© 2018, 2019 by Paul Fleckney. 

Chapter One: Dancing Queens

 

Francis Grasso, David Mancuso, Larry Levan, Sam Frantzeskos, Brian Goldsmith, Sean Kelly, ALSO, Paradise Garage, Studio 54, Inflation, Metro, Underground, Red Raw, Winter Daze, New York, disco, italo disco, Melbourne gay scene.

 

New York, 1969. Francis Grasso and David Mancuso turn DJing into an artform, which Larry Levan later perfects at New York’s Paradise Garage. By the end of the decade, the new sound filters through to Melbourne thanks to disco pioneers like Sam Frantzeskos at Inflation nightclub. Similar to its New York roots, disco appeals to those on the periphery of society - in Melbourne’s case, the children of southern European post-war migrants and a jubilant gay scene celebrating its newfound freedom. By the mid eighties, disco has crossed into the mainstream, becoming the soundtrack of choice for the city’s nightclubs as well as gay dance parties like Red Raw and Winterdaze. Liquor licensing reform ushers in a new era of Melbourne nightclubbing based around drinking, dress codes and velvet ropes. ‘It was alcohol and plenty of sex,’ says DJ Sean Kelly. In 1987, Sam opens the Metro, Australia’s first superclub. However, its million-dollar lighting rig, VIP rooms and MTV broadcasts will never seduce the Melbourne underground…

Chapter Two: Punks and Pineapple Heads

 

Ollie Olsen, Sean Kelly, Gavin Campbell, Mad Rod, Rowland S. Howard, Guy Uppiah, Jules Taylor, Primitive Calculators, Whirlywirld, Boys Next Door, Hugo Klang, Severed Heads, SPK, Essendon Airport, Little Bands Scene, Crystal Ballroom, Swelter, Sedition, Sub Terrain, Hardware Club, Razor, Filthy Lucre, punk, disco, hip hop.

 

St Kilda, 1978. The Little Bands Scene rocks the Crystal Ballroom, illegal clubs pump with dirty disco and heroin runs through the city's veins. Ex-punk Ollie Olsen experiments with new forms of electronic dance music, first in Melbourne with Whirlywirld and later in Berlin with Hugo Klang. Using a Roland TB-303 bass synthesiser and TR-808 drum machine, he produces music that is ‘basically techno’. Back in Melbourne, the underground scene is alive with diverse and creative subcultures. In 1982, Gavin Campbell opens Swelter at Matilda’s in the city. A dance club in the Mancuso vein, every Tuesday night Gavin plays funk, soul, disco, rock and pop to an eager industry crowd of designers, artists and fashionistas. Inspired by Gavin’s success, Sean Kelly launches Sedition at the Seaview Ballroom and then Sub Terrain in the city where he introduces Melbourne to the latest New York import called hip hop. Meanwhile, Gavin teams up with ex-Little Bands Scene muso Jules Taylor to open Razor at the Light Car Club on Queens Road. Immediately the coolest club in town, Razor is renowned for its celebrities, freaks and fierce door policy. In 1987, a new sound drifts onto Razor’s dark and eerie dancefloor but this time it’s not New York leading the way but Chicago…

Chapter Three: Pleasure Seekers

 

Frankie Knuckes, Alan Rados, Paul Marinelli, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway, Richard and Hydi John, Mark James, Steve Robbins, Davide Carbone, Mutoid Waste Company, Joe Wieczorek, Warehouse (Chicago), Shoom, Trip, ZuZus, Checkpoint Charlie, Inflation, Central Station Records, Rhythmatic, Chicago, Ibiza, England, house, acid house, rave, ecstasy/ MDMA, jacking, Phuture, Roland TB-303, Alfredo, Balearic beat, second summer of love, Frestonia, Club Labrynth, Lunacy, Cadillac Bar, Chicago.

