The warm glow of valves, the smell of hot electronics, the quiet hum of a transformer: these were the things that fascinated Rob from a very early age, and were in truth what started him with his lifelong interest in electronics. Couple this with a love of music, and it is not surprising that the idea of becoming a DJ caught hold of him pretty early on in life.
Back then, though, DJ equipment was expensive, comparatively rare, and certainly well beyond the pocket of your average teenager, and though he did manage to “get behind the decks” a few times at the local youth disco’s, it seemed that this part of his dreaming would end up unfulfilled.
It was a while later when he was at college as part of a four-year apprenticeship in electronics that Rob realised that he, being a lowly and low-paid apprentice, could still not afford to buy his own DJ gear, but driven by his ambition and his newly acquired electronics knowledge, he decided to design and build his own audio mixing unit and console. His first efforts on the console used the old BSR belt driven turntables, which although looked good with their “S” shaped arms, lacked such desirable features as a variable speed control to match the beats – these machines were found on only the top of the range gear – so Rob had to learn and improvise manually to mix and match the speed and pitch. It didn’t help matters that most of the dance music back then relied on the drummer’s skill to keep tempo, and the human error factor of the musicians was another mixing factor that also had to be taken into account!
Driven on by music from the likes of Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summers (Ah! Those oldies but goldies!)”Once upon a time” and “On the Radio” mixed albums which were breaking new ground in the late ‘70’s, Rob kept practising his mixing skills and recording his own mixes onto cassette tapes and playing them back, always seeking perfection. Before long, friends were asking him for these tapes, and soon they were being recommended to the many trendy “Fun Pubs” that were opening up in Britain at that time, with the result that many of his dance mix tapes were played during opening hours.
Soon after this Rob received an offer to try a mid-week gig at night in a large pub to see if it would increase trade. As seems to be usual in this type of “break”, the venue was miles away from the nearest town, had no decks or sound system, so Rob had to cart in all his own equipment. The pub concerned had a capacity for about four hundred people, but somehow neglected to advertise the “special” night, so Rob spent his time playing to just twenty-two people! Word did soon spread, though, and it was only a short time before the place was packed out on the night he was playing. That one night eventually spread to three nights a week, and Rob’s disco equipment grew along with it, as did the size of his van to carry it all!
Perhaps one unexpected off-shoot from Rob’s DJ’ing success was his equipment itself: self-built, of good technical design and high quality, other DJ’s became interested in owning the same gear, so it made sense to start a small production run. The gears’ popularity grew exponentially, so that by 1984 Rob was in a position to give up his day job and run his electronics business as well as being a DJ by night. Over the years, Rob has worked in many venues and clubs in the South of England, the manufacturing side of his life became very demanding, and his Dj’ing time correspondingly dropped during the early to mid ‘90’s. He did have some consolation, however: as his work involved the manufacturing of the very high powered amplifiers which are not only the heart but essential to any decent sound system, he was involved in many Raves and Promotional Nights, enjoying himself both as a sound engineer and an “on looking DJ”. This did not take away his desire to “play out”, and it was not too long before he was back in front of the crowds DJ’ing again. This time mixing not only the 12” vinyl, but also the now popular CD’s with the very versatile CD players that are on the market.
As technology made rapid advances in the 90’s, Rob first used the Sony mini-disk players to record his mixes, but then rapidly moved to the more powerful and versatile Pentium computers to record and burn his mixes onto CD’s. It was at this point that Rob started using the computers to experiment with re-editing songs, utilising advanced software and then loading them onto CD’s to try out in a set, but it was never taken seriously until he was playing Euphoric music at a new residency in club: the music quickly became popular, and Rob was being repeatedly asked “Where do you get the music from?” and “Is it available to us?” as most of it was on 12-inch promo white labels. Being generous by nature, Rob did give away quite a number of his own mix CD’s, and word soon got around with demand from a lot of clubbers offering full price or even more for them, much to Rob’s surprise. However, this was not an area Rob wanted to get involved in.
As perhaps could be expected, these CD’s found their way onto the net for anyone to download, but what happened next did take Rob entirely by surprise: people from all over the world were downloading his mixes, and the Internet had become a world-window for his talent. One such eighty minute mix, a full vocal trance set “The Vocal Sessions” is a good reflection of the big vocal trance that was being played by Rob at that time. That particular mix became more and more popular until at one time it reached the position of the seventh most downloaded trance mix in the world, and yet was not available commercially! It was also THE most downloaded vocal trance mix at that time as well.
With his reputation increasing, especially for the vocal trance sets, Rob was eventually approached by an independent record label, and he was asked to come up with some ideas for marketing a vocal trance CD. The result was a two-CD mix, an idea for the front cover and a title of “The Angels of Trance”, which were duly put forward and well received. However, it was never followed through for (at the time) unknown reasons: later it was found out that the independent label had gone under. Disappointing as this was for Rob, it did not stop him from mixing further first class albums as the “Quest into Ecstasy” and “Sunrise in Paradise” soon followed, both titles being double CD’s for the followers of vocal trance. With the internet interest still growing at a rapid rate, so too is Rob’s reputation around the world, along with the positive feedback and respect that go with it. To his surprise, a lot of people around the world are going into shops asking for his CD’s!
With this in mind, it was perhaps no surprise that Rob decided to realise his long-time ambition to produce some tracks of his own which would be free of all the politics and copyright restrictions that otherwise can often occur. After researching into production software, Rob has now built a studio of his own, with a Mac computer system that’s hosting Emagic logic professional music production software as its main core. Learning to use such a vast software programme from scratch with himself not only as the producer but also the technician behind the sound has not been easy and has required a lot of patience to get over some of the frustration, but progress is being made: the ideas are there along with Rob’s terrific rare imagination and his drive to succeed.
"Crystal Clouds Top Tens" airs on Discover Trance Radio every 2nd Saturday at 19:00 GMT / 20:00 CET