Simply put, Steve Bicknell is one of the most important techno artists in the history of British dance music. His LOST parties are engrained in the fabric of the genre’s history, having run for more than 20 years, spanning the explosion of electronic music in the UK and every trend and twist in its history since. A veteran of the British Summer of Love, Bicknell was fortunate enough to be playing at many of the parties that defined the era alongside other luminaries like Fabio and Grooverider. It was a chance meeting with Paul Oakenfold that would set the young Bicknell on the path to production, at first with friend Nigel Fairman and then as a solo artist. By 1990 he was already staging his own parties, and started LOST in that year with partner Sheree Rashit. It wasn’t long before the pair expanded their vision to include a record label too, providing through Cosmic Records and its sub-labels an outlet for Bicknell’s own releases and for some of the many guest DJs of the LOST parties. Bicknell’s productions, at once brutal and minimalist, formed the foundation of the labels, and also captured the essence of the LOST nights. Though the label has been quiet for some years and the parties are not as frequent as they once were, Steve Bicknell’s remix of Hauschka’s “Tanzbein” late last year showed promise of a return to production. Little White Earbuds caught up with Bicknell to find out more about the early years of LOST and whether we are to be treated to more of his inimitable productions. He also presented us with a very special mix for our exclusive 154th podcast, made up exclusively of the original and remixed works of Hauschka’s stunning Salon Des Amateurs album.
LWE Podcast 154: Steve Bicknell (46:23)
01. Hauschka, “Radar” (Michael Mayer Remix) [FatCat Records]
02. Hauschka, “Sunrise” (Matthew Herbert’s Dawn Mix) [FatCat Records]
03. Hauschka, “Cube” (segment) [FatCat Records]
04. Hauschka, “Cube” (Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer Remix)
05. Hauschka, “Radar” (alva noto Remodel) [FatCat Records]
06. Hauschka, “Subconscious” [FatCat Records]
07. Hauschka, “Ping” (segment) (Vanqueur Remix) [FatCat Records]
08. Hauschka, “Ping” (Vanqueur Remix) [FatCat Records]
09. Hauschka, “Ping” (segment) (Vanqueur Remix) [FatCat Records]
10. Hauschka, “Cube” (Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer Remix)
11. Hauschka, “Radar” (segment 1) [FatCat Records]
12. Hauschka, “Radar” (segment 2) [FatCat Records]
13. Hauschka, “Girls” (Hauntologists Remix) [FatCat Records]
14. Hauschka, “Tanzbien” (segment) [FatCat Records]
You’re best known perhaps for your club nights, LOST, which have been going now for more than twenty years (with a break or two in there). Your first release was also as Lost with Nigel Fairman. Which came first, the project or the club night?
Steve Bicknell: LOST, the event as we know it, produced and curated by Sheree Rashit and myself, has now been running for over 20 years. Nigel and I recorded under Lost in 1990 before the events. I actually held two LOST nights at the Park in Kensington, with guest Danny Rampling and Andrew Weatherall around the same time.
That first Lost release was on the Perfecto label, which almost seems an odd partner to your style, but at the same time must have afforded you a lot of exposure.
Odd partner? You may think so, but in 88/89 myself, Fabio, and Grooverider were residents at the Energy parties, and I was also playing some other Orbital raves! (World Dance, Humanity, Phantasy etc.) At that time I was playing house after the Summer of Love crumbled due to media attention, I secured residencies at the Zap on a Thursday, the Wag on a Friday with Paul Trouble Anderson (which I became co-promoter on and the first time I booked Kevin Saunderson), the Brain with Billy Nastri on a Saturday, Solaris on a Sunday along with Andrew Weatherall and co–promoter/DJ at Kazoo, plus guesting around Europe and the UK. I met Paul Oakenfold along the way.
I had no real ambition to make music, but a friend of mine (Phil Asher) kept saying I should go into the studio, and in the end he arranged studio time for me with an engineer friend of his, Ollie. Nigel [Fairman] and myself had been friends for a long time, collecting music together. It was very simple, I had no idea how to make music; so along with Nigel, I took along my current DJ box and we sampled a few records and presto, we had two tracks which I began playing in my sets off a cassette. I’m not even sure how Paul [Oakenfold] heard the tracks, but he called me up inviting us in for a meeting. Dave Dorrell did the same, they both wanted the release. We decided to go with Perfecto, which ended up be a two single and album deal. Well we released two singles on Perfecto. By this time Nigel, Ollie and myself had learned quite a lot about making music and had veered away from sampling into producing original music, which was heading deeper into the techno world and didn’t fit with Perfecto, so we went our separate ways. Mute then approached us as they were running Nova Mute, releasing Underground Resistance, Richie Hawtin, et al. We signed a deal with Nova Mute and released The Ten 12″. Soon after that, due to musical differences, Nigel and I began recording separately. At this time LOST was formed with Sheree and myself. The focus is on the music without distraction, a deep, dark box in which you can get lost in the sound.
How old were you at this stage?
I was 24 when “The Gonzo” was released on Perfecto.
So what were up to during the Summer of Love? What sort of parties were you attending and what was having the biggest impact on you?
