The Story of Boy's Own: The Acid House Gang Who Changed British Clubbing
Terry Farley talks about running the seminal fanzine, club night and record label.
Click image to enlarge
There aren't many people in the history of British club music who are held in higher regard than Terry Farley. Alongside Andrew Weatherall, Cymon Eckel, Steve Mayes, Pete Heller and the rest of the Boy's Own crew, he ran raves, released and produced records and printed a seminal, satirical fanzine that traced a very British link between the football terraces, dancefloors, youth fashion and the picket line in a way that no other publication would before or after.
With their tagline: "Boy's Own: the only fanzine that gets right on one, matey!" Farley and his mates raved themselves to the heart of the acid house scene. Which, arguably, is the most unique British youth culture ever, given its impact and lack of guitars and violence.
With the handy excuse that all the issues of the fanzine have finally been gathered together in an e-book, I talked to Terry about how the Boy's Own gang emerged from an elitist and violent London scene to become the loved-up piss-takers of a new British party culture.
VICE: What was the clubbing scene like in London before acid house?
Terry Farley, Boy's Own: There was a really big transition in about '86. There were no radio stations covering it at the time, KISS sort of was on the far reaches of it but there was nothing else, really. When the scene exploded there were warehouse parties everywhere. Back then the Southbank was a dangerous fucking wasteland, whereas now it's very upper class. Places along Clink Street – where they have that shit museum of the prison – all along there were warehouse parties. Realistically, the police could only raid one a night. They were great, the music was great and the people were great. You would hear old rockabilly stuff, old hip-hop, particularly from New York and the Bronx... You would hear chart anthems, new house and jazz. Jazz was big back then. It was a real mixture.
The cover of the first issue of the Boy's Own fanzine
Do you think acid house was a coming together of a lot of those sounds and scenes?
It kind of was. Before acid house the one thing everything came under was "black music".
That seems absurd now. So did that change with acid house?
The very first acid house club I went along to, which was Shoom, the last two records [they played] were the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" and "With or Without You" by U2. I was sceptical then but when the lights came up it was just smoke and sweat. They played "All You Need Is Love" and everyone was holding hands.
So it was the beginning of that kind of "euphoric" sound in dance music?
Yeah. And then they played "With Or Without You", which had been a big record for Alfredo [Fiorito, influential DJ] in Ibiza that year. I just stood there thinking to myself, 'This is either genius, or the worst thing ever.'
What was the drink and drugs culture like in those early acid house clubs?
I reckon half the people going out between '86 and '87 were on some sort of substance, like weed or sulphate. Sulphate was huge back then. You heard about people taking coke but you never really saw it. Cocaine was about £60 a gram then. And this was like 30 years ago, so that was the price of a small Mini.
The ecstasy thing happened overnight. I can remember the first week one club opened, run by Paul Oakenfold and Ian St Paul. There are pictures of this club night at Heaven that holds about three thousand people and there are only 150 people in there. Don't ask me why but they just took an E and then sat down.
Then, all of a sudden, loads of people were coming in, all just dressed in regular clothes, like Dr Martens and Levi's, and they came in doing this kind of normal dancing, while this other group of people were doing this kind of Ibiza dancing. It was weird, you would see these people, like 25 of them, do this rave Ibiza style dance and you could watch everyone else looking at them and copying them. This just led to everyone mimicking everyone. People changed overnight.
Clubbers in London
Wow. I had no idea it was so instant and visual.
What else was happening was that it was becoming evangelical; there was something spiritual about it – so DJs were finding records that fitted the CeCe Rogers kind of sound. There was definitely a religious thing going on for at least six months. It is very hard to tell people now about being religious in a club without sounding embarrassing, but there definitely was something that enveloped everyone. Because it was so new and because it was so brilliant.
I mean, [before acid house] sometimes you saw a girl you liked and you'd talk to them and you'd get knocked back. But there was no real interaction. But then suddenly you'd talk to a stranger you met in the bathroom for what seemed like forever. Unheard of, totally unheard of.
Did ecstasy help make the clubs safer and more friendly places to be, as the cliche suggests?
I think that's completely true. I think it basically just took the edge off everything. If you were out and you were acting a bit loud people would think you were weird. Being nice to people suddenly became appealing. That wasn't just because we were on drugs and a bit loved up but people were aware of everyone's well-being. People thought that everything was going to change.
Within six months, everyone I know had given up their jobs and they were all doing something creative. People worked in record shops, people were making music and people were designing T-shirts. This was the best bit about coming from a working-class family just down the M4 [Farley is from Slough]. All of a sudden we were like, 'Right, we are going to make a fanzine, we are going to make a label, we are going to put on parties,' and people who weren't in on the scene were thinking, 'What the fuck do you people think you're doing?' The change was there, politically and personally. I mean, if you go to a good party in Hackney Wick or Dalston, I think people behave in a way that was shaped back then. But the problem is, if I step on someone's foot in some shit club in Kingston, I might get stabbed.
Millwall, a homophobic football hooligan dog who wrote regularly for Boy's Own
How bad were those pre-ecstasy days?
There was loads of trouble. I remember one night at the Brixton Academy, we were on the top floor dancing away to acid house, having a great time and downstairs there must have been two or three thousand people listening to hip-hop. After the club had finished, we looked down and saw that the entire place was a mess, it was totally trashed.
There was a group of people who must have had some beef with the security and were rejected so they came back with machetes and baseball bats and completely trashed the place. This type of thing happened all the time but people [in acid house] would just look at each other and put on another love track. People really believed in the whole movement of acid house. Acid house was all about the passion and love and although there were other components to it, that was what it was really about. Most of the people hanging around in the late 80s and early 90s are still friends. It changed them for the better and you meet their kids and they are very cool people.
Do you think that ethos only ever reached the cool places though, and that the threat of casual violence kind of stayed the same in most high-street clubs? The places that today might be like Liquid or Revolution?
Yeah, probably but that's always the way, isn't it? I think one bad thing about acid house was the reaction to licensing laws. They allowed pubs to sell really cheap alco-pops and so what they did is ripped out all the chairs and then they played music in these pubs while everyone was drinking cheap booze. It was the only way to bring people back from the warehouse parties. Because no one drank beer back then, it came in the form of alco-pops. So they teamed this up with making pubs look and act a little bit more like a nightclub. Acid house wasn't responsible for this but cause and effect, you know? They created these places where you can get your head kicked in.
Did you have a plan or a manifesto when you started the label?
No. We didn't have a plan, we just decided to try to annoy people. Me, Andrew, Steven, we all had different record collections. We would all go to the same clubs and love the records they played there, but if you went to our houses we had completely different musical tastes. When we first started the label it was very manic, completely directionless. We never knew what we were doing, we never made a spreadsheet. We just heard about stuff that excited us and we looked to sign it.
Do you think this lack of organisation was detrimental to your label in the long run?
Not really. I know London Records [parent label] dropped us, which was a big drop. I also think we started the label too early. I think had we been around two years later we might have been in with a chance of signing someone like the Happy Mondays. I think at the time we existed we were only preaching to a very small, cool post-acid crowd. For the most part, we went unnoticed.
Bocca Juniors – "Raise"
What record are you most proud of releasing?
I'm not sure, really. I got some money to play at someone's birthday party who was a big fan. They said, "Right, we want you to play Bocca Juniors 'Raise'," which was the first record me, Andrew and Pete released from a studio paid for by London Records. Big engineers and great musicians worked on that track. We hired in a grand piano that cost £1,000 for a day. We had no money so we didn't give a shit. The label was paying for it. I heard that record recently and it sounded brilliant.
Looking back at everything Boy's Own did – the records, the productions, the parties, the fanzine – it seems to me you guys had a really good understanding of aesthetic; a strong sense of vision.
Yeah, I suppose so [laughs]. In saying that, we never had a meeting with the label. We just decided what we were going to do and done it. I guess since we had been to a lot of parties in the years before, we had a vision. We created a sort of brand. We printed a load of T-shirts with the Clockwork Orange stuff, and the boy and the dog, and everyone went batshit crazy about it, but this was all by accident. We never done any of this by grand design.
I think if we had A-grade design we could have been really, really rich. We could have been Cream or the Ministry of Sound. We could have sold our brands to some EDM guy for £40 million but that wasn't us. We never really saw past the next week. We were constantly changing our minds and doing U-turns, we were just making it up as we went along.
A Boy's Own piss-take of people who used to go to the Hacienda (click to enlarge)
Talking of EDM, do you think electronic music has become more cynical now?
Yeah, because I think nowadays there needs to be a more intricate plan. I remember Andrew turned up at the office one day and he had a cassette that a bunch of kids had given him when he was playing in Manchester. We talked about it and we were just like, "Yeah, let's put it out!" It turned out to be the first release by the Chemical Brothers.
I think that's probably a better way of doing things, letting them come to you.
Yeah! If you were in it to make money, it wasn't really the right way to go about it. But it's a dangerous way to go because you could end up going bankrupt. When London dropped us, we were lucky we had Pete [Heller's] records.
Pete Heller – "Big Love"
Like "Big Love", that was a bit of a mega-hit, wasn't it?
