— Grandmixxer —

On grime, 1210s, radio, Wig Power Foundation, The Square, Boxed, building a legacy and looking to the stars with his record label, South London Space Agency.

(All photos submitted by Grandmixxer)

I first interviewed Grandmixxer in 2012. Back then, he was going by the name Grand Mixer Dan Gar Dan, and he’d also put together an hour long mix for a series I used to run for Oli Marlow’s now defunct Sonic Router website. The mix itself was electric; fizzing blends recorded at breakneck speed, grime acapellas flying in from all angles, relentless chopping — it’s a wonder there was anything left of the mixer he’d recorded it on. He submitted a press shot too, which depicted him sat in a stairwell with a red beanie hat on, clutching a single turntable half-perched on his knee, almost as if it were an extension of his body. Do you remember that mix, I ask? “Yeah of course, man”, he says, face lighting up. “That feels like such a long time ago, still.”

To witness Grandmixxer behind a pair of decks nearly a decade on is still a thing of wonder. He’s made grime mixing feel like a performance art in itself — the signature side-on fader chop stance, the dramatic transitions, the sense of theatre — while also becoming one of the genre’s great technical DJs. But in catching up for the first time in a few years on a warm and breezy Friday night, he’s quick to point out how much more there is to the Grandmixxer story. His is a legacy in progress — and he’s far from finished.

“You see with lockdown?”, he asks, clearing his throat and pausing to think for a moment. “Me, Travis T, General Courts and Mez, we’d been working really hard as a team for like a year and a half before things started happening. We were on a path outside of what was going on in the world, living and working in our own way, on our own path … and I feel like I haven’t let that slip. Even though the world has been crumbling around me, I’ve still managed to maintain two radio shows every month. My output has stayed the same because I saw myself as still having a job to do. I feel like everyone probably had a period of feeling low and wondering what was gonna happen … like, I had all of that … but if I let myself feel like that for too long, there’s no radio, there’s no music, there’s nothing.”

Fuelled by this self-imposed sense of duty, 2020 proved the most prolific year in Grandmixxer’s career in terms of releases — he put out a whopping 12 EPs via Bandcamp — but also saw him strengthen his resolve, both as a musician and a person. “I think COVID either made you or broke you”, he says thoughtfully. “It’s all good either or, there’s no right or wrong, it’s just about surviving at the end of the day, but not being able to DJ or do some fo the things I used to do has made me want to appreciate it in a different way. That in itself feels much more healthy and I feel way better right now than I ever have done before since I started out in music.”

Born and raised in Kennington in South London where he still lives today, Grandmixxer credits both his mother and the community he grew up in for moulding this level-headed approach to his life and music. “I was just a regular estate yout”, he recalls, “and I knew everyone in my area, everyone at my school … I just knew everyone. I’m an only child too so I was either outside on ends or I’d be in my room, chilled out and playing computer games. I had a bless upbringing, I’m grateful to have had a great mum, there was nothing I didn’t have, I was allowed out, I had good friends. I felt part of a community growing up and that feels completely different to how things are now. Like, people don’t let their kids out now and furthermore, people don’t respect kids in this society anymore. It’s mad.”

“I felt part of a community growing up and that feels completely different to how things are now. Like, people don’t let their kids out now and furthermore, people don’t respect kids in this society anymore.”

“I used to love going in every day because I loved the social aspect and I because I loved learning”, he says when I ask about his memories of school. “I had no problems in school, I didn’t even get suspended … not once! My head wasn’t in it though, if I’m honest. You know some kids are like, ‘ah I’m really into music’ or ‘I absolutely love football’ from early, that wasn’t me. I was just with my friends all the time. I wasn’t into anything, I didn’t wanna be anything. I didn’t wanna be a footballer or a Formula 1 driver or anything like that. Well, not until man got into music anyway.”

Music wasn’t a big part of Grandmixxer’s childhood at home. His mum, who was interested in drama and an avid reader, played music occasionally — “she’d just play George Michael or reggae stuff now and again, there was no garage or jungle or anything like that” — but it was through his friends that he started to pick up on how music made him feel. “One of my friends started DJing when he was about 12, and I was a year older than him”, he explains. “At first, I used to just follow him around and started buying records because he did, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. Through doing that, I started getting into music on a deeper level and don’t forget, this was every day. Like, we’d grown up together, our mums were friends, we were always together. We were young but we were still going all over London … the West End, Kilburn, East London, Soho … we were going everywhere to get records with our pocket money. That’s when I started asking my mum for decks. I had everything I could ever want in my room but I think she saw it as like, ‘rah and now you want turntables as well?’. We had that battle for a while but I just knew from then that I wanted to be a DJ. That was it. I’d settled my heart on it.”

