Introduction by Sarah-Jane Bacchus
Words by Joe Rice
Ventsmag had been trying to pin down Loefah to do this interview for a good while. Scheduling, rescheduling, then rescheduling again. It was all starting to become a bit jaded. No firm date in the diary, the idea had grown old, we had become unenthused, frankly we didn’t care anymore.
Then, one day, out of nowhere, Ventsmag receives a call. Its Loefah. ‘I’m in the West End with Mickey Pearce and Chunky at the Radio 1 studios why don’t you come down and meet us there? Furthermore why don’t you interview Chunky with me too?” Typical Loefah style, when he finally (finally!!) comes through, he certainly comes good! It seems he applies this ethic to everything he does; from his music to his record label Swamp81 and now School Records. It will always be done in his style, on his terms and at his speed. Though when it is eventually done, you can certainly count on it being done properly and with integrity.
So off we skipped to the west-end to hang out with some of the UK’s hottest talent at the UK’s biggest radio station feeling oh so Marianne Faithful as we chained smoked cigarettes and sipped coffee (though surprisingly, some opted for hot chocolate with marshmellows and whipped cream leaving us concerned that these tame dance music folk may be killing true rock n roll) and here is the outcome.
How did your relationship with Mala, Coki and Sgt Pokes begin? Explain the early developments of the DMZ imprint.
Well, I mean we were friends growing up together, so we always knew each other, we used to DJ and MC, do mix-tapes and house parties and yeah it kind of went from there. Eventually we got a copy of Fruity Loops between us and started writing beats. Then Hatcha, who was a sort of a mate from Croydon; he was playing at this night called FWD, none of us knew what it was at the time and, yeah, he played our dubs down there and it kind of went from there really. I mean that was when the records first got played. Then, no one would sign them, or people offered to sign them, but for free cos’ they were like ‘oh we don’t know where to put it’. So we were like ‘right, forget that, we’ll do our own label, put it out ourselves.’ That was sort of the same reason for doing the dance, there wasn’t anything else out there that did what we wanted, so we did it ourselves.
Did you ever expect the success that DMZ received?
We didn’t think. We were just doing it. At the beginning we never thought it would go this far.
How do you feel about people cashing in on those early DMZ releases now on sites like Discogs etc?
I’ve got no opinion either way, I don’t think about it. I mean it’s nice actually, to see stuff that you’ve done is worth so much to some people, but then, it is a bit much.
What was the feeling like between producers during the early developments of the ‘Dubstep’ sound? Were people pushing each other to think more outside the box?
Yeah definitely, we all worked together and we all had a common goal, which was like 140 bpm and sub bass, but other than that, anything went. It was like, who could take it in what direction? Who would come up with something new? The way we’d compliment each other back in the day, if someone wrote a tune that you loved, you’d be like ‘I wish I wrote that, I wish I did that’. But you did it, so well done kind of thing. We definitely, definitely used to push each other; all the Croydon lot did back in the day.
Give us some examples of the kinds of names your music was given before ‘Dubstep’ was coined? Did you mind being likened to Grime etc?
I mean, it was like that time weren’t it. Loads of different music was coming out around the same speed and also they were getting their plays on Rinse FM, so it did all kind of group together. There was Dubstep, there was Grime, East Beat, Breakstep, all the different kinds. To be honest we didn’t really get involved in all of that, we just always said our music was DMZ and just got on with it and didn’t really worry about titles and blah blah blah.
You went very quiet during the end of about 2008, what was the reason for this?
I just fell out of love with what Dubstep was doing. It was a weird time cos’ I was right in the centre of the scene, but I didn’t really enjoy what I was playing, I didn’t really connect with the crowds anymore. I definitely wasn’t producing myself anymore. It was just like, yeah, a weird period. It felt really fake, it felt like I’d lost my honesty, I had to take a step away and re-think what I was doing.
It was rumoured that you had the lowest bass in Dubstep. Was this true in your opinion?
Probably (laughs). Yeah it was alright. Just good compression, good quality sine waves at the beginning, Yeah I dunno’, good EQ, good compression. I just did it and my bass and it came out that way, I never went in going ‘argh my bass is going to be bigger than other people’s!’ but it just turned out that way.
‘Footcrab’ was the first track on Swamp81 that marked the shift in style of the label. Where did this change in direction come from? Was it something you were searching for or did it find you?
A bit of both, I started Swamp to move away from that mainstream noisy Dubstep and I started doing the more traditional stuff that I was more associated with. Which was cool, and I really enjoyed the music that I put out, but I felt that there was no real progression from what we were doing in 2006. So I was more interested in what was underground and new rather than what was carrying on the tradition of Dubstep, you know what I mean? Cos’ it had been done, we’d done it, we’d been there. Footcrab came along and I’ve always been into my drum machine sounds and it just made perfect sense.
What were people’s attitudes like to this music, was there any animosity from people who were into the early swamp 81 releases and didn’t connect with this new sound?
Yeah there were loads of people who really didn’t like it and got quite angry.
Did you get mixed reactions when you were DJing?
Yes! People shouting at me. I had a guy climb on stage in Holland, literally scream at me ‘play some fucking Dubstep’; He was wearing a Dubstep Run DMC T-shirt. I just blew him a kiss and he had to get off stage. Seriously, that really happened. Then people were like ‘what are you doing? You’ve got to play the same thing forever’. I just put my head down and got on with it. When Dubstep was new people were like, ‘what is this crazy music, you can’t dance to it’. It was just like, we believed in it so we just put our heads down and carried on with it and eventually people caught up so I think cos’ I’d been through that before, I knew to ignore what people think and if you truly believe in what you’re doing then hopefully people will come with you.
You took ages to release certain tracks on Swamp81. What was the reason for this?
We had a big hold up with some artwork, which put back about 4 or 5 releases so we had a backlog, which we couldn’t do anything about. All the conspiracy theories are completely untrue.
Talk to us a little about Norwood Soul Patrol. How did this all come about? Where can people listen to you under this moniker?
Norwood Soul Patrol started with me and Chunky playing our dope record collection on radio, and we had a couple of other people who should have been on the firm and we said well let’s make this a bigger thing so we brought in my mates Seamus, Dom Fader and we brought in Yella on the mic and made it into like a bigger thing and we just play records on the radio and in clubs now and again. In fact we played at this thing called Pandemonium a couple of weeks ago, where everyone had to dress as a panda. We did Leeds a little while ago, we did Snowbombing, just us playing our records and having a good time
Your new label, School Records, had its first release in December last year. Tell us a bit about why you decided to set-up the label and what the vision is for this imprint compared to Swamp81?
School is co-owned by me, Jan Francis and Katie Thiebaud. I had all this new music coming in and it didn’t really fit Swamp cos‘ Swamp has kind of got it’s own thing now, you know. So it was like, newer producers with kind of a fresher sound, kind of derivative of where we’ve ended up on Swamp. But I don’t know, it’s more of it’s own thing, a bit newer and fresher so that’s how School came about. Also I run it with others, so I don’t stick to the same ethic that I have running Swamp. I mean if I did it on my own, it probably would be like Swamp, but with different artwork and a different name. Working with other people it expands how we do things like for example we’re doing digital on every release which I haven’t done before, so yeah, just a fresher thing really.
Swamp81 only releases on vinyl and you’re a massive fan of records, was it a problem for you going digital?
Nah I’ve still got Swamp, so it’s fine.
Jan Francis is on board from London crew ATG which has a big party, art scene and Too Much Posse affiliation. How has this affected the label?
Good question, well I don’t think it has, that graffiti association is only kind of known in some cliquey circles in London, outside of that, people aren’t so aware of it. At the end of the day Jan is someone who I’ve worked with for a few years now and he’s got a beautiful mind. We were looking for a project to work on that wasn’t Swamp and that wasn’t ATG.
It’s been quite a long time since we’ve heard anything from you in the studio, what has been the reason behind this?
I fell out of love with Dubstep and then I didn’t know what to produce. I had lots of music that I liked and liked DJing, but it didn’t feel right making it. I’ve done a couple of beats now that I’m playing out in the clubs which are going down alright, they’re kind of on my tip but slower, about 125 bpm but half step. Not a Dubstep half step pattern, but it’s still very sparse compared to the 4×4, it kind breaks it up. I’m enjoying it.
Has the break affected your production in anyway?
I never stopped producing, I just stopped releasing and stopped finishing so I feel I did keep up with new production techniques roughly kept up with new plug ins etc, it weren’t a massive gap, I’ve got loops and loops for years that I didn’t finish for many different reasons.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Log-on next week to read what Chunky had to say for himself.
Photos Courtesy of Ashes57