Released in March 1997 by Ice Cream Records, a London label that already had a number of underground hits to its name, the track broke the UK Top 40. (With BMG backing it would be later re-released and reach #14 in the UK charts.) At the time, radio stations were sceptical. Even Omar Adimora and Tim Liken, the pair behind the track, had their doubts. Adimora recalls the first time "Ripgroove" was played out: "There was complete silence. But it started to build up with the vocal effect spinning round and around, and as it built back in you could hear a little bit of clapping. Then when the bassline dropped, the whole place just went absolutely crazy. I remember coming out of there and ringing Andy [Lysandrou], saying, 'Andy, I think we got a monster here.'"
These days we'd probably call it bassline. But back then "Ripgroove" was an anomaly, feeling closer to jungle and drum & bass than the 4/4-friendly house sound of the developing UK garage scene. Meanwhile in the US, Armand Van Helden had already made moves towards a bolder, more bass-heavy style with remixes of CJ Bolland, Tori Amos and Sneaker Pimps. Nevertheless "Ripgroove" formed part of a catalytic moment for UK garage, which would see Ice Cream Records become one of the most popular labels of its kind, something its founders, Adimora, Liken and Lysandrou, couldn't have imagined when they started working together.
"Tim [Liken] worked in the infamous Time Is Right [record shop] in Chapel Market," says Adimora. "I was working in the City at the time for a graphic design and computer analysis company. Any time I'd finished work at 2 or 3 PM, and especially over weekends, I'd find myself there, just playing records, getting Tim to play stuff. We kind of realised we had similar tastes and the same passion for music. I guess in the back of my mind I always thought when the time is right—if you'll excuse the pun—I'd like to have a go at doing something in a music-based career."
Liken, meanwhile, was fresh out of school and trying to kick-start a career in music. "I'd done the minimum work to get the minimum grades at GCSEs," he recalls. "I just knew the answer for my future was not in academia and studies and going to university. Music was such a strong pull for me at that point in my life." Adimora and Liken decided to try things out in the studio, but to get their music out there they needed an operations man.
Liken already knew Lysandrou from Time Is Right; he was distributing his own drum & bass label at the time. As a former patriarch of pirate radio—Lysandrou was one of the first DJs to be prosecuted under the Broadcasting Act of 1990, which led to a nationwide crackdown on illegal TV and radio broadcasting by the Department Of Trade And Industry (DTI)—"Kid Andy," as he was called in those days, eventually transitioned into legal radio, manning the breakfast show on Hype FM. The Mayor of Brent honoured him for his efforts in broadcasting, something he still laughs about today. With his network and credentials, Lysandrou was the final piece in the puzzle. The three setup Ice Cream Records in 1995 for Adimora and Liken's productions, leaving Lysandrou to manage things day-to-day.
That first year the pair holed up in Lysandrou's studio, a basement beneath an estate agent on Holloway Road in London. Their first series of R.I.P. releases were rooted in the US house and garage sound prevalent at the time, but essentially it was "just Tim and I messing around," says Adimora. "We were finding our feet, probably spending more time just getting hyped on the fact that we were in a studio rather than producing anything of any substance. It was kid-in-a-sweetshop mentality." Cult classics like "Deep Inspiration," "Obsessed" and "Work It" were the results. Ice Cream Records was already asserting itself as one of the first underground bastions of UK garage.
Liken was still at Time Is Right, splitting his hours between the shop and producing. Meanwhile, Adimora had turned his kitchen into a studio and was traveling back and forth to the States, purchasing the gear he'd later use to make the track that turned Ice Cream Records into a household name. The release of Double 99—or the "Double Pack," as the guys affectionately refer to it as—was a turning point for the group. Amidst the house flavours were three tracks that showed the duo's jungle and drum & bass influences: "Jump To It," "Oh Baby" and "Ripgroove," which featured the legendary Manchester MC and vocalist Top Cat. "DJs picked up on them very quickly," says Liken. Through Lysandrou's connections, all three tracks soon became pirate radio staples. But it wasn't so straightforward with the bigger stations, as Lysandrou recalls: "They wouldn't even hear it. They were like, 'Well, no one will listen to this outside the M25. It's not for us. See you later, shut the door behind you.' We got that a lot from stations."
