Fruit & Veg ‘Mixed Salad EP’

Fruit & Veg

Its early summer 2021 and I am speaking to James and Dave from Fruit & Veg. An oddly named collective of old school hardcore producers from Bristol. A collaborative I suppose, a Co-Op, a posse, a troupe! I have to say it’s possibly the most abstract name I have come across whilst running Vinyl Fanatiks and I need to drill down into why this was the name they went with!

“I think it was Rich, DJ Powder, who came up with the name, what do you think Dave?” asks James Towler. “He was a different character to us, wasn’t he? He was very elusive, a couple of years older than us. He was the first of us all to settle down and have his own house. I will never forget that he has this wall of VHS tapes, huge it was, with all kinds of films. He was well into his media” chimes in Dave Cridge.

Myself and Dave have known each other for 20+ years now. Dave is a well-known face of the Bristol scene and back in 2000 I did a release on his label with my fellow crew members in Aquasky. It featured a rapper from Canada called SixToo. Back in 1999 we were invited out to Halifax in Nova Scotia to do a gig. It was us and Billy Nasty and we played this huge rave. It was awesome. As it was a trek to get out to Canada we were flown out for 3-4 days I think. So in my downtime I went record digging with my portable player, as Canada back then was dripping with second-hand record shops and they had untold treasures… this was pre- eBay and Discogs. So it was a local marketplace in those days instead of global as it is today. Bargains were there and I snapped up a lot of amazing music on that trip. But in one record shop a local guy came up to me as he saw me with my player. We started chatting and I found out he was a rapper. We bonded and for the next few days we hung out. Rob Squire aka Sixtoo agreed to do a track with us and that tune was called ‘The Shamen’. It was released on Tribe Records, Dave’s label. Quite how we hooked up with Dave I can’t recall, but there weren’t may tunes like that in D&B back then.

Slipmat & Dave Cridge – Bristol Exposure UWE Campus – 1997

With our background covered, let’s jump back into the interview. “Rich was very much into sampling films for vocals. He was way ahead of us on that one!” James recalls. “I would imagine he would of come up with the name. I suppose it was a bit like ‘Pick & Mix’ or something like that?” Dave replies. James agrees, adding “There was this guy called Martin, who was the brother of the guy who ran Symphony Sounds. I think his name was Paul. Anyway, Martin use to drive from London across to Bristol with a van, usually full of SS white labels and other bits to sell to the local record shops. He was a wheeler dealer type of guy, like a market trader. You know, a bit ‘apples and pears’, a bit ‘fruit and veg’. And this is where I think the name for our group came from actually”. At this time, around 1992/1993, Dave was working in a record shop in the city called Replay, which was situated at the bus station, by the central roundabout, and Martin would leave a bunch of Sale Or Return records with him to sell “This was when Pennywise was on white, so very early days, proper underground stuff I have to say” Dave chips in.

So how come your releases all came out on white label? Was that a financial decision to save money? “I use to go to school with Jody Wisternoff from Way Out West” James remembers fondly “And Rich worked at a record shop on Park Street. I had just bought a Akai S3000 and had a Studiomaster 7 desk. Rich had an Atari 1040 and a Quasar midi synth. So we all started making tunes together and releasing them on white label”. Dave adds “In Bristol, everybody knows everybody. So if you made a track with Rich, you could go round there and possibly have input into a track he was making with Jody. It was often an amalgamation of people, working on tracks, adding little bits or giving feedback about what should be changed. So the easiest thing would be to release it on a white label because we didn’t really have aspirations to put it onto a label and sell thousands of copies. The whole vibe was more about making music than it was the business side of things. There was no more thought involved than that!”

The guys ended up pressing 500 copies of their debut EP on white label, though they didn’t see anything back from it really, as Dave explains “You use to put them in record shops around the city or London as Sale Or Return. Then go back a few weeks later, collect your cash, as it was all cash back then, and quite often end up spending it all before you got home, sometimes in the record shop that you went to pick it up from! There really was no business plan at all. We just wanted to make music!”

Being an 80’s hip hop head, I was acutely aware of the Bristol scene. I had watched Gus Coral’s documentary Bombin’ where he focused on 3D and The Wild Bunch. I had spent many a night growing up in the New Forest tuning into BBC Radio Bristol and listening to Tristan B’s weekly hip hop show, though that often depended on the weather as to whether I could tune into it! And I knew a lot of the early 90’s rappers, scratch DJ’s and graffiti artists in the city through my love of the culture. I even got to work with some rappers pre-Aquasky from Bristol called Transcript Carriers. So I knew of the community collective spirit that Bristol was renowned for. I find it fascinating how a group like Fruit & Veg works, as the boundaries on who was in the group and who did what are so blurred. James helps me with my curiosity “On the first EP it was mainly myself, Rich and also Jody helped us out as well here and there. Dave was also around, having input in the project. Myself and Jody did a lot of stuff together back then and we even had a release out before Fruit & Veg that we recorded in Jody’s parents front room, an EP called ‘X-Psych-Ting’. That again was a white label that we did with a distribution company at the time. It was a weird one to be honest as one day me and Jody were in Nottingham around that time and went into a record shop and there was our EP on the shelves, though we hadn’t even been told it had been released. We hadn’t even been sent test pressings to approve. No idea what that was all about, perhaps someone at the distribution did a dodgy one or something! Anyway, ‘Love Of The Bongos’ was recorded round at Jody’s. Rich brought over the samples, as he had some mad ideas for us to use! I remember waiting in Jody’s front room for him to finish his piano lesson. He had his Studiomaster desk to one side. There was a Roland Juno 106, a Roland JX8P which had this editor unit that came with it. There was also a Yamaha SPX90 effects unit, an Akai S1000 and he was running Cubase. It took us about 4 hours to knock out ‘Love Of The Bongos. There was no structure, it was just a case of putting a tune together, and bam, it was done” Dave chips in “It’s funny as I popped round to help out and not long after I had arrived, Easy Groove turned up. Jody and Easy Groove had just released their single ‘Why Do The Wicked Ones Rule’. Jody had engineered that project. I mean Jody was engineering a lot back then for many people. He was everywhere. So now there was a little posse of us in the studio, having input into the tune. Those sessions were fun. Sample, sequence, loop, mess about and tune done! With one of the other tunes, I forget which one; we were all round Rich’s house, up in the back room. He was such a creative engineer. He knew his sequencer inside out and his creativeness with samples was second to none. He would scour his VHS collection, watching movies and if there was ever a drug reference or something that would allude to that or partying, he would make a note of it, ready to use in a tune. Both ‘Confusion Repeat’ and ‘Going To Lose Control’ were both recorded at Rich’s”.

