Having set the template for the ‘bleep’ movement with 1989’s The Theme, Unique 3’s combination of jacking house, urban hip hop and scything breakbeats made them one of the most influential groups of the acid house era.
Comrpising Edzy (aka Adrian Collins), Cutz (Ian Park) and Delroy Brown, and signed to Virgin’s 10 Recordings, Unique 3 delivered a slew of slamming cuts – Activity (reportedly the first dance track to sample the ‘Amen break’), Musical Melody (which led to an appearance on Top Of The Pops), Rhythm Takes Control and many more.
Such was their influence, that The Theme, recorded alongside The Mad Musician (aka David Bahar), was voted the number one track played at The Hacienda in the 1990s, a fitting tribute to a group that very much broke the mould.
Or, as Mixmag put it, “This isn’t music, this is a physical force.”
Having disbanded in 1993, Unique 3 re-emerged in 2007 as a project led by founding member Edzy, who himself went on to form Mutate Records, described by the man himself as “an outlet for anybody doing anything that was a little odd”, as well as new label Tan Ta Ra, alongside Gez Varley from LFO.
As well as a popular radio show on Emergency FM, Edzy’s latest project is 33/45, a collection of 45 Unique 3 cuts – some well-known, some less well-known – released over the past 33 years. It’s due to be released on 1 October, on Chill Records, and can be pre-ordered here.
As part of our ORIGINALS series, 909originals caught up with Edzy to trace the history of one of acid house’s most idiosyncratic outfits.
Hi Edzy, thanks for talking to us. Before we get into the study of Unique 3, how have things been for you over the past few months, with COVID-19 and everything that’s been happening?
Apart from reading the news and seeing how all the idiots are acting, it’s not affected me at all. I’m pretty much a loner bastard anyway, I’ve been ready for this moment since 1982.
I’m doing the radio show weekly, and I’m still making music. I recently launched a new label with Gez from LFO – Tan Ta Ra – so we’ve been working on that.
But seriously, it’s not made much difference to me; my life is quite insular. I was supposed to be in New York, doing a few shows, so that was a bit of a bummer, but that’s the only pain I’ve had out of it really. Plus, where we live is quite remote, so I’ve not seen the craziness.
I can’t see things getting back to normal within the next six months. I think that the way things are going, the pubs are going to be closed again. We’re quite lucky in where we live, we look out over the Yorkshire Pennines, but we’re right on the edge of an area that’s been locked down again.
My wife is a cancer specialist so she works within medical circles, and she can tell me some tales about what is going on. There are some idiots that are disregarding everything. Also, I’m thinking of coming off Facebook, because some people are putting absolute s**t up there.
Ok, let’s go back to the beginning. You grew up in Bradford. Did you live in a musical household?
My grandfather on my mother’s side was quite musical. When I was growing up, there was always music in the house.
At the moment, I’m going through my old hard drives and playlists and tidying them as I go along, and it’s freaking me out how many of the tracks that I’m playing would have been played in the house when I was growing up.
When I look back, that period was quite influential. You had music by The Ink Spots, The Drifters, The Everly Brothers, and those early rock and roll tracks that would have been covered by Elvis ten years later. All that was getting played in my house.
The area that I grew up in was pretty working class, it was all terraced style houses, and lots of different nationalities – next door there was an Irish family, there was a Jamaican family across the way, an Indian family, a Pakistani family. Basically, if you walked back from the corner shop, you would hear world music coming out of the different houses on the street.
What genre or genres were you into the most as a kid?
I think I was little bit too young, but I did jump onto some of the 2-Tone revival stuff. People like Jerry Dammers, who started the 2-Tone label, they were growing up in Coventry, so they would have lived in the same sort of places.
Also, with some of UB40’s early stuff, they write about experiencing the same things as I did, as a young kid growing up in a melting pot area. The diversity was incredible.
At that time, you had new things happening all the time: punk, new wave, hip hop, electro funk. Did your musical tastes change as you got a bit older?
I’ve always been soul-based. Reggae had a big influence as well. I think, looking back, if I had the chance to have been a bass player in a reggae band, it would have been the happiest time of my life. But that didn’t happen.
