Slipmatt interview: The enduring appeal of old skool

Mike Warburton spoke to Slipmatt about the glory years of rave culture and the continual relevance of old skool.

Mike Warburton

Date published: 11th Feb 2015

Image: Slipmatt at Bestival

After buying a pair of turntables back in the mid eighties, Slipmatt, real name Matthew Nelson went on to first DJ hip hop and house before quickly finding his calling on the rave front.

His own pirate radio station Raw FM soon followed, as did a pivotal collaboration with DJ Lime, forming SL2, one of the acts that brought rave music to the attention of the masses via hits like 'DJs Take Control' and the ubiquitous smash 'On A Ragga Tip' (below).

From very early on, it was clear Slipmatt knew exactly what it took as a DJ and producer to get ravers whipped into a frenzy, seeing him regularly headline legendary raves like Perception, Vision, Fantazia, Universe, World Dance, Dreamscape, Helter Skelter, Slammin’ Vinyl, Hardcore Heaven and a lot more, eventually earning him the title 'Godfather Of Rave'.

His frenetic, highly masterful DJing, cutting and scratching through the golden era of rave music sees him in continued demand, mixing CDs for the likes of Ministry of Sound and keeping the mindset and philosophy of old skool rave culture alive and well.

Ahead of his appearance in Manchester for The Time Machine on March 20th, we grabbed a few minutes with Slipmatt to get his take on the importance of old skool, his advice for new DJs, and the responsibilities that come with the title 'Godfather Of Rave'.

Hello! Thanks for chatting to us. How was 2014 for you? Any highlights that you can tell us about?

2014 was one of my best years so far. Highlights started very early in the year playing literally straight after The Prodigy at The London O2 Arena between 1.30 -2.30am on 1st January to 20,000 people. It was so nice just to be asked by my old label mates, but the whole gig was truly amazing too.

Other highlights were my 25 years celebration party at Union in London in May coupled with my ’Slipmatt 25’ album release. Strictly Old Skool Ibiza was off the hook and is set to be even bigger and better in June this year, and I also played Glastonbury, Bestival, Boomtown, Beat Herder, United Festival and many more amazing gigs all over the UK and beyond. And I released SMD#5 on vinyl.

Why do you think old skool continues to thrive in amongst the ultra-modern club scene? And what makes it special for you personally?

The original rave sound from the late eighties and early nineties has so much character. It was a new fresh and fast evolving sound at the time which made it very special, if not magical. The memories it conjures up for a wide generation of people are, for some, including me, the best and most exciting times of their lives.

Also, even a lot of today’s modern house music is still heavily influenced by the original sound of the eighties and nineties. I think it intrigues some of the younger generation, I get lots of messages from people telling me they so wished they had been there when the first outdoor and warehouse parties were being held, and people saying they were born too late.

To sum it up, the early rave days were magical and I think there will always be room in the dance scene for a bit of Old Skool.

What special responsibilities come from being labelled the 'Godfather of Rave'?

Haha, to be honest, none that I can’t handle really. I've lived and breathed rave music for the past 26 years and I'm still as heavily involved these days as I was back in the day, if not more. I'm not competitive when it comes to work so I don’t feel pressured in to having to stay No.1 DJ, and all of that old malarkey.

I got labelled “The Godfather” after I was on the front cover of Dream Magazine back in about 1995 and it stuck. I do secretly like the title though so I do play on it a bit. But my real responsibility to the rave scene is simply to give my best at everything I do, to give value to my audience, to share what I do with as many people as I can, and to do it all in the nicest way possible.

In your many years in the game, how has rave culture evolved? What are your feelings on the current dance music scene?

The biggest change in my eyes I think has to be the digital revolution. As most people know, vinyl is now an out of date format, and music is nearly all digital now. Most DJs play from either USB memory sticks, CDs or laptops, and when you buy a tune you have to download it (listen to Slipmatt commanding the wheels of steel at Fantazia in '92 below). 

But, for me that’s not the main difference. In my view as long as there is good quality music coming out of the speakers then the format doesn't matter one tiny bit.

