Fabio @ Red Bull Music Academy 2006, Melbourne
RBMA: It’s a special honour today to welcome the man they call Fabio because in a round about way most of us if not all of us wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for him and a couple of other folks. So let’s give the man a hand. (applause) Funnily enough, while we were thinking of boring DJ issues like ‘back’ and ‘sciatic’ and these kind of problems that you encounter, I found another similarity which was that one of the first people to give both of us a break was a man called Colin Dale. And he’s one of the most undervalued characters in this whole thing.
Fabio: Colin Dale was a big inspiration for me. He was a Soul DJ, came from the same background as me, he’s from Brixton in South London which is like England’s equivalent of Detroit really, very ghetto, very black, and Colin was always into electronic music from very early, like late 70’s, early 80’s. And he used to be into a lot of Hi- NRG, early Hi-NRG stuff. He taught me about the whole Techno thing, he brought me to see Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Blake Baxter in 1987 at a place called ‘Legends’.
The problem with Colin, Colin never believed in himself enough as a DJ. I think he was a great inspiration to people but he didn’t believe in himself enough and when the whole rave thing took off in ’88 he kind of missed the boat a little bit but he is probably my biggest inspiration."
When you say he was into the Hi-NRG stuff that wasn’t the most normal thing for a young black youth to like in London at that time was it?
We was into some different shit. I went through the whole black thing, being into Dub, into Disco, into Funk and I met Colin and Colin just turned my ear a lot to a lot of stuff out of New York. Blondie ‘Rapture’ changed the game. People have got to realize that, Blondie ‘Rapture’ that was a serious tune man, and it changed a lot of stuff. And he played me Blondie ‘Rapture’ and I was like: “What is this? This tune sounds so gay! What is this, man?” And he took me to a few club and stuff and I got the whole electronic vibe because I was a real staunch music man and I just didn’t believe in the whole electronic movement of the late 80’s.
Everyone knows about ’The Loft’ and ‘Fire Island’ and all these legendary places in New York, they’re well documented, but what was gay club culture on the beginning of the 8ß’s like as far as you could see it as an outsider?
It was exciting. There was a club called the ‘Mud Club’ which was run by a guy called Leigh Bowery who was instrumental to the whole club happenings in London. And we used to go out there, that used to be a crazy place because you’d have ghetto kids, New Romantics used to go there, Boy George, George Michael used to go there. I used to go there, and you just had this crazy mixture of people that just had this longing for electronic music. Not like it is now where you get this kind of segregation – I’m into Drum’n Bass, I’m into Techno, I’m into this, I’m into that, sub genres and ridiculous things like that, we were just going there and jamming and it was so exciting.
So the gay scene in The States, it was just as important in the UK. They were willing to take risks that normal clubs weren’t willing to take, musically. And people wise as well, there was a snobbery in London in the 80’s about clubbing. And the gay scene just didn’t adhere to that at all, didn’t care about the whole VIP thing, whatever you looked like didn’t give a shit, you could just come in there and party. So that’s what I found so infectious about the whole gay scene it was very special, a very special time.
Up until a certain revival a couple of years ago, when you looked at club pictures from London from the early 80’s, like early Face magazine, it didn’t really look as if it was about having a good time. There was a bit of make up and posing and all that?
You had the fashionistas but it wasn’t really like it is now. I find the whole VIP fashion thing now it’s not about music at all. Then it was, and that’s what was exciting because a lot of influential artists of the 80’s did go to those clubs. You had Trevor Horn going to that place, Trevor Horn to me is a pioneer of that big, big sound that I’ve always loved since I was a child. Following on from producers like Norman Whitfield who used to produce the Temptations and Quincy Jones, the Mizell Brothers. And Trevor Horn had that big stringy kind of sound. And Frankie Goes to Hollywood are seminal to a lot of what was going on as well. ‘Two Tribes’ and stuff like that.
So it was exciting because you didn’t really know. It wasn’t black, it wasn’t a black sound, it was just this London thing. It was exclusively London. And it wasn’t just fashion. I think The Face has always been slightly shallow anyway so they were just taking pictures of people with red hair and stuff. Beneath that there was some good shit going on.
Before we get into the favourite subject of any good British DJ, slagging off the press, it’s funny how celebrity culture these days tries to emulate that sub culture?
That’s the good thing about Drum’n Bass. Drum’n Bass gets tagged with this thing of not being trendy enough and it’s this odd music that nobody gets, which I really like. Because in London you’ve got this crazy, VIP, celebrity bullshit thing where you go to clubs and there’s footballers and you play silly music. That VIP thing was never like that in the 80’s, it was always about music. Now it’s not so much about music. Drum’n Bass is quite grimy, you wear whatever you want, it’s not about Gucci or Prada/ it’s quite freestyle. I love that. It has it’s phases but that’s because it gets trendy all of a sudden and everyone thinks, ‘Oh yeah, Drum’n Bass, really trendy let’s go and check it out’.
Where did a place like ‘Crackers’ fit in?
When I was about 12 my cousin was really into the Soul scene and she took me to this place called ‘Crackers’ which you had to be 18 to get in to but I was a tall guy and I used to sneak in there. It used to be on a Friday afternoon from 12 until 3. Everyone was working. It was a small club with this guy called George Power playing and another icon of mine Paul Anderson and he used to play the most amazing Soul and Funk stuff, Roy Ayers, Earth, Wind & Fire, stuff I was really into at the time. But I went to school in Brixton where it was all about Reggae so I always hid the fact I went to ‘Crackers’. I never really told anyone otherwise I would have got beaten up because Soul was like, “Nah, nah, you don’t listen to Soul, you’ve got to listen to Reggae.”
