Celebrating Old Skool Music, Culture and Legacy
From humble beginnings as the biggest and most influential pirate radio station station during the birth of acid house to its new home on DAB and online, Centreforce has continued to grow and push the boundaries of underground music.
Next month Centreforce will celebrate it’s 30th birthday with a party at The Oval Space in London with an incredible line-up including Robert Owens, RatPack, Alex P, Lisa Loud, Mr & Master Pasha and many, many more. “30 Years of the Force” looks set to be an incredible evening showcasing what Centreforce is really about.
The story of Centreforce Radio is the stuff of legend and a not-insignificant part of the history of acid house and rave culture in this country. As the first “seven day rave station” Centreforce was established in 1989 by Andy Swallow (who also DJs under the name Pasha). Now, with it’s DAB licence in effect and a huge online following, we had the pleasure of catching up with Andy and his son Danny (AKA Master Pasha) for a chat about the past, present and future of the station.
Andy, take us back to the beginning when you were DJing at Echoes…
Andy: I didn’t only DJ there, I was the promoter as well. I did Saturday nights – Pasha’s House – and then there was also another night called Tranquility which was Tony Wilson and Jonny Eames. Pasha’s House was me and Danny Harrison so we weren’t only DJs but we were promoters as well.
So how did the jump to radio come about?
Andy: We’d probably been doing parties at Echoes for about five months – and we’d been doing warehouse parties before that – when Roger the Doctor and Jim the Music Man came to us and said “look we’re off Sunrise Radio, we’ve got a frequency, it’s called Centreforce 883, do you want it?”. I think it was about two hundred and fifty pounds at the time for the transmitter etc… and within a week we were up and running. With both parties joined together – Tranquility and Pasha’s House – we became Centreforce radio.
That’s a really quick turnaround – did you know anything about radio before that?
Andy: I knew how to turn it on…
Danny: [Laughing] He still doesn’t know anything now!
Andy: I knew it was illegal because I got arrested for it but other than that no.
How many times did you get arrested?
Andy: We had a big case in the end. We were taken off many, many, times but they did a big operation and we ended up at Snaresbrook Crown Court on a big charge. They put about twenty of us together and made it look like a big conspiracy from supplying drugs and piracy to protection rackets. You name it they hit us with it but we all got off.
Was there a lot of cat and mouse with the DTI?
Andy: To be honest it only came out in the trial, so we found out a lot more in the trial than if he hadn’t been arrested if that makes sense. They’d been surveilling us for over seven months so for about seven or eight months we weren’t taken off. We were on twenty four hours a day – we thought we were unique, we thought we’d mastered it, but they were actually letting us run. What they would do is hit the studio every two or three months so that we would have to move then they took pictures of us moving studios etc… So we thought we were being smart but obviously they were being a little bit smarter!
So they were just gathering evidence?!
Andy: Yeah, just gathering evidence but as I said the whole case collapsed. We had a grass in the camp, amongst us, and that person couldn’t be identified by them and they dropped the trial. I came out and I went straight back on air.
Was that about July 1990?
Andy: Yeah, around about then. When we were arrested for this, when they raided our studio – I think jazzy M was on – they put on Hill Street Blues and said “this is the last record you’ll ever hear from Centreforce Radio”. Forty eight hours later we were back on with Dixon of Dock Green so there was a lot of cat and mouse and taking rigs down.
Were there rivalries with other stations?
Andy: I’d say no but we have Sunrise Radio on here with us now and they tell a totally different story! If you think back to when we came on there was only Sunrise. They were playing a little bit of house, we came on as full house and after us came Fantasy Radio and then came Dance FM. We had a lot of run-ins with Dance FM – they kept trying to nick our transmitters so one day we sat on their roof waiting for them, chased them away, got there transmitter and sold it to Fantasy Radio!
Danny: Nothing like keeping the marketplace healthy right?!
The collective memory of the early rave scene is one of peace, love and unity. How real was that?
Andy: It’s quite weird but for me personally I’d probably say 100%. We were more into the acid house, the E scene and into the promotions side of it. With the old bill, because we were the Inter City Firm (ICF), they thought we’d just dropped the “I” off and made it Centreforce. So they made it a big conspiracy about football which it really wasn’t. I think what happened from there was we had a big following from security etc… and people used the Inter City name to take doors over, extortion, and things like that. I think we got the blame for it because we are a part of the Inter City Firm but we were really the party organisation side of it than the other side of it…
Danny: The beating the shit out of people bit.
There’s a quote that says that acid house did more for setting aside football rivalries than Thatcher ever could. Is that true?
Andy: Yeah, if you look at it and go right back to 87/88 I wouldn’t go to north London unless I was going for the football. Next minute there we are partying in South London, so yeah. And the thing you’ve got to laugh about Thatcher is that she closed down the football hooligan side of it, then she stepped in and closed down the acid house side of it, but I voted for her!
Danny: You didn’t think that bit through did you?
Andy: No… For me personally, and I’m talking about me and our organisation as the radio station, we were purely in it for the parties – the music and the parties. And taking other stations off…
Do you have any particularly memorable moments from the early days?
Danny: One story that sticks in my mind that I’ve only heard recently is that Roger the Doctor, one of our original DJs, dad locked him in the studio overnight…
Andy: Two nights!
Danny: Right, two nights, and all Roger saw for those two nights was a set of eyes coming through the letterbox and a pastie being pushed through saying “that’ll keep you going for another 24 hours”! That for me just basically sums up what Centreforce is all about!
Andy: Another story is that Simon Hanson from Gat Decor and another DJ were on doing a set and the doors were locked. See, back then the trick was that if you were doing a late set at night we’d lock the door. Anyway, they decided to climb out through the window, left the station off air and never came back again because they thought they gonna get killed!
Danny: One story that also sticks in my mind that dad’s told me quite a few times, it’s always the one that gets me laughing is about the geezer when he tried to replace the window…
Andy: I think we were about 18 or 19 floors up in James Riley Point and we can hear this crane coming up and all of a sudden a fellow appears and pushes the windows out. The wind was blowing through and everyone thinks it’s a raid and the geezer goes “no, no, I’m listening to you, I’m only changing the windows mate!”. Everyone was sort of diving and running…
Do things seem too tame now compared to back then?
Danny: You ain’t been to the office!
Andy: I’ll tell you what I would say, when Centreforce Radio came back as Time FM I came to do one of the original shows. Me and Keith Mac came in and we were put in this little goldfish bowl and we were told not to touch any buttons – don’t do this and don’t do that. I remember I walked out and said to Keith, “fuck this, this ain’t radio”. I never went back and I can honestly say this is probably more like how we were then. People have fun. Yes, sometimes we could be a little more serious than what we are but I’d say it’s much nearer now to the original spirit than what it was then if that makes sense.
Danny: Although obviously we’re not getting raided every week.
Andy: Not yet.
How did the move to DAB come about?
Danny: I’ll tell you what it was, we’d just finished doing a Facebook Live video and dad was on holiday in Tenerife. I was sitting out in the garden with Johnny C the tech guy and we get a phone call from dad and he’s like “I’ve listened to the show, it was really good, let’s go for a DAB licence” and I was like “yeah, alright, no problem”. At that time a friend of mine was working with me and he said “your dad’s taking the piss, he’s not going to get a dab licence”. So I said “look, he wants it so do me a favour, take the stress off of me, you do it and when you fail I can’t get the blame”! I never thought he was going to get a DAB licence but within about 2 days he had the forms ready a deal in place to take the Essex DAB and just before we went to do the deal with Essex me and Dad had a conversation where we agreed to try out for the London 2 band. We brought them down to our broom cupboard that we were operating out of and as much as they hated pirate radio stations I think they loved the rawness of what we had. Obviously we’re in a beautiful building now, in a beautiful studio, but like dad said we’ve still got that raw edge. I think what was missing from radio before we came along was the realness so not just the same 40 tracks on repeat. Tony Blackburn made a quote the other day saying “I didn’t start doing radio on a ship for the top 40 tracks to be played out and for the shows to be presented like robots” do you know I mean? I think it all came about at the right time and there was a gap in the market for what we do. I think we’re the people’s station. I think that’s what it all boils down to and ultimately if the people didn’t want us on DAB we wouldn’t have got 6 and a half million unique viewers on Facebook Live so we knew we had a market there.
Dan, you DJ under the name Master Pasha – what’s your style?
Danny: Me, I’m old school. Old school house, piano house, 88/89 acid house. I’m moving slightly into the newer stuff now but the majority of my influences have all come from the old school scene, so obviously Public Demand Records, Labello Blanco, obviously Centreforce… I like to stick true to my roots and even now with the new tunes that I play they’ve got a lot of old-school elements in them. There are so many producers and DJs out there now that are literally just downloading the top 40 tunes and playing it out as their set that week and they don’t understand the music that they’re playing. For me it’s all about the music – it has to speak to you. If music is all just one pace and one beat then it doesn’t do it for me which is why I stick to the old school.
Do you guys enjoy playing out together?
Danny: He can’t mix!
Andy: Listen… let’s get this correct – it’s not that I can’t mix, I don’t want to mix! That’s number one, and number 2, if I’d wanted to mix I would have never opened up Centreforce Radio in the first place because I would have already been on the radio. And if I’d wanted to mix I’d have never started up clubs because I only played at my own and I never played anywhere else!
Danny: [Laughing] And that’s the true story behind Centreforce… the real reason he started the club nights and all that is because he wasn’t getting any DJ bookings – he couldn’t sack himself could he!
Andy: Listen, I love the music – do I attempt to mix? No, I’m not interested, I’m just into good music.
Danny: He’s an original selector.
Andy: [Laughing] If I was gonna call myself a DJ I’d be DJ Clanger.
Danny: And I’d be Master Clanger!
Now that you’re back on DAB do you feel there’s a pressure to preserve the legacy?
Andy: I think at first I was pretty protective because the way that I see Centreforce Radio, and the way that it was coming on, I was hearing too much of the same music. I thought there would be a lot more of the 88/89 sound but when I’m listening back to a lot of the shows now I think we’re starting to play a wider mix of music. For Centreforce to survive another 10 years after I’ve gone the next generation of music has to be bred into Centreforce, so yeah, at the moment we’re getting it right. We just had Alex P on and if you listen to his show it’s not what you’d expect at all – its soul, its funk. When I think of Alex P I think of his sets at Clockwork Orange.
Danny: I think the question about preserving the legacy gets asked of me quite a bit but if Centreforce was born today what would we be playing? Tech house, new house, new soul, new disco… so yeah, we respect all forms of music here do you know what I mean? For me we have to embrace the new music and the new generation of Centreforce listeners while still keeping true to our roots, because ultimately we’re never gonna be able to shake the reputation of being Centreforce in 88/89 so lets bring it with us and embrace it. We’re never gonna lose that attachment to being a pirate and an acid house station so why push it away?
So what have you got planned for the 30th anniversary?
Andy: They took it off me the cheeky gits! I thought I was promoting the parties…
Danny: I got ahead of myself. I got speaking to a couple of guys over at MN2S and they offered me a few artists – before I knew it I had a line up, a venue, a flyer and we were away and selling. For the 30th anniversary at the Oval Space that’s going to be something special. That’s gonna be our first day-time party in 30 years. We’ve got Robert Owens, the Rat Pack, Alex P, Lisa Loud, Max Fernandez, me and dad playing back-to-back… So the party is showcasing Centreforce’s past, present and future. That is where we are really going to showcase what we’re about. We’ve got The Dolly Rockers, Joe Varni, Joe Bonner and Mark Smedley – they’re going to be leading the tech house sort of vibes towards the end of the evening but it’s going to be a real celebration of good music. It’s going to be amazing – we’re working on a huge production with some stuff that’s really going to freak people out.
Andy: We’re going to be the first party where it’s 20 quid to get in and 100 quid to get out!
Tickets for “30 Years of the Force” are available from Skiddle