Photography: Ben Donoghue
If there’s one constant voice that’s navigated us through dubstep’s murkiest lows and maddest highs, it’s Pokes. The Sarge to you or I. Croydon born and bred and a founding member of DMZ, Pokes’ prints are all over the genre’s genus, consistently supporting the sound, bringing the community together for almost 20 years.
One of the most influential ways he’s helped to drive that tangible sense of community – something that exists way beyond any hyperbolic internet semblance of one – was Croydub. Established in Croydon’s legendary, now long lost, fringe culture HQ The Black Sheep in 2008, Croydub was an irregular Sunday session set up as a means for the genre’s original exponents to congregate after their shows that were reaching further and further around the world.
Between the course of 2008 – 2012 Croydub became an event of near-mythical status. A 300-cap bar with a 10x10ft dancefloor, tales from regulars include regular table dancing, 6am lock-ins and queues that went right up Croydon High Street. Just as critical as FWD>> and DMZ in terms of bringing people together and nurturing the culture, its place in dubstep is galvanised… And, after a brief break, is back. This week the night celebrates a decade of low-end unity at E1, London.
Sunday May 27 Pokes will be joined by Benton, Boofy, Chef, Hatcha, Hi5ghost, Hijak, Joker, Kromestar, Loefah, Lost, N-Type, Oneman, Plastician, Sicaria Sound, Silkie, V.I.V.E.K and fellow hosts Crazy D, Illaman and Rider Shafique for an all-out celebration.
Not just a celebration of Croydub, or even a celebration of the roots and where the genre has come from… But where it’s at right now and where it’s headed. Navigation targets still set with precision, we called Pokes for a personal trip through the highs and lows…
Let’s go back before Croydub. For me you are the original dubstep MC. Obviously shouts to guys like Crazy D, but as a member of DMZ you were there from day one.
Thanks man, Crazy and Slaughter Mob and a lot of those guys around back then were straight spitting. I came from a different angle and just held the mic as a host for Digital Mystikz and for Loefah. Before that, as youngers, we all (DMZ) came from jungle. Doing under 18 parties and mixtapes.
I read about your jungle roots and how garage didn’t quite resonate with you. The dark side of garage and ultimately dubstep were a reaction to UKG’s overt commerciality…
To a degree. The funny thing was that in ways, dubstep transcended garage. It caught a really interesting moment in time; it resonated with people who were jaded with drum & bass, garage and even metal. The halftime aspect of dubstep related to some of them in a similar way to the mosh breakdown. They were like “It’s an extended mosh”. Dubstep attracted people from a lot of fringe scenes. And we were also at the start of the explosion of social media. So we attracted a lot of weekend warriors who’d drop in and out. It was an exciting time on a lot of spectrums.
I think it was critical that you had a few years of incubation during the early 2000s when social media and the internet wasn’t such a big presence. In a way dubstep was one of the last genres to experience a certain level of word-of-mouth development.
Only for a little while, I think. We were way too accelerated to be just word-of-mouth. I think drum & bass was the last genre to enjoy that long period of evolution. Compare the lifecycles and you’ll see dubstep’s rise is a lot sharper. We were so accelerated. It was a hyper culture. Dubstep did 30 years of UK music in the space of a few years. It did the punk soundsystem thing, it had a DIY culture and dubplate culture and it went international and commercial in a matter of years. All of a sudden Britney Spears is working with Rusko. That was crazy quick, looking back. And I think it was because dubstep sounded so different to anything else – it attracted people very easily because of its freshness.
So when does Croydub come into the story. Because you were managing the Black Sheep at one point a few years before, right?
Yeah I was supervisor assistant manager around the 2000s. And prior to anything we did with DMZ I was pushing the club to do a Sunday night party which would start off nice and easy with like lovers rock and rare groove and gradually build it from there until the end of the night we’d be playing the darker stuff.
I could see potential – we were licenced until midnight while all local pubs closed at 10.30 and there was a crowd there for it. Eventually the manager let me do it and the first night was Dub Session. That was the original DMZ party, basically. We did two or three, but the manager didn’t catch the vibe so cancelled it. I have to say Loefah had already established a drum & bass night there for years. The bar was renowned for progressive electronic music and Loe was bringing bonafide OGs through like Grooverider, Bailey and the Moving Shadow lot. That was 1999. Loe had already helped to establish the venue as somewhere you could go to where you wouldn’t be fobbed off with commercial bullshit. That was rare for Croydon which is a unique place. It’s a small town but with a big city ambition.
Yeah Black Sheep had a serious reputation
It did mate. Friday would be leftfield student music – Prodigy, Morcheeba, Public Enemy. Alternative, big beat. Everywhere else you’d get top 40 commercial music policies, a lot of garage and dress codes. Then Saturday night you’d have Joby who was around the Big Apple lot digging in the crates playing hardcore. I loved working there to that soundtrack! So yeah, the Black Sheep had a proper reputation and that was a huge part of Croydub’s success. The venue. It was such an integral place to culture. Graffiti culture, hip-hop culture, soundsystem culture. All those things. I have to bigup Paul Bossick for that. That was always his intention all along.
Take me back to the first Croydub night…
Paul took me for a beer and said he called it wrong with the first night, Dub Session. He wanted to give it another try. I wasn’t going to do it for a while. But then thought if I didn’t do it then someone else would and I think it should be me. So that was August 2008. The line-up was Surge, Deapoh, Oneman, Cluekid and Chef.
For me it had to be on a Sunday night. Before that time, we’d have about three shows a month in the city. So maybe Distance and Chef would be playing at Goldsmiths so we’d all go and back it. Or Plastician and Walsh got a gig at Rhythm Factory so we’d all go and mass-support it. But then we got to the point where a lot of us were touring and travelling. That was great. Everything was super fertile and gigs were flying in but, on the downside, our ring of contact and the amount of time we got to spend with each other around the music was changing.
Sundays were good because we were all back by then. We all lived within 20 minutes of the Sheep so it was like ‘come and stick your head in for a beer if you’re free.’ No VIP or green room, punters would come into the dance and be like ‘rah I’ve just been doing shots at the bar with Cyrus and N-Type’. It was that kind of local shit – rubbing shoulders, eye level, enjoying the music the way we used to. A lot of people said they felt like they were at a house party or one of our lot’s wedding. There was no pressure, it was such an energy vibe.
So it was created as a counter to the acceleration of the scene in a way. The eye of the storm as everything was going mental around the world?
It was another storm altogether. Even this went mental pretty quickly. The Sheep was tiny – the dancefloor was about 10×10 foot. But you’d have people queuing up around the corner, wall to wall people in the building, people dancing on tables. It felt like I was on set for an over the top idea of a party in a movie. It was on steroids without being an EDM punch up!
The thing that stood out to me the most was that for some people in Croydon that was their chapter of raving. They weren’t going to festivals or clubs around the UK or a warehouse. That will be their experience of raving and they loved it. And the community, too. It wasn’t just hyperbole on the internet: it was real. And when we started up this new night everyone just said they were up for it. No moaning about what time they’re on or what fee. Just a willingness to get involved. The fact that vibe still exists makes me happy to be part of this and to have contributed to this.
Was it always locals or people from around the country?
It extended. In its earliest forms it was all totally local because we never had a budget. But we stacked the line-ups as much as possible. I always wanted to put line-ups together that you didn’t see in the clubs. Like Silkie and Joker for the first time, or Distance and Goth Trad. Once we got some steam we had big support from Bristol. Pinch, Mensah, Joker. We’d do the same for them; Pinch did a Wednesday night in Bristol we’d all go up and do it. No talk of money. It’s always been that thing – it spreads naturally.
And, through that, you meet new people and new artists and it all gets connected. I think that’s what’s exciting about the music now. I think there’s a lot more interaction between the different generations of artists right now than there has been. The 140 sound is so fertile right now – all around Europe and America has stepped up too. There’s a lot of really good crews out there. The EDM stuff side-tracked certain aspects of the American dubstep movement a little and took it away from the clubs. It’s amazing festival music, though. I don’t care what anyone says about EDM dubstep, you see it at a big festival and it’s insane. The production, the vibe and the theatre of it. I respect it. It’s not necessarily conducive to underground club music but it has its place. I think more heads have now realised in the US that there’s also place for underground club music as well as the big festival/arena stuff.
Places like Denver have always had it
Sub.Mission and The Black Box. Yeah. There’s a few solid crews who have been on it out there forever. I was lucky to be out in the states in 2005/6. All over from Miami and Juan BassHead, New York and Dub War. Pure Filth SamXL and Smog in LA. There’s always been that progressive sound out there but it got dominated by the machine.
So did Croydub go out with a bang? Or did it fizzle out as many dubstep events did over here for a while?
