Zed Bias, one of the British Garage scene’s best and most successful producers is back again. And how? One of the true innovators of UK Garage, famed for his tight beat-mastery and though, funky, but soulful and atmospheric style, surfaces with a new album under his Phuturistix moniker, together with his lesser know but not to be underrated partner in crime Injekta. On a sunny Tuesday morning we phoned Mr. Bias and became aware of the fact that he besides being a brilliant producer also is an enjoyable and very nice guy to talk to.
Zed Bias aka Dave Jones living in Milton Keynes, London, uses lots of different names to tag his range of sonic flavours: Maddslinky (on Sirkus) being the cover for his jazz tinged releases, whilst the Zed Bias-tag (mostly used for remix duties) often assures a true bassline roller. He’s also known for productions as Daluq (with Italy’s DJ Rocca), The Henchman (with MC Juiceman & Simba) and Nu Design (with DJ Principle). Zed also runs the labels Sidewinder, Sidestepper and Debutante, and released last year, under his Maddslinky moniker, a full length album namely “Make Your Peace” on Sirkus. An album leaving him behind with mixed feelings. ‘I really did liked the album’s outcome, but the way things were handled afterwards leaves me unsatisfied,‘ he says about the Maddslinky longplayer which saw a poor release late 2002 on Sirkus and an earlier this year on Laws Of Motion. ‘I’m still hoping for a proper re-release. Maybe in some years I’ll put the album out again somewhere in Japan.’ Even though he already had done remixes for big name artists include Whitney Houston and Destiny's Child (before they were big), his breakthrough releases were his Phuturistix EP’s 'Matrix' and 'Deep Down' (Locked On). He has also done remix work for Gabrielle, Kosheen, Artful Dodger, Maxim (from The Prodigy), Pharoah Monch, DJ Zinc, 2 Banks Of 4 and most recently for label-mates London Elektricity (for their ‘Different Drum’ tune). With his new album “feel It Out’ he tries to bring together the West London jazz heads and the East London ravers. ‘So far, the reaction on the album is very mixed,’ he says. ‘The album contains some moody parts, but I certainly kept in mind it had to be danceable. Trying to keep the garage crowd happy. This album is the best thing we could do.’ During springtime this year, he released the first single from the new album: the title track ‘Feel It Out’ rocked dancefloors all over the world from Japanese festivals to New York clubs, and together with his Daluq remix on that same track he announced that a truly promising and long-awaited album was in the making. ‘We’ve been working on the album for almost 4 years, and finally we managed to deliver it. There comes a moment you just need to let go, and just be satisfied with its outcome.’
In his earlier days, as a teenager, Jones travelled around Germany and Israel, came back to the UK, settled in Milton Keynes in 96 and stayed home every night chopping up Amen Brother & Lynn Collins' ‘Think’, just learning drum patterns. Like many producers, Bias began his career as a self-confessed homebody compulsively producing tracks in his bedroom studio. ‘You know, I never took any musical classes and did everything on practice. I bought myself some basic equipment and started practicing’. Soon he bought an Akai S2000 in Hanover, hauled it back home and carried on self-training, taking tapes round to producers for advice.
Released in late '98 on Social Circles, the label founded by producer Jason Kaye, the ‘Standard Hoodlum Issue’ heavy 2 Step-pressure by E.S. Dubs announced a new name in garage rave. The E.S. in E.S. Dubs stands for Environmental Science, the name of producers Spatts and Zed, once hardcore duo Criminal Minds, now a South London based nu-skool breaks partnership. Bias drastically reworked the obscure original, retaining its martial arts video sample and scrapping everything else. It took literally 4 hours one Saturday afternoon, he says. ‘I basically chopped up about 6 breakbeats into little bits and patched them all together. When I made that track, I had a sampler, a mixing desk and 2 hi-fi speakers that I was hearing it all through. There was no hi tech equipment involved and I still to this day cannot believe how big this tracks become.’ It turns out that ‘Standard Hoodlum Issue’ style darkness is atypical for Zed Bias. He's just as infatuated with jazz funk and Latin as breaking beats, enthusing knowledgeably about 70s fusioneers like Roy Ayers, Johnny Hammond and Chocolate Milk, whose rare groove classic ‘Time Machine’ he has covered as JMD with another cohort Mayhem. That Dave rather looks forward instead of looking back becomes clear when I bring up some memories to his dancehall garage hit ‘Neighbourhood’ (Locked On). “When I now listen to that record again I do hear a worse sound. I now conclude ‘Neighbourhood’ is a worse record. Back then though, it became a massive hit. I have what they say evolved my sound during the years.” Times do change.
The turning point for Jones came on hearing Dem 2's epochal Destiny in '98, in Milton Keyes only (and now defunct) Phat Trax dance record store. Released in February '98, as Sleepless on Dem 2’s “Boston Experiments” EP on the New York Soundclash imprint (later reissued on Locked On), Destiny’s android soul breakbeat changed garage overnight. ‘What a track,’ Jones says ‘It brought to mind the possibilities of breakbeat. Destiny, for me is like a proper hiphop pattern but halftime. Those little synth sweeps just amazed me, how something so unpercussive could be such an integral part of a groove.’
In fact, the one sound Bias isn't crazy about is the 4/4 beat of '96 '97 era garage, the time of RIP/187 Lockdown/ Armand Van Helden’s ‘Spin Spin Sugar’ b-line, the moment he calls ‘proper garage’ and the sound Dem 2 consigned to history. Looking back, he thinks that when UK garage first came into existence, it seemed very much a closed kind of club click. ‘There was a few well established older DJ’s that brought it here in the first place - The Dreem Teem, Karl ‘Tuff Enuff’ Brown, Mike ‘Ruff Cut’ Lloyd. It was a lot more about putting your best togs on, drinking champagne, all the clichés we have now.’
The sound coming out of the UK developed in two styles: whilst Garage was the mellower sound of raving, taking the best of the US sound and turning it into a tougher UK sound but with a 4 to the floor beat, 2 Step was really like starting all over again. It was a completely new dance form. Remarkably, Dem 2's rhythmic revolution caused a demographic shift. ‘Crowds suddenly got younger; the mid 20-30 somethings found themselves matched move for move by school age teenagers’, Bias observes. ‘Since school kids have got into it, kids from the age of 13 upwards, the more experimental tunes have caught their imagination.’
Late 1999, early 2000 UK Garage made its long-awaited commercial break-trough. The whole scene imploded by Artful Dodger’s massive hit ‘Re-wind’ causing a much hyped garage rave scene, poised between the existence of ’96 ’97 over-wintered Sunday ravers, who lived through '91/2 hardcore and defected from drum 'n' bass in '95/6, and the '98/99 school age ravers who pushed ‘Re-wind’ from pirate to club to radio to Top of the Pops. The rest is history …
You could already hear him exploring the jazzier end of his sound with former Phuturistix releases (on the ‘Deep Down’ EP on Locked On for example) and of course with the Maddslinky album, drenched in 1970s jazz, funk and Latin, exposing the more ‘musical’ side of a man whose Zed Bias guise has been written in bass. His favourite instrument to play on the album was probably the Fender Rhodes. “The Rhodes really is my favourite instrument. For now, a friend of mine still plays the keys on my tunes, but I’m practicing very hard these days to be able to play them myself in the near future.”
But if there is one man we should mention, then, according to Dave, it should be 2step innovator Steve Gurley, a crucial reference point for Dave in the early UK garage sound. A founder-member of Foul Play back in the early '90s, Gurleys mix of Lenny Fontana’s ‘Spirit of the Sun’ is a 2 Step landmark while personal tracks like ‘Lessons in Love’ and ‘All Nite Jam’ are devastating symphonies of syncopation. To Zed Bias, he is definitely the best drum programmer in this country, if not the world. ‘This man basically came up with the Garage sound and I can’t stop emphasizing how important this man was for me and the entire scene. This man is the ‘Don’. You ask any producer who started producing from 1999 through to the present day, and Steve has to have been a big influence on anyone who was producing 2step,’ Dave emphasizes. Gurley’s mix of Lenny Fontana's 'Spirit of the Sun', Dave cites as one of his top 5 ever songs. ‘It was certainly a big happening in my world anyway, seeing what a 2step tune could do, out of a 2step context. The first time I heard that track was in Sheffield at the Adelphi back in 1998. It was Seven Wonders, and the whole night, every single DJ was playing 4/4, and no 2step. ‘Spirit of the Sun’ was dropped by Karl Brown, I think, and the whole place erupted!’ And having triggered crucial beat innovations all along the continuum from hardcore to drum 'n' bass to 2step in the 1990s, many now look to producers like Gurley, perhaps unfairly, for a spark of genius. As Dave reports, ‘Steve is planning to come back, but he has to do it in a certain way, in his way. He is not a man to rush things. I spoke to him, and he told me what he is doing and there is some exciting stuff coming up. When it does come, it will be solid. But everything expects something to shock, and that is a lot of pressure on any producer. You'll probably find that a lot of what he will do is harking back to the original vibe, but the original vibe is Steve Gurley. You can't take the vibe out of the man, you know. He wasn't doing what other people had already done when he did it. I can't get my head around it. Even I had Steve to look at when I was starting to produce 2step.’
A bit of a rare groover, Dave now tends to look back to look forward. ‘Musically I tend to get inspired more by my old record collection rather than the new stuff. My knowledge doesn't run as deep as a lot of old soul boys and jazzers but I've got a collection that I like and I could listen to it for the rest of my life, and that is how I know it is a good collection. Records that you listen to once a week for a couple of years have to be good records and that inspires the shit out of me, I'm telling you. I don't really look to peers around me, it's not fair.’
While much of the hype surrounding the Phuturistix album revolves around its fusion of soul and jazz-past with the tuff swing of garage beats, for Dave, now a global DJ, this is not really a big deal. ‘To those outside the UK, it's all dance music. I come across this all the time, on my travels. When I'm out of the country, for example when I've been to Washington DC, a lot of people can't differentiate between breakbeat, 2step and broken beat or 'nu jazz' when they are at the same tempo. Here in the UK, we have a different sort of palette. We are so used to dance music and it is so engrained in our society, from Pete Tong on Radio 1 to the commercials and so on. Here, it's like football, it's totally inside us and we've got the teams or genres that we support and it is all a bit like that. When we go abroad, to places like Italy where my friend Rocca runs the Maffia Club, you can play, in the same set, drum 'n' bass, breakbeat, a bit of house, a bit of garage and a bit of 'nu jazz', and if it flows, if the DJ is putting it across in a way that makes sense to the crowd, they will clap and cheer and dance all night. There is no looking down the end of their nose, with people saying, that isn't actually from that scene, so you shouldn't be playing those tunes together. It brings you scarily back down to earth when you are on your travels. You think 'god, we really are up our own arses in this country'. But it is also good. It reminds you what you are there for. You are there to entertain people and not to play tunes that you love and nobody else.’
“Feel It Out” is an ambitious live-project and therefore they’ll be, like their label-mates London Elektricity, going on a live-tip to promote the album. ‘We’ll be promoting the album with a sort of live-act, let’s say a semi live-act. We’ll be on the stage as DJ’s (using loads of studio transferred material burned on CD-R) alongside some instrumentalists and vocalists. We recently did a ‘Live at Radio 1’ act,’ Dave explains. The album navigates that tricky balance between live songs and percussive, club-orientated beats what results in a broad and accomplished LP, part soothing soul, part twisted funk. ‘It all happened very organically. All artists featured on this album are all friends of mine, and sometimes it happened that they just popped in for some tea and I subsequently, later on, started recording them.’
Further on, Zed Bias will be promoting his other projects. ‘There’s a Daluq album dropping the end of this year, and I’m also producing an album for vocalist Daniel Vacchio (known for his vocals on Bakura’s – Domu teaming up with Robert Marin - ‘Reach The Sky’ EP). I’m also featured on the latest Fabriclive compilation (mixed by Bugz In The Attic) with ‘Time To Skyank’ under my Nu Design moniker’. So for the moment it seems that Mr. Jones doesn’t know any rest. The man hasn’t been out of the circuit for ages though you might not always notice his presence, but you know he’s there, most likely under one of his new unexplored producer-monikers.
‘Feel It Out’ (NHS62 CD) / ‘Beautiful’ (with Bugz In The Attic Remix) (NHS61) / ‘Beautiful’ (London Elektricity & Nu:Tone Remix) (NHS61R) is out on Hospital and is distributed by Lowlands.
~ Yiannis Van Halewijck
Phuturistix - Feel It Out
Label: hospital records
Cat. No.: nhs62lp/cd
Release Date: 2003-09-2?
Format: 2LP / CD
Genre: deep soulful UK-garage