— Mella Dee —

On Doncaster, school reports, skating, art, breaks, Techno Disco Tool and taking Warehouse Music global.

(All photos submitted by Mella Dee)

“I remember getting one of my school reports back and my teacher said, ‘if Ryan was any more laid back he’d be horizontal.” It’s Sunday morning and I’m speaking to DJ, producer and label head Mella Dee from Bethnal Green, where he’s just moved after almost seven years living in West London. We’re both tired. “Probably better to just do this over audio” he says on text before I call, “because I’m still on 4G. We should have WIFI fitted this week.” 

Mella Dee’s story isn’t a conventional one. Born in Doncaster, he grew up on a diet of happy hardcore, skating and hip-hop in the late 80s and early 90s. He did ‘okay’ at school, he enjoyed photography, he even trained as an electrician — so just how did he become one of the UK’s biggest breakout DJs of the last five years? As we start to chat, it soon becomes clear that there is no singular answer. 

“I knew as soon as this thing hit that things were gonna get a bit peak”, Mella says nonchalantly as we reflect on life during the pandemic, “but I knew that I needed to keep doing what I needed to. At the start of it, I actually started painting and drawing for the first time in a long time and I still had keys to my studio, which wasn’t far from where I was living. I spent a lot of time there just writing because if I’m sat there, I’m not really thinking about anything else. At first, I’ve gotta be honest, it was really strange because it just felt like we couldn’t do anything, but it’s been nice to just be at home and spend weekends with my wife.”

For a touring DJ like Mella Dee who can regularly rack up four to five DJ bookings a week, the last six months has proved a sharp contrast. For some in a similar position the adjustment has weighed heavy, but Mella has taken it in his stride, shaped by experience and an unshakeable can-do attitude. For all its faults, its a mantra shaped by Doncaster and his life growing up in South Yorkshire; “it was nothing like London in terms of opportunities, but there were a few good things about it”, Mella acknowledges.

“I was actually born in a little village called Woodlands”, he continues, “which is an old mining village in Doncaster and it was quite a mad place to grow up. I always remember music as well … nobody in my family played an instrument or anything but it was always there, I listened to music all the time. We moved house when I was 10, maybe 11 because my dad got a better job. We moved to a place called to Scawsby, which wasn’t posh or anything, but it were nicer than where we had been living. I got into skateboarding there, as well as my music, but being into that in Donny … it was strange. Although it’s well connected to other places because so much runs through it, I’ve always felt strange being into creative stuff in Donny because there’s just nothing there.”

“Although it’s well connected to other places because so much runs through it, I’ve always felt strange being into creative stuff in Donny because there’s just nothing there.”

At school, there wasn’t much to report — “I was alright at school … I couldn’t stand being there but I could do the work I needed to in order to get through it” — although he did show a natural flair for art, which he ended up studying at A-Level. “I remember my art teacher used to teach us about specific things, like still life or whatever, but she’d just let me do graffiti because I was good at it and enjoyed it”, he recalls. It’s a passion he’s revisited during lockdown, painting and drawing in his studio whenever inspiration struck. “If I was interested in stuff, I’d put a bit of effort in but otherwise I just wasn’t interested you know”, he says. 

At sixth form, he went onto study art, alongside media and photography, but decided to leave shortly after enrolling, instead heading to college to focus all his energy solely on photography. “It were kinda sick, developing films and stuff”, he explains, “but I basically had free license to do whatever I wanted back then. There was a pass you could get as a student that could get you all over South Yorkshire for £30 a month and you could go anywhere on buses and trains. It meant I could just jump over to Sheffield in about 20 minutes, so I’d go there, go skating, hang out at the skate shops there, take photos and shit like that. There weren’t many skaters in Donny at all, so I was able to meet a group over in Sheffield which definitely made it easier. It was a different crowd, I enjoyed it.”

“There was a pass you could get as a student that could get you all over South Yorkshire for £30 a month and you could go anywhere on buses and trains. It meant I could just jump over to Sheffield in about 20 minutes, so I’d go there, go skating, hang out at the skate shops there, take photos and shit like that.”

Mella’s love for music was always bubbling under the surface, too. “There were always bits and bobs going off in Doncaster”, he reflects, “There was a bit of a house scene that I was part of when I was young, alongside little groups of people building drum & bass scenes… but that never really held strong. If you wanted to listen to hardcore in Donny, you also had The Warehouse, which was a pretty specific place for it. It wasn’t always packed but it was a place to go in Donny for sure. I remember there was a bit of a nu rave scene as well but I wasn’t really on that. It just didn’t catch me at that time.” Had he always gravitated towards electronic music, I wondered. “I mean I’ve been into happy hardcore since I was seven years old”, he says, “but I listen to all sorts. I just take it in, do you know what I mean? Watching skate videos used to open me up to other types of music as well … hip-hop was a big one. But yeah, I just listen to everything and always have done.”

After leaving college, Mella needed to find work. He started to head out on jobs with his dad, fitting roller shutters, industrial doors and even blast doors at chemical plants; “it was all sort of madness to be honest”, he says. Despite the physical demands, it was a job that also afforded Mella time to train as an electrician in 2004; at this point, music was nothing more than a hobby. “I had some mates who’d been to uni and they came back with decks”, Mella recalls, “so I just thought I’d have a go really. I mean I’d played like Dance eJay and shit like that but I didn’t really understand anything about making tunes and I certainly didn’t know a bunch of DJs or a bunch of producers.” How did he take to the decks, I ask. “I was just clanging my arse out”, he says, laughing. “I just had random records that I’d buy with no idea how to mix … hip-hop, quite a bit of drum & bass, garage-y stuff … I’d just experiment. It frustrated me to fuck at first but I knew I had to persevere. I started recording a few mixes and then I’d listen to them in the car and now and again I’d think, ‘oooh, that might have been a half decent mix that’, do you know what I mean?”

“After that, once I was happy with being able to mix, I just started blagging it”, he continues. “I started playing at bassline raves in Donny and actually did that for quite a while. We had this night called Amp, which is funny because my wife Sarah now works for AMP (Annie Mac Presents). I was a resident there and we’d have people like T2, DJ Q and people like that come down to this club in Donny. Me and one of the other residents actually used to chill together and started playing our own little nights in town. We’d play vinyl-only stuff in this little wine bar on Sundays … basically the only place that’d let us do it. I remember hiring a rig from a place in York and bringing it to this bar. I wanted to play heavy stuff and this bar such a shit system, so I was like ‘right, I’m gonna get a rig and people are gonna come out and have a right dance’. I forget about all that shit sometimes. We were just local DJs trying to put summat on.”

“We’d play vinyl-only stuff in this little wine bar on Sundays … basically the only place that’d let us do it. I remember hiring a rig from a place in York and bringing it to this bar. I wanted to play heavy stuff and this bar such a shit system, so I was like ‘right, I’m gonna get a rig and people are gonna come out and have a right dance’.”

Branching out from Doncaster, it’d be a show on Leeds-based pirate, Frequency FM, that’d light the touch paper for Mella Dee’s music to first take off. The station, run by Jason ’Shock’ Taylor, was the heartbeat of young Leeds and an important outpost for electronic music in the city — it was a discovery tool, an access point. “I saw an advert online one day that said Frequency were looking for new shows”, Mella recalls, “so I just sent a demo over and I got an email back and that were it … I was gonna do a show in Leeds.”

Around this time, Mella had also started producing as one-half of Mista Men alongside friend and fellow producer, Woozee. Together, their music — always hard-edged and rugged — referenced the different cornerstones of their own formative clubbing experiences in South Yorkshire; garage, bassline, house. They would go onto release records on Greenmoney, Cheap Thrills and even Unknown To The Unknown, but it was through Mella’s solo shows on Frequency FM that most of his early connections were made. “I was meeting people, doing radio meetings and stuff like that”, he explains. “It was just a good place to be.”

Liquid Steel Sessions, a club night born in Sheffield and transported to Leeds by founder Reuben G after moving to the city for university, was also an important marker in Mella’s fledgling DJ career. He was booked to play at Hifi, one of the city’s best kept secrets — an amazing small venue with a booming Funktion One system — and soon got a taste for playing to raucous, bustling crowds. “Liquid Steel was sick, just being able to play to students and busy, rowdy crowds, it was different”, Mella recalls. “I could play what I wanted and it’d just go off.”

And then came Tropical — a monthly club night Mella founded alongside fellow DJs Jera and Jangle, both of whom he met at Frequency. Jera was from Leeds and Jangle was new to the city for university, but all three of them clicked instantly; “We all loved the UK funky stuff that was popping off in that 2007, 2008 sort of time”, says Mella. Held each month at Wire, another of Leeds’ best, low-ceilinged small clubs, it was actually Tropical that first brought myself and Mella Dee together. As a student in Leeds at the same time, I found myself a regular at dubstep nights, but was also intrigued by other events booking DJs I’d only ever heard snippets of on Rinse FM. “I remember we had like Ramadanman (now Pearson Sound), Heny G and people like that on the line-ups early on”, says Mella. “Oneman, I think that was probably the first time Oney ever came up to play in Leeds … Girl Unit, Mickey Pearce, there was loads man.” I headed to four or five Tropical nights over a six month period between 2009 and 2010, making myself familiar to Mella, Jera and Jangle and other influential residents of the time, like Liquid Steel Sessions’ Reuben G and Frenzy D. It was a club night that opened my eyes to how far dance music could reach but for Mella, it felt like another piece of the puzzle; “that whole period were really good”, he says warmly.

