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!
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.
My good friend Vali NME Click is the man behind the essential Berlin-based hardcore and jungle label Parallax Recordings, which is just about to celebrate five years of releasing records with its biggest release yet: the incredible Message from the Parazone, a five (!) vinyl album featuring some of the absolute finest new skool darkside hardcore / jungle from some of the scene’s finest figures. As a little promo for the release I’ve done this label tribute mix, pulled together from every release so far. Vali also kindly agreed to answer some questions, so please read on to find out more.
Jack Smooth – How We Do [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
DJ Mindhunter – Bass Roll [PARA 11 – Body Journey]
InnerCore – Turbo Sound [2 copies of PARA 10S1 – Departure To The Parazone]
Pete Cannon – Dream Again [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
DJ Mindhunter – Prisoners Of Xtasee [PARA 11 – Body Journey]
Brute Force – Secrets [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
Worldwide Epidemic – Face Melt [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
Theory – What’s Going On [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
Dwarde & Tim Reaper- London Stomp [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
DJ Mindhunter – Mind Trip [PARA 11 – Body Journey]
FFF – Bandulu [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
Coco Bryce – Pirates Of The Pancreas [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
Ant To Be – So Strange [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
Dev/Null – DarkPhase [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
DJ Mindhunter – Mind Full Of Stars [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
Justice & Necrotype – Refried [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
Champa B – Let´s Go Message From The ParazoneMessage From The Parazone]
FX – Dark Shadows [PARA 10S1 – Departure To The Parazone]
Tim Reaper- Dead And Buried [FX Remix] [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
DJ Mindhunter – Dreamin [PARA 11 – Body Journey]
Yorobi & Tim Reaper – Rhodiola [Dead Man’s Chest Remix] [PARA 10S1 – Departure To The Parazone]
Sonar’s Ghost – Future Shock [Double 0 VIP] [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
ScanOne – Horizons [PARA 10S1 – Departure To The Parazone]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
K Super – Being With You VIP [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
Hornchurch Hardcore – Labyrinth [PARA 10 – Message From The Parazone]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
? – ? [forthcoming Parallax]
For those who don’t know you, who is Vali NME Click?
I grew up in a musical household in Ulm, South-Germany. Both my parents are classical solo singers and multi-instrumentalists, so there has always been music and instruments around me, my father even self-built a Cembalo. I remember regularly falling asleep on the sofa to jam sessions that my parents and befriended musicians did in our place.
In 1994 together with my mate Önder I bought two crates of 92/93 Hardcore and Jungle from a local DJ and we started DJing and founded the NME Click. We went on and did radio, wrote for magazines, put on events (and even did live broadcasts from there), we even did an outdoor festival.
Things kicked off in 1997 really when Ikomowsa and MC Marvellous joined and completed the crew. We established a quite big scene in our little city and were on the road constantly every weekend for the best part of the next 10 years, also having residency clubs and radiostations in other cities and booked popular Drum and Bass artists from all over the world regularly, especially from the UK. We had records out on labels such as DSCI4, Basswerk, Blue Saphire, Shadybrain and played at stages all over Europe, such as Sun&Bass, Fields Of Joy, Lightbox, Fusion, Splash, SonneMondSterne, Kings Of The Jungle and Breakzone.
In around 1997 I started the side-project Studioline, which was a mix of the music we grew up with and were influenced by. Nowadays you would call it “Mash-Up”, but we did it all on the fly, with records, playing all across the board, cutting and scratching and with that we attracted a wider audience and with those events financed the Drum and Bass parties in return. When I got tired of that around 2010 I re-found my love for the music that it all started with – Hardcore and Jungle. I always had a soft spot for the era and basically never stopped collecting tunes from the early 90ies.
So, while all this went on I didn’t really do such a good job of making a career outside of the music thing for myself. I quit school at around the age of 16 without any degree, just hustling, doing graffiti jobs, djing and selling illegal substances. But I soon figured out I needed to do something. So I went back to school, did one degree after another, did an apprenticeship at the local music magazine – all to be able to study digital media, only to have arguments with the lecturers and drop out. So there I was in Hamburg in 2009, in a traineeship as part of my studies, with everything seemingly lost.
