Mixes I Have Known And Loved #2: Ode to the Specialist DJ
DJ Stingray's 'Street Brawl' and KMA Maddness on Freek FM 1997
There’s a snippet of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that’s been on my mind as I’ve considered this week’s post. Sam Hamilton, the moral / philosophical compass of the novel, is a jack of all trades. He’s the community blacksmith, inventor, well-digger and weaver-of-tales. Sam is a poor, first generation Irish immigrant toiling daily to scrape out a living for him and a large family on a shit plot of land. Nonetheless he finds time to draw schematics of imagined machinery, help locals find precious groundwater with a homemade divining rod and dispense with a humble, earthy wisdom to friends in need. Sam dies sometime in the 1910s and his prescient vision of the future is remembered by a friend:
“Old Sam Hamilton saw this coming. He said there couldn’t be any more universal philosophers. The weight of knowledge is too great for one mind to absorb. He saw a time when one man would know only one little fragment, but he would know it well.”
Sam’s forecast came to fruition as 20th century industrialization, capitalism and modernity did their thing. The Age of the Specialist was upon us. We went to the Moon, sequenced the human genome and a did bunch of other important stuff. Then came the Internet. The breadth of human knowledge became available to anyone with a cable line. The weight of that knowledge is indeed too weighty, but that doesn’t prevent us from absorbing as much as we can about all the things that interest us. Hence my two models of the DJ: the Specialist and the Dabbler.
In the Internet Age, the Specialist DJ is a dying breed. Born out of records store culture, the Specialist was a hyper-local personage, both geographically and aesthetically. They often worked in specialty shops – those catering to a small set of genres and supplied by a local scene of producers and labels pushing those sounds. Within their genre, the Specialist could have knowledge of every local record (and many imports) released during their tenure behind the counter. Promos, white labels and dubplates circulating through the shop only added to their omniscient grasp of the music. Thus, the rise of the Internet, with its attendant de-localizing of aesthetics and erosion of the record store as community institution, meant the Age of the Specialist DJ was at an end.
Now, most of us are Dabblers. We spelunk the internet for whatever resonates, regardless of geography or genre. Mood or whatever’s in the used bins dictates the grip. Dabbling is a wonderful thing that has moved DJing into new and exciting territory as styles intermingle and some DJs are so versatile as to be unrecognizable from set to set. Daps to my fellow Dab’s but this post goes out to two of my favorite Specialists. Each mix is a flex from a genre master doing one thing and doing it very, very well.
Urban Tribe (DJ Stingray) - Fact Mix 222 (2011)
A few things absolutely fried my noodle my first year out of college. I had previously obtained a vague familiarity with Dubstep thanks to a roommate’s copy of Skream’s debut album, Pitchfork posts on Burial and Ben UFO’s Rinse show, but there was nothing familiar about Jungle (Zomby’s Where Were You in ‘92 Mix, Jungle Tekno Volume One) or this DJ Stingray mix. Despite living 30 minutes outside of Detroit for a decade, I had zero awareness of what was percolating in the city. When I was 11 I started tuning into Detroit radio to make mixtapes of Ludacris, 8Ball & MJG, Tweet, etc. If I stayed up too late the station format would change and suddenly a DJ would be rolling out late-’90s Techno bangers. Yuck! Get that shit out of here! I had no interest or notion that this was Detroit music.
Fast forward to 2011. Like any good dance music neophyte, I’m staying on top of all my XLR8R, FACT and RA mixes. FACT dropped this DJ Stingray mix and my DNA was forever rearranged. Where Dubstep sounded like the score to a modern Film Noir, Stingray’s slick, speedy, dystopian Electro was like being sucked through a fiber optic cable. I think this was my first real reckoning with Futurism. Without the aid of a Sci-Fi movie’s narrative and visuals, my brain had to contend with the abstracted aesthetics of the future as conveyed by the sounds and textures of Stingray’s tracks. This also coincided with the first time I both owned a vehicle and lived in an urban area. I vividly remember the rush of speeding down surface roads at night, feeling streetlights zip by syncopated to the music.
