WITH the August bank holiday weekend nearly upon us, it can only mean one thing… and that is SW4 time!
The annual pilgrimage to London’s Clapham Common will begin again this Saturday, where the finest acts in all areas of electronica converge to deliver the freshest upfront and underground sounds to the baying faithful.
This year and for the first time ever, rave scene legend DJ Hype and his almighty Playaz Recordings label mates are hosting the Drum and Bass arena and they have all angles firmly covered.
He joins us for an in-depth discussion about all things Jungle and Drum and Bass, the upcoming festival and why he has remained top dog for well over three decades at the cutting edge of breakbeat culture with zero sign of slowing down any time soon.
For those people out there who aren’t familiar with you and your music away from the Drum and Bass scene, please introduce yourself and describe what you do.
I’m a DJ and radio presenter and one of the foundation pioneers of Jungle and Drum and Bass music – it’s hard to wrap it all up and there’s a lot to say I suppose. I run a record label called Playaz which has been going for twenty years now, and if I’m right in thinking that I am the longest running DJ on London’s Kiss FM hosting my show since 1994 – I don’t think there’s anyone left there that started before me. I also believe I’ve got the longest running legal Drum and Bass / Jungle radio show in the world. I have won many awards over the years from best DJ and best radio show, to best label, best label night, best mix album and also a couple of hall of fame awards too; added to which my label Playaz held a 15 years residency at the world-renowned Fabric nightclub in London and we have a very strong roster of incredibly talented artists on board too – so I’ve been very busy and for a long time now.
I’m a foundation DJ, I play upfront music but if you check out my history, it goes all the way back to the very beginning. I started out with a Reggae sound system in the early eighties when a DJ only used one deck. My life since and my journey through dance music culture have travelled in time together.
I’m very proud of my legacy and I am still going strong too – that’s me, DJ Hype in a nutshell.
You have been at the top of your game for a very long time now, back in the day at World Dance and the like – whats the most exciting thing about the scene today?
Well, particularly in the last couple of years – it just seems to be massive, everywhere. Throughout my career so far, of course it’s always been popular but one style might be more so than another, and it comes and goes in trends. Whereas, right now it seems every style of Drum and Bass is in and everywhere too. Whether it is a more mainstream act like Sigma, or a more underground one like myself – the music is just everywhere, at all the major festivals at home and abroad, and the response just seems to be better than it’s ever been.
I’ve been around a long time so I’m used to seeing the waves of popularity come and go, and not just styles of a certain genre, but genres themselves where like with fashion – the latest thing is in demand but for only so long before the next big thing arrives and everyone jumps on that.
DJs and artists come and go too and when you start to recognise the seeds of change, it’s easy to start thinking that maybe your own time is up and things are moving on but what I’ve learnt is that as long as you keep focused on what you do, believing in it and working hard then it comes back around anyway.
Even if it’s not big out there in the mainstream, it’s always going to be big on the underground – there’s a great infrastructure to Drum and Bass and Jungle worldwide so when the mainstream taps in to it you get an influx of pop stars getting involved and then commercial radio airplay. But it’s from the underground that the new artists make their breakthrough and where new sounds are developing which is what keeps it fresh.
You have been performing together with Hazard this year B2B on all the major festivals – how’s it going and what has the response been like?
Yes, very positive and really enjoyable too. This year we are hosting our own arena at London’s SW4 Festival on Clapham Common and Playaz will be representing every style of Drum and Bass, which is really important as for a while that wasn’t happening. There might have been a huge event but it may have only featured one style of Drum and Bass, or maybe a label was hosting an arena and therefore only artists signed to that label would get to play and then the ravers will hear mostly music from that label, meaning that they miss out on so much more of what the scene has to offer across the spectrum.
We are doing all day Saturday which has been sold out for weeks now so you know it’s going to be a seriously big day for everyone attending, we have got something for everyone too. I think there’s a lot of people in the mainstream who are now hearing a lot more variety in the music that they’ve never heard before so it’s all new and exciting to them. And of course, every few years the generations change and the key is to keep your ear to the ground and your finger on the pulse to make sure you stay relevant, which is harder to do the older you get.
