Vinyl Junkie Interviews - RON WELLS (PKA Jack Smooth)
The name Ron Wells... And the name Jack Smooth even more so... Are names that should need no introduction to anyone with a passion for UK hardcore & Jungle. Ron is, without any doubts, one of the early pioneers responsible for shaping and steering the sound, not just with his own tracks but with the output of his labels '"Sound Entity" and "Smooth Recordings". The sheer amount of artists that passed through the Sound Entity studio to be produced and engineered by Ron is nothing short of incredible. That includes a huge chunk of the early Basement Records catalogue.
In more recent years, after a bit of a break from the music, Ron dusted off his studio and returned into the fold with new music and in 2017 with the help of Robin Allinson at MPS, he re-launched the mighty Sound Entity record label. Many great releases have followed... Some old bits re-issued including all the Hedgehog Affairs and Electronic Experienced... As well as some killer new releases. There was also the 4x12" Quest For Intelligence album by Fast Floor which came out in 2018 on Smooth Recordings, which includes all the classics like Plight Of The Innovators, 7th Heaven and Sweat Shop.
These releases have left many peoples mouth watering and chomping at the bit to get their filthy little mits on the digitals files. Ron has kept his wav files close to his chest up until now but i have some great news for you. Ron has just released a digital album "Jungle Techno Vol 1" which brings together a few of his different alter-egos, namely 20 Hurts, Electronic Experienced, Fast Floor and of course Jack Smooth. 15 classic tracks all remastered for 2023 and you can have the wavs for a mere 15 quid. It really is a no brainer right? I almost fell off my chair in a rush to get over their and buy it... The link to buy the album is at the bottom of the page.
I gotta tell you i was pretty excited when Ron agreed to do this interview.. I mean its not everyday you get to interview a living legend... So without further ado, i give you Ron Wells... The Godfather of Jungle Techno....
Eze Ron... Can you please start by giving me a brief bit of background on yourself. Where you were born, where you grew up, what school you went to etc… and what did you do for work before you started producing music?
I come from Acton, London. I had a somewhat unhappy home life on a British Rail housing estate. I have no qualifications except a few poor CSE grades and O Level art. I had 5 or 6 shit jobs in factories and warehouses between 1986 & 1989. All that time I knew I was unemployable, I simply wanted out of ‘The System’, but I had no idea at that time how to escape it, so I certainly didn’t know that music would be my saviour.
So musically, lets start right at the beginning… Going way back, before raves, Wax Factory, Sound Entity and all that good stuff… What is your very earliest musical memory?
My earliest meaningful memory is the Isao Tomita - Snowflakes Are Dancing LP, I would have been 4 years old in 1974. I was totally mesmerised by the sound of synthesizers and have been ever since.
When you were growing up, what music was likely to being played in your house? In other words… What was the soundtrack to your youth? And how did this music effect your future?
Every kind of MOR white music was played (nothing with any attitude, soul or groove). Nothing played at home either affected me or inspired me, except for the Tomita Albums and hearing Kraftwerk and other electronic / new wave music on the radio.
Did you play any musical instruments back then?
No, and I’m still a terrible keyboard player.
What was the first record you ever bought and how old were you?
I have no idea. Most of my childhood music came from listening to friends tapes. My mate Anthony Bennett was my main source of new music as a teenager. We loved Soul, Electro / Hip Hop and Reggae. One of my shit jobs was working for a music distro company and during that time I bought loads of vinyl with staff discount. After that I used to go to record shops in central London every Saturday with my mate Axel (DJ Rhythm X – Confusion Revisited), (who I taught to mix) in 1987 to buy House music, almost all our wages went on music.
What was the first rave you ever went to? And how did affect your life!!
Axel took me too Spectrum in 1987-88 it was unbelievable and opened my eyes to club land, and to how the future of dance music was destined. We used to go out raving a lot as a crew, we went to all of the clubs, Shoom, DNA, Confusion, etc.
