With a Who's Who of the D&B world coming to Electric Brixton this Friday, we catch up with founding fathers Fabio & Grooverider
This Friday (3 February) sees a very special event taking place at Electric Brixton in London. Fabio & Grooverider will be hosting a party called '25 Years Of Drum & Bass', and joining them are a line-up of guests that should get any junglist's mouth-watering: Matrix & Futurebound, DC Breaks B2B Cyantific, Dillinja B2B Mampi Swift, Drumsound & Bassline Smith, Krust B2B Bryan G, Uncle Dugs B2B Serial Killaz, plus MCs Dynamite MC, Ayah MC, Felon and Five Alive.
But the Brixton bash is just one in a long string of events being staged across the country this year under the '25 Years Of Drum & Bass' banner... and who better to organise such an event than Fabio & Grooverider, whose legendary Rage night at Heaven pretty much kickstarted the whole scene back in the early 90s?
We won't bore you with a potted history of Fitzroy Heslop and Raymond Bingham's illustrious career(s) right now - as an iDJ reader you don't need to be told that they're without doubt bona fide D&B royalty, and we're sure you're more than aware of Rage, Speed, Swerve, Creative Source, Prototype Recordings, their 14 years at Radio 1 and all the rest of it. But we did want to find out more about the '25 Years...' brand, and to that end we grabbed half an hour on the phone with Fabio, right after the duo had staged a '25 Years Of Drum & Bass' takeover on Uncle Dugs' show on Rinse FM.
Here's what he had to tell us...
Tell us a bit about '25 Years Of D&B' the brand...
"It does what it says on the tin, really: D&B's been going for 25 years now, and we wanted to celebrate that. We've tried to encompass it on the line-up, as well: we've got people like Bryan G and Krust, guys like that, and then we've got people like Serial Killaz and DC Breaks who are kinda new school.
"It's a different time now. The days when you could go out and DJ and just have fun doing your thing, those days are over; now you've got to sell yourself to people. And also, since Radio 1 we've not really done a lot of Fabio & Grooverider - we'd been quite complacent. So we thought it was about time we did a tour, because we haven't done a proper tour together as Fabio & Grooverider since the 90s, really. So we felt it was time."
But why now, specifically? Because 'jungle techno' was a term I first heard in '91, and it was really about '93 when people started talking about 'drum & bass'. So what makes 2017 '25 years'?
"Well of course, drum & bass and jungle are the same thing, it's just a new name, like Nike rebranding a pair of trainers. I guess D&B is the evolution of jungle, if you like, but in essence it's the same thing. It does annoy me sometimes when people try and separate the two, because it's built around the same ethos. Yeah, it's faster now, there's more technique involved, but... well, we've done it on the show today, you can take a tune from '92 or '93 and it sounds like it was made last week!
"But to answer your question, it's 25 years since we did Rage, basically. Rage changed everything - that was the start of the whole thing. Well, that's what I think - you hear different people telling different stories, but I think in general it's widely known that drum & bass started at Rage, where we were fusing breakbeats and techno, mixing them together and creating new sounds. And then We Are IE came out by Lennie De Ice, and that changed everything. That, for me, was the pivotal moment."
So where's the tour heading next?
"We've got Southampton, we've got Oxford, Birmingham, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Bristol... all the big cities, basically. We've already done Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Reading. The London show is the flagship show, and then after that we've got Glasgow the next day. It's exciting, we're going to a lot of places we haven't been to for a long time, so it's going to be good to see. Because drum & bass is so big right now… it's massive, it really is. It's as big as it's ever been."
And are you taking the brand overseas as well?
"Yeah, we're doing Holland, we've already done Russia, Istanbul, a couple of other places, and hopefully we're gonna do America in the summer, and Australia at the end of the year. So yeah, we're moving this brand on, man, we're not keeping still at all!
"We're gonna do an Asian tour as well, which will include Taiwan, Japan, China, so it's going to be interesting to see how it all pans out... because you never know! [laughs] But the feedback we've been getting so far has been really good, so fingers crossed."
We noticed that, at Electric Brixton, it's all either duos, or B2B sets. Was that deliberate?
"Yeah. I think because we wanted to match people like… like Mampi & Dillinja, we thought would be a really nice B2B, because they've never done it before. Bryan G & Krust go back to the Full Cycle days, obviously there's me and Grooverider, Futurebound & Matrix are a duo anyway, so are Drumsound & Bassline Smith. And then you've got Uncle Dugs & Serial Killaz."
