Jungle legends don’t come any bigger than Nicky Blackmarket. A selector. A label owner. An record shop innovator. An ambassador.
Drum&BassArena blog regular Jamie S23 had the chance to interview him last week. This is how it went down…
Surprisingly Nicky doesn’t really do interviews. What with having five children and a global DJ schedule, his free time is minimal. With such a rare window, it’s difficult to know where to start. I decided to start with a personal favourite ‘Geese Tune’.
Telestar liked to call it ‘Wild Geese’ on the Jungle Mania compilation series. A combined production effort from Nicky, engineered by Dillinja, released on Lucky Spin/Blackmarket shop picture disc format in 1994, Nicky recalls the studio moment well. The big question is why he didn’t follow more of a production route? His answer was simply “because I am a DJ at heart and always will be.”
Of course he wasn’t just a DJ. How about Kartoons? A record label he set up with Azuli Records founder David Piccioni, it was no doubt made famous by Trend’s ‘2 Degrees’.
“It was next level, something fresh that the dancefloor needed” grins Nicky explaining young producers would fly into Blackmarket Records* from all angles with DAT tapes. “We pressed loads of stuff,” he admits. “Probably too much, we had loads of stuff going out with that label!”
He’s right: it was really a label for everyone at the time. Kartoons ended in 2000. Nicky confirms that the label “had pretty much run its course” although this may not be the end for Kartoons…. I suggested that it may be an idea to remix some of the classics from the label and to my amazement this was answered with a big “YES! I don’t see a better time than the present to think about remixing some of the tracks from Kartoons”.
Next up for discussion were some of the big events of the mid ‘90s. Dreamscape 20 in particular, alongside 5ive-O and Moose. Nicky recalls the event as “some bloody massive rave in tents near Northampton.” For those unfamiliar, Dreamscape were run by the late Murray Beetson who Nicky described as “an innovator of the rave scene, someone who set down the foundations for underground music as we now know it”. We spoke about how legendary the set from this event really was and it was certainly refreshing when Nicky seems quite lost for words.
Helter Skelter Energy 97 was the next big set that I wanted to talk about. Stevie Hyper D was causing mayhem everywhere he performed. Nicky instantly recalls his renowned lyric “mena-mena-move your body, move your body plenty”.
“This was around the time Stevie (god rest his soul) was coming to every dance with me,” says Nicky. “He would literally turn up and destroy the place.”
Although information relating to Nicky Blackmarket’s past is pretty scarce on the internet, I did manage to retrieve some early information relating to Pulse FM and the early days of pirate radio. It turns out, though, that this wasn’t his first venture into radio. Friends FM came way before it.
Mad B, otherwise known as Formula 7, set up Friends FM around 1988 with Nicky Blackmarket hosting the breakfast slot.
“This was around the acid house days,” he recalls. “Pirates like Sunrise, Centerforce and Fantasy were all starting to emerge. We were today’s version of Facebook and Twitter providing the ravers with travel directions to the latest party”.
Nicky remembers providing slightly inaccurate traffic information on the radio causing a massive tailback of cars full of ravers on the M25…
“It was one of those moments where you think… ahhhh shit,” he grins. “I’ve sent everyone to the wrong part of the motorway!”
Police officers arrived, even more puzzled as to why these party goers had taken it upon themselves to congregate on the hard shoulder. Thankfully the correct travel information was eventually provided and the ravers ended up where they should have – the mighty rave that was Redemption. The power of pirate radio!
“I used to do the Sunday evening show in my pyjamas and dressing gown, it’s how it was back then,” he chuckles. These were obviously fond memories for Nicky as he talks about his love for the relaxed atmosphere and family-like relationship he had with the station. We discussed the possible return of pirate radio. But Nicky’s not sure.
“The end of the FM signal probably means the end for pirates,” he avers. “The whole procedure from setting up a studio to positioning the aerial was all part of the fun, you will never get that back now.”
Although Nicky parted company with BM Soho (formerly known as Blackmarket Records) last year after spending 21 years in the business we talk about the early days of the popular London record shop. During the crossover from hardcore, Nicky adopted the sound as his own and converted the basement of the shop to a specialist seller of all things jungle.
“Thursday was always amazing,” he smiles. “All members of the community would come together to pick up the big tunes for the weekend. You didn’t have to be a DJ, just someone that had a genuine love for the music. It was a real family affair.”
It turns out that the labels would originally send boxes of promo vinyls directly to Blackmarket Records*, before the distributor even got hold of the records in order to get the tracks heard as soon as possible!
D&B: then and now
We start to discuss the scene’s changing factors over the last 10 years. What you now hear on the radio isn’t quite the same as the One In The Jungle movement presented by Radio1 from 95-98.
“We talk about drum & bass now and it’s all about the commercial side of the scene but it’s vital that people are aware of the roots and foundation of the scene,” he states. “Back when production wasn’t so easy or affordable we all wanted to know where that sample came from or how the break was made, how we could recreate that bassline and take it to the next level. I think that’s where the connection was in jungle: everyone wanted it to be a movement for the people.”
“All that unplugging the box and messing around with wires? I don’t have time for that!” he laughs. “I want to turn up and immediately connect with the crowd, not worry about how my Serato box is going to get connected”.
He also makes a valid point about the evolution of DJs and the fact that although technology has made it possible for anyone to be a ‘DJ’, to be truly successful “you have to know how to draw, how to be a selector”.
Nicky rewinds back to the early 80’s and instantly reflects on the days of being a rare groove & soul DJ alongside Clarky (Metalheadz), where he learnt the art of not only being a DJ but also being a selector.
“We used to walk through the estates with old curtains covering the decks, arrive at the venue string up the set (soundsystem) and play all night then unstring the set then go to bed,” he reminisces. “Early house, dance, soul and funk. These early events were my YTS, the Kennington house party era!”
So that’s it, a documented history of Nicky Blackmarket finally being archived to the internet. I know that I have really only scratched the surface with this and without a doubt he has so much more to tell. You could write a book on the history of Nicky Blackmarket and his journey through the scene. Maximum respect to him for taking the time out to do this interview.
The forum community put forward some quick fire questions for Nicky Blackmarket….
If you had to choose between running a record shop and DJing which would it be?
“My love has always been DJing, although running a record shop goes hand in hand with being a DJ, my main passion will always be that of connecting on a level with the crowd wherever that may be.”
What’s the all-time biggest selling tune at Blackmarket Records*?
“It has to be Deep Blue – Helicopter – we originally ordered 1,000 units and they had all vanished within a week. It was like we couldn’t get enough from the pressing house, people were calling us, we were calling the pressing house, the distributors were calling us, it was madness”.
How many torches have you gotten through in your lifetime so far?
“Too many! It all stems back from when we used bedside lamps back in the mid 80’s where behind the makeshift DJ booth there were no lights and using lamps was the only option. I’m not a massive fan of brightly lit DJ booths, I prefer darker stages where using a torch really comes in handy.”
Who is Jamie? (the guy that goes to all the events with you)
“You could really call him a super fan, he knows the scene inside out and has been a massive supporter since the early years of Jungle. He just loves the music, he has true dedication.”
What’s the smallest venue you have been booked to play in?
“Believe it or not it was actually in a fan’s bedroom. He got all his mates over and recorded the session, I love doing things like that!”
What’s your strangest booking?
“Back in the mid 90s I was booked to play at a private birthday party at the Natural History Museum in London. Coming back to the museum after previously visiting with my family was crazy, a few weeks ago a T-Rex was sitting where the DJ booth was!”
Do you keep all of your dubplates?
“It’s a question of space these days but I do try to keep them all”
Can you tell us about your record collection?
“I have converted a large chunk of my collection to digital format leaving only my favourite tracks in the collection, the rest has either been sold or given away.”
Note *BM Soho was previously named Blackmarket Records