Regarded for years as some sort of enduring (if endearing) chaos, one capable of occasional brilliance but more often than not, overriding frustration, grime has never appeared to be in such rude health. Spearheading a resurgence that has put the genre firmly back on the map but more importantly, back on the nation's dance floors, I was lucky enough to catch up with a Terror Danjah more determined than ever to build on the foundations he and fellow pioneers Butterz have patiently laid over the last 3 years.
Visibly galvanized by an extraordinary few months that had culminated in an emphatic celebration of Butterz' 3rd birthday back in February and fresh from announcing a new EP for Hyperdub, not to mention the surprise release of a glorious VIP 12'', Terror has had plenty to smile about. The real purpose of our meeting however, was to discuss a project that has taken nearly 18 months to come together...
The release of 'Hardwired', the full-length compilation CD forthcoming on Terror's own Hardrive imprint, has been met with fevered excitement since first announced last month. Featuring tracks from a whole host of Hardrive affiliates old and new, it has to be considered one of the most definitive instrumentally-driven, grime-themed collections to ever see release. From D.O.K's seminal classic 'Cardio' to an other-worldly Falty DL rework of Terror's 'Zumpi Hunter' and a 2006 special from Hyperdub boss Kode 9, these are tracks bound only by their eminence, each one with a story to tell, each one a classic in their own right. Tracks from Butterz label mates Swindle, Royal-T and Champion, long-time collaborator P Jam, rising star Lex Envy, Midlands protege Swifta Beater, Teddy and even a joint-effort with Zed Bias all make appearances too, highlighting both the respect and reach that Terror's legacy garners.
P Jam's monstrous VIP cut of 'Arizona Skyz', a track on everyone's lips since rumours of a release surfaced back in 2011, is probably the pick of the bunch although such is the quality on offer, a case could quite easily be made for each of the other 17; my personal favourite, in true testament to Danjah's legacy, is Swifta Beater's RnG-flavoured stomper, 'Move'.
With all things considered, it was over to Rough Trade East to provide the setting for an interview that casts a light onto the real and tangible potential of grime's simmering instrumental arm..
- - -
Tell us about 'Hardwired'..
"I'm obviously a part of Butterz but aside from that, grime outlets are few and far between. There wasn't really anything around when I was thinking about putting it out and you can't saturate one label with everything. With Hardrive I don't have to think like that - originally it was supposed to be released as an album called 'The Producer 2011' with tracks like Arizona Skyz and a few others but I thought instead of squeezing 4 tracks onto a vinyl, I might as well release a CD. It's taken a little while longer than I thought it would but here we are!"
With Rinse putting out 'I Love Grime' back in December and forthcoming compilations from both Keysound and yourself set for release over the next month, how important do you see the compilation format continuing to be?
"Very important. With music, it can often be a decision to either throwaway free music or put out a vinyl. Free music is good for a quick buzz but content is key with compilations and they show you're serious about the music. It's best coming from the source too and it's been nice to experiment a bit; I get tracks from people outside the grime circle so why not get them involved in it too? The response has been wicked so far."
Where do you see it fitting in, in and amongst what is now a healthy, resurgent instrumental scene?
"I don't see it as fitting in, it's just the next natural step really. Me and Elijah have been putting out records on Butterz and Hardrive for a while now and I just wanted to put a compiation out from a proper, respected grime source. We know what grime is and we know what good grime sounds like; I kinda feel like an A & R in that way (laughs). There's a few unexpected bits too though. The Kode9 track is a weird one, he made it back in 2006 and Wiley ended up spraying over it; a lot of people have been after it for a while so I almost had to get him in a headlock to get the okay! The joint track with myself and Zed Bias is another - I got that track after we met up at Coachella in 2011 and clicked. We worked on quite a few bits but I love that tune, I think it's probably the best of the lot."
The tracks you've included aren't really bound by any particular theme or ideal, yet 'Hardwired' seems all the more personal and intimate for it. It almost feels that these are tracks too special and too-long pined after for them to see release in a way - is that something you were aware of when deciding which tracks you wanted to include?
