Giving young kids more freedom, money, and fame than is good for them has been a tenet of skateboarding since the early days. Whether it’s bringing teenagers to a casino, hiring strippers for high schoolers’ birthday parties, or just subjecting kids to the pro skating lifestyle, skaters have historically grown up quickly and hazardously.
Alex Moul, former pro for the British board brand Death Box (today known as Flip Skateboards), experienced that kind of premature adulthood. In the ’80s he was traveling across Europe at 12 years old doing skate demos, and by 15 he was going to illegal raves with party drugs around him.
He basically grew up within two different but equally chaotic worlds (skateboarding and music / rave scenes), and would go on to become a DJ and drum & bass producer with his own cult following.
So we talked to Alex to find out what his life was like during those messy and formative years. Before a kid could make enough money off skating to buy a McMansion, they were enjoying the life.
[If you’re slightly interested in getting to know rave / drum & bass music after reading this interview, we threw in some recommendations from Mouly at the bottom.]
How did you originally get into DJing?
We were on a Death Box [known today as Flip Skateboards] skate trip and my friend had some turntables. I had a mess about with them and thought it was pretty fun. I used to make mixtapes on my brother’s tape to tape cassette deck. I was all into electro tapes, all into breakdancing and all that.
Then my friend DJ Lee, who did stuff for Metalheadz and Timeless, I used to skate with him and he had decks at his house. When I turned pro for Death Box around 1989/1990 when I was 15 or 16 and started getting some money, I bought some tables and squandered all my monthly checks on records from then on out.
What records were you buying back then?
Breakbeat, jungle… it was all just called “rave music” back then. I was playing stuff like Genaside II into Joey Beltram “Mentasm.” The genres didn’t all split off and get segregated until like 1993 I reckon.
alex moul, age 12
What was so fun about DJing? Discovering new music?
Yeah, it was that and it was the buzz of walking back through the crowd afterwards and people are like, “Wicked set, man!” It was a complete trip, DJing to like 1,000 people. Wow, I’m in control of how all these people move right now in a weird way.
Being on tour from the age of 12 every weekend skating, you weren’t getting around girls that much, so it was nice to have an actual teenage life. ‘Cause skating wasn’t that cool at the time. It wasn’t like now where it’s OK to take your skateboard to the pub. Back then you’d get laughed at. Then all of a sudden, the DJing side of it, you’re actually quite cool. Different walks of life started to appreciate me and that was quite interesting as well.
Have you ever gotten a blow job beneath the DJ booth?
[laughs] No, no, not me. I remember one gig with my mate Spinback from Total Science. He was DJing and there was this bird that was behind him and sort of reaching around and wanking him off while he was doing his set and he looked at me and winked [laughs]. I was like, damn, that really is about as rock ‘n roll as DJing gets I reckon.
photo: tim leighton boyce
What were raves like back in the early ’90s?
1989 was around the time I was just starting to go. It was a lot of free parties, in the fields. Illegal raves. We’d go and just dance about in a field like a maniac [laughs]. They would pass a hat around the party and take donations, and say like, money for the generator to fund it. Some of these raves would take over old farmers’ barns, and then the party would go on for three days straight. It was kinda brand new at that time around Oxfordshire because there were so many countryside fields. I saw Prodigy play in a tent with about five other people before they were famous.
Do you remember the first big rave you went to?
There was one in Oxford called Generation 95 or something. That one was massive. You know how you have massives in America like Coachella and stuff like that? This was like the first one of that caliber. I think it was the first rave I ever had to pay to get into [laughs].
Fully legal. It was eight stages. Prodigy and Orbital played. That was right when Prodigy come out with “Firestarter” and that sort of rave anthem stuff that we think of as mainstream now, but it was unorthodox at the time. I remember being in the crowd and it was so packed, I was coming off the ground whether I wanted to stand still or not. Everyone was jumping up and down and I was literally lifted off the ground at every beat.
How rampant were drugs at raves back then?
That wasn’t me, I was more into the music. But some of the people I knew were doing like 14 E tablets a night. Something mental. I was more into it for the tunes. That was the craziest thing, being 16 and you’d walk through and someone would be yelling, “Acid! Weed! Hash!” Shouting out, they don’t even care.
How is that even possible to do that much ecstasy at a party?
I couldn’t imagine doing 14 tablets in one night. I’d spontaneously combust if I did anything like that. I think the quality of drugs at that time were pretty clean, so you can just keep it going. Then it started to get bad. People were going down and stuff, overheating and what have you. Whoever makes these things was mixing all sorts of rubbish in. I’ve seen a few things from old raves of people having a seizure and getting carted out. It doesn’t really entice you. Like, “Yeah, give me one of them!” But I do think I had mates who’d be like, “Give me what he had!” [Laughs]
dj mouly’s first gig flier
So when and how did you start creating your own music?
