sat 02/03/2024

theartsdesk Q&A: Producer/DJ Coki (from Digital Mystikz) | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk Q&A: Producer/DJ Coki (from Digital Mystikz)

theartsdesk Q&A: Producer/DJ Coki (from Digital Mystikz)

The most mysterious Mystik speaks at last

Digital Mystikz' Coki

Croydon-born Coki – Dean Harris – is without question one of the most important musicians of modern times, but unless you are a close follower of underground club scenes it is unlikely you would have heard of him.

He has never been interviewed at any length, and though over the last decade his records have been pivotal in at least two musical revolutions – the birth of dubstep itself, then its subsequent transformation into a fiercer and more belligerent version which has become a global phenomenon – he never sought adulation or took to the DJ lifestyle, instead working a 9-5 office job until very recently.

The Digital MystikzWith his partners Mala (with whom he makes up the DJ/production duo Digital Mystikz) and Loefah (the third partner in the DMZ club/label collective), he has been a stable presence in a period of gigantic musical flux. DMZ never issued manifestos or statements, yet clearly stood for something more than just hedonism and ambition within the club scene. The implication of a “de-militarized zone” was clear in the friendly, relaxed atmosphere they created at their nights, originally in the heart of Brixton, and they have always stood up for camaraderie, collective endeavour, independence and a no-bullshit approach to business and promotion. And as such, as Mary Anne Hobbs pointed out in her interview for theartsdesk, it has provided a stable hub for the entire global bass music scene.

Musically too, the DMZ clan have always been about integrity and lack of pandering to any outside demands. And Coki in particular has forged his own way, moving steadily from a dub-reggae influenced sound close to that of Mala to a churning, seasick, industrial style that has divided audiences, inspired a wave of imitators that many have described as a new kind of heavy metal, but still sends audiences completely insane wherever it is played. The fractal textures of its tones and the relentlessness of its half-tempo crashing frequently provoke disbelief in both positive and negative senses.

Listen to Coki's "Tree Trunk"

For all of the aggression of his sound, though, Coki is one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. There's something Zen about him, in fact. He is not a particularly verbal person, which is not uncommon for musicians – indeed for many the reason they get into music is to find expression for what they can't get out in words – but even so he's an extreme case, frequently lost for words or stumbling over common phrases. Yet conversation with him is paradoxically enjoyable and informative. In the interview that follows a lot of long hesitations and padding phrases have been elided, and as you can see, what remains is a fascinating insight into the craft of a unique talent.

The thing is, Coki has plenty to say. He is clearly every bit the thinker that the forthright philosopher Mala and the garrulous provocateur Loefah are – yet unlike those two, he seems to exist almost entirely in the moment, coming at every question afresh, his most common word being “wow”, as if he has never thought about a given thing before and is startled by its possibilities, even if it is seemingly mundane. He will even return to a topic from a completely different angle later, seemingly almost contradicting himself, but somehow there's a sense of a strong, still centre to all his thought that explains his musical spontaneity, the ability of his tracks to express huge, inhuman concepts and feelings, and his casual aloofness from the hustle of the music world. He comes over truly as a modern, digital mystic, in fact.

DMZ's 8th birthday event is at the Great Suffolk St Warehouse, Waterloo next Saturday.

Coki's “Hold On Wait” / “Bedouins” is out in early April on his own Don't Get It Twisted label.

This interview was conducted last year; a follow-up bringing things up to date will be on The Arts Desk next weekend.

JOE MUGGS: So you're finally going pro, after what must be a decade of being known for your music?

COKI: Yeah it's not far off 10 years since I first signed a deal for a record with Mala as Digital Mystikz, that was 2003. But things were slow at that point as well, not a lot happening, so I didn't really grasp it with both hands. Maybe 2008 I should've left work.

Listen to a mix of Coki's tracks from 2004-2007 by DJ Benjy Bars (originally made for Blackdown's blog)

I remember when dubstep just started to break through into wide club world, in 2006, I interviewed Kode 9 for Mixmag and he said “nobody's going to be giving up their day jobs for this music”... which of course turned out to be quite wrong. But you held on longer than most – what made you stay with your job?

Stability, really. Just that I was going to get money every month. With labels, I could've probably been signing something every month but I didn't want to wear myself out, become just a name where people think “oh he's just constantly putting out tunes.” I didn't want to think that myself. I didn't want to... I can't even think of the word.

You didn't want to get jaded?

Yeah, exactly.

