Origins: a new series of UKF interviews exploring the foundations of drum & bass and bass music with some of the most important pioneers. The artists who could see potential in the sound long before it became a genre, who poured in their own influences and methods into the style and took risks pushing for it to be heard. Artists like Fabio & Grooverider.
Consistently credited as two of the most vital pioneers in drum & bass, foundations don’t come much deeper than the longest standing DJ duo in UK dance music history. Drawing from their years collecting and playing other styles from US house music to rare groove, running a thread between sounds they could hear in a variety of house, hip-hop and techno records, their fusion – largely honed at their legendary London weekly Rage during the early 90s – was a crucial moment in jungle drum & bass history.
Having interviewed them about the importance of Rage last year, during the seminal night’s 30th anniversary celebrations, we called up Fabio & Grooverider once again to go a little further back than Rage… And compare how that fight that they and other acid house DJs had to fight to get the music heard isn’t dissimilar to the situation all arts are facing with the government right now.
Read on and check out this playlist of early influences and seminal gamechangers in D&B history as picked by Fabio & Grooverider themselves.
Over 30 years of being unviable. How are you feeling?
Grooverider: I’ve had 30 years. I’m lucky. A lot of people have been building up that life and haven’t had a chance to experience it like I have.
Fabio: Actually, yeah that’s a really good point. We’ve got to stay positive.
I think it’s inspiring how promoters have done everything they can bring raves back. Even sitdown ones…
Fabio: Yeah. We’ve done some socially distanced gigs and they’re alright. They’re better than nothing aren’t they?
Grooverider: They’re better than a live stream that’s for sure. At least we’re still connected with people.
I wanted to go right back to the first music you connected with people through. We’ve talked before about Rage but prior to that, prior to house music, I think you both came from rare groove?
Grooverider: We both touched on that for sure. During the early to mid 80s doing pirate radio. That was when pirates were new. It was exciting. We were hiding from the DTI, it was raggo man, you run into a studio, play your music and get out as soon as you can before you get arrested. That’s how far we had to take things to play our music.
Fabio: The biggest thing that happened was that a dealer did a regular show. One day I was due to come on after him and, as I was about to put my first record on, I looked out the window and saw a police van. I thought ‘rah! What we are going to do?’ But before we could do anything, they’d bashed down the door, ran in and said ‘right, you’re nicked!’ An officer held up a bud to me and asked what it was. I said, ‘I don’t know mate, I’m just the DJ not mine.’ Then he said ‘okay, what’s this?’ and he held up this huge bag of weed.
Shopping bag size?
Fabio: Exactly that. They told us if they couldn’t find out who it belonged to then they’re nicking me. They kept me in for a few hours, told me I was in big trouble and told me they’d call me or I should go to the station the next week. Neither of those things happened so I can only assume they smoked it all. They never charged me or the guy I was arrested with. So that was the thing – it was scary at times. It was pretty ghetto. The entrance would be in alleyways in the dodgiest part of Brixton.
Grooverider: Playing the music was fun but the rest was a mad risk. You look back and think ‘what the fuck were we doing?!’
So illegal raves were a natural logical leap
Grooverider: Yeah it was easy in comparison. Pirates were a lot harder than driving around finding fields, giving the police the slip and all that. That was before the Criminal Justice Bill came in and pushed it all back to clubs.
Fabio: When that came in I remember Groove saying ‘we might have to get regular jobs’. We couldn’t see much future in raves, we couldn’t see it working in clubs.
Grooverider: But I actually ended up preferring it. The more people you have, the more vibes you lose. Playing to 10,000 people is nowhere near as much fun as playing to 200 people in a really intense club. And clubs had better soundsystems.
Fabio: You had these huge events with tens of thousands of people but the soundsystems were terrible. We could barely hear ourselves mix. People would be like ‘that was a legendary party’ and we’d be like ‘really?’ Maybe for some people the buzz is the amount of people you play to but for us it’s about the connection.
Grooverider: My only concern is the music. Never have I ever been concerned about taking photos or standing there like a c*nt posing for Instagram likes even though my set was shit because no one could hear me!
I really miss the days as a DJ when you didn’t have to be a media king , you didn’t care about your billing on a flyer, you didn’t have a rider, no one knew what you had for dinner and no one cared about how many followers you had . All that mattered was making people dance
— FABIO (@fabiodnb) November 30, 2017
Your tweet was doing the rounds again recently Fabio. Still relevant.
