Biscuits, MDMA & riding the creativity wave

Have you ever got to the end of a Mcvities Chocolate Hobnob and thought how sad you are that it’s gone? that bite by bite it had disappeared? What started as an enjoyable foodie moment became a slow descent into a desire for more and yet, if at the end of the packet there was none, how did you feel?

For those that partake in MDMA usage the resulting high is one of the key drivers of the activity, the reasonably sustained plateau of bliss facilitates a sense of leaving this planet, existing on another plane, becoming one with fellow man and woman. However, this declines over time and sooner or later you’re stuck at the end of the night with the lights in the venue coming on and those friends not looking so friendly anymore.

So where on earth am I going with this? Fairly recently I was asked to do a remix for Musicated Records that featured one of my all time favourite UK soulful voices, Shaun Escoffery. I have been a huge fan since “Days Like This”, “Space Rider” and “Music In Me” and have secretly harboured a hope that one day I might be able to work with him in some capacity. So here I was, in that moment, with the incredible acapella vocals ready to start creating an entirely new musical backing of my choice.

I don’t know how everyone else works but I like to ride the wave of creativity as much as I can, which means trying to stay in that Hobnob/MDMA moment as long as possible. The early stages of composition when they go right can truly be magic and this was one of those moments. Everything fell into place and I was elated as each movement of the new version took shape. I would listen to it over and over again, over several evenings, running versions down to fall asleep to – a technique I use that magically brings the subconscious to the foreground and allows me to establish where the gaps are.

So things happened fast and I was ready to submit to the label. These moments are always with trepidation but I knew some magic had happened and I was still on that creative high. The reactions I got were priceless and utterly endorsing my gut feeling. Previews were hurriedly put together and started emerging on social media. Shaun Escoffery himself even jumped into the hype machine and was showing his approval.

I was elated, elevated, satisfied and validated.

but

then

just

like

that…….

No more excitement

It’s raining, it’s cold. I’m in the cold turkey phase and need my next Hobnob. Anyone want to send me a remix?!

“Believe” The Danny J Lewis mixes – out now at Traxsource – https://www.traxsource.com/title/1774093/believe-danny-j-lewis-remixes

Traxsource Garage EOY Analytics 2021

So it’s that time of year again where the mighty Traxsource creates end of year stats for its Artists and Labels. It’s a fascinating thing to explore visually as we scroll through our socials and there are some huge achievements – congrats to all. Now whilst scrolling my mind was building up a dataset and dashboard and I just had to put something together which is incredibly compelling to explore.

You can find the link here – https://datastudio.google.com/s/sOuE7vbmKh0

Methodology & Build

Considering all of this was publicly available I hand crawled the Garage Top 100 and pulled the stats from each artist using the web app front end. I did make exceptions however, where an artist is predominantly NOT garage I removed them to avoid skewing the figures and if an artist had no stats they were of course not included. The overall ranking was a simple summing of all metrics which felt fair – I saw no point in weighting each as they all contribute to the ‘success’ overall of the artist.

I grabbed the artist URLs and noted some other information – those who did not have bio and artist texts (room for improvement basically). This data was compiled into a spreadsheet and then ingested into a Google Data Studio project where the Dashoard was built.

What has been incredibly interesting here for me is the education of who is doing what. It has introduced me to new names I hadn’t been paying attention to and will do from now on – especially because I’m starting to do live-streaming DJ mixes and need fresh tracks! I imagine this is going to be very thought provoking and discussion will no doubt be interesting over on the Traxsource Garage Group – I’ll answer questions if anyone has them over there 😉

How do you say it? The great Garage Debate

Firstly, congrats to the entire Garage community, we have a new home! Traxsource in their wisdom have given us our dedicated top sales chart and associated complimentary assets – thank you!

Go take a look for yourself – https://www.traxsource.com/genre/29/garage/top

Group leader and talented producer Marc Cotterell quite rightly highlighted the diversity of sub genres that exist under this umbrella on the Facebook group’s header – see below

Traxsource Garage Facebook Group

So it confidently encompasses the following:

  • Garage
  • Garage House
  • US Garage
  • 2 Step
  • UKG

It’s a solid and sensibly mixed bunch that covers a variety of styles but there’s just one thing that needs clarification – how do you actually say Garage?

This young lady perhaps has the full lowdown:

The fact that the above video mentions class is interesting. Some people have told me in the past that they consider 4/4 Garage as ‘Council House’ but how does that make someone feel from that demographic? Appropriate? Insulting? I lived on a council estate for a few years and I pronounce it the ‘posh’ way so where does that leave us?!

Perhaps across the sub genres it is indeed pronounced differently. I was brought up on the US (Paradise) Garage and there’s no way the yanks said Paradise Garridge 🤣 That’s the reasoning behind my pronunciation – what’s yours?

My Influences: Sarah HB

It’s about time I started to bring some of my key musical influences onto this blog. I first came across Sarah HB on Kiss FM on a Saturday night in about 1993/4 between 11pm-1am after Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson (another huge influence for me) Whilst Paul played the more vocal end of the spectrum, Sarah took things a tad darker and deeper but still with plenty of soul.

There was a completely atmospheric vibe on her shows, no doubt helped by the later time slot and if you weren’t heading into town for an underground club night her show was the next best thing. I’ll never forget catching some of the early Roger Sanchez joints on her show alongside the amazing stripped back dubs of Masters At Work and Kerri Chandler. These were my musical foundations being cast in pure Deep House concrete. Sarah’s show was completely complementary to my club going in that era – Gardening Club in Covent Garden and Ministry Of Sound in Elephant and Castle being highlights, then of course there was Bagleys for Hard Times and there’s a story there that’s well worth recalling 😀

Sarah HB

So Sarah also co-presented the Kiss FM breakfast show with Dave Pearce and one morning I entered a competition to win VIP tickets to the “Down n Out’ In London party at Bagleys in Kings Cross and won. It was a phone-in competition and I literally got to speak to her to give over my details in order to get the passes, which was a serious fan moment for a certain 23 year old. The event itself was incredible and funnily enough I was in conversation with DJ Disciple recently who I saw spin there. I remember walking into one of the larger rooms where he was behind the decks and it was super dark, with strobe flashes perfectly punctuating the glass smashes of Soul Fusion “Bass Tone’ What a moment and what a night!

Hard Times Flyer
The greatest lineup ever?

I digress, but seriously Sarah, I want to say a massive thanks to you for being one of my musical influences. If you listen back to my catalogue I am sure you can hear elements that are inspired by that time when I was a hardcore fan at the other end of the airwaves.

If you want to learn more about Sarah there’s a great profile linked here but also reproduced for convenience below – https://totallywiredradio.com/sarah-hb/

Sarah HB is a renowned DJ and broadcaster whose prolific career has seen her play on radio, in clubs and at events around the world for over 30 years. Since the mid-1980s she has championed the dance music scene bringing an eclectic mix of Deep House and Hip Hop to a global audience.

A born and bred Londoner, Sarah attended Chelsea School of Art after which she went on to become one of the first female dance music radio DJs when she joined Carl Cox, Tim Westwood and Sister Bliss on London’s infamous pirate station LWR.

BROADCASTING

In 1990 Sarah joined London’s Kiss FM, the first legal UK dance music radio station. Alongside her weekly specialist show on Saturday nights, Sarah presented every daytime slot during her eight years there – including the infamous Dangerous Breakfast show with co-host Dave Pearce. She also presented shows live from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago with guests and co-hosts including Danny Tenaglia, Josh Wink and Roger Sanchez.

After leaving Kiss in 1998, Sarah joined the Galaxy Radio network with her nationally syndicated radio show The French Touch – the first UK show dedicated to French house music featuring artists such as Daft Punk, Bob Sinclar and Saint Germain. At the same time she presented the networked Ministry of Sound radio show as well as guest slots internationally on Italia Network, Triple J (Australia) and Hot 97 (New York).

In 2000 Sarah was signed up by the BBC to present the weekend breakfast show on Radio 1 which quickly gained the highest weekend ratings second to the UK Top 40. During her tenure, she presented on every daytime slot and was also a regular host of Sunday night’s Dance Anthems.

Sarah has also presented on television and is an accomplished voiceover artist.

In 2011 she became a founder member of Sound Women, an organisation to support and promote the careers of women working in radio.

MUSIC INDUSTRY

DJING

During the 1990s, Sarah was the label manager for Freetown Records. With an artist roster including Masters At Work, Marshall Jefferson and Loleatta Holloway she managed the company’s day-to-day operations and world licensing deals as well as A&Ring new product for both Freetown and its subsidiary SubWoofer.

Sarah has also put together compilations for Mastercuts, React Records, Phuture Trax, Strictly Rhythm and Streetsounds. She has also written for music magazines such as Blues And Soul.

Sarah has played in leading clubs across America, Europe and Australia. In the UK she held residencies at the Ministry of Sound in London and the Sub Club in Glasgow as well as guesting at underground nights at, among others, Labyrinth and The Cross.

In the early 1990s, she was the first female DJ from the UK to tour Australia – alongside Paul Oakenfold, Graeme Parke, Sasha and The Prodigy

As a promoter, she has run many of her own clubs including Jus ‘HB, Cockroach City and Leave My Wife Alone.

As well as playing at private parties for leading figures in politics and the media, Sarah DJs at art events, festivals, fashion shows, and film premières from Frieze, to Batman to Alexander McQueen.

Vocal Bytes

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Take a listen to “The 90s Tapes” and you’ll hear vocals, tons of them and at the time when I made the tracks from my bedroom in the early 90s I had no access to singers or the gear to record them well enough. These days we’re very used to huge libraries of royalty free vocals but in those days such things were few and far between. Back in the day we had to use Sample CDs that were audio, not even data. This meant we would have to literally plug a CD player into our sampler and play the audio in realtime, recording it, editing it and truncating it in order to reduce the amount of RAM the sound would take up.

Now the best source of vocals at that time was a CD available on Time & Space called Vocal Bytes and it become completely and utterly rinsed by not only me but other producers of that era. It’s funny, if there were a way to trace every single recording now it would reveal multiple people using the same vocals on tracks.

Vocal Bytes Sample CD

Consider a ‘song’ like “Gotta Love You” that has verses and choruses. These were not prepared in that way on the CD at all. I had to scan through randomly scattered one shot words and phrases and attempt to piece together something that (almost) made grammatical sense – a huge challenge! It was an approach I used on “I Just Can’t Stop” and many many more. Thanks to Danny Taurus on the Underground Music Production group on Facebook I’ve actually found out that it’s still available for sale so take a look for yourselves and see if you fancy purchasing a slice of music production history!

Buy now – http://www.midimark.com/smplcds.html

When Synthesisers got Soul

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Quincy Jones is a hero of mine. I’ve read his autobiography and it is utterly fascinating. The amount of incredible performers and composers he has worked with in his lifetime is staggering.

He’s the producer of one of my all time favourite albums, Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” and a highlight for me was the Stevie Wonder co-write “I Can’t Help It”. Now there’s a story that links in part to Stevie that is so damn interesting related to the early days of synthesisers as musical instruments.

A Wall Street journal interview with Quincy Jones revealed something that I find truly fascinating and it started with a question…

“Why aren’t the black musicians playing my instrument?”

Robert Moog

So here we have an innovator in electronic music with a pivotal question to one of the most influential music producers in the world. What was Quincy’s answer?

“Very simple. What the synthesiser is about is electrical signal that is pure wave. It can be sculpted into a sawtooth, a sine wave, whatever you want. It is an electrical signal, pure as a baby. But it doesn’t bend! If it doesn’t bend, black musicians will not play it.”

Quincy Jones

So as a result, Moog added pitch bend and modulation wheels to allow for more expressiveness. The result? Stevie Wonder did four albums on moog synthesisers and won many Grammy awards.

Pitch Bend and Modulation wheels

What an amazing story! and it’s brought to you thanks to a posting by Quincy himself on Instagram that I spotted a short while back – cited below and linked here https://www.instagram.com/p/CTV1YfMl5tE/?utm_medium=copy_link

Hunting Through Old Projects

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So tonight I’ve grabbed an old external HD I’d forgotten about, plugged it in and searched for all Ableton Live Projects. I’ve gotta say that this is already some serious treasure hunting. Isn’t it mad how when we’re close to our musical ideas that sometimes we can tire from them – as I did when I made them. For whatever the reason at the time I didn’t finish them – possibly through lack of belief in that track.. Give it some space, several years in fact and everything becomes clear. I am feeling so blessed to have found some of these and will be revisiting them for sure with a fresh mind.

Check the comedy names! how many of us come up with such ridiculousness? I’m sure this will resonate with many of you haha. Some are definite rejects but many are not and some have a story behind them too. In this list are a total of 476 files – many will be duplicates due to incremental file numbering of the same name. This is going to take me into the early hours by the looks of things – wish me luck!