— Scratcha DVA —

On grime, dance music, journalists, jaded periods and teaching the world Scratchanese.

All photos submitted by Scratcha DVA

“Is it too dark or nah?”, asks Scratcha DVA as our video chat starts. He’s speaking to me from home in Luton, where he’s spent the entirety of the lockdown period so far. “I’m pretty much isolating most of the time here anyway to be honest, unless I’m going into London or whatever. I’m in the yard a lot, so it’s pretty normal. My studio’s here as well.”

Scratcha’s story is an interesting one. A day one grime producer turned Hyperdub alumni with a unique take on pretty much everything, I’ve always felt he’s served as a watchful guardian of UK underground music, consistently releasing boundary-pushing records traversing multiple sounds but more recently, cutting through the noise with vital comment and critique. It all started after getting a bit in his own words, “pissed off”, with the lack of visibility his grime beats were getting back in the early 00s. 

“I was making a lot of tracks and there was just nothing coming back, which was fine for the first couple of years or whatever, but like, you could end up having five different beats on five different mixtapes and everyone’s happy, shotting their mixtapes and getting their names out there. The MCs would get so much love and I’d just be like “alright, cool”, can we have anything? Can I have some money? It was just weird back then.”

As it happens, Scratcha’s studio at the time was housed, quite literally, above a nightclub in East London — Purple E3 in Mile End to be exact. “I’m recording all these grime sets in there but every weekend, all I’m hearing is ‘dum, dum, dum, dum’ (mimicking a kick drum) from downstairs”, he recalls. “So I go down there and there’s all this house and funky going on, literally straight from my studio. This was the era of your MA1s and Kismets and I just remember everyone inside was having mad fun. Like it was fun. Before you know it, I’d started to make some slower beats and then there we are, I’m in Funky, see you later guys!”

“I’m recording all these grime sets in there but every weekend, all I’m hearing is ‘dum, dum, dum, dum’ from downstairs”

MA1 would go onto remix Scratcha’s first ever Funky track, ‘I’m Leaving’ ft. Alahna, back in 2009, which opened him up to a whole new network of producers and sounds beyond the world of grime he’d grown up in. But it was a flyer, picked up in a record shop in Gants Hill in Ilford, that’d change everything. “I used to go in quite a lot and this was back in the day where you’d get flyers everywhere, like paper ones with mobile numbers printed at the bottom, remember them ones?”, he says laughing. “I was flicking through a load and picked one up and it said ‘Producer’s House’ and underneath, it said something like ‘just for producers’. It was clearly a House and Funky thing, which I was making at the time, so I was like cool and called the number. Turns out it was Cooly G on the other end of the line, but I didn’t know her at the time. I explained I made house and funky and that, so she asked me to send her some tunes. I sent her a couple of tunes later that night, she had a listen and ended up booking me.”

That one booking would form the start of a relationship that’d ultimately lead Scratcha to Kode9, label boss at Hyperdub, after the pair starting writing tunes together. “One time, I was at Cooly’s yard and we were making some tunes and I think I must have gone to the toilet or something, I come back, and she’s sitting on my laptop. And I hate it when people touch my laptop”, he recalls with a wry smirk. “She’d been going through stuff and ended up on this beat I’d been playing a lot on Rinse at the time, it was just a loop. I knew it wasn’t finished but when it’s your tune, you know how to play it. You wouldn’t send it to anyone else, but you knew how to work it into a set. Anyway she kept listening to it and was like, ‘I like it, I wanna play it’, but I kept saying nah, it’s not finished. She got her way, ended up playing it and Kode9 heard it. He actually called me on the phone and was like,’what’s this tune?’ I told him it wasn’t finished but he was wasn’t having it and said, ‘nah, it’s finished’ and that was it. All I did was put an intro on it in the end and that was ‘Natty’, bruv.”

“He (Kode9) actually called me on the phone and was like,’what’s this tune?’ I told him it wasn’t finished but he was wasn’t having it and said, ‘nah, it’s finished’ and that was it.”

Released in 2010, ’Natty’ laid the foundations for a now decade-long relationship with Hyperdub, which has since seen him put out a further six EPs and two full-length albums with the label, punctuated by releases with Keysound, his own DVA Music imprint and a 2019 re-issue of a quartet of his most sought after early grime beats by new-school aficionados, Dream Eater. In time for Bandcamp’s most recent fee-waiving day on Friday, Scratcha also co-released ‘Mixx & Scratch’ — a four-track collaborative EP with fellow grime OG, Grandmixxer

With such a rich and diverse back catalogue and a DJ career that’s taken him all over the planet, it’d be easy to define Scratcha in ‘veteran’ terms, but such is his appetite for tapping into new sounds, his music still feels decidedly future-facing, fresh and exciting, and his outlook feels youthful. He’s even managed to stave off feeling jaded or resentful. Apart from a disillusioning period four years ago, that is. “Ah it was was probably 2016-17 sorta times and I just thought fuck this, fuck that, fuck everyone, fuck music even. You have to feel like that sometimes though. When you’re jaded, I’m always aware that you can’t go back there. You can’t be jaded forever. And now I’m super happy with where everything’s at.”

One bugbear that’s refused to go away however, is Scratcha’s relationship with music journalism, which continues to irk him to this day. First irritated by working tirelessly on writing his second album, ‘NOTU_URONLINEU’, back in 2016 and finding journalists’ responding indifferently to the record, he’s been keen to change the dynamic ever since. “I remember that album coming out and nobody was really getting back to us and it was just like, really? I’d just locked myself for the best part of a year in a room, I’d covered up the windows so no light could come in, it was pitch black the whole time, and I’d made an album. Like, really?”

“We as artists, we make music and we decide to give it to the world though”, he continues more seriously. “Journalists will then come along and slot themselves in between that, me giving my music to the people. You can say what you like, critique it, score it out of 10, whatever, I’m totally okay with that. But then, just know that I’m gonna score you out of 10 as well, because, why can’t I?”

To counter the possibility of unfair critique and journalists writing about music releases with a perceived lack of context or understanding of what it takes to make a record, he’s spent the last few years trying to flip the script. “I have this plan, which I’ve been trying to put into action for a little while”, he says, grinning. “I had five journalists lined up and I wanted to get them in a studio, Red Bull ideally, give them each a key, give them a month and see what they come up with. One of them had to have a decent knowledge of how to use the DAW, but yeah, I think it’d work. Then we’d get some musicians to review it. It needs to be flipped so they can think, ‘hang on, that was a product of my hard work and my creativity’ and you’re out here saying I should have done this and that instead.”

Another of Scratcha’s plans is centred around his SMS-style text language, which he’s adopted since he first got a mobile phone back in the early 00s. It’s become an extension of his personality, which I’ve found helps him make important points and give valuable insight — especially on social media — without feeling like he’s being harsh or conversely, preachy; it softens the blow. Dubbed Scratchanese, he’s been working on a dictionary for the last two years, which he hopes to release by the end of 2020.

“I’d could pull up emails from 2004 and it’s the same shit, some of it was worse back then bruv”, he laughs. “When I say something on Twitter or on email or whatever and someone replies saying I don’t understand what you’ve just said, I’m just like, can’t you read? It’s clearer than English! I just never got out of the habit of typing like that when I first got a phone, but seriously though, I’m gonna be doing pocket-size hard copies of the Scrathanese dictionary by the end of this year.”

“When I say something on Twitter or on email or whatever and someone replies saying I don’t understand what you’ve just said, I’m just like, can’t you read? It’s clearer than English!”

The idea isn’t to stop at just physical copies either, Scratcha wants to go global. “I was talking to someone about going to teach Scratchanese recently. My boy lives out in Seoul, he’s a teacher out there, and we’ve been thinking about me flying over to do some classes as well. Eventually, the way I see it, it’s gonna be the norm to just type in shorthand and to communicate like that. I’m just already there, ahead of the curve.”

As our conversation winds down and the reality of retreating back into lockdown stasis starts to hit, Scratcha remains upbeat, energised by where he sees dance music headed. There are nods to labels like Nervous Horizon — “I saw it coming with them lot, them guys are dons, I like them a lot” — and the new-school class of DJs and collectives who have breathed new life back into UK dance floors. “I feel like the generation of people like Yazzus and LCY, these lot wanna party, you know what I mean?”, he says enthusiastically. “The tempos are up and they just wanna rave. Just watch the Boiler Room sessions from our era, boring as fuck. Then look at theirs, the energy is completely different, it’s mad. They’re not confining themselves to one sound and everyone involved in that whole wave is making all sorts of stuff. It’s healthy, bruv.”

“To be honest”, he continues, “you can just do what you want now, there’s no gatekeeping and everything is open. And that’s what music’s supposed to be like.”

Scratcha DVA & Grandmixxer’s ‘Mixx & Scratch’ is out now on Bandcamp:

https://scratchadva.bandcamp.com/album/mixx-scratch

— Jammz —

On grime, theatre, radio, practising patience and never giving up.

(All photos submitted by Jammz)

Grime MC, producer, actor, script-writer, label owner, chef? “I’ve just been doing bare cooking bro, so much cooking honestly”, says Jammz as he answers my FaceTime call on Thursday night, sipping a glass of Wray & Nephew’s and mixer. Originally, we were supposed to catch up on Wednesday, but such is Jammz’ schedule — even during a nationwide lockdown — something cropped up. “I do a bit of everything, bruv. I’m a creative, I help link things together and connect the dots.”

When the current COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK in mid-March, Jammz was about to embark on a nationwide theatre tour with Poet In Da Corner — a play written by long-time friend Debris Stevenson that has since gone on to earn critical acclaim after debuting at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2018. 

“I’d been following it for a while but she first came to me with the play in 2015, 2016”, he recalls. “It’s basically a play about how Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Boy In Da Corner’ changed her life while she was growing up and she initially just asked if I could write some songs. It was basically a case of taking the tracks from Dizzee’s album and using them as a blueprint to write new versions of each one, but making them more applicable to her life and her experiences. I actually wrote the first one (’Stop Dat’) when I was on tour with Kano in Nottingham.”

His re-booted version of ’Stop Dat’, co-written with Debris, soon turned into a whole album’s worth of reimagined material, with the pair going back and fourth, cramming in sessions where they could while he remained on tour. With a first-class degree in creative writing, Debris broke down Dizzee’s original album tracks in terms of their structure, patterns and even cadence; “I just followed her lead and that process to begin with”, Jammz reflects. But his involvement wouldn’t stop there.

After deciding to change director during the play’s early planning stages, Debris asked Jammz if he’d like to be involved in character development; unbeknownst to him, she’d earmarked him for a role already. “Once the director changed, the role of the character (SS Vyper) I was helping to develop and oversee instantly became bigger”, he says warmly. “I was now suggesting lines and even potential story lines, which eventually lead me going along to The Royal Court in 2017 to give a reading for the role. It was just a reading and I wanted to go along because I’d obviously followed and been involved with the whole process, but I wasn’t expecting anything from it. After I’d given my performance, the AD, Vicky, came over and said, ‘You read that so, so well, you might as well act in the play’.”

