Go With the Flow
It’s mid-summer, 1990, and Felix Dickinson is standing in his mum’s back garden in Plumpton, East Sussex, on a Sunday morning at 2am. Due to a seven-year unfulfilled promise of an 18th birthday party for his stepbrother, Tonka Sound System has been in full swing since sundown. It’s a teenage Dickinson’s first rave. And the beginning of an ever-evolving education in dance culture.
“Although I was already aware of electronic music, it doesn’t have the same power unless you’re surrounded by people moving to the same beat,” Dickinson remembers, 26 years later at his Bristol home. “So that’s when I fell in love with it.”
As we speak, Felix is rummaging through his 10,000-strong record collection for music to play during what’s set to be one of his biggest summers yet. It will see the selector close Genosys at Glastonbury’s Block 9, spin at the inception of Croatia’s Love International, play Panorama Bar for the first time and return to CircoLoco at DC-10.
But his journey here has been long and winding. Two years after his first rave, Dickinson moved to Brighton after becoming involved with the crew behind Tonka; his step-brother’s friends. During this time, he’d also started throwing his own parties. The first, a week after Castlemorton in 1992, saw 4,000 people raving on the South Downs. “The police weren’t into it,” he remembers. “They had roadblocks and helicopters overhead, but the Criminal Justice Bill wasn’t in place, so they couldn’t shut it down.”
In Brighton, Dickinson formed his first label, Ugly Music, in 1996. Through the imprint he’d later release music by artists including K-Alexi and Da Posse. The same year, while looking for a place to throw a rave, he’d also meet Gideon Berger, who was known to put on free parties on a site in Patcham. The resulting event was a success and, with Berger starting Glastonbury’s late night, electronic music-dedicated Block 9 field many years later, the meeting would prove instrumental in Dickinson’s increasing success in later life. Almost 20 years after, he became a Block 9 resident, something he says is a highlight of his packed calendar. “I’ve got a soft spot for dancing outside,” He smiles.
Before moving to the South West, and after ceasing work through Ugly Music, Dickinson relocated to Brixton in 2000. Here he started work on his own productions under aliases including his Foolish moniker, and started Cynic Music to release his material. Over the following 14 years in south London, he became a resident for east London party Bad Passion, and also shared a studio with Tonka affiliates, Idjut Boys, with the trio throwing parties under Brixton Arches as Bring It! Here, Dickinson played the mix of house music while weaving in elements of Balearic, Chicago, Detroit, 90s West Coast and techno that he’s loved for today.
"There’s so much music out there, but I still have a hunger to dig. Hopefully that keeps my sets interesting."
When he was 23, Dickinson travelled to America to see the birthplaces of the music he plays. “It was a fact-finding mission,” he explains. “I had to see it there first-hand.” In San Francisco, he went to Burning Man. It wasn’t typical of the West Coast scene at the time, but Dickinson continues to be a regular feature at the festival today. He’d also party at The Warehouse in Chicago, where house music was originally nurtured from disco, and spend time amongst a burgeoning New York scene. And this all still lies at the heart of Dickinson’s music. “To move forward you have to understand your past,” he says. “The experience definitely broadened my horizons.”
The result of this education is that Dickinson spins tracks according to whatever party’s in front of him. “DJing around the world has made me more eclectic as I’m usually unfamiliar with the crowd,” he explains. “But I’ve always felt it’s important, as hearing one genre all night is deadly boring.”
And it’s this ability, alongside a continuing passion for new music, that keeps him relevant after 26-years on deck. “A DJ has two jobs: to make people dance and introduce them to new music,” he explains. “There’s so much music out there, but I still have a hunger to dig. Hopefully that keeps my sets interesting.”
There’s been no, single, breakout moment for Dickinson. His music has been released on goliaths like DFA and Eskimo, but it’s the fragments of his career that show how continuing to be immersed in underground music has persistently opened doors for him. “I fucking hated Harrow” he says with an audible disdain for the boarding school he left at the birth of his romance with dance culture, “I was ripe for being sucked into a cult, thank God I discovered house music instead.”
Felix Dickinson appears at Love International, The Garden, Tisno, Croatia, 29 June – 6 July