And what about the DJing, the travelling? I witnessed a lot of '90s, acid house era DJs become jaded by essentially living in airport departure lounges – is that a hazard of the job you were aware of?

Oh I wouldn't have minded that, if it paid. But at that time there wasn't really that much, and they weren't really offering you a month's wages – or not me, anyway. Then all of a sudden from 2006 it got bigger, I started DJing more in 2007 or '8 and the fee I was getting was more though it still wouldn't amount to an average person's monthly wages – but now it's triple, it's X amount, and you're just [laughs] “wow”. It wasn't so much the money for me though – I was always in love with music, I kept on writing beats even though I was at work, thinking, wow, well I'm not really going to get paid for this but I'm going to keep on with it because I love to go out and see how people react to music, and I love to get ideas about what they think about it. So in the end it's worked out both ways for the best, I've left work now, I get to tour more, and people who've heard what I've done before get to see who's making the beats.

Are you careful with the bookings you take, or are you jumping at what's offered?

Well at the moment I have to [jump at offers] because of the name that I got for myself in that time, being split between work and music, and not turning up to certain bookings – I've had to say, OK I'll take everything that's coming in and just do it, and if it gets to the point where it's getting too much but people are going “oh, OK, Coki's back on the scene and he wants to do it properly,” then it might come a point where I have to say “I can't really do this because I need my studio time to do music properly,” I might just need to take time out.

But going back to what you said about wanting to see how people react – the last time I saw you play, at Outlook festival, you seemed to be enjoying it a lot.

[laughs] Yeah, I was.

So what does that experience of seeing people react to your music mean to you?

It's just a whole relief, really, to know that what you've been doing most of your days means something to them – to go out, especially something as big as Outlook, to go out and see people's reactions. It gives you a good feeling inside to know that you're able to make people happy as well, that you've done something where they'll enjoy themselves properly and not just walk away and go “what was that?” I can't really explain what it feels like inside. I can't explain why it happens either – most of the time, I'm thinking “why's it having such an effect like this??” I've felt it for years, certain tunes I've seen being played, music is music but the reaction I've seen to tunes without vocals, just the sound of music itself is making people do certain things that they'd never do anywhere else.

You say music makes people happy, but your sound is known as being quite aggressive and dark – what exactly are you aiming for in response?

Oh wow. I can't say. I'm just aiming for a mood of me at the time I made it. I'm not really a dark person, I'm happy. But if I'm in a certain mood where I'm not really feeling to talk to anyone, or I've got things on my mind but I'm writing a beat, I'm still thinking I want to make something that's a little spiritual or just straight out party vibe. Just make you want to brock out and jump and loosen your body, loosen your joints!

Listen to Coki's "Don't Think You're Gone"

“Loosen” is an interesting word. Of all the people in dubstep, I think you brought the sense of rhythms sliding across each other... a mutual friend of ours, DJ Raggs, described some of your sounds as “scrambled egg bass”! Is that deliberate?

Wow. But yeah, yeah that is deliberate. It's hard to explain the bass, but it's basically got LFO on it [low frequency oscillator – which places an undulating filter on a sound], with a midrange sound on top with another LFO which would start milliseconds before – so the two sounds follow each other in a cycle, but then there's other modulated sounds going through it that fill in the gaps, so I know exactly what she means by “scrambled eggs”. There is actually a lot going on in there, in the bass area.

It sounds like you're making sculpture from these tones. Do you ever visualise tones like that in your head as you're making them?

Yeah I do. But it's got to make musical sense too. I could make anything from one certain sound, but it only lasts for a bar before it becomes uninteresting to the air. If you've got something that's the same continuous thing, the same continuous sound or tone for longer than eight bars, it doesn't really create a hook to the person that they'll catch on to and say “I like this, I feel this.” Maybe if it was a really great sound and it's then panning left and right and there's filters working on it, the volume's moving in and out and all of that, then maybe you can get away with it.

Well any natural instrument – a piano, cello, trumpet, whatever – never repeats itself tonally. So you're trying to get away from the predictability of electronic tones straight from the box?

Yeah definitely. Exactly!

Now of course the irony is that people try and replicate sounds that you've created and think they can create a “Coki bass” and loop it.

