This is the second part on my interview with Oris Jay aka RS4.
[B]: Can you tell me a little bit more about the house track that you're making or some of the stuff that you're like excited by at the moment? What have you heard recently or made recently that's got you in back in the studio?
[O]: You know? Weirdly I think because of lockdown I’ve been watching movies so I what I used to like do any sampling films in sound so the last the last EP I put out as Oris Jay at 140bpm, I think all three of those tracks are just from movies, like the sounds, might have got sound in are two of them are from movies. Yeah, coz one's from like [big Hollywood film], which is I don't know why I use [big Hollywood film] but it worked. And then the other one was from the movie [another big Hollywood film].
And I think that's how I used to like to do things, that I would hear a clip of a film and think how can I put that in a track? You know, it used to be like the jungle days you'd hear stuff, you'd hear things from old own fashion movies or reggae sound system tapes where they’d robbed some vocals off the back of there.
That was how I used to like to make music is just find some weird thing that somebody said in a film and find a way to put it in a song or in a track. So I did that for a bit last couple of tracks that I did, just sort of find influences from movies or just sounds or just listening to things like that. So that last EP I did was literally just from watching a couple of films where I did it.
The house stuff is harder to do that with because it's not really a genre where they throw in bits from films really, or bits from reggae sound systems, so it's a bit more difficult because you've got to find say, maybe a vocal that might recognize or vocal that sounds similar to something they might recognize. Or something that's a little bit catchy.
Your thought processes a little bit different when you make in house then it would be 140. At 140 I can literally could have thrown anything in and try to make it into a track, where when I'm doing like 123 BPM or lower, I've got I think this is, this is not a genre that is heavily influenced by reggae or heavily influenced by movies..
[B]: Could be, it could be, surely you should do whatever you want!
[O]: If you imagine if you had like a Scarface reference in like a dubstep track, you'd go, yeah, I could understand why that's in there.
But if you had like Scarface referencing like the house track, you almost be like, not sure this works in this. You're almost expecting it to have a female or male vocalist in a house track, you're not really expecting to hear Scarface, do you know what I mean?
So you're right, you could probably put it in, you could try it, but what you're doing is, you're almost…. you're almost how can I put it, you're going a little bit off piste. So you're taking a bigger risk that that track’ll work. So you’ve still got to spend the same amount of time with a track that you might not work as you would that a track, you know, will just fit anywhere.
[B]: So seemed like a whole bunch of a whole generation of lockdown discovered Double 99 “RIP Groove” for the first time. And yeah, that's a pretty ragga-y house track. I mean, I know it's garage, but you know...
[O]: But again, that would have be somebody like I don't know, it'd been some massive DJ somewhere. As for you know what I'm going to play this tune for fun, see what happens. Now the minute they would have done that, all the kids would have been like, what's tune is this? They've got the Shazams out. It's very easy to Shazams a tune like that.
And then they'll play it as well, because they're the big DJ that just heard playing it, so it must be a big tune. They don't know its history. They don't know his heritage. They don't care about that. They just care that it's fun and it's loud and it's got a big bass line and their favourite DJ played it, on some mix.
So but, but your right, that’d be like an anomaly? Or should I say that's not, that's not an invention. That's something I've just pulled from old school and brought new school for fun for a minute. So I think if somebody was like, “I'm going to make a set of tunes, like ‘Rip Groove’ with the same style.” I think it'd be fun for a minute, but then the people would be like “I want to go back to some girl or some boys singing…”
[B]: To be fair, that tune is difficult to top. It's pretty, it's pretty special. It's been pretty special for a long time, on a whole bunch of levels. But I don't think you can make a whole set of tunes that are that hype because it's kind of the peak of the whole speed garage movement isn't it? It was literally a UK number one record wasn't it?
Talking about [London’s] speed garage, did you ever connect with [Sheffield’s later genre] baseline? Was that ever your thing?
[O]: Erm…. [laughs]... not…. not really. I'll give you a little short story. So, when I started playing UK garage but when it was 4x4. And to me, I thought this was, I thought this was universal music. I'm like, “how can, how can everybody not like this?” It's got 4x4, which everybody knows it's got bass, which everybody knows. Yeah, it's got a couple of you know, little bits and bobs or like ragga samples in there but so what, it works.
So to me, I thought this was universal. So I was, I was coming to London and I was buying all these UK garage tracks and we had a club in Sheffield called Niche.
And I got booked to play at Niche and for our wicked, so I can introduce Sheffield to… well, really baseline because that's kind of what it was but we just called, 4x4 garage at the time.
And I played a set there and the crowd liked it. But at the end of the finishing set the promoter came to me when, “I don't really know what that was that you play that jungle music. But you can't play here again.” So, I was like, “alright.” I got hired and fired in an hour. That's a first.
[B]: Did you play jungle or garage?
