Today’s Bleepography entry sees Matt Anniss discuss Cyclone’s ‘A Place Called Bliss’ – and the Leicester club night that inspired it.
During the research process for Join The Future: Bleep Techno and the Birth of British Bass Music, I decided to spend a day at Leeds West Indian Carnival. I wanted to get a sense of how this particular annual event – officially the first dedicated Caribbean carnival in the UK, having launched in 1967 – was celebrated by the residents of Chapeltown, an inner-city suburb that played such a big part in the Bleep & Bass story.
My recollections of the day are detailed in the chapter entitled Riddim Is Full Of Culture, which focuses on the pre-Bleep soundsystem scene in the North of England and the role played by the blues (unlicensed drinking dens and clubs that stayed open all night and were often based in abandoned houses within Afro-Caribbean neighbourhoods). The day I attended included the carnival parade, when dance troupes, DJs and community organisations from all over the UK turned up in big numbers, loading a soundsystem and/or steel band on to the back of a colourfully decorated truck.
After I’d taken up my position on – I think – Roundhay Road to watch the parade, one of the first trucks I saw slowly going past, led by enthusiastic dancers of all ages dressed as carnival kings and queens, was from a community organisation in Leicester. My mind quickly wandered to what I’d been told about the city by one of the few Bleep producers who hailed from there, Ability II’s David Duncan. During the Bleep era, he lived in Chapeltown (on Spencer Place, then known as the heart Leeds red light district) and studied at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, but he had grown up within Leicester’s vibrant West Indian community during the late 1970s and 80s.
David told me tales of coachloads of enthusiastic young, black dancers heading to soul and electro all-dayers in Birmingham to the West, and Nottingham, Leeds and Sheffield to the North. Leicester never boasted a black club scene that was anywhere near as vibrant as those in the Midlands and North’s bigger cities, but there was still much interest from younger members of the community in electro, hip-hop and house, a fact reflected in the numbers who traveled to Rock City in Nottingham for the Trax Records and Def Jam Records events held there in 1987.
When the acid house movement and ecstasy culture swept across the UK, dedicated nights and venues began sprouting up in even the sleepiest provincial towns and cities. The Eclipse club in Coventry, at the other end of the M69 motorway to Leicester, is one of the most famous, but there were others scattered across England, Wales and Scotland.
These provincial clubs and parties brought Britain’s emerging home-grown dance music culture to the people – and working class black and white communities in particular – and provided regular gigs for DJs like Neil Macey, the promotions manager of Network Records. Macey held residencies all over the West and East Midlands, with his experience and connection to one of the UK’s leading techno labels of the period meaning he was out playing gigs – whether in Birmingham, Stafford, Burton or Redditch – several days a week.
One of Macey’s regular gigs happened to be in Leicester at a night called Bliss. It took place at a 1,000-capacity venue called Streetlife, which was located at the corner of Dryden Street and Old Milton Street in an area dominated by 1930s and 1950s industrial units. Unlike the former Victorian mills, foundries and factories often converted to clubs or illegal rave spaces up North, Streetlife was housed in a building with a fairly low ceiling. It was a perfect rave-era sweatbox.
It was parties such as Bliss at provincial city clubs like Streetlife that provided formative, Ecstasy-fuelled club experiences for tens of thousands of Britons between 1988 and 1992. For those in Leicester – and people prepared to travel from other regional towns and cities – Bliss delivered house, techno, Bleep and hardcore from a mixture of local DJs and guests, with their residents apparently preferring a “cut-mix” style (see the promo sheet image further down the page). As you can see from the flier above (which is featured on the Phatmedia archive of rave artwork), the link with Network Records was strong; alongside Macey, signed acts such as Rhythmatic and Nexus 21 would perform live PAs of their sub-heavy or rave-fired music. For local wannabe music-makers and bedroom techno producers, it must have been very inspiring.
One such bedroom producer was Geoff Hibbert AKA Cyclone, a Leicester lad who made a tune in tribute, ‘A Place Called Bliss’. The demo version he recorded at home later surfaced on the ‘Sonic Cycology EP’. Raw and lo-fi, it wrapped sustained, alien-sounding synthesizer chords, darkly saucer-eyed string stabs and the kind of mid-register organ riffs more associated with U.S house producers such as Mark “MK” Kinchen around a rhythm track that flits between snappy house beats and bursts of sampled breakbeats. Listen hard enough and you’ll also notice some semi-bleeping sampled electronics from a Kraftwerk record.
