Mr Fantastic Interview

Thank you for your guest mix for the show. Can you tell us about some of the 45s you included in the mix and why you selected them? 

The theme for the mix was just to be not Hip Hop 45’s as I recently did a Hip Hop mix for the Live From the Grove guys so wanted variety for anyone listening to both shows. My 45 boxes are all in the stackable Really Useful Boxes and although not really in any order they are in themes so I have Hip Hop boxes by age, James Brown and related box, multiple 60’s & 70’s Soul Funk Jazz boxes and modern Soul Funk Jazz so I picked one of the 60’s & 70’s Soul Funk Jazz boxes at random and stuck to records from that one only. It’s about 50/50 of stone cold classics such as Rusty Bryant, Manzel and Wilbur Bascombe and some deeper gems like Berry Street Station, Melvin Jackson and the raw funky Blues joint by Mr Bo and a mix of vocal and instrumental songs with a few famously sampled for the geeks – all original pressings for the cork sniffers out there.

You run the superb AE Productions label which includes releases from two of my favourite artists Jorun Bombay and Phil Most Chill. When did you first set up the label, what does it promote and what releases do you have in the works?

AE Productions was established back in 1999 between 6 of us. Myself, Truck and Gee Swift were Beat Route 38 and with Gee’s cousin Supreme Shar (of Def Defiance) along with DJ Krome and IDS who at the time were a duo called Twin Physics, got together as Alien Earth to record an EP to learn the process of manufacturing and distributing a vinyl release with only plans to release our own music. After the EP Shar and IDS didn’t really continue with music at the same level although Shar did record a guest verse on the 2nd BR38 12″. DJ Krome moved to Bristol from Devon a while later and joined BR38 and due to a typo in a magazine review changed his name to ‘Dr Krome’ as we thought it fitted as a kind of sparing partner for Mr Fantastic and also then none of us in BR38 had an ‘MC’ or ‘DJ’ in our names. After the 2nd BR38 12″ – our 3rd release we all got busy with other projects and disbanded as BR38 as far as recording but kept working together. Truck worked on Folk Hip Hop project Race The Bus with a guitarist and also produced the soundtrack for a Snowboarding DVD. Gee Swift worked with our good friend Rola (of the Numskullz and Def Defiance) and formed The Konfectionists with Project Cee (of Def Defiance/B-Line Recordings) and later The Journeymen alongside Coherent (later in S.O.E with myself) releasing albums on Ruztik records and with Dr Krome handling turntable duties for a ton of Ruztik releases. I joined Hundred Strong as DJ and got busy with recording and a couple UK tours but also started working on producing my ‘Harvey’s Bristol Cream’ album that was later released on Ruztik but manufactured by AE. At this point it seemed that hardly any independent Hip Hop albums were released on vinyl but a few labels such as DWG were doing limited releases so after a break of a several years I restarted AE myself. Truck has continued to help out in the background with manufacturing but Dr Krome retired from DJing focusing more on collecting rare vinyl and Gee Swift continued working with Ruztik and solo projects. One thing led to another and AE ended up releasing other artists such as the Fabreeze Brothers, Jorun PMC, Aroma, Oxygen, NiLLa and Cut Beetlez releases. I like to release projects that I think are a little different to what other labels are releasing so that at least we’re not all just doing the same thing. There’s an ever growing list of projects to release which has caused me to have to reject a few good projects purely as it would take me years to get around to them which wouldn’t be fair on the artists who want the projects out asap. One project that I’m working on is a compilation EP of exclusive tracks by artists that have releases on AE plus more of my own projects along with a couple new signings such as the next drop – a 12″ by New York underground legend Emskee.

