What’s a f**king Conrank?
Simple question. We know what a Conrank is. You’re reading this, so there’s a strong chance you do too. But it’s still a question worth pondering. It’s the title of his debut album for a start. 16 tracks heavy, complete with some pretty witty skits, it runs the gamut of sledgehammer sounds the Londoner-in-Shanghai has been proffering for more than a minute on labels such as Bassrush, Saturate and Liquid Amber, collaborations with the likes of Bassnectar and remixes of titans such as The Prodigy and Emalkay.
Truly finding his groove on Circus in recent years, the album, released earlier this month, is the sound of him levelling up and bringing the many facets of his sound together; from his penchant for grime to his love for raw, dark harmonic emotional dubstep vibe that knocked us all out cold 10-12 years ago.
It’s also the sound of a man having fun, catching vibes and collaborating with friends like Illaman, Dirt Monkey, Mark The Beast and Space Jesus. The result is a widescreen cross-section of everything that’s exciting about 140 music; gutter rifle drops, ravey breaks, neck-snap grime and all things in between. What’s more, it’s all brought together with clarity and a narrative consistency that’s seldom seen in dubstep albums. Offering more revelations about what exactly a Conrank actually fucking is on each listen, we thought we’d ring Shanghai and find out even more behind the Circus enigma…
What’s going on in Shanghai? You’ve been there off and on for years, right? What’s the story?
I was in London for years and it’s not cheap. I wanted to sink myself into my music and do it full time. No distractions. That’s just not possible in London. I fancied a change so in the space of a month I went from living in Tottenham to living in China. I went out there with £100 in my back pocket basically. I’d done a gig out there before on an old alias so thought ‘fuck it, let’s see what’s going on!’ Eight years later, I’m still here. I do spend a lot of time in LA as well but my wife’s Chinese, I have dog here, I’m here a lot. But I do feel a bit homeless sometimes.
I like the nomadic vibe.
Yeah but I miss my brother and nephews and my mum. It does get tough. I’m planning in the next few years to set up my main base in the UK. The UK is part of me, I can’t break away from that.
You’ve done what so many people want to do but don’t have the bollocks. Eight years ago I imagine dubstep was brand new in China. A pretty exciting time!
Yeah it’s one of those situations where you’re playing to people and you don’t know how they’ll react to it. In the UK electronic music is in our DNA, it’s been there for generations, we know about genres and tempos and styles. But when I went over it was pretty new everything was seen as just ‘electronic music’. Now there are all kinds of niches and subcultures developing. Grime, post grime and a genre called hard drum popping up. Super underground scenes people are loving.
Hard drum sounds cool. I need to know more about the Shanghai scene!
It’s great. There was this incredible club up until recently called The Shelter. It was like Plastic People of China. One of the key clubs of Asia. It was in a bomb shelter and I played my first Conrank show there. Sweat dripping off the ceilings. You go down this long tunnel to get in and it’s just…. Ah man. It was too good. When it closed I got the door stamp tattooed on my arm. 15 of us did it. It introduced so many people to Shanghai. One weekend you’d have Kode 9 one night then the next you’d have P Money. Shit like that. It was awesome.
And that’s where you played your first Conrank show!?
Pretty much. I’d released a few bits, I was influenced at the time by the autonomic deep offbeat D&B stuff. I came over here and yeah my first proper show was there. That was it. I’d DJ’d before but that was the first time I was like ‘I’m never not doing this for the rest of my life.’ Nine years on and it goes from strength to strength. It’s been a journey and I’ve got a lot to thank Shanghai for that. I’ve grown here. And I tell you the one thing I love about being here.
If I want to disappear for a few weeks and not be badgered by people or resist temptation to go out, I can.
Yeah man. You need to take yourself out, focus on your own ideas.
Yeah and that’s hard in a city, especially when I was in London. I was just getting my head around making music. I’d holed myself away, sitting in my kitchen for six months on my own every day, learning and learning putting out music. I made a label for me to put that music out so it had a purpose. It didn’t matter if anyone listened to it or not, it was for the process of making a tune, putting it out and doing it over again and again. I wanted to do it every day until I was finally good enough for people to listen. I came out to China, made enough money to buy some monitors and that was it. Here I am.
When was the album starting to bubble during that time?
Probably when I started working with my manager Andrew a year and a half ago. It’s hard to see what you’re doing and what you’re capable and it takes another more objective point of view to guide you or suggest you can do it. I didn’t think I was ready for an album. I was like really? Is it going to work? Am I ready? Having him on board has been a revelation. So about two years ago we started talking about that. We put tunes aside about a year ago and it built from there. Lots of things came naturally. Like Oi. I never sat down and said I wanted to make a grime track, I just went to Tokyo, did a show and it happened.
