Today is a momentous day, it’s the day that myself, Dave, Shaun and Olly Underdog got together for the first time since 1994! Back in the day, Dave, Olly and myself use to live together. Olly ran Underdog from the loft, Dave had his bedroom studio on the ground floor and I was on the first floor, sandwiched between. It was an awesome time, no commitments, worries or life plans. We just lived each day as it came and had a bloody good laugh nearly all the time. It was a hub of activity, a hive of musicians and DJ’s all coming and going, friends, acquaintances and contacts. One of those regular visitors was Shaun O’Hara. Shaun was from Southampton, which was a 30 minute drive from Bournemouth (before the days of average speed cameras!) but at this time he was up in south London for Uni. Though today we aren’t all together in the flesh. The lockdown has prevented us from all meeting up. Actually, the numerous lockdowns have done that a few times now, as we have been planning to go out for a curry together for the past year. We have had to cancel two or three times so far. So for today’s chat we are on a four way Zoom call. Now that’s something that we wouldn’t have even imagined could be possible back in 1994. That was Tomorrows World type vibes! We were happy enough with our pay phone in the house, which we had managed to figure out how to rack up credits on without actually putting any money in! The life and times of a poor musician, we had to do what we had to do!
“The drums on ‘Mind Games’ were influenced by DJ Trace. I loved what he was doing around that time. I use to have loads of his mixtapes and record him off the radio” Shaun remembers “You would supply tapes from the pirate radio shows and you use to bring them down to the studio and leave them with me for inspiration” Dave adds. And believe me, we needed those tapes down our way back then as our local radio were still playing Stock, Aitkin and Waterman and we didn’t have any pirates, though saying that, I do recall we set one up in the loft once. I remember cycling over to Kieron Aquasky and Darkdean’s house to check whether you could transmit from Charminster to Boscombe, a distance of about 3 miles! I can’t actually remember whether we could pick up the signal, but I know we did try to bring that pirate vibe to the streets of Bournemouth! Shaun continues “It was crazy as I would turn up with some fresh tapes, play some tunes to Dave, then we would make a tune using these tapes as an influence. And then, six weeks later, I will be coming back down with more tapes, but this time those tapes would have our tunes on them! Olly had got test pressings made up already and dropped them off to the stations and they had played them.” Olly chips in “That’s when you could get test pressings within a few days, not like the weeks or months you need to wait now. Things were so much quicker back then! I remember dropping the DATs off for it to be cut with Simon at The Exchange and within 10 days of doing that I was delivering test pressings to people!” Dave chips in “It was like a full cycle, we heard those tapes, then we heard our tunes on those tapes!”
“I remember that you use to program all the drums Shaun, as that was your forte” Dave recalls “and I would get all the music together and the other samples. The pads on ‘Mind Games’ were from an Alpha Juno keyboard that I had and in addition to the Juno pads on Substance, the Kawai K4R provides the voice pads which are also used in ‘Mind Game’s and on the original ‘Fugitive’ track too, plus probably loads of other Mad Dog tunes. Also, the vocal on ‘Mind Games’ was from my sister’s cassette tape of Tears For Fears!” Shaun adds “We were knocking out at least a tune a session back then weren’t we. It was pretty much the same formula every time. I had a natural passion for drum breaks and the music was your passion Dave”. “It was very rarely more than two sessions to have a tune completed. I remember a session would basically be a half day as you had to be back to Southampton to pick up your girlfriend from her job Shaun. I was always there cracking the whip and making teas. I feel a bit out of place today being here and not going off to make the teas for all of you!” Olly adds with a laugh. “I remember you use to take a cassette tape of the tune back with you to London Shaun, listen to it, get your feedback together and return the following Saturday to do the changes and finish the tunes off” Dave chips in. “I just remembered, the drums at the start of ‘Substance’ were inspired by a track from a Fabio tape, though I can’t remember which tune it was now. I think it was a track called ‘Thinking Of You’. It was one of my favourite tunes I have ever heard. The whole vibe of ‘Substance’ is very similar to that tune on the Fabio tape.” Shaun interjects. Dave recalls “You used that ‘31 seconds’ beat, but that pattern was different. It was quite a unique pattern as you chopped the beats right down to just the shakers and hi-hats in-between. Some people just triggered it from the start but you completely redid it”.
