Photo credit: Chelone Wolf
Anyone with a passing interest in the development of rave culture and electronic music knows about DJ Hype. Whether it's from the seminal hardcore anthem "Shot In The Dark" from 1992, his work birthing and then nurturing the ever-present Tru-Playaz imprint (and all conquering Fabric staple), or just as the man who soundtracked your sweaty descent into hedonism in any number of club events, the 46 year old jungle and drum n'bass legend has been there and done that years before you even considered it.
Currently celebrating two decades of his radio show on Kiss FM UK, we went to Shoreditch to meet up with the ever affable and conversational figure to find out what it's like to survive over twenty years of rave, picked his brains on the current EDM scene, jungle's reascension to trend-setting status, and plenty more.
THUMP: What were you up to before the advent of jungle?
DJ Hype: Before jungle, I was doing the same thing: Playing all the ingredients that make up jungle, but just not in one track. I started off in the reggae sound with Shut Up & Dance when I was about twelve, before they were even called that. Smiley and PJ, me and their twin brother Daddy Earl (who still MC's for me), we started a sound system, we went to the same school, and basically from the age of about twelve or thirteen I went from one turntable and the reggae sound to where we are today. My career and my life has been pretty organic—I've not really had a plan. Hackney has changed dramatically. I'm old Hackney, this is new Hackney, so I like educating the new lot on what it used to be like here, and how everything evolved from where it was.
So what does the jungle sound mean to you in 2014, 21 years after you released "Shot In The Dark"?
It's my way of life. It's practically been my whole life—that's what I eat, sleep and shit: Jungle and drum n bass. I don't like to distinguish—y'know how some people feel the need to separate jungle and drum and bass. I just like to call it the same all as I've always played it all. Y'see, if I'd got into this music, rather than been part of the conception of it, I probably wouldn't be so loyal to it as I have been. For me, it's because I feel like I'm part of the foundation and the roots of this style of music—I'm out there every week, I still travel the world, and when I see on a weekly basis what people enjoy about it.
Which at this stage in the game has got to be as important as ever right?
I just do what I do. I'll give you an example: I was the best man at Daddy Earl's wedding, and I wrote this speech, and as soon as I went to say it I scrunched it up and threw it away, as I can't script myself. Everyone that knows me properly always thinks I'm a bit nuts in the way I talk and they like that—I don't why, but after so many years I got accepted. When I'm like that, I feel more real, more natural, and everybody gave me praise for that, which is nice, as you can have opinions on yourself and other people think you're a complete fucking dick y'know? As I have got a bit of dick rep! Because when a lot of people see me DJ, I'm not the smiley guy dancing, I'm pretty serious, and I'm pretty serious all the time in that mode, because I'm at work. I think when people see me speaking, they're not expecting me to be like that, in a pleasant way. I'm not that insecure anymore, but it's nice to have people give you approval, and what keeps me going is that. I mean no disrespect, but it's not [approval from] media, other DJs or anything—it's when those other people come up, as they seem to enjoy it on a religious level. I mean, I play records—when you can make the blind see and the crippled walk, then by all means worship me, but I just play records! I've always done it, so I find it strange y'know? Even in my early career when I first got big.
Who did you look up to in the early days?
You could be my idol and the best you'll get from me is I'd walk up, say "You know what? I really like your stuff," and walk off. But my idol—not really now, and not even for his talent, but just for who he was—was Afrika Bambaataa. I bought "Planet Rock" at a time when we first heard it in a reggae rave, and we was calling it New Wave music—we didn't know what it was! Then what happened, it was Smiley and Daddy Earl, what it was their Mum lives in America, they went on holiday to visit their mother and came back, with I think it was 'Planet Rock' and Doug E Fresh's "The Show." Those sort of things, those little things early in your career… I played in 2007 in New York, alongside Afrika Bambaataa - the flyer was like him in the middle with me on one side and Daddy Earl on the other! I was saying to Earl "I don't care if the place is empty, just to be on the flyer with this guy". They gave me such a warm reception. I had to play after him, and I just kept standing there with my mate just like [pulls dazed expression]. I think I was 14 years old at that time when I bought "Planet Rock." If you'd said, "20 years later, you're gonna be playing with him," I'd be like "You're fucking mad!"
You're dedicated to the jungle sound you've helped create, but a couple of releases, like "Pussy," were on a breakbeat garage tip…
Ah yeah yeah yeah… I didn't want to stick at it though. Zinc stuck at it, but I didn't create that, I wasn't a pioneer of it. What happened at the time, all the elements of drum n' bass and jungle, there was a period where it was all stripped back bare. All the drums and the samples, the soul—all the stuff I love—was stripped back a bit and producers were getting known for their technical ability, the audience had changed. It was a very white male dominated audience at that point, and all the ingredients that I liked had been taken out and put into garage. So I'm sitting thinking "I could make that, I could make it all day long if I wanted, but I don't want to." So what I used to do was encourage me, Zinc, and even Pascal—if we were putting together a longer project like an EP or album—don't make everything at a jungle tempo, do something different. There was a track called "Species" that I made, there's a track called "Dead As" that was the flipside to "Casino Royale"—record of the week in the New Musical Express! These are tunes where I'm just being me, they don't fit into a genre, and they weren't meant to.
So with those tracks, I guess you're acting like a filter for all those other influences you mentioned before?
Yeah, but with no audience in mind. See, when you DJ as long as I have—and you can talk to any producer, and if they deny it they're talking shit—early in your career, you're probably not playing out as much, and you're in the studio a lot more, therefore your creativity isn't necessarily looking at smashing a dancefloor, you're just being creative. Years ago on a label like mine, an artist, if he didn't want to work, could make enough money off the production alone, to just stay at home and work on that. But it's changed now.
Well there's this huge EDM thing obviously happening over the past couple of years. What are your thoughts on that?
I fucking hate it. "Electronic Dance Music"—I mean, really, they just discovered drugs, innit? Not being funny, but jungle has been out there for quite a few years. I've been going there since about '97 and I was going there quite late as well as my preconception of America was what I saw on the TV, which is that it was very racially divided. This music's supposed to be a big melting pot, so I was thinking, "How the fuck can I go out there?" Then, when I did go, it was very strange. The sound was always awful, all of what you'd think they'd have, they didn't, and they didn't know how to dance to it. You'd play in club, and everyone's sort of looking at you and you're going, "Oh fucking hell they're not in it," and then afterwards you're told, "That was just fucking amazing man!" But then you get used to the way that they'd rave, and it started to get better around 2006 or 2007.
And you had Violence Recordings and Hive and all that lot…
Yeah. Though they were already living out there. They're American producers, whereas for me, as a DJ, I'd be headlining EDC, playing to 20,000 people, and then dubstep kicked off, and there was this massive change. I played at an event for EDC in Dallas, and usually I'd be headlining the kinda breakbeat, drum n bass arena, someone like me is gonna headline. So there I am playing, thinking I'm the headliner, and Rusko is on after me and he come on and the whole place just got a lot more packed than for me, so I could see this is what they were into more than me. It was a bit of a wake up call, as I liked dubstep, and I followed it, but I kind of couldn't see it being club music, because it's dub.
Maybe not to the extent it's become…
Well they've changed it innit, but the original dubstep was rootsy and I really liked it. But by now, hearing Rusko in America, it was almost getting to hardcore, which I thought was just backward as we'd done that in 1992! So when the EDM thing seemed to really kick off, and you had people like Skrillex coming out the woodwork. I remember playing the same arena as him, I think around 2010 or 2011. DJ Fresh had just done the "Louder" track, it hadn't gone number one yet, but I remember Adam F telling me the details of what was involved, and then Skrillex coming on and him being like "This is the next big thing from the States," so I'm sitting thinking, "Okay, let's see this then." He wasn't DJ-ing with equipment—he's new school. At the time, I was looking at him with daggers being like, "That's not fucking DJing!" But life moves on and you have to accept it. It's like a drummer moaning about a drum machine you know? He does what he does.
Jungle seems to have almost gone full circle, it's almost getting a bit…
Trendy! It's funny.
Do you feel like it's taking away from the original sound, or being reappropriated?
Yeah, but I don't follow that. My career is quite organic. I look at what's going on around me, I never really like it much. If jungle's the in thing, y'know, everyone's getting out there Amen and chopping it up for a week, then as soon as that happens everyone's saying it's shit again, so I don't pay much attention when things become trendy or not trendy. I'm in my own bubble. You don't need to follow trends.
I guess that attitude has lasted you this long, so why change it?
Yeah, that's my philosophy. I've come this far in life, and my whole life is like this it's not just the music game, y'know?
Is there anything you would have done differently in your career?
I guess more the financial side. Of course there's always mistakes you've made along the path, but for me to be the character I am—I haven't changed. Some people think I'm quite outspoken and loud, because I am, but I was like this when I was nobody. My Mum's like me, my friends… I grew up in an area where I was little, but had quite strong characters in my clique. I had to shout to be heard and I've always been like this. I have a gut reaction to things, and I like to stick to my own agenda. If I do go wrong then at least it's my own fuck up!
On that note; having spent over two decades in the game, how would you like to be remembered?
Erm… I dunno. I'm not dead yet! I'm about 46 not 96! Ask me that after 60 years of jungle!
And finally, what are your top 5 rave riddims?
4 Hero - "Mr. Kirk's Nightmare"
D Livin - "Why"
LTJ Bukem - "Demon's Theme"
Rufige Kru - "Terminator"
Potential Bad Boy - "Let's Go (Shy FX Remix)"