WORDS: NICK GORDON BROWN
In the first of a series of features on what makes Horse Meat Disco tick, we talk to two of the crew, Severino and Luke Howard, about their musical lives pre-HMD, to gain an insight as to what experiences (and tunes) helped to forge the Horse Meat Disco DNA.
Horse Meat Disco - a byword for a great night out. Well into their second decade, the HMD collective juggle fabled residencies (most notably at The Eagle in London and Elsewhere in Brooklyn) with international touring, and have clearly struck a chord with global dancefloors. This can in part be attributed to the fact that their sets encompass disco in the broadest sense of the word – always uplifting, never one dimensional. Having four DJs on the team constantly inspiring each other to greater heights is no doubt a factor, as is the combined experience that they bring to the party. With their Glitterbox-released single Falling Deep In Love, featuring Kathy Sledge, a staple on discerning dancefloors all summer, and an album of original material in the pipeline, that know how is now being put to good use in the studio as well as in clubland. Download and stream 'Falling Deep In Love' here.
So how did we get here? Luke grew up in the UK, Severino in Italy – but there are many parallels in their formative musical years. Initially, family members proved influential in each of them developing a broad musical palette peppered with some of the classic disco of the era:
Severino: I think it started when I was 7/8 years old through my sister’s record collection, it was a bit of everything, from the Rolling Stones to Neil Young to Gloria Gaynor, Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, so everything basically...
Severino picks Moroder’s Knights In White Satin as the track that turned him onto disco as a 7 year old…
Luke: Growing up music was always important. My American cousins came over in the summer of 1977 and bought I Feel Love on 7” vinyl and we spent the whole summer having dancing competitions, I was 8 so was clueless to what an important record it was in disco history. The first soul/disco albums that I got really into were Sister Sledge’s We Are Family, Friends by Shalamar and Randy Crawford’s Secret Combination. We had a lodger who had Diana Ross’ greatest hits so I listened to that a lot on headphones.
The early-mid 1980s was in many ways a pivotal era for club culture. Post-backlash, disco had retreated to its dancefloor roots, and slowly but surely, the way was being paved for house (famously dubbed ‘disco’s revenge’ by Frankie Knuckles). However, this was no ‘calm before the storm’ period. Not only did hip hop join funk, soul and disco in DJs’ record boxes, but also the alternative scene began to discover a dancefloor sensibility, and was welcomed with open arms. Whilst New York arguably led the way, with low rents attracting all manner of creative minds into Manhattan’s creative melting pot, similar scenes were bubbling worldwide, with Luke in northern England and Severino in northern Italy both catching the eclectic wave of the zeitgeist:
Luke: We got into punk, new wave and reggae because we got taken to all the Rock Against Racism events in London and Yorkshire where we grew up as my parents were involved in politics. I saw The Clash in Sheffield when I was 12 and I always liked the bands that were mixing it up a bit like The Slits, The Specials, The Beat and Au-Pairs.
Severino: I grew up near Verona in North Italy, I think the Cosmic club Afro scene really hit me when I was 12. The club was not far from my town but I was underage, I was listening to this pirate radio station called Radio Azzurra, taping every show, every mix from DJ Daniele Baldelli and others. Lots of Italo was a bit too cheesy for me, I was more into Jorge Ben, Cabaret Voltaire or Patrick Adams.
Check this cut from Patrick’s cult Cloud One project...
Daniele Baldelli was at the forefront of a scene that for years was one of Italy’s best kept secrets but which was incredibly influential on a generation of Italians, starting off at the Baia Degli Angeli club on the Adriatic coast, then moving to Cosmic near Garda; as Severino references, it was a mind boggling mash up of different styles which celebrated eclecticism and diversity on the dancefloor.
As Luke recalls, the UK scene of the time developed its own take on this adventurous approach, with the early house tracks part of a broad spectrum of styles that were being played out side by side well into 1988’s summer of love:
Luke: There was a lot of diversity musically in the 1980s. You could go to a warehouse party and hear rare-groove, hip-hop, go-go, club music, soul, disco and some early house. I first heard House Nation by The House Master Boys at The Prince of Wales (a gay pub in Brixton where KFC is now) and there was a club in Kings Cross called Traffic where I first heard House Music Anthem by Marshall Jefferson way before the summer of love and I went and bought it on import the next day.
Luke: I got taken to Spectrum at Heaven and Shoom when it was at the Fitness Centre. I was an early raver with a pony tail and dungarees. I went to a few of the raves around the M25 and down to Brighton for some Tonka parties. You could hear Why by Carly Simon, Come Get My Lovin’ by Dionne and Strings of Life by Rhythm Is Rhythm and Relight My Fire in one set.
In another parallel, both took their first tentative steps behind the decks in 1986:
Severino: My first proper gigs in clubs were when I was 16 in 1986, in my area in Italy, getting into it because of the love of vinyl and music (I went to the Conservatory of Music for 4 years when I was 12, I played the oboe). From Lisa Stansfield to Pump up the Volume to Born to be Alive haha...
