Hard to beat
Drum & bass has provided a throbbing soundtrack to the Capital’s clubbing fraternity for over a decade now. David Pollock bids farewell to clubbing institution Manga, while celebrating the continued successes of its offspring, Xplicit
It’s not always easy being a pioneer, something Neil Armstrong, Christopher Columbus or Marie Curie would have no doubt attested to. The same can be said for George Macdonald, lesser known perhaps, but equally forward thinking in his field: the world of Scottish clubbing, and in particular the sonorous delights of drum & bass.
Macdonald (aka G-Mac) was much of the brains and brawn behind Manga, Scotland’s first ever regular drum & bass night. Throughout Manga’s 12-year lifespan, particularly the time it spent at Edinburgh’s La Belle Angele (January 1996 to December 2002), the club attained cult status, becoming a byword for the D&B scene in Scotland and drawing national attention.
Yet, now it’s over. After a period spent at the Honeycomb after fire destroyed La Belle, and a couple of years of big one-offs since the closure of the Honeycomb, this month’s 12th birthday celebration will also be the last ever Manga.
‘We want to lay it to rest with a really special night,’ says Macdonald. ‘To get everyone who was a part of it together to celebrate with some great music, some of the classics.’
So, the mantle of D&B central is being taken up by those at Xplicit. The club, which specialises in similar thunderous bass and hypnotic syncopated drum batteries celebrates its third birthday this month. Yet, if you ask Simon McGrath, Xplicit’s 26-year-old founder, how he first fell in love with D&B, the answer is simple: ‘I got into drum & bass because of Manga’.
Drum & bass, like dance music in general, has had to endure many fluctuations over the last decade, not least the resurgence of old-fashioned live rock music to draw punters away from the dancefloor and down to the moshpit. Yet, at present, the UK D&B scene is in its healthiest state for almost a decade. McGrath, Macdonald and Manga resident Peter Symington (aka DJ Kid) all cite one cause of this revival: Australia’s hugely successful crossover outfit Pendulum. The likes of Radio 1’s Zane Lowe enthuse wildly about Pendulum on national radio and rock kids are trying out D&B nights because they like the band and Xplicit has been in the middle of all this, hosting Pendulum twice last year. Manga however, was part of the genre’s earlier generation, at the vanguard at a time when the scene’s exponents begun transforming the music into a mainstream artform (Goldie) and winning the Mercury Music Prize (Roni Size and Reprazent). Yet, Symington and Macdonald both saw the scene struggle towards acceptance.
‘Promoters were very reluctant to get involved with it,’ says Symington. ‘Breakbeat – as drum & bass was called before it was even jungle – was hated. It was never covered by the media, because in the early 90s Scotland was caught up in the whole rave scene. Tom Wilson (the late Radio Forth DJ whose Saturday night rave show was essential listening at the time) supported me and let me do mixes on his show, but I remember playing Calton Studios one night. Seemingly I didn’t go down too well, because my manager said on the Monday: “They don’t ever want to book you again because of what you’re playing. You need to get yourself down south.”’
So he did, and Symington, who had started out running a rave night called Pandemonium in Glenrothes, and aspired to being a hip hop DJ, found his reputation growing to the extent that he could play breakbeat at the rave Mecca that was Fantazia. Macdonald, on the other hand, had been involved in the Edinburgh techno scene since going to UFO (which eventually became Pure) at the Venue as a teenager.
‘In 1995, as I was getting into drum & bass, we tried to do something new with our club night Squid that we were running at the time,’ says Macdonald. ‘We had a Friday night at La Belle to do what we wanted with, so after spending about six months working on the idea we managed to come up with some funds and really went hell-for-leather on it.’
Symington, by day a graphic designer, loved the idea of doing a night based around Japanese design, Manga and anime comics, so created an incredibly strong image for the club, from the flyers to the video backdrops. The initial response was phenomenal, the first few nights selling out without the help of any special guests. Macdonald reckons much of this was down to a combination of presentation and timing.
