This week marks the seventeenth year since legendary drum & bass DJ Kemistry passed away. A seminal figure in the early evolution of drum & bass culture, Kemistry’s story is one that not only chronicles the powerful impact that one person can have on those around them, but also the story of the birth of our scene.
From her passionate embrace of breakbeat culture to her famed partnership with the equally legendary DJ Storm, Kemi is also often cited as the catalyst that would introduce Goldie to the burgeoning D&B sound, eventually paving the way for the founding of the Metalheadz and all that it has come to represent.
Having just launched a commemorative DJ Kemistry page on Facebook, DJ Storm is hoping to create a space where memories, photos, mixes, and straight up love for Kemi can live on as well as remind us of our collective history. In that spirit, Bassrush editor Chris Muniz was asked to dig through his personal archives to unearth the transcripts of a 2007 interview he conducted with Storm for the now-defunct Knowledge Mag (UK).
While the original article this interview was conducted for was focused on a collective that Storm was involved in at the time, the following excerpts—presented solely in DJ Storm’s voice—take us back to the early days of breakbeat hardcore and jungle, and allow us to not only commemorate the seventeenth year of Kemi’s passing, but reflect and realize just how deep these roots of drum & bass culture go.
I had been studying at the Oxford School of Radiography and got my first job at the Westminster Hospital in London. Kemi had been living up in Sheffield and had moved into a flat a few months before. I had nowhere to live and Kemi had a big room with two beds so we decided to share. Kemi and the people living in the house were all in to raving so it was hard living in a house like this not to be curious as the whole house was filled day and night with this new electronic music.
Kemi eased me in slowly, taking me to a few small raves in North London and then it just took off from there. I remember New Year’s Eve 1989, we were looking for a rave and after driving around for two hours we knew we weren’t getting in anywhere. Gutted, we stopped at a shop on the way home and this guy asked us what we were up to. We told him our story and he told us Biology and Genesis, two of the biggest raves at that time, had been closed down by the police so both organizations had decided to set up an illegal rave in the Panasonic warehouse in Slough, about 50 minutes from London. We could not believe our luck.
That night there was one DJ that stood out above the rest—his name was Grooverider. This was the night we knew this music was going to become our obsession. After that night we hunted down a place in London where we could find this Grooverider and it was [the weekly club night] Rage at Heaven. What a find.
The first night we went we queued up for three hours just to get in and get our membership. When we got in there was only one hour left but we didn’t care as Grooverider was on the decks. The vibe inside was electric and took our breath away, our faces hurting from smiling so hard. The following week we got there so early we were able to experience the whole night and discover Fabio, a DJ with a different story to tell. But together one after the other Grooverider and Fabio gave you it all. Rage at Heaven became our religion.
We were now seriously buying records and had discovered a shop called Music Power which alongside Black Market Records was the shop for our kind of music. All the big DJs of the time shopped there and the guys in there may have had a little chuckle at us in the beginning but when they saw how serious we were they gave us the utmost respect.
All through 1990 we raved and bought music, and on New Year’s Eve we went to a big rave in East London. Kemi and I, totally independent of each other, kept being drawn to the decks. This night our fascination got the better of us: what were these Technics things that were allowing the DJ to make the tracks come together? We were so consumed we couldn’t go and dance, we were frozen. When we came home we knew we wanted to become DJs. That night we decided to start a “deck fund” putting however much we could in until we had enough money for our system.
In 1991 Kemi was working in this shoe shop called Red or Dead and this guy called Goldie came in and asked her for a date. He had been living in Miami and had missed the emergence of all the music that was happening in the UK. Kemi explained our mission to him and so we took him to Rage and after his second visit he knew his own obsession was born.
I remember after a particularly wicked night out we had a dream: Goldie was going to make the music, the producer, we would play the music, and we would have a label and a club…a lifestyle. Goldie was such an unstoppable force he inspired us in so many ways to step up our game and so almost immediately we started to live the dream.
We came home one day to find a set of Technics and an amp which Goldie had purchased from DJ Randall; now all we had to do was get a mixer, some speakers and a pair of headphones. We didn’t have much of a clue and that first day we were all fighting to get to the decks, but after a few non-stop hours we seemed to be understanding what was going on.
A couple of weeks later Randall came to see how we were doing. To our embarrassment he had to point out it might be easier if we took off the rubber mats that come on the decks to protect the platter! I must admit we were wondering why the decks were so hard to push. (Laughs) Randall was not only the most amazing DJ but he was nurturing, giving us encouragement, although I do have to say the most important thing he ever did was to give us mixtapes. Inspirational!
After five months of having the decks Goldie got us a spot on pirate radio. There was a slot available from 6-9 on Sunday morning on a station called Touchdown FM. Meanwhile Goldie had gone to Iceland to graffiti a shop over there, ended up collaborating with a young Icelandic producer and came back with a four-track EP called Ajax Project.
Goldie had a thousand records pressed up and he made some cuttings out of potatoes. We got some ink and we labeled up the whole thousand. Goldie took them out there to record shops. This was the beginning, the dream was growing.
After a few months at Touchdown we got approached by another pirate station called Defection FM. The rule of the station was that you had to “defect” from another radio station. We were given a one-hour audition. It was nerve-racking but we got the slot—4-6 on a Sunday afternoon—and we took our MC, Goldie ,with us.
As Goldie became busier we had the MC from the station work with us, his name was MC Shabba. We remained with Defection for four years until they finally got closed down by the authorities. Being on Defection was invaluable; if you can mix in this kind of environment you can mix anywhere.
By this time Goldie had become involved with the Reinforced crew and introduced us so now we were receiving fat dubs from the crew. Reinforced were so cool and so talented, we were overwhelmed; this was our favorite record label at the time and now we were involved.
We started DJing more and more and Goldie was well on his way and his union with Reinforced was creating drum & bass which was way ahead of its time. By 1994, Goldie had started his own label [Metalheadz] that he initially created to pay homage to the people that had turned him onto D&B: Doc Scott, Peshay, J Majik, Dillinja, Wax Doctor, etc.
By 1995, Goldie got signed to London Records and had no time to concentrate running his label so he asked if Kemi and I would like to take care of it. The first release we had to deal with was a double release: “Your Sound” by J Majik and The Angels Fell EP by Dillinja. How lucky were we?
In August ’95, Sunday Sessions at the Blue Note began. We were given five weeks to make it work and boy did we. By the second week it was full by 7:30. There were so many doubters—“You will never make it work”—but when people said that to us it made us more determined to show them. We had such a belief in what we were doing and we were right. Blue Note was not just a night, it was an experience.
Now we were living the dream. Check out the back of Platinum Breakz—Goldie writes by our picture, “The triangle is complete.” We were DJs he was a producer, we had a label and a club.
By this time  we had done a couple of mix CDs and while in Miami we got introduced to a couple of guys from a very cool German label called !K7 who had been trying to track us down for two years. They asked us to do a mix CD and tour for them. We felt honored to do it. The tour of Germany we did was phenomenal. It was such a fantastic time for us, the CD was getting to so many people, we were projected to another level.
Then came the US tour, which was handled very well, but on that whole tour we kept feeling something really dark following us. When we were in Tampa we felt this force really strongly; it was physical. We started to talk about it and we thought it was concerning someone else. On the flight back I was sick all the way. I was so overwhelmed by the darkness surrounding me and this terrible feeling that it was making me physically ill. We had one night’s sleep and then we had a gig in Southampton. We were extremely tired but the promoter of the gig had been trying to book us for two years so we knew we couldn’t miss it.
On the way home the accident occurred.
We were all so devastated. Kemi was not just my friend, she was my soulmate. Whatever adversity we came up against we were able to work through together. We were totally dedicated to one goal: our love of DJing and spreading the word of drum & bass.
Grief is a strange thing and looking back, I think I was in shock for a long time without realizing it. It’s still hard for me to go back to that fateful night as the hardest thing for me is being able to reconcile that I couldn’t save her. My only true solace is being in the mix. Still to this day, it is the only place I feel one-hundred-percent happy and that she is just behind me, waiting to go on.