Luke: The first gigs I did were at squat parties in Islington with my sister and flatmate from about 1986 onwards. We’d play our records, stuff like Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent and reggae records.
Luke: The first proper gig in a club I had was warming up for DJ Merran at a night called Supernatural that was on Mondays at Dingwalls. When I met Jeffrey Hinton and Princess Julia they took me to High on Hope and introduced me to Patrick Lilley. He gave me my first proper residency at Queer Nation in 1990. I always paid attention to what the DJs were doing when I wasn’t dancing as I was fascinated by the way they kept the music going and kept the party alive and as I spent all my time in clubs, being a DJ seemed a logical progression as I loved music and dancing so much.
Queer Nation was to become an institution, lasting well into the 21st century with Luke at the helm throughout.
Luke: Music had started to get harder and faster. Trade opened in 1990 and although I respect what a legendary night it was, I wasn’t into the hard sound played there in the early years so Queer Nation was really an alternative to that. It started off on Sunday nights at The Gardening Club (now the Apple Store in Covent Garden) and we were playing much slower New York vocal house than the stuff you’d hear on the rest of the gay scene. The crowd were just amazing. It was one of the few clubs back then for the young black gay crowd. Plus we had some amazing PAs from Barbara Tucker, Ultra Nate, Juliet Roberts, D-Influence - the crowd would go crazy for them and I know they all enjoyed performing at the club because of the response. Sharon Redd did her last show in the UK at Queer Nation before she sadly died.
Luke: In the early days it was Princess Julia and me at the Gardening Club on Sundays and we finished at 1am so it was more like a tea dance vibe, I always tried to play some disco at the the end. Frankie Knuckles played there. Louie Vega played there. Francios K played there. Kenny Carpenter and Norman Jay were regular guests. Can you imagine me in my early 20s playing with those legends? It was so special. Later on, we moved to Substation in Brixton on Saturdays and the line up was Supadon, DJ Francesco and Jeffrey Hinton - we went on till 6am so it was a bit of a different vibe but still great. We had people like Matt Jam Lamont and DJ Spoonie come and play - no other gay clubs were booking those DJs
Luke: I learnt my craft there. I could play the music I loved and (the crowd) were with me every step of the way. Looking back and thinking about those times I also see that what made going out and dancing to music you love so important was because Aids and HIV were having an impact on our community. We were young and frightened, not knowing who would fall sick and who would die. We had to embrace the moment and dancing together with our friends was a way to experience a sense of release from the fear. Often times at the Gardening Club the atmosphere was just magical, like nothing I’ve ever experienced since. I was going to New York regularly and it was the same there, if not even more intense as there was even more loss of life there. It was an amazing moment in NY clubland and dance music history during that period of the Aids crisis, there was a connection between the levels of creativity and the urgency to grab life and make the most of it which was very intense.
Severino, like most of the leading Italian DJs of the time, was very much taken with the classic US vocal house sound which Luke was favouring at Queer Nation:
Severino: Around the 90s most Italian DJs were into lots of US house/garage/soulful. Lots of American DJs were playing there... of course a bit of progressive too and techno but mainly US soulful or house music - it was very US oriented.
Here’s a Mr Fingers track from 1989 that helped define that vibe, and which Severino says still gives him goosebumps:
Moving to London full time in February 1997 after several years of back and forth trips in his role working for Italy’s leading dance/DJ store, Modena’s Disco Inn, Severino soon found regular haunts that satisfied his craving for quality house music:
Severino: The Loft with Paul Trouble Anderson… Space at Bar Rhumba… Blue Note for Anohka and Nuphonic parties with of course Harvey, Ashley Beedle and Idjut boys… 333 was great too.
Here’s one of Ashley Beedle’s Nuphonic releases from that time:
As early as 1992, Luke featured in Mixmag as a ‘rising star’, describing his sound as "upfront club music and classics":
Luke: I was DJ of the month in the Face in 1992 and the chart I gave has things like The Boss by Diana Ross and Alton McClain & Destiny’s It Must Be Love which I’m still playing to this day.
Severino is equally happy to namecheck tracks from back in the day that he might dig out now at a Glitterbox party, citing “anything from Donna Summer... Bohannon…” – and this Cerrone classic:
In that 1992 feature, Luke told Mixmag: "a DJ is only as good as the crowd they've got and the kind of time they give that crowd…”
Luke: Those quotes definitely hold true. Every good club would be nothing without its dancers. It’s all about the crowd. It’s the same with Horse Meat Disco, our crowd at The Eagle where we still have our Sunday night residency has always been very special.”
Horse Meat Disco join us in Dubai, Hannover and Ministry of Sound London on the Dance 4 Love! tour, for tickets head to glitterbox.com/events