A monthly round-up of the best Grime & Dubstep out each and every month — here are February 2022’s picks.
Album of the Month: ONHELL – ‘Grime Beats, Vol.II’ (Deep, Dark & Dangerous)
Warn the neighbours
2. Learn Spanish
3. Tepido Mercato
The second in ONHELL’s series of transatlantic grime excursions is as utterly monstrous as the first, again compiled for New Zealand’s always-on-point Deep, Dark & Dangerous label. Across 10 tracks, he deploys some of the heaviest bass sounds you’ll hear all year, reimagining grime from not only a stateside vantage point, but moreover in his own deeply idiosyncratic way. Demonic opener ‘Holy Death’ sets out ONHELL’s stall early, its contorted, lung-busting stabs sure to bring out screw faces early on, while the scything ‘Learn Spanish’ and the tear-out, chainsaw aesthetic of ‘The Rake It Up Riddim’ are all-out explosive. Dizzying, off-kilter cut ‘Tepido Mercato’ is another full-blooded standout, but our tip is final track, ‘Devotion’ – a rare moment of icy, ethereal calm, albeit still front-loaded with a truck load of bass weight. 8/10
Tune of the Month: FFSYTHO – ‘Yeah Yeah’ (Bandcamp)
Destined for the top
FFSYTHO has been making waves for a minute and on new single, ‘Yeah Yeah’, she more than lives up to the hype. Her confident brand of no-nonsense barring has already piqued the ear’s of some big names – The Bug drafted her in on ‘How bout dat’, a track lifted from his acclaimed 2021 LP, ‘Fire’, for example – and there is a sense she’s on the cusp of making major moves. Produced by Glitch, ‘Yeah Yeah’ taps the sort of winding, lo-slung pressure that Swamp81 have long made a calling card, but FFSYTHO attacks it, barely pausing for breath in between verses as she switches in-and-out of the track’s hook effortlessly. A big future beckons. 8/10
Duppy – ‘Now You See Me’ EP (Bandcamp)
Duppy may only be a handful of releases deep, but he already feels like a generational talent. His energy is raw and his appetite insatiable, but – like Novelist before him – he possesses that sort of un-fuck-with-able swagger and self-belief that makes him feel built to endure. On ‘Now You See Me’, a seven-track EP written and produced entirely by Duppy himself, he excels as both a battle-ready MC and talented song-maker. Opener ‘Any MC’ is breathless and full to the brim with say-it-with-your-chest braggadocio – ‘Is there any MC better than me?’ he asks on the hook – while playful, head-nodding anthem ‘Wooshu’ (a reference to his signature vocal adlib) is undeniable. There’s room for features too, with Mez blessing ‘Dim Sum’ and Cadell dropping incendiary bars on the venomous ‘OT Spot’, but as a complete project, this is some statement. 9/10
Commodo – ‘Deft 1s’ (Black Acre)
What else is there left to say?
Commodo’s genius knows no bounds. His latest EP, ‘Deft 1s’ – another spellbinding record for Black Acre – might mine grunge-y ‘80s/’90s punk and throwback, golden-era rap beats for inspiration, but still packs hefty club weight and plenty of forward motion. His ability to isolate individual sounds and tweaks mirrors Michelin star chefs – every ingredient is on the plate for a reason – and even when the going gets ultra-experimental on ‘Forester’, which could easily slot into a Joy Division setlist, or the foreboding, Nirvana-esque breakdowns of ‘Living Bones’, everything feels exactly as it should. Sometimes, all you can do is take your hat off. 9/10
Gemmy – ‘Irreversible Culture’ EP (Infernal Sounds)
A long overdue link-up
OG Bristol legend Gemmy dazzles on ‘Irreversible Culture’ – a booming three-track EP for one of dubstep’s most vital, forward-thinking labels of the last five years. The meeting of minds feels more than justified too, with the triumphant march of the title-track curtailing Gemmy’s purple-y inclinations in favour of the sort of visceral, cut-throat bass weight that’ll bother even the most stubborn of club systems. Second track ‘Destination’ is more layered and synth-rich – the bloopy, helter-skelter FX and sharp, rolling percussion make it feel wholly more musical too – before the moody, super low-end swing and grimy stabs of RSD’s ‘Irreversible Culture’ Remix sign off. 8/10
Ago & Boofy – ‘Goldfinger / Silverware’ (Innamind Recordings)
Boofy is back on Innamind – and this time he’s got Numa Crew’s Ago in tow. A-side ‘Goldfinger’ sees the pair collide on a track anchored in minimalist flavour and maximum bass weight, with gloopy, dripping taps and jangly woodblock pangs keeping things tense, while on the flip, ‘Silverware’ ups the ante. The swinging 4×4 rhythm is unexpected but a total doozy, while the sampling notes and subtle use of texture is both deft and smart – see the echo-y, melodic chimes and delicate, archive crackle as cases in point. Excellent. 9/10
Mayday – ‘Complete The Mission (Deluxe)’ [Self-Released]
One to watch
Laser-focused MC Mayday pulls no punches on the Deluxe version of ‘Complete The Mission’ – an 11-track re-pack, featuring two new songs, of his 2021 tape of the same name. Lacing beats from across the full UKG spectrum – including poolside summer anthem ‘Sun’ – and boasting features from Birmingham grime royalty in Sox and Mayhem NOBD, ‘Complete The Mission’ formed an already-comprehensive jump-off point for an artist clearly determined to put in the hard yards. New tracks ‘Shift’ and ‘Celebrate’ – the latter a sludgy, UK rap boomer – only add to that picture, further earmarking Mayday as a name to keep tabs on. 7/10
Fallow – ‘Pent Up’ (Bandcamp)
Who needs a 9-5?
Manchester favourite, Fallow, lets loose over nine tracks of boisterous club music on ‘Pent Up’ – a project written to capture the spirit of a night out; ‘be your full self when you bang these’ the Bandcamp release notes read. Opener ‘Citrus’, a sickly-sweet collaboration with Grizzle, feels like a soft-launch for what’s to come; scorching, upfront grime with Griz-O (‘Run Red’), frenzied dancehall burners (‘Pent Up’), zippy, square-wave dance offs (‘Not Tonight Akon Lad’) and big, car-screeching Red Stripe anthems (‘On A Mad One’). A total riot from start to finish – get stuck in. 8/10
Sir Hiss – ‘Outlaw’ (No More Mailouts)
Next in line
More gunslinging magic from Sir Hiss, who continues to defy the odds and up the stakes with every release. ‘Outlaw’, complete with Wild West-themed artwork and track names, may seem tongue-in-cheek – but the contents are deadly serious. The title-track is a snarling, cinematic picture of arid desert landscapes and swinging saloon bar doors, while ‘Bandits’ – a collaboration with fellow Bristol wizard, Lemzly Dale – lands its own shuffling blows, with choppy, cut-and-paste string samples and muffled, filmic textures. Marauding final track ‘High Noon’ continues the theme apace – albeit with harder, more immediate pressure – to bookend another excellent Sir Hiss record. The best out at the moment? Probably. 9/10
Big, high-grade ammo from Boylan and Youngsta – two hellfire producers in the rudest of health here. ‘Psychedelics’, released as a standalone single via Youngsta’s Sentry Records imprint, is bruising from the off, lurching forward like a ghostly procession of thunderous drums, hammer-blow woodblock percussion and ghostly tension. 7/10
Top 3 Selected
— Shining a light on some of the month’s best DJ Mixes —
Sicaria Sound — Truancy Volume 288
Despite often being heralded as figureheads for the next generation of 140 club music in the UK, Sicaria Sound have always gone about their business quietly and efficiently. For the most part, their output does all the talking — whether it be their own productions, first crystallised on their 2021 debut EP, ‘Binate’, their rugged club sets or via their open-source cutcross label; itself a melting pot for myriad strands of 140 club music — and their Truancy Volume mix is no different. Clocking in at just over an hour, the pair cycle through stark, skeletal dubstep pressure, woozy, syrupy rollers, hi-grade drum workouts and near beat-less, synth-y magic in a mix that demonstrates just how unique and influential their vision remains.
Flava D — RA Podcast #818
It may have felt like a long time coming, but Flava D’s hour-long odyssey through the sonics that define her — from grime to UKG, bassline and more recently, drum & bass — makes for a welcome addition to Resident Advisor’s benchmark series. Joining the dots between the different touch points of her career, it’s a mix defined as much by its freedom as it is pure danceability; Flava D sets have always been a ride, but none have felt this fast, furious and fun, with so much crammed into just 60 minutes run-time.
Nammy Wams’ Valentine’s Grime Special on Croydon FM — February 15th 2022
Nammy Wams has been grafting away on Croydon FM for the last four years, quietly assembling a dedicated listenership and carving out a space for himself to incubate his own grime-flavoured take on drill — a sound now at the heart of Bok Bok’s AP Life label. Parking the harsher sounds for a Valentine’s Grime special, he empties the vaults to showcase some true classics; from timeless anthems like Tinie Tempah’s ‘Wifey Riddim’ and Kano’s ‘Boys Love Girls’ right the way through to rarer cuts by everyone from Ironsoul to Davinche via Nu Brand Flexxx, Bombsquad and Terror Danjah. A gem of a show.
In March, look out for a scorching new Drone plate on Sector 7 — his first for the label since 2019 — following a stellar run of hot ’n heavy records for both Alix Perez’s 1985 Music stable and V.I.V.E.K’s SYSTEM imprint … ‘Polar Opposite’ releases on March 25 … There were also a load of records worthy of mention in February, too … Main Phase & Rakjay’s sub-low UKG wobbler ‘Smoke’ via Sub Merchants is 24-carat club gold … and be sure to check Jake Plisken & Tintz’s ‘MIND UR BUSINESS’ — a fierce, tour de force collaboration meshing OG grime sensibilities with grizzly, blunt-force percussion … There were also killer EPs from French producer Qant on Vienna’s Sub Audio Records (‘Avalanche’ EP) — think deepest, darkest fare rooted in pure, unbridled bass weight — and firecracker grime MC, Mez, who collated four of his most sought after beats for ‘Instrumentals 001’, which includes cuts lifted from both his ‘Once Uncle’ EP and P Money’s ‘While We Wait’ … Jack Dat was also busy on the release front too, locking horns with Boss Mischief on ‘Boss Dat’ — a four-track collection of bruising prime cuts — while Sir Spyro also lined up new single, ‘Wish’; a track released to pay tribute to legendary grime MC, Stormin’ … Featuring Black Steve, Killa P and Flow Dan, as well as unreleased vocals written under Stormin’s Teddy Bruckshot alias and samples lifted from the infamous ‘Topper Top’, it lands as a fitting memoriam for one of grime’s most cherished personalities.
A monthly round-up of the best Grime & Dubstep out each and every month — here are January 2022’s picks.
Album of the Month: Footsie – ‘King Original Vol.6’ (Braindead Entertainment)
Consistent as gravity
1. Sweaty Betty
2. Bere Stabs
3. Wash Up
The years might keep on rolling by, but Footsie keeps on delivering. ‘King Original Vol.6’ forms the sixth dispatch in his King Original instrumental series since first debuting back in 2013 and as with past volumes, captures him in full creative bloom. Although best known for his work on mic alongside D Double E and as one half of the Newham Generals in his own right, his beat-making remains arguably just as prestige. Here, he shifts between tense, shock-and-awe grime (‘Bere Stabs’), pensive rollers (‘Blue Ones’, ‘Convo’), floaty, late-summer heaters (‘Summer Run’, ‘Sweaty Betty’) and contorted, de-tuned club barnstormers like album standout ‘Wash Up’ on 10 tracks that lay down a firm marker; there’s only one King Original – and he’ll never forget his roots. 8/10
Tune of the Month: M.I.C & Nammy Wams – ‘Naoki Urasawa Could Have Written This Shit’ (Bandcamp)
M.I.C & Nammy Wams have come to form a formidable due over the last 12 months, particularly after releasing last summer’s ‘YOU CAN ACHIEVE ANYTHING’ – a six-track grime tape dripping in punk-y, do-whatever-you-want energy. With Nammy now a core member of Bok Bok’s AP Life label, his status as a producer dissecting the intersection between grime and drill has only benefited M.I.C – a barrer always keen to explore, push boundaries and hurl grime into new spaces. His idiosyncrasy is front and centre on the brilliant ‘Naoki Urasawa Could Have Written This Shit’, a track defined by its reflections on Boris Johnson, Keir Starmer and Jeff Bezos, but also by M.I.C’s nonchalant, syrupy delivery and a Nammy beat that freeze-frames the bleakness of Tory Britain circa 2022. 9/10
Jammz – ‘Free Up The Riddims Vol.4’ (I Am Grime)
Jammz unlocks his latest treasure trove
The fourth volume of Jammz’s coveted ‘Free Up The Riddims’ series is, as ever, every bit as good as we’ve come to expect. Written specifically for radio – and perhaps more importantly, with the room for MCs to express themselves – these are beats honed in years of experience; as both a celebrated mic-man, but also a producer with an astute, finely-tuned ear. There’s room for mellow moments anchored in menace (‘Searching’, ‘Back 2 Reality’), skeletal, dub-leaners (‘The Show’), skippy, cut-and-paste bruisers (‘Who You Wit?’) and even UKG bloomers like ‘Text Me Back’, as well as the instrumentals for 2019’s ‘So Wait’ with Syer B and 2021’s ‘Dark & Light’. In short – essential. 8/10
Lemzly Dale – Ryūjin / Saviour (Bandcamp)
There are few superlatives left to chuck at producer, DJ and illustrator, Lemzly Dale, but on ‘Ryūjin’ – one of his most cherished and sought-after tracks – he finds us clutching for more. Named after a sea deity in Japanese mythology, ‘Ryūjin’ is triumphant, boss-level, end-credits fare; a track that melds booming, Bristol-calibre bass pressure with glitchy, 16-bit era tweaks a la E.M.M.A’s ‘Mindmaze’. Flipside cut ‘Saviour’ is equally as good, throwing out crunching beats and gorgeous, ethereal melodies that seem to spiral in-and-out of focus, in turn generating their own sense of heady, addictive euphoria. Dropped at minimal notice with no fanfare – a true Lemzly Dale hallmark – this is a release more than good enough to traverse multiple EOY lists come December. 10/10
Qwirk – ‘Bubbly’ EP(In:Flux Audio)
Manchester’s Qwirk is the latest to step up to the In:Flux plate and he does so with plenty of panache on new EP, ‘Bubbly’. The squelching pressure and scatter-shot laser FX of space-y opener ‘Bubbly’ border on giddy at points, while the dizzying rattle of helter-skelter club wrecker, ‘Oppress’, is reminiscent of early Caspa & Rusko. The two originals come backed up by heavyweight remixes from S3 Dubs, who turns a rasping, percussive hand to ‘Oppress’, and Ekula, who takes things one notch further with a scorching, breaks-y drum melee of his own. 6/10
Drone – ‘Gamma Ray’ (Bandcamp)
More intriguing music from one of Bristol’s best
Drone – now a fixture at Alix Perez’s 1985 Music and with releases on V.I.V.E.K’s SYSTEM label also to his name – is a producer who continues to grow with every record. Albeit inspired by the rich lineage of Bristol-based producers before him, he’s now honing a tense, brooding sound that feels distinctly his and on ‘Gamma Ray’ – his first soft drop of 2022 – he builds out that vision further. Cut with more of a rolling, UK techno lean than the guttural dubstep twang of previous Drone material, ‘Gamma Ray’ is still shadowy and unnerving in tone – and big on low-end – but perhaps signposts a new direction; more of a gradual, winding turn than a sharp hairpin right, though. 8/10
PK x Lolingo – ‘After Work’ (Bandcamp)
Still one of grime’s most dynamic and charismatic MCs, PK shines bright again on ‘After Work’ – a new single produced by Lolingo. The instrumental (‘Come Dine With Me’) is playful, choppy and almost slapstick in places, with PK’s vocal – and memorable adlib repertoire – mirroring the same bubble gum energy. Grab! 8/10
Emz – ‘Mask’ (Bandcamp)
Different flow, same result!
While often found sparring with talented Bristol producer Sir Hiss, Emz enlists another of his city’s stalwarts on dark and venomous new single, ‘Mask’. Produced by OH91 – a go-to grime producer for the best part of 10 years under the mentorship of Sir Spryo – ‘Mask’ instead fixes its mast to drill. The beat is wheezing, fractious, moody, while Emz’s bars are direct and fierce – a far cry from the breezy, lo-slung rap of tracks like 2021’s ‘Finna’. Does it matter? Not one bit. Whatever mood he’s in, Emz continues to prove he’s one of the UK’s brightest young MCs. 8/10
Boylan – ‘Cursed’ EP (Mean Street Records)
Boylan returns to Trends’ Mean Streets imprint with four of his best on new EP, ‘Cursed’. More minimalist in focus than some of his more scything material, the title-track opens with eerie calm, lurching forward as sinister, rumbling beats and an oddball sense of ‘50s cinema keep things tense, while second track ‘Grid’ flips the 8-bar cowbell grime script to devastating effect. Third track ‘Operation Grand Slam’ lands somewhere in the middle of the EP’s first two tracks, deploying hammer bass blows and razor-sharp stabs despite its spatial, skeletal structure, while final track ‘Germs’ – a breathless collaboration with Trends – is pure breaks-flavoured pressure; unrelenting, uncompromising, lethal. 8/10
Various – ‘Time Volume 4’ (Slimzos Recordings)
The Slimzos stable do business quietly and with minimal fuss, churning out a high volume of records from Slimzee’s cohort of talented and hungry grime producers. ‘Time Volume 4’ – the fourth volume of the label’s popular multi-artist compilation series – is a testament to that ethos. Comprised of a mammoth 22 tracks, it provides a widescreen 4k snapshot of where grime may be headed, sampling tracks from veterans like Spooky, Owlybeats and Slimzos co-head DJ Garna, as well as up-and-comers from across the roster. Our tips include ZimZima’s low-end monster ‘Yoshi’, Gizmo’s ‘KwikFire’ and the snarling, weaponised crunch of DJ Garna x AS.IF KID’s ‘Bully’. 7/10
Top 3 Selected
— Shining a light on some of the month’s best DJ Mixes —
Neffa-T at Keep Hush Live: London – January 12th 2022
He’s ranked as one of grime’s best technical DJs for years, but sometimes it takes a live camera setup and a bustling Wednesday night crowd to remind everyone just how good Neffa-T is. Rocking up to DJ Oblig’s Birthday Bash at Keep Hush – housed at Corsica Studios for the night – with an extra CDJ deck under his arm and a USB full of ammo, Neffa-T unloaded a set for the history books. Running Flirta D’s ‘Warp Speed’ acapella through quickfire blend after quickfire blend, it was WIZE’s ‘Dark Fire Hydrant’ dub that caught the night’s biggest wheel, sending the GoPro nearest the decks flying.
Beauty Blender w/ A.G & Manara on NTS Live – January 7th 2022
A typically rowdy volume of A.G & Manara’s standout monthly show on NTS, taking in tracks from all corners, eras and conceivable genres and stitching them together like a technicolour patchwork. Cutting in-and-out of South Asian club flavour, 90’s dance anthems, Boxed-era grime, nostalgia-reaching RnB and cutting-edge electronica, it’s a riot from start to finish – listen out for Nimco Happy into Basement Jaxx at the 10 minute mark; pure ecstasy!
DJ Oblig b2b Jack Dat b2b Plastician on Rinse FM – January 7th 2022
Oblig’s Rinse show has become a jump-off point for anyone looking to get to grips with the best grime, drill and what-do-you-call it club music over the last three years. The secret? He makes every show feel like an event. His one off triple-threat b2b with Jack Dat – another brilliant technical DJ – and scene OG, Plastician, is well worth setting aside two hours for, serving as another nod to Oblig’s curational nouse.
