Over 20+ years Faze Action have evolved from a studio-based duo, to an eight-piece live band. Along the way playing a large part in London nightlife`s rediscovery of Disco. The reassessment of labels such as West End, Salsoul, and Prelude. Artists such as Arthur Russell and Walter Gibbons. The two brothers, Simon and Robin Lee, having lead a mid-90s revival, side-by-side with DJ Harvey, the Idujt Boys, and those Ballistic Brothers, Ashley Beedle and Dave Hill, as part of the extended Nuphonic Records family.
Still DJing, recording and releasing vinyl – under a variety of guises – on their own Faze Action Records, Simon and Robin have just put together a compilation for Dave Lee`s Z Records. The sixth instalment in the Under The Influence series. A set of positive party vibes from Africa, the Caribbean, and Italy. That D-word shuffled between Electro-Boogie, Jazz-Funk, Proto-House, and Soul. It seemed like a good time to pose “The Faze” a few questions, and Simon kindly agreed to sit down. He also knocked out a brilliant mix. Reflecting the selections made for the compilation, and including some recent finds.
There`s Robin`s homage to Wally Badarou`s Nassau Funk – as Rudy`s Midnight Machine, the opulently orchestrated Japanese Jazz of Kimiko Kasai, the now on its third repress Nuova Napoli, and Earthboogie`s modern melting pot. Italo, both Classic and rare, and some super sought-after Zouk.
It certainly brightened my day.
Where`s your hometown?
My Home town is Amersham. Its basically the last stop on the Metropolitan Line on the London Underground.
Where are you based?
I`m based In London.
Where do you currently go – locally – to listen to music, and dance?
My wife does the lights for the Lucky Cloud Sound (Loft) and the All My Friends parties, so I`m usually at those, when I`m not DJing. I also go to Brilliant corners and Horse Meat Disco. So I`m still out `n` about quite a bit. Listening and absorbing other DJs, and new music.
When / how did you first get into music?
I first started getting into music when I was about ten or eleven. Listening to mainly chart stuff. It wasn’t until our parents bought one of those all-in-one Hi Fi’s in about `86, and a friend who lived down the road started playing me James Brown and Hip Hop, that I got hooked on buying records.
What instruments do you play?
A bit of Percussion here and there. My brother Rob, the other half of Faze Action, plays the cello, bass, keys and guitar. He graduated from Goldsmiths in London, and was in quite a few bands while there. Playing Funk and Jazz, etc., alongside the more Classical concerts at the University.
How did you hook up with Nuphonic Records?
I was working at Sarah’s Soul & Jazz on Berwick Street in Soho, which got taken over by Daddy Kool’s, probably around 1993 / 94. Dave Hill used to come in with Ashley, buying records, and we soon found out we were on the same page musically. We`d spend hours talking about Disco, Jazz, House, everything really. Dave had been talking about setting up a label for a while, and he actually had an office for about a year while looking for the right record to sign and launch the label. Meanwhile spurred on by my colleague in the shop, Pete Herbert, myself and Rob decided to go into the studio and record Original Disco Motion. I started playing it to regular customers and got some good feed back. Eventually Dave came in, I played it to him and that was it! We were off. Dave had found the right record to launch the label, and we had found the perfect home. This was probably early `95.
Which clubs were you going to at the time?
The Ministry, The Blue Note, and the WAG. Bagleys, and The Cross, in Kings Cross.
Sav from Nuphonic used to run the Red Eye in Peckham. Did you ever go to any of the parties there?
No I didn’t actually meet Sav until we signed to Nuphonic, and he was the running The Blue Note in Hoxton Square. I knew of the Red Eye, as he told me he used to manage it, but I never went there.
What records / artists influenced the music you were making at that time?
Mainly Disco, Arthur Russell and anything from New York. At that time playing Disco and hearing Disco in London`s clubs was not what it is now. You could go and see Harvey, the Idjut Boys, Ashley Beedle, but, with no internet, in `95 you had to rely on photocopied articles for info, and digging for records.
Where were you buying your records?
Most of the shops in Soho. We had a great selection of old and new Imports coming in at Daddy Kool’s. Plus going to record fairs and buying from dealers, like Nick the Record and Gerry Rooney. Obscure Record And Tape Exchanges in Greenwich, and places like that. All over.
Did the success of In The Trees change your lives? What equipment was In The Trees made on? Where did those strings come from?
Yes I would say it did change our lives. Robin had moved to Japan in `95, so he was actually living in Osaka Japan when our first record came out on Nuphonic. With the relative success of the first release, Dave suggested we do a follow up. At that point I was listening to a lot of Arthur Russell, and was like “Hang on. Robin`s first instrument is cello.” So that was the starting point for In the Trees. Re: equipment, we had to record the backing track and FX here with the engineer, and then send Robin the backing track via post on DAT. Robin then scored the Cello part for In the Trees, and sent that back to me here. Then we got in his old Cello teacher to play the part. A very long winded way to work. Technology and the internet has advanced so much that we probably could have been written in half the time now. It was all recorded on to tape, so the record has a live sound.
I remember standing at the counter of Atlas Records listening to someone blaming you for the “Disco Revival”. Which I think is fair enough, at least for the extended Nuphonic family of Faze Action, The Ballistic Brothers, Fuzz Against Junk, The Idjut Boys, Glenn Gunner, Harvey and Ashely Beedle. It looked like a family from the outside. Was it?
Yes, to me it felt like it was. Even though everyone was doing there own thing, there seemed to be a common thread that bound us. In particular, I enjoyed the basement sessions with Dan and Conrad from the Idjuts at the 333 around `97-99.
The Nuphonic parties at The Leopard in Islington were great. I don`t think you could go anywhere else at the time – at least in London – and hear music like Peter Tosh`s Buckingham Palace, Ian Dury`s Reasons To Be Cheerful. Loft and Garage Classics. It was through Nuphonic that many people first discovered these things.
Very true Rob. I loved those parties, and for sure there was pretty much no where else to hear music like that at that time in London.
What did you do when Nuphonic closed? Are you still in touch with Dave and Sav?
It was a real shame when Nuphonic closed. We felt like we`d lost a home for our music, and it took us a while to find our feet again. We struggled for a few years. Everything was changing and quite quickly. It wasn’t until I started working at Juno that things started to change for the better.
Yes, I`m still in touch with Dave, and occasionally meet up for one off his legendary vinyl sessions. And I still see Sav out and about.
What made you start Faze Action Records? How easy has it been to keep the label going? Would you consider releasing other artists` music on FAR?
After about six months at Juno I got put in charge of “genre-busting”, which meant that each day you had to listen to every release and make sure it was in the right genre. As a result for about a year, I listened to everything from Minimal to Soulful House. I started noticing the music coming from Lindstrom and the whole Norwegian crew, and it really spurred me and Robin on. Suddenly we were having fun writing music again. Running our own label felt a bit daunting, but the freedom it allows you in terms of releasing what you want, when you want, out weighed all the minus points. It`s still a challenge to keep everything going. With vinyl, obviously, the margins are very small, but we are still very passionate about this format, and our latest releases have done pretty well. So it`s all good at the moment.
We have released other artists on FAR, but to me it`s a big responsibility – with accounting and doing everything properly – and not its to be taken lightly, so we decided to focus on our own music. Rob releases his solo projects – Andromeda Orchestra and Rudy’s Midnight Machine – on the label. However, things might change here, and we might start releasing other artists again.
When did Faze Action first start playing as live band?
I think we first started playing live when we released the second LP, Moving Cities, and Rob came back from Japan. So I reckon it was spring of 1998.
Do you have any gigs coming up?
Yes, we`re taking the original eight-piece band over to Montenegro for the Southern Soul Festival on June the 29th (you can find out more here). We`re so very excited about this, as it looks like a beautiful festival to be involved with.
I really liked the Mangwana E.P. from a couple of years ago. How did the collaboration with Zeke Manyika come about? Is there any more work with Zeke planned?
Many thanks Rob. I actually met Zeke at the Nuphonic office around `96 / 97 and we collaborated on Kariba and a few other tracks on the Moving Cities LP. Yes, there will definitely more collaborations with Zeke. Hopefully very soon.
How did the recent collaboration with Nina Miranda happen?
Like Zeke, we first collaborated with Nina on Samba, on Moving Cities. We did some live dates a couple of years ago, and decided to get back in the studio again. Vamos Pintar was born from these sessions.
Is there anyone you`d really like to work with?
I guess it would have to be a singer or songwriter who really knows their craft. I couldn’t say a name but there are plenty of people for sure who we would both like to work with.
According to Discogs you`ve completed 174 remixes. Are you still inundated with remix requests?
Ha ha, yes we have done a fair few remixes over the years. We still get the odd one coming in, but we tend to pick and choose a bit more these days.
You haven’t done a compilation since 2001`s Abstract Funk Theory. Can you tell me a little about the new one?
Yes, true we haven’t done one for a while, as we`re usually focused on writing new music. However, we know Dave Lee aka Joey Negro, and he approached us with the idea of doing an Under The Influence, so we decided to go for it. Obviously the last few have been of a very high standard so it was a lot of work to find records we were into, that hadn’t been comp`d before. But we`re very happy with the selection, as it reflects what we`ve been playing for the last few years in our DJ sets.
Faze Action`s Under The Influence is released on Dave Lee`s Z Records tomorrow (May 24th). You can order on your preferred format here.
Rudy’s Midnight Machine – Solar Plex (FAR)
Grupo Control Digital – A Fest E Nossa (Phoenix Spink)
Nuova Napoli – Disco Sole (NG records)
Angie – Fela Ke Yaya (Leopard Records)
William &The Young Five – You Turn Me On (Jkriv Rework)(Soundway)
Kimiko Kasai – The Right Place (CBS Sony)
Nuova Napoli – Ju Valesse (NG records)
Saraba – Barilia (Z Records)
Mikki – Dance Lover (Faze Action Edit)(Z Records)
Earthboogie – Overground (Leng)
Tantra – Ma-Cum-Ba (Importe)
R.Bais – Living in New York (Emergent)