Updated: Nov 9, 2021
Potent Funk figureheads Dabbla and Sumgii dropped Nobody a whole year ago. The "acid-infused record" pressed their many years as mates and musicians into wax for the first time. Cross-legged on a rug, Dabbla shares the album's stories and his label-owner secrets.
"I pissed it all out in one hot, fiery burst like I'd been holding it in for a while"
The bossman also details all of the future releases landing on Potent Funk, while explaining "a state of mind free from the entanglement of identities". From the artists to the artwork, this conversation is a glimpse into what it takes to make an album nobody else saw coming.
What do most people not know about you?
"I used to play the violin at school."
Why is Nobody one of your proudest pieces of work?
"I think it was the speed and intensity in which it was made. I had an album almost finished but then me and Sumgii made Nobody in a really short space of time. I had all the ideas for the videos in my head and we turned them all around really quickly too - shouts to This and That Media and Krupa! Usually when I've written an album it's been over a period of at least six months to a year, (most cases longer). I remember lining the songs up and recording them pretty much in the same order as you hear them, over about two weeks. Might have finetuned a few later on but yeah, it was all pretty much arranged in a couple weeks. This was a bit of a vanity album too. I had to have a few words with myself during the process, like 'What the fuck am I all about?'. I wanted to remember the reason I got into rapping: them mad bars. And it’s all about me - no features, just heaters."
Despite being written in a matter of weeks it contains a lifetime of experience. To what extent does it encapsulate your many years of friendship with Sumgii?
"Weirdly enough, I think we had just two sessions. That's how we work. We prefer to work on our own clocks at our own speeds. So when I link him we focus on putting loops together, I’m scribbling ideas while he’s building. I think we had a couple tracks we’d started already, though ‘Junk’ was one of the songs we added at the end. But yeah, I pretty much went round, nagged him to get his guitar out and make a bunch of loops. We’d just watched Slowthai’s live performance at Glastonbury before one of the sessions, that’s when we made the title track. That one was built for the mosh pit. I think we also recorded the first verse and hook for ‘Enough’. Then I fucked off home, probably drank a lot, smoked a lot, went in my usual trance-like state and pissed it all out in one hot, fiery burst like I'd been holding it in for a while."
Is that typical of how you and Sumgii have worked in the past or is that where things are now?
"Pretty much, we’re both just so busy. I don’t think he’s sent me a beat in over a decade now. That’s just the way he works but I love that because then you get to influence the architecture. Even if I'm just sat in the background going 'YEAH!' or 'NAH!', I'm sorta steering the beat towards how I want it. But the amount of tunes he makes when he's just going through different melodies and riffs... he makes about a dozen bangers before he actually locks into a vibe. That's usually how we work with Illaman too. We sit there while Jed [Sumgii] is punching buttons and we're in the background scribbling, getting ideas together. Dave [Illaman] will usually bar it on the spot and I’ll take the project file away, tinker with it and shape it up at mine."
In the 'Same' video, what significance do those Barnet spots have to you?
"That video was quite special actually, I'm glad you asked. I knew I was moving away for a bit and I wanted to make a nostalgic video. In one shot I'm standing in front of the bungalow I grew up in, there’s my local newsagent’s, train station and all the little spots where we used to hang out, smoke spliffs, talk shit and spray-paint the walls really badly. Shouts again to Krupa, he directed the recent mini documentary and music videos for Illaman's Ugly Days project. He's a first class gentleman. I love shooting with him, he’s heavily into music production too which helps. When I explained him the idea he loved it, bundled a cool looking trike in a van, drove down from Wales and stayed for a couple of days while we fixed the bike up and casually captured the ends. The ergonomics of the bike were a bit fucked. It wasn’t easy riding that thing but we made it look smooth."