Around 1994 I got a job in a record store at Massive Records. I started to get hooked up with DJing gigs and I met Graham Fisken aka Lucida [his music partner] there. He walked in and I asked him if he was interested in making something and he was like, yeah. We became a bickering couple ever since then. Our first release was on Code-001 in 1994 as artist name [Mouly & Lucida].
I didn’t have any idea how to use anything. We only had an Akai MPC60, which was a drum machine sampler, and a Yamaha SY85 keyboard, and we didn’t even have a mixing desk or any monitor speakers or anything. It would take us about a month to make each track, ’cause we only had some nights free because of our jobs. Nowadays with computers and all that, if you’re on a roll you could probably bang out a tune in a day or two.
The thing I love about rave and drum & bass is there’s no rules to it you can sample and rob from everywhere. If it works for someone it works for someone. It’s not like there’s a definite rule to it, it’s like skateboarding. You do whatever trick you want, if that floats your boat.
Were you still skating professionally at this time when music was beginning to take off for you?
At the time, Death Box was transitioning to the USA and changing their name from Death Box to Flip. They moved out to the USA around 1993. At that point, I wasn’t really getting along with the skateboarding scene. You had to look a certain way and do these tricks or you weren’t accepted. I got into skating to be me, I’m not gonna do what everyone tells me. I’ve always wanted to be a bit different than everyone else. Flip moved to the States and I stayed back just working in the music shop and DJing and making tunes and that.
Were you trying to have a music career at that point?
That’s the thing, the same with skateboarding, I didn’t really look at it as a career. I just looked at it as fun. After our record “Spirits” came out, I got more DJing gigs so it helped out, but it was just another offshoot of my creative vibe. We just loved what we were doing.
When you were getting into this music, were your parents worried that this wasn’t the best for your future?
Oh yeah, [laughs] with the skating thing, my dad was like, “You gotta go to school!” Being sponsored at an early age, I was having to take Fridays and Mondays off school because I was touring around Europe every weekend and my dad didn’t like that at all.
I remember coming back from one trip and he goes, “Where were you this weekend?!” and I said, “Uhh, I dunno, Germany?” and he goes, “Whereabouts in Germany?” I go, “I don’t know, it’s not like I’m being a tourist. I get off a plane, train, or automobile and go who knows where else and skate my ass off for two nights and come home.” He goes, “Son, if you’re going to these places you’ve got to at least know the town you were in.” [Laughs]
I hated it at the time, but after being a team manager, I instill that into the generation now. I literally came back from one trip and all of a sudden there was a map of Europe and a bunch of pins on a gigantic corkboard and he goes, “Every time you come back from somewhere when I allow you to have two days off school, you have to put a pin on the map where you went,” and I did. Quickly that whole thing was pinned out. Especially places like Hamburg and Antwerp and Amsterdam and stuff like that. Couldn’t get any more pins in ’em!
Do you remember those touring years well or were they a big blur because you were so young?
I remember this bit, I was the first English person to beat an American in a pro contest. That was at Eindhoven in Holland. It must have been like ’90 or ’89 or something like that. I beat Ed Templeton. They go, “He’s two-time world champion, so guess what, you’re basically world champion right now!” [Laughs]
Do you think you were actually better than him or he was just having a bad day?
Nah, I actually beat him fair and square for sure. He was my childhood hero as a skateboarder, and he and his wife actually said they knew I was gonna win it. I was just stoked to skate with him. He showed me how to ollie late shuv. It was new at the time, and I learned them that day on flat with him. At the end of my comp run, there was a big gap to a bank that no one really transferred and I did a frontside ollie late shuv for my last trick. Everyone was like, “We have never seen that before!” And even Ed was like, “I just showed you this yesterday and you’re doing it like that?!”
I just thought I’d try it and it luckily worked. Now it’s sort of easy peasy, but back then nobody had seen it. You had to try and be creative and come up with new shit and that’s always what I tried to do in my skating career. Tried to do it in music too but it’s kind of difficult when you’re sampling everything [laughs].
I had a good day, it’s the only contest run where I’ve landed every single trick I tried. All the tricks I was doing were pretty light years ahead as well, so that helped [laughs]. I hate to say that because I’m not a show-off or anything. It’s probably the only time you’ll ever hear me say that on any documentation [laughs]. Now Ed and I are friends, but I love to give him shit about that because he’s the most competitive git ever [laughs].
Sorry, hang on. I’m at my friends house and they’re letting the dog out, it might get a bit hectic.
