Welcome to FunkyJ.com

So, here it is, the new and improved FunkyJ.com for 2016.

When I started writing for dB Magazine and inthemix in 2002, the web was nascent and you had to look hard for material on the various artists I interviewed. Nowadays with wikipedia and google it’s really simple to find information, and I hope this writing will be added to that pile, and be useful to others.

It’s a little laborious copying and reformatting all my old interviews, so it will take a while to get all my content online again.

However I feel my writing is still valuable, not only for myself as both dB Magazine and inthemix have changed radically over the last 14 years and some of my stuff has vanished, but I also hope it’s useful for anyone who may interview these people in the future.

Oh, and just a note about the articles – the wordpress publishing dates I wrote them – or at least the creation dates the computer recorded me writing them. Publishing dates would have usually been a week or so after the creation dates. There may be some errors with this and the articles in general, but I present them as I wrote them, not as they were edited.

Ugly Duckling

Ugly Duckling are one of those bands where you hear their music and are instantly happy because of it. They have a funky, fresh vibe that’s infectious and fun. Their first album contained such tunes as Pick-Up Lines and A Little Samba. The former lambastes the stereotypical wannabe ladies’ men, whilst the latter an amusing send-ups of hiphop braggadocio. The second album was Taste the Secret, which celebrated “Meat Shake”, a restaurant where the gimmick is everything has meat in it. Throughout the album the trio explain their woes at working, the fight between “Meat Shake” and “Veggie Hut”, and a whole host of other funny and clever songs, such as ‘Mr Tough Guy’ that pays out the idiot who acts tough at hiphop events, and Potty Mouth, a song with the wonderful line “All you really wanna do is make a fast buck / That’s why rap sucks, it’s too limited / Potty mouths wanna keep hip-hop primitive”.

To my surprise, and perhaps even horror, I discovered that Meat Shake is actually real, and that the boys did work there. Although not a massive corporation as portrayed on the album, Meat Shake is a very small, family-owned establishment Andy Cooper, aka Andy Cat, one of the MCs of the group, explains. “So this has been fun for all of us. I’ve heard that (the Meat Shake) business has picked up considerably in the past year, and they loved the song and the album”. Given the topic of the last album, I had to ask if anyone in the band was a vegetarian. “I’m not even sure if anyone in the group has been a vegetarian for a day!” replies Cooper. “That’s not a judgment against veggie-people, and the point of our album was not to pick sides as much as contrast two different points of view. Actually, the ‘meat shake’ thing was more a metaphor than anything else. We were really talking about western culture and more specifically music culture, and, more importantly, we were trying to be funny.”

And funny it is. Some might say fucking hilarious, but not UD, who try not to swear on their albums. “All of our music is ‘kid tested and mother approved!’” Cooper laughs. “It’s something that is important to us – there are plenty of groups that talk dirty so we liked the idea of being different. Plus, we wanted to be able to play our music for our families and not feel uncomfortable about it. I have to say that this is not revolutionary,” he adds, “in fact, most of us love early De La Soul, Rakim, Biz Markie, Jungle Brothers, Run DMC, and those bands were, for the most part, squeaky clean.”

Not only do they like those bands, but also there are very similar elements to them in their music. Although they had the questionable fortune of forming in late 1993 in Long Beach, home of gangster rap, they took a decidedly different path down the road of hiphop. The origin of Cooper’s stage name is rooted in the gangster mentality, being that everyone, including Andy’s gym teacher, referred to themselves as “dog”, so he chose Andy Cat in order to be different. “We never entertained the idea of going gangster,” Cooper says. “We wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with that because I don’t think anyone would believe that we were thugs. Being different has worked, for the most part, to our advantage so we can’t complain too much. One thing about us that is often overlooked is the fact that we grew up around gangs, violence, drugs and all of that stuff.” Dizzy, the other MC in the group, was even thanked on the first Compton’s Most Wanted album, Straight Checkin’ Em’ record. “Ironically, we are much closer to that culture then a lot of the people who make fun of us for being so un-street,” Cooper says.

Their sound is often called retro, or old school, but that tag is unfair as it’s almost as if people are saying they don’t like to look forward or progress. “Certain people love to label bands and the “old school” label has stuck with us because we have a traditional sound. That perception is out there and it has been harmful to us. For example, we didn’t make a single reference to old school on our latest album and, in my mind, we put together one of the most creative records in years, yet often, Taste the Secret was categorized as a throw-back thing.” Maybe it was the fact that it was a theme album, or maybe that the tunes were simple yet deep, but either way the album certainly sounds different to the new school rap that poisons our airwaves. “But we’re not ashamed of our roots,” he continues. “On the contrary, we’re extremely proud of hip-hop heritage and we will continue to draw from that well, but we, more than most groups, combine new ideas with traditional rap values, and if that’s a terrible thing then I’d rather be terrible.”

Following a theme album is often a hard thing to do, with the expectation to follow it with something equally quirky. Ugly Duckling has given us Taste the Secret, a mini album that “closes the book on meat shake, although we may make mention of it on future albums,” Cooper explains. “But, honestly, making a concept record was extremely difficult and I for one am looking forward to making a normal album next time. It’s hard enough for us to get anything done as it is!” he laughs.

UD’s hiphop heritage shines through from the album to the live shows. “Our show is all turntables,” Cooper begins. “It costs more money to put of our stuff on wax but we feel that it is well worth the trouble. Turntables are to hiphop what drums, bass and guitar are to rock. Hiphop began with the DJ and we would feel funny doing anything else. In fact, we just got an offer to do a live, radio set in Australia but we were told that we couldn’t use our DJ and would have to rap over a CD… we politely declined,” he says with a wry smile. I ask about the possibility of CDDJs… “It’s very convenient isn’t it? Kind of reminds me of the guitar-style keyboards smooth-jazz guys play with a strap over their shoulders. It just isn’t right. The possibility of the needle skipping is part of the thrill!”

