Feeling Functional: Digital Mix & Interview (EXCLUSIVE)
Digital: no introductions necessary.
From his childhood soundsystem roots to his years with tagteaming with Spirit to his current toiling relaunching seminal imprint Function (while based in the paradiscal climes of Thailand), Steve’s contributions to jungle and drum & bass command 21 arm salutes on every chapter.
His journey – both inside and outside of the D&B game – is as colourful as his beats are dark. Right now he’s in a reflective state. Celebrating 20 years as an artist (even though it’s actually been 21 years) he’s in a great position to look back just as clearly and confidently as he looks forward.
Function’s relaunch release – Respek Da Foundation – is out in two weeks time. Leading with a razor-sharp collab with Response, and complete with Dub Phizix’s now-legendary remix of Deadline, this is what it sounds like:
We sent him a bunch of questions and asked for a mix. Needless to say he’s gone IN on both requests. An essential read and an even more essential listen (mix right at the bottom)…
Easy Steve… What has this invasive interview interrupted?
It’s 15.33 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I have jetlag so I’m in bed with a cup of tea. My apologies if you can’t get that picture out of your head…
20 years deep and still thrusting into the dark, uncompromising unknown. Congratulations on this hallmark anniversary. When you first started sowing those early jungle seeds, did you ever contemplate where the scene would be in 2015? Your name certainly suggests a certain crystal ball nature – digital business in the 80s was all about watches and DATs….
Hey digital watches were cool as fuck but that wasn’t how my name came about in 1987 at the age of 14.
In the mid 80s there was a big change in the sound of dancehall reggae because a massive track called Under Mi Sleng Teng (You know, the track SL2 sampled for Way In My Brain) It was sung by Wayne Smith and produced by King Jammys. The track had a different sound to it because it wasn’t made from traditional instruments it was made from a Casio MT-40 Keyboard. This sound went on to be huge and some people labelled it digital reggae because of the computerised sound.
A couple years later a soundsystem called Ashanti gave me the name when I was 14/15 because I was technically gifted around a soundsystem due to operating and setting up my dad’s system from around 10/11 years old.
What’s kept you motivated and moving?
This music thing comes easy to me: I’m not in it for a laugh or because I think it’s cool. When you grow up poor and bored music is something that can make you feel good whether it’s from the lyrics of a song or an instrumental dub. So when I’m in a zone producing or listening to music I’ve always seen it as a happy place. It works most times, I can be proper pissed off about something but after listening or producing music I’m good again. (Sometimes aided with a special cookie)
I’ve always been a niche type artist but I always seem to come through in the end through my music however, I’m not one to rest on past successes like Gateman, Phantom Force, Remote Control, Ras 78, Waterhouse Dub, Deadline, Dubzilla, Phoenix Rising, Spacefunk, Scam and Sound Killa but I am very proud of them. I feel warm in the fact that I’ve made big tracks and they weren’t just big because of the label they were released on they were big because of the track and how it kicked off on the dancefloor. That keeps me positive and strong so I’ll be here for another 20 years no sweat.
Please identify three key points in your life that have shaped you to be the man you are…
My parents splitting up at the age of 11 really fucked me off however, I will not elaborate on this!
Meeting Danny C in Colchester at 17 years old when I was playing reggae on my Dad’s soundsystem. Danny came over to me and said, ‘Oi Geez, fancy bringing your soundsystem to an outdoor gig sometime?’ This was in 1990. I met with Danny a few weeks later. This lead me to the world of raving and the next 10 years were the best times I’ve had! Apart from point three…..
Jail in 1996. It was for a small fraud but I had a lot of previous juvenile shite so I had a three month holiday in Pentonville and another three in Hollesly Bay. Let’s just say the whole experience woke me the fuck up and turned me into a man! No highlights in jail – obviously! – but I had my 1992 LTJ Bukem Yaman tape to keep me sane and someone sent me this mix: Doc Scott… Breakbeat Experiments- (Mixmag Live, Volume 22-1996)
So technically it’s actually 21 years of Digital. But you consider Spacefunk to be your first complete solo track…. What can we say about the work that preceded it? I understand your integrity not taking the claim for them because they were engineered with other producers (such as Photek) BUT they wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for your involvement and ideas, right?
Yeah they wouldn’t have existed without me. I took Touch Me to Photek with a shabby Amen break I sampled at my friend Gordon’s studio. But all the other samples and writing was done by me. Perhaps my ego has got the better of me!
Is that indicative of the type of character you are: why get someone else do to do it when you can learn the craft and do it yourself?
Something like that! I was really interested in playing around with sounds so I really wanted to get my own hands dirty to understand what the hell was going on. Especially after the whole thing clicked at a rave in Milton Keynes… I was floating in space somewhere and I heard 4 Hero’s In The Shadow Part III from the Enforcers 3 picture disc. They took parts from the original mix and from other tracks so I realised then it’s just jigsaw type stuff.
Another reason – and you may laugh at this – but Photek, Gordon Mulrain and Rob Solomon were a big part of my early studio education but all three of these guys smoked cigarettes like you’ll never believe. It was like sitting in a fucking chimney in their studios, so I urgently needed my own equipment!
Back to the future: The return of Function…. How long has this been plot been hatching? You spoke to us last October and didn’t mention a whisper of this!
I was plotting this but I like to do things on the down low. Anyway I thought I’d get three or four releases ready before I kick off and that’s all sorted so here I am.
How deep are you into the future of Function? Have you already locked releases for the foreseeable? We’re not letting you get away without teasing us this time!
I’m pretty deep into it! I have the Respek Da Foundation EP featuring Response and Dub Phizix with a remix of Deadline. I have solo tracks and collabs with Drumsound & Bassline Smith, Spirit + Om Unit, Sight Unseen, Keygenlog, Response, Horrific James from Horrific Recordings and a VIP with Lady Flava.
Let’s just take a moment to big up Dub Phizix on his remix of Deadline. Of all your deadly back cat, and all the awesome contemporary producers in operation now, how did you arrive at such a killer combination?
You’ll have to ask him! Deadline was part of a remix competition so the samples were out there so he decided to do a mix but he did it his way after the competition ended. I was all ‘Deadlined out’ after listening to 80 remixes plus I was running around Australia and Thailand so I wasn’t bothered about releasing anything at the time. A year or two later and I’m feeling fresh, the remix sounds fresh and I can even play my own version again without grimacing! He said this mix helped him along the way with recognition so it’s a win win job.
Let’s also take a moment to big up Response… We know his skills were identified by Clive at Ingredients. We know you previously collided with the stunning jazzy roller Slip Away. But what else can you tell us about him? And what did he bring to the creative melting pot on Silver Lining?
Apart from sitting around in my brother’s pub with his feet up, drinking free beer, eating free food, preferring my studio to his because he calls my house his ‘holiday home’, waking up at 11 am and helping himself to everything in my kitchen I’d say he’s naturally talented. It’s just good vibes when he’s around because he’s a very relaxed, intelligent, music loving guy so it’s a pleasure to work with him. He likes to keep things simple and he’s the kind of producer who wants to make music with shelf life so we can relate in that way.
Response is the latest of a long, long, LONG line of killer collabo projects you’ve had over the years: Spirit, Total Science, Lutin, Brillo, Outrage, You’re a serial collaborator! What is it about creative collaborative projects that appeals to you?
I’d love my own engineer? Haha! Seriously though, taking turns to engineer enables you to sit back and think about your next piece of writing with a clear head and I think collabs help you have more patience in the studio because it can be a long lonely slog (I’m looking for sympathy)
Working with an artist I rate is fantastic in itself because I get to learn from them. For example, people like Outrage, Nomine and Spirit are very particular about certain things that I may need a kick up the arse with. On the other hand an artist like Response likes to let the whole session flow softly and easily just like me. My recent collab with Horrific James was a hoot because we were up in the sky somewhere listening to tracks like Peshay’s Beyond The Future on Warped Science…
Then we literally ran upstairs and stayed up all night to finish a track called Too Much. Basically collaborations result in me keeping a good balance of vibe and technology plus the artists I mostly collab with are friends so it’s great to catch up in the studio.
If you could pick three Digital releases that define who you are, what would they be and why?
No direction, years of stress, a journey of hell. Then Spacefunk came along and changed my life.
Note to myself…. No need to conform just do your thing
I smoked far too much but I’ve decided I’m good at basslines
Care to share a little hype about the mix you’ve made for us?
It’s not about the individual tracks it’s about the whole mix. I want to create a big wodge of thickness so there isn’t much thin biz, just heavy tracks. No double drop business as I’m not that type of DJ, plus why the hell would I want to take the track off so fast anyway? It would be criminal to mix Mako’s Do You Feel The Same before the breakdown in the middle! Excuse the bass and treble cuts when I mix, I can’t help it because it’s the reggae soundsystem vibe in me. One more thing – Play this mix on some decent speakers ffs!
Finally… 2035. Seems a long way off but if the last 20 have flown by, the next 20 will too. Any thoughts on where we’ll be, what we’ll be listening to and how we’ll be behaving in that distant future?
Holy Moly! I watch too much Russel Brand’s ‘The Trews’ so if I answered this in full I’d sound like a political nut job. In regards to music, hell knows what technology will be around to change the sound of music but I’ll look forward to it. We all love a bit of old school, no matter our age, so I know I’ll still be listening to classics from 20/30 years ago… or 40/50 years ago, however you want to look at it. For example, when will Strings Of Life ever sound crap?