— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY™ —

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

(Jammz)

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

Essential

Highlights

1. 3rd Sunday Service

2. Slippington Road

3. Format (Shottas Riddim)

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

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

Jheez!

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

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

Durkle go Nationwide, no Bradford & Bingley! 

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

Mungk – ‘Kuji’ EP (DUPLOC)

Low frequencies, high consciousness 

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

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

Don’t sleep!

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

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

Magical 

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

Brightwing – ‘Marching Orders’ EP (Badman Studios)

Heavyweight material 

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

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

Not for the faint hearted

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

JT The Goon – ‘Mad Memories’ (Bandcamp)

Bringing it back

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

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

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

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

Monitor

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

(Jossy Mitsu)

— Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson —

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

(All photos submitted by Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(JP w/ Lady Leshurr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complex UK / TRENCH

(JP w/ Jamakabi & D Double E)

— Jossy Mitsu —

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

(All photos submitted by Jossy Mitsu)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Zha —

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

(All photos submitted by Zha)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.whitepeachrecords.com/

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY ™ —

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

(Silkie)

Album of the Month: Silkie – ‘Panorama’ (Deep Medi Musik)

Where to even even start?

Highlights

1. Did You Know

2. Ring Mod

3. Equine Piper

Compiled over the best part of two years, Silkie himself may not have originally approached the early sketches of what would later become ‘Panorama’ with an album in mind — but that’s just the way he likes it. His third full-length for Medi following two volumes of ‘City Limits’, released in 2009 and 2011 respectively, ‘Panorama’ forms his first solo material in three years and feels bountiful and abundantly carefree, in the best possible sense. As with everything Silkie touches, an heir of inevitability permeates the tracklist before you’ve even pressed play — you just know it’s gonna be good — but even by his standards, the sharp, stomping lurch and glossy chords of opener ‘Big 45’ are particularly exceptional. As it unfurls, Silkie shifts from bludgeoning, more club-focused weapons like ‘Leave It’ and the razor sharp ‘Strong & Stable’ to more melodic climes, experimenting with rhythm and texture on standout jaunts ‘Ring Mod’ and ’The Redeemer’. Our tip is the gorgeous, jazzy, purple-y romance of ‘Did You Know’ but the whole thing absolutely smokes. Sit back and revel in his genius, it’s worth every minute. 9/10

(Sir Hiss)

Tune of the Month: Emz & Sir Hiss – ‘Finna’ (No More Mailouts)

Cool as fuck

Sir Hiss and Emz collide again on another top drawer excursion in new single ‘Finna’, after first joining forces on mini-anthem ‘Rolling’ via White Peach back in 2019. Released this time via his No More Mailouts imprint, ‘Finna’ taps the drill-flavoured styles that have dominated the UK rap landscape over the last two years, marking Hiss out as a producer with the talent and the scope to outgrow the localised grime and dubstep scenes that birthed him. In Emz, he’s found a talented sparring partner too — his lackadaisical flow is quite deliberate and dripping with charisma — and here the pair excel on a track bursting with breezy, late-summer heat. Think souped up Cadillacs, glistening chromes and hella smiles, all cut in the style of ‘Magnolia’ by Playboi Carti. 9/10

Dunman – ‘Loco’ (Southpoint)

Bold and totally unabashed 

Bournemouth-based producer Dunman returns to Southpoint with weighty new three-tracker, ‘Loco’, which lands as some of his best and most experimental material yet. The frenzied breaks and bustling tribal drums of title-track opener ‘Loco’ seem to play a tug-of-war with the crunching, drone-like grime stabs that land like missiles just shy of a minute in, while booming trap burner ’Astraroth’, by contrast, is haunting in its cold, cutthroat simplicity. Final jam ‘Check’ featuring JoSoSick on mic duties flips the script again, sampling classic rave alarms and glitchy, sugary-sweet vocals a la classic 2-step. Energy! 7/10

$H The Producer – ‘Views From Feltham Court’ (Dee Oh 7)

Welcome to Bristol

A record directly inspired by the city that made him, ‘Views From Feltham Court’ is a thoughtful introduction to Bristol’s $H The Producer — co-founder of new label, Dee Oh 7, which he runs alongside Bristol’s warlord MC, Slowie. Each of the record’s five tracks hone in a specific area of the city, with opener ‘Newbury Road’ going heavy on silky-smooth, pitched-up RnB samples and rolling, rumbling sub, while second cut ‘The Manor’ is laced with the sort of anxious, hyper-tense string and key work that underpins some of grime’s OG classics. ‘Feltham Court’ is arguably the EP’s nastiest cut — a bruising grime riddim cut with a gothic flair — and hazy, introspective final tracks ‘Bargain Lane’ and ‘The Common’ are slow-burners, flush with silvery melodies and rich, dreamscape atmospherics. Tip! 8/10

The Untouchables – ‘Culture Clash’ EP (DNO Records)

Poetry in (kinetic) motion

Belgian duo The Untouchables go big on their debut EP for Brigton’s DNO Records, with ‘Culture Clash’ — a four-track record rooted in glaring tempo shifts (imagined or otherwise) and meticulous sound design. Chugging, heavyweight opener ‘Audacity’ hits like a freight train from minute one, while hollowed-out dub textures meet frenetic junglist rhythms on perplexing, relentless second cut, ‘Galactic Noise’. Title-track ‘Culture Clash’ does exactly what you’d expect, churning layer-upon-layer of precision-engineered sounds and textures like a smoothie maker, while the elastic beats and oddball dub horns of ‘Time Travellers’ are genuinely engrossing. Digital bonus ‘China Haze’, which functions around hefty reverb and a loose dubstep pulse, is well worth the extra time, too. 8/10

DJ Madd – ‘Soldiers’ EP (Badman Studios)

Salute!

Currently operating out of NYC, Hungarian producer DJ Madd has been a front-runner in dubstep circles for over a decade, releasing across labels like Boka, ZamZam and J:Kenzo’s Lion Charge imprint in a discography that spans over 50 records. Marking LA Outfit Badman Studios’ 10th release, new EP ‘Soldiers’ taps the highly-finessed, roots-flavoured sounds he’s made all his own, with the twisting low-end murmur and lead-plated sub of opener, ‘Babylon Scatta’, a fitting entry-point. There’s room too for murky, jolting, minimalist flavours (‘Lighta Kru’) and the dark, dank sub-dwelling pulse of ‘Weapon Of Choice’, but our tip is bolshy, chest-rattling title-cut, ‘Soldiers’. 8/10

Hebbe – ‘Quiche / Looters’ (Next Level Dubstep)

Don’t sleep on Hebbe!

Dutch producer Hebbe is fast becoming one of contemporary dubstep’s best and on his latest for Next Level Dubstep, he doesn’t disappoint. Rumbling A-side, ‘Quiche’ flits between periods of and jittery, skeletal percussion and intense, processional flute melody interludes — think ‘stand to attention!’ — albeit cut with a constant lingering sense of unease, while on the flip, ‘Looters’ is a total riot. Sludgy, snarling, treacle-thick basslines spar with rasping FX, glitchy alarms and cloudy atmospherics to land as one big heady, oddball rush. Seriously good. 9/10

Distance – ‘Sacrifices’ EP (DUPLOC)

Straight legendary 

Dubstep OG Distance has released music via everyone from Planet Mu to Hotflush to Tectonic — as well as running Chestplate (!) — over the last 15+ years, but ’Sacrifices’ forms his first for fast-rising Belgian outpost, DUPLOC. Across three hi-grade new tracks, he delivers on his reputation as one of dubstep’s pioneering artists; from the grand, operatic swell of swirling opener ‘Sacrifices’ to the pensive glow of futuristic stepper ‘Overcome’, everything is meticulous, distinguished, smart. Final jam ‘808 Snake’ — the EP’s most rugged and granite-textured — signs off on a record that only adds to Distance’s appeal, nearly 20 years on. 8/10

Hijinx – ‘Venom’ EP (Navy Cut)

For the heads

More heat from J.Sparrow’s Navy Cut imprint, this time from Hijinx — new production moniker of MR.K. Across three monstrous cuts, he flexes all his production muscle to the fullest; from the thumping, distorted pressure of standout system lurker ‘Venom’ through to the sweltering, pulsing low-end shuffle of ‘TRU’, it’s full-blooded and full-throttle from start to finish. Even the booming, dubby lean and blaring dub horns of final track ‘Addict’ —itself a low-key face melter — offer little respite. NB: A percentage of profits from ‘Venom’ will also be donated to The Ben Raemers Foundation — a charity seeking to raise awareness surrounding mental health and suicide in the skateboarding community.  8/10 

Fork & Knife – ‘The Swarm’ EP (In:Flux Audio)

Big ’n Bashy!

Fork & Knife downs his grime tools in favour of blaring dubstep sounds on ‘The Swarm’ — his third EP for In:Flux Audio. Opening with the snarling, sabre-toothed glare of the title-track, it’s deepest, darkest and meanest from the outset, with dizzying, blood-and-thunder second cut, ‘Big Tom’, continuing things apace. The nightmarish, mechanised robotics of third and final track ‘Cream’ are genuinely bone-crunching, with heavyset remixes from J.Kong (’The Swarm’) and Charla Green (‘Cream’) thrown in for good measure. 6/10

Monitor

Look out for new music by long-time Rinse France resident, DJ Absurd, on The Bass Society — his new EP, ‘Everything Blue’, is backed up by title-track remixes from Qant and Slimzos’ Owlybeats, as well as a special dub version of his own … be sure to check out fledgling producer fin9k’s debut EP, ‘Trips’, on Chameolon Audio, too — weighty! … Elsewhere, German producer Barom released his debut album project via Simply Deep — a consistent source of foundation dubstep for a good few years now … ‘Run Circles’, comprised of eight sweltering original cuts, also comes complete with bonus remixes from Gnischrew, Noble and Korin Complex … and OG veterans Gentleman’s Dub Club also released their latest album, ‘Down To Earth’ — a full-colour trip back to their roots, traversing reggae, dub, jazz and ska in a way only they know how … Looking ahead, new music from Trends and an eye-catching new release series from Belgian powerhouses DUPLOC are on the horizon — keep your eyes (and ears) peeled!

(DJ Absurd)

— JD. Reid —

On North West London, record collections, grime, rap, LA beat scenes, Rinse FM, working with Slowthai, Novelist, Mabel and more, duality and becoming a father for the first time.

(All photos submitted by JD. Reid)

It’s Thursday evening and JD. Reid is holed up in his home studio in North London — the same studio he’s written all his music in ever since he started producing almost a decade ago. “I’ve still got all my early stuff on this old PC next to me”, he says, gesturing towards a space under his desk. Now a Platinum-selling producer, former long-time Rinse FM resident and, as he acknowledges glowingly, a father too, Reid has always gone about his business quietly. He’s never chased headlines or recognition and admits he finds it difficult to ‘shout about’ his music, but he’s always been laser-focused on making his career a success. And as he explains, now it feels doubly important. “I’ve been blessed to be able to spend a lot of time in doors recently, being with family and watching my little one grow up, running around the house and learning new things”, he says warmly, “…he’s my focus now, you know? Everything I do in music now has got him in mind.”

Born and raised in North West London, where he still lives today with his partner and son, Reid enjoyed a settled childhood. He went to primary school in Gospel Oak before heading to secondary school and later college in Kentish Town and as he explains, still has many of the same friends as he did growing up — his circle is close, secure, grounded. “I’ve always just been local, bro”, he says, without a second thought. Has he ever considered living elsewhere in London or even moving away, I wondered? “I’m planning to buy a place at the moment but for now, we’re here man. I’m after a house with a garden ideally, mainly because I wanna build my studio out the back and that.”

A ‘good kid’ by his own admission, Reid found himself with a mixed group of friends at school, often falling between social groups — “I was cool with the good kids but also the kids that were out doing madness as well” — and earning respect for his love (and broad knowledge) of music. “I was a proper music child from when I was really young”, he reflects. “When it came to secondary school, I think my music taste and me making beats and stuff definitely helped me become cool with lots of different people, too. A lot of it came from my parents … my dad played percussion and had drums in the house and my mum, I mean she had a really big record collection and also worked in the music industry, so I basically grew up surrounded by music. My mum’s probably got more plaques than I’ve managed to get so far!”

