Exclusive Interview: Flowdan on Spentshell, his new label venture

Joe Walker

8 months ago

By Joe Walker

Photo: Hana Makovcova

When it comes to grime music, Flowdan has pretty much seen it all.

A close affiliate of Pay As U Go Cartel, he was there when the sound was emerging from the garage scene that didn’t want it. Then, with Roll Deep, he was at the heart of things as the scene rose from its humble beginnings to birth national stars – the group themselves landing numerous record deals and going on to achieve two number one singles. When that mainstream attention waned, his reputation as a MC ensured he stayed busy in music at a time when many of his contemporaries failed to do so, with his guest vocals for dubstep producers such as The Bug an example of how else he has kept his bookings international to this day.

There’s without doubt plenty to learn from the big Flowdan when it comes to making a lasting career from grime, a fact that is not lost on the man himself. Spentshell is the East London legend’s new label venture, which as well as his own recordings will see releases from some younger MCs making their names on the current grime radio circuit, and providing priceless experience, wisdom and resources to hopefully replicate his own lasting career. The inaugural release was the debut EP from YGG’s own PK, and the next release has just arrived in GHSTLY XXVII’s Guerrilla Tactics. The discovery of Flowdan’s work with these two MCs delighted us here at RWD, and we had to get the Spentshell boss on the phone to get the lowdown on this intriguing new chapter…

When did the idea for Spentshell first enter your thinking?
The idea probably came around a year ago, just from spending so much time in the studio, doing so much music and thinking I need to create an outlet for all the music I’m making.

How long before you considered other artists to fall under that umbrella?
As I done my own album, it was always apparent that once I started the label I wanted to really expand on what I’m doing and involve newer artists, established artists and just have another outlet for the grime I think should be made. Or, the only outlet for the grime I think should be made!

You’ve had your music released through a variety of outlets, from a major in Virgin/Relentless to independent operations like Hyperdub and Tru Thoughts. What can you take from all those experiences for Spentshell?
All them experiences brought me to knowing that it’s all about the direction beforehand. We make music anyway, but if it’s got no direction with that music it ends up being wasted efforts. I learned that when we first signed our Roll Deep deal, they kept asking us ‘how do you want us to market you? What type of sound do you want to stick to?’

That first album wasn’t just grime – it had pop songs, slower hip-hop songs – and that confused them from a marketing sense because they only know how to focus on one situation and then really go hard in that area. We kind of confused them in that way and they didn’t really know what to do with us. Any ideas they had we didn’t like because we felt like we were being held in a box, and we wanted to do everything.

I’ve learned that if you haven’t got the direction or that angle, once you’ve got the music you’re not going to be able to market it to the best potential. Saying that to say this now, we make music around me that I’ve got a vision for where it can go and how it can work, because I’ve seen it for loads of years.

Grime’s a new thing still, even though it’s two decades in, it’s still new considering there are not many new businesses from grime or in grime. I think it’s a good time to make that start happening.

How do you reflect on the major label days with Roll Deep?
It’s weird, being in Roll Deep is how we started; we were on the underground for like a year and half before we started getting record deals and that, so it’s kind of how I learned it, like that. It was independent selling white labels, which is a thing of the past, and then doing music with Wiley, there were record deals quite early.

Being young, we didn’t really take it seriously, didn’t really have much expectation and didn’t really care as long as the money, the hype, the flipping promo, videos and shows were there.

From that going on, there was no thought on how to maintain it, no thought going into what’s happening for the next project. Is there gonna be a next project? There was no thought on that so when things fizzle out you start not being sure how to regenerate that type of energy again because you wasn’t really conscious of how you were doing it in the first place.

There’s less of that going on now because everyone’s seen it happen for so long or so many times, regarding young people going from nothing to something with their music. There’s a lot more focus on the business side of things from everyone – independent, bedroom producers, bedroom MCs – trying to tend to their business as well as their craft.

The music industry evolves quickly, but what methods can you still take from early in your career that still apply today?
I think it’s important to take what you know and apply it to what’s going on, as opposed to only doing what you know. I’ve still got some old school ethics and things, like making sure the song sounds up to scratch before everyone else hears it, stuff like that. Making sure the quality of the sound and mixdown, that process can’t get overlooked as opposed to ‘this sounds sick right now, let’s upload it’.

There’s still another process or two that the music needs to see before the public gets to decide how sick it is or isn’t – I don’t really know if that’s going on in every situation where there’s hot music coming out. It’s not really that complex, just enjoy the music and ensure it’s done to a high standard.

Jamakabi is another example of a MC of your generation that has taken some younger artists under his wing in a management and label capacity. Did you consult with him at all ahead of launching Spentshell?
We discuss this all the time. For the last couple of years we’ve been talking about doing the same thing. He’s got his artists he’s working with, I’ve got the artists I’m working with, and we compare notes.

When did you first start working with PK and GHSTLY XXVII?
I’ve officially been working with PK for about a year, and recorded ‘Yosho’ and most of that EP about 8 or 9 months ago. I noticed him on YouTube – Radar sets, Just Jam – and he just stood out, as a person that’s shelling but doing so with a melodic vibe that can sit well in the music, in different veins of the music as opposed to being the most aggressive sounding, hardest MC. Sometimes people associate grime with ‘harsh’, but I know it doesn’t have to be that and PK’s a sick example of that. It’s just about to trying to package that and make sure the people get to see that in its true form.

Ghostly’s the same kind of timespan but it’s a different link up still. I done a song, it’s not even out yet, it’s got a MC from North, East, South and West in there. I was finding it hard to find a West MC that I rated or that fits the bill, cos there’s a few out there but for one reason or another they weren’t getting on the song. I phoned Manga, who is definitely someone up on stuff before me regarding what’s hot and what’s not, and he said he’s just done a song with GHSTLY. I watched it on SBTV, and thought yep. He has the right voice, the right style, and I want him on this tune. From getting that verse and spending time with him, I thought he had the right attitude and he’s someone that I’d definitely work with, so one thing led to another (no homes).

How far ahead are the Spentshell release plans mapped out?
PK dropped last month, GHSTLY XXVII is now, I’m going to be April and then there’s going to be a Welcome To Spentshell collaborations album – two EPs adding up to an album. By the time that drops there’ll be a good idea of what the sound and style is, and who’s involved, because it’s not just PK and GHSTLY, it’s actually the whole of YGG and some other artists that I won’t mention yet.

Do you have events in mind anytime soon?
That’s also something I want to work towards, to do a Spentshell night, but at the same I want there to be a reason for a Spentshell night. I want there to be some type of give-a-shit about the music and the artists that are on the label , then when the time is right there’ll be collaborations and nights. We’ll start with like a Keep Hush or something.

Follow @BigFlowdan and @Spentshellmusic | Click for PK EP and GHSTLY XXVII EP