If you raved in the 90’s you would have had a hard job avoiding the seminal club outputs from London based dance act Liquid. With undisputed anthem’s such as ‘Liquid Is Liquid’, ‘Closer’, and of course the defining piano club classic ’Sweet Harmony’, XL Recordings certainly struck gold back in the crazy days of 1992. Fast forward a quarter of a century and fresh off the back of a new and well received album, Nick Coles catches up with the man responsible for it all, Eamon Downes..
How are you? What’s been happening of late?
I am good, very good. I have been doing a whole lot of recording, had an ongoing purple patch for about two years where I just can’t stop producing and, trust me, I’ve suffered from the polar opposite too, so it’s a good feeling. I am also trying fasting, if that’s of note! 16 hours each weekday without eating; apparently Roman centurions did it. And as I live in Rome…when I do eat in the other 8 hours though I am stuffing cakes and ice cream and I’m not sure I am getting that bit right.
A lot has certainly changed in the 26 years since the release of Sweet Harmony, tell us about those early days for Liquid?
Hindsight, eh? I was headstrong and determined but lacking a vision. I didn’t really ever have a strategic approach to anything, especially live shows, so as well as learning along the way it was a bit ramshackle for a while. But such is life, it all soon becomes normalised too: Christmas 1991 I was working in a record shop and by March the next the following year we had a track in the charts. Then all sorts of decisions need to be made: business, touring etc. and life changes very quickly and dramatically. And I have never really been driven by the attention that comes with it. I am like an attention-seeker that doesn’t actually like attention. But I do try and be gracious. It was a real, real buzz though. Months before getting signed it would have been a dream come true, especially signing to a label like XL, so I tried and try to not lose that sense of excitement and gratitude and wonder. I had been working in a record shop, going to raves and to Labrynth every week in Dalston and then to end up working in music was just dreamland. It was actually a lull in craziness that year (1992) that all this happened, 89-91 had been more insane, but the wildness soon made a strong comeback!
An obvious change too is the difference without social media back then, and without smartphones too. You were reliant on record companies, or distributors, to push your music. The former were a necessary evil. I have never believed in keeping music exclusive or being a chin-stroking snob… I want as many people as possible to hear my tracks. And god, I was paranoid enough about compromising photos… thank the lord people didn’t have camera phones! I do think it adds to the nostalgia though, too, as there is such limited footage of the time.
There seems to be a huge nostalgia wave currently of those early house and rave sounds, even the kids are embracing this at events and in their choice of music! Why do you think this is?
It’s hard to give a comprehensive answer (BUT I am going to try anyhow!), I guess that it was a real, genuine scene. There were, of course, some manufactured elements but it was completely from the underground and lacking any mainstream support. If anything, BBC radio and TV was set-up to stifle us and we only got any exposure begrudgingly when there was no choice their side. Same as lots of press and media outlets that now look back all lovingly and nostalgically but looked down their W1 noses at the rave scene.
And, when it comes down to, it….the tunes stand the test of time. There’s a rawness and an authenticity to the sound. There are lots of rave tunes you can drop anywhere and they’ll go down. It’s like the Jump Around test; that House Of Pain track you can pretty much play anywhere from a wedding to a rave to a hip hop club in NYC and it will go off. And we were all cool as fuck. We didn’t need to dress up and ponce around to go out. Therefore was very little separation between artist and raver in that sense; the way rock and pop music creates this reverential distance between audience and performer.
You released an artist album last year called ‘Energy Flows’, your first for a long while. Did you have a break from the scene and if so, what made you want to return?
You know what, and people that know me and see me swanning around like a cocky fucker may find this hard to fathom, but I have always struggled with confidence as an artist. I had years where I just couldn’t finish stuff. Loads and loads of tracks, all 90% done. It’s been a real challenge over the years. So I didn’t really have a break, as such. I have pretty much carried on playing though with some rare periods where I stepped back – with one pretty long period when I need to change my lifestyle. Then Rachel Wallace, who I would regularly see at shows and is the loveliest person you could meet, did some vocals a few years ago which the track Runaway came out of. I played it to Daniel (Billy Bunter) and by the time I had put the phone down after calling him I had agreed to do an album and deliver it within 3 months. And having a deadline helped me just get on and do it. And since, I can’t stop producing music and have lots of new tracks scheduled too.
