THE EVERLASTING DRUM AND BASS AND JUNGLE PIONEERS: RUFFNECK TING & DJ DAZEE
Ruffneck Ting: the record label that needs no introduction. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the imprint and the milestone having already passed by the club nights that started in 93. We caught up with one of the originators, DJ Dazee, about promoting in this new era, upcoming plans, Ruffneck history and her journey on the decks
DJ Dazee has walked quite an exceptional journey here in Bristol. After moving to this vibrant city and studying for an Arts degree, her involvement in the underground music scene was a natural progression: “I just kinda put down roots immediately. When I was doing my degree there was a lot of music around me and I would go to a lot of nights, like Nick Warren’s 'Wiggle' and acid jazz nights at the Thekla. I was always taping off the radio and doing tape to tapes, which I guess was early DJing in a way.
“I was that annoying person that went out to all these things and would say to the DJ, ‘can you play this one, can you play that one?’ Then I realised, if you’re going to do that, stop annoying the DJs and just be a DJ yourself.” [laughs]
THEY WERE ALL MUSICIANS OR COMPLETE RAVER HEADS
But having to adapt and develop over the years to an ever changing industry has had its challenges and now even more so than before: “Before COVID-19 the biggest evolution was the turnover of drum and bass music and how it was consumed. The digital era made everything so much faster: fast, fast, fast. Next thing, next tune, hear it, want it, want to stream it. Back in the day you'd have something on dubplate for months, years maybe, and then it would come out on vinyl. Nobody minded waiting for them. Even now if you hear a few old school sets, it’ll probably be a lot of the same tunes because there weren’t so many and because of that so many more became classics. I think recently potential classics may have been swamped in the sea of new stuff, there’s so much music out there, it’s very hard to be noticed even if you’re making great music. Perhaps COVID-19 will briefly slow everything down a little bit again and give some remarkable tunes a chance to shine.”
A payout from a motorbike accident enabled Dazee to get the equipment she needed to take her DJing further: “When I left uni I had a job out near Dundry, making sculptural things for interiors, but I travelled there on a really rubbish moped bike. I got run over by a tractor (that’s how slow the bike was), I immediately dashed the whole insurance on 1210s and I wouldn’t come off them. My original DJ name was Sticky Glue cos I wouldn’t come off the decks! Then I proceeded to try and make mixtapes and started going to raves and queueing up for a set.
“Back then at those parties the DJ lineup wasn’t created in advance. We would turn up, queue up, put our name on the list and wait to be given a slot… Gradually as time went on I got put higher and higher up the list and I didn’t have to wait till the sun came up for my set.”
Despite the setbacks and restrictions from COVID-19, Dazee is working hard in making sure that Ruffneck is still doing what they can for drum and bass and jungle music: “Whatever happens, Ruffneck Ting as a label, along with all of us artists, we’re ready to adapt to what needs to be done. We were already put to the test with Euphonique’s 'Glow EP' that dropped on Juno the weekend just before lockdown, 20th March. Her full launch event at The Attic, that was scheduled for the following week was pulled as all venues were ordered to close.
"We didn’t have time to panic as we threw ourselves into making sure a live stream event happened instead. We got a load of views and great support between us, so I guess that’s one good outcome and we probably wouldn’t have done the streams without lockdown happening.”
Experiencing different sounds through the 90s free party scene inspired the path of music to come: “In those days ‘rave music’ was quite a diverse sound, with techno ‘flat beat’ sounds and the more breakbeat sound that was emerging and evolving into ‘jungle techno’. That was always the side I really liked but it was the least represented in the clubs. The free parties were really the only places you could hear it and places like AWOL in London and the big raves like Dreamscape and Universe.
“There were quite a lot of free parties going on around Bristol (and the rest of the country too) in the early 90’s, and originally it was a combination of sound systems and travellers who created the free raves. At first the police tolerated it but then Castlemorton happened and went on for a week or something. Then the police and the government came up with the Criminal Justice Act. So legally, you weren’t allowed to have unlicensed gatherings. There was some crazy rule like more than three cars in a row would be stopped”.
