Rob ‘Dogger’ Smith, an artist of many talents that has made a bigger mark on the scene in three years than many do in ten. To land a debut EP on Alix Perez’s now unparalleled imprint 1985 Music with his production partner Mindstate is no mean feat, and it took countless years of dedication to the craft.
As we discuss below, title track Broken Home was quickly picked up by the likes of Calibre before the track was even signed, something most drum and bass producers would be lucky to even dream about.
What followed next was a natural, creative-driven path laid out via a rich, musical knowledge and hunger. Cue more music on 1985, a collaboration with [ K S R ] that has since racked up over one and a half million Spotify streams, releases on drum and bass titans like V Recordings, Shogun Audio and The North Quarter, and lastly, the launch of his own label Precinct.
Precinct provided a space for the melody forward, stripped back sound and vision of Dogger to be released without external label interference, and in turn, also provided a space for a new pool of young talent and legends alike. Check out recent singles such as Try Again from himself and Children of Zeus’s Tyler Daley, and Slow Down with TomInTheChamber and Haribo on Drum&BassArena for more precision examples of Dogger’s unfiltered, raw sound that uses drum and bass as nothing more than a canvas to paint on.
You can find our full chat below, where we discuss his recent hectic schedule, his past and present as a professional skateboarder, and how his life led to this point as an artist.
Let’s start off with something we both attended… Glastonbury. How was your first year performing?
It was really good man. Both sets I played were completely different; one was the live show with DRS and the band and the other was a DJ set with DRS on mic. One was on a huge outdoor stage and the other was a 1000 cap tent, so both opposite ends of the spectrum.
Nice man, it seems like you’ve been flat out recently.
Yeah, it’s been mad. I feel like when I’m almost caught up and things feel back to normal, it all starts up again. I’ve been skating quite a bit recently, so I still don’t feel back to normal. I’m a bit out of practice with it where I’ve been hammering the studio instead, but it’s been good incorporating it into some of my recent music videos. Even today, I’m feeling a bit sore and then tomorrow I’m off to NASS Festival. I’m constantly playing this game of catch up with feeling normal.
You mentioned DRS, someone you’ve worked with a lot during your career so far. Tell me a bit about your relationship with him.
I’ve known Del for so long man, it must be over 15 years now. I met him when I first started going out in Manchester and getting into the drum and bass scene and listening to hip-hop. I would be seeing him perform as part of Broke ‘n’ English which was himself, Strategy and Konny Kon, and then start regularly seeing him at other nights and around town. We also both skate, so we ended up hanging around that way and became friends quickly. We first messed around and made tunes together probably around 12/13 years ago. I then moved to London 10 years ago and he would come down to play at places like Fabric pretty much every other weekend. He’d bell me and we’d hang out and go to raves.
You’ve been making tunes a lot longer than your career lets on then it seems?
Yep, I’ve been making music that whole time, but never anything that was good enough to be released. I had a lot of other stuff going on as well. Being a pro skateboarder and working a full-time job took up most of my time, therefore music was just this little hobby in the background. Mine and Del’s relationship was only as mates for years. Going to raves, getting pissed up and having a laugh, you know? It’s become more professional over the last five or six years, and when Del decided to do go out and do his own thing – rather than be an MC for other DJs/producers – it was the natural thing for me to be his DJ. Del has sent me pretty much every bit of music he’s made over the last ten years for feedback, so I knew his whole back catalogue well.
Amazing. Is there a different energy at the live shows compared to your own DJ sets?
Yeah definitely. I’ve played drums in a punk band and in the school band before that, so I come from a live environment. You lead your own way when you’re DJing, but with a band you’ve got to pick up the vibe from other members and have a working relationship on stage.
The whole performance is special, and it brings together two types of audiences. Del’s fans span a large age gap, therefore people that might feel too old for raving can come enjoy the music in a new light. Similarly, you’ve got younger ravers who might be more used to DJs and MCs, so they can hear the music in a different way too. It’s almost like you’re seeing how the music was created.
