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“You fucking sellout”: Hatcha on the birth, explosive rise and afterlife of dubstep

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  • published
    21 Feb 2014
  • words by
    Joe Muggs
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    Hatcha
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hatcha

Hatcha – Terry Leonard – is such a larger-than-life character that on the surface of it, it’s puzzling why he isn’t a bigger star.

In person, every word and gesture is effusive and expressive, his mannerisms part wideboy, part showbiz impresario, and he bubbles over with opinions, ideas and facts about the scene that he more than anyone could claim to have created: dubstep.

In fact, though, the more of his personality you see, the more you realise that his place is at the heart of that scene, not up front. Though he is one of its most under-rated producers, his releases have been sporadic, and his biggest role has always been as someone who made connections – as a DJ in clubs, on pirates and latterly on Kiss FM, as a buyer in Big Apple records, as a label owner and promoter.

In doing all this, he’s maintained connections with all parts of the scene as it rose, rose, rose, exploded into the mainstream, then stumbled out of the wreckage of that explosion. His refusal to pledge allegiance to one or other subset or aesthetic within the sound maybe means that to outsiders his identity is diffuse – though this may be about to change with his new, highly focused Hatched label, and ongoing series of Hatcha & Friends releases – but it has ensured his continued importance to that scene, and perhaps most importance to us, it made him the perfect person to chart its rollercoaster ride over the past decade plus.

He refers himself to his own short attention span, and as you’ll see, he is easily diverted – particularly tending to swerve back to the debates over hard / tear-out dubstep, which he became associated with. It’s clear he feels some responsibility – guilt, even – for certain aesthetic shifts, and being someone with very few filters, you can see him processing his relationship to his own past as he speaks. However, we kept more or less on track, his company is never less than entertaining, and in an hour we pretty much managed to set the world to rights…
  

“I’m a 13-year-old and people are like, “What the fuck is this kid doing walking around here?””

  
So let’s begin at the beginning: are you Croydon born and bred?

Croydon born and bred, Joe. I am indeed, my love.

The mean streets of Croydon, as Tony Thorpe once put it?

Well, the clean streets of Croydon they’re now becoming… we only had four stabbings last week. [laughs heartily] It’s a scumhole. [laughs more]

And what were you into growing up?

I was a jungle baby. My family were involved in a big drum’n'bass jungle rave, called Sunday Roast, when I was growing up, so come the weekend I’d wake up and mum and her friends were still raving from the night before. I’ve just always grown up around music basically, as long as I can remember. I always had a short attention span, I couldn’t keep focus on one thing, but music just… [clicks fingers] seemed to get me, so everything went out the window: school, the whole lot. It was just music.

So there were decks in the house, I’d guess?

I got my first set of decks for my tenth birthday. Yes! What a birthday present. From then on, that was it. Every night I was on them, every couple of pound I got I put away so come the weekend I’d be down to the record shop – down to Big Apple in fact, I was shopping regularly down there from when I was ten, down Big Apple seeing John and Arthur and Hijak and Bailey cos they was all working down there then. And again, that was it: I built up a good relationship with the boys in the shop over the years, eventually started working there just out of coincidence one day, and I was in my element there. Surrounded by music, vinyl, good people, you couldn’t really ask for more.

What age did you start working there?

16, 17 I think.

And what age did you get out to raves or clubs?

I played at my first rave at 13, in Brixton Arches, with Terry Francis, quite a few old house boys, Loftgroover, and I was in the other room playing old Philly Blunt, Urban Shakedown, Suburban Base, all the old jungle drum’n'bass bits. And that was me after that, mate, I’d found something I liked, it caught my attention – it made my attention span longer than ten minutes, let’s put it that way!

So if you learned right back in the jungle days, you must’ve got your mixing skills early – there’s no faking it with proper 93-95 jungle, right?

Yeah. A lot of percussion, a lot faster, a lot more going on. They say if you can make drum’n'bass you can make anything – well, if you can DJ drum’n'bass you can DJ anything. So yeah, it got me off on a good foot. It didn’t come overnight, it took a good couple of years to be able to put an hour’s worth of music that was listenable, that fit, and I didn’t have anybody teaching this, I worked it out. Then from the drum’n'bass and jungle, I moved onto garage, started building up a little bit of a name for myself in the garage industry – but always playing a bit more of the deeper garage stuff, the harder stuff: Wookie, Zed Bias, J Da Flex, El-B, Phuturistix, all these kind of guys, the more deeper stuff.

