— 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

— Numan —

On music, tape packs, creative communities, ambition, drive, FANTOME® WORLD, bubble tea, NFTs and the rise and rise of gUmbo.

(All photos submitted by Numan)

It’s fair to say that Numan — sometime producer, full-time hustler — has undergone a life-changing six weeks. Based in Whalley Range in Manchester, he’s been in-and-around experimental dance music for the best part of a decade, racking up a series of eye-catching releases in his early years, although admittedly never fully realising his potential. He’s dabbled in apparel too and more recently, a range of Bubble Tea flavours inspired by his South Asian roots. But for all his ambition and creative endeavour, there was always something awry with each of his pursuits — until now. An emergent name in the NFT crypto boom, Numan has finally made it all click. As we catch up early on Friday night, he’s tearing off slices of pizza from an enormous takeaway box and his mind is buzzing with ideas. 

“I’m actually taking a few days off from it at the moment”, he says matter of factly when I ask about his involvement with crypto art. “I’ve been creating so much recently, so I wanted to take some time out to recharge … but there’s still loads going on.” Cooped up with his family throughout the pandemic, Numan’s made his bedroom his sanctuary — his creative nerve centre. “I’ve actually found myself with more time to focus on everything being stuck inside”, he continues. “I’ve been creating, finishing projects, just getting shit done basically. I’m actually coping okay with lockdown, I don’t mind it, although I don’t think it’s hit me properly yet. Luckily with my day job, I’ve been going into the office for most of the pandemic until literally the last month, so that’s probably helped. It’s laid back, chilled out … as long as you’re getting your work done, nobody’s ever really on your case.”

Numan has always lived in the same area of South Manchester and he credits his home city for helping shape the young producer that first broke through in the early 2010s. But, as he explains, music never once felt like a natural path for him to take as a youngster. “I come from a family where music wasn’t particularly a big part of life. Music was never really blaring around the house or anything like that and I didn’t have much access to it growing up. I wasn’t interested in football either … I don’t really think I was interested in much really. It all started for me when I got my first computer when I was about 14, 15 to be honest.”

“I remember starting to discover music when I got to high school and getting really into grime”, he continues. “Everyone shared the Sidewinder tapes, the Meridian Crew sets on Deja Vu … a lot of it was just uploaded on Bear Files, so I’d download them from there and I used Limewire a lot as well. I had an iPod Nano and I used to just load it up with all these 60-70 minute sets because everyone was listening to it back then. I remember the first CD I bought was ’21 Seconds’ by So Solid Crew from HMV. I got home, put it in the CD drive to play on my PC and realised it had the video on it as well. I just loved it all and I knew from then that I needed to get involved in grime somehow. When I got my computer, I remember actually being sent a copy of Fruity Loops on MSN Messenger by … I think it was Maniac, you know the grime producer? He randomly told me I needed to download it, sent me a link and that was it. That was when it changed for me because I realised I didn’t need to leave my house to be involved in it. I could make beats how I wanted, when I wanted and there were no limitations.”

“When I got my computer, I remember actually being sent a copy of Fruity Loops on MSN Messenger by … I think it was Maniac, you know the grime producer?”

“I was big on forums back then too. Grime Forum was popping off, there was dubstep forum … I was just on them all the time trying to connect with people and do my research. I quickly realised there was more to the sound than just 140 BPM stuff. You had people like Zomby, Burial … you know, before I discovered them, I’d be listening to dubstep and get to 54 seconds in a track and just be waiting for a drop. I started looking into labels like Hyperdub, Planet Mu … I remember Darkstar doing something completely different back then as well. They had that track ‘Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer’, that was a game changer for me. I loved how Burial wanted to stay anonymous too, that fascinated me. I realised there was a lot more behind the success of artists like that. Eventually I started sending some of my tunes out to people on the forums and I still remember the first time I logged onto someone’s UStream and hearing one of my tracks playing. I thought my laptop was broken or something, it didn’t seem real … I was like ‘what’s happened here?’. ‘How’s this guy playing my track?’. From that day forward, I started to take my music a lot more seriously. I started sending stuff out to DJs, started posting my stuff online and it really started to take off for me. I was only about 16, but it was a good feeling. The only thing I was limiting myself with was shows. I was never interested in playing shows.”

“I quickly realised there was more to the sound than just 140 BPM stuff. You had people like Zomby, Burial … you know, before I discovered them, I’d be listening to dubstep and get to 54 seconds in a track and just be waiting for a drop.”

Diligent and talented but quietly introverted, Numan’s PC became almost an extension of his body as a teenager. It was his vehicle for making connections outside of Manchester, but more importantly, bringing his creativity for life. For Numan, music was, and has remained, a digital-first experience. “My schedule was crazy really”, he says, tracing his mind back to his final year of high school. “I’d go to school, come back, eat and then I’d literally be on the computer until two, maybe three in the morning doing the same thing every single day … just making beats in Fruity Loops. That was all I did. I went off to college but honestly, I didn’t give a shit about it.”

What did he study, I ask? “Basically, I can’t even remember what I originally studied”, he says with a shrug. “I went to do my A-levels and failed them all in my first year and ended up going to South Trafford College to do a BTEC course in Aviation. I had no interest in any of it, I think it was just something to do. I ended up getting a few free holidays out of it too, because my parents didn’t earn a certain amount or whatever. At that point, I was thinking about university but also, because my music was starting to take off, I applied to Red Bull Music Academy in Japan. Sadly, it was the year of the nuclear disaster (in Fukushima, 2011) so I couldn’t go.”

When Numan says his music was taking off, he meant it, too. Labels like Planet Mu had their ears pricked by his vivid, full-blooded sound design, which had taken root in the instrumental grime and dubstep spheres of the time and was already starting to bloom. He was also invited to record a 15-minute mix for Mary Anne-Hobbs’ 6Music show as a 17 year old while he was working the summer holidays in an RBS call-centre, too. And through a phone call from PRS — they informed him he was the youngest receiver of PRS royalties on their books at the time in 2009 — he found himself appearing on BBC Breakfast. “Ah, it was mad”, he recalls. “The BBC came over to my house to talk to me about how people were making money from music in the digital age. Up to that point, my parents didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on. They knew I spent a lot of time on my computer and thought I should be focusing on my school work instead. Once the BBC came round with their cameras though, shit started to get more serious and I think they realised I wasn’t just pissing around on the computer. I was actually trying to make something of myself.”

Under the tutelage of Swamp81’s Chunky — “his mum lived round the corner from me and he’d always be helping me out, telling me how to do things” — Numan’s fledgling career quickly started to flesh out. He released his debut EP, ‘Secrets’, on Subdepth Records in 2009 — the title-track was backed heavily by both Mary Anne-Hobbs and Toddla T across the BBC networks — before putting out a series of records with stateside grime bod, Starkey, and later, Planet Mu, who released ‘Race Against Time’ in 2010 when Numan was just 18 years old. “Ah, that was a big one”, he says with a smile, getting up from his chair to grab another slice of pizza. “Myself, Mike and Tom from Mu were talking quite a lot back then. They were noticing that some of my tracks were taking off, so they asked if I’d like to write an EP for them. I sent some demos over, we built an EP together and they put it out. Things really took off again from that point. I even ended up making a few tracks for Riz Ahmed off the back of that.”

“Agh”, Numan says, scratching his head. “Do you remember those UStream sessions that Wiley used to do? He’d been asking me for a few beats or whatever at the time and said we should get in the studio. Obviously that never happened but one night I remember logging onto iTunes and noticed he’d dropped a new album. He was putting out tune after tune at that point thinking about it. I had a listen through and was like, ‘hold on a minute, that’s my fucking beat’! I think it was called ‘Chill Out Zone’ or something like that. I wasn’t mad about it, I loved it. I mean, I’d make a track for Wiley, he’d recorded a vocal and it was out on iTunes. It felt fucking cool, man.”

For all his youthful enthusiasm however, Numan’s found his passion for music waning over the next few years. He stopped listening to full tracks he was making — “I could only listen to instrumental music for so long every day” — and found his ideas plateauing. Aside from a few remixes, releases started to dry up, too. It was time for a change. “I remember thinking, ‘right, I’ve got a Twitter following, I’ve got Instagram, what can I do next? What else do I like doing?”, he says. “I’ve always been big on clothing, like, I’m very fucking picky about stuff I wear myself. If there’s a zip on a hoodie and I don’t like it, that’s it you know … I’m really particular. So I decided I’d start making clothes.”

FANTOME® WORLD was officially established in the summer of 2019, although Numan had been experimenting with garments for a few years prior, trying to master the art of design and manufacture. “The idea with FANTOME® was to push South Asian culture, as someone who could relate to it”, he explains. “You see a lot of people putting out clothing that they don’t relate to. You see people using Chinese text just for the sake of it looking cool, without understanding what any of it means or represents. Like, what’s going on with that? So with FANTOME®, I wanted to create clothes that I wanted to wear, that came from an authentic place. I looked into how to make the perfect t-shirt, the perfect fabrics … I spent a lot of time on it. The only thing is, it’s really hard to make money by selling a t-shirt. There’s a lot of shit you have to do, a lot of running around, that people don’t see.”

“You see people using Chinese text just for the sake of it looking cool, without understanding what any of it means or represents. Like, what’s going on with that?”

Although the profit margins were fine, FANTOME® proved that Numan’s eye for design — and passion to create — extended way beyond music. As with the night shifts he’d pull to learn how to use Fruity Loops as a 16 year-old, he was learning the art of making clothes on the job; researching, grafting, putting the hours in. While he might not have functioned with any set timescale – “I’d just make new stuff and designs whenever really” — he’d quietly established a successful brand all of his own making. And, as with his music, all from his bedroom. His next brainwave? A1* Tea.

“Around where I live … Whalley Range, Fallowfield, Chorlton, Moss Side, Hulme … there’s no Bubble Tea shops nearby at all”, Numan says, adjusting his seat. “With what I’d learned from doing FANTOME®, I realised I could make shit look good, that’s what I like doing. The whole concept behind it was to start something up from home during lockdown, something local that meant people could get their bubble tea without having to go into Chinatown all the time. But I wanted to sample South Asian drinks with it too. So for example, certain teas that you’d find in South Asia, I’ve started infusing with bubble tea … and it’s working! I do it on Saturday afternoons when I can and it’s actually quite a nice break from the computer. The plan for it now is to try and get a unit, but I’ve not been able to afford until recently. Now, things have obviously changed for me.”

From music to clothes to bubble tea, Numan has always been inspired by his compulsions. He thinks, he studies, he plans and he executes. But never has he experienced anything like the last few months. “It was totally by accident, bro”, he says when I ask about his entry point into the lucrative world of NFTs or Non-fungible tokens — units of data or digital currency stored on a blockchain. “A few months ago, I didn’t even know what a crypto wallet was, I didn’t know what anything fucking was to be honest. What happened was that I worked on the music for a piece coming out with Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio, and the artist who did the visuals was a guy called Mario Klingemann. The track’s 30 minutes long, so he had a lot to do but he was really happy with it. I sent him a direct message to say I was happy he liked the music and asked if it’d be possible to buy one of his prints. He told me he didn’t sell anything physical because he was selling crypto art instead. At that point, I was like ‘yeah, yeah, good luck mate’ kind of thing and ignored it. I didn’t even think about chasing it up. A few hours later that night, I saw a load of stuff about NFTs on Instagram and then logged into Twitter randomly to see if there was much about it on there, and found loads of people talking about it. I had no intention of making my own NFTs or anything like that, I just stumbled into it.”

“A few months ago, I didn’t even know what a crypto wallet was, I didn’t know what anything fucking was to be honest.”

Functioning around the concept of ownership — buyers who purchase crypto art will own the original piece, despite anybody being able to share ‘digital print’ equivalents — NFTs have become one of the most talked about phenomena of the year so far, luring in everyone from Elon Musk to Aphex Twin. In and amongst the celebrity names however, a burgeoning community of crypto artists have built rabid fanbases of their own, turning their digital art pieces into sought after collectibles worth thousands, and sometimes even millions, of pounds. Of this community, Numan has become one of the UK’s standout names, finally earning the slice of luck that had always evaded him to this point. 

“I saw that there was a community building”, says Numan. “People were replying and engaging with tweets about NFTs and I could see they were excited by it. I just thought I should try and get involved, but at this point … I mean literally a few months ago … I’d never used Blender before. The first few pieces I put out there I made in Photoshop. It was just stuff I liked making … gradients, colours, patterns … it wasn’t trendy or whatever. The problem was I didn’t have a clue about the economy of it all, I just knew I needed to get it listed on sites like Rarible and Foundation, which are basically platforms that act like galleries and let you list your art. Some are harder to get on than others … some make you submit an application form and record a video, it’s serious shit. What I did was start listing my items and then getting involved in the communities, tweeting other artists, joining forums, joining Discord servers … just getting stuck in really. After a while, somebody ended up buying one of my pieces and since then, I’ve just not stopped creating.”

Numan’s real NFT eureka moment came in the form of gUmbo — his fun, woozy-looking animated character with fully customisable, interchangeable features. Inspired by Sesame Street characters he used to love as a child and Mr Oizo’s Flat Eric puppet character — lifted from the iconic music video to 1999 classic, ‘Flat Beat’ — gUmbo almost didn’t take off, but for a fault with Instagram one Friday night in February. “Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp all went down for about an hour”, he recalls, “and in that hour, somebody bought a copy of one of the first gUmbos, which had actually been listed for a few days beforehand. I retweeted the buyer and boom, it just fucking exploded. People started to buy the other copies because I’d actually listed 25 editions. Within three or four minutes, they’d all gone, so I listed some more and bang, they went. At this point, I was thinking, ‘shit, I could potentially change my life here’ and I’ve just never looked back. It’s completely changed everything for me.”

(gUmbo)

“It’s funny because I’m now getting messages from people involved in music from years ago”, Numan continues. “I keep getting asked about NFTs and how they can get involved. It’s mad how everything turns around bro, honestly.” Are there any parallels between writing a beat and creating a piece of digital art, I ask? “I treat it exactly the same”, he says, leaning forward. “It’s very much a blank canvas. I might have an idea about what I want to create but it ends up being the complete opposite, that’s how it’s always been. It’s the same with the t-shirts, the same with bubble tea, the same with music.”

“As for gUmbo”, he continues, “I just wanted to create a blank canvas character. I wanted to keep this guy looking the same … gormless like one of the Sesame Street characters almost … but I also wanted to be able to change textures and create certain editions. It’s mad because I made those early gUmbos on a shitty MacBook that kept crashing every 10 minutes and I didn’t even know how to use Blender properly, I was just learning as I went. I spent about 12 hours a night after work just teaching myself how to use the software. If you really want to learn how to do something, you’ll do it, you know? It’s easy to find excuses not to do something, but if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way.”

“If you really want to learn how to do something, you’ll do it, you know? It’s easy to find excuses not to do something, but if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way.”

Since the initial gUmbo explosion, Numan has minted myriad versions, each seemingly more desirable and sough after than the last, with some of his designs landing front and centre of Rarible’s homepage — not bad going considering he’s only been making crypto art since the end of February. Rather than merely bank all his earnings, he’s also been quick to give back to the community that have single-handedly helped change his life, regularly engaging with other up-and-coming artists, buying select pieces and donating listing fees to those looking to sell their first pieces. “It’s right to give back”, Numan says firmly. “Every few days, I make sure I’m on Twitter reaching out to people, offering to help pay fees or whatever. Out of respect as a person, you need to give back, you need to invest in these communities. Even at night when I’m just browsing on Rarible, I might like something and just buy it without thinking about it or tweeting about it. Knowing how that feels, to wake up and see someone has bought a piece of your art … like, it’s nice to be able to do that for other people. I remember the first time it happened to me, I went for a piss, came back and I was $400 up. It’s a crazy feeling, bro.”

“Knowing how that feels, to wake up and see someone has bought a piece of your art … like, it’s nice to be able to do that for other people. I remember the first time it happened to me, I went for a piss, came back and I was $400 up.”

Despite the buzz surrounding gUmbo and NFTs, Numan is hyper aware that the bubble may burst at any moment. But for now, the possibilities are endless. “What’s about to happen is fucking insane … insane!”, he says, grinning. “I’m already working on what I think will be the first ever NFT x streetwear collaboration with a brand from New York, I’m working on a gUmbo filter that’ll mean people can have gUmbo brought to life, standing behind them and whatever. I’m probably gonna end up doing merch just because I can. If people are spending $3000 on a piece of digital art, it’d be nice to send something physical out. Just think about when gUmbo’s fully-animated as well, especially in terms of music. I’ve had calls with some artists already about maybe building gUmbo into music videos and stuff like that, it’s incredible. There’s no limits bro, honestly.”

In the form of gUmbo, it feels like Numan’s finally landed on the success story his year’s of hard work have long merited. Utilising all his skills — from the dedication required to teach himself the ins-and-outs of Fruity Loops as a 16 year old, to understanding the importance of online communities and building entire brands from his bedroom — the world of crypto art has become Numan’s happy place. It’s a space for him to create on his own terms and earn a living from it, which in essence, is all he’s ever wanted. “It’s all made me realise how fucking hungry I am recently”, he says with a cursory smile just before we sign off. “I’ve learned that if I want something, I’ll get shit done and make it happen. Always.”

You can stay up to date with Numan’s work via Foundation here:

https://foundation.app/numan

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY™ —

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

Album of the Month: Nammy Wams – ‘Paradise South’ (AP Life)

Long overdue flowers

Highlights

1. Insides

2. Fears

3. Sidestep

South London producer Nammy Wams has always found joy in experimenting with OG grime and new school drill tropes, blending them with outlying sounds and ideas in the lab, before battering the results on his Croydon FM radio show. It’s a formula that’s seen him carve out a reputation as a pioneer in his field for those with their ears to the ground in London and on ‘Paradise South’ — his new album for Bok Bok’s freshly-minted AP Life — this vision for his music feels now fully formed and fully realised. A natural extension of 2019’s  20-track opus of sorts, ’Yellow Secret Technology’, ‘Paradise South’ isn’t all guns blazing or in your face, but it feels wholly of-the-time. From the sludgy, cinder block drill bounce of opener ‘Pellets’ to the whirring, distorted sirens and snarling pressure of standout cut ‘Insides’, this is a record to soundtrack the world Nammy hears around him. Across all 11 tracks, he cuts in-and-out of grime, drill, rap and mutant hybrids of all three, refining rather than reinventing, as he goes. Further highlights include the mellow, cartoon-y lean of ‘Sidestep’ and the anxious, concrete-plated RnG of ‘Fears’, but there’s a lot to digest and take stock of all over the tracklist. ‘Paradise South’ could, and arguably should, be a record people revisit for many, many years to come. 9/10

Tune of the Month: Commodo – ‘Scabz’ (Sector 7 Sounds)

A brilliant, relentless innovator

Every time we review a Commodo record we say we’ve run out of superlatives to throw at him — and here we are throwing superlatives at him. A wizard in every sense, on ’Scabz’, the A-side of a new 12” for Boofy’s Sector 7 label, he diverts his attention away from the Wild West thematics of his latest doubler-header for Black Acre to focus purely on sound. It opens with tense, oddball clatter, before slowly unravelling, piece-by-piece, layer by later. It’s dark, ominous and scuttling, with much of its forward motion dictated by a master sample framework that forms the chassis of the track itself. Lo-slung beats do murmur in the background, but the real genius of Commodo’s work here is subtlety, and deftness of touch. He remains one of the best to ever do it. Period. 10/10

Druid – ‘Xeroxed’ EP (Off-Switch Audio)

Neon futures

Snarling future sounds from London-based producer, Druid, who debuts for Off-Switch Audio with new four-track EP, ‘Xeroxed’. Flowing between obvious genre touch points — grime, dubstep and wave — he paints a stark, neon-lit view of the future. The winding, square-wave shards and soft, dancing melody flashes on opener ‘Cypher Dub’ feel like they’ve been lifted from a Blade Runner cut scene, while the rumbling, low-end murmur, bouncy pads and screechy, monochrome synth work of ‘Digital Terminal’ could easily soundtrack late night drives across Tron City. Third track ‘Dred Pirate’ is the EP’s most heads-y, revelling in its own low-frequency red zone, albeit laced with the same tight grip on atmosphere that Druid manages to channel right across the tracklist. ‘Xeroxed’ also comes complete with a sharp, breezy UKG flavoured remix of ‘Digital Terminal’ via Off-Switch regular, Nuboid, too boot. A real welcome surprise. 8/10

Kodama – ‘Clear Your Head’ EP (Infernal Sounds)

Grab at all costs

More high-grade material from UK dubstep’s most reliable outpost in Infernal Sounds, this time courtesy of Barcelona’s Kodama. The magic in new EP ‘Clear Your Head’ lies in the dexterous sampling and extraordinary layering of his tracks; from the rain-soaked opening throws and booming melancholy of opener ‘Alder’ to wheezing, nightmarish sub-dweller ‘Bad Blood’, flashes of genius litter the tracklist. The sombre, delicate string work of title track, ‘Clear Your Head’, is perhaps the EP’s calling card — it seems to find its brightest light in its darkest moments — but there’s also ‘From Atlantis’ to consider; a stunning collaboration with fellow producer, Soukah, that exudes a gorgeous, fluorescent day-glo all of its own making. Pure class from start to finish. 9/10

Yedgar – ‘Life Cycle’ EP (Terrorhythm)

What a rush!

Canadian producer Yedgar offers up his debut EP for Plastician’s genre-blurring, next-gen talent hub, Terrorhythm, with five tracks of pure shimmer. Everything feels bright, airy and future proof as show-stealing opener ‘Mythic’ — a sugary, full-blooded collaboration with wave pioneer, Sorsari — testifies. There’s room for clever use of pitched-up, bubblegum vocals on buggy, system-rattler ‘The Time Has Come’ and spiralling highs on the trance-inflected, tempered euphoria of ‘So Lost’, with title-track ‘Life Cycle’ continuing the same heady, out-of-body melody rush apace. Final cut, ‘Set You Free’, samples the chorus of N’Trance’s dance classic of the same name, only pitched down, looped and set against its own syrupy, saccharine-doused synth patchwork. Mega! 7/10

Drone – ‘Evil Sky’ EP (1985 Music)

Holding nothing back

Drone’s music has continued to evolve and mutate over the last two years, first via releasing on V.I.V.E.K’s SYSTEM label and more recently, joining the ranks at 1985 Music — Alix Perez’s born-again bass label currently churning out some of the UK’s best 140bpm music. On ‘Evil Sky’, Drone rules with an iron first, going hard in the paint from the off via the searing, scorched earth pressure (and texture!) of his title-track, before stripping it all back on fidgety, shuffling second jam, ’Back & Forth’. He draws for the tool chest on the rasping, off-kilter, mechanised swirl of ‘M416’ — a real excursion from Drone’s more familiar patterns — before plunging the EP into the depths on dark and menacing, face-melting closer, ‘Disturbed’. For those copping digitally, there’s also a bonus track in the form of eerie, scything club burner, ’Reptar’s Revenge’, too. 8/10

Sicaria Sound – ‘Binate’ EP (Bandcamp)

A debut to remember

Sicaria Sound may have announced they’ll be bringing the project to an end in 2021, but they’re still determined to go out with a bang. Comprised of DJ/producers Ndeko and Imbratura, the pair have made waves with their vivid, dubstep selections and the launch of their Cutcross label over the last two years, but new EP, ‘Binate’, actually forms their debut record proper. Rather than ‘succumb to lockdown blues’ as referenced in the press release, time was harnessed, ideas were manifested and sounds were created — and the outcome is a real triumph. Dwindling opener ‘Caved In’ initially feels neither here nor there, the sounds of trickling water and ambling string work capturing this sense of being frozen in time, before the bass kicks and everything comes to life — it’s a total zoners — while the pair explore murkier depths on the contorted boom of ‘Lour’. Our tip is probably ‘Midnight Strike (Kosem’s Revenge)’ purely for its entrancing, rhythmic drum work, oddball keys and overarching sense of wonder and mystique, before EP closer ‘It’s Down, Right?’ signs off as its own, inverted ode to the work of hip-hop producers like Timbaland. 8/10

TiAtSiM – ‘The Basement Vol.1’ (Bandcamp)

Stepping out!

Despite being a respected DJ and ever-present figure in London’s grime scene for many years, TiAtSiM had never put a record out until the release of debut EP collection, ‘The Basement Vol.1’ — three tracks of which were made in his basement, and the other in fellow grime producer Lewi B’s loft. A fan and purveyor of the genre in its purest and most undiluted forms, his work here therefore lands as a bit of a surprise. There’s a starry-eyed tilt to the EP’s track names, while the rubbery, elastic jazz-funk of opener ‘Galaxy’ is a sharp contrast to what fans can expect to hear from his House Of Grime show on Mode FM — but maybe that’s the point. Second track ‘Cosmic Hugs’ picks up where ‘Galaxy’ left off too, unfurling like a sprawling web of down-tempo, greazy electronica, before the jittery, 8-bar pulse of ‘The Chase’ lands a more conventional, grimy jab. Final track ‘Wiley vs Dizzee DUB’ feels like a bit of fun — a collaborative exercise in chop-and-screw with Lewi B, the pair cut-and-pasting Dizzee Rascal’s ‘I Luv U’ instrumental and an assorted splash of Wiley and Dizzee beat references, including early ‘00s Dizzee classic, ’Strings Hoe’. Not bad for a debut EP. Not bad at all. 8/10

Rocks FOE – ‘RELX Part Three’ (Bandcamp)

Incredible

A precociously talented, deep-thinking MC and equally gifted beat-maker, Rocks sometimes feels too talented for his own good. Bound by integrity, he presses on year in, year out, releasing music seemingly at will and without much notice — even his 2017 debut full-length, ‘Fight The Good? Fight’, felt like a bolt from the blue. But whenever he does put music out, boy should everyone sit up. ‘RELX Part Three’ is his latest — a nine-track odyssey of lived-in story-telling and genuine, mic flow wizardry — and while he may have deferred from the grime-dubstep intersection he used to inhabit quite naturally, there doesn’t feel like a beat or a tempo he couldn’t spit on. Opener ‘As You Were’ is light and breezy and sees him experiment with Kendrick-style diction and rhyming style, while the thoughtful, singalong hooks of tracks like ‘PTW’ — again cut with snare rolls galore — feel instantly recognisable. There are nods to the greats — see the lo-fi magic of ‘What’s The Dilla’ — and also experimentation, with tracks like ‘Knee High’, ‘Plasma’ and standout closer, ‘Buttons Pressed’, instead capturing Rocks at his more typical, breathless, free-flowing best. On this sort of form, you’d be hard pressed to name a better MC in the country. 9/10

Animai – ‘Island’ (DMY Artists)

A name to watch

Melting 140 delirium from Animai — a producer with three releases under her belt in 2021 already. ‘Island’, released via Dummy’s DMY Artists imprint, traces the woozy, sumptuous electronics of bands like Portishead and hugely influential duo, Zero7, only beefed up by rolling, crunching drums and a winding, ominous-in-places groove. Her vocals soar too, flitting between lullaby and trance-like haze, to land as a smooth, soul-searching slice of bass-y escapism. If that wasn’t enough, LX One is also in charge on remix duties; think dark, sludgy, dangerous deconstructionism — just listen out for those fizzing, electric-fence bass pulses. Jeez! 7/10

Monitor

This month, look out for a killer new drop by Grandmixxer and Mez — their ‘Versus 002’ EP is typically riotous and serves as a primer of sorts for new Grandmixxer EP, ‘Hypersonic Symphony’, which he’s been teasing for the last month … there are also great new records to look forward to from Nova (‘Bonafide’) on Infernal Sounds and Sir Hiss, who will release new EP ‘Wot’ via his No More Mailouts imprint on April 16 … Young Bristol MC Emz continues to make all the right noises too — his new single, ‘Fist & Boot’, bleeds into his forward motion after the release of former Polymer TOTM, ‘Finna’, back in January … long-time collaborators Trends, Boylan, D.O.K and P Jam have also joined forces as Legion — a new grimy producer super-group who will release their debut EP, ‘We Are Many’, via Artikal Music on April 16 … and finally, look out for a gorgeous, hyper-personal debut LP from Glasgow-based producer, Kami-O … ‘Biren’ is named after his late grandfather and explores his Indian heritage in intricate and engrossing detail — it releases later this month. 

(Emz)

— Joe Walker II —

Part Two of a special interview with Joe Walker — walking through his career since joining Reprezent Radio in 2017, here he is on Beats 1, working with Julie Adenuga and Rebecca Judd, The Sunday Roast, grief, anxiety, his kinship with Scully and launching new podcast, International Clearance.

(All photos submitted by Joe Walker)

If Reprezent Radio was Joe Walker’s proving ground, then Beats 1 would act as his finishing school. As touched on in part one of our interview with the writer, broadcaster and podcast host last week, transitioning out of writing and into radio never seemed like a linear pathway. “It was a lot to do with timing”, he concedes, pausing for a moment after appearing deep in thought.

“I’d been at Reprezent maybe a few months”, he continues, “and I still didn’t really know what I was doing. Everything was still pre-recorded and I was learning on the job but it just so happens that I loosely knew a guy who worked as a newsreader at Beats at the time. He was about to go on paternity leave and I think he knew I’d been writing about music and also knew I was on the radio … but not how new I was to it. He put my name forward as someone who might be able cover him on the news, so I went along to an interview, bombed completely … I knew I wasn’t anywhere near good enough … but soaked up the whole experience. I spoke about being on Reprezent, about what they stood for, why I was there and about the bustling, exciting radio community that was coming through at the time from across stations like Reprezent, Radar, NTS, Rinse. I think they must have taken a shine to me, because about a year later I got an email from them saying they remembered how passionately I’d spoken about these new radio voices and asked if I could recommend any potential new presenters. I sent them a bunch of recommendations in response and a day later, they emailed me to ask if I wanted to come in as well. I took that to mean them thinking, ‘was it out of order that we didn’t ask him to come?’ … and I was fine with that. I went along completely relaxed, no nerves at all, just thinking it would be another experience gathering exercise, and nailed it. I did really well. They got in touch shortly afterwards to ask if I wanted to start on this playlist show that they were running. It was a big surprise.”

Joe joined Beats 1 at the same time as fellow Reprezent broadcaster and previous Polymer interviewee, Naina, inadvertently introducing the respective station managers to one another for the first time. “They ended up running a Reprezent residency takeover on Beats 1 off the back of that”, he says proudly. Had it started to feel like a career now, I ask? “That’s a great question”, he responds, gently clearing his throat. “The first time I’d ever thought about presenting was back when I’d just started working for RWD. Palace, funnily enough, had just done a call out for auditions for presenters to help front their new YouTube channel. They’d got a little truck outside one of the stands at Selhurst Park on one of the first games of the season, so I thought I’d go for it. I got to the final three or four and it was down to a public vote … I think my audition video is still on YouTube, actually. I am very wooden in the clip because I was nervous … arms behind my back, very stiff … but I found out that I’d got the RWD job while it was all going on, so I didn’t fight for it, I didn’t try and get people to vote for me. That was my first taste of presenting, but beyond that, because of how specialist my shows were when I joined Reprezent a few years later, I never thought of radio as a career. Of course it was exciting and I was ambitious but I couldn’t see a pathway until then. Beats immediately refocused everything for me though. It made me want to think about improving and refining what I’d done before, just because I knew I needed to up my game if I wanted to stay.”

“I knew I wasn’t like everyone else that wanted to be a radio presenter as well”, he continues. “I hadn’t spent the last five or 10 years working towards it, I’d not even been at Reprezent for two years. It had some disadvantages in terms of profile or whatever, but I think I got the Beats gig because I delivered things a bit differently and I didn’t have this eyes-glazed-over way of presenting. I didn’t have a commercial radio voice. I was quite hung up on that for a bit and tried to work on polishing how I sounded, but in the end, I had to remind myself that’s why I’d got the job in the first place.”

Joe’s early work at Beats 1 — now rebranded as Apple Music 1 — was varied to say the least. From covering the news and overseeing the Beats 1 List playlist show to standing in for Matt Wilkinson and occasionally Julie Adenuga, the experience would prove invaluable during his first six months. “It was just really exciting to be in the building”, Joe concedes, smiling. Although it’d take that long for those behind-the-scenes to grasp what he was ‘about’, the decision to then pair up Joe with Julie Adenuga on a more permanent basis was a masterstroke. Alongside Rebecca Judd, Julie’s show — already the station’s UK calling card — quickly became even more of a tour de force. The dynamic was fluid and natural and the trio’s on-air chemistry was undeniable. “I wasn’t meant to be a regular on Julie’s show at first”, he explains. “It was meant to be Julie plus a musical guest and one other every Friday, which could be someone who knew their music or someone Julie liked and wanted to invite on, and that was supposed to change every week. The first show I did with Julie turned out to be the show of my life and I got all these emails from people at Apple in LA telling me how much they enjoyed it. Rebecca Judd then did the following Friday and from there, they decided we should just rotate and every once in a while, we’d do it together as a three. It was a lot of fun.”

“The first show I did with Julie turned out to be the show of my life and I got all these emails from people at Apple in LA telling me how much they enjoyed it.”

While blossoming at Beats, Joe was also still employed by RWD. The magazine, now changing its business model to shift its focus away from editorial and the website, were, to Joe’s surprise, strangely accommodating. “I think they liked the fact I was on the radio and it was probably good for them as a creative media agency to have someone so public facing”, Joe acknowledges. “I’d be at Beats until 9am until about half 1 doing the playlist show most days and RWD would let me come in and work the rest of the day. Because I didn’t want to treat them like dickheads, I’d stay until the last person in the office left every night and usually that’d be Tego (RWD Editor) at about 9pm. The excitement was driving me forward but that first year from 2017-2018 was a whirlwind, really. I’d often work six days a week, sometimes seven. I’d do my Reprezent show, I’d do The Sunday Roast with Scully on Sunday nights, work three days a week split between Beats and RWD and then cover shows at the weekend. I was exhausted. I just didn’t have a life. In the end, I had to let RWD go for my own sake.”

“I’d often work six days a week, sometimes seven … I was exhausted. I just didn’t have a life.”

It was a period of time that coincided with Joe losing two people very close to him — body blows which he admits he still hasn’t fully recovered from. His grandmother, who had been ill for some time, passed in the spring, before his best friend later committed suicide in August 2018. “My last messages from him were about asking to meet up”, Joe recalls, before taking a breath. “I replied to all of them saying I was too busy with work. I’m not saying it caused that to happen, but it made me realise I was moving way too fast and needed to reassess what was important. I ended up leaving RWD early in 2019 to try and take some of the pressure off, but what I should have done was go and seek out grief counselling and probably some sort of therapy to counter the low moods that I was experiencing. I thought by leaving RWD, I’d be able to use that time to reset and recalibrate but all it did was drag everything out. I remember two people putting their arms around me at Apple, on separate occasions, just asking if I was alright. I think I was just on another planet at times during that period. What I’m dealing with now, is trying to patch up a lot of that stuff.”

Although critical of himself for failing to come to terms with his grief properly, Joe credits conversations with both Julie and former mentor Sian Anderson — the two people who have moulded his career more than any other — with helping him through some of his most testing moments. “I’ve had very real conversations with them that I wouldn’t even have with my own friends”, he says. “I feel like women unfortunately bear the brunt of a lot of male therapeutic and cathartic chats, because men don’t often feel comfortable talking about stuff like that. I’ve always respected their wisdom but they’re both very different people. Sian is a straight talker, she’ll cut through your guts, she doesn’t care how you feel as long as it’s the absolute truth in her mind. Julie, on the other hand, is incredible at articulating things and reevaluating how you see the world and how you can navigate problems. I have so much respect for them both. They’ve been a massive influence on my work and my life in general, really.”

Joe’s work at Beats 1 continued throughout 2019 and 2020, although he’s not been on air since August 2020 — a development that has forced him to reassess where he now sees his future. Originally employed to help oversee the Beats 1 List alongside four or five others on rotation each week — “it mirrored commercial radio playlist shows so I’d be playing Lil Pump, followed by Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and maybe the odd Giggs tune” — the station have since rethought the mechanics of the show itself. Known in the radio business as ‘crunch & roll’, Joe’s job was to speak between four and five times every hour to introduce key artists, tracks and radio directives — a discipline he grew increasingly competent at until the pandemic struck last spring. “It had actually gone from being a live show to prerecorded shortly before COVID”, Joe explains, “but once that happened, it went to being pre-recorded from home. And I really struggled with that.”

(Joe Walker w/ Julie Adenuga & Nadia Rose @ Beats 1)

“My parents’ house was very loud”, he explains. “My family just didn’t really get it. They didn’t understand how quiet I needed it to be when I was trying to pre-record a show. I remember one incident when my dad came into my room and asked if I could help him bring a wardrobe up the stairs. I asked if he could give me 15 minutes because I had to record and then send a load of files off before a midday deadline. While I’m recording, I hear all this banging and crashing outside my door because he’d obviously decided he didn’t want to wait and had asked my mum to help him instead. They just didn’t understand. I’d expressed how difficult it was to the station and ended up deciding that it would be a good time to move out and get my own place. While I was in the process of moving though, they decided I probably shouldn’t continue doing that show … and I haven’t recorded since. I can’t really argue, I think my quality had probably gone down during the pandemic, especially with the issues I’d had at home. Ultimately, there’s not much room to move up that ladder there either, because its a global station with three main hubs in London, LA and New York. Shows are always going to be at a premium. I guess I knew it wouldn’t last forever but it was a decision that took me by surprise a little bit.”

Since going off air, Joe has been tasked with working on a docu-series for Black History Month, which broadcast last October — “there was a lot of production work involved which I’d not really done before, so that was cool” — and has continued to do ad hoc production and editing behind-the-scenes. He’s contracted to continue in a similar capacity until later this year, although barring a change in fortune, feels that his Apple Music journey may have run its course. But rather than be downbeat, Joe has used his time out of the spotlight to focus on ways to improve. “You need so much more than just sounding good on radio these days”, he admits. “There’s no country for that now. Being involved in making radio for young people, you need a presence, people need to know who you are, see you, hear you. You need to be in people’s faces. That side of it doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m doing more of that now. I understand how important it is.”

“Being involved in making radio for young people, you need a presence, people need to know who you are, see you, hear you. You need to be in people’s faces.”

Away from his work at Beats 1, Joe had sought to refine his own broadcasting nouse by taking on a drive time show at Reprezent and had also locked horns with previous Polymer interviewee, Scully. Together, they would conceive one of Reprezent’s most popular, destination shows — The Sunday Roast. Broadcast fortnightly on Sunday nights, the pair serve up two hours of close-to-the-bone topical chat, music and guest interviews, birthing a partnership that has since extended way beyond the airwaves. But as Joe explains, prior to meeting at the station, the two knew little about each other.

“We were just two people with some music writing experience that the station manager at Reprezent saw potential in”, says Joe. “He told us we should put our heads together and do a Sunday show that was a bit more discussion based. We needed a while to be honest though. I mean, we had a chemistry and we both cared enough about the music we were talking about but we had different ways of doing things. Say the show was due to start at 8pm, Scully would be there at 7.59 … stuff like that. It took me a while to get used to, but when it came down to the work, I could never fault him. We weren’t friends originally but we’re as close as ever now, probably as close as anyone is really.”

“The show itself has taken on a few different forms”, Joe continues. “At first it was more of just a podcast on the radio and we realised we needed to adjust it a little bit to make it sound more like an actual radio show. We’ve played around with the length of conversations we have, the show format itself, everything to be honest. Going forward, I’m not sure how its gonna manifest as the pandemic endures, but the future for me and Scully is definitely visual. We’ve got a load of ideas, a lot of it more short-form and entertaining, but essentially revolving around the same passions and interests we both share. It’s great to see Scully having such an amazing time of it right now as well and I couldn’t be happier for him. I remember working with him at the start when he was a sofa-to-sofa kinda guy, money wasn’t always there. Where I’d always got lucky with salaried jobs, he was the polar opposite and I’ve always respected that about him. He’s the ultimate freelance hustler, always speaking to people and putting himself out there. All that work is paying off for him now and I couldn’t be happier. From what I understand, he’s constantly trying to bring me in on opportunities he’s getting at the moment too, whether people have asked for me or not. Knowing that is just … ahh … I find it quite overwhelming and emotional, to be honest.”

The pair’s friendship hasn’t stopped at The Sunday Roast, either. Inspired by one of Joe’s ideas and a joint love of football, they launched new podcast, International Clearance, in January. Running weekly with passport stamp-themed artwork teasers, the core premise of the podcast is simple; to speak to British footballers, young and old, about their experiences of playing abroad. “I felt like I had the time to act on some of the ideas I’d had for ages and one of them was this podcast”, Joe explains. “I’d told myself all the reasons not to start one … it’s a crowded market, we’re too late, we’ve missed the boat … but I felt that it was a tight enough idea and I cared enough about it. Without hesitating, I told Scully about it at the back end last year because I knew if the shoe was on the other foot, he’d do exactly the same and ask me to be involved in whatever he had lined up … it’s just how our dynamic works. If you listen to any of the episodes, I’m the guy who regurgitates facts and goes deep on the intricacies of the actual football stories, where as Scully comes at it from a cultural angle and tries to get to know more about what it’s like to live and play football in some of these places.”

Their guests so far have ranged from Peter Ramage — the former Newcastle, QPR and Crystal Palace defender who spent a year playing for Kerala Blasters in India late in his career — right the way through to household names like former England strikers Les Ferdinand and Brian Deane. “Lockdown’s really helped us reach out to people”, explains Joe when I ask about how they go about selecting players to speak to. “Everyone’s indoors and not really up to much and quite a few players we’ve spoken to have just been really grateful to be asked. I had people in mind when we started … I’d made a big Excel spreadsheet actually … and just went with this scatter gun approach. We didn’t have a lot of joy initially, I think we managed to get about three or four interviews done in the space of a few months. My idea had been to bank a load and launch it as a full series but the more time went on, I felt like we just needed to go with it and see what the reception was like. Once it went live and it was out there as this living thing, it became a lot easier to get people involved. We always said we’d do 10 episodes for the first season and then reevaluate, so it’ll stop being weekly soon, but it’s been really helpful for me to have something to focus on. I’m really happy with what we’ve got so far and I’ve really enjoyed the experience.”

Although clearly invigorated by the launch of International Clearance and spurred on by the challenge of reimagining his future post-Apple Music, Joe has also had to face some of the demons first exposed by grief back in 2018 over the 12 months. Inflamed by the pandemic, his internal struggles reached breaking point during the spring of 2020, culminating in a diagnosis of severe anxiety and depression. “I think I’d probably met the criteria as far back as three, maybe even four years ago”, he says, leaning forward and adjusting his microphone. “I was almost a high-functioning depressive without really being aware of it. I’ve never been someone to require medication but I have been heavily demotivated, low on energy and guilty of working myself into the ground a lot, to the point where my body would just give up on me. In this instance, over the last few years especially, I think a lot of it just came down to trying to compartmentalise grief, alongside placing too much worth on my career and forgetting what was important … forgetting to live a life away from music. It all catches up with you in the end. It’s just annoying that it takes your bottom-barrel moments, your rock bottoms, to be like ‘okay, now I’m gonna deal with it’. I think the mistake that people make is trying to put off dealing with things.”

“It’s just annoying that it takes your bottom-barrel moments, your rock bottoms, to be like ‘okay, now I’m gonna deal with it’. I think the mistake that people make is trying to put off dealing with things.”

With lessons painfully learned, Joe admits he now feels ’better equipped’ to deal with whatever life can throw at him moving forward. His resolve, stiffened by those bottom barrel moments, remains steadfast despite an uncertain future in radio away from Apple Music, too. And you get the sense that alongside Scully, he’s found a partnership — and a kinship — that’s bound to flourish on their own terms for many years to come. But from speaking to him for almost three hours, one thing is most definitely for certain; Joe remains one of music’s true good guys — and an endearingly honest one at that. 

You can listen to Joe & Scully’s International Clearance podcast HERE.

— Joe Walker —

Part One of a special two-part interview with Joe Walker — Here he is on South London, music, football, Crystal Palace FC, identity, RWD Magazine, Reprezent Radio, social media, self-improvement and finding his voice.

(All photos submitted by Joe Walker)

Some people might know the name Joe Walker from RWD Magazine. Some from Reprezent Radio, where he broadcasts a Monday evening drive-time show and co-hosts The Sunday Roast alongside previous Polymer interviewee, Scully. Others from Beats 1 (now known as Apple Music 1). And some for his social media commentary on Crystal Palace, for whom he’s been a long-suffering fan since he was a small boy. But whatever he’s known for, one thing is consistent — people love Joe Walker. By his own admission, he might not feel the most polished, from-the-book broadcaster nor the most willing to toe the line, but the music industry is a far better place with him in it. As we catch up for the first time in over a year on two consecutive week nights, our Zoom window opens to Joe, complete with uber professional podcast mic setup, beaming into the camera lens. But his tone is pensive. 

“Right now I’m in the middle of a process of self-improvement”, he says quite openly. “The last year has made me realise that I needed to address some things, like the value I put on myself in my career, self-esteem stuff and even not dealing with grief properly … various things that have happened along the way. Now I’ve got the time to focus on it all, mainly because it’s been forced upon me. I’m not there yet with it, but I’d say I’m a work in progress.”

For someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, whether via his Twitter feed or his broadcast segments, Joe’s opinions on music and football specifically — and the humour with which he shares them — often deflect attention away from the person behind the musings. Is it difficult to separate the broadcaster from the broadcast? “For me, yeah it’s hell”, he says bluntly, “but I know it’s quite easy for other people. I feel like if you are gonna navigate sharing more of yourself, particularly on Instagram more so than Twitter, then it has to be done a very particular way and I don’t know how to do that without feeling like I’m moaning. I don’t want to feel pitied, I just want to get on with stuff. Sometimes though, especially when I’m not on form, I do feel like letting out this massive banshee scream … and that can be brought on by people sharing excruciatingly positive opinions 24/7, or even just by the overriding sense of anxiety in a pandemic. Half the people on my timeline don’t have a job, do you know what I mean?”

“Sometimes though, especially when I’m not on form, I do feel like letting out this massive banshee scream”

It feels a far cry from the fond memories of his childhood and the familiarity that came to structure much of his early life. Born in Thornton Heath to parents of Scottish and Indian heritage, Joe went to a church school in South Norwood — “my auntie worked there and I think my dad fixed the church hall roof once” — which totalled only 200 children. “It was one class to a year, absolutely tiny”, Joe recalls. “I didn’t know anything different to that but what it meant was that everyone was a big cheese. There was no real hierarchy there at all. I then moved to Annerley when I was about eight years old, which I guess is where I’d say I grew up properly. I stayed at the same primary school and the distance between the school and where I lived was probably a 10 minute walk, but it was on the border of two boroughs. When you have to go secondary school, that’s an absolute nightmare to deal with. I was getting turned away from a lot of Croydon schools and equally, all the Bromley schools were like ‘you’re not in our catchment area’. In the end, for a kid who was you know, told to ‘aim for the stars’, I ended up going to this all boys secondary school called Kelsey Park, where it was 200 kids to a year and considered one of the worst schools in the area. I was the only one from my primary school who went, so going from a place where I knew everyone to knowing nobody was tough. You’re running for your life essentially, there’s kids from other schools rolling up with baseball bats, there’s fights in the playground. It was an awakening but I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t change it.”

“My dad is half-English, half-Scottish”, he says, as our conversation turns to family. “My grandad was Scottish and actually played football for Raith Rovers. My mum was born in Battersea but her parents were Anglo-Indian. It’s only later in life that I’ve started to ask more questions about that stuff actually. Essentially, there was a generation of people from India who would mix with British ambassadors, soldiers and traders during the days of the empire. I think, because of that, they’d find themselves rejected by other Indians. My grandma for example, she was born in India but was raised as a Catholic that only spoke English and so it felt natural for her to come over to England later in life. I guess, because of that lack of me having any exposure to another language or religion or anything like that, I’ve never really felt part of the British Asian community. It’s only as I’ve got older that I’ve started to think about it more and ask questions about my roots.” 

Did the notion of identity affect his experiences growing up? “I mean, not really”, he reflects. “It’s definitely not a violin thing or anything like that. I do remember being called the P word by someone at school when I was 13, 14 but it was never something I paid much attention to outwardly. Any issue about race for me growing up was all internal, it was all in my head … it was rarely projected by anyone else. I did feel a little bit different to everyone around me but because I didn’t have an Indian name or even a name that was vaguely ‘exotic’, I dunno, I never saw myself as Asian in a traditional sense. I mean, my middle name is Lee. Joseph Lee Walker … it’s the most fish and chips name. That said, music and football were the two things that made sure I’d talk to everyone at school. That was all that mattered back then. Drifter (grime MC), was actually in the same year me at school. I wouldn’t say we were close friends, but we both cared about music deeply.”

“I dunno, I never saw myself as Asian in a traditional sense. I mean, my middle name is Lee. Joseph Lee Walker … it’s the most fish and chips name.”

Joe’s obsession with music started early, specifically with Chris Tarrant and the Capital FM breakfast show that he’d listen to religiously on the way to school. “Everyone listened to music the same way when I was a kid”, he says intently. “The same two, three radio stations, the same four TV stations. We were all just inhaling everything and it’s kinda comforting to have those same base level memories that are consistent with everybody else. My cousins were older though and when they got to secondary school, they’d use their pocket money to buy stuff that was a little bit more left field. I remember them buying Justin Timberlake – ‘Justified’ but also a load of other hip-hop and RnB records. As I got older, there were probably two defining influences or memories. One was being at my friend’s house and him playing Eminem’s ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ … the novelty of hearing so much swearing as kids wasn’t lost on us … and then just going off recommendations and trying to catch the videos on MTV Base, The Box and KISS.”

“I inhaled so much music through Limewire too”, Joe continues. “Downloading music and playing Football Manager was all I did for a spell as a teenager. I can’t remember the exact route but I think sometimes I’d scroll through iTunes, find the top 10 songs by an artist I liked and then revert to Limewire to download them. Considering where I lived, I wasn’t someone down at Big Apple in Croydon every weekend or anything like that. I knew stuff on Channel U and what was passed around at school, that was basically it. There’d be a bit of South London grime … the type of stuff that if you knew, you knew … L Dot Man and people like that. Limewire is definitely where I came into my own because I stared to realise I had this ability to just recall a huge amount of information about artists and songs. I wasn’t writing about music but I was becoming the guy people would look to at house parties. People would ask for my iPod.”

“Limewire is definitely where I came into my own because I started to realise I had this ability to just recall a huge amount of information about artists and songs.”

Alongside music, football also dominated Joe’s early life. A match-going Crystal Palace fan since from as far back as he can remember — he holds a season ticket and still attends games with his dad and a troupe of other father and son duos — Joe’s grandmother also worked at the club for over 20 years. “I’d be at all the football in community events during half terms”, Joe recalls, grinning. “I’d get all this club merchandise, I was just that kid. I remember in 1999, maybe 2000, my nan was working at the hospitality front desk at Palace and basically, I’d end up in my own box for the day. The club were in administration, they really didn’t have a pot to piss in, but I’d be sat watching games from a private box while she worked. People would sometimes see me and bring over a plate of chips or whatever during the game, it was great. Palace was my playground basically. I’d get the autograph of everyone who walked through those corridors where the boxes were, I’ve still got more match day programs than I know what to do with. It was just my life.”

“There’s a members club at Palace called The Golden Eagles right”, Joe continues, broad smile suddenly etched on his face. “They’d do a monthly draw that you could enter, with a few prizes … third prize was like winning a hundred quid or whatever … but the first prize was always a holiday to La Manga in Spain. It’s this beautiful resort where the England team go to do warm weather training and stuff like that. Ron Noades, who was Palace’s chairman at the time, had a massive house out there … I’m talking 10+ people, a huge pool … and if you won, you’d get to stay at his place for a fortnight. Surprise, surprise, we won this draw one month and got to go to La Manga. I was a mascot three times in the end too. By the time I was realised I’d been brainwashed, it was too late.”

With music and football now regularly meeting at the intersection of culture, albeit often through a brand marketing lens — see Stormzy launching Manchester United’s away kit with Paul Pogba in 2016 as a key watershed moment — this cultural meshing was entirely alien to Joe during his teenage years. Although obsessed with both, music and football felt like very different, separate passions. “The crossover between the two is massive now”, he affirms, “especially post-FilthyFellas and Poet & Vuj. I could write an essay about the impact they’ve had on it all. It’s become very much a part of youth culture now, but in my day growing up, there was no crossover whatsoever. Nothing.”

After leaving school, Joe would head off to study Communication & Media at Bournemouth after ‘cruising’ his GCSEs — but not before deferring a year of his A-Levels at Kelsey Park to join a different sixth form college. “I had an awful first year and decided that I was gonna move”, recalls Joe, “and my school were not happy, particularly because I was about to be made Deputy Head Boy and whatever … wait, shit yeah I really was gonna be Deputy Head Boy, wow. Anyway, I applied to this all girls school in Chislehurst which had a mixed sixth form, and when I say mixed sixth form, there were about 14 boys there. I had a few mates who had gone the year before and said they enjoyed it. I just knew I needed to get out of my comfort zone and away from just fucking around all the time. When I started there, they let me know that my AS levels from Kelsey Park were run through a different exam board, so I basically had to write those off and just do my best with the one year I had left. Long story short, I didn’t smash my second year and started all over again.”

Although still undecided about where his future lay, Joe eventually made it to Bournemouth University, where he studied Communication and Media — a degree he felt would help him utilise a natural flair for English Language and Literature. Unbeknownst to him at the time however, it was his ‘ramblings’ on a friend’s student radio show that would first stoke the fires of a future career in broadcasting. “I had a friend called Nav in Bournemouth who wanted to start his own radio show”, he says. “There were two student radio stations at the time, the university station and the student union station, but it was probably two old men fighting over a comb in terms of listeners. Nav was a garage DJ and he used to mix on vinyl, so he wanted to host his own UKG show but needed some help. All he wanted to focus on was the mixing so I said I’d go along with him to host. He couldn’t actually fit the decks in the studio, so I’d be in the studio running the desk and he’d be mixing from outside. I’d butt in every so often to make it sound more like a radio show, but I honestly didn’t have a clue what I was doing really. I’d love to find some audio, although it probably doesn’t exist because I don’t think any of it was ever recorded. It was just a shame that it came during my last six months of university, because I really enjoyed it.”

On his return home to London after graduating, it was journalism rather than broadcasting that felt like the natural next step. Joe felt there was a gap in the market for knowledgable young music writers who were born ‘of a scene’ rather than those trying to cover all bases, particularly as so little writing on rap and grime was being commissioned at the time. Outside an impassioned UK blogosphere, it felt like slim pickings. “Ah, there was nothing really”, Joe says, leaning forward and letting out a sigh, “nothing whatsoever. I’m not just talking about UK rap or grime stuff either, rap from the US too. You’d get one journalist who’d go and review a Rick Ross concert at The O2 or whatever in about 400 words that’d go online if it wasn’t in the paper, and that’d be your lot for the week. I just remember I wanted to be the person that’d tell that story.”

Although music was his focus, football was still a constant — and it’d be his relationship with Crystal Palace that’d see him make his first in-roads into writing. “Purely from chatting shit about Palace on Twitter, I started writing for a few fanzines to varying degrees”, Joe recalls. “I loved writing and it felt exciting to be a part of something, but music was still what I wanted to write about if I’m brutally honest. Football is actually the reason I got my job at RWD though, which is funny when I say it like that. I joined RWD just after Hattie Collins had left and Tego Sigel had just become the new editor-in-chief if you like. They’d had a big changing of the guard and they were reassessing how they operated as a business. About six months before I started, Tego had helped setup RWD Football as an arm of the magazine and they had a contract to run a football blog in partnership with JD Sports. I got the job to oversee that blog off the back of the football writing portfolio I’d built up through my work for the Palace fanzines, but because I was now inside the building, RWD gave me the freedom to work on the website too. I was allowed to feature what I wanted, interview whoever I wanted, it was mad really. As much as I didn’t focus on football writing, without it, I’d never have got my chance.”

Joe’s breakthrough at RWD came after two entry-level positions at music PR / plugging firms — firstly, The Hub, where he worked alongside Wired PR founder, Rachel Campbell, and secondly, Sian Anderson’s SighTracked PR — which both gave him a first taste of the inner workings of music publicity. “I was never particularly good at PR but I didn’t feel comfortable with it either”, he concedes. “After The Hub went under in 2014, I got a shout from Ra’ed Khan, (now digital executive at Capitol Records and founder of non-profit charity, Road To Freedom), about joining SighTracked. At that point, I was thinking PR just wasn’t for me, but he said I should come and help out and see how I got on with it. I remember saying to Sian like, ‘I know I’ve worked in PR for the last eight months but please don’t expect too much from me, there’s a lot I still need to learn’. She took that onboard and we struck up a good rapport, the clients were good and I started to see the benefits of proper guidance and training. There’s a long list of people who went through the Sian Anderson school if you like and they’ve all gone on to kill it. You could see why even then. She taught me the ropes properly and I’ll always look up to her for that.”

“There’s a long list of people who went through the Sian Anderson school if you like and they’ve all gone on to kill it. You could see why even then.”

Joe describes getting the RWD nod as a ‘massive relief’. Never a natural fit as a PR — he struggled with the ethics of the publicity economy — the chance to help platform the music he cared about was one he relished. “It was nice to write about music properly”, he explains, “and particularly from a position of knowing how things worked. I tried to reply to every email I got about new music, even if a lot of the time I’d be repeating myself, just because I knew what the struggle was like from the other side. At the same time, I resented favours. As I got more familiar with events and the industry, I did start to notice people start to try and lean on me for support on RWD and even if I did feel like I’d have to play along for a bit, I always resented it. I was almost too pure in my heart. Away from that side of it, RWD was a nice tonic for me. There were no rules, I was covering music that I liked and amplifying people that I rated.”

