BRADFORD’S Unique 3 have been mixing up reggae, house and hip hop into over-the-top, bass-heavy dance music for a couple of years now. On the eve of the release of their new single Activity, they talk to Expletive Undeleted about bleeps, basslines and Belgium.
Even by bad taste nightclub standards, the fun palace where I’m to meet Edzy from the Unique 3 in Bradford is impressive.
It’s the kind of place which utterly transcends abstract concepts like taste and style. It’s huge, it’s gaudy and it’s one of The Hitman and Her’s more upmarket future stop-offs. But despite all the free aftershave, the multiple screens blasting out MTV, and the gold plating around the ornamental goldfish pond, the bottom line is that the gents still smells like a gents.
The rest of the club is as grandly decked out as the pissoir, with all the state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment you would need to make Sharon and Darren’s Saturday night go with a bang. All in all, there are a lot worse places to spend a Saturday night, I suppose.
But only if you can actually get through the door.
As we drive away from the club is Edzy’s rather flash motor, he tells me how he and the rest of the band couldn’t get into the Magestic’s grand gala opening night, “because we weren’t dressed right. I had three hundred quid’s worth of gear on me that night.”
Somebody should have told the bouncers. These lads have been on Top of the Pops. That probably doesn’t make a lot of difference to your average Bradford doorman. Later on, Edzy’s bandmate Deadly delights in telling him about the sparkling new VIP pass he’s managed to acquire. Edzy is not amused.
Unique 3 might be Bradford’s prime musical innovators at the moment – musical originality isn’t something you’d naturally associate with New Model Army, for example – but like many contemporary dance-orientated acts, they’re anonymous with it. So for the benefit of club doormen across West Yorkshire, here’s a quick history lesson:
Unique 3 are two black lads and a white lad called Cutz, Deadly and Edzy (though I think these may be pseudonyms), with an average age of 22. They live in the multi-racial Manningham area of inner city Bradford.
There used to be four of them in the band but the other guy left recently after the inevitable “musical differences” journalists like writing about so much.
The band grew out of the four’s experiences as DJs and soundsystem operators, and their music reflects a background which encompasses jazz, hip hop, soul, reggae and house, all at the same time.
Three years ago, they pressed up a few white labels of a track called The Theme and found themselves with a massive underground hit on their hands. Basically in 1988 and 1989, anywhere you found lots of plod, rottweilers and space cadets, you’d probably hear the steady beep-beep-beep-beeeeep of The Theme blasting out of the speakers at some point in the evening.
They were swiftly signed by Virgin subsiduary Ten Records and released a couple more singles, one of which, Musical Melody, made the top 20 and took the Unique 3 into the nation’s living rooms via Top of the Pops. Since then they have released a debut album and have a news single out next week.
Unique 3 have never been the most immediately accessible dance act and this tradition is continued with the new single Activity, an atmospheric, house-tinged musical hybrid that stands about as much chance of getting into the top 20 as .. well, Tricky Disco or What Time Is Love? or Cubik. It’s hard to tell these days.
“We never did really aim our music at the charts,” explains Edzy, “but if stuff does get into the charts, it just means it’s popular. Like, we’re not even releasing a seven-inch single for Activity. We’re not doing seven-inches at all anymore. There’s no point, because we’re not aiming at that kind of market, it’s more for a club audience, really. Activity is a bit harder than the stuff we’ve done before. It’s getting more extreme generally and we’re happy with it that way.”
At least part of this desire to sound as hard as possible stems from the band’s determination to counter the tediously traditional accusations of ‘selling out’ that inevitably follow a band’s debut appearance on Top of the Pops. It seems are inherently worthier if they’re obscure and poor.
It’s no great secret that the band weren’t happy about appearing on the programme, fearing just such a loss of credibility. How often do you hear Adamski or the KLF in a club these days? They’re not keen to repeat the experience for the new single. It is, says Edzy, “a load of bollocks.”
But, he continues, it isn’t quite as simple as that.
“It’s hard, especially when you’re on a major label, to turn it down. They’ve got whole departments of people whose sole aim in life is to get you on Top of the Pops. They don’t know who you are, but you’re on of their bands and you know, Top of the Pops is quite a big thing for them.”
“It was a good feeling going on it because of what it is,” says Deadly, who feels a bit more positive about the episode. “we were playing our own music, that we made in Bradford, on the most important music show on television.”
“It’s good to see some extreme music in the charts after Kylie and Jason, it wakes people up a bit,” adds Edzy. “It makes them sit up and take notice. Even if they don’t like it, at the very least they know that your music exists.”
Unique 3 are often lumped in with the Yorkshire bleep scene documented by Sheffield’s warp Records, but in reality, they have very little to do with it. After all, their music has got as much to do with hip hop as house. And it might have the right amount of strange electronic noises but it also has some thumping dancehall basslines. But that’s not as million miles away from many warp acts. So do they feel any affinity at all with people like Nightmares on Wax and LFO?
“Not really. But people like to pigeonhole you, don’t they?” says Edzy giving me a meaningful look. “It’s lazy journalism. We know LFO and Nightmares on Wax – in fact we’re DJing with them in Tenerife in June – but we don’t have a lot in common musically.”