Great advice from the FACT’s write up of Street Brawl:
From the late ‘80s through the mid ‘90s, Stingray worked at Buy-Rite Music alongside fellow Electro enthusiasts BMG (of Ectomorph and Interdimensional Transmissions fame) and Cliff Thomas, the store’s owner. Cliff is a crucial figure in Detroit history, having founded his Incognito and Express imprints, two of the first Detroit Techno labels. He later started D-Bass Records as an outlet for the nascent, hi-tek sounds of Detroit Electro and currently runs the Detroit Music Center, a museum and record store in the old Buy-Rite building. Close to Cliff, and in a scene as small as Detroit’s, it’s hard to imagine any local Techno or Electro record of interest passing under Stingray’s radar.
In 2003 the man named Sherard Ingram was dubbed Drexciyan DJ Stingray by James Stinson and became Drexciya’s tour DJ. After Stinson’s death, Stingray dropped the ‘Drexciyan’ title and pursued a career as a solo artist and touring DJ. This mix, entitled Street Brawl, came at a time when Sherard was consciously putting the pedal to the metal on his solo career. The PR blitz began in 2010 with a Resident Advisor mix in January, a feature-length interview in The Wire in April, another for Little White Earbuds in August and Street Brawl, released February, 2011. All of these were bookended by EPs on WéMè Records, Pomelo, [Naked Lunch], Unknown to the Unknown and two albums. The aquatic attack was a success and Stingray became a staple around the world, eventually moving his operational base to Berlin.
The mix itself is a blend of the ripping, ruffneck Electro / Techno sound he developed to keep a rowdy crowd engaged at the ‘hardcore motorcycle club’ where he shared a residency with Moodymann in the early ‘90s and the sleeker, post-2000 European sounds of Clone, Frustrated Funk, Rotters Golf Club and other Electro enthusiasts. Of course, there’s a healthy dose of Detroit deep cuts like ‘Bass (Countdown Mix 2)’, essential Underground Resistance rippers (‘The Safety is Off’) and a Drexciya nod at the end.
Tracklist provided by Stingray below.
Station Bass - Bass (Countdown Mix 2) [Hydraulic]
Hell + Jonzon - Bazetoya [Disko B]
Silicon Scally - Proteus [Firewire]
Condition Red - The Safety Is Off [Underground Resistance]
The Advent - Wasper [Kombination Research]
Frustrated Figures - Elastic [Clone]
Matt Carter - Explode [Firewire]
Robert Hood - Ride [Minimal Nation]
Tactical Systems - Phased Energy Rectification [Roulette Rekordz]
Scape One - Omegatropic [Temple Dog]
Decal - Freekin Empires [Rotters Golf Club]
Time Trap Teknik - Future Cities [Ecko Unlimited / Kombination Research]
E8 - Clone Records
Double Dutch - Launch Detected [Marguerita]
Marco Bernardi - Morpheusis [Frustrated Funk]
Illektrolab - Real Pimp [Satamile]
D.I.E. - Let Yo Body Rock [M.A.P.]
DJ Lhoie - Sublimental [Subject Detroit]
Marco Bernardi - Preacher Teacher [Frustrated Funk]
Silicon - Sonic Distress [Frustrated Funk]
Venomous - The Toxin [Underground Resistance]
3 Phase Feat. Dr Motte - Der Klang Familie [Nova Mute]
Bileebob - Call Me [Underground Resistance]
Silicon - Electron Push [Nsc]
Drexciya - Danger Bay [Underground Resistance]
KMA Maddness - Freek FM 101.8 New Years Day, 1997
By now the UK Garage revival has been rolling full steam for at least five years. Despite the large numbers of DJs and labels who’ve committed themselves to resurrecting the sound, an important era of UKG remains largely ignored. Labels like Dr. Banana, Enchanted Rhythms, Instinct and the jocks rinsing them have pushed slick 2-Step, techy 4x4 and Speed Garage – all strains of UKG that arose post-1997, by which time the genre already had a rich history. The sounds of UKG’s formative years remain the purview of old heads and niche aficionados. I’d attribute this to just how little caché US Garage House has within the current musical zeitgeist and, since UKG was birthed by playing and imitating these records, the formative years continue to be ignored. Respect where it’s due: Marc Cotterell’s Plastik People Recordings and DJ Perception have been keeping the raw n’ bumpy 4x4 alive since they came on the scene, but one DJ and a label run out of New Mexico by an ex-pat Brit do not sustain a sound.
