You are Warp’s
longest serving artist. Can you explain how you got
involved with the label?
The first encounter was meeting Steve Beckett who was
the co-founder of the label. I was taking around this
white label [Dextrous] that we had. We’d
tried to get a record deal before but nobody was interested.
I met Steve in a record shop called Fon Records in Sheffield
and he said to me that he’d heard our track and
they were thinking about setting up a label and he took
my number. He rang me up three months later when they
had Forgemasters’ Track With No Name
out and asked us if we’d release Dextrous
on their label and they’d mix it. We agreed to
do that. We’d done our release – the white
label - on July 14th 1989 and then we remixed the track
off that EP and brought that out in November of 1989.
It got into the top 75 of the national charts which
was kind of unheard of for a dance 12”.
That one single deal became a three single deal. Aftermath
the following year went into the top 40. Then after
that we signed a one-album deal – Warp basically
asked us if we’d do an album. At the age of 19,
all I was going to do was experiment, put in a bit of
everything that had ever influenced me. At this point
people were saying there will never be any dance albums,
there will never be anything more out of this music,
there was all this sort of bullshit that was in the
press at the time. So me and Kevin “Boy Wonder”
Harper - my partner at the time - said you know what
we’re just going to put anything and everything
that’s ever influenced us into this one album.
Because it was an experiment we called it A Word
Of Science. Because it was going to be the first
of its kind and the last of its kind we called it The
First And Final Chapter - we knew there was never
ever going to be another album like it. It went completely
over people’s heads and then me and Kevin kind
of parted ways – we did another couple of house
tracks and stuff like that. In the meantime though when
we were making A Word of Science I was already
making Smoker’s Delight as a separate
I’d set up Nightmares On Wax originally back
in 1985 just doing these bedroom mix tapes with this
other guy called John Halnon. I hooked up with Kevin
after that and he became part of Nightmares On Wax.
So Nightmares On Wax has always been my name so I carried
it on. I had been working on Smoker’s Delight
for five years and then things kind of took off from
there really once that album came out.
What happened to Kevin Harper after you split?
Did he make any more music?
We’re still really good friends. Any time I throw
a house party or anything like that he DJs because he’s
just such a wicked DJ. We DJed together last year in
Scotland at a street rave. We realised it was our fifteen
year anniversary which is just bizarre. We hadn’t
played together in probably thirteen years. He’s
knocking tracks together and trying to get an album
together at the moment. He’s still plugging away
and doing his thing. He came out of it for a little
while, he had personal things going on, but now he’s
got the hunger back.
You talked about chucking every influence you
had into the first album. What kind of things were you
influenced by at that stage?
We were influenced by electro, hip-hop, house music,
jazz-funk, reggae, everything really. That album inspired
people like James Lavelle to set up Mo’ Wax. Loads
of people now talk about that album and go “shit
man there’s drum and bass on there, there’s
this on there and there’s that on there”.
But we never even looked at it like that. It was almost
like vomiting up everything you’ve ever heard
on a record. We weren’t even about genres or any
of that stuff, we were just doing our thing, because
we DJed like that as well. That was how we played back
in the day, that was the background we came from. When
you ran a club you didn’t just play one particular
kind of music.
Dextrous and Aftermath placed
you in that Northern bleep movement alongside people
like Unique 3, LFO and Forgemasters…
And A Guy Called Gerald and all that… it was a
movement at the time but if you talk to any of those
people out of those groups I can guarantee you they
were breakers or body poppers and they all came through
the whole electro era and all that. They were also connected
to the funk era as well and the street soul that was
around in the eighties. So we’ve all got similar
backgrounds. I was in Unique 3 before they brought a
record out – so was Kevin [Nitemares On Wax (sic)
are thanked in the sleeve notes of Unique 3’s
1990 album Jus' Unique].
Unique 3 was part of the same break crew as us. We
were all in a break crew called Soul City Rockers at
the time. Even L Double [DJ and producer who set up
Flex Records] was part of our crew.
In hindsight, the scenes in places like Leeds,
Sheffield, Bradford and Manchester seemed to be strong
and mutually nurturing. Is that how it was for you?
There’s no doubt about it there was a movement
at that time. Looking back on it now it came out of
things that we’d gone through, like that whole
breaking scene. Then we started doing after-hours parties
and things like that but they weren’t really warehouse
parties. We were just doing them anyway and then the
next thing we knew was that these parties we were doing
were starting to last longer than they used to. And
then you found out people were doing drugs and shit.
We were just innocent kids just throwing down beats,
we weren’t into any of that shit, so we were kind
of naïve really on that level. That’s why
I think if you listen to a lot of the music back then
there’s not that much drugs in the actual music,
these were just people just doing things because they
were inspired so much by their surroundings and their
upbringing. I think that you can actually hear the difference
in that after 1987-era onwards, the shift, especially
in dance music, when it got a bit more psychedelic.
Since the early days of Dextrous and
Aftermath your music has moved more in a hip-hop
/ soul direction. Why did you move away from the more
There’s a couple of tracks on A Word of Science
like the first track [Nights Interlude], that
was originally meant for Smoker’s Delight.
Kevin really liked it as well so we were like OK let’s
put it on the album. That’s why I re-did it again
for Smoker’s. To me it was more about
exaggerating where I’d come from. I was already
making Smoker’s in the background. I
was still into what we were doing with the early stuff
but Smoker’s was what I was about as
well. Now it’s not even a case of me sitting down
and going OK I’m only making this type of music.
I’m just making what I feel now. I’d never
say I wouldn’t ever make a house track again.
I would never say never. It’ll happen when it’s
meant to happen.
James Lavelle is quoted as saying that Nights
Interlude was the inspiration for setting up Mo’
Wax. Warp has often seemed to be moving in a somewhat
different direction to you. Did you ever feel that there
were other labels like Mo’ Wax that were doing
stuff that was more linked to what you were doing?
Well there were different things happening at those
other labels. For me I think when the label’s
bigger than the artists then there’s a bit of
a problem there. If you’re promoting an act then
that’s all you should be promoting, it’s
not the label. It’s funny because when you get
into collecting music and you start collecting one particular
label, then all you know is stuff on that label but
you don’t necessarily know the individual artists.
You could pick out a lot of people in the nineties who
were buying records, and how many of them could actually
name the artists that were on Mo’ Wax?
It’s a fantastic label. I thought that what James
Lavelle did was wicked, but I just thought that the
label got bigger than the artists. I don’t think
there was enough attention paid to pushing the actual
I always get people saying: “What’s it
feel like being on a techno label.” This year
it’s people saying: “What’s it feel
like being on a guitar label?” I don’t make
music thinking about what other people are making, whether
they’re on our label or not. You know, we don’t
all sleep together. You’ve just got to laugh at
people that think we’re one big family. Nightmares
On Wax has been good for the label and the label has
been good for Nightmares On Wax.
You're now involved in a new label Wax On Records.
Can you tell us about this?
I launched it quietly last October. I’m trying
to build the label organically. It’s just really
a platform label because I know so many people making
music, I get so many CDs off people, local people, people
I’ve met on my travels, wherever I go DJing…
I just get music all the time. I actually decided about
five or six years ago that I wouldn’t do a label
because the business side of it kind of just pisses
me off really. But then I got to the point where I thought
actually I’ve got a great platform here and a
great fan base, maybe I should be sharing this. So it’d
be great to make it an addition for people who venture
into Nightmares On Wax to discover unknown people. The
aim is to create the vibe of the label as something
that is to be discovered rather than kind of rammed
down your throat. The slogan for the label is “For
those that know”. We’re not going to play
any marketing games, we’re not going to do any
of that stuff, we’re just going to put the stuff
out, and just have fun with it and let it build organically.
It should be more about making music rather than all
the games that people want to play putting records out.
A lot of that stuff is just pointless really.
In ASpace Outta Sound is out
now on Warp Records