At school I was listening to Steel Pulse and Dennis Brown and stuff like that. On a Friday I used to go and check out Funk stuff with my cousin, wear my little waistcoat and my patent shoes and go and watch these amazing dancers go crazy to the latest Funk stuff.
I had parallel lives. My secret identity was Soul music and no one ever knew because I just hid it from everyone that I was the Soul boy and I was the rude boy at school. I was listening to all the pre-releases, and that helped the whole thing, my whole musical heritage. I’m pleased it went that way really.
For us that’s about as far away as 1418 and Flanders, why couldn’t you be a Soul boy and a rude boy at the same time at school?
It was peer pressure. Being in school you couldn’t really be a rude boy if you liked soul music. It wasn’t rebellion. Reggae music in the 70’s talked about struggling and pain and a lot of what was going on in Jamaica at the time, which was a lot of bullshit with the government. At election time they used to get guys from the ghetto and fight the opposition parties and stuff so it was very rebellious, very ghetto, you know it was ‘Police and Thieves’ Junior Marvin and stuff like that. That’s what it was about so it was very street at the time. But Soul music was about love and people didn’t really want to hear about that. They didn’t really want to hear about people talking about going out and partying at the disco.
But there was a lot of subversive elements and political agendas in the Soul movement?
The thing is about Soul it was still about dancing whatever message there was in that music we never heard it because it was all about dancing and that’s why Disco was not political at all. Disco was… it is what it is. You go and dance and Donna Summer singing some airy fairy shot but we didn’t care, you go on the dancefloor and you leave your cares behind as Chic said. That’s what it was about, total escapism where Reggae music wasn’t, it was about how I was living at the time In Brixton, it was very similar to what was happening in Brixton at the tome so it wasn’t much of an escapism. I found Soul music more as a kind of fancy thing and more of an escape. Girls and all that kind of stuff.
So going back a little further to your ‘When Harry Met Sally’ moment, when did you meet your Stadler? You can’t hardly say Fabio without saying another name too.
How did I come up with the name Fabio?
That as well.
I was going out with this lovely, lovely looking Italian girl and she always said if we have babies I want it to be called Fabio. “Ok, that’s cool, I love that name.” So what happened, Colin Dale came into this as well there was a pirate station starting up and Colin Dale was meant to do a show and he pulled out at the last moment because Kiss FM in London was just starting up so he was like: “Listen can you do this show for me?” I said: “Sure, no problem.” So I went down and got a basket full of records and went down to this pirate station, knocked on the door, walked in, and ten minutes beforehand he said: “Listen, you need a name.” And I said: “Ok, what about Fabio?” And everybody started laughing. “What do you mean Fabio? You’re a black guy from Brixton, Fabio doesn’t suit the bill, what about Pablo?” And I was like, “Yeah, cool, but nah, nah, Fabio, it’s just got a ring to it.” And that’s how it started. That’s another thing, having two different names it’s like I’m a different person when I’m Fabio. My real name is Fitzroy. When I’m Fitzroy I’m a totally different person.
When did you first see the Fabio that was a weird kind of modeling dude?
Oh, straight away. Someone came up to me but it was too late to change it. Haven’t had any calls from him or anything, it’s never been a problem.
Why did Colin have to pull out?
At the time, the whole pirate thing was just really starting off with the advent of Rare Groove. Everyone started to get into the whole Rare Groove, warehouse party thing and Kiss FM had DJs like Norman Jay, Bobby and Steve and guys like that, and Colin was like: “Well, it’s established. I’d rather go here than some new pirate station starting up with nameless DJs.”
So Colin started to go to Kiss FM. I became one of the nameless DJs and we had some good DJs come out of there. Dave Angel was on Phase One, the station I was on, Pressure Drop, these guys that were really instrumental in the first early beats stuff and stuff like that. It was a very influential time, we’re talking about 1984, ’85.
I started off playing really way out Rare Groove stuff, stuff like early Blackbyrds, crazy stuff coming out of New York like ‘Moody’, crazy electronic stuff. But there was one specific day, I went to the record shop and bought ‘My Melody’ by Eric B and Rakim and ‘Mysteries of Love’ by Fingers Inc. on the same day. And that day changed my life.
What shop was it?
Red Records in Brixton. And those two tunes changed everything for me. ‘My Melody’ was the start of real Hip Hop. Eric B and Rakim, Rakim probably the greatest rapper of all time, and ‘Mysteries of Love’ which was Fingers Inc., was the first real House tune that I heard out if Chicago so that day was… I’ll always remember that day.
Wasn’t it odd that someone who had to live parallel lives a couple of years earlier with these scenes which were so far apart, that on that day you got these two records, which are two a lot of people millions of universes apart but are so close to everyone in this room because they convey a lot of similarities?
When I heard Rakim rap for the first time I was like: “Damn. This guy.” You know, rap before then was Sugarhill Gang and stuff like that it wasn’t really… Rakim just came with these metaphors and Eric B was an incredibly underrated producer, just came with these sick rhythms and sick beats. And ‘Mysteries of Love’ which of course, guys like Robert Owens, who I think is the most underrated vocalist of all time, and Larry Heard who is a total genius, to get those two tunes on the same day was just like a turning point. I think it was fate. You get those moments in your life where it’s like a blueprint. I could have gone either way. I was really into Hip Hop, a lot, I was into KRS1 and stuff like that but there was not a clubscene as such. Whereas the House thing had just started up and it was so exciting and so exhilarating and I chose that path.
Did you feel liberated that suddenly Fabio and Fitzroy could be the same person and play the same stuff that they liked within fifteen minutes of a set?
