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DJ Bailey: The Drum & Bass Preservationist

I sat at my desk for a bit trying to figure out the best way to talk about DJ Bailey. Of course I could say that he's been down with Goldie and the Metalheadz crew for two decades, or how he was the best representation of drum & bass that the BBC had before they replaced him. I could say that he's currently doing great work over on Mi-Soul representing drum & bass alongside Jumping Jack Frost, or that he's responsible for one of my favorite mix CDs of all time, 2001's Heavyload. I could even puff out my chest and rejoice over him being the only drum & bass DJ ANYWHERE to publicly acknowledge my defunct drum & bass blog dubplatedigest, but that's not necessary. DJ Bailey means more to me than that.

For drum & bass heads like myself, we love the full spectrum of dnb. Liquid, dark, older, new school; it's all important, and while he's been doing this thing since the mid-'90s, he didn't get a proper chance to showcase this until 2002, when he got picked up for BBC 1Xtra. During one of his Intabeats shows, Bailey could lull you into a dream-like state with a serving of chilled liquid tracks, then dive right into the dancefloor. He may present you with the murkiest cuts to ever leave a studio, then bounce back with some of the finest of the heavily-edited breakbeat sound (which he affectionately called "choppage"). He would even dip into the back of his record bin, giving you style-defining "best of" mixes of everything from the massive amount of Virus Recordings dubplates he has in his bin to mixes full of reggae and dancehall sample sources (with the tunes these classics ended up being used in). A true drum & bass souljah, Bailey puts on for the scene every time he touches the decks, which is why his name being attached to any kind of mixed CD compilation is newsworthy.

On November 11, a label by the name of Vivid Sound out of Japan released Resurrection, DJ Bailey's first mixed CD release in 14 years. The 20-track mix, which features tunes from Jonny L, Rufige Kru, Nucleus & Paradox, Danny Breaks, and Dillinja roughly spans the last 20 years of drum & bass, but instead of anthem-bashing, Bailey dug deep, throwing in some well-known bangers alongside the deep cuts. It's more about the mood, which is as dark as it is deep, with bombastic subs being battered by all kinds of massive drum patterns. It's one for the ages, and a true "journey through yesteryear" as Bailey calls it.

After sinking my teeth into the mix, I had to reach out to Bailey to not only talk about how a project like this gets created, but our conversation also delves into a number of topics: the continued importance of radio, what he calls the "fast food world" of drum & bass, and his current plans, which include the continued success of his Soul In Motion bi-weekly. Let's get Intanatty with Bailey.

It’s insane to think that, aside from the numerous radio shows, special studio mixes, and podcasts you’ve done over the years, Resurrection is technically the first compilation you’ve done for a label since 2002’s Soul Thunder. What is it about the mixed compilation that intrigues you?
It’s a double-edged sword. I’d love to do more CD compilations. It’s lovely having a physical product that has the potential to reach places online mixes don’t. However, problems can arise in terms of licensing the specific tracks I want on a mix. For example, getting tracks that haven’t been released yet can be tricky because the record label may have other plans other plans for it. There’s also the case that I could select tracks that are being released at the same time as the compilation but you’re not always guaranteed that an appealing selection of tracks will be released at the right time. Online mixes and radio shows have less limitations in that sense.

I saw that Vivid approached you about doing this project, and it took about a year and a half to get sorted out. Is that how most of your mixes work, where you are approached, or do you ever broach them with an idea and go from there? Also, did Vivid have a selection of tunes they wanted you to include/mix, or were you given more free rein?
It was Vivid who approached me with the idea of the mix. I did give some suggestions on sourcing the right music, some of which were used, but decisions for the final track list were always going to be theirs. It takes a lot of trust for me to relinquish such control, but I’m happy [with] the way things turned out. The length of time from track selection to release is also a licensing thing. Waiting for people to sign and send back a contract can be time consuming. I can’t start thinking about how to put a mix together until that part is done in case there’s a track that can’t be used.

I also noticed that you don’t hit the conventional labels with your mixes; Black Label released Heavyload, while Breakbeat Science released Soul Thunder. How does it work when selecting where these mixes are released?
I have no qualms with conventional labels and I’m more than capable of doing other styles of mixes but I think the style I’m mainly known for playing have been better suited to these undergorund outlets. It’s also the style that was requested, i.e deeper and darker.

