“I started to DJ in 1989, after I got myself my first set of decks. I had always been into music, whether that was disco, electro, hip hop or gangsta rap. And as soon as hardcore and Belgium techno hit the estate, I was drawn to that instantly. It resonated with me. I had already started to make mixtapes, mixing tracks like Doug Lazy ‘Let It Roll’, Lil Louis ‘French Kiss’ and the early forms of rave music. And these tapes circulated around my estate in South Acton. I would go round to people’s houses and they would be playing copies, but had no idea it was me that made the tape! It was pretty cool to have people into your tapes”
Brian Fenner, aka DJ Monita, first started to hit the clubs as a DJ in 1991, making his debut at the Paradise Club on a Thursday night, but when he first started to make his tapes, he didn’t have a DJ name and the tapes went out nameless, explaining why no one on the estate knew it was him behind the mixtapes. “An old girlfriend told me that I needed to sort myself out with a DJ name, so I did. Though I wasn’t very imaginative with it back then, I just named myself after monitor speakers!” Brian laughs “But I wish I didn’t change the spelling to Monita all those years ago as people keep thinking that I am a Spanish female DJ!”
DJ Monita’s original deck set up from 1991 (Bedroom at his Mum’s house)
In 1991 he organised some ‘studio time’, to put it lightly, with another guy he knew on his estate that had some software on his computer. He took over a handful of records and sat there for 4 hours, trying to sample and loop the drum break from the Rum & Black tune ‘ESQ’. But it just wasn’t working, Brian wasn’t getting anywhere with the session, so he packed up his records and left, feeling dispirited. Not long after a mate of Brian’s (DJ Al of SKEL009) came to his aid and told him about someone he knew in Chiswick who had a proper bedroom studio set up and would be up for engineering some tracks. “This is when I first met K-Rox. He wasn’t into the scene when we first met, he was just into hip hop, but by the end he was certainly converted. Pretty much everything I did with Kianoush ended up being released. He was so proficient. We are still mates now but I don’t see him as much as he lives in Amsterdam. But we are still in contact. The first track we wrote together was ‘System Crashed’. The track took us around 6 hours to make and the reason we called it that was because everything crashed, twice, whilst making it. He was running an Atari ST with Cubase and had this old sampler, a Casio FZ-10M, which had all of 2 seconds sample time! Straight after we did that tune we wrote ‘Love Ta Love Ya’. This was maybe the start of 1992 and I now felt that I really wanted to release them on vinyl, so I made some enquiries as to how to do this. I didn’t want to make just a white label. I wasn’t intending on doing more records, I just wanted to do a release with some artwork, just so I could show people that I achieved something and we would be remembered. So I got a little Skeleton logo drawn up. The original artwork was hand drawn, as that’s how things were done back then. It was kind of half stolen from a car show logo, but we changed and adapted it so it was unique to us. A friend of mine went to a show and took a load of photos and there was this one photo of a car mat that had a design on it. I liked the logo and thought to myself ‘That’s nice, we’re going to have some of that!’”
The ‘System Crashed/Love Ta Love Ya’ 12” (SKEL001) as well as the original release of ‘The Razors Edge/Full Cry’ (SKEL012) both came out on Brian’s newly formed label, Skeleton Recordings, a label that is still going strong today, 29 years later. A very impressive feat indeed. Brian is full of enthusiasm for the label and it’s future plans, buzzing like I expect he was in the formative years. But why Skeleton, what was that all about? Brian fills me in.
“It all started as the guys I was knocking around with back then were all skinny. We were all ravers, if you get what I mean! So due to our physique we were nicknamed The Skeleton Crew locally. The first release on Skeleton Recordings went under the name of The Skeleton Krew as I did it with someone called Pete who was also a graffiti artist known as Grade One. We ended up doing three releases together on the label under that name”
Original Skeleton Krew member – DJ Monita (taken in 1995)
Brian was now fully immersed as a record label owner and took his responsibilities seriously. He used to drive to clubs around London and wait outside for the DJ’s to leave, who were easily noticeable due to their bulging record boxes, a sight not seen in today’s club land. “I would go to Orange at The Hippodrome, amongst other clubs and just wait, sitting in my car patiently, pouncing on anyone leaving who I recognised to be a DJ. I gave copies of SKEL001 to Hype, Nicky Blackmarket and also Seduction. But I was gutted I gave a copy to him as he went and ripped the ‘Luv Ta Luv Ya’ drumbreak for his ‘Sub Dub’ release on Impact Records. I was pretty pissed off about that! I did most things myself back then. The first 3 or 4 releases on Skeleton I sold directly to the record shops myself, sale or return, I had no distribution deal then”.