“I don’t really know too much about techno music, because we’ve never had that much of a white, ravey audience. I like some of the Belgian stuff though – it seems quite heavy and powerful.”
“When we’re DJing, we’ll play anything that’s got a good tune, we don’t want to be limited,” says Deadly. Like we’ll go out of town and we’ll be headlining as DJs or doing a PA and we’ll pack the place out. But we’d never do that in Bradford. People here don’t seem to want to know.”
Of course, their determination to keep things fluid and diverse extends to the music they make as the Unique 3. The music on their new single ranges from the taut, moody title track to the motormouth rap of Jus Unique, with its smart De la Soul sample, and the downright weird rhythmic bombardment of Fury In Force. The final track, Reality, is a re-recorded corker from their album, an uptempo dancehall number vaguely reminiscent of the Mad Professor’s work.
MC Nuclear LEE of the Deighton Task Force talks about Bradford and the evils of drug abuse – which is a bit rich since their success with the The Theme owed more than a little to people being off their heads when they heard it. But that aside, Acitivity rates as probably the best thing the band have released in their career so far.
“We realise there’s not a huge market for the kind of music we’re making, but we’re doing alright and we’re making the kind of music that we want to make,” decides Edzy.
“We want to keep it on a music vibe,” says Deadly as I leave. “That’s what the main thing is. And we’re just going to keep banging it out.”
* * *
FOR someone involved in dance music, getting a fax from New York house label Strictly Rhythm is like winning the lottery and the pools and all your Christmases and birthdays rolled into one.
Among the house music fraternity, Strictly Rhythm enjoys the same kind of worldwide reputation for consistent unparalleled excellence as an organaisation like the BBC. Since 1989, the label has released a string of highly-influential records, from Barbara Tucker’s Beautiful People to Reel 2 Real’s I Like To Move It and fostered the talents of everyone from Todd Terry and Josh Wink to Kenny Dope Gonzalez and Roger Sanchez.
“As a DJ, you used to have to be sharp to buy Strictly Rhythm records,” remembers Edzy, erstwhile member of Bradford rave-era bleep merchants Unique 3, former music editor for the archetypal club slacker fanzine the Herb Garden and a longstanding fixture on the northern club scene as a DJ, promoter and now club owner.
“The shops would only get two or three copies in and people would just buy them without even hearing them. Because they knew they were going to be good.”
Edzy admits to being a little taken aback when he saw a fax from the label awaiting one morning just before Christmas last year. Nursing a monster hangover and an arm broken in three places, he wasn’t at his best.
It seems someone at the label had heard one of his tracks, Do It Til You Burn, on an old compilation album. Not only did they want to release it in its original form, they also wanted Edzy to record a new version for the B-side. He sighs. “It was a cruel twist.”
Most DJs would cheerfully sell their entire family into slavery for a chance to record for Strictly Rhythm. Not Edzy, it seems.
“I thought I was finished with all that,” he replies, rubbing his closely-shaved head. “I didn’t have to make music to earn a living anymore. At that point, I hadn’t DJed for about a year. I thought I’d moved on, progressed. I’m 30-years-old.
“The music thing was a part of my history that wasn’t going any further. I didn’t have to break my heart making music anymore. And I was happy with that.”
The seeds of Edzy’s disillusionment with the music business were sown after the initial success of the Unique 3, who came out of the soul, reggae and hip hop scene of Bradford’s Manningham district in the late Eighties.
The rot set in with the success of their first single, The Theme, a sparse, electro-inspired house instrumental which got them an invitation to appear on Top of the Pops.
“For us, it was a bit of a joke,” remembers Edzy. “We were young, we liked to think we were underground. the A&R man at our label said, you can’t do instrumental house music on Top of the Pops. There weren’t that many people making that kind of music in this country then.
“There was a hip hop track on the B-side, with a rapper, and he made us do that instead. We had to go along with it, because we thought, well, the label knows best.” He shrugs.
Having spent most of his Unique 3 earnings setting up a pirate radio station – Bradford’s Emergency FM – Edzy admits to having “a few bad years” after the group split. he went into partnership with another DJ and set up a studio in Harrogate, where he concentrated on making his own music, including Do It Til You Burn.
With the single now remixed, repackaged and re-released – and by all accounts causing a stir on both sides of the Atlantic – Edzy has joined a handful of British producers on the label. He is currently considering his next move.
Do It Till You Burn is a prime slice of US-style British garage, complete with a big, girly vocal and an unashamed good times vibe. But it’s not Phats & Small. It’s just a little bit too good to make any serious impression in the mainstream. Edzy isn’t too worried either way. Just as long as he doesn’t have to do Top of the Pops again.
He has recorded another track recently, his first in some time. Will that be on Strictly too?
“Maybe it’s something they’ll like,” he muses. “Either way, I’m not getting into making music to please record labels. Not even Strictly Rhythm.”
[The first interview was first published in the Northern Star in March 1991, the second in the Big Issue in the North in May 1999]