— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY ™ —

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

(EVA808)

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

A legacy realised

Highlights

1. DEMANTAR

2. BROKEN NEON

3. GOLD TOOTHED TIGRESS

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

(JLSXND7RS)

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

One of the best from two of the best 

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

Flava D – ‘Berlin’ EP (Bandcamp)

Grime history brought back to life 

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

Taiko – ‘Oaken’ (White Peach Records)

Ever reliable, ever superb

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

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

Big and bad!

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

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

Pure energy!

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

Drone – ‘Ghost Racer’ (Bandcamp)

Drone’s dark materials

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

Numan – ‘Replica’ EP (SPECIAL* REQUEST)

He’s back!

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

Felix Dubs – ‘Clarity’ (Red Lagoon)

Spreading his wings

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

Commodo – ‘Procession’ (Deep Medi Musik)

A master at work

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

Monitor

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

(LCY)

— Shae Universe —

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

(All photos submitted by Shae Universe)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Flava D —

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

(All photos submitted by Flava D)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Scully —

On Croydon, Southampton, God, divine timing, making ends meet, commentating, curating, Reprezent Radio, Noisey, No Signal, Copa 90 and learning to trust in himself.

(All photos submitted by Scully)

“Do you mind if I do a few things while we talk?”, asks Jason Kavuma, better known as Scully, early on Saturday morning, “I’ve got quite a lot on today”. Adorned in a No Signal jumper simply bearing the words Black Radio, he begins hanging his washing out to dry as we start our conversation. There’s a marked calmness about Scully from the outset, a quiet confidence that hangs on every word — an almost unshakeable belief in what he’s saying and what he stands for. His isn’t a story of overnight success, either, but more one of tireless, grinding resolve and a refusal to give up on his dreams. It may sound cliché, but for Scully — now one of the UK’s most prominent young media voices — hard work really does pay off.

“I feel like I’ve lived 2020 with survivor’s remorse”, he says pensively as we begin to chat, “because I’ve had a great year, but some people are really struggling. I know it’s not my fault …  maybe guilt isn’t the right word, it’s probably more somewhere in between guilt and empathy … but I do have to remember how blessed I am and how lucky I’ve been. There’s also been a lot of going on, a lot of black trauma … things going on in this life that nobody could have predicted … so there has been a lot of ebb and flow in some ways. Today, right now, I’m good, I’m quite happy. On Tuesday, I remember waking up feeling mad low but most other days this week, I’ve woken up and felt great, so I think it’s just a case of knowing yourself. I know who and why I am and I get a stronger sense of purpose about who and why I am each and every day … and that’s a great feeling.”

“I know who and why I am and I get a stronger sense of purpose about who and why I am each and every day … and that’s a great feeling.”

Born and raised to Ugandan parents in Croydon, South London via a stint in Southampton as a teenager, Scully has spent much of 2020 split between three places; first, a flat share in South London, followed by a spell back at his family home in Southampton before recently moving into his own flat in Norwood Junction. “From Mitcham up to West Norwood, that’s my family”, he says. “Basically this greater Croydon area, it’s just home. It’s funny, like, a lot of my friends and people in the industry are always asking me about moving here or there, but I never will. People don’t understand like, Croydon is home … it’s got a different energy, I feel. I always tell my mates, wherever they’re from … North London, West London, Birmingham … there’s a different vibe to Croydon. You know when you’re just on your strip? That’s Croydon to me. I know whenever I’m there, I’m comfortable, I’m about, I’m home.”

“Ah that KFC is my local spot”, he continues, after we trade stories about coming out of West Croydon station late at night. “I used to go to church along that road, and that KFC there, that was my Friday night treat with mum. We’d go there, get a bucket because my cousin would come over … they used to do Vienetta as well, I think it was called Vienetta? That was my treat, every Friday night.”

Scully spent his early years in Croydon — between Jasper Road in Crystal Palace and the Eastney Road estate in West Croydon — and recalls primary school was “alright”, before the family moved to Southampton once he reached high school age. It was a decision he initially lamented, but now credits with being integral to shaping his world view. “I was raised in a matriarchal household … I was a mummy’s boy first and foremost”, he says bluntly. “I also had a lot of older cousins but managed to strike a balance between being around both my male and female cousins. My female cousins put me onto quite a lot … RnB especially … but also I remember one of them putting me onto Dipset really early on, I must have been eight or nine. I was a Dipset fan from that point forward, to the point that I went to go and see Cam’Ron for my 21st birthday … it was that big of a deal for me. I was surrounded by family growing up really, so like, if my mum had to go to work or was away for a night, I’d end up with my cousins or at my aunts who weren’t really my aunts … just people on my road who were lovely.”

“Life was bless and then I remember when I was about 11 years old, my mum saying to me one day, ‘you’re not gonna get into the same trouble as your older cousins’”, he continues. “She told me she wanted to study for another degree and that she was enrolling in Southampton and I had to go with her. I remember hating it … like why? It moves me away from my friends, from the area …. I really loved ends. It’s weird because I didn’t ever see things being any bigger than my ends. You see in The Lion King where Mufasa, Simba’s dad, says ‘everything you see that the light touches, that’s our kingdom’? That’s what Croydon felt like to me. I remember going to Catford once to see my uncle and thinking, ‘oh my God, this is so far, what is this strange land?’. The minute I moved to Southampton, suddenly my world felt huge. Seeing a different place, a different makeup of people, to me it felt like the other side of the world. Seeing different lived experiences too was important. I went to a Catholic boys school because my mum thought that’s where I needed to go to stay out of trouble and it turned out to be really rough. I remember on my first day, someone tried to nank someone but the other guy had a set of knuckle dusters anyway, so he beat the shit out of this other kid. I remember going home and laughing at my mum like, ‘you moved me to get out of trouble and now look’. The kids on the school bus were like, ‘yeah, this is the worst school in this area’. I think she felt as long as I wasn’t in a gang, things were alright.”

“You see in The Lion King where Mufasa, Simba’s dad, says ‘everything you see that the light touches, that’s our kingdom’? That’s what Croydon felt like to me.”

“It did expand my world view though”, Scully continues. “There were kids in my class with six or seven bedroom houses out near the coast, whose grandparents had enough money to buy the house next door … like palaces, or that’s what it felt like. But then I had friends who lived in flats on the estate with me and it just felt like life in Croydon. We’d go out on our BMXs, play one-touch against the wall … basically I was seeing so many different levels of class for the first time. I’ll always be thankful for that experience because now I feel like I know how to speak to people without worrying about a communication gap or getting on people’s levels. Going to such a mixed school … I mean I had Polish friends, East and South Asian friends, black friends … both African and Caribbean … white friends, there was a big Irish contingency because it was a port city too, it was just such a big mix. Suddenly, I felt like I knew the world. Croydon is incredibly diverse too of course but I think if I’d stayed there for my high school years, it would have been easier to become quite insulated by cultural boundaries.  Going to a new city proper opened up my eyes.”

Music wise, Scully never felt bound by genres at home. His parents would play a whole mix of records; from gospel to country music, played by his dad, to reggae and an eclectic mix of pop and soul — from ABBA to Luther Vandross. “I guess they never wanted me to do anything in music”, he explains, “they just wanted me to appreciate it. It led them to encouraging me to pick up an instrument. They thought me playing something would make me a well-rounded person, and they’re the same with my little brothers now, but I don’t think they realised how enamoured with music I’d end up. I picked up the double bass when I was about seven … I’m not really sure why, it was just quite big and even at my young age, I realised that the double bass could lead me to the bass guitar and then hopefully jazz. I remember my first live performance in year 5 and my parents turning up really late in traditional attire in front of the entire school. At the time, I was really embarrassed but looking back, it was actually sick. They arrived just in time to see me perform and they stood out, which in turn, probably made me stand out. In essence, they indoctrinated me to love music without realising.”

“I remember my first live performance in year 5 and my parents turning up really late in traditional attire in front of the entire school. At the time, I was really embarrassed but looking back, it was actually sick. They arrived just in time to see me perform and they stood out, which in turn, probably made me stand out.

As a kid, his own music tastes mirrored the diversity of his parents’. He may not have bought classic records on vinyl, but genres were never an obstacle. “I liked everything”, he says with a shrug. “Good music was good music, that was it. I remember one birthday, I got a Busted CD but I also got a Jay Z CD … I wanna say it was ‘Reasonable Doubt’ and it wasn’t new, it was hand-me-down from my cousin … I had a Spice Girls cassette as well. It was the most random mix of stuff, but it just made sense in my immediate family home. It’s not that I didn’t know what genres were but it was never segregated, I just listened to music and enjoyed it. If I found something and I liked it, I’d become obsessed, that’s just how I am … I had to learn everything. I remember once we got dial-up internet, it was like ‘cool, now I’ve got AOL, I’m gonna watch everything’. Me and my cousins would spend hours watching MTV Base and MTV2, Kerrang! … everything. For me, there’s no point learning without learning enough to be the best and I’m lucky to have parents who reinforced that in different ways. My mum was always like ‘you can do whatever you want, I believe in you’, where as my dad’s view was ‘if you’re gonna do something, you better do it well’. Those two approaches levelled me out.”

After finishing school in Southampton, Scully went to college in the area, but dropped out after the first year; after almost eight years away, he had his heart set on a move back home to Croydon. “I told my mum I was going back and that was it”, he recalls. “I moved in with my aunt who was still living on the Eastleigh Road estate … big up my aunt Kate and my little cousin Jojo because they essentially put me up for a while. Big up God as well … I’m a Christian right and I think he’s definitely had a plan for my life because there’s certain things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have been able to do. For example, going to university … I didn’t even finish college, so I should never have gone. When I went to Southampton, I did this CAT test … a cognitive ability test basically … and when I got my results back, I got an abnormally high score and my teachers said it didn’t make sense, but confirmed that there was no way I could have cheated or had any sort of unfair advantage. I mean, there was definitely a few times I could have been expelled from that school, but they gave me the benefit of the doubt because they saw something in me. My entire school life ran off my potential and I think they were hoping I’d realise it one day.”

A special letter of recommendation from one of his teachers in Southampton would subsequently get him into Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford, where he would go on to study journalism; at this point, he was fixated on becoming a political correspondent. It was an ambition leveraged by the success of a blog he’d helped co-run with friend, Pete Simmons, while he was in college. “Pete had setup a blog called Push and brought me on board to share the work with him. Pete is from, I wanna say …. Winchester? Somewhere near Southampton anyway and I think someone had told him about me and how obsessed I was with new music. We were introduced, we got along and he ended up asking me to help run this blog with him. I mean, I was mad political and wanted to write about politics, but no one would give me the time of day. I was like 15, 16 and I had some good SATs results but you can’t email CNN and be like, ‘yo, I should be your political correspondent’. I took it as a sign that I should write about music until I’m 21 and then I’d be an adult and people would take me seriously. In my head as well by the way, I was sure I’d be a millionaire by the time I was 21 and I’d then be able to pivot. I genuinely believed that. I’m so lucky to have been surrounded by people in my life who helped me believe in myself. That’s another big part of success as well … not being afraid of failure. I was never scared to try my hand at anything.”

“I mean, I was mad political and wanted to write about politics, but no one would give me the time of day. I was like 15, 16 and I had some good SATs results but you can’t email CNN and be like, ‘yo, I should be your political correspondent’. I took it as a sign that I should write about music until I’m 21 and then I’d be an adult and people would take me seriously.”

With Push going from strength-to-strength, Scully had his first tase of recognition. He was creating, curating, influencing — and people were paying attention. It was at this point that Pete headed to London for university — “I’ve no idea which one because our relationship was just solely based on talking about music” — and was soon approached by the BBC. “He went to the BBC to work with Charlie Sloth I believe, but he was only there a year. Straight afterwards, he went to do publishing at Universal Music, mainly off the back of the work we were doing with Push. He’s still doing bits now, so I’ve got to big him up. I’ve got a lot of love for Pete because when we met, I was just any yout but he never treated me like that. We connected early on and it’s been love ever since.”

Scully’s time at university was chequered by his other ambitions — admittedly, he was never fully invested — but now based in East London, his world view continued to expand. “You see when you step off a plane in a new country? That’s genuinely what it felt like for me seeing new parts of London”, he says. Pete’s success opened his eyes too, if only to the existence of white privilege — “he deserved it fully, but there was probably a benefit to him walking into an office as a white kid as opposed to me as a black kid” — but also to his own detractions. “If I’m honest, I wasn’t ready for that type of responsibility then”, he admits. “I’d turn up to meetings smelling of weed, I’d turn up late. Basically I thought because I was good at what I did, that was it … like, who cares? I was very much of the mind set that people needed to accept me how I was, purely based on the fact I was good, which I think rings true to a point, but not as a 19 year old kid. But even then, I knew I was still funny … especially on Twitter.”

It was Scully’s exploits on Twitter that’d pique the interest of Alex Hoffman — former VICE / Noisey lead and acclaimed video director — who decided to offer Scully his first, fully-fledged music internship. “I came to his attention one day after tweeting VICE a bit recklessly in the early quote Tweet days”, Scully recalls. “It was something like, ‘you n****s hiring?’ in response to a Tweet they put out and loads of people started replying. Alex obviously saw it and reached out to me to say, ‘this shouldn’t be how it works but I’ve seen your tweets and you’re funny, you should come in and we can talk about an internship’. I went and met them and Alex reassured me that if I did the right things and was willing to work, I’d excel there because I had a lot of potential.”

Scully began his internship at Noisey, where he was tasked with mostly writing and covering stories on the website, but on occasion, he was also asked to head to video shoots and even work on some of his own content. “Alex opened my eyes to all the different things I could do”, Scully notes. “He knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also grew up idolising Dame Dash. He used to say to me, ‘you say you wanna be an A&R and you say you wanna be a writer, but there are so many other roles available to you in music media. I mean, I ended up being the assistant director for a Charli XCX video on literally my second shoot after being a runner for this Darq E Freaker video Noisey did on my first, so I guess he was right. I love to chat, so I spent a lot of time speaking to people and asking questions on those shoots. It’s one thing to be smart, but to be curious and ask questions is just as important.”

“It’s one thing to be smart, but to be curious and ask questions is just as important.”

Still enrolled at Anglia Ruskin whilst at Noisey, Scully also got a job at a nearby Pret-A-Manger to balance the books — the latest in a long line of jobs he worked to keep things ticking over. “People used to ask me like, ‘how do you manage to do it all at once?’. What people didn’t understand was that I’d been working three jobs since I moved back to London. I’d wake up at 4.30am to get to Pret for 5am and do the breakfast shift until 10am. It was literally around the corner from the VICE offices, so I’d head straight there afterwards and work until 2pm, sometimes until 4pm if I was needed, and then I’d hit the university library. I caned it like that for time. My worst job was as a door-to-door charity fundraiser, but I also worked part-time at Ladbrokes, I worked at Greggs … I did loads of odd jobs when I had to.”

“I’d wake up at 4.30am to get to Pret for 5am and do the breakfast shift until 10am. It was literally around the corner from the VICE offices, so I’d head straight there afterwards and work until 2pm, sometimes until 4pm if I was needed, and then I’d hit the university library. I caned it like that for time.”

Despite all his hard work, however, Alex and his other superiors at Noisey felt he still wasn’t ready to embrace his newly crystallised dreams of being a presenter — much to his own displeasure. “I thought I was ready to do it, so I felt like he was just hating at first”, Scully admits, “but what I didn’t realise was that he was helping me to grow during that period. About six months in, just as my internship was coming to an end, he said to me on the off chance, ‘I can see you’ve got the passion, you should try radio’ and ironically, Pete (Simmons) had said the same to me a few months before. They both told me to check out this placed called Reprezent Radio because the studio was in Peckham, which wasn’t far from home, and they had a few things going on. Up until that point, I’d never considered radio or even thought about it.”

At the time in 2013, Reprezent’s biggest show was hosted by Jamz Supernova, while Krept & Konan’s Play Dirty show — hosted by Docta Cosmic — was also a fixture. But by his own admission, nobody at the staton was a standout star yet. “Stormzy actually had a show too”, he recalls, “but the reason it was so big for me was because all these people were from ends. It made me feel like Reprezent was the place to be. It was at this point that I think this divine sense of timing intervened as well, because I went to Reprezent for the first time on a Saturday, just to introduce myself and ask about the possibility of getting the show. I knew I had to do my training and basically learn how to broadcast, but while I was there, there was a woman on air … and I can’t remember her name God bless her … but she was struggling. She seemed really nervous on the mic and station managers Adrian and Gavin asked if I could go and help her out a bit, just on the off chance. I don’t know why they thought me of all people would be a calming influence, but I went into the studio and tried to help. I ended up doing a bit of mic work while Adrian and Gavin were looking in from the outside. I thought they were thinking I’d done a terrible job, but when I came out they told me that I sounded really natural and couldn’t understand how I’d not done any sort of radio work before. I did listen to the radio for hours as a kid, especially on a Sunday, which was the only night I did any homework. I’d listen to the Sunday Surgery with Annie Mac and Nick Grimshaw, I remember I loved Zane Lowe because he played everything and obviously Westwood on 1Xtra. I actually remember my mum buying me this big, blue JVC thing for my 10th birthday, which was really special … but I’d never considered working in it at all before that day at Reprezent.”

It was in radio that Scully found the room to flourish. Reprezent offered him a chance to channel everything that came naturally — energy, humour and personality — into broadcasting. “I never really saw any of those things as skills, let alone transferable skills”, he acknowledges. Without any practical training however, it was difficult for them to offer him a show of his own. “I was just some random guy off the street at this point, so they offered me the chance to produce shows and do my training”, explains Scully, “and then fill in shows if there were any spaces. At the time, the Play Dirty show was a big one and it was often hosted by Docta Cosmic, who was Krept & Konan’s DJ. He ended up making me his producer and we’d text each other all the time, we’d line up the tunes we were gonna play … he even let me have mic time, doing the news and a run down of topical stuff that’d happened each week. To him, it was probably just a case of teaching someone a couple of years younger than him the ropes, but to me it was a big deal. Over time, because Krept & Konan were getting bigger and bigger, it meant that he could do the show less and less, which in turn meant that I ended up filling in quite a lot. I did it for long enough for Adrian & Gavin to reward me with my own slot, which was 10pm-12 midnight on a Friday.” 

What were those early shows like, I ask. “No features, just vibes”, he says, laughing. “I was literally just slapping tunes and then getting on the mic to say ‘yo, I love this one’. There were no genres, I just wanted to contextualise UK music … I thought I was the guy to do that, I felt like there was nobody better placed. I started using proper musical language to describe tracks as well, talking about arpeggios and production and shit like that. I was basically using my classical training vocabulary to describe early Naira Marley afro drill stuff. Adrian and Gavin were like, ‘this is sick, we get it and we love that you’ve got this passion for music but it doesn’t make sense for the show’. I’d play like Naira Marley, then something by Trim, into a track by Bloc Party … I dunno, I was literally playing everything. They knew I loved Zane Lowe but they were like ‘you can’t be Zane Lowe because this is a Friday night on Reprezent Radio’. That spurred me on to zone in on certain styles and bring in features to help contextualise the other stuff. My first feature was called Politically Peak, which I thought could help open up talking about politics for people my age and younger. I had another feature where I’d press play on the first three new tunes I could find in my inbox, which in essence, allowed me the chance to play a load of different genres. Over time, all those things helped me build a reputation as someone who would give time and attention to listening to new music and as a result, I ended up doing a load of first radio interviews with artists that have gone onto have a lot of success in their careers.”

“I started using proper musical language to describe tracks as well, talking about arpeggios and production and shit like that. I was basically using my classic training vocabulary to describe early Naira Marley afro drill stuff.”

Scully’s rise at Reprezent saw him become one of the station’s defining voices over the next five years, alongside the likes of Naina, Sherelle and now close friend and sparring partner, Joe Walker, as well as a host of other breakout names. The Sunday Roast, a weekly two-hour show hosted by Scully and Joe and centred around debate on any given week’s big cultural talking points, has also become a calling card for both Scully and the station as a whole, too. But in and amongst it all, he’d adjusted his sights. He now felt confident enough to approach labels, with his dream of becoming the next Dame Dash coming into the foreground of his thinking and growing seemingly more attainable by the day. A host of internships at first Secretly Canadian, followed by Island Records and a spell working with DJ Target at Pitched Up, granted him valuable experience. But he was soon faced with a familiar conundrum; was he actually ready?

“I was going to every show, every event, making the most of every opportunity that came my way”, Scully recalls, “and I felt I was good enough, I felt like I deserved it … but nobody gave me that chance. Adrian and Gavin at Reprezent knew I was desperate for a label job but I guess it was a bit like Alex at VICE … I wanna big up so many people now actually, Louis Melvin … it’s his birthday today so happy birthday to him … James Grant, Alex Hoffman, Darcus Beese, both twins, Alec and Alex Boateng … so many people saw me on my journey and all of them recognised that I had something that would one day pay off. But all of them turned me down at that stage of my career and between them, they made me realise the power of saying ‘no’. I felt like they were hating on me but looking back, I wasn’t ready. I was still smoking weed every day and just not really that interested in legitimate work … but I thought I was serious, like I really thought once I got this job, and I wasn’t really sure what that job would be at this point, I’d stop bunning all the time and become the guy. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was probably depressed. I was 23, 24 years old and I wasn’t coming to terms with not getting the roles that I wanted.”

Here, came a defining, make-or-break point in Scully’s career. Faced with leaving university, low on money, living on a mattress on his cousin’s floor and struggling to break into the industry beyond his work at Reprezent, he was faced with the offer of making some quick cash through one of his older cousins. “I remember looking at him once he told me and just saying no, there and then”, Scully explains, eyes fixed sternly on the camera lens. “I told myself I had to stop doing all that dumb stuff, I had to stop smoking weed … none of it felt conducive to me working in the industry I wanted to work in. I had a couple of options … either carry on doing what I was doing, knowing that I’d be alright working part-time at Foot Asylum and staying on my cousin’s floor. I could go back to university, which I actually considered after enrolling at London Metropolitan University, one of the few places that would have me … or I could throw everything I had at music for one more year. I remember, a few months later, I’d actually started working part-time at Ladbrokes in Thornton Heath and Sleeks from Section Boyz walked in and was like, ‘Scully, what are you doing here?’. At this point, like I’d had my face about but I wasn’t really known outside of small circles to be recognised like that. For him to ask what I was doing working there, it kinda hit home. I just said I needed a job and he replied, ‘yeah, but you’re Scully’ and walked out. That was literally all he said. I remember looking at the clock from behind the counter and thinking, ‘rah’. There and then I realised I was depressed. I was working 4-8 hour shifts and I just hated it, so much … to the point where I did not care about looking after myself. I’d genuinely cross the road without looking, I just didn’t care … that was the mindset I was in.”

“I’d actually started working part-time at Ladbrokes in Thornton Heath and Sleeks from Section Boyz walked in and was like, ‘Scully, what are you doing here?’. At this point, like I’d had my face about but I wasn’t really known outside of small circles to be recognised like that. For him to ask what I was doing working there, it kinda hit home. I just said I needed a job and he replied, ‘yeah, but you’re Scully’ and walked out. That was literally all he said. I remember looking at the clock from behind the counter and thinking, ‘rah’.”

When he needed it most, divine timing would strike again for Scully. A few days before his 25th birthday in 2018, he received a call from Louis Melvin — once a former grime MC known as Loudmouth — a TV and content producer, working on everything from Channel 4’s acclaimed Four To The Floor (FTTF) docu-series to recently launched Beats By Dre content content series, Agenda. “I get a call from Louis and he’s like, ‘we’re working on this iconic program called Yo! MTV Raps, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it’ and I was like ‘I’m a rap geek, of course I have!’. He explained they were looking for someone young, well connected, passionate and who knew music inside out to help produce the show. I was like, ‘cool, do you want me to recommend some names?’. It turns out, he wanted me to come onboard and I was like, ‘what, really?’. He’d seen the work I’d done at Reprezent, especially the playlist job which Adrian had given me … I looked after what went on the station’s various lists each week basically. That in itself had brought me to Louis and James Grant’s (fellow producer) attention again, which was funny because I actually met them both as an 18 year old and they always told me one day I’d be ready. I knew they probably didn’t see me ever being a presenter myself, but the offer of helping produce the show was far better than being at Ladbrokes. I told my boss at Ladbrokes that I needed six weeks off to film this TV show, because I was gonna get paid decent money … not life changing but better than I’d get working there … and then come back. I wasn’t gonna try and take it was holiday or anything like that. My boss was like, ‘if you go, you can’t come back’ and I paused for a second, looked at him and just said, ‘it’s not much of a threat really because this job is shit, bruv … if you don’t let me come back, that’s fine but good luck to you lot because working here is shit’.”

‘So, a day before my 25th birthday, I left Ladbrokes and these times, the Yo! MTV Raps thing isn’t confirmed, it’s just an offer at this stage”, he continues. “I wake up on my birthday, get a call and Louis is like ‘Happy birthday bruv, I’ve got some good news mate … it’s happening, you’re coming on board as a producer’. Somehow, I ended up working an events production job for a company called Break Communications in Carnaby Street and producing for Yo! MTV Raps for the next six months. I felt that after all that, combined with radio productions and my playlist job at Reprezent, I’d walk into a label job the following January, no problem.”

As it turns out, said label job didn’t materialise, but Scully was finally on the right path — things were starting to align. A few days before his 26th birthday, he was approached by the BBC to undertake some freelance work. “They were impressed with what I ended up doing for them” he recalls, “and that was it. They reached out and were basically like, ‘we should probably give you a job, we’re gonna be hiring in a few months’. They’d seen the work I’d done at Reprezent and knew I did it well, so felt like I could easily come across and be an assistant producer for them. Big up the BBC, because there’s a lot of good people there, a lot of people I’m still friends with and a lot of people I respect. I took the job and learned loads from people I knew were great presenters and who believed in me … people like MistaJam and Sian Anderson. Big up Sian especially, because she’s been putting me onto things for years. Working on Sian’s show was great because she knew me and what I was good at, so she had me on B-Mic, which led to MistaJam to promoting me to C-Mic on his show. It was sick because I was getting my voice heard on a drive-time show on the BBC … I’d have people snapping me saying ‘oh shit, I’m listening to 1Xtra and I can hear your voice’.”

It was at this point that presenting opportunities started to really take off. Scully had continued working with production company, Lemonade Money, who he’d worked with on Yo! MTV Raps, and was also working on a new show for E4 with Joe Walker and Zeze Millz, as well as influential YouTube platform, Copa 90, for whom he interviewed footballers like Mezut Ozil. Suddenly, everything was coming together. But was the BBC the place for him, I wondered? “It was funny because the BBC was quite strict”, he says. “Like, if you’re a producer at the BBC, they see you as a producer and that’s kinda it. That’s not a problem because it’s a great place to work but its hard to make that step up and be a presenter. Everybody knew I was desperate to be a presenter, not necessarily on 1Xtra, but they knew that I wanted to make radio and be heard. They spoke to me quite a bit about staying on and even just doing some work in a freelance capacity, but I think they could see my heart wasn’t in just doing the production work. I was seriously considering it for a while but I realised that I needed to take a risk to get where I wanted to be, so I decided to leave.”

It was a decision that’d place a lot of emphasis on 2020 being a defining one for Scully. He’d done his thousand hours, he’d acquired his experience — now it was about becoming the presenter he always knew he could be. “2020 was gonna be all about me focusing on my goals”, he affirms, “because I didn’t have any responsibilities and if everything failed, I could move back in with my cousin or my aunt … I could even move back in with my mum. I prepped to do all of this Euro 2020 stuff, a load of talks and documentaries with VICE … everyone was telling me I was finally ready and it was my time. Here I was, 26 years old and ready … five years late on my own deadline, but ready. Bang … COVID. It locked everything off. I was actually on my way to VICE’s offices to film part of a documentary on UK drill and I get a text to say that the offices are closed because of the new government guidelines and that they had to shut immediately. Don’t forget, back then everyone thought lockdown would last for two weeks and that’d be it, but I was monitoring the situation and I knew it was gonna be longer. In my head I was thinking maybe September, but not 2022 as it’s looking like now. I took it pretty well because I knew in my head that everything was gonna get called off already, but then I thought, ‘you fucking idiot … you’ve just left a stable, salaried job to go freelance and pursue your dreams and you can’t film or present anything for the next six months’. At that point, I felt like it was a wake up call. This was God telling me, ‘fam, this presenting thing is not for you, seckle’.”

“I took it (COVID) pretty well because I knew in my head that everything was gonna get called off already, but then I thought, ‘you fucking idiot … you’ve just left a stable, salaried job to go freelance and pursue your dreams and you can’t film or present anything for the next six months’.”

And then came No Signal. Widely considered one of the UK lockdown’s biggest success stories and with it, a powerful and much-needed celebration of global black music culture, Scully’s role in the station’s remarkable rise cannot be underestimated. Alongside fellow presenter and previous Polymer interviewee, Henrie, and station owners Jojo and David Sonubi, not to mention a host of other DJs, broadcasters and programmers, he has become a figurehead for the station’s groundbreaking output; specifically, the now iconic #NS10v10 soundclash broadcasts. “I jumped on it essentially because me and Jojo had done a few Face The Facts political broadcasts in 2019, the last one being around the general election in November”, Scully explains. “It was called Recess Radio back then, in reference to the club nights Jojo ran, but I remember thinking there was so much more we could do with the station. We used to record at GUAP Studios and I remember seeing Ibrahim (founder and editor-in-chief of GUAP Magazine) pulling up in a new plate Mercedes Benz and thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be sick if we could do something like this?’. Fast forward to COVID shutting everything down in March and we’re looking around thinking, ‘shit we’ve got nothing to do … shall we just make some radio for the sake of it, for our friends that are stuck at home?’. At this point, I’ve already decided that after this year, I’m probably not gonna work in radio anymore because I’d left the BBC and things were just looking different. Could I really go back with my tail in between my legs? I just decided that was 2021’s problem and we thought we’d have some fun making radio again.”

“Bare in mind, I’d also just moved back in with my mum and three little brothers in Southampton at the time”, Scully continues, “and the family unit was very different to the one I grew up in on an estate in Croydon. They’ve got a four bedroom house now and I’ve got brothers who all play football and own instruments and don’t really want for anything. I’d had all these grand plans about what I was gonna do with my family … you know, just reconnecting and that … and then No Signal just blew up. Big up my oldest bro Josh … he’s 17 and he gave me his room and was just like, ‘bro, you’re a big man, you’re 26, you can’t be sleeping in the living room’. I stayed in his room, basically just holed up doing radio all day, every day. My brothers get it and my parents do kinda get it, especially when they see me getting TV credits on Yo! MTV Raps or turning up in The Guardian with No Signal, but it’s still hard sometimes. Anyway, No Signal’s just buss and finally, I get offered a label job.”

Brokered by friend George ‘Quann’ Barnett — marketing executive at Polydor Records — Scully was put in touch with Andy Knox at EMI Records about the possibility of working in the label’s commercial department as a consultant. “Andy first phoned me in May and explained that he’s heard good things and would love to get me on board”, says Scully, “but there was lots going on at the label and it was going to take a few months to get things sorted out. I’d heard this sort of stuff so many times before, so I just thought it was air to begin with, but true to his word, I eventually got an email through with a contact offer. I couldn’t believe it to be honest. He was like, ‘this is the best I could do, I hope it’s all good’ and I was like ‘I’m gonna get this much bread to work in music, are you stooooopid, this has been my dream for years, come on!’. Long story short, I started as a consultant at EMI in September and I can’t thank Andy enough. He was honest with me from the start and that’s made me want to run through brick walls for him. It’s more important to me than wanting to be an A&R. I’m also very lucky to get that job in the first place, especially in a pandemic, and to now be able to live in my own flat in the ends because of that … I feel very blessed.”

“I still think there’s a lot left for me to do though”, he continues, “but I’m finally seeing the fruits of my labour. There was a time when I thought this all might not work out, that I might have fucked it. It didn’t dishearten me, I always knew I could do things on a smaller scale, but I’ve also always felt like I was well placed to contextualise music. I have the ability to talk and communicate, the gift of the gab or whatever, so why not? With No Signal, I guess I had the chance to excel at that, it’s given people the opportunity to see me as a presenter on a bigger stage, which I’m forever grateful for. We’ve got so much more to do, it’s gonna be a dynasty, but in the meantime it’s great to be the home of black radio and of black excellence generally. I mean we’re just a group of good friends who know each other doing things together and it’s massive. People love it, people want to be a part of it. For me, I just have to continue to remind myself of that.”

On the horizon, Scully — who would describe himself as “a content creator, curator and commentator” — has big plans for 2021. Split between the label job he’s long yearned for, No Signal and his work at Reprezent Radio — not to mention a new content series and podcast with Joe Walker set to launch early next year — it feels like his time has finally arrived. “Joe was an integral part of my journey and without him being my mate, I feel like I would have given up”, Scully concedes, “to the point that at the start of the year I nearly cried when I thought about what a great set of friends I’ve got, especially Joe.”

“This year, I feel like I’ve done a load behind the scenes”, he continues, reflecting on his own ambitions, “whether it be production or my label job … but next year I want people to know me as a presenter. I was lucky enough to be on The MOBOs long-list for Media Personality Of The Year this year which was fantastic, but the year after I want to be in the running to win it. I wanna be a household name, the rap game Parkinson, the musical equivalent to Anthony Bourdain. That’s where I want to be.” On his current trajectory, I’m not sure many people could bet against him. 

“I wanna be a household name, the rap game Parkinson, the musical equivalent to Anthony Bourdain.”

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY ™ —

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

(K9 by Graeme Day)

Album of the Month: K9 – ‘Cut’ (Bandcamp)

Living on record

Highlights

1. ‘Tool Time’

2. ‘Eternal Sin’

3. ‘Victory Lap’ ft. Rolla, Sgt Stats, Swarvo, Lynxman, Nasty Jack, Direman, Razor, Patman, One Fourz & Snowy Danger

K9 has long-been one of grime’s most powerful and emotive spitters and latest tape, ‘Cut’ — a hyper-personal 9-track collection featuring everyone from Direman to SBK — crystallises that reputation fully. Always adept at turning his flow to the beats of outfitters like Mssingno, Visionist and Evian Christ, all of whom lend production credits here, as well as Silk Road Assassins (‘Taste Of Metal’), K9’s output also feels like a far cry from any paint-by-numbers formula too. Right from the piercing early bars of ‘Dishonour’ ft. Direman, K9 lays himself bare, picking instrumentals that elevate, rather than overbear, the pain and anguish he channels in his lyricism. The syrupy pop of ‘Stevie G’ — an ode to Liverpool FC’s legendary former captain – complete with auto-tuned hooks, is a lighter moment, but tracks like ‘Eternal Sin’ and standout cut, ‘Ice Climbers’ ft. Frostar, Wiley & Direman’, capture the darker mood that permeates the rest of the tracklist. ‘Never Been That’ featuring new school champ, SBK, is also a standout, as is the swarming, apocalyptic ’Tool Time’ — a track produced by Evian Christ — and final jam, ‘Victory Lap’, which lands as a multi-MC rally over DJ Oddz classic, ‘Champion (Remix)’. ’Cut’ isn’t always an easy listen, but it delivers completely unapologetically, in ways few other grime tapes of its kind do. 8/10

(Jammz by Ben Walsh)

Tune of the Month: Jammz x Jon Phonics – ‘Man Of The Match’ (Astral Black)

Emphatic!

