Vinyl Junkie Interviews - SONAR'S GHOST

Vinyl Junkie Interviews - SONAR'S GHOST

Hi Mate. Hows things and what have you been up to this week?? 

Things are good, I have had a normal day job for 5 years now, since spending around 9 years bringing up my kids. I am steadily progressing to new heights in my job, I will go into that in a later question. My kids are still being driven around to school and clubs so this takes up a lot of my time and energy, so am looking forward to the summer holidays and the break from the routines.

Can you give me a brief bit of background on yourself. Where you were born, where you grew up, school life etc… and what did you do for work before you started in the music game?

I live in Bedford, where I was born and grew up. I went to 3 standard comprehensive state schools, and lived on the same estate as Jaimie (Norman) and Matty (leeson) who I would go on to dj and produce with. There were lots of kids from all sorts of backgrounds, in and out of each others houses in a time where you went out in the morning and every day could be a different adventure, and then come home for tea when it was dark.  That said I was into toys for a long time, so Star Wars, Action Force, Transformers and M.A.S.K occupied my mind alot more than football or anything physical really. 

So musically, lets start right at the beginning… Going way back… What is your very earliest musical memory? 

So my parents were from the 60’s, my Dad was a mod, but my mum always liked Reggae. They are both fully english but I grew up in a house where soul, mostly Stax and Motown was played. Percy Sledge - When a man loves a woman was my Dads Sunday song, he worked hard and had probably worked all night so always played this song loud on a Sunday morning, to unwind or reflect I’m not too sure, but the b-line came up the wall and woke me up on many a morning. But that said the music from 70’s and 80’s kids TV was maybe more of an influence, as I didn’t show any interest in music until I was 12, but obviously always absorbing it.

When you were growing up, what music was likely to being played in your house? And how did this music effect you? 

So from the Soul, a little bit of Kenny Rogers/Dr Hook/Dolly Parton from my dad, my mum also had a bit of UB40/Level 42/Paul Young going on. But of course we were always absorbing the radio and top of the pops through the early and mid 80s. My sister was into Adam Ant, then Michael Jackson, but then Electro/LL Cool J/Run DMC started to come through around 85. She started to throw in Lovers Rock into this mix.

So my Dads vibes was always a bit bluesy and melancholic, whilst my Mum had some upbeat blue eyed soul vibes, but really the Reggae and Hip Hop from my sister (she had a tape of Public Enemy It takes a nation of millions to hold us back) which shaped me in 1990 getting into De La Soul, Public Enemy, Gangstarr alongside the UK acts like Demon Boyz, Hijack, London Posse etc.

What was the first record you ever bought and how old were you?

So first records were novelty records, so Love Me Tender by Roland Rat, and then Hole In My Shoe by Neil from the Young Ones. My first ‘grown up’ purchase was Fear of A Black Planet by Public Enemy in 1991, but around the same time I also bought Nightmares on Wax ‘Aftermath’

What was the first rave you ever went to? What year was this and how did affect your life!!

So I wanted to go to them all in 1992, but was only 14 so couldn’t quite get the clearance with the crew I was hanging around with. Jaimie was 3 years older than me though and had a license, so in 1993 I was hanging around with him and Matty as we were all DJing and into it all big together. So May 1993 (I was still 14 I thought about that today) we snuck into Dreamscape IV at the Sanctuary Milton Keynes about 3:30 in the morning after trying to buy tickets and waiting for touts etc…someone knocked on a door with an empty said they had to bring it it, a raver must have opened the door as it stayed open long enough for me an J to get in. We saw what seemed like thousands of ravers going off to Dave Angel. The music didn’t grab me. But then….on comes LTJ Bukem. This set changed my life. I had been buying and following the scene since summer of 92, but this was a set from another planet, from the future. 

When did you first start learning to produce and are you self taught or did you go to college…??

We got advised from who I think was Rob Haigh from Omni Trio as we used to go to Parliment Records in Hitchen, and he suggested around this time, May 93, we start to make music to get into the dub plate circles to get the upfront stuff to make us bookable as DJs. So I got an Amiga 500 for my 15th birthday, and Technosound, and Octomed off the cover of a magazine. I then spent a lot of my time cutting up beats, learning to arrange, how and where to sample from etc. So all self taught, but we were all learning together. In 1995 Jaimie sold his decks so we could invest in a Akai-S950 and I sold the Amiga to buy an Atari ST and we started down the route of making stuff at higher bitrate. I know the Amiga sound is and always will be cool, we never mastered the art of mixing it properly, as the plates from 1995 will show, with delay on everything and raw mix downs straight to DAT. 