It’s been a jam-packed start to 2022 and it doesn’t let up in February (!) – look out for ONHELL’s new beat anthology ‘Grime Beats Vol.II’ via Deep, Dark & Dangerous … and a new full-length EP (‘Now You See Me’) from precociously talented new gen MC/producer, Duppy … there’s also a spellbinding new Commodo record on the way via Black Acre – first taste ‘Living Bones’, a grizzly, dungeon-dwelling electronic twist on grunge-y ‘90s punk, released in January, with the full EP (‘Deft 1s’) out February 17 … and Bristol stalwart Gemmy is set to debut on Infernal Sounds – consistently one of the UK’s most on-point dubstep outposts – later in February, too. New music also worth a mention in January includes J Beatz’s breezy ‘6 Flavours’ EP – a record traversing grime, UKG, drill & more – as well as Ziplokk x 11th Hour’s booming ‘Heads Up’ EP on Eyesome, Slick’s snarling, hyper-moody ‘Shape Delay’ four-tracker on Kenyon Sound and a trio of Bandcamp releases from Spooky, including ‘The January’ EP; a hazy, poolside beat excursion from the fast and furious grime instrumentals that have long been his calling card.
On Skilliam, Butterz, Jamaica, London, community, curation, radio, technology, daily thoughts, legacy, breaking down borders and the future of music.
Just before we spoke for this piece, Elijah sent me a link to an interview we’d done for Hyponik back in 2014. The title? ‘I’d Rather DJ In Kent Than Idaho: In Conversation With Elijah’. “I got a message from someone in Idaho at that time, too”, he says, before sending a host of other links to interviews and features we’d collaborated on since Butterz – the label he has pioneered with close friend and sparring partner, Skilliam – was first established in 2010. “There’s a lot of us on the internet after all these years”, he quips.
For me, a wide-eyed grime fan with an outsider perspective on the industry and moreover, grime’s ecosystem at the time, Butterz was the blueprint. I felt it was how grime could not only sound, but could also be presented, shared and enjoyed – and for all Elijah’s influence and achievement in music since, the label still ranks, in my opinion, as his greatest legacy.
So, as our cameras come into focus on a frosty winter afternoon, it comes as a surprise to us both that it’d been almost five years since we’d spoken, person-to-person. “Before I was on auto-pilot, I just enjoyed so much stuff and I was busy to a point where I wasn’t thinking as much, where as now I’ve got downtime so I think more, sometimes unnecessarily”, he says, reflecting on the past two years. Has that been a blessing in disguise, I ask tentatively? “Nah”, he says firmly, “…it’s just an adjustment really. I was reading back over those interviews and features from before and it was just chaos, innit? I thrived on chaos I think, but even then, everyone has their limits.”
For Elijah, the pandemic has not only brought about a shift in perspective but also a total recalibration in terms of how he lives and works. Pre-2020, he recalls spending two or three nights at home a week — “it was just the place where my stuff was” — such was the nature of his schedule and the demands of working in multiple industry spheres. Now? “Ah it’s my home, definitely, but it’s still something I’m adjusting to. I seem to feel different about things every three months or so, in terms of things like direction but also how I feel about life. Before, I knew what I was doing and where I was going, where as now I feel like I’ve still got a direction, but maybe less of a plan.”
Elijah was born in Hackney and grew up in Leyton in East London, the son of Jamaican parents. Raised by his mum — his dad moved to Jamaica as a young child — he’d visit the island during the school holidays, recalling a sense of duality that permeated his early life. “I felt like a Jamaican”, he says, “but like, obviously I was born in England. It was different. Looking at things now, I remember seeing all the young black kids wearing England kits during the EUROs, but that would be something I never would have done as a kid because I was Jamaican. I didn’t resonate with being English in that way, but it’s nice that people do now we’re a generation deeper. I’ve got cousins whose parents were born here and have never been back-and-forth like I used to. Like, I was always looking to Jamaica. Obviously I had the musical connection but there were also communities here … Black, Irish, Asian … I didn’t feel the need to engage with being English in that sense. Now, I look back and I’m like ‘rah, I was living in a very different bubble to everyone else’ but that’s what it was like for all of us, for everyone I grew up with.”
In fact, it wasn’t until Elijah went to college in East London — he attended Sir George Monoux Sixth Form College in Walthamstow where, inspired by programs like Dragon’s Den, he studied Business Economics and ICT — that he started to meet people from outside the communities that had birthed him. “In terms of growing up though, I used to play outside a lot, I used to play computer games, football, I’d skate, play cricket, tennis, I did martial arts … stuff to keep me busy and out of trouble”, Elijah recounts. “People would come to my house a lot as well. In my family, our house was always the central house, so at weekends the doorbell would ring and it could be anyone. People would just turn up, eat, cotch, whatever … it was just an open house. That’s something I’ve missed during the pandemic, everything has to be scheduled. You can’t just knock on someone’s door.”
“That’s something I’ve missed during the pandemic, everything has to be scheduled. You can’t just knock on someone’s door.”
“Music was always there too”, he continues. “I remember always listening to pirates. I didn’t grow up in a house full of records so for me, the radio in my bedroom … it was my window into everything going on. I’d scroll the dial and land on things and be like ‘ok, reggae’s playing, bang’. People that’d come over would bring their music over as well or when you went to someone else’s house, you’d hear something and be like ‘right, let me grab that’. Remember you could record like, tape-to-tape and you could hear the drop in quality when you played it back? We’d do that all the time. I wasn’t actively buying music until I was a teenager because I didn’t ask for money for things. It meant I’d just learn songs from the first beat, even old jungle and garage stuff. That meant I got good at taping songs from the radio like, mad efficiently, as well. Even on commercial radio, they’d be like ‘coming up we’ve got Busta Rhymes’ and I’d be on it straight away …. ‘get the tape in the deck, hit record, bang’. I’d try and make sure there were no jingles or talk-over, so in the end, I’d have these perfect rips.”
What was it about a certain track or song that’d draw him in, I ask? “Basslines, innit”, he says, smirking. “It sounds really obvious but yeah. Stuff that maybe felt experimental at the time that is now standard, that’s what always stood out to me. So like, if you listened to commercial radio you’d be hearing the Spice Girls and then you’d lock into a pirate and you’d be hearing people like Dillinja and Wookie. To me, that was experimental, where as now there’s 25 years of music existing in that style. It was the same as early grime. How I see people writing about techno … that was our techno at that time.”
“Grime didn’t necessarily get me straight away either”, Elijah continues, “it was an adjustment. You had to get used to the different accents and voices, and don’t forget the change from garage MCs to grime MCs … like garage MCs still had an American twang to their voices and they were performers essentially. Grime on the other hand, you had the harshness of the beats but then you had the bars … ‘hit ‘em like a lightning bolt, 5000 volts it’s your own fault’ … it’s a lot to digest. For most people, I think it hit them over the head too hard, but for me it was at the intersection of all the things I really liked. Experimental beats, this ragga kinda dancehall vibe, MCs … and the format was the same as garage and jungle; it was on pirate radio, it was easy to find, it was local. I remember hearing D Double E for the first time, I must have been about 14. The adjustment was so sharp. Imagine you were scrolling through the dial and you’d hear whatever was popping in 2002. There’s Sean Paul, 50 Cent and then you turn the dial again and you’re hearing ‘head get mangled and dangled to the side just like I wear my Kangol’? It was mind-blowing. There was no context either, there was no Google, you couldn’t find out what any of it meant or who anyone was. I did take a minute for me to get my head around. Not that long, though.”
“Imagine you were scrolling through the dial and you’d hear whatever was popping in 2002. There’s Sean Paul, 50 Cent and then you turn the dial again and you’re hearing ‘head get mangled and dangled to the side just like I wear my Kangol’? It was mind-blowing.”
By the time Elijah headed off to university — he studied Business at the University Of Hertfordshire — grime was starting to take root in his thinking. He loved its DIY ethos and what he saw as the challenge of putting records out. It had potential in business, he thought. And then, quite by chance, he linked up with Skilliam, whom he’d first met through pirate radio back in London a few years prior.
While the night life on campus didn’t offer much — “I think Supa D came one time, Sean Paul … Kano came once, JME & Skepta, but even then I saw them loads at events in London” — Elijah had started to learn to DJ. “I just thought I could offer something different to grime and the UK whatever … that Rinse FM banner of grime, dubstep, funky, garage”, he says thoughtfully. “I’d been on the other side as a raver for so long, so I had a lot of my own ideas. I’d find myself at events having a sick time, but still fantasy booking line-ups in my head and thinking about how things could be different or done better … even the format of club nights themselves. That’s what drew me to DJing and made me believe I could be a DJ rather than just someone that collected records and played them at home. I felt there was something in it for me.”
“I’d find myself at events having a sick time, but still fantasy booking line-ups in my head and thinking about how things could be different or done better … even the format of club nights themselves.”
How did you learn, I ask? “With Skill, innit”, he affirms. “I’d been learning myself but not practicing enough, so when we linked up it just took off. He kinda understood what I was trying to do as a DJ, although I didn’t really have the technical skills to pull it off yet, but over time he helped me get better. Every time we linked up to practice he was just like, ‘let’s go’, which focused me.”
Skilliam, also living in halls of residence on campus at the University Of Hertfordshire, found himself living with one of Elijah’s friends from London. The two built a rapport quickly. “I had my decks at uni with me, so I’d holla and be like ‘come round, let’s do a mix’ and we also realised there were decks at the uni radio studio as well”, Elijah recalls. “We started a show together and we never looked back really. It kinda feels stupid saying it now but like, when you put something on the internet, it’s like saying ‘I’m giving up drinking’ or something, do you know what I mean? Like, you’ve been seen, you can’t go back on it. Those first two years at uni, after I’d told people I was a DJ and we had our radio show, I felt like I had to work hard. There was no escape once it was all online, but I didn’t wanna give up on it either, and I knew it’d take a while to get my ideas across. I’d actually started doing the blog by this point too, but it was very much complimentary to the radio show. They were the first two thing’s I did that extended beyond just my friends … the first two things I put out there, you know.”
Elijah’s Butterz blog — a rolling feed of archived sets and opinion that became a living ecosystem of its own — was not only a place to showcase his skills and tastes, but also a vehicle for him to compile and transmit ideas. It was his URL scrapbook — and it laid the foundations for what would later become a career. “I feel like back then you could say I was just a blogger or just a DJ”, he reflects, “where as now I don’t think things are anywhere near as separate. Now you’ve got photographers that DJ and directors that produce music, rappers that play the drums and have their own YouTube channels … all these vessels have become one. I still describe myself as a DJ when I’m asked just for ease, but it doesn’t describe my day-to-day life or all the things I can do or have to do.”
“Now you’ve got photographers that DJ and directors that produce music, rappers that play the drums and have their own YouTube channels … all these vessels have become one.”
After leaving university, Elijah continued sharing his radio shows online, while also becoming a founding member of Grime Forum, which was established in response to RWD Forum closing down — grime’s original de facto URL hub and cornerstone of the community. “That was how we met Royal-T”, he notes. “He was sending us music through the forum and it made us realise that they were people from all over the country making grime but nobody was hearing it. If you listened to Rinse FM at the time, the majority of the producers getting their beats played were producers the DJs knew or could get CDs from. There wasn’t as much openness … like back then, how would you get Maximum’s email or his phone number? There was no Twitter or Instagram DMs. I suppose there was MySpace but who was checking MySpace messages? It was difficult for people.”
On their return to London, Elijah & Skilliam — now a fully-fledged DJ duo having cutting their teeth so diligently on university radio — joined Rinse FM. It was a significant milestone for Elijah — “it was the station I was listening to and the place all the hot DJs were” — but he also recognised that people’s perceptions around grime had changed. “No one really saw the music as going anywhere at that time”, he concedes. “There were no raves basically. A lot of DJs had moved on and were playing funky and dubstep or had just stopped altogether and it was bang in the middle of the vinyl to digital transition as well. It was a strange time. For us, being on Rinse meant we were broadcasting to the world though which was big. The first three years we were on air, I’d say we were getting a minimum of 1000 downloads per show and that was just from my own platforms, never mind Rinse’s. It was a great situation for us really because there weren’t many outlets online for what we were playing. If you wanted to hear that sort of music, we were a good outpost.”
“For us, being on Rinse meant we were broadcasting to the world though which was big. The first three years we were on air, I’d say we were getting a minimum of 1000 downloads per show and that was just from my own platforms, never mind Rinse’s.”
“You gotta remember, I graduated in 2009 as well”, Elijah continues. “It was the credit crunch year, I’d had a load of job interviews and got knocked back from most of them, I got told I was unemployable. I was 21 and competing with 34 year olds for the same job in a lot of cases. The choice came down to trying to get a job that’d pay me £17k a year full-time, or taking a risk and trying to make DJing work for a few years and see how it panned out. Even if I made less money, I knew I could survive and that I’d enjoy what I was doing along the way. At this point, I’d only ever worked at Marks & Spencer’s, I had limited experience, my degree felt effectively useless … like what could I do to prove my worth? Butterz the label started off the back of that dilemma. What else could I do?”
“The choice came down to trying to get a job that’d pay me £17k a year full-time, or taking a risk and trying to make DJing work for a few years and see how it panned out. Even if I made less money, I knew I could survive and that I’d enjoy what I was doing along the way.”
It was a move that Elijah would never look back from. Formed in 2010 alongside Skilliam and christened by BR001 — Terror Danjah’s ‘Bipolar’ EP – Butterz the label felt every bit a slick, well-oiled machine from the outset. The distinctive black and yellow vinyl labels immediately stood out on the racks at record shops, the uniform bubble-art fonts — designed by a then 17 year-old David Kelly — were both playful and nimble, and most importantly, the beats were sugary and dance-able. This was grime as it hadn’t been seen or heard before. Behind the scenes however, Elijah was still learning on the job.
“I’d been to enough raves and bought enough records and been around music long enough to grasp where things were at”, he says humbly. “The idea was to make sure we always had something going on, whether it be records, radio, club nights. Grime had always been focused on the artists in the past, but artists on their own couldn’t match our output or the ferocity we had in those early days. There was no other brand or platform pushing the music at that time either, so I guess we were without comparison. It was good to see so many things come off of it as well, all the other pockets of talent and ideas that started springing up once Butterz had solidified itself. That was the bit that always excited me and gave me things to bounce off.”
“I met Terror through a mutual friend”, he continues, “and we actually spoke for months about my ideas. He ended up coming on Rinse and we spoke some more that night, it was actually at the time he’d been working on ‘Gremlinz’, the retrospective album he put together for Planet Mu. Seeing the reception to that at the time just reinforced my own thoughts about this music having a different context … the idea that people outside of pirate radio could appreciate it, and the notion that grime wasn’t just for MCs to spit over. Terror was the highest-profile artist in our network at the time, so we felt like it’d be smart to start with him. The buyers and record shops already understood where he was coming from the ‘Gremlinz’ record so it was a good crossover point.”
‘Bipolar’ would open the floodgates for a slew of definitive early Butterz records from the likes of D.O.K. and Royal-T — already on the map after producing ‘1 Up’ for P-Money on No Hats No Hoods but still a raw talent — as well as ‘Quality Street’, which saw Mr. Mitch and SRC join Terror and Royal-T on a four-track, multi-artist 12”. SX’s era-defining ‘Wooo Riddim’ also got the vinyl treatment through Butterz, released on white label in 2010, before Elijah then brought Ramadanman (now Pearson Sound) into the picture six months later. Butterz released ‘Woooo Glut’ — a much coveted blend of Ramadanman’s ‘Glut’, itself a defining UK club record of the time — and SX’s ‘Woooo’ in March 2011, which not only saw buyers scramble for copies in their droves but also spotlighted Butterz’s penchant for dance floor cross-pollination. From the outside looking in, it felt like the label was upscaling with every record.
“What was happening was that I was selling records direct”, Elijah explains. “It meant that I could work fast, especially in terms of money. Once we got the first four records out and made our costs back and paid the artists, we had a little chunk of money. We put out ‘Boo You’ with P-Money and ‘I Am’ with Trim really close together after that, more hoping that it’d work than anything else. That was a reminder that we still needed other labels to bounce off really because although they sold alright for what we were trying to do, our only comparison in the market was dubstep. We were selling 3-500 records a time and those guys would be shotting anything from 2500-5000. Our thing was like a drop in the ocean at the time by comparison, but the decision for us to start releasing merch helped subsidise that and gave us more cashflow and the agency to maintain our ability to flip things really quickly.”
As the years started to pass, the Butterz network quickly started to expand. Alongside a core group of producers including Terror Danjah, Royal-T and Swindle, there were new names joining the ranks in varying capacities — some, like dubstep kingpins Silkie and Joker, would make fleeting appearances in supporting roles — while others, like Champion and Flava D, were starting to become an integral part of Elijah and Skilliam’s vision. “The thing was until July 2012, we weren’t doing too many shows outside of London”, Elijah explains, “or not with any regularity anyway. In late 2012 and early 2013 that started to change and we started to take things nationwide. We kicked off our Jamz parties at Wire in Leeds, we did something in the US for the first time, Flava D came on board. Things just started to shift a little bit. You’ve got to remember as well that Swindle and Royal-T had starting making hits for other labels by this point too, Swindle with Deep Medi (‘Do The Jazz’) and Royal-T with Rinse (‘I Know You Want Me’). It meant there was a bit of a gap in our release schedule or the first time, but it allowed us the space to introduce Flava D properly with ‘Hold On / Home’. We actually made the decision to manage Flava from the jump too, which I kept quiet for a long time because I wanted to work on things together in the background, while still learning the role myself. I’d kind of already done it in a soft way with Royal-T and Swindle, but it was a lot more informal, where as I felt Flava needed more structure in place at that point and I saw a lot of potential in her and her music. I felt like we could build a world around her and over time, we built a level of trust that I knew meant we could achieve a lot.”
“That whole period made us think too though”, he continues. “Like, how were we gonna establish the next phase of what we wanted to do? Were we just gonna continue releasing records from different artists or… what were we essentially? By the end of 2013, we made the decision that our core would be Royal-T, Flava D and Swindle, and that was what we were gonna focus on, alongside Elijah & Skilliam. As Elijah & Skilliam, we were artists playing the shows, promoting the nights, doing the business side of it. We had no label manager. Skilliam would do the backend himself for example and it took a lot of time, so we had to find a balance and prioritise what and who we were gonna focus on. There was a whole new wave of sick producers around at the time too, Preditah and Murlo and people like that, but I felt like we didn’t have the capacity to accommodate them. We decided to double-down on what we’d made already. And here we are.”
“As Elijah & Skilliam, we were artists playing the shows, promoting the nights, doing the business side of it. We had no label manager. Skilliam would do the backend himself for example and it took a lot of time, so we had to find a balance and prioritise what and who we were gonna focus on.”
As well as their artist focus, the early London parties Butterz did throw — firstly at East Village to learn the ropes and later at Vauxhall’s now long-since closed, Cable, via a couple of Room 3 shows at fabric — were also some of the capital’s most game-changing at the time. Similarly to their approach to releasing music, Butterz’s vision for throwing club nights felt revolutionary. At Cable, the stars were the DJs, many of whom were also producers, allowing for sets to ripple with individual flair and nuance. Swindle, for example, would flit between crunching, early grime burners like ‘Airmiles’ and the woozy, lo-slung funk of ‘Do The Jazz’, with some in the crowd blowing whistles and horns, while Champion — fresh from releasing 2011 funky anthem ‘Lighter’ — would sway the whole dance floor from side-to-side, a sea of lighters held aloft in the air. Some DJs would even make specials just for those early Cable nights themselves, adding to the sense of occasion that permeated the crowd. And then there were the MCs, some of whom were booked, others who’d just turn up. D Double E spent nearly five minutes trying to actually launch into ‘Bad To Tha Bone’ on his first Cable appearance, the track pulled back six times after 10-15 seconds of him touching the mic and spitting his trademark ‘OOOOO-EEERRRRR, OOOOO-EEERRRRR’ adlib. Then there was JME, who clambered — and somehow maintained his balance — on top of the DJ booth in a sky blue onesie to shush the entire club into silence before launching into a live PA of ’96 Fuckries’, which had charted at #41 on the UK Singles Chart only weeks before despite it having no recognisable hook. Even Skepta turned up at Cable one night in 2013, jumping on set with Swindle and Joker for a performance only those there to witness could quite believe.