I love the English Japanese grime vibe of that tune. You don’t get many multi-lingual grime tracks. Their styles complement each other.
Thanks. That’s a good example of how the album came about. It was never like ‘okay I’m writing an album, I need this or that’, these things just started coming. Every track came about in that way. I try and be creative and work fast and finish things. If it’s not good enough I throw it, but you can’t judge that until most of it is there. So I try and work fast and capture that first burst of inspiration I had for it. It can be a bit of a blur and then suddenly there’s a whole track.
You’re not getting fixated by a snare sound for days and days.
Totally. You get into the vibe and you want to be exited by it. You don’t want to lose that excitement or the track loses its momentum. It’s so important not to get bogged down in a 4-bar loop for days.
Is that why so much of the album makes me feel like I’m 10 years younger listening to Emalkay and 16-Bit again? Those tracks were rough and raw too and not overly-produced. Maybe I get that vibe because of that?
That’s amazing. I can’t ask for a better description. I mean, I’m never sitting down saying ‘I’ll write some early dubstep.’ It’s just what I love. It hits me like it hits you. So when I start fiddling with the synths I’m drawn to that sound and that’s what comes out. I go to the studio and do what I love. Some people have said ‘ah you’re gong for a throwback’ but I’m not going for anything. I’m just doing me, doing what I love.
People can tell when you’re true to yourself
Totally. That is why you start making music in the first place because if it’s to make money you’re kidding yourself. You make it because there’s nothing else you’d rather do.
I love the fact this is a proper album with humour and skits and a story. When did that concept come about?
Well I love skits. The skits on the D Double album for example are just jokes. They’re brilliant. So I thought about it and around eight months ago I was selling merch before the show and this girl was asking me about my merch and she said ‘what’s a fucking Conrank?’ I thought that was the best thing ever!
Ahhh. That’s in a skit!
Yeah we remade it with my mate. She said what the girl said word for word. It was hilarious. You could get upset about that like ‘you don’t know who I am?’ but you’d be a dick to be like that, you’ve got to embrace that.
Yes! So that started the theme…
Yeah and it made me realise how fucking hard it is to do good skits. They have to be funny and really get something across to be worthwhile and it’s a whole other art. The club skit was in my head but nothing else. Then I watched Blue Planet and thought ‘okay, we’re going Attenborough on this’. I found my best professor voice and took it from there.
So now more people know what a Conrank is… What does he do next?
I’ve got so much new stuff it’s hard to know what to do with it. I’ve got another 16 tracks in my archives that I’ve been working on. It’s got to the point if I play an all originals set I can’t fit it all into the time. While I’m feeling creative I have to get on with it. My manager tells me to chill out but I can’t. I’m feeling creative, I’m inspired, I make music. I don’t want to sit on my arse and until it’s time to say ‘oh it’s time to make another release’.
It’s interesting. Some people after an album feel spent. Others are brimming with ideas.
I had a feeling of being a bit spent for a while but I took myself out of the studio, away from my sounds on my hard drives and my hardware and I sat on the sofa with my laptop using apple earphones and stock sounds and plugins just sketching and the ideas came flying out again. A change in space has another energy. I was thinking in the studio ‘I gotta make another banger!’ But out of that place I was just sketching and playing with cool ideas. I’d try and do two sketches a day, sometimes I did more. Then out of those I came back to ideas and tuned them into tracks. It’s important to get out of the normal place and change things up a bit and find that creativity again. Basically remembering not to take things too seriously taking it too seriously.
Amen. So is there anything else the world needs to know about a Conrank right now?
I’m just someone making music man, doing what I love. It’s that simple and I pray people feel it. It’s the biggest accolade you can have; people enjoying it, buzzing off it, dancing to it, listening to it. But yeah, I’m just a human, man. Oh no, actually I’m not…
You’re nothing but everything apparently
Is Conrank me? I’m me, I’m a human but the Conrank project is something you create that’s outside of you. Just like if you build a company. If I’m a photographer then I’m not the photo. The photo is the photo. Does that make sense?
Totally. You’ve nicely removed your personal self from the music. Creates a nice mystery or sense of anonymity. I don’t think your name is even public.
It’s not. When I set up Conrank and made my artist page, I took down my personal one. Not because I was trying to hide or anything, it just felt like it was a new chapter of my life and now most people just know me as Conrank. All my friends call me Ranky now, that kinda started as a joke to be honest and then it just stuck. I like it now. Ranky… It’s fitting.