Nik Fish reels in the years
Nik Fish is a name that all ravers in Sydney from the early 90s rave scene will know. He played at all the big name events for many years and he also produced the Musicquarium radio show on Mondays on 2SER that showcased some of the best tunes from the period. Many legendary songs were first introduced to Australia on his show. If he was mixing at a rave, he was guarenteed to get the crowd pumped and bring a smile to the face. Interview by Mandy V
Fav Parties Prodigy series - the biggest bad ass raves and most advanced in sound, lighting & lasers!
Fav Venues Warehouses in Alexandria like Slough Estate - home to proper Sydney Raves + legendary outdoor parties Happy Valley, FOD4 & Apollo Festival
Fav Genres Early 90’s it was UK Rave/Breakbeat & Belgian Techno, mid 90’s German Hardtrance.
Fav DJ Carl Cox when he mixed on 3 Decks
When did you start DJing?
I got into radio DJing in 1988 but didn’t mix the tracks on air. First club gig was by accident around 1989 filling in for a DJ that was late only because I had turned up with a double compilation album and had to play each track back and forth as that’s all I had until they turned up 30 mins later – but it worked! Officially though it was around 1990 onwards and first residency was at Kinselas. First gig at a rave was called Eden.
How did you get into the rave scene? Were you a raver then DJ?
I’ll give you a timeline from the start although my dates may be slightly off as it was quite a while ago! My first encounter was around 1988 when I was still in school I discovered these dance parties that were held at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney like the R.A.T parties, Sweatbox, F.U.N. This was the birth of the Acid House/Warehouse party era that was exploding in the UK & US and had just reached our shores. I found out about these parties by listening to a radio show on 2SER FM called Madhouse where I’d won tickets to go to one of the parties. I accidently met one of the radio show’s host’s named Jo and hung out with her and her friends that night. As time went on I became obsessed with the music, it became my world, my reality and I detached myself from everything else going on in the ‘real world’.
Once I understood the music and how a good DJ could mix tracks together and saw and felt the effect it had on me and other people I thought it would be even better to be able to control the music that I loved to hear. I hung out with Jo at 2SER and got involved with Madhouse and after finishing high school I got a job with her connections at Central Station Records selling records. I got to meet all the big DJs of the time like the Ferris Brothers, Stephen Alkins, Jon Wall and I became good friends with Ming D (whom I booked to play at my year 12 formal as I was put in charge of entertainment – lol!).
Ming was the first DJ that taught me the basics of how to mix records and from there I learnt to mix in the shop on the stores decks. Through working there I also got my first real DJ gig by meeting a promoter named Sean Finlay who hosted Dance Delirium parties and also bought records from me. He liked what I’d pick for him so he gave me my first break playing at Kinselas in Darlinghurst. I was initially playing in the middle bar anything from Hip Hop to Hip House but mainly more funky stuff. One night I had to fill in for Groove Terminator who was playing on the main Top Floor and I’m not exactly sure why but after that he left, I think to live in Adelaide so I took over and did a 6 hour main room set every Sat night from then on which was really full on at the time.Around 1990 my friend Jo who hosted Madhouse relocated to UK and offered me to take over her show, sharing it with a couple of other DJ’s including Ming D.
Now to set the record straight it was Ming D that ‘gave me’ my name, a bit earlier on in the game. Prior to hosting Madhouse I got my radio training wheels doing another radio show on 2SER called ‘Communication Breakdown’ along with my high school mate Pat Davern (who went on to be lead guitarist for Grinspoon and incidentally bought me my first vinyl’s after returning from a post high school trip through Europe). After that I did another radio show on 2SERFM called American Xpress with another mate from school whose name was also Nic. We invited Ming D on as ‘special guest’ and he came in all la la and introduced himself as being on our show with “Nik the Fish and Nic the Kid”. I asked him on air was who? He didn’t say anything but rather gestured his hand towards me like a fish swimming. So when the time came for me to think of a DJ name I just went with Fish on my first billed gig but thought it was too short and sharp so I went for the whole title that Ming had bestowed upon me.
It’s definitely better than the DJ name my friend Jo from Madhouse gave me which was ‘DJ Beautiful Nik’ – haha!Jo invited me to come over to the UK so I hopped on a plane for London. When I arrived I remember hearing all of this new cool music on Kiss FM and writing down the names then headed out to the record stores to buy them. It was all the new 90’s rave sound stuff like Bizarre Inc’s Playing with Knives and Prodigy’s stuff on XL. I even went to a place called TAG Records and they sold me their new track at the time called Passion by GAT Décor, which is TAG Record spelt backwards and it became a huge anthem. I came back home and played out all this new music to the crowd at Kinselas and pretty much cleared the entire dancefloor at the peak of the night. The promoter came up shouting at me saying that if I continued to play that music he would fire me so I kept playing it and he was true to his word. I didn’t care because I knew that this ‘new’ music would take off eventually and I would be part of that movement one way or another.
Meanwhile 2SER decided to can Madhouse as it lost it’s audience when the original presenters had left and I began to wonder if things were turning out for the worst now as I had no gig and no radio show anymore – oops! Then out of the blue 2SER called me a few months later asking me to fill in for a presenter on a show that had been in a serious accident. The show was called Homebass and they played Hip Hop on a Monday afternoon from 2-4pm. I used to play Hip Hop and at this point I was well into the new rave sound so on I go and started playing UK breakbeat and other stuff and the station got flooded with phone calls from listeners complaining that they were expecting to hear Hip Hop.
I continued week after week for 6 weeks playing what I liked and continued to get more complaints as by now I was used to everyone complaining about the music I was playing. I ignored it and stuck to my music. 2SER then asked me whether I wanted to take on the show permanently as the previous announcer decided to move on after their life changing accident. I said yes as long as I could change the name and promote myself as hosting a brand new style of show. I had one week to come up with a name for the show and I couldn’t come up with anything that stood out. Back at home I was listening to Stevie Wonder of all things and I picked up the album cover and looked at the title and knew what my show would be called – MUSIQUARIUM, named after a Stevie Wonder album called ‘Stevie Wonder’s Musiquarium’.By now the first ‘rave’ parties started popping up in abandoned warehouses and film studios around Alexandria and the city. The Hordern got closed down and the dance party scene that was there disbanded and headed back to clubs. This was the beginning of the Sydney Rave scene… and yes I went to these parties as a raver, a punter, a face in the crowd on the dancefloor, watching, waiting and working out how I could get involved… waiting for the next accident to happen!
When did you get your first big break mixing at a rave?
I was asked to play at a party called Eden and it was held in a film studio in North Sydney.
What style were your sets?
In the beginning I played UK rave as in Breakbeat/Hardcore, then went more for harder Italo trance/house and eventually really fast German Hardtrance and some Dutch Happyhard but not really UK Happyhard
What is your best moment whilst DJing and going out during the 90s?
All of it!
Was there a highlight that sticks out?
Climbing up a 2 storey scaff tower next to the main stage at Happy Valley 1 as the sun rose and reaching the top and just looking out at everyone and thinking ‘Yes, this is it, this is the best moment of my entire life… haha!’
Any funny stories you can tell us about DJing or going to parties in general in the 90s?
Yeah wow couldn’t I just! There was this one time when the Police threatened me with arrest as I played at a Prodigy party in Alexandria that they were attempting to shut down. I was wearing a jumper that said RIOT Recordings on it in bold letters and they actually said I’d be arrested for “inciting a riot” if I played another record or tried to gee the crowd up so I thought that would be awesome to be arrested, cuffed and taken away for simply playing a record. They didn’t follow though with their threat which in hindsight was good as I got to keep playing! You can watch the whole thing on a You Tube video here and see it for yourself!
Did DJs get paid much back then?
Hmm, if we got paid! No mostly it was fair. The standard for all the prominent DJ’s playing at a big rave I think was about 10 x the ticket price - give or take for some!
How do you think Sydney DJ’s rated internationally?
I think we rated quite well as there were a lot of travellers in town from UK and Europe and when they returned home they’d tell their friends to check out the Sydney rave scene because it was ‘bangin and proper!‘ Plus we had a lot of really big name international DJ’s and artists that were brought out to play. These guys had never been to Australia before and they only got to come here because we played their tracks, we made them famous in our country and I think they knew that, some of them said that to me and I had a lot of big names on my show from Sasha and Digweed to Carl Cox, Ultrasonic and more. If they were from overseas
and playing in Sydney I had them in for an interview and on occasions to play a set live on air. I think they could all see how serious we were about the music and how dedicated everyone was from the ravers to the DJ’s and the promoters. We had a well-oiled Rave machine running non-stop. It wasn’t long before word spread all around the world at how full on Sydney was. And dare I say it but it opened the doors to the whole country developing it’s own scenes like in Melbourne and Brisbane. Once the big names started coming so did the opportunity for them to do tours and get to play all around Australia in one visit. This helped all the cities link up and gave local DJ’s like myself and others the opportunity to travel to play interstate and pretty soon we had the whole nation covered. It became a business but it remained mostly wholesome. For example DJ Richie Rich who was a massive rave DJ in the Melbourne scene is now the promoter responsible for putting on Stereosonic Festival!
Do you think we had a certain style unique to the Sydney scene?
In the beginning yes as we kind of developed the scene like I previously said but it evolved and spread so quickly all around Australia especially when a few of us started travelling to other cities to play however we did start to lean towards the harder side of rave music more so than any other city in the country did and that made us different!
Do you still have your vinyl?
Yes I have every single record from the first to the last and quite a few in between
Do you still do any gigs now?
Yes, I play club sets at Masif in Sydney and still play at Raves like Utopia, Godspeed, Homegrown as well as the annual Defqon1 Music Festival. More recently I’ve played at a lot of vinyl revival/reunion nights, which is my favourite as I get to actually play records on turntables to people!
How are the parties these days, do the ravers still have the same energy and feel?
The ravers that go there for the music now have the same energy that ravers that genuinely loved the music ‘back in the day’ did – that’s the essence of a true raver, people that actually go there to become involved in the musical experience. The fashion has changed as has the music but that’s all good as it’s part of the evolution of the rave.
What do you listen to now?
Well you didn’t ask me what I play as a DJ so to answer the actual question, in terms of electronic dance music and I’m not talking EDM I like a bit of deep house! But I’ve also been dusting off my records and giving them a spin for a second time round and that’s a whole Pandora’s box in itself waiting to be opened!I had the best times ever in my life playing as a DJ and if I gave it up tomorrow although I’d miss it at least I can say it was a solid run from go to wo… But I’m not planning to quit the game just yet as there’s plenty more fun to be had playing the music!
Thanks for your time Nik