Chris Reed is in a good mood.
It’s a sunny morning when we meet, sunny enough to sit outside a Southeast London cafe (“shit, Transition’s just down the road from here isn’t it?”), the sort of day when it’s nice to kick back and chat anyway. But the man more commonly known as Plastician wouldn’t need any encouragement to hold forth – he’s got a lot going on and wants the world to know it.
What’s prompted the interview is the new reissue album of his very earliest tracks from the dawn of grime and dubstep, mostly released under the name Plasticman (until he became aware that there was a Canadian techno producer out there with a strikingly similar name). This would be interesting in itself – his history has been as a uniquely skilled bridge-builder, both between grime and dubstep and then outwards, firstly to the experimental electronica world, then to the mainstream via the US hip hop world, and those tracks stand the test of time, fitting perfectly into a climate newly receptive to grime’s dancefloor qualities.
But there’s a whole other level added by an absolutely killer line-up of remixers he’s marshalled (he’s a skilled cat-herder too), which serve as an illustration of how diverse his interests are now. Where other foundational figures have moved towards house and techno of one sort or another (Skream, Pinch, Loefah), or back into underground dubstep (Hatcha), Plastician has expanded in all directions, dropping tempo constraints of any kind and forging strong connections with the Los Angeles weird beat and neo-trap scenes. It’s a move that’s baffled quite a few listeners since he started it while in LA in early 2013, but as we’ll see, it seems finally to be paying dividends.
So what’s made you revisit the Plasticman days?
Part of it is that most of it’s only out on vinyl. I was one of the first people from our scene to move on to just digital and take away the vinyl – so this stuff was separate for that reason. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, really, but then because it’s ten years since most of those tracks came out, I felt it’s a good time to do it. I’ve been thinking about doing it for two or three years, I haven’t released an album as such for years, I get hit up for them old records and tracks all the time, and it’s taken that amount of time to get here, to get all the old files, to talk to Sarah Soulja about releasing the old Soulja tunes, and the Road release, okaying things with people, and that coinciding with the ten year thing made it feel like a good time.
Then the remix project came in, so that felt like a good tie-in – but getting remixes from 15, 20 people takes a long time and I’m still waiting on a good few of them which is why it’s coming out now rather than a year ago. It’s just got to the point where I couldn’t wait any longer, everything I had to do has been ready for months and months, so here it is!
And was the fact that instrumental grime is in demand now a consideration?
I think that was pure luck for me actually. When I first started about doing this properly, things weren’t where we are now with this whole instrumental grime thing – I’m quite lucky that it has taken this long, because if I’d done this a year ago I don’t think it would have had this impact. For people on the outside looking in now, this would be the ideal time to release any old music from this era, so it’s worked out well in that sense.
It’s going to be more welcomed by the wider audience, people who don’t necessarily know the originals will be able to listen to it from a different angle, it’ll make a bit more sense – rather than putting it next to this high production value, big room sounds that maybe they’d been used to before. This stuff’s much more stripped back and simple, but the fact that stripped back and simple is working again, means even though it’s 10, 12 years since those tracks came out a lot of them work really well in sets based on this new grime wave. So yeah it’s perfect for me really.
Did you have a sense of what it was you were making at the time? You had feet in dubstep and grime probably more than anyone, so what did you call your own tunes?
Well, coming out of UK garage, it was really difficult to get a foot in that scene. I was only a DJ anyway, which made it even more difficult as you really needed to be a producer if you were going to do anything. So when the grime thing started to happen and everything became a bit simple and, for want of a better word, kiddy – that’s how the garage scene looked at it anyway, kids making shit music, it was looked down upon and frowned upon by garage heads – that opened the door for people like me who really didn’t know what they were doing on Fruityloops. I heard ‘Pulse X’ and thought “I could do stuff like that!”
So for a while I was doing this 8-bar kind of sound, and it took a few months before I sent something to Slimzee. I’d been giving bits to Hatcha but that didn’t really fit with the dark 2-step and very early dubstep he was playing, it was still a little bit kiddy in that sense. I didn’t mind, it was 8-bar grime, in my head that’s all it was, so I sent this track to Slimzee, ‘Venom’, and that became my first release. Then through playing on Rinse, and the linkup with Sarah shortly after for the Road release and the Soulja one, that put me on the FWD>> radar.
When Sarah first asked me to play at FWD>> I was a bit scared, because I was a FWD>> head, I went down there because I loved the early dubstep stuff and I’d been playing that with the grime stuff in my DJ sets. I was worried about playing grime at FWD>> because then the sound was very tribal, very deep, Horsepower and Zed Bias, or very early Skream & Benga, this tribal sound somewhere between grime and Wookie. I just felt my 8-bar stuff was not going to run in there, back in the day then it was all about dubplate.net forums and people were looking down on that stuff.
I didn’t really want to come in as that grime guy, so I started making what I thought was FWD>> music – grime, but structured like a dubstep record: a 32-bar intro and a drop, then a breakdown and another drop. Back then grime was literally eight bars, switch, eight bars, switch, nothing beyond 8-bar records. As complicated as it got was ‘Eskimo’ which had 16s and eights, and a couple of different patterns going on. I was trying to take that 8-bar sound and build it like an instrumental record – so that’s how I found my feet between the two scenes, I guess, because I was trying to build tunes for people expecting to hear it as an instrumental without an MC over it.
But prior to that you were presumably writing specifically for grime DJs and MCs – what kind of response had you had from that scene?
Well it was a bit difficult because I was in South, I was detached from the early grime, people knew my name but they didn’t really know much about me because I wasn’t hanging about in Rhythm Division, I was in Big Apple. I would meet people who were dropping records at Big Apple occasionally – but then once I started my own label the reverse happened, I was distributing my own records so I met a lot of people. I think it was ‘Cha’, the first one where that happened, because my early stuff I’d been using another company – but when I started distributed my own stuff, because I’d worked in distribution and I knew all the shops and who to sell to, I’d start taking my records around in the car, and I’d go into Rhythm Division so I met Slimzee face-to-face, I met Jammer, and quite a lot of the East guys, just to say hello.
And then the more I got into that grime thing the more I realised I needed to be cutting dubs in different places, so now and again I would go to cut at Music House, and I met Skepta there, I met Tubby and Footsie and we would swap dubs. It was difficult at first, but once I realised what I needed to be doing to integrate myself into that side of the sound it was OK. Of course I grew up with all the dubstep guys, I was getting beats from them, they were playing my stuff and I was playing theirs because I knew them all, before any of us got big. But on the grime side of things I had to go and meet, turn up with my CDs and be all like “hi, I’m Plasticman, I did that Slimzee record and I’ve done this and I’m playing at Sidewinder, and can I get some dubs because I’m on Rinse now…”
Were you aware that you were being played outside of dubstep and grime too, by experimental or techno DJs?
I had no idea at all. Nothing. The whole Richie Hawtin thing, I had no idea of anything beyond what stemmed out of garage. I came to underground music very late – I would have been 16, 17 when I started listening to pirate radio, and by the time I was producing and releasing records I’d have been 20 maybe. In that four years, and this is before the internet was a hub for music knowledge, I just had the record shop and pirates, so I didn’t listen to anything outside of garage – which includes the beginnings of dubstep and grime, because I deemed that to be garage at the time.
So I didn’t know who these techno DJs were, who these producers were, and I remember Neil Joliffe who worked at Ammunition and had knowledge of music that was just vast, sent me a link to this forum post, which linked to an article someone had written, and they were comparing me to Kraftwerk and something else, and I had no idea who these people are. And Neil said “it’s true, you sound like this and this, and you sampled this record in that thing, so you must know who they’re talking about” but I said “I just got the sound from this sample pack that I downloaded off an internet forum, I don’t know what the sounds in it are, the sound’s just called ‘Chirp’, that’s all I know.”
