“Back then, you might hear an incredible new tune played exclusively on a plate by a DJ like Bukem or Fabio and you’d have to wait for months before you could get it on vinyl. That was part of the magic of the scene at the time. Nowadays, if you hear an amazing tune played on the radio you can typically stream it instantly online. The convenience is great, but with this ease of access, people (myself included) are more inclined to take music for granted to the extent that its impact and mystique is lost”.
When I started listening to drum & bass I was intrigued, inspired and seduced by the faceless mystique and the self-reliant attitude of so many artists and labels exploring this bold new cultural form. That experimental fearlessness, an entry point and an outlier both at the same time, captured a vital moment – one that could probably never be replicated – where no approach was off-limits. In the early 90s, the connections with my musical heroes were the odd dj gig, cassette tapes changing hands, magazines and the liner notes/credits on the record sleeves. Then the internet revolution came, which provided a portal to a (brave) new world and unprecedented access to all of us who had been on the outside looking in.
Although, this is not a bona fide old-school blog, I have a soft spot for that early period, as well as for the atmospheric/ambient pole of the electronic music spectrum, hence themes and features often revolve around those axes. Tracks with long intros, string sections, artful vocal fragments and long emotional breakdowns, which were met sometimes with cynicism and disdain, became an art form with an elevated degree of musicality. Rather than formulaic dj tools to facilitate the transition from one track to another, there is so much beautiful music from that era, inviting the listener to a long idyllic journey, beyond the walls of a mundane reality.
This platform has provided me with an opportunity to give something back by shedding light on the work of some of my favourite artists. Six years ago I published ‘Whatever happened to … Mouly & Lucida?’ for the blog’s respective series. For the latest edition of the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ I have the pleasure to host Graham ‘Lucida’ Fisken, who has taken up production again, after a long hiatus. It’s a captivating narrative of their musical past with one of my all-time favourite tracks as a centerpiece and a glimpse of a much promising future, as he has just self-released his new EP. In a sense, it’s a more accurate and detailed account of their short-lived yet distinguished recording career. And who’s better to tell the story than one of the protagonists. Enter stage right, Graham recollects:
Lucida – The beginning
“In the early 90s, I composed a number of tunes using some Tracker software on my Amiga 500 computer and put together a 4-track demo cassette. At that time, my main musical influences were ‘The Prodigy’, ‘Acen’, ‘Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era’ and I suppose what is generally considered to be novelty rave, like ‘Trip to Trumpton’ and ‘Sesame’s Treet’. My equally cheesy demo (the first time going under the name ‘Lucida’) was dispatched to Production House Records, XL Recordings, Suburban Base and I think, Moving Shadow. I only received a response from Production House, who told me that my tunes showed ‘potential’. Sometime later in 1993, my dad and I (proudly sporting my prized long-sleeved Prodigy tee) made the journey to that unassuming end-terrace in Willesden, NW London, to meet with Production House label boss, Phil Fearon. This was the first time that I’d ever set foot in a professional studio, albeit one which had been set up in a converted double bedroom. Phil gave me a nutshell lesson in the pitfalls of the music industry, shortly followed by my signing of a one single deal. That same day I was introduced to the AKAI MPC60 as a means of sequencing tracks and David Pereira (D.M.S.) showed me the basics of its operation. In order to work with Production House it was necessary to get my own MPC60 and my tirelessly supportive father invested in a second-hand one that we found in a small London music equipment store. With the guiding hand of D.M.S., my single ‘Tunnel Vision’ was released in 1994. If I’m honest, the resulting sound was very much molded by the label and I was never 100% happy with it. I don’t think it was particularly successful for the label either, as they never approached me for a follow-up. Having said all that, I’ll always be proud that my name will forever be associated with Production House and without that step on the ladder I may never have met Alex Moul…”
The Oxford scene
“Between 1992 and 1995 for me it was all about (the rather euphemistically named) ‘Raging Rabbit’ on Friday nights at Minchery Tavern. I started going there with my old school mate, Pete Bywater. It was a bit of a sweaty dive really, but the system was fat and the bass would go right through you. It was so exciting, because there were dozens of tunes that people couldn’t really hear anywhere else in town and many had their debut public spins in that venue on dubplate. Essentially, this regular event was a ‘Legendary/Legend Records’ promotion and resident DJs there included Gwange, Spinback, Lee and Mouly. Through this scene I was later introduced to Jason Greenhalgh (Q Project), Graham Mew (The Invisible Man) and Jason Hardy (Wots My Code). There were also regular jungle/drum & bass events that took place in the Coven Nightclub in central Oxford that would draw big names including Hype, Randall and Kenny Ken”.
