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Author: droid

DJ, Producer, Soundbwoy, Nerd, Professional Moaner

Tango Interview

(Droid sez): Despite my outrageous truancy, Pete has given me another chance and generously allowed me back in to post this interview I did with Tango when he was in Dublin a couple of years ago. Big ups to the indomitable Ricky Force who allowed me to crash a production session in his mountaintop mansion for a couple of hours to harass the man himself, and obvious thanks to Tango, stalwart of Formation records from it’s inception, and one of the most prolific and successful remixers of jungle/hardcore.

So without further ado…

Tango
Tango, © Lette Moloney 2013

So, are you originally from Leicester?

No, originally from Kent.  Born in Bromley, brought up in South East London, Lewishsam; then moved to Berkshire and then Kent. I’ve been living in the midlands since 1985.

How did you get involved in the Hardcore and Rave scene?

I was already producing Hip Hop type stuff anyway.  Then a mate of mine took me out to Shelly’s in Stoke-on-Trent.  And that was that basically.

When was that?

1991 or ’92 I think.

So you were producing music before you were raving?

Yeah, yeah.  I’ve been messing around with stuff since about ‘88 or ’89.

What inspired you to get into production in the first place?

Into production?  My Dad’s a musician.  He was an acoustic guitarist.  He had stuff like a keyboard and sequencer and I kind of got into it from there.

So no background in Soundsystems in London then?

No, I was a DJ even before that anyway, I just used to play Hip Hop. But with my Dad still having all that musical equipment around, I wanted to have a go with it and went from there really.

Can you give us a quick run down of that production setup – when you first started out?

A Roland MC500 Sequencer, the very first sequencer I had was the Yamaha QX7 that my Dad gave me.  When he stopped using his MC500 I got that off him.  I had a Yamaha DX11 keyboard, I think it was. A Yamaha RK1 Rackmount synth and then after that I bought my first sampler, a S9XX, that was early, it was one unit rackmount sampler, 12bit mono and the sound you got out of it was just so like grungy and dirty!

And this was in the very early 1990’s?

Yeah, ’91, ’92.

So you were probably the best equipped Hardcore producer at the time?

Well I don’t know about that.  That was what I could get for the money at the end of the day.  The S900’s and all the rest of them – the 950‘s were already around then, and then I moved up to a 950.

And then your studio got robbed?

Yeah, basically I had my equipment a unit in Coventry, and some lads broke in and nicked some stuff basically.  So I got insurance money and with the insurance money I bought an Atari ST.

Did you have a preference back then?  Was Cubase and the Atari better for writing tunes, for that sound?

It was just a visual thing really. With a desktop sequencer there was no screen or anything as such.  You just had to remember what you were putting here.

So it would have made writing tunes a lot easier?

Oh yeah!  A hell of a lot easier, massively, and the old Atari as well was rock solid.  Didn’t used to crash really at all, not like your PC’s now, these days they crash every five minutes.  That just didn’t, very rarely crashed.

So what was your first release?  Was it Double Vision?

No.  The first release was Impact EP on Formation.  I was the first artist after SS to put things out on Formation.

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Double Vision was your label though?

Yeah. Double Vision is the one off white label, basically, with a chap – Dom. Dom was originally part of the band that did, remember Rhubarb Custard, he originally produced that with. . .

That was sampled for a few Hardcore tunes. . .

Yeah.  He originally produced that with a couple of other guys.

So you were in on Formation from the beginning basically?

Yeah, basically.

And how did hook up with (DJ) SS?

A friend of mine.  Funnily enough it was the same guy who got me into the Rave scene.  He was going out with a girl who knew SS and she passed him a tape of my stuff and he liked it and got in contact kind of thing.

Can you tell us any stories of what is was like working in Formation?

[Laughs] What kind of stories?  I mean I have a lot [Laughs again]

[Laughs] Well maybe the general kind of experience of working on the label, being part of it?

It was good, because obviously instantly my music was being given out to all DJ’s, so it was because of that that I got a chance to be played the likes of Grooverider and god knows who else.  I might not have had that chance otherwise.

You were a big part of making the label a success.

Thanks very much!

Formation, apart from Basement, they were quite Techno, even when they used breakbeats there was a very Techno buzz.

Very much so, I think a lot of labels were doing that at the time.

There wasn’t much reggae, or dancehall influence in Formation back catalogue then, certainly not for the first 50 releases or so?

Yeah, not very much. I did the F-project thing that had a big reggae loop in, but apart from that – but saying that, some of SS’s early stuff – jungle house crew had a few reggae samples, but they were definitely more hardcore than jungle.

And was that a reflection of your audience in Leicester?

Yeah, I think so in Leicester and probably a lot of the Midlands.  There was a lot of that kind of stuff around. It was Basement who led that way with that style.  But you do have to think of the likes of Simon Bassline Smith, he was a major pioneer of Jungle Techno, massively –  and Nookie as well.  Those two guys, especially, I credit with creating the whole Jungle Techno sound. Although Top Buzz likes to credit himself a little however – but those two…

And what about Ibiza, having their version of Jungle Tekno? But it was very different

Yeah, yeah.  It was slightly different.  I think Nookie and Bassline Smith, obviously in the Basement stuff they really perfected that sound and really made it their own.

Was the whole bleep and bass thing a big deal?  It’s not an influence that a lot of people talk about – Sheffield.

It was bit before, but I didnt take that as an influence personally.  From my point of view I think the midlands had its own sort of sound really.  I think so really, if you think of the clubs that were there at the time, Quest, The Edge, The Eclipse, places like Shelly’s as well and Kinetic in Stoke.  Having said that Birmingham was one of the early places that the Jungle sound came through as well, the real kinda ragga jungle sound, after London, there was Birmingham.

With Formation, there there was a very consistent production sound to the label.  Did you send stuff off the SS and he then mastered it, was there a Formation studio somewhere?