“The majority of music being covered at RWD at the time when I joined was mainly US stuff”, Joe continues. “I think that’s purely because that’s what the staff at the time liked, aside from the odd Giggs feature or maybe K Koke or someone like that. I remember just thinking, ‘I listen to all this stuff, but we’re a year into post-‘German Whip’ and there’s a lot we’re not covering’. I made the decision to focus on the UK stuff and never looked back. A lot of grime artists in particular were just really welcoming and grateful for the support, even if it was someone new to it all like me. You could really feel their appreciation and it felt good to be one of a small group of people involved in covering grime at that point. I never wanted to be influenced by how many people were reading what I was posting at RWD either, I never once looked at the WordPress backend or traffic stats or anything like that. I was blessed to have that freedom, to not feel any pressure coming down on me from above. I think that was the engine that drove me for a while, just ensuring that the music I loved was covered properly and in the right way. Every time an NME or someone like that posted a piece about Kano’s album being called ‘Man In The Mirror’ or whatever, I just hated it. It made me burn inside.”

“I never wanted to be influenced by how many people were reading what I was posting at RWD either, I never once looked at the WordPress backend or traffic stats or anything like that. I was blessed to have that freedom, to not feel any pressure coming down on me from above.”

Despite only working on two print issues during his tenure at RWD, Joe’s legacy was already solidified by his work on the website. He was a reliable outpost for PRs plugging grime — which at this point was booming post-‘Shutdown’ — but more importantly, he won the trust of the artists themselves. Calling things as he saw them, the honesty in his writing was refreshing and drew praise from all corners of the industry. But was it enough? Concerned by the walls “closing in” on the print media industry, Joe started to think about new ways of covering the music he loved. 

“And that’s then I thought about that radio experience at university”, Joe says, eyes lighting up. “I mean, I was literally just interrupting someone’s mixing every 10 minutes but I did really enjoy it. Because of my role at RWD, I was starting to get sent a lot of grime stuff early, releases ahead of time, the odd exclusive and bits like that. I thought to myself, ‘why don’t I start a radio show to play all of it?’. I decided to fill out a contact form on Reprezent Radio’s website and just hoped for the best. It turned out that Reprezent were going through a huge transition phase and had big gaps in their schedule when I got in touch, so I got an invite to meet the station manager and was asked me to come down and record a test show. By this point, and we’re talking the end of 2015, I was well aware of the last pirate radio generation who were making noise at Radar Radio … AJ Tracey, Big Zuu, Jammz, Mez … but I was just playing it all. I wasn’t trying to DJ, I was just presenting this music in the way I wrote about it for RWD, just blurting out everything I’d taken on board writing about grime Monday to Friday. They must have heard something because I’ve listened back to some of my early shows and they were horrendous, but I got offered the 1-3am slot on Friday night, every week. I had to pre-record it but the slot was mine, so I went for it. RWD were really hospitable about it and let me record my show in the morning and then come in afterwards. I found it really weird waking up and heading to pre-record early in the morning, groggy and a bit knackered but trying to amp up the energy to replicate the fact that it was supposed to be a Friday night show.”

“Aside from Kid D asking to come down to record a set with Slickman Party one time, the show was just essentially two hours of me playing new grime music”, he continues. “There were no features, nothing. Aside from maybe rounding up the three best releases of any given week, it was just me introducing tracks for six months. I hung around because I loved the energy of the place and Reprezent felt like a great place to be, there was definitely a buzz. I stuck it out long enough to be offered a new show time of 9-11pm on a weekday … it might not have been a Friday but I can’t remember … and that in itself felt great. A little while after finding out, I remember being in the Reprezent common room area where a lot of radio staff work and chill and overhearing Naina, who had already worked her way up to management level, and the station manager talking about the new schedule. They were still looking for someone to do the 7-9pm slot on a Thursday night and I was stood literally behind them, so I leaned in, put my arms around them both and said, ‘I’ll do it!’. They both looked at each other and were cautiously like, ‘…alright’.”

“That slot was live too, so it was quite a bit of pressure, but suddenly I found myself with way more of an appetite for making my show more of an event, opening it up to sets and whatever. The format would be basically be a five minute chat and then I’d just let people get into a set to close the show. The first set we did was with Jay Amo and Spitz in June 2016 and they had Jammz come and DJ for them. The only issue was that it meant that I didn’t have much control over the last quarter of my show, so I fixated on learning to DJ for a while and bought a load of equipment. But it just so happened by more of a happy accident than anything, that after interviewing P Money on the show one night in 2016, I realised all we’d done was chat. We didn’t play a load of music or get into live bars or a set, we just spoke. It dawned on me that nobody else was really doing that across specialist radio at the time. So there I was obsessing over trying to turn my show into this all guns blazing mix show, when I was actually presenting grime music as it would be on daytime or evening radio. I just thought, ‘why change it?’.”

“It was a format I enjoyed and I guess I established my own little island with it. I always thought it was mad that people would spend six months working on a project and then their idea of promotion would be to jump on a set and shout ‘EP out tonight!’. That was literally it, that was where it ended. Before long, artists cottoned onto the fact that they could come onto my show to have a conversation. I took pride in knowing that. Inadvertently, it was doing things my own way on Reprezent that lead me to Beats 1.”

Part Two of Joe’s interview goes live next Monday (March 29):

https://polymerzine.club/

(Joe Walker w/ Julie Adenuga on Apple Music, FKA Beats 1)

— object blue —

On London, Beijing, VPNs, Tower Records, family, reading, piano, techno, love, music as salvation and exploring the concept of home on new EP, ‘Grotto’.

(All photos submitted by object blue)

It’s Thursday evening and object blue is sat at her computer. She’s leaning back, sunken into her chair and dusty orange flickers of light are splintering through the window behind her. Tomorrow, she’ll be releasing her first solo EP since 2019’s ‘FIGURE BESIDE ME’ but for now, she’s living in the moment. “I’m feeling really relaxed because the last month has been really intense”, she says with a warm smile, “you know with wrapping up ‘Grotto’, filming the video that’ll be going out tomorrow … it’s been very DIY. I mean, I sewed the dress I’m wearing in the video, which took absolutely ages because I can’t sew. I’ve just got a sewing machine and try whatever! I guess the nice thing about the aesthetic of the music I’m interested in most of the time is that there’s so much room for error.”

“I guess the nice thing about the aesthetic of the music I’m interested in most of the time is that there’s so much room for error.”

The music she’s interested in has taken on so many different shapes since she started releasing her own productions in 2018. Inspired by the London dance floors she credits most with moulding her tastes, object blue’s music has breathed new life into the outlying, experimental techno stratas that have always looked beyond 4/4. But that’s not to say she feels it’s always totally understood, however. “I’ll make something that I think sounds really happy and euphoric and everyone will call it dark, depressing, intense, scary or weird”, she says bluntly. “It’s always been like that with my music.”

Despite music being so central to her sense of self, it was books that would form object blue’s first love. An obsessive reader as a child — she’d spend days failing to get changed out of her pyjamas and sometimes even forgetting to eat — it was in the pages of her favourite stories that’d she’d first find refuge and solace from the combustible world around her. “I knew at that point, even as a child, that I was becoming a very solitary mind”, she notes. “I knew that the things I saw in my imagination really fascinated me and I was less interested in sharing what I imagined more than just diving really deep into my head. And then one day, my parents boxed up all my books and told me they’d burn them if I didn’t stop reading so much. It forced me to make friends.”

It was this often fractious relationship with her parents that punctuates the memories of her childhood. Born in Tokyo but raised in Beijing, where her family relocated to as a result of the Japanese recession of the 1990s — a period often referred to as Japan’s ‘Lost Decade’ — much of the conflict arose from the face-off between her parents’ expectations and her own creative ambitions. Music though, was always a constant — it has never not been part of her life. “Music has always been there”, she says, “from as far back as I can remember. I never had a moment of realisation, it’s just been a part of me since day one. I remember being four or five in Tokyo and my sister was getting piano tuition from a woman who lived in the same building as us. I remember being so envious that she got to do that. My parents bought her a piano for her to practice on and I can remember climbing onto the stool and just playing by myself for hours. I never used sheet music either, I just played by ear and probably did for the next 10 years or so as I got older. Whatever you learned at school was always to do with sheet music and it was the same for piano tuition … and I hated that. I can read sheet music but I’m very slow and I don’t enjoy it. Even now, when I write down musical ideas I don’t use traditional notation.”

“Piano was never the end goal though”, she continues, “It was just the medium for me to improvise my ideas through. I wasn’t really a good pianist … in order to be a good pianist, you needed to practice finger exercises and read your sheet music … and I really didn’t develop that. I think that’s probably had a direct correlation with why I’m a producer today.”

Growing up during one of the fastest developing periods in modern Chinese history, object blue’s life in Beijing — the city she still fondly refers to as her hometown — was both affirming and testing in equal measure. On arriving, she spent three years at a Japanese school, before later moving to one of Beijing’s top international schools just shy of her 11th birthday. “English has been my main language since then”, she says, “to the point that my Japanese is still suffering today. I’ll forget words and phrases. I think it’s a typical expat, migrant thing really.” Did she enjoy school, I ask? “I … hated … it”, she replies exasperated, shoulders slouching to one side. “I don’t know if I could even survive it again. Kudos to teenage me but if someone said I had to go back and live from 13-19 again and if I survive, I get a billion dollars, I think I’d probably say no. Being a teenager is hard. You have a developing ego but no power of your own, you don’t get to choose anything … it’s really, really hard. My school was very much ‘academia is everything’ too.”

“Kudos to teenage me but if someone said I had to go back and live from 13-19 again and if I survive, I get a billion dollars, I think I’d probably say no. Being a teenager is hard.”

“There were two big international schools in Beijing when I was growing up and I went to the lame one”, she continues. “All everyone talked about was grades. International schools in China are often set up by embassies for diplomats and envoys, so it was a mix of white American kids from California, Chinese-Americans and random Asian kids like me. Everyone would ask, ‘how was your report card this semester?’ and I’d always be like, ‘it was shit’. No one would believe me until I showed them my report card full of Ds and all my detention slips and voicemails of my mother yelling. I hated it so, so bad. I actually used to listen to The Mountain Goats a lot at school. John Darnielle (lead singer) was such a good lyricist and he had this album all about escaping an abusive household, based on his own life. He has a song called ‘This Year’ and in it, he sings ‘I’m gonna get through this year if it kills me’ and I’d just blast that through my headphones at school whenever I could.”

“Remember how slow torrenting music was?”, object blue asks as we touch on how music and media was shared at school. “Well imagine that in China with a firewall. I remember trying so hard to download a D’Angelo album on Limewire, you unzip it and of course it’s a cracked copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Every. Single. Time. The biggest access to culture I had was going back to Japan every summer to see my Grandma. I’d go to Tower Records in Tokyo and buy 20 CDs at once and then stuff them into my suitcase to take home. My mum would always be like, ‘Have you gone to Tower Records again? How many CDs did you buy?’ and I’d reply cutely like, ‘Just three’. Torrenting just wasn’t an option, I still had a dial-up connection and it was difficult at home. Also people at school just weren’t cool, like, at all. Maybe we’d watch Friends or something? Actually, my sister and all her friends watched The OC but that was literally it. I remember there were people in my school who’d never heard of Radiohead and I’d always be like, ‘but aren’t you from Canada?’. I guess it wasn’t their fault because China was still hard to reach at the point. We didn’t have things like Soundcloud there, Facebook was blocked, MySpace was blocked. I do remember the day that Wikipedia was unblocked across China because everybody was talking about it. Funnily enough, the images were still unavailable, but at least people could finally access the articles. I just remember getting in a cab one fine summer’s day and the first question the driver asked me was, ‘did you see Wikipedia got unblocked?’. I mean we always had VPNs, but it was still a big thing.”

“I remember trying so hard to download a D’Angelo album on Limewire, you unzip it and of course it’s a cracked copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Every. Single. Time.”

Living in a Beijing suburb near the city’s main airport — “it was a fucking hell hole” — had its drawbacks too. There was little to do and with escapism at such a premium, the allure of the city proved too great. “I started clubbing when I was 14”, object blue recalls. “I’d sneak out of my house, meet my friends, get in a taxi and go to a bar street and yeah, go to clubs. All you’d hear would be 50 Cent and Rihanna, which I was fine with … Pitbull and stuff like that, too. It was quite lawless really. It was only for the 2008 Olympics that they introduced a minimum drinking age, but we didn’t know that existed. We were just 14 year olds dancing in a bar. I guess I’ve always liked listening to loud music in a dark room. There’s something very cleansing about that.”

Such were her experiences at school, staying in China was never an option in object blue’s mind. But rather than apply to go to university in the US as many in her position would, she saw the UK as an obvious outpost. Her sister had studied in London some years earlier — “she thought it was London but the campus was technically in Surrey” — and recalls always really liking it. “Maybe that’s just because I was so miserable at school in Beijing”, she says, “but who knows?”. She applied to Oxford at the behest of her parents — “I didn’t get in, obviously” — but eventually landed a place at King’s College in London, where she’d spend the next three year studying English Language & Literature. “I met great people there”, she says smiling. “I had such great professors and it also opened my eyes to politics because growing up in an international school in China is such an insular, privileged experience. Everyone was a privileged twat there. Everyone would get an internship at Swiss Bank because of their uncle or whatever, you know. All of these people were gonna go onto rule the world, you could just feel it. So many of my classmates are working on Wall Street now or in venture capital or thinking they’re saving the world by working for Uber. It’s just such an alien world to me. I’m so glad I got the hell out of there.”

With her taste for clubbing already forged in Beijing’s commercial bars, London would prove object blue’s entry point into the world of underground dance music — but to her disappointment, not straight away. “I didn’t know anything at all when I first arrived”, she acknowledges. “I remember my friend asked if I wanted to go clubbing on a Friday night and I was like, ‘yeah!’. I really thought it’d be my opportunity to find some new music to dance to but where did she take me? Tiger Tiger in Soho. I was so traumatised, I didn’t go out for a year. At the time, I was listening to The Cure a lot and bands like that though … The Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins … so I’d be so happy when I’d walk into a charity shop and they’d start playing The Smiths. For a while, I thought that would be the extent of my musical experience, but at Kings, I started to meet people who were into the sort of music I’m making now. One of them used to run a blog called Stray Landings and I’m still friends with them now … Georgie McVicar, who released on Conditional a few years back … and I also met Hmrd and Blue, who ran an events series called Cherche Encore that I played my first ever live gig at shortly after I graduated. After meeting, we stayed in touch and I started going to Corsica Studios every weekend, sometimes even twice a week. Actually once, I went three times because I went to Hyperdub’s Ø night on Wednesday and then again on Friday and Saturday. That’s when I really was like, ‘oh shit, I’m gonna make dance music’.

“I remember my friend asked if I wanted to go clubbing on a Friday night and I was like, ‘yeah!’. I really thought it’d be my opportunity to find some new music to dance to but where did she take me? Tiger Tiger in Soho. I was so traumatised, I didn’t go out for a year.”

While those nights at Corsica may have congealed to form her dance music Eureka moment, she also recalls an unsuspecting sales assistant at HMV missing a trick a few years earlier. Inspired by discovering Aphex Twin, Bjork, Mark Bell and Nine Inch Nails in her mid-teens back in Beijing, object blue found herself flicking through the racks of the store’s Electronic section one summer while visiting her sister. “I grabbed a guy working there and said, ‘excuse me, do you know a lot about electronic music?’ and he was like, ‘yeah … yeah I do’. ‘I was like, okay, I don’t know anything but I want to try and find more of the stuff I like, so can you help me?’. I mentioned liking Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin and Bjork and he recommended I check out a compilation, because my interests were broad and I might like to check out different tracks by different artists. It sounded great. What did he give me? ‘Best Of Ibiza 2011’. I listened to it and was like, ‘is this it?’. I just didn’t really like it. I had the same problem in China before I discovered D’Angelo and stuff like that. I remember really wanting to find out more about what hip-hop and RnB was so I typed it into Limewire and I got pointed towards Black Eyed Peas and I was like, ‘I really don’t like it … is this it?’. When I heard D’Angelo for the first time, I felt like I’d been scammed like, where was this? Why did Limewire give me Black Eyed Peas? I remember going to Sounds of the Universe once I moved to London and saying to the guy behind the counter like, ‘I was robbed of proper hip-hop, please give me something good’. He gave me a Slum Village album and then I knew I’d been missing out for real. It was a really gradual change for me when it came to discovering music. Techno took me a while to get into too, thinking about it. I think the first or the closest thing I got into was probably Trentemøller. I used to join so many music forums, one being a Nine Inch Nails forum, and there was a lot of crossover with them and electronic music. Lots of people kept recommending I listen to Trentemøller so I did … and I liked it. I remember my friends were like, ‘this has no singing in it, how can you like it?’. Once I started clubbing, boom … it just exploded.”

Even then, music still didn’t feel like a concrete option for object blue. She’d known she was going to study English Literature since she was 12 years old and had always assumed she’d go into academia once she finished her degree — it wasn’t quite a road map, but she’d never really considered anything else. “I was an idiot but I think I became less of an idiot as I studied through my degree because I met so many amazing people”, she explains. “For example, I still remember one of the professors I really respected, she was Irish. In the first ever lecture I went to, she asked us ‘why are you all here to study English Literature?’. Before anyone could answer, she told us it was because of British military history. ‘Don’t get it wrong’, she said. ‘There is no language that is inherently superior, no culture or literature that is inherently superior to others. We are not here to study English literature because it’s the best, we’re studying it because the British used a lot of armed power in their past’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God’. That always stuck with me.”

“In the first ever lecture I went to, she (my professor) asked us ‘why are you all here to study English Literature?’. Before anyone could answer, she told us it was because of British military history. ‘Don’t get it wrong’, she said. ‘There is no language that is inherently superior, no culture or literature that is inherently superior to others. We are not here to study English literature because it’s the best, we’re studying it because the British used a lot of armed power in their past’.”

“I do remember going into university fully intending to become a specialist in Shakespeare or something though”, she continues. “Three years later, I was like ‘I never want to write a fucking essay ever fucking again’. The cleaning staff at the library were terrified of me because they knew me as the girl that would sleep on the floor. I’d never start essays early enough because I’m a huge procrastinator. It’s scary to actually do things, you know. There’s nothing else that makes me work except for pressure. Anyway, I came out of university and I still felt that I wanted to do something with literature, so I managed to get an internship at a publisher. All I did for three weeks was type the ISBN number of a book and its listed price from different retailers into a spreadsheet. I was like, ‘I don’t want to die like this’. Around that time, I was also still thinking I might go to Grad School, maybe not to do a PhD but hopefully to get a Masters. I even took the GRE test because I thought about going to New York as I was dating someone from there at the time. I remember I was writing in the Senate House library one day and just burst into tears like, ‘I don’t wanna do this’. My friend hugged me and asked what I wanted to do instead and sobbing, I said, ‘I just want to make techno. I love kick drums. But I don’t even know that much about techno. But I know I just want to make it.” 

It was a leap that would change her life forever. “I’m a completely different person now”, she says, smiling. “I’ve become the person I always wanted to be and can honestly say that I’m really happy.” Behind her contentment though, object blue still finds herself at the mercy of a lingering, troubling bleakness. “You know that meme, ‘Guess I’ll just die’? That was my attitude for most of my life”, she explains. “This is gonna get deep and dark quite fast but I’ve been suicidal since I was 13 and it’s probably never gonna stop. I mean I’m fine now but I have something called suicidal ideation which basically means it’ll always be vaguely at the back of my mind, even if I’m happy. Sometimes I’ll be happy, just taking a walk and suddenly start thinking, ‘I wouldn’t mind dying’. I never really had much drive to live I guess, my mindset was always more like ‘life is painful’. At that time too, I’d split up with my long-term boyfriend. I was supposed to go to New York to be with him, but I changed my plans. I was going to go into academia but that idea was dashed. My parents were and still are disappointed in me. But then it’s not like I was that fixed on any of it anyway. I took it as a sign that I might as well try and do something that I really wanted to do.”

In techno, object blue found her salvation — a place where she could block out all external noise and focus on the only thing that really mattered; the music. It’s not a cliché to say that it’s a process that has completely changed her life. It’s given her the freedom to create how, why and when she wants. “I really think it’s a part of me in the most fundamental way”, she reflects. “I can’t think of myself without music. Even when I wasn’t making music I defined myself by it. I used to really hate myself because I wasn’t making music, mainly because I didn’t think I’d be good enough to make the sort of music I wanted to make. I always hated that. I used to work at this classical record shop and everyone who worked there were music students. They’d always ask me, ‘why don’t you go to music school?’. I’d always be like ‘I’m not good enough’. I guess my life was defined, in that sense, by the absence of or the presence of music and I realised that I had to pursue its presence. It really was a life or death decision.”

“I called my parents and told them I wasn’t going to Grad School”, she continues, “I asked them to give me a year to come home and make music and if, after that year I was still unhappy, then I’d do whatever they wanted me to do. I’d get a job, whatever. Because my parents never listen to anything I say they were like, ‘of course, that’s totally fine’. I went home, worked on my music and applied to music school while I was home and ended up getting in. I told them I was moving back to London to go to music school and my mum was like, ‘since when do you like music?’. I literally ran back.”

Entirely self-taught and tirelessly motivated, object blue spent much of her year back in Beijing honing her skills on Ableton — where she still makes the vast majority of her music — trying to turn her ideas into the sounds she wanted to make. It was a process that gave her the confidence to believe she could hold her own after a testing first spell on Logic — “I was so terrible, I couldn’t do anything on it” — and also enabled her to build up a portfolio of tracks that she was able to present in her application to the Guildhall School Of Music in London. “I told them I’d been self-teaching myself on Ableton and that I already had my degree from Kings”, she explains, “and luckily, they saw it fit to let me only do three years rather than four. It meant that I’d finish the course when I was 26 rather than 27 too, which made my mum feel a bit better about it.”

“Our entrance exam was making a two minute piece only using sounds recorded using a two pence coin, so that was fun”, she continues. “I didn’t even have a proper microphone because I was at my parents house, so I remember doing all sorts of things with this coin. I’d throw it in an empty bathtub, tap it on walls. I remember there was like this ribbed, gold-metal lamp that I’d scrape the coin up and down on and then pitch that sound up and pitch it down, add effects. I just did my best and I got in.”

object blue returned to London in 2014 to study at Guildhall, this time basing herself in Bow in the east of the city. It’s a place she still holds special affection for after living there for six years, before more recently moving to Hoxton. “I really like that Bow is such a South Asian area”, she recalls fondly. “I remember I made a lot of Indian friends at Kings and whenever they came to cook at my house, they’d always be like, ‘you don’t have the spices!’. Through them, I learned about parathas and how to make chai … it was such a nice way to open my world up. Arguably the best thing about London, obviously I’d say it’s music, but more than that it’s the multiculturalism. Japan is such a non-multicultural country, China has 56 ethnic minorities so it’s very varied in that way but like I said, I lived in a very sheltered, boring ass suburb. I came here and I met people from so many countries and that’s been one of the best things about my life, probably. I’m so lucky.”

With a second chance at a life in London now in her grasp, object blue was determined to flourish — and flourish she did. But, as she explains, it was a producer living in Tokyo who would be the defining influence in her early production career. “Somebody who’s not relevant to the London scene but is the most influential person is SIMARA or Y A S H A, which is the moniker he uses now”, she explains. “He’s a guy I met on Tumblr and he had a Soundcloud link on his profile. I went to listen to it, not expecting much because I thought Soundcloud was just a space for people to re-post, and saw that he had some original productions. I listened and they just blew my fucking mind. He’d just put out an EP called ‘hologram summer’ at the time and it was like Oneohtrix but with more heart. I still play his stuff all the time and he’s one of my best, best friends. I last saw him in October when I got the chance to go back to Tokyo for a bit because he’s living there now, but he’s actually from New York. He taught me production by making videos for me. He’d record his screen but he only had a free trial version of a screen recorder, so all his videos could only be five minutes long. He’d upload like 14, five minute video clips to Google Drive on how to EQ drums, how to EQ synths … he basically walked me through Ableton like that.”

Under Y A S H A’s tutelage, object blue started to upload some of her early productions to Soundcloud before sharing them on Facebook. Through some of the connections she’d first made at Kings — she’d stayed loose friends with the majority while she was back in Beijing — she started to receive feedback, too. Before long, she found herself being invited along to a slew of different club nights across the city and her music eventually found its way to Gribs — former co-head at Tobago Tracks, now known simply as TT. “She started inboxing me to tell me she liked my tracks and that they had a monthly show”, she recalls. “She’d always ask if I wanted to send any unreleased music over for them to play but back then, I never had anything because it took me so long to put together a track. Eventually, a few labels showed interest in signing me including Let’s Go Swimming and Tobago Tracks, so I just started playing label parties and shows, to the point where I was getting a two or three bookings a month. That’s how it all began, really.”

For an artist with such a vivid imagination — and one she often finds herself retreating into for comfort and reassurance — was she daunted by the performance element of DJing, I wondered? “I’m a solitary person and I’m really bad texting back and tend to just hole up with my wife and my dog most of the time but I do like attention”, object blue explains. “If there’s a good physical boundary separating the booth from the audience, it’s the best. I just get left alone, I don’t have to talk to anyone and I can just play tunes that I love. And then afterwards, everyone says I’m great. It honestly used to give me such an addictive feeling that when lockdown started to take hold, I realised that without getting that adrenaline rush from playing two nights a week, I just couldn’t do anything. It felt like I was going through a withdrawal.”

“I’m a solitary person and I’m really bad texting back and tend to just hole up with my wife and my dog most of the time but I do like attention”

“DJing is amazing because all my life I had longed to find people around me who liked the same music as me”, she continues. “Not the people who’d take me to Tiger Tiger, you know. And now here I am forcing everyone to listen to my music library … and they enjoy it. And I get paid for it! It’s too good to be true, to be honest.”

object blue’s debut three-track EP, ‘Do you plan to end a siege?’, released on Tobago Tracks in March 2018 to critical acclaim and saw her profile rise exponentially. It struck the right chord between chaos and order — the sound design was meticulous but the rhythms unpredictable — and disrupted techno’s more conventional workflow in a way that felt entirely unique to her. She followed it up with ‘REX’ on Let’s Go Swimming later that year  — a record she described as an ‘assemblage of messes’ upon its release — before putting out solo single, ‘What Did I Have Then’ and later, ‘FIGURE BESIDE ME’ in 2019. She also joined forces with Nervous Horizon’s TSVI on joint EP, ‘Hyperaesthesia’, last autumn. While her new record, ‘Grotto’, may be only her sixth transmission proper, she already feels like a producer for whom many look to in order to signpost where to go next.

“Grotto is about the home”, she explains, as we start to discuss the themes underpinning the new record — her first that doesn’t feel inherently rooted in dance music. “Especially now because our relationship with home has changed so much in the past year. I started thinking about power dynamics and strained relationships, coercion, loss of self, stuff like that. I knew that I’d always make non-dance music as well one day, it’s just that dance music always took precedence in my life because one, it was what I was really interested in and two, it became my job. I think this pandemic gave me a good chance to make a non-dance music EP because we’re not in clubs anyway. I don’t have to worry about whether people are playing it out or even if people like it. Every time I put a release out I’m always like, ‘God my tracks are so fucking hard to mix, why did I make it like this?’, but I don’t have to think about mix-ability at the moment either. If I was playing out every week, I probably wouldn’t have made this now, I’d probably still be thinking about beats and a dance floor, but I guess my style and what I’ve been listening to has changed. In that sense, it feels like a good time to release something like this.”

Written in a little over five weeks after a long period of writer’s block, Grotto’s opening and closing tracks stem from a melody object blue originally wrote at high school — “I’ve even got it the original notations somewhere” — and launched with an incredible audio-visual performance via TT’s Twitch channel. Featuring a bespoke, interchanging digital backdrop created by her wife and creative partner, artist and photographer Natalia Podgórska, it forms a window into the brave new world that object blue has created for herself on ‘Grotto’. “My ethos is what matters is that I like it because I am the artist and the artist is God in a context like this”, she says of the project. “I think it’s mentally exhausting to be an artist if you don’t let yourself be a master of it. You have to be like ‘this is fucking great’ otherwise being an artist is crippling. If everyone hated ‘Grotto’, I’d be like, ‘It’s ok, I’m God in this equation and you’re wrong’. I am a little nervous about it though because it isn’t dance-y and I know people who only know me for my club output may stumble upon it and think, ‘what the hell is this?’.”

As we start to wind down, it becomes clearer and clearer just how important music is to object blue. It really is salvation; a binding agent, a grounding force, a dependable safety net that’ll always be there, regardless of how difficult life gets. “You know how everyone always says, ‘love is everything’?”, she asks after a short pause. “Like don’t get me wrong, I love, love, I’m always in love but I loved my ex and it didn’t save me. It didn’t make me feel alive or hopeful. 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. You don’t say to music like, ‘What are we? What do you want from me? What does our future look like?’. Music is just godly and I can get my everything from it. That was a huge realisation for me.”

“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.”

“Beethoven said that music occupies a higher plane of consciousness in human beings, more than any other art form”, she continues. “So I think for me, it’s music’s ability to transport you in real time and become something far greater than yourself that makes it so special. Even when I’m being an idiot, I always know that I can access that plane through music and that in itself is incredible. I guess some people get there through hard drugs or something but for me, it’s just music. Always.”

object blue’s ‘Grotto’ is out now on TT:

https://tobagotracks.bandcamp.com/album/grotto

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY™ —

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

(Jammz)

Album of the Month: Jammz – ‘Free Up The Riddims Volume 3’ (I Am Grime)

Essential

Highlights

1. 3rd Sunday Service

2. Slippington Road

3. Format (Shottas Riddim)

Jammz lets another 10 stellar grime instrumentals loose in the third volume of his influential ‘Free Up The Riddims’ series. Purpose-built with enough space for MCs to pepper and enough energy for DJs to reload in the dance, the beats on offer here flit between moody, sub-dwelling burners like ‘NWO’ and final track ‘Termite’, and skippier, breakneck cuts like the superbly-titled ‘Slippington Road’. There’s depth and nuance to individual tracks though too; from the deft sampling and Black Ops-style sublow cannon on ‘Format (Shottas Riddim)’ to the brooding tension and filmic crackle of ‘NWO’, every one has its own calling card. Jammz’ work may continue to go under-the-radar of late, but this latest anthology is more proof that he remains one of grime’s most versatile and naturally gifted creators. 9/10

Tune of the Month: Ikonika – ‘Snarge’ (Bandcamp)

Jheez!

Big, moody, hoods-up energy from Ikonika here on a track lifted from eight-track Bandcamp special, ‘No Feelings Required’ — a rare collection of tracks traversing both grime and drill. ‘Snarge’ is arguably the best of the lot, a booming, blood-and-thunder beat tempered by bright, rippling melody lines and sugary chiptune flashes. Although perfect foil for your favourite MC — our tip would be Capo Lee (!) — it listens just as well in isolation, such is Ikonika’s knack for writing emotive and impactful club music whatever the tempo. 8/10

Nothingnice & Hayz – ‘Hawkeye’ EP ft. Riko Dan & Logan (Durkle Disco)

Durkle go Nationwide, no Bradford & Bingley! 

Durkle Disco continue their knack of cross-pollinating city-centric grime and dubstep scenes on ‘Hawkeye’ — a collaboration between artists young-and-old from Leeds (Hayz), Bristol (Nothingnice) and London (Riko Dan, Logan). The title-track is the big sell, a nasty, snarling underground anthem-in-waiting, cut in the bruising style of tracks like ’Topper Top’ and Kahn & Neek’s 2012 classic, ’Percy’. The instrumental is dark and dungeon-dwelling, Riko’s vocal stark and ominous, but there’s also room for lighter club energy on DJ Polo’s sludgy, funky mix that pulls the tempo back down into the low 130s. Alongside the ‘Hawkeye’ instrumental, the EP also comes backed up by heavy-duty, squarewave joust, ‘Shell Dem’ — a collaboration with frequent label collaborator and prolific MC, Logan, who pulls few punches on a haunting, dancehall-flavoured vocal of his own. 8/10

Mungk – ‘Kuji’ EP (DUPLOC)

Low frequencies, high consciousness 

A fresh quartet of intriguing system-rattlers via Leeds-based producer Mungk on DUPLOC — one of contemporary dubstep’s most prominent new-school outposts. From the fraught, thumping low end of opener ‘Kuji’ to the spiky, 808 heat on ‘Rajasthan’, this is an EP also anchored in memories of (or spiritual homage to) India. Beautiful, swirling melodies dance atop the booming, grizzly beats underneath across all four tracks, joining the dots between club functionality and sentimental, post-club wonder. Our tip are the gorgeous, woodwind melodies of reverb-heavy final jam, ‘Macaque’, but every track has a story to tell. 8/10

Becky On The Beat – ‘Black Girl Magic’ EP (Bandcamp)

Don’t sleep!

‘Black Girl Magic’ forms the latest in a long-line of instrumental releases by Becky On The Beat — a producer firmly on the rise. The raw, no-frills pressure of booming opener ‘Black Girl Magic’ is a fitting entry point to an EP doused in flame, with even the record’s lighter moments — see silky after-burner ‘140 Babymaker’ — still packing plenty for the dance. The breezy rhythms and glitchy, 16-bit pulse of ‘Grill Pioneer’ make for a intriguing curveball, but normal service is soon resumed on scorching rally-anthem, ‘Queen Bekz’, and the mean, 808 clasp of ‘Fly Out The Wizz 2’. There’s room for a vocal too, with Nasty Jack lending his bars to a special version of ‘140 Baby Maker’. 7/10

Boardgame James – ‘Step Into My Office’ (1000Doors)

Magical 

New-gen grime label 1000Doors continue a strong early run of releases with label boss Boardgame James stepping up to the plate for a second time. Written as his own tribute to Sinogrime, ‘Step Into My Office’ feels like a natural extension of his 2020 debut solo project, ‘Daydream’ — itself an exercise in world-building — and its four tracks unravel like a intricately-woven tapestry. Opener ‘Bird Cage, Bird Soup’ is both joyous and transportive, functioning like a welcome into James’ tranquil new world, while the giddy, pan-flute rush of ‘Incense Riddim’ bursts with excitement and anticipation. ‘Last Sunday Of The Year’, a collaboration with fellow grime mysterio, Shatyaan, is the EP’s most functional, with rugged beats and OG grime string work tracing myriad Sino-melodies, before drifting into the endgame of ambient closer, ‘Campfires, Tents & Bedding Pt. II’ — the final chapter in Boardgame James’ latest faraway epic. 9/10

Brightwing – ‘Marching Orders’ EP (Badman Studios)

Heavyweight material 

Miami bass weight comes to the party on ‘Marching Orders’ on Badman Studios, with Brightwing firing out the sort of low-end to trouble even the sturdiest club system. Title-track ‘Marching Orders’ opens with charging drums and growling, guttural pressure — a real monster — while the tense, eerie atmospherics and mechansied crunch of ‘Doom Patrol’ keep things just as dark and ominous. Third track ‘Franklin CT’ is heavy on sub (to say the least!) but light on motion, the bass landing more like a murmur lodged in your chestplate than a full-body workout, while the pressure on swirling, roots-inspired final jam ‘Euphoria Dub’ is off the chain. Should probably come with some sort of warning! 7/10

Panix – ‘Who You Are’ EP (In:Flux Audio)

Not for the faint hearted

Biggest, baddest dubstep flavours courtesy of Panix, who debuts for In:Flux Audio with new four-track plate, ‘Who You Are’. Opener ‘One Moment’ goes hard in the paint from second one, channelling the sort of OG steppa sound that’s come to typify his output, while title-track ‘Who You Are’ sees him lock horns with young grime kingpin, Dunman. Cut with wobble aplenty, it’s dizzying and frenetic — a throwback to the sort of pressure early Capsa & Rusko productions used to throw out — and comes complete with a face-melting breaks mix via Six Sunsets producer, Ekula. There’s also a scything, Tik&Borrow re-rub of ‘One Moment’ thrown in for good measure, too. 6/10

JT The Goon – ‘Mad Memories’ (Bandcamp)

Bringing it back

Veteran grime producer JT The Goon was responsible for one of instrumental grime’s truly great albums in 2014’s ‘King Triton’ and while things may not have been plain sailing since, he remains a wizard behind the buttons. On ‘Mad Memories’, he conjures familiar magic, flowing between reflective, melodic grime on the title-track to harder, whirring head-nodders like ‘Gliding Tears’ and the rasping, ‘The Other Side’, both of which still dabble in the sort of earworm melodies that first made JT’s name. Our tip is final track, ‘Free Why Lee’, purely for its fluttery, xylophonic flashes and the nods to East Asia that have always made his music feel so engrossing. 8/10

Basic Rhythm & Lamont – ‘Hard Shoulder / Spring Back’ (Raw Basics)

(Spring) Back to the future — and back again!

Basic Rhythm — alternate club moniker of grime producer, East Man — is back with a third outing on his no-frills club imprint, Raw Basics. Joining forces with Swamp81 producer Lamont, the pair spar on two coarse, standout tracks that repurpose traditional club dynamics. A sharp, futuristic take on what Nervous Horizon’s TSVI coined ‘body music’ at the back end of 2020, A-side ‘Hard Shoulder’ might root itself in ‘80s electro and early Detroit techno, but finds its sweet spot in blurring the lines between then, now and tomorrow. Temporal, drone-like stabs and rugged percussion crash around fractious, bludgeoning electro rhythms that perplex as much as they do intrigue, while the oddball body swerve and rubbery, elastic beats of B-side ‘Spring Back’ feel even more alien and space-age. 8/10  

Monitor

This month, look out for Jossy Mitsu’s superb debut production EP, ‘Planet J’, which is out now on Astral Black … also be sure to check the third volume of ONHELL’s on-point ‘Remixtape’ series, which sees him flip tracks by everyone from Mz Bratt to Paramore all in the name of the party … and Run Outs, a breakout, vinyl-only label putting out sought after grime and dubstep patter on limited-run wax, continue to make waves … their latest cut (‘Gaza / The Curse’) comes courtesy of Austrian supremo, Pharma, and might just be the hardest plate we’ve heard so far in 2021 … looking ahead, there are a slew of great records on the horizon in March, from Canadian producer Yedgar dipping into the whirlpool on Terrorhtyhm to Kodama turning heads on Infernal Sounds and Tik&Borrow debuting for ever-reliable dubstep label, Simply Deep.

