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Back from the rave

2020 Feb 09     
2 Bit Thugs

How last year's reissue of 'Move Your Body' breathed new life into this most old school of outfits

As most of you will be aware, last summer saw Xpansions' 1990 hit Move Your Body – officially titled Move Your Body (Elevation), having been originally known as Elevation (Move Your Body) – getting re-released, in the form of a bumper package of new mixes from Shadowchild, Rebuke, Loodz, Krystal Kleer and Nick Reach Up. 

There's nothing unusual about that, of course – records get re-released all the time in dance music, especially when it's their 30th anniversary coming up, and especially when they've just been licensed by Suzuki for use in a worldwide ad campaign! What's unusual about this particular reissue, though, is that its success has led to main man Richie Malone putting the band back together. 

Well, relaunching the Xpansions name, anyway. With original collaborators Martin Spreckley and Elizabeth Henderson long gone their own ways, the line-up now consists of Malone, long-term partner-in-crime Phil Drummond and vocalist Sally Anne Marsh. But both of the new members come with respectable rave heritages of their own: Drummond, (who, as Malone explains below, has been part of the Xpansions camp since the start) is best known for tech-house releases on labels such as DTPM and Kidology, while Marsh voiced classic tunes back in the day for Hysterix and Hyper Go Go.

Fired up by the success of the Move Your Body remix package, the trio followed it up last month with We Like To Salsa, a cover of Richie Rich's 1989 classic Salsa House. A second version of the track entitled You Used To Salsa, which borrows the vocal from Ralphi Rosario's You Used To Hold Me, is due any minute – after which, we're promised, they're ready to lean into 2020 with a whole slew of new music.

But first, we grabbed them for a quick chat to find out how the reissue of Move Your Body came about – and to get the story of how this much-loved classic was made in the first place…

Shall we start at the beginning? Richie, tell us what you remember about making Elevation (Move Your Body) all those years ago…

Richie: "We started it in January 1990. I'd been a drummer in bands, playing in pubs and stuff, since I was about 15, but by the time I was 20, the rave thing had hit and like a lot of other young people I got totally swept up in it. Records like S-Express and Bomb The Bass were big influences on me, cos I heard them and thought, 'I could do that!'.

"I'd had the chords for Move Your Body for about two years, so I found a little recording studio in Tottenham and said to myself, "Let's just see what happens". At that stage it was me and a guy called Marco Cardarelli, he was the engineer, and the girl that sang the vocal was Elizabeth Henderson, AKA Lizzy D. And the co-writer was a guy called Martin Sprechley. I'd met him at the studio and he'd said 'Let's do a tune together'.

"So we went in together, and after about three days Martin had recorded Lizzy singing "move your body higher", and then I went in and did the rest! I programmed all the drums, put the main riff in, the bassline, and arranged the record. At that point we had a demo, so I took it to Street Level, a shop in Tottenham where I used to buy all my records, and they were like, 'This is amazing! We're setting up a label, can we sign it?' I was quite surprised, because I thought the tune was okay, but the repetitiveness of the vocal drove me round the bend. But the others over-ruled me, and it turned out they were right."

"Street Level suggested a few tweaks, like extending the track another minute or two, so we had another day in the studio to do that and then they put it out on white label. And at first it just kind of sat there for a few weeks, but then I got a gig at Raindance in the May or June. It was my first big rave gig so I was really nervous, and I went out there and played Move Your Body, not really knowing how people would react, but it took the roof off! As soon as the riff dropped it was like this huge roar and everyone went crazy. That was the point that I realised we had something big on our hands, and pretty soon the majors started calling."

And you ended up signing with Arista…

Richie: "Yeah. To be honest, I just let Optimism deal with all of that really, because it was all brand new to me. They decided to go with Arista, who put it out in the September – and again, it only got to about 52. But then Arista reissued it in February '91 and that's when it charted, and everything changed for us.

"Because when you have a chart record you're thrust into the limelight, and that wasn't really for me. Suddenly you're in this major label environment, and I'd want to do a certain kind of music but Arista wanted me to make Move Your Body parts two, three and four. So I ended up falling out with Arista and got dropped, but Move Your Body had got my foot in the door, so to speak, so for the rest of the 90s I went back to what I love, DJing and making underground house records… although I did make a few more commercial records as well [Richie was also the man behind Maradonna's Going Out Of My Head]. Just not as Xpansions."

The use of Lizzy D on vocals was actually quite unusual at that time, wasn't it? Because most of those early UK house records you talk about used samples… how come you decided to use a real singer?

Richie: "Well, believe it or not, it was just easier! I didn't have any acapella albums or anything like that, I was just going into the studio with some chords and beats. And I arrived late into the first session and Martin had got Lizzy to sing "move your body higher", so that was what we had to work with, basically.