Yeah there was a studio at Formation Records, just above the shop.  I did produce some stuff there, do bits and pieces, but for the most part I just did my own thing.

A quick question about the artwork in Formation. . .  [Laughs]  Uhm, why was it so bad? [More Laughter]  It doesn’t even manage to have any weird charm about it, it’s very consistently brutal.

(Checks out Formation 12” merchandising sheet) You’d have to ask SS about that and you could ask him why the mastering is so bad as well.  Some of the pressings are awful!  Like really bad [Chuckles]

Did he have money behind the label or was it mainly SS funding it?

I’m not sure.  There was him and another guy, his business partner who ran the label.  There wasn’t too much backing. It wasnt fantastically well funded

In some ways that sort of suited the Sound though? It wasn’t great, but it gets the job done.

It does, it did.  But when you look at some of the stuff other labels at the time, the likes of Reinforced, the quality of production and music was a different altogether class really.

You think?

Yeah, Basement as well, so smooth, Basement had a fantastic talent in Wax Doctor.

[Editors note: It is worth noting that Ron Wells aka Jack Smooth, was the producer of Basement Records at the time and was really responsible for the aforementioned ‘Basement Sound’. Wax Doctor was of course one of the artists who worked with him on the label].

Speaking of Wax doctor – was ‘A new direction’ a big influence on you?

Massive, a massive influence. All his stuff on Basement. His production was amazing and he was a master of those big riffs.

I think you might be being a bit hard on yourself and the label. (laughs) So, ‘93 was the year you first broke through. Future Followers…

Yeah, that was the one that really got me the most attention.  Quite a lot of the DJ’s were playing the first EP to be fair, but future followers was the one that got everyone interested. People who never talked to me all of a sudden wanted to speak to me – it was all good.

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How many did you sell do you know?

I dont know – I think about 3000. The best selling thing I did was one I put out myself -mine and Ratty’s thing – final conflict. That did about 4000 and the remix did about 4 and a half, and we pressed it up again and that did about 2000

You did the Foul Play remix, Hyper On E, Johnny Jungle, an Anthill Mob thing, as well; so you went from being a producer on one label to someone who was remixing all of the biggest producers...

I probably did a little bit too much remixing I think, that was my downfall really to be honest.  I should have been making new stuff.  Although it was good to do all that stuff, there was quite a few decent artists that I did work for.

You just mentioned Final Conflict  – Was the idea of releasing your own stuff to make more money, or gain more control of the process?

Yeah, thats the reason I wanted to put my own records out, so I could push my own stuff.  I enjoy doing it, it’s creative and I like to do something creative.  When I was younger I was always into artwork and stuff like that and producing is another way of being creative.

So, your own work took more of a step towards the Basement Sound, even more techno.  What drove you in that direction?

Partly natural progression, but also the Basement Sound was influenced by that.

And I presume you were DJing a lot?

That was my job basically.  I packed in my normal job and just did that basically because I could afford to.

In 1994 you did that On Remand tune. Which is a killer tune.

I heard that out recently and it sounded alright actually.  I was quite shocked.

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And then did a few more remixes here and there, you did that 2 in 1 on Shadow.

Not my best work that one, I did much better stuff for Shadow I think.

Do you think as the sound changed – more Junglistic and more Ragga, it seemed you kept up with it but how did you feel about the way the music was progressing?

I kept up to it with to a point, but when you’ve done a lot of music you reach a point where you start to run out of ideas to be honest.  By that time Id probably done over a hundred releases at that point, and you find yourself repeating the same stuff over and over again and it becomes harder and harder to do new things,  that was part of the reason I started to slow down. And the music was changing – people were starting to use distorted drums and distorted basslines and distorted this and distorted that…

This was like 1996 or so?

Yeah, moving forward from there and I couldnt really get my head around all this really, it wasnt really what I was used to doing So I just kind of backed away from it all, in 97/98 and came back in ’02 and did a few bits

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So you weren’t too enamoured of the whole shift into jump up and then techstep?

It wasn’t that I wasn’t enamoured to it and I kind of liked some of the music.  I just couldn’t really produce it myself and there was a break with production around 1997.

And was there some kind of break with Formation at that stage – I suppose around ’95?

Yeah, about then if not sooner. It wasn’t like an official break I just didnt do any more stuff with them. Id obviously been working with other labels at that stage so I just carried on. I never had any long term contract with formation or anything,it was just on a single by single basis

So there was no drama or anything?

No, no. Not at all. I still see Leroy occasionally, Id shake his hand and have a chat. Perhaps I would have done things differently looking back, but it’s all a big learning curve, and it got my music out there at the end of the day.

Who were your favourite producers and labels from that period -’94 / ’95?

Ronnie Size, Pascal is definitely up there, Wax Doctor – massively, Groove Rider as well, obviously Goldie, Doc Scott, 4 Hero, all the Reinforced stuff…

And you went on to find a niche with Creative Wax. . .

Yeah, around ’95, I did understanding, frequency remix, dub war remix.

Yeah, the dub war remix was great.

Thats one of my favourite tracks Ive done to be honest with you – in terms of edits and production.

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Were you at all tempted by 2-step and Garage?

I did do a couple of 2-step tracks actually for Jason Kayes’ label – social circles in 2001/2002.  Just two tracks.  Not really obvious garage tracks – quite musical stuff. They didnt sell massively, but they went down quite well.

You didnt vanish into the scene like Steve Gurley?

Nah I didnt go that far – just a couple of tracks

So, I hear you’re a professional chef  – is that true?

I was about 10 years ago.  Before I was a DJ I worked in a hotel basically.  But when I started DJing I’d have to go out and do a set on a Saturday night, stay out all night and do the breakfast shift on a Sunday morning.  So that became an issue, basically.  When I started getting paid for DJing I thought that was enough of the hotel.  When the Rave scene started to fall down I went back to chefing again as a fallback position.  I finally got out of that completely in 2001 and I have retrained and I’m actually an electrician now.  I didn’t want to go back to chefing.

