How an unused dub mix became an enduring club classic.
It is 1993. Ultra Nate, one of the first house music singers to have been signed by a major label (Warner Brothers), has fallen into that uncomfortable limbo of being critically acclaimed, while not achieving the level of sales that the big dogs strive for. With her second album, the stylistic range is expanded, but there is a realisation that tracks like the more R’n’B-flavoured single ‘How Long’ still need club-friendly mixes to keep her established house music fanbase on board. A&R man Pete Edge, who had relocated from London to New York, pushed for one of the UK’s most in-demand remix teams of the moment, Fire Island (aka Roach Motel, aka Terry Farley & Pete Heller). Terry recalls influential “New York club face Bill Coleman” (then dance music editor for the influential trade magazine Billboard) also backing the choice Stateside. Mixes are delivered and accepted, but the dub is left on the shelf. As Pete tells us: “It was basically a space issue. They had a bunch of remixes and it just didn’t make the release. We were pretty disappointed at the time as we knew it was a good club track.” From these unlikely beginnings, an enduring club classic was born.
As was often the case at that time, Pete cut himself an acetate of the dub – a somewhat pricey one off pressing that DJs would often pay for to enable them to play an unreleased mix or road test new material. However, as he self-deprecatingly recalls, “I played it at Club UK (London) one night and I remember it completely went off. But I was never one to focus too much on our own tracks when there was so much good music around, so it kind of just sat in the box and was probably also played to general indifference somewhere else.” However, the heat was turned up a notch in 1995 when the duo put together the From the DAT Vol 1 compilation 12” on Jus’ Trax, an offshoot of their regular ‘home’ label Junior Boys Own. A rarity in as much as it was actually released under their own names (“maybe after all our tracks being by Fire Island or Roach Motel we fancied seeing our names upfront,” recalls Terry tongue firmly in cheek), “most of the Heller & Farley From The DAT stuff was versions of pop remixes we were doing, and ended up at 2/3am with a couple of hours’ studio time left, so added a new riff, some samples etc.,” he adds. However, it was also a logical home for the unreleased Ultra Nate dub mix, and was named ‘Ultra Flava’ as a nod to its origins.
In this mid-1990s period, many Junior Boys Own releases had found a spiritual home at arguably the most influential club of the era, New York’s Sound Factory. Label and club were amongst a coterie of both US and European producers, DJs and venues forging a new twist on the house sound, with Factory resident Junior Vasquez playing US homegrown tracks from the likes of DJ Pierre, Armand Van Helden and Danny Tenaglia alongside imports from the likes of JBO’s X-Press 2; and several Heller & Farley mixes, including their dub reworks of DSK’s ‘What Would We Do’, and the Happy Mondays’ ‘Stinkin’ Thinkin’’ – both of which Pete recalls having similar impact to ‘Ultra Flava’ (“they both got actual releases though”).
The duo very much had the Sound Factory in mind with ‘Ultra Flava’. “We definitely wanted it to be played there more than anywhere else,” says Terry, Pete adding that “the siren was a homage to Sound Factory.” However, it was with countless plays at another of house music’s epicentres that ‘Ultra Flava’ started to take on a life of its own, and the duo realised they were on to something - “I think it was Graham Gold from Kiss FM (London) telling us how big it was in Ibiza the previous week, with every DJ and every club hammering it,” remembers Terry.
As ever when a track hits the Ibiza summer jackpot, things then moved very quickly. Pete Edge from Warners okayed the track being released in its own right (Pete: “he was fine as he was really happy with the vocal release and slightly apologetic that the dub didn’t get even a promo release”); Simon Dunmore, then heading up A&R for AM:PM, signed it; and avocal version was recorded. “We got Carol Kenyon who did ‘Temptation’ for Heaven 17 to do the vocals, on reflection we should have paid a vocal writer to knock us up a couple of hooks as my songwriting proved to be rather average,” deadpans Terry, though Pete adds, “the Pete’s Dub mix was the best thing that came out of that session and became a big Frankie Knuckles track” (and also Terry’s favourite version).
Given that its beauty lies in its simplicity, ‘Ultra Flava’ is not the easiest track to remix. “The one I really liked was not a remix at all but a banji rip-off on some tiny New York label. I can’t remember the name now, ”Pete tells us. However, with regards to the upcoming Defected release, Terry is full of praise for the men who have taken on this tough task: “I really do like what David Penn / Darius Syrossian have done, as a new audience will love that current vibe.”
We have to ask how that riff was created – Pete: “It was a Roland JD800 patch I had modified, trying to sound like a Korg M1 organ but it was also doubling up the bassline which kind of gave it the groove. It was something I’d put together at home with the beats and when we got into the studio we laid it under the vocal and it was pretty much ‘well there you go then, job done! ’”And did they ever imagine of all their tracks / mixes, this would be one of the ones which would never go away? “Not really. You kind of lose control of how things turn out once they’re out there. Plenty of decent tracks/mixes just stay spotters’ tunes and occasionally you do something that resonates with an audience. If you knew why you’d probably try and repeat it and end up becoming dull and predictable. There’s never really a ‘plan’ - you just put out things you like and are happy to have your name attached to.” And that is precisely why Farley & Heller remain at the top of their game.