It was a Friday night at the start of 2020 and I was on the phone with three old school kings. I hadn’t done an interview with three people all at once before and I must admit, it took me a while to get my ear in and 100% recognise who was talking! I hadn’t seen the guys since March 2019 for a Moving Shadow get together. And prior to that, the last time I saw Jay was when Aquasky, EZ Rollers, Calyx and MC Jakes all went out to LA for a festival in 2000. It was a bonkers trip made only more bonkers because we were sharing a hotel with the whole of the Wu Tang Clan! I had a few funny moments with various members and I’ll never forget how stressed RZA was in the foyer when he had to check them all out of the hotel. It was like herding cats… no one was listening to him! Anyway, those stories can be kept on tap for now and told on another occasion as this piece is all about three lads who caused a storm in the east!
My first question is one that I had wondered for many years and I’m sure it’s one that many of you reading this would have asked if you were in my position… ‘What’s the story behind the name then?’
Richie responds over the laughing and jesting – these are three guys who you can tell are all good mates – “I think I read it in a book. I thought it was really cool. What that book was, I really don’t have a Scooby!” Apparently Richie was known back in the day to be very much into books. He continues “I thought there was a connection with the text to us, like we were all living in an urban jungle, the environment around us, and of course the connection of the name to the music we made as well. And the spirits part, well there were three of us and we were like spirits, kindred spirits, within that urban environment”.
Spirits From An Urban Jungle – Great Yarmouth, 1995.
Richie was already a bit of a name around his neighbourhood of Great Yarmouth thanks to his DJ skills. He started DJing when he got some decks in 1987 and it wasn’t long before he was asked to play the Caister Soul Weekenders which were held in his home town. In 1990 N’Joi were playing the event when their manager heard Richie spin and asked him to join the band as their DJ. Their manager was Mike Champion, who was actually the brother of Nigel Champion from N’Joi, and he ran a company called Midi Management which ran out of Southend. Richie was asked to join the roster of artists which brought him more work as a DJ and which gave him firsthand experience of the rise of rave music and in turn giving him the inspiration to start producing tunes himself.
At around the same time the acid house and rave scene was blowing up local promotion company Richards Parties Presents, decided to branch out into raves, putting on events named Boom and Euphoria, every few weeks at venue’s like Tiffanys and the Ocean Rooms in Great Yarmouth, which both held over 1000 people and were packed every time. “Everyone went to Richard’s events, so that is why the local scene grew and became so vibrant” Richie tells me. It was these events that helped inspire three local producers to team up and make music together; Alex Banks (Hyper On Experience/EZ Rollers), Jay Hurren (Spirits From An Urban Jungle/EZ Rollers/JMJ & Richie) and Andrew Riches (Spirits From An Urban Jungle /JMJ & Richie/Kudos). One of the first producer groups was called The Plastic Clothes Mechanics and they had one release 30 years ago in 1990. Not your average band name I must admit! “What was it with the strange names from up your way?”. Jay laughs and clarifies “The group was named after the jobs we did at that time. Alex worked in the plastics industry, Richie worked in a clothes shop and I was a mechanical engineer. It’s that simple!” Richie continues “Alex had an Amiga at his house and did ‘Come on, Yea’ over at his. The flipside, ‘Cool Down The Bass’ we took a Jesus Christ Superstar sample and built a tune around that riff over at Alex’s. Again, all these ideas and hook ups were formed at The Ocean Rooms and other local events after many nights of partying! We then all travelled to a studio in Peterborough to finish the tracks, I mixed the main loop in live from vinyl using a deck that was in the studio because the Amiga didn’t have enough outputs. We then found out they didn’t have a DAT machine, the engineer in the studio said record it to a tape so we brought a TDK D90 tape and it was recorded onto that!!! When we took the tape to the mastering house the engineer refused to master from the cassette, so he bounced it down to a 2” tape and cut it from there.”
This is the kind of story I love, how kids would figure a way around the limitations presented by the equipment that they owned at the time. You didn’t have enough outputs to create the tune you want to create??? Then play some of it in live from a turntable!!! It was kids like this who worked out the limitations of the equipment back then that helped the equipment of the future to be redesigned. Things can only improve if you can work out the flaws that are already there! So, 1000 copies of The Plastic Clothes Mechanics were pressed at SRT – Sound Recording Technology – a mastering, cutting and pressing house in Cambridge that was also a record label as well. The guys used it to get their records pressed up for their own self-funded release, selling them all themselves by dropping them off to all the key record shops around London at that time.
The following year John got his first deal under his band name Tekniq alongside his pal Jonathan Wright. This duo would go on to have releases on Ozone Recordings, F Project, Formation, Moving Shadow and Grid, spanning over 11 years! John had a day job at this time working for an insurance company and those monthly wage packets assisted him in building his first studio, though their first two releases in 1991, which came out on Ozone, were recorded at a studio in Doncaster that the Ozone label used. The Ozone headquarters were based in Sheffield, half an hour down the road from Doncaster, though a bit of a drive from Great Yarmouth! Before they travelled up there they created some demos which got them picked up by the label and these were done locally at a studio called Purple Rain Studios. It wasn’t set up for dance music at all and was built to cater for guitar bands but they did have a Cheetah SX16 which was a budget sampler that was released in 1990 and could be found in the Reader Ads in almost every issue of ‘Sound On Sound’ magazine back then. When originally released, it retailed for £800, which created fairly buoyant sales. It held 512k of sample RAM and was capable of 16 bit stereo sampling but its real crowning glory was that it could read Akai sample disks up to and including the S1000, which came in handy when finishing the tunes off in Doncaster!
