Jay Wearden is a DJ that was there at the start of Manchester’s rise to influence in the UK’s dance music scene. He cut his teeth in the infamous ‘Thunderdome’, one of the hardest underground clubs in the UK and lived to tell the tale. In that era 1988 – 1995 Madchester (as it became known) set the trends in sounds, fashion, clubs, and gangs that the dance scene became infamous for. It was a pivotal epoch in electronic music, here’s his story…
Mark Hilton: Cheers Jay for talking to us at iconic underground, tell us about the Manchester you grew up in, back in the day?
Jay Wearden: As a kid, Manchester was completely industrial, working class, we weren’t as cosmopolitan as we are now, it has really changed, it was a completely different feeling growing up, and it didn’t feel like you could really do anything out of the ordinary or doing anything different. It didn’t really feel like you could associate with anything so much other than football or your local pub or the borough that you grew up in. You were stuck and the only thing you could sort of be a bit tribal about in your area that you lived in was your football team.
M: There was always an edge wasn’t there?
J: Well I was thinking about this last night, the scene sorta changed, I was a b-boy, was into Hip Hop and still had that rivalry you had your breakdance crew that you were with and then you had a rival crew from a different area, they could have even been in the same area, you were separate from them.
I think that was the biggest change from the b-boys to the Acid House scene because everybody came together it was a normaliser it was a leveller you were all as one.
M: Tell us a bit about your b-boy days?
J: I was actually called Tech 2 after 2 technics when I first started DJing I was a scratch DJ in a Hip Hop group but I didn’t know what my place was really, so before that I had a little go at the guitar and writing songs when I was young. I was obsessed by music and I found Hip Hop or Hip Hop found me I really sort of fell in love with it and you know I wanted to be a part of it. I couldn’t body pop or couldn’t break dance I couldn’t beat box and I definitely couldn’t rap, so my love of music and my love of the sounds and the noises and the way you build those sort of elements up it sort of fitted me perfectly really and that’s where I started on the b-boy scene.
M: What was your first bit of kit?
J: I was on Cintronic performers, belt driven awful things where it was a real challenge to do any scratching and mixing was just an absolute nightmare.
M: So keeping a record in live on decks back then was hard in the underground?
J: It was hard, you were in a lot of the DJ boxes that were designed in the 70s early 80s tiny little places that had the worst monitors. I remember playing with Sasha in Shaboo with no monitors in front of 1000 people, underground clubs then for big names like Jon DaSilva, Steve Williams all really credible people, didn’t have any monitors! When we played at the Thunderdome you would get your records out and they would just get soaking wet from the sweat dripping from the roof so you would have to dry them and put them on the decks. The equipment just wasn’t up to scratch and you’d get loads of deranged lunatics as well jumping over the top of the DJ box if a mix went dodgy! We played indie stuff as well ya know, all sorts it was a bit more flexible back in those days.
M: Jam Mc’s were like that as well, they would play all sorts wouldn’t they?
J: Yeah they were so flexible, and so was the scene at that time. When it changed it started as a gradual thing, then it just grew, the records that were released you know with this new house beat thing creeping in changed things. Then a lot more Techno started coming out of House so u could play a full night with all these genres and the scene grew and grew from word of mouth there was no advertising!
M: So your big break, at the Thunderdome…
J: Yeah, so I had been a Hip Hop DJ since I was at Sixth Form College at the time, and one of my friends was having his 18th birthday party at an old club called the ‘Venue’ which was near the ‘Hacienda’. I did his party and I thought god I’m really enjoying this club scene I wanna become a club DJ, so me and my friend started running a small night in Manchester called ‘Utopia’ on a Wednesday night we used to get like a couple of old men and a dog that would come in ya know now and again and we would just then fill it full of smoke to fill it up! I sort of learnt the trade a little bit there and then I finished college and decided to go to Ibiza, but I went too late in the season so I could not get any work,
I came back home after living on the streets for a bit eh as you do.
The Thunderdome was the big underground club in Manchester at the time if you were from the wrong side of the tracks, or were a football hooligan or gangster. The normal working class Manchester people had never really sort of experienced anything like Ibiza, going into a club and expressing themselves, it wasn’t about copping off, it wasn’t about fighting, it was just about having the best night you could possibly have, and it was new.
The Hacienda was more for the middle-class sort of arty people and students.
There was trouble with one of the gangs in Manchester that ran doors then, who did a lot of naughty things around town, they actually shot the doors off at the club and told all the DJs that if they went back then they would get the same, so me being sort of 18 / 19 and stupid wanted my break as a DJ. I rang them and asked if I could DJ and he said yeah, because they were actually struggling (chuckles) no one wanted to play there, and do you wanna play this Saturday? I went in the club to DJ to play to a 1000 people which was amazing, but the guy I was playing with haha was from a local pub cos he was playing things like ‘Luther Van Dross’ to a rough Acid house crowd, he was so bad they asked me back and he disappeared and I never saw him again haha!
M: He is probably buried in the car park hahaha?
J: Probably is after that yeah!
I used to have to come out of the club after I played with this huge crate of records that took 2 of us, and then have to wait for the taxi to come across the road ducking the head down because of the threat of getting shot, I just wanted it that bad and I didn’t think of the circumstances.
M: The best move you ever made…..
J: Oh yeah man, it just changed my life and allowed me to express that creative talent that I have always had in me, I could express myself to a wider audience it gave me that ability, and it gave me that building block so I seized that with both hands and I never looked back.
M: Paint a picture of the Thunderdome for anyone else outside of Manchester who think all Mancs went to the Hacienda waving our arms in the air.
J: There’s a really great article that Andy Weatherall describes the Thunderdome, and it terrified him, it absolutely terrified him (chuckles) so if anybody wants to look that up online of Andy Weatherall experience in the Thunderdome it was the hottest place I have ever been in my life! It was so pitch black it was dirty it had 1 toilet for the men’s there would just be huge queues outside the toilet but that didn’t matter for one thing, it was so new that the vibe and the atmosphere just took your breath away you could feel that electricity you know when there are magic moments in history, people just wanted it so bad that after all these years of crap in life and at school and in day to day life just wanted to forget about it,
everybody lived for that moment everybody lived for that weekend everybody lived for that special tune in the night I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it, it was an amazing place.
There was never really ever any trouble it was just about that moment that dance that releases the amount of people that went there for the first time after going to normal nightclubs, it changed their life, they never went to a normal nightclub again they totally immersed themselves in the scene and became part of it!
M: Nowt has touched it since then…?
J: No nowt ever did until I played with Sasha in Scotland at an ice rink, a very special place, a special feeling and unique ground breaking place. It was a massive step for me, Tommy Dumbarton had asked me to go up there and play for Ricky McGowan and Jamsy Streetrave in this seaside town of Ary on the west coast, in this old Victorian pavilion. When we walked up to the place we opened the doors and the heat just hit you, it almost just knocked you over it was 2 O’Clock Sunday afternoon, we walked into this den of iniquity with an atmosphere like the Thunderdome but on a Sunday afternoon in a seaside resort where everybody else is like going around building sandcastles ahah.
They had ‘K-Klass’ playing and ‘Together’ (Suddi & John) playing live, Pete Tong, Sasha and me. Sasha and I were on last so we played back to back one record each and I was just thinking ‘I don’t want this to end’, when we played the last record I felt like crying you know because it was that good it was such a magical and special moment, it was just an amazing night of magic. They put a wooden floor over the ice rink but it was that hot the ice just melted.
There were no thrills nobody was posing, everybody was soaking wet it was a leveller you were just all one.
M: Tell us a bit about Steve Williams your mentor.
J: He was a massive influence and changed my perception on DJing and what was possible, he was a really creative quiet eccentric person 10 years older than me, and he is probably the only person really other than Stu Allan in his early Hip Hop days who shaped my DJing career I’ve never really listened to anybody else since. The way he played, he was just a real creative genius, the sound that he had and the toughness and the grit the depth really ahead of his time, but unfortunately, his contribution has been undersold in Manchester yaknow we always hear about the Hacienda he was a strong part of the hacienda!
He played everywhere all over Europe, he did a lot of the Leeds stuff like Chaos he was a resident there with Laurent Garnier and was a big influence on Laurent as well, they also did the frenzy night in Blackpool which was a massive night.
M: The Thunderdome dies and then you go on to another big journey?
J: The ‘dome was the first place I played properly I didn’t want it to end, I wanted to carry on expressing myself. At that time there was a transition in the Manchester clubs so I moved to a club called the House, I basically went in there and said I’m gunna be your resident DJ, they must have been struggling I think, I did one night there and I filled it they made me a permanent resident. The House had an amazing atmosphere it probably fitted 200 people, but it fell down every week the whole ceiling used to collapse and everything because it was rocking that much haha!
After a while I wanted to try summat else and needed a change so I partnered up with Colin Boulter who I’d met in the House, an irrepressible character very intelligent man, we started playing in Barclays in Manchester. Alberto who was the manager at the House said ‘we don’t want you to leave cos it is really successful’, but I need a change. For me it was about being part of all the scene I never ever thought of DJing as a career I never thought of it as a job I just lived it, it was part of my whole being. I never saw myself as being separate from the crowd, I just felt like we were all in it together and I think that was the difference with the scene then there was no sort of hierarchy to the person on the dancefloor god isn’t a DJ a DJ is a human being like anybody else. It was always about the people on the dancefloor you needed one with the other, it was not mutually exclusive,
this god-like DJ thing came with the rise of celebrities it separates us like footballers today is so far removed from the common man.
Anyway, we did our first gig in Barclays it was a really successful night and then the gangs reared up again, I was walking through market street to Eastern Bloc in Manchester and I walked past someone and they said Barclays is on fire so I walked round the corner and Barclays had been set alight, so we then had to find another club. We eventually came across the Hippodrome in Middleton it was an old Disco venue and it had been struggling at the time cos that sort of scene had completely died.
We started the Friday night and the masses followed. We had Colin’s business acumen and my creative flair and that’s where ‘Clash’ came from cos’ we were such a ‘clash’ of personalities. He had amazing sorts of ideas on marketing and other stuff we did with postering, as no one else was doing it the way we were doing it and we booked different people like Kevin Sanderson, Richie Hawtin, John Mancini, Carl Cox underground people, and we were just so popular that we moved on to a Saturday night.
We had huge queues outside so Colin came up with this great idea that we would play Des O’Conner’s music to the people outside to get rid of them, then the national press came and we had Granada reports doing interviews, and I remember a couple of years after I was sat there watching Des and Mel on daytime TV and Des O’ Connor started talking about the club playing his music haha.
M: Tell us about the Ambulance?
J: Ken who owned the Hippodrome had another club called Phillip’s Park Hall it was quiet a far distance from the roads so they used to run taxis, they had this old ambulance that would carry people, so one day me and Colin took this ambulance and we fell in love with this beautiful old vehicle, it had leather seats so we decided to commandeer it and where the ambulance sign is we had ‘Clash’ on the front of it. Colin with his electronics background put huge speakers in it and went out delivering flyers for the club. We would drive up to a club we would whack the doors open and get these two big speakers blaring so everybody would naturally walk over to the music and then we would give the flyers out. We went to all the clubs all around the country, at that time if you gave out flyers out for another event the doorman would chase you and kick the shit out of you half the time.
M: Then the Hippodrome went massive?
J: You know it was absolutely huge but like any sort of beast it comes to an end.
M: How come it ended?
J: Colin and I were a really good team but wanted different things really.
M: How did the Blackburn Raves go off it without mobile phones?
J: It was just total word of mouth, I mean people would ring a phone box, and someone would pick up and tell you to meet somewhere else, you would not dream of 300 cars all following each other now down the road and driving over roundabouts and things like that.
Around Blackburn people used to drive the wrong way down the motorway so you would get like 30 cars driving down the opposite way of the road just to get to a party, it was mental!
M: I have also have seen you with buckets of champagne.
J: Oh yeah thought I was Jim Morrison hahahahah I had really long hair I dressed in odd clothes.
M: How did E’s change the acid house scene?
J: I think it was a natural progression anyway I don’t really associate it with the drugs, I think it complemented it but think the music would have moved anyway with people exploring that musical journey. I’m not really an advocate of the drugs affecting the music scene it just grew on its own.
M: What’s the tune that defined you back then?
J: It’s really easy for me, I still play it now it still finds its way into my set, it’s ‘Phantom’ by Renegade Soundwave, it’s such a unique piece of music there was nothing like it out there at the time, from the drum pattern the snare and the way the bassline creeps in, you always hear it as a piece of music you don’t hear it in different sections ‘cos of the clever way they use the samples, it was just the way it was structured. Nothing else like it, it stands alone just such a unique sound and for me an ultimate game changer.
M: Beautiful, we’re done Jay cheers.
Live Interview – Mark Hilton –
Transcription – Katie Eve Senior
Page Design – Editing – Mike Mannix