Few bands from the 90s have the legacy of Sunscreem. Famously labelled as the ‘Best Scottish Dance Act’ 1993, even though they hail from Essex, they immediately made a footprint in the then burgeoning dance music marketplace. Standing shoulder to shoulder with The Prodigy, The Shamen and Underworld, they crossed over into mainstream pop remarkably easily with 12 UK chart singles including 4 dance number ones. Recently, one of their most well known tracks, ‘Perfect Motion’ was remixed by UK artist Paul Sawyer with the full support of the band for re-issue this year. We spent some time with the 90’s dance pioneers and Mr Sawyer to chat about their music, the changes in the scene and what’s next.
Lucia, Paul, Nick, it’s so lovely to meet you in person, big fans here at DMC. How’s your day been so far?
[Lucia] Great thanks.
[Paul] Good to be talking to DMC again, we played at the Amsterdam convention back in 1991 and had a fantastic time.
[Nick] Loving the weather!
Let’s start at the beginning for the benefit of the younger readers. Talk us through life in the early 90s before you signed with Sony. Who was in the band then and were you gigging?
[Lucia] I’d been writing tracks with Paul for a few years and we wanted to play live, so we started with a five-piece band – drummer Duane, guitarist Darren and bass player Rob.
[Nick] I was a latecomer with the percussion!
[Lucia] We were then joined by a DJ Dave Valentine, two dancer friends – Baz and Tony – and three brothers who did lights and projections. We put on gigs that were like small raves, the record companies heard about us and it all happened very quickly.
[Paul] It was a very exciting time and we had a run of good luck – the head of Sony happened to walk in at the back of a particularly extraordinary night and was determined to sign us.
So the deal was struck, money in the bank so to speak. At what point did you then think, “Wow, we’ve got to actually make some music now.”? Was there any pressure from the Major on their ROI?
[Paul] Yes, we felt under immense pressure even though the record company were pretty good about letting us get on with it. We were signed so quickly that the band’s sound hadn’t had time to mature and so we had to work hard.
[Lucia] We already had our own 24 track studio and had released a couple of 12”s in the late 80s. The deal with Sony allowed us to re-equip with a better desk and tape machine and produce everything ourselves.
As pioneers of the indie dance scene, who were your influences?
[Lucia] Detroit techno and Happy Mondays!
[Paul] So many, it’s difficult to say… I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard records like Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, Sylvester’s ‘You make me feel (mighty real)’, Yazoo’s ‘Only You’, Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’. So I guess I was more electro influenced than indie.
[Nick] Funk and house for me!
Making your debut on Top of the Pops (a UK pop music programme) with ‘Love U More’ in 1992 must have been an incredible experience. How did it compare to live gigs?
[Lucia] More terrifying than a gig – the boys mimed while I had to sing live! I was so nervous that I started singing in the wrong place. Fortunately, it was recorded the day before and they let me have another go. The following year we played ‘Love U More’ completely live on Arsenio Hall (a US prime-time Saturday night show) and it was a lot easier.
Those TV slots must have really helped grow your fanbase. Did the exposure to a pop audience that didn’t necessarily ‘get’ dance music drive sales at all?
[Paul] Yes… it provided an “in” to the dance scene for people who weren’t clubbers. We hear this from many fans, particularly in the US where dance music hadn’t yet taken off and we had radio play as well as TV.
Now, you’re all from Essex. Tell us about winning ‘Best Scottish Dance Act’! D’you think the tartan you wore had anything to do with that?
[Lucia] Err.. yes possibly! We gigged a lot in Scotland – sometimes staying there for weeks at a time – and we had all Scottish road crew, so a lot of people assumed we were natives too.
[Paul] We couldn’t attend the awards ceremony because we were on tour, so they sent a crew to Sony’s London offices to film an acceptance speech. When the cameras rolled we thanked everyone and then confessed that we were from Essex. The director’s jaw hit the ground and they hurriedly gave the award to someone else!
