Celebrating Old Skool Music, Culture and Legacy
To describe Beat Jugglers as a “rave PA” is to do them a huge disservice. Those who have seen them perform live at one of their numerous festival appearances in the last two years can testify to the fact that Beat Jugglers stand unique in the world of dance PA’s. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of experiencing one of their live shows then you’re missing a rare treat. At last year’s Lazy Sunday Festival not even the pouring rain could hold them back as their energetic, upbeat performance of original tunes had the crowd in the palm of their hands.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – just who are the Beat Jugglers? Well, using the above photo as a guide…
From left to right, there’s old skool Exodus Collective legend, trance techno producer and founder of Level One Radio, DJ Tech, classically trained pianist JJW, soulful vocalist Nikki Neon, Guru Josh saxophonist Mad Mick and Rising High Records veteran and producer Phil Earle (who, in addition to being one of the core members of the five-piece ensemble as a producer, also works relentlessly behind the scenes as the band’s manager, audio technician and videographer!)
Together they make up the five-piece collective who are accompanied during live shows by MC NRG and the Dusty Boot Crew dancers.
We caught up with Tech, JJW, Nikki, Mick and Phil to discuss the origins of the band and their plans for the future. What we found were a passionate, engaging and welcoming group of talented musicians and producers, keen to share their love of music and live performance…
Let’s start at the beginning… how did the band come together?
Tech: Well basically, I was running a night in Luton with Andy Chesham called Harmony. It was one room of bands and one room of DJs, and Joe’s [Joe Wiggins AKA JJW] band at the time was one of the bands we booked. After we’d both smashed it we got chatting. I’d been doing live PA’s down at the Volks in Brighton and was looking to keep it going so we decided to pair up with his piano skills and my beats, bass and percussion. After three years of smashing festivals like Boomtown, Illusive and Alchemy we met up with Phil and asked him to join us on a production level. Phil had loads of studio experience from back in the day and was full of energy and excitement after hearing what we were doing and the music we were making.
Phil: All the stars aligned…
Tech: Then Joe bumped into Mad Mick at Small World and had a really cool jam and got on like a house on fire. Next, we all met up and had a really cool night and we asked Mick if he was up for joining us on our quest to have it and he agreed. We knew we needed a lead singer and there was only one choice – it simply had to be Nikki Neon full stop. She was lead singer in Joe’s last band Shabby Tinkerz and her voice was the best I’d ever heard full stop. So, she was asked and she agreed and Beat Jugglers became a five-piece band.
Nikki: I knew Joe from college – we were on the same Music Technology course together – and became friends through that. Phil I knew through college too as he worked in the Media department. A few years later Joe asked me to sing for Shabby Tinkerz which was an Urban Dub band – Phil managed that band too. I got a phone call from Joe one day asking me if I wanted to write some vocals for our first single ‘Raves Like This’. I wrote my vocal hook on first listen as the melody came to me instantly. I rang Joe up and sang it down the phone to him and within an hour I was laying the vocals down in the studio with him – the rest is history!
JJW: My first venture into electronic music just happened to be at the same time that I met Phil and Nikki. Phil was the music technology assistant and Luton VI College and Nikki was a member of my music technology group. Phil was a huge influence on my first track ‘Airportience’ and his role as a mentor to me for my music began then and has continued to this day. When I moved to Leeds to study music the first piece of dance music I wrote – ‘Acid Rebirth’, a rolling acid-techno trance track inspired by the raves I’d been attending – got it’s very first airing on Level One Radio. Little did I know until I met him seven years later that it was Tech who ran it from his home in Brighton! Upon returning from university I formed the band Shabby Tinkerz and asked Nikki to join as our singer and Phil to manage us. We did well for a rambunctious eight-piece and we got booked by Tech and his partner Andy Chesham to play their new event Harmony (which fused a room of live bands with a room of dance music). After the Shabby Tinkerz subsided me and Tech got together and started cooking up plans for our new project, Beat Jugglers, fusing live piano with our own productions. It just so happens that whilst gigging one night in Hastings I heard someone playing ‘Infinity’ on the sax! I couldn’t believe it when I was told it was the original member of Guru Josh, Mad Mick! We swore to work together in the future. Whilst me, Tech and Phil were writing ‘Raves Like This’ we decided to bring Nikki and Mick in on the track. It worked so well that we decided to make the collab permanent and Beat Jugglers was born. On a further note, when writing ‘Vibezin’, we fancied getting an MC. We racked our brains for who to include and I suggested Evenson from Ratpack, not thinking in a million years that it would actually happen, but you’ve got to aim for the top dog don’t ya. Thanks to Fat Controller linking us up, and Evenson liking what he heard, it happened!
What was it like collaborating with Evenson on ‘Vibezin’?
Phil: We rolled up at his place and spent an evening recording – what a cool guy!
Tech: Well, we’ve been lucky enough to have been down to visit him a couple of times now and both times he was a proper gent. The first time we went down with one tune we wanted him on and to be honest he smashed it so fast we were dumb struck! Then he said “got anything else?”, and that was it, within an hour we’d done four tunes. I’ve worked with MC’s before, and good ones at that, but this was another level. We spent the whole evening chatting, laughing and telling stories – it was such a cool experience. Then we returned for a video shoot in his front room and that was a repeat of fun and laughter. Ev is the king and we’re totally honoured to have worked with him and I hope we do again in the future.
JJW: You simply can’t help but feel a little nervous when you’re about to meet the “King of Oldskool” for the first time… We rocked up to his London flat in the middle of the night and were greeted by Evenson who truly appeared like a king; tall, dripping with jewellery and with an aura that made you know you were in the presence of a legend. The amazing thing about Evenson was not just that he was a very sound, down to earth guy that made us feel welcome straight away, it was that he truly wanted to help us on our journey. It shocked us to learn that we’re the first artists Evenson has ever collaborated with outside of Ratpack in his entire 30 years of the music scene. He’d turned down every offer to collaborate until he heard our music. That in itself is the most humbling thing of all, that he chose us! The man is a natural with the microphone, it’s simply an extension of his body. Vocally he’s able to weave seamlessly from a Jamaican patois reggae host, to a cockney London geezer, all the way to classic Fantazia hype man all in one, fluid freestyle. It was magical how Ev was able to really get behind Nikki’s vocals and vibe off of her material, lyrically and rhythmically. He even told Nikki she was the next Baby D!
Nikki: It was an inspiring experience for me. Ev recorded ‘Vibezin’ then we showed him other stuff we’d been working on. He laid down more vocals then I wrote more based on what he’d done, adding melodies and harmonies etc… It was exciting working in that way, bouncing off of each other vocally. There was a lot of great energy in the room! I feel like some people you just gel with musically and that was definitely one of those occasions!
JJW: We left Evenson feeling like we had been blessed by the priest of the dancefloor. He gave us all so much encouragement about our sound, our direction and our future. And what a generous guy, he told us he had spent 30 years working hard at his own music, climbing to the top, and now it’s time that he helped a group that was up and coming. Well Ev certainly did that. His collab with us on ‘Vibezin’ and our soon to be released ‘Better Days’ has given us the royal seal of oldskool approval in amongst a scene that, unless you were there back in the 90s, seems difficult to penetrate as an upcoming act. We also have Jay Folly [DJ Fat Controller] to thank for this – Jay is the ambassador of the Beat Jugglers to the oldskool scene and Evenson, alongside Nikki, has become our mouthpiece. We look forward to working with Evenson in the future and truly hope for the day we can share the stage with him.
Nikki: He was wonderfully welcoming to us and we all came away super excited. We have the utmost respect for him and gratitude for the opportunity. There are definitely more tunes in the pipeline from that recording session so keep your ears peeled for the future!
For those that haven’t seen you play out, how would you describe yourselves?
Phil: A live dance band. A collection of old skool guys and some youngsters with old skool souls.
Tech: A collection of musical artists with a love of music, vibe, and the desire to make people happy and to dance.
Nikki: Good friends, good music and good vibes.
JJW: Classical-fused old skool pianos, soulful, spine tingling vocals, ear catching sax licks and rolling, flat out party beats and synths, all woven together to produce a mesmerising high octane sound that will transport you back to the oldskool and far into the future all at the same time – and totally performed live. Take the sound of the Prodigy, blend it with 90s rave anthems and give it the grit of the UK free party scene and you get Beat Jugglers.
Phil: Relics from a time long ago!
