How are you, how has summer been? Any highlights/lowlights?
I am very well thanks. Currently sat on a train on the way to Paris to play the first live show of my new project AKASE outside the UK, feeling quietly nervous about that. Summer has been ace. Some real highlights include playing Sunday at the NYC Downlow at Glastonbury, Honey Sound system in San Francisco followed by an amazing 7hr b2b with Ben UFO and Joy.O at Garden Festival, the boat party with Josh Tweek of Louche and then finally doing the 8 hour closing slot on a sweaty midsummers eve at Panorama Bar in August. Life affirming scenes. As for lowlights, I try not to focus on those, maybe losing about 3 laptop chargers?
What was it like working those long nights at Wire back in the day? Were you able to work on music, as was the plan, given the odd hours you must have been keeping?
I was really lucky in that when I worked there I had an amazing group of people around me. Wayne Lewis the manager and Fay Branigan were like surrogate brothers and sisters to me. At times I found it really hard, mainly due to the nocturnal hours we kept and the fact that I was in quite a tough stage in my life personally as well as being really unsure about what it was I was trying to achieve in music. I would work, then sleep for 5 hours and wake up and try and be creative. Initially it worked, and then I started finding myself trying to write music to get gigs instead of just letting it flow, but thats the dilemma when you are starting out and often the hardest part of a career in music to navigate.
What were your favourite nights in Leeds back in the day? Also which artists/promoters/labels were inspiring you in the city at the time?
There were so many. Initially my entry in to the music scene was Metropolis/Dirty Disco at the Northern lights, then Subdub/Exodus at the West Indian Centre, as well as Momentum and Central Beatz and then as my tastes started to move towards house, Back 2 Basics, Mono_Cult and Louche really showed me how good house and techno could be. Mono_Cult have a real special place in my heart, they took a complete chance on me way back at the start and have really supported me all this time. I still remember Paul Woolford messaging me on twitter all those years ago seeing if I wanted to go for a coffee. We ended up back at his studio chatting for hours, he even gave me a midi keyboard as I was too poor to buy one, we’ve been friends ever since.
Why did you leave our beloved Leeds given it’s where you got your start?
I lived just outside London for most of my life (during and after living in Africa) and a lot of my friends lived and had moved there and It got to the stage in Leeds where I was getting quite comfortable financially and I remember thinking if I don’t try London soon I will never be able to afford it. London was busy and quite a lonely place when I moved there, and it took me a good 8 months to get over that but once I did I realised how incredible it is as a city. It is a place which consistently surprises me and one which for better or for worse makes you work to keep up, and sometimes that can be a good thing to keep you focussed.
In terms of an all night set – how much extra effort goes into planning and packing records? It’s notoriously hard to keep a vibe for so many hours…Will you have a record to work up to, or maybe you’ll break the set down into hour blocks or something?
When I first started djing anything over two hours would really daunt me. But slowly the set lengths have increased and I now feel confident in my ability to navigate the whole night. The main thing you have to embrace is that there are ebbs and flows in a set. You shouldn’t be trying to just keep it super energetic all night, just that you make sure the records soundtracking the ebbs are as good as the peaks.
In terms of preparation, the main thing for me is that I don’t plan what I am going to do bar maybe the first 45 minutes, but that my music is fiercely well organised. I have about 500 tracks and counting for this tour, which are broken down in to about 25 playlists that range from electronica to electro to funk and soul as well as a bunch of records with me.
And how much will you indulge a different side of your collection? Is this the time to do that? Are you willing to test people’s boundaries?
It really depends on the crowd, the set length and the mood you are in really. When I played in Glasgow last week I only had 4 hours so couldn’t stretch the slightly more experimental early stage out as long and then got in to this pretty trippy sub 120bpm groove which went down really well. I don’t like to just play experimental things for the sake of art/my own ego, but if I can get people freaking out using unconventional methods thats great!
Are you still learning as a DJ? You play such big and high profile gigs now compared to when you were in Leeds, you must have picked up some tricks, tips and skills along the way?
Always. Everytime you uncover a new label/sound/subgenre you are then pushed to see how you can contextualise that. I think the uk has a very strong lineage of playing across the board, people like Optimo, Ben UFO for instance are great examples of how you can really navigate so many different areas. Its a style that can go fall flat in certain situations, but I think it makes for a more interesting experience for the DJ and Crowd and also one that flourishes in longer sets.
What are the gigs that have taught you most as a DJ, that have pushed you outside your comfort zone… do you search out these sorts of parties.
Every gig, for better or worse teaches you something. I think that my focus these past few years has been to play with people I respect or admire or who I am good friends with. Some of the gigs I have played at the Downlow/Panorama Bar and Honey Soundsystem have been so amazing because they are truly mixed crowds. I want to be playing in a room where everyone feels safe, Gay, Straight, Trans, Female, Male, Black and White. Its idealistic but its what our scene was founded on. I have to give a shout out to Dan Beaumont who runs Chapter 10 in London, its a really special and important night for the reasons I mentioned above and one I can’t wait to play at.
It all makes for a much more positive experience. Also coming to the realisation that the gigs that pay the best in a given city are very rarely the right ones to do. Its about building relationships with people you trust and more importantly can become friends with. Now when I come back to Leeds and Manchester its family, and thats the most important thing. Trying to have experiences you will remember till you are old.
Hessle Audio also started in Leeds. How did you hook up with those guys? What drew you to each other, and how come you didn’t become part of the trio of people who run the label?
In my first year at university I was in a hall called Montague Burton. David (Then Ramadanman and now Pearson Sound) just happened to be living in the room below which is pretty mad when you think about it. Anyway one day he saw me on my decks in the window and came up to say hi. That was the start of our friendship, both spending hours mixing in my room and making our various ways in to the Leeds music scene. He was already starting to make a name for himself as “Mr DIY Dubstep”, his dedication was just second to none. Before coming to university on School holidays he would come up on the bus to DMZ at the West Indian Centre on his own, usually holding a bunch of records he had pressed himself and would sell them to Benga/Skream and co. He had met Ben and Kevin (UFO and Pangaea respectively) in the queue to FWD>> in London before then and had been friends since. Thats how I met them, through David. They would come and do their sub fm radio show in my room as I was the only one with decks and a strong internet connection, funnily enough Leeds student radio turned them down for a show so they did that one out of protest.
I lived with David in Leeds and London for nearly 6 years after that and watched him and them blossom in to one of the most inspiring collective of DJ’s/label guys and producers around. Moments like seeing David play his first FWD at plastic people, getting their residency at Fabric, Ricardo playing david’s tunes, their respective Fabric/essential mixes were all such important moments to witness. Initially we were on slightly different vibes musically, when they were starting the label I was deep in to drum and bass but as things have progressed our styles have began to cross over in places. Their support and guidance have been a massive help to me and I still get such a buzz when we play together or I hear Ben has played one of my tunes. Anyway, enough, I am getting a bit misty eyed and should maintain some of my dignity!
Words by Kristan J Caryl