Lloyd Bradley and Richard Russell talk remix culture and cutting dubplates
Richard Russell is no stranger to the remix album.
The XL Recordings boss has, throughout his career, been a consistent supporter of the format and its collaborative approach. Whilst the format can often feel like a marketing exercise, Russell is a big believer of remix culture itself and its power to transform, and enhance, the original work. Having produced Gil Scott-Heron’s seminal 2010 album I’m New Here, he later gave Jamie xx the reins to remix the LP, and again, later in 2020 handed it over to jazz drummer and beat-maker Makaya McCraven for a fresh take.
Last year, the label head completed Friday Forever, a collaborative effort from his Everything is Recorded project with Aitch, Berwyn, Ghostface Killah, Maria Somerville and more. Before completing the LP, however, he had one artist in mind who he wanted to take on the remix duties: Bristol’s Clipz. The result is Saturday Specials: The Clipz Remixes, out on 29 January.
Music journalist and cultural commentator Lloyd Bradley – who’s published the books Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King and Sounds Like London: 100 Years of Black Music in the Capital – has penned the liner notes to the vinyl version of Saturday Specials. Ahead of its release, we’re publishing Bradley’s notes, which tells the story of the collaborative chemistry and process behind the remix album, and the time Russell – along with Clipz and Jumpin Jack Frost – headed to the London dubplate studio Music House.
Making a rave album that wasn’t a compilation was never going to be easy. Meaningful long players simply weren’t originally part of a culture that expressed itself tune by tune by tune. This extended beyond the dancefloor too, as the whole spirit of rave was about new ideas and shifting the larger landscape onward at such speed it defied analysis. It was a DJ-driven thing – instant gratification trumped cerebral contemplation every time.
Even Richard Russell, for over 30 years the co-owner of XL Recordings and the driving force behind Everything is Recorded, had never attempted a rave album.
Until Friday Forever by Everything is Recorded.
As a longstanding DJ, producer and artist, he explains there was no reason why he should have: “I’ve made rave tunes, but it was never really an album genre – the Prodigy made a fantastic rave album with Experience, but there weren’t many others. The difference was Liam of the Prodigy was a highly skilled musician, so he had a different outlook to most of us. Not to say there weren’t other musicians in the rave scene, but essentially were all DJs making tunes to play out. It was always important it was quickfire, that you could make a tune, cut a dub of it and go! Play it in the rave that night. Making an album, that took months, so by the time you’d finished the first tunes would be irrelevant.. That was the culture of it.
“This didn’t necessarily go along with the record industry standard of albums being the most important aspect of an artist’s work, but it retained the excitement and spontaneity that belongs in music making.”
Courtesy of XL Recordings
Continuing with this attitude he decided the best way to approach it was obliquely: not as a collection of tunes to rave to, but a series of songs about rave. By sequencing those records to follow a fictional Friday night as it bled seamlessly into Saturday morning – from hope to hangover, as so many ravers will remember – it became more than just music, Friday Forever offered up a vivid snapshot of uniquely British movement.
Given the album’s immersive internal connectivity, it’s unsurprising the recording environment played a significant part. It was made in the fabulously-equipped studio Russell built in London’s Ladbroke Grove, as a space to stimulate creativity rather than apply pressure. “I wanted somewhere the cast of characters I know and I love working with could come, feel comfortable and we could just try stuff. Have the sort of open-endedness with room for lots of accidents and themes to emerge.”
Friday Forever was exactly one of those instances. Three or four apparently unconnected songs from these loosely-structured sessions sparked a series of memories of great nights out or woozy mornings after. There was, he realised, the bones of a story materialising and opted to flesh it out into a full-blown rave opera: musically pristine, documenting, commenting on and, above all, celebrating the culture.
“I could see I had something. One of the songs, This World, felt to me like one of my really bad hangovers, the kind of bleak day after feeling, and I remembered an interview I’d read ages ago with the movie director Francis Ford Coppola who said, ]If you want to tell a story, make sure you’ve got the ending first.] And I thought, yes! This is the end of the night out. Then another of the songs was The Night, which felt like the start. It was coming together.”
Clipz © Courtesy of XL Recordings
“As people came into the studio I’d tell them about this story and everybody could relate to it because everybody knew what Friday night was, regardless of their age, background or where in the world they were. Of course this led to ideas for the other stages of a Friday night out and how to interpret them.”
The universality of Friday night is reflected in the diversity of Friday Forever’s contributors, with those taking part arriving from all over – New York, Manchester, Ireland, Trinidad and London – with backgrounds including jungle, hip-hop, house, dub reggae, punk, grime, R&B and Irish folk. It’s a diversity of stylistic foundations essential for the project’s integrity, and delivering an original album in April 2020 that Russell was very proud of, but he was always aware he had assembled a collection of musical sketches, “There was some sort of curve and lyrically there was a story to it that everybody seemed to relate to, but what I realised there wasn’t really a point in it where it completely lets go and goes full rave. It needed that.” The solution lay in Bristol, in the form of renowned junglist, the producer and remixer Clipz.
So moved was Russell by Clipz’s remix of Koffee’s Toast, the tune of 2019’s Notting Hill Carnival, he turned the entire project over to him for a long-playing remix, in which the Bristolian stretched a continuous vibe across the whole set. It was, Russell maintains, perfect for the story he wanted Friday Forever to tell, and, crucially, gave a veracity to the whole idea of remixing.
“Although both Clipz and myself have a very broad approach to music, with this we were just going down one road, with a very specific sound – jungle. it was informed by rave and I loved the attitude, it was even faster, even more full-on. I knew Clipz could pull it all together in a way that would preserve the integrity of the original works.
“That was very important, because this is my work and if I’m going to have somebody reinterpret it, there’s got to be a real purpose to that. I’ve always been a believer in the power of the remix, but so much of the time remixes are simply pointless record company marketing, and if it was your tune you’d be like ‘What?!?’ What do you mean my tune’s now going to sound completely different?’ From an artist’s point of view that is often really problematic, so there has to be something meaningful, and if there is remixing culture can be amazing and you get these fantastic results.”
“I knew even before I finished recording Friday Forever I wanted to initiate a remix collaboration with Clipz, and the results were everything I hoped they would be.”
For Clipz himself the project – titled Saturday Specials – was nothing short of “refreshing”.
“Richard came down to my studio at the end of last year and told me he wanted me to remix the project, then as soon as it came across my desk I felt a connection. My immediate thought was ‘This is going to be great’, I knew what I wanted to do with it straight away, I knew how I could do it and I knew I was going to enjoy it.
“I’d never had the opportunity to remix a whole album before, so that was great and this was so varied. As well as Richard as a producer, you’ve got to add into the mix all the great names that are there – Flohio, Infinite Coles, Aitch, Ghostface Killah, Maria Somerville… So many different musicians, different styles and sounds and vocals and instruments, for me it was like I’d been given a palette of sounds, or colours, or however you want to describe it and being told I could do what I liked with it.”
“Richard wasn’t precious and that was so freeing about it – his was a very free way of dealing with creativity. I didn’t expect that because when you hand someone else the wheel you’re going to get their interpretation, whether it’s what you wanted or not. With Richard, because it was his original vision, at points when I played him stuff he would hit me up with ‘Ooh, that’s good, how about trying this?’ So it was a real collaboration and I found it a real pleasure working alongside him. Sometimes you get what people call feedback and you don’t really find it either helpful or respected, but every time Richard made a suggestion it made sense because he clearly respected what I was doing and I think led to a really good result.”
Richard Russell © Courtesy of XL Recordings
Good result or not, this wasn’t the end of Everything is Recorded’s collaborative journey. The third chapter was to cut Clipz’s mixes on to 10 dubplates, a vital part of the process from a spiritual as well as practical point of view. The dubplate is a one-off acetate disc of a tune cut directly from the recording studio’s master tape or digital files, with the skill of the cutter determining the range of frequencies reproduced. Good dubplates provide a uniqueness and quality to the music that has put them at the centre of reggae sound system culture for over half a century. With exactly this heritage in mind, Russell, Clipz and superstar jungle DJ, Jumpin Jack Frost took Saturday Specials to Music House’s cutting room in north London, immersing their music in true dubplate tradition.
Russell explains: “When we cut the dubs at Music House, Chris [Hanson, the owner] used to be in the reggae band Black Slate and I was thinking this was so interesting – he started off cutting reggae dubplates for the big sound systems, he did all of Soul II Soul’s stuff, he’s cut rave records, jungle records… It’s all bass, it’s all about the bottom end, and if you are part of that, like he was from his reggae days, then all these genres make sense because that’s what they’re all about. Chris embodies it because he’s been there cutting and getting the sound right on these things from in the first place, which is reggae.”
“Reggae is the thing that informs all of this – musically and culturally – it’s had the greatest impact on any one of these contemporary British sounds. Whether the grime kids are aware of this or not doesn’t really matter, it’s there, it’s in the sound, it’s in the DNA. That’s why it was so important we cut these tunes on dubplates and did it at Music House. Because I wanted Friday Forever to recognise where it came from.”
As an example of Music House’s intergenerational importance to the London DJ scene, it’s where Clipz first came across Frost, as the former lined up for hours to get his dubs cut for the weekend, and remembers how the latter’s status allowed him to jump the queue.
Once the trio had supervised the cutting, it left one last layer to be applied: the 10 dubplates to be live-mixed, in a club, by Frost. This was the realisation of a project – the ideas and the building of it coming together as an actual night out. Something Clipz had in mind all along.
“When I was making it, I was thinking what would be really nice would be to get one of the original heads who I kind of grew up following to mix the tracks together, like a DJ mix it. So when Frost was up for doing it, I thought what a great continuation for the project. It was one more collaboration – a different interpretation of my versions of Richard’s tunes which was a good place for the whole journey to end up.”
As far as Russell was concerned, involving Frost was as significant as going to Music House: “Jumpin Jack Frost is such a key part of that whole narrative. He came into hardcore through hip-hop, but really he was into reggae and had that sound system experience. Then suddenly he found himself in this rave thing where it was all mixed up and after that Frost’s journey was into jungle. He was amazing, because when we started at XL he was already a big influential DJ who was very important to get dubplates and test pressings at that time. But he’s held that position ever since and it was just an amazing thing to have him involved in this, because he has roots and he’s still like a frequency holder.”
“That felt like the completion of it all, tying it up and connecting it to the roots of everybody involved. It was full circle, the start of it and the conclusion – the story of a Friday night and the story of how it came to be.”
Saturday Specials: The Clipz Remixes is out on 29 January 2021