— Naina —

On pop music, working dead end jobs, Southampton, cats, Reprezent Radio, Apple Music, DJing and the benefits of running a label with your best friend.

(All photos submitted by Naina)

Chances are, if you’ve been paying close attention to electronic music over the last four years, you’ll have heard the name, Naina. You’ll have probably heard her voice, too. And no doubt you’ll have caught one of her sets, either IRL or online. As a DJ, broadcaster and record label founder, she’s left quite a mark of late, cutting through the noise alongside a tight-knit crew of fellow DJs and artists who are helping to not only signpost the future, but design it. As we catch up on a busy Wednesday afternoon, Naina still relentlessly in-demand and working as hard as ever, she seems relaxed and content — after all, she did buy a cat during lockdown. “I mean it’s been a shit-show of a year hasn’t it?”, she asks gloomily, “Obviously, everyone’s been affected by Coronavirus, but I’ve kinda seen it as the universe asking everyone to just chill out a bit … and hit reset.”

Like her flat mates, Naina made the decision to pack up and leave London soon after lockdown was implemented back in March— “I’m so lucky that I’ve been able to stay with my parents for a bit” — moving back out to her family home near Windsor in Buckinghamshire. It was here that Naina’s story began; she was born in Ascot — “my mum wanted Ascot on my birth certificate rather than Slough!” — and grew up spending time most of her time between Reading and London; the two closest big cities. Her childhood was quiet and fairly unremarkable; she recalls spending time with her older sister, who listened to Deftones and went to Reading Festival every year, but also by her own admission, found herself tucked away in her bedroom for hours, listening to pop. Her parents, both Indian by heritage, were born in Africa — her dad in Kenya and her mum in Uganda — and although not particularly musical, enjoyed listening to Bollywood music, mainly from some of their favourite film soundtracks. “I remember Bollywood soundtracks on tape”, Naina recalls, “and driving to see family in Croydon with them playing on loop. I can’t even speak the language but I know every word to those songs. My name Naina actually translates to mean ‘eyes’ in Hindi and it’s in loads of Bollywood and Indian songs, so I’d always hear it and be like, ‘ahh that’s my name!’. I guess it made me a lot more open to that sound and that style of music. I actually did a mix recently for Azeema Mag, which basically pays tribute to the music I heard growing up through my parents, something I’ve never done before. I think I should try and show that side of me more, now more than ever.”

“My name Naina actually translates to mean ‘eyes’ in Hindi and it’s in loads of Bollywood and Indian songs, so I’d always hear it and be like, ‘ahh that’s my name!’. I guess it made me a lot more open to that sound and that style of music.”

“Thinking about it, I just fucking loved pop music though to be honest”, she continues with a smile. “I think there’s a lot of people who are really into electronic music now, who used to listen to fucking everything as kids”, Naina also muses, “and I think a lot of them probably listened to bands a lot. I was so open-minded with music growing up .. I mean I was really into The Fugees, I remember having an album on CD, but also people like The Sugababes and All Saints. Primarily, as I got older, it was bands though … I guess you could say it was a bit all over the place. The first time I really got into dance music was through a band called The Faint … I didn’t even know where they were from or where I’d first heard them but they were so left … and also listening to bands like Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and stuff like that. The dance elements of their music made me explore that side of music more and I opened my eyes to producers like Rustie. From there, I just fell into it.”

It was only at 18 that she first started to lay roots elsewhere, heading to Southampton Solent University to study music journalism, where she would go onto meet close friends, music publicist and all-round industry polymath, Mitchell Stevens and DJ, producer and visual artist, Morgan Hislop. “I met Mitchell on my course, we were both studying the same degree and we were both clearly music heads”, Naina recalls. “I remember I first met him and I thought, ‘I hate you, I actually hate you’ (laughs) but then fast forward a week and boom, we were best friends. We hung out and he was DJing quite a bit at the time and I remember just really wanting to DJ too. I was always the person at house parties picking out the music, so I ended up asking my mum to buy me a controller for my birthday … just one of those cheap, plastic things that look like toys. We’d come back to mine after nights out and just mix until the early hours and after a while, I ended up putting some of my mixes on Soundcloud. Slowly, I guess people started to take notice.”

“I was always the person at house parties picking out the music, so I ended up asking my mum to buy me a controller for my birthday … just one of those cheap, plastic things that look like toys.”

“I remember Morgan as well”, she continues, “he was actually putting on club nights in Southampton at the time and reached out to ask if I wanted to play one of them. It ended up with us all becoming really good friends, united by this idea to try and push a certain type of electronic music. I remember when Disclosure first came onto the scene … it must have been 10 years ago … we had them play for us at this club called Unit in the city. They ended up coming to my student house afterwards and playing an after party set. I mean, we all knew they were sick but other people still weren’t aware of how good they were.”

After graduating, Naina was intent on finding a job in music. Through her degree, she’d managed to find a bit of writing work but her passion lay in DJing, radio, broadcasting — she wanted to become a voice. After being asked to record a guest mix for Reprezent Radio back at university in Southampton, she became aware that the station was now on the look out for new talent. Not daunted by her lack of practical experience, she got in touch and applied, with the station quick to draft her in to start covering shows. “Back then, the big name on Reprezent was Jamilla or Jamz (Supernova) and her Future Bounce show, as well as Martha”, explains Naina. “It was really weird because I was balancing trying to get into radio with an awful sales job I was doing to pay my rent, and before that, I’d been working in this terrible bar in Maidenhead called Smokey Joe’s. There’s a dreadful photo of me out there from the one time they forced me to be a shot girl for the night. I’ll never live it down.”

Ironically, it was the sales job that’d bring Naina to London full time. She’d impressed in an entry-level corporate role and was offered a promotion, which saw her moved to offices in London. Commuting each day, she found herself becoming enamoured with everything the city had to offer. “I loved it so much, I ended up moving to London in the end”, Naina notes. “I carried on doing the sales job for a while but it got to a point where I was doing so much music stuff that I really wanted to give that a go properly. I felt like I was at the age I could take the risk and I mean, luckily it definitely paid off. I started having coffees will people, just meeting up with people and putting out the feelers. I’d been pre-recording a late night Wednesday night show on Reprezent for a while at this point and me leaving my job coincided with them asking me to do the 7-9pm slot every Friday night, but live. I remember thinking ‘fuck yes’ and then texting Reprezent station manager, Adrian, like ‘life update, I’ve quit my job and I’ve got a month to find something else, but even if I have to move back home, I still wanna commit to the Friday night show’ kinda thing. He messaged me back almost straight away like, ‘how old are you?’ and thought, ‘ahh shit, is he kicking me off the station?’, because back then Rep really was the voice of young London and I thought maybe I was too old. He was like, ‘I need some production work doing’, which was great for me because I’d spent two years recording, editing and sending in my show anyway. I’ve always been really interested in that side of it … working out how Final Cut works, thinking about how to stitch this or that together, using Audition. I taught those things myself but Adrian was happy to put in the hours to help brush those skills up once I started. It was supposed to be a three-month contract but I definitely outstayed my welcome.”

Naina stayed on indefinitely and was soon made Head of Production at the station; “it was such an exciting time to join”, she recalls, “because it was just levelling up constantly.” Alongside fellow presenters like Joe Walker, Jeremiah Asiamah, Henrie, Scully and Sherelle — not to mention the other 100+ presenters across the station roster — she quickly became an important part of the Reprezent fabric. Closely aligned in terms of ambition, dedication and a natural flair for broadcasting, their shows soon became destination spots for those looking to get their ears around some of the best music and debate London and beyond had to offer. Her own Friday night slot, now running for close to five years, is a perfect example; from first mixing her favourite new music solidly for two hours each week, she’s since built in a guest mix slot that’s seen everyone from Machinedrum to Ikonika join her live in the studio. 

“I’ve gone through a bit of a rollercoaster with my show because when I was first got it, I thought to myself ‘right, this is a Friday night slot, so don’t be playing any more Kelela or James Blake anymore’”, Naina reflects. “I knew I had to switch it up a little bit. I decided to make it a club music show that catered for people like me, people who listen to all sorts of different electronic music. Whether it’s footwork or funky, it doesn’t matter, it’s just under one umbrella. I have to be aware that it’s an FM station too, so I’m conscious of not playing anything too niche for too long, and also as a radio producer I’m naturally always thinking about the audience that are tapped in listening. I generally try and balance the sounds of more familiar producers like Bicep or Four Tet with new underground stuff that I rate or might have discovered myself. It’s been really nice to see it grow organically, because I started out recording make-shift shows from my bedroom, so after doing it live for while, I just thought, ‘do you know what, I’m gonna invite all the people I love down to the show’. I always aim to spotlight new producers and maybe DJs that haven’t had the chance to be on the radio before where I can too, as well as going big and shooting for the stars. I’m lucky to call so many of my guest my friends now.”

Then there was The xx’s ‘Night + Day’ series —a week-long program of events that saw The xx partner with Reprezent and Young Turks to broadcast specially-curated shows, as well as afterparties, live performance broadcasts and cinema events in advance of their record-breaking run of sold-out gigs (7!) at Brixton Academy in March 2017. “It was one of the most surreal weeks of my life”, admits Naina, “but I fucking loved it. I mean, The xx were doing the drive-time show every day, like … ah it was incredible. I remember Robyn coming down and me losing my shit because she’s an absolute icon, Sampha was there one day … it was just mad. For that whole week, XL and Young Turks basically moved into the station as well, they’d all just be sat on the floor with their laptops open. What was also so beautiful about that week was that so many Reprezent presenters volunteered to just help out. Everyone was so happy to see the station winning and just wanted to get involved any way that they could.”

“We had some special moments too”, she continues. “I remember we all got to go to the Young Turks afterparty and we all got invited to watch The xx soundcheck at Brixton Academy, which was incredible because they asked us to go on stage with them. The funny thing was that my sister, who lives near Bristol, had already got us tickets to see The xx that week so I told her to come to London a few days early, thinking she could tag along with me at work and whatever. She ended up meeting the band and coming along to that sound check, which I think was the moment she finally stopped and thought, ‘actually my little sister is actually pretty cool’.” The ‘Night + Day’ week was the first to really hammer home just how much of an impact Reprezent Radio was having on young London, serving as a primer of sorts to a visit by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle the following year. Through tireless graft and intelligent programming — “we’re like one big dysfunctional family” — Naina and co had put the station firmly on the map. 

The dedication doesn’t just stop at Naina and her fellow presenters either. During lockdown, she’s not missed a single show, thanks largely to the perseverance and foresight of station manager, Adrian. “He saw this all coming”, Naina explains, “like honestly, he was on top of the lockdown situation so early. I was all in denial thinking everything would be fine and he was busy packing up the whole station back in March. Reprezent has two studios, as well as extra equipment at Bussey Building in Peckham where we do our training, and Adrian got all of it together and then went driving around to drop off essential bits to everyone he could. He drove all the way to my parents house in Buckinghamshire to drop off some CDJs and a sound card, like what the hell? He drew up a list of the equipment everyone had and then he’d fill in the gaps, basically making sure that everybody with a regular show had the capability to broadcast live from home. Someone will switch me over via a laptop remotely and then using this amazing software called BUTT, I’m able to connect to the Rep server. Station manager Adrian has been the one patching me through recently, he gets a takeaway every Friday night and listens to my show to make sure I’m not cutting out. Sometimes, he’ll text me like ‘you’re dropping out, get off the WiFi, get your parents off the WiFi, stop watching Netflix.”

“Station manager Adrian has been the one patching me through recently, he gets a takeaway every Friday night and listens to my show to make sure I’m not cutting out. Sometimes, he’ll text me like ‘you’re dropping out, get off the WiFi, get your parents off the WiFi, stop watching Netflix.”

What was the energy like recording from home, I ask. “The first few times I did it, it did feel really weird. I mean, you don’t even get a friendly nod from whoever is working on the show with you like you would at the studio and I miss getting guests in with me as well. I remember I did an interview with India Jordan on the day they released their ‘For You’ EP and they were in the park celebrating with the Local Action lot. I rang them, we did the interview and it went really well … even they were like, ‘that was such a good interview’ … and it didn’t record. We had to do the exact same interview again and it sounded probably better second time around, but little things like that have been frustrating.”

“I remember I did an interview with India Jordan on the day they released their ‘For You’ EP and they were in the park celebrating with the Local Action lot. I rang them, we did the interview and it went really well … even they were like, ‘that was such a good interview’ … and it didn’t record.”

It all feels a far cry from her work at Apple Music, formerly known until recently as Beats 1, where she’s worked on playlist shows (The Apple Music 1 List) — as well as covering for Matt Wilkinson — for the last three years. “They just sent me a mic during lockdown”, Naina says. “I record for them two, three times a week but rather than a full show, I’ll just record dry links, which I then send into the producers who piece it all together into a show, which is incredible really. They’re a really great team to work with, because they push you … the demands are different and starting there was so exciting, it was like a fresh start you know. I put everything I knew about radio to the back of my mind and went in there ready to learn again.”

Tapping back into her love of music from across a broad spectrum of scenes, Naina’s playlist show work at Apple Music has also sharpened her broadcasting skills; rather than curate shows, she’s there to to voice them, to serve as people’s access point for the music that they’re consuming. Offset by her cover show work with Matt Wilkinson which gives her the chance to do ‘loads of ridiculous things’ — “I did an M.I.A. tribute mix for no reason other than it was her birthday” — Naina has quickly come to realise how different being a radio DJ is to being a radio presenter. “The two roles are so different”, she acknowledges. “The way that Annie Mac records her show for example … it’s about what she’s saying, how she’s saying it, how she’s using her voice … she’s a broadcaster. It’s amazing that people like her can DJ too, because they can also shut it down anywhere and run festivals, host stages and run parties. That is what I love. I love being a voice, more so than anything.” Is that where Naina sees herself, I wonder. “Yeah I think so. I mean it’s weird because I started out DJing before I started out at radio but as I did more of it, I realised that I just loved chatting shit about music. Now it’s got to the point where people are actually listening to me and want to know what I think or what I’m listening to, which is sick.”

That’s not to say Naina plans on scaling back her DJ career any time soon, mind. Last summer, she posted a tweet from a newly setup Twitter account called ‘@hooversoundrecs’. Alongside close friend and fellow DJ, Sherelle — herself one of 2019’s breakout DJ success stories — the pair had long-agonised, debated and gone back-and-forth over the merits of starting their own label. On August 22nd, the tweet, simply detailing a spinning logo GIF and a basic message asking producers if they’d like to send demos went viral, and Hooversound was born. “I remember a lot of people talking about starting a label and just saying how long it was”, Naina recalls, breaking out into laughter. “But thinking about it, I remember Sherelle really stood out to me at Rep because when I first started, there weren’t many really heads-y people there and she was definitely one. I had DJ Earl on my show one night and she popped her head round the studio door and was like ‘okayyyyyy’. That got us talking about footwork and whatever, which I told her she should focus on with her show, as well as jungle which she loved as well. We became good mates really quickly, got to know each other’s mates and yeah before we knew it, we were playing b2b in support of The Prodigy at Brixton Academy.”

“The night before that gig, she came to mine to have a mix and figure out what we were gonna play”, Naina continues.”We did this 140-175bpm set and it was fucking jokes, but it also made us realise that a lot of the music was unsigned, made by artists that not a lot of people know about … we should do something with this. We chatted about it for so long but because we were both so busy working and trying to hold down our shows, DJ and whatever, it took a while for us to decide when to start. We knew there was never gonna be a right time so last summer, because we were in a good position … Sherelle was killing it, she was on Radio 1, I was on Beats 1 and Reprezent … we both had exciting things that were going on that would compliment running a label. I can tell you now though, we did not expect it to go everywhere like it did. I remember that tweet … like we’d been on the look out for music and doing a bit of research … but we were so overwhelmed by the response to one, kinda vague little tweet. The true test, we thought, would be if anyone had actually sent music through. We refreshed our email inbox the next day and were like ‘oh, shit’. We had so many demos. To be honest, it’s nice to be two women running a label, especially women of colour, because there aren’t enough. It’s been great to see people back it.”

“The true test, we thought, would be if anyone had actually sent music through. We refreshed our email inbox the next day and were like ‘oh, shit’. We had so many demos.”

Named after a synth sound fondly used by The Prodigy and in other hard, fast dance music styles like Gabber and Trance, Hooversound launched officially with the release of Hyroglifics & Sinistarr’s ‘BS6’ in March — a sweltering, four-track plate of acid-y, 160 Jersey club pressure, complete with a Scratcha DVA remix of the original track. “I love the fact that people can’t work out what Hooversound is”, says Naina. “That’s kind of the point, you know. The type of sets myself and Sherelle used to play were always so chaotic and full of music that wasn’t really represented properly, so we wanted to make a home for that. We’re not a Jungle label, we’re not a Footwork label, we’re not a Funky label. We’re a bit of everything. I don’t think we’d ever want to box it in.”

“We’re not a jungle label, we’re not a footwork label, we’re not a funky label. We’re a bit of everything.”

While Hyroglifics and Sinistarr sent over the full ‘BS6’ project as a demo — “we were just so excited by it, we knew it had to be 001 for sure” — every artist on the Hooversound roster, which continues to build out with every passing month, has their own label backstory. Deft, one of Naina’s favourite ever producers, followed up with three-track EP ‘Burna’ in June, a record she believes embodies everything Hooversound represents. “I’ve loved Deft’s music for so long”, she explains, “and he’s a prime example of what the label’s all about because he can make anything. He can work on 160-170 tunes, but doesn’t necessarily put them out in favour of his 130 stuff, which is sick, but he’s got such a varied audience that people are always gonna welcome whatever he releases with open arms. He sent us a load of stuff after he came on my Reprezent show one Friday night, and I knew he’d been sat on some gold. The tracks on his EP were written quite a long time ago but never had a home, so I’m really happy that we could provide a space for it.” 

With 003 helmed by HØST — and only released last week — Hooversound have more than hit the ground running, with a tight visual aesthetic defined by black-and-white colour-ways and repeated block text patterns also fast becoming a calling card. It feels like the final part of the jigsaw for Naina, who, despite all of her achievements so far, seems destined for the very top. She discussed Annie Mac’s impact in glowing terms and gave nods to other seasoned presenters like Benji B — selectors who are able to balance a love of underground music with a love of broadcasting — and it’s perhaps in those spaces that her future would be best served. But regardless of where she ends up, she’s determined to enjoy the journey. “The general dream is to continue what I do as a broadcaster, but continually grow and get better at it as I go. I can’t say where I’ll end up from here but with the label as well, I just want to carry on enjoying everything that we’re doing. That’s the M.O.”

Naina broadcasts regularly on Reprezent Radio and Apple Music 1. 

You can also browse the Hooversound back catalogue here: https://hooversoundrecordings.bandcamp.com/

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY ™ —

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

(Jon Phonics)

Album of the Month: Jon Phonics – ‘Players Go Places’ (Astral Black)

Grab your silk robe

Highlights 

1. P.B.E

2. Blue Note

3. Lord Of The Town ft. Nasty Nigel

As label head of Astral Black, Jon Phonics has helped one of the UK’s chief, ahead-of-the-curve labels — see records by Inkke, DJ Milktray, Xao, Creep Woland and more — but his own productions and handle on aesthetics shouldn’t be overlooked either. ‘Players Go Places’, a fun, clever 14-track collection of lo-fi tracks that functions more as a mixtape, is his first since 2018’s ‘Beats To Talk Crud To’ and although again loosely anchored in rap, lends itself more to doe-eyed nostalgia. While the majority of the tracks come in at less than three minutes long, offering up quick-fire snapshots of old rap classics re-tooled (‘Naughdee’) or slinky RnB joints given glitzy, 80s-style makeovers (‘Val Kilmer (Maverick)’, notable features from the likes of Brooklyn rapper Nasty Nigel and Piff Gang’s Phaze What are also talking points. Forming a natural extension of his production work for UK spitters like Manga St Hilare and Jam Baxter, their appearances bolster a tracklist that again proves why Phonics — although inspired by records of the past — remains one step ahead. 8/10

(Rakjay)

Tune of the Month: Rakjay & Logan – ‘Know Mi’ (Crucial Recordings)

New tag-team champs?

First spotlighted last month, Rakjay & Logan’s ‘Know Mi’ might just be one of 2020’s biggest surprise packages. Out now on Crucial Recordings as part of a deadly two-track plate, it pairs coarse, devilish tones, rasping square waves and thunderous, pulsing bass zaps with Logan’s fevered, spoken-word delivery. A fine-tuned lesson in tension and unease, it’s a record that deserves to be given the chance to spin clubs upside down but even at home, ‘Know Mi’ cuts through in a way many don’t. Buckle up! 9/10

Drax – ‘Second Thoughts’ EP (Southpoint)

A promising talent 

Drax, a much-fancied new-school grime producer based in Brighton, turns in a third, extended EP for Southpoint here — the label he’s been releasing with since 2015. Comprised of five tracks, it weaves its way through myriad influences and reference points, from the rolling, aqua-bleeps and whirring sub of widescreen opener ’Seton Sands’ through to the dancing, fluroescent East Asian melodies of the title-track. There’s room for more melodic experiments on more conventional grime slammers ‘Blade Works’ and ‘Frostier’, before final cut ’Tocsin’ — a deft, dreamy patchwork — shows off a lighter, more delicate side to Drax’s remit. 7/10

SPEKT1 & MVTTEO – ‘Unspoken Mirrors’ EP (We Got This)

Brilliantly bizarre

‘Unspoken Mirrors’ forms the first collaborative project between SPEKT1 & MVTTEO, who offer up some fascinatingly weird and wonderful flavours across three new original tracks. Opener ‘The Other Side’ is a sample-heavy odyssey littered with FX — from ticking clocks to an ocean of slapstick percussive zaps and crackles — that borders on the absurd in the best way possible, while ‘False Prophets’ is again heavy on percussion, albeit this time glued together by a dreamy, xylophonic melody. Final track ‘Persuede’ is perhaps the most experimental of the three, shifting through tempo, rhythm and tone at will to land as a breathless, dizzying bookend to a quite remarkable EP. 8/10

B:Thorough – ‘Angels’ EP (Textured)

B:Smart and cop (!)

B:Thorough follows the impressive ‘Calm Levz’ — a collaborative EP with JT The Goon that christened his fledgling Textured imprint back in May — with another standout record in ‘Angels’. Opener ’Together’ is typically melody-rich and big on impact, bridging the gap between the emotional, hi-def pull of wave music and the pure, rattling menace of grime. The sugary, chiptune shrill of second track ‘Even Angels Cry’ follows before RnG flavours come into view on the gorgeous, pseudo-romance of ‘Angels In Disguise’, which is also backed up by a woozy, dancehall mix from Chow Down’s Fallow. Hyper-lush closer ’Being Around You’ — originally started as part of a beat-making challenge on Reprezent Radio earlier this year — is the EP highlight, and comes complete with a hi-drama B:Thorough Devils Mix version for good measure. Don’t sleep on B:Thorough, he gets better with every record. 9/10

Opus – ‘This Damn Feeling’ (White Peach)

Atmospheric wizardry

Opus returns to White Peach for a third outing on the prolific UK label for the first time since 2018’s ‘Methodist’. New 12” ‘This Damn Feeling’ details four new tracks, including the mournful, rain-soaked intro to the crunching title-track. A master of building suspense and atmosphere in his music, second track ‘Day & Age’ follows a similar formula, only this time more layered and complex. A beatless intro runs for over a minute and a half, before anxious, glacial melody patterns are disrupted by heavy, low-end stabs and grinding, percussive clatter. Third track ‘Ghost’ takes things even deeper and darker, albeit spiked with intense, tear-jerking violin strings and eerie vocal samples, before ‘Renegade’ — a bonkers, cut-and-paste jam traversing tear-out dubstep flavours and even hip-hop as it closes out — signs off. Proper. 8/10

Rude Kid x Sir Spyro – ‘Rude Sounds’ EP (Rude Sounds)

Two titans unite

Rude Kid and Sir Spyro have long been considered go-to names for the majority of grime’s top tier — Spyro is currently one of Stormzy’s producers of choice — but ‘Rude Sounds’ sees the pair collaborate on a full EP for the first time. While some of the beats on show are clearly destined for the vocal booth, ‘Rude Sounds’ spotlights the sort of production value that have made both of them so revered. Across six new originals, every bar is impactful; the moody, sonic boom of opener ‘Win The Ting’, the buttery-smooth harp melodies that sit atop crunching beats below on ‘Press Ups’, the grandiose, nerve-shredding orchestral strings on ‘Sekky’ — all of it hits front and centre. The title-track too — another heavy-set, booming grime instrumental, this time punctuated by deft sci-fi flashes — is just as powerful, while the two share an instrumental apiece to close out. Sir Spyro goes fast and furious on the transfixing, winding menace of ‘Windy’, before Rude Kid closes out with dark and ominous trap burner, ‘Chase It’. 8/10

Dunman  – ’99 Basslines’ (Simply Deep)

A grimy odyssey

Bournemouth-based producer Dunman forms a welcome addition to the Simply Deep family, with new EP ’99 Basslines’ joining the dots between the grime and dubstep sounds that inspired his own. The title-track is full-on menace — a snarling, gutter-dwelling grime instrumental elevated by oscillating basslines and gremlin-like, contorted FX — while the melody-rich, star-gazing dub sounds of ‘R2D2’ are an exercise in spatial bass weight. There’s also space for lighter, breezier tones on the fluttery zip of ‘Suede Shoes’, before bruising, upfront grime tracks like ‘War Fi Dem’ and ‘Mad’ featuring gifted spitters Deeks & Rame bring the EP full circle. The metallic, jazzy shimmer and sugary RnG tones of ‘Pistol Nights’ seem like an odd closer, but there’s also just enough room for a skippy, up-tempo ‘99 Basslines’ refix by Kage (FKA Defiant) too. 7/10

Various – ‘Connect’ EP (Wheel & Deal Records)

Things are better connected

Trading stems and studio space with a trio of producers, N-Type’s V/A ’Connect’ EP functions solely around the art of collaboration. He joins forces with OG dubstep producer The Others for the first time since 2009 on the lurching, skeletal dread and rumbling pressure of ‘Horror’, before locking horns with Denver-based label newcomer Sleeper on the scurrying, oddball flavours of dynamite club wrecker, ‘E20’. Final track ‘The Plug’ — a swrling, scything link-up with fellow vet Lost — is perhaps the best (and heaviest) of the lot. 7/10

JEB1 – ‘Guyana’ (Hi Tek Sounds)

Classic grime sounds re-moulded

JEB1 has long been affiliated with Grandmixxer and his SLSA camp, as well as burgeoning young label, Kenyon Sound, but here he steps out on East Man’s Hi Tek Sounds for the first time. ‘Guyana’ — defined by its looping 8-bar grime patterns, lush, winding melody lines and muffled choral arrangements— forms a proud nod to his Guyanese ancestry. On the flip meanwhile, East Man distills and deconstructs, re-moulding the original mix into a rhythmic, percussion-based DJ tool of his own. 7/10

Monitor

This month, Butterz are back (!) to celebrate their 10 year anniversary … They’ve pressed ‘War Wid’ — a special Newham Generals 12”, detailing four OG classics (including ‘Frontline’) in commemoration, landing as their first official release in over three years … Look out for new Jakebob single, ‘Punch’, which was produced by Jack Dat and continues a rich run of releases that are starting to pique the interest of some of the scene’s biggest names (JME tweeted about him earlier this month) … Sukh Knight also continues to churn out genre-blurring grime/dubstep hybrids at a rate of knots, this time collaborating with PAV4N on the monstrously enchanting ‘2020 FE DEAD’ … Leeds’ 1Forty label continue another strong year apace with the released of their ‘1Forty Remixers’ EP, which sees some of the label’s biggest cuts to date reimagined in-house by various members of the camp including 9TRANE, Deadbeat and Killjoy… J. Sparrow’s Navy Cut are at it again too, this time shining a spotlight on much sought-after, Manchester-based producer Maes — seek out his new 12” and cop on sight … and looking ahead, expect big records from the Subatlern and Off-Switch Audio camps in October. 

(Jakebob)

— Kamran —

On grime, gqom, Somerset, Goon Club Allstars, parties, hardware and leaving his Moleskin moniker behind.

(All photos submitted by Kamran)

For artists, the decision to change moniker never seems to be an easy one. There’s things to way up, personal brands to consider, reputations to uphold, potential legacies to preserve. For Kamran, formerly known as Moleskin for the best part of a decade, the decision was simple. “I almost changed it a couple of years ago you know”, he explains sheepishly, “but I’m glad I didn’t.” Kamran on the other hand — his Iranian birth name — has helped usher in the most productive writing spell of his career and as our FaceTime window opens up early on Saturday afternoon, I find him typically warm-spirited, relaxed and looking forward.

“I wrote more material in April and May than I had in the previous five years combined”, he notes, “honestly, so much stuff.” Based in a studio in Walthamstow, the lockdown period has been kind to Kamran; “it’s been a massive period of contemplation for me”, he concedes, “it’s given me so much time to think about the person I am and connect with myself, what I want to do and what I want to achieve.”

Born in London to an Iranian father and British mother, Kamran moved around quite a bit as a child. His family relocated to Wiesbaden in Germany for a short period when he was 11 — he bought his first ever CD from one of the city’s record stores — before moving back to the UK and settling in Somerset, where he spent most of his high school years. He learned to speak Farsi fluently before he spoke English too — “I’ve forgotten most of it now, although random phrases still pop into my head” — and recalls his dad taking him to an Iranian film festival when he was in primary school. “My mum tells me the reason I stopped speaking Farsi was because I went to school and clocked no one else was speaking it”, explains Kamran. “I definitely felt a little bit different but I didn’t really become hyper aware of it, like it never came up, until I moved to Somerset because in London everyone is different. My mum tells me that in the next town along, there’s a little pub and the kitchen’s recently been taken over by an Iranian guy, but I mean for the most part, you didn’t see many people from outside the area.”

“My mum tells me the reason I stopped speaking Farsi was because I went to school and clocked no one else was speaking it.”

“One of the first things I did when I got to Somerset … I mean we got there in the summer and I knew nobody at all … was go down to the local skate park where I saw kids hanging out”, he continues. “I got chatting to this one guy and he was like, ‘oh, where you from?’, and I told him I was from London. He was like ‘oh, I’ve never been to London before’ and we carried on chatting and he was like, ‘but I went to the next town along once’. The next town along was about six miles away or something. That was the time it kinda dawned on me that I was different, you know.”

It was in Wiesbaden though, a city in Western Germany about an hour’s drive from Frankfurt, that Kamran first starting buying music. He would save his pocket money up and head to one of two big CD shops in the city centre every few weeks, digging through thousands of releases. “I think the first CDs I ever bought were … actually I remember buying a triple-pack Cypress Hill album and then I bought Nirvana – ‘In Utero’, I think they were two of the first. I mean I was really into grunge, UK and US punk. Loud and noisy music basically. I was never really into dance music back then, I was only exposed to the cheesy stuff on the radio, as well as other pop music.” 

It was only as a 16 year-old that he’d first come into contact with grime, which he recalls friends putting onto him as UK hip-hop. “I eventually found out it was actually called grime a little while after, but I had quite a big collection of tracks by that point”, Kamran recalls. “My all-time favourite grime track to this day is still this MP3 I’ve got and I’ve got no idea who it’s by. It’s just called ‘Gifted Dub Freestyle’. I’ve sent it to a few people over the years but nobody can work out who it is. I just loved the energy.” 

“My all-time favourite grime track to this day is still this MP3 I’ve got and I’ve got no idea who it’s by. It’s just called ‘Gifted Dub Freestyle’.”

Grime would inspire him to start digging deeper and Kamran soon found himself on blogs, websites and forums searching for new music. He was also sent a pack of instrumentals — including Youngstar’s ‘Pulse X’ — by one of his oldest childhood friend’s brothers, which drew his attention away from vocals and more towards beats; it was a time of feverish discovery. He’d also downloaded Virtual DJ and had started being asked to play at friend’s parties and local gatherings in and around Somerset. “My laptop had a busted screen”, Kamran explains with a pained expression etched across his face, “so if I ever wanted to DJ anywhere, I’d have to bring a separate monitor. One time, and I can’t even remember how I got this gig, but I got asked to DJ in Bournemouth so I had to get down there with my busted laptop and a big, old CRT monitor. If you go from where I was in Somerset to Bournemouth, it’s not one direct train, you have to go to Dorchester and then walk for about a mile to get the other Dorchester train station and then catch another train into Bournemouth. Anyway, I’m there with my bag with my laptop and clothes in it, and this huge computer monitor that I had to lug all the way down there. It was mad, really.”

Location would also skew Kamran’s exposure to and understanding of how grime was developing in London. “You’d get pieces of the puzzle but no one would be putting it together for you”, he explains. “I’d listen to Wiley, Dizzee, JME and people like that, then I got sent the grime instrumentals and even some dubstep and garage stuff which I was really into. It was actually only when I got to university and I started talking to people that I got put onto radio sets. That’s when it all clicked for me, you know. I feel like I kinda reverse engineered grime, I discovered everything in backwards order.”

“The genesis of me wanting to DJ myself actually lies with this guy Pete, who used to DJ as Mistabit and now has something going on as Ishmael Ensemble, a jazz group he fronts”, Kamran continues. “He went to the same college as me and he was always playing at all these sick parties my mates were throwing. In Somerset, no one goes to clubs because there are no clubs, so everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone who has a piece of land. People would put on parties wherever they could. If there was a party, you knew Pete would be DJing because he was sick. I remember seeing him shell one particular night and it just made me want to DJ. My intention with DJing is still the same now, I just want everyone to have a good time.”

“In Somerset, no one goes to clubs because there are no clubs, so everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone who has a piece of land. People would put on parties wherever they could.”

After leaving college, Kamran attended Leeds University, moving to the city shortly before his 19th birthday. It was there that he’d meet Jordan Randhawa, whom he’d later co-found Goon Club Allstars with three years later. They shared the same halls of residence and were put in touch after news of a house party on one of the top floors failed to materialise. Congregating in the courtyard outside with hordes of others, one of his friends introduced him to Jordan, who was also interested in DJing and records. “Jordan was like, ‘ah you should come over to my flat and make a tune or something’. At this point, I’d sat down with someone when they’d written a tune but I’d never really made anything myself. I went over, we sat down and made a track that we eventually put out through a friend of a friend.”

That tune was ’Hurt’ — “it sounds like someone’s first tune but there’s a sick remix from Optimum on the 12” —  and it was released by Hit & Hope in March 2012. It also served as the world’s first taste of Moleskin, the moniker that Kamran adopted for the first eight years of his production career. “I chose the name in about 30 seconds”, Moleskin says, smiling. “In Somerset, the way it was for me anyway, you started DJing and then you’d join a sound system, that’s just how it worked. Every time that system would throw a party, you were immediately playing. I was DJing loads of blog house, funky, garage … just stuff that was popping up on the internet at the time really … and I got asked to join this sound system called Skanky Soundsystem or Skanky Sounds. It was predominantly a drum & bass sound system but it was mad, it was constantly developing in size … there’s some crazy, crazy photos of it somewhere. Shout out Matt forever for inviting me to be part of that. I remember playing in town halls … I actually remember playing ’Stupid’ by Redlight and the bass being so intense that a piece of the ceiling came down, it was mad. At the time, I was going by the name of Technicolour, but I clocked there was a different DJ called Technicolour, so one day Matt phones me and says ‘yo, we’re doing the poster for the next party, can you let me know what your new DJ name is?’. I kept swerving it because I didn’t really know and then a few weeks later, he called me again and told me he needed to send the poster off ASAP. I remember looking around my room and clocking a Moleskine notebook I had on the side and there and then was just like, ‘Ah yeah it’s Moleskin’. He was like, ‘how’s it spelt?’. I didn’t look at the notepad properly and missed the ‘e’ off by accident when I spelt it out. It’s stuck around ever since.”

“I remember looking around my room and clocking a Moleskine notebook I had on the side and there and then was just like, ‘Ah yeah it’s Moleskin’. He was like, ‘how’s it spelt?’. I didn’t look at the notepad properly and missed the ‘e’ off by accident when I spelt it out.”

Once ‘Hurt’ — written alongside Jordan, then producing as Elkat — was released, the pair found themselves tuning into to Rinse FM almost religiously, checking in to see if DJs were playing their tracks. “I’d started sending some Moleskin tracks to DJs and whenever I heard someone play it, I remember just feeling so gassed”, Kamran beams. “It was so sick, just a sick, sick feeling. It’s so abstract on the one hand because you’re making tunes and sending them off to people you’ve never met but it feels tangible, you feel like you’re in the room. Actually, so Jordan lived upstairs and I remember we’d both lock into Scratcha’s show on Rinse in the mornings. I used to text in like ‘big up X-Y-Z’ and that’d be just a funny name I’d call him sometimes or sometimes I’d text in like ‘wake up’ because he wasn’t answering his phone. We used the radio to talk to each other, basically.”

After deciding to drop out of university after his first year, Kamran stayed in Leeds and his friendship with Jordan continued to bear fruit. Bouncing ideas off each other, the two were now living and breathing music; “all I did was listen to music and make tunes in my room once I’d dropped out”, Kamran notes. These tunes — including a Baltimore Club edit of Wiley’s classic ‘Ice Rink’ instrumental which he used as a DJ tool, a bridge between grime and club music — were soon in circulation with the pair’s friends. Through Soundcloud, he also discovered Samename (now producing as Florentino), who’d remixed Wiley’s ‘Colder’ — “it was such a sick remix” — which in turn inspired a conversation that’d change the trajectory of their careers for good. “I just remember saying to Jordan, we should just start a label. I thought it’d be a sick thing to do, but also because I thought it was as easy as finding a tune and putting it out. Jordan was like ‘sick, sick, let’s do it’.”

And so Goon Club Allstars — “I came up with the name because we were just a bunch of silly guys who’d go to clubs and dance around” — was born. Originally the pair had planned to run Goon Club for an initial six months, but it soon dawned on them that building a label was a long game and so mutual friend, Ed, came on board. “Ed was the glue that got us out the blocks and to be honest with you, he’s always been the person to keep things moving”, concedes Kamran. With Ed’s guidance, GCA001 was released on white label 12” vinyl in March 2013, nearly a year to the day since the release of ‘Hurt’. Comprised of Moleskin’s ‘Ice Rink’ edit and Samename’s ‘Colder’ Refix, it immediately put the label on the map, earmarking Moleskin as a producer to watch but moreover, the label as skilled curators. “The reason we wanted to start with vinyl and have continued to release the majority of our stuff on I since was because we all met through playing records for each other”, explains Kamran. “We wanted to pay homage to that and inspire the next generation of producers and friends to buy these records and get to know their peers.” 

If their first record made a splash, Goon Club’s second made a wave. Mssingno — now widely regarded as one of the UK most iconic, if elusive producers — was an unknown quantity in 2013, but not to Kamran, Jordan and Ed. Signing four original tracks that came together to form the ‘Mssingno’ EP, including the anthemic, tears-in-the-club wizardry of ‘XE2’, Goon Club released it in November 2013 to widespread critical acclaim. Seven years later, it’s a record synonymous with the fabric of UK dance music and copies of the record are going for upwards of £110 via Discogs. “I feel like every record we’ve released has stood up on its own two feet and been successful on its own terms”, explains Kamran, “but that one definitely put us on the map. We certainly didn’t expect it to be as big as it was.”

The ‘Mssingno’ EP also saw Goon Club throw their first ever launch party, run alongside Liminal Sounds at Moustache Bar in Dalston — a small, 150-capacity venue with a then questionable sound system and a tiny bar area. The party, one of my own personal favourite memories of clubbing in London, saw Liminal Sounds, Samename, Murlo and Moleskin DJ to a raucous, euphoric crowd including Mssingno, who hadn’t learned to DJ yet, and a group of his friends. ‘XE2’ was wheeled upwards of eight times during the night itself as groups of friends hugged, danced and even cried their way through an evening that genuinely felt like the start of something. “I just remember ‘XE2’ being wheeled up a stupid amount of times and thinking, ‘this is crazy’”, recalls Moleskin.

A slew of impressive records followed — including Moleskin’s own self-titled EP in 2014 — before Goon Club unearthed their next groundbreaker in 2016. “Did you ever shop on Afrodesia?”, Kamran asks. “It was an MP3 platform that allowed you to share and download loads of South African dance music and house. I used to shop on it a lot and suddenly it just shut down in 2013 and I realised I’d missed out on loads of MP3s that I should have bought. I put it out into the ether that I was looking for a new place to buy South African house music and Blackdown got in touch to introduce me to Okzharp. He sent me a CD of 10 tunes that he’d got last time he was in Durban. On that CD was ‘Ice Drop’ by DJ Lag, ‘Mitsubishi’ by Menchess and a few other tunes. From there, I spent loads of time on the Internet searching for it. I’d just type ‘Gqom’ into Facebook and loads of producers would have ‘Gqom’ listed as their middle name on their profiles. I used to message them to ask about the music and try and get my head around the culture behind it. I’d also use Kasimp3 a lot, which was a website that allowed producers to upload their music to artist profiles, and after a while I’d just download everything I could find and then go through it afterwards. I had so much music.”

Sifting through thousands of tracks, Kamran was drawn to both Rudeboyz (Menchess’ production collective) and DJ Lag, the latter of whom was one of Durban’s most prominent Gqom artists; “everything he made sounded quite icy but also very human as well”, he explains. He found them both on Facebook and messaged to say that Goon Club would be interested in releasing their music, a process which the label found quite difficult; “it’s hard to try and build trust with someone who lives so far away and who you’ve never met”, Kamran continues, “and obviously they had to be sure what our intentions were.”

