Exclusive Interview: Grandmixxer – “I Don’t Do Grime The Word, I Do Grime The Sound”
When it comes to the best grime DJs, South London’s own Grandmixxer has earned his seat at the top table.
Acquiring his first decks around 15 years ago, having begged his mum relentlessly for a set, he took inspiration from radio shows by the likes of Mak Ten to hone his own style, and a three-year stay in Bournemouth as a teenager (sent there by his family) allowed him to bury himself in the discipline. Practice hours on pirate radio followed upon his return to London, but his big breakthrough came about four years ago when, as DJ for a certain young prodigy by the name of Novelist, he was able to quit his job and show his skills far and wide full-time, accelerating his profile. He has since blossomed as a producer, taking inspiration from the stripped back sounds of grime’s foundation era, and this week he launched his own record label in South London Space Agency with one of his own productions.
The three-track SLSA EP features the instrumental that inspired the label’s name, and has become synoymous with Grandmixxer sets (as well as those from close affiliates in General Courts and Travis-T). There are also two new vocal versions from highly rated MCs of the Class of 2014 generation in Mez and PK. The EP is the first in a three-vinyl series, with more versions to follow from Grandmixxer’s favourite MCs to do sets with.
Ahead of its release, and the all-star launch party this weekend (Saturday 11 November, see foot for ticket link) we visited Grandmixxer in his “health hazard” of a home studio to learn more about why now was the time to get his label venture started up, and what vision he has for it.
You’re launching the label with one of your own productions. What made you take the step to producing?
I started producing because I had so many good producers around me that I was essentially tastemaking. Dullah, Trends, and lots of different producers… I was playing stuff that other people weren’t playing and making it sick, so I was like I know I’ve got an idea of what is sick, if I make music will it sound like that?. I’ve made music for me to play, I thought it just made too much sense. Why not put down your sound? You develop your own sound, which is ten times better. It’s just different init. You exist forever when you’ve got a sound. Sometimes it’ll be popular; other times it won’t be, whatever. It’s what you do and what people will know you for.
Tell us about this SLSA vinyl on your wall. It has a different logo to the one we see now…
That is something my friend Spitz made me. It was inspirational. There was no record, there was nothing but obviously my friends listen to me chat shit all day so one of them made that for me. It was to keep me on track, and now it’s here so it’s all good! I tried to trademark [the logo] but NASA said Nooo! I had to change it totally.
It seemed like a long drawn out process to get the label started…
Everything you see me do, I own it. 100%. I’m a ghetto businessman init but I definitely know that I need to own stuff in my life. I’ve gotta own my CDJs, own my equipment, own my label. Setting up all of those things does not happen overnight, it takes time. The trademark stuff nearly cost me a grand and I didn’t get out of anything out if it except for ‘No’, ‘no’ and ‘no’. Also I travel a lot, so for the last two to three years I’ve been travelling non stop every week – earning money, doing radio, everything – so when do I sit down to make the music or plan the label? Organically, it’s taken until now. It’s perfect timing. I’m just DJing or myself now with little bits here and there, so my schedule is a lot less this year and I can relax.
We can see lots of vinyl in this studio. You were never gonna launch the label without a physical release, were you?
My record collection is across my room, my cupboards, everywhere in this house. It’s the only thing for me, to be honest. Being so detached from vinyl for years – I haven’t really been mixing with vinyl for 5-6 years – when I played my record for the first time, I felt the best feeling I’ve ever felt. I knew what I was doing was a good thing, but when you actually hear your own fucking record? Nothing beats that feeling. That sounds so cliché, but it really is only about the music.
I remember when I was 15/16 years old listening to Mak Ten, Terror Danjah and these guys, and I could go and listen to a pirate set and buy a record I was hearing on the set. It meant so much to me at a young age that it changed my life, and so it’s only right that I give that back. I don’t know who the person is, I don’t know where they are – I’ve got fans all over the world – but someone’s gonna pick up my record and play it and be fucking gassed. It’s gonna give them the impetus to do what they wanna do.
Life is balanced like a circle. I am now Mak Ten and there’s another Grandmixxer that’s 15 years old and he’s gonna buy my shit. I have to make sure there’s something for them otherwise the eco-system won’t continue.
There are PK and Mez versions of ‘SLSA’ on the EP. We don’t get version excursions too often anymore, do we?
I just want the tunes to exist because there’s not tunes like that now. You have to go back to like ‘Straight’ versions, and I’m Jamaican so I look for versions! The reason why ragga MCs and artists are so good is because you can’t rely on the beat in Jamaica. There’s no such thing as ‘I’ve got a sick beat’ in Jamaica. ‘The most exclusive’, are you mad? As soon as that’s getting mad, that’s getting to everyone. You better get ready to hear the Vybz Kartel version, the Beenie Man version, all the versions. That’s what I wanted to do. Versions should exist a bit more [in grime]. Imagine if I give it to a young MC and he’s the most amazing version… he’s there now. You can rank people how you wanna rank people, people do that all the time without these things so why not facilitate that? All it means is we get better MCs and better tunes. I’m all for that.
A rising tide lifts all boats.
That’s real. Amongst my friends and team, we’re all on improvement. We all are bringing things to the table that make each other go ‘rah I need to go back home and mix’. [General] Courts will be here mixing sometimes and I’ll be like rah he’s going super in, let me go in as well just to show man I can go in, and it’s the same thing with Travis-T. It’s good because the love in my team is strong, so it works.
What else motivates you to improve?
Every time I DJ, even if my hand is sprained or I’m drunk or scared, all I can do is focus on my music and try to perform the best that I can. This is quite a morbid way to think of it yeah, but I love doing what I do so much that I know there’s only a certain number of times that I’m going to get to do it in life. Every time I do it I don’t want to waste it, I want to do the best I can do when I’m mixing. Not only can I remember when I was mixing and no one cared, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing then what are you doing? I’ve sacrificed so much to do this that I’ve gotta enjoy it when I play. That’s where the greatness comes out, because people are thinking like ‘rah man’s going in!’ but I’m going in for me. I know you guys are gonna enjoy it – I’m not that selfish – but I’m going in for me, because I need to.
I’ve learned so much about myself and life through being a DJ and learning my craft, because I love the craft of mixing. I learned about myself from spending time on the decks: my strengths, my weaknesses, how I work, what motivates me, what doesn’t motivate me. I’ve learned everything about myself from my pursuit, and now that I produce I’m learning even more about myself. Imagine I’ve been mastering how to DJ since I was 15, and now I have to do something totally new. I don’t know how to play keyboard, but look I have five in this room, and one more in the other room. I don’t know how to play, but I play them now because I’m trying to learn how to play. I love playing music, that’s my style now. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know, because the one thing I do know is that if you are thinking of something it will just naturally happen.
I pictured being me [as a DJ] when I couldn’t even mix, but I had the energy. I remember one of my friends at school asking ‘rah you got decks yeah? My older brother’s a DJ’. I’m like 13-14 years old. He’s like ‘yeah he’s better than you’, and I was like ‘nah he’s not, I’m the best!’ I couldn’t even mix, but I had that energy! I actually can’t explain how I was thinking of these moments now when I’d just got my decks.
I wanted to DJ because my friend had decks and I was like ‘fuck that, I want some’. My mum didn’t want to get me decks. As a young child, I never displayed that I was into music in any kind of way, that’s what I think it was. I didn’t sing, I didn’t play an instrument, I wasn’t musical, I didn’t rap and all of a sudden this person wants turntables, so I didn’t think she was into it at first. After two years of crying and moaning and being a shit, I got them. When you’re young, you change what you want all the time, but I knew I had to get decks. That’s all I wanted for two years. One Christmas I even told them to take back my present! They got me a Christmas gift and it wasn’t decks so I was like ‘no thank you’, to show them how proper serious I was.
We were looking at the space theme of the label…and it got us thinking about The Voyager spacecraft that’s currently floating out of the Solar System, because inside it are two golden vinyl records that play various sounds of humanity. Have you ever thought about the idea of your music being sent out to space?
I used to think about shit like that. I did a time capsule in the year 2000, and I was like 11 years old them times, thinking about stuff like that. I was always into space, and flight and all of that stuff. Now, it’s weird because it’s already out there. Do you know how many Grandmixxer shows have been transmitted into space, through different signals? I’ve been a FM DJ up until about a year and a half ago – I still did pirate radio when I was touring – so I’ve been getting transmitted out of the ether for ages. Earth could just be entertainment for the universe, who knows?
It’s good to feel like people will look at your thing when you’re not existing no more. Everyone’s life is great and everyone has done some form of greatness that deserves to be told in future. There are lots of great people whose stories we’ll never know… do you know many great musicians have probably been killed in wars on the battlefield? I like the fact that now I have got a vinyl, I’m gonna be distributed as a musician and put out whatever I want. It’s like living again.
I wanna make sure my story is correct. The people that have tracked my story can see everything – how I improved, when I got certain instruments – it’s a story for people that are interested in it and really wanna go in. For the people that are just looking at a surface level, I’ve got sick versions for you with young MCs that are banging now, on vinyl. There’s lots of veterans with vinyls out but who was gonna put out a vinyl with PK and Mez? Now you’re gonna see loads of that. They’re the guys getting booked now. Let’s get what’s going on now!
