Though they take a lot of time to do, I do enjoy these interviews with the artists. I am finding so much out that I never knew and I am connecting the dots between different groups, areas and styles. And this interview was no exception as I found out that Diplomat was signed to the label we first signed to as Aquasky, 3 years before we arrived! That label is of course Moving Shadow and his group, alongside Cobby (AKA Hellfish/Secret Squirrel), was Destruction Production, releasing their one and only 12″ titled ‘Best Mindfuck Yet/What A Rush’.
Will Phillips is from Wickford, a small town in the south of the county of Essex and he first started producing music for fun at the age of 13. When he was 17 he purchased an Amiga 500 because he wanted a system that he could make music on but also enjoy his other passion at the time, computer games. I couldn’t help but ask what games he was into back then which he, after a little deliberation, recalled being Speedball 2, Jimmy White’s Snooker and Kick Off 2 – the latter being a football sim that was developed by Anco Software in 1990. This series was the first game that you could actually ‘kick’ the ball between players as opposed to running with it stuck to your feet! Technology was advancing as computers were getting more sophisticated! NB: There is a yearly Kick Off 2 World Cup Series that is still ongoing, the 2019 finals being held in Bremen, Germany!
This Amiga 500 workhorse came with 512KB but Will had purchased a memory card that could be plugged into the back, ramping it up to 1MB! This produced a healthy 16 seconds of 8 bit sample time, which was great for Will as he loved his samples! “I was running some music software called Quartet back then and I remember that you could only make tunes at a designated tempo dictated by the program itself” Will enlightens me, continuing “You had the choice of 100BPM, 125BPM and 150BPM, which somewhat restricted the speed of the music you could make! So I came up with a method of recording it all to my Porta 05 4 track tape machine which had a +/- 15% slider, so I could bridge the tempo gaps created by the Quartet program! This would have been around the Bass & Bleep era of 1990.” I must admit, I love finding about these self-taught workarounds when a problem arises. I remember we had our own as Aquasky. It was a necessity that showed ingenuity which is often lost in today’s world of a quick Google search!
Diplomat & Bangski – Wickford, Essex – 1990.
Will Diplomat’s musical history extends right back into the Eighties… 1985 to be precise. “My uncle use to have a Tascam 4 track, so he let me make music with him, a bit like what Paul Hardcastle was doing back then. This would have been around the time of his ‘19’ tune. My uncle also used to have a Korg DDM-110 Super Drums drum machine, a Korg MS10 analogue synth and a Casio CZ-101 keyboard that we could play a bassline with. There is still a cassette of this track that my uncle surprised me with at my 40th birthday party a few years ago!” laughs Will. “Then after that I use to make pause button mixes, around 1987. I actually got one played by Mike Allen on his ‘Capital Rap Show’ in 1987! I went under the name of Soultan back then!” A few years after this and after a couple of school hip hop bands, Will joined up with some mates to play with a Reggae Soundsystem in the Bow/Aldgate area of London. This is where the name Diplomat came from. Will needed a name to perform under and his mate Si AKA Safe T decided that Diplomat had a nice ring to it and its stuck ever since. “I was a white college kid who use to sing on the system while my mates did the chatting. I needed to fit in and required a name that worked well as I stood out a bit!!!” Will reminisces with fondness.
Will then teamed up with another one of his school mates, Julian Cobb, aka Cobby from Bogwoppa who he has been friends with since they were 11. Julian had a studio set up in his Mum’s front room and Will use to go over there and make tracks with him using Quartet. They had built up an arsenal of 6 demos but didn’t know what to do with them so they checked the back of the records they owned for any contact details of labels and found Rob Playford’s number and gave him a call. Rob was interested and asked for them to submit the demo. Will recalls their response “We told him ‘No mate, we don’t want to get ripped off’ as we had heard so many stories of people getting their tunes jacked by other labels. Rob then invited me and Cobby up to his studio and we took our demos to him. Rob liked the tracks so we came back to record them with him and spent two nights up in Stevenage, staying over at Rob’s place. The next day we would go into town while Rob went to work.” Will then remembers a funny story about their return to Essex after they left Rob’s that evening – “We were driving back late at night in Cobby’s Escort RS Turbo that he had back then. This was the type of car the old bill liked to pull over and sure enough they did pull us. So they wanted to know what we were doing and proceeded to search the car, finding in the boot Cobby’s kaleidoscope lensed glasses that he had. Me and Cobby will never forget the copper putting the glasses on and turning to us wearing them and saying ‘You don’t need drugs with these glasses!’ It was just one of those moments that will stay with me forever.”
After Will’s brief stint at Moving Shadow he produced on a local label started by two school friends of his. Running out of a record shop in Basildon, the label took on the name of the shop, ‘Dance Bass Records’, which was owned by Alan Coote. Will teamed up again with Cobby for a track on an EP called ‘Keys To The Cage’. The track was called ‘Ain’t Nobody Who Knows’ and it sampled the Rufus & Chaka Khan track ‘Ain’t Nobody Like You’ which came out under the name Zoopkeepers Revenge, which was one of the label’s projects at the time. It was recorded in an evening round a studio somewhere in Essex (Will can’t recall where the studio was) with the guys from Dance Bass.