With Resurrection having a number of tunes that many heads haven’t heard in a while, was it hard securing the rights to have the tracks on a mix? Was it something where you had to call in favors or is the onus more on the label to sort that out?
Securing tracks was the duty of Vivid but I could tell that the people selected were like-minded in terms of wanting to give people who may not know that drum & bass goes much deeper an opportunity to hear it.

I remember back before you got hired on to work with BBC Radio 1Xtra doing their dnb shows, I would champion your style and how you represented the spectrum of the dnb scene. It’s dope to see you use your platform to not only provide the new material, but curate mixes featuring looks back at different producers, styles, and eras. How important is it of you to not just talk about the importance of the history of the genre, but to continue to educate with these mixes?
It’s VERY important to me. Even moreso on big plaforms such as BBC Radio, Ministry of Sound and Gordon Mac’s Mi-Soul (where I currently reside). It’s exactly what that kind of exposure should be used for. You don’t have to be forceful about it either. Occasional throwbacks to what came before work just fine alongside unraveling what’s ahead. It’s pains me to think that anyone who really loved drum & bass could neglect twenty five plus years of awesome music and times.

Are there any mixes of yours that you feel are heads above your other projects?
Online mixes such as "Return To Blue Note" for Metalheadz and "Reinforced Heroes" for Reinforced Records are dear to me. They throw back to what influenced and helped me get where I am today. I could play dark flavors for hours, and I don’t mean noise for the sake of noise. I’m talking about dark drum & bass that evokes deep emotions and have helped me release anger and passion in life at the same time.

A mix like Resurrection coming out in 2016 makes sense; we’ve seen Optical celebrate 20 years in the scene this year, as did TeeBee, and Bad Company UK is officially reunited. Do you see the nostalgia having a good impact on the fans of the sound and/or the producers, or is it more just reliving classic sounds.
I think a lot of it is about letting people know these sounds even exist. A lot can be lost among the (not literal) noise of vacuous success and fame in music across all genres. I hope more artists follow suit and give people a who may have missed key era’s of drum & bass a chance have it.

If you allow me to get personal, I’ve been spending a good part of this year digging into tapes from 2000/2001. There’s something about the blends that DJs like Andy C and Mampi Swift were doing back then that are exciting me more than some of the new stuff I’ve heard. I don’t want to chalk it up to technology, but do you think something got lost in the convenience of CDJs and Serato, or am I just an old soul?
I don’t think it’s a technology thing. I think something got lost in what I call a "Fast Food World." Everything has become about going faster and faster. More, more, more. Next, next, next and understandably in the name of excitement. The impatience is incredible though. It’s even getting to a point in some styles of drum & bass where songs are being shortened to something like four minutes long so DJs can get in and out of the impact parts quicker. That’s great for the dancefloor, but not great for listening away from the club like on radio where there isn’t as much requirement to drive the crowd inane. Radio is more of an absorption process. A place to tell a story not just with a presenters voice but with music itself. This [is] probably why radio as a platform has grown so much over the last ten or so years. You can play music compositions with more movement and with more movement comes more personal connection.

If you want to go even deeper…in my opinion, even though the year 2000 was sixteen years ago, I don’t class anything after that year in drum & bass as "old school." This is because you almost can’t tell how old tracks are beyond that and I believe that to be so because the progression of drum styles/patterns in drum & bass slowed right down at that time.

I’ve not heard of you dropping any new productions in a bit. I know your tour schedule has to be stacked, but do you ever find the time to get creative on your own tunes? Have you ever thought about working towards an album full of original production?
I’ll be honest and say I don’t enjoy making music as much as I enjoy DJing. I have to be the right mood to get something going. This currently make me slow at turning out tracks. Every now and then something falls into place, though.

Speaking of your tour schedule, are you hitting the U.S. in the near future?
No plans at the moment. I thought it would be wise to take a break and focus a little more on my homeland as I’ve been going to America consistently over the last four years.

What’s next for you? Any bigger plans/ideas for your mixes or work in general?
What's next is a secret mix, but what’s currently exciting for me is Soul In Motion. It’s a free bi-weekly on Wednesday nights ran by Need For Mirrors and I. It’s doing really well and has now established itself as a key event in [the] UK clubbing [scene], having recently been nominated by DJ Mag as one of their five to win ‘Best Club Event’ at their Best Of British Awards. Really chuffed about that.

DJ Bailey's 'Resurrection' compilation is available now on CD and via digital download.

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