Buzzin' hardcore classic 'Bus It' by Blapps Posse was a riotous, sampladelic mish-mash of hip-house and rave. DJ Mag talks to its key originators, Aston Harvey (who's now the lynchpin in The Freestylers) and cohort of the time, Jason Tunbridge, about its making and breaking...
Try to keep it down but it keeps biting back. The breakbeat sound of hardcore, so they say, will never die. If you listen to underground dance in 2016, those words ring true. You’ll hear it everywhere. Luca Lozano, Special Request, Mella Dee and Borai are all putting a fresh twist on hardcore and jungle vibes, and small wonder. Listen back to the classics — that appeared when the genre first coalesced at the beginning of the ’90s in the UK — and they sound unbelievably modern.
Bursting with vitality, ideas and flavour, they’re truly the product of a freer time, before all the genre boundaries were built. But few tracks of this period have quite the what-the-fuck potency as Blapps Posse’s 1991-minted ‘Bus It (It’s Time To Get Bzy)’. With its full-fat funk breaks, “Only originate/never pirate” and “north London posse in the place” rap snips, squelchy acid line and wicked hardcore stabs, it’s like a bunch of warehouse rave kids crashing a Bronx block party.
Closer to hip-hop in spirit — with its scratching, mid-tempo beats and cut ‘n’ paste feel — but possessed of those classic rave signifiers, it sums up the time it was made, say its two creators, Aston Harvey and Jason Tunbridge today.
“I think ‘Bus It’ captures the club scene at the time,” says Jason. “A lot of hip-hop tunes were house tempo, like Big Daddy Kane. House was around the 120bpm mark. So you would find that it would blend from hip-hop into house, a bit of disco. That’s the kind of music that I listened to when I was growing up and that I went out raving to. When we started doing Blapps and specifically ‘Bus It’, we was listening to all those influences.”
“You’d hear [Richie Rich’s] ‘Salsa House’, and then the next minute you’d hear Sugar Bear ‘Don’t Scandalise Mine’, then an SL2 record. It was a mad mixture of music and it wasn’t segregated like it is now,” adds Aston. “It’s what influenced us as music-makers as well. That mad fusion, ‘That’s a great hip-hop sample, we’re gonna put some acid noises on it’.”
Like fellow hardcore progenitors Shut Up & Dance and a few others, they had been hip-hop heads initially but soon had their ears opened to the new electronic dance styles like house that were filtering through.
“The first acid track I heard was [Armando’s] ‘Land Of Confusion’,” Jason says.
“I was just listening to hip-hop and nothing else, and when I heard that, I liked that in the same way as I liked some edgy harder rap. That particular sound, it’s the TB-303 and a drum machine, there’s nothing else to that track. But the sound was really good to my ears. When I heard that I said, ‘I want to do a track with a similar sound’.”
Both from north London, Aston was working as an engineer at Noisegate Studios (owned by Double Trouble who had hits with Rebel MC in the late ’80s) when he was assigned to produce with Jason, who had come to create material with his earlier project Dynamic Guv’nors.
“When I first met Jay he’d done these tracks and I’d never heard anything like it: this fusion of hip-hop and house,” says Aston.
“Me and Aston started talking and found we had a similar taste in music. Similar perspective and ideas,” Jason remembers. “We hit off a friendship, and eventually started working together on projects, and ‘Bus It’ was one of our first collaborations.”
Though Blapps Posse implies a group — and other tracks like their similarly popular ‘Don’t Hold Back’, which emerged at the same time as the original mix of ‘Bus It’, had MC Dazzle D spitting a full rap atop it — it was more a loose collective that revolved around the two producers at its core.
“It was Jason and his mates,” says Aston. “The idea was to expand. We tried to build a collective of musicians, singers and rappers, influenced by the same kind of diverse backgrounds. Rather than Blapps Posse being a street crew it was a collective of musicians with different influences.” “That’s where we tried to take Blapps,” agrees Jason. “But originally the core of Blapps was people I went to school with, playing beats and getting them to MC over the top.”
‘Bus It’ was made quickly out of necessity. The pair reckon it took only four hours to finish — a race against time to make the most of the studio while they were paying for it. “There was the necessity of getting the studio, getting the sound and getting it quick.
The mission was to come out at the end of the day with a song. There wasn’t an option of, ‘Let’s listen back to this tomorrow’,” Jason says.
But the equipment was rudimentary. Using a Yamaha sampler, they made the most of its eight-second sampling memory, sampling most of the sounds on the record from other tunes in various ways, from the beats to the stabs and beyond.
“The loops, we had those ‘Ultimate Beats & Breaks’ albums [compilations of classic funk and disco tracks sampled in hip-hop or played by early hip-hop DJs]. They were at 33, imported vinyl, so we’d pitch them up,” Aston says. “On the Technics 1200 to +12 and then put it at 45.
You’d get the whole beat in if it was a two-bar beat. Tune it down and then loop it up. We had this program called Pro 24, it was pre-Cubase. It was the first sequencer I used. You had to put it onto tape, and this was the one that was a real pain in the arse.
You had to ‘stripe’ the tape, put like a code on the tape, and then listen back to this noise. You know like the old dial-up noise? Every now and again you’d get a drop in the code and it would really piss you off. You’d have to listen to the tape to make sure the code was all the way through, ’cause otherwise you’d get drop outs.”
For the infamous ‘Bus It’ acid squelch, rather than get a TB-303 bass synth — something prohibitively expensive, hard to find at the time and tricky to operate — they did something that became a hardcore trademark: sampled it and used a single tone mapped down the keyboard to play a riff.
“The acid line itself, we took one note from an acid track, a clean note, and then we transposed it up and down the keyboard,” Jason recalls. “Although it’s not an authentic 303, it did create a unique sound in itself. It sounds like acid but it’s not quite authentic. With studio time, the simplest way to do it was to sample it up.”
The reversed synth noises in the track were the result of a happy accident that came about from another quirk of the nowadays-primitive set-up; a sound impossible to replicate. “On the original version of ‘Bus It’, something happened with the sample, it came out wrong but we thought it sounded alright,” says Aston. “It was the stab from the Marshall Jefferson tune [‘Move Your Body’].” “It was serendipity. It was a reverse sample and it crashed,” grins Jason.
The rawness and very particular conflation of early hardcore, with its B-boy flavour and street grit, has brought it back into sharp relief lately. At odds with the clean lines and immaculate production of now, many DJs and producers have been digging in the crates for inspiration. ‘Bus It’, and the work of Blapps Posse in general, is emblematic of the crossover from hip-hop to rave, and to respond to an increased demand, DJ and label owner Jerome Hill recently put out a selection of rare classic Blapps Posse cuts via his Fat Hop imprint.
Aston (who is also part of The Freestylers breakbeat outfit) has been DJing in London under the banner again, and there’s a new compilation that the duo have been putting together, including unreleased archive material, new stuff and a Blapps d&b track.
“I hadn’t mixed these tunes for years and it’s mad how some of them sound,” Aston says. “Some of the earlier recordings sound better than the later ones. It’s less processed and really raw. With a lot of music people go so far and it loses a magic. They realise, let’s go back to basics. There’s a generation of kids who weren’t around then and they love the energy and vibe of the music “For us it wasn’t about the technology, it was the energy of what we could find and mash together. It was a jigsaw puzzle of putting together really interesting pieces of music for people to enjoy.”
Listen to a new mix from Blapps Posse below.
Words: BEN MURPHY
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