So your production career started back in 1996 when you were signed to Reinforced Records as a part of the production trio Static Imprint? Tell us about this and how the link up with Reinforced happened?

So with all the tunes we made in 1994-95 as we learnt the Amiga we sent out a demo tape, which none of us still have and would love to hear, to Basement records, Reinforced, Labello Blanco (which somehow ended up with the guy that ran Deep and Dark in Luton). We met all of them, and had the same chat with all that we needed to invest in more gear. Around this time we made Dont Know Why and Hypnotize at Koolword in Luton (maybe the guy from Deep and Dark hooked us up as Brian ‘DJ Undacut’ was the engineer), but we couldn’t quite capture the energy from the Amiga version, so this was never signed.

So investing in the ST, Akai and some crazy old 70s 8 channel desk, we made 4 tracks, 2 of which made it to become the Static Imprints release, signed late 95 and released 96.

Soon after this you became Sonar Circle with Jaimie Norman. You guys had quite a few releases together on Reinforced right? Tell us about that and are you guys still working together ?

So obviously it was a massive deal for us to go to Dollis Hill. It was like going to meet your teen hero, whilst still a teen. Matty left so Sonar Circle was just Jaimie and me. we made a few things with the studio at his house, it grew from time and we begged stole and borrowed effects, keyboards, DAT recorders, whatever we could to get stuff down. We carried on like this until we got to Enforcers Beginning Of The End. Jaimie had a life changing condition, he is fine now, but I had to go it alone from there on in mostly as Sonar Circle.

Jaimie and I have been mates since then, we do the odd tune together now back and forth, we really want to do something a bit more futuristic and ‘now’ but time and equipment are limited, so we just noodle along. But if we do get something finished it will be a new Sonar Circle outing. 

Matty less so, he makes and spins deep house nowadays. We grew up together and know a lot about each others history and family from when we grew up, but led our own lives at different paces, but are still cool and speak now and again.

Did you guys play out much and what was your most memorable gig??

We started DJing together from 92, so our first gigs and everything were together. We never played out officially together as Sonar Circle as the reasons above made that difficult. We both used to play as SOS and Dom-unique at Evolution, an under 18 rave at the Sanctuary. In 94 we shared the bill with DJ Rap, Dougal, SY and I’m sure at one point Jaimie played before Bukem, which was another massive moment for us.

So on to your most recent incarnation… Sonar’s Ghost… I’m intrigued why you chose that name?

There was a Sonar Circle tune called Starscream’s Ghost, which is an episode of the Transformers cartoon from 1986. After I retired all of the names in 2009, I only really didn’t do any music at all for about 3 years, so the ghost is just a reference to the characters creeping back into the story. Yeah they died but you still hear the odd echo from them now and again. 

So its all about the old classic jungle sound? When and why did you start making this style and what/who inspired you to do so ??

So I was there doing it on the Amiga, but I was 15/16 and by the time I was 18 the sound had moved on to 2 step, clown step, tech step, whatever. The breaks and the warmth had gone. So I moved on around 1999 to start doing Domu with Dego and the Bugz etc. It meant I really didn’t check into Drum and Bass at all, save for a few choice cuts that caught my ear. So in 2010 when I had stopped doing music full time, I started listening again for fun, filling in some gaps in my digi collection for my earliest of loves, 92 then 93,94,95 etc then I caught up to filling in some good stuff I missed through the 2000s, but then I got wise to the Footwork gig, and Philip D Kick bootlegs of all the classics. So this was brining all kinds of new energy and influence to the scene, plus Dub one, Sci Wax, Rupture, Tim Reaper were all starting to make noise. So with my old friend who ran Two Hungry Ghosts (of which I wasn’t a Ghost) we started putting stuff on a Bandcamp, plate rips and any files I had, but also new bits made in an old style. Going back to the time I was slightly too young or didn’t have the gear to make that Amen smasher or the 94 summer jungle hit. It wasn’t reinventing the wheel, it was a bit like buying a Ferrari, but I could do it in my sleep and it was a fund creative outlet, so instead of Call of Duty I fiddled with this stuff again in my down time. 

Do you do music full time or do you have a “Day-Job” ?

I always temped in admin in local government/council jobs when I wasn’t making money from music, so when I eventually stopped I ended up back my local council. I have worked in Environmental Health and Housing, but now work in HR as a project manager and really enjoy it. I was full time music 1999 - 2009 which meant I did all the travelling, managing my time and money, bought a house, got married, basically grew up doing it, which was tricky at times. I made 10 albums in 10 years, countless remixes and singles- I went at it hard whilst I was in my 20s. 

What DAW do you use?...  and do you still have hardware? Give us a quick breakdown of your studio?

No hardware, just some Rockit 5 monitors now, and Ableton 10 on a 2018 Mac. Sometimes I get the controllers out, for doing mixes on Djay or keyboard for writing, but I get so little time or energy it is like a full moon occurrence when I do.

What Plug-in could you not live without??

Meh to plug-ins. Maybe for making Broken Beat stuff that needs vintage keyboards, but for Jungle, its all samples.

What releases do you have lined up?

My big one is the Metalheadz Platinum - The Fall and Rise Of Ep out this month. I think after that I have a remix of Dev Null on Future Retro, but nothing else finished or planned. I am thinking of doing some Domu stuff, so changing it up and giving the Junglists wallet a break as they have so much to keep up with nowadays, and also sometimes feel I have had so many records out I should give the kids a chance!

So on to DJing… What DJ’s really inspired you back in the 90’ and why?

I think Hip Hop Djing, so at the start Dj Premiere, and also the Djs from Gunshot/Hardnoise/Hijack etc, super fast scratching. When I used to listen to rave tapes I started notice who could mix the best, and it was Hype/Randall/Bukem always up there for me. My cousin Eugene ‘Double E’ English also started in 91, so when I heard his tapes and tunes I thought I should have a go. Also, I could never dance or socialise much, so looking back I realise It gave me something to do whilst I was in the years of my life I had to be in nightclubs.

When did you first start learning to mix records and what inspired you to do so? 

I first had some tapes early 92 from Dreamscape whatever, my sisters tape deck played both cassettes at the same time, so I started to work out timing to get tunes in time from one set to another. I had no control and just fluked it, but had the idea before I even had decks. Also I used to cut from tape to record on my old midi hifi, so could use the buttons like a fader to learn to scratch on the deck. I got my first soundlabs in July 1992, and six records to learn to mix jungle on (along with some other random stuff). These were Bad Girl/Frontline/150bpm and the green one on Ibiza records, Baby Kane Good Good Sensi and Edge Of Darkness Come Together. I was only 14 so had no money, but got a £5 pocket money now and again and could buy the odd 12, but used to save up to go to Black Market or Lucky Spin, but mostly Soul Sense in Luton.

When and where was your first gig and what are your memories of this night?

I played at a kind of youth club in a dis-used part of Bedford College around 93. It was packed and I remember the feeling sick, the smell of the dry ice. The only tune I can remember playing was Scott and Keith -Deranged Bonus Drums mix, so Im not sure if that dates that any better, but I was proud to have that on promo. We dreamed of having a dub plate, but a white label, Test Press or promo was the next best thing.

Vinyl DJing Vs Digital DJing… What do you prefer and why? And how do they differ?

It’s easier to Dj in the modern short attention span style with digi, but I would never say one requires more skill than the other. It’s a lot easier to mime to a pre-mix with all DJ sets so often a real record shows a DJ has some of the original skills, but the imagination, talent and dedication required to do something original with digi is not in anyway a lesser art than the vinyl purist set. 

Do you do many gigs as Sonar’s Ghost? Got much lined up?

No when I retired that was the only thing I said I wouldn’t go back to, clubs touring and live performance. And I still haven’t and won’t. 

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….

I just want them digi as I don’t collect, but if the person that made the tune represses it nad makes a few quid, everyone is happy. So Bizzy B, Baby Kane, Intense, Foul Play all had great well received re-releases of expensive 12”s. I appreciate those that hung on for the re-sell value of some things may be out of pocket, but it’s the Toy Story argument - do you buy a toy to sit on a box for 20 years then re-sell at 4 times the price, or do you let your child play with it. I think you play with it, and enjoy the times and memories it create. 

Do you think the vinyl thing will grow or fizzle out? discuss your reasoning… 

If it dies out again because of the financial times we live in, then it will come back. I may be in my 60s then, but it is always a 20 odd year cycle. So the people who started this resurgence in 2010 might be having families now, money is tighter, they might drop off. Equally if distributors and clubs go down that is a sign that people are moving on a bit. Thing is if there are 300 people around the world that want a record, it was worth pressing up (whereas in the 90s you could shift 3000). But the cost of shipping means these hobbyists that are spread around the world may not all club in as much, and as soon as stock piles up, the feeling grows that the game is up. Ive seen it at Reinforced, at Goya with Broken Beat. you can’t stay hot and on top forever, this second time round people have learnt from years of errors and set to safer models - on the whole most people have a day job, so I often refer to it as the ‘Fungle’ scene. People do it in their spare time, but with passion and integrity. That is what I value most, doing it for the love. I know it sounds naff, but it certainly can’t be for the money right?

Can you remember the first time you heard one of your tunes played at a rave or in a club by a big established DJ? Who was the DJ and how did it make you feel seeing all those people going mental to something that you released?

Nothing really until I was Domu at Co-op did I have tunes I would hear at Plastic People in Old Street. An incredible system where my peers would play tunes, dubs or releases, and people would know it and sing along. Save It was co-written with Dego 4Hero and on his label 2000Black. That was my proudest moment, in Plastic People, eyes shut, feeling the bass and hearing everyone singing along. Vibes!

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?

Its like us in the 90s digging the breaks from the 70’s, or getting into fusion, boogie or rarw groove. We weren’t there but we felt it. I got into alot of Jazz, Rare Groove Fusion etc via 4 Hero and the samples, so when I was making more complex music as Domu, or even Hip Hop, no one ever said I hadn’t earned it, I was just trying it out, how I felt my version of these things should be. I think people who step to the original sound do it with incredible attention to detail and enthusiasm for how it was made, especially those that collect and use hardware. It takes time and dedication and I have lots of respect for the Kid Libs/Dwarde/Pete Cannons etc. 

How does the newly produced hardcore / jungle compare to the original stuff? In your opinion.

I think it is just as good, and in some ways tighter and louder. You must be careful to not polish it too much, but people with the right sounds and ear for detail will do it properly. I haven’t really heard much fake or cardboard versions of the sound. I hear the odd pop producer having a go at referencing it, like a new Sugababes, All Saints or Oli Murs song or whatever, but this just shows it is running around the public consciousness again. To most of us jungle only really went away for 10-15 years, but most people it died after 1994 when ‘Incredible’ left the charts and they are being cool by referring to it. I guess the 20-30 year olds grew up with it around them and are curious about chasing the  original sound like in the 90s when I wanted to know about The 70s.

Do you have a big record collection? If so how many and how long have you been collecting?

Nope, just a few hundred tunes I hung onto and all my records I ever made, which must be around 2-300 or so.

What are your 3 most treasured records (give a little bit of info on each one why they are so special to you)

Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy - I searched for this 12” for years after loving it when it came out in 1991. Pre Discogs or internet you had to find records in shops. I found this when a local DJ Ronnie T sold some of his collection when he owned a shop in Bedford around 1994. I also nearly lost it giving it to an ex girlfriend but still managed to get it back!

Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet - my first grown up record, so I know every beat and single word, read and re read the cover a million times. So many white kids learned so much about Black Power through PE!

Static Imprints - Catch 20 - our first record on Reinforced. It’s obvious why your first release means so much. I had a school photo in the 6th form taken holding it. 

What record is top of your wants list?

I would like the original Oxford Ardcore pressing of Wots My Code The Dubplate Ep. 

Tell us a crazy / random / funny story about something that has happened to you whilst out and about DJing 

Once I was in Finland and I went to another club after finishing my set and left my record bag and another with my passport/clothes etc backstage as I knew the promoters. These 2 local Finnish DJs were there playing cards and drinking, so I assumed they would see if anyone else came in. I went out to enjoy the Brazilian band Azymuth. They finished, I went to get my bags, they were gone. I ran up the stairs and looked down the street - both my bags were on the shoulders of these 2 Djs (who both looked a bit like ginger Bee Gees) and they were about 100 meters down a hill getting to a cross street. I ran as fast as I could, they were falling about all over the place as they were clearly more drunk than I was, and I tackled them onto the floor. This spilled out on to Helsinkis High Street, so I instantly gathered lots of attention. The Police were there in seconds, but I hadn’t hurt or hit anyone. they asked what was I doing, I said they had stole my bags. They said prove it - I pulled out my passport! And they let me go. It was like something from a cartoon or film!

FINAL QUESTION…. From the heart… please tell me, what jungle music means to you… And what you see as your mission as a producer/DJ in the jungle scene.

Jungle is my first love, it was the so when I really felt like I was done with music I went back to it, and it showed me the simple harmony of all the things from my formative years how they all came together. It is a simple, fun, warm collection of sounds that just brings me and countless others joy. I grew up with it, so it feels like a sibling I care for deeply. I’m glad when it is doing well but when it went somewhere I didn’t feel, I let it do what it had to, and now I can’t see it moving away from that sweet spot in 92-96 where there were real drum breaks, the bass was warm and deep and it could be happy, it could dark, it could be ragga, it could be mellow. So much still to experiment with and potential.

Any final words??

Thank you for hosting the mix and the questions, and your continued passion for the music.

To the punters, just enjoy it, at home, in a club, in a field, online, in a shop, on vinyl, whatever. This is our punk music, we all made this together over 30 years ago and it is still going strong.

Social Links etc…. 

No insta, Twitter, Facebook etc. 





Back to blog