But earlier this year he made the decision to abandon it all and spend some quality time on himself for a change. Deciding to retire from the full time rigours of DJing and running the website, the last few months has seen him take stock of his life and get back to the finer things. Raymondo’s Last Stand was a line in the sand, “It was a finishing point, I’d had enough and I wanted to take it easy. It was a great celebration of what I had and hadn’t achieved. Just like Mr Ben coming out of that little shop, don’t expect me to be away for too long. Just to prove that the old boys can do it.” I wondered nonchalantly if we might see him wearing a bowler hat for his return to the decks on October 7th, though you might be lucky to see him in his slippers and carrying a pipe. If however you’d like to be the one to help him in with his bag, then please send your details on the back of a postcard to the usual address. “I don’t want to be perceived to be coming back. I’ve got nothing to gain and really I’ve always had my full time job. Even when I was playing 6 or 7 gigs a weekend, I still went to work on Monday. Personally I don’t think you should lose track on that sort of thing, cause when it all falls down, where does it leave you? I’ve come back because I still have some love for it, I just don’t want to be doing it all the time. You’ve got to be something special to make a go of it as a full time DJ and you’ve got to have you’re head screwed on.” I wondered if it might also have something to do with the way some promoters paid their DJs. “I think the perception of our scene is a little higher than it should be. Our scene isn’t as serious as it should be and therefore perhaps the promoters don’t pay as much as we used to get but they shouldn’t take the piss. The larger events bring in more money, so they should pay the DJs more. I’ve been paid more money for playing in a small club then playing in a big club. DJs do get a raw deal at the end of the day. You could blame the promoter but then you could also blame the DJs, not to individually pick someone out but there are too many DJs who will play for free.” Maybe there should be a DJ union? Could DJs club together, with the shop floor stewards having it on the dance floor? There’s a thought to ponder. “If you pay good money for DJs, you tend to get good music because people are more bothered.”
It’s interesting, I thought as we joked about record trolleys with wheels and zimmer frames and the like. Is there an upper age for DJs? Should they be made to retire when they become older than the average clubbers parent? While this in no way affects Ray yet, there are plenty of other ageing DJs and rockers (think The Rolling Stones) still growing old disgracefully. “I’m not that old anyway,” he countered with a wry smile. I wanted to drill down into his reasons for coming out of his self imposed exile and playing for Chemical Reaction (CR) at Twisted this October. Of course if you haven’t heard of Chemical Reaction, you’ve been missing out. Constantly surprising the most jaded of clubbers with the depth in their DJ selections his reply wasn’t that much of a surprise to me. “I’m playing for Annetta (of CR), she asked me to play a classics set and would I mind coming back, as it were. It’s just what I wanted to do.”
Ray had a great understanding of the highlights of his career and as he recounted the challenges and successes of his career, you could see the excitement and the memories flash brightly in his eyes, “Personally I set out to achieve one thing and that was to have a fucking good time and I did that without a doubt. I just set myself one goal after next. The first goal was a warm up set, the next was after 12, then it was last set, then something in the middle. Then it was I want to play at Camden, The Fridge, I want to do this, I want to do that, I want to go abroad. There was always some new goal to reach and some goals I didn’t get.” He never played at Camden in the main room for example; refreshingly there wasn’t any bitterness, just a tacit understanding that there are always some things that you might miss out on.
His early years playing in London started in 1995 for Sunnyside up at SW1 Club, better known as Pacha now. This led to more gigs around the capital and Raymondo became a well-known name on flyers and at parties like Sunflowers and Pickle. “My set for Pickle in the main room of Brixton Academy had to be my best ever set. I think it was their birthday party and it was a big honour.” Playing after a Dutch DJ hitting the crowd with some German trance, he recounted how the crowd just needed something different to pick them up. “Everyone was having a good stomp but I changed the beat a little bit and it went down really well. I finished up playing Underworld – Born Slippy and well…” You could say the rest is history. Resident at Pickle from more or less the start, he met both the Pickle and the Fever promoters in a black room with splatters of fluro paint thrown around the walls. “I got to know the both at the same time and luckily they both took me on! Pickle was a great party to play for. The way they did things were out on a limb, word of mouth type parties. We started off doing squat parties then moved up to bigger clubs; Stratford Rex is one I remember well. Then we went to Imperial Gardens where it really took off. There was a real good vibe.” Confirming just why they were the good vibe tribe and making me reminisce about some fantastic Pickle parties I went to.
Parties were always on Ray’s mind and he was putting on Overdrive down Croydon way long before he was playing in London. “Starting parties gave me some leverage in getting gigs in London. I’ve got some friends to thank for helping me with the parties. Me and a guy called Michael put this party on and the plan was to get one known DJ down from London every time to play at the party, which only ran till 2am. We’d put the DJ on last, I’d play before him and maybe another mate Ian before me and that worked well for me because even though the party wasn’t that packed I’d end up getting a set in return at the guests party or they’d put in a good word for me.” As his bookings grew the party had to be dropped, though the seeds for what was to become CiL / HDL were sown. “I was so busy and a lot of people wanted to know what I was doing so I made up a site just about me. Unfortunately I got a bit too involved in it and it started to take over. I think I forgot about DJing for a bit and cracked on with the website.” Changing the site from Webmondo to Clubbing In London (CiL), forums were added, DJ pages were inserted and pictures posted up. The fledgling site was born.
“Between all that came the record label. I had my own label, Transation, which had five releases. My first release came out on Tongue In Check, a record label in Oxford.” Another bug had bit Ray and he sat and learnt as much as he could during a series of visits to a studio. “I blagged it with Sid, who owned the studio, to make a track and he said, ‘Yeah, but the rights are mine.’ I though yeah fuck it, I want to get a track out so we went and cut a track. It was called Vanguard, the B side was something else to be believed in, but it was my track and it was out there.” I had to laugh when he told me the tune was released on a 10” vinyl but the pride in his voice was flowing over and I nearly spilt my drink as we talked about having a 10” record box. “Every time Adam from Lab4 sees me he always asks when I’m going to give him a copy of the track. They made a record and dedicated it to my track. It wasn’t even till later on in my career that he said it to me and I was quite astounded! I got very embarrassed about my tracks. When somebody played my records I used to run out of the room.” I wondered if his spare time might lend itself to producing again and floating around by the masses of records he stores away I was issued with a super secret copy of a never before released track, which has now been spirited away in my CD box. “Well if anyone wants to take it on, then let me know.”
We moved back onto the site and the change from CiL to Hard Dance London. “Looking back on it I should have just changed the site and not the name, it should have been made more versatile. At the time CiL was all about hard dance, though I had many people checking it out looking for other types of music. Still nothing ventured, nothing gained.” On the back of both the sites were some legendary Thursday and Sunday parties. CiL parties were being attended by all walks of people long before many of our junior wannabe promoters were even out of school. “I owe that all to Blair and Brendan who used to run Charged and they started Sids and made me monthly resident. Believe it or not it used to get packed there on Sundays. We sort of took over from them and took it to the next level, Thursdays was just an extension. Blair gave it a good crack, but had an argument with Victor (of Sids) and gave it up. One or two years later I thought I’d give it a go as Victor was begging me to go down there, I did it for a bit, gave it up and then started again. I’d been advertising it quite blatantly on HF so decided to be a bit more discrete and called it CiL and things just went from there.” In fact most people will tell you that it was the unofficial HF meet up for so long, it was by default the official HF meet up, with nearly everyone from back in the day attending at some point. “It was all a matter about getting the right DJs in. We weren’t charging on the door, there were some deals at the bar and we had Superbok by the tank. We were also quite lucky to have a pole in the middle as well. It was tiresome to run it ever week but I was helped out by Adam, my Australian friend who assisted on the party and the site. I was trawling through CD after CD though I always thought if someone went to the trouble of handing in a set then I thought well why not. It was all about giving people a chance. Even in the early days we had people who are now very famous, people like James Lawson and Tania Mann. Unfortunately Victor got a bit aggressive sometimes with the customers so in the end we had to pull it.” Still it’s not as if the party didn’t do the Mondo any favours in the many years it was running and he continued on to recount stories of Dean Peters, Phil Reynolds, Matt Clark and of course Ray himself taking turns to go on the decks on a messy Sunday afternoon. “One person would put a record on, then someone else would fall over and the next person would have to have a go. People just loved it.”
In the background we had an old mix tape playing with some acid 303’s buzzing up and down and as the track developed it Ray pointed out it was one of his first mixes. I was suitably impressed by the skill shown so early on but it did bring me back to his semi-retirement. Taking it easy was a theme he couldn’t ignore but I wasn’t surprised after his many years of being an integral part of the clubbing scene. “I’m still coming down,” he told me with a laugh. “I’m doing all the things that you give up when you go clubbing. Simple things like going for a drink and a meal on Sunday afternoon, I was never interested before or was too busy playing or being asleep.” You might find him sitting next to your local pond fishing, or by some well-known attraction taking a photo from an unusual angle for his new site www.photolondon.net
I was interested in some final words from the Great Raymondo (as I was first introduced to him by a certain number plate), some thoughts on the club scene. Quite frankly no interview would have been complete without mention of the club laws. Brought into the scene primarily as a marketing tool (and quickly copyrighted) they soon took on a life of their own with clubbers collecting them like addicts looking for their next hit. “There were 63 club laws, there could be more, I’ve got them written down somewhere. We were running a party called Choon Town and it was all part of the promotion for that. We’d booked out Imperial Gardens before any other trance or hard house party had, it was a garage location before and the first time I’d heard about the venue I’d heard that someone had been shot outside, so I thought that was worth checking out,” he said with a laugh. “Instead of doing flyers, I decided to make a little booklet with each of the laws printed so that page one had laws 1 to 4, page two had laws 5 to 8 and so on. Then we shuffled the lot, got them photocopied, then gave them out randomly at clubs and people just started collecting them like mad. People would come up and say ‘Have you got page 9 as that’s the only one I’m missing!’” As a parting shot I challenged him on law 14. “Jesus!! I think that’s Rizla, but I’m not sure. You know when you get these annoying people come up to you and they don’t even speak, they just roll their fingers together expecting you to do something and you’re like what?? If you’re going to fucking smoke, bring your own fucking gear!! I always thought to carry some toilet tissue to hand out to these people, lets see you roll with that.”
Photos courtesy of Raymondo and Adam Symbiosis. Not to be reproduced without permission.