Parenthood is no easy feat. Imagine conceiving a child, being there for its birth, bringing it up and then encouraging your creation to choose, for better or for worse, its own path.
A role not dissimilar to this is the one that Scott McIlroy has fulfilled within the music industry for almost 30 years. When hardcore began to wither and the time came to explore the roots of breakbeat and jungle, in an attempt to rework it into a new dimension, he was there for those crucial first steps – to forge drum and bass.
In fact his contribution to the genre has been outstanding over the years. Not content with merely pioneering the alien sounds of 170 Scott’s rock-steady vision has been to ignore the benefits of going in a conventional direction to support unorthodox and original music.
Ahead of his record label’s forthcoming release, Future Beats – The Album which is out tomorrow, we picked the mind of the one and only Doc Scott.
Hello Scott. As somebody who we have a lot of genuine respect and admiration for it’s a real honour to put a few questions to you – one of the most important figures in the history of drum and bass. How are you and what have you been up to?
I’m good. It’s been a good year. We have an album coming out on my label 31 Recordings tomorrow that we have been working on for over a year. So far it’s been received extremely well so it’s exciting times at the moment.
I read that you used to take cassettes into school when you were about 12 or 13 and that your first set of decks were given to you as a gift on your 18th birthday. It’s clear that from a young age music was a bit of an obsession for you. When was the first time you realised that you wanted to turn your hobby into a career?
Probably after the summer of 1990. Playing at those Amnesia parties and many raves in Birmingham like RAW and Starlight in front of thousands of people I thought, I can do this, I know what I’m doing and I know how good I need to be to be a top DJ. I thought if I could get to the highest level there’s the possibility of doing this full time. I still had an apprenticeship at the time and was going to college.
What sort of stuff did you put on the tapes that you were giving out?
Mainly stuff to breakdance to such as hip-hop, electro, breakbeats and later early techno from the mid 80s.
Both of us being from Coventry could you give us your take on the local scene? You showed some support for the article I wrote about the city’s nightlife the other month and with the news last week that Carey’s, probably our best venue, is shutting what are your main frustrations with the way things are here?
It’s a shame to think that in the early 90s Coventry was the main place to be for parties outside of London. DJs loved playing here, people travelled from all over the country to come here, and Coventry people were clued up as a result of having the best artists play here on a weekly basis. I just heard about Carey’s closing and was surprised, but then again I wasn’t, which probably tells you all you need to know. I don’t know what the circumstances are but I played there earlier this year, the first time I’ve played in Coventry for years, and it was a really good night.
I live here, I was born here, it boggles my mind to think I can go to Tokyo, New York, Sydney, Auckland, Berlin, wherever and sell out venues but I can’t play in my home city. There’s something wrong with that scenario.
How much of a significant role in your musical development did The Eclipse play?
A big one. The 8am license was awesome. Some of the best sets I played and heard in my early career were in those late hours, 5-6, 6-7 and Grooverider 7-8. The Eclipse helped me to connect with bigger audiences as well as people from all over the country. Another great thing about the eclipse was that you could hear a wide selection of talent on any one night from Sasha to Carl Cox to Fabio to LTJ Bukem.
A lot of your earlier sets consisted of house and techno music. You now consider yourself a drum and bass DJ predominantly. How did house and tech originally draw you in and at what point did you decide the time had come for a BPM hike?
I grew up on house and techno. I was buying those records from the mid 80s way before there was a rave scene. I used to go to a record shop in Birmingham when I was 13 or 14 to get hip-hop. I’d stay there all day waiting for the import guy to come in his van with all the latest US and Euro releases. They started to bring in these records from guys like Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. I was like ‘what the fuck is this?’ and bought it on the spot. That’s when I fell in love with that music.
Regarding tempo it’s hard to explain why it happened but when the rave scene started to fracture and jungle was born I was just drawn to that sound. My first ever productions were techno tracks with breakbeats in which is how jungle was born. I followed the music, it went from 130 to 150 BPM in about two years. It’s a bit of a mystery to be honest.
I came across this brilliant picture of your studio in 1993. Can you talk us through the setup haha?