After Tropical slowly faded out, Mella concentrated on Mista Men — “we were DJing quite a bit, we played Amsterdam, Glasgow … it was really good for us to get booked elsewhere back then” — with a quartet of records backing up lots of press interest, including 2012’s ‘Uttu’ EP for Unknown To The Unknown. On the side though, Mella was also experimenting with his own music, all the while holding down work with his dad. “Thankfully, he saw the benefit of me doing my music stuff”, says Mella, “but I spent a lot of time doing those shifts with him, DJing and trying to learn to produce properly … it were hard, man. There were loads of times when I’d just played somewhere and I’d be driving home, knowing that I had to be up at 5 in the morning to go to work with my dad. I just had to get on with it, get up fucking knackered and get through the day, moving fucking steel around.”

“There were loads of times when I’d just played somewhere and I’d be driving home, knowing that I had to be up at 5 in the morning to go to work with my dad.”

By this point, I’d returned home to London after graduating in 2010 and was writing a blog. Mella was one of a handful of producers sending me new music, much of it with nowhere to go. In early 2012, he sent over a ruff-and-ready, wot-do-you-call-it beat that caught me off guard; it was called ‘CTRL’. Fast-forward three months and after listening to the track incessantly, compounded by regular conversations with Mella, I felt inspired to put it out. Coyote Records was born and ‘CTRL’ was released on 12” in July 2012, with remixes from Baobinga (now Sam Binga), Mr. Mitch, MA1 and Grievous Angel. “I think that is the first record you’ll ever see with Mella Dee written on it”, he says. It’d prove a pivotal moment for both of us but for Mella Dee, it also helped zero in on exactly what sort of music he wanted to make and the type of music he wanted to build a career from. 

After moving to London later shortly after the release of ‘CTRL’, Mella also remixed Coyote’s second release, ‘Grade A’ by TS7, in November 2012 — “that were mad considering I’d spent so long buying TS7’s records back in Donny” — before a slew of records followed for other breakout labels like Slit Jockey, Shabby Doll and Omena. He was busy and consistent during his early years in London, if still caught up in making whatever he liked; from sabre-toothed grime beats (‘Don’t Be Nesh’) to crunchy, peak-time house (‘Things Don’t Change’). It was a versatility that proved a blessing and a curse, until he produced ‘GT Turbo’ in 2014. Heavy on breaks — “I definitely hit them hard for a few years” — it pricked the ears of Shy FX after he heard Melé play it at Tuesday Club in Sheffield. “He heard him play it and just said, ‘I want that tune’ apparently”, Mella recalls. “It was sick really, to have someone like Shy FX say that, especially at the time and where I was with music.”

Released on Shy’s Digital Soundboy label, ‘GT Turbo’ laid the foundations for ‘Rhythm Nation Vol.1’ — a defining eight-track beat tape rooted in hardcore, breaks and jungle — and ‘Here / Trellick’, another weighty, breaks-inspired two-track 12” released by Redlight’s Lobster Boy imprint in 2015. “I’d known Hugh (Redlight) for a while, I’d actually first met him through Sarah at BLOC, alongside people like Roska and Toddla T, and we’d talked about doing something together for a while. I sent him tunes for ages and we worked towards an EP. It were really nice to get it done … you know, releasing on your friend’s record labels, it’s a cool feeling.”

It was a 12-month period that had, almost by chance, given Mella direction for the first time. “It was great, I mean it got me some bookings, I got to go out and play with the Digital Soundboy crew … it basically meant I could get a bit more money together to live off DJing.” At the same time, he’d also found himself working a number of different industry jobs to help plug the gaps, including working across PPL and PRS, where he would identify and chase up revenue claims for artists. “I was doing PPL stuff for rappers like Fredo, basically trying to help them through the process”, he says. “It was mad really. I’d be finding out if they could claim and if they had money available to them and stuff like that, it was such a random job. I just took it as whatever I needed to do to help get me by.”

After the release of ’Trellick’ — a record named after the iconic residential tower block he’d often walk past in Kensal Town — Mella decided to start building something of his own. Inspired by the connections he’d made in London and the potential his releases were starting to show, it was time for a label. His own label. “Warehouse Music would have been a good starting point, wouldn’t it?”, Mella asks, laughing. “You know my own label where I can just put out my own music and see what people think of it. No, it’s been great. Originally I didn’t really want to start a label, I was just like, ‘can’t I just put out white labels or summat and stamp Mella Dee on them?’, but after a while I knew I should probably start something. I’d been using Warehouse Music as a way of describing how certain music sounded for ages so it just popped into my head one day. It ties in with Donny Warehouse as well, it was an easy choice.”

“Originally I didn’t really want to start a label, I was just like, ‘can’t I just put out white labels or summat and stamp Mella Dee on them?’, but after a while I knew I should probably start something.”

Since its inception in 2017, Warehouse Music has presided over 15 records — nine of which are by Mella himself — all released on bright, bold coloured wax with matching sleeves. It’s an aesthetic that immediately catches the eye and at first, might feel at odds with the rough, industrial connotations of music made for warehouses. “It’s just a big old term, Warehouse Music … and you know the variety of my stuff, it all sounds different”, he explains. “But it could be a warehouse in New York with Frankie Knuckles playing disco or it could be a big, derelict warehouse that’s horrible and nasty … it all fits. And the colours I mean, I just like bright colours.”

While the first five years of Mella Dee records felt like they were honing in on something, the last three have felt like mission accomplished. Emboldened by the success of Warehouse Music, it was the label’s second release — the anthemic ‘Techno Disco Tool’ — that catapulted Mella Dee into the upper echelons of electronic music in the UK. Hammered by Annie Mac on BBC R1, remixed by Todd Edwards and revered for it’s sample of Sister Sledge’s ‘Pretty Baby’, it became one of the defining dance records of 2017, racking up over 17 million streams on Spotify alone; “I still hear football crowds belting it out even now”, says Mella.

The records that followed have also felt like natural extensions of Mella Dee’s personality too, the way he speaks even. EPs like ‘Donny’s Groove’, ‘Exactly Mate’ and ’Techno Belters’ feed right back into his no-nonsense approach to his life and his music, endearing him to a new army of fans who find both dizzy euphoria and comforting solace in his tracks. It’s a simple formula, but mightily effective. Alongside Mella’s own material, Warehouse Music has also welcomed EPs from Spencer Parker, Leo Pol and L-Vis 1990’s Dance System moniker of late, as well as ‘The Muses Come Out At Night’ by Haider — best man at Mella Dee’s wedding. “I always thought that if I was gonna do the label thing, I’d have to do it proper”, Mella says passionately. “I haven’t got the money to fuck about, so I wanted to make sure it was out there and done right.” 

Such has been its impact, the label also won DJ Mag’s Best Of British Award for Best Breakthrough Label in 2017 with Mella receiving the award in front of a packed audience at Egg in Kings Cross. “I was chuffed we got nominated but I didn’t think we’d win”, he says. His acceptance speech? “I got up and just said, ‘big up, thanks!’. I didn’t know what the fuck to say.” Luckily for Mella, much of his talking was done with the airing of his debut BBC R1 Essential Mix the following year in November 2018 — an honour bestowed on him by legendary dance broadcaster, Pete Tong, and a holy grail for DJs the world over. “I’d wanted to do one for a long time”, Mella concedes, “and I kept pushing for one and eventually I got my chance. It was sick, I really enjoyed it. To say that I’ve done one is still mad really.”

In and amongst the industry success, Mella’s bookings also went through the roof. Prior to the pandemic, he’d spent much of the last two years on the road with rarely a spare weekend, playing as far away as Thailand, as well as all over Europe — a far cry from the wine bars of Doncaster. “Because I’d been about so long playing anyway, I kinda jumped into it with both feet, do you know what I mean?”, he explains. “It definitely gets intense if I’m playing in like, five different places in four days or summat, but I mean I love travelling, especially if Sarah can come with me. The flying is knackering but I guess I’ve learned to get better at sleeping on planes, in cars … just sleeping generally. I drink loads of water when I’m at shows now and definitely don’t party all the time. If I’m lucky, I get to go and play somewhere I really enjoy … sometimes I won’t always enjoy it but the main thing is getting to play my music to people. If the sound system’s good, then generally that’s all that matters.”

From playing in a huge, purpose-built field in the middle of a jungle in Thailand to thousands for Circoloco at the turn of 2020 to small, sweaty clubs all over the UK, the novelty has never of being paid to DJ has never worn thin on Mella either. “Anywhere I’ve been, I feel like I’m lucky to have been there”, he says gratefully. “I don’t think playing music to people and then getting paid for it will ever get old for me. I mean there’s a lot of grafting involved and a lot of work goes into it, but it’s sick, I still love it as much as I always did.” The most memorable nights? “Ah, gimme a small room with a rig, a couple of hundred people and pure darkest, that’s it for me. That’s the best.” 

I don’t think playing music to people and then getting paid for it will ever get old for me. I mean there’s a lot of grafting involved and a lot of work goes into it, but it’s sick, I still love it as much as I always did.

While the future of dance music may look especially bleak, Mella Dee seems more than equipped to deal with whatever life can throw at him. “I’m just looking at the future as a continuation of what I’ve been doing and built already”, he explains. “I’ll work on other things, branch out and probably attempt bigger projects and whatever, but I’ve got a lot left to achieve as Mella Dee. The heavy travelling and shows definitely did grind me down a bit but I could be out with my dad, shifting steel you know? If it comes down to that again, then that’s what I’ll have to do, but for now I’ve learned to appreciate everything I’ve been able to do as a DJ.” In short, whatever happens — for Mella Dee, there’s a warehouse for every kind of music.