To me it's an honour that people might listen to something I've done and think “I want to do that too.” But then when I speak to some other people in the scene they're like “no, it shouldn't be like that! You should be the only person with that kind of sound and people shouldn't be trying to emulate you in any shape or form!” I think for music to grow you're always going to take influences of other people, but you will always add something of yourself too at some point. It's like a starting point, you learn how to make a particular beat, you've got to take an influence from someone simply to have structure and learn. OK, some people started from young and it comes naturally – they're a musician – they can know what they're doing and how it's going to sound and that it'll be what they want to hear. But for most new producers, who are 18 upwards, when they go out to a rave and hear a tune and go “Ahhh, I like this kind of tune, I want to do something like this!” they're naturally going to take the influence that they've heard.

What about when that becomes a style in its own right though? Not just individuals but a whole movement that's derivative of your sound, but simplified?

Well there's nothing a producer can do if people are going to emulate a certain sound and take it somewhere else. Me personally, I think it's good. I think maybe one day they might turn round and say “yeah we did listen to this before we started producing” but it doesn't matter that much: it's their sound, they're creating it, even if most of it has come from someone else.

That's very generous of you! But once it becomes a formula, people aren't necessarily making it their own – and they don't need to because thousands of people are buying this stuff.

Yeah, that is true. [long pause] That is true. [longer pause] But what do you mean about people buying it?

Well I guess I wonder if it ever bothers you that you have dedicated your energy to making sounds that are innovative and don't repeat themselves – then there are people making a living from a less innovative version of those very sounds?

It doesn't bother me to tell the truth. As I say, it's an honour that people might find inspiration to create something, and it might be the sounds they create are something you might step towards if you want to make money. And if you don't particularly like that sound then it won't bother you, you see what I mean?

I think it's refreshing to hear you say that. People get so worked up about this commercialised sound sometimes, and ignore the fact that it is often being taken in new and interesting directions. Now, a lot of this explosion in the harder-edged sounds is taking place in the US – how have you found the reception there?

Ah now that's the thing, I've never done an American gig. I was supposed to have gone out there a couple of years ago but I didn't manage to make it. I am waiting to go, though, meant to be going out with Mala, but yeah I've heard a lot of things coming out of America that are on this “brostep” thing. Not the Mala, Vivek, Burial, more musical, more melody, more dubsteppy thing – more screaming mid-range sounds and impact. I can't dislike it though, if that's what people like.

And you'll go and play a hard set if that's what people want?

No, I'll go in and play my set! I'm not going to change for anybody. I'm not going to go out of my way to build any tunes that aren't me. But everyone else on the scene who's been out there has said it's the best time of their lives, the bookings, the people, everything about it. And there's so much controversy about dubstep and what it is, this is my chance to go out there and show people what I'm about.

Going back to influences, what were the things that were your foundation in creating your sound?

Well I've always grown up listening to reggae, dub, dancehall – then also rocksteady, downbeat, ska which is more from my parents. I used to copy the bass notes from tunes, mostly nowadays tunes, not so much the olden ones. And I still do that. I've got one tune I'm building now that's on a kind of “Sleng Teng” bass note [referring to the much-sampled and re-used first ever fully electronic reggae rhythm, originally created for Wayne Smith's “Under Mi Sleng Teng” in 1985] and you do these things because that's what you like. When I'm playing I like to hear something that's similar to the Sleng Teng or to the Drifter riddim or whatever type of riddim. Though with my own bass notes I try to do more with the mid range, to make it more sporadic and add in extra effect. It's not really out there to the air, it's not really visible, but it makes the changes that mean it's less repetitive. The note itself is like a four-bar pattern, it'll be changing notes within that, but that will repeat and then the changes I'm making outside of that will be with pitch-bend, shifts and changes around things.

Yeah I've remarked before there's an interesting relationship between the steadiness and variation in your music. So that steadiness comes from '80s digital reggae influence, where things repeated because the technology could only make simple loops... but what about rave music, jungle and those other forms from this country?

Well yeah, growing up in England that's what I was known to, that's what I was hearing on the radio and TV, nothing doesn't pass me. What was that guy, Mr Wunzo... Mr Oinzo?

Watch the video for Mr Oizo's "Flat Beat"

Mr Oizo! [the French techno producer whose “Flat Beat” became a huge hit after featuring on a 1999 Levis advert]

Yeah! [sings] “wum-wum-wum-wuwum wum-wum-wum-wuwum” hahaha! The kind of sound it was, the mid-range in it, I thought yeaahhhh this is crazy shit, this is the kind of thing I like! People would be “how can you be into this kind of stuff?” but i'd just go, “Listen to it! Listen to the sound, you can dance to this! This fuckin' groove, it's, like, party time!”

