Fabio went into the jungle
Fabio’s musical life follows a familiar trajectory for a black Briton of his generation: raised on reggae, diverted into soul, electro and hip hop, then blindsided by acid house and techno. But in his case it doesn’t stop there, because he was instrumental in the next few genres himself. With DJ partner Grooverider, he drove the musical laboratory of Rage, an incubator club that twisted the evolving techno sound and paved the way for jungle, drum and bass and everything that followed. With all this in mind, Fabio personifies the evolution of black British music and identity from the ’70s onwards. And he tells the story brilliantly. He was one of the last people we interviewed for Last Night a DJ Saved My Life the first time round. We were pulling the final juggernaut of the book together and knew there were gaps where we could do with a colourful quote or an engaging story. Little did we know he would give us one of the most entertaining interviews we’d ever done, filled with an endless stream of quotable anecdotes. From his anti-Thatcher acid house sermon to an extended description of a Brixton blues party – which we used in full to open the UK Bass chapter – there are so many gems in this interview you’ll need to put shades on to read it. We met at the old Radio 1 studios in Clipstone street, when the paparazzi were going mad for Carmen Electra turning up.
Fabio: …I got out of the car and all the photographers rushed the car cos it had tinted windows. And then they were like awwwww, who’s he? So disappointing.
Let’s start with where you grew up.
I grew up in Brixton, music was always around me. My dad was a good record buyer, brilliant tunes, not a massive collection but a great collection of ska, Motown and stuff like that. Across the board black music. He loved ballads, like Marvin Gaye, stuff like that. In Brixton growing up there was a massive blues party scene going on. Round the corner from me there was a place called Elland Park. On a Saturday night you could have five, six parties going on, with sound systems. I could hear it from my house. They were in people’s houses, or they used to rig up a sound system in old squats. And there were a lot of squats in those days. We used to go to a lot of the local blues parties, when I was 13, 14. I had a whale of a time, man. That got me into going out and being in this place with loud music playing. It was great because the blues scene was the original club scene, on one level: using huge sound systems, having MCs, not mixing, but the whole emphasis on loud sounds.
Very much Jamaicans doing over here what they used to do over there.
That’s right. And bringing it over here. We used to go to regular clubs and the sound systems were so crap, and you’d get DJs talking shit all night. It wasn’t like that at all. You’d have the host who hosted the night, the MC, and the guy who used to play music, it was kind of like this narration and it was brilliant. You weren’t that aware of what was going on but it was brilliant. Those were my first indulgences in music. Growing up in Brixton was great, because of the vibe. Brixton’s very colourful and you can’t really escape the music thing. Music and crime. You had these two areas where you could go if you didn’t want to do a 9 to 5. Either be a criminal or be, not necessarily a DJ, but just have something to do with music. The sound systems were great. Weren’t no money in it or nothing. Strictly for breaking into premises and having a party till one o’clock in the afternoon.
Did people charge?
They used to charge like two pounds on the door. The whole thing was going in and buying drinks. They used to have a little bar set up and stuff like that. It was all very civilised, but it was really dangerous, because we were mixing with hardened Brixton criminals. You stepped on someone’s lizard-skin shoes, man, and it was curtains. For real. It was like Goodfellas. You knew don’t fuck with these guys. There was one guy in particular, one dread, he was so smooth and what he used to do was this slow rubbing thing with girls, and he could dance with a girl and skin up a spliff at the same time. We used to watch him, he’s the fucking man. It was this whole mad thing. The dangerous thing was a lot of people aspired to be like these guys. I did as well, but luckily I was more into music than wanting to go out on the rob.
Was it inseparable?
The DJs were the guys who decided we want to set up our sound system here, and play our music; the criminals used to follow them around. ’Cos all the girls used to be there. And of course wherever there’s nice girls there’s criminals. These beautiful women that wouldn’t look at you. You never had a chance. We were like 14 and they were 21. At around 8 in the morning they’d slow it down and you had to ask a girl for a dance. I think I had one dance in the three years I was going to blues parties. I was so nervous I think she walked away half way through it. It was the earliest memory I have of being captured by the whole club thing. And things kind of moved on I got into the whole soul scene. When I was 15, 16, I ventured more into going to Crackers and a place called 100 Club, and just getting into the whole soul movement.
If you grew up here, how much did reggae feel like your music?
I felt reggae and soul music. I was kind of divided. In them days you couldn’t really be both. You had to be one or the other. I remember they used to say if you like soul music you were gay. A cousin of mine used to go to soul clubs, and she used to sneak me in and I never used to tell anybody. Then at the weekend I used to go to the blues dances. Once a girl said to me, ‘I saw you in Crackers on Wardour Street.’ ‘No you didn’t.’ She was like, ‘No it was you.’ And everybody was like, ‘Boy, I hope that weren’t you.’ ‘Nah, a soul club, Are you crazy!’
Was it the teen disco on a Saturday lunchtime you went to at the 100 Club?
