“Jungle schooled me” says Hugh Pescod – and he means that very literally. He began serious raving in his hometown of Bristol at the age of 13 (“I was tall”, he laughs), right at the height of the jungle explosion. He'd already been a bedroom DJ, teaching himself to mix on cheap turntables, and keen attendee at Bristol's legendary Ashton Court Festival from 11, and a brief diversion into grunge notwithstanding, once he got out into the thick of the rave it took him over completely. Read More...
“Jungle schooled me” says Hugh Pescod – and he means that very literally. He began serious raving in his hometown of Bristol at the age of 13 (“I was tall”, he laughs), right at the height of the jungle explosion. He’d already been a bedroom DJ, teaching himself to mix on cheap turntables, and keen attendee at Bristol’s legendary Ashton Court Festival from 11, and a brief diversion into grunge notwithstanding, once he got out into the thick of the rave it took him over completely.
“Jungle back then wasn’t like it became later,” he says; “it was still completely fresh, still full of new ideas, and – really important for me – the samples in it led me to all kinds of other culture: hip hop, reggae, horror films, and all the rest of it. The integration of so much history, and so much culture into that music was amazing for me.” By 14, he’d all but given up on school, and his entire life centred on the tunes he was hearing played by local legends like Roni Size and Krust in the clubs and warehouse raves – dancing to them, tracking them down, and increasingly making them.
He was fortunate enough to find a place on one of the earliest music technology further education courses in the country, in nearby Weston Supermare. Sensing his passion and focus, the college bent rules and coaxed Hugh through the bare minimum of GCSEs needed to legitimately stay on the course, and he proved their faith in him right by avidly taking on board every aspect of the study and sticking it out – the only teenager among a class of twenty-something’s.
By 1996, he had a brain packed with ideas and techniques and was ready to make music seriously – so took off for London where someone had “offered him a record deal”. This in fact consisted of sharing a 1-bedroom flat with a guy just out of Wormwood Scrubs and the landlord wanted him to engineer for his drum’n’bass label. “Those guys,” says Hugh “were jokers – in the best way, amazing to be around, but weren’t able to stay properly focused: trying to earn money, dole scheming, doing two or three jobs, and raising kids, so trying to run a label was last on the list.”
While he learned easily as much as he had at college personally and musically, this wasn’t sustainable. So when after 18 months he was still signing on, he returned to Bristol. This was the best thing he could have done, as a chance meeting with a big local DJ, heard his “Mystic Amen” track playing, and realised his talent. From that point, he was accepted into the Bristol drum’n’bass family, recorded and played as Clipz with Die, Roni, Krust, Suv and the rest and released on the legendary Full Cycle.
For many this would be the pinnacle of a career, and for Hugh it was great – for a while. “Of course I enjoyed myself but I knew all along that I’m not Roni Size, I’m not Grooverider, I can’t do what they do. When it just got to be routine, travelling to the other end of the country every weekend to earn a few quid, and the crowd just looking for the rewind, who all wanted the same sounds and same beat over and over, only to have a fight break out among the local MCs while I’m playing… well, I just thought ‘Fuck it. I’m not doing this any more.’”
So he stopped, dead. It wasn’t a matter of launching a side project, or branching out, as some producers do – for him drum’n’bass was “like a drug, something that just keeps you going back and back and back to it, so I had to stop completely.” Instead, he set about thinking how he could indulge his passions for R&B, house and garage, for music that was as high-tech and contemporary as jungle but could include song structures, vocals and varied tempos. Meanwhile, the dubstep/grime generation were throwing experiments around, “creating their own thing”, which he took as inspiration – particularly when the then 14-year-old Joker started coming into his studio to bounce ideas back and forth.
For a year, he “stopped earning money, turned my phone off, didn’t speak to anyone, and just created new sounds.” It wasn’t a bad year because in that time, he created “Stupid”, “MDMA” and “Feel So Good” – and Redlight was born. Looking at his success now, you’d be forgiven for guessing that there was a eureka moment, that he realised he’d hit his groove, but it was harder work than that. “None of the tunes were popular instantly,” he says; “some of them I played to people and crowds for months before they got it – then suddenly, BANG! And it is still that way, it still takes people a while to catch on, which is the way I like it, I don’t want to be obvious with anything. When people do get it, when you see a crowd in a state of total enjoyment of something new that they didn’t get before, it’s such a feeling.”
It’s that mixture of the need to be challenging and the desire to provoke “total enjoyment” that makes the Redlight project what it is. While niggling purists might question such a dramatic shift from drum’n’bass, it’s clear this is the true Hugh – the same raver who in his early teens was inspired by jungle’s eclectic sample sources as much as by its rave energy. Even when it becomes popular, there is a tightrope being walked between elements that everyone recognises and the mind-warping, high-tech edge and grounding in club culture. That’s why when ‘Get Out My Head’ charted he relished the opportunity to play in commercial clubs “where I could play 50 minutes of straight underground beats before dropping the song everyone knew.”
Aware of the pressure of following up successes, Hugh is well aware that the tightrope walk will get more difficult as the limelight gets brighter. “This is such an opportunity,” he says of signing to a major; “the chance to properly smash it on a commercial level, to have a major engine behind me to develop the things I’ve already been doing with fuck all money. The hardest thing will be to keep the continuity and undergroundness; incredibly hard, almost impossible… But I’m up for trying.”
None of this will hold him back – already he’s writing with some of the top songwriters in the industry, but still working on his beats with the discipline that his years of graft in the underground have instilled with him. From working for the most street level junglists to writing with Cathy Dennis, the whole of Hugh’s career to date has been a schooling – he has never stopped learning and changing – and every hard-learned lesson is going into every beat and melody he makes now. That is the kind of musical background that can’t be bought, and which means he will remain a huge force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.