Does this way of thinking about music influence your own solo productions then?
100%. I feel like most of my music, or at least the stuff the public has heard, is very much thought about in a musical sense. There’s a lot of live instruments involved. I enjoy recording musicians like pianists, guitarists, and vocalists, and thinking about it in relation to a live setting. It’s often a case of ‘what works on stage and how can I bring this into the electronic side of my productions?’
Drum and bass feels like purely a foundation for your music, rather than the main focal point. The new tune with Tyler Daley is a good example.
That’s it. The drum and bass just dictates the speed. Even the drum pattern on that tune isn’t really your traditional drum and bass rhythm. The tune is quite live sounding and stripped back, I think. You can imagine it being played by a four-piece band or something.
One of my favourite releases of yours is the Different Roads EP on The North Quarter with Mindstate, Verbz and Sleazy F Baby. It’s got that hip-hop influence which blends in so nicely. How did this come together?
That comes from both mine and Mindstate’s love for hip-hop. There’s been a lot of drum and bass/hip-hop crossovers in the past, but I feel like there’s still a certain sound to be tapped into more. We wanted to put out a real hip-hop project but presented as drum and bass. If you take away the drums, it’s just a hip-hop tune. Me, Dave [Mindstate] and Verbz have spoken about this a lot as Verbz lives just down the road. The drums are just double the speed, but they’re still spitting at the exact same speed they would be on a hip-hop tune. Even the two stripped back tracks with live drums are technically 174bpm, but it’s more like 87bpm.
The whole EP went down well with our audience, as well as with Verbz’ and Sleazy’s audiences, so it’s a nice crossover. We’ve had loads of messages from hip-hop guys really loving the project, and Verbz and Sleazy have had the same from drum and bass guys.
It’s always refreshing to see producers use vocalists or MCs from other genres!
I’m always conscious of this. I want to work with people that haven’t worked on drum and bass, even if it does take a little bit of convincing sometimes. There’s a lot of amazing drum and bass MCs, but you might get one who grew up listening to SP:MC, GQ, DRS etc. and then they become a mixed version of all those vocalists. If you’re taking a vocalist from a different genre, their influence comes from somewhere completely different.
Many of the artists we’ve mentioned you working with all have one thing in common… Manchester. Do you feel there’s a deeper connection here between your music and your hometown?
I’ve lived in London for the last ten years, but I still feel like I’m a Manc and have the same outlook as those guys. Everyone wants to work with each other there, and everyone works well. It’s a real family; people don’t take things as seriously. It’s more about having fun and seeing what happens, and that relaxed approach often leads to good things because you’re not forcing it. There’s something about the place, not just in drum and bass but across all genres for the last god knows how many years.
You have your obvious spots for drum and bass like Bristol and London, but Manchester has always been pushing and developing the sound. You can trace it back to Marcus Intalex with Soul:R, and then people like Chimpo and Dub Phizix, and now people like Bou – who is literally one of the biggest people in the scene right now.
Who else are you currently rating from there?
Salo is an amazing up and coming vocalist, pianist, producer, and DJ. You’ve got the OGs I mentioned like Dub Phizix. He proper smashed it ten plus years ago and he’s still coming out with so much new music, with much more piled up. He’s always been an insane producer, but he’s turned it up another notch again. There’s a lot of great female talent coming from Manchester as well, especially through Bloc2Bloc.
Let’s talk about your label, Precinct. Why did this come about?
I was quite a late comer with releasing music, therefore I was slightly older than most at this point and had a strong vision of how I wanted things to be. Don’t get me wrong, I was really happy with our first releases. The Broken Home EP on 1985 was great, and it was sick to work with Alix Perez and the team there. Everything was on point. From that point onwards though, I guess I wanted a little bit more control over everything.