(Jossy Mitsu)

— Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson —

On grime, bassline, church, ChockABlock, MTV’s The Wrap-Up, Complex UK, TRENCH and how raving opened doors (and his eyes!) to a career in music.

(All photos submitted by Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson)

If you’re not familiar with the name Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson, chances are you’ll have visited one of the websites he edits, read one of his articles or been to one of his club nights — whether you realise it or not. An entirely self-made, self-taught promoter, blogger, writer and now editor, he has taken on a godfather role in UK music media over the last 15 years, and is now a key voice in the black music culture space. From grime and localised, grass-roots scenes through to the A-list artists now occupying the charts, JP is viewed as a trusted voice from all corners of the industry — from PRs and writers to fellow editors and even the artists themselves. However, as our conversation unfolds, it becomes clear that his journey has been far from conventional.  

“I’m just pushing through man, like everyone else I guess”, he says, speaking to me from a room at his family home in Northamptonshire, where he’s stayed since going to visit family for Christmas due to the UK lockdown. “This sort of life, you know with lockdown and everything, it’s not really new to me because I’ve always had the option to work from home. It would be good to get back to doing photoshoots, face-to-face interviews and meetings once it’s all over, though. I don’t really like Zoom, I’ll be honest, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”

JP was born in the Wandsworth Road area of South London to parents of Guyanese and Jamaican heritage — “..it was kinda in between Stockwell, Brixton, Clapham Junction, Battersea … right in the middle” — and recalls a fairly happy childhood; “I was very much a child, I wasn’t doing any madness”, he acknowledges, “but I did see and hear a lot from watching my older brother and his friends.” Born into a Christian household — his father is a practising minister with his own church, which JP still attends — he credits church with being a big part of his early life and a major influence on the music he was exposed to as a child. “Obviously, as Christians and the type of Christian my dad is … you know, Pentecostal … it was very strict growing up. We couldn’t really listen to any of music apart from gospel at home, but my sister had a little cassette player that she kept out of sight. We used to go and hide in her room and listen to Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, Jodeci and all this RnB stuff. My older brother was into hip-hop, but eventually got into the whole jungle, UK garage thing. He was a proper rebel and local MC at the time who called himself Flego. Basically, it meant I was kinda seeing the future of grime without really knowing. He’d always be spitting bars around the house and people used to think he was going a bit loops, but yeah, that’s how it was.”

“We couldn’t really listen to any of music apart from gospel at home, but my sister had a little cassette player that she kept a secret. We used to go and hide in her room and listen to Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, Jodeci and all this RnB stuff.”

He ended up moving out of London to Wellingborough, a small town in Northamptonshire, shortly after his 13th birthday — a move that would change the trajectory of his musical life completely. “I moved there with my mum after my parents split up”, he recalls, “so it was just me and my mum at first, although she was pregnant with my little sister at the time. I started at Weavers School in Wellingborough, where I made some friends who were basically all MCs, producers and DJs. I’d never liked grime before because growing up, I’d been very much into RnB and hip-hop, but it was just different there. I vividly remember just sitting in the corner at my friend Meshach’s house after school and watching people just running sets for hours and thinking, ‘what is this, bro?’. I think being from a sheltered Christian household, I hadn’t really experienced some of the stuff they were speaking about, even though I’d seen my brother go through certain things. Maybe I was trying to block that out and wasn’t trying to understand, I don’t know. But moving outside of London changed all that, which is weird because I think a lot of people think that’s where all the madness happens. Moving there taught me a lot of life lessons as a teenager.”

(Youngstar’s ‘Pulse X’ – one of JP’s favourite early grime records)

Was he ever tempted to spit on any of Meschach’s sets, I ask? “Never”, he replies emphatically. “I’ve never written a bar in my life! It’s weird because I was around it a lot and and yo, the local clashes got heated! I’ll keep those stories for my autobiography”, he laughs. JP adds that when he went to London to visit his dad on weekends, he would pick up Akademiks tracksuits and New Era hats for his friends back in Wellingborough. “That was the grime uniform back then”, he says, “and we were proper grime kids.”

“I’ve never written a bar in my life! It’s weird because I was around it a lot, especially classes and stuff ‘coz they used to get a bit heated, but I was never tempted. I just enjoyed the music.”

If moving away from London would introduce him to grime, then clubbing would see JP fall in love with it. Recalling the first club night he ever went to at Club Teeze as a fresh-faced 16 year-old back in 2004, he starts to smirk. “It was at this spot called Club Teeze in Northampton and Skepta, D Double E and Flirta D were booked and I think … was it Cameo or Logan (Same) deejaying? … I can’t remember but it was a proper grime rave. The vibe was wild, to say the least. I’d never experienced anything like it before but after that, I got into the whole grime thing hard. I never looked back from that night.”

In fact, it was grime promoters taking events outside of London during the early to mid ’00s— the belt of surrounding cities like Milton Keynes, Swindon and Northampton all played host to brands like Eskimo Dance and Sidewinder — that gave JP crucial, up-close-and-personal experience of grime in its infancy. Inquisitive and besotted with the music, he became a regular face at Club Teeze and soon started making his own connections. “I was just hooked on it, bro”, he says matter-of-factly. “It made me wanna try and put on my own rave. So I did.”

Now legendary grime rave ChockABlock was JP’s first brainchild at the age of just 17. His first event in 2007 saw Skepta, Tinchy Stryder, Logan Sama and Bok Bok amongst others touch down at a social club in Northampton; “..and this was before they were all big!”, he’s quick to point out. “It was dingy”, he continues, “and I mean dingy. Two hundred and fifty people all paying £7-10 entry and it was just rammed, which was kinda fitting of the name.”

So just how on earth did a 17 year old kid living in Wellingborough convince some of grime’s biggest names to trudge up to Northampton to play a rave? “I used to go down to Dirty Canvas nights in London quite a bit”, he explains, “which is where I first met Hyperfrank, Chantelle Fiddy, Hattie Collins, Danny Walker, Dan Hancox and others who were documenting the scene at the time. That must have been towards the end of 2006. I actually ended up interning with Dirty Canvas for a bit when they were putting out this Ruff Sqwad project and I think they wanted me to write some press releases or whatever. It didn’t really work out but that was my first proper thing in music. Aside from that, I was just going to bare grime raves in London and meeting people. I just remember thinking like, ‘Imagine if I had Skepta and them lot down to play a rave?’. That was all the thought I put into it. I always made sure I handled people in the right way whenever I met them though. I’ve never really been shook by fame, I don’t get starstruck or any of that stuff. We’re all people, we all bleed the same blood at the end of the day. I respect people for their craft and try to keep it real. That’s all there is to it.”

“I’ve never really been shook by fame, I don’t get starstruck or any of that stuff. We’re all people, we all bleed the same blood at the end of the day.”

A matter of weeks after that first club night, JP was contacted by Egg — the iconic 1000-capacity nightclub in Kings Cross — about the possibility of bringing ChockABlock down to London. For JP, it was a no-brainer. Promoted mostly via MySpace and Facebook, it quickly became one of the capital’s go-to club nights. “They just hit me up one day”, JP says, “and I’m still not really sure how news had spread to them, but I was like ‘yeah, why not?’. We ran ChockABlock raves there for about three years straight. All the MCs were there, basically every grime artist you can think of, every DJ. A load of bassline heads came through as well. While the whole grime thing was going on, I’d got really into bassline so I’d be going up to Niche in Sheffield, Leicester, wherever the baseline raves were up north, I’d be there on the regular. That was a big part of my life as well.”

“The London raves were just mad”, he continues. “There used be fashion designers like Cassette Playa stood next to road man, who’d be stood next to art kids … the crowd was just mad, but that’s what made ChockABlock what it was. And it’s probably the reason why people still talk about it today. The vibe was just different. I remember people used to turn up in roller skates and skate around my rave, bruv … on some proper nu-rave stuff. Thinking about artists I used book, I was the first person to book and interview Giggs. ‘Talkin’ The Hardest’ had just come out and I remember he came to the rave with about 30 man. I was like ‘broooooo, what’s going on here?’. He messaged me about it the other day, actually. Those days were epic man, for real.”

“There used be fashion designers like Cassette Playa stood next to road man, who’d be stood next to art kids … the crowd was just mad, but that’s what made ChockABlock what it was.”

To help chronicle the stories emerging from ChockABlock, JP started his own blog in 2008, which functioned more of a scrapbook than an editorial outlet. He’d post tracks and videos and share flyers from ChockABlock in a simple, as-it-says-on-the-tin blog format; it wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was certainly effective. And as with everything he’s set his mind to in his career so far, he was consistent with it, too. “I used to write terribly”, he says, chuckling to himself, “but I’d use my blog to share flyers and videos and whatever. I’d use words like ‘wagwarn’ and ‘them man’ and ‘dat’, it was all very colloquial but people liked it weirdly enough. After a while, I did naturally find myself starting to take the writing thing more seriously.”

(JP w/ Lady Leshurr)

Although not a natural writer — at school, he got an E in his English GCSE — JP had found his vocation in grime and buoyed by how far he’d taken ChockABlock, felt he could make a difference writing about the music he loved too. “I ended up starting to pitch out to editors, but obviously I had no idea what I was doing, I was a novice”, he recounts. “I remember I’d just put all the editors email addresses into one email, no bcc or anything like that, and just send my pitches over. One day, everyone just started merking me like, ‘who’s this guy? why are you emailing us?’. One editor in particular replied like, ‘don’t email me again until you can string a sentence together’. Over time, I just taught myself. I read articles, spoke to people about their journalism journeys, and really honed in on the writing.”

“I remember I’d just put all the editors email addresses into one email, no bcc or anything like that, and just send my pitches over. One day, everyone just started merking me like, ‘who’s this guy? why are you emailing us?’.”

“My first big breakthrough was actually with SuperSuper Magazine”, JP continues. “I’d pitched a three-page piece on bassline to their editor, Steve Slocombe, and he went for it. I wrote the piece and it got a really good reception, so they decided to offer me a Contributing Editor role, which really propelled me to keep going. From there, I started getting through to places like NME and Mixmag.”

Kept afloat by the success of ChockABlock and a series of jobs — he worked in customer services at TalkTalk for a spell and was on the front desk at a local bank, where his mates would roll up in their tracksuits and laugh at him — JP was able to persevere with writing until he got his first editorial role proper with MTV in 2010. “I was approached by a lady called Arfa Butt”, JP explains. “I think she’s still at MTV now actually. She just messaged me on Facebook one day and asked if I’d be interested in becoming the new editor of The Wrap-Up, which was MTV’s platform for black music, or urban music as they called it then. I went in, had a meeting with a guy called Akhil Suchak and got the job on the spot, it wasn’t really an interview. I started off part-time and ended up getting more hours as I progressed, which was sick at the time. Everyone in the bits was gassed for me, to the point where some people still call me ‘MTV JP’ to this day. I ended up doing a lot of interviews there, a lot of on-camera interviews too. I filmed one with Krept & Konan after they recorded their ‘OTIS’ freestyle in 2011 and it kinda blew up when it came out. It’s not online anymore I don’t think, but it was a good time. I definitely had my moments at The Wrap-Up during those two years.”

It was a shift in focus that saw JP call time on ChockABlock in 2011 and instead invest his energies in writing. Emboldened by his editorship at The Wrap-Up and picking up valuable new experience, his pitches finally started to land in the inboxes of editors receptive to his grasp of the music he was writing about. His next opportunity would come via now defunct US-based MTV platform, MTV Iggy, where he was offered a retainer contract in 2012 — a job that significantly widened the scope of his work. “MTV Iggy basically covered all types of music from all over the world”, he explains. “They basically wanted me to write about and commission stories on UK-based stuff as their UK correspondent, which.I did for two years or so. I did a lot of it remotely but I still gained a lot of experience and it set me up nicely for what was to come.”

What was to come would lay the foundations to the career JP has today — and it came via one of the first editors to ever trust in his writing. “Randomly, Steve Slocombe (former SuperSuper editor) just messaged me out of the blue like, ‘yo JP, how’s it going?’ and whatever”, he says. “I explained I was still freelancing and just doing what I’d always been doing and he told me about this new publication launching in the UK called Complex, and obviously I knew they were a big deal. I’d actually pitched to Complex editors in the US for time and got air for years. Anyway, Steve explained they were looking for someone to head up their music department in the UK and then asked if I could start in the next two weeks. I literally rang my dad, told him about the job and that I needed to find somewhere to stay and that was it. I moved back down to London and got to work. We spent about two months working on the UK site ahead of the launch and that was it, I’ve been with Complex ever since. I started as Music Editor in 2014, was made Senior Editor in 2016 and as of a couple of weeks ago, I’m now Editor-In-Chief, so it’s been like a seven-year journey, man.”

While the groundwork was laid at MTV, Complex UK gave JP the opportunity to start building upwards. Separating his roles as a writer and editor for the first time — “I did everything myself a lot at The Wrap-Up because we didn’t have a commissioning budget!” — he identified a core team of writers and contributors to help realise his vision, including long-time friend and fellow grime commentator, Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan. Crucially too, he was never subject of any external pressure from his bosses — Complex was to be a home of culture, not clicks. “It was always about building culture, it’s very much a cultural platform”, JP affirms. “Me and Steve have always had a good rapport between us as well, a lot of banter. Sometimes I’ll just message him like, ‘Steve, I’m not coming in this week, I’m just gonna work from home’ and he’s always totally cool with it. I’ve always been able to work how I want to work, which I’m grateful for. I think they see that when I have my time and get to focus that I can produce results. It’s been a blessing in that sense.”

“My own vision for Complex UK hasn’t changed since the very beginning, it’s still the same”, he continues. “It’s about giving a platform to artists who don’t get any love or don’t get the right type of love. Over the years, I’ve seen people write about artists, especially black artists, and not do them justice and I’ve always tried to counteract that by giving them the respect they deserve. Complex is a globally-loved brand, a respected platform, and I’ve tried to give it the same legacy in the UK along with the rest of the team.”

“It’s about giving a platform to artists who don’t get any love or don’t get the right type of love. Over the years, we’ve seen people write about people, especially black artists, and do it in completely the wrong way, so we’re here to change that.”

JP’s time at the Complex helm has been just as valuable for writers too, ushering in a new vanguard of journalists that have been crucial in making sure black music — notably grime and more recently, drill — is being documented accurately. The likes of Jesse Bernard, Yemi Abiade and Aniefiok Ekpoudom — who we spoke to last autumn — were all given early breaks under JP’s editorship and are now regular contributors at The Guardian, for example. “I think Jesse had his first piece published via Complex in 2015”, says JP, “and it’s been great to see him grow, the same with Yemi. One thing I’ve always tried to do as an editor is work with the writers to make sure their voice is still heard throughout their pieces. Some editors take ownership of people’s writing and voices get completely lost. I know every platform has its own house style or whatever, but I think it’s really important to keep a writer’s voice or else, what’s the point? If something’s not reading right, let’s try and fix it, fine-tune it. But I think it’s important for a writer’s voice to shine through.”

“I know every platform has its own house style or whatever, but I think it’s really important to keep a writer’s voice or else, what’s the point?”

While Complex ticked a lot of boxes as a global-leading media brand, JP still felt there was something missing from the UK music media landscape. “Obviously, with Complex we’ve got our UK content but I still thought there was a space for a strictly UK publication”, he explains. “There were still a lot of mistakes being made as well. I don’t want to call any names out but there was the Giggs piece in NME that totally misquoted his lyrics. Like, there’s a whole Genius dot com on the internet for people to check lyrics and they still published it? I found myself getting upset a lot back then. And it was the same for Hyperfrank.”

In response, JP established TRENCH — a powerful and dedicated UK-focused platform that has allowed him to build out his Complex UK vision to its full potential since first launching in 2017. “I’d always wanted to start my own publication for a while anyway”, he explains, “so I just rang up Hypes and said ‘Hypes… let’s do this magazine!’. We came up with the name and then we worked on the artwork together, managed to secure an investor and a bit of p and it went from there. I’ve known Hyperfrank since 2006 so the trust was already there and I think we both knew there was a space for it. People that read The Guardian can read TRENCH, land on a Jesse piece or a Yemi piece and be like, ‘rah, these guys can write, let me bookmark it’. That’s what the aim has always been.”

“It’s just about good journalism … people that read The Guardian can read TRENCH, land on a Jesse piece or a Yemi piece and be like, ‘rah, these guys can write, let me bookmark it’.”

Alongside its journalism, TRENCH has also birthed a number of its own trends including TRENCH Radio — a weekly round-up of the week’s best online DJ mixes from both in-and-outside the conventional dance music canon — and the spike in popularity of archive footage clips, which have been regularly shared across the platform’s social channels since its inception. Overseen by Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan, who spends hours trawling through the internet to find choice clips — from golden-era footage of early grime raves to iconic, long-lost freestyles — these bitesize memories have helped re-affirm where today’s scenes emanated from. “Every day, five days a week”, JP says, laughing. “I’m pleased you’ve noticed that. Hypes does it for us every day, literally. A lot of it is spending hours searching on YouTube, but people send us stuff too. I’m glad that people enjoy it.”

TRENCH also saw its first physical version release in 2018 in the form of a limited-run zine covered by grime MC, D Double E, and JP is now in the process of planning a five-cover physical magazine drop this summer. “It feels like its time to do another one”, he says, leaning back to take a swig of his can of cider. “We did the first one in 2018 with D Double. I’d known him for time, from booking him for my raves to supporting his music with my writing, so it just made sense for him to be on that first cover. I’m looking forward to getting this next lot out there now.”

Going forward, stability and consistency are key to JP’s vision for both Complex UK and TRENCH — “we’ve just got to keep doing it, keep building” — but he also hopes to branch into more visual content, specifically podcasts, over the coming years too. “They’re definitely something I want to explore a bit more”, he explains. “I want to build the whole audio-visual element into both to be honest because I think we’ve got the journalism thing on point now, humbly speaking. One thing I do want to talk about is this trend of bad writing … well, it’s blogging mainly … that’s being passed off as good. There’s a lot of people blogging about grime and rap and it kinda reminds me of when I first started and that part is dope to see. The thing is though, I had people telling me I couldn’t write and I learned from that, whereas now there’s a lot of stuff being shared online as if it’s of a good standard with no one chiming in, which I don’t think is healthy. I’ve worked with a lot of young writers over the years and I still try and do as much as I can because I know what it’s like thinking you’re doing amazing work when, in fact, it’s not, then looking back and feeling embarrassed. Sometimes the advice I give doesn’t always get through, but I do want everyone to excel for the music’s sake. A lot of people don’t know this but radio and streaming platforms, when it comes to playlisting anyway, a lot of those platforms look to see how an artist’s music is being received by press, so journalism is always going to be important in music. But I think certain editorial platforms have a duty to make sure the words that they publish are to the best standard that they can be. I might just do a journalism workshop one of these days.”

“I’ve worked with a lot of young writers over the years and I still try and do as much as I can because I know what it’s like thinking you’re doing amazing work when, in fact, it’s not, then looking back and feeling embarrassed.”

While bad writing might still irk him, great music still excites him — and none period more so than the 2014-2016 grime explosion that kicked down doors and made the power and popularity of black music in the UK feel undeniable; without it, JP argues, things would look very different. “That whole resurgence was sick”, he recalls. “I remember popping off to Radar Radio and all these young MCs would just be shelling whatever time of day it was. I met AJ Tracey down there, Novelist and loads of others, it was a really exciting time. That grime wave has influenced everything that has happened since then. Maybe not sonically, but definitely in terms of being respected, being written about and even getting a look in at chart level. I mean, don’t forget you had the whole Drake and Boy Better Know thing, that Kanye performance at The BRITS with all the MCs behind him, all of that. It was all a grime thing and so I think we need to put a bit of respect on that period, definitely.”

As our conversation begins to wind down, JP’s reflections are thoughtful and honest. There are no wild ambitions nor any overstated claims about what’s to come — just an acknowledgement of where he’s at and where he’s come from. “I just wanna keep building on everything I’ve achieved so far, man”, he says after a brief pause. “It’s been a long journey to this point but there’s always more I can do. Aside from work, I just want this pandemic to end so I can go on some dates at Burger & Lobster, find my wife and settle down. I’m giving myself a few more years though, ‘cos I still think I’ve got some shapes to cut at Circoloco.”

You can keep up to date with JP’s work below:

Complex UK / TRENCH

(JP w/ Jamakabi & D Double E)

— Jossy Mitsu —

On growing up in Birmingham, ’90s compilations, long hours at fabric and The Nest, studying Biology at UCL, Rinse FM, Astral Black and honing her skills on upcoming debut EP, ‘Planet J’.

(All photos submitted by Jossy Mitsu)

It’s been a challenging 12 months for Jossy Mitsu. A talented, hi-energy and explosive DJ behind the decks but quiet, introspective and thoughtful in her own company, a year of both perpetual lockdown and personal loss has thrown up obstacles she didn’t think she’d have to overcome so early in her career. Having only recorded her first ever mix a little over seven years ago, Jossy — now a well-established Rinse FM resident and a member of all-conquering DJ collective, 6 Figure Gang — might seem to have appeared from nowhere to the proverbial outsider, but as she herself reflects during our hour long conversation on Friday night, it’s been anything but an easy ride. “Right now, I feel pretty good”, she says, speaking from a room in her mum’s house in Birmingham where she’s spent the vast majority of the past year. “But it’s been really mixed. At first, it felt like a really nice break from everything and I think I needed that to be honest, but once I realised the situation was gonna go on a lot longer, I was like, ‘ah, this is shit’.”

“Actually, it’s felt a lot worse since the new year”, she continues, “but there was a really nice moment I had with my two sisters and my brother on new year’s eve. There’s this massive hill down the road from my house and you can see the whole of Birmingham from it. We took a bottle of champagne up there for a few hours and we could just see every firework going off from all over Birmingham. It was just really nice. But as soon as that moment passed, it was like ‘fuck’.”

Born in Birmingham to parents of Dutch and Ghanaian heritage, Jossy grew up in an area of the city called Bournville — “You know Bournville, the chocolate? Bournville itself is literally right by the Cadbury’s factory” — before later splitting her time between two houses in South Birmingham after her parents separated when she was eight. She went to an all girls grammar school in the city, an experience she describes as “tough but at the same time, hilarious” and excelled at her studies — “I was always good at science … probably everything thinking about it, but it’s been downhill ever since!”, she says, breaking out into laugher. Music though, never really seemed on the cards, despite playing piano throughout much of her school life. 

“I was always good at science … probably everything thinking about it, but it’s been downhill ever since!”

“My dad’s from Holland and I think when he was younger, he went to a lot of cool concerts and stuff over there … David Bowie and stuff like that”, Jossy recalls. “But he was much more of a music lover than anything else, he certainly wasn’t musical. He liked a lot of ’80s stuff, soul, even rock and hip-hop, and he’d play random CDs sometimes. I remember him playing Basement Jaxx for a while and then he’d flip to Kings Of Leon and bands like that, where as my mum played a lot of Highlife, so I remember a wide variety of music growing up.” 

What about her own tastes, I wondered? “I loved ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ … and I loved Shania Twain as a kid as well, I don’t know why”, she says, grinning sheepishly. “A lot of random shit, really. Everything that resonated with me either came down to a slightly weird melody or I dunno … there just had to be something. I remember there was a ‘House Classics’ CD floating around at home actually, and there was this compilation called ‘Dance ’95’ which was on all the time when I was really young. It had ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’ on it, some jungle stuff, even ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ I think.”

“I loved ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ … and I loved Shania Twain as a kid as well, I don’t know why”

“The first CD I bought myself was probably by Destiny’s Child”, she continues, “but I also vividly remember walking into a shopping centre in Northfield in 2006 and buying ‘Me & U’ by Cassie on CD. I started buying records when I was about 15 because a girl I went to school with was really into buying indie stuff on vinyl. I used to go along to the local Music & Video Exchange in the city centre with her and started finding all this RnB that I recognised and then ‘80s stuff. I got really into that when I was 17. My older sister used to listen to a lot of So Solid Crew and Dizzee Rascal when I was younger, so.I think hearing garage when I was like, seven or eight, came back around when I was 15, 16 as well. I totally rediscovered it but like, this time I realised there was a whole scene away from the the mainstream, commercial side … you know the instrumental, two-step stuff. I just remember thinking, ‘this is sicccccck!’.”

Unbeknownst to Jossy at the time, rediscovering garage would light the touch paper for the next 10 years of her life. Without the influence of an older sibling or friends at school, the onus was on her to dig out the records she loved — and learn to mix them. “I had a record player from about 15 I think”, she recalls, “and then I got my first decks, some Stanton belt-drives, when I was 18. They were given to me by a friend from primary school to borrow at first because by this point, I’d wanted to buy my own decks for a while. We’d reconnected over garage because none of my other friends were into it and had started to go out a lot together in Birmingham, mainly to The Rainbow. Anyway, there’s this area in Birmingham called Weoley Castle which gets a bit of a bad reputation. I remember being on Gumtree one day and finding a pair of turntables on sale for £50, which was my entire budget, and asking my mum if she’d take me. She looked at me and just said, ‘I’m not going there, it’s full of crooks’. There was someone on X-Factor from Woeley Castle a few years back actually.” 

“Residents Too Scared To Leave Their Homes At Night”, she continues, reading a headline from a local newspaper story off her PC monitor like a newsreader. “Basically I ended up missing out on them but luckily my friend, who I was talking about earlier, let me borrow his old Stanton belt-drives because he’d just got some Technics. And yeah, I’ve still got them … he never asked for them back!”

After leaving school, Jossy decided to take a gap year before university, heading off to first The Gambia — “my mum’s friend was stationed over there, so I went over and did some work experience with her for two months” — and later, Thailand, where she spent four months, mostly on the island of Koh Tao, making friends with locals and integrating as best she could. “I’d known I wanted to go there for ages and I think I just wanted to escape life here”, she says, sinking back into her chair. “It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life … I feel like that was my peak!”

On her return to the UK, she headed to London to study Biology at University College London or UCL — by all accounts, one of the most prestigious universities in the country. “It was horrible”, she says bluntly, grimacing slightly. “It wasn’t that hard … actually no, it was hard, but maybe not as difficult as I thought it’d be. It was just the amount of information I had to take on. I’d been used to cramming my whole life, where as at UCL I was having to be consistent, I couldn’t leave things to the last minute or do everything at once. I was so distracted by being in London and by music too. By the time I got to my final year, I felt that I had to knuckle down but it was like my brain didn’t work anymore.”

Living between Farringdon, Highbury, Hackney and Tooting, before later moving to New Cross after she’d graduated, Jossy was able to sample the city from different vantage points, each with their own unique sights and sounds and flavours. Functioning like snapshots, experiencing the city through these different lenses was crucial to both moulding her own dance floor education and giving her the confidence to step out as a DJ. “I think I recorded my first mix in 2014”, she says, tracing her mind back. “It was only a 15 minute mini-mix, but that was definitely the first thing I uploaded. It was about that time that I’d gone to see Dusky at Studio Spaces in Wapping and I remember going to fabric a lot back then. It was amaaaazing. I’d never really gone to any raves in London before so I was so fresh to it all. My sister did live in London for a bit when I was younger though, so I didn’t go to any of the freshers week events or even my university induction because I just wanted to be out all the time.”

True to form, she didn’t stop going out for the next three years — and after just six weeks in the capital, she landed a job at fabric, where she worked in the cloakrooms, (and basically anywhere she was asked), for the next 18 months. “It was on-and-off depending on university and exams and stuff, but I loved it there”, she recalls. “Sometimes I’d be put on this lost property job, which basically meant walking around the club with a torch looking for shit on the floor. That was the best job to get because it meant you got to hear everyone playing in the different rooms all night. I worked on the bar at The Nest in Dalston after I left fabric for about six months as well. That was sick because it was just one room, so I was getting to hear every DJ play from beginning to end. Sometimes it’d be hip-hop, other times it’d be techno or garage. It was fun to listen each night because it felt like an education in a way.”

Emboldened by these early rave experiences from all angles of the club, Jossy felt confident enough to start uploading regular mixes to her Soundcloud, which quickly started to attract hundreds of followers. “I guess my first big mix was Volume 1 of my Garage Mix that I upload every Valentine’s Day”, she explains. “I’ve just recorded Volume 7 actually, so that means I must have uploaded my first in 2015. I didn’t really know anyone like promoters or anything and certainly wasn’t getting bookings though, so it didn’t really feel like anything more than a hobby. I’d still not mastered the skill of mixing on CDJs either because I was still using my Stanton’s for all my mixes at home, so I ended up going to this university group meeting for people who liked electronic music one day. They used to host workshops and they had CDJs to practice on … I ended up finding them so easy to pick-up. Through going there, I got a chance to start playing student nights and RnB and stuff like that, but I was still listening to a lot of electronic bits in my spare time and heading out to raves when I could. It gave me a lot of confidence, doing that.”

Student club nights would ultimately prove an unlikely entry point into electronic music, too. Booked to warm up for Jon Phonics — DJ, producer and label head of cult label, Astral Black — for a show at The Nest in early 2016, Jossy played a set that would lead her to the position she finds herself in today. “He told me that my set was really good after he heard me play”, recalls Jossy, “and that he’d be in touch about maybe booking me for one of his Astral Black parties. At first, I was like ‘yeah right, that’s never gonna happen’, but true to his word, he booked me for Bushido’s ‘Grandmaster Cash’ EP launch at Rye Wax in Peckham a few months later. I played a few more shows after that and then he asked me if I’d like to play the Astral Black show on Radar a few times which was cool. I think that whole 2016-2017 period was pivotal for me because I started playing at The Alibi a lot for different friends’ club nights as well. Basically, when Dalston was the place to go, it all just felt like one big community.”

“I never really thought it’d become anything”, she continues. “When I first started buying garage records when I was 17 or whatever, I remember thinking I really wanted to learn to mix just because I loved the tunes so much. The goal from there was just to play in a club, especially in London, but I never thought about radio or touring or anything like that. Once it started to happen for me, I dunno, it feels like it just unfolded. I honestly never thought it’d get to this point, so it’s been nice. For a long time, I didn’t let myself think of deejaying being a real career either. Personally, I didn’t see myself as ever doing it as more than a thing on the side because of my background. It took a while to get used to that feeling of thinking, ‘yeah, this is what I do now’.”

“When I first started buying garage records when I was 17 or whatever, I remember thinking I really wanted to learn to mix just because I loved the tunes so much. The goal from there was just to play in a club, especially in London, but I never thought about radio or touring or anything like that.”

Such was her impact on dance floors all over London, it wasn’t long before Rinse FM came calling in the autumn of 2018 — a nod of approval that cemented her reputation as a DJ firmly on-the-up. “They just emailed me once I think”, she says, stretching her arms back behind her head before pausing briefly. “Or maybe it was a guest mix I did first, I can’t remember. All I do remember was that I was at my best friend’s wedding when I got the email, which was nice. It’d be nicer if I didn’t leave it until last minute to go through tracks and plan my show every month! I used to get so anxious but it was completely my own fault. Mixing live, pushing myself to host and speak on the mic and stuff, it’s all helped me grow as a DJ massively though. I never plan anything aside from the first tune either. Having to think on my feet and focus like that is really quite therapeutic. Just learning to be okay with things not being perfect, you know.”

For someone with such a technical, analytical mind — she loves Architecture and is now weighing up applying for a place on a Masters course to study Environmental Design in September — Jossy’s relationship with deejaying feels like it’s still developing too. “Being a DJ is a really weird one for me because it’s so social and you’re very much reliant on other people”, she explains. “I mean, I do absolutely love it, meeting people and playing with friends and stuff, but I can’t be like that all the time. I usually prefer being left alone to go deep on things, that’s just how I work best, so it is different to what I’m used to and I’ve had to work at that. When I first started doing music production a few years ago though, I felt more complete as a person straight away, because it gave me the space to listen and learn and nerd out.”

‘Whirl’, a choice cut on Astral Black’s ‘Frass FM 5’ compilation released in February 2020, landed as Jossy’s first ever official track — and quickly left her wanting more. Now, almost a year on, she’s just announced the release of her debut EP, ‘Planet J’, incoming via Astral Black on February 26. Comprised of four rugged, technoid UKG burners, loaded with the sort of whiplash-inducing club freight that’s come to define her DJ sets, it’s as powerful and unabashed as it gets. “The response to the announcement has felt quite good”, Jossy says earnestly, “but before that, it felt horrible! It’s a really unusual feeling, especially sending off pre-masters and waiting for them to come back. From having my show on Rinse and being on the other end of it, listening to loads of tracks each month and being like, ‘don’t like that, don’t like that, won’t play that’ … I guess it’s hit me that other DJs will be dong the same with my tracks. It’s been quite hard to get my head around that.”

“It’s a really unusual feeling, especially sending off pre-masters and waiting for them to come back. From having my show on Rinse and being on the other end of it, listening to loads of tracks each month and being like, ‘don’t like that, don’t like that, won’t play that’ … I guess it’s hit me that other DJs will be dong the same with my tracks.”

“I’ve been saying ‘this is gonna be the year I’m gonna start music production’ for about the last five years”, she continues. “There’s been points where I’ve tried to learn but I think I’d get impatient, especially trying to learn my way around Ableton. I had to sit down, focus and accept that it’d take me a while to write the sort of music I wanted to make. I think because I’m still quite early on in my production career … I started in the summer of 2019 … the learning curve has been really steep. Even ‘Whirl’, which came out on the ‘Frass FM’ compilation, like, I can’t listen to that track anymore even though it got a really good reception. I just feel like I’ve improved so much since then. Thankfully I’m really comfortable and happy with the EP and on that note, I really do owe a lot to Jon Phonics and my agent Toby from 3’Hi / Astral Black because they’re both a huge part of my story and of getting me to where I am today.”

Away from the emotions attached to writing her debut record, Jossy is quick to acknowledge the lesser-seen personal struggles that made 2020 one of the most testing 12 months of her life. It was a year punctured by enduring sadness, after losing both her grandfather and close friend and fellow DJ/producer, Baytrilla — losses she admits she’s still not fully come to terms with. “I’ve been thinking about life and death a lot and very deeply since my close friend Baytrilla and my grandad passed away”, she says. “They’re two really different types of loss to come to terms with. Luckily, I could travel to Holland for my grandad’s funeral and the whole thing was such an emotional but really special and dignified send off.”

“With the loss of Bailey (Baytrilla), I don’t even think I’ve fully come to terms with it yet”, Jossy continues. “It’s been hard as I’m so removed from my previous life now and I haven’t seen so many of my friends or been in the places we used to go to for a long time. It doesn’t really feel like it’s getting any easier to accept because I know that when everything opens up again, he won’t be here to see it and that makes me dread it. But what helps me is focusing on memories and how lucky I feel to have known him for those years.”

It was an overarching sadness compounded by catching COVID-19 at the start of 2021. Mentally fatigued and physically drained, she decided to isolate herself from everyone around her, reassessing her relationship with social media in the process. “I just felt really down if I’m honest”, Jossy explains. “Taking time away and isolating myself, it really helped clear my mind a bit. I took the decision to deactivate my Instagram for two months as well, and I found it extremely liberating. Reactivating it recently has been a bit anxiety-inducing but I’ve found I’ve got a more healthy relationship with it now, and the support from everyone means a lot. I really do feel like it’s helped me to pull myself out of a very dark place and at the moment, I’m feeling quite positive and hopeful.”

“I took the decision to deactivate my Instagram for two months as well, and I found it extremely liberating. Reactivating it recently has been a bit anxiety-inducing but I’ve found I’ve got a more healthy relationship with it now, and the support from everyone means a lot.”

This hopefulness has manifested itself not only in the form of the impending release of ‘Planet J’, but also by way of teaching herself guitar, reconnecting with the piano — “I’ve found it such a good release … I’m working on Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary Etude’ at the moment which is great for those moody days” — and taking up learning Japanese. “I took a trip a while back and loved it so much”, Jossy explains. “My reason for learning is so I can go back again but for an extended period of time. I met up with some people I knew out there last time who showed me round some of Tokyo and Osaka and I went out to three clubs in Tokyo on my own because I was fascinated by it. I saw Shygirl, Coucou Chloe, Bambounou, DJ Nobu and Mars89 out there and I also did a lot of sightseeing on my own which I really enjoyed. It was a proper life-changing trip basically.”

Her ambitions don’t stop there either. Combined with working part-time as an A&R for Holding Hards Records since last summer — “It’s been a really sick experience that I’ve learnt so much from already” — Jossy has also been exploring the possibilities of balancing music with further academic study. “I’ve been thinking about a Masters for a while now”, she explains. “I found this Environmental Design field, which, if you work in the architectural world, basically looks at how you can help new buildings make sense for their environment. I thought that was really cool because it’s basically a combination of everything I’m interested in and means that one day, I could potentially incorporate that knowledge into helping design club spaces. I’ve thought about learning to do 3D modelling as well, so that’s gonna be a challenge for me over the rest of lockdown, I really want to teach myself to do that.”

“I feel really torn though”, she continues, “because the Masters is the sensible, career-minded thing to do but at certain points with my music production, I’ve felt like my wildest dream would be to be a really successful music producer. I have periods of being really focused and productive with it, like, I launched an alias for my more down-tempo, hip-hop stuff in December and made a load of tracks in about three weeks. I found it easy because it’s not tied to my club stuff and I’m not as bothered about people’s opinions, but equally, I haven’t really felt like making music for a while since then. Basically it’s like, what do I do? I don’t know how I’m gonna combine the Masters stuff with my music. But, recently I listened to an RA Exchange that Martha did with Lawrence Lek. I think he studied architecture but is also a music producer with releases on Hyperdub who makes his own 3D films, so he’s made me think it could be possible.”

Having met a difficult, testing year head on and come out the other side with a quiet, steely sense of resolve but perhaps more importantly, a deeper understanding of herself, it feels like 2021 might mark the end of the beginning in Jossy Mitsu’s story — and if ‘Planet J’ is anything to go by, we’ve all got a lot to look forward to. 

Jossy Mitsu’s ’Planet J’ releases via Astral Black on February 26:

https://astralblack.bandcamp.com/album/planet-j

— Zha —

On vinyl, dubstep, grime, Philosophy, Mathematics, Southampton, 1210s, business, White Peach, Fent Plates, freight, Brexit and building a legacy.

