Back in the days when house music was beginning to take a stranglehold on the UK, Hard Times was one such promoter that soon became synonymous with clued-in sounds. Among the first to bring the big US jocks over to the UK, their success soon grew in tandem with the DJs who ruled their parties; guys like Masters At Work, David Morales and the S-Man himself, Roger Sanchez. With the label rebooted once more, we decided to catch up with the man behind the party, Steve Raine, to find out more...
Tell me a bit about how you first got involved in electronic music. What was your first ‘rave’ experience?
My first rave experience was a trip to the Hacienda back in 1992 and never witnessed anything like it before. My idea of a club was a suit and a silk tie.
Musically I believe we have come full circle with big powerful vocals being re-arranged and striped back, backed up with big baselines and piano riffs which is pretty much how it was then. The big tracks of yesterday are still the big tracks of today...Honest question – do you think it was better back then compared to nowadays?
Back in the day, nightclubs where a lot more personal and still very much underground; there was a small network of clubs across the country promoted by a small number of people. But as far as it been better, I would say it’s pretty much the same.
What made those days so special then? Was it simply the music?
At that time, certainly; with Hard Times everyone there was there for the same reason; the style, the DJs and the club environment. All those 3 elements had to work together to achieve a wonderful and unique experience.
Speaking of, what were the big tracks back then? Why do you think the music has aged so well?
Musically I believe we have come full circle with big powerful vocals being re-arranged and striped back, backed up with big baselines and piano riffs which is pretty much how it was then. The big tracks of yesterday are still the big tracks of today, just reworked.
A big track will always be a big track, as it’s timeless. I have my favourite track, but not necessarily the obvious. The S-Man - 'Time To Stop', Todd Terry - 'Bounce To The Beat' and obviously Karen Pollard’s ' Reach Out To Me' are my old favourites, But they would be!
Did you realise you were on the cusp of something great back then? Did you think the music and the scene would die out? Are you surprised at how big it’s become?
No, back then it was never anything more than doing something I had a real passion for. It was always just a series of projects that I wanted to do. I never thought about the future, and am not surprised how big it has become as this style of music is such a powerful thing.
You were among the first to have the big Chicago and NYC DJs over to the UK. Who was your favourite early act? What was your favourite experience?
Over the years there have been a number of favourite experiences that stand out. The first probably Roger Sanchez - The S-Man playing NYE 1993 at our first club in Mirfield. Followed by The Masters At Work, Kenny and Louie. 4 decks 2 mixers at our second club in Huddersfield for our first birthday. Followed by Todd Terry recording the first ever LIVE club compilation at The Music Factory in Leeds. Finally, the Hard Times Down & Out party in Bagley's Film Studio, Kings Cross London, was a very special event and set a precedence when other major clubs were just operating within their own four walls, and was the first event of its kind to showcase massive DJ line-ups. Of late, my 3 Kings party at Electric in Brixton is one that stands out, and of course, the re-launch of Hard Times at The Warehouse in Leeds. These are all very special clubbing experiences for me.
Hard Times then applies today in just the same manner. Life is hard, but on a Saturday night it doesn't matter. The undercurrent to the name applies to each and every individual. In life we all experience the best of times and the worst of times.What did these guys bring to the party back then that British acts couldn’t?
It was a style of music never heard before in the UK, It was real US House and Garage with soulful rhythm and killer basslines, whereas the UK Scene was very glitzy at that time.
Did you get over to the US back in those days? If so, how was it?
Yes I loved going to Miami, to the winter music conference, It was about our scene then and it gave us a chance to meet all the DJ and produces we wanted to work with. My famous Bagley's party was created in Miami. My trips to New York were legendary in both good and bad ways. I loved The Tunnel and went to Junior Vasquez's opening night there. Going to the record store and seeing all my vinyl on the shelves gave me a wonderful feeling.
So can you tell us a bit about how you started Hard Times? What was your motivation for doing so?
I used to go to The Hacienda in Manchester and Venus in Nottingham and got caught up in the music. At the time, life for me and for a lot of other people I know wasn't just as good as it could have been, yet on a Saturday night you just found yourself in such a euphoric environment and nothing seemed to matter. I had a real passion to do something myself.
And what’s the idea behind the name? Is there a political undercurrent to it at all?
Hard Times then applies today in just the same manner. Life is hard, but on a Saturday night it doesn't matter. The undercurrent to the name applies to each and every individual. In life we all experience the best of times and the worst of times.
People seem to be fighting for the same pound, the rich are rich, and the poor are poor. Young people have a lot deal with in life.
So getting lost in the music on a Saturday night is not maybe a bad thing...So how does modern-day Britain compare to Britain of back then do you reckon?
As like the music, modern day Britain has come full circle, and we are back where we were then. People seem to be fighting for the same pound, the rich are rich, and the poor are poor. Young people have a lot deal with in life. So getting lost in the music on a Saturday night is not maybe a bad thing.
You’re also starting the label up again. Is this something you’ve been thinking about for a while? What motivated you to start it up again?
I always saw the label as an extension of the club. It allowed people to witness the Hard Times musical experience that could not come to the club. All the records released were all special projects and have real meaning. The reason for the re-launch is so that the clubbers of today can experience what Hard Times musically was - and is - all about. I want to have that feeling you get when you hear one of your tracks being played either in a club or on the radio. It's such a wonderful feeling.
Do you think Hard Times’ influence on the British club scene is unfairly overlooked in a way? Or does it get the credit it deserves?
I have never really though about it. It was always done for our own passion and sense of achievement, there was always healthy rivalry and yes, maybe other clubs got more credit than us. But we just did our own thing, and that’s pretty much the same today.
And have you remained in electronic music since the very early days? Were there ever periods were you thought about packing it all up?
Over the 20 years I have taken time off. I have a farm, which is my other passion and is what I have done on my time out. However, I always seem to get drawn back in with the music.
I'm not interested in Hard Times, the Label or the Club showcasing all our yesterdays, I want to see them progress into the future...So has running Hard Times meant for massive financial sacrifices? Did you ever have any moments were you really struggled?
Not really. In the early days, Hard Times was financially good to me, It financed the launch of the label, but with much more competition out there now it's a lot harder financially.
Are you back running events again too? Can you tell us a bit about them?
After a long lay off I was asked to host an event at The Warehouse in Leeds by my good friend, Jim Albentosa, I felt the time was right and the event turned out to be a massive success, with my good friend David Morales was headlining the event. There has been a series of events at The Warehouse and I have ventured back into London to host my sellout 3 Kings party at Electric in Brixton, all of which I have enjoyed and they gave me a massive sense of pride and achievement.
You’ve got some really cool remixers in to remix Karen Pollard’s classic, Reach Out To Me. What made you opt for the guys you did?
The whole idea around this release is working with people from my past and combining this with the new faces of the scene, which is something I really want to do. I'm not interested in Hard Times, the Label or the Club showcasing all our yesterdays, I want to see them progress into the future.
What’s the future of Hard Times then? Do you envisage the label being around for some time yet?
With regards the club I'm currently having talks with someone about opening in New York next spring, which would be amazing and I have a number of parties planned in both Leeds and London too. With regard the label, the next release will be my all-time favourite track, The S-Man 'Time To Stop' with remixes by both friends from my past and new current producers that I have not worked with before but feel are relative to the Hard Times sound. There are a number of other remix projects planned but also I am close to completing arrangements for new production, putting together artists of the past and artist of today. These projects are all very special to me, so I have a lot to look forward to next year...