For me, DJing in the early days was never fun, I used to be so nervous about DJing. Nosebleeds and stuff like that. The first DJ set I ever played was in a place called 'Gossips' with Tim Westwood who’s now the king of UK hip hop. He gave me a slot. I was a dancer, I used to be what they called a ‘boogie boy’. We used to go to clubs and dance, basically to get girls. But we never used to, because we used to end up so sweaty and so into the music that by the time we’d finished dancing all the girls had gone home so it was a pointless exercise, really.
One day Colin, again, he didn’t turn up for a gig and Tim phoned up and said: “Listen, Fitz. I know you’ve got records, come down and spin some tunes.” And that was stuff like Change, I was into Change, the group from the US, ‘Glow Of Love’ by Luther Vandross and stuff like that. Chic, I loved all that kind of stuff. And I went down there and played and I was so, so nervous I thought there’s no way I could ever do this for a living. I just couldn’t do it, I preferred to be a dancer and just go out there chasing girls all the time. So the DJ thing never clicked for me but it was an important moment because it showed me what it was all about. DJing clicked for me with pirate radio
On that particular phone call, how many (does Tim Westwood impression) ‘exactly’s were there? What was Tim like at the time?
And another thing, there was no mixing in those days it was all about selection, which to me is still the most important part about playing music you can have all the technology you want, Final Scratch, whatever its is, Abelton Live, if you can’t put two tunes together none of that matters, it really doesn’t. You can be the best mixer in the world. I used to listen to Jah Shaka, who to me is one of the greatest DJs of all time, and he still plays with one deck, which is belt drive. It’s not even like, you can’t do that (mimes touching deck). You’ve got to push it in. And he makes people dance because he’s a selector. He can put two tunes together which to me is still the most important thing. Selection, man.
When you speak of selection, the Rare Groove thing got out of hand as well. Especially the ‘rare’ bit in it?
It’s been through so many different phases. The whole Rare Groove thing was really exciting because, we were kicking off warehouses, we’d go to a warehouse in the middle of London and break in and set up a soundsystem and play music. And you had guys like Jazzy B, another guy who is totally underrated, he put British music on the map. He gave British black music an identity. Guys like that were starting out, Trevor Nelson, Norman, Gilles Peterson, Pete Tong, Paul Oakenfold, all those guys were all just coming up at that time, it was amazing to see that at the time. The police were chasing us as well, they used to raid these warehouses on a regular basis and we didn’t care. There was just that feeling, that buzz that something new was happening. And then Colin took me to listen to Derrick May and Blake Baxter. That seriously changed my life. Derrick May, the guy’s just such a genius.
What was so different about it?
It was electronic music that was beautiful music. Before that electronic music was still quite – don’t get me wrong, I love New Order and stuff like that – but I never saw the beauty in electronic music. I didn’t think electronic music could ever sound like Marvin Gaye and Stevie and these guys and when I heard Derrick May and Blake Baxter play they had these amazing strings and pads and it all just made sense to me. It had so much soul, it had so much rhythm. And I just thought: ‘These guys are from Detroit which is the scariest place that I’ve ever been to in my life. It’s so industrial, it’s so bleak, and they can make music that sounds like this’. It just made me know that electronic music had that thing, that timeless quality.
How did that fusion of the Rare Groove thing and the electronic thing happen?
It happened strangely enough because the ethos of breaking in and being a bit of a rebel didn’t quite suit Rare Groove. Rare Groove isn’t rebellious enough and when dance music came along this whole thing it just came along and came through with this drug fuelled energy, it was different it felt more like ‘this is what warehouses were made for’ and it was an incredible time. I remember listening to Paul Oakenfold at place called ‘Spectrum’, ’Heaven’ in London and just looking up and seeing all these lasers for the first time, I’d never seen lasers before, and people just looking up to him like he was a god. DJs never really had that status. DJs were still someone playing music, you never knew who it was, it was this little guy in the corner and then it just turned DJing onto something totally different. And I remember him playing Yello ‘The Race’ (sings ‘The Race’) and I remember the whole crowd just putting their hands up and looking towards the DJ and I found myself doing the same thing and I just thought: ‘Shit, this is what I want to do. This is really what I want to do’. The power that’s there… and you couldn’t even see him you could just see this silhouette and it was like church. It was like praying to some god. I thought: ‘This is me, I want this, man’.
Because of the godlike element or the moment when you had your hands up?
Both. Not wanting to feel like a god but to have that power of people with music, something that I’d loved all my life, to see it affect people in that way. Yeah, I wanted to do that. You can get that in the form of live bands but not with a guy with decks. These things are another thing that changed everything (points to the turntable), Technics. When I saw the the power that this shit had I was like ‘Woah’.
What is the power?
Basically the pitch and how steady it is. You’ve had millions, Vestax and everyone’s made decks but these are still the blueprint. It’s amazing, I went with my daughter to Science Museum in London and they had this archive and they had a pair of Technics decks there and they were like: “This is what DJs used to play with in the 80’s and 90’s.” And I was like: “What a cheek! I’m still playing with this shit now.” It made me feel a bit like technology has taken over a bit. I still play a lot of vinyl, dubplates and stuff.
Are these moments when you feel like a dinosaur, like a relic from another time?
Yeah, I do slightly. I only got my first computer two years ago, my first mobile phone four years ago. I’m a bit scared of technology, there’s something quite scary about it. The speed of it I don’t like. I don’t like that you can just get in contact with people so quickly and get things done so quickly. I think it takes away a lot of brain power. I do feel a bit like that. Even just having a Mac. I bought my first Mac last week, I had a PC that got ravaged by viruses. Everyone was like: “What you doing with a fucking PC, get a Mac.” And I was like: “Listen, I don’t give a shit.” As long as I can get online and send an email. But now I’ve got into the Mac thing I see what everyone’s talking about. And that’s what happens with technology.