Straight up, no frills grime from two artists who continue breathe new life into the sound; Jammz via his I Am Grime label and exploits on the theatre circuit with ‘Poet In Da Corner’, and Jon Phonics through experimental electronics and his ahead-of-the-curve Astral Black label. ‘Man Of The Match’ sees the two pull no punches on an in-your-face grime single that toes the line between fun and menace. While the artwork may feature a photo of Thierry Henry knee-sliding circa ’03-04, Jammz isn’t here for nostalgia, his breathless flow tearing away at Phonics’ sharp, scuttling instrumental right from the off — an emphatic reminder that he remains one of grime’s fiercest and most naturally gifted spitters. A proper heavyweight duo, like Keane and Vieira! 8/10

Novelist – ‘Quantum Leap’ (MMM YEH Records)

In his own lane

From 2014’s ‘Take Time’ with Mumdance to his Ruff Sound project and ‘Lewisham McDeez’ with The Square, Novelist has always done music his own way. New six-track EP, ‘Quantum Leap’, is no different, a record steeped in ‘80s synth music nostalgia and another nod to his diverse tastes, many of which lay way outside the more traditional grime canon. Introduced by a minute-long, prophetic spoken word monologue, ‘Quantum Leap’ begins in earnest with the swirling, neon-tinted tones of ‘Freedom’, with each track bleeding into the next like a synth patchwork. Far from the accelerated grime of previous production EPs, tracks like ‘Luxury Life’ and ‘We Are One’ — the latter of which functions around a chugging house groove — see Novelist flexing in ambitious new spaces. Moodier final tracks ‘The Sapphires’ and ‘Billionaire Boys’ may allude to grittier, more familiar palettes, but this is a record that reaffirms Novelist’s trailblazing approach to his art. Salute! 8/10

Kid D – ‘Spiritual Art’ EP (2 Easy Records)

One of 2020’s big winners

More stone cold goodness from the legendary Kid D, a producer who’s enjoyed a prolific 2020 and is now in the process of putting finishing touches to a new album, due early 2021. Less of a primer and more of a showreel, ‘Spiritual Art’ spotlights the ethereal charm of Kid D’s recent grime productions, striking a balance between light and dark, rough and smooth. Opener ‘Super Natural’ is a testament to that vision, melding together bright, glistening synth layers and chiptune vocal FX with crunching beats, while ‘Blessings’ — again deft and bright — fizzes and sparkles. ‘Godly’ signals a slight change of pace, albeit still playing off lighter textures against harder, grittier bass sounds, with fourth track ‘Breath’ treading a similar path. The big, booming 808 lean of ‘Spirits’ is an EP standout, before bleepy, star-gazing final cut, ‘My Energy’, draws another stellar Kid D record to a close. 8/10

Gesher – ‘Holding One’ EP (I Am Grime)

Don’t sleep!

Rising producer Gesher has enjoyed a quicktime ascent in recent years after impressing in influential grime beat-making competition, Beat Boss, back in 2019. He debuts for Jammz & Jack Dat’s I Am Grime label with ‘Holding One’ — a five-track mini opus that also features one of the grime records of 2020 in ‘Change’ ft. Mayhem NODB, co-produced alongside Jammz. Gesher’s signature sound is skippy and playful, as evidenced by the bubbling, infectious 8-bar rhythms and sharp strings of first track ‘Gold Bullet Skank’, while the warped, de-tuned basslines and jazzy, sunset synths of the title cut are a revelation. Fourth track ‘Trap Ish’ does exactly what it says on the tin — think big, swollen 808 stabs and gothic, choral flashes — before the devilish OG grime of 8-bar monster ‘Darth Maul’ closes. A big statement. 8/10

Zha – ‘Snails’ EP (White Peach)

A fitting way to celebrate a landmark 

Toasting a landmark 50 releases on White Peach, label head Zha debuts on the label proper with new four-track stormer, ‘Snails’, following a series of releases on sub-label, Naan, over the last three years. Spatial and heavy on fuzzy low-end, each track represents an excursion from the soundscape inspired beats of previous records, trading delicate, faraway melodies for rough, abrasive percussion and cranking pressure. Rasping opener ‘Snails’ is a case in point, while the jittery, cut-and-paste sampling and filmic crackle of ‘Daisy’ is intriguing and fun. Bolshy, low-end rumbles and snarling patterns underpin third track, ‘Shattred’, which sees the EP take an ominous turn, before the rolling, industrial dread and blaring FX of ‘Tunnels’ sign off. Killer! 8/10

Lington – ‘Capsule’ (Bandcamp)

Finding his range

A vastly underrated grime technician for a number of years now, Lington’s ‘Capsule’ — an eight track, conceptual mini-album of sorts — represents his most accomplished work yet. From the winding snare rolls and luscious, hi-def melodies of opener ‘Orange Opal’ to the demonic, hoods-up growl of ‘Intercom’, this is the sound of a producer embracing his range. Moving through the gears as the tracklist unfolds, there’s also room for gloomy, grey skies (‘Evasion’), trappy, low-end rollers (‘Dmonz’) and ruff-and-ready gqom-inspired breaks (‘Antagonize’), before the subtle, melodic shimmer and ominous boom of final cut, ‘Gelato Sorbet’, winds things down. 8/10

Yamaneko – ‘Kaizo Nandaru’ EP (1000Doors)

Pure genius

Yamaneko has never made conventional grime by any stretch of the imagination, but his fleeting references form key building blocks of the worlds he builds within his music. Now based in Tokyo, he debuts for 1000Doors with ‘Kaizo Nanadaru’ — a stunning, seven-track record inspired by ‘illegal and fan-made art’, from modded video games to graffiti. Gorgeous opener ‘Chūnibyō’ listens like a Ghibli-esque lullaby, while the intricate, locked grooves and pulsing, automated Galactica of ‘Infinite Waveshine’ zeroes back in on the sounds first explored on acclaimed debut album, ‘Pixel Wave Embrace’. The sugary, lo-slung rush of ‘Nabana no Sato’ is a genuine joy too, as is the dizzying energy of frenetic Megadrive throwback, ‘Shimokitazawa Autoscroller’, both a marked contrast to the grimy, 8-bar snap of tracks like ‘Drewell’ and EP standout ‘Ultra Star’. The EP closes out with the intense and beautiful ‘If You Keep Asking Me I’ll Melt Away In The Summer Air’, a quiet nod to the ambient landscapes Yamaneko has also made his own over the last five years. A highly technical, emotional, wondrous record by one of electronic music’s most original minds. 9/10

Panix – ‘Panix EP’ (Substantial Audio)

Classic dubstep flavours

Statement dubstep heaters from DMW Sound’s Panix, who debuts for Substantial Audio with a self-titled four track EP here. Steely, dubwise opener ‘Regal’ forms a fitting entry point to a record rooted in OG sounds, with moody, hyper-wobbly second track ‘Ghoul’ befitting of some of the UK’s most memorable dubstep circa 2007-2010. The grinding, contorted rattle and scything pressure of ‘Hench’ is probably our tip, although the shadowy, reverb-heavy wobble of menacing final jam, ‘Wobble 96’, runs it pretty close. 7/10

Kercha – ‘Fulminating’ EP (DNO Records)

Quietly brilliant

Russian producer Kercha offers up plenty of surprises on new EP, ‘Fulminating’, a markedly distinguished four-track record out now on Brighton’s DNO Records. Pensive, thoughtful opener ‘Hold The Breath’ forms a welcome introduction to Kercha’s production world — a track that prods and hints at something more explosive without ever fully letting rip — while the bizarre FX, gloopy, yoyo like baselines and clunking, hydraulic breakdowns of ‘Jazz Symptoms’ are brilliantly perplexing. It’s a theme that underpins the rest of the record too, with the wild, cut-and-paste pinball of ‘Suggestion’ and yet more hyper-complex, oddball sampling and peculiar left turns on title-track ‘Fulminating’ keeping things interesting right to the final second. Absorbing! 9/10

Monitor

This month, look out for Grandmixxer’s rip-roaring ’South London Intergalactic’ mixtape via his SLSA label … and be sure to check THUGWIDOW & Bruised Skies’ superbly-titled ‘Requiem For A Sesh’ EP on Astral Black, a fascinating first collaboration between two producers with wildly contrasting visions … looking ahead, December is shaping up to be a defining month, with big releases forecast from Flava D (‘Berlin’ via Bandcamp), who is putting out her first grime record in over six years, Taiko (‘Oaken’ via White Peach), Commodo (‘Procession’ via Deep Medi) and JLSXND7RS, who has two new records on the way next month … EVA808 is also in line to drop her hotly-anticipated debut album, ’Sultry Venom’, on Innamind and bustling Brighton label Southpoint are back with the eighth volume of their multi-artist compilation series, ‘Southpoint Presents’, too!

(EVA808)

— Dance System —

On Brighton, Daft Punk, Fine Art, L-Vis 1990, Night Slugs, embracing highs, embracing lows, ’12 Thousand Nights’, finding comfort in isolation and putting the fun back into house music.

(All photos submitted by Dance System)

It’s Thursday evening and Dance System’s blockbuster 20-track mixtape, ‘Where’s The Party At?’, has just been shared with the world in its entirety for the first time. James Connolly, formerly known as L-Vis 1990 but now better known as Dance System, is a heady mix of anxious, pensive and excited, all rolled into one; “I just hope people vibe with it”, he says earnestly. 

He’s speaking to me from his manager’s kitchen, after moving back to the UK temporarily, mainly to oversee the release of the mixtape and the launch of his new label, System Records. He’s spent much of 2020 living in Rome however, a move he decided to make in order to spend more time with his girlfriend. “I thought I might as well head out there while she was finishing her Masters degree”, Connolly explains. “We’d just got around to setting up our life in our new flat … I mean we’d literally been moved in for a week … when we got news of coronavirus and the lockdown. I had a little studio setup in the lounge, she was working away on her dissertation, both of us really focused. I’ve found myself actually thriving during it all to be honest. I mean, I come from an art school background, my time at university was spent in a bedroom just making music, making art, making visuals. It’s almost like I’ve been training my whole life for a time like this.”

“It’s almost like I’ve been training my whole life for a time like this.”

“To be honest, it probably benefited me to be away from home because everything felt new, it’s not my home town, nothing was familiar”, he continues, when I ask what life was like during lockdown in Rome. “It was kinda like an extended holiday in a way. We had a little balcony and we’d go out every day to get supplies … some decent mozzarella, some tomatoes and shit. Eating well and drinking well, pasta for lunch, wine and beer with dinner, stuff like that.”

Connolly was born a million miles away from the bustling streets of Rome in a small, sleepy village called Henfield, about 12 miles northwest of Brighton. He grew up with a tight group of friends, including fellow producers Mumdance and High Rankin, all of whom were interested in music from as far back as he can remember. They’d swap records and tape packs and DJ around the village as much as they could as teenagers, before branching out and heading into Brighton once they had passed their driving tests. “From the age of 17, we were going into Brighton together, raving and going to all the drum & bass nights”, Connolly recalls. “It wasn’t long before that inspired us to start throwing our own party, which we called Fall Out. Jack (Mumdance) couldn’t actually DJ back then, so he was the promoter, and I would play garage-y, breaks-y stuff and Will (High Rankin) would play drum & bass.”

“Dance music was everywhere growing up”, he continues, “and big dance tunes were everywhere in the charts. Being close to Brighton as well, it meant that Fat Boy Slim was obviously a massive influence. I remember on school trips, we’d all be listening to Fat Boy Slim or people would put on happy hardcore tapes … Hixxy, Pilgrim, Sly and all that lot. When we’d get back from school, we’d all just go to each other’s houses, smoke weed and listen to music. I got my first decks when I was about 14, long before I was going out raving. I was buying a lot of records … Armand Van Helden, Cassius … lots of the funky sort of shit I’m channelling now as Dance System. I got into all that through my mate’s brother, who was a DJ and had a pair of 1210s. He gave me Daft Punk’s Essential Mix … well both of them actually … I think it was the New Year’s Eve one they did and the first one that they recorded in ’97. I was hooked from then. I got a mixer for Christmas that year and all I had was my mini HIFI system with a MiniDisc player and my dad’s belt-drive Technics. I was basically playing between those two and a mixer. I saved up where I could … a cheeky hundred quid here or there … and had to do a paper round to buy records. Well, records and cigarettes.”

Connolly got the majority of his early records from Brighton, where he recalls HMV and Virgin having a decent selection of music, often pricing up records at three for £10. “When I was 15, 16, that’s all I did”, he says. “I was getting all of this good shit, I don’t think I even realised at the time. Once I got to college, I started going record shopping every Friday lunchtime … I’d get like five records for £25 or something like that. And that was me for quite a while … until I started going out and realising I could spend my money on other things, too.”

He took to Brighton’s clubbing scene like a duck to water. It felt natural, it felt good, it was, for want of a better phrase, Connolly’s happy place. “It was amazing back then, a totally buzzing music town”, he recalls. “You could go to a hip hop night, a breaks night … there were drum & bass raves, house nights. In my peak time, I’d go out probably four or five times a week … I was really into it. Tuesday night would be a funk and disco night with cheap drinks, Wednesday night would be Minimelt, which was a little drum & bass night, we’d do our Fall Out party on Thursday and then Friday and Saturday … I mean, whatever was going on, massive drum & bass parties, breaks nights, anything. I just absolutely loved going to clubs and dancing. I was never a snob about it either because people just weren’t back then. It was a really fun time, you know.”

From here, Connolly traded the blurry-eyed hedonism of England’s south coast for the quieter, more docile climes of Newport, where he studied Fine Art and Contemporary Media at the University of South Wales. “You know that Sex Education show on Netflix?”, he asks with a chuckle, “That was filmed there, that was where I studied.” Tucked away in halls of residence — “that was where I did my most of my training for this COVID lockdown” — Connolly immersed himself in his art, music and visuals. His course allowed him access to a swell of equipment from the university’s art studios too, which he soon found himself using to put on his own small-scale parties. “I’d have like five projectors on the walls and stuff like that”, he explains, “and my dad would even drive up from Brighton to come and DJ sometimes.” What was the scene in Newport like, I wondered. “Fucking shit”, Connolly replies, without hesitation. “That’s why I got my head down and ended up getting a First. Everyone else goes to university to have fun and party, but to be fair, I was all partied out by the time I got there. I think I’d hit my peak, I needed to stop. In that sense, it gave me a bit of time to chill but also focus.”

“Everyone else goes to university to have fun and party, but to be fair, I was all partied out by the time I got there. I think I’d hit my peak, I needed to stop.”

After graduating, it was music videos that Connolly saw his future in. He’d become a diligent editor and, compounded by his creative flair and love of music, was intent on making a dent in the industry somehow — but it’d take time. After moving back to Brighton, he worked in a local shop and made ends meet by playing parties and promoting, quickly falling back into the life he’d left behind just three years earlier. “It was the era of nu rave and all that electro shit”, he recalls, “…probably 2007, 2008. I started promoting a new party called So Loud once I got back and we did the first one at Concorde 2 with Kavinsky, Night Moves, Capser C and a bunch of other people. I was playing as part of a duo with a guy called Gary who promoted another party called It Came From The Sea … and we were called Savoir Faire (laughs). We were just playing electro and lots of stuff like that. After that first party, I booked Drop The Lime from New York to play the second one and we ended up hanging out a bit. At that point, it felt like everyone was doing the same parties and all of them would list the type of music they’d be playing on the flyers … CSS, Klaxons and shit like that … and I was just done with it. I ended up booking this 15K rig and sticking it in The Volks, which is a tiny, tiny venue, and we painted a banner that said ‘Nu Rave R.I.P’ in blood red … and threw the craziest party ever. I think that was a bit of a turning point for me, because it brought me back to my bass roots. Maybe it was a starting point for L-Vis 1990 as the proto Night Slugs founder too.”

“I ended up booking this 15K rig and sticking it in The Volks, which is a tiny, tiny venue, and we painted a banner that said ‘Nu Rave R.I.P’ in blood red … and threw the craziest party ever.”

Where did the name L-Vis 1990 come from, I ask. “After getting back to Brighton, I was doing a lot of record shopping, mainly for old stuff and ‘80s bits especially. I actually threw a little party called Bootfair Music Club in the upstairs back room of a pub called The Prince Albert in Brighton for a while. Basically, me and my friends used to go out and get smashed at weekends and end up at the local boot fair on a Sunday … just finding records and random stuff … and we’d always go to The Prince Albert for a pint afterwards. One day, I just thought, ‘why don’t we do a party on a Sunday afternoon, where we can just come and play the shit we found at the boot fair?’. Anyone was free to come along and play their tunes, I’d do a raffle and shit. Anyway, I was digging at this boot fair and one afternoon, I remember finding this record by a group called Sigue Sigue Sputnik. They had a track called ‘20th Century Boy’, which also featured a German Remix and in the intro to the track, there’s this like, deep movie voice that describes the ultimate band and how they’re gonna change the future by revisiting the past. That band were called L-Vis 1990.”

Armed with his new moniker, Connolly was now starting to make connections away from Brighton online. By this point, MySpace was already an influential discovery tool and blogs were at the peak of their influence. Palms Out Sounds, a blog Connolly describes as particularly influential, used to run weekly production slots called ‘Remix Sundays’ and ‘Sampled Wednesdays’, allowing users to submit tracks and samples for consideration. It was through submitting tracks to the former that he was first able to connect with fellow DJ, producer and Night Slugs founder, Bok Bok. “One of my tunes ended up making the Remix Sundays thing”, he recalls. “I think Bok Bok searched me out after hearing it and he hit me up on MySpace. The tune was called ‘Change The Game’, which actually made it to my first EP … and yeah, from there we just started chatting. I ended up booking him and Manara to come and DJ at the next So Loud party I put on in Brighton, alongside Mathhead from Trouble & Bass, and we hit it off. I actually threw my first ever party in London shortly afterwards on a Thursday night with this guy, Claws, who was from Toronto I think … I dunno where he is now. I booked Bok and Manara for the same night too and it was at this small venue on Shoreditch High Street, pretty close to Jaguar Shoes, I just can’t remember what it was called. The party itself was shit … I mean I was a kid from Brighton thinking I could just go up to London and promote a party, so it was empty, but it was a good time for me and Bok to be able to chat again. From that point on, we started sending tunes back and forth.”

It was around this time that Connolly got his first break in music video too, landing a job working as a runner for a production company based in London. Now living in the same city as Bok Bok, he found himself sharing ideas about music almost constantly. “We never thought about a label at first”, he explains. “… we just wanted to put on a party. Alex (Bok Bok) came up with the idea of doing something at The Redstar in Camberwell, so we had to come up with a name. Back then, niche and bassline were the dominant sounds playing out in London underground parties and I remember Paleface was releasing loads of tracks with ’Slugs’ in the title … tracks like ‘Screwface Slugs’ and a few others that were similar. The slug was the reference to the bassline, so I think we had a few back-and-forth conversations about different words we could stick in front of slugs and eventually we landed on Night Slugs. And then we threw that first party in Camberwell.”

With his first Night Slugs party under his belt, Connolly would then go onto release his debut record as L-Vis 1990 later that year, releasing a four-track, self-titled EP — which featured ’Change The Game’ of Palms Out Sounds fame — via Seb Chew, Ben Palmer and Sasha Nixon’s then secret label project, Trés Cool. “It was funny how it came about because I was working at this music video production company”, he explains, “and I kept going into the head of music videos like, ‘I make this music, do you wanna check it out?’. She said that she was setting up this new label called Trés Cool with Seb and Ben through Polydor, and was basically like, yeah let’s do an EP. I still ended up making music videos for them too, though. I made one for Erol Alkan and Boys Noize as Dance Area, which is probably still on YouTube somewhere. Erol gave me £200 (laughs) and it was all after effects, so I spent about two months on it solidly. He took me out to buy my first monitor speakers as well … he didn’t pay for them, I bought them myself … but he did buy me a greasy spoon breakfast afterwards. He was my hero, so I was so happy, it didn’t matter.”

“I made a music video for Erol Alkan and Boys Noize as Dance Area, which is probably still on YouTube somewhere. Erol gave me £200 (laughs) and it was all after effects, so I spent about two months on it solidly. He took me out to buy my first monitor speakers as well … he didn’t pay for them, I bought them myself … but he did buy me a greasy spoon breakfast afterwards.”

At the turn of 2009, Connolly was starting to take his production work more seriously and alongside Bok Bok, the pair were discovering the music of producers like Kingdom, Egyptrixx and Mosca — slowly but surely, the building blocks of the first Night Slugs community were falling into place. “It felt like we had a crew, but we didn’t really have a home”, he notes. “I was releasing on labels like Mad Decent and Sound Pellegrino, which were both great labels, but neither felt like my natural home at that point. The conversation me and Alex had was basically about setting up a label so we could release Egyptrixx and ’Square One’ by Mosca, because we felt we needed to put their music out. We weren’t strictly thinking about our own selves at that point, it was more about the community and giving the music a home.”

This community continued to expand via both Connolly and Bok Bok’s online forum digging. They were relentless in searching out new music and new producers, digesting and mulling over every megabyte of every file they downloaded. “There were two forums that kind of summed up our influences”, he explains. “There was the Low B forum, which was more US-based, a lot of Baltimore club, Jersey club … Diplo and all those guys were in there a lot. And then there was dubstep forum. The proto Night Slugs label model comes from us living in both of those worlds and trying to join the dots between the two. Nobody else was doing that.”

These transatlantic links would later be solidified via Night Slugs’ partnerships with Kingdom and Prince William’s Fade To Mind and MikeQ’s Qween Beat, relationships that saw UK and US sounds and aesthetics cross-pollinate in ways never conceived before, especially via the medium of dance music. Such was their impact, Night Slugs were quickly tipped off as one the UK’s most influential dance labels, even after only a handful of records. “We knew we had something special”, acknowledges Connolly, “but we didn’t realise how much of an impact we’d make.”

Club Constructions — another ingenious Night Slugs play — would follow in 2012 by way of Connolly’s ‘Club Constructions Vol.1’ EP, originally written as a standalone record to capture his own vision for a strand of saturated, hi-intensity club music. Such was its impact, other Club Constructions volumes from Slugs affiliates like Helix and Jam City soon followed, before Connolly and Bok Bok made the decision to launch the Club Constructions Community — complete with its own manifesto — in 2014. “We kinda made the new techno”, says Connolly. “I mean, it hadn’t really been done before. The music had an edge to it, but it was still like techno-y and raw. It was just our sound, our community.” The series inspired countless new school club producers, labels and DJs and helped usher in the next generation of Slugs’ affiliates and fans, including the likes of Neana, Akito and later, TSVI and Wallwork’s Nervous Horizon imprint. 

“The Club Constructions dynamic came about in response to my debut album, ‘Neon Dreams’, which came out on PMR in 2011”, Connolly clarifies. “I was a little bit burnt by the whole process if I’m honest. I put a lot of myself and my heart into that record and it didn’t connect the way I’d hoped or the way I’d been led to believe it would. I just wish there’d been some honest conversations about it at the time but I guess it led me needing to take things back and write something totally different, so it was out of that disappointment that my Club Constructions EP was born.”

That said, Connolly admits the process of writing his debut album wasn’t all bad. He was able to fly to New York to work with Nick Hook, mixed the record in Damon Albarn’s studio and shot music videos with his mates in Las Vegas. “It felt like I was living a dream at the time”, he says, “and looking back, I’m proud of that record and I achieved everything I wanted to. I think maybe in the context of time, it wasn’t the best year for it to come out. It was the era of SBTRKT and everyone was into future garage and then I came along with this shiny, pop-house record. Two years, along come Disclosure on the same label, but it’s all part of the journey. I guess until that point, my career had always been on an upward trajectory, so ‘Neon Dreams’ was my first lesson about peaks and troughs in this industry. It taught me how to learn to deal with those, you know.”

“I guess until that point, my career had always been on an upward trajectory, so ‘Neon Dreams’ was my first lesson about peaks and troughs in this industry.”

“I mean, I went into quite a bit of a depression afterwards”, Connolly continues, opening up. “Now I feel like I can deal with this shit more but just thinking about it, I was only 26, 27 when I wrote that album … I mean it’s so young, I was so young. To have all of that pressure, it was a lot. But from that, I went back into the studio and decided to write music that didn’t put any of my heart or my emotions on the line. I got super into Dance Mania at that point and also buying gear. I bought a Sequential Drumtraks drum machine, an ENSONIQ DP4 After Effects unit and a Roland Juno and just made a load of fucking crazy tools. And with that, Club Constructions was born.”

It was in the Club Constructions tracklist that Connolly also believes the first Dance System seeds were planted, too. The rough elasticity of tracks like ‘Video Drone’ and ‘Workout’ felt emphatic and shocking, but in the best possible sense. Perhaps there was something to be said for swapping out richness and emotion for raw, hi-impact, totally unapologetic tracks. Maybe the joy was in making people move all along? It’s a question that’s spurred on Connolly’s Dance System project to occupy the space it does today, breathing new life into what he perceives to be a stagnant house and techno scene. “I actually woke up one morning, looked on Discogs and thought, ‘wait, how in the history of dance music has nobody ever called themselves Dance System?’. I knew I had to differentiate between L-Vis 1990 and this other stuff I was making because I didn’t want to confuse people, especially after releases like ‘Ballads’. It felt like a natural decision.”

2014’s ‘L-Vis 1990 Presents Dance System’ EP on Clone Jack For Daze formed the first Dance System release proper, before 2015’s ‘System Preferences’ on Ultramajic saw his new moniker standalone on a record for the first time — but then came a near four-year break. How come, I wondered? “I always thought making house music was the easiest path”, concedes Connolly, “…the path of least resistance for me anyway. I almost felt like I was cheating because it felt too easy and that’s why there’s a tune on ‘System Preferences’ called ‘Safe Mode’, you know … it’s just always been my safe place. It was hard for me dropping these singular house EPs out of nowhere to build up a DJ career though. I guess it just didn’t feel right for me at the time.”

By this point, Connolly had moved to New York and was working on production for myriad artists from both sides of the Atlantic, including breakout star, Lafawndah. He worked on her debut album, ‘Ancestor Boy’, alongside ADR and Nick Weiss from Teengirl Fantasy, and was becoming an increasingly adept hand at vocal production. While it may have felt a natural step to take as a producer, particularly given Night Slugs’ well established links with Fade To Mind, Connolly’s work suddenly felt a far cry from the shockwaves of Club Constructions. It played out most viscerally on ’12 Thousand Nights’, an 11-track vocal mixtape he released as L-Vis 1990 in 2017. Featuring everyone from Flohio to Gaika to Mista Silva, it was Connolly’s NYC opus, an ode to how the city had reshaped his outlook and refined his skills. “That was all about me coming back from New York and returning to the UK with this idea of writing something”, he explains. “I wanted to do production work and I was intent on working with a whole bunch of people to put something big together, you know. I’ve always loved that whole producer thing, I love working with other artists and vocalists, just getting in the studio to try and create some magic … that’s what it’s all about. I guess that’s what ’12 Thousand Nights’ was … it was me saying, ‘I’m a producer, let’s work’. But I realised it’s hard trying to make it as a producer. Unless you’re in that gang, especially in R&B and rap worlds, it’s really difficult to breakthrough.”

It was a breakthrough Connolly admittedly never quite made with ’12 Thousand Nights’, which in itself heralded a reboot of his Dance System project — albeit almost by accident. “I was doing quite a lot of sampling around that time and also on another L-Vis project that’s yet to come out”, he concedes, “but I’d never sampled anything as Dance System before, I’d just made everything using hardware. I’d never let myself do it with house music for some reason but I quickly realised how much fun it was. From the first Dance System session where I started to use samples, I wrote ‘Please’, which ended up coming out on Edible last year. I said to myself I didn’t wanna come back into things writing house music at 125bpm, so I wrote ‘Please’ at 140, which I ended up slowing down to 132 for Edible. I was basically making all of my house at 140 and nobody was really taking it seriously, but I didn’t care.”

“I think I probably needed a year to embed Dance System properly”, Connolly continues. “The first EP on Monkeytown last year was more on a ghetto house vibe as I think people would maybe expect, where as the Edible release was a bit different, a bit more disco-y, and then the EP on Warehouse Music was different again. I guess I was trying to ease people in, where as with the mixtape, I just decided to go all out. It’s in the brackets of house and techno I guess, but I just call it dance music. It’s me showing people what I can do. I mean, there’s an 143bpm disco house tune with Heavee on there. It all just feels super exciting.”

Out now on Connolly’s freshly-minted System Records, the ’Where’s The Party At?’ tracklist reads like a who’s who of dance music. There are nods to greats past, present and future — from A-Trak and Hudson Mohawke to India Jordan — as well as the transatlantic links first brokered by Night Slugs all those years ago, with Teklife’s Heavee and New Jersey’s UNIIQU3 prominent features. But none of it feels like a reach. Instead, it feels as though Connolly’s mission as Dance System has found willing accomplices. “I don’t care about the house and techno world”, he says bluntly. “I don’t give a fuck about any of that shit. I care about the music but the contemporary house and techno world? It’s so boring. Everyone plays it so safe, everyone plays the same records, the lineups are all the same everywhere … it just feels grey to me, you know.”

“I feel like it’s my calling at the moment to shake things up a little bit”, he continues. “All the snobbery … it just does my head in. That wasn’t what dance music was like for me as a kid you know, dance music used to be for everyone. It was for Dave down the pub, it was for accountants … it was for everyone, it was universal. At the moment, it just feels segregated, only house and techno DJs can play house and techno, you know? And now you’ve got techno DJs getting plaudits for playing a disco tune or a drum and bass record in the middle of their sets? It’s just so dead, man. What I wanted to do with this mixtape was just remove that snobbery from things completely. Everyone on this record, we’re all music people from different worlds and we’re all nerdy about the stuff we love and we all care about what we stand for. I think we all share that same energy.”

“All the snobbery … it just does my head in. That wasn’t what dance music was like for me as a kid you know, dance music used to be for everyone. It was for Dave down the pub, it was for accountants … it was for everyone, it was universal.”

What’s more remarkable about ‘Where’s The Party At?’ Is that the overwhelming majority of it was written remotely, bar UNIIQU3 collaboration, ‘Get Up On It!’, which was recorded during a studio session the pair shared in London 18 months ago. It’s a testament to Connolly’s sureness of vision that it all sounds so utterly lawless but viably cohesive as one body of work at the same time, too. “I’d be crazy if I said I didn’t want people to love it”, he explains, “but if I don’t get plaudits in house and techno circles, if I don’t get booked to play Panorama Bar ever again … I don’t give a fuck. All I want to do is to reach as many people as possible with music that they can enjoy.”

“..if I don’t get plaudits in house and techno circles, if I don’t get booked to play Panorama Bar ever again … I don’t give a fuck.”

“I guess I feel like I’ve reached the stage where I can make whatever I want now because I feel comfortable as a producer”, Connolly continues. “I’m comfortable in myself and my ideas and I think, when you get to your mid 30s, you’re able to let go of a lot of shit that used to bug you. The anxieties, worrying about what people are gonna think, like it doesn’t really matter. If you can believe in yourself and be sure of your ideas and your vision, then people will follow.”

“I’m comfortable in myself and my ideas and I think, when you get to your mid 30s, you’re able to let go of a lot of shit that used to bug you. The anxieties, worrying about what people are gonna think, like it doesn’t really matter.”

And follow they will. “Did you see that Gigi D’Agostino edit I did?”, he interjects as we start to wind down. “I just did that for fun, I used to play it out my apartment window in Rome during lockdown, just to put some good energy out there. We sent it to Annie Mac on the off chance and she loved it, she started playing it on the radio straight away. I think she called it ‘medicine for the nation’ and I don’t quote that egotistically, it’s just nice that she picked up on how I’ve been trying to make people happy with dance music.”

Revitalised and now laser focused, for as long as the Dance System project rumbles on, you can rest assured that Connolly will continue to do just that.

Dance System’s ‘Where’s The Party At?’ is out now on System Records:

http://system.promo/party

— cktrl —

On Jamaica, Lewisham, grime, funky, clarinet, saxophone, Boiler Room, a decade on NTS Live, energy and finding his groove on new EP, ‘Robyn’.

(All photos submitted by cktrl)

It’s 5.45pm on Thursday night and Bradley Miller, better known as cktrl, is warming up a plate of chicken and rice. He’s not long landed back in the UK from Jamaica, where he’s spent the last month and a half recharging and spending time with his aunt in Kingston, the island’s capital. “I just wanted to get away from London for a minute … it’s had bad energy for me in the past …and feel good before getting new music out”, he concedes. “It’s the first time I’ve released in a while and I didn’t wanna feel any type of way or have ill feelings, you know.”

Myself and cktrl first came into contact around ‘INDi’ — a colourful, engrossing 13-track mixtape that I worked on publicity for back in 2016. It was a record that heralded the start of a new chapter in his career, too; no longer would his focus solely be on beat-making or chasing reloads in the club. “I can’t believe that was four years ago, man”, he says with a shrug. “I’ve actually taken it down from streaming platforms at the moment because there’s a few tracks I might put out again … trust me.” 

A DJ, producer and multi-instrumentalist, cktrl — which stands for ‘can’t keep to reality’— was born and raised in Lewisham, where he still lives today, to parents of Jamaican and Montserratian descent; “We’re all bredrins you know, my mum, my dad and my sister … we’ve got a collective bestie friendship but also individual bestie friendships between us, and in the house, we’ve all got our quarters”, he explains. “If we’re together, more time we’re just laughing.”

“We’re all bredrins you know, my mum, my dad and my sister … we’ve got a collective bestie friendship but also individual bestie friendships between us”

“Life on ends was just excitement, man”, he continues, reflecting on his childhood. “…And carelessness. We were just active boys, man … toxic everything when toxic was ok, kinda thing. But you grow up and you read more and learn about life. I guess the influences of culture … like I grew up around pirate radio, back-street clashing, sound systems, like Saxon Sound is from Lewisham … it all had an impact. My first radio show was on Genesis FM, which is where Saxon Sound Studio was based … I’d be in Catford every day, my friends kinda ran things there. Every day was just a whole situation, man. I was always on my own ting though and I think olders respected that.

“I had balance too, because my parents were good with us, we’d always be travelling around London together at weekends so I knew my way around. If I was interested in something or curious, I’d go and check it out you know, where as some of my other friends wouldn’t leave the ends until years later. That whole attitude helped with my music stuff as well … I would never have found opportunities at places like NTS without getting out and about when I was younger.”

This exploratory spirit would lead to getting his first job at Uptown Records, where he worked as a wide-eyed 16 year old, curious about anything and everything to do with music. “I’d been making music since I was about 11”, he recalls, “but what I realised was that I couldn’t play people anything to anyone if it wasn’t on vinyl. I found a cutting place in Forest Hill … Transition actually … Jason at Transition patterned me, he was a really lovely guy, always supporting me and encouraging me.” The beats cktrl had started making remained a ‘secret’ in his early teens though, as most of his friends were more interested in spitting — and not on any of the type of beats he was making on Fruity Loops; “It wasn’t like anything else anybody was making in ends, especially to spit on, but later on I started making stuff for myself to spit on and for others to sing on … slowly it started to develop from there.”

It wasn’t until he was 17 that he’d start bringing instrumentation into his production, either. Despite playing both the clarinet and the saxophone since he was a child, cktrl never saw the two as symbiotic — beats and instruments were different worlds in his mind. “It’s so weird now when I think about it now”, he reflects, “like I spent six years just not doing that. I think I always saw it as so separate … instruments just didn’t feel compatible with what I was doing on a computer screen. I was fortunate though because in Lewisham we had a music service. Like, my clarinet for example, I got for free … and so was my sax actually. I’ve still got the same ones now (laughing) … but shhh! I used to go to a music school on a Saturday, nine in the morning ’til three n the afternoon … it was like another day at school. I did that from year 4 until I was 16, every Saturday. It was a serious thing … like I’d get there, have a clarinet lesson, have a sax lesson and then it’d be theory, samba, orchestra and then band.” 

How did he decide on playing instruments from such a young age, I wondered? “I was just in assembly one day and people came in playing instruments”, cktrl recalls. “At the end of the assembly, they gave us different options … like instruments we could play … and the first ones I remember were the oboe and the flute, but I wasn’t really feeling the flute. I did think the oboe was kinda sick because remember snake charming back in the day in cartoons and films like Aladdin? Snakes can’t catch me lacking if I play the oboe, you get me, so I had a lesson but it just sounded shit to me. Because it’s a double reed, I just sounded like a duck. I knew I sounded like that as well, so I’d go home and practice and there I was sounding like a duck. It wasn’t gonna run. The next assembly came along and this time there were people playing the bassoon. I thought it sounded kinda wavy but I didn’t like how it looked … I knew I wasn’t gonna get any attention playing the bassoon because no one wavey played it before.”

