Tuff Jam – Karl ‘Tuff Enuff’ Brown & Matt ‘Jam’ Lamont discuss a musical legacy

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tuff jam
Written by Karl 'TuffEnuff' Brown & Matt 'Jam' Lamont. Edited by: Clammy Hands Delaney

“I thought it was our worst ever remix…but no one else thought so!”

Renowned Godfathers of UK garage Tuff Jam discuss their trajectory as their entire back catalogue finally gets a digital reissue. British DJ duo Tuff Jam aka Matt “Jam” Lamont and Karl “Tuff Enuff” Brown step into the digital realm marking two decades since their last release, the pair took some time to  delve into the legacy of Tuff Jam, that re-shaped the dance music landscape and birthed UKG. They get into seminal tracks, the evolution of the movement, and what the future holds…


Matt: My cousin Albert introduced us. He used to live right across the road from you, and he was always talking about Karl Brown, you should meet up with Karl Brown. And I presume he was saying positive things about me to you Karl?

Yeah. And then, I mean, he was chatting so much. I think just to keep him quiet a little bit, We actually decided to get together.

Karl: Where did we first meet, can you remember?

Matt: I think I was working with Justin Cantor at the time. And I said to you, maybe we should just get together in the studio and see how all three of us work. And I think we all came to the studio, I can’t remember where it was now.

Karl: Was that the first meet up though?

Matt: I think it was the first meet. We might have spoken on the phone and I just said, ‘look, I’m doing this project, maybe the three of us should get together’. And we did this track, under the name ‘True To Life’, which I’ve seen somebody using in the last couple of years. But yeah, ‘True To Life’, the track was called ‘Turn My Whole World’.


Karl: And it featured a vocalist called Paris, who we knew from when we used to play at The Arches, he would be on some of the sets. He was just like vibing on everybody’s DJ set. And we thought, You know what, let’s just use this guy Paris to do this.

Matt: And then after we’d done that I think the first thing we worked on together well, hence the Tuff Jam name, was When Adrian gave me some vocals for Q’Rius, ‘Spread Love’. And then I was like, ‘wow, I really enjoyed working with Karl, why don’t we see what we can do on doing a mix on this track?’


And then, after we were done, we decided that we worked well together, the sounds’ great, so we’ll continue and see where it goes.

Standout memories

Karl: So many memories, and loads of different studios, but our little hub was our studio at the Alaska Building over near Tower Bridge. We were on the car park level of the building and 51st management, the record label, were on the other side of the building, and I remember Dillinja and another drum & bass producer were also based there.

Matt: They filmed Open University there as well. But music wise, I think what will always be in my mind, the most epic studio session we had was the Maradonna – Out Of My Head remix. After 8 hours in the studio we couldn’t quite nail it and then we had three hours before we had to leave for a gig. And I could remember us turning to each other and going, ‘let’s just do the Tuff Jam thing’. Just cut it up. And if we listen to ‘Marradonna’, now you can understand where we, you know, the reason why we cut those vocals up so badly, and it absolutely worked.


Karl: As far as I thought, I thought it was our worst ever remix.

Matt: I know, but it was quite popular as well.

Karl: Cos it was quite stressful at the time, trying to work out ‘how are we going to do this?’ How is it going to sound? And I think there were a couple of situations that happened, where the system crashed? And we had to start all over again.

But these things happen. But if you’ve got these various periods where you’re doing something, it’s easy and quick and then you’ve got these moments where it’s just like, the ideas. So when we had a brain block, we would just go and take a break. One of the things I always say is, ‘take a break, recharge your batteries, get something to eat, have a nice chat’, and you come back to it with fresh eyes and fresh ears. And when you start, press start, then the ideas start to flow, you get more and more ideas.

Matt: The quickest remix, I can’t remember if we’re doing Usher at the time, or something. And then we’re at Banana Republic’s studio. And they said, Oh, don’t forget you’ve got to do a remix of ‘Catch The Feeling’. And we said, we ain’t got time, we’ve only got like two hours.


Karl: Oh, I can’t remember that.

Matt: Yeah, and then we just did that remix in two hours, and then we had to go to another gig.

Karl: And that was a classic.

Karl: When you think about the Tuff Jam sound, one of the things is that me and Matt always remembered to pay back. And that’s the thing that made us, and put us into the zone of the commercial marketplace because you can always do the underground mixes but when the majors came to us, the first big remix we did was Rosie Gaines ‘Closer Than Close’. So we did a commercial mix, and then we also did the kind of dubby, clubby mix, which always put us into this zone where we can play it in our sets, and it’s that payback. The aim was to make it crossover; do two different mixes, and doing that over a period of time, those mixes now are paying back because they’ve been on compilations for majors and they crossed over. And so that’s why we pushed ourselves into that marketplace, I still get people saying to me that some of the house commercial mixes that we’ve done, they actually can play in their sets today, in different genres. And it’s like, ‘really? wow, that’s amazing’. And I’m sure Matt, when you’re playing out, you hear people dropping some of our selections in certain sets.


Matt: Oh yeah, people drop, probably about seven tracks in their sets just before I come on. But I have a lot of DJs that will play and smile at me going ‘yeah, your stuff’, but I do have an extra dub you ain’t got. So it’s all good!

Karl: And that’s the other thing. We used to have our own special little cuts that nobody else had. So we would make a mix, and you remember Jocelyn Brown ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’ – we did a remix of that with CC Peniston covering the vocal. And I had my own special mix back then, and the label, AMPM, were like ‘what about this SOS Dub Karl?’, and I said ‘Nah, that’s my special dubplate’. So it’s like, they wanted this extra mix that I’d done for myself to put out, and they said that was the best mix, and I couldn’t tell at the time; I’d just basically done a little dub, and so on. It just shows, when you’ve got your own specials that you play out, the only place you can hear those is when you go to those particular sets and you’re hearing that person’s unique sound.

Matt: I think we were quite privileged with the main vocal mixes. I mean, if you take, what the Americans caught onto when we did Usher ‘U Make Me Wanna’, I had people messaging me saying ‘I’ve just heard your Tuff Jam mix on Kiss’ and some of the other major stations over there. They were still playing the Usher r&b mix, but because our mix was so crossover, they played that too. And also you remember that after we did that, obviously it was on La Face and Babyface got in contact and he wanted a remix of ‘Nice and Slow’, which never got released.

The only reason it didn’t get released, which I was told was because it’s scheduling, but literally, I mean they paid us a lot of money for ‘U Make Me Wanna’, and then two weeks later you remember, there wasn’t any of this digital stuff, internet, they were flying the DATs over, so by the time they heard it and got in contact, they wanted ‘Nice and Slow’, which was the next single to be released, but they didn’t have the time to schedule it and it got missed. But that’s another mix no one’s got.



Karl: Do you remember Mac Life? Remember when I was speaking to you the other day and I said, I think that was Mark Morrison and Westlife. And they wanted to do something under the radar with that, because I remember Woody (ex manager) telling us that they were trying to do this special thing and pass it off as something else. So there’s that. There’s the MOBO all stars that had quite a few artists. You know, what were the artists who were vocalling that again? Can you remember?

Matt: There was everybody on there. I can’t remember, I had it written down somewhere because I spent about a year trying to find out which one was which.

Karl: Was Lauryn Hill on there?

Matt: I’m not too sure, but that never ever got released. So whenever that was; I think about 1998, but there’s a few things of ours that aren’t available.

Karl: Mobo Allstars ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’

Matt: Yeah, I’ve played it on Kisstory quite a bit, and get them asking for it again. It’s a shame, but it just shows you, we were in the studio every week, and we did so much. But there’s so much that just crops up from time to time, that never came out.

Karl: What else was there that didn’t come out, obscure things?

Matt: Well, there was the Jamaican World Cup track “Kick It” by the Reggae Boys.


Karl: That is one of my babies. I think that’s one of the unsung heroes of our Tuff Jam remixes. Because it was specifically made for that team. Musically, it’s brilliant. It’s got that cool kind of the Caribbean encapsulated in a garage production.

Matt: When our manager told us he got a phone call from Sly and Robbie’s manager, and we’ve got to go to a meeting at Marylebone Road offices because he wants us to remix the World Cup football team, I thought Woody, with one of his bad jokes ever, was winding us up.

Karl: I can’t even understand why we went to the office. I suppose we thought that we were going to meet Sly and Robbie, but we didn’t. But we eventually remixed the World Cup football song for Jamaica, which is absolutely mad; when I tell people now, they look at me like I’m crazy. Jamaican World Cup? But you’re not even Jamaican, and it’s called Reggae Boys as well.

Matt: We did so much it was crazy. Even when we signed back then to Sony/Bmg, and we were like ‘Sony wants to sign a publishing deal with us?’, we were doing more remixes than we were doing production at the time. Every Monday to Wednesday, we were in the studio for three days, having to finish a remix in three days. That’s the time we always gave ourselves. So whatever the vibe was, the vibe was, you know, I mean. It’s very rare that we would have a block and you know, we’d end up doing three mixes in three days. So there was a lot of stuff, like the Usher stuff, that no one knows about. Unless I play it on Kisstory or play it out or something. A lot of people are like, ‘what’s this new Usher remix?, When’s it coming out?’

Why does the catalogue still sound so fresh today?

Karl: I think it’s because we have that insight, and that knowledge of music; Matt’s got his knowledge of music. I’ve got my knowledge of music. Matt, what was your dad playing and your mum playing back in the day?

Matt: So obviously playing reggae, country and western, you know, I grew up like you, with reggae, soul, jazz, everything really. I think that we benefited from even our friends being into bands like The Jam and things like that, and we both had a very good collective commercial stroke, underground stroke, every type of music you can mention, we were into as kids.

