The Dubster ‘Lighter Shades Of Dark’

the dubster signed black label
the dubster signed black label

The Dubster

Myself and L-Double have known each other since the 90’s but neither of us could remember exactly how we got to be friends. That was until we sat down and had this chat and the memories started to flood back. It was around 1997 when Lee had his radio show ‘The Flex Connextion’ on Kiss 105 and he was also on the mailing list of Main Source, an old PR company which we used once we signed to Polydor and later still when we brought them with us to Moving Shadow. It was run by Rachel H, alongside her team Anton (The Duke as we nicknamed him), Vikas and Klaus (‘Heavyweight’ Hill as he later became know when he started producing great tech breaks tunes around the same time that we as Aquasky started to make breaks). Lee was one of the Main Source key tastemakers for the North as he had a well-respected radio show as well as a much loved D&B label, Flex Records, and of course an accomplished artist and DJ to boot. He was the stalwart of the North, a guy who had been involved with the scene since day dot. So when we as Aquasky were getting great reviews and feedback from Lee, we reached out to him. Again, this was before the internet and AIM was a thing and waaaayyyyy before Whatsapp and Messenger. We didn’t even have a mobile phone until late 1996 and that was just a single phone that we use to share between the three of us! I am pretty sure we must have just started sending him records and DATs directly. Who knows!!! The 90’s are a bit of a haze at times!

But this project isn’t an L-Double project, this was under an alias that he had, The Dubster. I am always curious how aliases come about. Some have a significant meaning, others were throwaway names. I remember myself and Kieron (Aquasky) did a project with Ben Blackshore (Appaloosa) around 1996 and we didn’t have a name for it. Ben had some Top Trump cards or something in his studio. We were probably a bit red-eyed and decided to find our artist name from this pack of cards. We saw one answer written on a card – Skin Divers – and thought ‘Yeah, that’ll do’. And that was it, we rolled with it. But Lee’s alias is far more interesting than one of ours – “The first time I was called The Dubster was by old mates of mine who were part of the  rap crew Deighton Task Force or DTF for short. Around this time the rapper Chubb Rock (he of ‘Treat Em Right’ fame) was calling himself The Chubster. We were massively into hip hop during the 80’s and we were hugely inspired by Marley Marl and how he put together the Juice Crew, a talented team of rappers, and we had our own crew of rappers, producers and DJ’s. So the guys started calling me The Dubster, a play on my original artist name L-Double”. Now I was even more curious about how he got his original name, L-Double. Once he explained to me it became obvious and I was surprised I hadn’t worked it out myself. It’s a great play on words, but Ill let Lee explain himself “When we started in the rap game, I was using ‘L Double E’ as my name is Lee. It wasn’t long before the E part of it was dropped and I became known as L-Double. And the name stuck from my youth in hip hop and throughout my career in drum and bass and jungle”. See what I mean? It makes perfect sense now.

The Dubster

DJ Trix and L Double performing in Switzerland on the DMC Tour – 1991

“From 1989 to 1991 I was in the rap crew DTF, or DTF All-Stars as we called ourselves. We were all from Deighton, which is just outside of Huddersfield. We did one release together which came out on a white label in 1990 called ‘The Neighbourhood’ which is now hailed as one of the top 10 early UK rap releases and clean copies can change hands for over £50. We did a few live shows back in the day and even supported Adeva and Monie Love on tour. Originally I produced, rapped and was the DJ, laying down the cuts. But we were later joined by DJ Trix, who was a two times UK DMC DJ finalist. So by the point we weren’t playing around! Trix was also the 1989 European DMC Champion and had made huge International connections, so we would go on DMC tours with him around Europe in 1990, hitting countries like France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. Those were great times” Lee enlightens me, continuing “I left my first job when I was 17. It was a YTS job and I was on £26.50 a week. I was asked by Trix to go on tour with him, it was with DMC and they were paying me £150 a show and there were 10 shows lined up. This was massive money to me. Massive. So I asked my work if I could have some time off to go on tour and they said no! So I just left”.

“By the early 90’s I had seen everyone there was to see from the US rap scene at Rock City in Nottingham. I was still working with Trix and by this point he was out hitting the techno clubs so I would join him. This was when I first heard rave. But I was a hip hop man, let’s be clear, I was big into hip hop. In the area there were little raves happening, I had already experimented with other styles beyond hip hop. I got into the hip house thing around the late 80’s. I got into that via Chicago house. So by this point I was already mixing house with hip hop”. Lee elaborates. I too remember this era well. Around 1987 a kid joined my school in Lymington and I remember walking past this new kid in science class and he was graffing up his school book. Being into graffiti myself, we bonded. The kids name was Tim Wallis and he had just moved down from St. Albans in Hertfordshire and his brothers still lived in the area and a year or so later they were doing radio shows where they would mix hip hop with early house. Tim was given cassette tapes of their shows and it was the first time I had heard anyone blending these genres and it really appealed to me being I was an electro kid originally. Anyway, Lee, you were saying mate “When I started hitting the raves with Trix I was really drawn in by the breakbeats being used in certain track., We had all the records that they were sampling. I felt that we could do our take on this, we could make this music. So the first thing I did was the ‘Armshouse’ EP which came out as L-Double and released on the self-funded Velocite label I set up. That was done using an Akai 950 at home and the Hudawi Studio in Huddersfield. We branched out with the hip hop tracks and recorded them in Birkenhead at the Bassheads Studios where I worked with many great DJ’s and producers during the timeline of recording the DTF tracks”.

