The Harder Generation: Ascension Music Meets The Tidy Boys
The legendary hard house duo and founders of the UK's most loved hard dance brand Tidy.
The UK has championed and catapulted some of the most loved sounds on the club scene for decades. In the early to mid 1990s the banging sounds of four-to-the-floor were really starting to take the clubs over and soon a new wave emerged, one of hoovers, throbbing bass and 140bpm beats. Welcome, to hard house. One Midlands' based duo took the genre to new heights and created not only a movement, but a cultural belonging, bringing fellow ravers together under their brand banner. They were no other than Andy and Amo, the legendary Tidy Boys. From one of the UK's most loved dance labels, epic events and weekenders to their devoted online community, the guys have really been a staple part of the UK's modern club culture. Ahead of their Keep It Tidy Church event, we caught up with Amadeus Mozart to talk Tidy weekenders, raving in a church and hotel rooms.
Describe your music in three words
Fun, entertaining journey
Who were your influences as a DJ?
Musically I have many. From a DJ perspective it would have to be Tony De Vit, he’s the main man, I followed his career all the way from 1984. Musically my inspiration goes back to the early 70s to the Moog and synthesizer albums that my dad bought me when I was 7 years old. There was one particular album called Spotlight on the Moog. There on it went on to the likes of Krafwerk, through to disco, then to hi-energy, onto the Chicago house scene and then through to rave all the way up to 1995 when we started hard house.
What is your favourite track of all time?
I’ve been quoted before as not having a favourite track of all time. I think if you love music, you shouldn’t have a favourite track. I personally find that those who do have a favourite all not really into music, like your nan or your grandad. If you love music your favourite should change on a daily or hourly basis. I have no favourite track as I love all genres of music. I love Madness (my favourite live band), I love disco and house. To have a favourite just wouldn’t feel right.
What was the first record you bought and do you still have it?
The first record I ever bought with my own pocket money was way back in the early 70s called Lilly and the Pink by Scaffold which is a late 60s record. But moving on to the first proper record I ever bought would have been my first 12” single was a Village People record, around ‘77/’78. Actually, I do still have the record, I think it was either Macho Man or In The Navy.
Did you change your name or have you always been Amadeus? Such a cool name.
I did change my name by Deed Poll in April 1986, beforehand I was Lee Marlow was what I was Christened with. I used to work for MIND (the National Association for Mental Health) and a friend and I decided the change our names to raise money for the charity. We only raised around £280, which wasn’t bad in those days. I changed my name to Amadeus Celery Mozart and my friend changed his to Johan Tomato Strauss. We got in The Sun newspaper, so more than raising money, we raised awareness for the charity MIND. So since 1986, I have been Amadeus Celery Mozart.
Any chance of Andy making a return of Jive Bunny?
The answer to that is currently no. He uses it now he’s involved in education and he tours around lots of schools and colleges, and he always brings it up he was a pop star and had three number 1’s before he was 19. He actually dines out as Jive Bunny but doesn’t have any plans to return as the act at this stage.
Your son Max Mozart is now making a good name for himself on the DJ circuit. You must be very proud.
Yes I’m very proud of my son Max who’s done very well as a producer and DJ. It’s not something that has been taught by me. When he got to the age of 16 I bought him a pair of Pioneer CDJs and an Apple Mac and said if you want to be in the music industry there’s the tools, from thereon he was self taught. He learned to DJ himself and used Logic on the Mac which at the time I’m an old-skool producer using Cubase and analogue. A lot of people assume he’s got to where he has because of me but all I did was give him the tools of the trade, the rest he did on his own which makes me very proud. He did do tracks for Tidy and Ideal which I turned down, he’s never had preferential treatment with his music, he’s always been told if they’re good enough for the label they’ll go on. When he produced Live Again, Military Zone and some other tracks, they were so good we had to put them out on Ideal. He really has earned his own stripes without me having to guide him along.
We still remember your 2 in a Tent track with Andy. What a tune. When did you guys decide to pursue a path into the hard house scene?
