How Renegade's 'Terrorist' created a blueprint for jungle
Producing under the alias Renegade, Ray Keith delivered an instant classic in 1994's ‘Terrorist’, one of the most recognisable jungle tunes of all time. Its thumping chopped breaks, gargantuan Reese and Smith & Mighty-inspired bass still sound totally fresh today. Ben Muprhy talks to him about how he and the track’s engineer Nookie used minimal elements to maximum effect
“It's so far ahead of its time that you can play that in the dance now and people still go crazy," says junglist, innovator, DJ, producer and Dread Recordings label boss Ray Keith, talking about the impact of one of his greatest tracks. “It sounds brand spanking new.”
Recorded under the name Renegade, ‘Terrorist’ is an eternal jungle classic that helped draw up a blueprint for other producers to follow. An instant pirate radio and rave hit upon release, it’s a tune that still gets rinsed today when DJs need to draw for a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. From its shiver-inducing piano intro, to its seething Reese sub, digi-dub second bassline and interplay of breakbeats, ‘Terrorist’ is composed of hook after hook. Released just as jungle was breaking through to wider popularity in the UK, its core ingredients have become an essential part of the drum & bass recipe book.
Ray Keith grew up in Colchester, the son of parents from Mauritius. He got into DJing, fuelled by a love of rare groove and hip-hop, and as the ’80s progressed, began to get club gigs around Essex and in Suffolk county town Ipswich, before securing DJ residencies in London. While house music became a passion for a while, when hardcore arrived, Keith could relate to its breakbeat drive, and he never looked back, producing remixes of Orbital’s ‘Chime’ and Baby D’s ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’ in 1992. He put out a series of 12”s on labels like Simon Bassline Smith’s Absolute 2 Records and Advance, but in late 1993, he was compelled to create something different that had the raw energy and heavier vibe of the incipient jungle sound.
Teaming up with engineer Nookie (Gavin Cheung), Keith drew on his varied musical influences to create ‘Terrorist’. The piano intro was a nod to one of his earliest musical inspirations, and interpolated a section from famous synthpop band Japan’s track, ‘Nightporter’.
“There were a lot of piano and techno tunes out there at the time, and I wanted to make ‘Terrorist’ memorable,” says Keith. “So I did my own version of their riff, replaying the piano so I didn’t get fucked, because it wouldn’t be sampled.”
‘Terrorist’ features one of the first samples of the “Reese” bassline, originally a feature of Detroit techno originator and producer Kevin Saunderson’s track ‘Just Want Another Chance’, made as Reese. With its ominous and warping nature, this bass sound perfectly suited the breakbeat onslaught of ‘Terrorist’, and would subsequently become a recognisable recurring element in jungle/drum & bass production.
“Grooverider used it, I used it,” says Keith. “It was from the Sequential Prophet keyboard, I bought one in the end. Everybody was sampling everyone else, so when I heard that bass, I went, ‘Wow!’”
“Back then, we were fighting against the system, it was a Tory government, there was a lot of war going on, we were pushing and breaking the boundaries. It was like a revolution”
Meanwhile, the track’s second, patrolling digi-dub bass was inspired by Keith’s earliest DJ gigs, and a Bristol production crew who would later have their own impact on jungle history. “Around that time there were a lot of reggae tunes being sampled, and ‘Terrorist’ was my version of dub,” he says. “I didn’t really know about reggae or Mad Professor or Scientist, I didn’t know anything about dub at all. I came straight out of Essex. I was pretty much up to date with all the electronic house, soul, rare groove and jazz, but when I decided to listen to these soundsystem kinds of vibes, I was really intrigued.
"The track that influenced ‘Terrorist’ most was by Smith & Mighty, I always used to love their tune ‘Anyone’," Keith continues. "They were a big influence on me growing up. I was playing their tunes in the ’80s when I had a residency at a club in Ipswich called Cinderella’s. When I met Ray Mighty, I said to him, ‘You know my track is inspired by your tune?’ He went ‘Fuck off!’, and I said, ‘Seriously bruv!’” The track’s chopped-up Amen break was already devastating, but coupled with the secondary Think break that dropped and rolled over the top, ‘Terrorist’ had an unstoppable perpetual motion that has been endlessly replicated since.
“That’s what killed it. The technicality of it, and the way the break went at the end, bam, bam, bam. That little roll of the Amen. It was the way it was put together. I reworked it and made my own break out of it. That was a big thing. I wanted to do something for myself, because I’m a hip-hop DJ at the end of the day, that’s how I started out anyway.”
