Introducing Steph aka Yellakins - Diversity in Dubstep #3

Introducing Steph aka Yellakins

Diversity in Dubstep #3

NB: the usual SSL caveat applies – add ‘:’ into any broken links and they’ll work for you! 

There’ve been peaks and troughs of content here on FKOF over the last 10 years, but it seems kind of fitting that in the 10th year we get to the 1,000th post on the blog.

Even more fitting that the 1,000th post is the latest in our DiD series – and features sitting down with one of the most incredible people I’ve met in my time in music. ICYMI, DiD is an effort on our part to increase the diversity of people we feature here on FKOF:

…”Moving forward, we’re collectively making a conscious effort to change that by highlighting talented individuals or collectives from broader/ diverse backgrounds – be that gender, sexuality, race, status and everything in-between. If you think that’s you, or someone you know, I’d love to hear from you. Give me a shout via email or on Twitter and let’s chat!”

Anyway.

Back to DiD#3.

As I was saying. Where to start with Steph? She’s been instrumental in one of the most formative dances in 140bpm, she’s label manager at one of the most respected labels in the genre and she works with some of the most innovative and excited producers/ DJs around. Safe to say it’s an absolute honour having her on here!

We’ve also managed to get a mix as well! It’s a version of Steph’s set at zku –which she talks about later – recorded recently digitally (as opposed to its original vinyl format). You can also grab it on Spotify if that’s your vibe.

It’s a long and deep chat, so I’d recommend grabbing a cup of tea – or sticking the mix on – as you sit down to get your teeth into this one…

Steph, by Bianca

Hey Steph, how you doing? I hear you’ve been in Berlin during COVID-19 – how is it treating you? Hey hey. I’m healthy and surviving! Berlin has been such a blessing during these crazy times. The city has the most beautiful calming energy. Berliners will tell me off for sharing this and encouraging others to visit!

For the few of those who maybe don’t know you, can you give a quick introduction? How would you best describe yourself (given the long list of amazing things you do) – label/ artist manager, agent, event booker/ planner, radio host etc etc.?! It’s hard to summarise as I don’t have one title, but if I have to put it into a box: I run musik matter – an umbrella brand that covers everything you listed above… And more. If I’ve learnt it over the years, I try to share it.

How did you get into music in the first place? Into working in music or listening to music? Well for listening: in the womb, courtesy of my Jamaican dad’s love for music and his sound system stylee speakers. For working: it started like a Saturday job as DMZ till girl (with Sana) while I was climbing the corporate ladder.

In 2012, I planned a 4 week sabbatical to the Caribbean but the company I worked for was bought out and the new owners didn’t want to honour it as it was a critical year for their business… So I took a massive risk and quit for the Caribbean sea. After 10 weeks away, I realised I didn’t need to quit the UK… Just the boardrooms!

I helped a friend with his bookings (as my rent) and went to help MEDi as an intern… And a couple of months later, Mala offered me the job as label manager.

Talk us through musik matter, you’re an agent/ manager for a few artists right? How you get into that side of things? musik matter was started because I really struggled to get answers when I joined MEDi. I’m still not sure if it was protective people that worried about their jobs or a general lack of understanding meaning they couldn’t help? Whatever the reason, I found it very challenging.

Learning as much as I could meant that I organically spent hours passing on free advice and support and was surprised to see others have personal & financial success as a direct result of our talks. I decided ‘waiting to be an expert’ wasn’t necessary; what I’d learnt so far was already enough to share and could help others on their journey.

As I navigate the industry, the services musik matter offer broaden. 

I’m not actually an agent, musik matter offers booking support. And I am not officially a manager. Every artist is unique, every project is different.

Sometimes titles and the accompanying job descriptions can be a tad restrictive. I see it a bit like music genres… The industry needs relatable terms to assign responsibilities so I often have to be a ‘manager, booker, coach, promoter’ etc., but my internal approach is always open and always fluid to whatever the contribution needs to be.

How did your connection to Mala/ MEDi come about – and when did you get involved in the management side of things for the label? Pokes, Loefah and I worked at Black Sheep Bar and I met Mala & Coki through them.

Janset & Raggs at Black Sheep Bar, Croydon in 2012 Janset & Raggs at Black Sheep Bar, Croydon in 2012

Loe used to DJ at Sheep before ‘dubstep’ and his selection was everything I loved. We all connected through our love of music. Many hours of hanging out while they jammed and made tapes turned into many hours listening to them producing in the studio, turned into even more hours spent in dark spaces with big speakers.