If you track the development of different genres, it’s actually quite linear. When I started DJing, I was playing 80s funk and soul – the disco and Hi-NRG scenes kind of missed me a bit. But when there was a bit of a backlash against disco, and you started hearing more funk-based stuff, that’s when I jumped on it.
The Unique 3 sets in the early days, in 1988 and 89, would start off with a bit of soul, and then some hip hop, and then onto some faster stuff which was edging a bit more towards house music. One thing came out of another, very easily and very organically.
We spoke to Greg Wilson recently, and he was saying the same thing. A lot of people just think that in 1988, a lightbulb was turned on, and all of sudden there was acid house. But there was a clear lineage, which isn’t talked about that much?
If there was one person I would like to play at my funeral, it would be Winston [Hazel] from Forgemasters – obviously he’s a dear friend of mine, and we have a link going right back to the bleep stuff, but we would have the same approach to DJing.
He might pull some rare funk track out, and I would play some disco, and then we would go into electro, hip hop. That’s what it was like back then, you were playing to a crowd that was into all sorts of music.
You weren’t just going in at 12 and playing one style of music for two hours. Our apprenticeship wasn’t like that – you were playing to different groups of people and trying to get them all on the floor. So, yeah, there is a lineage.
There was a period, before house music really took off, that the DJs that laid the groundwork were the ones playing all the clubs. These were the people that got the different scenes going in the various towns where they lived.
Then, over time, the promoters started to ignore them, and all these names just popped out of nowhere – DJs that could only play one genre of music.
So for a time, the really well-educated selectors couldn’t get any work. They were ignored. That’s probably why people don’t talk about that lineage any more. But the people who grew up with all different styles of music, and were on top of every new scene that came along; they’re the most valuable to me.
How did you first get into DJing?
I ran away from home, and got a job in London, but once they found out my age, I was back up to Bradford with my tail between my legs – I was too young. I had to get some work, so I started working as a doorman at one of the clubs in the town.
In this particular club, the DJ had the permed hair and shoulder pads – you know the sort – and knew all the birds in town. He would regularly turn up drunk… well, absolutely smashed. By the time he got to work, he would have been out half the day already, so he would fall over in the DJ box.
The owner of the club would run out to the front door, point the finger at me, and say ‘hey, you, put some music on’.
So I would have to go in and roll this guy under the DJ box and go through his records. While still wearing my doorman’s bow-tie, mind you. It was like a baptism of fire, really. Obviously I knew music, but I wasn’t a DJ.
From there I got a job DJing in a reggae club on a Sunday night, and that was sort of my entrance into the DJ world.
It wasn’t a cheap hobby back then. As well as buying records, you had to buy the equipment and so on?
When I started getting DJ gigs I obviously stopped working on the doors. I was lucky because I had serious turntables in front of me to work with. I wasn’t a bedroom DJ, I was out doing it.
It’s not like today, where lots of young lads have to invest in a bit of kit and they don’t know if they’re going to get any return on it. I was kind of pushed into it, because the regular DJ collapsed drunk.
Was there a moment when you realised – ‘this is what I want to do with my life’?
For a young white kid, DJing in a reggae club was a bit strange, as you can imagine. Back then, the DJ box would have a cage around it, so if someone threw a bottle, it wouldn’t hit you. Plus, there was only one record player, as far as I can remember.
One night in this reggae club, I heard this noise and I couldn’t work out what it was. I looked at the record, and it wasn’t coming from that, and it wasn’t coming from the speaker either. Then I looked out, and everyone was lapping the walls and banging their feet and stomping on the floor. I didn’t know what the f*** was going on!
When the tune finished, someone shouted ‘put the record on again!’ It really got them going.
From getting that reaction, there was no going back. This was what I was going to do – I was going to be a DJ. I wanted to experience that feeling again of pumping people up so much just by dropping something out of my record box.
What was the transition that led to you hooking up with the guys and starting to write music together?
While I was there I got poached for a new club in the centre of Bradford. It had two floors and they were opening a third, and Cutz from Unique 3 was already playing there. We had friends in common, but we were at different schools – I didn’t really know him before then.
I had records he didn’t have and I knew he had records that I didn’t have, so we would run up and down the fire escape and borrow records from each other’s bags. That’s how the friendship started, and that led to us writing stuff together.
Was it always the intention to veer more towards the electronic side of things, or would you have been happier being in a traditional ‘band’?
It was more about the technology advancing, and embracing it. I never even thought about it, it was a question of being upfront and taking on new things.
So there’s a sense of time and place about something like The Theme, in other words? That it was reflective of the electronic equipment available at the time?
Somebody, and I’m not sure if they knew it was an old track or thought it was new, recently described The Theme as sounding like ‘kids playing around with new technology’. But that’s exactly what it was! I think that’s fantastic; that needs to go on my gravestone.
Your first album, Jus’ Unique, had so many different styles on it. Was that always the intention?
It wasn’t a conscious thing, I supposed it went back to my education as a DJ, playing to the crowd at different times of the night. Sometimes you’d go uptempo, sometimes downtempo – it was all about working the dancefloor.
I’m sure I sat down more than once and said to myself ‘I’m going to do a soulful album’, but then things changed. It’s not like it just falls out of my backside, there are so many kinds of music that have influenced me over the years.
I wonder would Unique 3 had the same sort of success, or more success, if we had narrowed our angle a bit.
For your record label, Virgin, you must have been quite difficult to market then? There was straight up hip hop there, mixed with electro and acid house. Did the label give you lots of freedom?
I don’t know if we were granted freedom, or if they were into the diversity of it all, because they weren’t very mindful of what we were doing. We were making a lot of noise in the dance scene and they made a grab for us, because they wanted to build up that part of their business
But I don’t think they really knew what they had, or what to do with it. That became obvious later on.
They had a massive machine working for them, but the press department didn’t know how to market something that went off in so many tangents, like we did. It doesn’t matter to me now, but at the time, we were trying to work out how some artists came along and overtook us, even though we were putting in all the work. In a lot of cases, it was because they had smarter marketing, whereas we were just trying to knock out some good music.
At the same time, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in a band where people were blinkered into just wanting to do techno or one style of music. I’m quite happy with how things have gone.
At the tail end of the 80s/start of the 90s, Yorkshire was a hotbed for electronic music – you had yourselves, LFO, Nightmares on Wax, Sweet Exorcist… and of course Warp Records. Why do you think that was?
Unique 3 was supposed to be the first artist on Warp, actually. Rob [Mitchell] and Steve [Beckett] took me aside and said ‘we’re starting a label; we have no money, but we’re going to try and create something new’.
I had a couple of massive cheques from Virgin Records at home at the time, although I didn’t have a bank account to put them in at the time. So I declined. But seriously, though, I had young kids at home and we were struggling a bit, so yes, we followed the money.
The whole Warp thing was very interconnected. Boy Wonder, who was part of the DJ crew of Unique 3, went on to make music with George from Nightmares on Wax; Gez from LFO went to school with George, and so on.
I don’t know if you could say there was something in the water, or in the air, but there actually weren’t that many people making music at the time. You could probably count them on one hand. We just happened to all know each other, we were cut from the same cloth.
I think the whole ‘bleep’ thing got quite protective very early on. We’re all friends now, of course, but maybe if we had been smart, and formed more of an alliance, we could have turned it into a thing. But maybe because of where we were, and the fact we all came from nothing, we wanted to keep hold of what we got.
Do you think you could have created a sort of ‘Madchester’ scene, or something like that?
I don’t know if it was jealousy, but there was certainly a lack of cooperation.
When you look at what was happening in Chicago, and maybe also the early drum n bass scene, they were helping each other out. Also with the early punk scene, you had those elements of cooperation, and it spawns a bigger thing.
But for us, I think we were quite insular with it, which was to the detriment of us all to be honest.
After Jus’ Unique, there were a few singles up until about 1993, and then you took a big break. Why?
I bought a nightclub, and I had to put 2,000 people in it four times a week! I signed a track to Strictly Rhythm around that time, but by and large, while I was making a lot of stuff, I was not doing anything with it.
Obviously I had the club income coming in, and there’s a lot of work involved in that. We had 60 staff. My focus shifted a bit. I still DJed, but none of the happy hardcore crap that came out around that time appealed to me, it was just throwaway shit.
What was the catalyst that got you back making music again, and led to the release of Invasive Signals in 2007?
I think I was in London at the time, and I heard a few stories about people using the name Unique 3 incorrectly, and that pissed me off a bit.
So I looked back at some of the stuff that I had parked up, and there was an album’s worth there. I decided to put some of it together and release it on Fat! Records. It got some really good reviews, and that got me going again.
That was around the time you founded Mutate Records?
That came a little later I think. Mutate was an outlet for anybody doing anything that was a little odd, but nobody else would put it out.
We were trying to get away from that world where somebody would put out a track and then everybody would emulate them for the next four months, and then somebody else would put a track out and it would be copied and copied.
It became so tiresome. I was looking for something that would take me away from this dirge of people copying whatever anybody else was doing, with no originality.
That still happens to this day – you get pigeonholed for paying a certain techno sound, and God help you if you decide to play something else. Artists tend to play it safe, they don’t mix it up as much.
On that, I’ve just started a label called Tan Ta Ra with Gez from LFO and we’ve put out two releases. We both had a track on each of them, and we’ve received some reactions from DJs, a lot of whom I’ve never heard of. Somebody said ‘well, this isn’t proper techno’.
I was happy about that one. It wasn’t the percussion they expected, or the wrong drum sound – I’m like ‘get the f**k’.
At the moment, we’re seeing a bit of an old school revival; which comes around every few years. There are lots of tracks emerging that sample the old rave stuff. Is that a good or bad thing, do you think?
I don’t really have a position on that. We’ve sampled and we’ve been sampled and there’s different levels to it. You can be clever or you can be an absolute arse.
The kids that are doing it these days are getting younger and younger, so I’m not sure if they’ve heard the originals at all.
With that in mind, what’s your opinion on social media?
I can’t say that I don’t use, it because we have the radio station and we batter it daily. Plus, any time I’ve got a record out, I’m on it.
But on a personal level, if I never went there again, I’ll be there happiest man out there. I wish I lived in a world where I didn’t have to deal with it.
What effect do you think the coronavirus situation will have on dance music – what sort of industry will emerge at the other end? Will there be a ‘reset’?
I think what we’re going to get bored with are these do-gooders trying to ‘save the promoters’ and the festivals and all these things.
I think losing a few of those big festivals wouldn’t be a bad thing – rather than spending £300 per year going to a festival, maybe people would spend £25 to see a band at a small venue several times a year. Part of the music scene would be kept alive.
Yes, it is a reset, and in situations like this the underground always comes through. Maybe this will wash away a lot of s***, and all these inflated DJ wages and the crap that goes with that. They still call themselves DJs, but they’re doing a totally different thing to what I would consider a DJ to be. Hopefully they’ll get some realisation into them that you can’t behave like that.
So maybe we’ll see these cool, dirty, underground clubs re-emerge, with a fat arse sound system, where you can hear an amazing track that will change your life forever.
Let’s hope some of these pop back up, like a flower.
Tell me about the 33/45 anthology that’s coming out?
It’s a 45-track anthology album covering the last 33 years, so that’s playing on the 33/45 theme. It came about because my wife found an old Bleep chart with three Unique 3 tracks on it. She was like ‘I didn’t know you had done those’, so that prompted me to go back and listen to them. And I loved them, I hadn’t heard them for years.
That’s what made me think about putting them out again. There are lots of tracks there that I forgot I had done, so it’s a bit of a treat.
Does it flow chronologically?
It’s not in any particular order, it just flows from then to now and back again. Obviously I spent some time placing them in the correct order.
It was fun actually, because you might have a track that’s 30 years old next to a track that’s five years old, and they don’t sound like there’s such a big difference. I’m happy with the result.