Where were you DJing out in London?
“Well I used to DJ under the name Peanut, right? And I was doing hip-hop sets, and working a little bit of grime in there, and you could kind of get away with it; going from mainstream hip-hop and R’n'B to more UK street sounds – it works. But at the same time it was doing my head in a bit; it wasn’t completely me – I wanted to get pretty deep; a bit abstract, a bit challenging. ‘Cause I like to listen to music that challenges me, and I don’t like playing on shit soundsystems either. The time I stopped, I played a place called Ruby Blue, which is near Leicester Square…”
Mate, that club’s fucking horrible.
“Well after that night, I was like “fuck this, I’m never doing this shit again. It’s not for me.” When I was at home DJing I’d be expressing myself – trying to make connections, and express myself, and my personality and my taste, but when I was doing traditional party sets it was more in awe of my idols, and the DJs I respected. When I was a kid I wanted to copy Funkmaster Flex, but at the end of the day, I’m not Funkmaster Flex, I’m not from New York, and I’m not DJing at The Tunnel. It’s good that I can do a decent impersonation, but that’s not me, I had to be myself.”
So around that time did you try to reinvent yourself as a DJ?
“Yeah, people were ringing me, asking me “Peanut, can you come and play?”, and I’d be like “nah, I can’t do it anymore, it’s bringing me down”. And Peanut was just a nickname I’d had since I was a kid – I never chose it myself – and it felt a bit like that with my DJing. So I killed the whole Peanut character. My name’s Alexander, so I just put the Nut on the end, and started making mixtapes. I made a series called Something In The Shape Of, and some called We Love Radio. I probably made about 200 copies of each, just handing them out to friends, and people I wanted to connect with – music heads, pretty girls. So that was the start of it really – handing out mixtapes that were a genuine reflection of what I wanted to do. The Something In The Shape Of ones were hip-hop and grime, and bass culture stuff, and the We Love Radio ones were more Dilla-esque stuff. ‘Cause at the time, I didn’t quite know how to connect the two – we’re talking like 2004, so I hadn’t heard any Flying Lotus yet…”
Yeah, it’s only in the last few years that those dots seem to have been connected…
“It’s great though, ’cause it’s all come together naturally. Like I say, at the time I had the hip-hop and soul thing, and the bass culture thing, and I knew there was a relationship there, and that it correlated, but I didn’t quite know how to present it, and I didn’t want to confuse people by playing Sa Ra followed by Kode 9 – at the time, it would’ve fucked with people’s heads and they wouldn’t have listened to it. I think it all comes back to the roots of where that music comes from, and how they relate to each other… But it started to come together naturally, with people like Benji B.
“I didn’t listen to Benji ’til about two years ago. When 1xtra first came about, I used to listen to it all the time, like Skitz and Rodney P and that, and I felt the shows were going down the pan. And then I looked at Benji’s playlist, and straight away I was like “fucking Hell man, this geezer’s on it!” I didn’t know who he was. And then I listened to it, and realised there was someone else out there on a similar tip. His show was a massive influence – even if it was just a matter of seeing someone on there who was on a similar tip to me, it gives you more confidence, you know? It was just nice; a familiar face doing a similar thing.
“I think it’s part of a series of things – you pick things up as you go along, and it all becomes part of your character. So like I say, Funkmaster Flex would’ve been the first thing, then I used to listen to loads of soundclash mixes; the whole Jamaican style of DJing, dropping ten bars and wheeling the tune up. So I was drawing influences from Mighty Crown and all them, and even people like MK and stuff. Actually, a major thing was watching Plastician – I used to go to FWD when it was on a Thursday, and that was a big change in my life – hearing the Plastic soundsystem for the first time…”
Plastician in that period is still my favourite DJ ever.
“His sets from that time were just… I mean, he’s still a great DJ, but he’s on a real tearing the club up kind of thing – he’s got a fanbase, and he can go anywhere and blast them with stuff, and people go nuts, which is understandable. But at the time, when he was lesser known, his sets were real musical journeys…”
There’s a two hour set with him and Skepta on Rinse from early 2006, and it’s ridiculous – he’s playing everything from Slew Dem plates to Digital Mystikz stuff, half the tunes on it I don’t think even came out…
“That was a big thing – Plastician, Skream and Digital Mystikz are big influences on me from going to FWD. It was really dubbed out at the time, and as I say, I had a bit of a reggae background, so I really connected with that. When [dubstep] got industrial and metal-sounding in the same way that drum ‘n’ bass did – really in your face… Like, I appreciate it, but I don’t want to play that stuff, it doesn’t interest me. But yeah, Plastician, as a DJ he fucking influenced me so much – those sets, the mixing was seamless…”
So how did the Rinse thing come about?
“That came about – well, I’ve really gotta give it to this guy, Charles Holgate [MC Nomad, also Tempa/Ammunition's PR]. He’s an old friend of mine, and he was in contact with Plastician and all those guys. He was getting my mixtapes, and coming to some shows I was doing, and he knew the kind of tip I was on. And again, this was before things really blew up with LuckyMe and that – that wave, wonky, whatever you wanna call it. At the same time, I didn’t really understand what I was doing, but he saw it, and said I should give a mixtape to Rinse. Straight away I was like “Rinse, they aren’t gonna fucking have me on Rinse!”. Obviously I really wanted to be, but I didn’t think it would ever happen…”
What’s mad with you and Rinse… Well, it’s two things. ‘Cause first, it’s the only hip-hop show on the station – all you used to get before was Target playing the odd bit during the day, or some of the morning guys. And second, Rinse is so localised and synomonous with London, you’re the only person with a show that’s really global…
“Yeah, but at the same time, because Rinse influence the world so much, it’s become a global thing. Like if you listen to any of the dubstep guys – I mean the funky stuff’s still pretty UK based, but if you listen to the dubstep shows, everyone’s playing Martyn; it’s not UK-centric playlists. I guess they’ve brought it all together – made sense of it.
“When I first spoke to Sarah, she’d heard my mixes and really liked them, and she wanted me on there, but she was a bit bemused by it – like what exactly is this guy fucking playing? So she asked me to play some more broken bits – like broken beat and that. So I just told her I would… I didn’t though, and it just turned into what it is now. Which has been a really nice journey, because as I’ve been doing it – like I don’t even know who was listening for the first few months, but as I was doing the show, everything else just fell into place at the same time… Then the whole scene started picking up – and it became acceptable to play a hip-hop tune next to a dubstep tune, and people wouldn’t question what I was doing.”