Ironically we were making hard house before we made 2 In A Tent, which was around 1994. I was making hard house, though it didn’t really have a name at the time, in around 1990 and 1991. Having been DJing since 1982, I’ve been playing house and upfront dance music for around 30 years. We actually produced Hyperlogic Only Me two months before we did 2 In A Tent When I’m Cleaning Windows. We didn’t switch from making a pop track to credible club tracks, we happily did both. We were multi-talented back in those days. One day we’d be a pop chart act, the next we would be an underground dance act.
Sampling the George Formby classic. How did the idea come about?
Sampling George Formby for the 2 In A Tent track I can tell you exactly how that happened. Two weeks prior to the track I had a meeting with Pete Waterman of Stock, Aitkin and Waterman fame down in London, and he mentioned he was a big fan of George Formby, which I thought was a bit odd but it stuck in my mind. Two weeks later my mum came round and said “why don’t you do a track with George Formby in it”. Quite a coincidence. Later that day after talking to my mum I went to the studio at the time in my hometown of Kettering. I started playing around with When I’m Cleaning Windows, and it started out as a mash-up with The Grid’s Swampthing, and it later went out on Music Factory’s Master Mix, a DJ promotion service for working DJs. It was originally made for DJs only but as it went down so well, and Music Factory saw its potential, we started on the final version. I later hooked up with Stock and Atkin and released it on their label.
From what we hear you guys are always working, Tidy is literally the tip of the iceberg.
Yep we’re always working. Tidy takes up only around 20 percent of my week. It’s not the main job at present but it was previously, when we started in 1995 when Andy and I worked for Music Factory. We pursued Tidy for the next 10 years. In 2006 Andy took a break and did his own thing with his educational project U-Explore. I set up Motel Red and Square Daisy creative agencies, so we left Tidy and Music Factory in 2006. In 2011/12 we got back together and got Tidy back from Music Factory and sorted all the political stuff out which we now run alongside our other companies.
Weren't you guys on a BBC program a while back, sure it was the Real Hustle?
It was a while ago when we were in Ibiza, basically a program spotlighting individuals who hustle or frauds. At the time they were doing an article on ticket touts in Ibiza and ironically they came up to us while we were sitting on the beach front in San Antonio. A camera man and couple of the producers came up to us and said a girl is going to try and sell you some tickets for Es Paradis, we were told to buy them even though we knew they were false. Ironically they hadn’t done their research as we were the people putting the party on at Es Paradis, it was called Tidy Euphoria, we were the brand owners and promoters for that night and yet they were pretending to sell tickets to us. We did tell them that it would look bad on camera. Why would you try and sell tickets to the Tidy Boys for their own night? They didn’t quite understand or believe us, so we played along and we pretended to buy tickets to our own event. So when you’re watching the Real Hustle and a lot of BBC programs, don’t believe it, it’s all a load of shit and set up.
How did the Tidy story start? How did the logo come about?
A very long story I could easily write a book on. In a nutshell, Andy I were record producers doing pop acts and dance music back in the early 1990s. We needed an outlet for our own productions. We had gone under the name Hyperlogic with Only Me and had tracks licensed to Hooj Choons and London Records but we got very frustrated with the likes of Manifesto and Positiva, they were taking too long to put our music out and we were too prolific for those labels because they could only release so much at a time and Andy and I with Paul James and Paul Chambers were producing a lot of music. We needed a vehicle to put our own music on, and it was Andy’s dad John Pickles who suggested we set up our own label and release music under the Music Factory name of which were all working for at the time.
So it was my task as creative to think of a name for the label, as well as a logo. In the summer of 1995 I was coming back from London on the train from Kings Cross to Kettering where I lived and worked, and I was with my colleague Martin Smith, where we were going through ideas for the label name. It was on the back of an orange Tango can was the Keep Britain Tidy logo. Previously I had worked for Keep Britain Tidy back in the 80s, so subliminally I was drawn to it. I thought it was a logo that was on everything from drink cans, chewing gum wrappers and crisp packets, it would be good to adapt as people would feel they already knew it. Martin got his pen out and we re-drew the KBT logo, placing the bin upside down with the deck on the top and we eventually got to what is now known as the Tidy logo. Originally we were going to call it Tidy Tunes which looking back was a bad idea, but by the time we got to Kettering we came up with the name Tidy Trax.
