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We Need To Talk About: Paleblu

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We Need To Talk About: Paleblu

Photography by Cicely Grace, Styling by Chrissi Smith and Shot at One Hundred Shoreditch.

Paleblu’s voice is recognisable as the host of the longest-running jungle and drum and bass show on Reprezent radio. But this tenured presenter is also a producer and vocalist, who creates drum & bass fused with the unlikely pairing of indie. With this unique exploration of music Paleblu underscores the importance of inclusivity within the bass music scene, challenging industry biases and advocating for underrepresented voices.

Paleblu’s commitment to authenticity and inclusivity is echoed throughout his lyricism- his latest project, ‘Daisies,’ delves into raw emotions and introspective narratives, showcasing a journey that resonates with sincerity. With a fusion of cultural influences and a relentless pursuit of creative expression, Paleblu embodies the transformative power of art, inspiring audiences to embrace diversity and embrace the beauty of individuality.

Let’s chat…

How are you?

I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve just put a lot of work into this three-track EP that’s recently been released. I also pulled a show together and played the songs live with the band at The Hackney Social-  it was a really good turnout, one of the best turnouts for one of my solo shows ever. It’s a lot of work putting everything on yourself,  writing the lyrics, producing the music, and collating all the assets and the artwork. I do as much hands-on as possible, I’ve very much got that DIY independent mindset. It can be quite testing at times but it’s rewarding to see things come to fruition from start to finish.

What have you been up to recently? Clearly, you’ve been busy… 

I never know how to answer this question. This is a question I used to be quite insecure about when people would ask me. A lot of the time when I was in D&B settings, I’d say “ I’m an MC, but I’m a tastemaker on a Reprezent show that I’ve been doing for eight years now.  I’ve moved away from the D&B tastemaking and I’m focusing on this smaller project. 

So when people ask me “What do you do?” I don’t really know how to answer, because I think yes, I started out as a D&B MC but I’m also a producer which a lot of people don’t seem to know about. Presenting and DJing is something that I love doing too. It’s quite a weird one.

Over the years I’ve seen how vital it is to have loads of strings to your bows. I like to think of myself as being an all-rounder, I’m an artist, but I’m able to put the music business hat on, I’m also able to put the project manager hat on and work in different settings within the music industry which has given me a 360 view about how things work. That’s not to say that I understand everything, I haven’t cracked it yet. 

Have you been producing throughout your whole career?

It’s funny because I’ve actually been producing longer than I’ve been an MC. People don’t often know, they see me as an MC or a radio presenter. But with my new stuff, a lot of people are saying ‘He spits bars too.” It’s kind of flipped.

I’ve been producing since I was about 14. I went to a regular state school, but they had specialist funding from the borough for performing arts and the arts. They had a suite full of Mac computers and I remember we started learning Logic, I’m one of those people who didn’t really have a certain crew that I hung with or a certain thing I was into at school.  But when I found out about Logic and production, I was hooked, I remember being in that suite most lunch times- any chance I would just be trying to learn about music software. About one or two years after that I started MCing.My brother was also an MC and he, Joe Goss (Soulvent Records), Liam Holyoak-Rackal, Jack Higgins (Pola) and a guy called Shaun Coe set up a record label. I saw them doing the whole dance music and record label thing and they were great role models for me and I feel like I was given a window into the dance music world.

I was born and raised in East London, not from the roughest part, but it’s not the greatest part either and there were so many other things going on around me where if I didn’t have these role models or music to throw myself into I think things would have ended up very differently for me.

How important do you think creative education is for young people? 

Creativity in education is one of the things I am most passionate about, if I had more time I would be more directly involved with it. Unfortunately, I have to pay my bills. I went to a state school that specialised in performing arts, and I’ve seen people around me who are from less well-off backgrounds than me who have completely turned their lives around due to creativity and education. Having access to these services is essential.  There is a lack of funding and it’s been cut back so much the past few years under the current government. I’d like to think of myself as punk and anti-establishment, but I’m not gonna shit over the government the whole of this interview because I think that can be quite draining. But the cuts to public services have been drastic. 

These things really help people, a key example of this is that I work with a charity called Yuaf, a couple of months ago I was working with this kid and we did some one-to-one production. He may not have had access to a session with someone who’s a producer- it’s only because of foundations and charities like this that he gets access to it. 

I found that the experience of working with someone who was really keen and eager to learn and progress and ask all the right questions was inspiring for me. So I think it’s important. Education as a whole is important. My dad came to this country when he was three years old from Pakistan. He didn’t go to university. My mum grew up in the East End, in pure poverty really, and she just didn’t have access to education and creativity. It’s really important and something I’m quite passionate about. 

On the tip of Education, I want to mention Chords because he is my best mate but he’s also been a mentor to me and he’s also provided me with opportunities that I wouldn’t normally have had access to. He’s an amazing producer and DJ too. I was also part of the first cohort to attend ELAM (East London Arts & Music) a college that was set up by Will Kennard of Chase & Status. If it wasn’t for ELAM, I wouldn’t know the things I know today, so I have to shout them out. When I was at ELAM, I also met my current manager Patrick (MC Rage / Rebel Clash).

It’s good to hear people are still passionate about creativity and education.

Let’s talk about your latest release…

‘Daisies’ is a really cool project. It’s a 3-tracker I started working on towards the end of last year. As I’ve been producing for such a long time I’ve finally found my way of working now. I write the song on guitar, put it into logic, do a majority of the production and then I will work with my good friend and long-term collaborator Chords on my additional production, and then we’ll mix it together.

‘Belong’ was the first single from the EP and it’s about identity. I remember writing the tune and it was how I felt at that moment, it is quite an honest song. A lot of the tunes that I’m writing now are very honest. What I’m doing musically is very different to a lot of D&B that’s coming out at the minute.  I had to almost take a little step back from D&B for the past couple of years because I don’t think it sat with who I am as an artist. That’s not to say that I hate or dislike D&B. I love it. Jungle and D&B were my entry point to music, but I wanted to try something very different. I think I’ve done that with this record. 

There are three tracks- ‘Daisies’ which is the lead track, ‘Belong’ and then ‘Help Yourself’. A lot of people have said that ‘Help Yourself’ is their favourite track, it is very much a self-help song, it’s about mental health and making sure that you look after yourself. 

I’ve got a remix from Crate Classics on the way. I’ve got a remix from Lakeway on the way. And I have also got another remix from Chords, but this is as his new alias- Shoal. I’m speaking to Iyre as well about getting a remix done. My productions are very D&B  and jungle influenced, but they’re almost indie pop-driven on the vocals and a lot of the instrumentation. So I like to add some remixes to the releases

How do you blend indie with D&B? Not two styles you’d usually find together…

Growing up as a person of mixed Heritage, my dad’s Bengali and Pakistani my mum’s English and Irish, also growing up in London, this melting pot of sounds and different music. I became this sponge where I’m just constantly absorbing things around me and that’s not necessarily just music. That might be people’s styles or just locations. I’ve always been passionate about British music, not just jungle and D&B, that goes back to the 80s new romantic wave like Depeche Mode and The Human League and then also 90’s Brit pot and then in to that wave of indie in the 2000s. People like Jamie T, The Kooks. I’ve always been really into other music I just never really saw how to put the two together. This comes back to our conversation about being honest and being authentic. The more that you go into a scene the more you’re like, “OK, how do I crack this scene” and you end up listening to all this music but it all gets diluted into the same kind of sound. So you can either go into this scene and do what everyone else is doing or you can just carve your own thing.

You just let yourself be yourself and do what you were doing. And it just happened naturally

I dabbled in the electronic stuff a little bit and I was like “This is cool!” But really and truly I wasn’t fully satisfied. I knew I was enjoying it. But I wanted to try something out of the box, which is where the whole concept of ‘Daisies’ and all this new music has come from. A lot of it is not “club bangers” that can be played in the rave,  I’ve written it to be performed with a five-piece band. I’ve got to shout out my band as well. We’re all from very different walks of life, but we all gel together and there hasn’t, as of yet (touchwood), been any kind of these band politics that you hear of.

We’ve spoken about your production process, what’s your lyrical writing process?