“Garage and dark garage initially”, he says when I ask what his friend was mixing. “All the So Solid stuff, Oxide & Neutrino, Agent X, DJ Zinc, all of that. When I was about 14, 15, that’s when we started buying up stuff like ‘Pulse X’, Roll Deep, Pay As U Go, ‘Are You Really From The Ends?’ … everything from that early grime era, we copped. I’ve still got all of it on vinyl.” What was it about grime that he loved, I ask? “You know what yeah, we used to listen to a lot of rap and it was similar in some ways, but it was ours. You know when you just hear someone’s voice and it’s YOU, like you get it, you feel like you can say it and understand it. When you’re 12 years old and you see Oxide & Neutrino bussin’ and they’re like 18, you realise it isn’t far away from where you’re at and you can relate to it that way as well, innit. Also, it was just hard. Both me and my friend are Jamaican so we felt the music and the beats differently.”

“Grime for me was disappointment though, If I’m honest”, he continues, shifting his tone slightly. “I never really got to see my heroes reach their potential. People are bringing out albums now in 2020 and 2021 but where were the albums in ’04? Where was the album in ’05? Where was the compilation release of all those sick early instrumentals? There are tunes that were big in 2002 coming out now, in 2021! I think a lot it felt like it didn’t even happen in some ways because so much of it just stayed up in the air. Now, you’ll get different man telling you different things. Some people will say grime only happened from 2002-2004, whereas a next man will tell you that grime started in 2016 when they heard The Square. The fact we get to hear both voices just adds to the confusion because nobody is gonna come through and tell you any different. Nobody controls the narrative. Also, the people making music in the scene didn’t make enough music to distinguish grime as a genre during its hype time either. Dizzee Rascal didn’t make four albums that sound like ‘Boy In Da Corner’, he made one and that was it. No one in those early days put in the work to make people understand what grime was or what it sounded like. The garage man, the drum & bass, the jungle man … they all made sure people knew what their music was. You can’t say ‘play jungle’ to someone for them not to play jungle, where as you can go to a ‘grime’ event and hear no grime whatsoever.”

“…the people making music in the scene didn’t make enough music to distinguish grime as a genre during its hype time either. Dizzee Rascal didn’t make four albums that sounded like ‘Boy In Da Corner’, he made one and that was it. No one in those early days put in the work to make people understand what grime was or what it sounded like.”

Grandmixxer’s quest for decks continued long into his teenage years. “Christmas came and I got no decks”, he says with a shrug. “My mum got me a hifi instead but a bad boy hifi, not some joke ting hifi, a serious, couple of bills kinda hifi. My step dad was a proper audiophile as well, he had 13 bag speakers and an amplifier that cost eight racks. He had his own room in the house but I never used to go in there until I got older, I wasn’t interested because he didn’t have decks. Luckily, he’d never let my mum buy me anything shit or bad quality if it was to do with music. Being an only child, I knew Father Christmas didn’t exist … my mum had been taking me to Hamleys or wherever since I was four to select my Hornby ting every year… so I knew in advance what I was gonna get. I ended up telling my mum to leave the hifi at the shop, so she did. I didn’t get anything that whole year. My birthday is just after Christmas and usually my birthday present would be accessories for whatever I got for Christmas. Playstation for Christmas, games and a controller for my birthday, that kinda thing. That year, I got nothing but I didn’t complain, I just got on with it. In the meantime, my friend taught me how to mix at his house. He wanted to start spitting, so we started a crew when we were 14 and I became the DJ even though I didn’t have decks. The crew was called DMC … Da Madness Crew!”

Eventually, his step dad caved and Grandmixxer got his first pair of turntables a year later when he was 15 — “they were some brand new Sony Direct Drives with a little mixer that had no EQ, imagine that”, he laughs. It was a decision that would change the course of his life. Armed with over a year’s worth of incendiary grime vinyl and a stack load of mid ‘00s rap he’d buy from his local HMV, he started to practise relentlessly. “I still couldn’t mix” he says laughing. “Me and my bredrins were young and we’d just play the big tunes and go nuts. I’d love to listen to one of the tapes now actually, it’d just be hard beats and the mandem going crazy over the sets.”

Practising became an obsession after moving out of London when he was 16. His mother, unimpressed by the circles a teenage Grandmixxer had started to mix in, sent him to live with his step dad just outside Bournemouth on the South Coast, where he’d stay for the next three years. “Moving away made me into a sick DJ”, he says nonchalantly. “I actually learnt how to mix a couple of weeks before I moved down there because before that, for about six months of having my decks I still couldn’t mix. I’d been on holiday in France for a few weeks, came back and started picking through my records. I mixed a Sean Paul tune into a 50 Cent tune almost by accident and was just like ‘yooooo, okay, rah!’. I tried another ting straight away and it worked and that was it, bam! I knew I could mix. It just clicked.”

“I’d been on holiday in France for a few weeks, came back and started picking through my records. I mixed a Sean Paul tune into a 50 Cent tune almost by accident and was just like, ‘yooooo, okay, rah!'”

“When I moved out of London, I didn’t fuck with no one innit”, he continues. “It’s not like today where you’ve got social media and you can quickly make friends with bare people, nah fam I thought I was hard. I didn’t speak to no one. I got a job at B&Q, so I’d go to work, come home and just mix and stay in my room. I actually lived in a place called Tuckton, which was close to the beach. It was nice man, it was sunny, I had a push bike, it was sick. You could say it was like an English dream, but it was so different from what I was used to. I spent every day just wanting to be back on the ends.”

Driven by dreams of being a DJ back in London, Grandmixxer made the move back when he was 19. Now part of a bigger crew comprised of almost everyone from his estate, he told his friends he’d get himself a slot on On Top FM — an influential pirate station with a growing reputation in South London — two weeks before he arrived home. “There used to be a number you could contact people at the station on, so called them innit”, Grandmixxer explains. “They asked me to link them at Bagel King, so I went and met them at Bagel King, gave them my tape and they called back and said ‘yeah, yeah, you’re on’. That was it. I’d been back like a week and I was on the station that was the biggest for grime in South London at the time. That was the start of the whole journey.”

To balance the books, he got a job working as an archivist for a private doctor in Finchley, before later starting work doing cable pulling, installation and track work on the London Underground when he was 21 — a job he held down for the next seven years. “I was even doing that when I was DJing for Big Narstie and that”, he points out. It was during this early period that DJing drifted into the background, however. On Top FM had been shut down and aside from mixing at home and heading to occasional events, things remained quiet until 2009 when Grandmixxer joined Urban Fm

“I wouldn’t event call myself a DJ them times”, he admits. “DJs knew about me though, like, they definitely did. I just wasn’t in the game for a while, but all that changed with Urban Fm. Big up Raw, RIP Raw because he buss’ me. I reached out, got a referral from another DJ and was given a Friday night show. I just used to go down and record after work. I was like, ‘fuck it’, why not?’. I’d have an hour to get there and bang, I just went and did my ting. Urban is where I met Courts (General Courts) and Travis (Travis T) for the first time as well. Travis had a show on the same day as me, Courts wasn’t even DJing at that point but he was still mandem. The same thing happened with Urban as with On Top though, it just kinda died one day. For a while we were like, ‘rahhhhh no radio!’ but because there was a few of us now, we decided to link up and start Wig Power Foundation, which was basically a vehicle for us to just do what we wanted to do, innit. We wanted to release tunes, record sets, play raves. Initially, it was just me and Travis and then we brought Dullah Beatz into the equation and then Courts … even though he wasn’t DJing, he was part of the team. That was us, Wig Power.”

As the Wig Power movement started to blossom — Grandmixxer realised they were far more powerful as a four than individual DJs — he was introduced to Big Narstie and his crew, NAA, through Dullah Beatz, who had been close friends with the MCs for years prior. Suddenly, the dial felt like it was starting to shift. “Narstie was just starting to come back to music and I kinda just became his DJ from that point onwards. It was sick man, so, so sick. Playing with him, like, they were my first shows ever. I got to fly out abroad, play big arenas, go on tours … all of those experiences were with Narstie. It was weird though because everything felt normal. We knew each other, we were in the same crew, it just felt natural and cool. Thinking about it, everything I’ve done in music, every situation I’ve been in, it’s always been with people I know well.”

His spell as Narstie’s DJ came to its natural conclusion in 2013, which coincided with meeting a 14 year-old Novelist at KISS FM. “I’d gone to meet Logan Sama with Narstie and Novelist’s manager at the time, Aaron Hanson, he used to record videos for Logan at KISS”, Grandmixxer explains. “He was looking for a South London based DJ for Novelist and just hit met up there and then. I didn’t know him at all but the way he approached it was proper, it wasn’t a joke ting. He was professional. I met Nov and saw the potential instantly, I just knew in my mind. I was still working with Narstie at the time, so if you check back, there are some early sets online with both Narstie and Novelist on mic. Nov was younggggg, I’m talking 14, 15 years old. While all of this was going on, I managed to get myself on Flex FM through DJ Frampster, who was the original NAA DJ. He showed me love straight away and asked me to come and check him. Not many people know because he’s too humble like that, but Frampster has done things that no other grime DJs have done, even to this day. He’s done this ting at the highest level for so long. Anyway, he seemed to see potential in me and told me he’d get me a show on Flex. And he did.”

“Narstie was already a super powered MC by this point, he’d already done radio and that years ago so he wasn’t really on it”, Grandmixxer continues. “But Novelist needed radio. He started coming to Flex with me and then started bringing his bredrins, The Square, along. I had the show and we just worked for two years straight. By the time most people heard Novelist at 16, he sounded like a cannon because he’d put the work in on radio already. It feels like that two years on Flex was kinda undocumented in grime’s history, because we were the only people on pirate radio playing grime with MCs consistently at that time. Nov did it for like two years straight with me, honestly. It was just pure work. Other MCs came down as well, YGGLyrical Strally even before he became a part of YGG. Novelist actually said to me at the time, ‘I’ve found the best MC, I go church with him, he’s called Lyrical Strally’. He introduced me to PK and Saint (fellow YGG members) as well. A lot of people were working a long time before people clocked on to it and by that point, these kids were already cannons. All of them. It got to the point where we’d get sick MCs down to spit with them, knowing that they couldn’t handle it. These man were that good.”

“By the time most people heard Novelist at 16, he sounded like a cannon because he’d put the work in on radio already.”

“Military”, he says without hesitation when I ask how he’d describe working with Novelist and The Square. “That’s the only word to describe that period. I was older than them, so I was talking to them a lot and trying to pass on my experience. I knew that if we could get to the dances, we’d merk, because I’d already done it with Narstie. We had Wig Power in full flow as well and we were establishing a sound, with Dullah as the main producer. I knew that together, we had tunes that no one else had, so between us all, we were powerful. I felt like I could be a catalyst, like a Rambo or whatever, someone to go ham for what we had at that time. You see when we finally made it to festivals and shows? It was devastating … just look at the videos! It’s grime done devastatingly. It wasn’t just me. You could put General Courts or Travis with these man, same results. Us and The Square, devastating. We worked hard for those moments. I was still paying subs to Flex every month these times as well, but it got to a point where they were like, ‘nah, you’re too shower, we don’t need any money from you anymore’. To get to that point in my career was sick.”

“You see when we finally made it to festivals and shows? It was devastating … just look at the videos! It’s grime done devastatingly. It wasn’t just me. You could put General Courts or Travis with these man, same results. Us and The Square, devastating.”

In and amongst his work with The Square and Wig Power, Grandmixxer’s thunderous, charismatic DJ style had also caught the ears of Oil Gang — label head and founding member of blossoming instrumental grime club night, Boxed. “He was a massive Darq E Freaker fan and I remember he came down to a show where I DJ’d for him at The Amersham Arms in New Cross”, he recalls. “Simon (Oil Gang) was there but didn’t know man at all back then I don’t think. After the show, he came up to me and was like, ‘you’re sick’ and asked if I wanted to grab some vinyl off him. We met for a drink a few weeks later and I just felt like he was a real grime guy. He had every record, literally you name it. We became friends and I slowly got introduced to the Boxed guys. It was all Simon to be honest, he’d just slap me on lineups and I used to love playing there. It was an opportunity for me to hone my skills, because most of the shows I was playing were with MCs. Boxed were the first people to book me, for me.”

