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25 Years of Solid Steel: an oral history of the world’s longest running mix show

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  • published
    6 Dec 2013
  • words by
    Joe Muggs
  • photographed by
    Credits on Page 5
  • tags
    Ninja Tune
    Solid Steel
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CC meets Juan Atkins tapes

Kev: The funny thing was that when the internet got going and people starting uploading stuff, you started to realise that people had been taping it over the years, and things started to appear. There were, in fact still are, little groups of people trading tapes. There’s a guy in Russia who’s almost certainly got more tapes of shows than we have.

Matt: Another guy, “Rob the Funky Human Being” wrote in one time, with a beautiful box he’d made as an artwork – this cut-and-paste box with all these interesting things inside – just as a thankyou to the show. I actually met up with him, and it turned out that him and his mates would tune into the show every Saturday night and trip their nuts off, listening to the show while mixing it live, adding their own shit and echo and stuff over the top!

Kev: I’ve met parents of kids that my kids are friends with at school who say they did the same thing. Well not necessarily tripping their nuts off, but listening with groups of friends, maybe driving home from clubs at that time of night…

Jon: Or I met one guy recently whose thing was to tape it then take it down to the beach.

Kev: You’d get letters from prisoners too, right?

Jon: Oh I got a lot of prison letters actually yes, and on legal radio you weren’t meant to mention the fact listeners were in prison, but I didn’t care about that – or probably being more correct I probably just didn’t know about that – so I’d give them mentions, and we got a lot of love from people in prison. Some right crazy letters from people in prison too, but it gave them something to look forward to.

Matt: Certainly now it’s a whole lot easier to get a sense of who and where your audience is.

Jon: Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a whole other discussion in itself.

Matt: It’s strange how much we operated inside this little radio bubble. It was intense. DJs on Kiss wouldn’t get paid in the pirate days – in fact sometimes you’d even have to pay because the transmitter would have been busted and we’d have to get another one, which was expensive. It was edgy, because if you got busted the DTI [Department of Trade & Industry, who regulated radio] could confiscate all your records as well as your equipment – that was the worst fear. But realising over the years – even much later – that all that was worth it because there was an audience out there and that some of them were quite fanatical about it made it worth it.

DK, Food SS Bristol Xmas 2007 record giveaway (Ph. Elisa Parish)Jon: But it kept changing, and we kept it evolving in how we played.

Matt: There was a certain time in the early 90s when we moved into a kind of mix we called the Sphinx – and then the Alien Sphinx. You remember Fortean Times magazine? One time they had this article about the Alien Sphinx – the “face” on Mars – and I just thought it was a wicked concept. Around that time we met Patrick, PC, via a guy at Kiss called Neil, who said “I’ve got this mate, he’s working at a sausage factory, he’s really having a terrible time, but he’s an excellent DJ, do you think you can find anything for him to do?” So he came in and started assisting on the shows, but was also a music head and as it turned out a brilliant mixer and scratcher. This was a little bit before Kev came along too. I was really into the Church of the SubGenius at that time, too, and they did these things called Media Barrage shows on radio – I bought a couple of their tapes, and thought, OK this is really far out, we could do something like this, take it away from being a conventional radio show and more into the real of an anything-goes montage, two hours…

Jon: …with no ads. We’d get special permission once a month to do it with no ads because I think people didn’t realise they weren’t getting much advertising support anyway…

Kev: …and there’d be minimal talking, if any, but lots of spoken word recordings.

Matt: We’d have a studio set up with mixing desks and instruments, some decks, keyboards, effects…

Jon: …toys…

Matt: …yep, toys – and a sampler. It’d all be done live, in any case you couldn’t edit together something two hours long in those days, there was no digital editing, it was just straight to DAT. You’d go “RIGHT!” and just fling it down. They were great to do, we’d get…

Jon: …quite indulgent [giggles]…

Matt: …and do it, and it was a real trip. That was definitely a different stage for the show and a great opportunity to throw a lot of different stuff into the mix in a new way. The first real musical guests we ever had on the show was when we did The Orb vs Coldcut, in Kiss’s studios. We didn’t actually know Alex and Thrash that well, though they’d had parallel careers to us, getting signed to Big Life…

Kev: …getting shafted by Big Life…

Jon: …surviving Big Life…

Matt: …two pairs of leftfield misfits getting shafted by Big Life. Take two!

“Aphex didn’t exactly, though, he just played some Satie then went into musique concrète, like “NRRRRGNNNGGG”, not very fluffy – but fuck it, that’s him.”

That was a really good show though. I remember we played a load of unreleased Coldcut material, and Matt realised we should put it out, so we put out ‘Eine Kleine Hed Muzik’. Also The Orb were playing The Tape Beatles which is a great CD of montage stuff, really wild and out there stuff, and we instantly went “what the fuck’s that, we’ve got to get that” – that was another big influence on the whole media barrage Alien Sphinx thing. That was a really fun show, very important in the evolution of Solid Steel and the expansion of what we could do with it.

Kev: That was, when? Christmas of ’91 I think?

Matt: And then Kev joined.

Kev: 20 years ago!

Matt: What happened was that Patrick went off to build a hospital in Africa, so we thought “well done mate, terrific”. Now we’d already met Kev through Mixmaster Morris, and Kev and all his art school mates were putting on these Telepathic Fish parties in Brixton.

Kev: Ambient parties, basically, all day on a Sunday, post-clubbing – we’d have people like Aphex Twin come down, Brian from Future Sound of London, the Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia turned up one time! Matt came and played the first one, though as a VJ – I only found out recently that it had actually been his very first VJ gig.

Matt: A truly epic party, Tunstall Road, Brixton, a squatted venue, Aphex came down, Morris played an incredible set.

Kev: Aphex didn’t exactly, though, he just played some Satie then went into musique concrète, like “NRRRRGNNNGGG”, not very fluffy – but fuck it, that’s him.

DJ Food jsjMatt: And that was the start of the London ambient, chillout scene really. Now, we started noticing that all the flyers had this certain aesthetic to them, which turned out to be Kev, and then we discovered he DJed – so we asked if he’d like to come and do some stuff on the show. He was pretty raw to begin with…

Kev: …literally learning in public.

Matt: We’ve always been learning in public though, that’s our story. So Kev became part of the team as well, then when PC came back there were four of us. We kept rocking and kept doing the shows, and actually the four of us were then the crew that did Journeys By A DJ – which had a direct relationship to Solid Steel, because we said we want to capture what we do, refine it and condense it and make it into a mix CD, because the other ones on Journeys By A DJ were crap…

Kev: Woah, woah, they were just one-dimensional. They were house or techno and that was that. But yes, we decided, let’s take what we do on radio and put it onto a CD, and it has to be the best mix we’ve ever done.

Jon: That was a pretty good bar to set.

Matt: We should say, we weren’t at the height of our popularity at that point. And we thought we’ve got this opportunity to show we’re alive and kicking. And vitally, there was so much incredible, strange, avant-garde music at that time, but we never wanted to stroke our chins over it – because we came from that warehouse thing where it was about getting down and having a good time, but not having it narrow, keeping it as broad as possible.

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