S’Express Mastermind Mark Moore on Unsung Heroes of the UK’s Early House Scene

From the DJ History archives: Mark Moore reflects on his transition from leading face on the New Romantic club scene to house music evangelist

Mark Moore – the man behind S’Express – was right at the forefront of house music’s charge into British pop culture. But there is much more to him than a couple of massive global hits.

Moore’s journey began as a teenager, falling in love with the transgressive energy of his brother’s punk records. Throwing himself into London’s thriving alternative milieu at a time of city-centre squats and gigs every night, he eventually happened upon the glam and glitter of New Romantic hotspots such as the fabled Blitz club.

DJ History

Bedazzled by the UK capital’s largely gay and wholly fabulous underground scene, he embarked on a career as a DJ to the most fashionable crowds in town – spinning everything from Hi-NRG and Italo disco to hip-hop and childrens’ TV theme tunes.

In this interview with Bill Brewster, which took place in 2004, Moore looks back on the unsung heroes of London nightlife and a career that took him from empty dancefloors to the top of the charts.

Kate Garner

When were you born?

I was born in University College Hospital in London, in 1965. Perhaps! No one knows for sure, and I’ve lied about my age since I was 12.

Where did you grow up?

I suppose North London, Hampstead, Golders Green. I should talk about my mother, if you want to know about my background.

Wasn’t she from Malaysia?

No, South Korea. She was one of the first people to come over here after the Korean War. And all her hotel rooms were bugged by MI5, because they thought she was a communist spy. She married my father – a lawyer. She had my brother and myself, set up a property business and she was in the Evening Standard as Businesswoman of the Year. She had loads of properties and we were living a lovely middle-class existence.

Then she got divorced from my father, and things got worse. She started losing her business, and then went bankrupt. Suddenly, we were very poor. Then she had a nervous breakdown, and me and my brother were put into care. So, we were put into a halfway house for borstal kids and the like.

When did this happen?

When I was ten.

When did your parents divorce?

When I was about five. We were living in a nice house, but we had no money and we were constantly hiding from debt collectors. So, at one point we were staying in this halfway house for borstal kids in Potters Bar, because my father had remarried by then, and the stepmother hated us and didn’t want us there.

Then we were put in Woolverstone Hall, which then was a grammar school and was known as the poor man’s Eton. Very good school then. It went to pot and became very violent. It was in Suffolk, but it was all London kids and it was run by the Inner London Education Authority. A lot of people went there, like the brothers from Colourbox/MARRS, [rugby player] Martin Offiah, Ben Volpeliere-Pierrotfrom Curiosity Killed the Cat. To me, it was a safe place to go to. I worked hard and got straight A’s in everything. Then, in the holidays – which I dreaded, because we got shunted about on people’s sofas – one time we stayed in a B&B and were given money to go and buy KFC. Me and my brother fended for ourselves.

Patti Smith – Piss Factory

My brother got into punk rock in early ’77, and then I remember being bored, staying at my Aunty Amy’s, and playing my brother’s records. I put on Patti Smith’s “Piss Factory,” and it totally blew my mind. Then I put on [The Tubes’] “White Punks On Dope”, and it blew my mind. Then the final test was [The Sex Pistols’] “God Save The Queen,” and by the end of it, “no future,” I was a punk rocker. I started going to gigs – the first one I saw was the Damned – collecting records religiously. Previously, I’d always listened to whatever was there, but I never focused on something. I met this girl at a punk party called Bowie Teresa, who looked exactly like David Bowie as he did in The Man Who Fell To Earth.

At the party, she dragged me into the bathroom and turned on the bath and took her clothes off, and tried to get me to get in the bath with her, so immediately I thought, “Yeah, I love this girl, she’s great.” She was quite terrifying at the same time. I arranged to meet her one time in Soho [in Central London]… she always seemed to be working late in Soho. In hindsight, I realized she was probably on the game. Probably. And she said, “We’re going to go to this great club which is full of weirdos, freaks and rent boys and prostitutes. It’s called Billy’s. It’s a Bowie night, and they play Bowie, Roxy Music, Kraftwerk.” I went there and it was Steve Strange’s first club with Rusty Egan DJing. It was at Gossips.

Was it mainly those type of bands they played?

“Heroes” Bowie, glam, [Roxy Music’s] “Do the Strand,” “Editions Of You.” I started going to a lot of clubs and a lot of gigs.

