With so much left to chance in the life of a DJ, one thing for British John “00” Fleming is certain: His faith in trance has paid off handsomely. Voted No. 36 in the world by readers of the UK's DJ magazine this past year, Fleming constantly travels the world over, spinning at top clubs and events. What's more, Fleming is happily married; resides in a quaint seaside town; doesn't drink alcohol; dotes on his son, Jack; and has a pet rabbit called Buddy — oh, those wild and crazy superstar DJs.
Having battled and beaten lung cancer while in his early 20s, Fleming is a survivor, and throughout his nearly 20-year career, he has proven to be one of the most popular and respected figures — among both fans and peers — on the circuit. Fleming's own vinyl imprint, JOOF (geddit?), is his new baby, and he's forged a production partnership with Tim Healey, aka Electric Tease. He also regularly releases productions and mixes, though not always under his own moniker: those huge-selling Godskitchen comps, for example. Fleming recently released his second White Label Euphoria (Telstar, 2003) compilation, which features many rare trance and progressive tracks. In short, he's in demand, keeping busy and enjoying life.
“Finding wicked new tunes is a prime motivating force,” Fleming says. “It's cool to visit record shops because I can gauge reactions to my releases, as well as check out new material. Not too long back, record shops had a reputation for being moody places with opinionated staff, but that has all changed — even in Birmingham!”
Birmingham, 120 miles northwest of London and right in the middle of the country, is the UK's second-largest city. If you've deciphered Ozzy Osbourne's gibberish, that's “Brummie” talk. Home to clubbing institution Godskitchen, “Brum” has a rich musical heritage (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, ELO, UB40, Duran Duran, Steve Lawler, Futureshock) and a logic-defying traffic system. Saddam Hussein could be hiding out in there and never be detected, thanks to an intricate array of one-way streets, tunnels and boulevards cobbled together by deranged town planners on hallucinogens.
Joanna Massive — the undisputed Queen of Dance and Independent Retailer of the Year 2003 as selected by Music Week, an industry bible — expanded her Massive Records empire into Birmingham in August. Her flagship store in Oxford still thrives; the mail-order business is growing rapidly; and the innovative Massive Website is finally functional. The company also moved into distribution, exclusively representing the UDG range of DJ luggage.
The Birmingham store carries some 25,000 pieces of vinyl, including techno, house, trance d'n'b, progressive and urban. There are 20 listening stations, all equipped with Technics decks and with full audio control, and in-store DJ appearances happen every Saturday.
DJs of Fleming's caliber are inundated with new tunes, but record shopping is both fun and a necessity. Many independent underground labels don't have major distribution deals and rely on retail and mail order to survive. That — possibly more than any other factor — could explain Joanna Massive's mystique and success, because the proprietor is famed, above all, for her knack of sourcing new music for a core group of big-league DJs.
“Joanna's a prime resource because she totally understands my style and knows what I'm after,” Fleming says. “The White Label CDs give me an opportunity to showcase dedicated producers who provide the tools of my trade. There are no boring rules or corporate directives to follow, but it's really intense. I insist on making all of the musical decisions because so many mixes include tunes that are there for dubious reasons. I listened to literally hundreds of new tracks while I compiled the new mix. Whittling it down to 30 numbers that blended together was hard work.”
Remix met with Fleming to discuss the fine art of record purchasing and volume discounts for famous DJs at Massive Records, a trainspotter's paradise. Fleming grabs a few pieces of fresh vinyl and wanders over to one of the decks. He gets serious, which is rare for him. Headphones on, volume up — off we go.
THE DIGITAL BLONDE
The Blonde Witch Project EP (JOOF)
Rikki Smith, aka The Digital Blonde, has been one of my favorite producers for the past few years. In fact, I liked his work so much that I eventually signed him to my own label! Here, we see his darker side. The Digital Blonde keeps my faith in “real” trance music: dark, intelligent yet uplifting. “Gothica” is on a darker tip and a big favorite with Tiësto, and Oakenfold has been caning “Noctone” in the clubs.
I've been seeing this artist's name around a lot recently. He's one of Oakey's favorites. Somebody gave me a Dream Traveller show-reel CD in Miami, and I loved what I heard; then, I lost it. I've been waiting to get my hands on this track again. It's been driving me nuts! It was on Nick Warren's Global Underground Reykjavik, right? It's a real grinder, and I love that female vocal sample; it adds a lot of atmosphere. Top-quality production.
“Wuarp” (Audio Therapy)
It's great to see that Dave Seaman's new label has taken on so well. Every release so far has been quality, and this one's no exception. I've been bugging him for months about this track. I can't believe he made me wait so long! I've always liked Dave's production technique, and this number has all of his trademarks: wicked rolling bass line, very musical and totally lush.
“Waiting (Darren Tate vs. Mike Koglin Remix)” (Mondo)
These are two great producers who can take the music to a higher level. It's full-on trance, hands-in-the-air stuff but cheese-free. It could have been easy for this to fall into the obvious “Euro-sound” trap, but they've steered clear. This highly polished production will definitely be going on the new Godskitchen compilation.
“Critical Freaks (Jürgen Driessen Remix)” (Mutteki)
This originally came out about five years ago, I think. It's a classic! Mutteki's a good German techno label, and I'm guessing that this remix has something to do with Oliver Klein, who's definitely been one of my favorite producers recently. This track's got great energy and a lovely melody.
“Tribes of Khan Gala” (SAW)
Satoshi Tomiie's imprint just gets better and better. They've put out some top tunes during the past year. I like this one because it's really different: dark, progressive, dirty and beefy. I'm a stickler for good production values, and this is very well-produced. I'll probably have to play it at +6, though!
“Time” (Vinyl Addiction)
Trisco's become a household name since “Musak,” but they haven't sold out, and I respect that. That difficult crossover from dance to mainstream — where so many artists have stumbled before — can work, and here's more evidence. This is a perfect peak-time track with huge crescendos and haunting synth lines: a real floor-filler, big time. Right on my tip and another certainty for the Godskitchen mix.