I vividly remember hearing Aquisse on Fabios Kiss FM show back in December 1995 and being completely mesmerised. It was one of the first times I felt techno fused with drum and bass perfectly. Where was your head at when you made it?
I always listened to a lot of Detroit techno and I grew up listening to electro so it was always on the cards that a fusion would happen. Whenever I went to the studio it was always with the intention to do something fresh, something that hadn’t really been attempted. No one had really done the whole drum machine beat thing, or I certainly hadn’t really heard it executed, so it was an avenue I wanted to explore.
It seems funny to hear you say “went to the studio” now when most people have a studio in their house or on their laptop! Where did you go and what set-up did they have?
This is true, technology has made the ‘studio’ smaller and more accessible these days, plus you can do things on a Mac that you could only of dreamt of 20-25 years ago. Even if you could it would take hours. We used to use a studio in the Arts centre in Luton, 33, which was the musical hub of the town. The guy we used predominately was Simon, who went on to record for 720 as Odyssey, who set up his own space in his garage. I found in the studio that I had to be ‘aggressively’ creative in the sense that there was a time constraint and it was costing money! Also, you had the benefit of an engineer who would do the boring stuff whilst I could get on and create. The set up would have included a sampling keyboard which I think at the time was an Ensoniq ASR 88, an Atari running Cubase, a small Roland sound module and the desk, minimal but all that was needed.
I hear ya, people try so hard to copy the 90’s sound (which isn’t a bad thing) but I do wonder what drum and bass would sound like now if people copied the ethics of producing back then instead? Trying to be creative, different etc… what do you think?
I think drum and bass suffered from what most upwardly mobile genres suffer from which is copycats and complacency. It seemed to me even at the time that people were happy to keep peddling out the same sound over and over. I think it is what happens when a genre becomes popular. The creativity is squeezed and maybe people start to run out of ideas or maybe just had one idea which they regurgitated over and over. The scene was new and fresh at the start of the 90’s so it’s obvious there will be a great deal of innovation in this infancy stage. D and B has come a long way now and I think has morphed into many different strands but has been pigeon holed into sub genres a lot more which is inevitable. There is still creativity and innovation but it is a lot more on the fringes. I think the progression would of bought us to this point whatever had happened, innovators do the innovating and the followers carry on following.
Back then music was made pretty much for clubs, vinyl and the odd radio show. It was played by Fabio at the Speed night in Germany after Drift to the Center and sounded great even after a hard hitting amen track like that. Were you surprised with how well received Aquiesse was?
Yes I was to be fair, it was so different , I loved it personally and still do I think it’s probably some of my best work. I never really made stuff for the dance floor so to hear it on the radio when Fabio played it wasn’t a big surprise as that’s where it was positioned, but it was nice that it got played out a lot because it vindicated that good music should and could get played out and be well received. It was a great period for D and B, a lot of cross pollination and open minds. We were making a lot of stuff around this time, some of it had to be held back a year before we dropped it because people were only just catching up.
Tell us what it was like crafting this new genre of music alongside another pioneer, Blame.
It was a real buzz, we would go work in the day and hit the studio certain evenings and weekends. I remember Tuesday used to be one of the evenings and the anticipation/expectation of getting in there and doing something was incredible. I think this definitely added to the vibe, it makes you hungry to create and adds that other layer to the productions. The next day we would have a cassette tape going in the car to go over what was produced the previous day. Aquisse was one of the tracks I distinctly remember putting in the tape after the previous evening’s four hour session and knowing that the tune was done. I had done a rough mix down to tape and it was perfect, one of those real magical moments. When working in tandem with Blame, we would spend a lot of time looking for records no one had sampled, we also tried not to listen to too much other D and B to avoid being influenced by it. We definitely operated on the fringes which influenced the title of a Gliderstate piece we did called ‘Outside Looking In’.
I was talking to another producer the other day and he said the same thing about not listening too much to current music as it can influence your own productions. Who else used to be in the studio with you apart from Odyssey and Blame? What was the atmosphere like in there?
It’s true, I would much rather of been influenced by the other stuff I was listening to which was jazz, detroit techno, hip hop and other downbeat stuff. We were aware of what was going on but didn’t pay much attention, we very much had our vision and statement of intent. When we did our first ever track called ‘Death Row’ there were quite a few of us in the studio, I am sure it was another dude, Spon, who engineered and there was a bunch of us in there, four or five of us. You could say it would of been our ‘crew’ but it was Blame and I who did the producing, that’s no disrespect to them guys but we just had that drive. That first time was organised chaos I guess we had ideas, but obviously we were just feeling our way, starting out. But the track was drum and bass in its purest form. The rest of the time it would be Blame, Odyssey and myself or a combination depending who was working on what. It could often get quite smokey and laid-back, you would get locked into a groove but be sampling and seeing what worked together at the same time. You could go in with a rough idea and come out with something totally different because the samples you had in mind wouldn’t click and others would. The Aquisse session had something magic going on where everything just fell into place and the track was done in a relatively quick time.
