These are the tracks I played while livestreaming on New Year’s Eve for my good friends Andy and Lizzie’s Hybrid Hogmanay party. Originally I was supposed to be in Edinburgh with them for the actual party, but the Omicron variant put paid to that, so instead I streamed from my home in Berlin.
I was playing first, at 5:30 Berlin time (since we had a party to go to as a family in the evening), so I decided to keep things to a rather stately 130 bpm and not get too caught up in chopping and changing. Also, since I hadn’t planned or practiced, I mostly used records that I already knew quite well – most of these records have appeared on various past mixes.
Actually, I think it’s a pretty cool mix! You can judge for yourself, of course. But I like it. 😀
Here’s a few words about each of the tracks that I’ve used on this mix:
The Force: I’ve kicked off the mix with my favorite ever Laurent Garnier track. Moody bassline, acid, repetitive robotic vocals? Sounds like fun to me! I’ve previously used this on both Morally Diminished 3 and Meaty Aged Acid Dad.
Zulu (Trance Mix): Thumping tribal house from the master Armand van Helden, this is from a 1994 appearance he made under his Circle Children alias on Strictly Rhythm. Yes, I did indeed use another mix of this on Downtown Sound a few weeks back.
Rainbow: Erik Rug was a French house producer who made a few well-received records back in the 90’s, but this one in particular is a tune I’ve always liked. I picked it up in a second-hand shop in Paris back in the late 90’s and I’ve had it ever since. Just a nice, groovy house record. I used this previously on Tessmix.
All Night Long: Is this the best NYC house record ever? Change my mind! Just a masterpiece of house music. Timeless. Funky bassline, soulful vocals, plinky keys. It’s got it all! Weirdly it’s been almost twenty years since I used this on a mix – the last time was Rampage Teknikal 3.
I Can’t Complain: I always like a spicy mix-up, so following on from vintage deep house with trundling acid madness was, well, fun! This is the German acid gods channeling the early Chicago sound; they originally recorded this for their DJ-Kicks mix compilation in the 90’s, where it featured alongside vintage 80’s acid classics, sounding 100% correct and well suited. I used this seven years ago on A Long Way to Enlightenment.
Green Line Acid: More acid! This time it’s from West Coast act Metro, whose acid breaks sound was very popular across the US back in the 90’s. I’ve never actually used this track in a mix before, mainly because I’ve never actually done a mix this slow! I like it though – pumping acid house that later turns into tumbling acid breaks, although I mixed out before the beat switch happens.
Rock Shock: Chicago house legend Roy Davis Jr is most famous for his deep house classic Gabriel, but this is a more upbeat disco-funker for Thomas Bangalter’s Roule label. Kind of a switch from the two acid tunes preceding it, but why not, eh? I last used this back in 2009 (gulp) on Morally Diminished 2.
Donkey: Ridiculously banging house from the legendary Armand van Helden. It’s just a kickdrum, some squeaky noises, a little percussion, and a guy repeating ‘get on the donkey’ over and over in a New York accent. Genius. I’ve never used this one on a mix, but I did use Jerome Hill’s homage to it a few months ago.
Daydreemin’ (Mr. C Remix): Tech-house has become something of a dirty word, but back in the late 90’s in London it meant a warm, bass-heavy sound that combined the best of house and techno. It was the sound of Wiggle, Subterrain, and the early days of Fabric. End Recordings, the in-house label of the legendary club The End in Covent Garden, was one of the key labels for the sound, and this cut features three of the key artists from the period: Layo & Bushwacka (under their The Usual Suspects alias) and label and club boss Mr. C (formerly of early 90’s chart botherers The Shamen). Sinister and funky! I kind of lost interest in the overall London tech-house sound a while ago, but I still really like this record – even though I haven’t used it on a mix since Morally Diminished 2 in 2009.
Tardis: Another Bushwacka production (two in a row!), this is an acid bubbler from his 1998 album Wak’d, an album which is undeservedly obscure these days! Lots of cool stuff on there, in my opinion, and this particular track is my favorite. It’s also the hardest, so I guess no surprise there? This is the first outing for it on a mix since The Waveform Cult in 2008.
Cum On: Back in the 90’s, South Australia’s HMC produced some of the most memorable acid techno of the decade. From everything I’ve heard from Australian friends he is also a genius dj, but I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing one of his sets. I’m a big fan of his productions – just relentless, rolling, tweaking acid. The perfect soundtrack to dark, strobelit rooms. This is a classic of the genre – not over-the-top in any way, shape or form, but an unstoppable pulse with constantly percolating 303 lines riding over the top. What ‘minimal’ should mean. Love it! This one last made an appearance in my 2017 Mechatronica promo mix, which is now a surprisingly long time ago!
Teacher: This one is just Canadian techno legend Richie Hawtin bashing you over the head with some sharp-edged, percussive acid techno. I’ve not been a huge fan of all of his work, but I’ve always loved his harder stuff, and I think the tracks he released in the early 90’s under his Circuit Breaker moniker are amongst the best acid ever released, so I’ve been excited to hear him start to re-explore this style recently, as on his new track Acid King. I’ve never used this track on a mix, but I’ve used some other Circuit Breaker tracks before, for example ‘Creator’ was on 30×3.1: Your Mind on Acid.
Gonk: Dave Clarke needs no introduction, but this track might. This is probably one of his lesser-known tracks, originally appearing on the flipside of the massive techno anthem ‘Wisdom to the Wise’ (also known as Red 2). B-sides of much-loved anthems often struggle to get a hearing, but I think this one should be better known. I love this track’s combination of panel beater percussion, organ vamps and funkily twisted bassline. I last used this one in 2008 on Tessmix.
Break Beats (Wild World): Here’s another track that I feel is criminally overlooked – it’s a production by Japanese techno artist Co-Fusion that is just perfect in it’s simplicity. It’s basically a kick drum with some heavily chopped up breakbeats over the top with a little synth action and some cut-up vocals. That’s it! The nice thing here is that the breaks don’t sound like hardcore or jungle-style breaks, which is what you would typically hear from UK techno artists, but really more like funk or soul-style drums just chopped over a techno kick. It’s a really funky track! I first heard this on Amil Khan from Technasia’ Plus Mix, which I picked up in Japan in the spring of 2002 when I was visiting my friend Dan there. I loved it, so I ended up tracking down a copy for myself. This is yet another track that I last used on Morally Diminished 3.
House (Ben Sims Remix V.1): If you’re a fan of the funkier side of techno, you’re no doubt acquainted with Ben Sims. Coming from just outside of London, he’s well-known as one of the best and most consistent dj’s in the scene, as well as for his extensive back catalogue of relentless machine funk. This tune is one that he put out on Primate many years ago, it’s not among his better-known tunes, but I like it! Just funky techno, nothing more, nothing less, but that’s enough! I thought that I’ve never used this one on a mix before, but I’ve just checked and in fact I used this in 2003 on Rampage Teknikal 2, so almost twenty years later it has got another airing. 😉
2 The Floor (With DJ Nasty and Fletch Flex): I don’t know if I’m capable of making a techno mix without one of Technasia’s old tracks. Definitely among my all-time favorite techno artists, I previously used this track on my Technasia tribute Kowloon Nights.
The Riff: To finish things off, here’s an epic track from Swedish techno legend Adam Beyer on Primate’s sub-label Primevil. This is as euphoric as techno gets – when that bassline hits, arms fly into the air! Amazing track, and my favorite from him. This is actually the third time I’ve used this track – most recently it was on Morally Diminished 4, and before that on Rampage Teknikal 6.
In February 2022 I will have been officially a dj for 25 years, which is pretty cool!
It is also a sign that I am now getting … old.
Which is OK – it happens!
Bitten hard by the bug of electronic music, I’d been frantically saving money through 1996 to become a dj – saving my allowance money, money from part-time jobs, from regular babysitting gigs, and, sure, from my Dad kicking in some money on my birthday and at Christmas. Thanks Dad! Finally by February 1997 I had enough and my Dad and I drove up to the outer reaches of northwest London to visit the Sapphire dj equipment store and pick out my first dj setup: two Technics 1210’s and a basic mixer. With a good quality amp and tape deck (remember those?) and some basic speakers already in place, I was ready to fulfil my destiny and become a superstar dj.
Um, life has different plans!
Needless to say, since I didn’t actually know any other dj’s, it took me a while to figure out how to mix (sorry neighbors!), and I never actually became the big name dj that I dreamed of becoming as a teen, mainly because within a couple of years I realized it wasn’t something I wanted for myself.
Over all, though, I would say that being a dj for so long has been a fantastic privilege. I have accumulated so many wonderful memories over the last 25 years; I’ve played at places as diverse as illegal London squat parties, a free party on a Scottish farm, the function room of a Finnish sauna, in a rich guy’s custom-built rave room on the Black Isle, a tunnel deep in an East Berlin forest, innumerable house parties, and a whole variety of clubs from the famous (Berlin’s Griessmuehle, London’s The Drome) to smaller but still respected (Club 414 in Brixton, or YAAM and Urban Spree in Berlin, amongst others) to a whole range of tiny random sweatboxes in a variety of cities and countries. I’ve been a promoter for one mad, hectic year with Rampage in Edinburgh. I even released an EP last year!
Perhaps most importantly, I’ve made lifelong friends through music.
Since I never need any encouragement to embark on daft, overly-complex mix sprees (see The 780 Project or Get It) I’ve decided that to celebrate 25 years of being a dj, I’m going to try to do 25 mixes this year. Which is one every two weeks, give or take.
To be totally honest I think that this plan is a bit, um, ambitious, and I’m not sure that I will be able to do this, but it will certainly be fun!
Luckily enough, I start this project with three mixes in the bank, so I have a bit of a runway to get this plane off the ground:
Hybrid Hogmanay – a NYE livestream recording, old house and techno stuff. Maybe my slowest ever mix hehe!
Rethinking Missed Chances – modern jungle techno
Random Order Selection 2 – a grime mix I threw together last week for Begrime
Beyond those, I have as always a bunch of ideas for different mixes that have been percolating in my head, including a major tribute to one of the most influential labels in UK dance music history (Moving Shadow), a tribute to one of my favorite new skool jungle label (AKO Beatz), some artist tributes (Om Unit, Stranger, maybe some others?), a revival of the Eurotrash series, a variety of concepts I have in mind for Begrime, and, well, that’s just a sample. 😉
Outside of my own efforts for Sonicrampage, I’d like to play out at least a couple times this year in Berlin (Covid situation permitting) as well as sell some more copies of the EP, re-release my 2013 track ‘Dreaming of Berlin’, get invited to submit guest mixes to a few different places, and even do some livestreams for different people. It would be fun to play for Hoer Berlin, for example!
So let’s see where the year goes – I’m excited to celebrate this arbitrary milestone in a fun way!
I guess it was a strange one for many people, at times it felt almost normal, and then at other times it didn’t really … a bit of a weird one! On the musical front it’s been a fun one, released a record and made some cool mixes, even played out a couple times, and to close out the year here’s a very special mix that I’m quite excited to share with you.
No need for suspense, you had to scroll down to get here, so you know exactly what I’m talking about … the mix in question is my tribute to legendary house producer Armand van Helden!
To be honest, it’s a mix many people might not expect from me, and sure, it’s pretty rare for me to do a house mix, but, well, I’ve been a big fan of Armand van Helden’s productions ever since I first encountered them in the mid-90’s.
So why not, eh?
OK, I guess I could stop there, but that would be a pretty lame blog post, so I’m going to have to give a bit of a longer explanation about just what is going on here …
I like house music, I can vibe to it, but it’s not my go-to and it never has been – it just has never been something that I have felt deeply passionate about, not in the same way that dedicated househeads do. I recognize that for many, many people house music is something that has played a key role in their lives. This is especially true for the deeper side of house, which has offered community, self-expression, joy and a quasi-spiritual sense of release to hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions.
I’m not one of those people, and that’s OK!
But I do like some of it, and amongst the dozens (hundreds?) of house music sub-genres and little scenes, probably my favorite moment in time is that classic mid-90’s New York City house sound, that vast flood of music that emerged from that last moment when NYC was unquestionably one of the global capitals of club culture.
The sound of labels like Henry Street, Eightball, Nervous, Tribal, King Street, Nu Groove, Strictly Rhythm, amongst others.
The sound that boomed through clubs like Sound Factory, the Limelight, Twilo, the Tunnel, Roxy, the Palladium, Club USA, and more.
The sound of swooping diva vocals, uplifting pianos, rumbling tribal drum sessions, disco loops filtered to oblivion and back. Pumping kickdrums, funky basslines. Sirens, stabs, crisp percussion. Mellow keys, sweeping strings, every now and then a slinky saxophone. Snatches of hip-hop vocals, gospel choirs, inspirational speeches, catty queens, lilting Caribbean Spanish. Luscious pads, tinny horns. Samples from disco, soul, funk, salsa, rock, samba … the whole spectrum of modern music repurposed for dark dancefloors and endless nights.
And behind it all, the relentless pulse of the kickdrum.
The sound of Masters at Work, Todd Terry, Mood II Swing, Francois K, Danny Tenaglia, David Morales, Roger Sanchez, Mateo & Matos, Junior Vasquez, Victor Simonelli, and a cast of literally thousands of dj’s and producers operating across all five boroughs and throughout the whole Tri-State Area. A sort of collective genius in action.
But my favorite?
Always, always, always Armand van Helden.
The boshing kickdrums, the unapologetic diva theatrics, the application of killer samples, the hip-hop attitude, and above all, the sheer genius for bassline magic Shit, he’s a guy who churned out a small mountain of house remixes of terrible 90’s pop acts (Capella? Ace of Base? Vanessa Williams?) and rarely dropped a clunker … he could have just taken the cash and ran, but somehow we managed the rare feat of polishing some particularly pungent turds. And not just once or twice, but over and over and over!
To me, there’s something so distinctly, so quintessentially New York about his music. It’s just New York to the core, in the attitude, the grit leavened by a refusal to get too serious, the joyous abandon and the intensity.
Sure, he might actually be from Boston originally, but let’s not let that get in the way of this theory.
And it’s completely fitting that it’s not until he moved to New York in 1994 that he really found his audience and his success.
So as someone who bough my first Armand van Helden record all the way back in 1996 (it was this one, if you’re asking), you could say that this mix was literally decades in the making.
As with many of my mix projects, this one has been slowly germinating for a while as I built up a little collection of his tunes. This year, finally, I hit a critical mass of tunes, and it was time to make it happen!
With all of my mixes I start with the question: “What do I do with this big pile of records?”
Sometimes I just hit record and see what happens, but in this case I wanted to put a little more thought into it, so I pulled out my stack of Armand van Helden tunes and started listening to them, and what really struck me was that he did all kinds of stuff through the course of the 90’s. Maybe that’s kind of an obvious point (‘musician doesn’t stand still’) but when I sat and listened to about thirty AvH records it became pretty obvious that the story of the mix would be to highlight this career progression and make it explicable to the listener.
