Compiled and edited by Jim Poe
“Melbourne was magic.” That’s how Hydi John describes the party scene that she and her husband Richard – both expats from England and veterans of the Second Summer of Love – discovered upon their arrival around 1990. The pair would go on to add considerably to that magic as the creators and impresarios of the Biology and Every Picture Tells a Story warehouse parties that loomed large on the Melbourne landscape throughout the ’90s – but they were far from alone in a city rich with culture and determination to rave on by any means necessary.
Far away from the epicentres of the house and techno revolution in the US and the burgeoning rave culture in the UK, and quite removed from Sydney’s sunshine and tourism, the working class of Melbourne built their own gritty and fiercely independent party scene. It may have been isolated and relatively small, but the Melbourne rave community was world renowned for its intensity, passion and forward-thinking creativity – it attracted many of the leading lights from techno capitals like Detroit and Berlin to spend time and vibe with the people. A gigantic legal warehouse venue that featured the Southern Hemisphere’s largest dancefloor; entire parties broadcast on community television; lavish art and design; massive gatherings at the Docklands; 3RRR radio shows like Rhythmatic and Beat On The Street; a decidedly punk and anti–commercial spirit; distinctly local dance moves like the Melbourne Shuffle; Detroit legends like Derrick May, Claude Young and Carl Craig making the city their second home – all of these things combined to make the Melbourne rave scene in the ’90s a unique and memorable force in the world.
This is a story of that time, told by five of the major players who made it happen:
Davide Carbone – One of the most influential DJs on Melbourne’s club and rave circuit in the late ’80s and early ’90s, later an internationally successful producer and remixer who won an ARIA for his work with Future Sound of Melbourne and has collaborated with Carl Cox
David Haberfeld – AKA Honeysmack, one of Melbourne’s most visible and prolific acid-house and techno producers and live performers since the mid-’90s, especially known for his punk attitude and cheeky humour; now a music lecturer at the University of Melbourne
Richard and Hydi John – Immigrants from London and party promoters whose massive, colourful and inclusive Every Picture Tells A Story warehouse parties epitomised the Melbourne rave scene in the ’90s
Richard Maher – One of the Melbourne scene’s most successful promoters and touring agents in the ’90s, and a key figure in connecting the city with international techno artists, especially those from Detroit
Davide Carbone: What is Melbourne rave culture?
We’re talking about a movement which was, like it was in the States, like it was in Europe and like it was in the UK, fuelled by music technology and designer drugs. And we had the same thing here as they had over there, and it evolved and it grew slowly.
But that culture all came from somewhere. And the culture didn’t just appear, it was a movement – just like it was around the world.
The Roots Of Rave
Richard Maher: Around 1984 my dad had a jeans store in the CBD in what’s now known as the City Square. There happened to be a Central Station Records, which was a popular independent record chain – they had a store next door. I got a chance to hang around this record store a lot. And right in that area of the City Square was essentially the heart of the emerging hip hop culture in Melbourne. There was a graffiti board, which now is a water wall; and there was a place around the corner called the Marble, which was this marble area where all the breakers used to meet and battle.
And being a 12-year-old kid, I was really just enthralled by this new culture, and I totally embraced it. I was particularly drawn to the music and very quickly, every single cent of pocket money or anything I could earn went to buying music.
David Haberfeld: I was always into electronic music, into punk music, into metal. Then this thing called – I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it – this thing called hip hop started to take place. [laughs] Especially the early electro hip hop just blew my mind. I thought, aw fuck, I really love this. But you know, being a white Jewish guy from Melbourne. White Jewish guys don’t make hip hop. [laughs]
Davide Carbone: I was just a 15-year-old kid who was into videogames. Commodore 64 had a very analogue-sounding sound chip called the SID Chip, and there was a composer, a very well-known composer now, a guy called Rob Hubbard, and he used to make pre-techno tunes on the Commodore 64. Probably around the same time Juan Atkins was doing Model 500 stuff in early-mid ’80s Detroit. And I just got into that music.
Richard Maher: I just got really heavily involved in the music. And hanging around record stores and trying to find other DJs and stuff like that. I was buying a bit of everything, and started amassing a fairly big record collection.
Richard John: We used to have our own public house, a pub, in England, which we used to run, and so we were into a bit of music at the time, playing music to the customers. Someone came into the pub, this young guy: "Have you heard this music?" He had a big smiley shirt on, and he’s all excited. And he put on a little party down in the East End. As we heard more and more, you could hear this buzz, this underground buzz – 'cause we were out every night. After we used to close the pub we’d be out, drinking and…
Hydi John: Partying. [laughs]
Richard John: …partying. Then once we had just a little sample of it – you’re drawn to it – we heard this incredible beat.
Hydi John: Well it was acid house wasn’t it? What was coming in from Chicago, it was that sound: It was a new sound, it was fresh. We were coming out of punk, we were in changeover. But then all of a sudden this came, and it was "Yes, let’s have some of that! We’re going for it."
Richard John: We were living two lives then. Off we jolly well went then, raving all night.
Davide Carbone: I somehow amassed a pair of turntables and decided I was going to be a DJ. Why, I’ve absolutely no idea. And one way or another, through some friends of mine overseas, I discovered early house music. And just was obsessed by whatever this sound was. And started trying to – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – blag my way into nightclubs in Melbourne to try and get a link, or try and find someone.
Hydi John: We liked it so much, we said "let’s do a party ourselves" And we were really worried. Breaking into the scene in London is pretty hard at times. But it just happened. And then the second night – we’d advertised for two nights and we thought, "Ah no one will come on this second night."
Richard John: And it was packed.
Hydi John: It was absolutely ram-jammed.
David Haberfeld: As a kid, I was into punk and things. We went out of our way to be different, we didn’t want to like things our parents liked. And I love disco as well, but disco and punk didn’t really meet until acid house, and acid house was – oh! You know? The merging of the two tribes. I was a terrible guitarist, but I was interested in hardware, in technology, in synthesisers, because they sounded like something that didn’t exist, so that was my fascination. And I always wanted to make something that didn’t sound like anything we’d heard before.
