If you come from London, and experienced The Second Summer Of Love first-hand, then Steve Lee should need no introduction. Something of an unsung hero of balearic and house in the capital, Steve DJed at pivotal club nights such as The Raid – at Limelight on Shaftsbury Avenue – and Ophelia – at Covent Garden`s Gardening Club. Steve also co-ran Phuture Records, a store central to the scene. Knowledge and contacts gained at Phuture led to a stint with Paul Oakenfold`s Perfecto imprint. Still DJing, and making music, some 30 years later, I caught up with Steve in January – before the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, some of the plans Steve mentions – such as A Lost Weekend`s Human Traffic event – are currently, unfortunately, on hold.
Photo of Steve, and Rocky, taken at Pacha, during the Flying Records IBIZA 90 trip, care of Boys Own.
Steve, thanks a lot for agreeing to do this. How are you and what are you up to?
I`m just about to go to Thailand for a break. I’ve got some friends who live out there. I`ll do a bit of yoga, a bit of meditation. There are some really good clubs there. They`re more on the prog-y tip out there, rather than mad trance. The clubs are really out of the way – through the jungle. Proper class. It`s a bit different to the rest of Thailand. They do have the full moon parties, but we don’t go to those. Ko Pha Ngan – it`s a bit like Ibiza was years and years ago. Like 40 years ago – very hippie – and there`s no bling there. There`s no airport. It`s not really built up. It`s really chill. A lot of them are into yoga and meditation – spiritual stuff. There are loads of hippie communes out in the middle of nowhere.
So are you into yoga?
To honest I don’t have much time to do it here – but I`ll do it while I’m there.
Where are you from originally?
Fulham. I was brought up in Fulham.
Where are you at the moment?
I live in a village not far from Woburn, but I also stay in town, in Rotherhithe as well.
How did you get into DJing?
When I was a kid, where I lived – on a council estate – we always had music around us. We were always buying records, and we even did a little pirate radio station.
So what were you playing? Soul and funk?
Yeah, the first clubs I went to were jazz, funk and soul. Imports – you know – that sort of stuff. We were going to The Old Kent Road, all the pubs and wine bars along there.
The Dun Cow?
Yes. The Best Disco In Town, with Greg Edwards – those sort of things. Tony Blackburn`s Soul Night Out. We were listening to the pirates – Horizon – “Broadcasting from a field in East Molesey”. Do you remember that? Kiss was still a pirate back then. DJs like Froggie and Steve Walsh.
The Dun Cow on The Old Kent Road.
How did you get into the balearic / acid house thing?
I don’t know really. It`s just what everyone was doing wasn’t it. It was all around me. I was going out to Norman Jay`s parties – Shake & Fingerpop – and up to The WAG. I was knocking about with Terry Farley and all of that lot.
So you knew the Boys Own lot already?
Yeah, we knew each other from the football.
So you’re Chelsea then?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We were all going out together and balearic, acid house, just sort of came along. It was just a progression of Westworld, all of those things. All of a sudden I think there was a Shoom Room upstairs at one of the Westworld parties – which was everyone who’d been out in Ibiza in `87.
You weren’t part of that then?
No, I went out to Ibiza in `88. They came back, they were doing their thing, and word got around. We started going to Future and Zigi`s. Zigi`s was Nosher Powell`s club. At least I think it was his club. He was always behind the bar when I was there.
Is that where you met Paul Oakenfold?
No, I already knew Paul from being out and about – but we didn’t really connect until we were both working as residents at Limelight, at The Raid. It was through the Limelight gig that I started working with him at Perfecto. When Paul was still at Profile I`d pop up to the offices with all the new Italian imports and bootlegs. I`d go through a big pile “Have you got this? Have you got that?”, and he`d be asking me for recommendations – what was good. So one day he said, “I`m starting a new label, do you want to help out?” We were both living in Putney at the time, so we were like neighbours. Nancy (Noise) was already on board, and eventually Johnny Walker joined as well.
Where were the offices?
To start with, in Baker Street. We were funded by BMG. I was there 3 to 4 years and it was chaotic. BMG had 2 dance labels. The other one – Deconstruction – sold a million Black Box albums – and we didn’t. So in the end BMG pulled the plug and Perfecto moved on.