From those conversations, Goon Club Allstars eventually released DJ Lag’s self-titled EP in November 2016 — featuring the same ‘Ice Drop’ Kamran first heard on the CD given to him by Okzharp in 2013 — before following it up with Rudeboyz’ ’Gqomwave’ EP in spring 2017. Both records helped break Gqom — a fierce strain of drum-focused house music with its roots in Durban — outside of the South Africa for the first time, spawning huge international interest in the sound and wider Gqom culture. For anyone in London right now, the official ‘Ice Drop’ video — shot on Durban rooftops — is currently being shown at The Design Museum.

The EP also laid the foundations for DJ Lag to make huge strides of his own, quickly becoming one of the world’s most in-demand young DJs; global tours, endless press runs and requests soon started to pour in. His crowning moment? Lag was sought out by Beyonce to produce a track for Beyoncé’s Lion King compilation, ‘The Gift’, which was released last summer. The instrumental (‘Drumming’) to ’The Power’ featuring Tierra Whack, Beyoncé, Busiswa, Yemi Alade and Moonchild Sanelly was lifted from Lag’s ‘Stampit’ EP, released by Goon Club in 2018. “I wish someone would just give me a job just choosing tunes”, says Kamran with a wry smile, “I feel like we’d all be sick at working with a big artist and just helping them pick out beats.”

While he still holds A&R dreams, Kamran was also balancing his own productions and work co-running Goon Club Allstars with Handsome Boys — a project that began as a grime show on Radar Radio back in 2014 alongside fellow DJ, producer and label owner, Boardgame James. “I lived with James”, says Kamran, “and we also lived with Yamaneko, so that time was really fertile in terms of music and sharing ideas. I had my own show on Radar at the time and I remember people talking about this Mic Ty guy. I watched a few videos and thought ‘ah this guy is sick’, so I messaged him and asked him if he wanted to come on the show. He asked if he could bring Jammz, who I’d not heard of at the time and I was like, ‘yeah, cool’. James came down with me and we DJ’d together, with those two on mic. It was one of my favourite shows I ever did, it was unreal. The chemistry between Jammz and Mic Ty, wow … it was crazy … they were finishing each other bars, trading flows, it was so sick. I asked them back to do the show the following month and I think James played the first hour and then we played b2b and we just loved it, so it became a thing. Handsome Boys was just me and James playing grime b2b every month. We had people like Kwam, Rocks FOE, Nico Lindsay come down to do later shows, I absolutely loved it.”

“The chemistry between Jammz and Mic Ty, wow … it was crazy … they were finishing each other bars, trading flows, it was so sick.”

It’s a relationship that has continued to this day, with the pair uniting as a production unit for the first time on Handsome Boys’ debut EP (‘And The Award Goes To’) earlier this year. Released by Boardgame James’ freshly-minted 1000Doors label, which was established to house weird and wonderful grime from a roster of friends and under-represent producers, it formed a natural extension of the quick-mixing and frantic 8-bar blends of their Radar Radio show. “It’s been a lot of fun being involved”, explains Kamran, “especially creating alter-egos for your work, like with Handsome Boys, which was literally a phrase I used to say. Our mate Bryce does the illustrations for the artwork which has really helped build out that world as well. Whenever I speak to James about 1000Doors, the conversations are always long because there’s so much that can be done with it, there’s a lot of scope for it to grow.”

Talk of 1000Doors steers our conversation to Kamran’s forthcoming ’Transmission’ EP — the first under his new moniker — which explores his Iranian heritage on a record for the first time, detailing use of the Persian tombak drum and spoken word in Farsi by both he and his father. “I’ve been thinking about changing my name and leaving Moleskin behind for a long time but some of the EP tracks … I mean ‘Internal Pressure’, there was a version of that I played on a Handsome Boys show in 2016, so some of the material is quite old”, Kamran notes. “I finished ‘Takeoff In Tehran’ in January this year and ‘Destruction’ was originally started with Wallwork at Nervous Horizon’s studio about two years ago. It wasn’t as though the music I was releasing had to change but because I haven’t released anything for a long time, it felt like the right moment to turn over a new leaf and start releasing a lot more music as Kamran going forward.” 

What’s the M.O. moving forward I ask? “I dunno”, he responds contently. “I really miss doing grime sets, that feeling of making a tune on the day, bouncing it, playing it on the radio that night and an MC spits over it … it feels like a finished tune in itself. I miss that. As Handsome Boys, we had everyone from Capo Lee, Darkos Strife Rocks and even Blakie pass through to spit over some of our beats, so I want to revisit that most definitely. I’ve also got so many beats that I’ve been writing sat on my hard drive and there’s so many sick UK RnB singers I’d like to work with on some of those. I’m writing a new concept EP for 1000Doors at the moment too, so yeah, I guess just being proactive is the key. I’ve got so much to do.”

“I really miss doing grime sets, that feeling of making a tune on the day, bouncing it, playing it on the radio that night and an MC spits over it … it feels like a finished tune in itself.”

Having bought a new computer last year, it seems as though time spent in his Walthamstow studio during lockdown — “it’s been a saving grace” — has reenergised Kamran. Inspired by finding the headspace to write a stream of new beats and remixes, even buying a talk box — “it’s a lot harder to use those than you think, but I’ve been practicing by singing people happy birthday messages” — it feels as though this productivity has pooled in various corners of his personal life too. “It’s been so beneficial for me”, he concludes. “Sometimes the person I am and my actions haven’t always aligned in the past so to think about how I can better that has been really helpful.” His name may have changed, but Kamran is still the same artist — always listening, always learning and always focused on how to be better.

Kamran’s ‘Transmission’ EP releases via 1000Doors on September 4:

https://kamrantracks.bandcamp.com/

— Dexplicit —

On ‘Forward Riddim’, Heat FM, saving lunch money to buy records, grime, bassline, technology and feeling freer than ever before on new EP, ‘Digital Monk’.

(All photos submitted by Dexplicit)

“Maybe it’s just the way I think”, shrugs Dexplicit thoughtfully as he reflects on the last six months, “but it hasn’t been that bad. Maybe I’m lucky.” It’s the first time I’ve caught up with Dexplicit since he played b2b with Birmingham grime producer, Outsider, on Rinse FM back in December 2017. In that time, he’s quietly started to find solace in writing music for himself for the first time in his career — music that speaks to him, music that challenges him. As we catch up over Zoom on Thursday night, Dex is relaxed and leaning back into a tower of patterned cushions, a broad smile etched across his face. “Do you know what it is? I opened a new studio in January, Coronavirus landed in February, March and everything was locked down. It was a gift and a curse. It was a bad thing because I couldn’t take bookings in the studio or bring anyone down, but it was a good thing because I had a reason to just stay in the studio and try things out.”

Speaking to Dexplicit, it’s sometimes easy to forget he was the producer behind Lethal B’s ‘Pow! (Forward)’ — one of grime’s most explosive and iconic tracks to this day — and a veteran of both the wider grime scene and bassline, a sound in which he also developed his own niche. He’s calm, unassuming, aloof. “It’s never been about anything but the music for me”, he says warmly, “I’ve never wanted anything else, honestly.”

Born in Hackney, Dexplicit spent his early years in East London before moving to Enfield as a teenager and he spent much of his secondary school years going back-and-forth between the two. “You’re from London, you know what it’s like”, he says with a wry smile, “Those 279, 149 bus routes … through Tottenham, Edmonton, Enfield, all the way down that high road down to Stamford Hill, Shoreditch … I feel at home along that whole stretch, even now.”

“Those 279, 149 bus routes … through Tottenham, Edmonton, Enfield, all the way down that high road down to Stamford Hill, Shoreditch … I feel at home along that whole stretch, even now.”

It was in Enfield he’d first come into contact with jungle too, his first love and a sound that inspired him to start going to under-age raves around the city. “I just caught the end of jungle”, he recalls, “and there were loads of raves I could get to back then, like the under 18 ones. They held them at The Pleasure Rooms in Tottenham, Ally Pally and places like that. I was probably raving from about 13 thinking back which is mad but that’s how it was then. Just as I started getting into jungle, things started to shift towards garage and to be honest, I was loving garage.”

Garage proved to be Dex’s entry point into music proper. He got hold of a pair of decks and would start playing at house parties and friend’s places — “just anywhere I could play my records” — quickly catching the bug for DJing, for performing, for being involved. “I don’t actually remember how I got into DJing specifically, I just remember how much fun it was”, he admits. “I remember as well, and I’m sure people like P Jam would tell you the same, not eating at school to save my dinner money up. At the end of the week, I’d go to record shops … UBM, Excessive Sounds, all these sort of places … and spend my entire week’s dinner money on one record. The amount of dopamine that got produced by that whole experience … getting on the bus, going to the record shop and listening to something new … that vibe, it just gave the music so much value.”

“The amount of dopamine that got produced by that whole experience … getting on the bus, going to the record shop and listening to something new … that vibe, it just gave the music so much value.”

Galvanised by friends at school in Enfield, including Weighty J — a DJ still active in London’s bubbling underground house scene — Dex started to spend more and more time tapping into the people making the music he loved too. “There were big records like ‘I Don’t Smoke Da Reefa’ (DJ Deekline) that I loved but Sticky … ah man. Do you know what? Growing up, I had four producers that I thought were like Gods back then. Sticky, Wookie, Dr. Dre and Timbaland. I used to think ‘one day, I wanna be like them’.”

At 16, he recalls deciding to sell his decks on a whim — “I’m not sure what I spent the money on to be honest” — and through his dad, who was also into music, he discovered Cubase by chance. “He’d let me tinker on it at certain times and I’d try stuff, but it was all messing about, I didn’t really know what I was doing. The more I got into it, the more I wanted to try out new things though and I ended up getting a copy of Fruity Loops, which changed my life to be honest. I’ve been using it since FL Studio 1.0 and I don’t know many people who have been using it since then”, he says, breaking into laughter. “Seriously though, a lot of producers I knew used to ask me all the time, ‘why are you using Fruity Loops?’. I remember one guy in college said to me once, ‘bruv, if you wanna be a proper producer, you need to use Logic, Cubase or Pro Tools. No label is ever gonna take you seriously if you’re using Fruity Loops’. I was a hard head back then so I ignored him.”

Looking through Dexplicit’s Discogs page triggers memories of some of his earliest productions. His first ever record was officially ‘Dirty Pot / Red Brick Road’ — a two-track plate released via Beat Camp Production in 2001 — which he still considered to be garage at the time, despite it’s darker, grimier patterns. “I was still calling it garage back then because grime was just a scene that I saw evolving from garage”, he explains. “There was probably about two years of evolution before people started to recognise it as grime. These times, I was listening to a lot of So Solid, Roll Deep. The game was crews then. Thinking about it, one of those first tunes sounds like ‘Dilemma’ (So Solid Crew) and the other one sounds like ‘I Will Not Lose’ by Wiley.”

“When I first got started, I had no money”, Dexplicit continues after I ask what the process of releasing records was like back in 2001, “so my dad, he got the record pressed for me at Music House and dropped me down at Rhythm Division with the copies. I was too young and gassed to really take it in at that point, but he showed me the ropes. The people at Rhythm Division would give tracks a listen and if they liked what they heard, they’d keep copies in the shop for a little while. Luckily they took some of mine for the shop and I mean, that was just me … imagine how many other producers they gave a chance to. It was a great aspect of the scene back then.”

“Obviously we didn’t have the internet to promote records back then either”, he continues, “so you’d just hope that DJs would find your records and support them. I didn’t know many DJs at the time, so it was like whatever happens, happens. That first record didn’t really do a lot to be fair, but it was out, it allowed me to do it, to see it. I had a record that existed.”

It would spark an almost obsessive compulsion to work on new music every day from the age of 17, the fruits of which were harvested on quick-fire follow up records on Social Circles in 2002 and 2003. But, juggling his time between writing beats in his dad’s garage and working part time at UGC Cinemas (now Cineworld) in Enfield and later Hollywood Green Cinema in Wood Green, Dex’s music was still struggling to find the sort of visibility that’d really help his fledgling career take off. One of his tactics was to try and reproduce some of his favourite songs in Fruity Loops, to help him understand what a particular producer was thinking or trying out, while another was radio. Although he didn’t have his own show, radio would prove to be Dex’s golden ticket. 

“You had guys like P Jam and there was a DJ called Slick D who I met in college in 2001, maybe 2002”, he recalls, “and they were both on radio. P Jam was local to me and I actually met him through an MC called Offkey from my school, they were both in the same crew and they’d be at radio quite a lot, I think it was Heat FM. One time, someone came to school and was like ‘yo bruv, there’s a DJ called P Jam and he’s cut your tune to dub” and at the time I didn’t even know what that meant, but it sounded bad. I was like ‘rah, oh my days’ but people kept telling me ‘nah, P Jam’s cool, he wouldn’t steal your tune’. It was so funny.”

“One time, someone came to school and was like ‘yo bruv, there’s a DJ called P Jam and he’s cut your tune to dub” and at the time I didn’t even know what that meant

“Slick D as well”, he continues, “he was on Heat FM and he was part of a crew called Slingshot. Heat FM was like the Deja of North London, so if you were on there people would hear you. He really believed in my sound, he’d cut my dubs all the time and batter my tunes and it was actually him who first played Lethal my tunes. More Fire Crew came down to guest on a set one night and obviously Lethal’s there. He first heard ‘Forward Riddim’ on that set and also ‘Mr’, do you remember that Lethal B tune? That beat was originally a hip hop tune I made that Slick sped up to grime tempo and played it in his sets. I remember as well, because Slick was playing my tunes twice a week on radio … Heat FM, Raw FM, Blaze FM and all these stations … he hit me up and was like ‘yo Dex, we need something happy, forget the dark ting for a while’ and I made ‘Might Be’. There’s one more beat that’s got a Slick D story behind it but I can’t think what it is..”, he says, pausing briefly, “‘Victory’! That’s it. Slingshot, they had a clash with another crew called Bun Dem Crew and Slick asked me for a war tune for the clash, so I made ‘Victory’ specifically for them.”

When Lethal B first heard ‘Forward Riddim’, Dex was sat in the Heat FM studio. It was his first ever visit to the station and true to form, he was quiet and unassuming, taking stock of everything going on, occasionally nodding his head to the beats Slick was playing. “I was just sitting in the corner on my own and Slick was playing loads of my dubs”, he explains sheepishly. “I remember Lethal kept saying, ‘who made this?’ to virtually every tune. Slick pointed to me sat in the corner and that was it. Lethal took my number and then called me a few days later asking me to send him some tunes. I sent him ‘Might Be’ and ‘Forward Riddim’ and a few other tunes. He actually liked ‘Might Be’ best I think but Jason Kay wanted that because I was around the Social Circles lot back then, so he took ‘Forward Riddim’ instead and the rest is history.”

Originally released on Lethal Bizzle Records before being snapped up by Relentless, ‘Pow! (Forward)’ ushered in a new era of MC rally tunes — MCs sharing 16-bar verses on one track — and also landed at #11 on the UK Singles Chart in its first week in January 2005, giving Lethal B his highest ever chart position to this day. Controversially, it was also banned from a number of national radio stations for references to gun culture and violence, sparking a wider debate about grime culture that has refused to go away ever since. Such was its legacy, ‘Pow! (Forward)’ was also re-engineered in 2011 with fresh verses from JME, Chip, P Money, Ghetts, Wiley, Kano & Face, with ‘Pow 2011’ peaking at #33 on the UK Singles Chart. 

“I think after ‘Pow!’, my phone was ringing so much that it left me with some sort of anxiety”, explains Dex. “I’ve now got this relationship with my phone like, I can just leave my phone and not be around it all day and people don’t understand it. They don’t know why I’m not on WhatsApp or why I’ll go ‘missing’ for hours at a time. I realised after it came out that I had to control my phone, not let my phone control me. I changed my number so many times but each time people would get hold of it and it was always popping off. I mean, as a producer it was nice to be in demand but it was a lot to deal with. For me, as I said before, it’s only ever been the music that I cared about. I was only interested in the next big tune.”

“I realised after it (Pow!’) came out that I had to control my phone, not let my phone control me.”

Still only 20, Dexplicit quickly became one of grime’s most in-demand beat makers and spent much of the next few years working on beats for some of the scene’s biggest names, as well as nurturing his own DXP Recordings label, which he established in 2005 as a home for some of his other instrumental work. “I’d never had a big artist on one of my beats before ‘Pow!’”, he concedes, “let alone 10 of them, so I was just gassed by that to be honest. I really didn’t think it’d go on to do what it did. I knew my music was good enough, but I always felt I needed someone to help me get it out to people, I just needed that exposure. And ‘Pow!’ gave me that.” 

In and around the time Dexplicit first made ‘Forward Riddim’ and ‘Might Be’ — a tune rooted in bassline sensibilities — he also produced ‘Bullacake’, a track that’d change the trajectory of his career in a totally world. It may not have surfaced until 2005, when it was released on the B-side of three-track 12” ‘Dubz Vol.1’ via Rossi B’s More 2 Da Floor, but like ‘Pow!’, it’s impact remains palpable to this day. “DJ EZ was after some tunes and asked my manager at the time, Martin, if I had anything I could send over”, he explains. “I made a folder of tunes and then just before we were gonna send it, I played ‘Bullacake’, just cycling through some old files on my computer. Martin was like, ‘what about that too?’. I was like, ‘nah man, I made it ages ago’ and wasn’t feeling it, but we decided to include it in the folder anyway. In the end, it was the one tune EZ loved and that was it.”

A fierce, looping 4×4 whomper, ‘Bullacake’ was quickly welcomed into raves in cities all over the North of England, particularly in Bradford, Huddersfield and Leeds, where bassline was the dominant, era-defying sound. It also piqued the ears of ‘The Trio’ — Shaun ‘Banger’ Scott, Nev Wright & Jamie Duggan — who simultaneously acted as both gatekeepers and tastemakers, making and breaking some of the biggest bassline anthems in their sets; “they were like some Avengers team up there”, Dexplicit says with a smile. With their support up north and EZ breaking ‘Bullacake’ in his sets around London, the record took off — completely independently from the success he was enjoying as a grime producer, too.

“It was weird”, Dex concedes, “because when I made ‘Bullacake’ I’d never heard of bassline, I was just making dark garage stuff. All of a sudden, I actually remember my friend Cyril who lives in Bradford, he started ringing me like ‘bro, you need to come up here and see what’s going on’. I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’. He told me there was a whole scene up there and they were loving my tunes, so I eventually went up to Bradford and they’ve got some super clubs up there, big, massive places. I remember being in one and about 10 people came up to me to shake my hand one-by-one, like ‘yo Dexplicit’. I was thinking, ‘hold on a minute, how do these lot know what I look like?’. In London, no one knew what I looked like so it was weird for me. Once I saw it and felt the vibe though, even hearing the same drum pattern all night was new to me, I got it, I understood it and started to make songs like that. My biggest takeaway was the vibe honestly. The people in the club, it was just a different energy to what I was used to. Everyone was just on fun, like everyone inside wanted to enjoy themselves. That was it, that was all they were there for.”

The success of ‘Bullacake’ led to the busiest spell of his career in terms of DJ bookings — “I was getting booked all the time, I’m talking every week” — to the point where other grime producers started to question if Dex was still actively producing grime. “For a good two years, probably from about 2007, people weren’t even aware I was still on it. The bassline stuff kinda overshadowed everything else I was doing and it even led me to getting to go on tours outside the country. I got booked in Australia, Hong Kong … it was mad. What was great though was that a lot of people in those places didn’t really know what bassline was aside from the tunes they liked, so I got to play what I wanted. I’d always play a load of heavy bass music and grime, it was brilliant.”

In the background, Dex was still as busy as ever in the studio. He was working in a space he’d opened in Enfield and was constantly occupied with MC work, building long-forgotten or never released mixtapes — “some of them had like, everyone in the scene on them” — and contributing production work to two tracks on Lethal Bizzle’s second studio album, ‘Back To Biznizz’. “I actually recorded one mixtape called ‘Versatile Style’ with Jamakabi that never came out. He called me and mentioned it the other day funnily enough. They weren’t songs, they were riddim tracks. You’d have like Napper on ‘Victory’, then Shizzle on ‘Victory’, Frisco on ‘Victory’ and then the tune would change and you’d hear another five MCs on that one. All these guys would just come to the studio back then, it was crazy.”

Dex welcomed his first daughter into the world in 2009, which coincided with his DJ bookings finally slowing down after a near two-year international tour came to an end earlier that year; “I’d said to myself, when she arrives, I need to slow down but luckily they kinda just stopped dead”, he admits, laughing. With his time now split between raising his daughter and continuing to make and release music, Dex started compiling a series of Dexplicit Content EPs, as well as a mammoth 50-track old school grime compilation — “I was kinda just cleaning the cupboards and putting out tracks I’d played in my sets for years” — that helped keep things ticking over.

He then opened a new studio in the Chocolate Factory in Wood Green in 2012 and through new management, started to receive a wealth of major label remix opportunities. “Nelly Furtado, Cheryl Cole, M.I.A. … I was just banging these remixes out and the money was great”, he concedes. “I was working on a lot of other projects as well so essentially I was in the studio with my engineer all the time. It was a weird period but I never stopped making grime or music that I cared about.”

As an OG grime producer with such a rich history, how did he find the challenge to adapt, I wondered? Was it difficult to stay relevant, to compete with newer names on the come up? “The biggest thing I noticed was producers trying to go more minimal, because everything became about the MCs”, he explains. “I found myself not focusing on making tunes to make people dance, but doing the whole head nod thing. The whole scene went a bit like that if I’m honest. There were a lot of other dance-focused genres around as well, like funky and whatever, but I never wanted to jump on a trend. I don’t like making what everyone else is making, which could be a gift or a curse, I don’t know. Obviously dubstep happened too and a lot of eyes were on that. A lot of people stopped making grime actually, when dubstep blew, where as I wanted to try and learn stuff from it because that’s my ethos, I’m always interested in new plugins, techniques, whatever. I started using some of the wobblier dubstep sounds in my own productions, especially while I was doing lots of remix work. In those times, I guess I was just experimenting.”

“A lot of people stopped making grime actually, when dubstep blew, where as I wanted to try and learn stuff from it because that’s my ethos, I’m always interested in new plugins, techniques, whatever.”

It wasn’t until January 2019 and a conversation with Terror Danjah that Dexplicit reprogrammed his thinking; the next phase of his career would be about making the music he wants to make, regardless of what people expect. “I remember Terror said to me ‘look, Dex, a lot of people are making music with their heads and not with their hearts, so don’t you think it’s time to start making music you like? Stop thinking about what’s gonna work and make the tunes you want to make’. And I did exactly that. I made this track called ‘Gorilla Glue’, which was one of the first tunes I took a video clip of myself listening to in my car. I was a bit gassed after coming out the studio and obviously it’s different for me, because I never usually show my face or do stuff like that, but yeah. I love orchestral sounds and I love bass and it was the first tune I made in that mindset. I got a lot of people messaging me about it, Big Narstie hit me up even, and everyone seemed to love it. I’ve now got this whole sound that’s just very cinematic and I love it, man. I’m running with it.”

He followed it up with a clip of ‘Gotham’ soon after — another hyper-intense, grandiose, orchestral grime beat — that would later go onto become the title-track of a new EP recently released on P Jam’s Beatcamp label; by all accounts, it’s one of the best grime records released so far in 2020. “P said to me, do you know ‘good music is good music, lets sit on it for a bit’”, Dex says, “because he first asked me if he could sign it last summer and I was like, ‘you wanna put it out next year?’. I always trust P Jam’s opinion though and it taught me something about campaigns and how to release music in a different way. It was definitely a lesson and the fact that I’m putting out music with P, 20 years after first meeting him in school days, it’s an amazing feeling. We were in the original Beatcamp together, me, him, Skills, Stevo … Stevo was a grime producer you know … so to be able to release it on P Jam’s label called Beatcamp, it’s an honour to be honest with you bro. Making music I like with my friends, what more could I ask for?”

The success of ‘Gotham’ has since been amplified by ‘Digital Monk’ — a new four-track EP rooted in synth work and released by E.M.M.A’s Pastel Prism imprint earlier this month. Born out of a relationship first established via E.M.M.A’s pioneering Producer Girls workshop initiative alongside P Jam and Ikonika — setup with the aim of encouraging more women to take up music production — it’s the latest in a string of records that have given Dexplicit the opportunity to fully express himself and the interests he holds dear. 

“Producer Girls, I mean if it’s a cause I care about. What E.M.M.A was saying was bang on, it’s true, there is an imbalance and if I could help address that then I wanted to be involved. Just like Ikonika and P Jam, I enjoy showing people how to make music as well, it’s a real passion. P Jam was saying the other day on Twitter that it’s one of his favourite things he’s ever done in music and I think all of us feel pretty similar. We did five or six workshops … the Tate Modern in London, Bristol, Brighton, Manchester … it was a lot of fun, man. E.M.M.A would also ask guest producers to come and speak at each one too, so we had people like Etch, India Jordan, Murlo present something. They’d end up teaching each of us something new because what I realised is that we all approach making music completely differently.”

Sharing similar interests outside of music, Dex and E.M.M.A have continued to talk regularly since and it was through one of these conversations that the idea for ‘Digital Monk’ was first crystallised. Inspired by his love of technology and all things cyber — Dexplicit enrolled at the University of Hertfordshire in 2015 to study Computer Science — the EP also has its roots in shared musical nuances. “We like the same things and notice the same things in the music we like”, he explains, “and it’s not just songs themselves, it’s deeper than that. Obviously, because I’d just put out quite a hard grime EP, I didn’t feel it made sense to explore something different myself, so E.M.M.A said I should put something out on her label. She said to me, ‘Dex, no rules, just go for it’. She said I should try using synths and experiment to my heart’s content to see what comes out and that’s what I did. Two of the tracks were produced at the back end of last year and I built two during the lockdown. She’d actually sent me her new album (‘Indigo Dream’) a few months before it came out and I was going mad the minute I heard it. I couldn’t believe how free it sounded. The thing with E.M.M.A is she’s not catering to anyone, she’s just free, and I thought ‘rahhh, I wanna be that free’. It was inspiring, man.”

“The thing with E.M.M.A is she’s not catering to anyone, she’s just free, and I thought ‘rahhh, I wanna be that free’.”

It’s a record that certainly captures Dexplicit at his freest and most viscerally creative, melding together a blurry, heady mix of filmic, cinematic styles that draw on all 20+ years of his production career. Also released with futuristic, Tron-style artwork prints designed by Elena Gumeniuk, ‘Digital Monk’ feels like the sort of EP Dex was always supposed to make — everything about it, although different to everything he’s done before, feels natural. “It’s mad you say that because that’s E.M.M.A’s whole ethos”, he says, leaning forward into the camera. “Music is supposed to an extension of who you are and what you love, and you should aim to channel that, unapologetically. I did that with ‘Digital Monk’ and it felt great.”

“Music is supposed to an extension of who you are and what you love, and you should aim to channel that, unapologetically.”

Looking ahead, Dexplicit still retains his love of producing more conventional grime — “I’ll always love it” — but if 2020 has taught him anything, it’s to push boundaries and push himself, as further evidenced by his decision to start his own YouTube channel focusing on producer tips and preparing walkthrough guides to some of his biggest records; something he’s always wanted to do. “Do you know what else I’ve learnt this year though?”, he asks, “To appreciate learning to be still, to stop chasing things. Living in London, we’ve got this rushing, deadlines mentality and it doesn’t always need to be like that. That helped inform my music as well because I just realised that I’m here to explore, to experiment and to enjoy the music I put out. We’re all here for different reasons and that’s okay, but from this point onwards, mine will be to push the boundaries, no question.”

Dexplicit’s new EP, ‘Digital Monk’, is out now on Pastel Prism:

https://dexplicit.bandcamp.com/album/digital-monk

— Hij —

On Grime Forum, metal, night buses, smoking areas, downloading radio sets from DC++, passion and the importance of online communities.

(All photos submitted by Hij)

“It was enjoyable, but not as enjoyable as I hoped it would be”, says Tom Higham — better known as Hij, co-founder of Grime Forum — as he reflects on watching his beloved Liverpool team win the Premier League title. “I don’t get to every game but I had four weekends booked at crazy Airbnbs with bunkbeds that’d fit eight of us in there. They were about £8 per person per night, cheap as shit. Unfortunately I didn’t get to go up at all which was a shame but other than that, things aren’t too bad.”

Now working in marketing for a small recruitment firm, Hij has spent the last four months either furloughed or split-furloughed; working in the mornings, not working in the afternoons. It’s allowed him to spend time at home with his children — “this whole period has made me appreciate family so much more” — and also finesse his online poker skills, which he’s found beneficial not only in terms of mental sharpness but also in terms of socialising and staying in touch with friends. “I actually discovered that people were using Twitch to play poker online, loads of guys do it” he explains, “and that was via Plastician’s grime quizzes funnily enough. I did a couple of the early ones which were great … I think I came in the top 5 on the first one. Joe Walker (Beats 1 / Reprezent Radio) won it in the end, he was miles in front of everyone else.”

“We’d have eight people set up on Zoom all chatting”, he continues, “with the actual game set up on another stream, it was great. Poker’s such an interesting game to play as well, you can learn so much from other people playing it. With each choice you make, there’s so many different options so it’s really interesting to watch how professional players go about it. They show the cards, so you can see how they make each move, how they strategise. I find that sort of stuff fascinating.”

From speaking for a little over five minutes, it’s already clear what makes Hij tick; community, relationships, lived experiences — either online or out in the world. His relationship with grime started back when he was a teenager, growing up just outside the M25 in St Albans, where he found it difficult to pick up any of London’s pirate radio stations. In fact, he was into metal and heavy guitar music before first discovering Wiley’s ‘Eskimo’ back in 2002. “I wasn’t a goth but I think I was more like a greebo or whatever they call it, I liked my heavy metal”, Hij recounts, “and I’d actually spend a lot of time on my computer playing online games, I wasn’t really that sociable to be honest. It was actually a couple of friends who lived down the road from me who were like ‘check this shit out, it’s amazing’ and they started to play me tracks. Channel U was around as well although that might have come a little bit later on. There was a program called DC++, which they’d download all these rap and grime songs from and yeah, it was interesting thinking about it. They were more into it than me at the time, but 10 years later, I was more way into it obviously.”

“Do you know what?”, he continues, “I was massively into old school hip-hop, I loved all the stuff from the 90s and the late-90s, I thought it was amazing. I kinda felt that the later stuff in the early 2000s didn’t really sound as authentic, I wasn’t really getting the same feeling from it. The stuff from the 90s was aggressive and real, it was quality and I guess that’s what I found when I listened to grime. Not only was it just as good, but it was down the road. I’d watch these guys on Channel U or whatever and they’re not over the pond, they were so close. Not only did I enjoy it, but I could relate to it more, I could bump into these guys on the street or at a rave in London, where as the chances of me meeting someone like Dr Dre were pretty remote. Grime just felt accessible.”

As well as locality, Hij also found the clash mentality — grime’s competitive edge — particularly compelling too. “I couldn’t get enough of it mate”, he says passionately. “I remember Fire Camp were having beef with Wiley once … ah I can’t remember the name of it … it was a 9-minute long track, it wasn’t even all bars, some of it was just gun shots and loads of Fire Camp guys just sending over and over again, it was amazing. We found it on DC++ but it’s not on YouTube or anything anymore. It’ll be on someone’s hard drive somewhere or potentially lost from the internet forever. I remember we’d have house parties when were like 16 and we’d put it on and everyone would be like ‘what the fuck is this?’, but we loved it. I think a lot of people enjoy it when people go at each other in grime, when they compete to see who’s the best. Even now, I’m 33 and I’m still all over it!”

As he became more and more interested in grime music, Hij found himself heading to RWD Forum — a hugely influential virtual meeting point for UK underground music fans in the early 00s — for the latest news on grime releases, raves and opinion. Being from St Albans, he found keeping tabs on new music almost impossible without it — it was a vital resource for any fan living outside the geographical touch points where the music lived and breathed. The forum’s grime thread soon became its most popular too, but that didn’t stop RWD shutting down the forum in early 2007 after managerial changes saw the entire RWD operation, including the website and the print magazine, shift its focus. It was a huge blow for grime fans like Hij who over time, had also built genuine friendships with other users; forum culture had become tangible and important. 

“That was the only way for me to discover music or sets to anything to do with grime”, he explains bluntly. “While you might have had two radio stations in South, I didn’t have any. I think RWD Forum had quite a lot of server issues thinking back. We’d actually started Grimepedia about six months before RWD shut down, which we lost to server issues as well. Wikipedia weren’t interested in grime MCs and they’d actually open sourced the software back then, so myself and Rob (known as Lemon) downloaded it and created that. The forum side itself came about off the back of RWD Forum’s server issues, which I don’t think they cared about too much because they did so many other things. It got to a point where we couldn’t even access it, so me and Rob were just like, ‘fuck it, shall we create our own?’. I did a lot of what I did purely as a fan. I wanted a forum to exist so I could find out what was going on and access things. That way, taking it into my own hands, it was on me to make sure it was working. We got a lot of user sign-up straight from RWD Forum after it shut down because a lot of people felt the same, which I didn’t realise at the time. We probably had 300-400 sign-ups in the first week.”

While Hij had established Grimepedia to help cut through the forum noise and profile active MCs, DJs, producers and even bloggers — “if you wanted to be involved in grime and bring skills to the table, you could, it was always so accessible” — Grime Forum would leave behind a lasting legacy that even he couldn’t foresee. It became it’s own living, breathing entity; MCs would shout out the forum in their bars, DJs would record mixes, fans would debate who or what was the best via threads and comments that ran into their thousands and Hij even recorded regular podcasts, pre-dating modern trends today. In Hij’s words it became “social media for grime before social media existed’. But it did come with a cost.

“I was quite fortunate that Lemon was able to do a lot of the coding and design stuff because he was really good at it”, explains Hij, reflecting on how much went into running Grime Forum. “We worked quite well as a team because I’d be able to back his ideas with money and it’d be on me to try and moderate the forum itself. I think we’d earn about £160 a month in ad revenue, which as we got more popular, helped pay for the server and a couple of beers for me if I was lucky. But it was hard work, I didn’t make a lot from it and then of course, the atmosphere on the forum … it got a reputation for being quite negative.”

Aided by Elijah, now co-head of pioneering grime label Butterz, who came on board from the jump to help him moderate and look after the day-to-day running of the forum, Hij found it difficult to strike a balance between letting users speak their minds and making sure the content and conversations coming out of the forum were positive or useful. “It was hard. It put me in a position of having to think about censoring things that weren’t put out there in a positive light or letting it become a place full of brave people talking nonsense. I couldn’t spend my time moderating it as a forum to that extent but I understood it was annoying and difficult for people, especially MCs who would get gunned on there sometimes. Other people did come on board in admin roles but they weren’t paid, so they’d just do what they could while they were browsing. I ended up just not having the time, I had a life to get on with away from the forum itself and couldn’t spend 24/7 moderating. But when it first started, it was a really positive place, there were no real bad vibes and everyone there was about supporting the artists and their music. Over time though and this isn’t just a Grime Forum problem, this is an online problem … I don’t know what it is about the Internet … but people get a username and just reduce themselves to being dickheads. While a lot of the negative comments people would leave were unnecessary and frustrating, I got involved to try and be a positive influence and always tried to stay true to that.”

“Over time though and this isn’t just a Grime Forum problem, this is an online problem … I don’t know what it is about the Internet … but people get a username and just reduce themselves to being dickheads.”

As well as being a discussion hub, Hij also used the front page of the website to host interviews, mixes and even competitions too. He’s particularly proud of a Grime Forum producer competition that he ran back in 2008, which saw Royal-T and Z-Dot — both now hugely successful producers in their own rights — share the spoils. “I mean I wasn’t involved in what they created but the fact that they were part of the community at the time and the fact that they’ve gone on to do so well does make me feel really proud. There were really positive sides to it. I mean, podcasts are all the rage now but I was doing them 15 years ago with the forum. I love podcasts personally and obviously I support Liverpool, so I pay a fiver a month to listen to one at the moment. It’s run by guys who actually go to the games so it’s a way of feeling connected in some way, especially when I can’t make it to a match. It’s a shame podcasts weren’t as popular when we did ours, but I still enjoyed doing them, we got some okay numbers. Thinking about it, we were probably bigger than most radio stations in terms of reach. Back then, you’d have to tune in at a certain time or miss it, where as the benefit we had was being able to archive the audio we put out so people could listen to it two weeks later or whatever.”

“As a fan, I loved making content happen as well because I’d get it first”, Hij continues, suddenly energised. “It was amazing honestly. One of my favourite things of all time … I’ll have to send it to you … but we had Swindle, Realist and Purple together. It’s an entire set on Swindle’s beats. I’d pay £15 for that now, you might not get anything like that ever again. I mean Swindle’s sound isn’t a cliché grime sound, so you’ve got all these beats going off with Purple and Realist, two people you wouldn’t really think would sound good together, on set and it was just amazing. It’s one of my favourite sets of all time. I think that’s what I love about grime sets as well … depending on who is in the room, who is on deck, you just get a completely different vibe with each one.”

Hij also recalls another set with OG grime crew, Cold Blooded, which he uploaded via Grime Forum too. “Why you’d send it to me to put on Grime Forum now I don’t know, because you might as well just post stuff on your Twitter or your Instagram”, Hij explains, “but back then there wasn’t Twitter, there wasn’t a way to effectively reach a lot of people to promote sets, so we helped with that sometimes. I was good friends with Revolver and I remember one day he just messaged me like, ‘look, we’re doing a set, do you want the audio?’. I remember going down, recording the set and then forgetting to actually do anything with the footage until about five years later, partly because it was before YouTube was really a thing. Back then, I remember Terminator was playing for QPR, so at the end of the set he got into a sports car he’d parked out the front and sped off like it was nothing.”

“One of my favourite sets we did was actually with Ghetts and Devlin, who I didn’t know personally at the time”, he continues. “I was with Dogzilla from OT crew, we’d been going out to a lot of raves together and one day, he just said ‘look mate, I’ll get you in to a studio session’. He had this idea of creating like a new Fuck Radio set, so he brought me down to Lewi White’s studio in Stoke Newington to film it. I know it sounds a bit keen but after the set, there’s Lewi White, Al Blaze, Ghetts, Devlin, Deeperman … there was a big crew of people there. Anyway, they gave me this disc at the end … maybe uploading it was long, I dunno, but they gave me the actual CD of the recording … and I remember heading home on the underground from King’s Cross and just looking at it in my hand and being like ‘fucking hell, this is amazing, people are gonna love this and it’s in my hands’. That was great.”

“..they gave me the actual CD of the recording … and I remember heading home on the underground from King’s Cross and just looking at it in my hand and being like ‘fucking hell, this is amazing, people are gonna love this and it’s in my hands’”

Hij’s work online soon started to bleed into is real life too. His contributions rarely went overlooked by MCs and DJs and raves soon became a life blood for him; they were the places he’d be able to grab five minutes with a favourite MC or meet others from the emergent grime community that had sprung up around the forum. “I felt like I could go to raves … not that this is that important … but I could go out to the smoking area and have a chat with an artist”, says Hij, a little sheepishly. “Not on their level, I was nowhere near as talented as they were, but you’re in the room so to speak. It felt nice just to be involved and to know that whatever contribution I’d made had helped in some way. I was acknowledged.”

“This is a crazy story but I remember my dad was driving us up north and I’m sat in the back of the car”, continues Hij, “and I got a phone call from Wiley. I’d never spoken to him before, had no idea how he’d got my number but it was definitely him on the end of the line, I knew what he sounded like. With no real introduction, he was like ‘I wanna start a grime gameshow, like a quiz show and I want you to run it’. I was like ‘I don’t know the first thing about TV mate, I genuinely appreciate the phone call so much, the fact that you’ve called me … I’d always hoped it’d happen one day … but I don’t think I can help progress this idea much further’. I have no idea what he imagined a grime game show to be like either but he was so on it. He must have been pacing around and just thought, ‘we need a grime game show, let’s get Hij from Grime Forum on it, he’ll know what to do’. It was mad.”

In terms of raves themselves, Hij found himself a regular at some now iconic grime club nights in London back in the mid 00s. “I really enjoyed going to JP’s (Joseph Patterson) ChockABlock raves, which I don’t think were specifically grime … they’d play other styles of music as well … but you’d always get a grime set at the end”, he recalls. “It was really easy to get to as well because EGG (the club where ChockABlock events were held) was only a 10 minute walk from Kings Cross, where I’d pull into coming from St Albans. When it comes to grime raves, I mean I’m keen but I’m not that keen, so I remember the further away from Kings Cross I got, the harder it was to get home. I’d have to get a night bus back to Kings Cross and then get a train but the last train on a Saturday night was always 2am. If you’re out at an event until 3 or 4, that’s it, you were out until the first train at 6am. I remember going to an Eskimo Dance at The O2 once with a guy I met from the forum … his username was ‘Grime Is Open Source’ … and I remember we had to sleep in a bus stop outside The O2, waiting for the first bus to run because for some reason, there were no night buses running that night.”

“I remember going to an Eskimo Dance at The O2 once with a guy I met from the forum … his username was ‘Grime Is Open Source’ … and I remember we had to sleep in a bus stop outside The O2”

“I went to a few Tim & Barry events as well, I used to watch a lot online but I made it down to a couple”, Hij continues, “and it was mad because I remember introducing myself and saying who I was and what I did, and they knew of me … like they knew Grime Forum. Most of the enjoyment I got out of going to events was just meeting people. It was nice to connect with people who were involved in the same stuff and were as passionate as you were.”

In hindsight, Hij concedes that these were golden times, but while the forum may have faded out over the last five years — “it died a slow death” Hij admits — he remains just as passionate about grime music as he always was. “I’ve reverted to being a fan again. I mean, I always was a fan but now it’s nice to be able to still engage with it. Maybe there are some small regrets that I didn’t do more, especially if you look at how well people like Jamal Edwards have done. We had a really good base and I suppose I could have looked at ways of utilising that more but like I say, I was just happy to be involved. I probably reached a glass ceiling with that approach because I wasn’t really thinking about expanding or looking at film and video. I just loved grime music.”

Now preserved as one of grime’s URL artefacts, Grime Forum’s popularity also serves as a reminder that many of the scene’s building blocks were laid by fans themselves; without it, things could look very different today. “It’s what I mean when I say grime is open source”, says Hij, “it’s what attracted me to it in the first place. Even now … I mean now and again artists get plucked and taken away out of sight … but grime websites and channels are still important. There’s clearly a niche because otherwise platforms like SBTV, JDZmedia, Grime Daily or GRM Daily as they’re known now wouldn’t have done so well, even if they don’t just cover grime anymore. Clearly people still want to watch and engage with grime music and grime culture.”

“It’s what I mean when I say grime is open source”, says Hij, “it’s what attracted me to it in the first place. Even now … I mean now and again artists get plucked and taken away out of sight … but grime websites and channels are still important.”

As he looks ahead, Hij continues to draw on his experiences with Grime Forum in his every day life. As he alludes to many times during our conversation, his intentions were always pure; he wanted to help, he wanted to get the most out of being a fan and he wanted to meet people who shared the same passion for the music as he did. It’s an outlook he’s now transferred to his love and support of Liverpool FC, who he now travels the length and breadth of the country and beyond to watch regularly, despite still living 200 miles away in the St Albans area. Interestingly, he found a lot of friends he attends Liverpool matches with through a Liverpool fan forum too.

“Football is a lived experience for me”, Hij explains passionately. “I actually had an argument with a guy who is now a good mate on an online forum … he’s a proper scouser from Liverpool … and I was probably about 17. He used to wind me up for being and out-of-towner, not a proper fan and whatever. In the end, he messaged me like ‘fuck this shit, let’s meet for a beer’ and so I did. I spent the next few years crashing at his after Champions League games and getting the train back home to London just after rush hour in the morning. I was working at Sainsbury’s at the time so it helped me save a lot of money on train fare. Since then, I’ve managed to cultivate a WhatsApp group of Liverpool fans from the area close to me, which I feel is as good as Grime Forum. What happens is, I sort out the tickets for everyone and we all go up to watch matches together.’

“The same can be said for grime”, he continues. “I met so many people through running the forum whether they were artists or just users and fans like me, and that whole period gave me so many lived experiences. That’s always been the priority for me. Going to those grime sets that were handed to me to upload or going to grime raves and chatting to the artists afterwards … just to feel like in a certain segment of time that I was kinda on the pitch and in the game, even only a little bit, was really nice.” 

“Going to those grime sets that were handed to me to upload or going to grime raves and chatting to the artists afterwards … just to feel like in a certain segment of time that I was kinda on the pitch and in the game, even only a little bit, was really nice.”

Winding down our conversation after a little over an hour, Hij seems more than content with his lot. His Grime Forum legacy is not only immortalised online, but in radio sets and in the bars of some of his favourite MCs. He speaks warmly of his experiences, his friendships and the communities he helped build. But does he miss it? “I do miss it, I do miss it”, he admits with a glint in his eye. “I think I could probably fulfil what I’m missing by attending shows and raves again, I do think honestly think that’d fill the void. I guess I’ve just realised that I don’t need to be moderating a forum all the time to still love grime music.”

You can still sign-up to Grime Forum and sift through over 52,000 original threads, from 2007 to the present day, here: https://www.grimeforum.com/

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY ™ —

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

(East Man — photo by Georgina Cook)

Album of the Month: East Man – ‘Prole Art Threat’ (Planet Mu)

The East Man manifesto 

Highlights

1. East Man & Lyrical Strally – ‘Ten Ton Riddim’

2. East Man & Mic Ty – ‘Everybody Knows’

3. ‘Machine Gun’

‘Prole Art Threat’ picks up the baton from East Man’s 2018 album, ‘Red, White & Zero’ — a record that not only shone a light on some of the best MCs in the country but through his production work, distilled grime down to its core fundamentals and remoulded them. On ‘Prole Art Threat’, he zeroes back in on these sensibilities to tell stories of inner-city life from all over the UK and beyond via a slew of different hosts; from Lewisham’s Streema to East London’s Darkos Strife and Eklipse to Feltham’s Lyrical Strally — there’s even space for Fernando Kep, a dominant voice in Brasil’s fast-emerging grime scene, to make his mark. These truths are stripped back and told with personality and character — and at times, an everyday numbness — with East Man pivoting around individual flows like a composer; his beats facilitate, never dominate. The sketetal, bare bones instrumental behind ’Ten Ton Riddim’ fits Lyrical Strally’s flow like a glove for example, while the zippy, dub charge of ‘Everybody Knows’ brings the best out of Mic Ty — one of London’s most talented grime spitters. Where MCs aren’t involved, East Man’s beats are fraught, moody, unsettling — see the roaring, relentless pressure and analogue muffle of ‘Machine Gun’ — but that’s precisely the point. The press release refers to ‘Prole Art Threat’ as “the sound of of proletarian urban mutliculture” and with that in mind, it feels like an album that needs to be processed before it can be fully (and deservedly) understood. 8/10

(Kid D & Novelist)

Tune of the Month: Kid D ft. Novelist – ‘Serious Choices’ (2 Easy Records)

Big moves!

Kid D has been putting out records at a rate of knots of late, establishing his 2 Easy Records imprint as a reputable label home for some of his most vivid and immersive instrumental creations. On ‘Serious Choices’, he joins forces with Novelist — and even takes to the mic himself — on a statement record that packs a punch on multiple levels, not only detailing traded verses of ruff-and-tuff, lived-in lyricism and tales of life on the roads, but also rich and powerful, blood-and-thunder beats. Lifted from upcoming full-length project, ‘Substance’, it forms some of Kid D’s most impactful work yet and goes some way to granting him the shine he’s long deserved as one of grime’s most naturally gifted creatives. 8/10

Guido – ‘Seeds’ EP (State Of Joy)

A gorgeous record

Bristol OG Guido has been one of his city’s most quietly influential producers for over a decade now and on ‘Seeds’ — the latest record from his State Of Joy imprint — he flexes all those years of production muscle to gorgeous effect. Although there are nods to his 140 BPM lineage (‘Here We Go’, ‘Swing’), this is a record elevated by experimentation; from the intense, hi-emotion strings and choral flutters of thoughtful opener ‘Inatrance’ to the bleepy, alt-pop crunch of the title-track, this really does feel like Guido is sowing his next crop. The jazzy, arcade mania of ‘Here We Go’ is rich and playful, while the thick-edged boom and neck-snap claps of ‘Swing’ cut right through too, although anchored in more traditional dubstep blueprints. The whirring, melodic rush of ‘Midnight Fairground’ is genuinely entrancing, but our tip is EP closer ‘Heavenly’ — a tender, beautifully woven sign-off that taps into themes of ascension, higher consciousness and spirituality. 9/10

AxH – ‘Grinding Gears’ EP (DAKU Records)

DAKU — a mark of consistency

Two industrial slammers for the heads courtesy of AxH here, who lands on Sukh Knight’s ever on-point DAKU imprint with a bang. Title-track ‘Grinding Gears’ blesses the A-side of a two-track plate, a staunch, heavyweight roller laced with rugged textures and warrior-charge drums, while B-side Darkov channels far darker, unnerving energy. Cut with crunching, shadowy tones, muffled choral flashes and scurrying, oddball sci-fi FX, it’s heavyweight but undoubtedly sinister. Hard as nails. 7/10

SWR – ‘Square Soulja’ EP (Infernal Sounds)

Grab at all costs

Infernal Sounds are one of the UK’s most consistently forward-thinking imprints out and SWR’s ’Square Soulja’ is the latest in a long line of releases to restore our faith in dubstep and beyond. The title-track opener is intricately made but ominous and snarling, and undeniably massive on impact — it’s as if every sound represents its own jigsaw piece — while the hardbody bass boom, filmic crackle and glitchy sampling of ‘Vertigo’ feels breathless. ‘Cypher Zero’, again cut with an oddball samples, launches moody, OG grime sounds into play — those stabs! — before the icy, xylophonic melodies, pensive strings and devastating low-end rumble of final track ‘Isshin’s Theme’ close out. Another gem unearthed. 8/10

Boneless – ‘Sleepwalking’ EP (Off-Switch Audio)

What a way to make your mark!

Canadian producer Boneless is a new face at Off-Switch Audio, but his debut record for the label doesn’t need much by way of introductions. From the jump, it details moody, heavyweight sound-system music at it’s sharpest, as the rippling, face-melting shockwaves of wobbly opener ‘Sleepwalking’ attest. The arcade-style, 16-bit scurry of ‘Hungry Belly’ is a standout moment on the EP too, but the mangled, distorted fuzz of ‘GaMe OvEr’ — punctuated by slapstick ray-gun bursts — is the real head-scratcher. Final cut ’Trigger Point’ then flips the script one final time, throwing classic breaks and dubbed-out, sunset beats into the mix to draw the EP to a close. Quite a first impression! 7/10

Dyzphoria & Slayloverboy – ‘RATHERFEELNOTHING’ (Liquid Ritual)

Pure euphoria

Liquid Ritual have carved out a niche for unearthing some of the most viscerally emotive young sound designers on the planet and ‘RATHERFEELNOTHING’, a new single produced by Dyzphoria & Slayoverboy, is a testament to that process. High in emotion, cinema, drama and bolstered by sharp, shimmering melodies and rolling trap drums — all cut with blurry, cloaked vocals lurking just below the surface —it signposts the future for wave music, which continues to evolve just as quickly as it emerged. Don’t sleep! 8/10

Ekula – ‘All Night’ EP (In:Flux Audio)

Joining the dots 

Huge, uncompromising club riddims that meet at the intersection between dubstep, breaks and jungle courtesy of Ekula — a producer stepping out on his debut record for In: Flux Audio. The fraught, rolling junglist rhythms and booming drums of opener ‘All Night’ border on euphoric at points, while the gloopy, near minute-long intro to ‘Afterparty Sunrise’ acts as a cold-shower-palette-cleanser, before diving back into the rush headfirst moments later. ‘As I Go’, a collaboration with CA$TLE, is the record’s breeziest track, complete with pitched-up, bubblegum vocal samples and hazy, lullaby melodies, not to mention a properly woozy, late-summer lean. Remixes come from Dystinkt, who goes hard in the paint on a ruff-and-tuff edit of ‘All Night’ and Benton, who comes in heavy with the breaks and bags of rumbling sub on his ‘Afterparty Sunrise’ re-rub. 7/10

Sir Hiss – ‘Keygen’ EP (Wych)

Keygen(ious)

There aren’t many superlatives left to throw Sir Hiss’ way, but his new EP for K-LONE’s label, Wych — already crucial at only four releases deep — might just draw out the last few. ‘Keygen’ sees Hiss excel across two fresh tracks that play to his penchant for melody, with the title-track — an obvious homage to video game keygen music — landing as a undeniable, frustratingly brilliant ear worm. ‘Anatolian Heartland’ is similar in conception, only cut with warmer, lavish tones, like a memoir from the Age Of Empires on-your-Packard-Bell-PC era. Label boss K-Lone turns his hand to the original mix too, with his dreamscape rework rounding off yet another essential Sir Hiss plate. 9/10

Sepia – ‘Sanctuary’ EP (Badman Studios)

Hot ’N Heavy goodness

Big, heavy-hitters from one of dubstep’s modern greats in Sepia, who debuts for Badman Studios with a new and in-demand summer plate. Opener ‘Sanctuary’ pairs sugary, dizzying trinket-box melodies with thumping low end and deft snare roll flashes, while the heavy, scything pressure of ‘Danger Zone’ tones up the greaze and then some. The whirring, super LO frequencies and breakout charge of ‘Gradients’ keep things murky, before the shuddering, ghostly crunch of final cut ‘Step Back’ signs off on one of Sepia’s most upfront, functional 12”s in a minute. Dig in! 8/10

Monitor

This month, look out for B:Thorough’s excellent new self-titled record via imprint-on-the-rise, Hi-NRG— he details trance-y, future-scape grime and android eski mutation across four fresh tracks that build on the drama of ‘Calm Levz’, a collaborative EP with JT The Goon released earlier this summer …  also keep an eye out for Darkness’ silky-smooth new single ‘Rather Be’ ft. Ayeisha Raquel — marking an excursion from his bouncier grime-inflected beats, it lands as a hazy, early summer RnB bloomer … Becky On The Beat also released ‘Murder Dem’ especially for Bandcamp Day at the beginning of July, which generated plenty of heat — be sure to check it … and looking ahead, there’s two records that should be on everybody’s radar in August — Rakjay & Logan’s ‘Know Mi / Move From We’ and Opus’ new record for White Peach, ‘This Damn Feeling’. Don’t sleep on either!

(B:Thorough)

Flora Yin-Wong

On life, art, the W Hotel in Hong Kong, living in Berlin, PAN, field recordings, farming and making life beautiful.

(All photos submitted by Flora Yin-Wong)

For someone with a day job in events, the last few months haven’t been particularly easy. That said, for Flora Yin-Wong — a DJ/producer and multi-disciplinarian, inspired as much by the world around her as her own curiosity — it’s also been a time for discovery and reflection. As our FaceTime chat window opens on Saturday morning, mutually bleary-eyed and in need of respective pick-me-ups, we start to unpick life in lockdown. “I was doing the programming at The Curtain Hotel”, she asks, “but obviously that had to shut down. I had a bunch of gigs coming up that I was quite excited about but they were of course all cancelled as well, but I think it was good to have a break and to try and work on other creative projects. There’s things I haven’t been able to do before that I always wanted to, like make clothes, pottery and like … farming and growing stuff.”

Dialling things back to her childhood, Flora had always been creative, almost restlessly so — “I can get bored really quickly!” — and growing up in London, she found herself moving around; different schools, different people. “I grew up in Holborn and moved to Clerkenwell when I was about 15, but it was all just tower blocks”, she recalls, “people were always like ‘oooo Clerkenwell’ but it wasn’t like that at all. I went to a bunch of schools, a really shit school in Camden first off and then I went to a kinda boujie girls school in Victoria, but really a lot of that helped shape some of the things I was into. I guess when I was 11, maybe 12, I was listening to a lot of garage but eventually I got into more … maybe metal, kinda noisy art-rock stuff. I played violin, saxophone, guitar and clarinet too but I gave up a lot of that because I wasn’t really that keen.”

“I’ve always been into music to really, really obsessive levels”, she continues, “and I went through lots of different phases with genres when I was growing up, but even when I had a guitar, I’d try writing music and lyrics … it just all came out really bad. I felt like I could never finish anything, I even tried to start a band with my friends but nothing felt like I knew what I was doing. For me, DJing was just a way of showing people new music and I think that’s why I started out. It’s like music journalism for the dance floor really, it’s like saying ‘here’s something exciting, check it out’.”

“For me, DJing was just a way of showing people new music and I think that’s why I started out. It’s like music journalism for the dance floor really, it’s like saying ‘here’s something exciting, check it out’.”

These wide-ranging musical influences and experiences would inform her time at university too. Flora studied Law at UEA — “I really enjoyed it at the beginning but by the end I realised I didn’t wanna do it for the rest of my life” — and alongside her then boyfriend, started a club night there during her final few years. What was the name of the club night, I ask. “Ahhh I kinda remember but don’t wanna say”, she says, laughing, “it’s just … nah. We played a lot of electro and stuff like that I think, it was just us DJing. I’ve actually been DJing for a really long time, for ages really. I only actually started producing more recently because I could never get my head around it. I’d mess around in Ableton back then but it was too difficult for me to get anything out that way. I probably gave up for about five years or something.”

After graduating from UEA, Flora’s first industry in-roads came via a digital editorial assistant role at Dazed & Confused, where she would spend four years writing and interviewing, travelling all over the world to speak to some of the world’s most inventive and cutting-edge artists across music, fashion and art. It piqued her interest in aesthetics, something she touches on in detail later on, but also opened her eyes to what she really wanted to do — in the background, she never stopped DJing. “It was so much work, it was really mad”, she says, as if almost transporting herself back to her old desk, “It was really bad pay, really long hours but I mean, it was great because it meant I got to travel and meet lots of incredible people. After four years, I knew I needed a change though and felt like I’d done everything I wanted to do there.”

It was a decision that would lead her to move to Hong Kong in 2014, birthplace of her mother, where she would go on to spend 18 months, suddenly working at the W Hotel. It was housed in one of the most extravagant, instantly recognisable buildings in the whole of Hong Kong and was a favourite landing spot for Hollywood A-listers and wealthy businessman from all over. In other words, it was a far cry from anything she’d ever done before. “I took this music director role”, Flora explains, “and it was a really posh hotel, it was crazy. I think we had the world’s tallest roof-top pool or whatever, on like the 80th floor. There was a bar which was like 300-600 person capacity, a 1000 cap room, and parties also on the roof-top itself. It was an infinity pool and the DJ would actually play from the centre of the pool, which was really weird. There’d be like fire breathers, people on stilts … people playing the saxophone. I remember there was a guy who started playing the sax over my set once and I was so pissed off about it. He came over and suggested I play something with less vocals or something and I played more vocal stuff just to get him to piss off. It was so corny, but that was the vibe.”

“I remember there was a guy who started playing the sax over my set once and I was so pissed off about it. He came over and suggested I play something with less vocals or something and I played more vocal stuff just to get him to piss off.”

“Then there was the bigger bar as well”, she continues, “and in there you’d be playing to like no one, except like Jack Black or Jonny Knoxville and a bunch of models… or Ellie Goulding or Paris Hilton. It was a really polarised place. I don’t wanna say it was soul-destroying but back then, culturally there wasn’t a lot going on. There’s probably a lot more now, I know there’s a big art scene, but a lot of it rotates around money which makes it somewhat shallow.”

Flora’s time in Hong Kong also coincided with the beginnings of the Umbrella Movement in the autumn of 2014 — a grassroots political movement defined by 79 days of protest, anchored in the notions of passive resistance in response to Chinese interference in upcoming elections, during the wider Hong Kong Democracy protests of the same year. The term ‘Umbrella Movement’ was coined online after protestors were filmed using umbrellas to defend themselves from pepper spray, which was fired on them by police. “It was a really difficult, emotional time”, concedes Flora. “We’d go to the protests and stuff and it was yeah, just really emotional. Now, it feels like it’s so much worse and nobody really has the power to stop what’s going on.”

It led Flora to return home in 2016, albeit briefly, before moving to Berlin to work for PAN — the boundary-pushing independent label run by Bill Kouligas, which has consistently led from the front at the cross-section between music and art since its inception in 2008. “After the W Hotel experience I was like, “I don’t care how much money I make, I just want to do something I care about”, Flora reflects. “I knew Bill a little bit from my time at Dazed and he’d just started on his Codes imprint with Visionist so I messaged him and asked if he needed an extra hand with anything. We had a long chat and he said there’d been lots of people who had wanted to work with him before but it was never the right fit, so when he said I could work with him there wasn’t really a definable role for me. It was really fluid, and I was able to do a lot of creative stuff and A&R, so it felt like I could really contribute my ideas which was really nice.” One project came in the form of PAN’s first-ever compilation, ‘mono no aware’, which she helped construct. Released in 2017, it featured tracks by the likes of Yves Tumour, M.E.S.H, AYYA, SKY H1, Bill Kouligas and Oli XL, as well as ‘Lugere’ — a new original track Flora wrote specifically for the compilation.

It followed Flora’s debut release on Geng’s PTP label in New York back in 2016. ‘City God’, an intense, seven-track cassette mixtape named after a tutelary deity in Chinese folk religion, formed an important jump-off point as a producer. Compounded by the confidence and trust she’d been given at PAN, it gave her the motivation to write more and more music, and she was also inspired by the multi-discipline approach the label took to releasing and promoting their own records. “When I first joined, we also did a big two-day exhibition at The ICA in 2016”, Flora recalls. “It was really nice to bring visual art collaborations to life and just to see how music could be received in a space like that.”

Her time living in Berlin presented a different challenge too. “I remember being there for three months solidly in winter”, Flora says with a smile, “and it was like, ‘I’ve never been this cold in my life’. it was really nice though because I could walk along the river, walk to the office … I was in Kreuzberg so everything was kinda close. Everything at PAN was really chill as well, we’d start work at like 12 and whatever, but the lifestyle in Berlin was pretty hectic. We went out every night, there was always something on, just all the time.”

“I guess it’s really different to London as a city as well”, she continues. “Like, in London you’re always doing a million things at once. I remember being at full capacity at Dazed but I’d still be writing for another 10 magazines on the side, still DJing and running club nights … everything was to the max. Berlin’s the opposite, the work ethic is totally different.”

In terms of writing her own beats, Flora concedes she never had a goal or an aim of what she wanted her music to sound like when she first started experimenting in Ableton. “It made it quite difficult because things didn’t flow straight away. I guess I just wanted to make club music because that’s all I was listening to but if I tried to do that, I never really got anywhere. I tend to make whatever comes out now and ask myself, ‘is this a thing?’ once I finish something. It’s more personal I guess, the process of writing music is definitely a lot more emotional than I realised. A lot of the moods and the headspace(s) I’m in, that’s what comes out. I hope that’s what people pick-up on anyway.”

“I tend to make whatever comes out now and ask myself, ‘is this a thing?’ once I finish something. It’s more personal I guess, the process of writing music is definitely a lot more emotional than I realised.”

“Last year I was flicking through loads of field recordings that I’d taken using my phone for years”, she continues “and when I was piecing them together, I got so emotional because each one took me back to a different place. I could instantly remember things. It might just be like footsteps or the wind rustling. I was actually commissioned to put together an art piece for Somerset House, which I used a lot of those recordings in, but yeah, it was really emotional.”

It was her work on the commission that’d led to speaking to Modern Love – sister imprint of online retailer Boomkat, formed back in 2002 —about releasing her debut album, which will see her follow the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Andy Stott and Zomby in partnering with the label. “A lot of it is spiritual”, Flora says, “and not that I’m the most conventionally spiritual person but in some ways I suppose I am. I feel maybe connected to things in a way that perhaps not everyone allows themselves to be if that makes sense and the work on the album kinda channels that. There’s a lot of madness in my bloodlines and it was a sort of chaos that formed a lot of my ideas now.”

Some of her field recordings will also feature on the album — the C and D sides specifically — but as she admits, an album was never something she considered until she was encouraged by friends back in 2018. “I didn’t envision how it’d be but people were saying I should work on something, she recalls. “It took ages, honestly it took so long. It was only really last summer that I finished it and that was only after a trip to Japan.” Heading out for three months in 2019, Flora had originally gone to find inspiration to help her finish her first book, which she’ll be releasing via PAN next year. “The two (album and book) were originally written in tandem”, she explains, “but they’re separate projects now. The book is bits of short fiction and also non-fiction. Memories, things that link psychology and philosophy and different phenomena that I find interesting.”

Zooming out for a second, I ask how she manages to balance the depths of her creativity; is it difficult to work on so many projects concurrently? “With personal projects, I guess sometimes it can feel like there’s pressure”, Flora concedes. “Sometimes it feels like people have to do so much to just survive, but writing and music have always been two things that have come naturally to me. To be honest, all the other things I’ve wanted to do and have been doing recently, like making clothes and whatever, it all feeds into how I like things to be … aesthetics I guess. I really care about how things are, not in a pretentious way, but life is short and I want everything to be beautiful.”

“I really care about how things are, not in a pretentious way, but life is short and I want everything to be beautiful.”

Looking back at her experiences in London, Hong Kong and Berlin, it’s clear to see that while each may have proved to be vastly different, together they’ve helped her creativity bloom — and one wouldn’t exist without the other.  “I just feel like I’m really curious about a lot of things”, she reflects, “and I like to be open minded about everything. Even when I was at the W, part of my role was to DJ a lot myself to try and push the identity of the brand. I’d never play anything I didn’t want to and at the time I was into a lot of house, so I’d often play for hours and hours and hours on end. I guess that was the only time I was really able to practice so freely, even on vinyl and stuff like that, so I treated it as an opportunity to hone something. I’m actually helping a friend of mine who works in play listing at the moment and I have to go through hours and hours of deep house and I’m like ‘ah I remember this!’. It’s kinda funny how my tastes have changed.”

Back in London for the last 18 months or so after her time in Berlin, Flora’s continued to work in curatorial roles alongside her music work, programming memorable events at Cafe Oto and The V&A, before taking up her previous role directing events at The Curtain. “The V&A were doing a night on sound (‘Sonic Boom’) for one of their Friday Lates evenings and I got asked to put something together, which was great”, she recalls with a smile. “It was nice to be able to pull together lots of different people I really rate and respect. I had Mark Fell play in the Tapestries Room, Tomoko Sauvage put on an amazing performance with her hydrophones in this incredible theatre space and I had Shannen SP DJ too, to rep the club side. The V&A was somewhere me and my dad would go to when I was a kid, so it was nice to be able to do something there.”

Looking ahead, with both a debut album and debut book on the horizon, it seems as though Flora’s intuition will continue to be the deciding force in how and where she continues from this point. “There’s been multiple times I’ve thought about quitting music”, she concedes, “because I’m always anxious to try new things. It’s like after a bad gig, I can feel like ‘I quit’. Like, what more can I get from building something this way? What more can I achieve? But at the moment, I’m in a music-making headspace and I’m enjoying it, where as before sometimes it’s felt forced.”

“Without the day job, I guess I’ve also got to think about where to go next and I’m not even joking when I say I’m into this farming stuff either”, she continues, before breaking out into laughter. “No, seriously, I want to learn more about plants and trees. What this time has made me realise is that everything has become almost obsolete and looking around, the world’s fucked and I’m here twiddling my thumbs. I’m now thinking, what can I do that’s gonna make a difference? I need to do more.”

“What this time has made me realise is that everything has become almost obsolete and looking around, the world’s fucked and I’m here twiddling my thumbs. I’m now thinking, what can I do that’s gonna make a difference?”

Any parting thoughts on the state of things I ask, just before we close our laptops. “Well, we’ve all gone totally mad haven’t we? We need to learn how to get back to some semblance of sanity. But then again, the original sanity was madness in itself, so maybe there is no sanity. Who knows?”

You can stream and buy Flora’s music via Bandcamp:

https://florayinwong.bandcamp.com/

— Joker II —

Part Two of a special two-part interview with Joker — Retracing his career from 2008 onwards, here he is on DMZ’s 4th birthday, collaborating over AIM, the origins of Purple, getting his first passport and writing his debut album.

(All photos submitted by Joker)

“Even going back to the last interview, I’ve missed quite a lot in general”, says Joker reclining in his chair as we start part two of our interview. “Remember Ashley (Joker’s school friend and fellow Kold Hearted Krew member)? When I was living at the house I learned to DJ in, Ashley introduced me to Gemmy, and that’s really important.” A little more than a few hours had passed since part one was published two weeks ago and Joker had already tweeted ‘Missed out a few key things and people need to add to pt2’. His is a story that feels so intrinsically linked to the people around him and to a city that has, by a mix of both chance and design, shaped his career; everything about it feels significant. “It was nice to meet another person so close to home who as passionate about music as I was”, Joker says of Gemmy. “He had a big garage collection, I had my garage collection, it was the same ting for us. Since then, we’ve been friends ever since and we still talk every week.”

Following on from where we left off in part one, Joker’s focus then switches back to ‘Gully Brook Lane’ — a track that undoubtedly changed his life and laid down a blueprint for the music he still makes today. The track’s success, amplified by the support of grime MCs like JME, Skepta and Flow Dan in London, inspired Joker to look to start putting music out through his own label, which was run by Multiverse — a publishing company and label house owned by Ginz. “My cousin had just passed away at the time”, he reflects, “and his name was DJ Kapsize. So at that time, I was looking at my first release to put out … he was a DJ and into his music … so calling my label Kapsize, it was like a farewell, a big up to him really. Now, the second part of the story gets a bit hazy ‘coz I’d started going out and was drinking and whatever”, he concludes, as we both bring up his Discogs page to try and chronicle his early releases.

Kapsize 001 saw Joker release ‘Holly Brook Park’ (named after the estate where Joker used to live) — “it was basically ‘Gully Brook Lane’ sounds with different drums” — with B-side ‘80s’ on the flip. “When I made ‘Gully Brook Lane’, it wasn’t like I knew I’d done something different, it was the response that I got from that song”, Joker explains affirmatively. “At that age, I knew somehow that I could only really touch that sound one more time. It was like ‘how am I gonna get that reaction again?’ I knew I couldn’t just re-make the same track, you know.”

“When I made ‘Gully Brook Lane’, it wasn’t like I knew I’d done something different, it was the response that I got from that song.”

“Things started happening quite quickly from 2007 bruv thinking about it”, Joker continues, deep in thought. “2008’s come along and dubstep’s kinda happening and I’m already kind of in, I’ve put tunes out on Pinch’s label, the dances are happening and man’s being booked. I don’t know if Pinch mentioned it to me or Ginz mentioned it to me or I had the idea myself, but it was like, ‘why don’t you do your own imprint?’. Pinch had Tectonic … there were labels around. It didn’t make too much difference but I guess it was my thing, it was all connected to me.”

Having spent so long feeling cut off from what was going on outside of Bristol — “I was never connected to anyone in the early days, I had no way of speaking to anyone” — 2008 also saw Joker start to use the Internet to network, share ideas, collaborate. “I believe things were starting to move from MSN to AIM”, he recalls. “My contact list was building. I was trying to network and essentially just make friends. I met Rustie online somehow, I’m not really sure how. When I first heard Rustie’s stuff, it sounded like grime to me … it was the same with ‘Midnight Request Line’. I thought that was a computer game grime track, not once did I question it was dubstep because it sounded like fucking Mario to me bruv. But yeah anyway, the first Rustie stuff I was hearing was grime. We ended up talking and we made ‘Play Doe’ online, sending the Reason file back and forth. It happened quite quickly when I think about it.”

“When I first heard Rustie’s stuff, it sounded like grime to me … it was the same with ‘Midnight Request Line’. I thought that was a computer game grime track, not once did I question it was dubstep because it sounded like fucking Mario to me bruv.”

Although writing and recording music, vocals, features, remixes et al online — essentially not requiring artists to be in the same room — feels very much part of modern music-making culture, back in 2008 it was arguably a revolutionary concept. The pair hadn’t officially met — “I think I met him just after it came out” — and built Kapsize 002 (a Joker/Rustie split 12”) from scratch, sending Reason files back-and-forth over AIM. “Like I say bruv, it does feel a bit mad”, Joker concludes, “but it happened so quickly honestly.”

Our conversation then turns to another OG Joker collaboration, this time with Jakes — or was it? “Bruv, ‘3K Lane’ wasn’t actually a collaboration”, he explains as I pick out from Discogs. “I gave Jakes the ‘Gully Brook Lane’ Reason file and he put that at the beginning, dropped it to ‘3Kout’ and switched the ‘3Kout’ sounds out for the ‘Gully Brook Lane’ sounds. It’s our songs as one basically. He took my song, chopped it in, made a dub plate sort of thing and it ended up coming out, bruv. It was a mash-up dub plate that he made and everyone went mad for it. I was like, ‘do people know this is two songs?’ You’ve gotta clock back in those times, not everyone would have known ‘Gully Brook Lane’ because it was a little bit detached from what was going on in dubstep. It was connected through Plastician, who sat perfectly in the middle of grime and dubstep, but he was one of very few DJs like that back then.”

Joker’s transition to Reason from Fruity Loops was also an important development in his own music-making process. “Do you know about a drum & bass MC called Sweetpea?”, he asks. “Well he lived in the block of flats that was connected to the maisonettes, where I was living. He told me about Reason, he showed me how to use it and I managed to wrap my head around it pretty quickly. That was the beginning of me learning about synths, do you know what I mean? I would also say it’s the reason that my studio looks the way it does now, because at that time … it was all new to me. It was like, what is this? What does the green subtractor thing mean? What really is a synth? I remember then going to Roni’s studio with Ashley and clocking an Andromeda A6 and thinking, ‘that must be a real one’. I didn’t know where to look back then, bruv, but I knew that what was happening inside the box was possibly a computer game version of the real world. Does that make sense?”

“It must have been 2008 yeah”, Joker continues, “and me and Gemmy have seen the Roland SH-201 in a magazine. This might not be how Gemmy remembers it, but it’s how I remember it. There was a picture of the SH-201 in the magazine and Pharell was standing next to it, and we were like ‘yo, bruv, that’s gotta be sick’. Gemmy bought one first, he got it from Mensah (now releasing music as NYTA) who worked in a music shop when we were young. I went over and we were like, ‘is it analogue?’ We still didn’t understand what analogue meant, we just knew that it was hardware. It was hardware that emulated the real thing and that in itself was a big step up for us.” Pointing to his own SH-201 via our FaceTime chat window and then zooming in for a closer look, Joker then says proudly, “‘Tron’, ‘Purple City’, ‘Psychedelic Runway’ … they were all made on this. Some of my biggest records were coming out of this thing.”

“There was a picture of the SH-201 in the magazine and Pharell was standing next to it, and we were like ‘yo, bruv, that’s gotta be sick’.”

Joker and Gemmy’s friendship continued to bear plenty of fruit in the following years too. Sharing information and advice, the pair learned the ropes of production together and between them, landed on what came to be known as Purple — an intensely cinematic, hyper-specific sound that went on to change the face of dubstep. “We’d make music that belonged to a similar family really”, Joker explains. “Our music was different but you’d hear a Joker track in the club and you’d hear a Gemmy track in a club and think of similar sound palettes, if you know what I mean. I just remember me and Gemmy talking about music and I think he had a track called ‘Purple Moon’ or something like that. We ended up just speaking about just … PURPLE, bruv. I don’t know how but learning stuff together and creating sounds, like that became what people started to call Purple. It got to a point where I’d be looking at pictures of purple skies and … yeah it’s hard to explain. It was blatantly inspired by grime because we were both from grime, but we were like ‘yeah, fuck it … Purple’. Before you know it, anyone making synthed-out shit with chords or using saw waves in a certain way was associated with Purple.”

“I would say it got bigger than man”, Joker continues, “to the point where new producers were coming through who’d probably never heard of any of us, and they’re stuff was getting called Purple.” And then came ‘Purple City’ in 2009 – a Joker track that has come to be widely regarded as the definitive Purple anthem, written alongside fellow Bristol producer Ginz. Massive in the clubs, it is an iconic record, enshrined in the memories of those who were lucky enough to hear it — and feel it — on dance floors at the time. “I knew Ginz because he setup and ran Multiverse in Bristol and we got along cool. I went to his yard, I was probably 19 … fuck this all happened when I was 19? So anyway, I brought my SH-201 to Ginz’s and this is when he had a studio at home. We had that, this big CAT synth, maybe a DX FM keyboard and one FM plugin that was used once for one sound. The drum pattern was done first, real quick. Actually it was all written in what felt like seconds bruv … Ginz had these percussion sounds that he’d made, his kitchen doors shutting and some other random noises that you can hear in there. Ginz did the mixing on it, but I remember playing Mix 3 out at Native, which was an old club that used to be in Bristol where RUN, an old drum & bass night, was held every Wednesday. I played there at some small club night and remember thinking, ‘do you know what? I like this one you know’. It felt quite sustained, it felt good, but I do remember needing to hear more mid-range in the club so I hollered Ginz, so he did his thing and that was it finished. Ginz’ mix was phat … like it was READY, you get me?”

Shortly before the release of ‘Purple City’, Joker also recalls meeting Kode9 for the first time, which coincided with getting sent 2000F & J Kamata’s ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’. “I don’t remember if he hollered me or I hollered Kode9 but the second we met, we got along cool”, Joker recalls, “to the point where I’d just call him dad and he’d call me son. Back then, he wasn’t old but I was definitely young, do you know what I’m saying? I sent him ‘Digidesign’ and also this song I really liked, which was the 2000F & J Kamata tune. He said he wanted to put them both out on a 12” and that was that, bruv.”

“I don’t remember if he hollered me or I hollered Kode9 but the second we met, we got along cool”, Joker recalls, “to the point where I’d just call him dad and he’d call me son.”

“Remember Mary Anne Hobbs as well?”, Joker continues. “She had her Dubstep Warz show and I think it was Kode9 that actually picked me to play the second one in 2008. It was there that I met everyone else in that world, people like Silkie, Quest, Chef, Distance and Starkey. Everyone was there, basically.”

As talk turns to how life was at home after starting to establish himself beyond Bristol, Joker quickly dials things back to 2007 and his first overseas booking. “That was the first time I ever owned a passport”, he recounts, “and I had to get it because someone hollered Pinch or Pinch knew someone who knew someone in Belgium who wanted me to play. I had to get a passport, bruv. Man had to get a passport. Big up Pinch yeah, please make sure you put that in. Anyway, I’d never been on a plane mate and this lady could see I was prang when I got onboard. The plane had the propellers … ah man this woman had to hold my hand. We’ve got in the air and I just remember thinking, ‘this is dodgy, this is hella dodgy’. I made it anyway and I remember being gassed to just be in Belgium. I got to the club and I asked the promoter guy for a juice and man came back with a big bottle of Courvoisier, which was a step up from my E&J days. Them times there I was mad young, I probably used to drink a little bit with my friends but nothing major, so when man said I could have a whole big bottle for myself, I felt like I was living BRUV.”

As Joker himself alludes to, watching a producer DJ was the only place for the majority of people to hear new records, beats and remixes back then; “Even before songs came out then, they were big”, he says “and not being out made them bigger.” Wheeling his chair over to a shelf behind him, Joker then pulls out a flyer — still in pristine condition — and holds it up to camera. It’s a flyer for DMZ’s 4th Birthday at Brixton Mass in 2009, detailing a line-up that included Digital Mystikz, Loefah, Kode9, Skream, Pinch, Silkie, Gothrad and loads more, as well as Joker himself. After a quick Google search, we realise that ‘Purple City’ was officially released three months after DMZ’s 4th birthday on June 8, but he recalls the track was already massive months before. “Everyone was rinsing it, bruv. Dubstep was sounding pretty diverse by that point and there were a lot of different sounds being played, but I had no idea what this night would be like. I remember walking up to Brixton Mass and just seeing this queue.” Joker then pauses to try and find a photo, before hanging up briefly to call Mala.

“So this here (holding up a photo detailing a huge, snaking queue line), is exactly how I remember it”, he recalls. “There’s like rows of four people in the queue mate, snaking all the way round. I remember walking up with a record box, 2-2 dubs and that, ‘Purple City’ still on dub plate and I saw the queue and it felt like I was about to walk into a movie. At this point, things were still happening for the first time in my career so it was just mad. It was a case of ‘are all these people gonna fit inside?’ I got in there and I remember seeing photos afterwards and everything inside was just purple. I don’t know if was the natural lighting or how the photographer chose to edit the pictures but yeah. I played and it was sick, bruv. DMZ wasn’t that old then either, it was only their fourth birthday but I remember that show for me being a ‘shit is happening’ moment for me. That was a serious moment not just for me, but for the music in general.”

(Photo by Ashes 57)

Joker would go on to release ’Tron’ a year later in 2010, another of his career-defining records that lived in his sets long before it was released — “song were around long before they were even available then bruv” — before switching his attention to ‘The Vision’. Released in 2011 via 4AD, ‘The Vision’ was Joker’s first studio album proper, written in his bedroom at his mum’s house. It was expansive, bold and totally different to anything he’d released before. The production value was rich and the ideas were detailed and intense, but while it brokered him as an artist proper for the first time, it signalled an excursion from the style he’d come to pioneer. ‘The Vision’ also featured vocal collaborations and features for the first time, including Jessie Ware — “she came to my mum’s to record bruv!” — as well as nods to his Kold Hearted Krew years on ‘Back In The Days’, which featured Bristol MCs Buggsy, Double, Scarz and Shadz. “What was your honest opinion?”, Joker asks. I recall listening to it quite a bit after buying it on CD in 2011 from a HMV in London and felt like while it sounded like Joker, it also sounded like an artist trying to be somebody else. “That’s exactly what I was trying to do, bruv. I didn’t want to make an album of ‘Purple City’, that was the main thing, but now looking back, maybe I should have done, maybe I should have made an album of stuff like that.” 

Did it come too early, I ask. “Maybe, yeah. I don’t regret one bit of it though”, he says, “but the tracks on there that people would play out in the clubs had already had their lifespan by the time it came out. Thinking back as well, I’d already made two mix CDs before and I was still a grime kid, still an RnB head, just deep in this dubstep world.” He then proceeds to play clips of RnB demos he’s still got on file, all of which he made when he was teenager. “Tracks like these never came out, so the only stuff people have heard from me is the greaze. Whether people like it or not, that isn’t my only side. I will always release what I’m feeling at whatever time, so I guess like you said, if it came out four or five years later, maybe it would have made more sense.”

“There will be a point in the future where people look back at where I was back then and go ‘ahhh it makes sense now’, do you know what I mean?”, Joker continues. “I was young though, bruv. How I hear those early big songs like ‘Purple City’ and ’Tron’ now is different to how I heard them back then. I can step away now and appreciate them in a different way, but back then I felt man was just making bangers for the rave and I couldn’t see how I could make a body of work like that. Even talking to you about this, it’s made me think like … all the genres that I love, whether it be jungle, drum & bass, garage, grime … it’s all happened in our lifetime. How mad is that?”

