— Wonder —

On Bethnal Green, Rinse FM, UKG, Sidewinder, Dump Valve, sampling, writing ‘What’, touring with Dizzee Rascal, fatherhood, events, nostalgia and the comeback trail.

(All photos submitted by DJ Wonder)

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.”

You can keep up with Wonder via Instagram.

— SOLIDARITY. —

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).

1. Jammz

“Sometimes the picture is bigger than what you can see in front of you.”

2. Plastician

“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.”

3. LCY

“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.”

5. Henrie

“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.”

6. Joker

“I’ve always been me, at whatever stage in my career I’ve been at.”

7. PK

“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.”

9. Scully

“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.” 

16. Ehua

“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.”

17. cktrl

“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.”

18. KG

“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?”

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY™ —

A temporary home for monthly Mixmag Grime & Dubstep reviews while the magazine remains out of print — here are June’s picks.

(One Bok by MSO)

Album of the Month: One Bok – ‘Zodiac Beats Volume 1 & 2’ (AP Life)

One of 2021’s defining releases

Highlights

1. Capricorn

2. Nine Saturn

3. Leo

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

(The Bug)

Tune of the Month: The Bug – ‘Clash’ ft. Logan (Ninja Tune)

Apocalyptic!

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)

Get acquainted

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

Monitor

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!

(M.I.C)

— WIZE —

On North London, Super Mario, Aaliyah, memorising bars, rap, grime, hating losing, Soundcloud, Crowdsourced, viral moments and why music is all he’s ever known.

(All photos submitted by WIZE)

WIZE is a busy man. In fact, since leaving college in the early 2010s, busy is all he’s ever known. “I’ve never once had a proper job you know”, he says intently, leaning back in his chair as we open our conversation early on Friday evening. “And I’m not saying that like it’s an accolade or anything, I just literally haven’t.” He’s speaking to me during a break at a studio session in Hertfordshire, where he’s currently working with a host of different artists on new music. “I used to hate driving”, he says, smiling, “but coming out here from North London, especially after the year we’ve all had … I actually look forward to it now.”

Although active as a producer, rapper, writer and studio engineer since 2007, WIZE’s career to this point has been a tale of peaks and troughs. There have been huge, career-defining moments — many of which we’ll discuss later — and also periods of uncertainty and doubt; but come rain or shine, he’s treated both success and disappointment with the same gusto. “I’ve found a lot of things to do throughout the pandemic that have kept me quite busy”, he says of the last 12 months. “They’re not even things people gave me to do either, I just created a lot of opportunities during the times I was stuck in my house. I can’t lie, it’s led me to a place where I feel quite confident in myself. And that feels pretty good.”

Born and raised in Holloway in North London to parents of Jamaican, Chinese and Irish heritage, WIZE has always been fascinated by art, video games and music, as well as the desire to create and make things; “My brain runs at 100 miles per hour, bro”, he says nonchalantly. “It always has.” “That kid just loved video games, too”, he continues, briefly switching to third person. “He just wanted to be on his Super Nintendo and his N64 all day … and he used to love to hear his mum sing. My mum’s a singer, so I used to go to the studio with her all the time. She used to do session singing, so she’d always be on a bunch of different people’s projects. There are certain rappers that are pretty much legends now that I met as a kid, like Skinnyman for example. I remember seeing him when I was about three, him taking me to the shop and that. Saying all that though, that version of me didn’t wanna be a musician, I wanted to make games and do art. I wanted to be a graphic designer in all honesty, mainly because I was really into drawing. I went to art classes after school and used to get stuck into doing school displays and stuff like that. I was a super nerd really, but you know, we all come from somewhere.”

School was a sanctuary for WIZE — “I was a super good kid all the way through, I never skipped lessons or anything like that” — and he excelled until his college years. Kept in check by his mum, who he describes as a “really cool person”, her example had a profound impact on how he navigated life both in-and-out of class. “She just kept me grounded, man”, he explains. “I’ve never been a confrontational person, I’ve never wanted to be in a gang … I just always wanted to be me, at peace. That attitude carried me through school really, and I owe a lot of that to her.”

While music was always ticking along in the background, video games were WIZE’s first major obsession as a child. But rather than the escapism or even the graphics, it was the concept of winning that kept him hooked. “I’m very fixated on winning and I very much hate losing”, he says, chuckling to himself. “I hate it, like, a lot. I get a very, very large thrill from winning and I have done since I was a kid. I remember my uncles used to have to let me beat them at Street Fighter otherwise I’d get really mad. I’d be raging if I didn’t win.”

“I remember my uncles used to have to let me beat them at Street Fighter otherwise I’d get really mad. I’d be raging if I didn’t win.”

What was the first game he really loved, I ask? “Ah there’s so many, man”, he says, racking his brain for thirty seconds or so. “Okay, okay, so the first game I truly fell in love with bro … Super Mario Allstars on the Super Nintendo. That was a compilation of all the best Mario games in one. My dad had actually given me his old console shortly after it came out and that game there bro, I must have spent at least 40-50 percent of my childhood just glued to it, literally. Away from Super Mario, anything Pokémon. Anything Pokémon. Even the obscure pinball games that they’d put out … I was like ‘yeah, gimme a bit of that’. They were the two things I can guarantee I would have always been playing.”

As for his own relationship with music? A school assembly, of all places, would be the spark. “I’d always been around music with my mum and that, but the first time I really remember being drawn in by it was in an assembly in year four. I must have been eight, maybe nine years old. There was this kid who I’m actually still friends with today, his name is Ottoman, and he got up to perform during this assembly, which was like a talent show basically. His talent was rapping and he was gonna rap this Limp Bizkit song … I can’t remember the name of it … but he rapped it on stage and I though it was the most phenomenal thing ever. I just thought, ‘wow, did you really just say all of it that fast?’ kinda thing. It was at that point that I started listening to music and writing down the lyrics so I could learn them. That eventually led to me writing my own lyrics and yeah, it just went from there. Saying that, it took another three or four years for me to really get into it properly. It was when I saw my friend Ronnie, who again I’m still friends with today, make a beat on a Sony Ericsson phone. Remember those phones with the music apps in-built? He made a beat with one and then rapped over the top and I was like, ‘Bro, oh my God, what? Why are you not famous?’. I was gobsmacked by the fact he could just do that so that was it, I knew I had to start penning my own bars … he couldn’t be the only guy round here who rapped.”

What was it about rap that appealed to him, I ask? “I dunno, you know”, he says, his eyes scanning the room around him. “I guess I’ve always just found it really cool. When I think back to things that always caught my ear as a kid, it was always RnB, hip-hop, that sort of sound I guess. I forgot to mention earlier but when I was about seven, my mum married someone and he used to play a lot of hip-hop around the house. Stuff like Mystikal, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg … I guess subconsciously, I just grew an appreciation for it. A year or so later, I remember So Solid Crew released ’21 Seconds’ and honestly, that song man. I actually bought it on vinyl the other day, limited edition. That song changed my life, I swear. Remember I told you I used to write down lyrics? I wrote every single bar of that song down and I learned them by heart. Back then, you could test me and I would give you everyone’s bars … except for the swear words because my would probably have been there.”

“My mum was always blasting music, too”, WIZE continues, “but to be honest, she was really into pop … the Spice Girls, Backsreet Boys, N-Sync … and then she’d get in her soul bag and play lots of Anita Baker, Minnie Riperton, Tina Marie, Toni Braxton. I definitely loved it when she played that stuff. Aaliyah, as well. Apparently, or so the story goes, when I was born my mum had her headphones in and was listening to Aaliyah. Imagine that, she had her headphones in when I was born. Anyway, I mean I remember it all beginning for me with Michael Jackson. My mum used to play his music a lot and I was just obsessed … to the point where I actually stole some of my mum’s tapes. I don’t know what I was thinking, I was probably only five or six, but I put one in my tape player and I think I pressed Record. I ended up recording over ‘Smooth Criminal’ and she was so angry.”

“Apparently, or so the story goes, when I was born my mum had her headphones in and was listening to Aaliyah.”

WIZE started experimenting with making his own music when he just 12 years old — all inspired by an issue of Computer Music and some free DAW software that came with the magazine. “I remember going to the Poundshop in Angel and buying a webcam mic”, he recalls. “It was one of those proper little thin ones, like a car aerial almost, and in my head I could record music with that. I’d already got this copy of Computer Music and this DAW called Kristal. It was a really, really basic sequencer that you could record about eight tracks on. I just thought I’d get a microphone, put a beat from Limewire in there, and I could rap on it? So that’s exactly what I did … and I recorded my first song. I carried on just learning and trying things out by myself or a while and then there was this one kid who moved to my school. His name was Sa’id and his producer name was Flash G. Not Bloodline Flash G, but I found out that he made his own beats either way. I’d started to use FL Studio, where as he used Reason, so me and him started gradually becoming friends, showing each other our beats and how the different software worked. He ended up moving over to FL and we became even better friends because we were using the same DAW, we were collaborating on tunes. It was cool because he was more into techno and electronic stuff, where I was more into hip-hop and grime. We just bonded over that. Even though we’re not really cool anymore, I still credit him with teaching me a lot of the stuff that I used to really etch out the producer I am today, you know.”

After finishing school, WIZE headed to college — on three separate occasions. “I got kicked out twice”, he says, quite matter-of-factly. “I don’t even know what I was doing, bro. I think I was going through my little rebellious, adolescent phase and I just remember thinking, ‘I’ve just done so many years of education and now I’ve gotta go back and do more?’. What I didn’t realise was that I should have just gone to college and done something I was interested in. I wasted two years doing courses I didn’t wanna do and then the third time, I went to a different college to study Music Technology … which I loved! And I passed with flying colours. I then went off to university at SAE in London but I only lasted two days. Basically, I’d just had a child and then life got crazy and I couldn’t keep it up. If I’m being real with you bro, it’s also because they tried to teach me Maths. It was part of the course but I was just like, ‘how is that a module?’. It wasn’t for me at all. I just wanted to learn how to make some bangers.”

While becoming a father for the first time and leaving university may have initially flipped WIZE’s world on its head, he soon become adept at juggling responsibilities. All the while, belief in his own musicianship never wavered. Not once. “Ever since I was 15, it was always ‘I’ve gotta be the best producer in the world’. I had to be. I’ve always wanted to be the guy that people revered for how much work I did to get where I am … because I love it that much. I need people to appreciate me as much as I love it.” 

“Ever since I was 15, it was always ‘I’ve gotta be the best producer in the world’. I had to be.”

What were his first in-roads into the industry, I ask? “I was lucky enough to get access to the internet at home when I was about 14”, WIZE recalls. “The minute I discovered you could upload your beats online and people might listen to them, I just kept on doing it. Eventually, I actually posted about this on instagram the other day, but I had this beat called ‘Ah Yeah’ and I don’t know what it was about it, but it seemed to connect with someone in every area in London. At least one rapper from every ends spat on that beat and put it on YouTube, which in turn led it to becoming a very, very early version of a viral moment. After that, I started getting rappers emailing me asking to make this kinda beat or that kinda beat for like, £20. That in itself was crazy to me. I was even working with people in the US on MySpace in like 2008. People in Texas? I’m like a 14, 15 year-old kid but even then, I just knew it was what I wanted to do.”

WIZE’s first eureka moment came in the form of earning a much sought-after producer credit on Wiley’s 2012 studio album, ‘The Ascent’, when he was just 18 years old. He produced ‘Skillzone’, the third tack on the LP, which boasted the most guest MCs of the entire tracklist, with Ghetts, Griminal, Manga, Frisco, Double S, Scratchy and Big Shizz all recording their own verses alongside Wiley himself. “I just remember getting an email from Wiley saying ‘This tune is gonna be on my album’, and I couldn’t believe it”, he says sheepishly. “I’m a grime kid and I’d grown up my whole life thinking Wiley was a God, so just to even see those words in an email … ah, man. It was then I knew that I could make it as a producer. I knew things were serious.”

“I remember getting an email from Wiley saying, ‘This tune is gonna be on my album’, and I couldn’t believe it.”

In the years following, WIZE would go onto produce beats for everyone from D Block Europe and Lotto Boyzz to NSG and Yxng Bane, marking himself out as both a gifted producer and engineer and with it, a true under-sung hero behind-the-scenes. He also saw one of his tracks, ‘Be Happy’ — originally self-released in 2018 — lifted by Apple to soundtrack their ‘Behind The Mac’ campaign last summer. “How that happened, I’ve no idea, I just credit the universe”, he says. But for all his successes, there have been plenty of obstacles to overcome too. “One thing I’ve really had to come to terms with as a producer is that nothing is promised”, he says firmly. “There is no opportunity presented to you that’s one hundred percent gonna happen. Never. There’s always a chance that someone will turn around and say, ‘Sorry, that’s not happening anymore for x, y and z reason and we’re not concerned about how that affects you’. When you’re young and good at what you do, people vibe with that, and you build up this expectation that the world is gonna see you in the same way … and it definitely doesn’t. The world will screw you around and eff you over and feel no way about it. And that’s what I had to come to terms with. It happened to me a lot, you know. I’d be going to different label buildings, meeting with different A&Rs and thinking, ’Wow, is this it? This guy likes my music, is he gonna sign me?’, and of course I’d never hear from them again. The confidence dip that used to cause was really hard to get over for a while. Also, financially, it was tough. Just not being able to monetise my work because I came up in an era where the producer wasn’t as revered as they are now made things more difficult. Don’t forget, I’m a father too, so I had the responsibility of providing for my daughter and being a producer, it can be tough, I’m not gonna lie to you.”

“When you’re young and good at what you do, people vibe with that, and you build up this expectation that the world is gonna see you in the same way … and it definitely doesn’t. The world will screw you around and eff you over and feel no way about it.”

How did he navigate those pitfalls, I ask? “I had to arm myself with the necessary tools to market myself the way I needed to be marketed”, WIZE explains. “Even just trying to perfect my craft as a producer. Like, don’t just stagnate, you know. Just because I’m in the same place in life, doesn’t mean I have to be in the same place with my craft. My craft can evolve and I can be struggling, but as long as that takes care of itself, I’ve got prospects. Soundcloud is a huge reason behind me surviving as well, even now. The ability to repost other people’s music, that function right there … that changed my life. I still have people referencing my stuff being reposted years ago, which just shows how big it was. Once I learnt how to monetise my work through online ads as well, I knew I’d be able to find my own revenue stream.”

