In Conversation With: Ragga Twins
This August, the north-east is once again treated to the mighty Lindisfarne Festival in Berwick-upon-Tweed as it returns for it’s fifth consecutive year, where the crowds will be treated to a spectacular lineup featuring some truly talented artistry covering all ages and areas of the musical spectrum.
This year is very special as the High Tide Dance arena welcomes some of the true original pioneers of Jungle, Drum & Bass and the rave scene movement overall who’ve been pushing the boundaries and setting the scene since way back in the very beginning.
Who better then, to toast the occasion than the Ragga Twins, Flinty Badman and Deman Rocker? They join us to provide their own unique insight into how it all evolved. Celebrating thirty years at the very forefront of the underground, read on for a fascinating story of their rhymes through the times…
Originating from London’s Sound System culture back in the late ’80s, pioneering the way as you went – you are celebrating three decades at the top of your game. Can you tell us about your early days starting out in the reggae and dancehall movements and then moving forward to when you were representing the Unity Soundsystem and how that began…
Flinty: Well we started out before Unity, my brother had a sound system with some school friends called Sir Cruise and I used to go to different clubs around the time I was about to leave school and from then on after. They weren’t free mic sessions, if you could chat then you just picked up the mic and did your thing and it started from there.
We both joined a sound called Jah Marcus in the early ’80s, maybe 81/82 and that’s where we started establishing ourselves and making our name on the sound system scene but on a small scale just doing our thing and then one day, one of the guys from Unity asked me if I wanted to join, which was an easy yes as it was one of the biggest sound crews in London. So my journey started with them there and I started making my way up to be the number one MC on that sound. I brought my brother in about a year later and we made our names on there.
Even before the ‘Ragga Twins’, everybody knew of Flinty Badman and Deman Rocker, so that’s how we got started. I used to chat on various sounds in Hackney like Surge, which I think was one of the first big ones I worked with. They used to do a Friday session over in Harley Street Community Centre and Sean Major (RIP) got us involved there and we started going to that club regular but we used to chat on lots of different ones, like Sledgehammer, City Rebel and Eastman Sound – there were loads of them.
Would you say there were any DJs or MCs in particular that inspired you in the beginning?
Flinty: Yeah most of them from Jamaica, my first one was a guy called Big Youth – my dad bought his albums and I just loved them, I played them everyday. I loved the way he sounded and what he did, I was captivated by him and still am to this day, he’s the one who made me think yeah I want to do this. Others like Trinity and Dillenger, Michigan and Smiley, and later on like Yellowman, Johnny Ringo and Lone Ranger – guys like that.
Deman: There were loads, like Admiral Bailey and Josey Rails they were the ones we was listening to. We used to get the sound cassettes from Jamaica and that would inspire us. We wouldn’t chat their lyrics but you listened to how they present themselves and thats how we learnt how to really run a dance.
Flinty: There were the UK guys like Roy Rankin and Prince Naptali but we wasn’t really going out when they was chattin – they used to be on Man Sound and they were also on Unity when we joined in so they were a big inspiration for us too. We was around 15, 16 maybe 17 at the most, at the time and them guys were around the same age, people like Tippa Irie, Pappa Levi, Tenor Fly, Richie Rankin and some of them are still doing their thing, some of them are not.
They was over south, we were over north but we never knew that years later we would be on Unity Sound and going against their sound but that’s how we became friends, not close ones as such but you would go and see each other and chat and build a level between you from there. The sound system days was like a big community, you would chat and then when the event was done you talk. It was a really good start to the career being in that sound system culture, it was like a proper schooling.
When the people come to the dance, they were right in your face and there was no hiding place – you got to do your thing and shock out. The crowd would let you know what they think too, if they ain’t into what you were doing they would make no noise for you so you got to go in there and do the job, when you hear the crowd asking for the wheel up you knew you were hitting the spot.
Deman: The people in the dance were big people and a lot older than us so we had to come correct. In around 1982/83 and when I was probably around the age of 17, I was doing blues dances where they would get a house and have a party until twelve the next day, doing it properly. The guys that were listening to us had been raving for years so they don’t wanna hear no foolishness, so we would have to come with a style that would make them happy.
They don’t wanna hear stupid lyrics, and sometimes they don’t wanna hear an MC either – they just wanna hear the tunes so you would just introduce them and roll with the music. You are there to entertain the crowd and we took that responsibility very seriously, and the opportunity too. We wrote lyrics and practised hard so we were ready and it worked, the people loved it and so did our followers – you make your name through that.
You know as your name grew, so did your reputation in other parts of the country you played in, people would have heard you on tapes and then want to hear you perform when you went where they were. We weren’t the greatest but we were two of the best in the early days and as we worked our way through the eighties and towards eighty-six, eighty-seven – Deman, Flinty and Unity became the best sound in London, if not the country. We was going everywhere, we had the best tunes from King Jammie’s, were playing in all the big dances and when the big sounds from Jamaica came over, we would be playing in them raves and we were put against those sounds.
