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5 Steps With Felix Dickinson

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From his misspent youth knocking about with the Tonka Soundsystem to his pre-criminal justice act rave orchestration or his decade DJing for Japan’s iconic Lifeforce parties Felix Dickinson is nothing if not interesting. One of the UK’s most respected underground figures, Felix’s absolute dedication to music, parties and making people dance has allowed him to remain as relevant today as he was when a starry eyed five year old (he’s a leap year baby) hosting 4000 people at his first event a week after Castle Morton’s legendary free week long festival.

So as you may have guessed from our gushing intro we’re quite the fans of Mr. Dickinson and (like many others) think his is a story that needs to be told but why listen to us harp on? Set to return to his adopted city of Bristol for the 2015 edition of Love Saves The Day here’s the man in his own words. Welcome to 5 Steps With Felix Dickinson.

Tonka

I was very lucky to land on my feet when it came to being introduced to the Rave scene. My stepbrother (who’s about 7 years older than me) was friends with some of the guys who ran the Tonka sound system, and when my Mum said that he could have a party at her house, he invited them down. I was a week out of boarding school, where I’d had a pretty sheltered existence, to find these big yellow Turbosound speakers in my Mum’s garden and a couple hundred people partying. I’d never met people like this before or been to a party like this and was instantly hooked. I started going to their parties every weekend (and sometimes on a Monday).

Their most long running night was the first Monday of each month down at the Zap in Brighton, and I ended up moving to that city because of that. It was Harvey, Choci and Rev that would play the club each month, and then at 2am they would take their speakers from the club and set up on the beach were they’d party till dawn with DJs like Para and Markie Mark playing. After a while they had to stop bringing their speakers down, because I think they just got knackered and they could no longer afford to fix them. But the club still went on. As a loyal Tonka disciple I took up the mantel of organising the obligatory after parties for them, using local Brighton sound systems like Positive Sounds and Baby Boom. And then when they finally stopped doing the club altogether me and some friends started our monthly Monday night ‘Slack” (with afterparty on the beach or a warehouse/squat in the winter) to try and continue the tradition.

My First Event

After a couple years of going to free parties around the country, I felt I wanted to contribute. My stepbrother’s Tonka party had been his belated 21st, so I asked my Mum if I could put on a party for my 5th (I’m a leap year baby, so 21 doesn’t mean that much to me, but 20 was a bit more significant, being the fifth year I actually had a birthday). She had some land on top of a hill that was rented out to the local agricultural college, so I asked them if I could use it to have a party one weekend. They let me use the field, moved their cattle to a different field, and helped me set up a tap so we had some running water. A friend of mine put me in touch with the DIY Sound System crew, who were up for bringing down their sound system. The party happened to fall the week after Castle Morton, so there was quite a bit of momentum with the network of people going to free parties, and we ended up having about 4,000 people come to the party over the 3 days we held it. It was the first time I’d put on a free party, and some of the logistics with getting everything set up ran out of control a little, mainly the land I’d arranged for the parking getting blocked pretty quickly by some people who just parked in the entrance as I wasn’t there to direct traffic as I was trying to show some of the other site crew where they should be setting up. This made for a bit of a mess and there were cars parked up and down the hedgerows for miles around as people tried to get to the party.

The police set up roadblocks to try and stop people coming, and in the end I think they spent about £10,000 trying to shut me down, including helicopters etc. (the whole thing cost me about £700), as it was a free party everyone worked for free, and my only real expense was the toilets. It was one hell of a party though, and on the Monday when we finally finished everyone went down to the Zap for the Tonka party, which was more mobbed than usual, and then had a massive beach party for probably 1,000 people. Someone actually contacted me a while back saying they wanted to write a book about this party as they thought it was quite a pivotal event in a lot of people’s lives. I’m not sure how he’s going to stretch a whole book out of that one weekend, but would be interesting to see him try!

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Ugly Music

After I finished university in Brighton I set up my first record label ‘Ugly Music’ with my friend Tony Lee who was running a record shop at that time called Ugly Records in Brighton. We shared a love for Chicago House, and wanted to set up a label where we could sign some of the acts we knew about out there, and also launch some UK talent. It was during this time I first met Jaime Read who I then went on to do LHAS Inc. with (at this time he was LHAS, but when we started working together we became LHAS Inc.). After a short time of running the label, maybe 6 months to a year, I thought I needed to actually visit America, the home of House, for some ‘research’; to understand a bit more where the whole scene came from, sign some new acts, promote the label etc. I set off on a 3 month tour, with a plan of spending a month in San Fran staying with some of my friends from the Tonka days who were now running parties out there as the ‘Wicked’ sound system, going to Chicago to stay with K Alexi who had done some music already for ‘Ugly Music’, and then heading to New York to check out the scene there.

The first weekend I went out, my friend Neil who was doing the lights for ‘Wicked’ (as he had done previously for Tonka), said I should come to a party he was working at in the desert. I later found out this was a party called Burning Man. It was 1996, and it was a very different beast to the festival it is now. Pretty lawless, people tearing around the desert in their cars, popping off guns in the air (they actually had a drive by teddy bear shooting range). I ended up playing for Wicked (one of the only two sound sytems out there) in front of a thousand odd people. I was 24 years old, and the whole thing blew my mind (I think I ended up going back to Burning Man nearly every year for the next 10 years). The rest of my stay in San Fran was amazing, I bought shit loads of records trawling through the thrift stores (I sent a shipping container back with about 700 records in), and got myself a pretty comprehensive Disco collection, getting classics for 50 cents each that people were selling back home for £10. I ended up DJing in the city quite a lot, and made a load of really good friends who I see to this day. I found it quite difficult to actually tear myself away, and could have quite easily got stuck in San Fran, as so many UK rave ex pats had before me, but needed to get myself off to Chicago.

When I got to Chicago, it was a very different experience. K Alexi took me to ‘The Warehouse’ (obviously Ron Hardy had died years before, but the DJs there still played with the stock club records, about 500 odd of the classics that they’d been listening to week in week out for the last 15 odd years, all knowing the words and singing along. Mike Dunn would play the classics, dropping the volume for people to sing, or reply to some of the lyrics, and then playing his own versions of some tracks of cassette, it was more like going to a church then a regular club, re-living the old days), I was also introduced to Larry Sherman from Trax records (which was quite an interesting encounter to say the least). K took me to some of the old thrift stores, and showed me how they did it in Chi Town. By the time I got to New York I’d run a little over my schedule. I still got to meet a few of the heads and go to places like Dance Trax and Body and Soul, but didn’t quite get to experience the scene there as extensively as I had in Cali or Chicago. Anyway the whole experience was pretty eye opening and inspiring for me at that age.

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Lifeforce

When I was doing the Slack parties in Brighton I met Massa Horie. He was going to a lot of the free parties that were still going on regularly over here in the 90s, and wanted to take it back and do something similar in Japan. Nick Record was their resident, and a one stage or another I think he took nearly all the DJs who would play at Slack over to play at the new Lifeforce parties in Japan. I remember Massa stayed with me in Brighton once, and said that he’d like to take me out too. I told him I didn’t want to go immediately, as I wanted to make a bigger arrival when I first went, maybe get some records of my own under my belt, but basically I wanted to make a bigger impression so that it could be the start of something regular, as opposed to just visiting once. My chance came a few years later, when I’d started doing edits on my Fools Gold label, and so a few people out there had heard of me. I can’t quite remember when it was that I first went out, but I kinda became a second resident after Nick, and went back at least once a year for the next 15 or so years. They were amazing parties, and would have their DJs play long sets, from 5-12 hours, so we’d really get to flex our eclectic tastes, and play all genres through a long musical narrative without being too disjointed. The sound system, engineered by Asada, would always sound amazing (by far the best I’d ever heard my records), and there was a good crew of people who were really responsive to the music. I feel very lucky to have played for them for so long, although I now play for different promoters in Japan, I’m very grateful to Lifeforce for taking me out for the first time to that beautiful country, and introducing me to some really good friends (some of whom I now do the Dedication project with, and try and still record with them each time I go out to Japan).

Bristol

I moved to Bristol about 6 months ago after spending 15 years in London, and although it’s early days, I feel this is a big step in the next chapter of my life. Getting married a couple years ago (to the most amazing woman ever, Jen, who needless to say is a massive life changer in herself and inspires me to be better in all areas of my life), gave us the impetus to kick back a little and get a clean start together.  I’ve set up a new studio here and there’s lots of like-minded heads that I’m looking forward to collaborating with. I’ve been doing some tracks for Bristol based Futureboogie Recordings; last year they released ‘Burning Flame’, and I’ve done a new track for them with Robert Owens that’ll be coming out later this year. There’s loads of other good things going on in this city musically like Love Saves The Day and Motion which I’m excited to be involved with; basically there’s a really good crew of people up here to work with, and it’s quite an exciting new start for the both me and Jen.

Get all the latest from Felix via Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud pages, listen to his mix live from Milan below and catch him in the flesh at Bristol’s Love Saves The Day festival May 23rd. Tickets are available here

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