“… hearing my track loud on a sound system, watching people’s reactions. That’s all you need as a producer. That’s pure approval right there. People loving what you make; it ‘s mission accomplished …”
Throwback to 1995 for the 11th edition of the blog’s ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series. The artist name might not ring a bell at first glance; however behind this one-off recording guise has been one of the most influential and celebrated drum & bass producers of the mid-90s DJ Crystl. Combining old-school hip-hop breakbeat mechanics with ethereal sci-fi soundscapes, his productions have been paramount to the flourishing of ambient jungle. With a cinematic approach, collating and transcending contradictions – en vogue yet timeless, benign yet sinister, nuanced yet evident – Crystl has envisioned the soundtrack of imaginary film scenes.
Pretty much anything from DJ Crystl’s back catalogue could feature on the series. Instead of the obvious classics (“Crystlize”, “Meditation”, “Warpdrive”, “Mind Games”, “Let It Roll”, “Sweet Dreamz” etc.), I opted for a record, which I consider an invaluable item of my collection and has resonated with me for more than two decades. Rather than a generic review, the series focuses on the background story of the tracks presented, which is usually a nostalgic account of motivation, inspiration and insight; a trip down memory lane capturing the atmosphere of a certain period in time. The oxymoron in this case is that the background story is so mundane that makes it all the more intriguing. That being said, I firmly believe that the value of an artistic product is to invoke different emotions, reactions and interpretations. “Experience” has a heavy nostalgic feeling to it, like you were looking at an old photo album with the faded film of childhood memories.
MI5 is the moniker of Dan Chapman, widely known by his primary recording alias DJ Crystl. Like most of the first wave of the hardcore/drum & bass producers, he was a b-boy and graffiti artist based in North London, who was initiated to the possibilities of rave and hardcore euphoria at the beginning of the 90s. A former member and DJ with this British hip-hop crew The Brotherhood, Chapman traced the connection between hip-hop and jungle and mapped the b-boy sensibility to a drum & bass context, sprinkled with the stardust of avant-garde ambience.
When his friend Sasha Cohen started Dee Jay Recordings/Lucky Spin, DJ Crystl produced the inaugural Lucky Spin release, which instigated a long-term relationship. Between 1992 and 1994 and with the legendary in-house engineer Pete Parsons (Voyager) behind the mixing desk at the Monroe Studios, Crystl produced a string of timeless classics for Dee Jay Recordings, Lucky Spin and their offshoots (including remixes and the first 2 volumes of the sought after white label single-sided STU series, named after the renowned mastering engineer Stuart Hawkes). Some of the early artwork and logos on the record labels has been designed by Crystl himself.
Dan Chapman comments on his partnership with Pete Parsons:
“… me and Pete go way way back. He was originally engineering for me, when I was with ‘The Brotherhood’ in the early days. Pete was a rock dude and had an incredibly diverse taste in music, which made him a top engineer/producer and able to take on anything: from pop rock to hip hop, funk and eventually drum & bass. He became my full time engineer/co- producer, when I started to produce D&B and he taught me everything I know. We worked very closely together and he was basically my right hand man. I would literally come into studio with a bassline and an arrangement idea and he would lace it down in super speed. We always had proper jokes at the Monroe Studios in Holloway Road. It was one big family there. He then co-produced and helped me with the singles I produced for London records and then BMG. I did eventually set up a studio at home and went solo, but Pete would still mix down and engineer some of my tunes. He’s a legend!”
His productions have had a massive appeal across the spectrum, wavering effortlessly between a frenzied dancefloor and poised listening. A special reference is made to the “Speed” club nights, as many Crystl tracks captured the “Speed” ethos and vision and became anthems. A firm Bukem favourite, “Experience” featured on the first volume of the “Promised Land” series and is often included (as well as “Meditation”) in the history part of his sets in Athens to this day!
“Speed” has been a weekly club night at London’s West End that lasted almost two years, from late ’94 to the summer of ’96. Set up by LTJ Bukem, Leo Roche and Sarah from Groove Connection at the Mars Bar, off Tottenham Court Road, with resident djs Bukem and Fabio alongside prestigious guests, the “Speed” nights have been pivotal to the evolution of drum & bass, representing the mellower side of the spectrum and showcasing new music that was not essentially aimed for the dancefloor, in a ‘safe’ and more intimate space away from the Jungle arenas.
Voyager and Crystl recollect one of those nights:
“.. every Thursday night you could check Fabio and Bukem dropping all those classic tracks, which of course back then was all new stuff. To say it was an inspirational weekly event is a huge understatement; I wanted my tracks to be played there. I wanted to create a track that was going to fit into those sets perfectly and capture the vibe that was there every week, so that the deep, melodic, slightly melancholic musical direction, that I was putting into a lot of my productions at that time, fitted perfectly for ‘Hypersleep’. I remember hearing it the first time down at ‘Speed’ when it was finished with Crystl and Tamsin … There’s nothing like hearing your track in a club, played by a dj you really respect and seeing people’s reaction to it, that was a memorable moment for sure, and I was fortunate to have a few of those”. – Excerpt from the 6th issue of the Tracks I Wish I’d Written series: Voyager – Hypersleep
“Well, I remember very well the same evening that me and Pete freaked out when ‘Hypersleep’ got dropped. My track ‘Mind Games’ got played as the last track of the night. I can picture it now. Club was still heaving, people brockin’ out. Me and Pete smiling ear to ear, watching people jumping around as the bassline dropped. It really was the best feeling in the world. That was my drug; hearing my track loud on a sound system, watching people’s reactions. That’s all you need as a producer. That’s pure approval right there. People loving what you make; it ‘s mission accomplished …”
MI5 – Experience (Lucky Spin Records, LSR020, 1995)
“Experience” was published by Lucky Spin (b/w “I Can’t Understand”) in 1995. On the run-out grooves the catalogue number INT001 is scratched out, probably because it was intended to be the first Intalektive Records release. The release chronologically coincided with Crystl signing a massive deal with London Records. Revisiting his hip-hop roots, Crystl’s first EP on London Records’ sub-label Payday marked a clear musical direction shift, which partly explains the following:
Contrary to popular belief, me included, expecting some epiphany or divine inspiration, Crystl has little recollection of writing the tracks. In fact, he considered them so trivial compared to his previous work that the label actually titled the tracks, hence the cryptic one-off artist alias MI5. In his own words:
“However, may I say that the MI5 tracks were actually very insignificant to me. Think I did them very quickly and let the label name the tracks, so unfortunately I don’t have too much to say about anything to do with those . It’s funny, because until about a year ago, when people were asking about that 12”, I didn’t even know it was mine; lol not joking.”
I have to admit that the above statement debunked an all-time favourite; nonetheless it doesn’t change my ardent outlook on the track. “Experience” featured on a mix-tape I had always with me, rewound and replayed countless times on a cheap ‘Walkman’. Every time I listen to it, images of a sunrise over a ship deck across the Aegean Sea during a school trip keep coming back; memories echoing carefree and simpler times. “Experience” encompasses every Crystl signature: the relentless amen break, the mesmerizing vocal snippets, the eerily melancholic strings, the big emotionally-charged breakdowns and drops that would take you on a spell-binding journey.
Fast forward to the present
In the last 20 years Dan Chapman has become a successful fitness trainer. So, if you are looking for a healthier way of life, to drop that stubborn extra weight, or just want a better relationship with your mirror, make sure to check his special plans. Also, he recently started a new business venture. Drawing from hip-hop and graffiti culture instilling his personal experience, Dan Chapman is customizing trainers. For more details, visit the links to his social media pages below. Music-wise, there is something on the cards to be announced soon, but for the time-being is a well-kept secret.
Social Media and Links
Every track presented in the series has been hand-picked from my personal record collection and has had a profound impact on my musical taste. Featuring a variety of tracks across the electronic music spectrum, emphasizing mainly on drum and bass, from undisputed classics to underrated gems, all are tracks I wish I’d written, as the title of the series suggests.
Visit the blog’s archive for the previous installments of the “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series here.