[O]: That was garage, but to them, it's so different… right? To them it felt like it was jungle music. That's what they define it as just because they hear the odd man talking about you know, gunshots. So to them the music was so different to what it was used to in that club. Didn't want it in there anymore. Now, as it turns out, it basically then became baseline anyway.
[B]: Yeah, for people who don't know, as far as I understand it, bassline was Sheffield and Leeds taking really heavy 4x4 speed garage stuff and just keeping it going in their own way, like making their own stuff
[O]: I just, I just did it too early in there. That's all it was.
So, I mean, I could have persevered and I could have changed the style and made it a little bit more, you know, user friendly for a few weeks, and then, threw in the odd track, but I didn't want to do that as like, I've got a bag of these brand new music have just bought up on the train from London, I’ve come all the way up here to try to introduce it. They weren't ready.
So I thought I'm not taming it down for them, I'll just stay playing in London. That was it. So, so whilst I was down south, that's when baseline became bigger up north.
So, but there was some DJs up here that I proper love like DJ Q up here, you’ve got Fredo up here… Skills. So these are DJs when I can sit and listen to them all day playing the baseline stuff. When you hear it you can see it was influenced from the old school garage-y stuff.
Yeah, exactly. It's just that at the time when I was playing it, it was too new. Easy way to put it: too new for Sheffield.
[B]: I saw you played recently in Sheffield, what was that?
[O]: Yeah, that was alright. It was my first gig since lockdown. So weirdly, I was kind of nervous was like: “how can I be nervous when I’ve been DJing since I was 14?” But I was kind of nervous in there. And then it’'s like my phones didn't work and I'm like, “is it me? Or is it the headphones.” I can't tell headphones on for like two years.
But the vibe was all right people's in there was loving it. It was more me who just it was just me just a little bit like “this is a strange feeling to have that I've been in this industry since I was 14 years old. And I'm now nervous to be behind a pair of decks” This is not me! But I've got over myself after about 10 minutes.
[B]: I mean… I don't want to be too flattering, but you’ve always seemed like a really natural DJ. So it's kind of funny to hear you say that!
[O]: Well, that was the same thing for me. I'm literally I'm going to the club almost to check my music about 20 times on that day just to make sure of it.
And then I'm like, it was like the weirdest experience I've gotten behind these decks. I'm like, “What am I supposed to do? What am I'm I supposed to do with these?” I'm like, they're just decks … but you forget you get for a minute.
Because all the way through lockdown I've got some CDJs here but I don't touch them. So this was literally the first time I've been in a club situation since before lockdown. Now the only saving grace is just before I did the gig I did a radio spot before it. So that gave me sort of like the courage to remember where things are and what I'm doing.
But I played jungle sets so it was a little bit different. So it was easier because I didn't MC so I was like, “wow, no one's gonna notice if I make a few mistakes because the MC will cover it up.” But at the club, obviously, there's no MC. So that's just me. So it was a little bit more pressure to get it right. Because there was no one to cover me up. Just meet me, me, me.
[B]: I find it weird that you're weirded out by the decks. I think I'll be weirded out by the number of people. Because like for two years in covid lockdowns, we had to hide ourselves away from large groups of people.
[O]: Yeah! The walking in is where I got that first, right. So as I pulled up and I was like, “there's a lot of people outside here.”
So that's when I've got that sort of wave of “there's a lot of people in this place.” And you start thinking about Covid. But you know, I tell you once you're in the club, and you are behind the decks, you're not, you're not thinking like that anymore. It was just more when I looked at these CDJs are like, “I don't really know what I'm doing with these things here. But no doubt I'll work it out.”
So, I put the first song when it worked, was like “right I’m in”. I mean, it worked. I didn't need to get too technical, didn't need to find the engineer to press play - it worked.
[B]: Yeah, when the Rinse studio shut in lockdown, me and Dusk got Pioneer DDJ-1000s, and I'm glad we did because it's a really beautiful bit of kit and has allowed us to keep the radio show going during lockdown. And then yeah, yeah, you have to get used to each piece of kit, but it's really well made.
But I wanted to ask you about lockdown. How did you find your behaviour and your approach to music change, when suddenly we had all our community and our connections taken away?
We couldn’t share the music with a lot of other people or be in a loud sound system or there was no clubs to play the tunes. And there was, for me at least, there were periods of feeling like, “is this the end of the world? This feels bad” Like people - a lot of people - are dying. I can't go out. We're asked to stay in our houses. Did you find your approach to music change at all? Or your emotions around music change at all?
[O]: Yeah, I had a lot of mixed feelings. I'll be honest with you. I didn't like lockdown at all. I know, a lot of people were like “oh wicked, I could play Xbox 24/7” or whatever, but I'm not build like that. So I didn't really like it.
And then my first thought was right, okay, so all I'm going to do now is make music all day. That was my first thought.
And then I had this weird sort of reality of, well, I only make, I don't make songs, I make club tracks. My tracks don't sound great if you just play them, on a radio sort of thing. They're built for a club. And there is no clubs. So what am I building this music for, if there's no where to play it?