The main difference in the culture from the early days is the fact that there are no more record shops which were the social centre for many ravers. This was largely replaced by social media sites like Myspace, and now Facebook and Twitter etc.  Most people download their favourite music whilst sitting on their own at a computer, or even a smart phone. This isn’t a moan though, it’s just evolution and there are many benefits too.

The current dance scene is huge. I can’t say I'm a huge fan of every genre and there is a lot of commercial crap out there too, but I have a very open mind and if people are enjoying different styles of music then that makes me happy.

The Old Skool scene is fairly niche these days and that’s understandable, but it still draws in massive crowds of clubbers sometimes, people that want to go back and relive their youth every so often, or youngsters that want to see what it was all about.

You started out at a very early age, what advice would you give to any budding DJs out there?

It’s all about purpose and passion I think. My purpose in life from a very young age was to mix and to play music to people, and I made it my passion. This means that DJing isn’t really work to me, it’s something that I love to do and I will always do it whether I get paid or not.

So I would say, only go down the DJ route if it’s what you really love doing. Don’t do it for the glory, or the attention, or the money. Do it for the love of music and entertaining people. If it’s in your heart to do it because you’re passionate about it and willing to make it a way of life, then the money and the glory will come naturally.

Remember though, there’s rarely a chance you’ll be an overnight success no matter how well you can mix, so be prepared to put in a lot of effort, persistence and discipline, possibly for little reward in the short term.

What does it take for a DJ (watch Slipmatt in the mix above) to stay at the top of their game for as long as you have?

It’s about making it a way of life. As I said before, purpose, passion, persistence etc. I must admit I've seen a lot of DJs come and go, heard a lot of DJs moan about long drives, long hours, can’t be bothered etc. My philosophy is to 'go give' rather than 'go get'.

It’s all about the mindset of giving as much as possible which is the same with any profession I suppose. If you always give your best and give as much as you can of it, then you’re pretty much always going to win in the long run.

You’re set to play for The Time Machine at The Ritz on March 20th along with some other old skool giants. Do you look forward to playing Manchester? With it being such an important city in rave culture’s history in the UK, does Manchester still have that raving magic?

Most certainly. I find Manchester very similar to London musically in a lot of ways. I’ve played at some amazing parties in Manchester, venues like Bowlers, The Music Box, Step Back, and my old favourite, Clash at The Hippodrome in Middleton back in 91/92.

World of Rave is still going strong 92 episodes in (listen to the latest below), tell us about the philosophy behind it.

I just felt it was time to share some music with people on a regular basis, and rather than just play music to people that I play out at raves, I thought it would be nice to dig deeper and uncover some of the gems that don’t get heard that often because they don’t really work in the clubs any more.

So World of Rave is now a one hour free Podcast every week via iTunes, Soundcloud, and Mixcloud. It’s so nice to be able to play tunes that I haven’t played for many years, and I think people appreciate that I’m not playing the same old tunes every week, in fact far from it.

What does the future hold for Slipmatt?

Oooh lots and lots! Short term I have three albums I’m working on this year which are: The Best of Universal RecordingsSMD The Collection and an SL2 album later this year with a re-release of 'On A Ragga Tip'.

I have lots of great gigs lined up already this year including Glastonbury TBC, Bestival, and Strictly Old Skool Ibiza plus many more, and I also have lots of other business plans on the go which will all unfold throughout the year.

And finally, hypothetical question - you have the power to throw the ultimate Old Skool rave and play alongside any DJs past or present, where would you have it, who would you pick to join you, and what track would you play to define the evening?

That is a tough question! Off the top of my head I reckon:

Venue: Gala Nights (The Zoo) Ibiza (with NO sound restrictions)!

DJs: Cashmoney (my DJ hero) - Carl Cox (not played alongside him for 20 years) - DJ Lime (best mate and always so much fun)

Defining track: Rhythim is Rhythim - Strings of Life

Thank you Slipmatt! Catch him in action alongside Mark Archer, Rat Pack, Pete Orme and Mark XTC for The Time Machine at The Ritz on March 20th. Get your Time Machine tickets here.

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