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DJ Fresh talks health scares, sobriety, and producing records for the world's biggest artists

DJ Fresh has had a life of vertiginous highs and crushing lows — from his time in drum & bass supergroup Bad Company, to having No.1 hit records, to battling health scares and cancer. Now he’s in a better place than ever, sober and balancing a career working in artificial intelligence systems with producing hit records for artists like Kylie Minogue. DJ Mag meets him to discover how he’s weathered the storm...

DJ Fresh still vividly remembers where he was the moment he knew his health was in trouble. “I was sitting in traffic on the Hammersmith flyover, driving home from the airport after a weekend of gigs,” he says. “I woke up on the bridge — I’d just passed out at the wheel. When I came round, my first thought was relief that I hadn’t driven over the side. Then there were sirens, and the police turned up. Luckily, somehow, and I don’t remember how, I’d broken my clutch. I didn’t think it was a good idea to tell the police I’d just passed out at the wheel, so I just told them that my clutch was broken, and thankfully that was that.”

Fresh’s health was indeed at risk. Little did he know at the time, he was suffering from a tumour in his pancreas, a condition that doctors repeatedly failed to diagnose over the coming months. Some even went as far as suggesting that the problems were psychosomatic rather than physical.

“In the end it was an incredible doctor,” Fresh says. “I have to give her a shout-out by name, because she is worthy of my gratitude — Diane Brown — who discovered what it was. The tumour turned out not to be cancerous, though that particular disease was to haunt him later on. Still, the operation to remove it was a major one, and proper recovery required several weeks’ stay in hospital. The whole episode, which happened around the turn of 2009 and 2010, marked the end of an era for Fresh, an end which perhaps he already sensed was coming. The years since he first came to the attention of the drum & bass scene as part of second generation crew Bad Company — which also featured dBridge, Maldini and Vegas — had sped by in a blur. Anyone who visited the collective’s studio, above an inconspicuous looking Cafe Rouge in Hampstead, North London, would have sensed the fearsome energy by which they worked. Through clouds of green smoke, and working a grungy monster of a mixing desk which had its own inbuilt ashtray, and was reputed to have been the one with which heavy rock icons Deep Purple made their classic ‘Machine Head’ album, they got to work on a succession of individualsounding, techy tracks which helped to define the second generation of d&b. Original innovator Dillinja once said, “people don’t understand the pressure drum & bass artists are under”, and Bad Company seemed to thrive on that pressure. From the studio, where their four-strong line-up meant someone always had an idea to take a track forward, to the sound of anthems such as ‘The Nine’ and ‘The Pulse’, the feeling of frantic zeal was palpable. It certainly ensured that they were consistently THE name on the lips, and indeed the turntables, of everyone in the early 2000s.

When the band went their separate ways, Fresh formed the Breakbeat Kaos label with Adam F, which pushed the limits of what a drum & bass label could achieve, taking singles into the ‘proper’ charts and eventually scoring a massive-selling album with the Pendulum debut, which Fresh worked on closely with the Australian three-piece in an A&R capacity. As if that wasn’t enough, he also launched the Dogs On Acid website, a talk board and community where d&b fans could vent their frustrations and gossip.

“I guess you could trace my interest in technology back to Dogs On Acid,” Fresh says. “This was the early days of the internet, there was no Facebook and all that, it was kind of like the wild west.”

WORDS: BEN WILLMOTT