By 1989, we were the top sound – there weren’t many big dances where Unity wasn’t on it. When Lieutenant Stitchy came over here, we played in Uppercut Warehouse and there must have been eight hundred to a thousand in there and we did the first three hours, Stitchy did his show and we had them captivated, there wasn’t no stage – we was there on the floor with them right up in your face and it was going off, we smashed the dance all night.
Flinty: You had the clubs as well like the Four Aces which was a small place and kind of compact with people right on top of you, the atmosphere was serious. It’s different to what we do now where you are on stage and further away from the crowd. That’s because the noise ain’t right upon you, its near but you’re not right in and it changes the way you perform. Before, we could be surrounded by people, just you, the amp cases and the decks and then most of the time the needle would bounce every five minutes because the people would be pushing forward to be right amongst it with you. Definitely changes the vibe these days but still great of course, just different.
Joining forces with Shut Up and Dance when you then made the switch into the hardcore style of music? How did the move come about?
Deman: That happened in 1990, I said to Flinty we can’t do this no more because we ain’t making tunes, we were just like a rolling band going from club to club, town to town and city to city. We weren’t leaving the country with the sound, we weren’t in the studio, we weren’t doin’ nothin. So enough was enough and it was time to try something new, so we just left – we didn’t have nothin’ to do, we just waited and waited knowing that something would come along, and it did.
Well, we didn’t have to wait that long as in June that year, Shut Up and Dance came to see me and asked if they could sample my voice. I was like yeah why not, even though they had actually already sampled it but that weren’t an issue. I said to them that was cool but asked what they could do for me as I wanted to start doing something different from reggae music and go in a different direction.
Little did I know, they already knew about us as they was from Hackney and knew about Unity and used to come and listen to us MC. I said I don’t go anywhere without my brother which they were cool about, so we went to meet them to chat and it turns out we had all known of each other for years. PJ used to go primary school with us and his brother Erol was my best friend at school and that broke the ice between us, we were working with familiar people so we hit it off straight away.
We knew from the beginning it was going to work out between us because we had all been around each other for years and they already knew what they wanted to do because they had been in the hardcore scene for years already, where we didn’t know nothin’ about it.
Flinty: They knew exactly what they wanted from us, they said “no-one is doin’ this Ragga ting in this ting so what you need to do is chat like you chat on the sound system, don’t go in the studio and water it down like a nice record, we want it ruff like sound system” and that’s exactly what we done. So we did a vocal thing on the one side and a dance floor thing on the other for the ravers and that’s how ‘Spliffhead’, ‘Hooligan 69’, ‘Juggling’ and ‘Illegal Gunshot’ came about.
We didn’t have to change much, we just adapted by getting used to the beats and the different tempo – we just laid it down raw and they smoothed it out when they mixed it down, it worked nice – just getting our styles to work with the beats they were making.
What were your thoughts of the rave scene as it was emerging at the time?
Deman: Well we had a few mates who were going to these raves and we had heard about the drug culture and how massive they were becoming so we knew about them but had never been to one. We were told about all the convoys heading towards them and PJ and Smiley were like you man should just come down there and smash up the dance, and that’s what we did.
Even when we had written the tunes with them, we still hadn’t been to the dances so the music was out there and growing popular first and then we actually joined in, in person later and it really opened up our eyes, that was the most surreal thing about it.
Can you recall your first experience of the rave scene then?
Flinty: Yeah it was May 1991, yeah we did one of the parties at Chelmsford County Showground. See, what we used to do was do our gig, go round the back and eat the fruit and the sandwiches, drink the drinks and go home with our money because, I’m not going to lie – we weren’t really in to the scene and didn’t know much about it, so we didn’t really stick around much, just did our thing and headed off.
But because we were going to be in that scene we said, if we are in this and going to be in this music then we need to know what’s going on. Let’s stay, I mean it was like a big outdoor event with tents and a funfair, I’d never seen anything like it, it was fantastic! There was music and people having fun and we was there until six o’clock in the morning, until it finished.
And that was it, by Wednesday we were in Astoria, by Friday we were somewhere else! To tell you the truth, that day was the start, that was the start of our days raving ‘cause from that day we went EVERYWHERE! There was not a place that we wouldn’t go, and yeah – we used to go as ravers, we was ravers!
We was artists, and ravers – we would go to a place called Linford Studios on a Sunday night, we would do our stuff on a Friday and Saturday and find a rave afterwards if there wasn’t something on there but if there was we would stay there and go somewhere else afterwards if there was somewhere to go, yeah we were out all the time and everywhere there was somewhere to go, we were on it. Astoria on Saturday, Turnmills on a Sunday, we was going from rave to rave all the time.
Deman: Leaving our house on a Friday and coming back on a Sunday! We was fully in, fully involved in this ting, we was INNN. There was no stopping us, we didn’t really care what the rave was, let’s go – make the most of it.
But we never, ever got involved in drugs, never. No trips, no pills none of that, we used to just bun our weed and drink water… and champagne.
What was the atmosphere around the music you were making at the time like – what was the early reaction to it?
