Before you read this interview, I implore you to at least skip through Elijah’s Rhythm and Cash podcast with Plastician, it pre-dates this interview and for context I feel it’s important to take it in and really understand where Plastician comes from and his views on the challenges he faces and his career triumphs. It’s a fantastic listen and Elijah did a sterling job.
This interview was conducted in a café in South London, the same café actually that half the Artwork interview was done in; a month or so after Elijah’s podcast came out. He’d just returned from NASS festival, as had I, and we were both looking forward to the rest of the summer.
For those that don’t know, Plastician is a genre-defining producer and DJ. He’s one of the original Croydon DJs around dubstep’s creation and explosion, he was one of the first guys to start to play grime from the Dubstep set (which at the time, wasn’t the done thing, obviously now it very much is) and he’s a big time champion of new music, of which his long running weekly Rinse show is very much the epicenter of.
Plasticians career has arced in a funny way, he’s always been consistent but as the years have passed, with dubstep’s fallout, it’s although he’s unfairly been ‘tarred’ with that brush, despite the fact that he plays across the board better than almost anyone else. After knowing him a few years now I was eager to see where he’s at now, how his Terrorhythm label is doing and what his plans are for the future.
How’s life for you at the moment? Every other interview begins with ‘You helped invented Dubstep blah blah’ but like how is life at the moment for you and how is it being a Father?
I think like everything goes in ups and downs so day to day you never really know if yours going to have a good or a bad you know. In the last two weeks I’ve been pretty positive about things that have been happening. Family life is good. I think my family life only ever has a positive impact on my well being, it’s my work life that can draw the negatives. But yeah, family life is good, business life is peaks and troughs but at the moment I feel pretty good about things.
How are bookings doing, let’s talk about that. How was NASS? Sorry I missed you.
Nass festival was a difficult gig actually. I had my reservations before I went to play there because my set got moved. I initially was down to play twelve until one thirty, the tent closed at three. The needed to move me to play after EZ to close the stage, I was like ‘oooh’. I’ve obviously known EZ for years and he was a big part of why I got into DJing so we all know he’s fucking brilliant at what he does but right now he’s like purple patch, the music that he plays is spot on. What the kids are into he plays it, so I was like –
You do that though…
Not really, they don’t know the music I’m playing. Even if I play to be like obvious stuff a lot of the kids about now only really know music from about 3 years ago, so even if I play classic grime and dubstep, they don’t know. It’s ridiculous; they don’t even know ‘Pow’. They know Rari Workout –
Do you play that in clubs?
I don’t play that kind of stuff personally its a little bit close to, I don’t know, it’s not a bad track but it doesn’t strike a chord with me. I still play a lot of big vocal track like ‘Shutdown’ and ‘Man don’t care’ works in this climate but for example playing older Wiley stuff, no one knows it even if some of it is only 6 years old.
Do you still us Serato though?
Yeah, but I don’t use USB’s. I thought I would but I’m so used to seeing the screen, I’m so used to having access to everything, USB limits me to 64, 120gb, my old laptop had a terabyte harddrive in it and I had like 30-60 tracks every week to play on the radio and they’d stay in my computer. A lot of them stay in rotation; I can’t really do that with USB all of the downloading it, changing it, setting up a record box.
I’ve been using Serato for ten years now, when I started using laptops nobody knew what was going on but now it’s normal and yeah, I could imagine not using it. Being able to find stuff really quick typing in the first few letters of someone’s name. I can’t do that with a USB. It’s scrolling through pages and pages. Some people are real quick with the USB thing, the touch screen bits and all that, I’ve got CDJ’s at home but I still find that really unusual – scrolling through with a little wheel – and also my current playlist that I play on the radio now, that playlist on it’s own has 980 tracks on it. I can’t fit that on a USB. Within ten minutes into the set, something I wanted isn’t there. I’m playing BPM, you need a massive array of stuff so that you can properly levitate from one sound to another.
It’s just the way you’re used to working though.
Yeah, the same reason I still use Fruity Loops, it gets the job done.
So what you said earlier about Nass, about the festival stuff. You said in an interview last week that it wouldn’t make sense for you to play an Ibiza friendly house set.
Yeah anyone that’s there to see me is gonna be a bit confused as to what I’m doing there.
I almost feel like I know that you would do better than most people if you did do it.
Oh I’ve got the selection there of course.
So this is the thing so on one hand, your show is championed for being all over the place genre wise, inclusive of a really wild selection but then you wouldn’t want to go and play Ibiza and do that sort of set, even though you could do.
I feel like if I’m doing a set in Ibiza I try to keep it as close to what I do anyway and because the selection is so vast, I’ll think ahead and think ‘if they listen to David Zowie house tunes every weekend, what’s the closest thing that I play, to that kind of sound. I’ll pick out a few bits based on what I think might work if they listen to that but isn’t that actual track. This is what was going through my head when I was playing with EZ ‘That’s working, that’s working, what have I got that’s a bit like that?’. So without having to go on and play those records how can I do me a little bit more and cater for the audience and keep them on board. That’s what I’ve always done mind. Playing at the boom of grime and dubstep, through the mid-noughties you want to play the freshest music you can, but you’re playing to students who only know ‘Midnight request line’, a couple of DMZ tracks and the biggest grime at the time, Tempa T or some shit like that. You have to find a way to fit those records in to maintain attention but at the same time throw in stuff they don’t know, that they’re gonna think ‘You’re gonna fucking love this!’. It’s still what I do now but the other thing is kids don’t go clubbing anymore. They go festivals and they go to rooftop parties. They don’t go to dark dingy clubs to hear the latest shit. I was talking to Boy Better Know in Ibiza and they were saying since everything has started to pop for them their shows are a bit weird in that the hard core will be at the front who sing every lyric back to you from the beginning to the end of the set and then like 80% of the audience only know ‘That’s not me’ and ‘Shutdown’ and they’re just waiting for you to play those tracks. That comes with getting big I guess.
That leads me nicely on to my next question. I want to talk about your latest big release with Skepta. It’s interesting because listening to your podcast it seems that at the start he was a bit sort of hard to get hold off and it evolved into playing three gigs a week with him for three years.
Yeah, we used to hang out all the time. For a few years, we were really close pals and I’m still mates with him now but I don’t see him half as much I used to. We were in Ibiza the other week eating at Ocean Beach and he came up to me and was like ‘Oh I vocaled one of your tunes’ and I was like ‘what one?’ and he told me ‘errr the Mike Jones one’. He came over and played me some of it on his phone. He asked me ‘Oh, when are you on radio?’ and I said ‘Tuesdays now’. He was like ‘let’s do it on radio this week!’. We were supposed to do that and he like managed to get there one minute after the show finished so we didn’t really premier it properly.
Yeah because on the rip you can hear that.
We were trying franticly to get ten seconds of it off his phone. It was pretty funny.
But I didn’t realise he’d done it off his own back.
Yeah it wasn’t like we’d sat down and planned to do a track together, he was just like looking for- well I guess what the track references is everything of the fact he’s gone back to that era. I mean it was ten years ago I made that track and we were playing that out together a lot, on radio and in clubs and shit. What he’s talking about and even the artwork, Georgina Cook’s photo is us ten years ago.
What’s your reaction been like to that?
Mad! Because obviously he’s killing it at the moment and I’m getting hit up left right and centre. Because it’s his track I cant really do anything with it, I go off and tell people you need to speak to Skepta because if he featured on a track on one of my projects, he’d be telling people you need to speak to him, as it’s coming out on his label. It’s just on Soundcloud, it’s not available to buy anywhere but you’d be surprised how many tweets we see about how many radio shows it’s been played on. So people are downloading the rip which is really low bit rate as well.
But the level of notoriety he’s got in the past year, he’s everywhere and not just the usual channels.
Yeah, I could push any other track to the press and it wouldn’t get half of what Skepta just putting that track on Soundcloud did. In one day I had maybe 20 of the top global publications writing about it and constantly tweeting the article.
Yeah and this goes back to the new model. Traffic driving man, Skepta drives traffic, it’s incredibly popular.
Yeah I mean that day we had like Fader, Hypetrak, Pigeons and Planes, RWD, i-D, there was loads. Publications I don’t even have contacts at were writing about it and another good thing about it was, before we put the actual track up on Soundcloud, there were some complications with his [Skepta] account. We actually ended up just putting it on mine, which did me a favour anyway.
The original blog posts that were going up were throwing forward to my radio show and the whole show, two hours, had like twenty five thousand listeners in the first couple of days. It was good because I was noticing people were actually listening to the whole show being like ‘Shit! there’s some good shit on this show. It’s not just the Skepta track’ and that sort of press is great. You don’t get that sort of press these days about your radio show. None gets excited about a radio show so the fact that it landed on so many people’s news feeds, I’ve noticed there’s been an improvement in the few weeks that followed it. But the radio show has been going for the last few years. Right now it’s usual to get up to 20 thousand listening in a week, which is insane.
And you record from home now right?
Most weeks I’ll pre record. I did the show live twice in the last 4 weeks. It’s just long for me. It’s an hour there, an hour back. The time that my show’s on there’s one train I could get home and if I miss it I’ve gotta get three trains and a taxi. It’s expensive and takes a hour and twenty anyway. Tuesday evening man I just wanna get home. I can do it in bits, I can produce segments if I do it at home. Most people listen to it in the week anyway I find. From experience of doing the show live the past couple of times, the interaction isn’t what it use to be back in the day because people know they have it on demand, they make time for it in the week. It’s not like the old days.
I don’t think I listen to anything live nowadays.
The only time I listen to radio these days is in my car and that’s because I have to. A lot of times though, like last night I was in the car and I heard the last 20 minutes of Youngsta’s show and he played a couple of bits I really liked and I then went back in the next day to listen to the whole show on Soundcloud. I’ve done that with countless shows, I’ll hear a bit in the car that I like and I’ll have to listen to the whole show.
So Terrorythm events used to be frequently at Plan B which is obviously shut down. You did all sorts of things there, breaking world records for example. It got announced a few days ago that it’s going to be an XOYO owned venue called Phonox. Have you got any events planned at the new place?
Well we have a show planned at the new Plan B, we’ve got a date locked in, the 30th September. We’re going to see how that one goes. The downstairs is going to be no more; we used to do our events in the downstairs of Plan B. It was intimate, decent sound system. I wanted to be forward back in the day and that was the closest I could find without going into Plastic People, which I did consider, but then it closed down so it was too late.
When my wife got pregnant the events had to take the back burner, because we used to do the events together and I don’t have any other staff at the label. I do everything myself. So we did one more and brought in some friends and then I was like, we’ll take a break from the events. We had our son and he was fully hands on. 4 months of doing absolutely nothing but looking after him with the wife. But now it has settled down and I want to get back into doing events.
They have the resident every Saturday right and –
I know, knowing the XOYO guys that things are going to be house and techno all three days. They’re not going to want to take a risk with anything else just yet and to be honest it’s from experience of what Plan B was like, it’s difficult to take risks in Brixton because you don’t get much footfall. They don’t go there for a night out, they grab some food and some drinks after so getting people to go clubbing is hard. This is why the Wednesday is actually a huge risk for me. It’s going to be really fucking hard like, so I have to deliver with the lineup. I need to confirm with the one guy and I need another stone cold ticket seller, someone who doesn’t play in London often, who is going to get kids out on a Wednesday night. It’s hard to do. It’s also coming out of my own pocket as well so if I fuck up on this it’s me and my family that are going to feel the brunt of it.
XOYO expanding is very interesting actually because Andy has obviously done a really good job and The Nest and XOYO are thriving and they’ve struck a good balance between being a well oiled business and actually having great bookings, great nights etc. and taking risks on really fun stuff.
Art House recently, do you think this is a new model for London now, with so many independent clubs closing that like Colombo group is sort of…
It’s going to take someone to take it by the scruff of the neck but at the end of the day it’s the government that have the last word with all of this shit. They’re going to close all the clubs down the way it’s going, eventually. People who run the country have never been clubbing. They just see it as a problem. They don’t see how important it is to the wellbeing of the people who live in London and have these fucking shitty jobs all week. They do not go clubbing. They don’t understand the culture. They just think it’s a room full of people taking drugs, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Do you think in five years we’ll be looking around at a landscape with no clubs but thinking fuck there’s a festival every weekend.
It’s already like that now. Every weekend there’s a rooftop party, daytime into the evening. People would rather pay £40 for something they can go to the entire weekend than pay a fiver to get in on a Wednesday night, even a Friday or Saturday night. It’s not enough to see five DJ’s for a fiver. They need to see 85 DJ’s that they’re going to see five minutes of.
Do you think as attention spans are shorter now that it makes people want to flutter around. The gig-going equivalent of pressing next or shuffle on your iPhone.
It’s partly that and it’s the fact that the main aim of going out isn’t to listen to the music it’s just to be fucked for as long as possible. To get an escape from everyday life. That’s why people love festivals I think. It’s an escape. It’s that wormhole of house music. Coming back around two days later. Have a good time and escape for a whole weekend.
It’s weird though because half of me understands and half doesn’t. Throughout university I used to go out constantly through the week. I can’t do that now. I’m self-employed and can’t afford that through the week but perhaps the weekend I can a lot more. The problem is that the festival thing is expensive too. I’ve never been one to go out and spend a lot of money on a night out. I’ve never really done it at all so if the landscape changed into something where you’d go on one big night a month and build up to that, I don’t really know what I’d do.
I’m at the stage at the moment where I think it is going to be pushed underground somehow. It’s going to be venues hired privately. People buying tickets for things in advance not knowing where it is. They’ll be locked in. It’ll look like its invite only but these things will be sold, people’s names will be attached on the door. It’ll be the only way around it – loophole it as a private party and they can keep it going as long as they want.
This is the thing, the amount of invite only parties through the week I go to; invite only, media stuff, brand events. A lot of those have a club atmosphere and I can legitimately justify going out to one of those, go straight after work, get some beers in and it can be over by 11pm. In a few weeks for example is the Jackmaster x Armand Van Halen Boiler Room which is sponsored by Ray Ban. That’s 7-11pm, that’ll feel like I’m in a club, I’ll come out feeling pissed. I feel as though I’ve been at a club. I can see the model shifting towards that because that’s just more viable than me staying out until 4am.
You’ll never have a problem filling things up if you offer free drinks either. We had this conversation as well, we’re doing this thing with Desperados. With the ‘That’s what the Jams’ track was for so they’re filming a video for it. It’s a big media cross-platform thing. Part of it is an event for it and they were like ‘We’ve gotta make sure the event is packed’. I sort of said stop worrying about the event, there’s going to be free beer. You’re going to be turning people away. You could put the shittest line-up ever, on and just put free drinks on the flyer and that’s the sad reality of life in London, people want a cheap night out.
A new model is emerging with labels and branded content and the way blogs work, so the real power here financially is brands, whether that’s helping labels, or helping blogs they want to support.
I actually think brand involvement is pretty cool. I’ve never had a big problem with corporate involvement for money and sponsorship and all that. If people will let you do whatever it is that you wanna do, that’s fine. If you’re getting paid for it then you have complete artistic control over what it is you’re doing. If it just means putting a logo over it that’s fine.
If I’m going to have corporate involvement project wise, you can have credit for helping me put it together but you can’t have artistic input on what we’re doing because you’ve come to me because I know what I’m doing. Don’t tell me what to do. So long as we’re not puppets for them it’s fine. I know a lot of people from the outside looking in go ‘Oh that’s fucked they sold out, doing a gig for Red Bull’ for example. Red Bull put on some of the best events in the world, why would you not want to play an event for them; realistically it’s money or no money.
Red Bull is a great example actually. I feel like a lot of brands are trying to copy Red Bull’s model, how do new models, for example before we started recording you mention Apple Music and Beats Radio, how does the new streaming model effect your label and the way you sell music?
It just means there’s less money coming back so you have to streamline everything so less money going into projects. Every penny you spend on a release is a risk now so it doesn’t matter how many hits or plays you get, you can have hundreds or thousands of plays on something and it looks like you’re smashing the shit out of it but you’ve not earned a penny back and that is the reality. That’s why brands are interesting because that 500,000 plays is worth money to them because if their brand is on that banner that’s 500,000 more seeing their product. Where as those hits mean nothing, it’s great that people have heard it, which is great, it means people are enjoying my music which will get me back in the studio again. What it doesn’t do is pay the bills, it doesn’t earn any money. That’s why perhaps people will be more interested in working with brands because they offer the only monetary gain through having hits. That’s the way it’s going, that’s the way it’s gone, how many hits or streams did it get, because people wont be buying any music in ten, fifteen years. It won’t be sold.
This has been the long term moment for the scene, certain producers of a big track will be picked up for really high festival slots because they have X amount of plays on Soundcloud, where as they can’t actually DJ, they can’t hold a crowd, which is obviously a long term problem but it is only really going to get worse.
If you try and fight it you’ll loose. I hate streaming as a platform, it’s fucked everything but it’d make no sense for us to drop all of our music off of streaming sites because it does bring in some money and at the moment some money is better than no money. At the moment sales are down, streams are up you earn less from streams but it’s starting to level out now. If I look at my monthly sales figures, Spotify and Youtube figures is almost on par with iTunes sales, in some months it’s more than iTunes sales.
It is and it isn’t because it’s low money. If that [streaming] weren’t in existence, the money I earn would be ten times what I’m earning now. We’ve lost maybe 90% of our sales on iTunes but we’ve quadrupled our plays on Spotify through streaming and Youtube and all that shit. It brings back per play like 0.0005p. You need like ten thousand plays to sell like one album or some shit..
So with all that in mind where’s next for Terrorhythm?
Just carry on putting music out. I don’t want to change my model too much. I like the fact that I’ve got a good thing going. Things run smoothly in that I know who to go to for mastering and he turns around quick. I’ve got a guy who’s really good at art, who’s really good and will be honest in lead times and all that, so I know how long are going to take. The main problem I have now is that kids want shit out straight away. You sign something and they expect it to be out next week and bear in mind 5/6 years ago it could take you a year to put an album out, it took me two on my first album, it was long. These kids think it’s long to wait five weeks or something. Five weeks doesn’t even build a good press campaign on it, get it to the right DJ’s, get the buzz going on it. It takes months. Print media, videos of it going off at a gig. Releases need that too, you need people Shazaming it, you need mad shit happening and you can’t do that unless you give it the time it needs. It’s not like singing shit and getting it out tomorrow, that’s not how this thing runs; It’s not a Youtube channel. The other thing is, all these young kids don’t know what a label is. They just see shit going up on Soundcloud available free download or to buy. They think it takes five minutes to make something available but it doesn’t take five minutes to make a release and thats the problem. It really grinds me down, it really bothers me but it’s something I have to deal with now.
Plastician plays Ceremony festival, this weekend in Finsbury Park
Plastician on SoundCloud
Words & Portrait by Tom Kirkby
Other photos by XOYO