Kevin ‘DJ Hype’ Ford is a British institution. An early adopter of house and hardcore, Hype’s love of breakbeats, hip hop and reggae made him a pivotal player in the jungle scene. As a DJ he introduced hip hop scratch techniques to jungle mixing, and as a producer he teamed high speed breaks with the huge basslines of dub to massive effect. He’s bashed out hit after hit, been involved in some of the scene’s most influential labels and events, and has been at it over 20 years now with little sign of slowing down. The music industry loves throwing around the term legend, but I’d say Hype’s got fair claim to the title.
After a few months of back and forthing over email, I finally managed to catch up with Hype over the phone. It soon transpired that he hates phone interviews (we had originally arranged to meet at his radio show, and I’d had to pull out, so my bad). After I sent a copy of the transcript over to him, he re-wrote half of it, telling me that he ‘rants on the phone and can seem really negative’ – we had a couple of slightly testy exchanges over this, and, during one of them I had a moment of clarity: Hype genuinely gives a shit. Years on from the start of his career, and he’s still burning with a passion for jungle. There are hordes of cynical DJs out there, from house, to EDM, to DnB, who milk a sound they’ve grown to hate – Hype isn’t one of them. This is no revivalism for him, no nostalgia trip; this is the real deal: A Way Of Life, to borrow a phrase.
As it turned out, after Hype’s intervention I ended up with a far better read than it would have been had we gone with the original transcript. Fair play Hype, in a world of fakers, you’re one of the few artists I’ve met that really does keep it real. But fucking hell you’re hard to talk to on the phone…. 😉
Yeah yeah, before Jungle, before hardcore, before rave. I’ve been going since ’82, when I first started I was at school with Shut Up and Dance.
YOU WERE AT SCHOOL WITH SHUT UP AND DANCE?
Yeah, we were in the same class. This year we’ve been friends for 40 years! People don’t know as much about us as they should, not being funny or anything- if you look back in terms of UK dance music, it’ll probably stem back to us. We are some of the the pioneers who were there before there was a dance music scene, my career and dance music evolution have run side by side, so I tend to get very aggressive towards people that give out incorrect information about my ( and Shut Up & Dance’s) history- after all, its a personal legacy that I am VERY proud of.
OKAY, SO WHAT I WANT TO DO IS WIND IT RIGHT BACK. IF YOU’RE SAYING PEOPLE ARE GETTING IT WRONG, I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE 80’S. SO YOU WERE IN SCHOOL IN HACKNEY, WHICH ONE WERE YOU AT?
Brooke House secondary school. Alan Sugar went there, but years before my time! It was a crazy school that would probably get shut down if it was run the same way today, a lot of kids that I hung with at school went on to be mad, dead, or in prison. I know it sounds cheesy but in a lot of ways music saved us from that path of destruction and gave us something to create and love with a passion.
LIKE THE TWO TONE STUFF?
Yeah. We were 11 and the whole two tone /uk ska sound was the first music we got into for about a year and then we went straight from that to lovers rock reggae and dub. Because i was into ska the year before I was wearing clothes for the two tone fashion- ie, a two tone suit, long crombie coat, harrington jacket etc, we used to shoplift clothes in Carnaby Street as money was tight… Then when I was going reggae dances I was still wearing my two tone clothes as I had no money to just change fashion- I always had other people in reggae dances commenting on how stupid looked in ska clothes!! But I was there for the music and did not give a fuck what anyone thought of my appearence.
WERE YOU GETTING INTO FASHION RECORDS AND SAXON SOUNDS AROUND THEN?
Not really, I was more into Jah Tubby’s and the whole dub culture. In my early days of going reggae shows it was all about the soundsystem size, the speaker boxes and the unique special dubs that carried b-lines to make your trousers shake and the floor quake! Then the dub sounds started to fade and sounds like Saxon Sound, who had there own MC’s, started to be the biggest thing in UK dancehall. As I was so young and had no money I pretty much stayed in Hackney, going clubs like Cubies, Willows, All Nations, and community centre venues in housing estates like Holly Street and Knightingale, as well as what we called “blues parties” which were held in houses all over Hackney at the time.
DID YOU USED TO GO TO THE FOUR ACES AS WELL?
Yeah! Four Aces was a reggae club and I am sure my mother raved there before it was a reggae club too, I was a 13 year old white kid growing up in a very racially divided world. If you went to a pub there might be one black guy there, and if you go to a reggae night, there’d be one white guy there, and that would probably have been me. It didn’t bother me – I was into both cultures. All my friends at school were black and all the kids I knew on my housing estate were white. I had no problems hanging with either crowd but in those days going to clubs was a very racially divided thing but I was one of a few that walked on both sides of the divided fence.