Tough one, but if you had to select your favourite track from the Tidy discography, what would it be?
I really don’t have a favourite Tidy track or even a track of all time. It changes. A lot of people expect me to say Heaven’s Cry, or Signum, or The Dawn. Those were popular and of course The Dawn is special to me for other reasons as it was the last track Tony made. I remember speaking to Tony about it two months before he died when he was in the studio with us and Paul, so there’s a lot of memories and attachment to The Dawn, but I do like lots of other tracks as well. Tidy has had so many great tracks out, it really is difficult to choose one.
As a DJ and producer there's no doubt Tidy has played a huge part in my love for dance music. You have thousands of people who adore your brand. It must be a humbling experience.
Yes it is. No matter where I go travelling the world or whether I’m in my home town of Northampton, Leeds or Kettering, I still get people come up to me in supermarkets shouting “Amo” or “Tidy”. I love it. I remember going on holiday to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, walking along a secluded beach when someone ran over and said how they loved Tidy and the Tidy Boys. I also remember in Northampton walking through a park with my wife on a Sunday afternoon when someone ran at me from about 100 yards, pulled up their shirt showing a massive Tidy tattoo on her arm. So yes, without the great fan base and community Tidy would be nothing and I do personally believe Tidy has the strongest, closest knit and well loved community in the dance industry. I don’t think there’s any other label that has the mad passion that we’ve got so yes it is very humbling.
Tidy was one of the first UK dance labels to embrace digital. Why did you make the change?
We were the first to do a lot of things. A lot of people don’t remember or realise that we were one of the first record labels to have a website back in 1996. At the time there were not many labels that had websites or even used the internet. Then back in 2000/2001 we launched e-commerce, we were one of the first to sell records and merchandise on our online store which back then was turning over around £30,000 every month so we embraced e-commerce very quickly. We did love digital, so yes website first, e-commerce and by the time it was around 2003/2004 we realised the download was coming, so we set up Tidy Digital which was an offshoot website especially for downloads. Also as DJs were one of the first to play out sets on CD back in 1999. A lot of DJs were still using vinyl so much of the time we had to turn up with our own CD players plugging them into clubs travelling around the world because most clubs at the time didn’t have any CD players. We love the digital format, but you can’t beat the beautiful warm sound of vinyl.
The Tidy empire has been going strong since 1995. A lot has happened in clubland and dance music since. What changes do you feel have had the biggest impact and have they been a good thing?
2007 was the biggest year of change for me in the club scene. For a lot of people it was the introduction of the smoking ban which may have played a little bit of a part in it. The big change was the change in the licensing laws in the UK and around the world, where bars, restaurants and small clubs could open up until 4am. Before 2007 people would go to the pubs and bars before 11pm and by half past they would be kicked out. To carry on the party you had to go to a nightclub down the road, pay £10 to get in and you were there until 2 or 4 in the morning. So every Friday and Saturday night, after the pubs shut, there was nowhere else to carry on drinking, nowhere else to go apart from home or a local takeaway, so you had to go to the club. Back then every town and city had many clubs with venues like the First Leisure Group easily attracting 2000 people on a Friday night.
Let’s take Slinky and the Opera House in Bournemouth as a good example. Before 2007, back in the glory days of 2004 every Friday night every week of the year without fail, they would get 1500 to 1800 people in that venue. Different DJs and genres of music, and that’s a Friday night. So for me the biggest change to clubbing was the 2007 licensing law. Nowadays DJs play in bars and pubs, clubbers stay there until 4am, raising the question why they would go down the road and pay a tenner to get in another venue, when they could say where they were, get two cocktails for the price of one and listen to a DJ on a pretty decent sound system. People no longer shift from the bar to the club.
