READ: An Interview with Slipmatt
The first DJ to introduce me to electronic dance music was Slipmatt alongside Billy ‘Daniel’ Bunter, thanks to a Hardcore Xplosion CD from 1997. As one of the legends who was there at the start of the rave scene, Slipmatt aka Matthew Nelson has contributed immensely to what we now experience as clubbing and rave culture. I’ve been itching to speak to him for years, to know what times were like back in the day.
Hailing from Essex, it transpires Nelson was heavily into record shopping as a 16/17 year old. “I was a motorcycle courier, so I used to go past all the record stores whenever I could. I’d know the time of their import deliveries. I used to stop past Groove in Soho all the time,” he muses.
Himself and DJ Lime who make up SL2 used to run their own pirate radio station from the top of a block in Essex, Raw FM 104.4 on the dial. They’d run through records every weekend, all weekend for 2 years straight before tours and gigs took over.
I was surprised to learn that Nelson had been signed to XL Recordings, now home to global acts like Adele, Gill Scott-Heron, The xx and Radiohead. “Yeah, alongside The Prodigy. We did 4 EPs with XL.”
True enough when discussing the difference between music now and then, “it was a lot more social back then. Of course, it’s not only DJs buying music. You used to go down the store and people would be standing there hanging around for hours, you couldn’t get rid of them! Whereas now it’s a case of logging in to Beatport or Juno or downloading your promos. There was a whole culture to it. The record stores are where you could buy your tickets to the rave, too.”
Comparing past and present he quite rightly mentions that another huge difference in today is social media. Simpler was promotion when back in the day alongside word of mouth it was all about flyers – which of course remain today, but by marginal comparison. As print media has slowly declined, digital has taken over – in the world of Facebook ads, promoted posts and sponsored stories, the raves back then really did unify an underground collective. Rave was an unprecedented movement unlike anything before. Nelson remembers a particular rave in the 80s where all cars jammed a country lane in both directions. “People just got out their cars and walked into the field to rave, leaving their cars behind!”
Inevitably licensing has had a big part to play in the clubbing and raving culture changing in the way it has done, but for someone touring as endlessly as Nelson, the state of clubland doesn’t seem to have diminished, as his popularity and the regularity of shows he plays around the world still remain unaffected. He’s proudly “played every Moondance, every single one.” He cites it as the “backbone of London rave culture. It’s been there from the beginning and has never taken a step back or died out. And it’s a London thing. They’ve done things outside of London of course, but it’s so London.” He speaks with admiration and repeats: “Certainly, one hundred per cent, it’s the backbone of London rave culture.”
The first ever Raindance in 1989 saw nearly 3000 people descend on a county football pitch to dance in euphoria. It was in fact Nelson’s brother who founded the highly seminal rave brand Raindance, which has been home to happy hardcore, hard house, jungle, drum & bass and all the cross-strains and pollinations of underground UK music that emerged in such an exciting and ground-breaking time. Nelson has experienced the real deal of underground dance music across 3 decades, and as such has seen the evolution since. He mentions the emergence of house music from the States, which for him landmarked in 1986. It was toying with this new sound that lead to UK producers experimenting and creating happy hardcore and hard dance.
Raindance had the police arrive to its first edition – the organisers had a barrister in attendance so “the police couldn’t gain access. We carried on through right until about Sunday midday. I think they even had a car boot sale going on.” The second one was not so lucky – whilst he was on the decks at about 2am, the authorities seized the rave and the party was shut down.
Evidently the dance music bug has been kept well within the family. His dear mum Barbara would take the tickets at the door of Raindance or do guestlist. His favourite moment is when someone got to the door and claimed to be her son. ‘My name’s Slipmatt, I’m on in ten minutes!’ I asked if the audacity was rewarded? “I think they did let him in in the end, for being so cheeky.”
With dance music fever running in their blood, Nelson reveals he flew his mum to Ibiza for her 65th birthday 15 years ago with another surprise trip lined up for her this summer at the ripe age of 81. “She loves to dance, my mum.”
Slipmatt will be playing at Moondance x United Festival on Sunday 18th September in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. For more information and tickets click here.
Words by Sophie James.