“…my dad played percussion and had drums in the house and my mum, I mean she had a really big record collection and also worked in the music industry, so I basically grew up surrounded by music. My mum’s probably got more plaques than I’ve managed to get so far!”

“My mum had a lot of disco, reggae, sould and hip-hop records in her collection”, he continues. “It was so broad thinking about it now. There wasn’t much guitar music played indoors though but if it was, it’d be by a band that my mum was working on like Stereophonics or someone like that. Most of my memories are just of digging through my mum’s records and lucky-dipping basically. When I was really young, about four or five years old, my big obsession was Michael Jackson. There’s old video camera footage of me dancing round the living room to his music so he was probably my first big inspiration, I just loved his stuff. After that, it was hip-hop. Busta Rhymes – ‘When Disaster Strikes…’ was the first hip-hop album I remember being really into, more so for the beats and the flows because I wasn’t really taking in anything he was saying at that age. There was Funkmaster Flex mixtapes as well, Lauryn Hill’s album, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, Dr Buzzards Original Savannah Band, a lot of soul I guess … but then there were some obscure CDs in the collection as well. I remember quite a bit of experimental electronic stuff, Daft Punk, Mr Oizo … whatever I found that resonated with me really. There was an old Tommy Boy compilation that my mum had on vinyl and on that I found Afrika Bambaataa and Planet Patrol and all that kind of body-popping 80s hi-hop kinda stuff, which I ended up heavily into. From there, I found Run DMC and then that’d come full circle and I’d dip back into the soul and lovers rock stuff. It was basically like a record shop at home, it was sick … and I still discover things now actually. Looking back, it definitely shaped my music taste.”

With such a rich pool of records to immerse himself in as a kid, Reid’s reference points were already different from those around him growing up — but that didn’t stop him doing his own digging away from home. Inspired by popular tastes at the time — everything from Jay-Z to Outkast and Usher — Reid then discovered The Neptunes and Timbaland in the early ’00s and never really looked back. “Once I found them, that was me, that was my side of hip-hop”, he says firmly. “I appreciate the barrers but I was always more into the fun shit. It was always about the beats and the flows for me at that age, I didn’t really appreciate what people were saying in their verses until I was much older.” 

It was during this time that Reid also started spending more time with his older cousin, himself a beat-maker who’d spend his weekends scouring through records at some of London’s most iconic shops. “I was probably about 14, 15 when I started going regularly I think”, he recalls. “My cousin was the first person to take me record shopping properly, but the first record I remember buying with him was Antonio – ‘Hyperfunk’, which came out in 1998 when I was eight, so I’d actually been going a little bit before. He used to take me to Black Market and I remember I’d buy a few garage records and then I’d go and watch him mix and stuff. As I got older, I then started going to Black Market and Uptown Records with my boy, specifically to buy whatever grime we could find.”

“My cousin actually taught me how to DJ when I was young as well so I always kinda looked up to him”, he continues. “Whatever he was doing, I wanted to be doing. He started making beats on Cubase a little while after and used to show me how it worked, so that was the first time I really showed interest in making my own music I think. It all coincided with grime becoming a bit of a thing, so I became obsessed with trying to make grime beats. I had a couple of mates that’d always be like, ‘you make grime but it’s not really like grime, it’s more like hip-hop’, which I didn’t really hear myself at the time. Now looking back at it, I guess I was subconsciously leaning towards hip-hop, just with a grime aesthetic.”

“I had a couple of mates that’d always be like, ‘you make grime but it’s not really like grime, it’s more like hip-hop’, which I didn’t really hear myself at the time. Now looking back at it, I guess I was subconsciously leaning towards hip-hop, just with a grime aesthetic.”

Buoyed by taking piano and later drum lessons at school, Reid was becoming more and more enamoured with music — it was now more than just a passion. “I remember my school actually started running music tech lessons when I was a bit older, as an external thing. It was at those lessons that I came off Cubase and learned how to use Logic and through going to those, especially with a teacher there to help you, I got more and more hooked. It got to the point where after finishing college, I was either gonna go to university to study English or Music, not necessarily with the view to establishing a career in either, but hopefully ending up in a field of work. My mum just asked me, ‘What do you enjoy more? What are you gonna be more focused on doing?’. The obvious answer was music.”

And with that, Reid headed to the University of Hertfordshire to study Music Technology for the next three years. Inspired more so by the people he lived with and friendships made than the degree course itself, Hertfordshire was a melting pot that Reid credits with solidifying his musical ambitions — “it all became a lot more real while I was there”, he affirms. It wasn’t just Reid who graduated from the same course either. “There was actually a few of us in that year who have gone on to do quite well”, he continues. “Nana Rogues was in a few of my classes for a while, Flux Pavilion was in my year as well … and Jay Hoskins, who I actually lived with, we worked together quite a bit back then. It was a good year for Hertfordshire, that one.” What was the clubbing scene like, I wondered? “Ah we were out all the time man”, he says with a smile. “I wasn’t really DJing them times but it was all just funky house and Drake in the clubs, where as in the house, I was listening a lot of Wiz Khalifa, Frank Ocean and mixtape rap in general. I liked Odd Future a lot then as well. That was basically my whole experience. It was a lot of fun.”

He took three months out after graduating, heading to South East Asia with some old friends to get his mind right and assess his next moves, before returning home to London energised and focused. “I think my mum knew I needed a studio space to work from so she cleared out the spare room and I moved my stuff in”, recalls Reid. “I got it cracking after that.” That wasn’t to say he wasn’t putting in the hard yards to make ends meet away from the studio, mind. “Ah man, I worked at a swimming pool for a bit. I wasn’t even a life guard, I was just sat on the front desk, looking after people’s belongings and doing the odd bit of cleaning. I’ve done the bakery, all different stuff to be honest, I think we all have to sometimes. Once I got back from university though I did really try and focus on getting music-orientated jobs. I interned at some production studios for a while, which led me to a studio called Assault & Battery in Willesden where I trained to be an assistant engineer under these two really highly-regarded producer-mixers called Flood and Alan Moulder. They mixed records for U2 and Nine Inch Nails, so they were massive in their field. I didn’t know the music very well but I knew I was in good company and I learned a lot being there. I found myself having less time to make my own music after a while though, so eventually I decided to leave.”

“Ah man, I worked at a swimming pool for a bit. I wasn’t even a life guard, I was just sat on the front desk, looking after people’s belongings and doing the odd bit of cleaning. I’ve done the bakery, all different stuff to be honest, I think we all have to sometimes.”

It was a move that’d lead Reid to Rinse FM, where he joined the station as a broadcast assistant in the early 2010s and ended up staying for over three years, holding down his own monthly show for the majority too. “Me going there was a real game changer”, he explains. “I met so many people, I got to watch loads of sick DJs up close which in turn helped me get better. I met Plastician and Geeneus there too and obviously they both put some of my first music out. It was just a very important place for me to be. I remember even just being able to speak to people, to DJs you’d listened to for years … it was crazy to me back then.”

“I always tried to keep my mind on the fact I was there for work and not my own thing”, he continues, “and I was never really one to throw my music at everybody, but around them times, what Plastician was playing seemed not too far off what I was making. One day he was recording his show in the little pre-rec room so I just popped my head in and asked if it’d be alright if I sent him some tunes or whatever and he just said, ‘yeah, sure’. That first set of tunes literally resulted in him asking if I wanted to release on Terrorhythm and so he put out my first proper EP, ‘Maneki Neko’. Geeneus then picked up on me being a member of staff after hearing EP tracks on Plastician’s show, so he asked if I’d be interested in releasing with them and then linked me with Katy B and Sinead Harnett as well. All the pieces just came together over a really short period of time.” How did that feel, I ask? “I mean, it was sick. It was weird too though because I was still doing my normal radio job, but now other DJs across the station would know me and were starting to play my tunes. It drove me to keep pushing though and maybe go a bit harder than I would have done had I not had those breakthroughs.”

These would prove to be pivotal moments in Reid’s career, both as an artist in his own right and as a studio producer — a duality that has come to define his more recent successes. His own productions — inspired as much by the bright, syrupy records coming out of the Soulection camp in LA as they were by the beats blaring through the Rinse speakers — made waves on Terrorhythm, while his calmness in the studio immediately put more established artists at ease. It’d lead to a second record with Plastician in January 2015 (‘Amethyst’) before putting out ‘Calibrate’ on Rinse in 2017 — a five-track EP that linked Reid’s two production worlds together for the first time, while also earmarking him as a beat-maker with his finger on the pulse. Features included Novelist, Slowthai, Oscar #Worldpeace, Kojey Radical, 808INK and Odd Future’s Hodgy, all of whom have since gone onto achieve widespread success at the business end of the industry. “I’ve always been like that man, that’s been the story of my career”, Reid says sheepishly when I suggest it was an EP that felt ahead of its time. “To be honest though, I’m happy to be a part of those artists’ journeys and I’m still lucky enough to make music with a lot of them, so it’s calm.”

“A lot of those guys knew me from working with Piff Gang in the early days”, Reid continues. “When you look at the kind of alternative rap or whatever you wanna call it, I think a lot of the people making that stuff now remember Piff Gang because it was a wave at the time. Me being aligned with them back then I think made people feel more open to working with me. I didn’t realise at the time but Ty (Slowthai), we’d actually met each other years ago at some event in Bristol. Him and his manager, Lewis, came down and were asking me about beats but I was just long at the time and didn’t send them. I ended up seeing his ‘Jiggle’ video on YouTube a few years later and hit him up about working on some stuff. The first day we linked, he brought Oscar (#Worldpeace) along with him and so it all just came together. Novelist I’d met at Rinse, Kojey I’d known since he was doing his poetry, Hodgy I’d met on my first trip to LA while I was trying to network. It was just easy to get it finished and ready to be honest. I really enjoyed making it.” 

It was a record that’d also serve as a cue for Reid to leave Rinse and pursue his own success away from the station — and things couldn’t have panned out much better for him, either. Two weeks after leaving, he met Mabel for the first time through his former manager and in the first studio session the pair shared, they wrote ‘Finders Keepers’, which also featured a guest verse from Kojo Funds. Released in May 2017, it peaked at #8 on the UK Singles Chart and landed as Mabel’s jump off point to superstardom, featuring as a bonus track on her UK Top 3 debut album, ‘High Expectations’, in 2019. Nearly four years on, it’s officially double-Platinum. “It’s all mad you know”, Reid explains, “because obviously her mum is Neneh Cherry and my dad used to be part of this collective called The Buffalo Boys and they used to model with Neneh back in the day. When I met Mabel and I realised her mum knew my dad, her dad knew my dad … it was all just very connected. Myself, Mabel and her brother Marlon had actually spent most of that first session on another tune and it was alright but in the last 20 minutes, we got the chords down for another idea, which turned out to be ‘Finders Keepers’. I took it away, did my thing with it and yeah, that was it. We wrote it really quickly.”

“When I met Mabel and I realised her mum knew my dad, her dad knew my dad … it was all just very connected.”

The success of ‘Finders Keepers’ opened the door for Reid to sign his first publishing deal in 2018, which in turn gave him the freedom and financial security to focus on music full time. He continued working with Slowthai and fellow producer Kwes Darko (fka Blue Daisy), co-producing Slowthai’s ‘Drug Dealer’, ’Rainbow’ and ‘GTFOMF’ in just a matter of days, as well as working on self-released 2018 mixtape, ’Tree’. Featuring 15 tracks littered with eye-catching features including grime MCs Ghetts and Bossman, returning collaborators Slowthai, 808INK and Oscar #Worldpeace and a slew of producers, rappers and vocalists from right across the UK canon — from Fatima to Henry Wu to Reeko Squeeze — it was a nod to just how versatile and inventive his own artist-led productions had become. Although understated like ‘Calibrate’ before it, ’Tree’ was undoubtedly a visionary body of tracks and one that lived in harmony with the more intense, chart-bothering work he was undertaking for the likes of Mabel and Celeste. 

“I’m just so, so grateful for everything that’s happened”, he says, as I ask about the emotions attached to his journey from broadcast assistant to hit-making producer. While he might have dreamed of becoming an all-guns-blazing festival act after first seeing Flying Lotus at Lovebox in the early 2010s, he’d long since struck a balance between chasing his own dreams and facilitating those of others — and it’s a duality that continues to serve Reid well. “I know there’s still so much more I can give and achieve though”, he reaffirms sharply. “I’m still hungry for it like I was when I was starting out.” 

As if he ever needed any additional motivation, Reid became a father for the first time in 2019 — an experience that he describes as ‘magical’. “It’s just sick man, waking up to a little person that you’ve made”, he says, a huge smile breaking out across his face. “He’s really inspired me to make sure that I’m giving my all in my work but also setting a really good example to him, as a person. I want him to be able to look at his dad when he’s older and be like, ‘Yeah, my dad was good, my dad was on point’. I just appreciate him so much and love spending time with him.”

“He’s really inspired me to make sure that I’m giving my all in my work but also setting a really good example to him, as a person. I want him to be able to look at his dad when he’s older and be like, ‘Yeah, my dad was good, my dad was on point’.”

Since the birth of his son, Reid has been stuck, like many of us in the UK, at home for the best part of 12 months, working on sessions and writing music for a variety of different projects. Alongside Slowthai, he’s been working closely with 2020 breakout star, Big Piig, and also Ray BLK, as well as a number of other producers and musicians, broadening his scope and making his own music feel more collaborative than ever before — “I used to want to do everything myself”, he acknowledges, “but working with these new artists has actually been fun and good for me, really. I think it was needed.”

There was a soft drop at the back of 2020 in the shape of ‘North West’s Finest’ — a near 30-minute, sample-heavy mixtape comprised of all new JD. Reid material, some of which had been lifted from studio sessions he’d managed to finish just before Coronavirus struck, with features including Denzel Himself, Ms Banks, Big Piig and Suspect. More of a reminder of intent than a statement, it was a tape that laid the groundwork for the music Reid is hoping to release over the next 12 months. “I feel like I took a step away from focusing on my own artist/producer music for a while but that’s gonna he very much a focus this year”, he says. “I’d like to release a series of EPs and there’s a few bits I’ve almost finished but alongside that, just working with more artists and finding that balance between the two. It keeps things fresh for me too. Doing my own thing and then going into other artists’ worlds is inspiring, you know. More than anything though, it’s just gonna be fun for me to put out some of my own shit again.”

“I think not having a million things to do over the last few months has made it feel easier to focus on that as well”, he continues. “It’s not always a bad thing to have time to yourself, do you know what I mean? I’m one of those people who’s guilty of not feeling good if I’m not out here doing the most all the time, but having time with my family has probably inspired me more than I would have expected it to. Sometimes taking a step back is a good thing … and I’m gonna try and remind myself of that as much as I can.”

JD. Reid’s ‘North West’s Finest’ mixtape is out now:

https://jdreid.bandcamp.com/album/north-wests-finest

— LCY —

On Bristol, youth clubs, musical theatre, dance, MP3 players, Red Bull Riddim Rally, identity, Six Figure Gang, SZNS7N and the power of telling stories.

(All photos submitted by LCY)

“The beginning of 2020, great, the middle of 2020, awful and the end of 2020 … I would say kinda great”, says LCY — formerly known as L U C Y — reflecting on the tumultuous year that was. Speaking to her from the new warehouse space she calls home alongside 11 other creatives — “they’re all really keen on skill-sharing which is sick” — she was busy prepping for the release of her new single, ‘Garden Of E10’; a record signposting new pathways for her trailblazing SZNS7N imprint.

As a DJ and producer at the core of a new generation of women taking electronic music by storm in the UK, LCY’s seen her profile sky rocket over the last three years. But behind it all, she remains a humble and conscientious person. Her music is powerful, her ideas deep and her moves thoughtful and considered. “I feel like I’ve learned so much just living with so many emotionally intelligent and creative people over the last few months” she says gratefully as we begin our conversation in earnest, “and I think that’s one of the main reasons why the end of 2020 has been so positive for me.”

LCY’s story began in Bristol. She was born in Southmead Hospital in the heart of the city and spent the first few years of her life “moving around a bit” before settling back in Bristol just before she reached school age. She loathed primary school — “my home life was a bit shit, my school life was a bit shit, I was a bad child basically” — but recalls meeting some ‘good people’ at high school and later, a local youth club. It was here, for the first time, that she found her sense of purpose. “I ended up going along to this youth club one day, just to see if it’d straighten me out really”, she says pensively. “It helped me a lot actually because before that, I didn’t feel like I had a lot to hold onto.”

It was a decision that actually owes a lot to chance — and the influence of her mum, a gifted pianist and leader of her local church’s music group. “Before I did anything with music, I actually used to dance in a group called HYPE”, LCY recalls. “It was a street dance group and we were part of a larger performance group which was sick. I actually got put in the women’s team even though I was only 14, I think partly because I just looked really old for my age. Before that even, my mum used to send me along to a little dance school called 344 Dance Centre in Fishponds during the summer holidays while she was at work. I did quite a bit of dance there and also musical theatre shows too, which were incidentally my first introduction to jazz. And later on I discovered more through Limewire, obviously. They were probably my key influences to be honest … my mum’s piano and dance in various different forms … Irish dancing, ballet, street dance, dancing in front of music videos, all the good stuff.”

“They were probably my key influences to be honest … my mum’s piano and dance in various different forms … Irish dancing, ballet, street dance, dancing in front of music videos, all the good stuff.”

“I didn’t make the mixed performance group for HYPE one year and I was absolutely gutted”, she continues. “Honestly, I was devastated. I was almost at that point where I felt like I was never gonna amount to anything and then I remember my mum telling me she’d just got a leaflet through the door for a youth club that offered help with music. She knew I’d always wanted to try music … I mean she’d been teaching me piano since I was about four years old and I still couldn’t play it for shit … so I went down one day. I ended up going three times a week and stopped going to dance altogether. That was how it all started for me. I was just hooked.”

LCY’s early musical tastes centred around hip-hop, from golden era 90s classics to Lil Wayne’s ’Tha Carter III’ — “that album was my holy grail” — before Freeview music channels started opening her eyes to music closer to home. “Flava, Channel U and later AKA … they were my favourites to be honest”, she says, laughing. “I used to flick through them like I would radio stations and just move from video to video. Then Limewire came along and I was able to turn those moments, those videos, into an actual music collection.”

“Hang on, this is a jokes story actually”, she continues. “I remember I entered this nationwide school drawing competition in association with Disney in year six and it was basically about coming up with ways you could torture your sibling over the summer holidays. Anyway, I remember just getting a call one day like, ‘Lucy, you’ve won!’ and I couldn’t believe it. I dropped everything and was like ‘Yesss, I’m going to Disneyland!’ and then the person on the other end of the phone was like, ‘Oh no, sorry, you won the runner’s up prize so we’ll be sending you an MP3 player’. I was half gutted but also like, ‘fuck yes I’ve got my own MP3 player’. I ended up recording songs using Audacity and sticking them on it, which in the long run, turned out to be way more beneficial than a trip to Disneyland.”

“I remember I entered this nationwide school drawing competition in association with Disney in year six and it was basically about coming up with ways you could torture your sibling over the summer holidays.”

LCY’s youth club, Basement Studios, which as of two years ago is sadly no longer running, quickly became a home from home, as it had done for fellow Bristol mainstays like Blazey Bodynod and Hi5Ghost before her. Under the tutelage of local DJ and volunteer, DJ Dazee, she soon found her rhythm. “DJ Dazee used to bring along her vinyl decks and Serato box”, LCY recalls, “and there was also this big bin of vinyl there, which local people would donate records to. It meant you’d basically have a load of crusty old records to mix with … the majority of it was jungle if I remember rightly. Basically what we’d do is find two records from the same producer and mix them into one another and then back again. The records were so beaten up but it was sick. All I’d wanted to do when I got there was learn to DJ so it was a really good feeling but it did always take ages to get a slot on the decks. There was a load of Macs sitting around so I remember one day thinking to myself, ‘right I’m gonna teach myself how to produce’. A lot of people that went to this youth club were punks who’d use the space to take drugs and spin around on the chairs with their friends even though it was a designated music spot, so the people there were really encouraging of me trying to learn. It was so nice to be encouraged to do something. I literally remember leaving one day and it was beautiful and sunny out, Mari (DJ Dazee) had been teaching me some DJ stuff and basic production, I’d made this terrible, terrible tune out of an old Billie Holiday sample and I just remember walking to get the bus and just feeling so, so gassed, thinking ‘this is what I’m gonna do’. It’s been fixed in my mind ever since.”

“I literally remember leaving one day and it was beautiful and sunny out, Mari (DJ Daisy) had been teaching me some DJ stuff and basic production, I’d made this terrible, terrible tune out of an old Billie Holiday sample and I just remember walking to get the bus and just feeling so, so gassed, thinking ‘this is what I’m gonna do’.”

“I’m a firm believer in the power of youth clubs”, she continues, voice suddenly firmer, “because they really helped me and changed my perspective and my prospects entirely. I’m really, really fucking gutted that not just that one shut down, but so many across the country too. It’s something I want to address in the future when I have the means to do so.”

With funding suddenly crumbling, LCY found herself unable to access the Mac room at the youth club once she got to college. It was a initially hammer blow — “I used to literally lock myself away in there three times a week and just desperately try and write or finish as many tunes as I could so to have that taken away was hard” — but undeterred, LCY moved colleges on the basis of Cotham Sixth Form mirroring the same production software. Juggling her time at Cotham with a part time job at a supermarket, she managed to save up enough money to buy herself her own Mac, which itself proved a gateway to being accepted to study a Music Production degree at the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM). “It was the best feeling in the world saving up and then buying that Mac”, LCY says warmly. “It meant that for the first time, I could produce music at home and that’s actually the time that I started to release my own music as well. From there, I went to uni but to be honest, it was shit. I was based in Guildford, which is probably the worst place I’ve ever been to in my life. I didn’t vibe with anyone, I didn’t vibe with the city and I didn’t leave my room much aside from going to and from work. I didn’t actually realise that I’d signed up for a private course either, which meant there were no halls of residence and I had to pay extra fees. I just remember working so many terrible shifts, but I got through it over the two years. I might not have attended many lectures but I suppose it did give me the time to focus on purely my music, so I have to be thankful for that.”

After a brief spell back in Bristol, LCY returned to London not long after leaving Guildford, armed with a sound she’d been honing for the best part of two years and a belief that she’d make it somehow, somewhere. “My early music was heavily sample based and really badly mixed”, she explains, “and it was definitely more melodic and probably happier than the music I make now. I was still heavily influenced by my own eclectic tastes and also my mum’s piano and her take on chords and stuff like that. I was actually listening to a lot of darker, heavier stuff like dubstep and grime at the time but my own music … I dunno, it’d just always be these little bops and upbeat dance tracks, which I never really warmed to. The first track I ever released was called ‘Always Ready’ which I released in college, I’m not sure if you’ve heard it before? I made a video for it too. I went to London with my best friend and I filmed it on a little camera … ah man, my uncle’s even replied in the YouTube comments saying ‘super cool and really innovative’.”

Released in 2014, it formed an early primer of sorts to 2017’s ‘Mixtape 01’, a rough-and-ready collection of 12 tracks made while LCY was at university in Guildford. “It was the first time I’d really used key production techniques consistently in different tracks”, she recalls. “Like, I’ve always been a fan of Disclosure, more as an observer than anything else, but I remember hearing them on the radio one day and the presenters being like, ‘they’ve got such a distinct sound’ and that stayed with me. I was like, ‘A sound? What is a sound? How do you define a sound?’. I realised that, through trial and error, it’s basically keeping those techniques the same and finding out your favourite ways of making those techniques work in your music … playing with them, extending them, exaggerating them. I feel like you can hear that for the first time in ‘Mixtape 01’ but before that, there was a lot of trial and error and I don’t want to talk about that period much because it was so terrible! I actually hated the mixtape when I made it but looking back, it was a real catalyst for me. It was a really positive thing.”

“Like, I’ve always been a fan of Disclosure, more as an observer than anything else, but I remember hearing them on the radio one day and the presenters being like, ‘they’ve got such a distinct sound’ and that stayed with me. I was like, ‘A sound? What is a sound? How do you define a sound?’

Although still only a handful of releases deep, LCY had started to make waves — so much so that she received a call shortly afterwards from Red Bull Studios in London, who were on the look out for more female representation for a new grime beat-making competition they were launching in 2017. “I mean they probably shouldn’t have said that to me as a primary reason for the invitation looking back, but I was so, so gassed to be asked”, Lucy says of Riddim Rally, which was comprised of multi-artist regional heats, with the winners earning a place in the final. Although relatively small in scale, Riddim Rally launched at a time when Red Bull were particularly active in UK underground music — from drill to grime to electronic music, they’d become prominent co-opters — and as such, LCY’s involvement would prove to be a key early marker in her career. Winning her heat with ease, she made it through to the Riddim Rally final — hosted live at Red Bull Studios with a watching audience and a cast of guest judges including Faze Miyake, Capo Lee and A.G — alongside Bushido, Sh?m and Anz, who was ultimately crowned the winner. “It was quite surreal”, she admits. “I remember I spent so much time at The University Of Surrey library … and I didn’t even go to Surrey … just setting myself time challenges, making tunes in 10 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour. I was terrible at at first but I noticed the progression quite quickly so it was really helpful long-term. I mean, each artist had to make what were essentially three war riddims in two hours I think it was and then battle it out against the other producers with those tunes. The pressure felt really intense. I was still fresh out the womb in production terms and the fear of embarrassment lit this fire inside of me. I thought to myself, ‘I may lose, I’m not going to win, but I will NOT be embarrassed’. It ended up going really well. I was shitting myself on the day and I was definitely the most self-deprecating person in the room. I’d also had a lot of Red Bulls as well so if I was chatting shit, I was chatting a lot of shit.”

“I remember meeting Sicaria Sound there and I’d been on their radio show previously that year so to meet them in person was sick”, she continues. “There was actually a lot of cool people in the room that day. I met Snoochie Shy, I met Mez there. I think for someone who listened to radio all the time and watched YouTube clips every day and saw these people from afar … to suddenly go from university into that environment was so eye-opening. I got followed on Twitter by quite a few of them afterwards and it honestly felt like some kind of magic was happening.” 

Did the experience give her more confidence, I wondered? “Ah, definitely”, she says. “I used to be too shy to say what I actually did when I met people. A lot of the time if I was going to an event or a show, I’d fan girl over artists and tell them how much I loved their music but almost forget to let people know that I produced as well. I remember that started to change after Red Bull and I’d find myself telling people my mixtape was out and sending Soundcloud links in emails and stuff like that, it was quite funny really. I remember going to Outlook not long afterwards with a load of colourful USBs that I kept a load of my tunes on. I met Novelist at a boat party, gave him one and was like ‘here are my tunes, I’m a producer, my email is on the USB itself’ and we’ve actually talked since, so it kinda worked. He didn’t listen to the USB though. I ended up giving one to someone from Kurrupt FM’s crew as well but they swallowed it like a pill. They took the USB and literally ate it in front of me so I was like, ‘ah well, I’ll be damned’.”

“I remember going to Outlook not long afterwards with a load of colourful USBs that I kept a load of my tunes on. I met Novelist at a boat party, gave him one and was like ‘here are my tunes, I’m a producer, my email is on the USB itself’ and we’ve actually talked since, so it kinda worked. He didn’t listen to the USB though. I ended up giving one to someone from Kurrupt FM’s crew as well but they swallowed it like a pill.”

After returning from Outlook, a slew of releases followed. The first, ‘Locations’, was released on Trapdoor in February 2018 — “it was bittersweet for me because as much as they were great and it was a super sick experience, one tune on there still haunts me” — before she self-released her ‘Primary’ and ’Secondary’ EPs in June and December respectively. “I think I released ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ as a reminder to myself that I should only really release tunes I’m super happy with and in a way that I feel represents me the best”, she says. Heavily sample-based but breaks-y and hi-tempo, they represented a shift in both focus and style that even Joy O picked up on, recently picking out ‘Almost Blue’ from ‘Primary’ for his takeover of the ‘Still Slipping Los Santos’ radio station playlist on Grand Theft Auto V’s most recent update. 

“I wanna touch on the ‘Secondary’ EP a little bit too actually”, LCY continues. “I worked with Rachel Noble on the artwork and it was around the time of the Grenfell tragedy. I didn’t really talk about it at the time because it might have sounded inappropriate but a lot of those tunes … the interludes and the imagery especially … are about Grenfell and the disparity in the UK and how austerity has affected marginalised people. I feel like that previous EPs I’d put out maybe didn’t have that emotional connection to me … they weren’t tracks that had any deeper meaning behind them, you know. Both those EPs were like two sides of the same coin essentially. ‘Primary’ was more about myself and ‘Secondary’ more a reflection of wider society. At that point, that’s what I wanted my music to sound like … a strong representation of emotions and society and people.”

“Both those EPs were like two sides of the same coin essentially. ‘Primary’ was more about myself and ‘Secondary’ more a reflection of wider society. At that point, that’s what I wanted my music to sound like … a strong representation of emotions and society and people.”

With the start of 2019 came SZNS7N and the beginnings of a new era in LCY’s career. Established as a hub for her own music and that of peers and new artists she felt sure to discover, SZNS7N has already laid down a marker as one of UK dance music’s most important new hubs over the last two years. Singular in sound and vision, the only qualifiers are that the music stands up with the rest — including the label’s distinct visual aesthetic — all handled by LCY in-house. Rather than lean on established names, she’s also opted to spotlight producers on the come-up too, with names like zonae, Ship Sket and Muhla cropping up front-and-centre on the label discography. “The label started with my ‘S1N’ EP, which was kinda about inner demons and just getting them out in the open”, LCY explains, “but I wanted the label itself to be multi-disciplinary and more of a platform to encompass everything, really. As time passed, I realised how difficult that was when you’re just one person running a label, so I guess my vision for it has changed a little bit. I remember just after putting ‘S1N’ out, I was playing at Croydub in Prague and both my hard drives broke and it was so chaotic and I didn’t know what to do. I ended up putting a call out on my socials asking for people to send me music and thank God that the Bristol community and the extended London community … basically everyone who has always supported me … sent over an influx of new tunes. Muhla sent me ‘Portland’ and I remember thinking, ’this tune needs a release’ … there was something so magical about it but I just couldn’t place it. I’d had this idea about putting seven tracks out over the course of seven weeks and it just made so much sense for that to be one of them at the time. I feel like a lot of label owners don’t always feel like they can put out just one tune but for me, sometimes a producer might not have written a full record yet and just have this one magical track … and that can be enough.”

“I believe in universal science and Muhla’s ‘Portland’ … he’d moved back to Cornwall from Bristol but came back for one day”, she continues, “and this was before I’d decided to start taking the photos and doing interviews with new artists on the label. I rang him up because I was in Bristol for the day by chance and asked if he was around, not really thinking he would be. It turns out he was at his friends house in Portland Square, so I went to meet him straight away. All the photos we got for that release were taken in Portland Square where he was for literally that one day. So basically, he had a tune called ‘Portland’ that I’d already agreed to sign and put out and he ended up in Portland Square on the off chance on the one day I was in Bristol too. I was just like, ‘wow, there’s some kinda synergy going on’. The same happened with Tailor Jae and Traces, who I’d known individually for quite some time. I remember seeing this tune called ‘Thief’ and seeing their names on it and being like, ‘is that… hang on?’. I didn’t even know they knew each other or that Tailor Jae even produced at the time but again, there was just this synergy I felt. I’ve run the label like that since the beginning. I have to feel a really good energy about both the person and their music. I have to feel like they’re going to use whatever I can give them, as little as that may be, to do some good.”

SZNS7N’s art direction is striking too. Originally functioning around a basic concept that saw LCY take artist press shots and obscure half their faces with white brush strokes, more recently, release artwork has grown more technical and conceptual. “I’m a big fan of a lot of contemporary artists and I’ve always done art on the side”, she explains. “I’ve always found it to be quite intuitive and at the time I was creating SZNS7N, I was looking at a lot of Francis Bacon’s paintings and was experimenting with oil paints. At the time, I wanted to lose my own mask for myself but I still wanted to keep my anonymity. The mask had too many connotations that weren’t related to me or my culture and I felt like I was borrowing massively. Obviously coronavirus has changed that because now masks are a part of our daily lives but at the time, I was reading a lot about the history of the East Asian and South East Asian culture and masks and it just didn’t sit right anymore. I wanted to steer away from that so that’s why I started painting. I hand-painted each one of those covers and it was such a labour of love, but I knew I had to find a new way to carve out an identity for the label.”

(Lijah – ‘Alhassan’ cover art by LCY)

It was this that’d signal LCY’s re-brand from L U C Y to LCY at the start of 2020, heralded by the release of her self-titled ‘LCY’ EP in February. Landing with a new logo and 3D animations designed by Joe Joiner, it marked the latest chapter in the SZNS7N story — and LCY hasn’t looked back since. “I mean I guess the label started out quite messily in some ways and I felt like people can maybe roll with it for a year or so but after a while, they’re gonna expect a better standard”, she says purposefully. EPs by Ship Sket and NARA followed, with NARA’s ‘Ipse Dixit’ cover art — this time designed by Jordan Chappell — particularly distinctive. “She loves Fiat Pandas, like the classic Italian Panda and so I sent Jordan a mood board with some notes and he got it straight away”, LCY says. “We flipped he colours around a bit but it was essentially done pretty quickly. I was nervous because it was the first time I’d worked with an external designer on artwork properly since my Trapdoor release and I’ve always got a really clear vision of how I want things to look. It can be frustrating sometimes, you know.”

(NARA – ‘Ipse Dixit’ cover art by Jordan Chappell)

In and amongst releasing her own material, DJing and presiding over SZNS7N, LCY also spent the best part of 18 months touring the UK as part of 6 Figure Gang — a DJ tour de force super group born out nothing more than friendship and mutual respect. Although having recently left the group, LCY, alongside Sherelle, Jossy Mitsu, Dobby, Fauzia and Yazzus, conjured up some of UK club music’s most defining moments over the course of 2019 & 2020. “We’d all been mates for a long time”, LCY explains, “and there were close links between all of us. There were certain events where we’d all be playing, like I the Keep Hush line-up I curated which Dobby hosted, Jossy playing A.G. and Manara’s club night where we first came up with the name and then we ended up getting the Rinse FM show together. It just kinda snowballed to be honest and we just did stuff that felt right between us. Sherelle putting us on the Boiler Room tour as 6 Figure Gang really catapulted us into the spotlight though, mainly because I don’t think UK club music had seen anything like us before. There was a lot of press opportunities and people gravitated towards us a lot and I think that was purely because it was so genuine.”

“Sherelle putting us on the Boiler Room tour as 6 Figure Gang really catapulted us into the spotlight though, mainly because I don’t think UK club music had seen anything like us before.”

Their contrasting styles behind the decks made for energy-sapping, ceiling-slapping club nights, with records played at breakneck speed and mixed with laser precision, smiles permanently etched on each other’s faces and blends celebrated like last minute winners. “It was a really good fucking thing”, LCY concludes. “I might not be a part of the group anymore, mainly because I felt like I couldn’t be as genuine as I wanted to be when we started, but it was such a good experience and we had a lot of fun.”

Circling back on her own output, LCY is hoping 2021 can usher in the next part of her vision for SZNS7N. New single ‘Garden Of E10’, released on December 18, serves as an introduction to a post-apocalyptic world she’s currently building in narrative form. “I’m writing a story at the moment that I’d like to eventually turn into a comic”, she explains. “The video for ‘Garden Of E10’ basically depicts the third scene in that story and follows this hybrid creature that has a dog’s mouth, a human head and a robot’s torso. It’s set a thousand or so years in the future and basically sees this creature head out into this new world for the first time. It’s a strange concept I guess because I always feel like people know what’s going on in my head but yeah. Ultimately, I just wanna try new things.”

