What the heck was Poodle Chaos?

By - Wednesday 22nd March, 2017

You might not have heard of it, but that just means that you’re not cool enough

Photo by Shasha Khan, used with permission.

Croydon has had its fair share of music and entertainment stars. Stormzy, The Kooks, Kirsty MacColl, and Captain Sensible, to name but a few. But in the mid-nineties and early noughties one name mattered to those in know: Poodle Chaos.

These eight young upstarts, Shasha, Chi, Mike, Chun, Dave, Stu, James and Rich, clawed their way up through the rave and club scene of the time, attracting a cult following wherever they played in the capital. I spoke to local boy Shasha Khan, one of the group’s core members (and perhaps better known as DJ Cosy Slippers) about his memories of Poodle Chaos and the Croydon connection…

Poodle Chaos began with one “terrible” house party in the early nineties. Luckily, they got better – much better – and this team of eight friends would put on some of the best club nights in London (according to Time Out) for the next ten years, even branching out into a homegrown Croydon record label.

“After university we all really missed the house party and rave scene”

Shasha’s musical journey began when he heard a strange tune by an experimental French group. Only… the group was German, not French, and the tune was Kraftwerk’s ‘Tour de France’, one of the first ever electronic dance tunes. This music, which was to become a massive influence on rave, took the UK by storm a few years later, and inspired a vision of Poodle Chaos!

“In the early nineties new friends at Wolverhampton university introduced me to so much music”, says Shasha. “At all-night house parties we listened and danced to Future Sound Of London, Banco de Gaia, Orbital – it was a great time”.

“After university we all really missed the house party and rave scene. Mike and I were both from London, but Stuart, who was from Swindon, and Chun, from Barnsley, came to London, and we all ended up doing boring jobs.”

“Everyone involved in the underground music scene in Croydon knew each other”

Photo by Shasha Khan, used with permission.

“We used to go to Club UK up in Wandsworth, which had top DJs playing, like Carl Cox and Billy Nasty (who later played for Poodle Chaos) and Club 414 in Brixton, where we eventually had a monthly residency.”

“But what Croydon had back in the nineties was record shops: to get trance and underground and hard house and that sort of stuff, most people either had to go to Soho or down to Brighton. But in Croydon we had two amazing record shops: Swag Records on Station Road, and Big Apple Records on Surrey Street, which had a banana for a logo. And one day in Big Apple Records in Croydon, I asked if they heard of DJ Berdy, who played Sunday nights on on Energy FM, a pirate radio station. And it turned out that DJ Berdy was one of the guys behind the counter! Both Swag and Big Apple were focal points in Croydon’s underground music scene in the nineties and naughties. Dupstep pioneers Skream and Benga both worked there.”

“Around then I started to realise two things: firstly, that everyone involved in the underground music scene in Croydon knew each other! Secondly, I really wanted to make the transition from being a punter to promoter and recapture the vibe that we had experienced at university. But back then the only one of us who had his own place was Stu, up in Kensal Green, so that’s where the first Poodle Chaos party took place.”

So where did that name come from?

Success wasn’t instant, however.

“It was terrible!”, laughs Shasha. “The only bright spot was seeing some work friends from my new job at one of the big four banks in Croydon. They drove all the way up, but when they saw that there were no girls, just us, they left. That was the first Poodle Chaos party!”.

So where did that name come from?

“When Stu and Mike were putting together a flyer Megadog was pretty famous, but Stu was allergic to dogs – all except poodles, so they thought that was pretty funny. But as they tried to think of a second part Stu was ordered to get off the phone by his then boss. So, Poodle Chaos.”

“Looking back, it was a massive fire risk”

“But at the bank in Croydon I’d realised that the ‘unique’ house party scene that I’d loved was actually everywhere. People everywhere in the mid-nineties were getting into it, especially at the bank, spending whole weekends at raves or Ministry of Sound – people that you’d never suspect. I discovered that one really quiet guy at work was a DJ at Bagleys and would hang out with really famous music scene people.”

Is that when you tried again with the parties?

“Yeah. Stuart moved to a new place in South London, and people I worked with at the bank, such as James and Dave, started getting involved. That’s when Poodle Chaos parties started to get good.”

“Rich had just graduated from Camberwell College of Art and covered Stu’s entire place in black binbags and tinfoil. Looking back, it was a massive fire risk! We hired a proper PA from Sound Force in Crystal Palace, and James, who knew how to DJ properly and was calling himself Billy McClimens, played on one CD player and two decks with vinyl. Upstairs we put on a load of stuff for anyone who wanted a break from the dancefloor: face painting, live music, tarot reading and beat poetry. 70 people crammed into a small flat in Stockwell and partied like it was 1999.”

“The bank was a major sponsor of Poodle Chaos, even if they never realised it”

“After that, not a lot of work got done at the bank, we were too busy creating newsletters and flyers, setting up a mailing list (literally, a paper mailing list!) to tell people about our next party. The bank didn’t know that we were using their phones, photocopiers, faxes and the mailroom to basically blag our way into the music scene. I was booking gigs at universities, clubs and even the odd working mens club. We were young, we had a couple of really successful nights behind us, and we had momentum.”

Photo by Shasha Khan (pictured, second from right), used with permission.

Did the bank ever find out?

“Letters were sometimes returned, all franked and stamped, and management would ask ‘what the hell is this?’. But the bank was a major sponsor of Poodle Chaos, even if they never realised it. Most of their customer service staff were regulars at Poodle Chaos parties – supervisors would get anxious when a party was scheduled because they couldn’t get anyone to work that weekend.”

And what was your next big break?

“Poodle Chaos really took off after we went to a night called Starfish, run by a guy called Stephen Bardwell at the Garage in north London. It was a great night, great DJs, but hardly anyone there. I contacted Steve afterwards and said ‘We’ve got a crowd but no venue; you’ve got a venue but no people. Perhaps we can help each other out?’”.

“There’s something incredibly loyal about Croydon people”

“So, that was our first time running a real club, through a co-promotion, rather than just crazy free parties. It felt like a big step, with contracts and real money and all that, but again we were a hit. But once you’ve had one success it’s much easier to grow that and turn it into more success, and we started doing regular solo Poodle Chaos nights at the Garage in 1996.”

“Running clubs is a bit different to having house parties, and the eight of us in Poodle Chaos – me, Chi, Mike, Chun, Dave, Stu, James and Rich – all took on different roles to get everything done. I was the head promoter; James was our main DJ; Dave managed communications with our crowd (and remember, there was no internet back then); Mike did our marketing, getting us into Time Out, The Big Issue, the Guardian Guide, etc. Stu wasn’t a big fan of the hard house and trance that we played so he took over the ‘upstairs’ chill out room stuff; and Rich was our artwork and decorations guy.”

So you were big in north London?

“Ha! Well, maybe, medium. But wherever we went in London our crowd was still predominantly from Croydon. There’s something incredibly loyal about Croydon people: they love their music, they love to party and they’ll travel almost anywhere for both! We were incredibly lucky to discover such a fantastic group of people in Croydon; I’ve never found anything like it since, and without that local drive and enthusiasm for our music and parties there would have been no Poodle Chaos. In that respect, Croydon was absolutely key.”

Stuart Carter

Stuart Carter

A well-meaning but ultimately rather lazy soul, Stuart has lived in south London for over 20 years. He writes for a living because it means he can listen to music all day long and nobody will interrupt him. Except his two daughters. And his wife.

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