With the D&B scene sailing full steam ahead right now, hitting milestone after milestone from the likes of Andy C selling out Wembley, increased national radio play time, chart topping music, and with all the different styles and sounds combining into what seems to be an unstoppable force in music. – A lot of us “old school” heads tend to look back nostalgically.
My own personal music journey set off when I first heard breakbeat hardcore on Kiss FM, or, more likely, being spun on one of the many of the illegal ‘Pirates’ of the time. The most notable of these being Kool FM 94.6 London. The commercial outings of people such as Luna-C and Acen reinforced my love for this emerging sound. The Shaman & The Prodigy – both popular chart acts, also pushed electronic music into the foreground of the musical landscape at the time. My tastes remained commercial for a while, as “Jungle” at the time was enjoying some mainstream success (thanks to General Levy), alongside a thriving underground scene which could also be intimidating at times, for party goers, like me, who were used to the happier side of hardcore.
Today, the current resurgence of all styles of this stunning dance movement gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside – without the disco biscuits – it’s just me just getting all nostalgic on the ‘good ol’ days’ of Swerve. For those that don’t know – Swerve was a weekly club night that is still going strong today with 2 or 3 events a year. Before Swerve came Speed.
The one thing I recall about Speed, is the one time a friend and I mustered the courage to attempt entry, shortly after turning 18. On arrival we were greeted with “Members & their Guests only lads – sorry”, by the Door staff. So my knowledge is from the underground music press, who, at the time, seemed to have a lot to say about what seemed a near mythical atmosphere at The Milk Bar (named after the narcotic infused milk drinks from the film “A Clockwork Orange”) – Where you’d find razor sharp breaks and heart wrenching basslines being pushed on a Thursday night. Pirate station sets from the DJ’s who played there, and their fans from the Pirate community, on the FM dial, had to make do for those of us who never set foot on that floor.
After visiting Swerve one time , around 99/2000; the atmosphere in The End lounge, where Swerve generally operated from at its prime; made for an unforgettable experience and had me hooked for a good few years. At the height of my addiction, sometime between 2005-06, a priority was getting paid every other day of the week, to get there on a Wednesday and throw notes at the hard working bar crew. Knowing next to zero about the intricacies of production & mixing at the time – the depth of the cutting edge sounds simply tore a rift somewhere in my consciousness. The few times the place was not so busy, it seemed to me the dancefloor vibes got darker – “rough, tough & dangerous” with more space for the crowd to shake off these feelings.
To help me reminisce on memories of the Speed & Swerve days, is Sarah Sandy. The promoter and founding member of “Groove Connection” DJ agency, as well as “Creative Source” record label. She’s one of the true original VIP’s of the D&B scene, being one of the driving forces behind Speed & Swerve, the now legendary midweek club nights.
To begin, can you tell the younger ravers reading, who may not know, how & why Speed came about?
The Jungle scene was in full flow, and we (GrooveConnection) loved the Jungle scene, but it was becoming really hectic, taking a turn towards the whole Ragga thing, with multiple MC’s on the mic and a lot of tunes coming in with loads of Ragga samples, General Levy and all that kind of stuff, which wasn’t really exactly the direction we were going in.
On the underground, there was already a much more melodic, different kind of music coming up, but there wasn’t really anywhere to play it. So, at a time when there was suddenly a bit of bad media & press, and a lot of fights in the clubs, we just decided that there was a need for something different.
At that point we were a little confused as to where we were gonna take it. There was a guy called Leo, who became my partner in Speed, who was a contact of Nicky Holloway, who owned the Milk Bar at the time. Nicky was interested in doing a kind of Jungle night, mixing up Bukem and different kinds of Jungle DJ’s. So, he started the night, Speed, originally, and I think it only ran for 2 or 3 weeks. They weren’t getting the right crowd in, it was just the wrong mix of people. So we all sat down and discussed relaunching it, making Fabio & LTJ Bukem residents – at that time they were the only two DJ’s who really played a different kind of sound – edging away from the Jungle and starting to do something completely different. So, after locking heads, it was decided the relaunch would go ahead, at the Milk Bar – We would see how it went, as we were all so passionate about it – we knew a change had to come.
Who played at opening night ?
On the opening night of the relaunch, Fabio & Bukem played, as did they every week unless one was abroad. I think the opening night was DJ Lee. Kemistry & Storm, Dj Lee, Marcus Intalex, Doc Scott, Q Project, Digital, Nookie, Goldie & Addiction with MC Conrad as the host. Those were the core members of a tight circle of guests.
Opening/closing track if anyone can remember? On first and last night?
That’s impossible to answer, it was a long time ago! Trying from memory the main contenders for opening or closing track at them nights would probably be, LTJ Bukem’s ‘Demon’s Theme’ or ‘Music’ against possibly Intense ‘Only You’ or even possibly ‘The Dreamer’. Any one of a number of tracks, by Intense, on Rugged Vinyl.
