October 2007: Playaz dropped a historical 12” – DJ Hazard & D*Minds – Mr Happy
Reloaded by every heavyweight DJ at every rave and festival throughout the summer building up to its release; Mr Happy was the ultimate tune rattling around in your head long after the party was over. The type you’d be humming, singing and whistling all the way home… And the all the following week. ID requests on the forums, singing like a tit to the record store guy. Everything about Mr Happy stood out and cut through the noise in the summer of 2007. Those distinctive laser sounds on the intro. The rolling drums and little reverse bass teases then boom: the now-iconic stabby brass-like bass tones swathe through any mix like a machete (not sorry)… Mr Happy crushed and obliterated more dances than London’s club-hating local authorities.
“I remember telling my vinyl distributor that I felt Mr Happy will be a big tune and that it might be even bigger than [Hazard’s previous single] Busted, but my distributor disagreed because it was only on limited dub and no one knew the title, therefore no one was calling the distributor for it. But I kept telling him to watch this space and that I truly believed that this was the big one… And sure enough, as soon as it was promo’d in 2007, it was an instant dancefloor anthem and has remained there ever since.” – DJ Hype
As it big as it was, though, no one could anticipate the journey Mr Happy has been on since the summer of 2007. Even the biggest tunes get retired or filed under ‘classics’ eventually, but there’s been something about Mr Happy that has led to DJs to continue to draw for it and crowds continuing to go ape-shit for it.
From dubplate anthem to major underground hit to cult status and modern day standard: Mr Happy has transcended the test of time so successfully it seems to get bigger every year. It’s become the punchline to a joke every drum & bass fan is in on. Even if you don’t like the tune (and there are many people who don’t) you can’t deny the statement it makes when timed right and dropped with an appropriate knowingness. In the right DJ’s hands, Mr Happy’s persistent sense of fun, mischief and hooky hurly burly nature can work in the middle of almost any style set and inspire appropriately chaotic reactions. Ask Muzzy… We requested he played it at Liquicity (a festival you’d least expect to hear Mr Happy). He duly obliged and the crowd went bananas.
“I can’t believe it still gets played! I hear it in every club I play. Which is mad because I don’t hang around as I’m always off to the next club. But I still hear it either just as I get in or just as I’m leaving. I’m still waiting for it to get old but it hasn’t!” – DJ Hazard
How Mr Happy came to be….
“There was an early rough version of the track that had probably been tested prior to us getting involved. Hype had an idea that it had good potential but needed work and a good mix. We don’t think any of us imagined we would be doing this interview ten years later.” – D*Minds
It all began with a trip from Hazard’s native Birmingham to D*Minds’ Bristol HQ. Not satisfied with the mixdown of his biggest tune at that point (Busted, a dubplate bomb through the latter end of 2006 and released early 2007) Hazard called up some mates for advice.
“I asked Al and Jon from D*Minds a few pointers on software because I was a hardware guy. They said ‘come down, we’ll show you some stuff and we’ll do a tune together’ We made Super Drunk during that session, which was mainly their work and some of my bass samples. It was amazing how quick they knocked things up. I was like ‘wow!’ I learnt so much from that session. We felt it was a decent tune so we were essentially looking for a B-side. I was always planning on getting back down to Bristol but you know these things are. Time went by and Mr Happy was something I’d been working on so wondered if that could be it. So I sent it to Hype.” – DJ Hazard
“Hazard sends me a few tunes to check out as per usual, and one of them is this little gem called Mr Happy. At the time, the mixdown was not right but I just knew this tune was gonna be big… It was the follow-up to Busted and I just felt it was gonna be an even bigger track than Busted, even though Busted was pretty much a big anthem for Hazard at the time.” – DJ Hype
“I couldn’t tell if it was good or not until Hype called me. It was pretty much straight away and he was saying ‘yeah I really like that one’. He was really enthusiastic so I thought ‘maybe this will work’. That’s when I sent it to Al and Jon.” – DJ Hazard
“It needed that extra ‘something’, we came along with fresh ears and another mindset and kicked it over the edge.” – D*Minds
The b-side became an a-side. The rest became history. If you’ve ever wondered where the title comes from, it’s a combination of three happy people in Hazard’s life at the time….
“The way it came about were three Mr Happies,” explains Hazard. “Mainly my son, because when he was born he was just always happy. It also relates to my older son. We’d got to McDonalds and see this guy doing all the jobs no one else wanted to do; emptying the bins, cleaning the floors etc. No matter what job he was doing, he always had this big smile on this face so we called him Mr Happy. Then there’s the irony of DJ Hype – because he’s a bit grumpy. Most people think it’s a joke about him and I guess I’ve never told people otherwise. He wasn’t grumpy when I sent him this tune, though…”
No More Games
Context and timing is everything: Big riffy basslines had been the gold standard for most of the 2000s and hooky hurters were firing across the spectrum: Dillinja productions were still the end boss bombs they’d been for over a decade, Mampi was the man and the rougher end of Bingo gave us tracks such as Zinc’s Creeper and Chase & Status’s Druids. Meanwhile the darker end of gully bruisers were pouring out of the labs of G Dub’s Original Sin and Sub Zero, Clipz, Twisted Individual, TC, Taxman, Hazard, D*Minds and many more. Powerful intoxicating bass hooks were rife in drum & bass at the time.
Mr Happy landed slap bang in the thick of this movement, capturing the style’s sound and attitude. And it came from two of the most consistent artists in the sound. Prior to Mr Happy both Hazard and D*Minds had flattened us years of anthems tailored for club demolition. Hazard’s zippy Enuff Iz Enuff and bouncy Rubber Chicken, D*Minds’ abrasive stinker We Can’t Stop and the turbine tear-up No Test, the list goes on.
From D*Minds’ perspective, Mr Happy also came from an intense chapter of Bristol drum & bass. As well as artists and, now, score composers, they’re also the promoters behind Bristol’s legendary Run events. Now one of city’s longest running and most respected D&B parties, Run host the city’s biggest events and all day raves. Back then they were weekly Tuesdays at the intimate underground club Native and had the likes of Clipz, Loadstar’s Xample, TC, Hazard, Grooverider, Jakes and many more as residents. Echoing the weeklies that had been happening in London such as Swerve, Blue Note and Movement, Run was a gathering where dubs would be tested and tunes would be broken. Tunes like Mr Happy.
“First time we played it would have been at RUN at Native our weekly Tuesday night in Bristol at the time. Loads of new bits got tested there from a whole heap of DJs. Was a classic RUN moment, people lost their shit, it had that amazing feeling of an instant classic. We even remember the head doorman running in calling for the rewind…. A WTF type moment.” – D*Minds
“It’s got a riff, a really good riff. It’s mean. It sounds like it’s got the attitude of every jump up song ever combined and it’s instantly recognizable. It doesn’t need any introduction, you can throw the fader over to the drop whenever you want and people will always get it within one second. It’s also in F, which means you can double drop it with loads of other D&B tunes. But most importantly: the riff. You could imagine a football stadium singing it. Which probably happened at some point. It’s that clear and upfront. And that’s the mark of a truly big riff. Not many D&B tunes can make that claim, not even some of the biggest classics. Can you imagine 40.000 soccer fans singing ‘The Nine’? (And how amazing would that be?)” – Noisia
“I think it’s just been one of those tunes that you can go to in any situation, playing to any crowd, and get a reaction. It’s such a popular tune that I actually try not to play it when possible but that can be hard to do that sometimes!” – Friction
“When Mr Happy originally dropped it was a ridiculous tune, but that doesn’t mean its going to stand the test of time, most tunes start to sound old in a few years at best (some only months) the producers that can write tunes that transcend time tend to be able to do it again and again. The thing with Mr Happy is you don’t even notice the mixdown, to this day it still comes across as fresh as when it was released, which is a remarkable achievement mixdown and design wise. You can really hear both Hazard & D Minds style in the track.” – The Prototypes
“I remember first hearing this in the car on the road to a gig in Bristol and it’s one of those ones where everyone was like ‘wow, this is going to be massive!’ It hit us. At the time it wasn’t my style of tune but over the years it’s crossed into everyone’s paths. There’s just something insanely catchy about it that’s crossed over into every style.” – Andy C
If its catchiness and context galvanised its success in the early days, what is it that’s made Mr Happy become even more popular and played as the years go by? There are two potential reasons. Firstly, D*Minds’ mixdown. The tune stands tall to this day and can be played up against modern muscle mixdowns with little to no drop in weight or clarity.