So I decided to play the wildcard and just apply for jobs at random agencies without any degree. Luckily I found a job as a web designer in Berlin. The agency itself was a bit grim, but I stayed there for 5 years and learned the trade and in 2015 I went freelance, specialising in web- and print-design and illustrations, with a focus on clients in the NGO field and more socially-oriented companies. Through my past in the music business I also did a lot of artwork for labels and artists such as Metalheadz, CIA, Dispatch, Basement/ Precious Materials, InnerCore, DJ Seduction, Total Science, FD and the likes.
What’s the story behind Parallax Recordings?
In Berlin I started putting on the ‘Parallax’ events in a small, illegal location around 2013, doing parties about once a year. I invited the people around Germany that had the same passion for Oldskool and a record collection. These events got a lot of love although I put little effort/ possibilities in promoting them. And they’ve been tons of fun!
Being an avid record collector I remember always hassling Dave Elusive from 92 Retro and Will Irvine from Sublogic/KVA to see if they could repress this or that and link them to the producers. One day Will said: ‘You know what? You just did the hardest part – finding the producers. Let’s do this together as a joint release’ and asked what I would call my label. I didn’t think too much and just took the name from my parties, thinking this would be a one-off experience. But so, Parallax Recordings was born. Soon after I found the guys from Technosaurus and decided to put their ‘Best Of Invention’ out on my own, just to see if I could do it all alone (though Will helped me heaps and forwarded me all his contacts, so thanks again, Will!).
My girlfriend was pregnant with my now 3-year old daughter and I somehow thought I had to do this “before it’s all over” and I’m a dad. Well, I did and caught the bug, and fast forward, here I am releasing the 5-piece album ‘Message From The Parazone’.
What’s the process behind re-releasing old tunes? How do you find the artists and get the rights? Some of the stuff has been extremely rare!
The process of finding the artists is always the hardest. Sometimes it takes me years and I always keep my cards close, especially now that repressing is a thing and so many others do it.
I also fell out of love with it a bit. Personally, I think it got too much and too much average stuff has been put out and I sometimes miss the love and the attention to detail.
But it also has to be said that there are some people in the ‘business’ that do an absolutely tremendous job and do everything right and I also feel the most important things got reissues in the last few years.
So it has become harder and harder to find something that’s worth it. My ethos has always been to only re-release music that’s not just expensive, but hard to get hold of. The tunes that never come up, even if you are dedicated and look for months. I don’t see much sense in re-releasing something that is widely available on the second hand market, even if a bit pricier. If you really want a tune and are dedicated to get it, you will pay a bit above the average to get it.
It’s a choice how you live your life and how you put your priorities. People often state that a remaster will sound better. But if a tune never sounded bad in comparison to others from the time I don’t see the need for that either. I still buy a lot of the represses myself, even if I have the originals. For one, to support other labels in the same field (although I don’t see many other label owners doing that .. ), and of course to have a mint copy for a tenner myself haha.
Are there any tracks that you’ve really wanted to release that you haven’t been able to secure the rights to?
Of course! The Intense and Skanna releases on Will’s Sublogic were the stuff dreams are made of! I would’ve LOVED to put out the Liquid Crystal stuff by NRG (big ups Luna C and the Knite Force crew), also Chalke – Resurrection, X-Plode – First Of Many, Phantasy – The Atmosphere and Silver Fox – Dread By Dawn (big ups Brent Aquasky @ Vinyl Fanatiks). Then there was this track by Redlight – “How Many” that I tried to get for Parallax. I got a reply from Smiley of Shut Up And Dance, he said I should wait as they will do it themselves. It ended up coming on another label but it got shelved at the Testpress stage and I didn’t even get my hands on one of the few pressings boohoo.
Others than that I tried several times to get in touch with Ed Rush about his Selekta track (it came out on Jetstar, and since I already put out Total Dark’s and Lewi’s Jetstar stuff it would’ve made sense to have it on Parallax) and also tried to get Pascal to speak to me about his track ‘The Process’ that he wrote as “the Full S.P. I just love this tune, it only came out on the “Faces Of the Future” album alongside two other tracks on a side and I would love to do a 12” with it. No replies from either of them, though, sadly.
Another label is in touch with Pascal though, I hope it will happen through them. I tried to get DJ Hype to talk to me about his “Jungle Fever” dubplate from 1994, but again to no avail.