I didn’t know who I was sampling, I didn’t know anything. I remember reading this really long and detailed review of my Slimzos release, they were talking about the b-side and they said “Croydon techno” and deeming it to be this new wave, yet I didn’t think of it as anything but garage. So I did a bit of Googling, it took a while because as I said the internet didn’t have everything at your fingertips like it does now, there was certainly no YouTube, but eventually I found a couple of songs of the people they were talking about, but I couldn’t see the comparison at all – I was just like “but that’s not garage!” I listened to Kraftwerk and thought, that just sounds crazy, I don’t know how that’s anything to do with anything I’m doing. Now it totally makes sense but back then I was just young, if it wasn’t garage I just didn’t get it. If it wasn’t garage it wasn’t anything to do with my music. My music was garage because Slimzee and Hatcha and people played it, and anything else was just another world.
A lot of people in grime did bring older music to bear on it, though – I know, for example, Terror Danjah had a grounding in electro, funk and suchlike from his older brothers and sisters…
Well that’s the thing, I was the oldest in my family. My brother has no interest in music, my mum and dad listened to pop music – my mum listens to some reggae but not sitting in the house listening to it all day. We’d listen to Capital FM in the car on the way to school, and I’d listen to Capital, maybe Kiss sometimes, so my musical horizons were non-existent.
So when Rephlex got in touch, that must’ve been completely alien?
Yeah, that was the first time I had heard anything or seen anything that wasn’t garage. The first time I’d been to an event that wasn’t a garage event – there weren’t even really grime or dubstep events back then, I’d played the odd grime event in Milton Keynes and places, I’d been to the odd Eskimo Dance, but that was it. Sidewinder was really a garage event that put some grime on… then there was FWD>>. But that was it, I’d not really been to any kind of club other than those or cheesy club nights in Croydon.
Then I ended up going on tour with Rephlex very early in 2004, before the Grime album had even come out, on tour with Soundmurderer and Bogdan Raczynski; I was with MRK1 and we’d just look at each other like “what the fuck is this?” People who seemed like they’d live or die for the Aphex Twin freaking out to 300bpm music, Soundmurderer playing his mad jungle cut-ups and Miami bass and I was… [stutters, lost for words] I mean I liked it, but I was hearing it for the first time, and I had to get used to it. That opened my ears to other styles, definitely – bit by bit songs would jump out where I’d go “that one’s fucking cool”, then Grant [Wilson-Claridge] at Rephlex hooked me up with loads of the releases, all the Aphex stuff, the ‘Analord’ series…
Then I did loads of gigs with Luke Vibert, Ed DMX and all those guys and they’d introduce me to stuff, Ed DMX put me on to 80s electro and suddenly I realised, OK, I used to listen to stuff like this when I was at school but I didn’t know what it was. So I loved this music and he showed me more, even sent me zips of mp3s of stuff he thought I’d like, and I’d use that to find other stuff, because even in Croydon we had Beano’s records [one of the biggest second-hand vinyl shops in Europe, now closed] and I’d find the section and actually know what I was looking for now where before I never really did. So just working among that crew of DJs and people opened my eyes and ears to so much different music, and gave me new respect for it, for electronic music as a whole, as well.
That first Rephlex at The End thing was mental in its contrast – the Croydon boys in one room, just a dark room, hoodies up, then the Rephlex guys in the other with strobes, coloured lights, everyone on one and raving like nutters…
It was amazing that gig, because I’d never played anything as big as that in London before. I’d never been to The End either – I remember all the hype that there was a grime gig at The End and I didn’t really know what that meant. I remember getting there really well because MRK1 and Virus Syndicate had come down from Manchester, and they were staying in Battersea which is a like 25 minute drive into where The End is. It was a Friday or Saturday night, they got down really late – they’re always late them boys – I met them at their hotel and we called a taxi.
