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Kmag Interview

One year after All Crews hit the streets, Knowledge’s DJ Veritas catches up with the author at his home in Tottenham.

The directions say ‘near Broadwater farm’ and I’m thinking, ‘tower block’. Reach the front door. It’s a cottage. A cottage? In Tottenham!? I’m thinking this gaff ain’t drum & bass as Brian opens the door to all things cosy.

A fire burns in the grate. Origin’s DJ Massacre pulses from the speakers. Wooden flooring runs past the fire through the open lounge into a stable door at the end of the kitchen. The upper door is open to a chilled garden.

Outside we climb some stairs up to a roof garden resting on the kitchen we’ve just left. Zy:on’s office is out front. A spiral staircase leads up to his bedroom in the loft. A swing hangs from the rafters over a glass panel in the floor that rests above the stairs below. The decks are over in one corner. The place is like a Tardis, where does he do his writing?

“Everywhere. Up here is where One in the Jungle and All Crews were conceived. I like sitting on the roof garden with the laptop late on summer nights. Winter time it’s the lounge with the fire blazin’.

With the wireless set up I can work anywhere. Anywhere I can hear music.

“Nights are my most creative times. I catch the Beeb’s D&B shows with their ‘listen again’ feature. Sometimes it’s listening to Rude, Origin, Kool FM or one of DJ Kid’s mixes. Though I often kept rewinding Miles Davis’ classic album ‘A Kind of Blue’ and words would just flow. I can’t concentrate if MCs are chatting over tunes. The nicest part of the writing process would be sub editing or ‘mixing down’ the text. Guess it’s like producers making beats. You’re tweaking ’til it feels right.”

Back in the lounge, striking photos hang the walls. There’s a large one of a guy sitting on traffic lights, above crowds at Berlin’s Love Parade. There’s that iconic 60s photo of a guy putting a flower down the muzzle of a soldier’s gun during the anti-Vietnam demonstrations, and one of that man standing in front of a tank during the Tiananmen Sq. protest. Around the corner there’s a large close-up photo of Jungle Fever ravers. You can almost see them moving. They’re all together, yet alone at the same time – the way you can be at a rave; or in life. On the wall at the end of the lounge hangs this wicked but twisted abstract painting. “What’s that all about?” “Everyone stares at that one. A mate painted when he went a bit mad for a time. I love it. To me it is jungle.”

So talking about jungle, what kind of reaction did you get from All Crews? “The reactions have been very positive. I was “worried that I wouldn’t be able to match version two. I guess it’s like that ‘second album’ angst, but I took a leaf out of the artists’ book like Shy FX & T Power, Hype or Dillinja.

“You do what you do and worry about the rest later. So I got straight down to business. After All Crews version three was released a woman called Nastya e-mailed from Russia. She’s an ardent clubber but one Friday night her mates are calling her to come out and she’s like, “Sorry, I’m staying in reading this book.” They couldn’t believe it. I had another e-mail from a guy saying, “I don’t read no books, but I read yours from cover to cover.” When that happens you can think, ‘YES! I’ve done it.’ Well, actually, it’s, “YES! We’ve done it.”

As there’s a whole team of us who put All Crews together. Massive respect goes out to my wife Kate and all my mates who combed through the drafts; plus Rachel, Sara and all the Knowledge crew. Cleveland and Tristan contributed most of the pictures. And Nadine, now based in Berlin, did the design. Navigator had a ‘guest slot’ writing a chapter on the history of the MC. Colin Steven and Knowledge’s Editor in Chief was efficient and sensitive. The Knowledge crew are a sober ‘no drama’ team. Calibre said, “The business can be naughty at times.” I know what he means. So this time around it was a really good experience.

“But back to the reactions. Of course there’s been some negative ones. I can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt when you see a bad comment on Dogs On Acid or wherever. But another thing that I’ve learnt from artists, “You can’t please everybody.” The only posts that piss me off are those that are factually inaccurate. I know that some producers will post back asking, “Why did you say so and so…?” So sometimes I’ll post. Or I might send them a private message. One person’s posts were so full of untruths that I posted him privately and gave him my mobile number so he could dis me personally. He never called.

