The British community has always enjoyed a long and rich music history; it has been the home to some of the best musicians and bands to ever grace a stage. If you have the slightest of music knowledge you are familiar with iconic names like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Radiohead, David Bowie, Elton John and Led Zeppelin to name a very few.
Like in many countries around the world, Rock and Pop music dominated the airwaves but in the early 90s a new movement started to develop in the urban and underground areas in England. “UK Garage” was born around 1994 and artists like So Solid Crew, M.J. Cole and Artful Dodger helped make Garage music mainstream.
In the early 2000’s the arrival of Dizzee Rascal raised the profile of Grime, a sub-genre that originated from the UK Garage Sound and since then a numerous of different styles have been born from it, Dubstep and 2step being the two most recognizable.
To understand the history of Chris Reed, also known as Plastician (formerly Plasticman), you have to understand the roots of the music he helped pioneer. Chris was born on October 30th 1982 in Thornton Heath in the London Borough of Croydon, one of London’s leading business, financial and cultural centres.
Chris started his music career as a UK Garage DJ at the age of 18, back then he was known as Darkstar. In mid-2001 Reed started producing music, his first attempts were dark garage tracks that eventually caught the ear of DJ Slimzee, who gave him his first record deal and released his first commercial work in 2002.
By 2003 he was already making a name for himself and was being supported by some of the most prominent DJs in the scene, events and noticeable venues came knocking right after. In 2006 Reed was offered a regular spot on BBC Radio 1, where he became the first DJ in the world to have a specialist Dubstep and Grime show on national radio.
After 18 months on BBC Radio 1, Chris returned to the station that gave him his first start, Rinse FM and has not looked back since. After becoming one of the true pioneers of Dubstep and Grime music with a career that spans 14 years we wanted to catch up with the man known as Plastician, to hear from him how his sound has changed, how the industry has evolved and how his label Terrorhythm Recordings has become the home to some of the most promising names in Electronic music.
LABEL ENGINE: As a pioneer of the Dubstep sound, you have witnessed the evolution of the style. From the early days to the Skrillex/Brostep boom in America and the recent belief that Dubstep is “dead”. In your opinion, is Dubstep officially done?
PLASTICIAN: Certainly not, in my opinion at least. I actually think it’s only a matter of time before it begins to re-emerge as a force in bass music. In the UK, that hard edged corner of the sound definitely seems to have fallen into a bit of a niche, labels like Circus and Dub Police are still holding the fort for their fans and followers, and while the sound may have left a lot of the festival stages and big rooms at clubs, the people into it are still following, producing and sharing the music – and the labels are continuing to support it. I think it will be hard for that style of dubstep to get a real stronghold again globally as it was pretty extreme at it’s peak. Now that your average “EDM” raver has been exposed to more diluted versions of the stuff that they initially raved to, I think the more traditional dubstep sound will find it’s feet again. You only have to look at how things have gone from Laidback Luke and Wolfgang Gartner to Disclosure and Dusky at the concerts to know that these huge festival goers are starting to tone their tastes down. And I think that’s what will happen with bass music particularly in the states, people will want a less extreme alternative, something a little closer to the Disclosures, and for me, the likes of Digital Mystikz and Truth will be the perfect accompaniment on the line ups to the housier music on other stages.
LABEL ENGINE: You started producing in 2001, giving Garage a go before settling between Dubstep and Grime. Since then how has your sound evolve?
PLASTICIAN: As I first started out, the production levels were really high and it was hard to get a foothold in garage as all the music then was still being produced on huge desks and £50,000 studios. When programs like Music 2000 on Plastation came around, and Fruityloops and Reason for the desktop around the same time, suddenly it was open for people to just have a go in their bedrooms without any real knowledge of how a studio actually runs. When grime was born out of garage, and the first grime tracks established themselves on the airwaves it kind of opened the door for bedroom producers to actually get their music heard. In a sense this was ultimately because the production levels dropped so drastically. Grime didn’t need to sound polished or professional, it was just rough edits and ideas for MC’s to spit bars over on pirate radio. Because I found my production feet in that sound, it was completely natural for me to want to progress my productions, especially because I had an interest in the early dubstep that had also stemmed from the dark garage stuff – which was kind of like grime but just produced more intricately. I wanted to take my grime influences and blend it with my dubstep and garage influence. Today it’s still the same, but the pool of music I draw influence from is so vast due to the internet being my hub for musical exploration. Back in the early 00’s I was only influenced by the records I picked up in Big Apple or Rhythm Division – which in my case was only ever garage, grime or dubstep.
LABEL ENGINE: You founded “Terrorhythm Recordings” around 2002, although it was intended for a way to get your own work out there it quickly turned it into a platform for developing talent. One can say you have become one of the best A&Rs in the industry, even these days, the line-up of artists you release on your label are some of the most promising bunch in the Bass scene. What do you attribute that to?
