Following our first Origins interview with Fabio & Grooverider, we now drop the tempo to explore some of the roots of bassline with one of the genre’s longest standing pioneers and champions: DJ Q.
One of three major musical movements to have developed from UK garage, alongside dubstep and grime, bassline’s earliest incarnations can be traced back to the speed garage and 4×4 garage sounds that emerged around the late 90s, early 2000s. Arguably one of UKG’s most golden of eras, it was a time when a very young DJ Q first started exploring the sound, collecting tape packs and experimenting with early productions during his early teens.
By the age of 19 Q’s early productions were being championed at Niche in Sheffield. A seminal venue at the heart of bassline, Niche became bassline’s main HQ where a community of artists from across the north of England would congregate, share and support music before it was closed down in the mid 2000s due to events entirely out of the promoters and venue’s hands.
For more information on that side of bassline, read this in-depth interview we ran with original Niche resident Jamie Duggan in 2018. For more information about DJ Q, how bassline evolved from garage and, at points, became the north of the UK’s answer to grime, read on right here as we go back to Qs earliest moves and how they are intrinsic to the foundations of the bassline we hear today. Listen to Q’s curated Origins playlist while you’re here…
To understand your bassline roots we need to go back to UKG don’t we?
We do. I was a big fan of the 4×4 garage. I enjoyed playing it and progressed to making it and releasing it on vinyl. The stuff I was releasing eventually got picked up by the Niche DJs and those releases became part of this whole other scene at a time where these tracks which weren’t getting the love in the garage scene because grime was the popular offshoot of UK Garage at the time.
You came through when garage was huge. The late 90s / early 2000s was a golden era wasn’t it?
It was everywhere man. I started buying records just before it blew up but then it just went off with big releases from guys like Artful Dodger, So Solid and things like that. I also saw it disperse into other genres, which was exciting. From garage you also had grime and dubstep which both went on to become huge themselves.
Prior to that it was speed garage wasn’t it?
Yeah totally. That was another entry point for me; speed garage and the housier stuff. I was hearing the tracks on the radio at first but then discovered tape-packs and that’s when I started to get really into it. Hearing the tunes mixed, hearing the MCs. That was me sold.
Tape packs were like the pirates in places where pirates didn’t really operate much weren’t they?
Definitely. Especially up here. There’s only one radio station in Huddersfield so on a radio front it wasn’t really as upfront as down south for us but tape packs had all the best stuff. That’s where you heard all the upfront tunes and what was really going on.
How did your early records get in the hands of Niche DJs?
Well grime was kicking off down south but further up north all the DJs were playing the b-sides and more of the 4×4 stuff and they got picked up naturally. Nev Wright was the first DJ to hit me up. He was an original Niche DJ and he told me he’d bought a few of my vinyl releases and he’d been playing them up Niche. A lot of my friends went to Niche before I did and, from what I understand, it started as house and speed garage anyway. But from there it evolved into the 4×4 garage stuff, created its own community and within that community more people started making tunes for that club. That’s basically how the whole bassline thing started.
How did he get in touch with you? Did you write or stamp your number on the vinyl releases?
Nah he found me the Rewind forum. I used to post on there quite a lot. I believe Nev used to live in London for a bit so he was always up to speed on the garage stuff. We hooked up on there and I started sending tracks to him over MSN. He was close with Jamie Duggan and Shaun Banger Scott so he introduced me to those guys too. They were the biggest Niche DJs at the time, they were really supportive so it started from there.
Do you think if you hadn’t made that connection you’d have gone down another UKG route? Like dubstep or grime?
To be fair I’ve always dipped in and out of grime with it being one of the natural off shoots of UK garage but I love 4×4 beats too much. I’d have carried on making this style because I was really enjoying it – I just wouldn’t have got picked up so quick. It’s always been 4×4 for me even though it got to a point where it wasn’t as popular across the whole scene. It just so happened that 4×4 was more popular up north. If I never got into bassline as early as I did then I’d have probably picked it up naturally when bassline got really popular around 2007/8.
Take me back to Niche for a second. What was the vibe like? It had a reputation but, speaking to Jamie Duggan, that was unfounded wasn’t it?
It was just good vibes man. You had people from everywhere coming along purely for the music and I never had a bad night in there. I guess you could say it got a bit troublesome when it got more popular and more people came along for the wrong reasons. It happens when anything blows up like that. You got people going along just because it’s the place to be. That’s when trouble starts. On the whole the club was decent. At the time, was the place to be.
Definitely. It was northern thing wasn’t it?
Oh for sure. Apart from the first little mainstream period of tracks like ‘Heartbroken’ and ‘You Wot’ Bassline didn’t really get popular down south until that second time around. And by that time Niche was closed. So very few people from beyond the north got to really enjoy Niche and bassline in its really early stages.
You don’t get so much regional stuff these days. Niche was special. Like a community wasn’t it?
It really was man. You met so many people and made friends. I know people who met their partners at Niche who they’re still with now. Through those early days I made some of my best friends. And you go to any old school bassline night and it’s like a family reunion. These are people you’d see week-in, week-out, it created a very strong connection.
When we get back to raving do you think we’ll appreciate that more?
Oh definitely! It’s got to the point that people have been so restricted for so long that people will want to rave again even if they hadn’t gone raving for years. I think it’s going to be really special.