I think there an Atari ST in there running the earliest version of Cubase, an Akai sampler, the heart of anyone’s studio 20 years ago, a couple of outboard FX and a shitty 16 track mixing desk. That was it. I remember having about ten seconds of sample time in total from my Akai. Unbelievable!
And what about the enormous clock and those tags on the desk? There must be a story behind them.
A friend of mine who I used to do graffiti with nicked it from a train station. I thought ‘that looks cool’ and stuck it on my wall, kind of like a Flava Flav thing. I wish it worked, that would have been awesome, in fact I wish I still had it. The tags were from my graffiti days, once a bomber always a bomber.
Approaches to production have changed radically since you started out. When it comes to sampling people are using digital equipment rather than drum machines, synthesizers and the analogue recording gear of yesteryear. Amidst the technological advances of the past decade do you or any of your artists still have much hardware in your setups and, in your opinion, is d&b more or less pure now because of this?
I can tell you that most people I know making music are getting back into hardware, digging out their old stuff or buying hardware again. Everyone went crazy with the digital thing. It has its advantages but you lose the soul of music when it all becomes digital in my opinion. Many people I know, myself included, have found this and are mixing it up in the studio as opposed to it just being a laptop experience. One of the reasons d&b sounds bland at times is because people are using a purely digital approach. You can’t beat a bit of analogue.
I wanted to ask you about what is unquestionably one of my favourite films of all time, Blade Runner. Countless artists including Trace, Ed Rush, Fanu and, most famously, Dillinja have sampled Ridley Scott’s classic. The third ever release on 31 Records was a track called Mechanics by Dom & Roland which features a dialogue sample from Rutger Hauer’s epic tears in the rain soliloquy. Why is it that the movie had such a profound effect on so many producers?
It’s the sci-fi film of our generation. I was 12 when I first saw it and it blew my mind. The visuals, the soundtrack, the dystopian outlook, everything. It still blows my mind. That’s why it stands out over 30 years later. Vangelis killed it with the soundtrack, I think we all melted when we heard that score and have been influenced to make futuristic music because of it. D&b is sci-fi. At its best it’s music that can blow your mind and take you somewhere else just like a good sci-fi film.
To say that you have been involved with some of d&b’s bossmen is an understatement. You’ve rubbed shoulders with pretty much every producer at some point. Who are the most talented musicians that you have worked alongside and which people have had the biggest influence over you?
There are many, there really are, but the one I know best and who has had the most influence on me would be Goldie. He’s a genius in every sense of the word. He made me realise how good I could be and always inspired me with his imagination and more importantly hard work. I’ve never seen anyone work harder than him.
There are bags of producers working under multiple aliases at different tempos these days and as somebody who was originally influenced by the sounds of 120-130 I wonder whether you dabble in any similar fields of production?
I plan to. I am lucky that I know many people in the techno world and beyond and have open doors in that scene at top labels. I would be mad to not try and take advantage of that.
You’ve made material for pretty much every genre of dance music. Which era was most inspiring for you?
Probably when I was at Reinforced records, that time was amazing and laid the foundations for everything which I did afterwards. Being around Goldie and 4Hero on a weekly basis was awesome plus it was a lot of fun. Also the mid 90s at Metalheadz, back and forth with Photek, Dillinja, Lemon D, Soure Direct, Wax Doctor and Peshay every week, they were pretty special times too.
Overall do you consider yourself to be a person who looks forwards or backwards more for inspiration?
Both. There’s nothing wrong with looking back as long as you know where you are going but if it’s just because you’re lost that sucks.
How did you and Goldie meet?
Grooverider introduced us to each other in a record shop in London after we’d been bugging him for months. I was asking ‘who is Goldie’ and Goldie was asking ‘who is Doc Scott’ after hearing each other’s tracks in Grooverider’s sets.
When you and Goldie formed Metalheadz in 1994 and rounded up your friends, the likes of Photek, Dillinja, Alex Reece, Wax Doctor, Source Direct, Lemon D and Peshay, how confident were you that you could forge a new genre and sell it to the public?