Of course the other big change is the digital download. The death of vinyl also saw the death of the anthem. Since then it’s become difficult to make and promote anthems as a DJ since the decline of vinyl. Musical is now more disposable. Back in the old days if we had a white label or a test pressing, we would play out for six months and build it up, and when it came out you could only get the track from a vinyl shop. Boom, it would be a success and you’d sell thousands of copies. Now unfortunately, most producers put their stuff out on Soundcloud or it’s streamed on Spotify, so by the time the DJ comes to playing it, the track can be ‘Shazamed’ have it on your phone and download it, and by the time you get home that night you’d probably be bored of it. So music is now disposal. In the old days, why anthems became anthems, was because the first time you ever heard a track was in the middle of the dancefloor and you immediately fell in love with that track. Now the first time you hear new music is while you walk around Asda getting your lunch on your headphones from your phone, and that’s not the right place to hear a brand new track.
The Tidy weekenders are a pilgrimage for clubbers from far and wide. Must be amazing to put on these parties?
The weekenders are our favourite events to put on, from a personal level. On a business level, they are very risky. They have made lots of money especially with Music Factory in the early 2000s, and also we have all lost a lot of money on them as well, particularly as clubbing, the scene and our audience gets older. Back in 2004, we put four weekenders on over the year (March in Prestatyn, a Summer Camp event, a Horror Weekender at Prestatyn again and New Year’s Eve in Blackpool). Each event had 3000 people attend. That audience has now grown older, got married, had kids and go to garden centres, so if you want to put a weekender on now it is tricky, as those people have now moved on and it’s very difficult to get them out of the house. As much as we love weekenders and would love to put them on, the business weekender is not quite right.
You did a Crowdfunding campaign recently for an event at Magna and it revealed a shortfall, proving the risks promoters take putting on such events. It was a real eye opener.
Yes, the Magna campaign was really an experiment. We had crowdfunded before, one of the weekenders where we asked for about £40,000. To put a weekender on costs around £200,000 and we asked only for the £40k to sort of get it going. The Tidy fan club or family as we like to call them, raised the amount in 24 hours which was amazing. Crowd funding did work for us at that event. On the Magna thing we wanted to prove a point more than anything. To put a Magna on, you do need a lot of money and so much so, I had to prove to some idiot online how much is does actually cost by dragging out a spreadsheet from 2005 of Magna 10 when we did our 10th birthday. To put that event on in 2005 cost £125,000. So, I don’t think any promoter in their right mind would risk £125k in this day and age to put a big event on. So we said let’s see if we work the figures out and we worked out at around £85,000 (based on 2000 people attending). We did our sums, got them right, and then put the question to the public. Question was, would 2000 people still come to a Magna in 2017? The answer was, not quite. So therefore if we had gone ahead and put it on the traditional way, we would have booked the venue, made deposits etc., where the Kickstarter raised £60k, we would have had a shortfall of around £25k. After losing £62k at the Ideal Weekender, I didn’t fancy losing any more.
So crowdfunding is good, more people should look into it. If I had my way, every single event would be crowdfunded. And if you look at it, all events are crowdfunding. You buy the tickets, the tickets pay for the acts and production, so there’s no hiding the fact that every event is sort of crowd funded anyway. You need people to buy tickets to put the vent on, it’s that simple.
How do you feel clubbing has changed today?
You have to refer to what I said earlier, the clubbing scene for me changed in 2007 following the Licencing Act. I also think there is a lot more things to do these days than there were back in the day. In 1999 we never have Netflix, the power of the Internet, Facebook, social media, Skype, FaceTime, iPhones, we did have so much other things to do. So to meet your friends on a regular basis, it was a social event. Back in 1999, the only time you got to meet your friends from Bournemouth if you lived in say Plymouth, was to go to a Slinky and meet them on a Friday night and catch up. So the social element of meeting up and going out with clubbing has gone because we can WhatsApp friends, Skype them, or use Snapchat so there’s less need to get in the car and drive to meet up. I also feel now the mentality has now changed. I think the next generation would look at you as a bit odd if you say let’s go and drive 110 miles to go and see the Tidy Boys in Liverpool, they ask why would you do that. So I think that day has gone, it has drastically changed. So as a promoter, it’s difficult to get people off their arses out and back into the club. I think everybody has become social hermits.
