Bouncy bangers: Interplanetary Criminal is introducing a new generation to UK garage
Manchester’s Interplanetary Criminal wants you to move your feet. He speaks to Gemma Ross about his time on the UKG scene, boisterous gigs, and his label ATW Records
Interplanetary Criminal’s contribution to the sound of UK garage has not gone unnoticed since his big breakthrough over lockdown. The producer first emerged in the 2010s, releasing a string of bangers merging shuffling beats with rough-edged melodies on labels such as E-Beamz and Kalahari Oyster Cult. Over time he's honed in on the UKG sound, turning heads in even the furthest corners of the globe. The Manchester-born DJ, producer and ATW Records label co-head is helping to further the resurgence of a genre that carries the weight of the UK on its back — a tribute to ‘90s dance music and some of the most prevalent club bangers that had Britain uniting on the dancefloor with its distinctive sound.
In a new strain of UK garage, Interplanetary Criminal - real name Zach Bruce - brings that nostalgia back to club dwellers all over the UK, most notably in the city he was born and raised. “I feel like Manchester has always had an amazing scene with so many advocates for UK bass music,” says Zach when we chat to him from his home city. “There’s such an abundance of good music and producers. If you’re throwing a UKG party up here, it’s almost always gonna sell out.”
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Through his time on the scene, Zach has released through labels including Dansu Discs, Sneaker Social Club, and Shall Not Fade’s Time Is Now, and picked up even more traction through viral sets and raucous livestreams playing to boisterous, high-energy crowds. The producer pays homage to Manchester every bit of the way, and has helped to bring younger crowds through the doors to experience a genre that circulated clubs before they were born. Now playing tastemaker, Zach recently launched his own label, ATW, alongside close friend Main Phase seeing the UKG hopefuls and up-and-comers get their foot in the door.
In a quick come-up post-lockdown, Interplanetary Criminal simply has fun with what he does, and that’s the beauty of his project. As strong a producer as he is a DJ, Zach’s homemade club stormers and charged-up crowd-pleasers are only ever certain to fill a dancefloor. We caught up with Interplanetary Criminal to chat everything from his come-up to his friendships on the UK garage scene, and some of his favourite on-stage moments to date.
Check out our Q&A with Interplanetary Criminal, and listen to his exclusive Impact mix below.
Tell us about your background as a producer and artist.
Interplanetary Criminal started in about 2012 when I'd just finished collage and started Uni in Manchester. I was making dark breaks inspired by L.I.E.S. Records - it was all tape-emulated sort of stuff. When I moved to Leeds, there were nights going on almost every day of the week. It was when that tape-emulated raw sound was shifting towards lo-fi with people like Mall Grab, DJ Seinfeld, DJ Boring. I think lo-fi was more of a feeling, it was almost sad - straight drum beats with a Drake sample or something. It was really interesting. What I liked about it was that the genre sounded the most authentic to Chicago and New York house. It was kind of minimal, but that’s what the appeal was.
When it came to about 2016 and the lo-fi house scene was dying out, I'd moved back to Manchester and felt like I wasn’t really inspired by it anymore. I’d been producing my whole life, but I was starting to feel like [breaking through] would never happen. I was DJing out every now and then, but I was struggling to keep a crowd until I started playing a garage tune. What I liked about garage in the UK is that it feels like British people are so proud of it - I was born in ’93, so I grew up with tracks like ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ and ‘Babycakes’ at the forefront of chart music. I think people love that nostalgia, so that’s when I started making garage tunes myself. I remember sitting on about 20 of them, sticking them up on SoundCloud and getting a bit of traction on there. That’s when my first release on Dansu Discs came in around 2017, it was an entire garage EP.
You also made your break through Shall Not Fade and, by proxy, the sub-label Time Is Now which you’re at the forefront of. Could you tell me a little bit about Time Is Now?
I was always a big fan of Shall Not Fade, they're an amazing label. I remember Time Is Now’s first release from Soul Mass Transit System, it was incredible. When I first got invited onto Time Is Now, I’d just released a breaks EP with Sneaker Social Club but I was sitting on about 20 garage tracks. So, I sent them the tracks and they said they preferred my breaks stuff, so I had all these tunes that didn’t have a home. That’s when Kieran from Shall Not Fade popped up and said he was looking for new tunes. I sent him a playlist not thinking I’d hear back from him, but he picked four for TIN002 and it kind of just took off. For me, if I’m gonna put out a solo EP, they’re the perfect label to showcase my vision of the UKG scene right now. I have a certain loyalty to that label because I was one of the first artists on it, and if you look at it now, it’s an amazing label that almost every garage artist passes through.
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What’s the crew like? You seem to run with a tight-knit circle…
It’s a proper rite of passage to pass through Time Is Now, and I’ve had people come up to me at shows who have never heard of UKG before and say ‘I found your music through this label’. They’ll go on to look through the roster and find everyone else, it kind of stems onto other people. I think that's a great thing about the label, if you put in the effort to dig and find music, it’s the best place to start. In terms of the crew, artists like Main Phase, Cosworth, Holloway, and Soul Mass Transit System always put out amazing music through that label. When you think of the 2022 UK garage scene and how it stands, I’d probably say that label is a really good example of today's resurgence.
You now have your own label, ATW. How did that come about?
It's a funny thing, actually. Me and Adam - or Main Phase - had been chatting online for years, and he brought me to Denmark in about 2019. We played at one of the club nights he puts on and we played one for one all night long together, it popped off entirely. I remember us just both looking at each other… I was so nervous to meet Adam, but as soon as we did, we just clicked and I thought that was so beautiful. When lockdown happened, we were talking and saying, ‘I love you, I really do’. I was saying we should start a label together because we’re so close as artists, we swap tunes all the time and influence each other’s music. I thought something that guarantees us speaking day in, day out, is starting a label together, and that's how it came about. We're always buying each other records for presents, it’s such a nice thing to have someone on the exact same level as you putting out the exact same kind of music and having that identity. I think we just have this idea of what direction we want to go in and it's always the same. It’s a wicked thing having something like that with your best mate.
Have you got many exciting releases coming up?
We just released 'ATW002' which was a speed garage and bassline piece that we ripped together. Back in October, I remember sitting in this room with him on the Mac and me on the keyboard and we managed to smash out like four tunes within two days. They’re some of the best songs that I feel like I've ever written, it’s never happened like that before. We've got the next ATW release coming too, I think we're just going to focus on that this next year and hopefully do some tours together.
It feels like there’s definitely a resurgence right now in UK bass music - a lot of UKG, bassline, dubstep, and even donk are having a moment right now, all of which you seem to push. What do you think the future of this sound looks like?
It's an interesting thing, especially after lockdown - it just feels like you can cross over into any genre. As you said with donk, it feels like it’s totally exploded into the scene right now. And so it should, because it's almost one of the bounciest, most fun genres. For me specifically, donk is quite a Northern thing - we grew up with it in the clubs and college where there would be a whole floor dedicated to the genre. To play that out now to people and get this reaction, I can’t help but be proud of it. In the North, if you play a donk track people go absolutely mental and it’s beautiful, but I’ve tried it in London and it doesn’t quite get the same reaction.
You can get away with playing whatever you want now, as long as it's bouncy and makes people dance - the whole idea of being quite headsy and pretentious has almost gone out of the window. So, I do feel like bassline and donk and speed garage and all of these genres will stick around. I hope it does too, you know?
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You’ve appeared on some huge line-ups over the past year or two. What have been some of your craziest moments so far?
I'd definitely say being put on The Warehouse Project and Parklife line-ups were some of the most surreal moments for me being from Manchester. We've gone to them as teenagers and to be on the other side of that and even have people dancing is just an incredible thing. The first time I played we had a room fairly full which was so surprising to me because I didn’t think that my music extended to those people.
Playing with Skream at Halloween was another big moment for me. Ghost Of Garage saw me and Skream talking at Warehouse Project, I’d sent him some tunes prior and we were just chatting about them. The next thing I know my agent was like, ‘oh, by the way, they want you on a back-to-back with Skream’. I remember being like, what? How on earth has this happened? Also after my Boiler Room set, me and Adam gave a shoutout to Big Ang because we absolutely love her - we played a lot of bassline in the set and she’s obviously the queen of bassline. Without her, we wouldn’t really be doing this. She then got in touch and was like ‘oh my god, I’m so grateful’. We managed to get her to play at South Manchester just before it closed down. Adam and I were looking at each other while she was playing, like… this is legendary. I couldn't believe it was actually happening. We're releasing a tune of hers on our next ATW release.
You release singles and EPs on quite a regular basis, could we be seeing a debut album in store at some point?
I do think maybe 2023 is the year that I would like to do that. I’d like to go through all the genres that I've worked with over the years and compile them onto one album, it's just finding the time to do that. This year's been kind of unexpected, I didn’t think I'd be DJing as much as I was. I think the next thing for me would be an album, and I've got another solo Time Is Now release coming towards the end of the year. So, I think after that, the album would be something to focus on and just give a big homage to every genre that I’ve been involved with.
Can you tell us about your Impact mix?
I put this together celebrating a lot of friends in the UKG scene but also blending the forthcomings with tracks I had pre-lockdown, mixing up the serious darker sound with the cheeky and playful bits!
Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Editorial Assistant, follow her on Twitter
AJ Tracey X Milktray X Bushido - Ultimate Wifey Blend
Holloway - State Of Mind
Main Phase - Shell
D.E.A Project - So High (Killjoy Bootleg)
Introspekt - Me & U
Highrise - Next Level
Flexx Gruuvs - For The Massive (Illegal Dub Mix)
Denham Audio - Lurv Thang
Notion - BBS
Murray - Calabria 2009
Point G - Sidewalkin
Chloe Robinson + DJ ADHD - Casper
Usher - Climax (Nativ Remix)
Eliza Rose & Interplanetary Criminal - BOTA
DJ Wodda - Booyakasha
Michael Magnan - Alright Um
Casement - Bellvine
Soul Mass Transit System - Free Edit
Interplanetary Criminal - Coming On Strong
Sirrell & Bondy - RDS vs Changes
ATW - Mystery Land