Dec 29, 2001
London Hyperdub HQ
Originally published in 2001
The minimal 2step sound of Sheffield’s Oris Jay is totally distinctive. For basslines so heavy he maintains maximum swing. On his first release, ‘Biggin Up the Massive’(UK Urban Underground) featuring MC Rankin, the remix is the one to check. Opening with a synth wash that tingles your deep cortex, ‘Biggin’ descends into some serious low end pressure. The kicks impact deep, closely tracked by tightly compressed snares that snap your spine into action and a characteristic filtered boom bass of immaculately sculpted molten vibration. While the basslines drive you forward, the snares pull you sideways, maximizing the unique skank of 2step’s torque engine. ‘Brand New Flava’, with MC Ell (drum’n'bass MC for J-Majik and Adam F), dubtracts the tune even more, adding some reggae delay flavour for extra groove rotation.
As Darqwan (Oris Jay’s cover) he takes new imprint ‘Soul Jah’ by storm, displaying increasing break skills and addictive vocal science. In both ‘As We Enta’ & ‘Pipedreams’, the snare activity has increased, tending towards the discontinuous, the jagged and the junglist. Gradually his minimalism is being invaded by drum fills, especially in ‘Confused’ (first release on Oris’s label Texture)
It is on a re-rub tip, that Oris Jay flexes his vocal techniques, splicing and warping, nice’n'nasty style, Delsena’s ‘Trippin 2010′ (Gut Records) & a ‘dirty dub’ remix of ‘Ladies First’ into compulsively addictive hypersoul.
Like original junglists like Lemon D & Dillinja, Oris sees himself at some point working at around 150bpm, suspended in an emergent interzone between garage and drum’n'bass.
We sent our Softwar Agent Steve Goodman down to the opening night of ‘Forward’ @ London’s Velvet Rooms, to watch Oris Jay rinse it out, and to ask him about the bass climate ‘up north’ in Sheffield.
SG: How long have you been making tunes and did you start initially with garage?
OJ: I tried my hand at jungle and drum’n'bass but I don’t think I was ready to do that at the time. At that time I was actually DJing garage. I was originally a jungle DJ but the bookings started getting few and far between, living up north. I was getting a booking today, and maybe one in 3 weeks, so I still had to have a job, and buy records etc. So I started playing a bit of garage as well. This was about 5 years ago when I made that switch.
SG: So you started out with the 4/4 stuff?
OJ: There wasn’t really any 2step when I started to be honest. I think the first 2step I bought was Tina Moore. I still was a junglist.
SG: When you listen to your basslines, you can tell you still are.
OJ: I missed the jungle boat. I didn’t know the programming then. How I build it now is garage to an extent, but it is garage through the eyes of someone that was a junglist. I built one tune through the eyes of a garage producer and nobody was really bothered about it. But when I do what I like, I get much better feedback. I still go to drum’n'bass raves but I have a lot more respect for garage now because of the tunes by people like Zed Bias and El-B.
SG: How have you dealt with the speed issue as a former junglist? Do you still crave the speed?
OJ: It is groove in the garage that I like. Jungle was never as funky as garage. In jungle the best tunes were always the darkest tunes. In garage, sometimes the best tunes are the nicest ones. I don’t really notice the speed issue. In jungle I used to play and like the heavier stuff. But I also dug Bukem and Fabio as home listening.
SG: How has the garage scene grown in Sheffield and how do you perceive the relation between Sheffield and London?
OJ: To be honest, garage is still seen as a London thing. But not as much as it used be. I run nights in Sheffield on a Tuesday and without London names we can still get 800 people in there. And they know they are getting uk garage as well.
SG: When you have played in London, do you sense a difference in the crowd? Also we know that a lot of the darker garage tunes sell better in the north as well as in the States and Germany.
OJ: I’ve only played in London a couple of times. You would be surprised how many times when I have been in London that people ask me which bit of London I am from because of my accent. And I’ll say “I’m not from London. . .I’m from Sheffield,” and they’ll say “is that near Birmingham.”
SG: Londoners are infamously thick when it comes to geography.
OJ: I’ve met people who were devastated that I made my tunes, but I’m not from London. What can you say? It’s getting better now. Zed Bias and Steve Gurley are not from London and Injekta (Zed Bias’ partner under the Phuturistix handle) is from Manchester.
SG: Did you have to build a garage scene from scratch in Sheffield?
OJ: I put on the first uk garage rave there. I was having to go out of town to play, to Leeds, Machester etc. because they got onto garage a lot quicker.
SG: Why do you think that was?
OJ: There is really not that big a black community in Sheffield as opposed to Manchester or Leeds. It is not that it was simply a ‘black’ thing, but rather that the people who were listening to R&B were checking garage or the people who were into jungle. Because we have things like Gatecrasher in Sheffield, we are more known for house. Initially I had to mix the 2step up with other house tunes to get people into it. They would say that I was just playing slow jungle and they didn’t understand it. So we did our own rave to force people to understand it. So we brought up EZ and the Dreem Team before they were both big and it took us 3 months solid to promote the event across the area including Leeds and Huddersfield. We had 1000 people in that night and we had to close the doors. After that we did it every 3 months. It was called ‘Sensual Occurs’. Now our Tuesday night thing is really easy to promote, because the music is much more household.
SG: When you check some of the sets last night (the first night of underground break-step night, Forward), you had to ask yourself how long the term garage can contain those sounds without loosing all meaning altogether.
OJ: What I’ve noticed is that it is evolving into 2 or 3 types. If you are under the age of 25 there is the Zinc or El-B style but if you are over that age you want vocals and sweet melodies. It it still all garage but it is evolving. The third category is just commercial and directly made for the pop market. It is weird that when London DJs play up north they tend to play older tunes because they think we are not on it or we are behind. I never understood that. I am in London regularly and go out ravin and they play much more upfront down here. They would be surprised how full on it is up there. The tunes getting produced are much darker.
SG: Why is that then? It’s another weird parallel with jungle and non-London producers like Doc Scott.
OJ: I know it sounds silly, but compared to up north, London is a relatively happy place. There isn’t much to do there. I come to London as much as possible. With the kids up north, in particular, they turn to music because of boredom. So with the rappers who are just talking about what they are doing every day, it just sounds dark but not on purpose or in a contrived way, but because they are just relating what they were doing on the street. Maybe it is something to do with that.
SG: What is the pirate radio scene like in Sheffield?
OJ: We have 3 up there but they don’t stay on for long. The problem with Sheffield is that it is built on seven hills so you have to pick the biggest one so the DTI know exactly where the transmitters are. There is SCR, Bounce FM and Millenium FM. I have guested on them all. But because I know that the DTI know where the transmitters are it is not something I want to do regularly. I have too many dubplates to want them to disappear over silliness. In London I play now and again. It is a bit more organised and stuff down here because London is flat and also because they know how to do the digital bounce stuff so the DTI cant really pinpoint where the station is. I have played Mac FM and Dreem Team’s Radio 1 show.
SG: So when did you make ‘Biggin Up the Massive’?
OJ: A couple of years ago, in February 1999. That came more from hip hop than garage. I heard this Busta Rhymes tune ‘Dangerous’. I listened to the beats on that and thought, if that was a little bit slower I could play this in a garage set. Then I thought, no, why don’t I just take the kick and the snare and make a tune with the same drum pattern so I did that. But I didn’t really know what I was doing production wise at the time. That is why I made ‘Brand New Flava’; I didn’t like how ‘Biggin Up the Massive’ sounded; it sounds unfinished to me now. There is a funny story with that tune. I made ‘Biggin’ to see if I could make garage so it was only a demo thing. While I was building it, a friend rang me and asked, “what’s that in the background? Send it me and let me have a listen”. It was a guy called Lombardo from Leicester. He is my partner except he is in the Midlands. He’s got the Midlands garage scene boxed off. I sent it to him and he asked me if he could cut it to dub, so I was like “of course you can, it’s not really finished but whatever.” So then another DJ called KC from Bedford heard Lombardo play it and so he asked if he could cut it. So again, I’m like “yeah, of course, if you really want to cut an unfinished tune. . .” So he cut it, and then EZ had heard KC playing it and asked him what it was and then he cut it as well. So I am here thinking, there is 3 people who have cut and are playing a demo. I sent it out to loads of record labels and every body had knocked it, saying it was shit. But I didn’t really mind because I had been telling myself that it was demo as well. .So I forgot about the tune, but at the same time Lombardo, EZ and KC are all still playing it. I am up in sunny Sheffield not realizing that ‘Biggin Up the Massive’ was now a big tune in the Midlands and London. Then I was in London one night ravin’ and EZ played the tune and the club totally erupted. I couldn’t believe it. That was 8 months after I’d given up on the tune. Then a guy from ‘Release the Groove’ signed it up but needed a B-side for it. That is when I gave him ‘Come On’ (which features on DJ Zinc’s Bingo Beats mix CD). But he said that it was shit so the B-side ended up being a remix of ‘Biggin Up the Massive’. But that was a year after I made the original so my drums were tighter in the remix. So it only got released properly a year ago. So that is when I realized that the music business is a very strange thing.
SG: What equipment did you use to make ‘Biggin Up the Massive’?
OJ: An s3000 sampler and an Atari.
SG: If you follow your releases, you can hear that you are honing down and refining your drum sounds, but at the same time they are all kind of instantly recognizable as you. Are you sampling your own drums or what? Your drums sound so crisp and clean but have a slightly metallic edge to them.
OJ: That’s probably some jungle coming through me again. I studied music technology for a year and my best mate was a drummer. Part of our course was about how to mic-up drum kits. So you would learn how to compress certain kicks and snares to get different sounds. At the time, it was all boring, but when I left it became more relevant when I could play the drums through a keyboard and make it sound a little like how he played on the real drums. Especially the little fills and stuff like that.
SG: So it sounds like you are ahead of the game if people only pick up on your tracks a couple of years after you’ve made them.
OJ: Yeah, it was the same with the remix of ‘Trippin’ which was a full vocal track. On the B-side I used something I had done 2 years ago and that is the one that people seem to like.
SG: It was pretty obvious for anyone who had been into jungle, that when 2step emerged, the heavier, darker and weirder side would eventually become more prominent. ‘Biggin Up the Massive’ has that little synth intro that is kind of sinister, but you sense that at some point in the future there would be more of this type of stuff about.
OJ: All I wanted to do was build tunes that sounded fresh. I would come down to London and listen to the pirates and maybe 1 in 10 tunes would sound good. The rest would sound rubbish. Maybe I was a little too fresh for the time. My programming has got better. I am trying out new ways of playing drums, especially on a tune called ‘Confused’(first release on Oris’s Texture label). I am using a real drum kit spread across the keys and I am trying to play like a kit. I have played it to people and they couldn’t recognize it as my tune. I seemed to be getting good feedback from the younger crowd, but the older ones are like, “that’s a bit like a jungle tune, that one.”
SG: Why? In the sense that the rhythms are getting more complex? Loads of 2step & breakbeat is pretty dull in the rhythm department, too rigid and monotonous.
OJ: Exactly. I just play around until I feel that it has a groove. I usually end up scrapping 5 out of 6 tunes because they just don’t have that groove and I can’t work out what is missing. So I just start again. If I don’t like it myself I wouldn’t want to put it out. I think garage is more exciting now, and if it stays like this it will be cool. Some people are classing some of the garage that is about as UK hip hop, where people are rapping over beats. It is cool that is moving that way. I have a friend in the States who tells me that the reason that Americans don’t like UK hip hop is because it sounds like they are trying to sound American. But the garage stuff is more interesting to them because they have never heard anything quite like it before. Almost like a different breed of hip hop.
SG: Lots of people have tried the combination with hip hop and drum’n'bass.
OJ: But with garage it is a slower tempo so it is easier to class as R&B/hip hop. So we have a British product sounding British. Like So Solid obviously don’t sound American.
SG: So it is like a question of turf. The “garage as uk hip hop” thing is interesting. Old school garage heads complain that uk garage is sounding more and more like jungle, but that is kind of irrelevant. That just means it sounds British as opposed to simply US R&B.
OJ: When jungle switched to drum’n'bass, it became too much like techno for a lot of people. I’m from up north so I like it a bit harder and darker anyway. It is all about the feeling really, rather than just making a dark tune.
SG: Do you think garage music could go too dark if it’s not careful? The scene still seems pretty balanced and receptive to a mix of vocal tunes and bassline tunes.
OJ: Yeah, I still play loads of vocal tunes. I like to mix up vocal and instrumental tunes.
SG: The good thing about garage is that the best dark 2step producers like El-B seem to spend most of their time remixing vocal tunes, so you get that combination of vocal and space.
OJ: Yeah, El-B and the Ghost crew have a wicked sound.
SG: So what would be the tunes that as a DJ in the last year have ripped the dancefloors apart for you?
OJ: My favourite tune for months and months, and probably everyones favourite has been Booo! with Ms. Dynamite. The actually programming is not the best in the world, but the whole concept together is wicked. So for the whole concept, or just for Ms. Dynamite then it is that tune. I would say the freshest beat programming at the moment is Zinc. I can’t find a better word than ‘fresh’ right now. I really don’t think Zinc sits down and thinks he is going to build a garage tune, he is just going to build a tune but it just so happens that it is 138bpm or something.
SG: When you played at Forward, the other night, you played that Naughty remix “Pussy” by Hype where he has used a skippy garage pattern with his usual crunchy drum sounds. There has been nothing like that, at that speed. That tune was sick.
OJ: Every time I hear that tune I have to smile to myself because Hype must be taking the piss. The bassline is so heavy it is rude. You play that in the wrong club and you could shut it there and then. It is hectic. It is probably the heaviest tune in terms of subbass that I have, I think.
SG: So do you enjoy the fact that, like at Forward, a good proportion of your set was made up of your tunes?
OJ: I always dreamt of doing that really. I wanted to get it to the stage where if I got booked, you would have a pretty good idea what you were getting. And if you don’t like that sound then you don’t book me. It was funny though, when I used to hear other DJs playing my tunes in a club. I would feel like a naughty schoolboy or something. I feel a bit scared in case they get boo’ed or something.
SG: One thing that is really infectious about Brand New Flava is about half way through you just add a little off beat dubby stab that just kicks the tune up a level but is totally subtle. Horsepower add little touches like that.
OJ: Yeah, I used to listen to a lot of ragga and dub and I’m amazed the stuff that comes through me sometimes.
SG: Your sound and the Ghost crew’s sound is in it own world really. Is there any plans to work with El-B? Neither of you do straight ahead breakbeat stuff, but are developing 2step in an exciting and pretty heavy way.
OJ: We have talked about it and it is definitely in the pipeline, but I think we both have to finish some projects that we are working on first. I also want to work with Zed Bias and Ms. Dynamite. I’ve got a lot of respect for producers whose records I buy and listen to. So to talk about making tunes with them is like a proper honour thing for me. When El-B first rang me 4 or 5 months ago just to say hello, I got off the phone and was saying “El-B just rang me, El-B just rang me.” And my mate is saying “Who is El-B?” He would know him as Groove Chronicles but not as El-B. So I couldn’t believe it.
SG: He has got a kind of cult status among DJs in particular.
OJ: Yeah, I think it is mostly record buyers. If you don’t buy records then you probably wouldn’t hear of him. If he was a DJ he would be a lot more well known.
You can catch Oris Jay regularly in Sheffield, or at Forward @ the Velvet Rooms, London. Watch out for his new label ‘Texture’ with the awesome ‘Confused’ and collaborations with Ms. Dynamite, among others .
Copyright © Hyperdub 2001 – Reprinted with permission.