In Depth
DJ Hype and Shut Up And Dance Talk Music, History And The Importance Of Objectivity

At this point in his career, DJ Hype’s ‘legacy’, as he calls it (and rightly so for an artist so seminal that even the chant his MC, Daddy Earl, makes of his name is iconic), is assured. He’s the drum & bass don who can trace his legacy right back to the roots of jungle ... but the truth about Hype, as he will never tire of telling you, runs far deeper than that. His real route into music, in the pre-rave warehouse party era of the ‘80s, was as DJ in a soundsystem named Heatwave, he run alongside his childhood friends Carl Hyman (Daddy Earl’s twin) and Philip Johnson. These two are, of course, Smiley and PJ of Shut Up And Dance infamy and as they’ve been booked by their oldest friend to play a special ‘history lesson’ set at his 15 Years Of Playaz anniversary, they kindly sat down to give their own history lesson about their very special place in UK bass music culture.

So how do you feel about 15 years of Playaz at fabric?

Hype: Old. [smiles, as the SUAD boys laugh]. Yeah, it's nice. Everything with me is 15 years, 20 years and beyond. My radio show has been running since '94, so I think I'm the longest running legal drum & bass/jungle radio show. Next year Playaz is gonna go bi-monthly, but for the last 15 years it's been the last Friday of every month - and I'm very proud of that because who else has lasted so long? I weren't at the last one, because my mouth was fucked [Hype had a dental abscess which needed emergency treatment] but I heard the queue went round the corner and it had a massive turnout on the night that Andy C sold out Brixton, so I'm proud of that legacy, you know?

15 years is a pressure, especially this year: I mean every month, you want it packed. When you're doing something every month, people can get...not complacent but familiar, like 'it ain't nuthin', it's there every month' and it loses its specialness a bit. But it's been great... I mean when I try and think of how else I could do it, I couldn't ask for a better club, for the support and the style of music that I do. I mean I'm not pop - I'm not trying to be commercial – instead I’m underground and the club represents that. There's not much light, it's gritty and it's ALL about the sound and that's what attracted me to fabric in the first place. There's no other club like it.

How has the clubbing landscape evolved recently?

Hype: Whenever I turn on the TV they're talking about clubs shutting! In the last two years there's a lot more festivals happening in London too, even councils are putting on their own festivals, so you have to compete with all that.

The clubbing culture's changed in the sense that, well, we're not far from fabric here in Hoxton [in Daddy Earl's studio below his off-license on Pitfield Street], in Shoreditch, that whole area, twenty years ago it was empty barren warehouses, shut-down factories, who wants to hang about there? But now every shop almost has a bar or something. So people have a lot more choice, socially. So it's more difficult, but still – you do it right and it still works.

How has the crowd changed?

Hype: Well, I’d say it goes through a cycle, every four to seven years. Not just at Playaz, just in general. What you find is that say someone's been coming to the club for the last five - seven years and it's brilliant and he loves it, but now, all of a sudden the music's going through a change - because that happens every so often. For me, the average raving audience is probably 18-25. Not everybody, but the majority. Now what happens in that seven years is that that period, you're 18, 'this is fucking amazing!' and you're all about the music, but within that five - seven years, you get a job, you settle down with someone, you have a family, you become an adult and you grow out of clubbing... but what happens is that the next generation of clubbers come in and they have their slightly different angle to it all. So what happens is the music changes and the people that have been listening to it for the last seven years; not the ones who have gone to have families, but the ones who are still raving, they'll say, 'oh it's all shit now - it's just noise, it's kid's music now...' And I say to these people, I'm 47 years old, when we [gestures to the SUAD boys] were doing soundsystems, way before fabric, before the rave scene, that's what we were known as - 'the kiddie sound'… 'It's all kids that go to his rave!' I'm like, 'what do you expect?' Now I get the opposite response! I mean, not us, as we're in the game, but any friends of mine who are my age that come, say 'oh, it's all kids!' And I'll say, 'no, you're just old!' [much laughter from Smiley and PJ]

This year I've noticed that change. You get someone saying 'I'm 18 it's my first ever Playaz, oh it's fucking amazing...' and then you get someone who's been coming for five or seven years and they're picking at it. The music changes and I have these arguments with people and they always say, 'it's not like the old days!' and I'm like, 'mate, when I was first playing, my grandfather, he'd be supportive but he'd be like, “I'm not being funny, but it just sounds like a hammer banging to me!" [Smiley and PJ both laugh wistfully] Bang, bang, bang... what is this?”' And a lot of the so-called R&B/hip-hops crews too.... we had a reggae sound originally and i used to be the operator djing on 1 turntable I used to cut up hip hop for about half an hour in the night.

