Noodles is one of the good guys.
Over the last decade or so, he’s been regarded warmly by the (post) dubstep generation thanks to the foundational late ’90s tracks he and El-B released under the Groove Chronicles banner, particularly ‘Stone Cold’ with its Reese low-end sample that inspired all the bassline pressure that followed, and its clipped drums that echo through Burial and all his million would-be clones. But although he’s one of dance music’s great enthusiasts and proselytisers – and someone who knows how to tell a cracking yarn and namedrop like a boss to boot – he’s not really done anything visible bar keep the DPR label ticking along, pushing out a few idiosyncratic garage/dubstep acts’ releases along the way, and pop up occasionally to do a greatest-hits-of-garage DJ set here and there.
Not that those sets were anything to sniff at, mind. Each time he’s popped up, he’s reminded us what a dynamite DJ he is – mixing up a storm in old school, strictly-vinyl fashion with the instinctive selection and sequencing that befits a record shop trouper who sold a significant percentage of the vinyl bought in London through the 1990s. Indeed, “that” DJ EZ set for Boiler Room / RBMA – the one that single handedly pushed EZ’s career into overdrive – would likely not have been so electric had Noodles and MC Creed so successfully vibed up the room at the start of the night.
Over the past year or so, though, it’s seemed that he was ready, keen even, to step away from this role as the kindly uncle of the dubstep generation, and do something a bit more active than just trading on the reputation of Groove Chronicles. First, with his wife and label manager Bella, he moved out of London to the Oxfordshire countryside, which seemed like part of a much wider stock-taking process. Then a series of jungle and house mixes started appearing on his SoundCloud (the house one is a series called “Jum Jum”) – again all-vinyl, and again brilliantly mixed with a palpable sense of love for the tunes – that showed him digging deep into his life before UK garage.
Then this year DPR stepped up activity, leading up to last month’s announcement that he was returning to recording himself: firstly on a collaborative album as Nu-Agenda with his friend and protegé Dubchild, making lush Chicago/NYC/Detroit-inspired house, with more to follow. And it’s clear that this he’s hit a creative streak: as he reveals here, he has several other projects on the go, solo and with other musical survivors including – impressively – the reclusive legend Steve Gurley. It’s hard to tell exactly what triggered all this, but it’s clear that deciding, as he puts it, “to go back to go forward” was the right thing. Instead of being snagged on one particular part of his past, this is someone accepting and embracing the whole of his history (and that of the music he’s been an important part of), and ready to move on at last. He’s always been effusive, but when I spoke to him the day after a gig in Paris, the levels of enthusiasm were barely containable.
Hi Noodles – sounds like a lot’s going on. Can you sum up where you’re at right now?
Well, mate, I’m back where I’m supposed to be. I’m back in the studio, I’m back in my vinyl room, opening boxes, cleaning vinyl, reminding myself of all the reasons I did all this in the first place, I’m back mixing it up. I’ve just done this set at the Rex in Paris, which I last did more than 20 years ago – when they told me Daft Punk were in the crowd as a couple of teenagers by the way – and I absolutely bowled them over. I think they thought I was going to play UK garage, you know [laughs uproariously], they’d been listening to some mix or other and they thought I was going to play garage, but I surprised them, I played them some REAL house music, some real techno, and it went off in the club, bruv. It went off. Job done.
Nobody knew what hit them, because nobody’s heard me play that style recently – old Pancake records, some Belgian and German bits, some tribally bits, quite uptempo but nice, you know, threw some acid in there as well, I played them the full spectrum last night, and I think I blew the French people away last night. Packed out Thursday night in Paris, place was jumping, and I realised that people have got a lot to learn. I was playing records that are 15, 20 years old, even more, nobody knew most of them, and all of them sounded good. I played Joey Beltram ‘Mentasm’ and that sounded IMMENSE, mate, as good as it ever did being played in Rage by Fabio or Grooverider – and they had it, mate, they had it. I played Winx, Goodmen, Italian house, bits of techno, all the good stuff, then I played this record ‘Acid Folk’ [by Perplexer], with bagpipes, at 140bpm and they didn’t know what had hit them. [wheezes with laughter] I rewinded it as well [chuckles].
The promoters said to me this morning, “wow, we didn’t expect that, but you came and you just PLAYED.” So I think there’s going to be more of this sort of thing, there’s talk of other stuff on the continent – probably not so much in UK because people still just want to book me to play garage, but weirdly this feels fresher to me. It feels like a change-up, and because people don’t know this music, it’s not a revival, it’s an education. It was great last night honestly, seeing people from back in the day and people who don’t know it all enjoying it together, hearing that Paris is into techno and raw and rough free parties and dubstep and all of this… It’s refreshing, it really is – and you know what mate, it feels new and like it’s something that’s totally me, instead of all this “you did this and that” with people talking about garage and ‘Stone Cold’ and all that. It’s fresh.
Well if we’re going back to your roots, let’s go right back. Where did you grow up?
South mate. Well, I was born in West, but went over South when I was about five. Camberwell, Walworth Road. It was a busy home, loads of people in our house, coming and going all the time. The usual Caribbean kind of stuff, busy family, noisy, music all the time, being dragged down to Brixton with my mum and she’s there buying records. That’s one of my earliest memories really, my mum buying calypso and reggae when I was a kid.
“I don’t think anyone could say where anything was going to end up, because you just lived it every day”
So were you into it then? Was that what set you up for a life in record shops?
Umm… well, no, not really. I was just embarrassed to be seen with my mum, as you are as a kid – but I was standing there in the shop hearing stuff, so that’s probably years later had some sort of imprint on me. But at the time, I was just embarrassed to be standing in a record shop with my mum there dancing away.
What were your interests as a kid then – were you sporty, academic?
I used to draw a lot. I was a drawing kid. Copying stuff I liked, out of Mad magazine, Marvel comics, I did a bit of graffiti, and that was my thing… until, the usual story, you discover girls and you forget everything else because you’re just chasing them. Oh yeah, there was dancing too, I used to body-pop back in the day, I was a popper. So there was dancing, skateboarding, BMX, graffiti, girls… and then Atari. Getting sore thumbs and callouses on your finger from hitting that button on the little brown joystick.
So when did music start to enter this mix as a serious interest?
I’d say about the age of 14, maybe 15 – local discos in the Camberwell, Walworth Road area. There was a thing called St Giles’s club, which I think is on the Brandon Estate over by Kennington. A couple of guys from the estate would bring their records down there and play eighties soul in this club, all the girls on one side, all the boys on the other, a few people in the middle but all the cool people round the edges listening to Shalamar and all that stuff. Those who could mix, mixed, those who couldn’t just did it dad style, drop the needle on the groove.
So yeah, I was 14, 15, then at maybe 16 there were the Heygate parties on the old Heygate Estate – which just got knocked down last week, as it goes – that would be a thing, where all the cool South London kids in their Moda t-shirts, Chevignon jeans and Stan Smiths trainers used to go and hang about and try and impress the local totty in the area. So that’s where it became a proper interest.
Did you have ambitions in music at that point?
No, no, not at that point. I mean, you’re just a kid, so besides being given all the usual career advice at school – which’d be “work in a bank”, “get a proper job,” that’s what got instilled in you – you didn’t want to think about it. The only thing I was interested in was, I wanted to be a fireman. I actually did the training for that, the proper fire brigade training, and the music was a hobby, definitely not something where I thought I’d be doing it all these years later.
I never became a fireman, though. I did a spell working in retail, I worked in Coles Menswear, I worked in Blazer, I worked in a tiny shop called Griggs off Marylebone Road – but one day I went down to see a good friend of mine who was doing security for Heaven’s [sic] nightclub. And basically, I borrowed him my dog for the night – I had a ridgeback, and actually she was soppy as shit, but she looked a menace, so because he promised to keep her on the lead, I hired out my dog for the night. So you’d look down the little alley, you’d see this security in his jacket and this big dog, which was my Elsa, and that’s how I got my little connection into Heaven’s. And that’s how I met the guys from Zoom records, because they had a stall inside the club at Rage on a Thursday, and that’s how I got hired to be their Saturday guy who mixed records all day in the shop!
That’s all I did all day, in the first Zoom Records shop, which was up by Camden Lock. In the weekdays, it was a corridor, then on the weekends the owners Steve Miller and Dave Wesson, they used to put up this 2×2 ply divider, put it across the corridor and we’d make it into a shop. Put the crates out on this big long stand thing, and people would walk in, buy out of the crates and pay cash. I’d be in a corner, they’d pay me to bring up my stuff – I had two belt-drive decks, not even Technics, Phonic mixer, and my two Wharfedale Mk II speakers, that I’ve still got, and I stood there playing house and whatever, The Beloved, all that stuff – that was me, all day.