Flinty: In the beginning, we didn’t even know! The four tunes came out but we didn’t really know what was going on. We just made the tunes and used to go home and listen to reggae. When we got our first gig which was in Birmingham at a place called The Dome, we just got to the venue and went out the back and see sweets, drinks, nice food and a whole dressing room and we was like there’s no way this could all be for us, we didn’t know nothin’ about rider and all of them tings yeah, so we’ve gone in there and the geezer goes yeah that’s all for you, help yourselves.
Strangest thing was, we looked out to the crowd and there was just a sea of white people – and we had never played to white people before so we were like, what are we going to do then?? So, they had a compere for the night and he’s come up on stage and gone “Are you ready for the Ragga Twins?” and the noise that we heard when he said that, we were like Rahhh – was that genuinely for us!?
All the people screaming for us and we are really in shock because we didn’t know!
Then we got out on the stage and it just went off!! We only had the four songs but yeah, lively. In the dancehalls with the sound systems, we would be chatting from eleven o’clock at night until six in the morning, all night. We bun here, done four songs, smash up the place and the people goin’ maddd!
Deman: So yeah, that kind of opened our eyes to everything, then we did a gig in Plymouth and next DJ has come on, we standing behind him looking at him thinking we know him, and it was Nigel – Jumping Jack Frost! We didn’t call him Nigel, we called him Booga!
We gone up to him like, well what are you doing here? You’re in here, we’re in here – and we’re like yeah we’re IN this. We knew him, because he used to follow a sound from Brixton called Coxone so we knew him from when we played against ‘em and he had a sister in Hackney so he was always round there and he was a little rudeboy back then so when we saw him in there playing music, we were like how the hell did you get in here!?
I turned to Flinty, I was like – if he’s here, we alright, we in the right place. Cos he was ragamuffin just like us, RAGGAMUFFIN, just like us!!
Flinty: So yeah we was like Jumping Jack Frost is here, well no we didn’t as we didn’t call him that or know him as that at the time – we didn’t know no DJs, we were still in that bit where we were just doing shows and going home, but then we were in Plymouth so we ain’t going home, let’s just stick around and see what comes. But, wow, you know what I mean.
And then the more we grew into the scene, more and more of our friends were coming into that scene too, coming from the ragamuffin into the acid house, and gradually it turned in to jungle.
Must have been an incredible moment when you heard that crowd roar?
Deman: Arrh mate, as Flinty said we looked at each other first off and thought these people are going to lynch us, they ain’t going to understand a word we are saying and this and that. So when he called our name and we heard that, we were like yeah we good here haha! Let’s light this one up and we did.
To give you a comparison in financial terms, we would work Friday, Saturday, Sunday and sometimes on a Monday for Unity and end up with like, forty quid. We did that one show there for fifteen minutes and made fifteen hundred quid, and bloody well, what a difference – we’ll have some more of that please haha!
And what elements would of your style would you say you transferred across as you made the switch?
Deman: Well Jumpin Jack Frost was an eccentric, so he brought his own vibe in to it and when we got to know him again, well when we got to re-know him again, he helped us a lot because Flinty used to go raves with him and whenever we saw him, he would tell us what we need to do to get into this game and what we need to do to make it a success and because he knew us from Unity, he used to big us up all the time and always had our backs, he’s always been a good friend to us in the scene.
Flinty: He always played our tunes, introduced us to the DJs we didn’t know – I ended up rollin’ with Kenny Ken and Ellis Dee for like nearly a year and a half just by getting to know them. It was different, yeah it was well different to where we come from. But we just bought our elements of the reggae sound system to it and fit right in, the wheel ups and ting, we were the first to bring those into the rave scene, they didn’t know about pullin’ up the records.
Deman: The first time we actually picked up the mic, we weren’t even booked. Them man knew we was there and they was like, go on then, get on the mic and we get chatting and the crowd there is going mad, the people that know us going mad and the people that don’t were feeding off them anyway and joining in.
So, we’re tellin’ the DJ to wheel up and he’s looking at us like, you what mate!? We like ‘PLAY IT AGAIN’ and he’s like what? We like ‘yeah… rewind yeah!?’ What!? and it kept on and then we like, play it again!!! And he did, and that’s how rewinds come into the music.
In 1990 when we went to a rave, there was no rewinds, you just play the tune and that’s it. No MCs – just a host saying the odd thing and the tunes would play. Hardcore to me… Chalkie White, Moose, Mad P – they were the hosting guys, so when we came along we brought lyrics, we had lyrics and still wrote them too, you know and at the time, Tenor Fly was coming in and working with Rebel MC. Daddy Freddy was doing a hiphop sorta ragga ting, so he was half in the scene and then General Levy and a lot of others came but didn’t actually stick around. Where, we loved the scene – we stuck around and were like, there’s no way we are leaving this!
We have ventured out and done other genres, but you know, this dance music was us.
Going back to where you said about working all weekend for such a small amount of money, you’ve set this next question up nicely! ‘Reggae Owes Me Money’ is widely regarded as the blueprint for jungle music and cemented your status as pioneers of the scene – did you realise how potent the album would be at the time? And looking back since, could you ever have foreseen the scale of the impact it was going to have?
Flinty: Nahhh, we didn’t know that it was going to have the impact it did, I mean it got to number 26 in the national charts – and I wish I kept the article it was in, but I didn’t. I mean there was some big artists it was above, this was a top 30 album here and we did not know it was going to do that damage.
