Fabio interview: Return of the original ravers

Mark Dale caught up with Fabio to discuss the early rave scene, his musical ventures with Grooverider and classic breaks and basslines.

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 25th Jan 2016.
Originally published: 20th Jan 2016

Image: Fabio

If you're from the South of England, Fabio and Grooverider are the original DJs of the nineties rave era, as important to the early explosion of dance music in the UK as The Hacienda or Sasha were to dancers in the north. If you are from the north, then the duo still hold a hugely significant status as godfathers of the UK drum n' bass movement. 

Their championing of breakbeat rave music in the early nineties at large events and a fundamental residency, Rage, held at Heaven, paved the way for jungle then drum n' bass to become one of the best loved and longest lasting of unique, British dance music sub genres.

The pair not only pioneered the sound but were also its most visible representatives, not least through the years 1998 - 2012 when they fronted the UK's most popular drum n' bass radio show on Radio One.

 

FABIO & GROOVERIDER @ KISS FM - 15/04/15 by Geist on Mixcloud

 

They started as DJs playing soul, funk and hip hop in the 1980s and fronted separate shows on pirate radio station Phase One before moving to Kiss FM (listen to a show above).

In addition to their radio careers and the aforementioned Rage residency the pair have contributed to drum n' bass's back catalogue, Grooverider as a recording artist and via his Prototype label and Fabio via his Creative Source label. Fabio is also associated with the founding of the term liquid funk, a specific style of drum n' bass.

We caught up with Fabio to ask about the duo's early days, the fundamentals of the music they love and their unwavering passion for drum n' bass.

I know that Grooverider started off playing soul and funk in the eighties prior to moving to playing house music. What music were you playing when you first started to DJ?

We both did. In those days you didn't have a lot of option if you wanted to be a dance DJ. We both started off playing soul, funk, jazz, rare groove, early hip hop. At the time that was the natural thing to do. Nowadays young DJs play house, techno, drum n' bass, dubstep, but in our day that was our dance music. Disco too. If you were from that era, that's what you played. 

Do you remember specifically when house music started to come in to that mix?

Oh yeah. It would have been 87/88 for me. We used to go record shopping a lot and I remember going to Red Records in Brixton, which was a really big, well known record shop in 87 and a good friend of mine, Derek, asked if I'd heard these tunes. It was some really early house. One of them was Fingers Inc. Mysteries Of Love.

I thought, "this is different, but I like it" and I ended up buying it, not really thinking anything more about it, other than it was a bit different. It grew on me after I'd taken it home, so I went back and told him and he said, "I've got a few more tunes coming in of that style".

So every time I went down, as well as the hip hop which is what I was buying primarily, he'd give me some records on Trax. By 1988 clubs were opening that were playing it and things began getting serious with it, but before then, if you'd have told me that this music was going to take over the world I would've said no chance! But 30 years later it's a worldwide phenomena.

Did these early house tracks just sit at home? Were you collecting them or did you try and fit them in to the eclectic mix you were already playing?

At first it was just a collecting thing, but the more I got of them, I thought, "why not try these tracks out?" It never really used to work. People didn't really get it. I always remember a good friend of mine Colin Dale, the techno DJ, in 87 he played at a funk club alongside two guys who are now very well known house DJs.

Colin would always play the last set and his last two records would always be house tracks. They actually sacked him from his job because he was playing house music. The promoters asked him not to play it, they didn't want to hear it, it was a funk club. But he persisted and they threw him out. So, I was wary of slipping any in, but little by little you started to get a reaction on the dancefloor and it started to work. 

Do you remember was there a difference in the audiences from playing soul and funk to the ones that were dancing to house music?

Oh yeah, a massive difference. Drugs. Drugs changed everything. Let's be real about it, before 1987 there was no ecstasy and ecstasy changed everything.

At discos in the eighties you never used to get everyone dancing. You used to get dancers. At a soul and funk club you would have proper funk dancers and they would take the floor, the really good dancers. Everyone else would just sit around and watch them or socialise. They would dance, but kinda dancing on the spot, not really venturing onto the dancefloor.

