Should you be super old, like me, you may well remember living through those halcyon days that were the late 1980’s and early to mid 1990’s. Days of carefree and misspent youth. Days spent gaming, nights spent raving. Or in my case, nights spent playing records that I’d chosen to play, loudly, to fee-paying customers that wished to shuffle and gyrate in front of me. Awkwardly and inhibited at first, and somewhat more wackily as the evening passed and they became more inebriated.
Yes, I was a DJ, ‘spinning platters’ on the ‘wheels of steel’ of a Friday, Saturday and occasionally a Sunday night circa 1996. This continued throughout the late 1990’s and in to the early part of the 2000’s. I’d play at nightclubs both regional and national and also co-hosted a weekend show on a city pirate radio station (back when pirate radio truly was about taking over real radio waves and not simply hosting a Shoutcast server). I wrote a few tracks, simple stuff as I haven’t a note in my head, which met with reasonable acclaim and distributed on a microscopic scale. At one point, on a train home from London, and having picked up a music magazine to read on the journey, I discovered that on page 69, there I was on the new release reviews, rubbing shoulders between the Beastie Boys and David Morales. I even scored 4 out 5 stars in their review of my work!
Eventually the realities of life and becoming an ‘actual adult’ lead to my becoming disinterested in the whole thing until eventually I’d dropped out of the whole deal altogether. Though I never lost my itch for the music, and to this day, if I get a chance I like to try and put together some sounds or listen to music that reignites some very fond memories.
I recently purchased a turntable. The first record player I’ve owned in over 15 years too, so actually having one in my possession again is quite something to me on a personal level. It’s a pretty juicy little thing too, a Pro-Ject Essential turntable with an Ortofon 5e cartridge and stylus. Entry level stuff for the snake oil fanatics amongst you, but it will do for me. I don’t want to be handling record sleeves in a dark room with tweezers, frightened that the acids in my fingerprints will damage the sleeve colourisation. Or spending the equivalent of the external debt of the entire United States on a new tonearm made of Tanzanite and majolica for an ambitious, relaxed, entirely non-threatening yet confrontational sound stage.
I want to play some rare records. Unique records. Records that mean something to me. Then I want to preserve them.
One particular piece of vinyl has been on my wishlist for, well, about 20 years. This week I was finally reunited with it. Memories came flooding back as I unwrapped the cardboard mailer. I knew exactly where I was, Mellow Dee Records. 1997. The all-aqua tones of the Ultra Records sleeve design feel as fresh in my mind as that day in that record store nearly 20 years ago. I can’t believe it has been that long. However there is more to this than just a simple nostalgia buzz, as you are about to discover.
Some of you reading this may recall circa 1995 a very popular house music record titled Renegade Master. It was extremely popular on the underground dance music scene, eventually crossing over to the mainstream music charts and becoming a global hit. The man behind it was one Roger McKenzie, aka Wildchild. Starting in relative obscurity with Legends of the Dark Black Part 2, McKenzie would go on to have huge success with Renegade Master and Jump To My Beat (which was later sampled by McKenzie himself on the track Love Each Other). Sadly McKenzie died suddenly in 1995 from an undiagnosed heart condition. He was 24. He would not even live to see the birth of his son, Noir, the following April.
McKenzie had a number of remixes and original tracks finished prior to his death which were released posthumously in the years following. One release of which is very special, that of ul12008, or, The Unreleased Project.
A 12″ vinyl comprising just three tracks, The Unreleased Project is a real house music gem because the star of the show, Bad Boy, is unavailable elsewhere. It’s an incredible slice of 1990’s house music using a short and sharp vocal snippet from the famous, and much sampled The Badman Is Robbin’ by Hijack, Now before you jump down my throat with mentions of Bad Boy being available in 1998 on all sorts of wonderful digital formats, take note that all available versions of Bad Boy are remixes. The original, undiluted, full uncut 11 minute long epic is only available on Ultra Records catalogue number ul12008.
You will need to be very careful when purchasing ul12008 too. For the catalogue number appears to have been re-used for a Brian McDermott release, Down On Me. Additionally there is a white label promo for a DJ Shorty release that uses the same ul12008 code. If you are looking for a copy of this record, make sure to check the code etched on to the run out as well as the sleeve and centre label!
Copies of the records are not especially rare at present, nor are they very expensive. In fact you can pick up a copy at Discogs, for example, for €1 or less. The major headache with this record though is finding one in good condition, especially if you are buying blind and remotely. It is tough to find many records within this genre in above par condition. The main problem being that they would have been slung around in flight cases from weekend to weekend over the last 20 years or so and/or kept in storage for prolonged periods. Due to the environment they are being played in too, you’ll likely find scratches all over the place, more often than not from cue points, especially with Bad Boy as it clocks in at around 11 minutes long!
Unless you luck out on a mint, un-played copy (and believe me when I say there were no shrink-wrapped copies as I special-ordered my copy in 1996 from the label directly!) then all you are going to find are copies with varying degrees of nightclub wear.
Even if you do get lucky and nab a nice mint copy of The Unreleased Project, you’ll still be fighting a losing battle as the record doesn’t appear to have been pressed, or mastered very well at all. I recall on the occasions that I did spin Bad Boy I’d be fighting with the EQ on the nightclub sound system to get it to sound half decent. The track suffers from sounding too narrow and feels drowned by a lot of treble and hiss. Perhaps the equipment I am listening to the record on now only serves to further expose and highlight the mastering flaws, but they are flaws that really do need to be dealt with. Which is why I decided make a digital recording of The Unreleased Project and enhance it myself using iZotope Ozone.
Alas, even using iZotope Ozone in its latest, greatest form could not spit out bang tidy results. For those kinds of results you’d be wanting to get hold of the original master and heaven (literally) knows where those are. Still, I don’t think I did too badly with my recording and little bit of fiddling. You don’t want to overcook it. It’s been a while since I last tampered with Ozone and the Winds of Thunder soundtrack. Overall though I am pleased with the results.
Have a listen to the short sample, perhaps you’ve been inspired to hunt a copy of the record down? Or search YouTube for a poor quality recording? Or perhaps you feel inspired to hunt down and preserve some records of your own. I hope so. I’m just delighted to have preserved this lovely little record and hopefully saved it from being lost altogether, forever.