“Through Soundcloud, I was able to meet people that are some of my best friends today” he continues. “Massie (Craig), who I used to do Crowdsourced with, Morenight, one of my closest friends and one of the best producers that I know, Digital Mozart … these are all people I met through Soundcloud and over time, we eventually became a clique. We’re a family, you know and they definitely help me to see that we’re all going through the same stuff. They’re all cold as well, so we bounce off each other inspiration wise, which has always been a big help.”

As a rapper, too, WIZE has also consistently impressed. His 2014 Fire In The Streets freestyle for Charlie Sloth is a good entry point for anyone trying to get to grips with his style, diction and flow — as is his latest release on Truth Hz — but for an artist who can turn his hand to both producing and performing, I wondered which side of the coin inspired him more? “It’s all rhythmic at the end of the day innit, it’s all sonics”, he explains. “For example, Dot Rotten always says to me that I make beats how I rap and if you listen to how I make beats and the pockets that I fill, there’s a synergy there. Really and truly, I’m just converting the sonics in my head into lyrics. It’s all the same energy that I’m trying to channel, if that makes sense.” 

“Dot Rotten always says to me that I make beats how I rap and if you listen to how I make beats and the pockets that I fill, there’s a synergy there.”

What about performing? “I’m a creative, but I wouldn’t say I’m a natural performer”, he says, leaning forward slightly. “That’s something I’ve had to learn over time. It’s not native for me to perform, where as it is to create it and think about it and craft it. I’ve had to really work on that side of things, especially because I can get self-conscious. I find myself questioning if tracks are as good as I think they are, but even then, I don’t really get nervous … I’ll still go and do a show and perform. Deep down though, that’s probably why there’s been more production stuff and less rap stuff over the years.”

In and amongst his production work, solo material and running studios as an engineer, another jewel in WIZE’s career was Crowdsourced — the off-piste, beat-making challenge that became a cornerstone of Boiler Room’s in-house output for almost two years. Originally the brain child of Craig Massie — DJ, all-round content wizard former long-term Creative Lead at Boiler Room — it evolved to become a two-hour show in which a guest producer would be tasked with making a beat directly from samples sent in by fans. Hosted by WIZE, the pair were able to bring in some of underground dance music’s most iconic names, with everyone from Flava D and Crazy Cousinz to Jimmy Edgar & Machinedrum (J-E-T-S), Iglooghost and Nightwave taking part between 2017 and 2019. “Massie came to me one day with this idea about making beats live and using samples”, WIZE explains, “so it was really his thing if I’m honest with you. It wasn’t originally broadcast through Boiler Room, we used to just film the early episodes in there because Massie had access to the studio there, but he ended up pitching the idea after we’d filmed five or six epodes. They loved it, so decided to put some money behind it and let us do our thing.”

“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done”, he continues. “Honestly, that show … I feel like it was such an important part of producer culture at that time. It really helped show producers in the light that we needed to be showed in. Like, ‘look, this is what we can do on the spot with random sounds, without our usual tools, and we’re gonna create magic for you, live’. I don’t think there’s been that level of insight anywhere else … and then the fact that you could interact with producers as they go? It was almost like we were inviting people into a studio for a few hours. I enjoyed every single minute of it. It was a lot of fun to meet so many people that I admired as well, you know. Flava D, I mean she was one of my favourite producers growing up, she’s been cold for so long … and then she just comes on my show and does a madness? It was an honour to be a part of that whole thing.”

“Flava D, I mean she was one of my favourite producers growing up, she’s been cold for so long … and then she just comes on my show and does a madness?”

More recently, WIZE has found joy with freestyle edits — a part of his beat-making make-up since 2011, although only fully appreciated over the last 12 months. Inspired by US producer Knwledge, who had pioneered the art of isolating old US rap freestyle vocals and layering them over re-booted beats, WIZE began trying his hand at doing the same from a UK vantage point via grime and drill. His own edits of classic vocals by Wiley, Skepta, Ghetts, Esco (RIP) and more, each uploaded to his socials with original accompanying footage, have become a phenomenon online, racking up thousands of likes and shares each — to the point that they’ve opened up a whole new audience of fans discovering his music for the first time. “I was glued to Knwledge’s channel for months and I loved the work he does with Anderson .Paak, so I was hyper aware of what he was about”, WIZE explains. “Once I clocked how he was doing it, there was no way I was gonna let him be the only guy. At first, I mean I’ve uploaded so many now that I know which ones are gonna make people tick, but when I started I was just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck. I don’t have a formula or anything because the way social media works, the algorithms change all the time, but I think it was the Wiley and Skepta one that took it to the level where people now associate the edit thing with my name. Wherever I go, people seem to have stumbled on it somehow. There’s been a load of media coverage since, a lot of interest from artists … like right now I’m at a studio and if I’m being honest, it’s probably because of the edits. A lot of brands wanna work with me now, too. It’s strange.”

“The only issue with the edits though is that people think that they’re like, the pinnacle of my production”, WIZE continues. “And that’s dangerous. I don’t wanna be that guy, I’m not even any guy really … I just don’t want people to think that they’re all I am. When I come and spin people with a jazz song, I don’t want anybody to be confused.” 

“When I come and spin people with a jazz song, I don’t want anybody to be confused.”

As our conversation begins to wind down, the sound of background noise slowly starting to pick-up on WIZE’s mic, it’s hard to think of an artist more defiant about his craft. A true creative to his core, WIZE’s talent — and his ability to shift and adapt amidst such a rapidly-evolving social media backdrop — feels all the more one-of-a-kind and special than ever right now. “I realise that I’ve always created my own limits”, he says, sharing one final thought before darting back into the studio. “And I’ve realised that you can ignore that by just being. When you realise that all you have to do is be, you’re good.”

You can stay up to date with WIZE’s music via Bandcamp:

https://wizetheproducer.bandcamp.com/

— KG —

On Tottenham, drama school, beats, broadcasting, battling disillusionment, Goon Club Allstars, Normal Not Novelty, Capital Dance and championing rhythm & ambition on new EP, ‘Sensei II’.

(All photos submitted by KG)

“You know what people say, when it rains it pours”, says Karen Nyame, trying to sum up a remarkable few years that’s seen her kick down myriad doors as a DJ, producer and broadcaster. Better known by her artist moniker, KG, she’s speaking to me from home in Stamford Hill on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon, in the midst of a bustling promo run for her new Black Acre EP, ‘Sensei II’ — a sparkling record boasting collaborations and guest features from Mista Silva, Taliwoah, Aymos and South African vocalist, Toya Delazy.  “I’ve really been trying to get in my record producer bag recently you know”, she says, breaking out into laughter. “But no, no, in all seriousness, the difference between the ‘KG’ EP and this one is crazy. I’ve come a long way.”

Five years ago, things were very different. Bereft of confidence and struggling for any sort of break, KG was close to giving up on music altogether, until a chance DM from Goon Club Allstars — a DIY label with a cult following and a lauded discography — would change everything. In fact, until the COVID-19 pandemic struck UK shores last March, she’d barely had a moment to herself. “That moment of stillness, having that opportunity to slow down and work on things introspectively has actually been really beneficial”, she says, opening our conversation. ‘Before that, I was here, I was there, touring, taking bookings back-to-back … you just don’t get a chance to assess where you’re at or how you’re feeling when things are like that. I guess I’ve just tried to give myself the chance to delve back into self-care as a response almost, just to make sure that I’m good when the world starts to open back up again, you know. I just thought to myself, ‘when will you ever get to spend some time with you?”

An only child, KG was born in Tottenham to Ghanaian parents and has stayed local to North London throughout her life. She recalls being a very ‘animated’ and ‘creative’ young child — “it might be some dramatic little performance at my dad’s house where I was pretending to be in a soap opera or I was just writing songs and playing my guitar” — and grew up close to where the 2011 London riots were sparked in response to the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan. “It’s really dark thinking about it”, she says, pausing for a moment. “I mean, that stretch was literally where I used to be, it was where I grew up. To see it all go up in flames … ah, man … it was a very profound moment in time.”

“My parents split up when I was about four or five, but my dad still played an important part in shaping my musical appetite”, she continues, reflecting on her childhood. “He was really eclectic in terms of genres, where as my mum was quite linear … she’s a Ghanaian woman, she was just into her African Highlife and that was about it. She quite likes a bit of jazz actually too, but she didn’t stray too far from the formula. My dad was into reggae, motown, jungle, alternative pop … everything really. I was a sponge growing up, so I just absorbed all of that energy.”

What was school like, I ask? “I think my creativity kinda ran into my school life as well”, KG explains. “I was a heavy gamer, too. I had all of the consoles, from your Sega Megadrive to your Nintendo to the first batch of Playstations, but all I’d ever get was music making software and the occasional car game like Need For Speed or Porsche Carrera Challenge. Going back to school, and my mum always says this, but I was just that child that talked to everyone, wanted to help everyone and my teachers were just like, ‘ah man, that Karen, she’s amazing, man!’. I was actually really shy though, especially around adults, to the point where people thought something might be wrong. At school, I’d run around and play with my friends and let myself go a bit, but with adults I’d just never really speak, I was so reserved. That all changed when I went to drama school. Oh boy, it all changed after that … you’d never shut me up!”

“I had all of the consoles, from your Sega Megadrive to your Nintendo to the first batch of Playstations, but all I’d ever get was music making software and the occasional car game like Need For Speed or Porsche Carrera Challenge.”

In and amongst the hustle and bustle of school, KG quickly realised she heard music differently to everybody else, too. “I knew that my affinity towards music was different and the way that I processed music was different”, she says, again pausing for a moment. “I would isolate the instruments in a song in my head. You know when people consume music, they’ll pretty much just be listening to the song itself, maybe vibing with the lyrics or whatever, but I’d always be like ‘ah, I love that shaker in the background’ or I’d mimic the sound of specific instruments. Thinking back, I had a neighbour when I was growing up that we used to call Uncle Henry. He was a vinyl DJ and all he ever did was play US house, US garage … a lot of Todd Edwards and stuff like that. It was beautiful and up-tempo and I just loved the way that it sounded. My dad actually started getting me music tech magazines around that time and they’d come with these free audio workstation demos. I remember sticking the CDs into our home PC and they’d always be house music production suites, so I started making jungle and acid house with the loops and presets at like seven, eight years old. I didn’t understand what I was doing, but I knew that I was putting sounds together… and I loved it. It was like another one of my games to me.”

“My dad actually started getting me music tech magazines and they’d come with these free audio workstation demons. I remember sticking the CDs into our home PC and they’d always be house music production suites, so I started making jungle and acid house with the loops and presets at like seven, eight years old.”

In the background, KG was starting to mould her own tastes — and they were just as eclectic as her dad’s. “Ah I’d be listening to Enya, Annie Lennox, Barry White … and then into Shabba Ranks and Bob Marley”, she recalls. “Then I remember finding ‘90s RnB and being fascinated and heavily inspired by the early Timbaland, Missy Elliot, Ginuwine, Aaliyah days. That era was golden. I just remember thinking, ‘whatever they are doing, I wanna do that’. I wanted to be Missy Elliot really, she literally was the blueprint. At secondary school, I had a few issues with girls, growing pains shall we say, and I remember no one really getting me until the music classes starting popping in like, year 8 or whatever, when I basically started making songs for everyone. That in itself led me into the UKG era. I was listening to a lot of MJ Cole and that soulful, melodic side of UK garage, which then bled into the So Solid Crew era and then Dizzee Rascal and grime. I just wanted to emulate whatever musical shifts were happening at the time, really. I was totally obsessed.”

“I wanted to be Missy Elliot really, she was literally the blue print.”

After leaving school, KG knew that she wanted to work in the media in one form or another. “There was no elaborate plan or anything”, she says, “but broadcasting was my thing and I knew that I had to somehow work my way into the industry. College was a bit of a dud because I actually failed my music technology course … imagine you’re already a producer and you fail music technology?”. She opted to leave London for Nottingham Trent University shortly after finishing college, where she studied broadcast journalism in the hope of landing a job on her return to the capital. All the while, she still harboured dreams of becoming a fully fledged music producer, too. What was university like, I wondered? “A lot of my lecturers were like ex-BBC honchos, really quite traditional and old school”, she recalls, chucking to herself. “But the experience I gained from them was priceless really and it made me realise that radio was the thing I wanted to try and lock down. I actually did a few placements with Heart 106 and Smooth Radio while I was at university as well, because I’d effectively been training for commercial radio, but at the same time there was this surge of broken beat that was starting to morph into UK funky in the clubs. I thought to myself, ‘I missed the grime era, I missed the garage era, so let me try and jump on this UK funky wave’. I didn’t know how it’d pan out but I just went for it.”

“College was a bit of a dud because I actually failed my music technology course … imagine you’re already a producer and you fail music technology?”

“I’d spend so much of my time just logging onto Facebook groups trying to find the hottest pirate radio DJs to try and get my music too”, KG continues. “Deja FM, Touch FM, Mystic FM, Heat FM … like, ‘who can I send these unmixed, raw versions of these UK funky tracks straight off Fruity Loops too?’. I just wanted my stuff to be played on pirate radio, that was it. It’s crazy now, thinking back to that period because I never knew what was to come. It was such a ripe time for so much music back then. I was kinda around at the tipping point for afrobeats and UK funky … like some of the MCs and hosts that were around then are now doing up Vogue and Paris Fashion Week, it’s mad. I was speaking to Kitty Amor the other day … I love Kitty, she went to the same uni as me … and just seeing her and Sef Kombo on the cover of Mixmag made me think, ‘bloody hell, we’ve come a long way, man’.”

For all her enthusiasm and hard work, KG’s time at Nottingham would unwittingly serve as a pre-cursor to a period that she now looks back on as the hardest of her life so far. Like many graduates, she’d left university hopeful and wide-eyed but upon her return to London, quickly realised that life out in the real world was far from what the glossy, graduate careers fairs had promised. Coupled with her mum facing an unexpected redundancy, she found herself isolated, anxious and disillusioned. “Things got dark for me pretty quickly”, she says softly. “I graduated in 2010 but my mum had been made redundant shortly before during my final year. She used to work as MFI, the furniture store, and they went into administration and it was the first time she’d ever heard of anything like it. I ended up having to borrow money from friends just to get by those last few months. Doing your dissertation and not having enough money to survive, knowing that your mum is struggling because she has no financial support either … it was the hardest thing ever. To make it worse, I couldn’t get a job when I got home. I was unemployed for about two years and so I fell into a very, very deep depression. It was probably the darkest moment of my whole entire life. I found myself thinking like, ‘I’m a graduate, why do I need to sign on?’. Like, ‘why am I here at the job centre? You lot told me to go to university in order to get a job and I come back and I can’t get one?’. I sometimes think about if I was right to have that sense of entitlement but we were all told to go to university, you know. It was just a massive knock to my confidence and I remember I literally started the therapy process as soon as I could get some money together in 2011, 2012. My self-esteem was in the gutter back then, honestly.”

“Doing your dissertation and not having enough money to survive, knowing that your mum is struggling because she has no financial support either … it was the hardest thing ever.”

To make matters worse, some of KG’s funky tracks had started to gain a bit of traction — but nothing was sticking. “I thought something might happen off the back of all that”, she acknowledges, “so I started to have conversations and realised that people had heard of me and my music. A&R’s started approaching me and I remember getting excited and a bit ahead of myself, especially because they’d mention publishing deals and this and that. When none of that materialised, it was like ‘wow, okay so music isn’t for me’. I didn’t have any money, I couldn’t get a job and now I was gonna have to quit music because it wasn’t feasible… and the industry was just weird. It was just too much for me to deal with and it look me a long time to pick myself back up afterwards.”

Despite eventually landing a job working in security, KG took the next five or so years as time away from music. She’d still make beats in her down time — “it definitely helped keep the studio juices flowing” — but the safety blanket of structure and a regular wage had helped stitch her confidence back together. Maybe it was time to move on from music for good? “I definitely felt a deep sense of emptiness because I wasn’t having that creative exchange with other people”, she recalls. “My friends would always be asking about when I was coming back to music or whatever but I couldn’t be arsed with the politics and the stress. For a while, I was just thinking like, let me get my money, live for the weekend and take a holiday here and there… the simple life. Over time though, it quickly dawned on me that I just was living to exist and that was never the aim. I’m a passionate person, you know, and I realised I was actually suppressing my authentic self by living like that. I went back into therapy in 2017 just as I’d started to learn to DJ … which is when Goon Club Allstars first got in touch.”

“For a while, I was just thinking like, let me get my money, live for the weekend and take a holiday here and there … the simple life.”

Goon Club, co-run by label heads Kamran (fka Moleskin) and Ed, had already built a strong rep for not leveraging quality about quantity — they’re still only 10 releases deep despite forming in 2013 — but birthing new stars, too. As well as being the label behind Mssingno’s cult debut EP, they were also the first label to platform gqom in the UK — see Rudeboyz’ self-titled 2015 debut EP — and were crucial in building out the career of DJ Lag, who went on to co-produce a track for Beyoncé’s ‘Lion King: The Gift’ soundtrack in 2019 alongside stars like Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar and Burna Boy. “They were the first label that had properly approached me about my tracks and it was like, ’this music thing, I don’t know man’”, she says openly. “There are so many barriers and obstacles to think about, especially as a black woman in electronic music, so I took my time weighing it up, but Ed and Felix (Kamran) were so supportive from the beginning. To be honest, it was more a case of me just giving them the tracks to do whatever they wanted with … I couldn’t actually find the stems for ’808’ so they had to make do!”

“I didn’t think much of what was going on at that point”, KG continues. “I was already spending a lot of time with two amazing creatives, Ronnie Loko and Kofi Amah, my brothers, who’d call me to their studio so I could spend time on the decks and become accustomed to DJing. Towards the end of the year, Ed from Goon Club messaged me to say they were planning on dropping my EP in January 2018 and then asked if I could DJ. I told them I was much more of a producer than a DJ but that I was you know, alright. They were like ‘ah, okay, okay, you’re learning … do you think you’d be ready for Rinse FM in January?’ I was like…’Rinse…FM? I can get ready!’. Honestly, that December, those fucking Pioneers … I was mixing day and night, practising. I mean, Rinse FM? I’d been trying to get on Rinse for the longest. I’d sent so many demos to so many radio stations and never got any feedback from anybody so doing a production mix for Goon Club… ah man, it was crazy. Rinse FM! That one guest mix made me seriously reconsider coming back to music but then as soon as the ‘KG’ EP dropped later that month, that was it. I was back in full effect. This time, I felt a deeper sense of community. I instantly made some amazing friends and met some amazing artists, and now there were safe spaces for women in music. There was tangible progress I could see around me. I felt like I’d cracked a code.”

The ‘KG’ EP, comprised of two of KG’s biggest forgotten funky anthems in ‘808’ and ‘Midnight (Flute Riddim)’, was an instant classic. Backed up by remixes from FDM pioneer Hitmakerchinx and Goon Club affiliate, BSNYEA, it was a record that slotted into the label discography seamlessly, while capturing the imagination of UK dance floors. Finally, KG was getting her flowers. “It’s not stopped since that moment”, she says warmly. “It’s been a complete domino effect.”

EPs for Hyperdub — she collaborated on collaborative gqom-flavoured EP, ‘Touch’, with Scratcha DVA in 2019 — and a follow up for Goon Club soon followed (including a fully-mastered re-issue of 2009 classic, ‘Feeling Funky’) with new EP, ’Sensei II’, scheduled for release on June 25 as her first for Black Acre. She also collaborated with Uniiqu3 on a pulsating two-tracker for Jamz Supernova’s Future Bounce label at the back end of last year. With such a fluid approach to her releases so far, I asked what her overarching MO is — what makes a KG record, a KG record? “I’m all about the sounds of the diaspora and making sure I produce through an afro-lens, while fusing that with club energy”, she says eloquently. “I’m at a point right now where I really wanna evolve past the beat-maker stage and go into more record producing, which I hope I’ve managed to achieve on ‘Sensei II’. It’s an example of my artistic growth as well I think, so I’m chuffed about that. It was a big learning curve to work with vocalists, especially from an arrangement perspective because when you’re making beats, you don’t think to leave any space. I can recount with Taliwoah for example, I’d placed the bridge of ‘Mantra’ at the end of the track and Tali was just like ‘nah sis, put it in the middle and the breakdown like, give me some air to breathe!’. When I heard it back, it sounded beautiful and I realised straight away that she was right.”

“The last time I was in Ghana was … I can’t even remember!”, she continues, as talk turns back to the subject of the diaspora. “Because I’m integrated into my community, it’s kinda like back home is here anyway. Twi is my second language, my mum and my aunties are here and I’ve got a load of British-Ghanaian musicians that I connect with regularly, so that forms the glue that binds us together. Home has never really escaped me in that sense, but I know I need to go back to purge and re-root, because I know it’ll influence everything that I do creatively and artistically. It’s always important to touch the motherland just from a spiritual perspective, and I know my experience of Ghana now, as an adult, will be very different to how I remember it as a child.”

“Twi is my second language, my mum and my aunties are here and I’ve got a load of British-Ghanaian musicians that I connect with regularly, so that forms the glue that binds us together.”

As well as her own music snowballing, KG has also been a figurehead (and production lead) for Red Bull Music’s Normal Not Novelty program since 2018 — a nationwide series of monthly events and workshops aimed at encouraging women to get involved in electronic music, be it as DJs, producers or engineers. “I would have loved for something like Normal Not Novelty to have been around when I was 22”, she explains. “It’s my way of paying it forward I guess and I enjoy the sessions so much. It’s such a safe space, too. There’s no judgement, no right way of being or doing things. I’ve had so many experiences in music with men trying to mansplain everything … you know, “oh that’s the fader, do you know what that is?’ kinda stuff … so getting to the point where I can pass on my expertise to other women coming up is really gratifying. Let’s make some other KGs, you get me!”

The icing on the cake? As of early 2021, KG also finally got her long-deserved commercial radio break at Capital Dance — the dance arm of the Capital network, launched by former BBC R1 & 1Xtra DJ, MistaJam, earlier this spring. “It felt like another falling-out-of-the-sky scenario and I’m not gonna lie, it’s still blowing my mind”, she says, her voice almost trembling with excitement. “If you would have told me I was gonna be on national radio in 2021, I’d have been like ‘whaaaaat, how is that gonna happen?’. I actually got a referral through a lovely girl that I know and worked with at Foundation FM, who also worked at Global. The senior producers at Capital had asked her if there were any DJs around that they needed to know and she put me forward. She ended up messaging me to tell me that these senior producers wanted to meet for a chat and I was like, ‘whaaaaat, what kind of chat?’ kinda thing. It felt crazy! She setup a Zoom and we had a chat and we haven’t really stopped since. They ended up inviting me to record a demo show and then kept hypothetically asking where I’d see myself in terms of commercial radio. Obviously, the natural fit was Capital Dance and so I was basically demoing from December 2020. The producers loved my voice, so I kept on recording and demoing and chatting on Zoom right up until April time, when they offered me my first cover contract at the station. I’m still pretty much in the training process right now, but I’ve been covering shows whenever my schedule allows and I’m absolutely loving it so far.”

After years of hard graft and some immeasurable lows, KG’s recent success feels all the sweeter. It’s hard not to be compelled by her infectious approach to life, too, and she speaks honestly with care and detail; every word is measured and considered. As for her music, it’s never sounded so full or expansive. From the funky barnstormers of her past to complex, colourful, engrossing records like ‘Sensei II’, KG is clearly an artist on the up — and one revelling in the spotlight. “I eventually do wanna go down the label route as well”, she says, looking to the future. “I really feel like I’ve got a knack for developing new talent and I love sharing and encouraging and teaching, so hopefully I can do that somewhere down the line. I’d love to become a proper staple in electronic music as well. 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.”

KG’s new EP, ’Sensei II’, is out June 25 on Black Acre:

https://karennyamekg.bandcamp.com/album/sensei-ii

Tickets for the first KG & Friends event at NT’s LOFT on July 2 are available now:

https://dice.fm/event/oox7g-kg-friends-ep-launch-2nd-jul-nts-loft-london-tickets

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY™ —

A temporary home for monthly Mixmag Grime & Dubstep reviews while the magazine remains out of print — here are May’s picks.

(Mungk)

Album of the Month: Mungk – ‘Temple Of Mungk’ (DUPLOC)

A faraway odyssey

Highlights

1. Shaolin

2. Voyage

3. Bazaar

Leeds-based producer Mungk follows up his ‘Kuji’ EP, released via DUPLOC back in February, with ‘Temple Of Mungk’ — an extraordinary, 17-track epic inspired by the fictional story of a monk who travels from China through the Middle East and into Africa. Exploring myriad sounds, rhythms and textures, as well as a slew of traditional instruments, he builds a vast soundscape that traces every stop on the journey — from pensive opening tracks like ‘Spirit’ to the magical, dizzying rush of ‘Bazaar’ into the frenetic drum rhythms of ‘Congo’. Largely explored through the lens of dubstep and other hybrid bass strands, ’Temple Of Mungk’ buzzes from edge-to-edge, too; every track earns its place. There are an exhaustive list of highlights — our tips include ‘Shaolin’ and the rich cinema of ‘Voyage’ — but the biggest compliment we can pay is that for all its scale and depth, Mungk never loses sight of the bigger picture nor the story he wants to tell. The result? It comes together like a tapestry. 8/10

(Mic Ty)

Tune of the Month: Mic Ty – ‘8 Out Of 10 Cats’ ft. Jammz (Bandcamp)

Champion form

Mic Ty has long been a precocious talent on mic, revered for his energy and fierce, barbed delivery — a calling card that made him a standout name in grime’s golden generation of MCs circa 2015. On ‘8 Out Of 10 Cats’, a recent single drop via his Bandcamp, he’s back on champion form. Joining forces with Jammz, who lends a nifty verse(s) of his own, Ty sounds confident, free and full of personality; “See I woke up this morning, fed my cats before I fed myself, that’s a whole lotta goodness” he spits in his opening volley. The instrumental is bright and breezy too, echoing the sort of beat palette that Lemzly Dale is pushing via his Pearly Whites label, and suits the lo-slung, late summer mood Ty nails here. Understated, but superb. 9/10

Hella x Logan – ‘Chattings’ (Sub Merchants)

Every soundboy shut up!

Sub Merchants have enjoyed a stellar start to life as a label, firing out releases at a rate of knots since TMSV’s debut plate back in July 2020. Their latest sees Bristol-based producer Hella team up with Logan, one of the most prolific MCs out right now, on ‘Chattings’ — a single anchored in the darkest corners of the club. The beat is dark but largely skeletal, functioning around swooping square wave flashes and grumbling low-end stabs in the style of classic instrumental producers like Bloom, while Logan’s hooks — bordering on ominous spoken word — are infectious and full-blooded. The formula might be tried-and-tested, but when executed (and balanced) this well, you can’t fault it. Big riddim. 8/10

Hannibal Rex – ‘Hannibal Rex Is Not Your Father’ (Kikuji Records)

Wild!

More wild and wonderful fodder from Kikuji, who turn heads again here on ‘Hannibal Rex is Not Your Father’ — Hannibal’s third EP for the label in a little over a year. The snaking, percussive rattle and gloomy textures of opener ‘Misfortune’ last a little over two and half minutes before being hit with a melee of crushing, distorted breaks and rasping white noise, while the fuzzy, garage band charm of oddball crooner’s anthem, ‘Kingstheme’, is scratch-your-head worthy. Third track ‘That Pesky Mess’ is just as baffling — a woozy, contorted haze of heavy guitar solos and broken beats — while final cut, ‘So Be It, So It Be’ is a total palette cleanser; think somewhere between ‘A Grand Doesn’t Come For Free’ era Mike Skinner and Portishead. 7/10

A.G – ‘donotdisturb’ (Bandcamp)

Pay attention!

‘donotdisturb’ is the latest in a series of killer instrumental releases by A.G, who continues to build out her production footprint apace this year. Comprised of three tracks, EP opener ‘do little’ is bright and breezy, cut with bags of skippy energy, while ‘always you’ lands as a booming slice of rhythmic, sample-based drill. Final jam ‘attention seeker’ — leaning more toward US rap styles — is perhaps the pick of all three, the beat tempered by gorgeous, strung-out vocal loops and delicate, trinket box melodies, giving it plenty of extra detail in the headphones. 8/10

Gantz – ‘KILL GANTZ’ EP (Bandcamp)

Master of the dark arts

Gantz’ dark and inimitable style has long-since made him a cult figure within wider dubstep circles and latest, surprise drop EP, ‘KILL GANTZ’ — the third he’s released so far this year — lands as a testament to that continuing legacy. Opener ‘FATALIST’ is heavy and menacing, its pressure both crushing and disconcerting — listen out for the shiver-inducing whispers — while the brooding, off-kilter battle charge, looped shrieks and spiralling metalwork crunch of ‘CHOOSE UR SKIN’ is palpably tense. The lo-slung beats and chiming melodies of ‘SELF EATER’ are stark and gripping too, while final track, ‘A WOMAN IN TROUBLE’, moves between freeze-dried patches of distortion and gothic, horror-score melody flushes. Brrrrr! 9/10

AKA AFK – ‘Scarface’ (Bandcamp)

Vai Brasil!

Sao Paulo’s AKA AFK has emerged as a key, breakout name from Brasil’s blossoming grime scene over the last six months. Breathless but rhythmic on mic, his vocals might be in Portuguese but as demonstrated on the anthemic ‘Pull Up’ — his first single to really make waves in the UK — he can certainly capture the imagination. On new single ’Scarface’, AKA AFK works a similar formula, this time over a hazy, drill-flavoured beat (complete with sax!) by Birmingham-based producer, Felix Dubs, on a track that signals there may be a lot more to come. Don’t sleep! 8/10

Trends – ‘Industrial Injection’ EP (Beatcamp)

Consistent as gravity 

Long-awaited, blood-and-guts sorcery from Trends, who debuts on P Jam’s Beatcamp label with powerhouse new EP ‘Industrial Injection’ here. Across three tracks, his dark, twisted, teeth-gnashing vision for grime is played out in full colour; from the skippy, low-end cannon of the title-track through to the scything, demonic chill of looming final anthem, ‘City Lights’. Sandwiched in between the two is near-curveball, ‘Jitterbug’, which dances to its own tune thanks to its light, breezy percussion and two-step pulse, but this is still a record rooted in — and emboldened by — its ferocity. 8/10

Inner – ‘Drain’ (Circadian Rhythms)

One to get lost in

Finnish producer Inner has long been a Circadian Rhythms affiliate and finally makes his debut proper on new four-track EP, ‘Drain’ — a solo extension of the work first explored on 2018’s collaborative EP, ’Cold Ascent’, which he co-wrote with Last Japan. Described as a ‘mutant collage of sound, textures and rhythms’, ‘Drain’ slots into the CR discography with ease, the icy, subzero textures lending themselves well to records by the likes of Toasty and Plata, while also laying down its own marker. The solemn, square-wave dance of opener ’Sirenz’, albeit offset by blaring, faraway sirens and pensive strings, is strangely beautiful, while the sugary, twinkling distortion and whirring sub of ‘Drain’ feels positively manic. There’s also room for the stark, crackling dystopia of beat-less wonder ‘Birds Through Smog’ before standout cut, ‘Life Riddim’ — a scything, grimy twist on rough vs smooth, again laced with gorgeous string work — signs off. 9/10

Spooky – ‘The Rapid EP’ (Bandcamp)

More from the vaults 

Spooky might not need much by way of an introduction in this column, but his capacity for churning out new grime beats, as well as sourcing rarities and forgotten classics — and putting in relentless hours on the radio! — continues to defy the odds. His latest collection, simply titled ‘The Rapid EP’, details five archive tracks originally penned in 2008, in the style of Rapid and Ruff Sqwad. From playful, glitchy opener ‘Holly Bush Gardens’ to the looping, funky drums of ‘The Jester’ and the razor sharp, neck-snap claps and crashing symbols of ‘No Hype’, there’s gold to be found right across the track list. It may go over a few heads, but records like this are an archivist’s dream. 7/10

Monitor

This month, look out for killer new grime albums by both Kid D (’Substance’), fresh off the back of his drill-flavoured EP for Bok Bok’s AP Life, and a full colour instrumental showcase by Owly Beats on Slimzos courtesy of his debut LP, ‘Nocturnal’ … June also welcomed Iglew back in from the cold after a six-year hiatus — superb new five-track record ‘Light Armour’ on Wisdom Teeth might not be a natural fit for this column, but Iglew’s work on 2015 EP, ‘Urban Myth’, marked him out as a mercurial talent and we’re chuffed to see him releasing music again … look out for more barnstorming dubstep slammers from In:Flux Audio too … Dystinkt’s ‘Technicolour’ EP packs a hell of a punch … and don’t sleep on a six-track instrumental care package by hotly-tipped young MC and emerging producer, SBK — ‘Approved’ is out now via Bandcamp. 

(Iglew)

— Boofy —

On Bristol, Boy In Da Corner, grime, dubstep, Sector 7 Sounds, Bandulu, DIY ethos, making club music fun, navigating creative lulls and learning to trust in himself.

(All photos submitted by Boofy)

“I feel like I’m okay, physically and whatever, but mentally … I guess I could say I feel a bit claustrophobic”, Boofy says pensively, scratching his head and looking toward the ceiling. He’s speaking to me from his house in Bristol, which he shares with fellow DJ/producer, Jook, on a balmy bank holiday Monday afternoon. Recently he admits, inspiration has been hard to come by. “You kinda have this guilt about not being creative when you’ve always naturally been creative”, he says wistfully. “Everything you do, you just feel like you’re slacking. It haunts you, almost.”

As a DJ, producer and label head of Sector 7 Sounds — the imprint he’s run since 2013 — creativity has been at the core of everything that’s made Boofy tick for the past nine years plus. As a result, the last 12 months have felt particularly punishing. His day job, working as an analyst for a leading courier firm, has provided him with security but not separation — “When you work from home, you finish work and you’re stuck in the same space” — and the suffocating nature of lockdown came into full view during the winter, which he describes as the hardest of his life. In and amongst the gloom though, Boofy’s also found solace. “I’ve tried to do other things and not just the whole ‘make club music’ thing”, he says before taking a deep breath. “I’m not really in the right mood to make club music right now and I think there’s quite a lot of people in the same boat. It’s been good because it’s given me a chance to step back and reevaluate and see where else I can use my skills.”

Born and raised in Bristol, Boofy grew up with music as a cornerstone of his life. His parents, neither musicians but both passionately musical, were a big early inspiration, as was Bristol itself — a city with sound system music built into its DNA. “My dad was into sound system music, where as my mum was more into soul and jazz stuff, so the blend of those two things was big for me as a kid”, he explains. “My dad had all these tapes from Carnival which I still draw from now, and thinking about it, my grandad had a baby grand piano at his house. He taught me to play classical notes here and there, he taught me how to read music … I was probably about five or six. I fucking loved piano. I carried on with it at primary school but also picked up the trumpet, cornet, trombone … a lot of brass instruments. I was always too shy to get graded so I didn’t do any formal grading or anything, but I always remember just wanting to be involved with music in any way I could.”

“I fucking loved piano. I carried on with it at primary school but also picked up the trumpet, cornet, trombone … a lot of brass instruments.”

“It wasn’t until my older brother was in year 7 that I first started hearing garage and stuff like that”, Boofy continues. “I must have been in year 5 or something, but I remember going to Virgin Megastore with my mum and we bought him ‘Boy In Da Corner’ by Dizzee Rascal on CD as a surprise. He’d been battering that famous Slimzee & Dizzee tape before school every morning, which a bredrin of his had brought back from London, so I literally heard it non-stop. Buying that album was the first time I felt like I realised what I wanted to get into if that makes sense. I know everyone references ‘Boy In Da Corner’ but back then, the only way sounds would travel to Bristol would be by people going to London, buying tapes and bringing them back. When you started to hear people talk about Dizzee and grime and whatever, it felt massive. The only thing I had before that was probably a Maxwell D CD, but otherwise it was mainly rap, soul and a lot of RnB at home, which was my first love. If I could pack it all in today, I’d be an RnB DJ.”

By this point, Boofy’s tastes had started to pool in different areas; on TV, on the internet and via a family friend who used to bring promo CDs to the house on her trips back from London. “I’m pretty sure she used to work for a big label, but I can’t remember which one”, he says, leaning back and scanning the room. “She used to bring these like these demo CDs back with loads of new music on them which was sick. One of my dad’s other friends used to record MTV Base onto VHS and bring it round for us too, so I’d find myself just finding loads of music that way. My dad’s cousin moved jobs around the same time and left us a brand new TV and her Sky box. This Sky box, man. I just got fully engrossed in the music channels. I’d just sit there and watch videos on loop every day. I remember picking up on Channel U with my bredrin, Rinnele, from back in the day. We’d watch the videos and be like ‘Nah, this MC is whack, but this next one’s cold though’. It’d never be your favourite MCs like JME or D Double E or Footsie or anyone like that, it’d always be MCs who were trying get their name out there. It’d all end up getting shared on MSN Messenger and BearShare, Limewire, Morpheus … basically all the torrent sties. Your computer would be riddled with viruses for months afterwards, but it was worth it.”

“I remember it got to secondary school, and this is a very vivid memory of mine”, he continues, “but I’d heard there was this dude who was doing music in Bristol. No one that I was around at the time wanted to make music like I did and I thought that if you wanted to make it in music, you’d have to go to London … huge SSL desk like Dr Dre and shit, you know. There was this boy in my bother’s year called Remel and one day he was like, ‘yo, give me your MP3 player’ … you know the ones that were shaped like USBs? He said he’d get his boy to put his tunes on there so I was like ‘alright, cool’. He gave me it back, I plugged it in and it was full of Joker’s early shit. There was so much music on there and it sounded like the stuff I’d always wanted to make in my head. It was grime but it was just mad different, especially compared to the shit I’d heard on Channel U. I already knew of Joker at this point because he was a part of Kold Hearted Krew and I think they had a KHK Anthem going around at school and whatever. The hook was something like, ‘K H K two double 0-4’. Anyway, I had all these raw Joker files on this USB and I remember thinking like, ‘jeez, this guy is cold’ and I always found myself wondering what he was doing with all this music. He had this one tune called ‘Kill Ziarelo’ and ah bruv, I used to batter that tune on these awful computer cans I had. I just always wanted to make music like he did.”

“No one that I was around at the time wanted to make music like I did and I thought that if you wanted to make it in music, you’d have to go to London … huge SSL desk like Dr Dre and shit, you know.”

While he may have been captivated by Joker’s early grime blueprints, Boofy was less than impressed by dubstep. At this point, all he knew was the jump-up, hi-impact, chainsaw sounds that were emanating from the US — but everything would change the minute he started to hit Bristol’s clubs for the first time. “I basically hated dubstep, I thought it was shit”, he says bluntly. “It was very easy to DJ though, mainly because the snare’s always on the three and whatever, but that was about it. It changed when I started going to clubs. I really shouldn’t have been going but I looked about 40, so I’d just walk in and no one would say anything. I saw the difference between what I thought was dubstep and Bristol dubstep straight away, and was just engrossed from that moment forward. I think it was about a year or two after that I heard ‘Roll With The Punches’ by Peverelist for the first time in the club and it was weird because everyone was kinda hypnotised. It was a dark, dingy room but the melody was just ringing in my head. That’s when dubstep was fun, before it got boring. I know I probably missed out on some crucial years before that, but that time properly opened my eyes. It made me realise that people really could make music outside of London.”

Inspired, Boofy left school with fire in his belly. There was no vision as such — “All I knew was that I wanted to get married, have a house and have kids by 25 and that fucked up” — and he’d now seen a viable pathway; maybe he could make music, maybe he could be on the other side of the decks. He’d learned how to use Cubase during his music GCSE course at school and had since picked up Reason, which he used to write the majority of his early beats and still uses today. “Everything was pretty negative as it was back then so anything you could find joy in, you just jumped in and ran with”, he says.

It was in these early days that Boofy would start to build the friendships that have since come to form the bedrock of his musical life. There was Keyed Up, a longtime friend who’d started producing around the same time, as well as Lamont, whom he credits with meeting ‘before anyone’. “I used to send him wobbly dubstep songs through AIM”, he says with a smirk, “until one day he invited me round to his studio because he thought I was about 25 and he could give me a beer and stuff. Instead, I walked round as a 16 year-old with an Angry Birds t-shirt on. A lot of my friends at school weren’t into music in the same way, so anything creative just felt difficult and long, so meeting people who liked it the way I did was a big, you know. I remember there used to be a sick studio in St Werburghs called High Road Studio as well, and I met Kahlil there. He was probably about 11 and making heaters even back then, he’s been cold since day one. Some of my boys used to go down too, but they’d just go along to rap. I think they filmed a few videos but they mainly saw it as a way to pass the time, rather than as a way out or whatever. Just being around people who made music once I left secondary school made me take things more seriously though. I saw that it was possible to get ideas out of my head.”

“I used to send him (Lamont) wobbly dubstep songs through AIM until one day he invited me round to his studio because he thought I was about 25 and he could give me a beer and stuff. Instead, I walked round as a 16 year-old with an Angry Birds t-shirt on.”

Bristol has long been fawned over by non-Bristolians for its sound system heritage, and the long line of city-based artists that have gone on to pioneer hyper-specific, culture-influencing sounds — particularly within electronic music — the world over. The city’s sense of community is often sighted as a defining factor, as is locality and its ‘small city’ mentality, but according to Boofy — whose story is both a product of and a testament to city’s enduring legacy — there are myriad factors that make it such fertile ground for producers. “I’ve always cringed when people talk about Bristol as some sort of Mecca for music but actually deeping it, when I was young, every club that was open was within a one mile radius”, he says firmly. “You can walk wherever you wanna go and you’re pretty much five minutes from another producer. I mean, thinking about where I live now, Lemzly Dale is probably a minute from my house, Kahlil is 45 seconds away. Notion is 20 minutes down the road, Drone is half an hour away on the bus. Everywhere you go, you bump into someone you know or recognise and the likelihood is that they’ll be involved in music.”

“Back when I was growing up, there’d be a club night on every single night of the week”, Boofy continues. “They’d all be packed and you could literally walk along, spend a fiver on one door, three quid on that door, two quid on another and you’d end up at every club on the strip. There was so much going on, whether it be techno, jungle, drum & bass, dubstep, house … grime, maybe less so because they tried to ban it from clubs … boom bap nights here and there. You’d end up blending with bare different people, weaving in between clubs, stopping off to get a drink at this place or that place. The only club that felt like an effort to get to was Motion, just because it’s a little bit out of the way, but everything else just felt easy. All these nights were independent as well, so you’d be bumping into people from so many different scenes. You’d end up bucking other DJs and producers in the club that you might not be into in terms of music, but you’d see them about and end up chatting for ages. Everyone had a good attitude and everybody was happy to help each other out. And it’s mostly still like that now.”