Now that got me thinking as well, as back then Dave’s bedroom studio was the hub of the operation. Shaun would be in on a Saturday, Kieron Aquasky always had the Sunday slot due to college and work commitments and I would do evening shifts with Dave after Uni. Dave and myself were often joined back then by our old friend Special Red, the cheap, strong cider that we use to get from the local off license Bennett Wines on Bennett Road in Charminster. So I would be making my trip hop tunes with Dave and bringing in all kinds of weird and wonderful samples and drum breaks from my record collection. Though back then Dave didn’t have a record deck so I would record them onto cassette tape and bring them over. One such sample I brought over was Shelly Manne’s ‘Super Mellow’. It was an amazing drum break that I had first heard used in 1989 by Beastie Boys on ‘Shake Your Rump’ on their Pauls Boutique album. So I made a tune called ‘Mambo Chant’ under my old pre-Aquasky name of Jaziac Sunflowers. My tune ended up being a big hit with the likes of Kev Beadle, Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge. But it also proved a bit of a hit with Fugitive as Dave would go through the sample disks of our sessions when making his Underdog and Stormtrooper releases searching for ideas. On the intro of ‘Mind Games’, the first drum break that plays is from my old tune, the Shelly Manne break. But it was a fair trade off, as the vocal that features on Mad Dog’s ‘Rumbled’ tune I nicked for the ‘Mambo Chant’ tune! So it was even stevens and it was good there was such diversification in Dave’s studio, as we were all learning and being inspired from one another. It also shows you how quickly Dave & Shaun were doing tracks as ‘Rumbled’ came out after ‘Mind Games’ but had obviously been made a lot earlier.
Olly Underdog in his bedroom at 116 Avon Road, running his record labels – Bournemouth, 1994
The guys had a lot of support back then, which was very impressive for a team from Bournemouth. Olly was constantly up and down the M3, attending cuts in London, picking up stock, dropping off TPs at record shops. I always remember Olly with a box of records in his car and his room piled high with cardboard boxes full. “I was up and down the motorway 3 or 4 times a week. It was exhausting. But it worked out well. It was mad as it would be cheaper for me to drive up, collect the finished records from PR Records in Wimbledon who pressed them and then drop them off to all the distro companies than it was for a courier to do it. But that’s just the way you had to do things back then. The label got a lot of love though so it was worth it” Olly recalls. “Bukem heavily supported the first Fugitive release” Shaun tells me “So we gave him Mad Dog 3 (‘My God/Rumbled’). I remember that I spoke with him on the phone at some point after Fugitive 1. I didn’t quite get the genres that the time. I asked him what he thought about Mad Dog 3 and he said that he honestly didn’t like it. It was too dark, too moody for what he was doing back in 94. We really wanted to get him re-engaged with the label and the guys, so we did ‘Substance’ which was a mellower, more musical styled tune. It had a Bukem style bassline too, it really had that kind of bassline that sounded like a lot of what Bukem was releasing at that time. And it worked; he loved ‘Substance’ and showed it support”. “Shauns right” Olly adds “I have just done a Google search whilst you have been talking and I can find a Paradise tape listed online as 94 that has Bukem playing Fugitive ‘Substance’. Its funny, I don’t remember a great deal about this release, but I know Phil at Vinyl was quite switched on and would have 10 or 20 white labels that he would hand out to DJs and I think Bukem must have got it from there was I didn’t give it to him!” Shaun continues “Back then we were doing happy hardcore, Bukem inspired deeper drum and bass and we were doling really hard Trace, Kool FM style, bad ass amen stuff as well weren’t we!” Dave concludes “It was all happening in that bedroom. The happy hardcore, the jungle, Brent’s jazzy stuff and Kieron who was into the deeper stuff. Those sessions, I did feel sorry for the neighbours as there was some bass coming out of that house!”
