Don’t be fooled by the name: Sub-liminal bossman Ben Carvin may call himself Agro, his debut album might suggest he’s Bad From Morning, but he actually comes across as a very friendy, down to earth, thoughtful and community-minded artist.
A producer since the early days of Gangoon Dubs during dubstep’s early chapters, a promoter for over 10 years and a label owner for over five years, the 32-year-old Brighton-based artist has dedicated everything to bass and MC culture since he first got into grime and UK hip-hop as a kid growing up on the Isle Of Wight. Over the years he’s held down one of Brighton’s longest standing D&B nights and brought through a whole league of new-gen acts on his labels such as Warhead, Dreadnaught, Too Greezey, Kumo, Pyro and many more.
These years of dedication and hard graft were always building up to a debut album and, thanks to the extensive period of time in isolation during lockdown three, it’s finally here. Bad From Morning; Agro’s most accomplished and detailed body of work that features collaborations with some of the best MCs in the game old and new including Flowdown, Foxy, Devilman, Deefa Flirta D, Madrush MC and Chats MC. Complete with a remix by Lupo and a special dedication to long lost friend Haynzee, it’s every bit as personal as a debut album should be. Intrigued since morning, we called him up to find out more…
Bad From Morning… Was this a lockdown thing or had you reached the stage where you felt it was album time anyway?
Really and truly, it was a lockdown thing. I started working on it in December 2020 which wasn’t very long ago. But I had a lot of concentrated time in the studio when introduced that ban for four months. I was living on my own in Worthing, I had this big studio flat with all my equipment. Just this sick corner of the flat with all my kit, my decks and everything. I knew I wouldn’t have that good a set-up for a while so I went in on it. I finished it two months ago but have been getting everything in order. I didn’t want to put it out in a hurry and waste the opportunity to get it out there. You’re right – it was feeling like album time. I’ve been releasing music for a long time, my first release was November 2010.
Yeah no point in rushing it out. It’s over before you know it when that happens…
Totally. So much stuff goes under the radar. I wanted to work out how to do my album justice. Having all that time to do the album was a great time to hone my skills and make something worth promoting and talking to people like you, On The Wax, DNB Allstars and people like that. I’ve never done this before so that was a main point of the album – not just going from A to B but taking me up to C or D as well and learning how it all works. I’m just working it all out. I haven’t had to do that type of promo. I promote my music as a DJ and working with MCs is good because they shout your name a lot. I’ve hadn’t had to push my music digitally.
I like the fact you’ve bided your time. Long game. An album is the best time for that. It’s much more than DJ tools for the circuit so has much more of a story…
Yeah definitely. I spoke to an old college tutor the other day – big up Andy! – I told him I wasn’t feeling the stuff I’d made in the past anymore and how I felt I’d turned a corner as a producer. He said ‘Always remember all those tunes you make as singles are party tunes for that moment. You’re not going to have the same relationship with those tunes and sounds now.’
Yeah that’s so true! Album’s transcend that context a lot. And a big context of your album for me is the MC action. This is kind of a love letter to MCs isn’t it?
That’s a good way of putting it! There’s a few reasons for that. Firstly I’d say MCs are equally as important as DJs. So this is the thing… I love hip-hop, all that early 2000s stuff was my first love. But over there, rapper’s live shows are basically PA shows. They have a backing track, it’s all rehearsed, it’s slick and that’s it. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s nowhere near as raw as we got it in the UK. Here you get a selector with their freshest dubs, the MC has no clue what the tunes are or what order they’ll be played in, and they’ll just ride the beat anyway. Just boom. That energy! That’s something about the UK that the American’s don’t have. They’re jealous of that because our MCs are so raw. I got into MCing through hip-hop and fell in love with the rawness, whether it was in grime or drum & bass or UK garage. The early MCs for me were like Wiley, Trim, Roachee, D Double, Eksman.
MCs with character!
Yeah man. I don’t think they get enough props. They’re massively underrated. When grime came through it felt like the last genre that came through with a physical vibe. You had mixtapes, you had vinyl, there wasn’t Facebook. We’d get mixtapes of guys like Rodney P, Original Fever and Klashnekoff from London sent over to the Isle Of Wight where I lived and we’d be like ‘sick! This is the only copy of this on the island.’ It was a real thing.
I’ve said the same about the first few years of dubstep! It was channels like UKF which really boosted it on the internet and bridged the gap between the physical culture and the digital.
I was going to talk to you about that. When I left Isle Of Wight, I moved to Brighton in 2007 and linked with Hizzleguy and Dismantel and was part of Gangoon Dubs and made dubstep. I remember UKF being a turning point for the whole sound, you helped bring it through. That genre’s journey was so crazy. It was mad underground then it blew up beyond believe and then it shot back underground again. No other genre has done that in the same way.
Totally. And I’ve never heard of an album that was made in the last eight months and has so many MCs on it to be made that quickly! MCs can be famously long with vocals can’t they?