Richard John: We’d already started our immigration process to come to Australia, before techno even came in or acid house or whatever.
Hydi John: We put on our raving boots, right? We boarded the plane, touched down in Oz, in the middle of pouring-rain Brisbane. And we went down to a nightclub, and everyone was doing the bus stop, and we went oh my god! Where are we? [laughs]
Richard John: It was terrible.
Hydi John: We were on a different planet.
Richard John: We couldn’t believe it, we could not believe it. We sat in Brisbane for two weeks and it just didn’t stop raining, and we said bye bye Brisbane.
Richard Maher: I was at school, going out to these new clubs, investigating these new scenes – but it was really heavily affecting my grades – and having to change high schools like three or four times. I even ended up taking a year off.
Richard John: We moved to Adelaide.
Hydi John: We made nice connections in Adelaide.
Richard John: This English family that’s got two children, and they’re partying. And partying hard. With kids. Now, when we were at that age – I was 34, 35 – all these other kids were 17 and 18. So we were like parents.
Hydi John: And we were going off just as hard as they were – in fact harder. [laughs]
Richard John: We knew a lot of people, and it was good times, but it was too small for us. Everybody knew us. I think if we’d been there another year we’d have had visits.
David Haberfeld: It’s when I was at uni that I made the connection with synthesisers – when I was growing up we couldn’t afford synths or anything like that. I was in art school, and I was studying film and media arts and fine art. And then doing the post-production sound on a film that we made, we had a whole lot of analogue synthesisers and slowly it kind of grew. I think one of the first tracks I did was actually with tape loops, because we were still splicing tape at uni at the same time as discovering digital samples. So I just started playing around with it.
Richard Maher: I was also buying a lot of records. I went to record fairs pretty much every weekend – I had a small portable record player, and I’d go to secondhand stores and garage sales. People would list a record collection for sale, and you’d go and shop at some dude’s house at like six in the morning to go through his records [laughs]. And I’d buy the records and also sell the records, so it was like trading records.
David Haberfeld: The people who built my parents’ house, they had one of the first discos in Melbourne. And when they closed, my father just bought their turntables and a whole lot of their records. And when I was 19, I started to realise these records hadn’t actually even been opened. And so when I started understanding sampling, I was grabbing these records and started sampling, going through them and sampling with them. So it all starts to converge.
Richard Maher: There was this venue in the city called Subterrain. They had one of the very first actual hip hop nights on. That place, interestingly enough, was owned by this dude called Camillo Ippoliti, who now owns Revolver, so he was really kind of an innovative guy.
Davide Carbone: I didn’t really have much luck trying to find this music. I met up with a guy called Steve Robbins. Steve was working at a record store in Melbourne at the time called Central Station, which was a pivotal store. And you know, he was like, "house!" I was like, "Yeah, house!" We just became instant friends. And I think at the time he was playing at Inflation. We’re talking around ’88.
Richard Maher: Around 1990, I became friends with this DJ called Steve Robbins. And Steve was a very influential DJ, he was very prominent and influential in terms of bringing house and acid house and even the early techno sound from the States. He was playing at a place called Checkpoint Charlie in Prahran, at Inflation, at Chasers, and then you had venues like the Chevron, and the Warehouse, where they were a little bit more commercial.
Davide Carbone: The ’88, ’89 period was really Inflation, Chevron, the Commerce Club, Industry, a nightclub called Zuzu’s. I’d managed to blag my way into playing at Industry by amassing a fairly average record collection – and this was extremely early days where Melbourne was dominated either by disco or alternative, or maybe even Balearic style at this stage. And so there was no way you were able to play anything underground-house related. But a few artists paved the way for us to start playing some stuff that was a bit more acceptable – when artists like Todd Terry started releasing stuff around early ’89.
Richard Maher: You could go pretty late because they usually had 7am licenses. Like if you went at 2am, they’d change the music, the commercial crowd would go home and they’d just get into playing the more underground stuff.
Davide Carbone: Melbourne was poor, so there weren’t many options. So if you wanted to go out you either went to disco nights or you found alternatives, and the alternatives popped up.
David Haberfeld: At that moment is when acid house or house music starts to appear, and we’re talking like ’89, ’90, ’91. And then there were some great clubs that kind of mixed up hip hop and house – it was all kind of all mixed together. There was no, "Oh, this is techno, this is acid, or this is house." It was kind of all mixed, and there were some great clubs and nights to go to. That’s where we started discovering.
Davide Carbone: What basically ended up happening is you would get sets but you would just be playing crap, and then you would just start to be able to play more and more authentic house. And I think by ’89 we were playing at most of the established clubs here in Melbourne, Steve and I.
And there were a few things that were happening at the time. There was Sean Kelly and other guys who held some residencies but were brave enough to not just play hip hop but play hip house, or not play disco but play a few house tunes.
And then I think probably not enough credit goes to the gay community and the club that they had called Razor. And that was run by Gavin Campbell and Guy Uppiah, and they’d been doing that for years. And I remember the first time I attended one of those, thinking, wow – this music’s amazing, and they are actually playing a few house tunes.
Richard John: When we arrived, it was a gay scene, like Sydney. And they were rocking. They were really going off. There was a club called Zuzu’s – they had lasers, and they were going for it. It was just like the Hordern Pavilion, only smaller.
Hydi John: And the little clubs were like Razor...
Richard John: And then there was Razor.
Hydi John: They were more underground. They were more on the edge and playing what was on the edge then. Otherwise it was just nightclubs that were playing general…
Richard John: Nightclub stuff.
Hydi John: Nightclub stuff, radio stuff I call it.
Richard John: To get into a nightclub in Melbourne, you had to wear black and white, and no trainers, otherwise you couldn’t get in.
Hydi John: I thought there had been some big funeral [laughs]. And we’d missed out on it.
Davide Carbone: It was a Thursday night at Zuzu’s where Steve and I would be playing. And what we would notice is that there was the typical kind of uni crowd, but there was this small group of people that would expand every week, and they would be dressed differently. And they were, you know, clearly on drugs and not alcohol, and just sitting there on the side of the floor just really getting into it, and just waiting for us to be playing that house music. And that crowd slowly grew. And it just seemed to all happen so quickly – it seemed to go from 10 of them to 30 to 50 to a hundred to a majority of them. I mean, I’d probably guess in the space of six months.
I always think back to just thinking, wow, look at these people, they look different, not only do they dress different, they look different. Looking back now, it was clear they were early ravers. Where the hell they got their inspiration from to dress like that, I don’t know.
Hydi John: Nigel Last called us.
Richard John: And he said come to Melbourne, I’ve met some nice people. And he introduced us to a few people that he knew.
Hydi John: Grant Harrison, Mark James. And then we did Biology, which was our first party. That’s how we got started. Melbourne was magic.
Davide Carbone: Steve and I were playing at the Cadillac Bar, and the program manager of 3RRR came up and said, what’s this you’re playing? I was like, house and techno. He said, well, do you want your own show? And I said I’m not a radio announcer, I wouldn’t know what to do. He said that’s alright, I’ll train you, we’re always looking for different music.
And I started a radio show called Rhythmatic. And for me that was a seminal moment in time. It spawned an era of DJs that lasted in Melbourne for a long time. You probably would have heard the names – Jeff Tyler, Willie Tell, Richie Rich. And they went on to do their own thing and help build the scene.
David Haberfeld: See radio in Australia was – it’s terrible. Till this day it’s fucking terrible, really. There was community radio, and you might have caught like a two-hour show, but that was kind of your only exposure.
Davide Carbone: If there was anything remotely house or techno-related in Melbourne, we’d go out, review it, get it on, talk about it. And it became quite popular. It was controversial because I was a young, arrogant prick – must have been 18, 19 at the time – and I’d get the radio station in trouble. And they’d love it. Because they’d have so many complaints and they would say, "Great, you know – controversy!"
But I think aside from that, what I really noticed is that you would go to a club, and you would have people in their cars, playing the shows that we would do on 3RRR – by this stage Kate Bathgate was doing Beat On The Street as well.
One of the 3RRR weeks that I have on tape is Jason Rudeboy, and I listened through to it, and I was like, wow. I mean it’s quite amazing that it’s ’89 or 1990 and it’s this music in Melbourne. Even now it would probably be considered quite unique.
Davide Carbone: So then you had radio, and you had a central place for people to listen, you had new DJs appearing, you had new clubs fully embracing it. And I think the big moment was a guy called Mark James who came down from Brisbane. He decided to start a club called Pure. And it was just going to be house and techno. And it was a Friday night, and it just took off. And there was me and Steve and Richie and Willie – he just got everyone involved. And that was at the rear of The Palace, and that was a big night. I don’t think anyone would argue that was possibly the most important bringing-together. A place where all of these people would go, these early ravers.
There were some very early versions of raves. There was a rave organised in South Melbourne – the guy never gets enough credit for it, he was someone that had just gone overseas to the UK. You know, had been to a warehouse rave and set one up, and actually had no idea.
Richard John: At the time, same as in Sydney, everything was for sale in Melbourne. In the early ’90s, interest rates skyrocketed, everything was for lease, and you could go in – same as Sydney, you could go in, and to the real estate agent, "Say, look mate, here’s a grand," so it was easy to get venues.
Davide Carbone: By this stage, we were playing everywhere, and we started to realise we were getting unpopular with the club owners because the crowds we were bringing didn’t drink. There was a guy who used to come to our shows – we were 18, he was 40, he was an architect, he had money. He was like, man, I know they’re doing warehouse parties overseas, and what do you need? He wanted to call it Lunatic Fringe – we thought that sounded cool. Those parties were quite popular.
Richard John: I think we were the first English to arrive. Innocents. [laughs] But it wasn’t long after that other English came and did other parties as well in the early ’90s, after we’d done a few. Of course it didn’t take long for other people, Australians, to really get into it.
Hydi John: Melbourne didn’t get backpackers like Sydney did. Very few, so we had to work with Australians who hadn’t experienced the feeling that was going on over there.
Richard John: And everyone was drawn to it. Everyone had that feeling. We’d already had the feeling in England. And now, we were experiencing the Australians getting it. The music was affecting everybody. You know, it started off with only a few hundred people, you knew everyone, you knew if there was a stranger – oh, I haven’t seen him before.
Davide Carbone: They were just very very normal Aussies – probably the same way I discovered it, they just discovered it. A friend said, "Have you heard this music? It’s really cool." Or, "Here’s a tape."
David Haberfeld: Communication, it was quite different. You actually had to have actual friends, genuine friends, that’s how it kind of grew. That’s how those relationships were formed. Today the contemporary promotion is all about money and promotion and shows. Whereas I think back in the earlier days – late ’80s early ’90s – it was more based on actual personal friendships, as opposed to the commercial friendships.
Davide Carbone: The clientele was pretty normal young kids going, "Here’s a playground for us." Older people who were at a disco, and the alcohol and the aggression, are not gonna be here. And that’s what it was. And it became a feeling of exclusivity – it’s a playground, it’s our playground, we all know we can smile at each other, we can all talk to each other.
Richard John: Our motto was, we’re putting a party on for ourselves, right? And if anyone wants to give us some money and come along, they can. And that was the whole thing of it.
Hydi John: We wanted a party.
Richard John: We weren’t doing the party to get the most out of people, we was doing it for us to have a big party, and listen to the music we want to listen to, and if anyone else wants to come they’re welcome. And that was our philosophy.