Okay, let’s talk about the remix that Paul Sawyer has done. What was the story behind it, how did you come to work together and most importantly, do you like what he’s done?
[Paul] We were introduced through a mutual friend and then we happened to be playing at a music festival in Paul’s home town – it was a strange coincidence, so we figured something was meant to happen. And yes, we like what he’s done a lot (laughs) otherwise it wouldn’t be released!
[Lucia] It’s in keeping with the original feeling, but with a different twist. We originally wrote it as a series of parts to play live and remix rather than as a standalone song. So we’re always excited to hear new interpretations.
Were you ever concerned that ‘Perfect Motion’ wouldn’t translate to the new generation of clubbers?
[Paul] Not really. We’re fortunate that the track’s had great staying power over the years and is still regularly played out.
Mr Sawyer, lets bring you into the chat. Were you daunted by the icon remixes of ‘Perfect Motion’ already out there? What was the inspiration to take it in a new direction?
I completely ignored all the remixes out there, apart from Greg Downey’s remix as that was quite recent, although more on the Trance tip. I just wanted to make something that was in my style at the moment and luckily it just flowed. I suppose the connection I had with the original really helped.
Krafted has managed to secure the license for this track from Sony. Tell us about the processes behind the scenes that had to happen?
Yes, I am so pleased that we managed to license this for our label, just means that we can control the PR and ensure it gets the coverage it deserves after pumping so much time and effort into it. Paul’s brother handles all the business side of Sunscreem and he was really helpful with pushing this forward. He has stacks of experience, so helped us a lot with getting the deal right.
Finally, ‘Perfect Motion’ was premiered on Solarstones radio show. A huge feather in the cap for Krafted and yourself, but this isn’t the first time your paths have crossed. Tell us about the Dolby Atmos experience.
We have been really lucky to get support from Rich [Solarstone], he’s played quite a few of our releases, as well as my own. It all came about last year when I got a direct message on Twitter asking about my track ‘Poseidon’ as he’d received it on promo and wanted to use it in his Dolby Atmos set. To say I was happy about this was an understatement! It also went on to wanting a track for his Pure Progressive Label, which was now a year ago!I’ve had quite a few releases and remixes with Rich since, and I’ve also remixed one his tracks that will be out later this year.
Okay, back to Sunscreem. We see your still very much an active band, playing around the country. It’s no mean feat to keep going for so long, what’s been the secret to your longevity?
[Lucia] (laughs) the right diet and exercise! We also slip in new tracks into the set and constantly change things around so we don’t get stale.
Over the lifetime of the band, you’ve been on the frontline for all the changes the industry has seen. What’s been some of the positives and negatives of that change for you personally?
[Lucia] The rise of the internet is good because a large record company is no longer needed in order to release music.
[Paul] On the negative side, there’s a vast catalogue of tunes out there now and so the good stuff is difficult to find. DJs, record companies and shops used to champion the great music and bring it to a wider audience.
Following on from that, is it a surprise that dance music that charts these days is so removed from the underground sounds in the clubs?
[Paul] Yes, there was a togetherness and an open-mindedness to a wide variety of styles, that vibe’s generally not there now. Although I think the singles charts have always been quite separate from the clubs – very few of the great early 90s dance tracks made it to the commercial charts, and a lot of dance acts that did become famous weren’t really played in the underground clubs.
[Lucia] For example, ‘M People’ were far removed from the dance sound of the time but they made very successful commercial pop records. We didn’t have much luck with the UK charts – ‘Love U More’ was excluded from the Top 30 in the first week of release because it was mostly 12” sales, and we were never play-listed on Radio One.
It’s been wonderful to chat and get an insight into Sunscreem. To finish. having achieved so much, what’s left for you to do? What continues to motivate you to release music and tour?
[Paul] The love of it.
[Lucia] We still have musical ideas that we want to be heard and we love playing to anyone who will listen!
Preorder Link – https://www.beatport.com/release/perfect-motion/2656466
Public Preview on Soundcloud –