Tucked away in an obscure corner of London, just off Brixton's main drag, is a quaint office complex, home to seminal drum-and-bass label V Recordings. The quiet surroundings are at odds with the gargantuan noise created by the label's artists—Roni Size and Reprazent, Krust, DJ Die, Dillinjah, Lemon D, Optical and Ed Rush, Goldie, Adam F, Peshay, Suv, Bill Riley, Ray Keith.
Planet V Tour: Jumping Jack Frost, BrYan Gee
ARO.space, Thursday, May 6
Hints of V's reputation and dominance in the world of drum and bass can be seen from the windowsill. Scattered about are CDs and DATs: house producer Todd Terry, Sasha, and Digweed's latest effort, and a compilation from Size and Krust's label, Full Cycle. Most telling are two plaques propped casually against the wall, naming V Best Jungle Label in the 1996 VIP Champagne Bass Jungle Awards and in the 1997 Hardcore Dance Awards.
For more evidence of the label's dominance, see Planet V, its most recent compilation. While its previous collections, V Classic (Vols. 1 and 2), were re-releases of classic tunes with a few new ones and remixes thrown in, Planet V compiles 20 brand-new tracks and remixes. Only Adam F's "Brand New Funk" had been spun in clubs before the record's release, but now that Planet V is available, try wandering into your local drum-and-bass nights at the Baltic Room or at ARO.space without hearing at least one of its tracks. It really is V's planet, we just live on it.
Premier DJ and V co-owner Jumping Jack Frost (real name: Nigel) finally shows up, resplendent in head-to-toe black parachute cloth from DKNY, a tight black hat pulled over his ears, backpack slung over his shoulders messenger-style with an easy-access cell phone pocket, and tiny, round sunglasses ("My sister's," he says). He looks like some kind of battle-ready urban warrior—which, in a way, he is. With his label partner, Bryan Gee (also a prominent DJ), Frost has unleashed classic tunes like Krust's "Warhead" and Ed Rush and Optical's "Funktion."
Gee and Frost met 15 years ago at the Normandy, a club five minutes away from the V office. At the time, both DJs were playing funk and breaks, rare grooves; jungle wasn't even a twinkle in breakbeat's eye. Gee invited Frost to play on his pirate radio station. From there, the two gravitated to the UK rave scene. "A whole generation of us that were DJs at the time—myself, Grooverider, Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold—it was all mixed, it was just like, 'rave.' And then the music really started splitting up into different sections. Me and Bryan, 'rider, Fabio, Mickey Finn, we moved into the breakbeat sound," Frost recalls.
In 1993, the pair started V Recordings, releasing Krust's "The Deceivers," and Roni Size's Exer-size EP on the same day, selling a humble 500 copies. Since then, the producers have become better and more established. Yet while other labels are busy pumping out the jams at unprecedented rates, V takes it slow. "You've got some people that might put out 14 records in the same time it takes us to put out seven," Frost notes. "But the quality of the seven records will outweigh the 14 every time. We try not to be average in any way. We're not average people, myself and Bryan, Roni and Krust. The whole core around anything to do with V is not average at all."
Unlike many of its jungle counterparts, a V track might have its eyes pointed forward, but it doesn't create teched-out landscapes where the future's so dark you've gotta wear shades. Trace and Fierce and Nico, Ed Rush and Optical—even, at times, Sir Grooverider—tell drum-and-bass horror stories in which darkness falls, the bass kills, and tech step rules the kingdom. Funky is not a word that comes to mind. V, as Frost points out, is a whole different story: "We deal with funk, and music that you can feel."
Frost and Gee, like other top jungle DJs and producers, will cut dub plates and take their newly minted tunes out to clubs for a test drive. It's hard to believe, but the dub plates for some now-famous songs once elicited blank stares from the dance floor. "When I first started playing [Krust's] 'Warhead,' people would stand there staring at me," Frost recalls. "I remember going out one night, playing at a rave, and I had all these tunes on dub plate—'Warhead,' [Size's] 'Brown Paper Bag,' and 'It's Jazzy'—and they couldn't get their heads around it. Three months later, it all changes."
One thing you won't hear from V is a formulaic record, just for the sake of sales. "I'm not going to put something out because I know it's going to sell x-thousand copies," Frost claims. "If it doesn't fit into the V sound, it doesn't make sense."
When pressed for a description of "the V sound," Frost laughs, and replies, "I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I hear it." And so do we.