Dj Powder aka Rich DJing at Ashton Court Festival – 1995

Coincidently, as we move onto talking about promotion back then, I find out that Dave use to do reviews for Mixmag Update in the early 90’s. I also ended up being a reviewer myself for the same magazine when I moved to London in 1996. Dave elaborates “Back then there were no socials. So the only place to get your music reviewed around that time was Knowledge and perhaps DJ Mag if you were really lucky as they didn’t support the scene as much. I also reviewed for Mixmag update, so I would push our releases and those of our friends in the city, including Roni and Krust. I ended up being the first person who reviewed their jungle and early D&B releases giving them their first reviews. But back in 1993 you had no idea really how your release was going as you would have your head down, getting on with music, bumbling along. By 1995 I started my Tribe label and the first two releases were by myself and Rich. Everything was so interlinked, so it was always hard to remember what we did and who did what. There are so many stories to tell, if only we could remember them all!”

I can recall around the early 90s when I was making music with Dave Aquasky and then into the mid-90s when Aquasky started. We didn’t read reviews, we didn’t follow any scene. We just messed about with samples and equipment. There was never a game plan, we never chased the labels for feedback, we didn’t see reviews. We had no idea how our music was received apart from listening to the weekly Kiss show that Bukem, Hype and Fabio did. We could hear what they were playing and we got inspired, often playing tapes in the studio for point of reference or inspiration. And of course, when our music was played on their shows we knew at that point we must be doing something right. But that was it really, as for us, it was just about making music. We didn’t care who liked it, who listened to it and if it sold. It was just about having fun and freedom of expression. The freedom of youth. I am so grateful that we served our time in the scene during these innocent times. The stress of producing today is so much heavier due to the constant exposure to other people’s opinions. And it’s always the bad comments that resonate the most. Everyone now has a voice so there are opinions on all the social media platforms, from all over the world. Often by people who don’t have any experience in making music. It’s a stressful world now where you are over-exposed to online comments. James continues this point “We had so much enthusiasm, bundles of it. We just kept going which is how come the second EP was written. We just loved being in the studio and we just messed about with samples and equipment. It was such a buzz. Even more so when we went out touring. Back around this time I would be part of the Sub Love live band. I say live, I was the keyboard player, but I was just pretending. I would also finish off Jody’s DJ sets for him at some of the gigs as they wanted the band to play live after the DJ set. So Jody often couldn’t finish his sets off as he would have to dash off and get ready to perform on stage. So I would step in for him, finish his set off. Then I would have to dash on stage when the set was finished and go and stand behind a keyboard that wasn’t plugged in! Back then I was known as DJ Craze, the original DJ Craze… all others are imposters” James and Dave both start cracking up. I think this must be a long standing joke between them.

The original DJ Craze aka James sporting his ravers mask! – Bristol, 1993

Rich was originally based in Exeter but he out grew the city and needed more, so he moved to Bristol in 1990 to work in a record shop, Rival Records to be precise, as his passion for the scene and the rave culture was so strong and Exeter just couldn’t keep up with his eagerness. He stayed in Bristol till 2001, when he relocated to London, then onto New York and finally onto Los Angeles, where he resides permanently now.  His travels portray the same levels of freedom as the Bristol music scene of the 1990’s.

“There were pockets of record shops and pockets of people. But there was no plan” Dave concludes. “You would make tunes and the only option you had back then to hear your music being played in a club or a rave would be to press it up or get a dubplate made. And dubplates were so expensive and a hassle to get sorted. Digital didn’t exist. We just went down the route of pressing up what we did. We had the connections to sell them. Back then though we weren’t that well known so we didn’t get to play the big raves so didn’t hear our music on those systems. We just played here and there. But to be honest, we mostly were sat around waiting for a booking. The great test really was to hear your music played out. That was the buzz. So small pressings or dubplates was the only way to go back then”.

Bristol Foundation Map – By Miss Innit, 2018

“We didn’t have a distribution deal or anything like that. All the records we sold either around Bristol or Martin sold them across London out the back of his van” James explains, with Dave adding “I think we must have sold 100-150 copies of the ‘Fruit Salad’ EP in Replay alone! I wouldn’t say the Fruit & Veg stuff we did was well produced, but it’s of the era, its raw and that why today it’s so desirable, as you don’t get much music that sounds like that anymore. It’s all so over-processed. People just love that era of music, it brings back great memories for us all”.

And I feel this is an ideal way to finish this, the first of two interviews with Fruit & Veg. Those memories are what make us who we are today. They need to be preserved and looked after. And that’s exactly what we do here at Vinyl Fanatiks. Keep those memories pure.