On life in the country, grime, journalism, club nights, 679 Recordings, management, pressure, identity, community, trusting the process and scaling up with Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson and TRENCH Magazine.
“PS hope you feel better don’t burn out!!! Ironic coming from me tbh”, reads Chantelle Fiddy’s message on Saturday morning. We’d been trying to arrange an interview for nearly a week but our collective workloads said otherwise. When we finally sat down to chat late on Sunday evening, it felt like a small victory in itself. “I’m an exhausted person”, she says, opening our conversation in earnest. “I thought by this time in life, I’d have a balance sorted between life, work and everything else … and maybe that’s circumstantial right now … but I always try and give things perspective. It does feel like I’m back to square one a lot of the time, especially when you’re having to dig deep to think of that next idea or project. I am hopeful for the future, I’m just really tired.”
This overarching sense of tiredness seemed to permeate large pockets of our chat, without ever feeling defined by it. Whether a symptom of the world grappling with the concept of ‘returning to normal’ or a wider, more general industry malaise, Chantelle’s words are still laced with ambition and drive. And plenty of philosophy, too. “What I think I want in life and the way we have to live life … I can’t seem to work out how to marry the two”, she ponders.
“What I think I want in life and the way we have to live life … I can’t seem to work out how to marry the two.”
An industry stalwart for the best part of 20 years, Chantelle Fiddy has played an integral role in the sounds, scenes and careers that have come to define nearly two decades worth of British music. Revered most for her contributions to grime as a journalist, promoter and occasional A&R, she’s also worked in consultancy, outreach, youth work and artist management positions, tirelessly pushing the music, the artists and the messages she cares about most. The secret ingredient? Hustle. “I’ve always hustled”, she says. “I’ve always worked hard, grinded and pushed for what I believe in.”
Born in Southampton before moving to Cornwall as a toddler — a place she describes as both her spiritual and ancestral home — Chantelle grew up on the English coast, before returning to live in the New Forest for a spell and then onto Bedford, just to the north of London. “I feel like I’ve had many lives”, she says expressively, “so I don’t feel like I have roots anywhere, or any particular foundation. What moving around a lot does give you though is a sense of fearlessness, so where I live now for example, I didn’t know anyone when I moved here. But I just thought, ‘fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen?’ It’s like anything in life, it is what you make it.”
“It was very much me, my mum and my sister until I was about 15”, she continues, reflecting on her childhood. “I wouldn’t say life was particularly hard but it wasn’t easy either. We didn’t have money but we also didn’t care about those things and I think that’s maybe generational. Happiness for us was being in the garden or just being outdoors generally. Moving it forward a bit, what was mad about moving out to somewhere rural where I live now is that nobody wears headphones. I remember clocking people looking at me when I first walked into the local town and couldn’t work out and then I realised. Music just isn’t in people’s lives in the same way. It’s not engrained, you know? I took a copy of the new TRENCH magazine into town and nobody knew who anybody on any of the covers were. And I love that. It’s such an important reminder that what we do is important, sure, but only in a certain space. Remembering that, and remembering what really matters, is so important.”
Chantelle knew she wanted to write as a teenager, especially about music, but the thing that mattered most? Telling stories. “For me, it was always a case of thinking about how to tell the best stories”, she explains. “I love stories universally. Whether it’s my next door neighbour or an artist I’m talking to, stories matter. My journey into music really started with raving though. I’m a big believer in trusting the process of life and that everything you’ve been dealt and gone through happens for a reason, even if you didn’t realise it at the time. Had I not moved to Bedford and gone through what I thought was an awful move, I wouldn’t have made it to London. Basically, me and my friend Kim started getting into happy hardcore, jungle, garage … and raving went in hand-in-hand with it. I think my mum let me go to my first rave when I was 18. It wasn’t Sidewinder but it was something similar called Dreamscape 21. I remember she said I had to be home by midnight but it didn’t start until midnight, so the deal was I could come in at five in the morning but I had to do my jobs on Sunday. Did my jobs around the house get done? No they didn’t.”
“I love stories universally. Whether it’s my next door neighbour or an artist I’m talking to, stories matter.”
“We spent a lot of time at school trading tapes as well”, she continues. “Not proper tape packs or anything like that, literal TDKs. People from London would be recording sets at Rinse and then coming back on the motorway and bringing them into school. We didn’t know any of the stations, we’d just have all these random sets and people would buy them and trade them and whatever. That was where it really began for me. I’d always liked music but it became a deeper passion at that point.”
Originally interested in studying fashion, Chantelle thought long and hard about where she wanted to be — but found few answers. Lacking confidence and belief, a chance common room meeting with her headmaster during her final year of sixth form gave her the push she needed to instead apply to study Journalism. “I thought I’d missed the deadline”, she recalls, “but he told me to write a letter to the London College of Printing, which is now part of University of the Arts London (UAL). I wrote a letter, sent in some examples of my work and went in for an interview. I found out afterwards that I was the only applicant who didn’t have to sit an entrance exam … and thank fuck because I’m terrible at exams.”
“My A-levels were awful”, she continues. “I got predicted really good grades and came out with C, D, E, N … N, which means GCSE standard. I remember ringing the London College of Printing on results day and a security guard answered the phone. I was obviously really upset thinking I’d just completely fucked up my future and he went on the system and said my offer was ‘unconditional’. I honestly didn’t know what was going on or who’d fiddled with what, but like, big up them!”
Path to London secured, Chantelle found the initial jump from sixth form — “the school I came from had a Farming GCSE course” — to university life a challenge, and under the mentorship of lecturer and Evening Standard journalist, Paul Charman, she often cut a frustrated figure. “I remember he hotted me up once and told me I needed to join a course where I didn’t have to think because it wasn’t clicking for me”, she recalls. “My ego took a hit and I hated him for months after that, especially because he made me re-do about six weeks of seminar notes, but one day, some time later, what he’d said suddenly hit home. I guess that’s how university shaped me to be honest. It taught me how to think … not just to read something, but to think about what I’m reading. That was a really big mental shift.”
“In essence, I didn’t find university easy at all, I really had to work at it”, Chantelle continues, “but I loved the feature writing element and I was fortunate enough to study under Melanie McFadyean and Simon Hattenstone, who are two of The Guardian’s best feature writers. The course itself was very much news based though and I knew I didn’t want to go into that. I’d actually gone into it thinking I wanted to work for Touch Magazine, which I’d read religiously for years, but it had closed down at the time and I remember we were tasked with getting some work experience as part of the course. I’d read a column that DJ Spoony had written for a dance music magazine and he’d asked people to write into him, so I penned a handwritten letter and sent it in. The next thing I remember, I got a call from his PA asking if they could publish it on Spoony’s website. She was like ‘seriously, nobody ever writes us letters’ kinda thing. Shortly afterwards, DJ Spoony’s PA, Kelly, got back in touch with me to ask if I wanted to represent the public on a panel about violence in UK garage. I don’t know why I said yes because I didn’t know a lot about garage at the time, but literally the day before it happened, Neutrino, who was meant to be on the panel, shot himself in the leg. The whole thing was pulled and I thought that was it, I thought I’d missed my chance of getting to work for this magazine off the back of the panel … I can’t even remember what it was called, but it fell through.”
“I’d read a column that DJ Spoony had written for a dance music magazine and he’d asked people to write into him, so I penned a handwritten letter and sent it in. The next thing I remember, I got a call from his PA asking if they could publish it on Spoony’s website.”
“Luckily, Kelly got in touch again to ask me if I wanted to be introduced to an editor called Vince Jackson and I was like, ‘what, Vince Jackson? The guy who used to edit Touch?’”, Chantelle continues. “She told me he was working on the Time Out Carnival Guide that year, so we got introduced and Vince brought me in to work with him. It was such an amazing placement as well because it ran for about six weeks and I was just writing solidly, that’s all I did. As luck would have it, Vince got a call while I was working with him to say that Touch was gonna be restarting and that they were on the look out for an Editorial Assistant. I had two weeks left on my placement, so once I’d finished at Time Out, I started at Touch. I couldn’t believe it, I was in my third year of uni and I was working at Touch Magazine? Crazy. It was myself, Hattie Collins, Russel Myrie, two designers and the editor in what was basically a broom cupboard.”