You get into something you don’t want to and then you get drawn into it so much and before you know it you’re some techno freak, man. It scares me slightly. But even MySpace. Everyone was like: “Fabio, you need to get on MySpace, it’s what’s happening, you need it.” And I’m still not on MySpace because I hate it. All I see on MySpace is naked people trying to fucking get off with each other (laughter). And then it’s under this banner that, oh yeah it’s so cool, we want to get our music across to people, it’s bullshit. My girlfriend and I had a big problem because I looked in her MySpace page and saw all these naked men. I was like: “What the fuck are you doing (laughter)? Who the fuck’s this?” And she’s like: “Oh they’re my friends.” And I was like: “Do you need naked friends?” (applause) Six months time I’ll probably be half naked on MySpace as well.
Can you give us a rundown of what an early Prodigy show looked like.
Early Prodigy was crazy because we used to be laying a lot of soulful breakbeaty stuff and Prodigy used to come on with this kind of Punk attiude. They just had something, there was like Utah Saints around at the time, Aphex Twin, Orbital, Leftfield, but Prodigy just had the game sewn up in the live element. They had this amazing live show with so much energy, so much creativity as well, they were very creative, Prodigy. I think that people underestimate the skill Liam had in producing stuff like ‘Firestarter’. He moved from ‘Charlie’, which was this ridiculous record about a cartoon character, to ‘Firestarter’ in one fell swoop and that took amazing skill and courage to do that, so total respect to them, total respect.
By the time the Prodigy came ‘round the first time you already had gone through how many lives?
A lot, because then, going back to ’88, Drum’n Bass wasn’t around so we played Techno. A lot of Techno like R&S. I played ‘Mentasm’ on dubplate, ’92, ’93. Joey Beltram actually came down and gave me an acetate of it. I’m so proud of that moment. In ’88 it was Chicago House, Acid House, and Bones Breaks, Frankie Bones from New York, Lil’ Louie Vega, the whole New York sound was incredible, Frankie Knuckles, stuff like that. And then at the same time there was a lot of Balearic stuff going on as well Balearic is the original Ibiza music, very guitary, quite druggy stuff. Which I liked as well, I loved Balearic stuff but I was really into the Chicago [sound], Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk, them cats there man, they were the real dudes at the time for me.
When did that whole thing get out of hand, that early warehouse scene?
When the press, the national press got on the whole drug thing, There was a story about a big rave called ’Sunrise’. They broke into some fields and there was 35,000 people illegally dancing on the most beautiful day ever in England, it was a beautiful day and night. And the press came down and it was on the front page of the newspapers the next morning that this thirty thousand frenzied kids had gone on the rampage in some fields and taken ecstasy. There was ecstasy wrappers found on the floor, foils with ecstasy in them, no one really understood. The great thing about the rave movement was the first time black and white people came together as a kind of movement, it never really happened before. The Soul scene is very black, ‘Crackers’ was very black, it was 95% black, and you had your kind of Punk/Mod scenes which was very white. I know it sounds really superficial, really clichéd - but there really wasn’t no colour, we really looked at white people and Asian people as one family.
And once you’d drunk from the same water bottle...
Yeah, that’s right. Once you drank from the same water bottle that was it and those were the days, very exciting times. But it got shut down basically because the government came up with this bill called the Criminal Justice Bill which stopped you from doing any parties in a field. They just rushed this bill through which was totally illegal for them to do it and there was riots in London about it, a lot of protests and stuff and then it went into clubs and a lot of people thought it’d be sanitized and it was the end of everything. The end of dance music, and it survived man, it survived, it survived.
When you think back to the riots the Criminal Justice Bill caused and the media outrage and stuff and when you think if the deprivation of public and personal rights we’re facing nowadays, especially in England with CCTV and whatnot, how do you feel about that in comparison?
We felt cheated and we were governed by a woman called Mrs. Thatcher who was the common enemy and we just felt that she was so against young people and their ideals and what they wanted to do and she was getting more and more right wing and suppressing. It was very depressing times and that’s why I think Acid House was so relevant. She shut down all the mills in the north of England and everyone just felt like it was… the country was slowly getting shut down and raving was such an escape for everyone.
And drugs was as well, lets get it straight. Acid and ecstasy was a major part of what was going on at the time, people used to take so much drugs to get away from the drudgery of what was going on and she was out a little while after that anyway. The Criminal Justice Bill was one of the things that got her out. The Poll Tax, which was an extraordinary bill that they tried to pass through government, that and the Criminal Justice Bill helped to get her out so we helped change things, that’s the way I see it.
When you look at the open public outrage at that time, what is going on currently, where is the open resistance movement in England in the last three or four years or whatever?
It’s not happening because the lines have been blurred politically for me. All England really cares about is terrorism and we’re getting kind of flummoxed with this phony war on terror. But I think the youth nowadays just haven’t got it in them to be rebellious. I think everyone’s too content in a funny sort of way, they’re quite happy with what’s going on. English people aren’t really rebellious by nature anyway. They don’t really stand up and do anything about things unless it directly affects them and so I don’t see anything changing at all. The more politics gets a stranglehold on everything we do the less chance there is of any revolution of any kind. I don’t think it’s going to happen anywhere. Western society, we’ve become very fragile and very… we don’t like government but we sit down and as long as it doesn’t affect you you don’t give a shit. You’re too interested in looking after your kids and stuff like that. I’ve got two daughters, I can’t be a rebel now, I’m too old.
