Picture the scene: we’re at an end-of-terrace house in Stevenage - 55 Conifer Walk, to be exact. A curious music rumbles the top left window, as it would most nights in the early 90s. It’s a bedroom studio, owned by Rob Playford (behind the legendary Moving Shadow label), and inside, a seismic shift in underground music is happening.
Rob, alongside Sean O’Keeffe and Simon Colebrooke, are tinkering with the musical mechanisms that would arm dancefloor dynamite. They brought vinyl to sample, and had riffs from last night’s rave running around their heads as Rob, channelling their inspirations and enthusiasm, is interpreting their vision - heavy on the fast, chopped, breakbeats, and awash with the pads, bleeps, and sine waves of hardcore.
“We’d say, ‘We love this Joey Beltram bassline', and Rob would play the Yamaha DX until he had something close,” says Sean. “Then we’d speed all the breaks up - I don’t know why. Things just got faster. DJs would pitch up tracks on their turntables anyway, so we’d make the next ones so they didn’t have to.”
It was proto-jungle - a new formula for dance music that would cause shockwaves still felt today.
“We pushed the sounds of breaks,” says Sean. “It came from an inability to play instruments. You didn’t have to have to know music theory. You just had to have some rhythm and know what was gonna sound good on a system.”
Under the aliases 2 Bad Mice and Kaotic Chemistry, this three-man bomb squad would be responsible for some of the most incendiary singles and EPs to hit the scene at the time. The best of these were compiled together as the artist album, 2 Bad Mice - Kaotic Chemistry.
“That album was a few years in the making in that studio,” says Simon. “It was very much a collection of singles, right from the first one that we did in 1991 which was 2 Bad Mice/No Respect, right through to the darker and more experimental Underworld EP.
“Looking back, it’s a real chronological progression of our style... A lot of magic happened in Rob’s little house.”
2 Bad Mice - 2 Bad Mice
Simon Colebrooke: “We had to open with this. Everybody asks about the ‘two bad mice’ sample – it’s an old Beatrix Potter story record. The ‘don’t you want my love’ was from Jomanda, which Rob [Playford] pulled out. The ‘If rocking the house well is a crime' is from the Cold Crush Brothers’ Feel The Horns.
“The ‘squeaky’ break, which is what people often associate with ‘The Mouse Sound’, is UK rappers SL Troopers, and the double snare break is Lakim Shabazz and 45 King’s This Cut’s Got Flavor. The bassline is Rob copying Energy Flash by Joey Beltram, using pitch bend until we went, ‘That’ll do!'”
Kaotic Chemistry - Drum Trip
SC: “Kaotic Chemistry was our other alias. The idea behind that was to experiment a little bit more. We’d already done these other tracks, Strip Search and Five In One Night, and took the drums from those and used them here. The other breaks were The Bee by The Scientist, and Debbie Malone’s Rescue Me.”
Sean O’Keeffe: “We’d always mess with the pitch bend. We played the breaks at full speed and pitch bent them down minus 12. We’d hit record, then Rob would tidy up the MIDI pitch bend after.”
2 Bad Mice - Hold It Down
SO: “This nearly got into the charts! It got to 46, I think - the same position as our Blame [Music Takes You] remix. Then a solo thing I did called The Helicopter Tune [as Deep Blue] got to 46 as well. Funny that they all stalled there… It was a shame we never hit the top 40.”
SC: “The vocal here is I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love by The Emotions, but sampled from UK rap crew Katch 22. We wanted something uplifting, like that big drop from Bizarre Inc’s Playing With Knives.
“One of the breaks was from MC Mell’O’, Bizzie Rhymin, which I later found out was from Humpty Dump by The Vibrettes.”
2 Bad Mice - Bombscare (UXB Mix)
SC: “There was a late 70s TV show called Danger UXB about a bomb disposal team, which is where the name comes from.”
SO: “I think Graham Gold did this mix for us. We played it to a few people and it ended up getting a bit of traction so we pressed it up on a fake label, Large Impact Records, and put it in a sleeve to make it look like a US import. It worked really well and opened us up to a newer audience, going down well in America, which is why this version got on the album - the label was American.”
SC: “We were full of scams, back in the day.”
2 Bad Mice - Waremouse
SO: “We were starting to understand new techniques on this track. We would launch breaks on the snare - not just from the first beat. We’d cut the break up and have it on the keyboard, with each one starting at a different point in the break. It was like an MPC drum machine.”
SC: “We made this track with a DJ in mind, who played early raves, called Frankie Valentine. You would know when Frankie was on because it was really stomping stuff. This was raw and warehouse-y - hence the name. This track was a tribute to him, and that snappy, echoey sound of a half empty warehouse with a great big system in it.”
Kaotic Chemistry - Space Cakes
SC: “The ‘north London Posse in the place’ sample was from a Demon Boyz live album. Being in Hertfordshire, the toughest thing we could say was that we were from north London [laughs].”
SO: “A lot of Kaotic Chemistry tracks, if you look carefully, have period drug references - ‘Space Cakes’ here. We thought it was really clever, but Rob would pull his hair out.
“The deep piano synth sound was from Free by Tammy Payne, which was a cover version of a Deniece Williams track. I think it was produced by someone from that early 90s Bristol scene [Bristol Baseline Productions].”
Kaotic Chemistry - Illegal Subs (Krome & Time Remix)
SC: “We got in Krome & Time from Suburban Base Records to do this remix. They did a great job. And once again it has another semi-drugs reference [sub/substances].
“The eerie sounds at the beginning, on the original, came from our Korg 01/W. The ‘You are the people of chemistry’ vocal was taken off of the Katch 22 album, Diary of a Blackman Living in the Land of the Lost. The drums were an absolute gem of a find by Sean.”
SO: “It’s a Prince b-side [Prince and The New Power Generation – Ethereal Mix]. It already had the edits, stutters and reverse chops in it – just the way we would have done it.”
Kaotic Chemistry - Drum Tip II
SO: “This was fundamentally Space Cakes without the synth. It was a drum workout, dub version of that.”
SC: “The haunting noise at the beginning of the track is straight off the Korg. We added a scratch on the breaks that Sean did on the turntables. Then there’s a twinkly bell noise that we sampled off a UK rap track by Kash Da Masta, and he got it off Whodini’s Magic Wand.
“I didn’t really like Whodini back then, and I only found out it was them later on. They had videos and they all wore leather, fingerless gloves, which is probably why I wasn’t into them [laughs].”
2 Bad Mice - Bombscare (Original Version)
SC: “This was Sean’s baby.”
SO: “I had all the samples already sorted for Bombscare before we even got into the studio to start work. I knew that I wanted these drums, this riff, this little reverse cymbal, and this bomb sound - I had them all. We then went in and sampled all the parts and put it together.”
SC: “You did the scratch at the start adding a Hot Pants break. Then a break sampled from Kariya’s Let Me Love You (Rebuilt), the ‘Evil’ Eddie Richards mix. The reverse cymbal was from a J4M Records track.”
2 Bad Mice - Underworld, Tribal Revival and Mass Confusion
SO: “We can cover the next three tracks as one, as they were all made at the same time.”
SC: “These were off the same Underworld EP, and was a complete departure from our usual sound - less sample-led. Our other stuff was very rave-y. The scene was evolving.
“I don’t think it was very well received at the time, but over the years lots of people have got in touch saying that they absolutely love some of these tracks. They fitted in with that era, but they were very experiential for us.”
SO: “Rob left us to our own devices. There was more freedom in the studio, and we channelled different sounds and interpreted what we thought was going on in the scene.”
SO: “The arrangement wrote itself.”
Blame - Music Takes You (2 Bad Mice Take You)
SC: “Rob played us the original of this on a tape and we were itching to remix it. We shot in the studio with a bag of records we wanted to sample, and a bit of an idea and got on it.
“One of those records was MC Duke’s Smokin’ Beats. It pricked Sean’s ears up as it was a tough break. We then took the rest of Blame’s original parts and tried to ‘2 Bad Mice it up’, so threw in some scratching and all that.
“It was one of those times where everything happened right, first time. We started playing around. Had some beers. Had a pizza. About three hours later it was completely finished.”
Kaotic Chemistry - Strip Search
SC: “We used a 4/4 in this! And we were quite averse to using them in our music. It’s one of those ones I look back on and think, ‘We didn’t put loads and loads of effort into that one [laughs].”
“The break is from The Bee by The Scientist, then there’s a bit of Debbie Malone’s Rescue Me. It does touch on the house tip. It had that really bad synth sound in it as well.”
SO: “I’d forgotten that this track was on here!”
2 Bad Mice - Bombscare (’94 US Mix)
SC: “Bombscare blew up in The States, especially Orlando and Miami way. We had a connection with those guys and loads of remixes of it done.
“Off the top of my head there was Tall Paul, Sneak, Icee and Hybrid that did a mix - not a lot of people know that. This ’94 US Mix has me stumped, though.”
SO: “Isn’t it a mash up with Hold It Down from The States?”
SC: “Yeah. It’s the megamix. It’s the Jive Bunny megamix [laughs].”
SO: “Yeah. It was something done for the American market. We weren’t massively keen on it, but the label said that this remix had been popular, so we stuck it on [laughs].”
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