An important thing to note:
Back then it was all about the music. Often, you couldn’t see the DJ, he/she was tucked away out of main sight. You also probably didn’t know who was DJing either, there was no MC to tell you. Everything focused around getting lost in the music with amazing people. These days it has become a sad, pathetic joke with the focus on people miming and acting up over pre-recorded mixes, being filmed by dummies on their phones, who don’t even care they’re being conned. That ain’t club land. That is fake, plastic land. Dance music really has sunk to depraved levels by allowing ANY of this.
What DJ really blew your mind back in the 90’s?
No DJ has ever ‘blown my mind’, they just put records on – now it seems, most of them can’t even do that.
You started your music career as a London pirate radio DJ back in 1987? How did this come about and did you DJ in any clubs back then? (If yes please give us some details).
I worked in an electronics factory in Perivale and a guy was building a transmitter. When it was finished he launched Crystal FM in Kilburn. I asked for a show. Since nobody else there played House music it was easy to keep my show. I invited Axel to co-host with me and we did that for a while. After we were fired from Crystal for trashing their studio while totally stoned, I contacted Medina Radio in Harlesden and got a show on there. I’ve never really done that many gigs really. Myself and Axel did run the Starlight Club in Paddington for a few months, but we couldn’t fill it as we had no budget for promotion. We did a few big raves, Blast Off (we’re not on the flyer but we played). After beginning to make music I very quickly lost interest in DJing, I’m just not a natural performer, attention makes me feel awkward. And, I can only really satisfy myself artistically by creating something from nothing, in other words writing my own music. This is why I have never pushed for a DJ career, or advocated the sampling of whole sections of other people’s music.
When did you first start learning to produce and are you self-taught or did you go to college… In other words, how did you become such an awesome producer?
I am self-taught. I am neither an awesome producer nor a poor producer. I am good at what I do, but what I do is actually quite simple, compared to producers like Trever Horn and musicians like Roland Orzabal, Herbie Hancock, etc… there is a VERY long list of better musicians and producers than me.
What other producers did you see as your Influences back then?
Juan Atkins is the first that springs to mind, but I didn’t read credits back then, so I didn’t really know who was who. Crazy really because reading credits is how you learn who does what and who’s career to follow. I always read them now.
Your first release as Jack Smooth was Crowd Control in 1991. Was this totally engineered and produced by yourself or did you get some help?
All me, as were many of the tracks that went before that release.
Before that there was 3 releases in 1990 as Smooth & Simmonds. Who is Chris Simmonds and how did you guys end up working together?
He was also a DJ on Medina Radio
These 3 records (and many more to follow) were released on Wax Factory Records which was a label you guys set up yourself… Can you tell us the story of Wax Factory Records and how you operated without a distribution deal?
He knew how to get records manufactured, I made the vast majority of the music. I needed someone to make records, with a car to sell them. He needed someone to make music. Wax Factory was named and the logo was designed by me. We (he, I couldn’t drive back then) drove around the UK selling records direct to shops. Apparently Wax Factory is one of the first underground labels to do this.
You have gone under many aliases over the years… 20 Hurts, 4 Reel, Celestial Circuits and Sound Science (to name a few). What was the thinking behind having so many different artist names?
The more aliases I had, the more music I could release before people might say “Who does this guy think he is?” I’m not sure it would have been possible to release that volume of work under one name.
Tell us about Fast Floor… According to discogs it was a collaboration between you and a guy called Paul Clarke but then his name is crossed out. Whats the deal here?
I wanted to expedite the sound I was developing. Being a terrible keyboard player I needed someone who could play keys better than me so the music I heard in my head could be hummed to someone and quickly put in the sequencer before I forgot it. That helped me make more complex music, easier and faster. I instigated the project and named it Fast Floor. He is no longer a member of Fast Floor, hence his name is crossed out. Fast Floor is now just myself, as I no longer need the help of session musicians or collaborators to get the music out of my head and into Cubase.
Back in the heyday when Sound Entity Studios was a go-to facility for dance music producers, you had a lot of the big names in the scene passing through daily. Looking back now, please share some of your “stand-out” memories from these times.