“My favourite, favourite artists in the world … like the people who stay in my heart forever … are the ones that put so much effort into their art”, LCY continues. “You can connect to their music not just visually or sonically but in every way. I wanna be like that. I feel like you’re taught to write stories and imagine things at school but there’s not really a space for people to be weird and create worlds from their imagination that exist just for them anymore. Look at folklore and folk tales passed down over generations, they came from every day people doing every day things … and stories came from that. I just want escapism to be an option for people and hopefully, eventually, everyone can start making their own little stories again.”

LCY’S ‘Garden Of E10’ is out now on SZNS7N:

https://szns7n.bandcamp.com/track/garden-of-e10

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY ™ —

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

(EVA808)

Album of the Month: EVA808 – ‘Sultry Venom’ (Innamind Recordings)

A legacy realised

Highlights

1. DEMANTAR

2. BROKEN NEON

3. GOLD TOOTHED TIGRESS

Icelandic producer EVA808 is a true technician and with it, one of dubstep’s most influential producers of the last five years, boasting co-signs from Hudson Mohawke to Ty Dolla $ign, Skrillex & Boyz Noise. Her music is cutting and intensely atmospheric and on debut album, ’Sultry Venom’, she shines bright across 19 tracks that flit between all-out cinema and blink-and-you’ve-missed-it beat sketches. The tracklist may seem bloated at first glance, but it unravels like a maze that you can’t help but get lost in, too. There’s room for garish menace (‘I Saw The Devil’), icy, moonlit synths (‘Broken Neon’), oddball, hyper-technical hip-hop musings (‘Lean Back’) and late-blooming trap beats (‘Heated Seats’), all of which bleed into one another, glued together by a shared sense of overarching darkness and pain. It’s a remarkable record and after a quartet of EPs for Innamind, not to mention standout records for both Crucial and White Peach, certainly represents EVA808’s most ambitious and personal outpouring yet. 9/10

(JLSXND7RS)

Tune of the Month: JLSXND7RS & Rocks Foe – ‘Warren & Justin’ (Dark Knight Records)

One of the best from two of the best 

JLSXND7RS and Rocks Foe have long been sparring partners — grime’s tour de force tag-team for those in the know — and on ‘Warren & Justin’, both take to the buttons on a much sought-after gem of an instrumental. Released as a two-track plate featuring a sweltering Boofy & Hi5Ghost remix on the reverse, it’s a dub that more than backs up the hype. Sprawling, Ghibli-esque melodies and mystical, delicate flashes form much of the track’s early blueprint, before brutish, snarling 808 kicks and a frantic strings onslaught flood it with the sort of OG grime energy that JLSXND7RS has made a calling-card. A clash of styles, expertly pulled off. 9/10

Flava D – ‘Berlin’ EP (Bandcamp)

Grime history brought back to life 

Flava D returns from the cold with ‘Berlin’ — a new record comprised of four of her most prized dubs, each with their own slice of grime history. Re-mixed and mastered for 2020, the 12” — strictly limited to 500 copies — features ‘Berlin’, iconic beat to D Double E’s 2015 ‘Berlin Freestyle’, as well as ‘War Dub’, which featured in a grime producer clash broadcast live on Rinse FM in 2013 alongside fellow producers including JME, Teddy, Rude Kid and Preditah. There’s also room for ‘Robot’, selected by Wiley for ‘Step 18’ of his Steps Freestyle series back in 2013 and ‘Plate’, one of her earliest and most requested grime beats. She may have spent the last few years spreading the UKG gospel as part of tqd and even dabbled with drum & bass of late, but Flava D remains one of grime’s most prolific architects. She’s promised there’s more to come, too! 8/10

Taiko – ‘Oaken’ (White Peach Records)

Ever reliable, ever superb

Taiko has been one of the UK’s most reliably excellent dubstep producers for years now and on ‘Oaken’, his latest for White Peach, he only reinforces that sentiment. The sumptuous, jazzy romance and classic dubwise flavours of opener ‘Oaken’ featuring Ed Hodge forms a gorgeous entry point to a record that sees him hit the sweet spot between rough and smooth this time out, too. ‘Lawless’ plays contorted pan flute melodies off against fraught and rasping beats, while the oddball FX and gloopy, whirring, low-end hum of ‘Spent’ represents its own point of intrigue. Final track ‘Where Ya From’ is the EP’s most emphatic, a fluttery, sickly-sweet instrumental that lands, in places, like vintage Murlo meets early 2010s era dubstep. 8/10

LX ONE – ‘Bloodshot / Seeking’ (Vantage Records)

Big and bad!

LX ONE crowns a vintage breakthrough year for his Vantage Records imprint with the label’s first slice of wax. A-side ‘Bloodshot’ details a heavyweight collaboration with Youngsta defined by playful, cosmic, ray-gun style pulses and a booming lean, while on the flip, the ominous, gloomy battle charge of ‘Seeking’ plunges the 12” into darkness and mystery. A-grade club ammo from a seasoned producer clearly enjoying a new lease of life. 8/10

Lolingo & Lyrical Strally – ‘Lolingo vs Lyrical Strally’ (Skeen Records)

Pure energy!

Producer extraordinaire Lolingo and YGG’s Lyrical Strally go head-to-head on a bullish EP bursting with attitude and charisma. The minute-long 16-bit ‘Intro’ is relentless from the off, with Strally’s flow sharing parallels with some of JME’s early freestyles, while second track ‘Batman’ sees him navigate a deft, spatial instrumental in breathless fashion. ‘Feline’ is lifted from a similar playbook, only Lolingo’s beat is harder and cut with powerful, rasping strings this time, before Strally really comes into his own on EP standout ‘Dashboard’ — a freestyle recorded in one, pulsating take. Final track ‘To-Do List’ details the skippiest beat of the entire EP, which gives Strally plenty of room to manoeuvre and mix up his flow. A great record from two seasoned young pros. 8/10

Drone – ‘Ghost Racer’ (Bandcamp)

Drone’s dark materials

Like Taiko, Drone has long been a consistent source of top-tier grime and dubstep material, recently developing his sound to feel bigger, louder and more industrial on records for V.I.V.E.K’s System label. On ‘Ghost Racer’, a grizzly six-track EP self-released on Bandcamp, he flexes similar muscles, ranging from the crunching distortion of the title-track to the scything, nightmarish pull of ‘Cursed’. The jittery unease and percussive death rattle of ‘Sinking’ adds to the sense of foreboding, before tracks like ‘Blueprint’ and ‘Feet In The Dirt’ down the tempo and up the hazy, filmic crackle instead. Our tip is the murky, guttural jaunt of final track, ‘Crayon’, which bookends a record forged in gloom. 8/10

Numan – ‘Replica’ EP (SPECIAL* REQUEST)

He’s back!

Numan first caught everyone’s attention in the early 2010s as a grime producer with plenty under the bonnet but away from music, has since turned his hand to making apparel, perfume and more. ‘Replica’ — a record written to capture the concept of a new fragrance — is his first in some time but details three new tracks full of energy and verve. Sparkling opener ‘Bubble Bath’ listens like a day dream in fast forward, complete with bonkers quack FX (!), while the hazy, crackling quasi-romance of ‘Wicked Love’ lands somewhere between Burial and The Blaze. The lo-slung, acid-y beats of final cut ‘Dancing On The Moon’ pack a genuine punch too, closing out a mini-concept record that should remind everyone of Numan’s pedigree. 7/10

Felix Dubs – ‘Clarity’ (Red Lagoon)

Spreading his wings

Doing much of his talking via his music, Birmingham’s Felix Dubs has quietly established his Red Lagoon imprint as a go-to next-gen grime label over the last 18 months, presiding over records from Jakebob, Gallah and more, as well as three solo EPs of his own. His latest, ‘Clarity’, is perhaps his most dexterous and versatile, abandoning OG sensibilities in favour of adventure. Classy opener ‘Clarity’ — a booming, down-tempo beat cut with winding, late-summer guitar licks — is a case in point, while jittery, pensive UK funky is the order of the day via second track, ’Steps’. Jazzy notes continue apace on the sumptuous ‘Want And Need’, with more mellow, reflective beats in ‘Midnight Blues’ and ‘Illuminate’ holding down the latter part of the tracklist. Final track ‘Soulfood’ signs off in similar, downtempo fashion, drawing the curtain on an EP full of poise and promise. 7/10

Commodo – ‘Procession’ (Deep Medi Musik)

A master at work

Commodo caps a stellar year by returning to Deep Medi for the latest in a series of standout conceptual records. ‘Procession’, comprised of three tracks ‘written in groups’ is loosely based around, in his own words, a ‘Lovecraft style story’ that unfurls with the nuance only Commodo can work into crunching, hi-pressure tracks of this ilk. Opener ‘Lobby Theme’ is intense and aloof at the same time, as frantic tribal drum work meets shady, cops-and-robbers style film noir, while the abstract bleeps and creeping, oddball tension of second track ‘Eldritch’ feels genuinely gripping and totally absorbing.The saga concludes with the shadowy, unerring rumble and mysterious choral chants of title-track ‘Procession’, which brings little closure — but maybe that’s exactly the point? Either way, it’s genius. 9/10

Monitor

As we close out 2020, it’s worth highlighting Lean Streets — new sister label of Trends’ Mean Streets — and their debut compilation, ‘Flavas’, featuring a collection of essential new grime flicks from P Jam, Felix Dubs, Lemzly Dale, D.O.K and more … and LCY’s new single, ‘Garden Of E10’, which features a vivid and wildly dystopian official video, signposting an intriguing future for her SZNS7N imprint … Looking ahead to January, Cella Records have lined up a debut multi-artist compilation of their own … out on January 22, ‘Radio Static’ details 10 weighty new tracks from a cross section of some of dubstep and grime’s most exciting next-gen beat-makers in Kodama, Drumterror, Nuboid and label head, Turner On The Track, amongst others … keep your eyes peeled for hot and heavy new plates from DJ Madd (‘Soldiers’ EP on Badman Studios) and Hebbe (‘Quiche / Looters’ on Next Level Dubstep) — trust us (!)… and we’re looking forward to hearing a much-rumoured new collaboration between Sam Binga, Gemmy, Sir Hiss and hotly-tipped MC, Emz, on Pineapple Records in 2021 too!

(LCY)

— Shae Universe —

On Port Harcourt, growing up in Watford, collaborating with Ms Banks, Westside Boogie, Etta Bond and more, alignment, self-belief, performing at Twickenham and shining in her own lane.

(All photos submitted by Shae Universe)

It’s approaching 11pm on December 23rd when Shae Universe and I finally get hold of each other after almost two weeks of trying. “We made it”, she says chuckling as our call begins, only a few days after the latest, sobering wave of COVID-19 restrictions had been announced. A precociously talented singer, rapper and songwriter with an extraordinary vocal range, Shae has blossomed under the surface over the past three years, working in her own spaces and drawing admiring glances from some of music’s most reputable names in Chance The Rapper, Jorja Smith and Kojey Radical amongst others. From speaking on the phone for just over an hour though, you’d never think it. “I’ve always been really humble”, she notes, “and I don’t think that’ll ever change.”

Born in Port Harcourt — the largest city in Rivers State in Nigeria — Shae and her family moved to the UK in 1999, when she just four years old. Initially moving around different areas in North West London, Shae finally settled in Watford, where she is still based today. “I don’t remember a lot about my life in Nigeria because I was quite young”, she says softly, “but I guess there are specific things engrained in my memory. I remember my dad used to ride a motorbike … in Nigeria we call them okada … and even though I was super young, I’d ride on the back with him sometimes. Obviously very safely and securely, although it probably wasn’t the safest thing to do to be honest. When you’re that young though, you’re not really scared of anything. I had no fear, so it just felt exhilarating.”

“I remember my dad used to ride a motorbike … in Nigeria we call them okada … and even though I was super young, I’d ride on the back with him sometimes.”

“Watford was very, very racist when we first moved here though”, she continues, “…it really was quite bad. There wasn’t a lot of diversity culturally, it was a predominantly white area when we first moved here so I think for us, it was a bit of a culture shock. My parents wanted us to move somewhere a bit more peaceful and less busy, somewhere not at the heart of London but yeah, I don’t think we expected it. On a social level, I just remember it all being quite awkward. The vibe between me and my neighbours for example, like that was never warm or friendly. We had a couple of run-ins as well … mainly just people being not particularly nice to us or making remarks in the street. It’s come a long way though, because now it’s a lot different and I feel a lot better about being here.”

Thankfully, the racism Shae encountered on the streets of Watford didn’t extend to the classroom in Harrow, where she spent her school years. “I can’t lie, Harrow was a lot more culturally diverse so I never really experienced it in the same way at school. I was such a good child looking back, you know? I was a total goody two shoes and I was always really scared of disappointing my parents but to be honest, I think that was partly down to being the oldest of four siblings and also being my parents’ first born. They were very traditional growing up in terms of their beliefs and stuff and they didn’t really know anything else. There was quite a lot of pressure on me to do well academically and I guess I lived up to that. It did my head in but somehow I managed to see it through and did pretty well. I was very focused, never gave anyone any trouble, didn’t get into fights or anything like that … I just tried to do my best.”

Music too was a big part of Shae’s childhood. “I feel like my first ever memory of music would probably be some form of African worship or African praise”, she says, energised by the switch in conversation. “In my household generally though, there was a lot of Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Barry White … gospel as well, that’s always been huge in my family. My mum is actually a gospel singer and before the pandemic hit, she’d travel to different countries and sing at different churches. As I got older, I started to find my own artists, outside of what was being played indoors. I discovered Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu pretty early on … I guess it all stemmed from Neo Soul at first and then I slowly branched out into RnB and the big 2000s pop stars. I was very in-tune with pop culture generally back then, actually.”

She discovered her own flair for music — and her voice (!) — at secondary school, where her love of literature signposted a route in to first writing bars and later, writing songs. “I loved poetry, slam poetry and all that kind of stuff”, she recalls, “…and then the poetry kinda morphed into rapping. I had a weird phase, when grime was a big thing, of going to the back of the playground and just clashing everyone. Everyone had tags as well … mine was Baby Murkage. I was actually hard you know. I’m telling you the mandem didn’t wanna bar me at the back of the playground because if you got washed out by a girl it was a big thing. After that, I started to sing a bit more. My mum, bless her, would force me to sing in the church choir, so it started as a chore but I ended up thinking it was quite nice. It helped shape my musical ear too, especially in terms of harmonies and pitch and stuff like that.”

“I had a weird phase, when grime was a big thing, of going to the back of the playground and just clashing everyone. Everyone had tags as well … mine was Baby Murkage. I was actually hard you know. I’m telling you the mandem didn’t wanna bar me at the back of the playground because if you got washed out by a girl it was a big thing.”

As her musical tastes began to evolve, so did Shae’s ambitions. Although clearly academic and a high achiever, music and her love of performing arts had come to the fore and with university on the horizon, there was only one choice she felt destined to make. “I ended up going to a drama school university called Rose Bruford College in Sidcup”, she says. “You know how in America they call universities, colleges? That university, though it’s based in the UK, was quite unique in the sense that it offered a course that’d allow you to go out to America and study over there for a semester … and that’s the course that I chose. It was called American Theatre and it was very similar to a lot of other performance arts disciplines like singing, acting, dancing … but it focused on American works, American playwrights, American history, that type of thing. In my second year, I got to fly out to America for a semester and I chose to go to the Stephen F. Austin University in this town called Nacogdoches in Texas, which not many people have ever heard of … I mean I hadn’t either. It sounds kinda random but it was the best experience ever.”

Had she always been intrigued by America, I wondered? “Do you know what, it’s so crazy that just talking about it and saying this stuff out loud now is making sense of why everything has panned out the way it’s panned out”, she says, expressively. “If I’m being really, really honest, I first picked that course because it sounded interesting and obviously, getting that experience out in America … the place most people see as like the place to go to fulfil your entertainment dreams our whatever … was really big for me. I didn’t understand the depth of that decision at the time, though. It’s so weird because I find that the way my life works, a lot of the time it’s only after looking back and reflecting that I’m like ‘woah, hold on, all of this stuff was supposed to happen’. I never thought about how me studying out there would later intertwine with my real life reality all these years later, you know.”

“It’s so weird because I find that the way my life works, a lot of the time it’s only after looking back and reflecting that I’m like ‘woah, hold on, all of this stuff was supposed to happen’.”

Shae first garnered attention while still at university, posting clips of covers on Twitter. Faceless and pure, they alerted the watching world to the power of her voice and that alone — and it wasn’t long before the share count started to rack up. “They were really short clips, just shot from my neck down”, she recalls. “I’d just sing my favourite songs, that was it. Somehow and I’m not sure how it happened, but these covers started to go viral. I remember I covered a Stormzy track and he got wind of it and acknowledged me, which felt crazy at the time. Chance The Rapper, too. I think at that point, that’s when I realised I might actually have something. I know people say it’s bad to look for validation from an external source but for me, it felt right and I think it depends on your character, too. I’m naturally a very humble person, maybe to a fault, but as I said before, I feel like those early co-signs, especially from people way ahead of me on their own journeys, were really helpful.”

Shae also credits her university experience with helping her find her voice and shaping her early artistry, too. “I specifically remember being sat in one of my classes and we had this teacher called Steve”, she recalls. “He would always teach the boring context classes and I can’t lie, I would fall asleep sometimes and he’d have to nudge me or whatever. Eventually, he started taking the voice classes with us and that’s when I first noticed something about myself that I’d never realised before. I’m 5’11, so I’m quite a tall woman and I’ve probably been that height since I dunno … I was young, anyway … so for a very long time, I was always towering over most people. I felt quite self-conscious about it, especially because people would often move out of the way as if they were intimidated by me, so I’d always over-compensate to make people feel more comfortable. What I ended up doing, was pushing up my voice subconsciously and softening it … and I’d never even realised. Steve, my teacher, was like, ‘Why are you doing that? That’s not where the power in your voice is at all’. Just unpacking things like that, even now, is like ‘woah’. I must have made so many small adaptations like that, just to appease other people and my own insecurities, so I’ve been working hard on stripping those away. Upon leaving university, I felt ready to come to terms with my voice and who I was and what I wanted to be.”

Off the back of the success of her early Twitter covers — “Chance The Rapper responded to my cover of ‘Ultralight Beam’ with Kanye West, retweeted it and told me I was dope!” — Shae took a second to consolidate. Still faceless, she saw the potential in her voice doing the leg work but also understood she needed to strike while the iron was hot — now was the time to step out from behind the curtain. “It definitely gave me this sense of drive, this spark”, she explains. “Plus, at that time, I did have people messaging me asking where my music was. I had to have a conversation with myself about what type of artist I wanted to be. Did I want to be known as the girl who records sick covers of the songs that she likes? Or did I want to be my own artist? It was something I’d studied for and wanted my whole life you know, so I knew what I had to do.”

“Did I want to be known as the girl who records sick covers of the songs that she likes? Or did I want to be my own artist?”

Decision made, Shae released her debut single ‘Big Mistake’ featuring Ms Banks in 2016, complete with an official video. “When I think about it, that was my first ever original song and my first ever song with a feature”, she says, pausing for a moment. “I mean, it’s crazy really.” How did she go about collaborating with Ms Banks, I wondered? “She basically heard the track after she’d caught wind of me on Twitter and just wanted to jump on once I’d sent it over, it was as simple and as easy as that. I will forever rate and respect Ms Banks because she doesn’t care about clout. If she hears something that she likes or respects, she’ll let you know. At that point in time, I had zero clout compared to where she was in her journey and nobody knew who I was. She didn’t have to do that at all, but she did.”

While ‘Big Mistake’ offered a window into Shae’s world for the first time, it was the slew of follow-up singles (‘Move’, ‘No Stallin’, ‘Black Panther’) that really shone a light on her singular talent. Already buoyed by “the tribe” she’d galvanised via her Twitter covers, demand for new Shae Universe music grew quickly — and she was in no mood to let anybody down. “I didn’t really know what I was doing at first”, she explains, “and it was a steep learning curve having to get my head around the business side of things and what not, but I knew I could navigate it. I was unknown then, so I felt like I could slide through and prove my worth to people with my music. It was nerve-wracking but it was fun … I mean, I’ve performed at most venues in London now I think, I did a lot of free shows and support slots, stuff like that. I’d go into spaces being completely unknown and leave with new fans, you know. That in itself was so important.”

“I think ‘No Stallin’ was probably my biggest, kinda defining moment of that period though”, she continues. “It came out in 2018 and it was my first and only track to hit 1 million streams thus far. Through that song, I was contacted by Roc Nation EQ, which is their distribution arm, and I was flown out to New York to meet with them. It was the first time I’d flown solo as Shae Universe, as my own artist, so it really felt like a big milestone.”

After working with a trio of managers during this first phase, Shae took the decision to mange herself in 2018. Fiercely independent but also very much a subscriber to the trust-the-process school of thought, it’s a combination that’s served her well — and opened her up to some career-defining collaborations. “I have a record with Etta Bond called ‘No More Love’, I worked with Kojey Radical on ‘700 PENNIES’ and I’ve also got a feature on a track called ‘No Warning’ with an artist called Boogie”, she says definitively. “Not A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie which people often get confused with, but an artist called Westside Boogie. He’s from Compton in California and he’s signed to Shady Records, which is Eminem’s record label, and he put out an album ‘Everything’s For Sale’ in 2019 which has everyone from Snoh Aalegra, 6lack, JID and Eminem on it too. To be featured on an album like that with those artists … I mean they’re seasoned artists, do you know what I mean? Again though, I feel like everything that’s happened on my journey so far has kept me grounded. You can get 500,000 co-signs from all these stars all around the world but it doesn’t mean they’re gonna hand you your career and you can blow tomorrow. You’re still gonna have to put in the work, which is what I’ve always done, but these things do serve as a reminder … people do see you and people see what is coming.”

“You can get 500,000 co-signs from all these stars all around the world but it doesn’t mean they’re gonna hand you your career and you can blow tomorrow.”

“Boogie actually found me via my covers as well”, she continues. “It was a cover of a song called ‘Redbone’ by Childish Gambino. He just popped up like ‘yo, we should work’ and the rest is history. It culminated with me opening for Eminem at Twickenham Stadium in the summer of 2018 as well, as part of the London legs of his Revival Tour and it was epic. Honestly, that shit was epic. I mean Twickenham holds 82,000 people I think so it was the biggest crowd I’ve ever performed to in my entire life. Somehow I find performing to a really big crowd easier than performing to a more intimate one, just because it feels like one big sea of energy. 50 Cent and Royce da 5’9” were there to perform too. It was an amazing experience.”

“More recently, a single called ‘You Lose’ which I released earlier this year, was also important for me”, Shae continues. “That single represents the first time I really pushed myself outside my comfort zone in terms of genre and musicality. My producer sent me a beat with drill undertones and bear in mind, the first time I heard it I was like, ‘what the heck? I’m an RnB singer’. Somehow, it just worked and that track is the fastest-streaming of my career so far.” The official video, pieced together by Blanguage Online who reached out to Shae after first hearing ‘You Lose’, features clips of over 100 women — including a host of creatives, photographers, writers, models and even fellow artists Sinead Harnett and Emelie Sandé — singing along to the track during the UK’s first lockdown period in April. “When Blanguage pitched the idea of a quarantine video tapping into empowerment and togetherness, I literally just DM’d everyone I knew that day and asked if they’d be interested in being in the video”, Shae explains. “With Emelie Sandé, I was just shooing my shot because I’d performed shortly before lockdown and she just happened to be there. We followed each other on social media afterwards but obviously that didn’t mean she’d automatically want to feature in this video. It was a long shot, but I sent her a DM and she did it! It was like that with everyone I reached out to in the end. I reckon that video, maybe in years to come, will be something to remember, you know. There’s greatness in that video and I feel like a lot of those women will go onto achieve amazing things, man.”

