Studio Session \\ A Conversation with DJ Frankie Gunns
If you were part of Toronto’s underground drum n bass scene in the early 2000s, you’re no stranger to Frankie Gunns. The Toronto DJ is a true veteran of the city’s electronic music scene. Hailing from a small town outside Hamilton, he witnessed the transformative era of the ’90s and early 2000s.
By listening to Toronto community radio stations, Gunns developed his style and discovered some of his top musical influences such as Dr. No and Medicine Muffin. Gunns started off working at a record store and has progressed in his career since. He not only DJs but owns a record label and has a vast history of working with inspiring artists and industry professionals.
We chatted with Gunns to discuss his passion for drum n bass and jungle, and how his style and technique have developed over the years. Grab your headphones and tune into Gunns exclusive mix for Glossi Mag.
TRACKLIST: GUNNS ROAD MUSIC GLOSSI MAG FALL 2023 MIX BY FRANKIE GUNNS
KRUGAH – “THE JOURNEY WITHIN” – GUNNS ROAD MUSIC (2021)
GALVATRON – “CYCLES” – FORTHCOMING GUNNS ROAD MUSIC (2024)
GLASSBOX – “HUMAN ERROR” (ARMSHOUSE VIP) – FORTHCOMING GUNNS ROAD MUSIC (2024)
RUMBLETON & FRANKIE GUNNS – “COMMISSIONERS” – STAND FIRM HIFI DIGITAL BANDCAMP (2021)
KRUGAH – “REPETITIVE JOY” – FORTHCOMING GUNNS ROAD MUSIC (2024)
DODZ – “YOU BEEN ON MY MIND” – GUNNS ROAD MUSIC (2021)
KRUGAH – “WORRIES DE YAH” FORTHCOMING GUNNS ROAD MUSIC (2024)
DACAMERA – “EASY TIGER” – GUNNS ROAD MUSIC (2023)
DUBURBAN – “LOVE WITHOUT SOUND” – FORTHCOMING GUNNS ROAD MUSIC (2024)
Can you take us back to the early days of your DJing journey? What initially drew you to hip hop and house records, and how has your musical taste evolved over time?
At 15 years old, I would listen to some radio shows on the weekend. It was mainly U of Toronto 89.5 fm where I got my first real taste of underground and early urban music. I was also getting into Public Enemy, EPMD, Eric B and Rakim.
It was on a Sunday afternoon, when I checked out a show that changed my whole direction musically. It was hosted by James St. Bass who was a local club disc jockey and an integral part of exposing people to early underground dance music. The house and techno just hit me. Once I heard a particular song by a Guy Called Gerald called “Voodoo Ray,” the obsession to learn how to DJ and find where to buy this raw, soulful dance music sparked.
When did you first hear jungle music? How did that experience shape your artistic direction?
I first heard jungle music before it was considered jungle music actually. It was mid to late 1991 when I started hearing hardcore (the early spawn of what jungle came from). I was hearing it here and there on community radio and in local Toronto legend, Chris Sheppard’s sets. It was a big deal because he had spots on commercial radio and it was hitting a wider audience.
I was hooked by mid ‘92 when my friend Kevin Moon gave me a mixtape to listen to. It was from a popular place to grab mixtapes and rave tickets at the time named X-static. The tape was mixed by another Toronto legend Dr. No. I listened to that mixtape every morning and whenever I could. It completely changed my direction musically and I was hooked on that sound. It was musically raw, energetic, creative and completely alien to me. I fell in love with it. From then on, I was on a mission to find out more and to buy any records I could from that genre.
What was it like working and living in Toronto during those first years in the jungle scene?
To experience the music in “real time” back then and watch it change over time was an amazing experience. Whether it was going to raves or hearing tunes on mixtapes. It’s not like now where everything is at your fingertips. There was a sense of mystery because we didn’t have all the information in front of us. Figuring out certain artists and labels etc. was part of the challenge. As a budding DJ, going into the shops every week and finding music that you wanted to play was a really fun and exciting time. There was a sense of community between all the people and DJs that were doing exactly the same thing. You don’t get that anymore buying music online sadly.
Early on we would make the trek into Toronto every Thursday and the mecca for us was Play De Record. A local legend and now friend of mine, Rick “Medicine Muffin,” was bringing in the hardcore and jungle in the early days and he would always hook me up.
I actually didn’t move to Toronto until 2000. I was living in Burlington working as an assistant manager at a 7-Eleven when a close friend David Cooper contacted me about doing a couple shifts a week at Play De Record in Toronto. A friend of mine was looking to move to Toronto at the same time so we found a nice place in the St. Clair neighborhood and that was one of the first of many places I lived.
You spent 10 years working at Play De Record. What was that experience like? How has your role there influenced your understanding of different genres like drum and bass, jungle, dubstep, house, and techno?
Working at Play De Record for me was an incredible experience. Not only was it a place where I learned so much about the industry, it also opened my ears to more music and evolved my taste over time. Working there taught me how to understand what to order, how to understand what other people wanted and to keep my personal tastes out of certain processes. It also allowed me to put my retail inventory management and ordering skills to use.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet so many amazing people who were a part of the entire music industry/community. We all had a common bond, our passion for music no matter what genre it was. I still keep in touch with so many people and DJ’s that I connected with during my time at the record shop.
Jungle music has recently made a resurgence. What do you think about its revival?
Jungle and DNB have definitely been getting a lot of attention which is great. Especially the more jungle-associated sounds as that’s where the roots of it comes from. There’s been a lot of splintering off of sub genres which happens in music. People like Coco Bryce and Tim Reaper, as well as, Toronto’s own Rumbleton, Gremlinz & Jesta, Dodz and Marcus Visionary, and other North American artists like Krugah, Greenleaf and Dacamera are getting a solid underground following which is starting to get noticed above ground which is awesome.
The more people who find out about the music, the better in my opinion. And that starts with more mainstream sounds sometimes as the gateway.
Tell us all about the jungle mix you made us today. Could you share some insights into the selection and creative process behind it?
This mix is a showcase of some music that I am extremely excited about and feel strongly about getting out to more ears. I have intentionally let the songs play out longer before mixing them because I want to get back to focusing on the actual journey of each tune.
I have found that attention spans have decreased in the last while because of certain DJ styles being very much about playing just a minute or two of one tune. If I can, I would rather let the songs take you somewhere. A slowing down of this fast-paced “what’s next” movement helps us to enjoy what’s in front of us. The artists have made inspiring music. That’s the focus.
Among the tools of your trade, which three pieces of DJ equipment do you consider most essential?
Because I’m old, my first one is my Technics SL-1210 m5g turntables. Just because my early DJing skills came from using traditional turntables and mixer setup.
My mixer is extremely close to being tied, though. I recently bought an Allen & Heath xone 43c which has the ability to play without any external gear if needed. It also allows me to play music via serato or other music programs. And it is both analog and digital when it comes to what I am playing. Technology has come a long way and I love what there is to offer.
My third choice, believe it or not, is my laptop, which is a fully loaded Asus gaming laptop. It has given me the ability to stream music seamlessly while running other programs in the background, which has been integral in being able to present new music to my viewers and listeners.
With such a rich history and experience in the music industry, what advice do you have for aspiring DJs, producers, and event organizers who are looking to make a mark in the electronic music scene?
I would say to carve out your own unique style and not to worry about what everyone else is doing. Too often I see music being run by Spotify metrics or just simple trends and algorithms. That’s not how you stand out in my opinion. Be daring, push boundaries.
Gunns Road Music, your recently launched record label, focuses on deeper and breakbeat heavy jungle and drum n bass. What motivated you to start this label?
It was early into the pandemic when I was listening to my friend Rumbleton and Jesta on jungletrain.net. At one point during the set they played a song that absolutely floored me. I messaged Rumbleton right away and he told me that it was “See the Sun” by an artist out of Brownsville, Brooklyn named Krugah. He gave me his contact information and I messaged him that night. I asked him if he had shopped his music around and if anyone had signed anything. He told me that he hadn’t had any luck, which I found shocking. I hadn’t heard anything like his music in the 30 years I had been doing it. From that day forward, we communicated on a daily basis and I started getting information from people in the industry on how to start up a physical record label.
With the input, I slowly put together a schedule of music that I started to sign. So far, we’ve got six releases out there with more to come. Two of which are by Krugah 002 and 004. And that first song that I heard of his “See the Sun” was on his first ever vinyl release. In essence, I was motivated by Krugah’s music and now I am motivated by every artist I work with. It has been a completely unexpected but awesome experience.
Could you recommend a few tracks or artists from your label that you believe capture the essence of the deeper and breakbeat heavy jungle and drum n bass that you’re passionate about?
I highly recommend “The Journey Within” by Krugah. It’s a 10 minute long song that has so much soul. “Easy Tiger” by Dacamera is another beautiful and unique piece that is very much jazz influenced. One more is “Love Without Sound” by the talented Duburban. It’s a beautiful tune that makes you feel like you are surrounded by it if that makes sense.
Looking forward, what are your goals and aspirations for both your personal musical journey and for Gunns Road Music?
I look forward to meeting and fulfilling the commitments I have made to each artist, when it comes to getting the music I have signed by them out and to physical form (usually meaning vinyl 300 limited to copies), as well as fully mastered digital versions for those who want to support but don’t play records.
Also, we have an album by Krugah on the horizon and forthcoming music coming from Glassbox (Toronto), Duburban and Peeb (U.K.), Galvatron (U.K.) and some other stuff lined up from Greenleaf (New Orleans).