 

Chicago, 1982. At the Warehouse, Frankie Knuckles plays stripped-back disco, soul and funk overlaid with thumping basslines, sampled vocals and a relentlessly pounding four-to-the-floor kick-drum. This is house. By the summer of 86/87, Chicago producers have found an international audience for their new sound and the first waves of house music lap at Australia's sunny shores. In Melbourne, Alan Rados and Paul Marinelli play house on 3RRR and Central Station Records imports vinyl direct from Chicago. Meanwhile in London, DJs Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling successfully combine American house music and Balearic ecstasy-drenched dancing to create a new and very English youth subculture called rave. The soundtrack to a summer of illegal warehouses, aircraft hangars and farmer's fields is acid house: a strange, trippy, squelching noise spat out of a TB-303 floating above a crunching 4/4 rhythm. Run by schoolboy capitalists playing cat and mouse with police and gangsters, raves attract tens of thousands of 'Acieed!' chanting youths. Just as the English scene is about to crack, Londoners Richard and Hydi John board a plane to Australia thinking they’ve left their partying days behind them. Instead they become immersed in a fledgling Melbourne acid house scene fuelled by English expats like themselves with firsthand experience and an older crew who hear the spirit of punk whispering between techno’s broken chords. Local boy Steve Robbins plays acid house five nights a week and takes to the airwaves with Davide Carbone for Rhythmatic. ‘We kind of had a feeling that something was about to happen.’ Davide says. That something was techno…

Chapter Four: Children of Ecstasy

 

Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Grant Harrison, John Course, Terrence Ho, Davide Carbone, Steve Robbins, Richard and Hydi John, Joe Wieczorek, Ollie Olsen, Third Eye, Biology, Kemistri, Cyber, Lunatic Fringe, Xpress, Chasers, Sanction, Chevron, Lunacy, Checkpoint Charlie, Detroit, Sydney, techno, rave, ecstasy, Grant Harrison, Mark James, Terrence Ho.

Detroit, 1988. British mag The Face arrives to interview Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May who have been using Roland’s ‘black boxes’ to create raw machine music. When asked if their music has a name, Juan replies, ‘Call it techno.’ Techno music’s rendering of a similarly decayed and divided metropolis strikes a (heavily sampled) chord with disaffected Melbourne youth. At the back of the clubs at 3am, young techno fans fly high on acid, ecstasy and pounding beats. On 10th June 1990, Biology brings together all of the critical elements of a techno dance party: a quality sound system, strobe lighting, high intensity lasers and a dingy concrete shed. With an impressive pedigree of having run illegal warehouse parties in London's East End with Club Labrynth founder Joe Wieczorek, organisers Richard and Hydi show Melbourne how it’s done. The rave bandwagon quickly accelerates as parties like Lunatic Fringe, Kemistri and Cyber take over the city’s disused and under-utilised spaces. Meanwhile a small club in a back alley off Flinders Lane offers techno fans a trip to another dimension…

Chapter Five: Pure Ravers

 

Ian Spicer, Rudeboy, Terrence Ho, Braden Schlager, Mark James, Carl Cox, HMC, Richard and Hydi John, Richie Rich (McNeill), Ollie Olsen, Will E Tell, Jason Midro, Maze, Commerce Club, Pure, Palace, techno, rave, Richmond Recorders.

 

Melbourne, 1990. At the Commerce Club, DJs Rudeboy and Terrence Ho team up with Ian Spicer to launch Maze, a labyrinthine pleasure den located in a former cheese cellar. In the wee hours of a Sunday morning, rock dogs and ravers mingle with Rastafarians, S&M fetishists, B-grade celebrities, pool players and drag queens. On the decks, Terrence and Rudeboy ply Melbourne’s partygoers with the latest underground techno and acid. Meanwhile, a few pioneer artists cut their own records, only to realise that underground doesn’t pay the rent. Towards the end of its tenure, new owners Mark James and Richard and Hydi invite two rising stars to spin some tunes in Maze’s hallowed kitchen. Few had worked harder than Richie McNeill to break into Melbourne’s techno hierarchy. And wherever there was Richie, there was Will E Tell, Melbourne’s first superstar DJ. In May 1991, Mark James hires Willie and Steve Robbins to play at his new club, Pure at the back of the Palace in St Kilda. For the first time, Melbourne's small but committed raving community has a place they can call home…

Chapter Six: Techno Renegades

 

Mark James, Fred Disko, Laurent, Ollie Olsen, Andrew Till, Kate Bathgate, Mad Rod, Natural 1, Terrence Ho (H2O), Davide Carbone, Richie McNeill, Mark Hogan, Emmy Boudry, Will E Tell, Rudeboy, Richard and Hydi John, ALSO, Pure, Dream, Hellfire, Quadrant, Hardware, Street Rave, Love Parade, Dr Motte, Harmony, Evolution, Right on One Productions, Blast Off Sound System, Beat in the Street, Rhythm Records, Central Station Records, Mushroom/ MDS, Renegade, The Docks, Shed 14, Goa trance, rave fashion, temporary autonomous zone, techno, Octave Records, Custard Shop, Darren Till, free party.

 

Melbourne, 1991. Melbourne's hardcore ravers and techno fans are partying six nights a week but the culture remains deep underground. At Dream nightclub on Sunday nights, Ollie Olsen and Andrew Till expose Melbourne to Goa trance while across town British expats Mark and Emmy dish up their English style raving experience in abandoned offices and warehouses. Kate Bathgate is the voice of this hidden generation as ravers tune in to her radio show Beat in the Street every Sunday night. Frustrated by the lack of underground techno available on record store shelves, Davide Carbone and Richie McNeill open Rhythm Records in the front room of a friend’s house in Hawthorn East. On New Year’s Eve 1991, Richie throws his first Hardware party and it's a big hit, attracting over a thousand patrons in the face of stiff competition. As Richie’s raving empire slowly builds, other crews dig further underground, putting on free parties or taking the rave out onto the street. More quasi-legal than outright unlawful, Melbourne rave never quite matures into full-on rebellion. In 1994, Richie signs an exclusive lease for Shed 14 at the Docks, subverting Melbourne’s one-time rule of ‘new party, new venue’. But on the banks of the Maribyrnong River, Richard and Hydi are determined he won’t have it all his own way…

Chapter Seven: Global Villagers

 

Richard and Hydi John, Jade John, Phil Voodoo, Sioux Dollman, Robin Cooke, Adem Jaffers, Jeff Jaffers, Lani G, Melbourne Underground Development, Mutoid Waste Company, Cyber Dada, Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Every Picture Tells A Story, Club Labrynth, Madasss!, TVU Warehouse, Global Village, Munster Terrace, Westgate Altona, Cyberthon, hardcore, breakbeat, Joe Wieczorek, rave, art, VJ, community, unity, drugs, female ravers and DJs.

Footscray, 1994. The rave scene is at its peak and ecstasy has replaced alcohol as the drug of choice for thousands of young Melburnians. Gone are the sleazy pick-up lines, macho violence, power-tripping bouncers and dressing for success. Instead, Melbourne's waterfront sheds and indoor sports stadiums are filled with random hugging, hyperspeed conversations and grinding teeth. For many people, the flagship Melbourne rave is Every Picture Tells a Story at Global Village, a former cotton mill converted into a cornucopia of psychedelic creativity by Richard and Hydi, Phil Voodoo and Melbourne Underground Development (M.U.D.). Going to a rave like Every Picture is like coming home: experiencing a sense of belonging that has hitherto been absent from your life. Being lost in the moment at eight in the morning when you should be waking up is a feeling that’s difficult to surpass. Free from the exclusivity and cliquiness of clubs, ravers find new ways to express their individuality through childhood accessories and dance…

Chapter Eight: Melbourne Shufflers

 

Melbourne Shuffle, dancing, Natural 1, Leeroy Thornhill, H2O, Cosmic Baby, Sven Väth, Josh Abrahams, Steve Robbins, Davide Carbone, FSOM, Steve Bertschik, Adrian Cartwright, Rupert Keiller, Sonic Animation, Stompers, Sharpies, skinheads, Stomp, Running Man, surfer stomp, Manchester, The Haçienda, northern soul, hip hop, techno, trance, Johnson’s baby powder.

