There must have been something in the water, or perhaps some other kinds of substances, up in the West Midlands. It’s a part of the country that embraced the hardcore scene, inspiring many to not only go out and rave at the weekend, but also start making tentative steps into producing their own records. Nathan Jay AKA Ova Doce is one of these future visionaries and like all of the artists on Vinyl Fanatiks, has his own story of how he got to self-release his own hardcore record back in 1992.
We catch up on the phone though this isn’t the first time myself and Nathan have chatted, as this project has been bubbling in the background for the past 9 months. There has been a lot of conversations over that time as we worked out which tracks should be reborn – more of that to come.
Nathan first got into music around 1987/1988 when he bought a Casio SK1 and started messing about on it. A couple of years later in 1990 he bought himself a Fostex X30 4 Track and actually started to make tracks, Acid House tracks to be precise, though he adds “If you heard some of them you wouldn’t want to hear more than 4 seconds!” It wasn’t till 1991 when his mate Jez Allen Smith bought himself an Amiga and together the two of them formed Pennywise **The Profit, an early hardcore duo, creating bedroom demos and learning their trade and the limitations of an Amiga, when he started to make progress. By 1992 the band had disbanded and the Amiga was now on a two week rota with Jez having it for two weeks and Nathan for the following two weeks; this arrangement went on throughout 1992 until 1995.
Ova Doce – 1989/1990.
By 1992 Nathan had settled on the name Ova Doce and had got himself set up at home. Alongside the aforementioned Amiga, which was pimped out with 2MB of RAM, he was running a sampling program called Techno Sound Turbo, alongside Octamed 4, bouncing down his ideas on cassette tape using his Fostex 4 Track. During 1992 and 1993 Nathan would go on to fill numerous cassette tapes with tracks, ideas and sketches which he has kept, which all had their own handmade cover. His first track by himself was ‘Feel The Rush (Reach For The Sky)’ which ended up being the lead track on his self-funded debut EP. The track actually samples Van Morrison tune called ‘Wavelength’. Nathan explains the story behind this unusual source of audio “My Dad loved Van Morrison, he was his favourite artist, so I decided to sample it to annoy him! My Dad wasn’t keen about the rave scene so I thought it would be funny to make a tune with Van Morrison in it to see how he would react”. “How did he react?” I ask, keen to know how this anarchy played out “My Dad found it funny actually; he just couldn’t understand how I got Van Morrison onto one of my tracks. It baffled him!” he replies.
“What about the ‘Feel The Rush’ sample, where is that from? It reminds me of an old tape I had backin the day” I ask. It takes Nathan a while to recall this bit of info, so he emails me after the interview “I’d totally forgotten about the MC I’d sampled for ‘Feel the Rush’. He was an MC at Shelley’s that always rocked the party. He was an event organiser who picked up the mic to do some shoutouts and then stayed on the mic for the rest of the night. His name was MC Neville and a guy from a local record shop around my way said that Neville had heard the track and was furious, thought it was taking the piss and would like a word! The other guys behind the counter were laughing so I don’t know how much truth there was in it and I’ve not tried to find out since”.
At the same time that Nathan was making his first solo tracks, he was also broadcasting on a pirate radio station that was run out of a farm, just outside of his home town of Walsall. The station was called FBMR and it was a perfect place to test out the tracks he was making, using listener reaction as a way to work out which tunes he should start compiling for the release he wanted to do. Now, after doing a few releases on Vinyl Fanatiks and being lucky enough to help Krome & Time reissue their early Tearin Vinyl releases, I have had many conversations about the pirate radio scene in London and the great lengths they would go to stay on air. The Tearin boys were broadcasting out of tower blocks in East London, hanging off balconies and trying to attach transmitter masts from the roof of some of the highest positioned buildings in the city, whilst being tracked by the DTI, the Department Of Trade & Industry. So to hear of a pirate radio broadcasting out of a farm, well, this was a first for me. So did you have to avoid the authorities in such a rural location? Nathan recalls one incident – “I was doing my show one night and we got a load of messages from a bunch of girls who kept calling in. Anyway, they were quite rude some of them and I read a few out which were going on about shagging. The next night I wasn’t at the farm as I had to work at a local pub, which was lucky, as that night they were raided by the DTI. The guy who ran the station said they were raided because of me reading out those messages. To be honest I don’t think it was anything to do with those messages, but he tried to make me believe it was!”
Ova Doce at the Temptation Foam Party, Peterborough – 1992.
Before the demise of FBMR (Firebird Music Radio, named after the station owners favourite BMX) Nathan was drip-feeding some of his unreleased music onto the public, so he was getting a bit of an idea of which tunes people were enjoying the most. He knew ‘Feel The Rush’ was one of those so he decided to go down to the local Under-18’s rave, sporting one of his cassette tapes with the tune on it “Why I thought the DJ would have a cassette machine, I have no idea, but for some reason he did! So he put it on and the place went nuts for it. That was the first time that tune was played in a club and I was well excited” Nathan enthuses, continuing “So, it was coming up to my 21st birthday and I asked my parents for some money, so I could get a record pressed of my music. They gave me £300 towards it. I was constantly making tunes when it was my turn to have the Amiga, so by this point I had enough music to make an EP. Thing is, I didn’t have a DAT machine or know anyone who had one, so I went down to the cutting house with the Amiga and recorded the tracks down to DAT there. Anyway, when it came to doing ‘Feel The Rush’ I had filled up all the outputs on Octamed as there were only 4! We had brought a keyboard down with us, so I had to play the bassline to that tune live onto the master. The guys at the cutting house knew we were a bunch of amateurs, so they let us do what we want, thankfully!”
