From south London’s 1980s illegal rave scene to body popping in Covent Garden and the art of DJing.
Most notable for his UK garage production work under the pseudonym Groove Chronicles, Noodles is a DJ with a breadth of experience in the British underground music scene. The 70s-born, ‘Rare Groove’ 80s boy has transcended the many shifts in the youth-driven underground music trends since his entry into the early house scene, maintaining a remarkable relevance over the decades.
As a DJ, producer and aficionado of all things UK garage and jungle, Noodles has seen a lot, met a lot of people and had a hell of a lot of experiences that we discussed in our in-depth conversation that touches on the days of being dragged down to Brixton by his Mum to go record shopping, to south London’s illegal rave scene in the 80s, and tips on moving up in the industry today.
You’re originally from Camberwell. Do you go back often? And what was it like back when you called it home?
No, we don’t. From what I remember of Camberwell growing up it was it wasn’t as busy as it is now. Camberwell was dead, man! You had the little park by the Peabody block, which was basically for all the drunkards, as I would say. [Laughs] You had the snooker hall which is still there and the Red Star pub, which is closed now. There used to be parties though. There’s a little side road that used to lead down to the back of the Bingo hall – by the Dole office. The dole office wasn’t there back in the day though.
What were some of the most memorable spots in Camberwell from your youth?
Further down towards John Ruskin Street there was a little place there. They used to call it ‘The Fun House’ – it was a warehouse. Also, if you went down Walworth Road, where the Superdrug is, there used to be some carpet place with a basement bit. We used to do parties down there too.
Was this the jungle days?
Nahhh, this was before that. This was early 80s house stuff. So, Walworth Road/Camberwell was kinda like the birthplace of a few parties. Opposite Burgess Park there are these Terrace houses which are still there. One of them was a place where we used to have parties in as well. [Laughs]
So even though Camberwell wasn’t busy like Brixton or Peckham. You still had your parties and a little scene there?
It was clean, it was quiet. But there were a few things going on. My most memorable one was the place opposite Burgess Park. I played a party there aged 17/18. Back then, you used to play your alternative music as well. So you’d drop in ‘The Charlatans’, ‘The Stone Roses’, ‘Phil Collins’ mixed up with house music – it was fuckin’ mad!
That really does reflect the era. I read in a prior interview where you recalled playing in Paris in the early rave days. Could you expand on some of your experiences taking trips to Paris way back when?
I used to go Paris at the beginning of the ravey type “hardcore” thing. I did a lot of parties over there. That was when you could get a passport for two days for about a score [£20] from the Post Office. You’d just take your photo down there, they’d stamp it and you’re leaving the UK on a bit’ah paper. [Laughs] With Paris, I did a thing called ‘Rave Age’ which was Paris’s first illegal party. People like Choke, Choci Tunes that used be a record shop down in the West End, they had a thing called Tonka Hi-Fi which was basically DJ Harvey, Choci and Rev.
Was the illegal rave put on by Londoners?
Nah, it was all French dudes. A guy called Manu Casana – he’s a proper underground dude, man. He’s in his 50s now, but he was one of the first guys who brought rave music to France. There was live graffiti… all this mad shit. [Laughs] So that was my first venture out there. From then I was going there on a regular. I wanna go out there and play that stuff again, because I keep tellin’ people, when we finally pop our clogs, there’s gonna be a whole gap of music that hasn’t been heard or documented on YouTube or anything like that. I know half the tunes I’ve got in my collection are very rare.
Very true. Let’s hope this interview aids in educating the masses. Bringing it back to the UK, in a prior interview you mentioned your mum used to drag you to Brixton to go record shopping – Calypso and Reggae being the flavour. Can you give me two tracks from that formative part of your life?
You used to body-pop back in the day, right? Did you do any clashing in your day? And if so, any particularly memorable ones?
Yeah, man, I used to be a popper. There was a guy called Rodney Ratchet and he used to do parties in south – all rare groove, funk and hip hop. Rodney’s a yout man. [Laughs] He was one of them south London youts man, like, “Yeah, I’m your manager”, to all us little teeny boppers, and we were all like, “cool Rodney”. Rodney’s like, “yeah, man, we’re gonna go Covent Garden and we’re gonna challenge people”. So we had our little bit’ah lino [Laughs], gone down to The Piazza then had it off with some guys called Ozzy’s Crew. Man was all up rockin’ in there. [Laughs] The funny thing was we never knew that people were handing in money – we was just dancing. But obviously, Rodney’s going around with a little hat isn’t he, making a little change. [Laughs]
– Noodles @ Rave Age (Circa 1989)
[Laughs] Big up Rodney. What was the record shop, or record collector scene like in the 80s?
