We would talk for hours on the phone, him asking me questions, sharing ideas and tips. Soon we were both releasing music for Tom from Redeye’s labels ‘Deep Red’ and ‘Fresh 86’. The rest, as we say, was history … [Klute]
This month is my blog’s 9th anniversary. I never really expected that nine years and 120 features later it would be still around, but here we are. Reflecting on those years, so much has changed in my personal life and everywhere around us that it seems like worlds apart from those timid beginnings. Reconciling the arrogance, the naivety, old obsessions and spent ideals of a past life with a new reality of different priorities, the blogging experience has been frustrating and cathartic at the same time, like a confessional love letter to music; wavering between posting and shredding it to pieces.
The fundamental idea has always been to keep a personal musical diary and document those musical memories before they inevitably fade into oblivion; hidden annexes littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured, music you’ll probably never have time to listen to again, locked in its own era. Once again, a big heartfelt thank you to all readers, either regulars or those who have stumbled upon the blog by chance; the interaction with like-minded people has been the greatest reward.
The anniversary features are traditionally retrospective and usually more private. Like all birthday celebrations, there’s a self-imposed mandate to make them somewhat special. As a matter of fact, this is a long-overdue article I had promised and for one reason or another I had never started, which I deeply regret and must make amends for. Then tragedy happened and the timing never seemed quite right. Eventually, exactly six years after that promise, I decided to shake my inherent reservations aside and the 22nd edition of the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ is dedicated to a musical hero of mine, who is sadly no longer with us. I admit this might not be his magnum opus, nevertheless it’s the track I have associated with him and the day we met. Even the label artwork uncannily resembles my late grandfather after whom I’m named and the track title sounds harrowingly poignant and dramatic in hindsight. A loss is the first tragedy, but sorrow never really leaves. It changes faces and intensity and the second wave is the dissipation of memory of whom (or what) has been lost. Duncan’s musical legacy though shall live forever; an enviable back catalogue with recordings for every d&b label that matters.
Duncan Busto started his DJ career in the late 80s when he was attending college in London. A few years later he moved back to Ipswich, the town which had become a creative hub around Certificate 18 and the Redeye record shop, where Duncan started working behind the counter. Inspired by the faceless mystique of the new music and the local scene’s influential figures Klute, Photek and Digital, making his own beats seemed like a natural progression for Duncan. A nostalgic and heartwarming account of how it all started narrated by Tom Klute:
I first met Duncan (or Dusty as he was affectionately known in those days) sometime in 1985, when we both attended Northgate High School in Ipswich. I was in a hardcore skate band called “The Stupids” with two fellow Northgate students Wolfie and Marty. Being in a high school band in 1985 brought a lot of attention, so we’d often have people dropping by our rehearsal room, which was in my parents’ basement. It was one of those sessions, where I first became accustomed to that smile and laugh that always reminded me of the Penguin from Batman. In those days Duncan preferred the sounds of Psychobilly and gothy indie music and frequently slicked back his hair and wore suits. This was a year or two before hip hop and house music changed his ways. In those days Ipswich had a very inclusive music scene. Everyone knew each other and everyone hung out at the same spots. One spot in particular was a night called “Olivia’s” where everyone went, no matter if you were a punk, goth, new romantic – whatever. It was these kind of clubs in the provinces that became the melting pot for all kinds of dance and independent music and Duncan was there all the time. This is ultimately where he was first exposed to the first strands of what would go on to become house music. Around ’87-‘88 Duncan moved to London and became exposed to the heady world of acid house and techno at raves in London, often forcibly fed E and shoved into a room in Steelers Road in Camden with nothing but a strobe light for company by his fellow Ipswich chums Dave & Viv from Ubik.