The taxi driver was this really young guy in a Merc, and we needed to get there in 15 minutes which is typical Virus. I like to get there a good hour before, I’m fussy like that, and I was stressing going “we’re not getting there in 15 minutes, we’re not,” but they went, almost jokingly, to this guy “if you get us there in 15 minutes we’ll pay you double” and he fucking did! He drove like we were in a film. Literally I was laughing the whole way because it was scary – he was cutting through traffic, through red lights, I cannot believe he didn’t get pulled over along the way because this was central London, but somehow we got in there just two minutes after we were supposed to start.
I was expecting to be there half an hour into the set, but no, I got on, and I remember putting on the first record and just feeling amazing – seeing all the faces from down at FWD>> representing because this was a big deal. Everyone who was a part of that scene, which was maybe 150 people, 200 absolute tops, turned out for that night, and it was a turning point I think.
So how did you bring together these different strands in your own work?
Well, Grant always said to me “just do you, don’t feel you have to play for our crowd or anything” – they just wanted to represent this sound to their crowd – so I just thought “wicked!” It’d be “play like you play at FWD>>, play like you play on Rinse,” and I did. On the tour, I remember the first ever record I played in the States was in New York, at the Knitting Factory, I played Terror Danjah ‘Creepy Crawler’, the Frontline mix, and I don’t think anyone there had heard anything like it before. Grant, though, he referred to it as “lovemaking music” and I was like, “REALLY?”
I thought it was dark and fucking aggy, but compared to some of the stuff he was putting out on Rephlex I guess it really was because it was straightforward and you can dance to it, it wasn’t mental or gabba-ey – because some of the stuff Bogdan was playing on that tour was straight-up gabba! So yes it was funny hearing it in that context, but I was just doing me. At the time it was grime, and dubstep, the back end of garage like Zed Bias and Steve Gurley – then shortly after that there was just so much grime and dubstep that I was just playing that for the foreseeable. That was it for me.
But you did keep Terrorhythm fairly eclectic – and of course doubly so now. Is there a direct line from playing with Rephlex DJs to now?
Yeah. The whole thing of being on Rephlex, I did find myself playing some really weird gigs for two or three years. I’d be doing gigs in London that were pretty similar, grime, or dubstep, or both, or garage-grime-dubstep-house – always bass oriented. Then I’d have these little gigs in France or wherever with this Rephlexian sort of vibe and find myself with Ed DMX or someone, so that kept me hearing stuff that wasn’t just garage, dubstep or grime. I loved listening to pirate radio, and I’d hear different DJs playing stuff, and buy records I liked even if they weren’t for my sets – just hearing normal radio like Radio 1 too, I’d get led to different audiences.
So I’ve always been checking for other stuff but because I came through the dubstep and grime thing I felt I had this platform on Rinse to rep something very particular, a proper primetime slot on Rinse and I thought yep, this is it, I’m really repping a scene here. So I’d play anything that I liked that was from grime or dubstep and I didn’t feel it was my place to represent that. I almost felt like a journalist, but as a DJ, so I treated the radio show not as “this is my set” and more as “this is what’s going on right now in dubstep and grime”.
That was that for years, and it wasn’t until the tail end of 2012 when I’d been touring with a few people, I’d done some big shows in America at festivals, and I started wandering around to check out what else was happening on other stages. I know America always gets bad press, like EDM, it’s all shit and all that – but I’d find pockets of really amazing stuff that was happening here and there, artists like Lazer Sword, people like that. I’d grown up on hip hop, and even the crunk stuff later on, so electronic hip hop to me made total sense…
Well you’d already broached the bass music / hip hop crossover – and made early connections with the US scene – with your LA tapes…
Yeah, the whole Snoop Dogg thing that came along in ’09, well I was never going to pass that up! A lot of people frowned upon that, but for someone of my age – well, ‘Doggy Style’ was the first album I ever bought with my own money, it was the first time I ever heard someone swear on a record, you know? I was 12 years old, hearing someone swearing on a record was a novelty – but I still love that record, and when I had the opportunity to work with someone that was one of my first musical experiences or idols, that was amazing. Working with his people on that mixtape was a great experience.
