Oneman needed to take a step back. Burnt out by years on the road, suffering from addiction issues, he’d lost sight of what he truly loved about being a DJ.
“I feel like the music I play in clubs and radio always reflects how I feel at the time,” he tells Clash. “I’m very much one of those DJs who will take my emotions and try to reflect that in a club. I don’t think it should necessarily always be that way, as it’s hard to connect with your emotions in a live setting… but I was doing it way too much.”
“I went through this addiction phase, and I noticed that the music I was playing became darker and darker. It just wasn’t fun. I almost wanted to go as dark as I could. But with sobriety came clearer thinking, and I value it all now. I don’t see the old me appreciating being a DJ in the way I do now.”
Refreshed and revitalised, Oneman - South London's own Steve Bishop - has overhauled his sound, pushing away the darker elements of his sets for something more dancefloor-oriented, more inclined to connect with people.
“The kind of trajectory I’ve gone in terms of the music I play in the last year has spun back on its head to where I originally was, which is a very dancefloor focussed DJ,” he insists. “Coming out of DMZ in 2007 or ‘08 playing the last set of the night, playing garage, which is where I started.”
“I’ve looked at what is interesting me in terms of music over the last year. I’m getting into this break meets techno sound from Hamburg – there’s a label called Brothers From Different Mothers. There’s another in Berlin called Doom Chakra Tapes. All these labels seem to be releasing all this really heavy cut breaks with deep basslines, and this twinkly electro synth sound.”
“There’s this whole broken, very dubby, but still very dancefloor related sound that I’ve spun towards. It’s still bass heavy, and very skippy – it reminds me more of 2-step than it does of techno. Just imagine 2-step with a techno palette. That’s kind of the way I’ve been going in the past six months.”
Plunging back into music, this mission of discovery has helped Oneman to re-connect with why he started to do all this in the first place.
“My flatmate works nights, and my home studio set up is in the living room. During the day I can’t really touch them, but when it comes to 8pm, 9pm and he goes out to work, the first thing I want to do is switch the decks on and get stuck into a load of records!” he laughs.
“I still enjoy it. And that’s the main thing. I really felt like I stopped enjoying it for a while because of what I put myself through. It was no one else’s fault but my own. But I really feel like I needed to step back and look to the early days when I first started professionally, doing this every week. And to realise just how much I did enjoy it back then. I was active all the time, I was playing everywhere. So the fact that I can be in this position, and be happy with it, and be open to music again… it’s just great, really”.
It’s not quite been a solo journey, though. Oneman has surrounded himself with positive people, some of whom he’s known for years, and each has a simple passion for music.
“People like Artwork, for example,” he smiles. “I remember there was one night a few years ago when I was supposed to be DJing, and my laptop had died. I had a gig that night and I phoned up a few people, didn’t know what to do. I called Artwork, said: Arthur, my laptop has died! He was literally round 10 minutes later with his laptop, a few USBs and mountains of these UKG dubs he’d collected. I asked why he was doing all that, and he just said: it’ll be a great gig! He’s helped me out with so much stuff in the past.”
Still based in his native South London, Oneman spends long afternoons in Croydon’s DNR Records, a specialist vinyl hub renowned for their warm welcome and expert knowledge. “I’ve got DNR Records at the bottom of my road, and they’ve got the biggest UK garage collection money can buy,” he enthuses. “I can go down any time during the day, buy a few records, check out a few new releases.”
“I feel like having a record shop at the end of my road is really important for me now, because it’s something I really, really miss. It’s all good going uptown, heading to Central London, but it’s different than going to your local – in South London, as well – and being the only bloke in there, sitting with the guy who runs the shop going through all these tunes. There’s nothing like it, it just makes me feel alive again. The fact that I’ve got DNR so near to me as well is a big part of why I’ve started to enjoy it again.”
Matching his crate-digging tendencies with a thirst towards new music, Oneman is pushing into a fresh chapter in his life, moving away from those star-billing shows and immersing himself more fully in clubbing communities.
“Playing out has taken me out of this position where I’m on my own all the time, where it’s Oneman headlining and a few local residents underneath,” he explains. “Those gigs are great, but I don’t need to be on those line ups all the time any more. I think the lack of diversity in those line ups lead me to a place of… complacency, I guess. I stopped questioning what I was doing in clubs, and I started to treat those performances as if they were owed to me.”
Launching a new residency, Oneman now helms Limelight, a bi-weekly dance in Soho’s Borderline. “It’s historic in Soho as a live venue… it used to be quite a dive!” he recalls with a laugh. “It’s cool now, though. I think over the last 10 years Soho has seen a death in terms of nightlife. As a kid I used to go to Hippodrome in Leicester Square, or Limelight. Which, funnily enough, is the name of my night! Basically paying homage to that whole Soho scene.”
“That’s going to be bi-weekly, every second and fourth Thursday of the month at Borderline. I’ll be resident, with guest DJs. Our next one is Valentine’s Day – I’m going back to back with Martello.”
Injecting some energy into Soho’s nightlife, Oneman has been peppering his sets with special edits, including a jungle-inspired, breaks-laden re-working of ‘Praise The Lord’ by Skepta and A$AP Rocky.
“It’s about the skills I have as a DJ, making different things come together,” he insists. “That Skepta jungle edit is the perfect example as the beat is 80BPM and the jungle one is 160 but it has that groove to it. The original leaves all this space for the jungle beat to fill. Energy can’t be made or destroyed it can only be transferred and that’s how energy is transferred. I really enjoyed doing those.”
With the next Limelight dance incoming, Oneman hit the decks to craft a very special Clash DJ Mix. Tune in below.
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djrum - Unblocked
Stillhead - Spirit Remains
Bromley - Know
James AV - Upper
Farron - T-Junk (Hodge Remix)
Almaty - Gennaro (Edian Remix)
Circuit 900 - Andara
Arctor - Memory Gene (James Shinra Remix)
djrum - Sex
Arctor - Soulless
Giraffi Dog - 351 Nation
Lastrack - Sweet Vanilla
Jammer ft. Tara Lily - Misty Cold
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