Mala was one of the first to trust that my business acumen could translate to music. There were some ‘business’ habits to unlearn when dealing with such a personal product (and artists) but I really enjoyed being able to help streamline his platform into something that could continue to grow.

Teachings in Dub meets DEEP MEDi

What does the team look for in the new signings you bring into MEDi and what can people do to get music to you and Mala? I never speak for Mala but from what I’ve witnessed over the years: he signs music he believes in. There is no other benchmark. 

It’s incredibly rare to work with someone so committed to offering others a platform regardless of risk. There is very little of Mala in MEDi. He signs the tunes but the artist are given the freedom to choose every step of the process, from mastering through to the artwork. 

Regarding new music… Our email address for submissions is  [email protected]. But, in all honesty, if an artist wants to get attention and stand out from all the noise. I’d say start by supporting those you expect to support you and try to make submission emails a little original. Contact musik matter if you’re not sure how!

I helped a friend with his bookings (as my rent) and went to help MEDi as an intern… And a couple of months later, Mala offered me the job as label manager.


Let’s take a quick break and check in on what’s happening with MEDi this year – what have you got coming up (that you can talk about)? We’ve had a lot of internal changes over the last 3 years and I was at Native Instruments, meaning releases have been slower than we would have liked. Especially last year. And then corona!

We mailed the 2020 schedule out to our audience recently: there’s a release every 3 weeks so those long awaited dubs can finally see the light.

Ishan Sound just dropped and the vinyl is ready next week (beginning of July)… Bukez was next with a beautiful bonus track to finally announce his Idea of the Devil EP… And 10th July delivers the monstrous MEDi111! 31st July & 21st August are scheduled as new artists to the label and we’re stacked well into 2021… peep more on our MEDi socials.

I’d love to tell all but I’d be unemployed by time this goes live!

While we’re on quick breaks, what’s your take on (our small part of) the music community’s response to BLM over the last few weeks? I won’t comment on the music community’s response as a whole as I didn’t see ‘everything’, but what I did see was a more united approach to the BLM movement than ever before.

There seems to be a collective spirit to try and understand, to do something… Anything.

Spreading love and unity online needs to be mirrored offline & in our communities.”

How do we collectively maintain focus on the movement, so that focus isn’t fleeting and actually leads to positive change? What more can we do? BLM is, of course, not new, but this universal attention is. And as the world is in the midst of a pandemic, it feels like we’re very much in a transition period. 

It’s encouraging to see the social media activism and the many difficult conversations & literature to try to (re)educate people but long term change needs long term commitment. Spreading love and unity online needs to be mirrored offline & in our communities. 

I had a conversation with someone that attends all the BLM marches and demos, they are “not racist”, but when hearing a casual racist comment in conversation, they said nothing. The person was mortified at their complicity and now understands that these little things are a big part of how we got here.

Another friend bought dolls of every ethnicity for her child and new books representing all cultures as well as pushing to influence her school’s curriculum.

I’ve witnessed more positive stories of unity than ever before and hopefully the momentum can be maintained once people’s routines and responsibilities return to some sort of normality.

No matter what… More people are listening than before.

I myself have subconscious behaviours that need to be acknowledged and unlearned. And many difficult conversations yet to be had. But ‘bored of injustice’ is not an option.

The personal focus is business as usual (just more amplified): listen & learn, question & share, be open to understanding other viewpoints, stand up to injustices, accept it’s not all about me (unbelievably!) and don’t hate. My actions need to match my words if I expect to see improvements. 

What else can we do – collectively or individually – for diversity in 140 (and further afield in music/ creative)? What do you think we can do better to build a more diverse (whether that’s gender, race, orientation etc) community of producers/ DJs? For me personally, this is much bigger than 140 / music. 

Divide and conquer is not a conspiracy theory, regardless of where or why it originated, it’s in full effect. There’s no denying that institutional racism, sexism, symbols of oppression etc. are all deeply rooted in our society and too many tools exist to allow the bad apples to exploit the situation. But I really have to ask myself how this prejudice continues to be perpetuated when so many of us know better?

I’ve witnessed more positive stories of unity than ever before and hopefully the momentum can be maintained once people’s routines and responsibilities return to some sort of normality.

I’m not sure what ‘we’ can do but I personally try to do better by reflecting on my responsibilities and how I can impact change. So far searching for someone else to fix things hasn’t been productive.

That fairytale knight in shining armour seems to have lost my address!

I dream of every person that posted the black square on social media going out the next day and saying ‘HI’ to everyone they see, regardless of race, gender, religion, age, size etc and regardless of whether the person is polite in return.

