DJ Shepdog talks Inna NICE UP! Fashion
One of the most iconic and legendary reggae labels to come out of the UK, Fashion Records, has had the remix treatment by a number of artists from the Nice UP! Records roster. Label head and all round music fanatic DJ Shepdog tells 25ThC all about how it came about and why it was such an honour to put out this album:
Wow – this is a big release! For those that aren’t in the know, tell us about the legendary Fashion Records and its artists?
Thanks! It’s taken some time to be fair! Fashion Records is one of my favourite UK reggae labels – such an iconic and legendary imprint. It was started back in the 80s by Chris Lane and John MacGillivray (who now runs Dub Vendor) and they recorded not only a load of seminal UK vocalists such as Smiley Culture, Asher Senator, General Levy, Top Cat, Tenor Fly, etc, but also a ton of Jamaicans that were passing through London at the time – people like Alton Ellis, Horace Andy, Frankie Paul, Johnnie Clarke, etc. During the 90s they had releases from legends such as Cutty Ranks, Papa San, Wayne Wonder, Dirtsman and Poison Chang (Stylo G’s father!) but also got sampled in a load of the early jungle releases as they usually put an acapella on the 12″, so producers had a field day with them. They eventually set up their own jungle imprint to capitalise on the success, along with other sub-labels and offshoots – there’s so many releases. Its one of the labels I still buy whenever I see it in a 2nd hand shop as its always quality and you can’t miss that distinctive label design. I personally think most major musical movements or scenes in the UK have a blueprint label that helped spawn it and define it – Metalheadz with D&B, Mo Wax with trip hop, Tempa with Dubstep and so on – Fashion is the embryonic sound of UK reggae and dancehall for me.
How did Nice Up get together with Fashion records for this album and was it a long process?
It’s a bit of a fortuitous tale to be honest. I’d always wanted to get access to the master tapes, but everyone I talked to said it was no longer running so it wouldn’t happen. I’d stopped doing mash-ups at this point, but got sent an amazing jungle remix of Smiley Culture’s “Police Officer” (big up Jinx!) which was too good to pass on, so I thought I’d do a cheeky bootleg. The day the test pressings arrived I turned on my computer to check my emails and saw a news headline about Smiley Culture passing. It was the very same day he died, or was killed, whatever you want to believe. I obviously couldn’t proceed – I didn’t want to be seen to be cashing in on someone’s death and would have been in deep bother if I had anyway. I spoke to a few people about getting it cleared and donating the proceeds to his family, but it never happened. Someone gave me Chris Lane’s mobile number, so I took a deep breath and gave him a call. He had already heard about the remix and told me I couldn’t release it, so that was that. Apart from a handful they ended up as landfill, which was an expensive lesson to learn, but it opened up the door to me being able to chat to them about remixing their catalogue legitimately. It took them a little while to trust me, but I think my enthusiasm won them over in the end… that and a little bit of begging!
Were there any artists or tracks that were off limits for remixing or were you given carte blanche with the back catalogue?
Yes, unfortunately Smiley Culture’s material was not available, which is quite ironic considering the above, but I think its wrapped up in some legalities that were too much of a headache to sort out at the time. Hopefully at some point we can do it as it would be a massive shame to not have such an integral part of the story not represented. Other than that it was pretty much open game. I took a trip to Chris’s house one day and started going through them – a lot of the tracks were still on 1/4 inch tape, so there was a fair bit of archaeology to do too – finding them and dubbing them off. I was like a kid in a sweetshop though! We wanted to try and avoid using the really well known acapellas that had already been rinsed – Limb By Limb, The Stopper, DJ Business, etc as there is so much more depth to the catalogue and I thought it would be more interesting to dig a little deeper into the vaults and shine a light on some lesser known tracks.
My favourite track on the album is Wrongtom’s remix of General Levy’s Incredible, which I regularly play out. What is it about the original version of Incredible that has stood the test of time and is still relevant today?
That’s a great remix that sold really well on 7″ when we released it a few years back. Not many people actually know it was a dancehall track before it was a jungle tune, so Wrongtom took it back to the source! M-Beat was one of the producers who sampled it and ended up getting it cleared and went on to have a huge hit with it. It even ended up on the All G movie soundtrack some years later, which I think re-introduced it to a much bigger audience. I think its now considered as the ‘jungle anthem’ and a track that encapsulates that whole time and scene. I seem to remember a lot of furore about that at the time, but I think most people have now resigned to the fact. You can play it anywhere and most people will know it – the call and response elements and even the mad vocal tricks and noises. I think its testament to General Levy’s amazing talent – he’s one of the UKs most underated MCs in my opinion – still putting in work and writing great tunes and still regularly performing around the world. People still goes nuts to that tune, so yes – still massively relevant. Wasn’t it on a car ad recently too?
Are there plans for more Nice Up collaborations with other labels?
We’ve linked up with Maximum Sound already and did an 12″ of remixes of a couple of their tunes, but nothing else planned at the moment. I think I’d like to revisit Fashion for second volume and maybe more – who knows? There’s so much good stuff in the vaults, we could roll out a full series of just Fashion Records remixes, but I’m not sure if that’s gonna happen yet – I just want to get this one out…its taken years!
There are some great names involved. How did you go about choosing the remixers?
Well, I had already built up a dream list of people I wanted to get involved in my mind, so it was just a case of putting it down on paper and being realistic. I must have had 30+ names down, so set about contacting them and seeing if they were up for it. We’d already released a few singles with people like Serial Killaz (who delivered a VIP version for the album), Dub Pistols, Wrongtom, Mr Benn and Jstar – all of whom I know personally, but it couldn’t be just about getting my friends involved – I wanted to reach out to some other people. I didn’t want to just hire the biggest guns or flavour of the month – I thought it was important to work with people who are fans of the label and fitted the vibe or have a traceable connection to the music. My idea from the off was that reggae and dancehall has had a huge influence on most modern forms of dance music, so I wanted to represent that and not just focus on one style. I hit a few closed doors and reluctant managers, but on the whole the reaction was great! Its amazing to hear how many people love the label and the enthusiasm to get stuck into it. Of course, there’s a load of people who couldn’t do it due to time constraints and stuff – I’ve already had people saying “you should have asked so-and-so” – believe me, I would have loved to get everybody on board, but its just not possible. Maybe for volume 2! 😉
Inna Nice Up Fashion is released on 17 June 2016 on digital, double vinyl and CD. You can order it now from https://niceuprecords.bandcamp.com/album/inna-nice-up-fashion
Interview by 25ThC.