Davide Carbone: And it was just really lovely. And it wasn’t – you know, people credit the drugs. I mean, drugs are a part of every underground or late-night movement, but it was just the fact that it was something different.
Chris (punter): The crowd was more international than at rave parties in the States. It wasn't uncommon to meet people from all over the world at those parties. I found them less pretentious in many ways. In the States the scene was very cliquish. There was less focus on appearance, and more focus on the music.
David Haberfeld: There was a strong sense of community. We always were in contact – we actually physically saw each other. We were interested to help each other, so it was quite organic and had a sense of genuineness.
Davide Carbone: I always think of a photo that I’ve got:
Look at that photo. That’s how I’d explain it to anybody. That was at Pure, and it was just – I mean the girl on the left is no longer alive, her name was Kirsten. The girl in the middle was called Jody. God knows what happened to the girl on the right – but they were three girls that would have met at this club, and that’s what it was. You would just sit in a pit of whatever, hugging and smiling, and no one would judge you, and you were, for the night, everyone was best of friends – whoever you were. That club was busy on the night, there would have been probably 800 people there. It could have just been a mixture of anybody in that pit, at that time, hugging, smiling. And that’s what it was, it was just – it was family, by virtue of being at the same place.
Richard John: A lot of people got waylaid. A lot of people lost their lives to taking drugs and going to parties. A lot of people – they felt connected, because they wanted to feel connected with people.
Hydi John: They found that there.
Richard Maher: There was the issue of the fact that all these parties were for all ages, and you had kids coming along that were like 13 years old, and their parents would be rocking up and they’d say, "Well look, what’s going on here?"
Richard John: We had the same buzz then as what we did in Adelaide. It was this English family with two kids that were partying. And to them it was amazing. The people with kids. Today you see people with kids everywhere at parties. I mean, our oldest one was 15.
Looking For The Perfect Beat
Davide Carbone: I closely aligned myself to a record store in London called City Sounds, which is synonymous with early house and techno, the biggest in London. And I would just ring them up every week, and I had some money by that stage. I’ll just give you a hundred quid a week to send me out 20 tunes, you know? So we would get white labels of everything.
David Haberfeld: It was hard to buy this music. Central Station had it – but again, it was too expensive if you if you weren’t a DJ. And a lot of this music you couldn’t find on compilations. So I had some records that I bought off a friend, and just kept buying records, because I loved it, because you couldn’t find it on CD or tape. So I just started collecting this music, because I thought, "Wow, this sounds like nothing I’d ever heard of." And again, radio didn’t really support it, besides some small specialty shows.
Davide Carbone: But then what you started to get is your Richie Riches and your Willie Tells and your Jeff Tylers who were listening because they would go, "Right, I don’t have to just go to Central and just grab the crap that they decide I’m going to get, I’ll listen to what Dave’s getting." We started doing a mail-order service called Rhythm Records where we had those 50 DJs and we’d say, "OK, if you like a tune, give us your money and I’ll ring up Gary from City Sounds and just say OK, give us 10 of these."
David Haberfeld: And there was the whole journey – I tell my students today – there was a real journey finding music, you know. We caught the tram or the train into the city, went to a record shop and went through these records.
Davide Carbone: What City Sounds gave us was at least 10 tunes every week that were white labels that, you know, two or three of those would be tunes that you would play for months, and one of them would just be a classic. And seven of them were just crap. But they were different to what Central had.
David Haberfeld: We had such a limited budget; we saved enough money to buy like one record, and sometimes you would just buy it based on the cover art, you know? And we didn’t tend to buy things that our friends had, because we would then take them and share them, you know. So there was a real way of being economic with that as well.
Davide Carbone: I’d have to wait until nighttime, I’d have to pick up the phone, spend $10 on the call, try and get to the record-store manager, who’s in a thriving London underground store with some fucking Australian prick on the other side. What do you want? Oh, can you get me some tunes – he must have hundreds of these calls. So you have to bust through all that, establish a relationship, spend weeks and months with him so he begins to go, "Oh, this guy’s giving me a hundred pounds every week, he cares, I might start sending him some good tunes." And then he’s got to post them and then you’re paying express post paid, double the money to get them here.
David Haberfeld: I never, ever wanted to be a DJ. At all. Right? I didn’t think it was cool, so I always found it weird why people wanted to be DJs. I guess it was kind of the hip thing to do. Well, I was making this music, and I wanted to present it, and I didn’t want to DJ, even though I knew that most people producing this music were DJing their own music. But I thought, well, I’d really like to see if I can perform this live somehow. And it took some trial and error for a few years.
Davide Carbone: You also began to get so desperate that you end up playing whatever, Bros or a Kylie Minogue acid remix because it had acid on the label – I mean it just would get ridiculous.
Every Picture Tells a Story
Richard John: It happened so fast. If I start to look back on it…
Hydi John: It was fast. Fast and furious.
Richard Maher: I was invited to an event called Every Picture Tells A Story. It was run by Richard and Hydi. It was an amazing night full of amazing people. It was a totally brand-new scene, everybody was super friendly, it was all new. I just had a fantastic time, all the music was fresh – I’d never ever heard any of it before. It was saying to me, "Right, yeah, this is where it’s at."
Davide Carbone: Every Picture Tells A Story was about getting a massive shed and taking all of the things that we’d done, but doing them in a considered way. You know, you wouldn’t have said ‘professional’ at the time, but looking back at it, it was. It was professional. It was, "Let’s back ourselves, let’s get a large venue, let’s get a proper soundsystem, let’s get proper artwork, let’s get some proper cultural perspective, let’s get everyone involved." This isn’t about you Davide, on the radio thinking you’re a hero. This isn’t about you, Mark James, running Pure. This isn’t about you, Richie Rich. You know, it was, let’s do a family rave. And then they embraced that well, and we believed it, because you know, they were British and we thought that they were quite exotic and offered something new in it. And it certainly worked.
Richard John: People used to say you won’t get people across the West Gate Bridge. They won’t go west. West is taboo, it’s horrible, it’s, violent. We said people will go wherever they want to go if they want to come to the party. And of course we brought thousands across the West Gate Bridge.
Davide Carbone: Richard and Hydi were able to go, "Hey, let’s do it a bit more rave, and let’s just make it massive." And they did it amazingly well.
David Haberfeld: They were just forward-thinking at the time, and part of their success was that they were also happy to allow artists – and not just the people making or producing music, but the visual artists – set up their own areas and have chillout rooms and things like that as well. So they were happy to give people license to explore their own creative space.
Richard John: People couldn’t always see why we did things, but the difference between our parties and everyone else’s parties was that ours were all decorated. Phil Woodman and lots of other people that came in and contributed their art and did dancing robots onstage, laser shows – our parties would be drenched in colour, absolutely colourful, amazing projections.
Richard Maher: It was a new scene. And so I was just really excited by the possibilities.
Davide Carbone: I think what they did is they managed to bring it all together whilst opening it up to more of the fringe of Melbourne society. Anyone can come along. You can all come along – you can all take whatever you want to take and do whatever you want to do, you can get all messy and dress however you want. But it’s a unique thing and it’s our thing and it’s rave culture and if you want to be a part, you just got to play the part. And you know – people did. You only went there because you you loved the music or you wanted to dress up, or you wanted to dance in a certain way or you wanted to take a certain something, you know.
Bigger, Better Things
Richard Maher: Not long after I went to an event called Hardware, and it had a different kind of feel to it, but the music was right and the crowd was right. Sometime around the same time I went to an event called Amnesia. And that was the first time I actually heard an international DJ, a guy called Claude Young from Detroit. And he just completely blew me away, and I was immediately struck by the freshness and the intensity of his sound. It was pretty hardcore, it was very tough.
I knew at that very moment that was what I’d been looking for.
Ant (punter): Someone I lived with took me along to a Hardware party. I saw Will E Tell play and it was just ferocious. He had this aggressive way of playing techno that was very similar to Jeff Mills, and a commanding presence that made it very hard to look away.
Richard Maher: I started working with the Hardware and Every Picture Tells a Story groups on a volunteer basis for free tickets and things like that, doing promotions and also production, setting up speakers and decor, And because I’d been to like six different high schools, I had a pretty wide network, so it was pretty easy for me to get hundreds of people to come to these events.
Ant (punter): You could already see the different subcultures developing within the scene. There were the kids with the fat pants and reflector strips doing the Melbourne Shuffle and the Chainsaw, but there were also some really cyberpunk-looking people. They wore tight pants and ’70s ski vests and had green mohawks and other punk-type haircuts. They danced in a more natural style and kind of threw themselves into the music more than the kids with their talcum powder and fancy steps.
Mark (punter): What I remember most about one of the first parties I went to was the fashion. Big baggy pants, tight T-shirts and baseball caps clothes worn solely for the purpose of comfort and dancing for 12 hours straight. Not to mention everyone shuffling like crazy. I remember spending months in front of the mirror trying to get my moves down. People really took pride in their dancing. It was by no means competitive, you just wanted to rock the best you could and show off your moves.
Richard Maher: I decided to form a company with a friend, Kyle Young. We wanted to do dance music and we wanted to be part of this new emerging culture. So, myself, Kyle, Richie McNeil and Richard and Hydi John, we all went to Happy Valley 2 [seminal outdoor rave in Sydney in 1992]. Because Sydney had a bigger scene than Melbourne, and at this stage it was, I think, the biggest thing that had happened in Australia.
David Haberfeld: I didn’t even know Sydney had a rave scene.
Richard Maher: So we went on this mission to Sydney, hooked up with Ming D and Abel and all the guys, Sugar Ray and everybody, and had a phenomenal experience. And just were really blown away because the crowd was double the size of what we were getting in Melbourne. Just everything about it – the scale of the production, and the atmosphere. We came back to Melbourne just full of inspiration. And so that was the beginning of my developing relationships with the guys from Sydney.
David Haberfeld: I did a demo with a friend and that somehow found its way to Kickin Records in the UK – it got released. And I thought fuck, I really love this label, and I got signed to the label, got licensed to the label, and I thought, "Far out!"
Richard Maher: I started importing records from the US – seminal Detroit labels like Derrick May’s Transmat and Carl Craig’s Planet E, labels from Windsor including Richie Hawtin’s Plus 8 and Definitive, Relief and Cajual from Chicago, some New York labels like Henry Street.
David Haberfeld: I wanted to keep releasing stuff on other smaller labels in the US, and also the UK. I had a good rapport with guys from the Midwest, like Drop Bass Network and Dan Bell and all that, and Detroit. And also some of the Germans and the Belgians as well. But I realised all the labels that I wanted to sign to were kinda cottage labels, they were small labels – they weren’t large businesses. So I thought, well, I’ll just start back here. Then I started my own record label. That was Smelly Records. And really it was just me and anyone who worked with me. It really wasn’t a business. It was really just an outlet to put music out.
Richard Maher: I developed a DJ pool, an informal DJ pool, so every time a shipment would come in, I’d have a list of DJs, I’d call them up, they’d come to my house, they’d pick up the records from my house. And I had a small distribution network of about a dozen independent stores in Australia and New Zealand.
David Haberfeld: At that time it was just records, and records weren’t really made in Australia – I’m talking about the actual manufacturing of vinyl. So my mastering got done in the US and it got pressed in the UK and there was such a lag. It was fucking ridiculous. From the moment I sent a release to get pressed, it took like six months to come back, it was so ridiculous. I think one even took eight or ten months. Now when you’re talking with a music that is eating itself up, cannibalising itself so quickly – by the time you get it, it’s like, this is kind of old, you know?
Hydi John: Then there was Detroit...
The Detroit Connection
David Haberfeld: Back in the day we thought that Melbourne was closely aligned to Detroit, absolutely. There was almost like a snobbery about what we were doing – which I didn’t agree with – but we felt that we were this kind of Detroit and Berlin mutation.
Richard Maher: Melbourne had become, similar to Berlin, one of the places that really had the [Detroit] connection.
Davide Carbone: Even then, the early days, we had Underground Resistance out, and they only played in Melbourne. I remember Robert Hood, Mike Banks, Jeff Mills came out – might’ve been 1990. And it was a young guy from Melbourne who was a regular listener to Rhythmatic, and he decided to put on a party and bring out Underground Resistance. And we were furious, because there were a couple other big nights on, and we knew that no one would go to this other party.
And I remember rocking up at seven in the morning after we’d finished playing, and Jeff had already gone to the airport and was out. And Mike Banks and Robert Hood were walking out of the venue, and I remember them specifically saying, fuck this, I can’t believe they made us pay for our own drinks! And I was like, "Dude… whoah.” My friends Madeleine, Holli and I convinced Robert Hood to stay at Holli's place that night, and we arranged for him to play alongside Kevin Saunderson the following night at the Fun Factory in Melbourne. We all hang out for a few days and Madeleine, Holli and I drove Robert to the airport. That’s just how haphazard and unprofessional and disjointed it all was.
[Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated it was Frankie Knuckles, not Kevin Saunderson, performing at Fun Factory.]
Richard Maher: In order to actually grow the scene, we needed – and this was the advice that I’d got from the agents that I was dealing with in the US – they said look, you’ve got to grow a network of promoters to make it cost-effective to bring these DJs out here.
Davide Carbone: So that’s when things started to be aligned, where everyone needed to speak to each other, because we wanted to get artists out and we wanted to be able to tour them. So we would get in touch with people from Sydney and Adelaide through whatever methods. It was just, you know, DJ talks to other DJ talks to other DJ who’s got Ray’s phone number.
Richard Maher: In 1994, I started touring artists. The first tour we did was with Derrick May – I think we did three cities. Back then, because the scene was small, you couldn’t do a tour every week or every month like you can now. You could do one every six months maybe, because the demand wasn’t there, and there weren’t a lot of promoters, and in some of the small cities you only had like one promoter. So if you took a UK hardcore act, you might have to wait six months before he would do another show.
David Haberfeld: The Every Picture people used to bring out Claude Young all the time.
Richard John: Claude Young, well what a gent – he came here when he was 20 years old.
Richard Maher: Every Picture Tells A Story, they did a lot of work with Claude Young, they kept bringing Claude out. Hardware toured Richie Hawtin quite a few times, and they later on toured Jeff Mills. It became a big sound, Stacey Pullen had a cultlike following.
There was no Shazam, but DJs would just swarm the DJ booth at the end of the night – everyone would want autographs and interviews. And they’d just be literally leaning over the DJ booth trying to get the names of records. Stores were onto it, everybody got really onto it – like you could go into a chain store like Sanity, and they were selling all the Detroit stuff. The major distributors got onto it. It became really big.
Hydi John: I remember being in a record shop with Claude Young, and all these people – it was almost like they were handing him their knickers to sign autographs.
Richard Maher: I remember the first time Derrick came and I think they just expected he was going to play techno. And when he played his mix of Chicago and a little bit of techno and disco, and whale sounds and all these kind of things – everybody just stood there. It wasn’t really going down that well, people didn’t get it. He was finding it really hard to get the crowd into it. But during the course of the night, the party was actually shut down by the cops. And so there was a period of like about half an hour where we were waiting to see whether or not they were going to let us put the music back on. And then eventually when they did, and Derrick came back on, he somehow won the crowd over, and people now seem to talk about that being a real landmark. Derrick had blown all their expectations out of the water.
Derrick made an effort, probably more than anyone, to spend a lot of time here. He’d come for a month, or a minimum for like two weeks. Every day he’d go out and meet people and hang around and just go to Brunswick Street or wherever the people were, and actually got involved in the community. Stacey Pullen did the same thing.
Derrick gave a lot of people his time. And he opened the door for the others, so he took the risk in the beginning, right? And he then essentially endorsed me, and said, can you bring some of my new people through? And so then we brought Stacey, who was a new artist who had a new album out; and then Carl [Craig], when he started DJing, of course he came with us – I think it was the first time he’d played internationally, other than playing in London – and then Kenny Larkin.
A lot of people tried to jump on the bandwagon by that stage. Like if you brought out a good Detroit artist, you could just about guarantee you were going to get about 2000 people to come to a show.
Richard Maher: In 1995 I toured Derrick May and Stacey Pullen together. We did a fairly instrumental event called Land Of The Giants. That was held at a warehouse complex called Global Village which had been set up by Richard and Hydi and had been fully licensed – the first fully licensed, essentially legal warehouse. Our strategy was to try to merge all the scenes together. So we ran it over three levels and we brought the house scene, the techno scene and also the LGBT scene together for the very very first time. It was one of the biggest events that had happened in Melbourne up to that time. And we had in excess of 3000 people, and it was a very successful event.
Hydi John: We realised that because things were escalating to such a degree and we were having lots of issues, we needed our own venue. We really needed to structure our own venue. So we did. We structured Global Village.
Richard John: We’d always wanted our own venue.
Hydi John: We’d always wanted our own place. And Global Village was that. It lasted for about five years. And it was the biggest dancefloor in the southern hemisphere.
Ant (punter): It was the Every Picture Tells a Story parties at Global Village that really got me into the whole culture. These parties were like another world you could get lost in for hours. Looking back it, it’s amazing that this place existed and was authorised by the local council.
Richard John: Global Village wasn’t illegal. Basically they threatened to fine us every time we did a party there. It took us two years, maybe longer, to actually get it legal. And they didn’t want it you see – because we fit all the criteria, it was zoned for it, so they couldn’t really say no. All they could do was prolong it, keep finding different things. We had to put staircases in and we didn’t pay them money, it was the owner: Henry Tru.
