Rumor has it there’s a place in London where all the hip and cool cats hang, a veritable hot bed of booze and beats, a British nightclub that rivals the Boston, Massachusetts pub from the Cheers television show. On Friday nights, they say the club drowns out the world in hip-hop, breakbeat, and drum and bass. On Saturdays, the club’s got more house than a deluxe Monopoly set, with techno and electro mixed in for texture.
The club’s called “Fabric”, and its press kit and website indicate that the club’s existence is more than a rumor. Comments about Fabric at Viewlondon.co.uk and London Club Guide give you the lowdown on the proper etiquette: after you get through the fingerprint scanner and the retinal sensor, you solve a word problem (“a train leaves Dublin at 6 a.m. while another train passes Big Ben at 6:30 a.m…”), and then you give the bouncers a pass-code. Last weekend, the pass-code was “two ducks and a cloud”, but it changes weekly. After that, you pass through a doorway of hanging multicolored beads, snag your drinks, and get your dance on to the grooves of the resident DJ. Some say the manager of the club strolls through at random, resembling the Papa Midnight character from the movie Constantine.
Maybe some of that is an exaggeration. But one of the club’s attributes enjoys near-universal approval: the music. For those who’d like to relive the experience in their car stereos, and for those unable to attend the live version, Fabric-the-club releases monthly and bimonthly collections of its musical mixes through Fabric-the-record-label. Like the nightclub parties, each mix features a different style and sound. No matter the genre, Fabric patrons take pride in the club’s sound system and skilled DJs.
One such DJ is UK-born Matt Ford, musically known as DJ Format. He’s made quite a reputation for himself as a hip-hop DJ. Within that, he garnered unexpected commercial attention with his debut Music for the Mature B-Boy. He followed that up with If You Can’t Beat ‘Em… Join ‘Em. On both albums, DJ Format worked alongside Canadian emcee Abdominal, and Jurassic 5 emcees Charli 2Na (as in “tuna”) and Akil. Blending musical styles with ease, Format quickly became a party favorite.
That’s why DJ Format’s mix for the club’s Fabriclive series is no lightweight. It hearkens back to the good old days, when we could spend a day and a half constructing the perfect mixtape. Before MP3s, before it dawned on us that there had to be a such thing as a “blank” CD, and even before high speed dub, there were the beautiful reels of the cassette, waiting to be filled with, not one, but two sides of musical goodness. Sifting through cassettes, you had to come up with just the right mix because the fast-forward and rewind functions would drain the life out of a Walkman.
On Fabriclive 27, DJ Format digs through vinyl and comes up with a collection fit for a VIP. The action begins with Format’s own “33% B-Boy”, a jam built on heavy beats and vinyl scratches. Put this sucker on at a party and you’ve pretty much guaranteed that everyone will be dancing. “Three Feet Deep”, also from Format, but featuring Abdominal and D-Sisive, offers some serious rhyme action. This song reminded me so much of Big Daddy Kane I wanted to send out the hip-hop equivalent of the Batman signal to see if Kane would respond. I thought, “Wouldn’t this set be even better with a ‘Wrath of Kane’ remix?” Remember how the Herbaliser’s Fabriclive 26 started off with a remix of Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid in Full”?
Sure, that might have been nice, but the man behind the boards had his own plan. Like a mad but entertaining scientist, he blends funk, jazz, hip-hop, rock, and swing, merging acts such as Lyrics Born, Coldcut, Cut Chemist, and Nostalgia 77 with Ellen Mcilwaine, Nina Simone, and Ella Fitzgerald. That’s right: Ellen, Nina, and Ella!
DJ Format deftly coordinates this collection wherein Ella Fitzgerald’s “Sunshine of Your Love” follows Nostalgia 77’s jazzy and horn-laced “Changes” and precedes Marsha Hunt’s “Hot Rod Poppa”. Elsewhere, Ananda Shankar’s exotic percussion (“Dancing Drums”) meets John Murtaugh’s Sci-Fi-inspiring “Slinky”. And when Murtaugh calls it “Slinky”, he means it, from the wormy bassline to the wiggling synthesizer that flitters from speaker to speaker. If that’s not surprising enough, let me tell you what follows Nina Simone’s “Save Me”—the rockin’ guitar infused “Indian Rope Man” by Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll & The Trinity. What I still can’t get over is how smoothly Format slid the vibe from hip-hop to jazz and rock.
To call it an “eclectic mix” wouldn’t do it justice. Be a “Night Owl” with Cleo Laine, have “Sweet Bacon” with Julien Covey and the Machine, or let Karachi Prison Band help you “Put Some Grit In it”. Whatever you do, don’t even think about trying to jumpstart a party without this mix. With 25 tracks and a smidgeon more than 70 minutes of music, you can set the stereo to repeat or be adventurous and set it to shuffle. Either way, DJ Format came to get the party jumping and he succeeds.