Shae’s latest single, ‘Levels’, also pairs top tier vocals with striking visuals, this time originally conceived by her younger sister. Written and performed as a homage to the R&B greats that have inspired Shae’s career to this point, there are countless iconic moments — including nods to classic videos by Aaliyah and Missy Elliott. It also recently won Video Of The Year at the 2020 State Of R&B Awards. So, with so many strings to her bow, how would Shae herself describe the music she makes and moreover, what she stands for? “I believe that I’m here to make space for multi-faceted, multi-talented women”, she says, emphatically. “Women that have multiple sides and thrive in all of them. I feel, especially being a black woman in the UK music industry specifically, sometimes you feel like you’re boxed in … if you’re not subscribing to what this particular ideal of what a black female music artist should be, then we’re not gonna listen to you, kinda thing. I don’t feel like industry blueprints are the ceiling either. Just because X, Y or Z artist have done something a certain way, doesn’t mean that is the only way. Rules in this industry are there to be broken and that’s when you get pioneership and that’s when you get innovation and that’s when you get real inspiration and real breakthroughs. I’m just here to be myself unapologetically and hopefully, I believe, that’ll inspire all different types of people.”

“Rules in this industry are there to be broken and that’s when you get pioneership and that’s when you get innovation and that’s when you get real inspiration and real breakthroughs.”

With such steadfast belief in herself and her purpose, you’d be hard pressed to find anything with enough force to knock Shae from her path. Even in times of struggle — from being let go from her job at Harrow Council earlier this year to seeing her kindness taken advantage of time and time again in the industry — she has managed to push on and flourish. Out of the trauma of 2020, she’s started her own vocal coaching business — “I’ve already got a whole load of clients who are all really focused, which is great” — recently performed as part of the BET UK Soul Cypher alongside Sinead Harnett, Hamzaa and Jvck James and is at the midway point of writing and recording her debut full-length project, which she hopes to release next spring. “I can’t really say too much at the moment”, she notes, “but it’ll be my first proper body of work as Shae Universe, which is a huge deal for me. I’m blessed to be in a position to now have a lot of important eyes watching what I’m doing, mainly thanks to collaborating with artists who are a lot further along than me, artists with multiple bodies of work. It’s quite daunting but definitely exciting. What I will say as well is that I’ve never heard music like this before. It’s scary because when you’re coming with something new, you know that some people are gonna love it and some people aren’t gonna love it. I’ll have to wait and see I guess, but I’ve got full faith that people will vibe with this new sound that I’ve been playing with.”

“Looking forward though, I’ve learned a lot this year, especially about myself”, she continues. “I’ve learned to honour my boundaries. I spent a long time subconsciously appeasing other people and making sure those around me were comfortable, even at the expense of my own comfort. Compromise and empathy are important but balance is equally as important. As a music artist, without me being okay, feeling alright and feeling stable, there is no career, there is no music. I can’t be out here exhausting myself and putting all my energy out into the world without replenishing. Just knowing that has helped me maintain and protect my peace a lot more.”

— Flava D —

On grime, garage, MySpace, Eskibeat, Butterz, tqd, Hospital Records, travel, the nature of balance and finding freedom on the West Coast.

(All photos submitted by Flava D)

It’s 8pm in London on Friday night and Flava D, now based in Los Angeles, is just starting her day. “Honestly before this year, I’d be lucky if I was in the same place for more than three weeks”, she says with a smile. Headset on and coffee freshly brewed, she appears calm, relaxed, content. “Whilst it’s been a difficult year and challenging in ways, it’s also been a year for me to grow on a personal level”, she explains, “in ways that maybe I wouldn’t have been able to if things weren’t at a standstill. I’ve just been wrapped up in Flava D for so long and this year, I thought to myself, I’m gonna do some Danielle stuff … everything from therapy to DIY projects and learning new things outside of music. My health, too. I can definitely walk away from this year and say I’ve gained a lot.”

As one of the UK’s big, breakout DJs of the last five years, Flava D’s stock rose exponentially in the space of a few months off the back of her first Butterz record (‘Hold On’ / ‘Home’) in 2013, and later the success of tqd — the UKG super-group she formed alongside previous Polymer interviewee, DJ Q, and Royal-T. It was a rise she enjoyed and admittedly “just got on with”, but only now, with the world effectively ground to a halt, has it all finally started to sink in. “I’ve definitely found myself slowing down”, she says, reflecting on her journey to this point. “Even up to February, I was still booked in for a US tour, which I had to cancel mid-February because cases were rising near where I was in California. It was weird to be presented with like, a month off … or so I thought at that point … but also kind of nice. The more months that went by though, I did start to get a bit sick of it and I didn’t have much motivation for music. I just wasn’t feeling inspired, I wasn’t in those club environments and I guess it was the first time I had any space to think in a long time.”

Flava’s story began in Bournemouth, a large coastal town on the South West coast of England, where she was born and grew up, although she also had family ties in Birmingham — “I was constantly back-and-forth between the two”, she recalls. Although not from a musical family by definition, Flava remembers always wanting to make music. Inspired by her auntie, who was a massive fan of early ‘00s garage — “not all the commercial stuff … more Steve Gurley, early MJ Cole and Zed Bias” — and her own love of hip-hop, she was obsessed from her early teens. “I loved Cypress Hill, J Dilla, early Nas … proper golden era stuff”, she explains, “and dancehall too, that was always around for me growing up. When I was about 13, my mum bought me my first decent-sized keyboard from Argos, you know the type with everything built in? That’s when I really started getting familiar with keys and then later on, when I was 16, I actually worked in a record shop. My boss at the time was making music and he gave me a copy of Ableton, so I took it home and taught myself how to use it in my bedroom.”

“I had a terrible attendance record at school though”, she continues, “…like, 42% attendance or something like that. My mum ended up getting a letter about being taken to court and all sorts. I was a bit of an introvert, I liked to just do technical, geeky stuff, which I suppose worked in my favour when I got my hands on Ableton. This was all around the time of Channel U, which in Bournemouth, was my gateway into grime, because I couldn’t pick-up Rinse FM or anything like that, and there were no pirate stations anywhere. I remember watching Channel U and just being like, ‘what is this?’. It wasn’t like MTV or KISS, it was raw and gritty … I just fell in love with it.”

Some of Flava’s earliest productions loosely functioned around first hip-hop and later, dance music — “my mum loved trance!” — but it was her grime beats that’d ultimately make her name. Galvanised by the instrumentals she was hearing on Channel U, she locked herself away in her room and wrote as much grime as she could — all entirely self-taught. But how did a 16 year-old kid from Bournemouth grab the attention of London’s big-name MCs? “MySpace”, she says without hesitation. “It was all MySpace. I mean Bebo was popping for a little bit, but most of it came down to messaging as many MCs as I could.The first established MC to vocal any of my tunes was Fumin’, who was my gateway into being co-signed. I think people heard it and were asking him about the beat, so he’d put people onto me like that. From there, it just grew … to the point where people were asking me for beats.”

“The first established MC to vocal any of my tunes was Fumin’, who was my gateway into being co-signed.”

“I remember one day, I took the plunge and thought I’d message Wiley on MySpace, never thinking he’d actually reply”, Flava continues, “…and he did! He just replied with his mobile number … you know Wiley, he’s super blunt, but I couldn’t believe it was real. There was me, 16 years old and faced with the prospect of ringing Wiley to talk about my music. I did it though and that’s how that relationship was formed. He ended up buying beats off me for £100 each. He wouldn’t even vocal all of them but he’d still pay me, which was great. That was basically how my name really started to grow, to the point even Ghetts called me off an unknown number one day asking me to send him beats. I was actually in a pub in Kent with my friend at like 4pm and I get the call. The minute I hung up, I put my beer down, ran home and exported all the new ideas that I had and sent them over to him. We ended up making a tune called ‘Shutdown’ or something like that and from there, I worked with him and also Stutta quite a lot. It was weird to have all these people start coming to me, but I guess that’s how word spreads. My goal at that time was always to get a play on Logan Sama’s KISS FM show as well and I remember I got that first play, which was of a Stutta tune I’d produced in that period. Back then, if you got that play, you were certified … you’d made it.”

“…Ghetts called me off an unknown number one day asking me to send him beats. I was actually in a pub in Kent with my friend at like 4pm and I get the call. The minute I hung up, I put my beer down, ran home and exported all the new ideas that I had and sent them over to him.”

Having saved the majority of the money she’d earned through her early beats — “once I had over a grand, that was it” — Flava looked to move closer to London. “I ended up moving to Maidstone in Kent, where my best friend lived”, she says, “and I stayed there for about two years. I was basically just a beat-making machine back then. I had a part-time job at Co-op but for a long time, I was also on job seeker’s allowance too. I was spending £40 a week on food, you know … frozen pizzas and all that crap … and just making music constantly. That was my life. It was basically part-time job, Ableton, get drunk in between. Kent was great at first because it did feel like an upgrade on Bournemouth but after a while I remember thinking, ‘this is dead, I still need to be in London’.”

“I was spending £40 a week on food, you know … frozen pizzas and all that crap … and just making music constantly. That was my life. It was basically part-time job, Ableton, get drunk in between.”

Flava ended up first moving in with her partner in Eltham, in the South East of the city, before later moving to Lewisham where she’d spend the next five years. “The relationship might not have worked out, but I’m so glad I chose to stay in London”, she reflects, “it was the best thing I ever did.” It was in Lewisham that she first connected with Elijah & Skilliam — label heads at defining 2010s grime label, Butterz — at the back end of 2012, too. Although strongly affiliated to Wiley’s Eskibeat label in her early days — “He always called me the First Lady of Eskibeat” — Butterz were the first label to really open Flava’s eyes to how far her music could travel. “They found me”, she recalls. “The story was that they were in the car on the way to a gig somewhere and heard DJ EZ play ‘Hold On’ on KISS. At that point, they just knew me for making grime so I think they were a bit taken aback by it. They found it refreshing that I was versatile in what I was making. Elijah ended up emailing me and asked to sign it and to be honest, I was quite unfamiliar with Butterz at the time … I was just locked away in my own world. I agreed on the spot and I just remember thinking I’d never been approached by anyone that professional before. They had all their shit together, they were polite, everything looked great. We actually met properly for the first at the DJ EZ Boiler Room with Butterz and Matt Jam Lamont in December that year. It was a massive, massive night for me because I played on CDJs for the first time. Thankfully my set isn’t online because it was terrible and I didn’t really know what I was walking into, I was clanging so much, but it was so important for me to be there and just go for it. I remember speaking to Mark (Royal-T) afterwards and him saying to me, ‘just so you know, we’re like a family and we welcome you and we’re gonna look after you’. I remember thinking it was really nice to have that validation, that reassurance you know? And it’s true I mean, looking back now it’s far more than just a professional relationship, it really is like family. I look at Elijah and Skilliam as my older brothers and as a label, we all have each other’s backs.”

“I remember speaking to Mark (Royal-T) afterwards and him saying to me, ‘just so you know, we’re like a family and we welcome you and we’re gonna look after you’. I remember thinking it was really nice to have that validation, that reassurance you know?”

Flava’s debut record proper, ‘Hold On / Home’, released on Butterz in March the following year (2013), signposting a new direction for both herself and the label — UKG had arrived. It would form the catalyst for a slew of records and collaborations, including ‘On My Mind’ with Royal-T, the blistering ‘In The Dance’ EP for Champion’s Formula Records imprint, ‘PS’ with DJ Q and 2015 anthology, ‘More Love’ — a sumptuous 12-track collection of tracks that cemented her status as flag bearer for a new school of UKG music. “It was definitely a great time for me”, Flava reflects. “I remember I also started to take over the Butterz show on Rinse FM quite a bit then too and I was basically learning to DJ live on air as I went … it was proper in-at-the-deep-end stuff. There was so much great music and content around then as well and Disclosure were around at mainstream level so everything felt exciting. It felt like people were really tapping into garage again.”