It depends man. For me I had a lot of these vocals already from other sessions. Some of the MCs are very good friends of mine so we’ve done sessions before. You got people on there like Velocity – he’s one of my oldest mates and we recorded that vocal 10 years ago. The same with Chats MC who did that a few years ago then other MCs were just very quick. Flirta D did his in a week, super quick. The Devilman tune, I already had the vocals.
You’ve done quite a few tunes with him
Yeah he’s become a good friend of mine. He’s such a funny, charismatic and thoughtful guy. We’ve got to know each other well. He’s just had an album out so I’d recommended anyone check that.
How about Flowdan?
He’s one of my favourite MCs, I love his integrity and his deep flow and style. I must have been sending him tunes for six months and the only one he liked was Dub Fe Dub but that’s got Chats on it already. I went about remixing Dub Fi Dub just with Flowdan’s bars on it and mastered that but when it came to the album I started thinking ‘do people just want to hear a regurgitated tune?’ So I made a whole other halftime version and still thought ‘this needs to hit harder!’ I ended up with the version you hear on the album. It’s the simplest one I’ve done, but it hits so much harder. I realised while doing it that the main instrument in the tune is Flowdan’s voice so don’t confuse it or make it over-complex. Just have your bass, your drums, Flowdan, done.
Job done. Let’s chat about Sub-liminal. The label is six years old now. You’ve brought through a whole host of new-generation names through Sub-liminal and Sub-division…
It’s mad. I started it all off with just the knowledge I had from college and running events and having the skills of Too Greezy, who’s my best mate. He was a hot producer at the time. We had Leaf, who’s from the Isle of Wight, where I’m from, and a few others who aren’t making music any more. There was a lot of talent around me, and I was signed to a label who weren’t taking my best tunes, so I started the label. It was already an event, but I wanted the label to give me and my mates and outlet and over time people have gravitated to us. People like Warhead, Yatuza, Dreadnaught. There are far too many to mention. I’m happy people have felt what we’re doing enough to want me to release their music. That’s humbling. I’ve only had a demo submission box for the last year!
Seriously. Everything came through friends, social media or the event. Actually, here’s something I wanted to say: If you want to have a label, then I’d advise running an event first. When you’re paying people money and giving them work you develop a relationship. I’ve booked Devilman a whole load of times, he’s booked me, and we’ve ended up collaborating loads.
Yeah it creates work for each other. It’s a very real connection. You get label nights when the label launches, but a label that comes from a night is different isn’t it?
I think so. I promoted my first night when I was 19 and I’m 32 now. Having that experience from such a young age has driven me forward. You also learn that everyone in the scene is in it for a different reason. Some people want the bookings, some people just want the money, other people want to make tunes to gas up their mates, other people make tunes and live hundreds or thousands of miles away from gigs so just want to release some music and be involved. There are all these different reasons, but you can boil them down to three things: most people want to DJ, they want money or want tunes out. If you can appeal to more than one of those things, people are gonna stick around. It’s not like you’re ringing people up and saying ‘oh bruv do you want to be exclusive?’ It’s about creating a situation where they’re confident in you, you’re giving them opportunities and you’re looking out for them. Everyone on the label is a mate as well, basically.
Yeah you’re never gonna get someone’s best work if they feel they have to stay with you. From a label community to your local community – Brighton seems popping at the moment with everything DJ Hybrid is doing and Overview.
Hybrid lived pretty much next door to me for years! He was round my house twice a week for six years, he helped me launch the label. We’ve played at each other’s events and put on events together. I’ve known Pete Overview for over 10 years as well. It is a community here, and always has been, but I think people are seeing that more because a lot of different crews and brands are all starting to get known at the same time and they all happen to be from the same ends. It is sick though and I think Brighton’s got a lot more to come and I’m happy to be part of it. I’ve been part of the scene here for 12, 13 years now and seen a lot of people come and go but I’m still here. It’s an exciting and supportive scene to be working in.
So what are your next steps after the album?
Let’s see where the album goes. I’ve never pushed anything so hard digitally before so it will be interesting to see what happens with that. I also want to keep on working with MCs. Before I stop making tunes I want to work with every MC from Trim to Eminem. I also wanted to shout out my mate Haynzee. I don’t know if you checked the skit about him on the album?
Yeah man. Tell me about him…
He was a very dear friend. We played b2bs all the time and he passed away and I never want anyone to forget his name. People who know him, love it. People who didn’t know him might think it’s weird but he was very special to me. The skit is taken from a set at On A Mission in Southampton. Brooksie, who’s on the skit, did a speech about him and I put it on the album. That’s a tribute to Haynzee and I wanted to mention that. Rest In Peace bro.
RIP! This is a very personal album. Like a debut album should be!
Literally blood sweat and tears went into this. I hope people like it. And if not, I’ll just make another one! I want to big up some people if I can. I want to big up Lupo on the remix, I want to big up Bridge at Breaking Science, Justin at On A Mission, Dreadnaught, DJ Hybrid, Too Greezy, Devilman, Traumtaik, Flowdan. All the people at the Volks. Henry at Earlybird, my designer Intraspect. That’ll do, I’ll be here all day otherwise. Big up.