Mouly & Lucida
Alex Moul (Mouly) and Graham Fisken (Lucida) had already crossed paths around town and various free parties Alex used to dj at, but it was not until 1994 that they properly started to chat about making music together, while Alex was working at ‘Massive Records’ in Oxford. A casual meeting at the record store and a discussion over Graham’s debut record would initiate a friendship and a great musical partnership.
“Alex was working at the ‘Massive Records’ shop in Oxford when ‘Tunnel Vision’ came out. One Saturday, I remember cheekily asking him if they had it in stock (they had), before revealing that I was responsible for it. He seemed impressed and was keen to get involved with production, so we discussed the possibility of collaborating. From there, we became friends and that was the beginning of Mouly & Lucida. I already had my MPC60 and by then my modest home setup had also been joined by a Yamaha SY85 synth. This all ran through a budget 12-channel mixing desk, with an Alesis Midiverb 4 hooked up in between. Alex had some great musical ideas and I had a few of my own, with some notion of how to make them come to life”.
The first Mouly & Lucida production was released in 1995 by the Oxford-based Legend Records’ subsidiary Code-001. The interest grew rapidly and they were readily signed by Timeless Recordings, a label set up by Graham Mew (aka The Invisible Man) in 1993 which played a pivotal role to the progression and evolution of the new drum and bass sound. Mew decided to take a break from the scene in late 1994. The control of the label was passed over to friend Jeremy Winters (aka Brillo), who was aided by the well-established local dj and artist DJ Lee.
“Our debut release as Mouly & Lucida (Aquarium/City in the Clouds) came out on the Legend Records’ spin-off, Code-001. Jason Hardy and Tony Nanton (XLR8 Records) helped us out with the mix-down on that one. These two tracks, along with Alex’s vital connections led us in the direction of Timeless Recordings. Alex was good mates with DJ Lee [Ching], who I guess acted as A&R for Timeless. Alex would often borrow Lee’s portable DAT recorder, so that we could use it to export our tunes, then we’d take our latest creation around to his flat in Headington for his critique. We’d played a couple of things to him that he quite liked, but when we let him hear ‘Chilled’ that distinctive DJ Lee butt wiggle spoke volumes. He loved it. I don’t actually recall us physically signing anything with Jeremy Winter (aka Brillo) from Timeless Recordings, so the speech Phil Fearon had given me about ‘dos and don’ts’ of the music business had obviously gone in one ear and out the other!”
“… I was sitting with my girlfriend on a Wednesday night with a bag of fish and chips, listening to Fabio playing on Radio 1, when “Spirits” kicked in. …Hang on, I recognize this tune and I remember calling up Graham” – Alex
In the course of 2 years, Mouly & Lucida produced a magnificent trilogy of 12”s for Timeless as well as a stunning remix of Shogun’s impeccable classic ‘Nautilus’, garnering momentum and support from many prestigious djs including Fabio, LTJ Bukem, Kemistry & Storm, Total Science and Dj Lee. Regrettably, life circumstances changed with Alex’s relocation to the US and the duo had to call it a day in 1997.
- Mouly & Lucida – Chilled b/w Spirits, Timeless, DJ015, 1995
- Mouly & Lucida – Inertia b/w Prophecy, Timeless, DJ017, 1996
- Mouly & Lucida – MJ12 b/w The Abyss, Timeless, DJ020, 1996
- Shogun – Ulysees b/w Nautilus (Mouly & Lucida Mix), Renegade, RR013, 1996
- Mouly & Lucida – Inertia (Shogun Remix) b/w Prophecy (KMC Remix), Timeless, DJRX003, 1997
“To date, the version of ‘Nautilus’ for Shogun is the only remix we’ve had released. We didn’t want to mess about with it too much, because the original is such a classic, so we kept a lot of the melodic themes in there. My idea was to make it quite cinematic and in some ways I think we achieved that brief.
The KMC remix of ‘Prophecy’ is excellent and production-wise I think it streaks ahead of anything we were doing at that time. In many ways it improves on the original and I’m very grateful to Keith for laying down his own spin the track.
Shogun also did a remix of ‘Inertia’ for us. Technically it’s superior to the original, because he had better equipment and a greater knowledge of how to use it than I did, and I think it’s a fantastic reinterpretation, but I know a lot of people still prefer the original. Oliver Lomax produced some incredible tunes back then and it’s high time he made a comeback!”
‘Inertia’ is the closing track on the 2nd volume of the ‘Promised Land’ series (compiled and mixed by Fabio with Cleveland Watkiss on vocals) released by Higher Limits; a compilation-oriented Dee Jay/Lucky Spin affiliated label.
“I don’t really remember how this came about – I assume Brillo organized it – but Fabio was always one of our most avid supporters outside of the Oxford circles. The trouble is he seemed to think that I was a lady called “Lucinda” and that’s what was written on the CD’s sleeve notes. Even so, Alex and I were hugely proud that we had been featured on such a compilation and it felt like a significant milestone to be recognized in this way”.
On the ‘Promised Land 2’ CD sleeve notes ‘Inertia’ is erroneously attributed to A. Fenton (Adam F). The flipside to the ‘Inertia’ single on Timeless is also misprinted as ‘Profhecy’ on the info side of the label.
Mouly & Lucida – Inertia (Timeless Recordings, DJX017, 1996)
“… You said I’m not the one …”
‘Inertia’ is my personal highlight not only from Mouly & Lucida but also from the Timeless’ back catalogue. The title metaphorically encapsulates a fundamental physics principle (‘inertia’ is the resistance of physical objects to any change in their velocity vector, the natural tendency to resist changes in their motion state; a concept quantified in Newton’s First Law of Motion). Body, mind and soul are still travelling well after the last bass note. Sampling R&B luminary Mary J Blige, the mesmerizing vocal snippets are taken from her 1992 debut album ‘What’s The 411?’ and the songs ‘You Remind Me’ and ‘Real Love’ in particular. The familiarity and intimacy of the guitar (riff sampled from ‘Earth Wind & Fire – Take It To The Sky’) at the 6-minute mark highlights one of the genre’s most beautiful and melancholic breakdowns; an impression of all those words deliberately left unsaid …
“As well as jungle and hardcore, I was also listening to a lot of predominantly U.S. imported hip-hop and R&B/New Jack in the early to mid-nineties. Massive Records used to get a lot of these 12” maxi singles and I was a bit of a sucker for them. I snapped up pretty much everything Mary J Blige released at that time and that’s who I sampled for the vocals on ‘Inertia’. My influences also came from more classic soul, so the guitar in the breakdown was taken from ‘Take it to the Sky’ by Earth, Wind and Fire. To the best of my recollection, I guess we probably laid down the chords first with a gradual, progressive build and slow filter modulation and I think it was Alex’s vision to use the tried and tested ‘Think (About It)’ break. We kept it rolling pretty straight with a few subtle edits to keep it interesting. I can’t remember if I worked the musical arrangement around the vocals or if it was just a happy accident that they fitted with a small amount of tuning. We didn’t have the ability to time stretch or pitch-correct samples with my equipment, so if they didn’t work outside of adjusting them by a few semitones, they weren’t going to work. I’m not a fan of vocal samples that have been tuned to sound like Pinky & Perky (Yes, I know I did that on Tunnel Vision!). To keep the atmospheric mood we wanted to keep the bass line spread out and sparse with the standard Roland TR-808 kick drum sample and that was that. A bit of arrangement, some finer technical details that I worked on solo into the wee small hours and we had a finished track. I know Alex had the tune on dubplate and I guess DJ Lee and Fabio had it too, but I can’t really remember. It’s quite feasible that it had its first play at Speed though.”
‘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 a focal point for the mellower side of the spectrum, showcasing new music that was not essentially aimed for the dancefloor, in a ‘safe’ and more intimate space away from the Jungle arenas. The tagline on the flyers enveloped the ethos: ‘deep, beautiful, rollin’ drum and bass’.
“ … To have people interested in some little tunes we hacked out of my old bedroom is pretty amazing. I certainly hadn’t imagined that our influence was so far-reaching. I suppose we probably expected to become rich and famous, because we were young and naïve, but it obviously didn’t happen. The biggest thing Alex and I probably got out of it was the buzz of hearing our tunes played out to an audience and watching people freak out to them, or hearing them played on the radio. At times, it really did feel like we were superstars in our own little way, when we got to rub shoulders with the likes of Goldie, Bjork, Tricky and Lady Miss Kier of Deee-Lite at Speed.”
The day after and fast forward to the present
“My musical partnership with Alex as Mouly & Lucida ended in 1997. Things might have been different, if we’d had decent internet back then (and the likes of Facetime or Zoom), but his relocation to California made it impossible for us to carry on. Without Alex’s network of contacts, confidence and understanding of how the tunes should be structured to cater to DJs, I didn’t feel as though I was up to carrying on my own. The fact that I pretty much went on an extended hiatus from that point is something that I deeply regret. We’d really made a name for ourselves and if I’d put in a bit more effort I could have made a lot more of Lucida as a solo artist with the momentum we’d generated. I got back into production using Propellerhead’s Reason DAW running on my old iMac in around 2011, but this was mainly for my own amusement and had no intention of ever releasing anything commercially. I started to revisit the world of drum & bass in 2014, but those tunes weren’t strong enough to be aired outside of my soundcloud page.
For about 7 years from 2004 (I think), I was one of the resident DJs at Raoul’s Bar in Oxford, playing jazz, funk, soul, house and occasionally a smattering of D&B. Essentially, I was providing background music to cocktail-swilling students, who didn’t really care what I played. Prior to that, I used to take some of my vinyl to Oxford nightclub ‘Po Na Na’, where my mate Dave Thompson was resident and he’d let me spin a few to give him a break every now and then. Dave was someone else Alex had introduced me to, so I owe him a great deal for that too!
I’ve long since hung up my sticks, but I used to play the drums to a competent level and have been involved in a number of amateur rock, folk and alternative bands over the years. Incidentally, a couple of those bands also featured Graham Mew’s ex-girlfriend, Fleur on vocals”.
Alex, a renowned veteran skateboarder lives now in Huntington Beach, California, where he still exhibits his expertise, representing the ‘Santa Cruz’ brand. In 2002, he made a short discography re-appearance with 4 solo tracks. The first two (Electric Snakes/We Will Control, SAPPHIRE001) from the original DAT tape were released by Sapphire Recordings – a one-off label funded and supported by Basement Records – and the other two (Fall Into You/Hangin’ Out The Back, RR44) were released a year later by Renegade Recordings. He is still working on various projects and has occasionally put his dj hat collaborating with a crew called ‘Adrenalin’, who organized and promoted club nights in Los Angeles and San Diego.
The ‘Ordinary Life EP’ and future plans
“In February 2019, I underwent my second major surgical procedure in 5 years. I’m absolutely fine now, but it’s at times like these when you appreciate how short life can be and since then I’ve become determined to make more of a significant mark on the world. Even though I don’t consider myself to be naturally musically gifted, creating my own sounds has always been something that I’ve been passionate about and making the kind of music that I want to hear and some other people also seem to appreciate is something that gives me enormous satisfaction. I have very recently replaced my aging Mac with the latest model and now produce using Reason Suite 11. Even though I’ve been around for a while, I still learn new production techniques and tricks all the time.
I am self-releasing my three-track ‘Ordinary Life’ EP digitally on May the 29th. This is my own spin on drum & bass, which is influenced by numerous artists and genres from across the last 25 years. All of these tunes were produced during COVID-19 lockdown and I’m really proud of them. I’ve also recently produced a remix of a tune called ‘Holan’ by Czech duo Dleeb & ahZ. I’m not entirely sure what the plan is for that, but I suspect that it will surface on vinyl at some point in the near future. I have a few more D&B tunes currently in progress that are shaping up nicely and maybe I’ll put out an album at some point if there’s demand for it. Either way, I’m intending to carry on producing for as long as I can, although it may not always be drum & bass.
Emulating the atmosphere of a certain time and place is a tricky affair, but Lucida has achieved more than a modern take on that venerated d&b template. Contemplative, delicate and emotional the EP pays homage to the genre’s foundations: from the jazzy flair of ‘On The Corner’ to the foggy alleys, and dark corners of ‘Real Life’, it’s the lead track ‘Breathe’ and the accompanying official video that carry the weight of a musical legacy that echoes the endless possibilities of carefree and simpler times.
“Back then, you might hear an incredible new tune played exclusively on a plate by a DJ like Bukem or Fabio and you’d have to wait for months before you could get it on vinyl. That was part of the magic of the scene at the time. Nowadays if you hear an amazing tune played on the radio you can typically stream it instantly online. The convenience is great but with this ease of access, people (myself included) are more inclined to take music for granted to the extent that its impact and mystique is lost.
I can’t really comment on the so-called jungle revival. Has it ever really gone away?! I just see that it has splintered off into lots of evolving styles. 2-step drum & bass has its place if the musical elements are strong, but for me it can be very formulaic at times and my taste always leans more towards chopped breakbeats with atmospheric, mellow and soulful melodies. I’ve also never been a huge fan of anything overly dark or fast (178+ BPM). I’m sure there’s a huge chunk of incredible tunes that I’ve missed out on, because I took a big step back from the scene for many years. Maybe I’m just getting too old or perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but I was listening to some relatively recent tunes from a past-master last week (without naming names) and the bass made me feel physically nauseous :P”.
Further reading from the archive