Because I come from a skating background, I always had my mind on having a skate brand. The market for them was over-saturated however, with new ones popping up everywhere. In the end I allowed it. When the music thing started kicking off after my first releases however, I knew this was finally the time to start a brand from the very beginning.
Were you always planning on putting out music from other artists?
I can’t actually remember if I was at the time. I think I probably did because there’s a lot of underrated music that just gets lost and it’s a good opportunity for these new artists. The ball started rolling straight away and it began to build and build. Now there’s a few young artists, there’s legendary artists, there’s friends, there’s so much music sat here that we’re putting together ready to go out. There’s been a release out every month this year, and it will continue this way for the majority of next year as well. I had a vision, but I was never like ‘it must look like this, we need to sign these people, and we’ve got to push this’. It seems to walk its own path and I’m just helping it along.
Some of the releases you’ve got are from complete newcomers to the scene, and the quality is amazing. It feels like you’ve caught on to them at just the right time.
Definitely. I’ve put three releases out from artists that have never had a track out before, those being Funktional, Brook and Clusion. Off the back of that, there’s been a couple more kids that have been sending me music who’ve never had a release. There’s a lot of music coming in, and obviously I can’t sign everything. I want to be able to give enough time to everyone that’s on the label. I wouldn’t say the door is closed, but we’ve got a good number of artists now and if we take on many more, there won’t be any room for my own music haha!
You mentioned your Broken Home EP on 1985 Music earlier and I wanted to quickly bring things back to that. It was such an impressive first release on a label that for most artists is a dream. How did you get that opportunity?
Myself, Mindstate and Liam Bailey wrote the title track initially and sent it to Del who thought it was amazing. He then sent it to Calibre who ended up playing it out, and from there it was a proper ‘oh shit’ moment. Everyone thought it was a Calibre tune for a while, and then word got out who it was, and everyone started hitting us up. Although I’d never had a release at that point, I was already quite tight knit with a lot of the scene through being friends with DRS, so I already unknowingly had this network that could get the music out there.
Pretty quickly, you had dBridge, Jubei, Lenzman and loads of others playing it. People that didn’t know us wanted to know who we were, and then most of the big drum and bass labels had hit us up to sign it. It was a ‘take your pick’ thing in the end, and with Alix being in London at that point and us being good friends, it made sense. We’re both big fans of Alix and what he does with the label as well. Once we put that out, we started writing more music for a follow up EP, and obviously it’s grown to become a huge label now. It’s sick to be part of it still.
Whats next for Precinct?
So, the new tune ‘Try Again’ with Tyler Daley was the first single of a 6 track VA that is currently in the middle of dropping, with the next single from Salo, Zed Bias & Chimpo. That will be followed by one more single from Mindstate and Verbz, and then the three remaining tracks will drop shortly after that. After the VA we have another newcomer to the label, and then we will see the year out with a series of EPs from artists that have already had singles on the label. Next year we have some special projects lined up that I can’t say too much about now, but some big tunes on the way from a number of artists.
After the success of our Fabric room 2 takeover, we have also been organizing some club nights. Next up is at The Pickle Factory in August with myself, Mindstate & Liam Bailey, DRS, Salo b2b with a special guest, Kaz, Funktional & Verbz and Okular. The following night we have a similar lineup in Manchester.
What’s next for Dogger?
I’ve just put out a release on Drum&BassArena with two guys that I’ve wanted to work with for a while, TomInTheChamber and Haribo. Bou put me onto these guys during lockdown and they really fit the vibe of what I’ve been doing recently, so I’m really gassed about it. Plus we have a wicked music video in the pipeline which will be dropping on Drum&BassArea.
Following on from that, I’ve got some stuff on DRS’s new album on Shogun dropping soon, and another collaborative project with Mindstate coming on 1985 with a very special remix. Theres a load of dubs I’ve been playing out for the last year that people keep asking about that I need to make some plans for – including a track with Bou & DRS. To sum it up, there’s a lot of forthcoming music, a load of collabs and more solo stuff. I’m basically not slowing down any time soon.