X-Plode – First Of Many / Watch This Go EP

VFS018

Originally released on a self funded white label, 1993.

At the start of the 1980’s X-Plode’s dad had a second-hand colour TV business in Bolton, Lancashire where he would buy, sell, repair and trade TVs. He would come back home with all kinds of things he had traded for a TV but the most memorable, to a 10 year old kid at that time, were the keyboards. He use to watch his dad play songs from the 1960’s on these keyboards and when his dad had gone out, Lee X-Plode would sneak on them and start messing about, experimenting with the drum programs and fiddling with the buttons, trying out ideas. He had to move fast though because these keyboards didn’t stay in the house for long as his dad would trade them again for something else; one time that was an old analogue echo chamber, which Lee also messed about with when his dad was out. That echo chamber was a revelation to Lee and opened up the possibilities of what was possible with sound. So by the time Lee was 16, he decided he wanted his own keyboard and started saving. When his 17th birthday came around he had saved up £200 and visited his local Argos where he bought himself a Yamaha PSS 680, an FM synthesizer with memory banks and a basic drum machine incorporated. ‘It was shit quality like, but I didn’t mind. I just wanted it for the programmable drum machine, the synth and the memory banks that came with it” Lee recalls. The year was 1987 and by this time in Lee’s life he was into reggae and hip hop, the latter he first embraced in 1983 by the way of breakdancing and listening to electro, so all he wanted to do when he got his gear was make reggae and electro sounding beats. Recalling his youth and the fun he had with the echo chamber, the next edition to his home set up was to acquire one of those, which he did via a mate of his. But by the time he got his minimal set up sorted in 1988, his musical tastes had changed. House music had landed here in UK and this was Lee’s new passion, so from that point on wards he started experimenting, trying to nail a decent house groove. ‘I wanted 808 sounds, but I didn’t know what one was!’ Lee explains.

Around late 1990 or early 1991, Lee started to improve upon his set up, purchasing an Atari STE, a Cheetah MS6 , a 6 voice polyphonic/multi-timbre analogue rack mounted synth that linked up to his Yamaha – “It wasn’t a great bit of kit, I kept getting electric shocks from it. Eventually it just blew up!” Lee had acquired a cracked copy of Cubase on floppy disk from his local computer game shop but struggled with it. “It was so complicated to understand and took me ages to get used to it. I was stoned a lot back then and I just couldn’t concentrate on anything for long” Lee laughs, continuing “I also picked up a 4 channel sampler/sequencer which plugged into the side of the Atari and that’s when I first started sampling, I think this would have been late 1991. I had the Simon Harris ‘Breaks, Beats and Scratches’ vinyl that he put out on Music for Life which were a godsend back then. I was also sampling a lot from cassette tapes, especially reggae. I would also record the Stu Allan show on Key 103FM, one of the main stations broadcasting out of Manchester. He would do a 3 hour show with hip hop and house, and then hardcore house came along. Eventually he dropped the hip hop altogether and it was just house and hardcore. I recorded the shows onto cassette most weeks and started to learn more about how house and hardcore was put together by listening to those shows.”

X-plode

Lee X-Plode in his bedroom studio – Bolton, Lancashire 1993.

By the end of 1991 Lee had developed a unique way to formulate his tracks, and so far during this journey of interviewing artists and finding out their stories, I have only spoken to one other person who did things this way. As a producer myself, I was quite intrigued to hear of this method. It would involve Lee mapping out the tracks he wanted to make using a pen and paper, formatting the tune, adding a fill here, a chopped up beat there, delay onto a certain sound. It conjures up in my head an image of a nutty professor, with the contents of his mind being blurted out onto sheets of paper. And again, being a producer myself who knows lots of producers, we do kind of fit that description at times! Once Lee had a track concept down on paper, he would then start building the tune, maximising his 4 track output the best way he could – “I used to create a beat using 4 tracks, bass drum on one track, snare on the other, hats on another, that kind of thing. When I had built a decent beat up, I would then bounce it down onto cassette tape. Then I would repeat the process for the bassline, the sound effects, that kind of thing, till I had a track made up that could run out of the 4 channels that the sequencer provided. So the first tune I made was ‘First Of Many’ and I decided upon that name as I was full of ideas and had this vision of churning out the tunes, so basically my first track was hopefully the first of many!

Due to the limitations that his equipment created, Lee knew the tracks he had written weren’t finished so he spent a few days phoning around as many studios he could in the Manchester area until he found one he could afford, a studio called Beats Working, run by a guy called Mark Cooper. Lee believes the hourly rate was something like £20.00. As it goes, Mark was a bit of a name in his own right, being part of a group called Control who had a hit with a tune called ‘I’m Your Ecstasy’. The royalties from that track helped Mark build his studio and continue his passion of making music. Lee expands “As I was working to a tight budget I needed to finish the tunes off quickly and both ‘First Of Many’ and ‘Watch This Go’ were done in 5 hours each over two sessions. I took to the studio all the samples and beats I needed on a metal cassette tape. I had also already planned the basics of the track from start to finish on a piece of paper and I explained to Mark how I wanted the track to go. We got the samples loaded into the Akai’s in the studio and then got to work on the riffs and bassline, where I got to play several of the keyboards in the studio which was mind blowing for me, but I was whizzing through everything, trying to save as much time and money as possible! Then the remixes, which appear on the finished EP, were both done in one afternoon. It’s amazing what you can get done when you really have to!” Lee tells me, continuing “Mark then told me he was getting a white label of his own made up down in London and was driving down there in a few weeks and would I be interested in getting my tunes pressed up. He even offered to drive back up to Manchester with the records for me. I was 100% interested and had to find the money to make this happen and I think I borrowed the money from my Mum and Dad, but I can’t be sure as I was always stoned, so I can’t actually remember! But I do remember that I ordered 1000 records but the pressing plant over pressed so I ended up with around 1100 of them and it cost me about £1100. Mark asked me what catalogue number I wanted for my record but I didn’t know what a catalogue number was, so once that was explained to me, we decided upon BW LEE 1, BW for the name of Mark’s studio, Beats Working, Lee as that’s my name and 1 because, well, this was my first record!”

I wanted to find out more about the recording sessions and the studio equipment used to make the tracks, which Lee answers in a very open and honest way – “I would take an E and some whizz before I went into the sessions with Mark so I could get the work done as quick as possible and feel the music better. I’m not sure if Mark was aware of this or not! I would also go outside of his studio a good few times, which was in a shed in his garden, and smoke weed, before returning back into the session. So I was buzzing! Mark had a Korg M1, Juno 106, some famous Casio keyboard that I can’t remember, Akai samplers, a Tascam DAT machine and a 16 track Studiomaster desk as well as a lot of other brilliant equipment, effects and keyboards that I also can’t remember! I learned a lot from those studio visits, and Mark was a really top guy, very easy to get along with, and very knowledgeable about music”.

Lee at home with a copy of his first record, 1993.

Once the records were pressed and brought back up to Manchester, Lee took them home and stored them at his parents’ house. He didn’t know what to do with them as everything had happened so fast, so he took out an advert in the back of Computer Music, offering his records for sale for £4.00 including postage and packing.(I have tried to locate this advert to add to this story but haven’t had any success but according to Lee this would have been late 1993/early 1994, so if anyone out there reading this has a stash of Computer Music magazines at home, please have a look and send me and Lee a scan of it). Lee elaborates “Before I had started to sell them I had given away about 150 to friends and the like. So with the help of the advert they were trickling out slowly but I still had a load and I didn’t have a clue what to do with them so i called Mark and asked his advice. He told me to contact distribution companies, something I had never heard of before, so I got the contact details for Mo’s Music and Amaco Distribution. I decided to send each one a copy of the record, and a little hand typed letter that I did on a typewriter, which had my contact details, a little note to the recipient and also the price i was looking for, added in biro which said ‘500 copies, selling for £1 each’. I wasn’t asking much for the records as it wasn’t really about making any money, I just wanted to get my record out there and move up the ladder. I signed the bottom of the letter as well, to make it look professional”. NB: Through chatting to Daniel Silk about something unrelated, he told me that one of his mates, Glyn Roberts, had an original copy of the record and by chance had this actual note in his record, who very kindly scanned it for us. There were only 5 notes made and sent out so it’s amazing that we were able to locate a copy for this project.

The note that Lee sent to the distribution companies back in 1993. A copy of this note will come with every X-Plode record bought via Kickstarter.

