What was the Heller household like growing up? You have five brothers and sisters, what kind of music was blaring out of each room and have any of them followed you into the creative world?
“It was a pretty ordinary middle class existence in Brighton, if you can call growing up in a family of 6 kids ordinary. My dad was a bit of a hi-fi buff and had a nice collection of boogie-woogie and Elvis LPs, so I used to play them a lot, together with my brothers and sisters albums: mostly Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zep etc. My dad also had a TEAC reel to reel tape machine and I used to do edits of stuff on there with an old edit block and make mix compilations of old rock & roll and Motown stuff for my parents’ Xmas parties. So I guess that’s how it all started. My family are all a pretty professional lot: doctors etc. I’m the only one in music, though one of my sister’s an artist (like my mum) and works in fashion in New York.”
Did you enjoy your school days?
Some of them. I was unfortunate in that I got caught up in the local education ideologically driven experiments of the 70s – all very liberal; no uniform, open plan class rooms, no marking or homework etc. It was a total disaster and some of the older teachers couldn’t cope and took it out on the kids. I was lucky that my folks took me out and sent me to a private school – it was a bit of a culture shock, but they had a marching band and I got into the drumming side of it which stood me in good stead. I ended up at Dulwich College, so I had a good (expensive) education, but to be fair, I made a bunch of friends who I’m still close with so I’m not complaining, though I’d hesitate before sending my kids to a school like that.”
You developed a love of Hip Hop whilst hanging out at a Clash gig in London when you checked out the man responsible for the most scratched sample of all time, Mr Fab Freddy Five and his ‘ahhh, this stuff is really fresh’. So tell us about the Hip Hop early days, the tunes, the artists, the clubs you were into…
“Well I’d heard hip hop and rap, or ‘electro’ as it was known at the time, but the Clash gig was a transformative event for me really as I’d never really witnessed the whole turntablism thing before. And the clubs I started going to, like The Mud Club with DJs like Jay Strongman, played a fair amount and tracks like ‘Planet Rock’ were massive everywhere. Even John Peel was dropping a few tunes on his show. At first I was just buying all the Streetsounds Electro comps, but I started wanting to get hold of the original vinyl 12s and fell in love with the whole process of checking out the new imports – Groove Records in Soho was my Mecca. That place played a really important role in my early DJ development – many fond memories. I guess some of the first big tracks for me would have been early Run DMC stuff like ‘Sucker MCs’, ‘Here Comes That Beat by Pumpkin & the Profile Allstars, ‘The Party Scene’ by The Russell Bros, ‘One For The Treble’ by Davy DMX, Egyptian Lover – ‘Egypt, Egypt’. At the same time I was also getting into Go Go and rare groove in a big way, and checking out the London underground warehouse scene – Shake & Fingerpop, Family Funktion, Soul II Soul, Westworld etc.”
If you could go back in time to any era, where would you flip back to and why…
“Probably the late 70s early 80s in New York. I think that era was so decadent and there was so much creativity & freedom then. If you look at that period, there was so much going on in New York, in art, fashion, film and music. Rents were cheap and that made it possible for people to live this Bohemian existence, so it became this Mecca for all the freaks and misfits to come and join in the party. Just looking at the music, there really was a great golden age of rock, soul and funk – and all these scenes and cultures – black, latino & white, gay and straight seemed to feed off each other and there was so much cultural cross-fertilizaion going on. If you look at waht the soundtrack for somewhere like the Paradise Garage or the Loft must have been at that time – amazing music. Classic after classic, and to be hearing those tracks being broken on the dancefloor every week by Larry Levan, it must have been extraordinary. The energy of those times carried right through til the middle of the 90s and I was lucky enough to witness it at places like The Sound Factory, but eventually Mayor Gulliani ended up destroying it all, and the money men took over.”
How did you manage to blag a residency at Danny Rampling’s ‘Shoom’ night – and what were those nights like for the kids out there who never made it?
Well it’s difficult to describe in a paragraph really, but my sister had been going to Shoom for a while and dragged me down to the Fitness Centre off Southwark St one week and that was it really. It was actually a basement gym and on a Saturday, all the weights and machines were dragged to one end and hidden behind the famous Shoom banner where the system was set up and Danny Rampling was like this minister, preaching to his congregation with House music. The crowd was really mixed – black, white, straight and gay, which was pretty revolutionary for London at that time. And of course, everybody was out of their minds on something or other. Just this one small room, with about 300 people packed in there, and a smoke machine and strobe continuously on, so you could barely see your own hands – pumping House music and Balearic classics all night. After the Fitness Centre closed at the end of the Summer of ’88, the flat I shared with my sister in Camden became a sort of weekend ‘end-up’ destination – some legendary sessions occurred in that flat. That’s how I got to know Danny and Jenni Rampling, and as I got to play all my records, Danny liked what he heard and asked me to be resident at Shoom when it moved to Busby’s in the West End. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude really.