It did fizzle I’m afraid to say. I was planning a big Christmas party because I could feel that we’d done what we could with it. I felt like I was re-hashing line-ups and was finding it harder to be creative with line-ups. I was touring with Magnetic Man, touring with Skream and felt a bit disconnected from the sound and what was happening on the ground.
I hadn’t been out to anything that wasn’t work and it was like I was shuffling line-ups and not being very honest with myself or the music. So I had a big Christmas party planned then was going to drop down to one or two specials a year. No big announcement but just a change of tact. There were also some other crews looking to keep things going and I needed to swallow my ego, step aside and let them tend the fire.
So I was getting all this merch produced and had the line-up sorted then got this weirdly worded message from someone who works at the Sheep saying ‘shame about Croydub’ and I asked what they meant and they said ‘oh, well it’s not going to be here’. I called Paul and he told me he’d call me after the weekend. I was sweating out about it. It was 4/5 weeks before the gig but the whole building had been acquired for a block of flats and a deli. It was frustrating to not get that last one. I think the one before that I wasn’t happy with because I had a last minute gig somewhere with Magnetic Man. I wanted to make up for that and do something special. That would have been December 2012. A few venues offered me space but none of them were Croydub enough for me. Either in terms of vibe or sound capability or be able to go on until 4, 5 or 6am
But you’ve always wanted to bring it back at the right time/right venue? Or did you think it was over?
I’d moved on and thought that was it. We’ve done a few events in Geneva at le Zoo, Cable and XOYO so I’d kept it ticking along. We did a one off at The Bad Apple in Croydon and got everyone back, together for Christmas. Basically, everyone there was an artist or someone working in the scene pretty much. A bit like a staff Christmas party. In the scheme of things that’s what Croydub meant – it was a Christmas piss up for everyone working in the scene. But for this recent party I randomly found something that made me realise ‘holy shit it’s going to be 10 years of Croydub’ and posted something on Insta about it. Then Weird Science got in touch and asked if I wanted to throw a 10 year dance.
Is there a resonance between E1 and Black Sheep?
It’s nothing like the Black Sheep but it’s everything I want from a venue for this– it’s a big room, all painted black, a fat soundsystem inside it. It’s purpose built to house that soundsystem. It’s no frills, just a big party. When I mentioned it was 10 years the feedback we got from people was amazing. A lot of people saying they wanted it back in Croydon. A lot of people who missed out on the dance the first time round and wanted to go. I know there’s that thing that sometimes you have to leave a thing in the past and accept what it achieved but there was enough heat to bring it back. Just not in Croydon, sadly.
Things get immortalised in time through rose tinted glasses. It’s quite a gamble isn’t it?
Yeah it could fuck with the whole heritage. I could Schumacher the whole thing! It’s taken the build up to this to make me appreciate what we did and also remember what it meant to people. It is a gamble but it’s a new time. The sounds in the new phase, there’s a new generation
Some of them are on your line-up!
Yeah man, guys like Boofy and Hi5ghost are playing great shows and I know they’re exactly who we’d have booked 10 years ago. Dubstep’s come back round, there’s no fucking hierarchical bullshit – everyone is eye level again.
This is real man. There’s a lot of big clubs – like Fabric – who were all over us for a while then wouldn’t want to book us for years. We weren’t welcome. But now they’re asking us back. But we’ve all worked hard to get our labels and our brands to where they are. We’ve stayed true to this sound and we need to work together. Whether you’ve been making this music for 15 years or 2 years, we need to help each other out. For a while certain people would play for a big promotion company for free but not go to your little gig in Bristol because you got no money. All these agents, managers and all that think it’s 10 years ago when money is being made. But it’s about us lot nurturing the scene, looking after each other and tending to the fire. Not just looking after our doorstep but looking after the whole street. If we don’t. Who will?
Yeah man. It sounds cheesy but it needs to be in the hands of people who love it and care for it.
It is cheesy and we shouldn’t shy from that. We all love it. We all love the come-up. We’ve all hated it at points here and there I’m sure but ultimately there’s no point in being mad or complaining, we need to be caretakers and maintain the ground for the future.
Maintain the ground: Join SGT Pokes, Benton, Boofy, Chef, Hatcha, Hi5ghost, Hijak, Joker, Kromestar, Loefah, Lost, N-Type, Oneman, Plastician, Sicaria Sound, Silkie, V.I.V.E.K, Crazy D, Illaman and Rider Shafique @ 10 Years Of Croydub, E1 London, May 27.