The Story of Hedonism by Phil Cheeseman
Paradise Garage. The Music Box. The Warehouse. Shoom. The Hacienda. These are the big names, the pioneering clubs from the early days of house music, the ones you’ll find in every story. But chances are you’ve never heard of Hedonism, even though the 1988 house explosion in London – and then the world – would never have been the same without it.
It’s said that history is written by the winners. House music is no exception; the conventional history of house is shaped by those who played the PR game with the same dexterity as the records they spun. It’s Brit-centric because the UK is where house broke out from its roots in US underground black and gay subculture and crossed into the mainstream and national consciousness. It’s an orthodoxy that spreads and self-perpetuates the more it’s told as it becomes second- and then third-hand, repeated without seeking alternative sources. Even the usual nomenclature, acid house, is a misnomer, the name of one particular transient subgenre written across the entire culture. But there are always other sources, other stories, other tracts, rarely recounted, but rich in the witness of those who didn’t make the headlines. Sometimes these other stories don’t just add a little colour or nuance, they fill the gaps. Sometimes they face the orthodoxy full on.
Hedonism is one of these stories, played in four parts. It began in February 1988 when London’s club scene was still held in the grip of the retrogressive rare groove revival, despite the best efforts of a handful of forward-thinking DJs who’d already been playing the new Chicago house and New York garage tracks for two years, among them Colin Faver, Noel and Maurice Watson, Mark Moore and Eddie Richards. Incredibly, it was already a year and a half since Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk and Daryl Pandy’s Love Can’t Turn Around and a year since Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s Jack Your Body had taken Chicago house into the UK singles chart at number ten and number one respectively. But despite these and a handful of other crossover hits, house as a club music phenomenon in the UK remained a niche underground scene limited to a small number of clubs in cities like Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham. By the time the needle was lifted on the last record at the final all-night Hedonism session just three months later, the UK was on the brink of the biggest music culture revolution it would experience for decades to come.
The warehouse party scene of 1980s London happened in places like King’s Cross, Camden Town, Waterloo and London Bridge: frequently decaying but easily accessible inner-city locations imbued with a bleakly romantic post-industrial wasteland chic, a frisson that added to the sense of unauthorised adventure on the edge. By contrast, Hedonism took place in a part of the city that remains resolutely unfashionable. To find it, you had to get to Alperton, a little-known and unremarkable interwar suburb punctuated with humdrum trading estates and miles from the centre of the city. Like almost everything else about Hedonism, even the party’s location didn’t play by the rules. The building itself was a nondescript warehouse, but a good size – not too big, not too small. It had separate rooms and no immediate residential neighbours. Most importantly, it was available.
The key instigator of Hedonism was Simon Gordon, aided and abetted by his brother Alun and a small coterie of friends: Josh Wilkins, who created the logo for the flyers, Wilkins’ sister Sophie and friends Julie, Gerald, Phil, Bobby, Esther, and Jules, a club and music scene veteran with access to narcotics. None was a DJ, a music producer or indeed anything to do with the music or entertainment business. Only Sophie, whose boyfriend was Dan Benedict from the warehouse party crew Family Funktion, had any experience of throwing parties. What they had in common was a love of music and clubbing. And a notion.
Gordon had grown up in London, Glasgow and Harrogate and returned to London in 1983 to study at the London College of Printing. Before long he was discovering music and recreational drugs.
I moved into the International Students House in Great Portland Street. I was one of the few Brits. I met some amazing guys from around the world and some of them turned me on to jazz fusion. I smoked a lot, dropped acid, partied and listened to a lot of music, and then failed my course.
After that I travelled. I went to Spain, Portugal, Israel, Vienna and Berlin. When I returned to London, my father gave me a last chance by placing me with one of his suppliers at a print factory in Milton Keynes. He was in the printing industry on the sales and production side. In the 1970s he became the UK managing director for Germany’s largest printing company, Mohndruck. It was a booming business as British printing was on its knees due to strikes and a lack of investment. The main print action was holiday brochures, millions of them. As his relationships deepened with the UK customers, he left Mohndruck and set up on his own. Mohndruck closed the London office and he continued to print in Germany, obviously making much more profit in the process.
I started as an estimator and then became a print production assistant. I lived in Milton Keynes so I was up and down. If I came clubbing I would drive down on Saturday, sleep in the car, or stay at someone’s house and drive back on Sunday. This was 1986; I finished in Milton Keynes late 1987 and started working for my father in the West End. Mohndruck’s London office was in Hanover Square, so when my father left he took a smaller office at the top of the building, just him, his business partner Eric and a secretary. When I joined the company, Eric retired and my brother and I moved into one of Eric’s flats as part of the deal; my father bought it from him when they split the proceeds. The flat was on Hamilton Terrace, St John’s Wood. My brother and I took out a mortgage. It wasn’t cheap living there; the service charge was high and interest rates rocketed. It was a culture shock living on millionaire’s row, though very beautiful. We must have been the least wealthy on the street by a country mile.
The holiday brochure season started in late spring and ran to November. It was very intense, high pressure, all-nighters at the factory and harsh deadlines. If you fucked up it cost tens if not hundreds of thousands. People were stressing out all the time.
Despite the full-time job, Gordon was getting drawn into club culture and exploring both music and drugs, though not necessarily so much in London. The city’s club scene in the mid-1980s was in a transitional phase, stymied by the absence of a strong new musical impetus that would provide energy and direction. The Blitz Kids scene was long gone but many of its adherents were still around, joined by ex-punks, soul boys and jazz-funkers in a mishmash of music and fashion. Rare groove, a retro sound centred on 60s and 70s funk, was the soundtrack du jour in many of the fashionable clubs and warehouse parties of central London, often mixed with new hip-hop releases that were sampling the very same funk sounds. The James Brown-produced Cross The Track by Maceo and The Macks was the biggest crowdpleaser on the scene. Among the big promoters were Nicky Holloway’s Special Branch and Norman Jay’s Shake & Fingerpop.
