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In Conversation: Fabio & Grooverider

In Conversation: Fabio & Grooverider

“It’s unbelievable to see that the music we started playing back in the day has turned into this unstoppable beast.”

Legends, godfathers, pioneers, life-changers – you name it, Fabio & Grooverider have been called it; and quite rightly too. There’s not many DJs in the world who can claim they played a pivotal role in sculpting the very foundations of the musical genre they operate in.

This Saturday Fabio & Grooverider return to Bristol’s beloved Motion nightclub for the first time in over three years. But this isn’t just any typical performance – they’ll be playing a special Rage era Jungle set, paying homage to the very roots of jungle that not only paved the duo’s career direction, but also formed the eternal heartbeat of today’s thriving drum and bass scene.

The Rage era represents a period in time that helped completely change the UK’s rave scene, transcending it into a new direction of blissful musical experimentation and transformation. It came at a crucial time both politically and socially – uniting society through dance music and providing a mode of expression anyone and everyone could participate in.

To fully appreciate the historic set Fabio & Grooverider will be laying down at Motion this Saturday, how the Rage era came to be and the scene it has created, you need to go back to 1985 when Rave music began to storm the UK.

It was all triggered by the Ibiza four – Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker, who took a trip to Ibiza and stumbled across the little-known club of Amnesia – the appearance of which was an unsuspecting farmhouse. After listening to the acid-house sounds of DJ Alfredo and mixing with people from all across Europe on the same ecstasy-fueled buzz, they came back to London keen to recreate what they had experienced. Beforehand, the clubs in the UK would only play funk, soul and jazz, but it all changed once the four of them returned.

The UK started to see a rise in acid house parties and the north became a new entity for dance music with Manchester’s Hacienda leading the way. Many refer to 1988 as the second summer of love, a counter-culture harping back to the original summer of love in the 1960s.

Speaking to Fabio, he talks about how it was "literally like Woodstock" growing up. “People used to talk about Woodstock all the time as this legendary thing where Hendrix was. But then the rave scene came knocking and it was the same kind of thing! People were on stimulating drugs and off their nut. Rave music was being made, so it was like flower power all over again! Those things are normal now. People don’t get how back then in the 80s it wasn’t at all. Not in the club scene anyway!”

As the 80s progressed, illegal warehouse parties started to gain popularity. Promoters would take over disused warehouses and give them new life through decorating them to create unique fantasy worlds – equipped with swimming pools, UV lights and big sound systems. Fabio considers Rare Groove music, an obscure musical style embodying jazz and soul, to be responsible for starting illegal warehouse parties.

“We were obsessed with rare groove and got into the whole movement. They were the first people to break into places and hold parties. They did it because a lot of the clubs wouldn’t take the Rare Groove nights as the music attracted black people and they didn’t want black people in the clubs. They would never take funk nights.”

In the 1980s the UK was going through a tough time – from violent minor strikes and the rise of football hooliganism, to the crippling political policies of Thatcherism. One beacon of hope came in the form of rave music, which was a product of enterprise culture. People went out and did it themselves, no matter what their qualifications were. Rave music resembled a rebellion against the establishment similar to punk, but this movement was more powerful.

“You’re literally talking about a different time. I personally had just come out of two Brixton riots and there was also a lot of other shit going on like Thatcherism and segregation. There was blatant racism on television too. I remember watching football matches and you could clearly hear monkey chants. The commentators and everyone else would ignore it. That’s what society was like at the time. Getting into clubs was sometimes impossible. You didn’t feel like you had any rights.”

Rave music changed everything – for the first time people of different colours, backgrounds and ages were brought together in one space. Opening in 1979, London’s Heaven nightclub did just this. Originally founded by Richard Branson, it is a gay club resembling the power dance music has to break down barriers. Gay clubs at the time gained major popularity because they openly embraced rave culture. Promoters welcoming anyone and everyone ran the parties.

Taking place every Thursday night was Rage – a night embodying a new and more inclusive music policy, which not only turned into one of the biggest nights in London, but was also a key factor in shaping today’s society.

“Rage came along in 91 and broke down barriers”, Fabio says. “For the first time there was a mix of races in a club all raving together. There’s a great picture of Groove and me in a car park with ravers of all different colours.”

(The 1988 'Summer of Love' was known for its huge raves and street parties)

"That would never have happened before. Even Boy George and Fat Tony used to come down. For the first time gay people could freely mix. No one cared about your sexuality, ethnicity or age. People take that for granted now – rave music changed it all and made society a better place.”

