Getting X-Press 2 in the same room is quite an achievement, so it’s a privilege to have two of the three – Rocky and Ashley Beedle – sat around the same table.
Diesel is on his way, but for now there’s an easy atmosphere as the two chaps sup their pints, ready to talk to musicOMH about their achievements as documented on their best of, Raise Your Hands. The compilation is well timed, as Rocky explains.
“There’s a few anniversaries we wanted to mark, but it was more to do with the 20 years of acid house one really. We felt it was a good time to get a collection of all our bits and pieces together, to get them all on one record rather than spread all over the place. It’s 16 years for us, so it’s our leaving school celebration!”
As well as the instantly recognisable Lazy, the collection presents an opportunity to hear other house classics from the trio, which for me are Muzikizum and Smoke Machine, “which we’re still playing,” says Ashley. “There are some great new remixes of Smoke Machine,” interjects Darren, “that some younger producers have done just recently, and we’ve started playing those to bring it completely up to date.”
I ask the pair what they think X-Press 2 have achieved together, and Beedle considers thoughtfully. “The funny thing is sometimes you don’t look at the sides, you’re just hurtling forward, and I think this album coming out has made us stop and think.” Rocky agrees. “It’s true, we never really look at it – you carry on with what you’re doing and never really bother to sit down and reflect. We’re just like three house heads who’ve been going out and who still love going out, who are into the music and can’t see a time when they won’t be!”
The acid house anniversary brings confirmation that dance acts are developing longevity, and Beedle nods at that suggestion. “I think also that while we do laugh and talk about the past, and old records and stuff, I don’t think we’re nostalgia freaks if you like. It’s all about the new, new stuff coming through – new records and producers, and the younger acts we’re in to. I think that’s really important.”
He name checks. “I know it’s a bit coals to Newcastle, but I really enjoy Nic Fanciulli and the productions he’s been doing lately”. “Radio Slave,” adds Darren, “he’s not necessarily that new but the stuff that he’s doing at the moment is incredible. Last Sunday I went out to Secret Sundaze and a couple of scary after-hours scenes in East London, and heard the new Radio Slave stuff and it blew me away. I heard some different DJs I hadn’t heard before, Tobias and Jus Ed from the States, and I’m getting to listen to new stuff all the time.”
The trio are on a break from writing at present, but “We never say never!”, as Beedle says. “I think with X-Press 2 it’s all about vibe, and not forced.” Rocky picks up the baton. “I think we’ve found that if you do force it, it doesn’t work. The planets have to be in the right places with us!” “With us it’s always about a phone call”, says Beedle, “from Rocky or Diesel or me, and, it’s all about “Guess what, I’ve got this idea”, and then we go.
“We’re just like three house heads who’ve been going out and who still love going out, who are into the music and can’t see a time when they won’t be!” – Rocky dissects the X-Press 2 philosophy.
As well as the best of release this year X-Press 2 completed their addition to NRK’s highly regarded house music series Coast2Coast. “It was nice to be asked to do something like that”, says Ashley, “and with NRK it was nice because they gave us carte blanche to do what we wanted.” As Rocky says, “For us to do one CD it’s like asking us to come up with a top ten between the three of us, it’s impossible. Coast2Coast compilations are always two CDs, one mixed and one unmixed, but we just had the two CDs as all our selections.
“We didn’t want to do just a new cutting edge sound; we wanted to put a few things that have influenced us on it, maybe tracks that we used to play, so it was a bit of a mix up. And then it was a question of each of us getting a fucking huge list of about 200 records each, trying to whittle that down to about 10!”
I ask the pair to present their idea of a good DJ mix. “I think it’s got to be selected right”, says Beedle. “That’s what draws me in to a DJ mix, one that spreads across different genres.” Rocky agrees. “It doesn’t have to be amazingly mixed and done up on ProTools, for me a surprise element is just as important.” I offer the view that mixes is more carefully considered now, compared to six or seven years ago. Beedle considers this. “You still get that, the big tunes – and this isn’t a dis, but it’s like that with Pete Tong‘s Wonderland CD, it’s all the big tunes of now”.
He laughs. “I think we’re on there actually! It does what it’s meant to do from that angle, but it’s nice to get something different. Something we were playing in the car was Henrik Schwarz, his DJ kicks mix – and it was unbelievable, we were asking each other “What’s this, what’s this?” It pulls you in, stuff like that.” “That’s the real beauty of DJ mixes”, offers Rocky, “ones that make me then go out and track down songs. It’s that age old thing of the DJ as tastemaker, like an A&R man pushing things onto you and saying this is what you should be checking out.”
The trio can be like ships that pass in the night. “When we’re busy”, says Ashley, “like we are at the moment, every weekend it’s like “Hi”… but we do have periods of two, three weeks where we don’t see each other.” With nothing planned for the Beedle weekend, it’s down to Darren. “I’m DJing the Whipping Rooms… don’t ask! Some mates ended up there at 6 o’clock on a Monday morning recently, I got a text off one of them saying “we’re in a sex dungeon in Bethnal Green, help me get out of here!” So I’m there kind of tomorrow morning.” He laughs, more than a little nervously.
“I think it’s got to be selected right” – Ashley Beedle goes back to first principals for the basics of a good DJ mix.
Their current projects find Ashley working with Horace Andy. “I’m just starting provisionally to lay down tracks for him, because he’s off touring, but it’s an album project that’s coming out on !K7. So fingers crossed, it’s an ongoing thing. Our notorious reggae cousins” – he laughs affectionately – “getting them to sit down is difficult, they have their own timetable if you know what I mean!” Rocky is also co-writing. “I’ve been making the stuff with Terry Farley that you’ll hear in the sex dungeon tomorrow morning!”
But what gives them the most satisfaction in dance music? Beedle stirs first. “I think it’s just hearing that tune, you know what I mean? You’re out there and there’s that one tune and you go “fuck me”. For us as well it’s having a really blinding gig, it just refreshes you, beefs you up.” Rocky nods. “The one we did a few weekends back, the Beat Hearder festival up near Blackburn – it was just a few thousand people, no sponsors or advertising – and an open air stage and a dome tent in some woods. It was just brilliant. To be fortunate enough to be involved in things like that after being around for twenty years is a real buzz.”
He continues. “It’s those kind of things, and being able to sit down and look at that album, to see the body of work over the period since we’ve been around – all the stuff with David Byrne and getting the Ivor Novello award, appearing on Top Of The Pops… “Working with Kurt Wagner.” interjects Beedle. “I got a text today from a friend of mine, said he heard Give It played in Debenhams!”
Should X-Press 2 get up and running again, will there be more collaborations? “I’m sure we’ll do some more” says Ashley. Rocky adds, “I was speaking to Diesel a couple of days ago, we’ve got a couple of things that someone wrote for us, you know who I’m talking about, don’t you” – he nudges Beedle conspiratorially across the table – “that haven’t seen the light of day, you know that You Make Me Sick tune, that are amazing. It could happen but it’s getting the right person to get involved with it. We have been lucky in that the people we’ve been involved with have all been really amazing and really been into the project, whether it was Rob, Anthony Roman, David Byrne, whoever – they’ve all given 110%, they’ve come in and got involved.”
Beedle takes it up. “Actually Rob Harvey was amazing, because originally he’d written a song, then he came in the studio and he wasn’t feeling the vibe of it.” “We were trying to work out how we were going to tell him that perhaps it wasn’t the best thing”, says Rocky, “so we were all beating around the bush and in the end we drew lots, and our engineer said “I’ll tell him”. “But Kill 100 is completely off the cuff”, says Beedle, “it’s completely off the top of his head and I watched him do it. When he finished I said to him “What was that about?” and he said “Oh I dunno, some ancient Chinese proverb! You kill 1 you kill 100, you know what I mean?” It’s really intense. My one regret about that song was that it should have been bigger than what it was, it should have been huge.”
The song secured a Carl Craig remix, mention of which fires Rocky up again. “It’s all that stuff, and like I said earlier it’s looking at the people we’ve been involved with. You mentioned Carl Craig there – well back in the day we had people like Junior Vasquez, Andy Weatherall and Tony Humphries playing Musik Xpress. That kind of thing gives you a warm glow as well.”
Beedle turns to his right. “Diesel?” And as if on cue, he arrives – just as the interview ends. But as the group enjoy an early Friday evening pint, their sense of achievement is clear – just as the quest for the next big tune and best feeling continues.