You can buy Mella Dee / Warehouse Music records direct via Bandcamp:



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

(Sundaysaurus by Asami Watanabe)

Album of the Month: Sundaysaurus – ‘Pretty Poison’ (Chow Down)



1. Comet Crush

2. Potatohead

3. Disco Laundry

‘Pretty Poison’ is the debut album by Seoul-born, Tokyo-based producer Sundaysaurus — a deft and sumptuous nine-track record stitched together like a patchwork quilt. To be released by Manchester-based label and party, Chow Down, it’s a record that feels in part, loosely anchored in the vivid, new-gen grime sounds that first started to pool in the early 2010s, but there are also myriad nods to the sounds that have defined Sundaysaurus’ own club experiences. Aside from ‘Ice Monster’ — the album’s beautiful, heart-wrenching opener — there’s room for spiralling grime trips (‘Comet Crush’), all-out rave euphoria (‘Disco Laundry’), scurrying breaks (‘Sakura Jungle’) and bolshy, inverted club-pop (‘Solar Panel’). Despite sudden shifts and breakneck left turns, each track bleeds into the next with deliberate ease too, thanks largely in part to the widescreen scope of the record as a whole; Sundaysaurus’ sound maybe singular, but on ‘Pretty Poison’, she never loses sight of the bigger picture. One of the best debut albums to be released this year. 9/10


Tune of the Month: Kamran – ‘Destruction’ (1000Doors)

A brave new world

Kamran’s debut EP, ‘Transmission’, listens like a breath of fresh air and ‘Destruction’ — one of five tracks inspired by and shaped by his Iranian heritage — is arguably the best of the lot. An incendiary take on OG grime sounds, refracted through a contemporary lens and spiked with nods to sweet-boy RnG and upfront club rhythm, it bookends an EP that sees Kamran reconnect with both his inner self and his music after nearly a decade producing as Moleskin. Beat of the year contender? Probably. 9/10

Silas – ‘Genesis’ EP (Mean Streets)

Thoroughly impressive 

Silas debuts on Trends’ Mean Streets imprint with the fierce, sabre-toothed growl of ‘Genesis’. Comprised of four tracks, it navigates bruising, smoked out trap (‘Power’), pulsing, neck-snap 8-bar grime and ghostly, low-end hybrids like ‘Evil Monastery’, showcasing a sound rooted in exploration and experimentation. Final cut ’Tribe’ — a thumping, upfront twist on funky a la early Champion productions — is also superb. 8/10

Lemzly Dale – ‘Farewell’ EP (Pearly Whites)

Ingenious — pure and simple

The genius of Lemzly Dale never ceases to amaze and on ‘Farewell’, he brings the Midas touch to four original productions that feel rich, lavish and full-bodied. The sultry, new-money swing of opener ‘Zinger’ — a luxurious, breezy twist on hotel lobby music — is a revelation, while the the cinematic, widescreen drama of Bond-esque villain theme, ‘Paperboy’, is garish and dramatic. Title-track ‘Farewell’ continues the theme apace, steeped in piano glitz and faux romance but cut with razor sharp claps and subtle grime flashes, before the washed out, dreamscape strings of ‘Hope’ start to drift away over the horizon. A marvel. 9/10



Thelem & ONHELL unite on biggest, baddest new single ‘CAUSATUM’ — a joint effort out now on Thelem’s CHAPTERS imprint. Made in just a day and lifted from Thelem’s forthcoming ‘Analogic’ EP, it details crunching low-end pressure, scorched-earth textures and blasts of face-melting, cosmic white noise. Not for the faint hearted but a monster nonetheless. 7/10

Head Space – ‘Bandito’ (New World Audio)

Artillery barrage 

Weaponised, late night dubstep bangers from New World Audio here, this time by way of Russian producer Head Space, who returns for a second outing on the label with ‘Bandito’. The title-track is especially bludgeoning, heavy on both whirring sub and sense of menace, albeit punctuated by short, hushed passages of subdued, mournful respite. The EP also comes complete with a booming remix of ‘Void’ by Q-100 and a further Bisweed flip of Head Space original, ‘North West’, which although breaks-y in part, is utterly devastating. Listen with caution! 6/10

Kodama ft. LX One – ‘Cronauer’ EP (Subaltern Records)

Barcelona stand up!

Subaltern tap Kodama — a new signee based in Barcelona — for their latest 12”, ‘Cronauer’. Comprised of five tracks, it sees Kodama collaborate with dubstep vet LX One on the scything, hardbody title-track, which serves as a looming entry point to his producer world. The gorgeous, hyper-bright, xylophonic melodies of ‘Piranha Plant’ are a delight, while third track ‘Dorsia’ reverts to a more bruising formula, albeit offset by subtle, filmic crackle and delicate melody patterns that lurk below the surface. ‘II Tempo È Oro’ functions around deft piano keys, lo-slung beats and Italian spoken word verses — a real left turn in the context of the EP — before the blissed-out boom of hazy final jam ‘Crookshanks’ closes out. 7/10

Barom – ‘Don’t Leave, Never Arrive Please’ (Off-Switch Audio)

A total surprise package

German producer Barom dazzles on ‘Don’t Leave, Never Arrive Please’ — a sweltering six-track plate of inventive new-school grime sketches. Opener ‘Dusk’ is a mazy, square-wave onslaught awash with nifty textural flashes and bonkers FX, while ‘Agon’ again chops and screws away at conventional grime patterns at will. The contorted, bubblegum melodies and playful glare of the title-track is the EP’s most intriguing cut, while the rasping, neon-lit screech of ‘Bright’ is also a potential show-stealer. Final tracks ‘Pour Gold’ — a baroque, cartoon-y, hi-pressure flip — and the rolling charge of ‘Inim’, offset by delicate, trinket-box melodies, sign off on a record that’ll take many by surprise. 9/10

Hi5Ghost x SAULE – ‘CXT002’ (Cutcross Recordings)

Two of the best face off 

Sicaria Sound’s Cutcross imprint is already laying down markers two releases in, with Hi5Ghost and US producer Saule going head-to-head over four tracks released on chrome-plated USB. The format, which sees the pair share a track each, before remixing an original production of each other’s, aims to help artists connect and cross-pollinate. Hi5Ghost’s ‘Long Way Home’ — a crunching, iced-out lurker — and moody, dungeon-dwelling Saule heater ‘Affliction’ set things in motion, before the pair trade blows, with Hi5Ghost going full battering ram on his breathless remix of Saule’s ‘Lockscrew’. Saule’s jittery, skeletal percussive mix of Hi5’s ‘Breathe’ is a worthy riposte, spotlighting just how far two producers can push each other — even operating in different continents. 8/10

Captain Over – ‘TRANSMISSION 03 (via Bandcamp)

Listen good to do good

Captain Over has worked tirelessly over the last few years, quietly exploring grime and beyond via a multitude of self-released records, even working with Trim on 2018 debut single, ‘Sick’. ‘TRANSMISSION 03’, the third volume in a mixtape series that sees him flip grime, rap and RnB classics and personal favourites, is both punchy and brilliant, as the colourful space-jazz of his ‘What You Need’ edit and syrupy, ray-gun funk of Kid Cudi’s ‘Day n Nite’ twist both attest. Available exclusively via Bandcamp, all proceeds will be donated to Refugee Action and Stop Hate UK, with Captain Over also intending to match all donations himself. Pow! 8/10

Von D – ‘Hunedoara’ EP (Infernal Sounds)

Another one!

Infernal Sounds, one of our favourite labels of the last two years, continue a hot streak of releases by enlisting Von D and ‘Hunedoara’ — a deadly three-track plate that follows recent 12”s for Deep Medi and Artikal Music. The title-track is scything and grandiose, a total battle charge of an instrumental cut with serious weight — it hits front and centre from the off — while B-side cut ‘Akasha’ functions around twisted, looping fairground melodies and again, more signature, monstrous bass weight. Final track ‘Layers’ is the curveball of the three, cut with complex, intricate sound layers (no pun intended) and swirling, oddball FX that showcase a lighter, more playful side to Von D’s output. 8/10


Jakebob continues a stellar 2020 apace with the release of debut album project, ‘Smokers’, which details 12 fresh grime instrumentals — including collaborations with Spooky & Jack Dat — and 3 vocal tracks … out now on Chameleon Audio, it compounds a remarkable breakout 12 months and signposts an increasingly bright future … Tik & Borrow are also at it again, this time via Dirty Beats — their new EP ‘Umans’ spotlights is system-rattling dubstep at its grizzliest … also be on the look out for XTR002 — a 9-track compilation spanning grime, breaks and funky by all Australian producers including Secundus, Shinobi Yurei and Open-eye … it drops October 1 via Sydney-based label, Extra Spicy … looking ahead, listen out for Repulsion’s monstrous ‘Uh Oh’ EP via Next Level Dubstep and Commodo’s ’Stakeout’ EP for Black Acre— a part two of sorts to May’s ‘Loan Shark’ EP, spotlighting why he remains streets ahead of 99.9% of the competition. 


— Ashley Verse —

On grime, fashion, community, chance meetings, life in Mitcham, music videos, opportunity and the importance of shaping your own world view.

(All images submitted by Ashley Verse)

In June 2015, I interviewed Steven ‘Cheeky’ Cee — DJ, promoter and engine room behind Eskimo Dance — for a piece on the legendary grime event for Boiler Room. We met at Boxpark in Shoreditch and meandered between the various bars, walking and talking, before setting up stall at Cook Daily to grab some food. Before our interview began, I noticed a guy with a camera sat in close proximity and it was only as our chat progressed that I realised he was there to shoot us. He was quiet but assured, snapping only at choice moments, capturing the essence of our conversation and the energy and passion Steven spoke with. As our talk drew to an end, punctuated by an impromptu chat to Wiley on the phone from Cyprus — a moment snapped by the photographer — I was finally introduced. “This is Ashley”, said Steven, “he’s been taking some photos for us”. We fist-bumped, said a quick hello and swapped details — “It’s just @AshleyVerse on Twitter”, I recall him mentioning. The photos were in my inbox within 12 hours and nearly five and a half years on, I can still say that Ashley Verse took my photo once. 