I went to the adults one. I looked 18 when I was about eight. I used to wear a little waistcoat and a shirt. My auntie used to get me in there. This was Friday lunchtime. Telling my mum I’m just popping down the road, I was clubbing, there were girls, everything…
The Friday lunch thing, was it at Crackers?
Yeah. Guy called George Power used to play. And Paul Anderson. The mid ’70s. Crackers was an amazing club. People used to go there and just dance. Everyone just got on it and there were amazing pre-imports from America. It was fresh and vital at the time.
What was it that attracted you? Every black kid from that era says Crackers was amazing. Norman Jay, Jazzie B, Cleveland Anderson, all of them.
I tell you what was so great, it was going into a place and it was mixed. That was another thing. Blues parties you didn’t meet any white people in there. Very rarely you used to meet the odd white guy that knew the local guys, but it was 99% black. But this was 50/50. That was the first time I’d ever seen that. And the first time I saw colour didn’t really matter. You could go out with a white girl and it weren’t no big thing. White guy’d go out with a black girl, and you could hang out with white guys. It wasn’t an issue. You had white DJs, you had black DJs, and it was the first time I’d felt this social thing: I can hang out, it’s all good. You could do what you wanted there, in Crackers
The DJ never talked. He never mixed but kind of segued the tracks, so it was this seamless mixture of funk and soul. It was amazing. At the time you didn’t know that in 20-odd years you’d still be referring to this place. It was just a place you went to on a Saturday afternoon and had a wicked time in there.
Do you remember any of the tunes?
‘Running Away’, Roy Ayers was a big tune. They played that every week. Brass Construction ‘Movin’’. They used to play the tunes you knew and then the real fresh imports from the States. ‘Running Away’, you heard that first there. Earth Wind and Fire, so it was funk as well. Funk is dirty soul, isn’t it. Little bit grimier than soul, not as produced, little more dancefloor. It was exciting, it was faster, sounded faster, but more vital. I used to dance as well. I used to go down there and just lose it. Great night that was… great day!
If you were a dancer did you look up to guys like Peter Francis and Horace?
Those guys. Horace and a guy called John O’Reilly, that used to dance for Paul Anderson. There was a whole lot of them. So instead of looking up to criminals I was looking up to them. They were getting all the girls. When you’re young that’s what it’s all about. And they’re cool. They used to dance and everyone used to crowd round them. They’d walk off with the best looking girl at the end of the night. So it was that same thing: looking up to these guys and thinking I want to be like them. And luckily I took that road and started, and me and Colin Dale who was my dancing partner. We used to go out and tour and dance round. There were a few clubs you couldn’t get into: Global Village, that was a Saturday night. Lacey Lady, they were more like over 18s. So we didn’t travel to them places, but all the central london places regularly.
If it was such a hot scene, why were people so against it? the whole reggae vs soul thing?
I think it’s like the mods and rockers. There were even divides in soul. The jazz dancers used to think we were pussies if you liked funk. Jazz is going around dancing 100 miles an hour. We used to go to the Electric Ballroom as well. There used to be fights with guys coming from rival soul clubs, with jazz boys and soul heads. They’d be like, ‘You guys are pussies, all that pussy music you listen to,’ and so there used to be regular fights. It was just wanting to belong to a certain clique.
Do you think the reggae vs soul thing was about a slightly older group whose allegiance to the West Indies was stronger than the younger kids who had grown up in London?
I don’t think consciously we were doing that. Reggae really wasn’t a movement. You went to Battersea, Clapham, all over south London there were blues parties. You did used to follow sounds but it wasn’t a movement in the way that soul was a movement. This was going out into the West End as well. You’ve got to remember the West End was the place.
It’s neutral. It’s not a neighbourhood.
It was a travelling thing. Getting ready and dressing up as well. Going to the West End. We couldn’t afford to buy clothes there, so the only way you could go was to club, or buy records. The whole thing of buying imports, of getting things first, that all came from soul, more than from the reggae scene, where they used to play a lot of old stuff. In the reggae parties it wasn’t really a forward moving thing.
It’s more about having a dubplate than the latest thing.
Exactly. And it was more localised as well. Because if you went to a blues dance in Battersea you could get yourself seriously in trouble. The Brixton sounds stayed in Brixton. It was local. They set up and played literally round the corner. In Battersea you had S’Phese and Small Axe, and in Brixton you had Dread Diamonds… you had set sound systems. Whereas the soul scene was different. You used to meet people from Wembley, Ilford. We’d be like Wembley, where the fuck’s that? Then the whole soul movement, Caister, it took on a whole new lease of life.
Did you get involved in that?
To be fair I didn’t. because we used to have a lot of problems with travel. None of use drove, and we used to hear about this Caister thing, but by the time we wanted to get in it was like an exclusive club. Only the best dancers were really allowed to go down to Caistor. It was a very white scene. Caister was 80% white. In them days you had the National Front. And Essex was kind of the bastion of racism. We were like, ‘What are these guys doing being into soul music?’ You’d go to some of these places and see some really dodgy guys getting down, man, with their vests off, with this skinhead kind of look, bustin’ moves.
Was there a kind of a quota? ‘We’ve got five black guys in there we don’t want any more.’
