It’s been over a year now since myself and Tony Bowes chatted about those days gone by. We were both part of that deeper sound of drum and bass that swept across the globe in the mid-nineties, both of us signed to Moving Shadow, both of us creating sonic soundscapes of depth and emotion. We were young and we did what we wanted to do, there wasn’t a rule book back then, there wasn’t a right or wrong way of doing things, we were all still learning, experimenting and trying out fresh ideas. “We were all about those atmospherics” Tony tells me, recalling his early years working alongside Blame. “I had already worked with White House Records alongside Andrew Mercy. Mo’s Music, who ran White House, distributed our first EP ‘Concrete Jungle’ and off the success of that EP they wanted us to record something for their label, so we did the ‘Mixed Concrete’ EP for them. That was in 1992 and only the fifth release on the label. I then went back to them in 1994 with the ‘Soothe My Soul’ remixes. 1993 though was a very quiet period for myself and Blame working together. We dropped off a bit as the scene went dark. We both stopped listening to what was coming out and we started dabbling in other styles, including progressive house. We could try out new ideas, experiment and be young and adventurous with what we made. It wasn’t till Bukem came out with ‘Music’ that the both of us fell back in love with the scene again… We would go down to Reading, to Vinyl Distribution, during 1994, and hear all this new music by the likes of Roni, Krust and Bukem. It was inspiring. I think the first time I went down there was with a friend of mine called KC. He ran the jungle label Deep & Dark Recordings and was local to me. He was distributed by Vinyl, so when I went down there I was introduced to Phil and he already knew who I was as he had heard of Justice. He was like ‘You are Justice? You need to do some stuff with us’ and that was how my Modern Urban Jazz label came about. It was a P&D deal, pressing and distribution, which meant I could release what I wanted, when I wanted. It worked well.”
A young Justice AT 13/14, ready to bring da vibes! Southbourne, Bournemouth – 1986/1987
It was through Tony’s connection with Vinyl Distribution that I came across him back in the day, picking up his music on many of our pilgrimages to Basement Records, where Paul Spinback and Lee were working the counter. I was already aware of Tony’s work with Blame on Moving Shadow as I had their records, perhaps given to me by the label when we signed with them. I always recall how generous Shadow were when you would make them a visit. They had a floor at their St. Anne’s Court location in Soho that, from memory, had a big metal caged off area, and in there were shelves and shelves of records. The label was releasing weekly at this point and every time we would visit, which wouldn’t be that often as we were working all the time in the studio, perhaps once every two months, we would all be let into this cage and get stacked up with vinyl. It was awesome. We also use to trade the records we weren’t into with our local record store in Bournemouth, Six Gun Sound on Richmond Hill, run by Steve Oates (RIP), to get credit in the shop. Those white label Shadow pressings were great to barter with! We weren’t rich, we were signing on, we hadn’t started touring, and we only had a 3x 12” deal with Moving Shadow, so anyway we could save money or make money back then, we would. I hate to think how much those Shadow test pressings would be worth now had we kept them! But who would know back then how popular this music would become and that, 25 years later, I would be repressing the music on vinyl! Always best to live your life in the present and regret your mistakes in the future, than to regret in the future what you didn’t do with your life in the past!
“So how come Blame did the remix and what happened to the original version of ‘Beyond Silence?” I wanted to know. “There wasn’t an original of ‘Beyond Silence’. The version on that 12” both myself and Blame wrote. To be honest, we probably wrote both of those tracks together, it’s so long ago now I can’t actually remember. Blame had a great reputation at this point, as he was already well known as a solo artist with his releases on Moving Shadow. I wanted to cash in on that reputation with this release, to give it that little more of a chance out there. So we made out he did the remix, when in fact it’s just a collab tune we did together. We were both also doing the Moving Shadow bits together then as well, our names were linked. We had also just started work on the Icons project around this time I think”.
Those days when you could smoke in a club! Justice at 1001, Brick Lane, 2007
This release spearheaded a shift in the jungle scene, as it was slowly morphing into drum and bass, well actually, around this time the change was accelerating quite rapidly. And Tony Justice, as we know, was all about those atmos vibes. The musicality, the soundscaping, the ability to trigger a deeper emotion. Bukem had formulated a reaction in many of us, Tony Justice and us as Aquasky being case in points, and it meant we could draw upon the many influences that had got us where we were by this point in the 90’s. Our love and history with hip hop, techno, jazz and 80’s electronica, all of these scenes could be brought together, mangled into a sampler and out of the other side came something fresh, exciting and new. “This release was on the cusp of the drum and bass transition, people were in the record stores looking for this kind of sounds. I am pretty sure the release did pretty well back then but I have no idea how many were repressed, so many of these memories have been lost over time. I think as it had an amen in it, that really helped its appeal. By 1994 that break had been well used in the scene, so we tried to do something different with our chops and edits, keeping it fresh. Coupled with the music in the tracks, it was different to what else was going on at the time. It was the start of myself and Blame pushing boundaries, really digging in the crates. I mean this release had samples from Mr. Fingers, Sven Vath. We really tried to source things that no one else was back then. We wanted to be different to what others were doing. But also, around the time of this release, a new A&R guy came to White House, and he had a different vision and we didn’t feel that we fitted there by then. We had already linked with Rob Playford at Moving Shadow, and we liked the label, so this was our last release on White House. We moved across to Shadow afterwards, where we could freely experiment and break new grounds” Tony reminisces.
