This article is about Tuff Jam. Its also, inevitably, about the UK Garage scene in General. But mainly its about Tuff Jam.
Its about their pivotal involvement in the development of the UK Underground Garage scene. Its about the way that they are part of a scene which has been hyped beyond all recognition in the last 12 months. Its about Matt 'Jam' Lamont's key role as a garage DJ in London and the way that he was one of several DJ's who helped push Garage to another level. Steering it from its American roots towards British Shores. Its about his involvement at scene-forming London clubs like the legendary after hours Sunday session Happy Daze, and later at the Arches and Twice as Nice. Its about Tuff Jam being 100% focused all the time, making sure that everything they say and do is for the good of the scene and the music they love. Its about the way they were one of the first production teams to commit the new garage sound to vinyl and the way that those first records sound as fresh today as they did back then. Its about the way that theyve always done their own thing, no matter what anyone else was doing. Its about the way that they have worked hard to promote both their music and that of their garage peers. Its about the way they have been rewarded for their efforts with a prime-time Saturday night show on Kiss. And the way the first volume of their Underground Frequencies compilation album recently went silver, having sold over 75000 copies. Its also about the way everyone wants a Tuff Jam remix and everyone, from the Underground clubs in London to the super clubs in the north, want the Tuff Jam name on their flyer.
Obviously, there are many other DJ's, promoters, producers and labels who have made their own, vital contributions to the development of the UK Garage sound, and achieved similar levels of success at both Underground and commercial levels, but that's another, much bigger story which requires more space than we have here. For now, were talking to Tuff Jam because they, like the Dreem Teem, are the ones truly leading the way. One things for sure, when all the hype about UK Garage dies down, and the words 'speed garage' are well and truly forgotten, Tuff Jam will still be there, doing what they do best - making good quality Garage, others will have slowed down, others will have fallen by the wayside, others will have been consumed by their own hype, but Tuff Jam will still be going strong.
On the Downside however, it needsto be said that there is a faint whiff of discontent brewing within some quarters of the scene. Although it isn't possible to go into details of name names - due to the fact that noone wants to be get publicly involved in any negativity - it seems that one of two people aren't that chuffed with Tuff Jam and the way they have been acting. Equally of course, depending on who you talk to, there are those who feel that Tuff Jam are heading down the right road.
The Problem being that the garage scene has gone from being a small underground one to a commercially successful one in a very short space of time. With such a rapid success comes competition, with competition comes problems. With Record deals, sales, money and reputations now at stake, the goal posts have been irreversibly moved. Now, where once there was total harmony within the scene, there are new agendas to consider. Fortunately, no matter who you speak to, the one saving grace is that everyone, whatever their agenda, wants the best for the scene. Its no can of worms or anything, but it would be wrong to paint a false picture of what's actually going on. Like i said though, another story, another day...
Whatever minor issues are bubbling under the surface, we have some incredible music to be proud of - from the Dreem Teem to Dem 2, From MJ Cole to Groove Chronicles, from Tuff Jam to Ramsey & Fen, from KMA to Booker T - its all garage, its all from the UK and its all truly inspirational stuff. For now though, were concentrating on Tuff Jam to find out what they've got to say. So, here we go...me and Matt (Karl's on his way apparently) in a Mexican just off the high street in Islington...
The Last time i spoke to you in 1995, i remember how down to earth you were.
Matt : "well, at the end of the day, im not one of those people who lets things go to my head, im just acting the same way ive always acted, the same as when i was in the building trade. I appreciate all good things that come to me."
Some people aren't like that...
M : "yeah well, some people believe everything that they've been told about themselves. At the end of the day, everyone's in the same field, on the same planet...that sounds a bit green-ish doesn't it? but, you know, why be something that your not? Im no different from you, you've got a job to do, you write for a magazine, ive got a job to do, im a DJ and producer, just because its a different job doesn't mean that im any better that you or anyone else."
Its good that your like that.
M: "yeah well, its the only way to be."
Some people try to bullshit you though and it feels like you never really get the real deal.
M : "why be false?, why give people false impressions about yourself? Its not worth it, you've got to give people the real you. People will judge you from that."
you seem very measured and very focused?
M : " I know what i want, i have my targets. Working in the building trade taught me that. Me and Karl though, we wont be rushed into doing things, we sit back and plan things out. We know what we want and we known when we want it, and its only a matter of time before it'll come."
Despite all the hype n the last 12 months about British garage, it seems that you're essentially doing the same thing as you've always done.
M : "we've always had a certain vision of where we want to be and we've kept out certain sound along the way. We've only changed with new samples, new effects, new studios and that stuff. You can identify a Tuff Jam Track when you hear it. Its the same with people like Booker, you can identify a Booker track. I just think that a lot of people have sold out, a lot of people have thought 'hold on a minute, im gonna copy this' , like with 2-step. At the moment, people like Dem2 and MJ Cole, there producing some wicked stuff, but certain other production teams have thought 'shit, 2-step, lets do 2-step.' its like they haven't got their own ideas of their own sound. Im not condemning 2-step, i love it, i just wish people would create their own sound. Me and Karl have never looked over our shoulders and copied anyone else, we've got blinkers, we decide where were going do if certain other people are doing certain other things and if they're doing well, congratulations to them...especially of its helping the scene to have better foundations, cos the more people who are doing better things, the better the stability of the building. If they want this music to progress like Drum & Bass has, they've got to make their own sounds like Dem2 have and MJ Cole has."
That MJ Cole's so talented isn't he?
M : "yeah totally...you know what i like about his stuff? He's got that crossover between deep house, garage and r&b, he's found that middle ground. I have to give the guy credit actually, he was doing a lot of things for other people and he wasn't getting any credit for it. He was an engineer and a keyboardist and he was doing stuff for certain people but he wasn't getting the recognition for it. I spoke to him last year and he was fed up so i said to him 'why don't you just go and do your own thing?' and look at him now, that track 'Sincere'...and then you look back at the things he was doing for other people and that was his sound. That was him on there, but respect to him. He's the next big thing, especially when it comes to 2-step, him and Dem2 are the ones to take it wherever its gonna go."
Did you ever feel above all the hype that's going on?
M : "no, we always look at what's going on. Being DJs and doing Kiss, we cant be blinkered into not seeing what's going on around us. We talk to other producers all the time and they encourage us and we encourage them. We don't copy what's going on around us, we have our own sound. We don't respect what's going on, we have to keep out closeness to the scene, its just that we DO OUR OWN THING. MJ Cole does his own thing, booker does his own thing, we do our Tuff Jam thing, but we are all close."
Is there really a sense of community in the garage scene even with the music diversifying so much?
M : "we've known Booker for years, MJ Cole, we've just got to know him, Bobbi & Steve, Banana Republic...There is a family thing, we are all close, then there's Grant Nelson and Joey Musaphia, without those two, without them, would we have a scene at all? were not in competition with each other, were all just trying to build a scene. For years and years and years, lets put our hands up, we were all on the American thing, that's where we got out influences from, but now, we've got our own UK thing and we've created our own sound."
Its funny now, because the Americans like Sanchez and Morillo are now borrowing from you.
M : "well, some of them like it, some of them don't but they are signing a lot of UK stuff, hence the remixes we've done and bookers done for the big US people like En Vogue, Usher, Jody Watley, Coolio, Boyz II Men, its good, but i hope that this gap between the UK and the US gets closed up. It shouldn't be like 'them and us', its music, why create this big problem? hold on a minute, my tired partner has just walked in..."
In comes a very tired looking Karl ' Tuff Enuff ' Brown, whose been up all night working in the studio. Matt fills him in as to what were talking about and, after a coffee, he's ready to talk.
Karl : "we have our own rule where we have our own direction...we wanna push this thing a little further, further that just making lots of money. We look at ourselves as like 'the plough', were cutting the way through so everyone else can come through with us. Its been a very long struggle, but we enjoy it, we enjoy making this music, all the stuff that comes along with it like money, that's just part of the business."
M : "We haven't rushed into things that have been thrown into our faces, the only deal we've signed so far is a publishing deal with Sony, we've had loads of offers on the table but why rush into it, why tie ourselves down? We wanna prove to people that we can do the remixes, that we can do our own projects before we sit down and start signing any deals."
K : "We could of easily of signed earlier, but it would have been a case of 'sign here, put out an album, make a quick buck' That's happened to a few people, but we wanna do our own thing and in our own time span."
Do you feel a lot of pressure on you to keep the music moving on?
K : "our angle is that you cant forget where you came from. We look at the people out there that are looking up to us and we see that we've got quite a large following, you've got to take that seriously, I wanna put help behind the kids and direct them down the right path. you've got to put something back in, you cant just me money, money, money."
