Lee Coombs is best known for the seminal ‘Perfecto Breaks’ CD, an awesome journey through breakbeat that seamlessly slices together old rave with new school hits. Coombs got his love of DJing from the early days of the warehouse and Acid House parties of the late 80’s and early 90’s. “I just heard the music and saw there was a little scene,” he says, “and wanted to do it straight away. It just attracted me completely, and I made it my mission to get hold of the music. I don’t know what it was, something in me said I’ve got to do that, and I did”. Coming from this background it’s no wonder he’s one of the leading lights of breakbeat. “I didn’t all of a sudden get into breakbeat, it’s always been that way for me,” he states matter of factly, telling the history of rave music from the original funk breaks, through house and the rave scene, right up to drum and bass. “I didn’t go that way though (into drum and bass), I’ve always been playing house music that has a breakbeat.”
For the Perfecto compilation, Paul Oakenfold, impressed by Coombs’ ability, simply rang him up and asked him to do it. “I choose the records I wanted on there, then set about re-editing and remixing, and then I mixed it in pro-tools,” he said. “Records are best for playing in clubs I think, and while it does sound good when you do a mix on decks and record it to CD, I just wanted to have more precision than that, have it exactly how I wanted and make it sound all like one record.” This is not the first time someone has simply liked Coombs stuff so much that they just had to use him. Justin Rushmore of Finger Lickin heard Thrust One, one of Coombs earliest hits, and asked Coombs to join his little collective. “He absolutely loved it,” he says of Rushmore’s take on Thrust One. “He said he wanted me to make tracks for his label. I thought that he was genuinely into my stuff and I was the first artist outside of his collective to be recording for Finger Lickin. The people who owned record labels I had met before were businessmen, they weren’t necessarily into the music, it was all about money. And I thought ‘well, he’s into my music, and he’s prepared to put money into it, it’s gotta be a winner’”.
Coombs is well known for his remixing and re-edits, particularly of older tunes. Whilst there is a lot of quite average remixes out there, Coombs seems to add an undefinable edge to the music that lifts it above the garbage. This may be because of the reverence he holds for the tunes. He says of his edits, “they have a little bit of nostalgia, bit of memories,” and that’s why he likes doing them. “To be honest some of the old tunes were some of the best tunes ever made. It’s to do with the vibe they’re sending out. Music is about vibe for me, about the vibe it is giving, and I just love the vibe of the older stuff. It’s quite hard to describe, and explain,” he laughs. “Just about every rave record from back then influences me. It’s difficult to name names. You wanna name a real classic you’ve got Joey Beltram’s Energy Flash, that’s a big influence and shapes a lot of music for me. Todd Terry, Arthur Baker, lot of names, lots of individual artists you wouldn’t know who they were but made one record that sparked things off.”
Other DJs also appreciate his music, and he has a diverse range of DJs playing his music, from Pete Tong to Kosheen. “Great, fantastic, brilliant, it’s nice to be crossing into other genres,” he says about the wide range of DJs playing his work. “But to be honest, I don’t go with the attitude that I make breakbeat music purely for breakbeat people. I make music and it just so happens it fits in with breakbeat very well. I like to call myself an artist, but I can be breakbeat artist, I can make house, I can do anything really. It’s really nice that people not associated with what I do pick up on it.”
Coombs is happiest at home, as he doesn’t like travelling much. “It’s a bit of a worry,” he says nonchalantly of the effect terrorism has had on travelling. “Travelling is the downside, I do a lot of sitting around on my own in airports. People think DJing is really glamorous but it’s not. It’s hard work. I DJ out of the UK a lot, most weekends I’m somewhere in Europe. Going to the States you gotta do 11-12 hour flight, and obviously Australia is a whole day of travelling, and I’m not looking forward to it to be honest. I can’t wait to get there and get the travelling out the way.” Another reason he likes home so much is the shift in the direction of the scene in the UK. “It’s kinda going back underground, which is good, what I like,” he says. “The big superclubs have kinda had their day, they’re all shut in England now. You had Gatecrasher and Cream and that and they don’t go anymore. It’s all gone back to smaller clubs, which is better for the atmosphere and for taking it back to what it should be. You get people that are actually into the music and not there because it ‘is a club’. It’s no longer the name of the club that’s important, but the music that’s played there.”
Another place he loves is San Francisco. “It’s just a fantastic place to be, it’s just totally different from anywhere in the world,” he says. “It’s totally different from anywhere else in the States! They really get into parties; it’s perfect for DJ’s playing the right sort of music.” Again, his love of music comes out in the reason he loves San Francisco. “I was very influenced by some of the music that came out of San Francisco 4 – 5 years ago. They’ve been making house music on the sort of tip I play since house music began and it’s like a pilgrimage to go there.”
On top of recording tunes for Finger Lickin’, and DJing around the Globe, Coombs also has Thrust Recordings to keep him busy. “It’s my label but I’ve been too busy to do anything with it for the last year,” he says. “On my travels I’ve been picking up artists that I like, and from people whose records I’ve been playing I’ve been getting remixes, and tracks made for the label, and I’ve got 4 or 5 releases now and it’s all kicking off right now.” Some of the artists and tunes coming out are ‘Tribal Tensions’, Elite Force with ‘Double Black’, The Burns Brothers (Jem from Soul of Man & Coombs) with Machine, of which Coombs says is more house orientated. “There is an artist from Toronto called Paranoid Jack, and my remix of Dramattic Twins Mind the Gap,” he says. Not only that, but he’s also done a remix for Air Recording of Tony Faline’s Feel the Funk, which he says he is quite happy with, and has been collaborating with “Meat Katie, Danny Howell, Rennie Pilgrem, Elite Force, Dramttic Twins, there’s a little group of us where we’ll do our edits then swap things around, swap tracks and so on”.
Being the unassuming person he is, he expects “hopefully some really good parties, that’s all I can expect,” when he visits Adelaide next week. “I’m not expecting much weather,” he laughs. Despite the weather, I’m sure he’ll get a warm reception when he plays Traffic.