So then I was sitting there and I was like, “well do I start making the arrangements different?” so they work as a radio track, or they would work if you just went on to Spotify or whatever.
But I was then saying, “well, that's, that's not me.” So I'd be changing who I am as a producer, for the sake of lockdown. And I didn't really want to do that, because it took me too long to get to the point where I'm comfortable with the music I make to then completely change.
I was getting people saying to me I should just make some songs, all that sort of three minute things, with basically no intro and you know, and I was like “I could…?” And then I started thinking, “well do I do a club version and then do like a radio version?”
But in my mind was still saying to me, but “there is no club. So why are you making a club version, if there is no clubs?” And without a club version, I then couldn't make the radio version.
So I was in this weird catch 22 where I was… I couldn't… I didn't really see why I was making music. So I didn't really make much through lockdown.
I was thinking in the 18 months, I probably did one EP, in that length of time, like, in reality that length of time you got off work or whatever I should have be able to make two albums or three albums out of that. But I didn't. I made three tracks in a whole of lockdown. That was it.
[B]: That’s pattern many of us felt andI heard from many other people. I think it's been a really unusual social ‘experiment.’ And experiment is not the right word for it. But like, it sort of has been a bit of an experiment.
And I think in the arts club music had it worst because it turns out I think you were if you were to invent a formula for super-spreading Covid it would probably look like a club.
Get a bunch of people together, yelling and breathing on each other and then lower the ceiling and make it hot and then don't have any ventilation. Like that's what my favourite clubs felt like! Clubs like FWD>> and like Blue Note and DMZ [and Corsica room 2]. That's exactly what they were.
But instead if your thing was playing classical music in a big field, then maybe you were like, okay after a while. Or your thing was singing outside with your friends doing choral music or something. But for club music, we were hit so hard with that.
But I suppose the thing that's interesting for me is the difference between percussive music and then music for a club which are kind of the same. But in lockdown I didn't feel like I stopped loving percussive dance music just because clubs were shut. But I certainly made less music than I thought I would as well [probably because of the early sense of dread].
[O]: You know when I've started listening to almost like old school and new… people like Mighty Crown, the reggae sound system and listening to stuff like that and hoping one of them would make me go actually “know what I'm going to make a tune off this!”
All I just kept telling myself was “when this tune is finished, what are you actually going to do with it? Because there's nowhere to play it. It's built to be on a sound system and there's no sound system.
So, on my little Rokit speakers I'm not writing albums just to play on them. It’s literally almost like I feel like I missed an opportunity to write another album, which I kicked myself for in a way… but I wouldn't want to do a half hearted album. I wasn't in the mood or the mindset to make music… If I've did it I’d be making music by numbers, that was it. It would be just math.
[B]: It sounds like it took away the “why” for you… the “why you do it?”
[O]: Exactly what it did yeah, if you think [I had] the arrangement, the format, the sounds, everything you would need to make music: I had. In the process of lockdown I’d got a new computer, brand new sounds. I’d literally made it so I was ready to go for go to write as much music as physically possible.
And then did three tracks in 18 months.
And even those I was like, I'm going to shorten the intros to like 30 seconds. Because I think, I don't think people are playing one minute intros anymore. So even that I didn't like how they started. But I thought 30 seconds I still kind of got an intro so I’m alright with that.
But again, these are not things I should have been thinking about. Normally I’ll just sit in the studio and just jam. Where now I'm sitting the studio, I'm like, “well I've got think about this I've got to think about that, what if...?” And that took away creativity because I'm thinking about too many other outside influences rather than just seeing in there making music.
[B]: Yeah, I think the bit that kills me is like when a mixdown is not working. That can be that can be like really… like… a bit of a head f**k. But yeah, it sounds like it wasn't a great creative period for you. And I really heard it all over the place, people saying the same thing is like, should have been amazing, but it really affected everyone how they felt about music.
[O]: Yeah, you know, it comes down mental health init? Because, you know, when you're you you've got too many things telling you can't do something, but really it’s just your mind stopping you from doing it.
I could have wrote an album, but I just literally tried. I sat down in the studio, I'm sitting there, and I’ve got everything turned on. I'm good to go, cup of tea on the side there. I've got peace all day. I turn it on… probably be near 20 minutes… turn it off, literally just turn it off, because I don't really I don't really know what I'm doing. It's almost like… imagine you're pro footballer, but there's no football pitch or football. So you’ve got nowhere to play. So as much as you want to and your minds ready to do it, if you haven’t got no football pitch what are you going to do?
[B]: Are there any kind of memories of the early Forward>> stuff that's worth sharing? Like, for those for people that didn't go to the really early Forward>> parties like Velvet Rooms.
I was there for that photo shoot for The Face magazine photo shoot… you're in that right and Zinc and it's like it's on the roof? Yeah, that's it. Those are like 2001, 2000, those are really early times, right? For folks that weren't part of that or didn't get a chance to see it, do you have any good memories of that or can describe what it felt like?
