Shivers Inside
E-Z Rollers – Dimensions of Sound

Once upon a time I was accused of disappearing into my world of books and films where darkness came too soon.  Total nonsense of course.  There was music too.  But the suggestion was that I was missing out.  Total nonsense too.  Products have so much to teach us.  So many stories to tell …

Well, I started writing the book during the last tour of the States.  My publicity people had given me one of those laptop notebooks, which was really sweet, and I just started typing away.  I was always making up stories in my head, so there was no big masterplan.  The story just sort of came naturally.

I wanted to pay tribute to the singers that had inspired me, and made me want to get involved in the music business.  People like Kelly Richards and Sophie Perks.  I mean, these may be names where people go what is she on about?  But they’re the ones that set me off.  Kelly in particular. 

The funny thing is people associate me with the smooth jazz thing, and expect me to say I’ve been inspired by Chaka Khan and Flora Purim and Anita Baker.  And yeah I love those, but my roots are in the drum ‘n’ bass world, and I thought it would be fantastic to write a book about the scene, and the late ‘90s when I was growing up.  So, sure it’s sort of semi-autobiographical, and it’s a real rites of passage thing, but I wanted to debunk a few myths and capture something of the times.  From a female perspective.  Because there’s this real lingering perception that drum ‘n’ bass was a totally macho thing, a man’s world, but it was incredibly open, and I felt a genuine sense of companionship back in those days, and I’ve not really experienced anything since then quite like that.

The title, yeah, Moving In The Shadows, is something that for me works on various levels.  Yeah it was an underground thing, so definitely very much a shadowy world.  White labels, bootlegs, pirate radio, small clubs.  But apart from seeming right, it is also my tribute to what must just about be my favourite, my very very all time favourite label, which is Moving Shadow, run by this guy called Rob Playford who to me and the book’s heroine is some kind of untouchable god, and you just wanna be in his circle.  You can keep your Motowns and Atlantics.  Moving Shadow is the one for me.  Foul Play and Omni Trio, E-Z Rollers, Flytronix, Aquasky, Dom & Roland, Guardians of Dalliance.  You can tell I know my stuff right?

So the basic premise of the book is this plot, where a couple of friends are putting together their own drum ‘n’ bass tracks in their bedrooms, and they decide they need a singer for some of the tracks, and decide upon drafting in what is literally the girl next door.  They know she sings a bit, and is a bit of a wild child or tomboy type and think she’ll be up for it.  Which she is!  And the story goes on how they cut the tracks, hawk the DAT tapes round the scene’s movers and shakers, get some white label copies pressed up in some dodgy east London plant, get ripped off of course, and try to get the London pirates to play the tracks, and pester the DJs in the clubs, and all that.

I have to confess I drew on my own experiences for a lot of that.  My brother and his mates were quite involved in the drum ‘n’ bass scene in London in the late ‘90s, and I’d hang around them, being really annoying, until eventually they decided to use me on a few tracks.  I’d hate to hear any of that stuff now.  It must have real elementary corny stuff, but at the time it was completely magical.  I loved every aspect of it.

My brother was totally into the jazzier, sort of fusion end of things at the time.  And it’s one of the things I try to bring out in the book.  All these different factions, these little cliques, with their own very set ideas of what drum ‘n’ bass should be.  For my brother though it was jazz funk, which was odd because he was too young to be a soul boy type and our parents were never really into jazz, so we weren’t one of those households where we’d grown up on Sarah Vaughan or John Coltrane or whatever.  He’d just never been the same since he’d heard the guy from Omni Trio going on about Miles Davis and his electric jazz stuff.  You know Bitches Brew and all that.  So he got that and found a copy of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters in a local charity shop, and he’d not looked back.

For him, my brother, who I’m still really close to, his absolute idols were E-Z Rollers, and I shared that passion totally.  But we picked up on different things.  He loved the sound they made.  I think they were from East Anglia, which was a sort of drum ‘n’ bass stronghold, with Photek and the Certificate 18 label.  And they were firmly rooted in the mad bass, and rolling snares, but with this amazing lightness of touch, which was really jazz, and well I know fusion’s got a bad name but some of the old Weather Report and Herbie Hancock stuff is fantastic.  What I really picked up on was the singer Kelly Richards, because it was the first time I really became aware of a singer being an integral part of the sound, rather than an add on like a soul sample or some session singer wailing away wordlessly.  She sounded very white, in that she wasn’t copying the soul divas.  She sounded very vulnerable, very real, and she looked fantastic.  And I thought, hey I could do this too.  So I kept on and on until my brother gave me a chance.  And I’ll never forget the look of amazement when he realised I really could sing, and that it fitted in with his ideas.

So the outfit in the book is really us, very thinly disguised.  It was us, trying to get in with people like Jay from E-Z Rollers.  And hanging out at Speed and having mad nights.  Getting up to all sorts.  And us falling out big time because he wanted me to try and seduce this DJ so we could get our tracks played, and I nearly went along with the scam, but we all got cold feet and the consequences are hilarious.  And hey if you read the book y’all you’ll know what happened next, and how things almost went horribly right.

I still have amazing affection for the drum ‘n’ bass from that era.  Funnily enough my own taste tended towards the harder stuff.  Real metallic slabs of unforgiving noise.  Technical Itch and Decoder.  That sort of thing.  You wouldn’t expect that would you?  One day I’d love to go back and do a drum ‘n’ bass record.  I doubt the record company would sanction it, so maybe we’ll have to go underground, and incognito.  It would have to be really mad though.  Totally over the top.  Ludicrously ambitious. 

Like 4 Hero’s Creating Patterns.  I love that record.  It’s completely madly visionary.  They got in Jill Scott and Terry Callier and Mark Murphy and dared to cover Les Fleur and succeeded.  But it was the end of drum ‘n’ bass for me.  The smoother sound, where we were coming from, got drowned, smothered by swathes of synths.  Oceans of sound I called it back then.  But it became so overused.  The music.  Just ended up in so many ads and film soundtracks and computer games things, that it was a total cliché.  Some people made good money, but I hated it.  That’s when I started doing the jazz sessions.  Tracing it back to the real thing.  Just for the thrill of doing something different.  And the rest is history.  I’m lucky I guess in that my name has helped me get this book published, but that’s great because I feel like the story of a forgotten, very different age is being told at last.

© 2007 John Carney