The Early Days of Melbourne Hip Hop [IDEM Interview]

This is the first of many interviews that will be focusing on the early days of the Melbourne Hip Hop and Graffiti scene.

Jaycees Record Store in Prahran


John Idem has been involved in the Melbourne Hip Hop scene since the early 80’s. He started out collecting Hip Hop records in 1983 and was Djing around town by 1989. He was one of the founding members of The DMA Crew and later became part of the RFK posse, producing a number of their early releases including  “1992”  on Trem’s debut “Sheer Talent” and the Raise tape “Tha Essence”. These days he’s still actively involved in music and production as well as owning the record label “Jaycees Records” with his partner Cassandra. Read more below

1. Can you start by talking a bit about how you first became involved in the Melbourne Hip Hop scene and what influenced you to get into Hip Hop and start making music?

I got into hip hop music from listening to the radio. When I was 12 I used to just scroll through the radio trying to find music that I would like. I came across RRR radio on a Friday night once and heard hip hop for the first time, this is about 1982 and then you had video clips on TV of say “Break Machine’s – Street Dance” and then “Breakdance” the movie came out in the cinema. My brother and a friend Lee ( Reem ) who was my brothers friend as well, all used to like hip hop at the time and get into breakin, there were a few guys into breakin in our neighborhood back then . Me and Lee went to the Marble in the city back in 83, we used take the train into the city to meet up with other guys that were into hip hop and breakin and just hang out. That’s where I first meet Johnny Duel, Peril, Paris, Ransom and Gaz and the USA crew and all the old school back then.

2. When did you start collecting vinyl and where did you find records in the early days?

I started collecting records in 1983, first hip hop then I got into collecting original breaks, funk, jazz, soul etc in 1989. I found records at record fairs back then and record stores like Dixon’s were great back then too. I used to go to Camberwell Dixon’s and Blackburn Dixon’s, they were the best record shops back then. There was a shop in Caulfield that was good, a shop in Richmond that was good and Monee Ponds record exchange too. Down Frankston used to have about 4 record stores back then, I used to hit all those stores on a regular basis in the 90’s, I used to go digging every Saturday and sometimes Sunday with a backpack. During the 90’s I used to pick up loads of records to trade with fellow collectors all over the world, that’s how I got a lot of nice records on the cheap back then, from trading. This is before eBay mind you!

3. Did you collect tapes as well? Why vinyl?

No tapes. Just vinyl records always! Because I was a Dj back then, always was and always will be. I liked to cut up sounds, sample vinyl. You know, be a Dj.

4. Are there any hip hop records you remember finding that really had a big influence on you and why

I got into hip hop because I liked the music first and foremost then the rapping too, I suppose that’s why I liked soul funk and jazz . A lot of hip hop came from that.

5. Did you DJ for Mc’s in the early days or was it mainly playing DJ sets at Hip Hop nights?

In 1989 I started Djing for mc’s , cuttin records back and forth for rhymers. I remember doing a show at the Metro with a bunch of Mc’s, this is 1990, Seany B from the Statesmen , Madhat (who is “Ron B Me ” now, we are doing a new album together this year), Reason, Voitek (when he used to rap), Raph and his crew,  just a bunch of dudes. The show was off the hook, I was sweatin after that show, it was Mad! I was spinnin hip hop records at hip hop nights soon after that for a few years until i got into spinnin the funk and soul in 95.

6. When and how did you start finding out about breaks? Are there any records you remember finding early on that really fueled your passion for collecting breaks, beats and samples?

Just going out diggin and back then you could listen to jazz and soul records before buying in the shop so as soon as ya heard something good you would buy it.  Records were cheap back then in the stores. The Camberwell Market was good back then, mostly everything at the market was $1. You’d take punts for $1 , back then you would check the covers out and you would know that it would have breaks or good samples on it , that’s what I mainly bought soul , funk and jazz records for and then I started actually enjoying the tracks . Bob James – “Take me to the Mardi Gras ” isn’t just the break to Run DMC’s – “Peter Piper” it is actually a good piece of music.

7. How influential do you think the ultimate breaks and beats compilations were to Melbourne DJs and producers when it comes to sampling, making beats and searching for records with breaks?

Oh yeah they were dope, they got me into the obscure breaks and stuff back in 89, they basically got me into diggin really. I got all the originals that were used for those. It took me all the decade of the 90’s to get em all though!

8. When you first started making beats, what did you use to record and make beats?

In the early 90’s I had 2 turntables , the 808 drum machine and a really basic Roland keyboard sampler , it wasn’t until 1992 that I got a Roland w30 keyboard sampler. We recorded on a tascam 4 track I had. It was harder to make a decent track back then but you know ya had to make do with what ya could get.

ROLAND W-30 Sampler

9. You were part of the RFK posse with DJ Frenzie, Trem, Brad Stutt, Rob Nat and Raise. How did you guys all meet? When did you start producing music together? Did you DJ live with the crew?

I first met up with Frenzie who had met Trem and Raise , they were originally from Geelong. I also met Brad through Frenzie too. I met Rob Nat and Bob Balans through PBS and DJ Krisy. She had played a demo of theirs that they sent into her and I told Trem that I reckon these guys are really good and that they had potential and that we should all make tracks . By the mid 90’s I went off and did my funk thing and Djing a lot at clubs and stuff.  I went overseas in 1997 and was dealing a lot of records and trading stuff and was busy doin my thing and about that time  Trem and the guys went onto form Lyrical Commission. Good on em I knew they could do it , them guys are hell good rhymers!

10. You produced the track “1992” on Trem’s highly sought after debut release “Sheer Talent”. Do you remember much about the recording of this release?

Oh yeah. I did the track at my crib and played it to Trem , he liked it and it was supposed to go onto his debut album in the early 90’s.  I did some other tracks with him and produced some other instrumental tracks for him back then. I also did some tracks for Brad too but we never got around to recording them, they would have been dope …

11. You produced three tracks on Prowla’s first tape. How did that come about?

That was before I did Raise’s tape and around the same time me and Trem were working on our album . I have known Prowls for ages , since the early 90’s . I guess Prowls knew I had some dope beats . I did cuts for his first album too and now he is a better scratcher and cutter than me, ha-ha. He used to watch me scratch and cut and study me cutting and ask me how did I do that etc. He learnt quick and he’s a dope Dj now too.

12. You also worked on the Raise tape? Did you see the price that has sold for recently on eBay?

Yeah I saw that. Trem told me about it and I saw it finish at that price . Well you know its a timeless piece . All of Prowla’s old tapes go for that and Trem’s EP’s go for that too.

13. People may not realize that you used to write back in the day… You were one of the original members of the infamous DMA Crew. How did you first meet Reem and what are your memories of the early days of DMA?

Ah man , those days were unbelievable when you think about , I could tell you lots of stories. I love those guys man, we was all kids. Yeah me and Reem started DMA and we got Tame and New in the crew but you know Tame and New took it to new Lengths , forget about it man ” They are kings “. Me and Tame used to get up together back in them days, it was like 84 I think , then we got New in the crew , Brink , Mission , Plot , Nab and the rest of the crew, then basically I finished in 1987! I was getting into music in a big way and found my calling there . But you know to me Graf is part of hip hop and I guess I did all 4 elements in my youth.

14. You started doing your own radio show “Live and direct” on 3PBS in 1989. What sort of music did you play and what other shows do you remember being on radio around that time?

I was spinnin hip hop for about 6 hours every Saturday night for about 2 years from 1989 to1991, I was never alone in the studio, I always had mates hangin around rappin freestyles. I still got all them old tapes. I used to have writers calling in saying they were doin some burners and window downs while having their headphones on listening. Word.  At the time DJ C had a hip hop show and I used to follow his show. This is before Krisy’s “Steppin To The A.M”. I left due to the management changing and they thought my show was not what they wanted , I was 17 years old in 1989 and the show went on for about 2 years, man they didn’t know a thing! Management has changed so much over the years at Pbs, Krisy went onto doin DJ C’s show and then changed the name to Steppin to the AM , that was a dope show and I used to go into the studio frequently when Krisy was on too. There’s pictures floating around on the net.

15. When did you first start playing Soul-Funk as a DJ and what was the Funk scene like at that time?

I started spinning soul and funk in the mid 90’s. There wasn’t much of a scene, just a few of us dj’s spinnin records in bars and clubs.

16. You had your own Funk night at the Cherry Bar for many years called “Ghetto Funk” specializing in deep funk 45’s and dance floor soul-funk. Can you talk a bit about the night, who else played and how long it ran for?

It was first called ” Deep Funk ” named after the Keb Darge night in London. I changed the name a year later to ” Ghetto Funk “. We had guests from Adelaide and Sydney and that’s where ” The Bamboos ” played their first gig. I am pretty sure it was their first gig .. It was at the first birthday of the Ghetto Funk night.

17. In 1998 you got back into radio again, starting the 3PBS show “Stick It In Your Earhole”. On the show you played Original Soul-funk & Jazz which was not easy to find on radio at the time. What can you tell us about the show?

Well like I said earlier, management changed a lot at 3PBS FM and yes I went back onto Radio because at the time the management were very cool and they asked me if I wanted to do a soul and funk show and I said yes. Then 3 years later management changed again, I stuck around a while longer to make it 5 years but management and I didn’t see eye to eye so I left. Management has changed again now once again and the station is all cool with me, I go in there now and again. I also pop in and do shows at 3RRR.

18. You’ve release a series of Breaks & Beat albums over the years and also a number of albums you’ve produced for yourself and others. Can you break them down for us?


19. You’re about to release a new album with Xidus Pain from the UK. Where & when will it be available? How did you guys connect and what style can we expect to hear on the album?

I am doing an album with UK MC Xidus Pain. It will be available at all good record stores that stock hip hop and on the net of course. Its finished and should be out in a few months. I connected with him through another fellow producer Dr Shrink who I did the “Diggaz for Life ” album with. He hooked me up with Xidus Pain. XP rhymed over one of my beats on diggaz and sent it through, I liked it and said to him lets do a full new album. Its a proper hip hop album, you’ll like it!

20. You started your own record label in 2007 called “Jaycees Records” with your wife Cassandra (DJ Ard Q) that specializes in releasing Australia Soul-Funk. So far you’ve released a number of 45’s by “Birdwave, Deep Street Soul and Natural Rhythm”. How has the response been in Australia and Internationally? What do you have planned for the label in the future?

Yeah we put 6 funk 45’s out on Jaycees. The first 2 releases were by Deep Street Soul. Ago the drummer played us some stuff he was playing on with his funk band and we liked it, Cassandra and I said we would put it out on our label. We’ve sent them all over the world, Japan, Europe, U.S.  and from that Adrian Gibson at Freestyle Records got hold of them and liked the group enough to sign them to the U.K. label. We are happy for them and hope all the best for them. We have put 4 singles out by Birdwave . They are a band originally from Adelaide who I met through a friend Damian in the 90’s. I asked them to do a 45 back then, and they would have been the first Aussie band to put a proper funk 45 out but it didn’t happen but once Jaycees was established in 2007 the timing was right .

The Natural rhythm release on Jaycees is actually Birdwave under a different name. Birdwave moved to Elcho Island in the Northern Territory. They lived here in Melbourne for a year or so but they love living on Elcho Island. The Birdwave album will be released this year, its been awhile coming, but most definitely worth the wait! It will be Birdwave’s 1st LP and Jaycees 1st LP release also, and of course 100% Australian made and manufactured raw funk.


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