Say the name Liquid to any old skool raver or anthem loving clubber and they're almost guaranteed to think of the piano classic ‘Sweet Harmony'. It's a pure classic in the truest sense of the word, one of those few vintage tracks that no matter where it's played, or at what time, it always causes the very same instant arm-raising reaction.
But ask those very same raver and anthem monkeys what they actually know about Liquid and the reaction is likely to be less conclusive. Having moved away from the rave limelight to explore dub and rock fusion, Liquid Eamon Downes never courted the same mainstream success as the likes rave legends such as The Prodigy. Indeed, his one appearance on Top Of The Pops left a seriously uncomfortable taste. However, his name remains etched into rave history forever more and for one night only he is returning to the live PA stage to perform an exclusive live PA for Raindance Vs Tasty on Friday 26th August. We caught up with the Liquid legend to find out what's been keeping him out of trouble since the rave heyday died down....
How did you all get into producing?
I got into producing by accident really. I could always play a bit of keyboards and guitar. When I was working in a record shop during the late 80s/early 90s it was more of a dream than a business plan. I was pretty uninspired by the banality and soullessness at the end of the Belgian techno scene. Shane, who I initially worked with but he left in the summer of 1992, was a customer in the shop and I knew he was also inspired by Chicago house and more importantly had access to a studio.
What were the first productions that you made and what labels did they initially surface on?
Sweet Harmony. I got it pressed and distributed and XL picked it up.
The years directly preceding this included the infamous summer of love in 88 and the nationwide madness of the acid house explosion that followed it. Did you spend many weekends joining the rave convoys on the M25 and losing the plot on whizzy water in random fields? What are the most memorable experiences from your escapades in early rave culture?
I certainly did, but memories are sketchy except to say I was there. I remember being kind of freaked out when a girl I knew who wrote for the NME took me to Land of Oz. I also remember the Sunrise that made the front of page of the following Monday's Sun. the notoriety was pretty cool, though I think that eventually contributed to killing that scene.
One night, the lasers at an outdoor Energy were entrancing and a police inspector being bewildered by thousands of people dancing in a field in the rain, I was just repeating like a mantra "look at the lights, look at the lights". At that time the old bill were still quite cool with everything, until they started getting media pressure to clampdown on this new "evil".
Adamski with Daddy Chester at an Energy at the Westway in west London was pretty inspiring. That was a relatively early Energy I think.
The whole getting there was a buzz, spotting people in other cars on motorways and at service stations etc. the relief of eventually finding the place was also a buzz, as much through relief as anticipation. It was also exciting that the scene was still so underground: seeing a raver in the street (the clothes were a bit of a giveaway, I had 26 inch flares once) and the nod of acknowledgment. I remember more than I thought I did 5 minutes ago!
What are your favourite tracks from the old skool period? Are there any classics that still raise a smile after all these years?
Some for the song, some for the people I associate with them. I always loved SL2: great tracks and proper geezers too. Danny Breakz, who I never really knew that well, was a really sweet and amusing person and so "Far Out" by Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era always raises a smile.
Tracks that spring to mind: "She's Breakin' Up" by Mickey Finn and "Infiltrate 202" by Altern 8. "Energy Flash" by Beltram, that still sounds sick. Acen had his moments too.
When it comes to classics, they don't get much bigger that ‘Sweet Harmony', the track's unmistakable breakdown has made it one of the most iconic and well-requested tracks of the era. When it hit out on XL in March 1992, it even scaled up the ranks to hit the heady heights of number 14 in the national charts. When you first put the track together did you ever expect it to attain such legendary status?
In a word, no. The distributor was an old Essex soul boy and he reckoned we wouldn't sell the first 500.
When did you first realise that a serious hype was building around the track?
When the first 500 were pressed, Pete tong played it a day after the first copies were in shops. I had never really listened to the show before, but for some reason turned it on that night just before he played it. There was a real initial buzz, but then it all seemed to die down and then record companies started calling
Yes, it did. I try not to dwell on past errors, but I do regret doing Top Of The Pops the way we did. I knew as we were doing it that it looked and sounded shit, so I was getting drunk looking at various members of the Eastenders cast. At the time, vocals had to be performed live and so XL brought Ce Ce Rogers over from the USA. To put it mildly, it didn't work.
Personally I learnt that what looks cool and ok on the street, might not translate to looking good on TV! I also felt that the record company were at fault for just sending us down to record Top Of The Pops without any solid guidance.
So, given my time again I wouldn't have done it.
Were you playing out at a lot of raves in the early 90s Liquid era? Which of your gigs still burns strong in the memory and why?
Too many to mention really, but XL were involved in an event called Vision, which was truly mental for many reasons. The Limelight on New Years Eve 1992 in New York was an unforgettable experience.
