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TESTAMENT: Reliving the Nostalgia of the 90s + 2000s with International Acts and Iconic Rave Stars

4 August 2023 | 11:12 am | Cyclone Wehner

"The late '90s and early 2000s were an incredible time in the history of music, representing possibly the last era when genuinely new forms of music emerged and grew to a global scale to become pop music."

Orbital, Barbara Tucker + Freq Nasty

Orbital, Barbara Tucker + Freq Nasty (Supplied)

The big trend in pop culture is nostalgia. It even transcends generation, with Zoomers reminiscing about halcyon eras they never directly experienced – especially the '80s and '90s.

While dance music is cross-generational, it, too, has been swept along. And now that nostalgia has come for the 2000s – the immediate past. 

This month the retro event Testament – launched in tandem with 2021's Vivid Sydney as a homegrown celebration of Ministry Of Sound's 30th anniversary – is touring nationally.

Headlining the two-day blockbuster are international acts like the New York house queen Barbara Tucker, Detroit techno combo Inner City, Orbital's Phil Hartnoll and English house DJ (and INXS remixer) Tall Paul, all repping '90s rave, and then the masked Italian electro renegade Bloody Beetroots, German indie-dancers Digitalism, and the breaks triumvirate Stanton Warriors, FreQ Nasty and Skool Of Thought revisiting 2000s' clubland. 

Inner City's billing is symbolic – the cherished outfit epitomising intergenerational reinvention. Kevin Saunderson, one of the Detroit techno 'godfathers', began the group in the late '80s with Chicago vocalist Paris Grey. They blew up globally with 1988's Big Fun, followed by Good Life (since sampled on Rihanna's leaked Bubble Pop). 

In 2019, Inner City belatedly marked their 30th anni. Yet Saunderson, who coincidentally mentored Marc "MK" Kinchen in the late '80s, also rebooted the group, bringing in his son Dantiez and frontwoman Steffanie Christi'an. They announced a new phase with a comeback album, We All Move Together – DJ/actor/legend Idris Elba a guest. 

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Meanwhile, Inner City teamed with the Dutchman Armin van Buuren for the track It Could Be – an exchange unthinkable in the tribal '90s, when house and techno purists spurned trance.

"My vision for Inner City is not just to be an influential group of the past, but to become a group of today and look to the future," Saunderson said in a presser. Kevin and Dantiez will DJ as Inner City at Testament.


Collective nostalgia prevailed in the COVID-19 pandemic – people remembering happier, and more carefree, times. Only it's continued in the aftermath, with many seeking escapism amid economic gloom. Like dance music, nostalgia is often communal – and restorative. And there's comfort in familiarity. Decade-themed parties promise a social experience in a psychologically safe space.

It's no coincidence, either, that, evoking the 2000s' nu-disco and re-edit crazes, disco albums from Dua Lipa (cleverly entitled Future Nostalgia), Lady Gaga, Jessie Ware, Róisín Murphy and Kylie Minogue were so popular. During isolation, Sophie Ellis-Bextor similarly went viral with her virtual Kitchen Disco Live shows on Instagram.

Generally, nostalgia has surged in the digital era – consumers (re)discovering archival music on social media (latterly TikTok) or streaming services.

Though techno is obviously identified with technology and futurism, house is inherently nostalgic – the music references the bygone via samples, remixes and remakes. Ironically, the recently retired Daft Punk have been branded a homage.

Still, dance is cyclical – time, like the music, on a loop with successive revivals. Most trends since the '90s were reduxes – with big beat borrowing from early hip-hop, electroclash ironising the '80s, and nu-rave amplifying acid house. Today, nostalgia is the province of the curator. Sentimentality lends itself to aesthetification, a preoccupation in contemporary pop. 

The New Zealand breakbeat stalwart FreQ Nasty (aka Darin McFadyen) intuits the dynamics of nostalgia in dance music.

"I think it is a good thing, but also comes with its drawbacks," he says over email. "This phenomenon extends beyond music and is heavily influenced by social media's need for quick content creation. The current culture prioritises remixing, mashing up, and breaking down existing content into easily digestible forms to keep audiences engaged on various platforms. It's a very quick and cheap –and often illegal, from a copyright perspective – way to keep 'content' flowing.

"With more people spending increasing amounts of time on social media, the attention economy and algorithmic gate holders have reassembled the way we create and ingest culture over the past decade or so.

