You don’t get much deeper in the dance than Total Science’s Quiff and Spinback. You’ll be hard pushed to find two artists who’ve been more consistent than these two either. Steadily shotting out the good stuff, always trend-free, always on their own terms; whether it’s their own productions or the artists they’ve brought through, or worked with, on C.I.A, Total Science have remained legit and focused on real drum & bass since day one.
It’s been this way since Spinback and Quiff released their first Total Science single 21 years ago. The climax of several years as Funky Technicians, and a few more years as solo artists and card carrying true to the craft ravers, Method and Rotation launched their CIA imprint and marked the start of a trip that’s seem them ride some serious highs and lows.
As they celebrate this landmark collaborative anniversary with this outstanding retrospective mix we rang them both to get a little perspective of their journey and contributions to the scene. Here’s a potted recap on the last 28 years for the men born Paul and Jason….
Great mix. Was it hard to pick the tunes for it?
Spinback: Yeah it was. There’s been so many. What was just as challenging was making the transitions. The mix kind of goes in the progression of production periods. If you play one of our old tunes against one of our new tunes it sounds a bit odd so making those transition were important to the mix.
So obviously we’re celebrating 21 years of Total Science but the whole story goes back much further…
Quiff: Since 1991 when Paul was DJing and I was producing. By the time we set up the label we were fully addicted and there was no way we were going to do anything else. The minute we heard those early 4Hero and Guy Called Gerald tunes we knew it was the music for us. Coming from hip-hop, jungle and drum & bass encompassed all the musical styles we loved and we knew we had something to offer it musically ourselves.
Did you see it as a lifelong career right at the start though? No one knew how long rave was going to last so everyone seemed to be living in the moment…
Quiff: Very much in the moment. Literally the only ambition I had in life was to have Grooverider play one of my tunes. But yeah, it wasn’t like a business like it is now. The music was changing and a whole load of us who came into it came from raving. Especially here in the west country and the free party scene. That’s all we did in 1990/91. Spiral Tribe and all those raves.
Were you there at the legendary Castlemorton?
Spinback: Yeah we were there! Three days of no sleep on all sorts and Special Brew. Woke up really sunburnt on top of our mate Brillo. Our driver had bought a load of coke and fucked off somewhere so we were stuck there with no money for three days. We lived on a packet of Quavers and our mate sold his jacket for an E. But that rave really was legendary. I played, Die played and a whole heap of other DJs played as well.
You played there, too?
Spinback: Yeah I did alongside Die. The first big gig I ever did was Universe, back to back with him. Those parties were what fueled us and drove us to be honest. Me playing, Quiff making tunes.
Quiff: And both of us raving our fucking tits off! We came from the rave. Paul was DJing at the early ones and I was making tunes getting played there but most the time we were off our faces on the dancefloor!
Spinback: There’s a video on YouTube of Quiff’s missus being interviewed by the news at a rave with him in the back ground.
Quiff: I look like a fish with a ponytail and fisherman’s hat on sucking a lollypop.
Ha! Tell me about the first time you heard one of your tunes while stomping away?
Quiff: Champion Sound was the one that really blew up first but Paul was playing a lot of my stuff right from his early gigs. Groove hammered Champion Sound. He played it at this massive AWOL and I was running around off my tits telling everyone I made it. After that there was a lot of support from guys like Doc Scott, Randall, Bukem.
How do two west country urchins get their tunes to Grooverider in the first place?
Quiff: Originally I payed for the Champion Sound dubs which were cut at JTS and gave them to Micky Finn Groove & Fabio. But once you got your name out there with a few tunes then people would seek you out and ask for them. Bukem in particular would hunt you down.
Spinback: He’d travel the world just to get a tune! I remember him meeting us once at this council estate I lived in.
Back then you were the Funky Technicians. What triggered the Total Science project?
Quiff: As our sound became more technical and experimental we decided to start the label and create a new alias to go with it. We still made Funky Technician tracks alongside Total Science for many years.
Around this time you launched CIA. Loads of new labels were established such as Playaz, Hospital and Renegade Hardware around this time. Kinda similar to these last few years really.
Spinback: Very similar. A lot of the guys launching labels now have been around for a few years, they’ve got a sound and a following and want to put out music they believe in.
Quiff: It’s a healthy thing isn’t it? It keeps it fresh. Things work in cycles don’t they? So like every ten years or so it gets renewed.
Interestingly 10/11 years ago loads of labels launched; Symmetry, Integral, Audioporn, Celsius, Samurai, Bad Taste, Lifted, Med School etc…
Quiff: Exactly. It’s important. You can’t have the same big labels running things and picking up the new artists before anyone else can release their music isn’t healthy. It’s not what drum & bass is about and it’s dangerous for artist development.
My favourite artist success story from CIA in this sense is Riya
Spinback: Yeah for sure. When we first heard her sing it was like ‘fucking hell! You’ve got talent! You’ve got to do this’ It’s easier to nurture a singer because she can do something we can’t. You never want to hear us sing. Ever. She could sing. We could produce so there was more of a partnership and a trade of skills. But to watch her develop and become the star she is now is something to behold.
First time I remember hearing Riya was on Bungle’s Resized. I forgot how much of a Brazilian connection you guys had…
Spinback: Yeah we’re really good friends with Marky. Bungle and, later, S.P.Y came through him and we just got along with all of them. All so friendly and enthusiastic about the music and the scene.
Quiff: We never collaborated much in the beginning and Marky was one of first people we collaborated with. He was the first person we felt comfortable with in the studio, and a lot of fun too.
So if you had to pick one record that summed up Total Science, which one would it be and why?
Quiff: The Make Me Feel EP probably because it had everything; it had a dancefloor thing on there, it had a rave thing on there, it had a downtempo track on there and it had a Phantom Audio remix on there because Digital & Spirit have always been with us. It covered a lot of angles. At the time drum & bass was getting arty, guys like Photek and Goldie were plain art weren’t they? So we wanted to make tunes in between that – kind of arty but also ones you could dance to.
Spinback: Our first album Advanced is another record that summed up what we were about too. The dancefloor elements, the downtempo stuff, soulful stuff. Everything we love about this music. I’m still really happy with that album now to be honest.
I recall you saying you weren’t so happy about your Mars Needs… Total Science in 2006
Quiff: It was a different time by then. In the 90s we went from playing backrooms for £100 to touring the world, getting fucked and having lots of sex with ladies. It had its toll on us a bit. The music changed too – jump up was back, the parties were big. And we took full advantage of this and got mentally hammered. You can hear that in our music. It was a lot more party than we set out to be.
So I guess this was also around the Defcom 69 kinda era?
Quiff: Defcom was us coming back from that. We’d gone a bit too far and this was us coming back to what we loved about the music.
Spinback: Loose Ends on the B-side was us trying to get back into that quality part of drum & bass. That single was a return to the ravey, jungley but also very headsy sounds. But I have to say that album also had some hip-hop on it which I’m still really happy with now.
Quiff: We were experimenting with a lot of hip-hop and broken beat while we were doing all the party music. We’ve never been focused on just one sound.
Spinback: We’d been doing broken beat since the early 2000s and had the label Skin Deep. It was another part of our sound; it was very niche but the sound and style was very similar but at a slower tempo. It bridged that gap between hip-hop, house and drum & bass and was another interesting angle to explore.
Back to the label, around 2006-7 it seemed like you were gearing up the business a bit with album releases etc…
Spinback: Yeah definitely, that’s the way we were heading but then the whole economic situation happened, downloading and piracy was killing us all and we lost our studio base. It all got a bit a fucked up. We were employing someone at the time and got into quite a lot of debt. It was fucked up.
