Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Spiller: how we made Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)

The dance classic was the first song ever to be played on an iPod. But, as its creators reveal, the demo was left in a car – then tossed on to a floor and forgotten

Cristiano Spiller, DJ, producer and songwriter

This was one of the fastest tracks I ever produced. It was 1999, the night before I was due to fly to Miami for the Winter Music Conference, where all aspiring DJs and producers went. I was trying to stay awake for my early-morning flight and put on an unreleased version of Carol Williams’ Love Is You. I ended up sampling it and, in a couple of hours, I had Groovejet more or less written.

I was picked up at Miami by my friend Boris Dlugosch, who was always looking for the next smash. I put the track on, but we started talking and didn’t pay much attention to it. He dropped me at my hotel, but I forgot about the CD – my only copy – and left it in his car. That night, he was DJ-ing at a club called Groovejet. When I arrived, he had just played it and the place had gone crazy. Everyone wanted to hear it again – and again. Based on the incredible reaction, it felt natural to name the track after the club.

I knew it had to have lyrics, though. I had no money to get the sample cleared and the labels didn’t want to risk paying the advance because they didn’t think it would recoup the cost. So I sent promotional copies to the best record shops in Europe, and soon all the tastemaker DJs were playing it. Suddenly, all the labels wanted to pay the advance.

I signed to EMI’s Positiva Records and we started talking vocals. I wanted an original, charismatic voice, not the classic disco-diva singer, which was so over-done. From a pile of demos, Sophie’s beautiful voice immediately stood out.

I was really into house and underground clubbing. I had no idea how the pop world worked. I didn’t understand how important the charts were or what Top of the Pops was. It was a completely crazy time but also a dream come true: I ended up DJing at the best clubs and parties around the world.

Groovejet gave me so much freedom – it meant I never had to do another pop hit. I could just keep on making music for clubs.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor, singer and songwriter

When I first listened to the instrumental track, I stopped it halfway through and thought: “Why have they sent me dance music? I don’t like dance music!” A couple of weeks later, I was tidying my flat and found the CD on the floor. I played it again and this time I thought it really had something.

I’d just come out of my band, theaudience. We’d been part of the whole NME/Melody Maker indie scene, but elements of that world were tough, especially the press. I was only 19 but they were always quite nasty and never particularly supportive. Groovejet was a breath of fresh air, a brilliant way of turning the page. The dance world didn’t intimidate me – it was welcoming and I felt at home.

‘Everyone was talking about who would be No 1’ …Spiller and Ellis-Bextor in 2000, when Groovejet was released.
‘Everyone was talking about who would be No 1’ …Spiller and Ellis-Bextor in 2000, when Groovejet was released. Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex/Shutterstock

I agreed to sing on the track and went into the studio with my own ideas and wrote the verses quickly. Eventually, they spliced my verses with a brilliant chorus by Rob Davis. Mine was rubbish in comparison! The track’s magic is in his chorus and Spiller’s instrumental. I was so happy to be the voice on it.

The song was everywhere. It was on heavy rotation on Radio 1 months before release. Things really blew up when it got the same release date as Victoria Beckham and Dane Bowers’ Out of Your Mind – Victoria’s first release post-Spice Girls. Suddenly we were on the front pages and even the Six O’Clock News. Everyone was talking about who would be No 1.

The day before the result came in, I was waiting for a bus and thinking about rushing into Woolworths to buy a copy because I’d heard there were only 500 copies in it. In the end, Groovejet reached No 1, outselling Out of Your Mind by 20,000. I never did make that trip to Woolworths!

Having a song that people are really fond of is a gift. I’m still really happy to sing it. It gave me the confidence to genre-hop. When my son discovered it was the first song ever to be played on an iPod, he finally looked impressed by something his mum had done.


Interviews by Elizabeth Aubrey

The GuardianTramp

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