One of the biggest characteristics of drum & bass during its early years was its exclusivity. And nothing was more exclusive than Full Cycle Recordings out of Bristol, England. The labor of love of its four core members—Roni Size, Krust, Die and Suv—the label consistently released the most impossible-to-imitate sounds in the genre. Instantly recognizable from its very start in 1994, there was a quality to Full Cycle tracks, a musicality and a subtlety that was the stamp of these four.
Full Cycle wasn’t one of those labels that had releases from all the heavy hitters in drum & bass, even though its members themselves were heavy hitters. Both individually and under various names when they worked together—I Kamanchi, Scorpio, Breakbeat Era, or Reel Time—they produced track after enviable track. This spilled over to their second label, Dope Dragon, and even more disguises for the four: Mask, Gang Related, Swabe, Bigger Star. Other artists with similar mindsets and talents infiltrated, serving to strengthen and define the Full Cycle sound further: Clipz, D Product, Bill Riley and Surge, to name a few.
After 15 years of solid releases, the inner core was fragmented, the label manager left to marry Huey Morgan of Fun Lovin’ Criminals, and Full Cycle, like so many of its counterparts in drum & bass, closed its doors. But the void it left was never filled. The more time has gone by, the bigger the void has become.
In 2014, Size set up his Mansion Sounds label, focused on the more commercially popular sounds of drum & bass. On Mansion Sounds, he released his own Take Control album, as well as Live at Colston Hall, the live album from Reprazent, which has evolved from a group into his project. A few years before that, Krust set up his Rebel Instinct brand as a platform for his various ventures. Meanwhile, Die has remained a steady presence in the genre with his signature sound and his musically open-minded label, Gutterfunk. And Suv continues to break ground, bringing a myriad of styles into his organic take on drum & bass. He very recently rebooted Fresh Four, his chart-topping project with Krust from the late ‘80s, when they were teenagers.
No matter what they do, the Full Cycle legend lives on. After a lengthy break, and too many fans asking about the label to ignore, Size and Krust are ready to dust off the old DATS piled up in the former’s loft, sift through everything, and release tracks that never saw the light of day—as well as bring up a new generation of Full Cycle artists. To this end, the two are embarking on the Full Cycle tour, where they will be DJing back-to-back, four to five tracks apiece of classics and new classics, bringing some original junglist vibes to the masses.
Why did Full Cycle stop?
Krust: When we started Full Cycle, we were already deep in the studio for a few years. [Size] was in his studio. I was working with Die and Suv, living in Smith & Mighty’s back room, making beats. We had so much music by the time we launched Full Cycle, we came straight out of the gate with stacks of tunes. We had this work regimen that was unrelenting for years. It was ridiculous. We didn’t stop for 10 years. It was constant: DJing, touring, more DJing. Then we were signed by major labels. We were in the studio making albums and on tour with Reprazent and my project. After that, you didn’t want to see those people again. We were burnt out; we needed a break. It was a relentless pace to keep up. It was very difficult. Everyone went their own way.
Size: The label was in a tailspin. The individuals inside the label, myself included, wanted to take the label into other directions. There was a lack of vision. Everyone was deciding which direction they wanted to go in. These opinions didn’t meet up, so everybody went off and started doing their own things. The label needed to be moving with the times, and at that point, it wasn’t set up to do that. I didn’t feel like it was right, just me moving the label forward, because it was never about that. Our label manager moving on—we were always trying to fill that gap. I couldn’t do it by myself. It was a good time to leave it as a sleeping giant.
Why relaunch Full Cycle?
Size: For me, it was something in the back of my head that was always going to happen. It was just trying to work out the best way to be able to relaunch it and make sure it was for the right purpose. Being on the road this last year, we kept on getting so much feedback from fans. There are people out there who embossed their bodies with the Full Cycle logos. They have the whole catalog. If there were a quiz on Full Cycle or Dope Dragon, they would know more about the labels than even myself. It became inevitable that people wanted to have that sound which filled a gap. There are a lot of people out there who are trying to feed off that Full Cycle vibe, but it’s like having another brand of Nike. There’s never going to be another Nike.
You stopped making music for a five-year period, Krust. What led to your coming back to Full Cycle?
Krust: I had an opportunity to make a library sampler; that was the turning point. It helped me shift out of where I was in a stuck place. Whatever music you do, you get pigeonholed and stereotyped. And you don’t necessarily believe what people say, but when you do, you get stuck in your habits, in your patterns. I was definitely there. I wasn’t doing anything new, I wasn’t doing anything fresh; I was carrying on doing the same thing I’d done for 20 years. It takes a while to break out of that. Doing the library sampler allowed me to do that. It gave me permission to never finish a track. I love sitting in the studio making sounds, so if someone says, “Here’s some cash, you’ve got two months, go make some sounds,” great. It was liberating. I didn’t have to finish a track. All I was doing was making sounds and getting paid for it.
Now, whenever I’m in the studio, I always think about making music from that perspective, and it totally frees me up. It allows me to not think about finishing a tune or making a tune the way I think it should be made, which helps me make music from a totally different perspective. That happened six years ago, and I’ve just been excited ever since. When [Size] mentioned getting Full Cycle back together, I thought, “I’m ready to do something new. I’m ready to have some excitement. I’m ready to have fun. I’m ready to put some more music out into the world and see what happens.”
Will the original artists that established Full Cycle, Suv and Die in particular, be a part of this relaunch?
Krust: Everyone’s busy doing their own thing.
Size: We’re looking for a new era in Full Cycle.
A large part of Full Cycle’s relaunch involves releasing material that never saw the light of day from as far back as 1993, such as the first release, the Formulate EP. How do you think a sound from over 20 years ago is going to fit in with today?
Krust: The Full Cycle sound is one of the most authentic sounds in music, period. Regardless of the genre, we’ve got an original sound that has stood the test of time. Twenty years since we started, and you’ve got young kids studying Full Cycle music and trying to copy it. They’re trying to sound like what we sounded like 10–15 years ago. I get texts and emails from people saying, “I wish I was there when you guys were at The End, or when you guys were playing Lakota.” People hear the mixtapes or read the stories or see some videos online. They miss that era. They want to see for themselves what it’s all about, to feel that vibe, to feel the music. They want to see the original people standing behind the decks playing this music, so they can get the whole experience.
Right now in the scene, like any culture, we’re at a saturation point. There are no new ideas. The music’s stale. Sounds are just being regurgitated. We’re at a point where something new can happen. Full Cycle can come in and be that refreshing sound, bring something new and exciting to the game, bring what’s missing. We might be bringing back the old sound playing Full Cycle classics, but we’ve got some new stuff, too—from me, from [Size]—and we’ve been working with some new artists who have got the Full Cycle mentality, methodology, psychology, and are sticking true to the sound. It’s an exciting time.
Are you planning on releasing material from the other original Full Cycle artists, besides just the two of you?
Krust: We’ll have to listen to whatever’s there. If everyone’s happy for us to put it out, then yeah, sure, we’ll put it out.
What does it take to become a Full Cycle artist?
Krust: We’ve got a particular sound, and we want to stay true to that. Full Cycle is not for everyone. Full Cycle isn’t a label that you can just send some tunes in to. Full Cycle is a religion; it’s a cult. You’ve got to work with us, live with us, then let’s see how you are in eight months’ time. One of the reasons Full Cycle was the way it was is because we used to sit in [Size’s] house or in Die’s house or Suv’s house or in my house, or Smith and Mighty’s studio, and be in there for days—just the four of us, talking about everything: politics, music, technology, sampling, breaks, partying, life. We lived and breathed together for months, years. That’s why the camp was what it was: because we were so tightly locked together. We had such a deep understanding of culture, of where we came from. We all grew up through hip-hop culture, through reggae culture, through Thatcherism, through racism, through B-boys, mods, punks, rockers. We all understood those cultural references. It’s important that artists we work with understand a similar type of cultural reference. We’re building those new relationships. We’re building a new foundation, and that takes time.
Are today’s sound systems going to be able to do justice to tracks that were made on what is now considered vintage equipment? Are you doing anything to the music to update it?
Size: That’s down to what sound system you play on, and also due to mastering. It’s when we play our music alongside the new stuff that the void becomes apparent. That’s why it’s good for Full Cycle to be able to bring back a version of that sound and plug that hole. I’ve got enough back catalog where I can play at least an hour of that sound and it sounds fine. Someone else may come on and play stuff that’s much louder, much bigger, and much phatter, but it’s horses for courses. How loud do you really want it?
Krust: I play old-school raves quite a lot, playing all that old stuff—no one says anything about the sound quality. People come out for the experience. You have a totally new audience and for them, it will sound different than the newer stuff, but it will have its unique place. They want to hear that old-school vibe, just like when we were that age. We were listening to funk from the previous era that was made on vinyl that we started listening to on Technics 1200s. We appreciated that sound, and that’s what’s going on now. These young people, they appreciate the sound because it sounds so different. It’s like saying, “I’m not going to drive an old classic car because it’s not as good as a new, modern car.” It’s a classic car; why wouldn’t you drive it?
You can catch the return of Full Cycle live at EDC UK on Saturday, July 9, 2016.