Stu J ‘Take Me To Your Leader/Bodyrock’

Stu J

“I had just turned 18 when I first started my legal club land DJ career. This would have been 1986”. Stuart Devlin AKA Stu J explains to me during our evening phone call. “It was a gig with my mate Stevo. It was a club in Southampton called Barberellas. But before this we had already been playing at parties together, mainly hip hop or breakin jams and 80s soul gigs. There was a phase around 1986-1988 where people would hire out houses in the city. There was this one legendary night in 1988 where the guy whose house it was moved all his family and furniture into two rooms upstairs and rented the rest of the terraced house in Northumberland Avenue in the St. Marys area out for an Acid House party. It was bedlam, the place was rammed and we were DJing. I knew, even at such a young age, that this was pushing it a bit and I was right. At 4am the house was raided by the police. They closed the whole road off and around 100-150 police turned up. Loads of people were taken to the police station where they were booked in and strip searched for drugs. Only a few actual arrests were made because as soon as the police started to kick down the front door and run in with truncheons out, the drugs were all thrown on the floor. The police went around the house after the raid and collected two carrier bags full of drugs! It was on the front page of the Daily Echo for two days in a row and on the following Friday they ran an article with a big photo of me with the headline ‘ACID HOUSE DJ SAYS – I KNEW NOTHING ABOUT DRUGS’. The mad thing was, back then, I had dreadlocks and the photo they used I had a weed leaf earring in. I looked really stoned, even though I never did that, as the photo shoot was at about 8am and to put it mildly, I wasn’t good at mornings. So anyone reading that headline and looking at that photo would have never believed me!”

Stu J with Slipmat and Sy – Adrenalin 6.2 at M Club, Southampton – 3rd March 2006

I’ve known Stu J now since 1988 from when he worked at a record shop in Southampton called Powerhouse, down an alley way off the high street, opposite Southampton Guildhall. One of my early record shopping memories was buying MC Duke’s ‘Miracles’ from Stu in early 88. The cover to that record was so fresh, so on point with the B-Boy fashions; Red goose-down jacket, black Levi jeans, name belt, dookie rings, b-boy character t-shirt in the vein of Isaiah Roberts and Gemini & Gnome, who worked with Sleeping Bag Records in New York in the mid-80s and Cazel glasses. It was ‘the look’ that so many of us kids at the time gravitated too, but unless you had a hook up in New York or London, we were often left imitating with the closest alternatives that we could find! So, I had this record and we all went to Burger King in the High Street afterwards, and while eating our burgers and fries, just stared at this cover, in awe. From that point onwards, about once or twice a month, I would get a train to Southampton and buy my hip hop from Stu.

Our conversation continues “Its funny, looking back at that time, how open to music we were. How we mixed up the styles back then. I remember Public Enemy being played at Acid House parties! They were even booked to perform at a Biology rave in 1990. The event didn’t go ahead for some reason, I can’t remember why. But lots of rave events had hip hop sets”.

Stu with Alex and Eric who were the guys who put on the original Adrenalin events at Southampton Uni and co-owned Madisons. Photo taken at Adrenalin at Enzos, Salisbury – 1996

Stu was starting to build up his profile, with gigs and residencies in Southampton, Bournemouth and Portsmouth. He even got to play the warm up set in Pompey for Kevin Saunderson when he came to the city to perform as Inner City. But out of all the places he played, his favourite place was always Bournemouth, as he explains “Bournemouth was the best place to play and go out in. It was a great vibe, down there by the seaside. The journeys home were legendary, how we got home in one piece was a miracle! People were tripping their nuts off, driving off the road, into bushes. There is a lot of forest between Bournemouth and Southampton. It was such a fantastic, carefree time, but really reckless looking back!”

Stu J started working at Powerhouse Records in 1988, when it was being run by Dave Joyce. Back then the shop was mainly selling early rave and house but Stu knew there was a big hip hop market so started buying a lot in. They were one of the key shops on the south coast for the genre and were selling huge units for the time. When Ice T’s ‘Iceberg’ album came out, they sold over a 100 copies of that album alone. It was also a shop that supported the UK hip hop scene that was building up around this time which would build a fanbase in the city for the scene, with customers bringing lots of UK rap acts to the city in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Some of my closest friends now I met at these events back then. I was the link between the Bournemouth and Southampton hip hop and graffiti scenes because I was living slap bang in the middle of the two locations, in a small village in the New Forest. But village life was boring and this new music and the culture that went with it wasn’t. It was my escapism, my passion, my freedom. And without that scene invading my bedroom in 1986, I honestly don’t think I would of made the life choices I would make as I grew older. I was lucky to be able to break out of village life and experience the world as a touring DJ and producer myself. And a big part of that life choice was down to those record shopping trips, spending all my paper round money on vinyl. Actually, my first ever live gig that I attended was organised via Powerhouse. They put on a couple of coaches from Southampton to Brighton for the Runs House Tour in 1988. Run DMC, Public Enemy and Derek B featuring DJ Scratch (from EPMD). We were blown away, why was EPMDs DJ performing with Derek B? A number of years later I asked Scratch how this came to be – apparently they were both managed by the same company! Anyway, I am digressing… let’s get back to Stu J!

“Around 1990 I bought the shop from Dave and renamed it Movement Records. I had already started to shift the buying direction in the shop before I took over and we built up a great Acid House and rave section. So when I took over, this scene was far bigger than hip hop and it became our bread and butter. I was pushing this sound whereas Stevo and Marco aka Area (who would go on to record for Trouble On Vinyl as DJ Red) would be there for the soul and hip hop side of things. We had all angles covered. The gigs were taking off as well as I was in the right place to promote myself. By 1990 me and Marco were both playing a night called Basement at a club in town called Peggy Sues. We were just spinning hip hop and rave. Then DJ Brisk, who was also local, joined us and as the rave side of things was getting more popular, they put that on downstairs, so Brisk and I played downstairs and upstairs Marco was dropping hip hop along with Stevo. The place just got so packed and was really hot and sweaty, so much so that we had to start stapling cardboard to the ceiling to stop the condensation dripping onto the decks. But after a year I left the club and only a couple of weeks later it was busted and closed down. The management had no control over the place, there was blatant drug activity everywhere.“

Stu J (front row with glasses) during the breakin years in Southampton along with Stevo (second row with headband) – The Hornpipe, Chichester – 1986

After leaving Peggy Sue’s Stu was struggling to get gigs. He had put so much of his time and energy into the Basement nights and the shop, that he didn’t have a fall-back plan. So without his usual weekend gigs, he was free to start going out as a punter again and he would travel down to Bournemouth to party. This is when he started to frequent one of the countries key rave venues of the 90’s – Bournemouth’s very own Madisons Club. Stu was mates with the resident DJ at the time there, Paul Brady. So, as a bit of a hustle, he would go out with a shoulder bag of records, just in case he could jump on the decks and play for free. He would manage to get a few sets upstairs, and when he played upstairs, the downstairs part of the club would clear and the ravers would all go upstairs to hear Stu. Eventually Madisons decided to offer Stu a Friday night takeover. But he refused. He didn’t want to play Friday’s, he wanted the coveted Saturday night. He stuck to his guns and, with the support of a couple of others who worked there, eventually the management caved in and let him take over Saturday nights. And within 3 weeks, the attendance tripled. “I wanted to mix up the hard stuff that was coming out with the happier, piano led rave tracks. I didn’t want to have a moody atmosphere. I wanted happy, smiley people and I was lucky, as the Bournemouth always seemed to attract the happy people. It must have been down to the beaches and the sunshine!” Stu recalls. “Alex Templeton and Eric Armstrong, the two partners of Madisons, were also doing another event with me at Southampton Uni called Adrenalin. The name came from a pirate radio station that I was running from above the record shop. We only went live for 4 hours on a Saturday night. We, well actually DJ Sweet who did the station with me, used to have to climb out of the window of the shop and onto the roof. Then he would scramble onto the roof of the C&A department store as they had a huge chimney on there. DJ Sweet, later to be known as George Washington, was a fearless character and he had no qualms about climbing up there and setting up the aerial”. Adrenalin would also go on to be the name of Stu’s record label in 1992 when he released the awesome Sub Oscillator ‘II’ EP. He had already put out two releases of his own, under the Gadjet guise, alongside releases by KZ1 and Aurora, all Southampton homies. Stu continues:

“Back in 1991 white labels were the hot ticket item. That’s what the club DJs and the bedroom DJs wanted. Also the records I was making and releasing sampled a lot of other tracks and I didn’t want my name attached to them at the time so my first two releases went out anonymously. To be totally honest, the name of the group was Gadjet, it’s only over time that people thought the A-Side track was called ‘Gadjet’. Gadjet was myself and my mate Don Leverit. We pressed 2500 copies of that record back in 1991 and sold them all. Back then, through my Madisons link, I became friends with Carl Cox and he once told me that he played that record in his sets for over a year! Every time he came down to play, he would want to buy half of my record box from me. I was always surprised by this, so in the end I set up a record mail order with him. At that time I dealt a lot with Paul Weaver, the import buyer at Mo’s Music Machine, I bought records for the shop when I went up there each week. He was aware of how it was going right off at Madisons with a lot of the imported hardcore and hardtrance I was buying and we ended up with a nice working relationship where he’d make sure I had access to everything he shipped in, I’d give him my feedback and then he’d reorder accordingly. It’s quite mad to think that at times we were actually influencing on a national scale. Mo’s actually distributed ‘Gadjet’. I was such a new jack with the label I didn’t think to try other distribution companies and I could have pressed and sold a lot more. Although I also love that it is relatively rare and so many people have no idea what it is but they heard it out a lot.”

The two tracks on this release ‘Take Me To Your Leader’ and ‘Bodyrock’ were made in Stu’s living room at the Polygon in Southampton. Don had a Roland W30 work station that he would bring over, which was an all in one sampler and sequencer. “I think this is also what The Prodigy used at the time” Stu tells me. There was also an Akai 950, a 24 track Allen & Heath desk and a Quadraverb which Stu owned. “I think that was it, that’s all we had to make the Gadget tracks. It was such a great time that you could make music with such limited gear. It was like things were better if you had minimal gear to work with.” When the tracks were completed Stu used a company called Perpetual for all the cutting and pressing as he didn’t have any links directly, so a one stop shop was the best course of action to get his releases out there.

“It was a crazy experience. As we had limited sample time, big sections of the track are mixed in live from another record on the decks. Don had the sequencer, so he knew what he was doing on that side of things, far more than me. I was the DJ and knew how a tune should be structured. Don was an amazing engineer. He was so much more than an engineer though. I had the ‘Good Life’ sample and the melody that goes with it in the tune was played by Don. I was blown away, I really was. It was incredible that he could just do something like that off the top of his head. I was in awe. It was so spot on and on the money for 1991. I can’t sing his praises enough” a very excited Stu recounts.

Stu J on the decks – Jerk Jam, Southampton – 2018

This record means a lot to me. It was a big part of my time raving down here on the South Coast, especially those Saturday nights at Madisons. But you know what, I had no idea the tune was by Stu. I was just too into the vibe of the night and the party atmosphere to be hawking what the DJs were playing back then. I was just there for the trip and for the girls! And for the authentic rave experience if you get what I mean! It wasn’t until a good number of years later that I made the connection. But one thing always stood out about the tune, and that was the funny Welsh vocal at the beginning. How did this end up on the finished release? “Its from Ivor The Engine’ Stu chuckles “It was an album I had in my collection from when I was a kid. The vocal is Jones the Steam, he was Ivor’s driver. It made me laugh as it was talking about little green aliens.”

And I expect after a few all-nighters down in Bournemouth, tripping your nuts off, the journey home to Southampton through the New Forest could easily produce a few little green aliens! They are out there somewhere!