Thursday, March 04, 2010

Telepathic Fish

When the ambient scene emerged in the early 1990s, I was somewhat ambivalent about the notion of whole clubs dedicated to low tempo electronica. It might have been perfect for winding down after a night out, or even for taking a breather from the dancefloor in a chill out room, but perhaps not for someone who habitually spent time in such rooms impatiently tapping feet and demanding 'can we go and dance again now?' The first such club night I went to was at Jacksons Lane Community Centre in Highgate - I think it might even have been called the Ambient Club (anybody else got any recollection of this?). The ex-punk in me bridled at a club with most people sitting down on mattresses round the outside. But you sit down too, relax a little and hey... it's not so bad!

One of the first series of dedicated ambient nights started out in South London courtesy of a collective who styled themselves Telepathic Fish. In his book 'Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds' (1995), David Toop recalls:

'Telepathic Fish grew from... origins as a small squat party to a growing public event with its own fanzine, Mind Food. "It's like being in someone's living room", Hex/Coldcut 'Macpunk' Matt Black said to me in October 1993 as we watched somebody step around the inert bodies, the dogs on strings and the double baby buggies, carrying a tray of drinks and eats. On that occasion, held in Brixton's Cool Tan Arts Centre, Telepathic Fish ran from noon until 10 p.m. on a Sun­day. You could buy Indian tea and cheese rolls (the latter constructed in situ with a Swiss army knife) from a low table set up in one corner of the main room. This looked for all the world like a 1960s' arts lab: bubble lights, computer graphics, Inflatables, sleepers, drone music, squat aesthetics.

My first and foolish action was to sit on a mattress which has been out in the rain for a month. For half an hour, only professional interest keeps me from screaming out of there in a shower of sparks but then I relax. No, it's fine. This is ambient in the 1990s - the 1960s'/70s'/80s' retro future rolled into a package too open, loose and scruffy to be anything other than a manifestation of real commitment and enthusiasm. Tel­epathic Fish was started by a group of art students and computer freaks - Mario Tracey-Ageura, Kevin Foakes and David Vallade - who lived together in a house in Dulwich. Later, Chantal Passemonde moved into the house, shortly af­ter the parties had begun. Kevin was a hip-hop fan, David liked heavy metal and Chantal listened to the ambient end of indie music: Spacemen 3 and 4AD label bands such as This Mortal Coil. There were no shared musical visions; simply an idea that the environment for listening to music could be different...

For the first party, held in the Dulwich house, six hundred people turned up through word of mouth and Mixmaster Mor­ris DJd. Then they planned a May Day teaparty. The fliers were teabags. Mixmaster Morris wanted a German ambient DJ, Dr Atmo, to play at the party, along with Richard "Aphex Twin" James, a recent addition to Morris's wide circle of friends and fellow psychic nomads. "We realised that the whole party was going to be too big for the place we were going to have it," explains Chantal, "which basically was a garden, so we rushed around. Morris knew some people and we found this squat in Brixton, which was run by these completely insane people. Just real squattie types, right over the edge. It was from Sunday tea on May bank holiday and people just turned up in dribs and drabs all through the night. We got Vegetable Vision in to do the lights. We ran around and got mattresses from on the street round Brixton and we had some of my friends do­ing the tea. We made lots of jelly and there was plenty of acid about. That went on for about fourteen, fifteen hours, with people lying around. That was the first proper Telepathic Fish, May 1st, '93".

So, the first party was in a house in East Dulwich (anyone know where?), the second in a squat in Tunstall Road, Brixton, and then there was at least one at Cool Tan, the squatted ex-dole office in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. I went to many parties in that place, but don't think I was at that one.

Mixmaster Morris was living in Camberwell at the time (may still do for all I know), he put out a track with Jonah Sharpe called Camberwell Green. He was also involved in the mid-1980s with running a club called The Gift in New Cross - where was that?


Strictly Kev said...

Being one of 'the Fish' I know a fair few things about this: the first one was at a house numbered 102 Tintagel Crescent in East Dulwich. Technically the entrance was on that road but the flat was right on Goose Green roundabout. It was sold recently for over a million pounds apparently.

Downstairs was a shop, I think a hairdressers, and the upstairs 3 floors were rented by myself and 3 others (David, Mario and Chantal) who became Telepathic Fish after an encounter with a rasta and live fish eating (explained in full in David Toop's excellent Ocean of Sound book).

The first Fish party took place here, Dec '92, the flyers were all hand cut fish images with details on the back, vaccuum sealed with a string attached for you to wear round your neck. Entry was £1 and I lost track of how many people came in and out of the house that night. We had two floors for the party and had decorated the living room to be the main dance room (something we did away with after the first one). With a checkered 'floor' pasted to the ceiling and a bucket and mop stuck upside down into the corner of the ceiling, people came into the room would think they were walking on the ceiling if they looked up.

Upstairs was the chillout room with a pile of TV's (some of which worked) stacked in the corner showing things like the Stakker and Orb videos. The kitchen was next door and the decks were on the counter, Mixmaster Morris played as well all the Fish posse and others probably, maybe our neighbours who were ravers as well.

There were black lights everywhere and it went on way after the sun came up. The second two were at the Tunstall Road squat in Brixton (no longer there) and the fourth was at the Cool Tan. There were also others in collaboration with different labels and groups at the Roundhouse, Brixton Academy VIP room, Heaven's chillout room and the Triple X festival in Amsterdam.

I'll do a blog on all of this one day with photos and more info...

Transpontine said...

Good to hear from you Kev, I was hoping you would pop by with the detail.

Incidentally via Twitter, Mixmaster Morris has confirmed that he is still living in Camberwell and that The Gift in New Cross was held at the Goldsmiths Tavern.

Strictly Kev said...

yeah, Morris is still in the same place, we're DJing together at the Big Chill Bar on April 1st too!

Anonymous said...

no flossy in that story :(

also could have sworn it was lordship lane?

Transpontine said...

As Kev says, the address was Tintagel Crescent but it was on Goose Green roundabout at junction with Lordship Lane.

Rev bob said...

From one of the people who made the tea. I can definitely confirm the Acid was in the Jelly.