We played a lot of events in a lot of countries, but some of the most memorable were in 1995 we played Megadog in Manchester and that was great and played at Firestones in Orlando and absolutely rocked it there at about 5:00am. By then we were playing 45-minute sets, which made it more enjoyable, as I've always avoided Liquid being a 5-minute, miming PA.
What's been keeping you all out of trouble since the rave success of your Liquid heyday? Have you still carried on making music and how would you say your style has changed?
Quitting drinking and doing drugs has helped keep me out of trouble. Most of the time. I've always carried on doing music. With Liquid it progressed more musically to using live vocals and instruments etc.
Now it is almost exclusively songs and with a more rock and dub input. I have always been influenced by various styles of music from Velvet Underground to The Specials to Dub Reggae, Chicago House, and Breaks.
And are you all involved in making music full time or do you have other jobs as well now?
I still make music full time.
At Bliss on the 26th August, you're turning back the clock to perform a one-off live PA of retrospective old skool anthems in the Raindance arena. Was Raindance a rave that you partied at yourselves back in the day and what sort of scenes are you expecting come the 26th?
Yeah, Raindance was cool. I expect it's going to be pretty rocking. It's a great weekend to have it and at a great venue.
Back when you conjuring your hardcore bombs with Liquid, Heaven was home to the prototype jungle and technoid rave party Speed. Have you ever experienced a rave going off at Heaven before?
Yeah been to a few there. Land of Oz, Rage, Bedrock (to hear Adam Freeland) and played there a few times too.
And how much are you looking forward to PA? Do you still get those special rushes when you see a crowd smiling away to your tunes or do you ever get sick of hearing them?
Never get sick of them. I love playing "Liquid is Liquid" especially and try and see it as a privilege, never a burden.
Many of the younger breed of old skool fans will only be familiar with ‘Sweet Harmony' and, possibly, the infectious bass stabs of ‘Liquid Is Liquid', but what other Liquid anthems have you got lined up for the crowd?
Depends on how long they let us play for, may play a couple of old b-sides "Music", "The Year 3000" or "House (is a feeling)"...time will tell.
With arenas going off every weekend to the ruffneck breakbeats anduplifting pianos of the old skool sound, in many ways it marches as popular as ever. Why do you think the sound of labels such as Suburban Base and Ibiza Records still ignites that sweaty rave mayhem after all these years? Is it just a case of over-indulgent nostalgia or do you think there is something genuinely magical about the feel of these records?
Of course, there is something genuinely magical. The energy and sound is unmistakable and inimitable. It was a truly defining era, and very British in the mixture and blend of styles. I used to hate the elitism and snobbiness of the Club/House scene when Rave first broke. Go into Reckless Records now and see what records are on the wall for £25. I stopped producing Rave records only because I personally didn't feel creatively inspired to make more, and wanted to develop. But, I have always harboured disdain for the "I'm a professional, leather trouser wearing clubber" scene as I am always sceptical of places where you have to be tarted up to get in, (I've always endeavoured to perfect the "just-got-up" look), and where the DJs became self-indulgent, self-obsessed and revered icons. (Almost like the progressive Rock of the 1970s that was the catalyst of Punk. This kind of music was always about a democratisation: anyone can make it relatively cheaply, play it or rave to it. There was little elitism and exclusivity. Similar to Punk in that way I suppose.
Raindance has always held a special reputation for coaxing the true old skool warriors out of their maturing lives as parents, respectable adults and no doubt even odd policemen, to recapture the lost glories of their youthful years cutting shapes in white gloves and donning lurid yellow jackets. Do you ever find yourself back on the dancefloors yourselves?
I still go out a lot, but rarely dance. Though I can bust my fair share of moves.
In your opinion, what have been the most significant changes in the face of club/rave culture? Do you think things have changed for the better or will you always view that special early 90s period as an untouchable era?
I don't really feel that qualified to answer the first half of the question, but I suppose if you experienced the early 90s period then it feels untouchable in the same way as I would love to have experienced The Sex Pistols or The Specials and those eras are also untouchable for their own reasons. I try and avoid the "it was better when...blah blah blah" way of thinking though.
And after all these years do you still keep in touch with the dance/club scene? Which artists and DJs still inspire you to this day?
I like Adam Freeland. I also like Slipmatt and Billy Bunter as they don't just play the same records as all the other DJs, they give it their own individual imprint. I also was into Fabio and Grooverider, Mickey Finn, Nicky Blackmarket and Ray Keith. I've always been drawn to someone with their own individual, creative style, anyone can go and buy a load of anthemic records and just play them.
I'm still inspired by many of the records of the whole late 80s/early 90s period too.
And finally what is your idea of a night pure bliss?
Group sex....ha ha
Liquid is appearing at Bliss on Friday 26th August 2005 @ Heaven.