Al first started to DJ back in 1988, inspired by the acid house sound that was taking a hold of the country during that year. The Summer Of Love was a wonderful experience for those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. And DJ Ruffcut was one of those lucky enough to have been there. But it wasn’t just the music that pushed him in that direction, there was a higher force at work, a voice he couldn’t escape, that of his Dad! “My Dad use to put on raves, the illegal ones in warehouses and fields around London. He loved the music and the scene so he advised me to stop playing hip hop and start playing acid house and rave. I was 15 at the time. My dad bought me my first deck and told me to pay for the other, as a way of motivation and to install a sense of independence in me. By the time I was 16 in 1989, my dad was pals with The Scientist, so I managed to get him to blag me into his studio so I could meet him. I then started to hang out there and through that studio I met Krome & Time in the same year as well as DJ Hype and the artwork supremo Junior Tomlin. It was really exciting for a young kid to be able to do this and start to understand how the records I was playing were being made. At this time I was also DJing at my Dads raves as well as Telepathy, Sunrise and Mirage. As these were illegal parties there were no age restrictions and I was 6ft 5” tall, no one ever questioned me for being there. It was around this time I started to think about my name, DJ Ruffcut. I felt it just didn’t fit the scene at that time, it sounded too hip hoppy, not really the right vibe. So I started to give it some thought and remembered the Bob Marley track ‘Exodus – The Movement Continues’. I couldn’t help but think of me playing at these events and seeing the movement of the people in front of me every weekend, so Exodus came from there”.
Being a punter myself back during that time, attending both legal and illegal parties, I can relate to this visual. I was part of that ‘movement’, being a part of one huge family, all looking upwards at the DJ, being taken away on a rush. It was such an amazing experience. And can anyone else recall how you could leave your mates, go for a mashed up wander, and come back and find them again? It was like voodoo magic how you could always find your mates again. Now we just call them on our mobiles and get a google pin sent to us!!!
Al Exodus & Wayne Youngman, a freelance DJ Mag photographer, at the Big Chill, Abergavenny 1993
Al continues “I started going to Labyrinth with Krome & Time as they really liked my dad. This was probably 90/91. I was in my element as I always listened to their sets on Fantasy FM and I would phone up for a shout out. Around this time I was working as a drivers mate, delivering beds around London. I was all over the place and every area you would visit would have a record shop. I would go in there and tell the assistants what kind of music I needed and asked them to put a bag of records aside that they think I may be into, so I could return a week or two later and buy them. I got so many rare acid tunes this way, white labels that only a few were pressed, top notch stuff. I was going into so many shops that I rarely missed anything. And I still own every single one of those records now!”
I wanted to know more about how the transition from DJ to producer happened and how Al started recording on Brian Fenner’s Skeleton Recordings, a seminal label of the era releasing some quality breakbeat and hardcore and still active to this day, 28 years later. “My first release was with the Scientist under the name of Audio Illusion. This came out on Boogie Beat in 1992. I use to take samples down to his studio from my collection and would stay at the studio. For that release I lived on his sofa for 4 days straight! I had also managed to secure myself a residency at Labyrinth by this time DJing alongside Krome & Time and Billy Bunter. It wasn’t long after this that I met Brian, around 1992” Al explains “I think it may have been through a mutual friend who designed the Skeleton logo. He was a graf writer that I knew. I would imagine I started to hassle Brian for help and Brian kindly assisted me by hooking me up with a friend of his from the label called K-Rox, who had his studio set up in Chiswick. Brian said if I would pay half the release money, he would put it out for me. I was well up for it”.
“So what’s the story with Woody? Who was he and what involvement did he have with the release?” I ask. “Woody is my oldest friend and we are still good mates now. He lived 10 minutes away from me. Woody paid for a quarter of the release, think it was £350. I paid the other quarter and Brian fronted the rest. Woody brought the vibe with him and for me, it wouldn’t have been right to have done it without him, as we went everywhere together. I believe there was a 1000 run originally with another 1000 done a little later. I was well happy as it covered our costs and also made a bit of money on top. But it was more than just that, it was the kudos of having a tune of your own to play in your sets. It kind of elevated my profile and gave me a bit more of a foot in the door with promoters. I could go along and drop off TPs to them and to radio shows. It helped me build my DJ career” Al replies.
The ‘A Classic Skank’ track off the EP is a very unusual tune in the sense of the main piano riff. It’s almost classical in style which Al chuckles about “It’s actually Richard Clayderman! A tune called ‘Moonlight Sonata’ which was released in 1993. So the name of my tune had great significance for me. Back then skanking was a thing still, a rocksteady dance, and people use to skank in the clubs when you played, albeit probably with a lot more chemicals in them! So that tune had a classical sample in it and I wanted to make sure everyone skanked to it. I remember turning to Woody in the studio and saying ‘This could be a classical skank’ and that’s how the name came about”. Now, Richard Clayderman isn’t a usual go to source for a sample, and being that his tune came out the same year, I am baffled as to how the hell Al managed to jump on that Clayderman tune so quick. Thankfully he can recall how that came about “I had a friend who was into classical music. I was hugely inspired by the Acen tune ‘Trip II The Moon’ when it drops into that James Bond sample. It used to give me the chills. I wanted to make something that had a great classical sounding riff. So my mate told me that I needed to check some Clayderman. He put on this album by him and the first tune he played me had that sample. It was just crazy. It was like my mate knew exactly what I was looking for. I was like ‘Oh my god, that’s it. That’s the sample!’ It was just a mad coincidence! Not long after DJ SS also did a tune with the same sample on Formation, but he played it at half the speed to what I did”.
