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Sure Beats Working


Article from Phaze 1, June 1989

why the beatmasters make a mess with their lunch


THE BEATMASTERS ARE mid-sandwich and ignoring their mothers' advice about talking with their mouths full. In another room, a photographer from 'Smash Hits' is setting up a makeshift studio on their behalf. It's a Wednesday afternoon, and very soon The Beatmasters, aka Paul Carter, Manda Glanfield and Richard Walmsley, are due at the 'Top of the Pops' studio to promote their single, 'Who's In The House'. Merlin, whose rap brought the track to life, has been given a day release from prison to appear. He is currently serving a six-month term for a variety of misdemeanours committed during his wayward youth. Fate has a habit of dealing cruel blows, and one of Britain's best young rappers has been missing out on all of the fun associated with his first hit single since Bomb The Bass' 'Megablast'.

For the rest of the Beatmasters, this is the third time round. Their collaboration with The Cookie Crew on 'Rok Da House' earned them a place in the top ten at the start of 1988. Then, last summer, they did it again, with P.P. Arnold and 'Burn It Up'. The collaboration with Merlin came about "through desperation really, we needed somebody to sing on our record," jokes Carter, although underneath the remark there is a grain of truth. The Beatmasters may be one of the foremost production teams currently operating in this country, but none of them are what you could reasonably describe as a "vocalist".

When it first appeared, 'Who's In The House' attracted a lot of attention because of its close resemblance to Tyree and Kool Rock Steady's 'Turn Up The Bass'. Both fall into a category known as Hip House, which the Beatmasters claim they invented. But Richard Walmsley denies that the two songs are, in fact, the same.

"That's a load of bollocks, that is. It's more similar to 'Rok Da House' than anything else."

"It could be said there are certain similarities", Carter contests.

"No there aren't!", Walmsley insists. "It's a different song, it's got different words, 'Turn Up The Bass' hasn't got a bassline, it's much more minimal. They're both very good, but ours is better. People should treat them separately as separate pieces of music. 'Turn Up The Bass' goes 'Dum dum dumdum dum dum' while ours goes 'Dumdum dumdum dumdum dumdum dumdumdum'. It's nothing like it."

Hip House is a blend of two different styles of dance music — Hip Hop rapping over a House backing track — which arguably began with 'Rok Da House'. At the time it was seen as mixing oil and water, but now Hip House is filling the void left by the demise of Acid House. On their forthcoming album, the Beatmasters have attempted a wide range of styles, including dub reggae and yet another derivative of House known as Deep House. Carter explains the differences.

"Deep House has less emphasis on rap. It tends to be more melodic and soulful, tending always to revolve around songs. When we released 'Rok Da House' we said it was the first British House record, but now we realise in retrospect it was also the first Hip House record. It was just a joke that we had between ourselves that we never made a great deal out of. We never decided to start up this thing called Hip House. Tyree and that other geezer started all that off. Apart from the fact that it's a good record, we just decided to release 'Who's In The House' to set the record straight."

Another objective of 'Who's In The House' was to put the final nail in the coffin of the infamous 'Wooh Yeah' sample which has plagued dozens of records since it first came to prominence on Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's 'Turn It Up'. It's origin is normally cited as Lyn Collins' cover of James Brown's 'Think', but true to form The Beatmasters claim they did it first.

"We used it in 1987 on 'Females' by the Cookie Crew, although nobody knows where it's from", explains Carter, ever wary of the legal problems incurred through sampling from other records. "Originally it just started at the beginning and finished at the end after five minutes, but a very famous Hip Hop DJ told us we shouldn't do that. I thought he was probably right, so I mixed it low, but I wish I hadn't now. Everybody thinks Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock did it, but we were there first, boast, boast, boast."

Carter also feels he knows why that one sample should have proved so popular.

"It's incredibly exciting in the way that we recognised — it's got a real party atmosphere. When Rob Base did it, and I mean really did it, it was brilliant. It was incredibly catchy and people liked it, and people still do, I think, no matter how many records it appears on."

When 'Burn It Up' was released, the Beatmasters were sued and ended up having to pay 10% of their royalties to a publishing company. The offending sample was the phrase 'Don't stop don't stop don't stop don't stop', and ever since then they've had a much more cautious approach. Part of the problem is that because they get in the charts, the Beatmasters have a high profile. In America dance music is more subcultural and so artists can use samples much more freely. Not surprisingly Carter thinks everybody should be allowed to sample whatever they want, with no repercussions.

"I think it should be totally free. If somebody samples some of our stuff, which they have done, I'm always really pleased about it. You can't necessarily expect other people to feel the same way, but my point of view is that I don't give a damn. I think it's great, but there are too many heavy fat lawyers out there waiting to jump on you."

The Beatmasters are based in a recording studio near Old Street in the City of London, where they rent a programming suite on a long-term basis. The main advantage is that they can do their entire production in one building, but only have to pay full studio rates when the time comes to do the actual recording.

'Who's In The House', along with many tracks on the album, was made entirely on an Ensoniq EPS sampler which features a built in sequencer. This is now the group's main piece of equipment, although it is not alone in the studio. For the sake of equipment buffs Carter reels off a list:

"We've got a Moog Rogue, Roland Juno 6, SH101, TB303, a load of old drum machines like TR909s and 808s, a 707 and 727, 737, Boeing, Jumbo, 737 with the wing fallen off... We use all the old Roland drum machines basically, but who doesn't?"

The EPS belongs to Manda Glanfield, who up until this point had been in the 'Smash Hits' photographic room. Just before she arrived back, Carter explained why she chose it:

"She needed something to work on at home, but didn't want to have a big sequencing set-up with a big bank of keyboards in her bedroom. She can do two thirds of a whole song on it. In fact she does it all, we just sit back and make phone calls to ask her how it's going and if she's got any hits — anything we can exploit?"