I think people around the world are gonna appreciate that more than us, because they’re more interested in our music now. They love everything we do, but they don’t feel our genre the way we felt because we grew up in London feeling grime, listening to it on pirate or however. Imagine if you’re not from here, you don’t understand some of the things, maybe you just understand the music, so I’m getting the freshest music for them. I don’t want you to listen to my set and think the music I’m bringing out doesn’t sound like my set. That’s kind of where the old school guys fucked up – there are tunes that sound like sets, but there’s not enough. I’m gonna do that though init. You see the older people in grime, the originals? They seem to choose their moments to like grime. I don’t do grime the word, I do grime the sound.
Radio still means a lot to you, clearly…
We’ve still gotta do radio because it exists, and we come from radio, but it’s different now. It’s not pirate, it’s FM or online. I’ll always try to do it, even if I broadcast from my own house or wherever I’m at.
If you check now, DJs like Courts and Travis I’ve known for a very long time – over a decade, at least – it’s only now that things are happening for them. They’ve been putting in the work! Banging out radio, patiently waiting for their time. You see through us guys doing radio, we got to see who was gonna blow. Imagine that. We’re working with people who all tour now. It’s the way to do it, because you get to match yourself with your equivalent and get to go around the world, it’s sick. Me & Nov did it, AJ & Courts are doing it, YGG are doing it now, me & Mez are gonna go and do it, it’s sick man. That’s all from radio, – I don’t know Mez from nowhere except we did a set. Obviously I know man’s sick cos I watched him on YouTube, but you don’t actually know until you start working with people, and radio does that. You can change your life off radio, it’s nuts.
I took Nov to radio and Nov schooled himself on radio. Without radio there wouldn’t have been a Nov, he would’ve been making music but there wouldn’t have been that period… whatever anyone wants to say, there was a period in grime when me & Nov were killing it the most. Stage shows, radio, nobody could fuck it up more than us while we were doing our ting, and it was grime. We had it on lock, internationally. That era is over now but that doesn’t mean that there’s not gonna be other pockets of other guys doing exactly that. It’s all good, and it’s from radio. All of us doing our thing, it’s all from radio. People can create their own stories and say what they saw on YouTube and that, but you need to understand all of these bonds and decisions about who’s working with who, and how these teams are gonna work, is from radio.
What’s exciting you in grime now, outside of the mandem?
What’s making grime sick right now is people from other parts of the world discovering and treasuring it the same way that we could, and couldn’t. If you’re from the UK and like grime it’s been emotional. There’s been good periods and bad periods, dry patches where you’re not sure about anything. At the end of the day we’re gonna end up like the old rock stars, like ‘nah grime ended when them man stopped spitting’ and that. I haven’t heard that one yet, but it’s coming. I guarantee you though it’s not ended, there’s a yute out there listening to all the sets and practicing, it’s just up to fate and the universe if they make it out. It will always exist because now it’s out there, someone will feel how I or everyone feels about it.
Have you heard of Polonis? It’s mad fam. I love him, because I wasn’t expecting someone else to resonate with what I do so quickly. It’s fucking loops. I’ve seen people try to put a negative spin on it. What do you mean? This is a triton keyboard and these are the sounds. I don’t own the sounds! You know what it is, I know who I took influence from, and I speak to them. Jammer called me today, facetiming me in his Mercedes telling me how to change up one of my beats. Jammer’s my hero! JT [Tha Goon] and these guys, I’m cool with all these guys, broke bread, so I know who I took influence from in a major way. It’s not a bad thing. He’s mad young and he’s a sick DJ, within the doctrine or style of the mandem. It’s good, and we got some sick tunes to come. Man’s done shows with him now and numerous studio sessions. I’ve got two of his tunes on my label…
Yes! Have you planned that far ahead with the label then?
Pretty much. I know which MCs I’m doing EPs with next year. Obviously there will be extra things that I’m gonna do to create explosions, I can already see the gaps that I want to exploit. I can’t describe it – I’m not gonna bait out myself and say what it is but there’s other things I’m gonna do, because I’m active. I do know everything now, basically. Some bits have got to get recorded still but next year I know what I want to record. I know the sound, the beats are there, and I’ve got the links to the MCs so it’s not a problem for me to do anything.
Mez’s EP is coming and he’s got three tunes from Jeb1, a SLSA producer that I haven’t even put him out yet. Everyone’s gonna think ‘who the fuck made those?’, and guess what them instrumentals are coming out on? SLSA. We’re bringing our version of this ting, but we’re gonna rinse and repeat. There’s gonna be loads of Mez tunes with Grandmixxer, there’s gonna be loads of Grandmixxer tunes with Zuu, there’s gonna be loads of Grandmixxer tunes with PK because these guys are sick and in all other genres we make loads of music. We’re not trying to make number one and sit down for six months. We want to make loads of music because we can and we have done. I’m always buying new instruments, getting new sounds and trying to make new music. I make way more music than I put out but it’s all hard grime shit. I play a small selection of what I’ve got. Jeb1’s got even more tunes than me, so has Dullah, so it’s all about getting everything out.