25 Years…a quarter of a century. That’s some mean feat in any industry let alone Electronic Music. Through the hard times and the best of times, Steve Raine’s ethos has remained steadfast. Uncompromising underground House music. Hard Times is arguably responsible for some of the most defining moments in UK house music over the last few decades and they’ve done this with absolutely zero frills or gimmicks and an uncompromising dedication. From day 1 it has always been about the music. Hard Times endeavoured to bring the USA’s underground House elite over to the UK at a time when they were still honing their skills in their homeland. It was this introduction of what we all now recognise as ‘House Music’s legends’ that lit the Hard Times fire that still burns on today. This weekend they take over the mighty fabric for what we hope is the first of many joint ventures with the London venue. And who better to check in with than Brooklyn’s finest Tony Humphries…a regular at the Hard Times events down the years and also an important part of fabric’s history after playing their launch party in 1999…
Interview by Dan Prince
Tony, a huge welcome to DMCWORLD! Where on this crazy planet are you today?
Thanks Dan. I am mid-flight up in the air, on my way back from a weekend in Paris for their 30 year anniversary at The Rex Club and Oslo, at Jaeger.
What was the last piece of amazing new music you heard?
I Didn’t Know – DJ Romain Featuring Nedelka. Both the original album mix and DJ Spen Mix are on my playlist…
You have the UK on shock alert once again thanks to the up coming Hard Times take over of the mighty fabric in February. Let’s try and clear those cobwebs for a minute, can you recall your first ever time at Hard Times and what were your thoughts on this passionate music loving club promoter who was also a sheep farmer?!!?
Yeah there are cobwebs, but I can remember it was a pretty crazy night. Not your average crowd, everyone was full on into the music-for sure. Steve is a great guy who really has his heart in everything he does and loves the music…so it’s always a real pleasure working with him. Probably why the crowds they draw are full on into it-the passion is in the parties.
Why do you think Hard Times has stood the test of time and is still one of the strongest house music brands going?
Pretty simple – quality music and production. They keep the bar set high on everything from production to the music. Steve loves the music; which is really key to standing the test of time.
And fabric…a bastion of dance music that we oh so nearly lost to the bumbling authorities last year. DJs love playing this club, right?
Yeah, fabric really put their time into setting up a proper sound system with everything – the system, the floors, the acoustics of the room…it’s really a special venue. They have pretty high standards in the music they have in the club, in part because Keith has such a passion for the music and the club, so when you do play there it’s a solid night. We go way back – I played their opening night, but it has been a good while since I played the club, so it’s really an overdue reunion, of sorts. Looking forward to it.
Most people on a dancefloor think a DJs life is always a glamorous one. They don’t know about the endless traveling, the sleep deprivation and massive pressure to always deliver. I wanted to reach out and give you a big hug on Christmas Day when you posted from your hotel room in Milan awaiting your gig the following night. Man, DJing can be lonely at times eh?
Ah thanks man. It is definitely over hyped as far as glamor goes. We all work hard and don’t often get to just enjoy the countries we see because we are working. I have seen so many countries, traveled over 3 million miles and met many wonderful people everywhere I have gone. Traveling, as a DJ is a different type of isolation for this reason; we are going nonstop and down time in a hotel is important. It helps me prepare for my performance, to have time alone to center with my music. I like to keep this focus, so I can bring my best to the night.
I remember reading about your first ever residency at a supper club called El Morocco. You remarked how you had to quickly learn how to entice people onto the dancefloor after having a great meal, man o man!
Yeah a completely different vibe to clubs how we know it today, but it had a rich history of its own. I learned early on there, the key to getting a dancefloor moving is playing songs that women want to hear first; once you get women on the dancefloor, the party begins.
When you were first shown round your first love Zanzibar by the mighty Shep Pettibone, you thought to yourself ‘man I hope nobody else discovers this place’ – it was that good. What made it so special, a question you have answered a million times before…but your words will be so special to the new kids on the block reading this who never stepped foot on the hallowed dancefloor….
In two words – Richard Long (RLA Sound Systems). Zanzibar was a smaller version of Paradise Garage; the Garage sound system was duplicated at Zanzibar by Richard Long. Having that much power in the in a smaller club was intense, and you felt the music all through your body – it shook the entire building.
One record that always reminds you of Zanzibar…
That’s a hard one, so many memories, so much music. How about two –one instrumental and one vocal?
Emotional Disguise – Peter Godwin (instrumental)
Are You For Real – Deodato Featuring Camille
The first time I interviewed you was way back in the 90s when you played at Nicky Holloway’s Disney Paris event. Man it rained that night! You were explaining that it was very important that before each gig you would do your homework before a new club, check out the resident DJs and their musical style, see what guests have been in recently to understand the vibe. You still doing your research all these years later?
Yes absolutely. It’s a good idea to go in knowing what music people know and love there, so you can draw them in, turn them on and keep them dancing to other music out of their comfort zone.
What are the 3 big tunes in your box this weekend…
Come On Praise – Terrence Parker Featuring. Vonita White
It’s a peak record, Terrence Parker’s piano is always hype and it is Gospel – which are the roots and my default.
Love For Days – Purple Disco Machine – Kenny Dope Mix –
A pretty song, excellent mix by Kenny, shows his musical range.
You R – Mike Dunn (extended mix)
Techy and raw Mike Dunn, but it also has soul. People love it on the dance floor.
You are always a firm believer that dance music will always be around as long as there’s good R&B around. How do you keep the passion burning ever day, every weekend as you travel the world on your non stop circuit of playing the beats…
Music is my life. It’s my passion and purpose, so there really is no issue with it for me. I love what I do and love turning people on to quality music. I do need to recharge my energy regularly, but the passion is always there.
A famous quote from you…“A DJ is defined by his personality, his taste and his background”. How did your background help set you on your life path?
It helped that my family has strong musical roots; my father was musician René ‘El Grandé Combo’ and my uncle was choreographer Eleo Pomare – on the level of Alvin Ailey and had his own studio…
Just with those two alone, dancing and music were a huge part of my heritage and everyday life. I was influenced by the Latin beats and that carried over to a love for R&B. Passion in music always was just a big part of family life. Both my uncle and father emigrated from Colombia, so culturally I was in the midst of creativity and diversity. Even today, that relationship with my family and music continues. I work with my cousin André Lassalle who is an amazing guitarist. Right now he’s working with Vernon Reid from Living Colour on a tribute to Jimi Hendrix – performed at Lincoln Center last weekend. André and I have a few projects in the works now too.
And finally, you have whetted the appetites for many Londoners ahead of the Hard Times gig. For those who have never seen a Tony Humphries set, for those who have never been to Fabric…please give us a sentence on why this is one night just not to be missed…
Special events like this bring out the best in performers – they bring their ‘A Game.’ Fabric and Hard Times are two of the UK powerhouses; these two coming together for a night on an unparalleled sound system will bring out the best in everybody along with a great crowd.