There aren’t many names in drum & bass that carry as much clout as Blu Mar Ten.
The trio spans three decades of D&B and has been responsible for releasing some of the genre’s most loved tracks since their debut release of The Fountain in 1996.
Since dropping Empire State at the end of 2016 they’re now a staggering seven albums deep, each one showcasing their versatility and each one arguably outdoing the last in quality.
As if their stupendous back catalogue wasn’t enough they’ve also unearthed and nurtured some of the scene’s most forward-thinking producers including Kimyan Law, Frederic Robinson, Stray and Conduct on their eponymous Blu Mar Ten Music imprint.
With their impressively prosperous 22-year career in mind, we decided to take a trip down memory lane with Chris BMT to look back on his very first encounters with what became Drum & Bass, what’s changed most drastically in the scene, why he hates it when people face the DJ and more…
“It was at a big house party somewhere deep in Manchester. I’d learned how to mix on my friend’s really cheap belt drive turntables but got to the party and of course they had Technics, which I’d never used before. Needless to say it was a complete disaster. It was like trying to drive a Formula 1 car after learning on a moped. Not a glowing success but it was a necessary rite of passage.
I also have a distant memory of playing in a club but I can’t remember which one. I definitely remember playing Made in Two Minutes by Bug Kann and the Plastic Jam, which I played a lot back in those days. It’s a tune that well represents the early days of jungle for me.
I’ve almost completely stopped DJing for the last 18 months to focus on the BMTM label and Clinic Talent so I’ve only done four or five shows in that time. Also I’m not that young anymore and when you work full time in the week and in the studio at night there’s a limit to how much extra you can do at the weekends.
However I did play in Slovakia a few weeks ago, which was very nice. I still get a genuine buzz from travelling, meeting people and having a good time with them, but less so from the technical act of DJing.
There’s been a certain industrialisation of the DJing process, which isn’t always helpful. It’s quite hard to be a technically bad DJ these days. You can choose bad music, of course, but if you turn up and play a decent selection of tracks it’s quite hard to fuck it up. Back in the day you had to work really hard for things not to go wrong, which meant the DJ was always a little bit on edge and that chaotic tension was valuable.
It’s a much more slick and safe process now and there’s very little chaos in that process. Chaos can really make you sweat on the spot, and there’s something to be said for being made to sweat. There’s value in chaos and instability.
First record I bought
I think it must have been Iko Iko by the Belle Stars, which was released in the early 80s. I was about nine I think. I remember hearing it somewhere and really liked it.
It’s really funny listening to it again today, you can hear all the syncopation and rhythms that are characteristics of jungle. There’s a great, earlier version by a Motown-esque group of girls called the Dixie Cups, which is well worth watching.
Last record I bought
The last CD I bought was Grooverider’s remix of Share The Fall by Roni Size last week because I didn’t have a digital copy. I haven’t heard anyone play it in a club in years, probably because they only have it on vinyl, like I do.
One of the benefits of getting old is that you can play all the stuff you were playing a long time ago and nobody’s heard it before. It’s quite gratifying to see older tunes I used to love still doing the business.
I use Spotify but I prefer to own my music. I know platforms like Spotify and YouTube will disappear at some point like everything else has. Some people might think Spotify, Facebook, Google, YouTube etc will be here forever but they won’t; they’ll all disappear one way or another and I don’t want all of my music to just suddenly disappear along with them. There’s something to be said for not having your entire culture locked up in little grey boxes owned by companies you have no control over.
First club experience
It must have been around 1987 at a club in Finsbury Park called Catacomb, which was kind of like an old goth club but they also played loads of ‘dance’ stuff. It just happened to be the nearest club that would let us in at that age.
From there we started heading out to all the growing rave spots in London. A favourite was a place in Archway called The Dome all through 1990, where people like Hacienda resident Dave Haslam would regularly play. It was just ‘dance music’ then, there weren’t really such strict genres like there are today.
91/92 was Rage at Heaven, which was really where jungle music found its first proper home. I’m sure if you ask the old guard about the origins of jungle they’ll all mention Rage at Heaven. Fabio & Grooverider, Mickey Finn and that generation played this stuff that was a bit ravier than house but not quite drum & bass as we know it today. Heavy on the breaks, mostly instrumental.
One of the main differences in clubs at that time was how much less focus there was on the physical presence of the DJ. I remember going to Orange in Holloway Road around 1991 and wondering where the DJs were. You’d have Fabio & Grooverider etc. but they were hidden away somewhere. I heard them play loads of times before I even knew what they looked like. You rarely saw the DJs – they were always tucked away in an alcove somewhere up high and everyone was dancing with each other, not all facing the front.
You can see it if you look back at footage from that period; people dancing with each other, not admiring someone on stage like it’s some weird concert. I find that new phenomenon a bit weird to be honest. What are they looking at? What do they think is going to happen up on that stage? Is some pasty-faced bloke pressing buttons on a platform more interesting than the guy or girl who’s dancing right next to them? It’s so odd.
Last club experience
On a similar note, a couple of weeks ago I went to see High Contrast’s live show at Electric Brixton and witnessed something really interesting. In between the two support acts, there was a 10 or 15 minute interlude. During that time the sound man put on a drum & bass mix and I watched a dancefloor full of young people turn away from the empty stage and dance with each other. It was the first time I’d seen that happen in ages. I’d love to see a night where the DJs are hidden away again and nobody knows who’s playing at any particular moment.
I also went to a Hospitality Bristol night in March to catch up with Kimyan Law and Frederic Robinson. It was Kimyan Law’s first time playing live and he did a really great job – he drummed for an hour almost non-stop and didn’t miss a beat.
First musical WTF moment
That would have to be a track I’ve posted about so many times in the past called Clear by Cybotron. For me this was the first ever drum & bass record. I can hear all the key elements there and it’s amazing.
At the school I went to they had musical assemblies where kids could bring in a piece of music to play to the rest of the school and teachers chose three or four every week. I remember one Friday in 1982 somebody brought this in and played it and I remember thinking “this is it, this is what music should be”. It honestly changed the direction of my whole life, it was that big a deal, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
Last musical WTF moment
I love pretty much everything I hear from Kimyan Law, Frederic Robinson and Conduct. The real acid test for me is if I’m prepared to stand by something by releasing it on our label. I’m currently having conversations with a handful of unknown producers who are doing some really interesting things, so we’ll see what bubbles up there.
Our first release
The Fountain was the big track from our first ever single, released in 1996. It was over 11 minutes long – I don’t know why…nobody needs a track to be that long. At the end of the year Fabio picked it out as his ‘Tune Of The Year’, which was a real turning point for us. Being in Bukem & Fabio’s bag was such a goal of ours for ages.
Our last release
That would be the Empire State album. We’ve been sitting on it for about two years but never got round to releasing it. I’ve been busy doing other things which has made it difficult getting it out there. A lot of it was written in parallel with Famous Lost Words.
It’s gone down well but I got told off by my wife because I didn’t really publicise it very much so it slipped under a lot of people’s radars. To be honest I spend more time pushing other acts on the label.
Later this year we’ll be releasing a series of remixes from Empire State by some of our favourite names in D&B, and we’re also running a remix competition that anyone can enter. The winner will be featured on the remix series along with the big names. You can find out more and enter here – www.bmt.dj/titansremix