Stephen Allkins (AKA [Love] Tattoo) is considered by those who know him as dance-music royalty in Sydney. Delve a little into his long, long career and you start to understand why. He was dancing to disco before it was even called that as a teenager on the burgeoning gay scene in mid-’70s Darlinghurst.
Soon his passion for the music — and his growing record collection — led him to get behind the decks and take on a number of residencies. For decades afterwards, Allkins ruled as an innovator on his hometown scene — helping to break successive waves of crucial new sounds to the clubbing masses both gay and straight, from garage to electro and post-punk to house.
At the turn of the millennium, Allkins applied his long experience to finally producing his own tracks as [Love] Tattoo. Beginning with 1999's History of Disco on Pete Tong’s Essential imprint, Allkins’ output led to a series of hit records, wider recognition on the international stage, and a 2001 Dance Music Award for Outstanding Contribution to Dance in Australia. He’s now happily semi-retired, playing just a few times a year — including next week at Soul of Sydney’s “disco boogie block party” with Dutch funkmeister Marcel Vogel.
As an expat I had a lot to learn about Allkins’ 35 years of moving bodies on the dancefloors of Sydney, so I jumped at the chance to talk to him in person. The warm, gregarious and wryly funny Allkins sat down with me in his Darlinghurst flat one afternoon and, with hardly any prompting, proceeded to spin one fascinating tale after another about the early days.
His enthusiasm for nightlife and music of all kinds is infectious — and his knowledge of classic records is encyclopaedic. But it’s not mere nostalgia — his reminiscences are filled with eerily sharp and clear glimpses of what the music meant to not only a city but a world exploding with cultural, political and sexual awareness.