A few weeks ago I had a sudden urge to go through my RAM Records collection and mash a bunch of tunes together. It turned into “The Alternative History Of Ram Records” and I played a selection some of my favourite (ever so slightly) lesser celebrated releases. Looking down the track listing, DJ Flatliner featured three times. The Big Bang has always been one of my personal favourites on the label and I wondered whatever happened to the man behind it.
After a bit of digging I found him on Twitter so I chanced my arm asked him for a little interview, and Michael obliged.
So, an interview with DJ Flatliner
RAM Records crew – Left to right, DJ Freedom, Flatliner, Ant Miles, Andy C, Shimon, K-Tee and Stakka
How did you first get involved in the hardcore / Jungle scene? I first got involved in the hard-core dance scene when I was about 15, a school friend of mine had an older brother who was already into the growing scene. My friend and I would sometimes go round to his brothers flat and listen to his newly purchased tunes. The music was like nothing I had ever heard before and I was instantly hooked from there. I recall hearing Nebula 2 “Anthema” for the first time there and my jaw just hit the floor.
You currently reside in Essex, is that where you’re from originally? I have lived in various parts of Essex my whole life, spending my early childhood growing up in Dagenham but at the age of 10, my mum & dad decided to move to Romford. Our house in Romford was literally a stones throw away from the famous and now sadly gone, Boogie Times record shop. Incidentally, the very first person I made friends with at junior school in Romford aged 10 was a guy called Jeff (not Gerald) and he would later become a future collaborator of mine and a recording artist in his own right. He went under the name of DJ Freedom, he also carved out a successful DJ career too, we remain best mates even now, a whole 25 years later!
When / how did you first get into music production? Boogie Times was at the centre of a lot of what I did at that time and after a while I kinda got to know some of the people that worked in there especially Danny Breaks of Son’z of a Loop da Loop Era & Droppin’ Science fame but I also got to know many of the local producers & DJs from that neck of the woods also. I built up a friendship with Paul Smailes ( New Decade, Out of Romford Records label boss ) and later with Ant Miles who I got to know through Paul.
DJing and producing is pretty much go hand in hand these days, did you DJ? I did a spot of DJing locally, mainly just small venues and weekly stints on Essex based pirates but I soon realised, my goal was actually music production. I have always been a creative person, I studied art at school and I guess the desire to create something from my imagination like in my art lessons was still there when it came to writing music so I thought I’d try my hand.
Would I be right to say your first releases were a couple of tracks on the label Bionic Sound? No, the Bionic Sound stuff is nothing to do with me. I’ve only ever released tracks on Ram or on Red Ones, Inverse Records label. (cheers Discogs – Law)
How did you first hook up with the RAM records crew? It was around the time that Ant & Andy were releasing tracks under the name Desired State on Out of Romford Records. The label boss there, Paul Smailes, was a friend of mine and my path would often cross with Ant in Boogie Times. We would chat a lot about tunes, stuff we liked, stuff we was feeling and it was clear we shared the same futuristic taste in jungle D&B.
Tell us a bit about The Big Bang / No Boundaries. Samples used, inspiration etc The Big Bang was like my nod to what people like DJ Crystl were doing at the time, especially his track Meditation. I loved the whole long intro, the fact it would hold a crowds attention, take them somewhere in their minds and then totally smash it with a huge drop. I wanted to make something similar in that vein. I believe the original data disks for Big Bang / No Boundaries were lost, hence why there has never been a remake. However, I know where each sample came from but I’ll keep that info close to my chest for now just in case I ever decide to resurrect it and send it to Andy 😉
What input did Ant Miles have on the tracks? What was it like to work with Ant? First let me say, Ant Miles is an incredible musician, both inside and outside of D&B, he is adept with all kinds of instruments including everything from bass guitars to drums to keyboards. He was inspirational to work with and a great mentor. The Big Bang started life with me taking a whole bunch of sounds, samples and rough recordings round to his studio. Ant spotted the potential in what he heard and shared the same vision I had, from there we carved out the final product over the space of a few afternoons.