Karl: So me, growing up with Reggae, Ska and Blue Beat, Country and western; my mum used to play Jim Reeves every Sunday, then you’re listening to the radio, listening to all the pop stuff, The Beatles, Elvis plus, all the commercial stuff. You’re growing up, now you’re getting into Hip Hop, Soul, R&B Rare Groove, then you get into the Hip House stuff because of the the group that I was now connected with (Double Trouble & The Rebel mc), house music, then techno, and then you’re into this other zone. I was even into reggae because I had my own Reggae sound system. But when that’s all jumbled together, and you’re now playing out to the public, and you’re putting all these elements together. And you’ve seen all these nationalities. And it’s great to see that mixture of people. And then you go back into the studio and you’re now imagining playing or creating for that melting pot of a crowd.

And whatever you create in the music, makes them dance or makes them stop. Like today, there’s a lot of buildup tracks. There’s this kind of build up, build up and drops. Why? crowd reaction. Because now we’re now in a different realm where it’s festivals, you know? So when you got back in the day it was house when we played at places like, The Arches, people were just vibing. They were in their element, and they would respond to somebody on a mic. Just giving it slight hype, giving us shouts as DJs, working with the DJ, because an MC would be complementing the evening. They would just give a little touch here and there. But all those elements that we were playing out, we understood the crowd, we understood the people and we put it in our music; created the track, maybe that weekend, and then got it cut on the dubplate…

Matt: On a Friday.

Karl: Yeah, on a Friday, and then basically, you play that at that venue that evening. And you’d think, well, it’s going down. That works.

Matt: I think we were quite focused as well. We’re in the studio, because we very much knew where we wanted to go. We had our influences. But it’s very much a UK sound we wanted to create. I think the problem people have today is, there’s a lot of sample packs around, and everyone’s using the same kind of pack. So they kind of get the same vibe, which isn’t a problem, but it doesn’t push the barriers sometimes. So I think back then we didn’t have that. Obviously, we had to sample everything off records or wherever we could get. And I think from there, we created a bit more. I mean back then you can even hear the little noise in the back of the samples, in the back of the snare, in the back of the vocals. And I think that that’s what created more of a raw sound. You couldn’t even copy a record back then to play out on audio because it’s going to sound terrible. I mean, I think we were quite innovative. We’re kind of blinkered and had a focus of what we wanted to do and what Tuff Jam was gonna look like in the future.

Favourite work from the catalogue

Karl: So there’s the World Cup track, Kerri Chandler…


M&S “Keep on”…


There’s obviously other things like Rosie Gaines “I Want U” & “Closer Than Close”. There’s Tina Moore; that’s one of our favourites, especially the dub where it’s got that sort of repeating and then it drops. There’s so many to say; we treat each one of those mixes as they’re unique. You’ve got artists like Picasso – every one of his paintings are unique to him, and likewise, every remix, and the artists connected to that remix has its own unique custom built sound. And when our manager would come to us with a remix, the first thing I’d say is ‘ask them to send the vocals before we decide if we’re going to do it’. Because I’d listen to the vocals and see if it’s got anything in it that hits me, as we don’t want to waste our time. And it wasn’t always about how much money we’re getting. It was more about, what is the track subject about, and what could we add to enhance and develop its subject on a garage tip? It’s got to push you, it’s got to drive you, and make you feel, you know, I love this, this is gonna be great because you can picture what it’s going to be like. So that was the important factor. You can’t just remix anything just for the sake of money. It’s more of a case of, do you enjoy what this artist is doing song wise? You’re rebuilding something. So all the tracks that we look at, look back at now, they’ve all got a uniqueness about them. And hence, why they can still be played today.

Matt: I think you’ve also got to look at the tracks that we were kind of shocked that were coming to us, not because we’re shocked that we’ve been offered it, or because of the artist.

But when you get artists like En Vogue – ‘Hold On’ was blasted on Kiss 24/7, and we end up remixing it a couple of months later, and remixing Usher ‘U Make Me Wanna’, who was the biggest artist in America crossing over to England, you know what I mean.

So, when you get those major artists, and even Kristine Blonde, who was massive in her country, and we end up doing that. And the good thing about some of the stuff we did, you know, they did get into the charts, you know, whether or not it was the original mix, they’re mixes of ours, like Kristine Blonde entered the chart, because of what we did.


Karl: We’ve even done tracks with Michael Watford and sadly, he’s passed away recently. And so I mean, everything is relevant to its time.

Matt: Everything’s special.

Karl: We just wanted to produce really good stuff that we took pride in. And there were so many; Boyz II Men, Cloud Nine, Club Artists United, Colonel Abraham, Coolio, Brand New Heavies, Colonel Abraham, Dj Disciple, Doolally, Every Little Thing, Groove Control, Jay Williams, LightHouse Family, Martha Wash, Nu Birth, Sprinkler, Todd Edwards, R.I.P, Madie Myles, Levi, Kim English, Kathy Wood, Kerri Chandler, Master Room, Maximum Style, Sugar Holmes, Gerideau, Dub Syndicate Another Level, Banana Republic. You know, it just goes on

Stream and Buy the whole Tuff Jam back catalogue here


Footnote from Clammy Hands Delaney:
“This was without a doubt their best track ever tho. Surprised they didn’t mention it.”