Producer, label head, DJ: Conducta is the scene-appointed prince of UK garage.
In 2019, his AJ Tracey collab Ladbroke Grove became one of the biggest UKG tracks ever when it reached No. 3 in the UK charts. His Kiwi Rekords imprint has helped spark the genre’s Second Coming, platforming the likes of Jack Junior, Sharda and Sammy Virji, and last month it scooped up DJ Mag’s Label of the Year award.
“Some older DJs used to give me shit over the press dubbing me the prince of UK garage,” Conducta says over Zoom from his Ladbroke Grove flat (a move inspired by the colossal hit’s success), “but I’m not bothered, it’s always been about uplifting a new community for me.”
Conducta, whose moniker was inspired by the ‘ta’ in Skepta, was born in Bristol to Nigerian parents. “Everyone says there’s something in the water,” says the 26-year-old, real name Collins Nemi, about his hometown. “It’s a big music capital. I remember when I was 16 I would climb out of my backdoor window and sneak off to places like Cosies and Thekla to go to dubstep raves.”
He went through his musical coming-of-age alongside his two cousins when they started a crew, Sophisticated Sounds. The young collective would delve into sonic wormholes via the file-sharing platform Limewire, dropping their favourite tracks into FruityLoops to study their waveforms so they could craft their own takes on grime, dubstep and garage production.
“The first tune I ever made was a grime instrumental called Keep Talking, but the first tune me and my cousin spat on was Gully Brook Lane by [Bristol dubstep legend] Joker,” explains Conducta, “It got played on 1Xtra by Mister Jam and we were like ‘Boom, there’s something there’.”
In 2015, after admitting that “rap definitely wasn’t my thing”, Conducta threw himself into producing and DJing. Having moved to London to study Politics and History at the SOAS university, he began dropping mixtapes that were weighted by heavy basslines and sunny two-step beats, and started to gradually build his DJ rep across the capital’s smaller clubs.
“My record company at the time was very dismissive of the garage tunes I was creating, either saying they were too specialist, or just not responding if I sent them something over email,” he says, also noting that he wasn’t allowed to put out anything under his own name until 2018.
However, his perseverance paid off. In 2019, Ladbroke Grove became a UK smash, with Conducta’s sugary, Jorja Smith-sampling beat and AJ’s bars blaring out of car radio speakers during the summer, pushing it higher up the Singles Chart. Conducta’s Red Bull Music-backed Kiwi Klub night sold out every date of a UK tour, while the Kiwi label was gathering the freshest garage producers to unite on its roster.
“There wasn’t a scene around it,” Conducta says of the contemporary UKG landscape. “For me, it was about having a space where upcoming garage producers could all produce in one space. It gives me so much joy to see producers who if it weren’t for Kiwi, wouldn’t be doing stuff.”
Never much of a fan of fruits, Conducta came up with the name in 2018 on the way to Bestival. His friend had bought a snack box filled with kiwis for the crew and after playing his set and a day of festival merrymaking, he discovered the kiwis were tangy yet sweet – just like the tone of his imprint’s sound.
During the first lockdown, Conducta – who had a 2020 US tour planned before Covid hit – channelled the much-needed, uplifting energy of UGK’s new wave (now named ‘NUKG’) onto Instagram Live DJing sessions. “I didn’t want to wallow on what could have been,” he says. In addition to the makeshift twice-a-week live-streamed club night, Conducta’s Crib, he’s kicked off the “Kiwi Kup” – a social media competition to find more unsigned talent for Kiwi Rekords – and recently dropped releases such as his JGrrey-featuring single Time and a Kiwi remixes EP.
“We can only do what’s in our power,” says Conducta on the disruption to the music scene caused by the pandemic. “The government has shown us we can’t rely on them for support, so it’s on us artists to adapt by any means necessary.” The clubs remained closed for the foreseeable, and the festival industry is crossing its fingers in hopes that this summer’s events can go ahead. But regardless of what 2021 brings, Conducta and Kiwi will be keeping the NUKG scene alive. So on your marks, get set, two-step.