In February of this year I wrote a column on Renk Records and it's main producer M Beat. Despite having created a host of jungle and hardcore classics, including Incredible, which I think has to be credited as one of the biggest jungle tunes ever written, the story of M Beat has largely remained untold. I wanted to shine some light on jungle's great lost producer, even if I all I had to work with were the tunes and online rumours. After I published the piece I got an email out of the blue -
I was really interested to read your article about Renk Records, it was funny seeing someone else’s perspective of things that are very close to my heart. My name is Steve B and I worked at Renk from 92 till the label stopped trading. If you fancy a natter and want some facts from straight from the horses’ mouth as it were I would be glad to help
This was a touch - of course I'd heard of Steve B; his track Ripple is a ragga jungle smasher that still kills it today. Before I met Steve I did a bit more research on Renk, and found out that my original statement, that Marlon and Renk owner Junior were brothers, was wrong - Junior is actually Marlon's dad, something that puts their later falling out in a different perspective. Unsurprisingly I was well up for a chat, and over the course of a couple of sessions down the pub Steve uncovered just some of the turbulent, pioeering history of Renk Records - this is a mammoth read, but for anyone who wants to know about the intimate ins and outs of the early days of pirate radio, jungle, hardcore and rave politics, I'd say it's essential..
Tell me how you first hooked up with Renk?
Steve: I left school at 17 and went to work at a publishing company in Plaistow. I was a production assistant for these magazines, and they had an in house printer. I went into the art department one day and see this flyer on the artbox for an acid house party in E8 – I was like 'what the fuck’s that man?' I was going to raves and all this at the time. And the art guy, he was alright, he said, 'oh this is from Junior, he puts on these raves, he’s a massive black guy, smokes a cigar and he’s funny as fuck.' So I was lik,e alright I need to meet this guy. So Junior comes in and I met him. His raves weren’t really called anything, he just had a flyer with four smiley faces in the corner. We used to go to the raves, me and my pal, and then I lost touch with Junior..
Where were the acid house parties?
He did one in Kilburn. He did one in the old LEB warehouse in Mare Street, a couple in Bethnal Green – just along from the station there’s a warehouse, an old LEB warehouse again, and he did a party there. It was 3 warehouses in one, and it was fucking blinding. It was only one DJ he used to have all night, a DJ called Aleister from Crazy Larrys Tuesday Crew. [Crazy Larrys is a club on the Kings Road that the Rapattack Soundsystem had a residency at on Tuesdays]
So I used to buy records and go to raves. I taught myself to mix by taping the shows from Ellis-D on Sunrise FM. And cos I was buying the records, I knew when he was mixing, I could tell when he was bringing one record into another. I had a stack system with a tape deck, a radio, and a record player – the record player had no pitch control but if you pressed the record player and tape deck start together you could play both of them at the same time, so I’d be doing that all the time, trying to mix. Hahaha.
What was the first pirate you played on?
That was Friends FM, based in Leyton, opposite Orients football ground. There were a couple of tower blocks in Orient Close, we were there for a couple of years, around 1990. At the time I was 16 or round about. When I went up there they had no 1210s – they had the Technics with the little pitch dial on it, but I’d learnt to mix on those so I was sweet. Friends was a big thing. Nicki Blackmarket was on there, although he went under another name that I don’t want to say. Me and Frogger, TDK, Bizzy B, Shaggy and Breeze who used to play at the Energy parties – it was people from all over London. There was a guy on there called QED who did a tune on Urban Shakedown – there was a techno guy on there called 2 Kilos, he’d do mad techno stuff.
We used to play everything – Belgian R&S stuff, acid house, early Warp stuff, LFO that sort of thing, Shut Up & Dance – this was before anything was called anything. There wasn’t ‘hardcore’.
