Well here we are. Hasn’t it been a strange few months for everyone? The UK has entered its 13th week of lockdown, with restrictions being gradually relaxed. I have been musing over the last 3 months about what it has meant for me, and the role that Drum & Bass has played in how I have experienced these unprecedented times. Everyone’s experience will be as unique as we are, and I hope you’ll indulge my ponderings and reflections.
I feel incredibly fortunate that both myself and my wife have been furloughed on full pay by our employers. My part-time day job is theatre box office work, and with the performing arts sector being potentially hit incredibly hard by the economic fallout of the CV-19 pandemic, I doubt I’ll be back to work any time soon. Almost half my income comes from DJ work, which ceased mid-March with at least 25 cancelled bookings to date. Unfortunately, because my main source of income is through my day job, I didn’t qualify for any of the government’s Self Employment Support Scheme grant. Frustrating as this situation is, this blog post isn’t a gripe about that. I’ve accepted that I’m one of the many that has fallen through the cracks, possibly because it was too complicated for this government to quickly work out a considered way of measuring how to help self employed people in differing circumstances.
For me, getting into a routine has been key to trying to stay mentally healthy during lockdown. Looking after our two kids (2.5 and 6 years of age) has demanded this like never before, with a seemingly endless routine of meals, bath and bed times, as well as the daily trip to the park to burn up the boundless energy of a 2.5 year old. Another aspect has been splendid isolation – albeit from my kids, not a contageous disease! Again, here I’ve been lucky to have an amazing, understanding and patient wife who gets that I need my own time and creative space.
(Spending my birthday with our kids in the park during lockdown, May 2020)
Throughout lockdown, the only sense of normality, the ‘old normal’ if you like, has been broadcasting my weekly D&B show online. On the only need-to-know day of the week. Indeed the only use for my Casio watch throughout the last 12 weeks. My boy Ben’s afternoon nap times have provided me with my own short bursts of splendid isolation, in my studio, with time to listen to and admninistrate music, and to finally update this Northern Groove website and Mixcloud.
For me, this lockdown period has been about the here and now, proximity, focus and reflection, while staying safe and positive. This new year was looking rather good, I thought 2020 had a good ring to it, this being my 20th anniversary as a DJ and with plenty of bookings in the diary. On March 12th I made a decision to take a break from social media, realising then that I had been spending too much time on my phone. Maybe sensing the impending doom and gloom of Coronavirus, I felt that in order to look after my own mental state while prioritising my family’s welfare, it was a good time to deactivate my twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts (my NG D&B Show facebook group remained functional for the purposes of promo and broadcasting).
Despite what seems like goundhog day, the last 3 months have flown by! It only feels like yesterday that I DJd at SoulStructure & Friends and yet it also feels like a lifetime ago.
SoulStructure and Friends (SS&F) was another rare event for me as I don’t get invites to play Drum & Bass or vinyl out very often. Playing party music out digitally has become my bread and butter. However, my weekly Drum & Bass show on BassDrive is still my specialist subject, so to be invited back by John SoulStructure to play SS&F at Eastern Bloc again was an honour. It was good to see John and Elliot Madcap again and great to meet Christal (Smooth N Groove) and his wife Hayley. Apart from the 4Marcus (Intalex) tribute event at Band on the Wall 3 years ago, I haven’t attended many D&B nights in Manchester, so it was nice to socialsise, listen to and talk music again with several like-minds. It was also a buzz to see the usual suspects Dave & Joy there again.
This SS&F was another enjoyable night! I played two sets of vinyl, the first a mid 90s D&B selection, followed later by a post millenium set. As a rule, I don’t buy new D&B on vinyl; there is so much of it being released now that I can only stay current and afford the digital format. I do still buy second hand D&B vinyl from Discogs, the hunt for records that I don’t own, from both decades remains on. There are still plenty of classic label back-cat shaped holes in my collection left to fill. So SS&F was a chance to spin a few recent purchases and hear them on the mega Eastern Bloc system. I’m a nostalgic sentimentalist at the best of times, so I thouroughly enjoyed playing those records alongside some personal favourites from back in the day. It also seemed fitting playing the likes of ‘Zumbar’ and ‘How You Make Me Feel’ with the late, great Marcus Kaye looking down from the iconic painting that hung above us on the wall.
View this post on Instagram
What at night @easternbloc_ for last night’s SoulStructure & Friends. Huge thanks to @maddersuk & @northerngroove for the amazing music and a huge shout out all those in attendance… jam packed with Marcus @soulrmcr overseeing the whole thing. RIP #soulstructure #soulstructureandfriends #easternbloc #manchester #drumandbass #dnb #marcusintalex #jazzsticksrecordings
(The painting, by Akse P19 and signed by Goldie had been recently auctioned)
From a persoinal point of view, as a jobbing DJ in and around Manchester and Liverpool, its not often that people pay any attention to what I do behind the decks, but on this occasion, I don’t know if it was the vinyl factor, or the particularly intimate venue space, but I found it very strange to have people stood in front of the decks staring at me, or filming my mixing on their phones. It was actually quite off-putting. People really should go and dance with their friends!