"There are samples on the record: the spoken intro, that's a sample, and the bass sound is sampled. So maybe if I'd had a load of vocal samples to hand, the record would have sounded different: I'd probably have just stuck a Loleatta Holloway acapella over it, like everyone else was doing! But as it turned out, it just had that one line. I wasn't convinced, as I said, but the others said, "That's great!" so I went with the flow. It was one of those happy accidents, because maybe if we'd had a full song it wouldn't have been as popular."

Okay, so that was then; now fast-forwarding 30 years, how did last year's remix package come about?

Richie: "That started with Shadowchild asking Phil if he could do it, basically. We get asked that every year, pretty much, but in this case I knew who Shadowchild was so I said yes, and he brought a great set of people on board, and that was really the beginning of the rebirth of Xpansions.

"Till then I hadn't really thought about having a 30th anniversary celebration or getting out on the road DJing again, but then a few things happened: one was the remixes, two was we got an advert with Suzuki, and then a load of other stuff started happening – DJ bookings for Clockwork Orange and Reminisce festival and stuff like that. So I said, this year let's do something, let's do some press, get back out there and do some gigs… and now we're actually making new music again!"

And at what point did Phil come onboard?

Richie: "Well, me and Phil have been friends for over 25 years, so back in the early days of Xpansions he was one of the crew – when I went in the studio he'd always be there. I've actually been working with Phil since the mid-90s, just not as Xpansions."

Phil: "And then it got to a point where I was still out there DJing, whereas Richie was concentrating on the business side of things, so because people knew I was associated with Xpansions, they would always ask me about doing remixes and stuff. So when Shadowchild asked me I said to Richie, it's the 30th anniversary, there's a big resurgence in the 90s stuff, you're not getting any younger, you should do this."

Richie: "And then I thought, well okay, if we're going to be putting Xpansions back out there, then two heads are always better than one. Phil's a great DJ and he's connected with a lot of the cool, current house DJs, so it made sense for me and him to become the new Xpansions, if you like."

So what had you been doing in the intervening years – were you still DJing and making music, did you pack it all in and get a day job, or…?

Richie: "No, I'll be honest: by the end of the 90s, I was struggling. I was still DJing and promoting, but record companies didn't want to know and the Xpansions name carried no weight at all. Now everyone wants to talk to me about it, but back then, with speed garage and trance and big beat and all these new styles, no one wanted to know. Unless you moved with the times and started making trance or whatever, which of course some people did. But I never did that… I'm not very good at being a follower.

"Anyway as it goes, I'd had a lot of problems with Arista in terms of getting paid, so I ended up having to learn more about the business side of things. I was just trying to get my money, but it meant I accidentally ended up learning about contracts and royalties and so on. And so I went from there to setting up a consultancy called Performance Rights Ltd, which I still have, where we represent about 400 different musicians and artists.

"We've got three members of Culture Club and two of The Smiths, for instance, and some more current people as well, like Jonas Blue. And what we do for them is chase up outstanding royalties, because I've become a bit of an expert at that! There are millions of dollars floating around out there, and they tend to go missing if you don't keep a close eye on things. So that's what we do for people: we make sure our artists are properly registered with performing rights societies around the world and are getting the money they're rightfully owed, in exchange for a percentage.

"So from 2000-15 I was still working in music, but in the background, on the business side. And now I've got the best of both worlds: I'm making music again, but I'm not gonna get ripped off this time around, because I've got the business knowledge to back it all up as well."

Phil: "Similar thing for me, really. I'd sort of semi-retired from DJing in 2012 and was working more on the booking, promoting side, and now I've got my own members club-cum-restaurant in London, the Wellington Club in Mayfair. I've been here nearly a year now, it's a brand new site and it's more of a West End, celebrity hangout-type place than a cool DJ bar. But the beauty of that is, it means we don't need to do this for money any more!

"When we started DJing and making music, it was never about money or fame – we did it because we loved it, it was a passion. Then life gets in the way, and for 25 years of my life DJing was my sole income… and you fall a bit out of love with things when you have to do them to pay the rent, don't you? But now I've got the luxury that I don't have to DJ or make records for a living any more, and neither does Richie – we can pick and choose the projects we want to do."

Like the recent Salsa House cover, for instance…

Phil: "Exactly! We did that because we love that record and we wanted to do it: we don't care if it sells, we don't need it to sell to pay the rent any more, so it's back to pure passion and doing it because we love it. We did sort of choose that track for kind of strategic reasons, because we're doing a lot of old skool gigs, so it's good to have a record like that to play. But we don't necessarily want to be doing old skool gigs forever, so now we're looking forward to getting some new music out there."

Words: Russell Deeks

We Love To Salsa is out now on New State Music; You Used To Salsa is coming soon

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Tags: Xpansions, Richie Malone, Phil Drummond, Sally Anne Marsh, Martin Spreckley, Lizzy D, Marco Cardarelli, S'Express, Bomb The Bass, Clockwork Orange, Reminisce festival, New State Music, Shadowchild, Shadowchild, Rebuke, Loodz, Krystal Kleer and Nick Reach Up, Hysterix, Hyper Go Go