What did it feel like knowing your brothers and sisters were dancing to some of your records when they had been out on a large Saturday night out?
Well I would have to say that aside from my sister, Vicky who was really part of the same club ‘gang’ as me, all the others never set foot in a club as they were older and the whole club culture thing past them by, so that wasn’t much of an issue really. You have to remember that in those days, outside of a few thousand people in the major cities in the UK, the club scene wasn’t even on the radar of most of the population – there were your high st discos, but a Saturday night for most people meant getting pissed, dancing to chart hits, pulling a bird and have a good punch up, and my family weren’t into that.”
What was the maddest thing that ever happened to you in your London LSD days/nights?
“Oh God, there have been a few mad nights. I can remember one night when a load of us went up to Hampstead Heath and broke into Kenwood House and put on an impromptu air guitar concert on the stage there. I can also remember a few mad trips to Amsterdam and the Hacienda in Manchester with the Shoom posse. I did take a lot of acid, so not all of it’s that memorable!”
You were one of the people responsible for the early days of the Boys Own label which spawned Junior Boys and all of the Underworld and Chemical Brothers madness, did you all realise back then what you were all helping to create – did you recognise the fact that here were a group of guys, enthusiastic, business wise, musically bang on and certain to be part of the industry for a very long time to come. Or was it a case of just enjoying the party whilst it lasted?
“Well I’m not sure just how business wise we were, but I think it really was just a case of a group of like-minded people who wanted to get involved creatively, and with Boys Own, there was a platform for that so it did attract other talented people. The fact that some of them went on to have these stellar careers, I don’t think that that was predictable – it just came together, and because there was a certain commitment to quality and doing things without compromise, I think that’s why it proved to be successful. I mean, there was an awful lot of band wagon jumping going on at that time, with the whole rave scene and so on, but Boys Own wasn’t really about that; it was slightly elitist, but I think that it was quite good that it was in a way, in that it meant that things were being done for the right reasons, not just to make a fast buck.”
One of your first breaks in the studio, was producing The Farm alongside Terry Farley and Suggs from Madness. Was it all work and no play?
“Not really, in fact it didn’t really get much further that the co-production on ‘Altogether Now’, after which Suggs sort of put his foot down and ended up producing the album on his own and we got sent off to do a remix package of the other tracks. I think that Terry had originally been brought in to give things a bit of a dance vibe and because he knew Peter Houghton (the singer) through football. He asked me to help out as he had no technical musical ability and I did have a bit, but neither of us had much in the way of studio experience, so I can understand why Suggs wanted to go it alone. Still, I can hear my rather average drum machine programming on Altogether Now when it’s on, and the royalties helped us to buy all the studio gear we needed to get going on our own. As for the sessions, I just remember a lot of pool and Subbuteo being played but not much music making.”
What is the worst thing anyone has ever said about your work?
“Plenty of bad things have been said I’m sure. But that’s music – it’s subjective, so I don’t expect everyone to like everything I do. It would be quite weird if they did.”
You have traveled the world fifty times over. What (and why) has been the best club night you’ve rocked in…
“Europe – Probably Pacha, Ibiza. just a great club and I always feel at home playing there.
North America – Ha. I played the Playboy Mansion in LA, though it actually sounds a lot better than it was. I did play Twilo a couple of times, but it always felt like a pale imitation of The Sound Factory to me, so I didn’t really have a great time in there. Stereo in Montreal is a proper gay after hours space with an absolutely amazing system, so that wins hands down really.
South America – A few years ago, in about 1993 I think, I played in Buenos Aries at a club call El Cielo with Terry Farley, Phil Perry and Craig Walsh. We were among the first foreign DJs to play over there and the club was spectacular – it was a Guess Models party and I just remember being surrounded by stunningly beautiful woman all night. Of course the English contingent ended up getting hideously smashed and disgracing themselves. Probably my favourite club now is D-Edge in Sao Paulo. A great, enthusiastic crowd and you can play anything in there.
Asia – Without a doubt, Tokyo is the best place to play in Asia. I love the clubs there – Air, Yellow (now closed), Womb. All great spaces with state of the art sound systems and a brilliantly knowledgeable crowd. Plus I love the food. Can’t wait to go back.
Australasia – I haven’t played in Australia or New Zealand for years for some reason, so I can’t really say which is the best place out there right now.”
Your biggest national chart success came with ‘Big Love’ in 1998, a tune you knocked up in twelve hours whilst your recording partner went to see his beloved Chelsea pip Stuttgart to win the Cup Winners Cup Final in Stockholm with Zola netting the winner. What was Terry reaction to the tune when he heard it on his return, he must have known you were sitting on a bomb.
To be honest, I can’t really remember his reaction, but I think we both knew it was a decent track, but I’m pretty sure that neither of us had any idea that it was going to blow up in the way it did. I don’t think he minded though, as being the label, he did quite nicely out of it anyway…”
What are the big 10 tunes you are playing at the moment?
1. ‘E79’ Kink Ovum Recordings
2 ‘Overtime’ Pete Heller Buzzin Fly
3 ‘2 Be’ Pol On Freerange Records
4 ‘WAX’ 30003B WAX
5 ‘The Rumours Of My Demise’ Chymera Komplex De Deep
6 ‘The Expert (Booka Shade Mix)’ Yello Universal
7 ‘Back To The Bush’ Ramon Tapia Monique Musique
8 ‘Tune In Drop Out’ Pete Heller Phela Recordings
9 ‘Seesaw’ Cari Lekebusch Harthouse
10 ‘That’s The Thing’ Lewie Day Murmur
Who would you least want to get stuck in a life with?
What do you think has been your greatest ever remix and is there one record that if asked, you would turn down because there is no way you could better it?
“There’s been a few mixes I’ve been proud of. ‘Perfect Motion’ by Sunscream,’Stinking Thinking’ by Happy Mondays, ‘Music Matters’ by Faithless are a few.
There’s plenty of records that are untouchable as far as I’m concerned. Michael Jackson – ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’, or ‘Billy Jean’. How could you begin to touch them? Or Donna Summer, ‘I Feel Love’. Just not worth it. I would however, love to listen to the master tapes through a mixing console, just to listen to the tracks would be incredible, but that would be enough for me really – actually remixing them, I see no point really.”
Do you think the current state of dance music is healthy?
I think the picture is mixed really. There is great music being made, and a whole range of new digital technologies helping more people gain access to production and distribution for their music. The downside of course, is the overwhelming volume of new tracks and the atomisation of dance music into a thousand genres and sub-genres. We haven’t really got to a place where people can easily navigate through this tide of music, so it can be a completely overwhelming experience just sorting through everything to find what you want. If you have an old-school DJ mentality about these things, and you want to have everything in your box that’s upfront and good, well, it’s just not possible any more and maybe that’s not a bad thing. And DJing itself is definitely evolving whereby the most technically forward thinking DJs are using technology to find more interesting and creative approaches to doing things. For me, the fact I can carry around, pretty well my entire music collection in a laptop is fundamentally a big shift and it’s amazing.
Another big downside is the end of music production as a viable means to earn a living – at least for now. I guess I was lucky to live through a period where it was relatively easy to make money by selling music, but that’s gone now, so the DJ world is becoming ever more competitive and really, there is a lot of bullshit and arm waving and people endlessly self promoting, just to get gigs. I understand the reasons, but it’s not that pretty.”
What one album still sends shivers down your spine when you hear it?
There are so many, but if you push me to name one, I’ll go for ‘Headhunters’ by Herbie Hancock.
Ever come close to death?
“Not that I know of.”
What are your views on shamed ex-FA Chairman Lord Trieman?
To be honest, I have no views on this one. FA, man-in-suit, whatever.
What is your favourite Terry Farley story?
“Ha ha. Probably the second half to my Buenos Aries club story above, whereby Terry, having vanished mid-way through the evening, and assumed by all to be back at the hotel, was actually discovered in a bush next to the car park as we left the club in the early hours of the following morning.”
Which DJs have really blown you away during your career?
“Many. Here’s a few: Red Alert, Alfredo, Tony Humphries, Frankie Knuckles, Junior Vasquez, Derrick Carter, Danny Tenaglia.”
What keeps you awake at night?
“Too much coffee.”
What have you enjoyed the most to date, producing/remixing or DJing?
I like both – they’re quite distinct. I find the studio production process is more drawn out and technically more of a challenge. As a DJ you’re much more subject to uncontrollable circumstances – crowd, promotion, system etc, but when it’s good, it’s amazing.”
What are your ‘guilty pleasures’ top 3 tunes?
‘Another One Bites The Dust’ – Queen
‘Whole Lot Of Rosie’ -AC/DC
‘Night Fever’- The Bee Gees
What is coming next on the Pete Heller studio conveyor belt?
“New tracks on Phela, and a new acid house track on Bedrock.”
What is your greatest fear?
And finally Pete, when checking into hotels or restaurants, do people ever get you confused with boxer Mike Tyson’s best mate Peter Heller?
Not that I’m aware. At the moment I have more hits on Google than him.
Pete Heller’s latest track ‘Overtime’ is out now on Buzzin’ Fly