Be brave, be kind, create… It’s a mantra we can all relate to, especially during the last three months, and it comes from MC Tempza.
Best known in drum & bass as a prominent MC for the likes of Spearhead, Hospitality and the co-frontman for Hybrid Minds (alongside his partner D&B vocalist Charlotte Haining), he’s a man of many hats; by trade he’s been tech recruitment specialist most of his adult life. Perhaps too much of it. In his words he was “wrapped up by the rat race and money was king.” During this time he also battled an acute gambling addiction, during which he lost upwards of £150,000 over a few destructive years.
Thankfully in recent times he’s created a much healthier balance in his life. Clean for over 4 years he’s spent the time growing as an individual and artist. He’s become a more creative MC and invested time in writing more lyrics than he has done in years and he’s also developed a streetwear brand Urban Creative Clothing.
His aim for the brand is to encourage and champion creativity and inspire people to give more of their own time to doing something they love. Putting his actions where his slogans are, his brand has been steadily lived by its motto over the last two months of lockdown with a series of inspirational videos. Ranging from Kyrist’s production tips to Etherwood doing a dreamy acoustic cover of Jenna G and Chase & Status’s In Love, to interviews with Benny L and songwriting sessions from Charlotte Haining (and much more to come) Urban Creative Clothing has become a regular inspiration fix – the likes of which we’ve been celebrating in our Anti-Virus series. Like most bright things, it comes from dark times. Here’s where Mike Tempza is at half way through the weirdest year we’ve ever known…And how he got here. This one goes deep.
Bring everyone up to speed on Urban Creative….
I guess it started because I wanted to invest in my own creative talent more. I went for years without writing a single new lyric. I was side-tracked by what I thought was much more important – making money. I’d been wanting to find time to do it for so long. Years. The brand name is inspired by an old lyric of mine… “They call it urban, I call it creative, in this world of drum & bass we are the natives.”
Just a little hook. The idea behind it is that every bit of music is creative. It doesn’t matter if it’s D&B, rock, classical, it’s all creative behaviour. It’s all expression. That stuck with me for so long and I knew it would eventually manifest in a brand of some kind, it was just a case of finding time.
Finding your own time is one of the hardest things to do… Even during lockdown.
Tell me about it. I’ve been talking about it for five years but never did anything about it. I had countless arguments with people saying I didn’t have the time to do it. But it’s just bollocks. It was me being a pig headed twat and being negative and putting limitations on myself.
I’m pretty sure any one who does anything creative is going to understand that!
There’s this constant feeling that you don’t have the time. So that’s what Urban Creative Clothing is – a celebration of and hopefully some form of inspiration. To make your own time. To be kind to yourself and give yourself that little space and time. Even if it’s 15 minutes of a day. I practice it myself now. Just 10 minutes to put some notes down. It doesn’t matter if it’s shit, there might be that little nugget of gold there. Those little snippets of creativity that build to something bigger.
Amen. So this has been building for a while but what was the main trigger point for it?
It was around 2019, around April time. I’m not sure if you know but I suffered a herniated disc in 2018 and had to have keyhole surgery. I didn’t leave the flat for two months and paid to have private surgery to have a microdiscectomy and I’m still in physio now. So I was coming out of that and to be honest, I was coming out of something that had gone on much longer than my back problem. I just wasn’t concentrating on the right things that really made me happy.
Like work. I’ve been an independent head hunter in the tech sector for many years. MCing has always been something I’ve loved but something very much on the side. I’d been way too focused on making money in my other life. I was wrapped up in the rat race and money was king. I wasn’t satisfying my needs from a creativity perspective. It’s been a trait of mine forever; I guess you’d call me an ‘all or nothing’ kinda character.
I would say drum & bass attracts ‘all or nothing’ characters. Especially MCing!
It definitely does. It’s been the attitude I had drilled into me since I went into the world of work and found myself in the cut throat industry of recruitment – if a deal goes south, you’re fucked, it is always your fault, you could have influenced the outcome more etc – so if you do something, do it properly! Now that’s good for drive and tenacity. It’s not good for the brain. It’s not being kind to yourself. It is a mentality of self blame and self depreciation. There’s a difference between hammering the world and earning coin and actually being content.
Being kind is one of the brand’s slogans…
Yeah. We all know to be kind to other people – well, we should do – but being kind to yourself is just as important. You don’t have to be running at 100mph all the time. Stop for a bit and be kind to yourself. Remove yourself and focus on you. It’s okay to do that. We’re insignificant animals floating on a rock in space with a limited amount of time, so if you’ve got a passion then spend time developing it. It all adds up. Urban Creative is an example of that. And before we go any further, I have to big up my designer Richie.
Big him up…
He’s one of my brother’s mates and a killer branding designer. He’s amazing. While I was lying on the floor before my operation at the end of 2018 I spoke to him about my brand, told him my ethos and how I wanted to make clothes that represent the creative community and those people who don’t have as much time as they’d like to put into the creative talents.
I told him I wanted it to act as some form of motivation for their passion. He totally got me and came back with these beautiful ideas for the design which you see now. I fell in love with it straight away, the chain element and connecting things. I’m really proud of it. And I’m proud it’s something separate to anything else I’ve done. It’s not Tempza merch, or even D&B merch, it represents something bigger than that. And everything the brand does comes with the message: do something creative every day. Write a little riff, a little bar, paint a picture, write a story, start up a company, have a mix. Do something that you love that makes you inspired even though it takes a lot of bollocks to do. It’s hard putting yourself out there and knowing you could fail, but you have to do it. I’ve learnt from so many failures and I spent years berating myself for them, but you can’t berate yourself forever.
Can I ask what you’ve learnt from?
My gambling addiction. I’d always loved gambling, my dad gambled, doing the fruit machines all the time openly in front of me and my brother. It started when I went to uni, going to the casino, doing Blackjack, losing all my money, living off credit cards. Luckily I didn’t get into an unmanageable amount of debt during that time and I managed to get out of the habit for several years. I was busy with normal things back then which occupied me, a lot of social contact and interaction, so there was a limit on how much damage I could inflict on myself, I guess. It was years later when I started my own business when things got a lot more serious.
When was this?
At the start of 2014. I was spending a huge amount of time on my own, working from my bedroom. I was sitting there, doing recruitment, placing candidates and starting to make some great money. I started to develop a problem with my back after only a month or so being independent (the same issue which led to surgery years later). Having to work lying on the floor led to a weird and solitary headspace, and I remember one day just opening a new account on an online poker site and depositing money – prior to this it had been years since I had gambled a penny. And the problem was, I started to make a lot of money very quickly from recruitment. More money than I’d ever seen before. While I was still getting my head around tax, corporation tax, VAT and all things business related, my gambling escalated severely on a daily basis. Over the course of two years, I lost around £150,000.
Wow. What was your worst day?
My worst day was losing £20,000 in a matter of hours. That was the last time I gambled, February 2016. It was actually the day before I went on holiday to southern India. I was going with my mum, her sister, my brother, his missus and my girlfriend at the time – who, I’m sad to say, I put through hell with my addiction. But I was lost in this universe of addiction. I’d literally emptied what was left of my business account at the time and went on the trip feeling quite frankly, suicidal. I remember very little of that trip, it has become more of a marker for my rock bottom point and that’s it.
That was the last bet, though – so a positive came from it.
Eventually yeah. It’s a long road. I split with my girlfriend, moved out and slowly began my recovery. The amounts of money I lost do seem shocking, but you need to understand gambling (as a compulsive addict); the buzz is only really there if you’re betting what you can’t afford to lose. It was comparative to what I had at the time. If you’re someone who can go down and put a few quid on an accumulator and leave it there (and it is money you can afford as “disposable”) then in my mind there is no problem. There’s nothing wrong with social gambling in that way. Like other vices, I’m a firm believer in moderation.
Totally. It’s when you’ve had an addiction that you can’t play with that moderation any more isn’t it?
You’re an addict for life. That’s the one thing you can never do. You can’t dabble or put yourself in that type of environment. Changing ingrained patterns of thought and behaviour is extremely difficult but it is imperative; you can’t put yourself in any situation where that might take place and get inside your brain. Anyone who’s had any type of addiction will understand when I say it’s so easy to switch from a place where you’re against something to justifying it in your head. Losing £20,000 in a day is the most insanely irrational behaviour, but after every loss there was some crazy voice justifying my behaviour – the mad thing about my addiction is that I’d convinced myself I could sort it. I thought ‘it’s okay, I’ll make it back, I’ll do some more placements over the next few months, I’ll be fine.’
Gambling isn’t really discussed as an issue as much as other things like mental health or drugs is it? I guess it’s so socially acceptable in UK culture…
It really is. All you got to do is watch TV and see the amount of gambling adverts, any sports will have a gambling aspect, too, which is such a shame as I honestly think it’s the ultimate representation of immorality and inequality in the capitalist society we live in. Take the CEO of Bet365, who I’ve keeping close tabs on for years, she paid herself a billion pound in dividends in the last four years. I honestly don’t care how many jobs she has created, or how much tax she pays, don’t those sorts of figures shine a light on how much profit is being made off the back of a lot of suffering?
The online gambling companies are endemic…
It’s so dangerous. Online is the perfect environment. You can do it privately, open an account, deposit as much as you want (they give you an opportunity to set limits that are easily reversible if you really want to) – you don’t have to provide documentation of who you are until you want to withdraw money from your account. Look up child gambling in the UK and the rise in youths aged 11-16 gambling. It’s now around 450,000 kids betting regularly. It’s seeped that deep into society and is managing to reach kids so early in life. I really despise these companies. All of them. Their continued efforts to legitimise their behaviour while they run riot make me feel sick. Ironically, a few of these companies have approached me for designers, coders, engineers and all the serious talent they need to ‘enhance the gambling experiences’ (make people more addicted and destitute). I’ve always enjoyed telling them to get fucked.
It’s a silent habit. It’s not like other habits you can see the effects on people personally. Do you know of others in this music who are suffering like you did?
I’m sure there’s a few. Steve BCee made me aware of one guy. He’d had similar issues, we met up and talked about our own experiences. I was shocked. I’d known him for some time before and never would have known. But I’m sure the same would be said about me. But it was good to do and know other people in similar situations to me have been through it and understand it. You start to question your whole being and morality. When you look back with a rational head it’s like ‘Jesus, was that me?’ But it was for a long time. I’d wake up every morning with severe anxiety because I’ve done my bollocks online the night before but it would quickly subside once I was gambling again that day to try and recoup my losses. The never ending cycle.
What was the biggest driver in you recovering?
Meeting Charlotte. Also getting very close to losing my relationship with my mum, my brother and his wife, and the few close friends who supported me during the darkest times. There had been several ultimatums given understandably. Charlotte helped me understand money differently. I’ve always had a strange relationship with money. I’ve always had an ability to make money but the management aspect of it was fucking awful. Only in the last three to four years and having a relationship and a future and something I really treasure has helped me understand the value of money.
I never really had that much of a financial role model. My dad ended up with nothing (I still don’t know to this day how much of that was caused by gambling, we have never spoken about it). He was a successful businessman back in the day. Regarding money management I learned nothing at all: Earn it, spend it, earn some more. So one of the biggest changes for me has been to totally reconsider money. If you live just on your worth, you’re never going to get any form of balance and fulfilment. You won’t have time to think about the really important stuff in life. Appreciating people, things, relationships. So now I try to be present in everything I do. Enjoying everything for what it is. Money and success isn’t everything. Your life should be rated on what you do have, not what you want. You’ll always want more money, a bigger house, a better car but then you die and what’s the point in that? I don’t want that on my deathbed.
It’s easy to say but much harder to do in a society like the one in which we live. And it’s even harder in the creative world, some of the most talented and gifted people I know in the world are also some of the most broke. It’s why MCing has always been a side thing for me. I love being on the stage, I love drum & bass, I love every show I do. But I’m not doing those shows thinking ‘that’s my money for the month.’ As a result of years of graft and perseverance (only because I really do fucking love it), it has now developed organically into a much bigger part of my life now (a lot of thanks to my brothers Hybrid Minds, to BCEE, to Charlotte and to my agent Chris Marigold at Clinic Talent + many others!)
I’ve also been inspired by approaching things in a much healthier way. Openness, talking, writing, making music. All these avenues I’d closed off for years only because they didn’t hold any monetary value in my brain. The idea of sitting down to write new bars seemed like a chore, hosting studio mixes and gigging even more so but only because I was tired of having nothing new to say! Things have changed so much now on that front – I now know I can draw on personal experiences and bring more emotion into writing, and now content is coming very easy to me, long may that continue! My plan this year is to write vocals for tunes that come straight from the heart and work on actual music with producers who I have only ever “hosted” for in the past.
And that change in mindset has effectively led to Urban Creative Clothing…
100% And what’s funny is how the worlds I’ve operated in have all benefited from it. Before last year I kept every part of my life compartmentalised – I wouldn’t tell my clients what I did for work at the weekends for fear of them getting the “wrong idea” about me haha. But it is so much better to be open, about who I really am and what I love. Now a lot of them follow me on insta, call me Tempza and often text me on a Monday to say “your weekend looked more exciting than mine”!
I love it. Senior Management people of tech companies, inspired by drum & bass…
Totally. Because they understand the creativity and that’s universal. It’s helped me really open up and be honest about what I do and how I do it. My family, my music, my business, my creativity. Despite the times we’re going through, I’ve never felt more fulfilled and balanced. If I can help others achieve that through my actions, even better…