After I’d given my performance, the AD, Vicky, came over and said, ‘You read that so, so well, you might as well act in the play’.”

“I think Debris had kinda wanted that all along”, he continues with a grin, “so I was like ‘alright cool, let’s do it — what’s the worst that can happen?”. Despite initially struggling with his lines — “bruv it was so hard at first!” — Jammz and Poet In Da Corner went onto score rave reviews from across UK media in its opening run, logging 4-star reviews from The Guardian, The Times, The Metro, the Evening Standard and Time Out.  

It’s an interesting entry point into Jammz’ make-up and wider artistry, which runs far deeper than any one discipline. An active grime MC since his college days, he initially struggled to make an impact on the wider scene, aside from a group of friends and people local to his area. It was 2010’s ‘I Am Grime’ EP — written as a response to grime artists of the time choosing to sign with major labels and move into more mainstream pop spaces— that would inadvertently form the groundswell for Jammz to really make his presence felt. 

Despite coming up in a congested scene dominated by venomous, fiery young spitters like Kozzie and Marger, Jammz made it his mission to be heard. He was a regular at The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, one of the few venues in London that would host regular grime events at the time, where he’d try and get on the mic whenever an opportunity arose. But it’d be a run of ‘I Am Grime’ t-shirts, released in collaboration with day one grime blog, Once Upon A Grime, that’d first make waves and pique people’s interest. “Nobody knew who I was, but the t-shirts travelled further than me at the time”, he concedes with a smile. 

With I Am Grime established as a brand, Jammz’ breakthrough tape ‘Hit Then Run’ (2015) would then go on to light the touch paper for a career that has seen him dominate London’s airwaves, tour the world and spearhead grime’s latest golden generation of MCs alongside names like AJ Tracey, Novelist and Big Zuu. DIY internet and pirate radio spaces aplenty had breathed new life into a despondent scene and grime soon became the go-to genre on everybody’s lips. 

“Everyone just wanted to be the sickest MC.”

“That whole period was so much fun, I ain’t even gonna lie bruv”, he recalls. “Nobody was doing grime with the intention of blowing back then, mandem just wanted to go radio every week and spit. In the beginning, it was a way for me to channel stuff and it was just a release really. Because I went along to places like Flex FM and Mode FM so regularly, I ended up meeting a lot of like-minded people. Everyone just wanted to be the sickest MC and over time, everyone got better and better. It was such a pure thing.”

“I’d say we created a whole new ecosystem you know”, he continues. “I got to meet so many DJs and so many producers, who in the end all started making things with each other and created new ideas, new spaces. So much work came out of that period, it’s mad thinking about it.” Standout singles with Local Action followed (‘Final Warning’ w/ Finn, ’10 Missed Calls’ w/ Dread D) as well as 2015’s ‘London Living’ with Plastician — a track he acknowledges as one of the most defining of his career so far. Two instalments of his extended ‘Warrior’ EP series, both of which drew widespread critical acclaim for their lyrical content and beat selection, were also important yardsticks in Jammz fast-emerging career. 

Ultimately, it was a time that proved bountiful for all, but one that also mapped out different futures for different artists. Despite later being profiled alongside Little Simz, Stormzy and Krept & Konan in The Guardian at the back end of 2016, Jammz was never motivated by stardom, instead dedicating his time to utilising his skills to push grime in different ways. “Sometimes the picture is bigger than what you can see in front of you”, he says firmly, “and without all the stuff I’d done in my early career, I probably wouldn’t be doing the stuff I’m doing with Poet In Da Corner now.”

“Sometimes the picture is bigger than what you can see in front of you”

“Essentially, it’s all timing”, he continues. “I remember going to Fabric with P Money very early on in my career and he’d ask me to come on stage, but I’d never bother to spray. I just knew I’d go on the next time and do it twice as well. I’m cool being patient and to be honest, even if I don’t get the accolades, one thing I have got is a fanbase that support me. And they’re flipping loyal, bruv.”

That loyalty has become integral to the growth of his I Am Grime brand, which now incorporates a monthly radio show on Rinse FM with DJ and co-head, Jack Dat, and the label arm, which has housed a variety of Jammz’ vocal and instrumental projects. A vastly underrated producer and beat-maker to boot, Jammz released his first 12”, ’Keep It Simple / The World’, in 2016 after teasing the beats for months. It’s a record that has since taken on cult status, such was the speed with which the first pressing sold out, but rather than give into fans’ voracious appetite for new beats, Jammz again sat tight and waited. “For me, I’m definitely a fan of teasing music for ages. Like 6-8 months at least, until it’s undeniable. The same thing happened with ‘French Montana Riddim’ (another cult Jammz & Jack Dat instrumental, released in 2019*), that tune was rotating for four years before we decided to put it out. I’m patient. I like building things slowly.” 

On reflection, Jammz’ slow-build, long-game approach to all aspects of his career has benefited him unilaterally. But is there a part of him that wishes he wasn’t, in his own terms, ‘a jack of all trades’? “It works against me, it proper does”, he concedes. “But do you know what I think it is? When you’re good at a lot of things, people will look at you and think you don’t need help. People will send help and support to people who visibly need it, rather than amplify the stuff that you’re already doing well. I used to get hung up about it but over time I realised that’s just how it is and it’s easier to just crack on, innit?”

“When you’re good at a lot of things, people will look at you and think you don’t need help.”

And crack on he has. With ‘Free Up The Riddims Volume 2’, a second anthology of blistering, long sought-after Jammz productions, recently dropping via Bandcamp, I Am Grime Radio still running monthly on Rinse FM and a host of creative projects keeping him busy in isolation, it seems that even when the world has ground to a halt, Jammz is still finding ways to work. “One thing I don’t like doing is sitting still for too long because otherwise my brain just wanders”, he confesses, “so this whole period has so far made me sharper at what I do. And more dedicated about what I do.”

Jammz – ‘Free Up The Riddims Volume 2’ is out now:  https://iamgrime.bandcamp.com/album/free-up-the-riddims-volume-2-2

Sinead Harnett

On love, isolation, growth, creativity and flipping the switch.

All photos submitted by Sinead Harnett

My text alert tone goes off on Friday afternoon, three times in quick succession. Before we were due to catch up over FaceTime later that evening, I’d asked Sinead Harnett to send a couple of photos that captured what her everyday, isolation reality has been like over the last three weeks. First, came a photo of her piano, zoomed in to capture the full scale of the keys. Second, a framed photo of her nephew, Leo, with two KRK monitors placed either side. Then, a photo of her kitchen sink piled high with pots, pans and dishes. “How can I thrive in any way?”, she asks as we first start chatting, “I hate working from home. Or, rather, I hated.”

As an artist who’s worked tirelessly the world over since first breaking through in 2011, Sinead has spent much of the last decade going from writing session to writing session, and from meeting to meeting. Rarely taking time out — or giving herself a chance to heal from past trauma — her creativity often stifled and her moods sometimes erratic, she concedes that not all of her journey to this point has been plain sailing. Now, suddenly faced with the proposition of an uncertain period of time at home — “At first, I was like ‘oh my goodness’, what am I gonna do?” — Sinead has, in her own words, “flipped the switch”.

“Suddenly this switch went off in my brain and I realised, hang on a sec … I’ve been running around for the whole of my career, cramming in as much as I can; double session this day, flight there this day for a week’s writing camp, five meetings this day, a concert tonight and then finishing up, the album next month. I just thought to myself, why have I been living like that?”

It’s a question that has since sparked a flurry of activity from Sinead’s front room, beamed live via her Instagram account to a watching audience that is rapidly growing with each short broadcast. She’s even joined Tik-Tok, too. “Before, I was so busy running away from things and thinking, ‘who am I as an artist?’. Now, I wake up and look in the mirror and look at myself and think, ‘oh, you again!’. It’s made me realise, okay, this is who you are. It’s been a big realisation for me and a lot of people around me are saying the same thing. I know that what I’m choosing to do now is a lot less than I was doing before, but I feel like I’ve got a voice that I want to share with people.”

The time at home hasn’t been limited to just self-reflecting or jumping on Instagram either. “Another thing”, she quickly follows up, more passionately this time, “Why the hell were we allowed to fly as much as we did? Why does traffic fill the roads? How is the plastic industry still thriving? Why is the meat industry still ridiculous? The amount of damage we’ve done to the earth is incredible. We were living stupidly.”

Sinead released her debut artist album, ‘Lessons In Love’, in the autumn of 2019, a deeply personal record that traced years of trauma and heartache, but one that she was determined to frame in a positive light; all experiences, good and bad, can serve as lessons. Given her steely attitude to facing the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, I wondered whether or not writing and releasing it had in any way prepared her for coping with life in isolation. “Basically, 2016 is when everything started to turn for me”, she recalls. “Up until then, I spent a lot of my life going in-and-out of really dark phases. I had a lot of healing to do for different reasons; all of us come with baggage, all of us have struggles, all of have issues and complications from our childhoods. The album, and all of the writing I did from 2016-2019, was a big part of the process of coming to terms with that. I knew I couldn’t move forward without facing myself and starting to like myself. I can see, even now, looking back at photos that I didn’t. I was so lost.”

“The amount of damage we’ve done to the earth is incredible. We were living stupidly.”

The album spawned singles like ‘Pulling Away’, ‘Leo Bear’ — a song dedicated to her nephew, Leo — and ‘Be The One’, which was recently re-booted with guest vocals from Col3trane, all of which not only feel entirely relatable in terms of their content, but also vividly cathartic; you can feel Sinead letting go, track-by-track. “The biggest lesson of the whole album is one of self-love”, she admits. “It’s almost like I had to write it and let it go. And now I’m a much more self-aware and self-loving person.”

In the midst of this album-writing cycle came a captivating COLORS performance of ‘Body’ in 2018, which saw Sinead fly to Berlin to record the track live in front of a small crew of videographers; “I’d much rather perform in front of a thousand people than three”, she concedes in hindsight, “it was so intense trying to get into my zone!”. It’s since amassed almost 15 million views and unbeknownst to her at the time, put Sinead on the map for an army of new fans. The ripples of that one performance can still be felt today, too, so much so that she was recently invited back to perform an isolation live stream via COLORS’ Instagram — a performance that piqued her interest in using Instagram to broadcast during the current pandemic. “What I love about COLORS is it’s such a discovery tool, people want to find slept-on, hidden gems on there” she says thoughtfully. “It’s interesting because a lot of people have said to me it felt like a moment, but I didn’t really see it like that at the time. When you’re the hamster on the hamster wheel, you don’t always know what you’re doing. Or where you’re going.”

