There’s a tangible sense of refreshed energy at the Playaz camp right now.
The releases have always been consistent – barely a month goes by when we’re not treated to another guaranteed smash-up session from one of their artists such as Annix, Taxman, Jam Thieves, Potential Badboy or, if we’re really lucky, Hazard – but it’s the accelerated activity surrounding the releases that’s amplified the noise such as Hype and Hazard’s newly formed b2b partnership and a new series of Playaz events in London and beyond.
Building on the roadblock reputation developed at both The End and Fabric for the last 20 years, Playaz events successfully re-launched last January with a sold out Brixton Electric and will return to the same venue this Thursday, April 13. This time they welcome a special drum & bass set from My Nu Leng, Hype & Hazard’s first London b2b set and a killer cross section representation of Playaz’ own crew.
Then there’s the matter of their own arena at SW4 Festival. A first for Playaz, the line-up flexes the same broad and vivid sonic spectrum as one of DJ Hype’s trademark no-rules, all-style DJ sets…
Hype b2b Hazard, Netksy, Camo & Krooked b2b Friction, Goldie vs My Nu Leng, Congo Natty, Dimension, Fabio & Grooverider b2b DJ Marky, Heartless Crew, High Contrast, SASASAS, Taxman b2b Sub Zero, Annix b2b Turno
And if that’s not enough, the man behind seminal influential cuts such as Peace Love & Unity is also back in the studio. Refreshed, recharged and reaffirmed by the current state of the scene, here’s where Hype is at right now…
There seems to be a lot of things happening at Playaz HQ. More than usual…
Yeah I’m finding it hard keeping up with it all! Pascal and I have been running Playaz for a very long time but it’s just us running it – we’ve kept it lowkey, we haven’t had a lot of resources so there hasn’t been a big marketing push because we haven’t had the time between us to do that. But we felt it was time to develop things a little because we did feel like we were plodding along.
What was the trigger for this?
I would have to say 50% is down to having a new agent. I’ve been with a lot of agencies, they mean well and they do their job but you tend to get lost in the pile. Then late 2015 I met with Chris Brown who used to run United Dance in the mid 90s. We discussed the possibility of him joining up with me and Pascal to start getting Playaz nights up and running properly. My agent at the time would not do label nights so I let Chris take them over. I gave him a year to prove himself and it went quite well.
At the same time I had other issues with my then agent so, after a lot of thought, I moved myself, Hazard and Annix over to his agency. It’s been going great so far. Here’s the thing; there are two worlds: the underground raves and what agents like to call the ‘cooler events’… Whatever that means. The bigger agents keep you off the underground raves, they look down their noses and tell you to work with theses cool people. But I think that’s a shame as the next superstar will come from the underground, so I think it’s in their interest to support it more than they do.
I go with the music and vibe, not what’s cool. Because nothing stays cool forever and everyone has a different angle on what is classed as so called cool. Certain agents think the underground promoters are rubbish and not in the artists’ interest to perform there without actually going to these events themselves. I’m like why are you dismissing this promoter just because he is underground? Have you ever been to this event and seen how good it is? Usually they haven’t and I need to do both undergound and commercial events. But no matter how many ‘cool’ shows I do, I’ll never forget the underground. That’s where I come from. And if you leave the underground for too long you’re forgotten. Leave it just a few years and it’s a whole new generation of artists playing a new sound.
And a whole new generation of ravers…
Exactly. You have to stay relevant. My 18 year-old son has started going to events where I perform and a few of his mates asked to come out to festivals with me. I took him to Glastonbury for the Arcadia spider and he loved it.
Genuinely the highlight of the festival for me.
Thank you. But I was dreading it. I was thinking ‘shit, the crowd aren’t going to be into what we’re playing! I was even advised to do an old school Playaz set for the masses just to be safe but fuck that… Me and Hazard came on smashed it to bits with our raw grimy sound. It was mad! Then we did Boomtown’s Section 6 stage and that was even fucking madder.