In the background, Flava was honing her own craft too. Under the tutelage of Elijah, her music was growing with every release. “He taught me to look at my ideas differently and see the bigger picture”, she explains. “He’d be like, ‘how can you make this beat bigger? What about the outro? Maybe you could bring this or that up a notch’. He taught me to challenge myself and my ideas … it’s always about taking things to the next level, you know. The relationship between myself and Butterz has been great for us both in that sense, because I think we’ve learned from each other. Before ‘Hold On / Home’, I’d actually been making garage stuff for a good year or so, mostly just to send to DJ Q to hopefully play on his 1Xtra show and I treated it more as a hobby really. I never had any ambitions for any of it to be signed, but everything worked out in the end.”

“Learning to DJ then was also massive for me because I’d been asked by Cameo and DJ Q to come in to record guest mixes on the BBC pretty early on”, Flava continues. “… but obviously I couldn’t because I didn’t really know how to mix properly. I didn’t have enough money to buy decks or anything like that because in those times, I was just making enough to get by. That Boiler Room was actually the first night I caved in and thought I’m just gonna wing it. I had my friend’s friend on mic, hosting … we didn’t have a fucking clue what we were doing, she was awful … I would pay good money to get hold of that recording, honestly. I ended up getting my first paid gig through the boys at a Butterz night at Cable in Vauxhall the following year, where I played the warm-up set. It was actually a crazy transition for me to suddenly be tasked with learning to DJ in front of so many people, as opposed to in my bedroom how I’d learned to do everything else, but I got there. It probably took a few years to find myself as a DJ and find my style to be honest. I was very stiff and wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone in the crowd when I started out but over time, I got more and more confident behind the decks.”

“That Boiler Room was actually the first night I caved in and thought I’m just gonna wing it. I had my friend’s friend on mic, hosting … we didn’t have a fucking clue what we were doing, she was awful … I would pay good money to get hold of that recording, honestly.”

Her exploits as a DJ also opened Flava’s eyes to the wider world. Aside from travelling between Bournemouth and Birmingham as a kid, and later across London as an adult, travel had always felt like an alien concept. “I didn’t even have a passport”, she recalls. “I’d never flown on a plane, I’d never really been anywhere before I started to DJ.” Her first gig? “Israel”, she says with a smile, “Tel Aviv in Israel in 2013. Elijah came with me but I was incredibly nervous for that, he was basically holding my hand on the plane and making sure I was alright. I mean, I’d never even been to Spain or anything so Israel was a pretty crazy first experience overseas. I loved it though, it was exciting. To me, the chance to be paid to go and DJ abroad is still just an amazing feeling. It definitely sparked a fire in me and made me feel more motivated to do more of it. After that first booking came in, they didn’t stop. I remember going to Russia shortly afterwards and then basically all over Europe. I felt like a seasoned DJ before long and it was good to get to know how crowds would react to what I was playing in different places.”

Despite an increasingly exhaustive tour schedule, Flava had started to write with Royal-T and DJ Q more and more following a series of collaborations across 2014 and 2015. It was a relationship that Elijah & Skilliam saw the potential in right from the off, although tqd — the next defining chapter in Flava D’s career — came together as a project on the off chance. Dropping in on a studio session that Q and Royal-T were sharing at Red Bull Studios in London, Flava’s influence helped spawn the debut tqd single, ‘Day & Night’ — a record born out of that very session. “They were probably about 70% there on finishing the track when I jumped in”, she recalls, “and I liked what they’d got down so I just asked if I could add some melody and yeah, it kinda went from there. They wrote most of the ‘Day’ mix and then on the vinyl, there’s also a ‘Night’ mix which I wrote the majority of. I got the stems and added my touch and it just felt really natural. We were friends, we had the same interests, we made similar music … it just made sense to work together like that. Off the back of that first release, I remember our agent, Max, phoning us all one day telling us we had an offer and asked if we all wanted to play back-to-back. We were like, ‘alright, it’ll be a laugh’ and went for it. After we actually played that night, we realised that we all had really good chemistry behind the decks and that we all brought something different to the table. All of a sudden, we had offers flying in left and right, which inspired the album and the whole tour campaign. It just went off.”

The tqd project saw Flava D, Royal-T and DJ Q play some of the UK and Europe’s biggest festivals including Creamfields, Eastern Electrics, Parklife, We Are FSTVL, Boomtown, Snowboxx and Outlook, as well as Ibiza, bringing UKG back to dance floors across Europe. It also spawned their critically-acclaimed debut album, ‘ukg’, released on Butterz in March 2017, which many feel formed the blueprint for the resurgent UKG sounds breathing new life into UK dance music right now. “When I look back, especially with life being so different at the moment, it feels crazy to think that all happened”, says Flava. “At the time, we were just like fucking machines, always ready for the next step. It was wild really because we had so much going on, so much travelling and so many gigs but after a while, I think we all just needed a break.”

In and amongst the chaos of the tqd years, Flava reminds me of just how much all three artists were still doing individually; whether that be Flava’s 13-week XOYO residency, recording Fabriclive 88 or her work on ‘Soul Shake’ with My Nu Leng — one of 2016’s defining underground dance records — Royal-T releasing music with Defected or Q building his own DJ Q Music label from the ground-up. “We achieved so much in such a short space of time but I think at the back of our minds, we all still wanted to explore other avenues”, Flava acknowledges. “It’s good to look back at it now and feel like it was a special period of time, rather than still be throwing it in people’s faces.”

The culmination of the tqd project saw Flava make new transatlantic connections with AC Slater’s influential Night Bass label, with whom she released 2018 EP ‘Spicy Noodles’, and later Hospital Records — one of the UK’s legendary drum & bass labels, formed in 1996. Never bound by genre — “I’ve always made whatever feels natural, not what’s popular” — Flava found herself energised by working in these new spaces. “The US has always interested me”, she explains, “it was never my ultimate goal to make it out here but the market is huge and I’ve always seen that as important. I’ve been going back-and-forth between the UK and the US since 2015 and each time I come back, I see the popularity shift, to the point where people come up to me and reach over the booth, tapping on their phones with requests for me to play proper heads-y garage records. It’s amazing to see. The link-up with Night Bass was a way for me to build on that, because they’re an important label out there, and it’s sick to see people getting so invested in the music coming out of the UK.”

“I’ve been going back-and-forth between the UK and the US since 2015 and each time I come back, I see the popularity shift, to the point where people come up to me and reach over the booth, tapping on their phones with requests for me to play proper, heads-y garage records.”

Now based in Los Angeles, where she’s ‘semi-lived’ with her partner since 2018 — “I go where the gigs are generally … if I’m playing in the UK, I’m based in London, if I get a few weeks off, I’m in LA” — Flava has continued to expand and experiment, particularly amidst a COVID backdrop this year. But more importantly, she’s also started to find time for herself. “I’m a hot weather girl”, she says with a smirk, “so the sun, the palm trees, I love it. I mean I love London but the grey and the cold, I just can’t deal with it all year round. There’s also a lot more for me as a person here in terms of my health and wellbeing, and just living life generally. I love travel now too and there are so many options for me to do that here because America’s so huge.”

“I’m not sure if you saw, but I bought a camper van last year”, she continues. “It’s not something I’d ever really thought about or aspired to buy, I just liked the freedom of it. It was October, November time and I’d seen someone travelling in a camper van on Instagram and it had all the amenities on board … I was like ‘how are they powering all their electrics?’, and of course it was all solar powered which I thought was insane. I just kept thinking about being able to travel wherever I want if I bought myself a motorhome like that. I love to make music out in the wilderness too … anywhere very peaceful or quiet … so it just felt like the best idea. I ended up buying a second hand camper from Craigslist, which is like America’s version of Gumtree, and yeah, just on a personal level it’s been so beneficial. If I want to get some space or head out to Joshua Tree or wherever, just knowing I can is so freeing. Even during COVID while everything’s been closed, I’ve always had the option to get in the van and drive somewhere if I want to. Having that freedom is amazing.”

Freedom feels like the key word underpinning her decision to release with Hospital Records, too. A fan of drum & bass since she was a teenager, the release of her debut Hospital EP, ‘Desert Lights’, earlier this year may have caught many off guard — even label co-founder, London Elektricity. “It must have been the start of 2018 and I was playing at a big multi-genre festival. In the shuttle bus from my accommodation to the festival site was London Elektricity and at this point, I knew of him but didn’t know the face. He’s talking to the driver and I gathered that he was a DJ and then he introduced himself as Tony from Hospital Records. As luck would have it, I’d just started to dabble with making some drum & bass. I’m not usually the kind of person that’d be like ‘hey, can I send you some tunes’, but I felt like I should probably ask if I could fire some ideas over to him. He was like, ‘absolutely!’ … we swapped emails and that was that. It’d always been my dream to have a Hospital release actually, just because they’re a real benchmark label. A couple of weeks later, I sent him a folder of everything I’d been working on and I think he was pleasantly surprised because obviously I’m well known for my bass-heavy, aggressive garage or bassline or whatever. He was probably expecting some jump-up but what I sent was very melodic, liquid drum & bass and he seemed refreshed by it. That’s how my debut EP came about in the end and yeah, it’s just been a really organic relationship and even now, I’m still learning how to make drum & bass. It’s a completely different way of producing, you know. If you can produce it to a high level then you’re really good because honestly, it’s so, so technical.”

As we begin to wind down our conversation, Flava is shocked when I let her know we’ve been speaking for almost an hour. “No way”, she says quizzically … “really?”. Although still learning to separate herself from her music and make time where she can, she admits she feels more grounded and content than ever before in Los Angeles. “My partner actually helps me a lot with balance”, she continues, “because for a long time I was a workaholic. It took me a good four years to learn that sometimes ‘no’ can be the best answer, you don’t have to agree to every opportunity that comes your way. I realised that you have to make time to do things for you, things that are good for your soul and the person you are away from music. At the beginning of this year, I had a few panicky moments thinking about what I was gonna do while the world came to a halt, especially because I wasn’t used to having so much time in one place. My partner just said, ‘look, you’re fine, you’ve done great things already and whatever happens, just appreciate your accomplishments … you don’t always need to be thinking about the next move’. It’s definitely something I’m trying to work on.”

“My partner just said, ‘look, you’re fine, you’ve done great things already and whatever happens, just appreciate your accomplishments … you don’t always need to be thinking about the next move’.”

“The time off has also changed the type of music I’m writing a bit too”, she continues. “I’m not making tracks with the end goal of them bumping in the club or whatever because I’m not in that environment right now and nobody else is either. I’ve been making a lot more experimental stuff, just music that feels more expressive. This year has just been about appreciating music for me… in whatever context. I’ve been picking up new skills too, so like, I’ve always wanted to learn the guitar and I bought myself an electric guitar. Over the last three months, I’ve been watching YouTube videos and I’m nothing special, but I’ve played my guitar on a few tracks and it actually feels really good to have that human element involved. Everything I make now, you’re probably gonna hear a bit of guitar in there! I think having my van has also changed what I’ve listened to as well, because a lot of it is now more melodic, kinda driving music … stuff you can listen to and appreciate. I’ve delved into that a bit too. I’ve realised my music doesn’t always have to be for people in the club. Sometimes it might be for people just starting their days.”

“Over the last three months, I’ve been watching YouTube videos and I’m nothing special, but I’ve played my guitar on a few tracks recently and it actually feels really good to have that human element involved. Everything I make now, you’re probably gonna hear a bit of guitar in there!”

With ‘Berlin’ — a special white label drop comprised of four classic grime beats, never before made available — released via Bandcamp only last week too and talk of a debut album in the offing, it seems as though 2020, although testing in part, has been kind to Flava D. “I’ve really been able to invest in myself this year. I’ve looked after my health, my mental health, I’ve made things … I built a bike from scratch, I even built the PC I’m speaking to you on”, she says. “… but I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is balance. I never really understood how important it is to be grateful for what I have and to not punish myself for slowing down at times. I know it sounds cliché, but health really is wealth.”

Flava D’s ‘Berlin’ EP is available now via Bandcamp:

https://flavadubs.bandcamp.com/album/berlin-ep