If you're old
enough to remember the dark ages before house music paved the way
for today's multi-national corporate dance music industry, there
were only a handful of decent venues in the entire country. One of
my favourites was the tiny underground cellar, McMillans in
Liverpool and it was there that I had one of the best nights of my
life' dancing to everything from Hendrix to Led Zep, Curtis Mayfield
to early house releases. This was about 1986 and the likes of the
Hacienda (which I'd gone to since it opened and had always found
both physically and emotionally cold) and Liverpool's The State were
finally embracing MODERN black American dance music. As a somewhat
narrow minded soulie myself I'd dismissed anything that contained
guitars since Hip Hop and electro got a hold of me in 1981. To
paraphrase Morrissey,'that night in McMillans has opened my
eyes..and my ears.'
The term 'balearic'
hadn't yet been coined but in the next few years the combination of
Ibizan attitudes towards diverse musical selection, the dawning of
acid house and the flurry of dance inspired rock groups from
the north west, created one of, if the not the biggest youth
movements of the century. The effects of this cultural earthquake
are still around us today and one label that has consistently
managed to breach the chasm between the underground and mainstream,
the purist house scene and the balearic 'anything goes' ethos is
honcho, Dave Piccioni used to DJ at McMillans before leavign for New
York to bring house grooves to New York alongside legends such as
Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, , David Morales and Maurice watson with
residencies at The World and The Red Zone. In doing so, he was one
of the first British DJs to take coal to Newcastle, so to speak. The
knowledge and contacts that Dave picked up Stateside resulted in
him moving back to Blighty in the late 80s where he took over the
infamous Black Market records and set up his own house imprint,
During the next
fifteen years, Azuli gave just about every big name in the game the
opportunity to spread their vibe with compilations by Joey Negro, tony
Humphries, Jeff Mills, Danny Howells,Louie Vega, Kenny Dope, Derrick
Carter, Francois K, Xpress 2, Faith, John Digweed, Danny Tenaglia
and Frankie Knuckles. That's one hell of a guest list in anyone's
book. Added to this they've also fiercly supported both the Miami
and Ibizan bedrock scenes with numerous Space, Formentera and Miami compliations.
Like Defected and
Subliminal, their name has now become a benchmark for quality house
music and whether you like this approach or not, the fact is that in
today's brand conscious economy, most people don't want to take
risks with their wedge, they want a seal of approval, an established
logo and a product they can trust to deliver. Azuli has secured its
place in this world and is opening a new Club Azuli night at The
Cross In London to co-incide with its Club Azuli - The Sound Of The
Underground LP, with further Miami 2006 and Space Ibiza compliations
also due out this month (April).
Yet, unlike other
labels in their position, Azuli haven't forgotten about their roots
and have put their faith into compilation series that take risks
with musical programming and defy easy marketing pigeonholes; The
short lived Another Fine Mess series began with FC Kahuna and ended
with Fila Brazilia compilations - they were both great and the Fila
one is still one of my 'holiday' must-haves. However, it's with the
'Another Late Night' strand, that Azuli have really hit a critical
if not always commercial peak. Admittedly there are now far too many
of these' Back To Mine' type afterhours compilations where various
DJs, musicians and other luminaries get to show off just how clever
and eclectic they are. For fuck's sake, Jarvis Cocker even 'curates'
his latest tracklisting for 'The Trip'. Get over it, Jarv, it's only
a few tunes not a fucking museum exhibition. Maybe he's being
But back to Late
Night. Take Belle & Sebastian's recent Late Night for example, which
is far and away one of the most diverse and interesting compilations
of the year. Infact, other than Peel's brilliant Fabric compilation,
this is perhaps one of the best selection of records you'll ever
hear, covering blues, northern soul, reggae, hip hop, jazz, latin,
rock and most points inbetween. Late Night Tales has been a
consistently great series counter-balancing established 'leftfield'
acts such as Four Tet, Flaming Lips and Turin Brakes with relative
obscuros such as Casaco Marron, Castles Made Of Sand and Seven
Nation Army as well as pop acts like Jamiroquai, Sly & Robbie,
Groove Armada and Zero 7 and clubland heroes like Rae & Christian,
Nightmares On Wax, Kid Loco and Tommy Guerrero.
With so much going
on, we thought it was about time Swine caught up with exiled
Yorkie-honourary scouser and Azuli main man, Dave Piccioni.
- Dave, you were DJing in Liverpool in the mid-80s which wasn't a great time
for dance music in the city, what are your memories of this time and what got
you into into DJing in the first place?
DP – It was all a bit a of an accident really. Me and a friend Sven
Harding were keen music lovers, but were a bit bored by the post new wave
scene in Liverpool at the time. We had done the whole moody self centred
thing for so long, but we were gradually getting introduced to dance stuff
through indie bands like A Certain Ratio and 23 Skidoo. We went over to New
York for a while and really got into the pre hip hop and electro scene, and
once we got back we wanted to tell everyone about it. We rented McMillans on a
Wednesday - the shittest night of the week - and invited all our friends down
for free. For those without invites they paid a pound at the door, and 400
people showed up. The payers covered the club rental, but we had no money for
djs or flyers or anything, so we just played our own records, and used word of
mouth to get people in. We actually played some cassettes too as imports were
really expensive at the time! Liverpool was in a mess at the time, money was
tight and few of our friends had jobs, but the benefit was that people did
things they though were interesting or cool, and money wasn’t the prime
objective in doing stuff.
Swine - You soon left Liverpool for NYC and quickly established
yourself within the notoriously difficult club scene there - how did you
manage to do this?
DP - Again an accident through enthusiasm. I met a guy called Rene
Gelston through playing football in NYC for an Engligh/Irish team. He was
running a club in London and wanted to start a night in New York. I was a
regular at the Paradise Garage at the time and told him all about it. There
was only two house clubs at the time and it was a completely gay scene, so we
started a night in an old theatre which was thre first place in Manhattan to
play house all night to a mixed straight gay black/latino crowd. It went from
Swine - What was New York like at this time? Were the
clubs predominantly based around hip hop or was the MAW approach to hip
hop/house fusion beginning to open the floors to underground dance music?
- The main clubs didn’t play hip hop much, it was just emerging from the
neighbourhoods but was very much a ‘black’thing. It sounds odd in UK to use
these expressons and divisions, but NY at the time was quite segregated in the
clubs – black/white/latino/straight/gay didn’t really mix uop much. The
biggest clubs were Limelight/Palladium/Area/Roxy/Danceteria/1018, and the ones
not playing commercial dance were playing Latin Freestyle (Roxy) – in fact
Louie Vega was THE big latin freestyle dj at the time, and only started
playing house at about 91/92. Latin freestyle was a kind of Miami bass/electro
sound that was massive at the time. Some djs were mixing up house with
commercial dance – Mark Kamins at Danceteria who went on to produce Madonnas
first single ‘Holiday’ and Justin Strauss at Area. The main underground Djs
(Larry Levan/David Mancuso/David Depino) were playing strictly at Better
Days/Paradise Garage/Loft but they were 95% black gay and that was a very
different scene, but for me completely inspiring.
Swine - Whilst in New York you worked alongside some of the most
notorious DJs in clubland history, Levan, Knuckles etc - how did you find them
as people and have you got any juicy stories you can tell us about them?
DP – Being a fairly well known dj then was not the same as being a dj
is now. Being a ‘superstar’ and a dj just didn’t exist, there was no star
treatment, fisrt class flights and fancy hotels. You got a lot of respect from
your peers but that was it, so Larry and Frankie were just guys doing making a
living doing what they loved and that was it. I have to say that those guys
and most people from the Garage were incredible in their nature towards me. I
was a straight white guy from England involved in a scene which I had no
cultural roots to, but they were very accepting and that shows great
Swine - When you returned to the UK did you always have the intention
of launching your own label or was it just a matter of being in the right
place at the right time during the dawning of the superclub/superstar DJ era?
- For once this was not an accident. I had spent a lot of time going out and,
well, having a good time, but I figured at 28 I needed to get my shit together
and wanted to do something in the business of music, apart from DJing. The
scene was still small in New York, but London was happening with all the raves
and acid house thing, so I came back to England with the intention of doing
something in the dance business. I was lucky that the timing was right, it was
much easier to start a label then as there were few individuals doing it.
Swine - Azuli established itself as one of the top homegrown house
labels during the 90s and became synonimous with the glitzy, high-flying
decadent world of intercontinental clubbing (not that I was envious) an image
that other labels - Hed Kandi et al - have copied and marketed to a mainstream
audience. How did you manage to retain your 'indie' edge duirng this time?
DP - Probably by not being very good at it. Seriously, though, ive
never been one for mass market consumerism and I hate corporate culture, so it
comes naturally to me to skirt round the edges of popular culture. Running an
indie label is what im about.
Swine - You're new Club Azuli LP is called Future Sound Of The
Underground - do you still regard Azuli as an underground label as opposed to
the likes of Defected, Subliminal and other 'deep/soulful house' labels? If so
how do you differ from them?
Dave – I thing there are many more underground than us, but then I
think we differ from those more ‘deep soulful’ labels in that we have a
cutting edge that maybe they once had but have lost.
Swine - You've been associated with Miami and Ibiza for years now. How
do you feel both Miami and Ibiza have shaped dance music over the past decade
and has this been a good or bad thing?
DP - I think Ibiza still shapes dance music in that it dance music
people come from all over the world and take a bit of whats happening back to
their own countries. I don’t think Ibiza is a particularly creative place
musically, but it serves almost like an information exchange, You can see that
now with the rise of the minimal electronic scene – people over the last 2/3
years have been going to cocoon in Ibiza and hearing this stuff and now its
everywhere, although its been happening in Germany for years with little
attention. Miami is just a knees up for the music biz!
Swine - There seems to be a return to smallscale underground clubs and
an underground ethos of being a bit more adventurous in your programming - is
this a reaction against the corporate takeover of clubland. Was it a
deliberate decision to branch out into more leftfield territory with the Late
Night Tales series and how do you decide who to ask?
- I gor into this whole thing because I love music, and found dealing with
only dance stuff a bit limited. So we started the Late night Tales series
really for people like us at Azuli, who love dance but don’t exclude ourselves
from listening to other stuff. We try to ask people who create their own
interesting music and who clearly have a music knowledge and taste that we can
Swine - The latest Late Night Tales by Belle & Sebastian hasn't been
off my CD since I bought it and the series as a whole manages to showcase the
musical tastes of a diverse cross-section of musicians and DJs without being
up in its arse (so to speak) and pretentious. Is it a difficult to balance
Azuli's house and techno based product from the more leftfield releases?
It is difficult, and normally we keep them separate as people get confused. In
fact this is one of the few interviews where ive actually talked about both
projects! We keep azuli branding to a minimum on the late night tales series
Swine - Have you ever thought of returning to Liverpool as it's on its
arse at the moment.
- Yes I should come up – its pretty shameful that I go back so little.
Swine - Anyway Dave thanks for your time and good luck with Club Azuli
and the rest of your projects.
- You too!