Yeah totally. It was like that. Even Caister. Too many black guys wasn’t really the one. We felt, fuck it we’ll keep local and do our mixed thing.
When did you first start DJing?
I was collecting records, and my buddy Colin Dale was a soul DJ. He used to play at a few gigs and we’d follow him around. The idea of DJing never really struck my mind. I wanted to be a singer, or be involved in production. I was a real trainspotter. I used to know the serial numbers of certain tracks. Me and my friend, we used to listen to pirate radio, this is so anal, we used to listen to brand new tracks and try and guess who the producer was. We used to sit there all night. Listen to pirate radio from one to five in the morning. ‘Right, who produced this then?’ ‘Well it sounds like the drums could be Harvey Mason, the bassline could be the Brothers Johnson…’ A lot of the times we were right. DJing never really came into it.
My first gig was at a place called Gossips in the West End, for Tim Westwood. He used to be a soul DJ that we followed. Colin Dale used to do the warm up down there, and Tim phoned me up and was like, ‘I really need you to play.’ I thought, right man, yeah, heavy! I got a basket of records together. We used to use shopping baskets…
What year is this?
Would have been around 1984.
’Cos Westwood went into that electro thing in a big way.
This was just before that happened. Literally months before. When stuff like [Italo-disco group] Change was around. And I DJed there. It was the most horrific experience. I never thought I’d ever be that scared. I was absolutely bricking it. And I didn’t enjoy it at all. I walked away thinking, ‘Nah, I don’t want to do this’.
And then the early electro scene started and we used to go to Global Village on a Sunday night. True story, Grandmaster Flash was in there, with Tim Westwood, everyone was sitting down, and I remember Flash saying ‘Yeah man, there’s this bitch we’re all hooking up with in New York right now.’ I think they were shagging her. They were telling these stories about this woman and it turned out to be Madonna. ‘Yeah man, she’s got this joint out called ‘Holiday’.’
Anyway, we got into this early electro thing. And all of this was a precursor, really to the early rave scene. It was very exciting, this electronic music. At first, because we were soul boys, we were like, ‘Man this electronic thing’s taking away the soul of it…’ But ‘Planet Rock’ [by Afrika Bambaataa] and all the early Tommy Boy stuff was just irresistible. And Riuichi Sakamoto’s ‘Riot In Lagos’, was the most incredible tune. I just caught the bug. I was like dissed by the soul boys: ‘I can’t believe you’re into this electro shit, man’. But the early electro scene, I felt honoured to be part of that. People diss Tim Westwood but that guy was in it from dot man. And he changed the game. He stopped playing the soully kind of things and went full steam into electro. I used to go to Spats, Saturday afternoon, people would be breakdancing. We were into the Wildstyle thing, all of that shit.
Where was Spats?
In Oxford St, just opposite 100 Club. Where Plastic People was. A little hovel downstairs. Wicked little space, great dancefloor and stuff. The electro thing was a major part of my life.
Did you do any travelling? Greg Wilson was doing similar things in Wigan and Manchester.
No. Travelling wasn’t really a thing for us. To be honest we turned our noses up at northern soul. We weren’t really feeling it. It was too fast, too weird. Wigan to me could have been Timbuktoo. Travel was totally different back in the day. The thought of even going to Luton, to Slough… We used to get ready for two weeks to go there. It was a big fucking thing. Slough was the end of the world for us. There was nothing beyond Slough, or ‘Sluff’ as they used to call it. We went to some great parties in Slough by the way…
What kicked things off for you then?
The pivotal point was a pirate station called Faze 1. That was the turning point for everything that’s happened to me since. A guy called Mendoza, he was setting up this station. Around the same time Kiss were trying to go legal. Which was the pirate station for London. Everyone looked up to Kiss and tried to follow suit. This was ’84, ’85. Mendoza set up the station, he asked us to do a show. It was a Brixton thing, right next to a pub, a hovel, and he had a shebeen, an afterhours place, downstairs. He owned the building, he was in construction. Upstairs he had the pirate station and downstairs he had the shebeen. But no-one ever used to go to. It was our local but he never had any more than six people there on a Saturday night. We used to go there, get pissed, go upstairs and play some music. A great set-up.
I had an afternoon soul show, where I used to play funk and really early house and electro. Then one night he said, ‘Listen, my brother Chris, man, he knows some guy called Paul Oakenfold and they’ve got this mad thing, have you ever heard of Spectrum?’ He wanted to check it out for some reason. So Monday night we went down there. Me and a couple of lads from Brixton walked in and they were like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ It was a Monday night, we saw everyone with smiley t-shirts, big eyes, chewing their teeth, and just walking around in another world. And they fucked off and left me in there. They were like ‘You know what? It’s like we’ve walked into hell. We’re going back to Brixton.’
And I just remember looking up seeing Paul Oakenfold and this smoke, and him being like a fucking god up there. And they used to have these bright tungsten white lights… I was like, ‘My god this is absolutely fucking amazing.’ So I started going there every week by myself. Took three hours to get in, ages. Queue up in the rain and…
To cut a long story short, Mendoza said, ‘We’re going to have an after-party for Spectrum down there. Would you like to play?’ He wanted me and this guy Grooverider, who was the only other guy I knew who played house on the station. I said OK but I didn’t really know Groove that well. He was quite arrogant and aggressive and he used to do the night-time shows. He said, ‘Just come down and play some music. Get down about one o’clock in the morning. I said,’ Listen, no-one comes down there on a Saturday night. How do you think anyone’s gonna come down here on a Monday? He said just please, bring a crate of music down.
So me and Groove was in there all night, no-one came down, not a dickie bird. Groove had to go to work, he was working with computers. He said, ‘Listen Mendoza, I’m off.’ Mendoza begged me, ‘Please don’t go, Chris just phoned me and said people are coming down.’ We were loading the records up in the car to leave when we saw these guys walking down the alleyway going [scally northern accent] ‘Where’s the fookin party?’ Shorts in the middle of winter, union jack tattoo on his back, skinhead going, ‘I want to hear some fookin music, right.’ We go in, we think we’d better play for this guy or else he’s going to kill us or something. He was on his own, just doing mad dancing moves all night, putting his head in the speaker, and Mendoza, the club owner, was like, ‘It’s alright, he’s buying drinks, just carry on playing.’
It was one o’clock in the morning and Groove went upstairs, came back and said ‘Oh my god there are hundreds of people down this alleyway.’ All of a sudden all these people just rushed in, everyone was pilled up, and it was absolutely rammed. They couldn’t fit anyone else in there at all. There was a queue hundreds of people outside. So we decided to make this a regular occurrence, every night! Seriously. We used to do it on Monday, Tuesday. I think we had a night off on Wednesday ’cos there was nothing going on. But there was a thing on Tuesday called Samanthas that Trevor Fung did, they used to come down after that, there was a thing on Thursday, and then on the weekend we just took it over. We did our own flyers, Groove went out and bought a Ford Cortina for 60 quid, we used to go down to The Trip at the Astoria and give out flyers there, and the rest is history. We had something going on every single week for about two years. That really got us known. Oakey used to come down, Trevor Fung used to come down. We met a lot of the big promoters and got a lot of work out of it, man. And that was really the start of the whole Fabio and Grooverider thing.
Did it ever have a name?
No just Mendoza’s. it didn’t have a name or anything. People didn’t give a shit, they knew they could come down there, used to go till four in the afternoon. People used to go home and take their kids to school, have a wash and come back. And that’s what makes me laugh when people say, ‘Can you play for two hours?’ What are you talking about.
And I’ve totally missed out Family Funktion and Shake & Fingerpop. That whole warehouse scene kind of mingled with the house scene. People forget that Judge Jules was the wickedest funk DJ. That guy used to have fuckin’ tunes, man. And it was Judge Jules, Norman [Jay], the whole Soul II Soul thing happened. I went to the first night at the Africa Centre, ’cos I knew a guy called Ratchet, a dread who had something to do with it. The first night was shit, you walked in there and it was absolute bollocks, but you could tell, man. There was just this vibe about Africa Centre: dark dingy, grimy. I went back there about six weeks later and it was 300 people outside waiting to get in. That night, man was just incredible. ’Cos everyone knew Soul II Soul were gonna take over the world. You just knew it. These tunes they were making and testing in there. The place used to have a rave vibe in a soul club. Back in the day you’d have a few dancers and everyone watching them. Here no-one watched the dancers, everyone just got on it. That kind of communal thing, that never happened in soul music before.
What about the others? Was it a similar vibe or were they not as off the wall?
Well what you had was all of a sudden you had the middle classes, the Chelsea scene.
It was an exclusive thing. I went to Westworld once, at the park, and I had so much trouble getting in there. Africa Centre was a bit more urban, but you had the girls: the Chelsea girls. All these society people use to come down. And mix with east London criminals and all these beautiful girls from the Kings Road. It was this mixture which then moved onto the rave scene. But it was this illicit thing where you break into a warehouse, and you just didn’t know what was going to happen. You didn’t know if it was going to get raided. More often than not, at the start, it wouldn’t, because the police didn’t have a clue what was going on.
When you went to Spectrum did it feel like it was part of the same scene?
No. Because of the drugs. There weren’t no E’s at all at Soul II Soul. You never got anyone out of their minds there. That was more of a smoking weed thing. Maybe a little bit of coke. Spectrum was crazy. Spectrum, every single person was out of it.
How quickly did you catch on to what was going on?
About the third time I went there. It was quite scary, man. It was pretty hellish, and that’s why a lot of people turned their back on it. The music was so loud and the lights were so intimidating, and it was very Balearic. The music wasn’t soulful, you’ve got to remember that. The music was this kind of flamenco mixture. And that’s why a lot of the urban guys were like, ‘Fucking hell!’ Acid, then, it was extreme. At the time it was like punk. Just this white noise nnnnnnnnnnn, ‘What the hell’s this?’ But cos of the background of listening to electro, we’d kept up with electronic music. We were like this shit, man, it is so fucking extreme. And Groove was always extreme. Groove was into Public Image Ltd and stuff like that, so he was ‘THIS IS ME, Yeahhhh! This is like fucking punk music!’
How soon did you get him to go down to spectrum?
Groove is completely teetotal. He was literally in there for half an hour and said ‘I am getting the fuck out of this place. I love the music but this out-of-the-head business is… I’ll meet you down at Mendoza’s yeah, you stay here.’ I was like, ‘OK, yeah cool.’ Oakey’s playing, let me just stare at him, man…’ This hero worship, man. I was like, no man he’s gonna play ‘Jibaro’ in a minute.
And Groove wasn’t so much into Balearic music, He was much more into Fast Eddie and the kind of soulful acid coming out of DJ International and Trax and Marshall Jefferson. That was two different scenes. Spectrum was Euro, ’cos it came from Ibiza, but the more smaller clubs, like Samantha’s were doing more an American sound. At Spectrum remember the acid was like Front 242, and extreme, really out there, Renegade Soundwave. He played Todd Terry but he really didn’t go into Adonis and that kind of stuff. That was more in the VIP room.
So how did Rage start? I went early on and it wasn’t how it was at the end.
Rage was the US thing. Rage used to be on a Thursday and they set up against Spectrum which was a European thing.
Wasn’t it Justin Berkmann [Ministry of Sound founder] and people like that?
Yeah, Justin Berkmann, Trevor Fung, Colin Faver, and they were much more into the American imports, the Trax thing. And they were kind of against the whole Spectrum thing. That was the first divide, where I thought I love both of these things and not everyone does. People used to go to one or the other. Very rarely you’d meet people who’d go to Spectrum and Rage.
But Rage happened, and we knew the barman there, in the Star Bar upstairs. They didn’t really have DJs there, just a guy just playing music, so we met Kevin Millens who ran Rage and we started upstairs, but we had such a massive following up there. We used to ram out this place, because of our following from Mendoza’s – and we used to do a place called Barrington Road, and I missed out Sunrise and Energy [M25 raves] and all of that shit that was going on just before Rage as well. We established ourselves as underground heroes, so we had a following. But we didn’t know how big because we’d never ventured into the club world.
The club thing happened because of the Criminal Justice Bill. Everyone started saying they can nick your records, they can take your records away and you never get ’em back. And that proved too scary for us. We were like, ‘Right let’s get into clubs, guys, this clubs thing is wonderful.’ Running through fields, I’ve got so many stories about that, but we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s get into club world.’
Rage happened and a lot of things just fell into place with us. Colin Faver and Trevor Fung went to LA and missed their flight back, and Kevin Millens was furious. He was like, ‘I’m going to take a chance on you guys tonight downstairs.’ We were like, ‘Oh my god are you being serious!’ And we went in there and basically smashed the shit out of the place. The end of the night everyone was going crazy. We didn’t want to step on Colin and Trevor’s toes, so we shared the main floor with them for a while, and they were strictly US, but we was doing something a little bit different. Now we’re playing early techno from Belgium and Germany, Frank De Wulf and R&S and stuff like that. We really got into that sound and it wasn’t quite going with what Trevor and Colin were doing, but it was getting so popular we ended up getting the main set there.
To cut a long story short we got the Derrick Mays and the Kevin Saundersons and Joey Beltrams giving us dubplates. It turned into the techno place. It wasn’t so much hardcore, it was techno. But what we used to do, we’d get these b-side mixes from Masters at Work, and they used to have straight up breaks on it, and we used to speed them up and mix them into the techno stuff, and anytime we did that we were getting people euphoric. Like this is something new. And we used to get this guy called Danny Jungle, a dread from Brixton, lovely guy, he’d lead the dancefloor, going ‘Jungle, Jungle’, and then before we knew it that was the tag. And then people started making jungle, Living Dream was an early label, and Ibiza Records, and we had a set full of this way-out-there breakbeat stuff. We used to mix Prodigy ‘Charly Says’ into ‘Mentasm’ [by Second Phase], and things like that.
It was just the craziest mixture of extreme madness, and basically the old school crowd at Rage just left. It turned form being this posey kind of night with loads of girls and loads of well-dressed people, to being ghetto man. We ghettoed out the whole fucking place, It was so ghetto. Until it got to the stage where it kind of got a bit shady. It added to the whole vibe of the night though. You didn’t know whether you were gonna get killed down there or not. But then Kevin started to get a bit like, ‘Guys, it’s getting a bit on top in here, we’ve really alienated our old crowd.’
Were there any real incidents?
Nothing major, a few rucks, but you used to get a few of the big dealers coming in there. It started to get a little bit like that. Nothing ever really happened, but I think the old guard got a bit threatened. Certain DJs, well-known soulful house DJs, actually made formal complaints to him. Said we were betraying what Rage was all about. Unfortunately the night closed because of that. We had a meeting and he was like, ‘Listen guys you’re really going to have to change the music. You’re gonna have to go back to playing house because I don’t really like the crowd and security are getting a bit…’ and he shut the night, man. When Rage closed we had nowhere to go.
