NUKG: Conducta is building a sustainable future for UK garage
Marcus Barnes speaks to Conducta about football, learning from mistakes and being a guiding light for a new generation of UK garage artists
It’s almost impossible not to feel upbeat when chatting with Conducta. The 27-year-old wears a consistently broad smile on his face during his hour-long interview, giving off unmistakable positive energy throughout. He’s the joy of UKG personified, proudly and staunchly flying the flag for the new generation of garage heads. The West Country-born artist and DJ has been lauded as the future of UKG, which feels apt, given his community-focused outlook and long-term vision for what he does.
Today he’s in a particularly good mood as his eight-a-side football team won their league last night. A few years ago, he made a conscious effort to reintegrate playing football back into his life after neglecting it, and himself, when he started to break through. “I wanted to bring exercise and sport, and actually being active, back into my life because I didn't have the right work and life balance at all,” he admits, sat on his sofa wearing a vintage Newcastle United shirt. “When you're chasing something you have tunnel vision and everything goes to the side. You end up neglecting every other aspect of your life.” A lifelong football fan, Conducta hero-worshipped Thierry Henry when he was a kid - so much so that he calls him his “second dad”, often speaking to the posters of the French footballer he had on his bedroom wall. That passion for the beautiful game remains as strong as ever now, evident in his press photos and even the merchandise associated with his record label including a football shirt, produced in association with Adidas no less. It’s been a key outlet for keeping his mental and physical health in check, too.
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Conducta suffered the same post-fame fallout as countless DJs, pop stars and band members have throughout contemporary history. It’s so common now, it’s become a cliché. A record deal landed in his lap and he relocated from his hometown, Bristol, to London, still just a teenager. A dream come true that eventually became a bit of a nightmare. He faltered under the pressure of his arrival on the scene “rubbing people up the wrong way”, while being totally immersed by his tunnel vision, and tied to a bad record deal. He’s spoken openly about wanting to end his life, so overpowering was the darkness of that particular period.
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However, he not only found the strength to carry on, but he gained a new perspective on his life and began to focus on finding balance. This word comes up repeatedly during Conducta’s conversation with Mixmag, it lies at the core of his approach to his life and everything in it. He explains that he’s always put people on, through his label or events, but now there is a definitive community-building aspect to his actions that runs parallel to his individual endeavours. “Music should always be about community. DJing should never be about the DJ, it should only be about the music,” he states, emphasising the importance of the wider context and consequences of his actions. With his label Kiwi Rekords, Conducta has been driving the new wave of UKG forward, ever conscious of giving back to the ecosystem, keeping it healthy and thriving. “I’m this person who's making new garage and has all these things happening, but my thing is, how can I bring people together and give opportunities? Because when I moved to London there wasn't a hub for people to be like, ‘Cool, I make garage, you make garage, let’s chat’,” he adds. Nowadays his peers are communicating and inspiring each other within their own dynamic community.
A quick scan of the Kiwi Rekords reveals some of the key members of this ever-growing, self-perpetuating UKG ecosystem; Sharda, Sammy Virji, Jack Junior, Smokey Bubblin’ B, Prescribe Da Vibe and Conducta himself, plus many more. Since the pandemic, he’s recorded several high-profile mixes as well as putting out his regular Conducta’s Crib livestreams, showcasing the breadth of today’s vibrant UKG scene, which is every bit as fertile as it was in the mid-90s, perhaps even more so. That upbeat, party vibe has been essential over the past year or so, with the pandemic paralysing the global club and festival industries. Being out of work initially put Conducta off listening to the music he loves, but he soon found other ways to express his unwavering passion. “With the pandemic, obviously the negatives are crazy, but what's been really good is you can really see the power of community and unity,” he tells us. “It’s also allowed us to see who cares and who really wants to give back and invest in the ecosystem.” Without naming names, he highlights those who have neglected the scene, protecting their “1% bracket” as he calls it. “That 1% can at least be [increased to] 20%. Actually, it doesn't have to be a pyramid, it can be a circle,” he adds, referring to the perpetually repressive hierarchical model that society is built upon.
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We get deep on the issues that affect society: competitiveness, damaging ideas of ‘success’, social conditioning that pushes most of us to yearn for “higher levels” of achievement at the cost of our happiness… In fact, we both agree that the current system is outmoded and lies at the core of a pervasive sense of discontent within modern society. In an age where the world has been shaken up and become more aware of its deeply rooted issues around race, gender and social inequality, he says now is a prime time to speak out and counter the imbalance. “The more we speak out then the more we can unlearn, and then reprogram ourselves and recalibrate how we view the world and where we place things.”
Conducta confidently presents broader, intellectual ideas and theories about music culture, balancing this out with jokes and banter. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, as can be seen on the artwork for the releases on his label or heard in his multi-genre DJ sets, which occasionally include crowd-pleasing curveballs such as DJ Jean’s ‘The Launch’ (one disgruntled follower on TikTok responded to a clip of this moment by telling him, “That’s not really your sound, bro”). Not always serious, but there is undeniably a serious intention to cultivate, galvanise and maintain the UKG scene and to do so in a conscious manner.
Of course, while encouraging the growth of a community around the music, he’s also been working hard on his own productions. His next single ‘Right Together’ is a soulful cut imbued with hazy summer vibes and dreamy vocals from Rachel Chinouriri, made in response to where his head was at in the latter part of 2020. Eight months into a post-COVID world, he did a session with Rachel that immediately felt natural and liberating. The song was almost like an antidote to what was happening in the world at the time, with the weight of the pandemic still pressing down on the world, and an outbreak of violence in his home nation, Nigeria. From the intensity of these situations came the comforting escapism of ‘Right Together’. “I feel like I've made music that Kerri Chandler might play and that's been a dream for me. I've always wanted to be able to do that, but maybe haven't had the chance because of whatever obligations I felt I needed to fulfil,” he beams. “There's freedom on this record and that’s when it’s the best, that’s when it’s the easiest.”
Also on the horizon is a new project, which marks another milestone in his journey. As well as football and electronic music, Conducta is also a huge hip hop fan. In fact, he credits his love of hip hop for inspiring his approach to his career; community, legacy, the tradition of “each one, teach one”, passing on knowledge and using your platform to bring others up with you. Along with balance, hip hop is something that he refers back to again and again. With regard to his project, he looks to the classic hip hop albums while trying to circumvent the “success mentality” we’ve discussed and not put too much pressure on himself to achieve a certain level. “My project is not meant to be like [the classic Nas album] ‘It Was Written’,” he quips. “It's gonna be a body of work where I get to express myself through different genres and different styles, but still threaded through the needle of house and garage and that’s why it's so special.”
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Conducta’s excitement is contagious as he talks about the prospect of performing the proejct live and surprising people with his range. There’s even some darker music on there, which took him out of his comfort zone. “I have quite a smiley personality and I’m an upbeat person, I'm quite positive. But I can't usually make dark music,” he admits. “I feel like I'm able to actually get the other side of my personality and be more intimate with things on this first record from the project.”
What comes through loud and clear in Conducta’s interview is that his actions and success so far have created an opportunity to serve a higher purpose. Like many of the greats, old and young, he’s acutely aware that the conservation of music, and its purity, is paramount. As Frankie Knuckles once said, “The minute you think you’re greater than the music, it’s over”. This notion of humility and dedication to nurturing music holds true in Conducta’s vision, and his focus on legacy is at the forefront of everything he does. “I’m not using garage as a platform or pedestal to my advantage. I haven't pillaged the community or anything that has come before me,” he says. “I've always tried to educate, uplift, and support upcoming DJs across the board.”
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Younger artists now come to him asking for advice, and so do his younger sisters, even though he became the black sheep of the family when he ditched university to pursue music. He’s the older brother and didn’t have a sibling to guide him, nor an equivalent in music. So he navigated the music industry alone, making mistakes along the way that now put him in a position to be a guiding light for others. Ever reflective, he sees those mistakes as blessings, no matter how troubling they were at the time. Lessons that he can pass on to others.
Demonstrating a maturity beyond his 27 years, Conducta strives to maintain a delicate balance between the fun and joy of UKG with broader societal issues, hard work with football, personal achievement with mentoring. As one of the key protagonists from the new generation of garage heads, he is a natural-born leader who will ensure the longevity of the scene. Along the way he’s inspiring others to adopt a similarly sustainable approach to the music that still gets the dancefloor bubblin’ like no other. Long may he be the Conducta.
Get tickets for the Conducta's Crib UK tour here
Marcus Barnes is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Mixmag, follow him on Twitter