Imagine we all stopped to pause every time we judged or dismissed another human based on our preconceived ideas, and promised ourselves to do better the next day?

I don’t claim to have the answers but some self-reflection and constantly asking questions of myself helps me grow and feels like it takes me closer to understanding the changes we need to achieve. So I’m working on myself and my contribution to my environment – the only thing I can truly control.

What’s your ‘usual’ (ignoring the current pandemic/ lockdown) day like; how does everything fit together? 90% of my usual work has disappeared overnight but it’s pretty much the same: my days are very much deadline and client-based. 

I love to work across projects, when time allows, to keep it interesting. It all fits together because I love music. And music is ‘work’. I very regularly pinch myself because I feel very lucky.

As you’ve spent quite a bit of time in Berlin, how does it differ from London from a music/ cultural point of view? How are things in the city right now? Which promoters/ venues/ tastemakers are you rating?Berlin’s population is culturally less diverse than London but musically I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a tapas of concerts and experiences. I’m not a massive techno fan and was worried but it really didn’t take long to see / hear Berlin has much more to offer than one genre.

I’m a big dancehall fan and there weren’t many regular nights in London but in Berlin there’s often a choice. Before lockdown, reggae, roots, grime, dubstep, dnb, soul were all in heavy rotation for nights out out.

The communities and venues are smaller but I don’t mind that… It can be more accessible and personal. There is definitely less emphasis on sound systems – which, of course, makes me sad but luckily travelling to soundsystems was also part of my (night)life!

Berlin is fighting to survive, the same as the rest of the world’s culture, but the city is lucky to have a club owner (Pamela Schobeß of Gretchen) making her voice heard within the German government. It’s going to be a tough fight but it’s comforting to know it’s not all in the hands of the old establishment that stopped going to clubs too many years ago to be an authority.

Tastemakers is a tough ask in this climate, but venues to shout out: Panke (ran by erika in wedding) and Gretchen (pamela & lars) have been keeping the bass scene well represented with their streams. Gretchen’s new visual project ‘living in a box’ generates income for the DJs instead of just the club.

Talk us through Norwood Soul Patrol – your show on Rinse – is that still going? Do you DJ/ produce yourself? Norwood Soul Patrol was soooo much fun. It’s still going! Slightly different line-up to Loefah, Chunky, Seamus (often Benny Ill) and me but it was never about the individual DJs. I was the host and the set up was 3 for 3 and each tune was supposed to be a different genre. And unique. There were so many amazing B sides and random records!

I never played before NSP but MCs In The Mix, Corsica Studios, Glasgow’s Art School and the Snow Bombing festival later, I got to play Berghain’s main room, ohm & zku.

But I really cannot call myself a DJ… I’ve never played digitally (except for my zku set when 1 deck broke and I had to mix Spotify in with vinyl – so painful!) and all the gigs were unsolicited… Just a fun bonus.

I don’t produce and no plans to but if you’d have told me I would witness Neneh Cherry jumping on the mic while Mala played a record I helped bring into the world… I would have laughed and had you committed.

So who knows what’s next? 

Who are your heroes? I should probably rethink this to be cool but the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: Sadhguru, my nanna & Baroness Doreen Lawrence are the first to spring to mind as heroes…. I admire every single being that selflessly gives for the greater good of others.

Might delete later ;`)

…If you’d have told me I would witness Neneh Cherry jumping on the mic while Mala played, to a record I helped bring into the world… I would have laughed and had you committed.

Any genre, but who would you say your favourite musician is? What makes a good producer/ DJ/ artist for you? No way can I choose a favourite. I will say that I saw Erykah Badu twice last year and also Koffee – incredible women that seem to genuinely transcend the standard frequencies. 

At the risk of sounding all hippy: to me a good producer/ DJ is someone whose music feels like it’s from deep within them. I sincerely believe creating something with only yourself in mind… Somehow makes it more accessible to others. 

Sounds like a contradiction but it’s been a reality in my life and what I seem to connect with most.

Outside of music, what makes you happy? Love!

If you could give yourself some tips or advice about getting into music/ ‘the industry’ looking back since you started, what would you tell yourself? Stop thinking everyone else knows what they’re doing!

Where can people find you online – and any final words or shout outs? A special shout out to everyone who tries to do & be better. 

www.musikmatter.com & social media platforms are all ‘musikmatter’.

Share your thoughts on our chat with Steph via the footer below or get in touch with FKOF via email or Twitter.