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Interview: Plasticman

interview_plasticman

Plasticman is one of the leading dj/producers in the grime scene. Between running Terrorhythm Recordings, regularly playing on London’s Rinse FM, putting out a slew of tracks on a variety of labels, travelling the world, and studying music production at college, he is one very busy man, and is doing as much to promote this music throughout the world as anyone. Recently I linked up (through email) an interview with him.

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There’s a lot of distance between the old rnb-ish 2-step tunes and what you are up to today…how have your tastes developed over the years? Was it a slow move over to the darkside or were you converted instantly after hearing something like
‘Pulse X’?

Plasticman: It was definitely gradual, stuff got a lot darker when people like El-B and Zed Bias started throwing down remixes for the big labels. Steve Gurley was the first real dark 2 step producer, and then others followed. I really liked the darker stuff as I was rolling with MC’s at the time and it was perfect for them to lay down their lyrics over the top of during a set, as well as being more dj friendly due to the lack of vocals – it was more fun to mix because you could shop and drop tunes in without cutting vocals up. Then when pulse X came along it opened doors for young producers to take a stab at producing “garage” Although this upset a lot of the old timers.

Pearsall:I’m always impressed with how wide and open your tunes sound – the bottom is deep, the top is crisp, and then there’s this uneasy hollow middle. What sort of gear/software are you using these days? Has the Music Tech course you’ve been taking opened up new ways of organising and manipulating your sounds?

Plasticman: Still mainly using Fruityloops, geared up with loads of great VST’s. The music tech course has taught me the basics of melody – something I had no idea about when I started there! I also understand now a lot more about filtering on synths – before it was pretty much trial and error. On top of all that I have a basic understanding of compression which allows me to make my mixdowns fatter and sharper.

Pearsall: One of the interesting things about grime is that for the first time in London pirate radio music the mc is more important than the dj or the producer; are you planning on releasing any vocal tunes and when can we expect them to drop?

Plasticman: I’ve produced a track on Lethal B’s album – dropping in a month or so over here. Also got some tracks on the forthcoming Rinse FM album – artists haven’t been decided as of yet but you can guarantee they will be big MC’s as Rinse doesn’t have any swag ones! Been in the studio with Slaya from South London – he’s up and coming – look out for the Section 7 vocal and the Galvanize vocal from him. Napper, Fresh and Shizzle have just finished vocalling the original mix of Cha. On top of that there are loads of potential projects with Sier, Riko, Bruza, L Man and pure other people, I just need to organise them all and get into the studio.

Pearsall: A lot of people get confused as to where you sit on the dubstep/grime divide, but I know you’ve said before that you make grime, could you maybe elaborate a bit on why what you make is grime, and not dubstep?

Plasticman: Because I’m a grime DJ, always have been – I started making music that would fit into my set – my only influence is from the other grime tracks I’m playing at the time! Dubstep is heavily influenced by 2 step and dub reggae. I have never listened to dub reggae before, I can’t draw influence to it; Besides that dubstep is all about deep basslines and lush melodic lines. My music isn’t melodic at all – I’m not musically trained, I just throw down whatever I think sounds good. I’m not a big fan of sub bass – I much prefer my bass to take up part of the track’s midrange aswell – and that for me is another key factor of grime music, listen to the square wave basses and you will notice that!

Pearsall: Just a few months ago the line between grime and dubstep was still pretty blurry and the subject of a fair bit of debate. Now it’s looking a lot more clear – a bit like the split between jungle and drum n bass – and you’ve placed yourself on the grime side. How do you see each developing and relating to each other in the next while?

Plasticman: I don’t think Dubstep producers will be influenced much by the grime side of things as a lot of them are still in touch with it anyway. As for dubstep influencing grime producers, definitely. A few grime mc’s and producers have been attending FWD regularly of late and I’m already hearing changes in their production which is making them more dancefloor friendly rather than straight up riddims for mc’s to vocal. I like it all though so I’m probably going to be influenced by both sides of the fence.

Pearsall: Most grime fans outside of the UK first found out about the scene through blogs like Heronbone and silverdollarcircle – people who were picking up pirate radio in London and then reporting to the rest of the world. Then the rest of us starting checking out things like the Rinse webstream and grabbing bits and pieces on p2p networks. I remember Martin Clark writing that he showed, I think, Terror Danjah one of these blogs one time and he couldn’t have cared less. Was there a sense early on that people around the world were watching? Or did it feel a very isolated local East and South London thing?

Plasticman: Never really thought people were watching until I dug deeper into the web myself. I do find some of the blogs interesting because it gives a more honest opinion on your music than a magazine review would. I think people write those blogs as if they were a private diary – like nobody else in the world will see their thoughts on your music and I think that’s a good thing. Bad feedback can help sometimes.

Pearsall: How do you think the internet and (let’s be honest here) p2p programs have helped and slowed grime’s growth both at home and abroad?

Plasticman: I think it’s helped people access it from afar, but over here it has hindered it a lot. Tracks are getting leaked and quite a few tracks have been bootlegged before they were even officially released. That happened with Ghetto Kyote the other month – somebody else pressed up the track before the artist could release his official press. The problem with our scene is that it is full of youngsters with no respect. Half of them probably don’t know what a bootleg is, and a lot of them feel no way to just hand out another person’s hard work in return for some more dubs for their radio show. I think until we see a massive influx of overseas interest, we will always be against the p2p programs.

Pearsall: That leads on to my next question, which is where you’d like the scene in general, and yourself and your label in particular, to head? One of the things that seems to distinguish grime from jungle before it is that, at least on the mc side, people seem to want the kind of mass-market success that the junglists never seemed particularly interested in. Do you want grime to blow up into something that gets national and international attention, like rap music, or something that stays underground with its own infrastructure, like drum n’ bass?

Plasticman: I want it to run like drum and bass – all the top boys in that scene are still earning enough money, selling 10,000 units and playing all over the world. That is where I want to be. I know a lot of people want to be on top of the pops but that aint me at all. I think if grime gets too popular it will get saturated with cheesy copy cats funded by the major labels to become the next big thing – exactly what happened to UK Garage. The last thing we need is another UK Garage.

Pearsall: You’ve managed to hit up a bunch of places around the world over the last year. How did that come through? Was that purely off the back of Rephlex’s Grime compilation or was that already starting to happen when that was released?

Plasticman: I think that definitely helped. Before then people who had heard of grime had to know about it. When Rephlex dropped the LP it opened a lot of doors and made the sound highly accessible. I think that the Rephlex tag alone ensures that promoters will get a decent turn out so it means paying for me to come over and play is a lot less of a risk for them than bringing over somebody who has only ever released stuff in the UK. This for me is probably the biggest reason I’m getting quite a lot of love from the overseas crew.

Pearsall: Presumably you’ve played at a wide variety of events on your travels, how have people reacted to the (presumably new to them) tunes? Has it been bafflement or enthusiasm? And how have the international crowds you’ve played to compared to those at home?

Plasticman: The crowds are generally a lot bigger when I have played abroad, more dancing too! People are really open to the new sounds, they just take it all in and dance to it. I’ve found it goes down particularly well at the electro kinda nights – I’ve played at a couple of Drum and Bass raves and you can tell that some of the ravers want the beats to speed up a bit, but generally the majority are getting down to it.

Pearsall: What are your plans for North America? Are there tour possibilities on the horizon? How about distribution for TerrorRhythm?

Plasticman: Definitely looking to do a tour. I am working closely with another person heavily involved with the scene, we’re looking to put together a decent package of artists to tour Canada and the States so that we can gather as much interest as possible. It will be heavy if we can pull it off – so any promoters reading this, get in contact with me via the forum and hopefully we can put together a game plan. Terrorhythm should hopefully reach out of the UK soonish, just need to see how the stuff does on export first to make sure the market is there for it, then hopefully get some kind of press and distribution deal on it with a big company.

Pearsall: A few months ago it was hard to tell if grime and dubstep would take off in North America but now we seem to be on a roll – tours, nights, websites, radio shows are all starting up and things seem to be growing. How are the UK artists reading the North American scene at the moment? Is it really registering? Are artists and labels making plans for more tours and distribution or do they see it as a serious market yet?

Plasticman: From over here the USA looks like a huge place, we can see places showing interest but it’s hard to gauge if there is genuine interest or just a group of 20 mates bigging up Dizzee Rascal online. This is why we need to get this tour sorted – that way we can sweep the states on the air, in the clubs and on the roads. It’s all about marketing at the end of the day. We see the USA as an extremely important market but also one that will take time to break, we’re just waiting patiently.

Pearsall: Presumably you’ve heard all kinds of different types of dance music in your travels, which (if any) of these different styles that you’ve been exposed to has influenced your production work? More generally, what other styles of music do you check besides grime and dubstep?

Plasticman: I don’t really check any of it to be honest. I’m not influenced by music but more by my everyday life. In the daytime I still lock into rinse or just listen to a mix cd – I’m always listening to grime – and get to hear some dubstep occasionally when I’m playing out but don’t often check for it. When I went on tour of the states with Rephlex I was hearing mad tunes, but they never really inspired me to have a go, they more just amazed me at how technical they were. I like the fact people can get so much out of their music programs, but for me, my music is all about getting my emotions out. Last year I had a bit of a rough time for about 5 months – all of the tracks from that time are slow tempo, dark, empty tracks – you can almost feel the anger and hurt that I was going through at the time – well, I can anyway!!

Pearsall: Just to move back closer to home (for you anyways), what role has the FWD night played in your career and could you maybe explain to our readers what the whole philosophy of the night is?

Plasticman: I went to FWD for about a year before I actually got booked there. It’s a fortnightly event in Shoreditch which showcases DJ’s pushing the newest music on the underground scene. It hosts DJ’s who play Dubstep, Grime, Breaks, Broken Beats and all kinds of music. FWD is the place to play if you are a DJ – the mc takes a back seat, everyone who attends is eager to hear new music and if you play a good set it will go down extremely well there. Playing at FWD made me step up a gear as a DJ. It is so challenging to play to that crowd, you have to be on point – I make sure now that all my sets live up to the standard I set myself when I first played there.

Pearsall: Finally, I guess, a really obvious question: if you could play any event or anywhere, where would it be?

Plasticman: I know it sounds really boring but I would love to play at Sidewinder in the UK. It’s the pinnacle of all the events in the uk garage industry whether u play grime or vocal garage. I haven’t had the chance to play there yet but I would love to play there – I’ve seen Cha rip up the event as a punter, I’d like to see and feel that energy rush playing the tune myself on the decks there!

Interview by Pearsall. Check out the Terrorhythm site and forum. Thanks to Plasticman for taking the time to answer our q’s.

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Riddim.ca was founded by DJ/writer paul autonomic (aka Mr. Bump) in February 2005 as a hub for North America's nascent grime and dubstep scenes. Since then we've helped promote events across the continent and made friends around the world. Mostly dormant now, we're host to one of the web's largest collections of writing on the late-Garage dis/continuum as well as a growing collection of rare audio and scans (coming eventually).