Photography: Chelone Wolf
It’s about time…
After 30+ years service as a selector, one of the most important DJs in jungle drum & bass since the acid house days is about to release his first ever solo EP: the true pioneer they call Randall.
Of course the Bristol-based artist is no stranger to the studio. His first release came out in 93 on Reinforced; The R was co-produced by fellow Godfathers Dego and Goldie. Since then he’s collaborated with Andy C, Cool Hand Flex, A-Sides and, most recently, Die and Dismantle as Watch The Ride.
But he’s never put out anything solo… Until now. This week sees the release of Time 4 Da Switch on his own Mac2 imprint. Comprising four originals and one remix of Benny L, it’s been in the making since the start of lockdown and is essentially the sound of Randall trying to make sense of these crazy, frustrating corona times and keeping himself inspired. In his words, he’s “gone back to church”. Now let us pray these good vibes continue. Read on to find out more from the daddy himself…
These times have been hard for us all but I’d imagine for a man who’s never not on the road, and been doing this for so many years, it must have felt like you’d had some limbs removed?!
You know what I mean? It’s what we do. It’s my vocation. I haven’t known anything else since the 80s. It’s like walking into work one day and someone turning round and saying ‘you’re fired!’ With no notice! The last party I did was a Playaz party in Margate and I was meant to be going to Belgium for Rampage and Jungle Jam in Amsterdam but then we started getting the phone calls to say things were locking down. So I thought, ‘You know what? It’s time for me to be getting back into writing the music, it’s time to get back into the craft again!’ Luckily I had people around me like Die and Dismantle who have been working with me on the Watch The Ride project so they got me up to speed and I started writing. I had a few tunes I wanted to remix like Benny L’s Dr No so I went in on that as a starter to get acquainted and started writing again.
It all must have felt really liberating and fun to do?
It was a good time. I had no urgency, no need to hurry, nowhere to go, the sun was shining so I got in the lab and started writing.
You’re no stranger to the studio – you’re always in there on a collabos anyway…
Yeah that’s it. I’ve never been fully hands-on, I’ve always been a co-pilot. I’ve orchestrated but I never got my sleeves rolled-up, so I got properly into it. This is my first ever solo EP! I’m 50 now mate. So yeah, it was liberating as you mentioned and fulfilling you know what I mean? I take my hat off to producers who are on this 24/7 in the lab writing tunes daily. It’s no easy task.
Especially the mixdowns…
Oh man mixdowns are a whole other science! That’s why I take my hat off to guys like Charlie Break who are scientists. He mixed down and mastered my whole EP. Also guys like DLR and TeeBee who mastered Trex’s album. The list goes on. There are some very very talented people out there. Mixing down is an art to itself. You need the right ears for it and, let’s be honest, my ears have had a battering over the years so everything sounds alright to me!
It’s like dark magic when you hear guys talking about tiny elements needing to be fractionally louder or quieter…
Totally. It’s inspirational, though. This is the level producers have to go to. And I take my hat off to men like Digital who know the science and Dego back in the day when I was doing bits on Reinforced. It’s very inspiring being in rooms with guys like that. Something’s always going to rub off on you when you’re in that type of company.
I was just about to ask! All this time spent collaborating and hanging in the studio – did you find you knew stuff intuitively?
I’d lost touch a little. I guess it’s a bit like riding a bike and forgetting how to pedal properly. But I did my homework, spoke to my friends, watched some tutorials and went back to church! And everything fell into place. The main thing was I enjoyed it. I was writing and catching a vibe and getting inspired by the music in a completely different way. I was looking out for samples and hearing things on the radio and movies and thinking ‘That’ll make a sick sample!’
How old are some of these ideas? Did you have them rattling in your head for years?
Nah not really! I always wanted to remix Benny’s Dr No because I really liked that tune. I started with that to get into the vibe, Trex helped me with the bassline on that one. But after that I was just catching the vibes naturally. Spacebug was a track me and Cool Hand Flex was mucking about on and I took on myself. Then the rest just came together naturally. Time For The Switch was a little vibe I caught one morning and rolled out. I’ve got things I want to go back in on but these are the first finished ones but I have to say; working with Die and Dismantle for Watch The Ride has been a real inspiration to me. Seeing how they work has been a massive part of how I’ve been working.
There’s more Watch The Ride stuff coming soon too, right?