And I mention it here again: If somebody is in touch with DJ Mastersafe – I would love to talk to him. There are masters he thought were lost and we would love to put them out.
And if somebody has a dubplate of ‘Defender – Workstation’ – please reach out 🙂
Over time you’ve gone from re-releasing old and obscure hardcore and jungle to also releasing new music from artists like Tim Reaper, Kid Lib, Innercore and more – what led to this decision?
As said, I fell a bit out of love with the repressing game. There are certain key players that started doing it that weren’t around when I started. They are well connected and can make things happen that I simply can’t. They have a name for themselves and the original artists know them from back then, trust them and therefore will prefer to work with them. Basically, 8 out of 10 times, my efforts lead to nothing. And artists can be slow, it’s not seldom that a release takes two years in the making. I also had all sorts of drama: from artists that weren’t happy about an etching that I put into a runout groove, so I had to scratch it out, to original graff artists that weren’t happy with my new artwork and slagged me off online to lawyers of silent partners that came threatening me while deals were signed and records were at the pressing plant.
I started to play more of the new stuff that I was buying regularly. I am quite communicative, so getting in touch with my favourite artists came natural to me. One thing led to another and I ended up signing the Dead & Buried EP by Tim Reaper. I am still extremely proud to have that on the label. Even going back to it now, it’s 4 unreal tunes, each one could be the highlight of any EP. Ed is unreal too, he gave me around 20 tunes to choose from and all were great! Although I never met him in person he is a great guy, always ready to help, be it with optimising a mixdown or being of help with his knowledge, so big up Ed for always taking time out for me! I never really made a conscious decision to release new music, the next thing were the remixes to the Fine Feline EP, just to make it more than a straight repress. Key is that the music sounds authentic to what was made back then. I think what really led to Parallax releasing new music was the album that sort of formed itself and through that I found so much great music, the future for Parallax looks bright!
How important is art and design to the whole Parallax project?
A lot of effort goes into that! I do all the artwork myself.
I grew up drawing and bombing, even doing graffiti jobs as a youth. It took a few years until I started to get my head around graphic design programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, but when I did I started to do all the NME Click promotional stuff myself, from about the mid-2000s onward (although some of it is pretty cringeworthy when I look at it now). I always put a lot of effort in, sometimes I have worked on a flyer for two weeks (tbh I was still learning and was horribly slow, you couldn’t tell if you look at the artwork now). But I was always disappointed that the artwork was dead and forgotten after the party was over. Nobody seemed to pay attention and as an artist, you naturally crave recognition. So having your artwork on a physical, timeless music release is pretty perfect, people go back to it from time to time and look at the cover and all the details while listening to it. Having your design on merchandise is even greater, there’s nothing better than being at a club and somebody wears your artwork 🙂
But I also feel I owe it to the music. If an artist decides to trust me and put his music out, I want to do the best job I can. I sometimes spend weeks thinking of the right motive, trying out different stuff.
The look of Parallax came naturally, it now is basically three fonts I work with and a strict 1c attitude – black and white. No gimmicks, no sprinkled or coloured vinyl. Black is beautiful and if you can strip something down to the essence that’s always best. No collector’s edition, the products are all limited anyways.
What’s the story of the album?
I wish I could say that there was a big concept from the start, but there wasn’t.
I think originally I wanted to do a 4-tracker with a mix of artists I adored at the time, this was around when I signed Dead & Buried.
I reached out to InnerCore and FX and they gave me the two tunes that were on the ‘Departure’ sampler. That was around January 2019.
As mentioned, I’m quite communicative, so one thing led to another and I collected more tracks. By then I wanted to do a 2×12”, but it just went on and on, and by the time that I realized I had material for 5 records I thought nobody would buy that. That’s when I decided to do at least the 12” advance sampler (Departure) so its at least only a 4×12”.
All in all, it was a great experience and a great learning curve – getting in touch with the artists, collecting all the tracks, getting changes done to some of the arrangements or mixdowns, getting the masters (re-)done etc. It all took a lot of patience, a lot of sweat and a lot of time.
In the end I had the testpresses of the whole album done and held up the project myself, having sort of a writer’s block with the artwork. The graffic in the gatefold sleeve took me forever, from finding the idea to getting it down. I literally forced myself to get it done just before I went on vacation in May, so the record was not held up any longer.
I am glad I did, because after that I went straight into knee surgery, I doubt I would’ve finished it by now if I hadn’t done it then. The artwork itself was tons of work and to be honest I’m not fully happy with it. That said, I never did an illustration that big and it also was only the second time I worked with a pencil, drawing it in Procreate (the first time was the sampler), before that – believe it or not – I did everything by mouse. So it looks a bit grittier than the stuff I usually do, but I hope people still like it 🙂
What have been your goals with this album?
First and foremost I hope this album gives an oversight about our small contemporary Hardcore/ Jungle scene, showing the great talent that is out there. And it also gives the DJs tons of great fodder to choose from.
Although unplanned, this has turned into a great concept that wasn’t done before – a snapshot of who’s current in our scene. There were some artists that I couldn’t get aboard, maybe because they were working on albums and had no time to contribute, or for other reasons. So the picture will never be complete, but it’s still a good summary I like to think.
It’s also a good showcase for those who will be doing more on Parallax in the future hopefully, you can take it as the introduction of a roster. It’s giving Parallax an identity and its own sound and hopefully putting it more on the map. I often have the feeling that people tend to oversee/ forget about the label. Be it due to not being based in the UK and only knowing everyone online, so being “out of the cloud” or due to it being just me, doing this on the side while having a job and family, so not having as much output as other labels. But I’d love to establish it as a label the DJs check for, being a regular in the DJ’s playlists.
What have been the biggest challenges that you have faced when putting this album together?
Getting the artists to trust me and giving me good tunes in the first place, communicating to artists why it takes so long and keeping everyone happy, getting tunes to sound right, demanding changes on some tunes, coming up with the right concept how to promote it, having names or titles misspelled, using the wrong ink on the testpresses (don’t put them near water!), deciding when a master is good, it never ends. There was so much going on behind the scenes, but everyone involved was great and patient with me.
Also Brexit. It keeps on giving me headaches and I have to get my head around things I’m not really inspired to learn. The crappy side of the business. Unnecessary costs in production. Unhappy customers due to records sitting in customs, records arriving damaged or being lost. An absolute nightmare.
And the pandemic. I can’t do any release party or tour for the album, which would’ve made total sense so I can meet the artists I work with in person. Also I was making some money through DJing and promoting, that’s all missing now. Not just the money but I need DJing and promoting to function, it’s in my DNA, so it’s really been pressing on my mind. Besides that, the graphic design jobs slowed down a lot as well, which has left me in a bad financial state, forcing me to eventually reinvent myself if things don’t brighten up, so that I can make enough money to live off of. Right now I’m on crutches, when I’m back on my feet and the album is out that’s when I need to take a step back and take a closer look at it all.
How has Brexit affected the label?
I am still trying to find how to deal with certain things and have no solution. For the moment I work with a fulfilment partner in UK, solely for the UK and I still deal with the rest of the world. I thought about pressing in UK too, but I was always pretty happy with Optimal Media, which is where I press right now, and after calculating, it won’t save me money or time really, altogether its just more expensive. Pressing costs rose, but they did everywhere. And to get the records into UK I have to pay taxes and customs, but also the carrier costs are more, as they drive with only my records and return empty. All in all, it’s more expensive and less fun, I hope the underground can take it. It certainly won’t stop the majors to block the pressing plants for their endless represses for Record Store Day. Personally, as a record buyer myself, I don’t see how I will be able to afford buying vinyl from the UK from 1st July onwards when everything will be going through customs. When a record was around 25 Euros including shipping it now will be 30 Euros upwards, that’s madness and out of balance!
Where next for Parallax after this album drops?
There’s more than the ‘Message To The Parazone’: I have nearly completed the collection of music for a sequel, another 4×12”. I’m not sure if it will simply be Part 2 or two 2×12”, sort of samplers that come after the album (hence the catalogue number PARA 10S1 on the Departure – “S1” standing for “Sampler 1”, so there could be “Sampler 2”, “..3” and so on). Those of you that followed the livestreams in the last months will have heard a lot of the tunes forthcoming on Parallax.