Another thrill is seeing these guys live. They give it their all, and they have a similar presence to the Beastie Boys. Last time they hit Adelaide they played a rather short show, and left us wanting more. But it was on a Tuesday night… “We’ve really tried to step it up for this tour!” Cooper exclaims. “The show is much more theme-oriented and crowd participatory as well so, hopefully, people will be pleased. We will do everything we can to entertain you good people… we’ll come to your houses and force meatshakes down your throat if we have to!” he laughs

Qbert

Throughout history, certain individuals have found callings, and through that calling have redefined the world we live in. Edison, Mozart, Einstein, Da Vinci, Picasso, Warhol; genius that took what we knew and changed it, made it new and also made it acceptable, usable, common. Richard Quitevis is one of those people. Quitevis weapon of choice is the turntables. Under the moniker Qbert, Quitevis has won more awards and is held in higher esteem than any other DJ. For him, turntablism is an obsession, but it’s an obsession that he wants to share with the world.

“It was just the weirdest sound”, Quitevis says of how he got into DJing, “and growing up in San Francisco there was a lot of hiphop and breakers around. And scratching is like the weirdest sound, I really fell in love with it, and now it’s my musical choice.” Some would even call it an obsession. In his old studio named ‘the Octagon’ in San Francisco, DJ magazine reported there were 16 Vestax units as the focus of the room, and that ‘every moment, unguarded or otherwise, finds QBert squeezing, fondling, stroking or otherwise manipulating a slab of vinyl’. “It’s a lifelong commitment,” Quitevis says. “Like a kung fu artist perfecting his skills, or a Jazz musician honing his skills,” and whilst I can’t see him, I can imagine him fondling a turntable as he speaks from his new set up, the ‘Temple Warplex’ in Hawaii.

However, turntablism for Quitevis is not like some guarded secret that only a few can know and learn. Quite the opposite in fact, as through his company Thud Rumble, he is bringing ‘the scratch’ to the world. Ranked in the top 50 most influential media companies of the decade by A Magazine, and one of the top 25 Most Creative Companies in the Bay Area by San Francisco Magazine, Quitevis and partner Ritche “Yogafrog” Desuasido are making a name for themselves outside of DJing, whilst keeping Djing the major focus. “Thud Rumble is a company that caters to the scratch DJ niche market,” Quitevis explains. “We make sound effect records, slip mats, instructional DIY videos, we design mixers.”

“I’m very into minimalising everything. We’ve invented the scratch records with all the best breaks and sounds, so a few records with these sounds is all we really need these days,” he say. “I also have a new turntable coming out in July, the QFO. Basically it’s made for portability.” The design is a high-torque circular turntable with an integrated 2-channel mixer, featuring an ASTS (Anti-Skipping Tonearm System) tone arm and pitch control. This was the next evolution in portability from the infamous ‘Kut Mobile’. “The Kut Mobile is a big turntable set up I plug into my car, but I’m still stuck in the car, and it was a question of how can I now take this out of the car,” he laughs. “I live in Hawaii and I like to go to the beach a lot,” Quitevis says of the idea behind the design. “I was like ‘how can I be like the guitarist who plays at the beach all the time, or the bongo player. A violinist can go to the mountains to play. Why do us DJs have to be stuck in a house, scratching while staring at a wall?’ The idea was why don’t we attach a fader to the turntable and make it portable.”

Quitevis also has had a hand in developing a scratch notation device, allowing scratches to be recorded on paper much like musical notes can be. “A-Track (Audio Research + the Allies) and John Carluccio (director of ‘Battle Sounds’) perfected the system. I wanted to do the musical notation as it’s kinda like what we all see. It’s like a universal scratch pattern. When you move the record forward, the on the page line goes up, when you move the record down the line goes down… I dunno if that makes any sense right now”, he laughs, “but if I want to see what a specific scratch looks like, I will definitely write it out. But most of the stuff is in my head.”

With advances in technology like the Pioneer CDDJs and Final Scratch making inroads on the DJ scene, with Allies’ member DJ Craze using Final Scratch in his performances, and Quitevis wanting to make things more portable, I had to know if he’s ever used these new tools. “I’ve messed around with them, yeah,” he muses, “but I’m definitely an analogue type of guy. I like the rawness, the feel and ‘real time’ of vinyl. A good comparison would be between someone playing a piano as apposed to someone playing an electronic keyboard.”

Quitevis rarely tours, but is making his way down to Australia at the end of June. “It’s very important to live your life, period,” he says of not touring as much as other DJs. “There’s got to be a balance. It’s kind of obvious. I know guys who tour their whole life and it’s like ‘what the hell are they doing, you’re going to kill yourself out there!” It’s like a prison to be touring your whole life.” Adelaide is a scheduled stop on this tour, and we are very lucky to have this great talent, no genius, finally hit our shores. “Whilst you’re waiting, check out www.djqbert.com and www.turntabletv.com,” Quitevis mentions cheekily.

Richard X

Making mash ups in his bedroom, Sheffield based Richard X’s talent caught the ear of DJs and the press alike. In a sea of simple mash ups, Richard had a fresh sound that combined the complexity of the popular in an artistic manner, but with dancefloor, and more importantly, commercial viability. His first mash up, working under the name Girls On Top, was a limited seven-inch featuring, on side A the Whitney Houston-meets-Kraftwerk contemporary classic ‘I Wanna Dance With Numbers’. On the B-side, Richard placed his all-time favourite track, The Human League’sBeing Boiled’ beneath TLC’sNo Scrubs’, creating ‘Being Scrubbed’. These two fresh-sounding, icy electronic R&B anthems took London by storm, and were considered novel, not a novelty. His next single had on the A-side ‘We Don’t Give A Damn About Our Friends’, a version of which the Sugababes would later take to the top of the charts, and on the flipside ‘Warm Bitch’ married The Normal’sWarm Leatherette’ to Missy Elliott’sShe’s A Bitch’.