What position does that leave us as musicians, producers, DJs and stuff?
Music’s always free, though. Music’s always your way out, your escape. You can say what you want through music. You can do what you want through music so that’s cool, music’s always real. In bad times music always thrives and that’s why I think now, were going through a great music phase at the moment, I think there’s some wonderful music around in all genres. I think House music’s got itself together again, I think there’s some great Techno stuff, great underground Hip Hop, great UK Hip Hop which took a little while but it’s there now and is going to shake the whole American thing up. UK Grime and stuff like that. Someone said to me the other day that there’s this thing in England, I don’t know if it happens out here, called happy slapping, where you go around and you slap people in the face and record it. And someone said to me that’s because kids are bored an that’s actually very inventive that they’re thinking of new ways of doing shit. And I thought it was bullshit at first but in a funny sort of way it’s true they’re using technology and making their own little movies out of [it], their own little snuff movies. And happy slapping’s big stuff, it happens all the time, its never happened to me, but kids are bored, that’s why they do shit like that and record it. They mug people and record it and that’s invention for them, that’s them producing and directing.
When does boredom become a creative force?
It depends if you get too bored I don’t think you can be creative. I think if you’re bored and you’ve got passion and you’re slightly focused I think you can do shit. I think if you’re just bored and lazy, you’re not going to get anywhere. Times are so rough now and things are so bad and people are so disillusioned, people are turning to the music and there was a time when people were just not really into music. London goes through phases. London two years ago, Techno died, House died, Drum’n Bass died, but now everything’s thriving again because all we hear about is bullshit about the war on terror and shit like that. I think in times like that music always thrives.
It’s been in human nature to always complain about the youth being lazy, even if you go back to Socrates and whatnot, and now with you being on this whole music thing for like, I don’t know, a long time, what’s your trick to overcome the laziness, what’s the stick ups you give people?
My biggest thing is age. I’m in my early forties now and it’s just keeping young. That’s what keeps me focused. I play in some places where I could be the grand father to a lot of the kids who are in there, it makes me think sometimes ‘wow, this is weird’ and then other times I think it’s just great because its keeping me in the young thing. When I was younger, if you were forty, you were old. I looked at you as very conservative, did your thing, and now if you’re forty I go to clubs and ‘m kind of the youngest guy in there, so that’s cool. It’s changed, being old now. In the music game anyway it doesn’t matter.
John Peel who was one of our greatest DJs he always said to me: “Listen, just have fun. Don’t ever take it too seriously, don’t analyse things too much, don’t think about social issues, it’s music and your love for music.” When I was fourteen I used to love black music so much but the only chance I could hear it was on a pirate radio called Radio Luxembourg and I used to have a transistor radio that I used to listen to under my pillow because my mum always used to check if I was awake or not and I used to listen to the charts on a Sunday night with a guy called Tony Prince and he used to play the top thirty American tunes and that was wicked, man. Now, that in a way was kind of improvising. Now, because of technology, you don’t have to improvise. Things are too easy that’s what I mean about… I got that passion because it was difficult to stay up at eleven o’ clock and hear that shit and I used to listen to it and a lot of times it used to crackle and it used to go off and I used to wait for it to come back on and I used to miss a coupe of the tracks and now you can get everything on digital straight away and you can hear whatever you want to hear.
Are you romanticizing it or are you thinking that stuff’s too easy to get hold of.
A bit of both. But there’s something really sweet and innocent about that, eleven o’clock you’re listening to some ship out in Europe fucking broadcasting music. And it’s illegal as well, it was an illegal station, you could just about hear it, and just something warm about that that you cant have nowadays. There’s nothing you cant’ hear, there’s nothing you can’t do, there’s nothing you cant see.
So you think something like Rinse FM doesn’t have that kind of warmth?
No, because it’s very knowing. You know people are listening to you out there. I think them guys didn’t even know if people were listening to them, they were on this ship and they didn’t even know that this little guy in Brixton was sitting down listening to their...
But with about eight hundred million different radio stations no one knows if anyone’s listening too, right?
For sure, that’s true, but there always is someone listening, there always is. People find shit whereas before, I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m wrong.
Did you ever feel like you were taking away the job or the opportunity from some passionate fourteen year-old kid from Brixton to turn their habit into a job?
No, no, no. I never feel like that because if you’re good enough you’ll make it. I don’t ever sympathieze with anyone and think that I’ve stopped anyone’s progress. I just don’t think that’s the way it is. When people say: “You’re stopping a lot of the young guys coming through”, well, so what? At the end of the day, I’m there to be knocked down so if you’re good enough you’ll make it and that s the truth.
Good enough is one thing, having the long breath another thing, especially when it comes to residencies. There’s a lot of crews and kids who go there and start out the club an the first night only ten people turn up, the second night twenty people turn up and they just go: “Ok, no-one wants to listen to us.”
We started a club called ‘Speed’ in 1993 with LTJ Bukem because I was really pissed off with the way Drum’n Bass was going, there was a lot of really Ragga Jungle which was wicked but was bringing totally the wrong crowd. A lot of people getting shot in clubs, and I was thinking: ’This isn’t for me’, so we found a club in the West End and we decided to do that and for the first four weeks we had the total of about forty people in there. We kept on and within three months it had got huge.
I was hearing Tony Wilson who was an important guy in the whole Manchester scene, the whole Happy Mondays and stuff, saying the first night he launched his club Stone Roses was playing in this little bar with twenty of his friends there and them never knowing if more people are going to come. If you’ve got something like that maybe its’ because you’re doing something everyone else is doing, maybe you should try and do something that’s a little bit leftfield, something a little bit different, but I do my night on a Wednesday and sometimes there’s no one in there at all.