Fabio: Sadly that’s always going to be relevant. I won’t say where, because I don’t want to bait anyone, but we were playing a big event last year. 10,000 people, good soundsystem, vibey. The guys before us played their set and said ‘hold on, we want to take a picture’ and they stopped everything. Told the crowd they were taking the picture and everything. I thought ‘are you serious? What the fuck is this? Are you that egotistical that this really matters to you?’ Don’t get me wrong – if you’re in the game now and building up a following then it’s accepted. But if you told people back in the day that’s what the future would be like we’d have all laughed you out the room!
Speaking of leaving rooms, there’s a story I always love hearing about you Groove on how you’d happily clear a dancefloor because you believed in the tune and you’d play it again and again and again until people got it. You couldn’t really do that in raves – that’s very much a club thing, I think.
Grooverider: Oh I still do it at bigger events but you camouflage the really new tracks by playing them between well known tracks so the dancefloor don’t get a chance to leave.
Did it happen as often as the legend suggests?
Fabio: Not at Blue Note. I think Groove was in a position where he could play anything and people would listen to it because of the intimacy of the venue and because when you’re doing it every week you’ve got a community of people who trust you and believe in your choice. It became like ‘what the fuck is Rider going to drop tonight?!’ That’s what moved drum & bass from A to B faster than anything else. People wanted to make tunes that were better than ones he was playing the previous week. Every week it was like ‘what the fuck is this?’ It was Groove’s house. Those are the greatest moments as a DJ – to have that level of trust from the crowd that they will listen with such open ears and respond. There’s nothing better.
Grooverider: You don’t get those moments all the time. That’s why residencies are really special and shouldn’t be lost. You get to educate people. No, wait. That makes out that I’m up here and they’re down there. That’s not right. You get to show people the music. Show them what’s possible and what’s out there.
Give me a moment. One of those proper ‘this is the future’ moments…
Grooverider: It’s got to be when I played Metropolis. Cut it on the Saturday, played it on the Sunday. No one else had it. This was even before it was even signed to Metalheadz. It just went crazy. Just crazy. It’s a storytelling tune. We played the whole eight minutes and played it again and again.
Edge to edge!
Grooverider: That’s how we played it back then. Now people mix 60 tunes in an hour. You couldn’t even try that in Blue Note because you’d drop a tune and Goldie would stop it and go ‘what the fuck is this?’ If you had the very best tunes you’d only need about 10 or 15 plates for a set because you’d get so many rewinds and people would want to hear the whole thing. Now it’s about the impact and that’s it – move on.
Fabio, give me a future moment
Fabio: I remember going to Bukem’s house once and he said ‘I’ve got this tune I need you to hear.’ He played me Music and it just blew me away. I was like ‘what the fuck?’ It was everything I wanted drum & bass to sound like. I was playing Dreamscape later and I told him I couldn’t leave without that tune. He told me it wasn’t ready. I said ‘Danny, I can’t leave without that tune! I’ve come all the way to your yard, you’ve played me this incredible piece of art, I’m not leaving without it. Don’t make me get all ghetto on you!’ He gave me his plate in the end and I played it as my intro at the rave.
I was playing after Dougal. It was that fast happy hardcore, chipmunk vocals and all that. I thought ‘you know what? I’m going to play this tune.’ It was a massive risk but it’s like what’s the worst that can happen? I’m not going to die! So I played it and that really long intro hit them and I converted those happy hardcore heads and they loved it. It was amazing. Those moments when you’re out of your comfort zone and you take risks and it pays off, it’s a very pleasing thing.
Yeah! That must have been a mad time when that split happened with the music.
Fabio: There was just no correlation between the genres. We had no link to happy hardcore, it didn’t work for us. DJs like Carl Cox got caught in that and didn’t know which way to go. For Carl he just allowed everything and played techno instead. Me and Groove just weren’t into the happy hardcore thing and that music got way too much and jungle was progressing and developing into something. It was natural direction for us to take.
It’s really interesting looking back. Musically that split was very black and white. I mean happy hardcore is the whitest music possible while jungle was created almost entirely through samples of black music and soundsystem culture. Crowd or artist-wise there was no division or anything there though was there?
Fabio: Nah, definitely no any division whatsoever!
Grooverider: I have no idea what happened to happy hardcore after we left it. What type of crowds went or anything. But I do know that white artists who were kinda sitting between the sounds moved with us into jungle. I never saw any divide besides the divide in the music. Not everyone who made jungle was black. We’d hear white guys pulling off some serious b-line and you’d think they must be black and then it would turn out to be someone like Micky Finn. It changed my perception on what white and black was when it came to music. Everything could be made and played by anyone. I’d hear basslines straight out of Africa and I’d think ‘bwoy, that’s bad!’ Then I’d find out it’s made by some skinny white dude with glasses. It’s like ‘hold on a minute? He’s blown me away!’ So that’s when I took colour out of the music – in terms of who it’s coming from. People can make anything and reference anything if they’re doing it from the heart and with real craft.
