DJ Aztek - Interview from 1994
DJ Aztek was one of the DJs for the now infamous Spiral Tribe, a free party collective that held in many illegal parties throughout the country in the early 90's.
It all started a long time ago for DJ Aztek, right back in 1979/80. His first break was playing for Positivity 1 & 2 and Collid ‘E’ Scope Gathering ‘The Tribes of Acid 2’ in Plymouth, but it was playing for Spiral Tribe that established him as a DJ. It was 17 (now more than 28) years ago that Aztek decided to become a DJ, that was around the start of the Soul and Jazz Funk movement which became massive in the 80’s, with big cultural dance events indoors and out all over the country, such as Caster weekenders and the Hastings Jazz Festivals.
“I was living in Essex at the time and that was where I started. I was going out with my own mobile sound system playing Disco, Soul, Jazz Funk, mostly residential work, that was in 1986. Then in October 1986 I secured a residency in a pub which was then called The Dunmow Inn, in Great Dunmow, Essex. This was a top meeting point for dance conscious people who later moved onto the ‘Essex Barn’. Then in 1987/88, still working at the Dunmow Inn, the Acid House sound appeared and ‘Rave’ became the scene name that we all hear now. You could say that I’ve been raving since 1980, although it was different music then… that was the scene!”
Back then it was a new sound, a new scene, creative art, backdrops, sculptures, mobile visuals, graphics, lasers, such as never seen before. There was more love, determination and loyalty on the side of the party goers, they would have to travel hundreds of miles to get to an event. You must remember most of these parties were illegal. So you had no guarantee that it was going to happen, which often was the case as police had got there before the masses and shut it down. But it wasn’t just the music that has interested Aztek, it was also the feeling of doing something for others….
“When you do something that gives someone else enjoyment, it makes you feel good inside, and when that someone becomes hundreds of thousands of people, that are giving enjoyment through music and dance – this feeling to me is elation. It’s a spiritual energy that comes from within, this is the essence of life… Interested?”.
Originally Aztek was freelance and DJ’ing in Plymouth. It was while working and socially attending most of the dance events that happened in Plymouth he heard the name ‘Spiral Tribe’ mentioned on numerous occasions, and every time it was a good report.
“This was where I met Simon and Sean, ‘S.A.S’ for short. One half of the duo I’m sure you’d know better as MC Ribbs. Then early one morning still in the dance spirit, a few friends and myself left the club and took off to our next place of call, a popular meeting point down on Plymouth Hoe, where there was music coming from a high powered car system. Whilst there Spiral Tribe was mentioned again, but this time I heard they were ‘in the area’. Bodmin Moor to be exact (which was 5 miles down the road from where I was living). So that was it, we were off. Spirits were high, we arrived on site at 9am ’ish face to face with a totally different culture and I was lovin’ every minute”.
“I already had my records with me as I had played the night before and hadn’t been home. It took me about 15 minutes to get across to where Spiral Tribe were set up. The music was happy and uplifting, it complimented the time of day, (morning trax is the term). People were still dancing from the night before, some were chillin’ out. As the day progressed, the busier it became and the beats hardened up. The night returned and out came the fire eaters and jugglers. Whistles, horns and shouts from the over-whelming crowd could be heard echoing out over the moors, merging into the musical mayhem of hectic rhythms and wailing synths coming from the Spiral sound system. I had already played for 2 hours around midday and was looking forward to my night time set. From this day forward I was hooked, I stayed and played for 2 more days and then had to go as I was relying on friends for transport, only to return the next weekend”.
The next weekend it was DJ Hush Hush and Aztek doing long sets, while the other Spiral DJ’s got some rest. Others came when night time returned with more revellers, and it was full-on once again. The music never stopped. There were mad statues and backdrops everywhere all glowing under UV lights. This was the ‘Spiral Euphoria’ that many came to expect and was so addictive.
“It was for the creative, the open minded, the free thinking, free spirited people who have the freedom of expression, speech and movement. To be individual, original and different. It was for all races, colour, class and creed, without ego, without attitude. This was the ‘White Goddess Festival’, in Cornwall which went on for 14 days from the 22nd August to September 4th 1991. I went home, got some more clothes and some more records and on the 6th my friend Mark dropped me off at Spiral’s next location. Smeatharpe Air Base, in Devon and the rest is history!”