You did pick the odd day not the Friday?
For sure, because I think in the week people are more tuned in to music. On a Wednesday night you’re a music person. You don’t go out on a Wednesday night to get out of it and drink loads, it’s a music night, it’s quite chilled. Thursday nights as well which is now a weekend-ish kind of night. When we started off ‘Speed’ on a Thursday night everyone was like: “One, It’s not going to work because its Thursday. Secondly, Drum’n Bass is never going to work in the West End and third, you’re trying this soulful kind of Drum’n Bass thing, that ain’t gonna work, no one wants to listen to it.” So on all these levels we went against the grain, which is great.
Do you think the demographic of club nights on a work day is changing because of more people being out of jobs?
Yeah, but I also think the fact that people do know that weekends have just become quite mainstream, clubbing has become quite mainstream and I think real music people are going out in the week, weekdays, regardless of going to work. I mean, we finish ‘Swerve’, which is my club in the West End on a Wednesday night, at three. A good friend of mine comes down every week, he takes two busses home and he takes two busses to work and I love that, he wouldn’t miss it for the world.
It doesn’t matter how tired he is he’s there every week and you don’t really get that at weekends, you don’t get that real feel. So the weekdays have always been great for me. I love DJing on a Wednesday night man, it’s just so cool.
What about Sunday nights?
Cool. ‘Blue Note’ in London was probably the most famous Drum’n Bass night, it was crazy, used to finish at twelve, Goldie’s night. That was mad, that was a mad, mad, mad time. Very punk, very electric, Grooverider used to play there. It was the start of really dark Drum’n Bass, the whole dark Drum’n Bass movement with Ed Rush and them guys, that started at ‘Blue Note’. I was kind of resident there as well. Residencies are very important to me, it kept my people with me all the way and because I play a slightly different form of Drum’n Bass its kept my crowd happy and a lot of those people that come to ‘Swerve’ don’t necessarily go out to other Drum’n Bass nights. It’s great, I’d always do a residency midweek, always.
So when it comes to building up these things, you’re always building up ‘your people’, and you have to turn yourself into some kind of trademark. How important is the MC in that?
Well; I don’t have MCs in my club on a Wednesday. Not because of any reason but I just want the DJs to come down there. I think DJs can hide behind MCs a lot sometimes. You get MCs that are so skilled you can be shit and get away with it. Down at ‘Swerve’ they don’t have MCs, you’ve got to rely on your musical skill and your musical knowledge and getting your way around playing a good selection. So I don’t have MCs. But MCs play an important role because Drum’n Bass is very rhythm/track based. They put the kind of sugar on the cake, they make it understandable to everybody.
It took you a while to get to this point to be able to do that but on a Sunday night in ‘91 or ‘92 in some Ealing warehouse you needed to have the MCs.
Oh yeah, you do. [In ]Drum n’Bass still you do need an MC a lot of the time because you have to have someone to interpret the music, they’re kind of like interpreters in a funny sort of way. Japanese clubs as well, it’s great to have an MC. Even though they don’t know what you’re talking about they pick up that vibe and there’s a voice there so they can follow it. It’s great like that but then there’s other times they’re a slight intrusion and if you get an MC that thinks he’s a bit more important than you are you have slight problem there.
What’s the harshest thing you ever had to do to an MC?
A lot of the time I just plug the mic out or turn the fader down or just tell him to piss off, basically. Which is always a good way, that one always works. But unless he’s really awful i just say: ”Listen, its not going with what I’m doing, so…”
At a night like ‘Swerve’ what do you incorporate there from the things that you learnt at nights like ‘Mendoza’s’?
It’s still the same. I’ve still got the same ethic behind what I do. It’s still the same kind of soulful feeling that’s always been with me whatever music I’ve played. It’s always got to have that sense of rhythm and that soulfulness, that vibe, I just try and maintain that. A lot of Drum’n Bass is very, harsh isn’t the word, but it’s very hard.
I don’t really like soulless music so much and a lot of it can sound like a cacophony of noise. I try and make it sound like its’ got some kind of structure a bit more. But saying that I do, I love a lot of hard Drum’n Bass as well, I love what Dillinja does, I think he’s a real scientist, Photek, and another thing, we mustn’t underrate producers like Photek who was the template for producers like Timbaland. Timbaland’s gone on record as saying he’s listened to Photek and learnt loads from him and even the way, the little shuffles you get nowadays in Hip Hop, you listen to Hip Hop eight years ago and you listen to it now, the way they use their snares slightly differently, the way they shuffle their hi-hat’s around. A lot of that does come from Drum’n Bass and I think Drum’n Bass does get a bad rep.
I mean, Garage music, which was supposed to have killed off Drum’n Bass was a hybrid of Drum’n Bass. Garage music was made by Drum’n Bass producers that got pissed off with the fact that Drum’n Bass went a bit too technical and wanted to get back to more natural sounds and that’s how Garage came around. So Drum’n Bass is very important and I think it gets overlooked a hell of a lot of the time. A lot of the patterns that’s in the drums, you can hear it in a lot of music nowadays. You can hear it in R’n B, you can hear it in Hip Hop, you can hear it in a lot of what Timbaland does, you can hear it in a lot of what The Neptunes do, so I think people [underestimate Drum’n Bass].
For a lot of people it was the back alley for finally being politically correct to admit to like certain electronic music, thinking if you liked your funkiness and soul and that’s how it was probably ok for the Hip Hop to admit they liked the electronic side of things.