Lee continues the story – “So I was at home one evening after work and the house phone gets a call and my Mum answers, handing the phone to me saying it’s about my record. There was a lady on the end of the phone asking ‘Is that Lee?’ I confirmed that I was and she went on to say her name was Dion and she worked for Mo’s Music Machine and wanted to take 500 records sale or return. To start with I thought it was one of my mates messing about, but I could hear the record playing in the background as she spoke, so I quickly agreed the deal. She ended up paying me more than £1 each, not sure how much, but I think it was more like £2 or £3 each.My parents were happy that the records would finally be gone from their house! Though it did take a good year to sell most of them! I was visiting local shops, dropping off copies sale or return. I ended up with probably a couple of hundred left over which I just binned!!!”

I was really interested to find out why Lee didn’t follow up this release with more material. The 12” was well produced and really creative for that era of music. As a producer myself, I could hear in the music the level of talent and creativity that was behind it and was intrigued why he hadn’t carried on involving himself into a scene he had a natural flair for? “I was working full-time as well as being around women and of course stoned a lot. To be honest I had a problem, I was going out a lot, getting mashed, and was more interested in having a buzz than making serious music. It was such a great time to be young. I wasn’t being stupid or anything, like nicking cars or getting involved in crazy stuff, I just wanted to be in another world all the time. Things were just so good back then that I wanted to make the most of those top years and being young. 1994 came about and i just carried on partying. That’s pretty much why there were never any more records! I also believed I could do better than my first release so for some mad reason I binned all the disks for those tunes!”

Twenty five plus years later and Lee decided to look up the record he had released when he was just a teenager, as he was curious if anyone remembered it, and if it was being sold anywhere online. He found his way onto Discogs and was blown away to find that copies of it were selling up to £250. Lee adds “I remember thinking to myself after I found that out ‘Well, it must have been alright then!”

X-plode

Lee X-Plode with his original Yamaha PSS 680 – Bolton, Lancashire, 2020.

With that little bit of a confidence boost, Lee decided he should get back into producing again and built himself a small home studio, where he has been creating some amazing old school tune and acid tracks. He thought about all the records he had thrown away back then and how much they would be worth now and how he had also thrown away his DAT’s and disks, another one of those mad things he did when he was young. He started to think about a repress but without the DAT he would struggle. So he then decided to hunt down Mark, the original engineer. With the help of Facebook Lee managed to track down Tameka, the singer of the band that Mark was in back then. Tameka still knew Mark and she reached out to him and asked if a DAT still existed and due to Mark’s professionalism, a master DAT was still in his possession. So Lee travelled to see Mark again who had since moved from Manchester and was now living not so far away. Thankfully Mark had kept the DAT safe for all these years and happily recorded the tunes for Lee.

I had one last question for Lee before we wrapped up our chat “Where did the name X-Plode come from?” “I was looking for a name that described my music. It needed to be something easy to remember, preferably one word, so I flicked through a dictionary and Explode came up. It just sounded right for my music and I decided to knock the E off the front in case other musicians were using the name and X-Plode was born!” Lee concludes.

Moving ahead a year into 2019 and I am having a chat with Andy Shelton from the awesome Facebook page Hardcore Vinylists (if you are not a member yet I recommend that you join the page as its a hub of knowledge and helpful people who love this era of music) and this record comes up in our chat as I was keen to track Lee down to talk about a repress. There happened to be a thread a while ago about this very release where Lee had been tagged into it. So Andy sent me Lee’s contact details and I sent him a message. After a long wait, Lee got back to me. He doesn’t really do social media, hence the long wait for a reply. After a bit of a chat, we decided to team up and make this repress a reality. But that is not all. Lee started to send me the tracks he had been writing over the past few years. Some were tunes that he had made in the late 90’s during a brief spell back then when he got a studio together, others were more recent creations. I was very impressed with what he was making, how original and raw they sounded and I hope to share some of them with you on Vinyl Fanatiks in the future. Lee loves his old school, he still feels it was the best era of his life and he also has another interest… he collects videos of old school raves and has a monstrous digital collection of footage of raves up and down the country from back then. It’s a way for him to go back to that era and feel that vibe again. Well, that and also making some absolute old school belters! X-Plode – it’s the first of many!

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