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      The VICE Oral History of Dubstep

      By Lauren Martin, Photos: Georgina Cook

      June 23, 2015
      From the column 'VICE Long Reads'

      The crowd at DMZ, one of the dubstep scene's two most iconic club nights, along with FWD>>

      My relationship with dubstep dates back about a decade. I left school in Glasgow in 2005 and thought I'd go to university, but was too busy drinking cider in the park to decide what to study, or where. I'd often end up at hardcore shows, but eventually got bored of what they had to offer. Then I discovered clubbing. I was living in an entirely different country from the one that I felt was spawning everything new and exciting in British dance music at the time, but sneaking into parties underage I was able to hear some of the DJs who were playing at the London nights I desperately wanted to go to: FWD>> at Plastic People, and DMZ at Mass.

      Around that time, I got a job in the budget music shop Fopp. "Let us buy some of this music in," an employee and I asked. "You can have five CDs, OK?" they replied. "Then, if they sell, we'll see." We ordered Skream's debut album, the first Tectonic Plates compilation, Burial's debut album, Dubstep Allstars Vol. 4, mixed by DJs Hatcha and Youngsta, and the Mary Anne Hobbs-curated Warrior Dubz compilation. They sold out almost immediately. Hundreds of miles away from the epicentre of this sound, there was an appetite for it – my own almost aggressive in its confidence. 'This is the most fucking incredible thing I have ever heard,' I would think, and still do.

      UK club music is a conflation of sounds and cultures that feel gargantuan in their legacies: reggae, dub, jungle, garage, drum and bass, house and techno. By the turn of the millennium, some of these genres were standing strong, while some were crumbling under the weight of their own mediocrity and ego – and it was this stagnation that bred something shocking and unique. In the late 90s and early 2000s, a crew of friends from south London decided that, fuck it, they'd had enough of these legacies; loved them, yes, but for their history rather than their sense of urgency. Now, they were going to do their own thing.

      These friends went on to create a sound that changed electronic music. Dubstep is nearly, roughly, 15 years old this year (and with the sold-out DMZ party's 10th birthday in south London next month, it feels more loved than ever), so the summer of 2015 seems like a fitting time to tell its story. This is not an encyclopaedia of a genre; that will come, I'm sure. This is a story of a sound and culture, told by some of those who built it, and it's dedicated to the memory and work of Stephen Samuel Gordon, AKA Spaceape. Rest in peace.

      Intro and interviews: @codeinedrums / Photos: @drumzofthesouth

      CHAPTER ONE: "There's a Reason It All Came from Croydon"

      Croydon (Photo by Peter Bright via)


      Mala: One of the founding members of the London-based DMZ club night and label, he's also one half of the production duo Digital Mystikz, along with Coki, as well as a solo DJ and producer.
      Loefah: A producer, DJ and one of the core members of the DMZ club night and label, he also runs the Swamp81 label.
      Sgt Pokes: The main MC for the DMZ club nights, Sgt Pokes has MC'd dubstep parties for over 15 years.

      MALA: I remember growing up and thinking that the sky was grey, the streets were grey, and the buildings were grey. On the weekends we'd have teams play on pitches, at the back of this so-called "lake" that you could literally walk across. They called it the "country park" but the council didn't bother with the upkeep and it just became a place to set fire to old bunkers. There really wasn't much going on.

      LOEFAH: There's a reason it all came from Croydon. Croydon was just an incestuous town, with people just working, drinking, thieving and getting fucked. I used to go out to hardcore raves, and then split off into jungle and drum and bass, but drum and bass became homogenised with the "liquid" sound and then suddenly, garage happened. Before the summer holidays in 1997, everyone was into jungle. After the holidays, everyone was into garage. It was that quick.

      Are you into dance music? Check out Thump, our entire website dedicated to the stuff.

      MALA: Myself, Coki and Pokes were at school together. We played at house parties in the mid 90s, and we met Loefah at around 15 years old through mutual friends. He was the junglist who was into [seminal drum and bass label] Metalheadz, just like us.

      SGT POKES: My dad even worked with Mala's dad, and went to school with Coki's dad. Around 2000-01, I was managing a bar in Croydon called The Black Sheep, where I was also MCing drum and bass nights. Mala was an MC, too; playing garage nights like Twice As Nice under the name Malibu. If you do the maths, of who Digital Mystikz are now: Mala and Coki? One was Malibu, and the other was Coke. Mala actually made a track with an MC called Onyx Stone, who was his MC partner at Twice As Nice, called "Whadda We Like?" – which came out on Cooltempo in about 2001, I think. I think that, maybe, Mala saw a side of the music industry after that period that made him react so aversely; to be the anti-commercial vibe he's been for years, you know?

      LOEFAH: We all started writing bassline music at around 138BPM, then meeting up on Fridays and playing them to each other. Since we grew up around soundsystems, the sound was all about the bottom end, but we had our own vibes: Mala had his broken dub house, Coki was more ragga and dancehall and I was trying to re-invent jungle in my head, because I just couldn't understand why it wasn't working.

      Then, we met [key figure in developing the dubstep sound and Big Apple record shop employee] Hatcha. He gave Mala and I a lift home one night after a rave, in the April or May of 2003, and there was a CD of Mala, Coki and my own beats in the car. Hatcha heard them and said, "I could play these at [vital East London dubstep and grime night] FWD>>." We were like, "What's FWD>>?" The first time we went to FWD>> he played "Chamber", "Pathways" and "Mawo Dub". From then on, we were proper hooked.

      I know that Sub FM was there, but that was more of an up-and-coming thing then, so if you had access to Rinse, Rinse was it. Mala used to come round to mine when Hatcha and Youngsta were on air, park his car in a street in South Norwood and pick up a signal by the Crystal Palace tower. It was such a dodgy reception – and the heating in his car didn't work either, so it was fucking freezing – but we'd just sit in our car for hours, sparking zoots and listening to Rinse.

      SGT POKES: Mala called me and said, "I've written some tracks. Hatcha's cut some of mine, some of Coki's" – around the time of "Indian Dub", "Pathways", "Mawo Dub", "Hurricane Kick", "Fire Elements" and DMZ001, long before it was on dubplate. It was some of the aggiest fucking stuff I'd ever heard. I wanted to hear it in a club so badly. I'd been to FWD>> before, and knew that I could bun and chat in there, but I went down to hear my friends' tunes after that – and it was just their music, all night.

      Click through to the next page.

      CHAPTER TWO: "These records, they were mongrels of garage."

      Youngsta at DMZ


      Martin Clark: A London-based journalist and DJ who has worked for a variety of UK publications and now runs the Keysound label and club night.
      Youngsta: Widely recognised as one of dubstep's key DJs.
      Kode9: Scottish-born, London-based producer and DJ, who founded and continues to run the Hyperdub label.
      Oris Jay: Also known as Darqwuan, the Sheffield-based producer and DJ helped to lead the breaks element of the dubstep sound.

      MARTIN CLARK: Around 2000, I came across a few records that hinted at something different. As garage was disintegrating, there were people who wanted to keep it dark, and still MC-focused, but these records, they were the mongrels of garage: creative and prolific, in their own dark, weird corner. I was working at The Face at the time, and they asked me to organise a garage photo-shoot in Croydon in the Easter of 2000, so I met [producers whose music bridged the gap, chronologically and/or stylistically, between garage and dubstep] J Da Flex, Zed Bias and El-B.

      The garage heads were adamant that this music wasn't garage, but that was the point. El-B had a real topography of a style, in the warmth and darkness of his instrumentalism. It was all hidden in the signal and noise of poppy garage at first, but then it became obvious that they needed to concentrate it into one or two places to find its feet. That was when [FWD>> founder and Rinse FM station manager] Sarah "Soulja" Lockhart and Neil Joliffe, who ran Tempa and Shelflife, formed a company called Ammunition, around 2000-01.

      YOUNGSTA: I saw a shift when DJ Zinc's "138 Trek" was released in 2000, and was getting played by all the massive garage DJs. For me, it was all down to my sister, Sarah ["Soulja" Lockhart]. She got me onto Freek FM. I remember being 13 years old when I got my first 2-4AM slot. Sarah even took me to Freek FM every Saturday, because I was too young to go by myself. She was also supplying me with tunes because of her work: for a distributor, then at a record shop where the Vibe bar used to be and then at Black Market in Soho. I'd get all the test pressings early through her and when she started Ammunition with Neil Joliffe, I was getting all of the promos, too.

      When she made the move around 2000 to start the label and FWD>>, it was to release this, well, really strange music. 2000-01 was a fucking mixed up time. Even Hatcha was playing Eskimo. We were both doing our own thing – I came from Freek FM, he came from UpFront FM – but even though we both ended up on the garage circuit, the only times we played together then were if we were both at FWD>>, after Sarah asked me to be a resident.

      KODE 9: Hyperdub started in 2001 as a web magazine, but we also did a few events in the early days before becoming a label. We did one at The Bug Bar in Brixton, with myself, Actress and Gavin [Weale], who was running Werk Discs and doing some writing for Hyperdub. In 2002, myself, Actress and [music writer and theorist] Mark Fisher were at the ICA, presenting spoken word, performances and [seminal Afrofuturism documentary film] The Last Angel of History.

      In 2003, we did a launch for a philosophy book about bacteria written by Luciana, the wife of [late poet and MC] Spaceape, with Spaceape doing readings from the book sound-tracked by lots of bass. That was also the first night we had copies of "Sine of the Dub/Stalker", I believe.

      Between 2001-03 I was writing about this darker garage stuff, like El-B, Horsepower Productions and Oris Jay, and Ammunition were running a website called dubplate.net, streaming dubplates months, if not years, before they came out. Because I was writing about all of these artists on Hyperdub, I ended up running dubplate.net for Ammunition.

