Tottenham, spring 2014. I’m drinking with Utah Jazz in our new gastro pub. We’re talking about playing last year’s SunAndBass. He plays out all the time and still gets nervous before a gig. I’d played Bal Harbour, the festival’s plush pool and palm tree venue.
“Not an easy place to play,” Bailey said, “but you rinsed it.”
True. But I’ll admit to being terrified until half way through my set when a mate shouted in my ear, “Relax B, look at the people. Smile.”
My gaze shifted from spinning labels to a sea of grinning faces. Would have been a shame to have missed their joy and not sampled my reward.
Artists admit to a touch of nervousness as Utah Jazz had. DJ Storm tells the tale of how Kemistry & Storm almost never made it. They’d been booked to play but the only problem was that it would be the slot after too-hot-to-handle Randall.
“We’re not playing after Randall!” they protested.
Who’d blame them? After he had destroyed the dance, it would be a brave or foolish up-and-coming DJ who would dare. But follow they must. Check the scene in Kemi and Storm’s flat before that booking. They’d practiced their set. The tunes are packed. The cab’s outside and Kemistry’s flat on her back on the floor saying, “I’m not goin’! I’m not goin’!”
And Storm’s shouting, “Get up! If we don’t go Kemistry & Storm are finished.”
Up she got. Along they went. And the rest is history. ‘You’d be crazy not to be nervous.’ As long as you can deal with that nervous energy constructively.
Summer 2014. SunAndBass is months away but the nerves have already set in. Ideally I should start thinking about my set but procrastinate. Procrastinate though I need to practice before it’s too late. Two months to go and the email has come through. They’re trying something new. It’s Martina S&B’s brainchild. They want me to play La Cinta beach. Never played a beach before but start choosing tunes… “What the fuck!!!”
Being disabled I have a carer. He’s wicked. A North London bro who’s been to the same jungle dances as I have. He reels off names of the old skool tunes playing on Rude FM. He gets my records down from the loft because I can’t reach them. So I’m ready to start the selection.
That’s when I have the… “What the fuck!!!” moment. Those tunes had been stashed in the exactly the right order. Whether by genre, when I bought them, this set, that set, alphabetical bloody order – it’s personal. Now it’s like someone’s chucked all those discs in the air and they’ve fallen in a huge random bloody mess. I feel like throwing up.
Two weeks to go and I haven’t a thing to play. Time for some Buddhist nam myoho renge kyo chanting. Then think, ‘Most of these tunes are gems I bought in a desperate frenzy down Blackmarket Records.’ So grab sixty odd at random, letting the stylus dance over each track… “Yes. No. Definitely. Definitely not. Gotta play that!!!”
Unless you’re doing an Andy C, twenty tunes make an hours set. Call for mentorship and wisdom from the pages of All Crews.
Grooverider said, “It’s about having a good ear.” The dancing stylus selects thirty tunes. Excluding ten is difficult but I ask of each as I do whenever I’m playing abroad: “Have you earned your place on the plane?” Thirty become twenty with bonus points for vinyl which also have a wicked B-side. After a couple of hours I have the set.
The unintended randomization liberated me from playing the usual. That first track is so important. It sets the tone. Last year’s set began with DJ Taktik’s iconic It’s The Way and the emphatic sample “Are you ready for some raaas claaat jungle techno!?!”
How do you top that? My fingers do the walking and trip over Kemet Crew’s seldom played Champion Jungle Sound album. Vinyl’s on the turntable. Stylus is in the groove. Warm crackles. Then…
All the things they say and the things they do
You can’t stop jungle from pleasing you.
They try and try without a reason why.
Jungle yeah will never die.
I know myself when I hear you
You can’t stop me from lovin’ you.
Boomshanka!!! More classics come to hand which, like The Seed, I’ve never played out. On with the selection. I’m thinking ‘beach’ so the first tunes of the musical journey are what they used to call ‘intelligent’. Great tunes. Good in the mix. But my mind’s eye doesn’t see dancing. The next tune falls into my hand. Big beefy Cutty Ranks is saying,
So they waan mek it personal?
Ono waan talk ‘bout done?
Ya tink I come fe done?
All me have to do is
Send for the new gun.
Any ting tesss dead!
Limb by limb…
My mind’s eye sees dancing. Lots of dancing. Onward jungle soldiers. The next tune comes, then the next. I record the set replaying it straight, stoned and rolling through the streets on my scooter. Any tunes that don’t make the grade are ejected, as are any that don’t sound ruff in the mix. Ah, the mix. Riding the syncopated extended mix – so much happens when creating that magical third tune.
Having multiple sclerosis means that my nerves are damaged. Signals take longer, moving erratically through my body. We’re only talking microseconds but it’s enough to make a mix sound out. So I practice and practice and practice again drawing upon Kemistry & Storm’s masterclass featured in All Crews.
They told us the theory. Practical demonstrations took place each and every Sunday at Metalheadz’ Blue Note sessions with them on the decks followed by giants: Peshay, Randall, Doc Scott, Fabio, Grooverider, Goldie with Cleveland Watkiss on the mic; all unleashed through Eskimo Noise’s notorious sound system. Watch. Listen. Learn.
September 2014, SunAndBass. I’m next up on the decks sitting with my Jungle Fever record bag silently chanting for a good set. The terror dissipates as I’ve prayed for the calmness of Mampi Swift. In Fabric’s intimate upstairs space I watched him double drop through an entire set laughing all the way. I just wanna stay cool.
The technicians are calling: “Are you playing vinyl? We may have a problem cos it’s windy.”
I’m thinking, ‘Never had wind speed to worry about before.’
By the time the All Crews mans dem lifted me and my scooter onto the stage, the technicians have surrounded the decks with windshields. Only problem is that now I can’t reach the pitch controls. I gaze out on the stunning vista thinking of Fats who couldn’t make this trip as my old friend System from Rude FM, now a talented producer, arrives to MC for me. A Rude FM reunion.
The windshield has been redesigned using low-tech cardboard boxes. And I’m enclosed by Function 1’s massive speakers. The All Crews crew have a game plan.
MS has made the finicky business of getting tunes out of and back into their sleeves too time consuming when I have mixes to deal out. So Nadine All Crews designer is in charge of tunes on the left deck. Daniel All Crews contributor handles the right deck. Rude FM’s DJ Staunch engineers the mixer. System’s on the mic. The All Crews crew is the DJ.
Deck one spins… The sandy dance space before the stage is empty. People are sunbathing. A few tunes in it starts to fill. By the end of the intelligent section there’s about ten people dancing.
Limb By Limb is in the headphones. Fade down intelligent. Fade up jungle. And limb by limb, sunbathers become ravers screaming, “REWIND!”
Whirrrrrr. I’m thinkin… ‘Rewinds… Didn’t think there’d be rewinds. Didn’t practice rewinds.
System is sayin’, “Is that how you’re goin’ on Zy:on!?! Is that how you’re goin’ on?”
I give him ‘The Look’ nodding, “Oh Yes.”
Now there are too many people dancing to count. By the time I’ve teased and dropped Odyssey it’s mayhem. I’m calm. And I love being inside this musical machine with the mix runnin’ and beats bursting through with the visceral intensity of a tempest.
Between the speakers Dillinja’s sample intones, “It ain’t too loud… Leeds rinsed it. Birmingham rinsed it. Bristol have to rinse it.” SunAndBass have to rinse it…
And after… I’m dazed. Can’t take it all in. There’s a huge cheer. Spliffs are coming at me from every direction.
Daniel’s sayin’ “Bruv you can’t be droppin’ beats like that at 5pm on the beach!”
Anna who translated All Crews into Russian is next to Storm who’s sayin’ “Awesome set Brian. We taught you well.”
GQ is laughing, shaking his head… “B… Me and Cleveland were coming up the beach, saw the commotion, heard the beats, we’re asking someone, “Who’s playin?”
“No, Brian Belle-Fortune!”
My brain is still spinning at +8, 45 rpms. I make excuses and roll away to deal with my head and run into Goldie saying, “You did us proud B.”
The honour of playing for the SunAndBass family is priceless. In years to come if anyone ever asks, I’ll say, “As far as DJing is concerned, La Cinta Beach was my finest hour.”