Taxman, one of the most influential playaz in the jump up scene took his own hand crafted sound to dance floors across the globe in the early 2000’s which quickly spread to many other producers, all frantically trying to replicate what could only be described as a new era in drum and bass. Since then, it’s been all systems go and with his latest dubplate inspired releases via Playaz. If you don’t know about Taxman, maybe it’s time you did.
Let’s get straight into it, ‘Too Bad’ is one tune that everyone seems to know from your back catalogue and still pops up in sets even to this day. Some might say it’s one of the few anthems from 2006. Is it due a remix or was the 2007 VIP enough? At the time of signing the original, were any other labels interested? It’s got a sound that would have certainly been at home with more than one that I can think of.
“I did actually remix it quite recently (2016), and I think I did it justice. Since then I put it on a stupidly named EP entitled ‘Amended’ and ruined its chances of ever being noticed ever again, and you’ve just proved that by asking that exact question!
As for the original, it was actually the track I made the same day Hype signed me. I sent it to him and he phoned me and said “why when I sign people do they always make a dub & reggae inspired tune??”….. And then it sat on my computers desktop gathering dust for more than a year, until one day Kev phoned me saying he’d just found it on his computer again and that he’d been playing it, and that it was getting a really good reaction. We did a test press run of 10, skipped the promo and it went straight for general release. It was number 1 on the 1Xtra vinyl sales chart for something silly like 6 weeks and it sold over 6,000 vinyl units. To this day I still get people singing the misinterpreted lyrics to me – the latest being “You’re too brown, you’re too green”….. the correct lyrics are “you’re too bad, you’re too good”.
A lesser known fact: Original Sin did the final mix on it!
It’s been a minute since the release of ‘Creepshow’ in 2015 via Playaz. At the time, this release really encapsulated the modern jump up sound which seemed worlds apart from previous influences. Do you think the evolution of jump up goes full circle every now and then? If so, is this sound due a comeback?
“I was pretty lost when I made that EP. To me, and I think it’s quite obvious when you listen to it, ‘Creepshow’ was just a ‘Cool It Judy’ Mk2. Same idea, same drums, same response bass, same kind of horror samples. I didn’t have any direction at that point in my career, I was just treading water. And I can’t even remember what was on the rest of the EP, so that’s saying something. It was just making music for making music’s sake. I’m very critical of myself and I strive to make the best I can, and the ‘Creepshow’ EP is definitely not a body of work I’m proud of.
I cut my teeth making jump up, and I’ve got nothing against it, but the best thing I ever did was to stop trying to write jump up and just write what I want. I’d obviously had my day with jump up, and anything I was making trying to be jump up was just being forced, and it was something I just didn’t really want to be a part of anymore.
I feel like now more than ever I’m writing the kind of drum and bass I’ve always wanted to, heavily inspired by what got me into this in the first place all of those years ago. I’ve got the hunger inside me again, as cliche as that sounds. I’m also older and wiser, so i should in theory be able to make better decisions too (and not go to the pub).”
Signing To Playaz
It’s obvious that both Hype and Pascal heavily back you as a producer and it would seem from the outside that the Playaz camp in general are very local to its artists. What makes this real for you? Is Playaz and it’s associated labels your home for the long term?
“I’ve been with Playaz for nearly 15 years and it’s where I cut my teeth. I’ve played at the Playaz night at Fabric more times than I can remember. It’s all I’ve known since I started. We’ve had our disagreements along the way, and I’ve lost my way a few times, however, over the past year especially it feels like it’s all coming together again and it’s exciting.
2020 was a strange year, but I think it’s made me focus a lot more on the music, and it has given me time to reflect, and from speaking to Hype a lot, I think it’s done the same for him too. 2020 has broken us down to our most simplest form of artists and musicians, and we’ve rebuilt ourselves into better versions of ourselves, not just musically, but as people. They’ve recently got Amanda on board for the PR etc and she is doing a really good job with it all.”
Hype’s well known for liking experimental drum and bass and thinking outside the box. Does this push you as a producer to not make the ‘next big thing’ but to go to a different place as such when making new tracks? If so, how do you do this whilst maintaining the sound you’re well known for?
