Flora Yin-Wong

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

(All photos submitted by Flora Yin-Wong)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


— Joker II —

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

(All photos submitted by Joker)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo by Ashes 57)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


— Joker —

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

(All photos submitted by Joker)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

(Lemzly Dale)

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

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


1. Lemzly Dale – ‘More Life’

2. Bengal Sound – ‘Boy Wonder’

3. DJ Pop Shuv – ‘Cha Kno’

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


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

Grime for the big screen

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

Boofy – ‘SYSTM 033’ (SYSTEM)

A killer 12”

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

Dark Tantrums – ‘Rootical’ EP (DAKU Records)

Mind your chestplate

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

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


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

Fiend – ‘Emeralds’ EP (Infernal Sounds)

A name to watch

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

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

Mean Streets by name, Mean Streets by nature

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

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

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

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

Imajika – ‘Stagger’ EP (Subaltern Records)


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

Kami-O – ‘Lightworks’ (Italdred)

Refreshingly good

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


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

(Pinch by Dominika Scheibinger)

— DJ Oblig —

On grime, drill, living in New York, block parties in Rio de Janeiro, touring with Ocean Wisdom and joining the dots between people, sounds and scenes.

(All photos submitted by DJ Oblig)

DJ Oblig is a fixer, a connector, a joiner of dots. Born in New York but raised in Ealing, West London, he’s been omnipresent in grime for the last three years plus, building a reputation as one of the genre’s fiercest but also conscientious new-school DJs. “You know what bruv”, he opens our conversation with a sigh, his walls adorned with a sprawling collection of hats and gig posters. “Ealing’s a nice little area to grow up in but once you grow up, you realise nothing’s in Ealing and no one ever comes to Ealing and your whole life is just spent on trains.” 

It was a far cry from the bustling streets of New York, a city he could call home by default but one he’d not really spent much time in, despite his father’s family still residing in the States. That’d all change when he turned 23, frustrated with his life in London. “I’ve got dual nationality so I decided to move out to New York, mainly because I was bored really and wanted something new”, he reflects. “I’d just broken up with my girlfriend at the time, so it was a fresh start you know.” It was here that Oblig, who’d spent many years listening to grime as a fan — he lists ‘Konk’ by Stutta ft. Jammer and ‘Skeleton Riddim’ by Ruff Sqwad (unreleased) as two classics that first made him fall in love with the music — first started to DJ.

“The music in New York was so cool”, he says thoughtfully, “but no one knew about grime, nobody cared about grime and it was hard for me to leave London being such a big fan and realising there were no raves going on, there was nowhere to listen to it, there was nobody talking about it. The same year that I arrived in New York was actually the year Skepta started to blow with ‘That’s Not Me’ and ‘It Ain’t Safe’ and all that though, so it felt like something might change.”

Inspired by Skepta’s trajectory, Oblig felt motivated to take the plunge, starting his first ever grime party, Low Life, at a small basement venue in Manhattan, where he was given a monthly residency. “You’d walk past if you didn’t know it was there”, he says. “It was like this little, dingy basement called Leftfield with an Irish owner and he couldn’t care less. I could have four people in that rave, make no money and I’d seen him next month regardless. It was great, man.”

Armed with little more than a basic controller and his enthusiasm, it would prove his entry point into the grime scene and ultimately, the wider UK music industry  — 3500 miles away from its epicentre. “The first party I ever threw was the first time I’d ever DJ’d”, he concedes, laughing. “And of course I was cheating, I was hitting the sync button and what not.” Alongside his friend Andrew, who had moved to New York from California, they stumbled upon a formula that’d get locals dancing. “He was playing house and techno so he’d usually open and then the dubstep scene was still massive, so we’d then fill it out with 140 type shit and then I’d come on and play a full grime set.” Did it clear the room, I ask. “Sometimes”, Oblig says with a grin. “Do you know what, a lot of the trap stuff is around the same BPM, so I’d play a grime instrumental and then mix it into a 21 Savage tune, play another grime instrumental and mix it into a Skepta tune, and then a Migos tune. It was give and take. I’d get ‘em off their seats and then back into their seats. I did that for a year and a half.”

“Do you know what, a lot of the trap stuff is around the same BPM, so I’d play a grime instrumental and then mix it into a 21 Savage tune, play another grime instrumental and mix it into a Skepta tune, and then a Migos tune. It was give and take. I’d get ‘em off their seats and then back into their seats.”

At the height of Low Life’s localised success, Oblig booked Spyro and AJ Tracey — the latter had never been to the US before — to play their first birthday party, bookings that would ultimately light the touch paper for Oblig’s eventual move back to the UK. “I basically had AJ stay at my house for two weeks”, he reflects warmly. “It meant I was on my sofa for two weeks but it was fucking great. I got to see AJ develop, he got a lot of his first US contacts during that trip and I met a lot of people through people he was meeting, we ended up going on tour together. We played in Washington DC, in Denver, it was a lot of fun, man.” During his time in NYC, Reece West, GHSTLY XXVII, Snowy Danger, Logan Sama, Little Dee and Last Japan would all go onto link up with Oblig and play at Low Life and various radio sets, too. 

After three years living in New York, pangs of homesickness eventually started to set in, despite finding his niche in the city with Low Life and starting an internet radio show on a station called RWD FM, where he played almost exclusively grime music. “I was that guy playing every tune and posting every track as it played like … NOW PLAYING … this tune by such and such, live from New York”, Oblig explains. “After a while, people started thinking ‘who the fuck is this guy in New York playing our music?’ kinda thing and from there, I started getting sent loads of music and guest mixes. By the time it got to coming home to see my mum, people now had an idea of who I was, so I decided that I’d stay for three months and do the circuit, hit all the radio stations, meet people and then go back.” 

“After a while, people started thinking ‘who the fuck is this guy in New York playing our music?’ kinda thing and from there, I started getting sent loads of music and guest mixes.”

In the end, that never happened. Not intent on spending three months at home and needing to make money while he was back in London, Oblig started interning at Rinse FM after being put in touch by a friend who worked at the station. “I was just helping out with whatever needed doing and at the end of the three months, everything was just going so well, both at Rinse and outside”, he recalls. “I’d been on every station, the sets were going well, working at Rinse was going well. I was getting more responsibilities and it just felt good. I decided, do you know what, let me extend this stay to six months. And then I got offered a producer role, a paid job. I’d also lost my show on Radar Radio at the time, so it just got me thinking … there’s actually no need for me to go back at this point. In New York, I was a stock room manager at Ted Baker in Manhattan, folding clothes and telling other people to fold clothes and now I was at Rinse, doing what I want to do. I’d still planned to go back, but then I got a dream job offer via LinkedIn to work at YouTube Music. And that was it, I never went back. I think there’s still people waiting for me over there!”

With everything falling into place within a matter of months, Oblig now had a base — and the financial security — to launch himself into grime at full tilt; it soon became an unshakeable passion. “The fact that I have a career outside of everything else is really beneficial. Like, for example, I don’t need to take bookings for bookings sake anymore. I do this because I love it and if I do something because I love it then I’m gonna do it properly. It’s little things like, if I’m booking anyone from outside of London to come on a radio show, I’ll pay for their travel. I remember I had the Nottingham boys down on Rinse once and I gave Jay Eye 50 quid for petrol and he just looked at me and said, ‘Bruv, no one has ever done this before, ever’. It’s helped me build a rapport with people and I recognise I’m in a position to help and to invest in the music. I enjoy seeing people thrive.”

“I do this because I love it and if I do something because I love it then I’m gonna do it properly.”

“I also just think some people deserve money for what they do”, he continues, now impassioned. “I get that in the grime scene it’s quite easy to give free labour, like I get it, but that’s disheartening. You’re 20 years old and you’re spitting your heart away on mic and you don’t get anything from it … I think it’s why people stop making grime to be honest. I can see how difficult it would be, as a young man, to go to grime over drill or UK rap. What is gonna make these kids wanna do it anymore?”

It’s a polarising question and one that has come up time and time again over the last few years. But where others see the potential for conflict, Oblig — now as much a drill enthusiast as he is grime — sees a space for collaboration and diversification. “I think the only real difference between the two is money at this point”, he explains. “The question is how do you get a drill artist with a grime artist when essentially, they’re seen as a lesser? Technical ability wise, the grime MC is probably equal or better on mic, so it’s always been a dream of match up different MCs. I really wanna put on something with Kwengface and Lyrical Strally. I think the skippy-ness and bounciness of their flows, the wordplay, I think it’d be amazing. But how do we break those barriers down? How do we make people want to work together? I’ve done it once before in my life, when I had Kwengface going b2b with Faultsz on a drill set and I thought, ‘this is it, bruv’. I’m gonna have to do it again.”

Whether it’s flying grime artists out to the US, curating sets on both his Rinse FM show and for Tim & Barry’s Just Jam series or trying to mesh grime and drill together, Oblig’s penchant for moving between scenes and sounds is perhaps best encapsulated by his links with Brasil and the Brasil Grime Show. “Playing UK music in America sparked my interest in foreign scenes”, he explains, “and because I’d got to a certain place as one of the new wave kinda DJs, people were becoming aware of me. For some reason, they love me over there bruv. I started getting so many notifications in Portuguese early last summer and people in Brasil seemed to be really interested in me, you know. They were reposting my clips and retweeting my sets, so I just thought, what better excuse than to go to Rio? I’d wanted to go anyway but I looked at my calendar, checked when Carnival was and knew that I’d have people who’d be able to house me, so I made it happen in February. I flew myself out there and stayed for two weeks with the people who run The Brasil Grime Show. They showed me around, showed me their scene, their parties, their MCs, their DJs … it was amazing to see that.”

The Brasil Grime show, a YouTube channel established in 2019 and run out of Rio De Janeiro by a group of local grime enthusiasts, has become an important touch point for grime overseas, as local scenes in Japan and Australia did a few years before. Now boasting over 20k subscribers, the channel spotlights Brasilian MCs and DJs via filmed sets, the majority of which clock in at no longer than 30 minutes; fast and furious snapshots of a sound that carries the same absorbing, chaotic energy as UK grime. Oblig’s trip, combined with the channel’s increased visibility over the last 12 months, has inevitably opened doors and helped combat negative media stigma attached to Rio; “people see it as a dangerous place, but the vibes are so good”, he attests.

What were the parties like, I ask. “Ah so good, I went into one of the favelas on the first night”, he says, beaming. “It’s basically a mix of women dancing everywhere and guys holding guns. At first it’s bizarre, but the vibe … I can’t even describe it. I’ll never forget when I left the guys I was with to find a toilet in this favela. There was this little shop that stayed open just for people to use the toilet. I went in and spoke to the guy and was asking like, ‘banheiro, banheiro?’ and I hadn’t clocked, but he was cleaning his strap on the counter. He pointed me in the direction of the toilet with his strap and I was like, ‘okay this is mad’. As I went out, I noticed this kid, he must have been about 17, with some big Call Of Duty strap but he was just dancing and vibing along. It felt like a different world but the guys explained to me that nobody was there to hurt anybody at the party, it’s purely to protect it from an opposing gang or the authorities. Everybody was there for a good time.”

“There was this little shop that stayed open just for people to use the toilet. I went in and spoke to the guy and was asking like, ‘banheiro, banheiro?’ and I hadn’t clocked, but he was cleaning his strap on the counter. He pointed me in the direction of the toilet with his strap and I was like, ‘okay this is mad’.”

The sonics weren’t lost on Oblig during his trip either. As well as MCs, he notes that a lot of the people he spoke to would look to certain DJs and hyper-specific beats that would bleed into the more traditional sounds of the favelas. “They’re big fans of specific DJs. They love General Courts, Grandmixxer, Trends, the DJs that play sets with a bounce and a skippy-ness to them. They’d familiarise those kind of instrumentals and those patterns with Baile Funk. It’s like Baile Funk but slowed down a little bit, and I think that’s how they see it.”

Armed with this first-hand knowledge of the scene in Brasil, Oblig returned to London as a DJ with numerous strings to his bow; he’d become a fixer, a connector, a joiner of dots. “I’m actually really glad you’ve noticed that”, he says warmly. “That’s always been my aim. I’ve noticed that there are a lot people doing a lot of similar things and in the DJ game, especially when you don’t produce, you need to find a niche, something that you’re good at. For me, that’s always been curation. Whether it be a party or a putting together a sick set, putting things together and finding out what works is key. My next goal is to actually go out to Australia and meet the ONEFOUR drill lot, because I’m obsessed. Little things like flying yourself out to places to meet people and chill with them are important because it shows that people care.”

As a standalone DJ, Oblig — influenced by his favourite grime DJs in Spyro, Grandmixxer, Logan Sama and Spooky — has also flourished since his return to London, quickly becoming one of grime’s most active technicians behind a pair of decks, a reputation emboldened his weekly Friday night show on Rinse FM. It also led him to being drafted in as High Focus rapper Ocean Wisdom’s official tour DJ in 2019, which he recounts as of one of his defining highlights to date. “I did all of his festivals last summer and we headed out on his album tour at the end of the year”, he says proudly. “Doing those festivals opens your eyes to opportunities. Bruv, we did Glastonbury. Looking over at thousands of people, it was incredible, and by the end it was light work. I’ll never forget the first time I played with him, my leg was shaking under the table and I was fighting to keep it still, but by the end of the set I was up there skanking, chopping, going ham. Realising that you’re capable of doing that rearranges your mind set, it really does.”

“I’ll never forget the first time I played with him (Ocean Wisdom), my leg was shaking under the table and I was fighting to keep it still, but by the end of the set I was up there skanking, chopping, going ham.”

Further highlights including persuading legendary Birmingham MC, Sox, to come down to London and jump on set with him on Rinse — “I grew up listening to him and recalling his bars verse for verse, so the minute he walked through the door, it was a realisation of how far I’d come” — and playing a closing set for Rinse FM at The Moat at Outlook Festival last summer. “The Moat has always been my favourite stage and Outlook my favourite festival so to play it … ah bruv I’ll never forget it. My set was 5-6am and I’d been drinking non-stop, I was so waved. All day I’m thinking, ‘ah it’s 5am, people aren’t gonna stay’, forgetting what Outlook is all about, everyone is licked and ready. I just felt like I smashed it, Trilla was on set as a host for me as well which made it special. I remember at one point looking back behind me and seeing so many culturally important people and people that I respected just on the stage, jamming. Slimzee was there, Spyro was there, Oneman was there, MC Grindah was there … even Alhan was there. It was just the best set I’ve ever played and one of my favourite memories.”

With so much under his belt already, it could be difficult to roadmap where Oblig can take things next — but not for him. “I’m gonna be starting a label”, he says coyly. “It’s gonna be centred around the sounds you’d expect, mainly drill and grime, but I wanna put stuff out there that people won’t expect.” Although he continued to talk in more detail about plans for his imprint, readers will have to keep their eyes peeled for more soon.

As our conversation begins to wind down, Oblig leaning back on his chair and fixing his hat, I get the sense that his career so far is not only a testament to hard work, but also character. Details are clearly important to him, but so is making sure that people feel valued, looked after. His dreams too might be big — especially the prospect of bridging the cultural and financial gap between drill and grime — but if anyone can realise them, it’s him.

DJ Oblig plays on Rinse FM every Friday night (19.00-21.00 GMT):


Lavinya Stennett

On books, music, South London, learning Swahili at SOAS, studying Māori & Indigenous Land Law at the University Of Waikato, racism and the importance of The Black Curriculum.

(All images submitted by Lavinya Stennett)

George Orwell once wrote, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” While events of the last month, triggered by the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, have seen people from all walks of life come together to address institutional and generational racism, our own understanding of Black British history has remained limited at best. Lavinya Stennett, CEO and founder of The Black Curriculum, is on a mission to correct that for future generations, steadfast in her belief that education is crucial in helping combat the cultural normalisation of racism; from overt prejudice to subconscious bias and everyday micro-aggressions. 

“I’m quite overwhelmed to be honest”, she says as we start chatting on Thursday evening after another hectic day of meetings and video calls, “the last few weeks have been pretty crazy.” Lavinya herself was born in West Norwood in South London to Jamaican parents and went to school in Brixton, where she excelled at music and history — two of her biggest passions, alongside reading and writing. “I actually had the best childhood”, she recalls with a smile, “I had my library, the play centre around the corner, my local church. It was just really quiet and everyone kinda knew each other from the main high road, it was a real community.”

“I was really into books too”, she continues, “I wouldn’t say I was a book nerd but if I had a book, I’d be lost in it. Creating stories was a big one, I was into writing a lot, but also just creating stuff … putting two things together to make a new thing. In some ways, that’s what The Black Curriculum is, an amalgamation of all my different interests all together.”

“I wouldn’t say I was a book nerd but if I had a book, I’d be lost in it. Creating stories was a big one, I was into writing a lot, but also just creating stuff … putting two things together to make a new thing. In some ways, that’s what The Black Curriculum is, an amalgamation of all my different interests all together.”

At school in Brixton, she pursued these interests with enthusiasm but also found music to be a constant source of inspiration and enjoyment too. She learned to played the drums from a young age and continues to sing to this day. “I loved music”, she says thoughtfully. “Gospel was always played around the house growing up. The Clark Sisters, Don Moen … and then as I got older I was playing a lot more funk. Stevie Wonder and loads of old school influences. At school as well, all my best experiences were in my music classes because I just felt like I was listened to and I had a chance to express myself. Big up Mr Owusu, he really encouraged everyone to believe in themselves. History and Geography were passions too but they were just … dry. The stuff I was learning was interesting but it was delivered in such a dull way. It was monotonous, the teachers would carry the same monotone voices throughout the lessons. It was just so dry.”

Still only 23, Lavinya’s journey to first setting out and establishing The Black Curriculum a little over 12 months ago was inspired, in part, to her degree. She studied African Studies at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) in London, although it wasn’t her first choice — “I complained about my history lessons being dry but I guess I still wanted to continue along that really linear path” — instead preferring to study Law & Anthropology at LSE (London School Of Economics). She was on holiday in Kenya with her family when she was notified of her results. “I didn’t get into LSE”, she explains, “..and I was like ‘ah what am I am gonna do’? I was crying and just rushing around trying to work out what my options were. I logged onto UCAS and had to look through the clearing section and SOAS was literally the only university. I didn’t feel like it was me at all but it was either I go there or go to Kent and I ain’t going to Kent. I chose African Studies in the end because I felt like I had one shot to learn about my history.”

“I chose African Studies in the end because I felt like I had one shot to learn about my history.”

That decision would ultimately change her life. A complex degree covering a vast subject matter — “there were so many different parts to it, it was like a jigsaw coming together” — Lavinya quickly realised she’d not been given the chance to access any of this knowledge growing up. “I’d been dumbed down”, she says affirmatively. “Reckoning with that was quite uncomfortable but also quite comforting at the same time because there were other people around me who didn’t know much about it either. Everyone on that course was focused on learning and bettering themselves as best they could.”

She also decided to take on a language — “I’ve been learning Swahili for the last four years” — and throughout her time at SOAS, Lavinya’s degree saw her focus on not only African languages and dialects, but cultures and histories, each of which would open her eyes as to how much she still had learn. The catalyst for starting The Black Curriculum proper would come after graduating from SOAS however, on a trip to New Zealand. 

“I remember it well”, she says warmly. “I went to New Zealand for three months, which wasn’t as part of my degree at SOAS but it came through the network the university had with other universities. One of my lecturers let me know about a scholarship opportunity and I was like ‘okay cool’! I applied and thankfully I have neighbours from New Zealand who helped me with the application process, which made everything run smoothly. I got it, headed out there and it was just so bliss.”

Lavinya travelled to study Māori & Indigenous Land Law, which saw her immerse herself in Māori culture, cosmology and history at Waikato University in Hamilton on New Zealand’s north island. “It was like another world”, she says, reflecting with a beaming smile. “I was able to build really strong links with people who had a really good knowledge of the history of colonialism and their own history as well, which is even more important. They introduced that to me, too. I’m not gonna sit here and say I’m fluent in Māori but I was learning words and certain phrases, I learned how to do The Haka. Everything I picked up was to do with their heritage and I just thought that in itself was amazing. The fact that they own their history is so powerful and that was reflected at university level, everything ran so deep. The lecturers were Māori too. It wasn’t white people coming in to teach Māori history, it was them teaching you their own history. I thought to myself, ‘this is it’. I mentioned before about my own history lessons being dull, but this felt so real, so intimate. The lecturers would walk you through their life stories and I’d leave feeling so connected to what I was learning about. It made me realise this is what we needed back in the UK. We need a Black Curriculum that allows us to have and share in our histories and also the history of colonialism too. I felt so empowered in New Zealand … like if I’d had something similar growing up, I don’t even think I’d even be here doing what I’m doing. That realisation was definitely the tipping point.”