When did it close?
I think ‘93.
When did you get the main floor?
1991 I think. We did it for about two years. And on one level it ran its course. The urgency it had at the beginning, it just went a little towards the end. Maybe because he tried to mix it up. John Digweed was our warm-up. His name was JD at the time, and he wasn’t even a DJ, he was a promoter, he used to promote these nights called Storm in Hastings. He got Carl Cox to play at Rage. Carl came on and, I remember Goldie going up and banging on the box shouting, ‘Cox you’re a fucking cunt, get off the decks, get Fabio and Grooverider on there.’
When you were experimenting with the breakbeats were you conscious you were pushing things in a certain direction?
No, no. We didn’t have a fucking clue. We were just… It worked. We’re doing this, and because we were kind of hated on by the more soulful DJs we thought maybe we are doing the wrong thing. Maybe we have fucked the night up totally. We were still doing nights where we played more soulful stuff. Rage was a total experiment. And it felt like an experiment. We never used to play like that anywhere else. But in that big club where we had carte blanche to do what we wanted it was Fabio and Grooverider’s house and we just did what the fuck we wanted. People aren’t that brave any more, and that’s probably one of the reasons dance music’s got slightly stagnant. No-one would dare do that any more. It really was, at the time so out there. We really got people’s backs up. It closed, everyone was hating on us, man.
So when Rage finished, luckily we’d started this scene, this whole scene. Mickey Finn, Jack Frost and them were really involved in the early scene.
What was the common ground?
The common ground was the early jungle scene. There weren’t that much tunes around but we were like we’re playing this music, man, because this is fucking amazing. Not a lot of people would go with us. there were only about 8 DJs at the time. Carl Cox was one of them, Jack Frost, Brian G, myself, Mickey Finn, Randall, Kenny Ken.
I used to go to Roast at Turnmills and AWOL
For sure. What happened next after Rage was the Paradise [rave club in Islington], and it was the first inner London scene that didn’t involve us. We didn’t play at Paradise. Paradise was Randall’s house man. that guy ripped fucking holes in that place, because he had this thing called double-barrelled mixing. The early stuff was so out of synch, the breaks: it was really hard to mix. Randall was the mixer extraordinaire. He started this whole thing about double dropping. Which was like putting two records together and making it sound like one. Putting the two basslines together, making them sound melodical. He was incredible.
So the jungle scene started. which was quite a dangerous scene. This was early General Levy. ‘Incredible’, got in the charts, and before we knew it the whole jungle thing blew up. Rebel MC, ‘Leviticus’ was a big tune. And the early jungle, ragga got mixed up in all this. I don’t quite know how it happened, maybe cos it was ghettoised. They used to call it jungle techno. Like techno-ish, breakbeats, with ragga samples. And that blew up, man, blew up big style. And the whole jungle thing was the new punk. It was the new this, the new that. Then the reggae guys got involved and wanted to make tunes with all these new producers. So this scene that we kind of saw in its embryonic phase was the hottest thing.
The press just slagged it.
No, at the start the press slagged hardcore. ‘Charly’, things like that. Mixmag put it on the cover and basically laughed it off, saying this is a fucking joke. Rhubarb, what has music come to. But they loved jungle, cos that cartoonish element wasn’t there in jungle. Jungle was very aggressive and quite abrasive. Buju Banton sampled over breakbeats. It was a real ghetto thing and that’s how this ridiculous urban thing started, with everybody as well. ‘Oh it’s black music, we love black music, we love this, it’s the new punk but it’s like black punk.’ It was quite anal the way the press treated it. They loved it up until the stage when they found out people were actually getting shot in some of these dances. Going out and getting mugged. Yeah, the scene’s not as nice as we thought it was. I got a bit pissed off with the whole jungle thing actually because it was starting to get really dangerous. I saw guys I knew from the reggae scene in Brixton, and I was thinking, these are dangerous guys and I don’t really want to be playing music to these people. It all got a little bit sordid and messy, a lot of trouble and stuff like that. Great atmosphere, but it was dangerous.
How did Speed come about?
Speed was another residency that really got me on the map when I was feeling a little down. I was in a real limbo at the time. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Paradise was at its height, I’d dropped out of the jungle thing, gone off the whole ragga thing. I thought it was a bit too oppressive and I didn’t like the way the scene was going. But underneath everything else there was this beautiful melodic, spacey music like early techno. I couldn’t play it anywhere, because if I played it next to General Levy people would just walk off. It’s too fluffy, it’s too nice, it’s too pretty, not urban enough. So I was like fuck it, I need a club to play this music.
I met LTJ Bukem, met a guy named Leo who was doing some stuff at I think EMI, and my girlfriend Sarah, we just knocked heads and decided to do this night called Speed. Not for the connoisseur, but for people who wanted to hear something different from what they’d heard on a Saturday night. So we done it on a Monday, we had four people in there. And the four people that came said it would never work. Great way to start a night!