I had no idea how big that set was! We did it and at the time we thought ‘yeah okay that was alright’ That’s it. Then I watched the video at home and it actually bought tears of emotion to my eyes as MC GQ made a big speech to the crowd and their response to his words and our music selection was amazing and inspiring to me in so many ways. Now you’ve got to remember MC GQ used to watch me in the early 80s on my Heatwave soundsystem that I built with Shut Up & Dance and MC Daddy Earl way back in the early 80’s. Back when he was a body-popper, not even an MC. Now here we are over 30 years later in front of 20,000 people going nuts and he’s saying he’s never seen anything like it in his life.
Because I was behind the decks DJing I couldn’t actually see the crowd that far back. I had no idea just how big it was. When I watched it I was like ‘fucking hell!’ I showed my mum as she’s my number one fan. It looked like a Michael Jackson concert. That changed things and really re-energised my belief in what I do Usually you do a festival and you have to cheese it out or you’ll lose them but last year for Glastonbury and Boomtown I didn’t. And after that everywhere we were playing I could feel we were smashing it more than everyone else. Then I had people behind the scenes telling me I was growing as an artist and I’m like ‘really?’ I just do this every weekend and love doing it. But I don’t monitor my success every year or think of things like that anymore.
Really? Surely you must look back and take stock a little?
I’m 49 this year, what do you want me to say? I’ve been doing this over 35 years, I’ve won every award – Best DJ, Best Club Night, Best Radio Show, Best Label – and I’m bloody older than both Annix’s dads! It’s a strange life. This keeps you young but you do still age in other ways. When you’re in your 20s you live, eat, sleep and shit music but as you get older you have to deal with more things outside of music that life throws at you. But I still love it and want to do it forever but I always think as another year goes by and I turn up to smash a rave ‘you lot still want me? The fact they still enjoy what I do keeps my faith in the scene I belong to.
Let’s talk about the new Playaz events, I just assumed you’d be back at Fabric?
Fabric closing was a complete shock at the time and left us with no London base. We didn’t know if Fabric would ever get their licence back! We couldn’t sit on our arses and do nothing otherwise we would of had no venue in London to run our label nights for 2017. Things looked really bleak for Fabric and it looked unlikely that they would open again. So while they were shut we had to look elsewhere and chose Electric Brixton for two events to test the water. Our first one in January completely sold out. Also we’ve hooked up with Lock N Load, and we’re hosting our own stage at SW4. I’ve never played there before, now we’ve got our own arena. Lock N Load have got faith in us and there’s plan for the rest of the year.
Can’t blame them. Playaz at Fabric was an institution.
Yeah, doing a London monthly for 15 years was great. Just before Fabric closed we were selling out every event there and it seemed like Playaz was growing again so as one door closed another chapter has started. I must stress that I hope to still do Playaz at Fabric again but I’m sorry to say it wont be this year. We have other plans.
Like hosting a festival arena…
Exactly! We have more Playaz stages at festivals and club nights this year than ever before. I feel like this is the just the beginning stages of what you might almost call a re-launch. The Playaz stage at SW4 this year has loads of styles all represented; Netsky, Congo Natty, Fabio & Grooverider, Marky, Dimension, Taxman, Sub Zero, Camo & Krooked, Friction me and Hazard. It’s right across the board and I really hope people enjoy that because that what I have always tried to project this at a Playaz night.
We’ve also got some exclusive Hype b2b Hazard shows at events like Hideout Festival, Let It Roll and Ibiza’s Together for the first time. So this is the new level and audience we’re able to represent to without diluting our sound. And, because of gigs like Boomtown and seeing how people react, I’m more confident now that we can play the underground things at these type of events. Of course you have to add a few bits that the crowd are going to know when you do the more mainstream shows but generally I’m playing things I’d play at an underground rave and they’d go nuts.
That’s the beauty of drum & bass – you can play the biggest vocal cut and mix it with the underground sounds…
Yeah I know, that’s what I’ve been doing for bloody years mate! It’s my choice as an artist. With Ganja Kru we had the opportunity to go poppy cheese and we did kinda try with a track called Gone Are The Days. But I wasn’t comfortable with that direction and refused to continue taking that route as an artist. I prefer the more natural crossover success. Hazard’s Bricks Don’t Roll was an underground natural hit, nothing pop about it at all. but then a major wants to sign it and slap a vocal on it.
