A lesson in liquid with Fabio
Very few season/genre combos are as complementary as summer and liquid.
The warmth. The freedom. The feels. Even on a lockdown with no hope of clubs or festivals returning this sunny season, liquid hits with endearing positivity. Especially the strain that was grown, harvested and cured around 20-odd years ago.
What’s often described as liquid’s golden era, the early 2000s was one of the most exciting times on the funkier, soulful side of the 170 spectrum. Acts like Calibre and Artificial Intelligence were breaking through and making indelible marks, the Brazilians were taking no prisoners, Liquid V and Soul:r both launched, Hospital Records were getting into their groove and Fabio had released ‘Liquid Funk Vol 1’ on his label Creative Source. A creative free-for-all, just prior to the tsunamic digital switch-over later in the decade, it was one of the last eras where artists and labels could feel so slap-happy with the samples and everyone had the freedom to add their own twist and expressing their own influences… And Fabio was slap-bang on the centre of it all.
The most vocal and high-profile protagonist in the liquid movement, as the promoter of seminal weekly Swerve, the owner of Creative Source, Radio 1 broadcaster and founding pioneers of the genre full-stop, no other DJ represented the soulful and funkier quite like Fabio. And for this D&BTV: Locked-In mix he’s gone back over his favourites from the era for a liquid special. Featuring tracks from the likes of Bukem, Calibre, Makoto, Artificial Intelligence, M.I.S.T, Future Cut and more, he recorded it freestyle in his yard last week.
Running to raise awareness and funds for Myeloma UK, a charity close to Fabio’s heart, donate here if you can, and read on for a deep discussion on liquid’s most golden of golden ages… How it came to be, how exciting the time was and what effect it’s had on the genre since.
Looked like a nice afternoon for it!
It was actually. To be honest I didn’t want to do it at first. The live stream thing is a bit saturated, so I thought about doing a liquid special. Something a bit different and more of an occasion. Not just a standard mix.
How do you feel about streams?
I’m one of those DJs who isn’t very interesting watch. That’s not my job. I’m concentrating. I go in with a completely blank canvas so I’m on my toes. I’m thinking about the best possible tune I can mix in next. I don’t pre-plan in any way and never have. I DJ on streams how I DJ in the club… Deep concentration. The thing that’s missing is the crowd. I just got my dog to gauge a reaction from. But with a classic liquid mix, I knew it was something I could vibe from and people would vibe to. It ended up being very instinctive.
The start of the deeper, soulful and liquid sounds was instinctive wasn’t it? Just back to throwing in influences into the pot…
I think every movement and sound begins instinctively. Go back to rock or jungle. Think about punk. That was instinctive as fuck. They were anti-polished productions, some of them were anti pre-meditated music at all. Just turn up and play. If it feels good, play it. Jazz, too. Miles Davis. His whole principal was to turn up, play and make it up as you go along. That was rock, that was punk, that was jungle. Same with liquid. People weren’t following a particular style, people were just going what felt good. There were no formulas or lines to follow. Once there’s a template, things change and it gets stale. It’s why every genre gets stale. But before that it was just a vibe.
It was about the funk.
For a long time it was about Calibre! He set such a benchmark and showed how things could be so simplistic but so ridiculously funky. He went purely off vibe. Do you know the story of when I first went to Calibre’s house?
This is right in the early days. I went there. We’re sitting down, chatting. I thought ‘where’s his equipment?’ I didn’t want to be patronising or look stupid, maybe it’s in another room or something. But after chatting for a few hours I had to ask him. He said ‘over there’ and pointed to the corner where there’s a six-track recorder, a tape recorder and a pair of speakers that looked like they cost £30. That’s all he could afford. I was like ‘wow’. That proper DIY vibe. When he eventually got some equipment it took a while for him to get back to back to that natural sound he always had because it sounded so bright. But whatever that man was using, he was a machine. He was sending me 20 tunes a week at points. Very few people come close in his influence on the liquid sound.
Who else would you say, though?