This was when Aztek first met Robbie D along with a few other names that you possibly know today. The list of parties that Aztek attended is far too long to list, but it was the ’92 Easter party, Acton Lane, London, that had much controversy surrounding it. A leaflet was distributed at the next event that read as follows:
Police Violence – Enough if Enough
Spiral Tribe was established in the summer of 1990 for and by young people, as a creative channel using music as the main creative force. Since the beginning, the show has toured the country non-stop holding large free events within the cities and outdoors, run with local participation and funded by donations. Spiral Tribe is a volunteer group giving numerous opportunities to talented youngsters nationwide. Training on recording and musical equipment is given freely and all creative aspects are encouraged. Many young performers, musicians and DJ’s have started their careers with Spiral Tribe. The formula for creative freedom has been so popular that now Spiral Tribe run an independent record label and shortly plan to open a community based record studio.
On Monday 20th April 1992, 1000 people were dancing at an Easter party run by Spiral Tribe on Action Lane, London. At approximately 2.30am police suddenly sealed off the building. There had been no trouble and no complaints – the party was free and open to all – there was no explanation from the police as to what the intentions were, nor indeed any justification for what happened next.
The police then prevented anyone entering or leaving the premises – anyone who attempted it was maliciously beaten to the ground with truncheons and kicked.
By 3.30am a massive force of riot police wearing padded jackets and helmets and wielding shields and batons stormed the building. No warning was given.
Sledge hammers and a JCB digger were used to collapse the walls in on the people trapped inside. When they finally got into the building they indiscriminately beat up men, women and children.
At this point, there were about 750 people in the building – all trying to escape the vicious onslaught from the police. A panic started as people tried to crush through one small exit. Instead of alleviating the crush, the police pushed up hard behind everyone, hitting out and forcing everyone face down to the ground. Some people were singled out and given further severe beatings. The police then started on the equipment that had been lent or donated destroying it needlessly.
The local hospital reported up to 700 casualties amongst the party goers with one policeman injured. 5 arrests were made – for assaults on police officers and for breach of the peace. No charges were made against Spiral Tribe.
I hope Spiral don’t mind me including this leaflet, it was distributed to party goers at their next event, informing and bringing to light what actually occurred at the Easter party, this shows you the kind of bullshit Injustice that is covered up by this unjust and corrupt government run constabulary and, if my memory serves me correct, the reason why they wanted the event stopped was in the name of Health & Safety. It wasn’t particularly Health & Safety conscious battering 700 party goers.
At the Kerry Festival 1992, Wales, they tried to remove us from the site by continually buzzing us with two Tornado Jets costing twenty five thousand pounds a trip, that must have cost the tax payers a fortune?! I just sat back and watched, I love a good air display a bit over the top though, don’t you think!
I attended the Castle Morton Festival 1992, Gloucestershire, but was on the ‘Bedlam’ sound system most of the time, then my first anniversary with the ‘Tribe’ at Smeatharpe Air Base 1992, Devon which was the alternative Glastonbury free site for the free people, tearing up with Bedlam again for this one…These are just a select few of the parties I attended, there were many, many more parties I attended with Spiral Tribe, just too many to mention! I hope this has enlightened your feeling to what the Spiral Tribe – Euphoria was like. It was the rebirth of the 88/89 Acid House days… but with a difference!!”
Aztek wouldn’t say that he left Spiral Tribe, he drifted apart, he’s very independent and likes doing his own thing. At the time he was getting a lot of work offered to him, some paid, some free. During his time with the ‘Tribe’ he had 175 records stolen, taken from the squat where he lived. Then about 5 months later another 100 records were taken by someone he owed £20 to. With the police presence around illegal parties and the taking of equipment and records, he didn’t want to lose anymore music. Every penny he got went on records, it’s his life. This was also the reason why he stopped doing as many illegal parties. So what about Spiral Tribe today?
“I think Spiral Tribe are still going. The last I heard they were doing things in Scotland, but they’re all over the place. I think some are still in Europe. I didn’t go with them as I was doing things here. I did go over with Spiral Mark and DJ Josh, in, I think, September ’92 to Holland for a squat party which was good. And then again to France in March ’93, but that party never happened, so something else was organised and DJ Josh and myself played there. Spiral Mark didn’t attend this trip. I think the attitudes have changed as regards the original intentions. I would say it’s more politics motivated. The music policy seems to be mainly Gabba, with a little high speed Breakbeat or Jungle thrown in. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Gabba music, but 8, 10, 12 hours or more of this music, in my mind doesn’t seem very full of love ‘n’ unity to me. Whatever happened to creating the mood and the atmosphere through the day ‘n’ night with different styles of music. Now, what I’m about to describe is a set I played on the Bedlam Rigg at Castle Morton Festival. In the morning at sunrise, people were tired and needed a change. So, I started off with House, happy Techno and up lifting Trance, building and bringing up the temp and content of the trax. 6 hours later, I finished playing hard Euro, Detroit Techno Trance and Acid. This is what I mean by creating moods and atmosphere through music. I think too many DJ’s have too much attitude. They come on the decks and try to make some sort of point. Don’t make a point, make a feeling, create a mood. Don’t try and out do the last DJ that was on. Sorry, but this is a point I had to make, I’ve seen this too often….”
Some of the original creators are still part of the ‘Tribe’ although there are many followers that loved the whole buzz of the Spiral free parties so much that they became part of the ‘Tribe’ themselves and part of the European Spiral Free Party Tour. With all the changes in the law and the clamp down on illegal parties today, we now see them few and far between. But what did Aztek really think about the illegal parties?
“They’re the best, especially when it’s outside. No macho dickheads standing around with government run authority written all over them. It’s just free people having a good time, no rules, as long as no-one’s hurting anyone else against their will, so be it. As for health and safety; if I let that bother me, the way this government runs society dictates. I wouldn’t have had half the fun I’ve had all these years, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that! It’s down to the individual decision of the person, simply ‘choice’”.
There are plenty of arguments against the illegal parties, and plenty for them as well, but the arguments against are very often not justified. Complaints about damage caused by old Spiral Tribe parties for example….
“I don’t remember any damage caused by Spiral parties, they are environmentalists and most, if not all Spiral party sites, were tidied up so it was cleaner when they left than it was when they arrived, like Dunstable Downs free party site. Also any damage caused to premises which were used for parties were usually done by riot police breaking in to stop the party. (such as the Easter party mentioned earlier) or by a few scrupulous revellers that attended the parties. This was rare and there was no damage caused by the Tribe personally…”.
Until recently Aztek had only been playing the small intimate illegal parties. Some people think he cashed in and sold out, but when he was originally in Plymouth he was working for promotional companies and earning money, so you could say that he left money to do illegal parties. So things have changed, but how does Aztek think the scene as a whole has changed?
“Apart from the music, which is continually changing, the scene is as strong today as it was 8 years ago. The only difference being party people are attending mass legal events rather than illegal ones. The pressure from the government bills, legalisation and the police, to stamp out dance parties, is a major concern. It and festivals, apart from when it’s making them money, money being the only thing they’re interested in and not for the good of this country or the people in it, as recent publicity has brought to light scrutinising MP’s for this sole reason…”.
With all the changes that the scene has undergone, bearing in mind the commercialisation of Jungle recently, how does Aztek see the future?
“I would hope the scene will go from strength to strength, but this must come down to how strong we as a dance scene are, at holding on to what we all deeply love and not let the government take away our culture. I think the commercialisation of Jungle artists have the chance of getting trax into the charts. But, we will get artists with no understanding of the Jungle culture, making cheap tacky trax for a quick buck! I think the term used is, ‘jumping on the band wagon’…”.
But it is Techno that Aztek plays and loves. A lot of the Techno he played in the early days was ‘Industrial’ Techno, he also played a lot of Acidic trax, mostly coming from Detroit, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
“I seemed to be one of the very few DJ’s who was playing this style of music at the time, most were playing Drum & Bass and Breakbeat. I got into this style of music straight from ‘Acid House’ and I’m still playing it today. Although the styles of Techno have changed, it’s still the music I’m into. I still play House and I’m playing a lot more Trance Techno. I’ve got into this in a big way over the last year and a half and when I'm chilling out I listen to Ambient music. I have played Ambient trax at a few chill out parties…”.
When it comes to actually playing his set, he has never played from a set that he’s been practising at home… it’s a feeling that comes from his heart, call it spiritual if you like, this is why he carries so many trax with him because he never knows what he’s going to play until he ‘energy-connects’ with the crowd. Aztek more in his prime playing 4, 6, 8, 10 hour sets. Like he did at the illegal parties, the longest set he played was at a squat party near Hackney, London, which lasted 19 hours non-stop!
But will Techno receive the commercial exposure that Jungle has? Aztek feels that two more years and we will most probably see a 2 year old Techno track played in the charts. Basically we are laying the path for others to follow. But what about Gabba, because many people have totally different views on this music even though they may love Techno.