I SEE JUNGLE AS THE FIRST TRULY BRITISH DANCE MUSIC, WITH ALL THESE CULTURES COMING TOGETHER IN LONDON TO FORM THIS TOTALLY NEW MUSIC
Well, it played a part, and the other main thing that doesn’t get mentioned as much as it should do is the ECSTASY drug. As much as I dont want to big drugs up, E broke down all the racial, cultural and social barriers because it made everyone loved up and happy. Before the ecstasy drug was about you rarely saw events with people of diverse colour and class partying together… If you look from late eighties onwards I think you will find there are a lot more mixed raced relationships, and culturally mixed families helping to close the divide down, and the music and the clubbing culture started to reflect the multiculturism a lot more in London, laying the foundation to create something like jungle music.
You’ve got to look at the early rave scene. Four to the floor house music. If you know your history, back in the day when I was on Fantasy FM I would take Hip-hop records and speed them up from 33rpm to 45 rpm and then play that break over the top of a house track. I’d just try and incorporate the flavours of so called ‘urban music’ including reggae, hip hop, rare groove – it was early British hardcore and acts like me and Shut Up and Dance pioneered a very unique sound, but it was pre jungle era. After early 1992 it then developed into its own realm and started to speed up in tempo and went on to be labelled Jungle Techno.
I’ve been travelling through this universe for 25 – 30 years and every year, without fail, I have someone standing next to me saying either, ‘This is the best music ever’ or someone telling me, ‘This shit isn’t like it used to be.’ These people though, they don’t go back to the genre’s roots; they only go back to their port of entry. Last year I met a mum who’s the same age as me and her son who was about 15, and they asked for a photo. Then the mum started going on about how it isn’t like the old days… I just turned round and said, ‘It’s not supposed to be like the old days! You’re not even supposed to be going out. If your son is liking it, that’s what’s important. The old Jungle music that all these people are talking about, when it first came about people said the same about that and the way it was just sped up breaks and samples and now, 20 years later, they’ve become classics.
STILL, IN ’92-93, THERE WAS NO FRAMEWORK THERE. THIS MUSIC WAS TOTALLY NEW, WHEREAS NOW, THERE IS MORE OF A FORMULA…
Yeah but the whole music industry works like that! If you tell me you like strawberries, thanks to the internet, I can Google strawberries and tell you everything you want to know about them. In our days, you couldn’t go online because there was no internet helping you find out how to get the bass like that, or how to get the drums in a certain way, you just sat at home creating your own shit in you own unique way- and also studios were very expensive meaning most people could not afford even a basic studio. Now that technology and stuff have all gone down in price, it’s a lot easier to get your stuff out there. So you now get a flood of shit that does sound like someone copying someone else and it will get heard a lot easier than it would have if it had been done 20/30 years ago. Back then you had to spend £35 on a dubplate and there were only a few DJ’s that could afford to do that and then you’ve got to get people to actually play that record. Now, some geezer can put his track up on Facebook or Soundcloud and think he is a star- but that doesn’t mean he’s star… saying that there is still great music made by great producers out there.
I FEEL THAT ONE OF THE THINGS ABOUT JUNGLE WAS THAT IT WAS SO MISREPRESENTED. WHEN I WAS GROWING UP IT WAS TREATED VERY POORLY BY YOUR MIXMAG’S AND YOUR DJ MAG’S, BUT THAT MADE THE JUNGLISTS TAKE CONTROL OF THEIR OWN SCENE-
Back then jungle was the bastard son of dance music, all self created and maintained without the help of the mainstream- dont get me wrong, we still had people popping there heads over into the mainstream, but we were mainly underground and I think I loved it that way—”it was our thing and we built it from nothing so fuck you!”
THAT’S WHAT I’M SAYING. YOU BUILT YOUR OWN THING.
Exactly. When you go back to the times of Shut Up and Dance, there was no internet or anything like that so we had to build everything from scratch. We’d find empty houses and kick in the doors, and have warehouse parties. Everything that was built, we built ourselves. And then when Jungle exploded, the problem was that the mainstream had no idea about it. Most people who were working within commercial majors, labels and radio stations, had no idea what this music was and who the people creating it were. Jungle was the first totally British dance music and it was ignored until it got so big you could not ignore it anymore.