The name, ‘Reggae Owes Me Money’ – it was a joke between me and Deman, but Smiley and PJ were like no, that is the name! I think we might have suggested two names only and they was all over that one, we can’t remember the other one, but they chose it.
They even chose our name! When we went to Shut Up and Dance we wanted to use our own names but they was like nah man, you two are brothers and you will make a bigger impact as a duo, you know. So we said, nah we just wanna do our stuff but they were like no trust me, do it together and they just knew, they were well ahead of their time.
We came up with all kinda names, Ragga Duo, Ragga Double and all that and one of us said Ragga Twins and that was it, they said there you go, that’s the one and we were like but we’re not twins. And they were like so, doesn’t matter, you’re brothers, you look like alike – get on with it haha! Get on with it! And the name, it’s gone all over the world and people love that name, you know what I mean.
You get some stupid people who are like, I didn’t know you weren’t twins – you lied to us and we’re like, shut up, what you on about? I love that name, I cherish that name and it done well for us in that scene with that name.
Deman: The whole thing worked you know, just perfect timing. People were asking who owes you money then, even up to this day they like who you talking about then? And we like, we not talking about nobody – we like, think about it, we never really gave out what we really meant, but what we meant was that, we never really got paid in reggae, we never got paid. We made a few tunes and never made anything out of them, not even ten pence.
And you telling me that, the tune never sold but people are playing it!?
Flinty: We worked like dogs for pittance, so yes it owes us money but we done other stuff as well that we didn’t really get the recognition for, but it’s a combination of everything. Sometimes you take your sound to a dance and do your thing all night, the place is packed with people and at the end of the night the promotor comes over and says there’s no money and you ain’t getting paid. What do you mean there ain’t no money!? It was basically everything, it was the reggae scene – it wasn’t any individual person.
When Shut Up And Dance said you should work together, until then you had your own artistic styles individually so what was the progression into working as a duo like?
Flinty: It was natural, we had worked together for nearly ten years on sound systems so that was easy. We knew each other’s styles and timing and we could just roll together, we would improvise and come in with a piece or something and Deman would come in with his lyrics, we just knew how to bounce off of each others, it just got better and more brilliant when we became the Ragga Twins. To do what we do now and what we were doing then don’t take any work, we already knew what we was doing. It was just, this is how we are going to do it now.
We be working together now for thirty years, ‘Ragga Trip’, Deman vocalled on his own and ‘Illegal Gunshot’ I vocalled on my own cos ‘Ragga Trip’ the lyrics was Deman and on ‘Illegal Gunshot’ the lyrics was mine. Juggling – we wrote that together, that was brand new written when we joined Shut Up And Dance, so we did that as a combination. But when we went out and was showcasing, I know Deman’s lyrics and he knows mine so when we did the tunes out, we would bounce off each as we went through them so the show would be different from the record as on that it would be one of us but on the show we both did it, so that’s how we worked it.
What is the difference between the reggae ‘toasting’ style and what people would recognise as a Drum & Bass MC in the scene today?
Deman: Toasting is an old reggae format where it’s not lyrically based, it’s more like what the hosters you hear today do, when they sing the odd line to the crowd along with the music and get everyone in to it where lyrics MC’ing has a more constant lyrical flow to it, rhyming and more energy at the tempo.
When we was in Unity, we wasn’t toasting, back then they used to call us deejays, we were the deejays and back then the DJs were selectors so we would call ourselves deejays and that wasn’t hosting, we were doing lyrics.
Flinty: We never really started in the toasting days we would just hear them, we never picked up mic back then – we was too young, I would have been about ten even up to when I got to fourteen but then it changed because people like Eastwood and Saint, Michigan and Smiley, Rankin Dread, Rankin Jo… they started to come out with toasting but with more lyrical style and content so the toasting thing just went away.
Then the lyrical geniuses like Yellowman and them guys just took over and that’s when we decided that’s what we wanted to do.
Deman: I wanted to play football, and to be honest I would have chose football before this because I knew that once I give up football I had lyrics so I could get in this but no music and football was my life and I was never going to make it as a professional footballer so I just picked the mic up.
Flinty: And I nearly could of…so there might not have been no Ragga Twins, but yeah I could have definitely been a professional footballer.
Flinty: I was at Charlton, Tottenham and ended up in Enfield and was about to break in to the first team but then my Pops passed away. My dad used to come everywhere with me for a football match, rain, sleet, snow – he’d be there and yeah, that kind of done me in so I tried to get back to it but it just wasn’t working with him not there.
The football career would have been finished now but I’m still out here entertaining people every week so I made the right choice and have no regrets.
You’ve maintained your edge with your vocal performance for so many years, how do you stay so sharp for so long with the level of energy required in your performance?
Flinty: Well I think all those years of training is what is holding me together now haha! That and we never did drugs either, yeah we bun weed but that grows out the ground – none of the other stuff though, at all, never! Never will either, that ain’t me and it ain’t my ting! We’ve seen so many artists and performers ruin their careers and their health by going down that road and it ain’t us.