(Steven Cee & Me (Tomas Fraser), June 2015 — Credit: Ashley Verse)

Now widely considered one of the UK’s leading young music and fashion photographers, Ashley’s work has graced magazine covers, album covers and national newspapers. His shots have become iconic, etched long in the memory of fans and contemporaries, but the biggest compliment I and many others who know and work with him can pay, is his character — his success hasn’t changed him; he has remained an unaffected human being. As we catch up, bleary-eyed on Saturday morning, there are genuine smiles on both our faces — this is the first time we’ve caught up in over two years.

“This year actually started quite positively for me”, Ashley says, “I was still touring, I’d gone and shot a bit of Paris Fashion Week for the first time and I was literally thinking about hitting up the different fashion weeks across Europe for the summer but obviously by March … game over.” As a freelance photographer working across predominantly music and fashion, gigs, events and in a broader sense, travel, form Ashley’s lifeblood; without them, work can be difficult to come by. But, for someone who lives life constantly on the move, has the impact been wholly negative, I wondered. “At first, it annoyed me”, he concedes, “because I wasn’t ready to stop, I wanted to carry on working. But after a while, it taught me how to utilise time for myself a little bit better. Like a lot of people, I started running all the time … it had a nice effect on me. For me personally, because I work freelance, I never have the consistency to be able to go to the gym or have a routine. I’ve never had a routine when I think about it. Like if I wanna run every morning, what am I gonna do when I’ve got an 8am call time? The next day I might have a concert from 9pm ’til 3 in the morning, it just never added up, so after a while I realised it was nice to have a set pace.”

Ashley grew up in Mitcham, South London, where he still lives today, the son of Bajan and Jamaican parents. The area was and remains incredibly diverse, with communities formed block by block, street by street — a spirit Ashley carries with him to this day. “There’s a bond between everyone”, he explains. “We all live on the same block, we all interact with each other … we always had youth clubs and growing up and I remember like, in the summer, we’d always be going to Thorpe Park and whatever through the council’s youth club scheme. My estate has always been a community in that sense.”

He attended Rutlish High School, a popular all boys school in the area — an experience he describes as “boisterous to say the least.” His school years, 2004-2009, also coincided with grime’s meteoric rise and fall; from explosive, Mercury-prize winning art form (Dizzee Rascal – ‘Boy In Da Corner’) to tracks being banned on the radio and derided in the press (Lethal Bizzle – ‘Pow! (Forward)’. “Everyone was playing it in the playground”, recalls Ashley, “everyone was sharing it on bluetooth, infrared, Limewire … the music was flowing. Everyone wanted to spit bars in the playground, at lunch time that was all people were doing. Sectioned off in one corner of the playground, everyone’s got the latest Ironsoul, Flukes … some kind of instrumental … and everyone would spit. It was a real mixture of different energies, especially being at a school with no girls around, but it was a good time that taught me a lot.” Was Ashley ever tempted to MC, I ask. “Ah yeah of course, we all did”, he says, breaking into laughter. “I loved it though, we used to have little clashes in the playground, at certain times we’d do like, off the top freestyles where you weren’t allowed to spit your bars. It was fun, it was competitive and the energy was always good. Aside from that, we’d be listening to other people’s music anyway, especially local spitters. We had a lot of road rappers around in South, as well as grime. That was where I first got in touch with it all.”

“Everyone wanted to spit bars in the playground, at lunch time that was all people were doing. Sectioned off in one corner of the playground, everyone’s got the latest Ironsoul, Flukes … some kind of instrumental … and everyone would spit.”

After finishing school, Ashley attended Brit College, where he hoped to study and eventually make music. He’d studied piano at high school, as well as classical courses — “I got to Grade 5” he says, looking around his bedroom wall for the certificate — but had also started Media Studies as a GCSE option. “Media just clicked with me like that”, he says, clicking his fingers, “so as I was applying for Brit, I decided to change my decision and apply to study Media. I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to do yet, but I knew I wanted to do something within media.”

It was a decision that’d change the course of his life. After a year studying, he decided that he wanted to focus his energies on music videos, inspired by his love of the slick, US rap and RnB videos he’d watch on MTV Base and the grainy, DIY cuts he’d catch on Channel U. “It was after a year at Brit that I got my first camera”, Ashley recalls. “I started shooting music videos for people that lived locally mainly … friends that lived nearby, local artists that I’d heard of or people I’d grown up listening to. At the time, I actually starting working with Stormzy, but he fitted into that bracket for me at the time … he was someone my age, my bredrins were telling me he was hard and that I should work with him … I mean that’s kinda how it came about. He’s from Norbury so it wasn’t far from where I was and he was just one of a number of local artists making noise at the time. I think the videos are still on my YouTube channel, which is probably over 10 years old now.”

“With everything going on, especially with the birth of SBTV and your GRM’s and Link Up TV’s, it felt possible to me”, continues Ashley. “Music videos felt like a real opportunity at that age. There were a lot of people at that time who wanted to be the next SBTV … everyone had a something TV channel, mine was IMTV. It was a big motivation and I actually said this to Jamal (Edwards) the other day, he was a big inspiration to me early on. I remember the days he had a normal job and walking into where he was working and being like ‘you’re SB … like, what are you doing here?!’. I had no concept of the world at that point or how anything worked, so it gave me a dose of reality to see him still grafting.”

As one of only two people in his local area he recalls having an industry-standard camera — the other being his friend Jake, who was more into photography than music videos — Ashley soon found himself in demand. “Sometimes it’d just be people asking me to take photos of a house party or something like that”, he explains, “but I remember I had one friend who decided he wanted to model. It didn’t amount to being a great portfolio or anything like that, it was just me shooting him in the park … like we had no clue … but it worked for him. He got signed to AMTK as a model and even my mum had been telling me to do photography for ages and I was always like ‘nah, don’t wanna do that’. It wasn’t until little things like that happened that things started to fall into place. By the time I turned 18, I could start going to clubs too … and also take my camera along to catch live PAs.”

“My first ever live show that I remember shooting was … Skepta at XOYO in 2011”, he continues. “The photos from that night are so old that I don’t even have them on a hard drive anywhere but I know they’ll be floating around on my Facebook. I wouldn’t have called myself a photographer back then by any stretch.” Did he just pitch up with a camera, or was he invited, I wondered. “I was actually invited by Julie Adenuga. We used to work at the Apple Store together when I was a temp. I had no idea who she was in terms of who her brothers were, she just always had great energy at work. Eventually I found out from some other people there and she was cool with it, but I guess at that time, she would have had people drawn to her because they’d know her brothers were JME and Skepta. I was just drawn to her because she was sick. Once I’d told her, she was like, ‘do you know what, Skep has a concert next week, do you wanna come along?’ and that was it. That was my introduction to shooting shows.”

“I was actually invited by Julie Adenuga. We used to work at the Apple Store together when I was a temp. I had no idea who she was in terms of who her brothers were, she just always had great energy at work.”

Although still obsessed by the idea of directing music videos, Ashley would become more and more enamoured with photography over the next few years. Still in his late-teens, his work behind the lens wasn’t met by instant, overnight success; it was a slow and gradual build. He was still shooting predominantly local artists in Mitcham and although now a regular at shows in London, he was still unaware of how far his work could travel. “I saw that there was potential for growth”, Ashley concedes, “but it wasn’t until about two or three years later that I really started to take my photography work more seriously. I used that time to really hone my skills but the main reason I switched my focus away from music videos was because I got frustrated. Because I’d been studying the techniques, I tried to start writing treatments and bringing these stronger ideas to life, which I didn’t really know how to execute, but artists at that time and at that age did not wanna read a treatment. It was always just ‘come to my estate and we’ll shoot’ and after a while I got tired of that. It felt limiting, it felt like the ideas weren’t vast enough and the fact that I could go to a club, take my camera and get a couple of photos started to appeal more to me.”

In the years following, Ashley setup camp in the photo pits of some of London’s most iconic venues. From Brixton Academy to Visions in Dalston, if there was a grime event going down, chances are you’d find Ashley, camera in tow. Alongside other breakout photographers like Vicky Grout, Courtney Francis and Blaow, his lens was responsible for capturing the raw energy of grime’s second coming. “When it was just us lot … Vicky, Courtney, Blaow … stepping into the pit back then, there was no one else there”, Ashley explains, “and because of that, we developed our own community. It wasn’t long before we realised it would only be us in those pits, you know.”

From those vantage points, Ashley captured era-defining shots; Drake coming out with Section Boyz at XOYO in 2014 on the night he shunned the BRITS, Skepta and Novelist at Visions, which saw Skepta perform ‘It Ain’t Safe’ with A$AP Bari for the first time in 2015, as well as countless Eskimo Dances, radio sets and headline shows across the country. But what is it that makes a good shot? What does Ashley try and convey in his live photography? “Energy”, he says assuredly. “That’s what a lot of the artists were putting out and filling the rooms with. I quickly learnt as well that being in the pit is a prime spot for being in the middle of all that energy. I shoot shows like a fan, like I’m meant to be in the crowd … I will dance, singalong to every tune and people at the end are like, ‘did you get photos or?’ … I live the experience the same way the crowd live the experience. Being in that pit, you’re in the middle of the artist putting out energy and the fans giving it back. I’m literally standing in the middle of that flow, so I catch the energy from both sides. That for me, is what I always want to capture on camera. You don’t always get that from crowd shots, but you always get it from shooting the performer … you can see how much they give.”

(Drake w/ Section Boyz @ XOYO, 2016 — Credit: Ashley Verse)

“I quickly learnt as well that being in the pit is a prime spot for being in the middle of all that energy. I shoot shows like a fan, like I’m meant to be in the crowd … I will dance, singalong to every tune and people at the end are like, ‘did you get photos or?’ … I live the experience the same way the crowd live the experience.”

“One of my first photos that went viral or felt viral to me at the time”, Ashley continues, “was a photo of Skepta and Novelist. It was the first time I’d gone to Visions because it was rumoured that Skepta was meant to be turning up. I just wanted to see it and find out what was going on. He went there to launch ‘It Ain’t Safe’ with Bari there and I got this one photo that I put up on my Instagram and he reposted it. My phone was pinging so much that I thought it was a phone call. I remember I was watching a film and I thought to myself, ’it can’t be that important, I’ll get it in a second”. I finished the film, looked at my phone and my notifications were going mad. That was then first time I realised that this could be a tangible thing. I knew at the time I was taking photos because I loved it, but I didn’t have a vision for it beyond that. It was still very much a hobby at that point, I was still working retail … but at that time it felt like all of a sudden, there was potential for it to be a real thing. That whole period even made me feel like I understood grime better. Obviously I’d been listening to it for years but experiencing that energy, I didn’t understand it until I picked up a camera.”

(Skepta & Novelist @ Visions, 2015 — Credit: Ashley Verse)

Although Ashley and co had a front row seat, he still had to earn the trust of grime’s top tier. Initially, MCs were sometimes bemused to see young, wide-eyed photographers at their shows; just what were these kids getting out of coming along to raves with their cameras? “Grime was very protective of itself at the time”, Ashley concedes, “but what I was too young to really understand was how much grime had been tarnished over time. I knew that they’d banned ‘Pow!’ from the clubs way back but I didn’t really understand the press story … whenever press had mentioned grime, it’d always be in a negative light. There was certainly a small sense of ‘why are you guys here?’ at first, most definitely. I guess people had to suss out why we were there and what our intentions were. I think myself, Vicky, Blaow etc saw taking photos as a way of showing our appreciation for what they did. Our cameras were our way of saying, ‘look, we love what you do and this is why we’re here’. Over time, people started to realise that we understood the music, the culture, the vibe and we’d start getting invites to shows and radio sets. The rise of the music, too, really benefited us … we kinda grew with it. Grime helped us all establish careers, really.”

“I think myself, Vicky, Blaow etc saw taking photos as a way of showing our appreciation for what they did. Our cameras were all we had to say to them, ‘look, we love what you do and this is why we’re here’.”

Even as an established photographer with some of the hottest exclusives London had to offer, Ashley was still unsure of what to do with his work. Entirely self-taught, the concept of approaching editorial platforms or magazines was completely alien. Instead, Instagram became his first port of call, a vehicle for not only showcasing his best work, but for building a rapport with the artists he was shooting. “Instagram was really helpful”, Ashley explains. “I’d put photos up and DM them to artists, that’s literally all I did with my photos at first. A few people would speak to me about stuff and say things like ‘have you ever tried messaging so and so at this title or that title’ and I was like ‘whaaaat?’. I had no idea back then, but over time, I learned how to build an email, how to approach people, how to reach out to magazine editors and people at websites. Bit by bit, I was able to learn the business acumen of it all too, because I didn’t have any of that when I started. I didn’t know the way to move or how to be … I’m sure there were times when I didn’t follow the rules because I didn’t know how things were done. Did I piss people off without realising? Probably, but I literally didn’t have a clue. I had to educate myself and learn as I went.”

“We all had similar intentions”, continues Ashely, discussing strength in numbers and coming up with other young photographers. “And I quickly realised if Vicky or Blaow weren’t at a show, I was gonna be at a show on my own. When you start seeing that familiar face each time, it helps you build an unspoken bond and respect, you know. We all talked between ourselves and we were all there because we fucking loved the music and wanted to take photos. That was it, pure and simple. It was a sick time.”

Aside from music, Ashley had always naturally gravitated towards fashion too. Inspired by his older cousin, who was heavily interested in fashion when he was growing up — “he’d buy a lot of Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs” — Ashley had always kept his finger on the pulse. His first break came via a friend, who had spare tickets to a few shows at London Fashion Week in the early 2010s while he was still at college. “As I said, I was the guy with the camera in my ends”, Ashley affirms, “so my friend asked if I could come along and take some photos. I think she was blogging at the time and wanted me to get a few snaps here and there, so I went along. It was only a small taste, but even that … like, just being there … I felt quite unwelcome if I’m honest.”

“I loved watching the shows and seeing the vibe, the outrageous outfits and what not”, he continues, “but to be honest, being young and being black, I felt very underrepresented there and I didn’t feel welcome. Even more so for the photographers … and I see it even now doing fashion shows … a lot of the older photographers, they don’t embrace young photographers or female photographers. You’ll see that the photo pits at shows are quite staggered, they’ll build it so it staggers up so you can shoot from higher and higher positions. Usually, you’ll find female photographers sitting on the floor at the front and I was discussing this the other day, they really don’t embrace other people. These guys have been shooting for 25 years plus but they’re just not ready for a new wave of photographers. I still feel like that’s the case.”

(J Hus, shot for Mixmag, August 2017 — Credit: Ashley Verse)

It would be GQ that’d first reach out to Ashley on a fashion tip, purely by chance after seeing some of his music portrait work in a number of smaller, independent magazines. He received a direct message from the then picture editor, who asked if he’d be interested in contributing to GQ — one of the world’s leading fashion monthlies. “That was first proper taste of being able to go to proper shows … you know like an Alexander McQueen show or a Burberry show, Moschino and brands like that. It was completely alien to me at first. I’d find it so weird after Fashion Week, going from there and coming back to the ends … it was such a contrast but at the same time, because of everything that was going on in my ends, it felt good to have that contrast and to know that there’s more out there in the world. A lot of people that get caught up in bad situations, they haven’t been able to see enough. They don’t really know what’s really out there for them to see. People talk about disenfranchisement and not having opportunities but before you get to that stage, it’s not having the knowledge of the opportunities in the first place. People just aren’t aware.”

“A lot of people that get caught up in bad situations, they haven’t been able to see enough. They don’t really know what’s really out there for them to see. People talk about disenfranchisement and not having opportunities but before you get to that stage, it’s not having the knowledge of the opportunities in the first place.”

Just as he’d had a front row seat to grime’s 2.0 explosion, Ashley’s work in fashion also ensured he’d have the best tickets in the house to see it mesh with fashion too; a merger that he was able to document like few others. “There were suddenly a lot more high fashion streetwear brands that were appearing at Fashion Week”, recalls Ashley, “so as well as all the super tailored pieces, you started seeing brands like KTZ, Liam Hodges, Nazir Mazhar …. and tracksuits appearing on catwalks. There was literally one season of that and the next season, Skepta’s walking for Nazir. I think it was rumoured that they were working on a musical collaboration for the show, this was before ‘Shutdown’ too, but he came out and did the catwalk. It just felt amazing to see it. Even the way they did up his tracksuit, you could only see his eyes, so it was a case of ‘if you know, you know’. I got in there for the dress rehearsal and was like, ‘that is Skepta, definitely Skepta’. I managed to grab a quick two minutes with him, no more than that, and I said to him ‘I thought you were doing the music?’ and he kinda just shrugged it off with a smile, like ‘I can do it all’. I mean it had been done before with Cassette Playa who had JME and Tempa T walk in 2007, but I was in year 10 at the time so it was before me and even then, there was a big, big gap before grime was embraced at fashion shows again. The move to bring Skepta in like that did a lot for him and the fashion industry I think and really started the influx of young designers being given the freedom to be more creative and less polished. Suddenly it wasn’t just about suits and you started to see the hinges fall. There’s still a long way to go even now, but that period was so important.”

(Skepta x Nazir Mazhar, 2014)

Ashley told much of the story through his Instagram, which pieced together how and why certain MCs — from Skepta to Jammer to Tinie Tempah — were front row at certain shows and why their music was starting to soundtrack catwalks, because even by this point, the magazines and editorials he was shooting for still didn’t understand the dynamic; why had grime become so influential? It was a question other music titles were more than happy to answer, particularly Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson, who gave Ashley’s work a solid home at Complex UK, and with it, a foundation for him to build from. “He really helped me develop by giving me a place to host my photos from concerts and shows”, explains Ashley, “and he’d then find the right words or connect with the right writers to put everything together. We worked heavily together at that time, which was sick because he gave me a home. I knew that if I’d taken a sick photo, JP would be able to bring it to life.”

For all his trials and tribulations so far, Ashley’s biggest challenge has always been one he’s had to learn on the job; working with artists, teams, editorials, managers, tour managers, agents. “I felt like coming into an industry like this would be bless”, he says sheepishly, “especially coming out of retail. I genuinely thought I’d experience a different energy in music and I wouldn’t have to deal with some of the stuff I’d dealt with before. Everything has a different energy so I came into it like ‘rahhh this is gonna be sick’, but you know, even in music you can’t pick who you work with. I guess there’s always gonna be an office dickhead … they don’t go away in life. My mum always said this to me but it didn’t click for a long time … to learn how to deal with certain characters early because they’re always going to be around, in whatever industry. You’re always gonna encounter energy you might not vibe with, or an interaction that doesn’t work out the way you want it to. Once I stumbled a few times in that sense and that lesson was reaffirmed, I was like ‘alright, cool’. I mean, when I first came up properly in 2013-14, it was a lot easier to speak to artists, so I was able to build up a different level of rapport. Even though it’s different now, being able to work with whoever I liked and build that trust, has helped me get through to new artists and teams I haven’t worked with before … whether that’s striking up conversations on set or having a chat before we shoot. A big thing about working for yourself is that you should be able to work with who you appreciate and vice versa. Essentially, work with who you fuck with.”

“A big thing about working for yourself is that you should be able to work with who you appreciate and vice versa. Essentially, work with who you fuck with.”

It’s a mantra that has served Ashley well, especially with regards to Mabel — an artist he has become a go-to live tour photographer for over the last two years. “I think we’ve done three tours now”, says Ashley, “and she tours all the time, trust me. My first touring experience was actually with Chase & Status in 2015, which was an amazing experience given it was quite early in my career, but by time I got the opportunity to work with Mabel, everything was built on good energies. We didn’t jump straight to tours but I did a headline show for her first and at the time, I was getting booked by different artists or their labels or managers to come and do the odd show here and there, so it wasn’t unusual. But after that first show, I built a really good rapport with her team and they asked me back to do another headline show and another and another. Then I was on tour for a week and it suddenly became like ‘come here, come there’ and I guess I really feel like I’m part of the team now. From Mabel and management right the way down, everyone on her team brings a good vibe and that’s why I enjoy working with her so often. Her work rate is incredible too. There are so many things that I get to see being with her day-to-day … I mean the amount of work her and her team do is crazy.”

(Mabel, 2019 — Credit: Ashley Verse)

Mabel’s tours have taken Ashley across Europe, where she first supported Khalid and has since embarked on her own European tour, and all over the UK — an opportunity that he doesn’t take lightly. Not particularly well-travelled by his own admission, touring has opened Ashley’s eyes to how far his work can go and more recently, has also enabled him to connect with his Bajan heritage too. In essence, his camera has become his passport. “The camera is definitely the thing that’s taken me to most of the places I’ve been in life”, Ashley says. “I mean I’d been on holidays when I was young but nothing crazy, I really hadn’t seen that much before I started taking photos. I’ve been all over Europe, to LA and to Barbados, which is amazing for me because it’s part of my heritage … I’m Bajan and Jamaican. The fact that my camera work here has allowed me to go back home in a sense … it’s mad. It’s always a blessing when I realise how far my camera has taken me. I never imagined I’d be able to see so much.”

There are a slew of highlights in Ashley’s career so far; a first J Hus cover for Mixmag in 2017, THAT Drake image, shooting Chip’s ‘League Of My Own II’ album cover, Frisco’s ‘System Killer’ cover and forthcoming ‘The Familiar Stranger’ album artwork, alongside a lengthy list of music and fashion editorials. “There are so many things I didn’t think were possible when I first picked up my camera”, he admits, “so to work on covers for artists I grew up listening to is a beautiful thing. It’s pushed me to want to do more and hone in on my skills … I worked with Ambush on his album cover recently, Young T & Buggsey … I just didn’t realise how many avenues there are with photography and the deeper I dive, the more I’m finding.”

“There are so many things I didn’t think were possible when I first picked up my camera”

“I’ve been thinking as well”, he continues, “this time has allowed me time to think about refining and elevating what I do. If you’re always working, you don’t get time to work on things like that. If I’m boxing every day, I don’t get time to train … I don’t get time to get in the gym and work on my technique. We get so used to the speed that we work at that we forget everything else. It makes us misjudge the importance of things sometimes … not everything is the be all and end all. Just take time, de-stress and you can deal with things so much better. It feels good to be at ease right now and that energy is something I wanna maintain as I move forward.”

You can keep up-to-date with Ashley’s work via his website:


Aniefiok Ekpoudom

On books, lyricism, language, telling stories, putting people first, class, UK rap and the Black British experience.

(All images submitted by Aniefiok Ekpoudom)

I last saw Aniefiok Ekpoudom in the summer of 2018. We caught up and chatted about some potential press opportunities over an in-and-out lunch at Nando’s on Kensington High Street. It was brief, but I left feeling like he was on the cusp of something. In the time that’s passed since, he’s become one of the most important young music writers in the country, meshing together a unique, flowing writing style with an innate desire to tell stories. He earns the trusts of his subjects quickly — “a lot of people don’t realise how important researching around an interview is” — and explores and unpicks their thoughts, feelings, emotions in way few others can; he sees the human first. His work, always honest and pure in gaze, has helped capture the spirit of Black British music — British rap in particular — and set him on his way to start scaling new heights in the coming years. As his FaceTime window opens up on Friday night, I find Aniefiok in typically relaxed mood, calm in manner, beard game extremely strong.

“I was thinking, how am I gonna document culture without leaving my house?”, asks Aniefiok as we discuss the challenges that lockdown has thrown up over the last six months. “New music and a lot of rap especially blows in the club or at carnival and places like that, so where do you go now for music to take off? It was definitely a big shift for me, trying to adjust to that. I spent a lot of time listening to No Signal, which felt like a night out when you were locked in but also a great place to access music. It was interesting to see how music they’d play would impact on the people listening as well. I remember the ‘Dior’ Remix and that ended up turning into a thing in itself because they played it during the breaks of the NS10v10 clashes. To be honest, that aside, I wasn’t really taking much new stuff in though, I found myself going back to the music I used to listen to and albums I’d forgotten about. Podcasts, too. I think we really felt the value of them … there’s something that podcasts can do that music can’t do, especially in terms of tapping into immediate emotions and feelings. You get a sense of community from them as well, so being able to have that without being able to physically be in one place was important for me.”

It’s this theme of community that was central to Aniefiok getting through a difficult lockdown period. Born in Lewisham to Nigerian parents, but raised predominantly in Orpington on the fringes of South London alongside twin brother Ukeme, it was how lockdown affected the people and communities around him — friends, neighbours, church — that put things in perspective. “There’s a great community of Nigerian families and West African families where I live in Orpington”, he explains, “and I guess usually we’d be in and out of each other’s houses and you’d be seeing people at church, popping round to friend’s houses and whatever, so to see that suddenly shut off was quite hard. Not just for me, but especially for my mum. I remember I just started walking to my friend’s house and he’d be in the window and I’d just chat to him from outside … there wasn’t really much else I could do. That in itself really highlighted the importance of community.”

“I was born in Lewisham and lived there for about nine years but I always say that I’m from Orpington”, he continues, “and there’s definitely a massive contrast between the two. Obviously there’s a lot more greenery and the pace of life is a lot slower than Lewisham, but I also first felt aware of my race when I got to Orpington because everyone was white apart from two kids at my primary school. Teachers were even highlighting race to me as a nine year old, which is kinda crazy when you think about it. I’ve got a twin brother and I remember our teacher saying to us on our first day, “don’t you bring your Lewisham rubbish to our school”. Thinking about it, it’s mad to think she felt that she could say that to us as nine year olds.”

“Teachers were even highlighting race to me as a nine year old, which is kinda crazy when you think about it. I’ve got a twin brother and I remember our teacher saying to us on our first day, ‘don’t you bring your Lewisham rubbish to our school’.”

“We just got on with it”, he says, as I ask how he remembers dealing with it. “At that age, there was no real problem with the kids themselves because at that point, you don’t really recognise race properly. I also learned that racism was very much learnt behaviour, something people pass down, fathers to sons, mothers to daughters. In terms of school, it was fine though to be honest. I always say I don’t miss school but I had a great time in general. Some of those racial experiences are a bit crazy looking back though and it taught me a lot about how people see race in this country. There’s a big mix, not necessarily racially, but certainly class wise in Orpington so to be able to experience how all those different perspectives on race co-exist is interesting … you know, how where you come from and what you experience shapes how you see the world.”

During his childhood, music was certainly omnipresent too. “It was always a big thing”, Aniefiok explains, “in a West African house, a) there’s always a lot of music playing and b) there’s always house parties, hall parties and church of course. It became normal for me to just to these places and just sit and listen to Highlife by massive speakers, which was always good fun. My dad had a really eclectic taste in music too, so he’d have songs from Nigeria that were personal to him, but he was also into things like Soca, Reggae, Michael Jackson … and he had a massive CD collection. It ended up with him buying me and my brother CDs. I’m not really sure how he knew what was of our age, but it started with Usher when I was like, 9 or 10, and soon progressed to Eminem and maybe Snoop Dogg. That’s where I first found my music taste I’d say, but then also in school … actually I don’t really know what I was listening to but I remember in year 8, I discovered Tinie Tempah. But I mean grime Tinie Tempah, like ‘Chapter 1: Verse 1-22’ and all those mixtapes … that definitely started my love for grime and UK rap music. I always get defensive when people say ‘ah Tinie only made ‘Wifey’ and that’s it’ because I’m always like ‘you don’t know he had these three or four mixtapes before’. I’m kind of an obsessive person anyway, so when I find something that I’m interested in, I really take to it and that set me on my way. I started using Bluetooth to share tunes with friends, I was finding new music on YouTube and forums albeit fleetingly, listening to Logan Sama on Monday nights … and then I think Giggs came around. Randomly, around that time, I found a Mos Def and Talib Kweli song called ‘Thieves In The Night’ and that’s when my interest in rap really took off if I’m honest. I still think that’s probably one of the best rap songs of all time … I remember thinking, ‘wow, what is this?’ … they were literally telling stories and even though I was only 15, it really impacted on me. Just hearing how poetic they were, Mos Def especially … you know when you’re a kid and you just hear a song and it’s like, ‘this music speaks to me!’. It was one of those moments.”

Inspired, Aniefiok started to read everything he could about rap music in the US – “I became such a book nerd” — and began expanding his knowledge on 90s golden era rap albums and the foundations of hip-hop. Already an avid reader — his mum bought him books by the likes of Benjamin Zephaniah and Nigerian author, Chinua Echebe — he listened to countless hours of music, read books, essays, interviews and almost anything else he could get his hands on. But rather than fall in love with a specific sound or certain type of beat, Aniefiok was fixated on the lyricism and the stories that rappers were telling. “I just couldn’t get over how descriptive this music was”, he recalls thoughtfully, “like Nas – ‘Illmatic’, the first three albums by Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang … I found it really interesting how they’d all come out of this one area in New York as well.”

