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Interview: Mark Moore on the Utopian potential of House and Techno

Image: Photo of Mark Moore by Luke Nugent.

Mark Moore is an underground legend, helping reshape London nightlife culture and much more over the past three decades. It started when he got his break as a DJ at Philip Sallon’s legendary Mud Club – a key site of the 80s post-punk, pre-house underground scene. 

As an early convert, Moore introduced house and techno to many UK clubbers through his seminal Asylum residency at Heaven. Then with Pascal Gabriel he formed the band S’Express and, through their 1988 smash ‘Theme from S’Express’, pumped house into the nation’s veins, where it has been coursing ever since. Their other hits included ‘Superfly Guy’ and ‘Hey Music Lover’, plus collaborations with Billy Ray Martin and Sonique. And, with William Orbit and Malcolm McLaren, Moore went on to create ‘Deep in Vogue’. 

He’s also hosted many more nights, supported the likes of Grace Jones and Psychic TV, run several labels, written fiction and journalism and contributed to many retrospectives, documentaries and exhibitions about music and culture. In this vein, Moore appears in TRAMPS, Kevin Hegge’s terrific new documentary about the post-punk underground, and is a contributor to The Horror Show!, the sensational 2022-2023 exhibition at Somerset House about cultural ruin, provocation and regrowth in the UK over the past half-century. 

Here Moore tells us about re-queering the New Romantics and dreaming of The Exorcist - and why Acid House never ended.

Ben Walters: You've created a sound installation as well as doing a live DJ set to accompany the new Somerset House exhibition The Horror Show!, which links UK subculture since the dawn of punk to the horror genre - especially monsters, ghosts and orit witches. Tell us about your contribution to The Horror Show!

Mark: The Horror Show! is about the creativity that comes out of the horror induced by crap governments and bad living conditions. This especially applies to the punks and new romantics (and hello UK 2022). The sound installation I did with DJ and DuoVision Gallery runner Martin Green. We decided to do a mixtape of tracks avoiding the obvious New Romantic hits but invoking the early 80s (and onwards) clubs we love such as the Mud Club, The Blitz, Taboo, The Wag, Language Lab, etc. We did it live so no using the synch button on the CDJs! The roughness of a live mix really captures the mood of how things sounded in those days, but to be honest, not many DJs were mixing records in clubs then. You would just hear one record being played after another which did give the night an anything-can-happen atmosphere. You really didn’t know what would be coming on next with many genres of music popping up throughout the night. Clubs can be a lot more predictable nowadays - genre wise.

As you walk round the room where our mix is playing, at various points it will sound like you are outside the club, then you are in the building and the club is downstairs, then you are actually in the club! The room also has loads of projections of Derek Ridgers' photos from the era, a Dick Jewell video of people parading down the stairs at Kinky Gerlinky and costumes by Pam Hogg, Leigh Bowery and Gareth Pugh. It’s quite thrilling and intoxicating. I’m hoping people will actually dance there!

Image: Derek Ridgers, Trojan & Mark At Taboo, London, 1986. © Derek Ridgers. Courtesy Of Derek Ridgers Editions. Part of the exhibition, The Horror Show! at Somerset House.

Ben: Are you a horror fan?

Mark: I’m a huge horror fan. Read all the Stephen King books when I was at school. Also James Herbert - The Rats and The Fog! I got hooked on David Cronenberg when I saw Shivers aged 13. I would actually have dreams at night that I managed to see The Exorcist (which was hard to see at the time) and wake up in total exhilaration at the brilliant film I imagined in my sleep. 

My fave of the new stuff is Black Summer on Netflix. It’s yet another zombie apocalypse series but done in a different style to most. It’s split horror fans equally into love and loathe camps and most Walking Dead fans hate it. There’s very little dialogue, people do really stupid things (but in realistic ways) and there’s little character backstory. Somehow you get to know these people through every minute action they take. It’s a mix of minimalism and chaos where you are often dropped into a middle of a story and left to figure things out yourself. Someone described it as Tarkovsky does zombies.