Course, we been offered all that throughout the years but never touched it, weed fine, nothing else though no!
As for staying on form and in shape, you get to a time in your life when you can’t live reckless no more and you need to start looking after yourself so I am living more of a healthy lifestyle, I’ve left out sweets and cakes and sugar in my coffee and have started eating healthier generally – I got myself a smoothie maker and am eating lots more fruit. I still eat my crisps and that now and then but you got to, you get the munchies haha!
Deman: As a matter of fact, I’ve just joined the gym a few days ago, I haven’t been yet but that’s not the point – I’ve got the membership card and its a 24 hour gym, so sometimes when I am just sat at home watching tv and smoking weed, I am going to get up and go down to use the treadmill and then come back to the tv haha!!
Having stayed on top form over three decades, how does the jungle and drum & bass scene compare to back then and what would you say are the most significant changes?
Deman: The raves now are banging! They are just as good and you can’t say one era is better than another, you can have your own favourites of course but that is entirely down to your own experience. Like, I remember going to Linford Studios and I would call no era better than that!
Sunday night from eight till twelve, four hours of sheer bliss! When that closed down and it went over to SW1, that was a different ting! They were the best raves I can say I ever went to, Sunday Roast by Paul Roast and them guys. Started at Turnmills and then went to Linford Studios every Sunday and then finished at SW1, if you wasn’t there, you missed an incredible era!!
I remember one Christmas, they had their Boxing Day rave and I didn’t go, but Flinty and Navigator went and to this day they are always saying it was the best rave they ever went to and I wasn’t there, and I’m still upset about that now!
Flinty: One of the main changes I’d say is production-wise, they used to have scenes and Jungle Fever was the first to do them by having it proper kitted out like an amazon jungle with trees in there and that kinda thing. You’d have scenes in the rave whereas now you have a lot more pyrotechnics but also the lasers and light shows back then were untouchable.
Deman: Because you could smoke in the rave back then, nobody went nowhere, the dancehall didn’t thin out when people gone out for a smoke. Everybody stayed in the rave and it was always rammed as no-one needed to leave to go outside.
Flinty: Nowadays, sometimes the smoking area is busier than the rave! I’m like why did you come out to smoke? You’ve got a garden haven’t you, just stay there haha! The crowd changed when the music turned to jungle, as when we started it was 90% white people, but when jungle came in properly it became 90% black people. So when they brought in this ‘intelligent’ style that’s when it became drum and bass and that’s also when the crowd mixed. It didn’t bother me who was in the rave, I was enjoying myself, I’d find my corner and rave all night and they were some of the best times for me.
I’ve enjoyed my whole thirty years of it, every single era and it’s just got better and better – some people say this was better than then or whatever, were you there? I was, and I would never say one was better than the other, it’s all good.
Given your experiences of the earliest days of rave when there was an apparent DIY culture and ethic where promotors arose from those organising themselves on the underground circuit – given the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act and the consequences of it, it’s much harder to do these days, but what do you think of the underground party scene?
Deman: I’m not a fan of these illegal raves that happen today if that’s what you mean, it’s just some unruly people who don’t wanna conform to the standards these days. I’d rather go to a proper rave, with proper security, proper fire escapes – it’s legal, anything can happen in one of those illegal ones these days.
We had a bad experience going into one that we were booked for and as far as I am concerned, I am not really interested. We are in 2019, what the hell are you doing illegal raves for!?! People trying to get back to the late eighties, no man, we don’t need to do that no more, we been there and done that, leave it alone! Go to Brixton Electric, go to Vauxhall, go to some proper clubs!
Flinty: Why do you need to do an illegal rave? Is it because you can’t do a legal one? Don’t do it man, leave it – we don’t need to go there any more… you know they see a broke down warehouse and think let’s get the light on in there and put a rave on – I’ve been to some of them and it’s a fucking mess, the place is always a mess! I don’t enjoy it, I’m not interested. Walls with holes in, the sound is shit and that’s because no reputable sound man is going to put his sound in there. I’m not snobbish, I’m underground and from the ghetto, I am ghetto, I just don’t want to be caught in one of them raves, they are death traps!
You have worked some of the biggest names in dance music’s history through the years, some of which are no longer with us such as Keith Flint who you were supporting in Brixton at the Academy only a couple of years ago, how close were you to the Prodigy as time has gone on and can you tell us your experiences with them?
Deman: One of our earliest raves, we headlined with them. So we played first and then they did, our dressing rooms were next door to each other so we went in and introduced ourselves and as we went on from there, they were still making the dance music and we was raving to their music. They went on to become superstars, and respect to them for that, mad love for them for that but they never forgot us. We hadn’t seen each other for years other than in passing at festivals, and from around the time of Firestarter and things like that they became huge international stars but then they called us and said they wanted to do a tune, they wanted the Ragga Twins on their album.
I thought you’re joking, we went down there and talked to them, we did the track and we were supporting them on their tour. We was with them in their dressing room, talking to Keith and the rest of the guys and they were just as normal as ever, no jumped up superstar business and they were as much in awe of us as we were them. Yeah we were Ragga Twins and we got our name but we were like “you are the Prodigy!”. They never forgot us, they were always talking about the first raves back in the day – that’s why I respect them, I thought they would have long forgot about us but no they stayed in tune with what we were doing the whole way through.
I remember I gave them a mixtape, of me, Flinty and our DJ, Krucial and Keith was like “yeah when I get back to my cottage, I’m putting it on and that’s me – I’m going to listen to it when this tour is finished”, when they were doing Brixton. They were just so real, they were happy to see us, there was no ‘you stay in your dressing room and we will stay in ours’, they invited us in to be with them and we were talking like time had stood still.
I couldn’t believe it but I’ve got nuff respect for them – rest in peace Keith, them man there are legends and it was great working with them, supporting their tour and being on their new album. Proper musical legends, they started at the same time as us and they always treated us with full respect, they went on stage and bigged us up, calling us legends and letting the crowd know where we come from. We hadn’t seen them for going on twenty years but they remembered everything so I’ve got nothin’ but love, respect and adulation for them man there.
Flinty: Actually, when we did the tour and we went to speak to Keith, he was like “yeah guys there’s this video out innit, its a black and white one you did on a radio station” it was this set we did with Krucial on Pyro Radio that everybody seems to love, he said it’s what gets him through everyday of his life and it gave me goosebumps! I was like you are the Prodigy and you’re listening to the Ragga Twins! He was like yes mate, everyday, that’s one of the best sets I’ve ever heard, he loved it!
And I’m not going to say he was bullshitting us, not being funny but we heard it every day about that set, every fucking day! That one set captivated the drum and bass scene for a whole year, every day someone would say to me about that set, there was something magic about it. I’ve listened to it and I don’t get what’s so special, not taking anything away from it because it clearly hit the spot but I don’t get it! Not complaining of course but it’s mad! People just love that set, I love it too… we don’t know what it is as we got many sets, but this one stands out and people keep talking about it.
You’ve supported James Brown before now too, that is massive – how did that come about and what was that experience like?
Flinty: Yeah we did a jazz album with a group called US3 which was signed to EMI and we were doing a lot of jazz performances and we got told we were performing in Norway and supporting James Brown and we were like, WHAT!? James Brown no way, are you mad!?
So we go there and were about to do our soundcheck and he was doing his, and my god, his sound check was as good as the main performance later on. Everybody had to be in harmony and he wasn’t a guy you messed with, he was serious on the ting. On stage, he was docking wages haha! So we’re just standing there with our mouths open as he finished his ting and walked towards us, the promotor introduced us and we just stood there in awe.
He was like, “Yo respect guys, I’m going to be watching your show later, so just do your thing and I’ll be back” (in the most energetic impression of James Brown you could imagine). His car was actually parked backstage so he literally jumped in it and drove off out the building. We done our show and he was there watching us, he come over and was like, (cue again the most incredible James Brown impression ever) “you guys are fucking fantastic man, god you know how to rock a stage, goddammmit, that music is fantastic goddammmit, I would love to see you guys again – you rocked it!” and he just gave us the biggest props and was full of our performance, it was insane.
He fucking murdered it – he was giving us tips on our show and about the business and how to look after yourselves in it and all that. He was like, “I listened to your tracks and some of them are well funky man”, we spoke for nearly half an hour and then he had to go, he was the man!
I’m going to have to ask you to do some more of your impression of his voice now…
Both crack up, and Flinty comes in with more James Brown… “ Yeah man, goddammit hahaha!!”
Deman: Our manager took loads of photos on a disposable camera, pictures with him and of him performing, some of our set, loads of photos and then he lost the fucking thing! All we got is the memories and I’m sure some people think we are lying, but you never forget dem things. Someone must have got that camera from somewhere and developed the film, I mean we got photos with everyone, Salt N Pepa, loads of people but we just ain’t got one with the king of soul!
Working with Skrillex on Ragga Bomb – how did that come about and did that draw the younger generations to your audience?
Flinty: Yeah that gave us another lease of life that one there, we done the track with him and two tracks on his album and he remixed one of ours, he made us welcome, he was doing Glastonbury three years ago and he came over, hired the studio and we went there to join him, he was in awe of us and we were in awe of him.
But yeah it gave us a new lease of life because the tune was good and I’d say 80% of his fans liked it and they searched us out and started following us, they liked the dubstep stuff we done and some other bits, it opened us up to a different audience and a lot of them were American as well. A lot of them thought we was new artists but then found out we had been going for a long time and we been there since the beginning.
So yeah we got new fans, and from that everyone wanted to work with us and wanted that same sound but it wasn’t happening because you can’t just recreate what Skrillex does, just not possible! It was a great time, I mean we are still getting work from that you know, and who knows maybe one day we might do something with him again!
Deman: But yeah, it changed our whole career at the time, don’t get me wrong we was still doing stuff and doing well too, making tunes and that but when we did the thing with him, that changed the whole game, different level. We got booked for all different stuff from then on. One time he came over to play the O2 London and he invited us down and gave us backstage passes so we went down there and we were out back in this tiny space absolutely rammed full of kids and he’s there meeting them, answering questions and posing for photographs and he’s looked round and seen us and pointed us out to them and they’ve all come straight over to start asking us questions, it was nuts!
