Breaks veteran Ned Woodman on why he's going back to his rave roots, nearly 30 years on…
Ned Woodman first found his hardcore in 1991. Since then, he’s never let it slip down the back of the sofa. It’s never fallen out of his pocket, he’s never so much as left it behind at a friend’s house. What we’re trying to say here, is that Ned Woodman has never lost his hardcore.
In fact with his latest project, Skin Teeth – a name inspired by a Noise Factory track from 1992 – Woodman and his hardcore are as tight as they were when he first made a pact with the rave devil. Back then, aged just 13, he and his friends hosted living room dances with Amnesia House videos playing on the telly. Blessed with those fabled, lesser-spotted cool parents who let them to go out to events before they were strictly old enough to do so, by the age of 14 he was attending small raves and following DJs like Randall, Grooverider and Ray Keith around his southeast stomping ground.
It’s been this way ever since. Through the 90s, he articulated his hardcore strictly as a DJ. Then, as time went by and he began writing with long-time studio partner and sonic confident Adam Relf, he spent the 2000s channelling his hardcore into the then-burgeoning breaks scene – first as prominent duo The Magnet Men, and then as Imetic.
More recently, his passion for that original rave melting pot of breakbeats has been found in his and Adam’s work as Figures Of Eighty, an act who’ve had a string of stark, fractured bust-ups on labels such as Stanton Warriors’ Punks, Ned’s own Torre XVI imprint and Left/Right’s Broken, with whom they’ve just released one of their final singles this month.
None of his previous projects, however, show quite as much hardcore as Skin Teeth. Ned’s first solo alias, Skin Teeth is the sound of him re-exploring his hardcore roots and spitting them back out with an added context of almost 30 years' experience neck deep in the rave melting pot, almost half of it as an established artist.
It’s a brand new chapter, sure, but a story he’s known intimately since he and his hardcore first linked up. We linked up with Ned to find out more...
This sounds like the project you’ve always wanted to do…
"Spot on. The only reason I didn’t do it sooner is that I’ve never felt confident enough at production. I consider myself a DJ. I have done since I was 13, so almost 30 years, but I’ve never considered myself much of a producer. Not for many years anyway. I found the whole thing about production so clandestine. It’s this language that people didn’t want you to understand.
"I’m egalitarian in everything I do. I don’t like exclusive things. There’s nothing special about art, I think we all do it in our own way and that needs to be encouraged. But with production, it often felt like they were keeping people out. Maybe that’s my paranoia?"
No, there’s definitely a culture of closely guarded secrets. Especially in the earlier days...
"I do get it. If you’ve been grafting away and you have special techniques then an element of secrecy is fair enough, but the way people spoke about it, I thought production was a lot harder than it was when I finally began to understand it. I’m not a musician but as the music I love is all sample-based, I can chop up audio all day long. It’s that template that was set in 1992: get a breakbeat, chop it up, lay over a sample. It just sounds good man, it’s raw."
It was rough and ready. Die once said to me that his favourite time in jungle was when it didn’t know what it was doing…
"That’s very interesting. Here’s something I’ve found a lot in new music: everything is just one tone. If you listen to a drum & bass set, especially with the idea of double-dropping, it’s just drop, then drop, then drop, then drop. But when I listen to some of my favourite mixtapes from the early 90s, say a Grooverider set from 92, things go into some weird places! It’s not just one tone, it explores all kinds of things. Quiet places, louder places, places where things would go really hard...Easygroove would play some banging techno in the middle of a jungle set, for example.
"Some DJs still continue that to this day – Doc Scott and dBridge for example. They know the music doesn’t have to be bang bang bang. We love energy but it doesn’t mean you can’t go weird with it. That’s why I’ve picked 130BPM to do everything in with this project. You can draw for house records, you can draw for 140 stuff as well."
You mentioned how long you’ve been in DJing before. You must have got into rave when you were a kid, basically?
"Totally. I guess hip-hop was the first thing that got my attention. Not in any type of kudos way, it was just those songs I’d gravitate to when I was recording tracks off the radio like we all did back in the day. Then Pete Tong started doing this thing called Mad Music Sweep which would have 20 minutes of banging hardcore. My mate’s older brother – the classic thing – had all the flyers on his wall and the tape cassettes, which I’d nick off him and record.
