Where Were You In 1990?

Last month I came across a thread titled ‘Where were you in 1990?’ on the DJ History forum.  It wasn’t until I was typing out the comment below that I realised just how momentous a year it was for me – tinged with the bittersweet I should add. Here’s what I wrote:

“I’d moved back North (from London, where I’d been since ’86) and spent most of 1990 in Manchester, which was a great place to be that year.

I lived in Liverpool, but my Murdertone office was in Manchester, at 23 New Mount St – which housed half the local music industry. A real hotbed of talent and creativity.

The Ruthless Rap Assassins’ ‘Killer Album’ (A Murdertone Production) was released that summer, and acclaimed as the best British Hip Hop album to date. They had huge respect in Manchester, something apparent at a packed Konspiracy (2nd Aug 1990) on what was said to be the hottest day of the century. The walls were dripping for their performance, which was filmed and recorded. Next month (Oct 11th 2010) the ‘Killer’ is re-issued 20 years on.

I saw the Mondays play a couple of times and was at Spike Island for the Roses (27th May 1990 – I was also at their infamous press conference the night before). On the day, I was in the guest enclosure in an ecstatic state – it was a ‘Go Bang’ moment when it felt like I was with all my friends at once (certainly a wonderful grouping of them). I described the day in Sarah Champion’s book, ‘And God Created Manchester’ (1990), as ‘like being in the Garden Of Eden’. : -) Needless to say that Manchester’s great and the good were there in force. I think Spike Island was the peak of that magical Madchester vibe that would soon turn sour.

1990 was such a major year for me now I come to think about it – we really believed it was going to be a great decade, but, sadly, it fell well short of those high expectations. It was quite a trip while it lasted though, and certainly life-shaping.”

I added a further comment after someone had posted the NME’s Top 50 Singles for 1990:

“I’d never realised that ‘And It Wasn’t A Dream’ was in the NME Top 50 for 1990.

Pity we never got the sales to go with the props. Curses to Radio 1 (John Peel excepted) for not playing a record that was really expressing something important about the black British experience, mistaking it for confrontational rather than cathartic.

It was the moment I heard that ‘And It Wasn’t A Dream’ had dropped out of the charts, having just spent a week at the lowest position (#75 – 1st Sept 1990) that the nineties began to go sour for me. I remember being alone in my office and sinking into my chair, knocked for six by the news – it gutted me.

Without ‘And It Wasn’t A Dream’, our best loved track (with glowing reviews throughout the spectrum of music publications), getting radio exposure we didn’t have a hope in hell of the ‘Killer Album’ getting the type of sales we’d hoped for. The whole project stalled as a result and, despite releasing a second album the following year, it never recovered – the momentum had been lost and the times were quickly changing, with Madchester fast turning into Gunchester.”

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
till it’s gone

Joni Mitchell ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ 1970

With the ‘Killer Album’ recently re-issued, there are a number of clips on the new Manchester Groove Heritage YouTube channel with the Assassins, myself and others interviewed by John McCready (then The Face journalist, later Hacienda DJ) back in that fabled summer of 1990 for a documentary about the crew:

As always, your comments are welcome here, so let us know where you were and
what you were up to in 1990?

1990 Wikipedia:

Madchester Wikipedia:

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3 Responses to Where Were You In 1990?

  1. Henry October 24, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    Hi Greg

    This piece struck a chord with me – I was 12 in 1990, so far too young to enjoy the thrills of the new music that was coming out in its intended environment. However, that music, specifically from that year, has always stayed with me to the extent that since adulthood I’ve always remembered it & claimed it to be my favourite year for music ever. Indeed my Facebook ‘views’ simply reads ‘Music attained perfection in 1990’! (That doesn’t sound particularly clever or funny now that I’ve shared it publicly, but it gets my point across!)

    I’m going to try and pinpoint exactly what it is about that music that still hits home for me. Definitely the sampling was a huge thing – difficult to express now what it was about hearing recorded sound as a part of a new song – familiar but alien, something like that…certainly for me, it started the lifelong process of discovering old music through its use in new: house led me back to disco, and hip-hop led me back to funk, as I’m sure is true for many people of my generation.

    But the thing about the music in 1990 was it wasn’t JUST house, or JUST hip-hop – it was all incredibly funky – even the production on the purest pop hits was rooted in sample-heavy breaks and beats. It was all part of a huge melting pot of influences and directions, with the common thread of being built for the dancefloor.

    While I’d become aware of acid house via its chart hits, I had no knowledge of the scene that accompanied it – it was just a stage in the evolution of electronic music as a whole. By 1990, I was still too young to be aware of the whole rave movement, but very aware of the music, and the influence the scene was having on popular culture. While I sometimes wish I’d been old enough to witness the palpable sense of change when it was kicking off, I count myself very lucky to have been young in a time when this Nice And Safe Attitude was was becoming part of the fabric of the country. I didn’t know any different, but how privileged is that?

    The Mondays seemed like they were beamed from another planet – growing up on the Wirral, Manchester seemed like another planet! They still had breakbeats and pianos though. I didn’t really ‘get’ the Stone Roses at the time, with the exception of Fool’s Gold of course – and then we had The Farm, who weren’t going to win any Q awards, were clearly daft as a brush, but just as clearly having fun, and Groovy Train is a belter, I don’t care what anyone says. At the end of the day though, they were all lads with guitars, and I was more fascinated by the ‘boy/girl with sampler & keyboard’ approach……Beats International, Deee-Lite, Betty Boo, EMF, ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’, The KLF, Soup Dragons, De La Soul, Electronic, Mantronix, 808 State, Chad Jackson, Stevie V, that Tom’s Diner remix, please be upstanding for Bassomatic’s Fascinating Rhythm…and not forgetting the unbridled euphoria of N-Joi’s Anthem. Yes it’s all poppy, but the house/hip-hop/Balearic/rave/techno influences are worn very much on the sleeve, without contrivance.

    I’ve actually got a list on this very laptop of the best of 1990, for a mix that refuses to find time to put itself together…

    I could go on about this all day, obviously, so thanks to Greg for the chance to wax lyrical about my favourite year in music, which continues to be a huge influence on me.

    “Be selective, be objective….be an asset to the collective” – I wasn’t 100% sure what he was on about at the time, but I wanted in 🙂

  2. 586 October 28, 2010 at 7:16 pm #


    Year Zero for me…

    I’d picked up a knee injury the previous year, which stopped me playing football to a half decent level and also stopped me, partially from working…In that the job I had been in and the company it was for, were reknowned for serious accidents – so my parents said they were happier to pay me the £40 a week I would have picked up, rather than me picking my fingers up off a sawmill floor..Add to that, my mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, so I was more use around the house and doing chores etc.

    I remember that Spring and Summer being really good ones where I was living – Peterlee, in the North East..My days were spend doing jobs around the house and hanging about in the Town Centre and watching the world going by. Many of us weren’t working or were at the local college, so there was plenty of downtime and plenty to look at!.

    There really did feel like an “us and them” where I lived.You had those that were wearing similar clothes and had their hair in similar styles, who’d give you ‘that’ nod and then you had the others, who you knew were into getting tanked up on a weekend and setting about anyone who dressed a bit differently or went too far and danced – moreso for the lads.

    The music had been dripping in for the previous year, for me….Tapes from the Butterloggie raves in Eston eventually found their way down the pecking order and a tape from BCM in Magaluf with almost demonic vocal samples, sounded like a million miles away from what was on Top Of The Pops.Older friends were going to the clubs now, buying tapes and granting us an event better opportunity to hear the music that was being played in the clubs, that some of us were too young to get into.

    My first real night out was in the summer of 1990..a few friends had already been making the short trip up to Sunderland for their dose of the music we were getting second hand via the tapes.Many of us we were maybe 16/17 at the time.

    We headed through to Chambers. Some of the lads would get in, some would get knocked back and try another week. I cleared it with my folks to go through one Saturday.I headed through with friends, somehow, we managed to get through the doors and meet other friends who were in there, a quick look about and we had the supplies we were after, then there was the wait in the downstairs bar bit, waiting for the club upstairs to open, the butterflies starting with the combination of the chemicals and the fact you’d made it past the bouncers.

    The soundtrack absolutely blew me away, stuff that was my stable diet – ie “WFL”, “Hallelujah” next to new stuff like Lfo “Lfo”, “What time is love?”…maybe not the most cutting edge of stuff for some people, which is fair enough, but for me on my first night out – hearing those tunes through a proper system with the lights, strobes, smoke and everyone seemingly locked in dance wise, it was a real ‘moment’.


  1. Manchester Groove Heritage / The Ruthless Rap Assassins | Northern Groove - October 27, 2010

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