“As the tracks were all recorded randomly from the Amiga onto the DAT machine at the cutting house, none of them were in the right order. Which is why there are big gaps between the tracks on the ‘Feel The Rush’ EP. As the lathe was cutting the record, the cutting engineer would have to fast forward or rewind the DAT to the right tune after the previous tune had finished. It was all done live. We hadn’t really thought things out as we didn’t know what cutting a record involved” Nathan explains. Personally, I can’t believe that they managed to actually get the EP cut to vinyl. That must have been one patient cutting engineer that day!
Jez who was the other half of the Amiga Timeshare contributed the rest of the money that was required to finance the EP. He recorded back then as Oscillate and worked together with Nathan on the tracks ‘All Night (Dance)’, ‘Ruperts Trip’ and ‘Knight 2000’ which is why some of the EP’s have an Oscillate sticker on them. Jez made those stickers at home and Nathan did the tracklisting stickers at work, painstakingly stickering them all himself. Recently Nathan and Jez have become mates again after many years of not seeing each other and have been reminiscing over the making of this EP.
Ova Doce with the original stamps that he used for the 1992 white label release. January 2020.
Unfortunately the EP made a loss. Only 250 of them were made and were self-distributed to the record shops around Walsall, Coventry and Birmingham, with 75 of them being given SOR (sale or return) to a record shop in Birmingham called Global Grooves. But the store shut down not long after they dropped the records off and Nathan never got them back or was paid for the ones that got sold. It was the loss of those records that meant the EP didn’t make a profit. “Not only did they shut down, owing us money, but I also had given them a demo tape of a tune which they later released and had a small hit with! The tune was called ‘Los Puerbos’ and it came out under the name of Two Amigos, on Footwork Records, back in 1994. That put me off making another record and why there was never a follow up to the ‘Feel The Rush’ EP”.
During the years of 1992 to 1995 Nathan wrote around 100 tracks – many were just sketches and as he tells me, some were terrible. He stopped going out to raves after attending ‘Dance Planet’ at the Hummingbird Club at the Rag Market in Birmingham. It was a legal rave but it was on the cusp of going darkside, which Nathan describes – “The whole vibe was dark, the DJs were just trying to out-do each other with darker and darker tunes and it just didn’t seem like people were really enjoying themselves. So I stopped going to raves after that night” Before then though, Nathan was out most weekends raving and since we have got to know each other, he has shown me various videos online which capture a young Ova Doce partying back then. He was a regular at The Institute in Birmingham on a Friday night and Shelleys in Stoke on a Saturday night. There was also a Monday night that he went to at a country pub near Walsall called The Dilke where Doc Scott was a regular guest, and on one of his many visits an eager Nathan thrust an Ova Doce tape in his hand, though he never did hear back from him.
Having your own record can have many benefits, one of which Nathan shares with me “We were all out on a works do and went to a club in Walsall. A Sharon & Tracey type of club with lots of heavy drinking men there. The queue was massive and the place was packed, one in, one out. I had a stack of records in my car from distributing them around local shops, so I leave my work colleagues in the queue, fetched a record from the car and I wander up to the front to where the bouncers are. I tell them I had a special delivery for the DJ from “the agency” and could they let me in. After checking the guest list they tell me that they aren’t expecting any ‘special deliveries’ and wouldn’t let me in for free. I told them it was really important to get this record to the DJ and I would pay to get in, just to make the delivery. They agreed and proceeded to let me in. To continue with the ruse I had created with the bouncers I had to go to the DJ and hand him my record. This really wasn’t the sort of club that rave music was played. I left it with him and joined my work colleagues who had now managed to get in and we got on the dancefloor. A little while later the DJ starts playing the ‘Wizz-Head Of Oz’ track from my EP and the place erupts. The lager boys were jumping about to it and it was going off! I thought I had made it, I thought to myself ‘This is the first step on the ladder of my pop career’. It wasn’t, but it was great to hear my music in a cheesy club like that and see the response. It also impressed my work colleagues too!”
I connected with Nathan thanks to a friend of mine in Germany, Alexander Hering, who put us in contact. When I first spoke with Nathan he told me that he had bags of old cassette tapes that had all the tracks he was making during the early years. Slowly he has been working through them, checking the tracks and when he finds one that he feels happy with, he would send me. Together we whittled them down, ending up with six awesome tracks that were never released back in the day, though some of them were aired on the old pirate show (shows which Nathan also has tapes of!) He had also kept a big box, and in this big box were his Amiga disks with the tunes on them. With a bit of patience and perseverance the tracks were rebuilt, locating any lost samples required before running off the channel stems (to my amazement, Nathan remembers all the sample sources to all the tunes he made. I personally struggle to remember the tunes I made, let alone where all the samples came from.)
Some of the Amiga Disks from 1992/1993.
As the Ova Doce studios are no longer active these days, the stems were then sent to the magician Dapz at Compound Audio, who proceeded to mix them all down. This process took a while though as both Nathan and I were very thorough in trying to ensure the original energy was retained and that original Amiga sound was captured in the final mixdowns. Dapz was super patient with us as ever and produced some stunning masters that are no finally ready to share with you. But trust me, there is more to come from those carrier bags!
To conclude our chat I really wanted to know where the name came from. I mean, we all know the drug connections already, but what made him choose that name for himself back then? “My biggest inspiration was Acen. I use to love his music, I still do. He wrote amazing tracks and one of my all-time favorites was ‘Close Your Eyes’ and in the ‘Optikonfusion’ mix there is that ‘Over Dose’ sample. That was such a cool tune and where my name came from. Also, the inspiration for the Ova Doce logo came from the sleeve of a Johnny Parker record called ‘Love It Forever’, which I adapted and created the stamp I used to stamp the original EP. I still have that original stamp in one of my many boxes”.
Ova Doce – stamping his way back from the 90’s.