You could write an interesting article on what happened to Jungle artists after the scene died down. Bay B Kane went into IT, Crystl is a personal trainer, you’re an electrician [Laughs]

[Laughs] .I know, it’s bizarre, Ratty was an electrician before he got into music, he runs a maintenance firm now. The problem is unless you’re playing out every weekend – and not many people are these days – you cant make a living out of it.

The whole J-Tek thing, you were in on the ground floor with that?

Yeah, pretty much.  The whole thing back again was obviously down to Andrew Outrage and Modular, it was their idea originally, Andrew phoned me up out of the blue and said were doing stuff at 145/150 again, and he sent me a load of stuff and it was wicked, an me and Ratty started doing a few bits and pieces.  But it just kind of amounted to nothing to be honest.

It just kind of faded out didn’t it?

Although there is some of that music still around.  I think now it’s slowed down, now it’s about 140 and the Bass DJ’s are playing it, Rennie Pilgrim. . .

He’s like a bad penny that guy, he never goes away.

I did a load of breaks stuff as well, in 2002, 2003.  Me and Ashely Pulse (DJ Pulse) did a load of breaks stuff back then ,we did a track with a remix for Freddie Pilgrim, TCR. Adam Freeland as well. Stanton Warriors were playing a load of our stuff, absolutely smashing it. So I think some of them lot are still playing that stuff.

There’s this kind of weird end of dub-step that are putting out tunes at 150 now.

There’s a lot of kind of like fusion stuff and amalgamations going on at the moment, I think. A lot of the dub-step producers are starting to adhere to these breaks now.  Which is basically what they were doing with J-Tek.

It’s not a million miles away.  It’s weird the way, you know 138, the tyranny of 138, but people break out occasionally and it seems to be going back up again, I’m hoping it hits 160 and that’s ideal.

[Laughs] It’s gonna go round in a big circle again?!

So there isn’t much going on with J-Tek for you at the moment?

I haven’t done anything myself personally, Ratty and myself have a track that we did a while back that’s still got to be released.  I still put stuff out on the label that myself and Ratty started, Steel Fingers.  Basically, started putting stuff out on there again, I’ve got the next release lined up for that one.  Putting Drum ‘n’ Bass out, as well as 140 stuff.  The J-Tek stuff I had, had slowed down to 140.  I’ve still got some really good stuff waiting to come out.

Do you think it died down because… well it looked to me like they lost distribution, or something happened after their second release?

The reason it’s kind of not happened was because there was quite a few artists making stuff that the thought was J-Tek, but it wasn’t really, they were just kind of making old skool again and that was not what the idea was.  The idea was to take the type of music forward and kind of move it forward using a newer sound. And there were a handful of producers who were doing it, obviously, Outrage and Modular, Society, also Subfusion which was Vapour and a guy called Skink.  The label wasn’t really moving forward to be fair. But they just were steps ahead of everyone else, that was the problem, nobody else was in touch with them if you know what I mean?

Do you think there was something almost inevitable about it veering off into, I mean we have the same thing with Ruff Revival You want to get the vibes of ’94 / ’95 and try and pretend all those other years never happened and take it in a direction that isn’t just an old school pastiche.

I don’t think you can do old skool stuff anymore and just make it old skool, like it sounded back then.  To me it doesn’t sound right, you have to put a newer twist on it otherwise it just hasn’t progressed at all. Back in the day, when people were making that stuff, people weren’t looking to make stuff that sounded old.  They were looking to make something that sounded current. You’ve got to take that angle on it today as well I think.  I think you’ve got to incorporate some kind of current mindset into it, even if it is based on old stuff.

With distribution the way it is, you really do have to question ‘what are we doing here’?

You just do it for love, don’t you?  I just do it because I enjoy it.  I couldn’t go back to doing it full time, it’d drive me up the wall to be honest. Besides, there’s no money in it.

So you’re not doing that many gigs these days in general?

Whenever I get them I do them.  I do a few here and there.  I get a few bookings coming up.  It’s not on a regular basis, not enough to pay the mortgage.

Are you interested in any of the stuff coming out of the UK, like UK Funky or Dubstep?

I don’t really listen to any Dubstep stuff at all.  Although having said that, I’ve got a track coming out on the Steel Fingers label that’s basically dubstep but it’s not, if you know what I mean?  The beat’s the same as dubstep, but the bass isn’t dubstep at all.  It’s a wicked piece of music, really nice.  But I don’t listen to dubstep otherwise, I’m not interested in it in the slightest.  I still listen to Drum ‘n’ Bass all the time.  There’s still some wicked Drum ‘n’ Bass around.  There’s some really good labels, it’s come in a big circle over the last 20 years or so.

Are you into the whole minimal d+b sound at all?

Bits of it.  I’m into bits of lots of different styles to be honest.  I’m into a lot of the more jungly sounding stuff now.  There’s a whole group of new producers who are making Jungle stuff and a new generation of people who enjoy that music. There’s a few guys, the likes of Bladerunner, that are pretty up there as well.  I like a bit of everything really.

I won’t ask if you have any stories from the raving days. . .

[LAUGHS] NO! [LAUGHS]  I don’t remember them!

But if you look back at those years, ’91 to ’94 say, when Rave was everything.  How do you feel about your part in that scene?  It was kind of like a major social revolution almost in the UK and you were part of that.  So, how do you view your place in that history?

I feel I was in the right place at the right time.  [LAUGHS]  First and foremost you need to be in the right place at the right time, it’s about timing.  I suppose you need some talent as well but, I enjoyed doing it and did it and didn’t think about it too much.  I was in with the right people, I had access to the right people.

Do you think those years are romanticised a bit?