When we play back to back, we aren’t battling each other but we are definitely trying to keep each other on our toes and we want to smash it the whole way through. Its good fun, delivering the goods with fast paced, impactful selection that’s guaranteed to do the damage so everyone walks away having enjoyed themselves too.
It’s great at the moment though, I’m really happy with the artists I’ve got on board, the scene globally is on point – I can’t really complain at all, and I’m 50 next year so, yeah – all good…
How important do you think the widespread use of the internet and particularly the rise in the use of social media to promote new music has been in blurring the line between the underground and mainstream, especially in recent years?
Well years ago, the first waves of real mainstream success for underground artists within Drum and Bass were very organic, an artist would release a tune that grows in popularity on the club circuit where all the DJs are playing it, until it crosses over and reaches the top 40 in the UK charts and it might be that you have one or two acts every few years where that happens.
Then all of a sudden, you’ve got people like Pendulum, Chase & Status, Subfocus, DJ Fresh, Sigma… an influx of underground artists all having chart success one after the other – as much as the internet is very important, I’d suggest that Radio 1 and the other big commercial radio stations play a bigger part in breaking new music because they have such a vast reach and wide audience. The difference this time round being that these weren’t crossover tracks that were still being played on the underground, no these were initially underground acts who started making music specifically for the mainstream radio plays and festival appearances – achieving great success along the way too of course.
The internet definitely helps as a platform to help launch acts, buts it’s definitely more underground than mainstream. In the UK, if you get one of your tracks playlisted on Radio 1, although it’s never guaranteed – there’s a good chance you will get a pop hit out of it purely because of the sheer amount of people who are going to hear it.
I’m playing at a lot of festivals now where that blur is very apparent, with underground and commercial acts not just on the same line up but playing straight after each other.
Look at Grime, the new wave of artists like Stormzy, Giggs and AJ Tracey – they do the odd commercial track but if you rewind to Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder, Chipmunk and even Wiley, they were making very ‘poppy’ music for the charts whereas now they just make it raw.
So that blur is definitely there, but maybe it’s a combination of the internet and mainstream radio – if you want a short answer!
It has definitely broken down many doors and opened the scene up to a much wider audience globally…
Yeah, without question although if you go back twenty years, the internet just wasn’t as popular in the UK, if I wanted an artist’s track I’ve have to go their studio and sit with them, it was a much smaller world. We were playing globally, but the actual scene was smaller with less producers and DJ’s so it may have been harder to get out there but if you were accepted into the circle, chances are you were going to be a strong artist.
So it was harder to break through, but when you did you knew you were there already – now it’s the other way round, someone’s music might be awful but they are sticking it straight up there for everyone to listen to, so they are developing it in the public eye, which is the main difference. The bad thing about that is the market is then flooded with absolute rubbish and you have to spend a lot of time wading through it all to find the really good stuff. On the flip side, the good thing is of course that at least you can get the music out there and get people to listen to it quicker than you might have been able to previously.
So yeah I’d say the internet makes it easier to promote something globally.
My Facebook page has really opened my eyes, its allowed me to engage with my actual fanbase whereas back in the day, an artist would have to wait and see the reviews written in the dance music magazines to gauge the reaction to their latest tracks. Or if I’m in a club performing and a raver might come to me and say “I love this or that track’ but the likes of Myspace in the beginning and the other platforms that have since became more popular provide you with instant feedback, and both good and bad – which is very useful and really important.
That’s my public – rather than someone who might have come to a party and not enjoyed themselves, then goes home to write a bad review and my latest track gets caught up in it. When now it doesn’t matter as they can write a bad review – but Facebook, Twitter or whatever might have two-thousand positive responses from people who were there and enjoying themselves too, so I can brush the negatives aside.
You get a thicker skin as you get older too, I mean when I was younger I could play at club to a crowd of a thousand people going nuts, but one person could say they thought it was rubbish or whatever and I’d go home chewing on that and it would get to me. You can’t please everybody! So you just learn to ignore the negativity and anyway, I am my own worst critic – I don’t need someone to tell me how good or bad I am, because deep down I already know myself.
It’s easy to over-analyse stuff too, like you can feel like something should of or could have gone better, but then the feedback from all angles is really good. You start to question it and think ‘was it!?’ so its important to realise when you are being overly critical and if people enjoyed it that much it must have been ok at least.
The thing is people take it all so seriously, it’s like football fan rivalries when people start arguing over who they like and who they don’t – it’s silly. It’s like if I’m in a restaurant and I’m eating chicken, but someone else is sat nearby eating fish – why does it even matter? Each to their own, just get on with it and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, just enjoy what you enjoy and don’t waste your time worrying about what you don’t. Trouble is though, even if someone is posting photos of something as harmless as planting flowers or whatever – you are guaranteed to get someone slagging it off!
You are without doubt one of the most successful DJs / artists within the genre, starting out with sound systems and Shut Up and Dance and working forward through so many successful ventures to this day, how do you manage to deliver the goods so consistently and so often?
Well I think it is really important to stay in tune with your audience and pay adequate attention to the feedback available. Of course you’ve got your fans who will tell you that jumping off a building is a good idea, but you need people around you who will be real and tell you exactly how it is. I’m lucky enough to have a close circle of friends in the music game, and even the ones that aren’t will still tell me exactly what they are thinking, whether it is good or bad. In fact, I am known to be that way myself and I’m surrounded by people are the same and its important.
In our game there’s too many people who achieve some success but then are surrounded by people who are telling them how great they are and that everything they are doing is amazing when they are actually going in the wrong direction – then eventually, their ego overshadows their talent.
As I said, I am fifty next year, I started when I was 13 doing my first ever event as part of a Reggae sound system and I would never have thought then that I could and would still be doing this now. I’ve never faded away but only a few years ago I was thinking my career had probably peaked and it was unlikely to grow to another level but then I noticed last year how the style we project is getting the same reaction as, and if not bigger than the recently popular commercial sound.
A few years ago, I would have had to change my set to suit the festival audience a bit – although I don’t mean ‘pop’ but just slightly out of my usual selection to adapt, whereas now it’s not like that at all. I might have to adapt a little bit, but only very subtly – I’ve played after commercial acts who are usually the big ‘thing’ and get the superstar treatment but we are the ones smashing it to bits and they are stepping back and taking note.
Underground culture is always moving, and always progressing – you only need to step out of it for a short while and come back to find everything is completely different which has always been the same. So keeping your eye on what’s going on and staying in touch with what relevant is very important.
I always describe my career as quite organic. Since working with my new agent since last year, its far more structured and planning ahead is something we are starting to do much more and things like interviews and PR are all part of that, when before I was always just following the path that appeared in front of me. I’m part of the foundations and the whole journey since the beginning has been very natural.
I work hard at it too, always have but also the fear of failure keeps me on it. I never used to notice but my friends have made me aware of it – even if I notice really good responses to what I’ve been doing, I still know within what I think of myself and that keeps me motivated to achieve more. I also trust my own judgement and keep focused on what’s coming next, the next thing that’s going to grow and encouraging it and supporting is really important – you have to believe in it completely, too.
I suppose I am just good at what I do. I always say you may not like what I do which is fair enough because everyone has different tastes, but I would like to be respected for having remained in my position for so long and it’s not like I’m just there and no-ones interested, you know I’m loving it at the moment. It’s almost like being reborn – it’s hard to explain but if you’re my age you would understand!
I didn’t get in to music to make a living, I was just into music because I love it and I’ve been fortunate enough to make a living from it and it keeps me young anyway – I don’t know what I would do without it, I’d probably be in the nut house!
Your Playaz label is surely the strongest it’s ever been, with the likes of Hazard, Jam Thieves and Annix on board – what do you look for when you are boosting the ranks?
Well we have got a wide variety of really talented artists on board, including the ones you mention and maybe slightly overlooked ones like Potential Badboy, I mean he’s someone who has been around since the very beginning, a true foundation pioneer of this music but he only releases as and when , so we are working on forming a more focused release schedule to push him and his work as much as it deserves.
I’ve got a few other interesting prospects that I’m working with that I won’t mention in case someone else tries to come in and snap them up for their label. That’s the thing with the internet now, the artists send their work out to fifty odd labels so if you sleep on it, you could miss out. I prefer to sign artists to the label for the long term so we can work well together progressively rather than just releasing one odd tune as and when. Of course I will do that it if feels right and works for all but my preference is getting a good stable together. The key is finding people are who doing interesting things differently and “going against the grain” as GQ used to say.
Sometimes I’ll release music that I know is unlikely to sell that well but I’m really into it, but of course on the other hand when it comes to business there may be something that I’m not personally into but will do very well and we will release it. I’m not trying to force my acts to leave their comfort zone but I do encourage them to write a variety of music across the board even if it won’t be released because it is good to be versatile. No matter how good you are and even if you have written the best tune in the world – if you become bored as an artist you will burn out of ideas and people will get bored of the repetitive style of your releases, so it’s important to change it up and to experiment, and stay one step ahead.
Sometimes I’ll listen to an artist and what they are doing and think it’s good, but because its good you’ve then got fifty other artists on other labels copying you and churning out their own version of your style. But it’s not as good as yours, but its good enough to play out and before you know it everyone get bored of that style because it’s everywhere. Then, the original artist – although they have made the good stuff, if they haven’t moved on from that style they will get left behind as its been diluted so I when I think that is starting to happen I make sure I let them know and encourage them to change it up and off we go in a new direction once again.
That doesn’t mean you should ditch your own style either because you don’t want to alienate your original fanbase, its just about keeping things fresh and moving them forward. It’s always a gamble anyway, I mean an artist might send me ten tunes to listen to, and be adamant that the one they spent five months working on is sure to be the most popular, but it could be the one they spent only an hour working on that gets the biggest reaction. That’s just the way it goes – sometimes I’ll be certain of which tune is likely to go bang, and the artist might disagree so we roll the dice and see what happens, I’m not always right and I know that so it’s about taking all things considered into account and releasing the best work that you can and just seeing what happens.
There’s other labels that will only put out the biggest tunes, but I was an up and coming artist once so I know what it was like and how important opportunities can be. Sometimes an artist just needs some money to pay the bills so I will release something that might not be best for the label, but better for them. I am not selfish like that, people credit me for that but I am not sure its good business. Saying that, I’m not really a businessman, this is all learnt as you go along.
I’d rather earn ten pound knowing that I was true to myself, rather than earn a thousand pound to do a load of bullsh*t – although that’s not to say I wouldn’t do the bullsh*t for a thousand pounds if I had to haha! But so far in my life, I haven’t had to.
Playaz are now backed by Lock & Load, some of the most successful promotors in the game and rightly so, what are the main differences you have noticed since it’s all been cranked up a notch?
Well working in different venues and at different events like the upcoming SW4 Festival which is a whole different league altogether, and then of course performing for them at Together in the world famous Amnesia nightclub in Ibiza. The doors that have opened with them were not open for me before and so far, so good. There’s some really exciting stuff in the pipeline too, not that I can go in to that just yet of course but all in good time – things are looking very good put it that way.
Tell us more about Together in Ibiza – your experiences over there so far and what are the crowds saying? D&B in Ibiza is surely as much as a part of the furniture as the Techno and House sounds now…
The first time I played it was Wilkinson, Sigma and me and it went off , then more recently it was Rudimental, Chase & Status, Subfocus and me and the atmosphere on both occasions has been spot on. The other acts of course played some of their more commercial sounds but everyone still goes in with the heavy stuff too and the night just progresses through the whole spectrum of the music. It might be a slightly different crowd but we always get the same reaction.
It’s important to have lots of girls there too and not just all men, but as a DJ I don’t want to be playing girly music so it’s getting the right balance. It’s a vibe – there’s an old Bart Simpson quote “make the walls bleed” and that’s what we are there to do, to make it exciting and get everyone going for it and letting loose.
Twenty years ago I never thought this would happen, you’d go to Ibiza and see Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold and all the names like that on the posters everywhere advertising House, Trance and Techno but going over there now its Sigma and Andy C, and it has – it’s become like House – it’s the Drum & Bass that’s selling it out and its literally everywhere.
Look at Let It Roll festival in Prague, I don’t know how many thousands go there but it’s nothing but Drum and Bass, its all over the world like that now. Whether its Hideout festival in Croatia, or Tomorrowland in Brazil, its everywhere – its global.
I didn’t see it getting as big as it is and it shows no signs of slowing down at all, it’s just getting bigger and bigger. Underground Drum and Bass and Jungle is rebellious youth music and continuously evolves besides the cycle of youth.
As you mention, the legendary SW4 Festival at Clapham Common will soon be upon us where Playaz are hosting the tent with names such as Netsky, Marky, Fabio & Grooverider, Goldie and SASASAS among many, many more, it will be a huge event and a really lively crowd – what have you got up your sleeve?
Well its already completely sold out for starters – and I wasn’t getting booked for the festival before and now I’ve got my own stage so I’m very pleased about that. We are doing the after party at Brixton Electric too so it’s going to be a very big day out for the label.
Variety is the key with this and that is the whole point of it – I think the line up is a healthy representation of all areas of the scene and that was my intention. There’s something there for everyone, when certain labels were dominating all of the festival arenas it would be 85% of their acts and then maybe a couple of others they liked too, but then acts I thought should have been on festivals weren’t because there were no opportunities for them to play, me included.
Instead, you were getting barely established artists making festival appearances purely because they were part of the label when other truly in demand artists had no chance. So then the festivals were advertising the ‘Drum and Bass’ arena when in reality it was purely the label’s tent, and not representing all the styles the scene has to offer, so I’m glad that’s changed and things have opened up and now we can project everything. Not that there’s anything wrong with what they were doing of course, its understandable that they would push their own artists as much as possible but I’m talking about looking at the bigger picture.
So, whatever your flavour is, you should like some of it and if you are only in to one style yourself, at least being there – your ears will be open to all the other ones too and that’s the beauty of festivals. Sometimes people haven’t heard the alternative flavours to even decide whether they like them or not.
I am not the inventor by any means but having been there since the beginning – this music and its culture is very important to me and I am very protective of it. So when I’m doing things I am doing it for the better of all involved – although it may not always work out as intended of course.
I often tell myself off for it, it’s like I’m too nice and maybe I should start being a bit like the rest of them. People say I’m not that easy to deal with – I disagree, I would just say instead that I am straight up and real and if you aren’t, then we probably aren’t going to see eye to eye. There’s lots of people in this game you could easily think were your best mate and you get a false sense of security around them, but the reality is very different so I’ve learnt over the years that people might be all smiles and quick to pat you on the back when you’re doing well but may not be all that they seem when the chips are down, but that’s just the way of the world and not just confined to the music industry.
A lot of people say that I’m too much and can’t handle me, but they can’t take confrontation – they aren’t used to it but I will only be confronting you over something important. It’s not like I’ll coming to you shouting “where’s my champagne!?!” or demanding some strippers – I’ll be asking for equipment that’s not there or because something’s not working or you haven’t done your job properly – then I’m going to tell you straight. Even with artists where they’ve made a silly move or said something necessary in an interview, I’ll say it to them and too right too.
When someone’s ego gets too big and you might say to them, look you haven’t got to like me but without me you wouldn’t be doing what you are doing so don’t act like you are the be all and end all and I am just some old fart on the way out. It’s like the hare and the tortoise – I just keep going at my pace, consistently and there are times when people will overtake you and you question yourself – ‘am I alright here, am I going in the right direction?’ it always comes back around – I’m happier being true to myself than having to make and play stuff that’s not me at all.
The music is clearly very important to you – thinking of your achievements so far, what are you most proud of?
Still being here, at my age and still doing my thing, I mean have you seen the Boomtown video from last year when me and Hazard went B2B with MC GQ? I don’t usually like people filming me but I knew it was a good set and enjoyed it but I had no idea just how big it was until I got home and watched the video for myself – completely nuts! You can see the crowd going mad, and it brought tears to my eyes… the age I’m at and at the stage of my career, truly like ‘WOW’ man.
It was only a week or so before that event that I found my first ever flyer, which I had made myself for an event in 1981 / 82 for a Reggae sound and if you had told me then that in 2017 I’d still be smashing it out and relevant too, I’d never have believed it. You know sometimes I get ravers who ask me to play Old Skool but I’m like no, I might be old, but I’m not Old Skool – I still play upfront music and always will. I might drop the odd classic but I don’t want to be known for that.
Mr pride, is my longevity – it feels good, when you’re at my age and you’ve grown up with your friends who aren’t in the music game – quite often their lives aren’t that interesting and they are like ‘don’t ever knock it, just enjoy it and never give up!’ and that is my attitude, I never will. Sometimes I’m overworked and I need a break and take a few days out to regroup, but that’s when you realise you need to get back out there and get on it again. Its like an addiction – in fact, it IS an addiction.
What happens when this ends? For the last thirty years, week in week out – I’ve had however many people out there screaming my name at me and vibing together, where do you go when that ends? Back to normality? Like with sports stars, such as a famous boxer or footballer – when they are riding high, they can do no wrong but then they retire they go off the rails, lose their money and split up with their wife or whatever. It’s because they are bored and don’t know what to with themselves to replace that buzz, the adrenaline rush – it’s a natural high.
If I play out this weekend and the event’s amazing, I’ll spend the next week buzzing about it but if I’m not happy with my performance regardless of what other people might say, I’ll spend the week after depressed about it. It is like therapy for me – a good gig washes away all your problems, every single time.
You know that video of Boomtown, MC GQ said it all when he said “in thirty years of being in this game, I’ve never seen anything like this before”, they were singing along like they knew it all already, it was amazing. I showed it to my mum and she was like – if you turned that music off you wouldn’t be wrong for saying it looked like a Michael Jackson concert it was that busy and she’s right. Even she cried, she still lives in the flat where I grew up and my bedroom used to be off the living room and she used to call rapping ‘wapping’ and me scratching, ‘scraping’ – ‘wapping and scraping’ and she used to go nuts because we used to practice in my bedroom all of the time. She used to say ‘I can’t take all that wapping and scraping any more’ but she looked at that video and the first thing she said was ‘wapping and scraping’ and tears filled her eyes, saying she should have been more supportive of it when I was younger.
I was like don’t be silly mum, if my son brought a load of speakers home and started mucking about with them or whatever – you know most parents want their kids to go and get a ‘proper’ job.
If I died tomorrow, I’ve had a great life. With my start in life, I was either destined for the mad house, prison or some sh*t dead end job at best. I didn’t leave school with any qualifications or whatever but music has been my life – it’s given me and my family a life too. I’ve helped my mum have a better old age and she knows I’m there for her and I’m truly grateful for that and I still appreciate every single second of it all.
I’d never been anywhere in life apart from Clacton-On-Sea until the age of 21 when I went to Magaluf in 1989 to represent England in the European Mixing Championships at BCM Nightclub for DMC and only last year I performed there again for Breakin Science, so it’s come full circle and I stopped in my tracks to think about that at the time. I have travelled the world through my love of music.
You know I can meet someone my age who says I saw you play at Lazerdrome, or someone in their thirties that saw me play at Fabric or someone younger celebrating their eighteenth birthday with their first rave being one of our shows at Electric Brixton, it’s incredible and I’m very proud of that.
What advice would give to anybody who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Just be true to yourself. Our motto was once, “Life is about being a true player, keep it real.” I still look at it that way. Follow your dream, be realistic and if you work hard and you are talented – you will get there one way or another.
Anything you would like to say?
Yeah catch me on Kiss FM playing the very best of underground Drum and Bass every Wednesday from 1am and thank you! See you at SW4 if not before – big up!
Thanks for joining us, respect!
Catch DJ Hype back to back with Hazard at South West Four in the Playaz arena on Saturday 26th August. For more information on South West Four head here.