This was the time that garage was going on, right?

Yeah and I used to go to the garage raves, but only really felt like a spectator, I didn't really know the tunes, I wasn't a garage buyer. I probably had a speed garage CD that I went out and bought, because I wanted “Sweet Like Chocolate” and some other song on it, but that was about it, then I went back into dancehall and bashment again, maybe picked up a bit of drum'n'bass when I was about 20, 21. But I was building my own beats too, I'd been building them since I was about 16, not really serious about it but just playing around with little beats. Then it came to 2003 and I was linking up with Mala a lot, and we'd play around with ideas, like right – garage is 138bpm, let's push it a bit, 139, 140, and from there we got a whole different style. We was still building beats a lot together, more then before we was Digital Mystikz than we do now even!

And were you aware of the other people in and around Croydon – Hatcha, Horsepower and so on – who were also making the sounds that would become dubstep?

Well I met Hatcha properly in 2003. He was a close friend of my cousin, they used to go to school together, so I knew him through that. He used to DJ out all the time, Hatcha, and we used to go to a couple of his raves and that. But like I say I wasn't really in the garage scene, I wasn't really in anything, I used to be a spectator, just go and dance and do what you normally do. I didn't know anyone until 2003 in any music scene at all. That's when I started speaking to more industry heads, because they'd be like “we like your stuff, can we have this track, can we put that out” and all that. Then I started finding a lot of acapellas, getting them off Limewire [now defunct illegal filesharing service]. That's when I did the “Marijuana” remix [Coki's notorious reworking of Jamaican dancehall artist Richie Spice, eventually released on white label as “Burnin'”] and everything. Basically just taking the music I was influenced by, taking just the vocals and putting it on something that wasn't anything to do with it.

So by the time you had any contact with the music world you were basically doing your own style, not copying an existing genre?


Have you ever done that though, thought “I'm going to make a bashment beat” or “I'm going to try hip hop today”?

Yeah, I've got a couple of beats where I've thought I'll do dancehall or hip hop, but that's not my genre. For me to do something like that, I'd have to put out an album, a serious project, then certain people would go “oh he's done something different, he's changed his style” and all of that. That's the sort of thing that comes about. And it's not going to get me bookings as a hip hop DJ or a ragga DJ is it? [laughs] But yeah I might try and do certain diverse things, I'm out here in the studio a lot, I might try a few things... [thoughtful pause]

And what about working with real vocalists? When I spoke to Mala he said he prefers using ready-recorded vocals – acapellas or doing remixes for other people – rather than working with a vocalist in the studio...

Well I'm not someone who's trained in recording vocals. I've had a couple of people come in to act as guinea pigs – I've had them sing, recorded it into Logic, then tried to edit the vocals, do little certain things like frequency cut-offs, edits to make sure it sounds alright on the beat. But I'm going to have to do it professionally if I'm gonna do it, set up a proper vocal booth and that – this is the only thing that's stopping me really, that I'm not really trained to be on point, pow-pow, just finish it quickly.

That's interesting you say that – you weren't musically trained, but you started making your own music nonetheless, and learned on the job, right?


And your tracks don't obey musical rules, that's part of what makes them distinctive – so I'm curious why you'd be concerned about standard ways of recording vocals rather than jumping in and doing it your own way...

Well, it's down to things people have said to me, I suppose, about how maybe I should take a look into it. Just the other day, I was speaking to Artwork [of Magnetic Man], he said “come on, come in the studio for a couple of days, let's work on some vocals and by the end of two days you'll be a specialist.” I thought, well, OK, if you want bruv! You don't have to take your time for me, I can sit here and work out my own way, trial and error I guess, but then people just want to be helpful.

Have you got an idea of how your sound has changed over the years?

I don't think I've evolved that much. People prefer a certain style I had before when it wasn't so “scrambled egg” as Raggs would put it. But since “Goblin” I've tried to do something that's a bit more mental, that makes musical sense but doesn't at the same time. Like, 2008, I thought, I don't want to make something that's so catchy that people can hum it! [laughs]

Watch the video for Benga & Coki's "Night"

Haha so you weren't tempted to try and make another “Night” [his infernally catchy 2008 collaboration with Benga]?

[Laughs a lot more] Nah.

That track was wild though, it came out of nowhere just as dubstep was starting to emerge into the public consciousness and it was everywhere. You'd hear it from every car driving past, in shops, on the radio... did that do your head in?