Back then, when you were going out to Reckless Records or Honest Jon’s down Portobello Road, or going to Camden that was an experience! You’re goin’ down there and you’re pickin’ up your little sounds of Harlem, you’re picking up your little James Brown and they were gems, and you went out for the day! That was a lifestyle, man. You met up with people like you – hunting down tunes. Kensington Market back in the days, that’s gone obviously, but you could spend the day in there, buy a couple garms as well, then boom, you was out! Thursday night you were gone! You didn’t reach home till Sunday night! [Laughs]
The good old days, eh? Anyway, let’s talk about your DJing. How do you approach a set?
I walk into a dance half an hour before my set. Knock about, see what’s goin’ on… he’s played them tunes already, alright, I won’t play them again. When I start my set, I start off by feeling the crowd out with tunes. Are they going this way, are they going that way? Are the girls dancing or not? Why aren’t they dancing? Alright let me fling a little girly tune on for them. OK, the girls are dancing now and the boys are moving in… alright, cool, I got ‘em!
This is the psychology behind it.
Yeah, you gotta work the crowd, man. Get ‘em out of their shell. Get ‘em moving. If you gotta play fillers and warm up tunes then pass it on – then cool. You done your job! Rather than 10 o’clock and you’re playing bangers. If you’re on early, you’re cool . Just play some tunes, get the people relaxed and by 11 o’clock they’re nice, they’re warm.
Yeah, don’t wear them out!
Exactly! That’s how I’ve always been. I don’t really care what time I play… No, actually I do care! Not 5 o’clock in the morning. I don’t like doin’ them 5am ones. The latest I’ve done recently is 4:30am and I haven’t done them kinda gigs in a very long time. But I was paid to do it, so I did my thing. I went in there just thinking, “let me just keep ‘em here till the next man turns up” and that was it. I don’t have a set in mind. Obviously first tune is important, but after that I just gauge the crowd.
How do you feel about the DJs of today? From what you’re witnessing at your bookings.
The music is sounding all the same. If you like a record, plain and simple just play it! Don’t wait for next man to play it and show it to ya. Even now, I go Discogs – ‘cos I don’t have everything! So, I sit on Discogs, I listen to tunes and I go, “I like that. I ain’t got it and I like it, I’ll play it”. I bought four records the other day. Never heard ‘em in my life. There are certain records that I play where people don’t know what I’m playin’. They’re like, “what’s that?!” I’m like, “I dunno, it’s a white label. It’s got XTR5 on the side, go and find it” [Laughs] Know what I’m saying?
Yeah, gotta put the graft in basically. While we’re on the topic of DJing, about five years ago – I can’t remember where – but what I do remember is getting gassed up and reloading a tune on your set. You weren’t too happy and told me not to do it again; I made sure I controlled myself after that [Laughs]. What’s your perspective on ravers reloading your tunes?[Laughs] I play according to the crowd and I wheel up my own tunes. I wheel up tunes myself because I wanna hear it again. Obviously you were feeling the set and that’s good, but for me, I take care of my shit, I clean my vinyl, you could have greasy hands. So if there’s gonna be finger marks on it, let ‘em be mine! [Laughs] And also, the majority of the records I got, they ain’t £5 records, they’re scores [£20]. So, I’m like, “the geezer put his hand on my record – which ain’t cool – now there are finger marks on my record which ain’t cool either. And that record could’ve cost £50! [Laughs] But I appreciate people who can appreciate the music.
You have so many years in the game that this interview could go on for hours…
We haven’t even spoken about my jungle days. And my jungle days were even more interesting as well. Thing is, there aren’t many people from back in the days who used to work in the record shops that are active. I went on Ray Keith’s show on Radar Radio, and we were looking at each other like, “There’s not many of us left”. Ray was a shop guy. I sold music to Ray when he first came on the scene, then he went on to work for City Sound Records that was up in Holborn at the time. But from all the people I know from those days who used to work in the record shops, hardly any of us have lasted the test of time.
Yeah, when everything switched to the digital era – unless you adjusted quickly – it was difficult.
Exactly, and some didn’t. We’re all in our late 40s and 50s now and we’re still doing what we’re doing. So really and truly that’s a testament to anyone.
Words: Timi Ben-Edigbe