“You occasionally see some twaddle on message boards. I remember one post on the 1Xtra board suggesting that producers tell the DJs what to play. Complete hogwash. Writing All Crews, I sat in on L Double’s, Flight’s and Bailey’s shows, witnessing them all drawing tunes from their bags as DJs do. Dave the producer might like or suggest a certain tune. But he ain’t standing there with a clip board saying: “Play X, Y & Z.” So I posted explaining the real deal. Then some else posts, “Nuke ’em from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

What’s happening with you and D&B now? “I’m still doing interviews about the book. Last week there was a magazine in Puerto Rico. Yesterday there was one for an internet station in LA. L Double interviewed me for Code Of The Streets. And Ash-a-tak and I were filmed for a slot on drumnbasstv.com. It’s good to go out now without the pressure of writing. I might reach Fabric, The End or Traffic: but Herbal is still the ‘Basscamp.’ It’s a good sequel to Metalheadz at the Blue Note. I love that multicultural mix of students, Tottenham and industry family.

You see X-amount of faces down there, but one of the year’s most memorable nights was Bassbin’s ‘Rare Grooves’ album launch party down Plastic People. Rohan, Flight, Breakage, Bailey on the decks; Stamina on the mic – wicked night. Bailey was playing some breaks, looks up from the decks, taps Flight on the shoulder and they’re both pointing at me, laughing goin’ “Look B’s dancing to Edits.” Till then I’d had difficulty with the whole Choppage thing; but Bailey got me. I met Chris Inperspective the other day and he was cool about me not being that into breaks before. He said, “It’s alright man. At least I got a mention in the book.”

“On the Bailey tip; one of the nicest evenings I had since All Crews hit the streets was when Bailey and his lady Rachel came ’round to mine and Kate’s yard for dinner. We had a great night eating, drinking, talking about d&b, not talking about d&b. Goldie calls Bailey on his mobile. They chat then Bailey passes the phone. We chat for a while: him about his album; me about All Crews.

Later that night I’m remembering all the avenues Goldie and the Metalheadz crew opened for me over the last ten plus years. Goldie and GQ played the first One In The Jungle slot. Metalheadz ‘headhunted me from MTV Europe to work on the pilot for Goldie’s Channel 4 show. Back stage at one Timeless gig, Goldie’s manager Trenton asks, “Do you do words?” “Yeah man, I do words.” So he hires me to write sleeve notes for Goldie’s and Grooverider’s albums. That helped me get deeper writing All Crew.”

“I’ll never forget and always treasure the time I spent ’round Kemi and Storm’s flat recording their interview. I gave one of the first copies of the book to Storm. Within days of that photocopied version of All Crew circulating, Goldie pinched Storm’s copy… started calling the scene and reading bits over the phone. So I crawl out my tent, bleary eyed at the August ’99 Eclipse festival and bump into Kenny Ken who’s asking for a copy. Then Excessive Sounds call, “Yo Brian got any more copies of your book? We’ve sold out.” A few days later I reach Metalheadz at Dingwalls, Rider’s goin’ “Where’s my copy?” Soon after he has me on his Radio One show to publicise All Crew. I have much to thank Metalheadz for. I’m not a crew member but I wonder if I’m eligible for one of their Metalheadz icons? That would be like getting a Blue Peter badge.

“On the writing tip, I’m getting back into writing Hospital Stories. It’s a journey through my medical-life experiences. Mates who didn’t know I was a nurse would always ask me what went on at work. It was easier for me to write some stories. They couldn’t get enough of them. The nurses at work made me send them into the Nursing Times, the UK’s biggest nursing magazine. Seven years later I’m still writing for them.

“On the DJing tip I play the occasional jungle set, I recently played at Quiet Earth in Stockholm in fact. DJing sometimes scares the hell out of me. In All Crews there’s a story called Girl With The Frilly Collar about me getting ‘the fear’ before playing, but last time DJ Simon invited me over to play in Frankfurt, I rinsed it. I’ve been out on the real old skool circuit playing soul, disco and rare grooves. Having that crowd in front of you and making them dance wicked is always a challenge. Like Storm said in All Crews, “Before there was a band. Now there’s a DJ. But you are the entertainment.”

Any regrets about events you didn’t get to cover or people you didn’t get to interview? “Events? I would’ve needed a round-the-world ticket and a couple of years to have sampled all the events I wanted to check. There’s always more to write. Fugee of Rude FM was literally the last person through the door. That was on a Sunday. Monday we hear that Tracy Ton Promotions shut up shop. Tracy had been a booking agent since way, way back in the day. I knew Black Market Records were going through some enforced changes but things were still entangled with lawyers so I couldn’t write about that. I missed a one-to-one with Fabio. All Crew – version 2 featured Grooverider more than Fabio, so I really wanted to get Fabio this time around. Shame it didn’t happen. Anyway, that’s a deep one. Real deep.”

How do you mean? “I don’t want to end up in court.” OK then, ‘off the record’. “Off the record. Look people will think I’m peddling some conspiracy theory. I hope you won’t feel I’ve lost it. For some unfathomable reason the ‘plot’ has been thickening in relation to One In The Jungle, All Crews and the Radio One press office. And I really don’t understand why. After co-producing One In The Jungle, I left the station. Months later I’m flicking through DJ Magazine and see that: producer Wilber Wilberforce had brought One In The Jungle to Radio One. It’s like I’d been deleted from history. So I called DJ with the real deal. They apologised, printing a retraction in their next issue. They explained that their information came from a Radio One press release. That was back in ’95. I was hurt enough to think about going legal. Imagine the court case with Goldie, Shy, GQ, Rap, Navi and all the other One In The Jungle dons, plus Andy Parfitt – now Radio One boss testifying that they dealt with me. Likewise Fabio, Groove, Kenny, Hype would have testified that their producer over at Kiss FM was Wilber Wilberforce. Instead of doing the legal thing, I put all my original stuff and other evidence on my All Crew website. At the end of the day, it’s more important that the truth is out there.”

So happened with Fabio? “Well, early summer 2004, I’d been contacting the press office about interviews with DJs. Fabio & Grooverider were extremely difficult to get hold of, but I met them at Glastonbury and both were right up for contributing to All Crews. Post Glastonbury, I mention to the press office that I’d spoken to Fabio & Rider. A coldness came down the line: “Oh you spoke to them yourself did you?” Deadline approached, I called and e-mailed the press office, to sort out the interviews. Then came the reply: “I’m afraid it’s going to be hard to sort as they are also reluctant to contribute, sorry!'” I couldn’t believe it. The e-mail’s still sitting on my PC. I headed down Herbal to meet Rider. I asked, “Rider you still want to be interviewed for the book? ‘Cause the press office said…” He looked puzzled and said, “I don’t know anything about that,” and taps his number into my mobile – even suggests we meet at his place. Time was running out so we ended up doing the interview by phone but he gave All Crews his time.”

“October 2004 I bump into Fabio at Heathrow airport and he says, “Suppose I’m too late for your book?” He gives me his number anyway and asks me to call. We never did manage to speak but when Fabio invited me on his Radio One show, he says on air, “When I saw All Crews and your name come up, I was like, ‘I have got to get him on the show’. Especially as we didn’t get to do that interview.” Before I left the studio, I gave Fabio a copy of All Crews. Earlier I’d mentioned I loved that ‘Golden Girls’ track. Fabio drew his own copy out the box and gave it to me. I didn’t know whether to play it or frame it. I played it still trying to understand why the press office said that Fabio & Groove ‘weren’t too keen’ to do the All Crews interviews, when they clearly were. Another DJ commented that if they didn’t want to do the interview, they would have told you straight.”

And Wilber? “He’s head boy of all things drum & bass at the BBC. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve interviewed working on All Crews. There’s many more who wanted to be interviewed but for one reason or another it didn’t happen. Hand on heart, I can only think of one person who ‘declined to be interviewed’ – Wilber Wilberforce. If I had the chance to interview him, I would have asked about that One In The Jungle story. I hate this side of the music business. I mean, how can people look at themselves in the mirror and claim props for something they didn’t do? I don’t understand how that works. One reason I love my in intensive care job is that dealing with life and death business helps keep my feet firmly on the ground. Anyway as a Buddhist I believe in Karma. If you fuck people over it brings bad Karma.”

Any plans for the future? “I’m working on the jungle documentary, A London Some’ting Dis that first screened in ’94. I have two crates of rushes to log; before we’ll see if we need to shoot anything new. And Haringey Council have just invited me to join their delegation visiting Stockholm. I’m really into the urban regeneration thing. Tottenham can be a difficult place for kids to grow up in. We’re trying to find ways to help them to stay on the straight and narrow, growing up with aspirations other than selling drugs or believing that life is all about da bling. It might sound clichéd but I really want to put something back into the local community.”

One last question – do you support Tottenham then? “Arsenal all the way.”