In 2009, a couple of music fans were fed up with the stranglehold The X Factor had taken over the Christmas number one slot and decided to take matters into their own hands. The social media campaign snowballed and eventually saw Killing In The Name by rap metal group Rage Against The Machine hitting the festive top spot. Whatever your thoughts on this – it’s hard to deny that it was truly a cultural landmark which will go down in history.
Every year since, various groups have been created in order to try and emulate this success and to ‘stick it to the man’ once more. This year, the frontrunner is a Facebook page pledging to get 1991 techno hit Activ-8 by Stafford rave legends Altern-8 to the top of the charts. In just one week, the page has grown to attract over 15,000 likes.
We spoke to Mark Archer, who formed one half of the duo with fellow Staffordian Chris Peat about his thoughts on the campaign and his involvement with the Stafford rave scene.
How did you first hear about the campaign?
My girlfriend sent me a link saying ‘have you seen this?’ last week. At the time it only had 6 likes, and now something which I thought was dead and buried 20 ago years has suddenly come back into my life.
Of all the songs… I didn’t ever expect Altern-8 to be used for one of these campaigns. I mean, I can understand that with the Rage Against The Machine song as the lyrical content captured those anti-establishment feelings. Ours was just a silly bit of fun!
But wasn’t the acid house scene just as revolutionary as punk was in giving disengaged young people outside of the mainstream something to follow?
Yeah I guess Altern-8 was just about pure escapism from the grim backdrop of the 1980s. But when we were making those records we just wanted to make people dance and enjoy themselves.
So you weren’t consciously trying to start a cultural revolution?
(laughs) No! I never expected people to even still be listening to us 22 years later!
But you did enjoy commercial success – and that week that Activ-8 went to number 3 also saw another Stafford rave act – Bizarre Inc – at number 4 with Playing With Knives. Did that surprise you at the time?
Well, when you make the tunes you’re really just making them to be played at raves for people to dance to. We never really expected chart success but I guess when you take into account how many people were going to these raves and then buying the single, it just catapulted- so more people who didn’t go to raves heard it. And then next thing you know we’re in the charts with Michael Jackson – pretty crazy! A good week for Stafford.
At the start of the 1990s Stafford did seem to be a real cultural hub for rave music. I can’t say that’s still the case in the town now. Why do you think that’s changed?
I think the way the government was in the mid-1990s changed things and stopped a lot of raves. Stafford used to be a fantastic place to go out. I’m not sure why but it seems to be a lot more difficult to start something in Stafford now - things just don’t seem to take off which is a shame. I wouldn’t say that’s a problem which is unique to Stafford though.
Are you still a part of that scene now?
Yeah I still DJ under my own name. People book me to play all the old school stuff – so there’s still a crackle on some of the records as they’re 20 years old! A lot of the people who come to my sets remember the first time, and they’ve maybe got their little brothers and sisters into rave – so it’s quite a varied crowd which is nice. Sometimes the younger ones come and ask me what some of the stuff is – thinking it’s some new breakbeat tune. They can’t believe it when I tell them it’s from 20 years ago!
House music seems to enjoying a resurgence in the charts at the moment, what do you think of the newer stuff coming through?
The Chicago House sound has been bubbling under for a while now and it’s great that more people are starting to appreciate it. I’m still very into Chicago House, deep house and American Garage and it’s nice to see that house music is in a very healthy place right now.
How do you think clubbing now compares to clubbing in the 1990s?
You know what, it’s getting back to how it used to be in the early 1990s. It’s a much friendlier, more open-minded crowd today than you’d get in the mid 90s but – and this is going to make me sound really old – it’s still not as good as it was back in the early 80s/90s. Everyone was just dancing and having a good time back then - people were treating each other like their best mate even if they'd just met. Although people are more open to different musical styles now.
Do you still live in Stafford?
I live in Redditch now. People always ask me if I miss Stafford but I can’t say I do because I’m always popping back! I’m playing a DJ set in Couture on Boxing Day which will be weird because the first time I went in there was when it was Top Of The World back 1984. Hopefully now I can introduce all those old records to a new generation.
I have to ask… where did the gas mask and chemical warfare suits look come from?
We’d been DJing under a different name and then we were booked under Altern-8 and so we borrowed my brother’s RAF gear so that we could have a distinctive look to distinguish from the other name. It was only meant to be for that one night but it was memorable so it just stuck.
Do you know if Chris [Mark’s former bandmate] is behind the campaign as well?
Apparently his daughter forwarded it to him and he is backing it. At this stage though it’s in the hands of the record label so I’m still in talks with them to get it re-released as a single otherwise it won’t count for the charts.
What will you do to celebrate if it does actually get to number one?
I’m still just really flattered that people have chosen our song to be honest and the amount of support it’s had, so we'll see!
TV talent shows didn’t really exist when Altern-8 were around. What do you think of the X Factor and its reign over the charts these days?
It’s kind of promoted this weird culture of people going to auditions and thinking that that will take them straight to success when so many bands and artists work really hard for years to get somewhere. It’s this culture of just wanting to be famous which is annoying. Having said that f I don’t like the X Factor I will just switch it off- it doesn’t really bother me too much. But if people would rather buy an Altern-8 single than an X Factor single then that’s cool with me!
To find out more about the campaign, visit the Facebook page.