The lecturers would walk you through their life stories and I’d leave feeling so connected to what I was learning about. It made me realise this is what we needed back in the UK.

Established alongside close friends Bethany Thompson and Lisa Kennedy at the turn of 2019, Lavinya set out The Black Curriculum with big ambitions to inspire and educate young people both in and out of schools. She applied for a small government grant, which has funded the whole operation to this point, and has since been inundated with support, donations and mainstream exposure since the murder of George Floyd and the global visibility of the Black Lives Mater movement. “I remember writing out exactly what I wanted to do in one of my lecture halls”, she explains, “so I moved back to London and applied for a grant to setup The Black Curriculum. And now we’re here.”

“To execute a vision, you need people, you need teams”, she continues, “and we had a sense of community pretty early on. I remember someone at university had a WhatsApp group for black women setup and we were just talking about our ambitions one day and she said she had a passion for education and I’d mentioned I’d wanted to setup a black curriculum. We connected from there and she mentioned her friend was also interested in doing something similar. They were called Bethany and Lisa, and they rode with me for about six months, doing focus groups and trying to extend the team. We managed to build a small community and bring in freelancers and let people know that this is what we stood for and this what we wanted to do. With that belief from us, other people bought into it. I remember a teacher reaching out straight away after hearing me speak at an out-of-school talk I did. She came up to me and was like ‘you’re coming to my school in September’ and it actually ended up happening in September. That willingness from other people to get involved and be part of it and build is what it’s all about.”

“I remember a teacher reaching out straight away after hearing me speak at an out-of-school talk I did. She came up to me and was like ‘you’re coming to my school in September’ and it actually ended up happening in September. That willingness from other people to get involved and be part of it and build is what it’s all about.”

Local schools may have been an obvious entry point for Lavinya and her team to start at, but schools have so far proved difficult to access and engage; “If you want to run a company, don’t make schools your main client”, she says with a smirk. Alongside Bethany and Lisa, Lavinya spent months emailing schools across London — “a lot of people were getting back to us like, who are you?”— but two schools did get in touch and were key in providing The Black Curriculum with early backing and momentum.

With the subject of Black British History being so vast, Lavinya also noted that schools were often sceptical about what the curriculum actually promised; what was it going to teach children and young people? “Before we’d even got topics down, I knew that this curriculum would have to empowering”, she explains. “I also had this idea of building a sense of identity for young people in mind as a starting point. With the team, we’d then think about the most important themes that spoke to us. It was a little bit biased as all three of us are Jamaican (laughs) so we were like, we’ve gotta put sound-system culture in there and a history of Reggae and Calypso music, the art forms that have influenced British music to this day. I’d also done a lot of research around ecology for more dissertation and I feel like so many issues and injustices we face with the environment can be linked to racism so that was something else we felt we needed to incorporate. Also, when people say things like “oh you’re not British”, I feel like that can distance you from the land and a sense of belonging. Like when we talk about identity and belonging, what are we talking about? Belonging to the land, belonging to the things that people of African descent put blood, sweat and tears into building. The bricks, the asphalt, the things that helped form the land of Britain. Having a module that addresses land and the environment was therefore really important to us.”

“..when people say things like “oh you’re not British”, I feel like that can distance you from the land and a sense of belonging. Like when we talk about identity and belonging, what are we talking about? Belonging to the land, belonging to the things that people of African descent put blood, sweat and tears into building. The bricks, the asphalt, the things that helped form the land of Britain.”

There are also further modules on migration, politics and the legal system — “we can’t keep teaching history without linking it to what’s happening now” — with more to be developed and delivered as the team expands. The main takeaway for Lavinya though is making sure that the history the curriculum does teach is one that connects with those being taught; history that has a purpose, history that can join the dots between students’ everyday experiences and their past. “We’re actually seeing young people actually respond to what we’re delivering”, she says powerfully. “It’s inspiring them to go away and think and learn more about things … and I’m not telling them to do that, they’re doing it, which is amazing.” Classroom reactions have also been overwhelmingly positive, from teachers and fellow educators alike, despite only being visible in select schools for the last nine months. “At the end of each session we’ve delivered, I’d say 99.9% of the children leave feeling excited and energised by it”, Lavinya says, “and that shows how necessary it is for us to keep doing this work.”

Said work was also emboldened by the release of The Black Curriculum Report in January, which, authored by Dr Jason Arday and edited by Lavinya, Bethany and Lisa, explored the systematic ommittance of Black British History from history syllabuses across the UK; “seeing that out in the world made everything feel real”, Lavinya beams. That would ultimately light the touch paper for their #TBH365 campaign, which has been launched with a view to pushing for national curriculum reform via direct action. Through encouraging people to write to Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson MP, via an email template on their website, recording videos of support and donating to the Black Curriculum team, Lavinya hopes that they will be listened to. “We secured a meeting with the head of the curriculum team at the Department of Education and we wanted to introduce them to The Black Curriculum”, she explains. “They were really receptive but they said to us that they couldn’t support what we were doing without the support of the ministers, particularly Gavin Williamson, so everything we’re doing now is like phase two of that conversation. We need that support.”

That call for support has ultimately been amplified by the global Black Lives Matter movement over the last month following the murder of George Floyd, which has seen a huge upsurge in interest and support in what Lavinya and her team have been working on. “We’re in a period of grieving”, says Lavinya. “In the UK we’ve seen a lot of people, especially black people, die from coronavirus and even I’ve had two family members in hospital with it. So I feel like people have witnessed a lot of death this year and we’ve been worrying for a long time now. To then watch someone die on camera from a place of isolation, where we’re disconnected from ourselves and our communities, was just too much. This wasn’t a shooting either. Police in America are associated with guns and killing people and that’s become what we expect, but this was different. Because we had to watch the life force literally drain out of George Floyd while a police officer basically stood on his neck, it evokes a totally different feeling. I think it opened people’s eyes to the gravity of what’s been going on.”

The protests that followed in the UK may have since encouraged dialogue and a period of societal self-reflection over the last four weeks, but much of it has been reactionary concedes Lavinya. “I feel like it’s made us understand the issues better, but I don’t think we’re now at a place where to have a healthy dialogue about black lives and racism. I’m not just talking about London either, because I’m surrounded by people who understand my work and share my views, but what about the people who don’t? There’s now riots, people are still saying ignorant things and even some of my friends have been saying that in their white workplaces, there’s been a bit of push back about Black Lives Matter. How are we supposed to move forward if people aren’t on the same page? I feel like people’s ears are open but I don’t think we’re at a place of fully fledged change … yet.”

“I think people understand racism to be individual, very extreme actions”, she continues. “You chuck a banana at a black person, you’re racist. You say the N word, you’re racist. That has nothing to do with unconscious bias or the way people privilege or centre themselves above other people. That to me is equally as racist and damaging. It’s the ideology of superiority that was born in the 18th century and it’s still clearly very much alive today. Without people realising or understanding that trajectory, you’re lost. And that’s why I believe education to be so important.”

“I think people understand racism to be individual, very extreme actions”, she continues. “You chuck a banana at a black person, you’re racist. You say the N word, you’re racist. That has nothing to do with unconscious bias or the way people privilege or centre themselves above other people.”

With that sentiment still very much at the forefront of our conversation, we begin to wind down. “I think I’m just gonna go and have a sleep now”, Lavinya says with stretching her arms above her head, clearly exhausted after another energy-sapping week. Looking back at what she and her small team have achieved in a little over 12 months is astonishing and now, with the world’s media glare fixed on agents of change like her own, she seems intent on seizing the opportunity. If rolled-out nationwide, The Black Curriculum would represent seismic change in the UK and is clearly the type of tangible, long-term reform society needs to really come to terms with racism — and just how deep it runs. They say there’s no time like the present, but from speaking to Lavinya, it’s clear that there’s no time like the past either. “We’ve got to understand our history to understand our future”, she concludes. And it’s difficult to say fairer than that.

To read about / get involved with / donate to The Black Curriculum, please visit:


— Mr. Mitch —

On writing albums, vulnerability as strength, Gobstopper Records, legacy, fatherhood and the power of black music.

(All photos submitted by Mr. Mitch)

“I think you were my first ever interview”, says Mr. Mitch leaning back a little, “I just used to hate doing phone calls, that was the thing.” Our first interview was back in 2011, around the time Mr. Mitch had first caught the ears of Butterz, the pioneering grime label run by Elijah & Skilliam. Shy, reserved and reluctant to be forthcoming, he was a prolific but understated producer working at the outer-reaches of grime’s traditional blueprint. Nine years on, Mitch has written albums for Planet Mu, overseen the rise of his Gobstopper Records imprint, co-run vastly influential club night and label arm, Boxed, and toured the world as a DJ. As we catch-up for the first time in a couple of years, my FaceTime window opens to find him looking relaxed and at one with life, having just become a father for the third time during the current pandemic.

“It’s been a weird lockdown so far”, Mitch concedes. “My wife was pregnant and kinda due just as COVID started to happen and to make things worse, I had suspected COVID in the week leading up to lockdown starting. My kid was due due about two days after I went into self-isolation so there was potential for me to miss the birth but luckily she was a week late … she waited for me.” A proud father — 2013 track ‘Milo’ is dedicated to his first-born son and 2017 album ‘Devout’ was written as a sweet and tender love letter to fatherhood — Mitch’s family life has become an important part of both his music and his identity. But things started out very differently.

“My kid was due due about two days after I went into self-isolation so there was potential for me to miss the birth but luckily she was a week late … she waited for me.”

“I’ve been making music since I was about 12, 13 years old”, he reflects, “but it was only around 2008, 2009 that I decided to start letting other people hear it. I started sending stuff to Elijah & Skilliam and some other DJs as well, but they were the first to get on board and start playing my stuff on radio. I guess that led me to wanting other DJs to start playing my stuff, which led me to start making music I felt other DJs would like. I got in that cycle of trying to make music that would sound good on radio or with an MC on it, but at the same time, I had a very strong mission in my mind to be in the same lane of dubstep producers and DJs who could just make beats and that was the song. Me and the Butterz guys had the same ethos which was to make good instrumental grime music but it was also very much catered for the club. It was cool but there was a lot more thought going into the process, and I felt maybe it was less natural for me to be producing like that.”

Those early Mr. Mitch beats were glitchy, jittery, hyper-energetic takes on grime — see 2010’s ‘Fright Night’ and ‘Skittles’, released on Butterz’ V/A ‘Quality Street’ 12” alongside beats by Terror Danjah, Royal-T and SRC — but always hinted at the possibility for more; the sonics could get weirder. And get weirder they did, but not until 2013 when alongside Logos, Slackk and Oil Gang, Mitch put on the first Boxed club night at the now long-since closed Peckham Palais; a strange, department store style venue with pillars spread across the dance floor and a bar selling knock-off energy drinks and dreadful lager. 

“Boxed changed a lot for me. I realised that the audience who came along were happy to listen to whatever we played. It changed my opinion on what I thought I could release. I remember watching Mumdance at one of the nights we put on at Birthdays in Dalston and he would play like, hard club stuff and then in the middle of his set, he’d draw for fully weightless, weird shit and everyone stayed on the dance floor. It made me think, ‘ahh okay, this is working’. It gave me the confidence to put out music like that, music that I’d always been making but never thought anyone would want to hear. I’d actually put out a mixtape called ‘Venus’ in 2012, a free download thing on Twitter, which was a lot weirder, more hip-hop influenced and that actually got a bit of press pick-up. Nothing else I was putting out at the time was getting anything at press, so it made me realise then that people were more receptive to the stuff that came more naturally.”

“I remember watching Mumdance at one of the nights we put on at Birthdays in Dalston and he would play like, hard club stuff and then in the middle of his set, he’d draw for fully weightless, weird shit and everyone stayed on the dance floor.”

Birthing a world-wide network of like-minded producers intent on experimenting with traditional grime sounds, Boxed formed an important catalyst for grime 2.0’s sonic boom. The club nights, which have been housed in venues all over London, became an important IRL meeting place for producers, DJs, writers and enthusiasts alike, and inspired the recording of Novelist and Mumdance’s ‘Take Time’ — a now iconic grime single, that would in turn inspire Skepta to pen ‘That’s Not Me’. But most importantly for Mitch, Boxed helped him find his voice as an artist and formed the launchpad for his debut album, ‘Parallel Memories’.

(Photo by Quann)

“I put out my EP, ‘The Room Where I Belong‘, on Gobstopper at the beginning of 2014 and i’d been making a lot of similar tracks that were coming together as a singular sound”, says Mitch. “I now had the confidence to release that stuff and it lead me to the first album with Mu. I sent a big collection of tracks to Mike at Planet Mu and he was into about 90% of them, so it didn’t really feel like a daunting process to make that album because it was almost there. ‘Devout’ (his second studio album, released in 2017) was a lot more difficult because I was trying to do collaborations and stuff … and that’s just long”, he says with a pained grin on his face. 

“That was the first time I’d been in the studio with other artists properly as well”, he continues. “I remember getting in the studio with Denai Moore for the album and I was a very awkward person at the time, so that was a really awkward session. It was a big hurdle for me, because I’d just signed a publishing deal at the time and my publishers were trying to get me to write tunes with loads of different artists. From being a bedroom producer, just on my own, for so long to then being in a room with loads of other people was really daunting, so writing ‘Devout’ was a very different process to ‘Parallel Memories’.”

‘Devout’ in particular still forms some of Mr. Mitch’s best and most identifiable music. From the wonderful ‘Priority’ ft. P Money — a gorgeous ode to fatherhood, the official video featuring fellow music dads including Last Japan, Logos and Mark Force — to the rich and warm, handmade sounds of the album intro featuring his two sons Milo and Oscar and the silky, sugary pop of ‘VPN’, a collaboration with Palmistry, it’s an album bursting with love and emotion. “Loyalty and accountability are topics that seldom make it into popular music, but ‘Devout’ finds bliss in its sense of balance”, swooned Pitchfork.

Sandwiched between his two albums, there were also Peace Edits, a vinyl-only series of releases Mitch put out on his Gobstopper label in 2015. They were a tongue-in-cheek response to a quick-fire war dub fortnight sparked between producers on Twitter; rather than start fires, Mitch wanted to put them out. Reimagined, ambient beats by Loom, Silk Road Assassins, Strict Face and Mr. Mitch himself — referencing everything from Alice Deejay to Kate Bush — they too were important markers in his own emotional awakening. “They opened up the whole production process for me as well”, Mitch explains. “I’d made a lot of RnB influenced tracks in the past but they were a lot more indebted to US RnB, where as doing the Peace Edits and stripping apart grime instrumentals and looking at all the intricate parts helped me see the music differently. I was trying to make war dubs, I really was trying, but they were sounding dead so I thought I’d flip it. To be honest, I could be in a fight and I’d still seem peaceful.”

Today, it feels as thought there’s very little that separates Mitch from his music; everything he is and everything he represents is channelled into every beat he makes. For some, it’d be difficult for those vulnerabilities and such hyper-personal thoughts and feelings to be played out on record, but for Mitch it’s more about being honest and true. “I find it hard to not be honest, to the point where I’m like, ‘why have I let that information out’ kinda thing”, he says with a gentle shrug of his shoulders. “I’m that guy at the bar, especially after a couple of drinks, I’ll open up and tell you stuff. I’ll tell my wife afterwards and she’ll be like, ‘why did you tell them that?’. A lot of the time, when I’m making a song I won’t even notice the emotional link there until it’s finished. I’ve even tried not to make things so personal, but it always comes back around. When things aren’t functional, it’s only gonna be emotional and my emotions are linked to my present and to what’s happening to me right now. It’s always gonna be real and honest. That said, it’s easy for me to talk about fatherhood because I’m a proud father, but my ‘Primary Progressive’ EP, (written to address his dad’s battle with Multiple Sclerosis, released on Gobstopper in 2018), was a lot harder. It was difficult to talk about because I’d never spoken to anyone or been open about it before. But on the whole, being honest in my music isn’t difficult for me.”

Over the last few years, Mitch’s ear and taste — partly inspired by Boxed’s evolution to look beyond grime and embrace all forms of club music and partly by his own travels as a DJ — has also evolved, to the point where experimentation, as well as emotion, has become a pivotal part of his make-up. His Techno Dancehall mixes — hour long sets of technnoid-dancehall mutations recorded in 2019 — are a far cry from 16-bit grime beats or shimmering, future-pop edits, but have helped build out Mitch’s reputation as a fully-established, black electronic musician. “Being able to tour a lot more as a DJ opened my eyes and my ears to a lot of different sounds I’ve never really explored before”, Mitch explains. “Like, house and techno growing up were not genres I ever fucked with. Being black and from London at the time, you just didn’t listen to that. I listened to grime and RnB, garage … a bit of jungle and whatever, but house and techno was never from our sphere. It’s only when I got older and learned about the origins that I sat back and though, ‘ahh okay’. And also, it’s not just this straight, horrible sounding Berlin stuff that’s really boring. I still wanna find rhythms and sounds that I like and me journeying into that world, I found the stuff that sounds like dancehall, to me anyway, more interesting. It wasn’t me trying to say this is a new genre, it was more me just putting a mix together that showcased techno music that I liked. It was fun to make but I never expected people to be into it so much.”

Tapping into a point made by Fauzia via an impassioned Twitter thread last week, Mitch also points out that house and techno is common currency all over the world — “basically everyone getting booked plays house or techno or both” — and concedes that anything outside that canon is often resigned to less prestigious billing. “Any bass music or whatever you wanna call it, is just put in a little room on the side, which is kinda sad.”

This personal sonic evolution has also bled into the work Mitch does with his Gobstopper Records label, which has been active since 2010. Originally a home for his own grime productions and those of less-established OG producers like Moony and Deset, the label gradually evolved to put out some of the most innovative and exciting grime music of the mid ‘10s, including game-changing EPs by Irish producer Bloom (see 2012’s ‘Quartz’), Strict Face and Dark0. It’s latest evolution has seen Mitch look beyond grime’s confines over the last 18 months — as first hinted at by Odeko’s often overlooked 2016 debut ‘A History With Samus’ — to harness producers exploring all areas of the club. Recent EPs by BFTT, Nikki Nair and Otik have all signposted a new direction for the label, but one that Mitch feels is still in keeping with the Gobstopper outlook. “There was a period where there was a lot of emotional, grime tunes in sorta 2014, 2015 and that became a big part of what I was putting out. But now, especially as I’ve started to play a lot more club sets, a lot of the label output has started to become more club-orientated. The base line is it’s always gotta be interesting, that’s always what I look for. There are even producers I’ve had on the label regularly, I won’t name names (laughs), who have sent me stuff and I’ve been like, ‘this isn’t left enough for me’. I’m looking for club stuff but if it’s just works in that one context, then it’s not really for me.”

Following the murder of George Floyd and the global response to institutional racism and generational injustice, Mitch has also made the decision to sign music from only black artists from this point forward. Posting on Twitter, he acknowledged that 90% of Gobstopper’s output has been from white men in the past, and this was something he wanted to use his label platform to change. “It’s weird that this particular incident was such a trigger point for everyone, myself included”, he says thoughtfully. “There’s been countless others that have angered me but not to the point of now. It’s just got to the point where enough is enough. As a label, I wanted to make the change because through touring Europe, I’ve noticed I’m often the only black person on the line-up. As an artist, it’s also taken me ages for people to just see me as an electronic artist. As a black musician, I think it’s harder to be seen that way in a wider sense rather than just a black music artist. Obviously I’ve come from grime and it’s a big part of my make-up, but it doesn’t define me. I feel like people look at you with a different gaze as a black artist, and very few black people have managed to change that. Like if you look at Actress for example, you look at him and he’s just an electronic artist. I don’t feel white artists have that same conundrum, so I wanna put more of a focus on black people who make cool electronic music.”