(All photos submitted by Zha)

“Ah mate, I hope I don’t come across as a bit of a boomer here”, says Zha as our chat window opens early on Wednesday night, “I’ve borrowed a laptop for this and I’ve not actually used Zoom before so you’ll have to bear with me.” DJ, producer and owner of White Peach Records — a 50-release strong record label, online store and manufacturing-distribution arm in one — as well as head at sister labels Fent Plates and Yellow Flower, it’d be easy to think that Zha’s life functions solely around music. Dig a little deeper however and there’s more to his story than meets the eye. A lifelong academic — he’s currently studying for a Masters and on course for a PhD later this year — his drive and thirst for knowledge comes through strongly in everything he says; even the most regulation of points are made with earnest conviction. 

Born in High Wycombe to parents of Indian and Pakistani heritage who grew up in different parts of Africa — his mum in Kenya, his dad in Uganda — Zha has fond memories of growing up. “I spent a lot of time just pissing around if I’m honest”, he says, breaking out into laughter. “I went to a grammar school, which was a weird place to go to school in the sense that it’s full of people who fall into this strange middle ground in both class and expectations … like it’s not cool to smoke, but it is cool to get 100% in your exams. Nobody was particularly well off but I remember everyone being super intelligent. Most people got 16 A*s so if you got like, 7, you were the loser, you know? I guess it made me switch off a bit but I still have some good memories, definitely. I was in the playground when I first heard FabricLive 37 (by Caspa & Rusko) and the earliest conceptions of DMZ, do you know what I mean? Thinking back, I actually remember logging onto Chemical Records one day and stumbling on this DMZ record after hearing something at school, playing a clip of it and being like, ‘woah, what is this?’. It was just instant conversation. I was hooked.”

Can he recall any other key early 12”s, I ask? “I’ve got a few of them here”, he says, shuffling through some records in a box behind him. “I’ve got over 25,000 records so there’s a lot to go through. The earliest I remember buying were the grime white labels and I don’t know why this sticks in my mind, but Bear Man – ‘Drinking Beer’ … do you remember that one? I got it for £6.99 from Slough Record Centre and I remember going home with it just obsessed. I bought Lethal B – ‘Forward Riddim’ (Pow!) from HMV when records were three for a tenner around that time, too. I remember I got ‘Welcome To Jamrock’ by Damian Marley as part of the same deal. They were two records I tried mixing into each other when I got turntables at 15, but I could never understand why I couldn’t do it. I remember somebody telling me it was because the BPMs were different and it blew my mind. Aside from records though, videos were important as well. You’d download them from Kazaa or Limewire, play the audio on your phone at school if you could and then everyone would go home, sit in front of their TVs and wait for the video to play on Channel U. I remember certain videos would have like a two second pause before they started, so sometimes I’d be like, ‘Yes, I know what it is, I know what it is!’. What a time, man.”

“…Bear Man – ‘Drinking Beer’ … do you remember that one? I got it for £6.99 from Slough Record Centre”

“I think the way we consume music now is so different”, he continues quizzically. “In one decade, we’ve gone from buying CDs to Shazam on our phones. There’s a conversation here about albums too … do they even matter anymore? I remember having a paper round and getting paid like £4.30 a week or some bullshit when I was a kid and I had one of those CD Walkmans that I’d take with me. I’d started to build up a small CD collection, maybe 40-50 CDs, and I remember before going out to do my round, I’d sit there and try and decide which CD was going with me for the two hours. It’d usually be a Dilated Peoples album, so I’d know I was gonna listen from track 1 to track 20, beginning to end. After a few listens, track 6, 12 and 13 I’d skip because I didn’t like the beat or whatever but after weeks of taking the CD out with me, I’d start to appreciate why tracks 6, 12 and 13 were on the album and understand it as a body of work, even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it. It meant I was able to appreciate albums as a kid, whereas now that process is totally different. Now, you’d scroll through an album on Spotify, pick out the bangers, add them to your playlist and forget the rest. That seems to be way we consume music these days.”

“I remember having a paper round and getting paid like £4.30 a week or some bullshit when I was a kid and I had one of those CD Walkmans that I’d take with me. I’d started to build up a small CD collection, maybe 40-50 CDs, and I remember before going out to do my round, I’d sit there and try and decide which CD was going with me for the two hours. It’d usually be a Dilated Peoples album, so I’d know I was gonna listen from track 1 to track 20, beginning to end.”

Indebted to the early 00s Napster-era of online piracy — “that’s just how everyone shared and consumed music back then” — Zha’s early tastes were formed through file-sharing, music TV channels and patchy segments of audio blasted out of phones and Walkmans on the school playground; if you wanted to hear more of something, you had to go the extra mile, you had to be invested. “I’m currently still trying to acknowledge my past guilt by buying everything”, he says. “Even shit I don’t like I’ll pay a fiver for on Bandcamp these days. But no, I’d find most of my music first on TV. I remember I had two friends who used to write down the name of tracks they’d heard on MTV Base or Channel U or whatever and then I’d come home and try and find them on Kazaa. The big thing back then was US gangsta rap … your 50 Cents, your G-Units … so I remember ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’ getting released and everyone just knew every lyric to every song. Even to this day, I’m still able to spout off every single bar of ‘Many Men’.” 

His gateway into buying records came at school, too. “I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this story before”, he says pensively. “So there was this kid at school and I remember Christmas coming around when we were 13, 14, so year nine it must have been. He came in one day and just said, ‘yo, for Christmas I’m getting decks’. At this point, I’d started messing around on a really early copy of Fruity Loops and I was taking my beats in on CD to show to people, but I’d never even thought about actual records before. I remember just looking at him and thinking, ‘shit, I really want decks now’. I came home and asked my parents that day and they were like ‘absolutely not, you’re not gonna study, you’re not gonna focus, it’s done, no way’. I reckon for about a year after that, I would ask my dad for turntables constantly. During that period, I’d get £10 a month pocket money from my parents and even back then, that’d only be enough for one record, the prices haven’t really changed. I realised that economy wasn’t working for me, I couldn’t get by on one record a month if I wanted to get turntables. So I invested my £10 in sherbet and sold sweets at school and basically became a bit more entrepreneurial to help get more money to buy records. Eventually, about a year and a half after first asking, I remember I was just totally obsessing over getting these decks. My dad finally gave in and said, ‘if you get 70 or above in all your exams then I’ll get you them’ so that was it. I got the results but he still said no. I was so annoyed but I wouldn’t let it go. Eventually, I pissed him off by asking so much that he agreed to get me some, but on the condition that I could only use them during the six week summer holiday and then they’d go back in the attic. I was like, ‘deal!’. So basically, from 15-18, I’d only have those turntables for six weeks of the year, even though I was still buying loads of records. To be fair, I didn’t actually mind too much because I got my head down for my A-Levels to make sure I could get to university. It was only when I got to university in Southampton that I took my turntables with me, unpacked them and sat them there like, ‘hey, I can use these decks whenever I want’. It was a great feeling.”

After finishing his A-Levels, Zha headed for Southampton University, where he first studied engineering but later went onto complete an undergraduate degree in Mathematics. “There was something much more fulfilling about it for me”, he says. “Maths is more about finding out where formulas came from and how we can refine them, which kinda takes things back to first principles. I specialised in Pure & Applied Maths. The pure stuff for me became very interesting so I actually ended up writing two dissertations and a paper in my final year. I can’t really talk about it without it sounding ridiculous but it’s what called the ‘discreet cosine transform’ and I used that with image compression. Basically, you’d run an image through my little bit of Maths and the image would still look the same but the file size would be much smaller. I ended up coming up with a second one for audio compression and creating a bit of my own software. Essentially, you’d run a WAV file through it and the file would come out at 15% of the size of the original file with virtually the same sound quality. I got it to 99.6% but you’d always find that you lost a bit of the high end … I couldn’t quite retain it.”

Zha later stumbled across Philosophy of Mathematics during his final year too, choosing to write a paper on transfinite infinites. “I was interested in one of the four provable sizes of infinity, which is the amount of numbers between zero and one”, he explains. “That eventually led me away from the pure stuff and into philosophy … Marxism and stuff like that, just normal philosophy I guess.” Up next? “I’m currently doing my Masters and hopefully my PhD course should start at the end of this year.”

Away from his studies, Southampton offered Zha little source of inspiration. He found it to be a city rife with generic student nights, cheap drinks and fancy dress — by his own admission, he’d overlooked the importance of being either part of or in proximity to a local music hub. “Maybe naively I’d thought that because everything was moving online, I’d be able to connect with likeminded people regardless of where I went”, he recalls, “but I was wrong. It was just Baywatch music everywhere. There was a club in Southampton called Jesters and that just embodied the music scene … absolute cheese and cheap drinks. There are honourable mentions, though. I remember Joe Raygun endlessly running dubstep, drum & bass, techno and house nights on his own for basically a decade. Only 60-70 people would turn up, but week in week out, he was doing it. I remember he booked Foreign Beggars one night and about 100 of us turned up and it was mental. Usually they’d be performing to 30,000 people and here they were in a pokey little club in Southampton but everyone went mad, it was brilliant. That aside, there wasn’t much of a scene at all. It was only when I came home to London that everything changed in the blink of an eye.”

That’s not to say Zha hadn’t been working on his own music at university, mind. After making “shitty Asian hybrid music” under an old moniker during his college days, he’d started producing grime under new alias, Zha. “I think I got to a place in 2012 where I felt I’d met enough producers and MCs and networked with enough people off my own back that it didn’t matter how I looked and my skin colour, my accent … I didn’t want to let it hold me back or feel like I didn’t belong anymore, so I just got busy. I’d started White Peach officially the year before, was running that in the background and noticed there weren’t many grime labels just pummelling shit out. I thought to myself, ‘I’m gonna try and fill that space’. That’s why the first 10 White Peach records are all white labels, it’s almost paying homage to how I first bought grime instrumentals. They were all just totally unapologetic grime instrumentals, those first 10.”

“I think I got to a place in 2012 where I felt I’d met enough producers and MCs and networked with enough people off my own back that how I looked, my skin colour, my accent … I didn’t want to let it hold me back or feel like I didn’t belong anymore”

Formed with money saved up after working at Sainsbury’s, White Peach’s first few years were relatively quiet. Zha released Culprate’s ‘Curious George VIP / B-Side’ in 2011 and Numa Crew’s ‘Infama’ in 2012 — “I’d save £1000 in a year and then press a record, that’s literally how I looked at it” — before two volumes of the label’s multi-artist compilation series, ‘Peach Bits’, heralded the start of White Peach proper in 2014. His grizzly debut EP, ‘Southampton Lengman’, released in 2015, was the first solo record to align the label with the wider grime community, too. “Regrettably, that was my first EP, yeah”, he says as I scroll through the White Peach catalogue on Discogs. “Again, that was more me taking the piss really. I got started on in Bristol for wearing Toms shortly before that EP came out. Some guy came up to me in the smoking area after I’d just played at this club night with JT The Goon and Spooky and said, ‘you’re not a lengman’. I was literally just standing there minding my own business so it made me laugh. Like, what was I supposed to do? Anyway, I ended up getting lamped in the face. I remember heading back to my hotel that night and then home to Southampton the next day just thinking, ‘that was really weird, man’. I called my sister when I got home and asked her to say a load of stuff like ‘can you pass me the leng’ in a posh accent down the phone so I could sample it. I thought I might as well have a bit of fun with it and call myself the lengman, purely in response to that.”

“I got started on in Bristol for wearing Toms shortly before that EP came out. Some guy came up to me in the smoking area after I’d just played at this club night with JT The Goon and Spooky and said, ‘you’re not a lengman’.”

“Away from just grime, I’ve always looked to India”, he continues. “I mean, just take Bollywood music. I’ve always looked at it as some of the craziest, most terrible, utter bottom pit of music I’ve ever heard, it’s so bad. It’s basically just, in a really bad form, an imitation of Hollywood. You’ve got to remember, India has some of the most amazing instruments … the sarangi, the sitar … like these instruments are hundreds of years old and western musicians came along and were like, ‘we’ll simplify all that and make the guitar’. The sarangi is one of the oldest, I mean I think it’s got about 38 strings, 35 sympathetic strings and 3 major bowing strings. These are really cool instruments that make incredible sounds but yet, the outcome is Bollywood?! So, in some of my tunes, I’ll literally sample Bollywood music to try and make it sound cool, where as on the other side of it, I do genuinely love the instruments. I’ve got my own sarangi, my own sitar … I’ll go into my studio, piss around with them, take what I’ve recorded, re-sample it and turn it into something. They’re very emotive instruments too, you can really write some good sad shit with those. You don’t really get that with Western instruments, I find.”

Following the release of ‘Southampton Lengman’, records from OG grime producer (and man behind ‘Pulse X’), Youngstar, OH91, Shudan and refix extraordinaire, Gundam, really started to turn heads, but White Peach was still far from a sure bet. “I remember it got to the stage at university where people started to talk about graduate jobs and obviously doing higher maths like I was, everyone goes into banking”, Zha recalls. “I just couldn’t be a banker, I just couldn’t do it, it felt soul destroying. A couple of months went by and I saw that Chemical Records had closed down, so I made an impulsive decision. I had £700 in my account and I just bought as much of their stock as I could. I had it all posted to my parents house. They were like, ‘what are you gonna do with all this?’, and obviously I had no idea. It basically forced me to setup my own record shop. I took all the stock, made a crap site and started using the White Peach name for the store as well and over time, people started to buy from me. It meant I had enough cash flow to start doing you know, four, maybe five records a year and things started to move a little bit. It was only once I graduated in 2016 that I realised I needed to go hard to turn it into something major, though. I remember one of the first things I did was email labels asking to buy stock to sell on the site but none of them replied to me. Here I was with this vision of a specialist grime and dubstep online record store but alas, nah. My first box of records I ordered in, separate from the Chemical Records stock I’d bought, came from Cargo Records.The minimum order was £75 back then. It’s crazy to think how things have changed since.” 

“…I saw that Chemical Records had closed down, so I made an impulsive decision. I had £700 in my account and I just bought as much of their stock as I could. I had it all posted to my parents house. They were like, ‘what are you gonna do with all this?’, and obviously I had no idea.”

After spending the best part of three years packing, labelling and posting White Peach stock from university himself, Zha was finally able to obtain a contract with Royal Mail — “you need to be spending literally thousands on postage to qualify” — and neither he or White Peach have looked back since. There’s also Fent Plates and Yellow Flower too, two labels that Zha established to house completely different sounds. “Fent Plates is a home for chilled, electronic music … literally anything, where as White Peach is for dubstep and grime, inspired by London-centric music, and Yellow Flower is for instrumental hip-hop … lo-fi, boom bap hip hop basically”, Zha clarifies. “I think there’s now 80-90 records across the three labels now. We’re at 51 with White Peach.”

Pumping out (and posting!) such a high volume of records over the last four years — not to mention a further four via Naan, an imprint established solely to house Zha’s Indian-inspired output — has helped fine-tune Zha’s ear, too. White Peach has become one of grime and dubstep’s premiere hubs for new music, taking in killer early records from trailblazers like EVA808, Bengal Sound and Opus and more recent big-hitters like Taiko and Rygby, while Fent Plates — originally established a year earlier in 2010 — has released music by everyone from Gantz to Asa and Sorrow, as well as a sumptuous, mind-bending trio of records by ambient producer, Aether. “In the beginning, it was near enough impossible because I didn’t really know anybody to speak to and ask for music”, Zha concedes. “Where as now, it’s totally different. I’d say from 2017 until where we are now, it’s been meeting people in smoking areas in clubs and meeting people on the radio. They’ve made the difference. A lot of the staples on the label, people like Mr. K, Taiko … they’ll often mention producers they’re feeling as well and that can be a way for me to discover new artists. I mean, we’re a bit of a family now and we do events and play stages and radio takeovers together quite often. When we do all of that, I think other artists see the scope of White Peach and sometimes they’ll want to get involved with us, so it all depends really. In the beginning, it was definitely a case of me trawling through Soundcloud but I don’t remember the last time I did that. Now it just feels very organic. I’m also a lot more conscious of who I bring in and how much I can offer the artists we already have.”

If the records weren’t enough, Zha also saw a gap to expand his White Peach operation to incorporate manufacture and distribution in 2017 too — a bold but calculated move that speaks volumes of his business sense. “I realised it was impossible to get by just running a record label, man”, he says, exasperated. “But also a lot of it came down to me just being passionate about records. The rule of business was just say yes and figure out how to do it afterwards … and that was it. Somebody asked me one day, ‘hey man, how do you press a record?’ and I was like, ‘I can do it for you’. So I jumped onto Google and found out how to press a record and that was it … and now we have a full-scale operation.”

With a staff of 11, 10 of whom are full-time — it was a higher number pre-COVID 19 — White Peach has become all-encompassing. “It’s constant, man … and now there’s Brexit”, Zha points out. “Luckily, I had the wisdom to bring our manufacturing into England about two years ago so we’re very lucky in that sense. I think we’re one of the only manufacturers still offering 4-6 week lead times, but that also means we can’t really take on any new customers at the moment. On all fronts, the cost of materials are up 10-15% since January, the cost of freight is absolutely disgusting … posting a 3kg box to Canada is now close to £50 where as it used to cost more or less £12. To make it worse, the postage prices have gone up astronomically but the records aren’t always getting through. We’ve had so many returns it’s untrue. Even today, I had two boxes returned by DHL with no explanation and there doesn’t seem to be a way of fixing it. It’s very worrying. I honestly just don’t understand how businesses can trade with Europe as it stands. I just can’t see it.”

“I honestly just don’t understand how businesses can trade with Europe as it stands. I just can’t see it.”

Brexit aside, Zha’s forward planning has guaranteed his various labels a busy 2021 regardless. Fent Plates continues to tick along — “I’m really enjoying the process of putting music out on Fent Plates, it’s a passion project I get a lot out of” — while through White Peach, he has a stack of new records already pressed and deals still in place with promoters that had originally booked a multi-date 2020 White Peach European Tour. “We also had a deal with some promoters in the US to fly out eight White Peach artists on rotation each month”, he adds, “so hopefully we’ll still get to roll out that events plan when it’s safe to do so as well. We’re focusing heavily on clothing going forward, especially now we custom make our moulds and our fabrics. The quality is so much better and we want to expand that into making more hoodies and jackets. There’s some music video ideas in the works but delays have prevented us moving forward on that. We’ve been trying to sort out a production crew for a video shoot originally planned for November but it’s been rescheduled twice already. Ideally, I’d like to put together a production team long-term, to allow us to build that visual part of our identity. Our plans are effectively still as they were a year ago in terms of taking things forward, they just might take a little while longer to execute.”

As for life away from music, Zha’s work in academia has come to the forefront over the last 12 months. Not content to let time pass him by, he’s thrown himself into study and read incessantly during his free time. “I’m now back in a place where I’m actively able to debate problems and think about solutions again. People will fund you to try and figure out these problems and if you do, you’re gonna get a book out of it, you’re gonna leave a mark, you’re gonna leave a legacy. I’m quite private online, as you probably know, and I think that’s because I’ve been waiting to be in a position to pass my opinion on things without feeling ignorant. I want to be measured and considerate about what I’m saying. So yeah, thesis writing and going forward into the academic world really excites me.” Where does he find the time I ask, just before we sign off. “Don’t watch TV”, he says with a smirk. “That and don’t scroll. Ever!”

You can keep up to date with Zha & White Peach Records here:

https://www.whitepeachrecords.com/