Bleep n' bass pioneers Unique 3 are now just one man. Here, he tells us about his new compilation '33/45' – and why this might be the end
Pioneering UK rave outfit Unique 3 started out in Bradford as a collective, but have gone through several line-up reshuffles over the years; today, Unique 3 is just Adrian ‘Edzy’ Collins. The band's legacy will always be 1989's The Theme, the tune that kicked off the ‘bleep techno’ sound, but despite being hugely influential – they essentially created a new genre by themselves – Unique 3 perhaps have less of a profile than many other UK rave and techno groups of the same period, which seems slightly unfair.
That's the issue that iDJ scribe Matt Anniss addressed in his recent book Join The Future. Now Edzy's doing his own bit to redress the balance by way of 33/45 – a collection of 45 Unique 3 tracks from the last 33 years, ranging from bleep techno to jungle, drum & bass, UK garage and breaks.
It’s a compilation drawn from Unique 3’s three albums and. as Edzy tells us, “some unreleased bits, some new edits and it’s all remastered. Basically, the album grew as I was putting it together. It was going to be 33 tracks, but as I went through the DAT tapes I kept finding bits that have probably not been listened to since the day they were recorded. So it covers from the very beginning to what now, looking around, might be the very end.”
We chatted with Edzy about why this might be the last-ever release from Unique 3 – or might not – and about charting a course through three decades of UK bass music…
Let’s start with your new album. Listening back to it, do you have a favourite Unique 3 track?
“I was always keen on 7am – that was always my fave until Alteratio came along. I’m not a fan of listening to my own stuff but I really do like that thing, I just think it's quite a complete piece of music and I'm really proud of it.”
The tracks on the album cover a broad range of styles, but do you think there’s anything they all have in common – is there a Unique 3 sound?
“Well, the first album was me and the rest of the guys, and from then on, everything else was just me. But when I looked at the albums, I hadn’t realised that they’re all very similar in that they’re not all one sound, they’ve got lots of different vibes to them.
“When we started as DJs we were mainly playing 80s funk, and then the hip-hop stuff. Back in them days different styles were flying around, it wasn’t just one big lump of house music. And I think the album shows that kind of influence, from the funk to the soul, hip-hop, early house music – and because we had all that in our heads, we were making different styles of music.”
“Maybe that's why Unique 3 were never as big as some of the other bands that came up around the same time as us – maybe we didn't specialise enough, maybe people didn't really know what they were gonna get. But I think it's an impossibility to just do 15 tracks in one style: I wouldn't want to listen to that and I don’t know who would.”
Perhaps the timing wasn’t quite right for Unique 3 – perhaps you were just a bit early?
“I suppose you could say that. There were similar things happening in other towns. I've just had a message from my mate Winston [Hazel] from [bleep outfit] Forgemasters. He was in Sheffield – another industrial town, he’s a black kid, his upbringing was in the same area to us, he would hear the same music, from the mums and dads playing the ska and bluebeat, the Irish family next door playing their stuff, the Muslim family up the road playing their stuff…
`'I think little pockets around the country had these little things that were coming together. And all of a sudden there’s a boom in a similar style from certain towns and I think you can trace it back to that we’re all influenced by the same sounds.”
So what do you think of the term ‘bleep techno’?
“I think in its purer sense, 30 years ago, it was techno we were doing, but unlike Jez from LFO, he’s quite a purist techno head – he stayed on a very narrow road and we didn’t. We just bounced around, didn’t specialise in one specific sound – we still get referred to as bleep techno! But I think it's quite a good description.”
How do you see your role in the development of UK house music?
“I don’t, really.”
You don’t consider yourself an innovator?
“Well, I keep hearing the word and I read bits and bats and yeah, we did things early doors… but there were a couple of people doing stuff early doors too.
“If you look at any genre of music, going back however far you want, there’s always a group of people who start the thing off and then there's always people who come round pretty quickly, take those ideas and probably do better with them and make more money with them and turn it into a bit of a business – that’s rock 'n' roll. That’s always the case, it's just a historic fact. I think we fall into that side of things – we were there, we didn’t really financially benefit much from it, but we stuck to our guns and 30 years later there’s iDJ wanting to speak to me about it!”
“I don’t think we did anything that I’d call 'throwaway' so I’m pretty proud of that. In that early 90s period there was a lot of noise came out and we stayed well away from that. So I think yeah, we influenced people, they’ve admitted that and it's well documented. But I don’t think it matters anymore! You ask a young kid today who’s flying around pumping bass music out of his car, he has no idea who Unique 3 is – he’ll reference someone from 10 years ago.”
Well, those early Unique 3 tracks were definitely innovative… that combination of sub-bass and bleep riffs. It was David ‘The Mad Musician’ Bahar whocame up with the idea of using sub-bass, is that right?
“He was very instrumental in the early sound. He didn’t follow the music because of his beliefs – he took a decision to put his religion first, which took him out of the picture, but he was very important early on, I’ve stuck his name on the cover of this compilation because he doesn’t get enough plaudits for his part in it all and he should. Sub-bass was always there, though, it comes from the reggae sound and the soundsystems we were DJing on in the early days. If that wasn’t there, then there’s nothing happening!”
Did you feel that you were involved in something revolutionary at the time?
“At the time, it felt like it was a movement. I’m very close now with Jez from LFO, Winnie from Forgemasters, Kevin from Nightmares On Wax… but back then we were quite protective of what we got because we’d had nothing to start with. All of a sudden if you’re getting a little something, you want to keep it to yourself, you’re frightened. If we’d been a bit more sensible, had older heads on our shoulders, we could have pulled together and created a force, like the hip-hop scene did: they were quite protective of each other and I think it would have turned into something quite magnificent.
“But all that happened is we just let the labels overrun us and overrule us and take the piss. And then when they were done they moved on to whatever was new, and we missed a chance to actually create something – if you think of the 2-Tone label, a version of that for us, then.
“I know Warp had their thing, but they had a different agenda anyway and were quick to jump off that sound. But for us, the artists, had we put our thing together I think we would have been looking at quite a meaty business now, one that was actually still with that ethos of pushing on and creating new stuff. But we missed that trick, unfortunately.”
Looking back, how do you feel about your body of work?
“I was quite happy to listen to that anthology. I’ve listened to it twice and I don’t know if I’ll listen to it again. When programming the album, instead of doing it in date order, I tried to do it so one track followed the previous one… it’s a big listen, there’s a few hours of music on there! But they do flow nicely and I was very happy with it, and if that's the last thing that Unique 3 put out then I think it’s something to be proud of.”
Is it likely to be the the last thing that Unique 3 put out, then?
“It feels that way. I think at the minute, trying to smash club music out when there’s no clubs open, there’s no one going to clubs… we're not idiots, there's 66.5 million people in this country, if there's a vaccine, it's not going to change overnight. This thing is not just going to disappear. So it feels like the last thing at the minute, but never say never… I reserve the right to change my mind!”
Words: Harold Heath
33/45 is out now, via Bandcamp