Terry Francis, Eddie Richards and Nathan Coles of the mighty Wiggle chat to iDJ about 25 years running one of the UK’s best underground club nights
Earlier this year, UK tech-house party and record label Wiggle released their Wiggle For 25 Years compilation, celebrating a quarter-century in the business, right at the forefront of UK house music. The album features tracks from the three Wiggle DJs Eddie Richards, Nathan Coles, and Terry Francis as well as Silverlining, Dub Taylor, Pure Science, Jay Tripwire, Daniel Poli, D’julz, Corrie and more, showcasing the broad range of styles and flavours that can come under the tech-house banner.
When the ultimate history of dance music is written then Wiggle, if there's any justice, will have a substantial section dedicated just to them. Since 1994 they’ve been one of the UK’s finest underground parties but also one of the most influential. Tech-house is now a world-dominating genre, the go-to sound for ‘big rooms’ worldwide, its layered percussion, big riffs and white noise breakdowns a guaranteed (if, these days, somewhat safe) DJ choice. However, the roots of tech-house stretch back to the London clubs and warehouse parties of the early 90s, when there weren’t actually any tech-house records.
Instead, DJs who'd been inspired by acid house but were disillusioned with the handbag or hard house that was taking over the clubs went on a search for underground records that crossed genres, that somehow were ‘acid house’ in their ethos. They played US garage dubs, techno slowed down, electro, progressive house, records that didn’t demand you raise your hands with a huge diva-led breakdown. Subtle records whose charms only became clear on the dance floor, as part of a greater whole. Originally, tech-house – like house music itself a decade or so earlier – was a creative approach to DJing rather than a genre in itself, as Terry, Eddie, and Nathan, along with Mr C, Layo & Bushwacka at The End nightclub and others, created a new style by DJ selection alone.
Terry: "We played big basslines, house rhythms with techno/Detroit influences. It’s a bit like acid house: as I remember acid house didn’t necessarily have to have an acid line in it, it could have a vocal or whatever, as long as it's a good tune. And tech-house was just as much an attitude to going out as a style of music."
"Like-minded people went out to tech-house parties: we wanted to go a warehouse rather than put up with the normal club situation of bouncers tapping you on your shoulders. It was about freedom, like it used to be with acid house."
Nathan: "Tech-house should be described exactly as it says on the tin: the swing and groove of house combined with techno-twinged sounds, and an overall subliminal urge to get down and do the funky chicken."
Eddie: "I think Wiggle as a party worked because we each had our individual DJ styles, and a different take on how it was presented. The groove was consistent but it wasn't monotonous or samey."
So what’s been the biggest change in clubland in the 25 years since then?
Terry: "It seems to be now, with more underground music at least, that making music is just a business card to get DJ gigs. The only thing that really bothers me is people who just went, 'Oh, I think I'll be a DJ!'. They might be a model or whatever, they get on Instagram and become massive DJs, but where’s the apprenticeship? You know, we all started out playing small parties, we got knocked for our wages over the years… a lot of DJs my age we weren’t doing it to get sand between our toes and shag girls, it was just about the music."
Eddie: "Here in the UK, there's a lot less freedom than there was back when we started, in terms of rules and restrictions. Technology has changed the face of DJing and almost everyone now has access to music globally, which wasn't the case then we started. That has led to a lot more DJs and a lot more music being released – although more doesn’t mean better. Travelling, too… back then I didn't travel around the world like I do now."
Nathan: "The digital revolution was a biggie, and just how much of a giant powerhouse the whole industry has become over the years is crazy! You can still get through to the real bones of it, though, if you have the time and passion to sift through the endless hours of drivel to get right down to the real nitty-gritty."
And what's stayed the same?
Nathan: "I'd like to think that we’ve remained the same over the years, and held onto our integrity while still moving forwards musically along the way."
Eddie: "Clubs haven't really changed much in 25 years… and in the places that I get asked to play, the audiences are still as enthusiastic as ever."
Tech-house pretty much took over the dance music world over the last 10 years, but it could be argued that it's lost touch with its roots, and perhaps some of the history. Who do you think gets left out of the tech-house story?
Eddie: "I’m bound to leave someone out if I start to give credit or list people or particular events. Wiggle always gets mentioned, and Swag records [legendary Croydon record shop, run by the late Liz Edwards, where Terry, Colin Dale, Carl Cox, Jazzy M, Richard Grey, Grant Dell, Dave Mothersole and many others did stints behind the counter] is considered to be a focal point, but there were a huge amount of people and labels who contributed and were on the fringes so to speak. Then there are the promoters both in the UK and abroad that supported the scene early on."
Terry: "There’s always people who get left out of stories. There's all these documentaries about acid house etc on telly and I never see Trevor Fung mentioned, but he was there from the very beginning. There’s always lots of people who don’t get mentioned."
Looking back, what do you feel about Wiggle today?
Terry: "Wiggle’s been a way of life! It’s such a part of our lives, I don’t even think about it anymore really. We never really had a masterplan: we just wanted to do some parties because there was nothing going on in London at the time. And then we just carried on doing it, and here we are 25 years later!"
Eddie: "Wiggle gave me, and us as a collective, a chance to play music without compromise on a really good soundsystem, to a bunch of like-minded people who were mostly friends and their friends. I’m not sure that many DJs get that opportunity."
Nathan: "I’m very proud of Wiggle and that we’ve stood the test of time after all these years. It's very humbling there’s still so much love out there for what we do, as at times it’s been a labour of love. Most importantly, it feels really special to be part of something that's created so many beautiful memories and bonds between so many lovely people over the years, many of which have become lifelong friends."
Words: Harold Heath
Wiggle For 25 Years is out now on Wiggle Records – buy it here. Wiggle's 25th birthday party is at fabric this Friday (28 September)