PLASTICIAN: I think it’s mainly because I always look out for things that are new or different, but still not a million miles from what I’m already playing – and what other DJ’s are playing. By picking out stuff like that you’re opening doors for new sounds to evolve, as people can connect with them but at the same time they are pushing things forward and allowing people to experiment further. I like to think there are people out there who find new music as exciting as I do. I definitely feel like the label has a really open minded following of people who are just interested in hearing what I’ve found lately. It’s not about focusing solely on one genre but just finding stuff that strikes a chord with me and balancing that out with what I think our audience will also relate to.
LABEL ENGINE: One of the privileges or advantages, may I dare to say, of people like you who have been in the industry for as long as you have is that you have seen the changes of the music industry not only from an artist perspective but also from a business perspective as a record label manager. We have seen the rise and fall of Vinyl, cassette, CDs and now we are seeing the same with MP3s while streaming becomes the standard. How has that impacted the way you handle your releases and those of your artists?
PLASTICIAN: You definitely have to be more careful with your spending. The margins are very tight these days. It used to be the norm to have promo campaigns / mailing out 50 vinyl copies to DJ’s, printing 100 test pressings at £300 to £400 a time. You could easily spend in excess of £1000 before you even sold a copy. These days I try to do as much of the label work myself to keep the costs down. I have an external artist who designs the art, and I still pay to have all our releases (including the free ones) mastered professionally. The fact that we even have to give music away for free is something I’ve had to adapt to in the past 3 years – in the days of vinyl, having a free release would just not have been possible or financially sensible. As much as margins have shrunk, costs have too – but somehow, the price of marketing or promoting your releases through professional channels has not really gotten cheaper – so I just avoid using them these days and do all the marketing and promo myself. As an artist I’ve dealt with hundreds of publications down the years so it tends to be better if they are receiving a personal email from me than me just putting them all on a promo list anyhow, I find it’s always returned far better results than the recent times I’ve paid for it.
LABEL ENGINE: Lets try to predict the future, nobody really thought MP3s would be replaceable and boom, streaming came along. What do think is next?
PLASTICIAN: I’ve had to adapt a lot, particularly in the past 5 or 6 years – there has been such vast changes that I’m already expecting the whole streaming thing to switch up to something else in a couple of years. Technology changes all the time. I really like how Apple introduced a radio platform with their streaming service and I think that curation is going to be the future for music discovery pretty soon, just as pirate radio was when I began, just on a new platform. We’re all seeing the problems Soundcloud is facing right now with people uploading illegal versions of songs – it’s only a matter of time before these platforms won’t be allowed to let un-verified accounts upload files to these kind of services as it’ll only end up landing them in hot water with major labels, who unfortunately are under pressure to bring huge money in – and with all the money in streaming (which is little to nothing at times) law suits are going to be their best shout of recouping the ridiculous money they pour into marketing their big pop acts. Law suits will bankrupt the Soundclouds of this world and soon it’ll be too risky to allow new artists to upload music without verification of who they are, where they live, and all the rest of it to stop them breaking the rules. This is how my brain works! I’m always trying to think 4 or 5 years ahead, because if you live in the now you’ll find yourself in trouble pretty quickly. Live within your means and roll with the times or become extinct very quickly.
LABEL ENGINE: Thanks to the advancement of technology, it is easier than ever to produce your own music at home or virtually any place you can imagine. It seems like people start at an even younger age these days, we have seen demos from kids that are only 12 years old. At that age you may not know how to deal with rejection and/or praise, do you see kids starting so early as a good or bad thing?
PLASTICIAN: I think it’s great that these kids are starting early as it means that they’ll be at some high level by the time they’re old and mature enough to tour or play in clubs. It definitely does stem some problems as people are very impatient these days as well. People have been seen to blow up overnight and these youngsters are desperate to be next. We live in a society obsessed with celebrity, and you’d be surprised how many of these youngsters are only really getting into music in hope of fame and fortune. It paints a bit of a false picture as it’s a lot easier to be famous than it is to be a successful musician. And it’s almost impossible to be both unless you really crack it – but sometimes this comes at the cost of integrity, and this is hard to grasp for most people entering the industry.
LABEL ENGINE: Do you think “EDM” is oversaturated?
PLASTICIAN: My main problem with the EDM industry (it’s a separate industry to me) is how much business is involved. I come from a time when you were just happy putting your music out, and fucking ecstatic if you heard people playing it on the radio or in clubs. So for me to have to deal with a lot of managers who pick up these talented kids and shop them to anyone willing to bid the highest price for their services just doesn’t sit right with me at all. That’s what creates the saturation. EDM is to underground music what the X Factor is to mainstream music. They pick up the potential, and pump money into it at the cost of all integrity, and ride the money train as long as they possibly can. It’s a huge business, and sadly for me, there’s only so much business I like to get involved with. It’s hard to appeal to the masses without selling a part of your soul to the devil. You need to find the right balance and just hope that you can build your own following without having to bow to the demands of the powers that be in the EDM world.
