DJ / production duo, PBR Streetgang, are celebrating twenty years of professional music making. Marking the occasion by releasing a massive twenty track retrospective of their career. Collecting sides that originally saw the light of day on a wild, wide, cross-section of independent imprints, such as Ilija Rudman`s Red Music, Wolf Music, Hot Creations, 20:20 Vision, Futureboogie, Throne Of Blood, Toy Tonics, Skint, Crosstown Rebels, and Sprechen. Culminating in their own label, Kurtz. The journey taking them right round the globe, and their success landing them remix commissions from big pop names like Bryan Ferry, Hot Chip, Friendly Fires, Lana Del Rey, and Kylie Minogue. Here, The Insider poses the pair, Bonar Bradberry and Tom Thorpe, a few polite questions.
Interview conducted by our favourite four-to-the-floor expert, The Insider.
It’s great to talk to you both. Where are you today and what are you up to?
You too! We are just in the studio finishing off a new remix ..
Twenty years is a long time. Do you think PBR Streetgang has changed a lot over the years, or are you fundamentally the same?
Bonar Bradberry: Good question, and yeah it is a long time! We’ve probably changed and developed as people over the years – for the better I hope – but I think fundamentally, while our techniques and styles may have changed in the booth and the studio, the culture, or the spirit, of what we aim to do hasn’t changed at all.
Are both from Leeds? Can you paint us a picture of where you grew up a little.
BB: Actually no. We both lived in Leeds for about 20 years but I’m originally from Birmingham. Tom is from high up on the moors of Yorkshire, so quite a big contrast. Growing up in Birmingham in the `80s, it might not have been cool, or well-loved, by the outside world but to me it was amazing.
Tom Thorpe: I grew up on the Moors of Huddersfield, Slaithwaite to be precise. I loved it – I was surrounded by nature, space, farms, and not much else. I would get my kicks from hay bailing and driving tractors around fields in the summer months. Obviously, you get to a point when this is a little boring, but up until around 15 it was all I knew, and I loved it.
Was there much of a music scene where you were from? What was going on where you grew up?
BB : Yeah I was really lucky. Birmingham in the 1990s had a really vibrant club and music scene, so I was exposed to lots of different great nights. I was spoiled for choice really.
TT: Actually yes. “Hard Times” was the main credible party in the area. Their vibe was soulful US House. They were the first to bring the likes of Todd Terry, Master at Work, Roger Sanchez, & Lord G to the U.K. It was a great entry point for me.
Also Leeds wasn’t far away, which had was lots of interesting parties and clubs through the mid to late nineties; ‘Vague’, ‘Back to Basics’, ‘Up Yer Ronson’, etc. Being young and impressionable, I found it was an amazing time to go out!
When did you start dabbling with music? Were you part of any musical “youth” movement?
BB: I suppose I’ve began dabbling with making music, using computers, and DJing, when I was about 14 or 15, but didn’t start DJing out in front of people until I was 17. Making music seriously came later, maybe 20 or 21. As for the second question, it depends on what you class as a youth movement I guess. While it’s been almost universally ignored, and never properly documented, the underground club scene in Birmingham and other cities like Leeds – which Tom can tell you more about – and Sheffield at that time really felt like movement to the people in them.
TT: I was a late starter – I didn’t pick up DJing until I was around seventeen, and the same with making music, where I was in my mid-twenties. Regarding being involved in any movements – I set up a party called ‘Asylum’ which ran for ten years in Leeds. It definitely felt a little like a movement. We wanted to bring something different to the city, which I felt we did, and we had a lot of support and success. We ran fortnightly at the Mint Club, a wonderful underground club – probably Leeds` finest space to be honest. No big names, or at least at the start. Lots of friends wanted to party, we filled that gap. Bonar and I were residents, it allowed us to play alongside our heroes and watch and learn from them. It was a lot of fun!
What were the first records that you bought. Can you remember?
BB: I think it was actually a cassette, Prince – Diamonds & Pearls … and so began the lifelong worship at his altar.
TT: Unfortunately I wasn’t as cool, mine was A View To A Kill by Duran Duran on 7”.
How far back do you both go?
BB: About 22 years, maybe more! We actually met in Birmingham in a record shop called Depot, we were introduced by a mutual friend, Dalton, a brilliant DJ who is sadly no longer with us. We were both into the same kind of music so it kicked off from there really.
What sort of records were you into at that time?
BB: Lots of US House.Mainly, soulful and West coast stuff. They were the common ground for us, that was the beginning. Then our obsession with disco and the teachings David Mancuso, Larry Levan and Nicky Siano soon followed.
Who were the artists back then that you were into?
BB: In the Birmingham days it was Masters At Work, Cricco Castelli, Shaboom, Doc Martin, DJ Buck… they`re just a few off the top of my head. A lot of the early stuff that came out on labels like Soulfuric, Basement Boys, Naked Music, Siesta, Maya, maybe Estereo, and even Environ. They were all sort of “buy on sight” records then.
Were you called PBR Streetgang from the off, or were there some other monikers?
BB: We were both fulltime DJs when we met and played under our own names, so this was the first time, together, going under another name.
Your name comes from the film, Apocalypse Now. Have you watched the movie often together?
BB: Yeah. obviously haha! But it was our mate JSJ that came up with the name!
What ambitions do you still have for PBR?
BB: I’m not sure. We didn’t really have any great ambitions or expectations when we started this, so I think we see everything as a bonus. That said there’s still a couple of amazing clubs that have so far eluded us so we’ll keep going (smiles).
How do you keep your relationship going after such a long time together. What’s the secret?
BB: We were friends first, before we worked together, and I think we are both conscious of trying to keep it like that. That and tea. Lots of cups of tea.
Your celebration album, PBR Twenty, is about to be released on your label, Kurtz. Twenty tracks for twenty years. Were you ever worried about the amount of music on it?
BB: It’s a retrospective album, which is slightly different to a standard album, or a concept album, where you hope the listener will absorb it in one go, start to finish. This can certainly be listened to like that; we’ve programmed it to be able to work that way, but it’s not the main objective. For us it’s about presenting our best works in a beautiful, collectable package that can be dipped in and out of for years.
What would you tell a young Bonar and Tom, from 20 years ago, about a life in music?
BB: I think it would be a futile exercise. A twenty-year-old me wouldn’t have listened at all!
TT: Hahaha. I definitely agree with Bonar. I genuinely wouldn’t change anything – it’s been one hell of a ride!!
You’ve spent most of your adult life working in the game. If you didn’t follow this path, what do you think you both might have ended up doing?
BB: Lord only knows… it’s way too late now for wondering what could have been haha! Though I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself as much as I have…
TT: I have a fine art sculpture degree, so the creative me would like to think I would have gone down that path… maybe.
Congratulations on this milestone release. Wishing you many, many more.
PBR Streetgang`s Twenty is available to pre-order directly from Kurtz.