The Fuse founder traces a personal journey through hardcore, jungle and drum & bass.
More than 25 years later, Siragusa is a successful international DJ who's best known for a tough and dubby strain of house and techno that many people refer to as the "Fuse sound." As well as the party, which runs monthly at Village Underground, he heads up the Fuse London and Infuse labels, which are similarly cherished for their punchy, stripped-back beats. For this interview, though, Siragusa wanted to show the origins of his tastes. He travelled back to Maidenhead to rummage through the garage at his grandma's house, picking out some of his favourite hardcore, jungle and drum & bass records, which, in some cases, he hadn't touched in 20 years.
I visited Siragusa a couple days after one of his all-night sets at Village Underground, plonking myself down on the couch in the poky, L-shaped room he rents above the Shoreditch club. Decks and CDJs were set up along one wall, with dozens of records crammed into shelves beneath and in a cabinet around the corner. We chatted for nearly two hours, going deep on one of the most fertile and exhilarating periods in club music history.
We Are I.E.
1991, I.E. Records
Many consider this the first-ever jungle tune.
Yeah, if you listen to the structure of the track, the bass and the beats, it's very jungle. But at the time there was no such thing. It was just hardcore. I like how they called it "We Are I.E.," just to get round any legal issues.
What do you mean?
I think it might have been a bit dodgy saying "We Are E" back in the early '90s. I'd have bought this around '92 because I wasn't buying so much vinyl in '91.
What was different about it?
It has an underlying raw, rough sound. There was this happy, positive sound, which was the rave music of the time. But there was this darker sound bubbling underneath—and that's what I was into. It was a massive influence. With my picks, I've tried to show the progression from one to the other.
A lot of these tracks have these explosive moments, when suddenly the drums pick up and there's a rush of energy. Hearing that for the first time must've been incredible.
It was ground-breaking, because we were so used to that 4/4 kick, and then suddenly that amen break comes in with that big bassline.
Your first rave was Dreamscape in 1994, right?
Yeah, I was 15 in '94, but it was around '91 when I first got switched onto it. The music was so different. Imagine what was in the charts in '91. I had older cousins who were going out raving. They had long ponytails—even I had my hair in a ponytail by the time I was 14. That was the fashion. So you had all the older lot, wearing their MA-2 bomber jackets, and I was like, "What's this all about?" I was 13 or 14, I just had a pair of headphones on all the time. On a Saturday I used to go to my local record shop, which was two doors down from my dad's barber shop, and buy records and tape packs.
I'm not sure I even know what a tape pack looks like.
[Laughs] That's mad. We used to go to the rave, and the way they probably made a lot of their money was selling tapes afterwards. So the whole night would be recorded and a couple weeks later you could buy them.
Were you DJing as well?
I had my decks at home, a pair of belt-drive Citronic decks and a Vestax mixer. I started DJing in my local bar when I was around 17.
Were you playing this kind of music?
I used to play it in my local youth club in Maidenhead. They'd have decks and a soundsystem. Obviously you weren't supposed to be drinking or anything, but everyone was off their heads. I'd have been about 15 or 16. And house parties, where I'd be carting my decks around. I remember my mate, who had a bit of money, his dad hired a tent and they threw a party in their back garden. Like a big marquee kind of thing.
Then I started playing house, partly because that's what you had to play, and I just wanted airtime. I was into it, too. At the time, all this music was so fresh— house, hardcore, jungle, even the hard house stuff, like Tony De Vit. Eventually the scene sort of changed and I stopped playing jungle and started exclusively playing house. But one day, the opportunity came to play a friend's party called Revolution in Reading at a club called The Matrix. And he was like, "Do you still play jungle? I want you to do an old-school set." He was calling it old school then and it was like 2000. I warmed up for some big names—Grooverider, Adam F—and played on Dillinja's Valve Sound System.
You must be a similar age to a lot of the big jungle and drum & bass guys. But it took a bit longer for the DJing thing to happen for you?
Yeah it took a lot longer. Like I've always said, I've come from the dance floor. I was a raver first and foremost, just someone who bought records every week and played them at home or in my local bars. I never really took it that seriously. I had a career in IT and I did pretty well. I bought myself a flat when I was 21. Because that side of my life was going OK I didn't really consider ever taking DJing past being a hobby. But I suppose deep down there was a desire to take it a little bit further.