That definitely did my head in, and it still sticks with me now. People will see me and they'll be like “doo-doo doo doo doo dooooo” [the track's descending bleep riff], and I'm just like [resigned] “oh wowwww....” It's a tune that is abstract, it's original, nobody had done anything like it at the time, nobody's still done anything like it...

So is your instinct to escape the boxes people put you in?

No not escape, the truth is I just didn't want to make catchy stuff any more! If it's catchy people are going to pick it up, it's hooky, it becomes popular because people can say to each other “ah have you heard that one that goes like this,” “ah yeah I know that one,” or if they haven't heard it, when they do they'll go “aaaaah it's that one my mate was talking about.” But the kind of tunes I'm making now, they're mental, you're not going to be able to explain that to no-one! Soundwise you can't do it with your mouth, I mean – you just can't sing it. You might be able to describe it, of course, but that's different, the person doesn't catch on the same as if you can just sing the hook.

And I guess it makes it more of a challenge for people to emulate, too... I think people would be very hard pressed to work out how you make some of these sounds.

Wow. [looks bashful]

Listen to Coki's "Celestial Dub"

An interesting one recently was “Celestial Dub”, because it's got that sweetness and sparkle but also parts that are very off key and disturbing. It's got a sickness to it... Again, is that deliberate?

Yeah. I had this way of working where I'd just count nine notes on the keyboard and have at least a gap of nine notes... I'm not going to say exactly which notes but often it'd be the root and nine, or the root and seven. The seventh and the ninth or whatever people call it. Really just picking anything that doesn't make sense, like I think they call them diminished or augmented, but I'd put that on top of majors or minors, basically. But then on top of that, pitch-bending, and effects, that might put things back into place, if that makes any sense..?

Well what you end up with then if you start playing with the pitch-bend is microtones, harmonies that are outside the normal western scales, but which you might hear in, say, Indian or Arabic music... notes in between the notes. Have you ever talked to any musicologists or musicians who know about this sort of thing formally?

Nah. I swear down you're the first person I've ever really sat down and talked about this sort of thing with in any interview way. I've never sat down with anyone musical, no one. Or even in any general conversation. I never talk about music if you see me out playing or out in the rave. I don't like to go too much into it, I don't like to talk about what I do really.

Sure, and I guess that runs through the DMZ thing. Mala shares a lot of thoughts and ideas publicly, but there's always stuff that you can see he keeps to himself too. Likewise Loefah, in fact he's said to me before that he doesn't like to spell things out, he gives people clues, then they have the choice about whether they'll come and get their heads right into it or just walk away.

Yeah, yeah that's right... I think as well, hanging around with them, you feed off each other's ideas in that respect. And in that way... [he is deep in thought, then laughs, boggled at something] I don't even know what to say. It's nice to even think that, you know? But really I don't even know what I did most of the time, just got a keyboard here, a keyboard there...

I don't just mean in terms of the music, though, but with DMZ the club and label – it's a product of your collective personalities and ideas... Can you pin down what's special that's made it work over time?

Ahh yeah – well, I think it's a unity thing. And us, we're still all united, we try to stick together when it comes to DMZ, we don't want too much to do with the outside, we keep it kinda underground so people don't come in to break us up. And I think it shows when you come to the dance as well, because everyone out there is united, most of them like the same thing, the crowd reactions are unified. I think that's what helped dubstep in itself to grow – there weren't really any other raves at all apart from DMZ when dubstep was really really kicking off, then other people started getting on it, certain producers would take elements of what was going on at DMZ and run with it and create their own little pocket and have their own little raves, and now certain people are just like... [laughs, eyes widen at how far things have come]

That idea of unity or community, that's talk that in certain quarters would be laughed at, or people would be suspicious of – but it really does seem integral to DMZ, right?

Yeah I can't put my finger on it, where it comes from. I mean for me I was attracted to it because it's good music, other people might come in because it's trendy or whatever, but for whatever reason people were drawn to it and I can't put my finger on what makes them stay through the years.

Well maybe that goes back to what I said about not over defining it?

Yeah. With everything there's ups and downs and changes to what it is, but you just have to tread on really... don't go too much into what it is, oh my gosh. Wow.

And do you think about the future? For you personally I guess you're just settling into this touring and being a professional?

