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Ali B on Breaks, Break-ups and China’s Class Struggle ::

Reported by Trackitdown TID on July 15, 2005

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. He’s 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: “It’s always difficult to put a compilation together, as I feel it is almost a document defining where you’re 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, it’s very difficult for me to work on these kind of projects just because it’s 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 you’re 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. That’s OK, but I don’t 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, I’ve included some tunes that have been very big for breaks this year, which I feel will stand the test of time. They’re 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, there’s a lot more music being churned out which hasn’t diluted the quality at all, there are more people and young people into it, which is obviously very exciting. I’ve 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 night’s, in the early nineties. Back then it was hard to even find the right breaks records, you’d 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 hasn’t really changed as such, though I did realise as soon as Capital finished how much of my time it took, I mean it’s a proper job, and that was a pretty self-sufficient show which didn’t 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 I’d 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 don’t 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 I’ve 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 wouldn’t 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 wasn’t 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 (Capital’s 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.”

Skrufff: And now you’ve got the bug . . .

Ali B: “Well, it’s funny but I recorded a show for the BBC a couple of months ago, it was on a Saturday night, and I was really excited about it. It wasn’t until I went in the studio and switched the microphone on that I felt how much I really missed doing radio. You develop a way of doing it, just like driving a car; it’s difficult to explain how to do it, you just do it. I’ll be doing more radio in the future for sure, but as I said it’s a massive commitment, I needed a break from it for a while.”

Skrufff: So what’s next?

Ali B: “I have been a guest at Kiss, XFM, and others studios to promote this compilation, which was great since I had the opportunity to do different mixes whilst I was there. In the future I’ll be looking around for another home to take my show, which will definitely be a dedicated breaks show. Hopefully on a nice midweek slot.”

Skrufff: How much corporate interference did you receive from the Capital Chiefs?

Ali B: “None whatsoever in the 5 years I was there. I chose all the records and no one even checked my playlist, which is remarkable when you’re dealing with a station with that audience size.”

Skrufff: How much difference has this experience made to your profile?

Ali B: “It’s so hard for me to judge my own profile, it may be something that other people can do better. Since leaving Capital, I certainly have more time to travel abroad in order to build a bigger profile elsewhere than I probably have here in England. I’m still playing regularly at Fabric and I’ll probably be playing regularly here in London for the foreseeable future.”

Skrufff: You’ve recently played in China, how was that?

Ali B: “China it’s an incredible place to be right now. Economically there’s another class emerging, wealthy if you like, so the young people in China or certainly the ones I chatted with, are not interested in coming to Europe or anywhere else because actually right now things are so exciting in their country. The club scene is also pretty healthy and where I played no one did the sort of drugs that unfortunately are associated with the club scene wherever else you go. That was great because the crowd was much more attentive. I’m not one who goes out to play to anonymous, druggy crowds. It was very refreshing to see people actually going out just to hear the music.”

Ali B’s Y4K is out now on Distinctive Breaks. He also hosts the Air Arena at Global Gathering at the end of July, presenting Krafty Kuts, Kid Kenobi & MC Shureshock, Atomic Hooligan, Hyper, DJ Love, Joe Ransom, and Eden Collective.

Benedetta Skrufff (