Dark DiscoHyperdub Archives

Prepare for the Swarm: the Pay As You Go Kartel (2001)


Steve Goodman
London Hyperdub HQ
Also published in Deuce magazine 2001

Judging from the wallspace which the Pay As You Go Kartel take up on garage bill posters across the UK, you might think this bunch have special magical powers, enabling them to be in 5 different locations at same time. But what seems like magic is really just the everyday operational economics of the Kartel. For optimal performance, the Kartel peels off into compact interchangable units of 2 or 3, with a DJ rolling with a couple of MCs, performing up and down the country at raves of up to 5000 such as Sidewinder, Sun City, Cosa Nostra, Shake It Up and Garage Nation. Functioning as an audio special forces operation, they seem to work most effectively in small autonomous units on a mission to mash up the dance with rapid fire vocal delivery, relaying East End narratives of rude bwoy voice sparring and dark street realism laced with the cheeky cockney patois chat which the moodier pole of uk garage (a.k.a ‘raggage’) has inherited from the roots/dancehall/junglist continuum. The skank goes on.

With releases to date including ‘Be Real’ and ‘Anywhere’, plus a swarm of individual projects not offically classed as Pay As You Go such as Maxwell D’s ‘Serious’ which touched no.39 in the UK chart, or Wiley’s collaboration on ‘Nicole’s Groove’ on Relentless, or ‘Dem No Ready’ ‘123456’ (Flow Dan and Wiley with MC Breeze), there is no doubt that for the pure Kartel flavour, you should look to their massive underground anthem from 1999, ‘Know We’, with Wiley’s unmistakeable, austere-yet-infectious 8 note violin refrain and chorus chant. The Kartel hail from Hackney, Bow and Leyton in East London. It consists of 3 DJs (Target, Slimzee and Geeneus) and 6 MCs (Wiley, Maxwell D, Major Ace, Plague, Gods Gift and Flow Dan). Of these 9, there are allegedly at least 4 producers (Target, Geeneus, Wiley and Maxwell D). The Cartel has its oldest member at the grand old age of 23 and the youngest at 19. Target and Slimzee were finally pinned down in the East End’s Brick Lane to get the lowdown on the underground crew who have been invading our airspace with bad beats and rhymes.

“Yeah, we’ve been together as a crew for just over 2 years”, tells Target. “We’ve just had our second birthday bash. We started as 2 crews. They had Pay As You Go and me, Maxwell and Wylie were called the Ladies Hit Squad. We were always on the same radio station, Rinse FM. When we started, we were into drum’n’bass, that was back in 1995, Shy FX and all that kind of stuff. Then it went a bit dark. And we decided that we may as well join up under one name. So we kept the name Pay As You Go. We started playing garage in 1997. Slimzee was the first one.” After breaking his apparent vow of silence in the interview (probably because he had returned at 7am that morning from playing in Norwich and seemed to have barely slept) Slimzee continues, “we weren’t getting anywhere in the drum’n’bass scene, it was too locked down. I was playing early garage, all the mellower stuff, and then it started getting a bit darker as the years went on, and a bit breakier, and I like that sound. I llke the 4 beat stuff, but I would rather play the breakbeat side. It’s splitting up at the moment with the vocals going the one way and the other stuff in another. There is still a crossover between them though. Garage will keep its vibe longer than drum’n’bass did because it has done better commercially and it is not even as old. The underground can take it dark, and the lighter stuff can go in the charts and there is room for both.”

Where many garage DJs get cheesed off with mouthy MCs shouting over their beloved mixes, or needlessly chattin’ over vocal, or, god forbid, MC tracks, Pay As You Go have developed a fine tuned synergy between deckster and vocalist, each knowing the particular styles and body language of the other. “Our MCs, if they are playing with Slim, they know he plays in a certain style, they know what to expect from him. Or if I’m playing with two of our MCs, I will know what to expect from them. They learn the tunes quickly, maybe after hearing it once or twice, they’ll know where the vocals are and know not to chat on top of them. We don’t really work with other MCs. Other DJs may operate alone and may be playing with MCs they have never met before, so they don’t have a chance to build an understanding. For us it is a bit easier.” “Yeah”, continues Slimzee “if a tune is going to drop, we tell them using sign language.” It’s the kind of balance and combination which promises a massive future for the UK’s first proper homegrown MC based music. Target calls the Kartel a “very versatile crew. All our DJs have our own style. When all the UK hip hop labels were trying to sound American, it wasn’t as good. But now everyone is doing their own thing.” Describing the prospect of a forthcoming visit to the US, they feel that stateside B-boys will now “understand that we’re not trying to copy them, that we are doing something fresh and different from what they are used to.”

“Remember, I’m cold like December” Pay As You Go- ‘Know We’

With as violent lyrical content as any current crew, the Kartel are keen to dismiss the cod psychology which attributes trouble in the rave to their bad basslines and chat. “As long as some of it still gets into the chart, and at the same time, some of it stays really strong music, then it will last, if it doesn’t get too violent that is. They thought they could stop it getting nasty in the clubs by making everyone wear shoes. But you can wear shoes, and still carry a gun. The people who are going there with guns, are going there with that intention. They might like to do their violence to the dark tunes, but if they are going to do it, they will do it anyway. I would never say that dark tunes promote violence. As a music, jungle is darker than ever now, but there is much less violence. Everyone who was a trouble maker has gone to the garage.” And much of the crew rivalry blamed for club violence is often promoter’s hype. “We rate both So Solid and the Heartless Crew. Yeah. . .we get on with the So Solid crew, we play at their raves and they play at ours. It doesn’t bother us if people compare us.”

With their ‘Champagne Dance’, signed to Sony scheduled for full release early in 2002 (with remixes by Agent-X and Sticky), an impending re-emergence of the devastating ‘Know We’, this time with video, plus Geeneus’ ‘Shocker’ and ‘Thunder’, Target’s ‘Reloaded’ and Maxwell D’s ‘Bun Dem’, the Kartel will be expanding their operations to a turf near you soon.


Copyright © Hyperdub 2001 – Reprinted with permission.

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