DJ SS – Back To Jungle
The story of DJ SS begins with a young breakdancing b-boy called Leroy Small. The breakdancing craze was beginning to fade but Leroy had been bitten by the embryonic DJ and dance culture. Still only 14, he acquired a mixer and a pair of turntables and along with some friends formed the ‘Formation 5’ crew.
As the 80’s passed, Leroy’s name as an exciting up and coming DJ was being cemented all over the Midlands. It was during these Hip Hop days that Leroy was christened ‘Scratchin’ Stein. This was soon to be abbreviated to the name we know today – DJ SS.
Intro edited from DJ’s Delight Volume 02
Despite having some of the biggest tunes on the circuit, did you find it difficult breaking the London scene in the mid 90’s?
“Not really, mainly because at the time we were all working towards the same goal of making good quality new music. Back then the scene was controlled, you didn’t see 100 releases a week of throwaway garbage. What you heard was raw, uncompromised music, born and bred in the UK. Nobody was concerned about which part of the UK either, it was more about who was in it from the start and what part they played.
“We were just kids from up North doing what we did best”
The support from Grooverider playing many of the early Formation releases really reinforced our importance as a record label within the scene. He was the first DJ that really influenced me back when he was playing House at Amnesia in the late 80’s.
The original version of ‘Lighter’ was an instant anthem, was this Formation’s biggest seller? What’s the story behind the sample rights? The ‘DJ Friendly’ and ‘Rollers Remix’ followed up the original perfectly, how do you feel about the many other remix releases that followed and why so many?
“The original version of ‘The Lighter’ is Formation Records biggest selling tune, it’s probably not my favourite release but it’s definitely the best performing. It still sells to this day and constantly gets licensed to various CD and digital compilations. Take the Bladerunner remix for example, that sold over 1,000 copies on vinyl – in today’s market that’s big numbers.
The piano score wasn’t a sample, it was played by an R’n’B man I was working in the studio with at the time and as soon as I heard it I knew it would fit perfectly into a Jungle tune. We officially licensed the use of the score which, at the time, was pretty unheard of in the scene as we were always working on the basis of sampling everything and anything.
Looking back it’s funny really as the piano intro to ‘The Lighter’ was originally supposed to be lesser of the two mixes on the original release!”
‘The Lighter’ mix 1
“Formation had a culture of always remixing our biggest tunes, it’s what we did and always felt it was important to come back with a different angle on our best releases. Lighter was slightly different though, mainly because of its popularity and importance, everyone knew it and everyone seemed to want to put their own stamp on it. Twisted Individual, for example, was really keen to try something new with it and I think he achieved just that. The only remix that wasn’t released was a special with The Ragga Twins which may well feature on the 25th anniversary album project.
That’s the end of it though, I don’t want anymore remixes done and although I’m still getting requests from producers asking me about it – it’s not happening!”
‘The Lighter’ mix 2
I’m sure you have tons of unreleased Formations Records material, is any of it planned for future free download or release?
“Influx UK’s unreleased work will also featuring on the 25th anniversary project, he wasn’t feeling the scene and has sinced moved to America but I’ve got a huge amount of his work that I’m just sitting on right now.
“In terms of my production I’ve got around 40 tunes that have yet to see a release date but that’s scheduled for a special album of unreleased work. It’s not throwaway jump up, it’s the proper SS sound from the mid 90’s – ‘MA2’. ‘Rollers Convention’, that kind of sound.”
Drum & Bass of today seems to be missing the point, it’s all predictable and totally formulated. I’m not one for being anal with mixdowns, it doesn’t fit with what we all originally stood for and I think that’s where the scene went wrong.”
The tune ‘Tarzan’ from around 1995 sadly didn’t see a release, any reason for this?
“This was originally planned for a remix on an S Files project, I’ve still got it on a DAT so could potentially be released in the future.”
Talking of unreleased tracks, ‘Keep on Movin’ was such a massive tune. What was the story behind the track being pulled? Have you tried since to obtain sample rights?
“I was approached by Soul 2 Soul’s record label to produce an official remix which we were all obviously really pleased about. However, when the track was finished both parties couldn’t agree on the right deal. Looking back we should have just accepted the deal and put the track out, especially considering the M Beat remix wasn’t anywhere near as good as ours in my opinion.”
The VIP remix of ‘Black’ featuring MC Power was one of many DJ specials at the time, was there any reason why Formation producers stopped doing these one off specials – especially as they were so popular with both the artists and the ravers?