In addition to being a label owner and DJ you are also a producer. Can you tell us about your studio setup in terms of hardware and software and any specific tips you have for sampling? 
My studio is purely hardware. I use a DAW only to bounce my stereo masters into Wav format so that it can be sent to the MC’s and into the format the rest of the world needs. I still use my original MPC 2000XL that I bought in 1999, still running operating system 1.0 and with the 8 output expansion allows me to send each sound to different outputs and into effects or dynamic processors. I have the best mixing desk that I have found and could afford for my needs which is a Soundcraft 328XD which is a hybrid console which has analogue inputs plus digital input and outputs but also it has full recall of faders, effects settings, routing, etc… which is luxury when working a multiple songs at once which I do fairly often. From day one I decided to stay out of the box as I work on a computer a lot for my day job and didn’t want to end up staring at a screen when getting home to work on music. I also prefer real knobs and buttons for effects and dynamics and like that I don’t need to get involved in software updates. Over the years i’ve built up a decent amount of outboard gear so I have choice of types of effects and dynamics which while they might be more expensive than plug-ins they last forever, particularly as an electronic engineer for my 9-5 I have the skills to keep them working when necessary, so in the long run it probably balances out. Last year I invested in the 500 Series hardware format originally used by API for their large consoles, which makes outboard gear a little cheaper per item in the long run and has some great modules that are not available as 19″ racks or are mono variants of stereo 19″ racks. I don’t have any preference in sound quality with the digital vs. analogue argument as both get good results – it’s purely an enjoyment thing for me to use hardware. I’m a bit of a compressor geek and over the years have honed my selection to include valve/tube type, 1176 clone FET (Field Effect Transistor), the more modern VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) – the most common type, digitally controlled multiband and a stereo master bus compressor. There’s no real need as my desk has a compressor and gate on each channel but that doesn’t really have any character so I mainly use the others via the desk inserts where character is required. I’m still lacking Opto (controlled by a photocell) and Vari-mu (variable gain or program dependent) compressors from my arsenal but I’ll get those at some point for that lovely soft knee 60’s style compression but those are a little more expensive so those are long term wants – you’re talking up around a grand for the cheapest mono Vari-Mu as they’re filled with expensive valves and transformers.
With regards to sampling I tend to ignore what has been used before and look for something new or at least has been used in a different way. I never buy records to sample based on it being an already famous sample. I find that supplementing drum samples with drum machine sounds is very useful – particularly for cymbals and other percussion sounds that are difficult to get clean from vinyl without capturing a lot of background noise from the record. I have a huge disk collection of classic drum machines – some found through online sharing but many sampled direct from the actual machine myself thanks to my good friend DJ Rumage (of the Numskullz/Ruztik records) who used to collect drum machines and had an amazing collection including original Roland 808, DMX, etc… before reducing it down to just a few real beauties. I also have an Alesis D5 drum module – actually the brain for an electronic drum kit but as it’s in 19″ rack form it perfectly fits a studio set up and triggered via midi from my MPC it works a treat. It also has it’s own 4 outputs to the desk so gives extra available channels of the 8 MPC outputs for processing sounds individually if I have a hi-hat or shaker running from the D5 for example. Another trick is that you can use the stereo output of the MPC at the same time as the 8 individual outs with some volume trickery not found in the manual to give 10 outputs from the MPC.
Your artist name comes from the same Comic series as MF Doom (RIP). How did you come to acquire the name and why do you think Doom had such an impact on the hip hop scene?

My Mr Fantastic moniker came from a mildly rare skin condition that I have where it has more elasticity than normal which affects about 1 in half a million people, so I’ve read. While out at a pub many years ago someone asked me to show everyone else my rubber skin stretching thing where I stretch my face – so I obliged and someone immediately pointed out that I was ‘like the guy from the Fantastic Four’. Being a Marvel comic and specifically a Fantastic Four fan I replied with ‘you mean Mr Fantastic‘ and it stuck as these things do. People recommended that I use it as my DJ name but I didn’t really like the idea at first as I thought it sounded a bit braggadocios but as I earned the name and didn’t chose it and kind of suits me I went with it and grew to like it as I didn’t have ‘DJ’ in my name as most other DJ’s had so was a little different. I’m glad I kept it now as I think ‘Mr‘ sounds more relevant as a producer.

What would you say were the top 5 45s releases in 2020 that we should pick up and why?

1. Jorun Bombay – Comin’ Like A Rhino. Jorun is the king of the 45 edits game for me as he always does more than just a straight up edit. This one is a particularly good example and a nice choice as most edit releases seem to be fairly obvious Funk or Soul songs aimed at DJ’s. Edits have their place of course but this one works for listening at home as much as any other PE record.
2. Mr Bongo – Brazil 45 Boxset – curated by DJ Format. As with many of us my Brazilian music collection is fairly limited and this boxset introduced me to a lot of new artists – I owned none of the songs included prior to purchasing. Essential if you want to learn more about Brazilian music. I would trust nobody more so than DJ Format when it comes to coordinating a release such as this – we’re good friends and we have a very similar taste in music, to the point that when DJing on the same gig we’ll check with each other to make sure we don’t take the same records. Purchase on sight, no need to listen first for any DJ Format release for me and I’m always rewarded.
3. Dragon Fli Empire – Record Store/Fli Beat Patrol. Superb funky Hip Hop hailing from Calgary, Canada and featuring J-Live so you know it’s going to be good. This is my bag right here. I was so impressed with this record that I reached out to DFE and have recorded a 45 featuring Teekay – coming soon on AE. Excuse the cheeky plug! Produced by Cosm but the flip side is produced by Djar One who has produced a lot of great stuff including tracks for Whirlwind D who I’ve also worked with, so the Hip Hop Venn diagram has been working overtime with AE of late which also leads neatly onto my next choice…
4. Phill Most Chill & Djar One – Another Level. Another overlapping artists release for me having worked with Phill Most Chill and released the Fabreeze Brothers and Jorun PMC projects on AE, plus DJar One as he produced Whirlwind D’s M.D.M 7″ that was released on AE in 2020. Nice funk fueled Hip Hop as always from  Djar One that is not only musically my bag but one of my favorite MC’s rhyming on it also is the icing on the cake.
5. Lonnie O – Mr Dynamite. I don’t go in for many reissued 45’s but this one is more than just a 45 of an everyday record that everyone already has on 12″ such as ATCQ. The original 12″ is not only extremely rare but are also very expensive and waaaaaay out of my record budget. This is where the guys at DWG have done an immense service for Hip Hop nerds by issuing only insanely rare records or previously unissued material. Not only is it rare and expensive but it absolute fire to boot. DWG also released Lonnie O – Dream On on 7″ at the same time but Mr Dynamite is my fav of the 2.