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Inside ‘Techno City’: Melbourne’s clubbing history with Dave Pham

Back in the 90s, Melbourne was acclaimed by many titans of the scene – from Derrick May to Luke Slater – as being the world’s ‘Techno City’, such was the special energy and passion for techno in Australia’s southern capital.

As part of our on-going series looking into the back-story of the clubbing scenes in Australia’s major cities (check out our chat about the birth of Sydney clubbing with Stephen Allkins and features on the early Brisbane rave scene and the evolution of Adelaide’s clubbing underground), inthemix spoke with Melbourne techno veteran Dave Pham, who came up during the city’s ‘90s heyday, and still holds the torch aloft with a slate of regular gigs like the upcoming Likes of You Reunion at Brown Alley, When The Smoke Clears at Loop and Drumatix at My Aeon. Listen in as Dave tells us about the DJs that forged Melbourne’s scene and the seminal parties they threw.

So you came up in the 1990s techno scene in Melbourne. When did you first start going out?

Around [age] 17 was when I started to venture out, mainly to clubs at that time – I didn’t really start to experience the raves until the year after… I’m from a pretty strict Asian family. I had to do some fancy talking! To be staying out past midnight and stuff like that, I still don’t know how I managed that to this day, but I did. At the time it was to experience a couple of clubs that were talked about on a radio show that I was listening to, and seeing where I could actually hear this type of music.

What kind of music?

It was a mix between a lot of techno, acid house, maybe some tech-trance, piano house, some big beat as well. But the stuff that I recollect listening to and what really drew me in was the techno, definitely. Very fast-paced at that time as well…very upbeat, very driving, very up-tempo, loads of energy. And I was just really excited by all the sounds that were hitting me in the face.

What were the names of the clubs?

OK, so there was Pure – that was at the back of the Palace. There was Sector 3 as well, that was in Flinders Lane in the city…. Unfortunately couldn’t stay there the whole night as much as I would have liked to, but I would have had hell to answer for. That was it for me for the first year, not too much, just a little taste. But the following year as I was turning 18, that’s when I was able to go out to all the licensed venues properly, and that’s when I started going out to big events… That’s where it started for me, around ‘94.

And that’s when it really took hold for you?

Definitely. I was just a kid in a candy store. I was amazed, wide-eyed, bushy-tailed – I didn’t know what was going on, except that I was truly excited by it, and I hadn’t felt that excitement for a long time. A little bit of background on me: I grew up playing tennis, and lived and breathed the tennis world since I was six years old. So by the time I was 17, I sort of was a little bit burnt out by it. Almost made pro, but couldn’t quite jump the fence for that next league; and once that dissipated, music and that culture really almost gave me another birth, so to speak.

It made me see that there was something else apart from tennis, and all of a sudden my love for the music, the sounds, and just the environment, what you felt when you were there, what you could share with a big group of people you didn’t know…it had a massive appeal, and a massive influence on the rest of my life in the end, too.

Who were the DJs?

For me, probably the guy that really hooked me in was William Keelan, AKA Will E Tell. He was a guy that was playing at all the early clubs that I was going to… It was him that probably had the most influence, and Richie as well – Richie Rich. Just going to all these parties, I couldn’t help but be in awe of what that guy built…his equal love of Detroit techno and German trance was something that I really related to as well. I really liked both sides of the fence there, and I liked the fact that he pushed both sides and everything in between too.

They were definitely amongst my favourite DJs, amongst a few others: Jeff Tyler, Steve Robbins. These guys also had a huge influence on me. But the two guys that I followed pretty religiously were Will E and Richie – them supporting each other at all the events, and obviously all the Hardware shows and all the subsequent shows that came from that – Will E was resident there, so it was easy to follow those two at the same venues around Melbourne for years.

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