“As you know I was one of the first to play ‘Gabba’ in this country in 1992. I liked the nutty, but comical response I got when I played it at the ‘peak’ of my set, coming back down to 150-160 bpm Euro and Detroit Techno. People seemed to forget that I played other styles of Techno and House and it got to the point when I was only being booked to play Gabba ‘n’ Gabba Acid. Which I obviously did as I love to play out and I didn’t basically because it was suppressing many feelings that needed to be expressed through the audio experience and all the other styles of music I played. Plus, a lot of the Gabba trax that started to come out were cold and sadistic, serious and aggressive. It had lost that nutty, comical feeling I liked. There were also rumours going round, and written articles in the underground music to the likes of Neo-Nazis and Combat 18. I think you would agree we don’t want that element within a united, fun lovin’ environment like a dance party, whether it’s a Gabba party or not. As long as you have DJ’s like Mark E.G. keeping the atmosphere on a nutty, comical tip, you can’t go wrong! This is obviously my view, but coming from one of the first jocks to play this type of music in this country. I think a valued point. Just keep it HAPPY!”.
So what makes the music that Aztek plays so special?
“It’s individuality, difference, original ideas, freshness. This is what I look for when buying any of the music styles I play, also the feeling. If a track’s played in a record shop and something stirs inside, whether it’s a happy, uplifting feeling or beautiful, but emotional feeling, this is also how I judge and select my trax. Mood, emotion and feelings play a big part in the choice of many trax I obtain.
I have trax that have no scope and keep using other artists samples. If you’re going to make a track – make it your own”.
So what about making music. Aztek has previously made a couple of tracks, but they got no further than DAT due to financial problems. This is still his main reason for not making tracks today. Something else that will probably surprise most readers is the fact that he has never had the money to invest in his own set of Technic SL 1210’s and mixer, although he has been in the dance scene many years now! However, he would like to say, respect to the ‘Liberators’ for the offer!
After playing at many different events throughout the UK and Europe, from the Spiral days right through to Helter Skelter, Obsession, playing in Paris, in France at the 4 day marathon between 3 DJ’s, Brisbane Australia to name just a few from a very long list, it is interesting to know what he thinks about the way the scene in the UK is segregated…
“It shouldn’t matter and it didn’t when it was an outside free illegal event. I think attitudes are different when it’s in the confines of a building like a warehouse or club, even the atmosphere is different. I think it’s good having a choice, as personally I’m not into Jungle. So, referring to events like Helter Skelter, where they have two rooms, I would be in the Technodrome, as Techno and Trance is my preference. Also, if I went to an event which had 3 rooms, Techno & Trance room, House room and Ambient room, I would use every room to my advantage as I went through different moods during the night”.
Recently Aztek was arrested after an H.M. Customs evasion of a controlled substance. Basically smuggling 2.25kg that’s about 12,500 MDMA (Ecstasy) pills out of the country to Australia. The consequences obviously being very serious, but what does he think about the fact that 12,500 people were going to be buying an illegal substance due to his actions, what are his views on drug taking?
“I personally don’t find it a problem as I know that what I was carrying was genuine ‘Ecstasy’, MDMA, so people would be buying the original product. If the truth’s known, MDMA does not kill. Ignorance kills, stupidity kills, a lack of understanding of what to do while under the influence is the problem. It’s mainly because of the governments, ignorant easy way out attitude, they could have short unbiased safety drug information programmes for people that do take Ecstasy. Their campaign, ‘Just Say No To Drugs’ is fuckin’ useless. What about those of us that do – which is about 4 million people, that’s extreme hypocrisy as this sanctimonious government are making millions out of alcohol and nicotine. They seem to forget that these are also ‘drugs’ although they are called under the cover names, ‘drink’ and ‘cigarettes’ and classed as socially acceptable. What the fuck does that mean!? When it’s killing over 100,000 people each year compared to about 65 deaths related in Ecstasy last year ’94. Whether this was genuine MDMA or some lethal cocktail is another story!”.