Music Takes You
1992, Moving Shadow
Another one from '91.
I think it came out in '92, though. A lot of these records would come out a lot later. You'd hear them, they'd be rinsed to death, and then a year later they'd come out. I used to examine the mixes from the tape packs. With one of Randall's mixes, I remember slowly but surely buying all of the records in that mix, and then doing the mixes exactly as I'd heard them.
How did you work out what the tunes were?
I'd just go down to my local record shop every week. "Adrian, you got this yet?" He'd be like, "Nah but that's called this actually, I've heard the promo for that. That's coming." It was a slow process.
This is one of the first releases on Moving Shadow. Was that a big label for you?
Yeah massive. This early stuff in particular. The hardcore stuff, before there was happy hardcore or jungle. It was so cutting-edge.
It's always struck me that so many of these timeless tracks were the artist's first release. They went to the studio, cobbled something together out of samples and the results are often mind-blowing.
Definitely. It's funny because if you listen to something like "Valley Of The Shadows" by Andy C, there's only seven elements in there. That's it. It's not like now where people sometimes produce with 30 or 40 tracks in the arrangement. Only having seven elements, but still having that impact on a dance floor. There was a lot to learn from that.
The screeching synths and vocals really capture the madness of the music.
This is rave music for me. I couldn't go to the raves yet, but I'd be playing these tracks in the youth clubs. Imagine listening to this and just going for it, dancing, going mad like kids do. It makes you want to do that.
It's got such a youthful energy.
We've been sampling a lot of these sounds. Seb [Zito, Fuse resident] is especially. In fact, when I was going through all these records, I listened to one on Reinforced Records and a bit in it sounded so familiar. Turns out Seb's actually sampled it, and it's on his next release on Fuse. He's literally lifted the chords as they are. He's not even done anything to them. I was like, "You cheeky git," [laughs].
1992, Edge Records
Interestingly this one samples Blame's "Music Takes You." In my notes, I've just written "massive melody." It's almost cheesy but not quite.
Yeah but that was hardcore. Hectic. That one's the breakbeat track, which is why I bought the record. But then on the B-side there's this timeless house track, "Undrstnd." That's why I picked it, to show the kind of variety you'd often get on the same record.
Years later, around 2003, I was partying in Ibiza at Bora Bora and I met this guy called Gordon Edge. He was a resident there, known as Trumpetman. He played trumpet on a lot of big house tracks, for labels like Subliminal. He's a face on the island. One night I bumped into him outside Cocoon. I didn't have guestlist, so he was like, "Come in with me." Anyway, that night I found out that he was DJ Edge, the man responsible for one of the most seminal hardcore tracks of the '90s. He was telling me he sold like 60,000 copies. I couldn't believe it. By that point I'd been hanging out with him for almost a decade. He's come to Fuse since, actually. We're still pals, we talk all the time.
60,000 is insane.
Yeah it might even have been more. That's the other thing. It was a prolific period partly because you could sell a lot. It's not like now, where a good EP will do 500. But yeah, Gordon told me that he did "Undrstnd," on the B-side, all on the 808 and one keyboard. It's just genius. I only discovered it about three years ago, when I was looking for samples.
Do It Together (The Baggy's Mix)
1992, Not On Label
This one has almost a Balearic vibe. I love how the drums start fast and then this slow stomp comes in around 40 seconds.
Yeah. This has got that London thing about it. I mean he says "London" in it. But that raw feel.
There's so much variation within the tracks. They never sit still. Did you play this one a lot?
Yeah it's a special tune. You can feel it's getting faster, a bit more rowdy in the bassline, a bit like "We Are I.E." That was the jungle thing starting to happen. But you're still in the middle, with the happy hardcore vocals and uplifting synths.
Where were the raves you went to?
There was World Dance in Lydd Airport, right down on the coast. Dreamscape, Helter Skelter, Desire. We used to drive for hours to these places. All over the country.
You had a big crew of mates?
Yeah there'd be two or three cars. There are videos of us at these raves, though I'm not going to say too much or people will find them [laughs]. My mates dug them out for my wedding. There's footage out there of me aged 15 in an Adidas zip-up top, absolutely having it on the dance floor.
Would you always hear the same tunes?
Yeah. It was funny because you used to go to raves and the DJs would do like an hour of power. A lot of the time they'd all play the same tracks. If it was a big tune of that week or month, every DJ was banging it. And every time it went off and got a rewind. Literally five or six times a night.
These events were indoors?
Mostly yeah. I went to a few big outdoor ones, like Tribal Gathering. But mainly in airplane hangars. Dreamscape was at The Sanctuary in Milton Keynes. This huge warehouse. Sometimes they'd do two warehouses next to each other, with 6 or 7,000 people. Huge raves.
I remember going to one and I must have looked so young—I mean, I look young now and I'm 40. Imagine when I was 15. I went to the security guard with a paper driving license from one of my cousins. Not even photo ID. A piece of paper. He went, "Seriously, this is you? Right son, if I see you near a bar drinking... Now in you go and have fun."
Here Come The Drumz (Remix)
1992, Reinforced Records
This is an alias of Doc Scott.
Yeah, this is where hardcore got dark. You had DJs like Ellis Dee and DJ Ratty pushing this meaner sound. Less of the uplifting melodies, less of the vocals. Just beats and bass, which is what eventually evolved into drum & bass. You went from skipping and jumping and putting your hands in the air to just going deep inside yourself and thinking more about the music. It makes my hair stand up on end listening back to it.
Yeah it's much moodier, more ghostly.
At these big raves you'd have a DJ like Slipmatt, who would mix it up a bit and play a couple of these darker tunes. Predominantly, though, it was happy. Then you'd have someone doing the jungle thing—Fabio, Grooverider, Jumpin Jack Frost, Randall—and it was more like this. Heads down. Then the next hour might be DJ Dougal and all the white gloves would come out again. I was always looking for the darker sound, so when that happy hardcore DJ came on I was like, "Right, I'm going to the other arena."
Again there's that variation in the track. The constant shifts.
This is the thing I still find fascinating about this music, and what I've tried to take into my productions. It's these changes. You'd have these stripped-back drums and then the amen breaks. But you'd also have different basslines in tracks. The first half of the track could be completely different in terms of groove to the second half of the track. You'd don't hear that much anymore. It had a random energy, and I loved that.
And a lot of these producers had little musical training, if any at all. But then the music is so adventurous.
It's because they had no musical training. But things did start to change in that respect. You could hear the musicianship coming into it. Around '95, jungle came out of being just rave music and drum & bass was born. It became commercialised as well. You had Metalheadz around the corner on Hoxton Square. Goldie was hanging out with Björk. All of a sudden, the musicality started coming in. Things were getting jazzy and melodic. But originally it was just a bunch of people making music for raves. It was all about the impact.
Atlantis (I Need You) (LTJ Bukem Remix)
1993, Good Looking Records
This is what you're talking about in terms of musicality, right?
This was my game changer. I'm just completely obsessed with Bukem. It really turned my head. This was considered really deep and underground at the time. Bukem used to come on in the raves and a lot of people would walk out, but I was really into it. Less of the ragga sounds, more thought out. I hate the term but it was what they were calling intelligent drum & bass. I've got literally every record from the early days of Good Looking.
So you got into this through the darker hardcore stuff?
Yeah I was still into all that, but this is where it became about more than the rave. I wanted to listen to it all the time. I still listen to it now at home. If I'm in the car I'll usually stick on something on Good Looking. By this time, around '93, jungle had really settled in. You had a lot of this ragga stuff coming out, which was massive but I wasn't into it as much. Instead, I was going to clubs like Milk Bar on a Thursday to see Fabio.
In what way was this track a game changer?
After that I was just all about jungle and drum & bass. I didn't want to go to any hardcore parties—why waste an hour of my time? I just wanted to be dancing to this all night.
Who were some of the other DJs you loved?
Peshay. Randall was probably, for me, the best DJ at the time. I mean, think about it: back then they were playing vinyl on these huge soundsystems that weren't tuned or refined in any way. 100K Turbosound or whatever. And Randall was the one who could properly mix and was pretty tight. Some of the others—I won't mention names, some of them are my mates now—were a bit sloppy with their mixing. There was a lot of spin-backs and chopping.
That's funny because my perception has always been that jungle and drum & bass DJs are universally tight.
Well, you had Adam F and Andy C, who were both brilliant. But by '96 I stopped going to jungle raves because the attitude was too much. You were lucky to come out of there with your wallet most of the time. I remember once, I left one of these raves and got in my car and someone got shot outside. You don't need that in your life when you just want to dance.
Let It Roll
1994, Dee Jay Recordings
This feels like proper drum & bass. It says on Discogs that DJ Crystl is now working as a personal trainer.
Again, it's got that element of surprise. The euphoric pads at the end come out of nowhere.
It's a proper moment. When my daughter was born, my wife asked for some music while she was in labour and I put this on. It was just a random jungle mix on YouTube. The nurse had just given her some gas—I had some as well—and she was buzzing to this. She was going, "This is amaaaazing." I was thinking, "You really don't know what's coming next. [laughs]. You're about to give birth."
1994, Moving Shadow
I've rinsed the bassline and stuck it in a couple of my tracks, "Flexin" and "Desire." This was the first time I listened to a bassline and was totally blown away by it. When it came on in the rave everyone would go mad, you'd be shouting at the top of your voice. As soon as that amen break comes in, it'd get rewound like four times. The bassline is just there, on its own.
Did you tell Keith you've nicked his bassline?
[Laughs] He did a sample pack and it's in there. I'll probably use it in a couple more tracks as well.
It's the melody too, though. I checked on WhoSampled.com and it's from "Nightporter" by Japan.
Brilliant. As a producer, I've sat there and listened to the track and again, it's just got the piano riff, the bassline, the amen break and couple other sounds on a delay that come in later. Six elements, if that. But such impact.
1994, Street Beats
I didn't know The Truper was an alias of Rupert Parkes, AKA Photek.
Yeah I could have probably picked at least four records from four of his different aliases. His level of production was another level. This one came out on Street Beats, which was a sub-label of Basement Records. The label also had a shop in Reading that I'd go to a lot.
So he was bringing a different kind of professionalism to the table?
Yeah him and Adam F. It was a lot richer.
Have you ever had a go at making jungle?
I've made some. I've been thinking about doing an album, so I've made a couple of jungle tracks for that. I've been trying to think about the way they would make music. Really not complicating things. Trying to jam stuff out through the desk and overdubbing, rather than doing it on building blocks in Logic or Ableton. Getting away from that and playing around more. Using Ableton Push and putting stuff through my Eventide FX unit for those little sounds. I think that's probably how a lot of these tracks were made.
The '90s was also just a special time.
I think part of that is back then it wasn't that easy to make music. If I wanted to produce I'd have had to go out and buy synths or an MPC. I only earned £60 a week working part-time at Tesco while I was a student, and all that money was going on records. These days you can just crack a copy of Ableton and off you go. That said, it's harder to make a living off producing these days. Or off dance music in general, really. These past 15 to 20 years, I've wanted to live in London and be close to the scene, but that's meant I've only had a one-bedroom flat, which, if you're a record collector, isn't going to work. That's why a lot of my collection is at my nan's or my cousin's. Now I'm privileged enough to have this room and a studio where I can keep some of my favourite records, but getting to that point was difficult.
It's A Jazz Thing
1994, V Recordings
Like with "Terrorist," the melody is a sample—this time from Lonnie Liston Smith—that takes on a life of its own when it's sped up.
Yeah it's beautiful. Again it's that more musical side of things. The mainstream was creeping into jungle and it was starting to get acknowledged. You could see it exploding all over the world. It was no longer this London or UK sound. But it was still cool as fuck. And it was for listening to, away from the dance floor.
This one is on a similar tip, and it might be my favourite of the bunch. It's one of the earliest releases on Metalheadz.
I put this in there to show the progression. We heard Doc Scott earlier as Nasty Habits, and now listen to him. From sinister to sublime. All these guys—Photek, Adam F, Alex Reece—they weren't afraid to experiment. This is for the radio, not the club necessarily, even though you would hear it in some raves.
That's a really important step, isn't it? Because of the tempo, people probably never considered that jungle and drum & bass could be anything other than club music. But actually, it's great to listen to at home. That opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
For sure. Also you could listen to it at half-time, so 160 BPM becomes 80 BPM, which is a pretty standard tempo for pop or R&B. And then you put all these vocals over it. In some cases it made these producers big names, they started working with proper musicians and pop stars. The tunes got in the charts. It was a bit overwhelming for a lot of them I think.
1994, Formation Records
There was clearly something in the air in '94.
There really was. This is very much me, my taste. Euphoric but still that headsy vibe, not totally bonkers. Stand there, close your eyes and just go somewhere. That's what this music was for me. And I've really tried to bring that same spirit through to everything that I've done since, with the raves and some of my own music. It played such a big part in my life, just being on the dance floor and listening to this stuff. I wanted people to come to Fuse and rave in that same way, even though it's a more modern sound. It's still got that feeling.
It's interesting you draw parallels with the Fuse sound because I would have considered them to be opposites in many ways. One is loud and in-your-face; the other is stripped-back and dubby.
You say that but if you listen to this early stuff, it's very stripped-back. Even though it's hectic in terms of the sounds, there's not that many elements. What I find now is people are using Reaktor and Native Instruments and layering so many different sounds. Whereas this stuff is drums and bass, with a fucking synth on top. That's what I like about it. It's minimal but they're big sounds. It leaves space in your brain.
Have you ever had a period where you've stopped raving?
Not really. I was having a renaissance when I started Fuse, aged 30. I'd been raving for nearly 15 years.
So that was in 2008. Where were you going clubbing around that time?
Secretsundaze, The End. I was playing at The End for Circoloco actually.
When did you go professional?
In 2007 I said I'm not going to be a global account manager for Gartner [Inc.] anymore. By that point I'd achieved everything you'd think would make you happy. I bought a house, I had a fast car, I was going out every weekend. But I found myself getting even more off my head for the wrong reasons. I was escaping. It was getting to the point where I hated my job, and I had this huge record collection. I'd finish work, go home and put records on, with a cigarette and glass of red wine. I was still DJing on the side a bit as well. And when things started picking up I really got a taste for it. So I took a leap of faith and went to Ibiza for the summer.
Yeah I had a residency in the back room at Eden. I built up a nice little crowd, playing every week on Monday night. I'd go to DC-10 during the day as early as possible, then head back to San Antonio. When I started Fuse a lot of the same people came through, which gave us a base, albeit only 50 people. It was a starting point.
That was when I started telling people I was a DJ, even though I wasn't earning any money or had many gigs [laughs]. It was a difficult thing to do but I had to. At one point, I remember going back to one of my old companies where I used to be an account manager and asking them if they had any work going in the warehouse, stacking boxes for a bit of cash in hand. They were like, "Fuck me how the mighty have fallen. You were one of our top sales guys and you want a job in the warehouse?" I just needed a couple weeks' work to get me through a difficult period. They thought I'd had a mental breakdown. But really it was the beginning of a new thing for me.
1997, Shoebox Records
This feels like a good one to end on. There's a bit of a personal story here, right?
Exactly. SDR was a guy called Adrian, who ran my local record shop, Hard Edge Records, in Maidenhead. He had a little label called Shoebox. John Williams, who went to my school and lived on my road, became John B, a big drum & bass artist. He used to come cycling down to my house to play, aged seven. Since then he's been on the front cover of Mixmag, and he even had his own genre, trance & bass, which was really poppy and synthy. I just wanted to choose something that repped my local scene, though unfortunately that record shop's gone and SDR works in IT now I think.
The shop was still open when this came out, in '97?
It probably shut around '98.
John B is the same age as you?
He was about a year or two older. But he was a lot more geeky. He was really into his computers, always playing on his Atari and making music on it. Whereas I was just always going to the raves and getting lost in the music. And buying records. We used to both go and hang out at Hard Edge. Then he went off to university and got signed by Hospital Records and then Metalheadz. He had big hits. I remember looking at the front cover of Mixmag and thinking, "That's incredible."
And SDR was a massive influence for you?
Technically he's probably the best DJ I've ever come across. He was up there in that record shop mixing day and night. Any spare moment I had, I was there. I spent a lot of my time in there: analysing the new music, talking about the raves, listening to the tape packs. I miss it, I really do.