Johnny Proctor: interview – on his new novel based around the Scottish acid house scene ‘NINETY’
Probably the last great music scene ever witnessed in the UK – acid house, is the subject of the new novel by writer Johnny Proctor as he sets the story based around a young Hib’s fan who finds his way through the rave scene north of the border as a 16yr old football casual..So I caught up with the Edinburgh born music/football fan and on line scribe to get the low down from him on how he came up with the story, the history of Scottish acid house scene and how much of it is actually based on his own life.
Hi Johnny…whats your own story when it comes to the Scottish acid house scene?
Johnny Proctor – Hi, Carl. I guess it was a case of me being in the right place at the right time. A couple of years younger and I’d have completely missed it in the sense of being around for it all taking off in Scotland. For the average Scottish 15 / 16 year old it’s almost pre ordained that you’re going to start underage drinking and then trying to go from hanging out drinking in parks and getting up to mischief to before moving on to trying to get into pubs before you actually get to 18, fake id’s and all that type of stuff. It’s like we’re hard wired that way although of course, that’s not exclusively a Scottish thing by any means.
Instead of this however, before I’d barely even drank a six pack I found myself going down a different road and one that my core group of best friends weren’t quite ready to go along with me on. Although one that they too eventually cottoned on to.
Like in a lot of cases however it tends to be not what you know but who you know. I became friends with a local DJ (DJ Chink) who was already involved in this new scene that had been quietly emerging away from the usual environments of pubs and clubs. If it wasn’t for him the early days of Acid House could have easily slipped under my radar. As you’ll know. There was no internet, message boards, or social media etc. This was all built on simple word of mouth and understandably those already involved were cagey about who they spread the word to in an attempt to keep the wrong type of people out.
Through meeting him I found myself attending the sporadic and random nights that were springing up in the area that either he was playing at himself or his own group of friends were involved in. These nights were a mix of early House and hip hop and simply a playlist of music you wouldn’t have found anywhere else in the region as it was generally a case of pop music you’d be hearing in your traditional booze orientated dance around your handbags nightclubs. The first gig I ever went to had been Public Enemy a short while before Acid House so it didn’t take much for me to want to have a look at what was going on. Like mostly everyone else back in those days it was a case of sampled the once and immediately smitten. Love at first sight without question.
So what was it originally that inspired you to get this novel/book together?
Johnny – As for getting the book together? I’ve been writing for various culture online mags for quite a few years now and one of my good mates who runs his own site Zani had recently launched his own publishing company so I figured it would be a good time for me to attempt my first novel. I hadn’t been aware of anyone else taking on the narrative of how much Acid House impacted upon the whole football casuals scene in the way that I wanted through the eyes of someone who was just a kid trying to figure life out. With both of these sub cultures being dear to me and ones that I feel helped shape me as a person in one way or another I felt that it would be a subject that I could write with a bit of passion as well as various degrees of authority and knowledge on.
Despite it being a fictional novel it was paramount to me that it was written in a way that left the reader feeling that they were right there in that golden era regardless of when they ‘were’ actually born. I wanted them to feel the excitement and wide eyed amazement of what it felt like to someone who was discovering this new underground movement that was taking place right under every one else’s noses. I know it wasn’t just myself who was impacted in this way but Acid House was something that got under your skin instantly and wasn’t just something that was what you did occasionally on a Saturday night right through until breakfast time on the Sunday. It was something that was there with you all week long and at times the only thing you thought of.
The book itself takes you through what it might have been like for a teenager impacted in such a way while trying to deal with the other problematic aspects of teenage life away from the fields, warehouses and clubs. With me experiencing those magical days for myself I felt I had a good chance of getting it all across to the reader in an authentic way.
In what ways would you say maybe the Scottish house scene differed from what was happening in the UK, whether it be the clothes, music or the party scene itself?
Johnny – I know this is probably just a cliche but music bands have always remarked upon how enthusiastic and up for it their Scottish fans are when they play live up here in Scotland at venues like The Barrowlands. You know? Bruce Forsyth always used to say “you’re so much better than last week” to his audience so there’s probably an element of that when bands say such stuff but yet even so I still reckon there is truth to it when I hear bands say that about playing Scotland having been to gigs in England and Europe myself and seen how slightly more reserved people are.
