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Pete 'Woosh' Birch on the History of DiY Soundsystem

3 October 20 words: Pete 'Woosh' Birch

The DiY Soundsystem were one of the biggest raving crews of the nineties. Their ethos was all about rejecting profits and putting on damn good parties. Founding member Pete Woosh talks us through some of the highs and lows of being in the gang during the nineties...

An early publicity photo for DiY

Editors note: We have received sad news of the passing of DiY Soundsystem legend Peter 'Woosh' Birch on Friday 2 October 2020, after a long battle with cancer. He originally wrote this piece for us in January 2020 and it was first published as part of our Overall Magazine project, where we digitally archived a Nottingham culture magazine of the nineties and put out a new one-off print issue telling stories of Nottingham culture in the nineties. We send our love out to Pete's friends, family and all those associated with DiY and Spirit Wrestlers at this time. Rest in Party. 

The date is Thursday 23 November, 1989. There are a handful of people dancing in the Garage nightclub. This happens to be the birthday of my friend Harry, as well as the first official club night of what would become the DiY Soundsystem.

The story doesn’t start here though it really began in local squats and house parties over the previous couple of years. During the late eighties, Nottingham had a thriving squat and house party scene. In Hyson Green and Forest Fields, you would find anarcho punks and ravers regularly dancing next to each other.

In many ways we were fortunate. It was still Margaret Thatcher’s heyday and unlike today it was much easier for creatives to sign on and focus on music, art or whatever it was that was your thing. Most of us had become adept at stretching a dole cheque out to last the week. We were never loaded but we were happy.

One week, a few of us managed to get enough cash together to go to one of the raves that was going off around the M25. We paid what was, for us at the time, an exorbitant amount of money, bought some ecstasy for £25 and found ourselves in a huge warehouse dancing around some half-arsed lights to a crappy sound system. We decided we could do better. Soon after this experience and a lot of bickering over a name, DiY was born.

A dozen or so DiYers behind the banner

After the first ‘official’ night we continued doing the squats, parties and benefits. We blagged a regular night at the Stork Club (later known as the Skyy Club) which we called DizzY. We got a regular crowd and before we knew it were being asked to run nights at some of the clubs in town. This was early nineties, and through our festival connections we hooked up with a bunch of travellers who had distanced themselves from the ‘brew crew’ types and had switched on to the rave scene. We took decks and records and they provided sound and a marquee - a great friendship ensued. Things started to move pretty quickly, and soon we had regular nights at the Cookie Club (Serve Chilled) and Venus (Bounce). One of my favourite memories has to be seeing a coach full of travellers and a dog queueing up to get into Venus, one of the trendiest clubs of it’s time.

Many of us flew close to the sun and got burnt but there is no room for regret."

It was the festivals and free parties which led us to buying the DiY Sound System. We managed to secure a bank loan and borrowed almost ten grand to have our own custom built system with seven-foot bass bins. This became known as the Black Box and was a huge factor in our success. The bass sound, especially outdoors, was nothing short of massive.

By May 1992 the festival scene, which we were now an integral part of, was growing and the authorities were not keen on allowing it to continue. The Avon Free Festival, traditionally held on the May Bank holiday weekend, had an injunction and only thanks to some swift manoeuvres by the travellers, switched to Castlemorton common. This festival has since achieved a legendary status, but it was in many ways a death knell for a way of life, with the government bringing in the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 as a direct result.

Digs, Harry, Woosh and Simon DK photographed in 2014,

Back in Nottingham we were doing Bounce fortnightly at the Dance Factory, a sweat pit if ever there was one. This gave us the opportunity to rent an office and studio space and we began to write some of the music that was in our heads, and we launched a record label called Strictly 4 Groovers. Over time we released over a hundred records, inviting some of the UK’s top producers into the studio with us.

We had a large following of loyal fans who accompanied us all over the world and we held legendary parties in San Francisco, Paris, Amsterdam, Ibiza and Dallas to name a few. In San Francisco we rented an apartment for forty people for a whole month. This was us at our peak, but things couldn’t continue at such a pace. Personal politics between us soured and the advent of heroin in our scene saw things start to fall apart by the late nineties. DiY continued but not in the way that it had done before. Our hedonistic joy was replaced by a dark cloud.

Late last year, DiY celebrated its 30th birthday in Nottingham over a long weekend with events at the Old Angel, The Golden Fleece and Peggy’s Skylight, as well as a free party on the Forest in the early hours of Sunday morning. It continues more as an ideal these days, though you’ll still find many of the DiY DJs playing at festivals and parties. Many of us flew close to the sun and got burnt but there is no room for regret. DiY gave us the chance to travel the world, create a large scene of people that are still in touch with one another to this day, and spread our vibe of peace and love through music.

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