Growing up as a soul boy in South London, Dale started out on pirate stations playing funk and boogie, while also working at Croydon's storied Mi Price record store. His radio career kicked off when he moved to the then-pirate KISS FM in 1985. Every week for 16 years straight, he presented a two-hour Abstrakt Dance session, exploring the futuristic depths of dance music, then finishing on the Outer Limits hour, which plunged into cold, industrial atmospheres.
Dale broke many techno records in the UK, especially titles sent over from Detroit, and hosted interviews with the artists behind them. He always gave out the track names and shouted out the events happening in London that week, tirelessly pushing the scene forward alongside his partner-in-crime on KISS, the late Colin Faver.
All the while, Dale became one of techno's best club DJs, playing up and down the UK and at his own nights, like Knowledge and Deep Space. As the internet developed and tape collections of his otherworldly radio shows could be shared more widely, his reputation went global.
Dale's sound has gone through phases of EBM, acid, industrial and gabber, alongside his trademark house and techno. These days, it's firmly in the realm of smooth and groovy tech house, eschewing the searing urgency of his early sound but spun with the technical prowess of someone now four decades in the game. He's released plenty of records and remixes over the years, but there's no doubting where Dale is at his best.
I visited the humble gentleman at his home in South London, ate some home-cooked jerk chicken and traced a path from his legendary radio years to his current sound, which Dale describes as the "perfect place."
Let's start with the technical questions. What's your current DJ setup and why?
A pair of Pioneer CDJ-2000 NXS2 and an Allen & Heath Xone:96. I'm a big fan of Allen & Heath mixers, just because I love the sound quality. I also have a Pioneer RMX-1000 and Eventide H9 Max for effects. I have a couple of turntables too, not that I use them much anymore.
When would you get the turntables out?
These days, pretty much never, to be honest. I find the CDJs much easier to use, I have all my library on there. I have tens of thousands of records in storage and it's costing me a lot of money. I should sell them, but I can't. Like the old photos, the records have a lot of history for me.
I was an early adopter of digital DJing. KISS FM were very on-speed with it, so that was the first place I had access, and I loved it. I love new technology and geeking out in general. If I can’t afford it, I love to read about it.
Do you ever find that CDJs make it too easy?
Well everything has gone that way as we have progressed with technology, like driving an automatic car. Maybe for some it's too easy, but for me it mainly makes it a lot more creative. When I was using vinyl, I was always concentrating on doing these perfect, on-point mixes, but with the CDJs I have the visual cues, the BPM and so on. I don't sync though! That takes the enjoyment out of it.
I'd been waiting for this technology for 20 years, thinking what it's going to be like. It's even further forward than I imagined.
How do you push yourself within these comfortable settings?
I use the effects for that, and also the CDJ's effects. You can get really creative, especially using Rekordbox to plan your sets with cues at the parts you want to mix. It's almost like remixing records on the fly.
Can you walk me through a typical transition?
Nowadays, I'm much more about a slow, long blend. Almost to the point that you can't hear one track going into the other. I like to take my time and let the tracks play out. If I want to tell a proper story, it shouldn't be rushed. This has always been a part of my style but more so since I've been into digital. It's not complicated, really.
You like to use the crossfader a lot, something I'd normally associate with quicker blends.
The Allen & Heath has a fantastic crossfader which is really gradual. If I'm doing long mixes with the crossfader and the up-and-down fader in unison, it helps to blend the tracks together. It's probably also a habit from my early days when I was cutting a lot.
You have been focused on 4/4 music for the majority of your career. Is there something about 4/4 kick drums that you love to mix?
That all stems from the music I was first introduced to when I started clubbing: disco. Very much like house music, it's four-to-the-floor and made for clubs. On a club system, I think 4/4 music sounds the best. It's simple but effective, that relentless beat. It's almost trance-like. You must have seen it before, when a track breaks down to just a kick drum on its own, people go nuts.
When you are asked to do old-school sets nowadays, aside from the different choice of music, do you go into it in a different technical mentality?
Yeah, definitely. I suppose mainly because the way a lot of those older tracks are made, you have to cut a lot more. The mixing style is more… frantic.
You're still big into a spinback in your house sets now.
It's one of my favourite things. I remember when Kevin Saunderson, Blake Baxter and Derrick May first came over to promote an album in the late '80s, and they were doing these mad spinbacks all the time. From then, I was hooked. Those guys were on that frantic tip, too, a lot of tricks and showmanship.
I’ve noticed that you like to flip the CDJ into reverse quickly too.
How did you use the three turntables together, back when you used to do that?
Most of the time, it would be one track, one locked groove, and one acapella. In clubs now, when there are three or four CDJs, I still use the extra ones in the same way.