‘We were so lucky because we came up with such a strong name and image, and we found a music genre that people were desperate to hear. And La Belle was a phenomenal space: you couldn’t imagine a better way to launch a club.’
The pair regard the club’s first birthday with Ed Rush, and the live Radio 1 One in the Jungle broadcast with DJ SS as defining moments in the club’s life. Yet, after La Belle burned down things just weren’t the same, and after the further disappointment of the Honeycomb’s closure, and with Symington now living in England full-time and Macdonald having taken over the running of Edinburgh record shop Underground Solush’n, the pair realised it was time to wind things up.
It’s now up to members of the new generation, such as Simon McGrath, to fill the gap. Xplicit started out as a one-off project for McGrath’s events management course and has gone on to encompass a monthly night at the Bongo Club, one-offs at the Potterrow, and occasional nights at Glasgow’s Arches. He and the Manga boys both recognise, however, that Glasgow is traditionally less interested in drum & bass. They put this down to the competition from techno and house nights and the fact that Edinburgh has a much higher proportion of students from England and overseas, where D&B is more mainstream.
‘All our nights are pretty much sold out,’ says McGrath. ‘We’re in the position we’ve always wanted to be in, where we’ve got a big following and we can have the kind of thing you’d see down south, multi-bill line-ups at a good price. Online promotion’s played a big part – Facebook and MySpace are more effective than just handing out flyers – while there are more quality bedroom producers than I can remember, who can get their tracks out there on MP3.’
Really, the torch-passing symbolism couldn’t be any more obvious, and the future of drum & bass in Scotland seems assured once more. The hope is that yet another young promoter will be there to pick up where Xplicit signs off in, oh, around nine years’ time.
The last ever Manga with Commix and DJ Die is at the Liquid Room, Edinburgh, Sat 19 Jan; Xplicit is at Potterrow, Edinburgh, Fri 25 Jan.
PLATES OF GLORY
G-Mac and DJ Kid pick the discs that have rocked Manga’s dancefloor through the ages
EZ Rollers Tough At The Top (Origin Unknown Rmx) (Moving Shadow) Some of Manga’s best nights at La Belle Angele were with the EZs and this track sums up their incredible energy and vibe . . . oh, those were the days . . .
Grand Unified Goin’ On (Second Skin) Chart topping roller from Kenny McLeod (aka Grand Unified) and myself (G-Mac) that was no doubt played way too many times!
Roni Size Reprazent Brown Paper Bag (Photek Rmx) (Talkin Loud) A match made in heaven for all D&B fans. The bass drop in this made the whole Manga crowd shiver with delight! Takes me back to that crazy Sunday night when Roni’s crew played live at La Belle. Amazing!
Calibre Drop It Down (Signature) Another Manga classic from our long time Irish friend and a real heads down dancefloor gem. The heart of any club with a soul.
Doc Scott Shadow Boxing (31 Records) Doc Scott was the captain of the darker side of the D&B ship for many years and this tune is no question one of his true masterpieces that’s still instilling fear into the weakest of hearts today.
DJ Trace Mutant Revisited (Emotif) This monster tune was well in my box way before Manga even existed but it soon became a firm favourite at the club after taking up residency.
Adam F Metropolis (Metalheadz) The tune that put Adam F firmly on the Drum & Bass production map. Again this was a tune that came out way before Manga was established but features regularly in my sets over the years and will be sure to get one more spin at the birthday.
DC Breaks Do You Believe (Restless Natives) This was the the sixth release on my label and so far has been the most popular with the crowd. In some parts of the world the sales for the single were outselling Pendulum.
Peshay Miles From Home (Mo ‘Wax) By far one of the biggest jazz-infused tunes of the 90s. This track was played, rewound, played and rewound time and time again in Manga’s La Belle Angelle days.
The Prodigy Outta Space (XL Recordings) Original rude boy ragga jungle business from one of my all-time favourite production outfits. This tune got one of the best reactions I had ever seen at Manga when I dropped it as my last tune one night which was two days before I found out I was going to be a dad for the first time. So extra special memories of this one.