You’re no strangers to fighting for this music anyway. For a while bassline was pretty much banned in certain towns and cities up north wasn’t it?
Yeah we had to fight for a long time. It wasn’t easy but you know what? Without those obstacles and challenges I wouldn’t be here today. It made us.
Which other early bassline producers inspired you?
At the time DJ Booda from Sheffield was huge. He made a lot of stuff under his own name, different aliases and things he made for other people. He was a huge part of the music when I was coming through and he was one of the first producers outside of the London 4×4 producers I was checking regularly. DJ Veteran was another one making a lot of the stuff. FB and Zibba from Leicester had a unique style too, their stuff was very musical. Big Ang was another massive player in this, she was making loads of stuff. So was Chris Lorenzo who was making a lot of bassline in his early years and engineering for a lot of people. Paleface from London was heavily involved in London and fell into it the same way as me – making 4×4 garage that was getting picked up by the DJs up north.
Everywhere had a different sound didn’t it?
Yeah Leeds was more into the organs and feel-good happy bassline stuff. Birmingham had a similar vibe in that way too. Sheffield was definitely more darker and garage influenced.
How about MCs?
They came a lot later on. I’d say around 2006 / 2007, around that time. Around the time it blew up again. It’s funny; when the MCs came along the sound changes. Some people loved it, some people didn’t. Looking back now it added a different dimension to the scene, it was a good thing at the end of the day.
A lot of people prefer vocals. Especially new listeners. It’s the human connection isn’t it?
Absolutely. If you look back at all the big tracks that have blown up over the years then – besides the occasional massive instrumental anthem – it’s pretty much all vocals. It’s songs that people remember. I kinda feel that at the moment we need more big vocals. If you look at a lot of the producers who are really pushing the sound at the moment they’re all on their first run, they’re finding their feet. Once they start making more vocal tracks we’ll have some serious new anthems.
The only vocalist I can really think of who’s killing it in bassline is Bru-C
Yeah Bru-C on the MC front. He’s smashing it. Window Kid as well. Forca is doing wicked stuff. He’s from sheffield. But big singing vocals and song structures like verse / chorus / verse / chorus vibes aren’t around that much at the moment It’s mainly intro, vocals, build up and instrumental drop. Its changing and I’m starting to see a few more song led tracks and remixes coming through but at the moment there isn’t loads is there?
No not really. When we come out of this, artists will have been experimenting during the club closures. Do you think we’ll come back to a new bassline sound?
You’re going to hear a big difference in styles. People are trying new things. You can’t depend on having a big drop in a club right now, you’ve got to go back to the drawing board and think about other ways of making it interesting.
How about you? What are you making?
It’s been interesting man. My stuff has always been DJ-led. I started as a DJ and made stuff strictly to play out. So yeah, this is the first time I’ve sat down to make music without thinking about how I’d play it. It’s a totally different way of thinking or approaching a track. Before you had to think about making that drop sick and the rest falls into place. But you’re not thinking about that at all right now. It’s been a bit of a revelation to be honest.
Can’t wait to hear it. Please big up some people who were intrinsic to bassline origins…
The three original Niche DJs – Shaun Banger Scott, Nev Wright and Jamie Duggan. Without them, the sound wouldn’t have taken off like it did that first time. DJ Narrows and Morph inspired me to make a darker 4×4 Sound and that has stuck with me up until today. Theres a Garage DJ that defo needs a shout out. Remember Richie Vibe Vee?
He sold me records in Catapult back in the day!
There you go. He played a huge role in this sound in the early days pushing it to a mainstream audience. He was early on 1Xtra and championed all the 4×4 stuff. Producer wise Paleface is a don, he was on it from early and was one of the first ones to start releasing Bassline properly. A lot of artists made tracks and just sent them to DJs to play and never released the tracks properly. They didn’t know how to or had connections to press up vinyls or release them. You look up early bassline and you can’t buy the music because it never got proper releases. But Paleface established a proper release structure that inspired a lot of people and made them realise they could get on it and start releasing vinyls.
I like the fact it’s not as accessible. Makes it special.
Yeah you’d be lucky to find a low quality rip on YouTube.
And the fact they were making it out of pure love and not just looking for prestige from releases…
Oh there was aspiration though. You’d send your song to a DJ, they’d play your song, the promoter books you off the back of it. Later on for a lot of the newer producers coming through it was more like a bookings thing.
Like what happens now really
Yeah totally. I’ve always found that weird though. You hear up and coming DJs now say they feel they have to produce music to get noticed as a DJ.
Agreed. That’s a whole other discussion about the value of music. We can’t let the interview end on a negative, though. Give us some people to look forward to for the future!
There’s a couple of producers KDYN and Albzzy. They’ve just started releasing quite a few bits now but, trust me, they’re going to have an amazing future, they’re really talented. IBF and Jack Junior are also a couple of people to watch out for.
New generation artists bring in new influences. What fresh ingredients are they bringing in?
KDYN is only 14 / 15, he’s got no experience of being in any clubs because of his age, so it’s refreshing to hear his ideas because they’re not influenced by DJing or clubs or anything. You can feel that, it’s really exciting.
New generation. The future is in their hands – hopefully a brighter future too!
Definitely. And another person I want to shout out it Dread MC. He’s been around for a long time, almost as long as me, but his work ethic and the stuff he’s making is another inspiration for me right now. His work rate right now is incredible. That’s how we need to work to get through this. See you on the other side…