Maybe, yeah maybe a bit.  The way people react on Facebook and everything, I get some mad comments sometimes.  Which is very flattering and nice, it’s nice don’t get me wrong, but I think sometimes people are trying to cling onto it a bit.  It’s never gonna happen again, you know, it’s been and gone.

Yeah, I was like 12 or something at the time.

It’s a bit naïve to think it could be the same again.

That mix of music and drugs…

It was great to be a part of that, at that time; to be a part of that era.  I wouldn’t change that for the World.

Last question, any secret artist names or tunes that have never been revealed?

Yeah, but Im not going to tell you about them [LAUGHS] that’s why they’re obscure…

 

If you want to book Tango, catch him DJ’ng or listen to his new productions, you could do worse than checking out Steel Fingers or his facebook page.

Shut Up And dance Interview

This is the extended version of an interview I did with PJ from Shut Up And Dance. which originally appeared in the excellent Woofah magazine in spring 2008. Thanks to Woofah ed John Eden for correcting my notoriously bad spelling and grammar,

Straddling the lines between hip-hop, acid house and rave, Shut Up and Dance were true pioneers of UK dance music. Starting as a soundsystem, and predating hardcore’s use of sped up breakbeats with their releases in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the label is regularly name dropped as one of the pillars of what later became known as Jungle. Vanishing from view in ’93 after a string of hits from The Ragga Twins, Peter Bouncer and SUAD, label founders, PJ and Smiley, reinvented themselves with the ragga jump up Label ‘Redlight’ and went on to put out a series of some of the ruffest jungle tunes ever pressed to wax in 94 and 95.

In the first of an occasional series of interviews investigating the roots and offshoots of bass culture, The Droid speaks to head honcho PJ about S.U.A.D’s 20 year reign. From breakdancing and stringing up sounds, to raving, sampling, and chart success…



Your place in the history of jungle/hardcore was acknowledged in Soul Jazz’s recent Rumble in the Jungle compilation – Considering how influential you were as a label, it seems like this was well overdue – How did that come about?

Yeah, They approached us initially, I think it was just for a couple of tracks, there was a Shut Up and Dance track and a Ragga Twins track, and then they came back and asked for some more –  it sort of came about that way. They were obviously well aware of us, they came down, did an interview with us, to add to the cover notes and that. But yeah, there’s like a good mutual respect going on there…

And you were happy with the results?

Yeah definitely.

Have you ever considered putting out represses or compilations yourselves?

We get asked that all the time. But to be honest we view it like we’re trying to concentrate on the future. We’ve been going a long time now, 18 years or whatever and a lot of people in our situation, they’ve sort of stopped – so it’s not a problem for them to go back and press up all the old classics. But we’re still making music now, so we’d rather people focused on what we’re doing now. We appreciate what we’ve done in the past and that there’s people still into it and that, but we’d rather personally, look forward. We sort of see it like – there’s more to come.

So you haven’t been tempted to cash in?

(Laughs) Nah – trust me. We’ve been asked literally since we started till now. ”Ain’t you gonna press ‘em up? Ain’t you gonna press ‘em up?” And we’ve resisted all the way. But y’know, I never say never to anything – you never know what the future will hold.

And you’re not bothered by seeing your releases go for silly money on Ebay?

At the end of the day – it’s an open market innit. People are free to do what they’re gonna do. There’s not an awful lot you can do about that – if they bought the tune legitimately back in the day, then good luck to them.

We’re not going to see any High Contrast remixes of old Shut up and Dance tunes then?

Nope! (Laughs)

To go back to your roots – you started out in the mid 80s by forming the Heatwave soundsystem, but you guys were hip hop heads, what was the story with that sound?

Well basically, me and Smiley went to school together, also Daddy Earl and Hype [DJ Hype of Ganja Records fame], we all went to the same secondary school – in fact them three guys went to the same primary school as well. So we all knew each other from then.

This is about 84/85, I left school in what, 84 – so yeah, I was about 16 in 84. This was a time when rap was massive in the UK, it was fresh, it was new. But back then it was people like LL Cool J, The Beastie boys, Public Enemy, it was all slower stuff, and there was breakdancing and all that stuff. And I was well into that – every lunchtime we used to have breakdance battles, and body popping battles.

Just by chance I bumped into Smiley about a year after leaving school, and it turned out we were both still into hip hop, still into rapping and that, and we just got together and basically started dancing together. We entered competitions – we even won a few. We were just generally into rap and the whole hip hop culture, we loved it all, the dancing, the music, the writing. We were doing all parts of it, and basically that’s where our love came from; it came from hip-hop and rap.

So would it be fair to say you were more inspired by hip-hop than reggae?

Definitely, definitely.

I assume you were aware of the big UK reggae sounds of the day?

What happened there was, back at school we was going to all the soundclashes and that, we were going to all the Saxon, Unity and Coxsone dances. That was like what we did at the weekend sorta thing. And we had a soundsystem, we bought a little soundsystem, y’know, young, not really knowing much, but it was a good soundsystem. We used to go round the roads, kick off doors, string up the set, put on a little blues, people used to come to our dances and that.

So the whole soundsystem culture, is like, we grew up on that as part of everything else. Which is why when we had the soundsystem, me and Smiley were rappers on it. But we also had the reggae side of it which was Daddy Earl, who’s Smiley’s brother, and Hype, back then he was our DJ, but he was a wicked hip hop DJ, he use to cut and scratch in the mix an that. So you’d have these two mad guys rapping over this guy cutting up – this was when no other soundsystem was doing it back then, that was like “what they hell are these guys doing?”… Basically, you were either a reggae sound or a soul sound. You wasn’t rapping and scratching and have some reggae MC also doing his thing over this guy cutting up tunes, it was like “what the hell is this?”… (Laughs)

So from a vocal end of things, UK Reggae MC’s like Tippa Irie and Smiley Culture didn’t have much influence on you as MCs?

Just a general influence from the whole soundsystem vibe, the whole thing, the whole y’know, MC on the mic, chatting really good lyrics, smashing up the place, the whole soundsystem vibe to this day we still carry it with us. The whole energy of that vibe. You can’t beat it. You just can’t beat it.

After acid house and the rave scene kicked up, did you see any parallels between what you were doing, what soundsystems did, and what rave was?

Well, funnily enough, when we eventually started our label – I don’t know if you know how we actually decided to start our label… Me and Smiley were basically making music with Hype, but the direction we wanted to go in, Hype wanted to try his own thing. So we said fair enough, we stayed friends and everything, and he just sort of went off and did his thing and me and Smiley were trying to get a deal. So we were rappers making what we thought was British rap, but because we had the dance background, we wanted to make music that you could dance to, so our rap music was a lot faster than rap.

We were going round trying to get a deal with this demo with all of these mad rap tunes (Laughs). It turned out we didn’t get a deal, and that’s how eventually we started our own label. We sat down one day and said “y’know what, lets just try and do it ourselves” So we set ourselves a date and we said, right, we’re both going leave our nine to fives, and we’re going to take what money we have and put out a record. And that’s what we did.

So it was like the whole DIY thing of rave a few years beforehand?

Yeah that’s right.

I think you’ve said before in interviews that you didn’t go to any of the early raves in the late 80’s like Sunrise or Genesis…

No we didn’t, cos what happened was, the music we was making, like the first 3/4 singles we put out, we thought it was British rap, but as I said, it was faster than everything else. What we used to do is put a rap single on one side, and then we’d just do an interesting instrumental where we’d get a break, speed it up. Which again, back then, no one was doing this, which is why people say now, that we were the creators of drum n bass or whatever.

We used to get hip hop beats, cos that’s what we knew, and get a little part of the break and then just speed it up and rap over it. Smiley had a younger brother, and he was a raver, he used to go to all the big nights and he used to come home and say “you guys gotta come out and hear this stuff, their killin’ your stuff, their playing it everywhere” and we’re like “What? What’re you talking about?” And he’s like “Yeah, it’s this rave, you gotta come to this rave”, we’re like – “what the hell are you on about?”

So eventually we went, and we walked in, and just to see these people kicking off to your tune, it was like “what the hell is this?” It just opened our eyes to it, and then when we saw the love out there for the stuff we were doing it obviously encouraged us, and that was it really. We sorta got thrown into this rave scene – but really we saw ourselves as UK rap. We sorta complemented the both.

I guess it was pretty lucky… almost a fluke that you were making 130bpm breakbeat when all this house and techno was coming through at the same speed?

Definitely… Exactly, yeah, exactly.

Did you ever feel like you were really part of the rave scene? After a couple of years, I suppose in ‘91 or so, when you were, I assume, selling a lot of records?

We always embraced it, but at the same time, the true rave scene was a lot of that piano stuff, y’know “Plink, Plink Plink, Plink, Plink” stuff, and we never any made stuff like that. All our stuff was just like raw beats, fat basslines, either one of us on it, or the Ragga Twins on it. So we didn’t really see ourselves as rave, but it fitted obviously, to the whole rave thing. Cos I see rave as glowsticks, hands in the air, “Plink, Plink Plink, Plink, Plink”, which is all fine, but that’s not what we were making, we were making a lot rawer sound than that, a lot rawer – keeping it with the soundsystem vibe.

Just out of curiosity, how many 12”s of each release were you pressing back then?

I can’t remember to be honest, but trust me sales were good back then. (Laughs). Our first single ‘5,6,7,8’, we were literally selling it out of the back of my boot, I had a little orange Ford Escort… and trust me, sales were good back then – even a shit tune would do 2 and a half, 3000.

So you were probably talking 10,000 at least for the big tunes?

Yeah, you were going from between say three up to 10 upwards depending on the track. And you were always guaranteed a repress to come back and press more and more…

Things have changed a lot haven’t they?

(Laughs) Definitely.

Now – There’s been a few anti-drug tunes on Shut up and Dance stuff like Ragga Trip/The Killing and even Raving Im raving, though not explicitly anti drug, kinda had a dark side to it with the ‘Do I feel the way I feel’ vocal. The only other producer I can think of from the same period who did anything like that was L Double, who did that tune ‘leave it alone’ … maybe some of the anti-crack tunes from ’93 How did you reconcile this with the fact that there were loads of people going out and dancing to your tunes on E?

Well, we didn’t really see it as a conflict, ‘cos we’ve always from day one, just did what we do. We don’t preach to people but we’ve always tried to have a message. Like if it was a rap tune we would have a message in the rap, like “A change soon come”, or “this town needs a sheriff”. We was always on about things. And if it was an instrumental there was a message in the title. Like ‘The Green Man‘ – people think that’s just a title, but The Green Man was actually the local pub where all the people used to go to get their crack. We always had a message to put out.

So you never actually went out to a rave and dropped E’s and danced around?

We went to all of these places, cos you had to see what was making the people… obviously if you go out and you see the environment and people reacting to it helps you make better music. So we took part on that side of things, but on the other side of things, we were never really into that, we’re drinkers (Laughs) we grew up on that.

Just to go back to Hype for a sec. You were obviously doing really well in the early 90s, and Hype was producing stuff at the same time, and he had a hit with ‘The Exorcist’. How come he never put out anything on Shut Up and Dance?

That’s’ a very good question! It took till about three years ago before we did anything together – I dunno if you know the track ‘Reclaim the Streets’? We were all still friends and everything, but he was doing his thing, we were doing our thing, and it was all great – it just didn’t come about…

Were you close to any other producers or labels? Rebel MC for example? Or Paul Ibiza, or people who were pushing similar sounds?

We knew of everyone, because most of the people making music in that scene came from our area anyway. Hackney is responsible for a lot of music people – not even just in the rave scene, but everyone, from Soul 2 Soul, Trevor Mad Hatter, now known as Trevor Nelson, Rebel MC – all came from Hackney. Ragga Twins, Tenor Fly – everyone was all in the same zone.

Along with XL, you were probably the most commercially successful hardcore label. I know the ragga twins made it into the charts a few times, but how many times did you make it into the top 40 in total? 5/6 times?

Quite a few times. Most of our stuff used to hit guaranteed top 60. A few of it made top 40. The Ragga Twins were always bubbling around just outside the top 40. We were always floating around in that zone really.

It was around the same time you did the LP for Nicolette as well. Did you have ambitions to be a mainstream label – taking the majors on at their own game?

Not really. As I said we were sort of forced into it. We started out own thing, and luckily from day one it was successful, and it built and built, just roller-coasted really. Next minute we had management, and then we were signing artists, and it was like “bloody hell we have to get organized – we have to do an album for these people now”… it just naturally rolled along.

Just to move onto 92. In the 2 years before that, you put out some of the most influential tunes in breakbeat history – and then you had that ‘trouble’ in mid 92 – which was a real shame, cos that’s when the jungle sound was really starting to come out. Can you give any more details about the ‘I’m Raving I’m Raving‘ episode?

Not really – I don’t even like talking about it to be honest (laughs). It’s history y’know. We made a track. The writer of the track wasn’t happy with the similarities or whatever, we tried to do a deal, we said: “let’s give all the money to charity”, he said no. End of. That was it. We were only allowed to sell what we’d already pressed.

And you were hit by a bunch of other claims by the MCPS for more uncleared samples… Did you feel like you had been scapegoated?

When I look back know with hindsight – we were just ahead of our time. It’s not like trying to get sample clearance is now. Back then, they didn’t even know what a sample was, they were like “Who? What?” even trying to speak with the publishers, no one knew what anything was. Now you’ve got whole departments set up just to sit down and deal with it – whether it’s a sample or you’ve replayed it or whatever, now you’ve got sections that can deal with it. Back then they didn’t know what the hell you were on about. So we were just sort of 10 years too early (laughs).

It just seems strange – I can’t think of another big label that was burned as badly as you were.

Yeah, this is true. But y’know, out of these things, there’s usually someone who ‘gets it’ (laughs). At the end of the day – I’m still here. I can’t complain. Things could be worse.

You never thought about giving up then?

Nah, definitely not – that’s not my mentality

How did it affect your approach to sampling? you went on to sample Tracy Chapman in ‘The Burial‘ (on Redlight) – obviously a much smaller pressing, but were you worried at all about getting into trouble again?

Not really. It’s how you do things. You just have to be clever with things, and obviously be careful – but y’know, you must express yourself.

You obviously had trouble from the mainstream with sampling, what about from the dancehall end of things? You sampled a lot of ragga and reggae on Redlight, and I’ve heard that DJ Ron and Frost were both approached by rudeboys looking for cash for samples – did anything like that ever happen to you?

(Laughs) No it didn’t. But we always spoke to most of the people that we dealt with anyway. We spoke to them and sorted out some sort of deal or whatever. That’s how it came about, us signing the Ragga Twins, they were known from the Unity soundsystem, and we sampled a bit of their voice from a soundsystem tape, and we went to them and asked them for permission to use their voice on ‘Lamborghini’ (which also sample the Eurythmics! – d)and that’s how it started. So we always tried to deal with people.

I’d like to ask a few questions about Redlight. As far as I’m aware it’s a relatively unknown label – and the 12”s are quite rare, so obviously you weren’t pressing too many…

It was a very limited thing anyway. Everything was like limited edition sorta thing.

So how did you get sucked back into the scene? Were you just waiting for the dust to settle after the court case?

Well after that happened, we just took a little bit of time out. We were just writing in the studio, like everyone thought we’d given up or packed it in, but we were just in the studio – regrouping, writing some new stuff, changing our sound a bit, cos by then everyone was sounding like us, but we were just keeping it fresh in the studio, probably for a year, two years.

There’s wasn’t really much else that sounded like the stuff you were releasing on Redlight at the time – Maybe early Philly Blunt and Ganja and people like Remarc – were you influenced by any other producers or labels?

We were just being influenced by ourselves really (laughs) and our love of the whole soundsystem thing. We were just so into it, and we thought it worked well, the hardcore soundsystem vibe – bringing it on a piece of plastic in a format that works, that people can dance to.

It was quite a departure from what you were doing before – no live vocals, and a much more full-on dancefloor vibe. If you were writing those tunes in 93, I would have thought they’d have been well ahead of their time.

Yeah… (laughs) They were, definitely. You get the odd person now when we’re out DJing, and they’ll come up and mention a track off the label, and I’ll be like “Bloody Hell”, Cos I haven’t heard half of these tunes in so long myself. I haven’t even got copies of every one… people come round and y’know, borrow it and this and that, and before you know it you can’t find them.

One thing that strikes you when listening to the Redlight catalogue is the rawness of the sound and the way you use samples. When most jungle labels were becoming more sophisticated you seemed to be hanging on the rave aesthetic – simple song structures, being led by the samples… was that a reaction to they way the scene was going?

Not at all. We were just doing our own thing, doing it our own way with our own flavour. Because you have to be yourself in the studio or you just get lost – you don’t know who you are musically. You’re following people instead of doing what you wanna do. But obviously don’t run away with yourself.

Something else that’s obvious in your approach to using samples in general is your sense of humor. From ‘£20 To Get In’ to ‘Bastards’ – you never seemed to take things too seriously…

That’s right yeah.  As I said, there’s always a message in our songs, whether it be a little one or a big one, but we don’t do it in a way that we preach. So it’s either gonna be funny, or something obscure… y’know, we’re gonna do it in a clever way basically, not just an obvious way, cos we don’t want to preach to people. To me that’s not what music is about.

Who is the MC featured on Bastards?

That’s me. (Laughs)

That’s a pretty good disguise you’ve got there, I thought you’d gotten some nerdy white guy to do it

(Laughs) Yeah that’s me…

You were obviously listening to a lot of 90s dancehall and reggae when you were making those tunes judging by the artists you sampled – Simpleton and Garnett Silk, amongst others – were you heavily into dancehall at the time?

Erm.. Just kinda of a broad stretch of it. There’s so much music out there that from most artists you’re gonna hear something you like. I don’t like it all – definitely no way, but like Garnett Silk, I was well into him. Just so many, I could be here all day if I started namedropping…

What did you think of the more reggae influenced stuff that labels like Suburban Base, Tearin Vinyl, SOUR, Proper Talent etc were putting out around the same time?

I thought it was fine, cos we sort of view competition as healthy. It drives you on, so I was fine with all of that.

And when you played out as DJ’s would you play out stuff from other jungle labels?

Nah, cos when we DJ, we play breakbeats full stop. We’re into breaks when we play out and that’s what we’ve always played.

Even back when you were producing jungle?

Yeah, cos we started DJing late, back then we weren’t DJing. We didn’t start DJing til 95 possibly – maybe 96. We started quite late. We were always in the studio. We always saw ourselves as producers, but then we had to get into the DJing thing, because that’s the way things were going, even more so now. You have to be a DJ to do anything in this game now.

And DJ’s have to get into production to get DJing gigs…

That’s right yeah – you have to do both now…

What about the UK reggae labels like Greensleeves, Fashion and Jetstar moving into the jungle scene – did you see much friction between the reggae crowd and the more established labels and artists?

I didn’t, but I did hear the rumors as well. I did hear about lots of things going down, but I didn’t personally see none of it.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the Jungle ‘Council’ and the campaign against ragga jungle – DJ Rap allegedly received death threats warning her not to play ‘Incredible’ at Jungle Soundclash in Edmonton, and S.O.U.R.’s Dave Stone cut General Levy out of the BBC’s ‘Jungle Fever’ – did scene politics affect you in any way?

Ri-iight. Yeah I did hear at the time about all that politics, but y’know, as a label and as people, me and Smiley don’t get involved in all of that. No politics, we just wanna make music, and that’s all we wanna do. Get people dancing and that’s it.

And what about all the negative press attention that jungle got in 94 and 95?

Y’know it was one of those things, when a scenes getting too big, or people are making too much money, the media or whatever always kicks in and snuff it out, the same thing happened later on to garage. I don’t know what it is…

That’s happened to Grime as well recently…

Yeah, exactly, exactly

Do you think there was an element of racism about the whole thing?

It’s definitely politics… I don’t know if I’d use that word, I don’t know if it’s that strong, but there’s definitely politics involved.

Redlight finished up in 95 – had it run its course?

I think the scene had just changed or whatever. It was always going to be a limited thing since we started. We didn’t press up a lot and it was going to be very limited, and it just ran its course and we stopped it. Same with the Ruff Quality label, same thing. We ran it for a bit and just stopped it.

Your 1995 LP ‘Black Men United’ on Pulse 8 is like a summary of all the different sounds you’d explored since 89 – breakbeat/house/rave/jump up – was it intended as a swan-song to your rave and jungle days?

That was just a collection of the stuff we’d been writing from say, when we disappeared a bit, stopped putting out stuff – It was like a collection of all the stuff we’d been putting together, cos we were still working with artists, you can hear that on the drum n bass tracks with Richie Davis and Peter Bouncer singing. We were always still writing and still busy, and that was just a compilation of everything we’d been up to. It wasn’t anything deeper than that really. We’ve still been busy, we’ve still been working with artists, this is what we’ve been up to, check it out.

And you actually got back in the charts with a single from that LP as well (‘Save it till the mourning after’)…

That’s right yeah, with me in that dodgy video. Me rapping and everything. That wasn’t for me to rap that song, I wrote it for someone else to do it, but we couldn’t find someone else to do it, so I had to do it (laughs) and I didn’t even want to do it…

Did you make many videos? I think I’ve only seen ‘Derek went mad’

Nah, we’ve got quite a few, we’ve got videos for ‘Take it Easy’, ‘Art of Moving Butts’, ‘Derek went mad’, ‘Save it till the mourning after’, ‘The weekends here’, the Ragga Twins have got ‘Wipe the Needle’ and ‘Hooligan 69’ . We’ve got quite a few. We are thinking about putting a collection together and getting it up on Myspace, so we’re going to be looking into that

Have you being keeping up to date with the drum and bass scene over the last few years? What do you think of the whole clownstep thing?

Of the what? Sorry?

Have you heard of clownstep?

(Laughs) I haven’t heard that name no…

It’s kind of a derogatory term to describe people like Pendulum, swing beats, 180-bpm techno style D+B…

(Laughs) No, not by that name, I’ve heard the music but I haven’t heard it called that. We still keep up with it. We’re good friends with Hype, and whenever we’re not out working we go out with him, so we’re still on the scene and we’re still locked onto the radio. We’re on a pirate radio station in London called ‘Origin FM’ Its actually a drum n bass station but we have a breakbeat show every Wednesday nights between ten and midnight, so we’re always locked onto that station as well as Kool FM. We keep our ears to the ground with all types of music.

As of that stuff you’re talking about. I haven’t got a huge problem with it, but some of its a bit noisy (Laughs).

What about grime and dubstep? Have you been keeping up?

Definitely. The whole Grime scene, I like a lot of that stuff. I like the energy, gotta lose the anger a bit (laughs), but I was like that at that age. Yeah, I like a lot of that stuff.

So you’re more into grime than the mainly instrumental dubstep side of things?