Mixed I’d say. We knew what we were doing, we thought we had amazing music and a group of artists who were the best in the world in what they did, but we were unsure if people wanted to hear that kind of stuff to be honest.
When it comes to who actually founded Metalheadz, on the internet, there seems to be a bit of a grey area. Some say Goldie and Kemistry, others claim Storm played a part, and then there’s you. Could you clear this up for us once and for all?
We all did. It was Goldie’s idea, his dream and label, we all helped to make it happen.
Why is it that you didn’t continue to be directly involved with Headz?
I wanted to do my own thing and my own label. I love Metalheadz, I’m a part of that family and will be forever, but its Goldie’s label, his vision, his taste. I have my own taste and vision and that’s why there’s a 31 Records.
Since relaunching 31 Records in 2013 both you and your imprint seem in a much better place. Can you outline the reasons behind your sabbatical and how resetting the catalogue ID to 001 has given you a new lease of life?
I was ready to walk away from d&b around 2008. I wasn’t happy with the scene or my place in it and there were other things going on in my life that weren’t great either. DJing and music had always been an escape, a good place to be, and for the most part it wasn’t at that time. It wasn’t fun and more importantly I disliked a lot of the music which I was being sent and was hearing. I needed a break from running the label to reassess my position and to rediscover my love of music. Thankfully I did. After shelving the label for nearly four years resetting to 001 seemed appropriate.
Having played such a big part in getting drum and bass on its feet you’re now committed to forward thinking and some of the stuff being released on 31 Records is really testing the genre’s boundaries. We recently spoke to Vromm who I hear has been frightening the life out of many in the drum and bass world. In terms of production which artists would you compare Vromm to and how can bringing these overseas talents to Britain help to evolve our native scene?
I don’t think you can compare Vromm to anyone and it’s that, along with his incredible technical ability, which makes him a special talent. I don’t think being from overseas really makes a difference anymore because d&b has been global for a long time now and what is really needed to help the scene evolve is for people not to follow trends but to be more open minded.
The Future Beats Radio Show on the first Thursday of every month is staple diet. In your own words the programme celebrates the world of d&b and beyond. What is it you find so satisfying about giving listeners an insight into your eclectic collection of music?
I’ve always loved sharing music with people, being able to say ‘check this track out I think it’s amazing,’ going right back to when I was at school handing out mixtapes. It’s why I do what I do. The radio show allows me to share music with people globally that they would probably never get to hear otherwise and that’s the whole point. I just want to give people an option of something different to listen to, if you don’t like it at least it’s there, otherwise there would be no choice. There’s more to d&b than 60 track compilation albums. The radio show acts as a catharsis for me, it keeps me sane.
Listening to the Future Beats – The Album Sampler on SoundCloud I have to tell you this is the most excited I’ve been about a compilation LP since Platinum Breakz 4. How do you feel ahead of the impending 31 Records release tomorrow?
I’m excited and relieved that the release date is here. It’s been over a year in the making and we have kept as quiet as is possible about the whole project, who was on it, everything. To be able to finally share it with people is great, the feedback and reactions so far have been amazing too, we are genuinely taken aback by the reception. The goal was to put together a collection of music, from artists I like, to represent d&b and beyond and to blur the lines exposing all audiences to new artists and music.
I used the early Metalheadz albums as a template, I wanted it to be as good as those albums, Platinum breaks 1 and the Metalheadz Boxset. If you’re gonna do something aim as high as you can.
Despite owning a label and releasing some brilliant material it’s been years since we’ve heard a production from you. Why is it that you’re not writing music at the moment and do you have any plans to do so in the next year or two? With all the content that goes through you it must be tempting.
It’s always tempting and it’s something I get asked on a regular basis. I’ve said it before, if I can’t make anything that’s at least equal to what I’ve previously done or better than it won’t get released. When that day comes I’ll put something out.
I hear you’ve had some collaboration studio invites and intend to produce an EP. Can you drop any of the names of those artists who have asked to work with you?
I’d rather not. With that comes expectation and pressure, both I could do without. If and when it happens then that will be the time to name names, hopefully sooner rather than later.
