In Conversation With Fabio

It may sound like a cliché, but sometimes it’s the only way to put it. Today, we have the privilege of interviewing an absolute icon of the scene – a man who needs no introduction. Fabio, the trailblazer who not only coined the term ‘liquid funk’ on his Radio 1 show but also organised the very first jungle night. The drum and bass world wouldn’t be the same without him.

While we’ve previously delved into Fabio’s immense influence on the genre and the rich history he’s helped shape, today’s conversation takes a different path. We’re here to discuss current issues impacting the scene, gain insight into the artists he believes hold the future’s promise, and explore his latest compilation album, ‘Generation Liquid,’ while discovering the driving forces behind his track selections.

So, join us with this musical maestro and navigate the ever-evolving landscape of Drum and Bass through the lens of the one and only Fabio

I’ve got to say, I’m a little bit nervous about this interview because obviously, you’re an absolute legend in the game but not only that, you’re really good at interviewing yourself. I wanted to ask you if you enjoy interviewing people and what you think makes a good interviewer?

I do enjoy it. It’s funny because I prefer it more than being interviewed. I think it is a real skill. You’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to be a good listener. Sometimes people do it by numbers but when people do the research properly and listen well there’s an artistry to it.

One of the greatest to do it died recently – Parkinson, he was just an absolute genius. I remember growing up watching him, he was very patient, and he never took the stage. He just lets the interviewee do their thing and it’s a real art form.

Do you have any interviews from over the years that stand out for you? 

I don’t do it that much anymore. I did it more when I was on Radio One. We’ve done, Pendulum, Chase & Status, Andy C, and the best one was a guy called Danny, who had an attack of Tourette’s when we were live on air. He just swore the whole way through the interview, he was using all kinds of expletives and I said to him, “Listen we’re on live radio, you need to stop the swearing…” and he said something like, “I don’t give a s***. If Radio One have got a problem, tell them to f**** sue me!”

It was the best answer ever and it went out like that, those were the days when you could literally say what you wanted on Radio One. It all changed after the Russell Brand Interview with Jonathan Ross, he’d said something Sexist and everything changed after that. I remember them calling us in and just saying, “Look, we’re under a lot of scrutiny. You’ve got to be really careful what you say!” Before it was uncensored though, maybe more because we were on at three o’clock in the morning, so they really just let us get away with anything.

After that, it was a different game. I remember we’d done a Radio One Weekender, Madonna was headlining, I called her Madge. They edited my whole show. I was annoyed but my producer said “No, you can’t call her Madge, and I thought she wasn’t gonna listen to my show about jungle at three o’clock in the morning.

We’re rolling into Autumn now but, how was your summer?

It’s been really busy. Festival season kicks in around April/May now and it’s just constant work through to about September. I did my last festival of the season a couple of weeks ago, DnB Allstars, which was really good. It was a great way to end this festival season. It’s been an amazing one. The only problem was we’ve had shit weather. The summer’s just been awful and it’s no fun DJing in the rain. As much as the English have this attitude towards the rain which is “Fuck it, we’re gonna party!” It’s not the same.

Most of the festivals I did were about 95% dry, but it was lucky we avoided the rain. We did the orchestra in Bristol which was totally open-air, there was no cover at all. There were about 4,000 people and the forecast was rain and we were s**ting ourselves, thinking this is gonna be awful in the rain. But it held out, it drizzled for about a minute, that was possibly the best gig of the summer for me. If it had rained, it would have been a total disaster. The orchestra in the rain just wouldn’t have worked. With the orchestra shows, it’s not like you’re dancing around and there aren’t any other rooms. You couldn’t go and hide away in another room, go to a marquee or something.

You had a few orchestra shows over the summer right?

Yeah, we did Project 6, Secret Garden Party, Bristol, Ireland. All the shows were really, really good!! 

I saw the show in January and it was actually really emotional. It made me feel proud to be part of the scene. It was just phenomenal. What inspired you to create those shows? 

We did a 30 years of Rage album and that inspired the Outlook Orchestra, first of all to get in touch with us….They came with the idea, we had a couple of meetings with them and it felt right!  We curated all the music and chose all the artists we wanted to perform , we had to make sure everything was right and was a reflection of music we used to play over the years to make it a true Fabio & Grooverider history lesson! 

Creating the score was not an easy task , because you have to remember a lot of the guys that are in the orchestra are not drum and bass people per se, they’re classically trained. Respect to the main man Tommy our musical director & conductor. The show is truly amazing! 

