Back To The Brewery: DJ Dextrous Interview

This week is a big one here at the In-Reach camp with our highly anticipated back to the brewery event finally hitting this Friday! If you’ve not already copped your ticket then you better move quick because it’s set to be an outrageous night of big beats, breaks and bass lines, courtesy of Flexout audio in room one and the Beautifully Crafted crew bringing the jungle vibes in room 2.

One man who’s gonna have arch 2 absolutely rammed is the King of the jungle, the legendary Dextrous. This man is a true pioneer of the drum and bass and jungle scene and has been there since the very beginning. We were lucky enough to catch up with Dextrous this week and get the info on his vast and fascinating history, what he’s doing now and where he’s heading in the future. Here’s what he had to say.

Could you tell us a bit about how you first got involved in the dance music scene and how DJ Dextrous came to be? What was it that sparked your interest and made you want to begin DJ’ing and producing?

I’ve always had a really deep love affair with music from as long as I can remember.  As a child, I can recall being totally immersed in playing music on my parents’ radiogram.  My sister and I would mark our initials on all the 7” records we loved, mainly ska/rocksteady, soul and reggae.  I still have many of these priceless gems in my record collection.  In the late 70’s we would get record tokens as gifts for birthdays/Xmas, and during this time I was heavily into the 2-Tone sound due to my schooling in ska from my parents’ record collection.  I was a mod at first and then became a rude boy, and my favourite band at the time was The Specials…still love listening to their recordings to this day.  Whilst at secondary school I wanted to start my own 2-Tone band with some of my classmates.  I even started taking lessons in brass instruments and settled on playing trumpet.  My dream was to play saxophone to emulate the players in some of the 2-Tone bands of the time, but unfortunately my school never offered this instrument!  

I grew up in a household that had a piano in the hallway.  I was fortunate to live in a lovely big house in Stoke Newington that had a rather grand hallway, and the piano was placed close to the front door.  I can remember making tunes with my sister from the moment we were able to reach the keys, either by being on our tip toes or getting a chair to sit on.  Though I was never formally trained I quickly developed a sense of rhythm and pitch.  This is where my love affair with keyboards started.  My parents were never that keen on me pursuing anything in the arts to be honest!  Anything to do with sport or the arts were a no-no…this due to being a black male growing up in the 80’s and the stigma attached to the limited areas of growth as a person of colour!  My parents didn’t want me to live up to that stereotype, so the focus was always on the more academically geared subjects at school.  I was a gifted visual artist when I was young and even took my art A-level exam in my first year at sixth form, but my parents were never that impressed, which I feel affected me for some time, as it was who I was and it came naturally!  It was the same for my football pursuits, as I made it to semi-professional level due to my love and dedication, but once again my parents were not really interested!  Unless I was to become a doctor, lawyer, nuclear physicist, rocket scientist or something that was considered more professional “white-collar” so to speak.  So it’s quite surprising to see where I’ve ended up lol!!  I suppose you get to a point where you have to listen to that voice within that for years I ignored, so had some rather mundane jobs that I truly hated, working with soulless people, being subjected to “office politics” and all manner of other bullshit!

I always had this love for gadgets and all manner of tech.  I used to help my Uncle Clarence on his stall in Ridley Road Indoor Market in the 80’s.  He used to sell music merchandise from all the reggae artists/bands.  He used to take me with him to all the concerts when the big reggae artists of the time were over here, as well as Notting Hill Carnival, where his stock did well.  One pivotal moment for me in terms of becoming a producer came whilst attending a music trade fair in Alexandra Palace with my uncle back in 1983…I remember the year so clearly because we met David Joseph (who sang ‘You can’t hide [your love from me]’) and my sister got a picture with him as she loved the track!  I was in heaven as I was surrounded by musical instruments, and it was the first time I got my hands on a synthesiser.  That was it for me…I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be!  I bought my first music tech magazine that year: ‘Electronics & Music Maker’, I still have it somewhere!  So as soon as I could save enough money I began to buy studio gear.  I bought a ZX Spectrum+ package that came with a ribbon connected 2 octave keyboard and very basic software.  1986 was the game-changer for me…in the shape of the Casio SK1!!  It was my first sampler, and that whole concept just blew my mind.  

I was always destined to be a DJ.  We had school discos where I would play records, so it started way back as early as 1980!  In the mid 80’s my record collection was getting rather eclectic.  I was heavily into jazz fusion, Herbie Hancock, Patrice Rushen, Bob James and Jeff Lorber being my main influences.  I played at my first party in 1987, which was soul, funk, reggae and hip hop.  From that first party, the buzz I got from bringing joy to others and controlling the vibe, DJing has stayed in my blood.