Melbourne, 1995. A new style of dancing emerges on the dancefloor. Melbourne’s ravers glide over baby powder on spacious sprung wooden dancefloors tuning their arms and legs to the sound of German trance. The emergent style fuses elements of American hip-hop, jazz-fusion, New Jack Swing, surfie culture, northern soul, Melbourne’s own skinheads and the Manchester house music scene. Never intended as a one-size-fits-all dance, the Melbourne Shuffle is all about finding your own style on the dancefloor. Local producers hop on board the trance express with acts like FSOM and Sonic Animation enjoying commercial success. But some people find that living in ecstasy has a dark side…

 

Chapter Nine: Gatecrashers

 

Tasty nightclub, Tasty Raid, Gavin Campbell, Lani G, Commerce Club, Jeff Kennett, Anna Wood, Sydney, Anna’s Story, media, moral panic, ecstasy, Mark James, Richie McNeill, Nightclub Owners Association, Sam & George Frantzeskos, Joe Fitzgerald, Underbelly, Jason & Mark Moran, Carl Williams, Tony Mokbel, Melbourne gangland killings, Kiss FM, Code of Practice for Dance Parties, Carl Cox, Claude Young, Underground Resistance, CJ Bolland, Apollo festival, Big Day Out, Future Entertainment, Agent Mad, Welcome 2000, Summadayze, Two Tribes, Totem OneLove, 0055 raves, cult of the DJ.

Sydney, 1995. The death of schoolgirl Anna Wood propels ecstasy to the front page of Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper. The tabloid runs a two-page exposé on the city's 'deadly' rave culture inciting moral panic over its claims evil drug pushers are peddling to children as young as 15. While ecstasy rarely kills anyone directly, Melbourne's raving folklore is filled with sad stories of suicides, overdoses and lives irreparably damaged through excess. The media might have been late to the party but the police had gatecrashed years earlier, culminating in the 1994 Tasty Raid where officers strip-searched all of the 463 patrons, most of whom where gay or lesbian. Meanwhile, the lure of easy cash draws in Melbourne's mafia who take over the supply of ecstasy to Melbourne’s partygoers. Rave promoters quickly learn that to be successful they need to go legit. The investment soon pays off - by the end of the nineties, raves are pulling in thousands of people every weekend. But as Melbourne’s raving organism adapts to internal and external influences, natural selection favours a series of mutations that renders the resultant scene almost unrecognisable from its pill-chomping hug-loving ancestor…

Chapter Ten: Two Tribes

 

Muzzas, subcultural capital, music genres, NRG, Hard Kandy, Bass Station, Monkey, Mansion, Storey Hall, Brown Alley, CBD nightclub, WetMusik, minimal techno, progressive house, tech house, alcohol, pills, bad drugs, GHB, competition, Richard and Hydi John, poster wars, gentrification, Internet, Bertie Street, Kryal Kastle, tekno, Filter, Lounge, Mad Rod, Rudeboy, Teriyaki Anarki Saki, Jason Platts, Dee Dee, Ollie Olsen, Psy Harmonics, Andrez Bergen, Devil Fish, If?, Earthcore, Spiro Boursine, Karl Fitzgerald, Frank Venuto, Krusty, Sugar, Green Ant, Rainbow Serpent Festival, bush doof, psytrance, tekno activism, Reclaim the Streets, Aaron Roach, digital music production, Melbourne Bounce, Melbourne Bangers, EDM.

Melbourne, 2000. Rave has become commoditised, packaged up and sold to a new generation of consumers. The Internet has arrived, alcohol has returned and beloved venues fall prey to the unstoppable force of gentrification. The intimacy has gone and not everyone is feeling the love. Battlelines emerge between an old school desperate to hold on to their precious subcultural capital and young kids who just want to party and have a good time. Once where there was unity and cooperation, there is now rivalry and nastiness. But peel back rave’s glossy commercial surface and you can still see the underground’s beating heart. Mad Rod and Rudeboy dish up acid techno and drag shows at Club Filter while the Teriyaki crew embrace a broad range of cutting-edge techno styles. In the hills around Melbourne, the gum trees rattle with repetitive beats while techno activists take their sound systems to the streets to protest against injustice. Today, almost thirty years after it all began, Melbourne techno carries a rich and diverse legacy. Listen to any top 40 dance track and the chances are you’ll hear the ghost of nineties techno rippling through the mangled vocals and cheesy piano chords. Much has changed but in the minds of Melbourne’s old skool one thing stays the same: a fondness for fun times, lifelong friendships and a gratitude for having been in the right place at the right time.

 

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