“Wiggle is probably the longest-running underground party in London. There have been so many parties; it’s hard to pick out individual things. The first-ever party we were going to throw was in a penthouse flat on the river Thames. The thing we didn’t realise was that the London Marathon was on that day and all the roads were shut so we couldn’t get to the place. We only had four hours to find another place, and we found an old lockup in Camden, we had to move cars and machinery out so we could get on with it and we made it happen.”
The end of the eighties and the reign of the Iron Lady, the fall of the Berlin Wall. The grey days were over, and a spirit of hope was bubbling in the air. The rave was born –a term for the acid house parties that took place in London in the late 80s– with those colourful encounters full of smiley faces that became safe places after years of syncretism. The individual identity was celebrated and, at the same time, amalgamated within a large community. It was a global family, complex, dissimilar but in love with the music. A family of clandestine meetings in abandoned industrial buildings and mouth-to-mouth invitations, but with inherent respect, unity and a desire to have fun.
It was in the early nineties when Terry Francis, Nathan Coles and Eddie Richards decided to rescue the acid house spirit to create unforgettable parties. It was also the time when they came up with one of the most recognised genres of modern electronic music: techhouse. I have had the opportunity to talk with the founders of the legendary London label Wiggle Records, as part of the celebration of its 25th anniversary.
The origin of the sound of Wiggle was motivated by the search of something “more punky and quirky than just house“. What were you looking for at that moment and what was missing in the scene?
There was no plan other than having somewhere to play music for like-minded people. At that time (1992) all London clubs had been taken over by Kiss FM. It was after those pirate radio days, and everything had gone pretty commercial. We thought “there’s a hole to fill here” because people still wanted to go out and listen to good music, not what they had been listening to all day on the radio. The authorities had come down on all the good parties and shut them down. So we started Wiggle, playing the tunes we wanted to listen to, and it just rolled, and people wanted it. I don’t really like comparing then and now. Music changes and we’re looking for music now with the same attitude as we did then. New sounds, something different with that rolling groove we’ve always had that makes your arse wiggle and hips move.
DJs always talk about the influence of the “South London sound.” What makes it so unique and characteristic?
The South London sound that evolved around Swag Records in Croydon (South London) had an individual sound; it involved garage, tribal, reggae, speed garage and some DJ’s were playing a more techno sound. Wiggle met that all in the middle. What made it unique was the music wasn’t boring. It was something different from the norm: house, acid, vocals, breakbeat, electro, whatever, all played in the same night. Just good music with no rules: that’s techhouse. It was about keeping it flowing, keeping the groove rolling along and mix different styles. It was about keeping the essence of acid house alive and the thrills that come with that music.
When you finally arrived with this mix of groovy bassline and techno elements with no name or genre, what were people’s reactions?
As far I can remember the techhouse tag came from working in Swag Records for nine years, and people would come in and ask for “house with techno influences”, and it just became known as techhouse. It was easy to describe. We had a meeting at The End night club with other DJs to decide what we should call this. The term tekfunk was put forward, but I wasn’t really into it. I didn’t really like the word techhouse either, to be honest. It pigeons holes music by giving it a name and puts in a box and restricts it, and I wanted to play all genres. I’m used to it now, but I do think it’s restrictive it, and it’s all on one level now and not so dynamic.
Let’s talk about the Wiggle parties. Besides rescuing the acid house spirit, the party in the abandoned place and that great sense of community, what made it so special?
The parties were based on word of mouth, friends of friends. If you bought a friend, you vouched for them that they were cool and respectful. Nathan, Louise (RIP), Claire, my partner at the time, and I started it all off. We sold tickets from home and later from Swag Records, where I started working and which became known for techhouse then. So we were guaranteed a good crowd and a great group of people coming together for a damn good party. You knew everyone, or you knew someone who did. Which is what happens now I suppose with social media but not as tight; it was a family affair.
What were the logistics behind it? From choosing the place to summon the DJs and the people.
We used to use warehouses, lockups and clubs where they were relaxed. Where you could smoke a joint or whatever and not have a bouncer crabbing your neck and marching you out. Freedom! That’s the acid house spirit. We chose warehouses with no residents, so no one complained to the police and the police weren’t bothered unless they got a complaint. Nathan was the silver toughed saviour. If they did come he’d talk to them: ‘It’s a private party officer we’re not selling alcohol we are giving it away‘. So we didn’t get shut down for not having an alcohol license, we never got shut down – Nathan was a good man. I’ve heard of other parties saying they were not selling the alcohol it’s free we’re selling the ice! Hehe, cheeky! We chose DJs for the nights that fit the right groove. Dave Mothersole, Richard Grey, Grant Dell, Liz Edward, Mr C, Mathew B, Colin Dale and later Mr G, Richie Hawtin and it goes on.
The culture of dance music in the 1990s had enormous credibility among those who sought a notion of popular culture that opposed the “hegemonic”. Some authors claim, what in punk was access to the garage, in electronic music was the production in the bedroom. How was your approach to electronic music?
The late 80s and 90s in London were where it all started, house music was something new, and we were part of that movement. Putting on parties, making music and going out. We had the way and the means and the time was right for us. It’s seen that way, but originally production was for those that could afford the equipment. Now it can be made on a smartphone. The scene has grown, and it’s inevitably more commercial in general, but there are still people doing their own thing. Seek, and ye shall find. There’s a good underground scene in London and parts of England.
Years later, that sense of “enjoying music and the underground” was changed for a wave of neo-hippie rave culture where DJs were worshipped, instead of seeing them as promoters of music and culture. In fact, many of the so-called current DJs have gained their notoriety thanks to this phenomenon. Should we do something as an audience?
It used to be about trying to do something, now it’s about trying to be someone, and it seems there’s no stopping it now. Big DJs have a big production team behind them who do their social media, choose the records sent to them, stylists bla, bla, bla, head to the people of the hills, jeez! Also, riders didn’t exist; you were lucky to get a couple of free drinks. It’s almost like manufactured pop stars now of X-Factor. I think pop will eat itself, but some of us have always stayed true to our beliefs, it’s all we know.
And finally, what’s in store for Wiggle in the future?
Come and hear us play.