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The Future Sound of. . . Croydon? (2002)

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Steve Goodman
London Hyperdub HQ
Also published in Deuce magazine 2002

In the deepest recesses of south London, so deep in fact that it’s not really London anymore, lies a much maligned urban sprawl. Croydon. Say what you like about the place (and that may take you some time), but it’s currently kickin’ out the jams, with a deeper garage vibe than most. With Danny Harrison and Arthur Smith’s new label ‘Sounds of Da Future’, supported by Ammunition promotions, the ‘future’ sounds exciting again, full of combinations that don’t have names yet. First release on the label was by Menta, backed by an Oris Jay mix, and shared its name with the label. Combining bubbling, wah wah synths, a rollin’ dancehall bassline (most reminiscent of Sticky’s Triplets), little Timbaland style vocal stabs, and clattering off-beat breaks with false-start half speed edits, ‘Sound of Da Future’ has been rinsed on floors everywhere and appeared on the Pure Garage ‘Bass, Breaks and Beats’ compilation, Ministry’s ‘Addicted to Bass’, as well as the new Heartless Crew compilation album which features a special mix featuring Tubby T (which Fonti unleashed at last years Big Apple Christmas party). “We didn’t expect the first Sound of da Future” to go so well. It caught us off guard abit. Everyone will expect a similar vibe on the follow up, maybe with a different bassline, but it’s not going to be like that at all. The point of the label is to make sounds that you haven’t heard yet. It could be anything. Often when we try to do mixes for people sometimes, we sit down and think ‘that’s too good’. We”ll have that instead.” As Menta’s Danny puts it, ‘with any scene that is not controlled by the majors, you will have all these different influences combining to make something new. We’re saving our good stuff for the label. . .We wanted to bring in influences from all the music we love, except maybe Arthur’s love of Steps!’

Why ‘Menta’? According to Danny, ‘We made a long list of names. Basically we wanted a name that meant absolutely nothing!’ Both Danny (formerly 187 Lockdown) and Arthur (DnD among others) are past masters of the name change, using them as a strategy to avoid pigeonholing and maintain artistic autonomy over style. Of course the cult of the faceless producer is something that electronic music has always held close to it heart. The Sound of Da Future crew’s artists have production credits longer than this magazine, with both chart and underground success under the belt. In fact the cult of the faceless producer was always in part a guerrilla strategy to avoid the familiar burn out of creativity and credibility which dealing with major global entertainment corporations can lead to. Arthur knows the dangers: “I get people from some of the majors saying you’re mad, you’ve got so many different names, you do so many different things, if you just nailed it down to one, you could be really massive, you know what I mean. Yeah great, you’ll just bastardize that and you’ll never be able to work again. So piss off !” He might work under about 2000 pseudonyms, but when it comes to the music itself, Arthur despises classification: “I’ve never liked names. Electronic music is so mad. You can make a garage tune and twist the track up, just by changing a few beats, you’ve got a different so called ‘genre’. I hate that fucking word, all of a sudden that’s not garage any more, that’s house because you’ve put a different hat in there. That is fucking ridiculous !”

Under another of his names ‘Artwork’, the incoming ‘Soul Provider’ delivers more quality sci-fi flavour. This time it’s the first release on new Croydon based label Big Apple Records. The instantly recognizable vocal underpinned by tense fx and dramatic drum break down, sticks in your head like a spear,

‘The Soul, the Mind, the Body
The Proton, the Neutron, the Electron
The Yin, the Yang, the Yong
The Sun, the Moon, the Stars
The Plaintiff, the Defendant, the Judgement
The Past, the Present, the Future’
The Positive the Negative’

This new label Big Apple Records is titled after the Croydon shop of the same name. (It is also one of the top 5 online garage retailers @ www.bigapplerecords.co.uk). Big Apple was set up by John Kennedy in 1992 selling house, techno and drum’n’bass, with some bits of uk garage entering the racks in the form of Nice’n’Ripe in the mid-nineties. John notes that “we were from a techno background (Axis records, Basic Channel, Robert Hood etc.) whereas other people were into drum’n’bass. When DJ Hatcha (regular at underground night Forward) started working at the shop, it brought a few of the DJs he played with on Upfront FM in to buy tunes. Initially we sold house and techno as well on the website. But we noticed that, what with getting Arthur’s DnD stuff first, that we were selling loads of garage, so we focused on that.” “It was when I heard some of the M-Dubs stuff like Body Killin’ (I used to play that at legendary techno night Lost and people would look at me strangely) or El-Bs tunes that I started taking some of the garage home. There was one track in particular, ‘Stone Cold’ by Groove Chronicles which had that Reese bassline in it that kind of hooked me.”

Arthur, with his studio based above the Big Apple shop, cites John “as a big inspiration for me. He was the one years ago who said, ‘listen, I’ve got a spare room, you should set up a studio.’ ” From speaking to the Sounds of Da Future crew or local Croydon producer/dj, Benny ill of the Horsepower Productions crew, the shop seems as strong a reason as any for the vibrancy of the local scene. As Arthur puts it, “and I’m not just saying this because I’m connected to the shop, but it has a lot to do with Big Apple records. You can be half way through your record, put it on a cd, walk downstairs and there is a shop full of people, put it in the player without saying anything, and people instantly say, what’s that, I like this. You know, then you can go up stairs and finish it. Or, if no one bats an eyelid, then you know you have to go up stairs and change it. The key thing is, Big Apple isn’t just saying ‘We are a garage shop.’ They stock loads of stuff, so that is partly where everyone gets their ideas from. You get all kinds of people going in there with all different ideas. We make all sorts of things. Someone might come in and say, listen to the bassline in this deep house record. And you are like ‘Jesus Christ, I could have some of that’, so it is like a melting pot of all sorts of ideas and sounds. It’s a good place.” Danny pins it down exactly: “With shops like Big Apple, you get a quicker reaction than you do even in the clubs.” So, as Arthur describes, the shop acts as a hub: “We get guys coming into the shop, like this 15 year old comes in with a tune. John says, yeah let’s cut that, then Hatcha rewinds it 3 times at Forward. It’s the first record he ever made. So because kids have got the equipment now, and it is cheap and accessible, you will see some fantastic stuff coming out.”

For more of this deep south future flavour, check the incoming ‘Soul Provider’/’Tribal Style’ by Artwork on Big Apple Records, forthcoming collaborations with Ms. Dynamite, DJ Hatcha, Artwork / Heartless crew productions and of course, the Sounds of Da Future. .You can find Big Apple Records in Surry Street, Croydon or at www.bigapplrecords.co.uk.

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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).