Very Very Much

September 30, 2010 at 1:09am
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Tony Thorpe - Part 2 (of 2)

Tony Thorpe

© Brian David Stevens

Continued from Part 1

And when that change was happening, how did you feel about the change in atmosphere in the raves?

Right, right, yep, now we can start talking. OK, I found there was a point when you had that Spectrum, acid house thing, when everything was quite colourless, it wasn’t black or white, you couldn’t tell who the people were behind the music, and those gigs were really multicultural in a really good way – then something happened and the soul was just taken out of it, it all became very European and the soul just went, or just got smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. And then – I don’t want to say trance, but there was a point where I thought it was going to take over the world that kind of music, and I just don’t find it very soulful. Trance, progressive, tribal, they called it, but it was just monotonous. It’s music by numbers, you don’t need any imagination to do that. Bit embarassing, I did one track you could call trance, with that guy Steve Hillage – ‘7:7 Expansion’ – it got to number 20 in the charts, bruv! We did that, me and a bit of Youth, and Steve, and I didn’t feel too bad – but as soon as I see people wearing tights in clubs, I’m out of here, I’m out of this scene, you’re never going to see me again, that’s IT! I mean I was playing breakbeat at trance clubs, at the Butterfly parties, Youth’s thing in his garden, I played breakbeat just to get away from that European… thing.

But those early hippie/trance rave nights like Megatripolis, they could have hardcore rave DJs, they could have experimentalists like Autechre; and hippie bands like Eat Static could play at hardcore clubs like Rage!

Yep, yep, totally – it’s all relevant, it’s all relevant to where we are now, music is all shaped by those influences even if you don’t want to admit them. But the rest of the scene by then was all starting to get a bit too corporate, a bit too soulless, a bit too music-by-numbers, and yes, it was really horrible – I don’t care what anyone says, it was horrible… I thought it would never end, I was sat there thinking “look at all these DJs making all this money and just milking, milking, milking – milking this soulless music, this music that you make just to assist your drug high…” I find that just totally immoral in a lot of ways. And it’s still there now, and I don’t think it’s ever really progressed at all, I mean I’ve never really heard anything from that scene that’s made me go “wow, yes, this is a new music”. It’s just not progressing, bruv, that’s the problem – it says ‘progressive house’ but it’s not progressing one bit. And I think that killed the togetherness, the cultural mix, it killed the unity, family kind of thing, it really did, man.

People went with the money, that’s the problem, they went with the money, where the big bucks were and fuck everything else, and that’s why you ended up with a lot of them DJs, man – I don’t want to mention any names, cos these are the people that are forever slagging people off and putting them down, and I’m not doing that – but a lot of them DJs made a lot of money, while their heritage and roots were so deep into black music it’s unbelievable, it’s almost like they forgot about black music and just went “oh we’re making money now, fuck that”. But nothing lasts forever, know what I’m saying, nothing lasts forever mate, so whatever you’re doing you’ve got to have that in the back of your head, and you’ve got to be prepared and ready to shift and move on all the time, or you’re just going to sit there milking things and not knowing who you are, til one day you turn around and you’re old school and nobody gives a fuck about you and who cares about you…

…and you’ve got a chunk of your nose missing.

Hahaha yeah that’s right, a big old hole in your nose – so yes, thank god I’ve never gone down that route, I’ve known so many people go down that dead end alley.

So what did you do going into the mid 90s to keep from stagnation? I mean you started releasing on Guerilla, which was known as a big progressive house label…

Well I did techno stuff. I’ve always had love for techno – I mean god, Detroit, wow, that’s always been something that’s inspired me. If you sat me down in the studio and said “make a Detroit record” I couldn’t do it, but I could always straight away make something that’s got the inspiration of Detroit in it. I’ve always been a heavy lover of that music – I mean, I’ve always been attracted to people doing interesting things and to producers doing interesting things and challenging music, like a moth being drawn to a flame, I’ll never stop being attracted to people doing something interesting. So for me, that point was definitely me going, right, I’m going to make some musical techno, but at the same time that album ‘Product Of The Environment’ was… [almost chokes] …a concept album about me celebrating the release of Mandela from prison that happened around that time, so that was a political statement in some ways for me – and also thinking “if I was an African kid that was listening to what I was listening to at that time, what would I make?”. I mean, I don’t know how much I intended all this to come out in the final sound, mind you. I could never tell you what a song’s going to sound like before I start, only after it’s finished, and that’s a great thing about making music, never really knowing where you’re going til you get there – I find that quite fun, I find it inspirational, I’d hate to sit there going, right, same old set, let’s knock it out, same old numbers. For me, I’m not a guy that sits around thinking I’m wonderful, I’m probably the worst critic of my own music, I slag myself off constantly.

That’s funny because a lot of the kind of leftfield techno producers in this country at that time were moving towards jungle and breakbeat influences – so it was almost a perverse move by you to go towards techno, wasn’t it?

Well no, because all of that, all of those sounds are all relevant to each other. To me, you look at, say, The Black Dog, early on they were messing with breakbeats and to me, that’s prototype jungle. Kenny Larkin – prototype jungle. There’s a lot of prototype jungle stuff that was just techno, and it went the other way, I heard Underground Resistance doing stuff that sounded like it was jungle-influenced. You know what I’m saying – if techno wasn’t involved with the ongoing development of British underground music you wouldn’t have any of them b-lines. You wouldn’t have the b-lines. I mean ‘Mentasm’ isn’t even the start of it, those b-lines are from techno. You’ve got a lot of people who’ve grown as producers and they were a continuation of techno. You listen to early Andy C and late Andy C and it’s insane – those people have developed and moved on as producers, and all you can do is take your hat off to those guys, and say you guys are wonderful, you really know what you’re doing. But to think it’s separate, experimental and mainstream, techno and jungle, that’s bollocks mate, it’s all part of the same thing. And the period of music that definitely showed that for me was the garage stuff – it just took the whole lot: the jungle, the techno, the house, and more and more and more, all thrown in there, mashed up, and it went in and created something new. And we’re always doing that, we’re constantly regurgitating everything and we dash it out and make it new.

So what was your involvement in garage? Did you produce any music in that style?

Yeah, yeah, a few things, a few little garage bits, nothing I really want to talk about, but yes. I mean it wasn’t really my style as a scene, I’m not really a champagne drinker – you couldn’t really see me being part of the garage massive, could you? But as far as the beats and programming and sonics go, I’m always going to be interested and into that…

Who were the producers that floated your boat in that scene, then?

Well Julian Jonah, 187 Lockdown, all that stuff, because it was so reggae, ragga, and I loved Horsepower Productions for the same reason, and El-B, El-B’s bad, amazing producer. To me, that was dubstep right there, I mean for the first time it was something with reggae influences that wasn’t jungle that you could play – and they could change tempo, I mean Horsepower could throw it down bwoy, and for anyone who had the time or the inclination you could join the dots between all those things. I mean, we’re a small island, we all live on top of each other, we’re multi-racial, totally multicultural, it could really not be any other way, you know? But I didn’t see any difference between Horsepower and the Black Dog in that way. I remember I helped Black Dog get their first record out – I mean Ken, Ken Downie, who was a friend of Jimmy Cauty’s back in Stockwell, Jimmy introduced us and said “Ken’s got a few tracks, can you help him out with them?”. And that track “I stay in my room… and think of the future…”, I got that out for him, like I’ve always tried to help people and other musicians if I think they’re doing something interesting. Like Squarepusher, when he did that first record on what was it called… Spymania. And Paul from Spymania is my agent now, these things come around. But I think I was the first person to play that on radio, on Coldcut’s show, and they were like “what the fuck’s that?” and it spread like that…

A lot of people would be horrified to hear you mention Squarepusher in the same breath as UK garage, you know…

This is the problem you get when you typecast things and insist on pigeonholes, you get that sort of artificial separation – you listen to “intelligent techno” so you must be intelligent, you listen to grime so you must be street, but it just doesn’t work that way because the airwaves are colourless, the soundwaves are colourless. For me personally I could never be into one type of electronic music, I wouldn’t be stimulated enough – and I think that’s how it is with kids now, the technology makes it so much easier to be into a whole range and to trace the connections between them. Maybe before when people got into acid house they might’ve been “right, I’m gonna get rid of all my soul records, I’m not into punk any more, I’m gonna turn it up full blast and listen to acid house all day, not listen to anything else” but that gets destructive, you end up too bloody puritan and boring if you take that attitude. I find that dangerous, in fact, really dangerous. I find that narrow-minded.

There’s a school of thought that says that’s what went wrong with drum & bass – the scene started to only refer to itself and not to music outside it…

Woah woah, don’t be slagging off drum & bass to me, I will always slap down anyone who slags that off because I have so much love for that music. Obviously it became a formula like anything else, but you have to look at the growth of that music and particularly the production, and the way that evolved, and I really respect that, and a lot of people should be willing to pay more attention to that. But yeah in a sense you’re right, it did become normal in a way, and that’s down to the people behind the scenes there – if a DJ says “we’re gonna start pushing MP3s and not vinyl any more” or whatever then people are going to stop buying vinyl; it’s DJs that have the power to change people.

Dubstep seems to be one place where there’s been a conscious application of that idea in protecting vinyl sales, right?

Yes, dubstep is like the last bastion of the 12”, it feels like. Obviously you’ve got 7” sales, indie 7”s, that’s still strong – I know people who’ve got all these 7”s on their wall but they haven’t even got a turntable! Yeah, dubstep feels like the last stand maybe, and they know that vinyl sounds better. But people have been duped by technology into thinking that things sound OK – they don’t! Digital, computers, they have their place but recording technology is not better because it’s easier; like what I was saying about when I play post-punk records from the 80s and people can’t believe what they’re hearing, can’t believe they’re that old, because they sound so advanced and imaginative. And of course people get used to shitty speakers – I would far rather you annoyed me with a giant ghetto blaster than a shitty little telephone. Seriously, any day, blast your ghetto blaster, it’s so much less annoying. We’re obsessed by “small” - we want it half the size and half the size again and we think eventually somehow it’ll get to a size that’ll make us happy, like you can put it on your fingertip and blow on it and it’ll tell you the time and this’ll somehow be better… I think things should be getting BIGGER! BIGGER phones, BIGGER computers, things you can really give a shit about.

Again that’s an idea that chimes with dubstep – it’s an aesthetic that likes size, whether it be vinyl, speaker stacks, the physical impact of bass drops…

That’s what I find wonderful about it, the way it’s able to capture that old-school soundsystem mentality, a bit like what Soul II Soul were doing back in the day with their soundsystem reggae mentality – and you had to be there with it, you had to be there in the room and feel it physically, and this is just another manifestation of that, and it’s all relevant man, all of it is relevant. And there is no better vibe than going up to DMZ on a weekend and seeing those guys up there calling out “REWIIIND”, pulling the records back, chatting on the mic, it is brilliant – it is just brilliant, you can’t fake that. It just reminds me of going to see Jah Shaka back in day, but it is completely their thing, it belongs to that younger generation and that is really exciting and really great.

Can we go back to what you just said about things becoming “normal”, about how nothing can be mind-blowing forever – you must have seen that repeatedly in different scenes?

Yeah. Dubstep will become normal, you know. Jungle was the weirdest thing in the world to start with. I can remember playing in Miami, the first Miami Winter Music Conference, and I played heavy drum & bass, and everyone sat down! They didn’t know what to do to it – but you can guarantee they’d know what to do to it now; your mind just becomes altered, it becomes used to things, and it ceases to be alien any more. Oh, it’s another 170bpm, oh it’s another Amen break, so what? You know – but I don’t ever want to let anyone believe that drum & bass stood still as much as some people suggest it has. Drum & bass has done a lot for music, for other types of music, it has inspired other stuff off it – without it you wouldn’t have dubstep, garage, grime, none of that would be happening, so as far as I’m concerned that music is so relevant. I hate, hate it when people say “I hate drum & bass ‘cause I’m into dubstep now” - what you talking about bruv? You can’t just jump ship like that, you know… And it’s happening more and more, so many drum & bass producers making dubstep – on the Myspaces it used to be “drum & bass” and now it’s “drum & bass / dubstep” and that’s fine, but when people turn their back on it completely it’s a weird one, I dunno where it’s all going to end… [sighs] I find it quite interesting though… yeah…