I was never into that rare groove and soul scene; they weren’t really drug scenes. I was more into the reggae end of things where I could do some drugs. I was greatly influenced by my times in Berlin in the mid-80s. My brother’s best friend, Branco, was from Berlin. I visited a number of times. It was an intense vibe: fast-driving, acid, earth bongs and modern music. Musically, it was cutting edge, whereas London was blunt and living in a nostalgic time warp which was lifeless, dark and broody. Berlin was mentally off the wall, invigorating and a test of will. You could go to a club at 5am and it wasn’t a problem. They loved their acid in Berlin too. I didn’t really see that much acid in London. In London it was like, ‘We’re hillbilly rockers listening to music from the 1970s [twenty years before] and we’re excited and our bands are pastiches of that period’. That was London to me. Berlin was a formative place where I saw a city relaxed, taking drugs, staying open late, really into trying to find fresh music. You’d party all night and go to a music café for breakfast. It was modern. There was nothing like that in London. I remember dropping acid at a party in Islington and staying in a cupboard all night. Brainticket had a big influence on me when I was in Berlin, doing acid, as they were into that track. I don’t know how you’d classify it – psychedelic Kraut rock maybe – but it has this funky riff all the way through.
I think the first time I heard house music was at the Three ‘A’s (Artists Against Apartheid) in Covent Garden, though I didn’t know what it was called. I think this was in 1986 or early 87. I liked this club because it was unpretentious. You could roll a joint and have a dance; it wasn’t very busy. Musically, I think it was a reggae and electro vibe. Looking back I think Three ‘A’s was the club where I first felt a soul/heart connection with house, even though I didn’t know what it was; to me it was just music. It definitely opened something in me, that club, a yearning. I remember doing acid at RAW; Dave Dorrell was DJing and he dropped some house, though once again I didn’t know what it was called. This was 86, early 87 maybe. I was dancing vigorously and was laughed at by a couple of fly girls.
When the final inspiration came to put on a party, it didn’t come from London but from the historic behemoth of disco and dance music: New York City. In the summer of 1987, Family Funktion had managed to snag themselves an appearance in New York and offered it as a trip to their followers, complete with a typed-up set of notes, tips and advice for the transatlantic travellers.
Josh and I went to New York in 1987 on Family Funktion’s trip to the Big Apple. We went to many clubs and parties together; his favourite was Delirium at The Astoria. Neither of us rated the rare groove scene. Josh was involved in Hedonism 1 – he was the one who drew the face logo and the Hedonism graphic on the first flyer. I think he traced the female face from The Face magazine; the idea came from the cover of the Roxy Music album The Atlantic Years. I thought he would pick a similarly striking female face, but he chose the androgynous face and it was perfect. After the first Hedonism, Josh set off on a trip around the world.
I flew to New York as a courier to cover the cost of my airfare. Everyone else stayed at the YMCA but we couldn’t afford it as we needed spending money for drugs so we headed up to the west side of Central Park, by crack city, and found a dirt-cheap hotel. We tagged on with the Family Funktion crew – we went with them but weren’t with them. I think Family Funktion was Marco and Femi, who went on to have hits as the Young Disciples, Dan the Man (Dan Benedict, who became Josh’s brother-in-law) and then there was Judge Jules. Shake and Fingerpop was Norman Jay’s. They cross-fertilised, DJing and cross-promoting. The trip was billed as a New York Funktion. There was a party on the Saturday night at a club I think was operated by the guy who promoted at the Wag, Rene Gelston from Black Market. Josh and I went to the party but it wasn’t happening. I remember David Mancuso turning up; he had a long tail coat on and looked like a serious night creature. We left and went to Paradise Garage.
Family Funktion, New York 1987
One night we went to Tracks. I think we were the only two on the trip who did. It was the first time I saw the power of house on a dancefloor. I was blown away. David DePino was the DJ, the vibe was totally electric, it had incredible energy, people were going wild and drug usage was blatant. It was a heady cocktail, all on a Tuesday night. It was a trip, I’d never seen anything like it. When we went in there was a gorgeous girl on a stool who’d stamp your hand as you went through. It was so far out I thought she’d dosed us with acid. I was convinced. It was like nothing I’d seen before, that intensity. DePino dropped Tchaikovsky or something halfway through the night to clear the floor and start again. I think at that time Tracks was the place. The Paradise Garage had got stale.
It was like a basketball court; around the side the drag queens were smoking PCP, so you’d go past them sniffing as much you could, and then there was a terrace area where you could sit down. We sat next to this big mama; it was like a New Orleans jazz thing. There was a guy next to us off his head standing up trying to rip his T-shirt and burning holes in it with a cigarette while writhing dementedly. Do It Properly was banging out. I just thought wow, what a difference from London! That night we were just on a bit of coke and dope. When we went to the Garage we were on mescaline, but it didn’t have the intensity; it seemed to be more exhibitionism there. I remember one guy dressed up in high heels and fishnets strutting on the dancefloor while Larry Levan was lashing out Slave To The Rhythm. It was more posey where Tracks was just get on the dancefloor and go. David DePino was playing what was fresh while Larry was laying out all the classics. It was still great at the Garage. I really liked it but it didn’t blow my mind like Tracks. The Tracks crowd was about 90% hardcore gay – big moustaches, big muscles, biker leathers, chains, the look Freddie Mercury had. We went to the upstairs bar to go to the toilet and turned back again too scared to go and left to go to a diner! We’d never seen anything like it. The gay scene in London was a Bronski Beat-type thing, but in New York it was powerful; strong dressing and intense drugs. Upstairs was a serious culture shock. We were like, we’ve definitely been spiked with acid!
Tracks Nightclub, New York
Tracks was open three days on the trot. London closed at 2 or 3am. That was what I got out of New York, the idea of pushing it hard, like they did in Berlin. It was intense. Hearing house there, it wasn’t so much the music but seeing the drugs and the energy on the dancefloor that was more important for me. It was the music in the sense that they were making the music visually, it was a party. The music wasn’t the critical thing.
Back in London and freshly energised by the New York experience, Gordon plunged into the emerging house scene, searching out nights not dominated by James Brown breaks. Those nights weren’t on every corner but they were there if you knew where to look: Shoom, Delirium, City of Angels, Asylum, The Fridge.
