From childhood marching bands to disc jockey and dance music producer: Pete Heller knows a good drum when he hears one. Boom-boom. Out go the lights.
Born in Brighton, Pete Heller was a music nut right from the get-go. The Clash, Psychedelic Furs, Jam and Madness as a kid and then discovering nascent hip hop at a Clash gig in London. “I was sitting at the back before the Clash and this band came on,” remembers Pete. “I’d never heard of this music before. It was very rhythm-based. It was Fab Five Freddy doing a hip hop show. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get into this’. Found out about Groove Records, went up there and the first import I bought was Davey DMX ‘One For The Treble’. It smelt different.”
Things were different in the 1980s before house arrived and shocked our system to its core. Dance music was a minority interest, like clay pigeon shooting or wine tasting. There were few magazines documenting it, and no-one wanted to be a DJ. It was like dreaming of being a gas fitter. But when Heller discovered clubs (thanks to an older sister), he was smitten. “There was no DJ culture then. They were just blokes who played records. But I found them intensely glamorous. That whole music and club scene was very other, then.”
At Manchester Uni, he got a break DJing and started to promote parties all the while travelling back to London where the early house/Balearic clubs were mu-Shooming out of from nowhere. “It was the maddest place I’d ever been to,” says Heller of Danny Rampling’s now-famous Shoom. “It suited my aesthetic completely, because all I did was take acid, and lots of it. I’d go straight to the dancefloor and that was it.”
Against the odds for such a young shaver, Heller was handed the warm-up slot when Shoom relocated to Busby’s. Aside from the instant kudos of playing at the hottest club in London, it was a satellite around which half of London’s club faces revolved. Introductions were made, friendships were sealed, including those of Terry Farley and the Boys Own crew. Heller worked in the studio on the first Bocca Juniors single (he played guitar) and somehow found himself producing The Farm alongside Terry and Madness’s Suggs (“We spent most of the time playing Subbuteo, although I did programme a little beat!”, laughs Heller)
When the cheque arrived for Heller’s contribution to Altogether Now, he bought studio gear and started making proper house music with Farley (as Roach Motel and Fire Island). Lots of records, one club hit after another. DSK’s What Would We Do: massive tune at the Sound Factory. Happy Mondays’ Stinkin’ Thinkin’: ditto. Eventually the records were big everywhere, remixes, original productions, funky, deep, guaranteed floorfillers the lot of ’em.
In the mid 90s, the pair had an unlikely crossover hit when a rejected remix, Ultra Flava, suddenly became the hottest track in Ibiza and went top twenty n the UK. Then, in 1998, Heller produced his biggest hit yet, with Pete Heller’s Big Love. “Terry went to see Chelsea in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in Stockholm so I went in the studio on my own. I knocked it out really quickly. In a day. Actually 12 hours. After I’d done it, I thought it was going to be a demo so I edited it down to ten minutes and that became the final release.” It reached number 12 in the UK pop charts in May 1999.
Since then, he’s continued to produce more club monsters: Sputnik, Stylus Trouble, remixes of Cevin Fisher, Inner City… and endless list. And now – in the wake of JBO’s recent cessation - sees the launch of Phela Records. His own baby, though not literally. More music, big plans (well medium ones, but big eventually), a nice website, direct interface between man and machine and man (and woman). More stylus trouble, in fact.