Yeah, funnily enough I've had a few bookings that have come in where I'm actually playing at the same venue as the likes of Flux Pavilion and Borgore and Dr P [all infamously second generation noisy dubstep producers who have been accused by critics of creating a cheapened version of Coki's sound] – and I think oh, I think I'm being drawn in already into the pocket. I hope I can do it, I don't hope I'm brandished by the brush of people going “yeah he's brostep now, forget him now, he ain't gonna write another tune like 'Officer', he aint gonna write another 'Celestial'” or whatever. Cause I'm always writing, I'm always on something or other, but I don't like to repeat the same thing, or I try not to anyway.

Watch the video for Coki & Blacks's "Hold On Wait"

So it sounds like you really feel the pressure of expectation and public perception?

I do, I do, because when I play out, I'm really sensitive to people. I like to be able to make sure they'd hear something that they really want to hear but that represents dubstep, whether it be the dubbier, reggae side, the deeper and darker stuff, or the more outrageous side. I still want to try and cover the whole thing. But not everyone wants to hear three, four tunes of dubby stuff, then three, four tunes of darker tunes, they might want a whole set of the same stuff, so they'll find a different DJ to follow who'll do that. The people that I get, the people that follow me as Coki or Digital Mystikz or DMZ, know that's what they should expect – you know you're gonna get something that's a bit “scrambled egg”, something that's more deep melodic, or just bass really. Simple as, that's what it's all about, just bass.

Well that's the clincher isn't it? Because if the soundsystem is good enough and powerful enough, people might come expecting or demanding hard, noisy, rowdy sounds but you can play deep tunes and when the force of the bass hits them they see it in a completely different light.

Yes, yes. I think that's what didn't help dubstep as well – the deeper, darker, bassy, percussive stuff – the systems wasn't really set up for it. So when they went to play to a lot of people, they weren't getting the full effect. Whereas if you play something with a lot of midrange, of course that's going to get across regardless of the speakers!

Is that changing? You see more and more club flyers advertising that they have Funktion One rigs [the soundystem of choice for a lot of the dubstep generation]

Yeah yeah it's changing, but it's not everywhere. You won't see a schoolkid listening to deeper, darker stuff on his laptop. He'll be ripping Borgore and Skrillex all day!

Yep. I guess it makes a huge amount of sense that the places that dubstep took root early on were places with a huge reggae soundsystem culture already there – Bristol and Leeds particularly. Glasgow too to an extent...

Yeah I just played a gig there on Mungo's Hi Fi [legendary Glasgow reggae soundsystem] and that was... WOW. The bass... I had people telling me they had to leave because there was too much bass in there, go in the other room for a bit to recover. Not for a cigarette break or they were bored, but because it was just too much power. I just thought “WOW”. I couldn't believe it, I thought “this is outrageous.” [laughs] But it was perfect. Every tune I dropped I just thought “yes!” - it translated perfectly. Deeper, darker stuff, midrange stuff, minimal stuff – it was all just on point. And if you don't have the right soundsystem you can't really hear dubstep, it can't translate the whole of itself to you. You won't be able to pick up everything, you're gonna miss bits. Promoters don't understand that, clubs don't understand that, and maybe it's not their job to, maybe we should just start producing stuff with more vocals in so people can listen to that instead of just loads of instrumental midrange?

But you don't want to!

I know I know I know, but it's just ideas. People are complaining that midrange is taking over dubstep, but you know that's not fair to the people making it, they're just doing their thing you know? Anyway there's always been midrange in dubstep, I mean I know it's a bit far-fetched some of what they're doing now, especially in America but it's not all there is. And more clubs are catching on now, I've played in Europe and a few times they've gone “OK because you're here we've brought in extra bass and extra tops,” and it works, it's great. Before you'd arrive and they'd be like “this is it” and you'd go “OK” [crestfallen face] “fine”.

So – you feel the pressure to do right by your audience, but do you feel optimistic about what the future holds for your music?

No. It's not even something I think about. It's always been a hobby for me, and deep down it still is – I just love music, and if there comes a day when I can't get booked and I'm completely out of work then that's that, but I'll still be writing beats. I wouldn't mind going back to working in an office because that's what I was doing anyway. I'm not really that emotional about it as a job thing.

So you don't think that far ahead, beyond the next set of beats you're writing?

Nope. I don't even plan the beats I'm writing. Not unless someone comes asking for a remix with this or that, then I might more, OK I've got to design it in this certain way so this type of people are going to like it and it might stay forever with them. But a lot of tunes I write it hasn't got that longativity, it's about for six months, a year or something, then once you've heard it a thousand times because you thought it was a great tune you'll just be “ah I can't be bothered with this any more.”