Going back to Limelight, and The Raid – the party you and Oakenfold DJed at – how did you get that gig? Was that through Gary Haisman?
Yeah, Gary and Paul Dennis. We were always going out together – and I knew them both from football as well.
So who else DJed there apart from you and Paul? Terry?
It was Kevin Hurry, Kevin Swain and Terry downstairs, and me and Oakey upstairs – and that was it really. It rarely changed. I might have missed one or two.
The Raid relaunched at Limelight in late `89, when did it run to?
Late `91 I`d say. We got about two years out of that party. To be truthful my memory of that time isn’t the best.
You know what I mean. I went to the Gardening Club, and Ophelia from there.
How did you get the job at the Gardening Club? Frank Perkins was the promoter wasn’t he?
That’s right – Frank, plus Shelley Boswell. Limelight was coming to an end, and I think they just thought I was a good person to ask – as I would bring the Limelight crowd with me.
Who were the DJs at Ophelia?
I reckon it was me, Nancy, and Glen Gunner as residents – but we had a lot of guests. I can’t quite remember.
I went there a lot and I can’t remember.
I went there every week and I don’t remember – but the Tag boys – Laurence Nelson, Steve Hanson – were definitely involved. Yellow Book was next door at The Rock Garden on Fridays, and Ophelia was Saturdays. Frank left and Shelley turned Ophelia into Club 4 Life.
I never went to Club 4 Life. I think I`d switched to techno by then.
I was resident at Club 4 Life. This was mid-90s. When that finished I fucked off abroad.
Taken from the Summer 1991 issue of Boys Own.
Where did you go?
I went to Buenos Aires for a year. I got a residency at a club called El Cielo.
How was that?
Amazing. Just amazing. The crowd were the first generation of kids after the Falklands War, after they’d got rid of their military government. I was a really cool time to be there.
What did you do when you came back?
DJ-wise? I started working in Ibiza – at The Base Bar – and in London, I was resident at Turnmills for 18 years.
I did The Gallery at Turnmills – which is still going. Every week now for 23 years.
What made you stop after 18 years?
Well it`s at The Ministry Of Sound now. As it left Turnmills I just decided to phase it out. The club moves on and you just do, don’t you. The Gallery went to The Ministry and I sort of had a couple, well 4 or 5, years off from DJing – doing other things. I`m back into it now though. I got myself focussed, but I did lose a few years, when Turnmills shut and I just wasn’t into it.
I’ve got some really good gigs lined-up this year. The Return To Heaven party at Easter. I’m resident at We Are Balearic and Jack Your Body – which are 2 decent nights. I’m playing Ocean Beach in Ibiza in May. I’m also doing Clockstock out there – playing Amnesia for Clockwork Orange. I`m doing the Human Traffic event at Printworks.
What’s that then?
Human Traffic is 18 nights in May. Day-time exhibitions – artwork, lectures, films, pop-up record shops – and night-time after parties. It`s massive. Pete Tong`s doing the first one. Carl Cox is doing the last one. I’m doing one with Laylo & Bushwaka – on Saturday the 13th. It`s a massive project. It`s mad.
What do you do for a living these days? Are you still making music?
I am still making music. I’m signed to Phonetic Records. I’m in the studio tomorrow as it goes – working with my partner. We had 6 releases last year and we’ve got 4 new ones ready to go – but I’m a black cab driver. I did The Knowledge a while back, just to provide a bit of security. It fits in with the music. I can work when I want to – so I can travel, I can go and DJ. Like now, I can sit and talk to you and then just jump in the cab and go to work.
It gives you a lot of flexibility.
And also it`s handy if you`ve not worked for 20 years – `cos you`ve been involved in the club scene – and you`ve then come out of that.
I`d come back from Ibiza, in around 2001, 2002, and the DJing work was drying up. What work there was wasn’t very good work, and after a few summers in Ibiza I just fancied a change. You know, I didn’t have my own business out there – I was on a wage. So the time was right to do something different. Some friends had done The Knowledge and suggested it. Do a bit of DJing at the weekend. Do The Knowledge in the week. It just sort of steadies the ship, you know – instead of relying on the DJ work. There were precious few gigs around, decent ones, and I was just watching my money disappear. I went from having 5 gigs a weekend making 15 hundred quid, 2 grand, or whatever. There`d been this influx of people into the scene who were saying “Well, I`ll work for nothing” – so the wages went down. The work was evaporating. You’re trying to live the same life on less money and it just doesn’t work.
