by ALIX SHARKEY
Traditionally, working class lads from south London have two routes to a better life: sport and showbusiness. Danny Rampling found a third. In the summer of 1987, he and his wife Jenny opened the Shoom club in a south London basement gym. ‘About 100 people turned up for the first night, about 150 the second week,’ says Rampling. Such humble beginnings are now the stuff of legend; when the history of British pop culture is written, it will show that the house music phenomenon, and subsequently the rave scene, had its origins here.
With a little help from their friends, the Ramplings transplanted Balearic hedonism into London nightlife. Within months, tens of thousands of young people were wearing baggy jeans, bandanas and smiley T-shirts, talking about love, and ‘gettin’ on one’ at clubs and raves across the country. Six years later, the beat still reverberates, from Frankfurt to Goa, San Francisco to Sydney.
And finally, Danny Rampling has made a dance record. Called ‘I am the Music’, it is released this week under the pseudonym Millionaire Hippies. Guaranteed to make the club charts, it may even cross over and bring Rampling the mass recognition he has so skillfully eluded up till now.
‘Yeah, 1987 was a good year for me. I’d had a serious car accident in America that changed my life,’ says the DJ, seated in his record company’s offices overlooking Putney Bridge. ‘I wasn’t badly hurt, but I felt that I’d cheated death. Anyway, I came home full of positivity, excited about being alive.’ Back in London he met his future wife, then went on holiday to Ibiza, where he discovered all-night outdoor clubbing and Chicago house music. ‘It was a revelation. And I also experienced Ecstasy for the first time there,’ he says with disarming frankness. ‘It was definitely a combination of the two that got the fires burning.’
It is easy to overlook how profoundly the house scene affected nightlife in this country. Clubbing, largely the pastime of an over-dressed trendy elite, was suddenly opened up to the masses; dress codes, snotty door policies and fashion police all went out the window; the soft-drug culture boomed, displacing alcohol as the intoxicant of choice for under-30s; and licensing laws were eventually relaxed, allowing people the previously unthinkable indulgence of dancing all night if they wished.
The current scene is slightly demoralised, says Rampling, but still healthy. He should know: when he isn’t playing clubs all over the UK, he plys his trade in New York, Miami, Sydney or Singapore. ‘I can play a little club in Cornwall or the remotest of northern towns, and there’s still an understanding of house culture.’ His favourite place to play right now? Cream, at Liverpool’s Academy club.
Given his role in house music’s history, Rampling retains a remarkable modesty. While other DJs clamber over each other in shameless self-promotion, the 32-year-old former shop assistant keeps his head down. His stock in trade is his oceanic knowledge of dance music: he spends anything from four to six hours a day listening to new releases, six days a week. A typical Rampling weekend looks like an assault course: all day Friday spent shopping for records, work on Friday night, to bed at 7.00am on Saturday. Up again at midday, he prepares his Saturday evening Kiss 100 radio show, before dinner and his Saturday night gig. After that he will often spend Sunday in all-day clubs like Trade. ‘That’s when I go out and dance. I enjoy doing that, too, you know.’
‘I Am The Music’ epitomises the Rampling sound, with its lush rhythm, pumping bassline and orgasmic female vocals. Others may jump on musical bandwagons, but Rampling’s style is consistent: urgent, sexy, melodic tunes, with the occassional freaky surprise thrown in. He understands his crowd, knows just how far to push them and when. He once climaxed a storming house set with the Lenny Kravitz ballad ‘It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over’. It was a huge risk, but 500 delirious dancers gave him a standing ovation. ‘I like songs,’ says Rampling, who abbors the semiotic bleeps and squelches of hard techno. ‘I’ve never been afraid of playing them, even when others have. I like words. I’m not embarrassed by them.’
This sensibility, plus his appetite for work, has made Rampling one of the most successful club DJs, someone whose name on a flyer can guarantee advance ticket sales. ‘When I mix two records an energy from within me comes through the mix. It’s just like playing an instrument; if you do it mechanically it sounds flat. You’ve got to put that energy into it for it to come across on the dancefloor. Of course, when I play a good set it’s a real high, it makes me very happy and refreshes my spirit. And that’s why I do this, basically.’
‘I Am The Music’ by Millionaire Hippies is released by Deconstruction.