far too many kids.
It’s been an absolute please Terry, Im sure we could talk for much longer. It goes without saying we wish you every success for the future. So in closing, if everything ended tomorrow, what d’you think you would turn your hand to?
It won’t. In 1988 I refused to go on holiday with my Mrs because Shoom was so intense, I honestly was worried if I missed a week it would be all over when I came back! Pills, Thrills and dancing will be happening when I’m long gone.