Enter Steve C aka Steve Conroy into the story. Steve reached out to Brian after noticing that the labels had an Acton phone number on them. A time before mobile phones were common place, as Brian explains “He called me up and said ‘I saw you had an Acton phone number on your labels. I’m not far from you, I am in Chiswick’. He explained that he made music and we agreed for me to go over and meet him at his studio, which was actually not at his place, but at his mate Mark’s house. The studio was called Double Barrel Studios. I listened to the music Steve had written and what he was working on. There was this one tune that he had started which really caught my ear, called ‘Break Free’. I could hear potential in it but felt it needed some tweaking first. We got to work on that tune and recreated it into what became known as ‘Full Cry’. So that was the first track that Steve and I did together, which was early 1994. I still have Steve’s original version on dubplate actually! Not long after we started ‘The Razors Edge’. I wanted to make a flipside for ‘Full Cry’ so we went on a sample quest! They had a BBC sound library CD in the studio which was full of great noises which we used on the tune. There was also a Roland JD-800 in the studio that we also used to make the track. Actually, they had so much gear there, it was amazing. Just loads of stuff! Keyboards leaning up against the walls, unplugged. This was also the first session where I used an Akai sampler. It was an Akai 1000 running Cubase on an Atari ST. The tune just made itself really. We were surrounded by all these proper synths and the ideas just flowed. We were just bouncing off one another. In the track we have a vocal that we took from the Predator movie. It originally said ‘This is his jungle’ but we edited it and made it say ‘This, this is jungle’. Each word was on a different key on the keyboard and we just replayed it in time. These sessions we were all straight, no beers, nothing extra inspiring us. It was a fantastic creative experience. I haven’t heard from Steve for a few years now. After he did the tracks for Skeleton Steve went on and released for Rap’s Proper Talent label as well as having a few releases on Hyper Records”.
The original dubplate of ‘Break Free’ which would later become ‘Full Cry’
After the tracks had been finished Brian took them over to Nico’s No U-Turn studio to have them mastered as he was local. Brian recalls “Going up to the No U-Turn studios was the first time I had been into a professional studio setup. Nico was a proper engineer, a very talented guy. It was amazing to watch him master a track and I remember sitting there in awe watching as he would do live panning on the desk and add live effects on the fly, all during the mastering process. It really was amazing to watch. I then organised to have both tracks cut. I couldn’t remember who did the cut so I actually checked one of the original copies that I still have and saw CBA was mentioned on the run out groove. I did a bit of online hunting and found out they were brokers from the 80’s and 90’s. I don’t remember using a broker, but that must have been the case for this release as I have no memory of organising it myself! Upon collection of the records I dropped the finished copies off to Vinyl Distribution. To be honest, I expected them to go straight out the door, but they didn’t. They just sat on them, which harmed the sales. We usually did 1000-1500 copies per release but for this one we pushed that up to 1800 units because of the amount of times that Danny Bukem was playing ‘Razors’. When Vinyl finally started selling them, they didn’t do the release justice so I went back to Reading and took all the remaining stock off them. I then went back to the old ways of doing things and personally went round all the record shops in London again, dropping copies off on a sale or return basis. I don’t recall throwing any stock away of this release, so I think I probably ended up selling them all!”
If you ever wanted to hear the original version of ‘Full Cry’, or ‘Break Free’ as it was known back then, you need to hunt out a series of mixtapes that Brian put out which ran from April 94 to March 95. The series was called The 12 Chapters, with one ‘chapter’ or mix being released a month. On the Chapter One mix, at 19 minutes and 40 seconds, you will hear the original ‘Break Free’ track. Brian also kindly shared the link with me too: https://www.mixcloud.com/skeletonrecordings/dj-monita-chapter-one-april-1994/
The 12 Chapters mixtape series that ran from April 94 to March 95
Our chat continues way past this release, covering our hip hop backgrounds and some of the old shows we went to in the 80’s. So many of us kids from the 80s ended up growing up on hip hop and electro, which must have inspired us to create music when we got older, utilising the musicality and tempo of the electro scene and coupling it with the breakbeat culture of hip hop. It was a logical progression which so many of us traversed and connects our histories to the direction that we decided upon for our future. It was a real pleasure to chat to Brian, a guy like myself who likes to try to be as meticulous and as passionate about the product he brings to the market as he can. If you don’t already, make sure you support his projects on Skeleton Recordings… a true jungle legacy that continues to thrive.