Jamie S23 goes international and hits up the legendary DJ Suv to chat about new projects, what’s been down and what’s currently going down! Hold tight for some hot stepper vibes..
Let’s kick things off with Bigga Star – the alias you used for ‘Raid’. Crazy to think that this was released on Dope Dragon in 1996. The drum programming, bassline and sampling all still stand the test of time. The label was so well known for it’s unique sound, how did you all pull this off?
“Dope Dragon was set up for us to express our alter-egos. It was a label where we could really let loose and have fun. Full Cycle Records was a serious, mature flavour where we used our real names as artists. Dope Dragon was where we could connect with a younger audience and not worry too much about what samples we were using. Our aliases allowed us to move beneath the radar.”
1996 was an obvious year for the drum & bass Bristol connection, what part did you play in this?
“Bristol being the major city on the West of England has always had its own style and sound. One reason is that it is pretty isolated and what happens in Bristol tends to stay in Bristol.
The city itself is obviously not as big as London but it has a movement and pace that resembles a bigger city, however, if you drive for 20 minutes you are either at the sea or in the countryside. The rent is cheaper than London, so we are not as stressed out which, in turn, makes the music more chilled at times, slower and deeper.
Bristol was one of the largest slaves ports next to Liverpool and there has always been a large Caribbean community there, which in turn gives the Bristol sound that reggae bassline it has become famous for.
The Fresh Four was the first group I was involved with back in 1989 with the help of Smith N Mighty, who for me are the heroes of Bristol music. They were producing for the likes of Massive Attack, 3pm, Calton and many more. In 1989, myself, DJ Krust, Flynn, Judge, and vocalist Lizz.E released a cover version of Rose Royce’s “Wishing On A Star” that reached number 10 in the national charts, this was the beginning of my music career. As this was all going on we met DJ Die through Flynn and he traded his skating moves for turntable scratching moves.
With experience and little insights, DJ Krust and I had learned from The Fresh Four part of our career. I had met Roni Size through the reggae sound system circles in Bristol and I introduced him to DJ Krust and DJ Die. We were all hanging out as a crew and it just seemed like a natural progression to set up the two labels – Full Cycle Records and Dope Dragon.
At around the same time, we met up with DJ Bryan Gee. He formed V Recordings and wanted to release our Bristol drum and bass sound on his London based label. This helped the four of us and the Bristol drum and bass sound reach even further, helping to get our sound out to Londoners and connected to the bigger UK rave and jungle movement happening at the time.”
Your links with V Recordings made a huge impact on the drum and bass scene, do you have a favourite track under this label? Can you tell us a bit about the story behind your chosen tune?
“The Free Beat EP on Full Cycle explored different time-signatures with tracks dropping on the three count instead of the normal four beat. I decided to make a sister EP for V [Recordings], that one was called the ‘V Beat EP’ again playing with a different time-signature but this time giving DJs an easier intro to mix that rolled in and out on the four.
Other favourite V Recordings tracks I worked on were tracks called ‘Closer’ that was later remixed by Ray Keith, and of course my collaborations with DJ Die including ‘Mankind’, ‘Music First’, and ‘War and Peace’ to mention a few.
Let’s talk about drum and swing – was this a genre coined by the Full Cycle camp? ‘Do You Remember’ was released sometime on the ‘Follow The Sun’ album but since then has anything else on this vibe surfaced?
‘Do You Remember Me?’ was a track I wanted to take drum and bass even further with the way the time and beats on the track were heard. Trying to change it up to a different swing step was again something I felt hadn’t been done in the genre yet. The guitars were played by a Bristol guitarist called Guy Calhoun, the bongos by a Spanish percussionist called Dori Qiu, and the vocals by New Zealand’s MC Tali. This was the 1st release to feature Tali’s voice on Full Cycle Records, which led to her recording many smashers thereafter.