LABEL ENGINE: There are a lot of talented new artists redefining styles and music as a whole, who do you think is “next big thing” and why does he/she/them stand out to you?
PLASTICIAN: It’s hard to pick out one particular act as music moves and evolves so fast these days. I’ve always been good at spotting potential. In December 2014 I predicted a big year for Skepta and we all know how that’s worked out! Right now I can’t pick out a specific act I think is really going to go BIG though. I like lots of sounds I’m hearing, but a lot of the stuff exciting me right now is not the kind of music I could ever imagine hearing on main stages. I do think it’s safe to say that we’ll be hearing American grime more in 2016 though. I’m getting sent more and more demos, and having toured twice this year, so many people want to hear grime. In 11 years of coming here this is the first time I’ve had the level of people into grime turning out to gigs. It reminds me a lot of when dubstep began to sneak it’s way in back in 2007. By 2010 there was such a big scene in America that a lot of the artists overshadowed most of us coming out from the UK.
LABEL ENGINE: What are some of your favorite songs at the moment?
PLASTICIAN: Right now I really like stuff that sits in between that jersey sound, and grime. Even though it’s a couple of years old, Stacks VIP by C.Z. is really relevant right now in that sense. I play it out at so many gigs. I love Sir Spyro – Side By Side, JME – Man Don’t Care are two heavy hitters for me on the grime side of things as well, but both pretty obvious! Into Light by Alix Perez & Eprom, and of course Eprom & Salva’s remix of Kanye West – All Day has been a huge track in my recent shows.
LABEL ENGINE: You have had your show on Rinse FM for quiet a long time, what is the process like to select the music you wish to play and how would a new artist catch your attention?
PLASTICIAN: I tend to pre-record the show on a Monday or Tuesday when I don’t do it live on air. So I’d usually spend a few hours, usually on Monday, going through my Soundcloud inbox for stuff people have sent me privately. It’s way too hard to go through my emails as I get my music in the same inbox as all the business emails I get – it’s too manic. At least on Soundcloud I don’t just get added to some mailout with 500 DJ’s on it like I do with email, you know that person has personally wanted you to hear it. Once I’ve gone through my inbox I browse through my stream, prioritizing anything I can download or buy, so tend to avoid listening to mixes or radio rips as I need to get the music to play on my show within an hour or two of listening – sending messages asking for them to send it rarely get a fast response and by the time they get back I’m not looking anymore! This is why I always say send me private messages with private soundcloud links inside them, download enabled – I can go thru, listen, download and respond all at once. That’s the best way to get my attention. I’ve never been sent a private downloadable track that I didn’t listen to.
LABEL ENGINE: Lets put music talk aside for a bit if you don’t mind. One of the most fascinating things about artists and musicians is that it surprises a lot of people how “normal” their lives are. When you are not producing music or working on the label, what are some of your hobbies?
PLASTICIAN: I love football, I watch it all the time, follow it, read about it, talk about it! It’s my other passion. Before I really discovered pirate radio I only ever wanted to play football, until reality set in when I was about 14 that professional football was not likely to happen for me. Besides that I’m married with a son so I like to spend time with them. Mixed between running around after my manic one year old all day, or sitting down with a takeaway and a movie with my wife. It’s hard for me to put work aside though. I do get enjoyment from music still so it’s not always easy to escape from work-mode.
LABEL ENGINE: How difficult is it to balance your career, music, label work and your personal/social life?
PLASTICIAN: Very. There’s so much going on and it’s not easy to switch off when you know you’re the only one working at the label. Emails need answering before they pile up. It’s definitely caused problems in my relationship in the past but I think I have a good balance now. I tend to switch off around 7pm most days and only really answer very important emails after that time. Weekends if I’m not playing somewhere I always spend time with the family and visit relatives so I have a pretty good balance. I just have to make sure I work hard to keep on top of everything in the daytime really.
LABEL ENGINE: As a touring DJ you have probably had the chance to visit some of the most beautiful and interesting cities around the world. From the list of those you have yet visit, which one would you most like to travel to?
PLASTICIAN: I’d love to see Shanghai and some more of the far east. I’ve only ever been to Tokyo in Japan as well so would love to see more of the countryside there. I don’t often get extra days off on tour so it’s hard to fit sightseeing in, but if I go somewhere for the first time and I’m not exhausted (if it’s near the end of the tour it sometimes doesn’t work out!) I like to take some time to be a tourist for the day. A good example of this was when I went to South Africa. In Cape Town I got up at 5am to travel an hour to do a shark dive but when I got there it was too unsafe to go out on the boat due to weather, but I got a driver for the day who gave me a ride round the coast and up to a vineyard and saw the penguins on the beach, it was great!
LABEL ENGINE: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
PLASTICIAN: Not too sure what the best piece of advice I’ve ever personally received was, every day is a school day! I’m inspired by people who are comfortable in themselves and “do them” so to speak. I think making sure you are 100% happy with what you’re doing is the best advice I can give anyone. Be unique, be yourself and you’ll be happy.