Echoes: Darren Rock

Jocks&Nerds’ Echoes series is an ongoing programme of evenings hosted in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, London.
Curated by Jocks&Nerds’ resident selector, Stuart Patterson (Faith/Soulsonic), the series welcomes a different guest DJ, each of whom has been instrumental in the development of London’s club scene. Entrance to the night is free and all are welcome.
Ahead of his appearance this Thursday, Stuart Patterson sat down with Darren Rock to discuss his career and the impact of London’s nightlife on his own.

Inspired by acid house clubs like Shoom, Darren Rock formed the DJ partnership Rocky & Diesel with Darren House in 1988.

The duo had been DJs for a few years before but hooked up in the late 1980s AKA the Second Summer of Love. After being picked up by Terry Farley and Steve Hall’s label Junior Boy’s Own, they teamed up with Ashley Beedle and formed X-Press 2 in 1992.

The drama that he incorporated into the music and the whole atmosphere was something I hadn't witnessed before

They had some chart success with the early releases but each moved away from X-Press 2 for a period in the late 1990s to work on their solo projects. By 2000, after a little encouragement from Farley, they regrouped and started writing again. After scoring a deal with Skint Records, they released their first album Muzikizum which, among other tracks, included ‘Lazy’ with David Byrne. The song was a hit, reaching No.2 on the pop charts.

X-Press 2 made two more albums before Beedle left in 2009. Rock and House have continued though, with the group’s fourth album The House of X-Press 2 released in 2012. Another album is currently in production.

When did you start to appreciate music?

My earliest memories, like most people's, were the sounds that my parents listened to. At the time, in the early 1970s, it was Elvis and the Beatles. I remember wanting to be Elvis when I was really young. I had a T-shirt with a gold print of his face on it. As I got a little older, I developed my tastes and started to get influenced by the kids at school.

The first records I can remember buying were Oliver's Army by Elvis Costello and Cool For Cats by Squeeze. I was in hospital at the time and my mum asked me if there was anything that I'd like bringing in. I asked for these and she popped to Woolworths and obliged. I think as far as a first album, that would have been something like the K-Tel [the original ‘As-Seen-On-TV’ company] compilation Action Replay. It featured big tunes from Blondie, Boomtown Rats, Cerrone, Rose Royce, Village People and more. I never got beyond the A-side to be honest.

I remember my first Frenchie at a party with the musical backing of ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ [by Althea and Donna] – I was about 10 at the time. Once I started secondary school, that just exposed me to a whole new world of music. Because of the area that we lived in in west London there were kids from all sorts of backgrounds. I loved listening to all the sounds and appreciating what they meant to my different gangs of mates. We listened to reggae, ska, two-tone, soul, jazz-funk, electro, rap, bhangra, traditional Indian music – I can still remember the words to a couple of Punjabi tunes that my Asian mates taught me – rockabilly, punk, the pop music of the time etc.

I think the first musical genre that I really got into was the whole ska revival thing. I loved the Specials and wanted to be Terry Hall. A mate of ours, Peter Walsh’s father, had been a DJ back in the 1960s and had loads of original ska sevens, so our mate made tapes and we'd listen to these. It was great being able to join the dots between what we were into and the roots of where it had come from.

As I progressed through secondary school, we started to hear the new sounds that were coming out of New York and that was what really lit the touch paper for me. We'd get the 98 bus to a sort of youth club disco in Hounslow, where the DJ played loads of rap and electro. For our sixth-form leaving party, one of the teachers said that she thought there was a DJ console somewhere in a cupboard in B-Block. We went and looked and sure enough, there it was. It was one of those Citronic or Cloud cased consoles, with the two decks and mixer all built in. A couple of mates and myself dragged it out and set it up in the common room. That was my first ever 'gig'. Everyone brought in their tunes, I remember Band Aid getting rinsed that day. It wasn't the Paradise Garage but it was a start.

Could you speak about your first club experiences and the DJs that influenced you.