Those are some of the tracks I love and remember from that era!
I also remember Speed becoming a well known celebrity haunt! How long was it until it actually became heavily popular?
By month 3 we had attracted a strong, regular crowd. After 4-5 months it was the place to be with a queue going down the road by 10PM. We were shocked with the amount of celebrities coming. Although he was quite unknown outside the scene at the time – Goldie was there, also Cleveland Watkiss, Bjork turned up, Ben from Everything But The Girl. I even remember Prince Naseem the boxer turned up one night, he pushed to the front of the queue, and I was militant on the door so wouldn’t let him in. Talvin Singh was there every week. I think Noel Gallagher came one week. There were many more too, coming down to Milk Bar.
Help me remember, did Speed stay at The Milk Bar, or move around?
It stayed there. It started there and it ended there. Apart from the at the times we did all-nights, on a Saturday, at The End, till 5/6 a.m. – every 3 or 4 months. We were every Thursday at Milk Bar. Speed started to wind down after Bukem started Good Looking Records, Logical Progression and his other projects. Soon after Speed finished the Milk Bar was closed down. It was one of the first venues to sadly get hit by the whole Crossrail action.
But that wasn’t the end! How long until the spirit of Speed resurfaced as Swerve?
We couldn’t stop Speed very long. As everyone was going crazy for the music, it was only 5-8 weeks till we set up Swerve. We knew there was way too much going on music wise, so by this time we had set up Creative Source, releasing lots of new music – tracks that artists had been inspired to make after coming to our nights. We had a huge prolific turnover of amazing musical D&B. To be honest, we coined the term, Drum & Bass (Sarah says modestly). For Speed & Swerve we had to take the movement away from the whole Jungle thing, rename it & give it a new identity.
Where and why the choice of venue?
We went to The Velvet Rooms with Swerve. This was the logical choice as it was owned by Nicky Holloway who had owned the Milk Bar. It was literally around the corner on Charing Cross Rd. Carl Cox was already doing a Wednesday night residency there, I believe, at the time. So, we thought we’d do Swerve, just round the corner from where Speed had been, on the Thursday night. It just took off, was absolutely amazing and ran solidly there for, how long? Well, however long it was, it worked perfectly there – until it met the same demise – Crossrail decided it was time for The Velvet Rooms to now close down.
Once it closed down, as we had a good connection with The End already, from our all-nighters, we went there with a Wednesday residency for 10 years or so till 3am. It was much bigger, and in turn held a much bigger crowd which was needed.
Who were the most regular/popular guests over the years?
LTJ Bukem was a regular guest from the start, right up until 2014. So many people were regular guests over the years; Kemistry (R.I.P) & Storm, Doc Scott, DJ Lee, Grooverider, Addiction & Carlito. Storm carried on after Kemistry sadly passed away. Artificial InteIligence, Commix, Calibre, Klute, Lynx, dBridge. Alix Perez. Baily, Bryan G, Frost. DJ Flite, & Patife. Many artists releasing on Creative Source would do guest spots and so become great additions to the Swerve roster.
What would you say your most memorable night was?
Hard to say, but – Swerve vs. Creative Source all-nighter at The End – I think Calibre played. Fabio discovered the Calibre sound in the early days of Swerve, while Dominick was still a gardener. In 99/2000 we released the debut Calibre album, “Musique Concrete”, on Creative Source.
Is my memory correct of Friction being warm up DJ for a while?
Yes, your memory is correct. He did play at Swerve on several occasions, towards the end of The End being Swerves home…maybe 2009/10 he came down to play. After the End closed down we went to Cable at London Bridge – as the guys from the End were involved with Cable. He played several times there too.
What would you say your favourite venue for Swerve was?
That’s a tricky one! I’m of the opinion that with the right music & right people you can have a party anywhere. Even at a bus stop. Velvet Rooms was amazing for Swerve, as it was born there, and we carried the mantle of Speed to there. But, also, The End was amazing – Mr C, Layo & Bushwacka, all the people we had known on the scene from the Acid House days were involved there. The sound in there was huge.
Sign us off with just some of the ways the nights changed the scene?
Totally groundbreaking events. Coined the term D&B through Speed. A whole genre sprang from it.
Goldie went on to start his night at the Blue Note a couple of months after Speed started.
Another legendary night! Definitely ahead of its time…
It’s been amazing to reminisce once again about the Speed and Swerve days. From remembering the warm up DJs of those days, to being the headliners of today’s scene. And how media outlets once mentioned that Jungle and Drum & Bass wouldn’t succeed – to seeing how big the scene is now, and it’s constant growth!