Don’t believe the name… There is nothing potential about Chris McFarlane. Musically he is a badman, full stop.
An original instigator since UK dance music’s earliest rave incarnations, he’s played a key role in hardcore, jungle, garage and D&B. His discography dates back to 1990, Shy FX reckons he “wouldn’t be doing this without Potential Badboy’s early input” and, remaining relevant ever since day one, he’s also written some of Playaz gulliest jungle bangers in the last 10 years such as Play It Kik It and Lock Em Off.
Now comes the next level: His self-titled album (released 20 years after his debut album Forward) showcases his skills, his instinctive rolling groove knowledge and his deep connection with roots reggae. It’s also a deeply personal affair with some of his oldest and closest friends and family.
Its opening track Revolution has been smashed across the airwaves on UK radio recently. It sets the tone for the whole album. A worthy ear-investment for anyone with so much as a passing interest in UK bass music, it comes our way on Playaz on October 26.
We rang him and tried to squeeze 25 years of junglism into a half hour phone call. This is how it went down…
If you’re a real junglist then you start with no money anyway! It’s always been like this… As long as I can pay my bills then I can be creative at all other points in my day.
The album is out next week. The calm before the storm?
I am calm, yeah… Because I have no expectation. I’m not building things up in my head, I’m just taking it day by day. You can’t predict these things so you just need to sit back and see how the music goes down! It was actually supposed to come out last year but I missed the deadline. I thought about putting out some singles instead but Hype told me he wanted to put out a full album and I can’t argue with Hype!
I read an interview with you a few years ago where you said you were running down your DJ time and starting to work on a big body of work. Was that you planting the album seed?
That was me knowing I wanted to contribute something different. It wasn’t quite the album seed but it was the start of a new creative for me. When you’re DJing out all the time you lose that studio feeling, you lose that vibe. When I was DJing I was getting studio time once or twice a week. That’s just not long enough for me! I’m a studio man, through and through but when the DJ stuff came through it was great because I had money and everything was secure but you lose that creativity.
It’s a big gamble isn’t it? Weighing up financial security and studio time…
Kinda. But if you’re a real junglist then you start with no money anyway! It’s always been like this… As long as I can pay my bills then I can be creative at all other points in my day. So the money was never a thing. Of course it’s great to have the money from DJ shows but it’s not the main thing. I think DJs lose sight of that sometimes…
Has D&B lost sight of that in general?
The spirit is still there lingering. All it takes is a big bang for everything to come together. The commercial side of drum & bass has been a great introduction for people to get into drum & bass and jungle and dig deeper. Now that side is passing a little, it’s time for us to get back to making forward-thinking creative beats. That’s the thing; all the guys who have made big drum & bass hits came from the underground and can still make those big bangs. Ground level is where you earn your respect, that’s where I come from…
I didn’t realise quite how ground level your roots were. We’re talking 1990/1991 and hundreds of tunes since. Have you kept a count of your productions?
No! Haha. I didn’t even back in the day when you could count them on two hands. It was always next one, next one, next one. Numbers never mattered. As long as I was making beats and being creative that was all I wanted and all I have done.
Let’s go through some pivotal records in your career…
My first ever track Autoload on Coolin Records. I wrote it under the name Protocol. This was a benchmark. I referenced every tune against this for a long time after. It charted in the top five dance tracks when it came out which was a mad achievement for a first tune. Everything had to be on that level afterwards.
The next pivotal one was when I signed with Ibiza Records and changed my name to Potential Badboy. Let’s Go. This changed everything again for me and I could feel things progressing.
After that I signed to SOUR Records they let me take things to another level with a bigger studio and the freedom to set up my own label 3rd Eye which I could do my own thing on and release what I wanted. I was able to employ Sid who ran the label with me and freed up time for me to work on my debut album Forward. It was definitely one of those moments where everything felt like it was going up a gear – for me personally and for the scene with artists like Shy FX and T Power who were also signed to SOUR at the time.
Yeah, Shy FX has some very complementary words about you… He says you’re an early mentor and a huge influence on how he makes music.
It’s very nice of him to say that. I still remember meeting him for the first time. He was really young but so talented. You could just see he was going to go places. He must have been about 14 or 15. He couldn’t even hear his tunes being played in the clubs! He’d been listening to my tunes and we talked about beats and helped each other with our drums, exchanging drums. It went both ways, he says I influenced him but he influenced me just as much. His spirit kept me going!
Did you ever actually collab on a tune together officially, though?
No! We missed a trick there. We helped each other with loads of elements and parts but we never actually collaborated on anything. We should have done.
Big time. So then you moved into garage for a while didn’t you?
Yeah, for a few years, I got deep into the garage scene releasing tracks as Chris Mack. We did a whole load of tracks and remixes. I guess the most pivotal one was Set It Off.
That track is definitely my favourite from that era. It was a really exciting time, but in my heart I knew I wanted to go back to jungle, I’d been making drum & bass again and was thinking of releasing it myself. I phoned Hype to see what he thought of it. He came round, I played him a few tunes and he told me to sit on the tracks and he’d be straight back. True to his word, he came round with a big bag of money and some equipment and signed me up.
Yeah! That’s how different the scene was back then.
Play It/Kick It was your Playaz debut and your comeback to D&B. Was that one of the tunes you played him?
It wasn’t actually. It was a tune with Yush on it. I was thinking of releasing it myself but he wanted to release that on Playaz. One thing led to another and the first tune ended up being Play It Kik It
You and Yush go way back…
Way way way back! He plays a large part in my life. He’s been right back at the beginning. We grew up together and went to a youth club together. He’s one of my closest friends.
So having him on the album is a really important and personal thing…
Completely. He’s been there from the start and stayed with me through the ups and downs .
There are a few vocalists on the album who go way back aren’t there? MC Det for instance…
Yeah, he’s a proper friend. Junior Dangerous is too. He’s a brother. I can relax and play him anything and he’ll find the right vibe for it and nail it.
A lot of artists say it’s the vocalists that take a long time to lock down for an album but it sounds like everyone was all mates on this so it came together very naturally…
Without a doubt. The album is a very personal thing for me full stop. Everyone on there plays a very important role in my life in one way or another. That’s how an album should be, though, right?
Definitely. Feeling Fats on Gimme The Rhythm…
The Singing Fats! He’s got one of those original voices that you cannot mistake. On that particular track I actually gave him a different instrumental but I felt I hadn’t done him justice with the beats so I made a whole new Fats-inspired track which became Gimme The Riddim.
What’s your personal favourite?
Ride It. It’s a vocal my sister did over 20 years ago. I made it after my mother passed away and it’s very personal. It’s a very natural track in the way it was written and how it sounds: what you hear is what I felt at the time. Songs like this are why I do what I do.
And what do you do next?
I’ve got another album’s worth of material! At least another 16 tracks! I’ve got a lot of plans and collaborations in mind too. Loads of plans, basically. There are so many talented artists out there, we just need to join the dots and get people working together in unity again…