Commodo channels dubstep’s - and for that matter grime’s - early spirit; not in a self-referential way that relies on borrowing now-nostalgic sound palettes and introducing them to a generation too young to have been in the clubs in the genres’ so-called golden days, but rather in the sense of creative, borderless freedom that made these scenes so exciting in the first place. He’s clear on the utmost importance of originality and leaving his own impression on a listener, and he’s genuinely humble in his own successful achievement of it too. That desire to leave a recognisable stamp on a record is, if anything, about as close as Commodo comes to a sense of direction. He’s refreshingly frank about everything, from his views on depressingly-formulaic dubstep records (“neurofunk drum & bass shit at a different tempo”) to the need to keep testing his own approach (“I’m pretty riff-based these days, I might have to switch it up”). In his own words, Commodo is almost actively “not trying to join any particular scene,” so it’s perhaps a testament to this that he should make his fabric Room One debut on a lineup dominated by artists who have consistently pushed the envelope in terms of how their music can be defined.
Despite the grime association that will no doubt (and however unfairly) follow the Butterz tag, April 10th’s main room is packed with pioneering talent. Joker, Darq E Freaker, Dusk + Blackdown, Royal-T: these are all people who historically have cast off the shackles of genre definitions almost as quickly as music journalists and fans alike have been able to squeeze them into a pigeonhole. So despite the lack of label mates on the bill, it should be far from surprising to see Commodo’s name up there too.
By way of introduction, what’s your name, where are you from, and how would you describe your sound?
Yep, I’m Commodo; from Sheffield originally, and then recently I’m based kind of half here and half elsewhere. I really don’t know how to call the whole ‘sound’ thing, man: it all kind of gets a bit, y’know… as soon as you start saying anything but ‘dubstep’, people look at you like ‘come on, mate’ – y’know what I mean? [laughs] I’ll try and do it in the least fruity way possible… I like to think of it as exploring 140[bpm] – fuck it, I’ll use dubstep: exploring the dubstep template and UK underground bass music in general and incorporating my own influences, the music that I was listening to growing up, like hip-hop, you know, sample heavy boom bap hip-hop kind of shit, into that.
It’s funny how you want to avoid using the word ‘dubstep’ to describe what you do, perhaps because a lot of people’s idea of what it is doesn’t actually align that closely with how you see it yourself? In many ways, your music seems most representative of dubstep in terms of a sense of creative freedom within a fairly broad template.
Sure man – not even necessarily this, but for the most part it’s just about whatever ideas you want to explore, brought together under a couple rules. Most often that’s a deep bassline and a tempo that swings around 140bpm.
Yeah, that’s key: from when it was very, very early days and people didn’t really know what to call it, or how to define it necessarily. It was the very fact that it couldn’t be easily defined easily that kind of made it what it was, if that makes sense?
Well yeah exactly, so if you want to go by that then I am absolutely making dubstep, you know what I mean? But I’m sure you can understand why I avoid saying it too often; I mean, I’ll probably look like a knob in a couple of years when everyone starts using it again and thinks it’s cool, but what are you supposed to do? The name has been tainted.
"I never had the status to begin with so that gave me the opportunity to just grow for a couple of years with no pressure, no expectations..."
I think this is maybe a problem that a lot of people have had, well not necessarily a problem but…
Oh no, for sure… there’s been a big exodus. Well not big, but a lot of heads went off in different directions when shit wasn’t working out for them.
This is maybe where you’re different; the way I see it is you’re releasing a lot of stuff on a label like Deep Medi and if they were to say ‘what type of label are we?’ it essentially is a dubstep label…
Yeah, but you’d never catch Mala saying that… [laughs] probably for the same reasons we already discussed.
How much free reign do you have when it comes to planning releases with Deep Medi?
Absolute free reign for the most part. It’s lovely. That’s definitely the main advantage to a label like Deep Medi, is that I can literally do what I like, and that’s nice. I mean, schedule permitting, and things like that, I could literally say ‘here, what do you reckon to this?’ and we could do it. But obviously the scheduling side of things and the manufacturing is the bane of these kind of record labels’ existence. It’s an absolute nightmare, so…
How important is it, scheduling/manufacturing issues aside, for you to be releasing on vinyl?
Right now I can say I have no interest in doing a digital-only release. I mean, I like digital to be available with it but there does need to be that physical aspect for it to feel like the real thing, y’know?
Like, I did a record with [Bristol record label] Hotline and they’re very much into keeping it on the physical formats. They did a cassette recently essentially because they wanted to release their back catalogue to date digitally, but they couldn’t justify just doing digital downloads. It’s just the way they like to do it: they like to have a physical aspect in there somewhere so they throw you a cassette, with artwork and everything and it’s very nicely designed and stuff, and then you also get the codes to the digital downloads.
I mean I don’t even play records when I’m DJing anymore, I still buy records but it’s more for my own enjoyment and there’s plenty of other people that do that as well. People have been complaining about the state of the whole record industry and sales falling; it’s kind of true, but I think it’s just that people are less eager to part with their money now. When I was buying records to DJ with I’d end up buying five or six at a time, and two or three of those I might be sort of sat on the fence about and thinking ‘oh I‘ll give it a go,’ or whatever. But now, people are only going to really buy the one that they have to own, so it basically means that as long as labels are going to try and keep the quality of their releases high, people are going to keep buying them. It’s fine. Especially over the last year, there’s been a lot of hype around physical copies of certain records: shit’s been selling out in a day flat.
And labels are repressing as well...
…which is nice, because that’s something I never really got: why would you limit it? It’s available, it’s not like it’s a dubplate anymore, there’s no point keeping it exclusive when you’re selling it to people. Stock should be there to buy if they want to buy it.
In terms of some of these sought-after releases, there seems to be a healthy group of producers coming through and developing together now; I think it would be fair to say that the whole dubstep thing got quite… stagnant? For a while…
Yeah, completely. But yeah, there’s a few of us who were lucky. I mean, if you really look at it, I actually came into the thing at precisely the wrong time: I joined one of the biggest labels in the scene [Deep Medi] just as dubstep was about to fucking remortgage it’s house, you know what I mean? It was a bad time. But it also meant that I just kind of cracked on and kept doing my thing and I never really had any status, because a lot of people in the dubstep scene got status because they were in the right place at the right time – you know, there were people that just came along for the ride and they were lucky to have the run that they did; but obviously, when it’s not fashionable anymore, you’re left in the shit. Whereas, I never had the status to begin with so that gave me the opportunity to just grow for a couple of years with no pressure, no expectations, y'know, it was just natural. Small growth, but still something, you know what I mean? So it didn’t necessarily turn out as a bad thing.
So how far do you think that the proliferation of digital has contributed to that stagnation across certain genres? I mean, if you’ve got a laptop, some production software and an Internet connection you could technically make a track, start your own label and release it in a weekend…
…Without any overheads or any real costs. So what you get is that the quality - for the most part - is absolutely piss poor.
So the vinyl thing, how much is it an indication of quality?
Well not always, but at least it tells you for sure that the people running the label have confidence in the music they’re releasing. It might not always be to my taste, but it tells you that they’re willing to potentially lose money on manufacturing it, which is a lot better than someone doing a digital release just for the fucking sake of it because there was no real risk involved.
Am I right in thinking that your first forays into music production were with grime?
Yeah it was, maybe when I first illegally downloaded Fruity Loops in, what, maybe 2006? Fucking hell, that’s a long time ago now…
Nearly ten years!
Fucking hell, yeah, would have been about 2006 I think, In Sheffield at the time there was a healthy, a surprisingly healthy scene. No one else would have known about it because everything was so London-centric, even places like Birmingham wouldn’t have known, they wouldn’t give it a look in either, it was totally insular. But yeah, there really was a healthy scene of local grime people, a whole bunch of producers: loads of different crews.
The thing is, if YouTube had been what it is now back then then these people would have had a lot more of a platform. You look on channels like SB.TV and shit like that now, it doesn’t so much matter where a person’s from anymore they’ll still get checked out, and as long as they’re half decent they’ll get what they deserve. It’s a lot less cut off like that now. If there were platforms like that around back then, then it might have been a different story.
But yeah, in a nutshell it was just a lot of local heads just doing independent music like that and I thought, ‘well, fucking hell, that’s cool: I’ll have a go.’ Literally just banging out grime instrumentals, and in fact the way I happened upon dubstep was through that; stuff like Plastician tracks and ‘Midnight Request Line’ being played in grime sets, and local people vocalling them.