Then I heard Impact FM on the dial. I was still buying records and mixing at mates house, and he was like, fucking get on Impact. I rang em up gave em a tape and got on it – that’s where I met Swift and Zinc. Hype wasn’t on there, he was on Fantasy – they had Hype, Rap, Krome & Time, they were our rivals when I was on Friends FM. Impact was in Hackney. It was owned by this guy called Colin and he had this guy called Mad Axe who helped him set up the equipment. When I met Colin he said ‘I fucking hate this guy Mad Axe but I need someone to help me set the kit up’ – I said ‘fuck him off and get in my mate Roy – Formula 7- from Friends, he knows how to do it all.’ So Roy came in, and they fucked off Mad Axe then changed the name to Format FM. It was 93.2. Colin got rid of Axe, but it had all the same DJs.
Were you putting any raves on?
We were doing things in the Tasco Warehouse, in Plumstead. I think that’s where Zinc had his first gigs. That was the place famous because it was where someone got stabbed when Rap was playing Mr Kirk’s Nightmare. When that tune came out it was like, wow what the fuck is this! It was mad. But it didn’t make anyone stab anyone.
So anyway, back to Renk, some of the early Renk stuff was coming out now, remember Lets Pop an E? There’s a bit in that tune with this mad sub bass – me and my mate used to live above this mental family, they were always raging. My mate had a big system and we used to put the speaker on the floor when they’d start acting up and turn the bass up, it’d shake the room. They had 4 kids who’d go wild! When they’d go wild we’d put the speaker on the floor, turn the bass up and the walls would shake and that’d stop them ahahaha. The 12” had a blue label, it had Renk and M Beat stamped on it and that was it. And I don’t know why but I knew Junior had something to do with that record. So I saw him in Wired for Sound in Hackney, where I used to get a load of my records from, and we caught up, he was asking what I was doing and I said ‘I’m buying tunes’, so he was like ‘fucking hell have this’, gives me a Renk 12” and tells me, ‘I’ve got a label, come down. What are you doing, are you working?’ And I said no, so he was like ‘fuck it, come and work for me.’ That was around 1992.
Did you have a defined role?
At first, because I still had my ears to the street I was A&R. If you listen to the early stuff it was a mix of rave stuff and ragga, and it wasn’t really working. Junior had a distributor, Mo’s Music Machine. He kept on giving them records, then going up there and they’d say, ‘bruv we haven’t sold anything’, so he’d stick them in the boot of his car and sell them himself. After a while he was like, ‘I can’t keep doing this, so I’m gonna get you a driver and you can go out shotting these records to everyone.’ That’s what I did at first, then I was mastering, I was giving people test presses, A&Ring a bit.
Had Marlon - M Beat - started writing tracks at this point?
When I started working at Renk I met Marlon. He’d done Lets Pop an E at this point.
And how involved was Junior in the writing process?
Junior would be like, ‘I’ve got this African album, take it downstairs and mix Helicopter over it’. He’d be coming out with madness! He’d have the DAT running, and I’d have the decks there trying to piece together the parts – and African musicians aren’t playing things in 8 bars 16 bars, so I’d be grabbing bits from here and there – I told Marlon this story a few years later and he was like, ‘I fucking did that! He had me doing it as well..!’ Junior used to come out with some things. One time he told me he bought the rights to Slush Puppy in the West India. Another time he told me, Jamaica aint got the internet yet, I’ve bought the only place you can use the internet in the airport, so if you want to use it you’ve got to pay me. And then he was buying the rights to African tunes – he’d had a sniff that MTV were going into Africa and he wanted to own the video rights. And he did! Look at the catalogue – there are African tunes on Renk records..! [In fact, you can check out a whole catalogue of tunes Renk Records Africa have got here]
So he had some sort of creative input?
That’s what I’m trying to get at. People like Junior, Danny Donnelly, Rob Playford, they had a business instinct. Playford was into Rockstar games innit, and Donnelly was on his own thing. Junior was similar in that regard, he was a businessman, he just came up through music. I remember when he said to me, we’ve got to get the power away from these DJs. He was saying ‘so I make a tune, then I’ve got to wait for someone else to promote it? Fuck that.’ I was like ‘that’s not gonna work, DJs are the king’, and he was like ‘fuck ‘em, I’m not bowing to these cunts’. So when videos came along we started doing videos.
Did Renk make videos?
Yeah we did videos for tunes that never came out. The reason why Renk worked was Marlon was very creative with the music that he made, but he didn’t have the business brain. Junior was above him and owed the company, we had a girl in the office called Shelan and she was very switched on, and I serviced the streets. Junior would say things like ‘Margaret Thatcher only got 3 hours of sleep – that’s all you need!’ I’d come in mash up, and he’d say ‘you only need 3 or 4 hours sleep a night boy!’ It worked because we all had a role and we all knew what we were doing. Then there were other places that helped us, JTS, Music House, John at SRD.
Junior had the office in Shore Road at this point, just off Well Street (Hackney). It was an office upstairs and a studio in the basement. I’m not actually sure how old Marlon was – he was young! This is 92, he was writing tracks like Give Me Love which was more hardcore, and Just a Little, then Peeni Porni was moving forwards a bit. And things like Booyakaa still had a touch of rave to it – I can remember a conversation him and Junior had, where Junior would be like ‘the rave things still happening, put some of that in’, but Marlon was gradually moving away from it.
Marlon was banging out tunes pretty fast at this point-
We were nowhere near as Strictly Rhythm, who’d have 2 or 3 releases in the record shops every week, we weren’t as prolific as that, but there were points where we had something new out every month. We didn’t really have things floating around on dubplate.
Was that Junior’s decision? He didn’t want things sitting on plate did he?
Not really. I mean, he’d give a few bits to DJs now and again, but more so to the reggae DJs. It wasn’t specific to the jungle and hardcore DJs – we didn’t really play that game.
So Junior was more likely to give a dub to a reggae DJ?
Yeah, yeah for quite some time, cos the rave scene were already having it – they were into it, and he was more into untapped markets. He was into trying to get people from abroad onto it – he used to say to me, ‘once the reggae lot get it, it’s on top’. And for a long time they wouldn’t.
Which sounds was he giving dubs too?
There’s Jah Shaka – I remember meeting Shaka at a shop in Brixton and him saying, ‘oh you’re doing this jungle stuff’ – he wasn’t really turning his nose up at it, he’d heard about it, we ended giving him a few bits. People like Mystery as well, he was a big reggae DJ. You like that tune Ripple right? It opens with the sample saying ‘the original jungle tune’ – I sampled that from a soundsystem called King Addies sound – the sample is taken from Tony Matterhorn, who was their mic man, talking about Incredible when Addies were clashing a sound called something like 4 by 4, he’s going ‘the original jungle tune, General Levy from London.’ So soundsystems were picking it up. But mostly the dubplates were given out based on who would come through at what time – it was more timing than anything else. Junior weren’t really into leaving stuff around on dub for ages though.
Let’s talk about Incredible
So Incredible, sometimes when you have a massive tune it can be the worst thing that happens to you. We sold 3 – 400,000 copies of that record when it came out. Where do you get 300,000 records from? They don’t just come out of the air – we got them on tick. There’s a photo of Junior in front of a huge box of records somewhere. If you interview him he might have it to show you.
What was the link up with Levy?
I asked Marlon about this, cos you’d written that story about some girl he’d gone to school with and he didn’t know about that. My recollection is that Levy just called up. Marlon had sampled Levy’s tune Heat, so I think Levy just reached out. I can’t say that 100%, but Marlon pooh-poohed that story about it being through a girl he’d been out with. So Levy phoned up, and Junior said come down. If you listen to the instrumental version of it, it sounds like a lot of earlier stuff, it’s like a mash up, where he used a lot of the same beats – it sounds a bit like Rumble and Style. He’d done his thing and Levy come down to chat on it – when they’d done it, I was like, ‘it’s too much vocals bruv! They’re not gonna have that, it’s too much man!’ And Junior was like, ‘Don’t watch that mate…’ hehehe
You told that me there was a DJ at the cutting house who wanted it on plate and Junior wasn’t gonna give it to them –
Yeah, it was Frost (Jumping Jack Frost). This was at Music House. I’m pretty sure it was Easter Weekend, it must have been 94, and me and Junior have gone to cut plates for Devious and Mickey Finn. Prior to this I’d seen Frost one day down Black Market, I’d been on my own, Junior hadn’t been with me, and he’d said, I want you lot to distribute my tune. I said, ‘what Burial? Yeah bruv, definitely, 100%!’ We’d already distributed the Timmi Magic tune Passing My By, and we’d distributed some of the King of the Jungle stuff as well, before they signed a deal with Suburban Base, so Frost had seen we were doing stuff and he wanted to work with us. So when I told Junior that Frost wanted us to distribute Burial he was like, ‘yeah, fine, cool’. So Frost was at Music House and he heard the Incredible beat and was like, ‘I’ve gotta have that! I’ve got loads of things to do this weekend!’, and Junior was like ‘Nope. Not happening. You’re not having it mate, it’s just for them lot and no one else is having it.’ And I was like, ‘listen bruv, give it to him – if it puts us in a position to get Burial there’s a shit load of cash to be made.’ So in the end he relented and gave him the plate.
And I’m assuming Frost hammered it that weekend?
Yeah they all did mate. The smashed the granny out of it that weekend. It just blew. We came back on the Tuesday and the phones just started ringing. Devious was saying ‘I had to play the tune fucking 6 times in one set – people wouldn’t let me play the tune, they kept reaching over the decks and jacking it up themselves.’ He’s like, ‘there’s wheel ups, and then there’s THAT’. Obviously we didn’t think we were gonna sell half a million, but we knew it was different, it was more hype than we’d ever had.
And the 12”s got a picture sleeve – the first Renk 12” to have one, so Junior must have decided it was worth backing.
On the early releases Junior would put ‘M Beat’ really big across the label – Randall used to make me laugh, he’d be like, ‘you’re that brother from M Beat Records innit?’ and I’d be like, ‘no it’s Renk you doughnut…’ So Junior used to put ‘M Beat’ massive across the label cos he’d say he was pushing the artist first, then he started pushing the ‘Renk’ a bit bigger. With Incredible we knew about pre-sales and all the hype, but Marlon wasn’t into doing interviews at all. So Junior was like ‘I want his face everywhere; if we’re gonna sell x amount of thousands I want people to know his boat at least.’
But there was this thing Junior used to do all the time – the week that we’d put a tune out he’d go away. When we put out Incredible he’d fucked off for two weeks. The girl Shelan had picked up the artwork and gone to show me, and it only had the type on at the bottom saying ‘M Beat – Incredible’. It was only because I used to work in a printing place that I was like, ‘where’s Marlon’s picture?’ and she said, ‘they’ll put it on’, I said ‘this is the fucking proof! If it’s not there now it ain’t gonna go on!’ So I rang the printer and said ‘you’ve got to get the picture on the front’. Thank fuck or it wouldn’t have been on there at all. People weren’t doing picture sleeves then – usually you’d just get the label in a plain coloured sleeve. I don’t think we were doing anything groundbreaking, Junior’s point was just, I want his face to be known.
And around this point you actually did a live show right? This is all before the backlash
Yeah! This was before the tune had actually come out, but it was still massive. We did this performance in Walthamstow, in the Assembly Hall or Town Hall. Levy came out the place went beserk.
Was that with a band?
Yeah, we had a drummer and a little live set up; Marlon on keys. It was a bit fake, the drummer was miming, Marlon was doing his thing on the keys, so there was a band there.
What else happened on the night of the gig?
Marlon did a few tunes; he did Sweet Love and some of the earlier tunes. I was DJing, Devious and Red Ant as well. We had another artist Maxine who did a thing with Dubwise, they performed as well. It was like an hour and a half, something like that.
And there’s a film of that somewhere?
Somewhere there is a video tape of that show. I think we did about 500 copies of it, so some motherfucker somewhere has got a copy of it. You never know, if you put this out there someone might pop out of the wood work with a copy. Marlon says he thinks he’s got one somewhere but he don’t know where. It’s one of them ones, we weren’t into keeping history.
The way history reports it, Levy then did his infamous ‘I run jungle’ interview and the backlash kicked off straight away – is that how you remember it, or was there already bitterness towards Incredible’s success?
No! Before that interview there was nothing! I don’t know if you remember but before that article there was a Mixmag cover with Levy, Frost, DJ Ron and Rebel MC on it – this was pre the backlash. There was nothing negative til that interview hit the streets. As soon as that did it just went fucking bananas mate. It went arse up, and pretty quickly as well. Within the space of two weeks it had gone from nothing to ‘we’re forming a committee’. I was like ‘blud, fuck.. that’s fucking crazy!’
So do you think the interview was directly responsible for forming the jungle committee?
It was. 100%.
Did that have any impact on sales or gigs or anything?
I don’t think so. The horse had bolted already. Everyone had a copy already. The underground already had it – remember we put it out the original first then deleted it. The one that charted was the remix. So everyone from the underground that would have been screwing had it. It might have impacted some of the rave gigs Marlon and Levy might have got, because of where DJs were saying if any of the promoters book them we’re not playing. It was horrid mate. They threw the baby out of the pram big time.
And after Incredible Marlon stopped writing anywhere near as prolifically – what can you say about that?
This is the thing. I could understand why it would seem that way, but from someone on the inside it was different. I’ve always said that after Incredible Marlon should have been in the studio, hammering out the tunes, put out a fresh album together with Incredible on it, and we should have put that out. But what happened was we started touring all over the country, heavy, and then Europe and every else started blowing up, we went Japan and did that. We were doing 4,5,6 shows a week. So instead of him going into the studio and going out on the weekend he was out performing.
And then it was like, we’ve gotta come with something else now. So we worked with this guy Junior Giscombe who’d had a hit in the 80s with Mama Used to Say. He did a tune called Morning Will Come, kind of an old soul tune, and Marlon made it into a jungle tune. It’s not a typical M Beat thing, we did a video of it, we got Splash to do a remix, but it didn’t kick in for 5 minutes, one of them ones. Hype was going to remix the tune, then the boycott blew up, and he said he couldn’t do it. We had another release planned, and this tune just didn’t take. Junior had a girl called Maxine he was pushing, it wasn’t that great, we did a video for that, so we were doing things but it just wasn’t really happening. Then basically Marlon and Junior fell out big time. We were supposed to do a concert at Camden Palace with a full orchestra, and Marlon turned round the week we were gonna do it and said I’m not gonna do it. Things started going wrong. Junior and Marlon split, Junior started messing around with garage and started the label Money Music, Marlon went off and got a deal with XL and that didn’t really work out, then he started working with Jazzie B (Soul II Soul) I think he remixed Keep on Moving and did some stuff with Wookie, but drum n bass was changing, that Ed Rush and Optical thing was about at the time. Things move on, you know what I mean.
I’ve been talking to people over the years, trying to work out why Incredible’s got this longevity, and I don’t get it. I don’t know if there’s been any other tunes that have been that big. Maybe Let Me Be Your Fantasy? I don’t know. I’ve been trying to sit down and work it out with Marlon, he reckons it’s got a nursery rhyme feel about it. I don’t know mate. I can’t work it out.
It was just a moment
Yeah yeah, it was a cool thing.