A period of fevered excitement would then commence for the next few weeks, dominating your daily affairs, giving you the shivers at completely inappropriate times, becoming the main topic of virtually every conversation between you and your fellow Lost acolytes. It would all culminate in the night itself, which would somehow not only meet but exceed your expectations, seemingly blowing pretty much every other life experience up to that point out of the water.
Then, a week or so later, that letter would hit the doormat once again—and it would all begin again.
While Lost wasn't the only London club event pushing the emerging sounds of pure techno at the start of the '90s—Open All Hours at The Ministry of Sound, Vapourspace at the Fridge and Final Frontier at Club UK also have a valid claim to that murky accolade, even though no one seems to quite agree on the details—it's undeniable that Lost was by far the most important and influential of them all. It's also the only one that's still going, some twenty years on. Created by Steve Bicknell and Sheree Rashit in 1991, Lost marked its territory from the start by steering clear of obvious, purpose-built nightclub spots, and opting instead for studios, railway arches, warehouses—the darker, sweatier and grimier, the better. But of at least equal importance was their single-minded devotion to an area of underground electronic music that simply hadn't had a dedicated UK home up until that point.
"We'd done a couple of parties together previous to that, and it came to a point where we sort of decided 'let's do something'," recalls Bicknell. "But I remember thinking if we do this, I want it to be this [style of] music, and that it would have to be in certain kinds of spaces, and those things would be our stamp. We certainly didn't foresee it still going 20 years later—it was something no one else was doing, we didn't know if anyone else was interested, but we still had to do it."
Not all went entirely to plan.
"Richie was gonna play but we got closed at two in the morning, because it was all around the time of the IRA bombings in London and there had been a bomb alert. We were just unfortunate. Truthfully, it wasn't 100% correct—it wasn't 100% legal—so they had the power to tell us to stop. Richie wasn't playing until about four or five, and we were closed down at two, we had to sit and in an empty studio—it was before mobile phones, so we couldn't let him know—we had to sit and wait for him. He turned up and we hadn't met him before—I can't imagine what he thought of us—he just turned up and we were like 'erm, yes, it's closed.' But he was alright about it. It just meant that we decided from then, if we're to do it, it needs to be legal. If we're gonna fly people over, we can't afford anything to go wrong."
Despite this insistence upon fully licensed events, Lost nonetheless invariably felt, back then, like it existed on the hinterland of legitimacy, deep below the burgeoning slickness of megaclub culture or the bloated cartoon character that rave had started to become. Combining raw, unadorned spaces with excellent soundsystems and often-exclusive performances from up to four or five techno deities on one single night, it made for a truly intoxicating proposition; the ultimate techno ideal of a dark, dank, secret space, a roaring crowd of passionate, knowledgeable likeminds, and music that felt like it was being beamed down from another galaxy.
"They were always licensed," says Sheree of Lost's obscure and often dramatically lo-fi venues. "They may have looked, or been perceived not be, but they were always licensed. It was lots of work—often meeting police and fire brigades in order to get those licenses. Local authorities actually worked with us in spaces, mainly through people we knew—and they would understand that we weren't about wrecking the space or something, we wanted people to be safe."
Musically, though, the formative Lost parties were anything but safe. Word quickly spread through the global ranks about a unique, dedicated techno event in London, and within a year the scene's great and good were seemingly queuing up to play. Shows from Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Dan Curtin, Daniel Bell, Stacey Pullen, Laurent Garnier, Sven Vath, and Miss Djax, as well as homegrown talents like Luke Slater, Dave Angel and Mark Broom followed, largely taking place during the early years in Brixton's Vox club. It was here that Lost really started to make an impact on the ears of some of today's most venerated techno players.
techno, period." – Oliver Ho
"If you were into techno you just knew about Lost," says James Ruskin, who first encountered the event as a wide-eyed punter on New Year's Eve, 1992. "I think I spent the first hour with my jaw on the floor in amazement. I'd been buying the records, but at that time there were very few places to go and hear them played in the right environment. Everything seemed to come together and make a lot more sense to me after that." Oliver Ho experienced a similar rite of passage: "The first party I went to was with Carl Craig and Steve Bicknell, in the early '90s. It totally blew my mind hearing Detroit and Chicago techno—it had so much dirt and evil funk compared to the stuff I'd previously heard. Lost is the reason I make techno, period."
By 1994 Lost had set up a semi-permanent home at the Southwark Street arches, allowing for monthly events over three separate rooms, or "spaces" as they were termed—"red" for the strong stuff, "blue" for housier or less abrasive gear and "purple" for experimental sounds. Meanwhile, UK techno was concurrently coalescing into forms that easily matched the imagination and impact of their American forebears, with a loose circle of producers including Steve Stasis, Mark Broom, Andrea Parker, Bandulu and many more circulating around the legendary FatCat record store in Soho.
The blue and purple spaces, usually hosted by many of that scene's key artists, soon became mini-events in their own right, with crews turning up solely to hear everything from Mixmaster Morris's epic excursions into abstract electronics, to Patrick Pulsinger's wayward techno house, to the increasingly complex experiments of artists like The Black Dog, Autechre and Anthony 'Shake' Shakir. "Steve and Sheree were very friendly, kind and laidback," explains Ed Handley from Plaid, who first appeared at Lost during his stint in Spanners-era Black Dog. "They were not your average promoters. The party always had an intensity and clarity without being intimidating."