And before that I’d done the Om Unit release on Terrorhythm, in ’08, which I’d signed in ’07. I knew him as 2 Tall before that, because I was a playing a couple of tracks from his album he’d released. As I say I still had my ear to other stuff, but I wouldn’t play it unless it was 140; he’d had a couple of tracks on his last album as 2Tall that were that tempo through, so I hit him up through Charles, now Joker’s manager, who was working at Zzonked the PR company then. He sent me some stuff under the Om Unit alias, and I just thought “Yes, this is it! This is interesting experimental electronic bassy hip hop, this is what I’ve been waiting for, this is what I want to put out!”
I know it was going to be a bit weird for people who follow the label but it works for me. It doesn’t matter about the tempo, it just fits with the other Terrorhythm stuff – we’d put out Joker and Maniac and we were putting dubstep stuff like Crissy Criss at that time, and this was contrasting but it still worked for me. I saw that as my opportunity to represent more of the stuff, not just that I’m playing, but what I like because it’s my label! And I did find time to play it towards the back of my sets at things like FWD>>, things that were a bit more open to “gwarn, have a go, play something different”. If I thought I could get away with it, I would, I’d chuck in hip hop records at the end, old electro stuff that Ed had put me onto, anything that I thought might work at the tail end of all the dubstep and grime I’d been playing.
So there was quite a broad span by this point… as well as the experimental end, you had no compunction about signing or playing the lairiest tear-out dubstep.
I liked a lot of it! And I played a lot of it! Then when I started playing with P Money a lot, he loved that, so that ramped it up. The thing with playing with MCs on tour is it’s half your set and half theirs – and before P Money it was Skepta and JME and Tinchy Stryder, I’ve always worked with some MCs – so as much as I can select in the way I want to do, I’ve got to play what brings out the best in them. When I was playing with P, that was when Dr P. ‘Sweet Shop’ had just come out and he loved that, also I was playing in America a lot and it was really going off there, so between that and my sets in London with P, that was the vibe I’d drop.
And we had a lot of fun doing those gigs as well – but in my radio shows I’d contrast it with the grime stuff, with other things… But then yeah, the tail end of 2012, beginning of 2013, when I moved out to the States for a bit and I had all those guests on my show that I knew out there – Gaslamp Killer come on, Jerome LOL, Castle, but also Skrillex and Kill The Noise and Brillz and Mayhem &* Antiserum and all the trap guys, all this stuff that I knew of but had never seen “in action” so to speak, I got to see them DJ it, I got to connect with what they’re doing. And that’s when my show began to represent more than just what’s going on in grime and dubstep.
I’d always thought it would be cool if I could ever do that, but I never felt confident it would be welcomed – and I do think for a little while a lot of people were unhappy that I was broadening the sound I was representing, I definitely lost a few listeners that only wanted to hear that 140bpm sound. But at the same time, it was more representative of me as a listener, of my ear for sound, and I decided while I was out there, “OK, when it’s just me playing again, without all these guests, I’m still going to represent all these shit that I like”. Seeing DJs like Kastle, and particularly Gaslamp Killer come on and play like they did, I just felt “Why don’t I just do this? I CAN do this.”
Gaslamp Killer is a great example because he’ll play the most bro of brostep…
But then he’ll play the Beatles or some other psychedelic rock thing…
…and people who’d look down on brostep normally will give it a pass, they’ll think it’s cool.