Since that first COLORS performance on Instagram two weeks ago, Sinead has laid herself bare on the platform, not only as an artist performing live vocals and short sessions, but as a person, speaking openly, telling jokes and doing impressions of her mum; “It’s allowed people to see what a big, raging dork I really am”, she laughs. “Seriously though, we’ve got so much time to show who we are now, and we’re finding out how many people are actually hilarious. During the first week when everything with the lockdown was put into place, I felt it’d be wrong to share funny content and initially, I was feeling quite down myself. But I feel like it’s got to the stage now where we people need relief from the severity of the situation.”

I knew I couldn’t move forward without facing myself and starting to like myself.

As well as laughs, Sinead’s also brought a dose of activism to her live broadcasts, with those tuned in raising over £1000 for the NHS in 37 minutes during her latest stream. The method? Getting men to twerk live on camera, with some even choosing to pour cartons of milk over themselves — a tongue-in-cheek riposte to the apparent global obsession with girls twerking, which has seen artists like Tory Lanez and Swarmz smash Instagram Live records and amass thousands of new fans during isolation.

“I’m not gonna lie to you and say that people tuned into their Instagrams aren’t entertained, because there’s such a big demand for female bodies”, Sinead explains. “But what’s alarmed me most about the clips on social media are the comments popping up. People seem to think it’s okay to be mean and say awful things about the poor girls on camera. So I just thought, imagine girls got guys to dance. Would people like it?”

Despite being only two broadcasts deep, the answer to that question already seems to be an overwhelming yes. And guys seem just as keen to be involved, too. “What’s funny is that some people don’t know anything about Tory Lanez or Quarantine Radio, so I’ve had loads of guys prepped and ready to go with milk and all sorts. After the reaction to the first, I felt like I had a responsibility to make use of it and the NHS is in desperate need of PPE right now, so it made sense to fundraise. The response generally has been great. A lot of people have got in touch to say it’s a really good way to flip the switch, have a laugh and do something good at the same time.”

“So I just thought, imagine girls got guys to dance. Would people like it?”

With so much time on her hands for the first time in her career, it seems that Sinead Harnett is finally coming out of her shell. At ease with the person she is, confident and witty — “At this point, I reckon I could have my own talkshow on TV now” — writing freely and finding new ways to let fans into her world, she’s found silver linings in the most testing of situations. But more than anything, the lessons she’s learnt in her life so far, played out so viscerally on her debut album, have given her the perspective to confront the challenge of isolation head on. 

“When and if this blows over and becomes a thing of the past, I really want to find a way to spread the word about treating the earth with the love and respect it deserves”, she concludes. “Personally too, I and I think all of us, need to slow down. I’m gonna do less, travel less, relax more and (mimics accent) ‘Just take it easy!’ as they say in Nacho Libre. The freedom this time has afforded me has helped me be more creative than any full diary ever has.”

Sinead Harnett broadcasts on Instagram Live weekly: https://www.instagram.com/sineadharnett 

— GRIME & DUBSTEP MONTHLY ™ —

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

Album of the Month: ONHELL – ‘Grime Beats Vol.1’ (Deep Dark & Dangerous)

ONHELLISH!

Highlights

1. Athena’s Grime Beat

2. Tomatillo Heat

3. New Beat Who Dis

ONHELL has quietly gone about his business for Plastician’s Terrorhythm imprint and Deep, Dark & Dangerous over the last few years, but it was 2019’s ‘Graveyard Shift’ single with Trim – a track we reviewed as one of the best we’d heard in a long time — that palpably felt like a eureka moment. His follow-up (and debut beat tape / LP of sorts), ‘Grime Beats Vol.1’, continues this exploration of UK grime aesthetics through a US lens apace, pulling together a collection of heavyweight instrumentals full of devilish intent. From the evil, distorted square wave buzz of opener ‘21X Riddim’ right the way through to the thuggish, ice-cold glare of ‘Athena’s Grime Beat’ and the jittery, skeletal unease of ‘Wolf And The Cub’, the tracks deliberately bleed into each another, creating one looming, nightmarish canvas. The cinematic, star-lit screech of ‘New Beat Who Dis’ is perhaps the collection’s most emphatic, but every track on ‘Grime Beats Vol.1’ is heavy on menace. 8/10

Tune of the Month: Last Japan ft. Killa P – ‘Exhale’ (Escha Remix) [Circadian Rhythms]

Don’t forget to breathe!

Circadian Rhythms follow up 2019’s multi-artist ‘Partisan’ project with a quick-fire re-issue of Last Japan classic, ‘Exhale’ ft. Killa P. Re-booted by label affiliates Sully and Escha, it’s the latter’s explosive remix that gets our nod, twisting the original inside out and back again; Killa’s vocals are pitched up, the bass shredded – it absolutely crunches – and Last Japan’s original, freeze-dried melody finely re-tuned to dizzying effect. Although a CR crew member for a while, it also forms Escha’s first ever official release – not a bad start, eh? 8/10

Bayalien Sound System – ‘Tabs’ EP (Bayalien Sound System)

Beam me up, Scotty!

More space-age, mind-altering dubstep from the ever-reliable Bayalien Sound System Crew, who look to the stars more than ever before on new record, ‘Tabs’. The cosmic, bleepy, FX-heavy sound rolled-out on booming title-track ‘Tabs’ forms a primer for big and bashy, hyper-distorted wrecker ‘Hottest’ and the contorted, dizzying, ray-gun funk of ‘Pusher’ but things get wildest on super glitchy, sample-heavy wobbler, ‘Black Beans’. Jump in! 7/10

Creep Woland – ‘Chamberlain’ EP (Astral Black)

An ode to jungle

Scottish producer Creep Woland serves up four breaks-y rollers for Astral Black here, fresh off the back of their latest ‘Frass FM’ comp. The gloomy, meandering lean of opener ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is a perfect intro to Woland’s music, easing listeners in with lighter, more delicate tones and textures, before explosive ripples go onto re-shape entire tracks. The deep, lo-slung bass tones of ‘Medieval Draw’ are beautifully warm and fuzzy, while ‘0800-Falkirk Triangle’ harks back to OG junglist rave aesthetics, again laced with more deft, blissful atmospheric touches. Hopeful final jam ‘Lord Chamberlain’ signs off in style with bright, shimmering layers, soft keys and more crunching breaks. 8/10

ALXZNDR – ‘Golden Gate’ EP (Scrub A Dub)

Pure bliss

US producer ALXZNDR, already making waves in the clubs, debuts for Scrub A Dub with six new ones on the crisply-titled, ‘Golden Gate’ EP. Rooted in melody, the title-track opens with grand, paradisiacal strings, Murlo-esque patterns and cascading eski flutes, while the grinding pressure and long, dwindling pan-flute chimes of ‘Lei Shen’ are a gorgeous listen. The growling, skittish dubstep pressure of ‘A100’ is a slight excursion, albeit again tempered by the pan-flutes, while the ceremonial trumpets and colourful steel pans of ‘Johari Bazaar’ are joyous. Final tracks ‘M_C_W’ – complete with classic 80s electric guitar riffs – and the playful, jazzy romance of ‘Red Raider’ are equally as good fun. Surprise record of the year so far? Quite probably. 9/10

B:Thorough x JT The Goon – ‘Calm Levz’ (Textured)

Straight up incredible!

B:Thorough christens his new Textured imprint by linking up with one of grime’s elder statesmen – and most underrated beat-makers – JT The Goon on the hugely impressive, ‘Calm Levz’. Across five tracks, bookended by idyllic ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Sunset’ mixes of the euphoric ‘Night Wave’, the pair reference both classic and new-gen grime sounds and ideas. Second track ‘Floaty’ melds together ominous stabs and gremlin-style tones, tempered by deft melody flashes and trademark JT string work, while the sugary, accelerated rush and low-end boom of ‘Grimey Sat’ is a genuine ‘wow’ moment on the record. The title-track – again widescreen, melody-rich and hi-def – finds the two in reflective, thoughtful mood before the ‘Sunset’ mix of ‘Night Wave’, a moody, hoods-up square wave joust, draws a remarkable debut EP to a close. 9/10

Taiko – ‘Giant Big Man’ EP (Infernal Sounds)

God-tier link up

As if the levels needed raising, Taiko links up with Infernal Sounds – consistently one of the UK’s best dubstep hubs – on a monstrous new record. Title jam ‘Giant Big Man’ jumps in at the deep end, as a playful, near-hypnotic lead melody line and filmic crackle meet signature thumping bass pressure from the off, while the eerie, whirring menace of sketchy B-side cut ‘Slingshot Dub’ – albeit offset by delicate key melodies in part – is harsher, grittier club ammo. The booming, chest-beating march of rugged final joint ‘Pen To Paper’ might just land as our favourite of the lot though. 9/10

Truant – ‘Clifton / Bushkin’ (Juan Forté)

Essential 12”

Another all killer, no filler plate from the Juan Forté crew, this time courtesy of elusive producer, Truant. A-side ‘Clifton’ is an absolute wobbler – think thick-cut, whirring bass weight with enough in the tank to worry the biggest stacks and an icy reverb-heavy melody – while on the flip, ruff-and-tuff roller ‘Bushkin’, goes hard in the paint again, this time with a warping, gloopy bassline and a slew of Bushkin (of Heartless Crew fame) vocal samples. Proper! 7/10

Surge – ‘Ebb & Flow’ EP (Wheel & Deal Records)

Huge club weapons

Surge is back on Wheel & Deal with five blistering new tracks on new EP, ‘Ebb & Flow’. The sinister, skeletal pull of the title-track opens with fiery purpose, before the greazy, guttural, low-end rumble of second track ‘Barren’ is positively ghoulish. This same theme continues apace via the eerie, electrified barbs of ‘Shellshock’ and shuddering power of bouncy, throwback jam ‘Original’, but Surge saves the best ‘til last on crunching, pensive final track ‘Holocron’ – just listen to those strings! 7/10

Dunman – ‘Isolation’ EP (In:Flux Audio)

Big, bold and unapologetic

Dunman goes in on new EP, ‘Isolation’, his first for In:Flux Audio and latest in a series of releases that have seem him straddle both grime and dubstep worlds. The huge, clattering pressure and hollowed-out wobble of opener ‘Isolation’ is no frills but effective in the dance, while the razor claps and jittery, fractious energy of grime bulldozer ‘Master Of Claws’ nod to a producer intent on making an impact. Third track ‘Originals’ tones down the mania (and the tempo), this time re-focusing on a deeper, OG steppa sound, before joining forces with newcomer Panix on another moody, hoods-up wobbler (‘Hail’). If that wasn’t enough bang for your buck, there’s a syrupy, hyper-distilled, percussive re-work of the title-track by J.Kong thrown in too. 6/10

Monitor

Fresh from dropping a EP from Handsome Boys (Moleskin & Boardgame James), new grime label 1000Doors are back with the release of Yamaneko collaborator Rimplton’s mind-bending debut record, ‘Low Oxy’ — if you don’t know, get to know (!) … Sukh Knight continued a rich run of form with the release of big and bashy new dub, ‘Hooligan’, on his DAKU imprint … emerging Leeds-based grime/club label 1Forty dropped another essential record early in March — 1FGRM005 features weighty vocal tracks from YGG and Logan, as well as smoked-out instrumentals from Hamdi and ManGo … Dream Eater continue to harness the rarest and best choice cuts going, with a hot and heavy new plate on the way from Ironsoul — keep your eyes peeled … and look out for a new album from grime vet Footsie in May — ‘No Favours’ features a slew of guest MCs across 14 tracks on what is shaping up to be one of the best grime albums of 2020! 

— Plastician —

On music, family, the importance of community and becoming lockdown Twitter’s unlikely quizmaster.

All photos submitted by Plastician

“Play ‘Japan’ flashes up another message from the chatroom in a virtual ‘pub’ on Twitch, where over 140 players are 15 questions deep in a general knowledge quiz while a Spotify playlist of 80s synth-pop plays in the background. Plastician, decked out in a yellow England goalkeeper’s shirt and drinking a can of Belgian lager poured into a latte glass with a tiny handle on one side, is the host. “Play Japan”, he responds laughing, “how many more of you are gonna ask that tonight?”.

Still defined by his trailblazing years as one of dubstep’s OGs, Plastician cuts a very different figure 15 years on as we catch up to chat over FaceTime from his home studio the following night. Now married with two children and a consultancy job at Pirate Studios — a nationwide, multi-faceted DJ school, workshop and production studio operation — he seems relaxed and content as we start talking.

“I don’t feel too bad at the moment to be honest”, he says. “I think people’s careers go through ups-and-down and that, but I feel like I’ve started to appreciate the process a little bit more recently.” Like a lot of DJs and musicians, the process — letting music take its natural course in so many words — is something Plastician struggled with, especially after the excitement of the dubstep explosion started to wear off. In 2013, he recalls, suddenly gone were the days of packed-out FWD>> raves, three or four bookings a week and the stream of new artists and music that had first propelled the scene into mainstream consciousness.

“That was when the dubstep and whole bass music bubble burst a little bit I think. I had to do a lot of re-jigging in that year and the learning I did back then, I’ve taken that on ever since. It normalised everything for me. It was difficult to take at first because I felt hard done by, maybe by the industry and some of my friends who were suddenly doing better than me. I wasn’t getting the same love or the bring-ins, and I started to think, am I not cool enough anymore? Mentally, that was quite tough.”

Rather than submit or give into bitterness, he dug in and rode out the proverbial storm, learning to become both mentally and financially independent. He poured a lot of his time back into Terrorhythm, his original grime and dubstep hub that spawned some of the great early Plastician productions (including 2007’s ‘Japan’). Rebooting it with a focus on new artists and new sounds the world over, he took a backseat for the first time in his career.

“Out of that whole period came this interest in Wave music, which is the polar opposite of what I should have been investing in on a business level”, he reflects. “It’s music that doesn’t really work in any club setting, that no promoters want to book and at the time, had no real audience, but it was the basis of what I was listening to most on Soundcloud.”

Although he concedes the term ‘Wave’ can mean different things to different people, it can be loosely defined by it’s leanings towards trap music, often written through a cinematic lens with intense, emotional melodies and flashes of trance-like euphoria. “It was never critically-acclaimed, but there was a genuine following of people who were really engaged in that whole side of what I was doing at the time. A lot of kids making it now are coming in from the EDM world and maybe it’s not quite as exciting as it was initially, but it’s still something that intrigues me.”

Indeed, it was Wave that first spawned his ‘Wavepool’ series, which saw Plastician collate productions from a slew of inspired new producers into hour-long mixes, the first of which dropped in 2015. They would go on to pick-up a lot of traction, especially in the US, and served as both an entry point and discovery tool for anyone looking to get to grips with the sound. He soon became a de-facto flag bearer for the scene and through his Rinse FM show and newly-galvanised label, helped build a new URL community that birthed producers like Noah B, Deadcrow, Skit, Glacci and more recently, Juche, as well as crews like Liquid Ritual. 

“..being involved in emerging genres is something that I hope I’ll be able to do forever.”

It was as he spoke about his fondness for Wave that I started to understand what makes Plastician tick. Although there’s still part of him that retains a competitive edge — “if someone gave me an opportunity, put me in a techno room and I’d fuck it up” — his main driving force is community, finding things and then building things.

“That’s what excites me musically, discovering stuff”, he says passionately. “When I find something that is not a million miles away from my taste but is maybe different enough that it’s like, ‘fuck, I need more of this’. Before long, you’ve found 10-20 producers and then you’ve got an entire set that plays to a certain sound, like Wave or whatever.” 

“It gives me a lot of job satisfaction”, he goes on, “If I feel like I’m making friends as I go or people appreciate the things I’m doing and people show you love, that’s a nice feeling. One of the things I’ve taken from all the years of touring I’ve done for example, is how many good friends I’ve made. It might just be because I had a few days off and had to spend time with them, but I’ll leave places and think ‘Ah they were actually really cool’. From that, I’ve now got some real strong relationships with crews in LA, Brazil and China. I’ve made friends everywhere. For musicians that are trying to get into this, the whole touring thing and being an artist, they’ll realise when they look back that some of the best things about everything they were doing was just hanging out with people.”