[O]: You know, it was an awesome feeling to be part of something new. But some of the people that was in that scene were already established producers. So it was almost I had to try harder to be better. Because this is not a set of people who have just started making music yesterday. These are people who know what they're doing.
And if you imagine, I didn't really know what I were doing. So in a way I was happy to be the underdog or happy to be at the bottom because I know that means I've got to work up.
So when I did “Bigging up the Massive” I was on a little course, a little music technology course in Sheffield. Me and a couple of the other guys, students who were around at my house. I had a few drinks and I put the format together, just based on a clip I had from a [club night] promotion a friend of mine did.
[B]: To be fair, I have to say no one at the time thought you were like, making it up or an amateur, when you were making music, if you, if you were trying really hard at a point to step up levels, it worked because like, I can't ever remember thinking “Oh Oris Jay doesn't know what he’s doing production-wise.”
But I think what’s in what you're saying, which maybe is worth teasing out: is it true that the early era of producers around what became dubstep but certainly the early Forward>> stuff was pretty competitive?
[O]: Yeah… a lot of the guys already knew how to make music, so it was already very, very good at producing. But if you imagine in a new genre and a new era: whose sound is the one that people are going to follow?
So imagine you've got the El-B sound, you have the Benny Ill sound. They sounded similar but different. You had Zed Bias' sound: he was a little bit more musical. Even at that time, you had a bit of Wookie as well doing some of the harder stuff then you had Zinc doing breaky stuff.
So it's like: everybody was holding their own. But still, it was a bit competitive, because you're almost thinking “well, I've heard that tune, that tune is going off. I need to make a tune that sounds like me but will also go off in a club as well.”
[B]: So I think there could have been scenes… well there are scenes… where people are just focused on having a few beers, mucking around and having a party. I think there's probably been loads of them.
But [in Forward>>] I witnessed this kind of arms race with like producers and I think, I'd totally I think it was, it was competitive in a good way. I definitely like remember things like people saying “well, I heard that big tune last time that was Forward>> so I got to come back with something that's even bigger” and that may be just that competitiveness pushed the scene forward.
[B]: No pun intended!
[O]: I wish there was still a little bit of that now, you know, because imagine you got booked for Forward>>. You can't go to a record shop and just buy whatever the latest releases were and play them. That doesn't work.
So the minute you got that call from Sarah [Soulja - co-founder of Forward>>/Ammunition promotions etc], saying “I want to put you on this gig.” Your whole life from there is changed.
Because what you then got to do is think: “I've got to now make as many dubs as possible or get tunes from people I know who only exist in this space, to be able to play a set.
So, you'd go in studio think “I saw what happened in the last Forward>> I can't be under that, I can be on par with it, I'm not trying to be better than it, but I can't be under it. It's as simple as that.
So if you think your music production went up because it had to. But you had a baseline so you almost knew where you're setting your bar.
So imagine now, there's no bar to set, you know like I could go in and I can make some any music or like there's no, I'm not competing against anything, I'm not comparing it to anything. Whereas back in the Forward>> eras, you saw what Hatcha did in there. All you saw was J Da Flex did in there. And you're next. So: what are you going to do?
[B]: Because the funny detail you’ve got to add, for folks who weren't there is you're saying Sarah rings, books and you think “oh, this is basically my Olympics, or this is my marathon, like, I've got a come and put time in the studio and come up with an amazing set. And, you know, you can't buy in a shop”
But we got to remember, a lot of those Forwards>> were pretty empty. Yeah, the way you describe the story, if you don't add this detail, and you think like your like Andy C going into [legendary 93/94 jungle rave] A.W.O.L. and it's rammed.
So the mindset, I totally agree with you as I was there but often it was like, 40 people, or less, you know, 10… or 50? But like, it wasn't like some massive Metalheadz rave or some massive Jungle Roast thing where there was loads of people and… maybe that made it worse haha...
[O]: When, when you think of it, though, they would be 10 or 20 or 30 people in there what, what almost like, would be trainspotting your tracks. For instance I might have gone there and I brought a new version of “As We Enta” or something like that, where if I did a VIP mix of hours track now I don't really think anyone would notice it was a VIP track to be honest. But back then people would notice.
Right, they would notice that the track is different. Like I remember going to Forward>> and I can't remember what track it was I did, but I had free guys just staring at the dub just going round and round and round. And they was telling me what this track is.
Now if you think: I've just made this and it’s not like the internet even existed where it could have read it, but the reason they knew what it was is because they knew it was a VIP [mix] of something else.
But there was like, so they almost even got the timeline right, when I must have made it based on when that came out, and now I'm playing it. So these, these are people that studied the sound. So there might have been 40 people in there but 20 of them were like scientists when it came to what new music is. So it was still fun to do because it was like proper appreciation.
Because you've just been in studio all day just to make a version of a track you've already done just to play at Forward>>. So you want somebody to notice. That was a place for it.