“I remember DJ Rap supporting both sides of this release, as she played across the board. Kiss FM I think was along Holloway Road, somewhere near Music House, so I definitely remember dropping some stuff off for Rap at Kiss FM. It was such a massive deal when Kiss started the jungle show. Radio 1 weren’t supporting it then and sometimes the quality of the pirates wasn’t great, so now you had this mainstream radio show, sharing this music, and the signal was top quality. Olly recalls. “You had to be driven. You had to put everything into it back then. It was more than a way of life. It was life. Not trying to sound old, but today’s producers have got it a lot easier now than we did back then. Everyone is connected now and can get their music out there. We use to have to hang around a DJ booth for a DJ to finish their set and then try and grab a few words with them before they shot off to their next gig, and give them a DAT and only hope they would listen to it, rather than record over it. DATs weren’t cheap back then and you had to reuse DATs to save money” Dave reminisces. And I would wholeheartedly agree with Dave in regards to this. During the past three years of running this label I have heard so many stories from artists of them doing the same thing. DATs weren’t cheap and if you could save a few quid you would. So many great tracks were lost due to this money saving exercise. This was during the years of a Conservative government, still obsessed with Thatcher. We struggled. We were poor. We didn’t have much hope looking into the future back then. We had no idea of the tech that would come along a few years later which would improve life in general and the art of producing and DJing. It was bloody hard work and you needed motivation, enthusiasm, thick skin and ability to ‘network’ in order to be heard!
Dave – Mad Dog/Fugitive in his studio – Bournemouth, 1994 (Photo by Martin Rix)
As we chat, other memories start creeping back. Sometimes you need a few old faces to unlock the memories of the past. Olly recalls a few things about Underdog Recordings “Fugitive 2 was the first Underdog release that had a proper printed label. It came out around February or March 1994. I am not sure why we made the move to labels; it was probably Basement Phil that convinced me to make the transition. I remember the label had a face on it. It was actually Shaun that found the image; I think it was from a newspaper, an advert selling sinus relief. There were three arrows pointing at the face, probably to show where the product would relieve congestion or something. I got those removed. It might have been a Sudafed actually! So at this time I didn’t know how to get labels made up so I found someone on Old Street in East London. And that guy, I forget his name, did all the labels for Underdog from that point onwards”. As Olly tells this story I start having flashbacks and a memory of that advert and the label. I seem to remember Shaun use to come to the studio with a newspaper, and that’s how it was found. I remember there being newspapers around the house but none of us ever bought them. Again, it’s odd how memories are locked away and something random will open them again!
The original proofs for Fugitive 2 – From Olly Underdogs private collection
As we come close to the end of this enjoyable chat and catch up Olly gives me a bit more info on the original release “The first Fugitive release didn’t do so well with Mo’s Music, so by the time of the second one, we gave Vinyl Distribution the lions share. Phil wanted me to take a P&D deal but I refused as I wanted to be the one in control of the finances. So Vinyl had most of the records and then I dropped copies off to Mo’s, Prime and also Jumpstart Distribution to fill in the gaps. The release did alright when it came out, I think we sold 1200-1500 copies. But then the interest just stopped for the release, no idea why, could be that styles were changing again. So the sales just stopped and we never repressed it. But it was no bad thing as 1000 units was fine for us and what we were trying to do back then. That was good sales. I had no idea at that time that bigger labels like Basement were doing 3000 odd units. With the amount of music that was coming out back then, it would have been easy to have got lost between all the bigger tunes that were being hammered by the top DJ’s that came out on their own labels”.
Dave’s studio through a fisheye lens – Bournemouth, 1994 (Photo by Martin Rix)
And so we have it. A reunion 27 years after we last all hung out together. It was fun to see everyone and we look forward to the end of the lockdown and for us to see each other in the flesh, have a curry, a couple of beers and continue these friendships. Which I think will certainly be the case as towards the end of the chat Shaun asks Dave “Dave, since we have been doing these represses I have started to get the urge again to make music, to chop some beats up. Can you help me get set up again?” And since that request I have had an update from Dave to say the two of them have been chatting and Shaun is getting back into music once again. And I also hear that, once he is ready, there is a planned return of the original Mad Dog. And not only that, but Dave makes a return as Fugitive with a brand new EP forthcoming on the Amen Brother label around Easter 2021.
So junglists, are you ready???