Wax Doctor. He never gets the credit for his role in this. He had that Quincy Jones meets jungle vibe. Him and Danny Bukem had that vibe but in different ways. Danny’s songs were lush and rich and deep. Wax Doctor was tempered down a little. A bit more lo-fi and that’s the same as Calibre. Very lo-fi, simplistic vibe. There’s a similarity to how they both constructed their music. Wax Doctor made some amazing music. He went off emotion. The difference was he was a big lover of techno.
Yeah he worked with Jack Smooth, who was involved in all kinds of techno things as well as jungle tekno…
Exactly! And they made some incredible records. Atmospheric Funk – listen to that and listen to early Calibre and you’ll hear the parallels. It’s a shame he slipped off the radar. He never left without a fanfare which was criminal because if you’re talking early, early liquid then he was one of the ones setting the foundations for that deeper sound.
Deep D&B, I think, is a much kinder tag than liquid or intelligent…
Yeah but my interpretation of liquid was that rawer, warmer funkier sound. Then you had Danny’s take which was much more cosmic with epic breakdowns. Strings. Bags of pads. I was more into the stripped-down sound. More funk than soul. A bit edgier. That’s what made our night Speed so good. But the great thing was that we met in the middle with tunes we both loved.
What did you think of the term ‘intelligent D&B’?
We weren’t comfortable with it. It was a magazine who coined it. The thing was, the jungle guys got pissed off about us going to the West End to do this anyway. Me and Danny had to fight our corner. They thought we were trying to segregate from them and be superior and the ‘intelligent’ tag didn’t help that at all. It was like ‘oh them mans are going all bougie, they’re too good for us.’ It was never like that. Us going into the west end was just making moves bro. Trying something different. Not a better thing. A different thing. I can actually remember the night the idea for Speed started. Me and Danny were playing 4-6 at a jungle night in Paradise one night and everyone left like the club was on fire! I remember Danny saying ‘it’s a shame – there’s some great music out there but no one wants to hear it.’ So we started the night, with Sarah Sandy, for somewhere to play it.
Did it take a while to take off?
Yeah it did. The first night we did it was a Monday night. It was the only night Milk Bar had free. There were six people in there. Six. I remember people saying ‘this ain’t gonna work, it’ll never take off in the West End’. That made us want to do it even more. We pushed for a better night and got the Thursday. After about six weeks we had it full and suddenly it became a media darling. Everyone started talking about it. It was a crazy time. I’d look across the room from where I’m playing and I’d see Arthur Baker, Goldie, Bjork, various major label owners, one night even Prince Naseem Hamed came down. And it was this tiny bar. Max capacity it was 140 people and it was heaving. That was an incredible time. Then we all moved on and developed. Danny’s Logical Progression took off with its own crew. The production values they all had was something else. So I pursued the liquid sound. I coined it liquid through a hip-hop act the Alkaholiks.
They rapped drunk, right?
Yeah. Just this bizarre anarchic concoction of drunk guys rapping over really sweet beats. They called it liquid funk and I loved that term. That’s how I felt the style of drum & bass I love sounded. I called my Radio 1 show Liquid Funk and it took a life of its own. Like all the best things do. First it’s only one or two people, then suddenly it’s a scene with loads of people making it then it becomes a movement. It gathers it own life and pace and before you know it you’ve got Swerve and again everyone is talking about it. You don’t see the wood for the trees, you’re going with the momentum and not thinking about it. It’s only years later you look back and say ‘fuck that was mad’.
This all happened in such a short space of time, too. From Speed to Swerve was maybe over the course of 94-96, right? And all the while you had Creative Source bubbling up with guys like Big Bud, Carlito, Hidden Agenda…
Yeah, there were some amazing records. Then Calibre came along and things went mental. I had access to everything he made, he was so raw and prolific. He couldn’t stop making music, he was making it to shut out the troubles going on in Belfast. I got introduced to him through Quadraphonic in Dublin. That place is the unsung gem of that era. From 98 – 2002 I used to look forward to going there so much. They cottoned on to the liquid stuff in a big way and were huge champions of it. Zero T and his crew would come along to it. Dublin had a thriving scene at the time and that’s where I met Calibre.