Glanfield arrives and takes up the story:

"Originally the EPS was extremely hard to get to know, because there wasn't a proper manual. And bang goes the sponsorship! Ha ha. But once you get to know it I think it's absolutely brilliant. It was recommended to me by my flat mate who used to work in Rod Argent's. I wanted something that I could use at home to write with and work out ideas on. It combines everything, and it seemed to be the most reasonably priced for what if could do. I can't stand loads of wires. I'm not interested in having loads of different modules all MIDI'd up and computers with loads of plugboards and wires everywhere. I hate it. Especially at home, if you've got to plug it all into the back of your amplifier in your bedroom it's a nightmare. My boyfriend's just got an EPS as well. We both live in a tiny room with a single bed and I get home from from work and there's another EPS..."

Walmsley: "They talk samplers — they whisper samplers into each other's ears."

Glanfield: "...It's awful. Just when I've managed to forget all about work, although I do love it and enjoy it, on our days off it's nice to forget about it, but my boyfriend starts asking me all sorts of questions about the EPS."

'Who's In The House' started in that very bedroom before expanding to Walmsley's spare room where the piano solo was added. Apart from that, the differences between the studio version and the bedroom version are minimal. Despite their apparently high production values they don't feel the need to tamper with things which already work, but at the same time their records always sound cleaner than most of their counterparts. Walmsley explains why:

"We have advantages over many American producers, because over there black music is a seriously underground thing in the ghettoes, and they don't have expensive SSL (Solid State Logic) studios. A lot of them, like Kevin Saunderson and Marshall Jefferson, come over here because they get more chance to be expensive in their productions."

Carter takes up the story: "We produce in a very natural way. What comes off our records is just what we do, it's not a question of someone sitting down and saying the production values on this record aren't high enough, or it's not glossy enough. That's our sound and that's what we do. We have a sound, and it may be that it's got high production values, but that's just the way it is."

Walmsley: "We've not really got high production values considering what our engineers are always trying to make us do. We're always sampling things off really rough records, and there's always too much noise, but we're not really interested in that. I would hope that production values aren't what people notice about us, because we write nice tunes and they're more important."

Carter: "If you put an average rock band into the kinds of environment that we work in you'll come out with production values light years ahead of ours, although they'll not necessarily be better."

Well-versed in taking their music from the bedroom to the 'Top of the Pops' stage, the Beatmasters are well qualified to advise on the attainment of swift success. Carter and Walmsley have a quick-fire discussion on the subject. Carter: "One — don't bother to learn a musical instrument. Two — get a very good record collection together. No, that's all bollocks. I would say number one is learn to play an instrument."

Walmsley: "Really?"

Carter: "Yeah, I would, to a certain level, it helps if you can play."

Walmsley: "The thing is, you don't have to be able to play now, because if you've got ideas and a reasonable sequencer and you're reasonably bright you will be okay."

Carter: "But to even do sequencing well and to start to get good ideas down, you really need to play a bit."

Walmsley: "The only way to learn is to teach yourself. If you want to play a keyboard you should never try piano lessons because they're a waste of time in my opinion."

Carter: "Although Richard is a classically trained genius. The irony of it all! He is a mightily powerful musician — a very powerful pre-production tool."

Glanfield adopts a different approach.

"For me the most important thing is to keep your ideas strong. Never worry about keeping an ear on the charts and don't think about making it commercial. Don't compromise your ideas even if you think nobody will like them. If you think they are brilliant and strong enough don't try to hide them. Be true to your ideas and beliefs and wait for record companies to believe in you and put money behind you and then you're away.

"As for equipment, I think an EPS is a really good way to start. I wouldn't go out and get a Steinberg sequencer and a computer and an Akai S900 sampler and drum machine and this, that and the other. I think that's too expensive and too much hassle, and you get bogged down with too much technology. I'd start off with an EPS, keep it simple, or just go out and do it bit by bit. Get a cheap drum machine like an old Roland TR909 then go and get a cheap synth you can sync up to it, and really learn those instruments. It is expensive, there's no getting over it. You've got to save up, but don't let that stop you buying Beatmasters singles. Most importantly, you've got to have ideas more than anything else. It's no good going out and spending loads of money on a load of technical toys and MIDIing them all up if you haven't got any ideas to put in them. They aren't going to produce ideas on their own. I think it's important to keep one foot in the outside world. Listen to other people's music and go to clubs or whatever you have to do to absorb other people's influences and have ideas. That's my last word on the subject."

Looking to the future and beyond the release of their debut album, the Beatmasters are already considering what they might like to get up to next. Apart from inventing another few dance movements, Glanfield is looking to commence outside production projects.

"I'd like to work with anyone who's got something that's really brilliant", she says. "You can always learn things from working with other people no matter who they are. Sometimes you learn that you'd rather just do your own stuff and not work with other people at all. That definitely happened to us last year when we worked with so many other people on their productions that we had so many ideas of our own that we were giving away. We all learned a big lesson to hold ourselves back and keep some of our ideas for our own work. You get a very short shrift on remixes, but you can give a lot of your best ideas away if you're not careful. They're bottom of the pile in terms of value really, I'd much rather do full productions."

Whatever else they may get up to, it would seem the Beatmasters are going to be increasingly in demand for their production skills. Their album, when it sees the light of day, will serve as a yardstick for British House music in the late 1980s. The group have retained their humour and still make a mess when confronted with over-filled sandwiches. What more could anybody possibly want?

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Publisher: Phaze 1 - Phaze 1 Publishing

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Phaze 1 - Jun 1989





Interview by David Bradwell

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