Just towards the end when we were doing those classic golden hour shots, we went off to the railway bridge where we've actually shot loads of videos. We shot Baileys Brown’s 'Gimme', LDZ’s 'LimaDeltaZebra', and a bunch of other videos and photoshoots there. Then as we were coming out of the park, a load of kids ran over like, 'Waa cool bike, what you shooting for?'. They just wanted to be in the video and I dunno if I started swearing or they did first but it happened and it's fucking jokes man. I think that video came out really nice, I like it.”
Doesn't a lot of that video appear in Nobody's cover art too?
"That's right. So, that dilapidated building is a pub near me which has been there since before I was born but it's been shut and falling apart for decades. I swear people lived there but you never saw anyone coming or going. One day it just caught fire and the whole thing went up. The top floor is still only just hanging on. I always wished I’d shot something in front of it while it was burning, so I had to shoot there before it collapsed or they knocked it down. Luckily we got in when we did because a week later, just before they boarded it up, the council stuck these huge concrete blocks there to stop people going in. That’s what I'm standing on in the video."
The artwork for Nobody was a journey in itself man. We had the title but didn't really wanna play on the title and do something obvious. Alex Oddhouse did the artwork, (same guy who did Year Of The Monkey). He’s the big dog. I love swimming around in Alex' brain. He proper gets involved and gets you excited about your own shit which is important. It’s never just a job for him, he’s gotta be into it. So it’s just before Christmas 2019, I’m sitting in his living room and we’re talking about cartoons and styles and he starts pulling out books from his bookshelf and flicking through some of his favourite shit. He’s got skateboards all over the walls and art everywhere. Anyway, he starts showing me books full of drawings by Katsuhiro Otomo, (dude who did Akira), and Geof Darrow. I think that’s where the whole biotech-post-apocalyptic-future came from. That was the starting point. That’s why in the earlier sketches there’s a lot of alien planets and robots with human faces and structures scattered in the desert and shit."
"Man, come to think of it, we went round the houses with ideas. We were looking at renaissance paintings of angels and demons, the human anatomy with and without skin. We were talking about otherworldly beings, cascading faceless figures falling from the sky, robotic dogs and monkeys in space suits, crowds of people who look the same all tangled up in a huge fight but one character is sticking out by contrast or looking at the camera, or vice versa, with a busy scene of people and one figure walking away. There were loads of weird landscapes with godlike, mechanoid heads sticking out of futuristic tech sceneries with melted bodies and faces growing out of them; groups of beings examining other little weird beings, trippy oversized space alien astronauts and dudes with robotic crab legs, two-headed mutoids and more weirdos. At one point we’d almost decided on a mega city with the centerpiece being this giant building in the shape of a human head or deity."
"We’re basically our habits."
I called the album Nobody because of a book I was reading called Becoming Supernatural by Joe Dispenza. The human torsion field, chi energy and unified field theory are fucking interesting subjects. I was also just getting into self hypnosis at the time. We’re basically our habits. The subconscious rules the frequency of our habits and the only way to override the habitual (habits) are with new rituals (repetitions) or mantras. The subconscious learns by repetition and speaks a completely different language to the conscious mind."
So anyway, the book goes into a lot about the subconscious and there’s meditations and shit you can do, but there’s one bit in a particular exercise that describes a state of mind free from the entanglement of identities: to become ‘nobody, nowhere, in no time, in no space, doing no-thing’. And so, Nobody."
"By now it’s February/March 2020 and I’m in Bali. I remember some of the first edits from the videos coming through and thinking, ‘Shit, we haven't got a solid idea for the artwork yet!’ and the album was dropping in May to tour the uk. I decided to ring Alex and try to explain what I meant by the title. He probably had to tolerate me a bit because it’s hard to explain that which cannot be explained with words. I remember thinking if I send him the videos maybe we can tie them in somehow. With Alex, he says, 'The ideas are always there, you've just got to blow the clouds away to reveal them'. He helps you blow the clouds away to reveal what you want even though you can’t see it yet."
In the days following, Alex sends me a picture of a Mike Vallely skateboard with this featureless figure on it and animals in the background. We were starting to lock into an idea of a fully busy background with a bunch of shit going on and a kind of invisible negative space character in the middle. A translucent figure with no features, just an outline you can see the backdrop through. Like an aura, a ‘nobody’, and probably in a kung fu stance."
