Faze Miyake is a producer who seems as interested in the mainstream as he is in the underground. He's been lauded by everyone from original grime heads to post-Wavey Garms hauler boys and high-fashion ill-health goths, first coming to wider attention with his now-seminal instrumental "Take Off", which seemed to act as the missing link between Hudson Mohawke and Danny Weed, and became something of a classic in latter-era grime production.
Over the last four years, his charged, Ilford-goes-Atlanta sound has become a perfect encapsulation of what's going on in clubs right now, a sound built on a kind of natural eclecticism and slight attention deficit disorder. As it stands, Faze is surely the only producer to have worked with both Inga Copeland and Wiley. Even in today's schizophrenic musical climate, his choices stand out.
With his debut, self-titled album out on Rinse since the beginning of this month, I decided to take Faze right into the burning nucleus of the mainstream – the West End of London – to discuss grime, fashion, drugs, clubs, bucket hats and the simple, flagrant beauty of "House Every Weekend".
We met mid-morning at Oxford Circus, London's foremost consumerist stargate, where street dance crews and over-friendly Hare Krishnas try to hustle tourists, and crews of mini-Winonas in the midst of their five-finger discount phase are stopped at the door of Topshop with their bags full of severed security tags and cheap leather jackets.
Faze had recently done his cruciate playing football, so he turned up on a pair of tricked-out NHS crutches, which lent a slight Midnight Cowboy feel to the proceedings as we trundled down Oxford Street, trying on things we were never going to buy.
We found ourselves drawn to one those emporiums of shite you find in any European city, full of Messi shirts, local trinkets and rhinestone "KUSH SWAG" snapbacks. In the back was a dark room that the owner had installed purely to show off his range of reactive rave shirts, perfect for the new generation of deep house ravers who've had their lives changed by MK's "Storm Queen" in the same way the original heads' souls were forever warped by "Pump Up the Volume".
Turns out that despite the fact he makes resolutely credible, acclaimed grime tunes, Faze is something of a house hobbyist – an admirer of the scene. "I go out a lot to these house raves. I thought the whole concept of having a song with the chorus "house every weekend" was just fucking classic. I fell in love with it – that's why I'm so on it on Twitter," he told me. "I'm genuinely into the house stuff, only because I like to go out a lot. I don't really get to do what I want to do at a grime rave; I can't get wasted, have a little skank, chill out with my mates. If you go to those sort of places, it's more for trendy types, industry people."
I wonder where he thinks this new strand of British youth culture – one defined by NOS balloons, swegways and Nike shoulder pouch bags – came from. "A lot of this culture comes from festivals, which up until now I'd never really been to," he said. "But, all of a sudden, everyone's bang on festivals. Then you go there and everyone's wearing the same thing – everyone's got a fucking bucket hat on, and Huaraches. So I look at it all more like festival culture."
I asked if he thinks drugs play much of a part in all this, or if it's just the laughing gas he's noticed more than anything else. "I noticed that a lot of people around me were all of a sudden doing MDMA, going to house raves... but, all of a sudden, people are doing ket to keep up with the music," he said. "There's so much ketamine in music now, and it even affects the music being played. I don't do ket, but I imagine [if you were] on it you'd wanna hear a kind of constant repetition that would keep you in the zone, whereas if you were hearing all sorts of stuff you'd go mental."
As we stepped into a boutique that seemed to stock everything from the freshest Stone Island jackets to the naffest rip-off Givenchy tees, the conversation turned to fashion. The art direction for Faze's album comes from the mind of one Nasir Mahzar, the London designer credited with turning the fashion scene on to grime and vice versa. "Nasir came about because he's a really big grime fan," said Faze. "He booked me and Merky Ace for a show back in 2012; at the time I didn't know anything about him, and then people were like, 'Hold on, that's a pretty big deal.'"
Faze's own style is noticeably different from the nu-sportswear favoured by much of his audience. "I just wanna look a bit smarter," he told me. "I'm 26 now, and I'm a person who's lived most of his life in tracksuits and sportswear, which is what everyone is wearing now, really – all these high fashion people wearing Nike and everything that's in JD Sports.