Hibbert sent the shortish demo to Network Records. Neil Rushton and Neil Macey liked what they heard, so snapped it up. They were aware that it still needed a little work though, so sent Hibbert to a studio in Nottingham with Nexus 21 pair Mark Archer and Chris Peat. Between them, they re-built the track from scratch (a fairly common practice at a time when bedroom producers often had great ideas but not quite the technical skills or range of equipment to create fully formed dancefloor masterpieces).
Released in late 1990 following what I’ve previously described as British dance music’s “summer of Bleep”, the new versions of ‘A Place Called Bliss’ naturally included some familiar elements from the demo mix – most noticeably the Motor City techno style dark strings and organ stabs – but also greater percussive weight, drum programming that referenced the specific swing found in early Bleep & Bass tracks such as Nightmares on Wax’s ‘Dextrous’ and Unique 3’s ‘The Theme’, and, on the A-side ‘Last Thursday Mix’, occasional quick bursts of samples referencing period hardcore and bleep tracks. These included fleeting nods to ‘Dextrous’ and Rhythmatic’s ‘Take Me Back’, as well as a particularly sparse and lo-fi bleep melody that becomes a recurring theme towards the end of the mix.
It was this version of ‘A Place Called Bliss’ that made a big impact in clubs, with Hibbert and Nexus 21’s cheeky use of samples later being cited by trance behemoth Paul Van Dyk in a DJ magazine article about 10 tracks that inspired him:
‘The whole thing seems to be put together with samples. There are little bits of Kraftwerk, KC Flightt and Nightmares On Wax in there. That big ravey piano stab from Landlord’s ‘I Like It’. With its vocal sample, it has a bit of humour too. It stops and says, “where is this record going!?” and then carries on. It’s very creative in the way it’s put together, and turned into a piece of warm, beautiful and lush music.’
Personally, I’ve always preferred the flipside ‘Dub Mix’, which is the version we licensed – and got Rob Gordon to re-master – for the digital edition of the Join The Future compilation. Mixed, according to Mark Archer, by Chris Peat and himself, it is a far more sub-heavy affair that makes far more of the bleep melody than either Hibbert’s demo version or the ‘Last Thursday Mix’.
Full of weighty bass, classic Detroit techno string sounds, sparse-but-beefed up beats and the now familiar lo-fi melody, it should now be considered a Bleep & Bass classic and every bit as alluring as anything that came out on Warp. In fact, you could make an argument that it’s the closest in tone to the Warp end of the Bleep spectrum than anything else on Network (with the possible exception of Rob Gordon and Richard H Kirk’s EP as Xon, ‘Mood Set’).
Interestingly, Neil Rushton says that the club night that inspired Hibbert, Bliss, was the inspiration for music journalist John McCreedy’s bizarre-but-brilliant essay featured on the sleeve of the now legendary Bio Rhythm compilation. That essay claimed that the compilation was inspired by a ‘micro-rave’ at a Laundrette in the Midlands. Said ‘micro-rave’ never existed, as Mark Archer confirmed during one of our interviews:
‘Because there was an element of truth behind it – there was a club that Neil Macey played at in Leicester called Bliss, which inspired Cyclone’s ‘A Place Called Bliss’ – people couldn’t work out whether it [the micro-rave story] was true or not. It would have been mental if it would have happened, but it wasn’t so far out that it couldn’t have happened. Neil [Rushton] and John [McCreedy] just made up these great urban legends.’
I’ll go into more detail on Rushton and McCreedy’s urban myths, and the brilliant Bio Rhythm compilation, in a future instalment of the Bleepography series. Mark Archer has also kindly put me in touch with Geoff ‘Cyclone’ Hibbert, who I ran out of time to track down during the book research process, so hopefully there will be an interview for you all to read in the next few weeks.
To purchase a physical or digital copy of Matt Anniss’s book Join The Future: Bleep Techno and the Birth of British Bass Music, head to the Velocity Press website. To pre-order vinyl or digital copies of the Join The Future: UK Bleep & Bass 1988-91 compilation, head to Bandcamp or Bleep.com