December 2nd 2019 is a day that I thought would never arrive. Five years ago, I set out to research and write a book about Bleep techno and the role it played in kick starting what would become British bass music. Today that book, Join The Future: Bleep Techno & The Birth of British Bass Music, finally lands in book shops and record stores. To say I’m excited would be an understatement.
When I began the process of researching the book, I had little more than a passion for the sound, a heap of records, a working knowledge of the best-known producers and an unshakable belief that Bleep & Bass was a style that had for a long time been criminally overlooked. Over the years that followed, I devoted huge amounts of time to digging into the story, finding and interviewing those who made, played or released the music, and trying to put what happened between 1988 and 1993 into context. As time progressed, I developed friendships with some of the unheralded pioneers who made – or helped to make – some of the most groundbreaking records of all, and as a result felt duty bound to chronicle their stories properly. Hopefully I have done that, and in a forensically detailed way that backs up my central argument that Bleep & Bass was the first expression of UK bass music and therefore the foundation stone for what came later (hardcore, darkcore, jungle, drum and bass, speed garage, UKG, UK funky, bassline, dubstep, grime and so on).
Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking to people about that story, and to a lesser extent the journey I’ve been on, at a series of launch events. My wingman on this tour has been Colin Steven, the founder and owner of Velocity Press – a new book publisher focused on releasing titles that explore different aspects of electronic music and club culture. Join The Future is the first title on Velocity Press and I’m delighted about that. When Colin approached me and outlined his vision for the company, I had no hesitation in signing on the dotted line. Since then, Colin has worked tirelessly to promote the book and to give me opportunities to shout about it to anyone who will listen. He has done an incredible job and I’d like to put on record how much I appreciate his efforts. Colin believed in the book from the moment he read the sample text and without him setting what some would consider quite insane deadlines I may never have finished writing it. I am looking forward to seeing Velocity Press thrive in the years ahead thanks to the wave of books he has lined up for publication. I won’t spoil the surprise, but suffice to say there are some gems in there from extremely talented writers.
Myself and Colin have got to know each other much better through the Join The Future launch tour, which has so far encompassed six dates. We kicked things off at Partisan Collective in Manchester in early November, where DJs Tukatz and Babs and Order joined the dots between British bass music past and present following our first “in conversation” talk and question and answer session. The following day we headed over the Pennines to Rough Trade Nottingham, where several people who helped shape the story I tell in the book – including legendary local DJ and Krush member Cass-Roc and Ozone Recordings’ Pat Scott – were in the audience and contributed to a lively post-talk discussion about the role the Midlands played in the rise of house, techno and Bleep in the UK in the late 80s and early 90s.
A couple of days later we flew out to Calgary in Canada, where the Alberta Electronic Music Conference (AEMCON) hosted our first (and so far only) overseas launch event. Colin and myself took part in a number of events at the conference itself, which I’d recommend attending when they return for 2020 next November, before hosting a launch talk at the city’s incredible Central Library – a futuristic building that’s part of a wider redevelopment of Calgary’s East Village neighbourhood. It would be fair to say that I didn’t envisage this turn of events when I started work on the book. I’d like to put on record my thanks to AEMCON, and in particular Isis Graham and Andrew Williams, for getting us over to their fine city to talk about Join The Future. You can find out more about what they’re doing via their website.
We fired up the virtual tour bus again last week to visit Rye Wax in Peckham, where a large and enthusiastic crowd attending our most in-depth “in conversation” session yet. It was particularly rewarding to see the level of interest in a story that deliberately questions the London-centric narrative that has dominated the way British dance music history has been documented over the last 30 years. There were some tricky questions afterwards, plus brilliant DJ sets from West Norwood Cassette Library and Brian Not Brian. The enthusiasm of Rye Wax’s staff to what we were doing was particularly good to see – I think we sold just as many copies to those who work in the record shop, bar and event space than we did regular punters.
The most significant and emotional launch events were naturally those that took place over the weekend in Yorkshire. On Friday night we headed to Hagglers Cornerfor an event organised by Richard Hardcastle, Danny J Wootton and the rest of the Strobe Life crew. While we were unable to do the talk thanks to a double booking by the venue (we were competing with a noisy and drunken Christmas market), the party that followed was brilliant. CP Smith from Central Processing Unit kicked things off with a killer set that joined the dots between bleep and electro, before I stepped up and threw on some largely lesser known bass-heavy cuts and Yorkshire-made jams. Rich (as Solid State) took things on further before local legend Winston Hazel finished the night with a stellar set (he rarely fails to nail it, as Sheffielders know all too well).
The most exciting thing for me about the Sheffield event – aside from it being in the city I was born in – was the fact that a number of the original producers profiled in Join The Future were in attendance. Amazingly, it was the first time that Winston and his Forgemasters co-founders Rob Gordon and Sean Maher had all been in the same room for almost 20 years, while Zye Hill and Glyn Andrews of Tuff Little Unit – who made the record that the book is named after – were also present. That meant a lot to me and helped to make the event feel more like a celebration of Sheffield’s musical heritage and often overlooked role in defining the sound of UK dance music.
Sadly Colin and myself had to leave early because the following morning I had an appointment with BBC Radio Sheffield. It was a struggle getting across to the station to be quizzed by Kat Cowan about the book at 7.20am, but it was great to be able to talk about Sheffield’s role in the evolution of UK dance music (and the dance track that makes me “go a bit funny”). Should you want to listen to the interview, click here.
It was then a short drive up the M1 to Leeds, where we set up shop at Outlaws Yacht Club for the final event – for now, at least, as we plan on doing more in the spring of 2020 – on the tour. This was arguably the most vibrant of all the dates. It was a pleasure to be able to shed some light on West Yorkshire’s role in the story during our compact “in conversation” session, something that was rapturously received by the crowd. This was important to me as Leeds and Bradford have previously got little credit for creating the Bleep and Bass blueprint. Once again, many original scene stalwarts were present, with Edzy of Unique 3 – who made the first ever Bleep record – and Martin Williams of LFO and Bassic Records delivering great DJ sets (as did T-Break, who kicked things off brilliantly after the talk). Williams’ old friend and studio collaborators Homer Harriott and Tomas Stewart were also present, alongside friends from the time and people who played in the Blues such as Christian Cawood. It was a brilliant celebration of West Yorkshire’s part in the story. Incidentally, the talk and all of the DJ sets were recorded by local online station Sable Radio, so look out for them appearing online in the next week or two.
In some ways I’m finding it difficult to process all of this, and when I returned to Bristol last night I spent a good hour or two trying to make sense of it all. I’m genuinely overwhelmed by the interest in the book and the positive feedback we’ve received so far. This includes plenty of praise from our peers, a place in Rough Trade’s top 20 books of 2019 and feedback on the “staggering detail” from a number of academics. It’s pretty mind-blowing to be honest.
Join The Future is now available from all good book stores and will be appearing in a number of record stores around the country too. If you want to support Velocity Press and myself, the best way to purchase it is direct from the company’s website, but every sale, from whatever outlet, is appreciated.
In early 2020 I’ll be starting work on the follow-up. This one won’t take five years though, mainly because Colin has given me a deadline of summer 2021 for the manuscript. More details about the subject matter will be announced in due course. Until then, thanks to all those who have supported Join The Future so far – it genuinely means a lot.