I don’t actually have an answer to that, it just comes out. Not thinking about it too much, writing how I feel at that time and then channelling into that feeling. I’m reading a book by Rick Rubin at the minute, called The Creative Act. Rick Rubin is obviously an amazing producer and one of the founders of Def Jam and in this book, he talks about that-  being in that moment and getting into the zone and a flow of things. And then I suppose getting stuff to rhyme I guess, haha. 

Do you write to music or do you write poetry and then get it to fit to music?

If I’m writing bars, I’ll tend to put on a mix but most of the time now, if I’m writing lyrics I’m also writing music and producing at the same time.

You’ve been a radio presenter for a long time, what’s your favourite part of the job?

There are a few, I think the main favourite part is getting to speak to people and understand their experiences, what they’ve done and how they’ve contributed to the scene, what their journey has been. I like learning about different people and I’ve had the privilege of talking to some of the greats like Ray Keith, Bailey,  Breakage and it’s been super inspiring because I’m 27. I don’t know everything about the D&B and Jungle scene and speaking to these people has opened my eyes. 

I don’t want to go on a rant, but I do want to say that I think a lot of people do really need to know where this music has come from. It comes back to the point of education, there should be more education pieces and understanding that drum and bass and jungle came from sound system culture and used to be jungle techno. Understanding this more and staying true to where the genre has come from is pivotal, because over time people just forget about these things, and you can’t forget about things because it’s part of the culture.

The second favorite part is probably the flip side of that which is getting to promote and push up-and-coming people. Giving a voice to people that are just getting started or halfway through their journey. It’s really important and I do have to give another massive shout-out to Reprezent.

 I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but they’re going through a crowd-funding process at the moment. They are one of these places we spoke about earlier that have had their funding cut. They are a community FM station. They are essentially funded by local government, and they’ve been put in a position where they’ve had to do a crowdfunder and it’s not the only organisation I’ve seen that has had to do this. It’s quite terrifying to see that an organisation like Reprezent, which isn’t just a radio station- they train people from 16 to 25 to get into radio to give them the skills to get into entertainment, music or the creative sector. 

As a radio presenter, I wanted to talk about the importance of human tastemakers over an industry that has become dominated by algorithms. 

To start off… Tastemaking is super important. Gatekeeping is a dick head thing.

I have definitely found that when I am listening to a radio show or a podcast, I feel something completely different compared to listening to an algorithm-generated playlist or even one of Spotify’s curated playlists, to be honest. Because at the end of the day, they may be curated by a human but it’s only certain people that get up there. And that is the type of gatekeeping that we’re talking about. 

Back to the topic of tastemaking, I think it’s incredibly important. It’s something that we need to preserve. I think it’s also something that makes music quite a liberal space to be in.  

Put it this way. You’re gonna get incredible chefs that will get all the finest ingredients and make an incredible dish and it’s gonna taste amazing and you have all these incredible flavours, it’s a meal that you’re really gonna enjoy and it’s gonna satisfy you. Or you can get some chef that’s grabbed some crappy ingredients. The meal is frozen it looks the same as every other meal, it’s gonna be all right but it’s not really nourishing.

I’m a deeply sensitive person. So having music that is created by someone, who has spent time going through music and listening to music and coming up with their own dish is a lot more nourishing than something that’s generated by an algorithm, or someone who’s getting paid loads of money to push. I think also as an independent artist, you must have these people in place.

What have you got coming up?

I’m launching this new project, which is called Gonebrook.  It’s a project that I wanted to be purely about electronic music production. It’s not just D&B there’s garage, house, and techno, a bit of everything, but no vocals. I’ve also got tons of music written and produced under Paleblu that will be dropping slowly but surely over the next few years. 

What should we be talking about in the bass music scene that we’re not talking about currently?

This is something that has been spoken about and has been the past few years, but definitely diversity and inclusivity. It’s still a big problem in dance music. I’ve seen a lot of people not be given the same opportunities that they should have been given based on the fact that they’re not a straight white man. I think things are improving and you have great organisations like EQ50 is a great example of that, but it’s something that still needs to be really pushed and I think honestly some people just don’t know where the music comes from and that’s the place to start. D&B and garage and all these genres came from working-class communities and people of colour, it’s about that education piece. I’d say the things that people need to talk about more are where the music comes from and how we can get people from all backgrounds into the scene and how we can really nurture these people as well.

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