A treat, here for fans of rave culture, pirate radio, beautiful print publications and local history – likely a lot of people who’ve found themselves in the creative industries – in the shape of new limited-edition book, Sweet Harmony: Radio, Rave & Waltham Forest, 1989-1994.
As a resident of east London borough Waltham Forest, these stories of DJs, pirate radio station owners, businesses and ravers are fascinating in that this part of the capital is one in which you’re aware that there’s a hell of a lot going on here that you don’t really see: if you know you know, if like most people you don’t, you don’t. But these stories are far from unique to Waltham: they’re part of the warp and weft of broader narratives around gentrification, making art and music in conditions that don’t lend themselves to creativity, youthful hedonism and pre-internet dance culture that felt like it could change the world through empathy and four-to-the-floor beats.
Alongside these stories the book presents previously unpublished photographs and flyers, offering visual clues into a part of town that’s, until now, not been documented in its considerable contribution to dance music culture.
Waltham Forest’s history with dance music dates back to the 1970s when a significant number of West Indian families moved to the area and brought sound system culture from Jamaica to a local audience. As pirate radio became a tour de force for sharing new music, stations popped up in housing estates across the borough which have long since been demolished.
The book’s creators, east London community interest company Rendezvous Projects point out that Waltham Forest has an impressive list of achievements in the dance sphere: national magazine, Ravescene, was produced in Chingford; Lennie De Ice, whose track We are IE is often credited as being the first jungle tune, grew up and lived in Walthamstow; DJ Rap, voted the best female DJ in the world, also lived in Walthamstow and learnt to mix at Record Village there. The book is accompanied by a map of the area in relation to dance music.
Waltham Forest also boasted several highly influential clubs that played a vital role in the acid house scene, such as the Dungeons on Lea Bridge Road, which hosted the Hypnoses club promoted by Linden C. “Carl Cox used to come in, lug the speakers all by himself, ask us, ‘… is there any room to DJ?’ and we’d be like, ‘No, we’ve got our DJs Carl’, not being horrible though. Done the same thing every week for like six months… he gave up asking in the end if he could DJ… Now he’s probably the biggest DJ in the world,” he says.
Around 20 record shops were once in the borough, such as In the Mix run by Ronnie Herel, or Dance Factory run by Linden C and Rob Acteson. For nascent promoters, the area was helpful in housing a tonne of more industry-led businesses like banner painters and equipment rental shops.
Among the DJs and producers, who either grew up or lived in the area and whose memories feature in the publication, are Kiss FM founder Gordon Mac, producer and DJ Slipmatt, DJ Warlock, producer and Hypnosis promoter Linden C, Dance 93.0FM founder MC Navigator, DJ Louise and DJ Vicki Edwards. There are also contributions from raver and flyer collector Chelsea-Louise Berlin, Lennie De Ice and Brain Records.
The book and map are designed by Claudia Schenk of Trockenbrot and printed by Aldgate Press in a limited print run of 1000 copies. The full-colour wraparound map shows the physical locations of the radio stations in former estates with QR codes to playlists, and the reverse of the map is a full-colour poster of flyers and previously unpublished photographs.
“We’ve managed to capture a range of voices to tell the story of a significant and intense period in national music history but from a local perspective,” says Katherine Green, project lead for Rendezvous Projects. “It demonstrates the ingenuity of working-class young people and how their creativity, plus a mix of cultural backgrounds, positively impacted and influenced a generation of young people.”