Lysandrou had plenty more tricks up his sleeve. Doing all the distribution in-house, while each record was being manufactured, Lysandrou would be touting the release around the UK, gathering pre-sales, making shop visits and personally overseeing next-day vinyl shipments—if the records were ready on Friday afternoon, by close on Saturday, London shops were stocked. "I just travelled everywhere in my car," says Lysandrou. "That was the only way of getting records out back in them days. We didn't trust distributors, they didn't know where to go with this. It was a lot of hard work. I enjoyed it but when I look back on it now I think, wow."
Before the vinyl was ready, Lysandrou supplied certain shops with blank sleeves and had them put up in the windows. People were clawing for it when the record finally dropped. "Some of the shops were like when they have a new iPhone out," he says. "I think it was Music Power in Ilford—there was maybe 30-40 people coming and going throughout the night, picking up the Double Pack."
Only 1000 copies were pressed at first, but the buzz set off a chain reaction that soon had them in "meetings with just about everybody." The whole of London was vying for "Ripgroove." But in the end it was signed by Nick Raphael at NorthWestSide (NWS) Records, a sublabel of BMG that was set up by Raphael with partner Christian Tattersfield. "Ripgroove" had already been released in March 1997, but BMG reworked it into a more radio-friendly vocal mix with the original Top Cat acapella. After building momentum throughout the summer it got playlisted on Kiss FM and BBC Radio 1. By the end of 1997 it was a UK anthem. "And it just went crazy after that," says Lysandrou. Adimora and Liken signed a Double 99 album deal with BMG, although it was another three years until 7th High hit the shops. Meanwhile, the pair were flooded with remix requests, gigs and TV performances.
"It was a unique time in British music," reflects Adimora. "It seemed like all the radio stations—even the ones that didn't want to like it—were playing UK garage. The early adopters of video were shooting UK garage videos. On Top Of The Pops, we were on first, and then others followed. It seemed like a year of madness." When "Ripgroove" peaked, 2-step had already set in with records like Tina Moore's "Never Gonna Let You Go" marking a trend towards a more soulful UK garage sound. R&B had replaced the jungle and drum & bass undertones, which would see artists like Craig David rise to prominence towards the close of the '90s. Others would take 2-step down far darker, tougher pathes; early releases from Zed Bias, El-B and Horsepower Productions went on to lay the foundations for dubstep. Adimora and Liken started the 10° Below alias to tap into the 2-step scene and to distance themselves from the 4/4 bassline sound that had become synonymous with R.I.P. and its imitators. What now would be dubbed "speed garage"—a term hated by many of its originators—had been transformed into a major label-appropriated and compilation-peddling franchise.
A 10° Below remix of Kele Le Roc's 1999 Top 10 hit "My Love" would be one of their biggest underground tracks from this period, but Liken wasn't happy with where things were heading. "When it started going heavily into the 2-step thing, for me, I wasn't creatively being fulfilled," says Liken. "I was still playing house music at places like Ministry [Of Sound] and I wasn't getting to play these [10° Below] records out." Once the Double 99 album finally came out in 2001, he handed the production reins over to Adimora, who has continued to be the club-face of R.I.P., Double 99 and Ice Cream Records. As Tim Deluxe, Liken went on to produce several hits of his own, including "It Just Won't Do." It wasn’t long before Adimora pulled away from the ever more pop-servicing UK garage scene. It led him to starting Kardinal Beats in 2004, remixing the likes of Amy Winehouse, JLS, Lemar, Destiny's Child, Beyonce and Justin Timberlake under the moniker.
Ice Cream Records went from strength to strength, this time thanks to Lysandrou's True Steppers project. Together with Jonny L—who was signed to XL Recordings and was Lysandrou's friend from his drum & bass days—they first released a cover version of Jonny L's 1992 hardcore track "Hurt You So." "Beng Beng" soon followed, featuring another Top Cat vocal. "That was single of the week in NME," says Lysandrou. "It was kinda working so we thought, just go with the flow."
As with everything else at the time, things moved rapidly for the duo. Thanks to their BMG affiliations, Dane Bowers, from the boyband Another Level, became involved, and the hit "Buggin'" was the result. And trumping that? Posh Spice, of course. "Out Of Your Mind" featured pop princess Victoria Beckham (with Dane Bowers also in tow) and it narrowly missed out on the number one spot when it was released in August 2000. Nevertheless, it smashed record sales, shifting over 50,000 copies on the first day alone. It shows just how big UK garage had become, with the Dream Teem manning a primetime show on Radio 1 and releases flooding the UK charts. Yet Ice Cream maintained its underground cool—something practically unheard of. This was partly due to their other signings at the time, such as Colours; "Hold On" joined the stack of DJ favourites to emerge from the label.
UK garage fast-forwarded through the pop chart echelons, to champagne and table service in the clubs, becoming implicated with gang violence along the way. This link was immortalised by the TwiceasNice incident at Turnmills and the antics of Battersea grime-garage poster stars So Solid Crew. By the turn of the millennium, UK garage was becoming one of those "dirty words." The island resort of Ayia Napa in Cyprus, Greece, the scene's answer to Ibiza, became the site of similar controversy when a young Dizzy Rascal was stabbed as a result of ongoing London turf wars. Clubs were starting to disassociate themselves from the scene and UK garage began its retreat back underground.
Ice Cream Records followed suit, and in the years that followed Lysandrou kept things ticking over with reissues and small projects, like a trio of Craig David releases in 2008. Then around 2009, a revived energy ascended upon the clan. It was timely, too, with originators like DJ EZ, long-time supporters such as Rinse FM and a whole new generation of producers, promoters and labels adding to the melting pot of a more diverse and reaffirmed UK garage scene. Keeping things moving forward, in 2013 the label welcomed its first new recruit since the beginning. DJD joined in a catchall role, lending his DJ and production skills to the label and assisting with A&R and marketing. "He just reminds me of me, 20 years ago," says Lysandrou. "He's hungry and loves his music." DJD's arrival freed up time for Lysandrou to set up Beat1, a promotions and production company focused on pushing through "new school" garage music.
Like so many second generation artists, Ice Cream Records has played an important role in DJD's musical education, as he fondly recalls: "When you saw an Ice Cream logo on a vinyl, you knew it was guaranteed to be massive. A lot of the time you'd buy the vinyl without hearing the track, just to get your hands on a copy as fast as possible so you didn't miss out." As an ambassador of the new UK garage sound, with a wide range of productions and remixes to his name, D is currently heading up Ice Cream's latest endeavour: a compilation of all-new recordings culled from the scene's unknown and unsigned talents. "I thought to myself, it's time we move things forward," continues Lysandrou. "I watch all these compilations coming out and it's all recycled garage, 20 years old. We were there from the beginning, so let's do something fresh." Adimora reveals there'll be a few new R.I.P. productions in the midst, but mostly it's about showcasing the next generation of artists, who may or may not have known Ice Cream the first time round but have felt its influence regardless.
It's a testament to the team that Ice Cream is not only still around but also actively pushing forward as it turns 20 this month. Ice Cream were trailblazers. What was started in the mid-'90s has continued to ripple and morph. The success of Disclosure inspired Adimora to revive the R.I.P. alias, while Disclosure themselves cite Ice Cream Records as a key inspiration. It seems like an endless cycle, and in spite of its flaws, what these days may feel like a strange footnote in contemporary British culture has left an indelible mark.
As for Ice Cream Records, there have been plenty of ups and downs, but given the chance, would Adimora do anything differently? "Going out, getting drunk with Victoria Beckham, playing at the World Cup party, hanging out and DJing with all of my mates—who gets to do that? Change it? No I wouldn’t change that. Too much fun!"