NICKY BLACKMARKET AT BM SOHO
Nicky Blackmarket is my favourite DJ, I’ve been listening to him for well over half my life. I’ve seen him dj countless times over the years and taken his recorded raves sets with me from tape to cd to minidisc to mp3. I’m a junglist through and through and Nicky’s DJing represents the essence of what jungle is about, raw, dancefloor orientated, bass heavy, scattergun quick and completely compelling. His devotion and commitment to scene has been unparalleled; djing relentlessly week in week out since the very beginning of the genre and running Blackmarket Records for 22 years providing the very beating heart to the scene. It was an honour to interview him for LAW.
OE-How did you get involved in the rave scene, what was the in point that switched you on to the culture? Were you DJing before you had the shop?
NB- Oh yeah, I mean I’ve been djing since about 15, I got a lot of influences off my mum I suppose, she knew a lot of the jazz people; Cleo Lane, Johnny Dankworth, the old jazz cats. I’d always wanted to do something in music and I came to work in the shop in 1990, I guess you could say it was a turning point for me really. It was also the beginning of early British breakbeat.
When I came into the shop it was funny because there never used to be loads of these decks across the counter. There used to be just the main deck up there, and me, Stafford and Ashley Beedle used to fight all the time to man the decks, and who was gunna play what. Me obviously with my breakbeat thing, you could say early hardcore. Then you had Stafford and Ashley Beedle who wanted to play his garage and house stuff and we would all battle it out. It was fun days, bit heated sometimes, but fun days.
Then in 92 we decided to bring the hip-hop, soul and funk upstairs, as they weren't really financially meeting ends and put the breakbeat and hardcore, downstairs. The rest is history.
OE- What was it like being involved in the centre of something, that in 1990 was just bubbling up to then jungle becoming a massive nationwide phenomenon that saw things like General Levy going on Top Of The Pops?
NB- You could say you’re living the dream, because you’re helping create what’s going on. It was a British musical movement. The pirate radio was very powerful at the time. First of all I was on Friends FM, which was like the acid house era, then went on to Pulse FM, which was the hardcore era and then Kool FM which was the jungle, with Stevie Hyper D, god rest his soul.
OE- You and Stevie had the Sunday evening show?
NB- Oh yeah, the Sundays yeah, super Sundays. It was great, especially then because there was no Internet. So people would come over here, wherever they’re from, spend the weekend in London, get the tapes ready wherever they are, in a hotel or friends house or whatever and record the radio sessions. Then they’d come in here Monday morning and want the tunes.
OE- Your work with Stevie Hyper D was genre defining, you were such a strong pairing. When did you start working together?
NB- We first bucked up in Raw Club on Tottenham Court Road in about 94, where they had a big jungle night on a Sunday. It would be rammed, but every club at that point was phenomenal.
OE- Stevie’s style was really innovative, how do you think his impact as an MC has influenced others and gone on to play a role in the style of UK music that now tops the charts?
NB- Everybody looked up to him, still to this day. His voice is so distinctive and he could just switch a style. He was crowd pleaser and that’s what it’s all about, he'd sing and they'd sing back. He left a gap, there still is a gap, but he will never be forgotten.
OE- Just going back to the Kool FM days. I wondered what it was like playing on such a vital pirate station at that time?
NB- That’s the thing I mean the pirates had such an impact on the whole scene. Back then you had to listen to them pirates to know what was going on, to find out about raves and new tunes. It was very imperative to the rave scene, and you’re talking about across whole board of all dance music. From reggae to soul to the hip hop stations, to house, garage and then obviously the drum and bass and the hardcore, the whole spectrum, they were very important.
OE- I used to come down from Birmingham to the shop a lot when I was 17/ 18 just as a fan, a raver, and walking in here and seeing you downstairs it really felt like you could get into the heart of it. You felt important being here. How did the shop function in that respect for the jungle scene?
NB- It was the flagship for the scene, everybody brought their tunes in here. Thursday would be a big promo day and all the DJ’s, label runners and producers would come in with their box of records and everyone would be waiting here. You wanted the tunes, you'd have to come in here at the right time to pick them up otherwise they’re gone, that’s it. Until that gets released, but everyone wanted the tune on white label, pre release before it comes out and this was the place to get it.
OE- You used to keep the promos under the counter?
NB- Oh yes! That’s it. They’d only be a few, we'd slip it on the deck and say, ‘right we’ve only got a few of these’ press play, all the hands would go up and we’d be shuffling records across the counter like cards. Great days. Everyone would come in, even just to get their rave tickets, or tape packs or to have a chat, back then there was no Internet, everything was live and direct. Before the distributors, this is where it all began.
OE- I read in the past that when it came to djing you used to carry a lot of records so you could adjust your sets to the crowd and play what you felt they wanted hear rather than what you wanted to play. I thought that was a really interesting way of doing things and really influenced me a lot, do you think that is what gave you the edge and made your sets more exciting?
NB- I like to bring a selection with me, even now. I mean I’m playing CD’s now which okay yes it is a shame the way it’s gone, but the majority of places I turn up to now, there’s not even turntables, so you have to get with the digital era. Like it or not, you have to get with it. Even now I turn up with too many CD’s, it’s better to have too many than too little, I just like to switch and back then it was the same thing. I’d bring so many records and plates, that’s what it’s about, the selection. It’s not about playing the same old thing, it’s spontaneous, whatever you feel like at the moment.
OE- Talking about advances in technology has moving to CD’s brought you any benefits? Are you able to mix much faster or more dynamically?
NB- You know what? You can’t get any quicker than putting a needle on a record and just, away you go. With the CD you have to load it up, and now there’s the USB’s, I mean I’ve started messing around with them but it’s not the same, you’re never gunna get the vinyl thing. You’re talking about a record, analogue, when the needle hits the record you hear a ‘VROM’, guts and a warmth feel. Maybe eventually they will be able to imitate that, but it will be hard.
OE-How long ago was it that you switched to CD’s and do you miss playing vinyl?
NB- About 3 or 4 years now, every now and again do a vinyl set, I did somewhere in Switzerland and they wanted me to play an old school jungle set on pure vinyl. It’s got to be set up right now, because some of the places that do still have decks don't maintain the turntables and its a struggle. You shouldn’t be having to do your sound check in your set, that’s not what you’re there for, you’re there to perform.
OE- What changes have you seen in the scene over the years, it's one of those underground movements that has always been there with it being a right of passage to for a lot of people. What do you think the future holds of jungle?
NB- You just said it, the word underground. You’ve got people that cross over and make it in the mainstream but jungle and drum and base is always going to survive because it’s got that underground element. Unlike some other underground scenes that have progressed and become commercial, then peaked and died off, drum and bass and jungle is still there and it will remain there, because it’s an underground scene. It’s like the tortoise and the hare, that’s the way I look at it.
OE- One thing that always gets talked about a lot was the unity that jungle created, as a kid when the sound broke whilst I was at school it really did bring together different races with a shared love of the music, rockist white kids sharing walkman earbuds with the ragga fan black kids and it felt important, how did this play out on the dance floors?
NB- It’s a unity thing of course; it’s a British musical movement. It’s not a white thing black thing, it's our thing, made for us by us and that’s why its gonna survive.