It’s hard to think of anyone who has done more to revive the UKG scene in recent years, than Conducta.
At the age of just 26, he’s been long since known as the ‘Prince of Garage’, a title not to be taken lightly. 2019 saw his reputation as a producer soar, thanks to his work on AJ Tracey’s hit ‘Ladbroke Grove’ – which peaked at number three in the UK charts. Alongside his work as the A&R and owner of Kiwi Rekords, the artist has created a community, helping to reintroduce a sound that has long been missing from dancefloors across the world.
Growing up in the ‘90s and early 2000’s, a time when garage was at it’s most prominent, Conducta spent much of his youth delving into sonic wormholes, searching for anything new and different. “My generation caught the tail end of the last, my version of record shopping was opening a load of links and seeing where they lead. For example, if I typed in ‘grime’ on Limewire, 60 million songs would come up. If I listened to a thousand songs but one of those sparked something, it would be worth it.”
“When I started producing, we’d listen to stuff we didn’t like and make sure we didn’t make the same mistakes. We never wanted to copy, we’d take everything in around us, its influence and create something new. When I was a teenager, my Godfather introduced me to garage and grime. Seeing grime have its moment three years ago, and with the sound coming from UKG, it made me really want garage to be back at the forefront.”
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The journey for Conducta hasn’t been the most straightforward. Being labelled as the ‘Prince of Garage’ made the artist a target for criticism from his peers, with some thinking he was undeserving of the title. “It came from a Complex article, they called me it once and then it just stuck. Some of the older DJs were like ‘how could he be the Prince of Garage when he doesn’t even have a hit?!’ With music, and life in general, I feel like the energy you put into something, you get back. Two weeks after someone said that, ‘Ladbroke Grove’ came out. People can make their own mind up whether I deserve that title.”
It’s hard to describe the impact a song like ‘Ladbroke Grove’ has on an artist’s career, not only did it prove those critics wrong, but it also projected his UKG sound to an unimaginable audience. “I remember laying on my bed making that beat. My laptop was so hot on my stomach. Going from hearing that song on my studio speakers to seeing AJ play it to thousands of people, it’s totally surreal. You’d be in an uber and it would just come on the radio.”
“I think the song debuted at 53 in the charts, I said I’d get a tattoo if it got Top 40, turns out it got to number three. I still haven’t got the tattoo, but I will soon. I knew with that song coming out, the label dropping and then with the Kiwi Manifesto being released, a snowball would happen but not to this extent.”
In January 2019, Conducta launched his own label, known as Kiwi Rekords. Born from a desire to create a community that had been lost for some time. “I was booked for a lot of festivals in 2018, but I was the only garage artist on these multi genre line-ups. I just thought, there needs to be a scene, a community. Every other genre had that, but garage didn’t.”
“It’s about being inclusive and having these producers that feel part of a family. I don’t try to control anyone, everyone at the label is free to do their own thing. Kiwi is a platform for people to grow from, to flourish. Prescribe Da Vibe is perfect evidence for that, getting recognition from the likes of Caribou and Four Tet, someone who you know is so talented, seeing other people notice that makes everything worth it.”
This sense of community has only grown whilst the world has been in lockdown. Taking to social media, Conducta lead a call for the next big star to join the label, through the ‘Kiwi Kup’. “We sent out stems from our catalogue for producers to remix. There are so many talented people out there going unnoticed, this really highlighted that. It was hard turning people down, but there’s real unity out there in our scene, everyone’s pulling together.” Thanks to Kiwi, there’s now an underground entry point, into the music industry for garage producers.
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In March the artist released ‘The Kiwi Sound’ – a mix that celebrates the labels sonic output, a year on from its inauguration. A piece that set out to link the underground and the mainstream, whilst creating a “path from the past to the future”. Opening the mix with ‘Ladbroke Grove’ felt like a key decision in fulfilling this ambition. A song so recognisable, that spearheaded its way into the mainstream, whilst the whole time being a notable garage production at heart.
This link from the past to the future can also be seen with the inclusion of stars such as Wiley and Stefflon Don alongside the new breed of Mind Of A Dragon and Sammy Virji. It’s a brave mix, it’s fast, its fluid and it transports you to the beach with a cocktail in hand – it’s hard not to smile throughout. If there was a perfect representation of Conducta’s label, this is it.
During this worldwide lockdown, being productive has been the artist’s motto. Not only has he had the Kiwi Kup on the go, he’s also been running a livestream twice a week – Conducta’s Crib.
“It’s just a way of keeping people engaged, I love exploring new music, so this has been a great way of doing that. I think right now its about adapting, if you do the groundwork, you’ll come out of this with a group of core listeners. We’re seeing regulars tuning in each time and it’s a fun environment to be in. In some ways these livestreams have been a blessing, I used to be known as just a garage DJ, no one knew the full extent of my taste, now people won’t be surprised if I play a Kerri Chandler track. I feel like it’s helped me to prepare for the bookings after all this.”
Throughout my conversation with Conducta, there’s a notable focus that this new UKG sound isn’t trying to emulate its predecessor. I was keen to see what he thought made this movement so different and the key to its success. “I remember around 2010, the sound of hip-hop and rap changed, the sound totally shifted," he comments. “But you could still hear elements of what was happening before.”
“I think the same has happened with garage. You can still hear the melodic elements of Wookie and Todd Edwards and the drum programming. But things are a lot more electronic based now, I’d say the sound is crisper and cleaner. The sound has evolved, but the soul is still there, that’s the thread that aligns the new to the old.”
This of course isn’t the first UKG revival. Previous incantations failed to launch the genre back to its previous heights, but this time the movement feels different. Kiwi has created a community, with collaboration at its core, something that has previously been missing from the genre.
A sense of humility is rife amongst Conducta and his fellow producers, and there is, for a change, a shared goal – getting UKG back to where it should be. Would you bet against them?
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'The Kiwi Sound' is out now.
Words: Jake Wright
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