Nowadays, going to a nightclub is as easy as walking down your local high street, paying a tenner or so at the door and hitting the dance floor—if you can still find a club that's open that is. For the most part, the ones that are left are relatively safe, positioned in central locations and run by people who know what they're doing. Flashback to the late '80s and early '90s, and the scene was a little bit different; the average night took place in a ramshackle warehouse-type building, often in the wrong part of town, and was usually cobbled together by a rave enthusiast with little previous event-organising experience. It was a world away from the current era of shiny, well-presented super-sanitised super-clubs.
The transition from poorly organised, often unsafe raves to the well-run clubs of today is partly down to the efforts of one man: Terry 'Turbo' Stone. Terry went against the grain, taking great pains to ensure the safety of clubbers and meticulously planning his events. After founding the legendary One Nation raves at just 22 years of age, he later went on to run numerous other equally successful events across a range of genres. He's since been labelled the "king of clubs," and has a TV series on the way about his role in the rave scene. I caught up with him to find out how he went about revolutionising clubbing.
THUMP: How did you first develop an interest in the rave scene?
Terry: When I was 18, I was into urban music, like NWA and Public Enemy. I was made redundant from my job as a sales rep, and thought, "What am I going to do now?" Then one day, one of my mates said, "Why don't you come to a rave?" I said, "Ah no, people take drugs at raves." The press surrounding raves was bad at the time, with the papers saying, "Don't go to them. You might take an E and die." For whatever reason, I still ended up going to a place in Worthing called Sterns, which changed my life. I thought, "This is fucking brilliant. This is the best night out I've ever had!"
How did you go from attending other people's raves to holding your own?
It was £25 to get into these raves. I was on the dole and could barely afford to live, let alone pay that much for a ticket, so I thought, "what can I do that'll make it so that I can afford to go to these places every week?" There'd always be between 15 and 20 people giving out flyers when I came out of the raves, so one time, I went up to one of them and said, "How much do you get paid for this?" He said "£10." I found out what the company that paid them was called, rang them up, and said "If I can get 15 or 20 people to hand out flyers for you outside the events, can you get them in the clubs for free?" The guy said, "Absolutely, and I'll give you £10 a person." I rang my mates and said, "If you don't mind giving some flyers out, I'll get you tickets sorted to the raves." Everyone said, "Yeah, I'll do that." I got paid a tenner a person and started earning £500 or £600 a week.
That doesn't sound too bad!
Nah, it wasn't! I eventually set up my own flyering company. I also contacted all the rave promoters and said "You haven't got a ticket outlet in Camberley, Aldershot, or Farnham. If you put my name and number on the back of the flyers, I'll sell tickets for you." I got between £1 and £2 per ticket, and ended up selling a thousand a week. People started jokingly calling me the Richard Branson of the rave scene. I then thought, "I'm doing the flyering, I'm doing the tickets, and they've both really taken off, so why don't I put a rave on?"
When I put my first rave on, I broke even. The second one made some money, and we started doing well. A friend of mine in Aldershot had a nightclub called the Rhythm Station. One day, he asked me if I wanted to be in charge of all the raves at his club. Everything took off from there, really. The first events we put on were One Nation, then we did Garage Nation, then a dear friend of mine who used to run Dreamscape died in a car crash, and his wife asked me to take it on. After a while, we started winning awards and doing stuff overseas, and I was soon the biggest promoter in England.
What do you think gave your raves the edge over the competition?
When raves became legitimised, a lot of the old promoters couldn't handle it. They were used to turning up somewhere with some speakers, putting the music on, taking the money, then going off to have a good time. They weren't used to dealing with the licensing authorities, the police, and the council. We did everything in an organised, proper manner. We had backdrops, lights, special guests, the full works. I was also the first one to bring emcees to raves and have them rap over the music.
Were there any major differences in the approach that was required when it came to promoting events centring on different genres?
Absolutely. With the drum 'n' bass and garage scenes back then, there were lots of stabbings and shootings, but at our drum 'n' bass and garage nights, it was all about people coming together and having a good time. We had an obligation to make sure people who paid money to go there were safe. We'd fuck people off at the door if we didn't like the look of them. If we had any problems, we'd deal with it there and then.
I've heard promoting raves and clubs was a risky business.
Yeah. I've always been pretty game, so when people came down to the clubs wanting to fuck about, we'd have a tear-up. It wasn't something that I wanted to do, but if you get a load of fellas mugging people outside the club, what else can you do?
Was that a common thing?
Well, if you've got 5,000 people from all over the country going to Brixton, Tottenham and Hackney, which are the places where some of these nights were, the vermin off the local council estates will be saying, "We can have a fucking earner tonight, boys." You'd get people coming to the clubs, buying tickets, and mugging people inside. We'd spend the night chasing them around and giving them a clump.
I heard a gun-wielding Mancunian gang turned up at one of your events, looking to do you in. What was the deal with that?
Yeah, they wanted to cause trouble 'cause we hadn't let them fuck up our rave. That ended with us getting an armed police escort home. I had a gun pulled on me three times in the last year of doing the events. When I turned 30, it got to a stage where I didn't want people pulling guns on me and didn't want to have to wear a bullet proof vest to work anymore.
You had to wear a bulletproof vest?
Yeah, we all wore them. We had two attack dogs that were trained to go for people as well, so that if someone pulled a gun, it could disarm them. You can't carry firearms in this country, so the only thing we could do was get people who could have a row and a couple of dogs that could rip people to pieces. We did everything we could to stop stuff that made it unsafe for people at the clubs, but it got worse towards the end. At that point, I decided to give it up.
There's been a big debate recently about whether or not the clubbing scene has become too safe and sanitised. What's your take on that?
In the old days, all the venues were shitty warehouses and shitty clubs in shitty places. Now, the raves are held in nice places. I couldn't say our era was better or worse, because everyone thinks their era is the best. What I can say is that anyone who didn't go to a rave between '93 and 2003 missed out.
You've been in quite a few TV series and films since you packed in the club promotion game. How did that come about?
I got a phone call out of the blue asking if I wanted to be in a movie. From there, I started acting, got an agent, and appeared in Eastenders, which was my first break. I then got into producing, and am now aiming to win either a BAFTA or an Oscar. I also wrote a book about the club scene called King of Clubs, and have had offers for both a movie and a TV series based on that. I think I'm going to go for the TV series, because I've got a decade of stories to fit in, so it seems a better platform.