"Younger generations who missed the initial experiences of past musical movements can now connect with them through these remixes and mash-ups – which is a good thing. This allows those who were too young or not geographically connected to a scene to experience these musical movements retroactively. But it's also making the creation of genuinely groundbreaking genres in the mainstream less likely… Things have shifted fundamentally – and nostalgia is not what it used to be."

The nostalgia industry has flourished as ravers mature, orchestral renditions of dance anthems fashionable – arena concerts family-friendly, but likewise validating for a subculture once considered ephemeral. Punters invest in retrospectives.

Some dance music artists resist the 'heritage' descriptor, associating it with ageism – rampant in wider entertainment. But, unlike pop, rock and even hip-hop, dance is fluid. Carl Cox just turned 60 – and is still a top DJ.

In dance, nostalgia is frequently about authenticity – paradoxically a reaction to over-commercialisation. Nevertheless, media commentators have bemoaned that recycling, arguing it's reproductive or regressive and broaches overkill – preventing innovation and progression. 

In times of flux, nostalgia may be healing – but it's restorative in another way. The impact of digitisation, and social media, have meant that narratives are fragmented – history is distorted or erased. But nostalgia allows for lost histories to resurface, ensuring greater recognition of the marginalised. Lineage is important to Black music traditions and retrospection enables both cultural preservation and reclaiming.

"Understanding the history of music holds significance for us all in terms of cultural attribution," McFadyen says. "Knowing the influences behind the music we love can offer a deeper appreciation for the art form and the artists themselves and encourage a richer understanding of the marginalised communities that actually nurtured and incubated the music before it went mainstream." 


Recently, there's been discourse about the role of Black women in dance music – the release of Beyoncé's RENAISSANCE, a paean to '90s house, accompanied by think pieces on marginalisation and whitewashing.

As the Queen of House, Barbara Tucker – heading Testament's Session One – is among the women who made RENAISSANCE possible. Does Tucker feel that she has received her flowers?

"I've been here for 38 years – and I am gonna be honest, I don't think that I have all of my flowers," she laughs. "I have a couple of flowers here and there, but I don't have the bouquet… It's okay – I'm gonna keep on singing and doing what I do and the world will see; people will see."

The Brooklyn native spends summers in Ibiza – and it is from the Balearic Isle where she's Zooming after a late-night virtual prayer circle (She's active in the church, serving as a deaconess.)

Tucker didn't envisage herself trailing her father, Jayotis Washington of The Persuasions, in becoming a performer.

"I never wanted to sing," she reveals. "I wasn't that little girl in the mirror at eight, 10 or even 15 years old still in the mirror with a brush – 'I wanna be a star and I'm singing and dancing…' No, I wanted to be a flight attendant or a gym teacher – that's what I wanted to do." But Tucker recognised that she had a gift – her vocation assigned by a higher power.

Tucker's mother, from a long line of ministers, determined that Tucker be productive. "She didn't want me hanging out on the streets. So, after school, she would send me to theatre school or to dance school or something like that. But, still, I didn't say, 'Oh, when I get out, I'm going to be an actress, I'm gonna be a dancer, I'm gonna be a singer.' It was just something that I was doing. What they were teaching me was coming naturally to me." In fact, Tucker's career started "by accident": she was spotted dancing in a club, leading to choreography work.

In 1994 Tucker, an occasional sessionist, unveiled the first of her house classics, Beautiful People – helmed by Masters At Work. The star styled herself – designing the ensembles. "As house artists, no, we're not Mary J [Blige] or Beyoncé," Tucker quips. She lent her gospel tones to David Guetta's early Give Me Something, now a deep cut.

Tucker expanded into theatre, acting in nine off-Broadway plays. In later years she's performed with Cerrone, referring to the Frenchman as "the King of Disco." "He's an amazing man – amazing artistry." 

Beloved by LGBTQIA+ communities, Tucker last visited Australia for 2018's "wonderful" Mardi Gras – celebrating its 40th year with Cher another guest. However, Testament is one of two retro-themed parties in her calendar – Tucker is also appearing at Children Of The 80s in Ibiza in September.

The diva believes that such events provide "quality fun". And she figures that younger audiences have been exposed to vintage music at home. "Maybe their mothers or fathers are around playing that music still." Above all, the events uplift punters. "People want hope," Tucker ponders. "These songs are fun – most of the songs are of hope."

