(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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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…