We brought back two records from New York: Put The Needle To The Record and Do It Properly. I started buying records in London; I bought Acid Tracks in Groove Records and dropped all my soul jazz fusion. I was like, aha! I was listening to Billy Cobham, Jaco Pastorius, Steps Ahead, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, some Euro, King Crimson. I was listening to what was in the clubs too, like Mantronix and go-go, but I wasn’t buying it, I wasn’t buying rap or hip-hop. I was getting more musical innovation from Steps Ahead, for instance. I liked the electro jazz stuff but that wasn’t what was being promoted in London by Gilles Peterson; he was listening to prehistoric stuff.
When we came back from New York we went to City of Angels at the YMCA and met Frankie Knuckles, who was there with Robin King. We were hearing the same records like Put The Needle To The Record but no one was really dancing; it was all very flat, penguiny. The same tracks I had seen smash the dancefloor at Tracks make no impression in London – it was as flat as a pancake.
I’d go to Delirium at Heaven and hear Frankie Knuckles, Daryl Pandy and Gordon Matthewman. I had some wild nights there, but I wasn’t blown away after what I’d seen in New York. I wasn’t amazed by anything until I went to Shoom. Delirium was like a holding spot. Four of us went to Shoom, dropped an E and got on the dancefloor. Most people seemed to hang in the bar area, but I’d be on the dancefloor mad dancing for hours. That’s when I thought it’s coming to London, that New York thing of intensity, drugs, the sounds. The combustion was there. There were little triggers all the way, it was cranking over. At Shoom the spark plugs hit the petrol.
Shoom was the first time I had come across a strobe and smoke machine on the dancefloor. It was very intense. I spent most of my time on the dancefloor and sweated a lot. People in the bar area were not that chatty with strangers, so it was sort of cliquey. I didn’t get into banter or make any new friends in the club, bar Danny and Jenni Rampling. The only reason we got in was that Julie, part of our team, knew Jenni because they used to sell shoes in the same shop in South Molton Street. We wouldn’t have got in without that contact. There was no hugging or football thugs blissed out on E. It was almost a completely white crowd. I remember on the dancefloor being surprised when I saw a couple of black dudes watching me dance. I got vibed up on that.
The magical ingredients at Shoom were the small basement dancefloor that made the acoustics brilliant, the power-punched sound system and the strobe and smoke machines that intensified the experience. Ecstasy was the critical thing that made the whole Shoom experience unique. It was tight in there, intense, you could go wild on the dancefloor as hardly anybody could see you. It was like dancing in heaven as the smoke billowed out and the flashing strobe bleeped in your brain. You could really freak out. Hedonism wouldn’t have happened without Shoom.
The scene was set. It was all coming together but for the all important venue: that was all important. Venues weren’t easy to come by in 1980s London. Neon and chrome palaces, usually the preserve of mainstream wally discos, were often pressed into use as underground venues; places like Busby’s in Charing Cross Road, home to Philip Sallon’s Mud Club. There were large live music venues like the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town that hosted club nights after the gigs finished, and then there were countless small places, even random pub function rooms. But if you didn’t have connections you weren’t going to find a legal venue on a weekend night. And even if you did it wouldn’t have a late entertainment licence and you’d have to run the gauntlet of unsympathetic venue managers, dodgy doormen and clueless walk-up punters. That’s why warehouses gained currency. A warehouse venue wasn’t strictly literal; it could cover any non-traditional venue, like vacant offices and commercial premises, photo studios and so on. Empty houses were a favourite, too. As long as you kept it reasonably discreet, didn’t take too many liberties and could convince any inquisitive police it was a private party, you were in control.
Then the Hedonism crew caught a lucky break from an unlikely source. Gordon’s stepmother, an interior designer, was using an empty printing warehouse near Hanger Lane in West London as storage for her furniture; the building had recently been decommissioned and the business moved to another location by Gordon’s father, who had shares in both. She had the keys and suggested it might be a suitable location for a party. All of a sudden it was game on.
Berlin was hot. New York was hot. London was crap. It needed a push and I saw an opportunity to evolve. I’d always itched to experience a revolution, I don’t know what, some sort of change, I carried an underlying rage toward the royalty-based class system. In 86 or 87 after I’d come to London I said to Naomi, Josh’s girlfriend, ‘Something’s going to happen’. I had some sort of drive that London was living in the past. Then there was this confluence of events: Acid Tracks happens; some dealer starts stoking London with E; Danny and Jenni Rampling get the Fitness Centre; my stepmother suggests the warehouse and says it’s there if we want to have a party. She knew I was going to warehouse parties and that I was evangelical about them.
The brochure printing season was just ending, so there was a space for four or five months. There would be reprints but you didn’t have to fly around Europe getting copy and transparencies. Things came together and I had the space to organise. I’d spent two years learning estimating and print production, and I’d learned how to get something organised, so organising the parties wasn’t difficult. Compared with organising a multi-million print job, it wasn’t complicated. I knew it was a bit weird doing a free party because I was being evangelical about house and ecstasy, so I used the excuse that Josh was going off around the world. But it was more of a cover. The real reason was to spread the feeling and the energy.
I didn’t know that many people, just Josh and Robin King vaguely. I think Jules knew that Colin Faver played house at Jungle. We were like, who plays house music, has played it for a while and can mix? It was Colin and Justin Berkmann. Justin was put in contact through Sophie, Josh’s sister, as he was matey with the Family Funktion lot. He would have loved to have played them all by himself, but we needed someone else and Colin fell into place. We didn’t go after Danny or Paul Oakenfold. They had their own clubs, it’s true, but I didn’t want the Balearic sound, I just wanted house.
Even with the venue and DJs in place, there was still work to do: sound system, security, visuals, drinks, flyer printing. Having witnessed the capable systems at places like Heaven, and Tracks, Gordon knew a proper sound system was more of an essential than a luxury if the party was to go off. The answer came in the shape of the John Dean system. Dean supplied the audio works for the likes of DJ Froggy, the renowned Soul Mafia DJ, and the BBC Radio 1 Roadshow, and his systems came with a stamp of quality – and serious power.
Jenni Rampling gave me a number for Johnny Walker, who worked at London Records. He was a really nice guy, really open. He suggested John Dean and gave me a number for security guys, to stop the police breaking it up. Dean’s system was phenomenal; the sound was crystal clear. I remember Julie’s friend Laura sitting in the bass bin at 7am one time and boy, did those wooden doors on the building bang and shudder when that sound system got pounding! Where I worked in Hanover Square there was an off-licence across the road that my father had an account at, so I got the drinks on so many days’ credit and could pay it off with the money from the bar.