Over the following weeks I’m screenshotting elements from the videos via WhatsApp at weird hours from Indonesia. Alex messages me, ‘Thinking about this geezer for inspiration’, James Rosenquist. ‘And this geezer’, POSE from MSK who has this mad colourful pop art kinda vibe going on. At that time Alex was sending me lots of stuff by James Jean too, which I’d instantly fallen in love with. We decided the background should be a clutter of items all held together in a sort of whirlwind, dreamlike flashback: a subconscious collection of bits from all the music videos."
"So yeah, the building, the drumkit and the chain link fence came from ‘Same’, the wriggling fishes are from the shirt I had on in the ‘Shimmy’ video, the balloons too, and the goggles are from 'Out My Way'. I sent him a screenshot of me in the goggles and he comes back with them on a screaming skull for fuck’s sake. Killed it. Little falling apart buildings and skulls are some of Alex’s many signature styles. I said, 'You've got your trademark in again!', cos he's the skulls and little houses don. Bear in mind I’m having to relay all of this back and forth with Sumgii in London to make sure he’s happy with it. He’s very particular about artwork like me."
About four months and a million WhatsApp voice notes later, it’s starting to resemble the subconscious collection of thoughts I didn’t realise I wanted. Then out of nowhere he sends that classic BMW cop car with the swimming arms and legs, inspired from a comic called Shaolin Cowboy. Soon as I saw that car I knew it was gonna be the star of the show, even before he went and put a pair of Air Max 90s on him. ‘Shimmy’ was the first video we shot for this album, (shouts to This and That Media again), so it was always looking like this was an acid-infused record. Finally, he adds the hand with the drum stick passing through it - another idea inspired from one of Alex’s tattoo designs. So, we had it all there now, then it was like, 'How are we gonna stitch this all together and what kind of colours?'. Pink and purple wisps of trippy ass clouds, obviously. And in the end, what was supposed to be just background became so sick that we didn't wanna disturb it by adding a character over the top, so we fucked it off. Wasn’t needed. Who was it anyway? Nobody."
What's surprised you about running an independent record label?
"How fuckin’ stressful it is [laughs]. Yeah man, I take my hat off to anyone who looks after a record label and handles music in general, let alone their own stuff alongside other people's. Just making sure it's done properly and to the best of your ability. Obviously, in this day and age, a record label is just an amplifier for the artists that are on there, but you have to make sure it's getting amplified and obviously it's getting harder and harder now with all these algorithmic challenges we face. It's challenging man. I thought it would be a lot more straightforward cos obviously I've handled my own shit in the past. I pretty much always do my own recordings, direct and shoot most of the videos and whatever I can. But yeah, as you know man, there are a lot of moving parts and it takes a while to get it crawling for starters. Then you've got to get it standing upright before it's walking. It's a challenge but it's a beautiful thing once you get it moving."
So where is it moving?
"Just when I think it's not going anywhere it seems to all come at once! We've got lots to look forward to man. I've just started working with a couple of guys from Austria called alllone. Matt Frost was playing a few of their beats on his Subtle FM show so I shouted them and they sent me a folder of stonkers. Their fuckin’ production is ridiculous. I could imagine a lot of them live. I'm very much about that live shit. I like making album songs but I'm always looking for them bangers man, and alllone love to flip their beats halfway through so you get like two songs in one! We've done five tracks, one featuring Illaman and we’ve shot a video with Daily Chain already. Just done an album with Illaman which is called Spaghetti Falcon, (we've got one more song to record). Waiting to drop that. Jed has a whole mountain of stuff coming: a bunch of singles, one with Snowy, one with myself, a couple of other guys, he's got an EP with Dream Mclean too. Illaman is working on another project with Norm Oddity as well. I've also just got off the phone with Benofficial. Him and Prozac have an album, an EP and a whole string of singles and videos. Those guys don’t like to rush the cuisine."
