This is a project I am very excited to be doing and one that’s taken a good while to get sorted. I didn’t have a direct in-road to DJ Phantasy but a good friend of mine, MC Spyda, did and he put the call in for me. Spyda warned me beforehand though ‘You need to have your business plan sorted before you speak to Phantasy, he likes to work with organised people’. Thankfully, that’s one thing I am, organised. When it comes to running a record label and dealing with people, I have a wealth of experience and knowledge to fall back upon. So around March 2019 I jumped in my car, drove up the M3 and met up with Steve aka DJ Phantasy. We had a coffee and we chatted, discussing many things and we got on well. I took heed of Spyda’s advice and had a full plan of action ready which worked well with Steve. But at that time we couldn’t proceed, as Steve was getting ready to launch his book ‘Three Generations Deep’ which follows his career in music that stretches back to the late 80’s. We put the project on hold for a year, reconvening in March 2020 to kick things off… then Coronavirus hit! We pressed pause again.
The crystal clear vinyl 😍
It’s now June 2020 and I am chatting on the phone with Steve about his highly sought after release ‘The Start of Things to Come’ and wondered why he titled the release that? “You see, at that time, when I was writing that release, the scene was shifting and it was becoming more about the drums. I was just moving with the times and I felt this was release was a kind of statement, a shift in the music I made”. It was around this time that Steve had done his tracks with Aphrodite (recently released on Vinyl Fanatiks for the very first time) and Ron AKA Jack Smooth, who had been Steve’s engineer up to this point, was moving more into the business side of things. “He asked me if I would work with a new guy he was training up at that time, a guy called Alex Reece. I was the first person to work with Alex up at Ron’s. Ron knew I was easy going and would make Alex feel comfortable on his first engineering job. Alex only lived down the road from me anyway back then, so we connected. He was well nervous though as he was still learning all of Ron’s gear. Alex wasn’t very good on the MPC so Ron would have to come in now and again to help him out. He was still learning, but you know, I’m still learning now. You’re always learning in this business as there are always new things to learn”.
DJ Phantasy on the decks – Very early 90’s.
“I have to say though, Alex took to it all like a duck to water” Steve continues “Alex was very much into that Basement 4/4 sound, he had that techno vibe. We worked well together, me as the producer, him as the engineer. I have to give massive credit to him. But when you have a teacher like Jack Smooth, you are going to know how to do things and how to do them right. So I went in with this massive pile of records. I had already decided upon the vocal sample ‘The Atmosphere’ so I wanted to make something that was a bit atmospheric. We took out the Rolands, as Ron had loads of these. And I just played around on them and the riff just came naturally. I had worked a lot with Gemini in the past and he liked to do his musical parts before laying down a bassline, so back then I always had that in my head, the music came first”.
Back then Steve use to love the weed, something he does not partake in anymore, and most of his time back then was spent in the studio or record shopping, whilst stoned. I am surprised how much of this era he still remembers, and when you get him onto a topic, the memories just flow. And the weed use to help him get into the zone, it helped him become not just the writer of the music, but also the listener as well . Steve explains “’The Atmosphere’ was an easy tune to do, it just wrote itself really. I was sat in the studio, smoking a spliff and I was so deeply involved. I could get into the heads of the people on the dancefloor who would be listening to this tune, I could understand how the music would translate to them, how they would react! How they would feel during a breakdown, how they would feel when the bass kicked in. Being in the zone helped me feel this, it helped me write the tune. Ron would pop in now and then to check up on Alex and see how I was getting on. Alex would sit there and say nothing. He must have had the patience of a saint, as I would be just in the zone, playing about on the keyboards trying to come up with some riffs. Alex never smoked weed, so it must have been a bit of an experience for him to have me as his first job!”
Steve’s output was prolific around this time, with many releases coming out, whether solo projects, collaborations or working under an arsenal of pseudonyms. “I was living in the studio back then” he enthuses to me“That and record shops. There was nothing else to do. I was just living it. At that time I was writing for me. I wasn’t writing for anyone else’s approval. I would put a tune out and I wouldn’t know if anyone would like it. As my career progressed I would start writing tracks for the DJ’s to play. I would write a tune hoping Bukem, Hype or Andy would support it. But back then I would just write what I wanted to write, I didn’t think about anyone else apart from making music for the ravers. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I heard a dubstep track by Flux Pavilion called ‘I Can’t Stop’ that I started to write for myself again, well for me and for the ravers”. Coincidently, as research for this chat, I had read one of Phantasy’s interviews he did for Blaze Magazine (Issue 11, May 1993) when he discusses this very point – Why do you think you have been successful? ‘I always put the ravers first because they are the ones that pay my wages’. What’s the best thing about DJing? ‘When a raver in the crowd comes up to me and tells me what a wicked set I played’.
When I was putting together the artwork for this release I noticed a name on the record label that I wasn’t familiar with – Beat Choppa Pete. I wanted to know more about this guy, not knowing that I actually knew him under a different name from my early days making drum and bass on Moving Shadow. Steve explains it for me – “I use to go to Lucky Spin up in Holloway to hang out and grab some tunes. Next door to the shop was Monroe’s Studios and one of the engineers there would always be in the shop, and we would always chat. It was DJ Crystl’s engineer, Pete Parsons. We would always talk, we were into similar things, and it wasn’t till about 6 months down the line that I asked him if he would be up for engineering a session for me. He told me to book up the studio and get a date in, so I did.”. (Brent – ‘We knew Pete as Voyager as the three of us as Aquasky use to love his work back in the day when we were recording for Moving Shadow’). Steve continues “What I remember about that tune is that it had no real structure, everything was really mechanical and that was because I wasn’t allowed to smoke any weed in that studio, so I didn’t get into my usual vibe! But I remember at that point I wanted to show people I could do mad beats so I went into the session with the mind-set of ‘You want mad beats, well here you are!’ It was also when doing this session that I realised that all studios had different sounds. That’s why I called him Beat Choppa Pete, because he was so fast in the studio. We did that tune in 6 hours! Pete was a don. But it was also odd to be away from Sound Entity Studios. Recording at Sound Entity was like a home game for me but when I was at Monroe’s it felt like I was playing an away game. I wasn’t in my usual comfort zone”.
The original Roland MC-300 disks from the Sound Entity days – Photo courtesy of Ron Wells, 2020.
At this point in time Sound Entity Studios was linked to Basement Records and was operating out of a building in Uxbridge around the corner from Ron’s house where his original studio was, known to many as 14b. Ron’s new studio was now above the Basement Records Distribution unit, so it was a given that Liquid Wax would be distributed by Phil Wells. “Me and Seduction were the first two labels to sign with Vinyl Distribution. That’s what kicked it off for his distribution company. He needed us. I know there are a good few stories about Phil out there but I would like to add mine, which actually features in my ‘Three Generations Deep’ book. Around 1996/97 I decided that I wouldn’t take any money from record sales for a year then go to collect it all for Christmas. By this time I was on a P&D deal as it was easier but what the big mistake was is that I let others order my vinyl for me. I never knew how many they ordered or how many sold so when I went to Basement/Vinyl Distribution to get my money, Phil came into the office and said ‘Steve, You owe us money” I was like wtffff, ‘How do I owe you money?’ It transpired that they had over ordered vinyl and sadly it hadn’t sold so I was running in the red. I was broke for Christmas. I didn’t have any money. Phil could see I was upset at what had happened and offered to give me some money to tie me over for Christmas. I didn’t ask for it, he just offered it to me. I drove home devastated and contemplated giving up music but that drive home changed everything for me. I discuss this in my book so to know more, please go and grab it, it’s a good read of the insight of what happens behind the scenes. So when Phil went bust and the distribution company went under I called him up. I hadn’t been paid for ages so Phil was telling me not to worry, he would sort me out. I just told him to stop. I told him not to worry about the money he owed me. It wasn’t important. As I always remembered he came to by aide when I needed it and those kinds of things you don’t forget. It was my way of showing respect for what he did for me that time”.
As we wrap up our chat, I had a couple more questions I wanted to ask Steve – ‘How did the record sell?’, ‘How did you get the name for the label?’ and ‘Who designed the label?’ – Steve concludes our phone call by filling in these gaps for me “Liquid Wax, the name, it was probably a weed fuelled session that came up with that one! I use to put my releases out on white label, using the name Phantasy Recordings. At some point I think people thought these two labels were the same, which they weren’t. Liquid Wax was when I decided I wanted to have a proper label, a professional set up. I dropped the zero’s from the catalogue numbers, first one being HAN14 – DJ Phantasy ‘What Possessed You Boyee!’ Working with Gemini, he didn’t have the desire to have a large annual output, like a couple of releases a year would have been OK for him. But I was just living in the studio, I just wanted to release music, lots of it. It was my life. So ‘The Start Of Things To Come’ sold really well, a little too well actually, because everyone was expecting something similar for the follow up, which wasn’t anything like it, and consequently, that didn’t sell as well. Everybody wanted another ‘Atmosphere’! The label design, I have no idea who drew that! I have no memory of that at all. I remember I came up with the concept, wanting something that sounded and looked melting wax. It may have been someone working at Basement that drew it. I just can’t remember”.
So this concludes our first chat of what will become many over the next 12 months. Steve has been spending the past year working through his DAT’s, archiving and digitising his huge back catalogue. During that year he has uncovered unreleased tracks, collaborations and remixes. Music he is excited to share with everyone along with some of the more collectable releases from his Liquid Wax label. But for now, I must finish this interview as next up I have the joy of interviewing Steve alongside Lynnford from Rufige Kru, about their Liquid Aliens project.
So till then, stay tuned and keep it locked, this station has only just started to broadcast!
Before pledging please check the clips on Soundcloud to catch the vibe: