Conducta: It’s been important to recontextualise UK garage”

Conducta wears top, jacket, coat, trousers and shoes BURBERRY

In the fifth of a week-long series, figures from music, art, food, sex work and education look back on a year that shook their fields. Here, the DJ, producer and label boss talks about keeping spirits high while the clubs are closed.

Just before this was all kicking off, things were looking really, really exciting. The world-is your-oyster kind of thing. I was just about to get my US visa, because I had a US tour planned. With [my label] Kiwi Rekords, we were going to do a European tour. And then I had my own European tour planned.

In January 2020, I did about five or six shows in Australia. Because Australia is in close proximity to China, I remember hearing about the virus and immediately thinking If this something which is really contagious, I’m just surprised that people aren’t taking it more seriously”. I was thinking it would be like what happened with Bird Flu, or certain things which came and went in particular areas.

In February, I had a show in Brighton and I think someone had just got Covid there, and they were a student. And I’m like, This is going to be a myth, like the show’s not going to happen, and it’s going to be a bit peak”. And then, yeah, what was going to be a bit peak” ended up being a massive pandemic!

In music, you have to be able to adapt and evolve. So for me, I was thinking, OK shit, there’s actually going to be no live shows at all. How can I bring myself to other people’s lives and I bring myself to the world?” We did a couple of Instagram Live shows and I got better at becoming a broadcaster and showing my personality more.

It’s been important to recontextualise UK garage and music in general. I used to get a lot of tagged tweets of people saying my releases were the best for running, or the gym. I didn’t used to listen to electronic music when working out or in a sports setting, but now I’ve clocked the power of that. A lot of people are exercising more now. This music is high energy, it’s not just for the club. So I think that’s a really interesting angle.

I’m in a privileged position because of [AJ Tracey collab and Top 10 UK hit] Ladbroke Grove and previous success. But if the pandemic had happened three years ago, I’d be in a more precarious situation, for sure. As a label boss, I’ve tried to help the wider garage community and ecosystem. We did The Kiwi Cup in the summer, which was like a competition where we gave access to all the stems from our catalogue to producers, and we had like 400 people enter. Bandcamp’s been great. There’s been the Bandcamp Fridays, when they waiver their fees. So all the [revenue] from Kiwi sales can go directly to the artists.

Just a couple of weeks ago, me and a couple of producers started a Discord server for UK garage and we’ve got a little livestream. You’ll have, like, over 150 people watching. The sound quality’s shit, but people are active, there’s a chat room and people are locked. It might be a Friday night, you’ve got your takeaway or whatever, and you’re gassed to hear new tunes. It reminds me about being like 13, 14 and being on MSN, having that live interaction while listening to stuff. Or it reminds me of when I first moved to London and I was listening to Rinse FM religiously — that feeling of Oh yeah, there’s energy in this and it’s super invigorating”. Obviously it’s not the same as being in a club, but this is the closest thing to it. It’s creating community and unity during lockdown – that’s really important. It feels real.

I think a lot of DJs — and this isn’t to shit on anyone – were like six months down into [the pandemic] and waiting for clubs to come back. But you can’t just rely on the hope of something coming back. Because by the time it comes back, you might not actually be relevant and you might not be getting booked. It’s tough, but I think that if you care about your craft, you want to keep active. It’s important to make sure things aren’t quiet, and to make the most with the things you have around you.

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