For sure. Drum’n Bass is the most electronic music you can get. What’s changed with Drum n’Bass more than anything else is the speed. Drum’n Bass is still maybe too fast, it’s running at 175. Maybe if you slowed it down to 160 you’d lose a lot of that kind of clowny vibe you get with Drum’n Bass sometimes.
I think sometimes the speed gives it that effect of being ploddy and (does bassline impression), it’s a lot more complex than that. So if I think Drum’n Bass needs to learn something, I think it does need to slow down a bit. I’m as susceptible as anyone else, when I play sometimes you just get the thing to pitch up to +6 and then you listen back to it and think: ‘Shit, that’s going way too fast’. So I think it does need to slow down a bit.
That’s maybe not bad thing in general to slow dow abit here and there.
I just think it’ll sound slightly more warm. But we had a big discussion, the whole Drum’n Bass fraternity about that, so I think a lot of the guys will be slowing it down.
Was that in one of those secret meetings that you guys have?
We do. It’s like the Freemasons and it’s quite Nazi-esque. We all sit down there and plan our changes but it never happens though. We all walk away and think: ‘Fuck that’. It never happens. There was a big meeting once about what we were doing with speed, there was a big meeting with all the guys. They had this secret meeting and they were like: “Oh, you know, they’re bringing Drum’n Bass to the West End…”, and Drum n’Bass is very strange like that, if they don’t like things they have meetings and they try and oust you. Have coups and stuff. So they had this big thing about the West End, “We don’t want it to go to the West End. Fabio, Bukem, they’re selling it out”, which did hurt quite a lot at the time because a lot of these guys were friends of mine. But it never happened, it never does really. Drum’n Bass people are long, they take ages to do anything. So you never have to worry about the meetings.
So meetings, fraternities and stuff, and going back to ‘Mendoza’s’, you can’t really talk about you without mentioning your sibling or your brother in crime.
Oh, Grooverider? Oh, Grooverider, man. Grooverider’s been great for me because I’m very lazy and he’s so focused. It is really like a yin and yan thing he’s totally the opposite for me but he’s been a total inspiration, he’s been as inspirational as people like Derrick May had, anybody. Incredible DJ, incredible man, great friend. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him and that’s being serious.
RBMA: Questions anyone?
Participant: Any tunes?
Fabio: »Any tunes?. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve got some tunes here, do you want to hear some tunes? Cool.
RBMA: While you’re looking for the tunes there’s a question
there from our man.
Participant: Hey man, how you doing? You mentioned LTJ Bukem before who’s a massive influence of mine and I wanted to ask if you’ve done much stuff with the 4Hero guys like Mark Mac and Dego and the part they played in it back in the day?
For sure. I mean, sometimes with stuff like this you
forget names, but 4Hero, maybe more than anyone else. The worst thing about
that I remember playing that in a club when someone passed out, ecstasy, and
kind of died in front of me when I played that tune. Which, if you don’t
know it, it says: “Mr. Kirk your son is dead.” And I played that
and someone was like: “Listen, take that record off, someone’s passed
out man.” But that was a subversive tune.
That tune came out and freaked the shit out of everybody. It was this chaotic rhythm with this “Mr. Kirk your son is dead” and everyone used to go crazy to it and I used to be a bit like: “This is weird.” Dancing to a tune about a dead person. 4Hero were very important in Goldie’s career as well. Goldie’s greatest moments came with Mark and them guys, ‘Internal Affairs’ and stuff like that with them engineering his stuff.
There’s a bit of a love story of those guys hooking up at your night, right?
Yeah, at ‘Speed’
Wasn’t it ‘Rage’?
Yeah, Goldie met Bjork at ‘Speed’, he met Mark and them guys at ‘Rage’, Mark and Dego.
Participant: Before you were talking about everyone getting together and the whole West End thing, was there a real community flavour amongst producers as well? Like 4Hero and Goldie and stuff, did everyone kind of share stuff?
I’ll tell you where everyone shared stuff, there
used to be a cutting plant called Music House and that used to be the aim of
the day, everyone used to go down there and cut dubs. Everybody. When I say
everybody, everyone. Bukem, 4Hero, Goldie, Ed Rush, Dillinja, Photek, everyone
used to meet up at this grimy little place in Holloway Road in North London
and we used to cut dubs there, just a little shack. And the guy used to have
a lathe and he used to cut Reggae stuff like Trojan and Greensleeves from back
in the day and we all used to go there and meet up and a lot of the exchange
of ideas came from Music House so there was that sense of family. Not family,
its kind of like: “Oh, he’s made this bad tune, I’ve gotta
make a better tune.” That’s kind of what’s happening now but
it was more so back in the day because you used to go in and say Bukem, he brought
I remember the day he came in with that tune he was like: “Fab…” And we were all in there and he put it on and for me it was the most important tune since I heard ‘It Is What It Is’, Rhythm is Rhythm. Because what that tune, ‘It Is What It Is’, done with Techno, it made me see that Techno could sound so beautiful, ‘Music’ did that. To me there wasn’t a beautiful Drum’n Bass record until that moment. ‘Music’ came along and I was just like: “Whoa, this music’s got a future in it, got timeless qualities, got everything you need.” So Bukem, he was amazingly important to what I do. What people don’t understand, when Bukem first started DJing, he had this reputation for people falling asleep when he was DJing. Seriously, people used to sit down on the floor and everyone used to be like: “Oh no, I cant get into this shit”, but he didn’t used to care. He never cared. He never, ever sold out. He’d never put on a tune for them. And I used to say: “Danny, sometimes you’ve got to compromise”, and he was like: “Listen, I‘m not going to play no music that I don’t like. I’m just not going to do it and if they don’t like it they don’t like it.”