“As a black musician, I think it’s harder to be seen that way in a wider sense rather than just a black music artist. Obviously I’ve come from grime and it’s a big part of my make-up, but it doesn’t define me.”

The past few weeks have also brought up memories of his own experiences growing up and also spotlighted the small, every-day behavioural nuances that as a black person, have become engrained and normalised. “It’s made me think about these little things as I do as a black man in the UK, to kinda change myself or to go out of my way to not suffer sometime of racism, doing things differently because of my race”, he explains. “But now it’s just like ‘nah, I’ve had enough’. Like, we’ve just moved out of London but I had to think about whether or not my kids are gonna experience racism. If I put them into a school here, what percentage of the class are gonna be people of colour? What’s the constituency like? One place we considered, we had a look at the voting records at the last election and there was a high percentage of UKIP voters and we were like, ‘nah we can’t go there’. These are things you have to think about as a black person.”

“My grandmother was white, with a black husband, and later in her life she moved down to Sussex, in a place called Robertsbridge”, he continues. “One summer, I was down there staying with her for a few days and I’d gone to the shop to be greeted by a group of boys standing by a car who shouted, ‘All n****** get out of town’. I was quite young but it was scary, there’s like seven of them and me as a little kid. It’s those moments that remind me that I can’t just go anywhere I want to without thinking about the racial implications first. As a young kid experiencing racism, I just kinda put up with it and got on with things generally, but I don’t want that to be the case for my kids.”

On the whole, the response to Mitch’s decision has been mostly positive and many fans are looking forward to the future of Gobstopper. “I’m all for giving money to different charities”, says Mitch, “but I can’t see the changes personally, at least not directly. So, I’m always thinking what can I do? If I can make change and I’m in a position to do that, why can’t I do that now? I’ve had a few people say things like, ‘too little too late’ but most feedback has been good. It’s cliche but in a colour blind way, I was just signing music that I liked in the past, rather than thinking about anything else. It’s taken this to bring it to the forefront of my brain as an issue, so I’m gonna do what I can with the label to address it.”

“I’m always thinking what can I do? If I can make change and I’m in a position to do that, why can’t I do that now?”

As we wind down our conversation, it dawns on me that despite 2020 being such a testing, trying year to this point, Mr. Mitch has never seemed more together. It’s often suggested that the best art comes from times of personal struggle and hardship, but in Mitch’s case, I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. Blossoming as a person, husband, dad — “life is hard at the moment but it’s full of little joys” — his music has taken those steps with him. And long may that continue. 

Mr. Mitch’s ‘Daydream Of You’, written during lockdown, is available via Gobstopper now.

— Capo Lee —

On free-styling, belt-drive decks, using his lunch money to buy records, working with Chelsea FC and always trying to help people.

(Photo submitted by Capo Lee)

It’s Saturday evening when Capo Lee takes my FaceTime call, clutching a mug of peppermint tea. He’s speaking to me from home in North London, the hazy evening sunlight filtering in through some blinds behind him. “I don’t feel like people have ever had time to reflect on a lot of things before”, he says thoughtfully when I ask him about how he’s had to adapt to a new way of life over the last few months. “Some people have getting busy and active where as other people have been struggling quite a bit mentally and I understand that, but me personally, I’m alright man.” 

It’s this calm, reassuring, almost nonchalant manner that has always set Capo apart. A grime MC who bloomed late — he only released his first batch of music as Capo Lee in 2015 — he speaks with a quiet confidence that can sometimes catch you off guard. His story began not with a mic, but with a pair of decks as a teenager, where he was a student at Winchmore School in Winchmore Hill, North London — the same secondary school that Skepta, JME and Shorty attended. “They were a bit older than me”, he recalls, “but they were about when I was there. Basically, at Winchmore school, we had this thing called ‘Winchmore FM’ and it was mad. One of the mentors at school used to bring decks along, and I’d see man just bringing records in every Friday and from that point, all I wanted to do was be a DJ, I’m not gonna lie. Remember that Nokia phone, the 3310 yeah? I had one of those, I can’t even remember where I got it from, I think it was a gift from a family member, but I swapped it for a pair of decks on the sly. I got some Numark belt-drive decks and when I first got them, I thought they were incredible. Bro, I used to come downstairs in the morning and just look at them. I used to wake up and it’d be too early to play anything so I just used to look at them.”

“Remember that Nokia phone, the 3310 yeah? I had one of those, I can’t even remember where I got it from, I think it was a gift from a family member, but I swapped it for a pair of decks on the sly.”

A favourite of so many DJs starting out, belt-drives were often sluggish and difficult to get to grips with, but they fuelled Capo’s early obsession for records. So much so in fact, that’d he often go hungry at lunch time. “All the lunch money I used to get for the week at school, I’d take it on a Monday and just go and buy records”, he says fondly. “I didn’t care about eating, I didn’t care about lunch. I just wanted to buy bare man’s records.” His first record? “I remember yeah, when I got the decks off my bredrin, he gave me two vinyl records. One was ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ by Dizzee Rascal and the other one was DMX … (starts singing) ‘Ya’ll gonna make me lose my mind’ (‘Party Up’). I used to try and mix but I couldn’t even mix. When I got them, I used to think you’d plug them in and that was it, but there was no sound coming out. I only clocked that when someone said to me I had to buy an amp.”

Picking up a mic had crossed Capo’s mind too, but as a teenager he didn’t like how his voice sounded — “it was mad squeaky, honestly” — and being a DJ allowed him to shy away from attention and fuss. After leaving school, he continued to focus on his mixing and spent hours practicing in his room and on whatever pirate station he could get on. But one fortuitous trip to Heat FM in 2007 — famous proving ground for influential grime crew, Meridian — would prove the end of his fledgling DJ dream. “Me and my bredrins would go along to Heat FM sometimes yeah, but we were young, like mad young”, he says with a grimace. “We’d be in our school uniform and that and I remember there were bare crews there, loads of people. One day we rocked up there and the station guy, some big wham guy with a big bald head … like bare scary, he shouted over to us and said ‘You guys, stand up’. So we stood up, and bear in mind there were bare crews there too, some you might not know but crews like Bundem Crew from Tottenham and bare North London man that we looked up to. We stood up and he goes, ‘You guys are not good enough, you’re off the station, you need to leave’, in front of everyone. We were bare small. After that, I stopped for time, I just used to mix at home.”

His transition from DJ to MC wouldn’t happen overnight either, but he did have one friend who used to make rap beats in his spare time. “Sometimes I’d go to his house and just drop a little rap verse”, Capo recalls, “…not to put out or anything, just messing around. But that definitely got me into the idea of spitting.” A short spell in prison soon followed and although potentially destabilising, it gave him time to reflect and crucially, impress inmates on his wing. They’d hear him free-styling from in the corridors and recognised the potential in both his lyricism and delivery straight away. “Everyone used to say to me, ‘rah man you’re actually sick’ and I’d always be like ‘nah man, I’m too old for that’ and whatever. Once I got out though, I linked my friend and went to his studio, a producer called War Dot. He had some spare studio time one day, only about half an hour or something, but said to me that I might as well make a tune and see how it goes. I had bars already, so I just sprayed them over this tune, recorded it and then I remember sending it to Kwam, who I’d known from way back, and asked him what he thought. Bruv, this guy started sending it out to bloggers and bearing in mind I wasn’t even on Twitter and that back then, it was mad. Remember Hij from Grime Forum as well? He put it up as his top track on Grime Forum and that was a big ting when I came around in like 2015. So when I finally got on Twitter, I had bare tweets and mentions and all these followers. Hitman from Brum, he came with his blue tick and was tweeting like, ‘This guy Capo Lee, he’s actually cold’, and I was like ‘yes!’ and just carried on. I bucked Spyro and that was it.”

The track in question, ‘Ain’t The Same’, ended up winning a spot on a Grime Forum compilation in early 2015, which in turn sparked Capo’s desire to prove he wasn’t just a one hit grime wonder; this wasn’t a fluke. He started writing regularly, new tracks began to flow and Capo Lee was officially born. “I don’t really know where the name came from you know”, he says leaning back, scratching his head. “You know it’s just one of those words you hear in films, like ‘ah, he’s the capo’. I just used to hear it around. Back in the day, everyone used to call me Leeman and even JME and that still know me as Leeman from when I was young but I thought, nah I can’t be going into this as Leeman, that’s bare neeky. I liked the Lee bit, so I stuck Capo in front of it and it sounded alright. You know what as well? I used to search Leeman on Google and the Lehman Brothers used to come up first. I don’t know who they are but I’d always be like ‘rahhh’ so when I put Capo in front of Lee, I realised those two words are never together. Now, when you search my name on Google, I’m the top search. I was ahead of my time”, he chuckles.

“I used to search Leeman on Google and the Lehman Brothers used to come up first. I don’t know who they are but I’d always be like ‘rahhh’ so when I put Capo in front of Lee, I realised those two words are never together. Now, when you search my name on Google, I’m the top search.”

Capo’s breakout tracks, ‘Liff’, produced by Birmingham-based producer Mystry and ‘Mud’ ft. D Double E produced by Spyro, were both recorded in 2015 and quickly laid down a marker. His languid flow, off-beat and almost conversational at points, was an immediate calling card and proved a surefire match for more spatial, heavyweight beats. He didn’t attack instrumentals either, he navigated them, his arrangement and delivery of each bar precise but never formulaic. It was the link-up with Spyro however — now arguably grime’s most recognisable producer after his work on Stormzy’s first two albums — that’d really open doors. “A friend of mine from the ends, Sean D, had a studio in Enfield and one day I had to go and drop something off to him”, says Capo, stretching his arms out and pausing for thought. “It turns out that Spyro was there at his studio with Big H, Bossman Birdie, Prez T and they were actually recording ‘Side By Side’. Obviously I know them all from ends already, but I’d not met Spyro before. He looked at me and was like, ‘Yo, you’re Capo Lee innit? I’ve been hearing your tunes on radio man, they’ve been circulating’. He told me to send him some tunes, so I went home straight away and sent a load over. He actually ended up playing them on his next Rinse FM show and I was gassed.”

Refusing to get carried away, Capo reached out to Spyro again the following day to thank him for playing the tracks he’d sent over. “I DM’d him to say big up and thanks really but he replied saying, ‘What are you doing? Come to my house tomorrow’. So I got in my car the next day and drove over to his house. On the way, imagine this yeah, he changed his number as I’m driving over. I pulled up outside what I thought was his house but I didn’t know what door number it was and this guy’s phone isn’t going through. I sat outside his house for two hours. I didn’t know what was going on but I was like, he’s gotta leave his house eventually, he has to. Bro, I just sat there in my car for two hours. He ended up up DM’ing me to tell me he’d changed number and realised I was outside, so I went in and we started working on stuff. I don’t think we got anything down that particular day, but from there we built a mad close relationship.”

The connection between MC and producer can sometimes be overlooked, but in Capo and Spyro’s case, it became almost symbiotic; they brought the best out of each other in every session, cultivating a method of working that still rings true to this day. “Do you know what we do? I’ll go to his house or to his studio or whatever and he’ll be like, ‘What vibe is it? Are we going for spaghetti flow or mellow tings?’. The spaghetti flow stuff is that tech-y lyrical stuff, you know what I mean? But all the tunes we make, we make from scratch so I’ll even sometimes just be like ‘Oi Spy man, blank canvas’ and we go from there.”

As he starts to reel off another story about ‘Liff’ — “I free-styled the chorus over that Mystry beat the first time I heard it on Mode FM while Spooky was DJing” — Capo also recalls a near-on 20 minute freestyle on Rinse FM he recorded back in 2016, before making a joke about being “one of those guys talking like I’ve got bare history”. Despite his modesty, Capo’s made more of a dent on the landscape than the majority of his peers over the last five years, laying foundations for grime to flourish in new spaces — and none more so than in football. Although Stormzy blazed a trail via his Adidas link-up with Paul Pogba and Manchester United in 2016, Capo’s music has become a regular content sound-bed at Chelsea FC, for whom he recorded a special remix of ‘Style & Swag’ last summer. 

(Photo by Danny Kasirye for Gaffer Mag)

“I messaged Jamal Edwards at SBTV and asked who was repping Chelsea”, Capo laughs. “He said no one was doing anything and I said okay, we need to rep. That was literally how it happened. My first involvement was supposed to be in an advert. It had Trevor Nelson in it and a couple of other people, and Chelsea wanted me for a scene for about 25 seconds, it wasn’t long. They asked if could edit two bars from one of my tunes to use in the advert as well. What I did yeah, was I went and linked Spy, said ‘trust me, this is gonna work’ and we made a whole new tune. I went back and played it to the guys directing the video and they loved it. I was like, ‘what, wasn’t I supposed to do that?!’. The next day I got an email telling me that they were like ‘this track is so good, we have to do something with this’ and I was like, ‘Really? No way!’. 

An outdoor meeting at Stamford Bridge beckoned, but it took a while for Capo to believe any of their ideas would materialise. Thinking he’d probably end up getting a tour of an empty stadium and shooting a video “looking around at a few trophies”, he was taken aback by Chelsea’s plans for his music. “The squad was actually due to do the green screen bits for Sky Sports and all that, yeah. There was BT Sport, ESPN, bare people at this indoor centre at the training ground and it was like basically a big circle of different media outlets that the players would go to and have a picture taken and then move onto the next one. They said they wanted to setup a Capo Lee stall for me. I was like, ‘what, no way?’. Even when they told me that, I was like nah, that’s not happening.” Low and behold, it was pencilled in for September 14th — Capo’s birthday — and he turned up to a sea of first team players at Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham.

“I turned up yeah and everyone was just … there”, he says dumfounded. “The guy that directed the video, a guy called Gerald, I said to him ‘I can’t just go up to Willian and say, yo I’m shooting a rap video, do you wanna cameo in it?’, like I didn’t know what to say. It turns out they’d heard the song and a few of them were gassed on it, it was so surreal, I can’t even explain it. Olivier Giroud was like ‘this song is good, man’. He kept re-shooting his bit because he didn’t think he looked good, Willian had his arm around me. There’s even like a two-second shot of me and N’Golo Kante walking and talking, we spoke for about two minutes. I went over to him sitting down and said, ‘yo, so you do rest?’. It was just mad.”

The video shot that day was used in Chelsea’s official kit unveiling for the 19/20 season and the relationship has blossomed since, with Capo still working on exciting new opportunities with the club as we speak; he assures me there’ll be more news on that soon. “I still chat to a few of the players, me and Mason Mount talk a bit on WhatsApp now and again”, he says nonchalantly, “and I get bare Chelsea fans following me now. But I feel like the biggest thing about it was that no rapper or MC has made a video like that, like so intense with a whole team. I think for them it was a risk as well, but it got a few hundred thousand views on their channel and they were really happy with that.”

As our conversation starts to wind down, he begins reflecting on his career to this point; from the meteoric breakout rush of tracks like ‘Liff’ and ‘Mud’ to recent four-way EP, ‘Royal Rumble’, written just a few weeks before Coronavirus struck alongside Big Zuu, Eyez and Kamakaze. “I’m never content but I feel like this year I’m getting a lot of new supporters”, Capo affirms. “I feel like I’m getting brought through a lot more than in 2019 but even then I’ll still get DMs from people like, ‘why haven’t I heard of you before?’. Maybe I need to do some more collaborations with the big, big, big boys, I dunno.” He then points to grime being sidelined by other breakout genres like Drill over the last four years or so too, acknowledging that every genre has its moment. “It happens man. A new genre will come along or there’ll be a resurgence of another genre and something will get moved on. But in terms of grime, I feel like people mention my name now. I’ve realised that I’m actually established and I was never really aware of that before until this year. Just knowing that has given me new batteries.”

“..in terms of grime, I feel like people mention my name now. I’ve realised that I’m actually established and I was never really aware of that before until this year. Just knowing that has given me new batteries.”

And while those batteries may be fully charged, Capo’s never in a rush. He nods to Skepta as someone who waited, watched and bided his time for years, while others blew up all around him. “Look at Skep yeah”, he says confidently. “Look where he started. Do you know how many people he saw blow? He saw Chip blow, Tinie Tempah blow, Krept & Konan blow, Tinchy Stryder blow. Bro, he saw all of them blow worldwide before he did. And then now look. Do you know what I mean?”

“Personally, I would like grime to have another resurgence and then we can all walk around like, ‘we’re the top boys’ again”, he continues with a smile. “Remember when Skep and them man went to Radar back in 2016? It was mad. That’s what I wanna do, I wanna have people recognise us and be like ‘rah, there’s legends in the building’ and be pulling their cameras out. We need to be the new elite.”

(Photo by Quann – Skepta & Novelist, Radar Radio, January 2016)

Before we both hang up, I remind Capo of two moments that reaffirm his reputation as one of grime’s most genuine and warm-hearted characters. The first was turning up to spray at an event I was putting on with my record label, Coyote Records, back in 2017. It was my 29th birthday, Last Japan was playing his first ever all-night set at The Alibi in Dalston and Capo had seen me tweet about it on the night. He DM’d me and asked if he could come down, jump on set for a bit and have a drink for my birthday; he duly turned up and sent the club into frenzy. The second was calling me out of the blue about four months later to say thanks for a review I’d written of his ‘Capo The Champ’ EP for one of Crack Magazine’s EOY lists. “I’ve helped a lot of people in this music game, I don’t talk about it but I have”, he says sharply. “Like, there have been artists who aren’t from London coming here and I’ve transferred money to them, I’ve helped people with releases and recording spaces. That’s just me as a person, I like to help people. When people act surprised, I’m always like, ‘how are people acting out there?’. These are just normal things to do!”

(Photo by Asia Huddleston – The Alibi, Dalston, August 2017)

Capo Lee, Big Zuu, Eyez and Kamakaze’s ‘Royal Rumble’ EP is out now:

— Vicky Grout —

On Kingston, grime, shooting under pressure, building relationships, working with brands and the importance of taking time out.

(All photos submitted by Vicky Grout)

Chances are, if you’ve paid any sort of attention to music photography over the last five years, you’ll have caught one of Vicky Grout’s images. She’s arguably one of the the UK’s most prolific and in-demand young photographers, focusing on (but not limited to) working across music, fashion and streetwear. Perhaps best known for her gritty portraits of Skepta et al, her story is a tale of trust, hard work and most importantly, acknowledging when to take time out.

“I’ve been reading a lot and sitting in my garden”, she says when I ask her about how life in lockdown has been treating her, the sun beating into her room and casting a shadow over one side of her face. “Where I live now, there’s a big communal garden so it’s been nice to be able to chill there. I’ve played a lot of Animal Crossing as well and there’s been lots of cleaning the house. But to be honest, I’m quite enjoying this time. I know there needs to be a lot more going on in the long run, but right now I’m chilling. Some people might not be able to enjoy spending time at home, especially at the moment, so I realise I’m lucky to be in a position where I’m able to do that.”

Vicky grew up in and around Kingston in Surrey, a stones throw from the Thames — the river actually runs alongside it — and recently famed, rather regrettably, for being home to one of the UK’s biggest Oceana nightclubs during the 2000s; a destination spot for my friends and I during our student years. Her interest in music and photography was first piqued after finding a disposable-style film camera in a draw at home, just before getting her first part-time at Natterjacks — a skate and streetwear shop in Kingston that acted as a de facto hub for local skaters, musicians and creatives. “I’d say my interest in photography probably started when I was maybe like 11 or 12 years old”, she recalls, “I’ve always like photos and visual things since I was little, so photography made sense to me. It wasn’t until I found my family’s old holiday camera in a draw one day, just a basic, point-and-shoot Olympus film camera, that I thought ‘ah this is sick, I should try using this’. I started going along to gigs and shows from when I was about 13 and I’d queue really early and wait for hours so I could be at the front to take pictures, which I’d share on like, my Tumblr or my Flickr. They were literally pictures just for me, I wanted something to look back on for myself. That led to taking photos of my friends and just documenting random shit really and then when I got to about 17, working one day a week while I was at college, I realised I was spending all my money on film. It was just an expensive hobby and I never really thought I’d make any money from it.”

The cost of developing film eventually became too much and Vicky decided to have a break from taking photos, instead focusing on her college work, where she studied Art and Design, specialising in Graphics, before going on to undertake a foundation degree in the same subject at Central Saint Martins in London.  “I thought it’d be a slightly more reliable career choice for me”, she explains, “but somewhere between college and university, well the summer leading up to university anyway, I just started raving. Two or three times a week I’d be out, whether it was at Visions, The Nest, fabric, Fire in Vauxhall, Hyperdub nights, Swamp81, Butterz nights. It was crazy.”

“Two or three times a week I’d be out, whether it was at Visions, The Nest, fabric, Fire in Vauxhall, Hyperdub nights, Swamp81, Butterz nights. It was crazy.”

For anyone looking at Vicky’s work objectively, one of the key takeaways is not only the access she’s had to some of the biggest artists from the UK and beyond, but the natural light she captures them in. As we start to talk through her career proper, there’s one factor we keep coming back around to; trust. Without it, you’ll never capture the images you or the artist want and its clearly a delicate balance to strike. Vicky’s secret? “Those times I didn’t even go out with my camera, I was literally just raving”, she says. “I think over time I became a bit of a bait face in that scene as a raver, as a regular. I got to know people like Spooky, Novelist, AJ Tracey, Sian Anderson, Julie Adenuga, the Butterz lot just like that really. It must have been the summer of 2014 and that’s when I thought, ‘rah I need to be out and be everywhere’ you know.”

It was through these formative relationships, first forged on club dance floors and at noisy, gig venue bars, that Vicky became part of the fabric of a grime scene that was exploding, and starting to rear its head to the mainstream. Her first experience of being asked to take photos came via Siobhan Bell, who asked her to not only photograph, but curate one of her legendary Cherryade club nights back in 2014. “Because I’d kind of got to know some of the newer artists in the grime scene at the time like The Square and Novelist, she was like, ‘why don’t you help me curate a line-up and you can reach out to the artists and book them’?”, Vicky recounts, “and 17 year old me was like, ‘ahhhh!’. I remember for that first night, I booked Ollie Rant, Last Japan, Spooky, Novelist and The Square and it was such a sick night. Siobhan said to me before that she used to usually take a disposable and shoot the nights herself, so I said well look, I’ve got a proper camera, why don’t I shoot? She said that I could and that was that. One of the photos from that night is still one of my favourite live photos to this day. It’s a black and white shot of Spooky with The Square and Novelist more towards the front. Spooky must have dropped a banger because he had the maddest bass face and Novelist was shelling and it’s just the maddest picture. I remember getting photos back from that night and thinking, this is sick, I should do this more.”

With that, Vicky caught the bug. Artists she’d met in her raving days suddenly cottoned onto the fact that she was now heading to events equipped with a camera and word quickly spread that she was gifted behind the lens. “People at grime raves would see me with my camera and be like, ‘rah I didn’t know you were a photographer, can you take some photos of me?’, she says. “I think because a lot of artists had met me before without having a camera shoved in their face, it made them feel a lot more comfortable having me take their photo. I guess they trusted me because they’d seen me at these raves completely fucked, spitting every bar, gassed to even be there and just enjoying myself. I think they could tell I was coming from a good place.”

“I think because a lot of artists had met me before without having a camera shoved in their face, it made them feel a lot more comfortable having me take their photo.”

The buzz around Vicky’s name grew gradually from that point onward, but there was one particular moment that made her realise, albeit inadvertently, that photography could be a full-time career. Working part-time at Offspring in Kingston, Vicky harks back to early 2015. “It’d got to the stage where I was getting a lot of DMs about shoots and taking photos of this artist or that artists and even brands were starting to reach out”, she recalls. “I was still working maybe three days a week and I remember not being able to have my phone out on the shop floor, so I was having to check my emails and DMs on my breaks. Obviously if people need someone for a shoot, if you don’t get back to them quickly, they’ll just go with someone else so I felt that pressure. It got to the stage where my head wasn’t in, I’d become shit at my job you know? I didn’t wanna be there. I ended up getting fired later that year, which gave me the kick up the arse I needed, it forced me to go out there and make a success of it. And yeah, I’ve not looked back since.”

The transition from part-time hobby to full-time job wasn’t as harsh as Vicky would have anticipated either. Living at home enabled her to continue on a similar trajectory as before and she was able to build relationships with artists and PRs, as well as shoot interesting people she’d find on Instagram and head along to test shoots where she could; “It was all about meeting people”, she says bluntly. This organic, DIY hustler’s attitude lends itself well to Vicky’s spirit and demeanour; to talk to her away from the lens, she’s remarkably calm and laid back but on the job, she’s steely-eyed and markedly serious — everything is done with a smile, but to perfection. Does she ever get nervous shooting? “I still get nervous even now, yeah. It’s a confident nervous though, I know I can do it. There’s even times where I’ll have been booked for something and I know I can do the job, but I’m more nervous about taking photos that I’ll like, that’ll meet my standards. I feel like a lot of the time, publications and brands will be happy with a good image, but for me its different. I do actually remember shooting Skepta for Time Out back in 2016 and being nervous as fuck for that one though. I got asked on the day and had to roll up to Tottenham with my camera, the sun was setting and I was like ah, for fuck’s sake (laughs), but I managed to get some good shots and it worked out.”

The conversation soon turns to the composition of photos themselves; just what is it that makes a great photo? “It’s so subjective but I almost don’t know until I see it”, Vicky says, laughing shyly. “It’s only when I’m going through pictures at the end that I realise. But usually it’s a mixture of the lighting, whether it’s sunny or not, the time of day, the person’s expression. I hate it when the subject looks bored and lifeless, so I always try and capture personality.  But often you’ll just find a photo that stands out, whether it’s because it details a certain emotion being portrayed or because I’ve captured something happening in that specific moment.”

It wasn’t long before brands came calling. Vicky’s portraits and live shots were the talk of London, with her snaps of Skepta in particular serving as iconic timestamps of a crucial era in grime’s short history; she’d become the scene’s chief story-teller without ever picking up a pen. But how did she manage switching out the street for the studio? “I’m pretty lucky in the sense that I still get to choose most of the brand work I do even now”, she explains. “Even the big brand collaborations I’ll work on are mostly on brand for me whether its a sportswear brand or Clark’s, Adidas, Nike, whatever. There might be the odd thing I do that I won’t share but generally it’s all down to creative control and if I have enough of that, then it’s not too different to shooting Skepta on the street in Tottenham.”

“I actually feel like there’s less pressure riding on brand shoots”, she continues. “A typical one will amount to a certain number of looks, a certain number of locations, the models know what they’re doing … there’s only so much that can really go wrong. When you’re shooting an artist portrait, I feel like you need to make sure that they’re comfortable with you and that they’re gonna like the picture too. Shooting a model and shooting an artist are two very different things. Models will be out here doing the most and they’ll look great, where as artists are, most of the time, a lot more reserved. I will direct them a bit, in a way that’s natural to them, but I try and step back from doing that too much. Usually I’ll chat to them at the beginning because breaking down barriers is important, especially in a studio, and I’ll ask if they want to put music on. If they’ve got a mate with them, I’ll get them to chat normally and take a few candids as well, that’s a good tip for making people feel more relaxed.”

“Shooting a model and shooting an artist are two very different things. Models will be out here doing the most and they’ll look great, where as artists are, most of the time, a lot more reserved.”

When it comes to trying to pick out career highlights to this point, Vicky’s spoilt for choice but manages to pick out three that have either helped moved the dial or made her love the job. “I feel like the Skepta – ‘Shutdown’ image is definitely a highlight”, she says thoughtfully. “My career’s always been on a steady incline but the response to that one definitely jolted it a bit. I did a shoot with Rich The Kid for SSENSE too, which was great because I had full creative control. I had the production budget, I had to source the studio, the catering, studio lighting, everything! That was a lot of fun and he was really easy to shoot. And then…”, she pauses to think for a good few seconds, “…basically any photo I’ve ever taken of Jorja Smith. She’s just great.”

There have been inevitable speed bumps along the way too, but Vicky’s strength of character is another of her calling cards; I can’t think of many people who’d take getting fired as a springboard into launching a full-time career as a freelance photographer. Most of the on-job, in-the-moment difficulties she’s had to respond to and overcome though are owed to timing and the onus that’s placed on photographers to get shoots done as quickly as possible, often with little regard for aesthetic or craftsmanship. “I remember one artist I was shooting out in Miami for Adidas, it was quite a big one”, she recalls. “I was told I could have 20 minute shooting him on a small street and in the gardens surrounding where he was for the day, not for anything in particular, just for my socials and whatever and I was like yeah, this is gonna be sick, perfect. I waited around at the location and then his PR came down and said ‘right, you’ve got 5 minutes’ and I was like ‘ah, for fuck’s sake’. I still managed to get some good photos but I could tell he didn’t wanna be there, even though he was professional and polite. His PR said to me afterwards that it was actually his scheduled nap time, so that’s why I needed to be quick.”

“There’s another as well”, she says thinking back. “I was given 45 minutes to shoot someone in their hotel room for a cover of a German magazine, which was not a lot of time but really exciting. They wanted me to use lights and get shots with three different backgrounds. I set it all up with my assistant, shot him on one background for about 5 minutes, got about five pictures on the next background and then he got up and said, ‘Ok, I gotta go’. I ended up shooting in total for about 20 minutes. Again, I got some good pictures, but I didn’t necessarily get a broad selection of images for a cover. It’s cool though, I’m used to it now.”

Given the enduring pressures of the job, the inevitable setbacks and the tendency for photographers to self-critique, I’ve always felt like it can be a thankless task — a lot is demanded of them, but little is understood. So what is it that keeps young shooters like Vicky going? What is the recipe for success and what does she take solace in when things are at their most challenging? “I think firstly, you need to be passionate about whatever it is you’re shooting”, she acknowledges. “Whether it’s music, fashion, dance, nature, animals … whatever it is, make sure you’re obsessed with it. If you go in with the intention of making money, everything will feel contrived, it always needs to feel authentic. I’m always gonna love music and that’s a big part of why I’m still doing it now. As much as I hate it, it’s important to have an online presence as well. Whether that’s updating your Instagram feed or making sure your website is up to date, they’re things you have to do. A lot of people don’t see websites as important in the digital age because we have social media now, but clients, especially fashion or commercial clients, always wanna see a website. If you’re gonna go down the fashion photography route, I’d definitely recommend getting a physical book or portfolio too. I wouldn’t get one made until you have to because they are expensive, but if you’re going in to meet agencies and whatever, then they’re invaluable.”

“Whether it’s music, fashion, dance, nature, animals … whatever it is, make sure you’re obsessed with it.”

“My last piece of advice?”, Vicky asks rhetorically with a wry smile. “Just don’t be a prick. Being nice goes a long way. I feel like I’m a bit of a people person anyway, but you don’t necessarily need to be chatty, just respectful. If you’re on a set and you’re rude to someone, that client won’t book you again. This doesn’t just apply to photography either, that’s a lesson for life.”

As our conversation starts to draw to a close after nearly an hour, we come full circle, reflecting on the importance of looking after yourself and how pivotal that has been to Vicky’s career in particular. “I feel like all the things I’m doing at the moment, the self-care, reading, yoga, cycling, like I’ve always done those things, even when people used to ask me ‘why are you doing that, what’s that for?’”, Vicky says. “At the end of the day, nothing really matters. Obviously I’ve got to make sure I’ve got enough money to pay rent or whatever, but this period has reaffirmed that for me. I don’t know what things are gonna be like after this, so I need to take care of what I can.” 

If you’re looking for inspiration, Vicky’s also spent the lockdown period working on a short project for Polaroid, writing pieces for The Basement — “that’s been nice because I don’t get to do much writing” — and undertaking an online course via MoMA in New York, as well as taking time to relax and be kind to herself. “I was maybe in a bit of a rut for the past two years if I’m honest and it’s almost like now, I’ve found that drive again”, she concludes warmly. “while managing to maintain that self-care balance. And that is so, so important.”

Keep up to date with Vicky’s work via her website:



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

(Photo by Vicky Grout)

Album of the Month: Footsie – ‘No Favours’ (Studio 55)

A proper general


1. Pattern & Program

2. Under Water ft. J Appiah

3. Pepper Stew ft. JME

Everyone wants Footsie to win. He’s one of grime’s best-loved MCs and an incredible beat-maker to boot and as one half of the Newham Generals alongside D Double E, has taken grime from East London to the world. But ‘No Favours’ is a separate story, its own entity, a record made for and entirely by himself, shining a light on the soundsystem culture that birthed him and the friends and collaborators who continue to inspire him; remarkably, it’s also his debut album proper. ‘Pepper Stew’ featuring JME, the album’s lead track is an immediate entry point, a track that fizzes with the sort of studio energy that typifies the vibrancy of ‘No Favours’, while the record’s tender moments (‘Under Water’, ‘Easy For You’, both featuring J Appiah) hum with the glow of live instrumentation, tempered by thoughtful, reflective lyricism. There are also standout features from the likes of CAS, P Money, Frisco, Jammer and iconic sparring partner D Double E, but the binding agent across all 14 tracks is Footsie. Finally, one of the UK’s true underground champions is having his moment. 8/10

Tune of the Month: Boardgame James – ‘Swamp Thing’ (1000Doors)

Emphatically beautiful 

Three records deep in a matter of months and 1000Doors have already made a sizeable imprint on contemporary instrumental grime, coming at it from myriad angles and announcing themselves with a steady flow of thoughtful releases. ‘Swamp Thing’, lifted from Boardgame James’ recent EP, ‘Daydream’, is arguably the best track they’ve put out yet, coming hot on the heels of debut EPs from both Handsome Boys and Yamaneko collaborator, Rimplton. It unfurls like Murlo classics of old, rich on strings but heavy on weight, and builds to a euphoric crescendo of choral chants and warm, hopeful, infectious sonics. It’s just a gorgeous, gorgeous record. 9/10

Lolingo – ‘Blueprint’ EP (No Hats No Hoods)

Fast out the blocks 

Lolingo is one of the new school’s most talented young grime producers and here he details another five, barnstorming grime instrumentals that feel tailor-made for MCs but equally at home on a system. The booming, screw-face lurch of ‘Blueprint’ is a great entry point, while fans of The Square will remember ‘Italian Job’ — a playful, chopped and screwed piano-grime-funk odyssey — from various archived radio sets. Third track ‘Ritual’ is far heavier on the low-end and altogether moodier in conception, sewn together by an eerie, spiralling vocal sample, while the zippy, anxious string-work and frenetic, arcade bounce of ‘Rude Flex’ and the distorted bass wobble and huge, scything claps of ‘Rushdown’ nod to a marked versatility that belies his years. 7/10

Commodo – ‘Loan Shark’ EP (Black Acre)

The best bar none

What else is there left to say about Commodo? He tends to leave listeners and contemporaries alike scratching their heads in bewilderment with every record and ‘Loan Shark’ — which listens like a jittery sunset car chase through Arizona — is no different. An ingenious sampler, he toys with sound, texture and bass weight like no other and through the sepia-toned glare, filmic crackle and playful, Dick Dastardly-esque menace of all three tracks (‘Loan Shark’, ‘Hot Pursuit’, ‘Contraband’), ‘Loan Shark’ lays down his most emphatic marker yet. Is there anyone making better dubstep? If so, I’ve not heard it. 9/10

Von D – ‘Obstacles’ EP (Artikal Music)

A top notch link-up

Bit of a late contender considering it was released at the back end of March, but Von D’s ‘Obstacles’ EP was too good not to cover this month. Across three tracks for Artikal — the iconic, tour de force dubstep label run by J:Kenzo and Mosaix — he explores the genre’s outer reaches to the fullest. The title-track listens like a grand, marching procession, cut with crunching, low-end analog pressure while the oddball, distorted bounce, scything bass and pensive strings of ‘Goat’ flip the record on its head. Our tip are the mysterious, fluttery samples and the gloomy unease of final cut ‘Whatevs’, but the whole thing smokes. 8/10

J-Shadow – ‘Modulator’ (Simply Deep)


Mutated club sounds from rising star J-Shadow on Simply Deep, with a trio of ‘Modulator’ remixes also thrown in for good measure. The title-track is an ingenious, crash-and-burn melee of twisted sampling, breaks-y rythms and contorted, gremlin-like sounds, while the shredded bass and hyper-intense bleep patterns of ‘Gene And Defect’ are properly mind-altering. The warmer, synth-pad tones of ‘Side-Step’ soon make way for frantic, twisted bass onslaughts too, while the razor claps and grand, shard-like synth pulses of final tracks ‘Inflation’ and ‘Glaciers’ nod to the work of producers like Logos and Mumdance. The record comes backed by three remixes (9TRANE, Jubley, Pro.Tone) of the title-track too, all of which are worth diving into. 8/10

DJ Squarewave – ‘Last Train’ EP (Vantage Records)

Huge dubstep pressure

Big, booming dubstep heaters courtesy of DJ Squarewave here, who also enlists LX One and Sukh Knight to up the ante. The squelching pressure of ‘Last Train’ hits from the off, but it’s the array of contorted, aqua-synth sounds and tense, icy melodies that give it a real future-facing, Blade Runner feel, before ‘Cali Cartel’’ — a monstrous collaboration with LX One — strips everything back. The bass lands with a palpable crunch and the sparse percussive clatter, huge kicks and oddball sampling takes a real left turn, before Sukh Knight brings things full circle with his swirling, purple-y blockbuster remix of the the title-track. 7/10

Alix Perez – Ravana EP (1985 Music)


Alix Perez has enjoyed a renaissance writing at dubstep tempo over the last 12 months, which culminated in the release of 2019’s ‘Last Rites’ EP, widely regarded as one of his best records in a hot minute. ‘Ravana’, released in early April via his 1985 Music imprint, continues that theme apace and even features Headland on mean and menacing EP standout, ‘Ends’. Very much at the darker, grizzlier end of the dubstep spectrum, ‘Ravana’ kicks off with the piercing, dagger-like synth sounds and eternal gloom of the title-track, which bleeds ominously into the spiralling pressure and contorted bass wobble of ‘Lifeline’ and the de-tuned, hyper-distorted funk of ‘Post-Mortem’. Relishing operating within these confines, Perez shines brightest with Headland on the undeniable ‘Ends’, a dark, dizzying and surprisingly moreish club monster. Proper record, this. 9/10

Korin Complex – ‘Winding River’ EP (Mircale Drug Records)

Surprise tip!

Darting, minimalist club favours from US producer Korin Complex, who drops off five new tracks — including collaborations with Carter Wolfe, Duckem and Pugilist — on a markedly distinguished new 12”. Sparse but heavy on percussion, the title-track is nifty and clever, building rhythm and groove with subtle poise, before getting the big ’n bashy junglist remix treatment by Coco Bryce. The bleepy, acid-y flex of ‘Ponder’ with Carter Wolfe is a standout, as are the warming, fuzzy bass tones of the crackly ‘New Growth’ with Pugilist, but our tip is vinyl-exclusive jam ‘Periptero’ — a gorgeous, washed-out, ambient dreamscape. 7/10

Flowdan – ‘Welcome To London’ (J.Sparrow Remix) [Tru Thoughts]

Already a cult classic

If Flowdan’s ‘Welcome To London’, originally produced by Plastician and taken from 2019 album ‘Full Metal Jacket’, didn’t bang hard enough already, J. Sparrow has sent it stratospheric here. A cult remix  for a minute already now, Sparrow — a true bass architect and understated UK originator —goes on the charge from the off, upping the tempo and the dread-o-meter to devastating effect. A real, no frills club bruiser. 8/10


This month, be sure to keep tabs on Skream’s roll-out of his ‘Unreleased Classics’ series, detailing a slew of lost and forgotten beats lifted straight from the vaults  … be sure to check back for Oliver Twist’s ‘Kick Punch’ EP on Kenyon Sound, which is well worth digging in to … as are weighty EPs by Chad Dubz (‘Original Dubplate’) and CITY1 (‘Kiswahli’) on New Moon Recordings and DNO Records respectively … Jammz did it again and Free(‘d) Up The Riddims for a second time — Volume 2 is out now via Bandcamp and a must for grime enthusiasts and beat connoisseurs alike … JT The Goon put out a surprise EP on Earthspin Recordings this month too — ‘Unknown Journey’ is out now to add to his discography of incredible, if understated, instrumental grime releases … and also be sure to dig into Sativa’s ‘Homegrown’ EP on Strictly 140 this month, it’s some of the moodiest new school grime ammo I’ve heard in a minute!