Interview: DJ Vadim
Date: June 1999
Location: DJ Vadim’s old front room, Tolworth, Surrey
Words / interview: Des Berry
Photos: Dan King
2009: Setting the scene:
DJ Vadim has recently released his new album ‘U Can’t Lurn Imaginashun’ on BBE. A great album that mixes up various styles ranging from electronic, funk & Soul, reggae, dubstep and of course hip-hop.
Ten years ago as The Consultants, myself and Dan King interviewed DJ Vadim at his home in Tolworth, just outside of Kingston Upon Thames, down there in Surrey. Writing for Breakin’ Point magazine it was the only the second or third interview assignment we had done and this was probably the first big name we had chatted to.
The press officer on his then label, Ninja Tune, had said he would be a difficult person to interview so we were a little nervous as we turned off Tolworth Broadway into his street. After an embarassing start when I forgot to turn on the tape recorder, we all soon relaxed and Vadim turned out to be a great host. Even inviting us to stay around after we were all done.
Here is what ended up in the magazine…
Forget what anyone else might say, the Surrey area is becoming home to the current hip hop & breakbeat scene. Hard to believe I know, but down in Hersham theres Kingsize Records, and up on the outskirts, Twickenham side The Herbaliser have their base. But residing under the shadow of the Tolworth Tower, DJ Vadim is the mighty son of Surbiton.
Vadim, born in Russia, has lived in the area since he was three. With original ambitions to be “the next Boris Becker” an injury left him to concentrate solely on the sampler & his love of hip-hop. In 1995 Vadim released the 2 EPs “Abstract Hallucinogenic Gases” & “Headz Ain’t Ready”. After little response from labels & with encouragement from neighbour & K’Boro partner Mark B, he set up his own, “Jazz Fudge”. After a few thousand copies where sold, Ninja Tune stepped in to sign up the Russian percussion.
Subsequent releases like the album, “USSR Repertoire” have lead the world to understand the Vadim sound. But on the eve of his second LP, “USSR: Life From The Other Side” moods & tempos are changing.
A sleepy eyed Vadim greets us on an early Monday morning. The weekend his seen a Friday gig in Brighton, followed the next night in Leeds. Tonight its back off to Ipswich, for one the final few dates of the Swollen Members tour. But not before Vadim has got the van valetted, “theres not enough hours in the day” he yawns. Running two labels, Jazz Fudge & K’Boro (with Mark B), producing his own work & that of others as well as a DJ, rapper Blades description of Vadim on the new LP is very true.
“Yeah that was a good one from Blade. He rapped that down the phone to me,” Vadim laughs. “I’m involved in so many things, that theres often not enough time to do all of it.
Vadim also has a reputation as a massive record collector & his worldwide touring helps in searching out those rare untouched breaks.
“I am a big hip-hop fanatic. The first hip hop tune I got was Marley Marl, The Control Vol 1 back in ’88. Myself & Mark B go around Europe, America, Australia & the Far East just to buy records. I do try to get all the styles, check everything out, and get the videos & the freestyle tapes. I listen to everything, all types, from drum & bass, hip-hop, right through to techno, reggae & psychedelic. Also a lot of spoken word records, novelty & children’s. I try to put it all together & that’s what I did on the LP. A lot of variety & soundscapes.
Variety is what you get on the new LP. With many humorous skits to keep you entertained between tracks it’s the amount of rappers & artists that guest on the LP that makes it one of the best hip hop LPs of ’99. Performers like Company Flow, Scratch Perverts, Blade, Skinny Man & Moshunman to name a few. So how come with people like Vadim representing the best in original hip hop why is the UK still behind in the hip hop stakes?
“You go to places like France and artists like Assassin are selling over a million units. They are selling more than A Tribe Called Quest, but outside of France no one has heard of them. It’s the same in Sweeden, Japan & Germany with groups there hitting the charts & selling 50-60,000 copies in the process. All these countries have got their own home grown talent that are doing well. Looking at England who is doing well here in terms of single & LP sales, no one, especially not from the underground.”
The lack of support for the UK hip hop scene is something close to Vadims heart & its something he wants to see re-addressed.
“We sold 5-6,000 copies of Blades “Will Survive” & I think we did really well, but we should have sold about 20,000 copies. The distributors & shops over here don’t support it as much as they would American product. Successful rappers from the states get support from the area they are from. Acts like Too Short, Master P & Mobb Deep rap about life in these areas & in turn people by it because they can relate to it. We need people in England to talk about life in London like Elephant & Castle, Brixton, Willesden, Tottenham as well as places like Toxteth & the St.Pauls area of Bristol. Those in the core hip hop scene can maybe relate to the US sound, but for the scene to grow over here its gotta be closer to home, which is what people like Black Twang, Blade & Lewis Parker are doing.”
Even though the UK hip hop scene over here is not denting the charts or selling in the thousands it still getting respect for its innovation.
“I think its actually stunned a few people that in England & Europe are leading the way musically as opposed to America. Theres a lot of places that are actually advancing the art & even though they won’t admit it the Americans are influenced by Europe & Japan. Its funny you’ve got people like Company Flow doing instrumentals & its left people having to eat their own words. Anyone from the UK is described as making trip hop stuff but in the US its legitimate hip hop. DJ Spinna is always talking about the UK & Stash’s favourite places are London & Tokyo. People in this country have got the skills, more so than other places. We’ve got some really skilled lyricists & producers. The b-boy scene is good, UK Rocksteady Crew, Second To None, Born To Rock are getting props worldwide. We’ve got some wicked graf writers. That’s all cool. The best graf writers are in Europe.”
But as Vadim knows only to well we live in an American culture, with the US influence having an effect on everything. The lyrics for “Your Revolution” a track on the new LP can be seen as having a go at the whole US hip hop stereotype.
“Sarah Jones is a poet & she wrote the words. She was on about all the male macho things in hip hop. I’ve actually got some of those records she mentions, but I understand you’ve gotta be careful what you put in your lyrics.”
Asked on what he’ll be doing come New Years eve for the millennium, Vadim replys ‘sleeping’. With the next few months work load its no surprise. Keeping release schedules happy for three labels is a hard task. With Jazz Fudge concentrating on ‘good music, not necessarily hip hop’ (The Isolationist, Swollen Members, Mark B), K’Boro concentrates on the straight ahead hip hop with releases from the likes of the Scratch Perverts & Task Force. Ninja Tunes is solely for the DJ Vadim projects.
‘The new LP is coming out, then thats to be followed by ‘USSR: The Instrumentals’ which is basically the instrumentals of the rap tracks on the new one plus six new tunes. After that I’m releasing a track with Esoteric & Virtuoso from Boston & I’ve also got a track on a Culture Of Peace compilation, which was a funny request. Its a worthy cause but other artists on there are like Barbara Streisand, Springsteen & George Michael. I asked why me me? I only sell thousands of records not millions of records, but they were really into The Isolationist & I’m putting a together a track for it.’
It doesn’t end there. In October a four month tour starts, taking in the UK, Europe & the States. ‘We’ve got Mr Thing & myself on the decks, Kela Killa beatboxing & Blue Rum rapping & freestyling. This is about the fourth time I’ve done the States. The reaction is always good. Now that I’m doing more vocal hip hop tracks it will be interesting to see how it goes down. ‘Friction’ got picked up by a few NYC radio stations. Previously Ninja has had the electronica feel to it in the states. The Herbaliser’s The Blend did well in the states, but they are seen more of a jazz band over there.
The hard work affect is something Vadim gets from his Russian roots. The eastern European feel is evident in the titles & artwork of his current & previous work. ‘It’s not the communist idea that I attach to the LP’s but the other images of Russia. The old political artwork featuring the man in the field, the mines & the ironworks. It’s about working, the family, community & construction. I like the idea of having to work had to attain something. Too often these days its money rather than hard work that buys success. For example in my lifetime of hip hop things have changed. Years ago you had to steal sprays to be a graffiti writer, there were no videos, magazines, battle tool LP’s on how to be a DJ. You had to improvise. Now its more accessible. Along with cheap samplers & best of funk compilations more people are making music, which is good but in turn its making it all more disposable.’
With USSR: Life From The Other Side. Vadim is going to set a new mark in UK hip hop that others will have a hard time following. Its all for the better if the scene is going to survive into 2000 & beyond. The USA maybe the last superpower in the world, but now they have a new fear from the east.