“You flat-assed mother******!”: the charming insult Derrick May aimed at Factory Records founder Tony Wilson during a heated argument in 1990 – but his retort wasn’t entirely unprovoked…

Over the past year or so, I’ve learnt there are two sides to Derrick May. There’s the nice side which will do anything to help you and couldn’t be kinder – this is a side he treats almost nobody to. Indeed, the only people who get to see this side are the ones he either really loves or the people who could help his career.

For everyone else, they get his nasty side. But this shouldn’t be news to anybody, because he’s been doing it since the start of his career. And back in 1990, he used the opportunity presented to him by an event in order to bring out this side of his personality.

The event was The New Music Seminar and the title of that day’s discussion was “Wake Up America, You’re Dead!”. Tony Wilson, the boss of Factory Records, was leading the discussion. May was present for the conversation, alongside Marshall Jefferson, Screamin’ Rachael Cain and a few others. A full account written at the time can be read here.

The discussion was meant to be about why America hadn’t got behind dance music in the way Britain and Europe did – despite the fact most of the records around in this period originated from the USA. A fair question – but the conversation quickly got bad tempered.

Derrick May conceded that dance music was gaining more traction in the UK than the USA, saying “In America, the club scene is in trouble and, yeah, in England you have the clubs and the people but you don’t necessarily have the DJs. It’s typical of the world, but your DJs are more or less followers – they’re very intimidated by playing anything new. Our DJs are technically better than yours”.

Tony Wilson took issue with this comment, saying “Bull****. Let’s talk about DJs right?’ says Wilson. ‘The Haçienda played Chicago seven nights ago, it was fine. We played Detroit six nights ago, it was a bunch of shit. Your Detroit DJs didn’t have one record that was made in the last fucking six months and they wouldn’t play one thing under 130 bpm”.

He finished by pointing out “they’re [Detroit DJs] all stick-in-the-muds and they should get themselves f***ed”, seemingly unaware that DJs from this city are happy to attack each other yet defend each other from attacks by outsiders. And May’s response?

“Guess what? None of us were there. We didn’t even show up for that. I don’t wanna dog you but if you want me to, I’ll dog you flat-assed mother******.”.

Not surprisingly, things descended further with more insults being hurled by each side. It ended with Jefferson and May leaving the stage, with the then-future boss of Trax Records farcically shouting at them, “Derrick! Marshall! Come on! Somebody’s gotta stand up for America!”.

Pretty much the only thing more farcical than reading it would have been to witness it. A source in Detroit who was actually there just described the day as “the most ridiculous s***”…