But we believed in this thing so much, let’s move it to a Thursday. Nicky Holloway owned the club. He said, ‘I don’t know what the fuck that music is, but do it, we haven’t got a Thursday night.’ And we went from having four people in there to turning away Oasis and Naseem Hamed. My girlfriend was on the door and she’s quite abrasive and no-nonsense. She said some really cheeky Indian guy came down tonight. From Sheffield, he had this accent, a boxer. I described him she went, ‘Yeah, he came down with about four girls. I told him he couldn’t come in and he nearly battered one of the security.’ And Oasis got turned away. They came down and couldn’t get in one night ’cos it was rammed to the rafters. Arthur Baker was there on a regular basis, and Deee-Lite used to come down. It was a great night. We’ve had some euphoric times in there man. It was the first time jungle had been taken to the heart of the West End. In plush surroundings. In the Milk Bar. Before it had been Victoria, or Brixton. Now we were in the heart of the West End.
But then the jungle crew turned on us. And they held a meeting, this is god’s honest truth, saying ‘What you lot trying to fuckin do? You’re trying to water down our music and you’re calling it “intelligent,”’ which is a tag Mixmag started.
When did jungle become drum and bass?
That happened in about ’96.
The whole tag ‘jungle’ took on a real sinister meaning. It just got so smashed in the press. We were like, ‘If we’re going to carry on we’re gonna have to change the name here, cos we’re getting slaughtered.’ And then the ragga thing went away, and the sound turned into what became drum and bass.
Then it all fell apart in ’98. we were getting totally slagged off for the music, everyone was like drum and bass has died, which was the headline for 18 months. And then garage came along, the death knell for drum and bass. It was the biggest kick in the teeth for us ever.
How would you say garage evolved?
Garage was a lot of the people that got fucked off with the ragga, didn’t really want to get int the intelligent thing, a lot of the producers went into this new thing called garage, which we’d heard about on the underground, for about a year before it really blew up.
And all the girls moved away and into the garage scene.
Yeah! It was where all the girls went from the jungle scene. Garage got so big so quickly, and so flavour of the month. Drum and bass was just like nothing. We didn’t even have a review section in magazines any more, no drum and bass reviews, never listed any clubs we were doing. It was like we died, like we never happened. Garage was drum and bass, but a slowed down form, for people that thought drum and bass was too fast and extreme. Drum and bass went to 160bpm, people were like fuck this. Girls were like, ‘Errrm… I think I’d like to listen to some more soulful kind of music.’ Garage blew up, and fair dues, it was a great scene. We thought it was the end for us. But we weathered the storm, and garage came and went, and it’s kind of like no longer around.
Come up to modern day now, and drum and bass is as big as it’s ever been. And I feel this year is a real turning point for the music. It’s been around a long time and everyone’s got over the fact that were gonna be here now. We’re not going anywhere. Now is a great year for drum and bass. I really think it’s gonna be a good year.
What were the first records that you would describe as jungle records? When it was clearly a new genre of music?
‘We Are I.E.’ Lenny D Ice. I remember getting that tune and playing it down Rage and not being sure how it was going to go down. Only probably with ‘Mentasm’ and a few other tracks have I got a response like that from playing a tune. It was incredible. That was the tune that everyone identified with. It’s got a breakbeat, a big bassline, it’s not house what is it? It’s jungle! For me it was Lenny D Ice ‘We Are I. E.’ That kickstarted everything. And then there was ‘Some Justice’ by Urban Shakedown, which had the CeCe Rogers ‘Someday’ sample. Early labels like Reinforced, Living Dream, Moving Shadow.
How did you get your DJ name?
I got on the radio and Mendoza was like what are you going to call yourself? What’s your DJ angle? Oh yeah, fuckin’ hell, what’s gonna be my name? Think of something quick because the show’s on in five minutes. I was going out with this Italian girl and she was like, ‘If we ever have babies…’ ‘Yeah! we’ve been going out together for about a week!’ ‘…I love the name Fabio’, so I said to him, ‘Fabio!’ And he said ‘Nyah man, yuh can’t call yourself that, what kind of name is that?’ ‘It’s an Italian name, I can’t think of anything else.’ He hated it. ‘You’re a black guy from the ghettoes of Brixton and you’re calling yourself Fabio?’ But that name just stuck. It doesn’t mean anything. I went to Rome, a club called Devotion, I’m getting off the plane walking around, and the promoters are there with a big sign saying Fabio, and I said, ‘Yeah, it’s me’. And they totally ignored me, still looking around. I said, ‘It’s me, I’m Fabio.’ They said You cannot be Fabio, and they were so shocked. It’s just a name guys.
What about the big raves like Sunrise?
We were known for doing these after-hour parties at Mendoza’s, that Oakey and them guys used to come to. After six or seven months into Spectrum came the Summer of Love. These guys Dave and Paul, they had connections and they loved us. They just went around and shouted our names out to everyone. Fabio and Grooverider. Told all the guys at Spectrum we should be doing the main floor, so when Sunrise started and they were selling tickets, they shouted the odds for us and said you’ve got to give these guys a spot.