Nowadays though, there’s an underground scene and the over-ground mainstream scene. The commercial scene these days is very formulated and aimed with the sole intention of stations like Radio 1 turning them into pop stars. But there are two sides to a coin and because there are still people keeping an underground scene going there can be room for both sides to co-exist in a healthy way. We built the infrastructure from the beginning, and there are people that are keeping that alive. When the mainstream loses it’s passion with Drum and Bass Jungle then that’s not a problem because we have an underground infrastucture that has been keeping it alive. I’m out playing every week in the UK and around the globe. The underground is important to longevity- if there’s no underground, where are the new acts following through from once people make it into the mainstream? It’s almost like a conveyor belt; you’re making tunes, playing in room one, then you start progressing in an artistic way and when you’ve had success in the underground for a while you start to want to progress from that. But if you don’t have an infrastructure, they go off and then what? There’s no-one there to sustain the scene. There’s always this bit called the development stage, where there’s a slight lull in a scene where the top producers move on, and there’s no-one quite ready to take their place yet. You might have a couple of years where the music dips for a bit, but it always comes back.
HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN THERE WAS THE KIND OF SWITCH IN NAME FROM JUNGLE TO DRUM & BASS? WAS THAT SOMETHING YOU SUPPORTED?
No not really. I didn’t really support it. I always say to people to define the difference. It was just a name change in my opinion. Even I get confused. Even people within the game try and define the difference to me, but I just say that I’m Jungle Drum & Bass. There’s an interview I did back in about ’94 and it’s a documentary with lots of people in it from the Jungle scene. In that I say that back then it was called Hardcore, Breakbeat, Jungle. Every year, it’s just journalism changing it about. I remember Hardstep. no it was Techstep, that was it. Do you remember that? Well when that came about I went up to Grooverider and Doc Scott at a festival in Belgium asked them if they knew what it was, and they had no idea! So I said back, ‘Well apparently you fucking invented it!’
Journalists just come up with names. At the end of the day, 175bpm is Jungle Drum & Bass, if you listen to Hazard and then someone like Calibre, it sounds like they’re from different planets. They’re both Jungle at the end of the day though. You can cut the cake into as many different fragments as you like, but it’s still a fucking cake.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CROWDS THAT YOU PLAY TO NOW? TO ME, IT FEELS LIKE SOMEONE THAT IS A SIGMA FAN IS GOING TO BE A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON TO SAY, A COOL HAND FLEX FAN BACK IN ’95.
Well of course they’re going to be different, that was 20 years ago! The whole of Hackney is different to how it was 20 years ago. My son is 16, their whole culture and the way they live their life is totally different to how it was 20 years ago. It was a completely different era – everything has changed. Your phone’s different, your telly’s different, your car’s different and music is obviously going to change for better or for worse. Any person that was making music 20 years ago won’t be able to be making the same music now, because as you get older your mindset changes and you change as a person. You have responsibilities, you have kids, and you have bills to pay.
SO, IGNORING THE STUFF THAT HAPPENED IN THE MID 90’S, WHAT DO YOU THINK HAVE BEEN THE HIGH POINTS OF THE JUNGLE DRUM & BASS SCENE OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS? WHEN HAS IT REALLY COME THROUGH AND DELIVERED SOME REALLY WICKED STUFF?
There was no best point in my opinion. I just look back on how much I enjoyed it all and how much that I’m glad it’s still going. I look forward more than back. I am a bit nostalgic, yeah, but you can’t change things. Every generation looks back and finds something to moan about though. My granddad used to sit there and I’d love telling him about my career and what was going on, and he’d be very proud of me. But he’d openly say that he didn’t understand this music and that it sounded like someone being hit over the head with a hammer! He just used to think it wasn’t music. You’ve just got to stay open minded to it all.
A LOT OF YOUR FAN BASE IS YOUNG, 18 TO 20 YEARS OLD, AREN’T THEY?
I hope so!
WELL, IF YOU GO TO A PLAYAZ NIGHT AT FABRIC, THE CROWD IS FAIRLY YOUNG ISN’T IT. IT’S OBVIOUSLY STILL MOVING FORWARD ENOUGH.
That’s because we’re not playing the music from 20 years ago. If you have a shop, it doesn’t matter what you’re selling, you have to go with the times. Either you’re following suit or you’re leading the way. I try to be 50/50- (there’s a sudden weird silence, then laughter)…… Shit, I just fell off my chair…… (Hype right himself…)
When I DJ, I try and give them what I know they want and what i want them to hear in my special way, I mean, it’s not like colour by numbers and it’s not exactly what they expect all the time but its interesting to them and still enjoyable for me without losing my own identity – I try to encourage the artists on my Playaz label to be more creative in what they’re doing too, rather than 32 bars and a drop, the rest is up to them.but i must stresss there is nothing wrong with 32 bars and a drop, I just like to encourage artists to try other stuff too
SO WHO THAT YOU’RE WORKING WITH AT THE MOMENT DO YOU THINK IS PUSHING THINGS FORWARD IN THE MOST INTERESTING WAYS?
Well, I don’t know about pushing the sound forward because the other day I listened to something that someone had made and I said it sounded a bit formulaic. But then they came back to me and said that isn’t everything going to start to sound a bit formulaic to me, as I’ve been around the sound for so long? And to be honest, he was right!
BUT, THERE’S NO GETTING AWAY FROM THE FACT THAT WHEN JUNGLE FIRST CAME OUT, THERE WAS NOTHING THAT HAD SOUNDED LIKE IT BEFORE.
Hardcore had the elements to it but it just wasn’t 100%. When British Hardcore came out, that was madder. When Hardcore was ending, and Jungle was starting and the tempos were jumping from 150 up to 180 and even up to 190’s, there was a free-fall of people experimenting in their bedrooms. But at that time, there was no Internet, so they all took their own route of changing the breaks. Some would chop it up, some would clip it, and because of that there was more creativity. It was all development. Then Jungle started to pop up in about ’93, and then in ’94 it was established as an actual genre. The mainstream labels and music press never supported British Jungle until it was too big to ignore , then they caught up later
THERE’S ONE BIT I’M INTERESTED IN, THAT’S AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, WHEN YOU WERE BRINGING OUT SOME BREAKBEAT STUFF, I REALLY LIKED THAT NAUGHTY TRACK THAT YOU BROUGHT OUT.
Naughty was my non jungle dnb project name and i used it on releases that i did at 138 bpm garage tempo when the UK garage scene was huge but before that back in 96 i started making a few tracks at slower tempos and found it fun, but they never fitted into any music category so i just had them on DAT tape and would play them to friends, I then released them a few years later on Playaz, it was what I called my own music, and it wouldn’t really fit any other type of music. If I was just left to my own devices I’d see what I would come up with. I don’t really know what I’d call it, but it was my influences all pulled in from dub, reggae,hip hop, techno, jungle, everything really, and it was just a pitched down version of it. Whenever I made these tracks, everybody loved them but because I felt I was Jungle Drum & Bass, I didn’t really feel like I fitted under these different things. I used to make these side things whenever I got a bit of time, but now I don’t really do it anymore. It’s something I wished that I’d carried on doing as an artist.
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT TRYING TO PUT TOGETHER AN ALBUM THAT SHOWS THAT SIDE OF YOU?
Yeah, I’ve thought about it. Never say never, but not at the moment. If I ever do it it’ll be when I’m retired and it’ll just be called ‘Weird Shit’. Your creativity can be sucked away sometimes, as it’s not that you’re not making good music, but it’s got to be aimed at the dance floor because you’re playing out. You can’t just go into a club and play loads of shit and be so up your own ass as you’d just clear the floor. When I play out, I enjoy playing at 175bpm, but I like to throw other stuff in there now and then depending on the event.
ARE THERE ANY REGGAE OR HIP-HOP ARTISTS THAT YOU’D LIKE TO WORK WITH? YOU’VE GOT THE CLOUT, SO I COULD IMAGINE YOU COULD GET PEOPLE ON BOARD.
MAVADO, THAT’D BE SICK!
I don’t think he’s really done any Drum & Bass.
OKAY, SO LETS JUST LOOK FORWARD AT YOUR STUFF THEN. WHAT’S COMING UP THIS YEAR FOR YOU?
Hah! That’s what I’m trying to get my head round at the moment. I’ve got to chat with all my artists to find out when I’m getting releases for Playaz. So far Hazard, Original Sin, Taxman, Sub Zero, Tyke and Bass Brothers are all working on EP projects, and Potential Bad Boy is working on a solo album, but it’s more or less finished now. We wanted it to be a full album or a 2 EP thing. He’s getting the real Jungle vibe but he has approached it in a more modern way. It’s like I said about phones earlier; a phone is still a phone, but they’ve changed dramatically since 1994, and that’s the approach that I’ve helped him with for the new album. If you want to stay relevant to young people, then you’ve got to listen to where they’re going as well as where you want to go. Very rarely will a 15 year old want to go out raving to his mum and dads music. Listening to music and having a love for a certain style of music, for most people, only lasts about 5 years. They go out, they club it for a few years and then they settle into a job or a girlfriend and have kids and then move on. But then on the other hand you get people that have that love for their whole life— people like me!
Catch Hype at Playaz @ Fabric tonight, Friday Jan 30th, and monthly after. Like every other fool, Ian McQuaid is on twitter