Bootleg Royalty: In Conversation With Yazzus

London-based DJ and producer Yazzus is a high-energy performer who has been making serious waves over the past two years, both as an individual artist and as one sixth of the infectiously raucous Six Figure Gang. From developing a keen interest in rave culture from her time at university, largely down to the expressive spiritual freedom the scene allowed, she has gone on to develop a reputation for her devilish mash-ups of hardcore, footwork and jungle. As a selector she has been in the mix for Radio 1 as part of their residency series and in the Lab for Mixmag, as well as regularly featuring on lineups across the capital and further afield. She has also established herself as bootleg royalty ever since her edit of Loefah’s legendary dubstep classic Disko Rekah (put out as part of her Deep Medi Remix pack) was unleashed by Sherelle at Boiler Room to gun-fingered acclaim.

Her personal successes have coincided with the meteoric rise of Six Figure Gang; a crew consisting of herself, LCY, Jossy Mitsu, Fauzia, Dobbs and Sherelle. Established in 2019, they have gone on to curate lineups on their own Boiler Room tour across the UK, boasted regular radio slots on the renowned Rinse FM, received a nomination for Dazed 100 and filmed a documentary for The Face Magazine. Drawn together by a shared love for pushing existing sounds into new directions, they are perhaps the most exciting collective in dance music at the moment.

This year alone, Yazzus has personally put out an EP on Mad Decent’s Good Enuff imprint, as well as consistently churned out conceptual bootleg compilations ranging from refits of tunes from her childhood to her favourite anime soundtracks. We caught up with her to have a chat about what it means to be regarded as bootleg royalty in 2020…..

Where did your appreciation for rave culture stem from?

So it was actually from my time at university. I did my dissertation on sub-cultures and my focal point was actually on grime but I was researching everything like punks and ska and the rave scene came up. I always thought it was cool but the more I read and studied it, the more I appreciated it. From the drug culture to the spiritual links associated, it really resonated with me. The actual culture around it is so important to me, it’s pretty much why I do music to connect with people around the world. The music itself is so free while other genres are quite rigid. You couldn’t add in sixty different synths and have crazy breakdowns anywhere else, it’s just so fun and positive.

When you think back to the music that got you into rave and hardcore, can you identify any particular tracks that had a lasting effect on you?

Honestly just anything from Kniteforce Records! They’ve been about since the early 90’s and literally anything from them is amazing. All the big hardcore DJs have released on there and even now they’re doing vinyl requests. To pick just one artist would be difficult, but Luna-C is the one that always pops into my mind, he’s sick!

I guess your love for bootlegs and remixes can be traced back to early rave culture as well. The early productions were all about sampling and cutting bits of tracks together…

Yeah exactly. I like the concept of taking an existing idea and turning it on its head. Like when I did the Deep Medi remixes which was my first proper release on Bandcamp, the reception was so good, I was like wow, people really like an edit, especially when it’s far away from what it originally was. Taking it from early dubstep into jungle and footwork, adding intricate breaks and everything was cool and something that I really enjoy doing.

You mention footwork there…artists like you and Sherelle have been pioneering this new comeback for the beats in London. Can you give a bit of background to those who might not know about the genre?

Yeah, so it originated in Chicago, from the likes of DJ Rashad and the Teklife Records collective but has now grown to become this real global thing over the past ten years or so. It’s minimal as it stems from hip-hop but is sped up so it has a real dance energy. It’s also really recognisable when something is footwork because of the 160 bpm, and if you take a Rashad production for example, it’ll always have a chopped-up sample and a distinctive kick and snare pattern. It was actually one of the first genres that I really started messing around with as you can just bring loads of different sounds and clash them together. That’s what me, Sherelle and other artists like Fauzia have been doing over the past couple of years. It’s just a sick scene in general, I’ve met so many people around the world who are involved or who are just big fans.

With the distinctive drum patterns for example, there are similarities you can draw between jungle and footwork. With jungle at the moment we’re seeing this new era with artists like Sully, Tim Reaper and Coco Bryce. Do you think footwork and jungle have helped revitalise each other and brought a new generation to the genres?

For sure! There’s even footwork jungle as a sub-genre now, where producers are putting breaks and pads with a footwork beat. I do it as well, like I don’t necessarily thing of myself as a footwork or jungle producer as I mix so much of them together. They go hand in hand and it’s nice as people who like elements of one or the other will be encouraged to go and trace back to the original sounds. When you’re mashing up sounds together, it gives people a reference to go and check out more, so the combination of the two are definitely helping each other.

So I wanted to move onto some of your releases and you’ve mentioned this first one already- the Deep Medi remixes. I don’t think we can start anywhere else other than with that monster edit of Loefah’s Disko Rekah. Tell us about the track as well as the overall release.

So I was making a list of all the songs that I wanted to remix and a load of them were from Deep Medi so I had the idea of just doing a Deep Medi release. The funniest thing about the Disko Rekah tune was that it didn’t have a load of crazy techniques. It was just the original track sped up with some breaks, but everyone thought it was really good which was mad. It’s such an iconic dubstep tune so my plan was to try and take it to a new audience, but I didn’t know what the reception would be like until Sherelle played it at her Boiler Room set. I didn’t even know she was going to play it and I was there in the room and was like shit, this actually pops off, this isn’t bad making edits haha.

You also remixed other artists like Skream and Kahn on the release, and tried out different genres as well.

Yeah, so two were jungle, two were footwork and then I did a ravey/hardcore one for Kahn’s Abattoir. That was probably the hardest, as it’s such a sick tune already so I wasn’t sure how to make it a different vibe. I was happy with the overall release and people are still supporting it on Bandcamp which is nice.

Did Loefah or any of the other artists get in contact with you after you put out the release?

Loefah got in contact and supported it a lot and I’ve met him since and chatted about it which is sick. I thought I was going to get into trouble with J. Sparrow’s management but I wasn’t making any money off the tunes. J. Sparrow then got in contact and was all cool about it and said not to worry. That was the only slight problem about the release, it was my first bootleg so I didn’t really know what the reactions would be but it’s all bless now!

While many people have struggled productivity-wise over lockdown, you seem to have smashed it! A thirty track bootleg release, transcending a host of different styles. Tell us about that project.

So it’s probably about two years of tracks but over half of them were made in those early months of lockdown. Bandcamp sent out an email about another fee-free day so I was like I’ll just put it out. I really liked the project as it was literally just all my random favourite songs from growing up, there’s a Hadouken! track in there, a Lady Gaga one as well, just all reworked into a rave setting. It’s a really nice personal project that also did well on Bandcamp, so that’s definitely been the highlight of my year so far.

And more recently we’ve seen your anime pack, taking soundtracks and reimagining them into a rave surrounding. That’s got to be one of the most ‘out there’ concepts for a release I’ve ever heard!

Well I’m a huge anime fan, as well as a huge fan of Japanese culture in general. I’m learning the language, I want to move there in the next couple of years, I’m a bit obsessed! I was saying to people I wanted to do an anime pack and they thought I was just going to use the openers, but a lot of the soundtracks are really sick songs in general. Unless you watched anime you wouldn’t be able to tell where they came from, so I just thought about how they would sound as a jungle tune, or rave or ghetto-tech. It was an out there concept, but definitely a passion project. I’m thinking about doing a little part two as well.

We couldn’t talk and not come onto Six Figure Gang. If I read correctly, the idea started as a drunken, tongue-in-cheek joke. Did any of you think it could have grown to be what it is now so quickly?

Jossy was playing a show at The Cause and we were all there chatting in the smoking area. We’ve known each other from Radio and being on similar lineups over the past few years. We were all pretty drunk and were looking at each other and thinking this is actually a strong collective, this could work! At the time it was mainly a joke but Jossy made a group chat and then LCY came to us saying that Rinse FM were interested in us doing a couple of shows. It’s pretty great, it’s very organic and has never been forced in terms of a strategy. It was just we’re all friends, we all do music and want to travel and do shows together. We have a lot planned for next year!

The opportunities the six of you have made for yourself are incredible – Boiler Room and Keep Hush shows, UK tour, nominated for Dazed 100, the list goes on!

It’s pretty crazy! When I started DJing, I was so focused on what I needed to do. You need to be really individualistic which adds a lot of stress because you’re by yourself, comparing yourself to other people, but when I’m in Six Figure Gang, I have people with me who can help. If you do something as a collective, you’ll make more opportunities for yourself and get to share it with friends as well.

Not forgetting your mini-documentary with The Face Magazine as well! How was filming that? As a viewer, it comes across that, despite your individual and collective successes, you’re just six ladies smashing it and having a laugh while doing so!

It was sick! It was just another crazy thing, we’d been together as a group for about a year and we had someone like The Face following us around our Boiler Room tour and some of our other shows! To be honest, we were just being our stupid selves, it didn’t really faze us having the cameras there. In the documentary there’s just footage of us running around a service station doing stupid shit, not taking ourselves too seriously, just how it should be!

Before we finish, I just want to return to one more release of yours, Planet Pulse, which came out as part of the Grief into Rage compilation. Can you speak a little about why the project was set up and how people can get involved?

It was set up to provide some financial relief after the Beirut explosion so 100% of the profits are dedicated to the Lebanese Red Cross and the Beirut Musicians’ Fund. I’ve been getting more into hard techno so for my track I thought I’d make my version of of techno and go for a bit of a stomper. There’s loads of really sick artists on there like TSVI and DJ Tess as well. It’s a Bandcamp only thing so big up to Toumba, whose real name is also Yas, for putting it all together!

I’ve been on quite a few compilations over the past few months for other great causes such as the NHS and helping clubs like Five Miles who have been struggling, so it’s been great to be a part of those!

To finish, can you give any information about any plans and projects you’ve got moving forward?

I’ve just had a single that came out for my birthday and I got this sick 3D visual design for it so I want to give a big shout out to the artist, Kirsty Sorley, who goes by Polar Fantasy. She did this beautiful 3D avatar music video to go with the track which is up on my bandcamp now.

I’ve got another EP coming, hopefully before the end of the year, so I’m just waiting for the vinyl for that, but I won’t say who the label is just yet! For next year, I’ve got loads of releases coming up so for now it’s just more production, especially with gigs being in limbo, so that’s how I’m going to be keeping myself busy!

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