The jokes between myself, DJ Phantasy and Marvin Beaver on a very regular basis will always outweigh any particular studio session. Side splitting dark humour and vicious cussing for hours and hours. The radio station we ran on Sky Sports in Europe ‘Dance Nation’ was probably the highlight as 14b Hillingdon Hill was a hive of activity then, and there was definitely no filler in our DJ schedule.
So Basement Records… A label (and record shop) run by you brother Phil Wells. You are responsible for engineering & producing (and co-writing in many cases) 42 records from the early catalogue. So you actually crafted the now iconic sound of basement records that is loved by so many…. How does that feel…??
He is not my brother, we just have the same surname. It was a good time at the beginning. I enjoyed working with and helping many people to make some decent records. It was an experimental time when DJs would play a wide range of music in one set. Lots of influences collided into making some tracks that have stood the test of time. I’m proud of some and not so much of others.
Apologies for that Ron. I was told many years ago you guys were brothers... My Bad. But anyway.... There is a distinct difference between the sounds of Basement and Sound Entity. Was this intentional?
I would say that Sound Entity gave Basement ‘The Basement Sound’ that people often refer to. If you listen to anything I’ve done before or since in Jungle, Techno & DnB, the sonic DNA of Sound Entity unmistakably correlates with the sound I gave to Basement Records.
Can you remember the first time you heard one of your tunes played at a rave by a big established DJ? Who was the DJ and how did it make you feel seeing all those people going mental to something you had made?
No, I can’t TBH. I didn’t go out much and when I did I was already used to hearing my tracks on the radio a lot. It bizarrely became normal to hear 5+ tunes in most DJ’s sets. I was in the studio every day totally focused on making new music, the going out and hearing them part wasn’t a regular thing for me to do. Other people would tell me “X played 6 of your tracks last night and so did blah…” and that would obviously make me very happy and motivated to make more music.
How has production changed over the years? Back in 1989 – 1990 when you were producing the Smooth & Simmonds records… Things were much different then right? How much more difficult was it to produce a record back then in comparison with now?
I had almost no equipment, so the tracks were very basic. Now I have everything I could ever have imagined, but I still work in pretty much the same way, it’s just easier and quicker these days. You don’t have to work as hard because things just sound better, faster than the old days. I really admire Pete Cannon for purposely making his life difficult by building a genuine ‘Old Skool’ setup. He could make the same tracks in a modern DAW in much less time and with less effort but he chooses to do it old way and completely nails it.
What kind of sequencer were you using back then?
Roland MC300 AKA ‘The Cash Register’. The things I did on that beggar belief. I can’t imagine being able to do so many intricate edits on a 4 track sequencer with no computer screen now. DJ Phantasy used to have me doing crazy stuff on that sequencer. It baffles me that I pulled some of that stuff off TBH.
I know you still have a lot of hardware in your studio… Do you still use it a lot or have plug-ins taken over?
VSTs are almost certainly the future of electronic music. Hardware in most cases these days, is just jewellery. I have the jewellery but VSTs do most of my work. VST technology is only going to improve to the point of total hardware redundancy in the studio. Obviously hardware looks impressive and has uses for ‘live’ (live sequenced) performances.
What is your favourite synth (hardware) and why do you like it so much?
I will always adore the Korg 01W, nothing I’ve heard can properly emulate its waveshaping engine. Investing time and effort into the 01W has afforded me a unique sonic identity that ought to be instantly recognisable. However, since I’ve let the secret out, a few people have managed to coax ‘the sound’ out of it. I wish they’d make one where you can waveshape your own waveforms as a VST – I really want this!
You are a master at sound design… How do VST synths like Serum for example, compare to the old powerhouse synths like Juno / Jupiter/ Moog etc.
Digital synths and VSTs can do a lot more, considerably more. Analog synths are mostly ridiculously limiting compared to Digital/VST. What they do does often sound nice though.
