This week welcome Producer and DJ Brent Aquasky, one third of the legendary Bournemouth Jungle & Drum & Bass trio 'Aquasky'.
Three men, eight albums, five hundred tracks, four labels, numerous aliases, myriad genres: One machine.
Brent Newitt alonside, Dave Wallace and Kieron Bailey have played by their own rules and stamped with their style since day one. 20 years deep into their game and the indelible Aquasky legacy is sprayed colourfully, thoughtfully and, at points antagonistically, over all shades and styles of electronic music.
It began in the early 90s hardcore aftermath; three Bournemouth-based teenagers fresh out of school boasting a small amount of analogue kit, a whole load of influences (from hip-hop to proto techno) and even more free time. They started exploring the new wave of rave: drum & bass. Not entrenched in the London scene, their vantage point from years of raving on the south coast allowed them a refreshed approach. Deep, spacey and, dare we say it, intelligent, it instantly struck a chord with the groundbreaking, scene-shaping drum & bass imprints such as Good Looking, R&S, Reinforced and Moving Shadow, who signed them in 1995.
Emerging with a wealth of unique material that was picked up on by the likes of 4Hero, LTJ Bukem, Gilles Peterson, James Lavelle, Fabio and many more; future-fused tracks such as ‘Dezires’, ‘Cosmic Glue’ and ‘Kauna’ belied the basic equipment they had access to. Squeezing every possible gram of creativity out of their samplers, within two years they’d attracted the attention of major label Polydor in 1997, who released their debut album ‘Orange Dust’. The trio then switched back to Moving Shadow for two more albums before the turn of the century (‘Aftershock’ and ‘Bodyshock’) and their own drum & bass labels Sonix and Incident.
Constantly searching for newness and unchartered fields of fresh inspiration, Aquasky refused to sit still. The first drum & bass act to dabble off-piste, their lower tempo explorations ruffled feathers in the then-disturbingly tight and insular D&B scene. As Tenth & Parker they played with Latin and Jazz breaks on Mr Bongo off-shoot Disorient (culminating with the perennial album ‘Twenty:Twelve’), but much more influentially, they also set up Aquasky VS Masterblaster; an act that was to pioneer and develop the then-burgeoning breakbeat and bassline breaks scene emanating from the UK and soundtracking every respectable club and festival for most of the first decade of this century.
Dropping the Masterblaster suffix (which was only in place to help establish their new 138BPM sound), Aquasky found themselves on a constant world tour as breakbeat spread further and further around the globe. All the while they fuelled the breakbeat scene on seminal labels such as Botchit & Scarper and Lot49 and were often in LA working with the likes of DJ Lethal from Limp Biskit and DJ Starscream from Slipknot as electronic music enjoyed its first wave of commercial popularity in the US.
Their main output, however, was on their own imprints Passenger and 777. Just like their sound and their attitude, Passenger was an exciting creative melting pot of sounds and artists as an array of now household names in bass music got busy; Noisia, DJ Friction, Nick Thayer, Total Science, Rico Tubbs and many more artist’s discographies include Passenger in their early output.
With an open door-policy and an open-armed creative remit, Aquasky’s achievements during this era are best surmised by their ‘Teamplayers’ album that united everyone in the bass game from Pendulum’s El Hornet and Orbital’s Phil Hartnoll to techfunk king Meat Katie and the legendary Ragga Twins who have consistently called upon Aquasky’s production duties for over 15 years.
During this time their Ragga Twins-fronted stepper ‘Dem No No We’ was co-signed on ‘Ali G In The USA’ on both sides of the Atlantic and premier league DJs such as Fatboy Slim championed their breaks to crowds of hundreds of thousands around the world.
As the naughty noughties developed, so did Aquasky. Once again they sought a new sound and found it on the toxic underbelly of jackin’ house. Setting themselves up as Black Noise and grabbing a deal with Fatboy Slim’s Southern Fried label, they went to create a body of work including remixes of Diplo, Wiley, Crookers and Sidney Sampson, who they co-produced the chart-topping ‘Riverside (Let’s Go)’ hit with.
As Black Noise came to a natural pause, the Aquasky machine let-rip once more. Tearing a hole into the bleaker new decade, their 15th anniversary saw them shake hands with Satan himself on ‘Raise The Devil’. A return to their rolling, uncompromised breakbeat dynamics, it featured a series of major league collaborations with the likes of Tenor Fly, Daddy Freddy and Diane Charlemagne and scored top 10 sweetness in the Australian Aria charts.