Around 1992 Richie had a big breakthrough. Mike Champion was managing a band called The Prodigy and they needed a tour DJ. Richie had already proved himself by being the DJ for Mike’s brother’s band, N’Joi, so he was asked to go on tour with The Prodigy for their 1992 ‘Experience Tour’, an experience that will last with Richie forever, with stories he is unable to repeat in this interview for various reasons!!! It was after that tour in November 1992 that Liam Howlett pulled Richie aside and told him he really needed to get into the studio himself and start making some music. He wasn’t going to be told twice and immediately went over to see John (Tekniq) and called up his old pal Jay to see if he wanted to join them. By late 1992 and throughout 1993 the three of them were working together, sketching out ideas and honing their craft. “By this time we had a large catalogue of samples. Richie’s record collection was absolutely massive!” Jay shares with me, with John adding “We use to have sample nights, recording stuff onto DAT. Then we would have other nights in the studio where we would go through these DATs and start sampling stuff, storing them onto S950 disks. We had a huge library source”. “We were lucky” Jay interjects “as Richie was on every promo list going throughout 1990, 1991 and 1992”. Richie chips in “We also had lots of sample CD’s including the free CD’s that use to come off the front of Future Music. Music Of Life also did some sample CD’s which had some great stuff on them.” John recalls how they ended up with a copy of the Amen Break “I remember going crazy when we finally got a decent copy of that break! I got it on a disk from Bukem, or it may have been Rob Playford, but pretty sure if was Bukem.”
John & John at the Tekniq Studio – Great Yarmouth, 1995.
By 1994 John had amassed a decent amount of gear, sufficient enough for the three of them to start trying out ideas and formulating tracks. The workhorse was an Atari ST which was running Cubase with an Akai 950 supplying the samples. In pride of place in the rack was a Roland JV1080, a sample-based sound module that was released in 1994 with a selection of sounds that would become legendary on dancefloors up and down the UK. There was also the Roland 101, a great keyboard for bass sounds, but this wasn’t the normal grey 101, this was the fancy red 101 with a handle! The main keyboard in the set up was a Yamaha SY55 and everything was pumping out of a set of JBL speakers, with a set of Absolute 2 speakers on standby. On top of this there was an Alesis Quadraverb, a Casio portable DAT machine and a Soundcraft 16/2 mixing desk. As Johns DAT machine was portable he fondly remembers “Mike from PFM would always be borrowing it for his stuff. We got to know Mike from the local events as well!”
“So, how did Spirits From An Urban Jungle form and start releasing on Whitehouse?” I wanted to know. Jay gives me the run down – “I believe it was possibly from a conversation with Peshay. He told me that Whitehouse were offering out £1000 advances for a 12”. So we decided that the three of us should get together for a weekend and see what we could come up with. And it was a proper mash-up weekend! That’s why there is a tune called ‘White Lightning’ because we went to the off license and bought a load of White Lightning cider which fueled us!” The guys all laugh, I expect there was more going on that weekend than what I am being told! Jay continues “We started Friday night and we were still going deep in the studio till Saturday lunchtime, when we stopped, came up for some air, got some food, then went back down again. We stopped now and again for food and crashed on John’s sofa, finally finishing on Sunday night with the two tunes that went on to make our first Whitehouse release – ‘Prologue To Freedom/White Lightning’. I actually remember it being a really sunny weekend as well, so they would of been written around late spring or early summer time I think”.
Richie tells me about the Ice T sample used in ‘Prologue To Freedom’ – “I remember hearing this sample on an Ice T album, possibly the ‘Power’ LP. It was talking about retribution and at the time I remember that I didn’t know what the word meant so I had to look it up in a dictionary! A few years earlier I actually got to meet Ice T at the Caister Soul Weekender as I was playing there and he was performing. I got him to sign my ‘Power’ LP along with his DJ Evil E and Ice T’s missus at that time, who was on the cover of the album dressed in a revealing swimsuit!”
The Ice T ‘Power’ sleeve that was signed at the Caister Soul Weekend for Richie in 1988.
A few weeks later the three of them made a trip up to the offices of Mo’s Music with the DAT and got it signed. Jay recalls the experience – “We went to the offices and agreed the contract. We didn’t get any statements or royalties from the tracks after it was released, we just got an advance and that was it. It’s safe to say that the label did alright out of the release. I believe 2000 to 3000 copies were made.”
As we bring to the end our long chat, which was nearly two hours long, I wonder what the future holds for the three of them, as I can see on their social media that they are hanging out together in the studio again. They all collectively reply that they expect soon they will get in another load of White Lightning and have another long weekender. Hopefully that’s the case, though it did make me wonder… Do they still make that drink???
It’s good to know that the storm from the east continues to blow!