Did you go to a lot of the rehearsals and watch the show progress?

We go to rehearsals before all the big shows but we do let them get on with it , the bottom line is, that we don’t have to do that much, we just host the sections. I think its important to let them have free rein while practising. All we had to do was make sure that we got our bits right. Strangely enough, public speaking is not my forte so I was quite nervous doing it at first , I ain’t gonna lie. 

It gave me Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr, hosting their band kind of vibes. You couldn’t tell you were nervous, it felt like you were there to bring the audience into the orchestra, connecting the people personally to the experience.

That was our job, after the first time we did it we got the hang of it straight away, it was a lot easier doing it the second time around, it’s second nature now. It’s a great way of connecting the dots. You’ve got to engage the audience and you’ve got to do it very quickly because there’s a lot of time constraints with the orchestra. It’s not like a club night where you can play a couple more at the end. You’ve literally got to finish on the dot. It’s all got to run like clockwork.

The orchestra is much more emotional than I thought it would be. Hearing drum and bass live, and hearing it done so well gave everyone goosebumps. There’s a real different feeling from DJing, it’s hard to explain, I think it’s just the element of hearing music live. I don’t think you can beat that.

Are you looking forward to getting back into club season now?

I am looking forward to it. I don’t think you can beat a club vibe as much as I love festivals. As a DJ I think that connection between you and your audience is more intimate in a nightclub. I think in the festival you can feel like you’re part of a big show and you’re just one of the performers. You shuffle on and then you’re shuffling off and then someone else comes on. There are so many tents and there are so many different places you can go, so the engagement is not the same as a nightclub where you’re kind of locked in with three, or four hundred people.

I don’t think you can go wrong at a festival because there’s so many people that it is really difficult to make a real hash of it. I don’t see where you can go wrong with 10,000 people because there’s always someone to catch a vibe. In a nightclub, it’s more likely to go wrong. You can play a couple of bad things and people go to the smoking area- it’s strange because that’s a collective thing. Once you see a couple of people go then the whole crowd ends up going into the smoking area, it’s bizarre.

When the smoking ban first came in, which was only in 2007 I remember doing the first gig I played a track and the whole dance floor just cleared. And I was like “Surely it wasn’t that bad!” and it was just that thing of people going to the smoking area and then coming back. People used to stay on the dance floor and smoke cigarettes. Can you believe people used to do that? And then someone said to me “It’s that smoking thing, it’s a social thing”. Someone goes outside for a fag, and even if you don’t smoke, you’re gonna go out there because you’re having a conversation. It’s a different aesthetic.

Also, you get people on their phones filming, you do sense that a lot more and it’s happening more and more now and it’s quite annoying. It happens more at festivals than at clubs. Because nightclubs are dark, you don’t get so many people doing it, but at festivals it is ridiculous. Sometimes you can look out and half the crowd are filming and you think “What the f***! That’s not the reason you’re here.” In nightclubs, you don’t feel it so much but it’s still a bit of an issue and I wish people would stop doing it. I know certain clubs do take people’s phones away at the door. But then, that is a kind of fascism in a sort of way.

I do prefer nightclubs, the fact you’re a few feet away from your audience, you just get that connection a lot more. Whereas at a festival sometimes, you’re 30 feet away. You’re on this big stage and then, you’ve got barriers and then you’ve got the crowd. So, as much as I love the festivals, give me a good club night any day of the week.

You are synonymous with the club scene from the early days, you are credited with putting on the first-ever jungle night and I just wanted to know what you think of the current climate. When you talk to promoters it’s hard out there for them at the moment, people are struggling and there’s this kind of conversation about the balance between, supporting your roots, local nights and local talent against these huge big events…

The issue with that is that the local nights- the nights in Cambridge, Bristol, Nottingham, wherever- Are the grassroots no matter what anyone wants to say, and when some of these big promoters decide to move on to something else that is trendy and hot the local nights will still always support drum and bass, and I think it’s really important that these nights are supported. The local nights are smaller and they don’t make as much money, so it’s harder to pay DJs also now because of the cost of living crisis they are taking big risks.

 People are remortgaging their houses to throw parties now and it’s sad because it’s hard to pull off. You always see it just after the festival season, everyone’s broke. It’s a hard time for clubbing at the moment, you feel people get a little bit of pushback from the festivals and from going on holiday, kids going back to school, having to buy uniforms and stuff like that, and then Christmas is coming and now everyone’s sitting down thinking about the energy bills over the winter. It’s really difficult now for someone to put on a club night with 250 people when people are used to huge lineups- having one headliner is a harder sell.

I think DJs have to support the local clubs because another thing that’s happening now is that a lot of the big DJs make a lot of money in the festival season; they don’t DJ in the winter now because the smaller clubs can’t afford them. They just make so much money in that four to five-month period that they take the winter off. It’s problematic.

On the positive side, drum and bass is so big at the moment. It’s huge. It’s bigger than it’s ever been. I cannot remember so many drum and bass festivals, and drum and bass having four tracks in the Top 40- it’s unheard of. Chase & Status having two tracks in the top 10, I mean it’s huge at the moment. It’s gonna be very interesting to see what happens. Events at the nightclubs might do well this winter because of the popularity of the music.

You’ve touched on how big drum and bass is at the moment, and I watched an old interview where you mentioned that you didn’t think d&b would ever be fully commercially accepted because it couldn’t be watered down for that audience.

We’re at a point where tracks on the radio aren’t watered down. Do you think we’ve kind of made it now, we’ve been accepted?

Yeah. I do feel that. Even up to about six or seven years ago. If you went up to the normal person on the street and said, “What do you think of drum and bass?” They would turn their nose up or they would say, “I like a couple of tunes, but it’s not my thing.” I remember asking my sister what she thought of d&b. She said it sounded like a car rolling backwards down a hill.

Now I think people are after 30 years, it’s found its way into public consciousness, because of adverts or in computer games or Match of the Day. You always hear drum and bass when they’re doing ‘goal of the month’ and stuff like that. So after all these years, the public doesn’t think of drum and bass as that weird, really fast, bastard cousin of house. It’s now fully accepted.

Baddadan getting to number 10- that would never have happened before. That tune’s got Trigger and IRAH on it- and it’s a road tune. And the fact it’s the biggest drum and bass tune this summer just shows you where we’ve crept into the public consciousness. I think for the 18 to 25-year-olds right now- apart from probably grime and drill, it’s probably their go-to music. My daughter is 21 and all her mates love it. Whereas five or six years ago when she used to put d&b on at a party her mates would just turn it off and put a bit of Stormzy on or something like that. Now, they’re all rocking out to it, she was like “I told you!”

Do you think we’ll ever get to the levels that d&b has in places like Prague or Antwerp where you can hear on the radio all the time? Do you think it’s got a bit of room to grow or do you think this is the UK’s peak?

I think it’s there now, I really do. I think it’s gonna be more common to be walking down the road, and hearing someone pumping drum and bass out of their car. Drum and bass is going nowhere, it’s been around that long. It’s not gonna die off, maybe the popularity might die off, which I’ve got no problem with at all because the underground is always going to be there.

And the only caveat I have is the survival of the underground, it’s really important. That goes back to what we were saying about grassroots and local clubs supporting underground music, I would hate drum and bass to just be chart music. But there’s a problem with the underground as well – underground music doesn’t sell as much as the commercial stuff. So those guys sit down and think ” Maybe I should make more commercial stuff because I’m not making any money!” It’s about balancing that out. We’ll see where that goes in the next couple of years because we don’t want drum and bass to just be chart music, and we don’t want the underground shrinking and then just disappearing.

The underground is where I live, and that’s my thing. As much as I’m happy for Bou, Hedex, Chase & Status and those guys getting their flowers at the same time, I do worry about guys on the underground making some money – it’s a double-edged sword.

You’ve just got to keep it authentic. You’ve got to remember where you’re from…

You do. In the 90s, drum and bass got trendy. Everyone got signed up, Goldie, Photek, Groove, Source Direct, Dillinja. There was a ripple effect and record companies jumped on it. And what happened with all of that was they didn’t get it. They were all just trying because it was trendy. But the people they signed were the underground heroes – they couldn’t make commercial music. Every single one of them got dropped within three years because they figured out there was no way of commercially making this music acceptable. I hope that doesn’t happen again because it could.

The happy medium would be you’ve got your commercial share and it’s all killing in it and you got your underground scenes still around and everyone’s loving it. And the artists are still making amazing music.

Let’s talk about the compilation album Generation Liquid. You came up with the term liquid, can you tell us about that story?

It was two things that made me call it liquid. First was Calibre because listening to his tunes is just seamless and it had a flow that seemed liquid to me. I mean the guy could make drum and bass sound so simple, but in that simplicity, it’s so difficult to do what he did. The thing about all the greats is that they make it seem simple and effortless. There are a few artists who are God tier- Dillinja, Photek, Hazard and people like that – they sound like they were born to make this music and Calibre is a prime example of that.