This must be 1989 or so then? Were you already a convert to the new stuff?
I was a convert to acid house, yeah, before I worked in the shop. Before that it was rare groove and funk, you’d go to things like Medicine Wheel at the Park Discotheque on a Friday night, which is now Urban Outfitters in Kensington High Street, and there’d be things like Kensington Market where there was a downstairs bit with a load of pool tables where we’d hang around, meet up and hear about parties, people like Rev who was part of Choci’s Chewns and Tonka Hi-Fi with Harvey and them, this lad Ben from East London who was a Nigerian kid who did really weird dancing down the Wag, this guy Flowers who’d dance with Mark Moore from S’Express, this guy whose cousin was in Galliano, all these people involved in fashion and dancing. Or we’d go to the World’s End pub and listen to rare groove, hip hop and house all mixed together, and wait to hear where the party was. Those two places, you’d just talk and find out – there wasn’t even any flyers, you’d just hear from people, all just to end up in someone’s kitchen. And all these people who are somebody now, like have produced All Saints or something like that, you’d meet them in a kitchen, or over the counter of a flea market, meeting face to face… a real scene, people together!
Then after that, I don’t know what happened exactly, I don’t remember one big moment, but I knew there was something going on… There was seven guys I used to go about with, I’d known them all from school – we’d go Shake & Fingerpop together which was all electro and stuff like that – and we’d dress up too, I used to wear a suit mate, high waisted trousers, little pair of shoes, and I had a quiff and a little waistcoat, I was quite slick going round all those places. And like I say, we knew about house already, that was getting mixed up with the other stuff – but then I heard about all this stuff going on and I was all, “what, you don’t dress up, you just stick a pair of jeans on and a hooded top?” That’s what I remember most, that was odd. “You don’t dress up to go out? Are you mad?”
But yeah I got into it, I was the first out of our group, the rest took a while to be converted, but I went to a couple of things, then I did a party… There used to be this electrical shop, across the road from Burgess Park [on Walworth Road], you know the petrol station there? Right hand side, by the electrical shop, this old house, don’t know whose it was, but I got asked to come and play some music there – I think I got £30 for it – and that’s where I started to really play the actual acid house tunes.
And this was your actual acid house party too, in terms of atmosphere and mentalness?
Yes. Yes, it was. Lunatics. But I was used to that by this point – most of these parties were off the beaten track, remember. No buses, just cabs, as far as they were willing to go then you walk the rest, you didn’t know what to expect, or how things were going to be, and you were just IN THERE, you were in there with people off their tits, proper. Proper out of their brains. And they could’ve been anyone, anyone at all, you didn’t know. But it was new, it was different.
So you got paid gigs at the raves and then at this shop… was this something you thought was worth taking seriously at this stage?
No… well not at first. It was still local places I was playing. But it was building a network, because these would be local places I got to know because they were getting their vinyl from the shop. And then I started at Mash in Oxford Street, which was my first proper introduction to being right in the thick of a proper shop. People coming and going, people buying tickets to the huge out door events, all of that. That was a few guys: Ray Holiday, and Peter, who was known as The Pied Piper – the original one, before the garage Pied Piper – plus Jumping Jack Frost and Bryan Gee, and then Connie Con, and another guy Steve Wonder who became my production partner.
That was connected to Passion, which became Lightning FM, which was a Brixton pirate radio station, and that shop really gave the formula to having music in the shops for real – we had some scoop bins, mid range, tweeters, all properly wired up, and in the back was us set up with all the decks and everything. We even used to broadcast from there sometimes, every now and again on a Saturday we’d have it wired up so the broadcast was coming straight from the shop. And that’s when everything really went crazy with rave and all the rest of it. So yeah Mash gave me more of an introduction into the music, what it actually was, and the connections from that. I actually worked in both shops, Zoom and Passion…
“Every weekend, Zoom in Camden was amazing – Sunday morning, everyone’s buying, still pilled out of their brains, still dancing”
That’s interesting, that’s then spanning the divide between the Balearic / progressive house thing – because Zoom was closely connected to Leftfield and those guys – and the hardcore / jungle side…
Yes. Hardcore, jungle, drum’n’bass, and dare I say it, the entry into garage. It’s funny because looking at my collection now, I see things like A Man Called Adam, which is Sally who I knew well, I have a lot of their stuff, I’ve got a lot of Leftfield’s stuff, a lot of Andy Weatherall’s stuff – and that was from Zoom. It was very much the progressive, trancey, housey, spacey thing, and I was into it. That’s where I remember meeting people like Sasha, Digweed, Carl Cox, Paul Van Dyk, Josh Winks, I met all those guys through Zoom. Whereas Mash, Passion, that was the KLFs, the D-Shakes of this world, and all the DJs: the Randalls, the Hypes, the Kenny Kens of this world.
