Me and Shaun O’Hara go way back… 1993 to be exact. I was at college and a girl on my photography class had moved into a new shared house in Charminster, Bournemouth, 116 Avon Road to be precise. She knew I was into my music and collecting records. She was also a bit of a raver who had come down the previous year from Essex, so we had bonded over our love of partying. Anyway, she told me about a guy in the house who had a little studio and was making music and thought that I should go and meet him, so I did. That person was Dave Wallace and we have been mates ever since, touring the world and making music as Aquasky. But this was all pre-Aquasky and all I wanted to make was instrumental hip hop, sampling the many jazz, rock and obscure records I had already started to collect. Dave was busy making jungle with a guy called Shaun and that is how I and Shaun met, one weekend at the studio (Dave’s bedroom!) Mad Dog and Fugitive were in full swing but before Shaun had linked up with Dave, he had another band and history, Aurora, which had brought him success and fame. So let’s jump into that story and delve into another rave history lesson.
“In my formative years, long before I was hooked by house music, I was into 80’s synth pop and my biggest influence was the Cocteau Twins. In 1986 they did an album with Harold Budd which was an experimental album called ‘The Moon and the Melodies’, which was like their breakthrough album. I felt like we were breaking through the rave scene into the hardcore scene, so we changed the plurals and nicked the name!” Shaun explains.
Shaun chilling out on Crispin’s sofa in Hounslow – 1992.
Aurora was the pairing of two likeminded individuals who liked to party. Shaun O’Hara was from Southampton but attended Brunel University in London. Crispin Miller was from Hounslow but spent a lot of his weekends down in Southampton. He was mates with some girls at the Southampton University, one of them being Shaun’s sister. Around 1991 Shaun and Crispin’s paths crossed a number of times and they found out that they both loved the acid house and rave scene. And as luck would have it, Crispin had a small, basic studio set up at his house which wasn’t far from where Shaun was living in London. The two of them decided to use their knowledge as weekend ravers and see if they could create music in that vein… and it worked! It actually worked very well indeed. “Crispin had a two up, two down in Hounslow and had sorted a little studio with some of his savings. Around 1991/1992 we would have mega sessions in the studio. Evenings, weekends, we would just get busy. Back then it was all so exciting, you didn’t want to leave the studio. We would just work on tracks without a break until we had something by the end of it. We didn’t take a break. Those were amazing times and we had so much enthusiasm for what we were doing” Shaun tells me, still brimming with excitement as he recalls these events nearly 30 years ago. “I even remember where the name Aurora came from. It was the first tune me and Crispin ever did together. Crispin had sampled a film where someone says ‘Wow, it’s the Aurora borealis’ and the word just stood out, so we used it. That track never got released but I am sure I have it on a cassette tape somewhere!”
It was a tricky time as well, juggling Uni and the studio as Shaun elaborates “I purposely failed my 2nd year at University so I could make more music, so what was supposed to be a 3 year degree, turned into a 4 year degree. But that’s how much I loved making music back then. It was everything to me. All our mates knew we were good at what we were doing, they were all supportive and so when there were gigs at the Runnymede Campus of the Brunel Uni, they would put us forward. All we wanted to do at this time was sit in the studio and make music; we had no interest in performing live. We were actually doing gigs before we had a release out on vinyl. And it was at this one gig where we supported the Sunscreem in front of a 1000 people that we realised we had to make a go of it. We had our tune ‘Voice Of Buddha’ which we performed and afterwards we had loads of people coming up to us, saying that the tune was way better than what Sunscreen had played. It made us think ‘Crikey, let’s do this!’” Shaun explains.
“It wasn’t long after that gig that my sister’s boyfriend, Colin, who she is still with to this day still, played our music to DJ Storm who is mentioned on the credits of the Sunshine EP, that things started to move forward. Colin and Storm were mates and Storm was also mates with a guy called Stu J. So he played Stu our music and from there we hooked up together” Shaun explains. Now Stu J was a bit of a name around the south coast. As a kid, I was aware of Stu as he worked at Movement Records which was a little record shop in Southampton, down an alley way, opposite the Southampton Guildhall. This was a place I started going to in 1988 to buy my hip hop and was also the shop that organised the coach to the first ever gig that I went to – The Runs House Tour – in 1988 at the Brighton Centre where I went with my mate Paul Jeffery. Run DMC, Public Enemy and Derek B featuring DJ Scratch from EPMD. I was only 15 and Paul was 14, but it inspired us both. I still remember how buzzing i was when I went into school the following day, though everyone else at my school was into Wet Wet Wet and Bros, so it meant nothing to them!
Shaun and Crispin performing live at Adrenalin, Southampton Guildhall – 22nd August 1992.
“It would of been around 1992 I think when we hooked up with Stu J, as by this point Crispin had moved down to Southampton. Stu use to do these raves at the Southampton Guildhall and he asked us to perform at one which was great. We brought along our keyboards and were miming to a backing track, which is what we also did for the Sunscreen gig, and the crowd were loving it, it was an awesome party which I still have photos of” (just to interject here, I was at that rave and it was a wicked night. I dont remember too much about it all aside from I hooked up with a girl there and went back to hers the following morning in a disheveled state! – Brent). Shaun continues “So by this point Stu was familiar with our music thanks to Colin playing him our demo tape. Stu wanted to release the music on a new label he was just starting called Adrenaline Recordings, which we were well up for. So we gave him four tunes we had made which he went on to release and we were blown away. It sold 8000 copies in 2 weeks which meant we got into the mainstream pop charts, though we only reached 99! But still, the track ’Sunshine’ had been picked up by MTV and was being played on there, though there was no video for it, so they just used a picture of the record sleeve every time they played it! It wasn’t long after this that unfortunately Stu and Crispin’s relationship soured for some reason, I never knew why. So we now needed to find a new home for our music and we somehow hooked up with Basement Distribution, though I am not sure how this came about either, it’s so long ago now. But both I and Crispin drove to Reading to meet them and they decided to take on our new label for distribution, Aurora Recordings. One thing I do remember though is that it only sold about 1000 units we were told, which I must be honest, I was massively disappointed about after the success of the ’Sunshine EP’”.
Adrenalin flyer (from my personal collection).
The Adrenaline gig that Aurora did a live PA at (I was there in the audience!).
“The tracks that feature on the ‘Moons and the Melody’ EP were recorded in Southampton at Stu J’s studio, which was an amalgamation of Stu’s gear and Crispin’s I seem to remember. There was a Roland 303, and Akai 950 running Cubase and Crispin’s Juno 106, which was a great keyboard that we also took out to our gigs. We were writing quite a few tunes together by this point in time but during the making of ‘Moons and the Melody’ my musical tastes were separating from Crispin’s. I was still in London at Uni and during 1992 I spent a lot of my time listening to pirates with my mates, getting into the dark sound, the hardcore vibes, whereas Crispin was very much into the older, happier rave sound. That’s how the track ’Shaun’s Revenge’ came about as I wanted to showcase the new sound, I wanted to do something heavier, like a cross between the Joey Beltram type sound with the hardcore breakbeat. I remember Crispin didn’t like it at all! I found the ‘Listen To The Rhythm Go’ vocal from a Shades Of Rhythm record. I use to love their music; it was a big inspiration for me. So it was like a little nod to them adding that” Shaun shares with me, going on to say “Shades of Rhythm were just fantastic, their music was so good. So when we were writing ‘Rockin’ By Myself’ we used the bass sound and a little vocal from their track ‘Everybody’. On that tune me and Crispin had our own roles. I did the drums and the bass for it and Crispin did the melodies and the piano riff, which to be honest, I did take the piss out of at the time with him, saying it sounded like a Betty Boo tune! It was just a bit of studio humour! We always had a laugh!”
Shaun continues to talk me through the tracks on this EP – “By 1992 Crispin and myself had been to loads of warehouse raves all over the place, we were living the lifestyle at that time. I think we had been to a rave at Shepton Mallet and I had heard a riff on a tune played with a sound that was popular back then and I wanted to make something similar. So the main sound on ‘Entrancer’ was programmed in the Juno 106. I recall it took us hours and hours to get that sound. I was really getting into the darker techno scene as well at this time as I was hearing a lot of it on the radio when I lived in Uxbridge. So that tune was predominantly me and my vision. But Crispin was the driving force behind the track ‘Gonna Be Alright’. Crispin was so good at constructing melodies; he had a gift for that. The whole EP was made with me living in London and Crispin down in Southampton, with me coming down at the weekends. I have such great memories of this time. It is also at this time that I was introduced to Dave (Mad Dog/Fugitive) as he was also recording for Adrenaline Recordings as The Rave Doctor. By 1993 we had hooked up and started work on the Mad Dog EP, which I also did by coming down to Bournemouth from London. There was so much going on back then, I loved it!”
I must admit it’s great to have hooked up with Shaun again after all these years. We had an Underdog meal planned for Easter of this year which was cancelled due to the coronavirus so I haven’t actually seen him face to face since about 1995, which is a great shame, but that’s life for you! But there is more to come from Aurora… including a reissue project for the Adrenaline Recordings label alongside Stu J. So I am pretty sure at some point in 2020, the great Underdog Reunion will happen and more stories will be remembered from those times when we were young and only lived for the day! And the rave!