How Silicone Soul's 'Right On' became a cult Ibiza anthem
With its sweeping strings, sampled and sped-up from a Curtis Mayfield track, ‘Right On’ became a huge Space Terrace Ibiza anthem for Silicone Soul, chiming with the filtered disco house explosion around the Millennium and turning the Glasgow duo’s lives upside-down. DJ Mag charts the convoluted journey of this timeless masterpiece
October 5th 2001: over two million UK pop fans are watching Top Of The Pops. A pop music juggernaut since 1964, even in the first few years of the 2000s it still draws big numbers. And on this particular night the big numbers are enjoying performances from Steps, Mary J Blige, Elton John, Garbage, Stereophonics, and Glaswegian heroes Silicone Soul, who are set to roll out their game-changing house hit, ‘Right On!’
Except they didn’t. The singer Clare Louise Marshall, who featured on the final, most commercial version of the release, was present and correct. But the (standardly miming) string quartet had no connection with the music at all. The duo, Craig Morrison and Graeme Reedie, were nowhere to be seen.
19 years later, they haven’t a clue where they were instead of being on stage at the Lime Grove Studios. But with it being a Friday night, at the peak of their last four or five incredible years rising up the ranks of the Glasgow underground, they reckon they were either on a plane, behind the decks in any discerning nightclub around the world, the studio or any boozer or bar in between.
“Anywhere but Top Of The Pops!” Craig laughs. “It would have ended up with Graeme miming the guitar and me pretending to DJ. It would have been fucking awful. It’s not like we were The Orb with a cool concept. I think they played chess when they were on Top Of The Pops, didn’t they? We weren’t that clever and we just weren’t comfortable with the whole situation. I still stand by that now.”
Graeme, the other half of Silicone Soul, isn’t so sure. “You know, given that choice again I might reconsider it,” he reflects. “It would have been a funny story to tell. But we weren’t comfortable about miming, and it was such a big step from the world we felt we were operating in. I don’t think the BBC were that pleased with us!”
The BBC might not have been particularly chuffed but everyone else in this story certainly should have been, from the original label — iconic Glaswegian techno imprint Soma — to the countless Ibiza compilations that have licensed it over the last 20 years. You see, after three different versions of the track dating back to the track’s first incarnation ‘Right On 4 Tha Darkness’ in 1999, via the cult Ibiza anthem ‘Right On Right On’ in 2000, ‘Right On!’ had become a huge hit.
A swirling orchestral strutter, characterised by a lavish Curtis Mayfield sample and lucid wah-wah-polished Fender strums, ‘Right On!’ had humble roots and enjoyed a unique lifespan; three different versions over three different summers, its final, most high-profile chapter landed in the thick of one of house music’s most thriving, funkiest eras. By 2001 ‘Right On!’ had captured a unique moment in dance music history as daytime airwaves and mainstream TV began to truly acknowledge club culture.
“We were sitting on that sample for a very long time. I knew we’d use it at some point, of course, but it was so good, we didn’t want to waste it” — Graeme Reedie of Silicone Soul
Radio 1 couldn’t get enough of the White Isle, the likes of Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, Roger Sanchez, Basement Jaxx, Kings Of Tomorrow and Groove Armada peppered airwave playlists with huge releases and, erm, Sky TV gave us Ibiza Uncovered. In many ways dance music in the early 2000s sowed the seeds for the EDM money machines that dominated the industry during the early/mid-2010s.
Prior to the turbulent digital switchover in the mid-2000s, there was still a reasonable amount of dosh around the shinier corners of dance music. Superclubs ruled the roost, Ibiza venues seemed to start raising their drinks prices by around 10 Euros every summer, and one-day festival blow-outs like Creamfields and Homelands set the tradition for the hypey cram-‘em-in line-ups that still dominate promotion tactics.
Meanwhile, all the major labels were hungry for the next underground banger to flip into a mainstream money-maker, and the pool of high-quality house music that came from the underground but worked in the mainstream had never been more bountiful. From Paul Johnson’s ‘Get Get Down’ to almost anything else on the newly-founded Defected imprint, every week a new hit would be flipped from dancefloor to daytime radio: Layo & Bushwacka!’s ‘Love Story’, Bob Sinclar’s ‘Feel For You’, Shakedown’s ‘At Night’ and, of course, ‘Right On Right On’, the second version of Morrison and Reedie’s hit. Although they were never that comfortable with the word ‘hit’.
Two unassuming ravers/studio heads, friends since school, the guys had zero intention of making crossover pop records and just loved the club culture they’d grown up in. Products of one of the UK’s most formidable techno cities, Glasgow, they were schooled by clubs like The Arches and Sub Club, bands like Primal Scream, and acts like Slam and their Soma Recordings label.
“Soma were a real beacon,” says Craig. “One of the first big labels in Scotland releasing electronic music, they were everything. It was like signing to your local football team. Our only focus was to make music good enough for Soma to sign.”
Founded by Dave Clarke (not the Amsterdam-based techno DJ) and Slam — Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle, two DJs at the centre of Glasgow’s underground club culture since the late ‘80s — Soma had consistent cache since it launched in 1991, but by the late ‘90s when Craig and Graeme signed, it could not have been hotter. Just over 18 months before Silicone Soul made their debut in 1997, Soma had seen significant success with a young, unknown French act by the name of Daft Punk, and their roster included the likes of Ewan Pearson, Surgeon and Funk D’Void.
“We didn’t want to release on any other label,” continues Craig, who first met Slam at another Glasgow institution a few years before; Hidden Lane, a creative hub that still thrives today. As a band called Dead City Radio, with other very early Silicone Soul members Peter Tagg and Chris Hodgins, Craig and Graeme rented a studio next door to the Soma co-founders. They describe Slam’s studio as a spaceship and theirs as a cupboard. They explain that while they made the connection there, it still took a few years to impress the label. “We got knocked back quite a few times and started to think maybe it’s not going to happen. But then we made ‘Climbing Walls’.”
A mid-tempo sunny-side house chugger, they thought ‘Climbing Walls’ seemed the most likely record to appeal to Soma. But it was actually ‘The Strip’, a fun, funky downtempo track that riffed heavily off Lalo Schifrin’s Enter The Dragon theme, that the label liked the most. Either way, it was an accomplished debut record and was followed, eight months later, by second single ‘All Nite Long’. Then their third record landed: ‘Right On 4 Tha Darkness’, a tune that sparked a three-year-long fire that would change the boys’ lives forever. Although it almost never happened...
“We were sitting on that sample for a very long time,” Graeme grins. He found it on holiday with his then-girlfriend’s family in Florida and bought it for 40 cents. “I knew we’d use it at some point, of course, but it was so good, we didn’t want to waste it.”
The sample in question is the epic orchestral hook that drives the entire track: Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Right On For The Darkness’, sped up from 33rpm to 45rpm due to their sampler’s memory capacity. A trusty Akai S2000, the sampler was part of a small armoury the boys had developed to write their debut album. Now moved out of their studio in Hidden Lane and into a flat together, the Silicone Soul studio was also their kitchen. No computer, just an MPC sequencer, a Roland 202, a Juno 60 synth and a second sampler. “That was a great time,” Graeme smiles. “We had the backing of the label, they trusted us to write a good record and we just got our heads down and did what felt right. Just going off gut instinct a lot of the time. The album came together very easily and freely."
After two years of free and easy creativity their debut LP ‘...A Soul Thing’ landed in February 2000. Now 20 years old, it stands the test of time well. At the time it was a great calling-card for what the boys stood for and the sound they wanted to push. Part grand finale, part poignant adieu, ‘Right On 4 Tha Darkness’ sat humbly at the end.
As a single it had preceded the album by six months, but it would take another six months of slow burning before it really kicked off. “It was a tour of France,” explains Craig. “The album did really well over there, so we did our first big tour and we recorded a new version of the track for the tour.” “It was totally intended as a throwaway thing,” nods Graeme. “But it went down so well. It was crazy. We got home and told the guys we needed to release it.”
This new version became the anthem the track is best remembered for. Few changes were made, besides the addition of a hypnotic bongo roll that you could hear creeping into the mix a mile off. Simple but effective, it turned ‘Right On 4 Tha Darkness’ into a highly sought-after dubplate called ‘Right On Right On’. But still the slow build continued. “Soma needed some convincing,” says Craig. “The next single was ‘The Answer’, which had a Miguel Migs remix. He was really hot at the time and the focus was naturally on that. But we managed to get them to put it on the B-Side. It wasn’t the main track on the release but it was the one that became big. There’s something cool about that.”
Plenty more nice things followed, as ‘Right On Right On’ became an in-demand Ibiza smash. Like Kings Of Tomorrow’s ‘Finally’, the track was a rare unicorn that resonated with both the island’s two biggest house sounds at the time; the deeper, minimal and tribal house crowds at DC-10 and Space and the fluffier, funky house followers at Pacha and Eden. The big strings had that timeless Balearic feel, too, making it the perfect sunset track at places like Ibiza's Café Mambo too.
Craig and Graeme would eventually become DC-10 residents, regularly flying out there throughout most of the 2000s, but they weren’t twiddling their thumbs in the meantime. From summer 2000 everything snowballed; both versions of the track were licensed to countless compilations, from Pete Tong albums to TV-advertised Ministry of Sound collections; DJ support was unanimous, and their schedule was filling up quickly as a result. “It was very surreal,” reflects Graeme. “We’d gone from this dosser lifestyle, just getting up whenever, working on tunes, partying, to full-on touring. It was very disorienting. Then of course it got signed by Virgin.”
In late 2000, they were approached by Virgin sub-label VC Recordings. The label was headed up by Andy Thompson, who’d achieved mainstream dance music success as previous head of Pete Tong’s old imprint FFRR. He’d seen the success of the track and saw potential to turn it into an all-out radio-ready crossover anthem. Naturally, the boys were cagey.
“We weren’t completely comfortable with the idea of any big crossover success or being ‘stars’ or any shit like that,” says Craig. “Things had become quite commercialised. But Andy understood us, and we trusted him. We did the recording with Clare in these amazing studios in London, and even bumped into Mick Jagger at one point.”
The end result of these sessions was ‘Right On!’ — essentially ‘Right On Right On’ but coated in a belting full verse and chorus vocal courtesy of singer Clare Louise Marshall — hitting No.15 in the UK charts. As far as major label hit conversions go, VC had delivered a respectful commercial adaptation; the radio-ready vocal didn’t detract from the original tune’s soul or groove, or sully its legacy. In fact, it helped to galvanise Craig and Graeme’s career and gave them the tools they needed to reach the next step as artists; they invested in their own label (Darkroom Dubs, a label that’s still as active and relevant as it was when they launched it in 2003); they invested in new studio gear and had the space, time, freedom and finances to completely wallow in their creativity for the next four years working on their second album ‘Staring Into Space’, another Silicone Soul LP that’s matured incredibly well over the decades.
“The difficult second album,” grins Craig. “We never had any pressure from the label but I don’t think anyone expected such a big gap. But, after the ‘Right On!’ experience we wanted to refocus on the underground sound we’d come from. That’s also why we started Darkroom Dubs. But to be perfectly honest, we were having way too much fun on the road. It’s funny really... Difficult second album, the five year gap, too much debauchery, it was every cliché you could imagine.”
But the one cliché they didn’t live up to is that they’re still together now. Unlike so many acts who captured a moment in dance music time with a chart hit early in their career, they never chased that success or changed their sound and tried to repeat the formula — they never got stale or faded into one-hit-wonder obscurity. As a result, they still remain together and are still driven by the sounds and creativity that inspired them when they first started Silicone Soul almost 25 years ago.
Sure, they don’t live in each other’s pockets any more. Sure, the gaps between albums and singles have become bigger. And sure, they have differing opinions on Top Of The Pops, but 20 years after their biggest hit, Silicone Soul remain one of Glasgow’s finest house music exports. And, thanks to its various mutations, name-changes and slow-burning build, ‘Right On 4 Tha Darkness’/ ‘Right On Right On’ / ‘Right On!’ is one of the most unique house records in UK club history.