Network! The New Dance Sound Of Birmingham

Network Records: An oral history

Cast A-Z:

John McCready: PR

Mark Archer: Nexus 21/Altern 8

MC Crazy Clair: 3-year-old Altern 8 MC

Neil Macey: Club promotions

Neil Rushton: Managing director

Trevor Jackson: Designer


This is the story of a northern soul DJ and newspaper reporter who helped popularise the term techno in the UK and released some of the most seminal records in the genre. Network Records not only licensed some of the first Detroit releases, but it was also at the vanguard of bleep techno and then, with Altern 8, it stumbled upon the biggest rave act in the UK. However, after scoring a number one hit in 1993, with a cover version of a poppy piano house track, things went sour.

Neil Rushton was a promoter, DJ and journalist and had been a cornerstone of the northern soul scene putting on huge all-dayers in Manchester. This gave him the opportunity to license breaking soul tracks. With his label Inferno he brought the UK ‘Band of Gold’ by Freda Payne and Chairman of the Board’s ‘Give Me Just a Little More Time’. A lot of soul heads found parallels with house music – including the connection with pills and dancing – so Rushton set up Kool Kat in 1987, one of the first UK labels dedicated to the genre. Hearing what sounded like a European take on house music but coming from Detroit – a place which always had a strong connection for collectors of northern soul – Rushton decided to concentrate his efforts on the city.

“I could not believe how amazing Rhythim Is Rhythim’s ‘The Dance’ sounded,” he remembers today. “It just blew me away. I decided to ring the phone number on the Transmat label and Derrick May answered himself. We instantly clicked. I licensed Derrick’s side project R-Tyme to Chrysalis and on Kool Kat we released 12-inches by Reese & Santonio (Kevin Saunderson) and Model 500 (Juan Atkins) and then put various Detroit tracks on a compilation for Virgin called ‘Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit’.”


Neil Rushton: “I had a connection with Detroit because of my love of soul music, also Pete Tong had the Chicago house scene sewn up with the ‘House Sound of Chicago’ compilations. I suggested to Virgin it could do an equivalent but with these techno artists. I was wondering what to call it, ‘The House Sound of Detroit’ would’ve been naff. I was with Chez Damier in Detroit, and he was the one who said we should call it techno. I think it was the first time the word techno was used in the UK around that time, though there had been a track called ‘Techno City’ by Juan Atkins (as Cybotron in 1984).”

Neil Macey: “Neil had the relationship with the Detroit artists, he’d spent so much time there looking for tracks, he had a double garage absolutely rammed full of 7-inch records. He didn’t have that music executive vibe, so I think the artists liked that.” 

John McCready: “He was there first, he was generous in his payments to the Detroit artists, and they sensed his lifelong devotion to the sound of Detroit from soul and Motown on. On that, he saw techno as no less than a continuation of those roots, and though they rejected that as absurd initially, they came to terms with the definite parallels and, eventually becoming media savvy, learned to talk about it.”

NR: “I’d got all the tracks together for the Virgin compilation, but we needed a couple more. One of them became Rhythim Is Rhythim’s ‘It Is What It Is’. I was there when that was made and it’s one of the best techno tracks ever. But we still needed one more. Kev said he had more tracks, but he didn’t really like them. He gave me this tape that had Inner City ‘Big Fun’ written on it. It was a vocal record and he didn’t know what to do with it. I just said: ‘That’s a worldwide smash. It’s going to change your life. I know you’re at college, but you won’t be in six months’ time.’ He looked nonplussed.”

NR: “We moved into John Mostyn’s office – Stafford House – and bought the building with him. I stumbled into management with Inner City. John was instrumental in Inner City getting a proper album deal. Virgin had said no to an album initially. I think their album ’Paradise’ went on to sell about half a million copies.”

Neil Rushton

In 1988, acid house started to take hold across the UK, though Ritzy clubs hadn’t caught on so DJs and early ravers had to put on parties wherever they could. In small towns near Birmingham wine bars often had to do.

