“I just make the bass and do it all instinctively”
Hackney-born producer and DJ Champion is one of the most talked about producers on the bass-music block right now. Ostensibly a UK funky producer, his sound is much more than that label suggests or allows.
Champion’s bass-driven take on the genre has seen him receive the backing of grime heavyweights such as Terror Danjah and Elijah, while tracks such as last year’s sublime ‘Sensitivity’ with Ruby Lee Ryder and 2009’s ‘Tribal Affair’ and, of course, ‘Lighter’ have pushed Champion’s name far and wide.
After a 2011 that saw releases for Terror’s Hardrive and the launch of his own Formula Records imprint, the coming year promises much from Champion. Trap grabbed the young producer to find out more about his inspirations and aspirations…
First things first, you’re often described as a UK funky producer – how would you describe your sound?
“I don’t know any more! I suppose there are two ways to look at it – one is that I probably do make UK funky; it’s just very different to the others, whose sound has became the standard ‘UK funky’ sounds. The second is that I never really felt that I made ‘UK funky’, but when I came about it was easier to fit into that bracket. To an extent, it still is easier. But then there’s a confusion regarding that term because UK funky is now considered commercially dead – and at the point it got that status, I started getting bigger!”
You produce a very modern style and sound of dance music. What was the music you grew up listening to and inspires you to create now?
“I’m inspired by the music of my childhood such as reggae, jungle, late garage and early grime. It’s what I grew up listening to as a kid, from my dad playing tunes in the house or at parties, to when I got a little older and stayed with the transition from garage into grime.
“Musically, my dad was a really important influence. I took all his musical characteristics – I love a good bassline like him (his car actually held a record for having the second loudest bassline in the UK and has won trophies for it). I like all the same music he does and my early mixdowns mimicked the way his sound was tuned, which meant lots of tops and sub!
“My mum, in her day, was signed to Island as part of a UK rap group, and my uncle was a well known garage MC on Freek FM called Dollars. Then I’ve got uncles and cousins that are DJs or soundmen over here and in Jamaica, so you can imagine the family parties I grew up with; they were basically raves!”
You’re known for your links with Terror Danjah and the Butterz lot – why do you think you and your music have been embraced by bastions of grime such as these?
“I think, even though I specialise in different music from them, they fully got and felt the vibe I put into my production and latched onto it. Terror actually told me when the first time he heard my tunes was – he was with Elijah at Corsica studios when Heartless were playing there a few years back and they dropped ‘Tribal Affair’; he said he went crazy! Funny thing is, they both don’t like funky one bit, but Terror said that tune reminded him of something he would have made back in the day.”
You gained notoriety from your reworking of the classic jungle track ‘Lighter’ – has jungle/D&B been a strong influence on you?
“See the thing is, when I first made that tune, I didn’t actually have the jungle ‘Lighter’ in mind at all – it’s only when it was done that I felt it needed something and put the sample from the original on there. But yeah, like I mentioned earlier, jungle and D&B is a strong influence overall – only the 90s stuff though, the new stuff just goes hand in hand with dubstep in being mad noisy, which isn’t really my thing.”
In relation to that, some have said that UK funky is the closest thing around right now to capturing the vibe of the early jungle days. Do you agree?
“Yeah, I do, especially in relation to my tracks. With the early jungle days, it’s almost like they only put in the key effective elements of a track to mash up a dance – the bass and drums – and just went with an energy from within, which is how I would describe part of my process of making a tune, and is probably why my tracks hardly have any musicality in them. I just make the bass and do it all instinctively most of the time.”
You run your own label, Formula. What’s the mandate for the label?
“The vision I have for the label is quite simple – I want it to be one of those underground platforms you turn to for ‘that tune I heard last night’. It started off being just my tracks, but I’m eventually creeping in different artists, both new and established. The next release has a Terror Danjah & DOK remix, there’s a planned release for a sick new producer called Notion, and DJ Naughty will be doing some work for my label this year too. There’s a few other plans but I don’t want to say too much too early!”
Who do you rate right now? Who should we be watching out for in 2012?
“I’m definitely feeling Notion right now; only a handful of people have his tracks but they’re doing a lot. There’s this producer from the Midlands called Swifta Beater – I’ve heard some of his unreleased bits and they’re deadly! Also, I’m rating people like Roska, Funkystepz and the artists on Butterz (Royal-T, Swindle etc). I’ve also heard some undercover Terror Danjah & DOK bits that are crazy, so watch out for them!”
What are your plans for the year ahead and your career beyond that?
“I suppose it’s just to release more music for the people and develop Formula further. Beyond that, it’s hard to say because two or three years ago, I never imagined that I would be where I am now. There were always plans in my head to achieve certain musical goals but I’ve always known that I just wanted to be bigger and to still be having fun, so I suppose that’s the plan!”
Any final shouts, thanks and big ups?
“Yeah, shouts and thanks out to Terror Danjah, Elijah and Roska for all there help and support. Big up Two Plates, DJ Shandy, Music House and Cargo Records for all their work on Formula. Big up Notion and the rest of the producers to work with Formula in the future, and everyone supporting me and my tracks.”
As printed in Trap 006, October/November 2011.
Words: Sam Bates