All Crews author Brian Belle-Fortune tells the story of translating his classic drum & bass book into Russian…
All Crews Russian… Another Drum & Bass Journey
Everything about Russia is big. The country is big. The nation is big. The architecture is huge. The literature is gigantic. And getting All Crews onto Russian streets would be a task worthy of Tolstoy.
Welcome to a further journey into Jungle Drum & Bass culture. I’ve loved Russia since my first trip there in 1980 during communist times. The problem was that under that system the people weren’t free.
All Crews Russian opens with the quote, ‘Freedom is a road seldom travelled by the multitude’ that describes a journey into freedom. It’s poignant that the book should reach Russia now.
The journey starts at home in Tottenham 2012. I’ve got an email from a Russian girl called Anna Sapegina. She’s reading All Crews. Reading is an understatement. She’s doing the literary equivalent of mainlining the text straight into her cerebral cortex. And I recognise the passion, the fever.
We make an arrangement to meet at Sun&Bass. I’m on a high from the Olympics. Others love their football but I’m an Olympics junkie. I’ve been to four Olympics Games starting with Moscow in 1980 and have flown into Sardinia fresh from seeing Usain Bolt tear up the track.
Lost in Translation
So on that bass blasted distant shore I meet Anna and her mercilessly thumbed copy of All Crews. She states her intent to translate the book into Russian. All Crews had already been translated into Italian by Lorenzo Fe and published by Milan based Agenzia X.
The book launches in Milan and Genoa had been mental. I always joke that I must be the only author to do press conferences and book signings and then DJ at a warehouse full of ravers.
And joking aside I apologise to translators, or would be translators, about the nightmare challenge they’re about to undertake. Some have tried and failed. A Japanese woman couldn’t do it and a Russian guy called Vladimir Zamanskiy had tried but gave up part way through.
Even though Italian fan Lorenzo Fe, post grad student at the London School of Economics, was a bright kid, he found the task hellishly difficult. The problem was All Crews is written in about five different kinds of English.
You’ve got standard Queen’s English, Cockney rhyming slang, London street talk, Jamaican patois and drum & bass scene speak. Not easy. But Anna insisted she could do it.
One thing that drew her in was seeing the chapter heading, ‘One time the word was “Reach Russia” written in Russian Cyrillic text.
“Why did you put that in Russian?” asked Anna?
“Cos I love the Russian script,” I replied.
But All Crews designer, Berlin based Nadine Gahr, didn’t thank me: “Brian, you know I had to design a special font just for that!”
Now the thing about Nadine is that I view All Crews to be her creation as much as mine. She turned my scribblings and piles of papers into the book. When no end of publishers couldn’t get their heads around it, Nadine got it straight away. We’ve always treated All Crews more like music than text and, in this context, if I’m the musician, Nadine’s the producer.
From the reviews I know people read and re-read All Crews. One person wrote, ‘Read this. Rewind this.’ And Roni Size’s track All Crews Muss Big Up inspired the title – chiming with the book’s central ethos.
Было время, когда все говорили: “Поехали в Россию
‘One time the word was “Reach Russia”’ but I never dreamed that All Crews would be printed into Russian. Now that’s ‘Reaching Russia!’
New year 2013 and thanks to the freeness of Skype I’m online with Anna expecting to start at line one, page one. So I’m gobsmacked when she says, “Brian, I’ve already finished translating book.”
“Yeah, just need to check everything correct.”
I’m liking the way she rolls. Considering the complexity of the task she’s done a blindin’ job. Just those little things to check like, “And Brian, where you say, ‘He was detained at her majesty’s pleasure’ does that mean he was working for the Queen?”
I can’t stop myself cracking up.
“Brian, Brian, what!?!”
“No Anna, it means he went to prison.”
After the paralytic laughter we comb through the text ensuring nothing else is lost in translation. Anna recruited a circle of friends to sharpen the text. One friend and Sun&Bass devotee was a self-confessed ‘grammar Nazi’. Another designed fonts. For the It’s All Gone Pete Tong poem Anna worked with an actual poet who surpassed himself.
Not only did he translate the poem graphically, if you turn the page on its side the pattern reflects the bass soundwave you’d see in music software like Cubase.
The last word is done and I can’t help saying, “And that’s a wrap!” as we share some bubbly over Skype ahead of schedule.
All that remained was for Anna to tidy the text, then press ‘send’ in St Petersburg and it’s over to Nadine in Berlin. Press send.
Weeks went by and nothing arrived. Weeks then months. I’d been in the world of Drum & Bass long enough to know that sometimes people just disappear. The problem was, apart from Nadine sitting around in Berlin waiting for the text, in June Bailey and I had been booked to play the All Crews launches in St. Petersburg and Cherylabinsk, the city where a thousand web cams had filmed a huge meteor crashing to Earth.
As things began to unravel I tried to keep the faith. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ said the slogan on people’s t-shirts, so that’s what I did, even though our schedule disintegrated like fragments of that meteorite.
Bailey, who has supported All Crews from before day one when Metalheadz’ mayhem ruled the Blue Note, was forced to pull out of the launches. The Russian flights and schedule proved way too onerous.
To be honest, if All Crews wasn’t my child, I too would have bailed. And then…
Well folks, here’s a question which everyone gets right. Fingers on buzzers please.
Q: What’s the worst thing that can happen at a book launch?
A: There are no books.
I’m a man of my word. I’d be there as promised. I wasn’t gonna hurt the All Crews brand name. And hell, it’s not every day that someone flies me over to play clubs in two cities in Russia. I had a blinding time.
After the St Petersburg gig a few of us sat sharing spliffs in a park under the midnight sun. And Cherylabinsk… When you’re DJing at a club you tend to dash through the space straight to the decks. So, after the gig I asked the crew to take me back for a proper look. This place set in a former nuclear bunker, with alcoves full of welded this, sculptured that and was definitely worth a second look.
The thing that kept Anna busy during her absences was an unending series of meetings with government officials.
“Government officials Anna? Why on earth did you have to speak to the government!?!”
“They had to approve text.”
“Sorry I don’t get it.”
“Well, otherwise you could say anything. Isn’t that the same in UK?”
“No Anna, you can write anything. You might upset someone or they might want to sue you but you’re free to write. It’s called freedom of speech!”
So even though the Berlin Wall is no more and communism rules no more, the State still rules. Vladimir Putin rules. The heavy-handed reaction to Pussy Riot’s demonstration showed just how tetchy the Russian authorities could be.
So even we had to be cautious about All Crews being dubbed, ‘The Drum & Bass Bible’ but the State didn’t demand a single cut.
In fact, they did us a big phat favour. Because All Crews contains scenes of sex, swearing and drug use, we’d have to place ‘explicit content’ stickers on the cover. Kerching! If anything arouses people’s curiosity it’s explicit content stickers. Thanks Putin.
I’ve always believed in granting new people opportunities. So I was blessed to have Navigator write his Evolution of the MC chapter. It was a happy coincidence since Navi had already written his piece and had been looking for a lyrical platform that wasn’t his usual stage.
Photographer Mr James Burns, aka JB, had been an All Crews devotee since he rocked up at version two’s book launch in winter ‘99. It was his email, ‘Re: I’ve just come back from Drum & Bass Heaven’ which first got me out to Sun&Bass. Since then he’s blown up.
Veteran BBC TV newsreader George Alagiah wondered into JB’s Shoreditch London From The Rooftops exhibition. A quick word to his colleague and arts correspondent Brenda Emmanus and JB’s photographs are featured on TV news and he’s had more work than he can deal with. So I was honoured to have him contribute his stunning pics to All Crews Russian.
Spring 2014, Nadine’s worked her magic on the text and it’s ready to send to the printers. Then, at the last moment, Anna’s spotted an awful mistake. As fantastic as Nadine is, she doesn’t read Russian. Unfortunately lines of text have been duplicated throughout the manuscript and have to be removed.
Anna was going to have to work day and night for days combing out the mistakes. Sometimes the darkest time comes before the dawn. Just as I was begging to give up on the book ever coming out Anna sends me a picture message of boxes of books filled with All Crews Russian.
Days later she’s flown from Moscow to London and places a copy in my hands. The journey along the long, winding and sometimes painfully frustrating road had been worth it. The quality is amazing. I could imagine collectors who didn’t even read Russian would want a copy.
Hang around for long enough and, like buses, three epic drum & bass events come along at once. My head was still spinning. Goldie and the Heritage Orchestra performed Timeless in the Royal Festival Hall. The audience, full of headz from way back when rocked the place like never before.
I’m on my mobility scooter beside Fats in his wheelchair. And both our minds are blown. The genteel attendants gave up asking, “Would madam kindly bruk out to one side of the isle?”
When the orchestra dropped Inner City Life it was all over. An attendant concerned about the crowd blocking my view of the stage asked if he should get people to sit down. I cut him off mid-sentence with, “Allow it man. Just Allow It.”
Utmost respect to Jon Blease and Adam Betts the funkiest of drummers and all the amazing musicians. Matt Calvert transposed and transformed all Goldie’s and producer Rob Playford’s electronic bleeps into a sublime, melodic, maelstrom of classical notes, as if Timeless should always have sounded this way. I didn’t want it to end.
MC Lowqui said it with poetry…
We are Metalheadz!
We sat, watched & listened and the security surveyed,
some stood and danced & security were dismayed,
when Inner City Life was played,
we turned that conservative music venue
into a mother fucking rave!
Fuck the rules.
This is how we headz behave.
Big Up Bailey
A couple of days later Anna and I are being interviewed by Bailey on his Ministry of Sound radio show. With DJs Chef and Clarky in the house, we tell the potted story of All Crews Russian.
It’s like going back ten years speaking to Bailey on his 1Xtra show, except my notes are on a Samsung tablet rather than scraps of paper.
Anna an ardent listener to Bailey’s show goes pale when I insist she gets on the mic: “Come on girl, you’ve done all this work, it’s your time!”
She relaxes and speaks then tweets some pics. By the time the show ends, we’ve posed for group shots and adjourned to Nandos for food and Anna’s phone is blowing up. She swipes her phone, its screen is crammed with positive posts. Within hours the first print run of All Crews Russian has sold out.
Flicking through the pages, Anna points to the opening chapter entitled September ’88.
“That’s when I was born.”
For a moment I feel like an old man wielding a quill pen but I’m happy the baton’s been passed to the next generation.
All Crews Junglists Garden Party
I had planned a quiet weekend watching season two of Breaking Bad back to back when my mobile starts to buzz. Nadine and her partner Yan are flying in from Berlin. A few hours later Anna, JB, Greg, Kate and I are knocking back drinks in the garden on a warm summer night. Faces are illuminated by flickering candlelight. Nadine and Anna peruse the book talking technical about what they should say to the printer for the next print run.
As my eyes glaze over I say to ’em, “Look just take All Crews English to the printer n say, “Make it more like this.”
Sorted. Everytin’ kool n irie. I’ve just had a massive toke then start coughing my guts up…
“Berlin! Is someone talkin’ ‘bout Berlin? Ya alright B!?! What you sayin’?”
The one, the only Navigator steps into the light. If my seat hadn’t had arms on each side I’d have fallen right off. Navi who’d contributed the Evolution of the MC chapter was in the place. The night was off its head enough for me to drop a few words.
“Navi ich glaub das uberhaupt nich. Mensch!!
“Nah B was sags du den!?!”
Navigator the man with the golden tongue, now resident in Berlin was now fluent in German. He’d brought along producer Benefit Beats. Anna, who’d planned to meet her Russian friend at Fabric, was on her phone saying, “Get yourself over here. I’m not leavin’.”
I’d never imagined this group of All Crews crew would ever be ’round my yard at the same time.
Because this gathering was so spontaneous, some people important to All Crews like Colin and Rachel Kmag, Tristan Triteux (the first All Crews photographer) and my best mate Daniel weren’t there.
But for once my wife Kate who’d started this journey with me was. More alcohol was bought, more weed was smoked. And everyone signed everyone else’s copies of All Crews Russian.
A few days later Anna’s back in Moscow dealing with distribution, I’m at a Buddhist event deep in the Berkshire countryside chanting, “Nam myoho renge kyo” to change my karma and a picture message buzzes through.
It’s Anna and a guy called Kirill. He’d been texting her for weeks about his book. It reminded me of the American guy back in 2004 who had been feverously checking his mailbox desperately seeking his copy of All Crews and posting on Dogs On Acid, ‘I WANT MY DAM BOOK!’