Three men, eight albums, five hundred tracks, four labels, numerous aliases, myriad genres: One machine.
Brent Newitt, Dave Wallace and Kieron Bailey have played by their own rules and stamped with their style since day one. 20 years deep into their game and the indelible Aquasky legacy is sprayed colourfully, thoughtfully and, at points antagonistically, over all shades and styles of electronic music.
It began in the early 90s hardcore aftermath; three Bournemouth-based teenagers fresh out of school boasting a small amount of analogue kit, a whole load of influences (from hip-hop to proto techno) and even more free time. They started exploring the new wave of rave: drum & bass. Not entrenched in the London scene, their vantage point from years of raving on the south coast allowed them a refreshed approach. Deep, spacey and, dare we say it, intelligent, it instantly struck a chord with the groundbreaking, scene-shaping drum & bass imprints such as Good Looking, R&S, Reinforced and Moving Shadow, who signed them in 1995.
Emerging with a wealth of unique material that was picked up on by the likes of 4Hero, LTJ Bukem, Gilles Peterson, James Lavelle, Fabio and many more; future-fused tracks such as ‘Dezires’, ‘Cosmic Glue’ and ‘Kauna’ belied the basic equipment they had access to. Squeezing every possible gram of creativity out of their samplers, within two years they’d attracted the attention of major label Polydor in 1997, who released their debut album ‘Orange Dust’. The trio then switched back to Moving Shadow for two more albums before the turn of the century (‘Aftershock’ and ‘Bodyshock’) and their own drum & bass labels Sonix and Incident.
Constantly searching for newness and unchartered fields of fresh inspiration, Aquasky refused to sit still. The first drum & bass act to dabble off-piste, their lower tempo explorations ruffled feathers in the then-disturbingly tight and insular D&B scene. As Tenth & Parker they played with Latin and Jazz breaks on Mr Bongo off-shoot Disorient (culminating with the perennial album ‘Twenty:Twelve’), but much more influentially, they also set up Aquasky VS Masterblaster; an act that was to pioneer and develop the then-burgeoning breakbeat and bassline breaks scene emanating from the UK and soundtracking every respectable club and festival for most of the first decade of this century.
Dropping the Masterblaster suffix (which was only in place to help establish their new 138BPM sound), Aquasky found themselves on a constant world tour as breakbeat spread further and further around the globe. All the while they fuelled the breakbeat scene on seminal labels such as Botchit & Scarper and Lot49 and were often in LA working with the likes of DJ Lethal from Limp Biskit and DJ Starscream from Slipknot as electronic music enjoyed its first wave of commercial popularity in the US.
Their main output, however, was on their own imprints Passenger and 777. Just like their sound and their attitude, Passenger was an exciting creative melting pot of sounds and artists as an array of now household names in bass music got busy; Noisia, DJ Friction, Nick Thayer, Total Science, Rico Tubbs and many more artist’s discographies include Passenger in their early output.
With an open door-policy and an open-armed creative remit, Aquasky’s achievements during this era are best surmised by their ‘Teamplayers’ album that united everyone in the bass game from Pendulum’s El Hornet and Orbital’s Phil Hartnoll to techfunk king Meat Katie and the legendary Ragga Twins who have consistently called upon Aquasky’s production duties for over 15 years.
During this time their Ragga Twins-fronted stepper ‘Dem No No We’ was co-signed on ‘Ali G In The USA’ on both sides of the Atlantic and premier league DJs such as Fatboy Slim championed their breaks to crowds of hundreds of thousands around the world.
As the naughty noughties developed, so did Aquasky. Once again they sought a new sound and found it on the toxic underbelly of jackin’ house. Setting themselves up as Black Noise and grabbing a deal with Fatboy Slim’s Southern Fried label, they went to create a body of work including remixes of Diplo, Wiley, Crookers and Sidney Sampson, who they co-produced the chart-topping ‘Riverside (Let’s Go)’ hit with.
As Black Noise came to a natural pause, the Aquasky machine let-rip once more. Tearing a hole into the bleaker new decade, their 15th anniversary saw them shake hands with Satan himself on ‘Raise The Devil’. A return to their rolling, uncompromised breakbeat dynamics, it featured a series of major league collaborations with the likes of Tenor Fly, Daddy Freddy and Diane Charlemagne and scored top 10 sweetness in the Australian Aria charts.
Throughout this decade the trio have continued to work heavily behind the scenes. Proudly owning their publishing rights to almost every track they’ve ever released since day one, the trio’s business acumen is just as sharp as their studio skills. With less time spent flying from continent to continent every weekend they’ve been able to develop their publishing companies, sync’ing companies and sample pack series Monster Sounds. Run in conjunction with Loopmasters, their Ragga Twins sample pack attracted the attention of Skrillex who went on to invite the MCs to rap on his last album ‘Recess’.
From Moving Shadow to Skrillex; the Aquasky story keeps on unfolding and playing a huge influence in all shades of global bass music in front of and behind the scenes. Their latest venture is a revisitation of their Moving Shadow era D&B. A double decade document that acts as a love letter to the future; every success, achievement and groundbreaking move they’ve made takes roots in these evergreen space-aged sounds. The sound of a three man machine who have consistently played by their own rules and stamping with their own style, long may the Aquasky story continue…