Armed with the experience of writing his first album and working with an entirely different scope, Joker spent the next few years working on singles from the LP with 4AD, as well as honing new-age material via Kapsize. It was in 2014 that he made ‘Midnight’ — a track he refers to as the next ‘tipping point’ and one that would find its home on ‘The Mainframe’, Joker’s second album released on Kapsize the following year in 2015. “As a producer, I go through like … realms”, he explains. “Like ‘Gully Brook Lane’ up until ’Tron’ was a realm. It all made sense, it all fitted together and I knew what I was doing with all of it. With ’The Vision’, I was scattered, I was looking for shit, I was between realms and then with ’Midnight’, I felt like I’d found a new realm. I remember playing the chords and thinking, ‘bruv, this is fucking ME!’. I was closer to ’Tron’ and ‘Gully Brook Lane’ with it … it was still the same sound but it was like version two. People might not know but I love trance-y, rave-y kinda sounds so I built the chords with this trance vibe in mind. A certain combination you land on is probably gonna sound similar to something you’ve already heard anyway, so I’m sat there playing the chords and I start humming, and then the lyrics come. ‘I’m waiting for tonight … oooo-oohhhh’ … I was like ’NOOOOO’. Now it’d come naturally, I couldn’t hear anything else, I wish I’d not heard it in my head. But because it came so easily, I thought do you know what, let me layer this vocal underneath. I pitched the whole track down, pitched it up and I then I settled on the ‘woaaah-ohhhh’ bit. I knew someone who hated the song, so I thought if I send it to them and they like it then I’ve nailed it. The sample made me feel uncomfortable as well to be honest but like with ‘The Vision’, I didn’t come into music to be comfortable, bruv. Man is here to create and if that makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes, I’ve gotta roll with that.”

“…I didn’t come into music to be comfortable, bruv. Man is here to create and if that makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes, I’ve gotta roll with that.” 

New realm now established, we close out our chat on the promise of catching up again a few days later. As our new FaceTime chat window opens early on Friday evening, I’m greeted by Joker in his car, driving. “We’re on a little road trip, bruv”, he says smiling, “…let me pull over for a minute and connect everything up properly.” He calls back, now sat in the passenger seat after switching over driving duties with his girlfriend, holding the phone up with his hand and eyes peering out at the acres of countryside flying past in his side window. We start talking about where he’s at now and how his technical ear for music and sound has impacted on his own back catalog. “I’m not saying I’m nailing it bruv, but if I can mix a track the way I hear it, that’s gonna give it a different energy you know”, he explains. “I could say that about a lot of stuff I’ve put out as well, like I’ll listen to a track now and I can hear what I’d do differently to how I made it originally.”

Over the last 18 months. Joker’s started to take his mixing and mastering more seriously, so much so that it’s now an important part of his working life; a second job, in other words. “For me, fucking around with synths and EQs and the technical things, I quite enjoy it … wait, is that a funny way of saying it? I find it quite enjoyable anyway”, he says. “I’ve always had a love of hardware as well but for me to make use of all my cool plugins and equipment, I need to be making music. I don’t really wanna be putting in time on a quick drum beat I’ve made, but it’s not every day I’m gonna be able to make a full song either. So I thought, do you know what, I could get paid to learn and enjoy my shit. I was like, ‘hello everyone, I mix and master … HOLLA’. It started as simply as that early last year and since then, I’ve been building the studio out a bit and just doing as much as I can.”

“For me, fucking around with synths and EQs and the technical things, I quite enjoy it … wait, is that a funny way of saying it? I find it quite enjoyable anyway.”

The first album he mixed down was Swindle’s 2019 epic, ‘No More Normal’, and he’s since mixed/mastered records for everyone from Stormzy to Example to Hudson Mohawke. “One of the maddest stories was being out on a road trip to Croatia for Outlook Festival last summer and I get a call about a small tweak that needed making to a mix I’d submitted a few weeks before”, he recalls. “I had all the mix stems saved in my Dropbox and on the way to Croatia, I ended up driving past Noisia’s studio in Gronigen (NL) and decided to stop off just to catch up and chill. When I got the call about the mix, I asked if I was cool to do it from Noisia’s studio and I ended up working with Nik from Noisia to re-master it. It turns out we couldn’t make this tweak from from the files I had in my Dropbox, so a few days later, I’m probably doing about 180mph testing my car out on an Autobahn having crossed over the border into Germany, and I get a phone call about the changes having to be made urgently. I knew I’d have to go home, so I opened my Google Maps and the closest city to us was Dusseldorf. I ended up driving to Dusseldorf and we caught a flight back to London that day, went home to Bristol and managed to get the changes done. My girlfriend had left her hoodie at home in Bristol so she was happy she could pick that up, but then we had to go back and get my car. We headed up to Birmingham Airport to catch the next flight out to Dusseldorf but the plane we were due to fly on was leaking hydraulic fluid. Dusseldorf airport itself then had to shut early that day, so the only flight we could get was one to Cologne. We then had to get a bus from Cologne to Dusseldorf to continue our drive to Croatia. Honestly, it sounds mad, but it was so funny bruv.”

In terms of studio balance, Joker’s learned to plot out his time each day, working on mixes in the day and his own music later in the evenings and into the early hours. “I think I’m naturally more creative in the evening and I think it’s best I leave my ears fresh for other people’s work in the day time”, he explains, “and then when they’re not needed to do any fine-tuning, I can get on with my own stuff.” It’s a duality that’s allowed him to flourish over the last 12 months, with both sides to his work informing the other. Going forward and looking ahead, he seems to be at his most comfortable and content in a long time. What’s next I wonder?

“Right this second, I don’t have much idea if I’m honest with you”, he says thoughtfully. “I’m sat on two EPs and a little project but I think the whole Coronavirus thing has given me a lot of time to think. I still enjoy making 140 stuff, I still enjoy DJing … I guess I just want to think about and execute things better. I’d like to get into producing for artists, which I’ve said forever, but sometimes I feel like there’s too much going on in my beats or whatever … maybe that’ll change. It feels like it’s just the beginning of me getting to grips with things again and I’m excited, you know?”

“Do you know that it is?”, he continues before we sign off, “you kind of have to be fed up with something for there to be change, and I’m not sure what I’m fed up with at the moment. And to be honest”, he says 10,000 words and four hours of interview time later, “I’ve always just wanted to let my music do the talking anyway.”

You can trace Joker’s discography and buy records direct via Bandcamp:

https://joker.bandcamp.com/

— Joker —

Part One of a special two-part interview with Joker — Here he is on growing up in Bristol, Kold Hearted Krew, decks, keyboards, Rooted Records, Fruity Loops and Skepta’s ‘D.T.I.’

(All photos submitted by Joker)

When our FaceTime chat window opens up on Friday night, Joker sat comfortably in his home studio, walls adorned with hardware and equipment on different racks and instruments scattered across the room, I have no idea I’m about to get the full inside track into the formative years of one of UK dance music’s most unique minds. We speak for an hour and a half and only cover enough ground to make it to the story of ‘Gully Brook Lane’, originally released on Terrorhythm in 2008 — one of the OG Joker productions that would change his life forever. “There’s still loads I’m missing out”, he’d say at various points, exasperated by his own forgetfulness, but from his first experiences of hearing music to his first experiences of buying music, he tells his story with passion and heart. This is part one of that conversation.

“I guess not much has changed for me over the last few months”, he says with a wry smile when I ask about how he’s been getting on. “Producers like me have kinda been hermits from day one, do you know what I mean? Obviously gigs have gone and most people I know survived by being on the road so it’s a bit long to see everyone going through a difficult time. But that aside, it’s been a good time to just think, bruv. A time to not panic. It’s not every year you get time to yourself for a few months.”

After sharing a back-and-forth about playing at the new defunct Mint Club in Leeds back in 2009, one of my own most cherished clubbing memories, Joker starts to dial the clock back. A hoarder of production files and data by his own admission — “I always think they might be important one day” — he still has some of his earliest Joker beats from 2004/5 saved on a hard drive, which he and his girlfriend recently started to sift through. “Sometimes there’s beats I can have made in like, 2009, and I’ll like them but then I’ll think to myself, what’s going on in 2009?”, he says. “Even thought I don’t really operate by looking at what’s going on around me, sometimes things don’t feel right. Then, three years later, four years later, I’ll be like ‘bruv, this is READY!’. This makes so much more sense now.”

Weaving in and out of memories, almost like filing cabinets opening in his mind as we talk, conversation quickly turns to his first interactions with music; Joker knew from a young age that he heard music differently to everybody else. “I remember as far back as being the kid who would get in the back of my mum’s friend’s car and ask them if I could change the equaliser settings on their speakers”, he says with total conviction. “As a kid, I could just hear it. I knew it wasn’t right, I knew things could sound so much better.” He also recalls hearing and immediately liking jungle and the music on the computer games he used to play. “Sonic, all the SEGA shit really, I loved that stuff”, he says smiling. “The Nintendo shit was great as well but I never had a Nintendo, so I’d just hear it now and again. I guess it’s the same for all kids really, whether they’re aware of it or not, computer game music is a big thing. For our generation it was anyway, I feel like computer game music now is just one of his tunes, one of her tunes, one of their tunes on a playlist.” Would he like to score a computer soundtrack one day? “Ah yeah bruv, of course. I’d merk that quickly!”

“I remember as far back as being the kid who would get in the back of my mum’s friend’s car and ask them if I could change the equaliser settings on their speakers.”

He was also influenced by the music his mum would play at home in Bristol, where he was born and still lives; ‘90s RnB, jungle, dancehall. But there was one of other genre of music that sounded different to everything else he was familiar with. “There was something that’d always make me feel a certain type of way when I heard it and that was garage”, he explains. “I loved jungle but as a kid, I could really feel garage, I could hear how two different tracks worked. It wasn’t the first track I knew but I definitely remember hearing ‘Little Man’, (a now iconic record lifted from Sia’s second album ‘Hearing Is Difficult’ back in 2001, produced by Wookie), when I was about 11 or 12 bruv.”

“What else do I remember?”, he says to himself, leaning back in his chair and looking around the room. “I remember having a keyboard, definitely. I remember there was a car garage about 10 doors down from my house and after 5pm, they’d close. At the front of that garage, there was a plug on one of the outside walls. There was a plug, bruv. So I used to take my keyboard down the road, plug it in outside the garage and play little demo songs and hit the keys. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing but you remember what it was like growing up in the ‘90s bruv. There was NOTHING to do, but in a good way. It’s what kids need now I think. Like there’s only so many times you can play Sonic before you die and you need to turn it off.”

Soon, the family would move house and to a different area of Bristol and Joker found himself swapping the keyboard for his FM dial. “I remember being sat in my bedroom, it was between 8 and 10pm, I’m still a young kid at this point. I’m dialling through the radio … ah bro, this makes us sound so old. It’s not really an age thing, but more a technology changing kinda thing innit? Anyway I’m dialling through the radio frequencies, I don’t really know what I’m looking for but I’m just moving it around. All of a sudden I landed on this one frequency and bruv”, he says with a dramatic pause, “I can hear stuff that I like but even better. It’s not just one song, or two or three, or on a tape my mum’s playing. It was just this! Loads of different versions and variations of sounds I’ve never heard before. I know my brain works quite quick but I’m just stuck, staring at this radio dial. I can’t even explain how it felt. I could hear man spitting bars, I’m just hearing riddims. For the first time in my life, and bear in mind I’ve always loved music, always had a Walkman, always listened to riddims, but for the first time it was just like, ‘WHAT THE FUCK?!’. For the rest of that week I was tuning my radio dial, bruv. I kept doing it until I remembered what day the show was running, what time it was on, who the people and DJs were and I would make sure I’d tune in. I guess it was grime, but people were still calling it garage at the time, as well as playing garage records alongside it. I’m pretty sure that was one of the first times I found myself super gassed about music and wanting to know more.”

As a kid, Joker recalls always having a makeshift setup in his room too; he was obsessed with getting music to sound right, whether it was ‘Little Man’ or crackly pirate radio broadcasts. “I had a system in my room yeah, a small system, some shit amp and about 25 speakers, bruv. Seriously, I would just collect speakers. They’d go into different places in my room and I’d wire them all back to this one amp. I was there thinking I was creating some mad wall of sound and honestly, it sounded like shit. There was no bass, it wasn’t setup right. But I guess I’ve always been into music, like somehow it’s just been there, in me.”

“I had a system in my room yeah, a small system, some shit amp and about 25 speakers, bruv. Seriously, I would just collect speakers.”

Secondary school was also fertile ground for his musical obsessions to grow and start to take shape. Joker went to primary and secondary school with his friend Ashley, son of Roni Size, who he’d known since he was five years old and would inadvertently introduce him to a crew that would change his trajectory for good. “Ashley was in a crew called Kold Hearted Krew”, he says matter of factly, “or KHK. A few of them went to our school and a few went to other schools, like Buggsy. Have you heard of Javeon McCarthy (now known as simply Javeon) as well? He was Kold Hearted Crew too. It seems like so long ago now, but when you’re young everything just feels like a blur.”

“What I remember about back then”, he continues, “was that they were all sick. I remember hearing Ashely’s beats and as a kid, just being exposed to new shit that he was coming up with and being like ‘YOU MADE THAT? LIKE, HOW? HOW DO YOU MAKE MUSIC LIKE THAT?’. Anyway, it was at that point I knew I needed to get decks. I’d tried spitting bars but I didn’t like my voice. I still don’t like my voice. I knew that I needed to DJ because I was not spitting bars, bruv.”

How he’d go about acquiring decks was a different matter. He knew a guy who lived up the road from him was moving house and had put his turntables up for sale for £350 — “I thought that was a pretty good deal back then, even now to be honest” — and knew that he just had to get them. “My mum had bought me some belt drives from Argos for about £40 a little bit before this point, but they were pants, they just weren’t the ting. I sent them back and one day I remember my mum was really, really, really tired, so I begged her for the £350”, he says, laughing.”It was money under the bed so to speak, things weren’t on a silver spoon for me but at that time, there was money there. I remember saying to her like, ‘this guy’s gonna go … I’ve just gotta get these decks!’. You know when you’re a kid and you’re tying to convince someone something is a good idea, it was like that. I pushed for long enough that she eventually was like ‘just take it!’. I counted up the money, went up the road and paid the guy. He gave me a shit mixer, two 1210s and bruv, somehow I’ve been able to swindle myself the top setup, which felt like it was impossible. So now, I’ve got two decks and a mixer on the floor yeah … and no records.”

He would go on to borrow his mum’s make-up table to use as a desk for his 1210s, and started out on the quest to find and buy records. “I remember the first few records I owned … ‘Urban Hero’ by Jameson, and these times you could just pick up bigger records in HMV. You couldn’t get the underground crud but some of the more commercial bits were in there. When did Ja Rule first come around? ‘Always On Time’ … 2001 that’s it. I think I had that on CD or vinyl. Ah, I remember I got a bunch of Bingo Beats records off someone as well, because Zinc was selling those like hot cakes back then, they were popular.”

“Now”, he continues, building suspense as if narrating his own audio book, “my next move is to find a crew. Man ain’t EZ you know? In those days, I needed to be in a crew. At the time, there was a DJ called DJ Chucky and he played with Kold Hearted Krew. He was a bit older but he was really sick. In all honesty, I was shit, bruv. I was shit. I had zilch idea. I didn’t know that if one record was playing at one speed and if the other one was slower, you’d have to speed it up. No one told me, bruv. Who was I gonna ask? The internet doesn’t exist, how do you DJ?”.

“I didn’t know that if one record was playing at one speed and if the other one was slower, you’d have to speed it up. No one told me, bruv. Who was I gonna ask?”

For all his early struggles behind a pair of decks, it didn’t stop Joker from leaving the house without his record box. He took it everywhere — “I just loved it bruv, so much” — and he recalls being able to just walk all over Bristol and find places to play whatever records he had; youth centres, people’s houses, random spaces he’d stumble across. He was now at the point where he felt fully immersed in KHK and was invested in records; he was buying regularly, even managing to get hold of some of his favourite Geeneus 12”s. Under the surface though, he felt like he couldn’t just be a DJ. Crews were making songs. He needed to make beats.

“At this point, there was no money under the bed”, Joker recalls. “We can’t afford a computer, do you know what I mean? My mum had a friend, and I still see him at the gym sometimes now, who I still have a lot of respect for. I’ve not said this to him before but I think there’ll come a time where I have to say, ‘you bought my first ever computer for me’. I would go round his house and chill and he’d have a desktop computer that he’d let me use. He bought a record for me as well, a Geeneus record I really wanted, and music has always been emotional for me, it hits man differently you know? So when he did that, I said to him, ‘fam, you have no idea’. I had no money, the internet’s not really around, record stores were only just starting to move their catalogues online. It was emotional. I now had this mad record that I could play at every speed until I got bored.”

“I knew a guy who was selling a computer”, Joker continues, “and I let my mum’s friend know because he knew a lot about computers and just asked if he thought he’d be able to help. Without hesitation, he bought me the computer, bruv. That was it. I had 1210s, a mixer and now a computer. The next challenge was making beats.” His friend and fellow KHK member Ashley, who was emceeing and producing under the name Dvs at the time, was already well versed in Fruity Loops, which would serve as Joker’s entry point into software; “I remember going round to his house one day and just saying, bruv, show me.”

He’d watch Ashley build drum patterns and was shocked by how easy it seemed — “I was saying to him, man can play James Bond on piano” — but was still yet to have a go at making his own original music. “Fruity Loops to me was a demo that you download, that you make songs in, and when you finish one, you export it and close it and there was no saving”, he says intently. “You don’t save songs, you don’t reopen songs, there’s no plugins, that is that. Obviously now I’d never be cool with that but back then I was like, ‘I AM MAKING MUSIC, BRUV!’.

The first Joker beats he got down in Fruity Loops were remakes of tracks he loved, but didn’t have a vinyl copy of; songs he could only find via a radio rip or through a recording on an old tape. Checking Discogs before playing a clip of ‘I Will Not Lose’ by Wiley (producing as Wiley Kat) featuring Breeze, Danny Ishance & Jet Lee, he’s shocked to find out it was released in 2001. “Bruv, I had no idea where to get it, but I wanted it and I needed to hear it … so I made it”, he says humming the track’s beat. “I didn’t make my own version either, I just re-made it to sound just like the original. It helped me as well because I needed to see how something was made, to understand what it looked like on a screen.”

At this point, Joker still couldn’t DJ. “Believe it or not, I had a dream”, he says sheepishly. “And in that dream, I put my hand on a record to speed it up and I started moving the pitch fader at the same time to catch it up with the other record. I woke up and I thought, ‘bro, I know how to beat match’. I swear on my life, I woke up and it was like ‘I’M IN!’. I used to look on records, looking at the 45rpm and the 33rpm speeds thinking that there was a gonna be a +1 or a +2 that’d tell me where to pull it. I had no idea. But yeah, I knew how to DJ from that moment. I’d only get about 20 seconds of chopping where it’d match up, because at this point I wasn’t up to being able to hold a mix, but it was a start.”

“Believe it or not, I had a dream and in that dream, I put my hand on a record to speed it up and I started moving the pitch fader at the same time to catch it up with the other record. I woke up and I thought, ‘bro, I know how to beat match’. I swear on my life, I woke up and it was like ‘I’M IN!’.”

It wasn’t long after learning to beat match that Joker and KHK got their first ever radio show, on a Bristol station called Reality FM — the same radio station that first exposed him to the mind-altering garage beats he’d tuned into three years before; it felt like he’d made it. “It’s hard to explain how ghetto it was”, he says, laughing. “I know people have seen photos of the old Rinse FM studios and the flats, but this shit was worse. It was just off Stokes Croft and it was basically down a small lane. You’d get to a door and to get in, you had to kinda bust it open. There was a staircase full of rubbish, bruv. I used to go radio holding my nose. To this day I have no idea who owned that place or what was going on, but once you got upstairs, there were belt drive turntables in a small room and yeah, we had our time there. Back then, man was ‘GASSED’! For real though, the thought that people could be listening in was massive for us. Even though it was just the beginning, we felt like we’d made it, we had our Bristol ting. It was real.”

Moving house again, Joker had now caught the bug. His appetite for consuming, making and playing music was now insatiable. After going through a few more computers pretty quickly, he recalls being so desperate to keep making beats that he took a disused computer from somebody’s front garden with fellow KHK member Scarz and took it home, plugging it in to find out it actually worked. “I think the hard drive space may have been 4GB”, he explains, almost in disbelief. “Somehow I had to get Fruity Loops downloaded and all my files and programs on there. Bruv, we were deleting vital components that the computer needed to run to make space to record more vocals through headphones. We didn’t have a mic, bruv. We just used whatever we had available and in those times, we really appreciated that. We were gassed to record through whatever side of the headphone we could and show people these songs.”

“Bruv, we were deleting vital components that the computer needed to run to make space to record more vocals through headphones.”