And I loved that about Danny and he’s still like that now, he doesn’t give a shit he just plays what he plays. That is a very difficult thing to do, especially in the Drum’n Bass scene when you get slagged off for doing certain things and you’ve got to have four, five rewinds and stuff like that, so respect to Bukem.
When you talk about Music House as a social gathering point and peer pressure going on, its not only about the tracks and the musical developments, it’s also a really interesting social point because you’ve got this closed net of people and someone’s got this advance from this record company, someone’s got a new car, someone’s got this really ugly looking Nike trainers, but he still buys them because they’re 200 quid. As someone who has survived so many of these things and seen them come and go, what are the things you learn to stay above all that and cut away the crap?
Just not to listen to it. Just not to listen to what
anyone says really, because you go along with what people say and you end up
getting totally wrong footed. It’s a bit like being at school sometimes.
A lot of childishness going on, there’s a lot of hating. Through that
closeness you get that, there’s a real competitiveness in Drum’n
Bass, which is really good on one level, but on another level it’s a bit
tiresome. Anyway, listen, I’m going to play a tune. Can I play ‘Music’?
This is a tune that I, as I said to you, I heard this when Drum’n Bass
was going through a really kind of glum phase and I needed something and Bukem
was like: “Listen Fab, I’ve done this tune, I really don’t
know if you’re going to like it”, and he played it to me and it
just blew my mind.
... playing LTJ Bukem - 'Music'...
That’s a bad tune. (applause) Bad tune. The next tune I’m going
to play is from an album that had so much ambition, and so much epic quality,
which was an album that I heard in the 70’s. I remember my cousin bringing
it ‘round, which was Stevie Wonder. The reason why this album was so magical
for me, it came at a time when I think in the 70’s people took more risks
and were willing to do more things on an epic scale. Like ‘Apocalypse
Now’, a film like that could never be made now, people just wouldn’t
really spend that kind of money and have the ambition to do something on such
a large scale. And this album, if you listen to Stevie Wonder’s use of
electronic music as well, in ‘Village Ghettoland’ and ‘Pastime
Paradise’ which Coolio used and stuff like that, you can hear how forward
he was with the whole electronic sound.
The track that I’ve chosen is ‘I Wish’ because it reminds me of me growing up in Brixton and the way things were and the things that your parents used to say to you. And it’s a quite corny song, the way its produced, but it’s got so much soul and so much feeling and as soon as you hear it, you just get that feeling of joy. Stevie Wonder also had this magical quality of making music that you think you’ve heard somewhere before. The Beatles had that as well, they make music that when you hear it you think you’ve heard it a million times before yet its so unique at the same time. So this is Stevie Wonder ‘I Wish’.
... playing Stevie Wonder - 'I wish'...
That’s Stevie Wonder ‘I Wish’. This next song I’m going to play for you, I’m going to play you something brand new, it’s a Drum’n Bass/Techno hybrid. It’s a bit Detroit-y but still running at 175 and it’s still got that real Drum’n Bass feel. It’s by a guy called Spirit who’s in New York and it’s called ‘Coming Home’ and this is what I’m talking about, about this new Techno hybrid that’s coming into Drum’n Bass.
Don’t you think with your show on the BBC they would enjoy you doing something similar to this as well?
Well, they’re getting a new slot where a lot of DJs are playing stuff they wouldn’t normally play and I’m looking forward to that. Hopefully I’ll get called in because I do really feel that I should be given an outlet and we’ve asked in the past if we could do stuff like this, but there’s a lot of red tape to go through and stuff like that. But they’ve started a new show where you do what you want to do and play stuff from your musical background so hopefully that’ll get going and I could do that because I’d love to do that.
As you can see upstairs there’s a little outlet like that as well and there’s not a lot of red tape there, I guess about none, and we’d really welcome you to maybe later on, with an open door, do something similar up there in the radio slot. Since we’ve been sitting here for two hours and people are kind of getting ready for lunch I don’t want them to fade away with out giving you the applause and the props that you deserve for sharing your insight with us for the last two hours here. So, give the man a hand. (applause) But nevertheless, you’re going to be around and we still have to hear that tune.
I am actually really jet lagged and at this time of
the day I’m starting to get a bit fucked up and I’ve got this real
allergy to caffeine and I drank a Red Bull earlier and now I’m really
starting to talk too fast. Right, I’m going to put on this last tune but
thanks a lot guys and I walked around seeing what’s going on here and
respect to what you guys are doing. Music, it sounds like a cliché, but
it’s the best game you can be in and as long as you’ve got the passion
and the belief and you really want to do it and you’ve got the right feel
for it and you get what fits for you.
Those are the most important things, it doesn’t matter what genre it is, the most important thing is never let anyone tell you what to do because it’s all about doing what you believe in and people can sidetrack you and the more people tell you that you’re doing the wrong thing that means you’re doing the right thing. That’s happened to me so many times, people saying: ”You shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do tha”, and the more they do it the more you know you’re on the right track. So as long as you keep doing that that’s the most important thing, and this last track ‘I’m going to play. As I said, is bang up to date, brand new, a guy called Spirit, it’s got a very Drum’n Bass opening but it’s got this lovely kind of techno breakdown. So this is the last tune, thanks for listening.
... playing Spirit - 'Coming Home'
Text: Torsten Schmidt
Das Interview wurde auf der Red Bull Music Academy 2006 in Melbourne geführt und future-music.net freundlicher Weise zur Verfügung gestellt.
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