Also, working with Mark Coupe (Sanxion) as a collaborator has really helped. Two heads being better than one… it kind of makes it less of a self-indulgent, tortured genius Van Gogh of the rave scene scenario with someone else so closely and intricately involved in the creative process.
Tell us about the live show, what are using on stage these days?
DJing I drift between a controller and CDJs. The latter feels more like real DJing, if that makes sense, so doing that more and I love just travelling with a tiny bag! Live I use Ableton and an APC40 controller so no two live shows are ever the same, the only consistent element is the good looking fucker behind the gear.
You will be performing live in Exeter for Beatz & Bobz on the 16th February and also playing an exclusive B2B with Hacienda legend Mark XTC, being a first – is this something we can expect more of?
Yep. It’s cool to do cos it’s different and he is one of the people I know in music who I truly love. He’s such a great bloke. Sadly, I met him loads of times before back in the day, but I was always so gone I don’t remember anything about it. B2B is cool cos it keeps you on your toes!
What projects are coming up, a little bird tells me there may be an exciting return on a certain label planned for next year?
Haha! Who you been speaking to? I’ll tell you what’s confirmed A single on Tommie Sunshine’s Brooklyn Fire with Dave ‘AK1200’ Minner from Florida. That’s out in November. A new 8-track LP out on Kniteforce early 2019. Actually finishing that over the weekend. A collaboration with Pete Cannon. Also working on stuff with Mark XTC and Mark Archer, separately, and a new Liquid album Xmas 2019 with Daniel again.
Outside of your own music, can you give us three of your most influential tracks from over the years?
Blimey. Blimey. Blimey. I could tell you now and it will change tomorrow…. I mean here are three right off the top of the head and the third one I mention I don’t think I have ever factored in before in a question like this.
KLF – What Time Is Love. I just remember hearing this on a massive system at an outdoor rave and it literally sent something through me at such a visceral level that I wasn’t the same person 5 minutes later.
Fun Boy Three – The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum. I was such a massive Specials fan, I mean I was heartbroken when they split and that’s the one and only time that’s happened to me over a band. So when this tunecame out I was buzzing, so buzzing. Stupidly, I cut the cover of the 7” off and me and my mate went and had our hair cut like Terry Hall and got kicked out of school for a day, bizarrely enough.
Ramones – Baby I Love You. I mean I love Phil Spector’s production and all that, but less for the music and more for the ‘what the fuck is this?’ factor when I saw it on Top Of The Pops. It’s hard to explain but I just loved the outsider, completely different element of how they looked.
Being an active fixture at many raves throughout the 90’s, what was the craziest thing you ever witnessed out there on your missions?
Looking in the mirror was lively enough, tbh. But I saw all sorts: walked in on two men in Limelight, NYC in 1992 having sex…bang at it. My girlfriend was having an asthma attack and needed a room, not sure seeing what we saw helped! I remember doing the first USA tour and it was pretty full on. This one girl in the dressing room, had all her mates cover her up when she removed her bra. Which is 100% right and cool, of course. But then she took her knickers off in front of us and was walking about casually knickerless…. My addled mind at the time didn’t get the logic. Not my business granted, but I have a curious mind. Once our tour bus got a puncture. My manager and I were so mullered, we were saying ‘we’ll lift it, you lot change the wheel’ and obviously they ignored us looking for a real, non-drug addicts solution. And we were getting properly miffed, like ‘what’s wrong with these c*nts, we’ll lift it and you change the tyre. Look lively!’
I know there’s a real love of the early 90s, but it wasn’t all P.L.U.R. I’ve been CS gassed, held up with a knife in a rave and had some close encounters of the gangster kind too.
Finally, it’s been one hell of a journey already, what are you looking to achieve in the next quarter of a century?
Stay alive. Stay healthy. Stay off cow’s milk….who drinks that shit? Carry on being a good dad.
Musically: I want to make sure I am left with no tracks on the shelf. If it’s good enough, get it out there and if it’s not then bin it. I keep telling myself one day I will retire from gigs, but I just love it too much.
Catch Liquid performing Live at Beatz & Bobz, Exeter Phoenix on Saturday 16th February, tickets available from …
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