Due to the lack of places to experience the sounds they desired, the idea for Ruffneck Ting was created: “At that point I was living with people that I was raving with and we were all loving that breakbeat sound, that jungle techno sound. They were all musicians or complete raver heads, and one of them was Markee Ledge (Ruffneck Ting co-founder), and Rachel and Colin (who founded Knowledge magazine) were also housemates and raver buddies. We were like, if we can’t experience it enough in Bristol we’ll have to do it ourselves, so we did and Ruffneck Ting was born.”
IT SOUNDED FAT WITH THE WATER BEHIND HELPING TO AMPLIFY THE BASS
The artwork and imagery that coincides with music releases or events have more importance now than ever before. The prided and wholesomely respected artwork that Ruffneck Ting carries is quite remarkable, originally the artwork was created by Danny Jenkins and has now since been taken over by Steve Wright: “Part of the success with the label is down to him and his crazy visions and characters. It’s things like that that make you stand out, and obviously our representation as a quality label.
“Despite current music trends, I'm not just on mission to churn music out, I have to allow things to happen. If the art needs tweaking or masters need tweaking, I wait. 'Glow EP' was originally scheduled for two months earlier, but I'm not gonna force it if things aren't lined up and ready together.
“Event art is equally as important, even if it's just for streams for the time being. If you put effort in with art at the beginning, it'll make your event look convincing and appealing. If the artwork looks shit, then what do you think people are going to expect? We got away with it back in the day, back in the day it was probably the shitter the better [laughs], but now it’s not such a good look. All of our first flyers were hand drawn by me with a biro, and it was really bad photo copy paper, like green or something.
THERE'S NO PRETENTIOUSNESS, EVERYONE'S FRIENDLY AND WARM
Established in 1993, Ruffneck has created an unbreakable mould in the Bristol drum and bass and jungle scene: “I started DJing in 92 in the raves, then 93 we started Ruffneck Ting. It was just up the road at The Bank, which is now The Love Inn, it was like a proper Jamaican owned pub then and it was quite a bluesy type of pub.
“We started our thing on a Wednesday night and it grew very rapidly. it became a weekly Saturday night event at The Depo and then became a massive rave at Trinity and Lakota.”
Her story demonstrates the message that if you’re passionate about something, then the motions will start to fall into place: “When you’re younger and you’re really driven, you just expect things to work out and they do because you just don’t see any other way. You’re like, this is what needs to happen, so it happens. Especially if you’ve got the right energy and you’ve got likeminded people around you.
“I think that’s the important thing, being part of a crew. As a label or club night you need a lot of people, a lot of pieces of the puzzle that need to be sorted by different people. The decision making process is so much easier when there’s more than one person involved and that’s true about the music making process as well.”
YOU CAN'T WALK AROUND BRISTOL WITHOUT DRUM AND BASS
“But now, I think Steve’s colourful art matches our sound. I’ve always felt Ruffneck Ting is musically colourful, because we’re sample-based it’s not going to be just a constant drone all night. Plenty of flavours and vibes, I think our crowd represent that as well. Everyone’s a bit nutty when it comes to Ruffneck, there’s an eccentricity. Everyone kinda lets loose. There’s no pretentiousness, everyone’s very friendly and warm.
“And we’re a multigenerational crew, our youngest DJ, Saf, is the daughter of one of our original Ruffneck friends. That’s the good thing about the music in general these days. It’s clear the foundations aren’t going anywhere and at the same time the youngsters are bringing new energy and vibes. I think festivals have made that a thing as well, it’s definitely something you expect at festivals, it’s cool.”
Dazee shines the light high for Bristol and it doesn’t seem to be dimming down anytime soon: “You can’t walk around Bristol without drum and bass. Even in lockdown you’ll hear it somewhere. The city lives off drum and bass, it’s great. Hopefully soon we’ll be hearing it back at clubs like Motion, Blue Mountain and Ruffneck’s regular home, The Attic. We always bring a good crowd, it’s not about competing with anyone else, we’re just doing our thing. I don't want to have to put on crazy lineups, I put on artists on the label, and it’s about promoting people that do stuff for the label.
"It’s our vibe, you know? If you want to live in a city where you’re going to be able to hear the worlds top DJs, Bristol is the place to be.”
A while after founding Ruffneck with Markee, Dazee’s production game began: “He was always making music, he had a studio in his bedroom. It was great, those first tunes we did together, under the name of Substance, were done on his Atari computer with Cubase (just a sequencer, cos there was no DAW back then) plus an S2000 sampler, a couple of synths, some effect units and I remember a nice valve compressor.
“It was such a natural progression. It was the same thing as the club, needs musts! We needed more music, so we made it ourselves. As soon as there’s something you need for your creative callings, the best thing to do is to go and try and sort it out. So we started making tunes, started the label and it went really well. Still here!”
In 2013 Ruffneck Ting Records relaunched, with a digitalised back catalogue and new music that had been created with the new producers Dazee had started working alongside: “I bumped into Jinx at a festival in 2011, got talking to him then he introduced me to K Jah and Vytol. We all started working together, and by 2012/2013 we had a few bits of music together.
“It was also Ruffneck Ting’s 20 year anniversary. Mark and Colin wanted a night to promote the Anniversary so we did one at Lakota and at the same time relaunched the label with the RNT20 Classics Album.”
The artist pool throughout the Ruffneck releases is a humbling selection: “K Jah, Jinx, Vytol, then more and more people came forward. Serum asked to remix one of the old tracks, then Saxxon and The Force as well, some great producers come forward, they were just so happy to see the label back.
“All of them said they were inspired and kinda brought up on Ruffneck Ting. Obviously not just Ruffneck Ting, but Ruffneck was part of their introduction to jungle music when they were really young. That’s the reason why they all contributed to it when it came back and that was great. It gave it a real kickstart for it’s rebirth.”
Having played the Bristol circuit uncountable times, one of Dazee’s fondest recent moments behind the decks was at Shambala Festival in Northamptonshire, with the Police Rave Unit: “I love playing big stages and I feel blessed, I had a lot of amazing opportunities last year - Glastonbury, Hospitality in the Park, Love Saves The Day. But sometimes, it’s the little venues or secret venues that make the funniest memories.
"At Shambala I had a cheeky extra set on the police van, the Police Rave Unit. If you don’t know it, they do a convincing job of looking like a police riot van, with every one in police costumes, except they blare out dance music. At the start of my set they they’d been told to turn it down as they were conflicting with the main stage, so they stuck their sirens on and drove to the lake. My friend and I were also in police costumes pretending to arrest people along the way [laughs]. But I loved DJing on the van, Natty D joined on the mic too, it sounded fat with the water behind helping to amplify the bass - really enjoyed that set!”
As well as the brilliant recent Euphonique release, the list of artists we can expect to hear from Ruffneck Ting this year is something to be excited about: “Well, 'Glow EP' is wicked, Euphonique is just smashing the tunes out right now and she’s got a sound that’s her sound. She's been sending stuff for a while then all of a sudden, the sound was right. She's created this EP especially for Ruffneck and that’s a skill that good producers have, they’ll make the tune for the label. We’ve also got a tearing EP coming from Bassface Sascha who’s an original foundation artist, I don’t think he gets the glory he deserves. He’s a fantastic producer and has teamed up with the legendary Spyda, so that’s going to be a special one. We’ll be launching that at Area 404 later in the year now - really excited that event will still be happening.
“We also have a new artist from America lined up, Coastill, Bristol boy Distract is coming soon, a heavyweight album from Verdikt, more Ruffneck business from The Force, Jinx, K Jah and Vytol and of course myself.
“Whatever happens in these uncertain times, we’ll be doing our best to continue to put out our vibes and reach our loyal audiences however we can!”
Check out many of these tunes in the mixes by Dazee.
Check out Glow EP launch streams:
Glow EP is out now and available in all stores:
DJ Dazee Artist Info:
April 12th 2020