The solution was, in the end, pretty straightforward … organize the records by year (more or less) and that would tell the story very clearly. The mix thus covers van Helden’s output from 1994 to 1997, roughly (there’s I think one record from 1993 and one from 1998), and this approach provides a very interesting overview. Just from listening you can hear in it house music’s transformation from a sound for underground clubs to the soundtrack to the rising super-clubs and dance music’s emergence as a genuine global phenomenon.
The early tracks have that classic New York tribal sound, all relentless pumping rhythms, whereas by the end of the mix we are encountering a very different sound, much bigger and more ambitious, epic in scope and precise in execution. Gone is the charming roughness of only a few years before, replaced with a deep confidence that, fuck yeah, I can make some big motherfucking ANTHEMS.
Like this one, one of the biggest house records of all time. I didn’t use it though! (It’s not one of my favorites)
In those last few tracks you can hear Armand van Helden at the absolute peak of his commercial and critical success, dropping bassline monsters that helped spark London’s emerging ‘speed garage’ scene into life, while also raiding the disco archives for the samples that helped him to vaporize dancefloors worldwide and cause an entirely new generation to reconsider the much-maligned 1970’s and its signature music style.
It must have been a wild ride for him!
The sheer speed at which his sound progressed in the mid-90’s brought to mind a parallel process in a scene that van Helden was deeply influenced by – the UK breakbeat scene, which in mere years progressed from hardcore to jungle to drum n’ bass. This music had a huge impact on van Helden’s work, altering his own house productions in the late 90’s, which in turn sent shockwaves through the world of house as jungle-style basslines were introduced to dancefloors that just weren’t expecting them. It’s also worth mentioning that he even made an amazing Monica-sampling white label drum n’ bass classic called ‘Ain’t Armand‘.
This gave me the hook for the mix – once I sorted the records by year the pattern was obvious. Just as with my Amen Promo Mix, the best way to tell the story of Armand van Helden in the mid-90’s was to do it chronologically, starting in 1994 and ending in 1997, and allowing the listener to hear the transformation over time.
I hope you enjoy listening to the mix as much as I enjoyed putting it together!
After a slowish start to the year, I’m trying to pick up the pace of making and releasing new mixes by getting into a new habit, namely recording in little bursts a few nights a week. Nothing major, just 20 to 30 minutes at a time, as I’ve found this fits in a bit better with my family life and it takes away the excuse of ‘oh, I don’t have time to do a full mix’. Sure, on any given night I don’t have 60-90 minutes, but I can definitely rustle up 20-30, and if you do that four times a week you end up with between 80 and 120 minutes of material, which is plenty for a mix, right?
As I write this, therefore, I have one finished mix (Armand van Helden tribute!) also done, and I’m working on another one (modern jungle techno!), and I plan to do a different one (Berlin techno! Or maybe AKO Beatz!) next week … so the gears are grinding along and stuff is happening.
I guess the younger me would 100% have considered such an approach to be ‘cheating’, but the younger me didn’t have two kids nor a job that was anywhere near as demanding, so fuck that guy and his overinflated purism. 😉
This mix, specifically, has been on the shelf for a little while – I originally recorded it in October for the Begrime radio show and I am only now getting it up on Sonicrampage. The genesis of this mix was, well … not very complicated! I didn’t have much free time and the deadline for submission was looming, so I just got out a stack of records and did it in little bursts over a couple of days and then stitched it together in Soundforge.
Normally I would do a grime mix for Begrime (and in fact this is what I’ve done in the past; see here, here and here), but this time around I decided to do something a bit different: a deeper dubstep mix.
OK, that’s not that different – similar bpm, similar roots, all that.
I wasn’t getting too wild and crazy!
But still, a little bit different.
Why did I do a dubstep mix?
There’s not really a very complex story to it – Begrime did a little party in September at the beach bar at Yaam, a venue by the river in Friedrichshain, and the management asked us not to go too hard too early, so I volunteered to go first and play dubstep, on the assumption that it would be a bit more mellow than straight-up grime.
To be honest, I didn’t think too deeply about it in advance, I just got out some of my older dubstep records, mostly on the deeper side (no mid-range tearouts!), did a little practice, and packed my bag. That’s it!
On the day itself, I was pretty exhausted and was sort of looking for reasons to not do it, but I still made my way there for 7pm and … it was great!
Like obviously 7pm on a windy September evening with a bunch of people sitting around drinking, the first fall chill in the air, is not a prime slot in any way shape or form, but frankly it was just so much fun to play these records and hear them loud (or at least loud-ish). Clearly it’s a different experience to hear music on a proper soundsystem as opposed to on headphones or a home stereo system, and that goes for all genres of music, but, well, dubstep stands out even more so in this regard.
What you never experience with dubstep at home is the sheer physicality of it, the intensity of the bass. You hear it and experience it in a whole new way, and even though I was playing to a bunch of people who, frankly, probably didn’t care too much either way, it was just really really fun. I did my one hour set and walked off absolutely buzzing! It was so cool to hear this music at this volume again, and especially to play so many tunes that I hadn’t really played much for a while.
A great experience!
It was also very nice that my cousin Diana stopped by with some friends – they seemed to have a nice time! She’s from New York City and is studying in Amsterdam this year – it was great to see her.
Afterwards I was feeling very inspired, so I ended up doing this mix a few weeks later to try to recapture that vibe a little bit – I reused quite a few of the tunes, but not all. Everything on this mix was in my bag that day.
Here’s the setlist from the actual party, for those of you who are curious:
01. Matty G – Back to the Bay feat. Ugene [Dub Police] 02. Babylon System – Everyday Hustle [10 Bags] 03. Silkie – Head Butt Da Deck [Deep Medi Musik] 04. Skream – Phatty Drummer [Deep Medi Musik] 05. Coki – Burnin’ [White] 06. Kromestar – Late [Southside] 07. Von D – Coquine [Black Acre] 08. Martyn – Shadowcasting [Revolve:r] 09. 2562 – Kontrol [Tectonic] 10. Skream – Memories of 3rd Base [Digital Soundboy] 11. Matty G – Bass Frequency [Dubplate] 12. Matty G – Summer Solstice [Argon] 13. Landslide vs Slaughter Mob – Splurt (Skream Remix) [Halo Beats] 14. Loefah – Natural Charge [Version] 15. Vybz Kartel – Emergency (Coki Remix) [Greensleeves Dubstep] 16. The Arts of Noise – Moments in Love (Caspa Remix) [White] 17. RSD – Forward Youth [Tectonic] 18. Mala – Maintain Thru Madness [DMZ] 19. Skream – Midnight Request Line [Tempa] 20. Coki – Dry Cry [AWD] 21. King Soly – Wicked King of Persia [Bass Face]
And now I’ve done a second tribute mix, which is this one.
Suffice to say I’m a pretty big fan!
I did get in touch with the man himself to see if he wanted to do a follow up interview, but he (very politely!) declined, which is fine.
So in the absence of an interview (easy solution!), I’ve been struggling about what to write to accompany the mix. I already have written fairly extensively about what I like about Jerome’s music (pounding machine funk! An actual sense of humor! A diverse range of sounds! Lots of old skool flourishes!), and I feel like there isn’t too much more I can say on the topic that wouldn’t just be very repetitive.
This mix features a bunch of his tunes and remixes from different points in his production career, from the mid-00’s right through to now. It also traces a bit of an arc through his sound, starting with the kind of rumbling jacking house stuff that his Super Rhythm Trax label has become known for, before working its way through some of the off-kilter techno sounds that his label Don’t has championed, before heading towards some more straight-up techno bangers at the finish.
In the absence of having really clear ideas about what to include in this blog post, I’m going to just throw in some stuff I enjoy.
First up, here’s a great livestream set he did last year for Fold London:
Secondly, here’s the awesome cover for the Super Rhythm Trax compilation album:
The first sets I heard from you back in the day were at squat parties in London – do you still play on that scene or have you moved on? Any favorite memories from that world? (I have plenty but also to be fair it could be very grim at times!)
If I have a weekend off and there happens to be a good one going on, then yes, I’ll sometimes show up with my records. It’s few and far between these days, though – I actually went to play at one a few weeks back but when I arrived outside it had just been shut down by the police so had to drive home again.
But looking back there are too many memories: cinemas, bingo halls, swimming pools, job centres, universities, quarries – you name it, we played techno loudly inside it! But the main thing was the positive feelings of everyone being like a family and just showing up any Sunday morning and the family would all be there. *sighs wistfully*
How has the London scene changed since the start of your career? Is it much harder to put events on now than it was?
In terms of squatted venues, yes. It’s much harder to get away with stuff now!
Do you still use vinyl when you play out? If so, do you find it easy / difficult to get access to decent quality setups (I sometimes find decks to be somewhat … sketchy)
Yes I use half vinyl and half USB. And yes, decks are often sketchy as fuck, which is why sometimes the USBs are a saviour!
How has your dj style evolved over the years?
Not sure. It depends what mood I’m in as to how I play I guess. Sometimes I’m in a deep mix and blend mode, and other times in a scratch the fuck out of it and throw stuff around mode. I still love playing music people wouldn’t expect, like rock n’ roll or hardcore hip-hop in a techno set.
How do crowds in Berlin compare to other places you have played?
I love playing in Berlin. They do clubs so well there, and the crowds are great. They kind of have it good there and are seasoned pros who are used to the best and loudest sound systems and ridiculous amounts of dry ice … just how I love it. And I love the fact that in most of the places I play, photographs are banned. Really makes for a better atmosphere on the dancefloor.
If you want the short version of what’s going on here, this is it – if you want the long version, I’ve written an interview with myself (lol) below that where I really get into the detail of what’s going on here.
Short version: I’ve been a dj for 25 years and I wanted to make an EP. The stars aligned late last year and I had the opportunity to work remotely with UK freeform producer A.B – in two weeks of remote work we made the four tracks on this EP. The general idea behind it is that I wanted to dig into my record collection to come up with four super sample-heavy techno tracks that really captured the vibe and essence of the London squat party scene, especially from the late 90’s to early 2000’s when I used to go out on it. I’ve since commissioned a cover by Berlin-based Scottish artist Nick Cocozza and gotten it pressed to vinyl. Holding my own record in my hands was truly a special moment for me!
These are the four tracks:
Underground Sound (140 bpm) – A thumping techno banger that takes many twists and turns, drawing as it does on samples from a wide range of electronic music styles
Pendulum (140 bpm) – Acid techno meets ’93 hardcore in a full-on euphoric rave face-melter
Undertow (145 bpm) – Vintage acid trance sounds layered over a stomping modern techno beat
Crossbones (150 bpm) – Hard techno meets gabba meets dark drum n’ bass meets your brain blasting out of your ears
So that’s the short version!
Here’s the long version – as a bit of a laugh I decided to interview myself, the better to tell the story of this EP. It’s kind of ridiculous, but why not, eh?
Randall Helms: So what’s going on here? Why’d you make an EP?
Pearsall: I’ve been a dj since I was 16 and, as of today, I’m 41 (gulp) and, frankly, as someone who has been a vinyl junkie for decades, I’ve always wanted to hold my ‘own’ record in my hands. Over the last few years I’ve been thinking about it a bit more and finally the stars aligned to make it possible. And here we are!
And I’ve kind of joked about this record as some kind of midlife crisis activity – like saying on the back cover notes that it’s cheaper than buying a sports car – but that’s not what this is about.
Really this is about doing something creative that I’ve always wanted to do, and actually following through when the opportunity presented itself. As I said before the stars aligned unexpectedly – suddenly I had the time, I had the means, and I had the idea – and I made it happen!
RH: Can you elaborate on what you mean by having the the time, the means and the idea?
P: Sure, but before I do I want to give some context about where this is all coming from.
I’ve been a dj for so many years and music has always played a key role in my life. I love music, especially electronic music, and it’s been by far the most durable interest that I’ve had, starting from when I was barely into double digits. I’m not really a religious or spiritual person, so I suppose music has been how I’ve experienced transcendant / emotional feelings. It’s deeply meaningful to me.
Music has been something that has been and still is deeply woven into the fabric of my life. I’m constantly buying music, listening to music, thinking about music – every day of my life involves music in one way, shape or form. If I’m working, I’m always listening to music with at least one earphone in, unless I’m in a meeting and can’t! If I’m taking a long walk, I’m listening to music. If I’m cooking, music. On the train, music. It’s always there.
So with that in mind the one gap, the one thing missing, has always been making my own music. It’s something I’ve always been halfway interested in, but never to the degree that I wanted to make the effort required to learn how. It’s always seemed like a very steep learning curve! Learning how to produce electronic music myself has always seemed like something that would require a solid amount of money, time, and effort, and I don’t think there’s ever been a point in my adult life where I had the right combination of all three.
When I was younger, I had the time but I didn’t really have the money to buy lots of synths, and I didn’t want to forgo buying records to get the equipment needed to make tracks. I spent some time messing around making tracks with my friend Jamie at his home studio in Barnet, but we never really managed to get the tracks we made to a very high standard. Nor did I really want to make the effort to learn, especially because in the early 00’s there weren’t anywhere near as many resources available to learn how to produce. There were magazines and internet forums, but nothing like the vast array of podcasts and YouTube tutorials that a budding producer can call on in 2021.
Today, production has become much more affordable, in that you don’t need to buy racks and racks of synths, but can simply install a bunch of soft syths on a laptop, but I simply don’t have the time to learn. Between having a pretty demanding job and a family, I just do not have the time for experimentation and exploration that I need (or at least I think you need) to learn how to produce electronic music.
RH: So, um, it sounds like the one common thing is that you’ve never wanted to make the effort to learn.
P: Yeah, that’s fair. I’m lazy, I guess – at least on this topic.
RH: So you could have just said you never wanted to make the effort! And you didn’t even answer the question I asked you, about having the means, the time, and the idea.
P: OK OK OK – I was getting there!
So the story of this EP, what I mean by the stars aligning, is that it’s really a byproduct of the Covid-19 crisis.
Firstly, one blessing is that I’m at a point in my career where I can make a small investment into a creative project like this where the goal is purely personal fulfillment. That’s pretty sweet!
The next point is about having the time; this is huge, because usually I don’t have much free time for myself. Without getting into too much of the backstory, I realized in late August 2020 that I would not be able to go to the US in October for my sister’s wedding, of course due to Covid, and this meant that I suddenly had two weeks of vacation booked in October with nothing planned.