Then there’s the ‘Body Journey EP’ by DJ Mindhunter (an alias of a very well known face in the Jungle world, nuff said) coming later this year after the album. I’ve been playing these tunes everywhere (=in mixes and streams lol) and they are absolutely great, 4 bombs in the same vein as the Parazone tunes!
There’s also 3-5 other EPs in the works that aren’t fully finished, so I won’t talk about them yet.
And there are at least 1-2 represses, one pretty much secured, the other I’m still fighting for and hoping that the artists let me do it, that would make me very proud.
Also, keep checking for new merch. Besides the regular shirts I would love to get jackets and recordbags with embroideries done. There will also be new Hoodies for the winter hopefully and more caps. Watch this space!
Regarding the Parallax nights: Although I’ve been in touch with all the people in the UK and could’ve done crazy line-ups, sadly there never was a budget to get the artists over. I still struggle to find the right club with the right conditions to be honest, as there is only so much promotion you can do for a location that’s illegal. I am in touch with a Munich based promoter and if the “pilot” goes well we might do regular Parallax nights there. The basement club is very well known and has an absolutely heavy PA. And I would be damned to get an artist flown into Germany and not get them to Berlin the day before or after to fill up the weekend, so it’s only a case of finding the right location with a fair deal in Berlin. Oh yes, and a team to do the street promotion. No way I would find time anymore to do that myself.
But that’s all in the future: enjoy the album when it drops!
My recent mix Get It 005: Get Dark inspired some interesting comments in reaction to both the mix and the accompanying blog, which I wanted to round up here.
The post itself continued an ongoing conversation with Simon Reynolds about new breakbeat hardcore. In a sense, it was a tricky thing to write, because I wanted to say two somewhat contradictory things:
Retro rave is a bit weird in some ways, in that it faithfully recreates something that was in its original phase anything but a faithful recreation of, well, anything – hardcore was dynamic and ever-changing the first time around
That doesn’t really matter, though, because on a pure sonic level this stuff is great fun
The tricky part here is to examine the first point in a fair-minded way – because it’s interesting! – while also being respectful towards the modern producers. Because I really do enjoy what they are doing! I guess the risk you run is hurting peoples’ feelings, even if that’s not what you are trying to do – I just wanted to step back for a look at the big picture while considering all the differences between then and now, to try to provide some context.
I guess it’s up to you to decide if I succeeded or not!
On Facebook, Simon Reynolds offered this point:
i think you are on to something with the ‘too perfect’ uncanniness… it’s something to do that with opposition of ‘plunge into the unknown’ (93) versus ‘accumulated knowledge and know-ho’ (now). i’ve noticed the ‘too high standard’ thing with old skool sets, how they cream off the best tunes over a long period, whereas sets at the time tended to play a lot of just-out-this-week white labels, making it a lot more hit and miss.
That said, it don’t sound that bowel-evacuating to me… a bit clean, a bit digi-crisped.
Despite being produced in his underpants apparently!
On Discogs there were a few interesting comments, like this one from user fluffbomb:
I understand the comment about these tunes not being of the same pushing boundaries approach that was the case back in the day. But I don’t think that there is anything ‘wrong’ about making new music in this style. The vast majority of genres (dance, rock, soul, etc) consist of very little innovation and are following the established formula of sounds and arrangement .
A very fair point! Innovation is exciting, thrilling, but also messy, and there’s a bit of a double-edged sword effect here, as I mentioned in my post – a lot of hardcore written in 92/93 was frankly not that good. Some of those random ideas just didn’t work! With hindsight we now see more clearly what ‘good’ breakbeat hardcore is, and what elements it should contain. So in a way a carefully considered set of modern darkside should be more consistent that a 1993 pirate radio set of the freshest tunes, but the sheer head-frazzling wow factor is no longer present.
Also on Discogs, traffic_cone made a very important contribution about the role of influences:
i think part of the reason why the retro rave stuff can sound like that is because the original iteration of that style was made by producers who were influenced by a range of other music, but the revivalist stuff is often made by producers whose main influence is all the old records in that style. so it can become self-referential. at it’s most noticeable is when artists use samples already famiiiar from oldskool tunes.
but – that’s why some of the best of those new tunes are ones that do add something a little different – even in a relatively small way.
This is a very smart point! And this can also be applied to a lot of modern music, really. If you read interviews with, for example, the original Detroit techno artists like Juan Atkins or Jeff Mills, they had a long history of listening to all kinds of music, from synthpop to spacey jazz to soul and funk and random stuff like the B-52’s as well as obvious forerunners like Kraftwerk. All of those influences informed the development of Detroit techno, whereas a lot of the current big room techno that you would hear in the main Berlin clubs today seems to exist only in reference to the techno of the past (I also like some of this stuff, too, to be fair).
I think this also pinpoints why I am such a big fan of Sully’s recent jungle tunes – he is making stuff that is clearly jungle, not a whimsical spin-off, yet it is also clearly grounded in and informed by more recent musical movements, like grime, dubstep and UK Garage. Perhaps this is because he started his musical career doing other stuff and then latterly started making jungle? In any case, he’s doing great stuff, and I’m always excited to hear more from him.
Dogsonacid user El Dudereno also made a good point about some of the differences between the 90’s and now, which extends my point about the vast differences in context in which the original and modern darkside sounds exist:
I always tell the younger generation that I’m so happy I was old enough to enjoy the ’90s. It feels like it was the last decade of genuine hedonism. Young people didn’t have the same pressure to succeed in education or careers (my “gap year” lasted 8 years LOL), the cold war threat had ended and the threat to the environment was an ignorable blip on the horizon. We didn’t have social media, we weren’t as body conscious, and in the UK at least, ecstasy completely changed the mood of society. Music reflects the society it’s born into, and on the hardcore continuum, I guess Grime is the UK zeitgeist for younger people – even though I find it tough, militant, uncompromising and a bit cold.
On a more in-depth note, Pete Devnull from Blog to the Old Skool sent me this comment on the mix and essay, which I am reproducing here with his agreement (obviously I disagree on the tracklisting, but that’s ok, music is subjective):
I saw the mix, maybe 4-5 good choices but tracklisting was not in my view a strong representation of darkside centric stuff. Probably because it was an all vinyl mix, and some of the good nu-darkside things I’ve heard have been digis or came out a few years ago now (Champa B’s killer EP on Modified Magic from a few years ago would be a better call for instance than the tune featured, which is also good but not nearly as traditionally “darkside”).
Regarding the point about this music losing its purpose now that it’s a re-tread vs when it was fresh and innovative 25-26 years ago: well yeah, no one can argue that the context is the same now. These are fairly common complaints. Someone I used to knew personally HATED all the nu-oldskool stuff being made, because they saw it as totally missing the point since it was lacking the relentless progression which made them love it the first time around. That’s fine, and fair play if that’s the aspect of the original music which some people cared about the most. But, even if the music’s context has shifted, we’re in different times now. Media overload, media saturation, widespread instantaneous access to an insane amount of music and video via internet. I think this causes the temporal and locational aspects of culture to largely fade in importance for people, and seem a lot less relevant. It means less to a listener when they hear a good tune streaming on their PC in 2019 whether that tune was written this year, or 10, 20, 30, 50 years ago, than when someone had to go to a real record store and buy it years ago.
There’s still some people focusing in and trying to make “progress”, to find something generally agreed upon as novel to drive forward; some combination or series of elements which haven’t been done before. It’s that classic jungle/dnb progression deathmarch, which since genuine “progression” is hard and most people aren’t that up to to the task, often ends up being a reductive game of musical trope bingo. Aside from those limited number of people truly dedicated to “pushing the sonic goalpost forward” though, I think there’s a lot more more of a sense now that that ah explicit progression isn’t as important, and if people find some random thing in the ginormous landscape of what-has-come-before-and-is-instantly-available which piques their interest, they react to it any way they want. Yes, they can take influence from it, try to mutate it into something more “modern”. Or, they can just do THAT THING for its own sake, to whatever extent they want. It doesn’t have to justify itself by connecting the dots or breaking new ground or breaking from tradition. It can literally just be a sick well written old sounding deep house tune, or a grimey glorious 93 darkside jungle track.