Tell me about Rusty Egan.

Rusty was definitely – along with John Peel and this girl called Mandy, who played at the Marquee – they were very influential for me. John Peel for the variety, but also Rusty Egan. Very underrated. The Blitz opened up and we’d be going to the Blitz, but also another club opened up by Rusty Egan and Steve Strange, called Hell, which was in Covent Garden, just in the place round the corner from the Rock Garden.

They opened that one, because Blitz was becoming quite well-known. [It was] a bit like the Blitz but more elitist, I suppose, even though the Blitz was quite elitist. We’d go there, and he’d be playing Grace Jones’s album, where she’d switched from being disco to new wave and doing things like “She’s Lost Control.” And he’d be playing disco stuff like Change’s “The Glow Of Love,” which was cool, breaking down preconceptions.

My guru then was Simon Green, who was slightly older than me. He was totally heterosexual, but covered in eyeliner and make-up, looking really camp. “We have to go to more gay clubs! We have to listen to more Grace Jones and we have to go to more gay clubs! We can’t be punks forever!” So we went to see Grace Jones perform at Heaven. The first gay club I ever went to was Heaven, and he arranged to meet me there. I went in actually petrified. I didn’t know anything – sexuality or whatever – I was still quite young. People were really friendly there. I went in the first bar there, didn’t know the rest of the club existed and just stayed in that bar all night, didn’t see Simon and went home!

Amanda Lear – Enigma (Give a Bit of Mmh to Me)

I remember seeing Amanda Lear on video there, “Geev a leetle beet of hmm to me and I’ll geev a leetle hmm to you,” dressed in leather with a whip. When I was going to these clubs like Blitz, my uncle and aunt moved out of their house in Finchley and just let me and my cousins stay there. They were a bit older than me, but still young and from a hippie background. It was fantastic. We’d come back from clubs like Blitz, lay mattresses out on the floor and crash out there and listen to Kraftwerk and Psychedelic Furs’ first album.

At one point I started squatting in Muswell Hill, but it wasn’t as good as the punk squats in King’s Cross. The punk squats in King’s Cross were amazing. That was when I was at Woolverstone Hall during the summer holidays. Rather than stay at my uncle’s, I would go and have a holiday at the punk squats. Every night you’d go to a punk gig. They were at the back of King’s Cross, more towards Russell Square.

At an early impressionable age, you thought this was a really cool thing to be staying there. There’d be loads of prostitutes in the area and they’d be giving you lectures about how shouldn’t run away from school, because I used to run away from school if there was a good gig on. Later on when I dropped out of my job and I was DJing, my mother was like, “Why don’t you get a proper job, why don’t you do something with your life?”

At the time, did you ever think that this was a career option?

I just did it and in the back of my mind I thought, “I will be discovered. Someone will come up to me and say ‘We want you to be in our movie’ or ‘We want you to be in our band.’” Even though I couldn’t sing particularly, I assumed this would happen, someone would realise you were a star and would sort it out for you.

Everyone thought that at the time: “Yeah, we’re on the dole and we don’t do anything, but we’re stars!” Boy George was a star, even though he was doing absolutely nothing, then he realized, “Hang on a minute, I’ve actually got to do something if I’m gonna be a star.”

I said to my mum, “Look, I think I can make something of myself, but I need some space.” When she saw me on Top Of The Pops, she changed her mind.

Everything was so mixed up, you just went for good music rather than a genre.

What happened after the Blitz?

I think I first heard “Planet Rock” in 1982 or ’83. It would’ve been at Camden Palace, at Steve Strange’s club. When we first heard it, we just thought, “Oh, what’s this remix of Kraftwerk?” We thought it was something cool, but we didn’t think it was a new genre, because we’d been listening to the Human League and Depeche Mode. There was a time when it all switched over, because some of my friends had been real stoners who listened to dub reggae and Lee Perry, and suddenly you’d go round their house and they’d be listening to 12" dub mixes of Martin Rushent’s like the dub of “Happy Birthday” by Altered Images or “Pinky Blue,” something ridiculously camp.

John Carpenter – Assault on Precinct 13

Everything was so mixed up, you just went for good music rather than a genre. Everything was up for grabs and everything was played. Looking back, we were listening to a lot of electronic dance music, from Depeche Mode to Yello. For me, what got me going on electronic music, I heard about this film by John Carpenter – Assault On Precinct 13 – and we went to see the movie in Swiss Cottage Odeon. My friend’s sister, halfway through the movie, said “I can’t handle this,” because she just thought it was too intense. People were leaving the cinema in droves. The music just blew me and my brother away: “What the fuck, this music is amazing.”