“When they sent me the mixdown back I was like ‘fucking hell that’s nice.’ It was really loud and clear which is what everyone wanted back then. And still do now let’s be honest. I didn’t realise how loud it was until we cut it to vinyl. The mixdown made Mr Happy; it stood out on vinyl so well. And that’s all down to Distorted Minds. It was the right mixdown for the right era for the right tune. It got as big as it because of their mixdown.” – DJ Hazard
“Believe it or not we mixed and worked on it in a very makeshift temporary studio setup that was absolutely freezing at the time. It was in a disused dental surgery, we had a little computer desk in the middle of the room with only one monitor, the room had no sound treatment either. It was on that organic path. No airs and graces just honest D&B.” – D*Minds
Mixdown masters Noisia also note how the frequencies used in the riff have given Mr Happy the clarity and character that help it cut through in the way that it does. “I think the reason why it still translates so well is that it’s got a riff sound in a more traditional frequency range, almost like a brass sound. This will always come across, it doesn’t depend on bass weight or high end presence,” explains Noisia’s Nik. “And since most other tunes don’t use that range as much, this always cuts through in a mix.”
So that’s one reasons how it’s survived the test of time technically. But there’s another argument why it remains so popular now and has become even more so. Mr Happy was the entry point for many fans who are in their 20s now and many artists who’ve broken through in the last five years.
“For me, it’s one of those classic tunes that brings to mind my first years becoming aware of drum & bass,” explains Shogun Audio’s Ed:It, for example. “Those early days; going-out and raving. Heading to early Detonates in Notts and watching the likes of Andy C, Friction and of course Hazard himself.”
Just as fans a few years older came through on ubiquitous anthems such as The Nine or Super Sharp Shooter, the next generation were anointed by jump-up riffs and Mr Happy was a deal breaker for early ears of a whole generation of acts who are now biting the headline slots. In this sense it’s a classic that can be drawn for with equal measures of nostalgia and roots and dancefloor pleasure, because it’s still technically strong against today’s productions. And it’s this combination of repetition, technical relevance and recent culture of bassline-singing (something we’ve inherited from our Brazilian drum & bass family, as Patife explained to us a few months ago) that’s caused its consistent popularity for a whole new generation of drum and bass fans… To the point Hazard himself has taken it out of retirement.
“I first stopped playing it years ago because I thought everyone was sick of it, and maybe they were for a few years. But now people complain when I don’t play it. I’ve had messages from people saying ‘I was really upset you didn’t play Mr Happy’ I’m thinking ‘what? That tune is done’ But then I realise that person is the new generation, he hasn’t been there and seen that in the club. This isn’t about me, it’s about drum & bass fans really isn’t it? People who support the music and have helped me get to this point. If people want to hear it then I should respect that and play it every now and again.” – DJ Hazard
There will probably, almost certainly, never be a remix…
With all this in mind, you’re not likely to ever see it officially remixed. Why would you if the original still creates the reaction it does? In fact Mr Happy has only ever gone through three versions: a Hazard special, a special for an MMA fighter’s entrance theme and the original… The only actually available version for now and probably ever.
“I think Hazard has a little special of it with his name in it and we also have a never released – and never will release – version that was especially made for an amateur MMA cage fighter who hit me up years ago to have a track he could use when getting into the ring to fight. I had this little idea of using the intro from a track I did with Daddy Earl’s vocals called Look To The Future as an intro where it drops into Mr Happy… It’s a great intro if you were gonna fight. But sadly he lost his fight and I can’t remember his name!” – DJ Hype
Added fighting talk can be found in the host of unauthorised versions. From trap to moombahton to halftime to footwork, Mr Happy’s universal riff has been repurposed in many genres, and Hazard has a message for all budding unofficial bootleggers and remixers: stop it now and invest your talents in your own original material.
“I get sent a ‘remix’ of it almost every week,” says Hazard. “It’s only a remix if we’ve asked you to do it and paid you to do it. It’s not a bootleg, or a VIP, it’s a rip-off basically. I can’t put it any nicer – you’ve stolen it and I’ve never heard a version that appealed to me.”
You can assume D*Minds feel the same way too…
“Yep assume away!” they state. “Not sure what purpose a remix would achieve, to use your words ‘it’s transcended the test of time so successfully it seems to get bigger every year’”
But what if it HAD to be remixed? What if we squeezed Hazard to reveal one act he would feel the happiest (not sorry) about giving the parts to and didn’t let him put the phone down until he told us…
“Let’s say in five year’s time I might think ‘this needs an update’, the remix would have to be beyond brilliant because the legacy of the original has gone the way it has,” considers Hazard. “Even though I don’t think the original is brilliant, god knows why it caught on so much and why it gets played so much, but the new one would have to be so good it adds to this mad situation the original has got itself into.
“And if you pushed me now for a remixer? I’d have to say Noisia, but only because you’re pushing me for a name. And it would have to be the best the tune they’ve ever done in their life. Which is saying something really considering what they’ve achieved and capable of.”
“That’s very flattering! Thanks Scott. To be honest, it’d be extremely difficult. What do you add to a song like that? You definitely don’t mess with the riff! Interesting to fantasize about, but honestly this is one of those tracks that’ll do just fine without being remixed. No need to ‘update’ it, it’s still being drawn and will be for quite a long time I’m sure!” – Noisia
“At the end of the day, Mr Happy has really stood the test of time and tell me – where have you EVER heard it dropped in a party/festival/club and the crowd does not go nuts and start singing the hookline?! Tracks like this are not planned, they just happen organically and that’s why I rate Hazard so much as a producer. He does not bandwagon jump, or rinse out with 20 productions that all sound the same… Who knows, Mr Happy part 2 might be just around the corner… Only time will tell!” – DJ Hype
Whatever’s around the corner, we will all wait patiently… However long it takes. Mr Happy’s success marked the start of a much slower flow of releases from Hazard who, as we covered in our interview with him last month, hasn’t released a single since Bricks Don’t Roll in 2014.
“Mr Happy does mark the start of when I slowed down on releases, yeah. It came hand in hand with more DJ bookings which Mr Happy must have helped with. But it was the expectance I was worried about – that every tune had to be as big or as stand-out as Mr Happy. There was a gap after that tune. I felt I had to do better than what people expected me to. It was the same with Machete EP. Then after Machete I was like ‘how am I going to do better than that?’ I could go in the studio and knock up a tune but it’s not going to be good enough. I’ll never make the same tune out of the same parts. Everything starts fresh. No pre-sets. If you want a bass you make it. If you want a drumkit you make it. I want to push myself and it’s a long process to make everything from scratch on hardware but that’s the way I like to do it.” – DJ Hazard
Finally, you should be pleased to hear that D*Minds are also back on the bangers. Having prioritised their movie trailer scoring work and Run events and taken them both to award-winning places, Al and Jon are now in a position to remind how heavy their D*Style has always been. They’ve been teasing out singular bangers such as Rinse and Blacker over the last few years and promise more in the near future. Here’s to another ten years…
“It may be easy to think we’ve eased off a bit. But it’s the complete opposite – the throttle is fully down. We remember listening reading a Noisia interview that explained how they structured their workflow and how time was set aside for different projects. We got to a point where we had lots of different balls to juggle and didn’t want to become Jacks of all trades so decided to allocate our time a bit differently. We set aside some time to immerse ourselves in the movie trailer thing and fully get into that production. We now have an amazing portfolio and have worked on some of Hollywood’s most recent biggest blockbusters alongside some very cool independent movies. RUN is still a big passion and going strong and there’s a great team behind it. Drum & bass & D*Style is always there and is a principal foundation for us in whatever we’re doing. We’re definitely eager to unleash some new drum & bass soon!” – D*Minds