Return to the Source Return To The Source (interview)
“There were only two places in London with a license until 6am when we started and then a few years later there were dozens. There were so many other people doing trance events and the rents that the clubs wanted were getting higher everywhere we went, artists wanted more, décor was more expensive.
It became really tough and when one venue manager said to me, “It’s survival of the fittest, the strongest will survive”, I thought, ‘no, that’s not what it’s supposed to be about, I’m not playing this game’. I thought, ‘It’s time to walk away’.”
As London’s original acid house scene of the late 80s splintered into fast hard techno and soulful ‘garage’ house, a new underground scene fusing hippy style alternative attitudes with melodic though predominantly tough techno emerged which would come to be known as psy-trance.
Forged at the acid soaked beach parties in Goa, and initially sound-tracked by the music of German producers including Sven Vath, Oliver Lieb and Resistance D, the always internationally focused scene took off in London in 1993.
While squat parties by the likes of Sugarlump and TIP stayed resolutely under the radar, Return To The Source (RTTS) started hosting more accessible all night parties at Brixton’s Fridge (nowadays Electric Brixton) and Holloway Road’s the Rocket, offering alternatives to the more mainstream crowds packing Ministry of Sound and Club UK.
Introducing a core cadre of producers and DJs including Tsuyoshi, Simon Posford, and Mark Allen, RTTS rapidly grew into a global enterprise, hosting parties in New York, Japan and beyond as well as releasing wildly successful compilation CDs before disappearing just as the likes of Sasha, John Digweed, Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk become the world’s first genuine superstar DJs.
Return To The Source founder Phil Ross is frank about what went wrong.
“The easiest answer is that we did The Source parties for over 8 years and personally speaking, I was exhausted. We were doing monthly nights as well as sending DJs and décor all over the World, and running a label,” he recalls.
“On a personal level I was also trying and failing to hold my marriage together and we had just had Sophie our baby daughter. I wanted to be a proper father and the club and party life wasn’t going to let that happen.”
“On top of this, Mark had relocated to Brighton to bring up his family and Chris had moved to the US, to get married and start a family too. We tried to work remotely, we had had the idea that we would start a US Return to the Source, but in all honestly, we didn’t have the skills or the energy and all our relationships had frayed by this point.”
15 years on, Phil and many of RTTS’ best-known DJs are back for a reunion party in London- so why have they brought the party back now?
“We’ve been getting asked for years to do a reunion party or to start it up again, and we’ve thought about it and even talked about it, but one of us was always half hearted or unsure about doing it,” says Phil.
“But I got a call earlier this year from Chris Deckker who has been living in Oregon since about 2000, he said he was coming to Europe to play some festivals with his band Medicine Drum.
It was great to hear from him after so many years and when he said it would be an ideal opportunity to do the reunion, I totally agreed. We started a group email with Mark Allen and Janice Duncan and everyone was up for it at the same time for once.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): What happened to you all when RTTS stopped?
Phil Ross: “In one respect, the scene was swallowed up by the mainstream and became diluted. In one sense it was great to hear trance tunes on TV ads and movies, but the people making music wanted to evolve and move on. They all had their own collaborations and partnerships and they all have their own stories, but like us, I think a lot of people got tired. Tired of the commerciality and tired of the pressure, and for many people tired of making and playing the same music.
A lot of people like Tsuyoshi moved into other genres, Juno Reactor into film soundtracks and stuff, and others still enjoy great success as artists. Simon Posford, whose music I love, being one in particular. The trance scene is still strong in Israel, Portugal and Greece and there are some big festivals out there. I’d love to promote Astral Projection in the UK though!”
Skrufff: How did you feel when trance went mainstream and the likes of Tiesto/ Ferry Corsten cashed in? (How difficult to avoid feeling bitter?)
I have never felt bitter about any artist or their success, like I say it was a bit strange to hear trance in the movies or on TV etc., but when we were on the inside at our peak, we had to try to take things in our stride and not be phased by anything. It was very new for us and very exciting, and I blush sometimes when I think back.
So I guess when it was over for us and we were on the outside, I was more in awe of this huge trance monster that we and all the other promoters and artists and DJs had created.
Skrufff: What’s the plan for the party? how much of the music will be retro? How much new?
Phil Ross: “The party will be an amazing indoor festival of colour, a guided Chakra Journey by Antara, acrobats, performers and spectacle. There will be some new material for sure, we have young up and coming people like Shakti in the Dance Temple and A-Thousand Eyes in the Ambient Café playing new tunes, but it’s gonna’ be mostly retro, it’s gonna’ be Goa!
Having said that, that’s what I’m saying, but if Man With No Name, Tsuyoshi, Mark Allen or any of those guys decide they’re gonna’ drop new stuff, then it’s their call. We also have an amazing line-up in The Ambient Café with Dr Alex Paterson (The Orb), Mixmaster Morris, Kaya Project live, and many more.”
Skrufff: What was your peak moment of RTTS back in the day?
Phil Ross: “That’s a really tough question, we were so lucky, so blessed with success and so many joys. We did parties on Mount Fuji, in New York, Paris, all over, but the best club in the World was the Fridge in Brixton, now called Electric Brixton, and we had the best nights ever there, that’s why I wanted to have the Reunion Party there…it’s perfect, I’ve always loved it.
Ha ha, watching Channel 4 interviewing Chris Deckker at The Fridge, that definitely has to be one of the many peaks…and then seeing Jon Snow presenting the piece the next week on TV…absolutely bizzare!
Skrufff: And your worst moment?
Phil Ross: “We did a deal with a label called Volume who manufactured and distributed our first three albums, including The Chakra Journey which was number 1 or 2 or something in the Compilations Chart. My very good friend Robin Gibson had got a job there and he introduced me. Something went pear-shaped with the company and they went bust owing us £50k or some huge stupid amount like this, as well as loads of royalties to other people too.
We were gutted, but in the overall scheme of things, the money meant nothing, the worse thing was when I heard some years later that Rob Deacon, one of the guys who had set the company up, had gone out to sea in his Kayak and his body was found washed up some days later..
I was devastated when Robin told me this . . . I had seen Rob since the label went bust and I did say, there were no hard feelings, easy come easy go, but, well, y’ know. Depression hit me quite hard, I guess it hits all of us, we have to recognise it and reach out as best we can, communicate as best we can, make that call, phone that friend, send that email.
I guess it’s another good reason to do this party, in memory of Rob Deacon, come to Return To The Source on Fri 1st Aug, Let Us Direct Your Steps In The Paths of Happiness!”
DJs: Tsuyoshi Suzuki (Matsuri/Joujuka/Prana) (accompanied by battling classical string ensemble Jayju and Marsha): John Phatasm (Phantasm Records): Pathaan (globectronica.org): Mark Allen: Shakti (Trancedance)
Live on Stage: Man With No Name, Manmademan, Medicine Drum
Tickets are £15 in advance from: Electric Brixton – http://www.electricbrixton.uk.com
Access All Areas, Camden – http://www.accessallareas.org
Jonty Skrufff: https://twitter.com/djjontyskrufff