The end of November brought the fifth instalment of Bristol’s annual weekend-long bassweight collision, Teachings in Dub x Deep Medi. Friday night’s lineup was, as always, in veneration to the sounds of dubstep, and so before things kicked off, we sat down with one of dubstep’s earliest originators and most important patrons of the scene, Mala; as well as key pioneer of the genre’s current sound, Commodo.
Mala was at the dead centre of dubstep’s explosion in 2005
Mala was at the dead centre of dubstep’s explosion in 2005 – as a producer, co-founder of the legendary DMZ nights and head of his luminary Deep Medi Musik record label. Over the years, Mala has remained at its helm through innovating and outside the box productions and label releases, through a period of return to the deep underground, right through to its resurgence over the last few years – arguably, dubstep’s second golden age.
Commodo, though he has a hard time taking any credit for it, is part of a small group of producers who created the blueprint for a new sound, most often referred to as 140. Combining equally heavy influence from dubstep and grime, as well as idiosyncratic nods from garage to metal, a new generation of producers such as Bengal Sound, LUCY, Sir Hiss, DE-TU and Jook have lit their torch from his and continue to carry the sound in new directions.
Now on his seventh Deep Medi press, following last year’s blow-up release Rikers / Daytona, Commodo has massively evolved since his 2011 label debut, via ventures into more straight-up grime and his 4×4 exploration Straight Reptilian.
Mala remembers his first talks on the phone with Commodo, incidentally while on a beach in Barbados, more than nine years ago: ‘Remembering the conversations we had then, listening to the music that he was making and seeing how far that has progressed – that in itself, seeing those steps, is inspiring; listening to the musical growth.’
In a way, things have gone full circle for me
‘In a way, things have gone full circle for me’ says Commodo. ‘What I was really motivated to do at the time was try and reinvigorate, what I felt was, a music that had stagnated a bit. But some of the stuff that excites me most now is the stuff that you founded through DMZ, because the amount of variation in terms of beat patterns was so much more exciting – it really was.’
‘I think that’s what’s interesting about when you came around,’ says Mala. ‘Because what you’ve done over the last couple of years with your sound is really make it your own. You know a Commodo tune when you hear it. One, by the musical impact that it has, because it’s really musical; but at the same time, it’s so rugged – designed for the soundsystem. No one really sounds like that.
people underestimate how difficult it is to have your own sound
‘I think people underestimate how difficult it is to have your own sound. And I don’t think it’s something you try to do, it’s just something that you do, right?’
‘No, it just happens naturally’ says Commodo. ‘I think everyone’s best music happens when it’s honest in that regard and it’s not overthought. I think that’s key – not spending too long that you second guess yourself.’
‘If you look at Deep Medi’s catalogue, going from the beginning to now, you’ll see a lot of diversity’ says Mala. ‘Having my own label is wonderful, because I release music that I love, but it’s also about supporting the artists on their journey.
‘My role as I see it, as a label owner and in my position within the scheme of things, is to try and empower people to truly be themselves when they create. That’s when a relationship is a good one. It’s about the artist feeling free enough with the platform that they’re on to be as creative as possible. I think it’s up to the label to really stand behind that and support that. As a result, those releases help producers to then experiment and shape things in a different direction.’
My role as I see it (…) is to try and empower people to truly be themselves when they create
For Commodo, at least from a listener’s perspective, he hit the nail on the head around the time of his Kahn and Gantz collaboration, Volume 1. His releases going forward on Black Acre and Bandulu, as well as Medi have been discernibly Commodo; with that unique sound that even he finds it difficult to put his finger on:
‘The stuff that people like me and Gantz and Kahn at that time were expanding on, it’s created a sort of new formula, or new way of writing tunes. I know what you mean and it’s not something I want to take credit for, but a lot of the stuff that’s around at the minute – and not in a bad way – does have similar aesthetics, that I can’t really describe either…’
‘We never really understand why something takes off the way that it does’ says Mala. ‘You’re just trying to create, it’s not like you think “I’m going to set out to change things”.
‘As Commodo said, when you’re honest and you don’t overthink it, that’s when your best work comes out. When we present that to people, we don’t really know why it takes off the way that it does. Who knows? From being on the inside, I don’t think there’s any possible way to answer that.’
‘And no one can take credit for it’ Commodo adds. ‘Try and ask Mala if he feels responsible for the music I make and you’re probably going to get a similar answer. Of course, there was some groundwork laid, but you don’t ever feel ownership over anything like that.’
‘It’s not about owning and controlling’ says Mala. ‘It’s about just being; letting it do its thing.’