Tucker is occasionally wistful. "My nostalgic time is the '70s, 'cause I love those types of songs: again, more melodic, more bands are there, there's more funk… I came up with bands and choirs and trios and groups. So I love that. The vocalist could sing, all the bands sound different, they all have their unique sounds – and it was so much fun. The costume… 

"So, when you get here, it's almost a repeat. It's a repeat in a different form. They may repeat the song, but it might just be in a track form. So it's interesting. I'm happy to have lived that. I'm happy to live then – and I'm happy to live now. We'll see what the Creator has for me for the next season."

Tucker's signature Beautiful People has since been remixed – Floorplan (Detroit's Robert Hood and daughter Lyric) turning it into 2018's techno banger. Mind, Tucker is as much an artist of the present. She has just issued the disco-house throwback Head Up High with UK DJ Jason Herd for his fledgling label Bohemian Disco – and she'll have choice remixes by Chicago's Emmaculate and Deep Soul Syndicate on her own B Star Music Group.

"It's easy to put out tracks – click, click, click, click, click – but, when you can put out house songs with live instrumentation on it, it's so beautiful and it will stand the test of time. We wanna make sure that, when we're gone, our songs can be played when we're gone – the legacy continues in the spirit."

In the late '90s, Tucker conceived a supergroup, The B Crew – and she's "revived" the project with new vocalists, airing Music Remedy (produced by Destiny's Child remixer Maurice Joshua) ahead of an EP, RISN. "I like to produce other artists, I like to write for artists, so much writing – because there's so much expression in me. I can't do it all, but I can form groups and sing through them and have fun with that." Plus Tucker is preparing a solo album, Ascension.

Beyond her own musical endeavours, Tucker is committed to mentoring others – an extension of her ministry. "You have a lotta artists selling their soul – I'm gonna say it, there are a lot of artists selling their soul," she says. "A lotta artists are hungry for the fame and the fortune or even the sex." Additionally, Tucker is chronicling her journey in a forthcoming book, Barbara Tucker, Queen Of House Music, How Did I Get Here? – part memoir and part motivational tome.

The generous Tucker will span her repertoire at Testament. "I will mainly be doing the classics, [but] I will hope they let me squeeze in at least Head Up High – it would only be right!"


Brit myth-makers Orbital could be the original UK electronica supergroup. But the outfit was a serendipitous product of the rave underground. Formed by brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll, they had a fluke crossover hit with 1989's ambi-house Chime – created in a closet at their parents' house. 

Five years on, Orbital memorably performed live at Glastonbury. "I've never thought about, or hoped, what my legacy in music would be," Phil says via email. "[But] I will say that, indirectly, Orbital's appearance at the 1994 Glastonbury did show Michael Eavis, in his own words, that electronic bands are good for Glastonbury and helped turn Glastonbury onto dance music. [I'm] pretty happy with that." They'd return to the festival, once staging their reinterpretation of the Doctor Who theme in cahoots with actor Matt Smith.

The acid house timelords have broken up and reunited twice. They last toured Australia together in 2019, playing the long-standing Melbourne rave tribute Belfast named for another anthem.

In 2023, Orbital are cannily simultaneously trading on their impressive discography and airing relevant new music. Indeed, the duo have welcomed the reissue boom in dance music – vinyl sales spiking.

In 2022, they commemorated their 30th anniversary with the (delayed) compilation package 30 Something – Orbital's classics reimagined. But, in February, they presented their tenth studio album, Optical Delusion, collaborating with Sleaford Mods on the punk single Dirty Rat. The LP entered the UK Top 10 and Phil cites it as one of his favourites. And Orbital have more music in the pipeline.

"We are working on the next studio album at the moment and working with our record label Because [Music] on reissuing all the back catalogue, starting with the [1991] Green and [1993] Brown albums for early next year."

Surprisingly, Phil isn't perturbed at Orbital being perceived as a 'heritage' act, rather deeming it "a honour." If anything, they are an epoch unto themselves. In 2020 Orbital notably remixed a contemporary Australian rock band in DMA'S – transforming Life Is A Game Of Changing, which Phil "really enjoyed." "It came about by meeting the guys from the record label at a Joris Voorn album launch party in London one night – one thing led to another." 

The veteran gets, too, why younger people might be into older dance music.

"My guess would be that whenever one gets turned onto any style of music, it's a natural curiosity to research the origins of that style." Still, he doesn't feel it necessary for them to know the context. "It's only important to the individual to know the history if they are curious," Phil says. "Moreover, with the digital age it is so much easier now to check out bands – and music – than ever before, which is a great thing."

Phil maintains his ardour for music DJing. "My passion for music is what keeps me alive – searching, listening to new music for the love of it, driven by my love of DJing out; looking for those tunes that I can't wait to play." At Testament, he'll raid the memory vaults. "I'm going to play some Orbital classics with a twist to them, spattered with some of my favourite tracks from that time."


In the '90s Fatboy Slim popularised big beat, becoming an implausible pop star. Around the same time, an alternative hybridised breaks movement exploded in the UK, with Adam Freeland its pioneer. Nu-skool breaks was especially successful in Australia. In fact, Aussies claimed the Kiwi FreQ Nasty, DJing Testament's Session Two.

The DJ/producer commenced his career in late '90s London, then living in a squat. But, though a key player in nu-skool breaks (with a DJ residency at Fabric), McFadyen was always leftfield. 

"Indeed, I was associated with the nu-skool breaks scene – which was highly creative during the late '90s and early 2000s until around 2005 or 2006," he agrees. "The scene encompassed a variety of sounds and influences, including heavy reggae and jungle variants, techno influences, and beats with live instrumentation. 

"However, with the easy distribution of music on the Internet just coming online for the majority of people, and the influence of the pop audience, there was an explosion of remixes and bootlegs that solidified the sound around a specific dancefloor aesthetic with a less progressive outlook. This shift made it less appealing to me. If you listen to my early releases, they were a bit weird and diverse and didn't easily fall into one sound or scene – they didn't adhere to a singular format."

In 1999 McFadyen established himself as a producer with a banging debut single, Boomin' Back Atcha (featuring Phoebe One) – subsequently dropping the album FreQ's, Geeks & Mutilations. Significantly, he'd co-produce Santigold's 2008 break-out Creator alongside Switch. 

McFadyen has resided for over a decade now in Los Angeles – revelling in its counterculture and proximity to Nevada's Burning Man festival where he's played iconic DJ sets. "The London weather became intolerable with its seemingly endless winters and lack of proper summers," he admits.

Philosophical on retromania, McFadyen also feels "completely fine" about his status as a heritage artist. "The late '90s and early 2000s were an incredible time in the history of music, representing possibly the last era when genuinely new forms of music emerged and grew to a global scale to become pop music. 

"Most of today's popular music either draws inspiration from past eras or twists existing genres into mash-ups without creating anything genuinely new. Due to the recycling of sounds, there is less emphasis in popular culture on creating something genuinely new, and more emphasis on mashing up something old to trip the algorithm of the platform you are releasing on and the social media platform you are promoting on. So, yeah, I am absolutely content being associated with a golden chapter of genuine underground creativity going global."

McFadyen isn't sentimental himself. "I experience the emotional joys and sorrows and their musical associations, but I wouldn't describe myself as particularly nostalgic. As an underground artist, I have learned the importance of moving forward and embracing change – it's something that every artist has to grapple with. 

"The late '90s and 2000s were an incredible time that brought me great joy, but my role in the electronic music movement was also driven by a lot of angst, a desire for approval, and the need to perform in front of large audiences to gain the affirmation needed to feed my neurotic view of the world. I'm still wildly neurotic, but I have a better sense of who I am and why and so find myself less concerned about the past and more focussed on the present – which makes for a happier FreQ Nasty!" 

In later years McFadyen has explored South Asian philosophies – combining yoga with music, starting the vehicle Dub Kirtan All Stars, and joining "the transformational festival scene" advanced by Wanderlust. The DJ has organically repositioned himself, while presaging discussions about self-care, wellness and mindfulness in EDM circles. 

"My journey into meditation and yoga was driven by a desire to find balance within myself amid the chaos of the music scene and constant travel as a DJ," he says. "The music industry's unbalanced and exhausting lifestyle, along with an industry inhabited by amazing, unique and mostly neurotic individuals trying to self-medicate with music and other substances – I include myself in that category – made grounding and centring crucial as a survival tactic."

McFadyen's set at Testament will defy any temporality, the DJ previewing it "as a return to my roots, but with a 2020s twist – a blend of breakbeat and garage, which is what I was initially known for." But he'll slip in current tunes inspired by '90s and 2000s experimentation. "In recent years, I've noticed a resurgence of interest from younger producers who are now embracing breakbeat again, along with the weirder strains of new leftfield garage music."

For McFadyen, musical nostalgia is arriving full circle. "I really want to create a sense of excitement for those who were part of the scene during that time, and introduce newer audiences to sounds they might not have heard before; [take them on] a journey through the evolution of these genres and on into the future. I'm stoked to share my vibe with longtime fans who were there when it all began and those who may be discovering it for the first time!"