Foul Play’s John Morrow drops in for a quick natter with The Waveform Transmitter‘s Simon Huxtable, covering the evolution of the rave sound, breaks, and upcoming artists.
As UK rave began to become known to the mainstream in the early 90s, one record label shone a little brighter than the rest. That label was Moving Shadow. In 1993, a phone call from Simon Colebrooke (Moving Shadow‘s A&R) changed the lives of three Northampton producers making proto-drum and bass. That group was Foul Play. They went on to become one of the biggest acts of the 90s, remixing seminal tracks still played and loved today. Simon Huxtable caught up with John Morrow to talk 90s life, clubbing and more.
Waveform Transmitter: Tell us about the mood of clubbers prior to UK hardcore becoming overground.
John Morrow: I started going to real clubs and DJing in them in 91: The Eclipse in Coventry, London’s Astoria and Milwaukee’s near Bedford were my regular haunts. This was at a time when the rave scene was at it’s most diverse, House and Garage from the US, Belgian Techno and UK Breakbeat all thrown together on the same night, no genre snobbery whatsoever, if the tune worked on the dance floor it got played.
This didn’t last long though, by ’92 there was a definite split with UK breakbeat evolving into Hardcore and distancing itself from the House and Techno elements of the rave scene. This coincided with a rise in tempo and more complex drum arrangements and was the birth of a new UK sound that would eventually evolve into Jungle and Drum & Bass.
Waveform Transmitter: What was your take on Hardcore becoming ‘Happy’?
John Morrow: It focused on the more euphoric uplifting side of things and had a definite shift towards 4/4 rhythms. If I’m honest, this wasn’t for me, I was far more interested in the evolution of the more breakbeat focused sound with labels like Reinforced, Suburban Base and Moving Shadow leading the way in a constantly evolving homegrown sound.
Waveform Transmitter: Foul Play’s sound branched off into what became Drum N Bass. Was it a conscious shift or was that the vibe you as a group considered the most natural for you?
John Morrow: We started producing music as Foul Play in ’92 during this incredibly exciting time when Hardcore was evolving and changing at an incredible speed. Everyone making music within the scene was pushing their equipment to the limits to come up with new and previously unheard sounds, there just weren’t any rules and this resulted in the creation of some truly groundbreaking music.
As we moved into 93 there was a definite shift away from the ravier sounds into a more mature sound, I don’t remember us making a conscious decision to go down this route, it’s just something us and all our peers were all doing and we kind of went with the flow. As the tempos continued to rise and the melodies and basslines switched to half speed in order to create more space within the track, a completely new style of music was born which became known as Jungle and Drum & Bass.
As the nineties progressed, there was a definite shift in Drum & Bass away from the frenetic rolling chopped up breakbeat sound and into a more ‘steppy’ kind of drum programming led by tracks such as ‘Pulp Fiction‘ that used individual drum hits rather than whole breaks. Also, a much darker sound was becoming dominant on Drum & Bass dancefloors championed by labels like Metalheadz. Although the music remained incredibly popular these weren’t changes that appealed to us personally and our involvement with the scene diminished until we bowed out of the D&B scene altogether at the end of the nineties.
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Waveform Transmitter: From the outside looking in, could you see parallels between how DnB changed and what finally happened to Nu Skool breaks?
John Morrow: In 2000 I became aware of the Nu-Breaks scene thanks largely to the Y3K albums on Distinctive. They had familiar artists such as Shut Up And Dance, T- Power and Rennie Pilgrem were making breakbeat music at tempos closer to those of the music I fell in love with back in the early 90s but with far greater production prowess. I was instantly hooked and started devouring this – as I saw it – new style of music which I soon discovered wasn’t new at all and had always been there in its own smaller tightly knit scene. I’d been so wrapped up in Drum & Bass I’d been completely unaware of it. This scene seemed to grow in popularity incredibly quickly over the next few years with some of its most popular producers like Adam Freeland and Stanton Warriors reaching superstar status.
I made a few Breaks records under the name Johnny Halo in 2014/15 but I wasn’t ever really part of the scene so I can only really speak as an outsider looking in as to what happened to cause such a decline in the popularity of the genre over a relatively short period of time. But there were definitely parallels with the Drum & Bass scene that I could see that could have played a part.
The rise in tempo and the focus on the darker sounds with producers on a constant mission to create the nastiest sickest bassline was all too familiar to me, and I myself started to lose interest. A lot of the Breaks nights I was going to, other than Fabric, were definitely male heavy, and unfortunately, once the girls leave it’s only a matter of time.
Waveform Transmitter: So what is the future for the breakbeat sound? Are you hearing any exciting new artists coming through?
John Morrow: It’s an exciting time for breakbeat focused music for sure with the rise in popularity of Jungle, Drumfunk and the more breakbeat heavy side of D&B which I think owes a pat on the back to Paul Woolford and his Special Request project, I mean it’s certainly always been there but he’s definitely helped it appeal to a wider, younger audience. Also with more and more House and Techno DJ’s including breakbeat heavy tracks in their sets from the likes of Bicep, Four Tet, Pedestrian, Hugo Massien, FaltyDL etc. the future certainly for my tastes is looking really exciting.