Yeah! And I wanted that, I was envious. I thought “he’s on my show, doing what I should be doing!” I thought “If I can do this, then why don’t I?” because there’s so much out there that I like. And yeah, OK, for a few months, it was a bit of a jumble sale after I came back from LA and I was playing on Rinse, it was like “here’s all the stuff that I love” but it didn’t flow. I didn’t really know how to make it work as a mix, I didn’t know how to present it. It took about six months and I think my bookings faltered a little bit as a result because my show did sound a bit like I don’t actually know what I’m doing…
Do you not think your bookings wouldn’t have taken a hit anyway, though? Everyone involved with dubstep felt the downturn in 2012,13…
Well actually yeah, this is it. I couldn’t understand – I saw everyone who was doing the dubstep thing, they’d all be like “we’re really struggling, gigs aren’t coming in” and yeah I saw a drop in my gigs. It wasn’t drastic at first, until the tail end of last year, then I was really noticing – like, wow, all of those midweek gigs have gone, all of them. It’s just weekends now, and it’s just your bread-and-butter promoters who always book you on the big nights, none of the midweek things in the universities and stuff, they were gone, and being given to your Route 94s and stuff, because that was the new thing. I’d thought, well, this shouldn’t affect me that much because I’m not really doing that any more, but I don’t think a lot of people knew that I’d changed up, they didn’t know what was happening on the show, because people were booking me and asking me, will you drop this, that or the other tune, and I’d have to go “no, well I’m not really doing that set any more”.
I guess given that you’d gone cross-genre it’s quite difficult to advertise that, people can’t grasp it as much as if you wave a genre flag, say “I’m just doing grime sets” or similar…
Yeah, I didn’t want to give it a genre, and I didn’t want to put myself back in a scene. I don’t feel like that’s where I want to be any more. I just want to represent music I like, and if I’m attached to anything it’s just “this is Plastician, this is what I like”. I’m not detaching myself from dubstep, I’m not saying I won’t play dubstep – if I have an amazing dubstep record, I’ll play it. I’m not scared to play it because I think it’s not cool any more, and I think that’s a fucking stupid way of thinking anyway.
That’s not why I do what I do, I don’t do it because it’s cool, I do it because I want to represent what I want. But I started to realise that some of these promoters aren’t noticing, they are still just booking me for my name and no more, and that became pretty disheartening through the second half of last year. In fact, through the summer festivals things were quite quiet, and that always correlates quite strongly to how the back end of the year does as well. And I noticed a lot of the gigs coming through were adamant they wanted an old-school set, and I really didn’t want to do that, I was certain I had more to offer than just old records, I felt what I was playing was really exciting and that people should be excited about it.
This shit’s not really getting represented in the UK, it’s not that far from sounds that people are enjoying at the moment, but no-one could see how it fitted among the new house thing, the whole Swamp vibe that’s sort of UK techno, and the trappy thing that a lot of people think is a bit of a joke but actually I was playing this different edge of it, like Team Supreme, Low End Theory vibe…
It makes me laugh because a lot of the people turning noses up at it, if you told those same people that X or Y track was made by Rustie or Hud Mo, they’d be all over it.
Yeah, yeah, I remember playing at Fabric, on a predominantly dubstep lineup, I started at 110bpm, finished at 160bpm, I think I probably only played like ten minutes at 140 – and I saw a load of tweets the next day “oh Plastician just played a shitload of new Rustie tunes!” I played one Rustie record the whole set, but I guess that was their way of making sense of it, because it sounded somewhere between Rustie, Hud Mo, Joker and something else, the core of my set was that vibe – you see the thing is, to me it’s not THAT far from the dubstep vibe, the grime vibe. At the slower tempos it works in among the Swamp-y thing, and in fact I was playing stuff like that as well, and I just think why shouldn’t I play to suit wherever someone wants me to play? I will, I’ll turn up to a gig, find out who’s playing before and who’s after, and that will dictate my vibe. I don’t have a set as such, I work it out…
In a sense it’s like a return to 1990, 91, just saying “it’s rave music”.
Yeah. It was disheartening, last year when people were going “can you come and play an old set?” but that doesn’t excite me. I could probably do that and play out every weekend without fail, but I’d be doing it for the next five years, being on Rinse playing all this new music, and being booked to play old shit, which is good fun, but ultimately boring. I don’t mind doing the odd throwback gig here and there, but I don’t want to do it every weekend, and I definitely don’t want a reputation as being that guy who plays old-school sets.
