Cut 2 Kill • DJ Fame • 35th Anniversary

With the 35th anniversary of Cut 2 Kill’s debut LP, which drop is considered to be spring 1988, we retraced the steps to a time that predates the birth of the iconic electronic punks. Back then, a talented young kid from Essex called Liam Howlett, armed with a passion for music and a humble turntable set-up, found himself becoming a part of a rap crew he had been watching for some time. In this article, we delve into the beginnings of Cut 2 Kill, unearthing their captivating story, and brightening it up with rare details from one of the crew members, which he revealed exclusively for All Souvenirs.
Severe & Dj Fame 1988 Inside circle of Gasworks. Shot by The Essex Rockerz:
“Check those bad boys on their feet: Task Force in white and black combo’s!
I think I bought Liams’ off him knowing they had a hole in the heel…”

While the allure of simplistic acid music played on pirate radio back then failed to captivate Howlett’s imagination during his gradual transition to the world of rave, his passion for music had already taken root in the form of various styles, with hip-hop reigning as one of his earliest infatuations. Fuelled by this passion, a pivotal moment arrived when Liam, on the final day of his holidays, abandoned his post at a local building site and ventured into a nearby music shop. There, he promptly emptied his hard-earned savings on a pair of modest turntables, marking the beginning of an intensive daily ritual.

Liam Howlett for Mojo (June 2015): I heard Grandmaster Flash ‘On The Wheels Of Steel’ at my friend’s house. “Fucking hell, a mix of other peoples’ songs? I reckon I could do that.” So I started doing pause-button mixing on my hi-fi. By ’86 I was listening to Mike Allen’s Capital Rap Show – I’m responding to music that’s got some kind of rowdiness to it and I knew very early on what I liked. When I was probably 15 I got a Technics turntable, a mixer, and a shitty secondary deck. I was learning how to mix then, proper. I met these dudes from Chelmsford, and that’s how Cut 2 Kill was formed. We were having fun, man, doing graffiti, going to see Westwood. I’d never give those times up.

Each evening, after returning from school, Liam would rush upstairs and lose himself for hours, honing his skills on the turntables. It was during this period of tireless practice that he found the courage to approach Cut 2 Kill (also spelt Cut2Kill, Cut To Kill or just C2K), a local hip-hop outfit whose performances had caught his attention. Impressed by his dedication and talent, the crew welcomed Liam as their second DJ.

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Liam Howlett’s ‘Fame’ graffiti tag in the middle. (via Flickr)

Aside from DJ Fame (Liam Howlett himself), DJ 4Tune, and MC Vision, the Cut 2 Kill members included M.A.One (beatbox), and MC T. Despite these young talented kids still being in school during the early days, they managed to secure regular gigs at smaller local venues like the Chelmsford YMCA. Their photocopied flyers, uniquely designed for each show, attracted reasonable crowds of 150 people or more. While the band’s output may not have been prolific, the joy of performing live resonated deeply with Liam.

In that era, two distinct groups coexisted: the renowned rap crew Cut 2 Kill and a collective of talented graffiti artists known as ERZ (Essex Rockerz) — they were all mates and spent countless hours together between 1988 and 1993. They all were fascinated by music and just enjoyed the time together being around Liam and 4Tune, the whole energy of music and art shared the same DNA the guys believed, so whilst ERZ were doing the art on the walls, it was fuelled by the sounds of hip hop from that era. The ERZ and Cut 2 Kill crews frequently intersected, with members actively involved in each other’s lives and endeavors.

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Liam Howlett’s prowess behind the decks was showcased in 1987 when he achieved a remarkable feat, clinching both the first and third prizes in a prestigious radio mixing competition, hosted by Mike Allen on Capital Radio Show. It was a coveted platform for aspiring DJs and a pinnacle of London’s hip-hop flavour from late 1984 to July 1987. Liam fondly recalls his dedicated listenership to Mike Allen’s show, attesting to its impact on his hip-hop education.

Liam Howlett for Martin James: I was always listening to Mike Allen’s hip-hop show — every weekend!

Motivated by the mix competition hosted on the show, Liam submitted a mixtape under the alias DJ Fame, believing it to be of high quality. However, upon revisiting the tape a week later, his self-critical nature emerged. The same confident youngster who knew he had the potential to win the competition suddenly wrestled with self-doubt, revealing the dual sides of Liam’s personality.

Severe, Proud2, Matt, Dj Fame. Stalingrad, Paris, 1989.
Shot by The Essex Rockerz: On the left out of shot was the famous ‘Sens’ wall from Spraycan Art and the worst hotel in the world. At the time there was a huge Bando dub on the wall, but most of the wall had been removed. Get the shot quick, cos in this neighbourhood, “Stick up kids is out to tax”

Driven by his desire for perfection, Liam decided to create another entry, this time under a different name, DJ Juice. Pushing the boundaries and unleashing his scratching skills, the two tapes stood miles apart in terms of creativity and technique. Several weeks later, while eagerly listening to Mike Allen’s show, Liam was taken aback by the announcement of the winners. First place was awarded to DJ Fame, and the third was followed by his other DJ alias, DJ Juice — with Mike Allen extending his respects to Braintree. The surprising triumph of securing both first and third positions left Liam astonished, yet he never divulged the truth to the show’s host. This early episode in Liam Howlett’s career not only showcased his exceptional talent and dedication but also hinted at the perfectionism that would come to define his illustrious musical journey.

The Essex Rockerz via Flickr: DJ Fame was partner to DJ 4Tune in Cut 2 Kill and was at an amazing standard compared to a lot of other DJ’s at this time. His ‘Star Wars into Spoonie G’ mix from 88 was legendary as was his ‘Hijack’ mix in the same year. He entered DMC the next year, and we had him down to walk it! I heard he became quite noisy in later years. And as to DJ’s… 4Tune & Fame were not to be trifled with on the decks! To this day, their ‘Hard Rhymer’ track is still one of the tuffest tracks ever, not the remixed version though.

As the group graduated from school, their musical aspirations began to take on a more serious tone. Leveraging his A-level qualification in Graphic Design, Liam secured a job at Metropolitan, one of the many free magazines circulating in London. It was here that he struck up a friendship with the art director, regaling him with tales of Cut 2 Kill’s activities. One fateful day, Liam received a surprising proposition when the director offered to manage the band and invest £4000 in an album recording session and production schedule. Eagerly seizing the opportunity, the four friends found themselves confined to a local studio, diligently recording and cutting approximately a dozen tracks.

Cut 2 Kill 8-track demotape playlist. Source: Mark McDonald Soundcloud (currently inactive)

While being deep and true sample diggers almost at the height of old-school hip-hop culture, 4tune and Liam used quite a lot of memorable beats and pieces. Check out the full Cut 2 Kill samples list:

Liam Howlett for Martin James: We basically spent the whole four grand on the recording – we got ripped off by Chas Stevens, the guy who was doing it. We basically spent a day recording it. We ended up with about twelve tracks or something but didn’t save enough cash to do the artwork and promotion. It was stupid, but we were young. We sent out a few white labels to hip-hop labels, but I just knew nothing would come out of it.

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Despite the disappointing setback with the studio recording session, the band took the initiative to send out fifty copies of the album to various record companies, agents, and industry figures in hopes of attracting interest. However, their efforts yielded no serious responses. Although Liam was disappointed and disapproved of Stevens’ actions, their paths would cross again in the future: Stevens would be credited as a co-producer on crucial recordings in Liam’s subsequent career phase.

Chaz Stevens is actually credited on Charly and some other early releases of The Prodigy.

In early 1989, the original lineup of Cut 2 Kill disbanded, with DJ Fame deciding to shift his focus towards the burgeoning rave and breakbeat scene, ultimately forming The Prodigy. This marked a pivotal moment in Liam’s trajectory, as the lackluster response to the band’s album coincided with a series of snubs from the underground hip-hop scene, culminating in a violent incident at the Swiss Cottage Community Centre.

The Essex Rockerz via Flickr: Not the actual jam [on the poster above], but the same venue a couple of years later… Picture the scene.
Noddy does a P.A. at Saks in Southend, he’s like a hero that night to all us suburban ‘try’ boys… Six ft tall and dressed in the largest red puffa you’ve ever seen. He’s cool, and invites us to a jam the next week at the venue above… Great! Everybody thinks it would be a top night so Severe, Demane, Matt, M.A. One and Liam make the journey. As they walk into the community centre, Noddy sees them (he’s on the mic) and shouts “Yo, it’s the Southend Bomberz!”… I mean, at least get the name right… The whole of the jam turn around, and you guessed it… Stick up kids is out to tax! Punches thrown, returned, people kicked, picked up and lifted out of the premises and warned not to step ‘in’ again. On that night it was a black thing, and we didn’t understand… simple as that.
[It was] A famous turning point, Liam proclaiming “That’s it, I’m done with the whole fucking hip hop thing”. He went raving, we went writing.

Consequently, Liam’s first experience of the rave scene arrived during a vulnerable period when his enthusiasm for hip-hop was waning rapidly. Eventually, his passion for hip-hop was temporarily extinguished when the other members of Cut 2 Kill signed a record deal with Tam Tam Records, completely excluding him from the arrangement. Surprisingly, Liam remained relatively unperturbed by this turn of events. In fact, it provided him with the long-desired opportunity to focus on writing his own material.

One of the Cut 2 Kill original demotapes after signing Tam Tam Records

Upon discovering this news, Liam definitively turned his back on the hip-hop scene and redirected his attention toward The Barn, the very place where the vibrant world of rave fully revealed itself to him. This pivotal shift in musical direction laid the foundation for Liam’s future endeavors and set the stage for the emergence of a groundbreaking prodigious sound that would revolutionize the electronic music landscape.

After Liam Howlett’s departure from Cut 2 Kill, DJ 4Tune and MC Vision continued their journey under the Cut 2 Kill name. Meanwhile, M.A.One pursued his passion for graffiti as a member of the Essex Rockerz from 88 onwards. By the way, The Essex Rockerz crew still remains active on Facebook to this day, be sure to give them a follow.

While many of the demos that Liam Howlett contributed to never saw an official release, there was one exception: Listen to the Basstone. Released in early 1990 through Tam Tam Records, the single featured both a rap and instrumental version of the main tune, along with the B-side Talkin Facts — which has nothing to do with Howlett actually.

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DJ Fame & Rade in front of ‘Controllers’ by UKMA 1988. Shot by The Essex Rockerz:
“For the early spring of 1988, the ‘Ingatestone Bridge’ was the place to paint. Looking back, I think because so few knew about it and the risk factor, we pretty much knew pieces would stay untouched. 1 side UKMA, the other 2BadArtz. In this shot, Braintree get down with the action.”

Liam Howlett for Martin James: I knew I’d written the tracks but I also knew it was over anyway. I wanted to be in bands with people I respected. The MC’s were wack anyway. I did the tape of ‘Basstone’ as an instrumental – it was just a bad hip house rip-off – but they took the tune, and took the money. I’m friends with 4Tune still. We took him to a couple of gigs to DJ for us. Now if I see him I just laugh. He’s just a lazy cunt. He was my best friend in Cut 2 Kill but in the end I just laugh at the Cut 2 Kill thing. I was just happy to get out of it.

It’s funny to note that despite Liam’s not-so-pretty termination of his collaboration with Cut 2 Kill, Howlett continued to collaborate with their friends’ hangout in one way or another. Because their Essex crew was closely intertwined with both hip-hop and graffiti people, The Prodigy repeatedly turned to artists for help. Among others, Mark McDonald painted the stage backdrop for the band’s 1992 Australian tour, and in 1998, another friendly duo of graffiti artists, including Jim Murray and Jason Brashill, created one more notable stage backdrop, which was also used as a t-shirt print in The Prodigy’s official store back then. By the way, Jim Murray was also featured on Maxim‘s first solo LP, Hell’s Kitchen, and he is the author of the famous painting on the inside sleeve of the album

25×50 foot canvas backdrop for The Prodigy (1998-1999). Completed in spraypaint by Jim Murray and Jason Brashill.
Captured by STEAM156 via Flickr.

As Liam Howlett’s path diverged from Cut 2 Kill, his musical journey was about to take an electrifying turn, setting the stage for the birth of The Prodigy and a seismic impact on the world of electronic music…

Headmasters: SPLIT
Additional thanks to: Sixshot, Mark McDonald, Martin Roach, Martin James
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