Is it any better now?
No, but I do alright.
Well you`ve got a history behind you.
I get 2 or 3 good gigs a month. I’ve got one on Friday, Kerplunk, and then I’m off on holiday. When I get back I’m Up On The Roof, with Nancy. That’s always a good party.
Can you tell me more about Phuture Records?
I was working with the Deja Vu boys – DJing at Monkey Drum, Solaris on The Gray`s Inn Road. Monkey Drum was their residency, but they did one-offs all over. Things based around their bands, Deja Vu and Natural Life. They were all from the Roundshaw Estate (infamous South London housing estate). Barry (Ashworth) went on to do The Dub Pistols.
The Deja Vu chaps had looked at the space – in The Garage on The Kings Road, and they needed someone in the shop that knew the music. I put some money in, and came in as partner – and ran the shop. I did that for a couple of years. That was alright, but we didn’t have a lot of money, and really it was at the wrong end of The Kings Road – the other end from the tube station. Flying Records opened up in Kensington, and they had a bigger budget – more investment – and they were right near the underground. So their success kind of sent us down the pan. The Garage wasn’t happy with us anyway. They were always complaining about us playing the music too loud. It was fun while it lasted.
I shopped in Phuture every Saturday that I could. I scored those early Heavenly promos – Saint Etienne, and Sly & Lovechild – Cola Boy`s 7 Ways To Love – the superior white label – and Balearic Beats Vol. 2 – the one with Babakoto on it – all of them there. I only went to The Raid – at Limelight – once. I remember – distinctly – being struck by how dressed-up everyone was, and few tunes bring that evening back – Zobi La Mouche, Cloud Eight, W.F.L., Afro-Dizzi-Act, and Ame Lorain`s Whole Wide World. Trying to put a Raid top 10 or 20 together I picked the brains of Raid regular Soft Rocks / Kinfolk`s Chris Galloway – and Chris came up with a few classics, such as Tom Browne`s Funkin For Jamaica, LTY`s Funk Express, Janet Jackson’s When I Think Of You, Kiss AMC`s A Bit Of U2 and William Orbit`s Fire & Mercy. Fortunately to give you a much better idea of how those Friday nights up west sounded, Steve did a mix:
Trying to compile a similar list of favourites from Ophelia I pooled the collective memories of myself and Steve, plus Darren “Rocky” Rock, and an old early `90s partner in crime, Justin Marr. Most of the results of which I’ve banged together here:
The Raid 1990
Ame Lorain – Whole Wide World (Wingate House Mix)
NWA – Express Yourself
Happy Mondays – WFL
Sade – Paradise
Voice Of Africa – Hoomba Hoomba
Corporation Of One – The Real Life
The Cure – Lullaby
De La Soul – Say No Go
Hall & Oates – I Can`t Go For That
Skipworth & Turner – Thinking About Your Love (Paul Simpson 1990 Mix)
Mandy Smith – I Just Cant Wait
Malcolm McClaren – Deep In Vogue
Double Dee – Found Love
Landro & Co – Belo E Sambar
Soul II Soul – Back To Life
Soul II Soul – Dreams A Dream
D-Influence – Good Lover?????
Chris Rea – Josephine
Madonna – Justify My Love (William Orbit Mix)
Public Enemy – Can’t Truss It
Utopia Project – File #1
LUPO – Keep It Up
Charvoni – Always There
Frank K – Everybody
Rio Rhythm Band – Carnival De Casa
Double Dee – Found Love
Neverland – Mato Grosso
Simple Minds – Theme For Great Cities
RASE – Say It Loud
Ramierez – Hablando
Depeche Mode – Just Can’t Get Enough (Live)
Ultraworld – Life After Death (House Of Aviance)
TC 1991 – 1991 (Fratty Version)
Nitelife Cityrama – Running So Hard
The Cover Girls – Funk Boutique
Antico – We Need Freedom (Jazzy Max)
Saint Etienne – Nothing Can Stop Us
Step – Still Feel The Rain
Mr K – Mix Max Style
Bob Marley – Could You Be Loved
Orchestra JB – Free Spirit
Primal Scream – Come Together (Terry Farley Mix)