Throughout this decade the trio have continued to work heavily behind the scenes. Proudly owning their publishing rights to almost every track they’ve ever released since day one, the trio’s business acumen is just as sharp as their studio skills. With less time spent flying from continent to continent every weekend they’ve been able to develop their publishing companies, sync’ing companies and sample pack series Monster Sounds. Run in conjunction with Loopmasters, their Ragga Twins sample pack attracted the attention of Skrillex who went on to invite the MCs to rap on his last album ‘Recess’.
From Moving Shadow to Skrillex; the Aquasky story keeps on unfolding and playing a huge influence in all shades of global bass music in front of and behind the scenes. Their latest venture is a revisitation of their Moving Shadow era D&B. A double decade document that acts as a love letter to the future; every success, achievement and groundbreaking move they’ve made takes roots in these evergreen space-aged sounds. The sound of a three man machine who have consistently played by their own rules and stamping with their own style, long may the Aquasky story continue…
You can find Brent HERE:
'A Winters Night In’
1) Tosca ‘Chocolate Elvis’
2) UNKLE ‘The Time Has Come (Portishead Mix)’
3) Rjd2 ‘Here’s Whats Left’
4) Mark Murphy ‘Red Clay’
5) Herb Geller ft. Mark Murphy ‘Space A La Mode’
6) Kay Dennis ‘Feeling Good’
7) Gentle Giant ‘Proclamation’
8) Bloodrock ‘Timepiece’
9) Peshay ‘Piano Tune’
10) Message ‘Is That The Way’
11) Hunch ‘Astrids Beat’
12) Mark Murphy ‘Stolen Moments’
13) Champions Of Nature ‘Salsa Smurf’
14) Blame ‘Music Takes You’ – Seal sample version
15) Aquasky ‘Your Love’
16) Aquasky ‘Dezires’
17) DJ Mink ‘Can You Relate’
18) MC Solaar ‘Obsolete’
19) A Tribe Called Quest ‘We Can Get Down’
20) Python Lee Jackson ‘Broken Dream’
1) Tosca ‘Chocolate Elvis’ – Kruder & Dorfmeister use to love our early work as Aquasky, and we were licensed to a few of their compilations at the time. We still get royalties from those now, over 20 years later! Anyway, Tosca was Richard Dorfmeister’s side project with Rupert Huber. It was a trip hop vibed project, which is what I use to make before Aquasky, so this is a 12” that was always in my sets long before I was playing D&B!
2) UNKLE ‘The Time Has Come (Portishead Mix)’ – This to me is the crème a la crème of trip hop. To me, there isn’t anything better out there that could showcase that early to mid 90’s slow beat vibe. This remix came out before the Portishead ‘Dummy’ album and I believe it would just have been Geoff that would have done this remix. I was once in a record shop in Bristol in 1994 with DJ Format and Sir Beans OBE when this long haired chap came in selling records. The guy behind the counter didn’t buy them, so us 3 scarpered out the shop after this guy and purchased some of the records he had with him. I bought the Mike Longo LP ‘Talking With Spirits’, the other guys buying a few of his soundtracks… I didn’t know at the time that the long haired guy was Geoff Barrow from Portishead, and how surprised we all were when ‘Dummy’ came out and we all realised we had purchased the records he had used to make it! If you know the Mike Longo beat, you will know which Portishead track it was used on! We were offered a deal with Mo-Wax on 2 occasions back in the 90’s but we turned both of them down!
3) RJD2 ‘Here’s What’s Left’ – This tune I purchased whilst touring the US, I think it was bought in Orlando when I was at the store doing an instore signing. This tune was a tune I would reflect upon listening to as I was going through some shitty times in my life not long after buying it… it didn’t make me sad, though it is a sad tune, it actually lifted me up and inspired me… I personally can’t stand love songs or anything like that (sorry Ed Shearon!) and if I need music to chill out to, I listen to some heavy D&B. Don’t ask me why, I just find I can relax to that kind of thing. When I was younger and was studying for college I would listen to gangster rap… it just clears my mind!
4) Mark Murphy ‘Red Clay’ – Mark was a dear friend. I worked with him when we did our Tenth & Parker project for Mr.Bongo in the early 2000’s. We first worked with him in 1997 when we were signed to Polydor. We had hired Sly Stones studio in Sausalito in California. Mark arrived in a AMG Pacer car (titchy little US car) wearing a pair of welly boots, a smock and he had his wig on off-centre. He came into the studio and tuned up his voice using a tuning whistle! Our manager at the time looked at us and said ‘Who the hell is this nutter?’ But for me, I was endeared by him, he was a dude… he use to kick it with Jack Kerouac, he was a true beatnik and an amazing scat artist. I first saw him at Ministry Of Sound at a Brownswood Session that Giles Peterson had put on in 1994. I was in love with his version of Red Clay (the original had recently been sampled by A Tribe Called Quest on ‘Sucka Nigga’) and he performed it at MOS (his vocalised version was later covered by Rare Silk in the 1980’s). Later, when I was working with Mark in Graz in Austria around 2001 I had managed to persuade him to put ‘Red Clay’ back into his live show… and he performed the tune and dedicated it to me. He did the same when I went to see him perform at the Jazz Café in London (again he dedicated it to me). He was a great guy…
5) Herb Geller ft. Mark Murphy ‘Space A La Mode’ – Another Mark Murphy corker of a tune. We sampled this tune on our Reinforced Records release in 1996. Taken from the Herb Geller album ‘An American In Hamburg’. Herb had left the US upon the death of his wife as he was depressed… and ended up settling in Hamburg, hence the album’s title. There is a single vinyl copy of the album but I recommended to find the double album as it comes with an instrumental version as well as the vocal version (sung by Mark). Going back to my last story of Mark when we worked with him in the 90’s, at the time, I later found out, he was on crack! He was well into his 60’s at the time… which may explain the off-centre wig! Dude lived life to the full. RIP Mark, from Brent From Kent (his nickname for me).
6) Kay Dennis ‘Feeling Good’ – I don’t know a great deal about Kay Dennis. I found her self-titled LP in a charity shop in Addlestone for 10p back in the early 90’s (along with about 200 sound libraries – De Wolf, KPM etc… all 10p each!) which this track is from. There are some other corkers on here such as ‘Light My Fire’ and ‘Walk On By’… great lounge jazz and a beautiful singer.
7) Gentle Giant ‘Proclamation’ – As sampled by Lootpack, this tune is DOPE! I already had this album before Lootpack had looped it… they beat me too it! But I did find out, whilst digging in an old secondhand record shop here in Bournemouth called ‘Volume One’ (run by Richard Cargill) that the Gentle Giant singer lived here in Dorset, not far from us. He ran an Antique business which made me laugh, as a few months earlier I saw a van driving around called Gentle Giant Antiques… if only I had known that it was him at the time as I would of got him to sign something… I just thought though how funny, its named after a prog rock group!
8) Bloodrock ‘Timepiece’ – I love the sound of a prog rock vocalist… I don’t know what draws me to this genre being that I grew up listening to hip hop and then I got into rave and jungle… must be because I liked ZZ Top as a kid perhaps!!! But this tune is just HEAVY! I bought this LP from a car boot sale in Walton On Thames around 1998 I think. I had my portable record player with me at the time and the seller was very patient with me, as I sat on the grass in the midday sun, needle-dropping till I found some heat. And heat I found in this album. Some of you who may know our backcat will recognise this sample from a tune we did with the Canadian rapper Sixtoo.
9) Peshay ‘Piano Tune’ – In 1994 I had burned myself out from the rave/jungle scene… I had been to so many raves and illegal parties since the late 80’s that I only wanted to listen to slow, downbeat music, which is why Trip Hop was a big thing to me (though I hated the name of the genre, when I started making it, the name hadn’t been invented and it was just instrumental hip hop). So around this time I was writing ‘instrumental hip hop’ with Dave from Aquasky. Keiron (from Aquasky) used to make tunes with Dave at the weekend and being that me and Dave shared a house, I got to know Keiron. He used to make mixtapes and he did a tape which had this tune on it, as well as Roni Size ‘Music Box’, Krust ‘Jazz Note’ and the Global Communication’s remix of Palm Skin Productions… I hadn’t heard music like it before… it all seemed to use really cool jazz samples and wasn’t too dark. Being that I was already caning my jazz samples from my collection to make hip hop, the obvious step was for us to all make a tune together as a trio… and Aquasky was born. This tune to me is one of the best from that era… incredible musicality and emotion.
10) Message ‘Is That The Way’ – This album was given to me by Daryl from Second To None breakdancers. Daryl is an old friend and he also appeared on the covers of our 2x ‘Raw Skillz’ 12” singles we did on Polydor in 1997. He knew my love for a folky jazz vocal and he was bang on the money with this album… its excellent and always a joy to be introduced to a group you had no prior knowledge of. Cheers mate.
11) Hunch ‘Astrids Beat’ – I got to know Kev Beadle from when he ran the Mr. Bongo shop when it was in Berwick Street in Soho. Kev used to hook me up with some great jazz LP’s when I travelled up to see him. As well as some wicked hip hop. This tune came out on his label and I thought WOW… Hunch was an incredibly talented producer (I have no idea whatever happened to him, I can only hope he carried on producing). Kev knew I loved Hunch’s work and a couple of years later, after we had started Aquasky, he asked us to remix Hunch which we did… and that remix was a staple for Bukem throughout 1995 into 1996.
12) Mark Murphy ‘Stolen Moments’ – I think I have spoken a lot about Mark already… so all I will say is that this is an incredible song and his lyrics are unbeatable. I spent many an evening many moons ago getting smoked out to this tune!
13) Champions Of Nature ‘Salsa Smurf’ – A UK super group that had Jehst and Lewis Parker in it to name a few. Such a great tune and a wicked vibe… I can’t fault this track and I think its defo an under-rated gem in the British Hip Hop arsenal. LL couldn’t live without his radio, I couldn’t live without this record being in my collection!
14) Blame ‘Music Takes You’ – Seal sample version – This is probably my favourite ever Moving Shadow tune but it has to have the Seal sample in it… I can’t have it without that sample as it conjures so many memories for me of going to London as a 17 year old in my VW Beetle with my mate JayDog and staying with my mates Jano and Pheme. We use to go painting the Halls Of Fame and other things and spend long nights getting wrecked and recording pirate radio stations which I would bring back to Bournemouth and do copies of for mates. Jano had this on white label and I was so in love with it I actually recorded over the start of one of the pirate radio cassettes so I could listen to this tune over and over again on my slow drive back to Bournemouth… I still have that tape now! Since then I have got to know Blame and I have probably done his head in with how much I love this tune and the memories it provokes!
15) Aquasky ‘Your Love’ – The latest d&b release by ourselves on Simon Bassline Smith and Drumsound’s Technique label which came out the summer of 2017. Our first foray back into d&b for nearly 15 years! We wanted to make a tune that doffed its cap to the mid-90s jazzy liquid vibes and I have to say (though I am biased) that I think we achieved it We had a big bag of studio tricks back in the 90s (though somewhat primitive now) and we managed to remember some of them and put them into this tune, to get a real 90s feel!
16) Aquasky ‘Dezires’ – The second tune we ever wrote as Aquasky in February 1995. This tune samples Les McCann and went on to really cement our name into the D&B history books. 8 or so years later DJ Marky contacted us to get the synth patches for this tune so he could do a cover version which Zinc put out on his Bingo label. I think this tune defines the liquid/jazz/intelligent sound of that era… but again, I am probably biased!
17) DJ Mink ‘Can You Relate’ – I discovered Warp in the 80’s when they did a free mixtape on the front of some music magazine which I think my sister had a subscription for. I use to listen to that tape endlessly… I can’t recall if this tune was on that tape but it certainly set me up for collecting Warp records. I was also an insatiable UK Rap fan and loved our music more than the US music because it was more upbeat and reminded me of electro. So this tune ticked many boxes… sampling Gary Toms Empire, it’s all about the drums and the horns on this track. A few years later I met a UK rapper called Blue Eyes (he put on UK Fresh 97) and we became good mates and still are. I use to travel to Derby and stay with him and got to meet a lot of the crews from up that way at the time (1993). Blue Eyes early releases were done with DJ Mink… I must have done his head in going on about how much I rated Mink!!!
18) MC Solaar ‘Obsolete’ – Back in 1990 I saved some vouchers from a newspaper and got a ferry to France for a £1. It was only a day trip with a then girlfriend but at that time (and still to this day) I was collecting rap 7” singles. I went to a Carrefour supermarket and bought the customary cheese, bread and beer but I also hit the vinyl section and copped a load of French rap. The greatest buy of that day was a Supreme NTM 7” which I still have now and love it just as much (C’est Claire). This started my love for French rap and I visited a number of times over the next couple of years buying records. This is when I found out about MC Solaar and for Christmas in 1994 I got the album ‘Prose Combat’ that this track appears on. Not only some great raps but produced by the awesome Jimmy Jay and La Funk Mob (later to become Cassius) who were producing some killer tunes on Mo Wax at the time… this album is also where I believe Alex Reece got his bass sound for Pulp Fiction!
19) A Tribe Called Quest ‘We Can Get Down’ – The album that inspired me to produce… I love this album. I love that lo-pass filter jazz vibe of hip hop and I would have to say this is probably my all-time top hip hop album. It really reinvigorated my desire to hunt down samples and I have still yet to get all the awesome loops that they used on this album… but I have most of them! 25 years old in 2018… how crazy is that! It’s better than all the hip hop albums that come out now!
20) Python Lee Jackson ‘Broken Dream’ – I was introduced to this tune only recently, a few years ago, by my mate Matt Meade (Pheme from earlier). It ticks all the boxes for me, great singing, moody emotional music… deep. But of course the vocals are dope, its Rod Bloody Stewart! This sounds like a lost Portishead tune, so much so that, for a laugh, I tweeted Geoff from Portishead and said how much I liked the new tune he had made with Rod Stewart. I don’t think he got the joke as he just replied that it wasn’t one of his! It made me chuckle though because this could quite easily been on the Dummy album they put out…