Gone To A Rave #46: Billy ‘Daniel’ Bunter (And A Wee Bit Of Slipmatt)
Billy ‘Daniel’ Bunter has just finished his memoir, The Love Dove Generation, and it’s one of the most entertaining histories of rave I’ve ever read (and available over here). It covers Bunter’s roots as an East London tear away, working the markets, ripping off mugs, causing all sorts of carnage, before deciding to devote his entire life to hard UK dance music. He started DJing in Dalston’s seminal Labyrinth Club at the not-even-close-to-being-legal age of 15, and he spends the first half of the book covering the years of 88-93 when rave music was in constant breath-taking flux, when he would be ramming the place out. flinging down import tracks by the likes of Derrick May next to Belgian hardcore and those first explosive tracks of UK breakbeat. Imagine my joy when he showed up to talk about this history, not only with his long term wife Sonya, but also his long time best mate DJ Slipmatt – the one and only DJ Slipmatt – who sat there providing an occasional reasonable aside to contrast with Bunter’s gleeful mayhem.
There are countless anecdotes from the book that I didn’t have time to get into when I met Dan for an interview; the fact that Roland from Grange Hill used to show up to Labyrinth and jump on the mic, the story of Liquid knocking out Sweet Harmony for £80, and the unexpected revelation that Suzanne Vega’s favourite cover of Tom’s Diner is Searchin For My Rizla… But there was one story I absolutely had to ask him about – halfway through The Love Dove Generation Bunter recounts, with a totally straight face, the story of how he was abducted by aliens in 1995. It’s a mental story, so naturally it was the first thing I bought up
Let’s talk about the UFOs straight off.
BB: Right, so me and my dad are on the A47. I’ve just played at Die Hard and I’ve got to get to Hyperbolic in Kings Lynn. We get halfway there and I’m gonna be 40 minutes late for the gig. This is late 94 early 95, my son had just been born, I’d not taken drugs or drink for a couple of years. Sonya had well and truly got me in check. Me and my dad are gonna be late, I’ve just got my mobile phone – in fact I remember when I first got that phone I was down Music House and Slipmatt said how weird it was seeing me with anything like that. So I had my phone and I called the promoter Paul Grant, saying I’m really sorry mate, I’m gonna be 45 minutes late – so me and my dad, we’re in the car and these lights had started darting round us everywhere
Massive lights! Massive red lights, bigger than a person, just darting round, and we’ve gone fwwwwoommm into these lights – now remember I’ve told Paul Grant I’m gonna be 45 minutes late. All of a sudden we’ve found ourselves in Kings Lynn, and I’m behind the decks playing, and the promoters come up and said ‘I thought you were gonna be 45 minutes late’
Here’s how Dan tell this in the book – it’s worth repeating cause it’s more detailed than our conversation – “Bang, we were in Hyperbolic. The ravers were there, the place was booming, and I am standing at the decks. Paul the promoter came over. ‘When you rang you said you were running late?’ I turned to Dad in disbelief. What the fuck? We have gone from being about 45 minutes late to being on time. The last thing either of us can remember is Wisbech and the four red lights. From Wisbech to King’s Lynn, we can’t recall a single thing, nothing. I don’t even remember taking my records into the club. Or parking the car. Nothing! One explanation – and it’s one that I have a few issues with –is that we had somehow shifted in time as a result of some alien activity – keep laughing you bastards, but it’s a possibility!”
Do you remember what tune you were playing?
It was probably DJ Hixxy – On Top Remix, released on Slipmatt’s label.
So you’ve got no memory of how you got behind the decks, or where the time went?
My dad is an old fashioned guy. Before it happened, if I’d have said to my dad I’d been abducted by aliens, he’d go fuck off you silly fat cunt, what you talking about? BUT because it happened to him, he says it happened
He says it happened?
Sonya: Their story is exactly the same.
Ian: But this changes everything..!
Sonya: He become obsessed after for 2 or 3 years, he looked into it all the time
BB: Simon from 2 Bad Mice messaged me and said, by the way Dan, I believe in aliens too. In the book, it’s all pretty personal and serious, and then I’m going yeah I think I got abducted by aliens one time. For two years I was on subscription to all the UFO magazines, I watched every documentary, and this is before the internet
Do you think the aliens loved hardcore?
Of course they fucking did! They loved hardcore! While Mixmag and DJ Mag were taking the piss out of hardcore, the aliens were coming down – a far more superior race than all of the la-di-da writers – and they were going yes Bill, we love all the stuff you release, it’s the bollocks. They weren’t going for Pete Tong.
Talking of Pete Tong, I’ve heard some stories that FFRR rinsed a lot of people in the rave scene
Look, the record industry, it all depends on whether you are willing to let yourself be stitched up, or whether you can recognise when you’re being stitched up, and dive in and take what’s yours. My story with our release on FFRR in the book was me going through an independent label, realising they wanted to stitch me up, me turning it around and making sure I had the upper hand. The record industry is a very funny place. It treats you how you treat it. If you let yourself get stitched up, you’re gonna get stitched up. If you let yourself get an OK deal, that’s’ it – but if you go into it with ‘this is what I want, this is what I’m worth I either have it or I don’t do it’, you won’t get stitched up. I got me and my mate’s what was ours. I don’t have any regrets.
It must be satisfying to have reached this age, with jungle and hardcore getting such a bad press when they first came out, to see the scenes written about so much now
Mate, I love jungle music, I love hardcore, I love happy hardcore, I love drum n bass. I see it all come out of the rave music I DJd as a 15-16 year old, music that people like Slipmatt, people like shut up & dance were pioneering. DJ Mag, Mixmag, they laughed at it. But now it’s the coolest fucking thing in the world. I was shocked to see DJ Slimzee the grime legend, talking about how we went to see me DJ at 4 Aces. If people don’t know about me, or Kenny Ken, or Ratpack, or Slipmatt, or Uncle Dugs, and I’m sitting here saying I don’t give a fuck about Mixmag or DJ, I might seem like an arrogant bastard.
Slipmatt- They didn’t give a fuck about us
BB- they didn’t give a fuck about us. And listen, here we are writing books, talking about 20,000 people coming to Helter Skelter. Here is a world they didn’t rate. And here we are saying, well the likes of Slimzee, grime legend, grew up on us. Out of our world, Slipmatt Slipmatt added reggae to rave with tracks like Way In My Brain and that helped pioneer jungle. Shut Up & Dance added break beats to House, that was a catalyst for Hardcore & Drum & Bass. These people should be celebrated.
How did you two first meet?
BB – I first met Slipmatt in 1993 at Bagleys in Kings Cross, I’d had 3 years of being in the hub of the East London scene as a teenager, off my tits, a very big fish in a very small pond, all these people coming to see me every weekend, never realising the significance of Labyrinth, never realising the significance of Bagley’s or 4 Aces – Matthew was 10 years older than me and he was DJing all over the country, I would have been 18, 19, he would have been 29, 30 and that was the first time we met, I thought nothing of it. He was doing his thing, I was doing my thing, and that was it. And then years later we become best friends, business partners, had number one hits album together
More to the point, what’s his worst habit?
Ahahaha Slipmatt’s worst habit is snoring and smoking in his sleep
Slipmatt – I don’t smoke anymore!
BB – me and Matthew used to go to MIDEM music conference. One year we went, Sonya booked us into the gay hotel in Cannes on purpose, put us in the same room as a joke. And we love a drink. Im not saying we’re alcoholics, but we love a drink. We were on our proper full on drink mode. He chain smoked whilst sleeping next to me. Chain smoked. And snored in between. I had to go into the bathroom and sleep with a pillow over my head
Slipmatt – If I’m on the piss I do snore really, really badly
BB – what’s my worst trait?
Slipmatt- Worst one… hmmmmm…
BB – You can tell him, Dan’s a fat cunt who does my head in…!
Slipmatt – What’s your worse thing? I dunno really, nothing that bad, more funny than bad. Danny’s such a big character there’s nothing that don’t come out anyway. It’s not as if he’s secretive about anything. Apart from the UFOs.
BB – Im not even secretive about that! I’ll talk about it!
Have you had any one come out after you’ve written the book and said, what the fuck are you saying?
Slipmatt – I’ve just said to Sonya, there’s bits in there I didn’t realise about, and I’ve known him for 20 odd years.
BB – the biggest accolade of the book was my son telling me it was wicked. I had one complaint. I did a post and there was 5, 6,700 people saying, I love it, it’s brilliant, and then this one geezer said, it’s fucking shit hehehehe.
Was that Adrian Age? (in the book Bunter talks about feuding with fellow Labyrinth DJ Adrian Age)
Listen, right, let me explain Adrian Age – before the whole late 88-89 scene of Shut Up & Dance and SL2 making their first tracks, Kenny Ken, Randall and Centreforce coming about, you gotta remember Labyrinth started in late 88, Adrian Age was one of the originals, even before Kenny, even before Slipmatt
Slipmatt – I beg your pardon? I was playing out then
What were you playing then?
Slipmatt – Acid house, and more hip hop really
B – But listen, Labyrinth is an iconic, seminal, mythical event in East London. Many people’s heroes were Groove and Fabio, Carl Cox, Slipmatt, Easy Groove. Well Adrian Age, Vinyl Matt, Sunrise FM, they were my legends, my heroes. And yes, Adrian Age when it comes to bassline and rhythm he was the best DJ I ever heard. But also, as a 15 year old boy coming up, he was also my nemesis as a person. He also taught me a lot about myself. You’ve got to have that.
In the book you sort of say, yeah I was getting to be a bit of a cunt, but you don’t really detail what happened.
Well that’s about it, I’m a cunt, move on. Very clever.
So did writing the book stir up any interesting memories?
Im speaking from a 40 year old mans point of view, my son’s 21 and in university, my daughter’s 18 and in college, me and my missus have been through ups and downs, music has given me a good life. If I’d written it when I was 25 it might have been different. I’m sat here talking to you with my best friend and my missus, what I’ve done pays me and enriches me, so I’m not angry about anything.
