Deaf ducks and dancefloors: the bizarre origins of Felon5

    After taking some photos alongside Camden canal, I join Jobe, Charley and Rayner – the trio behind Felon5 – to find a quiet pub. Simply Red’s ‘Money’s Too Tight To Mention’ plays over the speakers, which Jobe is quick to pick up on – setting the tone for our conversation nicely. Twelve Budvars, two hours and countless bizarre anecdotes later, and I’ve got more than enough content for a comprehensive exposé on these colourful characters.

    The vibrant mashup known as Felon5 resulted from an eclectic amalgamation of previous musical excursions, including a 1,200-person funk and soul festival in Bracknell, DJing and running parties in Goa and Melbourne, and even a short-lived indie band known as Manuscript.

    The talented trio cut their teeth in the music events space in their home city of Bracknell, starting up a funk and soul event in their local pub garden. “The thing that we loved about it was that, when we first made it, all our parents were into that music; it was this amazing mixture of generations. All our friends and all the older crews were on the dance floor together enjoying themselves. I do think it was a good learning curve, we learnt how to organise a large party. That was huge though and we don’t run anything close to that scale now.

    Their effortless chemistry leads me to assume that these three have been best friends for a long time. The reality is even more special. “I was actually at Rayner’s birth,” Jobe says. “Our parents used to go out raving together. They would have house parties and the three of us got to spend hours together playing video games and listening to music.

    It’s incredible to think Felon5 is a product of the previous generation of dance music, growing up on funk and soul as their parents and siblings danced together. Charley recounts: “One year, for Christmas, Jobe got this sick retro 80s boombox. We used to love watching breakdancing, and we used to love funk and soul at that time. I remember one weekend we had a group of eight of us with this boombox in a Sainsbury’s trolley.”

    Music is the defining feature of more than their careers and bromance; it has also played an integral role in their romantic relationships. Jobe recounts the story of when he and his girlfriend were looking for a place to live during a year abroad in Australia. “We met these two girls in a club where I was DJing and they had a spare room. We didn’t know them but they were so sound, and so we moved in. Two weeks later and Charley was coming out to join me – I just knew they were going to be into one another, I knew it. So he came out and of course they were – they’re still together now. And when we came home, I thought Rayner was gonna do the same with the other one, and he did!” Listening to the trio recount these sorts of stories, it’s clear that music is more than just an interest, more the foundation that their most important relationships have grown from.

    Intrigued by the group’s offbeat name, I ask about its origin. “We used to love the names of 80s hip-hop crews: Infamous 4, Hot Mix 5, things like that. We also love the alliteration of it. That New York, hip-hop, breakdance-y style. You don’t really have a lot of people having that type of name. Felon, on the other hand, is a bit odd, because none of us have actually broken any laws.

    The names they come up with for their projects share the same eccentric tone. At the risk of breaking the mystique surrounding them, I ask them about ‘Reserved for the Moustache Man’. They each immediately burst into laughter, Rayner going on to explain: “So I was walking back from the station one day and I popped into a charity shop. There was this midi keyboard in there and we needed one as ours was broken. It’s a big 64 key one, and it was only £20, but I was just coming back from the gym so I didn’t have any cash on me. I tell the guy that I’m just gonna pop home and get some money, and ask if he can hold it for me.

    At that time I had a moustache. I went back later and asked about the keyboard, but the guy I had spoken to had left and there was another staff member. ‘I guess you’re the moustache man then,’ he said, handing the keyboard complete with a sticker warning: “RESERVED FOR GUY WITH COOL MOUSTACHE.

    Another track I was interested to learn the origins of was ‘Potter’s Pinball’. Jobe takes this one: “I’ve got loads of samples of different pinball machine sounds and basically created the track from that. The Potter part is from the Dumbledoor reference in our LOWMONEYMUSICLOVE EP. There’s also a reference to Stan Lee there as he used to love alliteration in his character names: Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Steven Strange. Same as Felon5!

    The collective have released mixes for Ba Dum Tish and LOWMONEYMUSICLOVE, and both have been exceptionally well received. I wondered how long these playlists had been in the making for. “Years,” was Jobe’s answer. “When we know we’ve got a mix coming up, a lot of the time you’ll start setting aside certain tracks for that.

    Because there are three of us, sometimes our first selection of tracks may not work well together,” Charley continues. “We really care about the flow of the playlist. It’s weird because when we play out we never have that problem, where there are tracks that don’t feel like they flow together. When we are playing out on a system, it can be more forgiving though.

    On the other hand, a mix is going to be listened to in different environments,” Jobe explains, “so you kinda have to make it fit that mould. We also spend a lot of time tying the mixes together. Not a lot of people treat a mix like a production. We make the intros, the outros… we approach it like it’s a full-on listening experience, tied together nicely. One of my teachers used to tell me that simply fading out at the end of a track or mix is a cop-out, but if you can do something a bit more interesting with it, it goes a long way. It stamps your style and flavour on it.” It’s an approach that is evident in their work: you’ll notice the English 1970/80s TV show intro in one mix, and another featuring Boris Johnson’s voice put through a vocoder to achieve an immersive listening experience.

    All of their mixes are accompanied by a sea of hungry ID requests filling up the comments, but only a handful remain correctly identified. “We don’t actually set out to do that [create mixes with unknown tunes],” Jobe points out.

    There’s such a big stigma around it,” explains Charley. “Music should be about sharing. A lot of the time, people ask for an ID and we’ll give it to them. If you’re at a gig and someone asks ‘what’s that?’, I know from my own experiences that it’s nice to speak to a DJ and especially if they share that track with you. It makes you feel good.

    That’s why we all got into it – it’s about sharing. It’s why we’re all on the dance floor, because we love it,” Charley finishes.

    The Felon5 lads joined Giammarco Orsini, Laidlaw, Ethel and Admnti at Infuse’s latest Fabric event for their first outing with the Fuse sub label. “We’ve been asked a couple of times but the timing was never quite right,” says Jobe. “This lineup was perfect. Gia is a friend. We know Laidlaw and Admnti too. Their studio is actually right next to ours, it’s a nice little music hub.

    Sometimes you end up not producing for an hour because you’re just chatting, showing each other your beats. It goes back to what we were saying about enjoying that nice community vibe and the sharing of music.

    The next event you can catch the three brothers sharing the decks will be for their Bizarre Trax 3rd Birthday celebration at The Pickle Factory on Friday 13th May!

    Last year was an absolutely huge 12 months for Bizarre Trax, and I was interested in what goals and priorities the lads were focused on for 2022. “Get that fucking album out,” Rayner exclaimed, to the laughter and agreement of the others. The album is an eight-track, double-sided vinyl coming out on LOWMONEYMUSICLOVE. “It’s nice because we don’t just make dance music. There’s a couple of funk and soul tracks, some stuff that’s a bit more slow, down tempo-y, a real mixture of BPMs. It shows a different side to us from what we’ve put out before.

    Gig-wise, we’ll be playing outside of London a lot more this year,” Jobe tells me. With conversations with promoters and labels to play in locations such as Leeds, Liverpool, Valencia and Kiev, 2022 is set to be a very exciting year for the team.

    The Bizarre Trax collective is actually made up of five best friends. The three Felon5 members, B.Love (who also provides the zany graphics) and their manager/PR aficionado, Zac, who’s based out in Berlin. “It’s actually been the perfect storm. We’ve created this brand with our best mates. Everyone’s just fallen into their roles and it’s really working,” Charley explains. It’s fascinating to get an inside look at a vibrant music collective that is absolutely brimming with community love for the scene. “We’re so lucky doing this the way we are, because on your own it would be so lonely. It’s important to have friends around you, pushing you up.

    All three of the lads share the same wacky sense of humour that materialises in different forms throughout their label, whether that’s through their track names or, as Charley goes on to elaborate, replying to Soundcloud messages as if they’re three broke girls. “The reason we never made an Instagram is because we wanted Felon5 to be this faceless project with the focus on the music. We loved to take people on these funny little journeys. For example, when we used to get messages on Soundcloud we would reply as different characters. One time I pretended we were these three girls who lived in a flat together and hadn’t replied for ages because we had run out of electricity. Every time we’d create a new random story. We would normally look where the person messaging was from and sign off the message in their language; if the guy was from Berlin we’d end the message with ‘from FelonFünf’.

    When you have three childhood best friends DJing together, not only do you get an unbeatable chemistry and musical synchronisation but also a rare opportunity for brutal honesty. “We did a party at Star Lane once and one of our friends turned up who happened to be hosting a boat afters,” explains Charley. “He had a free slot so we agreed to play on the boat. Our friends brought a load of Buckfast, and we were necking these bottles whilst we waited for the taxi. I blacked out and don’t remember getting to the boat. All three of us are playing on the boat at this point and I’m so pickled. I don’t remember playing at all. But the guys told me that every time a song was about to drop I would take the wrong USB out and the music would turn off. I did it twice, and after the third time they both just said: ‘Right, off.’” Charley pairs his confession with a smile before continuing: “These two can say anything to me and I’m not going to be offended, something that might be overlooked with other collectives or duos. These DJs who’ve been playing together for a few years, they probably can’t turn around to each other and say, ‘that’s fucking shit’. Whereas we are that brutal to each other. When we’re producing as well. It’s all for the greater good of the group.

    To get an idea of what they hope to achieve as a threesome, you need only look to their heroes. “If you look at the way Apollonia do it, that’s what we’re trying to do. They’re respected individually but they come together to be something more. Same with RPR. It’s refreshing to me. You go and see RPR and they’re each so different, the contrast is really cool. Pedro plays a bit more melodic, then Rhadoo plays something techy, then Raresh just smashes it. They’ve set a blueprint that we’re trying to follow. We’re inspired by other trios and, growing up, they were the ones we listened to. It’s the same when we’re producing. We all make good stuff on our own, but when we do it together we make stuff that none of us could make alone. We push it a little bit further,” Charley explains carefully .

    I comment that Felon5 don’t often grace their Bizarre Trax parties with performances from themselves. “We don’t want to saturate our sound,” says Rayner. “As much as we love the Felon project, it’s also nice to play on our own. We each produce music individually. We have our own separate sounds.

    Whilst speaking with these three music lovers, the conversation jumps from one bizarre story to the next as they each smoothly take turns recalling different parts of the tale – it’s hard to keep track. One particular adventure took them high into the Slovenian mountains. “So I got a call from our friend Tim, who’s part of the LUCKISON crew, and he was like: ‘We’re gonna buy your flights to come out here and party with us up in the mountains.’ We didn’t want them to pay for us, so in the spur of the moment Charley and I just bought them,” recalls Jobe affectionately. “‘Fuck it, let’s go,’ we said, and we went out there and had the best time.

    That trip really influenced that LUCKISON EP. We went to a party on the Friday at K4 where Onur Özer was playing all night. After the club we got a bus that took us an hour’s drive into the mountains. We actually had to walk the last mile in our T-shirts! At the top there’s snow everywhere, and we’re at a ski lodge that they’ve completely booked out. Onur Özer ended up playing there for 15 more hours – we even went on the decks, it was mental. At certain points there were skiers walking into the lodge with their skis on whilst Onur Özer was still playing!

    “It was a very special weekend, and we left feeling really inspired. We had our minds blown. They have this really unusual sound – a sound we had never heard before. We had the most beautiful time there and met a lot of amazing people. It’s actually where we first met Markus Sommer too. The Slovenians really looked after us – we didn’t pay for a thing.