“My first cover feature was with Justin Timberlake, around his ‘Justified’ campaign”, she continues. “I’d only graduated six months before and there I was, the only music journalist from the UK, being flown to LA to listen to the album and spend an hour with Justin Timberlake at Chateau Marmont alongside someone from The Telegraph and some big arse don from GQ. I was way beyond what I thought I’d be doing but at that age, it reinforced this idea that I was doing the right thing … this is what I was here for, you know? Things were so different then as well, you had so much more access to artists. I ended up playing Justin Timberlake street music from the UK and asking what he thought about people like Ms Dynamite and stuff like that. It was crazy really.”
“I’d only graduated six months before and there I was, the only music journalist from the UK, being flown to LA to listen to the album and spend an hour with Justin Timberlake at Chateau Marmont alongside someone from The Telegraph and some big arse don from GQ.”
Through her work at Touch, Chantelle quickly built up an extensive feature writing portfolio but by her own admittance, her passion lay with UK music and the new scenes that were starting to emerge across the country. Touch, on the other hand, had its focus in a more commercial space — much of its content was reserved for big US artists and the rap and RnB sounds that had dominated the early ‘00s — so when the blog era was ushered in circa 2003/4, Chantelle seized the opportunity and launched her own. “I was straight on it”, she says with a smirk. “Here was a place I could put all the stuff that magazines wouldn’t be interested in. I was talking to a lot of these artists every day anyway, so it made sense to start to uploading some of those conversations.” Her blog became a de-facto home for those looking to get the latest read on grime — alongside fellow cornerstone grime bloggers like former Polymer interviewee Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson, Prancehall and Hyperfrank — while also opening her up to a new wave of writing opportunities.
“Deuce Magazine was about back then and it was great there because it was a grime-focused magazine”, Chantelle explains. “When I was at Touch, grime wasn’t called grime … it was right at the start of everything … but I knew that grime was where I wanted to go and what I wanted to write about. I was really excited by everything about grime, it was a whole new experience and it gave me an insight into London life. It was like opening a door to all this opportunity. It made me realise that you can be anything you want in London if you put your mind to it, there’s so much out there. I was up all hours writing my blog, uploading MSN conversations you know … but when you work from a place of passion, it’ll always pay off. Just from writing my blog, I got to write for Arena Magazine, Sunday Times Style, NME, Smash Hits. I got into so many publications purely because they’d read my blog. How mad is that?”
“I was up all hours writing my blog, uploading MSN conversations you know … but when you work from a place of passion, it’ll always pay off.”
“Smash Hits was the hardest magazine I’ve ever worked on”, she continues. “It was a weekly magazine, it was pop music and it was for kids, which is the hardest style of writing to master … trying to be down with the kids. I’d go into the offices there and they’d think I was really cool and I’d be like, ‘What? You’re Smash Hits, the only publication that I work for that my grandma’s heard of!’ kinda thing. That time in my twenties was fantastic, the type of journalism we were doing was just totally different. I remember doing a dirty pant test with Usher for Smash Hits once. He had a laundry basket that he had to pick out pants from and in the gusset would be a question. He had to read out the question and then hang the pants on a washing line above his head. Like, can you imagine getting man to do that now? I remember me and Hattie (Collins) got to spend five days on a Puerto Rican island to interview Missy Elliot once as well. We only had Missy for an hour and then had the rest of the time just on this island. We had a week in Miami to interview Pharell, but that was awful actually thinking about it … one of the worst interviews I’ve ever done in my life. Honestly, painful man. I learned that in situations like that, you just run the interview as it happens and leave it up to the reader to decide. The best bit about that trip was getting stuck in Miami because there was a hurricane warning. We got pissed and got in the hot tub on the roof of our hotel and had security shouting at us. I think we were the only people left in the entire hotel. Those days really were just different.”
“I remember doing a dirty pant test with Usher for Smash Hits once. He had a laundry basket that he had to pick out pants from and in the gusset would be a question. He had to read out the question and then hang the pants on a washing line above his head. Like, can you imagine getting man to do that now?“
“The Shoredtich scene was booming back then too”, says Chantelle. “We really tried to build something by bringing grime and nu-rave and the fashion together, it was a proper melting pot. I think once we starting getting grime into i-D Magazine, we knew that a lot of writers there loved it and they could be really important champions for the artists … but they were never gonna go to Eskimo Dance or Sidewinder. The question was, how could we bring the music to them? Hattie and I started doing i-D Live parties as a result and the line-ups, I mean they could be a festival now. I also started doing Straight Outta Bethnal with Neil Boorman, who was formerly of Sleaze Nation and The Shoreditch Twat. I have to give props to Neil because he had the keys to 333 Club in Hoxton and brought me in. I didn’t know anything about running club nights and he schooled me but unfortunately, despite it being a success, that was when Form 696 and the police became an issue. We had four, maybe five sold-out nights before we had to pull the plug. It got too much.”
“I think once we starting getting grime into i-D Magazine, we knew that a lot of writers there loved it and they could be really important champions for the artists … but they were never gonna go to Eskimo Dance or Sidewinder. The question was, how could we bring the music to them?”
In and amongst the hustle and bustle of Shoreditch and her work at Smash Hits and beyond, Chantelle was also making waves at label level, too. Her knowledge and connections — enshrined in the work on her blog — landed her an A&R assistant role working at 679 Recordings thanks to now revered artist manager, Dan Stacey, who saw a space for her to work on the legendary ‘Run The Road’ grime compilation series. Both released in 2005, Volume 1 featured everyone from Dizzee Rascal to Kano, Tinhcy Stryder and The Streets, with Volume 2 compiling further tracks from the likes of Crazy Titch, JME, Ghetts (fka Ghetto), No Lay, Lady Sovereign and Trim. “Martin Clark did Run The Road Vol.1 and I worked on Vol.2”, Chantelle clarifies. “Once I’d done that, I was able to start working with both Plan B and Kano’s projects at 679, as well as The Streets, which was sick. I was in there two days a week but I didn’t really have a defined role as such, I guess I was probably best described as an A&R assistant. I learned a lot about viewing music as a business there, and that you always need to look at the commercial market and how you’re gonna sell music in that space. This was all back at the time when MySpace was just starting as well, so I remember being tasked with setting up Kano’s MySpace, Plan B’s MySpace … and I remember even doing some really long, rambling interviews on YouTube with Plan B. It was a time of real experimentation and just trying a ting, basically.”
“I’ve always liked a really wide cross-section of music and working at 679 was also great because I got back into bands like Mystery Jets”, continues Chantelle, “and Death From Above 1979, bands like that. It really widened my musical horizons, even just as a fan. I loved that about it.”
After a stellar run of records and commercial success, 679 were bought out and Chantelle admits to feeling lost — although she did make the move to Live Magazine, who were based in Brixton, shortly after leaving. Here, she found herself away from music (and the industry glare), working with young people for the first time. “Anyone could walk in off the streets and say they wanted to work on the magazine”, she recalls, “and it was my job to engage them and work with them. I remember one morning, this guy turned up fresh out of Feltham (Young Offenders Institute in West London) and basically asked if he could come in and work on the magazine because if not, it was a mad ting for him out on the streets. The pressure … I mean I wasn’t trained for that. I had no idea what I was doing really but we made some great magazines, and a lot of people who passed through Live are flying in the industry and the wider world now. Even though I’m not in touch with many of them anymore, I’m really pleased that they’ve been able to achieve so much in their careers. It was never about developing a shit load of famous journalists or photographers, it was about giving young people confidence in themselves.”
From here came one of Chantelle’s more interesting career pivots. “This is gonna sound mad yeah but Christian Aid wanted to start a youth brand that didn’t mention Christians, aid or charity”, Chantelle explains, leaning forward intently. “Big budgets, commercial brand, it was like yo, this is serious. Neil Boorman, who taught me the ropes of club promoting, was consulting on this new project and brought me in. Under the leadership of the genius that is Katrin Owusu, who I still work with on projects today, we created this brand called Ctrl.Alt.Shift. The whole idea was to galvanise young people through activism and making them of aware of global issues. The work we did was really edgy, to the point that I can’t believe how much we achieved in 18 months. We were actually shut down because we became a threat to Christian Aid itself, if you can believe it. We did a few events with Riz Ahmed at the Southbank Centre, we commissioned six films, we had a photography exhibition with Nan Goldin, we had an exhibition at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle … and I was running the website and a magazine. In a weird way, it felt like an amazing achievement to be axed for achieving so much in 18 months. We had people like Tinchy Stryder on protests outside embassies, we were campaigning against HIV stigma, infanticide against women … we did a lot of important work.”
“The whole idea (of Ctrl.Alt.Shift) was to galvanise young people through activism and making them of aware of global issues. The work we did was really edgy, to the point that I can’t believe how much we achieved in 18 months. We were actually shut down because we became a threat to Christian Aid itself, if you can believe it.”
Burnt out and suffering with monthly bouts of tonsillitis, Chantelle’s tireless work at Ctrl.Alt.Shift was, for want of a better phrase, the first of a few straws that would eventually break the camel’s back. “I then ended up being a social media manager, but before they were called social media managers”, Chantelle explains. “Somehow I often seemed to be ahead of the curve. It all began with Jessie J and initially I was called a website editor but my role was also running her Facebook pages, writing mailers, developing suggested content. I worked on a number of major label acts in varying capacities from that point including Jessie Ware, A*M*E (for whom she also created a fanzine), Amy Winehouse, Alex Clare, Tinchy Stryder, Angel and a load more. It ended up being a full-time thing and while it was financially very rewarding, it was also the most confusing and depressing job. When it all started it was fun and there was a lot of room for trying things out, but as the metrics came in, tweets started needing to be run past five people. It was long.”
Coupled with losing both of her grandmothers in quick succession, she fell into a deep depression, but was soon given the opportunity to go into artist management — a moment she credits with ‘rescuing’ her career. She would go onto play a key role in linking A*M*E, Duke Dumont and MNEK together on the now dance classic ’Need U (100%)’ — a single that entered the UK Singles Chart at #1 on release back in March 2013. “After that, Dan Stacey, who I owe a lot of love to in this life and the next, asked me about the prospect of being Duke’s tour manager”, Chantelle says. “I didn’t know anything technical, but Duke did all that himself … he just needed someone to get him from A to B. The first job I had with him, we missed his connecting flight for a show in Ireland. We somehow made it onto the next flight and got to his show with about 10 minutes to spare but despite the panic, we’d done it, we’d got there. That was the start of my journey with Duke and music management. In hindsight, what an amazing experience to have had as well. To see Duke go from being a successful DJ to be a global touring artist was pretty special. It got to the point where we didn’t know what country we were in, like, I’ve seen Berlin by night. I know I’ve been to Berlin but I can’t tell you anything about it, besides from the hotel and the club, you know?”
“The pressure was so intense though”, she continues. “I think one of the worst experiences I had was in Ibiza, where Duke was doing a run one summer. It was the BBC Radio 1 Weekender with Annie Mac, live from Ibiza, and Duke was playing. It was probably one of the biggest moments of his career to date at that point. Our car didn’t show up and he was due on in 20 minutes or whatever and I remember nearly having a panic attack thinking, ‘what do I do, what do I do?’ I’d tried every route possible to get him there but by the grace of God but a car arrived to take us. We had the lights flashing, horn blaring, we were driving the wrong way down every road as quick as we could, and we got there just as the cameras started rolling. Once Duke finished, I then had five minutes to get him in a car so he could catch a flight to America. The nerves, man. They were crazy times, but it was a really steep learning curve.”
Alongside her work with Duke Dumont, Chantelle also went on to help co-manage Jax Jones and Kelli-Leigh alongside Dan Stacey for a short time, before later taking on Kelli-Leigh and Boy Matthews — a prolific songwriter and producer who’s collaborated with everyone from DJ Zinc and Riton to Oliver Heldens (he also wrote and sang on Duke Dumont’s ‘Ocean Drive’) — on her own. After a brief spell then working with Jammer on the Lord Of The Mics relaunch and also managing Kamaal Williams post her rural move in 2019, Chantelle made a decision to step back. “I just made the decision”, she explains, “and this was part of my spiritual journey which I call ‘coming home to myself’, but I made the decision to quit everything I was working on apart from Boy Matthews and Mez, who I’d just taken on. Boy Matthews was on a great trajectory … he’s since moved to LA and enjoyed great success over there, so we achieved our goal … and Mez was just different because he was new and didn’t take up all of my time or even expect all of my time, but everything else had gotten too much. I realised I didn’t need to be in London anymore either and so here I am today in North Cambridgeshire, right on the Norfolk border.”
While the pandemic may have brought about a new set of challenges, Chantelle has also recalibrated — and things have since gone full circle. “It’s mad because JP (Joseph Patterson) called me in April to ask if I could project manage the new TRENCH Magazine roll-out”, she says smiling. “It’d been hard for me as well, I mean last year there were times when I thought I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown, so to get that call was a reminder to me that this is what I do. This is my natural space. I got out of magazines because the money was going backwards … even now, there are some places I write and I get paid less than I did 20 years ago which is a madness to me … but I only really take things on if I believe in them. For a long time, my goal has been to write fiction but there’s something in me that’s blocking that at the moment, so for now, I’m just going with the flow and I really wanna roll with TRENCH, my work at Urban Development and also Mez. I’m really passionate about Mez.”
“I got out of magazines because the money was going backwards … even now, there are some places I write and I get paid less than I did 20 years ago which is a madness to me … but I only really take things on if I believe in them.”
What was it about Mez that caught Chantelle’s ear, I ask? “I first heard him when I started working with Lord Of The Mics and they played his ‘Next In Grime’ tune, which I thought was the best tune on the whole CD. Jammer then started bringing him round my yard and immediately, I just found him a fascinating character. He’d sit in the corner and not really talk, he’d just take things in and observe, but over time he started to come out of his shell. Of the new talent I’m seeing around me, he’s the most authentic, he’s got his own wave, he’s hilarious … there’s just something there that you can’t quite put your finger on. But I knew I wanted to work with him.”
“Of the new talent I’m seeing around me, he’s (Mez) the most authentic, he’s got his own wave, he’s hilarious … there’s just something there that you can’t quite put your finger on. But I knew I wanted to work with him.”
As for TRENCH’s magazine roll-out — cover stars include Potter Payper, Lady Leshurr, No Signal, Unknown T and Charlene & Nadine White, as well as a ’20 Years Of Grime’ issue penned by Chantelle herself — there is now scope for Chantelle to continue to help editor and founder, Joseph Patterson, build out the TRENCH brand. “The magazine was sub-edited by my neighbour Wilfred too you know”, she explains. “I’m very community-minded, so work wasn’t really on my mind when the pandemic first hit. Wilfred’s 84, he lives a few doors down and he used to go to the pub for lunch every day because he can’t cook. With the pub closed, I took him under my wing and started inviting him over for lunch. He still comes over every day at 12.30, so he’s been involved with the magazine from the beginning.”
As our conversation begins to wind down, Chantelle quickly interjecting to point out she’s now also working with Lady Sovereign — “Sovereign’s story’s not a happy one and I want the ending to be different” — it’s safe to conclude that her story is one of pure dedication. Driven by a compulsion to tell stories and to help people from all walks of life, she has worked tirelessly to impact people’s lives and leave a legacy. With a new chapter in her life now unfolding, the future may not be as clear as it was in her twenties, but you can guarantee that somewhere, somehow, Chantelle will be making a difference.
Shortly after hanging up, Chantelle then fired over the below message — a summary of her thoughts on the state of the world, which we thought was important to share:
“Life is an absolute lottery; where you’re born, who to, the year… so much is luck. I believe I’ve had an incredibly good life and I look at what’s going on around the world and think the current model for life / capitalism, especially in the West, is there to distract us from universal fundamental basics for all. It’s like we have heaven on earth but we forever make it hell.”
The ‘Home’ issue of TRENCH Magazine is out now — grab it HERE.
Keep up to date with Chantelle’s work by following her on Twitter HERE.