Armed with a growing catalogue of original material, Kold Hearted Krew started to play out in Bristol. “There was two specific youth clubs we played at but to us, none of it was real yet”, Joker explains. “Like, to me, there was Pay As You Go and Heartless Crew. At that age, they all seemed like big, grown men with money, with their own cars, who could get on a stage and do what they wanted and that was it. We weren’t even allowed to be in proper clubs, let alone put on our own nights, but there was one youth event that I can remember was really important to me because it went so well. No one got caught up in anything, there we no fights. It was just three local crews, a four hour show, I think we played first or second. My hands were shaking putting the needle on my records but it was probably the first time in my life where I felt like we were a part of something, I was a part of something.”

“The other DJs with the other crews were six, seven, eight years older than me, so they felt old, they were grown to me”, Joker continues, “and they came over to ask what was in my record box, like I had something that they wanted. It was mad, I felt like ‘bruv, we’re doing this!’.The night itself went sick and everyone had a good time and we just found ourselves thinking about when we could do the next one.”

An introvert by his own admission, the idea of going to clubs was daunting at first — “man don’t dance either, fam” — but he recalls going to see So Solid Crew, one of the first nights he ever went to, as being pivotal in changing his perception of what the club was like and how live music could inspire. “A couple of the So Solid guys came down to Bristol and I went along with a few people from Kold Hearted Krew. We were right at the front and there were loads of people around, everyone looking much older and gyal looking peng, and everyone was jostling and banging into me, I didn’t really know what to do. I was super awkward but I really enjoyed it.”

Joker also recalls another night, this time at Club UK — a problematic venue in the city that has since changed its name numerous times. Waiting outside, Dvs met a young DJ Target, who’d just finished playing a set inside. “One of the big records on road at that time was ‘Poltergeist’, remember that one?”, he asks quizzically. “Dvs, who was a lot louder and more extroverted than me, went up to him to say hello and they got chatting. Target ended up giving him a copy of ‘Poltergeist’, which of course became my record ‘coz I was the DJ! Back then, everyone had vinyl with them at shows and whatever, so it was a good way of networking.”

In and amongst all of this, Rooted Records — a legendary record shop in Bristol in the 00s — had also become a crucial part of Joker’s everyday musical life. The shop counter was often manned by Peverelist, now one of the city’s most iconic exports and a vastly influential producer in his own right, and it quickly became its own community, as well as a vehicle for Joker to experience records he never thought would be available to him. “To me, that place felt like Peverelist’s record shop because I bought most of my music from him”, he says warmly. “He’s been here, do you know what I mean? Like I said, I didn’t have a lot of money, I didn’t really have the internet. Internet back then for me was a cafe. I couldn’t go to London to pick up all these big garage or grime records, like someone like DJ Spiney could. He was a bit older, a sick DJ from Bristol, but he had the money to be able to go to London and get all of these records. He had everything, to the point that he could talk to some of the London DJs at the time, it was incredible.”

“It got to the stage where I started going to Rooted Records with or without money, it was like reading a newspaper for man”, Joker continues. “Being able to go there kept my brain stimulated. I bought a lot of records from there, but one record I always wanted and was mythical to me at that age, was ‘D.T.I.’ by Skepta. He was one of the sickest producers growing up but to be honest, grime was my favourite producer growing up. All of the records I own and all of the records I don’t own are my favourite producers, bruv. Anyway, one day I’ve gone in to Rooted and Skepta’s just released ‘D.T.I.’ as a two-pack release on Dice Recordings. I’ve gone in with my brother Otis, and he’s in a pram. He’s 18 now so this must have been about 15, 16 years ago. I saw ‘D.T.I.’ on the racks and I was like ‘OHHHH FUCK’. I can’t explain or accentuate the feeling of what it’s like to see a song because music to people now is just, ‘IT’S OUT’, and you can see what artists are up to every day. Nothing is a secret now, bruv. Even the most mysterious people aren’t mysterious anymore because they’re on the internet.”

“I can’t explain or accentuate the feeling of what it’s like to see a song because music to people now is just, ‘IT’S OUT’, and you can see what artists are up to every day. Nothing is a secret now, bruv. Even the most mysterious people aren’t mysterious anymore because they’re on the internet.”

“Anyway, to see ‘D.T.I.’ on the wall, like I can’t download it, I can’t stream it, the only way for me to able to appreciate this is by waiting for it to arrive at the shop”, he says. “I picked up my brother Otis out the pram and I said to Pev, just hold Otis for me for a sec, I remember it like it was yesterday. I picked up the vinyl, put it on the 1210, put the headphones on and my mind started to explode. I was trying to take it in, looking at the record, the sleeve, everything. I looked at Pev and I said, ‘bruv, how much is this?’. I think he said it was something like £15 so I just looked at him and said, ‘bro, I’ve got £5 and I cannot leave without this record’. He looked at me and said, ‘it’s cool, it’s cool, take the record and bring me the other tenner another time’. I was so thankful. It’s hard to explain that transaction; unless someone’s our age, it’s hard to put it into words. I went straight to Ashley’s house and was just holding the record, screaming at him like, ‘LOOK, LOOOOOOOK!’. We played it and both of us realised that I now had a bomb in the record bag, bruv. Everyone was gonna want to hear this, everyone was gonna wanna spit on it.”

Joker would also end up with another classic slice of grime wax, but this time courtesy of Blazey Bodynod — another iconic Bristol figurehead. “Blazey gave me a test pressing of Wiley – ‘Morgue’ because he thought it sounded shit. Do you know hard that was to get?! Even Spiney, who had everything, didn’t have it! At that time, it was hard to gauge what was real and what wasn’t on vinyl because there we so many copies and bootlegs knocking about, but I’ve gone home and listened to ‘Morgue’ and thought, ‘yeah there’s no way he’s getting this back’. The next KHK radio slot has come up and it was SP’s (St Paul’s Crew) set before us and we were kinda like the younger version of them. You know when you know you’ve got something good coming up, but you wanna keep it a secret? It’s hard. Having ‘Morgue’ on vinyl was like one of those secrets back then. I had to try not to tell anyone, which was really hard for me by the way, so I could just drop it on radio and watch everyone be confused, bruv. It’s got to my time on deck and it’s a normal radio show, I’m flexing 2-2 vinyl and it’s just kinda practice hours, exercise for everyone in the crew. Then all of a sudden, everyone hears ‘Morgue’ coming in. Obviously my face is all like sheepish and kinda coy, I’ve looked around and everyone is losing their minds. I think I ended up playing it 10 times at least, it kept getting jacked and jacked and jacked, everyone wanted a go on it.”

He’d later go onto see Wiley live for the first time after he played a show at Level in Bristol. Walking through the crowd, Joker knew he recognised him but had never seen him up close; “I just knew I was into all his music”, he notes. “Everything feels so normal now, like meeting people and working with people, it’s become my career but back then bruv, especially without the internet, it was crazy. Again, Ashley, just like with DJ Target, went up to Wiley that night and was like ‘yo, yo, yo’ and started chatting to him. A few days later, I’m at home and I get a phone call and it’s Ashley. ‘Bruv, Wiley wants your number’, he said, deadly serious. I was like, ‘what, why?!’ kinda thing but Wiley ended up calling me and saying this and saying that, but he always sounded hectic and busy. It got to a point where I knew nothing would come of it, but to have him on the end of the line as a teenager was mad, still.”

These formative moments would soon form the catalyst for Joker to starting to take his own productions more seriously. Inspired by Garage, computer games, Dr Dre and the G-Funk sound of West Coast rappers — “anything that’s synth-y, jazzy and gritty at the same time” — his first proper beats were lacking the kind of knowhow that would allow him to create the sounds that he was envisioning in his head to start with. “I’ve always been into synths and grime was largely synth-based”, he recalls. “Garage and grime really inspired me, the G-Funk stuff, I was quite clear about what I liked but getting it down on a computer was still something I needed to learn. But even then, I’ve always been me, at whatever stage in my career I’ve been at. The more I learned, the more I tapped deeper into what I was actually trying to express if that makes sense.”

“I’ve always been me, at whatever stage in my career I’ve been at.”

It was through meeting a friend called Henry that Joker was able to learn more about the technical side to physical production too; “I’d just go over there and take a bunch of my files”, he recalls. Henry’s studio, situated above his brother’s pub, was the home of Dub Studio, where he would cut dub plates for DJs in the local area, including Joker. He was also the person to introduce Joker to Pinch, who ended up heading over to Joker’s mum’s maisonette — “it was just floorboards and ting but I was cool back then” — to listen to some of his beats. Those early music sharing sessions ended up seeing Joker getting booked for Dubloaded — a small club night ran by Pinch himself. “For me, that was a key waking-up sort of moment”, Joker reflects. “Until then, I was just a grime kid. If you’d played me anything else at that time, I was not trying to hear it bruv, but I knew Pinch and these guys were making 140 stuff. It might have been called dubstep at that point, it might not, but I knew the bits he was making was dark. A lot of the really early dubstep stuff at that time was not for me because it was so low frequency. I needed that raw, grime energy.”

His first Dubloaded booking saw Joker play at The Croft to a room about half-full. Nervous, he took to the stage with a collection of his own dubs, cut by Henry at Dub Studio, as well as the series of rare grime bits that he’d been picking up however he could. “I played and everyone enjoyed it, there were no fights and crucially, there was no need for an MC”, he says steely-eyed. “I went home and it was like, ‘what the fuck just happened?’. People were happy to watch me DJ and play riddims with no MCs. You’ve gotta think, that does not exist to me at this point. It made me realise that I could put my own energy into running riddims for people. That was a key moment for me; I knew that I could now make music and people would listen to it.”

This change in tact saw Joker channel his efforts into writing new original music, ultimately producing ‘Gully Brook Lane’ — one of his earliest and best-loved productions. It was supposed to form his first ever release but ended up following ’Stuck In The System’ as his second, released by Plastician on Terrorhythm in 2008. “I remember specifically wanting to make something that was a grime track that feels British and gritty but with that West Coast funk thing going on. I remember finishing it and I didn’t know straight away, but something felt different, I kinda liked it. I gave it to Double from SP Crew in Bristol, he recorded a vocal version and obviously at this point, I’m a yute. I didn’t know what to do with the music I was making, I just knew I had to keep going and things would show themselves.”

“Anyway, by this point, I’d got the internet and I had MSN Messenger”, Joker continues. “I remember adding JME because his addy popped up somewhere and I was so gassed to be networking and by this whole online thing. I went to the bathroom, came back and he’d sent a stream of messages like, ‘Who is this? 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, BLOCKED!’ and I was like ‘ahhhh’ (laughs). I’d managed to send ‘Gully Brook Lane’ to a full people anyway, but it got leaked somehow. One day, I got sent a rip of the track via MSN and it was like Flow Dan, Skepta, JME and I can’t remember who was DJing, maybe Logan Sama or Maximum, but all I could hear was ‘Gully Brook Lane’ getting jacked probably 10 times. They were losing their minds and at that time, don’t forget how much I was inspired by Sketpa, I couldn’t believe it.”

“I remember adding JME (on MSN Messenger) because his addy popped up somewhere and I was so gassed to be networking and by this whole online thing. I went to the bathroom, came back and he’d sent a stream of messages like, ‘Who is this? 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, BLOCKED!”

Closing out our first conversation with little pause for breath, it clearly felt like ‘Gully Brook Lane’ was Joker’s eureka moment.The years of hard work and pure love of music had finally come to fruition in the form of a track that encapsulated everything Joker was about — he’d struck a sweet spot, found his production niche and caught the attention of his favourite producer and MC all at once. “The door had now been opened”, Joker concludes proudly, “and I was like, ‘alright, I’m in’.”

Part Two of Joker’s interview goes live next Sunday (July 12) at 6pm BST: https://polymerzine.club/

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY ™ —

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

(Lemzly Dale)

Album of the Month: Various – ‘Pearly Whites Vol.4’ (Pearly Whites)

Expertly curated new-gen sounds from one of Bristol’s true stalwarts

Highlights

1. Lemzly Dale – ‘More Life’

2. Bengal Sound – ‘Boy Wonder’

3. DJ Pop Shuv – ‘Cha Kno’

Lemzly Dale has quietly gone about his business for a long time now. From first establishing Sector 7 alongside Boofy back in 2013 to releasing his own grime cuts on White Peach, flinging out low-key hip-hop beats under his Pea Whitey moniker and overseeing his Pearly Whites imprint since 2016, he’s become one of Bristol’s most potent and conscientious exports. The fourth volume of his multi-artist Pearly Whites compilation series is a testament to that lineage, pulling in track contributions from the likes of Jammz and rising star Bengal Sound, as well as close affiliates Modelle and INVADER SPADE, all of whom zero in on a markedly distinguished sound that flits between grime, downtempo hip-hop and jazz. Our tips include the silky-smooth piano keys vs hardbody chops of DJ Pop Shuv’s ‘Cha Kno’ and the undeniable, late-night swing of Lemzly Dale’s ‘More Life’. All proceeds from the sales of ‘Pearly Whites Vol.4’ are also being donated to and split between three charitable organisations — The 4Front Project, The Reach Out Project and The Stephen Lawrence Trust — to help improve the lives of disadvantaged young people in the UK. Big respect all round. 8/10

(Dexplicit)

Tune of the Month: Dexplicit – ‘Gotham’ (Beatcamp)

Grime for the big screen

If you’ve ever wondered what a grime beat made to capture the grandeur and opulence of a dinner party at Wayne Manor would sound like, look no further than Dexplicit’s ‘Gotham’ — hands down the grime instrumental of the year so far. After first teasing clips while sat in his car last year, it’s finally seen the light of day via P Jam’s Beatcamp label, alongside two other mercurial Batman-inspired instrumentals (‘Arkham’, ‘Exodus’). Grand, hyper-intense strings meet booming square-waves in a cinematic collision of truly epic proportions that’s already got us asking, when’s the sequel? 9/10

Boofy – ‘SYSTM 033’ (SYSTEM)

A killer 12”

Boofy’s production career has gone strength-to-strength over the last few years, perhaps aided by the excellent work he’s done overseeing his Sector 7 imprint — one of the UK’s crucial labels for wot-do-you-call-it grime/dubstep hybrids. His debut for V.I.V.E.K’s SYSTEM label feels like a great fit, A-side ‘Climbing Out Of Your Shed’ channeling the dark, guttural sounds and shadowy, unnerving energy of some of the label’s most distinguishable cuts. On the flip, ‘Your Shed’s Too Big’ is again murky, but this time offset with softer, warmer tones and a playful lead melody that certainly dials things down on the dread-o-meter. An excellent record and one that just might usher in a new chapter for Boofy’s future material. 8/10

Dark Tantrums – ‘Rootical’ EP (DAKU Records)

Mind your chestplate

Two hot and heavy cuts from dubstep OG Dark Tantrums here, with each track deploying enough bass-weight to trouble even the hardiest of systems. The dizzying synth work and muffled rave whistles of title jam ‘Rootical’ are quickly met with the sort of thumping, scatter-shot bass pressure that should really come with advance warning. On the flip ‘Are You Ready’ works a richer, deeper sound complete with short, entrancing vocal bursts and a bassline that feels almost reminiscent of JT The Goon & Dullah Beatz’s ‘Day One’. Tip! 7/10

Tik & Borrow – ‘Architecture’ EP (In:Flux Audio)

Huge!

A big, heavy-on-dread new EP from Tik & Borrow who hold nothing back across four weighty new cuts for In:Flux Audio here. Rumbling opener ‘Timelapse’ sees them join forces with Aztek and go all out on a track made for the darkest corners of the club, while ‘Apexx’ works a similar formula, only this time harder and more minimalist, running on pure bass-weight aside from short, breaks-y interjects. Third track ‘Mallet Dub’ is again deep and dark, but deft, snappy xylophonic melodies form a welcome respite from the bass onslaught, before Mungk turns in a stripped back, hyper-wobbly ‘Apexx’ remix to sign off. 7/10

Fiend – ‘Emeralds’ EP (Infernal Sounds)

A name to watch

Blissful next-gen transmissions from Fiend, who debuts on Infernal Sounds after first making waves on J. Sparrow’s Navy Cut imprint in 2018. Title-track ‘Emeralds’ is heavy on low-end but high on nifty, atmospheric touches, subtle key tones and energy shifts, while the distorted wobble and clunky percussion of ‘Solar’ signals a rougher, more industrial approach. The crackling textures, muffled birdsong and playful woodwind melodies of ‘Omen’ form a welcome left turn and apt sign-off point too, while there’s also space for Bukkha to fire off a subtle, thick-edged rework of ‘Emeralds’. 8/10

Various – ‘Trilogy Vol.1’ (Mean Streets)

Mean Streets by name, Mean Streets by nature

Trends’ Mean Streets label are at it again, this time in the form of a six-track all-stars 12” of sorts that samples some of the hardest instrumentals coming out of his camp at the moment. From P Jam’s frightening, breathless remix of D.O.K’s ‘Annihilate The World’ to the rip-roaring horror of garish Trends beat ‘Robots’, this isn’t a 12” for the faint-hearted. D.O.K, one of grime’s master beat-makers, also contributes one of his own in ‘Egg’ — a fraught, breakneck instrumental defined by its razor sharp claps and hyper-tense strings — while Boylan goes full dungeon on his mind-rattling remix of P Jam’s ‘Messed Up’. It’s left to P Jam and Dexplicit (‘Untitled’) and D.O.K (‘Doggz’) to sign off, with the twisted, barbarous energy of the latter forming a fitting closer to one of the year’s toughest 12”s. 7/10 

Jook – ‘Lookacha’ / ‘Unwary’ (Sector 7 Sounds)

Buy on sight (if there’s any copies left!)

Jook’s third outing with Sector 7 is arguably his best yet, a full-blooded exhibition of the type of moody, machine-tooled sonics that have become his calling card over the past five years. A-side ‘Lookacha’ is effectively beat-less for the opening minute, aside from looped vocal samples and muffled police sirens, before exploding into life with an onslaught of crunching, hydraulic bass stabs that never lets up. On the flip, ‘Unwary’ works a harder, trappier sound that feels every bit illuminated by icy, trinket-box melodies and hazy, washed-out undertones that see it land somewhere between winter dreamscape and The Nightmare Before Christmas. 9/10

Imajika – ‘Stagger’ EP (Subaltern Records)

Dangerous!

Huge, hi-energy dubstep through the lens of a new-school producer who only burst onto the scene in 2020. Opener ’Stagger’ is a monstrous entry point into Imajika’s music, firing off serious bass-weight and grizzly percussive flashes from the off, while the unnerving shimmer of the bustling ‘Until Pundi’ is equally as powerful. The rasping, jittery percussion and menacing sub of ‘Inside The Sycamore Root’ marks a slight left turn, before the contorted, whirring low-end of ‘Stoker’ takes things full circle. Final cut ‘Walking Through The Elephant’s Foot’ tones down the heat a touch, closing out on a deeper, heads-y, mystical note. An emphatic debut, for sure. 7/10

Kami-O – ‘Lightworks’ (Italdred)

Refreshingly good

A six-track collection of thoughtful grime instrumentals here from Kami-O, a Glasgow-based producer with a penchant for experimentation. Opener ‘Lightworks’ is a steadfast 8-bar beat that switches up periodically, albeit underpinned by hazy background tones that give it depth and colour, while bubbling second track ’Shinto’ is clearly inspired by East Asian sounds and instrumentation. There’s also room for oddball, industrial trap mutations (‘Computers’) and more nods to East Asia — the pan flute melodies on ‘East Wind’ are a real standout — before ‘Aura’ flips the script entirely. A gorgeous, multi-layered magic carpet of cut-and-paste sounds, ingenious sampling and delicate, playful strings, it demonstrates genuine compositional skill, which is only amplified by Argo’s bass-injected remix. A genuinely excellent record. 8/10

Monitor

This month, be sure to check Classical Trax’s ‘Architecture 2.0’, a second volume of their expansive compilation series detailing a mammoth 65 tracks across three separate chapters, released at individual points throughout June – fresh beats from a blossoming worldwide network of new-school grime producers including JEB1, SBUERS, College Hill, Ravver, HeedLess and Morten HD feature … Tectonic boss Pinch was also back with a new album this month, a full 13 years since his debut full-length record — ‘Reality Tunnels’ sees him flex all his production nouse across 10 meticulous new tracks, including standout cuts featuring Trim and Killa P … also be on the look out for Sukh Knight’s ‘Diesel Not Petrol’ Remix EP later this year, which sees a slice of early, iconic dubstep reimagined by Cimm along with a new VIP version and a remix of ‘Shutdown’ by Mystic State on the flip … and we’d also recommend checking big new records by SPEKt1 (‘Instinct’ EP), Gallah x Horrickle (‘Bookey BLVD’ EP) and TMSV (‘Abyss Watcher’), the latter of whom forms the debut release on freshly-minted London label, Sub Merchants. 

(Pinch by Dominika Scheibinger)