The sound of the underground
In the early 90s, Matt was just beginning to get his music heard via underground DJs. It was at this point that he began to encounter some names that connoisseurs of dance music will find rather intriguing…
: Presumably it was hardcore DJs who were cutting your dubs in the early days. MC: “Yeah, we used to go to Innersense at a place called Lazerdrome. It was a Lazer Quest place in Peckham, and that ran for years into the early 90s. We kind of knew the guys who were running it. My mate Matt used to do the video projections there, and there was a guy called Joe Lawrence who used the DJ under the name Nut-E-1. He cut the plate of something, and around that time I went to the studio for the first time with Matt Quinn [Optical] and did a remix of an Intense tune with him: Babylon Timewarp – Durban Poison. That was the first commercial release I was involved with.
“That was during my first year at university, where I started doing electroacoustic composition, which I got really quite heavily into. It’s esoteric sort of sound sculpture. At the very beginning of the course, we went into the studio with loads of pots and pans and anything that made noise from home, recorded them, and used those sounds as the basis of our compositions. I think it was Digidesign Sound Designer II that we used – only two stereo tracks. We used the destructive processing inside Sound Designer to change these files, and when you wanted to add something on top, you had to merge the files. I learned a lot about sound design, and at the same time I was making wannabe jungle tunes at home and using this studio more and more.
“After university, I went to India for three months as a traveller to find myself. I missed all my technology and stuff, but in a really good way! I suddenly realised that I had a thirst for it and came back, and that’s when I applied for a load of jobs and ended up working at Sound of the Underground Records.”
: What did you learn working at SOUR?
MC: “I learnt how people who are actually successful at releasing records made them. I started doing teas, copying DAT tapes for compilations, sorting out the storeroom, going on trains to get new tweeters for the NS10s, doing lunch runs… I was sitting in on sessions and soon people discovered I could play chords and make tunes. Because it was such a small company, I managed to get in pretty quickly, and people started using me for sessions to play stuff and knock up drums. I got heavily into engineering and the whole mixing side of things, and at that stage what I wanted to do was be an SSL engineer – basically mixing and recording in big, shiny studios. I did actually get offered a job at Metropolis studios, but you had to work on night reception at weekends indefinitely, then work in the tape room before you could even be a tape op.
“SOUR was a much more low-key, ramshackle independent label. I made a choice at that point to go with my heart, because they were making DnB, which I love.”
: How did you discover garage? MC: “SOUR opened a new studio in Dalston and teamed up with a pirate radio station, London Underground. I was one of the engineers there. They had lost DJs playing on their shows, so they were like, ‘Right, let’s get some guys that are on the radio making some tunes.’”
: It’s surprising that garage wasn’t your first love. It must be weird to be so synonymous with a genre that’s not really where you come from. MC: “It’s always sort of been like that. It’s not like I dislike it or anything! I kind of realised more and more, actually, having tried different genres and trying to go in different ways, that I do feel a love for [ garage]. My musical beginnings were piano and all that huge amount of music study that I did until I was 18. It was pretty full-on: I had a music scholarship to school; I was in all the orchestras; I was playing piano three, four hours a day; I was going to music college every Saturday. It was an immense amount of training, and really, that’s my backdrop.
“I’ve never really been involved socially within a music scene. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m into garage so I wear these trainers, and I drive this car, and I tie my laces in this style, and I wear Burberry, and I eat at this place’. It was never anything like that to me. There’s a close connection between who I am and music. I’m a geek, basically, and a musician, and that’s really where I get my thrills.”
“I’m a geek, basically, and a musician, and that’s really where I get my thrills”