Diplomat mixing down at Julian Bogwoppas studio – 1996 – “I brought my Akai S2000, Yamaha SY85 Workstation , Novation Bass Station and Alesis Midiverb down as that’s what the early Deathchant tracks were written on”.
Will bought his Amiga in 1990 and was taught how to use it by his buddy Mark ‘Crashead’ Lingwood, another one of his old school pals. Together the two of them knocked up 3 or 4 tunes together and decided around late 1991/early 1992 to pay a visit to another famous Essex record store at the time, Boogie Times, which was owned by Suburban Base’s Dan Donnelly. Mark went down first for a recce, meeting Dan, DJ Hype and Austin (Sub Base engineer and part of Phuture Assassins) who were all there at the time. As Mark recalls – “Hype and Austin went upstairs to listen to the tunes and came down buzzing, wanting to release the tunes on the label. It was all happening a bit fast. I didn’t want to leave the DAT there on that visit as I wanted to speak to Will first”. Mark decided he would wait and return on another date with Will so he could meet everyone and get a vibe. So a few weeks later the pair of them went down to Boogie Times and met Austin and Winston ‘Run Tings’ and it was decided they would go into the studio to rework the tracks. Mark continues “The Sub Base studios were in a shed at the back of Dan Donnelly’s parent’s garden. I remember Austin saying that our tracks weren’t good enough to release on Sub Base and he wanted to remake them. I wasn’t really sure about that myself but we went along with it. It was basically get them remade or don’t have a release on Suburban Base”. Will adds “You know those times, like a kid in a sweet shop, when you go in and everything is really professional. And you were basically working off a very basic set up yourself at home, one Amiga, lots of samples and some great ideas but then you go into this professional environment with tonnes of gear and you haven’t got a clue what to do with all the equipment! So Austin started to remake our tunes but they didn’t sound anything like what we had done. They had lost their edge. I wasn’t really into how they were sounding. Anyway, after a few sessions we realised that this project wasn’t going the way we wanted it to. So us and Austin mutually agreed to part ways. I don’t know what happened to those tunes but I do recall one of them had the title ‘Watch Your Back’. I did also hear a few of the samples we took there reappear on future Sub Base releases! I expect the disks were just knocking about”.
L-R: Skeeta, Diplomat, Hellfish (Julian Bogwoppa) and Brad Beagle (Narc) – Nosebleed, Scotland – 1997.
Around 1992 Will had moved to Leeds as his older brother was there for Uni and had a student house that Will moved into. While he was there he started to build his studio, buying the aforementioned Amiga 500 with its expanded memory of 1MB. He also added 2 belt driven Technics BD03 turntables. And that was it! That’s all he had but it was enough to start knocking up some rough demos using lots of samples which he had on vinyl, creating the blueprint for the ‘Here Comes Mongo’ EP. He would then travel back down to Essex with the samples and work with Cobby, who, over the course of three days helped Will by engineering his demos into actual finished tracks using his Akai 950, Atari ST running Cubase, an Alesis Quadraverb and a 16 channel Mackie desk. By this point in time, 1992, Julian was running his Bogwoppa label and had all the contacts set up to get records pressed so he helped Will sort out getting the tunes to vinyl and linked him with Mo’s Music Machine for distribution. There were about 1100 records pressed with Mo’s managing to sell around 900 of them as Will expands upon “I broke even, maybe even done a bit better than that. The 200 records that didn’t get sold were returned to me and throughout the 90’s I gave them away to friends and kept a handful and a copy of the flyer that went with the release” he tells me, continuing “The flyer was made before the record was pressed. It was designed by my mate Brad AKA Beagle who was part of the group Narc which we did together on Bogwoppa. My mum was the deputy head of a local infant school, so we went in there and used the photocopier to duplicate the flyer so there were eventually four on a sheet of A4. We then used one of those proper old school (Quite literally – Brent) guillotines with the wooden block and metal blade and cut up each sheet so we ended up with four flyers from each sheet. We spent a good while doing it! Those flyers were then put in with the records and the ones we had left were dropped off at record shops”.
The original A6 flyer that will come with every copy of this record. The tracklisting was wrong on this flyer as the flyer was done before the cut! We have corrected the flyer for the version that comes with the 2020 release of this record.
I was curious on how the record was received back then – “I never heard it on any mixtapes or the radio and thought ‘Blimey, that’s a bit of a flop!’ Though in 1993 I did go to a Tribal Gathering and heard an MC saying ‘turn up the bass to make a funky sound’ a good few times, which was the sample that I used in the tune, originally sampled from Schoolly D. So that was cool. Talking of samples, I used that ‘block rocking beats’ sample before the Chemical Brothers, which was also sourced from Schoolly D!”
Unfortunately the masters for this release have long been lost, with the DAT being recorded over. But thankfully Will had some unplayed mint vinyl copies left from those 200 he was given back by Mo which I sent to the mastering overlord that is Dapz at Compound Audio. He performed his witchcraft, returned them to me; I went in hard with my OCD picking out any imperfections which Dapz then sorted out. The masters were then sent to Beau at Ten Eight Seven Mastering who cut it using his magical cutting machine. The end result is another stunning set of audio bombs!