Comp of the month in the upcoming issue of DJ Mag is 'The History Of Hardcore, Jungle, Drum & Bass: 1991-1997', the triple CD box-set from Suburban Base Records. It isn't quite a definitive history of those scenes, as it only covers the output from one label — but what an output that was!
Tracks like 'I Feel This Way' by M&M feat Rachel Wallace, QBass 'Hardcore Will Never Die' and Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era 'Far Out' were well and truly rinsed in the early to mid-1990s, and remastered again today for this definitive 45-track comp they still sound as fresh as ever.
The comp moves through tracks by Hype, D'Cruze, Krome & Time, Johnny Jungle, DJ Rap & Aston, Remarc, Phuture Assassins and more, really demonstrating how the sounds and the technology was developing in these hyper-creative times, and even includes Smart E's 'Sesame's Treet' that was thought by many at the time to have contributed towards hardcore's demise by its blatant use of kids TV references. Even this track, though, still sounds amazing today!
DJ Mag tracked down Suburban Base head honcho Danny Donnelly (pictured above) to his Los Angeles home, where he now runs film production company Pure Movie Media, a name that respectfully nods towards the 'Pure' compilation CD series ('Pure Garage' etc) that he's also behind...
DJ Mag: Danny, it's a pleasure to meet you, and just wanted to say how amazingly well the Suburban Base comp has turned out. Do you have fond memories of your time running the label?
Danny: “The whole period was fantastic, it didn’t feel like work because we were partying and making music for ourselves essentially. You’d be in the studio during the week, and be playing DAT tapes in the record store on the huge speaker stacks we had and get an immediate reaction and feedback from our customers, and then get dubplates cut for the weekend and hear the tunes out. We were making music that we wanted because there was no template, everything was innovative and new, everyone was experimenting and finding out what worked, how to make the crowds react.
“So my fond memories are a period of a number of years where everything was new and exciting musically. I guess that’s why it's taken me so long to re-issue the music because it was the future at that time, it was pioneering, and that is what appealed to me. I’ve never been one to look back or rest on my laurels, I’ve always wanted to keep moving forward.”
You can almost track the progression of the scene by SB tracks... from hardcore to jungle etc… what was your A&R policy at the time?
“It wasn’t about having an A&R policy because I wasn’t seeking music to fit a genre or a scene, we were part of shaping and creating the scene, our output went hand in hand with what the scene was doing. The music styles evolved at such a rapid pace throughout that period, you can hear the progression from one release to the next, and it's interesting to look back across the catalogue as a whole and see a clear timeline of where the music was taking us.
“Right at the very start we just referred to it as ‘breakbeat or breakbeat rave’, it was so new that there wasn’t really a phrase coined to identify it much beyond that. Most of us were coming from a background of being into rap and soul/R&B rather than house music, which is why the production style went in a different direction and a stand-alone scene developed out of that rave culture.
“You cannot underestimate the importance that drum and bass has had over popular culture, and today's mainstream dance music and pop music production. The production techniques and experimentation that went on through those years were adopted by producers and artists across every form of electronic dance music, and influenced production style in genres way beyond its remit. I think there is an obvious and clear line of development from d&b to UK garage, to grime, to dubstep. But I actually mean right across mainstream crossover dance music, there are production techniques that were first heard in the emerging D&B scene. Maybe it's a bit controversial but I think the global dance music scene has a lot to be thankful for to those innovative days of the drum & bass scenes pioneers.”
What were your favourite releases then, and now?
“This is an impossible question; I have fond memories of every tune we released. But honestly then and now I was always bit of a junglist — just a personal thing, I always veer towards the ragga jump-up style as a preference. The Suburban Base label was always at the forefront of the developing scene and development of musical styles is noticeable throughout the catalogue, from rave to rolling d&b, but I adored that period in the middle where it was undeniably jungle.”
“One little fun thing I did with one of my own tracks was to put a ‘hidden message’ in it. If you play the vinyl copy of QBass ‘Hardcore Will Never Die’ backwards it says ‘Ecstasy’ repeatedly. I expected people to ‘discover’ this and intended at the time to leak the info about it being there, but then around the release I completely forgot. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned it in the press, so anyone that’s still got a vinyl pressing of QBass can go search for it and give it a try now at long last.”
Why did Suburban Base stop?
“This is a question that comes up a lot. During that time I felt I had achieved much of what I wanted to with the label and was seeking a new challenge in business, and I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I didn’t want to run the label half-heartedly while I pursued new business. But I guess that’s only part of the story. There came a point where I didn’t feel the enthusiasm that was there during the earlier years. I’d always worked incredibly hard to grow the label but from the outset it was always fun, it was a pleasure to put those long hours in because I enjoyed everything about the journey.
“But then around that time there was a lot of bickering within the scene, and what a lot of people were rather ridiculously calling ‘scene politics’. Quality of life is more important than simply making money, and I became a little disillusioned with all this bad energy that seemed to be around. Some of the main players in the scene were taking themselves too seriously; I think people forgot it was meant to be fun, that’s the reason why we started on that journey. It just wasn’t fun anymore.”
And since then, you've started a successful compilations business - is that right?
“Yes, I had been doing albums on my own label, the influential Drum & Bass Selection Series being the first TV advertised drum & bass/jungle album ever. After Suburban Base my new company, together with a friend from a major label background, then developed numerous TV album brands including Euphoria, Pure Garage, Pure R&B which all went on to became the biggest ever brands in their respective genres. There were dozens of album brands we developed via that company during that period, and racked up 50-plus Platinum and Gold discs in the process. Pretty much anyone I speak to has got one or other of those albums in their collection somewhere, it is nice that those brands became so well recognised. Currently 'Pure Deep House' is doing good business, and there are more albums planned for later this year.
And you also moved into films - how did this come about?
“There was a significant slow-down in sales in the compilation market with the advent of downloading and file sharing, so I initially was looking at film with a view to controlling the music content, syncing existing music and creating and controlling the original scores. But the more I got involved, the more it made sense to set up my own film production company and have ownership of the product. I aim to build a catalogue of film titles in the same way I have with my record label and album brands.
“Now set up as ‘Pure Movie Media’ with a respectful nod towards those ‘Pure’ album brands that were so significant in my career. My first couple of lower budget features Victim and Payback Season received nationwide cinema releases, which is remarkable for a new company, and the business has expanded rapidly from that point, with the merger with Canadian production company ‘Moving Pictures’. Current releases include the sci-fi horror Stranded starring Christian Slater, and Traveller with David Essex and Lois Winstone. I can’t really talk about the things currently in production or development, but there are some huge projects happening right now. And I am developing a genre brand offshoot specifically for horror/thrillers called Pure Fear; the aim is to run this along the principles of a record label, and to build a franchise with brand recognition.”
Does it seem a long way from West Ham to West Hollywood?
“Ha ha, it's like a million miles away, and I’ve not been following the Hammers since I moved away to be honest, the time difference and the workload means I’ve not really found the time.
“I moved to Los Angeles at the end of October 2013, the movie projects I’m now working on means it makes sense to be here. I need to be making movies for the international market, and it's difficult to make a significant impact based in the UK. Business moves very quickly here in Hollywood and people want to do deals and progress projects at a pace that is more in line with the way I like to work. It’s a big step moving out to Hollywood and establishing my business when I have such strong roots in the UK, but again it is the challenge of it all and to be constantly progressing that appeals to me. I’m still pushing myself, even after the career success I’ve already enjoyed.”
Buy the Suburban Base comp here
Find out more about Danny's movies here