Al Exodus with Max Sarsini flying to Lanzarote. Photo taken at Luton Airport, 1993
I have now side-tracked Alan onto how the tunes came about and the samples used, which for a guy like me who collects samples, it is the part of the conversation I enjoy. It’s always hard to remember all these years later what samples came from where but Al does a pretty decent job in recalling a few of them off the cuff “The vocal sample in ‘Feel The Vibe’ is Joseph Cotton saying ‘Hear comes the original ruffneck’. I still have the album that we took that from. But the other vocal saying ‘Feel The Vibe’ I can’t remember where that was from, it escapes me. But the vocal of the kid in ‘Bones Breaks To The Max’ was my girlfriend at the times kid – Max Sarsini – who was 3. He came with me to the studio and we got him to say the various phrases. I am still in contact with Max, he is 31 now, as I had a daughter with his mum. I’ll be giving him a signed copy of this repress when it comes out! I also had another idea for ‘Bones Breaks’ back then which to this day I am gutted we couldn’t do. I had this idea of pitching up the beats but keeping the same timing. I asked the engineer, K-Rox, if he knew how this could be done. He said it was a thing called time stretching but he couldn’t do it with his Roland Emulator sampler. I was gutted but accepted that it wasn’t possible. Then later that year Goldie released ‘Terminator’ where he showcased the exact same idea. And people went crazy for it. To this day I think to myself ‘that could have been me!’ But back then I was devastated. I really was!”
Alan continues with his studio memories “All three tracks were done in two days. We spent about four hours per tune getting them knocked up. I had already mapped the tunes out in my head, had sourced the samples and knew what should happen where. Even the rave stab riff in ‘A Classic Skank’ I had already worked out at home on my Casio keyboard. So it didn’t take long to get things knocked into shape, then a few more hours mixing them down. It was a great session and even better still that when I handed the tracks to Brian he was very happy with what we did and was keen to release them on Skeleton. A definite result”.
Al Exodus letting the music take him – The Big Chill, Abergavenny 1993. Photo by Wayne Youngman
Sometimes though it’s not always the tunes or the making of them that brings back the biggest memories. It can be what happens with the release after its pressed to vinyl and Al has some great memories about the test pressings he had which he was handing out, which he shares with me “I had given a copy of the test press to Hype and one day he calls me up and invites me as a guest to a gig he was doing in Holloway Road at a night called ‘Pirate Club’ which was held at the Rocket. He had a little treat for me, so I was waiting for him to play and he comes on and starts his set scratching up the ‘Badboy’ sample that Max had done for me. He was cutting it up and it sounded great. He later told me it was his go to scratch record at that time. After he finished his scratching he let the tune drop. He did this at loads of his gigs back then and people were always asking what the tune was, so it brought another wave of interest onto the release, as this was like 5 months after the release had come out. To be honest, I just did ‘Bones Breaks’ as a bit of fun, as I wanted to give the record buyers more bang for their buck, so instead of doing two tracks on a release, I wanted to do three, give them a little treat. Around this time I had started to work at a record shop in Hammersmith called ‘No Name Records’ and in the basement of the shop a guy called Wayne Youngman was working. Wayne was a freelance photographer for DJ Magazine and we got to be mates, so he would come out to gigs with me and take pictures. One weekend in 1993 I was asked to play a festival. I had already played a lot of festivals like Spiral Tribe and D.I.Y. This one was The Big Chill and it was being held in the Black Mountains, at a place called Abergavenny in Wales. It was the first festival I had played since the release of the Exodus EP and I took a load of test pressings up with me and was handing them out to the DJs as well as playing it myself at the event. Wayne took some great photos that weekend. I was always quite good at promoting my releases. I had also managed to get to all the pirates I could in the south and west of London. I use to take a copy of the record to the stations and write on the record ‘Studio Copy – Please do not remove – Please play for promotional purposes’ and this really worked as the tune would often get played during the night by various DJs in their sets. I dropped copies off to Flex, Don, Dream, Crystal and Touchdown. I remember Dream FM and Crystal FM heavily supported the release for me. The pirates loved it!”
Flyer for the Mirage Night at Blazers in Windsor put on my Al’s dad, Bernie – 1992
So that brings a close to this interview and nicely brings us up to speed again with the release in preparation for its repress. DJ Exodus has a great memory of that period of his life and chats to me about it with so much enthusiasm and joy so its awesome that repressing this record means that we can share all of these stories with you and give you a greater feeling for this release and how it came to be as well as an in depth look at Al’s formative years. But, sat here now, writing up this interview I can’t help but wonder what Al’s dad thought of his son’s success within the scene that he brought him into at the age of 15. So much so, that I have to give Al a quick call. Ill let Al have the last words “My Dad was well known around the London rave scene, his name was Bernard but everyone knew him as Bernie. He was so made up when I got my decks, started to DJ at raves and then eventually into producing. He was really proud of me and what I had achieved. Back in 1992 he took over the running of a club in Windsor called Blazers. He put £10,000 of his own money into the place and built it up. The opening night he put on a rave called Mirage and had myself, Randall, Krome & Time and Hype play it. The place was rammed and it always went off! Then the club decided to give the contract to Kiss FM which was really sad, as my father had built it up into reputable place and put a lot of his time into the project. The opening night under Kiss FMs control someone died from a drugs overdose and the place was shut down. I often wonder what it would have been like had my dad continued to run it. It would have been his dream to have a club like that under his belt. Sadly though he passed away not long after at the age of 40.It was a great loss to the rave community. He was so loved that 750 people turned up for his funeral and we had a rave as the wake and Krome came down and played. It was an amazing tribute to an amazing man and I am so happy he got to see me achieve what I did”.
I am sure that Bernie is looking down on this project with pride that his son is still out there, making a name for himself and still keeping things hardcore! RIP Bernie
Bernie, Al’s dad and the driving for his career in the kitchen at their home in Hammersmith, 1993 – Rest In Peace