“When you have a core unit of around 20 well known DJs, it’s quite straightforward to arrange specials, when that collective reaches 50 it’s far more time consuming. The other side of this is that back in the early to mid 90s, only 10 or 15 quality record labels existed in Jungle, now it’s overrun and the market is flooded. If I was to start producing DJ specials now the requests for them would be unmanageable and really not worth my time.
Modern technology has given me the option of creating one off DJ specials in my live sets, it’s far more flexible and, in my opinion, nobody now really cares about VIP’s”.
Formation released many sub-labels during it’s time dominating the independent record store’s shelves. The likes of Vicious Vinyl, Hot Steppers and 5HQ Recordings were all well received but what was your favourite? Was the reason for so many offshoots anything to do with diversifying the brand? What was your favourite?
“Formation Records was always intended for high end output, the cream of the crop. We had a large collective of producers submitting work to us on a regular basis so whatever I felt didn’t fit with our main label was considered for our offshoots.
“Some producers didn’t understand the Formation ethos, that wasn’t to say their tunes were bad, just not right for that particular label. I also didn’t want to flood the vinyl market with endless releases on just one label.”
That was then though, in 2014 Formation Records is my only label and everything that fits with it will be released this way.”
5HQ in Leicester closed in 2007, far later than most independent record shops. How did it feel to close the doors on such an important outlet? Any favourite memories?
“For a long time Formation Records the label was funding 5HQ, this wasn’t too much of an issue though as the studio and our offices were also based in the same building. The main problem was finding trustworthy members of staff to work in the record shop. I found that I couldn’t fully devote my time to other projects and when the business rates invoice arrived in 2007 I had to question why I was still doing it. The hardest decision for me was keeping the legacy alive at a cost when we really should have closed the doors in 2005.
“For many years though, 5HQ really was an information centre and was a way of life for many. One of the great things about owning a record shop for me is witnessing the end result of music production, seeing the tunes going off straight in front of you then selling out in one day.”
I’ve since been offered to rent another premises in the same area at a much cheaper rent but that time has passed now, I need to focus all my efforts on what’s happening right now in the scene.”
John B and Twisted Individual, two artists who released tracks on Formation Records – how did you deal with the beef between them or was it all just a big PR stunt?
“It was a ridiculous situation and the music produced was just to make a silly statement. To be honest though that whole era was stupid with all kinds of tunes being made that just took the piss out of Drum & Bass. People probably don’t like to admit it but the scene really lost it’s way around that time.
I said to John not to go down the route he was taking, the tune could have been far better than it was without all those silly samples. It would have also avoided so many other issues off the back of the release but what’s done is done and I’m not doubting it sold well.
At the time I had locked myself in the studio, getting my head down and trying not to pay too much attention. Distorted Minds, Twisted and Jon B have hopefully all moved on from it now.”
When DJs started using CDs and MP3s do you think electronic music became far more short term? Many would argue that Drum & Bass especially lost it’s longevity and anthems became a thing of past – would you agree?
“The original Jump Up sound we brought to the table 15 years ago has been tarnished, it’s not being pushed forward in the slightest and to my ears it’s a terrible rendition.
Other producers appeared to want to proclaim themselves as ‘The King of Jump Up’ when all they were really doing was jumping on our sound and going in reverse.
“The biggest problem with throwaway music was when certain distribution companies started accepting everything and anyone, doing distribution deals with kids and making a mockery of the scene. Quality over quantity was forgotten and that’s been the main issue ever since.”
SRD on the other hand were fighting a losing battle trying to maintain a stance on quality. The main players of the original Jump Up scene were no longer releasing regularly and the scene was then flooded with nonsense.”
Social media and online presence is vital in today’s music game, being one of the originators in the scene did you find it hard to remain relevant to the digital generation? Do you agree that the Drum & Bass scene was late in understanding the relevance compared to other genres?
“For sure, the Drum & Bass scene was run by people on the streets who didn’t really understand marketing, especially in the digital world. Some of the early DJs still feel they have a certain right to be relevant although kids these days don’t see it and why should they? Some of them are probably better DJs, especially using the technology that’s readily available.”
The partnership with Warren G has been favoured by many, how did you guys meet and why was this so important to you as a DJ?
“I’ve know Warren since I was 8 years old, he’s like family to me although we don’t work together as much now as we used to mainly because our lives are so different. We have conversations about why is this man getting bookings and why certain MCs even exist in the scene but then it’s all a matter of relevance and putting the work in. He knows that but I don’t think he’s got the right drive in him these days, there also needs to be that right kind of desire and passion too and the way the scene changed probably put him off.
“I think for me, Warren needs to appreciate what part he played in the birth of Jungle music and not allow that to become clouded.”
