Five Minutes With: Ramos

Five Minutes With: Ramos

In the spirit of our One Nation competition yesterday, we’re continuing on old school tip as regular contributor Jamie S23 chats to a scene-shaping rave legend, DJ Ramos. One of the key figures responsible for hardcore’s serious injection of piano positivity back in the early 90s, his influence can be felt in myriad genres to this day. Including drum & bass.

Read on to find out how jungle wasn’t the only scene boasting a thriving dubplate culture and how the work of Ramos, Supreme and Sunset Regime played a part in the development of drum & bass as we know and love it today. 

DJ Ramos may not be a name you’re aware of but back in the early to mid 90s this man, alongside Supreme and Sunset Regime, was responsible for some of the biggest breakbeat hardcore and happy hardcore anthems of the time.

‘Sunshine’, for example. Released on Hectic Records in 1993 it was an instant anthem comprising a relatively new formula of happy piano riffs, females vocals and breakbeats. Ramos remembers its beginnings well as he talks about a club night in the Isle Of Wight.

“Carl Cox was on before me and I started my set with ‘Sunshine’,” he explains. “As soon as I dropped it he came rushing over to the decks, gave me a massive bear hug and said ‘I need this bloody tune!”

One of the key parts of any hardcore tune is the piano breakdown. Initially you might assume that one of the producers is a trained pianist. Not in the case of Ramos, Supreme and Sunset Regime: it turns out that Rick (Sunset Regime) just had a natural talent for all things related to uplifting chords.

“We would come up with how we wanted the riff to sound and then Rick would just put together some chords on the fly, it was as simple as that,” Ramos admits. “None of us could read sheet music, it was all part of the fun of producing. None of us were technically trained musicians but we knew how to operate production software and use a sampler”.

‘Crowd Control’ and ‘The Journey’, both released in 1993, certainly played their part in the evolution of the scene, Ramos remembers playing these tracks to Dougal who commented “at last! I have been waiting for a sound like this”. It wasn’t long before Dougal introduced Ramos to Murray Beetson, the promoter of Dreamscape, enabling his legendary set at Dreamscape 06 to take place.

Although Ramos was producing for Hectic Records alongside the likes of Slipmatt, Vinylgroover and DJ Sy, it wasn’t long before he decided to start RSR Recordings. “I had a whole host of music that was just waiting to be signed,” he explains. “I was writing for Hectic regularly but I wanted something I could run myself” and so RSR was born.

Popular releases such as ‘Knight Raver’ and ‘I’ve Got The Real Feel’ continued to push the breakbeat hardcore scene further into the happy hardcore genre with uptempo beats and accompanying synth riffs raising the tempo to around 160bpm… Edging the development towards the D&B tempo we know and love today.

RSR also spawned an offshoot label in 1994 called Supreme Music, the noteworthy release from this label being ‘Life Force Generator’ with the renowned vinyl sleeve featuring the full squad’s photograph.

“At the time Rick’s mate was doing a photography degree and he offered to put together some shots of us all,” says Ramos. “When we saw the results it was decided that we should use this as a vinyl sleeve”.

To my knowledge it’s one of the first vinyl sleeves in rave music to feature a photograph of DJs and MCs. It’s certainly a memorable moment in time.

Dubplate Culture: not just for the junglists

Although we know dubplate culture was rife in the jungle scene, it also existed in the hardcore scene. And to pretty much the same extent.

“We would all arrange to meet at one of the pressing houses to exchange new tunes,” says Ramos. “If someone couldn’t make it we would play the tune over the phone as this was the way before the use of email”.

Of course this process of sharing and distributing around key DJs wasn’t cheap. Like jungle, quality was kept high and tunes were shared with strategy… And budgets. At £30 a plate (about the modern day equivalent of £60-90) Ramos also explains that it wasn’t cheap to distribute dubplates.

“The cost of cutting dubplates was always covered by the DJ’s,” he explains. “We wouldn’t give our tracks away for free and that’s how it worked with everyone”. He also reminisces on the time when hardcore and jungle producers shared a common interest: “We would all go to the pressing house, sharing time with the likes of Grooverider, Ray Keith and Kenny Ken”.

Hold tight as jungle splits from hardcore…

When you listen back to tracks like ‘Sunshine’, ‘Moments in Time’ by SY & Unknown, ‘My Own’ by DJ Section or Fat Controller’s ‘In Complete Darkness’ it’s clear that although these tracks are driven by hectic breakbeats and hands in the air breakdowns they could still share space in any DJ’s record box from that era.

Combine the above with the likes of Ray Keith’s ‘Terrorist’, Aphrodite’s ‘Crazy Trip to the Tropics’ and Randal & Andy C’s ‘Sound Control’ and it’s pretty evident that breakbeats, melodic pads and pianos were a winning combination…. Perhaps the conversations at the pressing house revolving around production meant that ideas were shared regularly? This face to face contact is something that is pretty unheard of in 2013, besides brief encounters behind the decks every weekend.

Back to the future: 2012 saw DJ’s like Ramos, Mark Breeze and Mampi Swift revisit the art of mixing upfront hardcore with drum & bass. And if what you see on Twitter is to be trusted, it was to a welcome reception.

Live with the pirates

Speaking of reception, pirate radio was another strong parallel between happy hardcore and jungle. In the late 80s and early 90s the pirates were a big part of Ramos’s musical influence and he would run regular house and rave shows alongside the likes of Brisk. Future FM ran from various locations around Southampton and as Ramos recalls “it was a legendary time, we were constantly moving the transmitter, mixing equipment and aerials from one location to another”.

We spoke about the future of radio and whether or not pirate radio would make a big return. Ramos firmly believes that internet radio is still the way forward and with ever increasing professional radio studios being built to accommodate this need he’s certainly not wrong.

Ramos: Then & Now

Looking back at the many events Ramos has played at over the years I asked him if he could choose a favourite event. Would it be the legendary hardcore set at Dreamscape 6?

“I’ll always remember one set that stands out from any other,” he says with a smile. “And that was playing back to back with Billy Bunter at Helter Skelter in the Rollers arena. We were playing a techno set alongside MC Whizzkid, the place was going totally nuts, the vibe was electric, I don’t think you could ever recreate that night”.

You can download the set from the RSR Soundcloud page here

Fast forward to 2013 and Ramos is still DJing and producing with the same enthusiasm, embracing new technology to the fullest. He’s using Traktor alongside the S4 controller and Mixed In Key for the majority of his DJ sets, although occasionally an odd booking comes in specifying a ‘vinyl only’ set. Production wise, Ramos favours Cubase 7 alongside NI Komplete and Nexus plugins. Samples these days are from Ramos’ multitude of banks stored on his Mac, sadly the days of sampling from vinyl seem to be a thing of the past.

A true legend of the hardcore scene, Ramos is a pioneering producer who paved the way for the early happy hardcore scene and, in turn, drum & bass. Without the input of Ramos, Supreme and Sunset Regime the early ‘hands in the air’ anthems that drove ravers directly to rush central may well have taken a different direction.

Drum&BassArena Editor: Dave Jenkins has documented beats for over 15 years working with the likes of UKF, Mixmag, DJ Mag, iDJ, Bandcamp, Resident Advisor, Radio 1 Xtra and many more.