That same ethos I feel applied to the party scene in Scotland once Acid House arrived. There were no half measures when it came to what was going on inside the venues. Look, obviously there was the ecstasy aspect and that can’t ever be ignored or overlooked but there really was such a feeling of unity and togetherness at these parties that had never been known before in Scotland at public gatherings. It’s probably an unfair and overused stereotype about Scots but they do like a drink when enjoying themselves but unfortunately if you’re going to have hundreds or thousands of people drinking together there will be “issues”’later on in the night and fights will be almost an inevitability. This was something that was nothing more than expected so to discover parties that had absolutely zero fighting or aggro with everyone getting on right up to the last record being spun was a complete revelation in the country.
Strangers talking to strangers all through the night in that whole “what’s your name? what you had? Where you from?” community vibe. It was a phenomenon that our country had never experienced before and never knew COULD even be possible.
Those early days were just a love in of the like minded all congregating for the same joint reasons and like Scots tend to do, made every single second count while they were there. None of this stuff where as the hours would pass the night would start to wind down as people began to get tired. Seeing thousands of people going for it as hard at 8am as they had been at 10pm the previous night still remains one of the most amazing sights I have ever witnessed in my life.
As for the clubber at the time and speaking purely from a boys perspective yeah it was all taking place during a time where football casual culture was rife but inside these events there was no pretensions or judging. Away from them yeah there was cases where you’d have people looking down their noses at others over what labels they were wearing but stepping into the Acid House arena was like moving into a parallel universe. People wore whatever they wanted to without ever feeling out of place and in some ways Acid House created its own fashion through this. Lots of wild day glow and loose fitting gear. I think labels like Gio Goi were instrumental in all of that where they tapped into what the ravers needed for an extended night out that wasn’t just going to come to an abrupt end at 2am like what party people had been accustomed to. You’d never have dreamt of going out for the night dressed in a pair of trainers, shorts and a light cagoule etc until then yet it felt like it was completely natural in doing so. Scotland has never been famed for creating its own fashion look or starting trends. The feeling being that whatever everyone was wearing in a say, London, Liverpool or Manchester would eventually trickle down to us. Acid House I feel was the great leveller in that sense. If you thought it looked good and was going to be comfy then you just went with it.
Anthony Donnelly – The Scottish house scene was amazing. We’ve recently bought the brand Gio Goi back but its been unbearable seeing some of the shit product produced by others, like anything that comes from Manchester its always received well north of the border, the Scotch are a savvy bunch and they like something real so from a good ole pair of northern blaggers were back on the streets of Scotland and we know they’ll lap it up, they know their clobber there just like the Mancs.
Gio Goi – https://www.gio-goi.com/
What about the sounds, the tunes?
Johnny – With the music, being early days in the scene we were really at the stage where we were being led by whatever everyone else was playing elsewhere. There was barely even any record shops up here that stocked an extensive amount of house music and our own home based DJ’s would often have to travel further afield to secure their own vinyl. As for the music itself to begin with it was often a mix of Italian and American House and hip hop but in no time a lot of techno from the Dutch and Belgians started to come through. At first you really didn’t have much of a choice of what House music you’d be listening to as things were really limited in that sense but as the scene progressed and subsequently exploded it eventually became the case where everyone had their own preferences of what they liked specifically in house music. Chicago and Detroit, hardcore techno, garage, breakbeat and so on. It was an exciting time watching how the scene began to splinter off into so many directions of what essentially all still fell under the house umbrella. It didn’t take long before Scots themselves began making their own stuff like the guys from Slam who are still doing it today almost thirty years on. As things began to go overground the average raver in Scotland was stereotyped as someone who wanted hard fast and noisy techno with piano breaks thrown in to get those hands in the air but that was the beauty of it all. The more mature clubbers who had been there at the start largely had outgrown that genre had other options open to them as smaller more exclusive club nights were appearing that catered to their own acquired tastes.
How about the football crews…as they seemed to of been more involved in the acid house movement than say the English crews were, Scottish crews seemed to of had strong ties to the party scene wouldn’t you say?
Johnny – I guess our crews up here, like they did with fashion, led the way in a few areas so it was inevitable that some of them would be there at the ground level when Acid house hit the country. Which they certainly were. With the designer clothes that they wore, always before everyone else caught on to them they were always seen in some quarters as leaders rather than followers and sitting on the right side of cool so with that they were in a good place to be part of this new scene that had emerged from places like London and the north of England. Unlike previous subculture explosions such as Mods and Punks which had been very much defined by choice of clothing Acid House was more open ended and inclusive and something that a football casual could seamlessly slip into along with anyone else without them looking or feeling out of place. Of course, some football crews were notorious for not just fighting on a Saturday afternoon and had elements of being organised when it came to making money. I know that certainly applied with some of the English mobs like those from Liverpool & Manchester with their trips abroad on European duty. Up here I think some of the crews saw an opportunity to make money be that through dealing or supplying security for the actual events although in a lot of cases there was a conflation between both schemes from the firms. It would be wrong though to suggest that they were only in the scene to make money. Like anyone else who fell into Acid House there was without question a large percentage of them who were knocked out by what an impacting movement it was. This being a narrative I lean on heavily in “Ninety” with regards to how Acid House changed attitudes for so many Scottish casuals.
How heavy did it some times get though, like Manchester had its own gun/gang problems during acid house was it the same say around Glasgow and other cities/towns?
Johnny – Being a “townie” I can’t really speak with much authority on what went on in the cities like in the way Manchester was affected such as how The Hacienda was ruined through Manchester gangs. That said, even our towns in my area of Scotland that I grew up in experienced its own problems so I’d have been surprised if that hadn’t been replicated in Edinburgh and Glasgow which boasted much larger, organised and feared crews. The most infamous case I could give as an example took place at one of the clubs that was instrumental in Acid House exploding in my own neck of the woods, The Kronk. With it being a known haunt of casuals from Dunfermline Athletic this saw a mob of Hibs CCS (Capital City Service) come over from Edinburgh to have it with them. After trying to gain entry through both the main entrance and fire exit door to the rear this resulted in a battle outside in the street involving all kinds of weapons like knives, baseball bats, swords and axes. One of the Dunfermline boys taking an axe to the back and left seriously injured. Four of the Hibs mob were subsequently charged with mobbing and rioting, attempted murder and serious assault. That said though, in my own personal experience this example was more a case of the exception rather than the rule. With the effect of what ecstasy had on the scene it removed most chances of this type of stuff happening at your average house party or club night. People just wanted to have a night away from the tedium of normal life and largely that was what they were allowed to do each weekend.
Who would you say were the first wave of DJ’s and producers who kicked the scene off in Scotland, and what would you say were some of the early places and stand out moments from the Scottish acid house/rave scene, and why?
Johnny – Remembering them for some obvious reasons is quite the challenge but yeah there is so many stand out moments in the history of the whole Scottish Acid House and rave scene. As alluded to earlier, the Slam boys from Glasgow were instrumental to so many of them. They brought us Atlantis at the Sub Club which coincided with the year that Glasgow had been awarded with the status of European capital of a Culture which gave them a 5am license which was pretty much unheard of in the country.
They also laid on “Slam in the Park” which ended being the precursor to what became the institution that was the “Slam Tent” which was found at T in the park, Scotland’s biggest music festival each summer. Slam in the park was the first of its kind in terms of being a legal open air house party inside a tent in a country park near Glasgow which boasted a life PA from 808 State alongside Jon Dasilva from The Hacienda and Alex Paterson from The Orb.
Moving away from Slam there was Pure at The Venue in Edinburgh which became a piece of Edinburgh clubbing folklore that would have some of the biggest Techno DJ’s in the world playing there like Jeff Mills and Ritchie Hawtin alongside weekly residents Twitch and Brainstorm. Once you went to Pure you were never quite the same again having sampled it. A truly magnificent experience inside such a compact sweatbox of a club. Pure, like the Sub Club & Atlantis was one of those places that attracted clubbers from far and wide. Such was the impact of Pure on myself I dedicated a chapter to it in Ninety where the main characters visit it near the start of their Acid House adventures. It really would have been sacrilegious of me to not have paid homage to such a groundbreaking club such was the impact it had on me personally. I know I wasn’t alone in that respect.
Closer to home and in Fife where I’m based, a doff of a cap has to be paid towards The Kronk which even today is spoken about in hushed tones from the older generation who had the unadulterated joy of experiencing it. The Kronk was not a place that had to rely on big name DJ’s each week. Benny D, Timmsy And Lel were enough for a committed and loyal crowd who would sell out the place every single week. You hear about how hard it is to get into Berghain in Berlin these days and this was similar to The Kronk. Getting in each week was never a guarantee no matter how many weeks you’d consecutively visited it. You’d have the security walk up and down the long list of clubbers waiting to get in and see people at random told that it wasn’t going to be their night and told to go home but the week after they’d be back to try their luck again.
Even as things began to move overground with the large scale “raves” there was still some memorable events until things began to reach saturation point, especially once the main stream media had gotten hold of what was going on. The best example of this was Technodrome which took place on a shooting ground in Ayrshire. This, when the house scene was still very much a secret subculture only known and appreciated by a minority yet with a crowd of near on 20 thousand who attended it was a signal of how the scene was progressing. Buses had come from all over Britain to it such was its significance of how that particular night was viewed by those in the know. With mainly London based DJ’s like Carl Cox, Dave Angel, Fabio, Grooverider and Andy Carroll from the legendary Quadrant Park in Liverpool along with PA’s from N. Joi & Shades of Rhythm it was the first large gathering the country had seen and generally to this day still viewed as the most important not to mention the best.
Large scale events followed, and in spades like Rezerection, Maelstrom Fantazia but they never came close to hitting the heights that Technodrome provided.
Special mention also has to go to the Streetrave boys from the West who always tried to give the paying customer that little bit of a different experience. Most notably their Hogmanay event “Eurodance” which took place inside an international airport in Prestwick. To this day I still will never know how they managed to pull it off but yet there we were inside an airport that would have otherwise been closed for a few days due to the time of year. Everyone dancing on top of airline check-in desks etc. A truly surreal yet unforgettable experience.
Like I say though, Carl. So many stand out moments from those initial years that saw Acid House and rave culture become part of the Scottish psyche. Pretty much any DJ you can think of from around that time played in Scotland. Joey Beltran, Derrick May, David Morales alongside the English godfathers of Acid House like Rampling, Oakenfold and Holloway and then the new breed that followed such a Fabio, Groove, Mickey Finn and Top Buzz. I think a special mention has to go toward the first time I saw Carl Cox play on three decks at the start of the 90’s in what was the kind of performance that had you questioning your own god.
So who would you say were the first people in Scotland that got onto the whole acid house party scene, who were the people and places that kicked it all off north of the border?
Johnny – As far as some of the early days DJ’s & promoters etc then I’ve already mentioned the, what for me, were the pioneers of the Scottish house scene. It’s not exactly a large country to begin with so add into the mix that this was, to begin with at least, an underground movement then there isn’t exactly an exhaustive list to rattle off to you. As previously stated. I don’t think the scene would have grown in the way that it did without the contribution from the Slam duo of Orde Meikle and Stuart McMillan and even today decades later from the initial club nights that they gave Glasgow their names still carry a lot of weight be that as DJ’s or producers. The Streetrave boys also were instrumental in how the scene took off and through the obvious passion they possess are still around these days.
Twitch & Brainstorm from Pure were nothing short of innovators and deserved much more attention than they probably got in what was still a lesser known subculture. DJ’s like Harri, Jon Mancini, Marc Smith and Colin Patterson were mainstays of that early scene too and with a classic example of a torch being passed on you’re now seeing Harri (who will forever been synonymously linked with the legendary Sub Club) playing alongside his son.
Whilst he favoured more the commercial side of house and rave music I feel I should give a shout to Radio Forth’s Tom Wilson who undoubtedly had a hand in helping the scene grow in the early 90’s with his Saturday night show. It was, at the time the only popular commercial radio station show that was dedicated to such music and rightly or wrongly he brought it to a wider audience. I say wrongly because there was the general feeling that if the scene went fully overground then it would be ruined forever and when you look back at events which had some party people and their white gloves and dummy tits and white spray painter suits attending I feel that was the watershed moment that things began to change.
Once it went overground it also paved the way for some Scottish acts like TTF & Ultrasonic who I believe could only have made it once there was a commercial aspect added to the equation. Class is permanent as they say though, Carl and there’s no surprise that even now acts like the Slam duo are still doing it today.
You write for a selection of music/football/culture websites don’t you, but what was it like putting ‘Ninety’ together and did all the research turn up things which you didn’t know about yourself, surprise you about the Scottish house scene?
Johnny – Yeah, for the past 3- 4 years I’ve been writing for various sites like Sabotage Times, Zani as well as fashion label sites like for some of the Donnelly Brothers ventures like Your Own And Gio Goi. Actually, with Ninety being a non fiction novel, research wasn’t really something I had to work too much on when I began writing it. Being someone who lived during those times I had my own vast knowledge and experiences to work with. I really enjoyed the trip down memory lane however by sitting down for the first time in years and really examining and remembering all that went on. The music, the clothes, all of those fresh exciting nights and mornings in those fields and dark sweaty clubs. The only real research I needed to go back and look at was really more a case of making sure my memory was still as good with regards to clothing, music and other references I wanted to use to make sure that they all predated or were around 1990 when the book is from.
It was almost like a case of regressive hypnotherapy all of the things that came back to me from those days that I’d thought had left my memory forever. As challenging as it was, writing a novel from the perspective of a 16 year old and from decades ago in the sense that there were so many post 1990 references that I couldn’t use, no mobile phones, internet etc.
As much as a challenge I found it a lot of fun to go back to those days and remember how life was also so much more simple in a lot of ways compared to how it is today what with the mess Britain and America is in now with Brexit and Trump for example. One epiphany I was able to have was that had social media been around back in the early days of Acid House I don’t think that there would have been any way that the scene would have grown in its own way at its own pace in the way that it did. It wouldn’t have been kept at the secret culture that it had been for anywhere near as long as it did. In that sense I think we were lucky back then. Things were just more simple and because of that more special.
How about today then Johnny, as some one who experienced probably the last great youth movement/dance scene what do you see happening in the clubs these days around Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and the more out of the way places like Aberdeen.
Johnny – All of these years later, Carl, Scotland is holding its own in that sense and I admit has surprised me a lot in that way. Once the scene went overground in the way that it did round about 92 onwards I feared that it was really a case of well it had been good fun while it lasted and I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. Let’s face it, nothing is ever the same once it becomes commercialised. I guess like most scenes however. If it means something to those involved then they won’t let it die and that’s what we saw in Scotland. I think once the big allnight raves, that were responsible for bringing a whole new breed of people into the scene had come and gone, the house scene found its level. Yes, of course there is events that are laid on that the old guard and those that are a bit more knowledgeable wouldn’t touch with a barge pole that are the polar opposite of what the scene used to be like such as live events over recent years with pop stars like Calvin Harris & Avicci where judging by reports on social media have been filled with neds full of ketamine and Buckfast but it’s been at club level where the scene has truly thrived. It was a blow for Glasgow to lose The Arches which was an institution to Scottish clubbing. When under threat of closure the community inside Scotland and further afield rallied round to try and save it in the same way we saw recently with Fabric in London however even that wasn’t enough to save it. Unlike Fabric.
