In 1995 I recorded the first of a series of mixtapes featuring some of the drum & bass records I’d started buying obsessively. I was a 16-year-old with a set of cheap belt-drive decks in a suburban Cardiff bedroom, whose burgeoning interest in techno and house was rapidly expanding in all directions. UK bass music was evolving from jungle into drum & bass, mainstream attention was starting to build around Goldie, and news of groundbreaking clubs like Speed had filtered out to the provinces, along with mind-blowing records on labels like Good Looking, Basement and Metalheadz. I lapped it all up.
At the same time, I’d joined what we’d now recognise as one of the earliest social networks, UK-Dance: an email-powered mailing list for fans of electronic music and club culture. There’s a whole story to be written about that another time, but this unique text-based community allowed me to talk to all sorts of like-minded students, academics, musos, scientists and journalists in the UK and beyond, many of whom went on to become lifelong friends. When I started making mixtapes, I’d offer to do copies for some of the D&B-curious on the list.
Remember, this was long before any kind of music was available on the internet itself – there was no Soundcloud, no Spotify, no mp3 file-sharing, no digital radio. Drum & bass was almost exclusively available in the form of 12” vinyl and there were very few commercially available DJ mixes, although cassette multipacks from raves were still sold in record shops and copies of revered sets were swapped between friends like treasured artefacts. What UK-Dance allowed me to do was distribute my own ‘Drum & Space’ mixtapes (name suggestion courtesy of fellow Cardiff-based UKDer Tobias Peggs) far and wide. I lost track of how many I copied, but it was certainly multiple dozens of each of the four volumes, and I know many copies were made of those copies. They helped get me some early gigs in Cardiff, and I even went to DJ in Belgium largely off the strength of these.
My original master tapes were sadly lost in a house fire a while back, but luckily most of the records weren’t, so 25 years later, with a bit of time on my hands, I’ve decided to revisit the sounds of those mixes, as they played such a massive role in my life. This new mix isn’t a definitive document of an era by any stretch, and nor is it trying to be. There’s very little from Bristol here; there’s no Dillinja or Doc Scott; Reinforced and Moving Shadow are conspicuously absent; and it’s arguably a bit short on Amen breaks. What it does have is a lot of the records I used on the original sets, and a lot of tunes that have stuck with me for a quarter of a century.
It’s striking how well most of these have aged, particularly the more minimalistic productions (I’ll make no apologies for the preponderance of Source Direct and Photek here, in their various guises). Most of the records come from 1995, with a couple from the years either side, and I do think it captures the cusp between the slightly rougher, more jungle-infused sound of the first half of the decade, where serious breakbeat manipulation was still the primary focus, and the Bukem-dominated years that followed, where the beats were often relegated to simpler, rolling grooves to underpin washes of atmospheric pads, sampled jazz licks and electronic melodies.
I’d already found myself retreating to comfortingly familiar territory before the coronavirus crisis, digging into my record collection to produce a series of mixes showcasing classic Detroit-influenced mid-90s techno, but in these isolated times I’ll admit I’ve found even more solace in nostalgia. Playing some of these records again brings that era flooding back, when I’d buy Metalheadz, Mo Wax and Metroplex records in the same shopping trip; when I’d make pilgrimages to London to visit near-mythical clubs; when it felt like music was breaking boundaries every week, and anything was possible. If you were there then I hope it brings some of it back for you, and if you weren’t, I hope it at least gives you a glimpse into a magical time.
- Source Direct – A Made Up Sound (Metalheadz, 1995)
- Photek – Complex (Photek, 1995)
- Wax Doctor – The Spectrum (Metalheadz, 1995)
- Intensity – Shadows (Basement, 1996)
- Aquarius – Aquatic (Good Looking, 1994)
- Lemon D – Urban Style Music (Metalheadz, 1995)
- Palm Skin Productions – The Beast [System mix by Roni Size, Krust & Suv] (Mo Wax, 1995)
- Carlito – Heaven (Creative Source, 1995)
- Hidden Agenda – Is It Love (Metalheadz, 1995)
- J Majik – Lush Life (Infrared, 1995)
- Peshay – Endless Thoughts (Basement, 1995)
- Alex Reece – Basic Principles (Metalheadz, 1994)
- Neil Trix & Danny Mills – Pearls (Bang-In Tunes, 1995)
- Mouly & Lucida – Chilled (Timeless, 1995)
- Sentinel – Toulepleu (Basement, 1996)
- Chameleon – Links (Good Looking, 1995)