      ORIS JAY: One day, I was sitting in the office with Sarah Lockhart, Martin Clark and Neil Joliffe, and we were talking about [the DJ and producer] Benny Ill, and a magazine feature that was due. "It's like 2-step, but it's got dub in it. It's kind of like... dubstep." At that point we were like, "Yeah, yeah: it's bass-driven, the beats are steppier. Why don't we just call it dubstep?"

      KODE 9: I do remember there being a front cover of XLR8R with the word "dubstep". I wrote a short article called "Yardcore" for that issue, too, as an attempt to talk about the Jamaican influence on garage, grime and dubstep; as a splicing of soundsystem culture and hardcore.

      The name made sense, though. Basically, there were three aspects of dub that influenced dubstep. The most important was playing the instrumental versions of vocal garage tracks, which was a little like what dub was to reggae – the instrumental of a full vocal. El-B pushed the release of those instrumentals: trying to bring the moodiness from early Metalheadz into garage, and so on.

      "It's like 2-step, but it's got dub in it. It's kind of like... dubstep"

      The second was dub as a methodology, which, for me, is apparent in all dance music: manipulating sound to create impossible sonic spaces using reverb, echo and such. The third is the influence of the genre called dub. (It became a cliché actually, through sampling old Jamaican films and soundtracks, and adding vocal samples.) All of that, along with soundsystem culture, were the elemental influences of early dubstep.

      The sound needed a hub to grow, and that hub was Big Apple. I remember when I went into the shop for the first time. I was supposed to interview Benga, and Hatcha and Artwork and Danny from DND were hanging out the window with a catapult and rolls of wet toilet paper, firing at people in the market. They haven't changed.

      Click through to the next page.

      CHAPTER THREE: "Rahhhh, I like this, but what the fuck is it?"

      Skream at Fwd>>


      Artwork: Something of a father figure to a number of younger dubstep DJs, Artwork is a producer, DJ, engineer and one third of Magnetic Man, along with Skream and Benga.
      Benny Ill: DJ, engineer and one half of seminal production and DJ duo Horsepower Productions.
      Joe Nice: Baltimore, Maryland-based DJ who started the first dubstep party in America, Dub War.
      Coki: One half of Digital Mystikz, along with Mala, Coki is one of the core members of the DMZ label and club night.
      Skream: Croydon-born producer and DJ who was picked up as the so-called teenage poster boy of the dubstep scene.
      Chef: A dub cutter and engineer at Croydon's Transition Studios, he was also one of the early core DJs of the dubstep scene, joining Skream and Benga's Smooth Criminals crew as a teenager.

      ARTWORK: Big Apple was a record shop in Croydon that started out selling techno and tech house. There was a floor for drum and bass and jungle upstairs, where Skream's brother Hijak and DJ Bailey, who's now a DJ on BBC Radio 1, used to work. Because I was their mate, I would hang out on that floor all day, waiting for new records to come in. There was a recording studio upstairs and after a few years the shop owner, John Kennedy, said, "Do you want to move into this studio? You can have it." I started making beats – sort of at the tail end of drum and bass, but also messing around with techno – but it was a haze because everyone was so fucking stoned all the time.

      By the time I was making techno as Grain, garage had started to creep into the shop. I was so into the US stuff, like Masters At Work, but walking downstairs and hearing the UK stuff, too, I decided to put garage vocals into the techno. Once I started making garage as Menta with Danny Harrison, who I was also engineering music for, it had got to a point where you'd see that we had three or four white labels on the wall at any one time, under five or six different names. We were sometimes doing 5,000-10,000 of our white labels then, easily.

      If you ask me what the turning point in that shop was, it was Benny Ill. I made a record that came out on Decay Records: a weird label run by this nutty guy called Heidi from Switzerland, based out of a flat in Streatham. John and I went and made this record with him, and Benny Ill was the engineer. He knew how to use the room and desk, he had a TR-909 drum machine – and he was phenomenal. We'd ask him to help us mix the record and he'd walk in, look at it, and turn everything down. Turn the hi-hat up, light a joint and slightly turn a frequency that you couldn't hear; sit back, make a cup of tea, then get a compressor out... You'd think: 'What the fuck is he doing?'

      One day he knocked on our studio door and said, "Awrite Arthur mate, I've been making some garage. Can you have a listen?" And he played this fucked up stuff. We said, "Benny, your beats are all... on the wrong fucking beat, mate": samples from films, in with this dubby, weird bass. He said, "What do you think I should do?" I didn't know, did I, but Hatcha said, "This is fucking great, I'm going to play this." I remember when Benny had a remix of Elephant Man "Log On" and – fuck me – I'd never seen anything go off like that track at FWD>>.

      BENNY ILL: When Hijak and Arthur had the studio, it was a really sociable set-up – not always to the pleasure of management, mind you. I remember Chef used to come down on his moped with a soundsystem on the back. He'd park it outside, and people would be hanging around and listening to records. I'd taken some tapes down to Big Apple for the owner, John, and this fella Neil Joliffe, who worked for a distributor that supplied to the shop, to listen to. John told me to give the tracks to Neil because he was dealing with a lot of garage stuff that we liked – labels like Public Demand, Allstar, Acetate – and was in a position of knowledge for distributors and pressing plants. One thing lead to another, and Neil ended up creating [record label] Tempa out of Ammunition for us, as Horsepower Productions.

      ARTWORK: Hatcha came into the shop when he couldn't see over the counter. He just wanted to DJ. He got decks and got really good, really fucking fast, and he had brilliant taste. He was also phenomenal at selling records – even the absolute dog-shit ones. If someone came in, he could turn it up loud and give "the Hatcha nod" – and then they'd get home with their haul and think, 'The fuck have I bought this for?' He was also totally fucking lazy, though. There was a weird relationship with him and John because he was brilliant, but didn't like to work. He just wanted to play records.

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      JOE NICE: I don't think people realise the salesman and showman Hatcha actually is. He had a way of making you buy a record that you may not have necessarily wanted when you went in. What do you do, tell him, "Nah man, I've got 20 quid and I want to eat dinner tonight?" He had a way of making the bass pulsate in the store. You couldn't have it too loud, because there were people buying flowers and fruit outside and shit, but at the same time it was a very cosy and personable experience. I mean, where else was I going to buy Big Apple 005?

      COKI: In 2003 I was playing a couple of tracks I'd made to Mala, and he told me to take them to Hatcha at Big Apple. I was like, "Who? What do you mean?" "They're looking for that type of sound down there," he said. When I walked in I saw this little guy behind the counter and – honestly? I was apprehensive. There was a lot of shit going on around in the ghetto. We were kids, doing stupid things, and he knew my younger cousin was in jail, so I think they thought I was trouble. When I told him I was there to show him some music, he was like, "Really?" "Yeah bruv!" "Oh, nice. Bring it in, then!" We started vibing from there.

      I was never a person that went out and listened to a lot of music, so it wasn't till Hatcha was playing me Skream and Benga bits in the shop that the sound started to fit in my head. "The Judgement" really caught my ear: the way they used the bass, the filters; how the groove was laid back but still on this happy, bouncing vibe. I was like, 'Rahhhh, I like this, but what the fuck is it?'

      SKREAM: I was helping out in Big Apple when I was about 14 years old – I should lie and say that I was just working there on the weekends, but I was in there every day. I used to sit in the back of Benny's studio most evenings, too. My mum thought it was a bit strange, that I was going to this guy's house to sit and watch him make music. I used to be stoned most of the time, but so was Benny. I found it amazing to watch him work – he was using Cubase on an old Atari, for fuck's sake. I'd never seen anything like it. I'd watch him make these tunes, then go out to FWD>> to hear what he'd been making, go back to mine, and try to make my own tunes all night.

      Benga was friends with my older brother, and I was a friend with Benga's older brother, Flash; through girls and hanging out in Croydon. I was working in Big Apple on a Sunday, and Benga's big brother came in and said, "My brother makes music," and we ended up speaking on the phone before we met, playing each other tunes down the phone. Back then I made tunes in batches: I'd get an idea rolling and as soon as I got bored, I'd start another one. I'd take all those ideas down to Hatcha, and he'd pick which ones he wanted me to finish.

      ARTWORK: Oli [Jones AKA Skream] and Benny [Adejumo AKA Benga] were coming into the shop every week with Minidiscs of their tunes, and within a year they'd gone from complete rubbish – with the kicks too loud, blowing the speakers – to making records on Music 2000 and Fruity Loops that... I've got 10 grand's worth of studio upstairs, and I couldn't make a mix that sounded that good. They'd knock out six records a day; basic as fuck loops with a 16-bar intro before the drop. If they wanted tracks for that weekend, they'd just go and cut them as they were, because they weren't going to play them for more than 32 bars. You don't need to make a seven-minute epic when you only ever play the first minute.

      "I was young, and gassed, so I rolled up to a party on my moped with my tunes one night when I was 16 years old, and went back to back with Benga – and we fucking smashed it up" – Chef

      CHEF: I used to hear about this boy called Benga. People were like, "Yeah, this kid Benga, he's the boy wonder. He's 13 years old and he mixes like EZ." I was like; "I'll see it when I believe it." My mate had a UKG crew that I DJ'd with, and he said that I should do a clash with Smooth Criminals, which was Benga and Skream. I bumped into them at a house party and Artwork came up to me and said, "I've heard about you, Chef. A lot of people are rating you." I was young, and gassed, so I rolled up to a party on my moped with my tunes one night when I was 16, and went back to back with Benga – and we fucking smashed it up. We ended up playing together everywhere – in snooker clubs, house parties – after that.