What do you feel is the future of the UK hard dance scene?
We’ve been saying for a long time we hope it’s going to come back around. Incidentally I’ve just watched a YouTube clip where there’s a guy in America, one of Skrillex’s protégés, who’s playing in front of LA in front of about 50,000 people and he’s playing what is basically a hard house track. It is about 145bpm, it has a big bass drum, a big offbeat bassline… so yeah, if you listen to what’s being played in in the West Coast of America with people like Gammer (who plays a bit more hardcore) I do believe hard house is sort of breaking out there in the US now. It makes me think should we go back in the studio and remix all the old Tidy tracks and get them out to the American audience. Even some of the Tuff London stuff and new tech house has elements of it. In the US, we have with EDM and hard house. If sped up, and in the UK the house scene has elements of hard house slowed down. you listen to the groovier techno stuff in particularly Tuff London, it’s hard house at minus 8 and slowed down. Hard house is all around us, we just have to hope the people prefer the speed of 136 to 145bpm rather than 128. It is a tempo thing, particularly in the UK. The new generation of clubbers don’t like to sweat, get hot and drink a bottle of water, they like to go to bars, girls in particular like to wear high heels and look pretty, so getting hot to a track at 145bpm is not in the mind set of the next generation. Hard house will again have its day, like all things it will come back round if you wait long enough.
What has been the best gig you've ever done?
That is a tricky one, we’ve done so many. Our biggest audience was in front of around 12000 people in South Africa in 1999. We have also enjoyed playing many festivals including Creamfields, Global Gathering and Summer Sound System. The festivals have been good, however, you also can’t beat the small gigs. Some of the underground gigs we’ve played over the years, like Storm and Sundissential but if you have to pick one, there is nothing like being on the stage in Prestatyn, at a weekender, on a Friday night. That feels like home.
Any embarrassing moments?
I hate this sort of question because there are probably lots of embarrassing moments on tour. They sound like your trying to force in an embarrassing moment you know. I suppose the most embarrassing moment for me was when we toured in Las Vegas and the afternoon before our set, we were going to have a siesta so I took my wife back to the hotel room. American DJ Jon Bishop and Andy Pickles turned over my Do Not Disturb sign to Disturb and sent a cleaner to my room in the afternoon while the wife and I were making love. The cleaner didn’t even knock, she barged in (my fault the door was unlocked) and…. You can imagine the rest. So, thank you Andy Pickles for that.
What do you guys enjoy doing outside of music?
We are retired now so we have a lot more time on our hands. It is good to socialise. A lot of people don’t realise that for over 15 years we lost every weekend, not just back in the day or on a Saturday night. From 1995 to 2010 we were playing out most Friday and Saturday nights and sometimes even Thursdays all over the world. Once we went to Tokyo for the night. It was Tokyo on the Thursday night, returning to the UK for a gig in Sheffield on the Friday, then playing Plymouth on the Saturday and we had a Sundessential on the Sunday. That was an average weekend for us back in the day. So we didn’t get to see our children growing up, we didn’t see our family and our wives much of the time .It is quite nice now to do simple, normal things like going out for a meal on a Saturday night. We are enjoying socialising again after our DJ career. Andy enjoys fitness and for me it’s difficult as I’m always working but when I do get time off, the most enjoyable thing used to be sex, no, it’s food.
Will you be making any more Tidy Boys tracks?
Yes I think we will. We do have plans to do some more. We always said the Tidy Boys would never do tracks. Even back in the day with Tidy, there are no Tidy Boys tracks as such. We did some remixes, but for our own tracks we always used other names. We were the Tidy Girls, the Untidy Dubs, Hyperlogic, we were under a lot of names. We never made tracks under the Tidy Boys name because we felt once you do, you were pigeon holed to a particular sound. Of course recently we’ve done a few. We’ve done The Danger which has become a bit of an anthem, so we may get back in the studio soon and surprise people with a new Tidy Boys track.
So December 9th you guys and the Tidy faithful take over a church in Leeds. To say the least, the concept is fantastic and the event looks certain to be a full house. How did the event come about?
