In the early 90’s the Underground Techno scene had truly begun. Acid house had kicked off in Detroit in the late 80’s, made its way to Berlin and from there spread like a virus. It has and always will exist outside of societal norms but in an increasingly vast digital age it has spilled into the masses.
The infinite possibilities of creating different sounds, the vast abyss of musical genres, and now a global collective connecting people who share the same passion for the culture through audio expression is what has shaped the underground scene we have today.
Those involved in the underground techno scene have always been faced with opposition from the law and there has always been a strong political aspect to the free party movement.
With such a growing interest on the subject arising in Belfast City, and with the help of some prolific members of the underground community, I have compiled a collection of stories from friends and well respected underground artists for those who want to become more knowledgeable on what it means to really explore and delve into the underground techno scene.
Julian Liberator: Accidental DJ
“I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life and crucially for all of my formative years. My father was in a Jazz band; they practised in our cellar and they’d have after parties back at my house in the early hours of Sunday mornings. My mother ran a women’s fashion boutique from the ground floor of our house from the time I was born in 66’ until around 76’.
Radio 1 was on constantly through opening hours, so music was in my head all day until I went to school. I remember so much music from the radio over this period, Cream, Bowie, Hendrix, Sparks, The Who, Parliament, Donna Summer, you name it.
My first record buy was “Blockbuster” by The Sweet in 73’, but I started collecting records properly in 78’, being inspired and enthralled listening to the John Peel show in my bedroom late at night Monday to Thursday. I bought mostly Punk and Rock, but also early electronica / synth bands – Kraftwerk, Human League, Liasons Dangereuses, even Hawkwind. I just fell in love with those dirty synths and weird electronic beats.
I moved to London in September of 87’ just as the Acid House thing was kicking off. Whilst I was heavily involved in London’s post punk underground squat scene, I almost exclusively bought electronic music from late 89’.
But it wasn’t house music, that was just lame to me and too club orientated, places I didn’t go. But Acid yes! I bought anything that was hard, edgy and messed with your head, all the early Frank De Wulf and other Benelux techno, which itself had spawned out of Europes New Beat and Cold Wave movements.
On Easter Saturday 1991 having just broken a massive squat in Stoke Newington, my mates and I put on a party. We had punk bands in the basement yes, but on the ground floor we wanted a rave. We hired a small sound system, made lights and strobes and I borrowed a set of disco decks from my college, but we didn’t know any DJ’s.
My housemates just said, well, you’ve got all the best records so you play! A 12 hour set for my first gig, playing tracks like “Mr Kirks Nightmare”, “Satan”, “Square Root Of 5” and all the early Underground Resistance and Hardwax records from Detroit, some of the tracks 2 or 3 times, plus some pre recorded mix tapes to give me a break so I could dance. It was mental.
800 people came to that party from all over London, not everyone liked it, but for many it was an awakening to a new and exciting music, culture and a new way of thinking. Within weeks I was being asked to play at other parties, for some reason people thought I was a real DJ.
12 months later, Chris and Aaron had joined me and the Liberator DJ’s were born. We’d played at massive warehouse parties all over London, teamed up with Bedlam, Conspiracy and Spiral Tribe at Lechlade Festival and were now DJ’ing and part of the crew at the legendary Castle Morton Free Festival; the largest ever illegal gathering in the UK and largest ever collection of sound systems at the time, attended by some 50,000 people. The unsettling truth could no longer be ignored. I was a DJ.
Progressing from two vinyl decks to three, then two vinyl decks with two CDJ”s, to my current 4 deck digital set up, whilst the technology has changed and technical skill levels have developed, the choice of music and how its put together is the defining point of any DJ. Turntablism aside, this is where for me the true skill and art lies and is the thing that fascinates me still.
Bringing together sounds and beats that in theory probably should not work and making them absolutely fly is what I love most. At a time when the whole industry is so sub-genre obsessive, taking people on the widest possible voyage through a world that says Techno to me is what I am and always have been about.
Playing the same precise style year in and out, to the same narrow reference point defines the banality we should strive to escape in my opinion. And as for the great format debate, there is nothing more irrelevant.
25 years and god knows how many gigs later, the same passion for the music and what is the crux of the matter, the passion for sharing the music, still courses through me when I hear new music that pulls at my soul.
Whether playing other peoples productions or my own, nothing beats watching people move on the dance floor and seeing the raw delight, transition of thought and sometimes just pure shock on their faces, as they explore the nuances of the sounds in their heads and rhythms through their body and thinking, “Yeah, that’s how it makes me feel too”. For me, I can think of no other reason to DJ and certainly no other good motive to start.”
“Over the last 18 years i have been involved in the underground techno scene. I was born in Italy and was in bands from an early age, I left for London at the age of 19 and never looked back.
After dabbling around Hard Acid Trance I found the sound I was looking for at the London squat parties. From playing my first party in 2001 it was only a short time until i was playing at massive club events such as Chemical Warfare, Free Energy, We Want You, and Family Groove; as well as being a regular on the underground sound systems like Restless Natives and especially Manik.
After my UK gigs I began my career with parties all over Europe then started my South American conquest travelling to Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.
I love all kinds of Techno, from the UK style of Henry Cullen, Glenn Wilson, Mike Humphries and Ant through to the European sounds of Adam Beyer, Patrick Skoog, Henrik B, and A.Paul. I’m responsible for producing techno on a massive collection of labels.
I really love making new techno in my studio at the present using Ableton live and Maschine studio, but if you want to be serious about getting into mixing and producing you are better off learning from the very beginning of this creation of music.
Learn to play vinyl, understand music and learn how to use hardware before you move on to all these new sophisticated software platforms and DAW’s.”
“Music has been a part of my life since forever. I would spend weekends with relatives in the south of Chile, where we would play guitar, piano, accordion and sing.
At home, my mother would listen to artists like Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Andreas Vollenweider, so electronic music has been always around me. Back then I liked to listen to ambient music, very atmospheric and hypnotic.
I first discovered Kitaro, Klaus Schulze…these kinds of sounds took my mind very far away, where I could create paintings and writings, things I loved to do when I was a kid.
I moved from Chile in 1998 to Santiago to study at university and my life changed forever when I discovered techno and trance. It was love at the first beat!
I knew this type of music is what I had been waiting for and it came with the whole movement around it: the rave culture. I felt at home immediately. At that time, electronic music was very underground; it was like an urban tribe.
All the music lovers dressing in crazy ways, dancing all night long, with passion, socially and friendly…it was amazing. I made new friends, I met different kinds of people, and it was “humanely” rich for me. I loved the diversity of this new world.
Soon I learned about genres; I liked Techno and Trance, Acid Trance, Goa and then I discovered Hardcore. I felt the urge to begin mixing it, it was so fast and extreme and I loved it! Then, in 2001 I bought my first vinyls and started to mix at small parties and raves. Without planning it, DJ’ing became my passion.
At a point I decided this would be my career; I was getting a lot of gigs in Chile and elsewhere. I was playing Techno and Schranz. There wasn’t many Schranz DJs in Latin America at that time, so it was very good for me.
In 2004 I started to produce music and by 2005 I had my first tour in Europe and after that I came every summer to tour for 3 months, playing at festivals and parties everywhere.
The road has been exciting, surprising and challenging. Nowadays a lot of things are different; it seems that the important things like talent and work are secondary. Being open minded is important to be versatile and flexible to adapt your work to today´s needs.
Music is a part of me; I love it in all its ways, colours and shapes. It imprints in our memories and it can recall the deepest emotions that we have lost in our minds. It is magic.”
Jared Blyth A.K.A Nesbit
“I grew up in the new age traveler scene and was around the early Acid scene from a young age. It only seemed right at the age of 8 years old when given a pair of old beat down turntables and a few vinyl that i would pursue a new passion. I soon got into audio electronics and at the age of 11 I built my own DJ mixer fashioned from old stereos and sound equipment.
It wasn’t much later in my teens that i met Owen Sizer on site in Suffolk. He was into the same sound as me and we formed the digital label Audioeargasm Records. Having barely any money or resources we couldn’t press vinyl so we put tracks out into the digital world.
I met The Geezer at a party and had massive respect for his sound and where it originated; I had found my hero in music. I remember some of my good friends giving me Ableton Live 6 which was the latest and greatest back then, I went about learning how to produce and shape my own sound.
A few years passed and I then went on to form my own acid techno vinyl label (FURIOUS WAX), which is our vision inspired by legendary labels such as Stayupforever, Smitten & Routemaster.
I am a freelance audio editor and I’m currently starting my own business within the music industry. My goal is to make music that can make people even for a second forget about their troubles. Now running with a techno family of great positivity I am proud to continue down this path alongside label comrades Owen Acid and Aaron Higgins aka No Comment! We very much look forward to the future of the Underground Acid scene.”
Gizelle Rebel Yelle: My Techno Life
“Techno is an art form which has given many producers a platform for artistic expression over the years. It offers a release from the strains of everyday life, which is what music in itself is all about.
There’s something about the tribal rhythms and synthesis of frequencies and textures that gets into the psych and relaxes the mind and body, as well as making you dance, which brings great positivity. It is made by people for the people, and like most music it unites like-minded people together and gives a sense of belonging.
I began to DJ in the late 80’s and found techno in the early 90’s, I remember going to a club and hearing Billy Nasty play ‘Acaperience’ produced by ‘Hardfloor’, the electronic outfit from Germany.
In 1994, I became involved in a voluntary women’s radio project “Brazen Radio”. I was monitoring the sound levels for a show one night and met three women who were involved in the Zero Gravity underground collective who were putting on parties in Hackney.
I was invited by one of the women, Sexy Rubber Soul, to come and play at their second birthday party. I arrived and felt like I had come home… From that point I never looked back. It was through this one connection that a whole new world appeared – a major turning point in my life.
In the mid-90s, I was invited by Chris Liberator to join the Stay Up Forever Collective. These were open and politically minded musicians who originated from the punk and urban squat scene. They warmed to techno as it had the same edge as punk.
The alternative communities needed a voice to express its opposition to the offensive political powers and modern day pressures, activism through music was coming into play and London Underground Techno certainly did the job.
When I look back, I can see these connections in my life have been a gift. I would have never imagined what was to unfold from one initial connection. I have achieved more than I imagined as a female DJ among the underground scene.
I became resident DJ for one of the best London underground sound systems called Immersion; playing alongside talented comrades such as Lawrie Immersion, Chris Liberator, Geezer, Dave The Drummer, Aaron Liberator, DDR, Julian Liberator, Zebedee, Ant. This was the arena for the new sound of London Acid Techno.
Immersion followed in the footsteps of the Bedlam and Virus sound systems on the London underground party circuit. It’s from these wild times that my techno life developed.
I’ve had the honor of producing tracks with amazing engineers such as The Geezer, Dave The Drummer, DDR and Ant (aka Chicago Loop), I’ve travelled to many countries around the world as a guest London DJ from the Stay Up Forever Collective roster and interacted with many global techno communities through these travels.
These experiences I will always treasure and has been a major part of my personal journey over the years. Every time I have been invited to play overseas it always blows my mind how I could connect so easily with people from diverse cultures through the mutual love of techno music.
There is something special about playing and seeing the dance floor unite through the music and its vibe – it is a universal language.”
Klaus Berger A.K.A. Gendefekt
“”I had my first contact with the Underground scene in Austria at the age of 18. From there I started buying my first vinyl at underground parties. That was amazing for me because there was never a chance to get these types of tunes in official stores.
My next decision was to start producing music on my own. The following years i discovered Synthesizers like Tb-303, Tr-909 and the radius of Korg. I arranged my music on DAW’s like Reason and Ableton and I’ve continued from there to build my own label.
Underground is like a big family where everyone gets respected all over the world. It gives me the means to live my life the way i want outside of a mainstream society. Now, 12 years later, I’m still sitting in the studio producing Underground Techno and there is no sign that i will ever stop.
Under all that i have to say: Thank you Underground – you defined what i am now!”
IXINDAMIX (Spiral Tribe): The Power of Underground Sound
“I am writing this having just left the Romanian Teknival 2016 and am happy to report that the European underground is alive and well!
There had been bands playing and at some point in the night someone put some speakers up and started playing acid house, we loved it and from this point we were always on the lookout for sound systems at festivals.
Things quickly evolved when Circus Warp hosted Tonka sounds at Glastonbury; this was the beginning of DIY sound system’s showing up everywhere.
In 1991 Spiral Tribe arrived at Longstock and this was the beginning of a spiral summer, where all festivals with rave turned into one and the same thing.
I left home in 1988 and started traveling in groups from festival to festival. It was Spiral Tribe who first invited me to London to play on their decks; I always had a very clear idea of what sound I liked so I’d look over DJ’s shoulders to see the names of the tunes and following this party on my 20th birthday I went from record shop to record shop around London on the back of a motorcycle and my first vinyl collection came together.
When our sound system was confiscated by the police at Castle Morton we made a decision to leave the UK and head for Berlin. I jumped at the idea to go as back then I wasn’t that great at mixing, it was always difficult to get a chance to play and I wanted as much time as possible to learn on a rig.
We left after the second Torpedo town festival and drove straight to Berlin where we pulled onto the Mutoid waste site at charite within site of the Reichstag. We had come from a situation where we were doing illegal parties every weekend with thousands of ravers chasing us around the British countryside to Berlin where no one had heard of us or really cared what we were up to.
The first several weekends were slow and we were beginning to feel pretty disheartened… but this all changed quickly. Circus warp approached us and said they had a trance DJ coming to play but their rig was broken and they asked if he could play on ours. He brought a huge following and we loved his sound, trance in those days didn’t sound like it does today, it was pretty much just good tribal and acid techno.
Once we recovered after the party we went straight to Hard Wax records in Berlin in search of records in this new techno style. This was a key moment that greatly influenced the spiral sound into what soon came to be hugely popular at the underground parties we came to hold all over Europe.
I went on to create my own distinctive sound and have played continuously in most countries in Europe and other parts of the world, I was convinced that my mission in life was to make people dance, a basic need and ages old human tradition.
The power of the underground sound continues to unite people over borders and remains a common language for young people worldwide representing the basic human right of people to come together and celebrate life by playing music and dancing.”
In recent years, despite the large presence of mainstream music in Belfast and an increase in Arts funding cuts, we have managed to begin evolving a talented scene with numerous outlets in which to access Underground Techno.
We have the new addition of Belfast Underground Records store, stocking a wide range of musical genres, who have started their own vinyl label and run radio shows featuring in-store DJ’ing.
BTribal, which is another new addition to Belfast, is a group of young people inspired by all things Jungle and Acid who have already made their mark by organising events for like minded people around the city. They are now also running their own radio show and I have high hopes of more to come from them in the future.
Other techno labels such as DSNT and Four sides have also recently emerged and have became a huge success. And with a booming Acid techno scene on the rise thanks to our new friends Annaghtek, many people have became inspired to be musically creative and I can personally say its became a large part of what I would now call my culture.