In 1993 you started the seminal Kings of the Jungle Label with Rude Boy Keith. How did this come about

In 1992 I had my first record released: ‘Ruffneck Bizznizz’, on Ruff Quality Recordings.  Rude Boy Keith was a part of the Shut Up and Dance Records setup where Ruff Quality Recordings was a sister label.  After my release, which was a hardcore/jungle hybrid, Shut Up and Dance didn’t wish to pursue that avenue of the music, and were more focused on the commercial side of the dance scene.  I was a bit frustrated because I was just getting started and then they were pulling the plug on the label!  Keith liked what I was doing, so with his experience of the running’s of a record label and his contacts he suggested we just start our own label.  I was like: “What…are you serious??”  We started doing gigs together, the first big one was during our tour in Austria alongside SUAD, Ragga Twins, Peter Bouncer and Richie Davis.  We tore down the place so the combo was cemented there.  Keith suggested we call the label ‘King of the Jungle’!!!  I was like: “Hmmm…no pressure there then lol!”  Being the writer, main producer and engineer, I just felt it was a tall order to live up to, but I love a challenge so I thought yeah, what the hell…let’s do it!  With Keith’s inside knowledge of the rave scene, my great admin/organisational skills from my years of working for Hackney Council, my tech skills/knowledge, musical direction, passion and drive for jungle music, it was a winning formula.  But it’s still a cause for some embarrassment when people call me King of the Jungle, as it’s never something self-proclaimed, and I know there are some out there that have serious issue with that…yeah I get my fair share of hate too lol!!

Aside from your work as Dextrous, you’ve released music under a number of other aliases, one of the most notable being the trio of you, Jon Stewart and Paul Brown as Solid State. How did you guys meet and what led you to begin making music together?

I have too many alias to be honest, and that’s not always served me well in the grand scheme of things!  Solid State was born out of a meeting of minds through our association with Kool FM.  Back in 1994/95 I DJed on Kool FM with Rude Boy Keith on Super Sunday.  And Paul and Jon had their show on a Sunday where they appeared as Phaze 3 and Klass A respectively.  The first time I met Paul was at an event that happened on a Thursday in South Kensington by Strawberry Promotions.  Paul came up to me and said: “Boy…been trying to get hold of you but you’ve been look off by certain man on Kool!  Nobody wants to give me your number!!”  In the following months we spoke a lot about music and our influences.  He had made a track with Klass A and they wanted to get it released on Suburban Base, who I was signed to at the time.  I said I wasn’t sure that was the right platform for it.  So I threw the suggestion of starting a new label that would cater for a slightly different sound of jungle.  This was the birth of State of the Art Recordings.  We all shared the same musical influences, mine being more on the jazz side and they had more of a techno background, but we had a shared interest in those genres as well as dub, Blaxploitation soundtracks, funk to name but a few.  So Solid State was a melting pot of those elements, and we weren’t afraid to do something different that wasn’t geared toward the dancefloor, hence the strapline that was the ethos of the label: “The freedom to create…

There is quite a style contrast between your music as Dextrous and the productions of Solid State. Could you pin point the different influences that come in to play when your working on a jungle track as opposed to the Urban Fusion style of Solid State?

The truth is I’ve never set out to be solely a “jungle producer”.  I’ve just wanted to be a producer that has the freedom to explore whatever avenue I feel at any given time, a real artist.  Jungle will always be my main love in terms of production because I have been right there from the start, or even before the start to be honest.  I helped develop the genre so it’s my precious baby…I look at it now and think: “oh my, look how you’ve grown!”  I’m all for contrast, even within my jungle creations I love to mix the rough with the smooth, especially where I’ve got the sweet sounds of rare groove, warm chords juxtaposed with nasty breaks and bass lines and rough ragga vocals.  I sort of take that approach to many of my recordings even now.  I think the main difference between the Dextrous sound and Solid State would be more to do with the dancefloor.  I think Solid State was more self-indulgent in my view.  I would get totally lost in the musicality of what we were doing then.  I just wanted to show that we could take jungle to a broader audience, and wanted jungle to be recognised as real music, not just something that was sample based for real musicians to turn their noses up at us!  I wanted our creations to sound like soundtracks, as I always wanted our music to be used for TV and film.  The approach was always geared towards a jazzier sound, so I felt it was our modern day fusion, hence the title Urban Fusion.  It was what’s now referred to as “Liquid DnB” in its infancy.