And while I’m playing this on the pirate radio shows locally, kids that were listening to the shows were coming into the shop asking “What’s this? And what’s this?” and it’d always be just those deeper and darker bits they were asking about. Then these same kids that were asking about it and buying it were getting into music production while they was at school, so they’d make music that was similar to what they were buying, and this is where it all started. It escalated from there: these kids wanted their own artist names, they wanted information about how records get out, about the industry, what was this, what was that, get going themselves… next thing you know we’ve got Skream, we’ve got Benga, we’ve got Digital Mystikz, we’ve got Caspa, we’ve got Distance, we’ve got Artwork and Souljah Records, then it kept growing and growing and growing and growing…!

I remember you saying ages ago that techno was important too – Arthur taking you down to Lost, which he was part of, right?

Oh yeahhhh. Arthur – Artwork – played a big role in my DJ career and in my whole life really. I spent every single day with him for years in the record shop; I’d never had any kind of father figure and to a certain extent, not that he was that father figure, but he was the right hand man that I turned to when I needed advice or anything like that. He took me under his wing, as did John, Hijak, all the guys in the shop – they put me on that right path. But yeah, Arthur used to take me to Lost, and once I got to them, and see them proper raves, I just thought, “Yeah, this is me.” Dark, dingy, sweat dripping off the ceiling… I mean, I’d been doing proper gritty, grimey raves since that first gig at the age of 13 in Brixton Arches. Walking around, people are off their faces in the corner, dribbling, I’m a 13-year-old and people are like, “What the fuck is this kid doing walking around here?” I’d experienced all of that, but this was my first experience of going out with a bunch of older people, being with them, helping set up the soundsystem, see how everything at Lost worked, that was just another life experience that I benefitted from.

But garage was your focus…

Well yeah, I loved jungle but obviously I’m in the shop and I see the trends coming. So as I started to get my feet under the table at Big Apple, and I’m starting to get my name on flyers, the garage industry was seriously at its peak. We’re talking 2000, 2001, 2002, garage in full swing, and it grew on me more and more. I started to play it, put out mixes, and I’d send them to Garage Nation, Sun City, Cosa Nostra, Stush, and I started doing all these garage raves. But at this time the big artists in the scene had made themselves, they’d become an establishment, and it’s hard to break into a scene that has big founders in it…
  

“Eventually the dark garage stuff is diluting itself out and I’m just left with a record box full of youngsters.”

  
…and committees!

Yeah, and that – so when you’re younger and trying to break in, it’s not easy at all. I didn’t go out of my way to say “Let’s bring all these young kids together and create a new scene”, though – far from it, that wasn’t in my plan at all. I was just focused on trying to become a big garage artist, but as these kids coming in the shop were getting better and better their music slowly started intruding on my sets, so it got to the point where I played gigs and I wasn’t playing the Artful Dodgers and Ramsay & Fens and MJ Coles, I’m now moving darker down the spectrum through the Wookies and El-Bs, then Skream’s coming in, Distance is coming in, Loefah’s coming in and it’s becoming a mix-up of a set, until eventually the dark garage stuff is diluting itself out and I’m just left with a record box full of youngsters. And that’s where the next step happened.

None of this stuff could’ve been released – so you must have been cutting dubplates, right?

I started cutting dubs when I was 14, 15. All the way up ’til about two years ago! There’s a lot of metal sitting in my bedroom collecting dust, I tell you – a good few quid’s worth. [laughs] It’s history, it can’t be parted with, but I can go through it, look back and say, “I was there at that stage, and that moment, and this is what I was doing.”

Have you considered recording them all for posterity?

Oh, I’ve spent the last two years digitalising them, the whole lot, every plate on a USB key, every single one of them – recorded direct from the plate, every crackle, every jump.

That’s a USB to guard with your life, there. 

I’ve got a few back up copies in a safe, we’re good to go there, buddy!

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