We Chat to Fabio & Grooverider Ahead of Their Rock City Show in January With the Outlook Orchestra

Words: Phil Taylor
Monday 04 December 2023
reading time: min, words

Fabio & Grooverider - godfathers of drum and bass - are bringing their live show with The Outlook Orchestra to Rock City in the New Year. Phil Taylor caught up with Fabio, aka Fitzroy Heslop, to discuss the changes he has witnessed on the scene, what Nottingham means to them, and what audiences can expect at their show...

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“It’s not like we sit down and think, oh my God we are legends!”

So pronounces Fabio, one half of the immortal drum and bass duo, Fabio & Grooverider. The two have built long and successful careers as DJs, producers and generally heroes of the scene, and are often thought of as synonymous with the birth and development of the genre.

Despite Fabio’s initial modesty, though, he’s happy to accept that the label given to him and ‘Groove’ is here to stay. The two have clearly taken on the responsibility that comes with it in their strides, never letting it get in the way of their enjoyment of producing music.

“We don’t ever feel weighed down with being known as godfathers and stuff like that,” says Fabio. “The godfather tag has kind of always been there but it’s more prevalent now. And on one level, you’ve got to own it. That kind of stuff is normally reserved for artists that are dead!”

“It was since we did Rage, and we did a bit of a retrospect looking back at our careers and bringing it into now, that we really sat down and thought, ‘Yeah, we’ve done loads!’” he adds. 

Described by some as “the ground zero of jungle”, Rage was a weekly party night at London’s Heaven, which ran from 1988 to 1991 (ish) and - as well as being massive fun, from what I’ve heard - allowed the DJs to refine and develop what was to become a distinct sub-genre of electronic dance music. The pair has been DJing for several years before that, on a more underground scene, doing it for the passion. Rage took the music - and Fabio & Grooverider to a different level. Although Rage would eventually come to an end, the music never did, and the DJs moved on to Speed and Metalheadz, which themselves would allow jungle and drum and bass to thrive, and reach a wider audience.

In 2019, the duo released the 30 Years of Rage four-part compilation, celebrating - and resurrecting for a brand new set of listeners - those iconic sounds.

“We had to go back and then almost retrace our steps. It’s the first time we actually thought about Rage. It really was kind of an eye-opener,” Fabio explains. “You’ve got to remember it’s non-stop – since ‘88 I can’t ever remember a time where we’ve ever really had to stop and look around and take in what we’re doing.”

Between 1994 and 1997, Fabio & Grooverider had a show on Kiss FM, moving to Radio 1 in 1998/99 where they stayed until 2012. And that’s on top of their recording and producing careers, and playing almost continually in clubs.

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“It’s been a constant having to keep on top of your game, which takes a lot as you’re getting older. It’s not easy to do that when some of the DJs you’re playing with – you could be their grandfather,” Fabio laughs.

“You’re constantly on the road,” he continues, “so you don’t even realise you’re getting old. And also you can’t have a headspace where you think you’re old because it’s a young person’s scene now.”

With a career spanning so many decades of tech development - mobile phones looked like bricks when Fabio & Grooverider started out - the pair have seen huge and significant changes in the way DJs work and relate to their fans. That has been both positive and negative, says Fabio. 

“The social media aspect has been great - now you can promote yourself a lot more readily than you could in the past. People now have a kind of insight into your life and who you are; now, the mystery’s gone,” he explains. “I remember when I was growing up, one of the good things, looking back, was you didn’t know anything about the artists that you loved - so they had this superhero kind of vibe going on. I was into funk and soul, so a lot of my heroes were from America and you just knew nothing about them - nothing. You’d get the odd interview once every two years and that was it. But now, people can see what you eat for dinner, they can see what you do every single day. So people feel like they know you.”

The explosion of tech, the internet, and particularly social media, have also impacted the way DJs and other artists find fame – and how quickly they can get there.

“You can now become a big DJ through having a big following. Now you’re seeing the rise of the influencer DJ: the guy out there that may be not as talented as someone who’s tried to come through the ranks, playing at small clubs with terrible soundsystems,” says Fabio. 

“So I feel for the person - male or female - that doesn’t want to do social media, or isn’t tech savvy, and just wants to come through the hard way and the right way, I think: by doing your homework and coming through the system without being fast-tracked.” 

Fabio remembers noticing this turning point, and getting on board with it. 

“About six years ago Micky Finn [the British DJ and producer] said to me, ‘You know Fab, promoters are now booking DJs based on how many followers they have - make sure you’ve got your numbers up!’” he says. “I thought he was exaggerating, but that was the start of it, and now it’s true!”

In January, Fabio & Grooverider will bring their live show, with The Outlook Orchestra, to Nottingham for the first time. But Fabio has a long history with - and love for - the city.

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“I used to play the Marcus Garvey in Nottingham, a club called The Bomb, a night called Stealth for Detonate,” he says, his voice now laced with passion. “I’ve got a real history with Nottingham, and have played here every year of my career, since about 2000 anyway.”

“I think it’s one of those unsung cities,” he continues. “It’s a very interesting city and it’s always got a vibe – always. I can’t remember playing a bad night there: the Nottingham crowds tend to really have it, and they’re educated - my kind of crowd.”

The upcoming show offers something a bit different: a tour through the best bits of the history of drum and bass, performed by a live orchestra. 

“If you want to hear drum and bass played live, come and check us,” Fabio says. “Hearing the orchestra you get a completely different buzz. Having musicians play it - there’s something very organic and natural about doing it live, and it works.”

“I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. If you’re a DnB head, and even if you’re not! Rock City, it’s a great venue, it's an iconic venue and I’m genuinely looking forward to it.”

Fabio & Grooverider and The Outlook Orchestra play Rock City on 20 January 2024 and tickets are available here


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