Fusion and The Sampler

My object is my very first sampler. When I say my very first sampler, I tried to use so many different bits of equipment because I'm a hip hop fan, and hip hop borrows from the past and the present to make the future. And I wanted to create my sound, so that I could be a known producer, making great music. But I couldn't afford a sampler, I couldn't find a sampler. And I used everything I could find: cassette decks, turn tables, looping things back and forth. And then eventually, a friend of a friend was selling some equipment and he said, 'If you hurry, you can buy this turn tables – this Technics 1210s, and I've got a sampler'. By the time he said that, I just grabbed my keys, and I'm gone, I'm out the door, racing to find out whether I can get it. And I get to his house and I've got enough money to buy the mixer, these two turn tables and this sampler. And I look at the sampler and it's this little diddy box and it's called an AKAI S20. I'd never seen one like it in my life, I picked it up and it was so light. It felt like it was powered by a hamster, and I thought, this isn't what I thought it would be, but it's dead cheap. So, I took it home, and literally it's so simple to use, I just figured it out pretty quickly. But it had one problem, it didn't seem to mesh with anything that could enable me to loop and sample things in a way that I wanted to, the sound was really raw: 8 or 16 bit. You pressed the button and it played the sound and you assigned it to a pad and you kept on pressing the button to trigger the sample, but it never felt like I could make a song on it.

But at the time I was working for a newspaper called Black Echoes and they had this amazing collection of vinyls, but mainly CDs, because all the journalists used to get CDs posted them. So, if you were into Northern Soul, an envelope would arrive and a Nothern Soul CD – you know, Best Dance Floor Fillers From Wigan Complilation II. Or if you're into Reggae, there's some John Holt, or there would be the latest R+B group, Jodeci. But people would just tend to discard the CDs that they didn't want and they would just be littering the office, you know, like bits of paper in a normal office would. And I used to just pick up the CDs no-one wanted and I'd take them home and I'd sample them. And I picked up this one CD, Northern Soul music, and I liked it. And there was a song on there, and I chopped up some of the horn stabs on this AKAI S20 and I just started pressing (mimics the sounds) and I had this riff going, that just sounded like exactly what I wanted to hear, that was in my head, coming out of this sampler. And I knew I couldn't finish the song on it, but I knew I wanted to finish the song. And I eventually went on to take this idea to my friend's cousin. I was sick of visiting other people's studios because you always felt like you would never ever take off, and you had these great songs in your head at the time and you couldn't finish them. But my friend said yeah, come and meet my cousin, 'Do I have to?... Alright cool let's go'.

I went to his house and I played him what I had made so far, on his cassette deck, in his living room, with this big hi-fi stack system. And he just listened for a while and he said, 'Yeah, I like it. Come back next week. Let's start.' I never looked back. And one of the first songs I did was a song I had made on the S20, but I did it properly in the big studio. And it became a song called 'The Groundbreaker' and it did what it said on the tin, it broke ground. It just became that anthem for people who wanted to hear fresh music, grew up on hip hop, knew garage was having it's time and they wanted to hear something a bit faster, a bit more fun. A little bit more optimistic. So I released it with a rapper called Fallacy and we landed a record deal, after shopping around to two or three lables, we shot a video, we did festivals, we got played on MTV and everyone went mad for the record. And it all came from me chopping up the first few stabs on the AKAI S20.

It's not perfect and I never really use it anymore, but if it wasn't for this, I wouldn't have made my first breakthrough record. So I treasure it, and I think if I do get back into making music, or when I do get back, I'll probably start again with this, because that's where that thrill of making something for nothing starts.

Alain Clapham, known to everyone as Fusion, is the MD of Industry In The Streets and the founder of IITSPIRATION, a creative hub, where creativity is the currency.