"if you play something and half the fucking dancefloor clears then you’re like ‘right, maybe no more of that’ – but apart from that I’ll mostly just play what I want..."
And now you’ve got a tune with JME! How did that come about?
That was finished a long, long time before it came out – it was a nightmare keeping it under wraps, it really was [laughs]. In terms of how it came about, I said to Mala, ‘I’ve made this beat, I know you’ve known JME for a few years, do you want to shoot it over to him?’ and it was literally just that. He [JME] was like ‘yeah cool’ and within a month or two I got it back and that was it. It really was that simple, it was nice.
Were you at all worried then about putting out a grime tune – well, a tune with a prominent grime MC on it – at a time when grime seems to be enjoying something of a renewed surge in popularity, particularly in terms of how it’s crossing over into other genres?
Well the only worry for me was that it might come across as a really contrived move when really it absolutely wasn’t. But, nah, it was received well and I’m happy with it, man. And of course it also means that just through that I get to play on lineups like this one on the 10th. Elijah, Skilliam, Royal-T, D Double, P Money, Joker, Big Narstie, Darq E Freaker, Dusk & Blackdown: see, that’s an interesting lineup to me.
Will you be likely drawing for a slightly different selection of tunes than usual?
Yeah I’ll probably play a few more grime type tunes, but to be honest I’ll mostly end up playing what I usually do in my sets.
So none of those 2006 fruity loops Sheffield grime bits then?
[Laughs] Nah, I don’t play any of that stuff at all, man – partly because half the files don’t exist anymore, but also they’re like 128[kbps] mp3s and stuff like that. But if I’m really being honest with myself I mostly play a similar kind of set no matter where I’m playing. A lot of DJs like to say they’re ‘reading the crowd’ and all this kind of shit. I mean, yeah, to an extent, if you play something and half the fucking dancefloor clears then you’re like ‘right, maybe no more of that’ – but apart from that I’ll mostly just play what I want: not taking anyone on any ‘journeys’ or anything as special as that, y'know what I mean?
What are your ‘go-to’ tunes at the moment?
You mean to rescue a dancefloor, yeah? [Laughs] It’d probably be something by Kahn, if I’m being honest. Something by Kahn or one of my older bits maybe, or just one of the more aggy bits I’ve made probably. Or a classic! Like a Mala classic, or a big Deep Medi record from a couple years ago or something.
There are a lot of dubs flying around at the moment that not many people have got, which is nice, so I always draw for them. A few years ago, as soon as tracks had come out I’d just stop playing them; I don’t know why, you just had that whole fucking mentality drilled into you, you know what I mean, about playing exclusive music whenever possible. But the truth is, crowds don’t always want to hear just stuff they haven’t heard. When I used to go out to listen to music I would definitely be wanting to hear stuff that I knew as well as new stuff that I didn’t know, because a lot of the time your only experience of a track is on your laptop at home and it really does bring new dimensions to the music when you get to hear it out, so I don’t see the point in keeping it totally exclusive, like totally dubplate-based. There’s a Kahn & Neek track that came out about month or so ago called ‘Got My Ting’ – they put it out on Bandulu – I’m still playing that out man, I fucking love it.
There’s going to be plenty of MCs around on the 10th; is that something that you’re looking forward to? What’s your take on having MCs about on a set?
It can go both ways man, but in this situation it’s definitely a good thing because, you know: they’re real MCs. The difference is when you’re playing somewhere and there’s some ‘biddabiddabidda’ guy who’s off his tits and thinks it’s all about him. It can be a bit iffy with MCs, man, sometimes it’s just like ‘leave the fucking crowd alone and give ‘em a break’. If you’re actually doing something, you’re actually spraying bars, then it’s cool – as long as you’re on the right vibe – but if it’s just someone hosting then I prefer it to be very minimal. It’s very hard to get the balance right, but I do think it’s necessary though. There are a few guys who really know how to do it, for sure.
Not everyone else gets the need for an MC – when you’re playing in other countries for instance – but to me there does need to be an MC there to just communicate and connect with the crowd. A big part of our underground dance music culture comes through stuff like jungle and garage, and a lot of it has its roots in imported Jamaican culture too; I’m guessing that’s where the whole concept came from.