‘All Crews’ – The Romanian Bootleg Edition

Debated whether or not to share this, but think the positives and the message outweigh the possibility of crossing a line in to bootleg thieving territory. As a local said about downloading music – “if we could afford to buy the vinyl, or even if the download prices were in proportion to the country, than we definitely would. But we can’t.”

Recently spent some time in Timisoara, and as I’ve mentioned before I was blown away by some of what’s happening there and particularly by the quality of the sound systems in clubs. Sound has been my biggest problem with venues of late and a big reason to not bother going to a gig. Such a waste that venues can have the best booker in the game, yet are part of the terrible quality of sound that’s become standard across London, Sydney, New York and I imagine most other major cities. Proper shame.

Back to Timisoara, it also surprised me that despite there not being a vinyl record store in the city there was still a vinyl DJ culture. It’s refined the selection. DJs picking up less plates but playing them all, shopping off their ears despite release dates. It’s taken out the urgency of checking the mail-outs every week and competing for the newest tracks and put the emphasis back on quality.

Jungle / drum n bass is (and apparently has been) the sound of the clubs, though DJs will play everything electronic with the energy and intensity meaning that jungle / dnb sits alongside hip hop, beats an dubstep among others. The selectors need to be going across the board with genres (not just bpms or sub genres) depending on the time of night and the crowd reaction. There’s a wonderful story of Villalobos headlining at Heaven (the biggest club in Timisoara) and being kicked off the decks because the owner didn’t like the music and thought he was ruining the party.

Out of all the quirks and unique stylings that have sprung up around their scene this was my favourite; a bound, black and white, facsimile paper version of All Crews: Journeys Through Jungle / Drum n Bass Culture. I should probably preface this with the fact that I’m a proud owner of a full legitimate copy, purchased from Sounds Of The Universe upon one of its re-releases. Timmy K had initially lent me his in an attempt at educating me upon the UK scene, and it was something I knew I needed.

If you’ve not checked All Crews it’s essential reading. It’s been called “the Drum n Bass Bible” by Bailey and heralded as one of the most important written contributions to the UK music scene. The original takes you up to about ’96-97, and is partially a handbook of how to get things done, part history of Jungle / Drum n Bass, but most importantly a snapshot of the time, told to perfection from all levels. It’s in depth storytelling from punters to DJs, from labels to distributors, flyer designers to promoters, back to security and outsiders from the media is executed beautifully. The author Brian Belle-Fortune published independently, and really created something special. He took his unique position of contacts and experience at the time, blessedly sharing them with anyone who can pick up the book.

It started with an ex-pat to Romania discussing State Of Bass, and with no original source copy chatting and waxing with some local junglists about a book called All Crews, and how it documented a specific scene they thrived on. Soon after, one of the three original heads involved found the pdfs available online. Instead of print it off at the work printer, or read it on an ipad, the character in question professionally bound it and created his own black and white copy, removing the barcode off the pdf before doing so.

In the spirit of sharing this trend grows, with about 12 copies in circulation. Not a penny has been made off of any of them, and the service is not advertised, but rather passed among DJs, producers and appreciative heads. Those who borrow then face the impossibility of getting an official one.

The vibe is this – these bootleg copies aren’t sold on streets, through Amazon or any outlet. The barcode has been removed to PREVENT anyone trying to sell it online as an official copy.

In the introduction to the second release (2005) – which included a revisit of 100 extra pages or so – Brian Belle-Fortune tells a story of the creation of the first All Crews. Leaving the manuscript lying about at a party to go to the toilet, he returned to find found four or five people jostling for position to read it. This is a similar situation to man spotting it on your bookshelf in Timisoara. I’d like to think Mr Belle-Fortune would be quietly chuffed about the role his book is playing in the Romanian city.

There’s something special in these copies; they’ve got personality and represent a very deep love for the music discussed within them. The owners of these illegitimate versions have recognised the importance of the physical copy of this book. With digital mags, online papers and kindles, they’ve definitely taken the hard route and put in the effort they feel the words inside it deserve.