“Back when I was growing up, there’d be a club night on every single night of the week (in Bristol). They’d all be packed and you could literally walk along, spend a fiver on one door, three quid on that door, two quid on another and you’d end up at every club on the strip.”

Transferring the same ethos to his music, its perhaps no wonder that Boofy’s gone on to become a figurehead of Bristol’s latest generation of city-made musical exports. Starting off small, his first release came by way of Wolverhampton-based label, Soul Step, in July 2012 — “they released two tracks called ‘Time Lapse’ and ‘Opium’” — before following it up with debut EP proper, ‘Momentum’, later that year. Released via stateside label, Vulcan Audio, Boofy says “it felt cool to know that some people actually liked my music to that extent” and recalls spending a lot of time on the record even those his ‘EQ-ing standards were awful’. Both were dubstep in flavour, but in hindsight, neither packed the punch he was looking for. Rather than over-analyse and now fully absorbed by the music he was surrounded by, Boofy headed off to the launch of Kahn & Neek’s Bandulu Records label at Idle Hands — the famed Bristol record shop run by Chris Farrell. 

“I liked dubstep at the time, but I felt it was more of a DJ tool”, Boofy recalls, “so when Kahn & Neek brought out Bandulu 001 (‘Percy / Fierce’), it was like ‘okay, this is sick’. I went down to Idle Hands, caught the in-store and just knew I had the get a copy of the record. I didn’t even have a turntable, so I bought a turntable and then I bought myself a preamp because I didn’t know what a preamp was either. All of that just to play this one record. That same night, I actually went home and wrote ‘Since When’. I upped it to Soundcloud a few days later but didn’t think a lot of it and then all of a sudden, it started to get really busy. For the stats that I had at the time, it felt pretty big and this was during the time that Soundcloud was popping off … it was kinda where everyone locked in to hear new music. I remember getting a message from Kahn asking if he could have it and I was a massive fan of his at the time, so I was like, ‘oh shit, this is mad’. I then remember heading down to the Bandulu 002 launch and Kahn played it with Flowdan on mic. Knowing my brother’s tastes in grime growing up, it just felt mad to see someone from Roll Deep over one of my tunes. I remember recording it on my phone, not to post to social media or whatever, but to change the video to audio and make the VIP … and I still get hounded for that fucking VIP now. But nah, in all seriousness, knowing that someone was willing to back my music with a physical release was a realisation for me. It was a real boost. It was like, ‘cool, I’ve gotta keep running with this’.” 

‘Since When’ was later released on Bandulu as part of the label’s first multi-artist split 12” alongside tracks by Gemmy, Oatz and Breen in July 2013 and formed the springboard for a whole series of releases that’d change Boofy’s trajectory entirely. “I got fixated with keeping this whole ecosystem thing going after that”, he says, wide-eyed. “People in Bristol just pickup vinyl and take it home and I wanted to be part of that, which is how Sector 7 came about. Me and Lemz (Lemzly Dale) had made a tune (‘Catch A Body’) and didn’t think anything of it, but it got mad stats on Soundcloud and we were like, ‘okay, we can’t let this die on Soundcloud’. Lemz suggested we make a B-side, so we made ‘Banshee’, and bang, we put it out as Sector 7 001. It all just felt so easy, man. It was such an exciting time.”

A natural extension of the hype created by ‘Since When’, Boofy & Lemzly Dale’s ‘Catch A Body / Banshee’ was another standout record of the time — scything, dark, nasty, deadly — and welcomed Boofy into Bristol’s top tier proper. The best bit? They were all mates. “I actually met Kahn & Neek through Hi5Ghost, and I knew Hi5Ghost through Lamont because they used to do radio together years before”, he says, checking back in his mind. “One day, Hi5 was like ‘ah you man should come and do laser quest with us lot’, so we all used to roll to this laser quest place like 12 man deep. Because there was so many of us, they’d let us takeover for an hour and we’d always whatever grime set we could find on Rinse FM through the speakers. Either that or Chronik. Imagine running through laser quest listening to Chronik? It was mad. But that was the fun of it I guess and when it came to music, we all loved to experiment. I actually miss those times, man.”

“One day, Hi5 was like ‘ah you man should come and do laser quest with us lot’, so we all used to roll to this laser quest place like 12 man deep. Because there was so many of us, they’d let us take over for an hour and we’d always play whatever grime set we could find on Rinse FM through the speakers. Either that or Chronik. Imagine running through laser quest listening to Chronik?”

What changed, I ask? “I think it’s probably age and everyone starting to take things a lot more seriously”, he says thoughtfully. “That and DJing. I feel like that ruined some aspects of it for me, mainly because you start seeing it as work. If you forget to go to nights as a punter, you ruin the experience. Your only perception of club music comes from behind the decks when you’re trying to please people. Not that it’s a bad thing, because it’s nice to be able to play stuff that people like, but it became increasingly difficult for me to enjoy things because I was only going out because I was expected to. I found myself starting to analyse what other people were doing, too. I’d catch myself in a club listening to people’s sets and being like ‘okay, so that mix down needs work’ or ‘rah, where’s that snare from?’ and shit like that. Like, what the fuck was I doing? I stopped enjoying everything and just started critiquing it instead. I just felt like a contract killer or something. I’d turn up to a club, play my set and leave as quickly as I could. And then analyse everything I did wrong.”

“I’d catch myself in a club listening to people’s sets and being like, ‘okay, so that mix down needs work’ or ‘rah, where’s that snare from?’ and shit like that. Like, what the fuck was I doing?”

While DJing may have started to grate, Boofy’s Sector 7 label quickly had become a go-to for anyone looking to get to grips with the Bristol-forged, grime vs dubstep hybrid sound of the mid 2010s. There was Impey’s ‘Bangclap’ in 2014 — one of the year’s defining grime instrumentals that Boofy had fought off far more established labels to sign — Hi5Ghost’s ‘Nook Shot’ and big, statement records from Lemzly Dale and Jook, before Boofy himself joined forces with Ishan Sound on 2017’s monster plate, ‘Roll The Dice / Cane Sword’. He’d also debuted on Bandulu proper with a self-titled EP in 2016 — a record that birthed mini instrumental anthems like ‘Mask & Glove’ and ‘Truncheon’ — and released a two-track 12” via dubstep trailblazers, Innamind, further expanding his footprint into deeper, darker, heads-y circles; a move compounded by releases on Pinch’s Tectonic (‘In My Head’) in 2018 and V.I.V.E.K’s SYSTEM label (‘Climb Out Of Your Hiding Place / Your Shed’s Too Big’) in 2020.

With so much of Boofy’s work sharing the same core fabric, was it difficult for Sector 7, Bandulu and his own projects to co-exist, I wondered? “I think they’re all pretty separate, you know”, he explains. “Bandulu is very much Kahn & Neek’s vision. It’s very homegrown and it’s about helping the local ecosystem and being able to put money in people’s pockets. For example, the artwork is all done by Joshua Hughes-Games and he screen prints everything himself. He doesn’t have any help at all unless Neek’s available. Everything is very DIY, the distribution is done by Chris at Idle Hands … there’s no huge machine behind it whatsoever. That’s how I see it, anyway.”

“Anything I wanna do personally, I do it as Boofy”, he continues. “I’m not confident with myself and I don’t like putting my own music out, so it’s more of a thing where I let people hit me up and ask to put out stuff on my behalf. It’s something that I feel a bit more detached from in a way, mainly because I find it hard to listen to my own tracks once they’re finished. It might not be that healthy, but I’ve always been like that, where as Sector 7 is more about me taking things back. Not being serious, having the worst social media customer service on the planet, the artwork. It’s basically how I want club music to look and sound. That’s my vision for it. Besides that, everything else is a piss take. It stops me taking myself too seriously and I know that if I love someone else’s music enough, I’ll make sure I do everything I can to push it, while having fun with it at the same time. I miss having fun in clubs and Sector 7 is kinda my vehicle to try and do that I guess. If you look at all the artwork as well, the little objects floating around on the labels are all really personal to each artist. So like, Jook’s was all Brighton and pizza, tacos, Runescape. Mine and Ishan’s was basically Guiness and garlic bread. Kahn & Neek’s label was full of Snyder’s … you know the pretzel snack? Hi5’s was full of Nerf guns because he’d always have Nerf guns in his studio and Drone’s was just falafels because he eats falafels non-stop … just stupid shit, you know. But it works.”

“I miss having fun in clubs and Sector 7 is kinda my vehicle to try and do that I guess.”

Sector 7 was also incredibly DIY. The early records were all individually hand-stamped — “me and Lemz would be going to work having had no sleep because we’d be stamping records all night” — and post office runs would take up entire afternoons. But the level of detail was important to Boofy. “I just knew I had to feel happy with what we were putting out”, he explains. “After a while though, I think we both started feeling bad about leaving jobs to each other. Lemz had a van so he’d always do the post office runs, which I felt bad about, but likewise I was doing all the emails and the distribution, scheduling pick-ups and deliveries. It was really full on but we both enjoyed it. It was important for us to put so much effort into something so early on, I think.”

Lemzly Dale would end up handing over full control of Sector 7 to Boofy in 2018 after five years of co-running the label together in a move that allowed him to free time up to run his own blossoming imprint, Pearly Whites. “Lemz is so talented, man”, Boofy says glowingly. “Literally, everything he touches is sick. When he told me he felt like he needed to spend more time on his own label, I was so happy for him because I think he needed that encouragement and there was no better time for him. We actually never meant to start Sector 7 as a label but we’d obviously released ‘Catch A Body’ and people immediately started asking what the next record was, so we kinda stumbled on it.” Where did the name, Sector 7, come from I ask? “When I used to go to Lemz’s house, it was in BS7 so he’d always refer to his house as Sector 7. I think that and the fact that it was his favourite level on Final Fantasy. Basically, talking about Sector 7 meant talking about his crib, which I now live down the road from. If we hadn’t called it that, we’d have been pressing it as Louie Campbell 001, which is what it was down as at the warehouse.”

After such a testing year, I wondered what lay in store for Boofy and Sector 7 — was the passion still the same? Did he still have the energy? “It’s still there, it’s still there”, he says, pausing to think. “I promised myself that the minute I stop enjoying something, I’d stop doing it and I have definitely questioned things a few times in the last year. I feel like I keep just putting out records, but I want to do more. For example, the latest Kahn & Neek EP on Sector 7 last year … I saw that as an opportunity for me to grow and take on more responsibility. I sunk a lot of money into the whole process and by money, I mean money that I’ve been holding onto from my own releases to invest in something I believe in. I spent about six months prepping for ‘(Having A Sick Time) In The Mansions Of Bliss’, literally. The aesthetics, the artwork, the video, PR and sorting out a club night. I took on 100% of the risk with the club night, which we did at Thekla. The worst that could happen would that there’d be another big bass night in the city and I knew I could make a big loss, but I just thought ‘fuck it’. I sorted out the line-up, pulled in a few favours and basically did everything myself. I was actually holed up at home after surgery when I first started work on it, so I setup all this stuff up while I was off recuperating. The minute I went back to work I thought, ‘oh shit, I am fucked here’. I’d given myself so much to do but it just worked out. It sold out, it was packed, Rocks FOE came down and killed it and he hardly ever performs for anyone. I just finally felt like I was moving in the direction I wanted to move in. And that was the last big night in Bristol before COVID. I felt stunted and it got to me a bit last year, if I’m honest. Now things are opening up a bit, hopefully I can get back to doing things like that again.”

Although admittedly worn down by the impact of a year indoors, there’s still plenty for Boofy to be optimistic about. Creatively more self-aware and internally, far more at harmony with himself, there’s every reason to believe that the second half of 2021 will bear plenty of fruit. “I feel like I’m a lot more understanding of my own head”, he says, clearing his throat. “It’s been weird because we’ve seen people unfortunately not cope that well, but I’ve had to learn my own coping strategies to pull through everything and that’s been really beneficial. Creatively? I’m still trying to work that bit out but I’ve realised that you can waste time if you need to. I don’t always have to be onto the next thing. I can be shit at Warzone with my mates and then finish the beat I started. And that’s entirely okay.”

You can keep up to speed with Boofy’s Sector 7 Sounds label, including the latest 12″ by Commodo, via Bandcamp:

https://sector7sounds.bandcamp.com/

— PK —

On grime, drill, Camden, athletics, YGG, radio, a life-changing fortnight in Sierra Leone, self-belief, focus and why the hustle never stops.

(All photos submitted by PK)

The last time I saw PK was at Reprezent Radio in Brixton. He’d made himself available to come along and jump on set with Utah? And Grizzle — two excellent DJ/producers he’d never met or worked with before — for a one hour special back in May 2019. His set, peppered by unfamiliar and experimental instrumentals, was breathless, explosive, charismatic — an hour of radio I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Afterwards, the four of us caught up for a drink. “How do you manage to spit like that without ever really catching a breath?”, I remember asking, perplexed by his ability to pump out so much physical energy on mic. “Unlimited lungs”, PK replied, totally deadpan at first, before breaking out into a smirk. “Nah, nah for real though, I do exercises and stuff every morning to help with my breathing. I take it serious, you know.” From that moment, I knew PK was different.

Fast forward almost two years and he’s navigated the pandemic with similar gusto. “It’s been hard times for everyone and obviously everyone’s dealt with this Corona thing differently and what not, but I already knew the path I chose when I became an artist”, he says assuredly. “I have to be ready for anything, you get me. This is just experience points. I wasn’t expecting shows to be locked off for this long but we’ve just gotta make do with what we’ve got and continue the journey basically. Keep going, tunnel vision.”

PK was born and raised in North West London and has been based in Camden specifically since 2002 — an area he attributes for shaping both the person and MC he’s become. Worn like a badge of honour in his bars, it was here that’d he’d meet fellow YGG crew member, Saint, at primary school and pick-up his pen for the first time as a nine year-old. “My mum was by herself and she had to struggle a bit with me and my two brothers sometimes but it didn’t really affect man growing up”, recalls PK. “I just kind of got on with things. I was a naughty kid in school though, just doing dumb shit all the time. Do you know what? In primary school, it was more of a thing where you go to school because you have to and you don’t know any better and it was kinda laid back. But secondary school? That was a long one. When you realise you’re actually going to school and you’re doing Maths and Science… bro it’s long innit. You’re beefing teachers, having passas in the playground, having passas outside the school gates … I guess it was just what growing up was like.” 

“Were there any subjects you particularly enjoyed at school?”, I ask. “I was in the Athletics team, innit. Man was on this 200 metres ting, I was on this long jump ting for some reason, and relay as well. I was quick innit, one of the quickest in my year. Mad stamina. I played football as well but I never took it as seriously as some people, I’d just play in the playground or outside school with my friends.”

“I was in the Athletics team, innit. Man was on this 200 metres ting, I was on this long jump ting for some reason, and relay as well. I was quick innit, one of the quickest in my year. Mad stamina.”

Music would come later. PK’s household wasn’t musical by definition, but there was always music playing. He recalls his mum picking him up after school and driving him around at weekends and it’d be on these trips that the first seeds of his musical education were planted. “She had this little red Volkswagen Polo and there’d always be tunes on the radio playing”, he explains. “She’d play her own music a lot as well and I think that’s where everything started, before I started expanding and making my own decisions about what music to listen to. There were so many different tunes I remember and I’ll go back to some of them now and think, ‘rah, that was a banger’, but I just didn’t know at the time. Certain tunes would get stuck in my head for time. It might be Gospel or something I’d heard on like, Magic FM, and I’d pick up little things from everything I listened to back then without even realising.”

It was at secondary school that PK first starting discovering music for himself. Grime was his first love — “it was what man grew up on” — but he also caught the first wave of the dark and sludgy UK rap pioneered by artists like Giggs and K Koke in the late 2000s. “It was a lot slower innit, so by the time I got good at writing bars, everyone had moved onto this rap ting”, he says, laughing. “It meant I was playing catch-up a little bit but I always enjoyed grime. I couldn’t let it go like a lot of people did at the time, you feel me. And then obviously Channel U came along and just educated the mandem. Obviously I’m from a different era … I wasn’t taping sets off the radio and stuff … I was more time listening to Logan Sama on KISS and other old school man, you get it. That was my education.”

“What was it about grime that you loved?”, I ask. “I dunno, it was just from the streets, it was dark … I just liked it”, PK says before pausing to think for a moment. “I don’t think it was the tempo or anything like that, it was just something raw. Everyone could do it, everyone was spitting, everyone had bars. It felt unique. Look at ‘Brown Bear Picnic’ by Bearman … you can make a tune about anything but make it sound hard in grime. You knew where it came from as well, you knew the man that were making it or you felt like you knew where they were coming from. I don’t know how to describe it properly but that generation just felt more free. Man could make different types of tunes and they’d all bang, innit. That’s where my energy comes from, that old school vibe of just being being free.”

“Look at ‘Brown Bear Picnic’ by Bearman … you can make a tune about anything but make it sound hard in grime.”

“In school, grime never felt like a thing that could ever happen for man though”, PK continues. “I knew I had bars but that was it, I didn’t think I could make a little bit of bread from it the way man are making bread from it now. For a while, I thought I might have to get a normal job or something because it was basically a time where you couldn’t make P, like, at all. It really didn’t feel possible so I count myself very, very lucky innit. I started when I was about nine and never stopped but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I thought, ‘yeah, fuck it, I can do it, let me just try a ting’. I knew that I had to try and give it a go.”

“Did you ever get nervous spitting in front of friends at school?”, I ask. “Nah, I didn’t even mind. I knew I was good, innit, so I never felt nervous. I was practising when everyone fell off so by the time I got to 16, I was really confident in my ability. It was more of a show and prove thing, really.”

“I knew I was good, innit, so I never felt nervous. I was practising when everyone fell off so by the time I got to 16, I was really confident in my ability.”

After leaving school, PK flitted between a couple of jobs — one as a kitchen porter, the other at JD Sports — but by this point, he could see a pathway with music. Determined to not like his chance slip, he started seeking out studio time with childhood friend and fellow MC, Saint. “Ah I remember we were getting bumped at the start”, he says, chuckling. “We were meant to have an hour slot in this youth centre in Kilburn but we didn’t know that there had to be mix downs and stabs and layers … the only thing we knew were the verses and the ad-libs back then, innit. The olders would just use the rest of our time for their own sessions, it was peak. I loved it though, it was sick. I remember in that first session, we had like four man on a tune … it was me, Saint, my bredrin Nasty and my other bredrin Historical. It was sick just being able to hear our bars back on our phones. It was like ‘rahhh, we wrote that and now it’s on our phones’! It was sick. That youth centre is closed now though which is a shame because it was a place where a lot of North West man used to go, even people like C Biz and that. It’s sad that the new generation won’t be able to experience what we got to experience.”

Having caught the bug, PK, Saint and his friends from school started to book in as many sessions in Kilburn as they could. Before long, they’d stacked a load of new material, too. “Every time we went and recorded something new it sounded better than the last time, do you know what I mean?”, says PK. “It was a learning process for us, we were learning how to record ourselves and about mix downs and stuff like that. We just kept going back after school. Whenever we could get there, it was like, ‘alright, boom, let’s do a session’.” 

“When did you decide on the artist name?”, I ask quizzically, “and what does it stand for?”. “Basically it was a name that people started calling me in the ends innit”, he says sheepishly. “It was a different abbreviation before but it changes as I get older. The last definition of it was ‘Pagan King’ but now the new one is ‘People’s King’. Every time I get older, it changes.” “What’s next?”, I ask. “I dunno, I dunno … we’ll see when I’m 84.”

The next step conceivable step was radio. Confident on mic after hours of recording at the Kilburn studio, PK knew he could hold his now on the airwaves — it was just a question of where and when. “The first time I ever went to radio was with Saint and it was on Mad Vybez’s show on Urban FM”, he recalls. “I remember me and Saint were just about on ends when he got this text from a DJ, who was saying there was a set and basically telling us to come to radio. We didn’t even know where it was or anything but we went. We took a free Uber there and on the way back, we just bumped it. I remember getting there and touching mic and man didn’t have the proper grip and that, so my voice wasn’t coming out that clearly. I think the lead was a bit dodgy as well, it kept cutting out while we were spraying. We basically spat for like two straight hours at this studio in Enfield, no water or breaks or nothing. We didn’t know what was going on to be honest but I remember the next day, it was uploaded to Soundcloud. The audio was a bit muffled but it still sounded sick. I remember just thinking, ‘rah we’ve got actual audio of us spraying bars, this is mad’.”

By this point, PK and Saint had already started to call themselves YGG, short for first, Young Grime Gods, before later settling on You Get Grime. Lyrical Strally, a fellow MC the pair had first met through a young Novelist, would soon become the crew’s third member in a move that sharpened up all three MCs — both as individuals and a collective. “We all just started spraying together all the time”, recalls PK, “but then there was a spell shortly after that where I didn’t see Strally for ages. Randomly, I saw him outside a rave at Kingston Uni, it was so mad. I got his number and was like, ‘yo, holla me innit’. I started inviting him to radio with me and Saint because by this time, we’d got the vibe and found our radio voices and that. From that point, we just started battering radio but then Saint went to university, so it was just me and Strally for a while. We battered it so much that people thought Saint and Strally were brothers or even the same person. I can’t remember what set it was, but I remember Saint and Strally turned up together for the first time in ages and people were like, ‘wait, there’s two of them?’. From there, it just made sense to make it official and we became a triple threat.”

Already starting to mark themselves out as MCs to watch as part of a golden generation of grime spitters that included the likes of Novelist, AJ Tracey, Jammz, Big Zuu, Capo Lee and countless more circa 2015-16, YGG quickly saw their stock rise. Like relay runners on set passing the mic between them like a baton, YGG were equally charismatic as individuals on record, and their chemistry was natural and felt unique to them. They released their first official single, ‘Okay’, in September 2015 having already featured on AJ Tracey’s ‘Red Bull’ — a track lifted from his breakout project, ‘The Front’ — and continued to release a steady stream of singles throughout 2016 and 2017. “It was sick to be part of that movement”, PK says warmly. “It was happening fast you know, I’m not gonna lie. I think we’d all been grinding from early and as a group of MCs, we all just bucked each other at the right time, at the right moment. We started getting co-signs from crazy people from different areas of grime that we never thought we’d get in that space of time and it was all just mad. Radio as well, like we were everywhere … Flex FM, Empire, Radar, Mode FM, Rinse, BBC 1Xtra, NTS. The only radio station I haven’t been to is probably Capital FM or somewhere like that.”

“I think we’d all been grinding from early and as a group of MCs, we all just bucked each other at the right time, at the right moment. We started getting co-signs from crazy people from different areas of grime that we never thought we’d get in that space of time and it was all just mad.”

Their standout moment undoubtedly came in the form of 2016’s ‘Side By Side’ Remix. Produced by Spyro, who himself was enjoying his own career reboot at the time, the original mix featured Big H, Bossman Birdie & President T and had been widely considered one of the year’s most memorable grime singles — but YGG had other ideas. Commissioned by Amy Becker, who reached out to PK and co to release a remix as part of her Amy Becker Remixes 12” alongside the likes of Logos, Scratcha DVA and Deamonds, the YGG mix turned clubs upside down from the get go. The bars were especially reload friendly — see PK’s opening ‘Ay Caramba!’ line as a case in point — and the flows so natural, it was perhaps no wonder that all memory of the original mix started to drift away. “Do you know what’s so mad?”, PK asks. “We didn’t even expect that tune to be mazza like that. Amy Becker hollered us, we dumped on the instrumental, she put it out and literally, everyone just loved it. It was mad, still.”

The YGG buzz culminated in the release of 2017’s ‘World Domination’, released on Logan Sama’s KeepinItGrimy imprint— a nine-track opus of sorts that reinforced their manifesto; ‘YGG to the world and back’. “We’ve always wanted to go global”, PK says, “and we’ve always been focused on leaving a legacy. A lot of the music we make is just us having fun with it, but we know we’ve gotta keep building to help spread the YGG sound as far as we can.” To their credit, they haven’t slowed down since either — even if many of their peers have either switched up their styles or abandoned releasing grime altogether.

“On a personal level, I’ve just carried on doing what I wanna do”, PK notes. “It’s weird because when genres like drill were first coming through, everyone in grime saw it and we all knew we had to prepare. We knew the grime buzz wouldn’t last. I think it just made me more determined to keep doing what I was doing, but it also taught me to be more open minded to new things as well. It doesn’t have to be a grime thing or a rap thing, it doesn’t have to be anything really, you get me. As long as people vibe to it then that’s all that matters. Even then, when drill was proper booming off and people didn’t wanna to listen to grime, man still did it, man kept working through the trenches and I’m still doing it now. But I was never afraid to expand my mind or look to do new things. I’ve just always kept making grime because it’s a part of me, innit.”

“It’s weird because when genres like drill were first coming through, everyone in grime saw it and we all knew we had to prepare. We knew the grime buzz wouldn’t last. I think it just made me more determined to keep doing what I was doing, but it also taught me to be more open minded to new things as well.”

Although YGG are still very much a part of PK’s make-up, grime’s recent lean spell has encouraged the trio to look outwardly and record their own solo material, too. It’s a move that’s resulted in some of PK’s career-best work — see 2020’s ‘Om-Buckle’ and Brazilian-flavoured recent single, ‘Favela’ — and seen Strally branch out into the club space, working closely across a number of singles with Leeds-based bass imprint, 1Forty. “Anything PK does is still YGG in a way”, PK affirms, “…it’s still in the YGG pot, you get me. It’s like anything Skepta does, Boy Better know is always there in the background. It’s the same vibe with all of us in the crew, I think.”

“Explosive”, he says without a moment’s pause after we start discussing his MC style. “I feel like I can do me better than anybody else can do me. I’m me, innit. I’ve been me for a very long time, I’ve been me for 26 years and I’ve always been the same, even in school. I’ve always been a character, so I think I just transfer that energy to my music. When you’re seeing PK being PK, it’s me. It’s not even a strategy thing.”

While he may be explosive, PK is also a deep thinker — everything has a meaning. Some of his most memorable bars are one liners or ad-libs (‘Yosho’, ‘Bad Ombré’, ‘Ay Caramba!’) and even certain vocal effects (‘Pyoooooo’) but every single one is rooted in personal experience. “Again, it’s just me being me”, he says matter of factly. “I say things that sound sick but then I add meaning to them. ‘Yosho’ is something old school that people used to say in the ends, it’s basically wagwarn innit. ‘Yo’ means wagwarn and ‘Sho’ means showerman. It’s probably more of a North West London thing thinking about it but yeah, people always used to say ’Yosho’ or just ‘Sho’, but no one was screaming it anymore. I wanted to bring it back.”

“’PYO’ means ‘protect your own’ or ‘protect your origins’ innit”, PK continues. “That came from me going to Sierra Leone for two weeks to see my grandma. Basically, there’s these three wheel buggy things called kekes yeah and they’re two door, innit. You’ve got the driver and you can fit about three people in the back and anyone can jump on. The person I was with, who was supposed to be showing me around, started trying to move to a girl who’d jumped in and I remember thinking ‘rah, you’re really on this ting’. I just left him to carry on and I remember looking out the window of this keke and seeing the city and thinking ‘I need something fresh to bring back to the UK’. I thought about ad-libs that might sound sick and I landed on ‘PYO’. I kept saying it out loud and it sounded sick but I needed a meaning for it, so I came up with ‘protect your own’ or ‘protect your origins’.”

“…and then Bad Ombré, that was inspired by Channel 5 back in the day, innit”, he recalls. “There were these movies I used to watch every Sunday at like 9pm. Before that, there’d be something like an Aladdin or a Flubber on at like 6pm and that’d take me through until 9pm, which is when the bad boy films used to come on, the proper grown up films. I remember this film called Once Upon A Time In Mexico innit with Antonio suttin’ suttin’ (Banderas), the guy in Zorro basically. I just remember I liked the whole Mexican style of things, they were moving mad in the films still. I was like ‘nah this is harrrrrrd’. I picked up little Spanish words and phrases from there and just started putting them together. I remember thinking ‘rah, bad ombré … I’ve heard that somewhere, what’s the definition?’. I Googled it and it translated to ’bad man’ and I thought ‘yeah, that’s me … bad man’. That’s literally where the whole Mexican ting came from.”

“Would you say you’re a deep thinker away from music?”, I ask. “Yeah I’d say so, but I try not to dwell on things I can’t control”, PK says. “I just go with things like, ‘okay, it’s happened now, boom’. The other day I lost something so stupid … I can’t remember what it was but it cost me P … and I ended up just leaving it and getting on with things quick. Certain problems I can’t let myself think about because dwelling on things is just long. It’s not healthy for man.”

“Certain problems I can’t let myself think about because dwelling on things is just long.”

Switching our focus back to the music, it’s worth noting that despite all of 2020’s uncertainties, PK’s enjoyed a stellar 12 months. There was the elastic, hyper-catchy ‘Om-Buckle’ — a track released via Flow Dan’s Spentshell imprint that shares rhythmic parallels with JME and Tempa T classic ‘CD Is Dead’ — as well as standout EP, ‘King Yosho’ and singles including ‘Papaya’ and ‘Warrior Chants / Ps In’ with IZCO. 2021 has started brightly too, with singles ‘Hustle & Bustle’ and ‘Favela’ — the lead track to be lifted from new eight-track EP, ’Street Symptoms’ — released alongside a Streets Of Rage-style, semi-animated official video that sees PK walking through Kentish Town. “Om-Buckle’s a funny one”, he notes, chuckling to himself. “I made it while I was working with Flow Dan and I call him Skeletor, innit. It was around the time that Black Panther came out so everyone was doing the Wakanda Forever sign all the time. I remember being in the studio and he just kept saying to me, ‘you’re just an Om-Buckle MC, you’re just Om-Buckle’. I said to him, ‘who the HELL is Om-Buckle? What are you talking about?’. He told me to watch Black Panther and I’d understand so I did, and Om-Buckle is the rival to Black Panther from the other village who ends up helping him in the end. These times I had a high-top as well so Om-Buckle just stuck. We had the same trim and that so I just ran with it innit, why not?”

“‘Street Symptoms’ is literally about what I’m going through in my own space right now”, PK continues. “I’m on my grind, just keeping things moving … it’s got grime, it’s got rap, whatever you wanna call it, it’s just music from the streets that I hope people can vibe with. As far as beyond that goes, it’s still to the world and back and the galaxy and the universe and all of that. 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.”

“We’re trying to make as much bread as we can to help our families and better our lives.”

Still markedly humble but armed with unlimited lungs (!) and seemingly unlimited ambition, even in the darkest of times, you can be sure that the hustle will never stop for PK — one of the UK’s best unsung MCs.

 PK’s ’Street Symptoms’ is out now:

slinky.to/StreetSymptoms

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY™ —

A temporary home for monthly Mixmag Grime & Dubstep reviews while the magazine remains out of print — here are April’s picks.

(Kami-O)

Album of the Month: Kami-O – ‘Biren’ (Bandcamp)

An album about connection, love and discovery 

Highlights

1. Aavaas

2. Yoddha

3. Biren

Glasgow-based producer Kami-O may only have a handful of releases to his name, but on ‘Biren’ — his debut full-length and a warming tribute to his late grandfather, Birendra Nath Bose — he blossoms. Exploring a multitude of firsts in his music, from his own Indian heritage to heartfelt, visceral emotion, no stone is left unturned, with the artwork also designed by his mother. The tracklist itself is awash with traditional Indian instrumentation, melodies and sounds, albeit cut with a distinctly UK accent. The rumbling, grimy snap of ‘Yoddha’ is a standout for example, as are sub-dwelling, stepper cuts like ‘Jashore’, ‘Bose’ and the shadowy, oddly beautiful ’Aavaas’, which feels hollowed out in places, yet still deep and suspenseful. He leaves enough room to sign off with the pensive ambience of ‘Biren’ — a rasping, heady take on devotional music full of wonder and mystery and love. A beautiful tribute, brilliantly executed. 9/10

(Emz)

Tune of the Month: Emz – ‘Fist and Boot’ (Bandcamp)

A genuine rising star

Bristol’s Emz is one of those artists that is clearly evolving and maturing in real time, with every record feeling like more of a statement than the last. His latest, ‘Fist and Boot’, is produced by EVA808 and combines rugged, lived-in lyricism with a swagger and a conviction that belies his age. The beat (‘Drip, Drip’) is explosive too, albeit spatial and rippling, giving it plenty for the dance as well as in the headphones — a feature of EVA808’s music that permeated her recent album, ‘Sultry Venom’, from which the instrumental is lifted. It may have all the makings of a single that fans will look back on as a forgotten gem as Emz’s career invariably takes off over the next few years, but ‘Fist and Boot’ is an impressive and important marker — and the hook is genius, too. 9/10

Darkness & Elf – ‘Text Me’ (Quantum Sound)

Elf’s back — and better than ever!

Formerly of hotshot grime crew, The Square, Elf (fka Elf Kid) has steadily built himself back up over the past six months after returning from an extended hiatus. As a hyper, infectious lyricist with great diction and an electric stage presence, linking up with Darkness — himself a long underrated producer — feels like a smart move and on ’Text Me’, the two combine on a track “dedicated to all the women we care about in our lives”. Fleeting references to Tinie Tempah’s breakthrough classic ‘Wifey Riddim’ in Elf’s verses capture the mood perfectly, although its the maturity in which he rides the complex drill flex of Darkness’ production that really impresses. 8/10

Sir Hiss – ‘Wot’ EP (No More Mailouts)

Class act

More 100% dynamite from Sir Hiss, one of our favourite young producers out, this time on his No More Mailouts label. The crackling, refracted hydraulics and oddball drums of opener ‘Wot’ are sublime, while the soft, twirling harp strings and deft sub rumble of ‘Na Di Mi Na’ paint a picture of bygone eras — think late night speakeasies, a burnt orange glow, romance lingering in the air. Final track ’Schmetterling’ continues this theme apace, albeit cut with more mystery and filmic guile, on a record that lifts Hiss’ music out of the dance and into the cinema. 9/10

Moscow Legend & Trizna – ‘Made In Moscow’ (HI TEK SOUNDS)

Carnage in the dance 

East Man’s HI TEK SOUNDS imprint continue a stellar run of releases by way of Moscow Legend & Trizna’s new split 12”, ‘Made In Moscow’ — a record showcasing grime in its purest instrumental form by two of Russia’s best in class. Moscow Legend, a producer with strong links to Slimzos and a burgeoning UK footprint, is in lethal mood on opener ‘Krush’, which explodes into life with a furry of shattering laser sounds and devastating, depth-charger sub that evokes memories of some of Lloyd SB’s early Boxed-era work. As if not monstrous enough already, East Man turns in an outrageous 8-bar ‘Krush’ flip of his own, before newcomer Trizna comes through with gunshots, cowbells and sharp, pulse bass on ‘Massive’ — an ode to the great OG grime instrumentals of the early 2000s. It’s left to Trizna to sign off too, with ‘Bad’ stripping back the layers to land as a fractious, deconstructed grime DJ tool straight out of the Mumdance & Logos meets Different Circles universe. Big! 8/10

Nova – ‘Bonafide’ EP (Infernal Sounds)

A standout debut plate from Infernal’s latest star

Four hot and heavy new burners from fledgling producer, Nova, who shines bright on his debut plate for ever on-point steppers Infernal Sounds here. From taking in the playful, cranking pressure and militarised bop of opener ‘Bonafide’, it’s clear he’s a producer that can do the classics well, but the scuttling percussion, wonky FX and snarling, contorted rumble of ‘Single Fuse’ — think Megadrive boss level theme — nod to Nova’s ability to flip the script, too. The rugged, hardbody cut and thrust of minimalist burner ‘Fivers’ is probably our tip, but there’s also room for woozy, head-spinner ‘Intricacy’ — a nifty collaboration with Foamplate — to turn heads too. Proper! 8/10

Legion – ‘We Are Many’ (Artikal Music)

Powerhouse sounds

Legion is the new moniker for a tour de force grime quartet consisting of Trends, Boylan, P Jam and D.O.K — a cluster of producers who’ve worked closely for the best part of the last five years. The gnarly, teeth-gnashing styles of Trends and particularly Boylan have already laid the foundations for a segue into dubstep waters — see his 12”s for Nomine Sound as a case in point — with P Jam and D.O.K and their breathless grime styles along for the ride. On ‘We Are Many’, they flex across four heavyset new tracks for Artikal Music, with each cut clocking in at five minutes plus. The demonic, marching pulse of the title-track forms an ominous entry point, before the barbed jabs and twisted wobble of ‘Boards Don’t Hit Back’ arrow in on dubstep’s more familiar sounds. The oddball, technoid pulse and grimy, neck-snap claps of ‘Bewildered’ form the EPs big curveball, before the scything, roots-y flavours of ‘3rd World Cup’ sign off as an ode to the classics. Deep! 8/10

General Courts – ‘Emotions’ EP (GC DUBZ)

OG material from one of grime’s unsung heroes

General Courts has been putting in the work for a long time and new EP, ‘Emotions’ — the latest in a string of self-released drops via Bandcamp — zeroes in on an aesthetic carved out between 2016 and 2018. Drawn from the Grandmixxer school of raw, stripped-back, foundation-style grime beats, opener ‘Body’ flows with one unrelenting pulse, spiked with eski flutes and jagged jingles, while ‘Vex’ sounds like it could be lifted straight from a Lord Of The Mics cut scene. Final track ‘Feelings’ is the one to break the mould; written two years later, its spiralling rhythms and warm, melodic glow are countered by oddball guitar licks and trademark cowbell flashes, keeping it grimy right to the very end. 7/10

Kid D – ‘Timing’ (AP Life)

Energy!

Bok Bok’s AP Life label began life in rude health with Nammy Wam’s ‘Paradise South’ tape back in March and continue apace with grime mastermind, Kid D, who turns in four of his mercurial best on new EP, ’Timing’. Landing just in advance of new album, ‘Substance’, it’s a record that strips back the layers on Kid D’s sound, distilling some of his busier sounds down to their core fundamentals. There’s a huge square wave punch tempered by RnG flavours on crunching, standout opener, ‘Bar 4 Bar’, for example, where as ‘Don’t Play’ offers up his take on the sort of mutant drill beats that feel like the label’s lifeblood. The grand, booming pulse of ‘Yeah Yeah’ is vintage Kid D, albeit spiked with flashes of percussion and earworm choral chants, before the sugary, sweetboy tones of final track ‘The Eyes’ sign off an a record that elevates a veteran producer to new heights. 8/10

Grandmixxer – ‘Hypersonic Symphony’ (South London Space Agency)

Lift Off

Grandmixxer’s grown in confidence as both a producer and de facto flag bearer since the launch of his SLSA label in 2017, working tirelessly behind-the-scenes to bring his vision for grime to life. The results are uncompromising, unapologetic and often brilliant, as evidenced by the power and the drama of latest three-track EP, ‘Hypersonic Symphony’. With each track clocking in at between 7 and 10 minutes, there’s enough in the tank to transport Grandmixxer’s music into new spaces — these feel less a collection of beats and more twists on performance art, dispatched through the medium of two decks and a mixer. The grandiose, orchestral rush of ‘Kennington To Berlin’ borders on spiritual, while the detuned square-wave buzz, muffled chanting and emotional melodies of ‘Walking 2 Africa’ are both heady and trance-like. Final track ‘Motherland Math’ is the shortest of the three, toying with darker atmospheres offset by giddy xylophones, with the whole record coming together as one pretty extraordinary, 27-minute long canvas. 9/10

Monitor

April was a stacked month full of new music, including Clearlight & Owl’s new ‘Red Clouds’ EP on DNO Records, new Wheelton on Foto Sounds — a cosmic three-tracker inspired by the outer margins of the solar system — and Arkham Sound’s big and bad ‘Mercy / If Only You Knew’ 12” on Sub Audio Records … There was also more from Drone, this time via a collaborative 12” alongside Hyroglifics, for V.I.V.E.K’s SYSTEM label — and it’s typically deadly! — with a special mention also going to Duckem re: his ambitious and expansive new ‘Eternal’ EP, which flits between tempo, pattern and texture across five barnstorming tracks …. Veteran grime producer JT The Goon was also busy on the buttons, dropping another gem of an EP (‘Depths Of Life’) via Earthspin Recordings … and Belgian dubstep outpost, DUPLOC, launched their 140 ALLSTARS series in homage to Tempa’s series of the same name — it features six tracks from six different producers including JSM, Crowley and Ome … Be sure to check out new grime singles from prolific MC, Logan, who also produced the beat on the off-kilter and explosive ‘One Way’, and Slowie & $H The Producer’s ‘What Ya Know About’ — released via his DeeOh7, it dropped alongside a special short film spotlighting the mood in East Bristol during the last days of Thatcherite Britain … and finally (!), we recommend checking Tokyo-based producer Primula’s sparkling, fascinating new album, ‘Root Layers’, on Eastern Margins — a record joining the dots between experimental grime, wonky dubstep and video game OSTs, featuring collaborations with fellow Japanese artists Ill Japonia, ONJUICY and SVBKVLT producer, Prettybwoy.

(Drone)

— Ehua —

On dance, art, Pisa, London, digging for music on MySpace, imposter syndrome, role models and finding the beauty in water on new EP, ‘Aquamarine’.

(All photos submitted by Ehua)

“Every cloud has a silver lining I guess”, says Ehua warmly as we catch up over Zoom from her home in Hackney Wick, early on Friday night. “To go from such an amazing 2019 for me personally to then  hit such an abrupt stop at the beginning of 2020 hasn’t been easy, but having more time to focus on crafting, and even the new EP that’s just come out (‘Aquamarine’) has been nice.” A passionate and diligent creator who by her own admission ’never gets bored’ — “I like baking, I like sewing, I like drawing, I love to dance, I love making music” — Ehua has cut through the noise as one of dance music’s brightest new talents over the last two and a half years. 

Born in Italy but based largely in London since 2009, her own output has not only been shaped by the electronic artists she grew up admiring from afar — everyone from Aphex Twin to Bjork to Ikonika — but also by her own thoughts, perceptions and sometimes, misgivings. As a result, her music is deep but also fluid and physical and intense — it’s built to make people dance but to make people think, too. 

“I was born and raised in Pisa in Tuscany and I would say in a pretty open-minded and artistic household”, Ehua reflects, adjusting her earphones slightly. “My mum is Italian and an art historian and my dad, who’s Ivorian, also works in the field of art, but as a musician … he plays the bass and the guitar. I grew up basically with music and art around me constantly, but in a very subconscious way. As an Italian person, art and beauty in the sense of harmony and aesthetics … from a historical or history of art perspective … it’s something I love and cherish a lot.”

“I studied Ancient Greek and Latin for five years at high school as my major”, she continues, explaining how the Italian school system works. “In Italy, you can pick from different groups of subjects. You’ve got the scientific ones like Chemistry and Maths and all of that, but I chose Humanities, which involved Ancient Greek and Latin and Philosophy, History, History of Art and so on. It was beautiful but also very heavy of course at a young age. Now, looking back, I wish I could go back and actually study and do the work and remember everything I’d learned. It would honestly be great because I’m still so fascinated by it all. At the time, I think I was just too young and too interested in other stuff, you know.”

“Pisa itself is a very international city but I was still the only black girl in primary school, high school and so on”, Ehua continues, “aside from some very temporary moments where other kids would come in for a few months here and there. It was good and bad, but it’s made me who I am today. At the same time, I grew up surrounded by lots of love and understanding so it wasn’t all bad for me. The most annoying thing was not having role models, culturally speaking, in music or anything really. The first thing I got into was Athletics when I was eight years old because the only role model on Italian TV was Fiona May, who was a British athlete who’d married an Italian. For me it was like, ‘ah I want to be like her because she’s like me!’ you know, so I got into Athletics. She’s still a G now to be honest and her daughter is also doing so well in Athletics at the moment, which means young girls will now have somebody their age doing amazing things that they can look up to. Of course I quit Athletics a few years later, mainly because I realised I didn’t actually like running and got into dancing instead, which has become my biggest passion aside from music. Reading music, feeling music with my body … I feel it even stronger than making it, I think.”

“The first thing I got into was Athletics when I was eight years old because the only role model on Italian TV was Fiona May, who was a British Athlete who’d married an Italian. For me it was like, ‘ah I want to be like her because she’s like me!’ you know, so I got into Athletics.”

It was her passion for dancing that’d first get Ehua digging for music and more specifically, sounds, as a teenager; “anything I could practise my dance routines to, I was interested in”, she says, smiling. She grew up with music always playing at home and recalls spending time making songs with her two younger brothers as a child, but her fondest memory was of South African singer-songwriter, Miriam Makeba. “She had a song called ‘Pata Pata’”, she recalls, “which is a very mainstream record, but it relates to my grandma on my dad’s side. I only saw a picture of her for the first time in 2015 so the picture of Miriam Makeba on the ‘Pata Pata’ record was to me, my grandma’s face even though we’d never met. Dancing to that record for me was like meeting my grandma and being with my grandma in Africa. My dad has a really broad record collection so from that record, I remember finding Ray Parker Jr’s ‘Ghostbusters’ soundtrack on vinyl and just vibing to that like crazy. There was Bob Dylan, ABBA … he had so much music, but because of his passion for bass playing, the one sound that permeated my home for the longest and still does today is reggae. It’s always been a subconscious fuel for my musical tastes.”

These musical tastes started to broaden and blossom once the internet became a de facto music discovery tool in the early 2000s. Glued to her computer, she’d scour MySpace pages for hours looking for new music, burning CDs full of whatever she could buy or download; “I’d always set the soundtrack in the car whenever I was going anywhere”, she says, giggling into the camera. While the Italian electronic scene was dominated by big, progressive trance DJs like Gigi D’Agostino — “I’d definitely be exposed to that sort of music at local town fairs in the summer growing up, DJs would just blast it for hours” — Ehua was far more interested by music that channelled feeling and emotion, music that she could express through her body. “I was lucky to meet a group of friends at the time who were massively into deep house and minimal techno”, she recalls. “They were the first people to ever take me to a proper club night. There was this club in particular in Versilia that had the best line-ups, honestly. From Ricardo Villalobos to Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Magda … like everyone, you name it. I used to save up and go and see these DJs play every Saturday night and yeah, at that point, it just felt like normal every day life. Now I realise that they were the pioneers of a whole scene that still today, is respected as one of the most groundbreaking in electronic music. I consider myself so lucky to have had that experience at such a young age, you know.”

“There was this club in Versilia that had the best line-ups, honestly. From Ricardo Villalobos to Ritchie Hawtin, Dubfire, Magda … like everyone, you name it.”

Still marching to the weekend beat of Versilia’s big room DJs, Ehua was growing more and more disillusioned with life in Pisa. She’d headed to the University of Pisa to study Sociology and it was there that she made a decision that’d change the entire trajectory of her life. “I was just bored”, she says with a shrug. “I had a few months off over the summer before I had to go back to university, so I decided I was gonna spend a couple of months in London to do some work experience and enjoy the club scene as best I could. Two months quickly became three and a half years, before I went back to Italy briefly to finish university, which at that point I’d abandoned after my first year. I finished my degree, headed straight back to London and I’ve been here ever since. London was an accident, but I guess you could say it’s worked out.”

Initially, Ehua was based in Lewisham where she lived with her parent’s friends — “they were my first family” — before later moving to Gants Hill in Ilford, where she stayed with fellow Pisa-born DJ/producer, Wallwork. “It felt like my first introduction to London was with the OGs”, she says, breaking out into laughter. “That of course influenced me trying to learn to speak English and be understood. I’d always been obsessed with moving to either the States or to the UK when I was little because not having any role models in Italy, all the cool people were mainly overseas. Years later as you get older, you realise that it’s all a bit of a mirage but when I was young, it felt so glamorous and exciting. I’d always been very keen to speak English when I was young and it was one of my favourite subjects at school, but I definitely did not speak it fluently when I moved over. I was literally thrown into the reality of learning London-English with an accent. Even the most basic things, I struggled to understand, but I loved the challenge. I’m now actually a teacher of English as a foreign language. It’s taken over my life, really.”

Eager to immerse herself into London life, Ehua began work experience Caffe Nero as a barista, before moving into retail to work at Levi’s flagship store on Regent Street — “Pharell and N.E.R.D played the opening of the store on my first day and I met him in the shop on my second day!” — and later for a number of different brands in-store at Selfridges during her first stay in London. While back in Italy to finish her degree, she also took studied for her English teaching certificate, allowing her to start work at an international college once she returned to the city.

Ehua’s journey into music started with a new MacBook in 2016. “Tommy (Wallwork) installed Logic for me as soon as I got it”, she says, grinning. “I’d subconsciously watched him making music for years without him actually teaching me anything, so once I got started, I’d made a track in like two hours or something. I was like ‘woah, I like this, I can do it’. It spiralled from there really and my first EP, ‘Diplozoon’ on femme culture, kinda materialised out of that, but I never really saw myself as taking a conscious path into music-making. Because I’d been around DJs and producers I respected and admired, particularly Wallwork and Gugli (TSVI), when I came to calling myself a DJ, there was a lot of imposter syndrome there. I’m finally happy to be in a place where I’m more confident with my skills and my tastes, now. I used to be so paranoid about what other people would think but I’ve learned to trust myself more.”

“When I first started putting my music out, I didn’t want to put my picture up anywhere on social media either”, she continues. “Everybody thought I was a man, of course. People would hit me up on Soundcloud like ‘hey man, nice tunes’ and I’d be like ‘thank you xxx, Celine’ just to make sure I pointed it out. The femme culture thing really helped and also starting to DJ, which Suleika Mueller, TSVI’s partner, helped me with. She’s a photographer but also a DJ and once, she had a club night that she invited me down to play at. Everyone was always saying that I should learn to DJ to help push my own music so I thought, ‘do you know what? I’ll do it’. It all started that night and now I love it.” 

“People would hit me up on Soundcloud like ‘hey man, nice tunes’ and I’d be like ‘thank you xxx, Celine’ just to make sure I pointed it out.”

How did that first DJ set feel, I ask? “I was petrified”, she says, gritting her teeth a little. “It was at The White Hart in New Cross. I mean it’s this tiny, wooden pub and it felt very chilled, it wasn’t anything big, it was just my friends there and a few drunk people that kept asking me for drum & bass. I was like, ’No, I’m really sorry, I’ve planned this playlist sooooo carefully and I don’t have any drum & bass, I’m so sorry’. It was a lovely icebreaker looking back, but to this day I still get the jitters sometimes when it comes to performing.”

As she began to blossom as a DJ, Ehua soon joined the Nervous Horizon ranks as a producer, contributing her track ‘Meteora’ to the label’s ’NH VOL 3’ compilation in 2019 alongside artists like DJ Plead, Tzusing and object blue. It was her first output since the release of ‘Diplozoon’ the previous winter and laid the foundations for ‘Aquamarine’ — a vivid and conceptual new six-tracker released on Nervous Horizon only last month. “I get annoyed when people say that club music doesn’t really involve feelings or emotions”, Ehua explains as our conversation shifts to the themes that underpin her own music. “For me, a lot of club music soundtracks your life. Your first kiss, your birthday parties with your friends, your first escape … that’s how I see it. My tracks are club tracks but they also have another dimension to them which I see as very personal. I write while imagining my body moving to them and there’s also a whole thought process linked to the sounds that I use. In the case of ‘Aquamarine’, I had this binding idea of water and it’s in every track. I feel like lots of the layers in the tracks are like waves, you know. The ocean is a sonic environment that I think is amazing, it’s magnificent. The sound that the creatures of the ocean make are incredible … a lot of them operate on frequencies we can’t even perceive! It’s amazing. I really hope there’s a lot more science and research into the sounds of the ocean. There’s this whole idea that we don’t really see what’s in the water so we just see it as one huge expanse, but the variation and the detail and the magnificence of it is wonderful. I wanted to put all of those feelings in these tracks and the sea just kept coming back to me as I wrote. Basically, these are club tracks but there’s en emotional side to each to each of them, which I expressed through the metaphor of water. The idea of being invisible but hyper-present. I mean it’s everywhere, we’re made of water but we never think about it. Presence and absence, I guess.”

“There’s this whole idea that we don’t really see what’s in water so we just see it as one huge expanse, but the variation and the detail and the magnificence of it is wonderful.”

Hot off the back of ‘Aquamarine’, Ehua is also set to release new track, ‘Venom’, as part of a multi-artist, percussive-driven 12” via Sicaria Sound’s Cutcross Recordings label on May 14 — a nod to how far her sound is starting to reach. “I’m really happy about it because I respect Sicaria Sound a lot”, she notes. “They made a big impression on me as a DJ duo when I first started to get involved in the London scene because their mixing skills are amazing. I just remember wanting to be like them to be honest, so when they asked me to be a part of this project, I was like ‘absolutely, yes!’. ‘Venom’ itself is a 140bpm track and very drum-focused. I wanted to try and play this game of making a dubstep track that doesn’t sound like dubstep and so there’s this double-rhythm going throughout. There’s the main rhythm at 140 which feels kind of bouncy and then the drums kinda break everything and make it feel like a 70bpm techno dancehall track, which I find very interesting. There’s a tabla drum that creates a crazy polyrhythm in the first drop, which I love, and I use my own vocals too. I usually speak in Italian backwards because I don’t want people to understand what I say when I speak in my tracks. ‘Venom’ is actually the first track where I speak in Italian forward, not backwards, and I say ‘I eat insects and spit venom’ which is the nastiest thing I could think of because I was in a mood when I made the track! Another fun fact? I also played the flute that I first learned in middle school on it, so that’s another achievement.”

“I usually speak in Italian backwards because I don’t want about people to understand what I say when I speak in my tracks.”

“I like to sample a lot of my own percussions generally”, she continues enthusiastically. “In some of the songs on ‘Aquamarine’, I sample kitchen tools. For example, the main metal sound on ’Xantho’ is me tapping a Thermos flask with a butter knife! It’s a lot of fun for me to do stuff like that, so I’ve just bought a whole new set of egg shakers, a new cabasa and a load of other percussive bits. I’ve felt the need to be very hands on with things lately, rather than working with VSTs or analogue equipment.”

“In some of the songs on ‘Aquamarine’, I sample kitchen tools. For example, the main metal sound on ‘Xantho’ is me tapping a Thermos flash with a butter knife!”

Away from her own music, Ehua is also a core member of GRIOT — an online magazine, collective and all-round creative hub founded by African-Italian, Rome-based creative director and cultural producer, Johanne Affricot. “She hit me up in 2016 because I’d written an article for Noisey about gqom”, explains Ehua. “I saw it as a cultural hub for people like me, a place where I could finally see and surrounded myself with loads of role models on a daily basis across art, photographer, fashion. Every field in arts and culture was covered. I thought it was amazing that it was run by an African-Italian woman like Johanne, who I respect so much, so I joined straight away. We have the online magazine and as a collective, we also run projects for others, whether that be private companies or public bodies and organisations. One of our biggest projects was called ‘MIRRORS’, which was basically a tour of South Africa, Ethiopia and Senegal we put together on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We had a team of 10 artists, as well as dancers from local dance companies in each country we visited. They’d come along and join in workshops and come together for a final performance, which ended up varying from city to city because so much was down to individual improvisation. I got to write the soundtrack too, which was an amazing experience because the sounds were inspired by every place we visited. It’s the sort of cultural work that’s very much needed in Italy. We’re basically a team of Afro-European heads doing post-colonial research, music and cultural production and it’s a beautiful family to be a part of.”

It’s then that our conversation briefly turns to where the name Ehua derives from, as we start to wind down. “Ah, it’s a really funny story actually”, she says. “Ehua is my real family surname. There was a mistake in my dad’s papers when he moved to Italy from the Ivory Coast and his middle name ended up being registered as his surname, which is the name I now have on my papers too. It meant our family name was erased, so when I happened to need to think about an artist name, I decided to use Ehua. It’s not only my connection to the Ivory Coast, but it’s beautiful and I really love how it’s spelt and also how it looks graphically, too.”

Now content with her life in London — she’s based at Nervous Horizon’s studio, a Narnia-style treasure trove of instruments, hardware and seemingly limitless collaboration — and driven by a determination to explore her creative self to the fullest, Ehua’s journey feels like its only just beginning. With clubs on the cusp of reopening in some capacity, her latest tracks will now have a space to fill and with them, her message deserves to be heard loud and clear. “I want to be the role model that I wanted to see when I was a teenager”, she affirms, just before we sign off. “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.”

Ehua’s ‘Aquamarine’ EP is out now on Nervous Horizon:

https://nervoushorizon.bandcamp.com/album/ehua-aquamarine-ep

‘Venom’ is out via Cutcross Recordings on May 14 as part of V/A 12”, ‘With The Pulse’:

https://cutcross.bandcamp.com/album/cxt003-with-the-pulse