      SKREAM: We'd just turn up and take over at these parties, like fucking bass vigilantes. They'd book one of us, and 15 of us would turn up. There was a place called Bar Rendezvous, and I made a bootleg of Cleptomaniac's "All I Do" for a party there. It was a cover of the Stevie Wonder tune, but I made a bootleg of the flip, the Bump N Flex Dub; with this long intro on it, with me talking all pitched down on it. I'll never forget that.

      Click through to the next page.

      CHAPTER FOUR: "Bottom line: dubplates keep you in the room."

      Mala at Black Sheep Bar, Croydon


      Loefah: A producer, DJ and one of the core members of the DMZ club night and label, he also runs the Swamp81 label.
      Joe Nice: Baltimore, Maryland-based DJ who started the first dubstep party in America, Dub War.
      Chef: A dub cutter and engineer at Croydon's Transition Studios, he was also one of the early core DJs of the dubstep scene, joining Skream and Benga's Smooth Criminals crew as a teenager.
      Mala: One of the founding members of the London-based DMZ club night and label, he's also one half of the production duo Digital Mystikz, along with Coki, as well as a solo DJ and producer.
      Jason Goslin, AKA Jason Goz: The master engineer and dub cutter at Croydon's Transition Studios, Jason is regarded as essential to the creation of the dubstep sound.
      Sgt Pokes: The main MC for the DMZ club nights, Sgt Pokes has MC'd dubstep parties for over 15 years.

      LOEFAH: Transition is a cutting house based in Forest Hill, near where we lived in south London. We heard that's where Grooverider got his dubs cut, and that was enough for us, frankly, so I started going there in probably 2003. There were rules: you only paid for your own dubs if you wanted them for yourself. If Hatcha wanted one of my tracks to play out, he'd have to pay to get it cut to dub, and then that was his copy. It all depended on what rate you were on, too: I was on 25 quid for two sides of a 10-inch, 30 quid for a 12-inch. They swapped from 10-inch to 12-inch 'cause they "ran out" of 10-inch, around 2005-06, but that was a step up. Going back to 10-inch might have made us look cheap, y'know?

      JOE NICE: I started pressing and stayed on 10-inch because it was less expensive but, for me, when I was playing the early Dub War parties, it was as much a visual cue as anything else. If someone sees me pull out something that doesn't look the same size from a distance, they're thinking, "Yo, is that a 10-inch? Yooo, 10-inch are dubplates. Yooo, Joe Nice has a dubplate? Oh shit – I gotta hear what this brother's gonna play." Bottom line: dubplates keep you in the room.

      Jason Gosling, AKA Jason Goz, the master engineer and dub cutter at Transition Studios, London (Photo via Discogs)

      CHEF: I was cutting dubs at Transition, and I saw that Jason [Goz], the master engineer, was looking to bring someone in to be a trainee. I said to him straight up, "That's my job, you can take that advert down." I was cutting dubs from 17-years old – I remember my first was Skream "Bubble", with Benga "Blood" on the flip. Jason really helped get the best out of not just me, but everyone.

      MALA: It was very important for me to be part of finishing a track, and that meant going to Jason: hearing the difference between my finished version and Jason's version; seeing what subtle changes in frequencies he'd adjusted, what compression or limiting he might have applied. It was, and still is, expensive, but back then it was overtime money that was paying for my dubplates, so if you're paying 30 or 40 quid for two tracks, you'd got to be damn sure that those tracks were as good as they could possibly be.

      What I learned most from Jason is that certain frequencies just won't translate on vinyl – and if you roll off, roll off and roll off the bottom end, it actually gets heavier. The one that sticks out the most is "Anti War Dub". I actually sampled that tune: there's a full song of "Anti War Dub", with verse and lyrics at a different tempo, which Coki recorded in Jamaica with [vocalist] Spen G. I time-stretched and sampled the vocal, so the version everyone knows sounds totally different from Coki's version. With my version, I remember Jason saying, "I don't need to do anything to this." I remember him saying he thought I nailed it.

      LOEFAH: When I took "Twis Up" to Jason I'd been panning my bass, which is a real no-no, but I was trying to be clever and throw basslines across the club. When I gave it to Jason, he turned around in his chair and said, "We're going to have to cut this mono you know, bruv" – and I felt like such an idiot. Jason wouldn't tell you what to do, but if you asked the right questions – "How could I make my bass sound tighter?"; "Would it be a good idea to compress it, or limit it?" – he'd vibes with you. And not just for the quality of the sound, either: it's the way the tracks were built. Jason would get solid bottom ends, and the hard crack of a snare out of you. Other engineers may have tried to round those elements off, to make it more of a "poppier" mixdown, but he got it.

      JASON GOZ: When I started out cutting for the reggae soundsystems it used to take me forever, and there was a lot of financial commitment involved. It took me four hours to cut a dub with four tracks on it once, and my brother said, "It's taken you four hours to earn 35 quid, are you mad?" I wasn't a mastering engineer. I wasn't even a dub cutter. I'd spend six months working to get money to buy a box of dubs, which was 220 quid at the time, then cut them and go home depressed because they didn't sound good. I learned to cut by playing them myself and not liking what I heard.

      It worked out for everyone in the long run, though. I was learning when dubstep was beginning to grow, and it was perfect for all of us because there weren't any rules – and by the time dubstep had come into its own, I knew the sound that I was looking for. The thing that I loved most about dubstep was the bass – and historically, engineers are scared of bass. The sound of wood vibrating is my favourite sound in the world. I used to stand in [influential bi-monthly Brixton dubstep night, run by Loefah, Mala, Coki and Sgt Pokes]DMZ and think, 'I wonder what the foundations of this building are like?' – because the building was physically shaking.

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      Towards the end of the peak of garage, I was cutting for people like Hatcha – when he was in a crew called Stonecold GX Crew, I believe – and he started bringing me this new stuff which he just referred to as "more tribal". He'd cut a few garage pieces with me and then slip that Something Else in, until gradually the focus became more and more about this Something Else. He was without a doubt the first person to bring dubstep to Transition.

      There were times when I'd go out to a club, hear a track that I'd cut, then ring up the producer on the Monday and say, "I've cut it for you again." They'd be shocked – "What? Why?" "I didn't like the way it sounded," I'd tell them – and I wouldn't charge them for it again, either. If that dub is leaving Transition with my name on it, it has to be perfect. I've had so many arguments with sound engineers in nightclubs, and with other producers, too: people asking me to re-create Mala, Loefah, Coki. When DMZ blew up, it nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. I'd be getting 15, 20 calls a day while pulling a 70-hour week.

      Because of that, at the time, I was always aware of the fact that if this sound got really big, I couldn't cut every dubstep record that came out – so I held the levels back. I didn't cut them too loud. I didn't make the music too un-dynamic because, physically, it needed somewhere to go. A lot of current pop is really loud, so for a given level on your hi-fi, it screams at you. An old Bob Marley track isn't as loud, though. It's dynamic: peaks and troughs, loud parts and quiet parts. That's what I mean when I say I held back, because there's only a certain point before it's no longer listenable.

      Everyone came to Transition, but some really stood out. Benga was coming to me when he was 15 years old. I remember sitting there, in the studio, and I said to him, "You know what, bruv? I'm going to give you a discount. I can't believe you're saving your dinner money to cut dubs." Then there was when Kode9 came to me with Burial's music, and said, "Don't take too much time on it. He doesn't want too much processing," so I just made it presentable.

      A lot of electronic music at the time was too computerised for me – quantized, even – but Burial reminded me of how Robbie from Sly and Robbie played bass. When he wants to hype it up, he'll sometimes play in front of the drum note, others on the note, sometimes behind the note – all to create mood. That's why I loved it when Kode9 brought me Burial's music: life isn't on the beat.

      SGT POKES: When we turned up to play the big drum and bass raves with our boxes of dubs, Roni Size and his lot would turn up with their CD wallets, clock us, and be like, "These kids have got bags full of fucking dubplates. They're not mucking about." People used to talk about elitism and audiophilia with dubplate exclusivity, but the ability to keep a tune alive – and keep it on dubplate, white label and test pressing, for 18 months or more – was important. Like Coki's "Burnin'". I remember hearing it a few days before a DMZ and thinking, 'This is going to smash up the place.' In the club, drop it – four pull-ups. Skream and Benny play it – two pull-ups. By the end of the night, people were still screaming for it.

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      CHAPTER FIVE: "We felt that we had the right to be precious."

      Loefah, Mala and Coki at DMZ


      Oris Jay: Also known as Darqwuan, the Sheffield-based producer and DJ helped to lead the breaks element of the dubstep sound.
      Youngsta: Widely recognised as one of dubstep's key DJs.
      Loefah: A producer, DJ and one of the core members of the DMZ club night and label, he also runs the Swamp81 label.
      Martin Clark: A London-based journalist and DJ who has worked for a variety of UK publications and now runs the Keysound label and club night.

      ORIS JAY: The culture of sharing tracks in the early days was a very special one. If you were in the Ammunition crew, you'd go through Sarah Lockhart. You have to imagine her as the early version of the internet for us: our "Soulja". Sarah would say, "I'm only going to give this tune to you and three other people, but I'll take your tune to this DJ and that DJ to play out." I'd give her a DAT tape, she'd take it down to the cutting house, and tell them who can get what depending on where and when they're playing.

      If I wanted a Skream tune, I'd have to go from Sheffield to London, then to Croydon to meet Skream, where he'd give me a DAT tape. I'd take that tape to the cutting house, wait in the queue, and cut the dub without knowing what it'd sound like. You don't even know if it'll sound right till you played it: on the radio was cool, but it was how it sounded in FWD>>, on that soundsystem, that mattered most. Even if the dub costs 40 quid, I've probably spent double that trying to get to London, the cutting house, and back again, but you told yourself it was worth doing because when you played that dub out that night, you could be certain that no one else in the world had it.

