Wales Arts Review’s Jane Oriel chats to Cardiff’s Cally and Juice about their career, Hardstyle, Catapult and the Dutch/German Axis.
Wales Arts Review does a pretty neat job (we say, somewhat immodestly) of appraising and delivering a raft of piquant and personal responses to music, either created or witnessed in Wales. This nation has built a sturdy reputation for producing a host of impassioned guitar bands à la Stereophonics or The Manics, a clutch of whimsical folk with a quasi-eccentric edge such as The Super Furrys, as well as some random maverick expressors like Sweet Baboo or Fist of the First Man – or Georgia Ruth, who was announced as the winner of this year’s Welsh Music Prize last night, with the album Week of Pines.
But in this fortnight’s edition, we increase the testosterone quotient markedly and look to another genre that’s big in Wales, laying as it does, in the hands of two godfathers. But unless you know where to look, this older-than-a-decade phenomenon might have passed you by. With a massive underground following for this specific Welsh flavour, built from word of mouth and multiple independently released tape packs then CDs, followed by multiple awards, we’re talking Hardstyle and Hard Dance Music.
And the source of this intoxicating South Wales party? A pair of Cardiff DJs, Ian Hollyman and Gary Waters, who travel under the name – Cally and Juice.
So Cally, are you cool for an interview? Where shall we meet so I can feel the heat, feel the vibe?
Why, Glanmor’s Teashop in Caerphilly town centre of course, with the added draw of white apron waitress service.
Jane Oriel: Cally and Juice have taken hardstyle to the masses from a time before the genre even carried that name but how did you come to select DJ as your career choice?
Cally: When I started out in about 1993, I was DJ-ing on my own. I never thought it would be anything more than a hobby but within a year I started to get lucky and was playing in clubs and big venues. I mean, my second ever show was in front of 1500 people and still at that point, I had no intention of getting into it seriously.
I would imagine that this timing coincided with DJs starting to be recognised as named artists rather than a means to an end.
Yeah that’s right. We got into it from the rave music scene and when we first started, the DJ was often placed in a dark corner of the club where people wouldn’t pay much attention to what he was doing. Around then, things changed and the DJ was made more of a personality. So we got into it just as the DJ started to become more prominent.
When we started we were quite unique because we started getting into the old rave scene as it developed into Hardcore and Happy Hardcore when the events were really big and they’d pull in 30,000 people both in Wales and in the rest of the UK. There were a lot of even bigger parties in England but then the Criminal Justice Act 1994 made the parties a lot smaller and more indoors, away from the big outdoors festivals.
How long have the pair of you been Cally and Juice?
Myself and Juice hooked up because we found ourselves competing for the same gigs. We were playing very similar kinds of music and we found most of the promoters would either book one of us or the other, so we thought the only way we would get all the gigs is by teaming up and doing them together. We’ve been doing this now, for about fifteen years.
I was working in Catapult Records in Cardiff at the time and I bought a lot of music from abroad, from Germany and Holland. Apart from really liking and supporting the Dutch and German sounds that were faster and harder at that time, we also saw that no-one else was doing that over here and there was a gap in the market. That lead to us being the first to push that foreign music over here before developing it into our sound. People came to our shows and were genuinely excited by what they heard.
This month, Catapult Records celebrate 20 years as an independent dance music record shop. I remember seeing you working behind the counter in the basement.
I worked there for about nine years and it must be about eight since I left. I used to work in the basement managing all the harder genres. Although I have a good knowledge of music anyway, back then my knowledge was incredible. Somebody could come up to me and hum a tune or even tell me the colour of the sleeve and i would know what track it was. We’d have a lot of people come into a record shop having been out on the weekend, wouldn’t know any details apart from being able to sing one line so I become pretty good at it.
With so many record shops suffering under the weight of the major online retailers, and Catapult being a specialist supplier, how do you see their part in the club scene as a whole?
I have always felt that ‘the record shop’ is an integral part of the clubbing scene. When I was there, it functioned as a central point for anyone who was into dance music. People would come in every Saturday and meet up with, and chat to, like minded people and find out what was going on, find out what was the new music. It’s not the community that it once was now that all people have to do is go online to find out what they want to know through their laptops, tablets or even their phones. Bumping into everyone in the shop each week, I think gave you the inspiration or nudge, to want to go out every weekend and be with those people you were chatting to during the day.
Last year, Simon Thomas of Catapult gave the Miniature Music Press his view on the proliferation of the digital download as a threat to vinyl sales.
A lot’s been cooked up about vinyl in the media, but we’ve not seen a dip in sales. We deal with people who live and breath music so know about the quality of sound, and know that vinyl surpasses mp3. Nowadays software and equipment is more affordable. People can make fantastic music from their laptop. For certain sides of music, the digital age has been a kiss of death. For us it’s been a blessing.
Does this come as a surprise?
It’s great to see that Catapult are still going strong and I am chuffed to bits for them by the fact that after 20 years they are still doing well. Even through when we play out now, we don’t use vinyl, I am still a hardcore vinyl fan so good luck to them.
How much of what you do is making a new track or using other people’s sounds and making tracks from those?
For the first few years we made our name remixing other people’s work, sometimes officially, sometimes unofficially. That’s what we initially became known for but as time went on, we stepped away from that because if you want to grow as an artist you can only do that for so long and it is a bit limiting.
With the mainstream, people know how to recognise breakthrough because there will be radio play and press attention. In your genre, how could you tell when you were breaking through?
I guess it was through word on street and bookings. We started getting lots of bookings that reflected a success and we found ourselves playing every weekend and then even a few times every weekend. Selling our own tape packs at the time definitely helped us, especially when we began to have the opportunity to play the main room of big rave events like Helter Skelter and Dreamscape. This is because when we were playing to upwards of 1500 people, you could print on your tape packs that we played these events, then all of a sudden open yourselves to a huge audience of people. That’s the moment when you have to make sure that your set is impeccably mixed, then you find you get a lot of new fans very quickly.
With radio play, there are not many stations that support the harder kind of music that we make but there are a few specialist Internet-only stations who play it. It’s very rare for regular radio stations to play us, although we were played on Radio One back in the days of John Peel, and of course more recently by the station’s hardstyle DJ Kutski.
Are those in your field continuing to break music styles down into sub-genres as they did, because it seems a far more fluid situation now with eclectic being the buzz word?
I’ve never liked breaking things down into genres and personally, I think that the divisions have been the cause of a reduction of the capacity for a lot of events. If you go back to the late nineties with rave music festivals, they would pull in 30,000 people and in the festival people just classed it as rave music. But you start giving all these sub-genres and sub-sub-genres names, then people say they only want to go to a dance where they play this genre or that genre and then you’ve gone from having one catch-all description of the music that pulls 30,000 people to say, six genres that pull about 500 people each. So straight away you’ve broken it down and the spectrum is smaller and you end up with small clubs pulling smaller amounts of people.
As if to put your money where your mouth is, you run the successful club night Bionic, Wales’ premier hard dance event.
Yes I own half of it with Brian M, who is another DJ from Cardiff. For hardstyle we are definitely the trade mark of South Wales. We’ve been very proud of that over the years. The Hard Dance Music Awards is worldwide annual recognition and Bionic won Best Hard Dance music event three years in a row. This last year, we came second to a club in Holland so we can’t complain. That club regularly comes second or third to us and they were always gutted because of their levels of production and that they had a far bigger budget, so were always disappointed losing to us.
Considering the sub-division of rave genres and the diminishing of record shop culture, how do you see the future for hard style and dance events in general?
It’s a bit of a double-sided coin because in one way, what with the recession and people having less money to spend than they had a couple of years ago, there is a reduction in the amount of people who go to events. I see a problem in that when the last recession only lasted about a year, people may have stopped going to events for a little bit, but when they had money back in their pockets again, they started going out again weekly, just as they did before. But this time, because this recession has lasted so long, the effects are now being felt because there is a generation of clubbers who have left the scene and the younger people who are just coming in have no idea that we used to go out every weekend. They think that monthly clubbing is the normal way.
The other side of the coin concerns our style of music because we are as popular as we have ever been. Maybe three or four years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a single hardstyle DJ in DJ Mag’s Hot 100 but last year, there were about seven or eight DJs in that list who specialise in our kind of music, such as Headhunterz, D-Block & S-te-Fan and DJ Isaac (all of whom happen to be Dutch). Also, last year, big DJs who play other styles of music have been dropping hardstyle tunes in their sets, including the massively popular Skrillex and Tiestso, so because these big names are giving it exposure, it’s sure to get more popular. But our question is, will it get people back in the clubs?
Looking back over the years, we are definitely a Welsh phenomenon, in regards to the rest of the UK, although I wouldn’t like to take credit away from Holland or Germany where it came from. Its roots are in mainland Europe. We grabbed onto it, saw it had potential and brought it to the UK. We have definitely flown the flag for it in the UK all these years and I think, when most people think of hardstyle, they tend to think of us and our brand, which is kind of nice.
Banner illustration by Dean Lewis