Widely regarded as playing a pivotal role in the birth and subsequent growth of Dubstep alongside fellow pioneers Hatcha, Skream and Benga, Plastician remains one of the most revered deejays in the world of electronic music. I was lucky enough to catch up with him over his afternoon cuppa on everything from Fruity Loops to FWD in one of the most frank and honest interviews I've had the chance to write up:
"During the last 12 months I've had to leave a lot of the stuff outside of the live DJ gigs on the side because I moved house. It meant production took a huge back seat and also meant I had little time to deal with the record label stuff as well so I've been rather selective with my approach to signing stuff, but did take the time to locate the entire back catalog and re-release it digitally. I still managed to fit a lot of bookings in, particularly towards the end of last year! My radio show with Rinse moved to a new Sunday night slot which I'm enjoying - it's now Sundays 9-11pm. Although production took a back seat I did find time to finish a few tracks I've had lurking on my hard drive for a few years, one of which was 'Retro', recently vocalled by grime MC Doctor. That's been snapped up for release on New York based label, 'Trouble & Bass' and is due for release in the coming weeks / months."
Whilst acknowledging his initial lack of finesse on the production front, Plastician accredits Musical Mob's 'Pulse X' with 'opening the door' for artists like him but also reflects on Croydon's merits and the first time he met Slimzee:
"In the early days I always knew I would like to produce, but when I began playing around with the software (Fruityloops to be precise) I couldn't replicate the quality of the music I liked at the time so never really got too into it. It wasn't until the success of Musical Mob - Pulse X that I finally thought, "I could make something like that"! Coming from the garage side of things, particularly the darker stuff, it always sounded so rounded and clean until Pulse X. It opened the door for people like me who had all the ideas but not so much of the production finesse of the likes of El-B, Steve Gurley, Zed Bias and Oris Jay whose music I was playing at the time. I started playing a lot of the early 8 bar grime stuff because it offered the dark instrumental style that I loved, but with a new raw energetic feel to it. I used to DJ for a crew of MC's back then so it was perfect for radio and mixes. That style definitely influenced a lot of my early production in the Plasticman days.
I learned a lot of my production techniques from other people in Croydon who were producing on Fruity too, thats why people always talk about the importance of the TS404 in early dubstep production. We were all writing all those filtered basses in the same program and used to share eachother's presets back then (some of us were more generous with them than others!). Because of this though, we all probably indirectly were having influences on eachother because at the time, we were writing music that although it had the same production ideas as the East London grime sound and the South London dark garage, we were all using the same equipment, the same sample packs and the same presets as eachother, and we were all constantly swapping tracks with eachother to play in our sets. For people not in the know, I'm talking about Skream and Benga mainly as they were both producing on the exact same equipment as me. Hatcha kept us all in a loop because he'd play our music on radio. He was the only one on radio at the time I started producing, and then trhough production I met N Type who was a DJ on Delight FM back then who eventually played one of my tracks once I got a CD to him. Back then, Hatcha and N Type were my main inspiration to write beats because I was writing in the hope they'd play my stuff on radio. Back then my own pirate radio appearances were sparce and weren't on well run stations so I was banking on those two to get my name out there. Eventually 'FWD' the night started and it gave me an opportunity to put my CD's in the hands of DJ's from other parts of London on other radio stations. Slimzee was the master back then of blowing up new producers, particularly grime ones so I was especially driven towards getting my stuff heard by him too - so meeting him at FWD gave me the chance to get him a CD which eventually he signed 2 tracks from, the rest as they say is history! Since the beginning though, my influences have been infinite. I am influenced by everything, I'm always trying to think of some new avenues for the sound so it can be anything from hip hop to straight up pop music, downtempo, electronica as well as whats current in dubstep and grime as you could expect."
A Grime enthusiast from the very beginning, Plastician sees a real possibility for progress in the current scene, particularly with the means available to the new wave of artists:
"Right now Grime is seeing a new generation coming through. This is in no small part down to people in the scene maturing and the mature people in the scene becoming more business minded. Along with that you have to take into account how easy it is to release music now when compared to the long process of releasing music on vinyl 10 years ago, particularly for young kids with no money. Suddenly all these bedroom producers have a platform to promote themselves as well, websites like soundcloud, twitter, facebook and also the youtube platform make it easy to get heard and be contacted. We never had this 10 years ago, it was all physically burning cd's, writing on them, travelling, putting that CD in somebody's hand or meeting DJ's at cutting houses to let them cut a dubplate of your new track. And without stereotyping too much, your average 16 year old kid can't be arsed to do that! This goes for dubstep as well now though, since the average age of dubstep fans is probably about 17/18 now I think, so producers are appearing as young as 15. With all this in mind it's meant I've been alerted to a lot of good new producers and MC's over the last few years.
