Ahead of the return of Boy’s Own to London’s clubbing landscape on June 27th, we speak to perennial house music kingpin Terry Farley, the man behind three decades (and counting) of party, label and fanzine action.
Terry Farley has done a lot of interviews about our Great British rave history. As a key face in the official post-Ibizan-Summer-of-Love-becomes-last-great-subculture narrative, he can dependably reel off a selection of fruity E’ed-up anecdotes or debate the merits of a seminal tune with real depth of knowledge.
Yet despite inadvertently becoming a statesman for house music’s legacy, he remains as passionate as ever about seeking out new productions, fresh parties and the ever-changing scenes and fashions that characterise clubland.
It’s a refreshingly positive outlook for a fifty-something DJ who has navigated the pitfalls of snooty, grumpy nostalgia often expressed by those who live and love this music for a lifetime. It’s particularly impressive for someone who can say he genuinely was there when Shoom was good.
“I don’t want to be the guardian of what’s correct,” he tells us, “but I do love this music and everything that surrounds it, so I will get miffed when DJs play shit records, because there are so many good ones to play. And I’ll have a word or two to say when I see crowds staring at DJs instead of dancing.”
Having thrown notorious parties back in the 80s, including what may well have been the UK’s first ever outdoor acid house rave (“we were getting away with all sorts, the police no idea for the first couple of years, then suddenly they were steaming in with truncheons”), plus being behind the fledgling scene’s mythologised original fanzine, Terry’s rave chops are untouchable.
His Boy’s Own collective was scarily influential back then, and even when things seemed to be on the wane in the early 90s – the parties had become too dangerous to put on, the record label put on ice – offshoot imprint Junior Boy’s Own began to flourish as the spawning ground for new acts such as, er, the Chemical Brothers, Underworld and X-Press 2. Fairly hot A&R chops too, then.
That’s not to ignore his own heavyweight production successes and DJing, which have remained consistent throughout it all. Yet Farley insists all this is more about a passion rather than any innate talents.
“I’ll put my hands up,” he admits. “I had no writing skills when we did the fanzine. We were just lucky that what became popular as the ‘Boy’s Own style’ was a very illiterate one! It was just the way we were speaking, plus how valuable it is for people to hear a voice stinking out arsey opinions.”
Perhaps his refusal to waste time moaning about today’s generic plugin Beatport culture also has something to do with how he was introduced to the studio, too.
“New technology enables people like me, with no music training, to put out records. It opens doors. We were going to studios where the people very much looked down upon us and were always trying to change what we’d done,” he says of early Farley & Heller explorations. “These days the doors are wide open, so much so that good music does get suffocated and lost, but I’d be hypocritical to say that level of studio democracy is a bad thing.”
And despite throwing those legendary parties, Terry says he’s not really a good promoter either “it’s so much harder than DJing”, but despite it all, five years ago they were tempted to bring back the Boy’s Own parties.
Again, technology was the facilitator. Reconnecting with old friends via Facebook proved the tipping point. Getting people out who didn’t hit the dancefloor much these days having got preoccupied with kids and work: a crowd whose minds and bodies had become less forgiving, but the soul was still willing.
“People expected it to be an old skool night,” Terry says, “but we had no interest in playing tunes from the glory years or trying to recreate something that’s gone.”
So while the first party, held a Xoyo, featured the return of Weatherall, it also had Dorian Paic on the bill. Last year’s Drop Acid Not Bombs party (a slogan taken from a photo of graffiti on the cover of an early JBO release) saw Dixon sending 700 inter-generational clubbers nuts, and this month’s edition of DANB will see M.A.N.D.Y and Honey Dijon play.
“It’s a dream line-up” says Farley. “We DJed alongside M.A.N.D.Y at a Get Physical night in Berlin at Christmas and were really impressed, so asked them right then if they’d like to play. Likewise, Honey has DJed for the Faith collective in the past and she is just this embodiment of house culture.”
The Steelyard is also a fresh new London venue that Boy’s Own were keen to make their own at a time when pressure on dance space in the capital is well documented. Yet you won’t catch Terry getting all doom-and-gloom on you about that situation, either.
“When I was first going out, Soho was centre of the world,” he says of the early rare groove and soul scene he’d seek out obsessively. “Seedy basements full of prozzies and gangsters – or people we thought looked like gangsters anyway – we’d come to into town and think; how cool and edgy are we? Twenty-odd years ago Shoreditch was empty except for skinheads bowling about looking for Asians to beat up. Then the Bass Clef opened [later Blue Note], and the London Apprentice [later 333/Mother], and nightlife got a foothold further out. Now if you’re coming in from Kent to party, Peckham’s Bussey Building is the new frontier. It doesn’t stop. Promoters have to stay one step ahead.”
So as the years roll by – the music, fashions, venues and crowds forever changing, and not always for the better – it’s clear that in Terry’s case, a love of house music conquers all. And house has been good to him in return. It’s not easy to carve a lifestyle out of all this for so long. Clubland has a habit of spitting people out broken, if not from the late night excesses, then from the realities of trying to make a living at the molten creative coal face.
The UK may have lead the way with the acid house revolution, but we do tend to have a pipe ‘n’ slippers approach to clubbing, where people in their 40s or even 30s feel they have passed some imaginary threshold that forbids them to grace a dancefloor.
Farley calls this “nonsensical”, having danced with pensioners at Amnesia in ’87. “You go to Pacha anywhere in Spain today and there are silver-haired guys, families, it’s just about a love of music and it’s part of their life. Obviously it’s unadvisable for a 60-something to be double dropping at DC10 and losing it to Loco Dice, that’s not a good look, but we Brits do seem to get hung up about age.”
Sure enough, as Fatboy Slim does the rounds at the moment promoting his latest album, the focus of most interviews seems to be on how he’s the immature dad raver, ageing disgracefully, if soberly. Society can’t quite handle the fact he hasn’t hung up the headphones and put the Hawaiian shirts out to pasture.
But as Terry will attest, a love for house music doesn’t diminish just because you don’t have the stamina for those 48-hour benders of your youth. “I mean, nobody asks a reggae DJ when he’s going to retire,” he quips, succinctly.
And while he’s is still excited at the prospect of a good old fashioned 6am finish at Steelyard, a second generation of 90s ravers is busy popularising afternoon baby raves and pre-work club events. So the tide is probably turning, but is all that stuff really what house music is all about?
“I saw this video online this week,” Farley recounts, “Fatboy Slim playing at Oval Space at a drink and drug free weekday morning rave. And I thought; no beer? What’s the point? But they were all going absolutely berserk. And I’m actually lost – I can’t work out what the fuck was going on, but it looked really, really good. So of course, it can work anywhere.”
Red light, basement and cheeky narcotics now strictly optional.
Words: Tom Kihl
Boy’s Own present Drop Acid Not Bombs, Sat 27th June at The Steelyard, 3-16 Allhallows Lane, EC4R. TICKETS ONSALE HERE
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