Drugs changed all that. People can say what they want but that's the truth. I remember going to Spectrum with Grooverider, the first house night I ever went to, going through the door and we were in complete disbelief at the crowd and they way they were reacting to the music.

We'd never seen anything like that before. We were completely sober, hadn't even had a drink and were just dumbfounded. It felt like an hour until we actually spoke to one another, we were aghast. We'd been going to clubs for years but we'd never seen anything like that. 

Can you remember the transition from playing US originating house to music to a UK sound that was associated with the term rave in the early nineties? 

Yeah, interesting that, because all of the house tracks were American, everything was American, except for a few Balearic tracks. That Balearic stuff was more of an Ibiza vibe, sometimes with guitars. It wasn't as raw or as dance-y.... difficult to explain, sometimes more ambient, more trippy, an afterhours kinda vibe.

A Guy Called Gerald 'Voodoo Ray' was the first track from an English person that sounded authentic. When I found out it was a guy from Manchester who'd made that I was in disbelief. No way had a guy from England made this tune. By 90/91 you started to get stuff coming from Europe, techno mostly, from Belgium, Germany. That marked a change.

The stuff from Europe was sometimes even more raw than the American stuff. America's always had a history of making very polished music, going back to Motown, even back to Elvis. Some of the house music coming from New York was polished like that, meticulously made, but the European stuff could be off, the beats could be off.

Early jungle some of the beats are all over the place, they weren't in time at all. But it was cool, no one cared, it was a bit more raw. That's why I think it took off. As much as everyone loved house, the rawness of this stuff coming from Belgium and London had an energy that the kids loved. Even today it's the same, when you're young you want to party hard. 

You mentioned Colin Dale. It's interesting that a lot of your early contemporaries such as Colin Faver, Colin Dale and Dave Angel progressed towards playing a harder 4/4 sound techno - but you two progressed to playing breakbeat music. Was the difference in your styles evident back in the time you were contemporaries? Why do you think they ended up going one way and you two another? 

We started on the same radio station as Dave Angel, which was a station called Phase 1. We never really knew each other, we were just starting out. The biggest thing that happened was that we started playing at Rage, on a Thursday night at Heaven.

We were experimenting with all types of sounds and we were just more drawn to the urban sounds of jungle. We got a lot of appreciation for starting to play jungle before anyone else. We were very quick on it. Some people say we invented it. That's questionable, but we were early on it and I can't remember anyone playing it before us. 

When we were playing it we saw a different reaction on the dancefloor and we started to get a following because we were playing it.

Colin Faver's my favourite DJ of all time. He was always a purist, he never would've played jungle. Not because he disliked it, but just because he was set in his own ways, he'd only play what he really liked. Colin Dale got me into the whole dance music thing and he loved jungle, but again he was a purist and his heart was really in house music.

I remember speaking to Dave Angel and he actually made a couple of drum n' bass style tracks, so he liked it, but over time he stuck to his guns. But you had other people like Carl Cox and Matthew 'Bushwacka' B who were different because they did start to play it.

We used to do a lot of gigs with both Carl and Matthew, but I remember the time Matthew saying he wasn't really feeling the breaks stuff anymore and he was going to continue with house. Carl was a hardcore DJ, he would play a lot of the stuff we were playing in 92, early hardcore, then Prodigy stuff.

I remember playing at Dreamscape and Carl came off the decks and Groove went on after him and just smashed it. Groove was the dubplate king. He would get tunes that no one else used to get and was acknowledged as such. Nobody knew where he would be getting them from.

Me and Carl sat down, listening to him and he was playing all these new tracks that had come from people like Goldie, Rob Playford that nobody had ever heard and Carl said, "you know what, I'm gonna stop playing this music, if I can't get the tunes there's no point. I'm gonna carry on playing techno."

