It’s a small world, isn’t it? While progressive house is largely the focus of this series of articles, I’d hope everyone reading this – has long been familiar with the notion that each genre and sub-genre of electronic music – as well as other genres of music are influenced by each other. For instance, blues could be seen as the surrogate mother of rock’n’roll. Even more directly, disco would be viewed as the mother of house, while the emergence of new technology pushed electronic music out into an open playing field to farm new crops of styles and sounds – in the last forty years. Genres inter-relate and procreate new ones, in other words.
Now, let’s play a game of join the dots. When the Disco Mix Club (DMC) was founded in London in 1983 by Tony Prince, these sounds were given a new platform. The widespread circulation of DJ mix tapes originated from the birth of Mixmag and its free cassettes with each magazine’s issue, in the first few years. The annual DMC World DJ Championships were set up, bringing DJs from all over the world to battle for the instantly-coveted crown of the world’s best turntablist. All while the foundations of modern clubland vis-à-vis raves, House Music and its sub-genres – along with the identity of the DJ since disco’s demise – were in their infancy.
Some of DMC’s earliest members and pioneers in the late eighties – were none other than Dave Seaman and Steve Anderson, who formed Brothers In Rhythm towards the start of the ground-breaking nineties. Seaman became Mixmag editor and founded Stress Records together with Nick Gordon Brown, championing the newfound progressive house sound along with Guerilla Records in the first half of the nineties. As well as releasing their own club and chart hit in 1991, “Such A Good Feeling”, they would also proceed to remix some of the biggest names in pop, rock and even alternative music in that period, such as Michael Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue and Janet Jackson.
To join these dots together, as an Australian link – is my interview guest in this episode, who needs no introduction as his DJ resume makes him the pride of the nation. In fact, his story ties as strongly with the backdrop mentioned, as does his own reputation for mixing. He entered a DMC Australia mixing competition at the age of fifteen in 1988, DJed with the best names in House Music and Progressive House after moving to Britain at twenty-one, joined Stress Records’ ranks; held a long-running residency at Renaissance’s night at The Cross in London, then co-wrote one of the biggest progressive trance anthems of the last thirty years in Freefall’s Skydive. All in one decade.
The small world syndrome began for me as a young 21-year old, returning home to South Wales from university in Nottingham, England; in November 1996 and visiting my local house music haven, Escape nightclub in Swansea. Anthony Pappa happened to be playing that night and left a solid imprint on my mind. Years later, it was a sweet moment the first time I played out in Melbourne, it being Anthony’s home city. With him having played and partied with old friends of mine at that time, twenty-four years ago and ever since, it’s also a reminder of how much of a community dance music is in this small world, with this week being a reminder to governments how much we need nightclubs and live music to survive. #LetUsDance and #SaveOurStages being those hashtag pushes.
Nevertheless, in grasping all of the threads discussed so far, Anthony Pappa’s DJ style smoothly and unashamedly crosses genres in his mixes. His highly celebrated Balance 6 CD from 2004 contains arguably one of the finest breakbeat mixes found on a mix series collection. Pappa was the first DJ to have a Global Underground: Nubreed CD released, in 2000. More recently, he has had to raise himself from the quiet vaults of the DJ netherworld following a serious motor accident in 2016 – but, by ‘eck – raise himself, he has. During the past few months of global isolation, Anthony Pappa has wowed online viewers with his streamed sets while nightclubs have been closed and the streets have been deserted. If 2020 is a year which Bilbo Baggins may have passed through near Mordor’s gates, then the return to force of this man to the has been a bolster to progressive house’s battalion – and a light of potential for sound of events, whenever they do return.
Yet the fact that I discovered I was among a handful of other interviewers queuing up to interview Anthony has to be seen as a marker of his current popularity and amounts of heads turning to his beat. So I have to appreciate his willingness to participate in another interview. Not all DJs would. Since the interview, Pappa’s musical notches have been raising even more goose-bumps on listening fans – I would urge anyone to listen to the United We Stream mix, originally broadcast in early July* – for my money, while every DJ is understandably wanting their mixes to be supported in these surreal days, it will be one which will be listened to next year and possible later, as a pearl from grubby 2020.
Oh, and he’s unsurprisingly a very good friend of Dave Seaman’s. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Anthony Pappa.
Tell me about your early days – your first experiences as a DJ and of electronic music. How much of Wikipedia’s Anthony Pappa account is true?Well, l have never looked myself up on Wikipedia so l can’t confirm what is true on there. I bought my first two turntables and a mixer when l was 13 years old (1986). I self-taught myself how to mix which was something that l picked up very quickly due to playing the drums from the age of four. Started doing mobile DJ gigs at friends birthday parties and got very busy doing that to the stage where l had a gig every weekend. My dad would drop me off and a couple of mates that would tag along who would help me set up. I would DJ, they got to enjoy the party and then my dad would pick us up at the end of the gig. I did that till l was 17 then when l turned 18 l started playing in clubs on the Melbourne circuit. My first club residency was at The Metro (4,000 capacity) every Friday night. I also played Chevron on a Tuesday Night, Chasers on a Saturday night and at a recovery event at Mega Bar on a Sunday. That was my weekly DJ schedule from the age of 18 to 21. Oh and whilst doing 4 nights a week l also had a full-time day job at my family’ – s business making bathroom taps. When l was 21 l decided to make the move to the UK.
What were the first records you bought?
I was buying disco music, high energy, funk and hip hop. It was electronic dance. It really didn’t have a name back then like all the genres do these days.
How did you feel before going into your first gig at Ministry of Sound, then after it?
I was so excited and also nervous at the same time. It was in 1994. My first ever international gig and l was going to play the main room at The Ministry Of Sound in London. A club that l had only read about in Mix Mag and heard so much about the incredible sound system that it had. On that trip to the UK l also played at Up Your Ronson in Leeds and Club UK in London. After playing those gigs in the UK, it’s what made me want to pack up my bags and move to the UK which l did 6 months later in 1995.
How long did you stay in Britain?
Have you got any strange stories about clubs across the world?
When you have been touring the world for that long you definitely see a thing or two but as they say… What happens on tour, stays on tour.
How much has your car accident and your recovery from it changed your and your approach to mental health?
It’s really made me appreciate the simple things a lot more and to also make the most out of every opportunity that you have. Life is precious and you can’t take that for granted.
As one of the biggest tracks during the peak of clubbing in Europe, how did your Freefall project with Alan Bremmer come about? Would you do something similar and updated nowadays?
Alan Bremmer was the studio engineer for Brothers In Rhythm. DMC employed Alan as a full-time studio engineer when they decided to outlay a big investment and build 4 studios at the DMC / Mix Mag / Stress Records headquarters. When he was not mixing down the Brothers In Rhythm epic tracks l partnered with him and we formed Freefall. Skydive has been remixed and re-released that many times l wouldn’t do another updated version now.
Having had the world being frustrated with lockdown over the past three months – you have used it as an opportunity to entertain from home. Where can you see things going for DJs and musicians in the near and coming future?
Hard to say where it’s all going at the moment. We really don’t know how all of this will affect the future of the clubbing industry. One thing for sure is, I don’t think it will ever be the same again. Not as it used to be anyway. We will return to clubs again one day, when that will be is uncertain at the moment. Doing live streams has been great. I’m really enjoying doing them and playing to a large viewing audience. It’s been great to be able to play the new music alongside the classics vinyl that l have been pulling out for each stream.
Which musicians outside of the Progressive House or your brand of DJ music have influenced you over the years?
Due to the high volume of music that my job requires me to deal with on a daily basis, after listening to it all, there is not much time for other music outside of what l do.
We’ve just passed the twentieth anniversary of your GU Nubreed CD being released. How did you feel at the time of the release? Looking back now, are there tracks from it you would still play now?
Having the Nubreed release come out when it did was massive for me and also huge for my DJ career. It really helped put me on the global map for worldwide touring. Something that l was already doing but it took things up a notch. The music on the album even though it’s now 20 years old has stood the test of time really well and l would happily play any of the tracks from that album out today.
You’ve been quoted as having the motto “When the needle drops, the bullshit stops.” From watching you recently, you still clearly have that focus.
I am very focused when l am on the decks and playing. It’s about performing, entertaining and doing my job as best l can.
Finally, you recently had a Facebook fan page set up. How important is interacting with fans, followers and like-minded people in 2020?
I think it’s very important to make the time to engage with the people who support you. Without the fans we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. That’s why l appointed one of my most dedicated fans (Andrew Pickles) as part of the admin team on my fan page due to his dedication and support.
Thanks for your time mate!