If you are a UK Hardcore fan or a Freeform fan, you don’t need me to remind you who this legend is. You can tell it’s DJ Thumpa, the man behind the succesful label called ReBuild Music, a very succesful producer and DJ and also a pioneer. A music lover, a man with passion and who’s dedicated to show the world how much he adores music. Someone with an open mind, and he’s on a mission. A mission to make us all dance, and appreciate music the way he does. Let’s talk to the man, and see what grinds his gears, what makes him move, and why he’s so bloody talented! Ladies and Gentlemen: DJ THUMPA!!!
Mr Thumpa, how are you doing? How’s life?
“Good man! Life is good, music is good, everything is alright for once! I’m happy with life.”
I could ask you the most standard question (which I normally do), but I won’t. People will recognize the headphones and 2 CDJs and ofcourse a mixer, and they assume that you are a DJ. A disc jockey. Back in 1996 you started DJing, and you’ve played at many events. But going back to 1996, why did you decide to become a DJ? Were you a raver who thought that he could be as good as those you’ve admired, or was it just for fun?
“I never get bored of telling this story! I was 10 and got a ‘Rave 92’ double tape for Christmas, it had The Prodigy, 2 Unlimited, Praga Khan, stuff like that. I was only a kid but I was obsessed with the bleeps and bloops of electronic music, all my friends at school were into The Levellers (and later Oasis and Blur) but Dance music just hooked me from the start. I spent a few years listening to any rave tapes I could get my hands on then and my Dad introduced me to Chemical Brothers and Underworld in 1993/94. In 1996 I heard DJ Vibes and DJ Rap playing at a big festival called Tribal Gathering. The festival was live on Radio One and from the first few seconds of Vibes’ set I just knew I wanted to be a DJ. The horns and whistles were louder than the music and it was just crazy. I think I bought decks a few months later and started buying jungle and hardcore records and that’s it. Nearly 18 years later, here we are!”
You started back in 1996, but there must have been a history before that magical year (probably the best year for Happy Hardcore if I’m honest). What did Thumpa do, before he became Thumpa? Was he a full-on raver, and what got you into the scene?
“I was only 14 when I started buying records and I didn’t have a clue how it worked. I thought the MC was also the DJ and I didn’t really know how they mixed the records, so I tried to teach myself how to do it. Before I had decks I had one 7” turntable and one tape deck and I’d try and speed the record up in time with the cassette and try scratching, anything to make it sounds like DJ’ing. My Dad bought me decks in late 1996 and from then on I spent every penny on records, hanging out at Tempest Records in Birmingham trying to get Hardcore and Jungle promos, finding out what was on what label and seeing they had any records under the desk, anything! I was like a sponge, soaking up knowledge of what happened before 1996, who made this record, who did he work with, what label sounded like this label, where did this style come from? I think to be a record collector you have to have that obsessive nature inside you, you need to know EVERYTHING about it to enjoy it. Every town I went to I found a record shop and just bought everything I could, whether it was BPM in Derby, Slammin Vinyl in Kingston Upon Thames or HMV in Birmingham; if they had Hardcore and Jungle records I bought them!
I actually started out as DJ Trigga but I had to change my name as I found out there was a MC Trigga in Drum & Bass (I was trying to get gigs playing D&B) so I had to change my name after a promoter told me Trigga wasn’t happy. I had a gig at something in Birmingham and my mates told me I jumped around like a rabbit behind the decks (I think their exact words were ‘that gay rabbit out of Bambi’) so Thumpa just stuck! That was in 1999 and here we are nearly in 2014.”
You started spending all your money (when you were younger) buying Hardcore and Jungle records. Do you remember which record was the first one you bought, and do you still have it/play it?
“I still have the first 2 records I bought, I bought ‘Charly’ by Prodigy and ‘Do The Bartman’ by Bart Simpson (remember that?) in 1991. One great record that shaped Rave music and one record by The Prodigy. Wahey! I think the first Hardcore/Jungle records I bought were ‘My Own’ (Ham Remix) by DJ Seduction on Impact or maybe Cheddar 4 on Quosh and the jungle one was definitely something on V Recordings by Krust or DJ Die. I still love all those labels and have nearly all of them from that era so yeah, I probably mix them now and again in my room!”