Also, with massive availability of media, and decades of collecting, so many of the original tunes have been played over and over. Most of the white labels have been dug up and listened to, arguably to a much wider extent than they were originally (more decades of people hearing them on places like youtube by people across the world who would never have access to the original songs). Because of this some people are butting up against the edges of what’s available in terms of killer tunes, so there’s a highly pragmatic drive for people who DJ out and love a particular sound, to want something “new-old” which can still be effectively played alongside an existing subgenre without seeming awkward (see the “uncanny valley” part you talked about next). And yeah, some attempts at that, like reusing the same old samples or mimicking popular riffs can be a bit groan-inducing and feel like a poor substitute. Though the same type of shit was happening with oldskool functional “mash up” tunes circa 92-93, so it’s not without precedence. The better approach seems to be when people instead choose to mimic the methodology and approach of the original tunes, without sampling them, since this requires pulling from other styles of music (house, techno, hip hop, electro, funk, etc). One easy recent example of this is a 94-95 style happy hardcore EP, Trigger Happy Vol 2, where the A side is decidedly non hhc sounding, and more of a clever melodic jungle tune featuring a great mishmash of US house,techno and even freestyle vocal elements from non-obvious tracks. It’s not breaking any new sonic ground, but the transformation of those not-obviously linked samples into a very coherent jungle tune sounds great. It might not be BRILLIANT, but it sure is CLEVER.
As for the “uncanny valley” thing, I’ve had similar discussions before with respect to oldskool, but for me there’s a difference between the original context in that the visual “uncanny valley” is an innate, unconscious and visceral reaction with no explicit and opted into “training period” , For music though, it’s instead built up from long periods of listening to a particular style and absorbing not just the macro-elements but also the nuances and more subtle aspects of the sound. Hence, it’s relevant for you, and me, and other people who have “seen through the matrix” of oldskool by listening to a metric fuckton of 92-95 the past however many years. But it’s not relevant for a normal person not particularly versed in the genre, who processes an amen simply as an amen, not a particular era amen sampled from a particular track with particular production characteristics. Hence why a more commercial artist doing a “throwback” “oldskool jungle” tune where the breaks or elements aren’t really authentic sounding, isn’t a crime worth sending to the Hague. It’s perfectly enjoyable for the majority of people, even those who have heard some amount of jungle/dnb before but who arent proper beardy about it. It’s also the reason why most people are perfectly happy to hear a mostly-there microgenre flex which then abruptly deviates in a way that doesnt’ deliberate or a calculated choice (like a 93 jungle techno tune where four minutes, a random 97 crunchy techstep breakbeat appears). Stuff like that matters to the nerds (me and my friends), but only because we ARE nerds who have trained ourselves up to be sensitive to it, and one notable sample out of place can be as jarring as going to a historic battle recreation and seeing an 1800’s era general wearing an Apple watch.
There’s a special three part acid project that I originally wanted to do after hitting 200,000 listens on Soundcloud – I have it sort of developed, I just need time to record it. Plus I also want to do something interesting with both design and writing to accompany it.
It’s been a few years since Eurotrash 6 – maybe time for another in that series?
I plan to do more mixes in the Get It series, with some ideas for different genres to cover including breakbeat, grime, new ragga jungle and new school hardcore.
I would like to do new tribute mixes to dubstep heroes Mala and Matty G.
As far as jungle / drum n’ bass goes, God there are so many ideas. I would like to do a follow-up to Drumwar, and I would also like to do an old atmospheric jungle mix, similar to That Dream is Over from so many years back. Maybe a Kid Lib tribute mix too, to match my Tim Reaper one from a year ago? Plus it would be fun to dig into my ’93 hardcore collection and follow up on Darkside Generation.
So that’s a lot! In reality, I won’t be able to execute everything that I’ve just mentioned, but it sure will be fun to try.
I would like to introduce something very special for 2016:
The 780 Project
What is this?
Well, I am planning on putting out a ton of mixes this year so that I can feature 780 different tracks by the end of 2016, or 15 tracks for each of the 52 weeks of the year.
Is this an insane undertaking?
Well, uh, yes, indeed it is.
Why am I doing it?
Well, most obviously, to see if I can do it. Consider this a particularly bonkers (and public) New Year’s resolution. I mean, past resolutions of mine have revolved around losing tons of weight (not that successful, to be honest) or being able to not drink for a month (I was able to do that, but I drink a lot less than I used to so this one doesn’t seem like such an achievement now), but this year marks 20 years of me collecting records, so it seemed like a good time to really stretch myself creatively.