In the 90s, the UK was the victim of a major crackdown on rave culture, with the police bringing an end to illegal raves with the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994, which singled out anti-social behaviour and banned repetitive beats. Huge demonstrations and many confrontations between the public and the police followed – most famously what organisers consider being a 50,000 strong crowd descending on Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park in protest. Whilst the illegal rave scene diminished, super clubs like Heaven began thriving across the UK.

“Rage was so special. It looked like a warehouse and had an amazing sound system and crazy lights. Rage had everything going for it, especially for the time. It was always a mad atmosphere – a bit like a football match. Every tune went off like we had just scored a goal. It was magical.”

“It was actually a purist house night with some of the biggest house DJs of the time. They used to be Gods to us! A friend of ours took us upstairs to the Star Bar. Nothing was happening up there, it was more like a chill out room. She then got us a gig playing up there… After about a month the room was constantly mobbed! There used to be queues on the stairs to come see us.”

After regularly playing 11-3 upstairs in the Star Bar, Fabio & Grooverider’s big break came when the resident DJs downstairs, Trevor Fung and Colin Faver, were unable to make it.

“We were given a chance to play downstairs one week by the club owner. Afterwards, he came up to us and told us we were going to be the new residents downstairs. He said he was going to push the other two upstairs, which we felt really bad about because they were heroes of ours. It’s like Lionel Messi being past his best and us getting picked as his replacement…”

Playing to the crowd downstairs was an entirely different challenge for Fabio & Grooverider because the crowd consisted of a loyal house following, meaning it was a gamble to experiment with early jungle. Other DJs advised them that their mix of styles wouldn’t work and that they couldn’t get anywhere without playing vocals in their sets. Despite this, they stuck to the style of music they love and continued to pursue this new breakbeat-fueled jungle sound.

“After about ten weeks, everyone started coming downstairs. We had the most urban crowd going – anyone who was anyone was queuing up to get in. It changed from this cool night to a mad rave. The house purists weren’t happy… I remember Kevin telling us that a lot of the guys who usually come down were asking what the f*ck is happening, what is this music? The purists, who were people still around from the acid house days, were getting replaced by this new generation of people we were bringing in.”

“They wanted something more energetic and cutting edge. That’s what Rage was and is why people like Goldie came down. Kevin was clever enough to realise that something special was happening. Most club owners wouldn’t have taken the risk with us because the jungle sound was so different.”

Fabio & Grooverider changed music by taking breakbeat records and speeding them up, creating a distinctively raw sound unlike anything previously heard. Early jungle stood out because it had the ability to move around and could be incorporated with the likes of jazz and reggae, leading to eclectic mixes encapsulating the duo’s broad musical influences.

“We played everything from NY house to Detroit techno and mixed it with early jungle. If you think about that concept, you could never pull that off now! I remember playing vinyl tunes that would jump…they weren’t scratched, that’s just how they were mastered. F*cking crackles in it and everything! We didn’t care about mixing it either, we were just throwing tunes in. It was a real joy. With early jungle there were no rules. All the break beats were out of time and you couldn’t mix tunes properly.”

The 90s witnessed a significant surge in the appeal of jungle with the likes of Bryan Gee, Jumping Jack Frost and Micky Finn all pushing the sound. As big as Rage was, there were also other players who helped kick start the movement.

“People like Shut Up and Dance were making some wicked tunes that weren’t necessarily jungle, they were hardcore with twisted up soul samples.” Fabio says. “There was also Ibiza Records and a label called Living Dreams. They all started around the same time. These were real inner city labels – people living in council estates setting up labels off the back of pirate culture. A lot of things were happening at the time and they all contributed to what ended up being jungle.”

Fabio & Grooverider will always be considered true pioneers of the genre because they were able to reach the largest audience on a weekly basis at Rage. Performing on the biggest stage in London meant every producer wanted them to play their tracks. Fabio emphasises how himself and Grooverider “were championing jungle very early on at the club with all these tunes. People might say that Randall or Nicky B had those tunes at the time, but we at Rage had the biggest stage to play them on. That’s why we will be forever hailed as the godfathers of jungle.”

As the 90s progressed, many DJs tried to recreate the ambitious mix of styles Fabio & Grooverider were threading throughout their sets, resulting in a higher volume of jungle tracks getting produced on a regular basis. It was seeing the duo perform at Rage that inspired Storm, Kemistry and Goldie to draw the blueprints for the next movement onwards from jungle. In 1994, they formed Metalheadz – a label aiming to explore the roots of breakbeat and jungle, in the process reworking it into a new dimension – drum and bass.

“By the time Metalheadz and Speed started in 95 we decided we were going to really do the jungle thing. Speed was like this atmospheric, cosmic, drum and bass night – they called it intelligent dnb. Then Metalheadz was this real futuristic night. Those two nights alongside Randall’s Awol at Powerhouse really set the pace. Jungle and drum and bass became a serious movement from then on.”

“Speed-meddling changed everything too”, Fabio reiterates. “That’s when we cut out hardcore because it got silly. It got sped up too much and started to do our heads in. We were now 100% junglists. Things really started to progress when Goldie made Terminator and time stretching started. When music got time stretched it changed music forever!”

When Metalheadz co-founder Storm first stepped into Rage and saw Fabio & Grooverider perform, he cites it as the moment his life changed indefinitely. This is a feeling shared by many after experiencing their first taste of rave culture – something Fabio believes today’s drum and bass scene has firmly held onto since the Rage era.

“People say that raving is not what it was like back in the day, but the main difference is that it has been around a long time now. I still have people coming up to me and saying – ten years ago I saw you play at a rave and it changed my life. I changed one guy’s life last week too. He feels exactly what someone felt 25 years ago. People are still going out raving and having these experiences!”

“The Great thing now is that you’ve got festivals, which are a real harp back to those old rave times in the sunshine”, Fabio says. “In summer, you don’t want to be in a nightclub. Festivals are a little taste of what we went through. I’ve done a lot of amazing festivals like Boomtown, Glastonbury, Outlook, and every time I still get the same buzz. The atmosphere is so important as a DJ and drum and bass has got it in spades. That’s what makes it so special because the ravers just have it, more than any other scene. People buy into it year and year out. It’s run by people that love it and that’s why it’ll never die.”

Jungle as a genre has always stayed true to its values. It has attracted a loyal fan base of dedicated fans and producers right from the beginning, who still to this day push the sound and protect the values it originally stood for.

“That’s the great thing about jungle and is why it has lasted so long – independent labels”, Fabio stresses. “Whether it’s Hospital, RAM, Inner Soul, it’s independent. They might turn into huge companies but they still come from the streets. I remember Hospital Records when they were just starting out. The owners Tony and Chris gave me their first ever single as London Elektricity. It’s incredible to see what they’ve done in the space of 12 or so years. They’ve turned into a monster of a company and shown that if you do things right and keep it real, then you can have a label that is successful and represents the music properly.”

Over recent years drum and bass has seen a number of artists receive criticism from long-term fans for opting to produce a more mainstream style of drum and bass. Most notable Sigma, who previously stated that they intended to diversify from their underground reputation in search of a more commercial sound. This isn’t something that bothers Fabio at all.

“Some people get really hung up on it, but I don’t understand the problem. The guys that have gone on to do more mainstream drum and bass like Sigma, Chase & Status, Sub Focus, those guys are opening doors for us. I went to a Chase & Status concert a couple of years ago and they sold out the whole O2! I remember when these guys used to have tunes out on Renegade Hardware… It’s crazy.”

“The thing is, it’s a problem as a producer. If you sit down and think – I’ve got four kids, I’ve made this tune that will make enough money to look after them, and it’s not going to affect anyone, then what’s the problem? I’m just trying to get my pension out of this…’”

Drum and bass has seen a dramatic rise in popularity over recent years and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. From being played on mainstream radio and as backing tracks on popular television channels such as Sky Sports, to High Contrast orchestrating the music for the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Many will criticise producers for stepping away from the genre’s underground heritage, however, if this never happened then it is unlikely the genre would have reached the sprawling, popular mass market that it does today – one that sells-out festivals and events all over the world.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying! These guys have opened up doors. Glastonbury is a great example – it has become a staple for drum and bass. We did the Arcadia stage to 30,000 people this year. When we walked up and looked out I was like - oh Jesus Christ… there are 30,000 people listening to drum and bass. It wasn’t like that back in the day. Drum and bass is now main stage music! Look at Hospital selling out 12,000 tickets to Hospitality in The Park, or Let it Roll. There’s dedicated festivals now. It’s unbelievable to see that the music we started playing back in the day has turned into this unstoppable beast. It’s a joy to see it grow!”

Fabio & Grooverider bring Rage era jungle back to Motion this weekend, playing at the Hospitality takeover of In:Motion on Saturday 14th October.

Photos courtesy of Fabio & Grooverider

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