Hydi John: Henry Tru. What an amazing man.
Richard John: Henry owned the whole place, he was the one who kept it going, because he believed in what we were doing – he could see the vision. And so the council’s plan then was to prolong it and to draw all their money out, so they had nothing left, and then in the end eventually he couldn’t pay the rent anymore. They forced him to do so many alterations.
And then right at the end, and they were just about to sign on the dotted line that we had a legal venue, and they said, "Oh, one more thing – we want an engineer’s report." This is a massive building that used to be a wool house, against the river, the Maribyrnong River. The steel girders that held this place up were six foot wide. Massive. And the engineer got there and laughed, and said you’re joking. It’s the Eiffel Tower, you know? They signed on the dotted line. And the council did actually win by prolonging it for so long, and it cost him so much money.
Hydi John: They financially crucified us.
Richard John: They crucified him and us, and I think it was only legal for about a year. And the rest of the time we were fighting.
Hydi John: The only reason we were illegal is because we never ever got a permit. And the reason we never got a permit is because we did apply, and they said no. So we thought it was best to apologise after. [laughs]
Davide Carbone: They were older. Hydi was very much a mother figure. They were sweet. Like they put up with our shit, you know? Look, they had so many different egos to deal with. Looking back at it now – you know, I’ve always had the feeling Richard wanted to thump me. But he never did. He was always really nice and would just say yes or no. No, I’m not going to give you three grand. No, you can’t have that set. It was hard but fair.
Richard John: Jason Midro – it was always him with the times. Once I told him, "Jason, mate, you’re on at six o’ clock in the morning." "Fuck that," he says. "I’m not gonna be there." Anyway six o’clock comes, 2000 people still left on the dancefloor, and he rocked it for three hours until nine o’ clock in the morning. And the crowd picked him up and just passed him across the crowd! And he said, "From now on, I want to play the last set."
Davide Carbone: As someone who DJed at all their early events – I had as much fun as a DJ as I did going out to the dancefloor and getting into it.
David Haberfeld: They were a lot of fun.
Richard John: We were always very true with our numbers, because people would go, how many people are here? I said, I’ve got no idea mate, it’s irrelevant. People were interested – there must be 5000 people here! And there’s only fucking two. We never bullshitted about numbers.
Hydi John: We did have 5000 once.
Richard John: That was the big party, at Westgate Sports & Leisure Complex. I got a bit worried because there were too many people there. And it caused a few bottlenecks and it was almost on the verge of dangerous. It really was, for the amount of people, it got a bit crush–y. We had 5000 people, 5000 payers. Once. And that night, we made a lot of money and all it did was pay back IOUs from...
Hydi John: ...months.
Richard John: Maybe even years. And we had, I think it was about $10,000 left, and we donated that. Because we had started up the Shelter Foundation Ltd. for homeless and underprivileged kids of Australia, and we donated that $10,000 to a group – an Aboriginal centre. We gave them some money for a Christmas do.
Hydi John: We walked in and gave them a grant, and they were so happy.
Richard John: We just walked in and said, "Here, we’d like to give you some money."
Hydi John: We were just – here you go! We didn’t know how to donate – we just thought you walked in and gave it to someone. We had no idea.
The Peak And The Comedown
Richard Maher: 1997 was a really good year. We put on an event called Vibes On A Summer’s Day, which was with a Sydney promoter called Joe 90. And we featured Norman Jay, the Propellerheads, the Wiseguys. I produced a very large warehouse party called Where The Wild Things Are, which featured Jeff Mills in his first performance in Melbourne, on his first Australian tour. I brought in professional skateboarders and skateboarding ramps, we had live graffiti, live street art, breakdancing, and a lot of the kind of stuff that’s pretty commonplace at festivals now that had never been done before – certainly not in this country. So we had about 3500, and at that time it was about the biggest event of its type to date. The interesting thing that happened is that Mark James by this stage had a company called Future Entertainment. They put on an event called Northern Exposure, with Sasha and Digweed, and they had similar numbers. That was a real turning point – the fact that these two really major events had happened on the same day, and both being really successful. It was just good to look back to where we’d come from five years earlier, and what we’d gone through to try to grow the scene.
Ant (punter): By the mid-’90s in Melbourne, rave stuff was really a big part of the fabric of youth culture. I had housemates who never listened to techno or any kind of rave stuff, but they went to all the raves.
Mark (punter): The things I would say were so different to the parties of today would first of all be the length of the parties – dancing till 10am then heading off to an afterparty till 3 or 4pm. And also the diversity of genres you would hear at one party. You would have a techno room, a trance room, a jungle room – all at the one party. It was great.
Richard John: It changed, it changed. Once more people started to get into it, they had to beat you.
Hydi John: They had to do big shows.
Richard John: So instead of having two DJs they had four DJs. Then they started bringing overseas DJs. We had to do the same, because you had to, in a sense, keep up with the Joneses. In the end it got ridiculous, like there was 15 internationals, blah blah blah.
Hydi John: 25 lasers!
Davide Carbone: The ABC here did a documentary on me on Australian Story, and if I look back at the footage now, there’s actually a scene of me – it’s probably ’95, it was actually just before I won the ARIA award [with Future Sound of Melbourne for Best Dance Release in 1996]. I was in a club playing techno, but listening to it now, it wasn’t techno, it was like Euro fucking cheese. What happened to me personally was I just listened to the stuff I was playing, and suddenly went, "This is just shit. I’m not interested."
David Haberfeld: From house music in the late ’80s, and then acid house, and then techno, and then after the early ’90s, everything starts to really splinter up and have a particular genre name.
Davide Carbone: And I just started getting really into drum & bass. I think it was around the time that drum & bass moved on from being, you know, a bit break–y hardcore, to a bit more jungly and intelligent, and I just fell in love. I felt like a 15-year-old all over again, got right into it.
