TOGETHER IN ELECTRIC DREAMS
David Fearnhead speaks to Ian Bland of Dream Frequency, the man behind some of the 90’s biggest house tunes, who was once banned by the BBC and now enjoys life in the rural Ribble Valley
Tony Jacklin worked as a steel fitter, Sean Connery as a milkman and Billy Connelly a boilermaker on the shipyards of the Clyde. While today it may seem that those who find fame are wholly born into privilege, there used to be plenty of stories of hard graft and mundanity being the catalyst for success. Escape being both the cure and the motivation. Ian Bland is a little different. He gave up a job working on jet fighters to become a music producer.
Originally born in Preston he had, until four years ago, spent all his life in Leyland. “I didn’t know the Ribble Valley was so beautiful. I’d always thought Leyland was quite rural,” says Ian.
All that changed when his now wife Charlotte first stayed with him: “She didn’t like it. She thought Leyland was a bit too much like suburbia. I didn’t quite get what she was on about, but now we live in Read I can totally see the appeal of the Ribble Valley. Someone called it the ‘Gastro Valley’ and it really is. We are absolutely spoilt for places to eat.
“I’ve always tried to keep up with technology so I can produce from my home. I am totally on the cutting edge of everything that comes out. I suppose I am an über geek really. I love musical technology. It’s fascinating. You want an orchestra sound and you can get it without having the space for a full orchestra. It’s unreal what’s achievable today, even on a Macbook, but the downside to all of that is somebody puts a few samples together and starts calling themselves a producer. There’s no filter, no quality control, just a lot of noise out there.”
“The whole music industry has changed so much. When I first started you could actually sell records and make money off of selling records. The internet has given us so much, but it’s also taken away with piracy and sharing, which absolutely obliterated the whole business plan of music.”
Ian’s interest in electronic music started in his teenage years as artists such as Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Human League ascended to chart success. He was already experimenting with synthesisers and drum machines, when one night his younger brother said he was going to Park Hall nightclub in Charnock Richard: “He told me this guy is playing this thing called house music,” explains Ian. It was the first in a series of seemingly random events which change the course of his life.
He listened, liked what he heard, and started to make house tracks of his own. Then came the second event. One night in 1989 he heard a radio interview with a producer called Nick Halkes on Radio Lancashire.
Halkes had recently set up a label called XL Recordings. They would go on to produce albums for the Prodigy and work with artists from all genres of music – Adele, Dizzee Rascal, Gotam Project, Sigur Rós, Vampire Weekend and The White Stripes. But in 1989 they were a small concern releasing rave and dance music and were yet to have a hit.
“I sent a [cassette] tape to Nick, that’s how long ago it was! He actually rang back a week later and said, ‘Yeah it’s not too bad, just keep sending me your tapes’.”
So Ian did, ringing up constantly to ask if Nick had listened to his latest tape. Persistence looked to have paid off when Halkes eventually signed him. In 1991 as Dream Frequency, Ian would land his first real success working with the gospel soul singer Denise Johnson – who went to sing on Primal Scream’s hugely influential Screamadelica album that same year.
A Soul2Soul inspired song, Love, Peace and Harmony, had the alchemy they’d been looking for. XL realising they had their first major hit, began to plough everything behind it, getting it airplay on Steve Wright’s Radio 1 show, but a bizarre turn of international events would see the record banned by the BBC.
“The first Gulf War started,” laments Ian. “And because it had the words Love, Peace and Harmony, the BBC banned the record. I couldn’t believe it. That was my nearly moment.”
He was still working at British Aerospace at the time, but starting to do live gigs as Dream Frequency: “I didn’t even have a singer and was playing underground raves. Some good gigs, some absolute terrible ones.”
With an album deal from the promise of Love, Peace, and Harmony, he took the leap and left his job at British Aerospace. “I always remember my boss saying, ‘He’ll be back, asking for his old job back.’ Six months later we were on Top of the Pops, with the hit single Feel So Real!” Ian laughs.
Feel So Real was the track that changed everything, and a string of house hits followed such as Take Me. Ian was in demand as a producer and remixer – which he did under the name Dancing Divas. They received an entry in the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music and had Madonna’s Maverick record label seeking them out for collaboration.
Over the past 20 years he’s continued to move with modern music trends, but Ian’s still in heavy demand from those wanting a nostalgia fix. He gigs throughout the UK playing the hits of people’s youth when house music first broke. He’s performed old-school sets at the last three Beat-Herder festivals in the Ribble Valley.
“Smells and music are the biggest evokers of nostalgia. They prickle the hairs on the back of your arms,” says Ian. “I’ve got to stress I’m a real a fairweather camper, unlike my missus who has been to Glastonbury, but that’s not me. The first year I did Beat-Herder, it was lashing down, but I still loved it. To be here in the Ribble Valley, they should be proud because they put on a really good do.”
The self-taught musical producer has never lost sight of his roots, and says he stills gets a buzz from people coming up to say what one of his records has meant to them.
“Without overstating it, it’s humbling. Those are the best moments for us. To make a record in your bedroom, literally in your bedroom, and to play it and still get a reaction all these years later. It’s amazing. It’s funny everyone has those records or people. I’m the same. I saw Fast Eddie, who basically started the house movement in Chicago and I lost it. He was looking at me like, what’s this guy about!”
Ian runs Blandystudios in Read where he offers full production for artists and tutorship, for more information visit: www.blandystudio.com