A veteran of the UK Garage, Grime and Dubstep scenes, T_! is one of the key figures whose name will continually crop up in discussions of the history of these now chart-dominating genres. His tireless work in developing his skills behind the decks and using them to promote new talent via crackling pirate radio frequences or in front of sell-out crowds at the reknowned Stink Like Sock is indicative of why his name makes such reoccurences. We caught up with him to talk about his involvement in the development of the music, his approach to DJing and his experiences in running a major Bass Music night. He also found time to lay down mix number 10 in our series of exclusive mixes, which is a three deck mix packed with dubplates and covering the usual span of sounds with a root in UK Garage.
Hedmuk: To introduce yourself to those who don't know yet: what's your name, where are you from and how would you describe your mixing style?
T_!: I’m T_!, I’m based in North Hertfordshire kind of smack bang in the middle between London, Cambridge and Milton Keynes. My mixing style, erm, energetic, creative, technical and random!
H: Would you describe yourself as being from a musical background, or was it something you picked up yourself?
T: My Dad was always very much into music, I remember being introduced to so many different sounds and genres from a young age: Reggae, Disco, Blues, Soul & Motown, Rock’n’Roll, Punk, early Electronic and then House as it emerged. He is a bit of a vinyl nut too so I was exposed to handling records and appreciating what they were, and I loved the warm sound. My Dad was a bit techy aswell so there were always big speakers, amplifiers he’d built himself, and hi-fi separates set up to optimum sound, I recall plenty of times the neighbours had to ask us to turn it down!
H: When did you start DJing, and what were you mixing when you first started?
T: I started buying Garage records with the desire to DJ in about 1999, with pirate radio, local record shop Big Drum Records, and Garage Nation and Exposure tape packs fuelling my love for the sound. The darker tunes always stood out for me. I had a turntable handed down without pitch control, but managed to save up for one SoundLab belt drive first in 2001 and just mix tunes over the top of DJ EZ mix CD’s, trying to hold the beatmatching tight, cos I know EZ wouldn’t drop a beat. Shortly after I got a second belt drive and started mixing and beatmatching properly.
H: Was mixing something you picked up quite quickly, and how what made you decide to move on to mixing on more than two decks?
T: I suppose so. I was so intensely into it that once I had my decks, I was getting up at 6.30am and headphone mixing in my room so I wouldn’t be loud, then as soon as I got in, back on the decks practicing, only stopping to eat dinner, and then for bed. Listening to how DJ’s like EZ would mix so tight for so long, I knew I had to polish what I was learning, because whilst you hear DJ’s mixing sloppy, I knew the tools in front of you could produce clean, mind-blowing mixes if you took the time to learn how to handle them properly. I wanted to play on the local pirate so bad, I just became obsessed with practicing until I felt like I’d got to a point where I was confident to mix well in front of other people, and within 6 months of having my decks I had a show on that pirate.
After quite a few years of mixing on two turntables, it becomes second nature, so you have to add something to it to keep your skills honed, to up your game, because you can never be the best DJ, you can always be better. I still feel the same about DJing as I did when I first started, the passion and excitement for it remains. I’m concentrating more on the mixing as production isn’t something that time allows, so I need to come with something different to smash up the club even more. Seeing people's faces when your putting an extra dimension on what they are hearing is brilliant. Dubstep heads are some of the most dedicated followers and listen intently, so you know what your doing is being appreciated by them, and that drives you to try and come with even more fucked up mixing!
T: The whole Home Counties area generally is pretty tight knit; in the Garage days everyone knew everyone who was doing it from around Herts, Beds and Bucks, there was plenty of pirate radio and raves so everyone was aware of who was making moves and there was a good community vibe. I first met Raff and 9er (K9) at a rave, I was playing in the Garage room, and they were in the Drum & Bass room, playing what was, at that time, very dark, forward-thinking D&B. Shortly after that Grime broke, and I was feeling their dark twisted 140bpm sound and it being a Home Counties thing, it was only right to push it. They were huge guys in Grime when it first peaked, it gave us a sense of pride that our area was being repped on this level. Whilst Raff spent a lot of time in the studio making beats, as I was DJing out a lot I would essentially be representing the Macabre sound at that time. As Grime slowed in pace, Raff and 9er just got more versatile; their sound works so well with Dubstep, so it was a natural progression.
H: How has the Grime scene progressed since then?
T: It all got a little bit too aggy and started coming away from the music a bit too much. Grime is such a hype music, it gets a reaction. When that reaction started becoming a negative thing it sucked the life out of it. Now people have matured, thought about it a little bit more, you see artists collaborating now who would have threatened to shank each other a few years ago, and the new breed seem to be looking up to the founders now and conducting business in the right way. Grime definitely has a bright future.
H: As someone who has long supported the connection between the Grime and Dubstep sounds, what is your view on artists such as P Money currently looking to make crossover tunes?
T: To me its all come out of the same bag, Garage is the root of Grime and Dubstep. If the end product is good, it doesn’t matter which genre pigeon-hole it sits in. As long as the small minority of idiots who followed Grime and ruined it for everyone else don’t bring the bad vibes to the raves, bring it on. It can only continue to breed creative music.
H: Stink Like Sock is one of the most respected bass nights in the UK; how did the night come about, and how do you go about putting together lineups which keep people returning for the dance?
