Hard Times: Triumphant Return of the Pioneering UK Club/Label

Ahead of the re-mix pack of Karen Pollard’s seminal “Reach Out To Me” on Hard Times, Traxsource caught up with top man Steve Raine to get the lowdown on the Hard Times renaissance.

“Reach Out To Me (The Remixes)” available now on Traxsource.

A farmer, his boots covered in mud, sits in his car outside a supermarket in Yorkshire. The drizzle gently patters on the windscreen which is slowly steaming up as he talks animatedly into his phone. The subject of his conversation isn’t fertiliser or field drainage, the subject is US house and garage because this is no ordinary farmer, this is Steve Raine, the farmer who in the 90s created Hard Times – first a club night, then a label, now recognised as one of a clutch of seminal UK club institutions. Traxsource’s Harold Heath is on the other end of the phone, getting a lesson in how sheer passion and will power can create beauty during hard times.

“The very start” (1993)

Steve Raine is a force of nature, the stories and opinions tumbling out of him almost quicker than he can articulate them. Tales of running Hard Times, one of the UK’s most successful and influential club nights during the 90s, of booking Masters at Work, David Morales and the cream of the US super-league DJs, of the superb Hard Times residents Eastwick & Holloway, but most of all, of unforgettable nights on the dance floor when entire roomfuls of people stopped hearing the music and started feeling it.

Flashback to another rainy Yorkshire evening in the mid 90s. The queue to get into Hard Times is round the block, and inside, Todd Terry is about to start recording his entire DJ set live for release on the Hard Times label. Terry is just one of the many top draw US DJs that formed the pioneering booking policy of Hard Times, part of the their ethos which is essentially a passionate commitment to Saturday night transcendence via US House and Garage.

Weekend warriors from all over the north of England flocked to dance away their week’s blues at Hard Times, to find those fleeting moments of complete immersion in the music and Hard Times always provided those moments.

“They came from miles around, from all over the north, to come to our club because they knew, no matter what had happened during the week, no matter what hard times they were going through they could come to Hard Times on a Saturday night and none of it mattered”.

It’s easy to forget that when Steve started in the early 90s, there really weren’t many big US DJs coming over to the UK. Hard Times made its reputation by booking the cream of US house DJs – Masters at Work, Todd Terry, David Morales, Kerri Chandler – and by championing a purist US House/Garage policy which proved hugely popular and which influenced many other promoters and record labels. Hard Times as a brand was respected by all and venerated by it devotees whilst the Hard Times label also garnered respect, with a small but perfectly formed back catalogue.

“It was always a passion – I wanted to share the Hard Times experience with more than just the 1000 who turned up on a Saturday night, I wanted thousands of people to share that experience and the label was the way to do it”.

Hard Times, London – 1994

David Morales (Def Mix)

Kenny Dope (Masters At Work)

Louie Vega (Masters At Work)

The music Hard Times released stands up today, indeed a lot of it sounds utterly contemporary. This is partly due to a commitment to high quality from the label but also in part due to the current 90s house revival. After returning to his beloved farm in the late 90s for a few years, Steve was increasingly hearing the ticking 909 beats, booming b-lines, big vocals and pianos of his beloved US house being reinterpreted by a new generation of producers.

“Music goes in cycles, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing on the radio – the old vocal samples from back then, the same pianos and big bass lines but re-worked – I just thought, the time is right”.

The prevalence of the 90s house sound signalled a change in the musical landscape and it was no great surprise to find that Hard Times’ vision of what clubbing should be – their high quality control, fierce commitment to the finest in underground house music and dedicated passion to Saturday night worship – is as relevant today as it ever was. The time was right: Steve re-launched the club to huge success with the massive London Kings of House gig featuring David Morales, Louie Vega and Tony Humphries, then re-launched the label too with a set of killer re-rubs of Todd’s ‘Bounce to the Beat’ and, just like that, Hard Times is back, bigger and badder than ever.

Karen Pollards storming “Reach Out For Me” was a massive tune on its original ’95 release and has been selected for the remix treatment as the next release on Hard Times and one of the pick of the remixes has a particular connection to Hard Times.

Karen Pollard “Reach Out For Me” (Smack Vocal Mix)

Back in the 90s, Hard Times were in friendly competition with local rivals, the notorious Back to Basics – both clubs wanted to have the best line-ups, to have the best crowds – and in a beautiful irony, Basics resident DJ Ralph Lawson – who never once ever played at Hard Times, despite being only a short drive away – with production partner Tuccillo, have perfectly nailed the remix of “Reach Out For Me”, producing am exquisitely crafted track that sounds completely contemporary whilst simultaneously celebrating and epitomising that mid 90s US house/garage sound which Hard Times championed. Reinvigorating the template whilst staying true to the spirit, it’s a jewel in a beautifully put together package. Or, to quote Steve: “Bang on, they’ve nailed it…, totally nailed it!”.

The Hard Times story continues then, a back catalogue with many gems ripe for re-presenting to a new audience of house fans, a club night every bit as exciting and relevant as it ever was, and all put together by a no-nonsense Yorkshire farmer, driven by passion and a true love of house music. Listen to the new remixes of “Reach Out For Me’ and you’re listening to the true sound of Hard Times.

Hard Times label page & release on Traxsource.

Hard Times

Latest chart from Hard Times on Traxsource.