It seems you’re not the only person throwing your hands up at genre constraints – I was talking to Marcus Nasty and the guys he’s running a label with, and they’re totally happy for it to be in this vague “bass music” bubble, with moombahton tracks next to tech-house next to 2-step next to bassline…
I’m really happy. I think October last year, it got to the point I felt like I was playing music to a brick wall, like nobody was paying any notice. There was optimism, I’d read amazing posts and blogs with people excited by what I’m playing, there was hype, the record label was going well, but it just wasn’t translating in to bookings, in the UK anyway. I could go to the States and people knew what I was going to play, because heads would come out. But I’d get booked here and I’d just have a room full of people waiting for me to drop fucking ‘Request Line’ and that, and it was sad.
It was sad that your own crew if you like, your own home audience, are not paying any attention to what you’re doing. So it became bad towards the end of last year; I was speaking to Martin Clark recently when Wen did the remix for the Plasticman album, he wanted to put it out on Keysound, but I explained to him that October last year, I was going to knock it all on the head, I’d worn myself into the ground trying to do something different and felt it wasn’t getting through to them, and I was going to use this album to close it off, get a job, do something else, I’d had enough.
But then I listened to one of those self-help CDs, and realised why I’d got into it in the first place, which was not that it was a job, but because I liked it. The more and more I thought about it not as my job but as something pleasurable, the better my mindset became, and pretty quickly I decided to come back and start up my own night and show people how it works among the different things, so I’ll book house DJs and I’ll book trappy stuff and I’ll book dubstep and I’ll book grime, and I’ll play my set in the middle of all of it and show people it works… and the night went from strength to strength!
Then the label started to build up a fanbase, even in London and the UK, almost certainly with the help of the night pushing all these DJs that nobody’s ever heard of, but are there because I think they’re sick, I’ve heard their sets, I think they deserve a platform. Where the other gigs were moving onto more of a house thing, it was very difficult for bass to reestablish itself, and at this point I realised I had to start from scratch – throw everything out of the window, don’t think of yourself as being owed a gig, don’t feel like anyone has to know what you play, they shouldn’t.
I wiped the slate clean in my head and just started out as I did ten years ago, and that was the best way to cleanse my mind of all the bad things that weren’t working for me. And moving on from there it’s gone very nicely. Everything is great, people do get it now, I definitely feel that, and I’m feeling really positive about it now. You do just have to get up and do it yourself sometimes – it took me going out and showing people and talking to people and making sure the right people were hearing what I was putting out on the label and working hard to push the label into spots and places where people wouldn’t expect to hear things, and now at last I think people expect the unexpected, which is what I wanted in the first place.
Well this diverse set of remixers for the Plasticman tracks must have helped too – it’s like you’re saying “here’s how my current diversity of approach fits with my history”…
Yeah, that’s what the remixes were about. The original remasters was closing that chapter – “who remembers all this stuff, great, you can actually buy it now and it sounds ten times better” – but I used the remixes to showcase different styles I like, artists I like, lots of up-and-coming producers that excite me like Mr Mitch, Inkke, Mak & Pasteman, Roska, a broad spectrum of styles that represents more what I’m about now. The remixes that have come back are amazing, it’s perfect, the whole album works to close the chapter, and the remixes work to open the door for anyone who doesn’t know what I’m up to now and show them. And yep, people are getting the message – it’s taken me 18 months to get here, but I feel I’m there now.
Is there a next step in this plan, then, or just consolidate now you feel secure in this place?
Yeah the next step is to continue doing what I’m doing, and hopefully be able to put out a lot more music. I love the fact that I’m sending music out, I genuinely feel that when I’m sending it out, whoever’s getting it doesn’t know what it’s going to be. It’s like opening a Christmas present, you don’t know if it’s going to be techno, if it’s going to be house, if it’s going to be hip hop, if it’s going to be grime, you just don’t know, and it’s a good feeling when I’m sending that out.
And nine times out of ten, these are artists you won’t have heard of, they’re young kids, often on their first releases, and I love that too. I always love discovering new artists and helping them out, and now I’m really in a position to do that. So the next step is continuation. The last three or four months particularly things have really started to pick up for me, for the label, for the artists on the label who are excited to be on it – artists like Ganz, who just went to Australia and was totally blown away that people knew who he was, thanks to us helping him with that platform. Or same with Awe, who’s got this cult following now, and people are anticipating what he’s bringing out.
I just hope I can keep hold of as many of the artists I’m working with at the moment as possible – because bigger labels are sniffing around now, and as an independent there’s only so much we can do. I run this label completely on my own at the moment, so the busier these artists get the busier I get. It’ll get the point where I might have to expand the label and bring in staff, and I’m prepared for that, although it’ll be tough as a complete control freak to hand out duties to other people.
So you’ve gone from the point of being ready to chuck it in to empire-building in just a few months?
Yeah, it’s funny. All the time I’ve been doing it, there’ve been two low points in my career. One was when I’d just turned 25, and there was all this pressure I was putting on myself because I was still living at home and I was earning a steady income but it wasn’t a living by any stretch of the imagination. I was spending all my money on music and going out – going out a lot then, too, I was 25 years old – then I met my Mrs and settled down more, and that kind of picked me up a bit.
But there was a point I thought I was going to have to get a job and give it up, because music is a full-time job whether it pays a full-time wage or not. If you really want to succeed you need to be at it 24 hours a day, you need to know what you’re up against, be listening to everyone on the radio, hitting people up for tracks, you have to treat it as full-time even if it’s not paying you. And I couldn’t fathom giving that time to a job that was paying me no money, I wasn’t 20 any more, I thought “how am I going to move out, ever”.
But then dubstep blew up, like four months later, and suddenly we’re all playing out like five times a week. This was ’06 and into ’07, the DMZ thing happened and it finally blew up – I’d been full time as a DJ since ’03, and that had been a full-time job that hadn’t been paying me anything proper, it felt like playing to the same room of 30, 40 pople you’d get at FWD>>. When the DMZ boom, anyone who was involved in that sound at the time was just catapulted, and I was one of them because I’d been playing at the early DMZs. Whether you think I was dubstep, grime or neither, I came up with all those guys because I was with them at the same events.
From there I had a solid career for a few years, but then last year as things went a bit quiet, I had new responsibilities because I’d been earning a living, moved out of home, I’m married now, now I’ve got a kid on the way too – but I can’t let music put me in that place again. Here’s a thing, people always ask me what inspires me in making music, and I just say “life itself”. Normal life. When you’re in a good mood, you’re going to make happy, uplifting music, when you’re in a bad mood it’s going to be dark and moody. And when I look back at times when I was at the top of my game, making my best tunes, it’s when I was happy and confident in my life.
So now, I’m happy, the music I’m putting out on the label is bright and colourful, it feels like summer coming on – and that’s made me look back over my life and see how I can chart things like a diary in my music. And when I’m in a good mood, I work better, I work like a well-oiled machine instead of sitting there feeling sorry for myself and not wanting to do things. You’ve got to find ways out of it if you do find yourself in that spot, and fingers crossed I won’t find myself again now – after picking myself up in October last year, I feel like I’ve turned a corner because now I know that it’s about me representing what I want to do, instead of worrying about a scene, or worrying about responsibilities with money. The second you start thinking about the money as an object that’s the second you start worrying.
But the money gets there eventually if you put the work in, and you put good stuff out, and you believe in what you’re doing, people see that and they buy into that – the fact that you’re representing yourself and doing it well. So now, I don’t really care what people think of me or what I’m doing, I just do what I do. I don’t compare myself with what another artist’s doing, because in my head only I’m doing what I’m doing. That’s true of any artist – you’re the only person in the world who’s doing what your’e doing in the way you’re doing it, so why would you compare yourself to anyone else? The more I think that way, the more I feel comfortable with what I’m doing, and what does it matter if person X or Y likes it as long as it’s building and it’s working for me? It’s great that people are into it, because I am, and the more I think about it that way the better it works. It might seem obvious, but that’s the way my brain works now: if I do me, I’m going to be fine.