Summer of Love! 88/89 I was playing Energy and other Orbital raves as they became known. What parties would I attend, hmmmm, Well I was playing a lot if I wasn’t working and if there was a Shoom or Boys Own on I’d go; and I think Nicky Holloway was holding The Trip at the Astoria. The biggest impact would have to be traveling. Playing the Ku club in Ibiza, that had quite an impact at that time as the nights had different atmosphere at that time than the UK.
Where were the first LOST parties held?
The first LOST was held in a photographer’s studio in Camden which was for around 150 people, with myself Colin Faver in the techno room and Phil Asher and guest in the house room.
Were they successful from the get-go? How long before you started getting international guests in to play? And who were some of the first guests?
Well the second LOST was closed down around 2:30am by the Police. Richie Hawtin was guesting that night and was not arriving until 4am, as he’d played The Orbit in Leeds first. This meant Sheree and I had to sit around and wait for Richie to turn up, only to show him the empty studio, but a friendship was formed. LOST found a home in Brixton (The Vox) which is really where LOST was established running monthly with international guest alongside UK artists, as we had three rooms to experiment with and sometimes four rooms.
These haven’t been the only parties you put on over the years. Can you tell us about the other parties you’ve done too?
Myself and Blain (Kazoo) held a fancy dress ball at the ICA, with guests Danny Rampling, Andrew Weatherall, Farley, Rocky, and Diesel. I co-promoted other nights with Sheree (Love and Sex) in various warehouses and basements.
I guess the Cosmic Records label must have been a natural progression to make then from putting on parties.
Sheree and I formed the label in 1993 as an extension to our activities with LOST, the intention being to reflect the sound we were interested and involved in. So yes, I’d been recording along the way and LOST was establishing its own identity. The two really came together with the Lost Recordings releases, as these tracks were produced specifically for the LOST dance floor.
Your own productions changed quite a bit when you set up the label, within a couple of years becoming a lot more stripped back, if not in the impact of the sound, then definitely in the delivery. What was informing this shift? Were you using new equipment or just refining your skills and tastes more?
I was not using new equipment. Maybe I was just gaining understanding of the equipment and experimenting to produce different effects. LOST was informing the music I produced as I became so focused on the LOST sound.
The first guests on the Cosmic label were all pretty raw, Chicago producers. Was this ghetto, tracky style in favor at that time in London or was it more of a personal preference?
Well Cosmic splintered into a few labels: Cosmic Records, Club Tracks, Lost Recordings and Identity. Cosmic releases have always been our preferences as opposed to being a style in favor. With both LOST and Cosmic we went out on a limb, we weren’t following a trend but forming our own identity. Basically Cosmic is techno, Club Tracks is Chicago, Lost Recordings is the Lost dance floor, and ID(entity) is artists working under alternative guises. The Chicago guys were also booked for LOST, often for their first bookings outside of Chicago, so we naturally wanted their productions for the label. Sheree would chase around tracking these guys down and conversation would form our initial introduction, followed by DJ sets leading to releases. The late Armando was very influential.
Having been involved with this music in London from its very early days, you must have seen some huge changes, including the rise and the demise of the superclubs. Are there certain moments that really stand out as times of transition, when things changed for the better or for the worse?
One memory that stands out is playing with Carl Cox in a field. I had just finished and Carl began DJing; I was sitting on the stage watching the police and security having a stand off, police vans being rocked over. I’m watching all of this happen thinking to myself, ‘This is the end,’ which it was. The Orbital raves were becoming something I no longer wanted to be part of, as the atmosphere had changed so much and more and more unsavory characters were getting involved. Superclubs were just modern day Ritzi’s, so there was a place for them. Personally it was for the better; last year I played the Barbican with Hauschka, Dustin O’Halloran, Jóhann Jóhannsson. I’d like to be part of productions like this more in the future.
As for things changing for the better or worse? Well, if things don’t change what could be worse than that? Change is something that is needed in all forms otherwise there is no progression on any level.
Throughout the years of your parties and releases, what has given you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
LOST, Burundi and Spacebase parties are perhaps more of a rare thing these days, but are still going. What have you got coming up for the parties?
Yes, we’re still going and it’s great to be working with DJs who have evolved along with us and the new generation. Our last LOST featured techno pioneers Derrick May and Juan Atkins alongside the new school of Tevo Howard and Kyle Hall. Kyle wasn’t even born when we held our first LOST nights. March 1st at Space Base I’ll play with Andrew Weatherall, and Easter Sunday, March 31st, I’ll play with Jeff Mills, Moritz von Oswald, Plaid, and more. You can get more info on the LOST website.
And what’s going on in the studio at the moment? You remixed Hauschka last year, but can we expect to see any new releases from you soon?
Yes, new releases imminent on Lost Recordings, plus a new project Granell, and we’ve remastered the whole back catalog for digital release.
What can you tell us about the mix you’ve put together for us?
I wanted to produce something away from the norm of DJ mix, almost taking it into a soundscape, incorporating remixes and original tracks. That was the concept for it, I hope this comes across in the mix.
And what can we expect from Steve Bicknell over the next year?
Mmmmm, I’m never predictable, but new releases, new interpretations of Lost Recordings, hopefully working with other artists from different genres like Hauschka, collaborating on music/productions in some way.