Processing… can plug-ins actually do the job of real hardware compressors, saturators, distortion boxes etc… Discuss your reasoning…
Yes and my reasoning is because in my experience they actually already do and will only get even better.
What DAW do you use and have you always used that one? Have you tried any of the others?
Cubase since 1993/4. Have never used another DAW. Cubase does everything I could ever need and much more. I’m probably not even using 10% of its capability.
There has been a massive resurgence in vinyl sales lately with loads of old classics being remastered and repressed. Is this a good thing and why? Discuss….
Anytime an artist gets another shot at monetising their intellectual property is a very good thing. There isn’t really much else to say from an artist’s point of view.
Do you think the vinyl thing will grow or fizzle out? Discuss your reasoning…
Thanks to Brexit, international sales are now a fraction of what they were. This means, sadly global underground record sales have probably peaked until a solution is found. The ‘Trade Deal’ that was done was a disaster for independent record labels. As usual it was done to satisfy the requirements of global corporates, without any regard for small business, the arts, etc.
The sound of the early 90’s hardcore and jungle has come full circle with lots of young people, who were not even born first time round, adopting this sound, buying records and even producing music in this style… Its amazing… whats your thoughts on this and how is it going to effect the future of the scene?
It’s brilliant, you can’t rely on old gits to do this forever. I want to see more of it. In some cases the standard of new music cannot sink any lower, as in some of the EDM, Foghorn DnB nonsense I’ve heard. But recently I’ve noticed much more effort going into the making of notably better music and this is a welcome sign for me. J Cunning showcases a lot of great new music in his Tuesday radio shows. I try to listen in when I’m not at the beach.
How does the newly produced hardcore / jungle compare to the original stuff in your opinion?
When done well, it’s the same. I don’t use words like ‘Newskool’ because a track’s release date doesn’t make it another genre. If it’s good Jungle, Techno or Hardcore when it was made should be irrelevant. You don’t hear people saying ‘New Rock’, it’s all rock music. I don’t see how our music needs different naming rules. It also implies that the glory days of the music can’t be replicated, which is probably disrespectful to all the new artists making the music. The fact is, they can and they do make them like they used to.
I was really excited to see that you have just released a digital album on your Bandcamp called “Jungle Techno Vol 1”. This is a collection of some of your most timeless tracks released digitally for the first time. Includes classics like Plight of the Innovators, 1000 Phons, No 303, 7th Heaven and loads more (15 tracks in total)… You notice I said “some” as this is a tiny fraction of your work… Does this mean we will see Volumes 2, 3, 4 etc etc…??
Quite possibly in the future, yes
If so what tunes have you got planned for Vol 2????
I haven’t begun to think about that yet
You dedicated the album to Robin Allinson who sadly passed recently. Robin was instrumental in the rebirth of vinyl in our scene… I know you guys were close so I wondered if you would like to say a few words about Robin? (if you would prefer not to then feel free to delete this question).
He was a lovely humble guy who loved music and loved helping people, simple as that. Believe me, he must be remembered for making so many lost tracks available and reigniting many careers. Culturally a genuine ‘Blue Plaque’ contender. Even though his work sadly lasted a short time, he did a lot for our music in that short time.
What other projects do you have lined up??
Bloody loads and I’m supposed to be retired, but off the top of my head; multiple projects for Kniteforce, projects for VNR, Good2Go, Cantina Cuts, Furthur Electronix, Parrallax, Chicago Loop… I don’t like doing lists because I ALWAYS forget stuff, apologies if that’s so.
Any final words or shouts??
I just want to thank Robin for helping me to reengage with my music past and igniting passion for continuing my musical journey, because prior it had long come to an end. RIP hero of our music <3
… and of course everyone who supports me in any way, it’s always cherished and NEVER taken for granted.
Awesome. Thank you Ron, for taking the time to share some of your memories and insights with us... It's been a pleasure and an honour. Bless Ya!!
To purchase the Jungle Techno Vol 1 album click the link below:
You can find Ron on facebook here: