If ever there was a “behind the scenes” icon who never got his due for involvement in classic jungle/hardcore, it’s Pete Parsons. If you’ve ever heard tracks on labels like Dee Jay, Lucky Spin, Soapbar or Impact, you’ve heard his work – Parsons was the engineer behind the bulk of the tunes on those labels, among others. Aside from mixing and engineering duties, he also did some absolutely classic singles on his own, under the monikers Voyager, Static Substance and more.
The first section of this interview is focused on his Engineering background – future sections will delve into this a bit more, plus his own music. Anyone who wants to contact Pete can do so on his myspace account: www.myspace.com/petevoyager
How and when did you get started with engineering? Did you apprentice at any studios before Monroe Studios and were you involved in any music prior to this (bands etc)?
I’ve been involved in making music and playing drums ever since I can remember.
I was in a couple of punk bands when I was at school, and joined an 80’s stadium rock wannabe band after that, with very limited success. I had a lot of friends who were making music at that time and a couple of them used to use Monroe to record their stuff at. So I used to go up there and hang out with them, and check out how the equipment was being used, Samplers, Drum machines, Atari’s etc. One of my mates at the time was a guy called Danny Langsman, who would later go on to be one half of “Shanks and Bigfoot”. They had a big tune in 1999 called “Sweet like chocolate”
I would hang out with him a few times and watch how he was putting stuff together, as well as hanging out with bands and seeing how they would record.
I knew this was going to be the career for me, I mean who wouldn’t want to work in recording studio and make music all day??? So I asked my dad if he could help me out and send me on a short engineering course, which he thankfully agreed to, I spent a couple of weeks in a studio and learnt how to use a big ass console, and pretty much the basics of recording, outboard processing and midi sequencing, and then hassled the hell out of the owners of Monroe for a job for a couple of months, and landed it in Jan 1990. I finished my job before Christmas as a carpenter, and started the New Year as an in-house producer engineer working 24/7 for £2.50 an hour, I hardly had any money and my girlfriend at the time was seriously pissed off with me, but gotta live the dream innit! I’ll never forget the interview I had, as I told them straight up front that I didn’t really like dance music, I was a bit of a rock dude, and didn’t really understand it, so he told me I’d better learn to love it because that was what I was going to be doing, and gave me a compilation of dance stuff the studio had been doing to listen too over the weekend, and that was my intro into UK underground dance music.
Did you have any engineering mentors?
My main mentor was one of the co-owners of the studio, a guy called Roger Benu, he was an awesome engineer, right across the board. I remember the first week when he showed me in about 10 minutes how to use the Akai S900, the Atari 1040, the 8 track recorder and an M1 keyboard and then left me with my first client. Roger was a top bloke, who worked on a lot of high profile tunes later on.
Were you aware of / a fan of hardcore stuff before you started engineering it, or even while engineering it? Did you ever go to any raves / own records? Any favorite artists?
Back then, around 90/91 I wasn’t really aware of the rave scene at all apart from the guys who I was working with. I had already begun to work with Seduction on some of his really early stuff, as well as Eric Dial from Raze (Break for Love) who was making some Hip-House and Bleep House/Acid House stuff, and was also engineering for UK Rap crew “The Brotherhood” which was where I first hooked up with Dj Crystl who was doing all their turntable work. I’d hear stories from them about this new Rave and Jungle style of music that was like nothing anybody had heard before, and about how the atmosphere inside the clubs was amazing, but I was sooooo busy working that I never managed to get out to any of them! I missed the whole “dancing in a field off my tits with 5000 other people going mental” and had to try and pick up on the vibes of what these guys were telling me and try to put that energy into their music.
In fact the first rave tune I worked on properly (engineering and mixdown) was a tune called “ Must be the Music” by T.A.S which was released on Profile in 1990, but I don’t think I got a shout on that, still got the white label in the back of a crate somewhere.
One of your earliest engineering credits was for DJ Seductions “Hardcore Heaven” – how did this come about?
Seduction used to come into Monroe and make beats from 1990 I think, he’d come in with a bunch of records and a lot of ideas on how it would all fit together, and I’d sample everything and map it all out on the keyboard for him, and he’d jam with the samples till we got a groove going. It was always a bit of a joint thing as I’d know what he was trying to achieve, and would offer up suggestions and stuff, but the main vibe and melodies would always come from him. He was always very precise in what he was doing, and I knew he was onto something as a lot of the time he’d come back the next time and tell me how it dropped and how the floor reacted to it, and it was always wicked. We worked really well together, I’d know from his sample selection the vibe of the track he was looking for, and would loop up the samples and do a bit of pre-production for him, and gradually over time the process would get quicker and easier.
DJ Seduction – Hardcore Heaven
Soon after this you also started engineering for Lucky Spin, Dee Jay and Soap Bar – what were the circumstances leading up to engineering for each of these labels?
I did a tune called “Burn 2 spiff” with a guy called Ollie Red Eye who was a friend of Dj Crystl’s, and who also knew the 2 guys who ran Lucky Spin and DeeJay (Justin + Sacha) it all started from there really, I did another tune with Ollie and was already beginning to make tunes with Crystl as well, and it all just fell into place from there.
The Soap Bar connection was from the main people who ran the label (Joe, Nicky + Sky) as they also had a record shop in East London called Total Records who were stocking the Lucky Spin stuff as well as some of the other bits I was doing then as well, and I think they liked what they were hearing in terms of the production and quality of the releases, and tracked me down at Monroe. I started working with a couple of the guys from the shop at first, and then with Joe and Nicky on few other things.
Rufstuff – Burn To the Spliff
Were there any differences in engineering for each of these labels? (different budgets or studios, etc) or did it all come down to differences between individual artists?
To begin with everyone used the same studio and was on the same hourly rates, but there were always slight differences in the way the tracks were put together. The basics were always the same; sampling, beat mapping, loops etc But each artist had a very good idea of what they wanted their track to sound like, even if they said they wanted it to sound like somebody else’s track at the time. My main thing was to try and get some emotion into the music, if you listen to quite a lot of the stuff I was doing at the time with those guys, there were a lot of big string and pad breakdowns, or dreamy arpeggio’s and stuff. I was finding that pretty much everyone I was working with wanted that, as well as the beat programming and edits.
A lot of younger people don’t know what it was like in the days of studio-produced jungle done with a proper engineer. For the uninitiated, can you briefly say how that used to work? Would people bring you partially finished tracks to fix up, just a disc with some samples, or just an idea? Or was it all of these depending on the person? Were you able to build up a sample library using stuff from individual sessions, or were you not allowed to “reuse” stuff from a session someone else paid for?
You had to be ready for anything depending on who you had the session with. Some people didn’t have access to any studio equipment or anything back then, remember we’re talking about early 90’s Atari 1040’s and Akai Samplers, so they would come in with a bunch or records or CD’s and sample CD’s, and we’d sample everything up, or search through sample CD’s for sounds. I think I must have wasted so many hours just sitting and listening to endless sample CD’s, that I knew a few of them off by heart in the end. I used to have a big metal flight case that was jammed packed full of floppy disks with everyone’s samples and Cubase songs in it, as well as my own personal primo library of all the beats and samples that were commonly used back then. With most people using the same beats it wasn’t a problem reusing them, however I had to be careful not to duplicate the patterns, or edits tricks too much. The patterns that Crystl and I came up with on “Let it Roll” were pretty unique, and I couldn’t then start putting the same licks into everyone else’s tunes as well. I did get into a little trouble a couple of times for reusing some string pads or an effect sound or something, but there was no way I could reuse a dominant or instantly recognisable sample from someone else’s tune though, so I had to keep my shit together, or separate, depending on how you look at it.