The Keep It Tidy church gig for the Tidy faithful came on the back of the Magna campaign. First, earlier in the year we were going to do a Kickstarter for a weekender, but we realised the timing wasn’t right. Pontins were being a bit silly with the cost, so we asked ourselves what’s the next best thing to a weekender, that’s when we put the Magna Kickstarter on. With the shortfall of that experiment, we realised there is demand for a Tidy event so for those who pledged for Magna we felt the party was deserved. So in a way we utilized the marketing data from Magna and we’ve put on a party in Leeds. Sam Townend, Andy and myself are now Leeds based so we wanted something in our home town/city, the opportunity came up to see this venue called The Church in Leeds which has never had a hard house event on, previously events there had hosted the likes of Roger Sanchez, Norman Cook, Defected and a lot of house and techno nights. It is a very cool, credible venue when we went to see it I said to Sam it is probably one of the best venues I’ve ever been in. It’s a chapel, it’s a church, it is unbelievable. It is a really great venue, it’s on our door step, so we went back to the office and we decided to put an event on. It’s the Tidy Christmas party on December 9th, and yes it’s perfect for the Tidy faithful, we’re playing on the religious theme and by the time of this interview we’ve sold out. We put the tickets on sale and within 12 days we sold 1000 tickets. In fact with the Magna database we sold 400 tickets before we even put the tickets on sale. We contacted the contributors to Magna, informed them of the event and said did you want a VIP ticket, they sold straight away. Once we sold out the venue said we could put add another 200 to the attendance, they’ve now sold too so it’s a sold out event and we really can’t wait.
So it’s December 9th, Tidy, it’s a sell out, Tidy Boys are resurrected for one night only. It’s well worth a visit.
Any hints of what we can expect for next year's Tidy weekender?
With the success of the Tidy church event we do realise there is demand for some more parties. We have always said we’d put special events on rather than a normal night in an average nightclub. So we will put special events on, we do have plans in 2018, we are in talks with certain venues, well known venues on the South Coast and we are also in talks with a special event in July. And who knows, that weekender concept may pop up again next year.
For anyone wanting to get into the DJ scene or start their own night, what advice would you offer them?
For any DJ or promoter wanting to start their own night, I would always start small and don’t try and bite off more than you can chew. A lot of people frown upon promoters trying to make money, the bottom line is you need to make money to put the event on, or you have to have at least the intention to make money. Too many promoters just book a DJ or book a night, thinking it’s going to work by putting an advert on Facebook and hoping people are going to turn up. It doesn’t work like that, you have to do a lot more research and a lot of hard work.
Promoters seriously have to look at the business model side of it and not just do it for the love. Of course we all love what we do, and there’s no better feeling than making money out of something you love doing. Everybody would love their hobby to turn into a job. However, if you are going to do it right, you have to have some business sense. That means using spreadsheets and working out a profit and a loss. When Sam and I sit down and we work out a Tidy event, we have to work out what’s the cost and we work out what is the minimum amount of people we need to break even on the event, and you have to do that. So let’s say you’re trying to get 500 people at a party, you have to make sure your breakeven is around only 180. Work on your worst case scenarios, not your best case scenarios. If you can come away with a £20 profit on 180 people, even though you want 500, you’ve got to work on that basis. If you did get 500, or even 300 you know you’re quids in. Also you need to make sure enough people come. Even say you achieve 180 through the door, but the venue holds a thousand, no one’s going to enjoy it. Try and find a venue that holds around 400-500, set your breakeven at around 180 and anything over that, it’s still a good party. Never do it this day and age if there’s a slight risk of losing money, because there’s nothing worse than being a promoter, the DJs are asking for their money, the club is less than half empty and you’ve got a two grand debt. There is no worse a feeling. So you have to think of the money first, no matter what people say, you can do it for the love, but you have to do it with a spreadsheet.
Tickets for the Opera House Reunion featuring the Tidy Boys on 14th April 2018 at the 02 Bournemouth are on sale now, click here. The Keep It Tidy at The Church Leeds on 9th December has officially sold out.