zondag 22 juli 2012

 Thanx for the great interview Guan....it was worth the long ass wait at the trainstation!   ;-)

ALL STAR FRESH; breaking barriers and building bridges

When Guan Elmzoon a.k.a. All Star Fresh (ASF) tries to recall his first meaningful encounter with music he draws the conclusion that his memories of music go as far back as his memories period. Descendent from a Carribean tribe, he remembers his grandmother being a very  important traditional singer amongst her people. You could say the big beat drum was genetically forced upon ASF already as a very young kid.
At the age of 6 ASF moved to Holland, more specifically Amsterdam. When reached the age of 10 it was his elder brother that started getting imported black music on vinyl. A broad range of music from crooners to Betty Wright to Casiopea influenced a young ASF greatly. Also the upcoming 12" vinyl format in the late seventies had it's impact, ASF's brother at this point already owned two pitch controlled turntables. It actually was a Studio 54 compilation album that made ASF realize the music just kept on going and he got fascinated with this aspect of mixing records. Even before "Rapper's Delight" swooped the world of it's feet ASF had already heard disco tracks with rap vocals. At the age of 13 he already was a dj.
The North of Amsterdam had a very vibrant youth culture in the very early eighties, ASF became part of what later would be called hip hop culture. It was basically just a street phenomenon with no name yet; electric boogie, roller-skating, tagging up walls and all that fresh good stuff. When electric boogie was still mostly unheard of and unseen, it was ASF who had obtained some very early video footage from the US showing dancers. These moves and routines got copies of course and led to a victory in one of the earliest local electric boogie competitions held in The Netherlands in 1982. ASF participated and with amongst others Mr. Solo, one of Holland's b-boy pioneers without a doubt. Parallel to the dancing, ASF was already dj'ing in youthcentres etc. His mixing skills got noticed and led to his own fridaynight radio show on a pirate (illegal) radio station called "Radio Disco Action" in Amsterdam. His dj name by the way wasn't yet ASF but "Whiz Kid". It was the 1983 "Globe & Whiz Kid" track "Play that beat Mr. DJ" that lead to a necessary name change into ASF. The name All Star Fresh in the beginning was kind of meant as a boast claiming he was a star at every element within hip hop.
In 1984 ASF even had his first foreign dancing gigs when promoter Guilly Koster showcased some bands of his in Ibiza and dancers tagged allong to liven' up the shows. Amongst this group were Mr. Solo, Dillon Lewis and "Holland's first rapper" Martijn Roos, who were all part of the at that time very sucsessful "Alex & The City Crew".

ASF dancing in Ibiza (1984)

Around 1985 ASF changed radio stations and became a dj at pirate radio station "Satellite Radio" where he acquired a large following of listeners with his show. This show broadcasted on saturday afternoon and ASF used to run into the streets after his show to check the clothingshops etc. if they were tuned in on the "Satellite Radio" because that was were the public was on saturday afternoon. In 1986 he had a show called "Freakmixclub" which was probably the first hip hop radio show in Holland. In the years to come ASF's show format with lots of black music and hosting (with rapping) in the English language gained popularity and he worked for (pirate) radio stations like "Satellite Empire", "W.A.P.S.", "A.Q.S." and "New Dance Radio".His work as a club dj was less romantic....more than once ASF was expected to act like a living jukebox and play whatever the audience wanted. Trick of the trade was to still manage to smuggle in your own music styles and get away with it. When the tourist crowd left the club around 02.00 hours and the real partygoers remained, ASF slipped in some of the cooler stuff in the mix. Nonetheless it unfortunately wasn't an exception that ASF got told to spin less black music or no black music at all! A few times this even led to hem getting fired.
A place where ASF could really get his rocks of as a dj was at the so called B.O.C. (Buitenveldertse Ontmoetings Centrum), despite this being just a local neighbourhoodcentre they had the best sound system in Amsterdam. Accordingly to ASF it was amazing how many huge clubs and discotheques at that time at lousy sound systems. The sunday afternoons at the B.O.C. became infamous, the city had to create more public transport just to handle the crowd. Next to the B.O.C. at this time (1986) he was also dj-ing at the "Be-Bop" club (which in 1989 would turn into the infamous "iT"), a break he got thanks to Alex Van Oostrom (the later Dutch DMC pres.), and clubs "De Schakel" and "Bios". Finally there were several spots where ASF could play the latest black music. He more and more established his name as the dj with the latest en freshest records that hardly got any play on radio airwaves or other clubs and he became responsible for breaking in the first underground rap tracks in Holland like for example "Go see the doctor" by Kool Moe Dee and "Only buggin'" by Whistle.
Especially the crowd at the B.O.C. had lots of aspiring hip hop talent amongst it...like early dancers and the first rappers. One of the rappers that made an impression on ASF was a guy called MC Miker G. Together with a friend called BC Boy who had one of the first Akai samplers they joined up. A few little shows were done as "The Invisible Two". ASF had a brief first tv (VPRO) moment together with MC Miker G when being interviewed in a record shop. They were in the proces of developing a demo at BC Boy's home when MC Miker G got hooked up with DJ Sven and that was that when it comes to the collaboration with ASF.

