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Summer Maddness: the multiple identities of Zed Bias (2002)

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Steve Goodman
London Hyperdub HQ
Also published in Deuce magazine 2002

Who is Maddslinky? And is he mad? Well, he uses lots of different names to tag his range of sonic flavours, Maddslinky being the cover for his jazz tinged releases and Zed Bias for his bassline rollers. An identity crisis, or just breaks ‘madd’?. And is he slinky? Well his beats are tuff’n’swung, being one of the early crafters, with Ghost’s El-B, of the ‘dark swing’ breakbeat garage sound. Maddslinky is also Dave Jones, Phuturistix with Injecta and the Henchmen with Juiceman and Simba. This is his, or rather their, summer, with the long awaited release of Tenor’s Saw’s reggae classic ‘Ring the Alarm’ on his Sidestepper label, the launch of his new Subs imprint (with a heavy release from M Double & Dangerous from the SLT Mob), the firing Soulja 4 rinse ‘Supafine’, his Maddslinky jazzstep album ‘Make Your Peace’ and his mix of DJ Zinc’s Bingo Beats 2 compilation all dropping together. We tracked the ‘madd’ man down at the venue for the launch of his album, East London’s Cargo.

From his base near Milton Keynes, Dave Jones’ sound has spawned several landmark tunes, from his dark, rigid mix, as E.S. Dubs, of ‘Standard Hoodlum Issue'(‘like a snake/’like a snake’), his charting dancehall garage ‘Neigbourhood'(‘feel good, good, good’) on Locked On and over 100 other remixes. Under the Maddslinky handle, in addition to the recently released ‘Make Your Peace’ album, Zed unleashed both ‘Dark Swing’/’Future Chicano’ and ‘Reject’/’Desert Fog’ on Sirkus, and ‘Frump’/’Fog’ on Stealth People. You could already hear him exploring the jazzier end of his sound with Injecta as Phuturistix on the ‘Deep Down’ E.P on Locked On. The Maddslinky album, drenched in 1970s jazz, funk and latin, exposes the more ‘musical’ side of a man whose Zed Bias guise has been written in bass. His favourite tune to make on the album was, he says with a wide grin on his face, “probably the one the garage heads will like the least. It is called 20/20 and it was just how it came together in the studio, who played on it etc. It was just a complete delight to do that tune. It just kind of did itself.” But, it is on the track ‘Reasons’ that he unleashes the kind of bass driven sidesteppa which gave him low-end infamy, and helped him define his dark swing groove.

As uk garage hits its own old school revival, it’s the obvious place to start our conversation. “Yeah, Ed Case just explained the old school revival thing to me. He said because there is so much shit out there, and such a limited reserve of good tunes, a lot of garage DJs are turning up and hearing the previous DJ playing every tune they had in their bag, so what they’re doing, rather than looking for new stuff that is not actually there, they are going back into the vaults, into their own collection.”

One crucial reference point for Dave in the early ukg sound lies with the original 2step master of swing, Steve Gurley. “Say the name to any garage fan now, who hasn’t been in it since day ‘dot’, then they won’t know who you are talking about, but hopefully that will all change with the Public Demand reissues. You ask any producer who started producing from 1999 through to the present day, and Steve has to have been a big influence on anyone who was producing 2step.” The recently reissued Gurley mix of Lenny Fontana’s ‘Spirit of the Sun’, Dave cites as one of his top 5 ever songs. “It was certainly a big happening in my world anyway, seeing what a 2step tune could do, out of a 2step context. The first time I heard that track was in Sheffield at the Adelphi back in 1998. It was Seven Wonders, and the whole night, every single DJ was playing 4/4, and no 2step. ‘Spirit of the Sun’ was dropped by Karl Brown, I think, and the whole place errupted. . .people went off their heads. That showed me the power a track like that could have.”

With uk garage now covering the full spectrum of beats, from 4 to the floor, to 2step to breakbeat, and flavours from cynical throwaway pop trash, to nasty underground playstation beats, most recognize that, while still dominating London pirate radio, the scene is now facing a critical threshold generated by market saturation. “In an age in which there is a dozen new white labels coming out every week, the shops aren’t restocking because they can’t be bothered keeping up with what is going on, or pushing things. We had to do it for ourselves. I say ‘we’ because I am fully behind the guys at Ammunition, their club Forward, and what they have done.” Spearheaded by his Zed Bias alias, Dave has “gone more in the breakbeat direction from garage. I tend to play a lot of stuff that is made popular at Forward, you know, the Horsepower stuff, Oris Jay’s stuff, and most things by Zinc and Hype, and try to merge that with my own productions. . .I think the actual reason for the club Forward coming about, was merely to be a vehicle for tracks were being ostracized by the rest of the garage scene. It is not that we think that what we are doing is miles further ahead that everybody else, that’s not the point. But it is still pushing things forward, it is to be able to go in our own direction without being held back by the rest of the scene, and the rest of the scene has collapsed. Forward is just a place set up where the producers and DJs supporting a certain sound could get together, and the crowd that enjoyed it could come and listen to it. It has taken off and developed since then. Not only can you expect to hear new stuff, but old tunes that got overlooked as well.”