Dubbledge album! He's got an album, a single and a couple videos, one we're shooting this Saturday in the freezing cold woods. It's gunna be sick. Pierre Green has started getting back on the production which is nice, so I'm cooking up a few house and broken beat type bits with him. We're working with a Swiss soul singer too, she's amazing. Might even be doing a little bit of drum and bass this year, who knows. We love rap and we'll always be making rap music, but we just wanna open the label up to new audiences and do other stuff. Also a lot of instrumental music to come with no rappers, and a little birdy told me there may be some Potent Funk scratch records on the horizon.”
Wasn't your first feature thanks to Dubbledge back in 2005? Now you’re hosting him on your own label.
"Yeah man, it's a special thing. I used to go to shows and he’d drag me up. I met him through Pav around the time he was recording Fist of Jah. I was on a song called 'Morning Worship' with Mention and that was my first feature on any actual pressed disk, (something I didn't burn myself basically). He gassed me and he still does. That guy is too deep for rap music to be fair. He just came out of hibernation after a couple years, turned up at Jed's for a feature on this new Spaghetti Falcon LP, (cos how the fuck are we not gonna have Edge on it!?), and mate, he just pulls out 100 bars of madness. He’ll tell you he's not in it anymore, maybe it’s not inspiring enough but anyway, he’s still the grandmaster of this shit. We were at Sumgii's and we just asked him, 'Shall we put this album out that’s been sat there for ten years?'. It's criminal. So we emailed Forest DLG (Chemo) and asked if he'd be happy for it to be heard. It’s a fucking ten-track album produced by Forest DLG which hasn’t been heard publicly, so what an honour to be able to release it on Potent funk. The wheels are in motion, we're shooting the videos and it's coming out. And he's got a feature on the Spaghetti Falcon album which is sick. Dubblewin! ArmLegend! See what I did there James [laughs]."
"It's kinda make or break... Make some music or break down."
I'm also working on some new Dead Players material. We've got one in the bag which is finished, then we've got a couple more which are pretty much there. We said we were gunna do an EP but I'm hoping it's gunna turn into an album. Baxter is in Spain now, (or is it Mexico?), so it's all over WhatsApp. Whatsapp, the place where dreams are made! And I'm doing some solo stuff with Ghosttown as well. I've never been more active it's weird. During this whole weird year we've been forced to endure, it's kinda make or break init. You've got to throw yourself into creating something otherwise you'll have a breakdown. Make some music or break down [laughs]. It's been a good learning experience of time management and a lot of deep digging to keep the energy there. But yeah, running the label has pretty much been a 24/7 thing. It doesn't stop because obviously everyone's on different timelines as well. I’ve also discovered rappers and producers are as annoying as each other in their longness and weirdness [laughs]."
In which one way would you change the world?
"Oo! It's a deep one man, or maybe it's not that deep. I'd say more love and honesty. Love without trust is a river without water so I think for us to all love each other more we're gunna have to start being more honest."
What's next for Dabbla?
"I'm actually going to have a shit. Nah, I've been trying to avoid thinking about this question, especially in these times. It's hard. As soon as I start thinking about anything other than the present moment or what's in front of me, it’s just who knows init. So, I would like to arrange a tour of some sorts. I'm sat on an entire album I've never played live. I'll have a bunch of stuff ready real soon that I'm dying to play live like the Dolenz 'Blak Helicopters' tune. I think that's gunna be the show opener. I feel like I've been in a coma. I started putting a set together the other day and realised, 'Fuckin' hell, I need to learn some bars' [laughs]. But yeah man, just more Potent Funk. The funk is its own reward. It's all about the merch for me too. I've got a range of new bits collaborating with some really cool artists like Tom Sorn and Opake to name a few. I like making garments and that. So tryna expand in that area but also I've done some artwork and drawings that I've framed and they're gunna be available at dabbla.co.uk - ding!"
Alex Oddhouse: Instagram