[B]: I got to add though, like this sounds like it could also be really dry or really boring. But the sound systems were so physical that they were fun… exciting, almost like flight or fight, as your chest is coming in [from the sound/air pressure] and, and you're like, “whoa, my head's exploding because it was this new tune?” The way you're describing, maybe if you hadn't been there, you can think “oh, that sounds like a bunch of people in a very dry way.” But no, it was the excitement of the rush of the new and this competition.
[O]: Absolutely. Yeah. One, one of my one of my favourite nights there, I think I drove to London to just play it Forward>> and was driving straight back. And I was doing a back to back with Hatcha. And I didn't know Hatcha that well back then. I wish I did haha… because basically we would play three tunes. Yeah, wicked…
But I think I only played three tunes, because what he was doing is every tune he played rewound it, and then they played it again and then rewound it, so one tune would probably get four or five rewinds. Right. And then he played another tune and then rewind it and then he played a VIP of that tune and then rewind it, right?
So if you imagine his three tunes was actually more like a journey into these three tunes. So I'm sitting there going to “so when am I going to play mine?” Because I was trying to just get my in and out to get him back on, so we can you know, we can juggle. Nah, he wasn’t juggling. He was literally going rewind, rewind, rewind and the crowd were loving it.
So because he was on a flow I couldn't say anything. And I was like: “yeah man I drove from Sheffield, to London, and I played three tunes and drove back.”
But it was vibes, it was vibes. And that was the bit where I was like, if I'm trying to explain this to someone who lives up north, they would say are you crazy? Like “you drove to London for three tunes?” But I’m like “if you was there, you would understand that it was still beneficial, it was still awesome to see and to watch.”
[B] History is on your side, history was made there. We couldn't have been sure that that scene was going to go anywhere and clubs come and go, nights come and go but it turns out that what happened there made history in loads of different ways. Maybe it was worth driving.
Now, I feel like Dusk would kill me if I don't tell you this [Forward>> era] story. And I don't know if, I don't know if it's something we ever told you about. You've just reminded me of this. Maybe Dusk could tell it better than me.
There was one time we were at the back of Plastic People. It was one of the few times that Normski turned up. Like, I don't know how well known Normski is now but obviously he was the face of Dance Energy on Channel 4 and like the rave generation, right? He's pretty famous, much more famous than anyone in that club mostly - a big personality.
And anyway so, he comes running off the dance when you just played your set. And I don't remember exactly how this conversation started or went, but basically he was kind of talking to everyone and no-one and the bit that just stuck in me and Dusk's head is he goes, “I've got all those tunes. Yeah, I've got all those tunes,” [pointing at the decks] but then he kind of walked up the stairs and leaves like and we’re like “hmm alright… because Oris has just played an upfront selection of his own dubs that literally nobody else in the world has?” Like, there's just no way Normski you have these tunes: that's the point of this club. And we’re just laughing in disbelief.
[O] Because he came to me! And he said to me “all them tunes you've got there I've already got them.” [laughs] And I was like “riiiiight! Okay, well…” because one of the last one that I played there, it's not even finished.
I literally had to run out of my house, because we had a guy up here in Sheffield where we used to cut dubs in Sheffield and I literally called him with the last thing before I set off. “I know I’m getting you out of bed or whatever but can you cut this for me right now? I've got a play it tonight.” And I played it and it wasn't finished at the end but I thought “you know what, four minutes is enough.”
But Normski is telling me, he's already got that. He's had that for a while, that tune. And I'm like: “this acetate still smells of acetate because I've literally just cut this right now.”
But he was excited. You know, he was jumping around and he was like, he was getting a vibe. He was telling lots of people that all these tunes, he’s got them all already.
[B]: It's kind of weird, because he didn't come many times. And I don't remember him being part of the scene and there were a bunch of well known people did come. Ms Dynamite came a bunch of times, loads of times, and obviously, Wiley and Skepta were there a whole bunch of times too. And Geeneus and Slimzee were a huge part of it.
Normski: I only remember him a couple of coming a couple of times. And it's just too weird … maybe he didn't even know what a weird thing that was to say? The whole scene is about dubplates and he's telling you he’s got dubsplates - yours - and he's got them…
[O]: He was convinced and it wasn't for me to un-convince him that he didn't have any of the tunes that I played, as he was excited. And I didn't want to take someone's excitement away from me as he was buzzing. He was like, “yeah, got all it got all of them.” And I was like “riiiight, okay, because I've literally just got these, you know. And he was like, “yeah, I know. I know. I know. But I've already got that.”
[B]: I reckon it’s a skill - and I’m not sure I've got it - in just looking really deadpan and not saying much in the face of total absurdity, just maybe “uh huh… right.” Or just quietly “no” but without even saying the word “no.”
[O]: He was too excited. You know, it was like, it wasn't for me to take that excitement away but I'm surprised you remember that because I remember saying the exact same thing: “Normski just told me he's got every one of these [tunes] for ages. And literally this one here is so fresh, I cut it and came straight to London. I didn't even know if it played, it because I didn't even test it before I set off. So, the minute he was cut, I was gone.
