You Call The Shots: Ray Keith

You Call The Shots: Ray Keith

Welcome to the first in a series of special features where we get YOU to ask the questions!

Let’s kick off as mean to go on by interviewing one of the scene’s most influential figureheads. We’re talking about a man with a million aliases. Some know him as Renegade. Others know him as the Dark Soldier. And some still remember him fondly as Dr Wootang. Ladies and gentleman we give you Ray Keith.

The man behind the massive Dread Recordings, Mr Keith really needs no introduction. Largely recognised as one of jungle’s primary forefathers, his scene shaping bangers such as Terrorist, Yes Yes and The Chopper remain some of the most referenced tracks in the history of D&B.

And guess what? There’s a whole load of cuts from that era that you have yet to enjoy a proper release. Previously floating around the jungle cognoscenti as sought-after acetates, Ray’s forthcoming release series Dread Digital Dubplate Archive will boast a whole slew of formative jungle bangers, all remastered and updated with contemporary production sparkles.

“I started going through all my DATs and found so many tracks that never enjoyed a proper release!” he tells us. “Some came out on dub, others were just giving to one or two DJs, I thought to myself ‘right, you’ve got a new audience, a much more accessible audience, and these tunes need to be released!’ Also, back then we didn’t know as much as we do now, so I thought it was a perfect time to remaster them, bring them up to date and give something back to all our Dread fans worldwide!”

Dread Digital Dubplate Archive 1 & 2 mark the end of a stupidly busy year for Ray. Not content with updating Dread’s classical content, earlier this summer he released I Am Renegade…. His very first self-engineered album!

“I was really happy with I Am Renegade,” he tells us. “I started producing in 1992, my first production was the Orbital remix which I gave to Grooverider and he smashed it. Since then I’ve always had engineers. I realised about 18 months ago that I’d been doing it this year all my career and really wanted to progress myself. I’ve got to make that jump. I’ve been producing for a lot of years but when you produce through somebody’s eyes there’s always there’s always the fact it’s not quite your vision. Not 100 per cent anyway. So I threw myself into it and really learned how to make that sound. It was all from the heart. I was so happy with the response from Radio 1 to the pirate shows.”

And there’s more… Ray’s live seven-piece band Renegade have been smashing any festival who’ve had the good sense to invite them on stage.

“I wanted to go back to the start, get back on the road and really push things,” he explains. “We had a lot of festival gigs this year; the best being Bangface Weekender where I played alongside some of my heroes; 808 State and Aphex Twin. It was crazy!”

Which brings us rather neatly to our first question…

Who inspired you? And are you satisfied with the jungle scene today? (August Wille)

“There are so many inspirations! I’m very blessed, I came from a rich time in music; the 80s and 90s. There was all the early electronic dance music like Depeche Mode, Orchestral Maneouvres In The Dark, Gary Numan. There was all that great underground hip-hop. Then you had the acid house and techno explosion with Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson… These guys were making music that truly stands the test of time. We had so much to inspire us! And that’s before we started to make jungle.

Am I satisfied with jungle today? It’s good! It’s interesting to hear the next generation’s interpretation of drum & bass. A lot of the younger guys are charting, which is good for everyone. That attention opens so many doors for everyone in the scene. It keeps it alive. I do worry a lot of the music is throwaway, though. Things are so easy and accessible. People want stuff and they want it now. My advice is to step back a little. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And if you want it stand after a week you need to really think about what you’re building. With every Dread release I’ve wanted people to still pick it up in 10, 15, 20 year’s time and still go ‘fuck me, that’s a killer tune!’”

If you could remix any tune the ‘Dread Recordings way’, what would you pick? (Leigh Bolton)

“Shit! That’s a mad question. I love all types of music. Let me think…. Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy would be a massive challenge. I love that tune. Badboy tune. Tell you what, I’ve been so blessed to remix a lot of great people anyway. From Moby to Baby D to St Etienne to Rebel MC, I’ve remixed so many! It would be nice to remix Yellow Diamonds In The Light, or maybe Daniel Bedingfield. I’d happily rise to any remix challenge!”

What’s your favourite break? (Damien Dickinson)

“I haven’t got a favourite break to be honest; I just use what I’m feeling at the time. A lot of people associate me with the Amen because of Renegade Terrorist, but loads of other people used it before us. NWA for one; that was the first time I heard it and thought ‘fuck!’ It’s like a full bodied, vintage red wine. You’re always going to keep coming back to it. But I’ve used others. I was the first person to use the Yes Yes break in jungle, I used a lot of the Lyn Collins breaks. There are so many breaks which I’ve wanted to use but never got round to using them yet! That said, the Amen is a badboy break and it will live on forever…”

If you had a chance to relive the early drum & bass sounds, would you? (Matthew Batchelor)

“You can’t live in the past. Those were the classic days and we were blessed, but you’ve got to keep moving on and progressing. To have that chance to make people dance is a blessing but I try not to dwell on the past and how we used to do things. That’s why we got the band; we’re revisiting those sounds but we’re doing it in a new way with new technology. Keep pushing forward!”

Do you prefer using Bisto gravy granules or do you make your own gravy from scratch? (Matthew Scott)

“Oh, nice! I’ve got to say Bisto. Just because I’m trying to lose weight. When you make the gravy from the bottom of the pan there’s a lot of fat in there, so Bisto cuts that out. That said, I love cooking! I’m a massive Masterchef fan. But yeah, I’m gonna go on a healthy vibe and say granules. Actually, here’s a tip: when you put the hot water on the granules, they get lumpy… Just get your whisk out and it will be nice and smooth within a minute. Trust me.”

What is the better biscuit: Bourbon or Custard Cream? (Cale Flynn)

“Bourbon all day long. But I am quite partial to a Custard Cream.”

What’s the biggest positive and the biggest negative about the way D&B has changed over the years? (Okko Roes)

“I think it’s a brilliant time for producers at the moment. There are more opportunities now than ever and there’s an array of great music around. But to me it’s about experimenting and thinking outside the box. Look back and you’ve always got certain sounds that everyone tries to emulate. So when we made Renegade Terrorist a lot of other people tried to recapture that vibe. A few years later and Ed Rush & Optical made Wormhole and everyone went on that vibe. Most people take good music and you put their own interpretation on it. I’m keen to hear more leaders and not followers. That’s why we have a lot of artist development at Dread. Bladerunner’s been with us for eight years. Mr Explicit is coming through. For me right now it’s about developing them and maintaining a very high level. I would say to any young producer at the moment; go out and listen to DJs who you’ve never heard before. Listen to other genres and styles and find inspiration from the widest field possible. I hope that’s a good answer!”

What runs through your mind as you are creating and naming your songs? And how long do you usually take building a track? (Eric Hernandez Vichez)

“I actually name a tune before I start it. This gives me direction and template to work within. It all depends on how I feel about that day. Length-wise I can make a track in four hours. Worst case scenario, we’re talking four or five sessions. On a good day, four or five hours. I’m very lucky, I’ve got my studio in my house so I can get up nice and early and get stuck in. That Stardust tune I made on the album was made about 5am. The sun came up and I was feeling angelic. Full of vibes! It’s all about how you feel on the day.”

Ray, your mixing style is second to none. Are you happy with the fact that after some of your sets the crossfader had to be replaced? (Jamie Smith)

“God bless you mate! Thanks for the comment. But I’ve been DJing for a long, long time and I’ve never knowingly bust up a fader! Haha! I come from the old school of DJing. If you didn’t hold a beat down for over three minutes, locked in, they’d throw you off the decks! You’ve got to be light on the crossfader. Ask any hip-hop DJ and they’ll tell you that you need angel delight fingers on that crossfader!”

Who is the best producer you have ever worked with? Who do you think is killing it at the moment? And would you ever work with them? (Ricky Briars)

“There’s a lot of great producers out there! Obviously I’ve got to big up our own camp. Both Bladerunner and Mr Explicit are shining now. I’m loving Rene LaVice, he’s doing some really interesting things. Obviously Calibre needs a big up when you’re talking about amazing producers. He always raises the bar! Producers I’d like to work with? Dre would be fucking great wouldn’t he? I’d to work with Mala actually. We’re always talking about it but it never happens. Have you heard his Mala In Cuba album? Badboy album. I dare say we’ll do a little co-lab at one point.”

How did you guys gain success and popularity back in the day with no internet to spread your music? (Jon Brannen)

“Our social network was record shops and Music House cutting studio. We spread our word through magazines and raves. It was a totally different time back then. Your communication skills had to be more powerful back then, I reckon. You had to believe in what you were saying and doing. Today’s method of communication can be a bit faceless. It’s easy to criticise from behind a computer. Back then our networking was a lot more hands on. Of course the internet has helped us go global but there’s a lot to be said about the old school ways of communication and message spreading.”

Dread 01 – Yes Yes was a huge release, did you expect the launch title to take off quite as it did? (Jamie S23)

“No. I don’t think you can ever accurately predict how a release will do until it gets out there. Especially on a brand new label. It’s a lot to do with ‘right place, right time’. I’m blessed that it resonated with the dancefloor in the way it did. Who knows how it would have gone if it was released a year before? Maybe no one would’ve understood or appreciated it. Stick enough on the wall and some of it will stick. No one will give you that success, you’ve got to do it with serious hard work. So if Yes Yes hadn’t been a success, one of my other records would’ve been because I wanted it so much and believed in it so much.”

When you released Original Wootang under the Doctor Wootang alias, was this a direct response to SS’ Lighter? (Jamie S23)

“No no no. Not at all! At the end of the day, when we were all together, pushing this new sound, we were all inspiring each other. There was only a handful of us at the time and we were vibing off each other in a big way. I did Renegade, he did Black. He did Lighter, I did Wootang. We were all inspiring each other, from London to Bristol, all of us trying to push things forward and make each record better. From 94-96 we were all in the studio, buzzing off what each other were doing.”

Out of the huge back catalogue Dread has produced, what is your favourite release? (Jamie S23)

“What a question! I could never, ever boil that answer down to one tune. It’s funny, when I first started producing, I’d hear my dub plates on a big system in a rave and think ‘fuck me!’ And of course you’d hear it being mixed with another tune. Which is something you can never anticipate or predict when you’re in the studio. It’s another tune; two records together is another form of making music. So my favourite Dread production? Anything that the DJs are playing creatively.”

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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.