We managed to catch up with SP:MC during his hectic summer schedule’s eye of the storm. Making the most of his downtime in the studio before Outlook and Dimensions, the award-winning MC and pioneering producer stepped outside to talk about his latest release on Youngsta’s Sentry Records, early nights out at FWD, and jamming to his schoolfriend’s garage mixtapes. From locking into London’s pirate radio stations as a teenager to headlining Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival with Exit Records, SP:MC unravels his musical journey with inspirations, anecdotes and his focus on the future.
I first caught you live back in 2011 at Glastonbury’s Block 9 stage MC’ing over dBridge – so it’s great to finally sit down with you and chat about your brand-new release on Sentry.
If we were to talk about my most successful year since I started music, then 2011 was probably it. ‘Dreadnaught’ with Icicle came out and then ‘Hunted’ with LX One as well, also ‘Living Proof’ by Code 3. It was a cracking year release-wise! Honestly though, time flies. I saw some photos recently of 2009, and we all looked so young. It doesn’t feel like 10 years ago.
It’s been a long road up! And Outlook is coming around again, so I tuned into your set with Goldie B2B dBridge from last year. How was that show?
I don’t like listening back to sets with me on really. A lot of MCs I know don’t like listening to recordings of themselves! But yeah, I was pretty tired by that point. I think that was the Saturday or Sunday night and we’d been out there since Thursday. The thing is, what a lot of people don’t realise is that out there in Croatia, we get involved. Exit Records, the crew or whoever we link up with enjoy the festival in the same way as those who’ve bought tickets. Sometimes we wake up hanging! Or suddenly go, “Oh my god, we’d better go to bed. It’s eight in the ****ing morning!” To answer your question though, it was a cracking set – always a pleasure to play with those two when they go back to back!
You’ve got some amazing gigs coming up: Outlook, Dimensions, Fabric with Jubei, Heavyweight and much more. But what have you already enjoyed this summer?
There was one gig we did at the start of July, Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival. Not many drum and bass artists get the opportunity to perform there. It was quite an honour, because Kamaal Williams and Steve Spacek played before us and we were booked on the closing night of an eight-day festival. We had fair amount of responsibility.
We’re lucky with some of the shows we get to do every now and then. We’ve done some pretty cool ones this year. But like you said – Dimensions. I always look forward to Dimensions. It’s kind of like our Exit Records reunion each year; we’ve had a showcase there since it started in 2012. Exit Records used to be on the Mungo’s Hi-Fi stage, so you can imagine how good that was. Now that arena is run by Sinai Sound, which is incredible as well. We’ve had some great sessions there.
If anyone’s been to the Mungo’s Arena, it’s a really nicely sized venue supporting around 400-500 capacity. They call it Subdub now. Because it’s in the fort, you’ve got a good dub-centric sound from the fort walls that really holds the low frequencies in. It’s one of those ones where you can have a proper session, build up a vibe. We’re not sure what the future holds for Dimensions, like where it’s going to be next. All we know is that this year is the last one at Fort Punta Christo in Pula, Croatia.
Hopefully wherever it goes next is somewhere with a beach.
Exactly, I’ve not even mentioned the boat parties. We’ve had so much ****ing fun on those over the years. You wouldn’t want to have a Dimensions every three months, because they always get a bit boozy. Once a year is great. It’s like a family reunion – Exit getting together in September is always one of the highlights of the year. Croatia has been good to us.
Outlook’s a bit more of a wild card because there’s a younger crowd and it’s bigger. It can get a bit more rowdy and obviously when there’s a lot of younger kids that have been going for four days, it can get a bit grimy by the Sunday. Still always a vibe though – even when it rains you can’t dampen anyone’s spirits!
What was the first dubstep track you heard and where were you when you heard it?
It started out with me and LX One. We were mates who were both MC’ing to drum and bass. He played me a set off Rinse FM by Tubby and Newham Generals. I was like, what’s going on here? Like, this sounds amazing. It was the era where DJ’s like Kode9, Plastician and Tubby were playing everything from garagey stuff to early dubstep and grime.
I’ll tell you the one that I remember first – the one that hurt me. I heard it before I went to Plastic People or anything. It was ‘Middle Man’ by Benga. I think it was on Big Apple Records. But yeah, LX One lived about a 5-minute walk from Plastic People and we started heading down shortly after that. That was around 2007 and it just went on from there.
So, we missed the really formative years where it was Artwork, El-B, Horsepower, early Skream and Benga – I missed all that. I came in when it was starting to blow up. I remember Crazy D saying to me, “Bro, you need to realise there was three or four years at FWD and it was five or ten people in here.” It’s like they had faith in it, but it took a while to pick up.
So, I kind of missed the era of when it was almost unknown music. I remember N-Type telling me that they didn’t even know what to call it. It was just dark garage or whatever.
I remember vividly the first time I MC’d for Youngsta. It was a really exciting era – so many different flavours. CDJs weren’t the thing then. Everyone was cutting dubs. I remember Crazy telling me that it hadn’t been like this for long. Suddenly, Plastic People was full.
As a pioneering 140 producer releasing on Youngsta’s Sentry Records, a primarily dubstep-focused label, why was now the right time for both you and the label to enter the world of garage with ‘Vintage’ and ‘Slugfest’?
There wasn’t any real plan to it. If I’m honest about how it came about, sometimes I feel like you just need a nudge. The A side, ‘Vintage’, was an unfinished loop on my computer. It was probably about a minute long, so it was quite far from being a tune that I could play out. So, I think I was a little bit unsure of it, like how is this going to work if I make a garage tune and how would that be received? Then I finished it, but it still ended up sitting on my Mac for a while.
I played it to a couple of friends and they said that it still sounded like me to them. They said it still sounds like it’s got those SP touches to it.
Me and my friends from school would be listening to jungle and drum and bass. But certain heads would have the garage tapes – EZ and Tuff Jam. I remember when garage was blowing up it was like ‘Sincere’, and what was that massive one? Roy Davis Junior, you know with Peven Everett singing ‘Gabriel’ hearing certain tunes. Todd Edwards too!
The garage I knew as a kid was the more mainstream stuff, like MJ Cole and Roy Davis Junior as I’ve mentioned. But guys like El-B and Steve Gurley mix the beats that I love from Jungle or drum and bass, like Photek’s style – real flavour, like funk in the drum programming.
When I heard the El-B and Steve Gurley’s stuff I felt it was quite parallel to D&B, the flavour in it. I didn’t really know where to start though, making a garage tune. I just kind of felt it. That’s a very elongated answer, but to cut a long story short – basically, it was a happy accident, the A-side. That tune came out well and then I just had to work out how to balance the B-side, make sure it wasn’t too similar.
That took a little longer, just playing with ideas at the same BPM. It’s like the first dubstep tune I made, it’s a funny story. I didn’t know anything about dubstep, so I just guessed the BPM. That’s why ‘Trust Nobody’ and all the early Tempa is like 144BPM and one of them is even 148, because I honestly didn’t know what I was doing.
So it’s the same with this release. All the garage aficionados have been saying to me it should have been 130BPM, but it’s 135.
That’s funny you say that, because in my head I thought 135 is a really good ploy, because it bridges 140 and 130.
Well, here’s what’s cool right, Calibre is doing a residency at XOYO at the moment. Anyway, last week the guests were Ben UFO and Joy Orbison. I was thinking right, he’s probably going to play some of his house bits and some of his own 140 as well. So, I sent him these garage tunes and he was like, “What BPM are they?” I told him, “135,” and he said, “Yeah, I’ll play them at 140. They’ll be fine.”
So then, a couple of my mates that were there last Friday were like, “Oh, he’s played both tunes.” He would have sped them up – but like you said, that’s probably the happy accident of them being 135 – because if I’d have made them at 130, he might not have drawn them! I’m actually onto the next one already.
Same vibe? Garage or?
Yeah, well I’ve had such a great response from the Sentry release, it’s just kind of fired me up. I was like, right, better do more of the same vibe. Not exactly the same obviously, but just more of that 135 flavour.
Over the years of different music that I’ve hosted, I’ve realised that the most memorable parties have some groove and feeling in there as well to make sure that you’re not alienating the women. Because at the end of the day, that’s the essential building blocks for a good vibe / party, women and men dancing together!
I still like those heads-down tunes, something you can zone out to. I’ve been working on a remix today, that’s like a proper heads-down tune. But I feel like moving forwards, I’ll always have a couple of these garagey flavours, because it kind of balances it out. So I still can do a real nasty 140 one, but also make some garage stuff with a bit of groove and swing.
That’s it, you want to be bringing some liveliness and energy, even like positive energy to parties.
Yeah, the swing of garage is so groovy. Some of those classic garage tunes, like the Ghost or Wookie stuff, it’s actually a bit dark. But the drums and basslines are so groovy. It still carries that flavour.
It’s been great hearing about your early musical influences and research into garage and 140. With that in mind, what’s your take on dubstep right now?
What I’ve realized is there are cycles of energy in most musical scenes. It’s almost like a season, where Spring comes into Summer and so on. But I always knew that when the whole brostep thing, when dubstep really blew up and went mainsteam (to me personally, however noisy or unappealing it got), I knew sooner or later there’d be a rebirth.
When I saw Commodo and Kahn come out, I knew. I always had faith that certain people were going to breathe fresh life into it – Gantz did too. Now you’ve got another generation, like a third. Now I see your Commodo’s, Kahn’s and certain dons from that era, they’re almost like the middle generation. Now there’s the next generation stepping up! So much talent out there. It’s actually scary, some of the tunes man.
Oh, while I have the opportunity, I’ve got a big shout-out. Ago from Numa Crew in Italy. Mate! His tunes iron me. He’s been around for a bit as well, don’t get me wrong, but yeah some of his tunes man. His tunes are baaaad. There’s a few dons: Drone, Boofy, Samba, Headland – all killing it!
So to round it off, so what did you enjoy more: MC’ing with dBridge B2B Goldie at Outlook 2018, or seeing Ronnie the Rocket live in action?
Oh well, I’m trying to think, right do you want the honest answer?
I’ve done a set with those other two Herberts before, so no disrespect to Darren or Goldie, but I’d never seen the old Rocket in the flesh before.
Vintage / Slugfest is sold out but can be found on Discogs for a reasonable price. Grab the digitals from the Sentry Records Bandcamp.