[B]: And, yeah, well, there were a bunch of great moments before, but probably few were as funny as that one.
Now I wonder if there's enough water under the bridge where we can talk about the whole breakstep thing because again, it's one of those funny things that at the time, was really political [inside Forward>>].
And actually, even though that we'd met each other through “Biggin’ Up the Massive” and some of that stuff in the really early Velvet Rooms. But the time they got to the full breaks thing and the breakstep thing I remember it being like you and I were on the other side, different sides of the fence a little bit, and I was unpopular for expressing views about that.
So how do you look back on that, on that era?
Sorry, just to clarify for people: there were a bunch of styles that came out of or were played at Forward>>. Broken beat, grime was played there, though, obviously, grime was invented somewhere else. Like, you know, there's the break-y sides of dubstep, dubstep itself, garage all those things.
And then eventually there was a brief period where there was quite a polarised camp between the people playing stuff that was breaky-er and folks who were playing stuff that had no breaks in it. And that second bit became probably more recognized as what we call dubstep now.
So anyway, what do you remember that stuff? How do you reflect on that era?
[O]: Um, it was a it was a strange thing, right, because… I used to like breakbeats because I come from jungle anyway… so putting the odd break here and there in garage…
And it wasn't me trying to be in a scene or me trying to do anything else. I was still using an Akai sampler, filled with breakbeats. So I'm not going to dismiss them just because it's not in the scene that I'm in. Right? So I've started throwing the odd one in here and there.
Now, I remember doing a track. Well I've done a couple of tracks before. 'Confused', which was basically the first one on Texture was a breakbeat, I took that from Erica Badu and the b-side is the exact same breakbeat, I just played it differently.
So if you think of putting a break in music…it wasn't an alien to me, it was just what I did. And then I did 'Said the Spider', which is just a break again. And all I did is I just kept the format of 2step but used a breakbeat to do it. And had like a weird didgeridoo bass in there.
Now, I remember first time, I think the first time I sent that to Sarah, and only did it coz I wanted a dub what no one has got for Forward>> as well that track “Said the Spider.”
So I played it to her and she’s like “I don't know what this is, but I'm not sure this is gonna work out.”
So I was like, “Okay!” because I literally I just did it, just to play for me anyway, so it doesn't really matter. I'm just gonna just play it Forward>> and she went “yeah, cool. No problem.”
And that was kind of the story; that was done. And then about, about three four hours later she rang me back and she went “that tune there, you haven’t scrapped it, have you?”
I was like “no, I'm not you made me think I should play it but I ain’t scrapped it” and she went “keep the tune! I have just played it a few people in there telling me that they want it.” So I was like, “alright cool.”
So now that tune, I don't know what happened there. But there was a breaks scene really in sort of adjacent to the garage scene. I was unaware of this at the time. But after “Said the Spider”, what started to happen is people I've never heard of, DJ I've never heard of, who've got kind of status in their world, but I didn't know what their world is, are saying “we need that tune.”
So, I'm kind of like, “eeerm…. okay, well, what, what do you do?” They’re like: “We do? We do Breaks and breakstep stuff, right?” I’m like “What's that?”
And I started to listen to the stuff and I was like “oh okay, I get it.” But some of the breakbeat what they was doing was very much almost like slowed down drum & bass. That's what that that was like, so I… I didn't fit there. So then I became this like grey area.
Because if you imagine the breaks scene was a different scene to the dark garage scene. But they were playing my tracks in that scene. So I was in this weird grey area. So I think that's where people say, well, what you do is kind of like breakstep because it doesn't sound like the dark garage stuff but it's not breaks, what you are [using breaks].
[B]: 'Confused' is a good tune for that, because I remember it being quite like funky and like the hits are on there. But I think… break thing is the breaks thing, right, that was always a big scene anyway.
And but then there's also that, that era of that history where [the Forward>> scene] started using breaks within the camp. I guess maybe Search & Destroy is a good example of that sort of made things within the camp of the people making [what was played there] harder and breakier and more a bit more distorted. Whereas “Confused” is super light and funky, and you can still hear the hits.
And it felt like, it was like the energy levels and the production levels we're heading towards basically where the harder end of dubstep ended up. But certainly was quite different to what was going on with folks, I suppose [producers like] Digital Mystikz and those [sort of strands] like within, within the scene.
And I just remember that era getting quite political and people getting quite angry about a bunch of the sides getting angry at me for saying, “Well, I think this bit is dubstep and I think this is a breaker thing.” I mean, maybe it doesn't matter either way, but I remember it being difficult to talk about for a while because people were polarised...
[O]: Oh yeah, I remember, because I was kind of getting booked for breaks clubs and it was a weirdest situation being in a club I didn't know anyone.
It was like… the demographic was completely different. It just felt odd being there. And then it was almost like some of the garage people would say, “why are you doing them clubs?”
To me I'm just playing my music in there. But I could see where the divide was because they had a different principle, it was different discipline. Like the guys who were at the top of the breaks scene, he wanted to keep it clean, keep it breaks. They didn't really want hybrid music. That's not their thing.
But then on the flip side, they did play Zinc tunes and play my tunes, but they didn't really want to go beyond that. So it's almost like we need the hype of this other genre, we just don't want that genre.
So I could see where there was a bit of a divide back in a day because I felt it myself. I met some good people in the break, scene, and I'm not gonna lie, but I also got a lot of pushback as well. I didn't “fit.”
Like an easy way to put it: there was like me and another DJ called Tayo. That was the only version of kind of colour in that scene.
[B]: Did you feel explicitly that the pushback was about colour as well as the music you were making?
[O] I wouldn't I wouldn't have said it was that but, like… imagine I went into a club, the first time I went to a breaks club I had my Avrex on. So when I walked in and as I walked in, the first thing a girl said to me is “are you So Solid?”
And I was like, “So Solid’s like a crew, it’s not like a one person thing, there's like a few of them. Right?” And I laughed because I thought you know what “she's just she's drunk.” And then I got to the DJ box and another guy says to me “are you So Solid?”
I was like “so this is a thing around there, like if you're black and you've got an Avrex you've got to be So Solid.”
Like, now if you imagine it in the scene I'm from that is just a jacket no cares about that, that wasn't like a thing.
But in the breaks scene it was if you imagine… I’d walk in a club and I would be representing all ethnic minorities in one in the breaks scene so it was a different… the scene was a lot different and I think they kind of wanted it to stay like that. If I'll be honest.
[B]: That's pretty unpleasant.
[O]: Yeah, and I know. At the era you had the MCs and at that point people were talking about “garage's clubs are getting shut down” and the issue of MCs. And I think that their mentality was “if you just keep it away from that scene as much as physically possible” i.e. take the colour out of it, then you're more likely to be able to hire clubs you know, you're not going to get any issues you're not going to get any problems so I think that was their mentality.
I don't think there was going in there actually thinking “let's keep it white,” I think it was, just, just we'll just keep it as “let's just keep the MCs out.” And the way to keep the MCs out is always to keep it as sort of one dimensional as possible.
[B]: Funnily enough you mentioned that you have made me think about a little connection back to deep tech. If you ask what happened to deep tech… and you can probably help me out with that but… I got the sense about the middle point of deep tech as it got bigger, a bunch of them [had strong opinions about MCs]...
Because there was UK funky before that wasn't that far behind deep tech. And they felt like those people had sort of seen it before, as UK funky came out of producers like Kerri Chandler are some of these other US folk making more like traditional house and stuff.
And I definitely remember with the deep tech there were [scene] conversations, “like no, we can't involve MCs coz we look what happened with [polarising UK funky MC novelty track] 'Heads, Knees & Toes'”, and all that stuff and all the MC tracks in UK funky we gotta we got to keep it instrumental and the fear of what [would happen if they didn’t].
And yet my memory of deep tech was like it was more multicultural than way you describe breaks. So in the case of deep tech I think a lot of the producers that are saying this are black. They're just saying keep the MCs out because that's because then you know the MCs take over. Do you remember any of that?
[O]: I missed the UK funky scene. I knew of it. But I didn't really make any of that beat, that sort of that sort of pattern. I didn't really do many tunes like that. So [got into deep tech] when it became something new and uk funky started to fade out a little bit. So I don't remember it. I haven't really got much that I could comment about the transition of those two, because I weren’t really in that scene.
[B]: Yeah, I don't know what to say. I think I've always loved MCs. And I think one of the things I loved about Forward>> was there were people from all different walks of life. And I met people there that I never met in other parts of life and we had something in common for many years and that was like, actually a really special thing, even though the music was good, that was a bonus: getting to meet people.
[O]: Yeah, yeah, I've got people that I'll probably talk to for the rest of my life that I met at Forward>> you know, like that's it that's what it was about. As it older you know, and it got became more popular, yeah, you had ravers in there at that point. But at the beginning, they were just people who just wanted to hear the latest greatest music by a specific DJ or producer.
If you had one of your tracks played in there, it was like an honour. You know, like, like now if I hear one of my tracks play in a club I woudldn’t think “it’s is an honour to hear it.” I'll be just more like, “ah all right, wicked, you did get that email then.” But the mentalities has changed. But back then it was special if somebody played one of your tracks at Forward>>.
[B]: Yeah, I didn't get many plays. But when I did, I remember them very clearly.
[O]: That... I used to buzz off that. That's the reason I would travel three hours or whatever from Sheffield to get there, listen to it and drive back. That was why we would do that.
[B]: So I for the last few questions I want to ask about the Keysound EP, so 'I'll Be Good,” “My Mind” and “Ticking me off.”
