— Boofy —

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

(All photos submitted by Boofy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://sector7sounds.bandcamp.com/

— PK —

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

(All photos submitted by PK)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Street Symptoms’ is literally about what I’m going through in my own space right now”, PK continues. “I’m on my grind, just keeping things moving … it’s got grime, it’s got rap, whatever you wanna call it, it’s just music from the streets that I hope people can vibe with. As far as beyond that goes, it’s still to the world and back and the galaxy and the universe and all of that. If I can speak for the mandem, I’ll just say we’re trying to be legendary in this ting. We’re trying to make as much as bread as we can to help our families and better our lives. Furthermore, shout out to everyone going through their own problems but making it happen for themselves regardless. Keep going.”

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

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

 PK’s ’Street Symptoms’ is out now:

slinky.to/StreetSymptoms

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY™ —

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

(Kami-O)

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

An album about connection, love and discovery 

Highlights

1. Aavaas

2. Yoddha

3. Biren

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

(Emz)

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

A genuine rising star

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

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

Elf’s back — and better than ever!

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

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

Class act

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

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

Carnage in the dance 

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

Nova – ‘Bonafide’ EP (Infernal Sounds)

A standout debut plate from Infernal’s latest star

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

Legion – ‘We Are Many’ (Artikal Music)

Powerhouse sounds

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

General Courts – ‘Emotions’ EP (GC DUBZ)

OG material from one of grime’s unsung heroes

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

Kid D – ‘Timing’ (AP Life)

Energy!

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

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

Lift Off

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

Monitor

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

(Drone)

— Ehua —

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

(All photos submitted by Ehua)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now content with her life in London — she’s based at Nervous Horizon’s studio, a Narnia-style treasure trove of instruments, hardware and seemingly limitless collaboration — and driven by a determination to explore her creative self to the fullest, Ehua’s journey feels like its only just beginning. With clubs on the cusp of reopening in some capacity, her latest tracks will now have a space to fill and with them, her message deserves to be heard loud and clear. “I want to be the role model that I wanted to see when I was a teenager”, she affirms, just before we sign off. “I want to make my eight-year-old self, proud. I really feel like it’s a mission of mine, not only as part of GRIOT, but also as an artist in general. Things have to be better for all of us.”

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

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

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

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

— 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