Any creation should reflect certain aspects of the artist’s soul. But there’s something about a debut album that hits with that extra personal edge. The combination of environment, friends, influences and everything that’s happened in the years building up to it – the best debut albums tell a much deeper story than the sum of its parts.
Melinki’s debut album The S.T.L Project does just that. Not just the culmination of years of DJing that go back to the early 2000s and the last 10 years of production, or even a collection of collaborations with some of his closest friends in the game such as Philth, HLZ and Deefa, or even a reflection of everything he’s been working towards: The S.T.L captures some of the most life-changing life moments he’ll ever experience as a human being.
Written in the throes of developing his exciting future-talent focused label Four Corners Music and while he was becoming a father – not once, but twice – The S.T.L Project is the sound of a man levelling up, taking his future with both hands and throwing himself into his passion on a whole new professional level to set an example for his son and daughter.
Not only that, but the name represents something very personal to him, too; his studio. Set up as a community project to help youths and aspiring artists in his town Hastings, the album features collaborations with many artists who’ve come through the studio over the years – both students and peers who’ve held masterclasses at S.T.L Studios.
The S.T.L Project doesn’t just reflect certain aspects of Sonny Melinki’s soul, it represents his life. Personally and musically; flexing from deep rolling soul to toxic pungent stinkers by way of heavy grime influences (a nod to his days exploring the UKG sound with his last label U Wot Blud) everything about this from the music to the collaborations to the story behind it really does hit with that extra personal edge. We called him up personally to find out more…
What a crazy few years you’ve had. Am I right in thinking you became a dad twice while you were writing this album?
Pretty much! Two years ago, almost to the day we’re talking now, I released my first EP on Fokuz. My boy is two and a half and there’s a song on there called Teddy’s Song, a dedication for my boy. Marco, the Fokuz manager, suggested I did an album. To be honest I didn’t think I wasn’t quite ready for an album. But that gave me the push so I started writing it and, yeah, my missus became pregnant again. That’s why there’s a song at the end of the album called Rosie’s Song.
Beautiful. That makes the album even more personal doesn’t it?
It does. When I first told everyone I was becoming a dad they all said ‘ah that’s it for you with the music, then!’ I thought ‘no way!’ If anything, it gave me the push to do more and do it better. If I can’t pursue something I really want to do and find creative fulfilment, then what type of example am I setting my kids?
Amen. Hence the S.T.L in your studio name – Sky’s The Limit?
It’s a bit cheesy, but the message is true. You can do something if you really want to. It’s here for you to be part of. DJ lessons, production lessons, vocal recording the main one is the masterclass sessions. I get guests down and they sit with the students and share their knowledge and tips. I’m really proud of it, it’s been going for five years to the week.
You had the U Wot Blud studio before didn’t you? Kinda more on a UKG flex…
That’s it. At the time I was really into all different genres. I still am, but drum & bass has been at the heart of what I do. That was my first studio, then I applied for a youth project grant. They give money to people who create creative work and creative outlets for youths. I invested that, and a lot of my own money, and built it from the ground up. That’s also why I set up my label Four Corners Music in 2017. It’s been a really great outlet for people passing through the studio and give them all something to aim for. It’s also been great for me to be able to collect tunes and release them and all adding to the bigger picture of helping people come through.
Directly helping the next generation!
That’s always the idea.
I bet Philth has been involved in the studio at some point too!
He’s down to do a masterclass this weekend! Phil’s been hugely influential and helpful. He was the first person to come down and do a class and we’ve become good mates. He’s always talked to me like I’m an equal. ‘We’re in this together’ kind of thing. You don’t get that off everyone. He’s given me a lot of confidence.
Who else have you had down to do masterclasses?
We’ve had Benny L, Kyrist, T>I, Limited, Erb N Dub, Votlage, Xtra, Satl. That was what inspired the album. Marco said he’d been watching what was going on at the studio and was impressed with the calibre of people I had coming down to host classes and suggested something based around collaborations. It was never going to be about just the big names though. I wanted to work with students of mine who’d sent me ideas, too. Anyone who sent me an idea that made me think ‘I can do something with that.’ That’s really important for me; some people who’ve come to the class have done really well. Like the Sublimit guys. They’ve had a few tunes out now but they came down to the first Philth class and said that was instrumental to them doing what they’ve since gone and done. So the S.T.L Project is all about that really: the studio, the people who use it, the people I work with and friends.
Totally. I had to have some solo tracks on there as well so it wasn’t 100% collaborations. Just to show I can do it on my own. But I wanted the name to explain to people what the concept was about. And what the studio was about.
There’s also a hench grime-influenced halftime track midway, which I guess is a nod to your U Wot Blud days?
The main aim of that track was to get some MCs I really rate together on one track. They’re all friends I’ve either connected through somewhere along the journey or through the studio. I met Medic in Bristol and we’ve been good mates for a long time. Deefa is resident at my night, a very good friend and an amazing MC. Duskee and Siege are two MCs I’ve been watching for a while and have been really impressed with. I wanted to get them all on a tune together and shine a bit of light on them really.
It’s a pivotal track in the album flow, it kinda wipes the slate clean
Thanks, I think so, too. I had to have a track like that on there. I’ve always made and loved different things and actually tried loads of different styles for the album. I made some hip-hop tracks and a couple of house tracks, I was just experimenting and pretty much all of them will never see the light of day. But when Verva and I came up with the beat for Vocal Combat I knew it had to be the one.
You probably had heaps of persy tracks to boil down to the final 13?
It could have been more for sure. There were 10 tracks that didn’t quite work out or were waiting for vocals. Collaboration albums are hard because everyone is busy, has a life and other commitments. I said at one point after this album I’ll only do solo stuff forever [laughs] But I do love collaborating. You get so many different ideas, but it’s testing at times. I’ve waited years on a vocal. Drum & bass is notorious for people longing things out. That’s how it is, though, right?
It is. Give me another challenge of the album, besides the old long-out conundrum…
Mixdowns all day long! I did the final mixes on almost everything. I’d say I’ve never been one of those guys who’s a natural producer. I’ve had to really study and learn and smash my head against a brick wall a whole bunch of times. I’m still learning now and always will be. So that was a huge challenge.
Another challenge was with the collaborations with the big guys I respect. Guys like Emilio HLZ, Philth and also Trex. He was going to be on the album, but that’s for something else now which is exciting. Anyway, so when I approached those guys they said to send them ideas and suddenly it hit me. It’s like ‘oh wow, these ideas have got to be really really good to get their interest and capture their imagination.’ That was hard. They said yes to me, so I had to send something as good as it can possibly be. So that was a challenge as well. And of course having the kids in between.
Actually three of the tracks came about during the time Rosie was born. There’s a collaboration with Sam Harris called The Conquest, that’s the name of the hospital where Rosie was born. I finished the track when my missus was in labour. She was in labour for a long time. A really long time. So she had a sleep and I finished the track. I then started Vespa, the Philth collaboration, in the same session too. The midwives sent me home sent me home and suggested I get some sleep. Of course I didn’t sleep at all, I just went home and carried on the working on the track. The hospital called me up at 3am and I was still wide awake. So that’s how that started and I sent it to Phil the week after she was born. Then Rosie’s Song started just after that during my paternity time off just after she was born.
Nice! This really captures a life changing chapter for you!
Absolutely. It captures everything for me. It’s nice to talk about it and go back over it, this is the first time I’ve done that. But you’re right, it will stay with me forever. I’ll look back in 10 years and I’ll have strong memories attached to each track.
Like all albums should, I guess?
Definitely. And it’s been extra special to be able to show more than just my music but the place it’s made in, the connections and friends I’ve made and the people who are the closest to me. I couldn’t be happier.