This spirit doesn’t just extend to touring, his label or DJ sets, either. His love of emerging technologies and new ways of connecting people, particularly online, also saw Plastician trial ‘Unreality Journeys’ — an immersive, online radio platform he hoped to develop after choosing to leave Rinse FM in 2017. “When I started out, pirate radio was really spontaneous, you only had one chance to listen in and that was it”, he reflects. “When you were broadcasting, it was quite exciting. If the studio phone line was getting busier week-on-week, it was exciting because you realised people were taking time out of their days to listen in and you’d find out you were reaching new places because people would text in like, ‘Yo we’re locked in from Sutton’ or ‘Shout out to Mitcham’. In the digital age, the broadcast quality might have improved, but that original excitement was lost.”

At the time he chose to leave Rinse, his show was proving to be one of the most popular on the station, quickly amassing hundreds of comments once the podcasts were archived on Soundcloud. “It’d feel like no one was listening when I was on the radio, broadcasting each week. There’d be no interaction live, but over the following days the shows would hit thousands of plays on Soundcloud and it dawned on me that I was missing that live interaction a lot.”

“For musicians that are trying to get into this, the whole touring thing and being an artist, they’ll realise when they look back that some of the best things about everything they were doing was just hanging out with people.”

And so Unreality Journeys was born, a platform that paired live radio with live visuals that responded to the music being played, portraying each listener as their own avi on a virtual dance floor, complete with a chat room to boost interaction. It was short-lived — the technology never quite caught up with his vision — but it was further evidence of Plastician’s willingness to explore new avenues and spend hours of his own time trying to build new community spaces, purely for the benefit of others.

It’s here I find myself back in his virtual pub the night after interviewing him, can of Heineken in hand, waiting for another quiz to start alongside 156 other players this time. While the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged modern life into darkness, Plastician has flipped the gloom on its head and used his time at home to get stuck into Twitch — a live-streaming platform that marries live broadcast and live interaction in one, simple-to-use app. “I could use it to bang out mixes every night of the week and feel like I’d have done it well”, he explains, “but I feel like that wouldn’t be really offering much. I know I can do it but what is the aim? Who am I benefitting?”

Interactive quizzes felt like a natural next port of call; not only has he themed the first half a dozen, including entire 25-question strong quizzes on Garage, Grime and Dubstep, but even built his own Mastermind-themed intro visuals, just for a laugh. Each one may take hours to prepare, but his Stishcast channel has already started to grow a dedicated following and for people like me living alone through this crisis, have added much-needed structure to days that bleed into the next. “There’s a lot of common ground in those quiz chat rooms each night”, he reflects. “It might be a joke about 90s footballers or some niche UK Garage tune and there’ll be another 20 people who can relate. With what we’re all going through now, it feels like that’s what people need. Even from some of the reactions to the questions, you can tell that everyone playing the quiz is there just to hang out. Don’t get me wrong there are people who want to win too, but most people enjoy just having a laugh and cracking jokes in the chat.”

Such is his standing, news of the quizzes has even encouraged some big hitters along, with Scratcha DVA, Joker, DJ Oblig, Loefah and even comedian Mo Gilligan appearing at certain points over the last few weeks, as well as producers on his Terrorythm imprint like Klasey Jones. Even his mum popped in to say she was watching on her birthday, much to the delight of everyone playing along. “We’ll be having a laugh about a Joker tune playing in the background and then Joker appears in the chat. These people are literally hanging out with the artists we’re listening to or artists they’re big fans of, as the quiz goes on. It’s quite unique really.”

In and amongst this desire to connect with people and keep busy — “I get bored very easily”, Plastician concedes — there comes family. He still lives in South London with his wife and two children and like us all, the COVID-19 crisis has meant a lot of adjustment. “The fact that I’m always around and a lot of the work I do is from home is a bonus. Even if I’m not always totally present, I’m often in and out of the house. These last couple of weeks have been tough though, especially with the Twitch streaming, but the evenings are quite a good time. I’m involved with bedtime to a point, but the kids don’t really settle for me, so I find myself being able to work on the streams or admin or whatever it is that needs doing. That said, me and my wife don’t have the same routine now, the whole thing hasn’t afforded us that, but we’re navigating it as best we can.”

“..nowadays and I don’t know if it’s getting old or what, but I’m more interested in being interesting.”

It was a family death a couple of years ago that fostered a sense of perspective which has helped him cope with the current situation, and also help reassess his own value system and what he wants out of his career. “My brother in law was 29 and he suddenly passed away a few years back, which put everything into perspective”, he says softly. “Losing someone who was healthy, larger than life, with a new-born child and loads going for him, it just made me realise there are things way more important than how many bookings I’m getting or what people think about me on social media. All that matters in this current situation is that all of my immediate family are healthy and well and to be honest, as long as they are, I don’t feel stressed out at all. I probably should because I’ve lost all of my bookings and consultancy hours, but because of everything that’s happened, I know that we’ll get through this. I just need to keep busy.”

As we finish up after just over an hour, Plastician still drawing up a list of questions for a much-requested Channel U quiz, it feels like after a difficult few years — and amidst a global crisis — he’s finally found peace of mind. Dad jokes have become a new part of his Twitter persona, his desire to help has been properly harnessed and validated by his work at Pirate Studios and his relationship with new technology and new ideas continues to breathe new life into people’s every day realities. “Don’t get me wrong”, he concludes, “being involved in emerging genres is something that I hope I’ll be able to do forever, but nowadays and I don’t know if it’s getting old or what, I’m more interested in being interesting. I don’t necessarily want to be midway down a flyer somewhere because I’m being paid well for it, I’d rather champion something. I’d rather stand for something.”

Plastician’s Twitch quizzes run every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7pm: https://www.twitch.tv/stishcast