It was a confidence boost that helped influence Grandmixxer’s decision to start producing his own beats and crucially, start stepping out as an artist in his own right. Although a powerhouse with an MC, Boxed made him realise he was a powerhouse without an MC, too. “I’ll be real, I’ve always been an instrumental grime DJ, long before I started working with artists”, he affirms. “Like, the Wig Power thing was just me and the mandem linking up and playing beats, so I’ve always had that love of mixing two instrumentals together. Boxed was a place where you were appreciated for doing that. No matter whatever you were coming with, people loved you for it.”

“…I’ve always had that love of mixing two instrumentals together. Boxed was a place where you were appreciated for doing that.”

Buoyed by this freedom and confidence, he bagged himself monthly shows on both Rinse FM and NTS (he’s held them down for over four years and counting) and set plans afoot to launch South London Space Agency — a label he’d use to house his own material and build out his own, concrete vision for grime. “Simon (Oil Gang) told me it was such a sick idea after I mentioned it to him one time in 2016”, Grandmixxer recalls. “He loved it so much, that he told me he’d design me a load of logos. I wasn’t looking to start it at that point but he was so enthusiastic about the label and my instrumentals and basically everything I was doing. I remember, like true to his word, he sent me about eight different logos shortly after and it kinda solidified it in my head.”

The final logo, a play on NASA’s own, is not only instantly recognisable but also lends itself to the cosmic, star-gazing themes that have run through the label since its inception in November 2017. Run alongside Executive Producer and fellow artist and composer, Alya Al-Sultani, South London Space Agency or SLSA for short, launched with the simply titled ‘SLSA 001’ — a skeletal, OG bruiser of an 8-bar beat spiked with cow bells, that came backed with breathless vocal versions by Nottingham MC, Mez, and YGG’S PK. It has since been followed by a further eight releases, including more barnstorming collaborations with Mez and fellow producer, JEB1. Grandmixxer’s latest EP ‘Hypersonic Symphony’ — comprised of three tracks clocking in at between 7 and 10 minutes long each — is slated for release on April 30.

“SLSA has been a great way for me to cement MY sound and MY aesthetic”, says Grandmixxer warmly. “I try to be rhetoric free if I can help it, but the label can also be more of a mouthpiece than I am as Grandmixxer. It allows people to interact with me and how I see things beyond just being a DJ or someone people see on line-ups. I like that interaction, it’s healthy. As an entity though, it’s very much a passion project. I feel like I’m surrounded by a team of prolific creators right now and SLSA is just one branch of that. It’s an outlet for me and my sound, a way for me to connect with the world.”

“I like aviation you know”, he says when I ask about the recurring cosmic themes. “I’ve always had books about planes and shit and I love flying so it kinda links to that. With me though, the whole thing is that we’re going up, innit. The levels are always up. There’s also a black power element to the artwork that I try and work in there that feels powerful as well. That’s there if you chose to see it. The art allows me to explore things I wanna explore and put out there, but not as Grandmixxer. Nobody cares about what I think as a DJ, but through SLSA, I feel like I can speak to people how I wanna speak to them.”

“Nobody cares what I think as a DJ, but through SLSA, I feel like I can speak to people how I wanna speak to them.”

As passionate and resilient as ever nearly 15 years in, Grandmixxer remains at the beating heart of everything good about grime. He might not always like the dialogue around it — “I don’t like to call what I do grime, I like to let the people decide” — but without him, the music and the wider scene would feel all the poorer for it. Whether elevating the sound he believes in through SLSA, platforming brilliant young MCs to the world ahead of his time or battering the music he loves on the radio to a global audience of thousands, Grandmixxer has stepped out from the shadows and built a lasting legacy as a DJ, as an artist and as a person. “Right now, I feel great”, he says just before we finish up. “And that’s exactly what I’m taking forward with me. As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that it’s nothing to do with how much skill you have or how many chops you can do or what FX you use, it’s about feeling good and making sure the people around you feel good, too. That’s all I care about.”

Grandmixxer’s ‘Hypersonic Symphony’ releases via SLSA on April 30:

https://slsa.bandcamp.com/album/hypersonic-symphony

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