When I think of rave, I think of Slipmatt. His name is synonymous with Hardcore, the sound that emerged out of Acid House and morphed it into the frenetic, piano laden and breakbeat heavy, euphoric soundtrack to a generation. He headlined every rave that mattered in the early 90’s and took the sound to the top of the charts with DJ Lime as SL2. As the genre continued to evolve he became one of the main proponents of Happy Hardcore, the love it or hate it extreme of flouro ‘avin it. The first big rave I went to, Flashback at The Que Club Birmingham Nov 99 had his name at the top of the bill. 16 years later and still regularly listening to his sets, it was truly an honour to head to his Essex studio to chat at length about his career.
O: What was your 1st musical experience?
SM: That’s going way back, me mum and dad told me I used to play records when I was 18 months old, we used to have this old box record player with its own lid. You used to be able to stack your 7inch records up, pull the lever over and it would do it all automatically, one would flip down and it would then play the record for you. I was like “mum, mum I want to play records.” From 11/12 I then got into reggae music, which is quite unusual for a little white kid from Essex of that age. Going up to Walthamstow and Brixton into the record shops, They would be like “what on earth are you doing in here, how do you know who Yellow Man is?”and then from there got into hip hop and eventually house music.
O: Was hip hop where you 1st became aware of DJ culture?
SM: Yeah, even back when I was in school. I was about 14/15 doing mixes. My dad had an old reel to reel. It was a Bang Olufsen, he didn't nick it but I think he got it cheap because it had a scratch on it. I used to record one track on the reel to reel and then go back and record another record in time with what was playing. So before I had two decks I had found a way to mix stuff together. Then I'd start splicing the tape, and making it all 'dadadada'. I used to do all that and take it to school and play it to DJ Lime who I went to school with and compare our mixes from the weekend.
O: Were you aware of it in the context of hip hop DJ’s scratching? Were you trying to mimic that? SM-Not really the scratching side of that, that come a bit later but it was probably around the time that electro was big, so it was all more cut up beats. We were doing lots of editing with the pause button and splicing the tape and making it jump. Then from there it was like “how do we do this scratching thing?.” Lime bought an old disco set up, proper mobile DJ set up and we actually managed to get inside the built in mixer and we cut the wires to the audio, fixed some buttons to the mixer, so we had like a transformer button…That’s back in probably 198/1988 we did that.
O: Were you playing Hip hop at this stage?
SM: I was playing house as well, I was introduced to house music in 1986. I remember being around at Lime’s, he’d been up to London and he came back like “Matt you gotta hear this tune” and it was Marshall Jefferson’s Move Your Body and we was like “yeah, that sounds wicked” its called house music, and that was it. Then all of a sudden UK people wanted to start making this house music that was coming over from America, but we were so influenced by the hip hop as well that it ended up gelling together. Artists like Shut Up And dance were big into the hip hop stuff in the early days. The natural thing was to blend it with house music. Then we came up with the UK sound.
O: That’s when the music started to change around the late 80's early 90’s from acid house to hardcore...
SM: …and then the break beat came into it...I think that’s where it got bigger… and a different type of people started to make the music as well. It suddenly became more accessible, you could go and buy an Akai sampler for £800 and an Atari computer and make your own music. In 1990 we bought our 1st set up and started to make music in our rooms and that’s what a lot of people were doing. It wasn't going to a proper studio and doing it the conventional way, it was like “right I’ve got a big record collection around me” what we gonna sample….put some of the Hip hop in with the house music.
O: That’s what fascinates me about hardcore... the samples coming from all over the place...
SM: I mean it got ridiculous in 92, some of the different samples was laughable really but its good though. It just made it what it was. It went though the squeaky phase, where everything was sped up… but then it becomes part of it, then everyone was making their vocals squeaky. With the SL2 stuff we took mid 80's heavy reggae bass lines and samples.
O: Then suddenly this underground music went mainsteam.
SM: Well On a Ragga Tip is now used for one of the biggest banks in the country (First Direct). It was originally meant to be on the B-side. We'd actually made that track and we were working on the follow up on to DJ's Take Control which got to no. 11 in the charts, and we did Top of the pops with that before Ragga Tip. So we took another US house track and tried a similar sort of thing, finished it off and it was an ok track. But it wasn't an original like DJ"s Take Control. So we took it up the record label (XL) and I think it was Nick Hawkes, he turned around and said...why don’t we use this reggae one.... we was like “hummm its a bit different but fuck it why not?! Deep down we were much more into that track, so he was like yeah go for it.”
O: Did you think it would become such a hit?
SM: No not at all, y'know we were hoping to get as big as DJ's Take Control but we didn't expect what it did, no. We went straight in at number 8, and then we was in LA doing a show the week after and there was all 5 of us sitting in the hotel room and the record label called and they was like “your number 1” we was like “nooo”, we had no idea at all. We were number one in the mid week charts, which was the Wednesday and then you find out on the Sunday. Unfortunately we had gone back to no. 2 by the Thursday, we was number 1 for a day!
O: You were still DJ'ing a lot when your tracks were in the charts, how was it playing raves at that point? SM; I remember doing a show down in South Wales, I went on their local radio and did an interview and I remember him saying, it must of been mid 91, “so Slipmatt what do you think of the rave scene, everyone's saying it's dying off do you think you're on the last legs of it?” and I was like “well no not really” and you know that wasn't even 92, 92 is the year that it really took off.
O: It had a second wave didn't it that people weren't expecting...
SM: Yeah, it went from the 88 Summer of Love to then the second summer of love in 89 then the legal parties started, and by 91 was massive, I was flying around everywhere and then 92 was that extra level and then at the end of 92 it went back underground.
O: It started to split into hardcore and jungle and you became one of the main proponents of Happy Hardcore…
SM: A lot of people blame me for that (laughs)… I think my style of DJing suited more of a hands in the air thing, although I used to love playing the dark stuff and the jungle, but in my heart was in the uplifting, happier vibe… Mid 93 I went and brought my own sampler, I put a four-four in there and a piano and all different sorts of sounds and came up with SMD1, which was one of the first if not the first of that style of music. It was still very break beat but from mid 93 onwards then it started to take a different direction. It mixed in certain places like World Dance but then I found by 94, going into 95, I was going out doing sets in certain places and it was all real full on ragga jungle music which wasn't really what I liked, you can't beat a bit of ragga jungle sometimes, but to go out and do a whole set of it to an audience that weren't ravers because it split so much… it did get to a point where I was like “Right hold on a minute, I need to refresh this a bit here and I need to go off more on that journey.”