But it’s by pushing the envelope so far, that it stands to reason that a lot of those early tracks have maintained and accrued the sort of mythical longevity that artists will forever long for. But it’s also for that exact reason why Jim Baker’s decision to go it alone under the Source Direct moniker is one of the most exciting things to have happened in underground music for a long time.
We already noted his return and his seminal reputation when he first came back to Farringdon with a mixtape for us last August (which was accompanied by a gloriously in depth interview on The Quietus which delved deep into the early days of Source Direct and the then duo’s chase for perfectionism) but we’re still all too are eager to unearth the thoughts and motivations behind, which seemingly makes him the ideal subject for our on going Cornerstone Tracks feature.
Appearing in Room Two this Friday (27th March) and again on Friday 29th May, we take a detailed look at some of the stories behind the tracks that have become the back-bone of the Source Direct story to date.
Goldie - Terminator (Version 1)
Source Direct: Hearing this track was a huge turning point for me and it inspired me to want to make music. To be able to use technology to create magical sounds and do tricks with samples was a huge leap forward in relation to other UK underground dance music at that time. It was real cutting edge stuff that pushed the boundaries of the early UK rave sound. It also made me realise I could make music without any official music ‘qualifications’. It happened to be the all-important creative fire inside me that made me want to create future-thinking, original UK dance music. I've told Goldie a number of times how, because of this track, he is solely responsible for making me the producer, artist and DJ I am today…
You’ve noted the way that Goldie has influenced you a lot in the past, particularly by the way he has used specific concepts in his approach to production which was, like you said, incredibly forward-thinking. How did you take what Goldie did and incorporate it into your own music?
The way hip hop MCs use metaphors to portray a particular subject matter with, for example, dark humour is very thought-provoking, so to hear visual concepts within what is primarily an instrumental type of dance music was very important to me. To conjure up images and visuals within the listeners head is a strong part of the creation process for me when developing a concept within a track. Don't get me wrong, not all music I make aims to achieve a strong visual concept. I very much like to simply lay down a straight up dancefloor track that's all about the funk and the flavour however, as an artist I love to "see" a track: to have a concept in mind and to hear it back through the sonic experience.
Which track out of the SD catalogue do you think best illustrates this?
I've made many tracks that use a specific concept but I would suggest people listen to ‘The Crane’ or ‘Concealed Identity’ to hear a very animated martial arts theme. I believe both these tracks would work as a soundtrack to a film, advert or video game, which is something I'd really like to get involved in having seen how well ‘Call & Response’ worked in the first Blade movie. ‘Computer State’ is another good example; when hearing it, I think you can really visualise an industrial world run by machines, where robots are at the top of the food chain and the human race is desperately trying to survive. It's a bit of a gloomy though but listening to the track, you can hear how the sounds almost insult you and order you to work within this Bladerunner-esque world.
Public Enemy - Bring The Noise
I listened to a lot of Public Enemy while growing up. As one of the main early US imports of hip hop, they got me switched on to the scene and artists. Chuck D's lyrics were so powerful and politically minded, and as a young white kid brought up in the suburbs of North London, they made me aware of certain issues. The magical chemistry between Chuck D, Flavour Flav and Terminator X made a perfect collaboration in my eyes, and the production by Bombsquad brought in a fantastic set of samples and perfectly fused lyrics and topics together. My passion for Public Enemy did set my aside as one of the only kids in the area who listened to early hip hop. I remember I so wanted to see Public Enemy perform at Brixton Academy when they first came to the UK but couldn't as I was only 14/15 years old at the time - something that has stuck in my mind ever since.
"I wanted to create my own sound that in essence, was me simply illustrating my thoughts, sonically. I wanted to put my heart and soul into making the best music I could"
Watching video clips after the event blew my mind. The way they all performed and even the way they created a movement swell with their own unique sound (much like NWA, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, Cool G Rap & Polo BDP/KRS1). It's funny because, people thought I was mad listening to it but look where hip hop is today! All I have is my upmost respect for the early MCs and producers who truly believed in their own underground sound, it truly inspired me to create a sound unique to myself.
You say that you were perhaps one of the only 14/15 year olds listening to Public Enemy at the time, how did you even come across them in the first place? Did listening to music that was that powerful and politically minded later impact the way that you listened to and produce music? How do you think they influenced you to want to push boundaries and create a sound that was unique?
I'd say I was searching for something that simply sounded right to me at that age, though I believe it ultimately led me to find my calling in life and a way to express myself as an artist. As an angry youngster, I remember one of my few genuine mates, Leroy, brought me to It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and Fear Of A Black Planet and I was absolutely blown away by the power of the production behind such powerful, real and meaningful lyrics. In my mind, how could you ignore this new wave of American hip hop music after being flooded with, let's face it, a load of crap from the UK music industry during the '80s?
This kick started my journey of discovering new music and it became a simple progression after I heard UK rave and dance music - which were using the same breaks and samples within the hip hop scene, even sampling lines of words from classic lyrics. Yet, the sound was being made right here in the UK by the first rave producers (apologies I can't list you all, I wouldn't want to miss anyone out but you all know who you are) so it seemed like the music coming from both sides of the Atlantic was being fused together to create this amazing energy I had never experienced before. It created a culture around the music and it became an exciting burgeoning scene I longed to be involved in. Being the bedroom DJ I was at the time, it made me realise how important it was to stand out from the crowd in order to get noticed. I wanted to create my own sound that in essence, was me simply illustrating my thoughts, sonically. I wanted to put my heart and soul into making the best music I could. Simply put, that was the start of my true dedication to the dance music scene and self-discovery within music production. What could be achieved with various early music technology (which I eventually got my hands on after spending time at studios around London) was the start of sleepless nights and endless days to find out what would become my own sound.
It’s interesting that both Public Enemy and Metalheadz both created a movement within a movement when you think about how Metalheadz honed that darker, drum and bass sound. Looking back, do you think this was intentional or something that happened naturally? Do you think the level of production has always been the most important factor or is the motivation behind the music more important?
I agree that both hip hop and drum and bass represent a movement for the generation of that time. In my opinion, it's something that happened naturally thanks to the dedication of a lot of different people. However, you need the music to begin with so I believe it is of absolute importance to find a group of artists who are committed to pushing the envelope. Each scene would try to excite all types of people, from those who wanted to hear new tracks to others who simply wanted a night out with their friends and the producers inside the scene would be looking to push that new and unique sound. This fusion of minds pushed the music to the fore, essentially creating a fun time in the history of music and club culture.
I believe you are able to express yourself with very little equipment and if you consider how technology was only in its infancy back then, what deemed important was how true to yourself you are as an artist and how motivated you are to produce something that genuinely turns you on. If so, you'll probably find others who love it also. In my opinion, you need a reason to express yourself. Anyone can throw together a few layers of music that might sound right but unless it comes from your heart and soul then it will only ever get lost within a sea of others - hence why finding your own sound is something I strongly believe in. You'll know a Dillinja track as soon as you hear it. Same with Photek… and same with Source Direct.
Looking at the scene now, do you still feel there’s enough labels and artists out there wanting to break new ground? If not, do you think this has something to do with new technologies and the way that we consume and purchase music?
I truly admire anyone who takes risks are who are involved with dedicating themselves to making music or any other art form for that matter. It's not easy to earn a living from music and there's not enough people who do but there are those who simply make and release music and support artists purely because they want to. I know many people who are music lovers and have never made a buck but I say ‘why not?’ If it makes you happy then you should go for it. With new technology it has made it easier for people to start independent labels and artists to release their own music but this in turn will make it harder to stand out from the crowd which means artists have to now try and think of different ways to get their music out there…
Eric B & Rakim - Follow The Leader & Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em
I couldn't decide which of these two uses samples the best… Both create a story behind the lyrics through their great use of samples which sets the mood for each track. It's what I identified with in my quest to find and search out samples and breaks on old jazz, funk, R&B and film soundtracks.
Silver Bullet - 20 Seconds To Comply
The UK's greatest fusion of hip hop and dance music with use of strong visual samples from Robocop, this track inspired me to use samples that would bring a strong visual element to my music and put a picture in the listener's head - something that I think enhances the track's epic sonic story.
Goldie ft. KRS One - Digital
This track was a dream come true. Two of my most respected peers collaborating on a track? Bloody hell, it did not disappoint! The UK d&b sound with KRS One's rolling lyrics on top formed the perfect collaboration of UK d&b and US hip hop. I usually play this as my last track as it represents what I'm about perfectly. How I'd love to remix this track or even get to work with some hip hop MCs so I could fuse the futuristic SD sound with great lyrics… only time will tell.
You’ve noted the way each of these tracks use samples which is no surprise considering sampling has been fundamental to your production – can you explain your process? I’ve read before how you were very limited before in terms of what you could do with the sample, do you go through the same process today? I’m guessing you’re not as limited but is it better?
