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On house music, hard times and Hard Times

2019 May 20     
2 Bit Thugs

Doorly is the new musical director of long-running northern club night Hard Times. With a big party coming up this Friday, we get the full story from him and Hard Times main man Steve Raine

What goes around, comes around, the old saying goes. In house circles, that certainly seems to be true at the moment, because hot on the heels of the Love To Be… relaunch we told you about last month, this Friday sees the rebirth of another much-loved northern clubbing powerhouse, Hard Times, with a party at Tokyo in Huddersfield. The night will be headlined by Green Velvet, with support from Doorly himself, Miles Hollway & Ellliott Eastwick, Groove Assassin, Jason Shaw and Steven Dunn, plus a host of local talent.

The brainchild of Steve Raine – possibly the only the man in the world to maintain a dual career as both a successful club promoter and a working Yorkshire sheep farmer – Hard Times was one of the defining clubs of the 90s, championing the sounds of US house and garage and bringing many big-name DJs to the UK for the first time. A string of 'best club in Britain' awards followed, as did a record label. Things went on a backburner for a few years in the early 21st Century, but the last five years have seen a series of one-off Hard Times events across the north.

Now, with Doorly as musical director, they're going all-out in a push to reclaim the throne they once proudly called their own – and they're determined to avoid being put in the box marked 'retro night'. Doorly gives us his views on the new partnership below – but first we chat to Steve Raine, the man who got it all going in the first place.

Why are you reviving the Hard Times brand now?

Steve Raine: "What happened was, I had a few years off, but but five years ago I decided it was still in me to put on what I call 'special events', because that's how I see them. We don't like to do the same thing week in, week out… we always try and do something different, to bring people together and musical genres together for the first time.

"But I just felt that, after doing it for five years at places like fabric and Church, I was faced with a decision: do I close it down gracefully, carry on as we have been with a party here, a party there, or do I think that with the right people onboard we can get to the dizzy heights we were at in the beginning?

"We were based in Huddersfield, and Dooly's a Huddersfield lad and knew Hard Times from when he was a lad, so when we brought the label back I asked him if he'd remix Time 2 Stop by Roger Sanchez. He did a wonderful mix that did really well, and we became friends, and it became clear to me just how high in his esteem he actually held Hard Times. He understood what were about because he'd been witness to it.

"So I went to him and said, before I make a big decision, would you be interested in coming onboard and taking Hard Times into its next chapter? I feel I've gone as far as I can go, because obviously the scene's ever-changing, and it doesn't resemble what it was when we first started. Back then it was a lot more intimate and much smaller, now it's a massive industry and I've become just a little fish, whereas in the early days we were leaders.

"So that's why I asked Martin to come onboard, and he said yes. And now I'm taking a back seat and Martin's at the forefront, and he's looking at all sorts of ideas. We also work closely with Aaron Mellor who owns Tokyo Industries, who's been a massive help over the past five years. He's played a big role, and so has Nik Wilson, who's been a booker for Ministry Of Sound and now he lives in LA and works with Aaron – he's come onboard to take care of bookings and global events. Plus there's Steven Dunn, who's in charge of design and promo.

"To be fair, we've never had a team like this around us, so it's really exciting. If we didn't have those people onboard I'd have put it on the shelf, because we don't have anything to prove. But now I'm really excited about this new chapter in our life."

How do you think Martin's coming onboard will affect the club's musical outlook? Because I always associate Hard Times primarily with vocal US house and garage…

SR: "Well, we've always been about US house and garage, that's what we do. But if you look at our line-ups, we had people like Deep Dish and Danny Tenaglia and Angel Moraes – it wasn't all vocal house! We like to mix it up… I remember, for instance I put Frankie Knuckles on with Tuff Jam. I got absolutely slated for that, how could we put speed garage on alongside the Godfather of House, blah blah, but we did it and it worked, and that'll go down as one of our best nights ever.

"So it's the same for Martin now, he'll be mixing it up a bit. I don't want to be a retro night, a trip down Memory Lane – I want Hard Times to make a real contribution and I think Martin can do that. He's massively respected and much loved in the industry, and he has a love for all kinds of… house music, let's call it. Don't get me wrong, we'll still be working with people from our past, because they made us what we are. But we'll be mixing up people from our past with new, up-and-coming talent.

"Over the last five years, for instance, we've worked with people like Black Coffee and Jeremy Underground: the scene's so vibrant right now, it's great. The only problem is making it fit financially! The industry has progressed massively, it's serious business now – it's not just a bunch of mates having a good time, which it basically was back then."

So Martin, over to you! I hear you used to go to Hard Times back in the day?

Doorly: "Yeah. I went to university in Huddersfield, and I consider Huddersfield my home town because we moved around a lot when I was younger, so when I moved to Huddersfield it was the longest I'd ever lived anywhere. But I think even before I moved there I'd been to a few Hard Times parties. It was my first real foray into clubbing because there wasn't really much going on in Huddersfield, you had to go to Leeds or Manchester.

"So Hard Times was what really inspired me to get into house music. Like seeing David Morales play there… that was the first time I heard Needin' U, which was the first record I bought on 12-inch. So I owe a lot to Hard Times, really, in terms of my influences.

"Obviously the scene changed a bit, and in the last few years it was quite hard for them, as it was for a lot of house music brands. And watching from afar, it always bothered me that I couldn't really do anything to help, so when Steve contacted me it was ideal. And we've got parties planned all over the world now, so it's quite a romantic thing really, it's exciting."

How do you see the music policy evolving under your caretakership?

D: "I think basically we want to stay true the original Hard Times ethos, because that's the foundation of the brand, and we've had so much love from those artists. Steve brought a lot of those guys to the UK for the first time, so they respect that and look after him, and that's always going to be a huge part of the brand. But then, we want to keep it fresh as well, and a lot of those big name DJs from the US, some of the youngsters don't know who they are these days, so we're gonna pair them up with younger artists. There'll always be someone that represents the Hard Times tradition, be it a guest or one of the residents we've got coming back, alongside something super-current. And hopefully we'll get a nice mixed crowd age-wise as well."

"I think some of the DJs might play a bit differently than they normally do, in terms of paying tribute to the club's history, but it can't become a retro event. The brand's 25 years old now and we want to keep it going for another 25 years, which means you've got to appeal to the new generation coming through as well. I want it to impress them when they walk in, just like it did me all those years ago."

Let's come back to your own career. You used to be known for quite different music – if you'd told me in 2009 "Doorly's going to be in charge of music at Hard Times" I'd have choked on my cornflakes! But five or six years ago you made quite a public change of direction, which you said was about getting back to your house roots. So does this feel like the natural climax of that decision, almost?

D: "Well, it's good milestone, certainly! Because what happened was… house music was the first music I really got into. Before that I'd listen to a bit of golden era hip-hop but not in a big way – house was the first music that really bit me. But then I became a jobbing DJ, travelling up and down the country playing student nights and stuff, and I couldn't play house music to them, because that wasn't what students wanted at that time.

"And then dubstep started happening and I started getting booked onto line-ups with people like Rusko and Skream, so I started making and playing music a bit more like that. And it was the Dizzee Rascal remix I did, which started just as a bootleg for my own sets, that really kicked things off. Suddenly I was getting management offers, and my fee went from, like, £100 to £3,000 almost overnight! So at that stage my career really took off, and I moved to America.

"It was quite funny cos my mates were all like 'What is this music?' and I was like, 'I don't really know, I'm just going with it!' It was quite fun at the start, so I just went with it: you know, you're a simple lad from Huddersfield and you get the chance to move to LA, why wouldn't you?"

So what changed?

"It was okay for three or four years, but then the music changed and started getting a lot more aggressive, and I just lot any interest in it. I didn't want to go to gigs, I was getting anxiety attacks, and I kind of retired. I to start turning down some huge gigs because I was like, nah, I just wanna play house music, and it was a bit of a shit time, to be honest! Everyone was getting frustrated with me, because I just didn't want to do it any more.

"So I just had to stop, and start again. It took me about two years of scratching about, but that gave me time to make lots of music, and when it did start to come out, I got great support straight away from people like Green Velvet, Todd Terry, DJ Pierre, and once those guys kind of co-signed on me people started to take me seriously, and eventually my career got back to a decent level – I'm not quite where I was, because house is a different world, but I've never been so happy!

"There was a point where I just didn't want to be involved in music anymore: I wasn't enjoying the sound I was playing, and I was kind of ashamed of myself, it was horrible. So it's nice to have a second chance at a career, a second bite of the apple if you like. I think what slowed it down a bit is that I wasn't willing to change my name because, y'know… it's actually my name! I kinda dug my heels in on that, so it took about three years longer than it might have done if I'd gone under an alias, but here we are now.

"It's funny, because not many people actually even remember I used to make that kind of music! It's really only the older DJs and industry types that know I did all that – the youngsters I meet at gigs have no idea."

Words: Russell Deeks

Hard Times is at Tokyo in Huddersfield this Friday (24 May). Click here for tickets, or here for the event page on Facebook

Follow Hard Times: Soundcloud Facebook Twitter  Follow Doorly: Soundcloud Facebook Twitter





Tags: Hard Times, Doorly, Steve Raine, Tokyo, Huddersfield, Green Velvet, Groove Assassin, Miles Holloway, Elliott Eastwick