John Carpenter did the music too, didn’t he?

He did. I remember my brother saying “Mark, Mark, they’ve released the music from Precinct 13. It’s called the Human League, ‘Being Boiled.’” And we went out and bought it, and we were like, “This isn’t the music from Precinct 13!” Anyway, it was similar and the band was great, so we went to see them everywhere, at the Nashville and stuff like that, and David Bowie would turn up to see them. There’d be people sat at the table reading Kafka books with a pint of beer.

Before that, of course, we heard “Warm Leatherette” and “TVOD” by the Normal, buying stuff on Mute. Later I found myself hearing electronic stuff from the States, Bobby O, the Flirts, Divine – we lumped it in with Soulsonic Force, because it was from America. At Camden Palace we heard “Blue Monday” and thought, “Oh, what’s this rip-off of Bobby O?” I thought it was a great record, but I didn’t think it was anything particularly new.

I think the reason it made such an impact was because everyone who followed New Order, even though they’d done electronic stuff before with “Everything’s Gone Green” – you could tell they had a touch of the Giorgio Moroders – they had so many rock people following them who only listened to rock and hadn’t quite broken out of that. To them it was a new sound, even though it was based on Moroder and Bobby O. But Camden Palace was one of my favorite clubs.

Who DJed there?

Rusty Egan and Colin Faver.

When was the first time you DJed? What were you doing for a living after school?

Well, after my uncle sold his house I got myself a bedsit, and they were going to stop my dole, so I thought I’d better get a job. Then everyone was on the dole – the doleaterians! – all people who had an artistic bent could be on the dole and go clubbing all week and somehow survive, somehow manage to do it. It was easy for artists to thrive, bands to thrive – we need to get some of that back now.

I found the cushiest thing I could find on their noticeboard, dressed up all punky, thinking they’d never give me a job like that, and they gave me the job! So I was suddenly working for the Jewish Welfare Board looking after old people and the mentally handicapped. All my money went on paying the bedsit, whereas previously all my money went on records and clothes, I suppose. No one wore designer clothes then, everyone made their own clothes. You made stuff. You bought secondhand stuff and then jazzed it up.

Jackie Lee – Rupert The Bear

The Mud Club had opened, and I’d been going there regularly, every week. They’d opened the upstairs for music. Jay Strongman was doing the downstairs and Tasty Tim was doing the upstairs – schoolboy disco, glam rock. I’d take him things to play, mad things, some electronic stuff and then stuff like [the theme from] Rupert Bear. People would run on to the dancefloor to dance to Rupert Bear, and this whole anti-cool thing came up where it was like, “Are you gonna dance to this or are you gonna pose and look pretty?” And everyone would just let their hair down and go completely crazy.

So there’d be Stingray, Captain Scarlet, Julie Andrews’ “The Lonely Goatherd.” And people would be dancing to it! [Tim] asked Philip Sallon if I could DJ with him. Then Philip completely panicked and rang me every day saying, “You’d better not fuck it up!” Anyway, I did my set and everyone went completely crazy. So, he said I could DJ there every week. Then the Mud Club did one-off balls at Heaven, which were fantastic, and they saw me DJing and thought, “Oh, this is amazing.” So they got me to do their club Asylum, which turned into Pyramid.

So, suddenly I was DJing with Evil Eddie Richards and Colin Faver at Asylum. First it was called the Asylum, and then to reinvent it they called it Pyramid. I started there in 1984, but I can’t remember when it started, maybe ’82. I think it was on a Wednesday. Again, it was a kind of alternative scene, very mixed, lots of straight people going there, very dressy. I remember seeing Ian Levine in print saying, “Oh yeah, we thought that was the freaks night.”

We were definitely the black sheep of the gay scene. Most of the gay scene was very generic – handlebar moustache, listening to this cheesy Eurobeat. We started playing house music very early on. We didn’t know we were playing it. It was just another electronic import that we were playing along with Koto and the Italo disco stuff.

What sort of stuff were you playing at that time?

Things like Koto.

Yello – Vicious Games

“Japanese War Game”?

No, I’ll look it up. “Void” by Hypnosis. The usual staple of Yello, “Vicious Games” was huge.

