What do you think when you hear the phrase “EDM”?
Number one, I don’t know any of this EDM America or EDM UK. If you want to talk about EDM, let’s talk about Detroit underground music, Chicago house and let’s talk about all the things that got us to this place. We all get on the train of dance music. We need to all respectfully look through the carriages that have come before us and realize how we got here.
The new generation of kids is so connected to the Internet, yet they have no history about where they come from and know nothing about the music. When you’re part of any genre, it’s suicide to not respect where it came from.
We need to think about the younger generation. I made my first record at 27, and there are people who are 17 and 18 out there making records. Technology is acceptable and accessible now, and there’s a whole generation of people who are turned onto this music. What are we going to do, just turn a blind eye to them? We still need to try and educate them.
My whole thing with EDM is, if you have integrity and yet you regress in how you’ve been as an artist, there’s something not quite right there. If you’re just here to get paid, I find that very culturally indifferent. When you go into the studio, you have to know what you’re going in there for. I went into the studio because I had a voice and I wanted to change things, and I don’t necessarily mean my bank account. The money is almost a B factor, a side product.
It’s well known that you fell into drum ‘n’ bass in the early ’90s after hearing it in London clubs. How did you end up making it a career?
It was an evolution. I lived in Birmingham, New York, London and Miami. I looked over London and thought, “I want to be somebody.” Graffiti was the whole thing for me, and I was taking artwork to all the record companies, telling them that the new generation of graffiti was here. They couldn’t dig the artwork, it was too far ahead. So I went to an independent label [Reinforced] and asked them to let me redesign their label, as I knew then that it was all about the identity, being seen as a crew and having a mark. So for me, it was an easy transformation, as I knew I wanted to record my own stuff in my own studio, and bring the label the finished product.
I took all my favorite records, my canvas-painting head, rented out William Orbit’s studio, and made my own music.
I look back on all of this music as my own Instagram, my waypoint. I always remember exactly what I was doing, where I was, and what the record meant to me. Like [1995’s] “Sea of Tears” for example. That was born sitting on a bench in Miami and having to fly back to England to bury my stepfather. I’ve always been honest about my music. We may not have made Suge Knight money, but we sure as hell sold a few albums.
Metalheadz’s release history reads like a who’s who of drum ‘n’ bass. Tell us a bit about how everything got started.
Our first ten releases are pretty much the bible for what you see now in drum and bass. Every artist we signed to the label went on to a major label. When we started, it was similar to what dubstep’s going through now: Even Britney [Spears] wants a piece! I wanted the Metalheadz crew to have a style, but everyone within the crew to have their own unique style. That was the blueprint.
So if someone was just coming into the scene and wanted to get to know drum and bass, what would you suggest that they listen to?
A history lesson? Start with early RAM Records releases, early Moving Shadow, and Metalheadz of course. Then you can go off in branches. If you want something that’s darker, I’d tell you to listen to Source Direct. If you want beautiful, smooth music, I’d say to go and listen to Roni Size.
There are also some beautiful new people that I could shine the light on, whether it’s Skream, Benga, Plastician, or Drew [Best] and John [Dadzie, aka 12th Planet] and those guys out in L.A. with SMOG. I think that SMOG did for L.A. and the West Coast what Metalheadz did for London and England in general.
What are your plans after “The Alchemist”?
After that comes [a new] artist album. There’s are a few names being thrown around. “Pages” is one. That album will deal more with people like Flying Lotus, Burial, Photek, D-Bridge and Total Science.
We’re also doing a completely notated version of [groundbreaking 1995 LP] “Timeless” with an 80-piece orchestra and choir, and it’s a different beast. I also have an art show called “The Lost Tribes” in September which takes my inspiration from around the world and indigenous cultures, and acknowledges where culture comes from today.