      YOUNGSTA: I know we would have to meet on road, so I'd meet Mala and Coki at Victoria station and they'd gave me dubplates that they'd cut for me. Since I was the DJ, they wanted to give it to me as a present. If they didn't give us their music they weren't going to get released and booked, so it was in both our interests. By a certain point I was only playing tracks by maybe four or five producers – Skream, Benga, Coki, some D1 bits – but I built a very close relationship with Loefah.

      I met Loefah in 2002 at a Hatcha gig at the Egg club, near Kings Cross. By that point, Mala and Loefah had given their beats to Hatcha, and had come down to the night to hear them played out. A lot of people were saying that it was too minimal; that it wasn't "worthy" of a club, but that's what we were buzzing out to. The garage slowly disappeared from my sets as Loefah progressed, and it got to the point where we were both in so deep with one another.

      LOEFAH: People were getting annoyed with us. It took about a year for people to start to get a physical groove with my tracks, but that was the best thing about it: it had vague influences, but nothing overt enough that it could be grasped right away. We wanted there to be no discernible garage influence at all. We were fed up with all the skippiness. We'd had ten years of breaks, from hardcore, jungle and drum and bass, so we started with half-step beats. I'd play tracks down the phone to Youngsta every night, and he was very critical. He'd be like, "Take that hi-hat out"; "That's too loud," telling me how to mix down over the phone.

      Half-step was intricate. The backbone of it would be a kick and a snare on the half-time, so quite regular, and in between it would be this mad percussion; rattling off itself in the negative space, as a form of call and response. I see the space in between the drumbeats as just as much of an instrument as anything else in the track. From the outside it would look simple, but when you checked it, it was like, "Fucking hell, there's a lot going on in there."

      "For a time, there were maybe 50 dubstep tracks in the whole world. If five of them are mine, I'm not just going to chuck them out there." – Loefah

      YOUNGSTA: Loefah took it to the point where he changed the structure of the drums. Not straight syncopated 4/4. Not 2-step garage. It was about taking a break out and having as much space as possible, while still maintaining a groove. Some of it was so atmospheric that it was like a soundscape, but we didn't take it that far and that's what made it a winner. Me, I'm weird. I like things a certain way, and that was how you could make a whole new track out of a blend of two of Loefah's beats. Even if two beats are perfectly in key with each other – which they always should be, beat-matching aside – it's about the pin-point precision timing of mixing together two or three beats that are so perfectly in key, and so stripped back, that they have elements in each that the other doesn't; that when put together, they create a whole new tune.

      You know how drum and bass breaks go well together because of how they're structured? And how house has a 4/4 beat? Percussion, melody and leads would vary massively for us, and the kicks could be where they wanted, but the snare? The snare would have to be on the half-time of the 140BPM beat, so that it would sound slower than 140BPM. That's why I've never practised. I haven't had any form of mixing equipment in my house for ten years. Loefah would give me a tune and I'd play it on Rinse, some time between 9 and 11PM, and that's it till the next club or radio show. It's like maths: if I knew that the snare is always there, my mixes would work.

      ORIS JAY: The minute the CD got involved, though, that's when the sharing culture began to change. Because producers would burn tracks to CD, they'd bring sonically weaker, but more experimental, music to try out in the club. If I bring a dub to the club, I have to get that tune properly finished because it'll cost me 40 quid. A CD costs you, what, 60p? It was more instant, but then you get half-finished tunes played in the club.

      MARTIN CLARK: Rinse had a party around the Christmas of 2004, in a converted toilet in east London called Public Life, which was right by where the Rinse studios are now. [DJ and Hotflush Recordings founder] Scuba was playing, and he asked Loefah for a tune of his, so that he could cut it. He didn't cut it, though. He played it off a CD, and Loefah was livid: "You played my track un-mastered, on a soundsystem! It's not fucking balanced."

      LOEFAH: You have to realise: for a time, there were maybe 50 dubstep tracks in the whole world. If five of them are mine, I'm not just going to chuck them out there. We were funding DMZ ourselves – through student loans, and Mala and Coki's wages – so we felt that we had the right to be precious.

      ORIS JAY: If I were to pin it right down, it came from the reggae soundsystem culture: you'd have guys with systems from different sides of Jamaica, and the most popular system would get booked for all the parties, so there's competition. If there are hundreds of DJs playing the same music, what makes you different from me? You find a new producer and say, "Let me play your music first. I'm not saying don't give it to anyone else, I'm saying don't give it to anyone else before me."

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      CHAPTER SIX: "Who the fuck are these weirdos?"

      Youngsta, Crazy D, Skepta and Plastician at FWD>>


      Sgt Pokes: The main MC for the DMZ club club nights, Sgt Pokes has MC'd dubstep parties for over 15 years.
      Loefah: A producer, DJ and one of the core members of the DMZ club night and label, he also runs the Swamp81 label.
      El-B: A key producer and DJ in the transitional period between garage and dubstep, formerly part of garage duo Groove Chronicles.
      Kode9: Scottish-born, London-based producer and DJ, who founded and continues to run the Hyperdub label.
      Oris Jay: Also known as Darqwuan, the Sheffield-based producer and DJ helped to lead the breaks element of the dubstep sound.
      Martin Clark: A London-based journalist and DJ who has worked for a variety of UK publications and now runs the Keysound label and club night.
      Skream: Croydon-born producer and DJ who was picked up as the so-called teenage poster boy of the dubstep scene.

      SGT POKES: For years, Hatcha, Youngsta, [Croydon DJ and producer] N-Type and Chef were the DJs. That was it. Those relationships, and that serious exclusivity, are what built the scene. They were also, in part, as a clubbing experience, reactions to how fucking boring drum and bass had become. Garage, too, had become badboy culture, with its cheesy pop vibes; British hip-hop never got the recognition it deserved. You just had dissatisfied customers from all these different scenes who were sick of feeling cheated.

      LOEFAH: We weren't into the glitz and bottles of the jungle scene, but the other lot from Croydon – the garage boys – loved it. We used to go up to FWD>> in a south London convoy. We used to meet at Hatcha's house; me, Mala and Coki would be in Mala's car – a blacked-out Rover, like a dealer's car – and follow Hatcha, Skream, Chef, Plasticman [Croydon DJ now known as Plastician] and N-Type in their cars. Sometimes they'd get a stretch limo, in their tracksuit bottoms and shit. We'd park round the corner because we're from Norwood, innit, but they'd roll up in this hired stretch limo, not giving one fuck.

      EL-B: Garage came to mean conformity for me: pathetic, manufactured shit. People from the hood have always loved to dress flash, so when you checked [Vauxhall club night] Liberty and Twice As Nice there was always gonna be shirt 'n' shoes, popping bottles and all that shit, but it got weird. Pre-2000, you were in garage raves with Arsenal and Chelsea players. After 2000, it was grunge-arse stoners and students.

      KODE9: When it comes to dubstep in the clubs, you need to distinguish some stages. When FWD>> was at Velvet Rooms, around 2001-03, it was more of a garage crowd: a lot of DJs, producers and industry types, men and women, coming to party. It was when it moved to [recently closed East London club] Plastic People that it became that something else. One of the most important things that happened to catalyse dubstep was that, on a soundsystem like that, you could you get away with producing such minimal, heavy tracks – tracks that had one snare an hour, one hi-hat every two hours, loads of sub in between. That wouldn't have worked on any other system, as far as I'm concerned.

      "Pre-2000, you were in garage raves with Arsenal and Chelsea players. After 2000, it was grunge-arse stoners and students" – El-B

      ORIS JAY: There was a period around 2002-03 where the music started to split into distinct strands: the darker side of garage – where [dubstep] came from – then into breaks, broken beat and grime. None of the scenes were big, but all of them had a unique sound, and everyone's influences determined which direction the sound was going to go in. Take DJ Zinc's "138 Trek": even though it was classed as garage, even though the dubstep guys were playing it, it had a break-beat in it. The grime guys were different to the breaks mentality, because they wanted a beat that would give them space to rap in and around. Broken beat had vocals, but it was still underground. It was all at the same tempo, being played at the same place – but getting more, minutely specific.

      Those intricacies were partly why a lot of the guys in the crowd were trainspotters. Someone else will have a track of mine, for example, but when I play it out I might play a VIP edit of it, so you know that it's me. Then you get the geeks going: "I know what this is, and this must be Oris Jay playing right now because this is a version I haven't heard before." If you were playing FWD>>, you had to come correct. You couldn't play what you played the week before.

      "Grime and dubstep were like family, and family doesn't always get along" – Martin Clark

      MARTIN CLARK: Everyone at FWD>> brought their own sounds, so there was a dynamic tension between everyone having enough of their own space and identity, and being connected enough to be related: the bare minimum things in common in order to make it coherent enough, and have space to explore.

      This doesn't get stressed enough in this conversation, though: the fact that grime had a major influence on the evolution of dubstep. [DJ and co-founder of Rinse FM] Geeneus in particular saw the possibilities of dubstep: forming a relationship with Sarah [Lockhart], bringing Ammunition and Rinse together, then coming to FWD>> with [Rinse FM co-founder and influential DJ] Slimzee standing at the back. People would turn around and go, "Fuck, Slimzee's here."

      Grime and dubstep were like family, and family doesn't always get on. Grime rode the wave of the garage club infrastructure, but when the police shut much of that down, they lost the money and access that came with it. I can sympathise with grime. They wanted more, right? It's an MC-focused culture. They wanted to be stars. Grime went into a lull after [Dizzee Rascal's debut album] Boy in da Corner when they realised there wasn't another quick Dizzee – or [that] the industry wouldn't accept another, more like. Wiley's Treddin' on Thin Ice wasn't the smash that he and others wanted it to be. The scene couldn't deliver commercially on its own hype, and that was the period of dubstep starting to develop properly.

      Up until 2003-04, grime was much more creative than dubstep. What Wiley and Dizzee could do sonically was just shocking. Dubstep was still in this phase of essentially being dark 2-steppish garage – rolling along, resting on the darkness to give it an edge – and hadn't really engineered its own DNA yet. With grime, there was an almost addictive shock of how strange it was: the 8-bar structure and the energy of the MCs. Grime was running London, and they looked to dubstep and thought, 'Who the fuck are these weirdos standing about in a room in Shoreditch?'

      After 2004, it wasn't that one was more creative than the other – 8-bar grime inspired a lot of Benga and Skream's early records, with that raw drum sound and the warping basslines, and Plastician had this amazing period with [record label] Terrorhythm. But dubstep gradually became a more transferable sound. [Grime and dubstep's] intermittent intertwining was very interesting, and unparalleled.

      SGT POKES: The grime beat was always just a conduit for a tough ego for me. Dubstep MCs weren't MCs; they were hosts: "We are here to hear dubstep, and you are here to present it to us." The dances were de-militarised zones. It wasn't, "He plays dubstep, he makes dubstep" – all of us are dubstep. We didn't care if we played first or next, because it was an arc of a night. "What have you cut, what have you brought..." It was about being very aware of everyone else and the role that they were there to play. "If we all do well, then this sound does well."

      I even started to think that MCs began to resemble DJs in the way dogs begin to resemble their owners. With [MC] Task and Youngsta, it wasn't about hype: "Yeah, take it well easy, mate." Task was, like, the anti-MC. With Hatcha, though, you heard that it was party time in [MC] Crazy D's voice: the lively lad about town, with that tribal madness. In fact, I remember Spaceape even used to hide sometimes when he was on the mic. It was real.

      But when Wiley, JME and Jammer were at FWD>>, hearing [Skream's] " Midnight Request Line", the impact of the music being that good was important for both scenes. I think that a lot of the artists the grime MCs tried to work with were the ones with the big tunes smashing up the clubs, but they weren't necessarily the best producers to work with for their style. There was a lot of bootlegging, too: versions of a lot of tunes that were never OK'd, and that annoyed a lot of dubstep artists. It happened to Skream, I'm sure.

      SKREAM: During the bootleg era, you had [Youngsta's] "Pulse X", but also Pulse Y, Z, fucking ABC, and all different "Eskimo" ones, too. "Midnight Request Line" came from how I used to take 8-bar grime instrumentals and try to make them darker. When I made "Midnight Request Line" I gave it to Hatcha and he didn't like it. There were two or three other tracks on the CD that he preferred, and I didn't think much else of it. Youngsta was really into it, though, and I sent it to [grime DJ and Boy Better Know member] DJ Maximum after Wiley, Skepta and Jammer talked about hearing it at FWD>>.

      Hatcha still didn't really play it until I did him a VIP mix of it, actually, and Skepta didn't believe that I made it for ages, either. His exact words were, "You look like a student." To be fair, I was in a pink and green Ralph Lauren rugby top, with shorts and deck shoes. I didn't give off the most urban edge. It took him a while to believe I made it, but then it became Skepta's anthem for quite a while.

      Around that time – and this was quite a grime thing, to be fair – if you had a big record you'd have other, similar versions. I had seven or eight [versions of "Midnight Request Line"] that were all phone-related – fuck knows, don't ask me why – and I worked with JME on them. I remember Skepta calling me up, moody as anything, being like, "Why are you working with my brother? Why aren't you working with me?" because he blew up "Midnight Request Line" to a different crowd. He was pissed, but I was like, "Bruv, I've tried to get you in the studio for so long, and you've been unprofessional." So JME and I ended up doing " Tapped".

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      CHAPTER SEVEN: "Why the fuck would I give a fuck about your postcode?"

      Hijak at Rinse FM in 2006


      Kode9: Scottish-born, London-based producer and DJ, who founded and continues to run the Hyperdub label.
      Skream: Croydon-born producer and DJ who was picked up as the so-called teenage poster boy of the dubstep scene.
      Sgt Pokes: The main MC for the DMZ club nights, Sgt Pokes has MC'd dubstep parties for over 15 years.

      KODE9: Both grime and dubstep were encouraged by the fact that those producers weren't allowed into the wider garage scene. They took that insult of the word "grime" and turned it into something positive. Others came from a Metalheadz background, like raves at the [Hoxton club] Blue Note around 94-95, so they'd all been in the same room together ten years before, but hadn't met until dubstep was happening. It was a shrinking. People often say that grime came first – which, from the outside, may seem true – but dubstep was bubbling away. It was just that everyone, bar a dozen weirdos in one or two clubs, fucking hated it.

      For me, 2002-03 was the heyday of grime, and 2003-05 was the heyday of dubstep, even though neither were getting any real recognition from the other. And, to be quite honest, I found it funny how territorial the grime crews and south London dubstep lot were. Being this weird Scottish alien, I could take it all as good music, and that's why it was a no-brainer for me to play both grime and dubstep at FWD>> and on Rinse. They were the same speed, it's all from the same city – why the fuck would I give a fuck about your postcode?

      I still think the sonic relationship between grime and dubstep was a path that could have been explored more. It's weird – apart from "Midnight Request Line", grime DJs didn't gravitate towards dubstep tracks until dubstep became much more aggressive and wobbly – and that was a fucking disaster. It was heartbreaking to see grime DJs – and I loved everything they did previously – finally coming over into dubstep and playing absolute shite.

      When I started on Rinse, I was the only Scottish guy with a bunch of Cockneys. I was petrified to talk for the first few months because I was a total fanboy of London music culture, so it felt wrong for me to be on pirate radio here. Around 2003, though, Rinse asked me to do the FWD>> show. I think it was weekly on a Tuesday, straight after [Wiley's influential grime collective] Roll Deep Crew's show, which was 7-9PM. This was when Rinse was [still a pirate station and] up in the tower blocks in Bow, too. It was a total shithole; a room built inside a room, with the only "soundsystem" being one battered-to-fuck ghetto blaster with one speaker working. It was ropey as hell.

      Listen to Wiley and Kode9's Rinse show here

      SKREAM: Rinse used to be fucking mental. When I started my show, the studio was in some mad old studio space in Limehouse, with a transvestite porn set-up in the same building. You used to walk out at like 2 or 3AM and see really creepy looking people. I was in and out for my show, mostly. You used to get some pretty ghetto people in there at that time, but you'd just get stoned and drunk, and go home.

      KODE9: At that point, Rinse weren't archiving the sets, but there was a website called barefiles.com. It was on it, too: by the time I'd got home from doing my show, the set would already be online. I really do think that, along with the articles on Hyperdub, and the streaming files on dubplate.net, BareFiles had quite a big influence on how early dubstep spread overseas.

      SGT POKES: Damn [laughs] – don't even talk to Sarah [Lockhart] about BareFiles. There was this really awkward moment once: BareFiles was run by this kid who was just into the music, a reclusive stoner with a couple of servers in his house, running some gambling website for this older guy, who started archiving everything with a guy called Boom Noise. At first they were called the Bare Noise Files, and Rinse turned around and got a bit gangster on them, saying, "You can't be taking our recordings and hosting them," and so on – so they had to take it all down. It was about preserving a moment, though, so....

      KODE9: When I used to teach at the University of East London, I'd go straight from class to go do the FWD>> show on Rinse. I was just finishing teaching one day, in the January of 2006, when I got a phone call out of the blue. It was Wiley. He said, "Hi mate, do you mind if I come on your show and guest tonight?" I was completely floored – starstruck, even. Since I started Hyperdub, and thought about what dubstep could be, and what grime could be, it was the first time I got to actualise these ideas. It was a shock to him as well, because I'm not sure he knew what he was getting himself into. But that was the most fun I ever had doing a radio show. In a way, it's the radio show that's had the biggest lasting effect. I still get emails about it, ten years later.

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      CHAPTER EIGHT: "Skull Disco were so tongue in cheek they were licking their fucking ears, mate."

      The DMZ dancefloor, 2005


      Sgt Pokes: The main MC for the DMZ club nights, Sgt Pokes has MC'd dubstep parties for over 15 years.
      Loefah: A producer, DJ and one of the core members of the DMZ club night and label, he also runs the Swamp81 label.
      Chef: A dub cutter and engineer at Croydon's Transition Studios, he was also one of the early core DJs of the dubstep scene, joining Skream and Benga's Smooth Criminals crew as a teenager.

      SGT POKES: FWD>> was definitely the first proper place to go and listen to dubstep, but there were other parties going on, too. Warp [Records] were doing a night called Rebel Bass at Electrowerkz [in Angel], booking people like Mala and myself, as well as some of the more industrial sounds, like Slaughter Mob and Vex'd. Then Plastician and his mate Filthy Dave, Dave Carlisle, started a night called Filthy Dub at the end of 2003; the first was a proper Croydon cheese club called One92One, but that club wasn't ready for the sound. At The Black Sheep we tried to do a night called Dub Session while I was still working there in 2004-05. We'd bring someone in to play nice traditional reggae and dub at 7PM, then, at around 10 or 11PM, as the standard customers would leave, we'd introduce an hour or two of dubstep.

      LOEFAH: Yeah, Pokes and I worked behind the bar at The Black Sheep. It was the one bar in Croydon where you didn't have to wear a shirt and shoes. It ended up as a Sunday night upstairs in the Old Blue Last [in Shoreditch], called Pub Sessions: a crate of Red Stripe, £25 each, playing old dub 7-inches, and then dubstep later in the night, mashing up the windows. That lasted six months or so, in around 2004.

      There was also Blue Note in Hoxton Square, with the main part of the rave in the basement through a stairwell, with a killer soundsystem. It was really cool for me: I'd just been to chavvy jungle raves in Croydon, and suddenly I was raving in Hoxton. The jungle vibe was the hangover of the 90s, when it was so hardcore with the drugs. It partied 'til it couldn't party any more. What I liked about early dubstep parties were that they were more controlled. At Metalheadz we used to get a few bottles of Guinness Exports and smoke a couple of zoots, and dubstep was the same.

      SGT POKES: Don't forget the [dubstep record label] Skull Disco parties, neither, in a working men's club in N16 [Stoke Newington]. I'll tell you what about the Skull Disco lads – they were the first Bristol guys to come to a dubstep rave in London and fucking dance. They'd be at the front in Third Bass [a part of Mass, the venue in Brixton where DMZ was founded], under the netting and purple UV lights, and when they came into the dance they'd smuggle in bottles of drink and just have it; weird, big-lick techno dancing. They gave a lot of people confidence to not worry about how to dance or how to look. Skull Disco were so tongue in cheek they were licking their fucking ears, mate.

      CHEF: I remember [producer and Skull Disco co-founder] Shackleton sticking his head in the speakers at FWD>> and thinking, 'Man is bonkers, bruv – his eardrums must be made of steel.' So obviously the Skull Disco parties in Stoke Newington were nutty shit. DMZ001 had just come out, and Mala brought along a box of, like, 40 of them to sell at the club. I think he charged a fiver for a dub. As Skream and I walked into the party, "Judgement" was playing, which had come out a week or two before, and Skream went mental. I reckon he was just happy someone had bought his record, innit.

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      CHAPTER NINE: "The pressure was so heavy it made your eyeballs vibrate."

      MC Dangerous at DMZ, 2005


      Pinch: A Bristol-based producer and DJ who founded and continues to run the Tectonic label.

      PINCH: The first time I came down to FWD>> I hadn't even been for a night out in London before. I was 22 or 23 years old, and a bunch of us came up in a car from Bristol. It was a lot smaller than I imagined – thick with weed smoke, a packed dancefloor, but with hardly any dancing going on. I thought, 'This is fucking weird.' I got myself a drink, squeezed into the crowd, sparked a zoot and nodded my head along to Kode9. His set sent me off in so many directions – jungle polyrhythms, drum and bass, techno, the dub spaciousness and fucking ridiculous bass – and I decided, there and then, that this was a sound that would work in Bristol.

      The monthly club night I started, Context, initially ran from January to December of 2004. Right through to 2005, Context would rarely be more than 100 people in the dance. Initially, the dub and roots scene in Bristol was very insular, and many of the heads think that you shouldn't mess with the sacred formula, so those ardent fans weren't that keen on dubstep. But by the start of 2006 – and no coincidence, around the time of Mary Anne Hobbs' Breezeblock Dubstep Warz show [a one-off Radio 1 show that marked the moment dubstep went global] – it was literally like throwing open the doors to a cellar that no one had been in for years.

      The second Subloaded [a Bristol dubstep night co-founded by Pinch and DJ Blazey] birthday is probably the most legendary one. The Black Swan [in Bristol] is a pretty grimy venue, but they didn't mind you putting in a massive soundsystem, which was run by a crew called Dirt, who provided 12 Syko [subwoofers] made by a company called Void. This was also just before buying magic mushrooms became illegal, and, totally unexpectedly, I turned up on the night and there was this middle-aged hippy with a table, selling mushrooms on the night – which was weird.

      Because there weren't that many dubstep events – it was just after the first DMZ, in April 2005 – the London crew came up, too. Skream, N-Type – well, they weren't playing, but they enjoyed the mushroom service. [The soundsystem] Dissident were on a mission that night. The pressure was so heavy it made your eyeballs vibrate. When the bass kicked in, everything went fuzzy. It was fucking great.

      There was such a pressure on the little built-up stage we had that you had back-blast from the speakers. Loefah played the "I" remix on dubplate, and he swears that, as he stood there, with everyone going nuts, he opened his eyes and the needle was at the end of the record. He completely zoned out. Another guy swore that he was hallucinating from the bass. It was like a pressure chamber. People were coming out after 20 minutes saying they needed a break. Mala and Loefah played back to back, and when one was playing the other had to get offstage and rest.

      That pressure came to define much of the technique of the sound, too. When I played Berlin in 2005, before the first Tectonic Plates [a series of compilations released on Pinch's label Tectonic] had been released, I had Skream's " Bahl Fwd" on dubplate. I played in this weird venue, which was set in a bank vault and still had a caged-off safety deposit box room and everything: very small, with very thick walls and a decent soundsystem. While I was DJing, [grime MC] Jammer and his crew passed through, and when someone got on the mic this weird shit started happening.

      The bass would get ridiculous, and the mixer would be bouncing on the table like a glass. When I dropped "Bahl Fwd", a pile of flyers went up into the air like confetti and I had to catch the mixer and hold it down. I thought we'd hit the resonant frequency of the room. I worked out that every time the MC was getting hype, they were standing in front of the speaker while the bass of the mic was on full; you got bass feedback through the mic sending the place so mad that you felt that you were being crushed. I thought I was going to die in that room. That tune is one of the heaviest dubstep tracks that's ever been cut, because he didn't have any EQ on the bass: full power, untouched bass.

      For Bristol parties, it was probably around 2007 with Subloaded – when I teamed up with [DJ] Stryda from [Bristol dub group] Dubkasm, with us upstairs and [soundsystem] Teachings in Dub downstairs, in [night club] Clockwork – that it really kicked off: a 1,000-capacity club, with 1,200 to 1,300 in the room and turning a few hundred away at the door. It got to the point where the bouncers couldn't even control the ticketed crowd outside. By midnight, there were police horses charging up and down the road, trying to get people away from the traffic. If you think that was mad, though, it was nothing compared to the first DMZ birthday.

      Click through to the next page.

      CHAPTER TEN: "You have grown-ass men jumping up and hugging each other."

      Chef, Sgt Pokes and Crazy D at DMZ, 2005


      Mala: One of the founding members of the London-based DMZ club night and label, he's also one half of the production duo Digital Mystikz, along with Coki, as well as a solo DJ and producer.
      Joe Nice: Baltimore, Maryland-based DJ who started the first dubstep party in America, Dub War.
      Pinch: A Bristol-based producer and DJ who founded and continues to run the Tectonic label.

      MALA: We did our first ever [DMZ] dance in the January of 2005. The owner of the venue was like, "You are all mad. Why are you putting a party on? Last weekend was New Year's Eve, no one's going to come." My mentality was: "You can only hear this music in this one club in the whole world," so I felt confident. That night, there was a new record attendance. Then it spiralled; Mary Anne Hobbs' Dubstep Warz Breezeblock broadcast was on the 10th of January, 2006, and the DMZ first birthday was Saturday, the 4th of March.

      JOE NICE: I remember this vividly: Mala and I drove over to Mass in Brixton together, and I asked him, "Yo, any tunes I should look out for tonight, brother?" Mala looks at me and says, "Joe [Coki] played this new bit for me and I started laughing when it dropped. I couldn't believe it. Trust me, bruv – it's gonna be the one." Going into Mass was astonishing. For a guy like me, from the US, we didn't have rigs with no limiters, in a room with 30ft ceilings, pummelling you with bass like this. The queue was around the block and down the hill. I'd never been to a party with that many people turning up for one genre of music. 'Something good has to come from this,' I remember thinking.

      Inside, Benny Ill and Kode9 were playing sonic voodoo. Chef went back to back with Skream, and then Digital Mystikz played with Loefah for three hours. It was relentless. I was in a cocoon of sub frequency. [Digital Mystikz'] " Anti War Dub", [Mala's] "Bury Da Bwoy" and [Loefah's] "The Goat Stare" and "Root" all got played live for the first time. When I heard "The Goat Stare", with that snare slapping you in the face, and that bassline, cascading, like it was tumbling off a cliff...

      You have to remember: dubstep was an alien transmission. House is 120-130BPM, so twice the rate of the average resting heartbeat. Drum and bass is 170BPM, but they usually push it plus four, or plus six, which is 180BPM: three times your heartbeat. It's easy to move to house and drum and bass. Dubstep is 140BPM, but it feels like you're moving at 70BPM. It's the earth moving. You know, logically, that you're spinning really fast, but it feels as if time isn't going anywhere. We're born with a sense of rhythm, and it's difficult to re-train a habit you were born with.

      Mala fades a tune out, and "Haunted" begins. The whole crowd are going nuts. You have grown-ass men jumping up and hugging each other. Pull it up. Drop it again. Someone from behind the decks walks up and stops it. Sgt Pokes is on the mic. Mala drops it a third time and, before the drop, Benny Ill reaches over the decks from the crowd and kills it. The crowd are screaming.

      Coki isn't even at the decks. He's in the corner smoking up, watching the mayhem that he's creating from a tune that he'd made a week or two before. We let the crowd noise die, Mala puts the needle down and Skream walks up and stops it – four pull-ups now. Only on the fifth time did it actually get played out. When it comes to Coki's own set, in the space of 30 minutes, only five or six tracks get played out. I thought the walls were going to fall down.

      PINCH: There was a deep understanding of what was current, so a lot of the time the rewind came from, "Fuck, I haven't heard this before – I need to hear how it comes in again!" That's why it was being called for. On the DMZ first birthday, there were people calling for [rewinds of] tunes when they already knew them; with so much excitement in the air, the previously more muted crowd reactions just exploded. The philosophy behind the call on the rewind before then was more about newness – because you might not hear it again for another two months, at the next DMZ. But that changed that night. I think it's never been the same in the scene since, either.

      MALA: I remember when certain basslines would roll out; it would be almost like a delayed reaction in the dance. The time it would take for the low, low bottom-end frequency to go through someone's body, you would see and almost hear the audience respond at a slight delay from each other the further back in the dance you go, as the bass wave is physically moving through people: this kind of raw "coming up" when the tune would drop. Before DMZ, I'd only ever really seen that happen at [legendary roots reggae soundsystem] Jah Shaka dances.

      Click through to the next page.

      CHAPTER ELEVEN: "If you get the frequency right, everything else is filler."

      (From left to right on the back bench) Mala, Coki, Crazy D, Benga, Hatcha


      Martin Clark: A London-based journalist and DJ who has worked for a variety of UK publications and now runs the Keysound label and club night.
      Mala: One of the founding members of the London-based DMZ club night and label, he's also one half of the production duo Digital Mystikz, as well as a solo DJ and producer.
      Coki: The other half of Digital Mystikz, Coki is one of the core members of the DMZ label and club night.

      MARTIN CLARK: The appeal of DMZ as a club night, a label and with Digital Mystikz was the opposition to how drum and bass had developed. Drum and bass suffered from people who thought the engineering was more important than the music. There's nothing wrong with having great sonic value, but engineering a track to be as impactful as possible means generating a physical and emotional response. With that idea in dubstep, you cannot underestimate how much the Mystikz made that the standard.

      COKI: The style was very minimal, so it was open to atmospheric sounds to come through, with vocals that enhanced certain vibrations. My style was taken from scales. There might be a dub track with a scale played in E sharp, and I'm like, "I don't know that scale, I'm just used to C," so I started on a different melodic sound that I felt was coming from the same root as dub. A lot of the time, dub uses minor scales, and I just used major, so that's what created a different aura to the Mystikz' sound. I guess I tried to get it out of dub, but it didn't come out how I wanted it to.

      MALA: When I was building beats, I was always on the black keys. The way I always saw the music was that it wasn't about pure destruction, but at the same time, things were kind of grey. I remember being quite militant: to prove myself to the world and to myself. [I was wrapped up in] how society says that you have to "be a man" – to have a car, a mortgage and all that shit. So part of that exploration was being channelled into making that music. We were definitely stripping it all out, just straight bones and a three-note melody. If you get the right frequency – if you're able to channel that energy in its true light – then everything else is filler.

      I think a lot of people think that when they make a contribution to a sound they want to try to "add something", but you can contribute by taking away. I didn't say, "I'm in the studio, I'm writing songs." I said, "I'm in the studio, I'm building beats." That's why, on the centre labels of every DMZ record, it says, "built by Mala", "built by Loefah". Joe Nice said something to me years ago when we were in my studio that I always liked: that if he had to describe my music, he'd say it was "like Bruce Lee: the energy is really controlled, but you know that, at any moment, it could rip everything apart".

      Click through to the next page.

      CHAPTER TWELVE: "They were chatting this bad-mind pollution."

      MC Task, Loefah and Youngsta at Rinse FM


      Sgt Pokes: The main MC for the DMZ club nights, Sgt Pokes has MC'd dubstep parties for over 15 years.
      Coki: One half of Digital Mystikz, along with Mala, Coki is one of the core members of the DMZ label and club night.

      SGT POKES: Genuinely, for the longest time, with the harmony of the perceived dubstep starting line up, it was a long, long time before cracks showed. It all went through transitional shifts but Mala was, and always has been, the figurehead for the unity of the sound: he is black and white, and makes music that is black and white. I actually used to joke that Mala and Skream were the dubstep pound coin: Mala was heads, and Skream was tails.

      Everyone was very supportive – and against the odds sometimes, too. I remember, around the time of the Winter Music Conference in 2006 or 2007, when two prominent drum and bass artists tried to round up a load of the young dubstep guys, like Quest and Silkie. They thought, 'These are the guys that are showing promise. They're going to be the next generation of core artists.' They were chatting this bad-mind pollution: "All these guys – Mala, Loefah, Skream – they're taking the piss out of you. You should be doing these huge shows" – chatting shit in an attempt to get them to join an agency they'd started. They were creating bad feeling to try to get an investment. It didn't work with us, though. We stuck together.

      Another thing was that the producers who were making the more breaks-influenced stuff weren't part of the Croydon mob. It wasn't even a north and south thing. It was the Croydon sound. Before AIM [AOL instant messenger], people weren't passing on tunes so freely, there were less shows – people were watching each other's backs, you know? After AIM, all of sudden you've got more bookings, more emails, more music being spread online – and that glue started to decay.

      I remember that when we were doing DMZ at Third Bass, [producers] Search and Destroy were working with Caspa back when he was called Quietstorm, and they put on a party at Mass. We were like, "Hang on. Caspa is a west London guy. Why are they coming down to here, of all of the venues?" We wanted more dubstep parties, sure, but it was an unspoken thing. Maybe we shouldn't have been so precious, but we felt like it was a bit of a snide move. Short story: that's why Caspa never played a DMZ.

      As an ethos, you can't fault it, but one thing that affected us, I think, was that Coki wasn't really doing shows. He'd come to them but wasn't really playing, so it was me, Mala and Loefah, but you know what they say – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Coki is a genius. I think we needed him more than we realised.

      COKI: I had a lot of other things in my head back then. My son was born in 2003, and I was still working full-time. I didn't really have a relationship with what was going on apart from DMZ and FWD>>. All that time, people would say to me, "Bruv you're big, you know? Why are you sitting in an office?" – and I didn't have a clue. I was blind to what was going on. Even when I made "Night" with Benga: I heard it on radio, I saw my name on the TV, that it was getting played in Ayia Napa, and I thought, 'Why am I working?' But, I didn't leave my job until 2011.

      Click through to the next page.

      CHAPTER THIRTEEN: "We had to contend with a new generation that had never heard of us."

      Youngsta in 2005


      Martin Clark: A London-based journalist and DJ who has worked for a variety of UK publications and now runs the Keysound label and club night.
      Sgt Pokes: The main MC for the DMZ club nights, Sgt Pokes has MC'd dubstep parties for over 15 years.
      Loefah: A producer, DJ and one of the core members of the DMZ club night and label, he also runs the Swamp81 label.
      El-B: A key producer and DJ in the transitional period between garage and dubstep, formerly part of garage duo Groove Chronicles.
      Oris Jay: Also known as Darqwuan, the Sheffield-based producer and DJ helped to lead the breaks element of the dubstep sound.
      Mala: One of the founding members of the London-based DMZ club night and label, he's also one half of the production duo Digital Mystikz, along with Coki, as well as a solo DJ and producer.
      Coki: The other half of Digital Mystikz, Coki is one of the core members of the DMZ label and club night.

      MARTIN CLARK: Digital Mystikz were an incredible production duo, but they also established a centre of power with DMZ. There were people whose careers ended there. [London producer and DJ] J Da Flex was supposed to play the first DMZ and he was given the final slot, which was considered a great honour. He said, "I'm not playing last" – and he never played DMZ again. He's not a big influence in dubstep any more for various reasons. As DMZ as a vehicle grew, J Da Flex became a vocal agitator for the breaks side of it all – "this other stuff is too dead, it's too quiet, it's too minimal, too weird" – but that side of things got lost.

      What people think of as dubstep now is only half of what the dubstep scene really was. The other side was a much smaller, but still intense, group of people who wanted to take the percussive patterns of garage and make them more break-focused, essentially building on from "138 Trek". Those camps in the beginning were harmonious but, by 2004-05, once half-step became a blueprint, they started to really not get on.

      People like Caspa, Search and Destroy, Oris Jay, and to an extent with labels like Hotflush, were all in it together. Because it was all evolving on the fly, a few people straddled both camps and they all got booked for the same clubs, but in the way that the Plasticman sound is distinct from, say, Digital Mystikz, Search and Destroy's was distinct from Loefah. There was a huge amount of infighting.

      What ended up happening was that not only did the group that became known widely as "dubstep" get the dubstep moniker, but they also focused around DMZ: booking and not booking certain people, playing and not playing certain records, releasing and not releasing certain records. When you look at DMZ line-ups, you don't see many people that were from the other side of the camp. Although when we say "the other side", they were all still partying in the same room together at FWD>>.

      Breaks were borderline [derogatory name for a type of dubstep-influenced music created by the likes of Caspa, Rusko and Skrillex that is listened to predominantly by lairy, musclebound university-age pissheads] brostep at the time, but it became even more distorted, overdriven and over-compressed. Long before this shift, I was asking [London superclub] Fabric in 2002-03 to do a Hatcha CD, which would have been seminal, but instead we did Dubstep Allstars. Looking at it now, there is no touching that series, but you can't underestimate the effect the Caspa and Rusko Fabriclive mix had on the progression of the sound – and not in a good way.

      SGT POKES: To be fair to Caspa and Rusko, the story with their Fabriclive mix CD goes is that [Parisian house duo] Justice were asked to do that mix, and Justice turned in this weird French music. Then, Fabric are phoning around, going, "This has to get done really, really soon," and apparently they asked a lot of the dubstep people to do it, but nobody wanted it. Apart from Caspa and Rusko. They took a lot of stick for that release. They got a lot of the blame for the direction of the sound. The majority of the tunes in that mix are good tunes, but it just wasn't a fair representation of what it was to be in a dubstep party. They were highlight tunes that you wanted to hear peppered through sets, not back to back for over an hour. It was like a rave mega-mix.

      LOEFAH: That Fabriclive mix CD got offered to a load of us in the scene but we were like, "Nah" – and then some lads who weren't from Croydon jumped on it. I have two sides to this. Pragmatically, I think, 'Fuck it, they did their thing just like we did ours. They came at it independently and smashed it.' But when someone who'd been DJing and making dubstep tracks for less time than you were all of a sudden playing Fabric, that was when we thought, 'Fuck, we're not in control of this any more.' It was coming from producers that weren't from Croydon. We were like, "You don't get it. We've never talked with you lot." People say that tracks like "Spongebob" and "Haunted" changed it all, but they at least have genuinely interesting beat patterns. When Caspa and Rusko came along, I started to lose interest.

      "If it weren't for Sarah Lockhart and Mary Anne Hobbs, there wouldn't be any of this. The boys were running around, but these two women brought it all together." – Oris Jay

      EL-B: When Noodles [Steven Jude, the other half of the production duo Groove Chronicles with El-B] and I split around 2000-01, he gave me a call. He could have been spiteful, but he said: "You and your dubstep scene, it's a small pond. The sound has no dynamic." When I came back in 2006, and brought the Ghost [Recordings, El-B's label] crew with me to the dubstep clubs, they were all pissed off that every single DJ was trying to be as hard as they bloody could: all the groove had gone, and had been replaced by just, noise. A groove isn't always necessary, but variety is. Me, Oris Jay, Zed Bias: our sound got left out. It had only been three or four years, but we had to contend with a new generation of fans that had never heard of us.

      [Since publication, Noodles has contacted VICE and denied that this conversation with El-B took place.]

      ORIS JAY: As soon as you had money, and status, then it's got to change. It was like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table: we all had our parts to play. Then Arthur started making money, the exclusivity gets tighter and DJs became stars. Not on purpose, but Mary Anne Hobbs was our King Arthur. Everyone was on the same level and, like most, stumbled on dubstep by beautiful accident – and then got it played on Radio 1.

      When you think about the context of the time: the most you're going to get out of a track before that is on Rinse at 3AM, or in one or two basement clubs in London. All of a sudden, it's getting aired on the BBC. The Dubstep Warz Breezeblock show aired 2-4AM here, so during the day or early evening in the US, and that made the Americans pay attention. Basically: it made it big in America, which made it big in the UK. Within 18 months, everyone who was featured on that show got status, straight away.

      And another important thing that doesn't get talked about as much as it should: when I look at the scene as a whole, there were hardly any women, but if it weren't for Sarah Lockhart and Mary Anne Hobbs, there wouldn't be any of this. The boys were running around, but these two women brought it all together. This was a whole ecosystem of music that no one knew about, and they decided to tell the whole world about it. None of us would be where we are without Sarah, and the exposure would never have happened without Mary Anne.

      SGT POKES: Look, the way I see it is this: drum and bass lost its dynamic because of the way it was produced, but dubstep lost much of its dynamic by the late 2000s because of the way it was played. If Mala played "Thief In The Night" and "Hunter" and then "Spongebob", that's like Tyson walking into the club and knocking you the fuck out. If you play "Spongebob", then "Tree Trunk", then "Sea Sick", it's tear-out without the dynamic range.

      By then, there was also a lot of tunnel vision: people leaning over, covering up their work – the paranoid years. There was a lot more drug-taking then, too. We really noticed it at DMZ and FWD, particularly after the smoking ban. It's sad to say that it's a crucial part of it, but if you're a smoker you get used to it and when it's taken away, it changes how you act. There were more class-As going around the ravers, and then the artists dramatically ravaged it.

      LOEFAH: It changed the rave because all of a sudden, there was no weed, and it was all class-As. If you're on coke and pills, you're not up for the space. You're there to go mental. It became a uniform sound after that. It was a soul-destroying period for me. I stopped writing so many tunes, and I started playing tunes at raves that I didn't even like. That's why I started [the label] Swamp81: I needed something new – again.

      MALA: I think the smoking ban did have an impact on the sound and the dances. For a crew with hard smokers, what happens with a smoking ban is that you have an audience that aren't focused for the whole session. You're getting people coming in and going out, and that was disruptive to the dances because it had the effect of shortening people's attention spans; high impact and quick tunes get the quick response.

      But, look. We can pick apart what happened with dubstep, but the strength of it has been incredible. I think that the quality of sound being the focus – not the fashion, not the magazines that were writing about us – captured the imagination of people who were on the fringes. I don't want to say that was what the dubstep movement's biggest contribution was, but the whole term "bass music"? That certainly didn't exist before dubstep.

      The sound reminded people that music is about freedom, about not having to conform to the norms and standards of the day. Mediocrity is inevitable, because it gets saturated, but it also serves its own purpose: people are going to come up with something else because they'll get sick and tired again, too.

      COKI: Dubstep put people on a different level – come in and smoke with us, in this vast atmosphere. That's why our dances were de-militarized zones. It felt like you were vibing underwater. What dubstep was becoming by the late 2000s just... it was never that type of party for me. Speaking to Skream, Benga and Hatcha, and Artwork too, about the levels that they were trying to get to... I knew in myself I couldn't cope with that.

      Click through to the next page.

      CHAPTER FOURTEEN: "Dubstep did everything right that it possibly could have done."

      Skream at Rinse FM


      Artwork: Something of a father figure to a number of younger dubstep DJs, Artwork is a producer, DJ, engineer and one third of Magnetic Man, along with Skream and Benga.
      Skream: Croydon-born producer and DJ who was picked up as the so-called teenage poster boy of the dubstep scene.

      ARTWORK: It took the better part of ten years for drum and bass to go around the world, from small club to small club, but dubstep exploded because it was the first time that the internet and music really came together for us. I remember going round to my mate's house and he said, "I've got this thing over here where you can look at anything in the world." I was like, "Fuck off." "No, look," he said, "the CIA has a website." I didn't understand. I watched it go from sending emails, to within a few years seeing people rip records and put them on [central dubstep message board] dubstepforum.net. It was the death of Big Apple, frankly: you go from selling 2000 records to 200 records, because who the fuck wants to buy a record when you can get it for free?

      I'm completely averse to saying, "You can't do this, you can't do that," in music, because music moves incredibly fast. And thank fuck it does, otherwise we'd be bored shitless. You can't stop it, or police it, and anyone that tries to is an idiot. When grime started to come out, the older guys in the garage scene had a fucking meeting in the East End about stopping grime: telling record shops not to stock it, because it was ruining garage. I pissed myself laughing. I was like, "That is the most stupid fucking thing I've ever heard in my life." From that moment on, I told myself that I would never act like that. And that's why I loved what we did with Magnetic Man [the "dubstep supergroup featuring Artwork, Skream and Benga].

      After we did our first Magnetic Man show at FWD>>, Sarah Soulja hooked us up with £10,000 from the arts council because they were looking to invest in "new live music" or something. We bought three laptops, hired a van and a tour manager, and did a ten-date UK tour. It got to the point where, a year later, we were doing festivals, and Sony saw a video of us and said, "What is this music? And why are these people playing to 15,000 people?"

      When they said, "Go and make the record," it was around the time that dubstep started to get very aggressive but also very pop: with big, formulaic drops. We told Sony that we didn't want to make the record in London, so they hired a massive mansion in Cornwall for us – off-season, from January to March. This was when a record company would say, "Who do you want on this track?" We'd say, "Uhhhh – John Legend?!" – and they'd come back with John Legend. We were like, "Fucking hell," so we took the piss.

      We wanted a mansion with a swimming pool, and we want it heated so that Benga could learn how to swim. While we were there, there were lorries turning up once a week. I thought, 'What the fuck are these for?' Turns out, it was oil for heating the pool. Sony spent £9,000 on fuel for this fucking pool. This pool had steam coming off it for two months. We were wrapped up in all of it, to be honest. We didn't give a shit about what was going on with dubstep at the time, either: the sound had turned into a lowest common denominator race for loudness, and we just wanted to write songs for the radio.

      Benga in Brixton

      SKREAM: We all got cabin fever. We were nearly ripping each other's heads off. The thing is, we're city rats. The whole point of that mansion was so that we weren't able to go in and out, but we weren't used to sitting for long periods of time to make music – we'd do it on the fly at home. We were partying a lot in that house. Three or four days would go by without us doing any work.

      I was also writing two albums at once: Outside the Box for myself, and the Magnetic Man album. I'd work with Artwork and Benga during the day, then go to bed and work on my solo stuff on my laptop when everyone else was asleep. It was pretty stressful: there was so much more money involved in Magnetic Man, and if I had an idea for my own album I'd feel bad not sharing it with the group, but in the end, Outside the Box got lost in the shadows and the Magnetic Man album smashed it. More than anything, for me, it was all just a huge relief. I had this tag of the "poster boy of dubstep", so I loved how successful Magnetic Man became. At the end of the day – and whatever is said about the music, the scene, and how it all changed – I think that dubstep did everything right that it possibly could have done.

      ARTWORK: I look back on what we created, and it was quite amazing to be there at the actual start of something, you know? When Benny Ill knocked on my studio door and said, "I've made some garage" – and it was wrong. Now, in every club, in every city, there will be someone playing a track affiliated to that very moment. You can say that this is a global sound, but it can be pinpointed to one day, in one shop, and a group or five or six people – and I was one of them. It's mind-blowing, really.


      More on VICE:

      The Soul of UK Garage, As Photographed by Ewen Spencer

      I Lost My Finger at the East Croydon Rave

      Bass, Raves and Bulletproof Vests: The Early Days of Fabric Nightclub

      Topics: dubstep, oral history, Lauren Martin, Music, United Kingdom, Croydon, DMZ, FWD>>, Mass, Plastic People, Mala, Loefah, Sgt Pokes, Martin Clark, Youngsta, Kode9, Oris Jay, Artwork, Benny Ill, Joe Nice, Coki, Skream, Chef, Big Apple, garage, dub, 2-step, drum and bass, reggae, history of dubstep, Jason Goz, Hijak, Caspa, Burial, Dub War, Pinch, Digital Mystikz, Tectonic


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