I’m sorry, I don’t know if you want to print this, but the dog is trying to shag my leg right now as I’m trying to do this interview right now. [laughs] Stop it! Stop it! Get off me you fuckin…I’m getting recorded!
Were there girls at these contests back then?
After [a different] contest that I won, this bird just started making out with me and I was like, “Wow this is wicked, can we stay a bit longer?” and the TM [Team Manager] was like, “No, we gotta go.” Dammit! [Laughs] That was the other thing. While touring from skating I didn’t have a regular sort of weekend where I’d get to hang out with girls and go to parties and stuff. When I got into DJing and that, I was suddenly a bit cooler for the birds or something. It all started to happen there.
Did you lose your virginity through DJing?
Wow, straight into 5th gear with you! I mean, that is great, I’ve done loads of interviews and nobody has ever asked me when I lost my virginity in my life, not even my mum and dad.
It wasn’t on tour. I was 19 and it was New Year’s Day. I met the bird on New Year’s Eve. That’s all I really remember, and her name was Andrea. I met her at some nightclub I begged to get into and I was like, “Oh, that was crap, no luck tonight again!” and I walked out of the club when they were kicking everyone out and then she grabbed me and was like, “Meet me down here tomorrow night,” and next thing I know she was like, “Let’s just go back to your place.”
I was 19 at this point and I think my mom and dad were like, “Oi, he’s always hanging out with boys and skating, I hope he’s not gay.” [Laughs] I walked downstairs with this chick in the morning and they go, “Oh, thank God for that!”
Then after that it kicked it off and suddenly my dad got a bit pissed off at me. I remember him going, “Look, son. I don’t mind you’re bringing birds back and shagging them all the time, but can you give me a heads up? Because I go to the toilet naked at times and I don’t want to scare off any of your birds.” I’m very lucky my parents are brilliant. The fact that they’d let me do stuff and go off on my own at the age of 12, traveling, I don’t think they really knew the extent. At some demos I literally really was on my own.
Were you ever worried about making too much noise in the sack?
Nah, nah, I had some ripe screamers. My dad was like, “Fair play,” the next morning [laughs]. They’re brilliant.
Did you ever consider putting out a skate part to your own electronic music?
My On Video part was all my own music. I don’t think I’ve really seen many parts to drum & bass, you know, 175 bpm. I guess Muska had that part where he had his own tune to it and it was probably like 160 bpm, but it was still drum & bass or within the realms.
I guess it’s a risky one. Like if I could muster my body up to do a whole new video part, would I really want to put it to drum & bass anyways? Skaters are predominantly more into rock music, but now a lot of more downtempo techno music has been put to skate parts, but that’s the downtempo stuff. [*Beat boxes uptempo stuff*] That’d probably freak people out.
Actually, Ty Evans was one of the first people to get my downtempo stuff on his iPad in America. I guess the making of his The Flat Earth video, he used one of my newer tracks in that.
What did you not like about skating in the early ’90s that ultimately led you to pursing music more seriously?
Skating suddenly had this weird era, especially in England, where you had to ride super small wheels, baggy trousers, and wear a backpack all the time and look hip and what have you. It was almost like you had to have a uniform all of a sudden. If you didn’t, people didn’t think you were that cool, and I went, “Well, if that’s the case, I don’t think skating is really cool right now.” Instead of actually shooting photos when skating, it was all videoed, so you could do the 360 shuv it late front foot quadruple flip, meet you there on the floor, and you did it once and…it was just bad.
The magazine would print stuff like, “Alex Moul, Techno King,” instead of like, yeah, well done for getting second or first place or whatever. I was just like, I don’t really need to be a part of that scene. I remember I had to do a makeover for Rad Magazine. They put it in the contents page. They dressed me in some big mustard jeans and some Adidas Gazelles, a rugby top, and a beanie, like “Check out the new Alex Moul!” It was basically like, “This is what the kids are being programmed to want, so you better look the part or your boards aren’t going to sell.”
Do you regret not moving to America with the Flip skateboard team when they moved their headquarters there?
It’s funny because sometimes I think if I came out to the U.S. when the Flip guys did, maybe I’d be a millionaire, right? ‘Cause I missed a bit of time and some opportunity. But I would’ve missed all of this [music stuff]. It was time for me to experience a different side of life and passions I wanted to pursue, so I’m also in a way quite proud of myself. I went to America a couple of years later. It’s not exactly easy to pick up at 21 and move to America with nowhere to live.
It helped me a lot, I was skating again, and at that point, skating was good again. The mentality was brilliant. I love skating now, too. It really is how we got into it in the first place. You can do whatever trick you want to do.
MOULY’S MUSIC RECOMMENDATIONS & FURTHER LISTENING
• Fabio – Dreamscape ’95 [live DJ set]
• Dr. S Gachet [mix]