Image: Mark Surridge
Written by Maya-Rose Torrão
Electronic DJ and producer Plastician is one of the true pioneers of both the dubstep and grime genres. Not constrained by any one genre, Plastician, born Chris Reed, has been making music almost his whole life. Starting out as a UK garage DJ in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Plastician and a group of fellow garage DJ’s would DJ on pirate radio stations, which led him to start producing his own tracks and experimenting with sound. In 2006 he also spent 18 months on BBC Radio 1, making him the world’s first DJ to have a specialist dubstep and grime radio show on national radio.
Today, this veteran musician is associated with a variety of genres including dubstep, grime, breakstep and wave. A lot has changed for this multi-faceted musician over the years but Plastician is still bringing listeners original genre-hopping electronic music that never disappoints; he has just brought out a new EP, ‘Overdue’, via Terrorhythm, in what is his biggest solo release of new music on the label since his critically acclaimed debut album ‘Beg To Differ’, from 2007. On top of this exciting new release, Plastician will be embarking on an extensive US tour at the end of this year.
Listen to Plastician’s new EP, ‘Overdue’, below.
We caught up with Plastician and chatted about touring, staying true to oneself and his new EP.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts? Why music?
I was actually always into art & design growing up. When the dream of being a professional sports player had all but faded, I went to college to study fine art but really wanted to get into graphic design eventually. I discovered music during my time there really, I’d been into music before obviously but was not really exploring anything beyond the album charts until I discovered pirate radio properly around 1998/1999.
Describe your sound to us in your own words.
I would say my sound has always represented the middle ground between any styles I was playing at the time. My taste always changes down the years, so production wise I just tried to make things I could play that helped me mix between different songs I liked. I wouldn’t say I ever have a particular goal, I just want to try and make stuff that sits in it’s own place but is relevant to various DJ’s.
I’m really interested in the name ‘Plastician’ – tell us a bit more about it and how it came about. Have you always performed/produced under this moniker?
No, I used to be called Plasticman. I had to change it to Plastician to avoid a legal battle. It’s a long story that’s been well documented online many times down the years, best reading on Wikipedia for that.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
The idea. Or just getting in studio and starting something, cycling through presets on various synths til I hear something similar to the sound I’ve got in my head, or cycling through drum sounds looking for something that sounds interesting.
You’ve just brought out an exciting new EP, ‘Overdue’ – tell us a bit more about how the writing of the album came about and the process of putting it all together.
I have been writing that one for a long time, some of the songs on that EP are 4 years old! It’s essentially a collection of tracks documenting various feelings in my life since I became a Dad in 2014. Some of the emotions are happy and sparkly, some are really chilled and there’s some that sound really dread, like ‘Brexit Beats’ for example which was like a sonic snapshot of the feelings surrounding that. I have been sat on lots of music the past few years and felt the time was right to start piecing releases together for them, ‘Overdue’ is the first. I’ll be following it up with some releases between now and the New Year also.
You’ll be touring the album soon in the US – how are you feeling about that? Do you have any tricks that help you stay focussed and energised on tour?
I’m looking forward to it as because we had a newborn in May I had to put off touring most of this year until now. America always brings out a good crowd of heads who are keen to let me play freely! Staying focused and energised on tour is definitely about making sure you’re involved in the flight booking process or can trust that the booker is somebody who has experienced touring! Always book flights after midday to the next city to ensure you get as much sleep post gig as possible! Rest is everything.
Speaking of touring – what has been one of your best ever tour experiences?
I have had the pleasure of touring all over the world since my first overseas show in 2003. I’ve had so many great trips. I really hold my South American tours dearly, I loved all the cities I visited there and particularly liked the Brazilian music scene and the Funk sound over there. I think going to Tokyo when I was 22 was a crazy experience as it was so unlike anywhere I’d been at the time. I was still relatively new to touring then and that was my first trip to Asia. It felt like I was on another planet as I saw very little English signage out there, and very few people I tried to communicate with could speak English apart from a few and the promoters. I really enjoyed getting up on my days off and walking through the city at 4am (jet lag meant I was awake at this time every day I was there). Walking through Tokyo when it’s streets are empty is a real good experience.
… and an experience you’d prefer to forget?
My first ever gig abroad was actually really awful. My luggage got lost by the airline so it was touch and go if I could perform. I landed in Vienna and had to wait for the next plane to arrive from London with my records. It arrived and then the promoter was really rude to me, like I was at fault. I mentioned grabbing some food before the show (my entire deal then was he’d just cover my travel, food and hotel – I took no fee for the show) and he literally threw 50 euros at me and told me to sort myself out as he was busy. The event was a drum & bass event and I was going in there to play music nobody had ever heard before – very early grime pretty much. It had barely established itself in London at this point. Nobody seemed to be into it apart from the promoter’s friends. I’ve always found even to this day that a drum & bass crowd is rarely up for hearing anything other than drum & bass, but that was my first experience. Luckily I’ve not had a worse experience than that since, and we’re going back about 15 years to that show.
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
I like to be close to the crowd so I can see what is / isn’t working. Have never really enjoyed playing on a stage that much, prefer to be in a booth or something more intimate. So long as people aren’t wandering into the booth getting too close to my personal space or hounding me to play something completely irrelevant to the music I’m playing, then I’m good being close up to people!
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
Beer. Sometimes spirits, but only if I don’t need to get up early the next day.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
My technique only really changes DJ’ing from genre to genre depending on the kind of music I’m mixing. If it’s pads / floaty wave kind of stuff I use slow mixes, EQ filters and usually quite a bit of reverb. I always try to mix in key so the harmonies sit right as well. Playing something like Grime I worry less about harmonics and can mix choppier and faster – especially if I’m working with an MC. Dubstep / Garage mixing is kind of in between the two, you need the harmonics but sometimes giving proper cuts and chops can be good too. If I’m playing something housey / technoey it’s all about really long clean blends and knowing when to fade out of one song to accentuate a build up on the other record. Use of filters when not even mixing / delays is also really good for building up more empty parts of long records. Then when playing my disco sets I have set loops up on certain parts of songs so that the tracks are mixable as they weren’t all built with dj’s in mind – I need to loop little instrumental parts so I can mix properly etc.
What’s on your current playlist?
I’m currently listening to Ghetts – ‘Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament’, D Double E – ‘Jackuum!’, Slowthai – ‘Runt’, anything by Klasey Jones, Yaleesa Hall or Nuages.
Take us through a day in the studio with Plastician.
I spend most of the day drinking Tea & Coffee. I load up FL Studio and spend the best part of an hour or two loading sounds I like into the drum pads, and VST’s into channels. Sometimes I’ll be working around a sample and can spend hours cutting it up or sometimes will open up Ableton to warp the loop to fit my drums better. Then it’s anyone’s guess! Usually if I don’t get close to finishing a song in the first sitting, it could go unfinished for months – years even. I don’t have limitless amounts of studio time as I run a label, a publishing company, DJ one or two times a week, manage an artist, promote events, and also A&R consult 2 days a week for Pirate Studios. With all this in mind, when I do find time now to get in the studio I try to put the phone away and concentrate fully on getting something close to being finished so I just have to work on the mix and maybe structure the next time I get a chance.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
I think as soon as I got my own decks I was in. I never thought it would become a living until I got my first job in the industry when I was 19 working in a distribution company selling records to shops. Then I got to learn how labels were run, how much things cost, how to promote a release etc. After that job I went back to college to learn more about production while I was putting out records of my own and also touring at the same time. Luckily my teachers were really understanding of my need to take time out of college to tour the USA etc – they were more interested in me having a career in music than a piece of paper with a qualification on it. By the time I finished college I’d been on pirate radio for 5 years and had been offered my slot on BBC Radio 1. By then I was pretty deep into the game already and just had to maintain a way to earn from it, which is the hard bit!
Any emerging/unknown/upcoming artists on your radar?
I wouldn’t say there’s anyone specific right now. Am always on the lookout for something that knocks me sideways but haven’t had that feeling about an artist for a few years now. I know there’s somebody out there making something really original but I’ve struggled to find them for a while!
What gets your creative juices flowing? What gets you in the mood to make music? Whether it be the work of other musicians, art, film, nature etc…
Literally just having time to myself to do it. If I look at my week ahead and think I can spare a day to write music I’ll usually book a studio space with Pirate Studios and get in there for a whole day, usually with some other artists and just catch a vibe! I can get on at home in my studio some days but there are a lot of distractions. Once I go into another studio it feels instantly like you’re on the clock and you need to get something done, so I think that drives me right away to work hard.
Any side projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?
I have a few aliases that I keep secret. But I’ve been working in the studio with Klasey Jones a lot on a couple of different vibes. Also got music to come featuring Jafro, Renz, Jammz on a grime tip.
You’ve been making music for many many years now – How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
Just constantly evolving and knowing you’re only ever as relevant as your most recent release. I like to evolve and experiment in the studio and also as a DJ. Staying true to my feelings as opposed to worrying if I should be “repping” a genre in particular.
Break down the news for us: what can we expect from Plastician this year?
I’d say at least one more release before the new year. Something grimy most likely! I have lots more UK bookings coming up as well as my USA tour in November. Looking forward to all of those!