Do you mean tracks that you've actually released or just dubs that you make for DJing?

Well with some of my releases there's ones where you catch the riff and you're like “yeah yeah yeah,” you've got it, you can go back to it. You know you'll have certain tunes that you can go back to and go back to? I do, I have tunes that I can play and play, I might get bored with for a day or two but then I'll listen to it and it's fresh again. That's how I try and design them for playing out. I mean I shouldn't... right, it's funny: I've been finding that I'll build something for dub, people like it, then I'm like “ah no, maybe I should've designed it so it's an actual tune!” [laughs uproariously]. Because I'll just build them like, forget the intro, and forget the second half, once the second drop comes, pow, it's finished, that's it. You're not going to hear the intro if I'm going to be mixing it into another tune, and after the drop I'm mixing in the next track. I guess in future I will rework them, but really that's just me, maybe you should just buy my dubstep tune.

This takes me back to something Mala said when I interviewed him, that there's certain tunes of his that he'll never release regardless of the demand for them because he likes them existing only as dubs, only as moments in time in the memory of people who've heard him play them in the club. Do you think like that too?

Yeah yeah totally, 100%, that's what it's all about. But at the same time, people are like that anyway. People are always going to move on, it's only ever going to exist for a certain amount of time. But certain tunes will stick with people that you never thought would, and you can't stop that even if you wanted to, you can't police their minds.

Do you feel a sense of pride when that happens? Not just catchy tracks that everyone remembers, but ones that have become part of the fabric of certain individuals lives even though you might have built them without much thought?

Yes. “Spongebob” was one of those. I never built that with any idea of releasing it, but people still ask me to play that, or they ask for “Tortured” or “Shattered”, the old tunes, they still wanna hear them. And yes, that's like, wow. I did go through a period between 2009 and around now where I wasn't writing much or putting much out, though, so there was a big gap...

...and maybe that makes people feel more romantic or nostalgic about the older stuff, you mean?


Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen?

[laughs] Yeah. But then you've got to actually work again to build your credibility, do your radio shows, get everyone playing your tunes and whatnot, make sure that you're playing and exposing your new music so people are thinking “oh what's that tune? Can't wait 'til that comes out...” and all that kind of thing. You can do it interview-wise or media-wise but I've never really gone down that route. I dunno why – I'm just not really a sort of person that can sit down and talk to someone I don't know or other people I know aint really spoken to them. I mean, you've spoken to a lot of people now, so I know you know where I'm coming from. But for them men to put it into certain words, they might misunderstand I guess.

Well you're not a soundbyte sort of person either...

Mm, nah.

And you've said you don't want to make things commercial, you don't want to make another “Night” - is there a sense that you actually wouldn't want to be too popular and deal with everything that comes with it?

No... well, not unless I went under a different name maybe. But yeah, my style isn't to be poppy. It's underground, but I am popular in a sense, I've realised that now, I'm popular in the sense that I can go certain places, abroad as well and people want to come and see me play, I can't say I'm not. But commercial-wise I dunno...

But you did say you will go out of your way not to make stuff with instant catchy hooks.

Hmmm. I can be deliberate and make it catchy, or I can go the other way. It's just the tones that you use and the chords that you use, the whole groove, and you can experiment with the notes like [hums three tones] oh that's catchy or [hums again] but that's not. And I suppose I aim for impact, that'll work in the dance, on the soundsystem, but take away the things that people might want outside, that might make it mega popular.

So even if you knew you'd be getting DJ bookings for the next two years solid, you wouldn't be tempted to write a catchy little melody that everyone's going to be singing?

Well that's the thing, if my agent was saying things aint looking good, your bookings are slowing down, you're gonna need to put out an album, this and that, then y'know – that's what you're gonna have to do. But I'm surviving off what I'm trademarked for, so I'm not going to push it. But if it comes to a point where you might have to do something else to be popular then so be it.

So you're just going to continue with EPs on DMZ?

Not just on DMZ – I'm launching my own label [Don't Get It Twisted], and I think I'll do some stuff on [foundational dubstep label] Tempa, and there's a couple of remixes people have asked me to do. [suddenly struck by a thought] But if I did do something that became popular, that's not cheesy, and the right vocals is on top, then it's something that yeah, I'd be proud of and I'd want it to be popular and I'd think, yeah that's alright to make money off – because yeah, it fits all those ticks, apart from just not being me in the usual way.

Any vocalists in mind??

I haven't been hot on any vocalists lately. I love certain voices, like I can't get over Adele's voice for one, but I dunno. I want a proper singer, I don't want someone who can just come in and make it sound like pop. I done a remix for [Nigerian/German hip hop / soul artist] Nneka and they've said I can work with her again if I want to send her some beats, so that's good. That's the kind of thing I'm looking for.

You must've been happy when the Greensleeves connection happened [Coki remixed Jamaican dancehall artists Vybz Kartel, Mavado and Busy Signal for the 2011 Greensleeves Dubstep – Chapter 1 album] too?

Oh yeah [laughs] oh yeah, I can work with bashment all day! That's normal to me.

Do you ever feel like going out to Jamaica and seeing who you can work with?

Well me and Kris [Jones, his label manager] were talking about that, we'll have to go out there, see what we can find, what vocalists we can find. And maybe it'd be good for me to be there, cos I might be able to make it a bit poppy, bashy. I think maybe they lost that element, because there was this thing in Jamaican music that it could be super catchy but they'd be singing about things the people understand, it would be real. I think the influence of all the rappers and that has taken that away a bit. That and AutoTune.

Have you had any reactions from the artists you remixed on Greensleeves?

Nah, nothing that came back to me. They must've heard it though, and if they haven't said a bad word about it, that's a compliment for me.

Listen to Coki & Movado's "Weh Dem a Do" (aka "Gangsta 4 Life")

Well that Mavado one [“Wah Dem a Do”, which Coki originally made as a bootleg in 2007] is certainly one of your tracks that's stood the test of time, it's scarcely possible to go to a dubstep rave and not hear it, even now. Do you still play it?

Yeah I do, if I'm doing a booking just as Coki, I'll dig for some of those older bits or DMZ releases. But if I'm playing with Mala or Mala and Loefah, I'll not have time play so much of the of the old classics. But I've had so much feedback on that, people really do seem to love that tune.

I'm excited at the thought of you going to Jamaica and doing something catchy now – because dancehall at its best has that combination of being able to be totally pop but also sonically completely lunatic and insanely inventive at the same time.

Yeah totally, I'd aim for that proper element, and also to completely expose it to what it used to be. It's got so much bad vibes about it, the artists they've taken it somewhere else – before it used to be about some big vibes party, going drinking, you know, everyone's with a girl and you're happy. But they took it to this gangsta thing, anti-this and anti-that, and people don't want to hear that when they go out, they want good music and entertainment in itself. Some people stick with it though.

The idea of dancehall as good times music seems to be really spreading outside Jamaica though. Rodigan plays to huge crowds round the world, and there's the whole Heatwave thing now, it's no longer seen as something that's only for black audiences, which it kind of was before – is that a positive development do you think?

Yeah yeah it is. It's funny a few times someone's texted me going “Rodigan's playing 'Celestial Dub' on Kiss FM!” or something and I'm like, “you kidding me bruv? David Rodigan bruv? 'Celestial Dub' bruv? Naaaah bruv!!!” You know, I grew up listening to reggae, and if you grow up listening to reggae you grow up listening to Rodigan. Rodigan from time! It's so funny, people will message me going “ah you should see this video of Rodigan, this is really funny” and I'll suddenly realise “ohhhh this is what I was listening to on my sound tapes [recordings of live soundsystem clashes].” Cos you know from 1980 whatever, you'd only hear it, you wouldn't see something like that on telly, so you never saw it, but now it's on YouTube and you can at last.

So that's an ambition fulfilled, getting played by him?

Yeahhhhh! That's why I'm not bothered, bro. What I was aiming for was to be in that kind of zone, getting tunes played by people I used to listen to on sound tapes when I was 8, 10, 12, them type of guys. Rodigan, Tony Matterhorn, Full Circle, Black Kat, Killimanjaro, Bass Odyssey. [reverie]

And compared to that, getting in the newspaper or having an album out doesn't mean anything?

No, to tell you the absolute truth, it doesn't. I've succeeded in what I want to do.

To me it's an honour that people might listen to something I've done and think 'I want to do that too'

Share this article


Great, really enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing.

Coki, Top don. Cant wait to hear wots nex.

Top notch interview.

great interview. coki still holding down the real thing

great interview. good guy, coki. definitely a thinker

brilliant read.

mean bro dont change for no 1 cuz the underground love you jus the way you are brother all tha way from christchurch New Zealand ur music is inspirational to me and all my mates over here!!!

Wicked interview. He's just like his music... mad scientist.

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters