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Monday, 26 May 2008
It's official. Calypso's awful.

But don't take my word for it. Let DJ Mex from the UK's hip-hop doyens Black Grass shimmy under the limbo-stick on our behalf.

'A friend put me on to some nice calypso a few years back and I was all like 'I'm getting calypso records, I'm going to go crazy over calypso records',' he says. 'But then I found that there's some really bad calypso out there, there really is. Plus it sounds crap when you say, 'I've got some good calypso'. People just laugh at you.

'So I might make a calypso record for the next one.'

To fans of Black Grass, a few steel drums and dreadlocks in the mix would come as no surprise. He and his mate Carl Faure have been producing their own eclectic fusion of hip-hop, jazz, soul and anything else you care to name for over 20 years, gathering a swag of awards and admirers in the process. Mex has seen them come, seen them go and seen them die in shootouts over crack cocaine so you just know he's got a lot of interest to say about the music he's given his life to.

So it's a little surprising to learn that Mex credits the early-'90s rave scene for getting his own music off to a great start. 'Having the influences of the rave culture and hardcore, early drum 'n bass and very early breakbeat stuff all around you was great,' he says. 'England's quite a melting-pot when it comes to styles and as soon as there's one style, it'll be crossed with every other style you can think of within a year, six months.

'You'd go to a rave, and it wouldn't be a 'rave' rave, you'd hear all sorts of things.'

According to Mex, this explosion of bass, breaks and barbituates opened up 'a massive field of just- craziness, really,' for the budding turntable maestro.

'It coincided with me getting into the roots of hip-hop as well as finding all the old breaks and stuff- There was no escaping and it just seeped into everything. It all got into your brain somehow.'

So, like any enterprising musician, he got in a mate - Carl Faure - to 'share the blame' and started producing his own work. The rest, as they say, is available under 'B' in your local record store and has been for nearly two decades.

But with hip-hop today being roundly hijacked by thuggish-looking types dripping jewels, how can the culture survive the ravages of cocaine and record moguls- 'I think with anything, a scene will get to a stage then disappear back underground and survive quite happily,' he says. 'The element artform side of hip-hop is being sidestepped at the moment - it's a culture and that culture is really getting squashed by the materialistic side of things. True, hip-hop as it is is thriving, but it wasn't that long ago people were doing honest hip-hop and selling a lot of units.'

But you can tell Mex isn't too worried. The beats live on after the scene has crumbled and Black Grass' beats have stood the test of time. But unlike many old-skool DJs, Mex is all for the use of technology to make sounds - just don't tell him LPs are crap.

'I'll pick a vinyl record over anything and I always will,' he says. 'Anyone who says records sound shit need their ears cleaning - I can't imagine anything that's going to touch it for sound quality.

'MP3's sound crap - they really do - but I'll readily admit to sampling an MP3 if I can make it sound like it didn't come from an MP3.'

In fact, for a vinyl junkie Mex seems pretty happy with Serato which lets DJs play MP3s just like records. But when the bones get a bit creaky, boxes of records can get a bit old. 'Serato's fantastic for travelling. You can take all your records with you with no baggage allowance headaches - it's great. Purists turn their noses up at it but the purists are the ones sitting at home who haven't left the house because they have to carry two crates<