During the mid noughties, Plastician was one of the producers collapsing any hard and fast distinctions between grime and dubstep. Having come up playing dark 2 step in a Croydon garage crew, he made a name as the DJ who would bring grime energy to dubstep raves, and dubstep depth to grime rhythms. For a while he was a bunch of MCs go-to DJ - back in 2005, when he was still going under the name of Plasticman, he was as likely to be seen holding down the beats for Lethal B or Meridian Crew as he was to be dropping fire at FWD>>. As a producer he's made some of the last decade's most playable beats - simple effective killers such as Cha and Still Tippin are rightly considered classics of both the grime and dubstep scenes, drawing on all the energy and bass pressure that makes a UK rave hit. Preditably, the Skepta assisted Intensive Snare has being experiencing a predictable new lease of life following the BBK man's second wind. As a DJ Plastician is an equally interesting figure. If ever there was a time he could cash in on his grime credentials it'd be now - instead he's searching out the new sound, supporting a soundcloud based scene he's calling 'Wave' (more on that below), and using his Rinse show to support a new generation that have the same energy and passion as the Croydon kids of 15 years ago.
*A note on numbering - the eagle eyed amongst you may note that this GTAR is numbered #49, same as the last one - that's because in true rave record label style I ballsed up and missed a number out ages back (#33 fact fans). Next issue is the genuine #50 - feel free to @ me with suggestions on who I should cover over on Twitter....
Early today I was listening to White Gloves and laughing at the title – it’s a name that would mean something to people in the UK but would really confuse American dubstep fans- do you have a history of listening to rave?
Actually, I never really grew up listening to rave – my musical background when I was young was the radio, listening to Capital FM. I never listened to anything cool until I discovered pirate radio and by then it was UK Garage. White Gloves came about because I used to build everything from samples – I still do to this day- I used to try and find sample packs online, grabbing them from anywhere I could find them. So I managed to find this rave stab pack with all these horns and hoovers in it, all the classic rave sounds. I went about building a track around the sounds I found in this rave pack, and knowing the little I did about rave at the time, I knew what I envisaged rave to be. I was probably only 20 when I wrote the track, I’d never been to a rave at this point, but I knew how people dressed, and it was just a tip of the hat to that.
I feel that, the age you are, you could grow up in England listen to pop radio like Capital and still hear rave
The only time I had the radio on was on the way too and from school – I didn’t really get into music til, I was in my teens, so I was just hearing the Top 40 – I suppose I heard 2 Unlimited and stuff like that, and the Madchester stuff, people like New Order that we used to hear.
Or even something deeper like Let Me Be Your Fantasy-
Oh yeah, that’s right, we grow up around it without even noticing. Talking about Capital radio, as far as I was concerned I was only listening to pop music when I was young, but pop music occasionally did bring in these gems, the odd one would sneak through and end up in the top 20.
What were the pirates that caught your attention?
Growing up, my friends used to listen to the jungle pirates, but I didn’t really like it, it sounded a bit weird to me. The most underground thing that I listened to was the tail end of this breakbeat thing – Ministry of Sound used to put these Future Sound of the UK CDs out. I was about 13, 14 when I heard that advert on the radio, and thought it sounded pretty cool, so I bought it. It wasn’t til I was 16 and leaving school in 1999 that I discovered pirate radio and UK garage, and was like, I really like this. I went to college and met more people who were into that music and used to record tapes to listen to. I studied art at college and we could have our headphones in while we were painting, so I’d record tapes every night to give me something to listen to at college. That was it, from listening to it everyday at college I got obsessed with it. My friend had an EZ tape from an Exposure tape pack and that changed it for me. I was listening thinking, the way this guy mixes is making me want to learn how to mix. I went to Ayia Napa when I was 17, that was my first exposure to clubs, then when I came back I bought a set of decks and started DJing and buying records from Big Apple. With EZ I’d never heard anyone to mix like that. There are people who attempt it, but even to this day he’s a pioneer. I taught myself how to mix by copying the first 10 minutes of that EZ tape that my friend gave me. I didn’t have any friends who lived in my area who could show me how to beat match so I literally worked it out by copying that set, and it clicked. Then I worked out how to build songs, and I got into production – once I’d worked out how songs were structured I started messing about in Fruity Loops.
And your stuff went straight towards the dark side of garage
Yeah, I was DJing for a garage crew, before it was grime. It was me and 3 MCs, kinda that So Solid era. I’d play an hour of garage and then an hour of dark 2 step tunes; 138 Trek , that kind of breakbeat-meets-dark-garage, so for the second hour it’d be me and these MCs back to back. That was like ‘99 to 2000, and that was what I loved. All I wanted to do was that, I didn’t care for the garage anthems at that stage, all the mainstream stuff that was happening, I turned to grime and dubstep.
Over East London the same sort of progression was happening- people say that dubstep developed after grime but I feel like the two were developing at the same time
Yeah they definitely were, people were just less aware. It depended on where you were from. If you shopped in Croydon, we were well aware of what was happening with dubstep before anyone else, but if you shopped in East London you wouldn’t even be aware of it cos no one stocked dubstep outside of Big Apple. I used to work in distribution and try and sell these records to other shops. Uptown Records didn’t stock dubstep. Black Market did, but Uptown wouldn’t touch it. Rhythm Division did a bit but weren’t that interested. Hardly any record shops outside of Big Apple could sell the stuff.
I remember there being a big sea change when Midnight Request Line dropped
Once that tune happened a lot of the shops started to take bits on, but up until 2005 there was hardly any dubstep in the other shops, it was just online in Hard to Find, Dubplate.net, Juno, and in Big Apple.
Do you think there’s a reason why the East London scene was really MC led while the Croydon scene was really DJ and producer led?
For me, as a producer when I first started out all my tunes were 8 bar, the first things that came out were just grime tracks. Being from Croydon and playing at FWD>> I became conscious of the fact that my songs were a bit boring – I would get ripped if I played an 8 bar song at FWD. Without sounding like it was snooty, there was definitely an air that what was happening at FWD>> was a little bit more intelligent than what was being played on pirate
My lasting impression of FWD>> from back in the day was that there were a lot of blokes and no one took their coat off…
Yeah, 20 people with backpacks on and hoods up. That was it. When I was first booked for FWD, I think it was June 2003, I remember I knew I couldn’t play what I played on the radio, I couldn’t play all that grime, so I went about writing songs that were structured , but with grimy sounds. And that was where I found my niche, that is the pocket I’ve sat in for so long. Even to this day people think of me as that guy, even though I do loads of other stuff. To people who’ve known me for years I’ll always be the person who’s sat between grime and dubstep.
When I started writing those tunes, dubstep was very much just sub bass and Indian or Chinese samples, or, like, dub reggae samples. There was no midrange in the bass. But in grime everything was midrange, the melody was also the bass – I tried to bring that in, but rather than just have 8 bar, really simple tracks I tried to give them a build, an intro, a breakdown, an outro, a second drop, all the stuff dubstep had – that was a conscious effort.
There was a period in the mid 00’s where dubstep exploded so quickly – it went from a collection of key producers to everyone making it everywhere and the Croydon sound got a little swamped
At the time I never felt like that was happening cos I was in the middle of it – from the outside it probably looked like that because certain songs were getting huge and hitting the mainstream, but those songs were never played at the clubs I played in. Our clubs were getting busier and busier and we as DJs were getting busier and busier. All these songs that were gathering this major hype, not just in the scene, but globally, they didn’t get played at DMZ or FWD>>. Even though we were aware of it, it was something that us lot weren’t really supporting. Not on purpose; we weren’t making a conscious effort not to back certain tunes, it was more, ‘I like this, but I like that better’. I used to play a wide mix though, so I would sometimes play the heavier stuff.
Would you play Cockney Thug?
Umm, I did drop Cockney Thug, but a lot of people did. I definitely heard that at Sub Dub – but that was before everything went crazy and robotic.
It was a bit of a signpost of what was to come though.
Even before that, when Coki came with Haunted, Shattered and Tortured, that was what Caspa and Rusko were emulating. That heavy Caspa sound came about 3 months after the Coki dubs started to circulate. And once that heavy sound had hit, it hit serious nerdy producer types, people who would make intricate songs, who hadn’t found their calling in another genre. I saw it happen again, once dubstep quietened down, a lot of those producers on the fringes of dubstep that weren’t that big, but could produce and had a couple of people playing their songs, as soon as dubstep went quiet, they moved over to house and did alright for themselves. People like My Nu Leng and Taiki Nulight, those sort of guys weren’t quite there with dubstep, but when they moved on to house they managed to establish themselves. Route 94 was Dream in dubstep, but didn’t quite make it. It was the same in America, all the guys who weren’t quite making it in their scene saw dubstep as a possible route into the industry. And with production now being so intricate, it’s mental, kids at school can out produce people who’ve been sat in studios for 40 years. And that’s how the dubstep sound became clinical, really clean, and it lost the vibe a little bit, it became a monster.
So nowadays you're trying to push this Wave scene - what was the mixtapoe about?
That was just a chance to shine a light on a scene that’s in soundcloud. There’s a lot of people who have listened to me over the years who have no idea that that stuff exists. But it looks like it’s becoming a genre.
I find it interesting that you come from a scene that was very rooted in a physical location – dubstep is really linked to Croydon, but the soundcloud scene exists outside a single physical location
Well these kids chat and meet online. I’ve met a lot of them when I'm out on tour – they live this mysterious persona online so you rarely know where they’re from, but when I go to the States the kids come and see me in gigs, or when I put on parties in the UK, in London, I normally put on some kids that are on this new sound and if one of them is on the line up, all the kids that make that shit come out. It’s a little bit like FWD>> in that sense – we’ll book a producer, and he’ll have ten of his mates on the guestlist, and ten of their mates will buy a ticket. It’s pretty cool, I didn’t know it’d work that way, I was worried that they might not leave their house, but they do. There was nowhere for them, but there’s a couple of events now.
So you're calling it Wave, I'm trying to work out what the sound is; the mixtape I heard sounded like fucked up trap instrumentals.
Yeah it is a bit like that. I call it Wave, purely because one of the main collectives I get that sound from are called Wave Mob, they’re a little bit similar to Team Supreme in the LA, although Team Supreme are more in the beats scene, doing hip hop edits that sort of thing. This scene is more somewhere between Burial and Metro Boomin. I feel like the lines are very blurry so I don’t want to give it a tag. It’s more the vibe of a song than the bpm, it’s not restrained to a specific tempo. I think it’s still finding it’s feet but I can tell there’s something there. If I was to do a Wave mix the tempo could go anywhere from 80 to 150 bpm, but the energy wouldn’t change that much. It’s unusual in that sense.
I am a bit worried that the grime scene is gonna go the way it did in 2006 when a couple of artists got signed, everything went to mixtapes and you couldn’t get hold of anything to play. It started phasing out of my sets cos I couldn’t get anything new to play, everyone was holding tracks back for mixtapes or albums. It went from pirate radio to stage shows and I’m worried that that’s happening again, that we’re not gonna be hearing people on the radio, they’re gonna be holding back major tunes and trying to get signed. It’s all a bit bollocks that side of things.
I do feel that when grime dies out last time it was in part down to all the indie record shops closing, cutting off the supply of cash an artist could raise from selling white labels
It's difficult now because people don’t get that excited. If I finish an amazing track today and put it on soundcloud people aren’t really going to be that bothered. I went through a phase of putting everything out on soundcloud, and you get a few plays and hits, but nothing beats putting something out properly, giving it to someone to have the first play on radio, getting the artwork done properly, getting it mastered properly, doing the whole thing properly – people appreciate it more, and I think a lot of artists are giving away too much good music, you need to sit on things and make projects rather than fling up something every few days.
So let’s talk about Field Day- are you going to play any of the Wave stuff?
Do you know what, I never know what I’m going to play til I get there. I definitely want to throw in some of this wavey stuff Im playing, but I can’t go too deep or wild with it- it’s still new so I can’t go in and be like, bam here’s what I’m playing, I’m introducing new stuff alongside tracks people probably know. I’ll throw a couple of classics in there definitely. Since grime has come back round it’s been hard to know what to play– it used to be really easy for me cos I'd be the only one playing grime in the club- now everyone’s playing it again I have to watch out for what has and hasn’t been played. For instance I played after Preditah last week, and I was left with literally nothing to play (laughing) he plays all the bangers. I was literally sitting at the side of the stage trying to pick out the tracks he hadn’t played. It’s the same if I play with someone like Logan [Sama] or Spooky – that’s the thing with grime, it’s so easy to mix, you can easily go through 60 tunes in an hour. You could probably get through 90 if you wanted to hammer it, but there’s always something left to play. I’ve always got my own stuff to fall back on – I'm lucky enough that Cha always works, it’s pretty bouncy, even people who don’t know it tend to have a dance to it. Intensive Snare with Skepta has come back round since Skepta’s blown up, so long as I’m not on the same stage as Skepta I drop it.
Have you spoken to him about doing work again?
Only chit chat, nothing official. I send him beats every now and then but he’s very busy so I never expect him to get back to me. Even that track we did last year, Back Then, he did that completely off his back then told me about it. He knew the beat from when we used to work together back in 05- before Boy Better Know were Boy Better Know I used to tour with JME and Skepta – we played 2 or 3 shows a week together for almost a year, so any music from that time we know inside out. I’ve got all their tunes from that time, they’ve got all my songs, and the thing with Back Then was it was about going back to that time. He just did it and it came out really good – it’s not on his album but that might be down to the sample. It opened up a lot of doors for me though, so big up Skepta for that..!
Plastician is playing at Field Day on Saturday 11th June. Tickets and more info over here