“He definitely pushes me to try and be original. He is very supportive of what I’m doing at the moment, which feels good. You can’t tell someone how to make music, and he doesn’t, he just tries to push me in the right direction. He has a vast knowledge of the music and the way he talks about drum and bass is quite infectious. Every now and then I’m like oh mad DJ Hype is my mate ha ha! He buys me lunch and treats me nice too. Such a dreamboat.”
Fans who follow your social activity will be well aware of the studio build. What’s happening right now? Are you still battling with rectangular boxes?
“The acoustic panels for the studio refurb? It’s pretty much finished now. I was just sick of the place to be honest. I’ve been in the same room for 15 years, and back in the day when we all used to share it, we all used to smoke. And the whole room was covered in dark blue carpet. So after 15 years the place fucking stank, was dark and it was just depressing, and I couldnt stand being in there any longer, so I decided to strip it and refurb it.
I read up about acoustics and what would be best for the room and budget. It was many sleepless nights of laying in bed thinking about angles, reflective surfaces, rockwool types, doubting the whole project etc. I think I built something like 18 acoustic panels for it in the end. I’ve not made any before so it took a good month or so, on and off whilst trying to finish off new music at the same time. It was nice to have a bit of a break from working on music everyday, and it felt very rewarding building each panel, getting my method perfected and seeing them come out so good.
It took a bit of getting used to, but I can trust what I can hear in there now. The problem with the carpet and studio foam on every surface is that it just dampens the very high frequencies, but it does nothing to deal with anything below that frequency range. So the mid range and bass was just being reflected into the room, but the very high frequencies were being absorbed, which was making my mixes come out wrong and unbalanced – too much top end, too little mid range. With the rockwool panels, they have broadband frequency absorption, so they’re dealing with top, mid range and bass equally, absorbing it all, so all i can hear and feel is what is coming out of the speakers, rather than listening to what’s being reflected back to me from the room.
I made a track from scratch in the new room and could tell straight away what I was doing. I took it to my mates and played it on his set up, and the mix on it sounded spot on, which was a good feeling as I did doubt changing the room around when it was finished originally. If you’re serious about your studio acoustics I’d highly recommend looking into and making your own panels to correct your room. The room isn’t perfect, but it’s 100 times better than it was, and it will save me a lot of time when mixing.”
Inspirational Tape Packs
Talking of family, way back when you and Adam (Original Sin) were raving in the 90’s, did you ever expect to become producers? Was there a moment in time that really stands out for you? More importantly, did you share tape packs and who was the one that never gave the infamous ‘best one in the pack’ back?
“I knew I wanted to be part of it, but I didn’t think it was possible. We got into jungle when we were young, around 1994, so we were too young to go to any clubs – but we grew up in Sunderland. We couldn’t be any further removed from the London drum and bass scene if we tried. Not many of our mates were into it, it was all happy hardcore and bouncy techno up North.
Adam used to tape the 1 In The Jungle shows from Radio 1 and he’d play them all the time, then he started coming home with records he had been buying. Our parents would go out and we’d just smoke loads of weed and mix for hours on his Soundlab decks. Good times indeed…. That’s how it all started for us really.
We then moved through to Newcastle and met a new group of friends, including Jake (Sub Zero) and my long time mate Dan Blackout. It was all about going round to each other’s house, having a mix, getting high, making music, putting on club nights etc. Life was pretty much based around the love of the music, which has just continued ever since.”
Talking of tapes and your previous experiences raving in the golden era of jungle, can you name a few favourite sets from the past that you still listen to?
There’s a Desert Storm & Saxon Soundsystem tape I recently found. Darren J, DJ Ron & Grooverider all hosted by Moose, Navigator and 5-0. A tremendous tape, literally can feel the vibe of the place from that tape. It must have been an amazing night to be at.”
Do you find playing these sets provides ideas and enthusiasm to make something different or true to form? It certainly seems like your recent tracks take inspiration from the 90’s with a Taxman twist.
“Yes, it’s played a big part of it. I was playing these tapes every morning. That’s what my new direction and sound is all about. I’m not trying to copy anything, more just capturing the vibe and remembering how the music made me feel when I first heard it on those tapes.
I’m writing what I want to write, using the breaks I’ve always wanted to use, processing them in my way, and putting my pads, melodies and bass lines over the top of them. I think part of my obsession about it is from just using hardware synths for everything. I haven’t touched Serum or Z3ta for years. The last track I used a soft synth on was ‘It Comes At Night’ and that was with the Zeta. Everything since that has been on the Moog, and I’ve just recently got a few other bits too to broaden the bass line pallet – soft synths are cool and you can do alot with them, but in my opinion nothing sounds better than analog circuits and having the synth in front of you in the real world.