The Arches apart though, Glasgow still has It’s venues flying the flag like Sub Club and SWG3. Edinburgh as the capital city is always going to have its share of unique places to party. Interestingly it’s been Aberdeen that has seen a resurgence of clubs like Unit 51 and Tunnels and haven’t been found wanting in attracting some of the more respected house DJ’s. The first week of November they’ve got Jackmaster and Patrick Topping playing one night after the other and December sees the legend that is Skream bringing his “Open to close” tour to the city.
Giving this interview to you following the weekend that has just seen house music royalty Ritchie Hawtin & Laurent Garnier play in Glasgow and the Barcelona superclub, Elrow put on a Halloween special extravaganza in Edinburgh you could say that we’re doing not too bad for ourselves up here.
In what ways do you still see the influence of that era on today’s youth culture in Scotland?
Johnny – The influence is so widespread these days that through being decades on from the initial wave of Acid House it’s really a case of it being taken for granted in the sense that it appears to have always been this way. Back when it started no one outside the bubble had a clue what the music was about apart from the occasional breakthrough tune that would end up in the charts like a Marrs “Pump up the volume” or a Steve Silk Hurley “Jack your body” where as now you can be in a shop buying your groceries and you can be subjected to a big house tune of the moment without anyone batting an eyelid. I know that’s not exactly exclusive to Scotland though. Same with the attitude towards drugs. In the late 80’s early 90’s no one really knew what ecstasy was. The only drugs the tabloids would ever give mention to were your heroins and cocaine’s yet now ecstasy is every bit as much of a household name and through that sadly it’s something that you’ll see kids taking these days even well away from the house music environment. Just mixing with alcohol on a Friday or Saturday night when nowhere near involved in the way the drug was initially taken for. In those early days of Acid House, Ecstasy was obviously an integral part of what made the scene click into place and there’s no denying that through this it enabled the drug to become more widespread and easily available throughout the Scottish towns and cities.
House WAS the reason for someone taking the drug where decades later it’s a case of not so much.
It’s not right but it is what it is and Acid House can’t really escape the fact that it has had that influence on the Scottish working class youth decades later even if it was obviously in a non-intended way. As is the case in so many areas. When something is innovative and eventually becomes well known and widespread it will never be able to escape the fact that it will always be looked in as an influence years down the line.
You’ve got legendary Hacienda DJ and M People’s Mike Pickering commenting in NINETY..anyone else in there Johnny and when will it be released..where can we get it?
Johnny – I reached out to Mike as we follow each other on Twitter and having written a chapter in Ninety where the main characters travel to Blackburn for one of the infamous illegal after club hours warehouse parties I had written a few references into the chapter where he was the DJ. As a common courtesy, I messaged him to ask if he would be ok with me doing such which he was.
Ahead of general release of the novel on Zani Books I have been trying to reach out to a few celebrities to secure a bit of support in the way of quotes that I can use to help market the book in addition to including their quotes on the inside cover and with that have been solely trying to concentrate on people who I feel are respected in the Acid House and football hooligan world. Especially those from the days of when both scenes were at their most notorious as well as peak. I’ve actually been humbled by the level of support and positivity I’ve received from those I’ve contacted who are excited with the narrative I’ve approached in the sense of a young kid who is a football casual but knows he’s going down the wrong path only to sample Acid House and have his life changed forever.
Apart from Mike Pickering I have also been speaking with Danny Rampling who it’s generally accepted as being one of the original pioneers of the Acid House scene and additionally Brad Welsh who is an ex Hibs CCS casual and someone who apart from recently starring in Trainspotting 2 has the Holyrood Boxing Gym in Edinburgh which does a lot of great work in the community. When you receive encouragement from people like Rampling & Welsh who were and are main players in their respective games it gives you the sense that you might well be on to something with your concept.
The book itself is due out early 2018 in both electronic and paperback formats but as a small teaser to gauge public opinion for a limited period of time it is currently on the Amazon Kindle store where so far feedback to me via social media has been as positive as it has been encouraging.
also, go to ZANI.com for a recent feature with Johnny about the book – http://zani.co.uk/zani-culture/item/2819-a-celebration-of-scottish-house-parties
and follow Johnny on Twitter – https://twitter.com/johnnyroc73