He treated us with nuff respect, so much respect. He even invited Shut Up And Dance to the studio to come and play music so they was up there with us. We got food, drink, we sitting there smoking, doing our ting – he was so genuine, he was there the next day too so he rang us and said come up and chill, he still keeps in touch too – the guys proper. Even his people that work for him, they was nice people and treated you properly, they was treating us like we was the stars.
We got a sample pack out and that’s how it got started with him, he liked one of the lyrics and contacted us saying he wanted to use it and it went from there. He said he wanted to do it in the studio rather than using the sample so we was on it from there with him.
Basically, he liked Shut Up And Dance and wanted to work with us.
Flinty: I touched on US3 because those guys were geniuses, they had an album called ‘Cantaloop’ which was number one in America, they were blowing up the place and they called for us. We also did a lot with Aquasky, who were fantastic and they were the ones who got us back in to the studio as we weren’t doing much studio stuff before then, we were just MC’ing. They called us up and said they wanted to work with us and they were doing the breakbeat ting, we did ten years with them guys and I have to say they are some of the nicest people we have ever met.
When we was doing tunes with them, they’d get us a hotel the night before so we could arrive nice in the morning – none of that drive up first thing and be all bleary eyed, they proper looked after us. We just worked well together – absolutely fantastic. Thirty years has been a ride and a half, my kids were born and they are my greatest achievement – giving life, but my music career has been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.
We wasn’t born with a silver spoon in our mouth, we come from a big family and we graft since day. We went to school and that yeah, but that’s just school innit, haha! I learnt to read, write, spell, add, so I’m not an idiot, I got my lyrics – I don’t need google to tell me the basics, I’m not educated enough to be a doctor or a lawyer, but I’m educated, and I’m educated enough to be an MC and that there’s an education in itself, you don’t learn that in sixth form.
You are headlining the Resonate stage alongside other jungle and drum and bass pioneers such as Goldie and Hidden Agenda who are representing twenty-five years of Metalheadz at the forthcoming Lindisfarne Festival, what are your memories of Goldie and Metalheadz through your career?
Flinty: Goldie burst into the scene, he exploded – he made his album and went massive, he just became one of the biggest DJs in the scene, he just became a superstar and Metalheadz was huge too of course. We always said hello when we see him on road and got to know him that way although we wasn’t so close to him as we were to the likes of Fabio, Grooverider, Jumpin Jack Frost and Bryan Gee or whoever.
We always had mutual respect and he had such a massive personality in the scene and outside of it, but I’ve got nothin’ but absolute respect for him and everything he’s achieved – he’s done really well, absolutely fantastic all round so yeah its great we are all working together at Lindisfarne, it’s going to be really special and a real trip down memory lane and all the way back up to right now too of course.
You are playing the midnight slot along with your DJ, Krucial, what can we expect from your performance?
Flinty: Well yeah, we are going to give you a full show, definitely! There’s a lot of old schoolers on the line up so we going to do the full story, the Ragga Twins story. Full of energy, old school to new and with live MC’ing, some of the tracks old and new and just do our ting. Then, of course, straight into the drum and bass and jungle, it will be special.
Good news that because when I spoke to the promotor earlier on, he said if he doesn’t get to see you do ‘Spliffhead’ and ‘Hooligan 69’, he’s going to cry!
Deman: Haha! We can’t do a live PA without doing them ones, and ‘Juggling’ too, so yeah don’t you worry, we got you. Tell him, he’s in luck!
Deman: I’m trying to think of places we have played up there before, like Newcastle – Rezerection at the Mayfair club, I can remember that playing there a couple of times, mental – we done Scarborough and other places, I can remember people are just up for it up there, even the streets are lively – people love their music and know how to party properly in the north-east.
We was up there in the last few years but hadn’t been for years so the reception was amazing when they see us, if anything you just know the party is going to be nice and I’m really looking forward to making our return up there!
How did you combine forces with Krucial?
Deman: We met Krucial back in 2007 at Innovation In The Sun and hit it off, nice guy and knows his music and when we got back I bumped into him in the street, got chatting and went to his studio at his place to talk some more. From then we have been close, he’s our DJ and we started the RTC thing where he was the DJ and we had six MCs working together, but we whittled it down to him, me and Flinty and we have been working together since, all over the place too, New Zealand, Thailand, most of Europe, everywhere.
He’s got his own style and he can fucking play, he knows his music, he’s a good selector and he knows what we want – it works for us. I would do sets with him for the rest of my life, he plays for us and gets it right every time, but he still plays for the crowd and they love it, and we love them tunes too. Now he’s making beats too – he’s proper and is a legitimately good guy. Not one of them who makes noise and gets on to promotors or go on moaning on social media saying I’ve been DJ’ing fifteen years and only got one gig or whatever, he just gets on with it and does his ting.
He’s a humble guy, even when we first did gigs together, he was like I’ll pay my own way, just get the promotor to put me on it and I’ll get there myself – don’t need wages, just wanted to be on it. We were like nah, if we getting paid, you getting paid and we would give him money but half the time he would try and give it back to us – we don’t no more as we getting more money haha but thats the kinda guy he is, he’s a proper bredren – nuff respect. We never had an argument, we have had disagreements but we got a great team – the perfect combination. He’s from the old school too so he’s got that jungle selection and knows where it’s at.
Also, we are starting to bring DJ Inter into the RTC thing too so we are starting something new there, he’s a proper breddah too.
What inspires and motivates you to remain so active in writing and performing music after so many years?
Flinty: Just the music and the people man, you get the younger heads coming up to you now and saying, my grandad or my nan or my mum tells me when I go out raving you got to go and see the Ragga Twins. They been listening to us in their houses since they was two years old and all that, all that sort of thing, the love you get on social media and that, that’s what keeps you going.
The people, the sounds, they want you to make music, they want to hear you play and perform and you just want to keep giving it to them. It’s the same for artists that I like, I want to hear them make music and see them perform.
Deman: I just love making music and want to perform – when you go to the studio and you hear a new beat, you are like yeah wicked! You write your lyrics and it syncs and you get that satisfaction, then you go to a rave and the people just show you so much love and respect, you perform for them and they love it, they want to shake your hand, take photos and get your autograph and talk to you to tell you how much you have done for their lives – just to know that I’ve changed peoples lives through my music, that’s what I get from music, that pleasure there. I can’t get that from working in Argos, with people saying yeah you changed my life the way you brought my parcel down or whatever haha. Never going to happen, where we have actually changed peoples lives with their music – they used to listen to another genre of music and then heard what we are doing and what to hear us all the time, that is magic right there.
So I love that and I appreciate all the nice messages and all the good thoughts that have been said, you know what I mean. We are not the sort of guys to disrespect the paying public, they are the ones that make you and if you start disrespecting them, they will break you. You know we been brought up with manners from our parents, so you can only treat the people who support you with love and respect.
It always baffles me when you get people who go on like a diva, it’s like hang on the people you clearly haven’t got the time to talk to because you are too big etc. they are the people that you should be looking after the most as they put you in the position you are now in, so I always wonder at what point does your love of music turn you in to a prick!?
Deman: Haha! Yeah you know, how people can get too big to talk to people properly – that ain’t us man, we love this music, the scene, the culture and it has shown us a lot of love right back, so we never take that for granted and never will.
Flinty: I remember heading to a big rave and we are getting there in the car and as we arrive, we see the event going on and loads of people but as we approach it we see there’s a police roadblock and we like shit, the cars full of weed, smoke blowing out the windows and all that and we speak to this copper and he’s like, yeah you are going to have to wait here, the Ragga Twins are in town tonight for a show.
We said “we are the Ragga Twins” and he was blown away, didn’t question us or nothin’, just asked if he could get a picture with us and then let us straight through – its those little moments that make you feel so good, music does that to people and you don’t even know it as it reaches so many people, whilst you just keep doing your thing.
Deman: I remember the first time we played in Dublin which was just after we had finished the Shabba Ranks tour, which was an amazing tour, I mean when they called us for Shabba Ranks we was like what!? You got Tippa Irie, you got this person, you got that and you want us?? What!? You got some proper reggae people but they called us! We mashed it just as much as Shabba too, it was unbelievable – the first time we toured with a superstar and we got treated like kings, nicest hotels, all that.
So we finish the tour on the Thursday, we back home on the Friday and flying out to Dublin on the Saturday for the next show and its a bit of a comedown, not taking nothin away from Dublin but just the scale of where we had just been and doing what we were with Shabba, you know what I mean, but we’ve gone out there, done the show which was amazing and then the crowd left.
It was this big museum place, some posh place – so the people have all cleared out and we are there afterwards doing some interviews with journalists or whatever, just having a chat and that telling them what we are up to for about forty-five minutes. Anyways, we come out this venue and there’s a full blown guard of honour, all the people waited for us outside and all the people clapped. We walked through and got in the car and they carried on clapping the whole time until we left. They followed the car down the road, cheering and shouting, I just couldn’t believe what was happening, it brought tears to my eyes.
It’s the things that happen before and after the shows that stick in your memory, don’t get me wrong you don’t forget the shows themselves but there’s so many eventually most of them just sorta blur in to one, of course, some stand out but many of the really special moments happen around them.
Well, I think we have covered a lot there nicely, thanks – it’s been highly entertaining and very inspiring talking to you – before we end, is there anything you like to say or add?
Deman: Just want to say thank you to all the people who went out and brought our records, streamed our music, bought them online, came to our gigs, we appreciate it so much and to be in the game so long, we must be doing something right and as footballers would say, its about doing things right on and off the pitch, and we apply the same thinking by trying to do things right on and off the stage. So I’d just like to thank everybody, all the promotors, the producers, all the people who have helped us out every step of the way throughout our journey.
The biggest thanks has to go to Shut Up and Dance though, they are the ones that saw something and they made it possible.
Flinty: Big up the Lindisfarne Festival and we cannot wait to see you all up there!
Lindisfarne Festival takes place 28th August – 1st September 2019 at Beal Farm, Northumberland. Tickets are on sale here