I can remember going to a couple of local 'discos' when I was around 17/18. Firstly it was Barbarellas in Greenford, somewhere that would feature quite a bit over the coming years for me, and then we progressed onto Regals in Uxbridge – which was always a bit harder to get in. There was a guy that played at Regals called Nik Wakefield. He was the resident and I got a bit matey with him. He was an early influence.

I was listening to LWR [the pirate station London Weekend Radio] at the time as well, and I think the biggest influence was Tim Westwood. I would tape his shows, then spend that Saturday up the West End at Groove Records trying to track down the tunes that he'd played. It was also via his shows that I started hearing the original tracks that the breaks were being sourced from. This then sent us digging deeper and further back. I loved that thing with hip hop DJs of that period, they would play all sorts of musical styles and blend them together into a whole new and exciting sound. This is what truly made me want to be a DJ.

I started going to loads of proper clubs and events around then. We'd jump in a mate's car and head over to Chertsey, to the Galleon or the Cricketers by Chertsey Bridge, and hear Jasper the Vinyl Junkie. Or we'd go to Cleveland Anderson's parties to check him and Fitzroy the Buzz Boy. I started going up west with another bunch of mates and we'd go to the Mud, the Wag, Delirium, Raw, and the Raid and other assorted warehouse parties that were happening all over the place. The music that I was hearing just blew me away, I loved it and just wanted to be in that zone constantly. I started knocking about with Simon Dunmore after DJing at one of his parties, and would go out leafleting with him, he did a couple of nights at Barbarellas. It was through him and my girlfriend of the time, Karen, that I got introduced to the Special Branch parties and events. Something else that was and still remains a massive influence for me. I loved all of the DJs that Nicky [Holloway] would use. The cross section of styles that you'd hear at his events were properly exciting and inspirational.

Tell us about your early DJ gigs?

Around 1985/86 myself and a mate, Steve Dalley, were DJing at a local youth club where they had a set up not dissimilar to the sixth form gig. We'd just play our tunes that we'd bought that weekend and practice mixing. A mate was having a 21st birthday in his uncle's garage somewhere near Feltham, and he'd hired a proper DJ to bring in his sound and and light show. My mate asked me to play some tunes, so I went along and met the DJ, a fella called Jack White. He thought I was very good and said that he could get me a gig at a proper club that his pal ran. I jumped at the chance. His pal was Simon Dunmore (now head of Defected Records) and he was promoting one-offs around west London at the time.

So my fist 'proper' club gig was at C & L Country club near Greenford off the A40. I did the warm up and I was so nervous, I couldn't lift the needle onto the record. I loved it though, and met people around that time that I'm still friends with now. So thank you Jack, for introducing me to that world, I still owe you a pint.

Simon was also doing a Sunday night residency at Keats wine bar in Hayes – my hometown. It was where we'd all meet up before going out at the weekends. Simon couldn't make one Sunday and asked me to stand in for him, I think this was my second proper gig, and again I struggled putting the needle on the record, using one hand to steady the other one while I nudged the tone arm across the vinyl and dropped it at the appropriate place. I remember two girls asking for northern soul and them being most put out that I didn't have any. I was playing my discovered break tracks and lots of funky bits and pieces.

Tell us about your early production days and how that progressed into the chart-topping monster X-Press 2.

I'd met the other Darren [House], Diesel, through the west London lot and we'd started to knock about together after going to Shoom and trying to track down the tunes that Danny [Rampling] was playing. We started DJing together playing our first gig at Barbarellas in the summer of 1988. We were sort of in the right place at the right time and started getting booked regularly to play at clubs and events in and around London.

We were also going to Nicky's Trip nights at the Astoria at the time and it was here that we met Andrew [Weatherall] and Terry [Farley] of Boy’s Own. We got friendly with them and this led to us playing at one of their infamous parties. Terry and Andrew had both started remixing other people's music and it was when Terry was remixing the Farm that he had some spare time in the studio, so he asked if Diesel and me wanted to do our own remix of the track, ‘Groovy Train’. We went in and sampled a load of break beats and an Alan Ginsberg poem and that was our first studio experience. We did a couple of other mixes for the Farm, one of which, ‘All Together Now’, I still have a silver disc of hanging on my wall.