To be honest I wasn’t really up for this. But at the same time I told Hazard the choice was his and I would support him either way. So we arranged a deal where he couldn’t lose . He’s not tied into any further commercial activity at all and we had control over everything else. He’s not going pop (not yet anyways ha) and I doubt he ever will unless it’s a natural crossover from a underground hit.
The beauty of Hazard is that he’s got to this stage of his career without having or wanting to water his sound down. It’s been an organic rise for him, much like my own career . His anthems are natural. And that’s always been the way since day one for Playaz anyway. Whether it’s Super Sharp Shooter, Peace Love & Unity and Casino Royale back in the day or Mr Happy, Machete, Therapy or Bricks today. They’re natural anthems. Then we got guys like Annix constantly challenging things. Or Potential Badboy’ who’s been making original jungle material since day one and is a true pioneer . He influenced artists such as Shy FX and many other original jungle artists and also todays new school of jungle artists such as Benny Page, Marcus Visionary, Lion Dub etc and he’s never lost touch of that jungle spirit. A lot of guys have bigger hits quicker than some of my guys but that’s because they’re ‘of the moment’. Me? I’m looking for artists who are here for the long haul
That stuff doesn’t date as quickly too – it lives it in its own world
That’s right. But what I find is I sign people and usually the are initially ignored by other agents. Then a year later they’re like ‘oh, you got that tune by blah blah?’ and I’m like ‘I told you about him ages ago!’
I think that’s the problem when people jump on trends and don’t focus on their own sound.
Maybe. A few years ago when neurofunk, pop drum & bass and dubstep seemed to swallow everything else, I felt all the other elements and aspects of drum & bass/jungle were being ignored outside the real underground. It was like these styles didn’t exist anymore and loads of credible artists who previously made forward-thinking creative underground music started chasing the pop dream by watering down their productions to please the commercial masses. It caused a void in the underground and it kinda had to start from scratch in some ways with new DJs and artists coming through.
This happens every few years in our scene because we have a good global underground infrastructure that keeps the scene developing for its own future. Initially the new artists sound isn’t always that great because they are still learning. But they attract the next generation of drum and bass lovers and they add their own angle to it and that’s how this music was originally invented. Fast forward a few years down the line and they’ve developed their own sound and its really fucking good. Then usually you will get a year like last year when that new sound becomes the next big sound to regenerate the scene. But I remember a few years ago certain people were going ‘ah it’s all kids music’ I fight against that every time. It’s a tag I’ve had to deal with all my life since I was DJing at 13 and it’s bullshit
Who else you going to play to besides the youth?
Exactly! I’m not here to entertain a bunch of 40 year olds. They are more than welcome of course, but my point is this scene has been going for over 25 years so depending on your age you will have your opinion on that when the golden age was. Ultimately I love playing to the rebellious youth who are hungry and want me to make the walls bleed when I play.
And not make chart hits…
Yes. When a lot of big producers jumped into that they had to compromise their DJ styles and productions to please the masses. They can’t play the real raw anti-establishment music anymore. They’re out of touch with it. It completely strips out the urban, junglist spirit that formed this genre in the first place!
Were you anti pop drum & bass?
No. I wasn’t against it, but I try not to play it, make it or release unless it feels natural to me. And for a while I could see the underground suffering because of it. Thankfully we’ve moved on again and things have definitely improved. There is more integration between artists and it’s not so pigeonholed now. For me personally, that is so important. I respect people who just like one sound and I also respect the need for nights that specialise because that’s where a style develops, but to see people from different styles appreciate each other a bit more and not assume we all just play one sound is really exciting.
We’re in a good place…
We’re in a better place than we were now less artists and labels are chasing the radio hits and losing their underground identity. In fact I’d say after 25 years of drum & bass jungle and we’re actually stronger than ever in many respects and we have the right balance.
Amen. Finally… Anything on the Hype production front? It’s been a while.
Maybe. I’m in the studio with Annix now and we’re working on a few remixes. Hazard spoke about doing things as well, which will be fun. But we all live so bloody far away. So yeah there is some activity, slowly but surely but that’s the way we’ve always done things, right?