"Yeah, in a way. To be honest, it's just stuff that I've been playing out and music I know really well. A lot of the tracks are tried and tested but 'Ice', 'Iceberg History' and the Lex Envy track are still relatively new and unheard - aside from that, it's all just stuff I know and love."
D.O.K.'s seminal riddim 'Cardio' and P Jam's extraordinary VIP cut of 'Arizona Skyz' are arguably the most eye-catching tracks on the compilation but alongside them and fellow old affiliates in Kode9, Zed Bias and more contemporary names like Champion and Swindle, we find Swifta Beater and Lex Envy. Was it an easy decision to get them on board?
"Lex is someone I really wanna get on board next year but she did some bits on the 'Dark Crawler' LP and was too good to leave out. Both Swifta and Preditah were in mind too - I've known Swifta for years and I've had the tracks for a long time so it made sense to put something out from him. I think he's going to do a lot over the next few years as well by the way, he's definitely one of the best coming out of the Midlands at the moment."
On that point, aside from Butterz and Hyperdub circles, who else has really caught your eye over the last 12 months?
"I see Pedro 123 floating about, I see Kahn & Neek ... they're the names I notice most but I try to shy away from listening too much to save myself getting influenced. I tend to look for inspiration away from grime but I always keep my ear to the ground. Deeco as well, he's another one. I don't actually listen to grime at all away from producing you know, I never have done. It helps my mind breathe."
On a separate note, the Falty DL remix of 'Zumpi Hunter' - absolutely incredible...
"I've known Drew a long time and he asked me to do it; you can't really say no to Falty DL, even though I had more than enough remixes at the time. He was gonna put it out for free too so I had to stop him and luckily got it sorted for the compilation. Big up Falty DL man, I owe him one."
Favourite track on the compilation?
"Arizona Skyz VIP. I had to keep 'Insomina' from P Jam as well, he gave me that tune 2 years ago and was always asking, 'When is that compilation coming out?'"
Looking ahead, with your time now split between Hardrive and Butterz on the label front, do you enjoy the challenge of running a joint-operation?
"I'm more of a commander for Elijah really. I advise him on things because of my experience with running Aftershock and involvement with other labels but with Hardrive, if something gets me excited, I just take it. At first, I questioned a few things, like, it took me a while to release Champion's 'Motherboard' EP. I felt too small to release that and that's ended up being one of the biggest sellers on the label so it just shows. It's great to see him do his own thing with Formula now too.
Hardrive was never really a grime label to begin with either, it was just a label for me to put music out. There's never been a consensus and the compilation has opened my eyes to new ideas and new ways of thinking. That's what Butterz tapped into and it's finally starting to pay dividends. We saw that opportunity, there's no risk in trying you know? You're not gonna lose anything. We've made the music worth something and mean something."
You've also got an EP forthcoming with Champion on Hyperdub, your first since the release of your Dark Crawler LP last year - can you tell us a bit about what to expect?
"It was purely off the back of the album and the response we got from 'Air Max 90'. We were finishing off Dark Crawler last year and I had chatted to Kode9 about an EP - he wanted both me and Champion to release some bits this year but it wasn't until Elijah said, 'why don't you just do a joint-EP?' that I thought, 'yeah, why not?'. Champion's excelling now too, especially with the new Digital Soundboy thing he's got coming. As for the title, we were watching Sons of Anarchy a lot at the time (laughs). I'll leave you pondering the next step but just make sure you're prepared."
Hopes and ambitions for the remainder of 2013?
"I wanna be a billionaire! Nah, I just wanna continue in the same fashion and improve. I wanna be up there with Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke eventually. Grime isn't the easiest pill to swallow and it's hard to make it universal for everyone but I'm chasing that sense of achievement. I want the legacy, I don't wanna be one of those guys in the doll queue in a few years time saying 'do you know who I was?'. Hopefully this year opens a few doors and I can grab a top 20. It sounds crazy but that's what I really hope for."- - - 'Hardwired' is set to be released on March 25th. Terror Danjah is set to play Birthdays in Dalston tomorrow night (March 22nd) - Facebook invite.