We’ve reached that inevitable point in the interview where I have to ask you about Shadow Boxing haha. From a commercial standpoint it’s been your most successful piece of music. Could you give us an idea of where you were trying to take this piece of music from a technical viewpoint as well as its listener emotionally?
That genuinely made me laugh. I had an idea driving home from a gig that I’d like to make that loop that is stuck in everyone’s heads when they get home from a night out. We all do it, hum a loop that we heard or that we think we heard, so when I got home I started messing about and I wrote the whole thing in a day and mixed it down live. When I say live I mean actually live. All the sweeps and EQs are me on the desk recording it over the drum loops. I did two takes, liked the second, and the rest they say is history.
From a non-commercial standpoint what do you consider to be your biggest success?
My remix of Kemistry by Goldie. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done.
At the Headz vs Exit night last month we heard Alix Perez play Om Unit’s long anticipated version of the tune during their battle. It must be flattering to hear d&b’s finest talents re-imagine your track time and again?
Yes of course but what can you say apart from shrug your shoulders and wonder what the fuck happened.
We spoke to you ahead of the Exit vs Metalheadz night and you told us it was one of the most stellar line-ups you had ever seen. For me the way that several producers started writing specifically for the night in a bid to fuck their opponents over and the resulting war riddims demonstrate how potent the creative forces behind the genre are. Overall what are your thoughts on the night and more generally d&b at the moment?
The night was great, a thumb in the eye of those that knock d&b and think it can only be successful if you’re aiming for the pop charts. There are some truly amazing producers making incredible music at the moment and who have been for years. The scene is healthy across the board. If my happiness is anything to go by, and I can be a grumpy person, d&b is the best it’s been for years.
One of the greatest things about drum and bass is its tremendous diversity not only in terms of the material that gets released but the people making the music too. How much is a producer’s personality reflected in their music?
For me the best producers, and this goes for DJs as well, are the ones whose personalities you can hear in their work or in their sets. The people with longest careers are the ones who develop and have a personality that we can all hear.
If you could collaborate with anyone, dead or alive, for an album, single, live performance, or anything else of your choice, who would it be and why?
Chuck D. I’d love him to say ‘here come the drumz’ live over my track. That would be awesome.
You’ve been involved with the music industry for almost 30 years. During that time, in regards to your vocation, what are the happiest and saddest moments that you have personally experienced?
This might sound sappy but I’m happy every time I get on the decks. That period when it wasn’t the case was why I was prepared to walk away from the scene and it was depressing. The saddest moment was when Kemi was taken from us.
Your profession has taken you all over the world. What’s been your favourite set so far and is there anywhere else left that you would really like to play?
It’s always hard to pick a favourite set but it’s special when you play somewhere for the first time and you’re one of if not the very first drum and bass DJ to go there. That happened in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Auckland, Sao Paolo, a few places. Those are my favourites because there can only be one first. I’m going to China in the new year, that was always on my to do list, but I’d like to go through South America. I’ve only ever been to Brazil but have heard Argentina, Colombia etc are amazing.
Across d&b and beyond are there any forthcoming releases that you’re looking forward to getting your hands on?
Can’t wait to get the Theo Parrish album.
Could you do us the courtesy of digging deep into the record bag to pull out a little known track which you’ve always felt deserves a bit more recognition?
Tonic – New Stylee from 1992.
Musically speaking what’s your biggest regret?
A remix I did for Klute. It was fucking garbage.
What do you have in store for 2015?
We have six releases lined up for 31 already. EPs from Bungle, Ghost Warrior, Jaydrop, Digital, Overlook, Moresounds and Skeptical and we’re working on artist albums for Hidden Turn and hopefully a couple of the other 31 guys. Lots of new music and lots of new artists.
How do you want to be remembered within drum and bass?
As someone that always tried to push the music forward and someone who would give a break to an unknown artist.
Scott, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us and, not that you’ll need it, but good luck with the album launch tomorrow. Keep doing what you do and of course we wish you and 31 Records well.
Get the latest 31 Records release, Future Beats – The Album, here.