Photography: Megan Batin
“I want to be a record label that doesn’t sell records,” Dave Shaw grins as we sit face to face over a coffee in Cardiff city centre.
An individual who has already accomplished so much in this scene, if anybody is going to pull it off, you could bet your house on it being him. “I love drum and bass music, so I want Concrete Junglists to encapsulate everything about the genre. It just sums me up. I love the culture, I love the community; I just want drum and bass to stay magical to me.”
Meeting in our local Starbucks felt like the perfect location. Not only due to the high-tier taste of the cappuccinos and chai tea lattes we sipped on over the course of the next two hours, but due to the fact that Dave has admitted that if it wasn’t for his exploits in streetwear and promoting, he’d most probably get a job in his local coffee shop.
A legend of this city’s creative landscape and a true icon in the history of the Welsh drum and bass scene, David Shaw, also known under the moniker DroneBoy, has cemented himself as the incredibly talented, yet so elusive, owner of the drum and bass-centric streetwear and events brand Concrete Junglists.
A man that has always stayed hidden behind his brands, whether that be Concrete Junglists, DroneBoy, his long-standing Aperture events, or other past projects, Dave’s unadulterated love for the music has seen him continuously pursue a life fully immersed in the scene, even if it has been without attaching his own face to the imprints he’s left behind over the years.
As a young Cardiff raver, Dave was influential in my integration into the scene. Without the raves he threw and the clothes he made, I most probably would have never been writing this feature to start with. So, now a stone’s throw from the club he held his first rave in and the first shops he opened in the beautiful city centre of the Welsh capital, we sip our coffees and delve into his life, the drum and bass scene, and just about everything in between. Read on to learn all about the one and only King of the Concrete Jungle…
A proud skater punk in his teen years, Dave felt that youth culture was considerably more tribal in its nature during the time he was growing up. “It was so tribal that I could tell what music you were into by a snapshot of your shoes,” he tells me. Although partly down to Dave’s admiration and expertise in the field of streetwear, his memory of Cardiff’s melting pot of musical cultures is a sentiment that he obviously looks back on with pride and fondness.
Enamoured by the diversity of music tribes that were booming in Wales’ capital at the time, Dave began to treat the city as a playground. Accompanied by best friend Lincoln Barrett, also known under the legendary moniker High Contrast, the Penarth-born boys would hop across punk, hip-hop, drum and bass, garage, and reggae events all in the short space of a singular night out.
“Every event was like walking into a brand new culture,” Dave passionately explains as he reminisces on his youth. “Garage nights meant Moschino, if you walked into a hip-hop night it would be things like Triple Five Soul and Ecko, and drum and bass nights would be full of Bench and Addict.”
Dave continued to use Cardiff’s incredible 90s nightlife to his utmost advantage. However, potential tragedy struck when he was given a years ban from Metro’s, a popular youth venue of which he was a regular attendee. Instead, the entrepreneurial essence that’s followed him throughout his career started to appear: to solve the problem, he started his own events brand.
Launched in Oz Bar, which is now sadly the basement of a KFC, Dave, Lincoln and friend Gareth Truth ventured into the unknown world of events organisation and promotion. Pulling together as one, and learning on the job, each of them did their bit to ensure that the nights became a success. However, while youthful versions of High Contrast and Truth began to flourish as incredibly talented DJs, Dave couldn’t connect with the sought-after position behind the decks as it prevented him from doing what he loved most; Dancing.
“Everything was done out of necessity back then. I got kicked out of a club, I said we’d make our own club, and somehow we cobbled it together. We had to beg, borrow, and steal to put a club together.”
Although he found himself DJing in the earlier days, he found that as he played his favourites tunes to the crowd, he wouldn’t hear them played again for the duration of his own time on the dancefloor. Whilst this predicament presented an unideal situation in the infancy of the Neuropol time at Oz Bar, Dave quickly decided to instead plough his energy into the promotion and graphic design side of the night, a decision that would go on to define the next twenty years of his life.
As the Neuropol night, which was named after the font that Dave used to make the flyers with, turned into a weekly success, he was regularly back and forth to Cardiff from Bristol throughout his four years of university. After finishing his studies for the week on Friday, Dave would hop on the train and make the short trip through the Bristol Channel to get ready for his big night of promoting.
In spite of the fact that Neuropol had become a success, Dave’s time in Bristol was somewhat underwhelming due to the lack of connection he’d found with his course.
“I just remember walking into the graphic design room and thinking that I’d been studying the wrong thing this whole time,” says Dave, explaining about the time he walked into the design room during his final year of university. “I love this. I need to do graphic design”. After being told by his GCSE art teacher that he was not good enough to stay on the course a few years prior, it’s no surprise that he subconsciously steered clear of a pursuit of a more artistic study while at university.
Having now finished his degree and still running the Neurpol night, Dave was struggling to find work. So, after deciding to continue his studies to Master’s level, his end of year project, which involved finding a real-world club, remarketing it, and then making them a website, led him to work with Cardiff-based club Moloko. Incredibly impressed with Dave’s work, the managers went on to offer him a full-time job at the club.
“I was working shitty jobs for shit money and then they asked me, would you work for us for 25 grand a year? I said I think I could manage that with a massive grin on my face.”
Now an employed graphic designer, Dave was in dreamland straight out of university. This feeling was accentuated by the fact he could do his weekly work on Monday alone, leaving him another four days to design DroneBoy bits and graphics for other people. It was also around this time that best friend High Contrast had just signed to Hospital Records. Travelling down to London frequently at the time, Dave became friendly with Hospital co-founder Chris Goss and emphasised to him that “we need to bring Hospitality to Cardiff”. Fast forward a few months and he successfully became the first promoter to ever bring a Hospital event outside of London.
An iconic night for Welsh drum and bass was written into the history books: Moloko hosted many great names such as London Elektricity, Cyantific, High Contrast, and MC Wrec for free if you arrived before 11 pm or a mere £3 after. “It was just incredible to put on those events”, Dave explains with an expression that pays homage to those unforgettable days. “I’d already tasted promoting, but to put on those events was something else.” As the club went from one success to another, it was eventually sold and turned into a shirt and shoe vibe of club. Almost all members of staff lost their job in the process. Dave didn’t, but it wasn’t in keeping with the life he wanted to pursue.
“I stood up and told them I’m done. That was the last day I worked in that club,” he explains. He announced his immediate exit in a meeting with the new owners and walked out with his head held high, planning his new ventures. It was from this that DroneBoy went on to form his relationship with the one and only Clwb Ifor Bach (also known as Welsh Club), a relationship between promoter and club that has given Cardiff some of its most iconic drum and bass raves in the last 20 years. On top of this, Hospitality events in Cardiff were transported up the road to the Students Union, upping the capacity from 300 to 3000 in a matter of months.
A flyer from an old Aperture X Hospital Records event at Cardiff’s Student Union
Fast forward to 2007 and we arrive at a historic night for Welsh drum and bass music. Best friends from childhood, one being the country’s most notable drum and bass artist in High Contrast, and the other Droneboy, who had dedicated the last few years of his life to promoting the genre in his hometown, Aperture brought High Contrast’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance album launch to Clwb Ifor Bach.
“It was carnage. The police were in the club thinking what the fuck is going on. All three floors were packed, the floors were wobbling, and as soon as I walked into a room my glasses were instantly steaming up. It was just so good.”
With queues way beyond the end of the street, three riot vans watched the crowd, and floorboards literally shaking on the top floor of Clwb, Dave had successfully just thrown one of the city’s most iconic drum and bass events. Whilst his venture as a promoter was truly flourishing, his exploration into the world of Droneboy was only just beginning.
Approached by local DJ Moneyshot to design a mixtape cover whilst working at Moloko, Dave was told about the graffiti artists who took the comic book Cheech Wizard and sprayed it up in underground subways in the US. Dave went on to tell me that it had become synonymous with New York City street culture, so, being the creative he is, he explained to me “I went home and thought to myself I’d design the British version”.
For years, Droneboy, the traffic cone championing Adidas shelltoes that became instantly recognisable around Cardiff, was plastered around the Welsh capital by Dave. However, it was around the time that Dave handed over his Aperture brand down to the next generation of promoters, leading Dave to finally venture into the world of clothing that he had for so long been entranced by. “I was so enamoured by streetwear culture, tribes, and clothing. I decided, I want to give that a go now,” he explains.
Although he’d created a superb community around the brand, which slightly ventured away from drum and bass but included the likes of Welsh rock/grime outfit Astroid Boys, Dave’s lifelong connection with everything at 170 beats per minute pulled him back toward a life more centric to drum and bass. “Always in my life, jungle and drum and bass drags me back. It always calls me back” he admits with a smile on his face, clearly indicating that this return to his beloved community was far from a chore.
It was during the curation of his last DroneBoy collection that Dave truly felt the genre re-calling his name. Struggling with a tough bout of creative block, bringing up a young child, and dedicating most hours of his working day to the running of the DroneBoy shops, Dave signed off the project by releasing two DroneBoy t-shirts that were decorated with the term ‘Concrete Junglist’. “They literally flew out, so from that moment, I shut down DroneBoy and started Concrete Junglists”, explains Dave who did the artwork for DRS’s album Light Language earlier this year. Fast forward seven years and the brand is now one of the most iconic in drum and bass clothing today.
“I look back now chronologically and everything I’ve done has led me to this point. I had to build up my skills as a graphic designer, I had to be a promoter and a photographer, and then I had to run a streetwear company.”
This is only a mere snapshot into Dave’s story (check out this podcast to find out even more, especially the tragedies that have unfolded during his life) It’s clear as day that all of his entrepreneurial exploits over the years have led him to the place he was always meant to be. During these seven years, Concrete Junglists have released garment after garment, each with designs as beautifully intricate and idiosyncratic as the last. They have also thrown countless top-tier raves in the Welsh capital, undeniably stamping a legendary mark on the scene, paving the way for countless DJs and producers, and forming a wonderful community in the process.
“I was just immersed in the culture. I was a fan,” says Dave who hopes drum & bass will remain a magical world defined by mystery and music that it is for everyone at their arrival upon the scene. “When Lincon and I were young, he’d always want me to produce with him. We’d be sat in his room listening to a snare and all I’d think is this is really f*cking boring.”
He goes on to explain as we discuss the magic of not knowing how the music is made. We both can’t help but laugh at his description, but that comment quintessentially encapsulates what the man is all about. An unadulterated love of drum and bass. As we finish our coffees, Dave’s final words on record are simply “I just want to create magical events”. With that, we fist bump and go our separate ways.
Looking forward, Dave now has a small team of DJ’s supporting him and representing the brand, including Drum&BassArena Best Newcomer nominee Natty Lou, local legend Ransom and Double A Side. With an arsenal of clothes and designs at the ready, an overdue return to events at Clwb Ifor Bach on the way (Cardiff crew, keep an eye out for a date in April), a UK tour launching in 2022 and dreams of one day opening his Ceremony, his own Cardiff-based club to be built in an aura of inclusivity, he is set to continue to build his drum and bass empire far into the future.
Both poetically and quite literally, David Shaw is the King of the Concrete Jungle…