Cornerstone Tracks
El-B recalls five key records from his formative clubbing years

“I knew that conformity would be a big problem for me.” – this is how Lewis Beadle, the producer better known as El-B, described his entry into making music back in the mid-90s. Not long after this juncture, he was putting out classic after classic as one half of Groove Chronicles, the seminal UK garage outfit he engineered and produced for alongside Noodles. By 1999, he’d carved his own sound as a solo artist, honing a dark style of 2-step under the alias El-B. It was a resolutely moodier approach, inspiring a wave of artists who would go on to kickstart the UK’s burgeoning dubstep movement. He channelled this style in close partnership with J ‘Da’ Flex via their imprint Ghost, a label that packed in quality for what it lacked in quantity (though the pair recently dropped a new release marking its 20th anniversary, Ghost has averaged around one release a year since its inception).

Beadle is one of garage and dubstep’s certified pioneers, but he was deep into another scene through his formative clubbing years. Originally a techno and drum & bass head, he first caught the electronic music bug at acid house raves across south London as a teenager. He gave making music a shot off the back of these early party experiences, but it was only when he tried his hand at garage that things properly clicked. Speaking in advance of his back-to-back with dubstep and UK garage trailblazers Horsepower Productions and Dan DNR at Refractions next weekend, he outlined the Cornerstone Tracks from his teenage years, and how this led him on his pathway to becoming one of the UK’s most influential electronic producers ever.

Earth People – Dance [Underworld]

I'm starting with this track because it was the record that stole me from hip-hop when I was 13. Once I heard this track on Sunrise FM back in 1989, I never looked back. Within two weeks, I had a pair of decks. I never purchased another hip-hop cassette album ever again.

So you started DJing at 13? What type of stuff were you playing at your first gigs?

I started producing tech house and techno, then onto attempting drum & bass, but I didn’t start accepting bookings until I’d released The Roots Of El-B on Tempa. So I’ve been playing dark garage from the start.

Phuture – Acid Tracks [Trax]

I’m also starting with this track because it came swiftly after the purchase of my first pair of decks. Upon walking into my first house party as a teen at an empty estate block apartment somewhere in south London, I promptly got stuck in, and heard this track played around three times throughout the party, along with the amazing B-side. I'm pretty sure Phuture inspired me to start producing my own music.

How did producing balance out with your DJing – was there a tipping point where you started focussing on making tracks over collecting?

No, I’ve always focussed on production first. My gigs are a result of my production catalogue, and my ability to stay relevant.

Steve Poindexter – Computer Madness [Muzique]

I was totally underage and off my face in a hot, sweaty, smoky, strobe-lit West End club when I heard this track for the first time. It was the first track to blow my mind in a club (Krypt, Brixton) & was the moment I decided to produce music. It is no doubt one of the most basic dance tracks ever made, and the track name describes the vibe perfectly. It’s the perfect alternative to an “acid” track.

So now we’re in the early 90s, right? How do you remember the London scene at the time?

By this point the scene had coined the phrase “hardcore”, due to the flood of UK producers entering the scene who were using break samples.

Joey Beltram – Energy Flash [R&S Records]

The impact R&S Records had on the UK dance scene through to the mid-90s was unrivalled. At the time of release, nobody had heard a bassline quite like it, and with that vocal, it was sure to be a massive club hit across Europe. From what I remember, the record shops couldn’t sell them fast enough.

What was your go-to record shop at the time?

The shop to be seen hanging out, to meet industry faces and to get hold of everything was Mash fashion store on Oxford Street. There was a small record shop in the basement.

Adam F – Metropolis [Metalheadz]

The night Adam F brought the dubplate of Metropolis to Metalheadz and gave it to Goldie to play for the first time was a moment that myself and many others will never forget. Though it was his first on the label, after three reloads the name Adam F was certified. The long scary intro synth alone was enough to put a dancefloor into a state of suspense.

Were the Blue Note sessions the starting point for you getting into drum & bass?

Going to Metalheadz was a guilty pleasure for me because I was already carving a respected name for myself as Groove Chronicles in the garage world. So going to Metalheadz was straying from the task at hand, but with the remix of Goldie’s Believe, it soon paid off.

Was there a clear progression from making drum & bass as Lewis Speaks to UK garage?

It was a progression from trying to find myself in tech house and drum & bass for a year, to nailing my own sound almost straight away within garage. A well-connected music head had suggested to me that if I started making garage, he’d be able to help get the tracks cut and released. The UKG scene was brand new at the time, and growing fast. I hated the happy-go-lucky sound of garage at the time, so if I was going to stomach it, I knew that conformity would be a big problem for me.

Friday 30th August

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