Have No Fear, I'm Right Here: Fiyahdred Interviewed

Have No Fear, I'm Right Here: Fiyahdred Interviewed

Hyperdub’s new signee speaks on how UK funky never went away...

Fiyahdred has been looking for a fresh start. The 25-year-old South Londoner gained a following under the name ‘Bamz’ for their production work alongside appearing multiple times behind the illustrious Boiler Room decks. Under Bamz, their musical output in 2020 was bountiful, but was less of a gear up to something bigger than it was a total reconfiguration. During this time, Fiyahdred was weathering a two-year spell of missing the passion to create music, seesawing between relieving pressure from themself and striving for a new direction. Upon striking the material heard on their brand-new 'Anyway' EP, they lifted themself out with a nominal switch-up and a firm step-up in production.

Ever since the height of UK funky, a genre that tore up the late 2000s with its blend of house, soca rhythms and R&B vocals, Fiyahdred has become a walking encyclopedia on the genre. You’ll note the way they can list off reams of names of producers and MCs of the time, all stemming from the second-hand experience taken from their older brother. It’s never left them, instead moulding releases such as their collaborative tribute to all-time UK funky favs Classix EP with good friend Scratcha DVA. Moreover, the 'Anyway' EP provides a spacey, smokey take on UK funky that marks a renewed impetus, particularly in the self-assured lyrics on lead single ‘Anyway (Do It)’.

Now signed to legendary underground dance label Hyperdub thanks to a good word from Scratcha DVA, Fiyahdred has found their fresh start.

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How did you first find out that Hyperdub was interested in your music?

It actually started when I sent ‘Anyway (Do It)’ to Scratcha DVA in mid-2020. Scratcha has been in my corner since we were on the same Boiler Room lineup in 2018, so I sent it to him and he said it was sick. Then a couple months later, he texted me and said he had to talk ASAP. He called and he said “I was in the gym and this tune came on, I had to know who made this tune and realised it was the tune you sent to me a few months ago. I have to send it to [Hyperdub founder] Kode9, do you mind?” He sent it on, me and Kode9 connected, we spoke about where it could go, and then I spent a month putting the EP together.

When did you first get a copy of FL Studio?

That was my mum’s friend, Yvonne, shoutout Yvonne! I first used FL Studio 4 on one of my cousins’ laptops. I didn’t know what I was doing, just that I could put a four-beat pattern and got a little groove going on. Yvonne bought me the Producer’s Edition on my 10th birthday, so I went from playing outside to being inside banging out beats.

For a 10-year-old, they weren’t half bad, you know. I remember them being on some house/garage/grime vibes because my brother was playing Stimpy, Screwface, Nutty Violins, Bongo, VIP, IMP Batch, the early grime riddims. When I was younger, I was very shy, so production was a vessel for that instead of being out on the roads doing foolish things that young people can get caught up or pushed into.

You are an aficionado of UK funky. Tell me about the height and decline of UK funky 10 years ago through your eyes.

It’s difficult because I’m 25, so 10 years ago I was having to live through my older brother who was going to all the sets from Supa D, Pioneer, Kismet, Circle, Scholar Tee, in all these different clubs that are probably gone now. He’d always bring back the mix CD, and there would never be a song I disliked. You’ve got the hosts and the MCs on it like Coldstepz, Roska, Dogtaniaun, the vibe was crazy.  

Obviously, shoutout to Crazy Cousinz and Kyla and ‘The Funky Anthem’ because they pushed it onto the map, but it was more than the chart-toppers. It was the beats that drew me in, and I realised there was more than UK funky. Afrohouse was taking it to South Africa, and then Latin elements, Chicago house elements... this is much more than UK funky, it was much bigger.

I personally feel like it never died. It always suits the narrative to say UK funky died because it’s not being heard on the radio, but it hasn’t gone anywhere! People are still creating the bounce and pioneering today. There’s DJ Polo, myself, KG, Scratcha, NKC, Ikonika... they may not brand themselves as UK funky, but you can’t deny what’s there. They all champion UK funky.

You spoke about falling out of love with making music. Could you elaborate further on that?

I felt like the joy and the drive to make music wasn’t really there, even before the pandemic hit. To help deal with it, I started a YouTube series called ‘Bamz on Buttonz’ with the sole purpose of making beats with no direction or intention, going back to move forward. Then I made the choice to change my stage name; Bamz had a great run, but I needed a new lease of life and a new direction.

