The original nuttah

What goes around comes around. Nobody knows this better than Shy FX, a producer who’s watched musical seasons change then return.

In 1971 Count Shelley, the king reggae sound man of north London, was defeated in a sound system dance by a young pretender, Dennis Bovell at Dalston’s Four Aces club.

Thirty-nine years later, his grandson, Shy FX had better luck. On a windy October night in Chalk Farm he was pitted against bass-hype crew of the minute Magnetic Man in a tensely-drawn Roundhouse clash. Things seemed tight, when Shy drew a killer plate. Magnetic’s collaborator Katy B’s voice filled the room with her smash single, ‘Katy On A Mission’. Yet this time the lyrics changed: “Skream and Benga / You’d better take cover/ You can suck on Metalheadz cause we are like no other /Hey yo, pussy fool / Shy FX is in the room / Your career I swear will end too soon”.

For Shy FX the summer of jungle dies hard. He may be putting out dubstep product on his Digital Sound Boy label, produced and remixed Dizzee Rascal, Lily Allen and Plan B and had top tens himself, but this man’s heart remains in the bedroom of a terraced house in Edmonton, where aged seventeen he kickstarted the avalanche of frayed batty-riders, Moschino shirts and small-lense shades with his ‘Original Nuttah’ single.

Speaking before a hectic Friday night motoring around the UK DJing, Shy is in the mood for a reminisce: “I remember going to New York in 1994 with the SOUR label and putting jungle in front of two thousand ravers who’d never heard it before, and didn’t know how to dance to it. What did we do? We jumped into the crowd and started shocking out, showing them what to do...”

Although Shy champions dubstep today, he sees its shortcomings, which come as a symptom of the era: “It’s a generation thing: like with the sound clash - I went in there with that mentality - I’m gonna play your biggest tune before you - and I was getting really hyped and thinking they were gonna draw tunes on me - and no-one did. So I was disappointed, but it’s not their fault. The loss that I feel is that those of us who started in the early days, we didn’t grow up on jungle or dubstep cos it didn’t exist. So we all had these influences that we brought into the music - reggae, R&B, etc - whilst now a lot of the guys these days were brought up on electronic music and that’s their only influence and it’s kind of incestuous in a way, you know?”

Shy had to struggle coming through the ranks: he got his first gig as an apprentice engineer at SOUR in his teens, but was sacked when he refused to clean the toilets. Luckily he left a copy of ‘Original Gangsta’ on the mixing desk, and was brought back as an artist. The track itself has an interesting history: an early example of the gangster jungle genre that artists like DJ Hype would make, the intro was recorded on his five-year-old sister’s tape deck as an exchange between homicidal yardies. Shy plays the murder victim - he manages a venomous “Who you calling a pussy hole ya chi?”, but has now matured into a more serious anti-gun spokesman.

He tells me how ‘Everyday’, a modern ragga jungle classic, was inspired when he was at his barber’s getting a trim and was told: “‘You need protection now you’re on road. I can get you this, I can get you that...’ It made me think, c’mon, my barber’s telling me this - this is getting out of control here.”

His ‘Larger Than Life’ album out next year promises to appeal to a more crossover audience than previous LPs, with a wealth of guest artists above and beyond those appearing on his huge 2010 ‘Raver’ single, and a breadth of styles as wide as Shy’s influences.

He’s had enough practice. Whether appearing on a 1994 BBC documentary on jungle, producing as a Bambi-eyed kid, or DJing on his friends’ Touch Diamond sound aged fourteen, Shy’s an original gangster. Someone should have told Benga.

Words by Miguel Cullen
Photos by Ben Meadows


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