6 months after he left his Capital Radio show, London DJ Ali B remains firmly at the top of the breaks DJ tree, running his own massively popular nights Air as well as DJing around the world including a recent tour of Australia. Hes also just released a new compilation for Fabric Breaks following in the footsteps of Hyper, Koma & Bones, Dub Pistols et al, which he chatted to Benedetta Skrufff about this week, as the CD hit the shops.
Skrufff (Benedetta Skrufff): Was it a difficult compilation to put together?
Ali B: Its always difficult to put a compilation together, as I feel it is almost a document defining where youre at as a DJ. I did put this together back in December, literally I looked around for tracks that to me would stand the test of time and picked up some exclusive bits and pieces too, like one track from the Stanton Warriors and another from the Basement Twins in the States. Still, its very difficult for me to work on these kind of projects just because its so hard to pin down your favourite tracks for those 74 minutes.
Skrufff: How much was it about presenting your set or making a home version of it?
Ali B: The task is to create a careful balance. Firstly, the album has to work for home listening, so that enters the equation as well. On one level you want it to be a representation of where youre at as a DJ, but I find that many DJs use compilations to collect as many unreleased tracks as possible to make some kind of a statement. Thats OK, but I dont think that makes for a particularly great listening experience. I personally try to strike a balance including unreleased tracks, but ultimately the tune has to be good enough to be on the album. Alongside that, Ive included some tunes that have been very big for breaks this year, which I feel will stand the test of time. Theyre big tracks for a reason and what better reason to put them on an album.
Skrufff: Where do you see breaks now comparing to 12 months ago; still one big happy family?
Ali B: I think so. The scene is now very healthy, theres a lot more music being churned out which hasnt diluted the quality at all, there are more people and young people into it, which is obviously very exciting. Ive been involved in the breaks scene in the UK right from the very beginning as I was at the Blue Note, where I started my own break nights, in the early nineties. Back then it was hard to even find the right breaks records, youd either play drum & bass at the wrong speed or acid jazz that would vaguely fit the genre. Now there are so many more producers around and the ability to make records has become much more immediate with the use of computers as opposed to just recording studios.
Skrufff: How much has your life changed since you stopped doing the Capital Radio show?
Ali B: My life hasnt really changed as such, though I did realise as soon as Capital finished how much of my time it took, I mean its a proper job, and that was a pretty self-sufficient show which didnt require any of the Capital resources. I covered everything from the music, to the guests and the competitions I had on the show and a lot more, so my head needed to be totally around it to make sure I was on top of it to deliver the best. Obviously with an audience of that size you had to make sure that if Moby was in town, for example, he had to be on the show. Just for the sheer pressure of this, I had to ensure that Id spend at least two or three days a week researching and preparing. Now I have more time to make music and I also will be able to go DJing abroad more frequently. All exciting stuff.
Skrufff: Did you have a team working with you?
Ali B: No, it was just myself and a journalist called Ritu. Between us we did the whole thing.
Skrufff: Do you not miss it?
Ali B: Honestly, I probably miss not doing radio, but I dont miss doing that show.
Skrufff: What prompted you to stop; did you walk away or got pushed?
Ali B: No, the end was totally amicable. My show had a perfect slot on a Friday night, they even extended it by one hour the year before Ive left and I had built a loyal audience, so it was very solid from my point of view. But in the middle of last year I started to feel that things had to change, because where was I going to take it from there? I could have kept it going for the next 2 or 3 years, but it wouldnt have made any difference to me. I had done everything I could do there at Capital. I probably had an opportunity a few years ago to further my career into the more mainstream side of radio DJing, but that wasnt really the reason why I got into it in the first place, so that was out of the question. I was in this perfect environment that I could have kept going for years, but sometimes you have to force changes to let something different happen.
Skrufff: Did you always want to be a radio presenter?
Ali B: Not at all. I just love music. Richard Parks (Capitals then boss- Skrufff Ed) called me at the time and offered me the show, I had never even heard of him, I just thought it was bizarre they should offer it to me, but I went in and they said great. I was on air within a couple of weeks. If you think about it, I had absolutely no experience in radio when I started there and I managed to keep it going for five years.