As I said, there’s good in all, but the whole Grime thing I like a lot of it, obviously not all of it. I sorta wish there were mature heads within the scene to help it grow. Cos obviously it’s a very young scene, a lot of the artists are very young, I wish there were someone in there with an older head sort of taking charge and organising things…

Yeah, there’s only Wiley who’s about 28/29…

Yeah, if there were more people like him within the scene it would bring things on a lot more… And as for the dubstep thing, I’ve been getting into that,. There’s a single from our new album that’s getting a dubstep mix by a guy called Rezo.

And do you still keep up with dancehall and reggae?

Yeah, yeah. Don’t go to many dances anymore cos there’s not many on. But yeah, still into it. The soundtapes from 15 years ago – we still pull them out and listen to them…

PJ and Smiley play breakbeat on London pirate Origin 95.2 FM on Wednesday nights 10-12pm

www.shutupanddance.co.uk
www.myspace.com/shutupanddancetunes

Hardcore Rhythm Team – Raggaclash

I’m a big fan of those ’93-’95 ragga jungle cash in tunes made by producers who knew nothing about jungle – resulting in that ramshackle ‘crack jungle’ sound exemplified by tunes like this and LPs like this, but today’s offering features something else entirely – rave producers trying to imitate ragga!

The tune opens with an attempt to conjure up a rural scene (via the theme from Emmerdale) with a bit of dialogue from a raver looking for tickets to ‘The rave down the farm‘, but even though ’92 was the peak year for illegal raves, things seem to have changed – as the unintentionally hilarious pastiche patois response points out – ‘No mon, we’re going to the ragga rave‘… cue a bad impression of the Sleng Teng bassline and some slapdash (and surprisingly slow) breakbeats.

There’s plenty of other incongruous little touches here – the out of tune stabs, the very un-ragga ‘Rockin’ in a ragga style‘ vocal, those weird gaps at the start of the breakdowns that throw the whole tune out of kilter… the overall effect sounds like a bunch of monged out rave producers given 5 minutes with an Atari ST in an attempt to make a ‘ragga’ tune and cash in on the latest trend – and yet there’s a certain innocent charm about this mawkish effort, its just so wrong in every way that you can’t help but admire it’s hodgepodge lunacy.

Hardcore Rhythm Team – Raggaclash

I don’t know much about the Hardcore Rhythm Team (an unfortunate choice of acronym), and this is one of those £1.99 tunes that I picked up in an auction years ago to justify postage for some other winnings – purely on the strength of the title and cover. Apparently it was also released as white label on Badboy records with the deleted ‘One Love’ on the flip. Furious records had a few releases in a similar vein, none of which I have, though it might be interesting to hear how their twisted version of ragga-rave progressed…

MA1 – The Switch/Ruffige (Remix) – Formation 39

Compared to some of the stuff that Pete’s been uploading, these tunes are hardly obscurities, but I reckon that Formation are one of the most under appreciated of the prolific hardcore/jungle labels. I’ve always thought of them as one of the ‘big four’ alongside Shadow, Subbase and Reinforced – not that there weren’t plenty of other big labels (Labello Blanco and Ibiza spring to mind), but these were the ones that survived the transitions between each era of the music with particular style – from hardcore to jungle to D+B and beyond.

Formation were well known for their ‘functional’ sound: anonymous techno vibes ala Basement, but a much ruffer production style, with a touch of ‘ardcore craziness and ragga bizness – yet never as ruff and demented as the Ibiza/3rd party cru. Being located up in Leicester, so far from the scenes epicentre was surely a major factor in the labels development and makes it even more impressive that they managed to maintain such influence in the scene, enjoying a resurgence in ’95 as they became both early and prime exponents of the jump up style that (along with techstep) was to become a dominant sound over the next few years.

Here are 2 ’94 tunes from DJ SS, from a time when Formation’s output seemed somewhat nebulous… veering between strangely anodyne jungle-techno experiments and by-the-numbers amen workouts, as if they’d lost their way somewhat… The title of FORM36 – Tekniq’s ‘The best of both worlds‘ (released a couple of months earlier in the same year) maybe sums up what they were trying to achieve during this time, but my overall impression of their ’94 output is of a label struggling to maintain a sense of identity in the face of fierce innovation from their southern counterparts and the dissolution of ‘ardcore scene dynamics and the market/audience that allowed rave to thrive.

‘The Switch’ starts as a nice rollin’ little number (supplemented by a hefty 4 to the floor) and then drops into some serious progressive house vibes via those cheesy synth filigrees and strings. Everything goes a bit dark as the vocal samples and piano loop take over, and there’s just time for a brief breakdown before we’re pushed headlong back into the path of some brutally dense rollin’ drums for the understated finale. My cohort Slug loves this tune, and we’ve played it out a few times, finding it particularly handy as a transition tune from 4/4 hardcore into ’93/’94 rolling jungle.

MA1 – The Switch

Ruffige! Now here’s a tune that takes no prisoners. Take some layered rollin’ beats ala Rhythm for Reasons’ (an SS alias) ‘The Love statement EP‘, throw in some snatches of the standard 4/4 and out of tune vocals, add in some melody hooks that sound like you’re cycling through presets on a dodgy Casio keyboard, liberally sprinkle drums with some timestretched ptich-shifting… and presto – complete insanity! This ones a huge improvement on the original and I dubbed this track as ‘The Terminator of the midlands’ when I first heard it – an obvious exaggeration, but I still find that the random amalgam of styles and ideas and the sheer viciousness of this tune to be almost as devastating as Goldies’ hardcore magnum opus. Proper end of the night dancefloor weaponry – a cluster bomb calibrated to destroy E-casualties…

MA1 – Ruffige (remix)

PS: Thanks to Pete both for his fantastic work on this blog and infinite patience with his less than prolific fellow posters! – droid