It’s not about owning and controlling
The question of owning or controlling in the world of soundsystem music is an interesting one, as it’s a movement built on dubplates and dances. While much of the rest of the world of music moved towards streaming and Spotify many years ago, it’s a less instinctive move for dubstep and many critical releases are still only available on limited run vinyl. It’s certainly part of the allure of soundsystem culture – going to an event and knowing that you might hear that particular track you’re excited about, though for some it can be frustrating; particularly while its popularity continues to grow and the price of limited records are inflated beyond extortion by re-sellers on Discogs.
‘I never resisted it, I just wasn’t interested in it’ says Commodo. ‘And that’s changed now. It’s fine to have exclusivity in the sense of unreleased music that only a few people have and you can only hear in a live setting, but in terms of excluding people from hearing the music, I think it’s dumb.
‘And the reverse is actually what I’m going to try and push going forwards, because I don’t see why people like us should be resigned to a very niche corner in that way. A lot of the music is very accessible – a lot more accessible than we give it credit for, as well. So allowing more people to hear it is only good.’
I don’t see why people like us should be resigned to a very niche corner
‘I remember, years ago, doing a talk at a seminar in Venezuela’ says Mala ‘and people saying “when are you going to sell your stuff digitally? We’re here in Venezuela, there are no record shops, we can’t get your records, but we love your music.” So, as Commodo says, to not allow the music to spread far and wide – in the sense that most people listen to music digitally nowadays across all of these different platforms – it just doesn’t make sense.’
‘It’s just punishing people for no reason’ says Commodo.
‘Or they have to get terrible quality copies of it and they can’t listen to the music properly’ adds Mala.
‘Commodo’s Dyrge EP, the amount of people that I’ve played it to that have no interest in the music that we make at all, but when they hear that… And I’m just sending them Spotify links. So definitely music like that – it needs to be everywhere.’
Another example is Egoless’ Empire of Dirt, Commodo adds, ‘it’s the kind of thing that could randomly end up in the charts in Montenegro out of nowhere. There are plenty of aspects to the music that comes out on Deep Medi that isn’t just for the people who are coming tonight.’
after nearly two years of online forums cooking up conspiracy theories of who, what and when MEDi100 will come – if ever – Mala lets us in on the big mystery
At the beginning of last year, it did not go unnoticed that Deep Medi skipped the much-anticipated DEEP MEDi 100 release. New-signing Samba’s Winona EP has now marked MEDi 107 this past September, but after nearly two years of online forums cooking up conspiracy theories of who, what and when MEDi 100 will come – if ever – Mala lets us in on the big mystery:
‘When it comes to releasing other people’s music, I will scream about it all day; tell everybody about it, share it, play it. It’s my job – I love doing that. When it’s my own music, I don’t like doing it. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to put the tracks together.
‘I’ve been trying to put it together for ages, I had the tracks, I wanted to do eight tracks and people said “no it’s 100 – you’ve got to do at least 10.”
‘2020, it will definitely, definitely come. I get kicked up the arse about it all the time by my label manager Steph – people are in the forum, people have messaged under the Instagram post, where is MEDi 100?
It doesn’t push me or make me speed up the process of putting out a record
‘But to me, I don’t mean this in a negative way, I really don’t care what people say. It doesn’t push me or make me speed up the process of putting out a record just because someone says “you lot are long”.’
‘They do say that’ Commodo laughs.
Though, as much as Mala and Commodo are keen to make their releases accessible to all, as far as we can imagine, events will always play a huge part in dubstep culture. The music is, at its core, made to be played through a soundsystem. In terms of how today’s ravers compare to the early DMZ days, Mala says:
‘Ravers are always the same. Wherever you go in the world, ravers just want to go out, enjoy music and have a good time. I think we’re very lucky in the sense that for the events we put on, people come out because they want to hear specific music playing. It’s not your Yates’ wine bar, where people are passing through to have a drink and whatever’s on in the background is on. It’s not that type of business that we’re dealing with.
That feeling, both in the moment and looking back on it, is really special
‘The audience are often open to new music and new experiences within the dance. I guess what was different to doing that back in 2005 is that there was nothing like it in the world. We knew for a fact that when we were putting on our DMZ event on a Saturday night, there was nowhere else in the world that would playing any of that music that was going to be played that night. And that is something that can’t be recreated unless something new happens. That feeling, both in the moment and looking back on it, is really special.’
Deep Medi are back in Bristol this February, this time via The Blast at Lakota. The lineup is still under wraps, but we don’t need to tell you it’ll be a goodun.
Photos by Ania Shrimpton
Location: To the Moon