Have you noticed how most new drum & bass DJs making a name for themselves these days seem to be producers first and foremost?
There’s nothing wrong with this of course, it’s just very different from how it used to be. Believe it or not, in the olden days (circa ’88 – ’93) DJs purely played other people’s records! The need to be different from everyone else meant DJs who also produced had an advantage.
Not only could they play a tune nobody else had on dubplate, but by letting a few other producers cut it, they could cut one of their’s in return. However, this logic has gone so far it has turned everything upside down. So much so, that I know of only one non-producing DJ currently making a name for himself: Bailey.
Bailey got introduced to the joy of decks in the mid-80s through hip hop, but lost interest in it around 1988 as the beats were getting a bit too mellow and started getting into acid house. [If, like me, you’re thinking ‘he must have been very young then’, you’re wrong; Bailey just looks a lot younger than his 27 years.] Playing at friends parties led to small wine bar sessions until a friend introduced him to MC Flux who was promoting a few events back then.
In turn, this led to him meeting Grooverider and the crew behind the Inta Natty clothing company. I actually wrote a feature on Inta Natty in Knowledge in ’95 and still remember them telling me about Bailey and how big he was going to be. Having a crew behind you like this can be crucial and probably goes some way to explaining how Bailey has been able to make it without producing records. However, just remember this, it’s all very well having people in your corner helping you get those all-important first bookings, but you must have the talent to back it up.
Usually you’re in one camp and that’s it, but Bailey has always somehow managed to be in a few at the same time. Currently, he has close ties with such notable labels as Renegade Hardware, No U Turn and Metalheadz! It’s not as if he has been networking deliberately. He’s at a loss to explain why he seems to be the exception to the ‘one-camp’ rule, simply saying that he just keeps getting introduced to people who want him to play for them, who then introduce him to more people and so on.
He has never wanted or tried to be a ‘big’ DJ either – it was initially a hobby and things have just happened gradually to where he is today. If one thing has spurred him on to climb the ladder it’s hearing complacent DJs abusing their position: “People riding off their names, just being lazy and doing shit mixing, that annoys me. That’s probably another reason that pushed me to try and become a bit of a bigger DJ, to give the people some music. Some people take the piss – taking the money and running. I sometimes wonder if I’m going to be like that a few years down the line, I really hope not.
“You’ve got to have friendly rivalry to keep you on your toes. Where does Grooverider look to for friendly rivalry? He’s done really well, but I still wouldn’t want to be in his position, he’s too high up that ladder. It’s like the story of the tortoise and the hare – I don’t want to be the one who runs to the top and then has problems trying to maintain it. I’d rather be somewhere in the middle than at the top, then you don’t have all that pressure.”
This is also one of a number of reasons he has for having held off producing music for so long, but surely releasing his own tunes must be on the agenda eventually? “I’ve thought about it and even tried to do a little thing with No U Turn’s Nico just to see what it was like,” he admits, “but I feel the studio thing isn’t for me at the moment. I don’t feel comfortable with it right now. I’ll make a tune when it feels right to me, not because everybody else thinks it’s right.
“Everyone thinks it’s the right thing to do, but I want to be unorthodox and go against the grain of the way things are supposed to go. As soon as I make a tune it just puts me in the same category as everybody else. Coming this far without having made a tune is fairly unique and a bit of a buzz for me. I may never make a tune. I’m not really bothered. I’m enjoying the DJing so much right now I just want to continue doing that.”
Every DJ has a different opinion as to what the art of being a DJ is and Bailey believes it’s mainly playing the right tune at the right time: “A few years ago I was playing alongside people who had much better tunes than me. I only had your average shelf release tunes, but if you play them at the right time and draw the right mix, you can still catch people’s attention.”
Of course, having the right tunes is a separate matter and easier said than done, especially when it’s crucial to be original and you’re not producing music yourself. Droppin Science, Trouble On Vinyl / Renegade Hardware are labels that look after him and two producers who always sort him out tracks no matter what label is releasing it are Dom & Roland and Fierce. Sometimes even this isn’t enough though.
“At the Renegade Hardware night, all the DJs playing knew the same people and I was on late, so there were a lot of tunes I couldn’t play,” he explains. “So I got some producers to make special versions of tunes just for me so I could stand out from the rest a bit more. It’s more of a challenge to dig deeper and get a different selection.”
Another aspect to DJing is watching how the crowd are reacting, especially at the beginning of a set to figure out which direction to take the selection. Bailey has even been known to drop the odd well-known track he’s not really into to get the crowd hyper and then later try a few different things that he’s into more: “I don’t think I’m that different from most other DJs, but I suppose I try not to play too many tunes that are just ‘alright’, I try to play all the really good tunes. There are people playing tunes just because it’s by a certain producer and the tune isn’t even running. I’m not bothered about who you are, you could be nobody, but if your tune is good, I’m going to play it.
“I try and keep the music fairly hard. Even if it’s kinda jazzy, the beats have got to be hard. I can’t play anything that is soft and flat, but I never get heavy to the point where it’s not musical anymore. I can’t play anything that’s too mechanical or noisy, it always needs to have soul. There was a stage the music went through where I felt it was missing. Producers were getting too into the technology and how they made the sound rather than the actual feel of it. People will always be interested in dancing to something that feels good.”
As to the future? Well, Bailey says he sometimes thinks where he might end up eventually, but not too much and he never plans anything. He just likes getting on with things day to day, trusting fate and letting things fall in place. Some might say he should be pushing himself more or he lacks ambition, but you should always trust your instincts and if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Anyway, just like the tortoise, Bailey’s getting to the winning post at his own pace.