Being scared in a safe space is such a great feeling - like an altered state.

Image: The Horror Show! A Twisted Tale of Modern Britain at Somerset House, London 2022. Image by Stephen Chung for Somerset House

Ben: Do you think it makes sense to link UK underground culture to horror? Who or what is your favourite monster, ghost or witch from the scene?

Mark: The Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous But True Tale Of Murder In Clubland book by James St. James is just brilliant. It captures the hedonism of the time, the dressing up, the bitchiness, the humour and the what-the-fk murder madness of Micheal Alig in the most dazzling way. The book was made into the film Party Monster and Mr Alig really was a party monster. May he finally rest in peace.

Ben: You were also interviewed for the fab recent documentary TRAMPS, another look back at London's underground scene since the punk years. Are there any general things you think these retrospectives highlight particularly well about underground culture in this country - and any aspects you think they tend to leave out or short change?

Mark: What’s great about Kevin Hegge’s documentary is that it re-examines the New Romantics and shines a light on the people who were going to the clubs rather than the usual look at the usual bands. Most of the New Romantics docs make it seem like a bit of silly fun that came and went: men in make up and frilly shirts, very superficial, all quite disposable. Kevin’s film show’s how influential the things that were born of that era are to where we are now: in art and fashion and in creativity in general.

You had Leigh Bowery and Michael Clark and the film also includes the forerunners of the 80s. People like Derek Jarman, Andrew Logan, Duggie Fields, Lindsay Kemp. This was such an LGBTQ+ scene and it was gender fluidity before we had the pronouns - we just called EVERYBODY ‘she'! The New Romantics story seems to have been hijacked by straight boys now (hello Dylan Jones and Spandau Ballet! Still love you though!) so it’s great to reclaim the Queer creativity and subversion and to restate its importance. It was an extremely creative time and the film also shows just what it took to survive when you looked like a glamorous alien.

Ben: What aspect of underground culture since punk do you think has ended up being most influential on the mainstream - for good or bad?

Mark: It has to be House music which exploded during the Acid House movement of 1988 during the Second Summer of Love. 35 years on and the 4 to the floor is still going strong in nightclubs and festivals around the world. The way we party now globally is based on the 1988 Acid explosion. For better or worse! It’s certainly not based on Studio 54 except in a few select clubs. Think about it - 35 years and House music is now mainstream pop music. It stole away the pop blueprint from rock ’n’ roll. 

Ben: Back in the 80s, did you see house and techno as having utopian potential? If so, how do you think that has played out?

Mark: Yes we thought we were going to change the world and stop wars and bring unity to people of all nations. The drugs were good then! The Acid House thing did change a lot of people for the better thanks to Ecstasy. The clubs became more racially mixed, homophobes and football firms managed to chill out. By osmosis I think it definitely changed the UK in that way. As much of a mess as we are in right now I do think we would be worse off without Acid House.

Ben: What excites you about the music and nightlife scene at the moment? Do you think there are things going on that point the way to better futures?

Mark: Da kidz! They are a pretty cool bunch and I love that a lot of stuff us older people take for granted is all new to them in music, movies and style. That naivety means they can get things wrong and great new things can come out of the mistakes. I do worry that social media takes up more of their time than their actual craft (not to mention distracting them from important issues in the real world outside). It would be so boring to live in a world filled with influencers. We still need great music, movies, books and art. 

Ben: And what might we expect from you in terms of your own creative work in the next year or two?

Mark: A box set of everything made by S’Express is in the works. This includes b-sides, 12-inch mixes and rarities! I’m also working on some music and a couple of collaborations but it’s way too early to talk about them yet. Top secret for now! So keep your eyes and ears pealed and let’s 'ave it, get right on one matey … err... ...etc.

Find out more about Mark Moore and his upcoming news from his website

Mark's sound installation with Martin Green is at The Horror Show!, Somerset House until 19 Feb 2023 (find out more here), plus Mark will be playing a live DJ set as part of The Horror Show! Take Over of SKATE at Somerset House on Thursday 24 November 2022 (details here).

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