It’s just flowing nicely in the studio and I love being in there and making new music. It’s a way of life and it’s an obsession.”
Talking of Serum, your latest release via Souped Up is a remix of ‘8-Bit’. Talk us through how this came about? It certainly came out of nowhere but in the same stance, everyone who knew your sound instantly said in their head “I bet that’s Taxman”.
“I made the remix in March 2020, just before the first lockdown. It was pretty cool being asked to remix Souped Up’s first ever release, I actually thought Serum went off it, as it didn’t see a release until a year later. I tried to stay relatively close to the original. It’s the same drum track template from my ‘Made of Stone’ track changed up a bit and some moog bass. That’s pretty much it really, just rolled it out. It was good to see it chart well and people liking it. Souped Up has quite a different audience to Playaz, so it exposed me to some new faces i think, which is always good!”
‘Utopia’ is finally out! Does the feeling of releasing tunes ever get old? This is one of those tracks that really needs to be experienced on a whopping great sound system. Has it been road tested in Hype’s underground dungeon?
“The feeling definitely never gets old. I love the whole process of finishing off the track (but remembering not to inadvertently ruin it) choosing the colour scheme with Pascal for my artwork and then watching it being released, posting all the assets and listening to people’s reactions. I love it. I went down to see Hype in January. It sounded rude on his big system and I tried out a few other bits on it too and then I had tinnitus for a week!”
Any plans for DJ sets this year? How do you feel about the whole thing moving forwards? Are you feeling nervous or just excited to get back to it?
“I need to practice more. I just get carried away with trying to make another track to play in my sets, and the more I have the happier I will be when I finally play out. I love DJing, but getting to play one of your own tracks and watching it go off just hits differently. Right in the feels.”
Before we part ways, can we touch on your love of classic cars? Has this been a running theme in your life since way back when? What was your very first car? Did you treat it in the same way as your current one?
“Not so much a love for classic cars, just BMW’s really. My good mate Tony got me into them and I just became obsessed with them. I didn’t pass my test until I was 25 or so, so I bought an E46 320 for my first car. Me being young and naive I bought it from a place down south and they delivered it, so I didn’t even test drive it – and of course it turned out to be a total lemon. I’ll spare you the details, but I spent loads on it and ended up selling it to the breakers as I was that fed up with it! Live and learn though.
What I’ve learnt is you can’t expect to drive around in an ageing BMW and not maintain it yourself. It’s going to need money spent on it to keep it running right, and if I took it to the garage every time something went wrong with it then I’d be a fool. I was a trainee mechanic when I was 16, so I’ve had some experience with fixing cars, and there’s a video on YouTube on how to replace just about every part of my car, so I bought some tools and started fixing things as they started to fail. It’s just a big meccano set really. You just need the right tools, a spare afternoon and some colorful language.”
Has the combination of cars and music been your main passions in life over the years or is there anything lurking in your past that’s unknown? A stage dancer at The Sanctuary maybe..?
“I never went to the Sanctuary unfortunately but yes! I dont think that’s unknown though ha ha!”
If you had to put together a top 3 selection of classic cars from any era, what would they be and why? If money was no object, which one would you choose to own?
“I often think about what my fantasy garage would have in it, as sad as that sounds! So that’s an easy one for me to answer.
1. 2003 BMW E39 M5 in Lemans Blue. At the time it was built it was the world’s fastest saloon car. I’ve got a 3 litre E39 sport and I love it. To have the M5 would be unreal. I’ve never really been a big fan of little sports cars. A car doesn’t have to be small to be fast, and that’s what BMW have proven time and time again.
2. 2003 BMW Alpina E38 B12 5.2 in Cosmos Black. I remember seeing these every now and then when I was a lot younger. The 7 series is just OTT and I love it. The standard non sport ones look pretty naff, like something a division 3 football coach would drive around in but the Alpina’s are just fucking rude. Big fat saloon car with a 5.2 v12 engine and 20 inch rims and the classic “yacht liner seats” ……finished off in the blackest black.
3. Probably a brand new M5. Classics are great, but so is a brand new one.
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