Updated: Mar 3
Whether he's Forest DLG, Chemo or Telemachus, he's still the man behind most of your 'UK hip-hop' catalogue. He's also responsible for lacing Dubbledge's new (old) album Ten Toes Down, having recently remastered his decade-old productions. We sat down with the elusive sound engineer before he jets off around the globe.
"I don't feel like an imposter anymore."
Reminiscing, the owner of KMJ45 Studios reflects on his past production projects and how he's honed his craft over the years. There's plenty of travelling talk amidst the spilling of secrets and creative tips. Get to know the tales of Ten Toes Down and other legendary LPs lurking in limbo...
It’s been 505 weeks since you posted “Finishing my album with Dubbledge” on Insta. Who and where were you back then?
"[Laughs] Don't lie, is that actually on there? That's wicked. I need to check it - that's hilarious. But yeah, who knows man. I think we did that album when we had the studio in Forest Hill. Coincidentally, I'm now back in Forest Hill after ten years of travelling the globe, so maybe that's an omen. Maybe Forest Hill is an important place to do with this album. But yeah, that was a time when I was sharing a studio with Jehst and it was a nice little spot. Used to do late night sessions, get rappers coming down. A lot of rappers used to go to Forest Gate instead of Forest Hill and be like, 'Yeah I'm at Forest Gate, where's the studio?', which was always quite amusing cos it's a good hour and a half between those two locations.
“But yeah, I don't know who I was. I was probably slightly better at football [laughs]. It feels like yesterday and also feels like something that I haven't actually experienced cos I can't actually remember much about it, but it was a good time man. I always liked having Edge down at the studio. I think he came with one of his kids one time, which was nice man - gave a little family vibe. I think it was just his son behaving himself whilst his daddy was in the booth. But yeah, good times man. I don't really do recording anymore. In those days I was just doing pretty much solid recording like every day but those are the hard hours that you have to put in to be able to appreciate the less stressful times. Was always working evenings man. It's long. Now I'm just straight up nine-to-five man, obviously it's music, but when five comes I'm like, 'Right, that's the day done.' Whereas back in those days it was like 10pm finishes, moving on to 1am, 3am. It takes its toll, those late nights."
At the time, you had your fingers in many YNR releases and seminal High Focus projects. How did you link with Edge and come to produce Ten Toes Down?
"Well around 2012... I can't remember exactly what was coming out at that time but it was definitely fairly productive, either my production or just mixing and mastering for High Focus, YNR and people like that. The Dubbledge stuff, I don't really remember whether he approached me or I approached him. I was always a big fan and then I think he came to record, (this is probably just a made up memory), but I think he came to record with someone else and we just got on well with each other. We were like, 'Do you wanna make some tracks?', and gradually started working on some tracks and then some tracks became an album. I don't remember a moment, it just sorta happened from how I remember."
A lot has changed over those 10 years, to what extent has your production process changed?
"Yeah, good question. Back in those days I was pretty much an 80%-85% sample-based producer and that's changed now. Now it's probably 2% sample-based. I'm basically just prang at getting sued cos when you've been doing stuff for a while and more people hear it, and there's more money flying around, it's just a bit more scary init. You just don't wanna take that risk. I know people who do big numbers and they sample and they don't clear anything. They're like, 'Fuck it. If they wanna come for me, come for me.' But, I just don't wanna be in that situation man.
"So, gradually over the years I just became less and less reliant on samples and have been playing more instruments, synths and stuff. With the instruments you can get nowadays, (the software instruments), you can create crazy stuff that sounds exactly like the stuff you were sampling back in the day. I wouldn't say it's better or worse, it's just different init. Then I can sleep soundly at night without the fear of lawyers hassling me in the morning about some bait sample that I've put on. But saying that, the Dubbledge album probably has some really bait samples in there, so there we go. Good luck to Dabs for sorting that mess out [laughs]."
What came to play in remastering the album?
"I don't wanna get too nerdy cos literally nobody other than mastering engineers will care, but nowadays with streaming services you wanna be submitting your masters a lot lower in volume than you did back in the day. It was all about peaking it and getting it as loud as possible so that when people put it in their CD players it sounded louder than everyone else's. But nowadays, these streaming services normalise everything into the same volume anyway so you're better off with a quieter master which is more banging and dynamic. That's the main thing. And then also some of the tracks were a bit harsh and tiny in certain areas where I'd pushed stuff. I'm definitely a better engineer. Whether I'm a better producer now than I was ten years ago, that's debatable, but I'm definitely a better sound engineer. I don't feel like an imposter anymore. I feel like I do actually know my shit nowadays so I might as well put that into the mix."