He’d released on the Quadraphonic label once but I asked to release some music and before you know it I had 300 tunes from him. For me Dominick is the true embodiment of liquid. Half my radio show was Calibre tunes at points. People were so blown away by him, he got this cult following and Swerve became Dominick’s house to a point. People were coming down to hear his new dubs. I’ve never seen a producer with a strike rate as good as his. He was so good, he was the catalyst for the sound and genre.
In the meantime you had the Brazil sound, courtesy of V, adding some Latin spice to the mix…
You did. But you know who Marky and Patife loved? Calibre! They were obsessed. When I used to get bookings in Brazil I swear most people would come and see me to hear Calibre dubs. I think he had more influence on the Brazilian sound than classic Brazilian composers like Sergio Mendes and Jorge Ben. He was the template. Marky will tell you Deep Every Time is his favourite tune.
He’s told me that it’s Marcus Intalex and S.T Files – How You Make Me Feel
Nope. Trust me – Deep Every Time is his favourite tune. I remember him coming to Swerve. Back then he couldn’t speak any English at all. He came over and went on one knee and begged for Deep Every Time. He was almost in tears. Maybe How You Make Me Feel is another big favourite, but Deep Every Time was a massive tune for him. He still plays it now. I remember when Calibre first played in Brazil and I asked him how it went. He told him half the club was crying. He doesn’t say things for effect.
He’s anti- that
He is. He plays everything down. He’s very low-key and humble.
It’s that punk spirit again. How about other people? We’ve bigged up Wax Doctor and Calibre. Give me another. An artist you believe had a truly indelible effect on the liquid sound.
I want to say Marcus
Well the reason I wouldn’t discuss him in this context is because he hated the term liquid! He was the first person who told me he hated the word. But I respected that. I don’t think he could be coined by such a term. He was maverick. Yeah, he made some amazing liquid tunes but he was very unique in his approach.
For example, people felt they could imitate Calibre because Calibre made simplicity sound like it was easy to do. Of course it wasn’t, and people never hit the same spot, but it gave people the idea they could try and copy him. With Marcus he wasn’t making music you could blindly try and copy. It was complex and techno influenced. Universe, Temperance, Zumbar, Princess Warrior. Even when he stripped it down he had an edge. Marcus is closer to Wax Doctor than Calibre was. I tell you someone who needs shouting… Makoto. He had a Japanese take on things. Totally fresh. It was a lot more produced. He put a lot of time into each track. Real attention to detail.
Japan’s got a rich history of jazz and funk which I’m sure was an influence on him…
Huge! He doesn’t get mentioned enough. Golden Girl is the epitome of liquid to me. That vocal, too. It’s hard to make good vocal D&B tunes. A lot of vocal tracks sound like a vocal on top of a rhythm track but Golden Girl sounded like the tune was written around the vocal. Really what you remember about that tune is the hook. The tune doesn’t get in the way of the vocals and the same the other way. It’s seamless. Very few D&B tunes have pulled it off like that. Another set of guys who were pivotal to this were Artificial Intelligence.
Do you know what I mean? There was a point in the 2000s when you couldn’t touch them. Every single tune was like ‘shit! They got better again!’ Sometimes you hear an artist and think ‘they must have peaked now’ then they raise it again. So yeah those guys, Marcus, Makoto. Fellowship who ran Defunkt Records which was a really consistent label. Who else? Carlito & Addiction were dominating things, Delta & Format. All those guys were vibing off each other and having the time of their lives. Then Chase & Status came in with Love’s Theme. Shy FX gave the world one of the biggest tunes in the subgenre with Shake Your Body. Marky’s LK. Those years around 2000-2003 it went mainstream just as much as it was underground. Kosheen’s Hide U was the first.
That was Decoder & Substance who were part of the Bristol sound with Dazee and Ruffneck Ting…
That’s right! They sent me Hide U and I was like ‘what the fuck is this?’ It got about four rewinds in Swerve once. Then someone at Radio1 heard it. I think it was Chris Moyles. They heard me play it. He famously didn’t like drum & bass and ate his words live on air. That was a huge moment and that was the big mainstream kickstart. People were like ‘wow there’s something going on here.’ It was the timing of it all as well because we were coming out of garage, which had been huge at the time and kinda taken a lot of the girls away from D&B.
That was a kneejerk to darker tech stuff too, right?
That was part of it. But it was also a need for simplicity and groove. Not everything had to be hard and tough. Bits of vocals and bits of funk. That vibe. Proper songs. That was the vibe and that’s what everyone was tapping into in different ways. Artificial Intelligence added a bit more darkness to it. Dkay added a lot of energy to the mix. There were loads of different takes. You hard dBridge with his early deep stuff and Exit releases which was a kind dark liquid vibe. It was fantastic and then you had Hospital… London Elektricity came with Songs In The Key Of Knife and it was like ‘bang!’ this live sound.
Proper jazz funk!
Yeah. Double basses and strings. It was like ‘woah’. I remember meeting them in Amsterdam and I was really pleased to meet them because that record really caught my attention. They were proper shy guys. Tony told me he’d been in a band called Izit before, who I was a fan of. They said they had more coming and, well, the rest is history! Just think how many artists they gave us… The Cambridge sound with Nu:Tone, Logistics and Commix. They had their own vibe which Hospital honed and encouraged. Commix, well before Be True, were smashing it. Another one of those acts who were tune after tune. The same with Logistics. The same with High Contrast. The same with so many of them. Alix Perez a few years later, for example. Or SpectraSoul. That new generation coming in and adding their twist.
Or different countries…
Yeah. Think of Amsterdam with everything that Lenzman has done. America you’ve got Dave Owen, Flaco, Submorphics. These guys pushing it over there, purely for love. The market is hard out there and they’re not making any money. I could go on and on. There are always people pushing it. It’s never been as popular as it was during that golden era but there’s always exciting records being made.
Give me a random mad moment from that golden era to sign out….
Okay. Sonar Festival, Barcelona. You’ll have to look up the year  but I was playing on a big terrace for Radio1 and the crowd we had were sceptical about drum & bass. I came on after a big techno DJ. I can’t remember who, but he was good and the crowd were having it. They were a proper techno crowd, punching the air, loving it. The promoter was unsure if it was going to work and you could tell he was trying to change the set times but Radio 1 were saying ‘no, he’s broadcasting live, it’s happening now.’ I remember being so nervous. I thought it was going to bomb.
So I picked Future Sound Of London – Papua New Guinea, Nu:Tone remix. The first minute is just the intro and the crowd were like ‘okay it’s this, we know this one.’ Then that massive amen comes in. It was either gonna pop or flop but they went crazy. They were really into it. Then I played Barcelona by Dkay, the original version with all that flamenco which fit in with Spanish vibe that was that. They were off. That was one of my gigs of that year, I’d completely won over a techno crowd.
I’ll never forget that. Having that feeling you get when you’ve won a crowd over is the most amazing feeling – one of the reasons I still DJ. People coming up and saying they’d never heard D&B before or they thought they didn’t like it. That’s the vibe. You’ve properly earned your keep as a DJ when you’ve done that. Actually I’ll leave with you on this note…
That night I had the strangest request I’ve ever had as a DJ. This guy came up to me and said ‘come and meet my wife, she’s a massive fan.’ She was Spanish, he was English, we were talking for a bit and they seemed nice. I said I had to go and he said ‘one second,’ and he was umming and ahhing then said ‘is there any way you can come back to our flat and play that set while me and my missus have sex? We’ll pay you.’
Haha! The sexual power of liquid funk!
I swear to god! I was suddenly like ‘err listen, I’ve got to pick up my money, go to the hotel, catch my flight, really nice to meet you, thanks for the offer, if you’re ever in London come and check out Swerve’ and I was off….