"Plus, y'know, we wanted a lot of DJs on there, and doing it this way lets us fit everyone in! Of course everyone has to agree to it but luckily no one's gone "I'm not playing with him" - all the DJs are really excited about it, plus it's a good selling point as well. People are intrigued about hearing Mampi and Dillinja, how those two different sounds are going to work, or they're excited about Bryan and Krust bringing the Full Cycle flava. So yeah, it's not just an ad libbed thing, we did kind of think about it first."
25 YEARS - AND BEYOND
Is '25 Years...' your main focus for 2017, or what else is going on that iDJ readers need to know about?
"Well of course the great thing for me and Groove is that we have our own separate careers, we don't just have Fabio & Grooverider. So I've got plans to do a Fabio & Friends-type thing later this year, I still do Swerve which is my liquid night, so there's lots going on, and I'm planning to get in the studio with Groove as well, we haven't been in the studio over for two decades so I think in 2017 the time is right. Lots of travelling, summer's looking really good…
"You know, drum & bass is in a really good place. Considering it's been going this long, and it still doesn't get the press and kudos it deserves. I don't think so, anyway. For something that was born and made in Britain, I don't think it gets the love it should get. But it's so huge, and it's so empowering for everyone involved, that we don't really care! We probably did care at one stage, especially in the 90s - people just overlooked D&B and constantly talked about house music like D&B didn't exist. And then garage came in and they were all over that, then dubstep, but they never really do it about jungle and drum & bass, which baffles me. Y'know, this music is so British, it's such a British sound, that I think it deserves to celebrated. That's why we're doing these nights, really.
"I remember when we used to do festivals like Creamfields and Global Gathering... they always used to put the D&B tent right at the back, so you'd have to walk a mile to get to it! But it was always the best tent, it was always the most lively, the crowd always had the most personality and charisma. I used to go in the house tent and it'd be packed, but people would be sort of stood there, dancing on the spot. I didn't really feel no vibe there, but drum & bass is different, it's got SO much energy.
"I think now… it just be's itself. No one cares if people care or not."
Is part of the problem that... speaking as someone that likes house and drum & bass, for me the most important thing about D&B is that it's the first indigenous black music Britain's ever had, which has been hugely important for social cohesion...
"It has, yeah, absolutely!"
...but, sadly, isn't that perhaps also why it doesn't get as much coverage?
"I think it might be, you've got a good point there. But that said, probably not as much now, because the kids today, the youngsters on the estates, they're all listening to grime.
"Our crowd is now very white, and very student-based - that's just the way it is. For younger ethnic kids, grime is their music of choice right now. Some of them might come round to a bit of drum & bass when they get a bit older, but grime is the kids' favourite right now."
Sure, but as grime matures as a genre, do you not think we might see some more D&B influences creeping in?
"Oh you will, for sure. Because Wiley, who's the godfather of grime, he started off as a drum & bass MC, he used to MC with Skibadee and Shabba, all those guys. Dizzee Rascal the same, they all started off on jungle, all of them. I read an interview with Wiley just the other day, where they asked hm about his biggest influence and he said Skibadee. So you're right, I think."
"But going back to the house thing… don't get me wrong, I love house music too! We started out playing house, that's how we started the whole Fabio & Grooverider thing, as house DJs. Last year there was a lot of house gigs, we did a season in Ibiza playing acid house for Sankeys and stuff like that, we did Manchester for Sankeys, we played for Promised Land in London, we did one in Birmingham.
"So house music was my first love, and always will be. Maybe not so much today, because my flavour's drum & bass and I don't really seem to get today's house music… I know if you dig deep you can find some real gems, because friends will play me house tunes and I'm like, when I go to clubs I never hear tracks like this! But when I go to clubs, I tend to hear the same kind sounds, which isn't really my flavour.
"But yeah, house is the root of it all. When we started playing that stuff in '87, which is 30 years ago now, we had no idea that in 2017, we'd be still playing music from that era! I'd never have thought that in a million years. We were living for today back then, we never had any idea of what was going to happen tomorrow.
"We was young as well, of course, and you're like that when you're younger. We had no idea what was going on, it was living for the weekend. And next weekend, oh right, someone's broken into another warehouse and set up another party, okay, let's get the lads together and go over there! That was an amazing time...
"Like you say, I don't see why people can't like both styles. I love house, and when I play acid house sets, it really does take me back - the vibe you get is incredible. And it's not just the memories of how it used to be, it's how people respond to it now. So hopefully we'll do some more of that this year, because it really balances me out as a DJ to be able to do both.
"Drum & bass is… well, not easy, exactly, but I'm definitely in my comfort zone with drum & bass, and I'm not really gonna get caught out. House, though… unless I put a bit of research and a bit of planning into it, it can still go horribly wrong!"
REWIND: THE BIRTH OF FABIO & GROOVERIDER
One final question... all these years, and I've never actually heard where the names 'Fabio' and 'Grooverider' came from. Care to shed any light?
"Well, Groove used to be in a hip-hop soundsystem called Global Funk back in the early 80s, and he came up with the name Grooverider then. I don't know where he got it from, but it's a great name!
"Mine was a bit different. I used to go out with this Italian girl, and she started going on about if we had a baby we could call it Fabio. I was like, hang on love, I've only known you a month! But I did like the name, because I'd never heard it before. 'Course in Italy it's just like being called David or Peter or something, but I didn't know that at the time.
"Anyway, a bit later on, Colin Dale used to have a show on Phase One, a pirate station in Brixton, but he couldn't do it one day because he was double-booked at Kiss FM, which was still a pirate then as well. So he called me up and asked me if I could stand in for him. I'd never DJ'd on the radio before, but I said I'd do it... I didn't even have a record bag, I had to nick my Mum's laundry bag to put my records in!
"When I got to the station, they said, 'You can't be Fitzroy Heslop, you need a DJ name.' And Fabio was the first thing that came to mind, but the guy in charge wasn't having it, he said, 'You can't call yourself Fabio, you're a black guy from Brixton! Call yourself something else.' So, okay, I was gonna be DJ Pablo, like Augustus Pablo... only I went on air, played the first tune and at the end of, cos I was nervous, I blurted out, "This is DJ Fabio"!
"And so the guy from the station was sat there with his head in his hands, going 'What did you do that for?!' And I was like, 'Oh yeah, sorry, okay from the next link I'll be DJ Pablo,' but he said, 'No, it's too late now, you can't change your name between records!'. So it stuck."
So if your ex-girlfriend had had different taste in names, we could be sat here today talking about '25 Years of D&B with Cyril & Grooverider'!
"Yeah, or John & Grooverider, or Fred or something. But that's how it happened, it was literally just because I was so nervous going on air for the first time.
"Phase One was also where I met Groove, because he was on there as well. I used to do the 12-2 slot and he used to do a jazz-funk show on a Monday from 11 till 1. What happened was, the owner of the station had this dive-y little club in Brixton called Mendozas, this horrible little place, and his brother, who was involved in the early acid house scene, decided he wanted to use it for an afterhours party, because there weren't really any afterhours back then.
"So he called me up and he said, 'You play house, don't you? Who else at Phase One plays house?'. I didn't really know Groove then - I knew who he was, but we hadn't really spoken much - but I knew he played some house as well. So the two of us ended up taking this gig together at Mendozas on a Wednesday night.
"And there was no-one there, and it was freezing cold, and Groove said, 'You know no-one's coming, don't you? I'm going to play records for an hour and then fuck off, I've got work in the morning'. And I was like, 'No problem'. So we played till 2 and we were getting ready to leave. Mendoza was going, 'Nah, nah, the clubs close at 3, it'll get busy after that' but we were like, 'Mate, no one comes here on a Saturday night, let alone a Wednesday night in the middle of winter!'.
"But we stayed till about 10 past three, and then just as we were putting our records in the car, this guy comes down the alley wearing Union Jack shorts, going 'Oi, where are you lot going? I'm off me nut, I want to hear some music!' and we were like, 'Right, yeah... look mate, you're one guy, in Union Jack shorts, with his eyes bulging out of his head. We're going home!'
"But he promised us loads of people were coming, so Groove looked at me like, do you wanna chance it? So we went back in, we played two records and when I looked up, the whole place was heaving. Heaving! And we ended up playing till 5 o'clock the next afternoon.
"We didn't even know about this new drug called ecstasy back then, so we were like 'What's wrong with these people? How the fuck are they still going?'! Anyway, we ended up becoming residents at Mendoza, and that was the start of it all."
Words: Russell Deeks
Fabio & Grooverider present... 25 Years Of Drum & Bass is at Electric Brixton, London on Friday 3 February
Tags: Fabio & Grooverider, Electric Brixton, 25 Years Of Drum & Bass, Matrix & Futurebound, DC Breaks, Cyantific, Dillinja, Mampi Swift, Drumsound & Bassline Smith, Krust, Bryan G, Uncle Dugs, Serial Killaz, Phase One, Radio 1, Kiss FM, Heaven, Rage, Speed, Swerve, Prototype Recordings, Creative Source, D&B, drum & bass, drum n bass, D+B, Colin Dale