He soon realised that within the lyricism, sometimes between the lines but often front and centre, rap music held up a mirror to society too. It was complex and nuanced, an important vehicle for rappers to speak up about their lives and experiences, and the way they were treated and viewed by the communities they lived in. “I feel like I speak a lot about music, but my interest has always been in what they’re trying to say and what their lyrics mean. I’d never find myself asking about composition or sonics, I’d always be asking about what artists were going through, how they were feeling, what certain lyrics were reflective of. I always remember there was this Nas line off ‘Illmatic’ … I think it’s from ‘The World Is Yours’ … where he says ‘I’m amped up, they locked the champ up, even my brain’s in handcuffs’. That line tells you what was going on in New York at that specific time … Mike Tyson was champion of the world, he’s locked up in prison and so on. I just feel there are so many stories like that encased in their lyrics.”

“I’d never find myself asking about composition or sonics, I’d always be asking about what artists were going through, how they were feeling, what certain lyrics were reflective of.”

After excelling at English at school, Aniefiok headed to the University of East Anglia in Norwich to study Law. “I didn’t enjoy my course but had a great time”, he recalls, “and I kind of only stayed because it was the last year before the fees trebled.” Throughout his three years in Norwich, he’d go onto meet ‘loads of different people’, all of whom opened his eyes to the realities of the class system in the UK; never before had it felt so important or so obvious. “In Orpington everyone was kind of thrown in together, it was a big mix of people, where as at university it was so apparent … people insisted on talking about it”, he explains. “I had no idea how important the class system was in this country until then. There was also the whole North-South divide thing going on, which felt even bigger because I’d never really been up north before. Just meeting people from all over the UK was interesting. I mean I lived with someone from York who is still one of my good friends today, and I’d never met anyone from York before. It was a really good experience in that sense.”

Determined to make the most of his time, he joined both the university’s creative writing and skydiving (!) societies, with the former proving its worth almost immediately. Attending once a week, he started to hone in on a writing style and, inspired by his long-held love of rap, soon felt confident enough to start self-publishing album reviews via a DIY blog. It’d lead to his first big breakthrough during the summer of his second year, too. “I’d discovered Twitter in my first year but in second year, I made this account where I’d just tweet rap lyrics and quotes”, he says, “and to be honest I should have kept it up, I probably would have made a bit of money out of it today! Anyway, I was on that account and I started writing about music, especially UK music. I was really into US rap stuff and reading about it for hours, but no one was really doing the same for the artists over here, no one was talking about the music culturally. I started writing blog posts and reviews … some would probably be now classed as think pieces to be honest. I think the first one I wrote was about Giggs and his struggle to perform, where he was constantly getting blocked by the police. I was trying to analyse the relationship between Giggs and the state basically.”

“I remember being on Twitter one afternoon and I saw that Link Up TV had tweeted about looking for new writers to contribute to their blog”, he continues. “They’d asked anyone interested to email with examples of work, so I just forwarded my stuff over. The editor at the time, Adenike Derrick, gave me a shot and that was it. My first interview was with George The Poet, which was for an e-mail style magazine that Link Up were doing and aside from that, I’d just be blogging while I could at university. Sometimes, when I was back in London, I’d go along to interviews with Rashid (Link Up TV founder) and prepare the questions for him to interview people like J Spades or Jammer or whatever. They were my first experiences of actually speaking to artists I really enjoyed listening to and getting my head around how everything worked.” How did it feel speaking to artists for the first time, I wondered. “I was kind of okay with it I think”, he says, breaking into a smile. “George The Poet was fine, but I think the first time where I became aware that maybe I had something was with Smiler, who was like my third interview I think. I’d gone along to my first press day to interview him and I was only about 20. I remember I started to ask him questions about certain lyrics in his tracks and I remember the reaction in the room … everyone was like ‘you’ve done your research, rah’. From that moment, it clicked in my head that this is how it was gonna work. Like, if you want to have an interesting conversation with someone, show them that you’re interested in what they’ve presented and what they have to say.”

“..if you want to have an interesting conversation with someone, show them that you’re interested in what they’ve presented and what they have to say.”

It was a realisation that’d spark Aniefiok’s curiosity once again. Just as he’d tasked himself with reading everything he could about rap music in the US, now he wanted to find out who the best music writers were; how did they interview people, what were they writing about, who were they speaking to? “I’d research as much as I could and go and study those people and their work”, he explains. “I left university in 2013 and still wasn’t really sure if a career in music could really mean something, but I remember having a meeting with my careers counsellor just after my final exams. She asked me what I wanted to do once I graduated and obviously I had this law degree and I actually found competition law quite interesting, so we talked a bit about that, but then she asked what else I enjoyed. I told her about blogging for Link Up TV and spoke about how much I loved music and musicians. We got to the end of the interview and she said, ‘well, the only time you smiled at all during that was when you talked about music, so you should probably focus your energy there’. It gave me the push I needed to try get into the industry.”

After returning home to Orpington, he started to write long-form stories — akin to pieces he’d read in The Fader and The New York Times — and began familiarising himself with the websites and titles that were covering the music he was interested in. It would be PR that’d grant Aniefiok his first industry break however, landing a six-month internship at Sian Anderson’s Sigh-Tracked agency — “PR was interesting, you had to proper learn the art but I was a bit too introverted for it I think” — before joining SBTV alongside a strong team of writers headed up by then editor, Ash Houghton. “Thinking back, I’d actually spent a year at a marketing agency the year before all this happened”, he recalls, “and when that was coming to an end, I decided to travel for a bit. I headed out to Hong Kong and Japan for a few months because a friend of mine at the same agency had recommended I do it and then headed to the US for a little while straight afterwards. It was there that I made the decision to really go for it and try and break into music, so the minute I got back I started to speak to the people I could reach in London, the artists who were making the right noises. So in 2015, I interviewed Kojey Radical, Nego True, George The Poet for a second time … as well as some MCs … I was doing it consistently in my spare time basically. I also did a random stint at The MOBO Awards’ 20th Anniversary show too and then I remember Ash just sent me a DM on Twitter one day saying he had a job at SBTV if I wanted it. I ended up staying for a year and a half and that was the place I really found myself as a writer. We just had so much freedom to create and I felt confident bringing my ideas to the table. Big up Ash because, well we had similar tastes … he was really into reading and interviews so he put me onto people like Howard Stern and others who were skilled in the art of asking questions. I picked up a lot of what I know now during my time there.”

Aniefiok would also help pioneer a new series during his time at SBTV. With Ash’s backing, the pair launched a long-form, in conversation series (‘A Day With’) that would see Aniefiok shadow a chosen artist for a day, alongside a photographer. It’d result in some of the richest and most insightful content of the SBTV website era and became a calling card for Aniefiok himself — he’d finally found his voice. “The first artist we spent a day with was Angel in West London”, he recalls. “We went to his mum’s house and then he took us around his local area which was cool. All his brothers were with him too and WSTRN were with him at points, but I think it was before they were WSTRN if you know what I mean. The second one was with Giggs the day before he released ‘The Landlord’ in 2015, which was thanks to Jamal and his connections … he just had the access you know. We spent a day driving around East London with Giggs, chatting as we went … I mean it’s insane when I think about it now. The third one was with Jaykae in Birmingham, which is where I got the idea to start covering music and musicians outside of the London bubble and looking at how their experiences might have been different. It was such a rewarding time back then because I was able to find out what I wanted to cover and which direction I wanted to go in.”

What makes a good story, I wondered. “I think it’s just honesty”, explains Aniefiok, “and I’ve always been drawn to those characters that have an element of authenticity about them. Giggs and Jaykae are very good examples of that because their music is so open and honest. For me, interviews will always start with a song as well and they’ll definitely bleed into the writing. Like, there’ll be a song or even just a line in a song that I hear that’ll make me think ‘oh wow, this is vulnerable and honest and I like what you’re trying to say here’. Some artists are just amazing characters anyway but that’s usually the start or the entry point for me. If it’s going well, there’ll usually be a moment where the barrier breaks as a musician and you can kinda get into who they are as a person. Sometimes it can happen off the bat, where as some times you really have to work for it and even then, some artists might not be in the right place or frame of mind to talk about certain things. And you have to respect that.”

After leaving SBTV in late 2016 following the website’s closure, Aniefiok decided to go freelance — “it was on a whim really” — with the belief that he’d find his way. He began freelancing for Noisey and The Fader shortly afterwards, but there was no road map, nothing was set in stone. “Looking back, I had a lot of faith”, he says shyly, “I mean I was always into self help books and stuff like that but I had nothing concrete at all. With Noisey, I decided that I really wanted to document culture, especially British rap culture and with that, black music more generally. One of the first pieces I did for them was with Bugzy Malone, which picked up where I left off with the Jaykae piece for SBTV. I was able to spend a day in Manchester with Bugzy, we went back to his old estate and had a really interesting conversation. From that piece, I started to move in that direction quite intentionally because I was always interested in seeing how my upbringing and experiences at school compared to my friends, so through speaking to these artists, I could extend that to look at how Birmingham differed to London and how Manchester differed to Birmingham and how different London is from the rest of the UK. I guess I just really wanted to cover culture and be able to look back on my work in 10, 20 years time, flick through it and think ‘yeah, you had an accurate read of what was going on in the country at the time’. That in itself helped me hone my craft as a writer as well, to the point where in 2017 I started to enjoy writing more than I enjoyed music. That was a big moment for me.”

“I guess I just really wanted to cover culture and be able to look back on my work in 10, 20 years time, flick through it and think ‘yeah, you had an accurate read of what was going on in the country at the time’.”

“I felt like a lot of black artists in this country weren’t getting covered with the nuance that their music deserved either”, Aniefiok continues. “The music is so rich and the stories within the music are so rich … they’re saying so much about the country we live in, the conditions people are coming from. I felt like the coverage wasn’t really reflecting that, you know. In the US, hip hop was celebrated for it but UK rap and grime over here … nobody really spoke about it in that sense. I felt like it was really important to try and cover it in that depth and with care, and really show people who the humans were beneath the music.”

His passion — “essentially I always want to document British culture through the lens of UK rap and grime” — matched by his gift for writing vivid long-form prose soon piqued the interest of the newspapers and world-renowned titles like Vogue. “A lot of my relationships are built on trust”, explains Aniefiok. “Like, at The Guardian for example, I feel like I’ve built a good level of trust with Ben (Beaumont-Thomas) and Laura (Snapes) over time and they trust me to deliver on certain stories. When I was first establishing myself there, there’d be a lot of back-and-forth on my pitches and ideas, and also I was aware I’d be telling stories but in a way that would make sense to their tone and general style. It’s always interesting writing for national newspapers because the readership is so broad … you really have to qualify what you’re saying. It was a challenge at first, but I feel like it’s really sharpened my skills as a writer and I’m grateful for that.”

A slew of standout pieces with The Guardian over the last 18 months — including July’s Film & Music cover piece on Headie One — have quickly cemented his reputation as one of the best young story-tellers in the country. But Aniefiok’s work isn’t limited to interviews and profiles. In 2019, he was asked to contributed to Derek Owusu’s ‘SAFE’ — an anthology comprised of 20 essays written by 20 Black British men about the Black British male experience. “I wrote my essay about Orpington”, he notes, “and it was the first time I’d been able to write with that much freedom. I called it ‘The Sticks’ and it was about growing up in the suburbs and dealing with racism and stuff like that … I just wanted to give my perspective on life and my experiences, what I’d seen and been exposed to. I’m not particularly good at politics or working politics into my writing, I don’t think it’s my strength, but it’s crazy to think that people consider race to be politics. Anyway, I caught the bug and continued to write my own essays and I guess and it made me think about writing my own book.”

“I’m not particularly good at politics or working politics into my writing, I don’t think it’s my strength, but it’s crazy to think that people consider race to be politics.

Although still in the process of writing, Aniefiok signed a deal to write his first book earlier this year. “I had it set in my head that I was gonna write books from that 2017 stage I think”, he explains, “and because of the way I naturally write anyway, I’ve not found the writing side of it too bad. I actually remember speaking to Sian Anderson once and she said reading my writing was like reading a script, which is something that’s always stood out to me. My writing is probably more in keeping with that style than it is journalism in a traditional sense, so I’m enjoying the freedom and also having so many words to really craft a narrative and a story in a way that you wouldn’t have the time or the space to usually. I feel like I’m not fully into the nitty gritty of the writing stage yet, so I’m looking forward to doing that over the next few months.” The book itself — a narrative non-fiction to be titled ‘Where We Come From’ — aims to explore the impact that British rap has had on different communities across the UK. “As I’ve said a few times, I’m really interested in looking at people’s experiences in different parts of the country”, says Aniefiok, “but it’s crazy that now, after thinking about it for so long, I get to write my own book about it all.”

“I actually remember speaking to Sian Anderson once and she said reading my writing was like reading a script.”

Further essays have followed recently too, including his first piece for Vogue regarding the music industry’s reaction to the murder of George Floyd, and he’s also been commissioned to write an essay for Merky Books — the publishing house established by Stormzy in 2019. “Calum Jacobs, who runs a great magazine called CARICOM which looks at the black experience in football, is putting together his first book”, Aniefiok notes, “which will be comprised of a series of essays about black footballers in the British game. I’ve not written mine yet but I’m looking forward to that. I love football, it’s a major passion, so I’m happy to be able contribute. I mean, for me, sports writing is some of the best out there and has always been a big inspiration, so I’m really excited to write in that space.”

Our conversation then returns to George Floyd. “I stopped watching the videos of black men and women getting killed on camera a long time ago”, says Aniefiok. “As soon as it happened, I was aware of it, but the videos were painful to watch and I didn’t want to subject myself to that. I get that the videos help spread awareness too but in those times, I was thinking of the families … like, your son or your brother or your dad’s last moments are just being broadcast all over the Internet. I remember the George Floyd murder actually happened in the same week as Amy Cooper too … I think that was her name … calling the police on a black man from a park in New York. It just showed the two injunctions … one incident was overtly racist and the other served as proof of what can happen if racism is tolerated and allowed to spread. I went to protest but just thinking about the fact we had to go to protest during lockdown … that feeling of having to show what our lives were worth in the middle of a global pandemic … it was crazy. The conversation around it extended a lot longer than usual which was interesting to see though and I think we saw people, especially white people, actually come around to the idea of trying to understand what black people had been through, which was good. In Britain, we’ve got a society where everybody is hush hush about things that actually matter, we don’t really talk about too much, but I feel like the shockwaves of that incident have made people talk and given people the space to share their stories. It made me realise that everybody is going through the same stuff, you know.”

“I went to protest but just thinking about the fact we had to go to protest during lockdown … that feeling of having to show what our lives were worth in the middle of a global pandemic … it was crazy.”

“I knew it was a subject I couldn’t ignore but equally I knew I didn’t have to write everything in response”, he continues. “We all have certain strengths so when Hattie Collins asked me to write the piece for Vogue, and big up her for that, I had that in mind. There are loads of writers who are really good at commentating on race and how it links to politics and society, so I was conscious of not just adding my voice out of ego or anything like that. What I did want to do was portray things a bit differently. A lot of the time, you’ll open a magazine and there’s always a black person talking specifically about race. As a black person, you don’t wake up thinking ‘yeah I’m black’, sometimes you might just wake up and think about football or music, do you know what I mean? I wanted to show that we’re just normal people with different experiences and as much as race is a very big and important thing to talk about, especially at the moment, there are different shades to the Black British experience. As well as the Vogue piece, I also wrote about No Signal for The Guardian which was more of a celebration, because they’re a great example of how the Black community has come together during lockdown. I wrote a piece on Tion Wayne for Noisey too, which delved into his specific experiences growing up in Edmonton. I guess I find it really frustrating when publications only want to speak to a black person about race, because we can talk about so much more.”

Given the impact Aniefiok’s work has already made, not only within music but also wider cultural spheres, there is no doubt that he’s destined for even greater things — but just how much more is there to come? “I feel like I’ve only done about five percent of what I want to do”, he says assuredly. “There’s so much more work to be done and I’m impatient which doesn’t help, but I really want to continue documenting Black British culture … that’ll always be very personal to me. I’d like to go into fiction at some point too and eventually broaden out, maybe into football, and screenplays are definitely something I’d like to explore moving forward.”

“I’ve also been learning a lot about how, socially, nothing is a mistake”, he continues. “It’s like when I did this Headie One piece for The Guardian. Headie’s from Broadwater Farm so you start researching the area and how that place was put together. He’s Ghanaian too, so you start seeing the mix of Ghanaians of Jamaicans in Broadwater Farm and how that, combined with everything else from a conditioning standpoint, steers the choices that people make in their lives. The time people spend in a certain place and where they might come from often has a huge impact on the decisions they’ll make, so that’s something I’ve been trying to incorporate into my work. You hear in it in the music again too. I remember in that piece I quoted one lyric from one of his early freestyles where he’s like, ‘do what comes to mind, fuck karma’ and it’s no accident that he’s said that. It’s the product of so many different things, social layers and conditions … you’ve got to think about everything that would make a young kid feel and react in that way. That extra level of detail and understanding is something I really want to start channeling in my pieces.”

You can read more of Aniefiok’s work via his website:


— Naina —

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

(All photos submitted by Naina)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naina broadcasts regularly on Reprezent Radio and Apple Music 1. 

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


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

(Jon Phonics)

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

Grab your silk robe


1. P.B.E

2. Blue Note

3. Lord Of The Town ft. Nasty Nigel

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


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

New tag-team champs?

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

Drax – ‘Second Thoughts’ EP (Southpoint)

A promising talent 

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

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

Brilliantly bizarre

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

B:Thorough – ‘Angels’ EP (Textured)

B:Smart and cop (!)

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

Opus – ‘This Damn Feeling’ (White Peach)

Atmospheric wizardry

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

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

Two titans unite

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

Dunman  – ’99 Basslines’ (Simply Deep)

A grimy odyssey

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

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

Things are better connected

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

JEB1 – ‘Guyana’ (Hi Tek Sounds)

Classic grime sounds re-moulded

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


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


— Kamran —

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

(All photos submitted by Kamran)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


— Dexplicit —

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

(All photos submitted by Dexplicit)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


— Hij —

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

(All photos submitted by Hij)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

(East Man — photo by Georgina Cook)

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

The East Man manifesto 


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

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

3. ‘Machine Gun’

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

(Kid D & Novelist)

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

Big moves!

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

Guido – ‘Seeds’ EP (State Of Joy)

A gorgeous record

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

AxH – ‘Grinding Gears’ EP (DAKU Records)

DAKU — a mark of consistency

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

SWR – ‘Square Soulja’ EP (Infernal Sounds)

Grab at all costs

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

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

What a way to make your mark!

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

Dyzphoria & Slayloverboy – ‘RATHERFEELNOTHING’ (Liquid Ritual)

Pure euphoria

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

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

Joining the dots 

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

Sir Hiss – ‘Keygen’ EP (Wych)


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

Sepia – ‘Sanctuary’ EP (Badman Studios)

Hot ’N Heavy goodness

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


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