Let's go back to the start. What was your first DJ setup?
It was a Citronic, with the two belt-driven turntables and mixer built into one unit. This was 1982, I think. Shortly after, I got a pair of Technics and a Rane mixer.
Tell me about your musical education.
I was just collecting records, since I was about 13, before I ever thought about being a DJ. I'd buy records at my local Woolworths. Then I got into doing pirate radio, community radio, hospital radio and that kind of thing.
I used to follow Paul "Trouble" Anderson, Steve Jackson and Gordon Mack to clubs all over London. Gordon started KISS FM and knew I had a good radio collection, so that's how that all kicked off.
I also worked at various record shops. I spent the most time at Mi Price Records in Croydon. It's kind of a famous record shop, especially in the tech house times, as a lot of people consider tech house to have come out of that shop and that area. My history is record shops, DJing and radio, they all tied in together.
What was the weekly process of doing the Abstrakt Dance radio show?
It was mainly just listening to a lot of music. I like to think that I had this ear for music which would sound good on radio, which was quite easy back then, as not a lot of people were playing house music on the radio.
A great thing about radio is that you're given so much music. I had access to a lot through working at the record shop but for the radio I was given so much new stuff, or stuff that's coming out in a month or two. Sometimes, I'd go down to KISS for the show and there would be people waiting for me outside with records.
At the time, KISS was very, very popular. I used to get nervous but with time started to relax more and found a niche for myself, which was important on a station with only dance music DJs. I wanted to do something a bit different, that's why I called it Abstrakt Dance. The show was quite loose, even in my techno days. It was the sound of everything put together, left-of-centre dance stuff and a section at the end, Outer Limits, where I played ambient, EBM, industrial, really dark, grimy stuff like Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy. No one else was doing that at the time. I couldn't really mix that cold, industrial stuff with techno in clubs, so I did it on the radio.
If you were always so keen on playing new music, what did you do with all the records people had given you?
I kept them. I used to have about 40,000 records, but I've cut it down a bit now. After a while, they became a pain. When I moved somewhere, I had to get a room, just for the records, and check that the floor could even take them.
How does it work with digital promos now?
I listen to them all. Even if I receive 100 emails of new music in a day, I will listen to every single one, even just for a few seconds. That's usually enough to tell if it's what I'm looking for. I play everything from deep house to the funkier side of techno now, so I'm looking for stuff in that whole, expansive spectrum.
Going back to the radio show, how did you find playing without anyone there in front of you?
The trick is to act like you're just talking to one listener, and then it becomes a lot easier. We always had a special guest as well, to get people involved. Sometimes I'd get on the phone and call up Juan Atkins or someone in Detroit, then when KISS got bigger and had a license, it became easy to get people down to the studio. If someone was in London, they'd come down. Prodigy, Laurent Garnier, Coxy, Aphex Twin. Everyone you can think of.
There's an amazing recording of you interviewing Underground Resistance online.
That was the hardest interview I've ever done. I think there were like 18 of them. They were all stood around the desk just looking at us. It was a little bit intimidating, all my heroes in one room. 'Mad' Mike, Suburban Knight, they were all there. It was one of the interviews I'm most proud of, too.
Was the interview and speaking side of the show as important as the music?
Yeah, it had to be informative. You could hear about everything happening in London.
The last ever Abstrakt Dance show is also on the internet. It's pretty emotional.
It was very emotional. I'd been going down there every week for 18 years. Prior to the last show, when KISS got their license, they changed dramatically and half the DJs, the specialist ones mainly, got sacked. I carried on for a couple more years but I could see the direction the station was going in and, honestly, that last show was me getting out before they likely got rid of me.
I felt like I had done everything I could there. It's not a decision I regret, and since then I haven't done much radio. It was just so good at that time, that any show I do now won't be the same. Now there are thousands of radio stations so I wouldn't hit anywhere near the same numbers.
How many people were tuning in at your peak on KISS?
Between 50,000 and 75,000.
Wow. How much would you feel that real-time engagement?
Not half as much as I could do now, as the internet hadn't come into play so much. People could just write messages or phone in, so it was more delayed. Now, all these years later, people tell me all the time that they used to listen and record all the shows to tape.
Radio has evolved into something else, a more interactive and often more visual experience.
Absolutely it has, but we started livestreaming the show on the internet in 1994. KISS had just got their license and kitted the studios out nicely. They had a webcam and an ISDN line in there for fast internet, which was really rare unless you're some top performing company. My producer Dave Rattray said one day that we could film the shows and put them on the internet. We did it for quite a while, a few years, but most people in the UK didn't have the internet speed to watch it. We mainly had dial-up internet here, but some people in Europe and the US could stream it. The visuals weren't very good, mind.