There was a warehouse party I went to at the Crypt in Brixton in September or October 1987 that inspired me. Not the music, but this guy had decorated and added touches. Rather than just taking over a building and putting in a sound system, he’d tried to put in art installations and had a live band. I liked the way the atmosphere had been enhanced with visual effects. The host turned up at the first Hedo and I told him he’d inspired me. Julie, her brother Stephen and his posse were the prime movers in the decoration of the warehouse. We redecorated every time, within days. Paint it and clean it up.
In its pomp at the Astoria in Charing Cross Road, opposite Centre Point, Robin King’s Delirium was the kingpin of London’s cutting-edge clubs in the immediate pre-house era. Helmed by brothers Noel and Maurice Watson, Delirium served up a heady mix of funk, hip-hop, disco, boogie and as soon as the first records started to come in from the States, house and garage. The crowd was mixed, trendy and up for it on the dancefloor. But when it moved south along the Charing Cross Road to Heaven, changed to a purely house format in the main room and switched from Saturdays to Thursdays, it became a different club with a different crowd. Numbers dropped and it was never as prominent again. King’s last flourish in the West End was the Delirium Deep House Convention held at The Empire in Leicester Square in February 1988. The night boasted an impressive array of Chicago’s finest, with Frankie Knuckles, Marshall Jefferson, CeCe Rogers and Fingers Inc. all on the bill. Only 250 people turned up; it was the wrong place and the wrong time. To the untrained eye it must have seemed that house was floundering; if a stellar line-up promoted by one of the biggest names in London clubland at a renowned venue couldn’t draw a crowd, where was it all going? But as unlikely as it might have seemed that night, the baton was being passed on. Freshly back from spending a year living in New York, Justin Berkmann saw the Hedonism crew that night. The next week he met them to talk about playing. Within two weeks of returning from New York he was behind the decks at a pioneering new party en route to becoming the founder of and resident DJ at Ministry of Sound. Hedonism had begun.
Justin Berkmann, New York 1987
Josh and I met Robin King in a pub in January 1988 to get his input. He wasn’t really sparking. He had gone to Shoom once and said he didn’t like the drug-taking. He didn’t come to any of the Hedos. After the Delirium Uptime Deep House Convention event the scene shifted away from him. That event was pivotal on us finding the London house scenesters. Even though it had a low attendance, we spent a lot of time speaking to fellow attendees and handing out the first party invite. Some came to the party and went to all four.
Delirium Deep House Convention, 1988
None of the Hedonism crew knew if anyone was going to turn up beyond themselves and their immediate crowd. But despite the far-flung location and inauspicious time of year, turn up they did, in numbers. Nobody knows for sure how many came through the door, but it was at least 300 and maybe as many as 500. What mattered was the energy was there. The sparks had ignited. Among the partygoers were Danny and Jenni Rampling, who were married that day and spent their honeymoon evening in Alperton Lane.
I had no premonition it was going to go off. The energy just felt right. It was a continuous vibe from New York to Delirium to Future to Shoom. I think it was the music; it was powerful and was having powerful effects. And of course not forgetting the ecstasy, which was creating a dynamic and pulsating vibe, a mental expansion. People were letting go on the dancefloor. The vibe felt heavy, the stew was getting thicker with each event. It made the intensity, especially when Colin got on the decks. He could feel the vibe and knew how to cook the music to make it more intense.
Colin Faver was the fulcrum for the music at Hedonism. Justin Berkmann knew the sounds and had the records thanks to his time submerged in the club culture of New York, but he was just starting out as a DJ. Faver was the experienced pro, as big a name as any in London. He met Gordon at Heaven’s Pyramid night, where he was a resident DJ, and was immediately drawn to the free vibe and unconventional venue. No further persuasion or invitation was necessary and he signed up on the spot.
Faver cut his teeth as a leading dancefloor DJ during his long stint at the Camden Palace and played at many of the key clubs and events prior to and during the birth of the London house scene. An essential part of the DJ roster during Kiss FM’s pirate days when it was hugely influential in shaping the tastes of London’s clubbers, he was always at the cutting edge, always moving ahead, always the champion of innovation. As house took hold he enlisted trumpeter Gordon Matthewman, keyboard player Ian B and rapper Mr C to augment his sets, a pioneering move soon copied by others. But he didn’t promote his own club night, he wasn’t a record producer and his humility outweighed his ambition. Somehow he became a footnote in the history of the house explosion. But those who were there at the time, no more so than his contemporaries and those he inspired, knew just how critical his contribution was. In truth, Faver was the Don.
Left to right: Mr C, Gordon Matthewman, Ian B, Colin Faver. Hedonism 3
It’s something that’s vexed me over the years, the lack of kudos Colin Faver got relative to all the other big-name DJs. In my mind he was the DJ. He knew how to hold the scene, he’d been through punk; the others were new to it. He was never into spinning or seeking fame. It was his lack of ego that meant he was the only DJ to play the four parties in the main room. I remember first meeting him and thinking this guy has been around, is deeply experienced and humble. He didn’t have an air of superiority, he was just there living in the moment. He was just sound. You didn’t need a lot of words.
I deeply connected to Colin on the dancefloor at Hedo 2 and once at Shoom when he dropped Bass (How Low Can You Go) twice. I was freaking, thumping my hands on the dancefloor. I always remember him dropping Robert Owens’ Bring Down The Walls at Hedo 3; he really took it deep and far out on that night. Another time I had a real freaky dance in Delirium at Heaven when I pulled Gordon Matthewman playing the trumpet off the stage on to the dancefloor. I was really psyched up when I left the club. Years later I learned Colin was the DJ that night.
Maybe what made him a great DJ and conduit at that time was his very deep experience in music and drugs along with egolessness and the innovating live band. The combination took him to another level. He was totally in tune to the creation of art. After Hedonism we became friends and I followed him into the rave, hardcore and techno scenes. He helped ground me. I always enjoyed his silence. He wasn’t a bullshitter or patter merchant, just loved spinning the tunes. Before his death we chatted and he said his abiding memory of Hedonism was the roar from the crowd when the music restarted at the fourth party after the sound system was swapped from John Dean to Soul II Soul. John Dean had to take his sound system somewhere else so Soul II Soul brought theirs in. It was around seven in the morning. While they were waiting, the Shock crew started singing and banging cans and dancing, making a sound until the Soul II Soul system was set up at the other end.
Hedonism was originally intended as a one-off. But momentum was at full tilt after the first party. Everyone wanted more. Other DJs were discussed and solicited including some ambitious names, among them Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan and Derrick May.
We did a second event because we could; we knew the ropes after the first one and we were up for it. I went into the first one with the idea that it was just a one-off but it felt like something was cooking and we were still hungry. At the Deep House Convention I tried to get Frankie Knuckles but he said he was going off to work with the Pet Shop Boys in New York. I spoke to Derrick May over the phone – I got his number from the Rhythim Is Rhythim EP. He was up for it if I paid for his air fare but I couldn’t afford it and he couldn’t afford it! I spoke to Larry Levan’s manager, but he told me house was dying and freestyle was the new music trend. He said Larry wasn’t interested. Josh was in charge of getting Fingers Inc. organised during the Deep House Convention but he didn’t get it sorted. I called Coldcut after Hedo 1, inviting them to play. They wanted £500. I told them I couldn’t afford it, so it never happened. Later I heard them play at Shoom in the Fitness Centre. They weren’t that good. They didn’t understand the ecstasy vibe; they started cutting music from the Clash and adding a smack vibe.
Joe Smooth played at Hedo 2. At the end of Hedo 1 I met Tim Taylor who promoted house music and he arranged Joe, who played between Justin and Colin. Joe was not happy with Justin’s set. He said it was too hard. I had told Justin to play a hard house set. Joe was like, get him off and play some hip-hop to change the vibe, as people were leaving. Joe went on but I can’t really remember his set. I think it was Justin’s best set, and he smashed the dancefloor with some real hard house. There was some great dancing that night. Then Colin went on with his band and they were fucking amazing. I dropped an E and danced my socks off. Mr C was brilliant. I think this set opened a few eyes; the likes of Chris Sullivan and people from the Wag scene got off on that set and saw the power of house on a big system and E. We went to the Wag to give Chris and Holly Sullivan tickets for Hedo 3, then I went to see Nicky Holloway in his office on Oxford Street. He was keen to get tickets to his scene, so you had a Wag posse and Holloway’s Special Branch – those two groups turned up at Hedo 3. At 3 you could see something had dramatically changed, that house and ecstasy had exploded. Hedo 3 happened only two weeks after Hedo 2 because Jules and I knew then that we’d hooked the scenesters, the clubland makers and shakers, the creators of other clubs and DJs, Norman Jay and so on. They turned up in force to number 3, which was when the vibe went supercharged. It was the shortest gap between the four parties. I put myself down to DJ at Hedo 3, with the name Slinkey – you’ll see it on the ticket invite – but I chickened out. I was like, I can’t DJ! So Kid Batchelor played that spot and I got him to spin my copy of Denise Motto’s IMNXTC.
Kid Batchelor, Hedonism 2
Number 4 was a continuation of 1, 2 and 3 in that the energy just carried us, people were vibing and the opportunity remained as the warehouse was empty. I had keys for the first three parties but at the fourth we had to break in. The other shareholders didn’t like me hosting parties in the warehouse and got very angry after the fourth one. After each party we had to leave it as we found it. It was a lot of work! By this time we had got the procedure down to a T and everyone was still up for it. We had partied hard for six months and number 4 was the climax. Everything just flowed: the music, the drugs, the people, the parties and the feeling.
Hedonism was strictly house in the main room, save for Jazzie B’s closing set at 4 and a mystery interloper at 1, but it wasn’t house throughout. Roy the Roach and Martin Madhatter played funk in the back room at the first three events and there was a live session in the Jam Room that included members of funk band Push. There was even a room in the basement called the XTC Cellar for people to take time out; a chillout room before the term was coined.
The Phantom Rare Groover happened at Hedonism 1. When Justin finished his set an uninvited rare groove DJ got behind the decks and played for a few minutes. Danny Rampling found my brother Alun and told him to get the guy off as he was ruining the vibe. Alun hauled him off. To this day we don’t know who he is. During the first party we received complaints and got grief from a number of partygoers who didn’t like house and wanted rare groove played. We ignored them.
Jazzie B played at 4. I owed him because I mistakenly put Soul II Soul on the flyer for 3 after a mix-up between Phil Davis and myself about who was playing the back room. It was through Phil that Roy the Roach came with his sound system in the back room for 1, 2 and 3. I thought he told me he had arranged Soul II Soul for that party and then Roy turned up. Afterwards I felt a bit of a plonker for putting their name on the flyer. Then we needed a second sound system for Hedo 4 due to John Dean leaving and it all fell into place with Jazzie B.
Phil shared a house in Crouch End with two other musicians, Graham and Hawi, and Janet, a singer. Graham played bass on Soul II Soul’s track Feel Free and Hawi was a brilliant guitarist who became a top session player. They were heavily into jazz. I had known those guys about a year and we all liked many of the same artists. They were the nucleus of the Jam Room along with jazz drummer Gerald Chapman. They were in the live music scene and knew the Push guys and many other jazz and funk musicians. That was how the Jam Room came off. I remember Crispin ‘Pump’ Taylor from Push really pissed off Gerald at Hedo 1 because he went wild on his drum kit and did some damage. I think I had to pay for repairs. Gerald brought his drum kit to all the parties. The room was nuts the night of 1, off the scale, all crammed into one little room jamming hard. Never seen anything like it before or since. Later it occasionally crossed my mind that the spirit of acid jazz was born in the Jam Room at Hedonism with that north London posse of musicians.
Hedonism was an outlier, perhaps even a unique idiosyncrasy. It didn’t follow the rules. In a way it was a precursor to the ethic of the free party scene that emerged from the subsequent rave period. The parties were packed with characters who were either already or soon to become key players on London’s house scene, but their number didn’t include any of the organisers. Only Alun Gordon went on to have any professional involvement in music, establishing the Sunjam parties in Central America. Hedonism was made in the image of the warehouse parties and clubs that inspired it save for the commercial aspect; it wasn’t a club and the aim was never to make money. It was simply a party for the love of it.
There was no agenda. I don’t think any of us had an agenda. The ethos was hippy dippy, it was a free party. The first Hedo was free, the second £2 and I think the third and fourth were £3. We only charged to cover costs; it was never about profit. We gave away free food treats and knick-knacks. Security, sound system, DJs, lights … it cost a couple of thousand at least every party. The door fee and booze financed 2, 3 and 4, otherwise we couldn’t have hosted them. John Dean was £400, security £700, DJs £70 each, then you had the podiums, lighting system, smoke machine, spray paint for walls, paint to whitewash the walls. Some stuff was nicked at Hedo 3 that I had to pay for. Then you had the ticket printing cost and Roy Marsh’s sound system, the cost to put all the furniture in storage at the first three and no doubt more I’ve forgotten. Looking back it was a lot of work, as we were also partying hard, but it felt like a breeze at the time. I lost a grand, maybe a bit more, and Jules a couple of hundred. I think our free vibe unsettled some. Kid Batchelor and I visited Judge Jules and I remember coming out of the meeting thinking ‘He thinks I am in a cult’.
The Hedonism parties came from the dancefloor, a feeling transmitted through the music and how people were reacting. I wasn’t possessive in any way – it was just a party – but for others it was a profession so they were more possessive about what they were trying to hold on to and what they were trying to do. I could have started hanging out with the trendies, but I wasn’t interested in that. It wasn’t a career for me. We could have taken it further. I was offered Brixton Academy but didn’t want to take it commercial. How could I top what had happened in Alperton Lane?
When the doors closed on the fourth event, the window of opportunity closed with them. The fever had run its course and now the story was at an end just as the house explosion was beginning in earnest. The protagonists went their separate ways; Josh had already left to travel and Alun was just about to. Gordon went back to work now the brochure season had started again. The aftermath wasn’t all positive; as with drugs, after the energy peak there was a comedown.
I was mentally fragile afterwards. The energy was weird; it felt empty and soulless, there was an empty space. I became riddled with guilt and thought of the drug-related consequences of the acid house craze. I knew there could be consequences as I was doing the Hedos but I didn’t give a damn, then I realised that people were going to die through taking part in this scene. No one died from a drug incident at the parties, but I knew there was a risk that someone could have died, or there could have been a fire. I was aware of that. I think we had a fire extinguisher, but that’s as far as it went! We made sure there were fire doors and we had loads of bouncers so we could evacuate if something happened. I was definitely aware that if something bad happened we’d be in a lot of trouble.
We had a stabbing incident at number 3. The guy who was stabbed was with three other guys and the stabber was alone. As it kicked off, one of the gangsters – Roy the Hitman was my nickname for him – was going to pull his gun out when a loved-up Bobby intervened and calmed the situation. Then the bouncers got involved and got the stab victim and his mates out of the building and into the car park. The bouncers were scared and pulled me out to talk to the victim and his mates because they thought these guys were going to come back with people and we were going to have a war. I went out and then the stabber came out and they had a fight, I jumped in and stopped them, and the bouncers followed. The stabber went back inside, I got the group a bottle of champagne and it was defused. I didn’t have a clue what they were fighting about. Colin was playing at that point and it was off the wall, mind-bendingly intense. It was probably 6 or 7am, just after dawn. When the bouncers are getting scared about the people in there, that shows the level of potential violence. We were thinking through all the time about the kind of vibe we were going to get. You weren’t thinking about how many people are going to hug each other; you were thinking what are the consequences if we get that crowd in and they add to the vibe? I think more gangsters came down at 3 and 4, but they were up for it, they were partying, they loved it. The bouncers loved it too, it was ridiculous! They were amazed by the atmosphere. They weren’t nutters – they were tough but really nice. We had ten to twelve of them and they did a brilliant job. When I saw him years later Leslie Lawrence of Bang the Party told me he’d never seen so many murderers at a party. I think the gangsters came down because their customers were going nuts about this drug scene. It was edgy. It wasn’t all hugging like the football hooligans on ecstasy narrative. It was a party where the rule of law was outside and you could do what you want.
How important was Hedonism to what immediately followed? The four parties happened at a critical time in the evolution of house music, not just as a UK phenomenon but internationally. At the end of 1987, house was just another subgenre of dance music, one still part of a wider genre that encompassed R&B, hip-hop, freestyle and even go-go; in 86 and 87 it was routine to hear all of these sounds mixed up on the same dancefloor. But by mid-88 it was becoming the dominant sound in clubland and spreading throughout Europe and beyond. Hedonism was a bridging point between what had been and what was to come; the revellers saw the future and reached for it.
It was an energy. All the components were there and then those three clubs in London made the energy – Future, Shoom, Hedonism. They put the ingredients together and cooked something; it was the zeitgeist. They were the three nights that were the essence to me at that time. Each had its own ritual or party scene: Future was very white and they liked to listen to anything, a bit of acid, they jazzed it up. Shoom was intense in that early period at the Fitness Centre, it was about that space and that pocket in time. What the scene grew into was bigger than all of us could have imagined. Apart from a few punks, none of us had ever been through a scene and punk wasn’t a mass drugs scene. The energy was given by ecstasy. We were chefs, we helped cook something and other people were eating it. Some people did get E crazy, doing numerous pills; you could see people who were fried. That was the biggest reverberation for me.
It was like a transplant from New York, where the vibe in the club was cooked with the drugs, the energy, what was transmuting on the dancefloor. It helped a lot of people lose their inhibitions and just dance and not give a damn. People weren’t laughing at you any more. They were getting down or else they were in the bar; there weren’t value judgements. Even people who weren’t taking anything got caught up in the euphoria, so you got into it or left. Eventually you didn’t need drugs because the vibe had already cooked, but you needed them to kickstart it to get to that point where you could go in straight and still get a buzz. You’re on that frequency, you just tune into it, you hear the music, the vibe is there and you just go for it. There wasn’t all that what are you wearing, what’s your hair like, where are you from, what’s your voice sound like? There was none of that; just get jacking. It was unpretentious, a complete contrast to the scene that had been before. Some didn’t like it because there was no fashion. Before, there was a fashion infrastructure for it with the magazines The Face and I-D, and it blended with the club scene and the music. Like some music people tried to create scenes, and the fashion people were similarly trying to make the in-trend. It was a creative thing and then acid house poured all over that and something else got cooking. Not so much an expression of fashion or being someone trying to get somewhere, it was just about getting on the dancefloor and having a good party, a good weekend. Then you could become a DJ, or make some music or make your own club.
Without Hedonism would the scene have exploded anyway, or would it have fizzled like Shoom at the YMCA and Busby’s? Future would never have broken acid house as it was too narrow a crowd and the music was a mélange. Shoom, did it break acid house? That too was a narrow crowd and the music was a mélange. Hedonism focused on house, promoted ecstasy, introduced a free, sharing vibe and had no agenda other than to have a party. Would Clink St. and Trip have happened without Hedonism, Love at the Wag, et al? Many clubland makers and shakers became electrified by the party vibe at Hedonism. The crowd wasn’t narrow; if you had a ticket or were good at blagging you got in. Would Spectrum have started without Shoom and Hedonism? How do these things spread? Is it fatuous to say that something started at this point, that this was the point of conception? Who seeded it and who gave birth to it?
The generation that came through raving included the establishment and politicians, a frequency was changed. Some folks lost their minds, some found their souls, others saw a business opportunity and ran with it. Media inflation fed into this and tall tales grew and grew. Someone christened it the 2nd Summer of Love and inflationists gleefully took up that narrative. Rave became too big for any narrative or ideology, it was just too spontaneous. But ever since, people like to paint pictures, projecting their biases and career fulfilling desires onto this party scene.
GORDON MATTHEWMAN – Musician and producer
Gordon Matthewman playing trumpet, Hedonism 3
In 1986 I visited Paradise Garage in New York with my brother. It inspired me to make house music and by 1987 I had my first release on test pressing. I met Colin Faver at Heaven and gave him a cassette. He mixed it in straight away, which I remember thinking was an incredible thing to do instead of taking it home and checking it first. And it was a cassette! I just had to get to know him. I played live trumpet at Heaven with Colin and then he invited me to play in his sets at Hedonism and Shoom. I met Mr C at the Hedonism parties; we were both doing live things at that time. Colin was the most open-minded person to invite the live jam thing into his sets.
I remember arriving at Hedonism with Colin and thinking ‘This is a big gig’. The vibe was amazing, a lot of energy. Ian B was just finishing his set. It was the pure house sound I had experienced in New York, with a big sound system, which was rare at that time, and everyone out down the front of the dancefloor. The lighting was minimal and intense, there were strobes and lots of smoke machines, also a new thing then. It was a big encouragement for me to hear my track played that night and get amazing feedback from people. Playing trumpet in Colin’s set and meeting other new house producers, I knew I was going in the right direction. Tracks like Jamie Principle’s Baby Wants To Ride pumped out, night turned to day and the sound system swapped ends of the warehouse. What was going on? It was a standout, inspirational night that set the pace for things to come. I’d already decided to make this the main thing in my life. I wanted to be part of what was going on, not just watch or be on the dancefloor. The next step was starting my own record label, mixing and producing from a home studio. For me that was the only way to do it. It’s normal now but then there were no laptops and so on, so it meant a journey into learning how to be a sound engineer, buying equipment and everything involved in getting a great piece of 12″ vinyl out on the street. My goal was to make an unstoppable record for the dancefloor, no name, marketing or promotion needed. That wish eventually turned into Edge Records *1.
With the massive growth and evolution of the scene afterwards, the Hanger Lane nights somehow got a bit forgotten. It exploded into the giant M25 raves and then worldwide, but the blueprint was right there at Hedonism.
ALUN GORDON – Hedonism
Alun Gordon, Hedonism 4
The best parties in London at that time were happening in warehouses and rare groove ruled the scene. My brother-in-law Dan Benedict was one of the guys running Family Funktion and our girlfriends, now wives, are sisters, so getting to those events was easy for us and we would all go down. Judge Jules would play old JBs and the sound system would leave your ears ringing for days. The parties were good: warehouses, mixed crowd, pot being openly smoked, the feeling of being on the edge. But something was missing – the music, it turned out!
Robin King lived on the same street as my girlfriend and she was friendly with his little sister (still is). Robin had a good ear for music and wasn’t afraid to put on an event. His Delirium parties were really the first that I went to where we heard house publicly played.
We attended Shoom from the off. The Shoom crowd was already tight after a summer in Spain and they had a really nice vibe. I guess the E started to appear around then. I didn’t do any at Shoom, but the heavy smoke, small space and uplifting crowd were inspirational. I never thought of Shoom as the start of the rave scene, I guess because it wasn’t in a warehouse, it didn’t have a big sound system and, most tellingly, wasn’t really pumping house but was pushing a Balearic sound. They did come up with the smiley face though.
We were a tight group and all trying to do something. In the end, Simon, my wife’s brother Josh, Phil and I decided that we would do something ourselves. We wanted to use a warehouse as they really are the best places to feel free and out of the norm. Simon’s genius was to insist on an oversized sound system. We could have taken one of the rigs that were doing the rounds, but Simon put his money where his mouth was and paid for the John Dean rig – 10k of sound and a real revelation at that time. The sound of the roof shaking added a new element that went on to become part of the whole rave scene.
The combination of warehouse, proper sound system, up-for-it crowd, the arrival of E and a night of nothing but house was a game changer. There had not been anything like it before and it had a huge impact upon all of those present. It’s no exaggeration to say that lives changed. We raised the bar and all those present knew it. Those first Hedonism parties were the first real raves.
Memories include: Colin Faver and his band (how did they not get the credit they deserved?); Mr C, who rapped and had his first DJ gig at Hedonism; Sade in the Jam Room; turning away Boy George at the door because he was too aggressive; Danny and Jenni Rampling on the dancefloor freaking on their wedding night.