    I asked the trio what they thought about elitism and snobbery within the industry. “Since lockdown we’ve seen a lot more mixing. It’s better for the scene, and what’s the point of doing this if we’re not all trying to better it? We love the music, we love the party. It’s important that you don’t look at it like it’s a competition, we should all just be having good fun together,” Charley tells me.

    “That’s one thing we noticed about going to other scenes. When we went to Slovenia it was all love on the dance floor. It was just completely different. There’s no judgement, it’s just pure love,” Jobe continues.

    The Felon project is a union built on experiences the boys fell into around the globe. Rayner and Jobe tell me about some time they spent travelling across India. “On the way to Goa, our final destination, we were trying to connect with some clubs so that we could play. Within two weeks we were playing, and the promoter loved us. We ended up playing a residency at the only club on the beach. Every Tuesday, we would play all day from 11am to 8pm and the pay we’d get would cover all our rent and food for the week. We actually spent a lot of time at this particular restaurant to dig tunes using their wi-fi. Every so often you’d be eating your food and a monkey would jump onto the table. It was a beautiful place, it had little stray puppies running around. The owner had this deaf, dumb and blind duck that could only walk sideways. It was like a crab duck. It was a beautiful white duck that he bathed everyday. We turned up one morning and a cow had given birth to a calf inside the restaurant!

    The group are also a sentimental bunch, with a deep, expansive knowledge and love for the scene. Rayner is writing a book of memoirs about each gig that they play. “I’ve been inspired by the books Stolen Amps & Dynamite and Long Relationships: My Incredible Journey From Unknown DJ to Small-time DJ. There’s always funny things that happen at our gigs; I’m not much of a writer, but it’s nice to record these little stories.

    One story they couldn’t wait to share involved a canal and their first London booking together. Rayner recounts the tale with the biggest smile on his face. “We turn up and the hosts were fucking brilliant; the moment we got there the party was rammed, boat was completely rammo, great crowd, they were the best hosts. We turned up and the first thing the promoter said to us was, ‘Where’s the other two of you? We thought there were five of you so we’ve got all this booze for you!’

    That’s the real reason we’re called Felon5 – bigger drinks rider,” Jobe snipes, earning a laugh from the others.

    So Charley is on first,” Rayner continues. “He plays a tune and then says he needs to go and use the toilets. It was one of those boats where you need to get off and piss in the bushes. Jobe and I are mixing for like ten minutes and Charley still isn’t back. Then the promoter comes up to us and says: ‘One of your lot just fell in the fucking river!’

    “At this point we’re thinking it’s one of our mates that came down to support us. Next minute Charley rocks up and he’s absolutely soaked from his hips down. Luckily one of our mates had a spare pair of shorts and sliders for some reason, so Charley just carried on DJing wearing that.

    Eager to set the story straight, Charley takes over. “So I was waiting to get off the boat, as there’s a queue of people to get on. It’s my turn and the bouncer kinda pushes me a bit saying ‘go go go’, and I just took a step and dropped right off the plank. I fell straight down but luckily caught myself between the boat and the bank so I’m just hanging in the water.

    It’s clear that these three share the tightest of bonds. “Cheers Jobers,” Rayner says as Jobe returns with his beer. It’s little details like this that accentuates the beautiful friendship these lads share. Hearing them describe each other’s sound with such care and admiration reaffirms that. “Charley’s is this electro-y, disco-y, techy, funky 00s vibe, always got a lovely synthy melody going. Rayner plays 90s house, tech, progressive-y. Then I play a mixture of both,” Jobe muses. “This is what excites me the most about the Felon5 project. We’re excited to hear what the others are going to play.

    The boys have even developed an unspoken, loving gesture of giving each other a gentle slap on the arse if they drop a particularly nice track or transition, so look out for this during their next set!

    It sounds like 2022 could be the boy’s biggest adventure yet and I look forward to seeing where it takes them.

    Bizarre Trax will also be celebrating their 3rd birthday at The Pickle Factory on Friday, May 13th alongside Rasho and a special guest.

    Event | Tickets

    Edited by Cameron Harvey-Piper

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