Interview: The Dead Horse Gang | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Gangs are frequently getting bad press and, since the supermarket meat sourcing scandal that affected Tesco and Iceland, so are dead horses. The Dead Horse Gang, however, do not. This merry band of DJs met through the Carlisle clubbing scene way back in the late nineties and have been spreading merriment via their skills on the wheels of steel and through the various club nights they’ve put on. These days the gang are scattered around the North of England but get together every so often to do something special. Their upcoming event takes place at Cobalt on Saturday 19th October and features Bill Brewster (music writer and one of the founding resident DJs at Fabric in London) doing a three hour set on the decks. We caught up with Tim Forrester from TDHG to find out more.

How did The Dead Horse Gang come together?
For the original Carlisle members of the gang (Douglas, Mike and me), we all became good friends through the small Carlisle house music scene in the late 1990s/early 2000s. We spent years going clubbing together and squabbled with each other about whose turn it was on the decks at afterparties. We were part of a wider gang of like-minded people who found pleasure in doing the sorts of daft things a lot of people in their late teens and early twenties do. We eventually met Sam once he’d moved to Carlisle from Kendal. He worked with my housemate at the time so he was probably introduced to me first and then I introduced him to the others. Tim Hamblin we found a few years down the line on the outdoor party/festival circuit.

It’s not often you will find the whole gang playing together though. We tend to work on a pattern of interchanging line-ups based on who’s available at the time. It’s mostly to do with set time constraints, space in the DJ booth and the distance between some of us. I moved to Newcastle in 2011 and Tim Hamblin lives in Manchester.

Where did the name come from?
The whole idea for the night was Doug’s. We’ve been on the go as The Dead Horse Gang for six years now, I think if Doug had known things were going to last this long he might have chosen a different name. It’s a bit of a self-deprecating joke that backfired. By the time we formed in 2013, we’d all had experience with promoting nights together, it’s just that everybody aside from Doug had decided they’d had enough of doing them. Some of our previous nights, such as the house/techno night ‘Rhythmic Voodoo’ bombed so badly there were occasions where it was only us DJs and the bar staff. In the end, Doug was the only one willing to get us all together to “flog a dead horse” one more time.

I’m glad he did. Since being in The Dead Horse Gang, he’s found us a decent run of festival bookings and we’ve played parties in Carlisle with the likes of Moodymanc, Dannielle Moore, 78 Edits, Sean P, Craig Smith, Ruf Dug, Get Down Edits, Luke Unabomber, and Bill Brewster. It’s really not been bad going considering the expectation most of us had, in the beginning, was that it was all going to crash and burn after the first few parties. The idea behind all of our nights has been to only play the records we love. I think it was just fortunate our tastes at the time focussed heavily on edits and the deeper/soulful end of house music. It proved to be a much more palatable style to a wider audience than our younger days of more aggressive music and higher BPMs.

How did you get into putting club nights on?
The first ‘Rhythmic Voodoo’ night we did was in 2003, but the exact reason why it happened escapes my mind. I do remember us being dissatisfied with the clubbing situation in Carlisle at the time; maybe it was just in response to that. Ultimately, it will have been for the same reason a lot of people end up putting on nights with their mates. We had records we wanted to play, but when other promoters aren’t putting you on, you’ve just got to do it yourself.

What are the prized records in your collection?
I reckon most of my ‘prized’ records probably aren’t all that rare or expensive. There are tunes that never leave my record bag and there are others that soundtrack a particular time or event in my life. It’s too hard a question to give a definitive answer to, but here are some off the top of my head.

Henrik Schwarz & Amampondo – I Exist Because Of You (Henrik Schwarz Live Version) (Innervisions)
Hypnotising. If timed right this is one of those tunes that will transition a dancefloor from not much happening to it going right off.

 Mondo Grosso – Star Suite (Blaze Remix) (King Street Sounds)
I’ve had this one in my bag for 18 years. It’s a criminally overlooked record. You can still find it on Discogs for less than £3. 16 minutes of part spoken word, part gospel singing and loads of jazz flute. It’s also the ideal record to play if you’re desperate to run off for a piss and can’t get your mate to do the next mix. 

Ikonika – Fleas (Hoya Hoya)
I guess I’ve been playing this one out for about seven or eight years now. The drums and synthlines conjure up mental images of a weird post-apocalyptic future in which you spend all your time being chased through the streets by angry robotic wasps. It can often only be played when you’ve got the crowd fully on board with what you’re doing.

Vince Watson – Mystical Rhythm (Alola)
Even twenty years on this is still a near-perfect example of how to extract soul from the machines. 

Anohni – 4Degrees (Rough Trade)
More apocalyptic music. I have a weird multi-sided 12” that plays the instrumental and vocal separately on the same side of the vinyl, depending on where you land the needle.

Lewi Cifer – Heat (Lewcified Remix) (Red Eye Records)
Claustrophobic and brooding sounding jungle. I bought this from Tony Daly at 586 Records when he was patient enough to let me take hours to go through a 90s jungle/drum & bass collection that came in. I really love spending time in 586 and this is probably my favourite record I’ve discovered in there so far.

What’s your opinion of the North-East club/dance scene?
In terms of the acts, I think it’s in a pretty healthy state. Considering there aren’t even that many clubs or venues left to cater specifically to non-commercialised dance music we still tend to get impressive line-ups of artists & DJs pass through the city thanks to the hard work of a handful of promoters. Whether it’s the big nights with top names or people willing to risk putting a relatively unknown up and coming act on through the strength of their music, clubbers seem to be well catered to.

It’s maybe not so great for promoters sometimes though. It’s already a highly saturated market so there are going to be winners and losers. This is especially true if new nights start competing for similar sorts of audiences. It’s a big gamble. Doug has wanted to bring The Dead Horse Gang over to Newcastle for a while, but he’s needed me to want to get fully involved in the promotion side of things. It was only when we floated the idea of booking Bill Brewster I decided I was willing to take on the stresses of promotion again.

Tell us more about the Bill Brewster night at Cobalt Studios on the 19th of October. What can people expect?
Bill has been a musical hero to the whole gang for quite some time now. Even Jockey slut magazine once said about him “What Bill Brewster doesn’t know about disc jockeying is probably not worth knowing.” On the face of it, that statement could be seen as being a bit hyperbolic, but I think Bill has the credentials to suggest otherwise.

If people haven’t heard of him, their favourite DJs most likely have. Bill is not just a DJ, he’s also an acclaimed music journalist. When it comes to DJing, he literally wrote the book… or he at least co-wrote the book. ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’ is the history of the Disc Jockey and how their endeavours impacted upon our culture. Bill wrote it with his writing partner Frank Broughton. The two also wrote other titles such as ‘How To DJ Properly’ and ‘The Record Players’. The reality is, through his writing and DJing, Bill has proven himself to be a one-man encyclopaedia when it comes to the subject and art of making people dance. The last time he played for us in Carlisle was really special and we just wanted to try to recreate a bit of that in Newcastle. 

We’ve booked him to play an extended 3hr set so you can expect anything from a journey through disco and funk or have him work everyone up into a sweat via his all-encompassing knowledge of house music. I already know that Bill’s prestige makes him a DJ’s DJ, but I would implore anyone who may not be too familiar with him to check out his books and available DJ mixes and podcasts. If you have real passion for dance music culture then this is a night not to be missed. 

Have you got any other events planned in the near future?
There are definitely more events planned for us over in Carlisle. I might get into trouble with Doug if I unveil what’s planned for the 6th birthday as I’m not sure it’s been fully signed off on yet. The Dead Horse Gang are playing host to The Mighty Zaf at the end of September though. We also have a list of people we’d like to book for Newcastle and things we want to achieve over here, but I’ll have to see how I feel about that once we’ve done the night at Cobalt. 

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