Have you had a lot of offers and a lot of money chucked your way?
M : "yeah, Karl's had all the money chucked at him!"
K : "ive seen this type of thing before with Double Trouble and you've just got to be careful. you have to look in on yourselves to see what you're doing and how people perceive you, because people get the wrong idea, they think that were full of ourselves (laughs) or were not the same anymore (laughs). Or they haven't got that much to say about us at all cos we just get on with our own thing."
How do you deal with all the shit that gets thrown at you, all the criticism about you being too purist?
M : "some of it you just have to laugh at, its expected, I suppose in some ways, if someone's having a pop at us, we must be doing something right, A lot of its just jealousy though. Were just doing our job and if we end up at the top of the ladder, its only cos we've worked hard doing what we feel is right. Its like when we remix En Vogue or Boys II Men and certain people start slagging us off for it, why? of if were playing our own tracks on our Kiss show...so what? if you had your own show and you were a producer, wouldn't you promote your own music? I cant see and DJ on the radio, pirate or whatever, who wouldn't do the same."
K : "anything that we do, well play. But also anything that anyone else does, we play too. Were not biassed towards ourselves but our show is for the scene, its breaking the way into the mainstream. People forget that if there's nobody behind the plough, how are the people behind gonna get any further? How are they gonna move forward if we don't make the way? That's why, when we do remixes, we do a vocal mix and a dub, so there's one for the majors and the radio, and one that goes back to our roots. In some cases, people just haven't done that! Too many people who have gone straight for the money, We don't forget our roots though, were trying to break waves here. were thinking DJs and were thinking producers. That's how we do out business."
M : "im gonna be biased here, but apart from Bobbi & Steve, if anyone's gonna build that bridge from the US to the UK, its us. Like i said before, its a case of making the foundations stronger. So when we do Kiss on Saturdays, which is like a prime-time slot, we feel we have that responsibility to show people where the music is going."
How do you feel about the way you have been represented in the press?
K : "Im still waiting for somebody to get it totally right, some people get it 80% right but that's not good enough for us. Journalists have got a responsibility too, its not all about getting the latest scoop, its about getting it right. We want people to get the right story on us. We don't drink, we don't smoke, we don't do drugs, we don't do none of that stuff because we don't need it. Our labels called UndaVybe cos we work on a vibe. We take this thing very seriously. We've got to."
M : "its just that we've taken our time."
K : "what usually happens is that you get so big, that people want a piece of you, they wanna own you, they wanna have you, its like a piece of art. People just want to have you for the sake of having you. We just feel that we are still Djing, were making a bit more money than before, were surviving and that's cool. We don't need to sign a big deal, that's not the point, the point is to do what you do best and enjoy it."
How has the money affected your day to day lives?
M : "does he mean that plane you bought Karl?"
K : "I still live in the same place as ive always done. I was number 3 in the charts with Double Trouble and i traveled here, there and everywhere with that so ive seen it before. But, like i said, the important thing isn't making money, its making sure it lasts. That's why were being cautious."
M : "we don't go out flashing our money on brand new cars, we've got nice cars, but they're not brand new or anything. We just don't rush into things so if people want an answer from us in 10 seconds, we sit down and they might get an answer in like 10 days cos we have to think about it."
K : "we don't want people shaping us, we have our own views on what we do and what we want, everyone seems to want a piece of our action, but were not gonna sell out for anyone. Everything we do is for the good of the scene."
What pisses you off?
K : "negativity, i hate that."
M : "ill tell you what i hate, i hate when people try and name this scene and they don't know what they're talking about. That 'speed garage' tag was one of the worst things that ever happened. What was it someone wrote recently? 'the only speed garage i know is the one that fixes my car in 20 minutes'. I wish people would just get off it and stop putting names on it. Lets just get on with it and make the scene stronger."
What about what Tony Humphries said about your mix of Rosie Gaines?
K : "we have to say 'what?' WHAT? WHAT?"
M : I think that the problem was that he was listening to certain other people telling him what was good and what was bad. We had this picture of Tony Humphries being the 'Godfather of Garage', but if someone's telling him what's good or what's bad...i wont go around telling Karl what's good of bad because he's got his own judgment, the same as me. But I still respect him for who he is and what he's done. Ive just lost a little bit for what he said about not playing it cos it was a Tuff Jam record."
K : "its gonna be hard for him! HA HA!"
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