One memory really stands out from the final party when the Dean rig had to be taken away for another event at 5am. Simon and I decided to bring in another rig and arranged that the Soul II Soul boys would come in. I was the only one capable when they arrived and had the idea to switch the party from facing one way in the warehouse to facing the other, so we brought the Soul II Soul rig in at the back end of the room and when the Dean system was shut down the crowd thought it was over. They were gutted. There were hundreds of people high as kites wanting to rave and suddenly the party was over. Then they realised we were setting up a new sound system at the other end of the room. It was a moment that no one there will ever forget. It took about ten minutes to get the music back on but the dancing didn’t stop. We started beating our cans on the floor and walls and the dancefloor created its own beat. When the sounds went back on there was a lift in the room that was on another level. None of us had really seen anything like it before.
ROY THE ROACH – Record shop owner and DJ
Roy The Roach and Martin Madhatter, Hedonism 3
Like all of those wonderful life-changing parties we experienced, starting at the end of 1987 and taking us through to the summer of 1989, if you can remember it, you weren’t there! Although we do get the odd flashback…
I was still very much a funk DJ at the time, rinsing my valuable box of 7″ rare grooves for all they were worth. I had Quaff Records, the rare groove emporium in Finsbury Park at that time, and the rare groove scene was buzzing. The funk we were playing was very left field, the sound that was soon to be the catalyst for acid jazz.
I was booked to play with Martin Madhatter and was looking forward to seeing Push play live. We knew there were lots of other DJs playing but didn’t know what the venue was, how big the rooms were and so on. I went with my best mate Judge Jules and when we arrived were very surprised to find Push playing in one of the small rooms with the rare groove room being not much bigger. Why wasn’t the music of the day in the main room? And what was all the smoke about?
As all great parties go, once the music started pumping and the people flooded in we were off on a wave of excitement, but it was the main room that was exciting! I can hardly remember Push playing and couldn’t wait to finish my set so I could get into that main room and get down with the happy people. They really were the antithesis of everything clubbing had ever been: no uniforms as such; the rare groove scene was very much identified by its Levi’s 501s and MA-1 jackets. Clubbing had always been about dressing up, especially after the excesses of the New Romantics, so what were all these hippies about? They just didn’t care – baggy T-shirts, trousers that looked like pyjama bottoms and all totally loved up! We couldn’t wait to get on it and join in. I remember being wowed by Kid Batchelor. He blew me away and I’ve been a friend and lifelong fan since. Kid is still one of the finest DJs the UK scene has ever produced.
It was the first real acid house party. The music was all squelchy and bleeps, no Richie Havens, none of that Balearic stuff; it was a constant flow of new sound that thrilled our minds and made our bodies throw the strangest shapes. I remember standing in the sunlight the following morning heartbroken that it had to stop and desperate to have some more. And that’s what we did for the next four years, until the Criminal Justice Bill came along and raving was handed over to the mainstream.
JULIE HIAM – Hedonism
Julie Hiam, Hedonism 3
We were a small group of friends exploring the night, looking to party. We weren’t particularly cool or trendy and would often get turned away from clubs because we didn’t look the part. Our dissatisfaction with what was on offer fuelled Simon and Josh to put on a party, especially after their trip to New York. Simon loved music, collecting literally thousands of 12-inches, hanging out in record shops, finding out what was going on. Josh was a mischievous party animal, always up for a good time. I just came along for the ride and loved to dance all night long, never wanting it to end. I was struggling with the boredom of life at university in Norwich and had got a job in a shoe shop in South Molton Street and was finding it difficult to get to work on time in the mornings due to our late-night escapades. My boss was not impressed. One night we turned up at a club called Shoom that we’d heard about. There was the usual queue crush and when we got near the front I saw my manager, Jenni, was on the door. ‘Now I know why you’re always late for work,’ she said, and we were in. Shoom was something else. The darkness and strobe-fractured smokescreen of the tiny sweat-dripping dancefloor allowed me to just let go. And on one occasion pass right out, to Doctorin’ The House. The intense contrast between the anonymity of the dancefloor and then the intimacy of the loved-up bar and queue for the loo was great. I wanted more, please. And not just another Lucozade.
The opportunity that the warehouse in Alperton Lane gave was crucial in giving us the freedom to create the party vibe that would become legendary. The warehouse was pretty much in the back of beyond and under the radar, despite the cop car compound around the back. It was just right. My dad had a van so we emptied the furniture into the van and got to work.
Inside, you entered into a small area where a sound system was set up and then off to the side you could see into a couple of offices with openings in the walls that became the bar and the room for the jam sessions, and downstairs from there was the chillout room, perfect for when you needed to relax, take a breather, meet people, roll a joint. The main dance area was a long room with the humongous sound system at one end. The whole place was covered with graffiti-style art; my brother Stephen and his crew of teenage graffiti artists relished the opportunity of free paint and walls to cover without getting arrested and set to work. For each party, except for the last, they came up with new designs. The first party was a huge Hedonism piece across the whole length of the main dance room, with Vaughn Bodē-influenced characters scattered around the rest of the place. They developed more fantastical dreamscapes that would appear as the dawn broke. After each party we whitewashed the walls and started again.
The first party was free. Even when we charged, whoever was on the door just stuffed the dosh into Simon’s parka pockets and then popped it in the office. My dad turned up the morning after the night before, walked in through open doors and found Simon and Josh asleep in the office, money splayed everywhere.
It’s difficult to describe the nights themselves across the blur of time and brain fog. It was hedonistic. It felt exciting. It was loud and it was deep. Those who were there on that first night were no doubt going to come again. And they did. The second Hedonism was brilliant, one of the best nights of my life. People got it and were up for it. So many smiles. All sorts of folk came out to play and even when the music stopped we made our own.
Hedonism was a special serendipitous happening, a unique combination of people and place, a moment in time that fed into the zeitgeist that would change the future of dance music and clubbing in Britain. I’m glad it was what it was. It didn’t go on to become a brand, a superclub or a cheese fest. Like all good things, it came to an end.
Main room DJs
- February 26th – Justin Berkmann, Phantom Rare Groover, Colin Faver
- March 26th – Justin Berkmann, Joe Smooth, Colin Faver
- April 9th – Justin Berkmann, Kid Batchelor, Colin Faver
- May 29th – Ian B, Colin Faver, Kid Batchelor, Mr C, Jazzie B