And make no mistake, this project will be a big stretch. I managed 16 mixes in 2015, which is pretty decent going, but this new plan is much, much more ambitious.
I have tons of ideas for mixes to do, and I am pretty confident in my ability to execute a good mix in one take with minimal preparation, but this is still a creative mountain to climb. I do have almost 3000 records and several hundred cd’s, so I clearly can pick 780 tracks with no repetition, but getting beyond the 10 obvious ideas for mixes that I could scribble down right now will be a big challenge.
Can I do it?
I don’t know! Which is part of the reason I want to try …
Generally speaking, the idea will be to upload a new 15 track mix every Sunday. This isn’t a hard or fast rule, because sometimes the mixes will be longer and sometimes shorter, and sometimes I will miss a week or two, but that’s the general idea.
The specific reason for 15 tracks is that it seems like an eminently achievable goal when you break it down to the specifics. At four minutes per track (which is generally longer than I keep tracks in the mix anyways), that would end up being 60 minutes of recorded time per week, which together with some time for preparation (picking tracks, testing mix combos) would probably not require more than two to three hours of time all together in a typical week.
I don’t have tons of free time – I work full time and I have a family, so I can’t devote incredible amounts of time to this project, but two hours per week is eminently achievable if it’s split up over a few days.
What do I hope to achieve with this project?
On a personal level, I want to see if I can do it. If music is something that I love (and it is), then I feel like the time has come to really push the boat out and see what I can do with it. What can I achieve if I really try? That’s what I want to find out.
Secondly, I want people to listen to the mixes. Anyone who makes some kind of musical project publicly available, whether an original composition or a dj mix, wants people to hear it and enjoy it. I really am chuffed when I get good feedback, and being able to share music with people and touch their lives, even in a fleeting way, is a great feeling.
Thirdly, I am 35 years old and have been mixing records since I was 16, so I harbor no illusions that I am on the verge of becoming a superstar dj (not that that is what I want anyways), but if this project could lead to some more gigs in and around Berlin then that would be cool. After a long break from playing in clubs, I’ve actually had some gigs recently, so a big thank you to Vali from Parallax, Martin from Blasted, and Casper and Federico from Mechatronica for booking me.
Finally, my day job is in digital analytics, so I am setting myself some KPIs to achieve on Soundcloud in 2016, just to see if I can. Specifically, I would like to double the number of my followers from 1000 to 2000, and I would like to get at least 60,000 listens (up from 33,000 in 2015). I recognize that these are pretty ambitious goals for someone who is solely a dj, who doesn’t play at big-name Berlin clubs like Berghain, About Blank, Golden Gate or Suicide Circus, who doesn’t produce, and who doesn’t make even a vague pretense of sticking to one style (which is, I’m sure, somewhat confusing or off-putting for some people). In any case, hitting these Soundcloud goals is just pure ego gratification – it won’t improve my or my family’s real world life in any way – but since I am being creatively ambitious with this project I might as well dream big on the results too, right?
Finally, I have to give a shout out to Chrissy Murderbot for the inspiration for the project. Back in 2009/2010 the Chicago dj/producer did his Year of Mixtapes project, where every week for a year he did a new mix, covering along the way all kinds of electronic music styles, such as jungle, juke, electro, house, techno, bassline, rave, and much much more. If you love electronic music, I highly recommend digging around in the archives for stuff to listen to. The 780 Project will be functionally different, in that the idea is more about the total number of tracks instead of the total number of mixes (plus the styles featured will be somewhat different), but his project is the original inspiration for sure.
So what is in store musically? It’s going to be all kinds of stuff – drum n’ bass, jungle, hard trance, techno, dubstep, old skool, bass music, electro, psy trance, grime, and other stuff …
To keep track of things, I will regularly update a publicly viewable Google Sheet which will list every track that I use through the year, complete with links to the release on Discogs as well as to the accompanying blog post as well as to the streaming version at Soundcloud or (sometimes) Mixcloud.
So that’s The 780 Project in a nutshell … I hope you enjoy the music through the year and please feel free to drop me your feedback here or via social media, and please share the music with friends, family, and unwilling neighbors.
The bit where General Levy comes in and does jungle classic ‘Incredible’ is a real goosebumps moment. Awesome to see so many of the biggest names in UK urban music jumping around with huge grins like excited children.