Hello you. On this week’s Near Mint show on Resonance FM, we’re going back in time to the golden pre-internet days of tower-block pirate radio, when the only way to communicate with the ‘massive’ was through a series of increasingly frantic, home-made commercials, loudly proclaiming how ‘true to the scene’ you were while deriding the hordes of ‘commercial sell-out rubbish’ being produced literally everywhere else. It’s going to be loud, relentless, rather shonky, oddly charming – and above all else an intriguing glimpse into an era that now seems an eternity ago.
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Moreover, we’re visiting the lost world of radio advertisements produced by a shadowy 1990s collective known as the SU Corporation – a fiercely independent Essex-based consortium of labels such as Strictly Underground and Strictly Hardcore, masterminded by industry stalwart and true hardcore renaissance man Mark Ryder. It’s a subject that’s predictably close to my heart – few other records have ever given me the same frisson of excitement as I felt beholding the latest Strictly Hardcore releases in Pink Panther Records as a youngster. Their sleeves came loaded with words and imagery that told of the illicit thrill of raves far from my quiet home town – not to mention a disclaimer unflinchingly refusing to accept any liability for ‘speaker damage’ caused by their contents. And then there were the artists featured on the back cover – names like Undercover Movement, Hackney Hardcore, Soundclash, Sonic Experience and Fantasy UFO seemed tinged with mystery and exoticism, each pseudonym a gateway to a hidden world accessible only to those with their ears superglued to the streets. Look, I was barely thirteen, OK? This stuff is a lot more significant when you’re thirteen!
The uninitiated amongst you might well argue that this week’s show is just a bunch of Essex boys yelling for half an hour and it’s certainly true that there’s a fair amount of repetition – any listeners wishing to incorporate phrases such as ‘commercial sellout rubbish!’, ‘illegal pirate radio!’ and ‘Oi! Oi!’ into a drinking game will be on the floor within ten minutes. It’s also true that describing various releases as ‘the BEST live recording EVER!’ or ‘an album for your collecting section!’ does bring us close to the kind of territory that would be affectionately sent up later on by the likes of People Just Do Nothing. But, as with the more recent misadventures of the Kurupt FM massive, to my mind this only makes their work all the more endearing.
I can admit to being frequently amused by the home-made feel, low production values and unscripted, improvised nature of these adverts, not to mention by the slight cognitive dissonance caused by the labels’ differing uses of that word ‘illegal’: initially plastering it all over their compilations as a selling point, then issuing a disclaimer on later releases warning that anyone using their tracks on ‘illegal mixtapes’ would be sued ‘to the full extent of the law’ – rather a case of ‘having your hardcake and eating it’. But there should be no doubt whatsoever that my love for the work of The SU Corporation is genuine. The music is unsophisticated, noisy, abrasive and chaotic, packed full of helium-voiced divas, one finger keyboard stabs, bleeps, blurts and squelches, all over what sounds like a drum machine clattering down a flight of steps. And I adored it all. My schoolmates could keep their dreary old Oasis records and the so-called ‘real music’ they kept harping on about – this was my sound. Even if I did happen to be several hundred miles from its epicentre and with double maths homework to look forward to….
Seriously, just listen to the enthusiasm on display here – have you ever got as excited about anything in your life as whoever provided the voiceover on the advert for the Ultimate Drum And Bass Collection boxset? No credit is available, but I do hope he survived the recording – it sounds as if his skull is about to pop out of his forehead. For all the mockney banter on display here, there’s no doubt how deadly seriously these guys took their music and the scene they’d created. Having said that, if you manage to sit through the show’s opening exchange in a record shop, the rather strained encounters with bewildered members of the Brentford constabulary at an outdoor rave, or the closing recording of the SU team giggling in the studio without cracking a smile then a small part of you may well be already dead.
It’s so easy to forget that before everything was available online forever, THIS was how things were done. The SU guys never hung around waiting for permission or for big money labels to come in and scoop them up. They did it all themselves, being closely involved with pirate stations such as Unity 88.4FM in Romford (they feature in tonnes of vintage Unity broadcasts uploaded online, including this little beauty from 1993), hosting the Hardcore Hellraiser events and releasing all their own records – of which they are almost too many to count. Just have a look at the Strictly Underground and Mark Ryder pages on the online record database Discogs. Strictly Underground alone has a whopping one hundred and ninety three releases credited to it and I’m willing to bet that somewhere between half and two thirds were produced by Mark himself, either under his own name, as part of a group or using one of his various alter-egos. When you take into account that at its peak SU Corporation was releasing some twenty-five 12″s and seven compilations in a single year and that Mark simultaneously ran numerous sub-labels such as Jungle Mania and Vicious Pumpin’ Plastic, you begin to wonder how he ever found time to sleep. As the man himself says nowadays on his Twitter handle: ‘It’s all I do, it’s my life’. Could anyone doubt his sincerity?
Truly this is a journey back to a lost world of open air raves, of home-made rooftop transmitters, of cat-and-mouse games with the Police, the DTI, and unscrupulous bootleg tape manufacturers. A world that, as far as I’m concerned, can’t help but make much that came after it look rather rather dull by comparison. And, finally – let’s face it – a world that has now gone forever. But it’s a happy thought that for half an hour at 6pm on a Tuesday evening (not to mention 10.30 on a Thursday morning), the SU Corporation get to rule the airwaves once again. Or: ‘Oi Oi!! Strictly ‘Ardcore Records are back in the place!’ as they would put it. Bravo, gents…