You stand out as a unique live experience…
JJW: Yeah, often the new purveyors of the rave scene are using increasingly sophisticated technology to create and perform modern dance music. Beat jugglers are taking the artform of dance music back, way back, to the core essence of dance. The pianos aren’t sequenced and quantised, they’re played live. The vocals aren’t pre-recorded, processed and chopped up, they’re live. And the use of live saxophone in the form of dance music Beat Jugglers are writing is unheard of. The stage craft in having all these elements performed live really brings the experience into the present moment, you get the sense that each performance is unique. It’s never going to be performed quite the same again. Often when you book a dance act or DJ you might choose them based on genre or ask for a specific style, the notion of “Beat Juggling” allows us to chop and change across genres and styles, whilst maintaining a sound that can only be defined as our own. We always strive to create something unique and to stand out from the huge amount of electronic dance music that is out there and we hope, given our live format and multi-style madness, we’ve achieved this.
You’ve played a lot of festivals – any personal highlights?
Tech: Well the most amazing for me was the whole Unity thing. The people, venue and vibe were 100% all week… by the time we eventually got to play I think we were all at bursting point! And Strawberry Fair was amazing – there must have been 3000 people there in front of us and they were fully up for it. That was a bit of a shocker to be honest but also, hopefully, a taste of things to come.
Nikki: Personal highlights… for me I’d have to say that every show we do is a highlight, each for their own reason. The whole experience of playing Unity in the Sun (which was our first European tour date) was amazing and I’m so thankful to Jay [DJ Fat Controller] for supporting us from the start and booking us for that. Strawberry Fair was such a great festival too, the crowd were so full of energy and we really vibed off that – we had a lot of fun performing there! Equally, we had the best time at Tearout Festival on the Badlands Stage. Loved meeting the crowd after and hanging out with people who love the same music as we do – it’s a wonderful experience!
Will you be returning to Unity next year?
Nikki: I believe the line-up hasn’t been announced for Unity in the Sun 2020 yet, so keep checking the website for updates. You’ll have to wait and see – we’re keeping our fingers crossed!
How did you first discover the rave scene?
Tech: Well my first experience in rave was in 1991 at a Spiral Tribe / Mutoid Waste Company at The Roundhouse in London. One of my mates was an art student and i was always tagging along to parties with him. One day he said “there’s a party we need to go to… the word is its in London and its proper…”. That was me sold and I remember it like it was two weeks ago because my life totally changed from just that one party. As we turned the corner and walked down a long street, all we could see was a massive stadium type of thing just getting bigger as we got closer. There was a tiny door and just walls, really high walls… As the door got bigger and bigger I noticed there was an American police car about 20 or 30 feet above it with a cartoon-type hole around it like it had smashed though the wall! We got to the door and the music was just thundering though the walls – I had never heard music played so loud in my life. I think we gave the guy on the door a fiver and we entered – holy shit what had we just done! It was just like walking onto the set of Mad Max! The music was thundering around the whole building and everyone was chipping about breathing fire, juggling stuff and basically smiling! To say I had a moment would be an understatement – I’d discovered a secret order, an underground movement I simply had to be a part of. That was it… the moment i got hooked. By 1992 i was going to the Astoria regularly, and by 1993 I had decks and was learning my style at Milwaukee’s.
Mick: Me and Josh were a duo, “Josh & Mad Mick”, playing pubs and clubs around London when we were invited to a little club in Brighton one night. What a night – the first rave and I didn’t look back really. Josh bought a sampler and we started having a laugh with it at gigs – and so Guru Josh was born. That was about 1988. I met Joe [JJW] one night in Hastings at an open Mike night in Whistle Trago. We had a laugh, did a few festival jams and I joined the Jugglers. I’m loving the vibe and having the chance to share the love.
Nikki: I discovered the genre when I was 8 years old; my parents got me my first music player and cassettes for Christmas, which were Dance Tip 95 and Club Zone. I spent the summer playing them constantly on my Sony radio-cassette player learning to sing all the songs in my back garden and pretending to perform to an audience! Dance/rave music was the first genre of music I got into as a kid and it’s crazy to think that as a kid I was looking up to the likes of Baby D and singing ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’ (which is one of the first songs I learned to sing) and now we’re on the lineup together for Lazy Sunday. Crazy and amazing! I’ve now entered the scene as an adult and it’s so exciting. It feels the dreams of an 8 year old girl from Luton have come true!
JJW: My introduction to electronic music was actually my mum showing me Aphex Twin when I was about 16, along with listening to relatively commercial trance and liquid drum and bass. When I was 18 me and my friend found a party-line for a rave on a website called Squatjuice (which I continued to use for 10 years!) We got a lift down there with a friend at the time, who as it happens, hated it and left us there with the promise of picking us up later. The location was a warehouse in Staines and the rig was Storm and Surge. Me and my friend had never, ever heard dance music like this before or that loud. It was hypnotic, mesmerising, disorientating and life changing. The music was mainly hard trance and various forms of 4×4. Anyway, the party finished, the rig is packing up and we cannot get hold of my mate who swore to pick us up, and we were very low on battery. In the end we were completely stuck in this abandoned warehouse and everyone left, we didn’t quite know what to do, even a security guard popped in to see us huddled in a room!
Do you guys have any plans to record a Beat Jugglers album?
Tech: Yes we do… We’re in the middle of production at the moment. We’re almost ready to go on a four-track CD with a megamix included, and a full album that should be ready for Christmas.
JJW: Absolutely. We’re currently tying up the ends of some brand new material set to be on a forthcoming album ‘Beat Jugglers – Do It Like This’ later in the year. We have two collaborations with Evenson. We change the style up a bit to incorporate the drum and bass vibe of ‘Better Days’ and have a guest feature from turntable wizard DJM to wrap it up.
Nikki: It’s all happening behind the scenes – very excited about making new tracks!
Great news! So how does a typical studio session work?
JJW: One of the producers will cook up a concept. Yesterday, Phil and Tech brought me the idea of going out for the weekend and a play on the Donna Summer ‘I Feel Love’ bassline. I’ll crack open the sequencer, fire up the keyboard and let the hooks start coming. Once the mood and vibe is set it becomes easy to write. Yesterday we ended up with a nice driving Chicago-house style keyboard part, with a view to collaborate on the track with Fast Eddie! Once the grooves are laid down we fire a draft over to Nikki and Mick and bang, the magic really happens. It’s their ideas and concepts that bring the tracks to life and then the longer process of arranging, tweaking and mixing can begin. Without fail I will always accompany any studio session with some homemade food – I’m a feeder and the guys are great eaters, be it curry, curried goat, enchiladas… No-one leaves hungry! We’re always cooking up new material and time is precious as we all work different times.
Tech: Joe is the Beat Juggler cook full-stop. No-one gets to cook when he’s about… and to be truthful, no-one wants to cause he’s the man in the kitchen!
Nikki: I often get the tracks after the guys have been in production on them. I work with Joe on structures and come ready to record vocals. Joe always sorts me out a honey, lemon and ginger pint of water and herbal tea for the process. Standard procedure! It’s a lot of fun and good energy. I always just want to add lots of harmonies to everything!
Do you have any other plans for the future?
Phil: We’re really buzzin about our next scheduled release ‘Vibezin’ featuring MC Evenson Allen and a whole bunch of guest remixes – DJ M-zone, DJ Fat Controller, Sterling Moss, Source Direct, RatPack, Ghostraver, Bobby D, Binary and Artificial Intelligence. On a different note is our upcoming project for a local charity called Noah. A decade ago Noah really helped sort Tech out when things weren’t going too well following his return to Luton. This became the inspiration for our most recent and possibly most exciting project yet – ‘Better Days’ also featuring MC Evenson Allen (Rat Pack). After Tech shared his story with the band we all agreed to contact Noah with a plan to use the music and video to make all our Beat Jugglers social media friends aware of their work and as a way of raising some much needed funds for them. So, having finished recording the track, we then took full advantage of our invitation to play at Unity In The Sun in Kavos, Greece, to record the bulk of the video. I’m not going to lie we really had a lot of laughs recording it. The final bits of videoing and editing will be done soon and then we are hoping our supporters will get behind us and help Tech to say a massive thank you to Noah for the lifeline they threw to him and to so many desperate people.
JJW: We also plan is to get together a selection of tracks that are the best we can give and represent our sound as best they can. Then, start getting together a hitlist of labels and publishers and try to get a proper deal; the sort of deal where Beat Jugglers becomes full time for us. That’s the dream.
Phil: The plan is definitely to go pro as soon as that’s possible.
Nikki: Write, record, release. And to have fun with what we’re doing…
And, as band manifestos go, it doesn’t get much better than that!