“The idea was originally to continue the FWD>> vs Rinse vibe, but with a focus on grime”, Elijah says, casting his mind back to August 2011 and the first Cable party. “The spine of it was producers playing their music, but we also wanted to be present, we wanted to interact with people. Like, we’d be in the crowd when we weren’t playing, there was no separation. Cable was good for that because when you finished your set, there was nowhere else to really go. Lots of people met for the first time at those nights as well, especially people who were familiar online but maybe not in person. You’d have people coming down from different cities, people flying in, people bumping into each other like ‘oh, you’re that person, sick sick’ … they were all really positive things that came out of it.”
“Lots of people met for the first time at those nights as well, especially people who were familiar online but maybe not in person. You’d have people coming down from different cities, people flying in, people bumping into each other like ‘oh, you’re that person, sick sick’.”
“What made the nights more memorable was that we then put out the sets online as well”, Elijah continues. “We’d record the sets live, I’d get home from the rave at like seven in the morning, upload the audio, put it on the internet and go to sleep. Nobody else was doing that at the time. I remember there was one night where we couldn’t get the audio out until the following evening and I had all these people tweeting me in the morning like ‘where’s the sets?’”. Unfortunately, Cable — set under the arches of Vauxhall station — was abruptly (and controversially) forced out of business in May 2013 after Network Rail sanctioned a repossession order to fit an emergency staircase to the station above. It was a hammer blow to London’s nightlife sector at the time, but Butterz nights will forever be enshrined in the memories of those lucky enough to go.
Returning to the Butterz discography, Elijah is keen to talk about one year in particular. “Going back to the label, 2015 was a marquee year for us I think”, he says, pausing briefly, “…especially in terms of really establishing who and what we were. We had the Swindle album (‘Peace, Love & Music’), the Footsie EP (‘Scars’), Rapid’s EP (‘The Rapid EP’), Royal-T’s ‘Shotta’ EP with the Wen and Kahn & Neek remixes … we actually did a little launch party bundle that meant if you bought a ticket, you got a copy of the record … and we obviously started tqd and put out their debut release (‘Day & Night’) for Record Store Day. Going back to Rapid’s EP, we actually launched that at fabric with a Ruff Sqwad reunion which was sick, and then there was ‘Grime 2015’, which was the compilation mixed by me and Skilliam. It was kinda an amalgamation of everything that happened between 2014 and 2015 … ‘That’s Not Me’, ‘Take Time’ and all those tunes … and it did really well for us. It got into the hands of a lot of people that didn’t know anything about Butterz and just wanted a grime CD, which is kinda cool. There’ll probably be like 10,000 people with a Butterz product sitting at home now, whether they realise it or not.”
While certainly a banner year for the label, the launch of tqd also proved a masterstroke for Elijah & Skilliam as ever-evolving execs behind-the-scenes. A new-gen UKG super-group comprised of Royal-T, DJ Q and Flava D born inadvertently at Red Bull Studios, where the trio were in-and-out of studio sessions, tqd’s explosive success shone a light onto the pair’s ability to not only re-contextualize their skills as label heads, but capitalize on social trends for the first time too. “The catalysts were videos being introduced on Twitter and the virality of videos on Facebook”, Elijah affirms. “Sharing clips from the tqd DJ shows, especially shows to big crowds … like we were part of that first wave. People would see these clips of a reload in front of 5000 people and think ‘yo, that’s sick’ … and from the sheer virality of stuff like that, we were able to take that tqd show to any city in the country. And that’s what we did for most of 2016.”
“We were essentially managing that project as a whole”, Elijah continues, “and I really wanted to make sure we got something solid out of it. I didn’t want it to be a case of just putting out some tunes and that being that.” The result? tqd went onto play over 65 shows between 2015-2019, including slots at Glastonbury, SW4, Creamfields, Parklife, Sonar and We Are FSTVL, a nationwide club tour and multiple dates across the US, Europe and Ibiza, with their debut album, ‘ukg’, released to widespread critical acclaim in 2017. Even Pitchfork, notoriously hit-and-miss with their coverage of smaller, niche strains of UK music, were unanimous in their praise of the record, spotlighting album single ‘Vibsing Ting’ in particular as “British dance music of the perfect vintage”.
Now almost a decade deep in music, 2017 also saw Elijah presented with a completely different opportunity altogether. He was approached by an arts charity organisation called Lighthouse, who, based in Brighton, had been given a fund by the Arts Council to bring on an artistic director on an 18-month contract for two days a week. “It was very different to running a label”, he says with a grin. “It was project-based though and the focus was to help artists build on their ideas, which I was able to do on a bigger scale than I could with Butterz. I still don’t think I’ve scratched the surface of working in that world at all, but it was a good experience working with a team and just learning from other people that are not invested in music or a particular scene. It reminded me how small and niche what I do with Butterz is, but it also helped me understand my value and where I can take that next. It was only a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things, but the stuff I did and the people I met there was very impactful, particularly in terms of getting my work in grime getting recognised elsewhere.”
Then came 2020. It was a year Elijah had been working toward for the previous 12 months. There were releases, tours, live shows and of course, ideas — but all were either parked indefinitely or scrapped in their entirety in light of the pandemic. It was a disconcerting period of time, he admits, and one that he’s still navigating his way back from as we move into a new year. “It was horrible, man, to be honest”, he acknowledges. “All I’d been working on for that whole decade just went up in smoke. What do you do next if you can’t do shows or club nights or even see the artists that you work with? What do you even do?”
“All I’d been working on for that whole decade just went up in smoke. What do you do next if you can’t do shows or club nights or even see the artists that you work with?”
It was a question that took a while to sink in, before, after being recommended by friends, he applied for a job to launch and oversee a special fund for Youth Music — “I hadn’t applied for a job since 2009” — where he began working in March 2021. “It actually took the rest of 2020 to catch my breath from the past decade of working like crazy”, says Elijah, “but it’s been interesting to work within a proper organisation and away from Butterz. I now work with them part-time, managing and promoting the NextGen fund, as well as being an advocate for new artists.” The NextGen fund is open to any UK-based creatives aged 18-25 (and up to 30 who identify as Disabled), who, upon a successful application, can receive a grant of up to £2500 to help create their own project.
Sandwiched in between , Elijah also returned to Twitter in the summer of 2021 after a nine-month break — a move which, unexpectedly, has re-platformed perhaps his most valuable asset; ideas. Posting ‘daily thoughts’ die-cast in over 12 years of experience across DJing, working with artists, booking agents, managers, PRs, clubs and more in simple, handwritten fonts on yellow squares — itself a full circle nod to Butterz’s iconic early colour palette — Elijah has been a major catalyst for recent discourse around the future of the music industry.
Refreshed this month for 2022, he’s vowed to write and share his ideas on Instagram every Monday-Thursday for the foreseeable future. “I was effectively starting again from 0”, he explains. “Twitter had deleted my old handle, so I thought about what I could share that’d be useful to anybody who wanted to follow this new account. My mind was clear because I’d been off socials for so long as well, so a lot of those thoughts are a direct result of that clarity. It all started to happen organically once I started tweeting those things out. I even started using my Instagram again and I’d never used that before besides when I was DJing a lot, but because I’ve been sharing things with purpose, I doubled my follower count in the first few months of being back on it. Basically, like, 4000 people came along and started following me on there because I was doing something useful, so those 4000 people only know from the context of being useful or valuable to them, which is nice. I actually got introduced as ‘the guy that does the yellow squares’ the other day.”
“I actually got introduced as ‘the guy that does the yellow squares’ the other day.”
“Thinking about it, it’s a simple concept but it’ll reach more people than Butterz ever did, which is cool as well”, Elijah continues. “And it’s a way to flex my brain a bit but also, the practice of writing every day and articulating your thoughts actually makes you a better writer. I’m working on being super quick and concise with it, especially because, when you think about it, that little yellow square will be the only 15 seconds that I ever get with a lot of people.”
“Over the next 10 years, success would be releasing more music, doing work in our local communities, helping more people get started on their creative journeys and working with our friends that we’ve been cut off from since the pandemic struck”, says Elijah, reading the caption of an archived Instagram post from December 2020 after I ask about what the future might hold. “Any projects that play into those sentiments, basically. Putting out all those ideas has magnetised opportunity of all kinds so I’ve been using the last couple of months to work out how my own creative ideas fit in with everything. I’ve got Butterz, I’m managing artists … how does that build into those aims? I want to move around again but I also want to do stuff local to me in Walthamstow, so what projects are gonna allow me to do both?”
“Over the next 10 years, success would be releasing more music, doing work in our local communities, helping more people get started on their creative journeys and working with our friends that we’ve been cut off from since the pandemic struck.”
One such project took shape in the form of ‘BRIME!’ — the first fully Brazilian grime record ever made available on wax, and only the second Butterz have released in the pandemic landscape. A thoughtfully crafted reissue — the original was released by Brazilian imprint, Ceia, back in March 2020 — it sees three of São Paulo’s most decorated grime artists in CESRV (producer), Fleezus and Febem open a tin of rally-style reload grime over beats that reference everything from Baile Funk to ‘That’s Not Me’-era Eski. “BRIME! was done completely during the pandemic, so I wish we’d done a different catalogue number for it looking back”, says Elijah. “The music that came before was made and put together in totally different circumstances than the music that came after, do you know what I mean? That said, the reason we chose to do it was because nobody had ever put Brazilian grime on record before. Their scene is popping, they’ve got a huge fanbase … we shot a set with them and put it out on our YouTube channel, which we’d started from scratch again shortly before, and it’d had done 300,000 plays in a week. Mad.”
Is the drive to keep pushing new music and new ideas still the same, I wonder, as we start to wind down. “Errrrm”, Elijah begins, pausing briefly, “…it’s hard to get excited about doing the same things, so I find new ways of doing the things that I do wanna do if that makes sense. With fabric for example, we’ve played fabric loads of times, but we played there with Daytimers in October, which was a completely new way of experiencing playing there. The stuff that really excites me though is the stuff that goes beyond the realm of whatever I thought possible when I started doing Butterz or whatever. The way certain people talk about or explain things I’ve not considered before and those people that bring up ideas about technology and how that might change the way we experience music in the future, all those possibilities. That’s what excites me.”
“In general though, I’m most interested by the challenge of how we break down borders in music”, Elijah continues, wrapping up our conversation with some final reflective thoughts. “I think there are good parts to incubating things separately … different micro-scenes or whatever, as I’ve learned with grime … but I’m always thinking about how things sit together as one. Like how does amapiano fit on a jazz line-up for example? Or how does it fit on a grime line-up? Like, I dunno. But I wanna find out.”
On growing up in South London, grime, Fruity Loops, making music videos, COLORS, carving out his own spaces, full circle moments and learning to live at God’s speed.
Kadiata is not your average rapper. Like a treasure hunter who’s already figured out where the loot is buried, he understands that the journey might not be straight forward — but that it’s just as important as the treasure itself. A self-described ‘observer’, he’s carved out a unique space for himself at the vanguard of UK rap by taking his time to grow into himself and the artist he wants to be. “It’s a constantly evolving picture”, he says as we begin our conversation on a gloomy Sunday evening. “Some days I wake up and everything feels amazing, some days I wake up and it feels like everything’s tumbling down. But I feel like it’s always gonna be like that. It just depends on how you wake up and view the world each morning.”
It’s through this lens that Kadiata has learned to adapt to whatever challenges come his way. Born in Angola, he moved to South London with his family aged just 4 years old. Unable to speak English and with very little to cling onto, he had to learn on his feet — and while he doesn’t remember much of that time, he recalls feeling a ‘big disconnect’. “I was bare fresh”, he says, moving his hands expressively. “I had to pick up things off the people next door and other kids at school … I just remember not being able to understand why they knew so much that I didn’t. Because I was so young, I didn’t even know where I’d moved from either so like, I was from a place that I didn’t really remember and now I was in this new place that felt completely different. It meant I didn’t know what was going on for me at all, especially culturally.”
“Obviously, it was sick because I got to grow up the British kinda way with British people and all the localisms, the culture”, he continues. “I did enjoy it once I got older and started to understand more about where I was. Primary school was a bit of a blur because I was still learning … like, everyone was just so quick with everything because they knew what everything was and what everything meant. I found myself like ‘rahhh how do they know that so quick’ all the time but I caught up eventually. I really enjoyed sedentary school you know, I was that kid. It opened a lot up for man. Actually … when did I first start writing bars? It might have been in primary school, you know. Yeah I think it was at primary school.”
“Actually … when did I first start writing bars? It might have been in primary school, you know.”
What was it that inspired him to start writing so young, I ask? “I proper just loved music”, he says without hesitation. “Whenever the radio would play at home or in the car, it’d be proper magnetising, I’d be drawn to it. I knew I liked it, I couldn’t explain how or why, but I was always drawn to it. As I got toward the last few years of primary school, I started to hear a lot more rap music and it just made sense to me. And then when I first heard Kano and Wiley and these man, I was like ‘rahhh, these man even sound like me!’ The minute I heard them, I wanted to have a go myself … so I did. Turns out I had bars as well. They weren’t great or anything but I had bars. Well, everyone at school told me I did, anyway.”
“Whenever the radio would play at home or in the car, it’d be proper magnetising, I’d be drawn to it. I knew I liked it, I couldn’t explain how or why, but I was always drawn to it.”
Once he got to secondary school, Kadiata’s obsession with music became more entrenched. He dabbled in a few other things — “I played a bit of Sunday league … I wasn’t by any means any good but you know” — but always found himself always circling back to music. “I was writing raps and whatever all the time, but I never felt like I was close enough to the music itself”, he explains. “Rapping is one thing but like, what first drew man to music was the musical element. I didn’t feel that connection writing over other people’s beats, so production seemed like something I should have a go at, you know … and my older brother put me onto it, still. He had a copy of one of the early Fruity Loops and yeah once I got going with that, I started experimenting, experimenting, experimenting … and I didn’t stop. To be honest, listening back to them now, my early beats were probably all proper shit but one thing I could give myself credit for was understanding chords and stuff like that. I didn’t necessarily know how to get a full production down, but I always understood chords in a way that if you listen back to my earliest stuff, you can sense that they were always emotive. I knew how I wanted things to sound. From then, being inside the music and writing my bars, I felt proper satisfied … and I’ve basically done the same thing to this day ever since.”
“To be honest, listening back to them now, my early beats were probably all proper shit but one thing I could give myself credit for was understanding chords and stuff like that.”
Inspired by the music he was surrounded by as a teen — Wiley, Ghetts, Scorcher, The Movement and later, UK Funky — his early output fell mostly within the grime canon. It was rough and ragged, but Kadiata was determined to improve and evolve. “You see grime, yeah?”, he asks. “If you stepped a little bit outside the parameters, man would be like ‘nah, that’s not grime’, so I liked the fact that people started to experiment when UK Funky came around. I’m not sure if experiment is the right word because music has always been music innit, but for me it was like ‘rahhh this is still British music, but it’s a little bit to the left’. That period encouraged me to be brave and find new avenues for my production … I was still making grime, but I knew I could make other stuff innit. That said, I didn’t have any identity or direction back then, I was just imitating what I could hear around me.” Did he have an artist name back then, I ask? “Clixx”, he says, chuckling to himself.
After finishing secondary school, Kadiata headed to college to study Music Production at South Thames College in Wandsworth — by now, he was steadfast in the conviction that music was where his future lay. College opened doors too, he acknowledges. “My school bubble was so small, so once I hit college it was like ‘oh shit’ … I kinda had to start all over again”, he reflects. “It was a mad eye opener, really. My music started to get better and better and just through meeting other people from different walks of life who also do music, I was like ‘rahhh, I didn’t know you could take this sound from that genre and put that there’ kinda thing. My mind was opening in real time.”
“Do you know what though, yeah?”, he continues. “Just before I left school, I tried to make my first music video. I had a phone with a camera on it, one of them Sony Ericsson ones, and I just got mad creative. My brother turned the lights on and off and shit like that, and we put it on YouTube. I showed all my friends at school and it was bare funny, like people actually vibed with it. As soon as I left and went to college, one of my bredrins called me and was like ‘ah bro, we want a music video, can you do one for us?’ and I was like, ‘uhhhh, alright?’. I made one for him and then his bredrin shouted me for one off the back of that, and then his bredrin shouted me and before I knew it, I had a YouTube channel called CL Vision. We had loads of different artists from all over London on there, it was mad still.” Is it still on YouTube, I ask? “Nah it got hacked innit”, he explains. “Haters … can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em! I kid you not though, at one point there was like GRM Daily, Link Up TV, UKOVERSTOOD and there was a next channel … ah what was it called, I can’t remember … but yeah after them, it was my channel. People were blowing from it and everything, so I was doing that a lot during college. I didn’t turn up on time very often ‘coz I’d be working on the channel … what’s £30 EMA when I could earn bread making videos? It’s weird though yeah because even while all that was going on, in my head I was still an artist. I still felt like I was good at what I did.”
“Just before I left school, I tried to make my first music video. I had a phone with a camera on it, one of them Sony Ericsson ones, and I just got mad creative. My brother turned the lights on and off and shit like that, and we put it on YouTube. I showed all my friends at school and it was bare funny, like people actually vibed with it.”
Indeed, so good that he was scouted by an indie label, who he signed a deal with shortly after leaving college. Still recording as Clixx, it was his first taste of the music industry proper — and it left a bit of a sour taste. “I just felt like my music changed too much”, he says, shrugging. “At the time, I didn’t really know what I was signing either, so I was making bare stuff but I wasn’t able to release any of it because my contract said that both me and the label had to sign off on music first. That’s basically the worst mistake you can make as a young artist innit. But yeah, that’s what happened, I can’t change it.”
It was during this time that Kadiata also headed off to Portsmouth University to continue studying Music Production, this time to degree level. How was it, I ask? “I dunno to be honest with you”, he says, looking up toward the ceiling. “I didn’t really have a uni experience. I went, I was going to lectures and doing the work I needed to do, but after that I was working on music for this label. I went out once or twice but I didn’t make enough friends. I was so uninvested in that side of it at the time, coupled with the fact that a lot of the people I met there weren’t my kinda people. Even the times I did go out, there were bare people on drugs and this and that … and like fair play to them guys but I came from the hood, selling that kinda shit. It meant that I just felt more inclined to crack on with my music. I made so much stuff but like I said, my music was changing and it just really didn’t work out with this label and I came home.”
Kadiata managed to get out of his deal by 2014 — a moment that served as a catalyst for the career he has today; no longer would he make music for anybody but himself. “I just started experimenting bare once I got back home to London”, he explains. “By the time 2015 came around, I was like ‘right, I’m gonna be me now’ and hence I changed my artist name from Clixx to my real name, Kadiata. My first single as Kadiata was ‘Goodnight’, which I put out in 2015. Some people didn’t really understand it because it was a little bit left and I was in my ‘I’m doing me’ bag, but I found the feedback interesting. Around that time, I met Ryan Bassil from Noisey, who was actually managing my good friend Miles From Kinshasa at the time. He’d heard my music through him and really vibed with ‘Goodnight’, so I sent him the music video which we’d shot in the ends. He ended up premiering it on Noisey and from there, I started to get quite a lot of attention.”
“My first single as Kadiata was ‘Goodnight’, which I put out in 2015. Some people didn’t really understand it because it was a little bit left and I was in my ‘I’m doing me’ bag, but I found the feedback interesting.”
It was the first in a series of releases that were met with mixed responses. Kadiata was making rap, but not as British rap fans knew it; it was similar but different. There was vulnerability, there was pain, there was angst, there was humour — but you didn’t have to read between the lines to find it. This was British rap that jumped off the lyric book straight into people’s hearts and minds. It was visceral, thoughtful, musical. “I think I released a song called ‘Mother Nurture’ with Miles after ‘Goodnight’”, he says, tracing his mind back. “The feedback was still similar but a US label wanted to put it out, so I let them. In hindsight, it didn’t do too much for me but it did bring my music to more Soundcloud users and back then it was still a big discovery platform. The grime resurgence was kinda happening back then too, still, so I did start to question whether I should go back to where I started. That resulted in me putting out a tune called ‘Dumb’ in 2016 and that gave me a few more opportunities, I had labels reaching out to me and what not. So there I was, three tunes in and I was already in the conversation, but I still felt that the grime thing wasn’t the right place for me to be able to spread my wings properly. So then I released ‘Onda’ and ever since then, I’ve known where I’ve wanted to get to.”
With ‘Onda’ crystallising his vision, Kadiata was again on the radar of some of the UK’s most impressionable labels; “a lot of them reached out to say they found me interesting”, he recalls. “I basically streamlined my whole formula within that one song and I’ve just expanded on it ever since. From that one song, I knew what I wanted to do and how I wanted to sound.” Such was its impact, he was recruited for a groundbreaking COLORS session in 2017, where he performed debut 2015 single ‘Goodnight’. “Looking back in hindsight now, it feels like it was mad early for me”, he says, smiling. “I didn’t have that much music out back then but maybe that was the point, I dunno. I remember just getting an email from a good friend of mine to this day, Florina, and she was just reached out to say ‘yeah I think you’re sick, we’d love for you to come over and record a COLORS session’ kinda thing. At the time, I was seeing bare of them so I was gassed. I went over to Berlin to record it and it was vibe though, still … I really enjoyed it.” Over 440,000 views later, it still serves as a great entry point into Kadiata’s world, as both an artist and a performer.
Later in 2017, he released his debut EP proper ‘Dnt Tell Me Plz’ — a downbeat five-track mini opus that captured Kadiata at arguably his most experimental point so far — before taking some time out to learn about meditation in the quest to find good headspace. “2017 was a crazy year, man”, he concedes. “I learnt so much about music and myself and I actually met so many good people in the industry that year as well. I think that’s when I first linked up properly with Sam Wise and we made ‘When The Sun Comes Out’ together. I made ‘Art Hoes’ in 2017 too, still.”
A further slew of singles would follow throughout 2018 and 2019, with Kadiata continuing to spread his wings and find his range. Now part of a wider collective of UK artists operating within a similar rap space — alongside Miles From Kinshasa, Knucks, Sam Wise, Oscar #Worldpeace, Jords et al — his music finally had a home; a place for it to be fully understood and contextualised. “I think ever since everyone in this kinda scene started linking up, it’s been very clear that what we’re doing over here is very different from the mainstream”, he acknowledges. “To put it in a sentence, we just care a lot more about the music. We wanna take more risks, we wanna break boundaries, we wanna trail-blaze. I feel like we’ve done that so far.”
“To put it in a sentence, we just care a lot more about the music. We wanna take more risks, we wanna break boundaries, we wanna trail-blaze.”
What separates Kadiata further from his peers though, is his ability behind the buttons. To this day, he still produces much of his own output and is also a go-to producer for many behind-the-scenes — a duality that he’s more than happy to maintain. “I feel like artists are aware that I’m not gonna serve them what’s already out there”, he says of his beat-making. “People have learnt to find the beauty in that, you know. There are tunes out there that I’ve produced that don’t sound like anything else and they’ve done really well. Like, I produced ‘Night Time’ by Master Peace, ‘Rack Up’ by Sam Wise is one of mine, ‘Dreaming Fool’ by JGrrey, ‘Regardless’ by Miraa May … there’s a load more but I can’t remember them all. I think it puts me in an interesting space. A good position.”
His latest releases echo those sentiments further, too. ‘Blind, this summer’, a seven-track EP released in April 2020 was followed by ‘Lost, This Winter’ back in July — two records that rank as Kadiata’s most extensive and most thematically ambitious so far. “Lost, This Winter’ is a very thought-provoking record, still”, he explains. “I was in my thoughts a lot while I was making it during lockdown, especially living alone for parts of it, so a lot of the topics I speak about were based on my real experiences at the time. All the tracks have a certain bop to them, even though it’s quite a serious record … I think that was the point. I wanted people to take it in but still be able to vibe with it. ‘Blind, this summer’ … that was very interesting as well because in hindsight, I feel like I might have rushed it a bit. I hadn’t dropped a project in a long time and people were asking after one because I’d dropped single after single, so I got a bunch of tunes and put them together … but I still wanted to tell a story with it. I wanted people to learn about the kind of person that I am and I did that by formatting it in the context of a relationship, rather than just outwardly telling bare facts about me. Now you gotta look out for ‘Sprung, This Spring’ and ‘Fall, This Autumn’.”
On the immediate horizon, Kadiata plays two sold-out headline shows at The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington this week (October 12 & 13) — a space he already has history with. “I’ve been looking forward to these shows for a long time”, he says, grinning. “Wanna know a fun fact actually? I opened up for Rex Orange County at the Waiting Room back in 2016, so that’s a little interesting full circle moment for me.”
“Wanna know a fun fact actually? I opened up for Rex Orange County at the Waiting Room back in 2016, so that’s a little interesting full circle moment for me.”
As for his long-term plans? “I wanna be known for being just as good as an artist as I am a producer”, he concludes. “It doesn’t have to be me as an artist, I’m just trying to make good music for whoever. I guess I need to find a balance between showing people I can be a genius producer, but also make their favourite song as an artist at the same time. What I’ve learned over the last 18 months or so though is that I can be very impatient, I always wanna get shit done, but sometimes you’ve gotta go at God’s speed. You gotta let things be at the time they’re supposed to be, you know.”
Kadiata plays The Waiting Room on October 12 & 13.
On grime, Nottingham, hustle, confidence, Lord Of The Mics, ‘Tyrone’, artist vs MC, moments vs process, working with Grandmixxer and coming into his own on new EP, ‘One Uncle’.
“I could kinda complain a little bit but complaining ain’t really gonna get me anywhere”, says Mez nonchalantly as we begin our conversation late on Sunday morning, the sound of the rain outside muffling our early exchanges. “That’s not to say that I’m a super spiritual person or anything, but at the moment, I haven’t really got anything to complain about if I’m honest. I’ve just done my release, I’m working on a couple of new things … life’s just moving as it’s supposed to be moving innit.” These are strong, focused words — words that set the tone for a chat with one of the most focused, driven young grime artists I’ve ever spoken to.
Born and raised in Nottingham, there’s been a lot made of Mez’s flow, lyrical style and energy — he’s forever unfazed and a ferocious MC on mic — but his biggest calling card might just be his rationale. “A lot of my friends were ringing me up when the COVID stuff was initially happening last year and asking me questions that they obviously knew the answers to”, he says as we start to reflect on 2020. “They’d ring me and be like ‘yo, you haven’t got any shows now have you?’ and I’d be like, ‘well obviously not, you’re not going to work so why would I be going to work?’. I was speaking to Travis T about this but I was kinda having a debate with myself about everything at first … should I carry on releasing music, should I wait, should I just keep building it. Travis just said, ‘bro, time waits for no man’. I took that advice and ran with it. I might not have been able to do many shows or perform any tracks from ‘Tyrone 3’ but it certainly didn’t feel like my world was ending. The show must go on, innit.”
Mez recounts growing up like ‘every other kid’ in Nottingham — “we’d just do stuff normal things, roll around the ends, link up with the mandem … I was no different to anyone else really” — but also recalls one moment that could have halted his music career before it’d even started. “When I got to about 15”, he says sheepishly, tone suddenly lower and more serious, “something happened at my house innit. My mum was strict, like not super strict but if you did certain things you’d get punished. There was a time I was a part of this clash ting with a guy from another school and obviously I had my bars written in a notepad at home. One day, I must have left it somewhere in my room and my mum found it. When you read back through what I was saying about this guy in my bars, like, they’re obviously not things you’d say to your mum, innit. She’s thinking ‘nah, this the end of the world, what’s happened to my son? Why’s he saying these things about another individual?’ kinda thing. She phoned my uncle and everything! He’s come round to my yard and was like, ‘rah’ and started greazing me up yeah … and then he’s read my notepad. Once he’d read the bars he was like, ‘nahhh this kid’s hard, look how he’s going in … if he’s gonna do anything, it’s gonna be this music ting’. From there, once she’d heard it from my uncle, my mum gave me a little bit more freedom. Even then, I remember telling my mum I was off to 1Xtra one day and she’d set up a job interview for me the next morning. Obviously I was never gonna wake up in time and I could see it was all stressing her world … like, ‘why can’t my son just do normal things that a normal child would do?’.
“There was a time I was a part of this clash ting with a guy from another school and obviously I had my bars written in a notepad at home. One day, I must have left it somewhere in my room and my mum found it. When you read back through what I was saying about this guy in my bars, like, they’re obviously not things you’d say to your mum, innit. She’s thinking ‘nah, this the end of the world, what’s happened to my son? Why’s he saying these things about another individual?’”
“It’s funny though because music was always on at home”, Mez continues. “My mum would play 50 Cent’s album, then So Solid’s album … and then like, Elephant Man or something … but then I’d go to my uncles and he’d be playing Dipset, Cam’Ron and Cassidy and all that. My other uncle was even more old school, he’d be playing flippin’ DOOM and these old hip-hop man and then my grandma would play more church music. Anywhere I went, I was getting some type of vibe basically.”
Can he recall any specific tracks he was into, I ask? “I’m 24 yeah and I hear a lot of people my age talk about N.A.S.T.Y Crew or Mak 10 or Marcus Nasty and I’m always like, ‘I was 6 years old, bro’”, he says chuckling. “There were obviously tunes I would have heard on the telly … I mean I remember that SLK tune, ‘Hype Hype’. Hearing little tunes like that, I’d then make connections. A lot of music I listened to, I had to grow into liking if that makes sense.”
“Lots of music back then was shared on Bluetooth at school as well”, he continues. “Like, anything underground from Nottingham, if you weren’t getting it on Bluetooth you’d be ripping audio on YouTube. I found out a lot about music that way at school. Even then though, everyone just listened to everything. Like, certain youts would listen to grime but then certain youts would just listen to Lil Wayne.”
Despite the frictions at home, by the time he was 17, Mez — then known as Young Mez — was already established as one of Nottingham’s best next-gen MCs. He was a mainstay in a local crew called NSB and had already linked up with fellow breakthrough names from the city like JDot, Snowy and BeatGeeks. But still, the questions continued. “I remember like, even from when I was about 10 years old until I was about 17, you get all your family members asking that question … what do you wanna do? What do you wanna be?’”, says Mez, audibly frustrated. “I swear on my life yeah, I got to about 15 and I thought, ‘why do I keep giving everyone different answers?’. One day I’d wanna be a maths teacher, the next day I’d wanna be a pilot ‘coz my grandma’s asking me and then the day after that, I wanted to be a scientist. Really, I was just going through life not really knowing. It was only when people started paying me to perform or do shows .. and I was young, probably 16 … that I realised I could really do music. Even getting like, £75 … if I’m 16 and getting £75 for 30 minutes work, the maths are crazy, like … it was smoking any other type of thing I’d done before so I knew I had to put my focus on music. I didn’t wanna sit in no office.”
“One day I’d wanna be a maths teacher, the next day I’d wanna be a pilot ‘coz my grandma’s asking me and then the day after that, I wanted to be a scientist. Really, I was just going through life not really knowing.”
“I did have one one job, you know”, he continues. “Nottingham City Council, apprenticeship ting. My mum got me the job and I was there for a month. They sacked me a the end of that month, but the person who was dealing with me told me, ‘I’m not properly sacking you, but I’m gonna have to let you go because you’re too passionate about music’. You know when she said that to me yeah? I was wilin’. In my head I was thinking, ‘how am I gonna tell my mum?’ … she’s gonna look at me like an eediyat, this is a recipe for some punishment. But obviously everything worked out, nature took its course and I’ve ended up here, man.”
“All the things I learned from people around me back then thought, like, I’ve carried with me”, Mez continues. “It’s not like it was even a telling off ting but more just about being correct. The way you carry yourself, the way you speak to people … all of that stuff will help you be yourself in the world you wanna live in.”
“The way you carry yourself, the way you speak to people … all of that stuff will help you be yourself in the world you wanna live in.”
Rather than particular breakout moments — Mez cut his teeth before viral culture had fully dropped anchor in music — he credits the process of both practising and working consistently with helping build his name outside of Nottingham. Unshakeably self-assured — “I always knew I had it … and you either have it or you don’t” — he’s also not been afraid to listen to and learn from those around him. Deemed ‘quiet’ by many — “I’ve been going to Spyro’s yard recently and he’s always saying I need to speak more” — Mez’s music has mostly done all the talking. “I’ve always believed in my mind that the people next to me are gonna respect me”, he says firmly. “Whether it’s going to a new studio, clashing someone in a different city, jumping on stage, no matter what it is, I’m gonna leave with a certain level of respect. I’ve always felt like that. This is gonna sound mad, but as a yout, I’d be in my bedroom watching Ghetts or listening to Logan and I’m trying to MC over the next MC to see if I can smoke them. Obviously, I wasn’t smoking Ghetts spitting bars in my bedroom, but I was trying to get in that mindset like, ‘yeah, I’m here with you man’. By the time I actually met them properly, it felt like I’d already been clashing them for time in my bedroom. They just didn’t know.”
“Whether it’s going to a new studio, clashing someone in a different city, jumping on stage, no matter what it is, I’m gonna leave with a certain level of respect. I’ve always felt like that.”
These bedroom freestyles were soon transported to YouTube once Mez started linking with various cameramen and videographers (most notably JDZmedia) — “it was literally just a trail of ‘keep doing the work and the next thing will happen for you’ kinda thing” — and before long, London came calling. He won 1Xtra’s #NextInGrime competition in 2015 as a 17 year-old, which inadvertently won him a slot on tour with Kano, and he also clashed Trappy on Lord Of The Mics VII later that year; breakthrough moments that saw his stock rise exponentially almost overnight. “If you don’t work, people aren’t gonna look for you bro”, he says assuredly. “I can be honest though yeah, at the time, my younger mentality thought I was too big for the moment with Lord of the Mics”, he continues. “The guy I clashed (Trappy), I’d clashed twice in Birmingham already, so I knew there was nothing he could do or say to me, it’d had already been proven. He got smoked. Even before the clash started, I could see man was all dazed up thinking he was gonna get me this time where as I’ve just gone in there on some ‘there’s no chance, you are my child’ ting. I could see that Lord Of The Mics had a certain level of PR around it though, the type of things you see artists do now, they were already doing back then and I didn’t really know about any of that stuff. That was the first time I ever did stuff like interview workshops, which made me realise there was more to music than just being a musician. I think that’s what I took away most from Lord Of The Mics, how to move and how to behave when you’re in a certain spotlight.”
With the grime scene’s gaze temporarily fixed on Nottingham and the Midlands, Mez also released debut single ‘Sike’ in 2015 — a breathless track that opened the floodgates for a slew of early Mez music, including collaborations with producers like Trends (‘SLO’s’), DJ Cable (‘One Line Flows’) and fellow Nottingham beat-makers, BeatGeeks, who released his first ever EP proper, ’28’, in the same year. Under the tutelage of then manager and Nottingham-based DJ, Blenda, and producer Kidda Beats, he quickly learned to get his business in order, too. “I had no idea bout things like PRS back then”, he says openly, “but those guys helped me understand what I needed to do, and made sacrifices for me. They’d bring me into play shows and just do lots of little things to help man, and over time, that influenced me in terms of presenting myself in the right way, rather just looking like someone who was trying a ting. I think perception was a big part of it as well. Like, man going to Birmingham and being on a radio show with Big Mikee made people think ‘yo, how’s he done that?’ at that time. I was taking the right steps. I guess all of that was a big part of me becoming an actual artist, rather than just a name with bars.”
This path to true artistry felt first trodden on ’Tyrone’ — the first in a trio of mixtape-length EPs that lifted the lid on the real Mez for the first time. Released in 2018, it was raw and unabashed, and while the flows were familiar, the depth and nuance of his lyricism superseded the reload-friendly, all-guns-blazing rave MC persona that had come to characterise his output. It all coincided with finding a London studio (and engineer/producer) that he felt comfortable with, too. “It was just before ’Tyrone’ that I first linked with Diamondz”, Mez explains. “Before, when I was younger, I’d record in whatever studio I could but working with Diamondz in his studio, it was sick. Everything just sounded better than everything I’d done before, so every time I’d come down to London, I’d just go there and record. ’Tyrone’ was my first project where all the music was recorded in one place and you can hear it in the tunes. Me having one spot to be in to record made that difference I think and the way Diamondz works was a perfect fit for me. If I go and link him now, it’s second nature. We’ve got the process down.”
By contrast, latest 10-track EP, ‘One Uncle’ — an ode to a nickname he was given for sorting out his friends at his local shop (‘Don’t worry lickle man, you can have a juice, Uncz has got you!’) — was written entirely in his bedroom during lockdown. Unable to move freely during the pandemic, Mez asked Diamondz for list of equipment he’d need to mirror his studio and got to work. “When I got everything mixed, it all sounded like it would do at Diamondz’s studio”, he says proudly. Featuring a slew of his own productions and guest verses from some of grime’s biggest hitters — D Double E, Discarda, Wiley, Flirta D, Jammer and more all contribute — it’s a record that reaffirms his position as one of the genre’s most precocious outlier talents. “I’ve got this 50/50 thing with my beats”, Mez says, pausing to think about what he looks for in his own music. “Like, it’s not the first thing I do … I didn’t wake up as a producer one day … but it’s something else that I like to do. My whole thing at the start was like, I know how I want my beats to sound but why vocal them if I know I can ask Spyro to make them and they’ll sound 50x better? On the other hand, I’d have people around me … the Travis T’s, the Grandmixxer’s … they’d hear stuff I was making and be like ‘rah!’. I’ve always just made things for vibes, I’ve never been on this top producer thing so like for me, when I’m making a tune, the first thing I wanna think about is if I can vibe to it, if I can jump up to it. If the rhythm of it ain’t on a vibes ting, to me there’s no point. I’m not here trying to make the orchestral magic, I don’t even know how to write music … if you put a keyboard in front of me I’d just hit some keys and if it sounds good, that’s it innit. But the mandem made me believe.”
“A good example is ‘Bumbaclart Riddim’ with P Money”, he continues. “I was playing Xbox with P one day and I had my computer downstairs yeah and certain days, I’m just gassed to show man whatever I’m making. I played it to him and carried on playing it for time whenever the mandem came over and everyone was asking, ‘why are you playing this tune all the time, bro?’. I’d just be gassed and tell everyone it was a banger. I ended up spitting over it quickly in my yard, P Money heard it and commented like ‘yo this is the ting from earlier, I didn’t realise!’ kinda thing. Knowing that he liked the beat and wanted to vocal it after that was like, ‘yeah, this is good’. That was actually the first instrumental tune I ever had released, and it was quite natural really. You could task any producer with making that beat and they’d know how to do it, like ‘he did this, he did this and then he did that’ kinda thing but when you hear it, it’s me innit. Man don’t wanna be Beethoven, I’m an MC bro … you’re just gonna get straight crud!”
“Man don’t wanna be Beethoven, I’m an MC bro”
Alongside a stellar run of releases since 2018, Mez’s development has also been aided by his work with previous Polymer interviewee, Grandmixxer — a DJ behemoth behind the decks but more importantly, a grounding force both in-and-away-from of music. “You see Grandmixxer?”, Mez asks, “I know that whenever I’m with him, I’m gonna be working on music and that’s it. There’s nothing else I’m gonna do. Sometimes you work with someone and it just works and that’s the case with him, so why stop, do you know what I mean? Me and him will make the rawest music but there’s another side that we’ve both got as well … we’re tapped, we’re tapped. It’s good to have that expressive side that I don’t have to show to everyone else though. We’ve got a tune called ‘Cannabis Psychosis’ yeah and I remember he was telling me, ‘yo Mez I’m gonna flames you up today, this one’s gonna be for your head-back’ and I was like nah ‘cannabis psychosis, man’s been smoking too much weed’. So I wrote the tune like that, literally about smoking too much weed. I showed some of my other fiends and they were like ‘nah, this is disgusting music’ but to me and him, it’s jokes, that’s what it’s about sometimes. It’s of the moment.”
While sometimes of the moment, Mez is always of the future. As someone who ‘can’t help’ being an artist — “I feel like I’ll always make music” — he also recognises the importance of the balance between personal development and musical development as he moves forward through life; “I can see where I wanna be as a person away from music and I think that’ll help me make better music, so both sides feed into each other if the makes sense”, he says quizzically. “Within everyone’s life, there’s always gotta be a next step. I’m not out here saying I’m gonna make music and live in a mansion … what happens before you get to live in a mansion? That’s what I’m all about.”
On life in the country, grime, journalism, club nights, 679 Recordings, management, pressure, identity, community, trusting the process and scaling up with Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson and TRENCH Magazine.
“PS hope you feel better don’t burn out!!! Ironic coming from me tbh”, reads Chantelle Fiddy’s message on Saturday morning. We’d been trying to arrange an interview for nearly a week but our collective workloads said otherwise. When we finally sat down to chat late on Sunday evening, it felt like a small victory in itself. “I’m an exhausted person”, she says, opening our conversation in earnest. “I thought by this time in life, I’d have a balance sorted between life, work and everything else … and maybe that’s circumstantial right now … but I always try and give things perspective. It does feel like I’m back to square one a lot of the time, especially when you’re having to dig deep to think of that next idea or project. I am hopeful for the future, I’m just really tired.”
This overarching sense of tiredness seemed to permeate large pockets of our chat, without ever feeling defined by it. Whether a symptom of the world grappling with the concept of ‘returning to normal’ or a wider, more general industry malaise, Chantelle’s words are still laced with ambition and drive. And plenty of philosophy, too. “What I think I want in life and the way we have to live life … I can’t seem to work out how to marry the two”, she ponders.
“What I think I want in life and the way we have to live life … I can’t seem to work out how to marry the two.”
An industry stalwart for the best part of 20 years, Chantelle Fiddy has played an integral role in the sounds, scenes and careers that have come to define nearly two decades worth of British music. Revered most for her contributions to grime as a journalist, promoter and occasional A&R, she’s also worked in consultancy, outreach, youth work and artist management positions, tirelessly pushing the music, the artists and the messages she cares about most. The secret ingredient? Hustle. “I’ve always hustled”, she says. “I’ve always worked hard, grinded and pushed for what I believe in.”
Born in Southampton before moving to Cornwall as a toddler — a place she describes as both her spiritual and ancestral home — Chantelle grew up on the English coast, before returning to live in the New Forest for a spell and then onto Bedford, just to the north of London. “I feel like I’ve had many lives”, she says expressively, “so I don’t feel like I have roots anywhere, or any particular foundation. What moving around a lot does give you though is a sense of fearlessness, so where I live now for example, I didn’t know anyone when I moved here. But I just thought, ‘fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen?’ It’s like anything in life, it is what you make it.”
“It was very much me, my mum and my sister until I was about 15”, she continues, reflecting on her childhood. “I wouldn’t say life was particularly hard but it wasn’t easy either. We didn’t have money but we also didn’t care about those things and I think that’s maybe generational. Happiness for us was being in the garden or just being outdoors generally. Moving it forward a bit, what was mad about moving out to somewhere rural where I live now is that nobody wears headphones. I remember clocking people looking at me when I first walked into the local town and couldn’t work out and then I realised. Music just isn’t in people’s lives in the same way. It’s not engrained, you know? I took a copy of the new TRENCH magazine into town and nobody knew who anybody on any of the covers were. And I love that. It’s such an important reminder that what we do is important, sure, but only in a certain space. Remembering that, and remembering what really matters, is so important.”
Chantelle knew she wanted to write as a teenager, especially about music, but the thing that mattered most? Telling stories. “For me, it was always a case of thinking about how to tell the best stories”, she explains. “I love stories universally. Whether it’s my next door neighbour or an artist I’m talking to, stories matter. My journey into music really started with raving though. I’m a big believer in trusting the process of life and that everything you’ve been dealt and gone through happens for a reason, even if you didn’t realise it at the time. Had I not moved to Bedford and gone through what I thought was an awful move, I wouldn’t have made it to London. Basically, me and my friend Kim started getting into happy hardcore, jungle, garage … and raving went in hand-in-hand with it. I think my mum let me go to my first rave when I was 18. It wasn’t Sidewinder but it was something similar called Dreamscape 21. I remember she said I had to be home by midnight but it didn’t start until midnight, so the deal was I could come in at five in the morning but I had to do my jobs on Sunday. Did my jobs around the house get done? No they didn’t.”
“I love stories universally. Whether it’s my next door neighbour or an artist I’m talking to, stories matter.”
“We spent a lot of time at school trading tapes as well”, she continues. “Not proper tape packs or anything like that, literal TDKs. People from London would be recording sets at Rinse and then coming back on the motorway and bringing them into school. We didn’t know any of the stations, we’d just have all these random sets and people would buy them and trade them and whatever. That was where it really began for me. I’d always liked music but it became a deeper passion at that point.”
Originally interested in studying fashion, Chantelle thought long and hard about where she wanted to be — but found few answers. Lacking confidence and belief, a chance common room meeting with her headmaster during her final year of sixth form gave her the push she needed to instead apply to study Journalism. “I thought I’d missed the deadline”, she recalls, “but he told me to write a letter to the London College of Printing, which is now part of University of the Arts London (UAL). I wrote a letter, sent in some examples of my work and went in for an interview. I found out afterwards that I was the only applicant who didn’t have to sit an entrance exam … and thank fuck because I’m terrible at exams.”
“My A-levels were awful”, she continues. “I got predicted really good grades and came out with C, D, E, N … N, which means GCSE standard. I remember ringing the London College of Printing on results day and a security guard answered the phone. I was obviously really upset thinking I’d just completely fucked up my future and he went on the system and said my offer was ‘unconditional’. I honestly didn’t know what was going on or who’d fiddled with what, but like, big up them!”
Path to London secured, Chantelle found the initial jump from sixth form — “the school I came from had a Farming GCSE course” — to university life a challenge, and under the mentorship of lecturer and Evening Standard journalist, Paul Charman, she often cut a frustrated figure. “I remember he hotted me up once and told me I needed to join a course where I didn’t have to think because it wasn’t clicking for me”, she recalls. “My ego took a hit and I hated him for months after that, especially because he made me re-do about six weeks of seminar notes, but one day, some time later, what he’d said suddenly hit home. I guess that’s how university shaped me to be honest. It taught me how to think … not just to read something, but to think about what I’m reading. That was a really big mental shift.”
“In essence, I didn’t find university easy at all, I really had to work at it”, Chantelle continues, “but I loved the feature writing element and I was fortunate enough to study under Melanie McFadyean and Simon Hattenstone, who are two of The Guardian’s best feature writers. The course itself was very much news based though and I knew I didn’t want to go into that. I’d actually gone into it thinking I wanted to work for Touch Magazine, which I’d read religiously for years, but it had closed down at the time and I remember we were tasked with getting some work experience as part of the course. I’d read a column that DJ Spoony had written for a dance music magazine and he’d asked people to write into him, so I penned a handwritten letter and sent it in. The next thing I remember, I got a call from his PA asking if they could publish it on Spoony’s website. She was like ‘seriously, nobody ever writes us letters’ kinda thing. Shortly afterwards, DJ Spoony’s PA, Kelly, got back in touch with me to ask if I wanted to represent the public on a panel about violence in UK garage. I don’t know why I said yes because I didn’t know a lot about garage at the time, but literally the day before it happened, Neutrino, who was meant to be on the panel, shot himself in the leg. The whole thing was pulled and I thought that was it, I thought I’d missed my chance of getting to work for this magazine off the back of the panel … I can’t even remember what it was called, but it fell through.”
“I’d read a column that DJ Spoony had written for a dance music magazine and he’d asked people to write into him, so I penned a handwritten letter and sent it in. The next thing I remember, I got a call from his PA asking if they could publish it on Spoony’s website.”
“Luckily, Kelly got in touch again to ask me if I wanted to be introduced to an editor called Vince Jackson and I was like, ‘what, Vince Jackson? The guy who used to edit Touch?’”, Chantelle continues. “She told me he was working on the Time Out Carnival Guide that year, so we got introduced and Vince brought me in to work with him. It was such an amazing placement as well because it ran for about six weeks and I was just writing solidly, that’s all I did. As luck would have it, Vince got a call while I was working with him to say that Touch was gonna be restarting and that they were on the look out for an Editorial Assistant. I had two weeks left on my placement, so once I’d finished at Time Out, I started at Touch. I couldn’t believe it, I was in my third year of uni and I was working at Touch Magazine? Crazy. It was myself, Hattie Collins, Russel Myrie, two designers and the editor in what was basically a broom cupboard.”
“My first cover feature was with Justin Timberlake, around his ‘Justified’ campaign”, she continues. “I’d only graduated six months before and there I was, the only music journalist from the UK, being flown to LA to listen to the album and spend an hour with Justin Timberlake at Chateau Marmont alongside someone from The Telegraph and some big arse don from GQ. I was way beyond what I thought I’d be doing but at that age, it reinforced this idea that I was doing the right thing … this is what I was here for, you know? Things were so different then as well, you had so much more access to artists. I ended up playing Justin Timberlake street music from the UK and asking what he thought about people like Ms Dynamite and stuff like that. It was crazy really.”
“I’d only graduated six months before and there I was, the only music journalist from the UK, being flown to LA to listen to the album and spend an hour with Justin Timberlake at Chateau Marmont alongside someone from The Telegraph and some big arse don from GQ.”
Through her work at Touch, Chantelle quickly built up an extensive feature writing portfolio but by her own admittance, her passion lay with UK music and the new scenes that were starting to emerge across the country. Touch, on the other hand, had its focus in a more commercial space — much of its content was reserved for big US artists and the rap and RnB sounds that had dominated the early ‘00s — so when the blog era was ushered in circa 2003/4, Chantelle seized the opportunity and launched her own. “I was straight on it”, she says with a smirk. “Here was a place I could put all the stuff that magazines wouldn’t be interested in. I was talking to a lot of these artists every day anyway, so it made sense to start to uploading some of those conversations.” Her blog became a de-facto home for those looking to get the latest read on grime — alongside fellow cornerstone grime bloggers like former Polymer interviewee Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson, Prancehall and Hyperfrank — while also opening her up to a new wave of writing opportunities.
“Deuce Magazine was about back then and it was great there because it was a grime-focused magazine”, Chantelle explains. “When I was at Touch, grime wasn’t called grime … it was right at the start of everything … but I knew that grime was where I wanted to go and what I wanted to write about. I was really excited by everything about grime, it was a whole new experience and it gave me an insight into London life. It was like opening a door to all this opportunity. It made me realise that you can be anything you want in London if you put your mind to it, there’s so much out there. I was up all hours writing my blog, uploading MSN conversations you know … but when you work from a place of passion, it’ll always pay off. Just from writing my blog, I got to write for Arena Magazine, Sunday Times Style, NME, Smash Hits. I got into so many publications purely because they’d read my blog. How mad is that?”
“I was up all hours writing my blog, uploading MSN conversations you know … but when you work from a place of passion, it’ll always pay off.”
“Smash Hits was the hardest magazine I’ve ever worked on”, she continues. “It was a weekly magazine, it was pop music and it was for kids, which is the hardest style of writing to master … trying to be down with the kids. I’d go into the offices there and they’d think I was really cool and I’d be like, ‘What? You’re Smash Hits, the only publication that I work for that my grandma’s heard of!’ kinda thing. That time in my twenties was fantastic, the type of journalism we were doing was just totally different. I remember doing a dirty pant test with Usher for Smash Hits once. He had a laundry basket that he had to pick out pants from and in the gusset would be a question. He had to read out the question and then hang the pants on a washing line above his head. Like, can you imagine getting man to do that now? I remember me and Hattie (Collins) got to spend five days on a Puerto Rican island to interview Missy Elliot once as well. We only had Missy for an hour and then had the rest of the time just on this island. We had a week in Miami to interview Pharell, but that was awful actually thinking about it … one of the worst interviews I’ve ever done in my life. Honestly, painful man. I learned that in situations like that, you just run the interview as it happens and leave it up to the reader to decide. The best bit about that trip was getting stuck in Miami because there was a hurricane warning. We got pissed and got in the hot tub on the roof of our hotel and had security shouting at us. I think we were the only people left in the entire hotel. Those days really were just different.”
“I remember doing a dirty pant test with Usher for Smash Hits once. He had a laundry basket that he had to pick out pants from and in the gusset would be a question. He had to read out the question and then hang the pants on a washing line above his head. Like, can you imagine getting man to do that now?“
“The Shoredtich scene was booming back then too”, says Chantelle. “We really tried to build something by bringing grime and nu-rave and the fashion together, it was a proper melting pot. I think once we starting getting grime into i-D Magazine, we knew that a lot of writers there loved it and they could be really important champions for the artists … but they were never gonna go to Eskimo Dance or Sidewinder. The question was, how could we bring the music to them? Hattie and I started doing i-D Live parties as a result and the line-ups, I mean they could be a festival now. I also started doing Straight Outta Bethnal with Neil Boorman, who was formerly of Sleaze Nation and The Shoreditch Twat. I have to give props to Neil because he had the keys to 333 Club in Hoxton and brought me in. I didn’t know anything about running club nights and he schooled me but unfortunately, despite it being a success, that was when Form 696 and the police became an issue. We had four, maybe five sold-out nights before we had to pull the plug. It got too much.”
“I think once we starting getting grime into i-D Magazine, we knew that a lot of writers there loved it and they could be really important champions for the artists … but they were never gonna go to Eskimo Dance or Sidewinder. The question was, how could we bring the music to them?”
In and amongst the hustle and bustle of Shoreditch and her work at Smash Hits and beyond, Chantelle was also making waves at label level, too. Her knowledge and connections — enshrined in the work on her blog — landed her an A&R assistant role working at 679 Recordings thanks to now revered artist manager, Dan Stacey, who saw a space for her to work on the legendary ‘Run The Road’ grime compilation series. Both released in 2005, Volume 1 featured everyone from Dizzee Rascal to Kano, Tinhcy Stryder and The Streets, with Volume 2 compiling further tracks from the likes of Crazy Titch, JME, Ghetts (fka Ghetto), No Lay, Lady Sovereign and Trim. “Martin Clark did Run The Road Vol.1 and I worked on Vol.2”, Chantelle clarifies. “Once I’d done that, I was able to start working with both Plan B and Kano’s projects at 679, as well as The Streets, which was sick. I was in there two days a week but I didn’t really have a defined role as such, I guess I was probably best described as an A&R assistant. I learned a lot about viewing music as a business there, and that you always need to look at the commercial market and how you’re gonna sell music in that space. This was all back at the time when MySpace was just starting as well, so I remember being tasked with setting up Kano’s MySpace, Plan B’s MySpace … and I remember even doing some really long, rambling interviews on YouTube with Plan B. It was a time of real experimentation and just trying a ting, basically.”
“I’ve always liked a really wide cross-section of music and working at 679 was also great because I got back into bands like Mystery Jets”, continues Chantelle, “and Death From Above 1979, bands like that. It really widened my musical horizons, even just as a fan. I loved that about it.”
After a stellar run of records and commercial success, 679 were bought out and Chantelle admits to feeling lost — although she did make the move to Live Magazine, who were based in Brixton, shortly after leaving. Here, she found herself away from music (and the industry glare), working with young people for the first time. “Anyone could walk in off the streets and say they wanted to work on the magazine”, she recalls, “and it was my job to engage them and work with them. I remember one morning, this guy turned up fresh out of Feltham (Young Offenders Institute in West London) and basically asked if he could come in and work on the magazine because if not, it was a mad ting for him out on the streets. The pressure … I mean I wasn’t trained for that. I had no idea what I was doing really but we made some great magazines, and a lot of people who passed through Live are flying in the industry and the wider world now. Even though I’m not in touch with many of them anymore, I’m really pleased that they’ve been able to achieve so much in their careers. It was never about developing a shit load of famous journalists or photographers, it was about giving young people confidence in themselves.”
From here came one of Chantelle’s more interesting career pivots. “This is gonna sound mad yeah but Christian Aid wanted to start a youth brand that didn’t mention Christians, aid or charity”, Chantelle explains, leaning forward intently. “Big budgets, commercial brand, it was like yo, this is serious. Neil Boorman, who taught me the ropes of club promoting, was consulting on this new project and brought me in. Under the leadership of the genius that is Katrin Owusu, who I still work with on projects today, we created this brand called Ctrl.Alt.Shift. The whole idea was to galvanise young people through activism and making them of aware of global issues. The work we did was really edgy, to the point that I can’t believe how much we achieved in 18 months. We were actually shut down because we became a threat to Christian Aid itself, if you can believe it. We did a few events with Riz Ahmed at the Southbank Centre, we commissioned six films, we had a photography exhibition with Nan Goldin, we had an exhibition at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle … and I was running the website and a magazine. In a weird way, it felt like an amazing achievement to be axed for achieving so much in 18 months. We had people like Tinchy Stryder on protests outside embassies, we were campaigning against HIV stigma, infanticide against women … we did a lot of important work.”
“The whole idea (of Ctrl.Alt.Shift) was to galvanise young people through activism and making them of aware of global issues. The work we did was really edgy, to the point that I can’t believe how much we achieved in 18 months. We were actually shut down because we became a threat to Christian Aid itself, if you can believe it.”
Burnt out and suffering with monthly bouts of tonsillitis, Chantelle’s tireless work at Ctrl.Alt.Shift was, for want of a better phrase, the first of a few straws that would eventually break the camel’s back. “I then ended up being a social media manager, but before they were called social media managers”, Chantelle explains. “Somehow I often seemed to be ahead of the curve. It all began with Jessie J and initially I was called a website editor but my role was also running her Facebook pages, writing mailers, developing suggested content. I worked on a number of major label acts in varying capacities from that point including Jessie Ware, A*M*E (for whom she also created a fanzine), Amy Winehouse, Alex Clare, Tinchy Stryder, Angel and a load more. It ended up being a full-time thing and while it was financially very rewarding, it was also the most confusing and depressing job. When it all started it was fun and there was a lot of room for trying things out, but as the metrics came in, tweets started needing to be run past five people. It was long.”
Coupled with losing both of her grandmothers in quick succession, she fell into a deep depression, but was soon given the opportunity to go into artist management — a moment she credits with ‘rescuing’ her career. She would go onto play a key role in linking A*M*E, Duke Dumont and MNEK together on the now dance classic ’Need U (100%)’ — a single that entered the UK Singles Chart at #1 on release back in March 2013. “After that, Dan Stacey, who I owe a lot of love to in this life and the next, asked me about the prospect of being Duke’s tour manager”, Chantelle says. “I didn’t know anything technical, but Duke did all that himself … he just needed someone to get him from A to B. The first job I had with him, we missed his connecting flight for a show in Ireland. We somehow made it onto the next flight and got to his show with about 10 minutes to spare but despite the panic, we’d done it, we’d got there. That was the start of my journey with Duke and music management. In hindsight, what an amazing experience to have had as well. To see Duke go from being a successful DJ to be a global touring artist was pretty special. It got to the point where we didn’t know what country we were in, like, I’ve seen Berlin by night. I know I’ve been to Berlin but I can’t tell you anything about it, besides from the hotel and the club, you know?”
“The pressure was so intense though”, she continues. “I think one of the worst experiences I had was in Ibiza, where Duke was doing a run one summer. It was the BBC Radio 1 Weekender with Annie Mac, live from Ibiza, and Duke was playing. It was probably one of the biggest moments of his career to date at that point. Our car didn’t show up and he was due on in 20 minutes or whatever and I remember nearly having a panic attack thinking, ‘what do I do, what do I do?’ I’d tried every route possible to get him there but by the grace of God but a car arrived to take us. We had the lights flashing, horn blaring, we were driving the wrong way down every road as quick as we could, and we got there just as the cameras started rolling. Once Duke finished, I then had five minutes to get him in a car so he could catch a flight to America. The nerves, man. They were crazy times, but it was a really steep learning curve.”
Alongside her work with Duke Dumont, Chantelle also went on to help co-manage Jax Jones and Kelli-Leigh alongside Dan Stacey for a short time, before later taking on Kelli-Leigh and Boy Matthews — a prolific songwriter and producer who’s collaborated with everyone from DJ Zinc and Riton to Oliver Heldens (he also wrote and sang on Duke Dumont’s ‘Ocean Drive’) — on her own. After a brief spell then working with Jammer on the Lord Of The Mics relaunch and also managing Kamaal Williams post her rural move in 2019, Chantelle made a decision to step back. “I just made the decision”, she explains, “and this was part of my spiritual journey which I call ‘coming home to myself’, but I made the decision to quit everything I was working on apart from Boy Matthews and Mez, who I’d just taken on. Boy Matthews was on a great trajectory … he’s since moved to LA and enjoyed great success over there, so we achieved our goal … and Mez was just different because he was new and didn’t take up all of my time or even expect all of my time, but everything else had gotten too much. I realised I didn’t need to be in London anymore either and so here I am today in North Cambridgeshire, right on the Norfolk border.”
While the pandemic may have brought about a new set of challenges, Chantelle has also recalibrated — and things have since gone full circle. “It’s mad because JP (Joseph Patterson) called me in April to ask if I could project manage the new TRENCH Magazine roll-out”, she says smiling. “It’d been hard for me as well, I mean last year there were times when I thought I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown, so to get that call was a reminder to me that this is what I do. This is my natural space. I got out of magazines because the money was going backwards … even now, there are some places I write and I get paid less than I did 20 years ago which is a madness to me … but I only really take things on if I believe in them. For a long time, my goal has been to write fiction but there’s something in me that’s blocking that at the moment, so for now, I’m just going with the flow and I really wanna roll with TRENCH, my work at Urban Development and also Mez. I’m really passionate about Mez.”
“I got out of magazines because the money was going backwards … even now, there are some places I write and I get paid less than I did 20 years ago which is a madness to me … but I only really take things on if I believe in them.”
What was it about Mez that caught Chantelle’s ear, I ask? “I first heard him when I started working with Lord Of The Mics and they played his ‘Next In Grime’ tune, which I thought was the best tune on the whole CD. Jammer then started bringing him round my yard and immediately, I just found him a fascinating character. He’d sit in the corner and not really talk, he’d just take things in and observe, but over time he started to come out of his shell. Of the new talent I’m seeing around me, he’s the most authentic, he’s got his own wave, he’s hilarious … there’s just something there that you can’t quite put your finger on. But I knew I wanted to work with him.”
“Of the new talent I’m seeing around me, he’s (Mez) the most authentic, he’s got his own wave, he’s hilarious … there’s just something there that you can’t quite put your finger on. But I knew I wanted to work with him.”
As for TRENCH’s magazine roll-out — cover stars include Potter Payper, Lady Leshurr, No Signal, Unknown T and Charlene & Nadine White, as well as a ’20 Years Of Grime’ issue penned by Chantelle herself — there is now scope for Chantelle to continue to help editor and founder, Joseph Patterson, build out the TRENCH brand. “The magazine was sub-edited by my neighbour Wilfred too you know”, she explains. “I’m very community-minded, so work wasn’t really on my mind when the pandemic first hit. Wilfred’s 84, he lives a few doors down and he used to go to the pub for lunch every day because he can’t cook. With the pub closed, I took him under my wing and started inviting him over for lunch. He still comes over every day at 12.30, so he’s been involved with the magazine from the beginning.”
As our conversation begins to wind down, Chantelle quickly interjecting to point out she’s now also working with Lady Sovereign — “Sovereign’s story’s not a happy one and I want the ending to be different” — it’s safe to conclude that her story is one of pure dedication. Driven by a compulsion to tell stories and to help people from all walks of life, she has worked tirelessly to impact people’s lives and leave a legacy. With a new chapter in her life now unfolding, the future may not be as clear as it was in her twenties, but you can guarantee that somewhere, somehow, Chantelle will be making a difference.
Shortly after hanging up, Chantelle then fired over the below message — a summary of her thoughts on the state of the world, which we thought was important to share:
“Life is an absolute lottery; where you’re born, who to, the year… so much is luck. I believe I’ve had an incredibly good life and I look at what’s going on around the world and think the current model for life / capitalism, especially in the West, is there to distract us from universal fundamental basics for all. It’s like we have heaven on earth but we forever make it hell.”
The ‘Home’ issue of TRENCH Magazine is out now — grab it HERE.
Keep up to date with Chantelle’s work by following her on Twitter HERE.
On South London, Butterz, ‘Do The Jazz’, touring with Mala, travel, belief systems, collaboration, love, energy, care, battling racism and shaping THE NEW WORLD on his forthcoming new album.
Peace, love and music are three words that have become synonymous with Swindle over the best part of the last 10 years. An extraordinary music-maker and multi-instrumentalist who feels the power of music in the most visceral sense — both as a universal shared experience, but also as a grounding spiritual force— his sound has grown as he has, taking cues from the people and the places he encounters along the way. For Swindle it seems, nothing is overlooked — and everything is cherished. As our chat window opens early on Tuesday evening, studio walls adorned with keyboards and synths, he looks every bit like a musician back in the groove. And his energy is infectious, too.
“I feel good in myself man, yeah”, he says brightly as we begin our conversation. “I feel like I’ve ironed out a few creases over lockdown, I’m excited to put music out again, I’ve been taking care of myself mentally and physically and although there’s been ups and downs, I’m just super grateful for the ups.” Was it tough to adjust to lockdown routine, I ask? “I mean, life up until the end of 2019 was amazing, I had some of the greatest moments of my life in that time”, Swindle acknowledges. “But it was very busy. I realised that getting on 12 flights in a month isn’t normal. Going through all these different time zones, putting my body through all that stress … it wasn’t normal. I guess naturally it would manifest in ways I wouldn’t always notice, so I was probably neglecting myself a little bit. I understand that now.”
For all the time afforded however, the lockdown period was also overshadowed by the murder of George Floyd in May 2020— a moment that forced Swindle to confront memories of a life he thought he’d long left behind. Born in Brixton in the late ‘80s, he recalls much of his time there with a broad smile and excitable, expressive gestures. “I’ve got really fond memories of Our Price, you know the CD shop?”, he asks, grinning. “We used to see Linton Kwesi Johnson all the time back then as well and he was a local celebrity at the time. I remember going to Brixton market, the fish flapping around and all that. Everything about my time in Brixton felt positive … and then we moved to Wallington when I was about 10. My parents wanted to move us to Surrey because there were good schools there and hopefully it’d give us a better chance of getting into some. It was a mixed experience, especially at first. The streets we moved into were pretty aggressively racist and I had never experienced anything like that. I didn’t realise the relevance of my colour at all, it was non-existent to me until I moved there. I struggled with it. I ended up fighting a lot at the first primary school I went to, ended up being moved to another primary school and then I guess became the naughty kid to kind of deal with that, you know. I’d be walking the streets near my house and there’d be swastikas on the wall, NF (National Front) tags scrawled everywhere. It was pretty fucked up. I only really thought about it all again, you know going back over my life, after everything that happened last year.”
“I’d be walking the streets near my house and there’d be swastikas on the wall, NF (National Front) tags scrawled everywhere. It was pretty fucked up.”
It would be in music that Swindle would find his salvation. Interestingly, myself and Swindle went to the same high school in Sutton — a large town sitting somewhere between Croydon and Wimbledon in South London, a once leafy suburb but now fast-growing commuter overspill. We were a year apart and not particularly close back then, but I always remember his grin. He’d often, admittedly, be sent out of lessons — I have vivid memories of seeing him sat trying to make passers by laugh in the modern languages corridor — but he was always mischievous rather than malicious. “Ah yeah, I was never mean to anyone”, he says as we trade school memories. “I was just naughty. Do you know by the end of it I wasn’t allowed in school without my mum? I’d been disqualified from some of my GCSEs, I’d been suspended more times than I can remember and my mum just said, ‘Look, he’s doing his exams, if you let him stay in school, I’ll come in with him’. She’d come in with me and sit at reception and then take me out of school at break times and then bring me back in again for whatever lessons I’d have afterwards. I still managed to get caught smoking behind the huts (bike sheds) once and then got kicked out while my mum was there. I never got to go to my prom or any of that as a result. While this was all happening though, music was always there.”
In Brixton, he’d learnt to play the guitar — “the first stuff I learnt was by Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King” — and he recalls there were always keyboards around the house. His dad — a massive fan of artists like Chaka Khan, George Benson and Quincy Jones — had a record collection brimming with rare 12”s that Swindle has since inherited and built on, while his mum listened to lots of reggae and ska. It was a mix that made his approach to all aspects of music — creating, consuming, performing — not only unique, but fearless. “I used to make ringtones on people’s 3310s at school as well”, he notes. “I’d swap burgers from the canteen and cigarettes for ringtones … I remember making ‘138 Trek’ for someone at lunchtime once. When I was in college, it all switched up and everyone started rapping and spitting bars, so as a producer and someone that could make beats, I realised people respected what I could do.”
“I used to make ringtones on people’s 3310s at school as well. I’d swap burgers from the canteen and cigarettes for ringtones … I remember making ‘138 Trek’ for someone at lunchtime once.”
“I was into drum & bass like everyone else was at the time”, he says when I ask about his own tastes and how they compared to friends at school. “I remember I always used to buy the One Nation tape packs and they kinda inspired me to learn to DJ at about 13, maybe 14. I learnt on vinyl and it was all drum & bass … RAM Records, Full Cycle, all of that. Garage was happening as well at the same time so there was a bit of crossover. I’d record drum & bass mixes in my garage and then go to my mates house and we’d record garage tapes with MCs from school. I remember stepping back from that for a bit to make beats, which is when all the Take 2 Win stuff started to happen.”
Take 2 Win were a crew comprised of local MCs including Sedman — an artist once tipped for a bright future in grime — who had started to make waves in the area. His debut tape, ‘Da Takeover Vol 1’, was largely produced by Swindle and featured breakout full crew anthem ’Stop It’, which earned plenty of rotation on Channel U in 2005. “In different times, we were getting somewhere, I know it”, says Swindle. “Unfortunately, a lot of stuff happened and it didn’t work out, but after that I felt like I was on my own for a bit.”
It was a period of transition that’d see him start to look beyond the borders of South London and instead start to link up with prominent MCs of the time — names like Purple, Ghetts and Big Narstie. Based out of legendary engineer Danny C’s studio in Greenwich and later Bermondsey — itself a hub for an emergent generation of grime MCs and producers in the mid ‘00s — it was a move that’d launch Swindle’s career proper. His debut tape, ‘The 140 Mixtape’, released in 2007 and was a testament to his legacy at Danny C’s A.I.M Studio, featuring collaborations with everyone from aforementioned names like Ghetts and Big Narstie to Nolay, UKG pirate radio kings Nikkie S & Nyke, Bruza, Baby Katie (early moniker of Katy B), Mz Bratt and Little Dee. “I used to take the whole ends up there”, Swindle recalls, grinning. “You had to walk through New Cross and Deptford to get to where the studio was, so we’d roll up there with the whole of Take 2 Win, 15 man deep. Back then though, I still saw it as a side thing. I knew I was becoming someone if you like, but I knew it wasn’t like any of those artists I was working with were rich yet. Danny C helped me a lot though. I rang him recently actually and it made me realise he was the first person to really try and big brother me, you know. I remember he met my dad and he was like, ‘your son’s got something really special, he’s really talented, he could really do this’. There was definitely a sense of community there too, and that’s basically how I met everyone in East London because I didn’t know anyone before that. I linked up with everyone on the mixtape there I think. Well there and via just hitting people up on MySpace.” Was he confident back then, I ask? “Yeah I was confident”, he says assuredly, “…almost to the point of being cocky.”
With music still very much a side hustle, Swindle found himself working job after job to make ends meet. “I worked in Peacocks in Wallington for a bit, that was my first job”, he recalls. “I got the sack from there, then went to Next and got the sack from there, Mad House in Croydon and got the sack from there as well. I was still in that school mode of just being a joker, really. My first serious job was at Abbey National and I worked there just as it got taken over by Santander. That was the longest I’d held down a job at that point and I felt like I was getting somewhere. I went from cashier to personal banking advisor pretty quickly but I hated the job and I hated the people. I lost my temper one day and you know me, I’m energetic, so if I lose my temper it comes with the same energy as when I’m being a joker or whatever. I ended up getting suspended but a week prior to that, I’d just got my first PRS cheque from a track I’d made with Ashley Walters (‘With You’ ft. Mutya Buena). A guy from your year at school was going to Morocco that week and asked if I wanted to go with him, so we dust out to Morocco and the Abbey National called me … I knew they were gonna sack me … but they were like ‘oh we’re here at your disciplinary hearing’ and asking where I was and I was like, ‘I’m in Morocco man, stick your job!’ kinda thing. I’d been living in Croydon and really struggling really to be honest. I remember my rent and bills were £1150 and I was getting paid £1016 a month. I ended up moving back into my mum’s, using a chunk of the PRS cheque to help turn her basement into a studio and we rented out my older brother’s old room to exchange students. We’d get up and make breakfast for these students before they went off on their day trips or whatever, and in the meantime, I was building the studio as best I could. I grinded hard back then.”
From his mum’s basement, Swindle penned some of his earliest and most iconic productions; ‘Airmiles’, ‘Who Said Funk’, ‘Mood Swings’. “Things started to move at that point”, he notes. “It was like the beginning of the next chapter of my life really. I remember it was around that time that I first got to DJ abroad in Amsterdam as well. My mates were like, ‘are they gonna pay for your flights?’ and I was like, ’they’re gonna pay for my flights and pay me as well!’. I couldn’t believe it, bruv. I remember when I got there and Hatcha, who I knew from Croydon, was there already and so was Joker. Me and Joker had been speaking on MSN for years but had never linked up in person properly before so it was mad. They were playing the main room and us lot … me, Elijah & Skilliam … were playing the side room at this club and I was like ’nah, I want in with these lot’. They were drinking champagne, the crowds were huge. I just knew I wanted in with that.”
In Elijah & Skilliam and the wider Butterz label network, Swindle found friendship, guidance and consistency too — important foundations laid early. A formative member of sorts — “Terror Danjah originally put me onto Elijah in 2010 but they were just known as the Butterz DJs then” — Swindle’s Butterz career now spans seven 12” records, one studio album and a nine-track compilation. He was a fixture at some of the label’s now iconic parties at both East Village and later, Cable, in the early 2010s too — memories he still looks back on warmly. “I remember playing b2b with Joker, with Skepta and JME on mic at Cable”, Swindle recalls, scratching his head almost in bewilderment. “I remember pulling up that night and seeing Skepta, JME and Jammer outside arguing with the security like, ‘nah, nah you have to let us in, we’re the special guests tonight’ and they were having none of it. The club actually used to say to Elijah that he couldn’t bill MCs on the line-up because of the threat of violence … we know what they really meant but anyway … so all of those guys used to turn up un-billed. You couldn’t book any of those guys now, it just wouldn’t happen, but back then they all used to jump on set. If you try and tell people about all of that stuff nowadays, people think you’re lying.”
“I remember pulling up that night and seeing Skepta, JME and Jammer outside arguing with the security like, ‘nah, nah you have to let us in, we’re the special guests tonight’ and they were having none of it.”
“Elijah and Skilliam broke the mould of how independent labels could be for me”, he continues. “A lot of labels around at the time were really cliquey, but Butterz always saw what was best for the artist. They’d be like ‘Royal-T, you should do an album with Rinse, it’s the best thing for you’. They never tried to own anyone or withhold their masters, none of that. They encouraged me to work with people outside the label too because they saw it’d be good for me, and that’s the main reason we’re still a unit to this day. When I went to do ‘Peace, Love & Music’ in 2015, they allowed me to use their entire machine, all their facilities, as well as retain my masters. Nobody does that, do you know what I mean? I sold all the records on Bandcamp and they didn’t take a penny off me. Butterz has always been more about building the foundations than being the biggest label in the game.”
“Butterz has always been more about building the foundations than being the biggest label in the game.”
Through his work with Butterz, Swindle was also earmarked by Deep Medi early in his career. His debut Medi plate, ‘Forest Funk’, was released in 2012 and lit the touch paper for a relationship with Mala that would later inform the title of his debut album proper (‘Long Live The Jazz’). “Mala was another person to big brother me in a way”, Swindle says fondly. “His ‘Mala In Cuba’ album had just dropped at the time of ‘Forest Funk’ and he told me that Brownswood were looking to set up this band and that he wanted me to come and play keys because he knew me and thought it’d be a good opportunity. I told him I’d never played keys on stage before but he basically said, ‘well learn the parts and come and play’ kinda thing. That was my first experience being part of a live outfit and figuring out how that all works, which in turn, inspired me to launch my own live show. I think we played 44 dates on the ‘Mala In Cuba’ tour and I was around Mala a lot. He gave me a lot of good advice and he definitely influenced me in terms of how I carry myself and how I treat people as well. It was good for me to learn from him.”
“You know that’s where ‘Do The Jazz’ comes from, innit”, Swindle continues. “I used to send Mala all these bangers, but then I’d also send him tracks like ‘Mischief’ and ‘If I Was A Super Hero’ and all this mad funk and jazz stuff at 140bpm. He’d always tell me that’s what I should be doing. I remember the phone call quite clearly where he told me that if I didn’t follow that path, someone else would do it and I’d regret it. He finished the call by just saying ‘Do the jazz’. That was it. The album was called ‘Long Live The Jazz’ as a result.”
“I used to send Mala all these bangers, but then I’d also send him tracks like ‘Mischief’ and ‘If I Was A Super Hero’ and all this mad funk and jazz stuff at 140bpm. He’d always tell me that’s what I should be doing. I remember the phone call quite clearly where he told me that if I didn’t follow that path, someone else would do it and I’d regret it. He finished the call by just saying ‘Do the jazz’.”
At 13 tracks, ‘Long Live The Jazz’ was a full-blooded tribute to Swindle’s unique brand of funk, birthing tracks like ‘Ignition’, ‘Kick It’ and ‘Do The Jazz’ — beats that caught the ear of Gilles Peterson and Brownswood, who would later sign Swindle up for three-track EP, ‘Walter’s Call’, in 2014; released as a joint venture with Mala and Deep Medi. “‘Walter’s Call’ was the first track I made with the intention of it being played live, rather than the live element being an afterthought”, he explains. “I showed it to Gilles and Emily at Brownswood and that was the beginning of that relationship and that record, really.” How did it feel to get Gilles’ blessing, I ask? “Bruv, do you know he went to Greenshaw (the school we both attended in Sutton)? I swear down. One day, I was staying at my grandparents place in West London while they were in Jamaica and recording some bits in their front room, and I was talking to Gilles on the phone and I mentioned my mum’s place in Wallington. He said, ’Ah, you know I grew up in Cheam?’. I couldn’t believe it. In passing, I then mentioned I went to school in Sutton and it turns out he went to Greenshaw too. So that’s you, me, Gilles Peterson and Bradley McIntosh from S Club 7. What a legacy.”
With a bustling discography and a growing reputation, Swindle was now in demand and soon found himself heading to parts of the world he’d never even dreamed of as a kid; Japan, Brazil, the US, China, South Africa. “It was crazy, bruv”, he says, half shaking his head. “I always used to question why I got to do this. I was never destined for success. School was a complete failure and that was the talk around me and my name, I was gonna be a failure you know? Because of what had happened to some of my friends growing up, I dunno, I just used to think ‘why me?’. I remember starting to give thanks and asking for guidance and I guess I became more aligned with consciousness. The penny dropped that I should probably start recording in all of these amazing places I was getting to go to, you know. To go somewhere, play a few tunes and then jump back on a plane and fly home felt like a waste of time and a waste of an opportunity. I started asking where the nearest studio was and who the local musicians were wherever I was and I’d just jump into sessions. I remember we were in China and there was a girl who played a guzheng and I was like, ‘What’s a guzheng?’. Two minutes later I’m on YouTube like ‘how to mic a guzheng’, you know. I learnt a lot of the production skills I still use today on those two records; ‘Peace, Love & Music’ (2015) and ’Trilogy In Funk’ (2017).”
“To go somewhere, play a few tunes and then jump back on a plane and fly home felt like a waste of time and a waste of an opportunity. I started asking where the nearest studio was and who the local musicians were wherever I was and I’d just jump into sessions. I remember we were in China and there was a girl who played a guzheng and I was like, ‘What’s a guzheng?’. Two minutes later I’m on YouTube like ‘how to mic a guzheng’, you know.”
“It was like I’d won the lottery, I felt so blessed”, Swindle continues. “Travelling to all these places is where a lot of the messaging started. If I’m playing in front of a thousand people four nights a week all over the world, I started to think like, ‘maybe I could get them to hold up a peace sign or shout ‘long live the jazz’. I started challenging myself and thinking about how I could leave people with a positive experience. Before going on the decks, I’d sit there with my head down and ask for strength and power and for the chance to leave people with positive memories. It helped me feel a sense of unity and oneness and it made me appreciate people and love people in a way that I hadn’t before, especially if you consider how Wallington was for me in those early years. It became my belief system, basically. Anything that comes to me through music, I now have to repay with music. That’s the ecosystem, that’s how it works.” Was he lacking a belief system before, I ask? “Yeah, totally”, he replies firmly. “Now I understand religious people in a way. I pray like them, just in a different way. I suppose I can compare people worshipping together to the dance floor. It’s never about me praying to them, it’s about us, the collective. Whenever you get hundreds or thousands of people experiencing the same thing at the same time, it’s incredibly powerful. People say that praying in community is more powerful and I can tell you that’s true because it used to happen every Friday night.”
“I started challenging myself and thinking about how I could leave people with a positive experience. Before going on the decks, I’d sit there with my head down and ask for strength and power and for the chance to leave people with positive memories. It helped me feel a sense of unity and oneness and it made me appreciate people and love people in a way that I hadn’t before, especially if you consider how Wallington was for me in those early years.”
After spending so long on the road touring, 2019 would signal a shift in focus. ‘No More Normal’, Swindle’s acclaimed third album and musically most dexterous, turned away from the dance floor momentarily and instead looked to moments away from the club. Released by Brownswood, it was a record that firmly laid down a marker. “I’d been speaking to Elijah a lot”, Swindle explains, “and he asked what would happen if I stayed in one place for a while and just made music for the sake of making music. A lot of my early tunes were made to play at Cable the day before, literally, but I decided to step away from that for a second … and ‘No More Normal’ was a by-product of that thought process.”
The tracklist birthed collaborations with long-time collaborators like Ghetts — ‘Drill Work’ is one of the album standouts — while also ushering in a new vanguard, including Kojey Radical, whom Swindle had first met in Russia and has since played Jools Holland with. “Elijah had already told me I should check him out”, he recalls. “Sure enough, I loved his stuff and we ended up meeting at this venue in Russia. He was doing the day party, where as I was playing at night, but we managed to speak loads and connected pretty quickly. Two days later, we got home and went to Red Bull Studios in London and recorded ‘Water’ and ‘Coming Home’ back to back.”
If collaboration was a feature of ‘No More Normal’, then it’s at the very core of forthcoming nine-track album, ’THE NEW WORLD’, which boasts link-ups with everyone from Akala and Joy Crookes to Greentea Peng and Loyle Carner. Freshly announced with ‘Darkest Hour’ — a beautiful, soulful record featuring Poppy Ajudha and long-time collaborator, Daley — it’s an album built on love, empathy and catharsis too. “It was an accident if I’m honest”, Swindle explains, “but it happened in response to everything that happened last year. The first part of the lockdown was great, just being at home and writing tunes in my studio, spending time with my kids. But then the George Floyd incident happened and everything changed. There was mad social discourse, hooligans running around central. It was so draining. I tried to pick myself up by connecting with other people but everyone was feeling the same. All creation just stopped and there was no inspiration. I remember being on the phone to Joel Culpepper and we were both just like, ‘fuck it, let’s just get away, let’s go to Real World (the iconic recording studio in Bath, founded by Peter Gabriel). We knew we could just get everyone together, have conversations, make music and figure out how we were gonna move forward together. I guess we saw it as like a musical retreat for us. I put out a load of texts and off we went. We made shit loads of music and I retained the best for this album. It’s definitely hyper-collaborative, it’s a we album more than a me album. ’No More Normal’ took me three years of fine-tuning, where as ’THE NEW WORLD’ was written in that few weeks.”
“It was just an amazing time”, he continues. “The conversations even, as well as the music, were just as important. We all just kinda healed together as an unlikely group of people. Loyle Carner had never met Ghetts for example, so he was gassed to meet him. Things like that were like were kinda crazy. Everyone had so much to hear from Akala as well, who was speaking with everyone about what had been going on. I made a decision not to document it all too … no cameras, no mic, nothing. People could come and go as they pleased, there were no rules, it was just a free space to create for us all. That’s how the music all came together. It was amazing, it really was. I mean JNR Williams wrote a song on the piano and sang it to us and everyone, and I mean everyone, cried. I don’t think anyone who wasn’t there will ever understand our time there. It was special.”
“The conversations even, as well as the music, were just as important. We all just kinda healed together as an unlikely group of people.”
As for the future, what does he want the new world to look like, I ask, before we part ways for the night. “I don’t think we get to choose”, Swindle says without hesitation. “I think we just get to decide who we are. Harness your inner power, choose your team and put that out into the world. In that sense, we all decide what the new world is gonna look like.”
Swindle’s new album ‘THE NEW WORLD’ releases on October 29:
On Bethnal Green, Rinse FM, UKG, Sidewinder, Dump Valve, sampling, writing ‘What’, touring with Dizzee Rascal, fatherhood, events, nostalgia and the comeback trail.
Wonder has been quiet for a while — almost five years to be exact. But his legacy isn’t going anywhere. A modest OG grime DJ and producer of the early ‘00s, his story feels like a time capsule; a trip back to an era when of-the-time UK sounds were exploding all over the country — from garage to grime to bassline — with clubs and pirate radio their only vectors. Now a father of two and approaching his forties, he seems almost exasperated when we start to reflect on the early days of his career, late on a Tuesday night. “Wow, man”, he says, scratching his head with a wry smile. “We’re going way back here, almost 15 years … 15 years, that’s crazy.”
Like many DJs, the UK lockdown caught Wonder in his tracks early in 2020. He started his own bespoke events company — Wonderland Events — in 2017 and bookings had really been starting to gather pace before the first announcement came last March. “Before lockdown, I was out every weekend and then all of a sudden coming to a stop it was like, ‘rah, what do I do now?”, he says, shrugging his shoulders. Was it a big adjustment, I ask? “I kinda took it in my stride really but I did miss deejaying, so I started doing some live streams via my Instagram which kept me going if I’m honest. I love to DJ, it’s therapeutic for me to just be able to mix so yeah, that was a big help.”
Although now based in Hertfordshire, Wonder was born in raised in Bethnal Green in the heart of East London in the early 80’s. He grew up on a council estate — “it wasn’t huge but it was quite a big one” — and recalls spending the majority of his childhood playing out; “I was always out, all the time”, he says, smiling. “On the estate, I had all my friends there so it’d be playing football … we had a big grass area around the back … or it’d be rounders, playing Knock Down Ginger and getting chased. I don’t know why but we used to enjoy getting chased by random people. I wasn’t as outgoing as some of my friends, I was always quite reserved, but I enjoyed being a kid, definitely.”
What was school like, I ask? “In primary school I was alright”, he says, before quickly breaking out into laughter. “But then I went to three different secondary schools. Basically, I got kicked out of two schools … hang on, nah I didn’t get kicked out but I used to do my work really quickly and then get bored waiting for everybody else … and end up doing dumb stuff. I’d always had good grades so schools always told me that if they kicked me out, it’d affect my record and make it harder for me to go elsewhere, so in the end I was just told I could leave. I went to Morpeth School first and then onto The Blessed John Roche and then Bow Boys. I loved IT and Science at school and then I took Business Studies at college. I always loved computers so it made sense, but music … I started quite late with music.”
“I must have been about 18, maybe 19”, Wonder continues, “and one of my college lessons got cancelled. One of my good friends was a DJ and he was in the same lesson. I asked him what he was gonna do now we had the hour off and he said he was gonna go home and have a mix and I thought ‘rah, I’ll just come along and chill’. He started mixing once he got back and asked if I wanted to have a try myself. I went through his records and started pulling stuff out and I was noticing names that I’d heard before … they were tracks I knew. Back then it was a lot of old school garage, so he had loads of Sunship records and that. I actually used to go to a rave called Leisure Lounge in Holborn quite a lot around that time, and I remember listening to a lot of Heartless Crew back then as well. Anyway, I started pulling out these tunes and playing them and I got kinda accustomed to it. I ended up on his decks for about nine hours, literally. I couldn’t mix but I loved it. My mate eventually just tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘bruv, it’s time to go home now’.”
From that point on, Wonder knew he wanted to DJ. He quit college the following week but with very little money and no real direction, he turned to his older brother for help. “I knew I had to get decks but I was broke, I had nothing”, he says. “I phoned up my brother and asked if he’d be able to lend me some money and luckily for me, he did. I knew it was what I wanted to do but back in what … it must have been 2001 … I didn’t really know what I was gonna do with my life. Anyway, I got my first set of Soundlab decks and from there, I turned my bedroom into a DJ studio and just filled it with records. That was my life.”
He’d grown up listening to a heady mix of basement, garage and jungle on cassettes and old tapes. His dad was heavily into his music, too, and had a big Lovers Rock collection — “I remember Louisa Mark’s ‘Six Sixth Street’ and a lot of Bob Marley as well” — and recalls regularly flicking through his records, trying to dig for new music he might like. “It was mad because all the vinyl covers, especially the ones from Jamaica, were all full of hand-drawn cartoons and often had pictures of the raves and the beach and stuff with them. I used to listen to the records, looking at those sleeves and just feel like I was there … headphones on, just bopping.”
“It was mad because all the vinyl covers, especially the ones from Jamaica, were all full of hand-drawn cartoons and often had pictures of the raves and the beach and stuff with them. I used to listen to the records, looking at those sleeves and just feel like I was there … headphones on, just bopping.”
With his own collection now starting to build out, Wonder started playing at house parties and gatherings with friends. “We’d just take all our speakers and amps and we’d go to house parties and play for like, six, seven hours”, he recalls. “A couple of my other friends were rappers, they weren’t into garage music or the stuff I was playing necessarily, but they started producing and told me about a course at a place in Wapping. You could go down there, enrol on this production course and they’d give you money for lunch and basically you’d get to use all their equipment. I thought I’d give it a try, so I went down one day and that was where I met Danny Weed. We became friends quite quickly and he was a DJ as well, so I’d always go round his to have a mix and whatever. He was also my gateway to Rinse FM because he was already on the station, so I’d go up there with him to get a vibe of the place and just hang around really … it was Rinse, do you know what I mean?”
“Before I met Danny, I actually used to drive around with Major Ace to a load of his bookings at weekends as well, which is where I started to meet people”, Wonder continues. “I’d pick him up and we’d drive all over the UK and it was honestly crazy seeing him going on stage back then. He’d do two or three bookings a night sometimes. Seeing him perform actually pushed me to make me want to be a successful DJ if I’m honest with you … RIP Major Ace. When you’re looking out from a DJ booth and you’re watching someone control that crowd … yeah, I mean yeah. That’s what I wanted to do.”
“When you’re looking out from a DJ booth and you’re watching someone control that crowd … yeah, I mean yeah. That’s what I wanted to do.”
While his production course was proving fertile ground to meet like-minded people, Wonder was struggling to take to production as he had to deejaying. He was learning on Cubase and by his own admission, “made a few bits I quite liked”, but the process hadn’t galvanised him in the way he’d hoped. “After I finished that course, I messed around on Fruity Loops a little but being a DJ was still my focus”, he explains. But all that would change a few months later.
“I was really good friends with Geeneus back then too, and I’d often go to the studio with him and stuff”, Wonder explains. “Anyway, one day he decided he was gonna sell his Mac … it was a G3, this big, beige G3. I was still a broke DJ so once again, I lent on my brother for the money, he hooked me up and I got it back to mine. I remember A Plus came to my house shortly afterwards and gave me some plugins and that was it. From there, I literally lived on that G3. The first ever tune I made on there was the Gods Gift dubplate, which is also on my album. ‘8th Wonder’ as well. They were the first two tunes I made. Then, once I found out I knew I could sample stuff, I went through every single CD in my house and started taking samples from all over the place. They were exciting times, man.”
“..once I found out I knew I could sample stuff, I went through every single CD in my house and started taking samples from all over the place. They were exciting times, man.”
Many of Wonder’s early productions would later find their way onto his debut album, ‘Welcome To Wonderland’, in 2006 but even with Geeneus’ backing and encouragement, he was still unsure of how his beats would be received. “I never thought that”, he says firmly when I ask if there was a point when he realised he was onto something. “I just used to make tunes, I never really thought about how they’d sound to other people. I’d always show them to Geeneus when I’d first made them, but that was it really. Ah and Slimzee, he used to play a lot of them. I remember the first time he asked to cut one of my tunes and I couldn’t believe it. I think it was ‘8th Wonder’, which he actually released as part of an EP on Dump Valve in 2003. That was one of the first tunes I ever had released I think but even then, I still saw it as something I just enjoyed rather than something I needed to take seriously.”
Dump Valve Recordings, one of grime’s foundational vinyl labels, was jointly run by Geeneus and Slimzee and has been responsible for some of the genre’s legacy-defining records from the likes of Danny Weed, DJ Target and Scratchy, as well as Wonder and Geeneus himself, often under his Wizzbit alias. “Slimzee used to love his fast cars”, Wonder elaborates, “and he had a Fiat Punto with a dump valve fitted, which apparently made it faster. And that’s literally what they named the label after.”
“Slimzee used to love his fast cars and he had a Fiat Punto with a dump valve fitted, which apparently made it faster. And that’s literally what they named the label after.”
It was at Dump Valve that Wonder would really carve out a name for himself. ‘What’ — the iconic grime instrumental later chosen by Dizzee Rascal on 2005’s ‘Respect Me’ and still Wonder’s calling card all these years later — was originally pressed on their watch back in 2003, as was his debut album in 2006. Soon, he noticed there was a buzz around his name. “I remember one time I went into Uptown Records, just going record shopping for myself, and someone asked me to sign their copy of ‘What Have You Done’ with Kano and it was like, ‘rah I’m doing alright!’ kinda thing”, he says sheepishly. “I didn’t expect it at all and it was a nice feeling to get things like that, because it shows people are enjoying your music. The first time it really hit home though was walking up to a Sidewinder event with Slimzee. I turned a corner onto the street where the venue was and I could hear ‘What’ playing inside. I just thought, ‘rah this tune is actually playing in this big massive Sidewinder arena on a huge system’, it was crazy. I think it was Martin ‘Liberty’ Larner that was playing it. I’d heard my tunes play in small little raves before but it’s totally different when you walk into a massive arena and see people going mad to it. It was humbling.”
‘What’ was written in the studio at the back of Geeneus’ house early in 2003, a spot he’d often head to when inspiration struck. It was originally constructed similarly to ‘Asia’ — the eventual B-side of the ‘What’ 12” first released on Dump Valve — but this time around, he wanted to experiment. “I thought I’d just see if I could go half-time with it”, Wonder says nonchalantly. “I just wanted to mess around with the drum kits and see how it’d come out. As I was making it, Geeneus walked in and looked at me like, ‘you alright?’ and I knew that meant something. Once I’d finished it, Slimzee was the first person to champion it … he’s always had that head for forward music, he understood it from way back when. He played it on his Rinse show from 1-3pm on a Sunday afternoon and that set it off. If you got your tune played on radio by him back then, it was almost a guarantee that somebody listening would go and buy it from a record shop the next day.”
“That whole era for me, just felt like I was rolling around with famous people”, Wonder continues earnestly. “Being around people like Geeneus and Slimzee, being able to get tunes early and get to raves, it was crazy. I was cutting tunes to dubplate straight from the studio sometimes, which nowadays just doesn’t happen. I loved it, man. The atmosphere at the raves as well, all over the country, was amazing. People were doing two or three shows a night back then, so you’d get DJs and MCs playing London then driving to like, Bedford or somewhere, and then up to Leeds after that. When people think about grime now people might think about it just being a case of MCs huddled around a mic, but it was never like that at all. I don’t know if you’ve seen footage of some of the big raves at Ally Pally, but they were all like that. Thousands of people vibing, men, women … everyone just enjoying themselves, everyone smiling. It was a totally unique vibe.”
“When people think about grime now people might think about it just being a case of MCs huddled around a mic, but it was never like that at all. I don’t know if you’ve seen footage of some of the big raves at Ally Pally, but they were all like that. Thousands of people vibing, men, women … everyone just enjoying themselves, everyone smiling.”
What did he think that was down to, I ask? “I think back then, what we know as grime now came in loads of different forms. You had the dark stuff and Dizzee’s stuff but you’d also have the dance-y, clubbier bits by people like DJ Narrows and Agent X, so it was always moving. It was never a whole night of one particular vibe, it was really mixed. The MCs too, were different. You’d have the host-style MCs, the garage MCs, the grime MCs … they all brought different energies that kept everything ticking over.”
Next would come Dizzee Rascal. Already a member of Roll Deep and a go-to producer for the crew through his friendship with Danny Weed and Major Ace — who’d also introduced him to Pay As U Go a year or so earlier — Wonder first came into contact with Dizzee at Rinse FM. “I think I’d asked for a show”, Wonder recalls, scanning the room with his eyes. “Yeah, that was it, I’d asked about having my own show and the only slot they had was from 1-3am on a Wednesday morning with an MC called Dizzee Rascal. I just wanted to get on radio so I took it, we did the first show … and I’ve no idea if anyone was listening (laughs) … but I could tell straight away like, ‘this guy’s good’. He had a completely different flow to what I was used to and he was just so mature on mic. We became friends after that and shared the Roll Deep era for a bit and then when I left to focus on my own stuff in 2004, we stayed in touch and he ended up asking me to go on tour with him.”
“I’d asked about having my own show (on Rinse FM) and the only slot they had was from 1-3am on a Wednesday morning with an MC called Dizzee Rascal. I just wanted to get on radio so I took it, we did the first show … and I’ve no idea if anyone was listening (laughs) … but I could tell straight away like, ‘this guy’s good’.”
Heading out on numerous tours across the US and all over Europe between 2004 and 2006, Wonder became Dizzee’s official DJ, the pair working seamlessly on both ‘Boy In Da Corner’ and ‘Showtime’ — Dizzee’s second studio album, from which ‘Respect Me’ was lifted. “It was a whole different experience with him”, Wonder reflects. “A lot of what I’d experienced of grime was purely in the UK, so to go to different countries and see people enjoying the music and knowing the tunes, that kinda blew my mind. Back then, the Internet wasn’t really a thing either so it felt even more special. I remember being on tour and we were in Amsterdam and these two boys came up to me outside after I’d played for Dizzee and they started talking to me about beats I’d made but hadn’t been released yet. They were like, ‘Ah, when’s this tune coming out, we love it’ kinda thing and I was thinking, ‘…but how do you know about it?’. That opened my mind up a lot.”
“I remember being on tour and we were in Amsterdam and these two boys came up to me outside after I’d played for Dizzee and they started talking to me about beats I’d made but hadn’t been released yet. They were like, ‘Ah, when’s this tune coming out, we love it’ kinda thing and I was thinking, ‘…but how do you know about it?’.”
Did he ever get nervous before stepping on stage, I ask? “Ah yeah definitely”, he says, nodding his head. “I mean, if you mess up you’ve got Dizzee looking at you, the stage manager looking at you, the crowd looking at you. Luckily I never messed up once, but there was one this one time. Basically, when I first started touring with him, I was using 1210s and then slowly moved over to CDJs but it took me a while to get used to them. I remember on one of those early CDJ shows, I pressed the stop button on one of the tracks by mistake but I always had everything lined up in order just in case anything went wrong. While he was spitting, and this was live on stage don’t forget, I kinda pretended I’d deliberately let him go a cappella, quickly caught the track up and then dropped it back in again. That was a bit of a close one.”
Off the back of touring with Dizzee Rascal, Wonder felt the time was right to collate his own material, some of which he’d been sitting on since 2003. ‘Welcome To Wonderland’, his debut and only studio album to this point, was a 14-track opus of sorts that traced his early beginnings — from his ‘Gods Gift 2002 Intro Dubplate’ right the way through to working with established musicians like Mr Hudson, Sway, Virus Syndicate and an emergent Kano. “The Gods Gift thing”, he says with a smile, “…I mean back then you couldn’t catch him anywhere, they were the days when MCs were just long. I’d called him so many times and he’d always say he was gonna come over to record something and it never happened. Anyway one time, I remember hearing him on Rinse and thought, ‘right that’s it, I’m just gonna go and wait for him’. I drove up to the Rinse studio, sat outside and waited until he finished. When he came out, I picked him out and took him back to my house there and then. I didn’t have a proper studio, I just had a speaker with a mic stuck into it … with a sock over it.”
I remember hearing him (Gods Gift) on Rinse and thought, ‘right that’s it, I’m just gonna go and wait for him’. I drove up to the Rinse studio, sat outside and waited until he finished. When he came out, I picked him out and took him back to my house there and then. I didn’t have a proper studio, I just had a speaker with a mic stuck into it … with a sock over it.”
“By contrast, working with Mr Hudson was a completely different experience”, Wonder continues. “I remixed one of his tracks (‘Bread & Roses’) for my album and before that, I’d never worked with a studio with someone. Usually, I’d work on tracks on my own and then send MCs or vocalists the track, they’d vocal it and send it back. Mr Hudson actually came to my studio and we kinda built the track together and it was a proper eye-opener. He’s a really talented musician so to see the things he was doing and suggestions he was making … yeah, it was quite an experience.”
After the release of the album, Wonder put a pause on his own material and reverted back to focusing on his DJ career. Grime had started to bleed into dubstep and the original sound he’d help push was mutating — so much so that Wonder himself started to produce dubstep beats for his club shows. He started his own Wonderland label in 2007, too, releasing six records from a host of different artists across a four year period, before slowing down to focus on a life away from music. “I’d actually started teaching music production at Urban Development in Stratford around the same time”, he notes. “I’d started off doing a few taster sessions and then I decided to go full time. Obviously making music is great but life kinda takes over as you get older and money wise, it wasn’t a monthly income in the way I needed it to be. I found myself enjoying working with young people as well, so I divided my time between teaching during the day and playing out as much as I could at the weekends.”
Wonder’s stint at Urban Development later lead him to be a key figure in the establishment of the Rinse FM Academy, where he taught music production until 2013. “After that, I decided to move into care and work within supported living, where I helped young people and people with learning difficulties”, he explained. “I’d had my daughter in 2011 and so my priorities changed, life became much more about making sure we were eating, you know. I still managed to juggle work and music for a while but life just shifted in a sense. I enjoyed working with young people as well and I actually ended up quickly becoming a manager … I was overseeing like six or seven homes at one point … so that was really time consuming, especially with a family. I’ve always made sure I had a home setup though, just in case I do get any time. That’ll probably never change.”
Now a proud dad of two, Wonder has scaled things back entirely to focus on building up his Wonderland Events brand over the last four years, striking a balance between family time and expanding his business. “I’ve probably played out more over the last two or three years than I have in the last 10”, he says with a chuckle. “But in all seriousness, being able to DJ has really kept me going. That and my family, definitely.”
Looking forward, is the bit back between his teeth, I ask? “Yeah definitely, especially now I’m more settled in a routine”, he says firmly. “The plan is to one hundred percent get back into production. I’m always listening to new music and I want that feeling again, I want people to hear and experience music that I’ve made. Now and again, I might get sent a video of an MC over one of my beats or someone will play an old track of mine on the radio. I remember a little while back Diplo posted ‘What Have You Done’ with Kano and I remember reading a load of comments like ‘Diplo sent me here and I’m glad’ and all of this stuff. Things like that push me to wanna jump back into it. Hopefully once I get back into the swing of things, it takes off.”
Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues and the nature of the way things are in the UK right now, we’ve found it difficult to catch up with Sicaria Sound over the last few weeks — between us, we’ve decided to shelve the interview until later in the summer, so keep an eye out (!) and thanks to all for your continued patience.
In the meantime, we felt like it was a good opportunity to take some time out — to pause, reflect and then look forward. With that in mind, here’s SOLIDARITY; 20 of the most poignant quotes, anecdotes and learnings from the last 15 months of Polymer interviews.
In such polarising times, let these be a source of inspiration — weekly interviews will resume from next Monday (August 2).
“Sometimes the picture is bigger than what you can see in front of you.”
“For musicians that are trying to get into this, the whole touring thing and being an artist, they’ll realise when they look back that some of the best things about everything they were doing was just hanging out with people.”
“I feel like you’re taught to write stories and imagine things at school but there’s not really a space for people to be weird and create worlds from their imagination that exist just for them anymore. Look at folklore and folk tales passed down over generations, they came from every day people doing every day things … and stories came from that. I just want escapism to be an option for people and hopefully, eventually, everyone can start making their own little stories again.”
4. object blue
“I realised you can’t rely on love’s ability to make you happy because love happens between two human beings who are both imperfect. Luckily, I’m in a relationship where I do feel loved and hopeful and happy but that’s just because my wife is great. It’s not a testament to love’s bulletproof steadfastness. Music on the other hand, music is great. It’s just there and it’s perfect. It’s not a human being that needs to work on itself.”
“I had to reevaluate everything I wanted to do in my life but I feel like everything came with ease after finding God. People say to me now like ‘rah, how have you only been DJing for a year and you’re already playing Tate Britain?’ and I can only point to God. I genuinely believe without God, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish at all.”
“I’ve always been me, at whatever stage in my career I’ve been at.”
“If I can speak for the mandem, I’ll just say we’re trying to be legendary in this ting. We’re trying to make as much as bread as we can to help our families and better our lives. Furthermore, shout out to everyone going through their own problems but making it happen for themselves regardless. Keep going.”
8. Sinead Harnett
“Before, I was so busy running away from things and thinking, ‘who am I as an artist?’. Now, I wake up and look in the mirror and look at myself and think, ‘oh, you again!’. It’s made me realise, okay, this is who you are.”
“It’s one thing to be smart, but to be curious and ask questions is just as important.”
10. Flava D
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is balance. I never really understood how important it is to be grateful for what I have and to not punish myself for slowing down at times. I know it sounds cliché, but health really is wealth.”
11. Ashley Verse
“Everything has a different energy so I came into it like ‘rahhh this is gonna be sick’, but you know, even in music you can’t pick who you work with. I guess there’s always gonna be an office dickhead … they don’t go away in life. My mum always said this to me but it didn’t click for a long time … to learn how to deal with certain characters early because they’re always going to be around, in whatever industry. You’re always gonna encounter energy you might not vibe with, or an interaction that doesn’t work out the way you want it to. Once I stumbled a few times in that sense and that lesson was reaffirmed, I was like ‘alright, cool’. I mean, when I first came up properly in 2013-14, it was a lot easier to speak to artists, so I was able to build up a different level of rapport. Even though it’s different now, being able to work with whoever I liked and build that trust, has helped me get through to new artists and teams I haven’t worked with before … whether that’s striking up conversations on set or having a chat before we shoot. A big thing about working for yourself is that you should be able to work with who you appreciate and vice versa. Essentially, work with who you fuck with.”
12. Jamz Supernova
“I’ve been really, really thinking about the consequences and the impact of the decisions I make. Is it gonna push the needle, is this thing gonna help my career going forward?”
13. Lavinya Stennett
“We’ve got to understand our history to understand our future.”
14. Mella Dee
“I don’t think playing music to people and then getting paid for it will ever get old for me. I mean there’s a lot of grafting involved and a lot of work goes into it, but it’s sick, I still love it as much as I always did.”
15. Ciaran Thapar
“I want to raise awareness and make people feel the inequality that exists in our society. It’s easy to know about it, but to feel it and to care about it is a different thing entirely.”
“I want to make my eight-year-old self, proud. I really feel like it’s a mission of mine, not only as part of GRIOT, but also as an artist in general. Things have to be better for all of us.”
“Modern life is full of doubt, especially in London, and I think that’s partly why I went to Jamaica. Over there, you can be the brokest guy and walk around like you run the ting. Confidence just isn’t an issue, it’s an energy that puts things into context. Money and status equals power in the West but there it doesn’t matter, at least externally… and it was important to remind myself of that.”
“I’d love to become a proper staple in electronic music. There’s no reason why a woman can’t be credited on a Wizkid album or have production credits on a Kelela joint. I want to have a presence in that space and eventually be a gateway for other amazing women in music. I’ve still got a few doors left to kick down, basically.”
19. Aniefiok Ekpoudom
“..if you want to have an interesting conversation with someone, show them that you’re interested in what they’ve presented and what they have to say.”
20. Flora Yin-Wong
“Well, we’ve all gone totally mad haven’t we? We need to learn how to get back to some semblance of sanity. But then again, the original sanity was madness in itself, so maybe there is no sanity. Who knows?”
A temporary home for monthly Mixmag Grime & Dubstep reviews while the magazine remains out of print — here are June’s picks.
Album of the Month: One Bok – ‘Zodiac Beats Volume 1 & 2’ (AP Life)
One of 2021’s defining releases
2. Nine Saturn
Bok Bok dons a new moniker as One Bok for his first record on his new AP Life imprint — a rugged 10-track collection of cathartic drill beats and wired offshoot mutations. Rooted firmly in the city, it picks up the baton from where Nammy Wams’ ‘Paradise South’ album — AP Life’s inaugural release — left off, finding inspiration in London’s greying, suffocating, concrete malaise. These feelings are present in the sounds of every track here, too; the sullen, tempered boom and shrill vocal cries of ‘Capricorn’, the pensive guitar licks of ‘Nine Saturn’ — a nod to emotional grime classics like Ruff Sqwad’s ‘Together’ — and the overarching, stomach-turning sense of unease that seems to permeate tracks like ‘Leo’ and ‘Fifty’. Although a skilled technician and master of club nuance, ‘Zodiac Beats Volume 1 & 2’ sees Bok prioritise feelings over functionality — and he more than pulls it off. As with everything that’s landed on AP Life so far, it’s got future classic written all over it, too. 9/10
Tune of the Month: The Bug – ‘Clash’ ft. Logan (Ninja Tune)
Lifted as the first single from The Bug’s recently announced new album, ‘Fire’ — Kevin Martin’s first under The Bug moniker in seven years — ‘Clash’ lays down an explosive, pulsating marker from the jump; he’s back alright. Joining forces with one of grime’s most prolific and exciting next-gen MCs in Logan, The Bug deploys every weapon in his arsenal across a huge, devastating wall of sound. The beats are scorched, the textures stormy and the atmospherics dense and heady, with every bar landing like a thunderbolt to the temple. Logan’s barbed, menacing cadence fits like a glove too, as he flows between ragged, crunching beats without breaking sweat on a record that captures two artists, albeit of different vanguards, right at the top of their game. Roll on the album. 9/10
Kaiju – ‘Troll’ EP (Deep Medi Musik)
Big, bad and brilliant
Kaiju have been churning out some of Medi’s best plates since 2015, and here the duo are back on bullish form. Title-track ’Troll’ almost never surfaced — it was originally made on an old DAW called Acid and apparently took years to reconfigure — but it’s monstrous from the jump, lurching forward with contorted dub horns, sharp breaks and rolling, gut-twisting sub. Second track ‘Counter It’ buzzes with oddball samples and jazzy notes, albeit again bankrolled by a hefty, bone-shaking dose of sub, before rasping final cut ‘The Terrible’ plunges the EP into (somehow!) even deeper, darker territory. Prepare for all three tracks to turn dances upside down, given the chance. 8/10
Orwell – ‘Tears In The Rain’ EP (Cella Records)
Who saw this coming?
Three tracks of super impressive, power-play system music from Orwell on Turner’s Cella Records imprint here. With dubstep still loosely at its core, ‘Tears In The Rain’ taps grime and drill sounds from the off — the title-track is awash with scything square wave drills and big, blaring horn charges — while second track ‘Seek Out’ feels both melancholy and meditative; think big, thugged-out 808 rumbles offset by long, dwindling synth lines. This sense of yearning is continued on EP standout, ‘Orna’ ft. Pablo Brown, which closes out, albeit still grounded by punchy, robust 808 stabs, with delicate, dizzying flutes playing to a tugging, overriding sense of loss. 8/10
Various – ‘Dug Out Dubs Volume One’ (DeeOh7)
Dig in, dug out!
Slowie’s DeeOh7 label continues a quick-fire start to life with new seven-track, multi-artist compilation, ‘Dug Out Dubs Volume One’. Featuring a slew of new school producer talent — everyone from Beanzo to Jakebob to Baileys Brown all feature — it serves as a bustling entry point to the label’s fast-unfurling outlook. From greazy, bone-rattling, Commodo-esque dubstep (Baileys Brown – ‘Family Number’), mechanised DJ tools (Beanzo – ’Twilight’) and pure, trapped-out head-nodders (Mr Skandal – ‘Gladiator’) to Sertee’s ‘Airplane Mode’ — a breezy, late summer twist on melodic drill — there’s gold to be found right across the tracklist. 7/10
Reflec – ‘Switch’ EP (SOAKER SOUND)
Switch on, turn up!
Reflec christens his new SOAKER SOUND imprint with six, full-blooded grime experiments on debut EP, ’Switch’. Flitting between the stripped back, essentialist takes of producers like East Man and a more fluid, busier sound, it’s an EP that feels urgent, immediate, pressing. Opener ‘Switch’ flexes the rubbery, aqua-grime of Boxed-era instrumentals circa 2014, while the anxious, frenetic string work and oscillating square waves of tracks like ‘Chambers’ and ‘Scorpio’ are palpably tense and moody. Bouncy fourth track ‘Rituals’ feels more in keeping with the work of grime OGs like Pulse X mastermind Youngstar, while final tracks ‘Sleep’ — again tapping the Boxed-era canon — and oddball, technoid roller ‘Peppermint’ finish with a stark, experimental flourish. 8/10
Jakebob – ’20 Twenty One’ (Bandcamp)
Not your average grime producer
More booming, intelligent wot-do-you-call-it grime fodder from Jakebob — an artist slowly becoming one of the underground’s most reliable names. ’20 Twenty One’ was a standout drop from his latest slew of self-released material — his Bandcamp alone now boasts over 100 tracks — cutting between booming 808 stabs, Balearic strings (the sample lifted from Metallica’s ‘One’) and neon-lit, trance-y synths on a track designed to make heads swirl. Grab it! 8/10
Hitpoint – ‘Detached’ EP (Bandcamp)
He may be based in Marbella, but it sounds like Hitpoint might have swapped the palm trees for breeze blocks on barnstorming new EP, ‘Detached’. Comprised of four tracks that drift between icy, fluttery, future-facing grime sketches (‘Detached’) and menacing, chop-and-screw style burners (‘First Dawn’), it forms a fiery introduction to a producer full of both ambition and potential. The EP also comes complete with a snarling, hyper-moody remix of Crafty 893’s ‘Do What, Do Where’, with the instrumental (‘Car Boot’) thrown in for good measure, too. Definitely a name to watch. 7/10
Grawinkel – ‘Nightwave’ EP (Badman Studios)
A real surprise package
Four weighty system slammers from Dresden-based producer, Grawinkel, who makes a fitting addition the ranks of San Francisco’s Badman Studios — a label slowly carving out their own lane in the wider dubstep community. Opener ‘Nightwave’ is huge on the low end, the bass whirring like a fan while bright, flashlight synths dance and buzz atop — think Tokyo Drift meets Tron Legacy in places — while the sombre, booming lean of ‘March’ feels genuinely mournful; those strings! The filmic crackle, orchestral rumble and copy-pasted vocal patches on third track ‘Appa’ — he was a flying bison in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ — are an EP curveball but still great fun, while the skittish, helter-skelter rhythms and elastic wobble of final track ‘Rise’ sign off with aplomb. Proper! 9/10
Cesrv, Fleezus, Febem – ‘BRIME!’ (Butterz)
Welcome to São Paulo, Butterz style!
Even over a decade since its inception, Elijah & Skilliam’s Butterz label continue to pioneer new ways of experiencing grime music. ‘BRIME!’ — the first, fully Brazilian grime record ever made available on wax — may only be a reissue, (it was originally released via Brazilian label, Ceia, back in March 2020), but it promises to be the first in a series of new Butterz projects exploring sounds between São Paulo and London. Anchored in São Paulo itself, the rise (and popularity) of the Brazilian grime scene has been well documented over the last five years — as have its rhythmic similarities to Baile Funk — but few have invested like Butterz. Cesrv, Fleezus & Flebem are in rude health across all six tracks too; from the skippy drums, thumping stabs and piercing, rally-style bars of opener ‘Raddim’ to the booming ‘Fala Memo’ — complete with ominous, spoken word hooks and a guest verse from Jevon — to the crystallised eski flutes of ‘Chelsea’, the tracklist is totally infectious. Vai Brasil! 9/10
As well as releasing new single ‘Clash’ ft. Logan, The Bug has also announced a new album — his first solo LP for seven years (!) … ‘Fire’ is out August 27th and promises to be his most incendiary yet, with a feature list boasting the likes of Manga St Hilare, Iran, Flowdan, FFSWHYTHO, Logan and Moor Mother … mega! Be on the look out for a scorching new Sukh Knight plate (‘Hawk / Poison’) over the next few months, too … and keep tabs on a standout new M.I.C EP, produced entirely by Nammy Wams … described as ‘6 tracks of grime music written, produced and performed to the highest standard’, ‘YOU CAN ACHIEVE ANYTHING’ is already shaping up to be one of the summer’s definitive grime records, complete with features from JME and Jawnino … elsewhere, look out for a trio of statement dubstep 12”s over the next month — Ramsez’s ‘Hexagons’ EP on Silent Motion, Hypho, Abstract Sonance and Rakjay joining forces on new EP, ‘Nintendo’, for Infernal Sounds and a new Cimm plate on Youngsta’s Sentry Records label … ‘Conman / So’ is due July 23 … Finally, a name to keep tabs on — Bristol-based, Irish producer Burke has spent the last 12 months firing out militant drill beats at regular intervals … usually released in small batches, or sometimes as individual instrumentals as part of his Beats By Burke catalogue, his work may remain largely untapped for now but his range and consistency is starting to turn heads … recent drops ‘WEST’ and ‘GLIZZY’ are great entry points for those wanting to get familiar. Tip!