Richard John: And of course, as the time went on, from getting a venue for a $1000 in 1990, to paying $10,000 in 1999, it was harder and harder.
Hydi John: Everything skyrocketed.
Davide Carbone: That was a tough period, because I was still on radio, and I started playing drum & bass. And you had all the people listening to me going, "What the hell is this prick playing?" And then you had the already semi-established drum & bass community going, "No mate, you’re not just going to start playing drum & bass, you can fuck right off." I really was on the outer, and just on my own, I had nowhere to go. I think moving to the UK when I did – which is by 1999 – was a wonderful thing for me.
David Haberfeld: I never wanted to be part of the scene, and I never kind of sided with any particular promoter or venue as such. So I was considered somewhat on the periphery, even though these people did engage me. I guess it goes back to my punk days. I wasn’t doing it to be hip or cool.
Richard John: Unfortunately the proceeds of the parties was very, very lean. Very. In fact, so many times we actually had to bunk the trains, literally bunk the train from Footscray to Williamstown where we were living, because we couldn’t afford it, you know. And people used to come up to you and say, "What a wicked party, it was fantastic!" We’d go, "It sure was great, yeah!" Then we’d go and eat beans on toast. It really was like that. That’s not an exaggeration, that’s not a hard luck story, that’s the truth.
Davide Carbone: It was a different crowd. I think what had happened is rave had kind of exhausted itself, and become a little mainstream. The fun was gone, the exclusivity was gone, which is natural, you know. Nothing untoward, it’s just a natural progression. And so by this stage we were kind of back in the clubs.
David Haberfeld: It came crashing down on me, like, just like everyone else. But I thought, this is what I do. This is my trade and I will keep going.
Richard John: Look, we’d all been doing it, the key little group of us. We’d been doing this so long, with no income – with no income, you know? And I think it got to the stage where everyone was 10 years older. These 19-year-olds were now 29. Me, I was 45. Can you hear what I’m saying? This is their life that they’d been drawn to, and their excitement and the whole buzz that everyone had. But it wasn’t feeding them. How are they going to go get a mortgage? So it was tapering off, and I think we did one and it was a big loss, it cost us a lot of money, put us in big debt. And we just couldn’t go anymore, basically. We just couldn’t go anymore.
Hydi John: It hurt to stop. It crucified us. We’re still in mourning.
Richard John: Ah mate. We’re still in mourning. It hurt us so bad, because we lived it. We lived in Global, we lived in the warehouse, we lived it.
Going In Cycles
Richard John: Everyone’s changing, the whole world’s changing, the whole consciousness of the human being is changing – and it changed, it changed big time in ’88. But it’s lost it, see. People were drawn to parties. They felt – wow. Wow.
Hydi John: It was a buzz, wasn’t it? Now they’re fake.
Richard John: You know what I mean? Record companies backing parties, blah blah blah.
David Haberfeld: Music goes in cycles, it’s been lots of young people saying, "Hey, you know, we remember that you did something and we heard something that you did." And now I teach it.
I enjoy that electronic dance music is part of the pop vernacular. I think that’s fantastic. It was globally around the late ’90s when it starts to really start to appear on popular music charts. I thought it was fantastic, I think it was a great thing, I still think it’s a great thing. There’s still much more – there’s still more music to be made and to be heard, and I’m interested to hear something new that blows my mind.
“Melbourne Brings That Culture”
Davide Carbone: Melbourne’s always had a discerning palette, and I think that’s because we’ve always been quite a poor city, and we’ve always had a bit of a drug culture. Whilst the Beat writers movement was going on in the States, we had our own little movement down here in the ’50s and ’60s.
Melbourne is big enough to be a city that actually has some warrant, while still being able to be leftfield – without just being a bunch of backwater psychos.
But Melbourne is a cultural hotspot, and I don’t think anyone could ever deny it. I mean, even if you look at the licensing laws, and you look at the venue laws, and the shutout times that have happened in Sydney – people talk about it like it’s a new thing. No, it’s not; it’s been a culture there for 50 years. And I think that’s what’s just always enabled Melbourne.
David Haberfeld: I think Melbourne is somewhat of a mutated European city. I’m only a first-generation Australian. We’re not a warm city, we don’t have a bay, so instead of looking externally, we have to embellish, we have to make things pretty internally. And I think the arts, whether they’re visual art, performance, music, whatever art it is – Melbourne brings that culture, marginally better than Sydney.
Davide Carbone: In Melbourne, you always felt that the police commissioner would be like, "If you parents aren’t going to hassle me, I’ll allow people to take drugs, as long as they go and do it at some fucking warehouse in Footscray and general society doesn’t have to know about it." They only really started hassling us when parents started hassling them, going, "What the hell are my kids doing? Can you please do something about it?"
Richard Maher: I think the fact that we were so far away from the rest of the world, we had to work a hell of a lot harder, in order to create what we thought people wanted.
And in doing so, we created something which went far beyond our wildest expectations. Like we didn’t kind of even know what we had here. Everyone worked really, really hard and just wanted it to happen and just was not willing to give up until we got there.
Hydi John: We were just holding the space so everyone else could come play.
Richard John: That was the difference
Hydi John: How good is that? That’s easy.
Richard John: And I’d like to say thank you very much –
Hydi John: To everyone.
Richard John: To everyone who participated, helped us, assisted us...
Hydi John: And enjoyed the party with us. [laughs] From the young kids that used to come with me till four in the morning putting posters up round Melbourne. Just for the love and fun of it, right? To the people that stayed behind, and the party finished at nine o’clock in the morning, and we would be walking the streets of Maribyrnong picking up cigarette butts until four in the afternoon, I’d like to say thank you.
Across six days and nine venues, Red Bull Music Festival lands in Melbourne in 2019 to uncover Australia’s thriving new guard, so you won’t sleep on your next musical hero. Head to redbull.com/melbourne to discover the full lineup.