I always find it fascinating how so many of us across the UK all fell onto the same page around the same time. How these musical ideas travelled the breadth of the UK and inspired others, with the help of tape packs, touring DJs and their dubplates as well as the power of the radio. The pre-internet age was super-efficient and if you were passionate enough and hungry enough, you would seek out the sound that excited you the most. There would be pockets of producers, cliques, crews, posse’s that would inspire and assist one another. And names you would hear on the radio or in the record store that would become cornerstones, go to producers, that were on your wavelength, whether you were a producer, a DJ or just a raver who loved the scene. And when Bukem and Fabio created the club night Speed, this was where we all met for the first time, all of us driving from various locations in the UK, to be in one place at one time, hearing the freshest music that was probably only finished a few days before and cut onto plate to be debuted at those fabled Thursday night jams. Geography was one of many hurdles that stood in front of us back before the internet, but it was also a benefit as it helped create bubbles of producers who were cut off from each other and had the freedom to create and formulate what was buzzing about inside their heads. Justice and Blame, Blame and Justice, however you pronounced the partnership, had their own bubble in Luton in Hertfordshire. Their studio was set up in an Arts Centre in the town called 33, As Tony shares with me “It was in the centre of town. It was full of early vegetarians, wannabe actors and save the whalers. It afforded us our freedom to create. It was a shithole, but it was our shithole. It’s also where we found Simon Odyssey who had his studio set up there. He engineered these two tunes. He did the donkey work as he was quick. We would turn up with our samples and ask Simon to cut up all the beats for us, which he did, whilst we mused over the synths, playing riffs and morphing sounds. Simon was an integral part of our partnership and what we were doing at this time. He was a great engineer. I can’t remember too much of what he had in the studio, I know he didn’t have an Akai at this time so I think it was done on a Casio FZ-10M rack mounted sampler. There was also a Korg sound module thing, which again I can’t recall exactly what module it was. We got the basics of both these tunes done in 4-5 hours and that’s because the drums on both tracks are very similar. Me and Blame had a formula, one that had already worked well for our Shadow tracks. We would write a tune, then strip everything back from it, just leaving the drum track. We then remade the music over the beats. We may even possibly use some of the same sounds again, just playing different riffs. And at the end, we would switch some of the beat edits up and be left with basically two differing mixes of the same tune, but they were so different that really they were two separate tracks by this point”. We kind of did something similar in a way, where we may find a great sound or sample, or play an awesome riff, only for it not to work in the tune we were making. But instead of ditching it, we would remember it and bring it into the next tune or remix we were doing. Actually, it really isn’t the same kind of thing at all, but it kind of was, sort of!
“I remember we gave both these mixes into White House, asking which demo we should use for the release, so we could go off and make a new tune to go with it. They felt they were both great and were different enough that they didn’t want us to go off and make a flipside, they wanted to release both tracks as a 12” as they were. Which was great for us!” Tony laughs.
Man of mystery – Tony Justice – Straight No Chaser Magazine photoshoot – 1995
I wanted to find out more about these sessions, how they got to their end result, what was their driving inspiration, which Tony responds “I wish I had some more memories! It feels like a lifetime ago and so much has happened since. So much of these times are just a blur now. But I do remember one thing about those sessions with Blame and Odyssey. Studio night was on a Tuesday, that’s the day we all met up. And across from the arts centre there was this fast food gaff called ‘Hot And Spicy’. They use to do some mean vegetable pakoras with chilli sauce. If the session was dropping off, if we were struggling to find a direction, we would all hit that and soon after, the show got back on the road. It was good times man!”
Ahhhh, those local fast food spots, every town had one. I remember that around the corner from our Aquasky studio, when we were based in Boscombe, very early 1996, there was a Chinese. One of those old fashioned one’s that was just a waiting area, wood panelled, with a serving hatch. It was poorly lit and had faded Chinese pictures on the walls. The bell went off as we entered. We waited for someone to appear at the hatch and eventually a lady stood there, looked at us and did a massive burp. I mean a proper burp! We all looked at each other and without uttering a word, turned and left. I think we ended up going in the corner shop and just eating 10p Space Raiders and those funny Spar cheeseburger crisps that were like monster munch for dinner that night! Funny how you seem to forget the important things in life but recall the most bizarre of facts 25 years later!