Ruff Quality Recordings

l-12426-1309183285-pngIn the late 90s drum & bass music was completely new to me. I’d skipped almost all of the jungle era, having much more likely to have been wearing an unwashed Kurt Cobain t-shirt at that time. Grouchily. So 90s. When I did finally catch the bug, my favourite thing to do was to go crate digging for used records, mainly because I fancied myself as a modern day DJ Shadow for a period that may be personally embarrassing to note. That didn’t really work out. Any-hew, I vividly recall a trip to a completely random and long-since demolished second hand store hidden away in the back alleys of Christchurch, New Zealand – the very last place in the world you would expect to find any No U Turn castoffs… a correct assumption as it turned out.

Underneath a pile of used hats I uncovered a dusty cache of forlorn late 80s and early 90s rave music. At this time I was still not fully clued up on what, if any, connection this type of music had to drum and bass, but I knew enough to realise that there were probably some lucky gems in the stack if I was prepared to school myself on what they were. So, without listening to the records or recognising much about anything on the labels, I walked away with a shopping bag full of crusty rave vinyls for about $1 each. That is not a lot of New Zealand money FYI.

When I got home, in amongst a disappointingly large number of boring techno and house oonst oonst shit, there were several records that really piqued my interest. They all sounded pretty random – as if the makers had taken every single idea they had in their heads that day and put them down to music. And yet, there was an unmistakable and familiar energy about them. They were all breakbeat driven tracks, albeit much slower than the fast dnb tunes I was used to hearing. The intro – breakdown – drop structure was in place. There were amen breaks, those weird tiny uh-huh’s, and big rave hoovers that I incorrectly assumed were contemporary aspects of drum and bass circa 2000. But these were like from 1992 or so…? Head explodes!

The records turned out to be:

  • Dance Conspiracy – Dub War
  • The Last Crusaders – Music For The People EP
  • 150 Volts – Hi, I’m Chucky Wanna Play

How on earth these classics turned up at the arse end of the antipodes will forever be a mystery to me, but they marked my own personal, belated, discovery of hardcore and jungle. Thank you random DJ whomever you were. I hope those records facilitated your score that week or some such other life urgency.

Since then,  starting with the 150 Volts release, I pretty much inadvertently wound up with a full run of the entire Ruff Quality label. It’s kinda cool for me to finally spend some time with these tracks as I must have acquired them all as random pieces within much larger record orders. I honestly can’t ever recall having listened to most of them prior to this.

So this post is a serendipitous follow up to my previous one on Red Light Records – both Red Light and Ruff Quality being Shut Up and Dance sub-labels. Ruff Quality pre-dates Red Light by some time however. All of its releases came out in 1992, serving up hardcore on a more experimental tip than SUAD might otherwise have put out on the main label. Ruff Quality provides us with the production output of some interesting characters, including but not limited to the aforementioned 150 Volts (an early Stu Allen alias), Konspiracy – an alias for the combo of MC Duke and DJ Leader 1 (aka e.kude/I.C.3), The Good Fellas aka DJ Red, and what looks like the first ever release from the soon-to-be-prolific jungle don DJ Dextrous.

The tracks are, in general, fairly unpolished but there’s something about the hardcore era when people were just throwing tracks together from all sorts of bits and pieces and cheeky samples that really appeals. My favourite release on Ruff Quality BY FAR is the Cosmic Brian 12″. There are two different mixes of the slick ‘Far From A River’ – I love the rolling breaks on this and the energetic synth line. The cheese pianos I can take or leave but I think this is a really solid hardcore tune that has stood the test of time. It still sounds great and is fun to mix. The other two tunes on the release are great too… two slabs of hardcore mentalism with a ton of variation and experimentation. Highly recommended 12″ – yes, we’re still listening to these in 2016  ;) ‘150 Volts‘ is another standout for me. Hidden away on the b-side of relatively famous tune, 150 Volts is a minimalist dark(ish) roller that sits in the mix quite well with older jungle tunes if you can tolerate pitching it up.

Ruff Quality wouldn’t be a buy-on-sight old school label for me, but if you’re into quirky, creative hardcore then I’d definitely recommend that you give them a go at least. Best thing is, all of the records are still dirt cheap. All told, I’m quite happy with how the mix turned out. Some of these old tunes are seriously banging, even today. Enjoy!

Tracklist

Konspiracy – Police Tottenham
Mystical Units – Positively Evil (Babylon Mix)
Konspiracy – E-Love
Konspiracy – It’s Alright
Konspiracy – Rush
> Mystical Units – Positively Evil (Original Mix)
The Mario Brothers – Ain’t No Way
Konspiracy – Here Goes The Boom
The Mario Brothers – Something
The Mario Brothers – Something (Breakdown Mix)
Konspiracy – Crowds
The Good Fellas – Let The Music Play (Chill Out Mix)
The Good Fellas – Let The Music Play
The Mario Brothers – Gonna Be
Mystical Units – Darkness & Light (Light Shade Mix)
Konspiracy – Your Love Is On My Mind (The Lawnmower Man)
Mystical Units – Darkness & Light (Dark Shade Mix)
150 Volts – Hi Im Chucky Wanna Play
150 Volts – Hi Im Chucky Wanna Play (Demo Instrumental)
Mystical Units – The Crowning (Orthodox Mix)
Mystical Units – The Crowning (Full Worship Mix)
150 Volts – Hi Im Chucky Wanna Play (Shut Up And Dance Remix)
Mystical Units – Positively Evil (Remix)
Cosmic Brian – Dis Generation
DJ Dextrous – Ruffneck Biznizz
DJ Dextrous – Ruffneck Biznizz (Midifusion Remix)
Cosmic Brian – Hardcore Helmet
150 Volts – 150 Volts
Konspiracy – Sunday (Worries)
Cosmic Brian – Far From A River
Cosmic Brian – Far From A River (Radio Mix)
Konspiracy – Wind It Up

 The mix

Download MP3 320kbps 50 mins

Red Light

RedLight2In and around 1994 the jungle scene was changing. Even though the sound had never been more popular there was internal division as to how the sound should be progressed. In one camp sat those who believed that the way forward was to eschew the trappings of hardcore rave tunes, stop the reliance on sampling each others’ music, and to move towards a more technical and considered approach. This direction led to the evolution of techstep and eventually neurofunk in the mid-late 90s. Similarly, there were those who believed the future lay in richer and more original musical arrangements, taking influence from jazz, classical music, and contemporary music in general. These were the antecedents of jazzstep in the mid 90s and then liquid drum and bass later on.

At the same time, there was still a significant demand for punter-friendly dancefloor tunes that retained the Jamaican soundclash-style ragga influences that had been a notable component of jungle and hardcore tunes since the beginning. These influences were often among the first that were let go by so-called ‘intelligent jungle’ producers as markers of an outmoded style. As a result, despite being wildly popular, ragga jungle existed almost on its own as a separate branch of jungle music – and so the annoying tendency to categorise every jungle/drum and bass track within very narrow, arbitrary and obscure subgenres (as I have just done!) began.

Red Light was set up in 1994 by rave pioneers Shut Up and Dance as an outlet for the ragga-style jungle tunes they were making at the time. Aka PJ and Smiley, Shut Up and Dance released numerous early rave scene classics on their SUAD label. Unfortunately, at the height of their success, SUAD were made an example of by the music industry for using uncleared samples on the monster hit Raving I’m Raving. Although this didn’t cause the label to completely shut down, it’s clear that the episode had an effect on SUAD’s output from then on. As such, Red Light became something of a safe haven – a cozy jungle sandpit where SUAD could continue to do their thing in their own fashion, with limited run releases, away from the glare of scene politics and the distractions that can bring. This mix features the output of those sessions.

I wont go too far into the history of SUAD but if you want to read more there is a brilliant in-depth interview with PJ himself over at Blogtotheoldskool. SUAD have their own website too.

All of the releases on Red Light share a particularly unified sound thanks to shared and heavy sampling of various Jamiacan sound clash tapes across all of the tracks. If you took a shot for every time the same “Massive!”, “Get me!”, and “Oh God!” samples surface in the mix this month you’d be a dead man three times over.

There are two big anthems on Red Light. Coca Cola is a straight up ragga tune well-known for sampling the vocals from Simpleton’s Coca Cola Shape but Bastards is something else… instantly recognisable by its “Keep jumpin’ ya bastards!” vocal sample (by PJ himself) the clattering breaks and heavy warp bass smash forward to create the perfect dancefloor smasher. “We’re stompin now!” indeed.

Another Red Light release that I must shout out is Hunt and Seek / Selekta. Both tracks are similar to Bastards in that they hit hard, and bass sits really well in the mix. On Selekta in particular the breakbeat choppage is just ridiculous. As with most of the Red Light tunes, Selekta is bare bones, often just one or two channels running at the same time (drums and bass!). But what SUAD do within those limitations is true Amen artistry. Highly recommended! Here’s this other blogger who bigs up Selekta.

So, in summary, all of the Red Light releases are well worth tracking down. They’re probably the most pure examples “ragga jungle” you are ever likely to find, and they were doing it first alongside only a very small number of other labels at the time… Suburban Base, Tearin Vinyl, etc. Unfortunately due to their limited nature, most releases on Red Light seem to be undergoing the dreaded Discogs price-gouging right now and are not cheap. Upwards of £50 seems to be about standard which is a fair chunk of change for a crusty jungle record. Despite this, any Red Light is a buy on sight item in my book.

Red Light was wound up after only 8 releases (9 if you count the Black Tracks release, see below) having, in the words of SUAD themselves “run its course”, pretty much like jungle music really. SUAD, like so many of jungle’s biggest names, went on to become major players in the UK Garage scene over the next decade. Long live the nuum!

Tracklist

Hunt & Seek
Somebody SUAD Remix
Selekta
Coca Cola
Kunta
Bastards
Wow Yeh
Roots Rock
Skylarking
The Burial
Look Good
Fire
Sensi
Killer Sound Boy Nitty Gritty Remix
Killer Sound Boy Nitty Gritty
Wanted
Liquidator
Bastards Remix
> Coca Cola Remix
Get Up
Somebody
Ruling
Murder Tonight

Bonus Features

Black Tracks Vol 1 – this was the only ever release on the Red Light sub-label, Black Tracks. I’m not quite sure why the need was felt to release the tracks on the new label as both Skylarking and Liquidator could have easily sat as tunes on Red Light itself, but there you go.

Blackman – Bastards / Coca Cola Remix – Although both Bastards and Coca Cola were out on Red Light first, this release was done on the main Shut Up and Dance label. I’m guessing they wanted to capitalise on both tunes being big. Fair play! This release features a repress of Bastards and a similar-sounding remix of Coca Cola.

Blackman – Kunta / Wanted – Again, two more big jungle tunes from ‘Blackman’ aka PJ and Smiley, put out on SUAD, which would have been perfectly at home on Red Light itself. This release as well as Bastards/Coca Cola on SUAD are well worth a look as there are many more copies about compared to the limited Red Lights. As such, they can still be had for very reasonable prices. Bargain!

Red Light – Ruling Feat. Garnet Silk – this came out on one of the Jungle Hits compilation albums put out out by Street Tuff / Jet Star, and as far as I know this is the only place you can find the tune. I have the shitty four-tracks-per-side vinyl but there is a CD version which I presume includes the full (or maybe edited?) track in crystal clear digital.

The mix

Download MP3 320kbps 54 mins