We loved that record! It got bought by someone else before it came out on Boy's Own, though. The funny thing about "Big Love" is that it was made during one of the very few times I was away from the studio. Chelsea got to the Cup Winners' Cup final in Stockholm in '98 and I came back from that after a few days, and Pete says, "Oh, I've been in the studio by myself, come have a listen to this."
My jaw dropped, it was fucking brilliant.
How did the fanzine come about?
Andrew was the smartest person I knew, he came from Windsor, which is just down the road from Slough, but much posher. He had a good education, so I said to him, "Hey, do you want to do a fanzine?" I thought if I could get involved with him to do the magazine it would be worth my while. He was like, "Yeah, great!" We did some interviews with people we really liked and I wrote some stupid articles.
We just sort of did it and thought people would be into it at the time. I really didn't think that 25, 30 years later, someone would be sitting here asking me about it. People really liked it though and we sold 500 copies. So we did another one, followed by another. It was great. Paul Oakenfold, who was working for Def Jam at the time, said, "Oh hey, I wrote a article!" It was about him going to Ibiza in '87. He said, "You can't tell anyone it's me," because he was an industry man and it was all about drugs. We printed this article that was called "Bermondsey Goes Baleriac!" and I spelt "Balearic" wrong.
Paul Oakenfold giving it the big one
It's a tough word to spell.
Yeah. My mum would take the writing to work and type it out and then we'd get the cardboard and then take it to our mate Johnny-O, who was a printer. We then took this down the King's Road and Covent Garden. It was like a little adventure; we were young boys. I suppose people started saying, "Hey, those are the guys with the fanzine." And then the clubs we were having trouble getting into started saying, "We love your magazine. Come on in!"
I suppose it was our thing; we needed a voice. At that time I think the West End scene was very much controlled by people who went to Saint Martins, and a lot of Welsh people, funnily enough. We wanted to bring a voice to working-class white Londoners who were completely marginalised in the West End. We wanted clubs to judge people on what they brought to clubs and their enthusiasm, and not what they were wearing. We exaggerated being the voice of these people to the extent of parody and people liked it.
Were you ever worried about what you should and shouldn't be printing?
We had something to say about everything and we thought everything we had to say was right and everyone else was a fucking wanker. That's what a fanzine should be about. Magazines have restraints but fanzines should be about fucking everybody off.
I think it's what is missing now, that sense of pissing people off. But we were never bitchy and we parodied ourselves a lot. Although we called everyone cunts we realised that we were probably the biggest cunts out there.
A support line that Boy's Own set up for people unfortunate enough to wear shiny MA1 bomber jackets
Were you also having issues with the establishment? Because there was that issue with The Face.
Yeah, I caused all that by myself. I wrote a letter to When Saturday Comes about Boy's Own and they printed the letter with my name at the bottom, which was a big deal. So I wrote another letter completely slagging myself off to The Face under a different name. People were saying "This guy's really slagging you off!" So I wrote another letter demanding the right to reply and it kind of went on.
We were suddenly getting letters with stamped addressed copies from all over the UK. Apparently we were very well read in prisons. We used to get letters saying, "Hey man! Am banged up but I read your fanzine and I loved it! Passed it around the wing and they loved it as well!"
Do you wish you'd made more than 12 issues?
No, I think the reason you're interviewing me now is because we only did 12 issues and when we stopped it was really good. Weatherall used to do editorial as a character called "The Outsider". He used to print it in his own handwriting and I would chase him up for this time after time. He was really bad with timing. We would have the issue come out a month after it had ended. He said to me he didn't want to do it any more, he was 27 and said he didn't want to tell 18-year-old kids what to wear and what to do any more.
I thought about that and I was like, "Okay, yeah." I had a conversation with a few kids who were coming to our night and contributed to our magazine and I told them we were standing down and were looking for people to take control of it. No one wanted to take it. If we carried it on a few years it would have got boring. There was loads of magazines that came afterwards, Loaded, for example, totally ripped us off with an article about wanking techniques. Loaded was our enemy.
If you had the chance to do it all again, is there anything you'd change?
I don't think there's anything I would have changed. There were loads of opportunities to make money that we missed but I play the music I like when I'm DJing. People say to me if I'd played these records back in the 90s, I would have got a ton of money, but by playing music that I love, I'm still getting booked to DJ now. I wouldn't change anything. I still DJ and we still hold a Boy's Own party twice a year and at the last one we had Dixon playing. We had kids in their twenties and guys in their fifties; it was fucking brilliant. I like what I do. I don't have a want for anything because I have everything I want.
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