Interviews

INTERPLANETARY CRIMINAL ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE OF THE UK UNDERGROUND

8 November 2022

In celebration of the Nike Air Max 97 “Silver Bullet” re-releasing, END. sat down with Interplanetary Criminal at Hidden Manchester to discuss the past, present and future of the UK’s underground music scene.

INTERPLANETARY CRIMINAL ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE OF THE UK UNDERGROUND
The 1990s represented a halcyon era for electronic music, with a slew of underground genres bubbling over from the fringes and evoking a sound that was often unique and geographically distinct. During this time, the UK represented a hotbed for creativity and musical freedom: acid house reverberating throughout abandoned warehouses, Jungle’s frenetic breakbeats electrifying dancefloors and two-step garage energising pirate radio waves.

Interplanetary Criminal is a DJ, producer and record label co-owner deeply immersed in the milieu of ‘90s dance music, shining a spotlight on the genres — and, indeed, subgenres — that served to put UK club culture firmly on the global map. His output showcases a love letter to UK Garage and its affiliated genres, carving his own unique and contemporary space within its sonic landscape. It’s an approach that’s led Interplanetary Criminal to be rightfully credited as one of the frontrunners in the resurgence of UK Garage, regularly playing alongside some of the biggest names in contemporary electronic music.

END. sat down with the producer and record label co-owner at Hidden Manchester, discussing his creative approach, the convergence of the past and present and his love of all thing UK dance music.

INTERPLANETARY CRIMINAL ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE OF THE UK UNDERGROUND
INTERPLANETARY CRIMINAL ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE OF THE UK UNDERGROUND

Your sound represents a love letter to a variety of ‘90s UK genres and subgenres. What initially piqued your interest in UK dance music and how do you approach putting your own contemporary stamp on them?

I’m originally from Bolton, which is 20 minutes outside of Manchester, and I remember coming into dance music around 2010. A few of my mates had just sort of started to get into it, throwing raves in Bolton. At the time, it was jump up raves and we would go to these quite a lot. A few people in that group started to get into house music, and one of the first tunes I heard was “Box Clever” by Huxley. There was this break in the tune, a kick drum and a bass, and there was an Alicia Keys vocal over it. There was a certain emotion that I felt from hearing that, which was so key in the whole process of really getting into dance music. Being from the UK, I grew up listening to dance music in the charts. I remember “Baby Cakes” being such a big tune, or “Sweet Like Chocolate” being this sort of cutesy garage. So yeah, I guess once you start getting into it again, being old enough to go to raves, you kind of look back at what you already know. When you say love letter, it’s completely the case. Whenever I create a tune, or play a set, I want the origins of that genre to shine through. There must be context in music, and I just want to make sure there is still homage to the people that came before.

Your post-lockdown blow up seemed to coincide with a general desire to get out there and move on dancefloors, something enabled easily by your high-energy production and sets. Can you speak about how this informs your approach to both production and DJing?   

I remember playing the first couple of shows after lockdown and it felt like there was a different energy. We were playing the new garage that was coming out in 2019 to 2021, which was all very energetic anyway. So, when everyone came out and we played shows, it felt like everyone was elevated to go harder. The clubbing scene might never be like that again — everyone was out, everyone turned up. Like with my Keep Hush set right after lockdown, everyone was so gassed to be out. Now that I’ve been DJing regularly for over a year, really listening to tunes every weekend in a real club system, my approach to production is focused on creating something sub heavy but with a real energetic drum groove. This is the thing about having context to your music, it can just be a simple club tune — I actually think less is more in terms of making a track for the club — but as long as it has that context, you can make tunes for the chin strokers. I want people to listen to my tracks and it be bouncy, but then I want people to go “that sample is from that” or “that drum groove is from there”.

INTERPLANETARY CRIMINAL ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE OF THE UK UNDERGROUND
"We want ATW to be a representation of what the new school genre is. Going forward, we just want to build a label that people look back on in the future when they’re looking for something that’s timeless."

Can you talk about the importance of the City of Manchester and the role it plays in your creative process?

I grew up in Bolton, but I am based in Manchester. I have always spent a lot of time in Manchester, really. There’s this amazing hub of underground music — you have Hidden, The White Hotel or Warehouse Project. There’s nowhere else in the UK like Warehouse Project, even in London. Manchester has such an amazing music history, with things like acid house or the Haçienda — clubs or movements that are a distant memory now. I have always been proud of Manchester having this amazing culture. In terms of Manchester-based garage DJs, there was Zed Bias who I drew a lot of inspiration from — he really cut through in the London scene. Garage is super, super London — well, maybe not so much now — as that’s where it originated. To have one Manchester artist cut through was great, so it inspired me to be the next generation of that. Ultimately, I am very proud to be Northern.  

At the beginning, I was making like dark UK garage which was influenced by the whole grittiness of Manchester — the dark grey aesthetic inherent to the city. The speed garage stuff is very Northern, too, it had a massive thing in Sheffield. There’s a level of playfulness and cheekiness in the Northern part of the country, people tend to go much harder than down South. I was very nervous about playing speed garage and donk in London, but I was actually surprised to see the reception to it. When I was younger, the it guys were donk MCs. There used to be a club called J2 in Bolton, and on one of the floors it was donk all night. Looking back, I wonder where they got all their tunes from. I buy a lot of records and it’s hard to dig for donk.

You also co-founded your own record label, ATW, alongside Copenhagen’s Main Phase. For those that don’t know, how did this start out and what does ATW represent?

We were both making different tunes back in the day, sort of lo-fi stuff, with Adam producing under a different name. Me and Adam had been talking for years, and he invited me to play in Copenhagen — he’s got a club night in a place called Baggen. When I got there, I was kind of making 4x4 and some garage, and we discussed how we would like to transition into that. I remember doing a radio show and he was playing old garage records he was collecting. We played that club night together and there was a different energy. Me and Adam are so similar in terms of DJing, as well as collecting records. All of my secret weapons are his tunes, and he plays a lot of my records. When we play back-to-back, we know what tunes each other are going to bounce from. After lockdown hit, I remember saying to Adam “look, why don’t we start a label together? We can create some tunes and that way we’ll always have something to chat about together”.

The first ATW release was more sort of two-step garage, something we were on for years. Two-step hits so hard, especially played in a proper sound system — you just can’t beat it. The second record that we created, which came out a couple of months ago, was when we were doing our 4x4 and speed garage thing. That’s some of our best work. The process just worked — there was no second guessing, it was both of us in a room just knowing what we both wanted and the context of it. We want ATW to be a representation of the what the new school genre is. Going forward, we just want to build a label that people look back on in the future when they’re looking for something that’s timeless.

INTERPLANETARY CRIMINAL ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE OF THE UK UNDERGROUND

You’ve achieved some pretty big things in what has been, in the music industry terms, a relatively short period of time, like producing a number one track or regularly appearing alongside huge names. Can you talk about these achievements and what’s in store for the future of Interplanetary Criminal?

I still feel like I’ve not really processed the whole B.O.T.A. situation. I’d always wanted to work with Eliza, I’d always have her mixes on during the day. We’re both from the same scene in garage, essentially, so I knew there would be a lot of support for a collaborative track. It just blew up to way beyond what both of us could imagine. There was a lot of imposter syndrome for me for a while. That sort of passed, and I had a lot of clarity — I realised I was happy before that number one single, so I would just continue to keep doing what I was doing before. That’s the beauty of it. It was this underground tune that just cut through.

Next year, I’m on these lineups with these amazing artists. You feel like you’re in the vicinity of them and you don’t know what to do with yourself. You just feel like the new guy. In time, I’ll probably get used to it. But being in the studio with the artists you respect so much is such a great feeling. I think moving forward it’s all about credibility. I don’t want to release anything that sounds like I’m trying too hard. So next year, I’ve got a tour of the UK in January, an Australian tour in March and then a club residency in April. But all of this was already locked in before B.O.T.A. I don’t want to be blinded by the lights of the number one. Ultimately, going with the flow has worked with me before, so that’s my approach.

You’ve played in some pretty big venues across the country on some huge lineups. Where has been your favourite place to perform and why?

I think Warehouse Project, without a doubt. Growing up around here and going there as a teenager, I remember being there and thinking “wow, imagine being behind the decks one day”. I still feel very lucky to be able to play there. But any show in Manchester is special, like here in Hidden is always amazing.

INTERPLANETARY CRIMINAL ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE OF THE UK UNDERGROUND
INTERPLANETARY CRIMINAL ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE OF THE UK UNDERGROUND
INTERPLANETARY CRIMINAL ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE OF THE UK UNDERGROUND

In recent years, we’ve seen a huge resurgence in genres that you very much champion like UK garage and bassline. Why do you think this resurgence has happened and what genres do you see being prevalent in the future?  

I always used to say that garage in the UK is something everyone has a soft spot for. I think it’s because we grew up with it being so prominent in the charts. But I’m unsure why it kind of took off the way it did recently. What I’ve always liked about garage is that you could be in a bar, for example, and it feels very classy. There’s such a great energy about it. It depends how hard it is, but it brings people in — it can soulful, or darker, for instance. There’s this nostalgia thing with it, which is why I got into it. I watched a documentary last night which had loads of old-school garage clips in it — that clubbing scene looked amazing. So when people listen to tunes like this it creates an atmosphere that feels like you’re back in it. Especially speed garage and bassline, it’s almost so different to two-step, but why it hits so hard is because the energy levels are as big as techno.

I think genre wise, bassline is such an interesting one, as it was very big. Like the older 2007-8 bassline which is quite lighthearted, but also very hard — people are making that and doing so very tastefully, with a different crowd who are into it. Speed garage right now is cutting through the most. So, the more sophisticated basslines in terms of 4x4, I think might cut through next year. You can make it into really big room stuff — the subs fill out the speakers, then you have the speed garage drums and it’s all really classy. That’s what I’m championing right now and will be moving into next year.

INTERPLANETARY CRIMINAL ON THE PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE OF THE UK UNDERGROUND

Release information

Nike Air Max 97 OG

Metallic Silver, Varsity Red & Black

DM0028-002

11/11/2022

Release information

Nike Air Max 97 OG W

Metallic Silver, Varsity Red & Black

DQ9131-002

11/11/2022

writerJack Grayson
|photographerSamantha Taylor
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