The basement clubs of Dalston are ablaze with essential small clubnights right now: quality bookings and residents, late hours with tiny entrance fees. In the thick of this is underground house night Thunder. As they warm up for May’s party with Patrice Scott, resident Miles Simpson talks us through what makes him tick and hands us an exclusive ROUGH Mix.
Who or what are your influences?
I guess there are loads of them. I’m a nerdy fan of the history of DJing and I like to think I’m always learning, taking a little bit of inspiration from everyone good I hear, be that pure technique, how a set is knitted together or the injection a bit of raw drama. But my biggest influences were probably two friends, Ipen and Dave Otzen, Danny Rampling and Tony Humphries.
Ipen and Dave are old school friends, who got into DJing in the 1980s through hip hop, entering DMC and stuff like that. They were and probably still are the most technically gifted DJs I’ve ever met, with that natural flair that you can’t learn. I’ve collected records since I was a kid but the idea of playing them to other people came from them. Ipen still plays down in Brighton, where he lives, but Dave has packed it in, and is now Brad Pitt’s dresser!
When I graduated from acid house raves to Soho clubs in the early 90s, Danny Rampling was the DJ I drew most inspiration from. People talk about there being less genre pigeon-holing back then but that’s mainly crap – DJs were generally associated with particular niche genres. Rampling really did play from a broad palette, happily chucking New Jersey garage in with Belgium techno and Spanish acid, with Chicago house and Balearic pop chucked in for good measure. It rubbed off a lot and led to my mish-mash nature of record collection, which is definitely more mongrel rather then purist.
Through Rampling I first heard Tony Humphries play and he really turned me onto US house, which previously I had associated with the like of CJ Macintosh, i.e. slickly produced and dull. Humphries had a rougher style that struck a chime with me and really injected energy into his sets with his mixing. I still feel that’s important – music is important but mixing should add something to what you’re doing, even if it’s not so neat and technically perfect. I won’t name names but some of the smoothest beat mixers are also the dullest – give me Humphries chucking records he bought that day together and then working them hard on his Kiss Mastermix show everytime. He’s my all time favourite DJ, for sure.
More recently, people like Neville Watson, Dan Beaumont, Legendary Children and the other two thirds of Thunder, Rick Hopkins and Joe Apted, keep my enthusiasm levels up with their energy and appetite for house music in all its forms. That is probably inspiration rather than influence though.
Best DJ gig
One of the more memorable was Bam Bam in Birmingham – partly because it could have been the worst. I traveled up one bank holiday weekend with Bill Brewster, Jolyon Green and Toby Tobias and big bunch of various mates, so the pressure was on to be fairly decent. I was on before Bill in what was really the first ‘peak time’ slot, so an expectant crowd waited. Bam Bam had a bit of reputation for slo-mo house (Mark E played there quite a bit), so I planned to take it down in a slo-mo style to start with, a plan I stuck with.
Suffice to say the Bank Holiday party crowd weren’t up for the slo-mo shuffle and buggered off en mass next door to the pub to listen some bloke playing disco re-edits, leaving me with a handful of dancers. But the people that stayed were into it – one almost having a fit because I played a DJ Rush at 33rpm, making it sound fairly demented – and slowly it built back up, record by record, dancer by dancer, until 45 minutes in, it was packed, people hollering and screaming, dancing on top of things, Sylvester records causing mayhem, and the transformation was complete.
I like to think that the early part of that set was a palette cleansing exercise but in reality I almost emptied the venue… something I’m sure my mates wouldn’t have let me forget if I hadn’t have turned it round.
I quite enjoy most places I DJ, so I’d nominate the time I played Disco Bloodbath not because it was a bad gig – it wasn’t, it was fantastic – but because of my, err, unprofessional approach. It was another Bank Holiday, I’d been to the Notting Hill Carnival and then played at a post-Carnival party in Kensal Rise before heading over to Hoxton for Bloodbath. By the time I got there it had been a long day and I was, to coin a phrase, ‘tired and emotional’. Dan welcomed me, showed me round the larger than I expected venue and it was bloody packed with people dancing. He then suggested that I DJ straight away. I was unsure. When I got into the booth I was even more unsure because I was struggling to see the mixer properly and as you can imagine, the DJing that followed was less than perfect. All was not lost though – I sobered up as my set wore on, people were into the music and eventually played for about an hour longer then scheduled. Lesson learned though – being a lightweight and DJing dont mix, literally.
What are you currently listening to?
Old house, new house, in-between house. I’ve got quite a few records and I like to ensure that there’s a good range of ears in every set. Nothing worse than a well worn classics set but equally, someone who’s just gone into Phonica and bought 20 ‘on trend’ records off the wall then cobbled them together is pretty boring too. I guess depth and authenticity is what you’re after from a DJ set, so I’m constantly listening records to makes sure I play stuff that isn’t obvious, that I didnt play the last time they heard me and that will make people dance. I’m also playing Semtek’s UKG influenced night, Special Request, soon, so I’ve been digging through loads of proto-UKG records – Mentalintrum, Zach Toms, Todd Terry, Marc Kinchen, Booker T, Ricky Morrison and that sort of thing. I know Todd Edwards is missing from the list – but I can’t bear his stuff. Actually, don’t tell Semtek that.
Describe a typical night at Thunder.
A proper party! I know that’s pretty clichéd but that’s what it is. A bunch of mates, many of whom we’ve met since we started, cool Dalston club kids, older heads, and maybe a few random stragglers, like the bloke in the blazer and his girlfriend who came by chance, stayed all night and we ended up leaving on the dancefloor of a Caribbean drinking den at 7am the next morning. We’ll make sure the music is spot on – we’ve been booking DJs like Sven Weisemann and Patrice Scott, who you simply would not expect to hear play in a venue the size of ours, supported by the three residents, then we stick it all in a East London basement, shake it up and see what happens. It does tend to get a bit messy and guess if you don’t like that, dancing or staying up till the following day, it probably isn’t for you. Luckily lots of people do like it.
Tony Humphries. But we’d need a time machine because the 2012 Tony Humphries doesn’t float my boat at all. That rawness, that energy, that edge he had is gone. I want the Tony Humphries who was at the epicentre of New York house explosion, the Zanzibar resident, the Mastermix king, the man who broke records for every producer in the Big Apple, the man with the hottest tunes, the sweetest skills – the DJ Tony was 20 years ago.
The time machine is still work in progress though, so until that’s sorted, DJ Nature, which is the recording alias of the now New York based DJ formerly known as Milo from the Wild Bunch. He’s taken that Humphries style and progressed it to where I think it should be right now – German techy house mixed with vocals mixed with stuff like Portable, chopped up disco breaks and World Unknown releases. He’s absolutely brilliant. Actually, I need to talk to Joe and Rick and sort that dream out…
Listen to ROUGH Mix 001: Miles Simpson-Mixx For Someone A Little Faster below.