“I did think the oboe was kinda sick because remember snake charming back in the day in cartoons and films like Aladdin? Snakes can’t catch me lacking if I play the oboe, you get me”

“Then came the clarinet the next time”, he continues, “and I thought, even the way the guy in assembly was playing it … it was vibey still. The teacher was 21, just out of university … he was young and cool, where as a lot of the other teachers were much older, no vibes, dead as fuck. He made lessons exciting you know … it was the first time I felt actually inspired by a teacher. I’d practice and sometimes I’d forget to practice, but I’d get away with it because other people in my classes … like they’d practice and learn to play pieces note for note, but sound terrible, where as my tone on the clarinet was like my teacher. He was gassed about it, which meant I could get away with fucking up entire pieces because he thought it sounded nice. That led to me taking up lessons on Saturdays and I’d go in half an hour early so he could teach me one on one for a bit. I took up the sax a couple of years later with the same teacher … he taught me the whole way through until … I think it was the tories came into government … and they cut funding. It makes me think about kids in Lewisham now and the access to opportunities, I mean … man. It’s important to be able to express yourself and I found I got purpose from playing instruments, so much so that I’m still doing it now.”

Musically, cktrl’s upbringing was rich; “To save you writing so much, basically it was black as fuck growing up in my house”, he says, laughing. “You had everything from reggae to soul, ragga, soca … my mum’s from Montserrat so island stuff was always playing. Back then, it wasn’t a melting pot like it is now, comprised of stuff you hear on the internet, it was just music that came from us … everything was cultural and had a cultural reference. Whether it was music or academia or knowledge of self … every experience I had has always been grounded by that. From Curtis Mayfield to John Coltrane, Charles Mingus … Alice Coltrane as well, big singers like Etta James … there was just always so much vinyl at home. I’ve got uncles with loads of records as well, stuff they’ve just given to me over the years. I’ve got all the original Studio One, Coxone Records, Trojan … you name it, I’ve got it. Growing up around Saxon in Lewisham as well, having that influence … and vinyl culture as well. We had this record shop in Lewisham called Independance that just sold grime. Grime vinyl, all the DVDs … Conflict, Lord Of The Mics, Lord Of The Decks, Risky Roadz, Crazy Times, everything. I’m the reason they stopped leaving the discs in the covers on the shelves ‘coz I used to teef them! Bossman from Essentials used to work there behind the counter as welI. I’d be in there, flipping tiny, trying to reach the racks. He’d end up putting records on for me and passing the headphones over the counter so I could listen.”

“Bossman from Essentials used to work there behind the counter as welI. I’d be in there, flipping tiny, trying to reach the racks. He’d end up putting records on for me and passing the headphones over the counter so I could listen.”

In and amongst the warm island sounds of home and his instruments at school, grime was one of cktrl’s earliest loves. “Unless you know about grime, people don’t really check it like this but … the range”, he continues, “…every beat was different, nothing sounded the same and I loved that about it. Everything sounded very specific to the area it was made, even in a shop just selling grime instrumentals. Them times there you could hear a beat and be like ‘yeah, yeah, my man lives in West’ just because of how many snares he put in a beat. If there was bare snares, it was someone from South, you know what I mean? Snares were moving over there back then.”

Armed with dub plates cut at Transition, cktrl found himself testing out his own grime beats on the system at Uptown, where he would also later learn to DJ. “I used to go back there even after it was closed and play people beats … and at other shops as well, like Black Market and Sounds Of The Universe. Do you know DJ Flight? I used to go and play new records to her and she’d give me feedback. Basically on the weekends, I’d get on a train and go up to these shops and play beats to people. DJ Flight was actually instrumental in helping me getting my mixes tight, she taught me so much early on. Around that time … kinda 2010-11 I think … Boiler Room was starting up and NTS was just starting to happen. A lot of my friends were starting to play Boiler Room parties and whatever, and I really wanted a shot at getting involved in what was going on. In turns out that Thristian from Boiler Room worked at Sounds Of The Universe and I started to play him tunes. He liked what I was playing him and hooked me up with NTS, because I said I’d really wanted to play there. A week later I was starting on NTS … I think it was the station’s third week of broadcasting and there I was. The rest is history.”

“It was through Mischa Mafia (PDA) at NTS that I first got booked for Boiler Room”, he continues, “she put me forward and got me the slot … she was a genius, the way she saw things at NTS was just different and I don’t think she always gets the credit she deserves for all those great ideas. I played Boiler Room #87 in London Fields, which will always be my favourite one. I couldn’t mix really … the nerves mixed with playing vinyl … but the reason why that first one was so good was because people were behind me, it was dark, and they wanted to dance. The later ones I played were just a bit stiff, it was never quite the same.”

cktrl had got his first decks via Dappa, who now works at Rinse FM, who sold him a pair of decks when Uptown Records closed. “He sold me two 1210s and a shit mixer for like, a hundred pounds or something”, he explains. “I went up there with my girlfriend at the time to pick them up and I’ve still got the same decks now … just with a better mixer. The one I had literally had a cross fader and not much else. I would say it took me a year of practicing to be able to mix one tune into another. I was heavy into dubstep so I think it must have been like a Mala and a Joker tune that I managed to pull off. Crazy, thinking about it.”

“I would say it took me a year of practicing to be able to mix one tune into another. I was heavy into dubstep so I think it must have been like a Mala and a Joker tune that I managed to pull off.”

After the success of his first Boiler Room, cktrl started to look at his music in a different way — “a tension had kinda entered my mind” — as he became aware of scenes starting to take shape all over London. His own instrumentals, fitting between grime and funky, were progressing fruitfully and he’d won fans in the emergent Boiler Room community that was suddenly becoming a focal point for London’s electronic music scene. But something wasn’t right. “I had interest from people trying to manage me and whatever but I didn’t really know what to do”, he notes. “In hindsight, I mean I played one tune and it went mad in there and now if I was to do that, I’d press it on vinyl and release it straight away. I didn’t have that knowledge then so I just ended up speaking to lots of people about records and EPs without ever getting anywhere … everything just kinda slowed down. I wasn’t in with the instrumental gatekeepers of the time either … it was a toxic scene then really. I just didn’t have any way in.”

Despite the blossoming influence of funky house — especially its role in helping propel Giggs into mainstream consciousness in London — and the kudos of emerging labels like Night Slugs, who were cross-pollinating UK and US underground sounds via Fade To Mind, cktrl was banging on doors that just weren’t opening. He had the music, just not the connections. “It was a ride of emotions to be honest, because it was all happening in front of my face”, cktrl explains. “I felt that innovators like Lil Silva and Sampha … those two in particular … I think if they’d continued to push instrumentals the way they did in the beginning, things might have been a bit different but they were obviously at different points in their careers. I actually did my last Boiler Room with them around Lil Silva’s ‘Mabel’ release. It was myself, Lil Silva, Sampha and Macabre Unit.”

Propped up by a day job at the Mayor’s Office at City Hall that he held for almost seven years, cktrl continued to make beats and play out as much as he could. His show on NTS continued to give him focus and by 2015, Lil Silva, Sampha and even Jamie XX — who’d just released his ‘In Colour’ album — were playing his music, which was now mainlining at 130bpm. “Benji B might play the odd bit on Radio 1 now and again too”, he says. “He’d get a beat and just play it once maybe … but that aside, it was hard to get other people, the key gatekeepers, onside.” It was a reality that made cktrl wary of releasing anything — “you could have the hardest riddims, but without that network, those key ‘cooler’ people playing it, it felt pointless putting my beats out” — and even friends’ record labels didn’t feel invested enough in his output. “It was knock back after knock back in the end”, he admits, “and I was so fed up of it.”

In response came ‘INDi’ in 2016. “I was tired and I just wanted to show off my range and what I could do really”, says cktrl, “kinda like ‘I’ll show you’ sorta thing. In hindsight, ‘girl’ was the first track on the tape which was really uptempo and then after that it just slid … the tracklist is bare funny looking back. It was the first record I felt like it looked like I was a guy though … it looked like I was about it, people on instagram had to respect me, you know (laughs). I’m so glad I did it, because it helped me go through what I needed to go through to understand what I wanted to say as an artist. Before that, I think people had seen me make a grime beat, a funky beat, a house beat … whatever, people had seen me do it … but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was how I was sharing it. What I needed to grasp was how I was gonna earn a place at the table and stay long enough to have a conversation, and I think ‘INDi’ was the first part in me understanding that process.”

“..I think people had seen me make a grime beat, a funky beat, a house beat … whatever, people had seen me do it … but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was how I was sharing it. What I needed to grasp was how I was gonna earn a place at the table and stay long enough to have a conversation”

The next 18 months would see cktrl try and follow up the success of ‘INDi’, but a series of stumbling blocks — from management to PR — made it difficult to signpost a way forward. He did form new label, Songs 4 Girls, in 2017, as a response to the appropriation of RnB in electronic music however, which he continues to push to this day. “It was about bringing the music back to us and giving black women in particular a platform”, he explains. “London always had Shola Ama, Sadie Ama, Kele Le Roc and even Katie Pearl, but I don’t think their music was ever given the respect it deserved. I wanted to help give black women their voices back essentially, and still do.”

“It was a hard period though, man”, he continues, “but I’m glad I’ve had to go through these things and times of uncertainty to get to where I am now. I feel like it was essential. I’ll be honest with you, everything I’m doing now is just like it was before, too. Since doing music full time over the last few years, my days kick off with a bit of exercise and then I’ll come back and jump on my decks, maybe play my instruments or start building a beat … maybe I’ll start making a beat and love the drums but there’s no chords and I’ll realise that’s actually fine by itself. I do a lot of sampling from outside my bedroom window, so maybe I’ll patch in some of those and then think, ‘yeah I can play some sax on this’, set up the mic and hit record. Basically, there’s a lot going on and that’s always how my mind works when it comes to making music.”

It’s a theme that underpin’s cktrl’s new six-track EP, ‘Robyn’, which releases via Touching Bass on November 27 — his first new material in nearly two years. Described as an ‘exploration of contemporary classical from the black perspective’, it also includes collaborations with friends and close affiliates Duval Timothy, Coby Sey and Purple Ferdinand. “Duval’s like a renaissance man”, laughs cktrl. “I’ll go over to his, buck him and find out he’s just made a scarf from some exquisite fabric. Or like, I remember one time, I walked in and he’d just made his own shoes … I remember another time having a cup of tea out of some mugs he’d literally just finished making … that’s just what he’s like. When it came to this record, I’d just go over to his … which is basically like an art studio … and he had an upright piano, two mics and like a dictaphone thing plugged into it. We just sat there and played for hours, me on clarinet, him on keys. A lot of the stuff on the new EP is chops from those sessions.”

“What’s mad about it is that it’s actually classical music, it’s not jazz”, continues cktrl. “It’s literally improvised, freestyle classical music. I guess I’ve got to a stage where I’m now comfortable enough in my ability and what I want to say to make a record like that. Growing up, even Independence, the record shop … freedom fam! Nobody’s beats in there sounded the same, from Alias to Terror Danjah to Treble Clef with ‘Ghetto Kyote’ … what drums sound like the drums on ‘Ghetto Kyote’?”

“It’s literally improvised, freestyle classical music. I guess I’ve got to a stage where I’m now comfortable enough in my ability and what I want to say to make a record like that.”

What does he want his new, freer music to represent, I wondered? “I guess I want to be the vanguard for a new generation of musicians”, he says firmly. “The reason 2020 feels perfect is because everything has had to reset, so I feel like the next 10 years could be mine just because of that. When you think about the greats yeah, whether it be Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Curits Mayfield, Marvin Gaye … they could do lot of things that musicians now can’t do. Curtis wrote his own film scores, like ‘Super Fly’ … look at ‘The Wiz’ with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. That’s the kinda energy man wants to be on, but within a 2020 context and I hope this ‘robyn’ EP can open a few doors like that. Growing up, learning my instruments, there was no chance of me reciting a piece that was written by someone who looks like me. If I decide to get the sheet music for this project printed and even made available in syllabuses … like hopefully some young black kids can be like ‘rah I follow that guy on Instagram and now I’m studying his pieces for my test’. That would be a ting.”

“I think a lot of people make music without having an awareness of where they sit within a wider context”, cktrl continues. “I’m very aware of my position and hopefully I can affect positive change. You’re obviously a man and I’m sure you see what’s written about men and toxic masculinity online, so even just me writing this vulnerable as fuck piece of music breaks those barriers down as well. There’s vulnerability in there, honesty, sincerity. It’s about being able to connect with people properly, not on just a superficial level. There’s no lyrics because it’s purely instrumental, but the responses I’ve had to it have touched on break-ups, mental health, loved ones … I put it together to make people feel through what I’ve experienced, but I’m not telling them how to feel.”

“You’re obviously a man and I’m sure you see what’s written about men and toxic masculinity online, so even just me writing this vulnerable as fuck piece of music breaks those barriers down as well. There’s vulnerability in there, honesty, sincerity. It’s about being able to connect with people properly, not on just a superficial level.”

The vulnerability that plays out on ‘Robyn’ has also benefited from cktrl’s recent interactions with fashion and a number of friends who work in the industry, reaffirming his realisation that its not just his music that can move people, but how he presents it. “I think that’s why the visuals and everything around this project feel so upscaled”, cktrl explains, “I’ve got so many friends who work in fashion and design .. like whoever Beyonce uses, I can work with if I need to.” True to form, it was friend and director Jenn Nkiru who secured cktrl a cameo in the official video to ‘Brown Skin Girl’ — a track lifted from Beyonce’s groundbreaking ‘Black Is King’ visual album, which released this summer. “Jenn’s from Peckham, do you know what I’m saying?”, he says proudly. “People are out here. We’re out here! All of the days when things used to be popping with Boiler Room and whatever, like it felt so much more difficult then than it does now. I felt like my own music was being gentrified against me and I didn’t fit in, I couldn’t live in that world. Thankfully, I had my instruments and my range, which has helped me discover this whole new side to music. Without that, I think I’d have given up and be working in some job that I hate right now.”

cktrl’s road map for the future feels fully believable too. There’s focus and determination now, qualities he admits haven’t always been his strong point. He sounds buoyant, inspired, happy. “I think the plan is to get a series of singles together with vocalists … but heavy hitters”, he says. “I’m learning that by showing that I’m a musician first, artists are more inclined to gravitate towards me, where as before I was networking and trying to get my name out without fully letting onto what I could do. It’s hard to get people to put respect on your name without that, without being yourself.”

“When your back’s up against the wall, you always look inward”, he continues. “Whether that’s family, health … the things that are important. I guess, looking back at this year, it’s a time that’s allowed me to take a break from social media and to focus on things that are important to me, without pressure. Everyone has ideas but the way you go about executing them is very important, and I think it’s reminded a lot of people about the first time they did something, the first time they made music or wrote a song. Nothing else used to matter, you know. This year has given that feeling back to me … and also a sense of self worth. Modern life is full of doubt, especially in London, and I think that’s partly why I went to Jamaica. Over there, you can be the brokest guy and walk around like you run the ting. Confidence just isn’t an issue, it’s an energy that puts things into context. Money and status equals power in the West but there it doesn’t matter, at least externally… and it was important to remind myself of that.”

You can pre-order cktrl’s new EP, ‘Robyn’, via Bandcamp here:

https://cktrl.bandcamp.com/

You can also download a special cktrl edit of Aaliyah’s ‘are you that somebody?’ via Bandcamp too — all proceeds go to IMKAAN, the only UK-based women’s organisation dedicated to addressing violence against Black and minoritised women and girls:

https://cktrl.bandcamp.com/track/somebody-cover

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY ™ —

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

(Inkke)

Album of the Month: Inkke – ‘Below Freezing’ (FWDK Records)

From the archives

Highlights

1. Blessed

2. Like Silk

3. Shrimp Lover

Glasgow-based producer Inkke has quietly continued to release some of his career-best work over the last few years, following a series of records with Local Action and LuckyMe, as well as his ‘Faded With Da Kittens’ hip-hop tapes. He’s also launched a label, FWDK Records or fwdk, and has been releasing a steady flow of records and self-compiled zines throughout 2020, including ‘Below Freezing’ — a six-track EP / mini-album that spots how vivid and unique his sound remains. Traversing everything from grime to southern rap to the weightless tropes explored by Mumdance & Logos’ Different Circles label (Inkke released ‘Love Song’ through them in 2016), ‘Below Freezing’ is part Boxed-era grime refracted, part lush, wot-do-you-call it electronics, made at a series of different points over the last eight years. Opener ‘Shrimp Lover’ is skeletal and beat-less — a dizzying, square wave joust cut with frosty atmospherics — while brittle percussive loops and clanking hip-hop beats meet trance-y, euphoric bridges on ‘The Sisters’. There’s room for more pensive, hip-hop hybrids on the tracklist too (‘Atom Tan’), as well as the fractious ‘Like Silk’, which again — along with a slew of deft, water-y samples — zeroes back in on the square wave grime sounds Inkke’s long made his calling card. ‘Peekapop’ booms, think gun-toting rap beats upped to footwork tempo in places, before gorgeous, melody-soaked final cut ‘Blessed’ — originally released as a free download by LuckyMe in 2013 — signs off the collection. Proper. 8/10

(Grandmixxer)

Tune of the Month: Grandmixxer – ‘Ice Cold’ (Bandcamp)

An Epic!

Grandmixxer’s uncompromising, singular grime sound has formed the heartbeat of his SLSA (South London Space Agency) label and DJ persona over the last three years but on ‘Ice Cold’ — the latest in a series of instrumental drops via Bandcamp — he takes a brief excursion to cooler climes. Clocking in at over eight minutes long, it builds a la grand orchestra, with every piece joining at key sections; first, the strings, then barbed, contorted square wave bass and finally, a flurry of eski clicks and punches. It plays out like an epic, his own quiet masterpiece — and it deserves plenty of fanfare. 8/10

Commodo – ‘Stakeout’ EP (Black Acre)

Beat maker, storyteller, director?

’Stakeout’ follows Commodo’s ‘Loan Shark’ EP, released on Black Acre back in May, to land as part two of his latest epic, treading bold new ground as a producer. While his beats have always triggered shockwaves based on their sheer impact alone, these are two records that have felt entirely different — Commodo is now telling stories with his music. On ’Stakeout’, he continues to weave a tale that darts between freewheeling, crime-ridden hedonism and looming unease. The title-track for example, opens with crackles and shudders — it’s pensive, creaking and aloof — while the rugged, near metronomic percussion on ’Transit’ mirrors a tickling clock. Final track ‘Crooked Law’, with its bolshy, Batman-style lurch and filmic crackle, seems to suggest that in this instance, crime does pay. When’s the movie? 9/10

Slay ft. Trigga, Coco, Local & Snowy – ‘Dance Dun’ Remix (1Forty)

Mega!

Leeds’ 1Forty label top another stellar year with a big-name remix of one of their defining tracks — ‘Dance Dun’, originally produced by Zed Bias. With the beat now flipped by Chimpo, Manchester’s Slay is again joined by fellow 0161 stalwart Trigga, as well as Sheffield’s Coco, Nottingham’s Snowy and Cardiff’s Local on a heavyweight new mix aimed at uniting every corner of the contemporary grime sound. In and amongst the rapid-fire verses and different accents, there’s a great track here, compounded by memorable, reload-friendly hooks — lets hope it can do over dances the way it deserves to in 2021. 8/10

Cluekid – ‘Electric Avenue / Horizontal’ (Infernal Sounds)

Cop on sight, thank us later

Infernal Sounds continue an impeccable recent run with more grade A damage from Cluekid, who returns to the label with for the first time since 2018’s ‘Mistik World’ EP. A-side ‘Electric Avenue’ is pure dynamite; warm, wobbly, full-blooded.There’s an understated charm about the sheer dubby-ness of it all and the way it meanders in-and-out of breakdowns, the way it scratches an itch for late ‘00s dubstep without ever sounding or feeling tired. On the flip, ‘Horizontal’ sings from the same hymn book, only with added wobble, this time blaring and totally front-and-centre, spiked by short, parade-like trumpet bursts in the background. Emphatically good. 9/10

East Man & Walton – ‘Screw Face / Don’t Speak’ (Hi-Tek Sounds)

Functional club weapons

Skeletal, hoods-up grime sketches from East Man and Walton, who collaborate for the second time here on Hi Tek Sounds. A-side ‘Screw Face’ is raw and rugged, the pair looping a grizzly 8-bar square-wave pattern without a single flash of synth or melody — it’ll make one hell of a DJ tool — while B-side ‘Don’t Speak’ draws for the hydraulics. Fuller and a lot darker in composition, the track’s wheezing, industrial rhythm and oddball clatter is palpably heady — and the sub doesn’t half pack a punch either. 7/10

Bayalien Sound System – ‘Smokestacks’ EP (We Got This)

More than we bargained for!

More surprise, experimental gold from Bayalien Sound System, this time courtesy of stateside label, We Got This. The oddball lunch and crunching beats of opener ‘Smokestacks’ — pinned together by hazy vocal interludes — are a curveball entry point and a million miles from previous EPs, while the contorted, off-kilter whirl of ‘SHAKE’ is also a mind-boggler. Final jam ‘Beautiful Basslines’ is the wildest of the lot, manically flitting between tempos, rhythms and off-piste FX palettes at what feels like light speed. Does it work? Somehow! 7/10

Repulsion – ‘Uh Oh’ EP (Next Level Dubstep)

Not for the faint hearted

Rip-roaring, mechanised club ammo from Oklahoma City’s Repulsion, who returns to Next Level with some of the gnarliest dubstep we’ve heard in a minute. Opener ‘What It Is’ forms a face-melting introduction to the Repulsion armoury, lasting barely 40 seconds before exploding into life like a box of fireworks, while the EP’s title-track melds together warp-speed hydraulics with relentless, rolling bass pressure and drums that seem to nod, in places, toward UK funky. Final jam ‘You Failed’ returns to type, seeing out the EP with more steely, grinding pressure, only this time deeper, darker and meaner.  6/10

Slowie – ‘Warmonger’ (Dee Oh 7)

Bristol, stand up!

Bristol MC Slowie christens his new imprint, Dee Oh 7, with ‘Warmonger’ — a barnstorming new single cut for the rave. Produced by Mr Skandal & Ambler Productions, his flow is breathless from the off, his bars full of character — listen out for a nod to ‘crates of cider’ — and his mic-style long-honed in the clubs of his home city. It’s the first of many new releases planned on Dee Oh 7, including a full-length Slowie album in 2021. Watch this space! 7/10 

Shaytaan – ‘Spirit Loops Vol. 1’ (1000Doors)

Instant win

1000Doors show no sign of slowing down in 2020, despite only launching back in April. They’ve released five records since, including standout EPs from Handsome Boys and Kamran (fka Moleskin), with Shaytaan’s ‘Spirt Loops Vol. 1’ the next in line to take a chisel to instrumental grime. Reimagining and repositioning OG grime sounds and patterns within the dream-sequence context of old RPG soundtracks and video game aesthetics, ‘Spirit Loops Vol. 1’ is a total rush from start to finish. Opener ‘Twin Wield Dual Style’ sounds like a grimy — cutthroat claps and all — ode to the Sonic loading screen on Megadrive, while the jittery percussion and saccharine-fuelled buzz of ’Savannah Plains’ is pinball genius. Third track ‘Magma Hills’ is a delight too, particularly the melodies — they sound like they’ve been lifted from a 90s anime cut-scene — while the dwindling, square wave shuffle, mournful strings and far-off pans of final cut ‘Debug BGM’ form a fitting, thoughtful closer. Don’t sleep! 9/10

Monitor

White Peach celebrate a landmark 50 records next month, with label head and owner Zha debuting on the label for the first time ever (!) … his four-track ‘Snails’ EP crowns another standout year for White Peach — which also functions as a cutting house and distribution service — with records from Mr.K, Phossa, Opus and Rygby feeding into one of the UK’s richest new-school discographies … look out for a limited, white-label press from Bengal Sound & Jook, which features two sought after weapons (‘Bandit’ / DKWTTY’) — be quick before they’re all gone! … Brighton’s Southpoint label also released volume 5 of their ‘Integrate’ compilation series, detailing fresh new tracks from city up-and-comers like Cortese and El Laurie … and looking ahead, keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for killer records from Kercha (DNO Records), Radikal Guru (Moonshine Recordings) and Ziek (Silent Motion) over the next few weeks.

(Bengal Sound)

— DJ Q —

On Huddersfield, London, grime, garage, bassline, ‘You Wot!’, 1Xtra, working with Unknown To The Unknow, Local Action and more, tqd and feeling hungrier than ever nearly 20 years deep in the game.

(All photos submitted by DJ Q)

“Can you hear me alright, the line sounds a bit fuzzy”, repeats DJ Q early on Friday evening, phone signal crackling in the foreground, “hello?…hold up, let me drive over to the other side of the car park, the reception here is awful.” Q is speaking to me from his car after taking a break on his drive home to Huddersfield, the town he was born in back in the mid ‘80s and where he still lives to this day. A boundless influence on UK dance music for the best part of 15 years, his story is like a jigsaw — there are so many pieces that make up the bigger picture. From bassline to grime to garage, his impact can be felt everywhere, whether you realise it or not. “That’s it, I can hear you much better”, he says, calling back a couple of minutes later, “..right, I’m ready now.”

Like many DJs faced with the prospect of an uncertain time away from the DJ booth, Q has spent the best part of eight months locked away in the studio working on new music. “I’ve just been trying to hone my craft and get better at what I do”, he says firmly; quite a statement from a producer responsible for writing some of the country’s best and most memorable UKG records over the last 15 years. “Do you know Bassment?”, he asks. “I’m just in there. They used to run events but they’ve got their own building in Huddersfield too … they’ve got DJ rooms and studios, it’s like a proper music hub for the area man, it’s nice.”

It’s from Huddersfield, a large town in the north of England — close in proximity to Leeds and Bradford and slightly further afield, Sheffield and Doncaster — that Q has made his name. Born to parents of Ghanaian, Jamaican and Bajan heritage, his earliest memories of life growing up were all music related. “I just remember listening to music with my parents a lot”, he says warmly. “They were into everything really, a proper mix of stuff … reggae, soul, RnB.” He credits his dad in particular — a member of 80s band, Harlem Gem (Q even makes an appearance at the 11 second mark in the music video below, in which his dad plays guitar) — with being a huge influence on his own musical tastes and interests. “My dad was a musician and still makes music now actually. When I was younger, he was heavily involved in producing in his band as well. He had releases on vinyl and I think he was quite popular in Huddersfield and a bit further afield. Back in the ‘90s, he had a track that went to #1 on the RnB charts, which was quite a big deal at the time. He started taking me to the studio with him too … I remember he’d make a track at home once and he took it to the studio, it was a place in Leeds at the Tetley’s Brewery. I watched him mix it and master it in front of me and I remember hearing it afterwards and it just sounded 10 times better. That process … it just amazed me and it’s stuck with me ever since.”

“I think my dad was the reason why I got into house and garage but without realising”, he continues. “The tracks he was making were like … Soul II Soul influenced but house-y as well. They always stuck with me and I think that’s why I’ve naturally gravitated towards those sounds in my career. You know what it is … the more I’m speaking about it, the more I’m remembering things. When I was younger, my dad always used to buy the videos from Reggae Sunsplash and every time he went out, I remember getting those videos out and just watching them. I was amazed by the whole stage show aspect of music and performing. He’d collect the Greensleeves sampler CDs and vinyl too, so a lot of the Reggae stuff I was hearing on those CDs as well. I’ve actually sampled some of those tracks I was hearing back in the day in some of my own music, purely from having that influence. My mum too, she’s always been a big driving force. She’s always seen that I’ve had some sort of musical talent because anything I’ve wanted to do music-wise, she’s supported me and tried her hardest to accommodate whatever I wanted to do. I remember when I was younger, I wanted to play the saxophone and I don’t know how she managed to scrape the money together to get me one because they were expensive, but she did … and that was a big thing. I played it from when I was eight right the way through to my GCSEs. I actually played saxophone for my practical GCSE Music exam.”

“When I was younger, my dad always used to buy the videos from Reggae Sunsplash and every time he went out, I remember getting those videos out and just watching them. I was amazed by the whole stage show aspect of music and performing.”

It was this musical grounding — compounded by his parents’ love and support — that gave Q a solid base to start exploring from. He quickly learned that he enjoyed the process of selecting music to play too — whenever he was with his friends, he’d always take charge of the stereo. “I remember asking my mum for a stereo with a mic”, he recalls, “so I could get my friends round to mess about and rap over stuff. I’d find myself always being the one to want to choose the music that we were all rapping over, so I guess I’ve been selecting music from early.”

“I got into garage just on the off chance really”, he continues. “I was mainly into hip-hop and RnB but a family friend brought round a Ministry Of Sound CD … I think it was one of the first annual compilations actually. I remember listening to it and thinking, ‘what’s this?’. By the third compilation, I remember tracks like ‘Spin Spin Sugar’ on there … and ‘Sugar Is Sweeter’. He also had the Tuff Jam CDs … the first ‘Underground Frequencies’ one I think it was called, it had an orange label. From hearing that, I got more and more into it. I asked him where he’d get his CDs from and then I used to just head to that record shop, which was called Fourth Wave in Huddersfield, and spend all my money on tape packs, CDs … I’d borrow tape packs even. It progressed to me realising that you’d never really hear the full versions on tape, so if you wanted to hear a full track, you’d need to buy it on vinyl. Before I knew it, I had a record collection before I even had turntables. Luckily, I had one record player that I used balance on top of my stereo to play records … until the needle broke. I remember having to get a piece of cardboard from the tapes and while the record was playing, I’d be putting the cardboard in the grooves so that you could hear the music properly. I remember that led me to just begging my parents for decks. I must have been about 14 and my uncle’s friend was selling a broken pair of turntables and my mum and dad came through for me on my birthday. They were Soundlabs, but the ones that looked like Technics 1210 replicas … I mean they were belt drives, but they were alright.”

“Luckily, I had one record player that I used to balance on top of my stereo to play records … until the needle broke. I remember having to get a piece of cardboard from the tapes and while the record was playing, I’d be putting the cardboard in the grooves so that you could hear the music properly.”

At school, Q became the go-to friend for music — “I’d be the one bringing tapes in for people to borrow” — but enjoyed a mixed time; “I enjoyed it until year 10 and year 11”, he chuckles, “because after that, I was hardly ever there. I was one of the only black boys in my school too and I don’t think many of the teachers knew how to deal with that, so I found myself in trouble quite a lot towards the end. Like, I remember getting suspended for writing my name on a table … just stuff like that. I did love music at school though, obviously I did it for at GCSE. I remember back then, Cubase was in black and white and you could only use it on an Atari.”

It was Cubase that ultimately formed Q’s entry point into production, as well as Reason 1, which he was given a copy of by his uncle, and the first ever version of Fruity Loops. “DJing was my first love, it was my thing … and still is now”, he explains, “but I guess I kind of fell into producing. The problem was, there was only Fourth Wave in Huddersfield and that’s where I got all my tape packs and vinyl from … there were a few others dotted around but that was the main one. When things started to pick up and people started playing parties, it meant that everyone had the same records, so it progressed to me going to other cities to pick up records. I clocked that if I could go to London, where they’d get all the records first, I could bring everything back and be the one that had all the new stuff to play. I’d drive down or mail order sometimes and get everything they were stocking, literally everything, but it got to a point where people started to catch-up and things moved quicker. The only way I could be different and stand out was if I made my own stuff, so I started producing purely to have something new to play in my sets. I think I’ve got a good ear for knowing what people want to hear, so the stuff I was making early on used to go off.”

“I clocked that if I could go to London, where they’d get all the records first, I could bring everything back and be the one that had all the new stuff to play.”

Q recalls making his first piece of music at college when he was 16. His first productions were soulful and full-blooded, new-form UKG that reflected the music he’d grown up listening to and was still absorbing via the tape packs he’d order in from London’s record shops. So where did bassline — a harder, bolshier strain of 4×4 club music that grew enormously popular in cities like Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield during the mid-to-late 00s — come into things? “To me, bassline is garage”, says Q forcefully. “Well that’s what I think anyway, that’s how it was for me. I mean my garage tracks were getting played by bassline DJs at the time, so I was brought into that scene naturally.”

He recalls it wasn’t just clubs in the north that were supporting his music either. “There were a few clubs in London that were playing different, bassline sort of stuff in London”, Q explains. “I remember when I first started making tracks, I’d go down to Purple E3 on Saturday nights. A couple of Rinse DJs used to play there … people like Wesley J … so I’d basically make tracks and take them down with me to give to whoever was DJing at Purple. These were early MSN days as well but I remember having to send a lot of the tracks I was making first by post on CD.” So, what was it like for Q to connect with DJs and producers outside of Huddersfield, I wondered; was it difficult? “I was the kinda guy yeah … you see when you’d get vinyl sleeves with phone numbers printed on the reverse in small print? I used to phone the number, mainly just to see who’d answer, as a fan boy more than anything. I remember there was this Geeneus release on Dump Valve … ah what was it called … it had a green label … I can hum the song but I can’t remember what it was called. ‘Da Journey’, that was it. I remember phoning up the number on the back and guess who answered? Slimzee. I chatted to him for a while and asked how I could get hold of some of the tracks he was playing and he told me about Rhythm Division. He hooked me up with them, so I was able to start ordering all these records direct from there.”

“I remember there was this Geeneus release on Dump Valve … ah what was it called … it had a green label … I can hum the song but I can’t remember what it was called. ‘Da Journey’, that was it. I remember phoning up the number on the back and guess who answered? Slimzee.”

Armed with a new treasure trove of records, Q started to play college parties — “I remember getting paid £15 for my first ever booking” — and slowly, his dream of making music a full-time pursuit began to unfold in front of him. While the club scene in Huddersfield and surrounding towns and cities was tight-knit and difficult to breach in the mid 00s, Q still found himself surrounded by people ready to lend a helping hand, too. “Production wise, S-Tee would always show me a lot of love … he used to make funky with Andy Jay. He worked at a studio in Huddersfield, so he’d let me go down and record mixes and use the studio, so I got accustomed to what it was like to be working in studios quite early. I got onto pirate radio in Huddersfield around that time too, even though it was hard to get into then. I lasted three weeks on a station called … I think it was Passion FM. I’ll never forget this but I’d been on for a few weeks and I got a call about playing a slot on a Friday night … and at the time, the Friday night slot was the one. I went down with about three MCs, but one of the MCs must have leaked where the venue was and about 100 people turned up … it was like a party in there. From then onwards, I was banned from the station.”

To fund his appetite for buying records (and trainers!), Q had also got a job at his local Tesco while he was at college — “…flipping hell, I was on the checkouts for two years!” — leaving shortly before the release of his first ever record in 2004. Released by 2020 Records, ‘Love Like This’ felt like a dream come true. “I’d made it purely to play in my sets, so it was a funny one”, he explains. “I’d been playing it up north but because I was going to down to Purple E3 in London quite a bit, I built a rapport with a few DJs down there … Wesley J and DJ Excel in particular. I sent them the track and they starting playing it and told me it was going down well in Purple, so they asked to release it. I’d actually done a remix of Donna Deep – ‘Loving You’ for them just before ‘Love Like This’ came out, which had my remix on one side and a Delinquent remix on the other. The whole thing felt like a fucking dream, man.”

With his first record now under his belt, Q left college and took himself off to Leeds Metropolitan University to study Music Technology, where he would stay for a year; “it wasn’t like music technology is today”, he says, “it was more to do with recording bands and loads of music theory. The stuff I wanted to do, I was doing at home anyway, so I thought to myself ‘I’m gonna just have to go all out at this music thing’ and decided to leave to focus on that.”

Buoyed by how far his music was starting to travel, Q also acknowledges being ‘lucky’ and in the right place at the right time at numerous points along the way. It was in Leeds for example, that his journey to BBC 1Xtra would start, through a choice meeting between a friend and a producer at the station. “I remember I was on a random night out in Leeds and my friend was in a takeaway”, he recalls. “A woman came up to him in the queue and told him she worked for 1Xtra and she asked if he knew any DJs in the area, because they were looking to branch out. He ended up giving her my number and I remember him telling me on the way home … I just thought he was chatting shit. About a month later, I got a phone call from a producer at 1Xtra who asked if I’d be interested in sending a mix over because they wanted to listen to my stuff. I sent the mix and I didn’t hear anything for a while, before getting a call from one of the station bosses at the time. Imagine this, he said ‘can you come down tomorrow for a pilot, we really like the mix’. You know what I said? I didn’t even know what a pilot was at the time or anything, so I said, ‘ah, do you know what it is? I can’t come down because I can’t afford to get down to London tomorrow, but if anything else comes up another day, let me know’.”

“I didn’t hear anything after that but it was around the same time that Richie ViBE Vee and Dreem Teem were on 1Xtra”, he continues, “and I’d often send my music to them anyway. Richie played a couple of tracks and ended up inviting me down for a guest mix. When I went down to 1Xtra a few months later to meet Richie and record the mix, one of the producers, Rebecca, came into the room and said, ‘are you the guy that passed up on the 1Xtra show?’. I was like, ‘eh?’. She explained what was going on and asked if I’d be able to stay a few days and luckily I had somewhere to crash in London. I ended up meeting the station boss on Saturday, before going out to Purple E3 later that night before having another meeting on the Sunday. My train ticket was only valid on the Sunday so I had to go back that night, but they asked me to come back down again the next day, on the Monday. They paid for my tickets and I headed down again, recorded a pilot show and that was that. I remember I went away to Malia on the Tuesday for a week, but I didn’t have my phone on for most of it. When I got back, I got a call saying that they wanted me to start a show and of course, I took it. For the first two years, it was me one week with Terror Danjah and his Aftershock show the next week on rotation, so it was a show every fortnight, before I got given my own weekly show. I got the train down every week without fail … from 2004 until 2012, so for eight years. It was Friday nights at first, but for the last three years, I had a show every Tuesday. It was crazy, man.”

Q’s time on 1Xtra was huge for UKG. He was the only DJ with a weekly specialist show on national radio playing it regularly, which saw the music start to ripple out across the country, with scenes suddenly springing up in unfamiliar cities. But it wasn’t easy to bed in — far from it. “I was just this new kid for a while”, he recalls. “I remember yeah, I won’t say who it was, but a producer I used to send music to on MSN … I remember lugging all my vinyl down from Huddersfield for Old School week on 1Xtra … and the next day on MSN, he said to me, ‘how can someone so young know about old school garage? 1Xtra need to sort themselves out’. When I joined the station I was 18 but I’d been collecting records since I was 13, so it was a bit weird to get responses like that.”

The 1Xtra gig didn’t open the floodgates in terms of bookings like he’d imagined it might either, although his own productions were starting to find homes on important, sought-after labels. He released two-track 12” ‘Rider / Random’ on JJ Louis’ prolific Southside Recordings imprint in 2005 — “that were really massive for me” — before a slew of Q records on labels like More 2 Da Floor over the next few years heralded the bassline explosion, which was amplified by the chart success of T2’s bassline anthem, ‘Heartbroken’, in 2007. “I remember Nev Wright messaging me back then on RWD Forum”, Q recalls. “He was telling me they’d all been playing my records at Niche and stuff, so I connected with all them lot around that time. The more music I ended up sending to them, the more I did start to see bookings coming in for bassline shows up north. I’d actually played my first release, ‘Love Like This’, in Huddersfield for about two years before it came out, so when people from the town started to see and hear it popping up on bassline CDs, it was a big thing you know. It meant my music was in there, it was in the mix. After that, it felt like everyone in Huddersfield was behind me.”

“I’d actually played my first release, ‘Love Like This’, in Huddersfield for about two years before it came out, so when people from the town started to see and hear it popping up on bassline CDs, it was a big thing you know.”

With his career now really starting to motor, Q’s role as bassline flag-bearer took on a whole new meaning with the release of ’You Wot!’ ft. MC Bonez via Ministry Of Sound in 2008. Mirroring the club impact of ‘Heartbroken’ a year earlier, it was a boisterous, no frills bassline anthem that ran riot in the party islands across Greece and Spain that summer. It also charted inside the UK top 50 on release too, earning Q his first ever charting single, which in turn, led to a flood of remix work for the likes of Katy B, Dizzee Rascal and even Amy Winehouse. “I originally put out the record out on vinyl myself”, Q explains, “but it was everywhere, so much so that Ministry wanted to pick it up because I think at the time, every label wanted the next bassline hit. I was in contact with a lot of labels anyway because I was one of the only DJs at the time playing stuff like that on national radio. Between 2007 and 2009, my show actually became, bar a few records here and there, predominantly bassline … or what people would call bassline anyway. ‘U Wot!’ just defined that period for me.”

It was through his show that the majority of his new industry links and connections were made too. He found himself opened up to a whole new world of next-gen labels, producers and collectives over the following years — none more so than first Toddla T’s now defunct Girls Music label and later, Local Action and DJ Haus’ Unknown To The Unknown. Q cites 2010’s ’The Rinse Out’ EP and 2011’s ‘Dibby Dibby Sound’ on Girls Music as both crucial in ushering in a new period in his career, while 2012’s ‘Brandy & Coke’ with Local Action is now widely considered a modern UKG classic. “I’d actually been playing T Williams’ ‘Heartbeat’ with Terri Walker on 1Xtra for ages, proper battering it”, Q recalls, “and Tom (Lea) had put that out on Local Action the year before I think. I’d always supported their releases so after I made ‘Brandy & Coke’, I sent it to DJs and I think Tom was on my list. The funny thing was, a few months before, Mosca had sent out a promo email but forgot to bcc everyone and cc’d everyone by mistake. For a good three or four months, that email thread just became a place for everyone on the chain to send tracks to each other so I think Tom probably heard it there first. He ended up messaging Elijah (co-head of Butterz) and me and Elijah have been friends for years, so he did the intro for us and Tom said he’d like to put it out. It was a big thing for me back then and still is now to be honest, working with Tom. He knows his shit, dun he?”

The reception to ‘Brandy & Coke’ opened Q’s eyes to how far his own music was travelling in different circles, especially via a label that treated his music with respect and honesty — suddenly they weren’t just tunes to play in his sets, but records people could take home and digest and be moved by. It laid the foundations for a partnership that has continued ever since, with Local Action putting out a further 10 DJ Q records over the last eight years, including his landmark 2014 debut album, ‘Ineffable’. “It never started off as an album, if I’m honest”, Q reflects. “It started off as just singles and then it just progressed into an album over time. We had the vocal tracks and built around those until we had enough tracks to call it an album. It was a lot of fun putting it together and working with Tom … I mean like I said, he knows his shit. He’ll come up with ideas or just say things in conversation and I’m always like, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’.” The reception to ‘Ineffable’ reinforced the scope of the pair’s work together too; it was heralded as a garage album ‘trembling with joy and possibility’ by Pitchfork and swooned over by critics, fans and broadcasters alike. Looking back, you could also argue it laid the blueprint for UKG’s recent club revival, too.

There was also his work with Unknown To The Unknown. “Ah Rupert (DJ Haus) needs his flowers, man”, Q says without hesitation. “They’re a great label and the records he put out in 2012, 2013 times were straight bassline, which was really important for me. That relationship came out of me playing bits on 1Xtra …a lot of their stuff was so different to what was around. One of the first records I picked up on was ‘B Leave’ by Dubbel Dutch but even before then, I was a fan of Hot City Bass, who Rupert was a part of. I downloaded one of their tracks as a free download from XLR8R and started playing it in my own sets with garage stuff and it worked. Rupert added me to his mailing list after that and he’d send me records, including the Dubbel Dutch track, which I ended up remixing for him alongside TS7 shortly after. I’ve always had a great relationship with Rupert and the label since.” The two got on so well that they also formed Trumpet & Badman shortly after the release of Q’s ‘All Junglist’ EP on Unknown To The Unknown in 2012. Together, their formidable DJ/production partnership saw them release a trio of scorching 4×4 white label records via Hot Haus — sister label to Unknown To The Unknown — over the next three years, in 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively.

If his contributions to bassline, garage and 4×4 weren’t enough, it’s at this point in our conversation that Q briefly interjects and talk turns to grime. “I was actually making grime when I first starting releasing you know”, he points out, “the record on Southside, JJ Louis’ label, was basically four grime tracks when you look at it. Do you remember N.A.S.T.Y Crew’s first album? I had a track on there. I’m trying to think of all the grime stuff I’ve done … later on I did the JME thing on Tropical, which was huge for me because I always rinsed the first ‘Tropical’ CD. I’ve done a few tracks with Frisco … there’s a video on YouTube actually, ‘What We Do’. The Jammz track as well, ‘Who’s That Girl’. Remember the True Tiger CDs … ‘Eye Of The Tiger’? I had a track called ‘Going Back’ that I produced for Big Seac on there and that was the first proper grime tune I had on CD thinking about it, in probably 2005? Yeah, 2005.”

“Do you remember N.A.S.T.Y Crew’s first album? I had a track on there.”

In and amongst all of this, Q also formed Q Recordings in 2012 — a label to release music from both himself and other artists — and later, DJ Q Music in 2017, solely for his own material. Between the two imprints, he’s released 25 of his own records, including full-length albums ‘All Night’ (2018) and ‘All Night 2’ (2019), in less than eight years — a move he saw as a natural step to take. “The idea was just to be able to put music out regularly, purely for people to listen to. It’s not about thinking too much, more about making tracks available and letting people have them.” With so much going on, has the hunger remained, I wondered. “When I make music, I never make it with the aim of releasing it. I make it because I enjoy it, so the hunger is always there, yeah.”

One more piece of the DJ Q jigsaw first showed itself, again by chance, in 2015. tqd — UKG’s answer to the Beatles — saw Q link up with fellow producers Royal-T and Flava D, both of whom were very much seen as new-school UKG figureheads in their own right, following standout solo and joint releases on Butterz, Formula Records and Rinse. “Again, tqd was never intended to be a thing”, explains Q. “It all started when Elijah had a few days booked in at Red Bull Studios in London and me and Elijah speak all the time. We’d been chatting on iChat and whatever and he was still playing my ‘Woooo’ Remix a lot in his sets, as well as a few of my bassline tracks. I was also supporting Flava D on the radio … I had done since her early Eskibeat grime stuff actually … and I remember showing Elijah Flava’s beats. He liked them but it was actually her garage tracks that he was really into, which he first heard after tuning into one of EZ’s radio shows, and I think that made him want to start working with her. I always found it funny because I was sending him her grime tracks for ages thinking he’d be into them, but it was actually her garage stuff he wanted to put out.”

“Myself and Flava had actually collaborated on Local Action … that ‘PS’ track … and played a few b2b sets by this point”, he continues, “so Elijah invited me down to the studio at Red Bull. It was me and Royal-T in there first and then Flava came in later on. She heard ‘Day & Night’, which she really liked, so we sent her the parts and we ended up with two decent versions of the track, as well as a load of other ideas we’d started as a three. Elijah suggested we put it up on Soundcloud to see what people thought and rather then putting our individual artist names up, we each put a letter forward … and it turns out that tqd looked the best in that order.”

Their debut record, ‘Day & Night’, was released via Butterz in April 2015 to an influx of frenzied responses from fans and DJs alike. “It was actually Tom Shorterz in Birmingham who was onto us really early”, Q explains. “He’s a very forward-thinking promoter … I mean he was booking me in Birmingham in 2012 because I think he could see what was to come, how bassline, grime and garage were fitting together. He was the first to enquire about booking us together as tqd and I remember we played our first ever show in December 2015. I’ll never forget that because I went straight to Birmingham from Dubai to play the set and it was really fun. That was it man, it snowballed from there.”

tqd bookings were soon flying in from all angles, rapidly increasing in size and scale with every passing week, while fans’ appetite for new music saw the trio spend much of 2016 working tirelessly on fresh material. From Warehouse Project to Annie Mac’s AMP all-dayers to Sonar, Outlook, Creamfields and nationwide tours, the rise and rise of tqd was extraordinary — they were the UK’s new tour de force in dance music. To cement their legacy, the trio released their debut album — simply titled ‘ukg’ — via Butterz in March 2017, which was critically-acclaimed from the jump. Across 10 tracks, they managed to signpost garage’s future without ever losing sight of its past — note ‘A Letter To EZ’ for example, a track that paid homage to EZ’s legacy while also playing on Wiley’s infamous ‘Letter 2 Dizzee’ on 2007 album, ‘Playtime Is Over’. “We were actually watching EZ playing after us in Blackpool one time and while he was mixing, we said we should write a track called ‘A Letter To EZ’ … if you listen to the track, I chopped the vocals the way EZ would press the cue button!”, says Q laughing. These deft, intelligent touches, matched by the sheer colour and energy of their productions, made it one of 2017’s most coveted LPs. As Clash put it, “ukg was never going to be anything less than authentic garage in the hands of the gods.”

“We were actually watching EZ playing after us in Blackpool one time and while he was mixing, we said we should write a track called ‘A Letter To EZ’ … if you listen to the track, I chopped the vocals the way EZ would press the cue button!”

“We probably ended up playing every festival going in that period”, Q says, “as well as every club show. It was crazy. What we actually did in that space of time … I mean there wasn’t any garage around that sounded like that at the time. I really think it was the catalyst for a lot of the garage stuff that’s coming back now and we don’t always get the credit for that.”

The crowning tqd live moment would come via Bassfest, a blockbuster all-dayer first held at the Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester in the summer of 2017. It was initially planned as a one-off event that Q and promoter friend Chris Hogg dreamt up after Q had been featured in Channel 4’s Music Nation documentary, ‘It’s Bass Up North’, in late 2014. tqd headlined, with now iconic social media clips of them looking out from a stage to a sea of fans etched long in the memory. “We just felt we needed to put on a bassline event”, he recalls. “Everyone was on a hype from that, so we knew we had to bring back the old school heads and get everyone together. It was so successful, that we brought it back the next year and it’s continued, but now with more and more new artists.” Now crossing over into Sheffield — its new home is the Don Valley Bowl — Bassfest has grown to become one of the country’s biggest new school dance festivals, with Q still heavily involved with the brand to this day. Does he ever feel tired looking back, I ask. “Nah I feel the same as I did 10 years ago, I’ve just got less hair!”

As our conversation starts to wind down, attention turns to Party Like Us and yet another fruitful partnership that continues to bear fruit. “That was another big thing, linking up with AC Slater”, Q notes. “I was just a fan of his, so I hit him up and it turns out he liked my music as well. I released a track called ‘Big … Rupert (DJ Haus) actually helped me out with that by linking me up with Hypercolour to do promo … and it went out to everyone. Richie Hawtin ended up playing it, which was mad, and AC Slater also got back to me to say he really liked it. From there, I ended up remixing a few Party Like Us releases and then AC Slater put out my ‘Sound Boy Connection’ EP in 2013, which actually had my uncle’s vocals on it. AC started Night Bass not long after and I’ve continued to release tracks with them, mainly through their compilations … there was ‘Bigger Than Jaws’ with Sinden too in I think, 2017? Yeah 2017 … and then in September this year, so a month or so ago, I finally released my first solo EP on Night Bass called ‘Zip Zap’, which features more vocals from my uncle. It’s done quite well actually and what’s nice about all this music is that each record seems to get a different reaction … like, my Night Bass stuff gets totally different feedback to the music I put out with Local Action, from the DJs playing it to the playlists the tracks end up in.”

His latest record, ‘All That I Could / It’s You’ — a silvery, two-track UKG bumper — released only last week and saw him return to Local Action proper for the first time since 2016’s ‘Sonic’. It marks the first of a series of new Local Action releases for Q, who despite being nearly 20 years deep in the game, continues to show no signs of slowing down. “The appetite is still there, most definitely” he says humbly, “..and that’s all it is really, I just love making music for people.” Still grounded by the same principles he adopted as a kid and relentlessly motivated by a pure and undiluted love of music, it feels like for all his achievements to this point, the DJ Q puzzle isn’t quite complete just yet. “I’ve seen DJs online asking about bringing clubs back and wanting to be playing out again”, he concludes, “and I see their point of view, but for me, I’m just enjoying having the time to work on music. Because there are no clubs now, my whole way of making music has changed … I’m not writing music just to get a reaction on the dance floor anymore. I’m approaching things differently and taking my time, learning more about my own music as I go.” DJ Q concept album, anyone? We can only hope.

DJ Q’s ‘All That I Could / It’s You’ is out now on Local Action:

https://djqmusic.bandcamp.com/album/all-that-i-could

Jamz Supernova

On graft, learning on the job, Reprezent Radio, BBC 1Xtra, Future Bounce, A&R, South London and her new puppy, Ché.

(All photos submitted by Jamz Supernova)

Jamz Supernova is entirely self-made. From every DJ booking to every radio show, every club night to every record on her Future Bounce label; all of it stems from years of hard work, belief and perseverance, the majority of it neither seen nor documented.

When COVID-19 first struck in March, Jamz was returning from a trip to Johannesburg, where she’d been working with local female creatives on a trip with the British Council, simultaneously building another network to feed back into the borderless, global ethos that underpins her Future Bounce brand. With the prospect of losing the vast majority of her DJ income on the horizon, the pandemic posed another hurdle — perhaps the biggest of her career so far. “It’s been a weird, weird time in lots of ways, but it’s allowed me to spend my time looking at different projects”, she says assuredly, “and assess what I want and what I’d like to do going forward. It’s been a good time for reflection in that sense and because I’m a busy body, I’ll always fill my time anyway, so it’s been a case of swapping things out and focusing on what I can control. I don’t have any idea when I’ll be out gigging again, so I’m doing what I can.”

Busy body is an understatement. Independently self-taught as a DJ, broadcaster, A&R and even journalist — she recently penned a long-read on the UK’s relationship with South African house music for Bandcamp — her passion for music has been life-long. Born in Walsall just outside of Birmingham to parents of Irish, Jamaican and Cuban heritage, she moved to South London shortly after she was born and has remained ever since, moving between Catford, New Cross Gate, Sydenham and Penge, where she now lives with her partner and puppy, Ché. “He’s made me so happy, he’s given me routine … you can’t be sad around a puppy”, she says, panning the camera round to see Ché staring longingly Jamz’s way. “Just watching him grow over the last few months has been really nice.” 

“My parents met at drama school when they were 17”, she continues as we start to discuss her childhood, “and they split up when I was young and both went onto have other families. I’d spend every other weekend at my dad’s house and my dad became a Jehovah’s Witness shortly after they split, so I was between two very different households. Being at my mum’s … she was very liberal, I could swear, well swear in context … where as my dad was different, I’d have to ask to go to the shop and stuff like that, it was quite bizarre. Both of them were really creative people though. My dad was an actor … he did small stuff in The Bill for a while but it was mostly theatre … and he did that until I was about 10 and traveled quite a bit. My mum has always worked in education as a drama teacher and I guess both of them have always supported me in whatever I’ve chosen to do. You know you hear about some parents putting their insecurities on their children, they didn’t do that at all. They always said I could do anything, be anything … and always enhanced whatever me and my brother were doing and tried to help us be the best we could be.”

“You know you hear about some parents putting their insecurities on their children, they didn’t do that at all. They always said I could do anything, be anything.”

Football was also a big part of Jamz’ teenage life. She’d often play with her older brother, before signing up to play Sunday league. Could she have ever made it as a professional, I wondered. “I played until I was about 16 but I think if I got into a bigger team, I would definitely have continued”, she says with a smile. “I was a defender, a right back actually and I used to think I was really good but never got past any of the trials I went for. I played for a team called Kent Magpies in the Kent league and to be honest, I loved it.”

“Music too was a big part of both sides of my family”, she continues. “It’s just what we did. We played each other music, we swapped CDs … my dad used to be one of the people that would go to WH Smith’s or HMV, buy a CD, come back and tape it, and then take it back. My uncle would always bring CDs over to my mum’s house too and everyone would always have a big system. I’d just sit there and take it all in so I guess music for me, like it didn’t feel like a case of getting into it … it was just always there. It probably makes sense of everything I do now, you know.” 

As for the music she was exposed to, it varied depending on whoever was bringing CDs home. “My dad was more into new jack swing and neo soul, where as my mum was into a lot more 90s stuff … SWV, 702 and stuff like that. When she met my stepdad Will, she also got into a lot more indie music and bands like Oasis, Blur, Catatonia … a lot of Brit pop basically. There was also a big Caribbean influence as well, so there was a lot going on for me musically.”

Inspired by the music of her upbringing, it led Jamz to apply for a course at The BRIT School in Croydon after finishing her GCSEs. “I couldn’t sing or anything like that”, she says, “but I could play piano … well I could only play Alicia Keys but I wasn’t sure I could get in just playing that. I went to the open day with a friend who sang and wanted to apply herself. When I got there, I found out they also offered media as a course so I was like ‘ok, sick, I’m gonna go for this’. I got in and spent my two college years there. It was such an eye-opener because I am an academic person … I gave my GCSEs everything, I had mind-maps all over my room … but I think I was just tired at the end of it all. You put all that work in, you get your results and then what? It didn’t feed me, where as being hands-on at The BRIT School, I could see the work that I was doing, it meant something.”

“I gave my GCSEs everything, I had mind-maps all over my room … but I think I was just tired at the end of it all. You put all that work in, you get your results and then what? It didn’t feed me, where as being hands-on at The BRIT School, I could see the work that I was doing, it meant something.”

“I’d always listened to radio, I used to listen to Dr Fox do the chart show which I’d tape every weekend”, Jamz continues,  “and then I discovered local pirate stations, I always listened to Choice FM in the car … and then I got given a Freeview box, which is where I discovered 1Xtra. I knew from 15, maybe 16, I knew that I wanted to do something in radio so when I got to BRIT School and they had their own radio studio it was like, ‘this is it’. They had a station called BRIT FM and I just threw myself into it and did as much as I could. When I left, I didn’t feel the need to go to university because I’d already done so much. For example, I oversaw this broadcast in Croydon town centre back in 2009 when I was 19 and Katy B was a guest, she performed live for us and I was producing it, sorting the levels, running around and just making sure everything ran smoothly. I remember meeting CJ Beatz there, who was her DJ at the time, and he pulled me aside and said to me, ‘I bet I’m gonna see you at the BBC within a year’. And he was right, I made it within a year.”

Jamz had also landed a job as a teaching assistant at the school her mum taught at to make ends meet — “I’d recommend it to anyone, it’s the perfect job because you can use the holidays to pursue whatever else you want to do” — which afforded her the time to continue her broadcast work, as well as attend events, network and connect. “I remember one time though”, she says laughing into the camera, “I’d been up all night and woke up after a few hours sleep and called my mum like, ‘mum, I don’t think I’m gonna make it in today’ and she was like ‘this is my name you’re ruining, you better get your arse in right now!’.”

During the school holidays, Jamz found herself heading out on as many work experience placements as she could, even earning the chance to attend the Edinburgh Festival via a scheme run by The Guardian. She subsequently applied for a slew of runner jobs and found herself moving between Channel 4, MTV, Freshly Squeezed and a number of other production companies, racking up hours of valuable experience. The holy grail? “During that whole time, I was always applying for the BBC”, she reflects, “but I never got a reply. That was until I’d been a part of this crazy presenting competition that Nokia ran. They were looking for presenters, so the idea was you had to film a short clip of yourself presenting something, send it in and they’d pick out a winner. I got down to the final six, which meant I got to go to Los Angeles, Cannes, Barcelona, Austria to present… these things don’t happen anymore, do you know what I mean? I remember we had to blog our experiences as well, it was all crazy. Off the back of that, I finally got a reply from 1Xtra. When I found out I’d got an interview, I was just coming back from LA as part of this Nokia competition, so I had to ask them if I could come in the following day. I think I just sort of sauntered in thinking I was hot shit because I was gonna make it as a presenter, even though this was work experience for a producer role. I just had this confidence … I don’t know where it came from, but it got me the job and I started a two month placement that summer. When I first got there, they asked me ‘do you want to be on air or in production?’ and I replied ‘on air’. They said to me, ‘right, we’ll see if you still feel the same at the end of your work experience’, so they asked me again and my answer was the same. I actually loved the production work though and I seemed to be quite good at it, so I came back to work as a production assistant once my work experience ended and stayed working behind-the-scenes at 1Xtra for five years.”

“I think I just sort of sauntered in thinking I was hot shit because I was gonna make it as a presenter, even though this was work experience for a producer role. I just had this confidence … I don’t know where it came from, but it got me the job and I started this two month placement that summer.”

Coincidentally, Jamz had also been offered a slot on burgeoning youth station, Reprezent Radio, in the same week she was offered work experience by 1Xtra — an important proving ground for many who have gone onto enjoy broadcasting careers elsewhere, including Scully, Joe Walker, Sherelle and previous Polymer interviewee, Naina. “What I would do was take everything I was learning at 1Xtra and implement it in my own shows on Reprezent”, she explains. “They actually offered me a drive time show and I knew I couldn’t turn it down because I knew I’d be such a better broadcaster by the end of it. The problem was, I still needed to work because I lived on my own, so what I would do was work at 1Xtra from 8am until 4pm, head over to Reprezent to do the drive time show from 5pm until 7pm and then go back to 1Xtra and do another shift, from 8pm until 2am … and do it all over again the next day. I did that for 9 months … I’d even sleep in the toilets at the BBC! But I thought to myself, I’ll never need to work this hard again.”

“..what I would do was work at 1Xtra from 8am until 4pm, head over to Reprezent to do the drive time show from 5pm until 7pm and then go back to 1Xtra and do another shift, from 8pm until 2am … and do it all over again the next day. I did that for 9 months … I’d even sleep in the toilets at the BBC!”

With such a brutal work schedule, time for honing her skills as a selector was limited — when did she have the time to discover new music? “That’s one of the benefits of being at the BBC”, she explains with a smile, “I always had access to this endless catalogue of tunes and DJs were always bringing new music into the building as well. In terms of discovering new music for myself, I mean … that’s my downtime. I love spending time online finding music, so I’d get home and just trawl through Soundcloud and play tracks.”

“I didn’t actually start DJing until I was about 22, 23 I’d say”, Jamz continues, “and I always thought I’d missed my chance because I hadn’t been DJing in my bedroom since I was a teenager. It was stupid really but, as I’m sure Naina would have mentioned, I had a great mentor at Reprezent in Gavin. He’s been a really close, guidance councillor ever since really … he even sold me his decks! They were Pioneer CDJ1000 MK 1’s and the market price back then would have been about £800 and he sold me to them for £400 … and I paid in instalments. Once I got them home, I’d spend every spare evening just practicing as much as I could.”

As a DJ, Jamz was aware that her sets wouldn’t always reflect the Soundcloud-era RnB and down-tempo electronics of her radio shows; “I’ve always thought of my broadcast career and my DJ career as quite separate”, she affirms. Inspired by a deep-rooted love of percussion, Jamz’ DJ sets are often colourful, hi-energy and at times, explosive. “I learned to DJ mixing house music but percussion has always driven me. I actually only learned to DJ RnB and hip-hop stuff three or four years ago because dance music was my passion, it’s what I’d dedicated my time to behind the decks. I don’t know if I had the words for it back then, but I guess what I love to play is electronic music from the black diaspora. I remember when I first discovered Branko’s label, Enchufada, I was like ‘ah, this is so cool, this music feels familiar’ … essentially it was music from the black diaspora, but merged with a European influence.”

During her time juggling working behind-the-scenes at 1Xtra and hosting the drive time show at Reprezent, Jamz was also submitting demos to various heads of music at the BBC. “I sent demos every year for five years”, she says bullishly, “and I remember crying in the meeting after being told I wasn’t quite good enough the first year I sent a demo in because I really thought I had it, even though I was only 21 and didn’t really have much experience. The second year, they replied with pretty much he same feedback and then in the third year the feedback was that I was getting better, but nobody outside the station really knew who I was. It was probably during that time that I came off drive time at Reprezent and took on a specialist show instead. I really started to knuckle down and focus on what I wanted to play and what I wanted to rep for, so I found myself deep in the Soundcloud era stuff that was blowing up at the time. I’d put my shows straight up on my own Soundcloud within hours of them broadcasting on Reprezent and I did that for two years straight, which saw my Soundcloud really start to grow. In the fourth year of sending in demo applications at 1Xtra, they could see I was starting to build a profile but I still wasn’t quite what they were looking for.”

“By the fifth year, I’d actually started producing Toddla T’s show and was having a really great time”, she continues. “He would just let me do whatever I wanted to do … like it was hip-hop month one time and I suggested we make a mini documentary live on air and he was like ‘yeah, lets do it!’ … we did loads of crazy stuff. He saw how hard I was working too, so he’d bring me in on his shows and I’d start warming up for him, even if we were in Jamaica or whatever and I was out there working as a producer. It meant that by that fifth year, I didn’t really feel like I needed a show because my Soundcloud was popping, I had a show that I loved on Reprezent and I was getting to DJ quite a lot anyway … and of course that’s then when they decided to offer me a show! But I didn’t find out for a while that they’d made that decision. I remember one day, all of a sudden, I was told I was being taken off Toddla’s show and I was distraught, I was really upset. They’d told him but they hadn’t told me that part of the reason why I was being taken off was that they were going to offer me my own show and he couldn’t tell me for ages. I ended up getting a call from the head of the station’s PA about two months later saying he wanted to see me tomorrow and I came off the phone, looked at my boyfriend and said, ‘I’ve got a show’ … I just knew.” The relief and the joy was palpable. “I think I was a bit overwhelmed to be honest”, Jamz reflects, “but I’ll always remember those five years. I know now that I can do anything. I don’t know how long it’ll take but I know I’ll get there eventually.”

Jamz’s 1Xtra show began in 2015, where she continues to broadcast every Tuesday night to this day, after originally starting out with a daytime slot at weekends. It didn’t herald a sudden deluge in DJ bookings — “my bookings actually tailed off a bit initially” — nor a sudden explosion of social media likes or follows, but it gave her confidence and purpose. “It actually meant I really had to start building my identity away from the radio fro the first time”, she explains. “Because my DJ sets were so different to the stuff people knew me for on 1Xtra, it did take me that much longer to really establish myself … and that’s why I started to run my own club nights.”

Housed at the now long-since closed Birthdays in Dalston, Jamz began programming her Future Bounce club nights in 2016, purely to showcase the music she wanted to play; “I thought, if I’m not getting booked or booked on line-ups I’d like to be billed on, then I’m gonna book them myself”, she explains. Roska, Branko, Starslinger, Big Dope P and Swindle were just some of the early names to play Future Bounce nights, nodding to Jamz’s curatorial skills for the first time. “Now I get booked alongside DJs like that”, she says firmly, “so I think it’s just about planting seeds in people’s heads.” Wherever Jamz sees a problem, she finds her own solutions — time and time again.

“I thought, if I’m not getting booked or booked on line-ups I’d like to be billed on, then I’m gonna book them myself.”

The club nights would lead to the Future Bounce brand — originally the name she gave to her specialist show on Reprezent — to grow exponentially over the next few years. Intent on maintaining momentum after joining 1Xtra, Jamz had initially trialed a host of different ideas, from a Soundcloud page to host mixes — “we had one from Masego which is still online somewhere I think” — to playlists, to even a YouTube channel; “I tried it for a month and realised that it wasn’t really for me”, she admits, “but then came the club nights and they made a lot more sense.” 

So, where did the label fit in? “I’d always been told, ‘oh you should start a label’ by loads of different people but I always felt like I didn’t know enough about it”, Jamz explains. “I’d always felt unsure of it, but one day I came across an artist that I really liked and went to a distributor to secure some money for them. I had a good relationship with a guy heading up the company and he said to me he’d much rather give me the money to start my own label rather than just help one artist. That was my golden ticket … you can’t really turn that down really. I started it with my manager at the time, who had worked with Chase & Status on their MTA label and also used to produce Trevor Nelson’s show on 1Xtra on Saturday nights. We had this mutual, kinda linear experience of coming up together so with her experience of running labels and my own vision for the A&R side of things, it worked really well.”

Launched in January 2019 with the release of Ted Jasper’s ‘One Day’ EP, Future Bounce — functioning around striking a balance between multi-genre development artists and more immediate, club-focused output — has since released 15 records, including a new monthly club series that kicked off in March. “It’s a boutique label I suppose”, Jamz explains, “and I do look to Branko’s label Enchufada and maybe labels like XL Records as inspirations, but for us it’s always been a launchpad. I come across music so much and there are so many artists that I think are sick that not enough people know about. I see my job being head of the label as being a big megaphone, someone to shout about it all. So far, it’s far exceeded my expectations.”

“I do look to Branko’s label Enchufada and maybe labels like XL Records as inspirations, but for us it’s (Future Bounce) always been a launchpad. I come across music so much and there are so many artists that I think are sick that not enough people know about. I see my job being head of the label as being a big megaphone, someone to shout about it all.”

With her brand fully established and 1Xtra show — a goldmine for new sounds lifted from across a huge cross-section of scenes — now five years deep, talk quickly turns to legacies. “I really believe that it will be a big part of my legacy”, Jamz says warmly. “Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, especially around Giles Peterson’s story and the people that were around him, you know the sort of Talking Loud days … I feel like that’s what Future Bounce could be.”

If she continues to unearth gems like Melle Brown, Swsh and Sola, then there’s no reason why not, either. “Signing Melle Brown was my first, real A&R experience”, Jamz recalls, smiling. “She had no music readied at the time but I’d DJ’d with her and she’d played a few of her own tracks that I was vibing to. I really wanted to sign a female producer too and I felt like it could be her off the bat, you know. She didn’t really have any new music on the cards, so I booked her a load of studio time, worked on finding vocalists and helped her bring a record to life. She ended up being played on every radio station, every BBC station, from 6Music to BBC R1 to BBC R2 to 1Xtra … Rebecca Judd and even Elton John on Apple Music. It really built her profile and helped shine a light on the label as well.” So successful was her debut EP, ‘Intersection’, that Jamz commissioned a follow-up Remix EP, featuring thoughtful edits from the likes of Digital Mozart, KG and Scuffed Recordings’ co-head, High Class Filter.

And then came Swsh – “we flew to Berlin to meet with COLORS and secured them a session, which changed Swsh’s life and raised the profile of the label, which was incredible” — who released their track ‘How You Feel’ on Future Bounce last July, and more recently, Sola. “The most exciting artist I’m working with at the moment that I want to work with long-term is Sola”, Jamz affirms. “We put her ‘Mami Wata’ EP out recently after I’d put a call out looking for new club stuff. I had played some of her music on 1Xtra before but the tracks she sent over in response weren’t for the club in my mind … but I still thought it was cool. She’d actually been given some funding but was looking for a label to help her release her music, so I got onboard and managed the whole campaign for her. The music was already there …. I mean, I helped with the mix downs and stuff like that … but everything else was all her. She’s one of those artists that everyone should want to be like right now. The concepts, the vision for her music, the videos, the artwork … she handles it all. My job has been to build a team around her and manage how we release it. What’s exciting now is that she feels like she’s ready to get in the studio with other artists, so I’m already thinking about how to A&R the next project we work on. She’s a real class act though … there are a lot of singers who I think are great, but if they didn’t sign with Future Bounce, I could find another just as similar. That isn’t the same for Sola. The way she writes, the way she looks, the way she carries herself … she’s just really unique. She could be my FKA Twigs, for sure.”

Having already worked herself to the bone for over a decade, even as our conversation winds down in anticipation of a virtual BBC Introducing panel she’s about to join, Jamz’s hunger to continue breaking new ground is extraordinary. Just talking about the next record, the next radio show, the next milestone seems to energise her. “I’ve had to wear so many different hats”, she says, “and mostly out of necessity, whether it be being my own PR or promoting my own club nights. But mostly, I’m just a nerd and I get a kick out this stuff. Even now, if I see one of our Future Bounce records getting a review in Mixmag or whatever, I love it … it’s such a buzz. For me, all of the work I do never feels disconnected or like I’m wasting my time in the wrong areas though. I can see how it all fits together, how everything influences everything else.”

“For me, all of the work I do never feels disconnected or like I’m wasting my time in the wrong areas though. I can see how it all fits together, how everything influences everything else.”

That said, as she reflects on the last few months, in which she also covered 6Music shows for Giles Peterson shows for the first time — “they were the highlight of my radio career so far, they pushed me, they challenged me and affirmed to me that I am actually a good broadcaster” — there is one lesson she’s learned recently that sticks out more than most. “I know I do a lot but I really have started to learn to say no”, Jamz concludes. “I’ve been really, really thinking about the consequences and the impact of the decisions I make. Is it gonna push the needle, is this thing gonna help my career going forward? I had flashbacks during lockdown of a time when I’d had a car accident and broken my leg but still wanted to gig. I went all the way to the Netherlands to play Eurosonic which should have even a great gig, but I was in so much pain that I played poorly … and we had to catch the train there. It was awful, I cleared the room and I never got booked again. There was definitely a lesson in that for me so from now on, I’ll be prioritising better and approaching opportunities thinking about what I can give to them and hopefully, what I can gain from them too.”

You can tune into Jamz Supernova live on BBC 1Xtra every Tuesday from 9pm GMT.

You can dig into the Future Bounce label discography via Bandcamp here:

https://futurebounce.bandcamp.com/