With amen-chopping legend Remarc set to resurrect his label Dollar Records this January, it seemed like the perfect time to look at the label’s original ‘94-‘95 run. As fine an example of quality over quantity as jungle has produced, the six 12”s released via Dollar in the space of two years established Remarc’s reputation as one of the scene’s most innovative producers. As he moves from the breakbeat jungle experimentation of DOL#1 to the all-time ragga jungle classic RIP (test pressed as Dollar release DOL#4 before Suburban Base snapped it up) – his developing skills as a producer could be charted in real time, rapidly building from wide eyed experimentation to deft sonic excellence.
As a side note, shouts to the ever informative Uncle Dugz show for providing a chunk of the background detail on this piece – you can check his hour long interview with Remarc over here for deeper tales of Remarc’s early 90s exploits, and make it a general rule to catch him on Rinse FM every Friday.
Baclk to Dollar… Around 1993 Remarc had been gaining in reputation as a heavy jungle DJ. Having grown up with his Jamaican dad running a South London reggae soundsystem, he fused a love of reggae and hip hop with the new rave sounds running London – name checking cuts such as Silver Bullet’s hard breakbeat classic Bring Forth the Guillotine as being big influences. Starting out on Stoosh FM, he shifted to become a regular on Weekend Rush FM (for a while the station was Kool FM’s main competition), then graduated from playing radio to playing raves. Here’s a flyer featuring him headlining the Weekend Rush room at the legendary Jungle Book party of summer ’93 –
As his name got out there, he was starting to get booked for events outside London. Essex hardcore pioneer DJ Vibes was a particular fan, booking ‘Marc for a number of parties he was involved in, like this event at Slammers in Gravesend, Kent (how great is this flyer/newsletter eh?).
At the time there was a series of Weekend Rush EPs coming out via Boogie Beat Records produced by DJs from the station. With five Weekend Rush EPs put out over the course of the year, it started seeming weird that Remarc – for whatever reason- hadn’t been asked to contribute to a single one. Vibes noted this, and offered to pay for Remarc to start his own label, fronting the money for the first release on one condition; Remarc would put a hardcore track on the release that Vibes could fit into his sets. Remarc accepted, asked his neighbour and best friend Frank Long to design the distinctive graf style dollar logo, and Dollar Records was born.
The first release was produced in conjunction with Lewi Cifer. Lewi was associated with the Kemet lot, had his own studio, and knew what he was doing. At that time he had the killer 99 Red Balloonsout on Daddy Armshouse – basically, he was doing bits. The result of the team up was the Help Me, a four track EP that steps between hardcore, happy hardcore and jungle. Lead track Help Me is kinda Ricky part one – it has the pressured, stressed out screams that would make Ricky a hit, grinding darkside strings and hyper speed, packed out breaks. There are traces of the amen madness that would later become Remarc’s trademark, but they’re still embedded in drums that have the hectic business of hardcore. Second track Mayhem is unusual in that jumps from a 303 line to raga chat to darkside breakbeats; acid jungle if you will. As promised to Vibes, One 4 Da Vibes is the happy hardcore tune Remarc wrote as payback– although happy jungle would be a more appropriate description, it has the stabs and vocal cheese of hardcore, but there’s no 4/4, with the track riding on deep subs and hammering amens. Tucked away on the b side, Not 4 U is an amen work out that points at what’s to come –with its cut up sirens and concrete slabs of drum, it has the energy of Bomb Squad’s production for Public Enemy reconfigured for inner city London.
Ricky was the follow up to Help Me, and the track that made Remarc’s name. Once again produced with Lewi Cifer, it’s now a much loved jungle classic, so there’s not too much for me to add, other than identifying the sample – readers with the deep knowledge will recognise the ‘Ricky’ scream from Boyz in da Hood, but American readers would probably be baffled to hear that there was a long standing rumour in the UK (probably started from people half remembering the track from hearing it whilst nutted in the rave) that the sample was taken from [London based soap opera] Eastenders – Ricky being a hapless moron who was getting shouted at all day by his long suffering girl Bianca…. The whole Ricky EP is priceless. Cape Fear continues Remarc’s love of disturbing the rave by lacing his rolling amens with screams, spoken threats and nasty orchestral strings all culled from the Robert De Niro stalker thriller of the same name. Da Vibes revisits One 4 Da Vibes, this time tightening up production and adding that all important 4/4 kick – imo it’s superior to the first version. Closing the EP, Sceptic is an underrated gem, a simple mix of uneasy synth work, deep bass that sounds like it might be a tuned 808 kick, and some of those classic Remarc amens, twisting and doubling over on themselves.
DOL#3 was the Ricky remixes. Ray Keith and Nookie’s remix, whilst not quite reaching the all-conquering mayhem of the original, still deserves attention- Nookie’s engineering is typically deft, with his drum chops savage in their clinical precision. The results are a heavy little roller. But the real magic happened on Lewi and Remarc’s ’94 mix. They threw in the ‘Johnny!’ scream used by Pascal on his similarly distressing horrorcore classic Johnny (which I believe comes from the 90s remake ofNight of the Living Deadthough I can’t find the exact moment- any care to help out?), timestretched out the snares to sickening lengths, then turned them into a nasty melody line. The result was a deconstructed masterpiece, jungle burrowing deep within itself to create new languages of sound and technology, withpout losing sight of the main imperative; to be banging. Interestingly, for a producer who to some degree defined the use of technology in jungle, Remarc has been outspoken about his dislike of the scene’s later, overly techy direction. He told an interviewer in ’03 that he temporarily left the scene in 1996 because “it started to get more techno-y, it was too techno-y, too hard, to me it was like people were forgetting they were making tunes, they were just buying a new piece of equipment and working it to it’s fullest, getting all these hard sounds… I’m more about the bass and the drums. Now the bass is all mid-bass. I want some proper b-lines.”
In the space between DOL#3 and DOL#4, Remarc bought Lewi’s kit off him and started learning his craft in earnest. His classic White House release Drum n Basswise came out of this period – Remarc has described that track as his attempt to figure out the kit. He’d clearly nailed it, because the next thing he made was RIP. A milestone of ragga jungle, RIP needs little introduction. It is worth noting that had the track been released on Dollar as Remarc planned, it might have remained an ultra-rarity in the manner of the slam Records releases. Instead, in the time between Remarc writing the track and giving it out on dub to DJs such as L Double and Marvellous Cain, and getting the first TPs pressed up, it had become a rave classic. Cain gave Suburban Base’s Danny Donnelly a call, Donnelly called Remarc, a deal was struck, and RIP ended up being signed to Sub Base, with the large pressing run and full cover (a classic piece of artwork from Dollar designer Frank Long) guaranteeing it reached a worldwide audience.
RIP was the last track Remarc released on Dollar – the next two cuts were jump up two trackers from an outfit called Funky Element, at one point aided by Lewi Cifer. Was Funky Element a Remarc pseudonym? It wouldn’t be unusual for the jungle period, and given that he was releasing his other tracks through Sub Base, it’s possible that the Remarc name was contracted to them, causing him to work under an assumed name … but, I’m not totally convinced. The Funky Element tracks are straight ahead jump up, more in keeping with the Urban Shakedown sound than the amen craziness of Remarc’s work. Out of the two 12”s FE dropped, Hip Hop Junkies is a slightly average roller, sampling Grandmaster Flash’s White Lines beat and a hip hop vocal I can’t place. Classical Style on DOL#6 is stronger, and a personal favourite- an MC I used to play with back in the day used to absolutely rinse it… It’s basically a rinse of the Lighter formula; big dramatic light classical opening (this time ripping off the horror theme tune from a million old black and white vampire flicks) that drops into a completely dumb & fun jump up bass line. The flip, Shook Up turns Adina Howard’s rare groove favourite Freak in the Morning into a reese roller and it sounds surprisingly fresh revisiting it today.
And that was it. Remarc left the scene for a few years and Dollar pretty much stopped releasing new music – so it’s a welcome sight to see it back now, and still flying the flag for ragga jungle. Remarc has prepped a new EP (getting released on colour vinyl no less) featuring mixes from Serum and Bladerunner, as well as all new product from himself – you can check out the Dollar website to see where Remarc’s taking it quarter of a century on…
As ever, I've probably made some sort of balls up in this column – if I have, then feel free to let me know and I'll change it. So far I've been threatened with at least one axe attack for a quote I put in a previous column*, so yaknow, don't hold back.