"I don't get it, to be honest. I've come from a working class background, and I went to school with people whose parents gave them everything – but they wanted to be these street guys, these road guys; seeing all these super rich kids dressing like shotters. But I've never understood it, because I came from that world. I think, for some people, it's exciting; gives them a bit of an adrenaline rush. Probably in the same way that I wanna look a bit smarter. I wanna get to the next stage in my life; I don't wanna be working class forever."
Walking into an American confectionary shop – as Cedric Gervais pumped through the in-store stereo and a succession of moonlighting drama students asked us if they could help and if there was anything they could do and what in particular they could do for us – I asked Faze how he first got into music.
"My dad used to listen to jungle, all my older cousins used to listen to jungle, as well as early rap stuff like NWA," he said. "I remember being really little and I really liked 'Informer' by Snow. My older sister listened to a lot of garage, but it wasn't 'til high school, when grime came about, that I really got into music. So Solid kind of passed over, Dizzee came through, More Fire was about, Nasty Crew, etc."
Ilford – the hinterland between London and Essex, where Faze grew up and still calls home – has been a huge influence on the music he makes, his surroundings rearing him on grime. "I started to realise that I'm a product of my environment," he said.
However, while grime might be an inescapable soundtrack for someone of his generation who grew up on the eastern edges of the city, for many others it seems to be a much newer fascination. "People from out of London, for example, they're so fascinated by this grime thing. And I was always like, 'This is so late – why are you so fascinated by it?' But it's just because they weren't around it – and that's something I learnt later on in life, that not everyone is you, not everyone has been around what you've been around, so you've got to kind of give them that chance," said Faze. "Even with this whole grime thing popping off, it's just people who were never around it before that are excited by it now. Whereas, to us, it was just the sound of our teenage years. Don't get me wrong, it is sick, but I just wanna see things move forward."
Taking a seat in Soho Square, where a few workmen in orange hi-vis jackets are having an impromptu table tennis match, I asked Faze about the record.
"The album's been in the works for coming up two years. I'm really happy it's out," he said. "I feel like I've been working on a lot of different types of music, and I wanted this album to be a certain way. It's somewhere between grime and hip-hop, but I hope it gets recognised in the whole electronic world.
"My music is mainly categorised as grime, but [the songs on the album with] people like Inga Copeland – even Little Simz – aren't really. The tune with Family Tree is the only real grime tune on there. It would've been so easy for me to do an album with the features being Newham Generals, P-Money, JME... that's what people would expect from me. But I really want to hit loads of different demographics, markets, even genres."
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How does Faze, who's been a grime fan since the Channel U days, feel about this new, fashion-led resurgence of interest in the scene?
"Fair enough, this grime thing's popping off, but everyone's just playing the old tunes – some of them are 10 years old. Not too many people are doing new things," he said. "I'd really like to see people going out of their way to try to do something different, not just go back in time and put on a tracksuit."
He does, however, seem understanding of the young'uns who've only just discovered "Rhythm 'n' Gash", rather than derisive. "This generation weren't old enough to go to the original raves, but neither was I – I never went to the first Eskimo Dances, I never went to Sidewinder," he said. "There's loads of things in this that came in this grime thing before me, and when I was younger I wish I went to them."
Eventually, we reached our final destination: the ever-fascinating M&M's store, a place of pure, unbridled commercialism, where a diamante-encrusted M&M's jacket can set you back a couple of grand. Has anyone ever actually bought one? I can't imagine they have. But it seemed an apt place to end our day. I asked Faze how far into the mainstream he's interested in taking his music.
"When I feel it's time to make a quick EDM smasher, I'll do it," he said, laughing. "But on a realistic level, I'd like to do more events, bring back the culture of it a bit. Make it a bit less trendy, as it were. I wanna get rid of these streamlined raves, where it's all house, all grime. I wanna see that old mixture come back, where it's just a good party – something people are really going to remember.
"Musically, I just wanna keep pushing, keep progressing, as well as hoping to change some of the stuff I don't like. I hope in the same way that I'm influenced by other people, I want to become an influence to other people, and hopefully everyone can get on the same page and change things for the better."