A little while back, DJ Monita of Skeleton Recordings unearthed a series of cassette tapes he recorded between 1994 and 1995. Between April 94 and March 95, he recorded one new mix a month, 12 in all… no small feat given the number of tracks in these mixes and the good quality of them. That alone was great news, but after posting them to mixcloud, JJ from Deepinsidetheoldskool blog went through and single-handedly wrote incredibly complete tracklists for each and every mix. A truly herculean task for most, no big deal for JJ since his ID’ing skills are so good it’s not clear whether he’s a real person or if that IBM chess-playing supercomputer has aquired a taste for 91-95 tunes! I also hit up Monita for some background info on the mixes, check the interview below.
When you were recording these mixes, Skeleton had already been around for a while… were you buying all these tunes at stores like Lucky Spin and Black Market (the places you mention distributing them), or were you trading w/ labels / dealing in promos and dubs at the time? Aside from those two stores, what was your “local” / were there any other primary places you’d pick up tunes?
My first choice for buying my vinyl was always Blackmarket. But local to them and within walking distance was Unity. So if there was after a particular twelve I was after and Blackmarket didn’t have it then I would take a walk around to Unity to see if they had.
Lucky Spin was a regular too, but it was usually either a trip to Soho or a trip down to Kings Road if I was out getting vinyl. I wouldn’t go visiting loads of shops on one journey as I would’ve usually got a nice little selection that I was after in one shop really.
My ‘local’ shop, which I first started buying tunes from was a place in Northfields, West London, called Vinyl Mania. I think it’s a mini cab place now! Obviously buying from somewhere small like that would never get you the same gems as venturing up town to the big boys.
I never really traded stuff, but obviously used to have a mailing list with Skeleton, so I would usually get some nice promos from other labels of artists I used to send out to. Production House were one of the main ones that I used to get quite a bit from.
As for dubs, I never really had a lot. That’s probably because I was too tight to pay out £30 for one! Haha, no, I never really felt the need to cut many dubs. I did have and still have a few, but they are mostly of my tunes which I cut to play on the radio or out to see how they were.
Related to the first question, obviously the scene was a fair bit more regional back then pre-internet… of the countless artists and labels in these mixes, were there some you knew well and were dealing with directly? Was there any sense of wanting to feature certain friends or associates more prominently, or was it all just based on your taste/tracks you liked at the time?
It was mostly based on stuff that I liked at that particular time when I done each chapter really. If I had any early releases, which was quite often, then I would put them on the tape. Like I said previous, I used to have loads of Production House promos, so they would get drawn. Also, DJ Monk had started KLP and was giving me all of his stuff, so that would get included too.
With the tune selection, there seems to be a good cross section of stuff – everything from deep tunes through to Greensleeves ragga jungle. Were you specifically throwing in any deeper stuff you might not have played prime-time at a party at the time, or are these tapes 100% representative of what you would have played at a party? Was there a difference in the tunes you were drawing for at the time in a mix versus at a club vs on pirate radio?
Well to be honest, the Greensleves tracks would be played as a little shout to Monk. My style back then was varied really as I used to love the dark sound, but also the liquid style. If I was to play out or on the radio then I would have played either one of them styles or maybe started with one and floated into the other. So the styles you hear on the tapes are a true reflection of what I would’ve played if I was to do a set. Not the ragga stuff though, as that wasn’t really what I was into. But, it was my mates tunes and the tapes done the rounds so the promotion was good for both.
One of the cool aspects of mix #1 is the inclusion of a rare version of your tune “Full Cry” (done with Steve C). Aside from that, there’s no other dubs in the mix, Skeleton or otherwise. Was this a conscious decision? Did you have other unreleased Skeleton tracks around at the time you considered including? Or were you 100% focused on keeping up with the massive quantity of wicked tunes being released back then?
The later really Pete. To me this mix series was about playing some of the tunes around at that time, whether released or test presses. And like I said earlier, I never really used to cut a lot of dubs, only occasionally. If I did have any at that time then they would’ve been included in the set.
As for that version of Full Cry, I completely forgot about it until I heard it when ripping the tape. I think I’m right in saying that there were only two plates cut of that version. One for myself and one for Steve C. This version was actually his demo that he came to me with and when I heard it I liked it and agreed to work on it with him for a future release. He was local to me and his studio was only about 10 minutes away, so I thought it was a good idea to work on something together. Thank God I did as we would never have had ‘Razors’.
You know that after hearing that version when I was ripping the tape I went up into the loft for my old record box, opened it up and pulled out all my old dubs and there it was! The title on the label actually says ‘Break Free’. It has been quite a while since that record box had been opened and the smell of dubs was real nice.
Although these mixes obviously served as good promotion for you as a DJ, they didn’t come across as heavy-handed in terms of promoting Skeleton Recordings itself. A number of your label’s tunes at the time are clearly featured, but not in an obvious or noticeable way. Was this a conscious thing? Were you tempted at all to pitch up some older tracks and really feature the label itself in a more heavy-handed fashion?
No, not at all. The old Skeleton releases were done and dusted in my eyes. I think the earliest Skeleton track on these tapes is Dark Angel, which is SKEL011. That, along with Razors Edge (SKEL012) and both sides of SKEL013, R.E.A.L and Mina I used to play regular and as they were around at the right time of me doing the series they were included on some of the tapes.
The tapes were never about me filling them with my own stuff, they were more of a promotional thing for me as a DJ like you said.
These days, I know you’re back DJ’ing out on the oldskool-meets-newskool jungle net station Radio Frontline. Any club bookings or “IRL” sets in the works?
The Radio Frontline thing is a really good thing and has a nice little unit involved. Antidote approached me to do it when we first got in touch through Twitter. After hanging up my headphones and being off the decks for around 18 years it was quite nervy at first and all new using CDJ’s, but I enjoy it now.
Doing this has led to a couple of people asking if I would play at their events and I have got a couple of little slots in the next month or so just to get back used to playing out and about.
Also Dream London UK, which is run by one of my old friends from pirate radio days, has just re-launched after many years being off the airwaves and I have a regular show on there now. My show will be on the first Tuesday of every month from 10pm to midnight, so make sure you lock in. I’ll be playing a bit of old and new stuff, but it will mostly be new upfront sets.
Ignoring the logistics of undertaking a project like this 20 years on, if you were to do a mix series like this now, what kind of artists/styles/labels would be featured? How much new stuff would you feature vs old?
Wow, there is so much music out there nowadays and so much good stuff too that there’s plenty to choose from. My style that I like to play is clean, rolling drums and heavy basslines.
Metalheadz tracks will pretty much always be included in my sets. They had so many seriously good releases last year which I’m actually still playing. I like productions from the likes of dBridge, Callibre, Fracture and Soul Intent to name a few, but there are so many artists coming with the goods also.
If I was to do another mix tape series nowadays I would definitely play new stuff. I would keep the same structure as the original idea as the tapes were about the new or forthcoming releases. I feel people wouldn’t have wanted to spend cash on a mixtape filled with old tunes.
Not related directly to the mixes but…. any update on the Skeleton back catalogue being available digitally sometime in the near future? Have any extra special treats (alternate versions, unreleased tunes) popped up?
Well the past few months I’ve been in the process to get this all sorted out. The DATs were sitting in a gym bag for the last 20 years and they have now been ripped and re-mastered and will be available for digital download exclusively on the ‘Hardcore Junglism’ website from Monday 3rd March. You’ll be pleased to know that there will also be quite a few unreleased tracks which have also been re-mastered and will be available for the first time. There’s a 95 remix of ‘Luv ta Luv ya’ which was floating around on dubplate and two other versions of ‘Razors Edge’. So things are quite exciting really.
The label will be re-launching this year, if all goes to plan, with a 20th anniversary EP of Razors which will have four new updated versions. But I can’t say too much about it at the moment as things need to be finalised.
The skull and cross bones logo is also in process of being re-designed and there is now a website for the label which is www.skeletonrecordings.co.uk. This will feature information on the back catalogue and un-released tracks plus info on forthcoming releases, any events I may be playing at and links to any mixes I do, so keep your eyes peeled.
Also, I have recently joined Facebook and have ‘Official Skeleton Recordings’ page on there, so please go and give it a like.
Now for the mixes in question…. Unfortunately mixcloud redesigned their site recently, and decided people don’t need the ability to embed playlists of mixes for the time being. So I’ve had to embed each mix separately, which makes the page pretty memory-intensive – sorry if this crashes anyone’s browser! It also means tracklists weren’t showing, so I’ve added little widgets for those. To see the tracklist for each mix, click the “Tracklist” text under a mix and it will expand to show the tunes in it. Yo can also just click the following link to see all the mixes in mixcloud on a playlist.
DJ Monita – the 12 Chapters
Continue reading… DJ Monita – “12 Chapters” Mix Series & Interview