The sound of drum & bass has leaked into culture in the widest sense now – look at people like Photek and Rob Playford scoring Hollywood movies, getting those sonics to people across the world…

Yes! That is what it’s all about mate, putting the music out by whatever means.

Have you ever done any soundtrack work?

Bits and pieces, nothing I’d want to be bragging about, couple of television things. In the early days of music advertising I was doing little bits for Channel 4, little acid house clips, but now it’s proper big business. It’d be lovely to get a track on a car advert, you know, keep us paid for the next year and a half.

Or longer if you get what Paul Oakenfold does for a car advert!

[mutters darkly] Yeah well, that’s a whole other level – if you’re that comfortable, why should you care about anything, why should you care about the underground or about youth culture? I still maintain that those ideals that I learned from the KLF times, that appreciation of youth culture, even for someone of my age when most people are looking after the kids in their slippers and pipe, is important.

So what else floats your boat outside of dubstep?

Nothing. Nothing. I’ll tell you what, 80s, the whole 80s sound is really getting on my nerves, it’s been getting on my nerves for bloody ages! I mean reason I started in 400 Blows was to get away from 80s music, then all of a sudden it’s brought back again and I’m just [slaps hand over face in mock despair] “ohhhh noooooo!”. They’ve brought back the Human League AGAIN! Having said that I did really like their first two or three records, they were real Sheffield sound, always got love for Sheffield, but you know that 80s pop was throwaway, and the music that’s around now that revives it is just throwaway, and I find it really, really annoying. But at this moment in time, I’m just about my label, about the artists that I’ve signed or I’m trying to sign, and that takes all my energies, so to be honest I’m not paying that much notice. When I was working in Wall Of Sound, obviously I was being paid to be totally on everything, going out to all the indie gigs, all the 80s gigs, everything – but after leaving there I didn’t really find it that compelling to remain in that A&R state of mind, constantly looking out for the next Arctic Monkeys kind of thing, in fact all I wanted to do was do the opposite, focus all my energies on something I’m passionate about. And with Studio Rockers, with the dubstep thing, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I can feel your pain there to a degree – it’s similar being a journalist, where there’s pressure to listen to everything that comes out…

Aww, mate, all I can say is that doing a nine-to-five at Wall Of Sound – not even nine-to-five, actually, it was 24 hours! - and working with some stuff I wasn’t really into, I’d start asking myself why I was feeling depressed, and of course it was because I wasn’t being musically challenged. That’s all.

But with Studio Rockers you get out of bed in the morning with an appetite for it, then?

Yeah, it’s great! I go to bed thinking about Studio Rockers, with a tune in my head that I’m working on, I’ll go to sleep thinking “wow I can’t wait to get that finished” or “I can’t wait to sign that kid” - and finding talented artists, wow mate, that is such a buzz, honestly. Such a buzz finding someone that I can help develop and bring to the world, I mean I’m good with helping people, helping them get to that point with their production where they can really show their potential. I give them all the advice they need to get their tracks better – it’s so much easier for me to tell someone how to do that, to take the existing track to bits and analyse it, than it is to explain how to do it from scratch or to create my own stuff. With your own stuff you can get lost in it, don’t know if it’s good or bad, but with other people’s stuff I’ve been doing it so long I can almost do a mix for them without thinking.