Sunrise was the craziest times, man. At my first gig there played nine till ten, I did the warm-up, the first slot. Then Colin Faver had the nightmare of nightmares when he was DJing. I don’t know what happened but he had a nightmare set. Everyone was throwing things at him. The promoter was like, ‘Colin get off; Fabio, have you still got your records?’ I was like yeah. Colin got off the decks. And I put on ‘Strings of Life’, man. I’d never even heard it. I’m not claiming to be the first man to play ‘Strings of Life’, but it was the first time it got played at Sunrise. I was flicking through my records, couldn’t find nothing, and there was this tune [hums it] , and I’ll tell you what, everyone stood there, and you couldn’t direct this in a film: it was like Close Encounters. When the faster bit started going it just went off! I could have played that record all night and everyone would have said I had the best night I ever had in my life. I remember rewinding it. I played it to the end and the reaction was so strong. Still now, it gets that response from people. It’s just one of them tunes, man.
Any other big rave stories?
Groove done Biology, which was like the urban Sunrise, ’cos it was a black guy called Jarvis that used to run Biology. It was more the street rave kind of thing. A toff called Tony Colston-Hayter ran Sunrise, and Energy was guys called Tin Tin and Jeremy – his house was the house on ‘To the Manor Born’ [sitcom]. They were big time money people. Tony Colston-Hayter apparently blew 200 grand on backgammon. Groove played Biology but I got caught up in Sunrise and Energy. After that gig with Colin Faver they booked me on a regular basis and I did all the Energys and all the Sunrises. And that’s where the slight split in the Fabio and Grooverider thing happened, because they were at loggerheads. Biology and Sunrise hated each other. I was slightly Balearic, I played a broad canvas, and Groove was strictly DJ International and Trax and black New York sounds. It was never spoken about, but…
Did it pull you in certain directions playing for such a huge crowd?
Yes. Because the first time I done Sunrise in a field for 30,000 people, and you got to remember these guys were making clear profit, they never paid for venues, we used to get 50 quid, these guys would walk away with I heard silly amounts, 700 grand clear profit, without the police the tax man knowing anything. And they used to go to the M1 Heston services, have these parties, police didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on. You’d have all these people marching into a field and the police used to just stand there, these county police who’d never even seen a black person before, going, ‘Oh my goodness, what are these people doing in this field? What shall we do? Shall we call the army? Oh my god, someone’s shitting in the bushes.’
And afterwards you’d see more and more police presence and then the Sun came out with that rave thing and that blew the whole thing apart. They wrote ‘Yeah, we saw E wrappers, silver wrappers that these druggies use.’ It was laughable but it changed everything. It was never quite the same again. After that you got helicopters and police monitoring you, following you around. It was like being subversive. Everyone started thinking everyone was old bill. ‘She’s old bill, you know.’ ‘Err, that’s my sister actually’. it was a really paranoid, really weird time actually.
Did you get a kick out of feeling like an outlaw?
You did. But at the same time towards the end it wasn’t fun any more. You were literally being chased through fields with your records, and feeling that you were gonna get all your records confiscated and it’s the end of your career. It wasn’t fun any more.
But the early days.
We used to get a call from headquarters, the database, which was the house round the corner where they sold the tickets, and they used to literally not know where the rave was going to be until 9 at night. They’d be like, ‘Listen Fab, you might have to play in a field tonight, there might be about 30, 35,000 people there. Get your records together, meet at the services. It was like a phone thing, meet in Brixton. Convoys of 30 or 40 cars. Where’s the party? Got to the M1, go to Heston services, go there, and get another phone call, ‘It’s here!’ And you’d drive down, into these dark fields and then all of a sudden you’d see one laser. It was like the Batman sign. It’s over there! We didn’t know where it was, but all of a sudden there’d be 300 cars behind you. They’d be like, this guy knows where he’s going. Half the time you’d be driving into ditches, going totally the wrong way.
So you didn’t know where it was going to be any more than the punters?
No. And that’s why we used to go there. ‘What time am I playing?’ ‘Whenever you get here.’ It was so impromptu. It was brilliant, and we used to be driving, out in fields. You’d see farmers going fuck off out of my field, it was amazing. And in residential areas, in a warehouse, we used to see people sitting with their kids: ‘What’s going on?’ Until 11 or 12 in the afternoon. They were the greatest days, man. Incredible. I’m not going to witness anything like it again, but maybe my daughter will get rebellious.
You did feel like a rebel, coming home, 12 o’clock in the afternoon, with a tie-dyed top on, dripping with sweat, walking into a petrol station with bare feet… and you’ve got to remember this was Thatcher’s Britain at the time, and we were like, ‘Fuck Thatcher! Fuck the Tories,’ so you really did feel like an outsider. We felt glad to be not part of Thatcher’s Britain. We’re nothing to do with you. We don’t do 9 to 5s, man. we’re fucking outlaws, we’re going around with bandannas on our heads, dancing in the fucking street. It was crazy, you did feel that. You had an allegiance with… anyone with a smiley badge, that was an insignia. It was like a code. You’d see a smiley badge and you’d be like, ‘Yeahh, shhhhh!’ It really was like that. It was a secret fucking society, man.
© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton