Skrufneck ‘Volume One’

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VFS032

Skrufneck

It was an evening in June when James Pritchard and I managed to hook up for our chat on the phone. I am getting a bit of a pro now at doing shorthand interviews, though after about 3 sheets of A4 my hand is starting to feel the pain! It’s a young man game this shorthand stuff I tell ya!

Last time I hooked up with James AKA DJ Pooch, he was in Bournemouth competing at a track day on his BMX. James travels the country competing in these comps, up in the 40-50 year old category. And let me tell you, these boys don’t hang about for their age. It made me somewhat jealous of their prowess with all these younguns around them with all their energy. The 40-50 year old bracket and the 50+ age group are the original BMX crew from the 80’s, still out there, keep it real, staying true to their roots. This can also be said for James’ musical output. He keeps things on point, using all his original outboard gear, with a few recent additions. But for this release, James didn’t put it out under his more well-known alias DJ Pooch, he chose to go undercover with a new alias, Skrufneck. “So how come you chose Skrufneck, being that you had such a well-known name in DJ Pooch?” I throw out there.

“Funnily enough it was keep off the radar due to the sample usage in the tracks. Around this time Slipmat was working under the guise of SMD, doing his sample laden releases, even though we all knew it was him! So I thought, you know what, I’ll try that as well. But straight away, just like Slipmat, everyone knew Skrufneck was me! I believe it was down to Vinyl Distribution telling everybody. It was probably a good selling point for them to tell shops the tunes were by me rather than an unknown person. Easier to get the shops to buy them in I suppose. A business thing!”

James DJing at Arcadia in Kent – 1993

Skrufneck Volume One was James’ 4th release. He had already done two white label releases for Jack In The Box distribution; ‘Come On’ and the ‘Control’ EP. But with Jack In The Box going under, owing many artists money, James decided his 3rd release should be with a more established label, so he went with Lucky Spin on their ‘Pure White’ off shoot. This helped build his profile, so upon writing the two new Skrufneck tracks, he decided to press up a 1000 white label copies. He had to pick up the records on a Monday morning, so the night before he collected them, he called up his old mate Roger Johnson. As Jack In The Box had gone under, he needed a new hook up. Roger told him that he was working with a couple of guys called Phil and Lance at Basement Records, as James continues “Later that week I went and hired a car and drove over to Basement in Reading when they were by the train station. When I got there I didn’t say who I was but they had a whiteboard behind them in the office and on that whiteboard I could see they had two Lucky Spin releases on there, mine and Orca ‘4am’. Both of them came out together. So I asked them how the two Lucky Spin releases were doing to which I was told ‘Orca is selling really well’. And how about the Pooch I asked? ‘Yeah, that’s selling well, it’s not doing too badly, but not as well as the Orca release’. I knew having my release coming out at the same time as Orca 12” that mine wouldn’t get as much attention as the Orca release was massive. It’s such a great tune. I was a bit gutted mine came out at the same time to be honest! So I told Phil that I was DJ Pooch and asked him to check out my new release that I had on white label with me. Phil flicked through it, needle dropping in a few places and said that he wanted it.  I was used to selling the odd box here and there but Phil just said ‘I’ll take them all!’ I was blown away, I couldn’t believe it. He paid me two quid a record, so happy daze mate, I was buzzing that it was so easy and I made a bit of profit. And it sold pretty quickly. I didn’t repress it though as I had more new music to release and didn’t want to tie all my money up in a repressing it again. So only 1000 copies of this record were ever made”.

So now I know why James used the name Skrufneck, but where did that name come from?

“Well, at the time there were loads of records coming out that was Ruffneck this and Ruffneck that. There was a bit of a theme going on back then. Anyway, I had played at World Dance, this was in 93. Back then I had long hair and the headphones had made a mess of it all. So we were back at a friends after the event and I was having a mix and my mate said ‘Look at the state of you with your hair. You ain’t a ruffneck, you’re a skrufneck’. We both cracked up and the name stuck”.