Mate, when I did A&R I used to do mixes on the telephone! I used to have kids ring up on the phone, I’d be like “turn that down a tiny bit, yeah, eight bars of that mate, another bar there, do that there”, know what I mean, and that’s it, sorted. And now I use Skype to do that, you know “yep, move that slider, no not that one, the next one, that’s it” [laughs] It’s silly but really, that’s one side where I’m just really glad I’ve been able to contribute. There’s one kid I’m just about to sign, about nineteen, really young, really great potential, he’s from Leeds – and I can see we’re going to have some great fun, we’re going to build some great tunes. And like I said, I’ve always tried to help other people’s careers, I like to help people along, with all my labels I’ve done that, with BPM, with Language – especially with Language, in fact… people like Si Begg [cross-genre electronic producer who now co-produces most of Tony’s Moody Boyz output], I helped him develop like that.

And he passes that on – Si Begg is someone who launches new artists all the time on his own labels now.

Yep, yep, he’s a proper artist and he knows that helping people is part of that, and I’m glad to have been a part of that. I watched him develop into that, and that’s part of the reward of doing what I do.

But among all this A&R and mentoring, are you getting a chance to do much as an artist yourself at the moment?

Well… yeah… this year obviously I’m just concentrating fully on Studio Rockers, ‘cause when I was at Wall Of Sound I didn’t have the chance to concentrate on it, so I’m just trying to get that really stable, to a point where I’m really comfortable, to a point where people know where I’m coming from and there aren’t any gaps – and I think we’re just about getting there about now. With the new EVS record and the new Cotti record coming out, we’re just getting to the point where people are like “oh right, Studio Rockers, yeah it’s them guys…” So it’s getting there, and obviously as part of that I’ll be putting out a 12” myself, though who knows when… I was going to have one out two years ago, but I’m always the last priority, whenever I hear a new track I’m always like “ahhh, I’ve got to get this out”, and my own stuff gets put back again. And now I’m inundated with music, so much good stuff, so much good stuff, and it’s just all about how the label’s gonna evolve and how we can shape it, but most of all it’s all about the next track, and I like that pressure, it’s all about “what’s the next thing?”. Everything I put out has to be… it has to be like I’m talking now. You can’t talk the talk and not walk the walk. You’ve got to be able to deliver the goods as well – and I hope I have done some good stuff with that label. So I sit there thinking, well, if I put some stuff out on the label, it’s got to be mindblowing, I can’t just stick tracks out willy-nilly, you know.

And are you keeping up the remix work too? You seemed to be on a roll with those Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu, VV Brown remixes…

Hmmm, a bit less this year so far – I mean, I’ve done that Lee Scratch Perry and Roots Manuva thing for Adrian at On U Sound, ‘International Broadcast’ that Kode 9’s done a thing for as well, and there’s the Lee Scratch Perry / Moody Boys thing ‘God Smiles’, and a Horsepower mix on there too, so it’s a sort of mish-mash compilation between me and Adrian Sherwood really… I’ve got to do one more mix on that I think, and in the meantime I’ve been putting together the Dubstep Chronicles 2 event at Big Chill House, and I’m doing this set of events called Summer Of Dub with Adrian, starting at the Great Escape in Brighton where we’ve got Benga, African Headcharge, Jazzsteppa, The Black Dog… then we’re doing that at the Big Chill too with Dub Syndicate, Andy Weatherall, Kode 9 – so yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of gig-ish things this year, getting back into my DJing, and I’ve really noticed that since I’ve been doing Studio Rockers it’s really good for me to get out there and test out some of the stuff I’ve been getting. There was one track by The Widdler I’d been sent, I played it out at Glastonbury and the place went absolutely nuts – I thought “ah well, might as well put that out eh?” [pauses, laughs]

How much of the dubstep stuff you get sent is actually ready to play out and create a dancefloor reaction like that, though?

Oh mate, so much of it that people put out there, like “this is my new track” - it’s just not finished. I mean, I reply to everyone who sends stuff to Studio Rockers, I tell them yes, no, why it’s not for us, and so many of them I’ll tell them they’re just not ready. I’ll say “you’ve got some great ideas, and your production’s alright, but are you of the quality of Skream or Benga? No you’re not. You’re not ready, bruv.” There’s one guy I’m looking at now, and his stuff is amazing, but he’s not ready. He’s got great ideas, but it’s just not quite there yet – there’s one track that’s just killer, I’d put it out tomorrow, but it’s not technically ready yet. That was the problem with the grime thing – there’s been so much creativity in that, but I’d hear so many people go in the studio, MCs especially, and they just weren’t ready. I’ve got so much stuff with the worst, out-of-time rapping you could imagine on it – I could do you a compilation of the worst rapping heard by mankind by some of these guys who thought because they look the part that they could do it. It was just that time, everbody was just like “oh yeah, I’m an MC now, get me in the studio, blehblehblehbleh” [mimics over-enthusiastic hyper-speed chat], load of crap.

El-B told me that in his Ghost Studios he’d get a lot of young guys coming in having earned money from drugs, thinking they could just spend their way to becoming good MCs in the studio, that enough attitude and money would make them good…

Well you can knock it, but drugs made jungle, mate, drugs made hardcore and jungle – I’m not being funny there, they really did, they really bloody did. It’s a shame we’re stuck now where the whole drugs scene just seems pretty bloody dark, it just doesn’t seem like fun any more, it all seems pretty depressing really, not fun, just dark…

Maybe that’s why dubstep had to go back to Guinness and weed?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s right, I mean the first time I went to DMZ I was just “oh… my… god – people are smoking weed and not doing pills, but they’re still raving”. You know they’re still jumping at 5am, and seeing 500 people in a room all nodding their heads in perfect synchronisation was just “wow!”. And seeing people like Kode 9 do a DJ set, I’d think to myself “my god, if I’d have done a set like that, like I wanted to do, fifteen years ago, the floor would have cleared completely” - but now… now, people are open. And that’s what great for people like myself, and a lot of my peers and people I know – the foundations for those audience and people being open have been layed down by people like myself, and like yer Rob Smiths and yer Guy Called Geralds and Shut Up And Dances, you can go on for ever. Those people have helped in the gradual creation of a public with a conception that they can be open; you had to have the music there to create a public that would listen to it.

So dubstep is pretty healthy now, you think? It’s not approaching that position of becoming “normal” yet, you think?

Well, again, that’s why dubstep is interesting for me, why I feel comfortable with it, because you know that there are producers within that scene who are forever going to be pushing it forward. They’re not going to stay where they are. When I listen to what DMZ were doing two years ago and what they’re doing now, I’m amazed. Mala’s tunes now are crazy, they’re just mad, there’s Scottish producers that are insane, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation like this for mass creativity, where I’m just constantly “wowww… wow!” about tunes, and I love all those guys too – when I see all them guys I’ve got the time of day for all that type of people. And it’s amazing, sometimes I meet these people and they’ll go “ahh, my dad used to play your records” and I’ll be like “oh, OK” [mock offended face]

I mean this is a bit embarrassing, I dunno if I should even tell you this, but I bumped into Coki a while back in Liverpool Street, he’d been to some gig and I’d been up north for some other gig. I was going back to Norbury to see my mum, and he lives in Norbury, just up the road from my mum in fact. So he was like “come down my house I’ll sort you out some tunes”, so I was like “yeahhh, brilliant [rubs hands in glee] come down and get some new Coki upfront bits!”. So we were there having a chat, he burned me a CD, then I popped downstairs and it was like “wait a minute, I recognise that person…” and I realise I knew his dad, then next minute I realise we went to the same bloody school, and I was just “aaaah no!”. So I’m sitting there with his son, who’s just burned me some cutting edge dubstep, and we used to go to the same school… that’s Croydon, mate, Croydon… it’s a funny old place!

Heh, yeah I felt old when I asked Benga what his first memory of rave music was and he remembered his brothers MCing over ‘Warhead’ by Krust – which was quite late on in drum & bass for me – and he was, like, eight at the time…

Ahh, well, that’s another thing – I love the affinity that Skream and Benga and all that have for drum & bass, because they was basically born into it, and they’ve got so much love for it, and they love their own scene too. I love that you’d go out to a night and the first thing you’d see in the front row are Skream and Benga and Mala and they’ll be so into it, and it’s so good to see that degree of love and appreciation for your peers, you know?

And a lot of young kids have an incredible comprehensive knowledge of old jungle tunes too – I’ve seen Boxcutter, for example, play really rare Tom & Jerry sides from ‘95…

Yeah, that’s true in some cases, but in a lot of the young generation I feel like I see the collector’s mentality that was there in my generation getting smaller and smaller, like the real crate-digging instinct of breaking your back to find the good stuff. MP3 makes them used to convenience, but in the old days you used to search the records, pull something out, read the back of the record, see who the producer was, who was playing on it and maybe thing “ooh I’ll have a go on that”, and learn about music one record at a time like that, because you needed to have the information stored in your head to know what was good. But yeah, the internet makes it easy now, but I do wonder if you really get so much knowledge from that; it’s convenient, you get what you want at the press of a button, but you don’t necessarily learn anything. There’s such a thing as hard-earned knowledge, physical knowledge, actually getting up off of your back and going out and finding things.

You sound optimistic now, on the whole, but has there ever been a time that you have been genuinely disenchanted and just want to fuck it all off? Because the scene has gone bad, or the music isn’t rewarding any more?

Well I’ve probably felt that for personal reasons before, but never, never for musical reasons. Never for musical reasons, mate. I’ve been frustrated about it, I’ve been frustrated by music many times, by not being able to get to where I want to or do what I want to do, but like everything it’s a day at a time, you know – tomorrow’s another day, something else happens, something else occurs. I know this year I’m going to spend more time in the studio, experimenting, trying to get my 12” together, getting that organised as soon as I can… but I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to give it up. As long as I’m involved and into youth culture and around young people I will always continue that, I’ll keep going. The thing with Studio Rockers is a continuation of that, of helping young artists, of bringing people through – it’s not all about me, man, it’s never been all about me. I’ve never been the best person at blowing my own trumpet, of going “oh I done this and I done that”, I’ve always tried to keep it low-key and humble, you know.

For me, that is a way of staying alive, you know – I mean, I could’ve burned out years ago, I could’ve just burned out and you’d be going “oh yeah, him, part of history”, but I’m trying to better what I did in the past, trying to forget about ‘Free’, forget about ‘Funky Zulu’, trying to write the thing where in ten years you’ll know me for that, where you’ll go “that track is what Tony Thorpe is known for”. I’m trying to find the next classic – and it’s hard work, bruv, it’s hard work. But I won’t stop trying, I’ll never stop. And I won’t stop being progressive, I mean I’m not interested in chart music, Top Of The Pops, been there, seen it, done it, so now it is all about the music, all about pushing musical barriers, that’s it for me. Nothing’s original, but there’s always ways to freshen it, to bring a twist to it. And it’s that little twist that gives it that little extra bit of originality.

So this year I will be letting my hair down and finding some new area, some new thing that I can make mine, so whatever else happens you’ll hear something new, guarantee it! Even if it’s not Moody Boys, it’ll be from one of my artists that I’m pushing, I’ll have pushed them into doing something new and fresh. Nowadays people are too quick to finish you off, you can be a new artist, come up with a track, people go “load of crap” and that’s it, end of your career. At least I had the chance to make mistakes, I did things I hear now and go “how did I get away with that load of shit?” but I did it and recovered and found my way. You don’t get the chance nowadays to put out three or four not so good records while you find your feet – but I’m forever on at my artists, on their backs to keep on developing, and I’m on my own back to keep it moving on. Who knows where this dubstep thing will be in even five years, record sales are down, so we’re all having to adapt to the changes – you don’t know what it’s like, it’s such  hard work, bruv, such hard work. But the passion’s there, so I don’t care. As long as you’ve got that passion, you will keep doing it!

We wind up the interview there – but as we are leaving, Tony is concerned that we might have missed something: “Are you sure that’s enough mate? That’s a lot of years to cover in a short time… I mean, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow – what if it’s my last interview? I just want to make sure it’s good, you know? I just want it to be good…”


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I'm Joe Muggs
I am a music writer and reviewer.

VeryVeryMuch is a repository for the stories and opinions of the people that I find interesting – and an attempt to slowly build from those a history of the underground music of the past two decades and more.