My radio shows in the late 90s and early 2000s was roughly 30% Calibre in the end, so I ended up doing a section where I thought I’ve got to represent this music and give it a dedicated half an hour and call it something and I came up with ‘liquid funk.’ I thought it just summed up what Calibre was doing in a nutshell. When you listen to all his stuff from that golden era and there is this seamless flow to his music it’s just magic.

After I started to call parts of my show ‘liquid funk’ and then did the albums – volume one and two, it just took off. Anything that wasn’t jump up, everyone just called liquid. The problem with that is the lines got blurred a bit and I heard a few tunes that I would initially call liquid. Now there’s all kinds of liquid, but I think the people know what the real liquid funk is. Liquid has now become the word for anything that isn’t hard, anything with vocals is liquid.

I think it’s really interesting to speak to you because when I was looking at the tracklist of this album, ‘Hurt You’ is on there and I wouldn’t personally put that in the liquid bracket. If you had to define liquid, how would you describe it? 

I think the reason you say that with ‘Hurt You’ is because it was quite a big tune. It’s also a tune. You could put up next to ‘Mr. Happy’ and it’s still got the same kind of energy but there’s also a seamless vibe to it. The vocals are pitched well and actually, it borders on being cheesy but it never gets there because there’s a soulfulness to it. Out of the two-part album, it’s got the biggest hook, and it is quite a mainstream hook as well, it’s so strong that you could make a pop drum and bass track out of it, but it stays on the right side, it never descends into cheese.

That’s why I thought I’d put it on there. I just love the tune and also it’s a Chase & Status tune that everyone forgot about, and I just think it gives the album a bit of energy. I wanted it to sound just as good when playing it in my car or sitting around with a drink of wine. I just wanted little energy kicks like ‘Racing Green’ too. It’s an amazing track, another one that is bordering on being cheesy, but it never ever descends into cheeseball territory. I don’t want it to be a coffee table album as such. So, it’s got these little energy peaks and slight curveballs, which gives you the slight element of surprise. 

You’ve got the Jaheim Remix on there too…

That remix is just- wow. That was never commercially available because Calibre did the remix for Jaheim and he hated it. Warner in America got in touch with Calibre and asked if he would take it on. He gave it to me and I was just like “This is possibly the best vocal drum and bass tune that I’ve ever heard in my life!” If anyone is gonna do an R&B drum and bass tune, do it like this. Warner America loved it but they gave it to Jaheim and he said he hated it!

I’m a huge Jaheim fan, so that’s so upsetting.

He said that he didn’t want it released in any territory, he just didn’t get it. He was a black American guy from the ghetto. Hip-hop was all he knew. He heard this version of his tune going at 170 and he was just like “F*** that. No, I do not want anything to do with that!” He just didn’t get it. So Warner scrapped it.

Then it became such an underground vibe that they turned around and said you can press 1,000, white label and be done with it. They pressed the thousand and they went in a matter of hours, everyone just queued up to buy it at record shops and that was that and it’s never been commercially available since. So I was really, really happy that we could get that on the album because that’s a big thing.

Also, the Johnny L track ‘Oh Yeah’ was never really pressed a lot so I’m glad to have a couple of tracks that were hard to get. It’s always nice to give a couple of things that are commercially unavailable on it. I’m really, really happy with what we ended up getting and the way the albums panned out.

We’ve got Artificial Intelligence ‘Switch On’, High Contrast ‘Racing Green’ and ‘Twilights Last Gleaming’ which is just an amazing tune and also I added an Alix Perez – Foresaken  which is the closest I’ve heard to a drum and bass ballad. It’s so heartfelt and can you imagine someone singing that acoustically.  

Amazing. What made you decide to put it together?

There’s just not that many liquid compilations about. 

At the moment drum and bass is driven by high power and energy, really kinetic tunes, very visceral. I just feel like there’s less space for really soulful music. I think that’s fueled by a lot of people’s drug of choice. Unfortunately, I’ve got to mention it. I think it’s a product of the Ketamine era, when people are on it they don’t want to hear soulful stuff.

There’s gotta be room for this music. It’s so beautiful, it’s still going at 170, and it’s still really, really fast. But when you get that balance of the soulfulness with the power of drum and bass I still think that’s my favourite kind of vibe.

Whenever someone tells me they don’t like drum and bass I’ll just put on some liquid and be like “Now, tell me you don’t like drum and bass!”

Yeah. There’s always a space for liquid and I think this album has come at a really good time. We’re going into winter so people are going to stay inside and listen to music. And do you want to just listen to hyped-up madness? Even at the after-party, there’s a time to calm it down a little bit. That’s what you get with Generation Liquid, perfect for those moments – be it a coffee table or after-party come down.

When liquid was on the rise was it accepted quickly by the ravers and artists, or did it take a while to be understood? 

It took a good while. I think it was only when ‘Shake Your Body” came out. I was on Radio One at the time, really championing these tunes because liquid is really radio-friendly. There was a golden era about 2003 where liquid just blew up, we had liquid in the charts. As I said “Shake Your Body” and “Racing Green” got to about 45 in the chart as well. It was a moment where a lot of people saw it as the more palatable taste of drum & bass. As you said, a lot of people who don’t like drum and bass can take liquid.

There was also a phase where it was in house clubs, they put it in room two. They were kind of into drum and bass but they didn’t like the hard s***. Everything goes through its little cyclical phases, when I think back to the whole liquid thing, I think people got a little bit confused about what it is. That’s why I just want to bring it back. Whatever anyone else is saying, this is the real s***.

Read Our ‘Origins’ Interview With Fabio & Grooverider 

The wonderful Dave Jenkins has interviewed you a few times when he was editor, so we’ve previously spoken to you about your history and influence. I wanted to look into the future a bit. Who should we be looking out for at the moment what labels, artists and events should we be keeping our eyes on? 

I love liquid, but now I also love what DLR is doing. I love what The Source is doing. I love Watch The Ride. Charli Brix – what she’s doing is great. There’s a lot of good female vocalists about EVABEE and people like that. I love that Bristol sound, that minimal, pollination of liquid and the Bristol sound – vocals with that big, thick baseline. That sound could be a breakthrough next year. I’m really into that vibe at the moment.

I love what Roni Size is doing, and always love Shy FX, also guys, like Zero T, and Artificial Intelligence have always got their crew. Alex Perez I think is just great, what he’s doing is insane. The underground is very healthy. If you listen to Break’s album too, there are loads of vocals on it. That vocally, edgy stuff, I’m looking forward to seeing what people are gonna be doing with that.

I hate to predict what is going to happen because you never know. Ever since its inception, you’ve never known where drum and bass is gonna go. It’s like it’s got its own life and it just takes little turns and little curveballs. So whatever happens I’m pretty excited.

So my last question. What should we be talking about in bass music that we’re not currently talking about?

Women are in a good place, especially since the pandemic. I would have had to have said Women two or three years ago. I met A Little Sound on the way to a gig and she told me her story, which is just insane. During the pandemic, she just thought she would do some vocals on drum and bass and now she’s playing every big gig. And she’s done it in three to four years, which is amazing. The flip side of that is now we’re getting a lot of people looking at her, and people like Sabrina for example, and spitting down thinking it’s easy and it ain’t. It’s really, really difficult. Even my daughter who I’m teaching to DJ will say ” Dad. I think I’ll be able to play out soon!” And I’ll have to tell her she’s nowhere near ready. You have to go through a process that we all have to go through.

Another worrying thing is the social media influence coming into music now. People now think “I need to get 30,000 followers and I need to have a videographer making people feel like they’ve got vertigo when they watch me on Instagram”. They’re coming into it for the wrong reasons. A lot of the young men and women that I speak to want to play at the festivals but the ones that have done it are one in a million. A Little Sound’s story is a rarity because, for every A Little Sound, there are 10,000 DJs struggling out there.

That’s because you’re not going through the process of DJing in little clubs with nobody there, playing at ten o’clock on a s**t sound system with a promoter who’s gonna pay you 15 quid. That’s the norm and that is what you’ve got to do to get to that top tier. Too many DJs now are coming into this thinking, I can just be a social media influencer and then get into DJing that way. It’s really annoying me because it’s a rabbit hole – promoters start booking based on “he’s got 60,000 followers, so he’ll be able to fill out our venue with a thousand people easily!” I’m a little bit worried about that, we’ve got to be careful and we’ve got to talk about the influence of social media on the music. It’s something that needs to be, not eradicated, but it needs to be defined. We need to define what it is to be a DJ.

Those lines are getting blurred now and I think it’s gonna get worse. Are you good at social media? Have you got a big Following? Are you a bit of a fashion guru? Do the kids love you? Are you funny? And then sixth or seventh down the list; Are you any good? Can you collect music? Do you know how to f**king mix…

So I think we should have a few more conversations about that.

Generation Liquid Vol. 1

Generation Liquid Vol. 2