James drawing tunes – Arcadia, Kent – 1993

It’s a great name, I love it. Which is why James’ recent vinyl offerings on Vinyl Fanatiks sister label Amen Brother are harking back to the time of Skrufneck. It’s just a cool name that’s very memorable! So, at the time of James making the first Skrufneck release there was a load of darker Reinforced records out there. He wanted to make something dark, to fit with this sound that was getting really popular by 1993. He made ‘Musics So’, which became the B-Side of Skrufneck Volume One. James gives me the back story on this “I didn’t like that tune, I still don’t like that tune to this day! There is a stab in it which I wish I hadn’t put in there. I know lots of people love the tune but for me, it’s that stab. Puts me off everytime. I decided to write a flipside, something a bit more upbeat and cheerful, to try and contrast the flipside. I wanted to use a well-known loop, something that would increase the releases popularity. The end result was ‘Musics So’ went on the B-Side and ‘Our Love’ went on the A-Side. I am glad I did that as it worked and the 12” sold out quickly”.

The original release of this record was cut at JTS which James informs me ‘was notorious for shit cuts’. But they were the cheapest out there and he had to be careful of how much he spent, so at £130 cash for a cut when everyone else was £200 a cut plus VAT, it was a no-brainer. “I couldn’t really afford to press the records back then, let alone pay an extra 15% VAT, so JTS were perfect for me” James recalls.

The record was then pressed by Terry Murphy at TTL in Stratford, where a lot of people went to get there records done back then. James elaborates “I always remember walking into that place. There would be piles of records, like 10,000 copies of a Sam Fox record or a Barry Manilow record, copies that hadn’t sold. All piled up. They use to chuck all the sleeves and then cut out the middle of the record where the label was using some old 1950’s machine that they had and then recycle the vinyl. They were buying the records at £0.001p a copy, so it was a good hustle for them, but the vinyl quality always suffered when using this method of recycled vinyl. Going up there always made me laugh, as there was always an engineer present as everything was breaking, pipes were splitting, steam and water everywhere. It was chaos.  But that’s how things were back then. Proper old school!”

An interesting little fact about this record is that it was engineered by Dylan Burns who went on to form Bodyrockers, the electro-rock tinged dance duo (as their Discogs page states). They had the huge global smash hit with ‘I Like The Way You Move’ which I am sure most people recognise from the early noughties.

“The Skrufneck  record was made on Dylan’s Mackie 1604 desk using an Atari to sync everything up. There was also an Akai 1000 and an Art Multiverb unit. There were no compressors. The mad thing was, there was only one effect unit, the Arp, so you could only have reverb or delay on your tune, never both. These tracks were done in Dylan’s front room in Canterbury back then, before he had his proper studio set up. I didn’t have much money, which is how I got to use Dylan. He was local to me and was keen to get some business so one day asked me how much I was paying for studio time. Back then I was using De Underground, Cool Hand Flex’s studio. I told him it was £75 a day, which was a great rate any way; as most places were double that. Dylan said he would match that, so I agreed to work with him as it meant I didn’t have to go into London anymore to make my tunes. I just had to go down the road, so that saved me a few quid and a lot of time. It was the easier option, plus we got on well. So well actually, that we worked together for 10 years until he started Bodyrockers. All my hardcore from Skrufneck Volume One onwards and all the speed garage I made after that, was done with Dylan, in between his commercial house stuff he was making back then” James explains.

James at Dylan’s Eat Life Studio – Canterbury, Kent – 1994

Bringing things back up to date, when myself and James hooked up in 2020, we discussed the repress of this record, and in light of his feelings for ‘Musics So’ he told me he wanted to remix ‘Our Love’ with a 2021 remix to make the release more appealing in his eyes. Back in March 2021 it snowed and he had a week off from work, so he didn’t have much to do. The BMX races weren’t happening either! So he got into his studio, which I add is a 100% analogue studio all bar a DAT machine, and knocked out 6 tunes. One of them was the 2020 remix. “I was rummaging around and found my old Akai disks for ‘Our Love’. The piano sample was there as was the arpeggiated loop. I had enough to be going on with, so I cracked on with the remix. I always make my tunes in a day. If it’s not coming together in that session, I will sack it off. I mix the tunes down on a different day, but the actual bulk of the tune is done all in one session. It’s the way I used to do it back in the 90’s, so I stick to that way of doing things now. It just works for me”.

And why mess with your mojo? If that’s how the DJ Pooch classics were done during the golden era of hardcore, then it makes sense to keep that vibe alive in 2021. This is how the magic happens! This is why Pooch’s sound is so authentic.