“Also the violence that alcohol causes in pubs, clubs and football matches all over the country. I don’t particularly find this socially acceptable do you? Oh, and do you know that over two thirds of the night-time police call-outs in this country are for alcohol related violence? I think this bigoted government should get their priorities right. At the end of the day, if I had a choice, I would rather be with a crowd of ‘Ecstasy-heads’ than a crowd of ‘piss-heads’. Intimidation, aggression and violence are virtually un-heard of within a dance environment. My views on drug taking are simple. It’s not the use, it’s the abuse. I’ve been taking the dance drugs LSD, Speed and Ecstasy since 89/90 on a regular weekend basis and never had any real problems. Taking into consideration that from ’91 to ’94 I was using a lot of the above, ‘excessive’ is the word, because my body became so immune, I was taking more to get the same buzz, like the regular feeling you get from taking one ‘E’. I was taking 8 or 9 to get the same effect, not including the LSD and Speed that I also used. I don’t drink or smoke anything, so when the weekends over, I’m drug free until the next week. Give yourself a break… If you can use without abuse, it’s best, if you don’t trust the supply, don’t buy! Remember, ignorance and stupidity doesn’t just kill you… it’s another knife in the back for the dance scene, as it’s more ammunition for the media to throw at us”.
Moving on to other issues, what do you think about the Criminal Justice Bill and what are your views on society in the UK and the way things have changed over the years?
“The C.J. Bollox is the worst infringement of civil liberties to ever happen. Do these fucking penguins of parliament really think we’re to believe that they are doing this for the good of the country… more like for the good of themselves. This bill is to suppress the creative, individual, free thinking people of this country with the soul intention of conformship into their way. This ludicrous bill should never have been passed in parliament. It should have been opposed and destroyed. The government are having a fucking laugh and the joke is on us. What worries me is the next bill they will introduce within the justice system, I mean they’ve got away with the CJB (now the CJA), what’s stopping them next time? The sad thing is that if we wanted to revoke, in the way of a protest march (against another bill), that will take away more of our civil liberties, we can’t because it’s now illegal thanks to the CJA. Personally that wouldn’t stop me and I hope I speak for many others when I say that? People power is the strongest opinion. If we don’t stand for what we believe, we will loose the fight for freedom. I seriously believe the government are racist in colour, class and creed. The reason I say this is what they are doing everything to stamp out dance parties, which have done more for racial togetherness (whether it’s class, colour or creed) in this country than any government organisation could ever do. They allow BNP parties to happen, where the music incites racial hatred and violence against Indian, Asian and black people. They even have their own newspaper which glorifies and condones with gory pictures, the brutal violence that is used on these ethnic groups I have just mentioned. This justice system is a crock of shit”.
“I would really like to know where this governments principles are, ‘cause to me this is totally immoral, but is allowed to go on! The ruling Tories have ‘fucked’ this country with their power hungry capitalist views, legislation’s and bills and forgotten about the real culture and the real people of this country. They brainwash people into a routine way of life, through ‘TV’ and radio advertisements, leaflets and the media. These are manipulative tactics which make people conform to their ground rules. This also includes the banning of temptations and influences, such as cultural festivals and free dance parties that happened all over the country, ‘cause this was leading many people into a different way of life. There was no routine, it was to take each day as it comes and obviously it’s the total opposite to what the Tories enactment’s were. I hope real people can understand what I’m trying to say as I really think this government endeavours to take away difference, freedom and choice, with the idea that many will conform to their illiberal idealist way of thinking, whether we like it or not!! This is my view to what I feel is going on, I’m sure many of you share the same feelings!”.
So now to the future. At present there are a few proposals and requests going through the prison systems ‘admin’ department, for a transfer to HMP The ‘Mount’ which has a 32 track studio with Q-Bass. If he is successful he will be able to produce tracks from within the prison, anything he makes will go out on DAT to Silverfish Records, London. They will be managing all that he does, the label, the production, promotion etc…. So his plans for the future are to be a dance music producer and of course a DJ – which he categorically states he would never give up. Presently he is trying to get decks and a mixer in his cell so he can mix tapes to go in the record shops. Obviously everything will be limited edition.
So, it’s probably best if we leave the final word to the man himself, thanking him for his time and sending our very best wishes….
“I really need to know if DJ’s, ravers or both, have these feelings I have. When playing out or listening to music I love at home, certain tracks induce that tense ‘drug-free’ rush which lasts for 1 or 2 minutes. It’s like someone’s run their finger up your spine. Depending on the track, it can be emotionally sad, uplifting or dance seductive, but all are bliss. The sensation is like being earthed and receiving some sort of energy signal, this is hard to explain in words and I hope I don’t sound too ‘Hippy-ish man’!! But these feelings are so deep for me, I’ve believed for a long time that it is spiritual. I’ve just looked up ‘spiritual’ in my Collins thesaurus and the first alternative it gives is ‘devotional’, which I definitely am to my musical filled world. I think this has answered theories which were in my head. It would be nice to know if others have these views and experiences”.
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