UK Fresh ’86 – 25th anniversary

Posted on 23 July 2011


UK-Fresh-86-CoverUnbelievable that this week, the 19th in fact, marked the 25th anniversary of UK Fresh ’86. It’s almost inconceivable to me that 25 years ago I was at Wembley Arena in my finest Fila tracksuit top and Adidas Trim Trab trainers (I did have some trousers on as well but I’m unable to remember what they were). It was the largest Hip Hop jam to ever hit these shores.

I understand that a 25th anniversary party took place last weekend in London. How times have changed – I was at home watching TV whilst my one-year-old daughter was sleeping soundly upstairs.

Anyway, I was so inspired by the 25th anniversary that I started writing a short story, but in true fashion ground to a halt. So I’ve called it Part one. Here goes.

’86: Part one

The cherry blaster had two tiny round speakers. It was too sweet to be ghetto. But the music coming from the speakers had a raw sound, which belied the surroundings. The tinny system struggled. It couldn’t quite translate the vocals and sounds – like transmissions coming in from another planet.

The music took D somewhere else, at least away from the small, parochial town where he lived. One road in, one road out, he felt trapped. The town’s moribund shopping centre, trapped in late seventies-uninspired architecture, looked like a cheap mausoleum. It had been opened by a low-rate celebrity and a tin statue of a plane in flight stood in a drab flower bed commemorating the opening. Nobody knew why a plane had been chosen. But it stood like a monument to the lucky ones who had got away. D wished he’d made that flight. Someday, he told himself.

RUN DMC shook the chest of drawers: “I cold chill at a party in a b-boy stance, and rock on the mic and make the girls wanna dance”. Dousing his shirt with Aramis to hide the musty smell from the night before, D leaned over and fast forwarded the C90 in the tape deck. The tape whirled and gave an intense squiggle sound like acid opening the cerebral cortex. In his mind, New York became a dream sequence pieced together by the 12″ vinyl import sounds coming from the tape deck. KRS One took the microphone: “The South Bronx, theSouth-South Bronx!”

If New York seemed like another planet, London felt closer. At least Dad lives there he reminded himself. D could stay at his Dad’s and enjoy the capital, immersing himself in Hip Hop which had taken grip of him and was thriving in the city. But if it isn’t where you’re from but where you’re at, D was in a wonderland that resounded to Hip Hop’s beats and breaks, popping and locking with the energy of an additive-filled child. He was excited by Hip Hop. Hungry for the sounds and styles, he made sure he visited London when he could. But this visit was the big one.

His Mum knocked on the bedroom door with some urgency. “Matthew is on the phone for you,” she announced as if speaking to her school children. D quickly slipped the copy of Club he had been looking at earlier under the bed, and put on his shirt.

“Don’t be long. Jeff wants to use the phone,” stressed his Mum. “And Robert, don’t doodle on the phone. You’ve ruined the phone book. And I’ve just put a new message pad down.” D protested with a grumbling sound but his mum shot him a glance as he opened his bedroom door. “You’re always doodling when you’re on the phone!” she snapped.

With hormones electric boogalooing through his body and the excitement of Hip Hop enthralling him, D needed an outlet. As a thirteen year old he had worried that he might never stop masturbating, imagining he’d either die of exhaustion or end up a bed-ridden addict. It was the short term intensity. But Hip Hop had hit him at his core; it was intense and felt like it would last forever. And it wasn’t that he couldn’t get over it, but that he couldn’t get enough of it. And, yeah, he doodled everywhere: the phone book, message pad, school books, in his piece book. But that’s what he and Bubble did; graffiti was their thing.

D picked up the phone. “Bubble, what’s on?” He listened to Bubble as he spoke at the other end of the phone line, a huge smile drifting across his face as he drew the outline of a chunky letter on the pad: F. He added an R and E as Bubble spoke.

“I can’t wait. This is going to be dope!” D responded in a slightly embarrassingly high pitched tone, which Bubble mimicked on the other end of the phone. In response D boom boomed back like Basil Brush, quickly adding the letter S to his sketch; followed by an H.

“My Dad’s happy with us staying at his,” unable to reign in the excitement in his voice. Adding an ’86 he finished his piece: FRESH ’86.

The tickets had arrived.

This was going to be the Hip Hop jam. Hip Hop going large, stamping its shell toes like RUN DMC on all around. KRS One’s voice boomed from the stereo: “Fresh for ’86, suckers! Ha ha ha ha”.

UK-Fresh-86-Tape-1Listen to: The first of three tape recordings of UK Fresh ’86 available from Disco Scratch

Read this: UK Fresh ’86 Programme