Interview: Neon Leon

MORE tales of house music madness.

I was editing a short-lived Leeds listings magazine by the name of Brag and went down to Nottingham with Earnshaw to interview Neon Leon, a San Francisco DJ who was on tour in the UK at the time, ahead of a couple of dates in Yorkshire. Those naughty House of Maya boys in Bradford had played me a tape and I was very impressed. I think they’d got it from the DIY lot, some of whom had recently relocated to California.

He was playing at that place on the Lacemarket – at various times it was called the Ad-Lib and the Garage, and maybe also the Zig Zag. Paul had taken me down to an alternative disco there a couple of times in the early Eighties (Graeme Park was playing upstairs but it didn’t seem all that so we went back down to the basement to dance to the Birthday Party and X-Ray Spex instead), a couple of years later we went to see the Subhumans there, and here I was, a decade later, getting down to some seriously groovy house and garage in the same venue.

It was a good night. Me and Earnshaw got pilled up and danced our socks off but had been a bit too messy to really make any impression on the lovely ladies of Nottingham – needless to say, I was inexplicably single again at this point. Neon Leon did a great set and afterwards we went to some late-night café and I did this interview with him. We may have done another pill at this point ..

* * *
“HOUSE music saved my life! I’m not kidding. It saved my life. It gave me a focus when I was doing a lot of bad things and a lot of cocaine. If I wasn’t doing this I don’t what I’d be doing – probably gang-banging somewhere.

“House music is my life. It’s expression. House music has all the elements of gospel, soul, R&B, rap and disco but – I can’t describe it,” says reformed character and fierce San Francisco house music legend Neon Leon.

House is a feeling?

“Yeah! House is a feeling! That’s exactly what it is,” he replies with a gap-toothed grin.

I first heard Neon Leon doing his thing in a house of ill-repute in Bradford. Our hosts fussed around trying to find this amazing tape someone in the States had sent them over. They finally find it, after a long and slightly frantic search. Gradually, all the idle drug chit-chat and post-club bullshit diminish to nothing as everyone tunes into the gorgeous sounds slinking out of the speakers – a live recording of one of Neon Leon’s riotous hometown gigs.

Neon Leon plays dance music for grown ups. He specialises in layering sparse, booming, bass-heavy rhythms in a smooth, seamless mix, slipping in assorted vocal tracks and acapellas on top to create completely new music which sounds like it wasn’t meant to be played any other way.

But what really separates Leon from the rest of the pack is what he does with the microphone.

Read the rest of this piece at the new home of Expletive Undeleted here.

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