Deconstruction was always much, much more than a mere music portal for emerging dance artists to sell their wares. Set up in 1987, Deconstruction Records was founded by music fanatics Pete Hadfield and Keith Blackhurst in the United Kingdom. This iconic (and occasionally ironic) record label helped build the careers of Black Box, Sasha, Robert Miles, M People and Lionrock (and by proxy The Chemical Brothers with their first production as Ariel and that mind-bending remix of Packet Of Peace). And in one of the biggest music and media blowouts of the mid-nineties, they also re-launched the faltering career of Kylie Minogue with Confide In Me. Soon, Pete and Keith would turn two wheels into four thanks to the arrival of A&R supremo Mike 'M People' Pickering and hot-headed Cream hot-shot James Barton, who replaced him when he started Moving On Up.
"At the very beginning we started off at an office in Islington and it was like an old indie label," remembers an older but wiser Pickering with a smile. "But even when the deal was done with BMG and RCA, we carried on that independent feel. We were on a roll in 1988 and '89. I know for a fact that Pete adored Tony Wilson and a lot of our sloganeering was the modern Factory with a bit more business acumen. With Black Box, we took out beautifully-designed ads like: 'who sings, who cares' and 'destroy melody - bomb the past.' Clearly, Tony Wilson would have been proud.
Of course, Mike wasn't only an A&R man for Deconstruction: he was also the spirit and soul of M People, not only the biggest selling act on the label (five million album sales and counting) but also one of the biggest UK singles acts of the nineties. And it all started with a soulful house balladry of Colour My Life. "It was 98bpm and we had Soul II Soul around doing the business but I was doing so many remixes and got fed up of it. I did a remix for Hooky's Revenge project and all you did was take one little sample and I got fed up with it. Pete Hadfield - who was also my manager - told me to write some songs and those became Hot House and T-Coy, the first two releases on Deconstruction.
Needless to say, it wasn't long before he spotted his future lady in red, Heather Small. "She was so shy when I saw her supporting Barry White at The Royal Albert Hall: she was looking at the floor! But I was so single-minded, I knew it had to be her." Not wasting a minute, M People were formed in 1990 and they were, literally, Mike's People. But as any raver from that era will know, it was Sasha's psychedelic, Top Ten-trouncing mix of How Can I Love You More that proved to be the tipping point.
"That was definitely the tipping point. Funny thing was, he'd done a remix of Someday and it was one of the best remixes I'd ever heard. But we didn't put it out. Then we begged him to mix Love You More and it was one of the best British remixes ever. And from that moment it just catapulted. We did massive tours: they were the best times. When M People won the Mercury, there was a lot of furore. We liked to wind up the indie kids. But we always had that edge. The dance world was looked down on, in the way disco was before it. You know, one-off records make by people with tacky clothes. Playing to 50,000 at Old Trafford in 1996 was amazing. We were the first band to take something from the dance-floor to Arenas - it was our intention. We did have a plan. And really, there was a whole revolution, people got fed up of watching bad rock bands and later on Cream. We were right at the fulcrum for that. At one stage, I'd get a record on Friday and sign them on Monday and dominate the charts."
Mid-way through their imperial age -1994 to be precise - the team made the wise decision of signing up James Barton from Cream to work at the label, deftly connecting the dots between Deconstruction in London and the burgeoning club scene that was bubbling under Barton's tutelage in Liverpool. Since Barton was managing such acts as K-Klass and even got Kylie to perform at Cream, it was a smart, savvy move that paid dividends for everyone. 14 years on, Barton, like Chic, can only remember the good times.
"What did it mean to me? It was HUGE! The strange thing is, the idea of me relocating to London was something that I'd decided NOT to do. I was managing K-Klass and was instrumental in them signing Don't You Want Me by Felix and when they offered a job, in 15 minutes I said 'yes' and 'when are you going to pay me'. In 1994-5-6 I was working in the best record label and the best nightclub at that time. It was a crazy time but a huge honour. And the weird thing was, it was an easy place to be and people may laugh but everyone was really down to earth."
Thanks to a slew of great singles and the crisp, crystal-clear design aesthetic of Mark Farrow, signing to Deconstruction really meant something to the artists, the public and the people who worked there. All three felt the thrill, and it's something Barton remembers clearly. "The great thing was - I remember sitting down with K-Klass saying we had two offers. Both were the same. And before I could finish - they asked, is Deconstruction one of them? We don't care who the other one is!' Because the label had a connection to the Hacienda and Factory, as someone who'd played there, it meant the same to me - I mean, I started my career playing Black Box. But I was hard work as well."
Of course, the biggest tune on the label worldwide was Ride On Time by Black Box - in 1989, it was the biggest-selling song of the year, clocking in 960,000 sales that year alone. "That's the seminal Deconstruction record," grins Pickering. "But here's an example of the mentality at the time. [Eurythmics guitarist] Dave Stewart had a solo album that few people were interested in. The mentality was 'no posters for us' - and when we were number one! I mean, wasn't that the biggest selling dance record of all time? It sold hundreds of thousands of copies and was a worldwide hit. It's an amazing record."
Do you want to know a big secret?" he asks rhetorically. "Dan Hartman gave them 50% because he loved it but when Daniel Davoli brought it in, he kept saying it wasn't a sample. And me and Pete were like - 'hmmm, we're not sure' and there was a massive furore. I remember saying it was re-recorded and really, it was. But we actually flew in Heather Small to do the job - she replicated the vocals. Listen carefully and you can hear it's her!"
One other thing that needs some proper attention is the label's unique, sleek, minimal look. "[Designer] Mark Farrow was crucial," muses Mike sagely. "You know, we loved style. That was our big thing. And it was a lifestyle thing. We had jackets, clothes, trainers - yet again it was a continuation of the Factory thing. If you ask Mark, his peer is Peter Saville. And he had so many things. It was all amazing." James Barton is quick to pick up the baton here. "If you look at the two aspects of the label, we had a strong music policy but a HUGE design and presentation policy."
Style over budget - always an issue with Factory - started to creep in on occasion. But because the hits kept coming - from Confide In Me to Children, The Gift and beyond - it didn't seem to matter. "We didn't do anything cheaply," shrugs Barton. "The second Cream album cost a packet - the white one [Cream Live 2] cost £4 just for the packaging and you just don't get that today. Now it's all about cost. The amount that went into Kylie and M People - everyone got the same treatment. We had Mark Farrow of course and success breeds success. We spent but we also put a record at number 1 or number 3 and because we were part of BMG, there was also a feeling that we could do no wrong. Everyone perceived us as ultra-cool. If you win more than you lose, people allow you to do what you want. When Deconstruction signed Kylie, it was such a massive story. When was the last time a band like The Killers signed to XL?"
Asked about their favourite Deconstruction record, Pickering picks Anthem by N-Joi, the K-Klass hits Rhythm Is A Mystery and Let Me Show You and Sly One by Marina Van Roy. "I'd love to bring that back," he winks. Barton, meanwhile, gets a little emotional. "My favourite record? OH MY GOD! I'm going to say De'Lacey Hideway, I just love that record. But there were so many."
Fast-forward a decade from the glory days and it looks like Pickering is ready for round two. Needless to say, all the records mentioned here will be picked up and dusted off for digital release. Some will be given new remixes, others will be remastered and released on vinyl. And it all happened When Pickering decided to take a day job at Sony Music. "It just sat there gathering dust and then when I decided to join the company - I'd been an artist - it took a few attempts. And when I got there 4 or 5 years ago, I got in touch with the archive people. Marina Van Roy - I wanted to play them out and I wanted them to come out digitally, but two years ago was impossible because the whole DRM-free scenario has only just been embraced and I helped push that through. But what really did it were 360, who work with Calvin Harris. And we were talking about it and I sent them the list and that triggered them off. And it's taken 18 months to come to this point. It's been done from their office in East London!"
First up will be remixes of that other seminal Deconstruction classic Xpander, last seen on expensive double-pack and CD single a full decade ago. And why not? It doesn't hurt to start at the top. "Sasha's really up about it and he's given us a list of people who he wants to remix it. I love Sasha's work and we go back a long way. He warmed up for me at the Hac! So it's great to get him back. Down the line, the end game is to put out new stuff. Next up - Lionrock's Packet Of Peace. Everyone we're contacting has been 'brilliant!'" (Of course, one of the biggest remixed dance hits of last year was Guru Josh Infinity - huge again worldwide in 2008 thanks to new electro-pop mixes - another club smash that originally came out on Deconstruction.)
"Because it's Mike, it makes sense," reckons Barton. "Am I surprised? No. Am I happy? If the label follows a similar ethos and the same values, then yes, it's really exciting. It's great that Sony Music are re-launching a label to put out dance music because we haven't seen this for many years. Just talking about it - the videos, the marketing, doing board meetings in Ibiza, huge trips - I look back at my five years at Decon dreamily and it's only now that I can truly appreciate how amazing it was!" "It was a golden period and brilliant fun, concludes Pickering. "We'd go in at 6 o'clock and put the speakers round the table, play new mixes and party in the office."
Secretly, we suspect they're looking forward to reviving that ethos all over again.
RALPH MOORE, ASSISTANT EDITOR, MIXMAG