You can't speak about the contemporary UK dance music scene without a nod to Dr Dubplate and his ever-expanding musical career. The London-born, Bristol-based label owner, events promoter and DJ is an influential player in the current underground scene, helming the essential ec2a record label which is recognised among the best in the game.
Though perhaps most commonly associated with the bass and UKG scene, his genre-diverse sets deftly meld forward-thinking techno, addictive breakbeats, Jersey club, 2-step, percussive elements and more, propelled by an encyclopaedic knowledge of club music and its surrounding culture. He keeps it real, railing against ego and pretension, firmly respecting the roots of dance music while taking it into the future.
Having dipped his toes into the world of dance music while manning the cloakroom of the legendary Plastic People on Curtain Road (where his dad was the manager), he borrowed the first four character of the basement club's postcode for the name of his label. His affinity towards nightlife culture began to grow as he ran a host of (borderline illegal) 16+ parties, which he began throwing "around the time of UTR and Let's Go Crazy" with "a massive circle in London filled with mutuals in different schools".
After moving to the South West of England for University, he later began legitimising his party-starting with the Bristol-based PIFF events brand and record label, which hosted the liked of Mall Grab, Maribou State and My Nu Leng. While there, he gradually began picking up DJ skills and getting into vinyl collecting while being surrounded by musical creatives and nightlife enthusiasts. "I never really thought that I would be able [to mix]," he reflects, "I was always just like the gassed up guy! The guy who would always go up to people and be like ‘Yeah! We’re gonna do this and you’re gonna play and it’s gonna be sick!'".
Since then, he's gone on to perform legendary headline sets for the the likes of Keep Hush, hold ec2a takeovers at fabric and Corsica Studios, secure a residency on Rinse FM, shell out a colourful array of back catalogue music from his label in the iconic HÖR bathroom and recently make three memorable appearances at this year's Boomtown stages.
Check out his Impact mix and Q&A below.
How do you think your upbringing and where you grew up has shaped your outlook on life? and has this been translated to your musical career?
I guess living in London, you are a bit narrow-minded in the sense that it’s so multicultural you kind of forget that in other places people aren't so open-minded to different cultures. That’s something that I've massively taken for granted growing up. I mean at school if you were racist you’d just get beaten up, it wasn't a tolerated type vibe. When I went to Uni and met minorities who lived in a lot more remote parts of the country where they were the only minority, I was really made aware of the reality that London is definitely its own bubble. I feel extremely blessed at the same time because it’s opened me up to so many different perspectives and cultures that I embrace that massively inspire me and what I do today.
Do you think most of your earliest musical memories are defined by your dad being the manager of Plastic People?
My early musical experiences, truth be known, were probably from my late grandma. When I was about 10-14, just before you start getting naughty at school, I was quite into rock music in general, a lot of old school stuff. Most of my interest in music came from that era, but when I started discovering what my dad was doing, and understood that there was nightlife culture when I was around 15. It completely changed it for me. I just became obsessed with what my dad and Ade [Fakile, the founder] were doing with Plastic People.
Having a dad that worked at Plastics meant I was very blessed in the sense that I was able to [book] Loefah, Hatcha, Cookie Monsta, just a load of these names that got us so gassed when we were 16. I couldn’t believe it, I was just like fuck me my old man’s actually kinda lit. It's actually a really funny story, you know, typical West African sort of dad is always like “I want you to be this and I don’t want you in the nightlife industry at all!” So I was instantly like, well I know exactly what I want to do then! When we did a party - Midnight Drop - I fucked up because I accidentally called the lady whose house we were using from my dad's phone. So the next day he asked me “What were you up to last night” and I said “i was just chilling with my boys”, and he instantly said I was lying. That was how my dad found out that I was trying to follow in his footsteps.
From then I’ve just been obsessed with music and it just felt like a journey to find what my particular path is within music. I never thought I would actually be a DJ. I love music and stuff and picked up drums for a bit, but I kind of wrote myself off cause I couldn't play guitar or anything like that. I think that's why the nightlife industry sparked my interest in music from a career perspective because I never knew there was a culture where people would go to a place and listen to music that DJ was playing until I really got into what my old man and Ade were doing.