I was bridging between the two, though, you’re right. To be honest I’d never thought about it all that much, at the time they were all pound notes! Buying more records means more money in the till, and it was my job to get people buying more records, so I learned what all those people liked, and I sold it to them. However I could sell it, I’d sell it: wrong speed, right speed, if the first part of it was crap then drop the needle straight in the middle… I hold my hands up, there were some people back then got some records where I just thought “what is THAT?”
It was the beginning of something, though. I don’t think anyone could say where anything was going to end up, where any of those different crowds were going, because you just lived it every day. It wasn’t a chosen career or anything in those days, it was just happening. People were here, they disappeared, they popped back up again somewhere else, but there was a main core of people that you found in the same place week-in-week-out, and by that point I was one of them!
You must’ve had a unique viewpoint because if you were selling records to this core of people, you knew exactly what they were playing in the clubs?
So in that position I was in, you are a DJ’s DJ. Literally. Not just the DJ that DJs like, but as I mixed up records, people bought them – DJs bought them. Every weekend, Zoom in Camden was amazing. Sunday morning, everyone would be coming in from Trade! Everyone’s buying, still pilled out of their brains, still dancing, because there was space for them, so Zoom was like an extension to the clubs, people obviously hadn’t been home, and I’d be in the shop all day having a dance, eating food, playing music. So yeah, you say it like that, I did know – because I sold it. I sold it.
You weren’t analysing it as you did, though? You weren’t logging the fact that record X was being played by people from both scene Y and scene Z?
No, no, not really – in them days, you sold people records that were good. I kept saying to anyone I sold to, “if you can play it, then play it.” I never analysed what came from where so much, or who it was going to, just give them records on instinct that they’d like. Carl Cox, when he first rocked up, he was still a three-deck DJ playing hardcore, scratching it up on his little mobile disco. But we just sold records, so I sold him A to Z, anything I possibly could. Pick ’em dry was our job! Don’t let them leave there with any money in their pockets, because obviously people were hungry for music, so you sold them everything. No analysing, we were just the filter to the out-there club scene – you wanted to get some of that, you came into the shop and we were the guys that you saw, and we’d push you what we thought was good first. Then if you liked something different, it’d be, “ok, cool, he likes that does he? We don’t really like that, but he does, so give him that – and this, this and this as well!”
And when you started to produce, was it similarly with a “give them what they want!” attitude?
No no, it was “make what you think it good”, because that was our first attitude in the shops – give them what YOU think is good first. So make what you think is good and get it out there. My first production was a hardcore record in 1991, 92, called the ‘Major Worries EP’ by Noodles & Wonder – black and white label, that was the first out-there stuff that I did, there were two volumes of that. Just little steps to start with, then I think the next stuff I did was for Kickin’ Records, the Dub Soup EP, which was rave and jungle, made that in 93, came out in 94 I think.
I remember about that time I made one of the first ever DJ mixes with WAV editing, with this mad crazy Swedish guy I’d met through Mash – I spend about a week in his studio, this guy editing for me and me going “yeah, drop it in now!” I remember he got this really famous Swedish artist to do some abstract painting and he managed to somehow loan it to Tower Records, which used to be right on Picadilly Circus, and do this thing so it was me and him in a stretch limo, with this painting in the back, and we had this Jean Claude Van Damme lookalike security guard, proper martial arts expert, and a glamour girl, to bring this picture to Tower Records, and his own photographer, like mock-paparazzi, hired to make it look like this huge thing… and all this hype and all I remember is Colin Faver cursing this mix on Kiss FM, he absolutely roasted it because it wasn’t done on vinyl and it was done on edits.
But yeah, early hardcore from ’91, then rave and into jungle… and we did quite a lot of jungle, compilations and all that.