Production wise I'm still playing a lot of Mr Virgo tracks. As far as the young blood is concerned I always make time for Rude Kid, Teddy, Spooky, G.Tank and Teeza. I've also had some brilliant instrumentals from the 'Project All Out' label based in Sheffield. Where MC's are concerned I've been working loads with P Money. He's going to blow up soon. It reminds me of when I used to work closely with Skepta and JME before they started BBK. All the audiences know his lyrics, and he respects me as a DJ allowing the two of us to have a share of the limelight at gigs, which works better on the whole from a performance point of view. I still rate everything Newham Generals put out, thats without exception too - it's always brilliant, and I still get hyped whenever Dizzee Rascal puts out anything remotely grimy. OG'z output has been solid too, Jendor, Little Dee, Blacks and P Money have been really putting the work in. I think you'll see a few more major label signings soon, which could mean a few more annoying pop/dance records with grime verses on them. But I think it's only a matter of time before some of these acts outgrow their major label deals and have the freedom to take the music they love to the mainstream listener. From that point on, its just up to the artist themselves whether they want to make a quick buck, or try to make a change."
Whilst Grime continues to push for recognition, the exponential growth of Dubstep over the last 3 years has seen the sound rapidly evolve to the annoyance of many of the genre's early fans. Whilst Plastician acknowledges the scene's transition from underground to mainstream, he sees it as a natural course of progression and predicts that Dubstep will 'blur even more genre boundaries' over the coming years:
"Dubstep is in a different kind of push. It's going more mainstream, but then you look at artists like Skrillex - bigger than any other dubstep act out there right now, without any major record label releases under his belt as of yet, but with the most twisted and insanely hard music I've heard in years. A lot of people hate Skrillex for this because they don't believe it's dubstep. The way I see it, the sound is so big now that there's not a single genre that it's touched or overlapped, and Skrillex is just another artist who has taken the dubstep idea of making a track centered around the bassline, and added his own influences to give it a new take. He has mentioned that Aphex Twin / Richard D James is his biggest influence, you can hear it in his production too. I don't see what's wrong with that? The guy's production is spot on, whether it's for you or not is down to personal taste. I just think the majority of us need to realise that everything morphs into something else and moves forward. Of course it sounds different to the dubstep of 2006 - but what does anymore? There are a few new boys coming through like J:Kenzo who are embracing that traditional sound though, and of course you have your original heads like Mala still churning out amazing blissful sub bass classics. The sound is still very much alive in a lot of us, but outside of that people are just blurring the lines again between dubstep and other forms of electronic music - and in some cases, pop music. There's nothing wrong with this, it's just innovation, and without it we'd be moaning about how boring and samey everything sounds. People always need something to moan about, every society or community needs a common enemy, and unfortunately for a lot of these new producers, they are finding that they are that enemy that the forum stalwarts have been waiting for.
As far as looking into the future, I can only predict that dubstep blurs even more genre boundaries. In some parts it will become even more hard and twisted, and in other parts it will become more intricate and beautiful. Whatever it becomes, it's going to continue to spread far and wide, low and high, to the depths of the darkest club nights right up to the heights of the national pop charts. The sound is so huge now that nobody can really explain what Dubstep is anymore, its more like a movement or an idea than an actual musical genre. It is whatever you want it to be, however it matters to you, thats what it is. It can't be explained anymore."
With regards to his own sound, Plastician explains that it is his mood that will dictate the nature of a track:
"This is a nice easy question to answer. When I make a track, I make whatever I'm feeling at that time. I just want people to hear that. I still make grime tunes, deep tunes, hype tunes. Whatever mood I'm in or whatever sounds I'm messing with, thats what people are going to hear. I never really start making music with any aim, I just hope that I'll end up with something finished that I like enough to play out and on the radio. Anything that comes after that is a bonus."
As a deejay, a slot on Oris Jay and Virus Syndicate's Rinse FM show granted Plastician the break he needed to solidify his obvious credentials and his debut at the legendary 'FWD' soon followed in 2003:
"I started out buying records just as a punter. UK Garage records that I was hearing on pirate radio stations and in my mate's cars off their tape packs back in my college years between the ages of 16 and 18. I bought my first set of decks for my 18th birthday off a mate of mine and eventually taught myself to mix by copying the mixes on an old DJ EZ tape I had. Eventually I learnt that the tunes were built in patterns and could start to make more sense of it which eventually gave me the skills and confidence i needed to start DJ'ing in public at house parties and college parties when I was around 19. My big break came when I started guesting on Oris Jay & Virus Syndicate's Rinse FM show. One week I had to do a show on my own when the boys couldn't make it down from up North, I hosted the show but played all the usual grime and dubstep stuff so people could know the tunes I was playing and what they were called, when they were coming out etc. Geeneus heard the show and thought it would be good for me to have my own show as nobody on the station hosted a show playing that kind of music at the time, it was all crews and MC's spraying bars over the instrumentals, or garage and house DJ's hosting the lighter side of the sound. From getting my own show I eventually got my first gig at FWD playing the warm up slot b2b with Mark One, this was in June 2003. From there I began getting more recognition paired with the new Rinse show. Over the last 10 years I've had the chance to play some unbelievable shows. I've played the main stages of 2 of Europe's biggest festivals - playing after DJ Shadow at Exit festival in Serbia to around 20,000 people was insane. I also overcame the odds last year after multiple technical problems at Big Chill to play the main stage to around 15,000. I still have really fond memories of playing certain dubs for the first time at FWD to a half empty room as well though. For me my memories of FWD will stay with me forever, particularly when I played my 'Fight' remix for the first time, and also the last time I played there with Skepta, at JME's birthday bash back in 2006 or 2007. Those crowd reactions will always be looked back on with pride! I think my all time favourite gig was probably my Outlook festival set last year on the Thursday. It was sheer madness in there, then about halfway through, P Money joined me on the mic and all hell broke loose - I'm excited about this year's set!"
Moving on to look at the influence of vinyl, Plastician points to a number of factors that suggest the format is headed for a very uncertain future:
"It's hard to say. I love vinyl, and releasing music on vinyl makes it feel like it has more worth, yet my distributors are telling me not to bother with it any more, and I agree with them after my last 3 releases on Terrorhythm ended up losing me a lot of money. Music is not all about money obviously, but it makes no sense to waste it. With regards to the use of vinyl for DJ'ing though, I much prefer it, and platforms like Serato give it some legs. The thing that will eventually be the end of it is the manufacturers discontinuing their production of turntables. The vinyl pressing plants are dropping like flies as well, but ultimately the fact Technics are not making the 1200's or 1210's anymore means eventually there will be no working decks in clubs. And from recent experience, very few clubs even look after their decks anymore - I use CDJ's 90% of the time now just because I expect to have problems at most clubs I play. I know I'm not the only person too. The only time I know I'm going to use vinyl now is when I set up my Serato at home on my own decks."
Having already achieved so much, Plastician plans to focus on continuity but the completion of a new studio suggests we can expect a whole host of new material over the coming months:
"I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. With as much competition as there is out there now, it's hard to keep ahead of everyone out there, and I can respect people are overtaking me in terms of their fanbases but as long as I can continue to play the quality of gigs that I am currently I will be happy. Production wise I have just had a new studio set up put together and am going to get back onto that soon. It's going to be like learning from scratch again with all the new sounds and synths I've got, but I'm looking forward to experimenting and toying with some new ideas."
As for forthcoming releases:
"Retro / Bad Like Us' EP will be dropping on 'Trouble & Bass' soon, and I've just collaborated with Kutz on a remix for Wolfgang Gartner and Will.I.Am so I expect that should be doing the rounds pretty soon too. I've got a few projects in the early stages but I don't want to talk about those until I know they're happening for certain!"
Download the latest 'Sound That Speaks Volumes' mix via Get Darker: http://www.getdarker.com/articles/plastician-sound-that-speaks-volumes-11/
& don't forget to lock in to Plastician's Rinse show every Sunday night from 9-11pm via: http://rinse.fm/