If I’m not mistaken we’ve not actually seen any fresh material from Dextrous since around 2006. What led to this halt in production and will we see any new tracks in the future?

Finding balance in life has been key with me.  When I stop enjoying something, whatever that may be, I just need to get away!  I just got really fed up of all the politics, EGOs, groupies, wannabes and haters that you most probably find in most scenes.  It’s sad that I allowed all the crap to get in the way of something I love, but once you make those associations it’s hard to continue.  Being a real artist usually comes with being ultra-sensitive, which can be a blessing and a curse!  I like to really get in touch and fully absorbed in anything I’m doing, so you’re going to be subjected to all the crap that comes with it, the unimportant bullshit that unfortunately hampers our scene!  I also wanted to pursue my other love, photography.  In order to really learn my craft and be accepted in that field meant trying to get away from the whole “Dextrous the producer” thing for a while, and just focus in that area.  One of my biggest problems is that I have too many hobbies that become vocations lol!  I just have far too many interests for one lifetime!  I have been making library/production music during the long void, but these you will hear in the background of TV/films where nobody knows who’s behind them.  But I am getting very busy in the studio these days.  I’ve fallen back in love with the whole tech side as well as just being in that creative headspace that has long been absent.  I plan to start some of my labels again and just get the whole show back on the road.  So keep a look out…

I read somewhere that one of your ambitions is to score a movie and I know that you’ve won awards for your music on the documentary ‘Feltham Sings’. How did you become interested in this area of music and is it something you’re still involved in?

I have always loved the whole Blaxploitation genre.  From a young age I can recall being more into many films’ soundtracks, and the same would apply whilst watching most TV shows back in the 70’s and 80s whilst growing up, most of the cop shows were just too funky back then.  I still watch Columbo to this day just to listen to the incidental music.  I’m heavily influenced by the likes of Roy Ayers, Isaac Hayes, Lalo Schifrin, Dave Grusin, Jerry Goldsmith, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, James Brown and Dennis Coffey when it comes to soundtracks…the funkier the better!  I can still see myself fulfilling that goal of scoring a movie someday.

So you’ll be dishing out the jungle in Arch 2 for In-Reach’s Back To The Brewery event down at London Fields in a few weeks, which we’re hugely excited for! How does the excitement of playing out these days compare to at previous points in your career? Does it still have the same buzz?

I think it’s hard to make a real comparison because it was all so new and totally electrifying back in the early days.  Things were so different socially, as I felt there was a better sense of community, so that really reflected in how we raved back then.  I’m not saying it was always like that because I’ve seen the scene go through some really moody times!  But I must say that it was the vibe at Rupture a few years back that really opened my eyes to that whole ethos and vibe being back.  I hadn’t been out to a jungle/dnb event in many many years before that, I was happily playing oldskool soul/funk, rare groove and hip hop in Camden and had no idea what was really happening in the scene.  There appears to be a whole new movement of people that are really feeling and appreciating that REAL jungle sound.  It’s such a beautiful thing to see young people as well as the seasoned diehards out there raving together and creating such an electric vibe reminiscent of old times.  I’ve fallen back in love with DJing because of the buzz and support I’ve been getting from the good souls out there that have embraced something I’ve been instrumental in creating.  

 We’ve also got the Flexout Audio crew taking over room 1 with their hard hitting style of dnb. Do you ever find yourself listening to much new drum and bass? Are there any current artists that you’re in to?

Being back on the DJing flex I’ve had to play catch-up on what’s happening out there.  It’s a bit of a minefield as there is so much good music out there again.  I find that whilst I’m out I find myself running up to the DJ booth to find out what the hell is that dutty riddim playing?  So much great stuff out there, and it’s influencing some great young talent.  I’m in the rather fortunate position where I get many people sending me their creations, just hard to find the time to listen to it all as my life is busier than it’s ever been!  There really would be too many artists to mention for those that I’m into right now, and don’t wish to risk leaving anybody out lol!  But if anyone listens to any of my sets they will know fully what and who I’m into.

Big thanks to all at In-Reach and Beautifully Crafted Jungle for giving me the opportunity to tell part of the story.  Many thanks to all those that have supported me throughout my journey.

Many thanks to Dextrous for taking the time out to chat with us. You can catch him along with a whole host of Jungle & Drum & Bass DJ’s at @ In-Reach – Back To The Brewery  This Friday 4th August at The Brewhouse, London Fields, E8 3SB.