What kind of production setup / gear were the tunes produced with? I had a fairly humble set up which I cobbled together over 6 months consisting of an low end Akai sampler, an Atari STFM computer, a moody copy of Cubase 3.0, a Yamaha DX7 keyboard and pair of Yamaha NS10 near field monitors. Everything was second hand, one of my speakers had a huge tear in the woofer, the Atari STFM was bought at a boot sale and the sampler was purchased from a Cash Converters type store but they did the job. I was 17 years old, I had no money but the drive to obtain the kit I needed to get me where I wanted to be kept me going.
You also hooked up with DJ Freedom for ‘Deeper Levels’ and the Liftin’ Spirit remix appeared on the Speed Of Sound LP, what happened to the original mix? Deeper Levels was something I wrote with the help of my old school mate Jeff ( DJ Freedom ), everything just seemed to sit right, the sounds worked well together and once I had a decent version down on tape, I took it straight round to Ants. Again, like Big Bang, he saw the potential and wanted it for Liftin Spirit but it was also at the same time that Scott ( Red One ) had just got his own label off the ground, namely Inverse Records so we decided to switch it over to Inverse instead in a bid to help bolster the roster. It sold well considering the infancy of the label but it was Andy C who later approached myself and suggested I had it spruced up a little in order to be featured on the first ever Ram album, the Speed of Sound, which it did.
What happened to Flatliner? Especially after a few really good tracks on popular label like RAM? Good question! I simply no longer had the time or desire to sit down and write tunes anymore and by the early 00’s I had kinda fallen out of love with the music. That’s not to say the music wasn’t good but my tastes had changed dramatically and what I craved musically I found less in D&B and more in the realms of techno and darker leftfield stuff such as Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher & Drexciya, Other factors were that I moved around a lot, doing different roles within my career, my job began to demand more and more of my time. More positively though, I became a father, and as anyone out there with kids can testify, being a parent understandably takes up a lot, if not all of your spare time.
What hardcore, jungle tracks did you personally rate back in the day (excluding RAM releases)? Here are some of my all time favourite tracks ( excluding RAM releases ) that have either inspired me directly or purely just sign post in my mind, certain times in my life and the people I met along the way:
Future Sound of London “Papua New Guinea”
808 State “Pacific State”
Nebula 2 “Anthema”
The Ragga Twins “Hooligan 69”
Nasty Habits “Here Comes the Drumz”
JMJ & Richie “Case Closed”
DJ Crystl “Meditation”
DJ Rap “Spiritual Aura”
Deep Blue “Helicopter Tune”
LTJ Bukem “Music”
Dillinja “Deadly Deep Subs”
Ed Rush “Check Me Out”
Alex Reece “Basic Principles”
Bill Riley “In at the Deep End”
Optical “To Shape the Future” original
Did you follow drum and bass post-Flatliner? What do you think of drum and bass in 2013? I still follow D&B with a passion, and I believe now is a really strong time for the scene. So many great young artists and old stalwarts alike all producing side by side and coming up with some really interesting results. I love the stuff Ram is putting out these days. People like Culture Shock, Hamilton, Calyx & TeeBee to name but a few are all delivering some serious tunes. I’m also a big fan of the sister project, progRam and for me, the stuff coming out on that particular label is even more in keeping with what I’ve always been into, the more experimental, darker jungle vibes. I absolutely loved Frankee’s Turning Point EP for example, long may all that continue.
What are you up to now days? Do you ever think Flatliner will return to drum and bass? I’m 37 now, a full time parent, slave to my job and stuck paying a mortgage for what seems like an eternity. I’d love to get back into making tunes again, maybe I will one day, I always keep an eye on the scene so never say never right?
Any big ups / thanks? Well it’s certainly been an interesting 20 or so years growing up within the hardcore, jungle D&B scene. I’d like to shout out first and foremost Andy & Ant for giving me the opportunity in the first place, to be part of the scene, to pull back the curtain and see the magic happen, I am forever grateful guys. Shouts to Shimon, Red One & Danny Breaks also. Much love and respect to my close friends, namely Bill ( aka DJ Infinity / Bill Vega ) Paul ( New Decade ) and to my oldest mate Jeff (DJ Freedom) who without him, I might never gone down this particular path. Thank you too Rick ( Drumtrip ) for giving me the chance to do this Q&A and relive some warm memories.
Huge thanks to Michael AKA Flatliner for finding the time to talk to Drumtrip.