Hardcore was a new and unique sound back in the 90s. A lot of Breakbeat and Piano tunes. What was it, that grabbed your attention and made you think “this is so cool”?
“When I first heard Vibes on that Radio 1 show, it was definitely the noise and the energy of the crowd, you could even hear on the radio that everyone was going f**king mental, the noise was overwhelming and Livelee was going so mad, I just built a picture in my head of what raves looked like months before I even went to one. Still to this day, when you listen to a CD pack or a recording from an event and the crowd goes mental you still get that feeling where you wish you’d been there, I had it yesterday listening to a Hazard set with Fearless & Eksman from last year somewhere, the tune got rewound and the crowd roared…you can’t fake that reaction.”
For those who are too young to remember, back in those days vinyl dominated the music scene. CDs were invented, but many DJs prefered to play tunes from vinyl. There were even DJs who played tunes from tape! Those were the good old days, eh? You’ve been a DJ for 17 years now, and I’ve got to ask a true DJ this question: vinyl or CDs?
“I understand that music has to move forward and it’s cost effective to play new tracks on CD and Traktor, Ableton etc but my favourite sets over the last year have been playing classic Freeform vinyl at I Love Hard Beats and classic Happy Hardcore at Bust An Old Jam. I just think there’s something special about bringing a big bag of records to a club, opening the bag and just thinking ‘hmmm, what shall I start with?’ and ‘what goes into this?’. I enjoy playing new music but I must admit, mixing just isn’t as fun for me personally. Also, tracks just don’t sit together on CDJs like they do on vinyl, people who can mix perfectly on Technics will know what I’m getting at!”
During those 17 years you have played at many events, but you got your first residency back in 2000, playing Drum and Bass at Simon Bassline Smith’s night “Technique” in Derby. 13 Years ago, can you still remember that night (the first one), and how was it?
“I remember my Dad cutting down a big poster on a lampost in Derby and giving it to me, he was so proud of his son on a big flyer even though I don’t think he really knew who Grooverider was. It’s a special feeling the first time you see your name on a flyer next to someone you respect, and I remember Simon giving me £20 in an envelope and me just thinking ‘wow I’ve made it!’. I can’t remember much about the actual night now, it was probably a lot of drink and good times! I do recall walking into the office and one of the Drumsound guys told me it was some ‘heavy beats Tumps’ and me grinning like a Cheshire cat. I will always love those guys, they gave me a chance even though they didn’t know me, big respect to Bassline Smith and Drumsound.”
You are now known to be a full-on Hardcore DJ, but you still love music: you still play DnB and other styles too. What made you decide to focus on UK Hardcore/Trancecore/Freeform, and not become a huge DJ in the DnB scene?
“I’ve always bounced around from style to style, I’ve played UK Hardcore in the main arena of big raves, played Speedcore in massive rooms for North and Vibealite and played classic D&B at Uproar, it’s all just music to me and I love it all. I must admit I do go through stages of listening to a LOT of music from one style (almost to the point of saturation) then I don’t keep up with it for a few months and get obsessed with something else, my missus will always say ‘oh what style is it this month?’. I had a good run playing for North and at some amazing gigs, playing brutal 250-300bpm Speedcore and Breakcore on the same lineups as Drokz, The Speed Freak, The Outside Agency etc and that was a totally amazing experience too as I’ve always been into Hardcore Techno too (that will have to be another interview!). Despite this, my original music has always been Hardcore and it’s what I always go back to, I’ll always find new music I like in this genre and will always find artists that excite me and make me feel like a little kid again. I did enjoy playing D&B and still buy a few bits here and there but Hardcore will always be my first love.”
Playing for 17 years, an achievement. You still get that buzz before you play, or has it become a normal thing for you?
“I do get gigs where I turn up and think ‘fuck, I got out of bed for this?’ but then I get gigs where I feel like I’ve just started raving again and I just want to stay all night and get pissed out my face and dance all night…you just can’t predict it. When it comes to being on the decks, I’m a natural extrovert and have never been shy so I do enjoy playing to a room full of people and taking them up and down and showing them new music they might not know, then taking them somewhere else playing an anthem or a forgotten gem. To be a DJ I think you have to enjoy the attention and not be shy about getting into the music and showing people you love it, I think that’s all part of it. I think when the vibe is right, the system is loud and the music is great, all the stars align and you remember why you love DJ’ing so much.”
