How the Bristol Crew Brought Their Unique Flavour to Jungle: Part 2
Here’s the second part of our retrospective on the incredible Bristol scene and its invaluable contribution to drum’n’bass jungle.
Jungle has exploded, there are parties taking place all over Bristol, Smith & Mighty and Easygroove, among others, are fueling the growth of the scene and it’s captivating a whole new generation.
Starting out in a back room kindly donated to them by Smith & Mighty, Krust, Die and Suv got stuck into ‘making lots of noise’ on a pair of small speakers, a sampler and an Atari ST1040. In that tiny room they served an apprenticeship of sorts, as Smith & Mighty would pop their heads in from time to time and give feedback, or show them a few tricks. “Roni had his older brother, Carl, showing him a few things in the studio too, as he was in a soundsystem called Qualitex,” Krust explains. These older Bristol heads gently guided the young crew, instilling in them some of the skills, and values, that carried them forward to their success.
Eventually they came together and started making music at Roni’s house based around St. Paul’s and Montpellier. “Back in Bristol looking for something to do, I met Roni on the street,” Die explains. “He gave me an early tape of his, which was kinda ‘ragga rave’. We met again, got in the studio made ‘Music Box’ and ‘Agility’ and Bukem started playing them.”
Sending their music out to labels proved fruitless and so they decided to start their own thing. In the meantime, they’d passed on a tape of their music to some friends, called Absolute, who had a link with Bryan Gee. Bryan and Jumpin’ Jack Frost were already making waves in the UK scene, so getting their music to either of the two would almost certainly help them on their way.
However, it didn’t happen as quickly, or as simply as it could have done. At the time Bryan was working at the legendary Rhythm King label. The Bristol tape got passed on to him as promised, but he sat on it for a while. In fact, it wasn’t until Rhythm King shut down and he found the tape as he was packing up, that it came onto his radar.
“Some guys from Bath, friends of Roni’s called Absolute, passed me a cassette, but I just put it down somewhere on my desk,” Bryan tells us. “I’m not really one for listening to unsolicited demos, so that was that…”
“The label shut down and, as I was clearing my stuff I picked up the cassette and took it with me,” he continues. “When I got home I decided to listen to it and I was like, ‘Wow!’. It was ravey, kinda hardcore, just at that point when it was becoming jungle. Pinky and Perky sped up vocals and all that!”
Bryan then played the cassette to some of his peers during a meeting at the agency he was with at the time, Groove Connection. LTJ Bukem was the only one who gave any feedback and he was really positive about it. Bryan reported back to Frost and, on Bukem’s recommendation, suggested they should go down to Bristol and see the guys behind the tape.
“They were buzzing to have Jumpin’ Jack Frost turn up on their doorstep,” Bryan says. “He was a big, big name even back then. That made them feel part of something and the music started to flow.”
Krust and the rest of the crew felt an instant affinity with Bryan, their philosophies aligned and it was agreed that Bryan and Frost would launch their new label with music from the Bristol crew. “The minute he walked in the room it was like a mirror,” Krust explains. “He came in with his dreads, we had our dreads, he had a bag of weed, we had a bag of weed! He sat down and we started talking about music. Bryan and Frost were the conduit to London.”
Another critical moment in the history of the Bristol collective came when they first heard their music played at a big rave, and it was on their home turf at the mighty Universe. “We were all ravers at heart, literally in the crowd trying to get a piece,” Die explains, as he breaks it down for us. “We went to this big rave called Universe and two monumental things happened that night: the first was Fabio played ‘Music’ by LTJ Bukem as his intro. That changed everything for us, it was a poignant moment. Never hearing that intro before and that drop... He also played Internal Affairs ‘Hands Up To Heaven’, goosebumps!
“Frost came on next and we knew he had some of our music,” Die continues. “We’d never heard it played in a rave before and he actually spun some of our stuff! He played a couple of bits from Krust’s ‘Receivers’ EP and that first V release I did with Roni.”
Bryan Gee and Jumpin’ Jack Frost began playing the Bristol crew’s tunes in all of their sets; at raves, on radio shows, on mixtapes, everywhere. This thrust Roni and co into the limelight and, as the crew’s unique take on ‘jungle techno’ shifted the rhythms away from four-to-the-floor, a new fully breaks-orientated sound began to take over. Keeping the music exclusive - between themselves, Bryan and Frost - the Bristol crew started to pick up gigs as promoters cottoned on to them and realised the only way to have those huge Bristol anthems played at their club nights was to book them.