"My first one was a Ratpack one which I don’t have any more, but the next two I got were Top Buzz Dreamscape 2 and Grooverider Rolling Thunder which was a local rave to me in Colchester Arts centre. They were 92 and 91. I had no idea what I was listening to: I just knew it was unreal. I even thought the clanging of the mixes was part of the music, I built this whole thing up in my head about the artwork and the culture. It had this dangerous edge to it, I didn’t know about the drugs or illegal raves, I was 13, but it just had this allure to it. Like a dark magic. I knew it was going to be the life for me."
Ha ha, sounds very familiar! The danger and naughtiness had a huge attraction for me as a teenager I must say...
"Yeah, me too, but I didn’t realise it was that which was attracting me at the time. It was very anti-establishment, slightly outside the system. Even the big legal raves, your Fantazias etc, had that edge to them and were dodgy as hell. There were gangsters, fights, all sorts. But none of that affected me because I was so young.
"I was just this nerd who was into role-playing games and dressed up as an elf in the woods by day, but went raving at nights. By 14 I’d seen all these DJs play at these pretty lairy raves but we got no bad vibes because we were so young, we were nothing to the big badmen, not worth bothering with. We never felt endangered or scared, it was all just a bit of an adventure."
Any particular epiphanies during these adventures?
"I guess the strongest ones were right at the start when I first heard the music. But one I’ll never forget was at Helter Skelter. Eye Opener by Brisk & Trixxy dropped and me and my mate just looked at each other. He was quite far away but we both had that ‘this is it!’ moment which was really defining to me.
"But I was obsessive about it all from day one. I’d get all these Fantazia and Amnesia House videos and we’d have raves in our living rooms, dancing around until 2am when our parents would tell us to go to bed or go home. I got the bug so early, I had to be in it, I had to know how it worked and how I could be part of it. Even dealing with the record shops: that was clandestine and dangerous, too! People smoking, big guys in bomber jackets with spots and ponytails looking at you like you’re this little scumbag..."
Then that feeling when you’re finally accepted…
So now you’re armed with more production knowledge and have a clearer vision of these influences, you’re paying homage to this influential era in your life…
"Yes, but at the same time I know that whatever I do, I won’t like it. Because the minute I think I’ve cracked something I’ll stop and I’m never going to stop. I can’t."
There’s always stuff to learn…
"Exactly. I’ve got a tune I’m working on now which I’m halfway through and I don’t like. But I know I need to finish it so I can move on and do a better track. And I also believe the music I make and like is throwaway music. I don’t mean it has no value, I just mean it’s to be used as part of a bigger thing. The set is what’s important – not the individual records. The buzz, the energy, the vibe. It’s the package altogether.
"So when I make music it doesn’t matter. None of it matters: just finish it and help the future version of you learn. Especially as there’s still so much for me to learn. I’ve always written with Adam since university . He’s the studio genius and musician and the person who brings that weight.
"He doesn’t actually like rave music that much, it’s not his thing. But when I get a track to as good as I can get it, I give it to him to polish the mixdown and iron out any problems. Likewise if he asks for anything from me, like drums or something then I’ll make them for him. We have a very open book with each other’s productions."
Ah nice, so you understand each other’s visions even if you want to do different things?
"Yeah. That’s actually what Figures Of Eighty is all about. It was meant to be something that would allow us to bring both of our passions into it: my love of rave and his love of songwriting. But it fell between two schools – it wasn’t rave enough for ravers, it wasn’t song-based enough for those type of fans. We both had to compromise. If we had our time again, we’d do it differently and probably better.
"But the stuff Adam’s sending me now is phenomenal and it's what he should have been doing from the start. And I know it’s only one release but the Skin Teeth stuff is getting a great reaction. People are contacting me and vibing to it. It validates the idea of splitting the Figures Of Eighty project into two. We’re not hamstrung by the feeling we need to have our own stamp on every track. It’s great."
Great! So Ramparts is the first bite from Skin Teeth… what’s next?
"Lots. I’ve got about six or seven new tunes completely finished, I’m working on some remixes and I’ve got about four or five other tunes on the go.
"I’m really happy to be able to do this. This music is everything to me and while I don’t feel I have an original idea in my head, I feel I’ve been listening to it for so long I can reinterpret it in a way that’s personal and unique to me."
That’s quite an honest statement to make about yourself!
"It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I used to think I had to reinvent the wheel, but I don’t have that pressure any more and haven’t set myself an impossible challenge. I can just immerse myself in the music I love.
"So yeah, there’s a lot of stuff coming, there’ll be an EP, I’m talking to labels and I have my Torre XVI label to keep things out there. Watch this space…
Words: Dave Jenkins
Ramparts is out now on Torre XVI. Buy it here.