In 2012, we live in a culture that embraces immediacy. What is current often dictates what’s hot on the streets, almost guaranteeing a short shelf life for a great deal of music released nowadays. While the majority of DJs chase promos, beg fellow producers for unreleased content and pay Beatport’s premium to get a song the day it releases, some still find time to look in the rear-view mirror. In rather extreme cases we have guys like Pete DEV/NULL. A highly versatile DJ, one of the things DEV/NULL specializes in is both collecting and DJ-ing early 90s breakbeat hardcore music.
In the first part of this article, we are going to focus on DEV/NULL’s skill as a record collector; in the second, we focus on his skill as a DJ in the form of a podcast mix.
Breakbeat Hardcore: The Overview
A quick refresher for those less familiar: this style of music is the direct predecessor of jungle/drum & bass and happy hardcore. Most of it originated straight from the hazy warehouse rave days of England circa 1989-91. It lasted several years, until approximately 1994 when producers started using breakbeats more prominently, and people started calling it ‘jungle’. A very organic style, producers often created breakbeat hardcore on the crudest of equipment. Whatever they could afford really. DJs sometimes played house records at 45rpm. There were no rules, and during that period the average speed of this style increased from a slower 130 bpm all the way up to 160 bpm during its final months.
Unlike the jungle music that followed it, breakbeat hardcore generally relied on a 4×4 beat (as opposed to a broken beat). Breaks like the amen made routine appearances, however, they generally complimented the four-on-the-floor kicks, rather than bask in the spotlight. Critics of the style often point out the pitched-up, chipmunk-sounding vocals, but this distinction served its purpose here. It gave the music the added speed and energy it needed to distance itself from the house, and not all songs in the style incorporated Alvin, Simon & Theodore 😉
In addition to the bedroom and basement studios, running a breakbeat hardcore record label was very much a DIY process in those days. It was not uncommon for many releases to only see presses spanning a few hundred copies, which made sense considering it was a niche style of music with a small, UK-centric fanbase. Some labels, such as Formation and RAM, adapted to the changing times and remain highly successful 20 years later. Most only had a few releases, however, and require the knowledge of someone like DEV/NULL to expose this long-forgotten music to the masses. He does just that both on his blog, blogtotheoldskool.com, as well as in his mixes.
As hard as it is to get booked to play this sort of music nowadays, DEV/NULL isn’t swayed by scene politics. He is a record collector and fans first and foremost. Collecting breakbeat hardcore is more challenging than most other forms of dance because of the minimal distribution, and a small number of pressings discussed earlier. Records were the only UK and were before the widespread adoption of the Internet. Thanks to sites like Discogs, it’s gotten easier to procure a record collection of this style, but many don’t come cheap (some more than $50). You also pay a premium for shipping. Very few can be purchased digitally.
DEV/NULL describes some of his own experiences building his collection below, over a decade in the making. He boasts one of the northeast’s most comprehensive collections of breakbeat hardcore; sans a few other select DJs (such as Entropy), he is one of the only people in New England playing this stuff at all. Which is why I had to get him on the podcast tip!
Blogtotheoldskool has been in action since 2008; DEV/NULL routinely uploads audio clips of some of the most obscure breakbeat hardcore records from his collection there. It’s worth a look; even if you’re familiar with the sound, you’re not going to find stuff you’ve already heard like Valley of the Shadows of Atlantis…strictly leftfield business only.
Before we get into the mix, here are some words from Pete himself. We did a quick Q&A over email, and he had a lot of cool stuff to say.
DEV/NULL: The Record Collector
Nick: Briefly describe Blogtotheoldskool to some of our readers who aren’t familiar. How long has it been around? How long have you been buying vinyl?
DEV/NULL: Blog to the Oldskool is the longest-running (I think) oldskool hardcore blog on the Internet, running since 2008. It’s run by me, with occasional contributions from friends and oldskool associates. People who have done one-off posts (and who I hope to contribute more in the future) include DJ Dara, Jason 0=0, Leo DSP, Droid, and Will from Sublogic Recordings. Every 2-7 days, I pick an oldskool hardcore/jungle record in my collection, choose one of my favorite tracks on it (maybe 2 if it’s a four-tracker) and rip it to 320kb mp3 to post. I also try to feature interviews with classic under-appreciated artists as well as some big big names.
I’ve been collecting vinyl since 1992 and got into buying jungle/drum & bass around 1997. Around 2001 I started to lose interest in the direction regular drum & bass was going (more technical production but less interesting rhythms). I ended up getting more into the left-field / choppy stuff which was coming out on labels like Reinforced Second Wave and Spore at the time. I also sort of switched into ‘reverse gear’ and started going back through the years I missed, especially before 1994. I really amped up my oldskool buying once I got out of school and got a decent job around 2004. Been focusing on grabbing 1991-95 breakbeat hardcore since.
Nick: Changing music fads, the dominance of digital technology, and a bad economy have all been contributing factors to the rapid decline in the value of a lot of dance & electronic vinyl. However, a lot of the early 90s breakbeat hardcore you collect continues to appreciate. Why do you think this is?
DEV/NULL: In my opinion, even though the value of used vinyl as a whole has gone down a lot the past 10 years, there’s been a split where the majority of tunes get cheaper and cheaper, while the rarest 1-5% (or some fixed small subset of tunes) continue to appreciate. Both of these cases are probably because of the effect the Internet has on record collecting.
On one hand, the vast majority of records have gotten easier and cheaper to find, due to people ‘going digital’ as well as sites like Discogs and eBay making it easier to track them down. Before these sites, you had various sellers selling on mailing lists, forums, or individual websites…there was a lot less of a unified sense of the ‘worth’ of a given tune. On one hand, you could end up having to pay 10, 20, even 30 pounds for some relatively cheap/easy-to-find record, since it was hard to find competing copies for sale… advantage: seller. On the other hand, you could also sometimes find some insanely rare pricey gem in a dollar bin if you knew what you were looking for since it was a lot harder for sellers to ascertain the max value of those records, or sell them for those higher values even if they knew they were rare.. advantage: buyer.
Nowadays you can pick any given record and instantly see a lot of the copies for sale all across the world, as well as what it’s sold for in the past few years. So a lot of those larger-pressing tunes that used to sell for 20-30 pounds, now go for a lot less since they get listed in one place (Discogs marketplace for instance). Meaning everyone across the ‘net selling that tune is now competing against each other.
On the other hand, the explosion in the value of a smaller number of rarer tunes has also come from (or at least been helped greatly by) this Internet-collecting culture specifically from the track ID-ing and knowledge trading which happens on various web forums and mailing lists. The records that end up having small supply and large demand (priciest) tend to be either super rare releases by well-known artists (though there are very few of these since it was in the interest of artists to press up as many records as they could sell!) Or, much more frequently, one-off obscure records which have since gained notoriety by being featured infamous DJ sets from that era.
Some of these tunes might not have been that sought after when they first came out since even if people heard them in sets and liked them it wasn’t all that easy to ID any old tune. You couldn’t exactly pop up Pandora on your smartphone back then to ID a track! Also, in general, I think DJs were a bit cagier ID’ing and giving up their secret trademark tracks back then. Since then there have been 10, 15, even 20 years of people listening to these mixes over and over and discussing them online, and getting track IDs. Listening to a mix a lot makes it hard for almost ALL the tracks in the mix not to grow on you in some manner, even if it’s some idiosyncrasy about the less-than-stellar production. Something like that can grow to be charming over time, and your general positive feeling for the mix as a whole sort of engenders favor towards all the tunes in the mix. This explains why some people will try to collect entire sets of tracks as featured in single favorite mixes, and why sellers on eBay will hock tunes with the name of DJs who played them.
Also, there are now loads of Internet forums dedicated to discussing and providing clips of these obscure tunes, as well as sites like tuneid.com and rolldabeats.com dedicated to doing tracklists for mixes or ID’ing tracks from mp3 clips. This means all of these obscure tunes that nobody knew by name suddenly have names and all the people who have been listening to them for years having no idea what they are now have a chance to buy them. Bigger demand, same small supply = price goes up despite waning vinyl market.
I guess the last thing is, even if a track was never in a famous mix, having audio as well as general info shared about tracks online (especially statistics as to how many copies are floating around / how many people want them), tends to make tunes increase in desirability/value. We all want what we can’t have, so with rarest and small pressing tunes, there’s a sort of feedback loop where the more people who want those records with the smallest quantity of copies available, the more the record is perceived as desirable and the more other people add it to their want lists as well. Even if it’s just in case a cheap copy comes along / for trading purposes. Add to this the occasional list posted of ‘Top 100 most obscure ragga / Darkside / piano / etc / tunes’ that makes it on the net, and you’ve got lots of people going after a bunch of tunes which just a few years prior might have been no big deal.
Nick: What are a few of your most triumphant finds? (Can be online or in a physical store, and they don’t have to be super-rare or expensive either)
DEV/NULL: First, I’ve got to mention the ‘triumphant find’ that started it all: me buying Origin Unknown’s ‘Valley of the Shadows’ original press (with ‘The Touch’ on the flip, not the sped-up reissue from 1996) in London around 1998. Not even that rare of a tune, yet it wasn’t cheap either (12 pounds). But it doesn’t get any better than buying a piece of jungle history like that in some used record store right on Berwick Street back when I couldn’t or didn’t know to buy it online.
For other triumphs, I guess I should prefix this by saying that these stories are simply NOTHING compared to what a good UK cratedigger could mention. I get way fewer chances to dig and find crazy obscure stuff than people actually in the UK searching through boot-sales etc. That being said, I always like when my nerdy knowledge of obscure records and catalog #s, or my willingness to take chances on cheap records I haven’t heard pays off. a couple of examples of each:
Asterix EP: http://blogtotheoldskool.com/?p=134
I bought this 4 years ago on a trip to the UK, in a big popular used record store long after most stores were wise to Discogs. It was simply one of those records that hadn’t really made the rounds on the Internet yet, so it was sitting there probably for ages for a pound or two. I later nabbed a second copy since it was still pretty cheap and I really liked it. Now it’s in demand/pricey, people just sort of finally came around to it.
Mark T/Rudeboy 007: http://www.discogs.com/Mark-T-Too-Ruff-EP/release/387167
I found this for a pound when it was still going for a lot more money than it is now, just by recognizing the catalog number on the matrix. Just ultra filthy Grimey darkcore/jungle stuff. Need to take a shower after listening to this one.
Probably the best score of my last UK trip, found this for 50p! Again, matrix knowledge to the rescue, no listening or internet checking required.
Nick’s note: this has a 7-people-own to the 60-people-want ratio on Discogs. Not too shabby, Pete!
Terrain-Murder is the Medicine
Found this for 50 cents on my last Cali trip in a mega picked through/well-rinsed bargain-bin (no obvious scores there). I had no idea about the artist but I recognized the producer and took a chance for 50 cents. Did some ‘net searching when I got home and I guess it sold for $450 last year on eBay. And for over $1000 the year before!
Nick: Any crazy stories or experiences you went through trying to get your hands on a certain record?
DEV/NULL: Nothing too crazy I can think of, I guess I’d consider digging through the basement of Thing in Greenpoint as a crazy experience (which I’ve done a few times over the past 10 years). Tough to explain in writing, but anyone who’s been there understands why. Oh yeah, there’s the time I bought a record off someone in Belgium, who was a fan of my music and was a little, um, overexcited to sell it to me. So he decided it would be a great idea to package the record with pages from a porn magazine. Of course, it would’ve been funnier if I wasn’t getting records sent to my work address at the time.
Nick: Do you dig around on sites like Discogs.com, or do you prefer the visceral experience and spontaneity of going to an actual store and getting to feel and listen to the record before you decide to buy it?
DEV/NULL: Discogs are practically a way of life for me at this point. I check it more than anything except my email. This is mainly since I live in Boston where there’s simply nowhere I can go regularly to buy oldskool stuff in person. Also, I don’t dig eBay much anymore since the competition aspect is annoying for me. I love Discogs for randomly poking around looking for records, it’s reasonably well organized, the programmers behind it are nice guys, etc. Youtube linking and social sharing are definitely helping bring the site to the next level.
Still, I’m at my happiest in a real record store, in front of a wall of cheap 90’s dance singles (at least a couple of thousand) which may or may not have a crazy house, techno, or oldskool hidden somewhere in them. Plus a few hours to dig. Dollar bins are few and far between these days. If anyone knows any good ones that haven’t been picked through (in Boston), feel free to drop me a line!
Nick: Are there any record labels whose back catalogs you wish you owned more of?
DEV/NULL: Absolutely, there are a few labels I didn’t collect many years ago since I considered them kind of ‘bigger’ labels whose tunes didn’t fit what I was looking for in tunes at the time (for example mega mashed breaks or super low-fi, weird, or noisy sounds). Some of these labels have gone on to be pretty pricey. One example is Deep Seven Recordings (RAM records affiliate). There are quite a few classics on there that have grown on me from hearing them in mixes (Light & Dark’s ‘Phantasy’ and Faze Lock’s ‘Come Again’), which are now extra pricey. Another one is Tom & Jerry. Pretty much every record on that label is an absolute banger, but I’ve only got 4 or 5 of them so far.
Other than that, probably some of the labels like Back 2 Basics and Flex’s early 94/95 releases. I end up skipping these even though they’re cheap, simply because much more obscure cheap, 92 white labels seem more appealing. Unfortunately, the music on those white labels ends up usually being about 1/100th as good as some of those polished 94/95 tunes.
Nick: What is the weirdest record in your collection? Anything with strange or completely over-the-top cover art/design?
DEV/NULL: Having a hard time thinking of the right answer for this. For crazy cover art/design, I’m guessing probably one of the rare death metal or noise records in my collection. For the weirdest record, maybe a record of Chinese communist worker songs bought for me by an old roommate/buddy of mine (who is originally from mainland China so he recognized the writing when we saw it in a used record store).
Nick: Any records you are currently trying to track down?
DEV/NULL: Yeah my want list is pretty crazy. I’ve got about a 2-3000 item sort of passive ‘cool stuff if I see it for cheap/when I’ve got spare cash’ list of things to look out for. Because of Discogs, there’s always tons of stuff for sale which I want to buy, but if it’s a cheap record I have to buy overseas it’s often not worth purchasing because of the upfront postage cost ($10-12 for the first record).
Other than that, there’s an abridged list of maybe 40-50 REALLY WANNA BUY records which I don’t like to even tell people about because I’m paranoid when they do go for sale someone might grab them before I get a chance! One record I’ll probably never find since it’s too sought after is the Duck / Philth record by Dwayne Goettel (RIP) of Skinny Puppy. That one goes for crazy money, I just want it since it’s one of the coolest north American jungle track ever released pre 94/95!
Nick’s note: Duck/Philth currently selling on Discogs for 260 UK pounds.
Nick: The immediacy of MP3s online is convenient, but nothing lasts forever: hard drives fail, hosting plans end, and websites shut down. A lot of the independent electronic music I downloaded 4-5 years ago is now difficult to find online. Do you think 20 years from now a widespread collectors movement will exist where people will ‘dig digitally,’ i.e., through old computers and obsolete hard drives, to find unique content from the present?
DEV/NULL: Haha, never thought of this, that’d be amazing! I’ve lost so much stuff on hard drives over the years, it’d be cool if hard drive restore tools went down in price or there was even some sort of organization you could bring your hard drive to which would restore just the media from the drive at no cost to you, on the condition that it be made available to everyone. Sort of an archiving organization like the mixtape archivers now who let people send them old cassettes which they then rip and post on the internet. The RIAA would have an utter fit over this so there are some serious roadblocks in anything like this happening. I know I used to have some crazy unreleased stuff which is now sadly lost though. Basically my whole ‘unreleased/secret don’t share’ folder collected over 12 years of people sending me stuff got wiped out a year ago. At least with records, I can only break them one at a time, and that usually comes down to fumbling with a record needle while a little tipsy.
DEV/NULL: The DJ
It goes without saying that DEV/NULL is involved as a DJ around the city. He’s played everywhere from Make It New, to Throwed, to Elements, to Heartthrob. While the majority of what he plays out is current-day IDM, bass, and experimental, he also plays the oldskool stuff whenever he is given the opportunity. Right now he frequently runs a UStream feed from time to time playing it, and I’m more than happy to give him an outlet to play this type of stuff on our podcast series as well. Again, very few people play early 90s breakbeat hardcore, especially in America. So both seasoned and curious listeners are going to be in for a treat.
DEV/NULL has a second Soundcloud account set up specifically for his DJ-ing (as opposed to his original production); check out his previous mixes here. (His most popular one is probably the Club Music mix he recorded for DIS Magazine last year- check the embed below)
And as for his podcast here, hope you enjoy it! It’s very energy-fueled and showcases both the ravier, 4-on-the floor side of breakbeat hardcore along with the breakbeat-driven sounds that laid the groundwork to what would soon become drum and bass music. DEV/NULL weaves through almost 25 tracks in 45 minutes! Mix link and tracklist after the cover art jump.
On The Boogiedownload:: DEV/NULL (1991-93 Breakbeat Hardcore)
- Pum Brigade – Tuffer than Words (Torso Dance)
- Unity – Fireball (Boogie Times)
- Zone – Ghosties B2 (Whitelabel)
- Lloyd Crucial + Peter Ranks – Passing through (Kiss My Nortty Nortty Mix) (Lap One)
- Tronik House – Spark Plug (KMS)
- Stevie Hyper D & Tigger Max – Hear The Vibes (Sonic Stealth)
- Sub Love – Drum & Bass Program (Earth)
- Frisbee & Cooz – Free Your Mind (Another Planet)
- Eat Life – Digital Fish (Plastic Surgery)
- The Reece Project – Spirit come Down (Liquid Wax)
- Cool House – Rock This Party Right (Fast Eddie’s Raw Mix) @45 (Underground)
- DJ SS – Don’t Come No Ruffer (Formation)
- DJ Dove – Bird of Prey (White label)
- Cloud 9 – Ruff (Remix) (Moving Shadow)
- Njoi – Drumstruck (Deconstruction)
- Deceptive Jon – The Confession (Overlord Mix) (Deceptive RecordS)
- DJ Spice – The Groove (Soapbar)
- The Moog – Jungle Muffin (Delirious)
- Trance & Roughcut – Vol 1 side A (IR)
- JAS – Keri (Red Alert mix) (Adrenaline)
- DJ Rap & Aston – Vertigo (Suburban Base)
- Yolk – Sick Squid (Ruffbeat)
- Wishdokta – Whine You Bottom (Kickin)
- Naughty Naughty – Volume Six side A (Naughty Naughty)