This added a whole new dimension to the production process. As Roni, Krust, Die and Suv played more and more shows they began to refine their music especially for DJing. In fact, Full Cycle were among the first generation of ‘DJ/producers’ - disciplines which, historically, were quite separate. “When we came out we were a whole crew that could make music all week, go to the cutting room on Friday and come out Saturday with a brand new set,” Krust states. “No one else could do that.”
“We would come back from those early raves and get straight into the studio,” Die adds. “We’d start working out the equipment, draw for our influences and incorporate them in the music. That was an important part of jungle; digging into your bag and pulling out the influences, finding that music from your childhood. I grew up on ska, punk and, later on, hip hop, acid house, boogie, funk, Roy Ayers, elements of jazz, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Armatrading, Joni Mitchell, all these influences that I wanted to put in the music, and bring out that flavour.”
Let’s not forget another all-important ingredient in the recipe for this Bristolian bonanza; weed. The inspiration for the label name Dope Dragon, and the key to stimulating their collective consciousness, weed partly fueled this intensive period of creativity, as it does for so many musicians. “It’s amazing what those guys did. What you hear in drum’n’bass now, listen to all the big drum’n’bass producers and they will tell you they get their vibe from the Bristol sound,” Fabio tells us. “What they did was they came up with this weed-fueled… it was stoner’s music. You smoke a spliff, kick back and listen to Roni and Krust and them mans. They had such an easy going atmosphere about their music. It had that easy going Bristol vibe.”
As Roni told the Ransom Note, “We used to smoke so much weed and one day we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s start a label and call it Dope Dragon.’ We basically lived in a comic and Dope Dragon was our weed state of mind. The whole thing was based around being a bit high and living out our childhood fantasies in a comic.”
Once they got into their stride as a crew of four prolific producers, they were cracking out up to 15 new tracks per week. Some cuts would be unfinished ideas that they simply wanted to road test. Every weekend those tracks would go through a rigorous examination under the microscope of the dancefloor. “We’d play a set and gauge what’s going on: ‘Why doesn’t that tune work? Maybe the bass needs some work. The drums didn’t really kick hard enough’. You’d be back in the studio the next day making adjustments on that track,” says Krust.
“We had this machine going where we would experiment with beats and bass, send it out to Bryan and Frost, or play it ourselves, get instant feedback, and go back to work on it,” he adds.
“They were sending us new music every week,” Bryan confirms. “Because they were DJing and they wanted to have new stuff to play out every weekend. They were making tune after tune, churning it out.”
“We just wanted to create dubplates to play, with that DJ mentality coming out of these free parties,” Die agrees. “We wanted to simplify it, and make it easier to mix them without all the changes that a lot of tracks at the time incorporated.”
A variety of aliases were concocted to cope with the sheer deluge of music that was being made and put forward for release: Mask, Gang Related, Glamour Gold, Swabe, Suvivor and Firefox among them. “The aliases came in because they were making so much music we couldn’t release it all under the same names and labels,” Bryan laughs. “They had Full Cycle and Dope Dragon, we had Chronic, Philly Blunt and V. We had to create other outlets so we could put a Roni Size tune out and another one by him [under a different name] at the same time. That enabled us to get all the music out there.”
“Even now I’ve been going through old DATs and we’re shaking our heads like, ‘Why did this never come out?’. I know the reason, there just wasn’t enough months in the year to bring it all out!” he adds.
Their distinct styles caught the wave at the right time and tunes like ‘Warning’, ‘Set Speed’, ‘Angles’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Phizical’, ‘It’s A Jazz Thing’, and many many more, across labels such as V Recordings, Philly Blunt, Dope Dragon, Chronic and their own Full Cycle, destroyed dancefloors across the UK, finding their way into the record boxes of all the most influential DJs. So all the main raves and pirate radio stations, and even commercial compilations, featured the Bristol jungle sound, and it captivated the raving faithful in a big way.
“They had a different kind of flavour to their jungle, it was bouncy,” says Bryan. “It wasn’t so serious, there was a real fun vibe about the Bristol sound, it wasn’t cheesy or anything. It was refreshing, funky and it had all the roots of soul, RnB, reggae and definitely had the Bristol bass that made it stand out from what people were doing anywhere else in the country. Everyone fell in love with that Bristol sound, it was very distinctive: the basslines, the way the breaks rolled out, everything.”
Central to the success of the crew during this era were the internal dynamics between them. Friends before anything else, there was a healthy air of competition with each member bringing their own identity to the fold and bolstering their appeal. “Each individual had their own style but it all made sense together,” Bryan explains. “Krust was the scientist, a bit deeper and more edgy with his stuff. Roni was full-on funk. Die was the King of the Rollers. Suv, you didn’t know what to expect with him - he could mess up your head with all different vibes - a very dubby, King Tubby kind of thing going on.”
“There was the competitive element,” he adds. “Roni would make a track and Krust would be like, ‘Rah is that how you’re going on, I’m gonna have to go IN now!’ and then Krust would make a stinker. Then Die would be like, ‘Yeah?!’ and come out with something of his own. They were just rolling it out. They embraced it and smashed it.”
By 1996 all four members were evolving their sound, experimenting with the DnB template to produce a range of innovative productions. Suv came out with his mind-boggling Free Beat releases which use a ¾ beat arrangement, Krust was going deep with his 12-minute+ compositions, Roni’s Olive remixes were laying the foundations of the Reprazent project and Die took his place on the throne as King of the Rollers.
Their ridiculous creative spurt carried on and on (and on) producing some of the scene’s all-time classics and capturing the imaginations of top selectors across the board, from the jump up DJs, through to the gang at Metalheadz, Bukem to Mickey Finn and everyone in between. What made them so great is that there was something for everyone in the music they made.
“With Full Cycle we always had this view of being an experimental label,” Die explains to us. “We gave ourselves room to be free with what we were producing. We’d pick up guitars, even though we didn’t know how to play them, and crack out a riff. We started getting musicians in, Clive Deamer and Rob Merrill among them. So then we had our own raw sources of material. Combine those with the breakbeats and charity shop samples and you’ve got the sound of Reprazent.”
Reprazent marked a high point for the Full Cycle crew, taking the music and constructing a live show, working with vocalists and live instrumentalists to record two amazing albums. Their debut ‘New Forms’ won the Mercury Music Prize in 1997, and they toured the globe, becoming superstars in the process. The almost inevitable culmination of an incredibly fertile period that produced hundreds of releases.
“All credit to Roni, he had the vision of taking it to the stage and creating the album,” Die tells us. “It was a whirlwind. One minute you’re in Bristol riding your skateboard around the streets and making music, and everything’s kinda chilled… the next you’re on a tour bus, doing back-to-back gigs, the pressure’s on. I don’t think we ever really sussed it out because, at the end of a gig, someone would come over and say, ‘Here’s your rider’ and we’d spend the whole tour on a hangover, trying to catch up with that first big night out!”
“From the age of about 14 until I was 37 it was just relentless,” says Krust. “You never really thought of what was going on. You go from total obscurity to being signed to Def Jam in America, we were fortunate enough to meet Method Man, Run DMC, Timbaland, Busta Rhymes, all of our hip hop heroes. It was surreal.”
“When we bonded we were like family. We spent 15 years together almost constantly,” he adds. “We had this life altering experience that, at its height, was amazing. It’s been this amazing journey of learning, experiencing and sharing. We’re into the Third Act now, so let’s see what happens…”
“They were a big inspiration to me as a DJ who’s grown up around all kinds of different music,” Bryan tells us. “I would put these guys on a par with some of the great artists and music that I’ve listened to. They just had something special. Every now and then people come together and form something special and create an energy - all of them were on that same wavelength; sharing ideas. They were good friends, which was also part of that energy, and they loved what they were doing. All of those things were important to making the music what it was. You could feel the energy when you listened to the music, that was just how they were. It was a special time just being around them.”
“Sometimes you meet people and you’ve got that synergy, it just works. It’s priceless,” concludes Die.
Check out our extensive playlist below, featuring a ton of Bristol material. Priceless indeed…..