It was just one of those things that Dusk and I were just thinking about, like, “hey, we like we were really curious about the deep tech scene, I put a Truce EP out as well as one from Hugo Massien. Truce’s was really basically in bleepy.
I just come back to tracks that have like a groove and bleepy baseline and I'm just was like “I wonder if Oris would be up for doing something like that?”
Can you tell me a little bit about making those tunes and what you thought about when you were doing?
[O]: Yeah, the “Ticking Me Off” one, out of those it was wierdly probably my favourite one because I've had that vocal for like forever, and I could never get it to fit in a track. I've tried numerous tracks I just can't get it to fit, because he was almost singing it off [beat].
So I've started, scrapped it, started, scrapped it. And then, I thought for the final time I’m try this vocal just one more time. If it doesn't work at this time, then I'm not supposed to have this, right? Move on with your life, leave it alone.
So l loaded it in last. So, I loaded it, I started a track first then I thought let me try if it fits. I can get it to just fit. And it fitted into grooves, like… almost by itself.
So I think it must have realized that it was going to get deleted if it didn't fit this time, right? It fit into groves.
I was like “wow, okay.” So, yeah, I had to do a bit of manipulation to get it to be like, right. But I think that track there was probably my most favourite, out of the EP.
But that was probably our most fun out of the three to make. And then the, the other one that I really enjoyed making was the, I think was the first one I sent to ya, which has got like a weird grove.
[B]: 'I'll be Good’?
[O]: Yeah,' I'll be good'. Yeah. Again, I found a vocal, I really liked it. I was like it's not going to fit in a 140 track. So let me see. I'll do a house track with it.
Just got some new sounds for the studio. So I was like, let me see what I can do with these new sounds and a vocal that I’ve just found and sat there and it kind of, it kinda was quite fluid that track it wasn't one that was a nightmare to me in any way.
I probably got it wrapped up… it was probably done in a day and a half. That was fully finished. So I enjoyed making it.
The middle one, “My Mind” took longer. So that was about three, four days in time to do it. I think the longer it takes me to make a track the less love I have for ‘em, because I've heard it too many times.
So it's a good it's a great track like obviously, if you wasn't sat in a studio for four days with me you will like it is just for me it just that track was the longest out of the three to do.
Just because everything I've tried I wasn't happy with this bit. This bit didn't sound right, took this out, put it back in. Change the bass, then it sounded like a different track, I put the bass back in, then “was that exactly how I put it in? I can't remember.” So it was a lot of to and fro with that one.
[B]: But what I think is cool about them is… house music is mostly routed around the kick, right kick & the hat, kick & the snare. That's the main focus. And dubstep is was really quite a lot about the baselines very obviously, right?
But those tracks on your Keysound EP are doing - and some of the deep tech stuff - there is an interplay between the bass and the kick. It’s just a really beautiful thing.
I think if you get just a really beautiful bleep or baseline or bassy bleep - they can go down to like frequency - then it is so perfect.
And I think a lot of dance music is about… so I don't do it very well, but I think dance music can sometimes about finding a few really amazing elements.
But not loads and loads and loads of elements… not like you're not running an orchestra for a film wherever you need everything to be in key and 17 parts.
Some of the dance music is about the really hard problem of finding a few perfect music elements. And some of those tracks like, you know, especially 'I'll be Good' has really got that… the riff, the way it just always comes back to the last two notes of the bar. It’s hypnotic. Anyway, that's my enthusiasm for those tracks!
[O]: Yeah, I did like that groove. The groove in a ways like a one off because I've tried to do another one similar with a similar groove and I can't get it to roll as nice as that.
So that's probably going to be like a one off sounding like that. Like a lot of tunes sometimes I can make this sound, sound a little bit like that sound, and you can hear that it’s me that’s done it, it's got that, idiosyncrasy to it.
But that one 'I'll be good' was I just sat there and it came to me like that: I just felt it.
It just fitted it in there. I wish I had that feeling often where I can just do it like that!
[B]: Dance is about about slightly breaking rules in interesting ways - not smashing the rules - otherwise, you can't dance to it.
But what I like about the tracks especially, especially in 'I'll be good'... is it breaking the rules because basically the baselines hitting on the 3 and 4?
You think of dancing being putting your foot down on the one, up on the two, down on the three, up on the floor, right?
But that groove just like, you know, it ends in the 3-4, 3-4. And that's kind of a really happy, like, tweak of the rule. It's not like 1 2 3 4. And it's not like one, two or up and down, you got this groove and it just gets into my brain, Oris it’s brilliant!
[O]: Yeah, it's a good tune, I like that tune, the groove kind of just came to me. And again, I've tried doing a similar one to that. After that and it didn't work the same. So that was that was kind of the ideas kind of like a “one off” idea.
[B]: It's great. All right, I'm gonna leave it there. It's getting late. Thank you so much for all this time.
[O]: It’s good to talk, I haven’t talked to you in years and you were there. Alright see you in a bit, bye!