The Dubster

L-R: DBO, L Double and DJ D. Ranks – Huddersfield 1994

It wasn’t long before Lee started to work with Unique 3 in Bradford, which was 9 miles up the road from where he was living. They knew each other from the hip hop days and linked up as there wasn’t that many people into making hip hop around the area back then. They attended similar clubs had attempted events and they all bonded over their common love of this new underground music. The local home of the music early on was a club in Bradford called Checkpoint which was a venue where you could listen to proper Chicago tracks on a reggae sound system on a Sunday night. Everyone made a trip to this club; Unique 3, Ital Rockers, Nightmares on Wax – “Local Godfathers” Lee tells me.  But this isn’t the only memory that Lee has of this night “I met my wife there and I can remember that Ital Rockers were playing when we first met” he explains proudly. What a great memory to have.

There really was a very vibrant scene around West Yorkshire back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and so much great talent came from this area that made a huge impact on the UK dance music scene. And from I hear from Lee, some pretty amazing clubs too “There were many blues parties in the area back then. A blues party is like a house party type vibe, not a conventional club environment and quite a small crowd. I remember this one place, think it was a Doc Scott night, (see flyer) where we had to actually walk through a shop and down into a basement. It held about 150 people and was licensed to sell booze. There was just peace and love going on. That E thing”.

The Dubster

Flyer from the Renx Club in Huddersfield – also known as a ‘Blues Club’. Circa 1991

So with all of this history and all these local connections and luminaries, it wasn’t long before things started to move forward for Lee within the music industry. Being a friend of Edzy from Unique 3 certainly helped Lee’s progression within the industry as he informs me “Edzy could open doors, more doors than we could within the industry. Back then, up North, being a white guy, certainly helped with career progression. It was harder for us boys. Edzy was a visionary, he was always working on various plans and we were more than happy for him to rep us. He was a top guy. And I eventually set up my studio within the Unique 3 studio complex in Bradford which was called Tri-Mills. One of Edzy’s connections was a well respected visual artist called Koot, he drew the housebags that were used on the early releases”.

This bring me nicely on to something a little bit special we have sorted for The Dubster release. Lee is right, the housebags that this guy had done for No Noise Recordings, the label that originally released Lee’s ‘Lighter Shades Of Dark’ EP are bloody awesome! So awesome in fact that we have decided to get them remade for the inner sleeves of this repress. But to do that we needed to find the original artwork. Thankfully I have known Edzy for a good few years now so I reached out to him and asked if he could help which he very kindly did. He had a framed original print of the actual artwork which he scanned for us and we got it remade. Koot was a good mate of Edzy’s and this was his only foray into dance music as he was famed for designing hardcore punk sleeves, most notably the ‘warring skulls’ design he did for The Exploited album cover for ‘Fuck The System’ in the early 2000’s. The No-Noise artwork depicts many images including some barred up windows which Lee explains to me the story behind “Koot  came by our RAID Studios where we were recording at the time. He was a renowned line art cartoonist. He came by a few times to draw it all. Anyway, the studio was an obvious target for people due to the equipment we had in there, so we had bars up on the windows to try and stop people breaking in. He was struck by those and decided to incorporate them into his artwork. The guy was an incredible talent who went on to became a sort after artist. We were blessed to have him do the piece for us. Great call Edzy!”

The Dubster

The recreated No-Noise Recordings housebag

Lee continues “The ‘Lighter Shades Of Dark’ EP was started at the RAID studios in Huddersfield. But during the making of the EP I moved to my studio to Bradford as I had started a distribution company called Wax Works which was based in Bradford. I did the distro in the day and worked at night on music. We did 1000 units and they all sold. I use to swap spare stock and whites labels with DJ SS too. I would take what he had and then I would put them into my distribution company and help sell them for him. I covered all around Yorkshire, down to Nottingham, but I also drove up to the borders of Scotland, visiting all the record shops, leaving records with them on sale or return. We were seriously spreading the word, looking back we were running things up here!”

The Dubster

The RAID studio in Huddersfield – 1994

As always with this interviews I like to find out more about the equipment that was used to produce these great classics and Lee can recall a fair amount of the military grade hardware that he was in control of “We had the Akai’s, a 950 and a 1000, and were using an Atari Mega 4 as the workhorse, running Logic. There was a Roland Jupiter 8, a Roland Juno 106 and Ensoniq ESQ-1 keyboards. We also had a Roland JX-8P, a Kawai K1 and a Korg 05R/W rack mounted synth which were all channeled through a classic Soundtracs Topaz mixing desk”.

As is always the way with these interviews, I am fascinated how these collectable vinyl releases came about and what inspired the producers. And also how similar all their (and my own) stories are. Back then we were making it up as we went along, but in hindsight, it seems it was all a very logical progression.

The Dubster is back with them lighter shades of dark!

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