On music, family, the importance of community and becoming lockdown Twitter’s unlikely quizmaster.
“Play ‘Japan’ flashes up another message from the chatroom in a virtual ‘pub’ on Twitch, where over 140 players are 15 questions deep in a general knowledge quiz while a Spotify playlist of 80s synth-pop plays in the background. Plastician, decked out in a yellow England goalkeeper’s shirt and drinking a can of Belgian lager poured into a latte glass with a tiny handle on one side, is the host. “Play Japan”, he responds laughing, “how many more of you are gonna ask that tonight?”.
Still defined by his trailblazing years as one of dubstep’s OGs, Plastician cuts a very different figure 15 years on as we catch up to chat over FaceTime from his home studio the following night. Now married with two children and a consultancy job at Pirate Studios — a nationwide, multi-faceted DJ school, workshop and production studio operation — he seems relaxed and content as we start talking.
“I don’t feel too bad at the moment to be honest”, he says. “I think people’s careers go through ups-and-down and that, but I feel like I’ve started to appreciate the process a little bit more recently.” Like a lot of DJs and musicians, the process — letting music take its natural course in so many words — is something Plastician struggled with, especially after the excitement of the dubstep explosion started to wear off. In 2013, he recalls, suddenly gone were the days of packed-out FWD>> raves, three or four bookings a week and the stream of new artists and music that had first propelled the scene into mainstream consciousness.
“That was when the dubstep and whole bass music bubble burst a little bit I think. I had to do a lot of re-jigging in that year and the learning I did back then, I’ve taken that on ever since. It normalised everything for me. It was difficult to take at first because I felt hard done by, maybe by the industry and some of my friends who were suddenly doing better than me. I wasn’t getting the same love or the bring-ins, and I started to think, am I not cool enough anymore? Mentally, that was quite tough.”
Rather than submit or give into bitterness, he dug in and rode out the proverbial storm, learning to become both mentally and financially independent. He poured a lot of his time back into Terrorhythm, his original grime and dubstep hub that spawned some of the great early Plastician productions (including 2007’s ‘Japan’). Rebooting it with a focus on new artists and new sounds the world over, he took a backseat for the first time in his career.
“Out of that whole period came this interest in Wave music, which is the polar opposite of what I should have been investing in on a business level”, he reflects. “It’s music that doesn’t really work in any club setting, that no promoters want to book and at the time, had no real audience, but it was the basis of what I was listening to most on Soundcloud.”
Although he concedes the term ‘Wave’ can mean different things to different people, it can be loosely defined by it’s leanings towards trap music, often written through a cinematic lens with intense, emotional melodies and flashes of trance-like euphoria. “It was never critically-acclaimed, but there was a genuine following of people who were really engaged in that whole side of what I was doing at the time. A lot of kids making it now are coming in from the EDM world and maybe it’s not quite as exciting as it was initially, but it’s still something that intrigues me.”
Indeed, it was Wave that first spawned his ‘Wavepool’ series, which saw Plastician collate productions from a slew of inspired new producers into hour-long mixes, the first of which dropped in 2015. They would go on to pick-up a lot of traction, especially in the US, and served as both an entry point and discovery tool for anyone looking to get to grips with the sound. He soon became a de-facto flag bearer for the scene and through his Rinse FM show and newly-galvanised label, helped build a new URL community that birthed producers like Noah B, Deadcrow, Skit, Glacci and more recently, Juche, as well as crews like Liquid Ritual.
“..being involved in emerging genres is something that I hope I’ll be able to do forever.”
It was as he spoke about his fondness for Wave that I started to understand what makes Plastician tick. Although there’s still part of him that retains a competitive edge — “if someone gave me an opportunity, put me in a techno room and I’d fuck it up” — his main driving force is community, finding things and then building things.
“That’s what excites me musically, discovering stuff”, he says passionately. “When I find something that is not a million miles away from my taste but is maybe different enough that it’s like, ‘fuck, I need more of this’. Before long, you’ve found 10-20 producers and then you’ve got an entire set that plays to a certain sound, like Wave or whatever.”
“It gives me a lot of job satisfaction”, he goes on, “If I feel like I’m making friends as I go or people appreciate the things I’m doing and people show you love, that’s a nice feeling. One of the things I’ve taken from all the years of touring I’ve done for example, is how many good friends I’ve made. It might just be because I had a few days off and had to spend time with them, but I’ll leave places and think ‘Ah they were actually really cool’. From that, I’ve now got some real strong relationships with crews in LA, Brazil and China. I’ve made friends everywhere. 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.”
This spirit doesn’t just extend to touring, his label or DJ sets, either. His love of emerging technologies and new ways of connecting people, particularly online, also saw Plastician trial ‘Unreality Journeys’ — an immersive, online radio platform he hoped to develop after choosing to leave Rinse FM in 2017. “When I started out, pirate radio was really spontaneous, you only had one chance to listen in and that was it”, he reflects. “When you were broadcasting, it was quite exciting. If the studio phone line was getting busier week-on-week, it was exciting because you realised people were taking time out of their days to listen in and you’d find out you were reaching new places because people would text in like, ‘Yo we’re locked in from Sutton’ or ‘Shout out to Mitcham’. In the digital age, the broadcast quality might have improved, but that original excitement was lost.”
At the time he chose to leave Rinse, his show was proving to be one of the most popular on the station, quickly amassing hundreds of comments once the podcasts were archived on Soundcloud. “It’d feel like no one was listening when I was on the radio, broadcasting each week. There’d be no interaction live, but over the following days the shows would hit thousands of plays on Soundcloud and it dawned on me that I was missing that live interaction a lot.”
“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.”
And so Unreality Journeys was born, a platform that paired live radio with live visuals that responded to the music being played, portraying each listener as their own avi on a virtual dance floor, complete with a chat room to boost interaction. It was short-lived — the technology never quite caught up with his vision — but it was further evidence of Plastician’s willingness to explore new avenues and spend hours of his own time trying to build new community spaces, purely for the benefit of others.
It’s here I find myself back in his virtual pub the night after interviewing him, can of Heineken in hand, waiting for another quiz to start alongside 156 other players this time. While the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged modern life into darkness, Plastician has flipped the gloom on its head and used his time at home to get stuck into Twitch — a live-streaming platform that marries live broadcast and live interaction in one, simple-to-use app. “I could use it to bang out mixes every night of the week and feel like I’d have done it well”, he explains, “but I feel like that wouldn’t be really offering much. I know I can do it but what is the aim? Who am I benefitting?”
Interactive quizzes felt like a natural next port of call; not only has he themed the first half a dozen, including entire 25-question strong quizzes on Garage, Grime and Dubstep, but even built his own Mastermind-themed intro visuals, just for a laugh. Each one may take hours to prepare, but his Stishcast channel has already started to grow a dedicated following and for people like me living alone through this crisis, have added much-needed structure to days that bleed into the next. “There’s a lot of common ground in those quiz chat rooms each night”, he reflects. “It might be a joke about 90s footballers or some niche UK Garage tune and there’ll be another 20 people who can relate. With what we’re all going through now, it feels like that’s what people need. Even from some of the reactions to the questions, you can tell that everyone playing the quiz is there just to hang out. Don’t get me wrong there are people who want to win too, but most people enjoy just having a laugh and cracking jokes in the chat.”
Such is his standing, news of the quizzes has even encouraged some big hitters along, with Scratcha DVA, Joker, DJ Oblig, Loefah and even comedian Mo Gilligan appearing at certain points over the last few weeks, as well as producers on his Terrorythm imprint like Klasey Jones. Even his mum popped in to say she was watching on her birthday, much to the delight of everyone playing along. “We’ll be having a laugh about a Joker tune playing in the background and then Joker appears in the chat. These people are literally hanging out with the artists we’re listening to or artists they’re big fans of, as the quiz goes on. It’s quite unique really.”
In and amongst this desire to connect with people and keep busy — “I get bored very easily”, Plastician concedes — there comes family. He still lives in South London with his wife and two children and like us all, the COVID-19 crisis has meant a lot of adjustment. “The fact that I’m always around and a lot of the work I do is from home is a bonus. Even if I’m not always totally present, I’m often in and out of the house. These last couple of weeks have been tough though, especially with the Twitch streaming, but the evenings are quite a good time. I’m involved with bedtime to a point, but the kids don’t really settle for me, so I find myself being able to work on the streams or admin or whatever it is that needs doing. That said, me and my wife don’t have the same routine now, the whole thing hasn’t afforded us that, but we’re navigating it as best we can.”
“..nowadays and I don’t know if it’s getting old or what, but I’m more interested in being interesting.”
It was a family death a couple of years ago that fostered a sense of perspective which has helped him cope with the current situation, and also help reassess his own value system and what he wants out of his career. “My brother in law was 29 and he suddenly passed away a few years back, which put everything into perspective”, he says softly. “Losing someone who was healthy, larger than life, with a new-born child and loads going for him, it just made me realise there are things way more important than how many bookings I’m getting or what people think about me on social media. All that matters in this current situation is that all of my immediate family are healthy and well and to be honest, as long as they are, I don’t feel stressed out at all. I probably should because I’ve lost all of my bookings and consultancy hours, but because of everything that’s happened, I know that we’ll get through this. I just need to keep busy.”
As we finish up after just over an hour, Plastician still drawing up a list of questions for a much-requested Channel U quiz, it feels like after a difficult few years — and amidst a global crisis — he’s finally found peace of mind. Dad jokes have become a new part of his Twitter persona, his desire to help has been properly harnessed and validated by his work at Pirate Studios and his relationship with new technology and new ideas continues to breathe new life into people’s every day realities. “Don’t get me wrong”, he concludes, “being involved in emerging genres is something that I hope I’ll be able to do forever, but nowadays and I don’t know if it’s getting old or what, I’m more interested in being interesting. I don’t necessarily want to be midway down a flyer somewhere because I’m being paid well for it, I’d rather champion something. I’d rather stand for something.”
Plastician’s Twitch quizzes run every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7pm: https://www.twitch.tv/stishcast