Fabio: Ed Rush – Killamanjaro. That was the tune that did it for me. He looked like Joe90! I thought ‘how the hell does this guy know how to make that type of sound?’
Grooverider: That’s the tune I was thinking about! It sounded like it came from the deepest, darkest parts of Africa.
Fabio: After that I thought ‘I can never judge music again.’ How he and Optical made things sound, it was another incredible example of what we wanted drum & bass to sound like. But there was never any division. You’d go to Eclipse – you’d me, Groove, DJ Ron, but you’d also have Ratty, Micky Finn, Darren Jay. Micky is a cockney and is as white as you can get and he was called Micky Pussyclart Finn because he had proper ragga jungle. He was the ragga king. He was more ragga than us.
Grooverider: Well more. We weren’t even close. Him and DJ Hype. They played the best ragga jungle and played it more than any other black DJs. So the race thing never entered my mind. Racism has come into the fore in the last few years for me. From Brexit, basically.
F**king Brexit. Amplified by social media, it changed the language being used. Divided things so badly and was horrifying in the way it twisted immigration into a bad thing. It changed how we discuss things entirely.
Fabio: Totally agree and now we’re seeing a worrying trend of pure sheep mentality; people believing in something because the rest of the herd are. People go one way and agree with the masses. You come in with a different opinion and people act like you’re a weirdo.
Grooverider: For me, I will always listen to what you’ve got to say, I’ll digest it and I make my own opinion. I’ve never been about herd mentality. If I was then we wouldn’t be talking today. Jungle isn’t about herd mentality. We broke out of that, we’re supposed to be thinking with our own brains and making our own opinions. I’ve never been about the herd. I’m a shepherd, not a sheep.
You’re either right or wrong / with us or against us.
Fabio: Exactly. And when you act like ‘I don’t agree with you’ people are shocked.
Grooverider: Sometimes I disagree just because I can. I don’t want to be the same as everyone else all the time. it’s about having your own voices. Even if I’m wrong, I’m happy because I’m different from you.
Yes! Wrapping up, you mentioned staying positive at the start. That’s very hard right now. What are your hope for the future? For all creative artforms!
Grooverider: It scares me that they’re basically making art illegal. Not just drum & bass but all arts that people love. If ballets get cancelled there will be underground ballets. Trust me. Artists want to show their artistry. People want to enjoy it. It’s not just about raves. It’s not ‘save our scene’ it’s ‘save our culture’. It’s far bigger than any one scene.
Fabio: It is. And people will find a way. When alcohol was made illegal in America they had speakeasies. When acid house started we had illegal raves. There’s only so much people will take. We’ve abided by the rules, we’ve done everything by the book. Now we’re feeling crippled creatively. You feel like something’s been taken away from you. It’ll cause mental health problems.
Grooverider: It’s already done that!
Fabio: People will take matters in their own hands. They’ll have to.
Grooverider: British people are rebellious. We haven’t been governed like they have in China. We’re not used to such restrictive control and I’m surprised people haven’t started fighting already. I can see collectives of people getting together with a rig and having that ten grand ready to hand over when they arrive.
Yes! This isn’t something you’d ever retrain for is it? Your training was the pirates!
Fabio: We’ve paid our taxes. We’ve not been doing things illegally. There was a stage in the early days when we realised this was our life and we got serious. We got an agent, management, accountant to make sure we’re legit. We’ve been that way for decades and to have the government tell us that’s worthless? It’s a massive fuck off. We’ll do this shit regardless and we don’t care if we get caught. We’ll have the fine ready to pay. You can’t silence us and destroy us. It seems like they’ve gone out of their way to say ‘fuck off and find something else to do.’ That’s what angered everybody. We know there’s a pandemic, we know it’s difficult for any government but to just say ‘go and get another job’ doesn’t work. I’m in my mid 50s now, what am I going to do?
Grooverider: The fuckery is that they’re making kids go to school. But we can’t rave. Shouldn’t we be protecting our kids as well as old people? Just double standards.
Fabio: We’re tolerant to a degree but not when we know we’re not being listened to. We’re not saying ‘give us money because we’re broke’, we’re asking the government to work with us to find solutions. We’re prepared to do things the right way, take all the safety measures and respect the pandemic. We’re not covid-deniers, we know it exists and have lost people to it. We don’t want to catch it ourselves! But we know we there’s got to be a better way than just fucking us off like this. You see organisations like WeAreViable and you understand they have a plan and suggestions to make things safe and still the government aren’t listening. The government are taking away something that we all love. Every single one of us love the arts in one form or another. So if the government think people will forget that in the future when they need votes…
Grooverider: They can think again!