We Need To Talk About Diligent Fingers

With roots in hip-hop and D&B going back almost 20 years, Diligent Fingers has such a sprawling musical CV, even those who follow him closely have a hard time keeping up.

DJ, producer, MC, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, label owner… Whether you’ve known him since his days as Mr Bugg or MC Logic, or you’re only just starting to tune in now via his regular Twitch broadcasts, his releases on labels such as Dark Mode, Born On Road, Shadow Demon Coalition or his own Spynal Records or appearances on big albums like Rowney’s Defining Moments, K Jah’s Raver’s Delight and DJ Hybrid’s Diary Of A Jungalist, he’s one of those artists who still have that energy and vibe like they’re only just warming up even after such a long tenure in the game.

In some ways, he is. The last year has been his most prolific to date, his label has had a major reboot and he’s neck deep in releases. Out right now is Wah You Deh Pon with fellow Manny artists Shadre & Salvage and, over the next few months, he’s dropping major league science on labels like Dread, Natty Dub, Grid and beyond. Putting the digits into digital, we tapped up the Spynal bossman for a little forward motion…

New studio. Lots of releases. New year, new you!

Definitely! Knowledge is power and the biggest thing that’s given me inspiration is finally realising and understanding how things work from an industry point of view; what I need to do to run a label, how a label needs to work, how to do the best I can to reach as many ears as possible.

Gaining that knowledge has given me such a boost. Before then I was blindly going in, hoping for the best and trusting the word of other people. But when you know what you need to do you have that knowledge… It’s empowering!

So yeah, I am inspired and I have to give a big shout out to my team – Kelle at 87 Design who’s helped me build up a new identity for Spynal Records, there’s also Epicentre who I geek out with about mastering, plug-ins and have learnt so much about how to get my sound as good as possible. Getting that team behind me has boosted me up no end.

Wicked to hear! What triggered this new wave?

I ended up having a fall-out with a label I thought I trusted. I’ve said my peace so I won’t bring that up again but one issue led to a whole catalogue of issues and it left the worst taste in my mouth.

Sorry to hear…

In summary bro, my advice to anyone starting off in this game is to bun anyone who says contracts aren’t necessary. They really are. If anyone tells you you’re being above your station asking for a contract, run away. Contracts are a safeguard to stop things getting messy and fucked up.

When this happened to me, I thought, ‘Right! I need to get clued up.’ I have to be accountable for my decisions and I’ll never do that again. So that’s what triggered it all. I’ve been in this game for 20 years now and I should know these things anyway.

And from that learning, it’s like I’ve eaten my spinach and I’m raring to go and I’m moving forward. I’m so thankful for everything that’s happening and this new single Wah You Deh Pon is a great way to start the year.

That’s great. Flipping a negative into a huge positive!

Definitely. I had the label for so long. It was just on Bandcamp for projects I had with friends and free downloads and things which didn’t have a home but I felt were good enough to go out to the people. I was happy with it existing like that and didn’t really think much about the branding or marketing or networking. Like a place holder. But now after 10 years it’s like ‘let’s fucking go!’

Wow 10 years. You go back further than that though don’t you? 

Yeah man, 20 years. I did a lot of stuff Millennium Jazz, before that I was working with Black Widow Night Fighters, who were the first crew I was with. I was also part of Abnoxshuz Entertainment which was this massive a hip-hop conglomerate collective.

All that time I was doing events at Sound Control, Relapse and Masters Of Drum & Bass in Manchester hosting for guys like Emperor, Prolix, Paradox and, on the flip, I was working with Genesis Elijah and Ransom Badbonez which meant I was around inspiring people like the guys from Mouse Outfit, Jehst, Cappo and Juggernaut in hip-hop. It was this crazy double life.

Deep in the hip-hop and D&B games. Any nice points of crossover? I guess you were the crossover?

Yeah I was. I came into D&B as a producer. I started DJing to play my tunes out then someone asked me as a favour – because they knew I’d done some hip-hop and had written some bars – to host a night. It got recorded and from there everyone booked me as an MC but the DJ bookings fell off.

