Friday, August 5, 2022

My Music Background

I'm submitting a DJ Mix to Radio 1's BBC Introducing and hope that whoever listens to it could possibly read my potted music background here too...

Music Background – Christopher Griffith
The first album I can recall owning was Now That’s What I call Music Vol.2, released March 1984 when I was coming up for my eighth birthday. I must have listened to and enjoyed music before this but some of the tracks on that compilation, Queen’s Radio Ga Ga, Nena’s 99 Red Balloons & Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun remain always amongst those which remind me, whenever I hear them played, of just how young and free and totally unencumbered I felt by, well, anything; in the following summer, for example, I can clearly remember singing along with my sister to Sinitta’s So Macho, not having a clue what the lyrics meant and not caring at all how stupid I must have sounded as we played together with Lego on the floor of my bedroom, the shared activity and music forging bonds between us as strong as the creations we made that day with its durable material!
That album also contained Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, and I can clearly recall being told one day in the school playground what the lyrics were actually about without of course understanding what they were actually about; I don’t think the idiot who informed me really comprehended them either because we were just too young to ‘get’ that kind of double meaning. He wasn’t subtle enough, and I remember thinking he’d always been a bit of a prick anyway so why listen to what he had to say!? So on I went, enjoying Nik Kershaw’s Wouldn’t It Be Good? and then in the next Now album his I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Duran Duran’s Reflex (more attempts to explain this one ended up with my being told the ‘reflex’ was an egg!), Phil Collins’ Against All Odds and Frankie’s (in my opinion) far superior Two Tribes.
This, and their lengthier Welcome To The Pleasure Dome were for me the closest thing yet to the kind of electronic music I would become so engaged with in my adolescence, an entirely different genre to the sort of sound I still enjoyed through Now 4 & 5 (I’m sticking with these until 10 as they represent broadly the pop music to which most of us were listening back in the mid-80s) Lionel Richie’s Hello emblematic of, maybe trailblazer for many a love song to come, Ray Parker Jr’s Ghostbusters & Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill taking care of the cinematic tie-in and The Fine Young Cannibals Johnny Come Home along with Simply Red’s Money’s Too Tight To Mention showpieces for how effective the individual voice of a singer can prove in lifting an entire song to the next level. There were lots of off-the-wall tunes around too, Doctor & the Medics Spirit in the Sky one of my favourites whilst new on the scene now Pet Shop Boys & Communards delivered again strength of voice but in different, gentler degree to those cited above. It could have finished for me in 1987 with Europe’s The Final Countdown, and I would remain for a long time afficionado of rock embracing almost all that a certain Guns n Roses produced in the late eighties and nineties, but in that same year, 1987, a track called Pump Up the Volume was released by M/A/R/R/S and the start of my odyssey into electronic music began.
I just loved it, loved the sound, the samples, the sections, the breaks but most of all I loved the beat which ran through it; electronic music of course starts with the beat because that is what gets your toes tapping and brings you onto the dancefloor, it’s what underpins and drives every mix no matter the percussion or bassline attendant, and it’s crying shame in my opinion that the beauty of two beats on top of each other (sometimes even cancelling each other out in their identical thud) is often nowadays lost by the DJ simply chopping tracks into each other, but I’ll come back to that later! I was still listening to other stuff of course, loving T’Pau’s China In Your Hand, Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again, pretty much anything by Belinda Carlisle, Madonna, Michael Jackson all of it moving on, sounding different somehow to earlier music like Chicago’s Hard To Say I’m Sorry, Fame, Murray Head’s One Night in Bangkok, Sting’s Russians, pop music was changing, subtly but so, and then just as the Doctor & the Medics sound had appealed to me along came the Timelords with Doctorin the Tardis. I had no idea these guys were the KLF, their album The White Room becoming one of my all-time favourites, and when I fell completely in love with What Time is Love? the following year, 1988, I still had no clue that they were one and the same beat masters. And that’s what they were to me, masters of the beat. What Time is Love? is slow, way slower than the energy I’d find later in trance and Happy Hardcore, but it had that beat, those hi-hats and snares, and the wonderful voice again, the lyrics raw, aggressive, catchy, cool certainly to this 12 year old middle class white boy who lived in suburbia and went to prep school!
But this was 1988-89, and I was in my last year with the little kids about to jump up to big boy territory so that I’m sure my music tastes were directed by this change as much as any other influence. Paula Abdul’s Straight Up, Neneh Cherry’s Buffalo Stance & Manchild, Soul II Soul’s too cool for school Back To Life, I was listening to and loving this stuff right alongside Tecnotronic’s Pump Up the Jam and Beats International’s Dub Be Good To Me, these latter on an album called Deep Heat 90 which was as seminal for me as Now 2 had been back in the day; I don’t need to list any tracks on this production because I loved every single one of them, playing the cassette tapes over and over and over again, planting though I didn’t know it at the time the passion for and loyalty to electronic music which would actually do nothing less than save my life at university, but all in its place...
I loved my new school too, and that summer 1990 we went on cricket tour to Birmingham listening repetitively in the minibus to MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This & New Order’s World in Motion, willing England on to beat West Germany in the semi-final of the World Cup, our hopes for national glory disappearing somewhere alongside the ball Chris Waddle smashed over the goal in his penalty miss! But that second year, it was called the Remove for some reason, tracks like Nomad’s I Wanna Give You Devotion & Crystal Waters’ Gypsy Woman, they were just doing the do for me alongside Heavy D & The Boyz’ cheesy but catchy Now That We’ve Found Love, K-Klass’ brilliant Rhythm Is A Mystery, KLF’s massive 3am Eternal and then my first taste of the Shamen with Move Any Mountain. These were all chart hits of course played across the airwaves, I mean being a good little Surrey boy I had no idea what a rave was or the first clue of any underground culture, but they were still tunes bridging that divide for me, and so my own stage was set for one summer afternoon in GCSE year when I liked the sound of the track that was playing on the common room’s ghetto blaster (strangely no one was there with me at the time as I recall!) and opened the tape deck to read the words Kaos Theory 2 on the cassette inserted there; well that was that, I bought a copy for myself and as I listened back at home to the first few offerings I was wowed having never heard anything like it to date, especially the drive and pure energy of Praga Khan’s Injected With A Poison.
This was the summer of love, well it was for me anyway, and I could easily have tripped down the brilliant Bodyguard love song medley album route Whitney Houston produced that year but somehow Kaos Theory 2 won; I was addicted particularly to its first few songs listening to them over and over through 1992’s long break, heading to London at the back end of August with friends with whom I was moving from GCSE year into sixth form, but as they bought Nirvana and Neds Atomic Dustbin posters from shops in Oxford Street I stepped into a store and was blown away by The Shamen’s LSI blasting from the speakers therein. Term came quick then, there to accompany me The Greatest Hits of Dance and Rave 92 albums. I’d listen to tracks 3 through 8 over and over on the third disc of the former, my old favourite Pump Up the Volume followed by SL2’s mad On a Ragga Tip, The Prodigy’s bonkers Everybody In The Place, Smart E’s naughty Sesame’s Treet, 808 State’s booming In Yer Face and finally Altern-8’s classic Active 8. This was quality rave in amongst the more mainstream focus of discs 1 & 2 and I just couldn’t get enough of it. Nor could I miss a single episode of Normsky’s Dance Energy House Party that autumn, one track in particular remaining a favourite of mine for years to come, Liquid’s Sweet Harmony, XL recordings producing brilliance after brilliance including a university favourite of mine, Le Voie Le Soleil.
I was beginning, starting really to appreciate the underground scene though still because it was lapping over with mainstream, Rave 92 a really good example of this and the first album I had ever heard where it seemed, just seemed in the end that the tracks were being mixed together, if only actually the second starting as the first came to its close. Into this autumn and on through 1994 came other hits, mainstream ones which again took me away from that underground rave sound, Don’t You Want Me by Felix, Haddaway’s What is Love?, Dr Alban’s It’s My Life, many by 2 Unlimited, Sybil’s When I’m Good & Ready, several by Cappella, Usura’s Open Your Mind, D;Ream, Tony Di Bart’s The Real Thing, even Culture Beat’s Mr Vain, if it had a beat and a half-decent melody then I’d listen to it and love it, adoring this form of music which always improved my mood and made me feel full of energy.
The Prodigy’s Music for the Jilted Generation was released in July 1994, another seminal album for me with tracks One Love, Skylined and of course No Good (Start the Dance) completely blowing my mind. It wasn’t long before I bought their first album Experience to be reacquainted with mixes of Everybody Is In the Place and Fire which I’d already heard on compilations plus of course Out of Space which was just bananas, mental, awesome to listen to through headphones with the volume turned up. And then there was Kiss, pirate station of enormous repute which had become legal at the start of the nineties, me the old slowcoach finally waking up to its driving energy in the back end of summer 1994, tracks like Livin Joy’s Dreamer and Baby D’s Let Me Be Your Fantasy again mainstream but played alongside much more underground fare which was now beginning to drive my fancy. And yet it was one more album purchased at that time, Hardcore Junglistic Fever Volume One which sent me on my way to university aware now of new sounds breaking through old barriers, DJ Kenny Ken smashing it to pieces with his mixing alongside a terrific second side of the tape featuring MC GQ accompanying similar selection of tracks. I’d never heard music like this, and yet, and yet it contained the essence of electronica which was now firmly in charge of my musical tastebuds, beats, breaks, percussion, lyrics sparse but unforgettable, fitting for the tune at hand, Burial by Leviticus and NRG’s I Need Your Love. In October I went with friends to a jungle night at Ritzy’s in Bristol but within five minutes of getting there a mass brawl erupted on the dancefloor and I turned my back on the place. I hate fights and I’ve never done illegal drugs because I hate the ugly side of human nature. Although I still love the sound of what became drum n bass it was its sister effort Happy Hardcore that really captured my heart, though that was still several years to come.
For now, I studied, the much more easy sound of Tony Humphries in the mix for Ministry of Sound, the pacey and fun Danny Rampling’s DJ Power and of course the series which became legendary amongst us at the time, Journeys by DJ. It was actually in bizarre order that I listened though, starting with a friend who had Paul Oakenfold’s Volume 5, then picking up Judge Jules on tape for 2 which I had on repeat for much of the autumn term, Billy Nasty’s 1 in November and then the John Digweed Silky Mix 4 for Christmas which we were all blown away by because we’d never heard transitions between tracks which you couldn’t tell apart. I then picked up Danny Rampling’s 3 the next term but that’s to get ahead because I still haven’t mentioned where in reality this was all being echoed, and that would be Bristol’s Lakota nightclub; of a Saturday evening we would head down there to have our ears assailed by Mory Kante’s Yeke Yeke (Hardfloor Mix) and I was fully paid up member with our own queue and bouncers welcoming us so friendly compared to those at the mainstream clubs we also went to in the city. Don’t get me wrong, we still loved a good boogie at Wedgie’s on a Wednesday night but Lakota was the absolute place to head to if you wanted to hear cutting edge electronica, especially the tiny, cosy upstairs room where you danced the night away with fellow folk who loved their music beats banging, relentless and mixed together seamlessly.
But things were moving so fast, for suddenly JDJ was on to international and Keoki blasting it from the front and we’d all turned progressive with the awesome Renaissance Mix Collection by Sasha & John Digweed, soundtrack to the summer whilst the latter DJ banged out Transmission and we all heard him play this harder stuff one Friday night at Lakota in June, finishing his set just on 4am as we all gathered outside before heading back to Halls. And I haven’t even mentioned BT and Oakie’s Perfecto, Grace’s Not Over Yet the backdrop to early summer 1995 until I was back to Danny Rampling’s Love Groove Dance Party and Radio 1’s R.A.V.E Day whilst travelling in Scotland to compete in the BUSA Champs with other athletic friends. And I stayed with Danny Rampling, and remembered Oakie because there I was listening to Dragonfly, A Voyage Into Trance which they had mixed between them. It was almost as if the DJs themselves at the time didn’t know which genre they preferred to play, or was it because they were just more versatile, could put anything together they chose, hell maybe even the music was so fluid at the time it crossed boundaries and could fit into several categories rather than the distinct ones we have today?
Because suddenly there was Cream Live and we swung back mainstream again, Pete Tong and Oakie’s sets the ones I remember best through that summer though we all spared a thought bizarre for the first track in Justin Robertson’s mix, Armand van Helden’s The Witchdoktor and not just because it was different but because it had that sound, in the chorus that had reverberated around Lakota when Digweed was playing and again repeated in his Transmission tape. And that’s the key, that’s what joins us clubbers, DJs, electronic music afficionados, it’s the comfort of the beat, the breakdown, the build, the blast back into  a track which unites us all because we first heard it time and ago and somehow, somehow hold the same memory for it. The tunes produced appeal to us, unify us and of course once they’re mixed together into segments take us on journeys also, if the DJ spinning them has enough skill of course. Well, I listened to Cream Live all over that summer though there was another album in the mix, remote at first then fading in before joining and taking over the other, this was Fantazia’s The Fourth Dimension. Fantazia, epic label, business, people, organisers whose N-Trance Set Me Free was one of the first tracks I heard in our first term in Halls, when I’d come down here to the west country and within ten weeks of term been introduced to all sorts of dance music which had increased my love for this brand; it was like track and field, all sorts of events but under one umbrella which seemed to be taking over the world in the mid-nineties. Of course there was Britpop, there was Oasis and Knebworth and Trainspotting and Euro 96 and I loved it all, but it was electronica which still meant the most  to me, another Fantazia release with Jeremy Healy & Alistair Whitehead my soundtrack to the start of second year life in Bristol before Tony de Vit’s Retrospective of House mix with Shaker’s Strong to Survive quite simply saved my life.
You see, I’d got ill. Stretching back into the eighties I now think, but my mind had over the years gradually taken on loads which it became incapable of sustaining. Now, as mentioned above I never took illicit drugs, no sir, but I did drink because in my weird conception it was legal so of course it couldn’t do any damage, could it? Well no, not in moderation, but by the time I’d got through my first term at university I had been consuming very heavily indeed, something which continued all the way through 1995 until I had a moment, a very bad moment one night on the Downs at Bristol in which I think I lost contact with all reality for a few moments in time. Then I contracted flu, proper influenza which kept me in bed for almost two weeks with its intensity and virulence such that when I managed to get back to my university accommodation I still had to spend hours, sometimes days in bed recuperating. And boy, was I down. I mean depressed, dejected, so low I couldn’t even see the way through the darkness that dropped down over my vision. Nothing could lift me. Nothing, except the sound of Shaker’s Strong to Survive as I played Tony de Vit’s mix whilst I recovered. It’s a track which shows its age now, but back then, right there its lyrics and its beat, and yes all the other electronic elements of which I’ve made mention, they cut through the haze that surrounded me, and they sustained me. The track sustained me. In fact, it saved me. Without listening to that mix, and in particular that track on repeat, I don’t think I’d be here now typing out these words to let you know about how important dance music is to me.  
Around this time, there were two further awesome compilations, John Digweed’s skills over three discs of Renaissance the Mix Collection Part 2 & the first Essential Mix album, Tong, Cox, Sasha & Oakenfold delivering a perfect blend of house, techno, progressive and well, house again making Christmas 1995 pure bliss for this dance music afficionado, Carl Cox in particular playing the kind of sound which I believe he perfected in his Colours Edinburgh 2 hour effort which although recorded in June 1996 I only heard two years afterwards thanks to a friend of mine on postgraduate course. And still the albums came, In The Mix 96 a real mainstream but fun effort, Boy George & Pete Tong’s Ministry of Sound Dance Nation and then Kiss Mix 96 put together by Graham Gold and soundtrack to my summer then alongside Danny Rampling’s spacey trance mix on his Love Groove Dance Party first release. And that’s when I bought my first pair of record decks, not Technics by any stretch but a couple of cheap turntables with a mixer and me behind them in the middle. I found it hard going at first, but I remembered the brief lessons I had from a friend before about beat matching and song choice and before long I’d made my first mix, a dreadful effort full of mainstream garbage I’d picked up on the cheap. Back at university for my third year (why didn’t I take my decks with me?) I bought Bitter & Twisted mixed by Mrs Wood & Blu Peter; now this was underground stuff, and it was banging hard and I still think ahead of its time, or maybe it’s because it’s held up so well over time. The retrospectives had gone introspective and I loved Judge Jules’ effort on that one whilst Rampling had produced another awesome spacey trance mix on his next LGDP album, Pablo Gargano and X-Cabs absolutely belting tracks. I think this was his best effort as I never really got into LGDP 5 & 6, but anyway it was my 21st around this time and of course I had to deliver a guest set, trouble being I was so bladdered I could hardly see the turntables although I do remember a good mix out of Y-Traxx Trance Piano & one involving DJ Quicksilver’s Bellissima into Robert Miles’ Children. And then that was it, I’d done my Finals and I was home for good, listening to Kiss Mix 97 all over the break before falling head over heels in love with Happy Hardcore.
It was natural progression really, I mean I was just always drawn to the harder, faster stuff and when one evening on the way to my then girlfriend’s house I tuned into Kiss 100, the sheer madness of Sharkey, Hixxy & Slam absolutely appealed to my own insanity and I was sold, particularly when the latter played Trip To the Other Side and smashed the mix out of it into the next, there was a terrific Rock Da Funky Beats sample on top of breakbeat and that summer I heard two other blistering tracks, Dune’s Million Miles Away & Q-Tex’s The Power of Love. Strangely, I didn’t buy any of this genre on vinyl, instead sticking to mainstream with a bit harder thrown in as though what I was practicing in actuality was trying to catch up with what I was listening to, very odd but in the Fall that year I played my first house party, teeing up Dario G’s Sunchyme and moving through the gears over several hours until I was banging out techno so hard everyone at the event had to go and sit in another room, though they did say my sound was good enough for a club, apparently!
And that was that, I pulled the plug on my course, broke up with my girlfriend and got diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was 22 when my world dropped away with this news, but just like three years ago back at university I still had electronic music to succour me listening avidly to Gatecrasher’s Black CD set, making mix tapes for friends of mine and now listening more and more keenly to Radio 1, Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems to start with and then the Judge himself who at this time in 1998 took on two shows across the weekend, a harder selection from 9-11pm on a Friday and the more mellow but still pumping session on Saturdays 5-7pm. This marked a sea change for me, no longer buying album after album but listening to Radio 1 at these times and often popping over to HMV in Newport afterwards to buy or order tracks that I’d heard in a particular mix; the guy who ran the vinyl section asked me a couple of times why I did it this way rather than listen to tracks fresh in store and buy what I wanted, the reason being that I liked to hear the tunes in the middle of a mix, and Jules’s weekly 10.30 – 11pm effort really never disappointed. And so this continued on through 1998 and 1999 whilst my mixing improved as I did mentally, recuperating on the Isle of Wight with my family and a Games room which perfectly muffled the sound of my trail and error whilst mum and dad listened to classical in the other part of the house!
In September 1999, I moved back to the mainland and started listening to Alex P & Brandon Block on a Friday afternoon on Kiss from 3pm, if I remember correctly. I absolutely loved their show though I didn’t give up the Judge for it of course, and for some strange reason whilst I was writing I’d play on repeat the second disc from John Digweed’s Renaissance 2, listening to Pete Lazonby’s Sacred Cycles over and over. And then my chance came, a private club on New Year’s Eve to welcome in the new millennium, CD decks to get my head round in the DJ booth and my own turntables out on the stage. It was brilliant. I was already half-cut by the time I started at 7pm, loving the experience as the punters turned up and I could leave ABBA alone for a half hour or so to bash out Yomanda’s Synth & Strings, some guy hugging me for the sound whilst girls came up to the booth and chatted me up royally! When I finished at 7am I was completely spent; back home I tried to sleep but couldn’t, beats reverberating round my head so that I panicked and decided there and then this wasn’t good for my illness.
In early 2000, Jules took his show out on the road and I would leave drinks I was having with my friends early on a Friday night to tape record these live events. They were awesome, but nothing like what I was about to hear for in late May 2000 when I was fed up with the dismal accommodation I was stuck in I stayed up to listen to Paul van Dyk’s mix from a very wet Homelands festival; all through the rest of the year, driving back from Cornwall in the summer, down in the returns room at the book shop where I was working I bashed this mix out on repeat and repeat and repeat, for me simply the best demonstration of DJ mixing I have ever heard before or since. This was in marked contrast to me and my two calamitous auditions around this time, the first to an empty hall at a university in London where I transitioned horribly from the guy before me with banging techno from his melodic house and then got distracted by the monitor beside me, something I’d never experienced before, the second at what was then Bar Med in Guildford when the place was half-empty and I knocked the needle across the record I was teeing up to bring in on the mix!
I got rid of my turntables after that and decided to just listen to Paul van Dyk’s superlative mix, on and on through 2001 until I must have chewed it up because suddenly I was relapsing, it was approaching Christmas and I was listening to Getaway by Terry Bones. I can’t remember which album this track was on but I hammered it over and over that end of year 2001 before 2002 brought for me a new discipline growing end over end in dance music, and that be Hard House. I can’t remember whether or not it was on one of Jules’ shows but Marco V was the sound in early 2002 and one of my favourite tracks of his still remains My Acid Pacemaker; then there was Hard Energy mixed by Fergie & Yomanda, the latter producing Synth & Strings I mentioned earlier, the former DJ of whom I knew nothing though would become another great influence on my onward journey. In fact, Fergie became so popular at the time that he took on his own Radio 1 show in June that year, and suddenly Hard House was the absolute business.
I was back to buying albums too, Hard House Anthems, Hard House Euphoria, Big Room DJs, there was Nukleuz & Lisa Lashes & Andy Farley & Ed Real & Mario Piu & Nick Sentience & of course BK whose track Revolution jumped into the mainstream charts that year. I was listening to other stuff too, DJ Hype’s jungle on repeat in our shop’s Goods-In whilst I booked stock on to the system and as 2002 drove into the next year and beyond the DJs kept coming, Eddie Halliwell, Rob Tissera, the Tidy Boys, Lee Haslam, Amber D, Mauro Picotto, and three epic tracks for me, K90’s Red Snapper, James Lawson’s mix of Bad Ass & Cortina’s Music is Moving. I couldn’t keep up, and I wanted more of this stuff that I bought Mark EG on Music for a Harder Generation Volume 4. And of course from there it was a quick transfer back to Happy Hardcore such that in 2005-6 I collected almost all the Bonkers CD compilations, DJ Sharkey my very favourite although in truth I loved whatever I listened to on these albums. Directionless in my direction, I charged headlong back into trance when I moved into new premises in January 2007 listening to Armin van Buuren’s State of Trance Yearmix 2005, something about the sound grabbing me so that I began to collect the other CDs in the series whilst transferring my vinyl collection to laptop files. And then there was Kutski, the hardcore sound still popular enough for him to have his own show on Radio 1, listening to this 2008 and on, particularly a brilliant Halloween mix in 2010. And so, in 2012 I decided to give mixing another go, making an appalling effort on Virtual DJ including Lost Witness’ Red Sun Rising, Agnelli & Nelson’s El Nino & Vincent de Moor’s Flowtation, just some of my very favourite tracks from back in the day, well 1998 I think for some reason.
In 2013 whilst marking papers I listened to Fatamorgana’s Goa Trance on You Tube, picking up three excellent Essential mixes along the way, Man With No Name’s 1998 effort in this genre, classic techno from the same year by Jeff Mills & CJ Bolland’s effort from back in 1994. In all these, there were sections that just absolutely blasted, when song choice stuck brilliantly, and it was in this vein that I started listening to other Essentials through 2014-15, mostly Paul van Dyk’s efforts whilst I trained in the gym at school over lunch. But that autumn I also tuned into Armin van Buuren’s 8 hour sets and I made another mix, again on Virtual DJ, which was still ropey to start with but got better as it progressed; and then I managed to produce a longer two-hour effort at Christmas with a 40 minute slot in the middle which still remains now some six years later my best selective effort on this software…