At this critical threshold in ukg’s mutation, Zed suggests, “people are expecting something shocking. It is a scene that has been led through people’s big reactions to tunes, to the drop. It was about the big emphasis on bass drops. It got to a point where, for a tune to drop, it has to drop harder than the one before and you can only go up to a certain hardness, that threshold where everything starts to sound the same and is noise, and then the emphasis has gone away from the music. . .A lot of the drum’n’bass fraternity that I know can totally relate to where we are at, through what happened a few years ago in their own scene. I think that a lot of people who jumped on the garage bandwagon, even from the earlier days, not even just this year, but let’s say, last year, or the year before, were still people in it for commercial reasons. So it’s not really a surprise to me that the uk garage scene is starting to struggle for direction. I think there will be a lot more subgenres coming out of what we now know as garage.”

And having triggered crucial beat innovations all along the continuum from hardcore to drum’n’bass to 2step in the 1990s, many now look to producers like Gurley, perhaps unfairly, for a spark of genius. As Dave reports, “Steve is planning to come back, but he has to do it in a certain way, in his way. He is not a man to rush things. I spoke to him a couple of days ago, and he told me what he is doing and there is some exciting stuff coming up. When it does come, it will be solid. But everything expects something to shock, and that is a lot of pressure on any producer. You’ll probably find that a lot of what he will do is harking back to the original vibe, but the original vibe is Steve Gurley. You can’t take the vibe out of the man, you know. He wasn’t doing what other people had already done when he did it. I can’t get my head around it. Even I had Steve to look at when I was starting to produce 2step.”

A bit of a rare groover, Dave now tends to look back to look forward. “Musically I tend to get wooed more by my old record collection rather than the new stuff. My knowledge doesn’t run as deep as a lot of old soul boys and jazzers but I’ve got a collection that I like and I could listen to it for the rest of my life, and that is how I know it is a good collection. Records that you listen to once a week for a couple of years have to be good records and that inspires the shit out of me, I’m telling you. I don’t really look to peers around me, it’s not fair.”

While much of the hype surrounding the Maddslinky album (and the tracks of producers like Landslide) revolves around it’s fusion of breakstep with West London ‘nu jazz’ flavour, for Dave, now a global DJ, this is not really a big deal. “To those outside the UK, it’s all dance music. I come across this all the time, on my travels. When I’m out of the country, eg. recently I’ve been to Washington DC, a lot of people can’t differentiate between breakbeat, 2step and broken beat or ‘nu jazz’ when they are at the same tempo. Here in the UK, we have a different sort of palette. We are so used to dance music and it is so engrained in our society, from Pete Tong on Radio 1 to the commercials and so on. Here, it’s like football, it’s totally inside us and we’ve got the teams or genres that we support and it is all a bit like that. When we go abroad, to places like Italy where my friend Rocca runs the Maffia Club, you can play, in the same set, drum’n’bass, breakbeat, a bit of house, a bit of garage and a bit of ‘nu jazz’, and if it flows, if the DJ is putting it across in a way that makes sense to the crowd, they will clap and cheer and dance all night. There is no looking down the end of their nose, with people saying, that isn’t actually from that scene, so you shouldn’t be playing those tunes together. It brings you scarily back down to earth when you are on your travels. You think ‘god, we really are up our own arses in this country’. But it is also good. It reminds you what you are there for. You are there to entertain people and not to play tunes that you love and nobody else.”

The best example of this is his slow-mo junglist floor filler from the last year which finally gets a summer release on his Sidestepper label. “I sat on ‘Ring the Alarm’ for ages. Last year when I was playing it in New York it was already a year old. I literally only made it as a dubplate for my own bag. Me and Juiceman were walking down a street in Tokyo, and Juiceman started singing ‘Ring the Alarm’ and I started humming the bassline. And it turned into one of those things, where we were like, ‘we’ll do that when we get back’. 2 days after we got back, Juiceman comes to the studio, and brings Simba with him, and that was 5 hours work, one time and that was that.” With this range of styles gelling together so easily, an international Zed Bias DJ tour, and so much ammunition dropping together, we fully expect summer maddness!

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Copyright © Hyperdub 2002 – Reprinted with permission.

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Riddim.ca was founded by DJ/writer paul autonomic (aka Mr. Bump) in February 2005 as a hub for North America's nascent grime and dubstep scenes. Since then we've helped promote events across the continent and made friends around the world. Mostly dormant now, we're host to one of the web's largest collections of writing on the late-Garage dis/continuum as well as a growing collection of rare audio and scans (coming eventually).