You’re a keen travelling man, right? What inspires you more: the internet or the outdoors?
"Yeah, Covid has been tough for my escapades but in general yeah. I've lived in Thailand, Spain, Morocco for a bit, and I've travelled across the globe. But also in the music, when I was sampling I would often sample stuff from all around the world. Definitely a very worldly guy for sure. I think life inspiration is just better; being out in the world, often your best ideas will come to you when you're out for a walk, on the bus or something. Very rarely will you get inspired (in normal terms) by just a stroll through social media.
"But, saying that, when I need inspiration musically I don't go walk through the woods. I'll listen to people's music that I like and just nick their ideas [laughs]. Not dropping names, but mainly just other producers that I rate. Often, when you're tryna make music you're staring at a blank page, so sometimes you just need to copy something that you like as a starting point. Then once you've copied it and you've developed it, (certainly it sounds nothing like what you've copied), it's a new thing and it's like, 'Wow, this actually sounds good.' So yeah, there's nothing wrong with that kind of approach to music. Maybe less so with lyrics, I don't know how that works if you just copy someone's verse [laughs] but definitely when you're composing music you can definitely replicate other people's ideas to a certain extent and then put your own swing on it."
Say I gave you 2 tickets. Pick 1 travel buddy for a trip to your next dream destination, and 5 essentials. Who? What? Where?
"Ah ok so... where do I want to go... I've travelled a lot in Asia from living there, obviously I'd love to go back but it wouldn't be the dream. Where would be the dream? Probably somewhere in Central America or South America, maybe Chile. They've just got a sick new president. I think the youngest you can be to be a president in Chile is 35 and he's literally just turned 35 a couple weeks ago and boom, he's the president. They've never had any youngsters run the country before, so yeah I think I'd go to Chile. I'm not sure about the food, but because it's so long, (it runs the whole of South America, north to south), the diversity of landscapes must be crazy man. And all that coastline as well. That must be the most coastline of any country, maybe Australia has more. So I'd say Chile.
"I'll probably go with my wife. C'mon, let's be serious man. I reckon any of my mates would just annoy me if I went away for like a month with them. Five things yeah? Let's go... I'm gunna take my snorkel - that's number one [laughs]. Obviously the snorkel. The hammock - number two. I take my hammock pretty much everywhere, not in this country but yeah. I'll take a nice little knife, not on a shanking ting but just on an exploration-going-through-the-forest-survival sorta thing. What else would I need? I'll take a nice wide brimmed hat to protect myself from the sun's rays. And I'll take a football so I can play footy with all the little kids around and smash goals past them [laughs]. There you go man."
Do you have any other legendary projects lost in limbo?
"Yeah! Yeah I do man. There's maybe two or three. I probably can't say who they're with but one's with quite a big grime artist who was one of my favourite artists growing up. We did a whole album together and then suddenly it was like, 'You know what, sorry, that album is never coming out. I don't like it anymore.' It was a week after we finished it. It just got axed. It's a common story man. When it comes to music, stuff coming out is actually more painful for me - I just like making it. I pretty much get zero joy from actually putting it out, maybe one person will say, 'Ah that album is so deep and I love everything about it', then that will be a nice personal thing, but all the other stuff doesn't really do it for me. I just like making it. If something gets axed and no one ever sees it, it's not the end of the world for me man. I enjoyed making it. I can listen to the tracks so it's fine.
That's the past, but what’s next for Forest DLG or Telemachus?
"I'm surprised you didn't ask about the name change [laughs]."
Everyone always asks that so I thought I'd give you a break.
"Yeah yeah yeah, nah it's all good man. You know in basketball how they retire the shirt, I just thought twenty years of this one character, let's switch it up. It's coronavirus time so we might as well have a little new beginning. Also, I was just sick of people saying stuff like, 'My mum has just died of cancer, why are you called Chemo?', which happened more commonly than you'd think.
"But what's in the future? I've got an album coming with Dabbla, I don't know if we're allowed to talk about that but that's coming soon. The new Jam Baxter dropped yesterday on Blah Records, which is very nice. Got a few weird new projects. I'm doing a project for the Venice Biennale which is like an art exhibition in Venice. I'm working with a very well known Canadian artist making a kind of Egyptian/London fourteen hour grime festival in Venice. It's a bit of a mad idea but all will be revealed soon. Those kinds of things, then a couple other little business ventures. But I'm always looking for new projects, always happy to work with new people so don't be shy."
Images: Forest DLG