AK1200’s love for breaks spans well over two decades. A young Dave Minner, (later to be named AK1200 by the one DJ Icey), began digging in the late 80s, opened a record store and, after exposure to what would soon become the breakbeat scene of Florida, the explosion of drum ’n bass music was imminent in upcoming years.
Armed with a pure devotional love for the music, AK1200 would get his chops from the likes of Suburban Base, Moving Shadow, Danny Breaks, Rob Playford, and many others. A mighty career was launched, and the assault continued – rotating/remixing the well known seminal anthem, Drowning (by Cleveland Lounge, first remixed by Dave Aude, and more recently by Terravita), forming Planet of the Drums with Dieselboy, Dara and J Messinian, launching the Big Riddim imprint (with W.P.L.), and more recently signing on as the newest resident to San Francisco’s free Sunday weekly, Stamina Sundays.
AK1200, thanks for this interview! You are one of the most well-known of US Junglists. What was the scene like in the 80s/early 90s when you first burst onto the scene?
When I started DJing in 1989 there was no jungle or drum and bass etc… In the span of a year or two, things went from electro (breakdance music), industrial (new wave/gothic), and house/garage into things like Techno, New Beat, Acid House, and Hip House etc. There weren’t many DJ’s so it was relatively easy to come up if you had some tunes and a little bit of skill. Back then, it was a whole new world for most everyone so we all just did it for the love and the fun of it, never realizing it could actually become a career. I started a record store and all of these records started coming in that were different from most anything else. It was sped up breakbeats with sped up hip hop vocal bits or reggae and jazz samples. That was also what catapulted the whole “Florida Breaks” movement, old school hardcore breakbeat that would eventually become what we know as Drum and Bass.
How did the UK sound influence you and what was going on in the States?
The records that were coming in, they were all from the UK, and they all had contact numbers. I started phoning everybody I could and developing relationships with the labels and artists directly, and back then, they were happy to know an American was getting his hands on their tunes, let alone loving them. I immediately began writing reviews for several music magazines, trying to push this new music. There is no doubt this was British music, and they were the ones who took all of the music we grew up to and mutated it into their own perfect style. For years people tried to emulate the sound, but it was more than just the tunes you would hear, it was the culture behind it, the mentality, it truly was the UK version of Hip Hop to America. You had to live in it to really understand it… I had been traveling to the UK steadily from 1992 onwards, and happened to link up with all the right people at all the right times and momentum just took over. I became known for one
specific style of music, and that was what solidified my role in this industry. it’s the music I represent.
You did a lot of work with Rob Playford over at Moving Shadow. Is that correct?
Yes Rob and I are very dear friends. I actually first started with Suburban Base and Dan Donnelly, I guess initially I did equal things with both labels, but then with Shadow, I actually started working for the label. I sort of fell into an impromptu A&R position there and started signing records and remixes etc… Also, Rob was my mentor in the studio, between him and Danny Breaks, everything I learned came from them.
Your first three mixes on Moonshine – Lock & Roll, Prepare For Assault, and Fully Automatic are majorly influential to me. What do you believe goes into good DJ mix?
well back then it was all about getting stuff that was exclusive to you but still strong enough to make an impact. For me, I took the role of being an American in a British genre quite literally so I would make sure to include as many American tunes as possible, but always have the best of what else was around, which at that point included artists from all over the world. I was very adamant about being spontaneous and free of any form, so the most attention I paid (to the process) was prior to the mix itself. I lined up a bunch of tunes I wanted to use, made sure we could license them, then I put them in a rough order. I would do a practice run on the tunes to see how they worked out, and then I hit record. That was it, mistakes and all… I think a good DJ mix needs to represent you at any given time, not the very best of you or how intense you can make it. It is all about the vibe and the subtle imperfections that give a mix its character.
You also did a few tracks, alongside Danny Breaks, including Pornstar Style, Deep Porn, In Her. What’s the deal with all of the porn, man?
Actually to clarify, “In Her” was Danny’s tune, I just used to for one of my mixes. The deep porn project came to me from a label called Hard Corps where they were pairing up artists with porn stars for a compilation. They had sent me some vocals from Raylene for which I created a tune called Cum With Me. The label liked that tune, and wanted me to do another. At the time I was in England staying at Danny Breaks house for a month or so, and they sent me the vocals from Alicia Del Rio to make a tune with. Danny and I already had something we were working on, and we basically dropped her vocals in and rebuilt the tune around the vocal. Once we were about halfway there, Dylan happened to pop by, gave it a listen and suggested we use a nastier bass with some filters in it, and the result was Pornstar Style. Those tunes while originally slated for the compilation, went into a limited run of 500 vinyl copies. The tune with Danny became quite big, and Moving Shadow wanted to release a version of it (without the foul language) and the Deep Porn VIP or Pornstar Style VIP was born. in 2009, Gridlok did a mashup of that with his Bottom Feeder tune, and Pornstar Feeder came out. That is about it. It was purely coincidental, I swear I have no creepy affiliations or fetishes with pornography lol.
What is the story on the formation of Planet of the Drums alongside Dieselboy, Dara and J-Messinian?
Well Damian, Darragh, and I were all signed to Moonshine and were performing on their Moonshine Over America tour, but they would only have one or 2 of us out at a time. One night in New Orleans they had us all together, and we realized we never played all together for pretty much anyone. We decided to change that and develop a brand. We had a mission. We wanted the music we played to be taken seriously and we wanted to not be hidden away in the side rooms with shitty sound. We started with Joe MC Dub2 in 2000 and that ended up not working out. The following year, we had arranged to have MC Rage go on the road with us, but he got stuck at immigration (and ultimately denied entry) in Philly. We called James, who at the time was just a young MC who was a resident with Damian at Platinum. The rest is history. Literally, history. We did all we set out to do and more. I am proud of what we collectively did for DnB in the USA, which I feel was quite a lot, but it didn’t go without its downsides and share of hatred from purists.
Your remix of Cleveland Lounge’s “Drowning” has been a classic since its inception. Did you expect it to get all of the attention that it has?
Just to give the backstory so there are no more misconceptions, Cleveland Lounge were a band signed to Moonshine. When I first signed with them, Dave Aude gave me a dnb version he did and suggested I put it on my debut CD, Fully Automatic. I put it on there without really noticing too much about the tune. I mean, it was cool, catchy, and did the job. I had no idea that tune would be as big as it got. The version I did came a couple years later, and that was the one that was put into rotation on radio in the USA. People always associated that tune with me, so with places like Youtube etc, it became simplified as AK1200 – Drowning, and every few months it seems I see online somewhere someone trying to explain this to people. I figure if I put it out to the people once and for all, they can just copy and paste this answer next time they get into a debate about it. Anyway, to answer the question, no I had no idea it would get this sort of attention, but what I can tell you is every single show I play, there are requests for me to play that tune, and the best overall version I have of it is the one Terravita did for me, so that is the one I play.
Talk to us about your label, Big Riddim Recordings. What have been your favorite releases so far? What’s coming up?
After Moving Shadow stopped putting records out, I had a little void in me, and decided to start a label. A few years later, I brought in a very good friend to run it with me, Giulio Ascoli. My favorite releases were the early ones, only because of the memories I have of being excited to release them. To be honest, Giulio controls the label completely and I am just a name on the paperwork. Any credit would go to him for the last several releases, I admit I have neglected it the last few years. I am not sure where we go from here, whether i hand it over to him entirely or I jump back in head first. Time will tell.
If you had to pick a top 5 of future collaborators, who would they be?
Oddly enough, I have already worked with or am currently working with everybody I would want to work with. At the moment, I have collaborations in progress with Saxxon, Gridlok, Jaybee, and Jamal. I had a few other things that I wasn’t really able to focus on, but hopefully soon I can pick back up with those folks and get something going. I also enjoy the collab process with Peter NC-17, we seem to work well together, so that could round out the 5 for now.
Congrats on your residency with San Francisco’s Stamina Sundays. How did that come about? How do you feel about it?
Thanks very much. Basically, Ryan Gridlok was moving to Amsterdam and thought it would be a cool idea to have me come in every now and then, sort of in his place I guess. Every time I have played Stamina it has been ridiculously good, I have always felt at home there and get along great with everyone else. So Jamal hit me up and we talked it over, decided it would be good, so we locked it down. I am probably only going to be playing quarterly and maybe a few bigger shows they do. I am excited to be a part of that family, everybody is super cool and it makes a great deal of sense for me at this point in my career to maybe cut back and lock down certain regions with certain promoters to do exclusive shows on a regular basis. Ideally I will ultimately have several of these all around the country and can focus on being a building block for regional scenes as opposed to being a circuit DJ. I am much better at playing a “supporting role” than being the one man band. I like to be a part of something bigger than myself but also to feel like I am being productive and have a sense of worth, which is probably what’s kept me so faithful to drum and bass to begin with.
Do you have any new productions in the works?
I do indeed. As mentioned, I have several collaborations in various stages of completion right now, and I have a couple original tunes I am working on. Much of my time though is being utilized for the next chapter in my career which is management. I am currently managing several (non dnb) artists, and trying to help guide these people into longer healthier careers rather than blowing up and burning out.
What else can we expect from the AK1200?
Not too much more than what we have discussed. I want to keep doing what I do as long as there is a demand for me, when that is done, I will still make tunes and manage artists. I play a lot of golf and I cook quite a bit. I have raised two sons who are now out of the house and on their own, and I spend most of my free time with my wife and two dogs. I think I might have another album inside of me somewhere but that could be a couple years before I am ready to start exploring that. Right now, i am just trying to follow the path this world has created for me, stopping every now and then to appreciate everything and everyone who I have been lucky enough to experience thus far. 🙂
Follow these links for more on AK1200 and Big Riddim Recordings –
AK1200 – Soundcloud/Facebook/Twitter/Beatport
Big Riddim Recordings – Soundcloud/Facebook/Beatport/Bandcamp