Fast forward to 1992, newly returned from 4 years living in the USA I venture into Redeye Record shop in Ipswich, which even then was a major hardcore / jungle D&B hub and the first person I see is Duncan Busto sporting a pony tail and selling this exotic new sound called “hardcore”. We were both as surprised as each other. I told him I’d bought an ‘Ensoniq EPS16+’ sampler and an Atari computer and was beginning to write my own music. Dunc was intrigued, so I volunteered to bring it down to the shop after closing and give everyone a demonstration, which was great fun, until someone accidentally unplugged the Atari and all was lost. So, Duncan arranged to come around another time – armed with a bag of tunes to sample, which we did. So the very first Spirit track was a collaboration with me, which we named “Age” after the Tomas Heckmann sample we stole. Duncan caught the bug and within weeks had bought himself an ‘Ensoniq EPS16+’ sampler and an Atari and started his journey of production in his bedroom at home. We would talk for hours on the phone, him asking me questions, sharing ideas and tips. Soon we were both releasing music for Tom from Redeye’s labels ‘Deep Red’ and ‘Fresh 86’. The rest, as we say, was history.
Duncan adopted the recording alias (The) Spirit and his first major break came when LTJ Bukem started playing ‘Mendacity’ at his ‘Speed’ club nights and on his Kiss FM Radio show. ‘Mendacity’ (b/w ‘Delusions’, DJX018, 1996) was signed by Timeless Recordings followed by the impeccable ‘Solar Glide’ (b/w Synthony, DJX024, 1996). These two records have been my introduction to Duncan’s music. Working as a d&b reviewer for Echoes weekly music news and the major UK dance music publication Muzik attracted the attention of Total Science and he released ‘Open Spaces/Fusion’ on their C.I.A label that same year.
Working at Redeye gave him a real insight into the inner workings of distribution and label management. That knowledge would become imperative a couple of years later, when he decided to take the risk and quit his job at the record store to focus solely on writing music, after a well-paid remix, commissioned by Aquasky (Opaque (The Spirit-ual Mix), Passenger, 1997).
His collaborations with recording partner and friend Digital for Metalheadz (‘Special Mission’, Metalheadz Boxset) and their sister label Razor’s Edge (‘Mission Accomplished’) garnered major interest in their productions and the duo established Phantom Audio in 1998; a platform to release mainly their own material without restrictions and musical agendas. The debut release ‘Phantom Force’ has been their best-selling record and is considered a bonafide certified anthem to this day. Phantom Audio continued its success over the years with a number of key releases, both solo and joint projects, with the duo also being called in for some major remix work (like Shy FX & T.Power’s massive crossover hit ‘Shake Your Body’). After a 10-year hiatus, Digital & Spirit re-launched and re-branded Phantom Audio in 2013.
The new millennium started with a barrage of acclaimed releases for Timeless, Function, Genetic Stress and C.I.A and in 2002 Spirit opened a new chapter with the launch of his own imprint Inneractive Music, the name inspired from his 1999 eponymous track on C.I.A. Initially an avenue to release music he liked on a personal level, it soon developed into the main outlet for his solo work, as well as a platform for like-minded artists. It all started with ‘Memories’, a track he really liked but no one else showed much interest and culminated three years later in ‘Puzzle Box’, his only full-length album, the tracks ‘Siren’ and ‘Calling Card’ being the undeniable highlights.
Spirit’s production prowess, versatility and uncompromising style, effortlessly oscillating between polar opposites of the d&b spectrum, from atmospheric and emotive vistas to dark and angular corners, cemented his reputation as one of the most in-demand djs, producers and remixers. His solo and collaborative work continued with a wide array of releases on Inneractive Music and offshoots Underground Noise and 203 Music, as well as for some of the genre’s most prestigious record labels (Metalheadz, Renegade Hardware, Commercial Suicide, Shogun Audio, Marcus’ Revolve:r, Horizons, V Recordings, Warm Communications, Doc Scott’s 31 Records, Blu Mar Ten Music, Ingredients, Rupture LDN, Dispatch and more..). After a 5-year stint in the US, Spirit returned to the UK in 2013 determined to reclaim his well-deserved place in the circuit, an unpretentious ambassador of the old guard. A few years later he spearheaded the Underground Alliance initiative, a concept in artist booking where promoters would interact directly with the artists, who would manage their own bookings.
Throwback to December 2014 and the chain of events that led to the day I finally met Duncan:
On December 27th, 2014 Blu Mar Ten and Seba were both booked by Innersense Productions to dj in Athens, a much anticipated night with two of the city’s favourites. However, things in life usually don’t turn out as hoped or planned; adverse weather at Arlanda airport in Stockholm resulted in all outbound flights being suspended that day, so regrettably Seba couldn’t make it. Chris Marigold compensated the avid audience with a memorable set, including an hour with Seba’s finest musical moments and several forthcoming bits on BMTM. Enter ‘Life Goes On’:
When I was much younger I had a habit I am not too proud of. When I heard a tune I really liked I used to casually elbow my way towards the decks and nonchalantly rubberneck, trying to read the label of the record playing. Somehow I always got away with it; in fact I became quite proficient in reading scribbles on spinning white labels. One of those moments almost happened when Chris dropped for the first time ‘Life Goes On’. There’s a term in Greek slang that describes such kind of tunes, but direct translation won’t do any justice. So I emerged from the corner reserved for the beard strokers and asked the promoter, who had already read my mind and had obtained a tentative track ID. ‘New Spirit, untitled, probably on BMTM’ was the reply or something along those lines.
Spirit – Life Goes On (Blu Mar Ten Music, BMTM032, 13th April, 2015)
Causing a 12-month ruckus in the sets of Bailey, Digital and others, ‘Life Goes On’ couples a teutonic rhythm section with a hammering acid bassline. This is what Kenny Larkin would have made if he’d been born in Hackney” [BMT032 Press Release, April 2015]
Three months later, when I received the promo being excited was an understatement; one of my favourite producers on one of my favourite labels, the perfect alignment. Spirit’s long term dalliance with vintage synths and retrofitted 303-style acid effects, combined the immediacy of techno with the raw edge of drum & bass; I attach the press release below, so do yourselves a favour and scroll down to the last line of the feedback section 😉.
The remarkable artwork as usual by Scott @ ithinkitsnice. And the best part was that I’ve had the chance to hear it played by Spirit himself only a month later.
Outlook 2015 Athens edition
On May 2015, Innersense Productions hosted the Athens edition of the Outlook Festival with Duncan headlining a bill of local djs. The event organizer George Junior SP. recalls:
When I hosted Spirit for the Outlook Festival Launch Party in Athens, I felt like it was ‘mission complete’ regarding my Drum’n’Bass musical heroes. Especially regarding Metalheadz, having already hosted Goldie, Doc Scott, Photek, J-Majik, Klute, D-Bridge, to name but a few, Spirit was the missing stone to complete the wall of seriousness in Drum’n’Bass And of course he delivered a killer set, proving that quality has no bad days. He captured the very essence of the music we all fell in love. Aggressive yet beautiful, sometimes repetitive yet interesting, harsh yet full of emotions. On a personal level, Duncan was one of the kindest, most respectful artists I have ever hosted. There from day one, without claiming to be some sort of protagonist. A silent force that provided Metalheadz and Drum’n’Bass as a genre, with some of the most inspired and important pieces of music that will remain as classics through the ages. I truly miss him, both as a musician and as a human being. I am feeling grateful for having the chance to meet him and discuss with him.
I met Duncan the next day after the gig for coffee and small talk. He was disarmingly modest, eloquent, funny and approachable. I have met enough of my musical icons by now to know how to camouflage or suppress my fascination, but with Duncan there was clearly no need. We talked about a lot: from his Stüssy tee collection and Tottenham Hotspur to the early days in Ipswich and our favourite music beyond drum & bass. Just before we left, I asked him to feature on my blog, which he unreservedly accepted and then took a picture with him and George. And that’s how I’ll remember him.
In loving memory of Duncan ‘Spirit’ Busto
Find the archive with the previous installments of the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series here.