By what I think was some kind of incredible luck or serendipity, I was scrolling my Facebook feed around this time and saw that I saw that UK trance / freeform hardcore producer Alex Bailey (aka A.B) was offering remote studio sessions from his studio in Kent, SE England. Years before I’d spent a day at his studio in Bromley making the track ‘Dreaming of Berlin’, which had been released digitally on a Freeformaniacs compilation, but that had involved me taking the train to his studio. Now I could do this without ever leaving Berlin … I had the means to do it!
Here, suddenly, was the confluence of time and opportunity that I needed to make not just a single track but a full EP!
RH: That’s cool and all, but you mentioned an idea – what was the idea?
P: I was getting there!
RH: Not very quickly …
P: OK, fair, I do tend to ramble a bit …
So the idea was one I had had for a while, without really knowing how to turn it into reality.
The basic idea can be summed up as ‘SMD goes to a late 90’s squat party’. Are you familiar with SMD?
RH: Um, yes. I am you, after all.
P: True true.
So for those who don’t know, SMD was a side project of rave legend Slipmatt – it stands for ‘Slipmatt Dubs’, and it was used as the artist and label name for a series of quasi-bootlegs that he released starting in 1993. These are some of the most famous old skool hardcore tracks of all time; think samples piled giddily on top of each other to generate a fully bonkers hands-in-the-air rave meltdown. Along with Dave Charlesworth’s similar Energizer series, each of is a ravetastic audio rollercoaster, with the listener experiencing a kind of whiplash as riffs constantly enter and exit.
These tracks are particular examples, but more generally I’ve always been fascinated by sampling in general, by the idea of repurposing bits of music in a new context, and especially by the work of people like DJ Shadow, who built their careers out of layering up samples from all kinds of disparate sources into a new and cohesive whole.
Separately, I’ve always been very interested in the world of the London squat party scene, which I first entered at a party in an abandoned warehouse in Kennington, south London in June 1998. This is no secret – I’ve been recording my Squat Rocking series of mixes for close to 15 years now and I’ve written extensively about squat parties, not just in terms of my own experiences, but also via my interview with Chris Liberator and via Marc Mewshaw’s guest essay that I posted a few years back.
My Squat Rocking mix series has been about trying to capture the range of sounds that I would hear at a typical squat party – acid techno, of course, but also hard trance, hard techno, drum n’ bass, gabba, and beyond. Over the course of the ten mixes in the series, I’ve tried to explore these sounds from different angles, covering different genres, running tributes, and so on. It’s a pretty long-running project at this point, and it constitutes a body of work that I’m quite proud of, and as such I’m always thinking of new angles to explore, which is where the idea came from a few years ago to make a mix of new music that would fit in the ethos of the series.
This, obviously, leads to the question of ‘what new music would fit?’ This then led to the thought of ‘maybe I could make some myself?’ Then at this point a lightbulb went off in my head that maybe, just maybe, something that could be cool to do would be to make an SMD-style sample frenzy, but with the kind of sounds I would hear at a squat party back in the day.
I thought this was a pretty cool idea (I still do …) but I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so it kind of sat there in my mind marinating slowly, with the occasional half-hearted effort at contacting engineers my only work towards making it a reality … basically until I saw Alex’s Facebook message.
Luck or fate? You decide!
RH: What is it about the free party scene that you find so interesting?
P: Well, I guess that it’s a little weird that squat parties have had such an impact on my life, since I only went for maybe three years or so. It’s not like this is something I’m still doing! It’s probably around twenty years since I’ve even been to one …
I guess the key thing is that even though this wasn’t a long period of my life, squat parties were nevertheless quite seminal experiences. These parties were intense and different and contradictory – they could be incredibly euphoric and life-affirming, but also sinister and even scary. I saw moments of incredible beauty as well as things that were simply dark, but above all I guess what was so powerful about them was that they seemed to exist outside of the normal structures of life. As someone from what is in many respects a very conservative family, this was a doorway into an alternate world where things functioned differently. These parties were temporary autonomous zones outside of the normal realm of legality and as such you could observe how people would behave in a situation that was free, really free. Sometimes the results weren’t pretty! But it was definitely free in a way that a ‘normal’ club with a strict closing time and bouncers and jacked-up prices at the bar are not free.
And this doesn’t just pertain to drugs – drugs were more openly available and consumed at squat parties than in legal clubs, sure, but this was for the most part just a cosmetic difference. When I reference ‘freedom’ here, it’s really a whole package of things beyond just climbing staircases lined with dealers yelling ‘PILLS BASE KETAMINE ACID! PILL BASE KETAMINE ACID!’. You could go where you wanted, do what you want, and really the only things to stop you would be your own inhibitions or if you impinged on other people. In a typical club you might have one or two dancefloors and a chillout room, whereas in squat parties you would often have massive spaces to explore, rooms and rooms to wander through. You would also meet a massive range of people at these parties, from your stereotypical crusties to teenagers from around London, to random people who just showed up for a good time. I remember meeting rich girls from Chelsea, teens from care homes, homeless people, Kiwi builders, Italian waiters, randoms with ordinary white-collar jobs in stuff like insurance, people who had dropped out of normal society, artists, travelers, old hippies, and beyond. It was a good way to get to really understand human nature and who we are when the normal rules are suspended.
Honestly, it’s kind of amazing that I experienced this at such a young age – sorry Mom and Dad, I know you weren’t aware that I was doing this! I’m not sure that I was so well equipped to understand and process all this at 17, but I sure thought I was.
RH: It was all much better back in the day, wasn’t it? Young people today don’t know what they missed!
P: I dunno … I see people talking like this on some Facebook groups I’m part of, like Lockdown Legends, and I’m a bit baffled by this. I think if you’re 18 and you’ve just started going out to raves you’re probably having a fucking amazing time, and who am I to claim that I had more fun than you? Or that my experience was somehow better or purer? Like how could you even objectively measure that I had more fun dancing to Chris Liberator in 1999 than someone of a similar age today is enjoying dancing to say Dax J? It just seems like generational narcissism to claim that young people today are so different from the way we were … human nature doesn’t change that much.
Shout out to the young ravers!
Have a great time and ignore the old people who put you down. Shit I remember going to raves in the late 90’s and talking to people and being like “isn’t this awesome?” and they’d respond “nah mate, you missed out on 1998 / 1992 / 1995”. Nothing changes!
RH: So when you contacted Alex Bailey about the remote studio session how far along was the concept? Did you already have a very clear idea in your mind about what you wanted to do?
P: Actually by that time the concept was pretty far along, since I’d been slowly thinking about it and adding layers and layers on to the concept for at least a year.
I knew that I wanted to make a four track techno EP where each track would be named after a particular squat party crew from the days when I would actually go to squat parties. I knew that I wanted to press the outcome to vinyl, although I had no clue about the process. I knew I wanted the tracks to be very sample-heavy and that I wanted to pull the samples from my very ample record collection.
I wanted the tracks to capture some of the sounds and textures and emotions that were featured in the Squat Rocking mix series, and I wanted each track to be reminiscent of the particular sounds of each crew – so hard techno from Underground Sound, hard trance from Undertow, hardcore from Crossbones, and acid techno from Pendulum. Unlike the SMD series, I wasn’t too bothered about featuring really obvious ‘anthemic’ samples, instead I wanted to really do some digging and come up with interesting samples from across my record collection, so not just techno and trance samples, but from all kinds of other genres.
Having said that, at the point where I contacted Alex I only had the concepts, without a clear vision about how to turn each track into a reality.
RH: What happened next?
P: So the first step was to set up an introductory phone call where I explained the idea that I had and gave him a rough outline of how it would work, he asked some questions, and we then agreed to work together. Fortunately, I was booking enough in advance that I was able to book eight four hour sessions over the two weeks of my holiday – enough time to make an entire four track EP!
Over the next month before starting, we then fired messages back and forth where he probed, asked questions, and asked me to provide him with some tracks for inspiration, so he could start preparing himself.
Separately I began building up an arsenal of samples from my record collection, recording riffs, percussion loops, vocals and various other snippets on to my computer and then sharing them with Alex via Google Drive. Over that time period I also started to really drill into the concept of each track and flesh it out. Like I had the idea that ‘Pendulum’ was going to be an acid track, but what did that mean in practice? I decided that it would be cool to cross acid techno with old skool hardcore, so I started digging into my collection to pull out some cool samples that I thought could work in the track.
Similarly, with ‘Crossbones’, I knew I wanted it to be dark and to have some gabba samples, but what else could I add to it? I decided that it would be cool to also add in some samples from techstep drum n’ bass – the other great ‘dark’ music of the 90’s.
With ‘Undertow’ it was clear that I wanted to make acid trance, so it was just about pulling together a selection of samples that could do justice to a track named after my favorite ever London hard trance crew. Whereas with ‘Underground Sound’ I wanted to make proper hard techno, but I also wanted to incorporate some samples from one of my other great musical obsessions – grime!
RH: How did the remote studio sessions actually work in the end?
P: The process that Alex has for the remote studio sessions is actually pretty amazing! It’s a real testament to how technology has advanced, and how it has enabled us to do really interesting things that simply weren’t possible 10-15 years ago. I was sitting in my home office / mancave in Berlin and he was sitting in his home studio just outside London. We were about one thousand kilometers apart from each other, and yet we were able to put together all of these tracks exactly in the time we had agreed.
How did it work exactly? So for each session Alex shared two links with me – one Zoom link and one Audio Movers link. The Zoom link had a screen share from his Logic console, and we would chat via Zoom, and the Audio Movers link was a browser link that allowed him to stream high definition audio direct from Logic, so that I could hear in crystal clear quality what he was working on. This worked remarkably well, so that we could be chatting via Zoom and discussing what to do, while I was able to listen to the track in high quality via my browser. Every now and then he would have to mute himself so that I could hear a bit more clearly, but in general the process worked very well.
RH: How did you build the tracks?
P: The first track we did was Crossbones, and that set the working pattern for the sessions – we would work for two and a half hours in the morning, have a lunch break, and then do an hour and a half in the afternoon before wrapping up. Since this is quite an intense process, Alex reckoned that four hours per day was about the limit, and I think he was right.
So with Crossbones, as with the following tracks, we started by dragging into the Logic project all of the samples that I had already sent to him, then we would start by working on the kickdrum and other percussion, building up a groove to work with, then we would discuss what riffs to use, and then what kind of breakdowns we wanted to have. As I wanted to have these tracks go through a lot of changes, we spent a lot of time building distinct sections of the tracks and then discussing how to connect them.
RH: What roles did each of you play in building the tracks?
P: Well, everything was happening on his computer! Of course, this is a pretty normal scenario in dance music, where a producer works with an engineer who does most of the sound work. Sometimes that literally just means the ‘producer’ is skinning up in the back of the room while the engineer does everything, but this was not that case our work … anyways neither of us was consuming anything stronger than cups of tea!
My role was kind of like a director in a movie – I provided the big picture concepts, obviously, but beyond that I was intimately involved in the arrangement of the track, suggesting which samples go where, as well as how they should be sliced, as well as organizing the percussion, i.e. ‘take the kick out for this last bar of the phrase and use a spinback in its place’.
Alex was working not just to turn my ideas into reality, but also feeding off of them, considering them, and bouncing back with his own ideas for arrangements and structures. He also massively helped out by making sure that everything was in key, including replaying samples to make sure they weren’t clashing, which is 100% not something I have a clue about. Not everything was sampled, of course, so there was a certain amount of time spent with him cycling through percussion kits with me going, ‘no, no, no, yes, yes, maybe, no, yes’ and then dragging them into the track and trying out different things.
There was a lot of healthy discussion about what could go where and how it could all work!
One major advantage of this remote setup was that I was sitting in my home office, with my decks and my records right beside me, which meant that when we would get a bit stuck in terms of finding the right sound I could do some quick digging, pull some records out, sample little bits, and just drag and drop them into the Zoom chat. Alex would drag them into the project and suddenly we would have some new options to work with!
This was a really neat way to work – under more normal circumstances I would have been limited by whatever samples I had already sent to Alex, or maybe at best with any records I had brought with me, so to be able to dive into my record collection to grab samples and try out new ideas in real time was just incredibly fun and liberating!
One other thing to mention about this process was that the working process became a lot smoother over the course of the eight sessions, as I started to understand better how everything worked, and I was able to offer clearer suggestions than “uh, maybe it could sound a bit tougher there”, but be able to be more specific about what I was looking for, like “ok let’s put a low pass filter on this riff four bars before we take it out completely”. I think you can hear this when you compare ‘Crossbones’, which is the first track we worked on, with ‘Pendulum’, which is the last.
RH: What samples did you use in the end?
P: I’m not saying! We used over 50 samples across the four tracks, and I’d like to leave this as a fun thing for the spotters to figure out what samples I used.
Have at it! 🙂
RH: Were you happy with the outcome of these tracks? Did they match your vision?
P: Yes, I was delighted! The concept I had been pondering for so long had come to life – not 100%, of course, because there were some samples I really wanted to use that we just couldn’t get to work, but in general I was really happy with how the tracks turned out.
I still am!
RH: OK, so this was last October, one year ago … why are these tracks only getting released now?
P: Um, procrastination? That’s the honest answer.
Even after we finished our studio sessions, there were a few details to sort out on some of the tracks, so once I got back into my normal work mode, I just didn’t get around to doing it that quickly. Sorry Alex! It took a while to really finish the tracks, and then I still needed to deal with mastering, artwork, and getting them pressed. Alex recommended the mastering services of Jon Doe, long-time UK hard house / hard trance / hardcore legend, so I was quite happy to use his services, but again that took me some time to get around to. More procrastination!
RH: What about the artwork? It’s pretty incredible!
P: Yeah, it’s amazing!
Originally I wanted my friend Vali NME Click to do it, but he was so busy with preparing the artwork for his massive Message from the Parazone compilation project that he simply didn’t have time to do it. In the end I actually chose Berlin-based Scottish artist Nick Cocozza, an artist who I found via Instagram. He’s been doing artwork for Berlin techno crew Ismus and I just really liked his style, and I thought it could work for the idea I had in my head. Funnily enough once I got in touch I discovered that we had a mutual friend in common – DJ Typewriter from the Begrime crew. Small world, eh?
RH: What was the inspiration for the artwork and how did it come about?
P: Well, above all I wanted the artwork to capture that grimy, sweaty, rugged squat party vibe, but the specific inspiration for the artwork was a, how shall I put it, experience that I had at a Brick Lane squat party in the spring of 1999. What it was exactly I won’t say for now, but it was pretty weird! So to help Nick with the visual inspiration not only did I share with him some of my writings and thoughts, I also shared with him videos and photos from the free party scene, just to give him a sense of the desired aesthetic. I also wanted to incorporate a nod to my all-time favorite comic, Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan,’ so I asked Nick to make some of the dancers look almost translucent, a nod to the ‘blur suits’ worn by assasins in Transmetropolitan.