What about Klein & M.B.O.?

Massive. First person I ever heard play that was Colin Faver. We were playing a lot of industrial stuff like Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb, and then the more poppy stuff like Pet Shop Boys, obviously New Order, Soft Cell. So, the house stuff started getting slotted in as well. It was a while before we realized, “Wait a minute, there’s loads of this stuff coming out!” We actually had Jamie Principle down to play. Early days. Must’ve been ’87.

What was he like?

He was cool. Very camp, quite Prince-y and vulnerable-looking. What else did we play? Cabaret Voltaire “Yashar.”

And were you playing anywhere else?

The Mud Club and then loads of warehouse parties.

Were you playing the off-the-wall stuff at Mud Club, and then more orthodox stuff elsewhere?

Yeah, exactly. But even the Mud Club, it started to get more of the electronic stuff. I’d come on after Jay Strongman, who’d do the funk and hip-hop, but I started incorporating the electro. The Mud Club went through so many changes. I remember after a while it became known as a hip-hop and go-go club.

How long did you play at Pyramid?

I left in ’88 because of S’Express, but it was still going then.

Did it turn into a fully fledged house club then?

It must’ve.

I remember seeing you play at the Fridge in September 1987, and you were the guest and it was the first time I’d ever heard anyone play only house music. It was very confrontational, like you were on a mission. Did you feel that way?

I did. Because most people hated house music and it was all rare groove and hip-hop. I was known as a hip-hop DJ in those days, and I was hammering early Beastie Boys and Run-D.M.C., stuff like that – I’d be invited to LL Cool J parties when they were in town. The whole of London was into rare groove and hip-hop. I remember when S’Express took off, in my first interview, they asked me why I thought house hadn’t taken off in London, and I said it was because the drugs were all wrong. And sure enough...

Yeah, so people hated it. All my friends at the Mud Club were like, “Why do you have to keep playing this house music?” They didn’t get it, and it took ecstasy for them to get it. I was on a mission, I thought, “I’m not gonna give in.” I’d play “Strings Of Life” at the Mud Club and clear the floor. Three weeks later, you could see pockets of people come on to the floor when I played it and dance to it and going crazy to it. And this was without ecstasy. And they turned out to be people like DJ Harvey and guys like that. I remember at the Fridge many times thinking, “This is hard work, I hope no one shoots me!”

I’m not surprised. I just couldn’t understand it, either.

Loads of my hip-hop friends were like that. Took them to a club, gave them an E… “We get it, this is amazing.”

When you were playing at Pyramid, that must’ve been before E arrived. There were advanced E parties at the Hug Club, weren’t there?

And Taboo as well! I took my first ecstasy at Taboo.

What was the crowd composition of Pyramid? Gay, straight?

It was 70% gay. A lot of straight people who wanted somewhere to go where they weren’t hassled. Racially it was mixed, a lot of black gay guys went, they loved the house music and they also loved the soulful electronic stuff like Janet Jackson’s “Control.” I also had a big hip-hop following from the Mud Club. A lot of the main homeboys and breakdancers went there because they were bored.

First time they came, they were terrified and then one of them would go to their mates, “It’s alright, it’s safe.” And then more of them would come along. And they’d be breakdancing to the house music. They even asked LL Cool J to come down one time, and he came. He loved it, thought it was freaky.

Drugs weren’t that important. Maybe a bit of speed or LSD, but not huge amounts. But it was more a case of have a beer and drink. Not a lot of people would do cocaine. It was still considered a great luxury in those days, although Pyramid was very Euro-jetset – people would fly in from Italy, very rich people. It was a mixture of rich types, rent boys, debutantes and strange axe murderers! The Pet Shop Boys would always go there, Jimmy Somerville, and one time Liza Minnelli came down, so it was a strange mixture of high life and low life.

Tell me about Taboo, then.

Well, I had to finish my set at Pyramid and run over to Taboo. Taboo was great. It was really fantastic. I didn’t realize at the time it was so crazy because of the ecstasy, but in hindsight that makes sense. People would come back from New York – again, a mixture of high life and low life – loaded with ecstasy, and give them out to people.

Who were the high-life element? Was it pop stars like George?

Yeah, Boy George; Janet Street-Porter spending quite a while in the cubicles. I think she was going out with Tony James [of Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik], then? Then there were up-and-coming designers like John Galliano, and ABC would be there fresh from their success with How To Be A Zillionaire in their freaky cartoon phase. And Fiona Russell Powell, the writer from The Face – everyone remembers her appearance on [British music and culture TV show] The Tube with ABC, where she took off her coat and she had this belt which had dildos stuck all around it, but it was live so it was too late to do anything. Yeah, she’d be there.

And the ecstasy would be dished out and everybody would end up… Somebody would just fall on the floor and someone else would go, “Yeah, good idea,” and fall on the floor as well, and then the whole place would fall down in unison [and there would be] this mass bundle of writhing bodies on the floor. And that would happen every week at Taboo. It was a lame night if that didn’t happen.

At that time, you had great people. Unfortunately a lot of them are gone now because of AIDS, but great people like Space Princess, who was this lovely guy... Mark Lawrence, who started DJing as well, an amazing six-foot black guy, model, came from the north, used to go to northern soul clubs, decided he was gay and came to London. There’d be him and Space Princess and Jeffrey Hinton, who was the DJ, along with Rachel Auburn, and I think Princess Julia did the cloakroom.

With Malcolm Duffy.

Yeah! Anyway, Space Princess, Mark Lawrence, Mark Time (who used to be in [the TV dance group] Hot Gossip) and Jeffrey would do these dance routines at home. They’d practice these dance routines and teach them to a few friends, so once they got into the club they’d take over the dancefloor and do this formation dancing to anyone willing to join in. So, suddenly the floor would be taken over by people doing formation dancing. And of course, they’d do this move with a kick and a turn, and everyone would fall over in unison as part of the routine.

At the time, the people were just as important as the club, as the DJs, as the music. They were the stars as much as anyone else. The week after Pyramid, there’d be a fashion show and people would be chosen out of the crowd to appear, or people would be asked if they wanted to do an act, a drag act, a mime or weird performance art, which they’d do next week at Pyramid, so it was very inclusive. I totally missed that in the ’90s.

It was that performer-consumer dynamic, wasn’t it?

Yeah. I think it’s back now, with the small electro clubs.

Do you remember what music they played at Taboo?

It was totally cheesy, Hi-NRG, Italo, some of it great, some of it atrocious, but once you’d been in there and you were drunk or on ecstasy, it was fucking amazing! I heard Taffy played to death there by Jeffrey. When I started signing things for Rhythm King Records, I said, “Look, you’ve got to sign Taffy.” And of course it went top ten.

Joanne Daniels – After The Rainbow

The Taboo anthem was – and when you listen to it now, you think, “How could we have liked something so tacky?” – “After The Rainbow” by Joanne Daniels. Weak electronic production, but it was so fucking brilliant at the time. I think what made it so great was Jeffrey would do his own edit, where he would elongate the best bits with these mad sound effects over the top. Very underrated DJ, Jeffrey. Very trippy and some of it was completely out of beat, but it didn’t matter. Totally suited Taboo.

Sometimes, he would let the records clash for about two minutes, and everybody would be like, “Whoa! This is fucking crazy and amazing!” He also used to do the music for the Bodymap fashion shows. There’s a great film – but actually at the time, everybody slagged it off and said it was a terrible film – by the Merchant Ivory people, their film version of Slaves Of New York, the Tama Janowitz book.

Slaves Of New York - Trailer

I don’t even remember it existing!

Exactly! No one went to see it. All my American friends were like, “Oh, they got it so wrong.” Yes, they got it wrong, but the atmosphere got it right. It’s got that whole New York post-punk new wave scene and, again, they’ve got a fashion show in the middle of a club. In those days they always used to have fashion shows – they’d have the models come on in freaky clothes, and one of the models would collapse, and suddenly all the other models would collapse on them. That was Bodymap, which came from Taboo.

How long did Taboo run for?

It must’ve been a year.

When did you first notice ecstasy being used in Asylum or other clubs you’d been playing in?

I only noticed it at Taboo. Sometimes you wouldn’t get them free and you’d have to buy one. I remember buying one off [DJ] Fat Tony for, I think it was £30, and nothing happened after I took it. Thank you, Fat Tony! I knew there was a New York scene, where people were doing it, and then nothing for a few years [after Taboo], and then I went to Paul Oakenfold’s Future [night], and Danny Rampling invited me to Shoom.

Everyone told me it was such a friendly place. I remember walking in and it’s just smoke everywhere, then the smoke cleared and everyone was walking around like Night Of The Living Dead and I thought, “This isn’t a very friendly, happy place. What are they talking about?” Then, about an hour later, suddenly people started coming up and hugging you and [asking] “What’s your name? I love you, you’re great!” I thought, “Wait a minute, they’re all on ecstasy!”

Previous to Shoom, it never took off big time, apart from Taboo. It didn’t spread across the alternative gay scene or the trendy clubs. I think what happened was, about 1985, you’d go to the club and people would be missing and you’d be like, “Where are they?” People started disappearing. And you realized they were suddenly becoming ill or dying. AIDS suddenly became very there. It went from this thing you talked about that was happening in America to being this very real thing.

A lot of the creative people started dying out. You’d be wondering, “Where’s Space Princess? Is he just staying in tonight, or is he dead?” Then, you’d hear months later that so-and-so had died. It became a very bleak time, a very dark time. People started dressing down more, they didn’t want to look freaky, they wanted to look healthy, they didn’t want to be associated with this disease. So, everything started falling apart, and the fabulous parties started to become less fabulous.

There was a void and, in this void, I knew there was something waiting to step in. I remember taking Philip Sallon to Future, which was in the back of Heaven, and just saying, “This is the future, literally the future. It’s what’s gonna happen next.” He said, “Don’t be silly, they’re just kids from the suburbs.” [Laughs] He just couldn’t understand what I was on about. I knew that house music would take off. Eventually.

The people who left the dancefloor didn’t matter to me whatsoever. What mattered were the one or two people that stayed on the dancefloor, whose lives were changed.

Why, though?

Because I loved it. I thought it was so fucking brilliant, and I couldn’t understand why no one else thought it was brilliant. I just thought, “This music is fucking great!” But no one else agreed with me at the time. I’m actually proud of the times I’ve cleared dancefloors.

I was going to say, you must have memories of playing to empty dancefloors.

My attitude was this: The people who left the dancefloor didn’t matter to me whatsoever. What mattered were the one or two people that stayed on the dancefloor, whose lives were changed. That’s what mattered to me. And those people would go on to do something else, and most of them did.

Do you remember the sort of people you’re talking about?

Pete Heller, Laurent Garnier, Trevor Jackson, Daft Punk. I get people coming up now and saying, “You changed my life. You played this at that club and I saw the light!” That sort of stuff [laughs].

Do you remember where you were busy clearing dancefloors?

Mainly at the Mud Club. Luckily, it wasn’t a constantly cleared floor. I’d clear the floor with “Strings Of Life” and bring them back with Dead or Alive or James Brown or whatever. In those days, there was a lot more traffic on the dancefloor, it was definitely less constant.

Well, in those days you danced to a record you liked, and then you came off the floor if you didn’t like the next one.

Exactly. It was necessary to play these records. A few weeks later on, they did become known and people would come on to the floor for them. Perseverance paid off. I think if you are playing someone else’s club, your job as a DJ is to entertain while still being dangerous, taking risks and retaining your own identity, but not to be up your own arse. However, if it’s your own club, I think that gives you license to do what the fuck you want. Like, at The Fridge in ’87, I told them to put a sign up saying, “We play house music here.” That way, if you had been warned you couldn’t complain. In theory!

Did the E thing spread over into the gay scene?

You see, I remember the gay scene being really late to pick up on the whole house revolution, besides the Pyramid. The generic gay scene was a good year or so slow to pick up on it. They stuck with their Eurobeat, but once they did get into it, they got stuck into it with a vengeance. By then, you were used to seeing everyone on ecstasy, so there was nothing unusual about it. But I definitely think that the Pyramid was the first house music club in England. I’m not listening to anyone else about this!

The Beatmasters feat. The Cookie Crew – Rok Da House

So, tell me about S’Express. How did that happen?

By that time I was living with my mother in a council flat in Harrow Road, and I was staying on the sofa. [The label] Rhythm King had opened up across the road, in Mute Records, and I’d become friends with James Horrocks and Martin Heath. I’d go and hang out in the offices and see if I could get some free imports and stuff. I could see what they were doing, so I’d be like, “You should sign this” or “Sign this, it’s great!” I got them to sign Renegade Soundwave, I got them to sign Baby Ford. And, of course, I got them their first hit with Taffy, and I got them another hit with Beatmasters and the Cookie Crew with “Rok Da House.”

S’Express – Theme From S’Express

I didn’t particularly ask for anything, but they said, “Oh, you better have some money.” There was no arrangement made. They said, “Oh, you’ve done so much for us, can we do anything for you?” So I said, “Yeah, I’ve got some ideas, can you put me in the studio – put me with a producer, so I can get round the studio?” I had the idea for “Theme from S’Express,” hooked up with Pascal Gabriel, who I got on with instantly, and he had the same musical loves as me. So, we got together and did “Theme from S’Express” and “Superfly Guy.”

So, did you go in there with a bag of samples and nick different bits?

Yeah, but I wrote other bits for it, like the bassline, and got my friend in to do the “Sss’Expresssss” bit and stuff. We cleared everything, and people hadn’t heard of clearing samples [then]. You could clear samples for £250 in those days.

How many were there? I know the Crystal Grass one.

Plenty. I’d rather not say. It was the early days, when things were signed on toilet roll! I made a conscious decision that, even though it was a house-influenced record, I didn’t want it to be a copy of a house record, so when you compare it to a house record now, it doesn’t sound like a typical house record. But [it was] not only influenced by house, but [by] all the other things I loved, like Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Philip Glass, punk rock.

And I wanted it to be ironic as well, so it goes, “I’ve got the hots for you,” which was definitely a comment on the crassness of disco lyrics. At the time, disco was still a dirty word – there hadn’t been a disco revival. I remember thinking, “I’m probably gonna get crucified for bringing disco back.” I played it to Kid Batchelor. It was at an i-D Magazine shoot for all the up-and-coming DJ talent, Coldcut and everyone played their new stuff, and Kid said, “Yours is the best one there.”

I thought I’d play it at Pyramid and that would be it, though. Rhythm King pressed some up on white label, but it took ages for it to come out because of the clearances, so people had these white labels for months and months, and magazines would say, “When is ‘Theme from S’Express’ coming out?” Finally, it did.

Derrick May said to me, “It’s like a party, and you’re the only ones there, and you’re waiting for everyone else to come.”

And it paid off.


Were you astonished at what happened?

Yes and no. Yeah, you’re making it for yourself and your friends and the clubs that you play at, but no, because you did think it was a great record and it should do well in a perfect world. Of course, everything changed. I was making a comfortable living being a DJ by then. But I had to stop and promote around the world for about a year-and-a-half for that and the album.

Were you DJing?

Not really. I remember doing the first-ever house night in Paris, which Laurent Garnier has written up in his book, but Laurent used to come to the Mud Club and ask, “What’s this record you’re playing?” Anyway, I told him I was doing it and he said, “Oh, I’ll come and party when you’re playing.” I said, “If you’re gonna come, you might as well do the warm-up for me.” So, I got him to do the warm-up and, apparently in his book he said [that’s how] he got his DJ career started.

Were you doing PAs?

No, a few and a short tour. But it was more TV and interviews around the world. Festivals. They’d be filmed for TV while we mimed, trying to record the album in between. Suddenly there was long chunk where it was just S’Express.

S’Express was too early. It was breaking down the doors for dance music, and people didn’t get it in a lot of places. In a way, it would’ve been easier a few years later, where I could’ve just gone and done a DJ tour to promote it. There was a lot of resistance from the powers that be. Radio 1 not wanting to support it. Someone wrote a letter to the Musicians Union saying that Mark Moore was being interviewed saying he was a non-musician – I was quoting Brian Eno, and they said he should be thrown out of the Musicians Union and not allowed on Top Of The Pops. Rumor has it that this letter came from a very famous producer. So, we had to write a letter back explaining what I meant.

S’Express – Lollipop

But it was cool. It opened the doors for others. I remember Derrick May being really excited that S’Express had done this. Derrick May said to me, “It’s like a party, and you’re the only ones there, and you’re waiting for everyone else to come.” I remember Derrick May being brought over here by Bang The Party to remix a track – they did it in Addis Ababa Studios on the Harrow Road. They brought him round to my flat, and he was straight into my collection, looking at Depeche Mode albums! He said, “Yeah, man, I did an edit of ‘Lollipop’ (the B-side of ‘Superfly Guy’) where it goes ‘Suck it quick, suck it quick’ over and over. It’s going down a storm in Detroit!” Then he gave me an acetate of his edit.

This interview was conducted in July 2004 in London. © DDJ History

By Bill Brewster on January 12, 2018

On a different note