“Every era will look back on their time with great memories and contempt for what is happening now.” – DJ Hype

No one really mixed the two at the time, right?
Hype: Soundsystems did not mix musical styles back in the day really, we were probably one of the very first sound systems that I know of that played all styles of urban music (reggae, soul, early house, hip hop, rare groove etc) with me cutting up on two turntables alongside Daddy Earl, Smiley and PJ rapping and reggae emceeing. Back then no one really mixed all the musical styles, right? [SUAD shake their heads] So we're influenced by it all and we liked it all, so in a night, we'd do all that – but although we were well respected by older soundsystems we were still known as the 'kiddie sound'. Every era will look back on their time with great memories and contempt for what is happening now. And I say to them, 'everybody does that!'

I went on holiday last year and that was really good, because this boy who was about 15 recognised me and wanted a photo. So then the next day his mum came up to me and was telling me she used to rave to me about 15 years ago and she hates the music now! 'Oh, it's not what it was.' And I said to her, 'do you go out?' and she's like 'no.' So I says, 'well, your son there, he's a big fan and it's more important to me that he likes what I'm doing than you.' I like it all but you have to move with the times. I'm old, but I'm not 'old school'. When people call me that I get annoyed, because I think, 'Hold on I played those tunes when they were dubplates!' I'm not saying I'll never play an old tune, but I'm not 'old school'... I'm just old! [laughs]

So as were just saying about different musical styles, when you guys started out as Shut Up And Dance, you thought of yourselves as a rap crew, right?

PJ: Yeah, well we were just doing our UK rap thing, but we just made rap differently because we were originally dancers and had been into what is now known as street dance, so we wanted to make music to dance to, as well as rap. At the time UK rap didn't accept it, or to be more accurate they said, 'What the hell is this? It's too fast!' But then rave culture loved it as it was different - it was a tempo you could dance too, plus there was rapping on top, which was good…

Smiley: But it wasn't really good to us because we were upset with it. My brother Earl, he used to go to Dungeons on the Lea Bridge Road and he told me they played our tune ‘5,6, 7, 8’ and I was like, 'what do you mean they played our tune? Nah, nah, what do you mean they played our tune?' Because we thought we were Hackney's Public Enemy! We thought we were that good - and we totally put the work in.

I do totally hear that in the delivery - it sounds like Chuck D...

Smiley: So we weren't sure about this at all, but he said 'come on, you need to go and hear it.' So we went down there and heard our tune... and we were just like, 'fucking hell... fucking hell!'

PJ: And this is before hip-house and all that....

Smiley: Waaayyy before that... back when no one even knew what a breakbeat was! I mean, because we were proper hip hop heads, we listened to Westwood religiously on LNR…
Hype: I hear about people with a much smaller legacy than Shut Up And Dance get a much bigger deal made of them - but I blame them [nods at the SUAD boys] because they're so laid back. That said, they're getting an award this week [last Friday] for Lifetime Achievement at the Bass Music Awards.

Oh wow, okay...

Hype: But they don't get enough of that in my opinion. I mean I'm a big gob, I'll shout my legacy. [in a loud voice] 'What do you mean you was big? I was big! I don't remember you!' but they're more like [quieter voice] 'yeah, yeah, fuck it...' I mean, they'll live longer when I give myself a heart attack! Like Carl's brother always goes to me, 'that's why you're doing so good'. And I say, 'yeah, it might be good for my career, but it's not good for my health’, all that worrying. [smiles]

I was going to ask you, what is the secret to making a living as a very uncompromising underground DJ?

Smiley: That's just the way he is.

PJ: He's the blackest white guy you're ever gonna meet.

Smiley: That's the best way of putting it. He doesn't try to be anything; this is just how he is.

Hype: It's not an act. I meet people who don't know me well and they say 'oh well you're Hype, you're gonna be like that.' And I'm like, 'I've been like this for years mate... from way before I was ‘DJ Hype’...

From when you were just Kevin Ford?

Hype: Exactly. Because my mum's a bit of a nutter [smiles]. And where I grew up, I wasn't the big guy, so I probably had to shout to get heard.

“Everyone I remember is either mad, dead, prison or at best, in a shit job where they're just surviving. The only people that did well were us lot out of the music scene because it saved us from the streets…” – DJ Hype

So where did you grow up, for the record?

Hype: Stoke Newington in Hackney – this is our manor. Well, it ain't anymore! [much laughter] I mean I gave a speech a Shoreditch House last year and I said to them 'if it was up to me, I'd have been giving this speech at my mate's shop! You lot wouldn't have even walked round here 20 years ago!' But I'm not having a go at them for it; just stating a fact. It's like it's become 'their' area now.

I’ve always heard it said that the rave era, when SUAD first had success, was when working class people first realised they could make a living as a DJ or promoter or whatever...

Hype: See, we didn't do this for no living! When we were doing this originally, as kids [they first put on their own party at the age of 12], you did it because you loved doing it. And you've gotta remember that in that ‘80s era there was no internet, there was no computer games. Our generation, I mean when we did this in our teens, when it was just our hobby – there wasn't really much else going on. Everyone we moved with that didn't do music is either mad, dead, prison or at best, in a shit job where they're just surviving. The only people that did well were us lot out of the music scene because it saved us from the streets…

PJ: It's sad, but it's true...

Hype: But we come from the real school of hard knocks and racially - in the ‘80s - you've gotta remember, it's not mixed like now. When we were doing all this originally, I mean I was going to places where people were like, 'what are YOU doing here?' Some little 15-year-old white boy... I mean me and Carl's brother, we'd go to the blues houses and say we wanted to hold a dance there and nine times out of ten, it would be owned by a guy who's probably my age now, a big dread, looking at me like I was an alien! And it was such a battle.... but we always believed.

So as we were saying, a lot of the Shut Up And Dance stuff is very political, do you feel like that kind of political slant is missing from modern bass music?

Smiley: It's lost from all music...

PJ: From when we started, you must say something - express yourself, that's what music is! Whether you're DJing, MCing, producing…

Hype: Well, you guys did both, you did the conscious stuff and party stuff, it wasn't the KRS-One vibe all the way....

PJ: Sometimes the consciousness would be in the title of the track...sometimes further in. But if you're gonna make something, it's gotta say something about you as a person.

Hype: But some people just want [puts on a hilarious 50 Cent monotone] 'At The Club, In The Club'. But like you just said, some people are not going to think on that deeper level. I mean we will sit and talk about politics and the world in general, but some people just want the ‘sexy gyal, wind your waist’ stuff.

PJ: And the ‘how many chains have I got?’ type stuff too…

So how about that lifetime achievement award you guys are getting from the Bass Music Awards, huh? You're definitely an act people don't know much about....

Hype: I tell people about them all the time! A lot of people I meet look at jungle as my starting point. And they'll say: 'you guys back in the day....' and I'll say, 'hold up, I go back way, way further than that!' I'm proud of that, but I go back further than that and then I'll talk about Shut Up And Dance and nine times out of ten, if I'm being interviewed by someone in their 30s or younger, they won't have any idea about the legacy of these two - and if they do, it's very vague.

Me and Earl always talk about it; in the last two years, there a lot of acts that are all back, like pop bands reuniting – and I have no idea why these two aren't getting that. Shut Up And Dance should be constantly touring, because they are the originators, simple as that. When we was at United festival recently in Finsbury Park and they had a little slot, with Rat Pack and all that. But if you interview the jungle guys, most of the early guys and ask them their first musical port of call and it will be Shut Up And Dance. People like Andy C, Potential Badboy… all of them. Look at Kool FM, why did they come calling? Because of the Ragga Twins. And they were in a reggae sound before that...they weren't into the rave scene. These guys bought them in!

PJ: Basically they were big on the reggae sound called Unity pre-rave in the ‘80s, when we bought them to our label and signed them. We re-branded them as the Ragga Twins.

Hype: Shut Up And Dsnce really did fuse ALL styles of music into one melting pot of their own.