You still play all over the UK, showcasing your talents again and again. You’ve seen thousands of ravers going nuts, but which event was the most memorable one, and why?
“I’ve had a few amazing gigs over the years, on my 25th birthday in 2007 I played in the Techno room at Uproar and Ribbz got the whole room to sing happy birthday to me, that was special. My first massive gig was also for Uproar in 2004 and I played first set in the main room, the room was packed about 20 minutes in and everything just fell into place, playing new Hardcore, new Freeform and finishing with classic bouncy Techno and Gabber, even though I was on first set I ripped that room a new one and I’d like to think I turned a few heads. One of my personal favourites was July 2012 playing classic Freeform in the 2nd room at I Love Hard Beats with Obie, Ham(ilton) was on in the main room and someone came in and told me I’d emptied his room, haha! I played classic 97-00 stuff by Helix, Fury, Eclipse, Sharkey etc (music that is very close to me for a personal reason) and I was just so emotional all the way through the set, the hairs on my arms were standing up as I played ‘Product Of Society’ by Sharkey and I was just so happy and excited but just so sad and melancholic at the same time, it’s hard to believe sometimes what music can do to you! The crowd ate up every track, the room was rammed and I knew that these records meant as much to them as they do to me, it’s a nice feeling and it’s nice that now I’m really involved in this music, I could share my records that I bought 10/15 years ago with like minded people. Everything happens for a reason!”
Link – http://soundcloud.com/rebuild_music/thumpa-classic-freeform-set-I
In 2009 you started ReBuild Music, your own label. You said in another interview that ‘you were meant to run a label’. Firstly, where does the name come from, and secondly, why did you start a new label, seeing as there were many dominating the scene? What made ReBuild unique from day one?
“My girlfriend came up with the name! I don’t think I’ve ever really told anyone that actually, but yeah we had a brainstorming session and I said that I wanted to run a label that really proved there was still great music about, now I think about it ‘ReBuild’ is perfect as it was meant to be a label that rebuilt Hardcore. In 2008/9 I personally think most of the music about was shocking, I’d totally signed out from UK Hardcore in 2006/7 and was playing Hardcore Techno, Hardcore was lacking in ideas and originality, all the sets I heard were really clutching at straws and everyone desperately unoriginal. I knew producers like Gammer, Oli G, Mozz, Fracus, Darwin etc from spending the last 8/9 years with them and being good mates so I just started to ask them if they had tracks lying around really. I sat down and wrote down what I wanted to with a label and what I wanted to get out of it and it just snowballed from there. I signed a handful of tracks, got a logo together and started releasing music digitally. When I started the label I looked around and saw loads of half arsed digital labels with no real strong brand, no decent producers or musical direction and (without sounding big headed) I knew I could run a label that ticked all those boxes. I think the label has grown into it’s own entity over the years, outselling supposedly ‘big’ labels by almost double and building up a strong family vibe where everyone who buys the albums knows they are getting something special and something organic from someone who knows their stuff, knows what sells and actually gives a shit about the long term health of Hardcore music.”
At first you started releasing only tracks, but something must have been tickling you, and you wanted to release an album. In 2010 “Worldwide Freeform” emerged out of nowhere. More albums followed, and they are ALL sold out. These albums sold out like no compilation before, and it makes your label the fastest selling album ever. What’s the secret behind these albums?
“I don’t know about it being the fastest selling album ever but it definitely sells more than other labels perceived as being ‘bigger’ in Hardcore! It is definitely up there with Hardcore Underground, we sell more than any other label in Hardcore over here.
In late 2009 I started to get really bored with releasing music digitally, there’s nothing to do except upload a track to Trackitdown or whatever then spam the fuck out of everywhere and hope it sells, it was boring me to death. I’ve always been old skool with my music, it breaks my heart that a lot of music doesn’t come out on a physical format and I’ve always been a collector of music, whether it’s CDs, tapepacks or vinyl…I just love that excitement of getting music and playing it. I looked around and not many people were doing physical releases (probably for fear of losing money) and I started to gather a load of unsigned tracks; at the time I was listening to a lot of FINRG and Hybridize stuff and I tracked down people like Grimsoul, Alek, Substanced and Horzi and asked them for music. Luckily they took a chance and sent me some great tracks and it all just started from there. I got hold of a few strong tracks off Lost Soul, Gammer, Ephexis etc and after a few months I had 20 solid tracks and enough for an album. I was really lucky getting ‘34m’ off Gammer and ‘Sick Seduction’ by Ephexis, I’ve been really good mates with Gammer since about 2002 and knew the Exphexis boys through Oli G. I got some free artwork done by my Dad (big up!) and paid to get 200 CDs mate and they just flew out the door! Since then I’ve done another 6 albums and they just sell more units, quicker than the last one and get more and more respect from the people in the know. I think the reason the albums do so well is – the music is strong, I have a passion for great music and I take pride in the presentation of the albums, for example the tracks are professionally mastered by Andy Freestyle, not just made louder like most Hardcore, the artwork is original and drawn and inked by Transformers comic artist Dan Khanna and the CDs are limited edition and always presented beautifully. I also think the albums do well because everyone knows me, yeah I’m a loudmouth dickhead but I know what good music sounds like and I know my market, real life-long fans of the music, not just teenagers who won’t be listening to Hardcore in 2 years.”
How are the responses from the fans, and ofcourse your fellow DJs? On these albums you have many tracks by well-established DJs such as Gammer, UFO, Douglas, A.B, Nick235, Darwin, etc. How do they react to this phenomena?
“The response on each album is just more amazing than the last, ‘Freeformania’ sold all 300 copies in 48 hours and ‘Against All Odds’ sold 400 copies in 6 days, madness! I’ve spoken to other label owners who have released CDs and they don’t sell half that in double the time, so I’m happy. The albums sell all over the World, with CDs flying out to 25+ countries for every album…it’s mental just sitting there packaging CDs in my lounge that will be listened to all over the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Russia, China, Finland, Spain, Germany and more. Pretty cool! As for the producers on there, I hand pick every track and the quality control is very high, but a lot of producers are mates that I’ve known years so they trust me to represent their music well and make them a bit of cash at the same time. It helps that I know a lot of great producers so putting albums together is really fun and rewarding, it’s never hard finding good music if you know where to look! People like Slipmatt, DJ Fury and The Speed Freak are personal heroes of mine so I made it my goal to get them on an album, the albums are as much a representation of my music and my personality as they are of the producers…the label is my baby.”
And even as we speak, you are already talking about releasing a new album. But on Facebook you have shared your opinion with fans of ReBuild regarding UK Hardcore. You have fallen ‘out of love’. What’s happened? Aren’t there many talented producers anymore?
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and (supposedly) more mature but a lot of Hardcore these days makes me cringe. Hardcore was spawned from tunes ripping off pop tracks and some of those tracks in 96/97 are my favourite ever tunes, but to put it simply there’s a lot of really shit music about, no ideas, shit mixdowns, terrible bootlegs with no thought or care and more copycat music than ever. Even a few years ago you could go on a mp3 store and buy a handful of tracks every month, now you’d be lucky to find one decent track every month. To be honest I was never really into more than a few producers anyway, Gammer is always great, always been into Fracus & Darwin but then I just can’t think of anyone that’s consistent apart from maybe Darren Styles. Funny story about Hardcore actually, ReBuild Music was the first label to release what you’d call ‘Dubcore’ in 2009 (check ‘Dynamo Cookie’ by Peaks & Pinnacle) and I sent the track to a few big DJs (who will remain nameless) who told me there ‘wasn’t much to it’, ‘where’s the riff’, ‘it’s just a bassline’ etc etc…fast forward 2 years and every fucker is playing music like that. I’ve always been into D&B and so when the boys sent me ‘Dynamo Cookie’ I just loved it, a Hardcore kick with a wicked D&B style bassline, what’s not to love? No one played it except Kevin Energy (who loved it) and then a few years later it’s the big thing that everyone loves. To be fair, Joey & Kurt have got their thing going on and I respect them for doing something different, and Fracus & Darwin have always blurred the lines between hardcore, breaks, pianos and D&B so I have a lot of respect for them for sticking to their guns. Bit of waffle there but yeah, I have fallen out of love with it. Rip offs of the latest chart tune done badly with a shit dubby bit and a shit riff can eat a big dick.”
Ok, time for a very serious question for someone who has dominated the scene for 17 years: you have been there since 1996, and you’ve seen it grow and expand to biblical proportions, yet it has changed: UK Hardcore is going into new directions. How do you feel with these new sounds that have emerged out of nowhere, and are taking over the scene? Is UK Hardcore still Hardcore enough?
“I probably answered that question above, amongst the waffle! I remember reading an interview with Hixxy in about 1999 (when the scene was on it’s arse) where he said ‘there will always be a style of music called Hardcore’ so I’m echoing that statement, there will always be Hardcore Rave music and it will never die, it will just go in cycles.”
So for those who have missed it on Facebook or Twitter, you are playing at the mighty Westfest, playing in the Hardcore Heaven room. I’m guessing you are not going to play UK Hardcore, but Freeform? Or is it a secret what you are going to play? And how do you feel of playing at the biggest rave of the year?
“I am playing Freeform in the Hardcore Heaven arena, I’m going to play a mixture of stuff and I’m going to represent the music as well as I can! The Slammin boys have really supported me over the last 2/3 years and Grant at Slammin is someone who really listens to good ideas and keeps his ear to the ground, they know who is making the effort and going above and beyond to get noticed and I cannot thank them enough for the opportunities they’ve given me, it’s a dream come true to play at Westfest and definitely something I can tell the grandkids about! For Freeform music it’s a huge step, Kev played there in 2011 but since he’s retired there hasn’t really been anyone around to step up and be a spokesperson for Freeform music, so I want to be that guy. I’ve been into Freeform/Trancecore since it started and I’ve seen it grow and go in different directions, if you told me in 1996 I’d be representing OUR music at the biggest rave in the UK I’d laugh my head off, but in 2 weeks that’s what is happening! I really can’t wait to play, it will be amazing for 2,000 people to hear music they’ve likely never heard before and I know it will be a special night.”
If you look at the line-up, it’s ridiculous. So many wicked names, so many genres. It’s going to be a night you will never forget. With each artists comes years of experience, years of dominating their scene. I’m guessing you are going to see other DJs perform. Which DJs and why?
“The lineup is ridiculous! 10,000 people will be at that rave and everyone who’s everyone will be there. Looking at the lineup makes me feel like a kid again, can’t wait to see Hazard, Andy C, DJ Producer, Sandy Warez, Fracus & Darwin, Slipmatt (in fact I wish I could split in half so I could stay in the old skool room all night!)…there’s just too many DJs to mention, it’s going to be mind blowing and a true celebration of rave music!”
Talking about wicked line-ups: if you could organise your own party, and you would have millions to spend (so literally no limit), who would you book for your own party and why?
“Ooh I’ve never been asked this question! I would have to say DJ HMS (rest in peace, one of my favourite ever DJs!), The Destroyer, Slipmatt, Vibes, Hazard, Scorpio b2b Producer (Technodrome set), Ellis Dee (91/92 set), Floxytek (great hardtek artist), Carl Cox playing an old skool set, Brisk a Kinetic set, Randall (AWOL set), Kenny Ken with Stevie Hyper D doing their exact set from Helter Skelter Energy 97 (RIP Hyper D!), god there’s loads more but I can’t think at the moment.”
What’s your opinion regarding MCs? Some say they are needed to make a set work, and some say they are useless. Do you want MCs MCing during a Thumpa set, or are you more comfortable performing solo? And if you like MCs, who’s the best (according to Thumpa)?
“Funnily enough I rang Ribbz earlier to ask him to do my set at Westfest! I think I’ve got a reputation for not liking MCs but I don’t know where that rumour came from, I just hate SHIT MCs! I grew up listening to Helter Skelter tapepacks so MCs are a big part of my youth, I’ve got over 100 tapepacks that I’ve collected over the years and unlike my friends at school, people like Ribbz, Livelee, Storm, Fearless, Magika, Squidgy B, Hyper D, Skibadee etc are the people I loved, they were my popstars.
I think MCs are extremely important at raves for keeping a crowd hyped, some of my favourite tapes are so good because the MC makes the set! I have a bit of a problem with Hardcore MCs doing massive 32 bars about their life, I don’t find it entertaining and I find it a bit egotistical to be honest but a great crowd hype MC like GQ, Skibba, Ribbz is just priceless. My favourite ever MCs are Ribbz, Sharkey & Squidgy B (years of listening to Technodrome tapepacks!), GQ (listen to Hype Skelter NYE 97/98, just fucking amazing), Fearless, Eksman, Skibba, MC MC, Flyte (I bet no one knows him, great D&B MC!), Wotsee (the best Hardcore MC around today) and I think that’s it. No offence to any other MCs, I just know what I like and some of those boys have sounded great for 15/20 years.”
What’s going to be Thumpa’s next step? We know that you already talked about a new album, but what about future gigs (after Westfest)? If people want to see you, or even want to book you, where should they go to (website and/or event information)?
“I don’t know what my next step is to be honest, I’ve only had 12 gigs this year compared to 25/30 every other year, I don’t know why that is but I try really hard to get bookings so I guess I’m just unlucky sometimes. I’m going to see how Westfest goes and if I really enjoy that and everything falls into place and it feels right then it might be my last gig, it would be a great gig to go out on and it would just be the icing on the cake. I go through stages where I really hate being involved in ‘the scene’, all the politics, all the being let down by people, all the bullshit that goes with it and all the endless promoting yourself, it’s tiring and some days I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t know though, a really amazing booking might come through one day soon! Who knows. If people want to check me out go to www.facebook.com/OllyThumpa andwww.soundcloud.com/rebuild_music and listen to my mixes and look at my beautiful face!”
I’ve been serious throughout the whole interview, and I’m guessing that it’s about time for me to ask a idiotic question only I can ask, so here we go: Global Warming, is it real or is it a myth? And do you save the planet by driving a hybrid car? Are you saving dolphins by only flushing your toilet once? Is Thumpa environmentally friendly? Or do you bulldozer over everything (ReBuild joke again!)
“Ask my girlfriend, if she puts plastic or glass in the bin I get it straight out and put it in the recycling, it’s one of my pet hates! I’m not sure about global warming, I’ve never really sat and thought about it, playing the illuminati missions on GTA5 has made me weary of the Government though! I’d like to think I do my bit, but surely the world is ending soon anyway if China / Iran / USA / Korea (delete as applicable) have anything to do with it.”
Final part of the interview, time for the artist to thank people (or even animals). It’s my version of the ‘Miss World’ speech. I give you the microphone, and you can thank whoever you want to thank. Do whatever you want, you’ve got the mic. Want to rub your success into someone’s face? Maybe cry during the ‘thank you’ speech, like Miss World always does?
“I don’t like doing these as I always miss people out! I’d like to thank my girlfriend Tansy, my Lichfield mates for always supporting me at gigs and being top lads, everyone on the label who’s ever contributed to ReBuild, Kevin Energy & A.B for the help at the start, the Hard Beats Collective & FINRG boys, the HU boys, Scorpio, Brisk, Vibes and Ribbz for inspiring me and providing the soundtrack to my youth, Slammin Vinyl, Rude at Uproar (big thanks), Andy Bowler, Bassline Smith & Drumsound for my first break, everyone who’s bought music and supported ReBuild, god is that it?
One thing to end on, something that really hurt me about 2 years ago and something I’ve never really told anyone…a very big Hardcore promoter once told me on the phone when I said I deserved bookings because I ran a great label and knew good music ‘why would anyone pay to see Simon Cowell sing at a gig when they could pay to see one of his clients sing down the road?’. Well mate, this Simon Cowell is playing at Westfest so err…yeah!”
Thank you mr Thumpa for a very interesting and open interview. Even though it took long for Thumpa to answer (I do blame GTA 5), he answered every questions with honesty. A very talented producer, DJ, label owner and all round nice guy. Thank you. For those who are interested in Thumpa, here are several links you should add to your favourite bar, and underneath this interview there’s a brilliant Westfest promo mix he has done. Pay hommage to this legend, download this mix and if you can (if there are tickets available), go and see him at Westfest.
ReBuild Music on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/rebuildmusic/
Thumpa on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Olly_Thumpa
ReBuild Music on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/rebuild_music
Thumpa on Facebook: www.facebook.com/OllyThumpa