When you’ve spent some time immersed in underground music, it can start to feel like the real tastemakers almost never get their props. In the 1970s and 1980s, radio jocks in New York, Detroit and Chicago spearheaded the acceptance of new sounds, the likes of which most of us had never heard before. But where did they get their inspiration?
Record shops – that’s where. Independent stores and the people who worked in them went a long way toward defining the “sound” of their towns and cities. It is no coincidence that the decline of the neighborhood record store correlated directly with the homogenization of global dance music.
And it’s been the survival (and even growth) of key stores in Chicago, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm and London that has helped preserve the uniqueness of the local music scene, where so many other cities have become utterly interchangeable. Just one geek behind the counter with impeccable knowledge and an understanding their customer’s wants and needs (whether rare breaks or dance-floor bombs) can define the music of an entire community, from the records being sampled to what’s hot in the club.
I sincerely hope that London DJ and record store guru Jeremy Newall will take it as a compliment when I describe him as just that kind of a geek.
Entrenched in the scene ever since those first magical tapes started filtering over from NY and Chicago, Jeremy became in-demand as a DJ and producer, as well as working behind the counter in some of London’s most culturally significant record shops. But he never became a “big name,” or at least not the kind of big name you’d expect to see curating a House music compilation in these days of huge PR budgets and “branded artists.” So it really was a pleasant surprise to learn that BBE founder Peter Adarkwah had asked his long-time friend to create a double vinyl compilation featuring his personal highlights from the golden era of House. Featuring rare ’90s cuts and unreleased treats, all with a soulful bias, this album will be a wonderful trip down memory lane for true House heads; possibly a revelation to the new generation. I caught up with Jeremy to discuss London’s unique House music history, told by one of the few people who really helped define it.
The 5 Mag Mix by Jeremy Newall
The 5 Mag Interview with Jeremy Newall
How did you get your start in music?
I wanted to share the music I was buying, but couldn’t invite everybody into my bedroom. When I was about 12 I discovered a bloke at the local under-16 disco called a “disc jockey.” He would operate lights and do happy birthday shouts. He was also playing records. I used to bring my own records for him to play. He didn’t play the tracks how I wanted so I decided I wanted to learn how to do it better. So for me, the inspiration to start DJing was to share my music.
Do you remember when you caught the House Music bug? Is there a specific record for you?
I was just into dance music from the early- to mid-80s. I wasn’t old enough to go clubbing, so I had to rely on Mike Allen, Dave Pearce, Tim Westwood and some of the other mainstream dance jocks that were on UK radio, backed up with magazines like Blues and Soul and Record Mirror to get my fix.
- Colonel Abrams – “Trapped”
- D.S.M. – “Warrior Groove”
- Nitro DeLuxe – “This Brutal House”
- Raze – “Jack The Groove”
- Harlequin Fours – “Set It Off”
These were among the dance records that were popular. As I wasn’t old enough to be a clubber, I didn’t know these were part of a scene, just a few records that had a similar beat, copying Strafe’s Set It Off. I do remember a Record Mirror “special pullout” that detailed and exposed Hip Hop, and this taught me how “house” and “jacking” was simply a Chicago strain of “hip hop” and “breaking.” Apparently.
Can you talk us through your extensive history / experience working in record shops?
Hanging out daily in a record shop was a good way to be offered a job. Abbey at Red Records gave me my first break in 1988. That’s where the core of the Catch A Groove/Release The Groove team formed: Abbey, Ricky Morrison, Dave Drew and myself. From there I joined Soul II Soul in their record store, along with Trevor “Madhatter” Nelson, who also worked at Red Records. Then Catch A Groove opened and that was a fantastic shop, we really built a vibe and great customer base. The shop had to close suddenly for very unfortunate reasons connected to the death of David, one of the founders. After the dust settled, Release the Groove was formed along with Gary Dillon from Release The Pressure, which had many years of success. I have also spent time at Reckless, Disque, Soul Brother and Music Power. It’s been quite some time in the trenches!
Working in record shops through the heyday of House, you must have had some memorable visitors. Any particular ones spring to mind?
So many. Larry Levan, Tony Humphries, Francois K, Louie Vega, Frankie Knuckles – all of these guys would visit the store when in London, and there are some special memories of those moments. People often used to come in with tapes of Tony Humphries, Benji Candelario and Danny “Buddah” Morales trying to name the tracks they played. What people didn’t realize is many of those radio shows were actually recorded above the record store so it was cool to have that tape brought back in!
How do you feel the London scene has changed in the years since you first started DJing?
Everything changed when the Ministry Of Sound opened. Before that, you had small cool and dingy venues like Dingwalls, WAG, then you had events in warehouse/studio spaces with temporary set ups. There were a few big clubs, but for the most part they weren’t venues where you would hear the underground dance music you wanted to hear.
High On Hope at Dingwalls was one of the first clubs to make me realize that I wasn’t alone with my specific taste of music at that time, current House records from NY and Chicago, and a sprinkling of classic ’70s and early ’80s in the mix. Also hearing my first Bobb, Regisford and Humphries tapes from NY was life affirming.
Going to NY and specifically The Shelter blew me away, and I didn’t think that I would ever see that in London. So when I first walked into the Ministry Of Sound, it was overwhelming to know that this had been born from, and for the music that I had loved. In fact I didn’t know there were more than two bus-loads of people who felt that groove.
That was how it started. Things have turned inside out and upside down!
House Of Ages is a very special compilation with a specific sound. How did the concept come about?
Pete (BBE Records founder) approached me to compile some “classic ’90s house and garage.” I conjured up a list, but as I was doing so, I started to remember many of the tracks the DJs would play but which weren’t really available to the public.
I didn’t want to present a selection of 15 tracks selected from the top 50 dance tracks that you can get on any high street advertised compilation. I didn’t want this to be a beginner’s guide to soulful house, or a “My First Garage CD” type of collection. I wanted this to be of interest to the hardened collector and discerning DJ.
Put simply – there are some bullets here!
How did the idea for the sleeve for House Of Ages come about? What does it all mean?
After throwing a few ideas back and forth with Jake Holloway, BBE’s ace designer, we settled on the look and feel of a vintage 1990s US promo. Back in those days, the labels would press and distribute test pressings and these would often be very in demand. Strictly Rhythm and Nervous were the first labels I noticed used the Europadisc pressing plant with their distinctive layout. That was the basis of the sleeve. Other things that were commonplace included the “Hype” sticker – the simple bold text sticker that would tell you that you need this record, it would often say “Slammin’ remixes by…” or words to that effect. Another staple of promo copies were the gold stamped legal-speak that says the record is for promotional use only. Finally, there is the “When You PLAY IT, SAY IT!” sticker. This, I believe, started at Atlantic records in the 80s. Basically reminding DJs (with microphones attached) to tell the listeners what the record is.
All of these things evoke the physical age when you could hold a piece of music on your hand. Nowadays you just got a bold colored digital thumbnail to tell the story of a “record.”
How have record shopping and clubbing changed over the years?
What I feel is missing from the current music shopping dynamic is the personal interaction. The idea being that you walk into a record shop, the staff guide you through a selection of what you need. It’s personal music curation. There are still some physical shops that do that, but the convenience factor of online shopping took over. Now instead of the atmosphere of a record shop I can sit at my desk and browse all the latest releases, but flicking through the top 100, the system can’t tell you that you missed something, or “you need this.”
Clubs are going the same way as record stores. Can’t make it to a club because of work/kids/transport/money/clothes? That’s where set-ups like Boiler Room come in. Now I can “go to a club” anytime I want wearing what I want, and sit right at the front of the stage staring at the DJ. Again, the convenience factor is high. Feel that vibe!
As a die-hard record collector, how do you feel about downloads and streaming?
At the end of the day, it’s the music that is the most important thing. But if you imagine music is like memories, you know – stuff going on inside your head – then it helps to have something physical, tangible, to make that “stuff” in your head more vivid. I am not saying a nice cover makes a record sound better, but you can sometimes immerse yourself in the world of the producer with the help of artwork, lyrics, images etc. There are of course many benefits to digital music, DJs of our day used to buy 2 copies of records they liked! Now we drag and drop until we drop.
Just consider if there is an event like a solar flare that wipes out ALL of our hard-drives and computers. Records will be unaffected (as long as they don’t melt). We may need to make new age turntables and amps, but at least the music is preserved. Just saying.
Previously in A 5 Mag Mix: Kevin Bumpers, Bai-ee, Nonfiction, Victor Simonelli, Dave Allison, Luke Solomon, Tyree Cooper, Till Von Sein, Groove Junkies, DJ E-Clyps, Henry Street Music founder Johnny D., Jeremy Sylvester, DJ Godfather, Mr. Mendel, Naeem & Gusto, Parris Mitchell, Zernell and Kool Vibe.