With 1992 classic 'Perfect Motion' remixed and about to be re-released, the veteran duo discuss how things have changed since the rave era
Some tunes are particularly good at evoking memories, at making listeners of a certain age come over all dewy-eyed and nostalgic and start banging on to anyone who'll listen about "the good old days".
One such tune is Sunscreem's 1992 classic Perfect Motion. It wasn't the band's breakthrough hit – that was previous single Love You More, which reached No 30 in the UK charts. But it was, as founding vocalist, keyboardist and cellist Lucia Holm freely admits below, the record that put them on the map, hitting No 18 on the pop charts while the Boy's Own Remix featured on Sasha & Digweed's landmark Renaissance: The Mix Collection album. The group would go on to become live darlings of the rave circuit and rack up four further Top 40 hits in the years 1992-95, returning to the charts briefly in 2001 with another single, Please Save Me.
Well, now Perfect Motion is back, complete with a stunning new remix from an old friend of iDJ, Krafted boss Paul Sawyer. With a huge bout of banging on about the good old days therefore doubtless about to kick in, now seemed like a good time to ask how good those old days really were, and how these current, brand new days compare. So we got Lucia and fellow Sunscreem founder Paul Carnell in a room, and we asked them…
Lucia: "We used to go to The Barn in Braintree, Essex. That had one room that played a huge variety of music. Then after a while that was bulldozed and we started going to a club called Tutu's, and that two rooms. And then that got bulldozed, and the next place we went was Clacton Pier, and that had three rooms – there was a house room, a techno room and a drum & bass room. That was a big difference, because once it was all together and nowadays each type of music has its own club – and that'll have three rooms too!"
Paul: "The phones are a big issue. There were no cameras back then, you could dance like an idiot and it didn't matter… I do wonder if people are more reserved now in their behaviour, as a result of that. But then maybe people are more reserved generally."
Lucia: "Hmm, I don't know about that… Chelmsford High Street at 11pm on a Saturday night isn't pretty, and they've all got phones!"
Paul: "I think clubs are a lot safer now, though. You have licensed security, whereas some of the early raves we went to, the 'security' was whoever the local gang were. So that's an improvement. There do seem to be a lot more knives around now, which isn't good. But when I think back to some of the places we used to go raving, like condemned buildings with wires hanging out the wall and stuff… they were a health and safety nightmare, looking back, and you don't get that so much now I don't think."
Music production: then
Paul: "Back then it was quite difficult to do anything unless you had some degree of tech savvy. You had to be able to wire all the kit together and stuff."
Lucia: "And those early samplers… they were quite difficult to use, and they were horribly expensive to buy."
Music production: now
Paul: "These days it's accessible to everyone, you can buy a laptop and get going with Garageband, you can even do it on your phone! Which is great. From a self-interested point of view, we were quite techy so when it became more accessible we lost a bit of an advantage, but it's good that it is more accessible now, that whole studio side of things.
"Another thing that's changed is, when you're using analogue gear and you're having to plug it all together and figure it out, sometimes 'happy accidents' occur. You connect something wrong and it makes a weird noise and you go with it… whereas with the digital equipment now it's a lot easier to use but it's also a lot less random, and I think that's why you don't get so many new records coming along with some extraordinary sound on them.
"Also, it used to be quite difficult to do what we do without two or three of you involved. You might have a couple of people hunched over the mixing desk moving faders while someone else was tweaking a synth, that kind of thing. It was a collaboration. Now, it's one person and a laptop, which is great to be able to do, but it doesn't force you to collaborate with other people, which I think is a good thing in music."
Women in dance music: then
Lucia: "I was always quite techy, I did a lot of programming, but people always assumed I was just the singer. So we'd walk into some fancy studio and I'd start plugging things in, and there'd be sound engineers asking me what I was doing. [Laughs] Mind you, I used to play up to it and go, 'Who? Me? Oh, nothing, don't mind me, I'm just the singer!"
"That's as bad as it got, though… I never had any horrible incidents, thankfully. Nothing bad enough to stick in my memory, anyway – I just used to get on with things, really."
Women in dance music: now
Lucia: "Have things improved for young women getting into the industry now? I don't really know. I mean there are more female producers now – I love Ellen Allien, for instance – but you still mostly hear about the men, don't you? I think it has improved, to be fair, but it's gradual."
Lucia: "We were signed to a major label back then, so we had a lot of help on that front!"
Paul: "There was no social media, so there was a lot of legwork – a lot of interviews, a lot of meet-and-greets, a lot of radio appearances – but you had a lot of people on your team."
Lucia: "And a lot of gigs! In 1992 we did over 200 live gigs in the UK."
Lucia: "We don't have a major label deal any more, so we have to do everything ourselves. But thanks to social media you can do a lot more of it virtually."
Paul: "Although I still think getting out there and going places is the best answer. Nothing beats being there in person, so whether social media is a true replacement for all of the above I don't know. But it's certainly a lot cheaper and easier."
Dance music and politics: then
Paul: "I think for the prime movers, or a lot of them, it was always political. A lot of the people organising free parties, for instance, were definitely politically motivated: there was a local party promoter by us who'd go to great lengths to wind the police up as much as possible! But on the other hand, I think for a lot of people it was just pure hedonism.
"Our own personal view on it was that a lot of it was to do with the end of the Cold War. When a great big weight's been lifted off your shoulders, the first thing you're going to want to do is kick your shoes off and have a party!"
Dance music and politics: now
Lucia: "I think it's more explicit now, it was more of a given then. So you see these signs in clubs now saying not to sexually harrass people or whatever, which is right of course. But back then we just took it for granted that you wouldn't do things like that."
Paul: "And if you did, you'd get half the crowd descending on you! So in that way the crowd was already highly politicised, I guess. For me, that idea of being tolerant of each other and caring to each other, that's inherent in house music from the start. But it is a different generation now, of course, and I think the new generation has a lot less prejudice to start with. Which is brilliant."
Older people in clubs: then
Paul: "Well, we were regarded as oldies even back in the day, because we were about five years older than everyone else!"
Lucia: "They used to call us 'the vets'!"
Paul: "Mind you, at the very first club we used to go to, there were a bunch of older people who, shock horror, must have been in their 50s. They were proper old hippy anarchists with a knowing smile, and everyone held them in great respect."
Older people in clubs: now
Paul: "You do seem to see more older people out now, whereas those people I was just saying about, back then they were the exception. As long as someone has the right vibe about them, I don't think anyone really cares how old you are."
Lucia: "And of course now you have all the festivals, with dance tents where anyone can go in, so you'll see older folks in there and you'll see people with their kids in pushchairs."
Paul: "Yeah, it's quite bizarre when we're doing Perfect Motion and there's someone down the front holding their toddler up in the air!"
Lucia: "Ooh… well, we were five-piece band back then, with dancers and DJs."
Paul: "Yeah, there were a lot more of us back in the day. The core creative unit has always been the two of us, but once the rave thing started to happen the band just seemed to expand. At one point there were eight of us on stage."
Paul: "Now it's back to just the two of us. One big difference is that we're a lot less… reckless now, but I think it's natural, when you get older, to look back on your youth and go, 'Oof, shouldn't have done that!'. I think that's true whatever you do for a living, it's not necessarily a rock n' roll thing."
Lucia: "We're quite lucky in that we're both blessed with pretty good memories, so between us we do at least remember the good old days, which not everyone does!"
Paul: "Well, yes, we remember them… although we couldn't always claim to have been entirely with it at the time! [laughs] In fact when we went to America, we had to pass edicts that certain things had to stop… but these days, we're pretty health-conscious and clean living."
Lucia: "We learned to eat properly fairly early on. When you're touring, you can only live on beer and pizza for so long."
Perfect Motion: then
Paul: "Perfect Motion is a funny one, because we knew from the start it could be a great track, as long as we could get the right remixer involved. We had a DJ working with us for a long time called David Ballantyne, and he was a big fan of Boy's Own, Farley & Heller, and he played us one of their B-sides and suggested we ask them to remix Perfect Motion. So we did, they picked it up and it all worked very well."
Lucia: "And their remix really put the band on the map."
Paul: "We'd already had Love You More out but it was Perfect Motion that really did it for us."
Perfect Motion: now
Lucia: "We love Paul's mix, there's a lot of variety in there."
Paul: "It came about through a happy accident, really. We met through a mutual friend: we'd said we were thinking of maybe getting a remix done, so she told Paul and he reached out. We didn't actually go in the studio together, but there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing under the wire. Again, it's that thing of getting out and meeting people – it gets results."
Words: Russell Deeks
Perfect Motion by Sunscreem & Paul Sawyer is out on Krafted Underground on 9 September - preorder it here.