Quiff: Losing the studio was tragic. All we had was this little box room in my flat and I could never get a good mixdown in that place. We just weren’t happy with the sound and how the whole industry was. It was a serious struggle. Right up until we moved to Bristol really.
Wow so this phase lasted quite a while then!
Quiff: Yeah probably around seven years. It was hard work.
But still you put out serious tunes!
Quiff: Nowhere near as many as we’d have liked to, though. I was taking on other production jobs to pay the mortgage and I was really not enjoying it. The best thing that happened around then was hooking up with Carlos S.P.Y. We did a few sessions with him and ended up writing tunes with him. We learnt how to mixdown in that room on those tunes with S.P.Y.
But the move to Bristol was where it picked up again properly?
Quiff: Yeah, maybe a bit before. The main thing was this really shit tour I did of America where I ended up in hospital. They thought I had deep vein thrombosis because of all the flights but it turned out to be this weird foot thing. And while I was there Paul had done a session with Mako and DLR and got really inspired.
Spinback: It was about opening up that Bristol connection we’d always had since going down to meet Die and Krust and all those guys back in the day. It was a feeling like ‘this is where I’m meant to be’ It was like back in the day, there was – and still is – an energy there that’s really inspiring and encourages you to write music.
Quiff: I remember ringing you up from the hospital bed thinking I was going to have my legs amputated and you were buzzing about the session. I didn’t know if I was going to back for Christmas.
Quiff: Yeah we never knew what it was in the end. Just a weird foot thing. But while I was in this bed I was thinking ‘fuck sake, I’m doing these shitty production jobs and tours and risking my health to pay for house with a shitty studio I didn’t even like using’ When I got back Paul had decided he wanted to move to Bristol so I got my house valued and I was out of negative equity so sold up and we moved there.
In the scheme of things that’s really not long ago at all!
Quiff: Totally. The way we’ve always worked is like this… We’ll get on a vibe and make like maybe 20 or so tunes and in those tunes we’d find a sound we’re really feeling and that’s our kinda signature for a while. And when we lost that Oxford studio we were just on the edge of finding that sound again but lost it all. And yeah it took fucking years to get back into that. So for seven years we were a bit lost.
And now you’re found. But you’re not together in Bristol anymore?
Quiff: I’ve moved to High Wycombe now but I’m happy in my studio here. I’m enjoying writing and it all feels fresh and exciting. Even more than before because we’re not living together.
Spinback: Yeah that was a bit difficult because we only had one studio between us and we were quite used to our own set-ups. Quiff I don’t think you were ever that comfortable in my studio?
Quiff: I wasn’t as creative as I wanted to be. It worked but we’r different people. We live differently. Obviously we’re mates and get along but we don’t do everything the same. I get up at 4.30 in the morning and go for a run and he sits up all night smoking crack. It’s a bit of a lifestyle clash.
Spinback: He’s literally in the studio at 6am.
Quiff: I can’t sleep, I’ll go for a run, fuck knows where I end up but I’ll get an idea along the way and I want to get it down as quick as I can. But that’s what I’ve always done, no matter how hammered I’ve been. And now we’re both in our own studios and both work on things and bring them together the workflow is amazing.
Spinback: And we know the sound we’re looking for as well, so there is a lot happening now. More than there has been in years.
And that’s reflected in the label output too…
Spinback: I think that’s down to everyone else buzzing at the moment, too. There’s a lot of artists, older guys and the new generation all making amazing music. It’s all very diverse but there’s a thread that you find in our music and other people’s music. It’s hard to explain but there’s definitely an energy and a direction we haven’t felt in years.
Quiff: There’s been this divide in drum & bass with the big festival teenage drum & bass and the more underground stuff and these last few years there’s been a serious core of underground quality coming through. All those guys setting up their own labels, for example, all focusing on making quality music. That’s what it’s all about. Not just one-off bangers for a party and a double drop but real music with meaning. Shit you can play for years to come and you really value as an artist. That’s been the most important thing for us and it’s great that this type of focus is stronger than it’s been in years.