There was quite a bit of back and forth about this, in that I had a vague idea in my head but no clear image, and I think it was at times somewhat difficult for Nick to deal with my sheer amateurism! Like I could not often give a really clear outline of exactly what I wanted, just ‘hey, here’s some ideas, just make it look cool’. Sorry Nick!
Actually I met him in person for the first time two weeks ago and he said that it was one of the most challenging briefs he’s ever had to work on, but that it also pushed him out of his comfort zone, and he’s really proud of the result.
RH: Cool guy, though!
P: Yeah, great dude for sure. I felt a little bad that I wasn’t the best client, not because I was intentionally trying to be difficult, but more because I was just clueless about what you should and should not do when you’re commissioning an illustrator to do something for you.
The final result was really worth it, though. When he sent me the final version I just stared and stared at it. I love all the detail, and how it all hangs together. It’s just amazing in my eyes.
RH: So you had the tracks and you had the art, how did you get it pressed to vinyl?
P: I was really lucky because my buddy Vali made the intro to Handle with Care, and they dealt with everything from there on out with the utmost professionalism. I’ve heard some horror stories about vinyl pressing delays at the moment, but this wasn’t as bad as I was expecting – it probably took four months from initially contacting them to getting the final records in my hands, which seems … fine? I guess in the past things might have been quicker, but there’s more demand for vinyl and fewer plants to service that demand than in the past.
RH: Now you have to sell it.
RH: And do you have a plan for how to do so?
P: Lol no, of course not. I haven’t done any pre-orders or anything, no promo, nothing like that. I didn’t contact any record stores. I didn’t do any kind of promo campaign to get people to play it. Basically nothing has happened so far on that side. Starting today (October 5th) I’m going to release it myself on Bandcamp and Discogs and put it up for streaming on YouTube and Soundcloud and I’m just going to see what happens.
RH: Why? This does not seem like the normal course of action, to be honest.
P: Sure, no question.
I guess there are three things going on here. First, simply, there was the cost of production. Getting a color cover on nice material with color labels – basically having a really nice looking final product – was quite expensive at a per unit cost, given the small pressing I wanted to do. Again this is affected by the fact that vinyl costs have gone up a lot in recent years – material costs are up, and I’m not a regular customer who could qualify for any discounts. Even selling it direct at 12 EUR a pop my profit margin on each item is not exactly massive.
Secondly, from speaking to my friend Mejle about selling via shops or via distributors, it seemed like it would be hard to recoup much of the production costs going via that route, especially since they typically don’t pay you upfront and you have to chase them to get paid. I already have enough going on in my life between work and family – I don’t want to deal with calling and mailing record stores to ask for money. There’s no major time pressures from my end, so I want to start out by seeing how it goes to sell direct. Maybe later this will change!
Finally, there’s also a quasi-philosophical point here. One thing I really liked about the squat party scene back in the day compared to, say, the drum n’ bass scene, was that the tracks were available. There was no secret boys’ club of dubplates that circulated among the big names for months and months until release, at which point only losers would still be playing it. If you were at a squat party and you were listening to an acid techno dj play, the records they were playing were generally things that you yourself could then go to Kinetec or Dragon Disc or wherever a few days later and buy for yourself. I liked that! Maybe you might hear the odd thing on promo before release, but for the most part these weren’t secret records. Everyone could get them! I always found that pretty cool and democratic.
So for my own release I decided to just put it out there and make it available to everyone at the same time. If a modern big name dj wants to pick it up and play it out, that’s great, I would love that, but they don’t get any special privilege of having it in advance over a hobbyist dj … like me!
RH: So after 25 years of toiling in obscurity as a dj, is this all just a belated effort to break through and get some traction?
P: I prefer to say that I’ve spent 25 years enjoying music and working, growing, developing, and expressing myself creatively as a dj. 🙂
I mean, sure, there’s no question that I’m obscure in the wider scheme of things, but that’s really because for a long time I’ve not been interested in becoming a big name dj, nor have I done any of the kinds of things that are prerequisites for success. I’ve flitted between too many genres, I’ve not networked enough, frankly I’ve just not wanted it. As long as I get to play out a couple times a year that’s enough for me – especially with my work and family commitments now I would really struggle to play out even as much as once per month! Also, to be fair, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about my mixes over the years – it’s a great feeling to know that your creative work has brightened up someone else’s day.
RH: So what do you hope for from this release?
P: Above all, I want these tracks to be played on loud soundsystems and for people to dance to them! That’s the number one goal. Everything else is secondary.
These tracks are my love letter to the rave scene, and really I want them to be experienced loud in a dark room strafed by lasers and flashing lights … in a rave!
Like ideally I would like to sell the stock of records and make a modest profit, but I will live with it if that doesn’t happen, but I really want people to enjoy the record and for the tracks to make people dance. If that can happen, then I’ve contributed in a small way to the happiness of the world, and that’s great. That’s me satisfied. I think the saddest outcome, by far, would be if none of these tracks ever get played out.
I guess I’m just happy with them and I want to share them with other people!
If I could personally be on a dancefloor and hear some other dj play one of the tracks and experience people dancing to it and enjoying it … that would be the ultimate experience! I hope I will get to experience that some day.
Did a little mix for the Russian dnb crew Vykhod Sily. Was originally thinking of doing a 1995 jungle mix but when the moment came I decided to switch direction and do a mix of mid to late 90’s techstep rollers. To be honest, it’s pretty close to a mix I did a few years back called Steps in the Night, but I’ve always loved this sound, so why not another mix along the same lines?
Don’t have too much to say about this one – I just caught a little vibe and put it together. I’ve been enjoying listening to it over the last few weeks since I made it.
This is a little mix that I did last month after feeling quite inspired by having played for Begrime at the YAAM outdoor beach bar (ok ‘beach’ is relative), by the banks of the River Spree in Friedrichshain.
If you’re not familiar with Yaam, it’s a sprawling riverside club/bar complex dedicated to being a home for black music and culture in Berlin – it’s probably most famous for hosting reggae and dancehall events, but really it has played home to all kinds of musical styles from across the African diaspora – from American hip-hop, soul, and funk to the various styles of the Caribbean to the many many many different flavors of African music. There’s a bar by the river, various food stalls selling food from across the African diaspora (I had an ersatz Jamaican jerk chicken and rice and it was pretty bad so don’t go to that stall!), basketball and volleyball courts, and all kinds of nooks and crannies that I never even explored.
Anyways, so Craig (aka Typewriter) set it up and asked me to come along and it was really fun! I played first, just playing a bunch of old grime records to a very disinterested beach crowd ( 😀 ) but it was nice to hear these tunes on a loud(ish) system,
After my set I hung around, met some people, had some (very mediocre) food, chatted, had a drink or two, wandered around, and then returned to the stage for the last hour when myself, Typewriter, and Bwoi went back to back, with Typewriter on Serato, Boi on CDJs, and myself on vinyl, with my ancient raw tunes matched up against their more modern stuff. It was an interesting clash and a lot of fun!
Unfortunately, due to the neighbors, the outdoor venue has a strict closing time of 10pm, so we could only go to 10, but it was a very refreshing experience to hear these old bangers played loud. They still sound raw as fuck!
So that was the inspiration for this mix – I made it a few days later because I was still really feeling the vibe. A lot of the tunes in this mix were tunes I played during my set. To be completely honest, it’s not really that dissimilar from last year’s That Pirate Energy, but I loved that mix and have listened to it tons of times, so I thought it would be a lot of fun to do a follow-up.
I know this mix won’t get too many listens, but I’m really proud of it, as I think it encapsulates that special X factor that early grime had – it’s maybe the weirdest, most off-kilter quote-unquote ‘urban’ music ever. The tunes on this mix are turns aggressive, enchanting, melodic, abrasive, banging, surprisingly soft, and sometimes just flat-out bizarre. Early grime was simply a period of unbelievable creative fertility!
Since this put me in the mood for thinking about early grime, I have decided to republish an old blog post of mine about the classic Ruff Sqwad mixtape, Guns & Roses Volume 1.
Yeah, I know this has been out for ages. But, well, so what?
Starting out absurdly young (they were all about 14-16 when their first big tunes came out) over the last couple of years Ruff Sqwad have put a constant stream of huge tunes. A full list would take some time, but they’ve dropped tunes like ‘Misty Cold’ ‘R U Double F’, ‘Lethal Injection’, ‘Ur Love Feels’ and ‘Tings in Boots’, amongst others. In that time they have become, in my humble opinion, one of London’s finest grime crews. This is their first mixtape. And it’s awesome.
Their producers, Dirty Danger and Rapid, have a lot to do with this. They love big sounds, like squawking guitars, massive horn fanfares, thunderous bass and clouds of synth noise, and they draw all these elements together into an ocean deep sonic stew, that is totally fresh and unique. Like Slicks said on ‘Practice Hours’, when you hear a Ruff Sqwad tune, you know who it is. Their mc’s are less universally loved, but I think they are great. Lyrically, the stuff on this mixtape is, I guess, pretty standard (girls, hustling, we are the best, our beats are the best, we’re gunmen, etc.) but they’ve got style and they work well with the music. Plus they have really unique voices, which I guess is down to them being (mostly) from African not West Indian backgrounds, and awe-inspiringly cool names like Tinchy Stryder and Shifty Rydoz. One of the things I like about them as mc’s is that they are so serious, so composed. They have a unique style. They don’t get hysterical like other crews tend to, they just keep on in an unruffled style, like they know they are on a long mission.
All the highlights on this are their own tunes, and I’ll get to those in a minute. The lowlights are all freestyles over American rap beats. I know I have a bug up my ass about this (‘bring me my exotic furrin music!’) but I don’t see the point of including some of the stuff they’ve included when I think about all the frankly incredible productions in their back catalogue they could have used for fresh freestyles. I mean, when you listen to, say, ‘Future’ with it’s deep sea bass, horn explosions, and tinkling synths n’ strings and then flick forward to the freestyle over Black Rob’s ‘Whoah!’ (which is a pretty standard hip-hop beat) there is no comparison between the two. ‘Lean Back’ was a good beat, and Stryder is a good mc, but does anyone really need to hear it again? When you’ve made tracks like ‘Muskateers’ or ‘Anna’ or ‘R U Double F’ (none of which appear on here) why bother with stuff like Ludacris’s ‘Splash Waterfalls’? I know people want to appear versatile, but really, have some faith in your own talents, boys.
Don’t get me wrong though, because even these are only relative lowlights. None of the American beats they used are really bad, they’re listenable, they’re just not on the same level as their own productions. Happily, though, the good moments are far more numerous than the bad ones. Like the whistles, weird kazoo-like noise, collapsing beat, and squealing bass that form the backbone of Dirty Danger’s sex tales on ‘Dirty’. Or the aforementioned ‘Future’ which is easily my favorite tune on the whole mixtape. Then there’s the Sinogrime of ‘Jampie’, which features some delicate Chinese-y plinks and plonks, and also features Stamina Boy from Mucky Wolfpack and the godlike Trim from Roll Deep, who turns up and does his deep voiced word-twisting thing. Or the horn explosions and shoutouts to half the neighborhoods in London of the intro. Another favorite is ‘Wide Awake’ where Rapid lays out his plans for the future over an eerie piano-crusted hip-hop tempo beat. The Grimefather Wiley turns up as well, dropping a freestyle to warn off the haters, as well as allowing Ruff Sqwad to use his ‘Morgue’ and ‘Ice Cream Man’ beats.
All in all, this is a really really good mixtape. Obviously I have my reservations about some of the American rap beats they used, but there is a huge amount of good stuff on here. On the basis of this, the album which is (apparently) due sometime later this year should be absolutely huge. Well worth a purchase.
So this mix is a selection of some recent(ish) dubstep bits that I’ve picked up on vinyl over the last couple years – basically it’s pretty similar in spirit to last year’s Lockdown Sounds. While it’s true that my mixes often have some kind of a concept or theme behind them, with this specific one, well, I just pulled out some records I liked and mixed them together … nothing more complex than that.
The story behind this mix, to the extent that there is any kind of story, is that I wanted to make a new mix to take with me when I went to visit my parents in the US in July (having not seen them for eighteen months), and I wanted something that was relaxing. Well, to the extent that any of my mixes can be described as relaxing. This is the result.
So … yeah. Kind of self-explanatory, right?
Still, though, I will write a few words to describe the mix.
As I mentioned before, I often go with some kind of theme when I create a new mix. Not in this case. Something else that I often do, specifically with mixes of four to the floor genres like acid or hard trance, is to gradually (or sometimes rapidly) increase the intensity of the music through the course of the mix, which I usually achieve by ramping up the tempo. This is something that I’ve done probably dozens of times, and I always enjoy it! It’s a system that works, that sounds good (in my opinion, of course), and that other people seem to enjoy as well.
Is it so creative to keep using the same broad framework? Possibly not, but I generally try to infuse creativity in other ways, whether through the theme of the mix or how I approach the programming.
However, I don’t follow this ‘just pitch that shit up!’ strategy when I am working with bass music genres like drum n’ bass, dubstep, breaks, grime or electro. My general feeling is that you don’t get the same payoff by just cranking the tempo – it ends up sounding weird, so I generally avoid it.
This is really apparent with dubstep specifically, at least for me. Honestly, this style of music sounds ridiculous pitched way up. The whole sense of it is gone when you jack the bpms up, therefore I generally try to go no higher than about 144 bpm (which would be about +3 on a normal Technics turntable for a 140 bpm record).
Even so I still want to take the listeners (and myself) on a ‘journey’, to use the dreaded cliche – but how? So since just relentlessly ramping up the bpm’s is out, instead I focus on the sonic textures of my selected tracks and try to organize them in such a way that the outcome is a coherent sonic narrative.
So how did I do that with this mix?
Well, let’s go through it!
The first five tracks are deep and dark and kind of weird, and, honestly, not really all that dance-ey. I mean I suppose you could dance to them, but they aren’t exactly ‘go nuts and pour a can of beer over your head’ danceable.
At track 6, Von D’s ‘Chestlick’ signals a slight switch in emphasis to a short section of sturdy, bass-heavy steppers that briefly segues into a couple of West Coast hip-hop influenced tracks before switching again to a more extended selection of classic dancefloor dubstep, brooding bass underpinning breezeblock beats laced with a heavy dancehall influence.
In the middle of this section I drop two of J:Kenzo’s acid dubstep tracks (you know I love acid!) but then after that I switch things back to the more classic dubstep sound, all halfstep chonk and bass thwomp.
The last section of the mix starts at about track 23 as I shift the intensity up to some tracks that are at first a bit more grime-adjacent and then suddenly noisier, more abrasive, and just simply more aggressive. Well, until the last track, which is all cavernous reverb and rifling tribal drums … I just wanted to end things on a slightly less belligerent note.
I hope you enjoyed the mix – more music and some big news soon!
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