ASF and MC Miker G seen with the guys from Whistle (1986)

In 1987 there was the first track released on vinyl. It was basically a producer/concept driven track that needed a few rappers laying down some lyrics. ASF and friend MC Geronimo (Armand Corneille, the later MC Phryme) worked along with this gimmick track that also earned them a performance on the famous Dutch "Countdown" music show on tv. The group was called QB-II and the track got called "Papa Joe". As said this was a gimmick track and not very street-orientated but every opportunity to end up on wax and get that foot between the industrydoor got seized! 1988 brought a few other outings on vinyl; he did a remix for the track "Pick up the pieces" by B.E.W.A.R.E. (Tony Scott & DJ Fix) that found it's way to a b-side, plus ASF represented with a track on the first Dutch rap compilation "Rhythm & Rhyme" which he had done with LTH and Rudeboy Remmington.
Thanx to his mixing skills ASF was asked to write a series of mixing instructions that got published in Dutch music magazine "Disco Dance" in 1987 ("Mixing with All Star Fresh from A to Z").

ASF's first release (1987)

Not only was ASF a successful club dj in The Netherlands and abroad (Mallorca etc.), he also kept trying to increase his turntable skills on a technical note. Quickmixing, scratching etc., ofcourse influenced by Grandmaster Flash. Dutch radio company AVRO had established a national dj-battle which ASF joined on request by host Robin Albers. In 1986 and 1987 he was runner up (against his own opinion!) but he became the winner of the 1988 edition which was held at the Locomotion discotheque in Zoetermeer (runner up that year was the later famous club dj Michel De Heij). Being the Dutch champion earned ASF the privilege to attend the world dj championships held by DMC in the London Royal Albert Hall. Here ASF got blown away with the whole industry being represented...bumping into artists like James Brown, Alexander O'Neill, Babyface etc. Nevertheless he kept his composure and battled himself to a third place in the competition. Being a fan of Philidelphia DJ's ASF was hyped that Cash Money was actually in the competition as the USA champion. Another side of the industry showed it's ugly head as well....it became pretty clear early on that nobody but Cash Money was winning this competition. Were all contenders had to compete using the mixers DMC gave em, and a format set up of turntables...it was Cash Money that competed with an alternative set up and his own gear basically. ASF as already indicated ended up third in the competition but definitely wrote dj-battle history by being the first dj to actually diss another dj during his routine. He aimed his arrows at Cash Money and cut up the sentence "cash-money-mother-fucker" in his set. Were many people lost their head over it, Cash Money himself appreciated it because he saw it from a dj-battling perspective instead of some personal beef. He replied as a true champ by cutting a LL Cool J sentence up in his routine: "Calling-me-a-sucker-boy-you're-pushing-a-broom". ASF and Cash Money saw eye to eye and became good friends....one could say they changed the DMC competition in 1988 from a lot of basic clean mixing to more turntable trickery.

ASF video showing his final set at the DMC World Championships (1988)
Skip to 06.30 mins to get to the Cash Money battle diss.

