There’s a vibe that rolls through Kenny Ken’s sets and productions, a vibe he’s had rolling from the early 90s right up to now. Even as he’s moved his sound from the reggae flavoured jungle of his early years, to the hard minimal rollers he rolled out in the late 90s, to a return to bashment powered jump up in recent times, he has always worked with rhythms with that certain skank- even the darkest tear outs he dropped in the late 90s came flying in on a percussive shuffle that separated them from the linear, rigid clank that was dominating the scene at the time. Make no mistake – no matter what sub-genre name might be fashionable at the time, Kenny Ken plays jungle.
As one of the originators, obsessed from early on with the futurism breakbeat music offered, Kenny is never going to be happy staying confined to the old school circuit. Whilst he’s happy to pass through and play classics sets (and even the occasional back to ’89 house set), he remains committed to pushing DnB forward – and this is why his forthcoming back to back set at Born & Bred with the revitalised DJ Ron, is going to be all about the fresh fire, as he let me know in a quick phone chat earlier this week-- but before we start, let's just get this out the way...
You came up through the Crazy Larry’s night, right?
Yeah, they and Labyrinth were the first people to give me a chance. I played Labyrinth first.
Was that when Billy Bunter was a DJ there?
Yeah Bunter had just started out. At that point we were playing hardcore, just coming off the house scene. This is in 1990, ’91. We were calling it hardcore and jungle techno. But what I first started playing was house, then it progressed from there into breaks, hardcore and jungle.
So how did you first get into house?
Well it’s funny, how I got into it was everyone was talking about talking ecstasy, and I was like, “fuck that, I ain’t taking that, you’re crazy, that’s the fucking devils drug”, and all that. Then one Friday there was a rave on in East London – we’d gone to this club in Southend then went on to this rave after, it was the first time I ever went to a rave, and it all went from there.
Where was the rave?
It was on the back of Church Lane in Whitechapel
I’m assuming someone gave you a pill there and you saw the light?
Yeah, that was it. I was hooked from there. I used to rave at Labyrinth and Crazy Larry’s and I just kept on at the promoters. Labyrinth came through first but Crazy Larry’s put me on a bigger stage really.
Labyrinth has been written about pretty comprehensively, but less has been said about Crazy Larrys – where was it?
It was in Chelsea on the Kings Rd. It was run by Dave and Carl. I saw David last week as it goes. They just seemed like two posh guys who wanted to put on a good party. They started with Crazy Larrys then moved on to Busby’s which was every Sunday morning.
Was it strange you being a Hackney boy going over to rave in the other side of London?
No, not really- now it’s all about area codes and all that shit, but back then it didn’t matter where you came from, you could go and rave wherever you wanted.
Coming from Hackney, were you involved with any of the local reggae sounds pre-jungle?
Yeah, I’ve got a soundsystem background – I used to follow Unity back in the day
That’s where Ragga Twins came out of isn’t it?
Yeah they were on Unity. They used to be at 4 Aces when I used to see them, but they originated from Tottenham.
So that means you started off raving upstairs at 4 Aces then moved downstairs to Labyrinth
Yeah hehe, basically
So you’ve been around since the early 90s, and you’re still here, still playing raves across the world. What’s the secret to staying in the game so long?
We’ve been there from the beginning, from where jungle and drum n bass got invented. If you’re still playing it good then people will still want to hear you. The sets I play, you won’t hear anyone else play. I’m different selection wise. You’ve got a few good jungle DJs out there, but we all play different, that’s the thing about jungle, there’s so much good music out there that you don’t have to play the same as the next guy, you can find your own style then corner that part of the scene, and that’s what I’ve been doing, I’ve not being following anybody. A lot of DJs start out thinking oh I wanna be like him- but I just always wanted to be like me.
How have you responded to the current commercial success of drum n bass? Do you ever play the massive chart tracks?
Well the stuff I play is underground, I don’t really play the commercial tunes, unless it’s a really, really good tune. I’m looking out for stuff that no one else has got – I get sent the stuff by Wilkinson or Chase & Status or whoever but I don’t play it unless it’s a banging tune. I’m out there looking for tunes and making my own shit – that’s what you’ve got to do- one of the reasons I’ve lasted so long is I’ve kept with the times. Nowadays you have to have a label; you have to be making music. When I started you just had to DJ good, it's a bit more now.
Who do you think is worth checking on the new underground
I’d say Margaman. DJ wise I’d say Krissy Kris – I’ve watched him grow from a boy who used to mash up my needles every fucking week trying to mix to what he’s grown up to today. I don’t think he’s flourished yet but he’s one of the wickedest DJs out there.
You’re playing at Born & Bred – what sort of thing are you going to play there?
I’m doing a back to back with DJ Ron cos we go way back. I spoke to him a couple of days ago, he’s gonna come back. It’d be nice to see him come back. I’ve been hooking him up with new music, where he’s not been DJing for a while I want to make sure he’s on point. I don’t wanna go up there and make him look stupid. But I’m still gonna have stuff he ain’t gonna have! I’m making sure he can play a blinding set though, I ain’t gonna palm him off with shit. We’re gonna play shit that people don’t know. If the vibes are good, it doesn’t matter what you play…
Catch Kenny back to back with DJ Ron at the Born & Bred festival, London June 4th-5th. Tickets and info over here - we're imagining it might sound a bit like this...
Kenny also plays Moondance Festival at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Sunday 18th September: http://moondancefestival.co.uk/