Friday, 30 April 2010

DJ Para Interview

DJ Para. Two-step heads know him as one third of legendary outfit DEA Project. Hip hop and urban heads know him as the once prolific and hugely successful Para Beats. His mates known him as P, his postman knows him as Anthony Hawley. We know - and thank - him for smashing up our dance time and again. And for being a general badman.

Since we booked Para for the first time last year, he's become a key part - and now resident - of all that Days Like That is about. He's got an unparalleled love and knowledge for classic garage that knows little bounds but also a refuelled desire to push the sound forward into the future. Inspired by the reactions he got when he played at our February party and a new generation of producers and ravers keeping the garage vibe alive, he's been back in the studio and writing new garage beats like this. Which we reckon can only be a good thing.

His story is a pretty epic one. He's been a restless pirate radio DJ, an underground two-step hero with DEA Project, remixed a Spice Girl (Victoria Beckham, if you're wondering) and his prolific production work has dropped everything from dope hip-hop beats to rowdy electro-house. So we thought it'd be a good idea to throw a few questions his way and find out about all that has taken him here and his recently reignited love for the UKG.

DLT: Easy Para, hope all’s good. First of all, lets take things things right back. What were your first musical influences?

P: My mum was always playing soul music around the house when I was young, so from an early age I was exposed to musical greats such as Shalama, Kool And The Gang, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackon and so on. I started collecting 7" singles from when I was about 5 or 6 and had a several electric pianos that my mum bought me. So I was always messing around playing keys.

DLT: What was your route into DJing itself?

P: My route into underground music and DJing started when I was very young , about 13 years old. I used to live in Kennington and many of the ‘older lot’ (friend’s older brothers and such) were into the acid house and what became the hardcore jungle scene. A lot of them were DJs on a pirate station Destiny 99.3fm which was also based in Kennington.

A few years later, I met a guy called Love Dove Jay who was on Eruption FM, and started tape mixing stuff like Acen’s ‘Trip to the moon’ then scratching. I’d seen people mix before, but scratching just blew my mind, at that moment I said to myself ‘I wanna be able to do that’. From then I bought some belt drive Citronics of him and started buying records and picked up mixing really quick.

Me and Love Dove became friends and he used to take me on his radio show on Eruption 101.3fm, which is where my taste for pirate radio started. From then on it was onwards and upwards.

DLT: What was the first garage beat that really caught your ear?

P: Black Science Orchestra’s ‘New Jersey Deep’. It's not really a garage track but back then the scene was more house and garage and this was the track that really got me into that sound. At that time I was into intelligent drum and bass, so it was right up my street.

DLT: How did you first get into producing yourself?

P: I used to DJ drum & bass/jungle/hardcore and I always wanted to make my own track but back in them days you needed a full studio to make a tune and I didn't have access to one. I remember when I was around 13, a close friend lent me a synthesiser and a four-track cassette recorder which I would use to record basic piano melodies and chords with. It wasn't until I was 16 when I was studying music technology at the Brit School that I had my first opportunity to get my hands on a fully operational studio. Brit School is were I learnt most of my technical and theoretical knowledge about music tech and composition.

DLT: The D.E.A. Project productions really stood on their own - you could always tell one from the first 8 bars. What do you think made them so unique?

P: We definitely had our own sound that wasn’t your typical ‘garage sound’, a lot of the sound modules and synths we used were not generally used for garage and I guess our drum and bass influence also contributed to the original sound.

DLT: At a time when garage tracks were suddenly hitting the charts, DEA Project releases always felt like an underground secret - the real deal. Were you consciously trying to take things in a more underground direction?

P: No not really, we used to make tracks we liked and tried to be ourselves. Obviously there was a time where we tried to make more commercial sounding music but somehow is always retained that gritty or underground edge.

DLT: There always seemed to be a subtle jungle influence to DEA Project tracks, the deep dark warmth of the basslines, the use of clipped female vocal samples and more obviously through direct samples like Pascal's ‘P Funk Era’ on ‘Nasty Boys’ and the vocal from Aphrodite's ‘Music’s Hypnotising’ on ‘Music’s Hypnotising’ … a lot of your tracks also almost felt like soulful underground jungle slowed down to a more accessible pace… was this the intention?

P: Because myself and Lally are from jungle drum and bass backgrounds our tracks would always tend to have this influence. Lally had released many tracks in the jungle days. For me personally. I guess I was trying to fulfill my creative needs that I didn't within jungle.

DLT: Who were the jungle producers that you had the most respect for?

P: Dillinja, Goldie, LTJ Bukem, Rufige Kru, 4 Hero and DJ Crystl.

DLT: Every DEA Project fan seems to have their favourite… what’s yours?

P: ‘Come And Get It Girl’… love the b-line and scatty drums!

DLT: What were you favourite memories from back in the day?

P: To many to mention, but here’s a few randoms

Cutting dubplates at Music House and JTS (cant’ beat the smell of a freshly cut dub)
Playing at Pure Silk at Wembly NYE 1999 to a crowd of 12 thousand people!
Climbing on roofs and putting up aerials (pirate radio days)

DLT: Does it surprise you that heads are still digging back over tunes you made 12 - 13 years ago? 

P: Most definitely. The Youtube generation has made me realise how influential my music has been. It’s funny because at the time you don’t realise what an impact you are making.

 What do you think caused garage to fall back in the first place?

P: After people started to get number 1s in charts and stuff, the focus of everyone in the scene seemed to switch from making good underground beats to trying to get that hit record. I myself plead guilty to it. We were narrow minded. We shifted the focus off building a great underground movement and taking it worldwide to new audiences. By this time new forms of garage were evolving such as grime, dubstep and whatnot, so traditional 2step/4x4 garage was becoming less and less popular, thus the breakdown of the scene. That how I see it, of course there were many contributing factors. I could be here all day talking about the if, whats and whys, but what happened, happened. I don’t think it could have been prevented.

DLT: You seemed to drop off the garage scene around 2001, but were still involved in lots of other musical projects like remixing Victoria Beckham, dropping hip-hop beats and your fidget house/electro projects… can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been uip to recent years? 

P: After garage fell off a bit, I started to produce r&b, hip hop (for the record I had always produced hip hop, but never put anything out so people didn’t know about this side of my production). Anyway, at that time everything was about MCs and crews. UK hip hop was coming up and getting more popular, and because I had a love for it and knew how to make ‘real’ sounding hip hop beats I started doing production for artists. I had numerous record deals and at the time I was managed by 19 so work was coming in thick and fast. When Channel U first launched, I had five videos on the playlist at once, so as you can imagine things were pretty hectic.

After the Para Beats ft Carmen Reece ‘You Got Me’ track came out and didn’t do as well as expected (chart position wise), I decided to take a break from music. I had been working constantly on music for the last 10 years and I needed a break to assess my life and future direction. So I started doing web design and development for a few years, still putting out the odd track here and there, but not really being 100% engaged in music.

In 2008 I started getting into fidget house and electro stuff. It was refreshing to be back into a dance based music genre again, back to the club vibes! I released a few electro and fidget tracks in 2008/2009 which got a massive response. I am still making house music of various flavas, I will be releasing a few new tracks soon

DLT: You seem to have relit your passions for garage and have been rolling out beat after beat in the studio - what re-ignited your love for the sound?

P: Playing at Day Like That made me discover a whole new crowd of people that are into proper garage. It gets tedious playing to the same sort of people, seeing the same old faces everywhere you go. So it’s refreshing to play to people that were not necessary there back in the day, but they love the music nevertheless. They are into the music because they love it, not because its the ‘in thing’.

Having people come up to me and request obscure underground DEA tracks just confirms ‘these people are into the music proper’. Trust me I hate playing the same old tunes everyone plays, Days Like That gives me the opportunity to play quality old school beats that don’t generally get played in your average garage do. For me it’s about showcasing the best underground beats and that’s what I love doing.

Also, for me the Future Garage movement has given the music a new lease of life. It’s everything garage could and should of evolved into but didn’t. DJ Whistla (Sub.FM, L2S Recordings) contacted me and asked if I would do a remix for one of his Future Garage tracks. I heard the track and I loved it, so of course I wanted a piece of the action. I did the remix and ever since have been building garage beats again.

Don’t get me wrong I have always built garage beats even through the hip hop days. I would do at least one a year and put it out on DEA, last of which was last year’s ‘So High Remixes’. But being introduced to the Future Garage stuff has fueled my passion for producing, DJing and evolving the garage sound. There’s is so much good music about at the moment from all corners of the planet, it’s a pleasure to be able to play a whole set of completely fresh garage beats. It feels like an underground secret at the moment. We all love old school, but as a DJ nothing is more exciting than playing new underground music.

DLT: Where do you think garage can go from here? Can it stand alone as its own scene again or do you think it will only exist within its more recent successors like UK funky, modern bass music and dubstep movements?

P: I think now is the chance for the sound to stand alone and go worldwide, there are so many people discovering and evolving the sound at the moment, it’s exciting times.

DLT: 5 favourite garage tracks?


1. Todd Edwards ‘End This Hate’
2. Black Science Orchestra ‘New Jersey Deep’
3. Crazy Bald Heads ‘First Born’
4. El-B ‘Among The Stars’
5. Mood II Swing ‘Do It Your Way’

DLT: What was the last track that totally blew you away?

P: I.D. and Skinnz 'Shimmy'

DLT: What do you get up to when you’re not writing beats?

P. Think about writing beats!

If you managed to get down this far then BIG UP. As that was an epic (although well worth the read, you no doubt agree). So you can reward yourself by checking out Para's new tracks HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff!

    We're living in exciting times indeed!