Yeah very soon. These guys are just the best at what they do! I’d go to them with ideas and they’d tell me where I needed to work on things or what worked and what didn’t and I’d go off and work things out. The only thing I didn’t get bogged down by was the mixdown. When I got to that part, I passed it on to someone who knows what they’re doing – Charlie Break.
Back in the day it was accepted that an artist would work with an engineer, but now it feels like producers are expected to be both.
You’re right. They’re two very different artforms. I know a lot of artists who don’t get involved in the mixdown because it’s another wormhole. The vibe is important but don’t waste days and days mixing down if someone else can do it better for you and you can pay them. Focus on what you’re good at innit. Saying that, though, there are some artists who make perfect tunes and can mixdown like mad scientists. I keep saying it but Charlie Break is one of them. He’s looked after his ears very well.
You know what? I was expecting my tinnitus to quieten down a bit during all this due to not being in loud clubs every weekend. But it’s actuallly got worst due to stress.
You’re not the only one I’ve heard who’s suffered that. The body is a mad thing isn’t it? I’m so blessed I haven’t suffered tinnitus myself. I know some people who suffer it so badly it’s painful.
Yeah it gets dark. I need a rave to shake out the stress!
We all do. I’ve been lucky, I’ve got these socially distanced bookings which are better than nothing. The High Rise guys in Bristol have been doing bits. Black Swan have been doing things. Lakota. Then in London we’ve had The Cause in Tottenham which has been great.
Oh there’s a lovely video from Cleveland Watkiss of you and GQ from that recent one…
Yeah man that was great. I hadn’t seen him for six months. It was emotional to see them lot. You can only talk on phones or stare at social media for so long. So yeah that was good but it’s hard for all of us; not everyone can get to these little sitdown things, not everyone can play at them. They’re now trying to stop us being creative full stop, we’re all facing some challenges. I’m lost for words at how the government have treated this whole thing. I’m trying to stay positive.
You’ve seen this before. You’ve fought for this before!!
That’s it. They tried to take us from the fields to the clubs. Then came the corporate sponsors who could see how much money this rave thing was worth. You see all those corporate names on festival flyers, they all tried to get in on it because it is viable and it does make a lot of money. And now look where it’s at. We just got to dig in, get through the cold front that’s coming in and stay creative.
And stay funky. The whole EP has a funk vibe
I think that’s working with Die brushing off on me. But I think as a producer I’ve always had that funk. Like ‘The R’ tune on Reinforced with the Richard Price samples. I tried to recreate that old vibe, not take it too deep or noisy. Basically I was vibing out over a three month period, it was good fun.
Why didn’t you persist with production back in the day?
I was blessed with so much music! I’d listen to all this music that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do any better! I didn’t have the patience to learn that craft when I had so many good tunes to play as a DJ. I had to switch off when I was trying to write. I’d be on a vibe then I’d hear something from say Optical or someone like that and it would be like ‘how the fuck can I write anything on that level?’ So I focussed on my DJing. I’ve always been more of a DJ than a producer and I had a crew of producers sending me music so fresh and so much of it I could play fresh two hour sets every week. So I was happy to collaborate with people instead. Then suddenly it’s 2020, we’re in a lockdown situation, I can’t go anywhere so might as well start writing. Before I knew it, I had a stash.
This is the start of it!
Hopefully, yeah. I’ve done some collabs with Cool Hand Flex, original pal. There’s the Watch The Ride stuff and more to come. It’s mad, I’m finding my feet at the age of 50.
The new chapter of Randall!
Well yeah man. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been doing this for years and years, which is bless anyway. But also I’m one of the lucky DJs to be getting bookings at these little sitdown events so I can hear things on a loud system again and test things out a bit. Plus I got a residency on Rinse which I’ve been giving over to people as a platform. People like Shimon, Benny, Digital. All my mates. Everyone’s got mad music to be playing right now. I was playing with Bryan Gee the other day, he sent me and Die a load of tunes and it’s mental what he’s got coming. Mental. And that’s one label. So when things open up again, trust me, we’re going to be having a very inspiring time with the music. People are experimenting and trying different things, we’re being more open minded.
I think the foghorn is wheezing its last breath…
Ha! It’s on its last legs but it’s how you make it. There’s an art of doing things and certain things you can twist and manipulate. There’ll be another thing flashing in the pan sooner or later don’t you worry. That’s the beauty of drum & bass, right? it keeps moving, developing. That’s why we do this!