“To be honest, I completely forgot I made them!” – It’s a wet Saturday morning in May 2021 and I am on the phone to DJ Phantasy, chatting about the first set of unreleased tunes that he has recently found. “The DATs were sat in my office, and for years I have wanted to go through them all and catalogue what was on them but it was always about time, finding enough time, and motivation, to do it. So when the pandemic came about, it was the perfect opportunity to take on such a task, as I wasn’t out DJing like i usually am, so I needed to find other projects to get on with”.
After the success of Phantasy’s recent Liquid Wax reissues at the end of 2020, he was keen to keep the ball rolling, or should i say keep the beats rolling, and crack on with the labels next set of pressings. It’s always a pleasure to work with a like-minded motivated character who loves to keep themselves busy and myself and Phantasy make a good pairing as we both like to have things done by yesterday. With a work mentality like that, it makes you want to really focus on something that keeps the passion burning.
“So I had a friend who had a DAT player who also had the time to sort through all of my DATs. There were like 60 of them, so we agreed on a price and for the next two weeks he digitized all my DATs. I then had all these really long WAV files that i had to work through, editing tracks down to individual files and naming them, if indeed i could remember what they were!” Now if anyone has read my previous interviews with Phantasy, you will know that he loved to smoke a bit of draw back in the day, so a lot of what he did during the early 90’s is just a cloud of smoke. Literally! Listening to the tracks again brought back lots of memories and also lots of blank spaces. He wasn’t totally sure what tunes had been released, what were remixes and what were even his. So using the Vinyl Fanatiks network of contacts and enthusiasts, we managed to figure out which ones hadn’t been released, and in the process we got to hear some musical history that had never been shared, until now.
Phantasy continues; “You got to remember, back then I was in the studio 3-4 days a week. We were doing a tune a day, so we had to decide what to release. In the early days there wasn’t so much quality control, which I wish I had like I do now. I was always out DJing, so running a label was my second focus. DJing was a massive distraction from putting out records. So lots of tunes just sat on DAT, nothing was done with them”. As the scene was moving so quickly between 92-94, fashions and tastes could change before a tune would be released. During that time Phantasy was playing all the big raves across the country and this gave him first-hand knowledge of the trends and changes that were happening, giving him the upper hand and ensuring his releases were current and ahead of the curve. So this also added to his stockpile of unreleased music from around that period.
DJ Phantasy’s DAT stash – 2021
“Listening back to this music now, some of what wasn’t released is so good, it should have come out back then. But I think putting them out now is the perfect time as I believe they will be appreciated more than they would have back then. But also on these DATs are some proper experimental tracks, and those I do not think will ever be heard as they were too far out there! I remember I had bought a shit keyboard and I felt that I had to use it in my music but listening back the sounds are really bad. I may see if I can rejig those tunes around a bit and chop out those parts, do some kind of remake possibly, as the rest of those tunes are great. I was lucky as I could test my tracks that weekend and see if they were working in a rave and if they didn’t get the desired response, then they were left and I would just focus on the ones that did get the best crowd reaction” Phantasy explains. “There were two different kinds of listeners when I was running liquid Wax back in the early 90’s. There were the ravers, who listened to the music with friends, and enjoyed the music in that kind of atmosphere. Then there were the musos, who would prefer to enjoy the music in the comfort of their own home and appreciate the subtleties of what we were doing and how we were doing it”. I totally would agree with that as a producer myself. There were tracks you would always draw upon when out on the road DJing as you knew they would do the business but then there were other tracks that you had in your racks that you wouldn’t play out but would enjoy more when having a mix at home.
“Back in the day I was always about standing out from the rest of the DJ’s at a rave. I would want to play stuff that other people didn’t have, so being in the studio producing at the rate I was, gave me lots of ammunition at the raves that made me stand out from the other sets. But today I have changed the way I play. I like to fill my set with current bangers, tunes people know and will engage with. When I was young I wanted to be a trendsetter as opposed to an entertainer. Now I just want to be an entertainer. Some people are crowd DJ’s and can rock a party for the masses, whereas others DJ’s are more appreciated by their peers for their technical abilities than their ability to have a whole party jumping. When I used to do old skool sets I used to play a few tunes I couldn’t stand, just because the crowd would love them. But if the DJ before me played one of them I was like ‘YESSSSSS’ as that would mean I didn’t have to play it”.
Writing this up now it gives me time to reflect on how we were as Aquasky when we first started playing Drum & Bass. For some strange reason we rarely played our own tunes. We just felt it was being too self-centered. Looking back on that now, it was crazy. We really missed a few opportunities. We also decided back then that we wouldn’t make a tune with an amen as that was over-done. So we used to use rare drum breaks, often chopping them up and letting Kieron replay them on the Roland Octopad as he used to be a drummer in a punk band back in the 80’s. We finally succumbed to ‘The Amen’ late in 1996 when we remixed Omni Trio on Moving Shadow, but even then we wouldn’t let it play as standard, choosing instead to let it play through the Yamaha CS-5 filter so it got mashed up. I can totally understand what Phantasy is saying and that’s how over time you start to change, your focus begins to shift, you mature and you think beyond what you want and start thinking about what the clubbers and the fans want instead.
So rewind to last summer, 2020, and we were in full lockdown mode. Phantasy was sending me tracks, asking what I thought of all these tunes he had found. And then he sent me ‘Jonnie The Fox’ and I was blown away. I just couldn’t believe the tune had never come out, it was a monster of a tune. I remember joking with him that he must have gone into the studio that day with a copy of Street Sounds Electro 10 as I was recognising so many samples from that album, an album that I have cherished since I was 13 years old, listening to it on a bootleg tape at school. “So how come this didn’t get released?” I enquire.
“Around that time things were moving quickly in the scene, styles were progressing like crazy and the ravey, hectic sounds of tunes like ‘Jonnie’ were going out of style. It was so frantic, so choppy. Whereas the flipside track ‘Do You Want To Ride?’ was where the scene was heading, the vibe that was coming into style, thanks to the fresh take Bukem had on the music. The bassline was bouncy, the samples were more musical, it was mellow in comparison, in fact almost calm! But I clearly remember finding ‘Jonnie’ for the first time and saying to myself ‘Shit, Brent needs to hear this!!!” Phantasy tells me. And he wasn’t wrong at all, as i had the same response when I heard it – HOLY SHIT!!!
“So do you remember anything about making those tracks mate?” I enquire. Phantasy responds “It’s more than likely that Alex Reece engineered them. By this point Ron (Jack Smooth) was chilling, he wasn’t so hands on with everything, he had his own thing going on. But he was still in full control of what was being done in his studio, ensuring all the output had the Sound Entity seal of approval. But to be honest, no, I really don’t remember much about these tracks. I do know they weren’t recorded at 14B, Ron’s old studio. Alex was only learning from Ron at 14B, he didn’t get to be an engineer in his own right until the studio had moved around the corner to its new location above Basement Records. So these tunes were done and forgotten about for nearly 30 years. They probably would have been totally forgotten had I not been motivated to go through those DATs you know. The other mad thing is that during lockdown I have found time to root about in my shed as well and look for other artifacts and I have recently found loads of old video cassette tapes from 1992 when me, Carl Cox and Ratpack went out to Australia on two separate tours. They are on HI-8 and obviously I don’t have one of those players, so have yet to be able to watch them again. But I do clearly remember we were out there and I was watching some fireworks with Ratpack from our hotel balcony in Woolloomooloo Waters, Sydney on NYE 1992/93 and my voice sounded like a little kid on the video, getting all excited about watching the fireworks going off. I am looking forward to when things open up again properly and I can go somewhere to get these converted. That’s some proper moments of rave history right there that needs to be shared with the fans”.
So, this concludes my chat with DJ Phantasy about Volume One of his unreleased music. I wish there was more that we could say about the making of these tracks but Phantasy was living the life back then, smoking weed and constantly up to all kinds of things, whether selling tickets outside clubs, touring the country and further afield as a DJ, running a record label as well as being a full on producer. It’s not surprising that after nearly 30 years some memories have long gone. But the beauty of all this, and certainly a lesson for any up and coming producer, is to always back up your music and keep it safe. Always remember, music goes through cycles and what may be unfashionable now, will be the gold of the future.