Our first proper production came about through Terry again. He'd asked us to make a tune for his label, Junior Boy’s Own. I was at a night that our mate Mick Robinson had put on and he'd booked Ashley Beedle to play. Ash played an amazing set as usual and one of the tunes that he played was ‘Happy Music’ by Cloud One, a Patric Adams disco tune. Ash was still riding high after the success of his Black Science Orchestra record, ‘Where Were You?’ I remember chatting to him about maybe doing a ‘Where Were You?’ type tune with the Cloud One track. He thought it was a great idea, so a couple of weeks later, him, Diesel and myself met up at a little converted living room of a cottage in Bermondsey with the sound engineer Danny Arno and keyboard player Uschi Classen.

We started trying to build a tune round the Cloud One track but that ended up going out the window. We just had a bunch of samples and a 909 drum track. We loved DJ Pierre's Wild Pitch tracks and one of the biggest records around at the time was Hardfloor's ‘Hardtrance Acperience’, a throbbing acid tune with a massive break down and 909 snare roll. We kind of muddled through the two days and almost came to blows halfway through the second day, with Ash leaving early. It left Danny, Diesel and me doing 'live' mixes of the track and out of about six or seven takes, we ended up with something that sounded ok, although we weren't sure.

We gave a tape of the track to Terry and he took it with him to a gig up north that weekend. He says that on the way up, they listened to it a few times and thought it was ok, but on the way back after a night of indulgence, it then sounded like the best track they'd ever heard! We called the track ‘Fanfare’ by Rock 2 House. Terry said that both names were shit and that it would be now called ‘Muzik Express’ by X-Press 2. He pressed up a couple of acetates and that was it. It blew up.

You have travelled the world to play music. Can you compare your favourite London club night with others?

As far as being a punter, I would have to mention the Sound Factory, New York. We went a couple of times in 1994/1995 and that first time there, for the New Music Seminar week in the Summer of 1994, was quite simply, the best night I'd ever experienced in a club. Junior Vasquez was at his peak at that time and some of the music that he played that night pretty much defined the sound that we as X-Press 2 were championing – big tribal beats with amazing vocals.

The drama that he incorporated into the music and the whole atmosphere was something I hadn't witnessed before. It was an intense experience. There were points when the music and lights would go off and you'd have 1,500 people screaming in the dark. He'd then play a heartbeat sound effect that started panning around the club, getting louder and louder until it finally morphed into the a cappella intro of Underground Sound Of Lisbon's ‘So Get Up’. That feeling of the DJ taking you on a journey with their music… for me and the mates with me, it was our Paradise Garage moment.

I think Shoom in London came near to that intensity but on a much smaller scale. This was the dancefloor that really inspired myself and Diesel to start DJing together. We'd listen to Danny play, then go out and try to find these weird and wonderful tunes that he'd be playing. We'd try places like Trax in Soho or Rough Trade over west, where I first bumped into Terry Farley outside of a club. He was looking for reggae records and I was looking for the Woodentops.

I think if I were to touch on favourite places to play, then I'd have to mention Japan. We first went in 2002, to play at the Fuji Rock Festival as X-Press 2. We were doing our six-deck, three DJ thing at the time. We went back regularly and pretty much had amazing gigs every time we played – whether they were in huge super clubs in Tokyo or tiny little 200 capacity basements in places like Sendai or Fukuoka. Japan remains my favourite place in the world to DJ.

What is in store for you this year?

As X-Press 2 we have a pretty busy couple of months ahead with gigs in Newcastle, Portsmouth, Brixton, Sussex, Cardiff and London. We're also just putting the finishing touches to a new album for Skint that should be released at the tail end of the summer. It features a couple of killer colabs with people that we're pretty chuffed to have got to work with. I'm also really excited to be playing at Latitude festival this year.

Echoes is a laid back, eclectic session. Give us five tracks we might hear from you on the night.

  1. ‘Cashing In’ by the Voices of East Harlem

  2. ‘Cycles of You’ by Joe Bataan

  3. ‘Make Me Believe in You’ by Patti Jo

  4. ‘Miss Fine, Miss Fine’ by Danny White

  5. ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ by Gizzelle