Anyway, SoulStructure and Mapdap both played killer sets, and it was refreshing to hear musical D&B in such a setting and apt to hear 100% vinyl selections in a record shop. Shazamm was rinsed by many, the crowd clearly loved the beats, both old and new. Turned out it was a year to the day since I first played SS&F, when MC Conrad graced both the decks and mic. After that event I remember Conrad commenting that the atmosphere reminded him of early D&B nights, with a crowd of mixed ages, young and old … a blend of people specifically there for the music, with others passing through by chance, but everyone involved and feeling the vibe.
(MC Conrad & Myself ay SS&F, Eastern Bloc, February 2019)
This SoulStructure & Friends was my last big night out before lockdown. With hindsight, it’s strange to think that Coronavirus wasn’t really a major concern then, althought the outbreak in China was featuring regularly in the news. On the night, Christal can remember mentioning that there had been 500 deaths reported in Italy, but we didn’t really think the same thing would happen here. Yet lockdown in the UK was only a matter of weeks away.
I’ve kept in touch with Christal since SS&F, he runs Smooth N Groove with his founding label partner, Tyler. Their releases have become a mainstay on my Northern Groove D&B Show playlists, many of my favourite artists have been released via SNG. Meeting Christal and understanding his passion and dedication to releasing the D&B music that we love was reaffirming. By day, both Christal and his wife Hayley work as NHS nurses in Northampton, where it’s obviously been a busy and stressful time for them; “overworked and anxious!” to quote our whatsapp chat back in April. Despite this, during the peak of the crisis, Christal approached me to record a mix for their Soul Deep Vs Smooth N Groove online event. Soul Deep is another label that I trust and feature regularly on my show. Run by Producer-DeeJay Scott Allen, Soul Deep is based in Los Angeles. Scott, a P.E. School teacher by day, has also recently collaborated with Christal and Tyler to conceive their new transatlantic imprint Rhythm Syndicate Records. Their first 12″ vinyl, featuring two astonishing tracks by Blade, dropped in February 2020. Here it is being played by John SoulStructure at SS&F…
Shouts to SoulStructure for supporting RSR001 by DJ Blade. The track featured ‘Inspirational Past’ is out now and available to order. https://www.redeyerecords.co.uk/vinyl/118359-rsr001-blade-china-town-womad
In response to Coronavirus, Christal and Scott have organised three Soul Deep Vs Smooth N Groove event fundraisers for artists that are struggling for income due to the cancellation of almost all events worldwide. For these online events they’ve recruited the DJ skills of some of the top artists on the liquid D&B scene. So it was another honour to be asked to put together a mix that was streamed on the day. It was a chance to play some of my favourite tracks of the year so far. Here it is on SoundCloud…
and on Mixcloud…
- LSB – Melrose.
- Sub:liminal – Space & Time.
- In:Most – Fixated feat. Logistics.
- Hiraeth – Nightglow.
- Twintone – Dawning On Us.
- A Sides feat. MC Fats – Arctic.
- DJ Passive – Hustling for Change.
- Changer – Think About It.
- In:Most – Home feat. Anastasia.
- Blu Mar Ten & Bcee – Grow.
- Hybrid Minds – Dont Ever feat. DRS.
- Unknown Artist – She Ever Hold Me.
- Twintone – All Those Moments.
It was a privilege to be involved with the 2nd SD Vs SNG fundraiser, I already had a great deal of repect for both labels, whose owners curate such soulful releases in their spare time. Then to learn that these fellas are also key workers – a nurse and a school teacher – also raising funds for artists within our niche D&B scene… I raise my Red Stripe and tip my cap to them!
This all brings it home that many of today’s D&B DJs, producers and label owners contribute to this scene in their spare time, while holding down regular, ‘normal’ jobs. The coronavirus pandemic has put a lot of things in persepective, socially and politically. With recent events and protests around Black Lives Matter, and ensuing campaigns and conversations, racially there’s a lot of unrest. Economically, there’s now a lot of uncertainty. Let’s hope people can hold onto their regular jobs.
Good things can often come out of trying times, when people are often at their most creative and proactive. Just think of all the producers that have spent lockdown cooking up beats, and all the part time labels that have had more time to A&R, plan and administrate.
There have already been a lot of great tracks released during lockdown, tunes that have yet to reach dancefloors and festival fields. When it’s safe and legal to do so, people are gonna want to party hard! Until then, there’s plenty of music to stream and online events occuring, the next Soul Deep Vs Smooth N Groove is this weekend, more info here.
Or if you need an instant D&B wellbeing fix, BassDrive is rolling, 24/7.
Until we meet again, stay safe, & stay positive. Music is the answer, love is always the message!