When you’re limited with the tools of your trade you simply have to improvise and get the most of what you have at your disposal. I'll not go too in depth about the processes I had to go through to cut up breaks, chop samples and resample sounds through outboard gear to get certain dynamics, but needless to say it was time consuming! When you only had 30 seconds of sample time to work with on one sampler, you had to learn how to get the most out of the kit and quick - trust me! These days people are spoiled: it's a lot cheaper to finance than it was twenty years or so ago and there's also a lot more on the market.
In my opinion, it's not about using as many plugins as possible or using every bit of kit you own, it's how you utilise each and every tool within the trade. Music has to have space to breathe and I hear too many tracks that throw in too many sounds and over complicate the mix or the track itself. Essentially, you could enter the most well equipped studio in the world but if you have the right idea for the track you wouldn't even need to use much equipment. I think it comes down to what you have in mind and what you want to achieve but each to their own I guess.
LFO - LFO (Warehouse Mix)
This is a track that sums up the early warehouse rave sound and a track I loved to play when it first came out. I even played it as my last track at the Metalheadz History Sessions 20th Birthday at Fire last year. It went off and was great to see a crowd of old and young go with everything thrown at them!
Top Buzz - Living In Darkness
Another tune that sticks in my head as a great soundtrack to my younger days. It also leans more towards the techno/warehouse sound but would mix perfectly with breakbeat tracks as it has that big epic sound to it. Randall used to mix this with tracks of the same era perfectly and is one of the reasons I rate him as one of the best d&b/jungle DJs this country has to offer!
"I'm feeling fresh again and buzzing about the music and enjoying that there's a new generation out to discover my catalogue past and present"
As you said, it’s always great to see a crowd appreciate the old and new but in terms of Source Direct how are you incorporating the music and even the things that you learnt before the hiatus into what you are pursuing now? In other words, how are you fusing together old SD with new SD?
At the end of the day, when I make a track that I know I've put my heart and soul into, it will be a Source Direct track. I’ve created a style of production that I know works. Now, I simply have some more tools in the studio which enables me to not only do things a lot quicker but also helps me to create sounds from scratch instead of sampling everything. Having said that, I truly believe sampling is an art in itself and I will always strive to use original samples that I can twist up and rearrange into all-new sounds or patterns. The sound I create by fusing samples and synth based sounds together is what I do and it is what I hope will keep Source Direct unique for years to come. I only wish I could be around in 100 odd years or so to see what people's reactions are when they hear the UK d&b sound and look back at the club culture of today.
Lennie De Ice - We are Ie
What can I say? The jungle/d&b track that would send any club or rave into meltdown! It defined the sound of that time and it's a track I still play to this day even though I've got a couple of decent modern remixes of it in the bag.
LTJ Bukem - Atlantis
An all-time classic from Danny Bukem! It brought that other worldly sound into the d&b scene while keeping a phat breakbeat (Amen!) backbone. It also taught me about working with sampled loops and not separate sounds. A great arrangement of a track with a vibe all to itself. Massive!
The classics are clearly close to your heart but I’ve also read how important the new generation of d&b is to you. What are they doing that is inspiring you and shaping the SD sound? If pushing boundaries and creating something original is one of the most important factors in your creative process, do you think this particular selection of yours (thought I know was insanely difficult to come up with) reflects the level of originality the d&b scene has today? As in, I think it’s interesting that you’ve not picked a track from the new generation of d&b to illustrate something that was particularly forward-thinking and that may have inspired you?
That's a hard question to sum up. I tried to narrow down ten tracks that truly made leaps forward in creating music that went on to establish a whole new scene, but they are the tracks that primarily inspired me to want to make and enjoy music and respect various musical styles that cross pollinate and help to keep sounds alive through new generations of producers and artists.
I wouldn't like to miss anyone of the new generation out, and trust me there are some new music makers out there that are blowing my mind and who made me sit up and feel inspired. Let's look at it as if the scene was the sea and though the tide goes in and out, the sea is always there and its waves are crashing about and mixing up the water. Source Direct’s tide was out during a time where I was dealing with issues related to, let’s say, enjoying the club scene too much, but now the tide is back in and together with the backing of good friends and peers I look up to, I'm feeling fresh again and buzzing about the music and enjoying that there's a new generation out to discover my catalogue past and present.
DJ Crystal - Let It Roll
The drum programming on this big club/rave track is another level. It's also a DJ's dream to mix. A long building pattern repeated with fantastic fills and FX every 8/16 bears simply calls for long beat mixing or chopping. It's a big soundtrack to my life and it's a track I play again and again. It also gives the DJ a great rollout of breaks and fills to mix the next track into - something that seems to be missing more and more these days. We now have tracks under 5 minutes in length. Bring back some DJ friendly mixing tracks all you producers out there or at least give us some extra-long versions to really use our DJ skills on.