Hype: I think Earl knows music better than all of us. I mean everything, from what the youths are into, the grime names, the R&B, backwards or forwards, I always tell him he should of been a professional DJ but he was never interested. I always go to him for advice, outside of d&b anyway. I finally got him to get more involved around 2002 - I always used to sample his voice or record him on a tune, but he wouldn't perform live. I bought back one of my labels, Ganja, when I had just switched to digital producing and I'd done an EP where most of the tunes had his voice sampled on them. So I'd be playing a tune with his voice on it - at fabric, at Playaz - and everyone in the club, the booth would be saying 'what's this tune? Who's this MC? And I'd be like 'It's him!' [laughs]

Hype: Then about a year or two down the line and he said out of the blue - keeping in mind when SUAD were big he weren't interested, for the first, I don't know how many years of my career, he weren't interested - but then he eventually said he was gonna start coming out! After how many years? [they all laugh] But he always says he's glad he did it when he did, so he can appreciate it a lot more....

Smiley: It's like a getaway when he goes out....

Hype: Going back to my age... there was a time when you'd do it, totally natural and I could be making a tune and someone could come in and criticise it and I wouldn't give a fuck. But nowadays I find it harder to be as confident in the studio, if I was writing a tune and one of you guys came in and said, ‘that snare sounds a bit wrong mate...' I'd be all '...does it?' I'm not doubting my own judgement on other people’s music; just my own. But I do believe I will back on point soon.

[Playaz signing Tyke walks in]

Hype: He's one of my artists, [points to Tyke] and he'll tell you what I'm like when I'm writing in comparison to if I am A&Ring his or anyone else’s music. If he sends me a tune I can give him confident opinions all day long. But if I’m sat in a studio to co/write with him he'll tell you that I can be as useless as anyone - I need to get back that 'I-don't-give-a-fuck' feel' which you naturally have when you're young.

DJing is a lot easier for me , when you're in a club you get instant feedback, but in a studio, a sterile environment, you're relying on your own vibes. You could be making the best tune in the world - I mean I did a Jay-Z/Foxy Brown remix years ago. I did one version and thought it was rubbish. Then I made one that I loved and then invited everyone round and they liked version that I called the shit one! I mean, straight away they liked it and told me, that was the one. That really taught me something.

Ok, one more question and I think we're done.... Shut Up And Dance are booked for a 'history set', so how have you approached that?

PJ: Well, we just go from the beginning and go through hip-hop, jungle, drum & bass. Because we're really pre-drum & bass, it's not as fast...

Hype: Yeah, it's not jungle, yet they're the pioneers of it.

PJ: We can also fit in with that. We just go from our first tune '5, 6, 7, 8' and roll through all our classics, all the Ragga Twins stuff, all of that early stuff.

Smiley: We think it's important, especially for a younger crowd who will be at a Playaz night at fabric, to know the history...

“If you listen to all of our early stuff, on all the mixes, we were both on the mixing desk and you can hear bits are off-key and we're counting each other in... – PJ

So can I ask finally, as we've just mentioned it, how do you feel about being thought of as the guys who started jungle?

Hype: Well, I didn't say that; they don't even like the word 'jungle' - but if you look at all the guys who started it, then they looked to these guys as their inspiration. Shut Up And Dance didn't start out making 165-170 bpm traditional jungle, not at first (though they made some later on). But what they did is inspire the whole generation to be more creative in the first place, to break down the barriers.

PJ: It was our fusion of breaks with reggae vocals and b-lines, but we would also add house and techno sounds too. If you listen to all of our early stuff, on all the mixes, we were both on the mixing desk and you can hear bits are off-key and we're counting each other in...

Smiley: But it worked...

Hype: It worked because of the rawness of it. Back then I would say to Smiley, 'you can't do it like that....' But he proved me completely fucking wrong and stuck two-fingers up to the whole music industry in the process. That really inspired me and most of the original jungle lot. There's probably the odd one who didn't, but nine out of ten will see that SUAD were the only ones who did it the way they did it, fusing all those different elements and doing it in such a raw way. Now, its the norm - but these guys are the reason why!

I have a lot of criticism of today's music and I have to, as I'm an A&R man. But somebody criticised me last year, after told them their tune sounded like some other, older tune and they said to me, 'you've been in the game so long that everything must sound like something else to you!' I'd never looked at it like that before. I realised that whatever I might personally think about a tune, if I was 17 or 18, my frame of reference would be different, so I have to put myself into that mindset. You’ve gotta stay objective.

Friday 27th November

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