It was great in one way because I was so busy and was becoming known and collaborating with lots of people. Hip-hop was my foundation, though. At the time all MCs were doing the fast double-time style so for me to stand out was to bring the hip-hop style to D&B.

That was the crossover for me and I wanted to link the two worlds. I’d started out as Mr Bugg, then MC Logic, and I brought them together as Diligent Fingers. That was 2010/2011. It took a while for people to get used to the name change but the main thing was me bringing it together and not caring about pigeonholes any more.

That’s awesome. Knowing your time frames and the culture you grew up around, Strategy and DRS’s Broke n English must have played a role in your inspirations?

Oh man! If there are any people that need a shout out it’s Broke N English, also Trigga and Tonn Piper. Tonn really inspired me. I first heard about him through Metropolis and rolling with DJ Prophecy but I found out he was part of a rock band called Daywalkers and I realised – ‘oh shit, he’s doing the same as me – he’s doing two different worlds of music in parallel and it’s working.’ That was a big blueprint for me.

Broke N English were in a world of their own and, from there, Estate Recordings was huge. Skittles was a massive influence. 2 Pints Of Brandy & A Packet Of Skittles? Oh my god, that was such a big album!

I also have to say the moment DRS made Mid Mic Crisis, that was a real moment for me. It was like ‘Look at this! Fucking look at it!’ It was a piece of art. It had so many different styles and flavours. It had all those features, he really let himself out and let his feelings out. It was D&B, it was hip-hop, it was soul. It was art. That gave me such a boost you’ll never know.

And of course Trigga, too. He’s from Moss Side, I was listening to him growing up on Hysteria tape-packs and he was a massive influence. All of them were massive in my world. I can’t hail them enough. Their message was consistent: be yourself mate!

I love that. I thought the name Diligent Fingers was a piano thing… Are there classic or theoretical influences in the Dili mix, too?

There is a link there actually. Going right back, my mum noticed some things in me with music. She could tell I had a real affinity with rhythm and bass. My stepdad was building soundsystems (Top A Top Sound) and my mum was on pirates like Frontline Radio and One Nation Radio, doing her show The Monday Munchies.

Whenever they took me to parties I would be up there dancing before anyone, no one could stop me, from the age of four! Mum clocked that and she enrolled me in all kinds of things like African drumming. I remember doing a concert in the Royal Northern College of Music – it was aired on BBC2 and I was eight years old. I had no clue how big it was at the time, or how significant that was.

Then I got into school I had this great music teacher Mr Jackson. He quickly realised that I was terrible at reading sheet music but give me an instrument and I’ll work out how to play something within 10 or 15 minutes.

Oh wow, you got that type of gift. Amazing

He said, ‘Here are the keys – go into the studio, there’s the computer, there’s the programs, the machines – see what you can do.’ After three hours he came back and I’d programmed Wild For Da Night by Busta Rhymes. From there he was like, ‘Cool – this is your thing. You got an ear.’

From there he told me to listen to everything; listen to jazz, listen to classical, listen to as much as you can and build up that understanding and love of music in all its forms. I’d go home and I’m hearing neo soul, Motown, reggae, roots, gospel. Then you got your pop music in all its forms, rock, metal. All these things I still check today. So I do have an affinity with music theory and it goes deep, I just can’t read sheet music and never got the classical training.

Sick. So all of this explains your joyful unpredictability – I see a Diligent Fingers release and I don’t what style it will be, whether you’re producing or vocalling it. That’s exciting and it seems Mr Jackson has a lot to answer for.

Definitely! Him and my mum. She’s always encouraged me to do my thing and she’s happy that I’m doing well and she wants to get involved and bring out her old records on my Twitch streams.

You been busy on twitch! Sunday Service and Forward Motion…

Yeah I’ve been getting used to it and building up a community. It’s so much nicer on there than it is on Facebook – it’s a lot closer-knit and supportive. It’s been very satisfying.