When we were constantly playing the UK circuit I always specified that he would be my MC, we worked well together and I have always prefered a host MC rather than an MC that takes over the music. It was great to be able to have a good friend with me when travelling up and down the country too.”
In the past, Formation have given away albums for free via Soundcloud under the Freeform name. Was the idea behind this to remain relevant as well as pushing new music?
“Freeform was all about pushing new talent, people that I could see deserved more than just a few plays on Soundcloud – people I believed in. This project will happen on a yearly basis and will run separately from the Formation Records brand.”
Are any plans to collaborate with Twisted Individual and MC Skibadee in the pipeline?
“I’m currently in the process of sorting a track out with Skibadee, that will be coming next year so watch out for that. Now Twisted is back in the game I’m keen to work with him although we won’t be signing any artists now.
It’s crazy money to offer a producer a deal based on music alone, commercial Drum & Bass labels can only afford to do so because of the amount of money they make off the back of extortionate DJ booking and their events and even then, their artists are changing way too much. Formation will never get involved in any of these 360 deals..”
Talking of Skibadee, how an earth did he get away with hacking your Twitter?
“This all happened because I took a photo of Skibadee sleeping on a plane and posted it online, the next thing I know he’s sneaked into my room and taken my laptop!. You can imagine after all those tweets he posted my mobile phone was ringing off the hook.”
World of Drum & Bass seemed to spring up from nowhere and instantly became a big smash worldwide. What’s the plan to grow the brand? Anything scheduled for the UK market?
“A UK event definitely needs to happen, the problem I have though is that certain DJ’s are still asking for stupid money. I’m not paying £5,000 for a one hour set and never will.
We have just finished 3 shows in Russia, the production there is next level and so far apart from what people see in the UK at present. It’s all love and respect too, no silly politics and fakes which is one of the reasons why I love the World of Drum & Bass events so much.”
The ‘24 years of Formation Records’ was planned but cancelled, is anything planned for the big 25th?
“I would have loved for the event to have gone ahead but the scene locally just isn’t strong enough to represent fully, I had also just finished a massive tour of America with World of Drum & Bass so couldn’t put 100% into the anniversary event.
“The 25th celebration is a totally different story though, I want to push so many projects out during this exciting time. A documentary on the history of the label and talks with local school children are just for starters. I want people of all ages to understand the legacy of Jungle music.”
I’m also doing a special 25th set at the Outbreak festival in Coventry later this year”
The ‘Back to Jungle’ LP is out soon, is this where you see Jungle music in 2014? Is it a Formation comeback in terms of where you see the music scene or just a stab at the market in it’s current format? Would you consider the tunes on the album to be the true Formation sound of the 90’s or a massive jump in styles?
“The ‘Back to Jungle’ LP isn’t a statement, it’s a project that I was really keen to create, it’s certainly not anything to do with proving my status or credibility. I want to keep things relevant as of now.
People might well assume that’s I’ve got back into the studio with my vintage Atari ST due to the LP title but that sound is coming on the 25th anniversary package.”
Are any other classic Formation tunes due for a forthcoming relick? Air Movement’s ‘Cuttin’ Saw’ was always slightly overlooked in my opinion and would certainly lend itself to a remix. Please don’t let anyone touch ‘Gold’ though!
“I’m currently looking at everything unreleased at the moment, the 25 years compilation will probably be over 5 albums and released on CD and digital download. I don’t want to release all 5 albums at one time though like certain other labels. Putting all your work on one album is just too much to take in at once.
“Sadly there isn’t going to be a vinyl release, it’s far too much outlay and not something I want to do for no more than pocket change at the end of it. Obviously I would love to press a selection of our unreleased work but I don’t see it as financially viable.”
Our back catalogue is also due to be uploaded to iTunes soon, one of the first releases to be made available digitally will be the ‘Highly Recommended’ album which, funnily enough, I have a few boxes of the vinyl album sleeves sitting around somewhere!
Talking of boxes of vinyl, I still have a ton of unopened stock that will eventually be made available on the Formation Records website.”
Anything else coming soon that people need to know about? That’s if you have any hours left in the day!
“Bass Disciples is a brand new style of Drum & Bass fusing gospel and bass together to create something really special. We have been recording gospel vocalists, guitars and keyboards and although I’m certainly not preaching to anyone, the music does contain biblical messages.
If people like the music but don’t pick up on that, that’s cool and if they do then great. I just want fans of Drum & Bass to enjoy it whatever their take on my production. In effect, it’s no different to when we were sampling Whitney Houston in the 90’s.”
As a special dedication to SS’ work as a DJ, Jamie S23 has put together a special playlist of converted tapes from some of the biggest and best raves in the UK.
Big up to Si Thompson for his contribution