From then on, things started aligning, I came into this new sense of being without the same fears and procrastination that I had with Bamz. That’s when I started finding the joy, because I started to make music for myself, and it allowed me to recognise how far I’ve come and how far I could go if I did everything unapologetically. I’m eager to learn again, and it’s been a really positive journey over the last 18-24 months.

Would you say that ‘Anyway’ was a eureka moment?

Once I made it, I was proud that despite the fact it was something so different for me, I got over my initial apprehensiveness and didn’t put it off. I don’t normally send out tracks because I get [possessive], so even sending it out to Scratcha was a big thing. When he came back saying “this is good, bun everything else you’re doing and do you”, it was a massive confidence boost. As well as being a song about getting high and having a good time, it’s also a mantra to myself. Remain positive.

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You put a nice twist on James Blake’s ‘Retrograde’ at the start of the year. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind that?

I love ‘Retrograde’, every time I listen to it I interpret it differently. I needed to get it out there as something to affirm and centre myself. Making that track was a pivotal moment at the start of this year because it made me realise I could put myself into the music even more. It shocked me when I made it, and I’ve had loads of people come up to me since the start of the year and tell me how insane the cover is. They thought I did it justice and though I spun it in a way it couldn’t be spun.

Would you plan to do any more covers? Any in mind?

Definitely. John Legend has an interlude called ‘Let’s Get Lifted Again’. 'Get Lifted' is an album that me and my mum used to rinse when we were younger, and I’ve always thought that particular interlude was insane. As I’ve gotten older and re-listen to it, I realise there’s levels to this track. When I [cover] it, it will push me because of the octaves, but I would love to put my own spin on it. Also, I’m a big fan of Benji Flow and Ragz Originale because of their vocal styles, the nonchalance [in their voice] when they’re attacking the music.

What’s the wildest, most out-of-pocket track you’ve thrown on in a DJ set?

I've done a mix of Chaka Khan “Ain’t Nobody” into “Dancehall Queen” by Chevelle Franklin and Beenie Man before [laughs].

How did you discover that you were non-binary?

From when I was about 20 to 21, every time I was referred to as “she” or “her”, it didn’t resonate with me anymore. I felt uncomfortable being referred to as such. Growing up, I didn’t feel either-or, I felt like a fluid entity. I would always get the question of “is that a boy or a girl?” and I wasn’t exposed to the different variety of people who identify outside of the binary.

I’m someone who likes to educate myself and sit down and listen when I don’t have the range to discuss something, so the more I started to understand that gender is a social construct pushed onto society, the less it made sense for me to be called ‘he/him’ or ‘she/her’. I still have a long way to go to understanding my identity, and although I might identify as such now, it’s still not set in stone and that’s the beauty of it. The fluidity is the most important factor. If I decided to revert back to ‘she/her’ pronouns, that’s cool. ‘He/him’, that’s cool. If I decided I want people to call me by my name and not have to deal with the riff-raff of pronouns, that’s also cool. It’s not by force to be or do anything, so I continue learning and listening to individuals who inspire me in the way they express themselves. It’s important to live your truth and to see that we are ever-evolving. We don’t have to remain the same person that we are today.

What challenges do you face as a non-binary person?

Misgendering is one of the biggest challenges. I would like to say that you can’t expect people to know from the beginning, but at this rate, I can. When I feel like that isn’t considered, it shows they don’t really care about what I do.

As well as that, in living your truth, you double up as an educator. You don’t do it with that intention in mind, but you find yourself educating those who are set on misunderstanding, as well as those who want to understand but don’t quite get it yet. It can be draining, especially if you are someone who is always evolving and may not have all the answers.

Do you find yourself a part of a non-binary community on the DJ circuit?

Definitely. PXSSY PALACE and BBZ are two communities that have been supporting me from the jump. It’s so nice to know that you can go to those spaces and you’re going to be seen and heard. They resonate with your evolution, and they’re the type of people to hold you and everybody else accountable to maximize your growth. I do see myself as part of a collective where everyone wakes up and puts their identity into everything that they do. It’s beautiful to be a part of it.

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Words: Nathan Evans // @nayfun_evans
Photo Credit: Remy Bourdeau

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