DJ Perception keeping it old-style in 2019:
By now you can probably guess where my allegiance lies. I mentioned a few posts ago US Garage was the first style I really went in on when I started buying record. Masters at Work, Kelli Hand, Mood II Swing, TNT Records, etc etc. Scratching that itch led me to their trans-Atlantic comrades imitating the sound. Grant Nelson and the Nice ‘N’ Ripe empire, Dem 2, Tuff Jam and Stronghouse Records 12”s started filling my shelves. The deeper I went on the UK stuff, the more I noticed the rift between London and New York that grew and grew as the ‘90s went on. Early records from these crews where near spot-on imitations of what was coming out of New York and New Jersey. Many of Nice ‘N’ Ripe’s first 12”s where produced during visits to the US and Tuff Jam was buttering their bread with releases on NY / NJ labels likes Sub-Urban and Todd Edward’s i! Records. Dem 2 went so far as to name their imprint ‘New York Soundclash’. But as London’s Garage scene developed it couldn’t stay tethered to its American predecessors. Former Jungle producers like Jeremy Sylvester, Chris Mack (fka Potential Bad Boy, et al) and Anthill Mob (Studio 2) entered the fray and brought the soundsystem sensibilities of the genre with them. Bombastic blown-out samples, massive sub bass and breakbeats were poured into the mix and UK Garage went down the ruff and experimental road that would lead to UK Garijj. The age of mutant in-between-ness from ‘95 to ‘97 is one of dance music’s most interesting periods for me and this mix from former Jungle DJ and UKG legend, KMA Madness, captures it perfectly.
Mutant Jungle / Garage madness on Anthill Mob’s first release, 1995:
This is a two-part cassette recording of Maddness live on London pirate, Freek FM New Years day, 1997. The whole thing teems with significance. It’s the first day of 1997, the year UKG came into its own or, as Maddness presciently and repeatedly puts it, the beginning of a ‘new era’. Appropriately, Maddness starts off the session with another Confetti Records mutation that couldn’t be further from UKG’s US roots. He then proceeds to roll through 3 hours of (almost exclusively) upfront, cutting-edge London records. There’s a slew of tracks from Jeremy Sylvester who, in 1997, would pop off and become UKG’s most prolific and accomplished producer. Fresh blood like the 500 ReKorDs crew mix with scene elder statesmen, Norris Windross, Timmy Magic and Hardcore / Jungle legend, Pete Parsons. Maddness – already responsible for one of UKG’s all-time tunes, 1996’s ‘Cape Fear’ – throws in a pair of his own fresh, jungle-tinged productions. To bridge the past with UKG’s future, Maddness rolls out Mood II Swing, a few US-style Nice ‘N’ Ripe joints and past classics from Rosie Gaines and Bette Midler. Amidst voraciously pushing future sounds, Maddness deftly pulls back to remind everyone where the music came from.
It’s by no means a headsy history lesson though. There’s tons of fun and charm throughout. Running the station solo, Maddness is left to DJ, MC, sort technicals, run ad breaks and answer the phones simultaneously. It sounds insanely stressful but he handles it with levity, joking and rolling with the punches. He steps on his headphone wires, ripping them out of the jack and shouts over the air to fellow Freek FM jock, DJ EZ, to bring a new pair to the station. Throughout nearly the whole recording he begs MC Ranking to come down and relieve some of the pressure. He relays callers’ shout-outs and ‘rave reviews’ from the previous night’s functions, gripes about all the ‘Jungle gazers’ and underage kids messing the vibe at UKG raves and solicits applications for a Freek FM secretary. Caller critiques are taken and Madness promises to forward them to ‘station management’. Ads for upcoming raves at the Gass club run followed by a recording of EZ doing his best to sound business-like in soliciting new advertisers for the station. There are breaks for Maddness’ signature acapella jingles recorded by his brother and partner in KMA Production. Sometime-KMA vocalist Lady Melissa promises to drop by the studio for some live vocals but the recording ends before we find out if she actually makes it. MC Ranking arrives 2 hours 50 minutes into the recordings right before the tape runs out.
It’s an insightful and fun time capsule into UKG and pirate radio history with enough lore for my nerds and pos vibes for everyone else. Again, this one is on Mixcloud so smash the links below to jam.
If the history thing is of interest, Maddness has created a 10-part documentary series on his journey through Jungle, UKG and pirate radio culture.
Below the paywall is my tracklist of the 3 hour recording. I scoped 26 of the 35 tracks which I think is pretty dang good considering I was an 8 year living in Michigan when this aired (and there’s probably a dubplate or two in there). Become a paid subscriber to hop the fence.