Do you see anything out there now coming up that’s like you when you were younger?
As a DJ and music person now, and someone who’s fortunate enough to invest in music, my Monday show on Kool is all old skool and my Friday show is all upfront –I don’t check for scenes, I check for music that I like, so there’ll be hardcore that I like, reggae that I like, bass that I like, garage that I like, jungle that I like, grime that I like it
Who makes grime that you like?
You know what, I am fascinated with grime. I led me, Sonya and Matt with Uncle Dugs to produce and release grime music – me and Matt lost a fortune doing it, but loved every minute of it.
So there are Slipmatt grime tunes?
Grime for me, like happy hardcore, is everything a British underground musical institution should be. It comes from no money, it comes from no commercialism, and grows in a homegrown manner, in the same way happy hardcore, jungle and garage did. Grime – I would never ever want to be a grime DJ – it’s not my place to – but as a music lover, grime is so significant to British youth culture, and what making music out of something means.
So I got obsessed with this music through Uncle Dugs – we’d become really close, and I started saying, I love the new record by Scratchy, I love the new record by Devlin, I love this and that, and he went ‘I know all these people’. So all of a sudden me and Matt had Faction G, Evil B, Devlin, Dogzilla, Riko Dan, Scratchydemus, Mz Bratt, Maverick Sabre, Roses Gabor – so many people in the studio.
I’d love to hear you do a track with Riko
B – We published Riko! We put an album out with him
S – it was all done in my studio
B – you know the Phone Call video? We done that, because we love Riko!
S – I mixed that track
B – We didn’t do it for credit, we did it because we loved the vibe of the scene. We lost a fortune
S- Nah well, we didn’t lose a fortune, the only thing we lost was time, we still got the experience.
B – But we love it. Slipmatt and Billy Daniel Bunter love grime music. In music financial success is irreleavent. The fun and music is relevant. So with Faction G, when we did the Bouncer we did it out of love. We invested our time and money into Faction
S – We didn’t lose a lot of money. We’d do it all again. I wouldn’t call the money lost really
So do you see parallels between how grime has been treated and how rave was treated?
B- Yes! But you know what makes grime so strong? In the same way that made jungle or happy hardcore so strong? It’s that trendy cunts don’t support it. And that’s brilliant. If I look back on 91, 92, 93, I’m happy that people didn’t support happy hardcore and rave because it wouldn’t give us the story. Some of those people, whether its Wiley or Stormzy, those people are geniuses at what they do
Looking back at Hackney, the area in the world has gone on to be this massive influence world wide
I’m fascinated by it. If you look at Tottenham with Rebel MC, Joe Labyrinth, Phil 2000AD, Paul Trouble Anderson, Top Buzz, Paul Ibiza – all the amazing things they did. Then look at East London, Kool FM, Brockie, Hype, Shut Up & Dance, grime music.
Slipmatt – In fact both sides of my family, my mums and dads, both come from Shoreditch. I’ve gone back through the family tree
B – Mark Ratpack went to school in Brick Lane
So why do you think the place made so much music?
B- Why did this place happen? If we look at 88-89, Wayne Anthony and Joe Labyrinth putting on illegal raves around Shoreditch, look at 1990-91, the 4 Aces, ‘92 and ‘93, Curtain Rd Warehouse, why did this happen around here? It was derelict! It was nothing like it is now, there was nothing here! You shouldn’t have gone to the 4 Aces to rave, you shouldn’t have gone to Curtain Rd, you shouldn’t have gone to Labyrinth or Genesis around Brick Lane! It was decadent, it was edgy, it was the place you shouldn’t have gone, and you went there, and there were no confines, no confines whatsoever. And if you look at it now… why do you think house music and tech house is so regimental? 8 minutes of the same record? It’s because the people who are going to hear that music, the people who are playing that music, they’re restricted. Back then we weren’t restricted. We were in these areas you weren’t meant to go and do these things, and that decadence ensured that we were creative. It was a melting pot of black people, white people, middle class people, working class people, in areas that were no go areas. The 4 Aces is seminal, not just for reggae but for rave. I didn’t realise the significance of what Joe Labyrinth, Phil 200Ad, Adrian Age, Vinyl Matt or myself were doing- I was young, I was off my tits, playing music I loved to people a little bit older than me, mate its significant. When I see Slimzee talking about how that’s where he learned about DJing and knew it was what he wanted to do – look at the significance of grime music. There’s something about the back streets and the heart of East London that has such a reaction and vibe it creates its own thing.
Can it happen again? London is changing
Music, life; you never know what’s around the corner. I hope, I touch wood and I hope that there’s a generation coming. You had jungle and hardcore, then after that you had garage and grime. We’re all 30 to 50 now, I hope that underneath us there’s another group of people who create something mythical and magical out of some form of struggle, out of some form of noise.
Slipmatt – It’ll be in a totally different form that we could never possibly understand. It’ll come out of something we totally don’t get.
The Love dove Generation is out now. Grab a copy from Billy ‘Daniel’ Bunter’s website