The mix of influences that fed into Renegade’s ‘Terrorist’ mirrored jungle’s omnivorous sample diet at the time. While dub, dancehall and hip-hop played their part, less expected elements, like the piano snippet, could sometimes be found in jungle’s musical palette too (notably, Goldie also sampled Japan on his tune ‘Ghosts Of My Life’).
“Look at what the dubstep guys are doing, what the grime guys are doing now with our music,” says Keith. “They go back, they sample, and that’s what we did, we sampled — but it was our own version and interpretation of that time.”
‘Terrorist’ was made at Nookie’s parents’ house around Christmas 1993 on a simple setup, typical of many jungle producers working then. “Nookie had an Akai S950 sampler, a Soundcraft mixing desk, Sony hi-fi speakers (that I apparently blew up), an Atari ST 1040 computer, and Cubase software,” says Keith.
From this rudimentary gear sprung one of the deadliest dancefloor tunes in the last 30 years. Working with just these core pieces of kit, Keith and Nookie were able to create something monumental. “I believe less is more, and that tune shows you,” says Keith. There’s probably only seven elements. Keeping it simple kind of works.”
When Keith worked with Nookie, who had club hits of his own with ‘The Sound Of Music’ and ‘Give A Little Love’, and ‘Burnin’ Up’ as Cloud 9, the engineer pushed him to make his best material. It’s something that Keith reckons helped him develop into the artist he is today.
“Gavin was really hard on me when I was making music; so I had to play and do everything myself, then he would engineer it,” says Keith. “It’s funny, he came over to the studio the other day, and I went, ‘At the time you were a bit hard on me, a bit of a bastard sometimes!’ And he said ‘Well there you go, it’s made you able to do what you do now’.”
Nookie was already working with Moving Shadow when he brought Ray Keith’s tune to the label’s attention. The label bosses were blown away and encouraged Keith to sign it. “I had a meeting with 2 Bad Mice, and then a meeting with Rob Playford, and they all said ‘You need to sign this tune, it’s gonna be massive’.”
Before the official release, Keith cut a dubplate of it at famed facility Music House, circulating it to a select few trusted DJs in the scene. “There was a crew of people I used to give dubplates to — Fabio, Grooverider, Kenny Ken, Frost, Bryan Gee, Randall, Doc Scott, Micky Finn — I’d give them my dubs to roll out. We’d meet at Music House and they’d take it, and play it. I’d only give my music to a certain amount of people, and then those people would go and do damage.”
In the hands of these influential DJs, ‘Terrorist’ rapidly attained anthem status, becoming a club, rave and pirate radio staple first and a certified jungle classic upon its release. Keith says he knew he had made something special, but Moving Shadow helped him take things to the next level.
“When I played it, I thought to myself ‘Bloody hell, this is gonna be a banger’. I didn’t look any further than that, but Moving Shadow at the time, Rob Playford, 2 Bad Mice, Blame, Foul Play, Nookie, these were people at the top of their game. It was nice to be among those guys, because it helped you grow.”
Recording under a vast array of pseudonyms, including Armageddon, Dark Soldier, Doctor Wootang, Dune and Dragon Fist, the Renegade name is probably Ray Keith’s most renowned side-project, and one of many renegades in underground dance music, from Renegade Soundwave to the Renegade Hardware record label. Asked why he picked that name, Keith points out that jungle has always been an outsider genre, a close-knit collective that stands against the establishment.
“I was a bit of a renegade,” he says. “Back then, we were fighting against the system, it was a Tory government, there was a lot of war going on, we were pushing and breaking the boundaries. We were the new kids on the block. We started to DJ at illegal raves, and that’s how it was. It was all part and parcel of what we wanted to do for ourselves. It was like a revolution. There was obviously oppression, but if you oppress a culture, that’s what happens.”
Ray Keith remains a highly influential force in the drum & bass scene, championing the sound on his Dreadcast Breakage radio show. His latest album, ‘The Prophecy’, was released this year, while a remix package of two of his biggest tunes by new school producers also landed on Dread Recordings. Along with Benny Ill’s take on ‘Dark Soldier’ is T>I’s ‘Minimal VIP’ of ‘Terrorist’, a crisp kick-snare roller that proves how evergreen the original components of the tune still are. Though he’s released countless singles and albums to this day, Keith’s proud of the legacy of his breakthrough production.
“What I’ve learned as I’ve been getting older is, those are your memories and those are your diary, your bodies of work. Some are great, and some are not great. I think at the end of the day, Renegade ‘Terrorist’ was something that has elevated me to great success. It’s now nearly 30 years old! It’s one of those tunes that kinda changed things."