Artists: 2Unlimited

2unlimited1.jpgPhil Wilde and Jean-Paul de Coster met in their hometown of Antwerp, Belgium, and their first collaboration under the name of Bizz Nizz, "Don't Miss The Party Line" , was a substantional hit across Europe, including in the United Kingdom where it reached no.7 in the national singles chart in April 1990. Its success came as a great surprise to the duo and encouraged them to continue working together. In early 1991, a 19 year old Ray Slijngaard was working as a chef at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Ray was a friend of Quadrophonia rapper Marvin D, and whilst attending one of their gigs he took a microphone and started to rap in order to hype up the unenthusiastic crowd. Marvin was impressed and introduced him to Wilde and de Coster, who got him to record a rap for "Money Money", a track that was being planned as a future Bizz Nizz single.Meanwhile, Anita Dels (Doth is her stage name), also 19, was an administrator in the parking ticket division of a police station. In her spare time she performed in a female rap group called Trouble Sisters and she was spotted by Marvin, who asked her to be a backing singer for him.

Ray and Anita became good friends, and some people believe that they had a relationship. The duo always maintained at the time that their relationship was like "brother and sister" but in a 2002 interview, when asked by a Channel 4 reporter as to whether they had ever had a relationship, Ray replied that when a boy and a girl are on the road together "things happen". Wilde and de Coster created an instrumental track called "Get Ready For This" and they decided that it needed some vocals. They asked Ray for his input and he duly recorded a rap for it. The band was initially meant to be a solo project with Ray fronting the act but what they didn't expect were added female vocals from Anita. They were so pleased with the result that they agreed to work with them as a duo, and thus 2 Unlimited was born. They were immediately signed to Byte Records in the Netherlands and were quickly licensed to many other record labels, including PWL Continental in the UK, run by Pete Waterman of Stock, Aitken & Waterman fame, who had produced dozens of hits for the likes of Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley. However Waterman, deciding that the rap was unsuitable for the UK market, where instrumental rave music had become extremely popular, removed most of the vocals from the track except for the line "y'all ready for this?", which was sampled from The D.O.C.'s "It's Funky Enough".

"Get Ready For This" was an instant hit, peaking at no.2 in the chart and was the twelfth best-selling single of 1991, earning a silver sales certificate. It went on to reach no.4 in Belgium, no.6 in the Netherlands and no.2 in Australia. It also worked its way up to no.14 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. A follow-up single "Twilight Zone" swiftly followed in January 1992 which also reached no.2 in the UK, selling 234,000 copies. It went one further in the duo's homeland where it topped the chart and was certified gold, and it was also a hit in the United States where it charted at no.49 on the Hot 100. To capitalise on this immediate and unexpected success, the album Get Ready!, featuring the two singles and seven other brand new tracks including two ballads, was released on February 24. Two further singles were released, "Workaholic" and "The Magic Friend", which helped the album go on to sell 2.6 million copies worldwide. In December, Ray and Anita were awarded "Best Newcomer" at the Smash Hits Pollwinners' Party, ending a very successful 1992. Although Ray and Anita were skeptical about the track Wilde and de Coster wanted to push as the lead single from the act's second album, "No Limit" was released in January 1993 and the repetitive nature of the song helped it became their most successful single ever, and by far the best remembered by the general public now. The single topped the charts in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and in the United Kingdom where it sold 532,000 copies and ended up the fourth best-seller of 1993.

"Tribal Dance" was released as a single shortly before the album "No Limits" hit stores in May. Three further singles were issued: "Faces", which was considerably different in pace to previous releases, "Maximum Overdrive" and a re-recorded version of "Let The Beat Control Your Body". But despite the phenomenal success that the duo were enjoying, they were criticised heavily by the music industry and the British press dubbed them "2 Untalented". Ray and Anita were dismissed as "puppets" and the lyrical depth of their songs was questioned. However, it should be noted that both performers took an active part in writing their material and Ray's raps were cut from the UK album release, being once again deemed, in Jean-Paul de Coster's words, "too clumsy for the British market". Whilst some dance music fans also expressed dislike for the commerciality of their sound and the banality of their lyrics, others, such as one music critic in Melody Maker wrote that whilst they were "juvenile" and "puerile", on the other hand "2 Unlimited stand for energy and excitement. And if you're not thrilled by the lobotomizing insistence of "Workaholic", "Contrast" and the rest you're either dead from the toes up, or too grown-up for your own good." It was also noted by the band's manager Michel Maartens that 2 Unlimited were launched at a time when "many parents feared that house and techno would damage their children. It was associated with pills and nightly escapades.

But Ray and Anita proved to be the acceptable faces of techno. When Mum and Dad saw they were harmless pop stars, all mistrust was over." The band's image and sound were at the same time responsible for both their popularity with the public and their unpopularity with critics, with Melody Maker describing them as "a crude, bastardized assault on tasteful dance standards." However, nothing could stop 2 Unlimited going from strength to strength. The "No Limits" album was even more successful than the first, selling in excess of 3 million copies. At the MIDEM convention, 2 Unlimited were presented with 80 platinum and gold awards from 26 different countries, as well as winning "World's Best-Selling Dutch Act" at the World Music Awards 1993. In May 1994, the duo's tenth single "The Real Thing" was released and it proved that their fans were still interested as they sent the single to no.1 in the Netherlands and no.6 in the UK. The title was aimed as a dig at the several other similar sounding eurodance acts who had appeared to copy the 2 Unlimited sound. Their third album, called "Real Things", was instantly certified gold in the UK and 2 Unlimited became the first dance act to achieve two number one albums. It was also the first one that PWL made no changes to, perhaps because by then rap in dance records had become more common and accepted. "No One" surprised many fans by being a straight-forward pop record and was picked as the second single.

By the end of 1994 they had sold another 322,000 singles in the UK alone and they were still winning more awards than they had room for on their mantelpiece, as they were presented with Smash Hits' "Best Dance Act" award for the second year running, and the Popprijs award for their services to Dutch music. They were also still performing to huge crowds at Wembley Arena in London and to 450,000 people at the Parkpop Festival in the Netherlands. At the height of their career, Ray and Anita were thought to be performing around 200 shows a year. In March 1995, "Here I Go" was another top 5 hit in their homeland but by charting at no.22 it broke the duo's run of eleven consecutive UK top 20 hits. The fourth and final single was the ballad "Nothing Like The Rain" which was not quite as successful and did not even receive a UK release. Whilst they were very popular all around the world, major success continued to elude 2 Unlimited in the United States. But three years after it was originally released, "Get Ready For This" started getting major radio support and charted at no.83 on the Hot 100 in October 1994, eventually peaking at number 38. This helped first album "Get Ready!" make its way to the 500,000 mark, earning it a gold certificate despite never climbing higher than no.197 on the chart.

The track has become a firm favourite at arena-based sporting events and is also regularly featured on movie soundtracks. In October 1995, 2 Unlimited released their first compilation album "Hits Unlimited", prompting rumors that they were about to split up. The single "Do What's Good For Me" was another top 20 hit but the album could only make it to no.27 in the UK. Following the surprise belated success of "Get Ready For This" in the USA, the "best-of" was heavily promoted there but only managed no.107 on the Billboard 200. The rumors continued when Pete Waterman announced that Ray and Anita had split up when in actual fact they hadn't, and Ray expressed his aspirations to be a record producer. In February 1996, the band performed at the Viña del Mar concert in Chile, topping the bill alongside Ace of Base. Despite their insistence that they were planning a world tour, in April 1996, shortly after the release of the single "Jump For Joy", both Ray and Anita announced that 2 Unlimited was over. It later emerged that after having spent so much time together they were no longer getting on as well as they once had, and there was disagreement about the future sound of 2 Unlimited. They had asked for more creative input and they also felt that they were not getting a fair share of the huge amount of money being earned by the project. As no agreement was reached, they each went their separate ways before a final single "Spread Your Love" was released in June 1996.

Jean-Paul de Coster went on to sue Anita for breaking her contract, but he lost the case as it was considered that he had not paid Anita enough and was ordered to give her the same amount of money he had demanded of her. Anita went on to DJ for Dutch radio station Radio 538, recorded a single with reggae artist Mad Cobra and in 2000 released a solo album called "Reality". Ray created his own label called X-Ray Records, which scored a top 10 hit in the Netherlands with T.O.F.'s "Funk It Up". He also released two solo singles in 1997 which failed to chart but found more success in 1999 with the group V.I.P. Allstars. Ray now lives in Spain with his wife and his son Rayvano, and Anita continues to tour clubs as part of the group Divas Of Dance, and performs the hits of 2 Unlimited by herself at universities and holiday camps. An internet petition to reunite Ray, Anita, Jean-Paul and Phil in 2005 was unsuccessful As they still owned the rights to the name "2 Unlimited", de Coster and Wilde recruited two new (again Dutch) singers, Romy van Ooijen (b. 18 November 1971) and Marjon van Iwaarden (b. 18 June 1974), in order to capitalise on previous success. "Wanna Get Up" did well in the Netherlands, reaching no.10 but the single, which was remixed by Sash! for UK release, was unsuccessful in the UK, barely scraping the top 40.

The album "II", which was decidedly poppier than previous 2 Unlimited albums, was released in April 1998. It was a relative failure and subsequent singles "Edge Of Heaven" and "Never Surrender" couldn't stop the rot. Before long, both Romy and Marjon left the act. In recent years, many "best-of" compilations have been released in various territories, often with new remixes. Most notably, ZYX Records in 2003 released "No Limit 2.3", and it was a moderate hit, reaching no.41 in the German singles chart. It was promoted by a new duo, Débora Remagen and James Giscombe and it was thought that they were being lined up as a 2 Unlimited "version 3" but they were never heard of again. A new CD and DVD set containing all the duo's video-clips called "The Complete History" was released in 2004 along with a single, "Tribal Dance 2.4". In 2006, the DVD was re-packaged with a different CD "Greatest Remix Hits", which was released in Australia and Scandinavia.