Seven acts to catch at The Peacock Society festival 2019
It's late Saturday afternoon, I've lost my house keys, it's dark, and I already feel I'm deep in Monday morning mode, but Slugabed and Ed Scissor (a.k.a Greg & Ed) are playing a set on Radar Radio to promote their new EP on Astral Black, 'Feed Em Freedom', and I need to get my arse down there. I'm a socially challenged mute in the first 15 minutes of arriving, but once Greg takes to the deck and Ed gets a grip on the mic to perform opening track The Rex, my misty mood is lifted.
A nod to rave nostalgia, the meeting of minds between Activia Benz head and expert rap storyteller Ed Scissor a unanimous union that weaves together Ed's skills as a wordsmith with Greg's beats to etch-a-sketch of raves in the early '00s. A heydey for some, these times were centrifugal to both Greg and Ed's formative years, and although they have moved on from free parties or jumping trains back from London only to get chucked off halfway home, the memories still remain. With talks of a collaboration with Greg on the cards for quite some time, the result is a ruminating eight-tracker (four vocal tracks and accompanying instrumentals) that preserves their raving years in a loving time capsule that makes you want to hug your memories, a little like the siamese rave twins on Melissa Kitty Jarram's abstract artwork for the release.
Sitting down for a chat after their Radar set, we got pretty lost in the EP's beginnings, the "rave rabbit hole" that saw Ed channel a skatman inspired drum and bass MC on a track that didn't make the EP cut, and Greg's teenage years spent at illuminating free parties in the West Country. To be honest, I wanted to write this into a long form piece, but there was just too much gold to lose. Listen to 'Feed Em Freedom' below, and read an interview with Greg & Ed after the jump.
You said on the Radar Radio show with Jon that ‘Feed Em Freedom’ was a long time coming, but did you always plan to do an EP?
Greg: “We were just riffing weren’t we? There were quite a few tracks that we half-made, that never made the cut. It was always going to be an EP, though it could have been a longer or shorter. These four tracks were the ones that turned out really good and sort of gelled.”
Ed: “Exactly. It was never going to be an album. There were a few songs that we were sort of flirting with that, in hindsight, are quite embarrassing."
Greg: “Ed got quite deep down the rabbit hole of rave nostalgia and did an entire track about being a drum and bass MC driving between illegal raves. It had a three-minute scat style skibadee monologue at the start. It’s a good track and it’s not embarrassing, but it just didn’t make sense on the EP as it got a bit too heavily themed.”
“Ed got quite deep down the rabbit hole of rave nostalgia and did an entire track about being a drum and bass MC driving between illegal raves." – Greg
Ed: "At the time I wrote it, I was touring and I was partying loads, so it all just became a beautiful utopia in my head, when in truth and realistically, on wax or on cassette, it had a shelf life…and then some. Again, that was all part and parcel of the project. Going from something bigger to condensing down into four vocal tracks, which all work really nicely alongside one another."
So sort of refining the offering?
Greg: "You have to go through that process of potentially making a little bit of silliness to kind of come round to the end product. 'Feed Em Freedom' has got an actual weighty vibe to it. It’s very reflective and a little bit psychedelic at the same time. I find it very inward looking. Not that I wrote any of the words, but it sort of feels like we are reflecting."
Ed: "The songs that didn’t make the record were sort of comical and played on memories of a scene which you look back fondly on, but in truth, were in that bubble of hopping trains and going to raves that you were clearly way too young for and coming away feeling pretty good to get out without being punched in the face or have your stuff stolen. That was deadly serious at the time and it felt like some sort of amazing, real life action adventure game. Going to Stratford Rex with your friends, with only enough money to buy a couple of pingers and not even the train ticket. There was fun to be had but it felt like a strange army mission or a weird quest. The songs that didn’t make the EP were a sort of pastiche version of that feeling, whereas the songs that did make the cut were beautiful and realistic interpretations of it."
Greg: "I love the fact it’s about raving but it's not rave music."
Ed: "The second track is obviously that half-hearted and lame attempt to pull chicks in the rave. I was awful at that. It should have been way easier."
Greg: "You’re a hunk and you should have had your pick. Now you’re old and married and it’s never gonna happen."
Ed: "That’s the beauty of the EP. The nostalgia in there, and the reflection."
Above: 'Feed Em Freedom' artwork by Melissa Kitty Jaram
What sort of parties were you going to back then?
Ed: "Strictly drum and bass raves in rugged and horrendous ends of East London where you felt very much in danger at all times. You felt totally lucky when you got out and caught the train back home to Cambridge."
Greg: "I’ve never been to a rave in London. I grew up in the West Country, near Bristol, so I went to raves there. It was scary, I was about 14 or 15 at the time and I was on too many pills to be scared. Also, I don’t think there was any aggression there, it was just being so out of my comfort zone as a teenager from a middle-class, middle of the road background who was suddenly seeing chins moving like I’d never seen before in my life. I don’t think there was ever aggression or threat, it was just such a weird culture shock."
It’s just the areas you’re going to sometimes. I’ve only been in London for five years but hearing what the now bougie places like Clapton used to be like…
Greg: "That’s the thing, I can’t imagine any part of London being unpleasant these days. Stockwell is maybe the only place I’ve ever felt edgy, but it’s still not a nasty or dangerous area."
Ed: "Stratford High Street in 2001 was fucking horrible. From the station to the rave and back again, it felt like a fucking PlayStation game. I was 16 or 17 at the time, and it was definitely not legal to get into the party, but that was the beauty of it – going to these places you weren’t allowed and surviving them. It was more than just the music."
"Stratford High Street in 2001 was fucking horrible. From the station to the rave and back again, it felt like a fucking PlayStation game." – Ed
Greg: "I used to take about five hours to come up [laughs]. I’d come up as we left the party, every single time."
It’s mad for me to think about that. At age 14 I used to sit at my computer playing The Sims and I didn’t start drinking until I was 18.
Greg: "Oh I did that too. I didn’t start drinking until I was 18 either."
But you did pills?
Greg: "I started smoking weed when I was about 11, then I started doing mushrooms and pills when I was 14. I didn’t drink and I wasn’t a party animal at all. I was a nervous wreck all of the time but I’d occasionally get dragged along to weird druggy events and end up on drugs. A lot of my friends would get drunk and get with girls but I would sit with three friends every night for a year solid, just smoking weed."
Ed: "I did that too, that was the chapter before. I love 'Feed Em Freedom' because it makes me remember that chapter of total carnage and hedonism."
Greg: "I think “art” is a nice way to revisit those times. Just to remember them can sometimes feel a bit painful. Like, “I loved those times, but now I have to pay taxes.” Whereas to actually really re-enter that world and get it out on a platform is sort of therapeutic."
"I love 'Feed Em Freedom' because it makes me remember that chapter of total carnage and hedonism." – Ed
Ed: "100% – there is really therapy in it. You’re not going to raves and getting home to think about writing songs about raves – you’re sleeping, and maybe eating. That’s why it’s beautiful to reminisce on so many years later. [To Ed] that’s credit to your music. That’s why it became what it was, due to the sounds you created."
How did you go about that? Did you put ideas down and do the back and forth?
Greg: "They were all quite old beats, but when I was selecting beats for this project I had listened to Ed’s stuff. I don’t usually listen to UK hip hop, and Ed’s stuff was like the first I’d got back into since the old days when I used to listen to Jehst, and Braintax. Apart from The Rex, which was a wildcard, I but with tracks like Egon Schiele, I wasn’t trying to recreate old UK hip hop beats, but created beats that were touching. After I made the beat and I was listening back it got me, in the same way that Jehst’s City Of Industry got me – the track with the Yes sample and the big strings. So, they were all beats I made previously, but I curated them for Ed. We both knew this project was on a nostalgic tip without ever really discussing it. It almost happened so naturally that it’s quite hard to describe."
Ed: "Expect for maybe the skibadee monologue. You make loads of flamboyant and elaborate decisions when you’re high, and they all feel glorious."
Above: Greg & Ed on Radar Radio, November 26th
Greg: "People say there are stages or ways to do creativity right. There are specific approaches that work, and it’s pretty much accepted that you have the first stage where you literally just let it all out like you did, and that’s the most creative stage. Then you have the second stage, where you’re like – that was shit. I think it was all of value."
Ed: "I feel like The Rex is a good example. That was the chapter, and all the songs that didn’t make the cut were sub-chapters of that story. Microcosms of that particular episode, like the beautiful, pitched down skibadee introduction. I like the fact there are eight tracks, as the instrumentals stand strong alone. When I played the music that Greg suggested to the people I usually produce with, they were scratching their heads. They were super confused yet I was totally involved, so that’s testament to where we were going together."
Were the events you went to proper skatman drum and bass nights?
Ed: "Nah, like ye olde drum and bass – the heydey."
Greg: "I always call 2001 the heydey but if I walked up to a 40-year-old bloke and said that, I would probably get punched."
Above: 'Feed Em Freedom' artwork by Melissa Kitty Jaram
Ed: "I'm talking about One Nation raves, Slammin’ Vinyl, Raindance."
Greg: "Did you ever go to Milton Keynes, The Sanctuary? I had a tape-pack but I never went."
Ed: "If you’re from Cambridge you go out there, then Norwich to hit The Waterfront, before graduating to Milton Keynes, but it’s still not enough, and you want a taste of London. There's a train to Kings Cross, where you can head on to Bagleys or Stratford Rex. That was the one. That was the spot where you felt like you were coming out of the party into The Vietnam War. Then we would jump the train home and sometimes make it, or other times get kicked off in Bishops Stortford and have no idea how to get home. It was radical and I wouldn’t change it for the world."
Apparently young people don’t get wasted as much due to the pressures of social media and not wanting to look messy or embarrass themselves. Do you think that's correct, and that parties like these still happen?
Greg: "They must be. I wonder if free parties still happen, like at all. I know they still happen occasionally in the countryside, but they used to happen every weekend."
Where I'm from is the countryside – sort of the Glastonbury of the north. There’s leylines, UFO spotting, the lot. People spoke of a free party scene when I was younger, but I was too geeky for it.
Ed: "I’m sure this scene is still popping left, right and centre."
Greg: "There was a rave in Froome whilst I was staying there. It’s a tiny country bumpkin town, but there was a rave on the outskirts. I could the jungle music from it in my bedroom, even though it was two miles away in a valley."
Where there’s boredom there is fun. The raves in my hometown took place under wind turbines at the top of the hill and I had no idea that it was going on. There were happy hardcore parties in crappy clubs. Small towns are good for that, London makes it difficult.
Ed: "Absolutely. They had it on lock in London."
Greg: "The Rex was legal parties right? But had a rave sensibility."
Ed: "Yeah totally, but you just kept on going back."
"I think raving was at its best in ’92 and we all missed out." – Greg
You wonder whether clubbing was better then or now.
Ed: "Back then, it had that feeling of anything goes."
Greg: "I think raving was at its best in ’92 and we all missed out."
'Feed Em Freedom' is out now on Astral Black (buy).