I wanted to take this idea even further bringing in the Latin Brazilian vibe to the sound and hooking up with Brazil’s DJ Patife again using Tali to lay down some vocals I had written for her. Patife and I put together a track called ‘Inta Outa’ which went on to be remixed by Surge, another Full Cycle Records member, who was kicking up a storm around that time.
Along with ‘Do You Remember Me?’, this track ‘Inta Outa’ was featured on V Recordings, a French label I was working with at the time called Black Tambour, Full Cycle Records, Playside Records, and a few more making these tracks the most-licensed tracks for me to date.”
Talking of different flavours, your productions were, at times, very experimental. Take for example, ‘Mankind’ produced alongside DJ Die. What were your main motives for following in this direction? Was it to craft your own sound or because you wanted to choose a different path?
“Working with DJ Die was fun, and when you collaborate with others great things can arise. With DJ Die, we made music as if we were having fun skateboarding, and ‘Mankind’ reflects that. It’s a very happy, fun, and bouncy track – easy to play and at the same time keeping that Bristol bass rolling along with its own confidence.
‘War and Peace’ was the time to be serious, and we both wanted to address the message of war, as it seems that even today in 2016, there is always some war in progress. Peace is what we all want, but in order to get peace we first need to address why we are at war at all.
As an artist I have always strived for a new sound or a different path. I feel that music is the first language of our planet and our best form of communicating with each other. This is why I made ‘Desert Rose’ and ‘Follow the Sun’, I was trying to connect with all walks of life, not just drum and bass listeners. Borrowing influences from Morocco, Spain, Brazil, Eastern Europe, China, Holland, Chile, Portugal, France and so on.
Being of mixed heritage myself, I find it easy to mix things together musically as I am a fusion myself. We are all mixed, and are one living human entity, and the quicker we can all see this, the quicker we may be able to start to prepare our planet for our children’s children. Some times as an artist, you don’t always get it right, but if by being the first to experiment with a new time signature or style, or by just going in different directions this can influence someone else to also go in this direction then we are another step forward in progression.”
‘Bragga Funk’ – a total stepper! Can you recall the setting when you made this? My mind takes me to a dark and smoky studio with that notorious bassline rolling out of some huge monitor speakers! Do you think this kind of vibe can ever be reproduced to today’s standards?
“You’re right, ‘Bragga Funk’ was one of my tracks that was indeed made in a smoke filled room with smoke-filled thoughts. For me, it was a very personal track that I didn’t think anyone would like. It was very heavily reggae influenced, and it reminded me of my father’s time at the old UK Blues parties.
Bryan [Gee] loved it when he heard it, and he put it out on V Recordings right away – there must’ve been a few more smoke filled rooms going around at that time!
Having V Recordings running on form at the same time was a great advantage, when we had tracks that might not fit on Full Cycle Records, Dope Dragon, or on my own label Playside Recordings, then V [Recordings] was another outlet where we could get our music out to the people.”
So after all this deep history, what’s in store for 2016? Should we be expect ground breaking new sub genres? More live vocals?
“2016 is shaping up to be a busy year so far for me. Jaxx and I have our first release on Natty Dub Recordings, the first track is a reggae-influenced roller entitled ‘If You Know’ which contains a vocal hook from myself. The second track is under my Dope Dragon alias Bigga Star, and a new guise for Jaxx by the name of ‘Spreda’ and the track is entitled ‘Aura’. The vibe of this track being more of a throwback to the Dope Dragon and V Recordings days.
Both tracks will be released on the 4th of April exclusively to Juno. There are also some other projects happening with Jaxx that are in the pipeline for Natty Dub.
I also hooked up with UK soul & rhythm and blues artist called Don.E to create an album called ‘Rythum N Bass’ available on Playside Records. This project fuses rhythm and blues with drum and bass. There’s my Suv Step album called ‘Warrior Charge’ also forthcoming on Playside. Collaborations in world music with artists from Chile for an album entitled ‘SUAIKA’ are also forthcoming. In Spain I have been working with a Flamenco artist to produce an album and live show called ‘Flamenco Fusion’. Another album in the making and to look out for is a Bristol trip-hop style project called “SUV presents The Sounds of Bristol”. USA collaborations with Moralz, Noface, and Haji-ji. Playside USA will release tracks with some American artists connecting the UK to USA. ‘Ska N Bass’ being the first Playside USA release.”
How did the link up with Natty Dub Recordings take place? Were you feeling their production output and thought you could bring something new to their roster? Is this the kind of vibe you currently support in your DJ sets?
“I have been working with a great young producer who goes by the name of Jaxx who introduced me to the Natty Dub Recordings owners Sam ‘Cabin Fever’ and Patman. Without the connection with Jaxx, I would not have had the opportunity to meet these guys at Natty Dub Recordings. Jaxx and I have been making tracks for nearly two years now and we have been building up a bag of tricks to drop for this year and next!
At the moment, we are having fun and it has been nice to work with such a great person and producer who has also become a good friend. We plan to keep rolling out the beats and seeing where they take us. After listening to the entire Natty Dub back catalogue, it seemed obvious that the Suv sound would fit in nicely, and the Bristol sound seems to be a massive part of the label’s history and influence.
They are a great team, and it is an honour to be working with them. They value what Suv is about, and I feel relaxed to express myself in my music exactly how I feel. With Jaxx, I am not only able to produce some fresh heavy rollers but I’m having fun doing it. I’ll also say, keep an eye out for Wolf Clan Records.”
Before we finish things off, what’s your take on how drum & bass has diversified over the years. Has the segregation and multiple changes within the scene put you off, made you work harder or have you just enjoyed the ride?
“The fashions and fads come and go, and it is really down to the promoters to book the right DJs that are going to maintain the sound that will be shown to the next generation of kids that come into the scene. Some bigger DJs for me have contributed to the destruction of drum & bass, and are charging way too much when they play out. For example, a young guy still at school loves drum & bass music, and wants to hold a party. He promotes his first ever drum & bass event and books his favourite DJ who charges way too much. This poor kid loses money, has a bad experience, and never promotes again. This kills the scene and without the promoters, the DJ’s are nothing.
Another problem that has an effect of the destruction rather than construction is that people tend to put the different styles of drum & bass into specific genres when, in the beginning, drum & bass was really created because there was a little something for everyone – from every style and influence.
This again is down to promoters just booking the DJs that are a potential safe bet as that DJ is in fashion at that time because that certain style is popular. Instead of booking a DJ that can play all kinds of styles in their sets keeping the next generations mind’s more adaptable and open to experiencing many styles in a set. Scenes and trends come and go, and I have always produced all kinds of music, but for me personally, I feel it’s the right time to bring back a bit of that Suv Bristol drum & bass flavour that has been missing for a while now.
The popular sound in the drum & bass scene has been up for a while, and by up I mean the sound is full of hard-hitting styles with that chainsaw noise, out of key sounds and ear bleeding white noise. But like in a DJ set when you have been up at the top-end of the sound for a while there is only one place to go, and that’s back down. You need to breathe, you need, like in life, to be down before you can climb back up, and life is about the journey not the destination. Changes inspire me and without changes we cannot move forward, but as we move forward we also have to take little looks back into our past and see what positive things we should be bringing forward with us.”
Finally, will you be representing as a DJ in the summer anywhere?
“I got back from USA West Coast tour in late 2015. Playing at Burning Man was one of my most fun experiences last year. For 2016, in February, The Fresh Four got together, after 25 years, for a performance at the BBC Music Festival in Bristol. In April and May, I’m planning for an Asia tour – Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Thailand. In June, there’s Switzerland. In July and August, there’s a Summer Spain tour. Then in Winter 2016, a South America Tour – Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Look out for the big Natty dub event this year where Jaxx and I will be spinning back to back alongside all the Natty Dub team.”
Keep up to date with Suv and Natty Dub below: