We spoke to bassline's biggest name about Niche, Sheridans, and the legacy of his seminal track "Fear".
DJ Q has had a good 12 months. Last November he starred in Music Nation's 'It's Bass up North', the first ever made-for-TV retrospective of bassline's mid-noughties heydays; in February, he curated Bassline Festival, an eight hour celebration of the sound which saw everyone from Jamie Duggan to DJ EJ descend on legendary Manchester warehouse venue Bowlers (a second event was successfully staged in September, with a third scheduled for next February); as a DJ he's seemingly busier than ever, juggling mid-week student clubnight appearances with weekends that have seen him playing the length of the country from Edinburgh to Exeter (he also spent the summer performing at the sort of festivals actually worth spunking £400 of January's student loan payment on, many of them back-to-back sets with Garage legend Wookie); and last month he released two of his most sought after dubs —2009's "Rocky" and 2010's "Poison"— on the label which has been most closely associated with his development over the past 5 years Tom Lea's, Local Action.
Both of these tracks were birthed in the era of bassline that followed the sound's brief flirtation with the mainstream in 2007 and 2008. As commercial interest in the scene vanished seemingly overnight following the discovery of dubstep by you and your mates, a feeling of general malaise and exhaustion began to manifest itself in the music. Some producers packed it in completely during this period, never to be heard of again, whilst others such as Sheffield's Freddo persevered, producing arguably some of bassline's greatest tracks in the process — his 2010 anthem Memories is worthy of the same privileged status in the British collective conscience that we merit "Heartbroken" with.
Q's output from this period involved pushing the sound to it's breaking point, best exemplified by tracks such as "Bang", "DC Gang" and his remix of Giggs' "Talkin The Hardest". When pressed to put a name to the distinctive screeching/squealing sound which emanates though these productions (a dubbed 'Greezeline' by Joseph Patterson), he seems at odds: "I don't know what you'd call the noise or how you'd describe it... That was just me trying to sound different to everyone else". The first track he produced with this sound was his remix of Deekline's "I Don't Smoke The Reefa": "It was that, and then I made "Dangerous Fear"," a reworking of his seminal 2007 anthem Fear.
To get a sense of just how influential "Fear" was in determining the direction bassline took after 2008, you only have to survey the number of remixes, versions and imitations that emerged from just about every producer in the scene: Subzero's "Fear", Burgaboy's Fearless and DJ Pantha's "Team Get Loco Fear" being some of the better efforts worth tracking down. Q attributes this imitation effect to producers and DJs playing weekly at the second Niche: "It were fully cos in Niche, you used to play a track and then a week later, everyone else would have made something that sounds similar. It was a good thing though 'cos a lot of big tracks came out of it." No matter many big tracks developed out of this dialectical method of producing, he grants no allowances for debate over who initially developed this style: "I was the originator."
"Fear" is also the key to understanding where bassline originally developed from. "Fear" was 2002. I made it and then never played it for ages," Q tells me. "Then I played in Dewsbury, just dropped it, and kind of brought it back around. It was the first time a lot of people heard it in there." This original 2002 version (there is a recording online if you know where to look) was his attempt at channeling the 4x4 dark garage sound championed by EZ and Slimzee from 2001 onwards and created by producers such as Bigshot, D'n'D (aka Arthur 'Artwork' Smith & Dean Wilson), DJ Oddz and DJ Narrows, whose track "Legacy" Q states as the initial influence for "Fear". "It was "Legacy". Definitely "Legacy". That was the inspiration for that track. If you listen to Legacy, you'll see what I mean." When grime emerged from dark garage as a genre in it's own right in London around 2003, these 4x4 tracks were left behind and mostly forgotten about by that scene. Up north however they were embraced, their 136-140bpm tempos, four-to-the-floor rhythms and rolling, warping basslines complementing the 1990s speed garage still being played by the residents of the original Niche.
For Q it was the introduction of these records that first brought what would later become the bassline scene to his attention. "That's how I got into the scene... I didn't really give a shit about bassline to be honest. Niche just used to be that club that people used to go to after hours," he says. "And then I heard a few CDs and they were playing the same stuff that I was playing as a garage DJ... D'n'D stuff, my stuff, early Wideboys stuff, Delinquent." It was around this time, 2003/2004, that bassline as a distinct, locally produced, Northern sound first started to develop. If the 4x4 output of the dark garage producers is taken as a kind of proto-bassline in the way Youngstar's various "Pulse X" mutations are considered proto-grime, then it was producers such as Sheffield's Booda who first created bassline proper. According to Q, "the originators of the bassline sound were Booda, FB & Zibba and Veteran. And at that time as well Booda was producing a lot of tracks for everyone else as well."
An obvious question perhaps, but it felt important to ask Q what he thought the most important moment in bassline's development was. "Niche closing was a big moment," he says firmly. Q is referring here to the original Niche on Sydney Street, Sheffield, which closed down in 2005 following the infamous Operation Repatriation police raid.
"Niche closing helped the scene grow because then it gave an opportunity for more cities and more areas to put on Bassline events," he says. One of these was the cowshed-cum-former-Northern-Soul-club Sheridens (or Unit 50) in Dewsbury, eight miles north-east of Q's hometown of Huddersfield. "When Niche closed that was the place to be for bassline...The first six times I played there it was empty. Then Download did an event there and it was full, you couldn't move in there! Every week until it closed it was rammed. You'd get people from all over coming, Manchester, Birmingham, even as far as London. Obviously Sheffield, Huddersfield, Leeds Bradford, Nottingham, Leicester. The whole of the UK basically." As well as becoming the place for hearing bassline, it also gave the new wave of producers a chance to hone their talent as DJs: "It gave a lot of other DJs an opportunity to come through. T2 played his first set in there. TS7 played his first set in there. Paleface had his first booking up north in there. It was instrumental in helping the scene grow." Q's sentiments mirror those made by DJ Paleface in the sleevenotes to his Rinse:05 mix which stated, "that [Sheridans] was the venue for bassline, that's where it kicked off properly, everyone's talking about Niche, but it was there for 10-12 years, and nothing happened. For me it all started kicking off in Dewsbury, 2006 November times."
Whilst the days of Sheridens and Niche are well in the past, 2015 has seen bassline return to a large scale rave setting in the form of Bassline Festival. I went to the first Bassline Festival and one of the things that struck me was the range in the age of the crowd: original Niche and Casa Loco divas rubbed shoulders with groups of Stone Island clad 20-somethings who would have appeared in As It Is TV videos back in the day, whilst swarms of lads in duotone North Face jackets and girls wearing whatever Burberry piece they'd found on Depop that previous week, skanked and justled for space in the centre of the dancefloors, pulling gunfingers and throwing drinks whenever favourites such as Pantha's Candy Shop or Brett Maverick's Dirty Diner got reloaded for the tenth time.
Why does Q think that Bassline Festival has been such a success with the current generation of ravers? "You know what it is, a lot of people grew up listening to bassline at high school and missed the opportunity to go out to it, so everyone's just trying to grab that opportunity now again." This certainly parallels the changes in the predilection of clued up teenagers over the past two years, a certain contingent of whom have ditched the deep house, dip dyed Hype t-shirts and Huaraches of their 2012 predecessors for grime, tracksuits and a pair of 95s. It should therefore come as no surprise that in the cities and towns of bassline's heartland, this generation has reinvigorated an interest in the genre which left as much of a sonic imprint on their memories of childhood as Channel U era grime did on that of their London counterparts. Whether or not this is just another example of Reynoldsian 'retromania' for a past this generation remember, but never participated in, or post-ironic cultural posturing to accompany the vintage TN caps, is an argument best left to a future retrospective on youth culture under Cameron's Britain — and to be honest, who gives a shit? Youth taste in music and fashion is the best it's been since the last time a 96kbps Limewire rip of Jamie duggan july track.12 bby boy! was played from a Sony Ericsson W600 on the back seat of a bus somewhere in Kirklees.
DJ Q's Rocky/Poison is out now on Local Action — order it here.