It’s definitely one of those tracks where every element compliments and sits well with each other. So what was your next step once you were happy with it?
It’s got some great call and response in there which I love in tunes, it’s one of the motifs I was really interested in and used quite a lot. I was doing a few tracks at or around the same time, so I had Aquisse, Punk Jazz and Feverish all on a DAT. They were three tracks that really summed up where I was at around that time. We were working with, amongst others at the time, the guys down at Vinyl Distribution who distributed MJazz and ran the Precious Materials label who we did 2 Icons EP’s for. I played the fresh trio of bits that I had to them and they were really well received. They really wanted to put the tracks out so it was decided that they would be split across two EP’s, subsequently with another track which was recorded later Synthetic Pleasure. These were the ‘Pseudo Jazz’ EP’s. Promotional copies were sent out and it started to get a lot of radio play and interest. At the same time Vinyl Distrubution were doing some work with R & S Records and Renaat heard the original 3 tracks that I had delivered to them. They were putting together the ‘In Order to Dance 6’ compilation which was an all D and B affair and wanted to use my 3 tracks. That was a real nice touch and I think helped catapult the music a bit further forward and to a wider audience. Aquisse was licensed to a few other compilations, Rob Da Bank put it on the first ‘Sunday Best’ and I think Aquisse had that thing whereby it transcended D and B and stood on its own two feet.
R&S def understood the concept, Jacobs Optical Stairway (4hero), The Original Playboys (Alex Reece/PIM) and Wax Doctor all had releases through that label. I think they understood it more than some of the original drum and bass heads. In what direction did the success of that track take you?
It opened up a lot of speculation about label deals and stuff like that but there seemed to be a lot of talk at that time. Majors were starting to clamour for artists and D and B in general. We still had the Icons LP up our sleeve and had been progressing the Modern Urban Jazz label as an entity. We had written the majority of ‘Emotions with Intellect’ around 1994, I think we finished early 1995. It had been sitting on the shelf until we and the distributor thought it was time. It eventually dropped in 1996 and was critically acclaimed, it was Musik mags Album of the month and was licensed to React for a US release. I went out to the States to do a DJ tour and to promote the LP . I was dipping into more experimental tracks like’ Supernouveau’ and ‘Lexicon’ for MJazz also.
You revisited the track back in 2006 with Neil Trix (FBD Project). How did that update come about and how did you select the artists for the 2010 remix EP?
I always made a point of going up to Coventry to do stuff with Neil, I had been doing so probably since the late 90’s into the 00’s. We had done all the Hardleaders stuff, a mini LP under the Ortem moniker for Pivotal and we had tracked out other bits and pieces along the way for various projects. Neil is a hugely knowledgeable and talented guy, grossly underrated. So we were always doing something, that track (Aquisse 06) came about really by accident. MJazz had taken a back seat for a while so when we were doing the remix it didn’t even really start as a remix, but as we were writing it we were like “that’s a bit Aquissey ” it was like we were channelling the past through the present. So it just kind of came about that way, I suppose it was never a direct remix, more of a reinterpretation or as you put it an update, which is apt. The remix LP we did was exactly that and I did it to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Aquisse. The remixers were all guys who we were working with at the time, friends and people we thought would give a good rendition. It wasn’t about getting some bunch of heavy hitters in to just give it an overhaul, it was about getting producers I liked to reimagine it. A few of the guys on there had always said if you ever want a mix give me a shout so when the time came I did.
What do you think makes a good remix?
A good remix is a fresh look at the original. I think when done well it’s a thing of beauty. I think when you get an artist from another genre or style its interesting, I think that a good remix should be exciting and either take the original that step further or totally rip it up and reconstruct it. I think they are the two ways to go. I think a good remix should be a good track in itself and be able to stand up and not just have to rely on being a remix of another track.
Finally, what does Aquisse mean?? I’ve googled it and couldn’t find anything?
The meaning of Aquisse is out there!! It has been disclosed in another interview, it was basically a fruit drink that Robinsons were trialling that they never continued with. I saw the name back at the time I was doing the track, in fact I saw a bottle of said drink and thought it was a cool name !! It was something to do with the essence of water or so it said! Space and water, in my head, have always been themes in my music so it seemed to fit well.