- 21 Jun 23
Ahead of his Block Rockin’ Beats show at Dublin’s Fairview Park, we sit down with DJ Dec Pierce as he launches new dance label 95 Records with Rubyworks.
The name Declan Pierce usually brings to mind Block Rockin' Beats, and for good reason. The hit ‘90s dance show has become a cult favourite since it launched on the Today FM airwaves six years ago, following the DJ’s career launch at Pulse FM.
Getting his start gigging in Dublin clubs and presenting on the cult pirate radio station, Pierce’s devotion to dance music’s escapism is sacrosanct. Hot Press quizzed the ever-affable Dec on his 95 Records, his new label with Rubyworks; Irish dance acts to watch; and collaborating with Lea Heart and Italian producer Federico Di Giambattista to revamp S.P.Q.R’s ‘Hypnotic State’.
Do you remember when you first fell in love with dance music?
I’ve always loved electronic music. I became fascinated as a kid with instrumental versions of pop songs in the late ‘80s. I’d buy a 12” record by any artist if it had an instrumental, just so I could listen to the beats and arrangement of the track without lyrics clouding it.
I was obsessed with ‘Axel F’ by Harold Faltermeyer and Stock Aitken & Waterman pop tunes. Then I swiftly got deeper into electronic rave music – we got a taste of the UK rave scene from pirate stations like Sunset FM or Club FM. DJs and producers like SL2, The Prodigy, Altern8, Sound Crowd, 4th Dimension, Westbam and Carl Cox really captured my imagination.
It all felt underground. I was too young to go raving, so I created my own little world in my bedroom or my mate’s house, listening to pirate radio and dreaming of my first rave.
How did you learn how to DJ?
I borrowed decks from a friend and jumped in at the deep end. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but I took gigs from friends. I borrowed CDs and records from my best mate. I saved money from the gigs and eventually bought my own full DJ set-up, and built a private space in my parents’ attic to play tracks.
I didn’t care how my mixes sounded once people enjoyed the music I was playing. I was a shy kid, but behind the decks I felt like a superhero! It was a complete alter-ego. When I saw the happiness music gave to people, I was hooked.
Who is your favourite artist to remix?
Everyone knows I’m obsessed with The Prodigy and Liam Howlett, who is an absolute musical genius. I try to focus on my own style, but with Liam I am in total awe of his work.
What are your favourite memories of working with Pulse FM?
Pulse FM was the biggest dance music pirate radio station in Ireland in the ‘90s. We only broadcast to the Dublin area, we had legal stations rattled. We used to host gigs in the city and each night was jammed – getting a ticket was like gold dust.
Our early days were the best. We started in 1995 in a garden shed in Clontarf and it was just pure magic. The studios became a place to hang out and spend a full day – we played dance music when no legal station would touch it. One of the biggest nights of the Pulse FM era was a gig we ran in the Temple Theatre in Dublin in 1998.
The gig was broadcast live on Pulse FM and it became the night when ‘Maniac’ went viral! Mark McCabe did the rap over it and for some reason everyone became obsessed with it. The rest is history. Pulse became a training ground for some of the best DJs in Ireland. Working with names like John Power, Al Gibbs, Connor G, Steve K, Tony Dixon… the list goes on.
Who are the best underground radio hosts, stations and DJs right now?
Some DJs here are setting the scene on fire and creating a new dance music legacy within Irish culture. Names like Jen Payne, Nancy Live, Jay Cullen, Ryan Ennis, Kaycee and Jazzy. I’m listening to Obskur, Ryan Ennis, Welshy, John Gibbons, Shane Codd and Nancy Live. One of my favourite DJs and producers in Ireland over the past five years is Robbie G.
Robbie G forms one half of Belters Only, but he is in his own right one of the finest producers I’ve ever seen. His solo work, music with Belters Only, and live sets are simply stunning. He’s going right to the very top at an alarming rate and nobody will stop him. Look at Jazzy’s latest track and the Irish #1 ‘Giving Me’ as an example of what’s happening in the dance music scene in Ireland. RobbieG was one of the producers on that chart smash.
I got sent Jazzy’s track months ago and I knew it was going to be massive for her. It’s infectious. But most importantly, Jazzy is a great person who deserves all the success that is coming her way. What a talent she is – DJ, vocalist, producer: the sky is the limit.
Will Belters Only stand the test of time?
They’re about to go to the next level – producing hit after hit and now working with some some of the biggest names in the game, like Sonny Fodera and Jax Jones. Also keep an eye on Jen Payne. These acts know who they are and work endlessly building a fanbase by gigging.
Why did Rubyworks feel that the timing was right in 2023 for 95 Records?
It was a mutual thing. We met backstage at Indiependence festival last summer in Cork and got chatting about what I was doing with Block Rockin Beats, and how I felt the dance scene was on fire here at the moment. I get sent demos weekly from incredibly talented producers, but some have no direction or guidance.
We hope to nurture new and existing producers and DJs. We have a wonderful team behind the scenes at 95 that can support artists to achieve global success. I couldn’t do this on my own. Rubyworks gives this project serious potential.
‘Hypnotic State’ by S.P.Q.R. first saw the light of day on an obscure Irish label in 1993. Where did the collaboration with Lea Heart originate from?
“I wanted to get ‘Hypnotic State’ released properly with modern production and mixing. The only versions available were really poor quality vinyl or YouTube uploads. When I found Federico we needed a beautiful vocalist.
I knew Lea Heart through her manager, Sarah, who is one of my best friends over 25 years. Lea did us a demo and that demo became the version Federico used on the track. He loved her voice on his song! The vocals actually brought him to tears. He got emotional. This was how he always wanted the song to sound.
How did you convince Federico di Giambattista to redo the original song?
Once I located Federico in Rome, I convinced him to get back into the studio by showing him a video of us performing ‘Hypnotic State’ at Cork Opera House. He couldn’t believe the Irish public still loved his tune! 1200 people in the crowd singing the song he wrote 30 years ago. He has fond memories of gigs in Ireland around 1993 and visiting Abbey Discs record store.
What are your hopes for the future of 95 Records?
My priority is helping talent to grow. I’ve spent decades working in the music industry and I want to pass on what I’ve learnt to new and established artists.
What is the greatest dance anthem of all time?
Bedrock’s ‘For What You Dream Of’. This masterpiece featured on the Trainspotting soundtrack and it’s aged stunningly. I’ve also a lifelong love of The Visions Of Shiva’s ‘Perfect Day’. I was blessed to grow up in the club scene of the ‘90s. We were spoilt for choice.
‘Hypnotic State’ featuring Lea Heart is out now. Dec Pierce’s Block Rockin Beats comes to Dublin’s Fairview Park on June 24.
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