plastician-interview1-5

Chris Reed is in a good mood.

It’s a sunny morning when we meet, sunny enough to sit outside a Southeast London cafe (“shit, Transition’s just down the road from here isn’t it?”), the sort of day when it’s nice to kick back and chat anyway. But the man more commonly known as Plastician wouldn’t need any encouragement to hold forth – he’s got a lot going on and wants the world to know it.

What’s prompted the interview is the new reissue album of his very earliest tracks from the dawn of grime and dubstep, mostly released under the name Plasticman (until he became aware that there was a Canadian techno producer out there with a strikingly similar name). This would be interesting in itself – his history has been as a uniquely skilled bridge-builder, both between grime and dubstep and then outwards, firstly to the experimental electronica world, then to the mainstream via the US hip hop world, and those tracks stand the test of time, fitting perfectly into a climate newly receptive to grime’s dancefloor qualities.

But there’s a whole other level added by an absolutely killer line-up of remixers he’s marshalled (he’s a skilled cat-herder too), which serve as an illustration of how diverse his interests are now. Where other foundational figures have moved towards house and techno of one sort or another (Skream, Pinch, Loefah), or back into underground dubstep (Hatcha), Plastician has expanded in all directions, dropping tempo constraints of any kind and forging strong connections with the Los Angeles weird beat and neo-trap scenes. It’s a move that’s baffled quite a few listeners since he started it while in LA in early 2013, but as we’ll see, it seems finally to be paying dividends.


So what’s made you revisit the Plasticman days?

Part of it is that most of it’s only out on vinyl. I was one of the first people from our scene to move on to just digital and take away the vinyl – so this stuff was separate for that reason. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, really, but then because it’s ten years since most of those tracks came out, I felt it’s a good time to do it. I’ve been thinking about doing it for two or three years, I haven’t released an album as such for years, I get hit up for them old records and tracks all the time, and it’s taken that amount of time to get here, to get all the old files, to talk to Sarah Soulja about releasing the old Soulja tunes, and the Road release, okaying things with people, and that coinciding with the ten year thing made it feel like a good time.

Then the remix project came in, so that felt like a good tie-in – but getting remixes from 15, 20 people takes a long time and I’m still waiting on a good few of them which is why it’s coming out now rather than a year ago. It’s just got to the point where I couldn’t wait any longer, everything I had to do has been ready for months and months, so here it is!

And was the fact that instrumental grime is in demand now a consideration?

I think that was pure luck for me actually. When I first started about doing this properly, things weren’t where we are now with this whole instrumental grime thing – I’m quite lucky that it hastaken this long, because if I’d done this a year ago I don’t think it would have had this impact. For people on the outside looking in now, this would be the ideal time to release any old music from this era, so it’s worked out well in that sense.

It’s going to be more welcomed by the wider audience, people who don’t necessarily know the originals will be able to listen to it from a different angle, it’ll make a bit more sense – rather than putting it next to this high production value, big room sounds that maybe they’d been used to before. This stuff’s much more stripped back and simple, but the fact that stripped back and simple is working again, means even though it’s 10, 12 years since those tracks came out a lot of them work really well in sets based on this new grime wave. So yeah it’s perfect for me really.

Did you have a sense of what it was you were making at the time? You had feet in dubstep and grime probably more than anyone, so what did you call your own tunes?

Well, coming out of UK garage, it was really difficult to get a foot in that scene. I was only a DJ anyway, which made it even more difficult as you really needed to be a producer if you were going to do anything. So when the grime thing started to happen and everything became a bit simple and, for want of a better word, kiddy – that’s how the garage scene looked at it anyway, kids making shit music, it was looked down upon and frowned upon by garage heads – that opened the door for people like me who really didn’t know what they were doing on Fruityloops. I heard ‘Pulse X’ and thought “I could do stuff like that!”

So for a while I was doing this 8-bar kind of sound, and it took a few months before I sent something to Slimzee. I’d been giving bits to Hatcha but that didn’t really fit with the dark 2-step and very early dubstep he was playing, it was still a little bit kiddy in that sense. I didn’t mind, it was 8-bar grime, in my head that’s all it was, so I sent this track to Slimzee, ‘Venom’, and that became my first release. Then through playing on Rinse, and the linkup with Sarah shortly after for the Road release and the Soulja one, that put me on the FWD>> radar.

When Sarah first asked me to play at FWD>> I was a bit scared, because I was a FWD>> head, I went down there because I loved the early dubstep stuff and I’d been playing that with the grime stuff in my DJ sets. I was worried about playing grime at FWD>> because then the sound was very tribal, very deep, Horsepower and Zed Bias, or very early Skream & Benga, this tribal sound somewhere between grime and Wookie. I just felt my 8-bar stuff was not going to run in there, back in the day then it was all about dubplate.net forums and people were looking down on that stuff.

I didn’t really want to come in as that grime guy, so I started making what I thought was FWD>> music – grime, but structured like a dubstep record: a 32-bar intro and a drop, then a breakdown and another drop. Back then grime was literally eight bars, switch, eight bars, switch, nothing beyond 8-bar records. As complicated as it got was ‘Eskimo’ which had 16s and eights, and a couple of different patterns going on. I was trying to take that 8-bar sound and build it like an instrumental record – so that’s how I found my feet between the two scenes, I guess, because I was trying to build tunes for people expecting to hear it as an instrumental without an MC over it.

“I found a couple of songs of the people they were talking about, but I couldn’t see the comparison at all – I was just like “but that’s not garage!””

But prior to that you were presumably writing specifically for grime DJs and MCs – what kind of response had you had from that scene?

Well it was a bit difficult because I was in South, I was detached from the early grime, people knew my name but they didn’t really know much about me because I wasn’t hanging about in Rhythm Division, I was in Big Apple. I would meet people who were dropping records at Big Apple occasionally – but then once I started my own label the reverse happened, I was distributing my own records so I met a lot of people. I think it was ‘Cha’, the first one where that happened, because my early stuff I’d been using another company – but when I started distributed my own stuff, because I’d worked in distribution and I knew all the shops and who to sell to, I’d start taking my records around in the car, and I’d go into Rhythm Division so I met Slimzee face-to-face, I met Jammer, and quite a lot of the East guys, just to say hello.

And then the more I got into that grime thing the more I realised I needed to be cutting dubs in different places, so now and again I would go to cut at Music House, and I met Skepta there, I met Tubby and Footsie and we would swap dubs. It was difficult at first, but once I realised what I needed to be doing to integrate myself into that side of the sound it was OK. Of course I grew up with all the dubstep guys, I was getting beats from them, they were playing my stuff and I was playing theirs because I knew them all, before any of us got big. But on the grime side of things I had to go and meet, turn up with my CDs and be all like “hi, I’m Plasticman, I did that Slimzee record and I’ve done this and I’m playing at Sidewinder, and can I get some dubs because I’m on Rinse now…”

Were you aware that you were being played outside of dubstep and grime too, by experimental or techno DJs?

I had no idea at all. Nothing. The whole Richie Hawtin thing, I had no idea of anything beyond what stemmed out of garage. I came to underground music very late – I would have been 16, 17 when I started listening to pirate radio, and by the time I was producing and releasing records I’d have been 20 maybe. In that four years, and this is before the internet was a hub for music knowledge, I just had the record shop and pirates, so I didn’t listen to anything outside of garage – which includes the beginnings of dubstep and grime, because I deemed that to be garage at the time.

So I didn’t know who these techno DJs were, who these producers were, and I remember Neil Joliffe who worked at Ammunition and had knowledge of music that was just vast, sent me a link to this forum post, which linked to an article someone had written, and they were comparing me to Kraftwerk and something else, and I had no idea who these people are. And Neil said “it’s true, you sound like this and this, and you sampled this record in that thing, so you must know who they’re talking about” but I said “I just got the sound from this sample pack that I downloaded off an internet forum, I don’t know what the sounds in it are, the sound’s just called ‘Chirp’, that’s all I know.”

I didn’t know who I was sampling, I didn’t know anything. I remember reading this really long and detailed review of my Slimzos release, they were talking about the b-side and they said “Croydon techno” and deeming it to be this new wave, yet I didn’t think of it as anything but garage. So I did a bit of Googling, it took a while because as I said the internet didn’t have everything at your fingertips like it does now, there was certainly no YouTube, but eventually I found a couple of songs of the people they were talking about, but I couldn’t see the comparison at all – I was just like “but that’s not garage!” I listened to Kraftwerk and thought, that just sounds crazy, I don’t know how that’s anything to do with anything I’m doing. Now it totally makes sense but back then I was just young, if it wasn’t garage I just didn’t get it. If it wasn’t garage it wasn’t anything to do with my music. My music was garage because Slimzee and Hatcha and people played it, and anything else was just another world.

A lot of people in grime did bring older music to bear on it, though – I know, for example, Terror Danjah had a grounding in electro, funk and suchlike from his older brothers and sisters…

Well that’s the thing, I was the oldest in my family. My brother has no interest in music, my mum and dad listened to pop music – my mum listens to some reggae but not sitting in the house listening to it all day. We’d listen to Capital FM in the car on the way to school, and I’d listen to Capital, maybe Kiss sometimes, so my musical horizons were non-existent.

Source: factmag

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