"Fair enough," I thought and, true to his word, that was the last real rave that he played at and since then he's pursued techno to the point he's become one of the biggest DJs in the world. Me and Groove, because we were really building something at Rage, taking jungle when it was in its infancy and running with it, I think that why we stuck with it.

When Skiddle spoke to Sasha towards the end of last year he told me that in the early nineties Fabio and Grooverider ruled the rave sound of London and the surrounding areas and that you had a very different sound to the rave sound that was occurring up north at places like his Shelley's residency and raves around Blackburn and Burnley.

Did you ever encounter that northern rave scene in that time and if so, what were your impressions of how different the music was in the north compared to the south?

We only encountered it a little bit really, not much. At a point we were still playing a bit of everything, we were aware of Italian house.

We played at Quadrant Park one night I remember, we started at 7am. We'd come up from Birmingham and it was different. We used to play Shelley's in Stoke with Sasha. He used to demolish it in there. That's where the split started really, when he started to progress to playing what would eventually become known as progressive house.

We weren't into that sound so much. It just felt like watered down house and techno, it didn't have enough punch for me. But when we played at Quadrant Park we were told to play more Italian house style, stuff with pianos, and we did. It was an amazing night. But it was different.

In and around Manchester and Liverpool they weren't really into the hardcore stuff. They were in Birmingham. Birmingham was the first place outside of London that took to jungle. But the further up north you got, Stoke and Mansfield, where we used to play quite a lot, those were really house-y places.

I wanted to ask you a bit about the interplay between the American and British scenes when the rave phenomenon started. The Reese bassline was originated by Kevin Saunderson, one of Detroit techno's innovators.

Some of his early nineties tracks were written in direct response to this rave scene that was happening in the UK. The UK picked up on that bassline and ran with it, the Reese bassline getting a whole new lease of life in the hands of UK producers. What's your favourite UK use of that bassline?

Yeah, the Reese bassline was like the go to bassline for a while in the nineties. So many tracks had it in it. At one stage it got a bit tedious because every track would have the Reese bassline in it. It came from a track called 'Just Another Chance' by Kevin under the name Reese.

He used to come to Rage every week when he was in the UK. It was a massive influence on the way he was making music. I remember him bringing Derrick May down one time, who was much more into the house thing. He never really changed that throughout.

There were a couple of tracks maybe, one called 'Drama', where he seemed to embrace more of a rave feel, but nothing like Kevin Saunderson. He was sold on the whole thing. He brought MK down there when he was 16 and Joey Beltram too. Joey Beltram gave us 'Energy Flash' on dubplate when he came down.

Kevin Saunderson would tell you how much Rage was an influence. His stuff changed completely, it went really ravey for a while. He got a lot of stick from the techno boys, the crew in Detroit who he'd grown up with, people like Blake Baxter. He was so enamoured with it that I think even to this day Grooverider is the only British guy who's been to their hallowed studio in Detroit and made a tune with them.

Kevin flew him out to Detroit, he did a remix of a Saunderson track called Up Tempo, did the mixdown in their studio, met Juan Atkins and all of them. That was purely because Kevin loved Rage so much. 

My favourite? That's a good question. To be honest there were so many of them you hardly remember them! The one I remember more than anything else is 'Terrorist' by Ray Keith. I can't remember 98% of those Reese bassline tracks, there were so many, but that one really took off. 

Another essential ingredient of UK dance music subgenres was the Amen break. Hip hop music was the first to use the Amen break, but would you agree that it was in drum n bass music that the Amen break received its most creative uses?

Yeah, that's undeniable. Amen break was used in hip hop but it was unrecognisable because they didn't speed it up like in jungle. They did use it, but they used the 'Funky Drummer' break a lot more, or the 'Hot Pants' break, both James Brown records. It's made for dance music that Amen break, it's so powerful. It's made to be chopped to pieces. It's euphoric, the most unique break of all time. It's nice to know they're finally getting paid for it!

I remember doing a piece for Radio 2 about the Amen break and how it has an almost religious element to it. It is the most exciting of all breaks. If you've got a track that needs a bit of oompf, you put the Amen break in it and it will work. Any producer will tell you that. If you need any track to sound more dynamic the Amen break will do it. You can chop it into a million different pieces, it's amazing.

I remember playing a night called Rupture, an underground drum n' bass party in London that's got the most insane following. There are people who go there who just won't go to any other drum n' bass night and they just play Amen all night! The whole night, that one Amen break! I didn't know just how extreme it was until I got in there.

They've got three rooms in there and every room is Amen break! People go insane there, I've never really seen anything like it before. It's really something to behold. I think it's associated with drum n' bass now more than any other genre. Still to this day, if I get sent 20 tunes, at least five of them will have the Amen break in it. 

After hearing it so many times, what are your stand out moments for the Amen break?

There's a track called 'Fade 2 Black' by Lemon D and there's one called 'Spacefunk' by Digital. Those two tracks are my favourite Amen tracks of all time. They used it in the right way, not over done.

'Fade 2 Black', Andy C still plays. I'm sure you could put that on in a pure house club in Ibiza and everyone would go nuts. The bassline is killer and you can't really see the Amen coming, but when it drops it's killer. 

You both have a knowledge and love of many different styles of music. Did you ever feel restricted during your time on the radio for the BBC in terms of only being able to express what music you like within the genre of drum n' bass? It seems to be a new era there now with their DJs being given a lot more free reign.

No, I was more than happy playing drum n' bass there because it was the outlet for the music I loved. Yeah, I love house, but I love drum n' bass more than anything else. And it was our baby, me and Groove, it was like our child.

We championed it in its infancy, we saw it grow. So, I was more than happy to be playing it. There were so many new drum n' bass tunes every week, I never felt restricted in the slightest, not at any point. I was proud to represent it.

I think the changes now are because music has become more like when we first started. I've got a flyer that's got me, Groove, Paul 'Trouble' Anderson, Soul II Soul and Public Enemy all in the same room. It used to be like that in the rave days. At the end of your set you could play 'Keep On Movin' by Soul II Soul or some Balearic track, there wasn't that strict genre thing.

It was all dance music and it was all under one roof. I think it's gone back to that now, I think the kids are a lot more open-minded than they were five or ten years ago. Now you can get people who are not drum n' bass heads who can handle ten minutes of it in the middle of someone's set.

Now, if you went to a Radio 1 weekender most of the DJs would be playing a mash up set, little bit of EDM, some dubstep, some drum n' bass. I think that's a very acceptable sound that students want, a bit of everything but not too much of one thing all night.

Having said that, drum n' bass is thriving. There are still drum n' bass specific nights at places like Fabric that are rammed. I think drum n' bass has become more acceptable now. Six or seven years ago you would never have heard a drum n' bass tune in a West End nightclub (my girlfriend DJs in the West End), never in a million years. Everyone would have run out the club! These days you could drop two or three tracks and people would be into it. 

A few weeks ago I was watching Sports Personality Of The Year and I don't know if the producer was a drum n' bass DJ, but the whole backing track was drum n' bass.

All the tunes they had for links were things like Simon Bassline Smith, Matrix, Futurebound, the only live act they had on was Sigma. I sat back and just thought "wow!" It's really become acceptable. That never would have happened five years ago. Thinking about the significance of that, it's massive for drum n bass. 

I think me and Groove have been doing it for so long now that people are more aware these days of what we've done, what we can do, so I do get a lot more opportunities to play other music these days. This past year especially I've been asked to play a lot of eclectic sets and I'm really happy with that.

I've played funk, soul and house sets, I even played a reggae set alongside Daddy G from Massive Attack. That was one of the most memorable gigs of last year. I love playing drum n' bass but it is nice to go back and play stuff that you grew up listening to. I'm really happy where I am as a DJ at the moment, and I have a lot of fun playing other genres.

Fabio heads to the Hare & Hounds in Birmingham for the Circles and Swerve Valentines party on Saturday 13th February.

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