The name Richard X has nothing to do with fighting oppression ala Malcolm X, but rather happened as a bit of an accident. “It was quite a while a go when I was doing the Girls on Top bootleg,” says Richard. “Because I wrote a letter to someone and wrote ‘Richard’ and then put a kiss, which is the ‘X’, it became Rich X, then Richard X as it became. Richard Y was another popular name; it’s what my mum used to always say – ‘Richard, Why?’” he laughs.

“At the time it was more I was bored of electronic music, and still loved with music from my past, and I was also into the RnB stuff quite heavily, you know ‘the American Pop’, since 1997,” Richard relates of his first track. “At the time it was at odds with British electronic music – a lot of people couldn’t see the similarities (between pop and electronica) but I could. For me they were cut of the same cloth, they’re both minimal, both pop songs, and I saw it as a logical step to do it as a booty. I don’t think anyone had done a booty outside the world or house music, or the world of ‘art’. It was very fresh at the time.”

This gave rise to a whole host of bootlegs, sometimes called mash ups, or ploppers (plopping the vocals of one track over the instrumental of another with little production) or, my favourite term, Bastard Pop (the illegitimate child of two unlikely pop songs). Richard wishes to distance himself from this scene, although he states, “I’m not a person to say that it’s rubbish or it’s unfashionable. I always said it wasn’t just about making bootlegs, and that’s what I’ve tried to show with the album (Richard X Presents the X factor). I’ve been doing other stuff as well, I’ve been writing and producing for other people,” he adds.

“But I try to avoid playing at the nights, just making bootleg after bootleg, because it’s bit of a trap; a trap for artists just to do one thing, it always is. That’s the only downfall in that. I like some of the stuff, and I see the Get Your Booty On web board as something really healthy, and there’s some great talent out there. I’ve got nothing bad to say about it at all. I’m just more interested in the people who take it a bit further, into the realms of making ‘unofficial remixes’, adding more of their own sound, less about bootlegging and more about traditional production.”

Richard is philosophical about the future of pop music as a whole; the way it’s made, as well as distributed. “I think what will happen is filesharing will get regulated. It is inevitable; but the only thing is I don’t think you can blame piracy for the crash of the music industry business. I think there are other factors in that; most of it lies in the hands of the record companies themselves. Companies run by shareholders are never particularly stable, and when things take a downturn it’s ironic that bedroom musicians and the people who don’t have to spend thousands of pounds putting records out, they’re the people who benefit,” he says. “Independent music will probably get a big boost in the next few years because we have that mindset of doing things on the cheap, or not getting a lot of money for it. I say we,” he says as an aside, giggling. “I’m now on a major! But I think it’s a re-adjustment. If I was a young artist doing it all again, I wouldn’t be worried at all, I’d still get my music out in one way or another.”

Being signed to a major label that helped the much-undervalued Sugarbabes to chart success with the tune ‘Freak Like Me’, there’s a delicious sense of irony that’s not lost on Richard that his album has copyright protection. “The copy protection never works, people can easily get around it,” he says. “You used to get around it just by drawing with a black marker on the CD… but don’t quote me, I don’t want people wrecking their CDs!” he laughs. “It was more of the downloading thing, which is ironic because of where I’ve come from. Sure, back then I had most of the records, but there were a couple of things I got from Napster and Audio Galaxy. It was novel way of making music. It was almost at the point where you could physically manipulate anything in the world without having to buy it. It was exciting, I was on the ‘cutting edge’”, he says with a hint of sarcasm.

“But you can’t not have copy protection on records,” he continues “But rather than hide it away and pretend that I don’t have to conform on an EMI recording, I thought lets make it really huge… just have me standing in front of this big sign! Originally it was going to be carved on a gravestone, but they weren’t having that. But it’s a red hearing, its not a matter of selling out,” he states. “I think that’s what most people might want to criticise me being on a major for, but all the records I’ve ever made have been pop music, so it’s where I should be naturally,” he says, with just a little hint of egoism.

Moving on, Richard has done the latest Back To Mine CD, which is surprising in it’s lack of well-known pop tunes. “They’re just great little records that I really do play at home,” he says of the tunes. “I could do a 20 pop record tune mix easily, but I didn’t want to do that. Electronic music was more than just the pop, it was the weird TV theme tunes, like ‘Tomorrows World’ that you’d hear once a week and get really excited about, and that’s what I was trying to capture.” Also noticeably absent is his favourite band Human League. “Last year I talked about nothing else apart from Human League. I went on about it so much it’s slightly perverse not to have included one of their tracks. But I think everyone knows the Human League, with this I wanted to make it… not deliberately obscure, but full of things that are great that you may not have come across before. I went for an obscure Heaven 17 track to represent them. Because there were a few electro compilations out there last year, given that everybody suddenly liked electronic music again, their music did get aired again, I thought I’d look elsewhere. I wasn’t being snobbish and it certainly wasn’t a dis,” he chuckles.

Nubreed

I had a chance to chat to Nubreed’s Michael Walburgh aka Mykel just after Easter, the first Easter they had off in over 3 years. These hard working Melbourne lads have not only been touring extensively over the last few months, but been busy in the studio recording their first full-length album – The Original. Known for an awesome live show, and deep, nasty basslines, Nubreed are the darlings on the breaks scene, both here in Australia and abroad.

Walburgh says that having time off over Easter was a good chance to catch up on what’s happening around the place. “There was a big 33 1/3 show up here in Melbourne with Freestylers, Uberzone, Grass Roots; and the drum and bass crew – Pendulum, and Shapeshifter. It was a really mad weekend!” he enthuses. “I met Uberzone back in Miami a few years ago, and we were talking about hooking up and doing something, and now he’s got some new releases and is itching to get stuff heard and work with us. Aquasky were down here too, and we hooked up with them too.”

This is pretty much how Nubreed got out there in the first place, just by networking and being in the right place at the right time. “We put together a demo show reel and I had the fortune of being in Miami with Rennie Pilgrim, Danny McMillan, Tayo… everyone who’s anyone in the breaks fraternity was there. I got the chance to pass the tape around and through that we got lots of good recognition. And I suppose Adam Freeland, touring with him when he came down a few years ago,” he adds.

Nubreed are as well known for their bootlegs as they are for their originals. Bootlegs are illegitimate recordings of artists, and Nubreed have done a range of stuff from Alanis Morrissette to old school hiphop greats. They’ve done legitimate remixes, such as the awesome Born too Slow by the Crystal Method. “We’ve done a few live booty’s, stuff that works really well live, that we don’t sell or whatever. They came about from the Phil K / Nubreed shows that we did a few years ago,” Walburgh explains. However, the album is full of brand new material. “The Album is a catalogue of or work since about 1997. ‘The Original’ is all new material, and the second disk is mixed by our mate Phil K, and has lots of the vinyl only, hard to find recordings for your CD buying community. On the album we try to morph ourselves in all the directions we’ve wanted to go. We wanted to elaborate on the vocal tunes for this CD release.”

I had to know if they preferred making original tunes, or doing the covers. “It’s all part and parcel of it all. You have to be able to sustain a living. We don’t have any part time jobs, so we try to keep any avenue open to us. It’s a balance, you’ve got to do as many remixes as you can to keep yourself fresh and out there, on the dancefloor and in DJs boxes, but at the same time keep your ideas that you’ll think will work in circulation for your original material.”

Nubreed are keen to get back on the road again with their new live show, one which now features a drummer. “We’ve been so bogged down by the machine behind getting an album actually out there, the artwork, the legals, and so on. We’ve been working on a new live format too. We’ve got a new drummer!” he says excitedly. “That’s worked really well, and we’ve got a lot more options open to us with the drummer. There’s obviously a lot more album based material in the show, so there’s going to be a lot more depth to it. It’s not going to be a straight dancefloor set, which is what we usually do in clubs and dance arenas. This will be a chance to do OUR show, really get into it and play a lot of the older, unusual stuff as well as the new stuff. Dave (the drummer) has played for Wicked Beat Sound System and On Inc. If anyone has met Dave our drummer he’s quite infamous. He’s a great energy; he’s the equivalent of Animal in the Muppets,” he laughs.

“We’re beat orientated anyway, and the only reason we haven’t crossed over to a 100% live format is because we didn’t want to have to compromise on our production values of what we produce in the studio. With software and the money we’ve made and saved over the years we’re at a point where that’s now possible. Dave’s a lovable larrikin type. The three of us (Nubreed) have been together for the last 15 odd years, we’ve known each other forever, and for someone else to come in, despite the odd teething problems, is really good. It’s added a fresh and new approach for us.”

Luckily this current live arrangement is coming to Adelaide, most likely in a smaller, more intimate venue like Traffic, rather than the raves we’ve seen them play at in the past. “Every time we’ve been to Adelaide it’s been at a rather large gig,” Walburgh says. “Its mainly Blake (DJ John Doe) who has really spearheaded us there in SA, he took a punt on us – he’s got a real diverse edge in what he listens to. We slipped really well into that vibe as we do tag some drum and bass on the end of our usual set. He saw a vision of what could be, and it worked really well. One of the best gigs we ever did was at Stardust with the Ez Rollers and Shimon. That was great – you had a really energetic crowd, they were there for it, it was just a mad vibe to be caught up in all that. You caught us at a good moment,” he laughs, and then adds “that’s the thing with Adelaide you never know what to expect.”

 

Skalpel

Webster’s Dictionary defines scalpel as a small straight knife with a thin sharp blade used in surgery and dissection, associated with clinical precision. In this respect, Skalpel couldn’t be more aptly named. Their eponymous release on the enigmatic Ninja Tune label is a wonderful CD of cut up Polish Jazz, infused with a hiphop mentality. The cuts are so precise that sometimes you forget you are listening to a collage of tracks, and not some lost, original Eastern European jazz recording from the 60s.

Skalpel are Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudlo, from Wroclaw, Poland. Marcin Cichy, is the main speaker in our phone conversation, but Pudlo is in the background, confirming details, like their age (29 and 37 respectively). Knowing very little about Poland’s scene, I asked what it was like over there. “We can only say that it is very poor, that’s why we’re releasing our record outside of Poland,” Cichy says in a think accent. “There is no press for electronic music, and only two or three labels that deal with this kind of music. So if you want to make a living in Poland making music it is impossible because you can’t sell more than say a thousand electronic CDs, I think we do much more interviews for Australia than in Poland,” he laughs. Quite a tough gig, and it’s surprising that they got heard at all. But due to modern technology, they managed to get their tape to Ninjatune’s Solid Steel radio show, which attained them some notoriety.

Having interviewed DJ Vadim for one of the rare magazines that dealt with electronic music in Poland, the pair was soon discussing samples, obscure breaks and the Polish music scene with him. This led to combined tour with Vadim’s Russian Percussion, at which they presented an amazing 4-deck show all over the country. Later that year Skalpel released a demo, Polish Jazz, which not only received a lot of critical acclaim, but also led to the duo signing a contract with Ninja Tune, because of the quality of the music enclosed.

“We listen to different music,” Cichy says of Skalpel’s musical tastes. “We listen to old music, 60s, 70s. Igor is into the Beatles, the B52s, punk rock, and I listen to hiphop, warp records, funk and that. But for this record we’ve concentrated on the Eastern European sounds. We wanted to develop sampling this sound; we concentrated on records you don’t get to hear and sounds you haven’t heard before. We’re Polish, and we use Polish samples, this is our image and the way we do things,” he states.

Polish Jazz has had a rough time of it, having been outlawed by the communist government since the 50s right up until the 80s. “They didn’t like it because they connected Jazz with freedom, and it was something they didn’t want,” Cichy explains. “For example, we sampled one track from a Polish movie, which was called ‘All that Jazz’ (Byl jazz), and it is a film about the first Polish jazz band Melomani. The film was forbidden in Poland as well.” The film was made in 1981, 30 years after the group it was based on, but still seen as too risqué in its home country. As one would expect, this makes it hard to find records as well. “When it comes to vinyl it is really hard to find, because it wasn’t released in Poland, but now there have been some early jazz re-released on CD. Most of the good records went to Germany,” Cichy laments.

Through such things as Glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it’s incorporation into the European Union, Poland has become a growing modern nation-state, and as such has had access to a wider range of technology. “It’s different than in the 70s or 80s now, you can get anything, it’s just a matter of money. When you live in Poland, you make very little money, and everything costs a lot more than in other countries,” Cichy says, and then explains its easier to go to Germany to buy sound equipment, simply because of the cost.

“The whole album was made at our house,” Cichy says of producing the album “We’d start at Igor’s house, talk about music and records, drink our cups of coffee of course, then come to my house and put stuff together. We don’t need a studio; we just need good computers with a good sound card, that’s all. It’s not music about hi-fidelity sound; we look for particular sounds that will represent the Skalpel sound, and we don’t remove noise from the records. We like it to sound a bit dirty,” he laughs. “We wanted to name it ‘From A Dusty Crate’, and we wanted to capture that old sound, so it sounds like those old records you found in your basement or somewheres.”

Totally intrigued by their sound, I had to know if there were any plans to tour outside of Europe. “If it comes to recreating the LP live, we don’t think that’s possible,” he says. “But we do our live thing, which is a 4 turntables thing with our VJ, and we create a different experience. We do ‘Adventures in Space’ which is based on spoken word from children’s records based on space, and we play abstract beats and our VJ plays visuals to that.” Which, of course, sounds even better, but it looks like we won’t get a chance to see that, as Skalpel will be busy promoting this record, and preparing for the next one. But that’s not too bad, for now we can listen to Skalpel’s debut on NinjaTune.

 

Freestylers

The Freestylers’ Matt Cantor is chatting to me over a dodgy connection munching on some toast, so it’s very hard to hear him in some parts of the conversation. Which is a real pity because the Freestylers are amongst my favourite producers, and have been for about 8 years. Unashamedly responsible for some of the biggest “big beat” records around, they’ve progressed with the scene and have arrived with Raw As Fuck. The first single Get A Life hit the No. 1 spot in the English dance music charts with very little promotion. “Obviously we’re really happy with getting number one in the charts,” says Cantor, munching on some toast. “That’s with absolutely no promotion; it’s just people going out and buying the records. It’s nice to know that people still know the name and want our stuff. It’s the first thing we’ve had out under the name Freestylers for a few good years.”

The Freestylers disappeared for a while after the collapse of their record label Freskanova. “For a while there it was really great, just a bunch of friends together and we all used to A&R it”, Cantor explains. “We’d been recording for the people who ran it for a long time. But I guess it just ran its course. They lost a lot of money and went bankrupt and ceased to exist.” This explains the absence of the band, and also the rise of a little group called Raw As Fuck. “Just to keep the music out there we decided to put some underground breakbeat out under the name Raw As Fuck. And another year down the line we thought the dust would have settled, and we could go buck to out former name. In a stroke of genius we decided to call our next album Raw As Fuck”, Cantor laughs.

The Freestylers are just about to embark on a whistlestop tour of the Eastern seaboard, which upsets this reporter greatly because I’m not located on it! “This time it’s just me and Aston,” Cantor relates. “It’s a real whistlestop tour, we’re just coming to play our new material. We haven’t been down there for about a year and a half, we’re just in and out of there in a week, doing these four big parties.” But there’s hope yet, as Cantor says there’s definitely talk of getting the whole band down for the big festivals next summer. “The band hasn’t actually toured Australia yet, and we’re very keen to get the whole band experience down there.”

“It’s funny because I don’t actually tour with the band any more,” Cantor explains. “It was just getting exhausting, and me and Aston found we were doing the same job on stage anyway. Ashton enjoys the pressures of the road, whereas I enjoy being in the studio and DJing and stuff.” He goes on to explain that he saw the band at Fabric, and says he was very impressed. “We’ve down size the band… we used to go out with break dancers and stuff,” he pauses. “I suppose you could it an attempt to be more ‘serious’. The sound has got a little heavier; the music we’re making is a little more heavy. The band no longer has Navigator and Tenor Fly; we’ve got a MC called Surreal who’s got his own style, you know. We’ve got Valerie M doing the vocal tracks still, and bass, and drums, and Ashton on his stack of samplers. It’s a much tighter but much bigger sound.”

I asked if the the Freestylers still play the old stuff, either their own or that of the other bigbeat players. “The thing is it was really fun back in the day, there were some really fun records. But if you start thinking music was better back then than it is now, it’s probably time to give up”, he states matter of factly. “We’re really excited with the what’s happening now… that’s the great thing about the breaks scene, things are always changing. We’re branching out away from the progressive stuff, and doing the more raw sounding music, big basslines and more drum and bass influence. The great thing about the nature of breaks is that it’s always changing and evolving.”

“Raw As Fuck (the Album) is looking to come out in early June,” Cantor says excitedly. “Push Up, the next single is going to be out in May. We’ve pulled all the Raw As Fuck tunes together and those tracks still sound fresh. A lot of people didn’t hear them, as they came out as an underground thing, and now people are going to get to hear them with a whole heap of new stuff.”

Kid Koala

If hiphop and turntablism conjure up images of trendy young kids with too much attitude, performing impossible technical tricks in front of a self-involved crowd of cap wearing wannabes, then get ready to have your world turned upside down by Kid Koala. Having parents from Hong Kong, but being raised in Vancouver and Montreal, Canada, Eric San aka Kid Koala has a diverse cultural background to draw upon, but it is his background in classical music that led him to the wheels of steel. Being one of the most enigmatic producers on a Ninja Tune, a record label that is renown for it’s eclecticism, in conversation he is very down to earth and friendly, jumping around the place, looping upon himself, much like his records, and is also very quick to laugh. After finally getting through, “It’s turning into one of those fibre optic traffic jams”, he laughs, and we chatted about his history and his upcoming tour with RDJ2.