So did you define what you did at any point – were you a record shop guy first, a producer, a DJ, or all of the above?
Nah you didn’t think about it at all, it was just what you did, in the day or night. You sold records in the day, you DJed at the weekend, and whenever you fit it in you went into people’s studios wherever and did what you can. I wore all the hats all at once, just a whole combination of stuff all at once – as anyone else who worked in a record shop at the time will tell you, you did a whole set of different things, it was all part of it.
And were you covering the genres as a DJ? If you were making rave and jungle, were you also playing it?
Oh yeah. I did Telepathy, Carpenters Road, down in Plumstead, I did Desert Storm which was a big jungle rave thing, I did the Crypt, which is now the Bug Bar down in Brixton… gawd, I can’t remember the half of them. You know what, every now and again I actually Google myself, because I can’t remember where I’ve played [laughs ruefully] but I was definitely out there. I didn’t really push it that much – if people booked us then they booked us – but those gigs were extra, really on top of the jobs.
In the rave days, it was a bit of everything, what became jungle, fast four-to-the-floor, Chill Records, N-Joi, Jimi Polo, all that but sped up. And even as it went into the days of real jungle, I listen back to my old mixes, and I managed to get everything in. I don’t think there was as much of a divide back then as people make out, it was still acceptable to play all genres in the set – or I didn’t know any better anyway. If I liked a jungle tune, and a house record, I would somehow get them to fit into each other, I don’t know how but I did. There wasn’t segregation as long as you did your job, which was that you were there to entertain the people. Honestly, my old tapes, I will go “how the fuck did you do that…? Woah, you played THAT?? Must’ve been a good night!” [laughs] But yeah, everything got played, mate, everything got played.
And then from that, the next step was UK garage emerging as a thing, right?
Well yeah, “the Sunday scene” as they called it, that was about ’95. I’d left Zoom by then, I went to Unity – they got me in to do their drum’n’bass, jungle section, while upstairs was still house music and whatever, and they split it. They went “we want a separate area for all that stuff,” so I got hired to do that. I was downstairs there, playing my jungle, drum’n’bass records, but then I started going up to the house section too. I remember the early Nice’n’Ripe stuff which was obviously Grant Nelson, but prior to that it was Dutch labels, German labels, the US stuff of course, and the Sunday scene was basically what we played to those DJs.
Most of them aren’t even name DJs now, the Sunday scene was just people who didn’t want to go home, you know? They were still pilled up, still high, and the party didn’t stop until Monday morning. The Sunday scene was just an overspill from people who didn’t want to go home and watch EastEnders – and my awareness of it was pirate radio, London Underground, Freek FM… and these guys buying records off us. Norris Da Boss, to Mikey and Timmy and Spoony, and Mike Ruffcut Lloyd, DJ Bigga, Hermit, Daryl B, Danny Foster, all the people who became the underground circuit, Ramsey & Fen, Mr Jones…
That was a gradual thing, again. People who’d come in on a Friday going “got any promos” and you’d go “no!” because you were saving them for so-and-so, a few months on and they’re a name and they’re popping up here, there and everywhere. But then on the other hand some of them had history. Karl Brown, I knew from ages before because he’d been the Rebel MC’s DJ. I didn’t know Matt, he had a day job I think and the DJ thing came later, then suddenly I was hearing about the two of them, and Tuff Jam, and then with them, with any of ’em, you’d see the careers develop, week-in-week-out. Saturday was the main night, we had late night opening til 8pm, people came in after work, we’d sell them a big bag of records and you’d catch up “where you playing” “oh over here and I’m doing this”. Same as rave days, it was a way of life.
“The key tune that turned it around for me was Tina Moore – we played it in the shop and everyone went mad”
So this was people raving to all sorts of different stuff over the weekend, then wanting this funky stuff to keep going on Sunday?
Yeah. And it was a lot of American stuff, but the dubs, because we weren’t into all the David Morales, hands-in-the-air, cheesy stuff. Lots of the Warehouse, Junior Vasquez type stuff, very banging, very hard, gritty stuff. Todd Terry played a really big part, Kerri Chandler too. And a LOAD of Italian stuff, actually, I was always quite surprised how much of that had the swing, the skippy sort of patterns. Dutch stuff. As long as there was a bit of bassline, a little snippet of vocals and lots of space where you could mix in to it. That’s how we found our way around it. And yeah, we’d sell them at plus two, plus three, plus four, just get people grooving in the shop. And then of course people started their own productions, taking the best bits, taking the edit-y stuff from Todd Edwards, all of that.
The key tune that turned it around for me, into the two step, was Tina Moore. That was actually on a double pack import, and one of the guys there, Kenny Boots, said to me, “there’s a mix on there, I reckon it might be better in your section.” So we took ten copies, and I think it was Christmas eve, so end of ’95 – we played it in the shop and everyone went mad. That one moment was for me the real beginning of the vibe for most of us. Steve Silk Hurley did something on that song that changed everything.
I notice you switched there from saying “I was behind the counter selling to these guys” to saying “we did this or that” – did you notice a switch from being an outsider to being part of a scene?
Well, the scene was built around us in the shop in some ways, because like I say, we were the filter. If it didn’t get past us – and this was true for all record shops really – then you wouldn’t find it anyway, so it didn’t get played. Literally, we were the catalyst for it. All of us were DJs’ DJs – DJing TO the DJs – from City Sounds to Rhythm Division to Record Village to Black Market to Zoom to Uptown: all of us. All of us played the role, because that was our job. Our job was to pick quality music, so we provided the building blocks.
At what point did you decide you could make this music too? Was that Tina Moore tune the turning point there too?
I always said I wanted to make something different, I just called it “hybrid music”, “hybrid beats”. There were certain spots in Unity Records, like there was a backstairs that we’d use to go downstairs into the jungle section, and if you stood in it you could hear drum’n’bass obviously, the hip hop and R&B in another section, and the house. I’d hear bits of that all together, and obviously in your brain you could see how it could fit together in your head. I thought “no-one ain’t making this” and really that was it. I wanted to hear something different: that was my beginning. I was thinking that long before it was called garage music, I just wanted to speed up a break or an R&B vocal, or slow down a jungle bassline, drop the vocal, stab it in, there it is. I suppose what I’d done in a DJ set anyway.
Groove Chronicles began standing on that staircase, although even back in Zoom records I remember saying to Billy Nasty who worked there, or Paul Daley who was in there all the time, these are the mixtures I want to make. Me and Steve my old partner, we even sampled Ashley Beedle ‘De Niro’ tune, put another break and vocal on that, and Ashley liked it! We never released it, just a tape, but those who heard it thought that was great. Not saying that was garage ahead of its time, but it was the built out of the same ideas of “I wonder if that and that will go together… nah, nah… but maybe.” That’s the concept that’s gone right through Groove Chronicles, and drives everything now: if you can hear the connection between things in your head, then you can make it work in the mix. And it’s not limited by where they come from, there’s no time limit or sell-by date on music, if it sounds good it sounds good.
And then you hooked up with El-B, and…
…and the rest is history, yeah. I knew Lewis when he was literally just a kid, he told me he used to bunk off school and just hang out in Mash, and then years later I got him to do some engineering. It wasn’t always the easiest relationship but we did a lot of work over about four years, then by 2000 he went off to do his Ghost thing and I stepped back. I mean honestly, we rinsed it, we did so many tracks and remixes, me pulling out the samples – all the stuff that I was hearing in the shop and putting together in my head – him pressing the buttons, mixing, mastering, then banging them out on DPR. Then I’d go out working the records, playing them to people, cutting dubs, never letting people know what it was, keeping on if people thought it was too weird, constantly working it.
And then I’d be getting work in, remix work, via the shops, via people I’d sold to mostly: the Danny Ds of the world, I met the guy who signed Robin S before Champion records, all these kind of people chatting over the counter of the shop. Ordinary punters who ended up falling into A&R jobs and EMI, Warner, East West, London… London was Goldie! I knew Goldie from when he first came down from Wolverhampton with Ned Rider and Pilgrim, his mates who were into the hardcore – so that was the link. I knew Pete Tong, from shopping in Zoom, I knew Dave Pearce, he used to buy records from the shop. These were just people you knew, it was that social circle I talked about before, the people who were just there week-in-week-out.
And what did you think of the vibe of the garage scene compared to house, rave or jungle? Did the dressing up element appeal to the old soul, rare groove lover in you?
Nah, it just was what it was. You can call it the new craze, the new thing, the new Beatles, whatever, but at the time it was just fresh, that’s all. Just a new twist on trying to make your own version of underground music. It was our job to drive that by selling the records, and we sold the arse out of it, double quick, everything. Same again, don’t let anyone out of that shop with any money left from their pay packet on a Friday, Saturday evening. And I made the records, I worked the records, I played them at Twice As Nice or wherever, until people got what we were doing and bought them.
So what happened, then? You kind of vanished right at the peak popularity of garage.
If I’m honest, mate, I just had enough. I burned out a bit: it was relentless the whole time, and when me and Lewis went our separate ways, I just wanted to step away from it all. I had my publishing work, I had this and that, at one point my wife and I went off to Berlin and was doing some bits with Jazzanova, we almost moved out there in fact, and also I kept the DPR label ticking along and mentored some talent like Dubchild, and this guy Wr1ng from Prague, who’s a drummer and produces heavy dub – but basically I’d spent more than ten years face-to-face with people, selling stuff to them, selling every new fresh sound that came along to them, and I really needed to just not have to think about it.
I don’t think I even realised how stressful it was til I did step aside actually [laughs], in fact it took me a long while to accept that and find a different way of working. All that time, I’d had all those hats on, like I said, and I had my hand in every single part of the process of getting records in front of people. Honestly, mate, it’s taken me all that time – until just a year or two ago, when my wife Bella and me decided to up sticks and move out to the countryside – to realise that where I really need to be is in the studio or behind my decks, and actually bring myself to let other people in to do the other parts of the process.
And it sounds like you stepped aside from shifting trends too.
Yeah, yeah I did. I went to a couple of the early FWD>>s and saw a bunch of lads hopping on one leg like it was a drum’n’bass rave, and I heard all the Slimzees and them coming in with the grimey stuff, and obviously there’s interesting things going on there but it just wasn’t really for me. We even left the country for a year, just to get our heads out of it. Maybe I just didn’t want to have to stay on top of it any more, but you know what? I’ve just been happy dealing with people like Dubchild, like Royce Rolls, like Wr1ng, like D3ADL1NE, who are in their own little space, who are just doing what they hear in their heads. The thing is, as I’ve said many a time: trendy people eventually out-trend themselves – I’ve seen them come and go, I’ve seen it go full circle many a time, and eventually I just thought it has to be music and nothing else. I’m not trendy, all I am is a vehicle, I recognise good music, and I’ll play it to you – and if you don’t, then maybe tomorrow!
“Right now it’s 100% about digging back into my vinyl, getting totally inspired. “
So what’s happening with the releases now, then?
Well the Nu-Agenda thing was almost an accident. It was stuff Dubchild was doing – he was making bits and pieces that had a housey feel, and that was really different to anything he’d done before. He’s done grime, and bassline, and heavy dubstep and all that, and I’ve helped him along the way, I manage him, but he’s also become quite a good friend, and I’ve showing him bits and bobs musically along the way. So when he came up with these house beats, then naturally we’d start talking about the Ron Trents, the Chez Damiers, the Eddie Perezes, the Carl Craigs, just bits and pieces, just the good stuff… So he’d hear these things, and come back and it’d be like “oh ok, it’s going like that right?” but I didn’t know how to deal with it exactly, until one day I just got the little lightbulb over my head.
I thought of a little sample that would set one of his tunes off, I went “OK let’s stick this at this point, do this, this, this…” and that became ‘Still Take’ with a piano sample that I’d found. Then from ‘Still Take’ we went to ‘Rock Deep’ which is on the album, because both of us really liked this little sax sample that was off some Pete Rock and CL Smooth record, and which Pete Rock had sampled off some weird Polish folk record or wherever he got it. So I got our mate Andy to replay it on sax, and we were away with that one, suddenly it was a track, and we had our system. It’d be a reformulation of bits and pieces Dubchild was trying out, and me just working in the way I always had, just “well THAT would work with THAT” until we had another track. And the name, well, I was sitting down watching Food Network channel as you do, and that name just appeared out of nowhere, and I looked down at my thumb, thought “yes, thumbprint as a logo” because that’s personal, and that was it. Pretty much within a month, the whole thing had come together.
I was really happy to not make it about me, to have Dubchild lead it at the beginning. It was something he was doing, I’ve given it a shape and a name and a logo, thrown a few ideas in, but it’s led by what he was doing. But it gives me a way back in, it has been so easy, I’ve been so happy doing it, and now I’ve got a bunch things I’m ready to move on to, I’m in the studio with Jeremy Sylvester, I’m in the studio with Steve Gurley who I’ve been talking to for a while and though he’s had a hard time with his music is happy to be back in the studio, I had Zed Bias come round my place for a couple of days hanging out and we’ve talked about some tracks, and there’ll be some solo things from me too, probably in the new year. So yeah I was really happy to get on Dubchild’s ship and go “you steer it”, until Nu-Agenda was really a thing, and now I’m ready to do all sorts.
And do you have visions of how a Noodles record will sound?
Right now, it’s just 100% about digging back into my vinyl. Opening all the boxes from when we moved house, getting totally inspired. The Rex gig has opened my eyes to how good this stuff sounds to people who haven’t heard it, whether it’s Junior Boys Own or R&S or all this obscure Euro tribal stuff from the mid-90s… and you know what – even I can’t remember a lot of the records myself. I pull them out and I’m surprised by them and how good they sound, and that’s given me some juice. It’s given me some inspirational juice.
Production-wise I’m getting my head round that again, I’m watching the people I’m going into the studio with, watching what they do and reminding myself how it’s done. And I’ve already got bits and pieces of things I’ve done on my own, but I’m not quick, I’m letting them happen – and meanwhile I’m just going through the vinyl over and over, working on my sets, working with my press guy Misbah on doing a new session where we can showcase this 90s stuff, and even the drum’n’bass I’ve got, which I’m now moving on to sorting through.
That’s plenty for me! I’ve got these collaborations, my own stuff going at its own pace, we’ve easily got two more EPs worth from the Nu-Agenda sessions, and that feels good. I’d lost my creativity, through all those years of running a label, doing the admin, hyping it, doing the circuit – after all that the last thing you want is to sit down and make a tune if you’ve been staring at a screen all day doing emails and all that shit.
So it sounds to me like you’ve tried to go back to the point before putting records out became a career for inspiration. All the stuff you’re talking about is the music you were getting buzzed up about before you set up DPR and Groove Chronicles.
Yeah, yeah, yeah – but also the thing is, what I realised is that I’m a 44-year-old man, who’s been around in music quite a while, and certain points that I’ve been involved with are as relevant as they ever were. Talking to these people in Paris, people I even used to sell records to in London, they ask what I’m doing, and I say I’m doing exactly what I ever was doing behind the counter of those shops. I’m just doing it with the tracks from back then now. No matter how big YouTube gets, how big the internet gets, you can’t find every great track from the past: they’re not uploaded because there was only 50 copies, and only 25 got sold, 15 got given away and the rest went in somebody’s dustbin… or they are on YouTube but it’s crap quality, or whatever.
You still need those people acting as filters on it, just like in the record shop. So that’s why I’m doing this series of nights, New Generation Music, playing these old tracks like they’re new. And it’s interesting and relevant to go back to go forward, because people bring me stuff, new producers, and I can go “ahhh, hold on a minute, that sounds like… hang on a minute.. this” and grab something from my collection and put it on, and yeah, it’s not far off something from 1991. Not saying “mehhh it’s been done before”, just giving them connections, maybe inspiring something else. I’m doing that partly just for my own brain’s sake, and partly because it’s an answer when people say “what did you do before garage music?”!
“What did you do in the acid house wars, Uncle Noodles?”
It is literally that! And I keep telling people, too: I haven’t got a vast amount of vinyl, not like some people have. But what I did back then, because I watched every single record going over the counter, what I did was narrowed it right down, to what were the records that changed things or sounded different, or what were the ones that represented the sound I wanted to hear. So I might not have all the records, but I’ve got the right records! I’ve got my bumpy F-Com, Irma, Night Grooves, Groove On Records and of course all the Strictly Rhythm and R&S and all these things – the signature stuff, the roots tracks of what is happening now.
And same for the jungle, drum’n’bass… I’ve got the tunes you can hear in the records made now. Now I’m on to the boxes of garage too, so much stuff that I stopped playing and turned my back on because I was tired of it all, but listening to now is amazing, and again you can hear in the new records coming out now. But yeah, I’ve gone pre-everything, I’ve gone right back, back to playing stuff because I pick it up and it’s good, not being dictated to by what people expect and going “this is the good shit”. That’s me, that’s what I’m about right now!
Nu-Agenda’s self-titled album is out now on DPR Recordings