T: The night came about after first being discussed probably late 2006 by myself, and friends Swiss and Daddy Genius, 2 brothers who DJ’d on the same pirate station as me. We were sick of raves with poor production, ethics, sound systems and stale music. We felt like people were being ripped off and deserved better. We planned a free party in March 2007 in the back room of a pub in Hitchin, with a big soundsystem and DJ’s from the Home Counties area who’s sound we respected. We caught a big following after a few months, ramming out the room at the pub and getting them a nice fine after nearby residents complained about the bass from the sound system. I was invited to play Dubstep in room two at legendary Drum & Bass night Warning at the Junction, being the first to do so. After seeing a wicked response there, Junction and Warning head honcho Pete Edwards invited us to co-ordinate what was to be the first main room big Dubstep event in East Anglia, and from then it just snowballed.
We try to always put a lineup together that you won’t see anywhere else, something that people are going to look at and go “WOW!”. We love all elements of Dubstep and Bass Music so we try to bring something which is gonna cater for everybody, and also bring a little education to people that might not be familiar with other sounds.
Production is very important, we have all come from a serious raving background so we try to focus on all the elements that matter, so everyone leaves at the end with a huge smile on their face. We’re very passionate about the end product when we put our nights on, we stick to our ethics. Putting on raves is about leaving a legacy, helping people to have nights out they are going to remember forever, and not about trying to fill your pockets by scrimping on the most important areas.
H: What has been your favourite Stink event so far?
T: September 2009 was a huge one, I felt like the atmosphere was gonna take the roof off the Junction at stages, it was so hype, crazy hype! Heny G rounded off the night in epic fashion, and I just remember hundreds of smiling faces as the lights came on at the end. Also when we had Skream, Distance, Ramadanman and Kryptic Minds last year, that was a pretty special one. I wish there was more time to take it in, because you’re forever running about sorting things out and making sure everything is spot on, that the end of the night hits you before you know it.
H: Do you view yourself most strongly as a DJ, a producer or promoter?
T: Definitely a DJ, I’m obsessed with it. You can be so so creative if you select and mix well, adding a third deck just increases your possibilities. I’ve been working on the 4 deck thing, only tried it out in the club a few times. You have be mindful of how those 4 things are gonna sound together and EQ them right. You can easily make it sound like a pile of noise if you’re not working the mixer enough. Production isn’t something I can fit in at the moment, as the promotion thing is very time consuming if you want to do it properly. We have the big Stink Like Sock nights, the monthly Bassbox events at Cambridge Fez, and the Cambridge Gold team to co-ordinate so things are non-stop busy.
H: With a vinyl collection of over 11 years worth of tunes, what would you say is your most prized piece of wax?
T: Can I say two? My copy of 'The Praise' by The Sample Choir on Nervous Records, 1994. I love that tune so much. The second is my unplayed copy of 'Neverland' by Mala: another tune that I have a deep attachment to. It evokes such great memories.
H: Can you tell us a little about how you went about preparing the mix you've done for us?
T: I’ve never ever been one for planning mixes, I think it stifles your creativity massively. I’ve seen people play pre-planned sets in clubs, they’ve cleared the floor, and then been unable to detract from their planned set and killed off the whole vibe. You have to be reactive as a DJ. For this mix I basically got a stack of 60 odd tunes I felt like I’d want to include, covering a variety of bass music angles, put them in a pile in front of me, smoked a zoot and just got into mixing zone. That’s the way I always tend to do it; it keeps things interesting.
H: Finally, is there any news or projects in the pipeline that you want to put the word out about?
T: Yeah we got our Stink Like Sock 4th Birthday event at the Junction in Cambridge on 5th March with Nero, 16Bit, The Others, Subscape, Mensah and Icicle and collaborations on events with both Outlook Festival and Sin City in Cambridge in the first half of 2011, and you will catch the Stink Like Sock crew repping in Croatia at Outlook aswell. Also there’s plenty of new Macabre Unit music out, some included in the mix, and the old Grime classics are becoming available to buy digitally at www.icuaudio.com so check them out!
Download: T_! - Hedmuk Exclusive Mix
Macabre Unit - Midnight Bliss [Fent Plates]
Dom Perignon & Dynamite - Together [MOS Wanted]
>>Digital Mystikz - CR7 Chamber [Rephlex]
Southbound Hangers - After Sun [Dub]
Biome - No Tomorrow (feat. Fox) [forthcoming FTW Records]
Wiley - I Will Not Lose [White]
SevenFourEight - Take A Step Back [Dub]
Don G - Ready Or Not (feat. Sweetie Irie) [Macabre Unit Remix] [Dub]
Musical Mob- Dogs Bark [Musical Mob Royale]
Versa - Monsoon [Dub]
Grimelock - Frontline [Dub]
S-X - Woo Riddim [Butterz]
Skepta - Mike Lowery Instrumental [Boy Better Know]
Kutz - Big N Bad [forthcoming Benga Beats]
End Productions - Are You Really From The Ends? [End Productions]
N-Type & Cyrus - Dark Frequency [forthcoming Black Box]
Fused Forces - Peeper [Dub]
Goth Trad - Two Faced [Deep Medi Musik]
Hatcha & Lost - Oil Leak [Dub]
Emalkay - Crusader [Dub Police]
Kutz - Canonical [forthcoming Benga Beats]
N-Type & Cyrus - Conscious [forthcoming Black Box]
Silkie - Wonder [Deep Medi Musik]
Direct Abuse - Kreepa [Dub]
Mala - Explorer [Monkeytown Records]
Bastille - Never Be Alone [Dub]
Mala - Education [DMZ]
Mr Lager & Asher Dust- Four Leaf Clover (Von D Remix) [forthcoming SubFreq]