ASF's performance at the DMC got noticed by rap industry insider Dave Funkenklein (r.i.p.). He invited ASF to join the dj-battles at the 1988 New Music Seminar which was a great honor cause let's face it...a competition with many of the USA best dj's was way more fierce than at the so-called DMC World Championships. ASF gathered some pocket money and travelled of to hip hop's lion's den, being New York. He had found a place to stay at Rudeboy Remmington's mother who lived just out New York. Funkenklein though, soon got ASF a place to crash closer to the nucleus of events about to happen.
ASF made history in the Big Apple by being the first non-American to fly into the finals of The World Supremacy Battle of DJs. He gained the highly respected second place of this prestigious DJ contest only losing to DJ Scratch of EPMD fame. This done with a set that was basically freestyled all the way cause there wasn't any preparation time. He beat prestigious dj's like Dee Nasty from France, Cutmaster Swift from England and Tat Money from Philidelphia in the process. ASF noticed that some dj's used the same records and tricks in the preliminaries as in the finale battles. He understood he had to come fresh with new stuff in the finale that was hosted by Biz Markie and Flavor Flave, and he did. Using a test press of De La Soul's "Plug tuning" track with some cool turntable tricks he really got the crowd's appreciation. But again it became clear that the industry had it's own thoughts on who'd become the champion....and it wasn't no guy from Europe! During his set ASF quickly found out his equipment was sabotaged but in the end he didn't care as he was on a pink cloud anyway during the whole event. The impression that ASF made that year at the NMS, resulted in many invitations to perform with world known artists like Public Enemy, Stetsasonic, Ice T, 45King and Ultramagnetic MCs....hell...he was even asked by Melle Mel to join a new Furious Five! As ASF states it's a crazy experience when your music heroes actually think big of you and want to work with them. It was a crying shame that he wasn't able to seize the (he hadn't forseen his stay being so long!) day and use the many opportunities right then and there... Postponing his leave for months, ASF took upon himself crazy little jobs en hustles to prolong his stay. At one point, being flat broke for days, ASF had to jet back to Amsterdam to pick up on his daily earnings. To be back in the small minded Dutch musicscene was a giant step back from battleing Tat Money, and sitting in Russel Simmon's offce a few months earlier This presented a cold shower. There had been some media coverage in The Netherlands, mainly a big article in prestigious musicmagazine "Oor" by journalist Marcel Wouter who happenend to be present at the NMS and ASF was asked on some small tv-shows to tell his tale but nothing that really examplified the impact of the trip on Dutch hip hop culture. Truth of the matter was that Holland got put on the map in NY and rap artists started to travel to Holland and other European countries because they realized there was a vibrant scene/market across the ocean. Big Daddy Kane, Ultramagnetic MC's, De La Soul etc. all came in 1988 and 1989 and used ASF as their hook up/point of contact.
ASF travelled to the NMS again in 1989 with Rudeboy Remmington and MC Demes to enhance these ties.

 ASF with champion DJ Scratch at the NMS (1988)

With the hype that surrounded him and his contacts within DMC, ASF started his own recordlabel in 1988 called "Fresh Merchandise". In 1988 he dropped his first 12" on it called "Listen to the rhythm (of the drum and the bass" which was an instrumental cut and paste gem. Very much in style with Mantronix ASF and partner BC Boy showed their love for electronical hip hop with lots of edits etc. in 1989 another 12" followed with a track recorded with MC Demes (later: Deams) called "(This is) Dope" and on the b-side a fantastic dj cut called "Who's the man" that used parts of his recorded live mixing. Clearly the Dutch market was too small to be really succesfull and crossing over to foreign sales was simply a bridge to far. The label therefore folded after these 2 releases.

ASF with MC Demes performing "(This is) Dope" on a Dutch tv-show

ASF used his Fresh Merchandise experience, and of course his obtained knowledge in New York for a new to be project in 1989. Influenced by Soul II Soul, who where a loose knit group assembled around one major figure, he contemplated his master plan that would eventually become King Bee. He layed down his plans at various record companies, at the end it was company Torso/Boudisque that had some faith and gave the green light to spread some white label pressing around of a hip house track that ASF recorded at BC Boy's home. When a license request came in from a German label called Low Spirit Recs. they knew they were holding something good and the track "Party people in the house" hit the German and English market with succes. ASF kept developing his King Bee concept to the extreme detail...clothing, image, voices etc.  Handpicked rappers (like Phryme from the "Papa Joe" days), singers (his little niece Michele) and dancers (Vince Charming, Kenny T) all contributed to ASF's concept. Most were unorthodox picks as they all were still fairly unknown. ASF wanted club orientated tracks but also some harder rap tracks to keep in touch with the more b-boy fan base. Therefore he made a cut heavily based on the track "My part of town" by the Tuff Crew and called it "Back by dope demand". It was his intention to re-create one of his favourite tracks and possibly make it even better, an intention often misunderstood by others till this day. The track was planned as a b-side for the clubtrack "Feel the flow" and spread around as such through a white label pressing. ASF has this crazy memory of standing in famous Amsterdam club The Roxy and hearing DJ Dimitri playing the white label b-side "Back by dope demand". The crowd lost it and the b-side won.... "Back by dope demand" got released by Torso/Boudisque as an a-side 12" and became a HUGE international hit. Funniest thing was that nobody knew who King Bee was, not even in Holland at that point in time. Everybody thought it was a USA release. Imagine the looks on people's faces when King Bee had it's first live performance at the Metropool club in Zaandam....everybody was like: "Yoooo it's THEM guys!".

 First tv appearance by King Bee doing their first release.

Tuff Crew didn't quite appreciate the similarity between their track and "Back by dope demand". The crew was already disbanded but rapper Ice Dog still recorded a diss record aimed at King Bee called "Shootin' deuces". But as ASF claims with a smile; "if people are doing diss records it means you are selling your record!".
The rest of the music industry wasn't quite as bothered with the whole copyright discussion and Madonna's agency even booked King Bee as their show opener for the Rotterdam concerts. ASF had to think fast and hard to create a show...as he had only one big hit at this point and little financial resources. The thought of performing for 50.000 people was intoxicating. Luckily the shows went well and King Bee was asked to join Madonna for the entire European tour but in the end things simply didn't work out as such. "Back by dope demand" made ASF the first black artist in Holland to achieve the prestigious Dutch "Edison" award.

Thriving on success, ASF founded a recordlabel once again together with Wilfred Hunsel. This label "Killa Bee Records" was aimed at releasing ASF's side projects. In 1991 and 1992 a few club tracks got released showcasing Dutch rappers like MC Fixxit, Ragoo and D-Rock. At the same time he also founded the label "Repo Records" to release non-commercial, experimental stuff like the 1992 "Di-Jazztion" e.p.. Both labels were short-lived.

King Bee didn't suffer from the sophomore jinx and came hard with the next single "Must bee the music" that had singer Michele in an important role. Again a big international hit. Simultaneously the album "Royal jelly" dropped in 1990 and reached great sales figures. What eventually would be the last single from the album, the track "Cold slammin'" had none less then Kool Keith and Ced Gee doing raps on it. Also with raps by Rudeboy Remmington this was clearly a track for the hardcore rap crowd. Suprisingly though a remix done by DJ Automatic reached the top 20 in The Netherlands so there was a definite broad public appeal as well.

King Bee video "Must bee the music" (1990)

When King Bee was at it's heights, ASF had another project hitting the streets (busy "bee" huh?). With Rudeboy Remmington amongst others he released the track "Up the par" using the name Dom.I.No. This track goes in the books as one of the freshest rap tracks ever coming out of Holland imo. Many more Dom.I.No tracks got recorded but never saw the light of day. They did however open shows for Public Enemy in The Netherlands, an experience on it's own.
Also King Bee featured on a track done by the producers of Snap in Germany. The track has kind of a deep house feel to it and has vocals by Phryme. It came out as "Let's get busy" by Clubland Feat. King Bee. It reached no. 1 at the USA Billboard dance list.

Despite of all the success little cracks appeared in the foundation of King Bee. ASF got notice of Torso/Boudisque terminating a big release deal with Virgin in the USA. Also King Bee were hardly getting paid as their signed contract was pretty shady, next to that gold records were never handed out when the according sales figures got reached so there wasn't exactly a lot of love. Due to all kinds of music industry politics it would take 2 years for another King Bee release. ASF changed record companies to BMG and picked some other artists for his King Bee concept like rappers Spyte and Parole. Phryme had left to focus on more hip house tracks with group Sonic Surfers. Unfortunately King Bee's name had some what faded and company  BMG did little to nothing with pr. The releases "Here we go again" and "Get ready" (with a killer disstrack aimed back at Tuff Crew rapper Ice Dog) faded into obscurity. Releases as King Bee in 1995 and 1998 shared the same faith.

The 1993 King Bee line-up;
f.l.t.r. BC Boy, ASF, Parole, Spyte

The mid '90's showed ASF that hip hop in Holland had come to a point where he didn't feel to comfortable. The party aspect was gone en replaced by a thuggish image. The parties where he spinned weren't like the ones in the golden era of hip hop any more. Already proven to be a musical centipede, ASF slowly moved away from hip hop and focused on clubmusic. He choose not to be in front of the limelight anymore for various reasons. Behind the screen he had great success with tracks like "Move on baby" and "U and me" by Italian group Capella (the videos show people that had nothing to do with the tracks). ASF was asked to bring in Dutch rapper MC Fixxit, whom he managed,  to do the vocals. The Capella tracks sold 2.4 million copies worldwide. Other highly successful tracks where ASF had production involvement with were "It's gonna be all right" by Deepzone, "My love" by Kellee, "You're my inspiration" by Ty Holden and some tracks by "His Royal Freshness". I could write another few pages on ASF's successes in this department but this being an old school hip hop blog, I won't.

When asked for what goals he still has, ASF shows he still has the greatest love for hip hop. His remaining wish would be a project done with old school rap heroes as that would be a definite crown on his career.

During the interview ASF struck me as a guy who should get way more props within hip hop in Holland and Dutch music history period! As one of the few black dj's in the eighties and early nineties he had to encounter a lot of hassle. Nevertheless his ongoing drive to push the boundaries of music and always staying "fresh" makes him without a doubt the biggest hip hop pioneer this country ever knew.

At this point in time ASF keeps rocking parties worldwide, keeps producing tracks and keeps the airwaves bumpin' with great music with his radio shows "Classic Material" and "The Freakmix Show" on fridays and saturdays on Jamm FM. Give the man some love and tune in!