NM: “Neil Rushton lived in Burnwood in Staffordshire, a little town down the road from the little town that I lived in. Pat Ward, an old northern soul friend of Neil’s, had a record shop in Burnwood and a DJ residency in the wine bar across the road: No. 7s. I met Pat through buying records in his shop, I was 17 and wanted to buy all the new dance music, early house, hip hop and soul. Pat invited me to his wine bar on a Thursday night to play the stuff I’d been buying. It was a success and so Pat gave me every Thursday.”

Mark Archer: “These wine bars weren’t set up for raves. Behind the bars it was all mirrors with flimsy glass shelves so when Neil dropped ‘LFO’ glasses were dropping off these shelves.” 

NM: “People started coming from all over the Midlands to my Thursday. Mark Archer and his crew came from Stoke. We were going to other peoples’ little nights and they were coming to ours.” 

NR: “I met Neil Macey at my local wine bar. I’d take white labels and acetates into him.”

NM: “Neil comes down to my Thursday - packed, sweaty, loads of smoke. We got chatting and he had brought a bag of records: Inner City, Eddie Fowlkes, Rhythim is Rhythim, Blake Baxter.”

Mark: “If I went to a new club I’d take the promo of Nexus 21’s ‘Still Life’ with me. Neil flicked through his record box and pulled a copy up. ‘Oh my God, someone’s bought my record!’ So, I got talking to him each time I went down. One week he said: ‘You’ve heard of Kool Kat? They’re starting a new label. The bloke who runs it is over at the bar. Go and have a word.’ I stood there for ages waiting for a pause as Rushton and Pat Ward were chatting and then I butted in and said I was Nexus 21. They said: ‘We’ve got your music at the office we’ve been trying to get in contact with you.’”

NR: “With Kool Kat we’d put some good records out but some of the artwork had been appalling. We needed to make a statement and start again. We had Neal Howard’s ‘Indulge’ and MK ‘Somebody New’ lined up as the first two releases which meant we would start with a bang.”

NM: “Neil had this vision for the new label and had commissioned Trevor Jackson to do the artwork. He offered me a job which was mainly in charge of club promotions. It wasn’t a challenge working with the records; ‘Indulge’ and ‘Somebody New’ are both very serious records.”

Trevor Jackson: “My sleeves for Champion Music were fun and cartoony (Raze ‘Break 4 Love’, Royal House ‘Can You Party’). Network I purposely tried to make more austere and (Peter) Saville-esque. Neil sent me music, so I would’ve been inspired by that. It was electronic future music. The whole thing to me was about sound frequencies. That was my take on it when I did the artwork.”  

John: “Trevor’s artwork was amazing, he totally got it. Created an identity that was big enough to explore over multiple releases.”

Trevor: “Everything was pre-digital, so I’d start with a piece of card and build up layers. I’d use Rotring pens and inks and a photocopier. Cutting film out with scalpels. All the artwork would be black and white in layers with notes for repro. ‘I want this bit to be orange, I want this bit to be this colour,’ marked up on tracing paper. The repro guys were like magicians turning what I did into artwork.”

NM: “Someone doing that now would just boot up their computer. Trevor did it completely manually. I was amazed by it.”

NM: “Our office was at Stratford House in Birmingham which was built in the early 17th century, a Tudor stone and timber building. It was the most unsuitable place for a techno label. In the building there was us on the ground floor, John Mostyn on the first floor who managed The Beat, Fine Young Cannibals and Ocean Colour Scene and on the top floor a bloke called Francois who made violins. It was so old the floor had big flag stones – the techno mob didn’t fit at all.”

John: “The office was a menagerie. There was a massive fuck off Hi-Fi and that would be on full tilt if Neil Rushton was in. He always had records or DATs he wanted to share and enthuse about. Steve Craddock from Ocean Colour Scene used to hear the music booming from downstairs and come down: ‘This is amazing, what the fuck is it?’ Always leaving with new releases and promos. I believed he was listening to them all, but who knows, he could have been trading them for cash or scooter parts."

Mark: “You went in and there were loads of records on shelves and I’d walk along and help myself to anything I didn’t have. People like Renaat (Vandepapeliere) from R&S would pop in to visit. Unreal.”

Nexus 21: Mark Archer (left) and Chris Peat

As well as having an improbable office the new team included journalist John McCready who had been covering techno for The Face (famously taking Depeche Mode to meet the main players in Detroit in 1989). McCready wrote press releases that were full of bizarre untruths and musical make believe – very funny to read if you were a journalist listening to yet another faceless techno record.

NM: “As a former journalist Neil knew the importance of PR so he targeted McCready who he’d always respected from his writing in The Face.”

John: “I wanted to try something else – not do it the usual way – feed and entertain journalists, no pressure, just a flow of written content with the records. I thought about the simple minded mithering I’d had to deal with as a writer – in terms of press officers trying to bully you sometimes into covering their charges and how annoying it was. So, when things actually started to break, we already had them on side. I have to say I had no idea it would work, a total punt, but Neil was playful and creative in how he did things, and he gave me the space to piss about.” 

NR: “I viewed press as important, and we didn’t have much money
to spend on advertising, so I knew from my old job that getting stories was effective. John was such an amazing writer.”

John: “There are only so many ways descriptively to talk about the drums going bash and the hi-hats going tish. I just wanted to entertain in the way I wished I could have as a journalist. I’d been good at making stuff up, since childhood. Neil would read the press releases and shake his head but laughing also and always signing them off. Some of the people who made the records were very one-dimensional. You might speak to them initially and put the phone down thinking: ‘I’ve got nothing, this is someone who hasn’t left his bedroom for four years and lives on Pot Noodles while poring over an 808 drum machine manual.’ So, you had to invent stuff. Mark and Chris (Nexus 21) got it and ran with it, egged me on and enacted some of the nonsense with impressive enthusiasm. Conversely, we did something with Richard Kirk and word came back he wasn’t impressed I’d referred to him as ‘Captain’ Kirk throughout a press release…”

Mark: “John made up a tale of raves in launderettes – because of the track ‘Washing Machine’ – a rave with DJ Kid Persil and kids sitting on washing machines to get the vibrations to ‘take them away’. Every track had a mad little story around it.”

Trevor: “John gave it a personality and charm. Warp was almost faceless and cold. I was a massive Factory and ZTT fan, so his angle added to it. He was the Paul Morley of Network for me.”

NM: “His press releases were just ridiculous, absolute nonsense. A lot of them weren’t even about the records. If he did mention the record or the artist, it was complete made-up fiction.”

NR: “We had this great music from Detroit, incredible artwork and John doing the press, so we were very active compared to other labels.”

One of John McCready's unforgettable press releases

Though Network’s early releases picked up where Kool Kat left off – with licensed tracks from Detroit – the label really cemented its name and reputation releasing homegrown talent.

NR: “The first bleep record I heard was Unique 3 ‘The Theme’. Then the Warp thing was happening in Sheffield. I knew Mark Gamble who’d made ‘House Arrest’ as part of Krush so we asked him to make one.”

NM: “Neil was probably a bit bitter that Warp was getting more attention in the press. ‘LFO’ had been a massive chart hit. So, he got Mark Gamble and Leroy Crawford in and played them lots of these records. The front door of the office had this unique bleep sound so when they left the door went bleep, bleep, bleep and they thought: ‘That’ll do.’ They replayed the bleeps from the doorbell.”

NM: “As Rhythmatic (Gamble and Crawford) was an attempt to capitalise on the Sheffield bleep sound the first promo was on a label called 0742 records which was the dialling code for Sheffield. They got that into the Warp shop and everyone was like: ‘Who the fuck is this? Who in Sheffield has made this record?’ Eventually it came out it wasn’t from Sheffield, and they (Warp) thought it was funny. Because Neil’s a journalist he tried to make a story about every record.”

NR: “We didn’t take ourselves seriously, but we took the music very seriously. Brummie’s are self-effacing.” 

Trevor: “It felt like being part of a proper new scene. My roots are in Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode and experimental electronic music, so I loved the bleep stuff. 

NM: “The UK thing started to get big – Rhythmatic and Nexus 21 – and that changed people’s perception of the label. They sold a lot more than the credible Detroit records.”

Mark: “Neil put a mix on in his car that Kevin Saunderson had done, and it had our ‘Still Life’ on with an acapella from Paris Grey over the top, I was like” ‘Oh My God!’ Then Neil told us we were going to work with Kevin in Detroit. We worked in Kevin’s studio with Marc Kinchin and Anthony Shakir, all my musical heroes. We took some Atari discs with skeletal things worked out on them. What we didn’t know was how to do the programming so it sounded like Detroit. So, Anthony Shakir was there to help and MK to help with the percussion. We learnt so much.”

NR: “The bleep thing faded away and the rave thing started to come in. But I was into serious techno. So, we took Nexus 21 out to Detroit. I remember coming back on the plane thinking how well it had gone.”

NM: “Nexus 21 made a great record, and we were convinced it was going to do really well but then it sold averagely. We were a bit disheartened apart from Mark who continued to go out to relevant places like Entropy and Shelley’s and heard this new ravey, breakbeat sound and had seen the reaction to them. So, he went into the studio and made about six tracks. I personally didn’t like it; it wasn’t cool to my ears." 

NM: “Before Altern 8 there was a period of two years of massively overspending on sales, promotion, marketing, licensing of records that only sold about 2,000 copies each, like Factory Records where you’d end up losing about 30p on every copy sold. I was being paid late as the money wasn’t there. So that’s when I left, just as the white label of Altern 8 arrived. All their fortunes turned around in the following months.”

Mark: “Network had asked if we had any more material. We had nine tracks that sounded like Nexus 21 but had breakbeats and Belgian-style noises. We couldn’t put it out as Nexus because all the purists would say it didn’t sound Detroit – so we came up with a different name.”

Altern 8

NR: “I said Altern 8 as it was supposed to be alternate to Nexus 21. It just took off.”

Trevor: “I’d stopped working for them by then. I wasn’t a big fan of Altern 8 or that whole scene.”

Mark: “Because of the success of the Altern 8 EP ‘Infiltrate’ our workload changed from Nexus to that. We got booked at the Eclipse for Altern 8 to do a live gig. Earlier in 1991 we’d performed as Nexus 21 at the same venue so we covered ourselves up so people would think it’s a different group. My brother was in the RAF and he had the chemical warfare suits, we painted the masks day glow and added an A on for Altern 8. All very DIY.”

NR: “The rave thing got so over the top and surreal. We thought there was an opportunity here and we used our imagination to build something up. We’d make up stories like they had picked up Elton John on the motorway on the way to a rave. Anything we said was being used. We had a competition to see who could come up with the most ridiculous story to be picked up by the tabloids.”

Mark: “John McCready was like a clockwork mouse with Altern 8; just wind him up and off he went, making up so much stuff.”

John: “Altern 8 were a kind of Home Bargains KLF, but way funnier at their most stupid.”

Mark: “MC Crazy Clair was three when she was on ‘Top of the Pops’ saying: ‘Top one, nice one, get sorted.’ In other words, ‘go and find some gear’. I had a pot of Vicks on my keyboard which everyone was using to enhance ecstasy. The track stops dead and Chris (Peat) shouts: ‘Rushin’.’ But the BBC just didn’t get on to it.”

NR: “Clair is my daughter.”

Clair: “The filming of the ‘Activ-8’ video at Trentham Gardens sticks in my head – the old building, robot and the guys miming playing violin. There was a trip to Stafford, with a photoshoot and hanging around with the robot, he was going around scaring people on the streets. I remember going to the ‘Top of the Pops’ studio and hanging round, but it was decided I wasn’t going to perform. They just used footage of me from the ‘Activ-8’ video.”

Mark: “Chris stood as a Member of Parliament. The whole scene was anti-establishment, we had a manifesto to put sound systems on the corner of every high street, police were to wear bandanas. He didn’t come last; the Natural Law Party got less votes. We were going to give out Christmas puddings from a hot air balloon. Labelled ‘Brand-E Christmas Pudding: The poor know the score’. Someone pointed out that if we launched Christmas puddings from a hot air balloon, we could potentially kill someone. We went around Stafford trying to give them away on foot, the chemical warfare suits worried a few people.” 

Mark: “Inner City came to Stafford to record. Kevin said he’d tried to make hardcore, but he couldn’t get it right and he asked how we did it? ‘Kev, it’s easy, hear that bit? Rob that bit. Find a breakbeat, rob that bit, Bosh!’”

NR: “The Altern 8 album sold 60,000 and then we thought we’d move back on to Nexus 21. But Mark and Chris fell out. Incredible shame.”

Mark: “It got to a point where the music wasn’t cool anymore. We thought we’d call it quits and return to Nexus 21 but my relationship with Chris disintegrated.”

NM: “I went back after three years. I bumped into Rushton at some party in Birmingham and he told me he’d been doing some distribution and I said I can help with that.”

Energize (Dave Lee)

Network was on a roll but then went down a direction out of sync with its output. Gunning for a pop dance track it did well short-term, but it ultimately led to the label’s demise. 

NR: “I’d come back from New York on a Friday night and I was upset because I couldn’t sign a Todd Terry record. I went to a club and Lee Fisher was DJing. My then wife Jane was with me and when Lee played ‘Please Don’t Go’ she said: ‘I don’t know why you’re upset about this Todd Terry record, this is the one.’”

NM: “The original was by an Italian band called Double You. Big piano tunes went down well and there was a huge reaction from the crowd. Rushton came running over asking: ‘What’s this?’ Lee had designs on licensing it himself so didn’t tell him. Neil refused to be put off by this so tracked the record down.”

NR: “We found out it was on an Italian label. We got in quickly and sent an offer in and got the heads of agreement back all signed. Then we found out days later the Italians had licensed it for the whole of Europe to ZYX. We realised the record was going to be huge and we were told there were about four others making cover versions. We did our cover which Mark Gamble produced. ZYX didn’t seem to have their shit together, so we went for it.”

NM: “Neil went to the press with the promos saying this is the hottest thing going – these two record labels were competing to get their version out first. It was tabloid-level hype. It went to number one in about eight countries.”

John: “I hated the KWS record, and it was actually the reason why I left. I was adamant that we didn’t have anything to do with it, but I now see it was none of my business and was in fact good business at the time.” 

Trevor: “I’ve never heard this record. I vividly remember when it got cheesy, I got out of 4/4 and house completely. I found it moronic.”

NR: “The guy behind ZYX was very wealthy and he just went after us in the courts. We had paid the publishing in the UK and done a cover and the music world was full of cover versions. Before the court case we went to see a musicologist with a barrister who said we had a problem because we’d done a cover of someone’s own arrangement. In England that wouldn’t matter but there was a peculiar law in Germany regarding a new arrangement. We went to court and lost. It was two and half years of being mentally drained.” 

NM: “Things had been going well with the distribution side but because of the legal problems with KWS it started to fall apart again and I felt they were using the money being made by the distribution - which was all going into the same bank account - to pay off the debts.”

John: “My understanding, being gone by then, was that almost everything it generated was lost following the judgement.”


“It had reputation enough for Aphex Twin to send a demo cassette to just Warp and Network. It contained more or less what ended up on 'Selected Ambient Works 85-92'. It had a handwritten letter with a phone number. I called the landline number every day for weeks. It was never answered. Rob and Steve at Warp somehow got hold of him.”

NR: “We released some great records in a stylish way. We tried to look after the artists. We were very irreverent but reverential to the music. It was great to not be part of the London music establishment or the Manchester scene.”

Mark: “At the start it got compared to Warp when it was very bleep and klonk based. Network’s output was more varied with the Detroit stuff, Italian stuff. The legend that started round Network, all the stories, it got this image. For various reasons it’s looked upon very fondly.”

Clair: “I get royalties which is pretty awesome, but it’s never been enough to pay the bills. I make tattoos for a living now.”

John: “Fun and business can co-exist, at least for a short time. There were some records which changed the course of music, without doubt, but also some worker bee bedroom techno.”

NM: “Me and John would moan about Rushton foisting inappropriate records on the catalogue. There were a few that just didn’t fit and weren’t very good. So, it wasn’t immaculately manicured. But it had reputation enough for Aphex Twin to send a demo cassette to just Warp and Network. It contained more or less what ended up on ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’. It had a handwritten letter with a phone number. I called the landline number every day for weeks. It was never answered. Rob (Mitchell) and Steve (Beckett) at Warp somehow got hold of him. They both said to me that was the turning point of their record label, that cassette. It would have been the turning point for Network if he’d picked up the phone.” 

Read more

Don’t Call It A Comeback