Yeah Twitch and Discord give a direct link to supporters. It’s not about how many people follow you, it’s how engaged they are with your stuff, right?

Definitely. It’s a wicked progression from 2012 when I started working with Jack Banner and we started building up Bloc2Bloc. We would go to events and film everyone and chat to people in the smoking area and whatever. That was the roots of Bloc2Bloc. As soon as Facebook announced people could stream me and Banner were on it. I’d love to see Bloc2Bloc move to Twitch and start building up their own revenue and not be additional to Facebook.

Scary to start again, though…

It was scary for me too – I’d been doing Forward Motion for two years on b2b on Facebook so I felt like that too. Like starting from scratch. When I moved to Twitch it felt like I was moving from Bloc2Bloc. I’m not, that’s always my home. I’m so proud of Jack and what he’s done and how he’s kept to his vision. He’s responsible for so many people coming into the scene.

He really is. He made it so accessible, too. Like a proper community service. Putting faith in people who hadn’t much faith from others.

Yeah that was his thing. The grassroots vibe. His vision was always to help the underdogs and never charge. He was resolute about never charging and giving people access. I fucking love him. He’s a brother. To be on that ride with him has been an honour.

You were ahead of your time with the streaming, too. When lockdown kicked in I guess it was like ‘okay – business as usual!’

Yeah yeah. It’s all radio really innit. I used to do shows on NWDNB.co.uk and MobbStar Radio so it was like full circle and my mum wants to get involved. Its like me and my mum always say ‘forward ever, backward never.’ It’s bless. I get so much amazing music to show off from producers around the world. I get to show off things I really love from across different styles. I get to talk about important things like awareness of mental health.

Amazing. So is your mum doing shows with you?

She will be. We’re planning a show called Influences where we collect all the songs that have meant a lot to use over the years and we’ll be talking about them and how they’ve influenced us. That will be launching in the next few months. She’s raring to go and she’s building up playlists. That’s what she’s always loved doing – running tunes for the people.

But doing it with her son! I got goosebumps! You mentioned mental health. I know you experience it quite acutely. How do you find being so visible on days when things aren’t good?

At first I found it a struggle and you almost feel guilty that you’re letting your audience down. Now if I need to break I will take that break and everyone will understand. I won’t be scared that people will forget about me.

It’s taken me six years to get to this point, though. Back then I was dealing with PTSD from a traumatic situation. I had psychosis. But I’ve learnt that your mental health becomes an obstacle between you and what you want to do and I’ve had great counselling and CBT sessions that have helped me focus on what’s right for me.

People who understand will understand, and people who don’t, don’t. It doesn’t matter. We have to stop putting pressure on ourselves for the sake of others. And it is hard sometimes. Especially during lockdown, I had to knuckle down and put a lot of things I’d been taught into practice. It was crunch time.

But I think everyone went through shit didn’t we? The mirror was shown to ourselves and we all had to deal with that. For me it was a blessing in disguise, and it woke me up and made me think, ‘What do I want to do? What can I achieve? Can I do it now? Yes. Let’s crack on!’ Not to simplify it, of course, some days it was very complicated and hard but on the best days, that’s how you deal with it. And when you can’t deal with it? People might be upset and feel you’ve let them down for a moment but we’re all human and real people understand.

Amen man! I’ve caught you at an inspired a very switched on time haven’t I?

Definitely. And what’s great is that I’m seeing so many people around me also rising and doing great things. Shadre and Salvage are killing it. Sahala Is killing it. Bloc2Bloc are doing beautiful things. Kaz, Bou, Indika, Brownson, Sl8r, Madrush, Strategy, DRS, Children of Zeus, K Jah… All these friends, all killing it and rising. So many people around me doing great things and that’s the most inspiring thing. We’re all part of something much bigger…

Shadre & Salvage Feat Diligent Fingers – Wah You Deh Pon is out now on Spynal Records

Follow Diligent Fingers: Facebook / Soundcloud / Instagram / Twitch