The Beatmasters ‘Rok Da House’

“I was working in a company that made music for TV commercials. They’d just bought an E-MU Emulator II, which was a big deal – I remember they paid £10,000 for, I think, 18 seconds of 8-bit sampling. They also had an SP-12 drum machine. Although they’d forked out this huge amount of money on equipment, it was just gathering dust.

“The company was right in the middle of Soho. My friend Manda Glanfield worked there as well. She and I used to go to nightclubs that played a lot of black music. There was Crackers, just off Wardour Street, the Wag Club and Le Beat Route. We started to hear the very earliest house music records there. One particular night in early 1986, we were in a club and they played a really minimalist house track, ‘Time To Jack’, by Chip E. It was the most bog-standard, simple, yet completely compelling thing we had ever heard. We both loved it.

“The next day was a Saturday, and we said, ‘Let’s dig out all that gear that’s gathering dust’. Richard Walmsley was one of the people that used to play on the jingles. So the three of us made this record. We went into the studio, hooked it all up and made our first attempt at house music, in one day. 

“We broke all the rules and used all the wrong sounds. We didn’t know about 909s, 707s and all these antique drum machines everyone was using in the Chicago house scene. We used what we had to hand, which were the drums already loaded onto the drum machine, the piano already in the Emulator II, and a few other bits and pieces. It just sat on the shelf for six months. We didn’t really know what to do with it.

“Then The Cookie Crew, who were rappers from South London, came in to do a rap on a Ribena advert, of all things, and I thought, ‘They’re great!’. I hadn’t heard of them at that point, but I gave them a ring and said, ‘We’ve got this instrumental, and we’re not sure where to take it. Would you try something out?’.

“They came down probably around July 1986. We played it to them, and they said, ‘Could you leave us alone for a bit?’. I said, ‘Alright, I’ll go to the shops and get something to eat – what do you want?’. One of them said, ‘Get as many sweets as you can for a pound’. That’s all they wanted to eat! By the time I got back, they’d more or less written it. 

“The recording was shocking because we never thought we’d use what they did the first time. We stuck one microphone up, a C414 – completely inappropriate for vocals – played the track and they did it. They did one or two bits again, and a couple of hours later it was finished. 

“We ran out of sampling time on the E-MU, so where we wanted the vocals to stutter, we had to sample them into a delay line, then press it manually to trigger the vocal. It was very simply made, though very hi-tech in terms of the gear we were using. We were fortunate to have access to this stuff. We weren’t using the equipment to its full potential as we weren’t that familiar with it, so it was still made in the spirit of a homemade record. 

“Mark Moore from S’Express got us our record deal. Everybody else had turned the track down. Whoever their favourite artist was, they’d say, ‘Can you make it more like them?’. Being young and feisty, we said, ‘Fuck off!’. We went to a place in Dalston that specialised in cutting dub records and got half a dozen acetates. We didn’t give an acetate to Mark, but he somehow got hold of one and took it to Rhythm King. He said, ‘You’ve got to sign this’.

“It was first released in the summer of 1987, by which time house was blowing up. The scene had changed by then, and perhaps our mix wasn’t as upfront as it needed to be, so they remixed it. They reissued it in 1988, and it was a massive hit. That was a big surprise to us all. 

“The Cookie Crew were absolutely appalled. To this day, they say they were deceived into making it, which is absolute rubbish. OK, I gave them a bag of sweets, but I didn’t lure them into doing something they didn’t want to do. They said, ‘We didn’t know it was a house record’. Well, the clue’s in the title. And I didn’t give them the title. They came up with that themselves. 

“It was a pity because the track might have done even better if The Cookie Crew had been prepared to promote it. ‘Top Of The Pops’ wanted us, but they wouldn’t do it. It took the edge off what should have been an amazing time.

“We accidentally made the first hip house record. It wasn’t deliberate. Around 1987 or 1988, house tunes started to appear from America with rappers on them, notably Tyree Cooper and Fast Eddie from Chicago. I think one of them coined the term hip house. We said, ‘Bloody hell, we did this years before you!’. So we namechecked them in ‘Who’s In The House?’ in 1989 – “Watch out Tyree, we cut faster / Get ready, who’s Fast Eddie?”. We set the record straight. 

“I still feel very proud of it. If you go on YouTube, you’ll find hundreds of comments saying, ‘I remember driving around in my XR3 listening to this, banging it out of the window’, and you think, ‘Good God, isn’t that weird? Something you did really affected people’s lives’. And it opened so many doors – I never had to do a proper job again. I mean, music’s hard work, but it’s not like digging a ditch!”

A new track by The Beatmasters, ‘Good Old Daze’, is out now on Happy? Recordings

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