How did you get into mixing?
By the time I moved to Bristol that's when it started. I was surrounded by some really good people, names that come to mind are Admin, Harri Pepper, Facta, this was all back when we were 20. My good friend Liam, who I used to run PIFF with, which was originally a party. They all taught me how to mix. I was surrounded by people who were making music and DJing to a level that at the time was so mind-blowing to me, it was extremely inspiring. In that Bristol early Uni period is when I started really thinking more about it. I always knew I had that energy to contribute to things. I guess that’s when I started looking to the future and thinking, yeah okay, parties are cool but when you’re not at Ui and surrounded by loads of young people it's a lot harder. So that’s when I started looking towards the record label side of things.
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I saw that PIFF had an offshoot wax only record label. Did you used to collect vinyl, or did something else spark a fascination with vinyl releases?
It’s a fascination that was really down to my friends Liam and Harri Pepper, I’ll be honest with you, cause those boys were really out there collecting records and I was like shit. Those times my old man used to always say to me “you’re not a real DJ if you don't know how to mix [on vinyl]” and I’m also very blessed that Ade blessed me with an insane collection of records that he just didn't want to hold any more. That foundation developed over Uni because I started going out and buying my own records and getting into Discogs and just really getting into the more DJ, wax, digging, that whole sort of culture. Around that time the market was a bit over saturated and there were certain key players who were dominating it. I was still incredibly grateful to meet some sick people and I learnt a lot about the good and bad sides of the industry, the egos, all of the stuff that unfortunately a lot of people sugar coat If I’m completely honest.
Those experiences are really what gave me the fundamentals that I now base ec2a off; being proud of my heritage, not conforming to something that I just can’t relate to, and I’m unapologetically just representing people… Particularly because of the way music has shifted, especially dance music. It’s become this massive global industry worth millions, a lot of the culture has been lost. Some people can’t relate to it. I’m proud to have had such a rich upbringing from my dad and Ade teaching me about the foundations and that it is fundamentally just your music.
I’ll be real, there were times I felt that I had to change how I talked because whenever I talked people would think I was this aggressive Black guy, but it’s not like that, you know? It’s just passion. ec2a has just been a beautiful thing, I feel like I have just really embraced who I am and what I like. I don’t know if it’s fated or if people just see it as more authentic.
Youngsters are able to come up to me and it’s mad humbling to think that there are yutes who are just inspired now, and who think I am approachable, because I am! I was once that gassed up yute in the rave going up to people like Oneman, he won’t even know times where I’ve gone up to him being like “oh my God I love you!’, d’you know what I mean? I think it’s so important, honestly, I hate to say it but sometimes egos and fame get into the mix and people lose sight of why they really do this. I want people to feel like they can achieve this stuff you know.. Nothing is impossible.
That’s beautiful. What would you say has been your proudest moment with ec2a so far?
It’s sometimes hard to quantify because everyday I feel like something mad has happened, but being acknowledged as a DJ Mag “Best Label”, not even a “Breakthrough” one, but being in the same category as AD93, XL Recordings. Before I set out doing this, I wanted to be the next one of those labels, so that for me was like “fuck me”! It’s sometimes so hard being surrounded by social media and only seeing the good sides of what everyone else does, and it’s hard to keep focus and know that you’re doing good shit. Everyone else’s success is the same, there’s a lot of struggle to it but you don’t really see it because it’s so clouded and what you see is so warped in terms of what’s actually going down.
I still have days, even though everything’s going so great, where I do question shit, you know? It’s an ongoing madness, you have to count your blessings but you also get in situations where you doubt yourself. The one thing I’ve been doing is remaining grateful, because I know how many people would love to be in the position that I am in. Having done it for 15 years for nothing, losing money for the most part, I sort of feel like it was an inevitability; people need to understand that you don't have to be smart, it’s just about work ethic! We’re here for the culture and for the music. When people are prepared to dedicate so much, a lot of the time it does get reflected back in some capacity or the other. I am a strong believer in working hard: I'll do three shows in a weekend and be back in the office on Monday doing 10 hours to make sure all the orders are sent out, you know what I mean?
Your label focuses mainly on young, underground talent: What do you look for in the sea of demos you get sent - what does potential sound like to you?
That’s a hard one. At the moment I like to hear artists that are being a bit more risk taking. It's very easy to try and follow the steps of the people who may be coined as paving this new sound. I like to see producers who are really trying to do their own thing and do their own twist. Sometimes I’ll hear a tune and they’ve put an acapella or something in and I’m thinking just take it off! Don’t be thinking you need to do these certain things. I don’t want to speak for everyone but what I think is beautiful about now is we’ve had jungle, we’ve had dubstep, we’ve had garage, we’ve had 2-step, we’ve had breakbeats, all of these things from a pioneering era. Now we have access to it all and everyone is just mashing it together. I really like for music to move forwards, whether it be a completely original piece that is just groundbreaking, or re-hashing old classics. It’s all part of the culture of course, a lot of it's sample based, turning one masterpiece into another.
There have been some producers that just have the hunger, I can see it, they’re constantly hollering me like “Did you get that tune I sent yet?!” cause I’m that type of person too. A good example is Hamdi, he was coming up around the same time as all of us lot (DJ Cosworth, BAKEY, Jossy Mitsu, Bluetooth, Interplanetary [Criminal], Main Phase) that crew, and he was doing his dubstep thing but had no following. He just grafted, putting out tunes on his own, active on social media. The work ethic was there and the proof is in the pudding.
You can say 'ah I hate social media', but how badly do you want the music thing? You’ve got to get with the times. I look at these platforms like SoundCloud, it’s just another way for people to hear what we’re doing honestly.
Your sub-labels are very physical music focused, why do you think it’s important to promote and put out tangible forms of music, despite the struggling vinyl industry?
I think the one beautiful thing about dance music, especially UK-centric dance music - jungle, dubstep, garage, dub, cause it all stems from soundsystem culture, is that it’s about the vinyl! I don’t care what anyone says, that is the foundation.
In terms of the culture as well, Discogs, hunting, digging in shops, it's a beautiful thing. I just think it would be sad to live in a world full of just streaming. Where all the music you own is just on a harddrive where, if it corrupts you lose everything?! I’ve got so many MP3s but I take pride in all of my vinyl. I don’t have CDJs at home, I’ve got my rekordbox discs so that I can play music from a digital format, but I love my records, it’s my foundation. There are so many white labels that you can discover things about and research on - it just gives something extra.
I even struggle to put it into words on why I find it so beautiful but I know a lot of people feel the exact same way. Even with the dubs, everyone wants a tune that you can pull up to the dance and no one else is going to have that. It all stems back to dub and soundsystem dub clashes that they would have back in the day where people would rip one-of-ones with mad VIPs so that they could one up the other DJ. Personally, I think that for as long as I do this, I’m going to be putting out records, dubs, whatever it is, it’s not going to go for me. I feel like I was so lucky to have that education that I want to give to youngsters that live in a time of Spotify, not even CDs and shit, I want them to at least try and tap in cause they’ll find some mad shit! There is so much music that’s not even on Spotify, that can spark some inspiration in a generation that can allow them to take music to a whole new level. I’ll never slow down with it.
Is there anything that can be done to make the process of pressing easier for independent labels?
At the moment I think we are getting to a good place. It’s good and bad: the general capacity the vinyl industry is currently operating at isn’t as bad as it used to be. Over a long period of time I think we will see timeframes and hopefully prices come down. A massive thing for us is, my dubplates are cut just a half-an-hour away from me, the new plant that I work with is within an hour radius of where I am, I can go and pick them up. It’s all done within a local community. I’m very aware of making things a) as green as possible - I mean, getting records pressed somewhere in Eastern Europe and then having them sent to buyers isn’t good for the environment, but b) bringing down the price for the consumer amidst a cost of living crisis.
At the moment, records aren’t affordable for people and it’s a bit of a luxury product. With all of those things being said, everything that myself and DJ Cosworth - he runs Hardline and Body High - are trying to build, because Unearthed has unfortunately gone under, we’re creating a more curated vinyl distribution service where we’re not looking outwards. We’re working directly with artists to put out their records and our own, cutting out a middle man to make it cheaper for shops who want to buy it. We want to make vinyl cheap again basically.
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Should there be a focus on de-digitising music within the industry, and moving away from streaming? What would that look like?
If you want my opinion… and this is me trying to pick my words wisely, if the major labels who are ultimately the people who own the back catalogues for most of these samples that get used, if they understood that the culture is really just built of sampling, and that if the tune got to a point where it could be put on platforms for everyone could enjoy, they should be way more open to working with small indie labels. Ultimately, the artists and ourselves as labels are the ones who are pushing music forwards, it’s only beneficial for them to just step in after all the foundational work has been done. They should allow this music to be put freely on platforms for everyone to enjoy.
The whole vinyl only thing, I’m not fussed about that, I have my records and I love my rarities, but what I want is for as many people to hear the music from these artists that are fucking banging. I want them to be able to have extremely successful careers where they can do what they love as a full-time job. There needs to be a good working relationship between big majors and smaller independents to make sure that when a good tune that everyone wants out there, everyone can kind of benefit in one way or another.
I know I do the dubs and all of this but I’m not trying to put out music on streaming platforms cause I’m not trying to piss anyone off, but there are deffo tunes that we have in the back cat that if the copyright holders spoke to us, we would be so down to get it out there. When you go to the clubs and stuff that's what you’re hearing - it’s there for people to enjoy.
What do you think the recent growing interest in bass music and UKG has been down to?
It’s an interesting one. I think UK current pop culture and underground culture has just gone to a different level recently. Even if you take it to a level outside of UKG, you look at drill and all of that, people like Central Cee and Dave are massive artists now. People are just loving UK culture, when you tap in from the big stars like that all the way down, and then just study the different subcultures, it’s just so rich.
We’ve got people like Girls Don’t Sync, who are some of my favourite people in the entire world. The roster of representation we’ve got it just fucking crazy. Now I can put Skeptic on a party and he holds more weight than people who are getting paid absolute thousands of pounds because the yutes are tapped into what’s going on on their doorstep. The sooner these promoters realise that they might be selling a few more tickets. We’re just rich now, so much home talent.
You’ve got Interplanetary [Criminal] and Soul Mass [Transit System] up in the North, then we’re down in Bristol, you’ve got Jossy, Bluey, all of that crew in London. Then in Leeds there’s a whole bunch of crew and you’ve got Girls Don’t Sync in Liverpool, everyone’s just connected now and talking, making music, it’s sick. I’m pulling up to shows in Sheffield and Denham Audio’s come to buck me, everyone just knows each other.
I think that was what was sick about FWD>> days with the whole dubstep thing. Everyone just knew each other and would go out of their way to support one another. There was just a buzz and everyone wanted to be a part of it. Now FWD>> has left a legendary legacy, Rinse is like a legacy, when I got the call up for it I was like what the fuck! I've dreamed of being on there, it's crazy.
Do you think there’s still innovation happening within this branch of dance music?
I think there is definitely innovation in many senses of the word. Even if it is re-hashed classics, right now we are at a point where it’s innovating in the sense that - back in the day people were making jungle and it was jungle. Or they were making house and it was house, techno and it was just techno. Nowadays, people are making like, I don't even know, a grime tune but it’s got breaks, then when it drops it kind of sounds like Jersey club. I think people are innovating in that sense, kiddies now don’t look at music the way we used to look at it, jungle was pioneering, all of these genres were experimental in themselves based on the influences that they had presented to them, whereas now everyone has access to everything. People genuinely appreciate the entire culture and understand it. Naturally you have purists who are like 'I only like speed garage from ‘98 to 2002', but a lot of people just like it all.
What do you think can be done to foster better collaboration and ‘putting people on’ within the wider dance music industry?
A loss of ego would be the number one thing I’d say. Big artists need to humble their arses: you were once a gassed up yute who was pulling up to raves begging it from your favourite artists at the time. Understand that kids are on that same journey. Be approachable to them and inspire that next generation so that we can keep taking what we love to new heights. it’s all about collaboration. I feel like now some of the hot artists that we looked up too are looking at the hot young kids on the scene and trying to imitate them! Just the ego thing. I like to come across like any one can come up to me, you an come up to me whenever. I’m a normal guy, i still see myself as the gassed up yute cause I love it that much. The more people would just remember the reason they do it, and show love on the DMs even if you don’t like the tune. I think that pretentiousness is one thing that I think needs to die a nasty death in dance music. Not to blow smoke up my own ass but the same time I was out here working the cloakroom at Plastic People, you probably didn’t even know what half of this stuff was. Not that that’s a bad thing, but don’t come on your high horse and think you are the only one with an opinion on what’s cool and what’s not, I hate that. It’s music, its subjective. I just despise the pretentiousness aspect, it's meant to be inclusive but the pretentiousness makes it the most exclusive thing because people feel like they are alienated when they go to these spaces. A lot of people know my stance on that, I don’t represent that at all. It’s for everyone.
[Dance music] comes from these queer scenes and Black spaces back in the day because there was nowhere else to go, it’s about being inclusive, we’re all the same people at the end of the day. Understand it’s a journey, you learn a lot and discover a lot, so give people the chance to have that same journey you know?
If you're comfortable talking about it, how has trying to stay sober at gigs helped you?
I think so many people love to chat shit when it comes to this subject to come across like a saint. What I will say is that I love to party, but I know myself, and i think it's a very important thing to understand. Some people can get battered everyday and they do their thing, but if it dont work for you, don't feel pressure to do it. For me, it’s too normalised, the whole drug taking culture has made people feel like they have to be like this and it ain't right. The lifestyle I'm living now, travelling, the late nights, there are some nights where I want to have a lot of fun but it can't be a regular thing. This is my job, I want longevity and to live a long healthy lifestyle so that I can do this for as long as possible, and if you want to be doing drugs week in week out, something's gotta give. There are even some people that I looked up to that have set a really bad example. I know that I'm a creature of habit, when I'm in the gym or playing basketball I get the same adrenaline and endorphins I get from DJing or partying. Just having those other releases and trying to encourage a healthy lifestyle in an industry that is very unhealthy, it's just about longevity. Everyone is going to have their releases, I don’t want to judge anyone, but I just want people to do it in the safest, least detrimental way to their physical health.
I know I've entered some really dark stages where I was just going crazy. It's the access - being the guy who’s the party starter, but then you go home on Monday and you’re done, social battery done, mental health gone, chemical imbalances doing a madness and then on Monday you don’t want to do any work. Then the label slips and it gets to Thursday and you’ve got to do it all again. Luckily I've got a good team and I'm able to speak to people outside of music who will hold me accountable, weather it's speaking to my manager and saying I need to remove alcohol from my rider because I know the moment it touches my lip I’d lose myself because the line-up is all just full of gang, or, if it is full of gang, if I’m on early, letting myself have a good night after. Be sensible and know yourself. At the end of the day there’s partying and there's the music and I know I love the music way more than the partying, but I did lose myself at a point where, because everyone else is doing it, it just became normal to me. I’m at an age now, 30, where it’s not all a joke anymore.
What would you say to young kids that are trying to get into this industry? Three strong sentences of advice.
Don’t deep things too much. Roll with people that you trust and grow together. Have a consistent work ethic.
Can you tell us about your Impact mix?
The idea behind [the mix] was that you only get one shot to do a DJ set, so I treated it the same way I would pull up to a nightclub. In terms of the music selection, journey and the track listing, I've done it in a way that is really a snapshot of my sets that I'm playing at the moment. Very versatile, lots of different genres bending, and, you know, just to show that I'm basically not your generic garage DJ. It's massively influenced by people like Oneman who I've always based my DJing off.
Tiffanie Ibe is Mixmag’s Digital Intern, follow her on Instagram