“I’ve actually been to Australia once”, San quips when I ask about his DJ name “but I don’t think that trip had anything to do with it. There was a drink in Canada when I started DJing in the late 80’s, a really sugary beverage called Koala Springs. It had this really big stamp that said ‘Made In Australia’, which is really funny because every Australian I’ve spoken to has never heard of this drink,” and I had to concur that I’d never heard of it either. “It was actually quite a popular beverage especially amongst those who likes really sugary drinks,” he laughs. “So anyway, my mum would buy cases of this stuff from Costgo [the Canadian version of Bi-Lo] and if you were a kid, you know, 25 and under or whatever, you’d always be offered that – it’d be milk, water or Koala Springs. My friends started calling me the “Koala Kid” as a joke, as there were always empty bottles of the stuff around my room”, he laughs again, “and that’s the real story”.

San starting DJing in the early 1980’s, “in my really awkward, pimply period before I discovered discover girls”, he chortles. Inspired by the sounds of New York’s hiphop scene, as well as the sounds of the British cut up artists like Coldcut, he says “at one point you stop spending all your money on firecrackers and candy and spend it on something you decide to get into. Some kids get into comic books and I got into records,” he says.

“I think it was the classic music stuff I was doing. It was like an elastic band being pulled back,” he says referring to the stress of his training. “Because it was such a strict music experience for me as a kid, just being told ‘you have to play this 500 year old piece exactly the same way it’s been played for the last 500 years – any deviation will lose you points with the adjudicators'”, he laughs. “It wasn’t a very joyful musical experience for me, so when I first heard scratching the first thing I got from it was that it was so free from these rules. And the people doing it were maybe 10 – 15 years younger as opposed to 500, it was more within my grasp. I was like “oh there’s these DJs and they’re doing their thing and they’re really good at expressing themselves and they’re not like buried somewhere” and again he breaks into infectious laughter.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he begins, with a hint of seriousness in his voice, “I think at the time I was just too young to understand how you play a classical piece and actually put your own feel into it. For me it was just a rope memory exercise, and now obviously I’ve grown to like and understand all kinds of music. But when I got into turntablism there was a central idea that all the DJs, whatever they were doing, they were trying to do something new. And I think that was the most impressive thing to me. Technically I didn’t know what they were doing”, he confesses. “I didn’t know how they were making the sound, I just knew that every time I got a new hiphop record the producer or DJ behind it was trying to do something new. You never knew what you were going to hear when you dropped that needle, and I really liked that, and I think that’s something I keep to heart when I go to play or go into the studio. In my mind, if there were any rules to scratching, it would be to do something fresh,” he states.

One of the tunes that San is most famous for is Drunk Trumpet, a fantastic scratch fest involving a trumpet being played over a 12 note blues loop. It’s distinctive sound drew me to Kid Koala, and I still haven’t heard anything like it. “I think for me when I started scratching it was very percussive,” San begins, but the falters as he tries to describe the process behind the tune. “How can I say this? I’m a big Louis Armstrong fan, and I know I’m doing him a disservice by comparing the two,” he laughs. “For the first few years I would say [my scratching] was very percussion orientated and very much into making the WEIRDEST noises ever. Stuff that would stand out and make you go “What is that noise?” And I still like doing that, making the freakiest noises ever,” he giggles, “but I think that from playing with bands and playing with other musicians that it’s equally as interesting to try to blend in a certain context. ie: you’re scratching, but you’re scratching on a ballad, so how can you do that? For me starting to do that with Drunk Trumpet – trumpet through a melody scratching – you’ve got a 12 bar blues song, is there a way to play and actually run within that by scratching? Trying to figure out how can you do something that can only be done on a turntable, but doesn’t totally overtake the rest of the song.”

San is stoked to be on the Ninja Tune label. “I can’t really imagine being anywhere else”, he states matter of factly. “Coldcut were one of the first tracks I heard with scratching, and Bits and Pieces was very inspirational to me, and still has a big influence on the things I do, so philosophically there’s that kinship. They’ve very patient and they let you explore whatever music avenue you want to and give you time to fall on your ass and take a break if you need to,” he laughs.

Being based in Canada, but flying to London every few weeks to do a Ninja Tune performance means San has racked up a lot of frequent flyer points. “Let me put it this way – we’re very excited to be coming to Australia for the first time. I’ve been touring across oceans since 1996 and still haven’t made it to Australia,” he sighs with a smile in his voice. He’s also looking forward to touring with RJD2. “We’ve never worked together before… it should be fun!” he exclaims excitedly. “I’m a big fan of his work and I’m really excited to see him play. I know he has a show that he does, and a have the show that I have and we’ll do them on tour, but who knows what we will do with the remaining time… we’ll probably open it up”

Dave Clarke

When I found out I was to interview Dave Clarke about his latest album The Devils Advocate and his imminent tour of Australia, I was a little nervous. I had heard he was a horror to interview, but now I think it’s because he’s a complex individual and most of the music press is like the press in general – it finds complexity discomforting and unwieldy. The thoughts and the knowledge Clarke relates are more suited to academic texts than a short interview designed to fill up advertising space. I found him to be quite personable, if a little brisk, but it was rather early in the morning in the UK, and most people are grumpy in the mornings. Initially I thought the Devils Advocate was a reference to the mash of styles over the album. Clarke assures me my presumption was wrong. “It’s more to do with my personality”, he states. “I like to make people think a different way and play devils advocate.” Through the course of the conversation I began to get a sense of what he meant.

Other people I’ve interviewed who have burned by record companies in the manner Clarke has been come across as jaded, and I was curious to know if Clarke was the same. “I was already jaded. I came to planet earth a jaded person,” he jokes. “I wasn’t the only one who was screwed by them, there was Felix the House Cat, Thomas Schumaker, Timo Maas and others. But you deal with it and you move on and hopefully you put it behind you as best you can.” However, from bad things come good, and Clarke’s first single after this episode was an “internet-only” download. “That worked out really well,” he says. “I was just a little nervous to see if people were still interested (in me), and I just wanted to do something fun with it.” The single went on to be so popular a run of about 12,000 was released on vinyl. “But,” says Clarke, playing devils advocate, “this was a long time ago. Now you’ve got to take Moore’s Law into account – computer power doubles every 18 months, and this was 6 computer generations back. People’s download speeds are much faster now. It was at the very inception of pay-per-track, but if it was released now who knows… Maybe we wouldn’t have to come out on vinyl,” he muses. “But I still think it would because DJs would want to play it (on record). Then again, there are some DJs now who use digital files in lieu of vinyl, so maybe it wouldn’t have sold so many copies.”

On the topic of downloading, Clarke has some very definite views. “I think it sort of was inevitable. I think it shows that record companies weren’t thinking when A) they were charging so much for CDs when it was a relatively old technology when it appeared and B) when they didn’t realise they could actually sell them online, it had to take a couple of teenagers to prove it. I think it’s a shame because I like the tangible evidence (of music), but then again saying that I’ve just bought a terabyte of hard drive space to store all my CDs on and then download them into my iPod; and use it as an archive. I don’t know,” he pauses, “you can’t always hark for the old days all the time but I think it’s a shame people don’t go into record shops as much and you know, have that ‘hi-fidelity’ moments that we all hope for,” he says, referring to the book by Nick Hornby and movie by Stephen Frears.

Although he’s a technology freak, reportedly owning a light switch that cost over £500, he’s always been rather traditional about making music. “I haven’t ever used any plugins for anything whatsoever,” he says surprisingly. “A while ago I tried to heavily invest in cutting edge equipment and it never did what it was supposed to, so I decided from that point on I’d use it for sequencing and to go hardware on everything else. That’s pretty much what I’ve done up until now.” In doing a remix for DJ Hell, Clarke is branching out a little. “I’ve just ordered a computer as a stand-alone software sampler so I can run that in conjunction with my system, see how a software sampler runs compared to a hardware sample and if I get on with that I’ll move across. But when it comes to VST instruments, I’ve never been a big fan of synthesising. I like to synthesise samples, but I can’t really be bothered with attack, delay, sustain and release because it just bores me to tears.”

His latest album has collaboration with Def Jux’s Mr Lif in a tune that can only be described as hiphop, which is odd for someone known as a techno DJ and producer, although he began his career playing hiphop. “I was thinking about wanting to do hiphop, and I didn’t want to go down the usual route of using someone who’s famous in a big commercial way,” Clarke says. “Someone suggested Lif, and I went to see him live and I liked what he had to say, I liked his presence, attitude and lyrics. After a lot of talking we got together in the studio a few months later and found it very easy to work with one another.” Similarly the collaboration with Chicks on Speed was an enjoyable experience. “I recalled them from years ago in Munich, just hanging out and getting drunk with them, and there again we worked well together and it was a lot of fun.”

With such a diverse range of genres on the album, I wondered if this now reflected in Clark’s DJ sets. “I can split myself down the line (between DJ and Producer). When I DJ I specifically play techno, and electro is some other stuff thrown in, but when it comes to making music I’m a lot more wider… I have to be; I couldn’t survive just making one style of music, I just couldn’t do it”, he sighs.

As the current tour is a DJ set, I wanted to know how Clark would work his new material into it. “I don’t really concentrate on any of my own stuff when I DJ, I’m actually kind of embarrassed by playing my own music,” he confesses “I’ll actually play one or two of my own tunes in a set, but generally I get a great kick out of other people’s music. I always feel a responsibility as a DJ not just to promote your own music,” he says “I don’t know if that’s just me being silly, because a lot of other people do it, but it just doesn’t feel right. To go and play 6 or 7 of your own tracks and raise your hands in the air when you’re playing off vinyl or CD just doesn’t look or feel right, I dunno, it just leaves a bad taste.” I mention how PWEI’s Clint Mansell once said in an interview that listening to his own music felt a bit like masturbation. “Maybe I just like to masturbate in private,” Clarke retorts with a smile.

Concord Dawn

In the past five years, Concord Dawn, comprising the duo of Matt Harvey and Evan Short, have become one of New Zealand’s highest profile and most respected dance acts. Slamming head first into the drum n bass scene with their impressive, hard-as-nails anthem Morning Light, the pair has not only infiltrated the UK-centric scene, the album has gone platinum in their home country, and any respectable drum and bass DJ has at least one of their tunes in their box. Even after an awful experience whilst last in Adelaide, Matt Harvey, is a very friendly, chatty guy. He found time to chat to us about not only that experience, but also a lot of things beside. Other DJs have had similar things happen to them in the past, and have left Adelaide bitter and regretful, but Harvey doesn’t share that sentiment at all, and is in fact looking forward to coming back.

But first, a little history. “Evan and I have known each other since we were 11 years old,” Harvey begins, in a think New Zealand accent. “We went to the same intermediate school, and we were in a band, and I think we were in the same music class, and we played rock and roll songs at school assemblies and that,” he laughs. “Then we went to different high schools, lost contact for a while. There used to be a thing with the North Shore (the big suburban area of Auckland) where all the kids from the schools would go and do a big choir, orchestra, that kind of thing. My school would host Jazz bands, and I was in the top Jazz combo and Evan was playing guitar. He was looking to kick out the drummer in his band, saw me playing jazz on the drums, and said “you’re still playing the drums… you’re pretty good these days, but are you into the heavier stuff?” I was into that as well, and started playing with him again.”

“Our high school band won the Auckland Rock Quest, the big high school battle of the bands, and we came second in the nationals, and were doing alright for ourselves and thought we ‘we’re the shit’” he laughs. “We used to play at community halls, people’s parties and underage events, that kind of thing, and that rolled along for a while. But then that band split up, and we didn’t see each other for a couple of years.” But with New Zealand being such a small place, fate brought them back together at audio engineering school. “We both had bits and pieces of equipment – synths, samplers, and effects units, and both had something the other one wanted. So then we linked up, put our equipment in the same room, and we both dug each other’s tunes”, he adds.

Harvey was introduced to Drum and Bass in about 1997. “I was at an outdoor all trance party, and a mate of mine who was playing,” he reminisces. “We’d made friends a few months before, he did some of my tattoos and we played the Starwars card game together,” he laughs nervously. “I had been listening to trance all night and was kind of bored of it, and he came on and played drum and bass and I was wasted and it was wicked and that was it, I was head over heals! His name is Aaron and he’s one of the first dnb DJs in New Zealand. He was playing hardcore and rave music when it first crossed over and got called ‘drum and bass’”.

With the release of their magnificent album, ‘Uprising’, Concord Dawn are set to become one of the most talked about acts this year. Their unique fusion of sound includes Slayer samples, as well as guests Tiki from Salmonella Dub and Skribe. Having spoken to Freq Nasty (Darin McFadyen) late last year, who also hails from New Zealand, I asked if they shared the view that radio plays an important part on the scene over the Tasman. “Yeah,” begins Harvey, “Student radio in NZ is really strong, they play a very broad range of music during the day, and a whole lot of specialist shows at night. We grew up listening to that, because commercial radio is quite cack (that’s kiwi for shit). But both of us come from diverse backgrounds,” he adds. “Evan used to play in heavy, HEAVY metal bands, and I used to play more EMO rock, more poppier sort of things, and also jazzy hiphop crossover sort of thing.”

Harvey also thinks the nature of New Zealand’s live scene is an important factor. “If you’re living in London you can go out Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday… every night you can go out to a drum and bass club,” he explains. “But if you want to have a drink here, you’re force to go out to hear something different. And just with the small circle, you know? I’ve known people for nearly 10 years, a lot of guys playing in the big hip hop bands over here, guys who play dub, guys who play in rock bands, guys that are now house or techno DJs. So if you want to catch up with your mates for a quiet drink you tend to go out and get exposed to a different kind of music to what your main focus is.”

This diversity in music leads to originality, and is precisely Freq Nasty’s sentiment. “It means you write more original music”, Harvey says. “If you spend all your time listening to drum and bass you can still write really good drum and bass, but you’re never going to write anything that’s quite innovative. All the tunes that we’ve done that have gone on to become quite big have usually contained something different. We’ve done stuff that’s contained a rock guitar, done stuff with Evan singing that’s trancey but still quite hard… something that dips it finger in another genre and has a little bit of that influence. Just to make waves (in the scene) you need to be doing something different,” he finishes.

Then the conversation turned to their recent experience in Adelaide. “That’s the second time we haven’t been paid for a gig out of about 400 gigs,” he says evenly. “I’m not completely happy about it, though it’s bound to happen. That’s one thing about DJing; you never get paid more if the party does really well… we’ll maybe very occasionally, once or twice… but if a party loses money people try not to pay you, or pay you less. That’s not how it’s meant to work,” he states. “If you work at a gas station and you have a slow day they’re not like “hey mate, we’re not going to pay you today”. We work quite hard at what we do, and it’s a bummer but these things happen.”

But Harvey is philosophical about it. “It’s kinda what you get… If we played for a regular drum and bass promoter then basically their reputation is all they’ve got. If we played for a long time dnb promoter, we’re safe because if he didn’t pay us, we’ve got enough friends in the drum and bass scene, you know, it wouldn’t be cool for him [and his reputation]. But for someone outside of drum and bass, it doesn’t really matter to them, and they can get away with it. I don’t think it’s really anybody’s fault, he’s the fall guy, but these things happen. We’re going to be back in April, so it’s all good.”

Maybe the philosophical side comes from Starwars. Harvey is a Starwars nut. Concord Dawn is the planet upon which the suddenly orphaned Jango Fett was rescued by the Mandalorian warrior Jaster Mereel as a child. (Thanks to our illustrious editor Andrew Street for that info). Harvey, as he mentioned, played the Starwars card trading game, has read the comics, and has quite a few Starwars themed tattoos as well. Or maybe it’s the fruitful looking future, which includes another album and then relocation.

“Since writing tunes together things have been happening. First tune we wrote together got played on the radio down here and by the time we had done 3 or 4 tunes we had been offered a record deal in NZ and then started getting sets and that and it’s all been good from there… we can’t really whinge! But we are planning on relocating, but not to London because London’s HORRIBLE!” he stresses. “We’re moving to Austria next year. We’re going to knock out another album, well, not knock out, you know, finely craft and hone a beautiful album”, he says laughingly, “and then probably tour that, then head over. So we’re looking at heading to Vienna and Austria in about June next year.”

Austria seems as unlikely a place for dnb superstars as New Zealand, but Harvey explained his reasons. “It’s a lot less expensive a city to live in than London, just things like rent and food and beer and that; and it’s really central to both West and Eastern Europe. We’re both taking our girlfriends, so it means we can take trains instead of flying and it means we can take them around. It allows us to spend 3 or 4 days in places, take our laptops and just soak up the atmosphere. We’re probably going to keep it quite mellow, do a gig a week. It’ll probably only be for a year or something, and then move back here to New Zealand,” he adds.

“Basically anything we do apart from NZ is a bonus. We’ve got enough gigs and sell enough records here; we could live off (and have been doing so for years) and save lots of money staying right here. Basically us going overseas is us being greedy really,” he chuckles, “well, not greedy, just trying to make things bigger and better. It’s not exactly a holiday, just a chance to go seeing different things and eat some weird sausages and drink some different beers. I think if we lived in London for a year or so we’d eventually get not so much worn down, but we’d be in the same boat as a lot of other people writing drum and bass.”