For the majority of the many thousands who passed through the event's doors during the first half of the '90s, however, Lost was at its root all about one thing—heavy, intense, Detroit-inspired techno of the highest order. Simultaneously, one of Lost's occasional and soon-to-be seminal guests was building up a serious head of steam outside of his Detroit home scene, creating tales of almost mythological performances that had started to spread beyond techno's pre-internet specialist circles. It all seemed to come together at the right time.
"We were basically just getting in contact with people who were putting out records we liked," says Bicknell, "and that's how we contacted Jeff Mills—we looked at the sleeve of one of his records and phoned up....The first time he played, the most memorable track he played that night was 'Can You Feel It.' And from the way everything came about, the way it all lead into that, I knew then he was special. And he is—he's a true artist for sure."
It heralded the start of a close working partnership between Mills and Lost, who became a regular guest at the club and remains so to this day. It's clear that for most attendees, Mills represents the heart of Lost more than any other DJ (excepting Bicknell himself), as proved time after time by the deafening crowd noise that announces his arrival, as well as every thunderous drop, mix and cut that emanates from his flickering hands. To this day, countless established DJs and scene veterans still struggle to describe their own rush excitement at seeing Mills turn up to unleash his fury on the Lost crowds of the era, with many lifelong passions and fruitful techno careers sealed forever as a result of his awe-inspiring performances. Over the years Mills has chosen Lost as the launch pad for numerous projects, from the aforementioned Axis and Basic Channel parties through to an event dedicated entirely to the inescapable Lost anthem "The Bells."
And while there have been inevitable grumbles over the years from online commentators who have felt that Mills' Lost ubiquity and occasionally unsurprising track selections have been at the expense of breaking new talent at the party—something Bicknell and Rashit vehemently deny—it would be hard to imagine a more suitable home, in London or anywhere else, for techno's grand wizard.
"It was kind of an unconscious consciousness that saw us working with Jeff so often," offers Rashit. "We were thinking similarly and we were able to work in a specific way—we had lots to talk about, and we really did appreciate what he was doing. He's an excellent musician. Some people—maybe his projects aren't right for them. But I like the way his mind works, it's right for us."
Between 1996 and 2006, Lost continued to consolidate its efforts, decreasing in frequency but delivering more unforgettable events, often held in the gargantuan warehouses of the capital's industrial Docklands region. The pair also developed their Cosmic and Clubtracks labels—with Bicknell's own numerous releases on the imprints still holding up as fine examples of pure, powerful, gimmick-free minimal techno to this day. Over time, the pair kicked off a series of sister events, including the tribal-oriented Burundi at The End, the more abstract Chiaroscuro parties at various locations, and their current Spacebase parties at Plastic People, designed to give Bicknell and guests a platform for music that works beyond the demands of the Lost main stage. In 2007, however, after some sixteen years on the underground frontline, Bicknell and Rashit put Lost proper on a temporary hiatus.
"It just snowballed," explains Bicknell. "Sixteen years sounds a long time, but it wasn't a long time to us because we were so busy. There was no time to stand back and reflect. Fast forward sixteen years, and I stood back and reflected on where it was all going; techno was accelerating to somewhere else I didn't wanna be. It was becoming very aggressive, very harsh, and I can remember a number of times playing in Spain, thinking almost I was playing R&B by comparison. That's where it was going—so we decided to stop. People can become complacent if it's there. So we stopped, and for one or two years we had a break."
The pause was broken last December, however, with the return of both Lost and Mills, whose Sleeper Wakes project took the unusual step of having both DJs on the night performing on the floor. "Two years doesn't sound long, but as the party was getting closer, I was getting nervous and I never really get nervous," admits Bicknell. "I was thinking, 'God, we haven't done something like this for two years...' We weren't sure how people would take it—or even if they would be interested. You can just be out of it for too long. Jeff was doing Sleeper Wakes, and during the day he was like, 'would you play on the floor'? And I was like, 'I don't mind, yeah, alright.' I thought it might be strange, but it was like being at home—with a few more people in the room. Actually, sitting down, you present it differently. And with techno, and peoples' perceptions of it and that stuff, it helped me relax more in to playing a more mature sound, I'd say. Probably because I'm older! But it's different now... It went better than expected actually—I was happy."
for the music. There's no
posing, posturing and trying
to look cool." – Andrea Parker
With "three or four" events planned this year—plus a potentially very exciting release project that is currently strictly under wraps—it appears Lost will continue pushing on indefinitely. Techno has changed immensely over the course of 20 years, and no one is claiming that an event like Lost can have the same pioneering impact it once did—at least, not in the same seemingly universal way. But with strong foundations, set in no small part by Bicknell and Rashit's still-unsurpassed events, the genre has perhaps reached a stage of maturity that allows it to reflect on itself at a less hectic pace of development—to look forward, while being respectful of its now-rich history, and to take risks where necessary, while staying true to its original musical aims. In short, techno more widely now seems to be aiming to replicate what Lost has been doing all along.
As Andrea Parker, another long-term collaborator, notes: "At Lost, everyone is just there for the music. There's no posing, posturing and trying to look cool, everything that makes all of the so-called mainstream nights so bland and boring. Lost have always stuck close to their roots, while always pushing out new music. They haven't fallen into the trap of going mainstream and commercial, jumping on the genre bandwagon and doing what everyone else is doing. That's why they have such loyal fans who have been there from the start, and who still go there now. That's what makes it special."