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.
“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: