Truancy Volume 114: The Large

When The Large first contacted Mixpak asking if she could contribute to their blog, who’d have known that years later she’d become label manager and have a hand in Popcaan’s Where We Come From, possibly one of the best records of 2014. Once one-third of the Style & Swagger radio show (which, after a brief stint on Reel Rebels Radio, settled in on the NTS schedule), The Large is also behind the Shimmy Shimmy blog and its sister zine, No Ice Cream Sound, which ran four issues deep. Her flair for connecting the dots between club music from disparate regions shines through on her Truancy Volume, which seamlessly blends tracks from Jamaica, Latin America, Angola, New Jersey and beyond. This is perhaps testament to how at home she is in in the diverse musical hubs of London and, more recently, New York City. A perfect companion piece to last year’s brilliant 2 On Mix“, The Large’s Truancy Volume brings the heat in more ways than one. This enduringly warm mix will incubate you from the stubborn vestiges of winter and act as a lasting soundtrack to your springtime.

Popcaan – Where We Come From (Mixpak)

When you were just starting out you were juggling the Shimmy Shimmy blog, the Style & Swagger radio show, the No Ice Cream Sound zine, as well as the parties to promote and fund the zine! Can you describe the difficulties, if any, in trying to establish yourself as a dancehall DJ and promoter within the London scene? “I didn’t really set out with any goal other than to have fun, throw parties with friends and make the stuff I wanted to make. It was never my job, just a ton of side hustles that I really cared for. There are different scenes within dancehall in London, and I was bridging different worlds in some ways. I wasn’t one of those people who started DJing when I was 5 years old; I started off kind of late. I was lucky that Gabriel from The Heatwave gave me a spot at his monthly party pretty early on (this was when I was still DJing with vinyl all the time). It took a second but just by promoting, doing the rounds, getting a piece in Time Out and the backing of NTS Radio, (or we when I was with S&S, shout out Karen & Siobhan) that I managed to DJ with some legendary people like Rodigan and Saxon Sound. I got to play at Carnival a few times which was a lot of fun as well! DJing dancehall in London is really very fun overall.”

Do you feel like years spent curating Style & Swagger and maintaining the Shimmy Shimmy blog has informed your approach to DJing? “Those things were an extension of looking for music non-stop and a way of sharing that with other people so, yeah, they definitely play into each other. My set depends on where I’m playing; I play in a lot of different places and to different types of crowds. Radio is a whole different thing and much less constrained than a club environment in terms of jumping between BPMs and playing less dance-oriented music.” Does your Truancy Volume resemble a set you’d play in the club, on air, or something else entirely? “Listening back, it’s actually a pretty ‘human’ mix – it’s got all these different things in it, from joy to dark aggression to raw sexuality to euphoria. I think there’s a lot of emphasis on dancing, and that’s very representative of my club sets. This is the most New York sounding thing I’ve made, it’s properly seeped in now!”

What were the motivations behind your recent move to New York; how are you enjoying it over there and how does the scene compare to London’s? “I moved to New York to work for Mixpak full-time. I’d been in London for about 8 years prior to that and I grew up in Bristol. It was difficult in many ways, especially because I deeply love London, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. New York is an amazing place to be and working for Mixpak is great. I think overall there are less people in New York who are interested in underground club music, and less people who are familiar with clubbing in the same way as they are in London. But New York has got all these other things that London doesn’t have, like an insane taste for rap, Jersey Club, Vogue, and all this dope Latin music. There are a lot of dancehall artists who can’t make it to the UK, but sometimes you’ll see Sean Paul in the club or Assassin performing here, which is a lot rarer in London. Oh and not to forget roof parties! You can actually have outdoor parties here. I don’t notice the differences too much on a daily level, but I recently saw Logan Sama DJing here with Skepta, Stormzy and Novelist performing and it was pretty interesting to watch. People didn’t really get it, but then an A$AP track would come on and people would go wild.”

How did you come to be involved with Mixpak? “I got involved a while ago now, when Mixpak was still running a blog and blogging was a different thing. Dre had put out his record with Sizzla and maybe the first Kartel one, I forget. He had a few people writing cool stuff (Nguzunguzu did their first interview there, for example), and I just reached out and said I wanted to write about dancehall. There was hardly anywhere to do that; there were, and still are, only a few places (like Eddie Stats’ column in The Fader) sharing insights on that kind of music instead of just MP3s. I started editing the Mixpak blog and managing a few other writers and then it just evolved – I got more involved as Dre started taking on more projects. It just grew from there until we decided to do things very seriously a couple of years ago.” What does your role as label manager involve? “My job is all-encompassing: I do general strategy for the label, as well as artist development and creative direction on certain things (like Popcaan’s album). Sometimes I’m commenting on song structure or finding a vocalist for a release or making merch, and sometimes I’m sorting contracts or doing press or planning parties.”

From the looks of yours and Dre Skull’s timelines, you were in Jamaica recently on Mixpak business. Tell us about the trip! “Yeah we were in Kingston and it was really incredible – we were in the studio with Spice, QQ, Beenie Man and Popcaan. Dre was presenting an award at the YVAs as well which was wild. I wrote a lil bit about that (and some photos are up) here.”

A photo posted by the large (@itsthelarge) on

Dancehall isn’t really an album-oriented genre, with artists generally participating via riddims and singles. However the Mixpak albums from Popcaan and Vybz Kartel offered glimpses of what shape a full-length dancehall project could take. Mixpak has since had studio sessions with artists like QQ, Spice and Beenie Man – from talking to them have you noticed Where We Come From to have had any sort of knock-on effect in the industry? “I don’t know about that really! There have been good dancehall albums in the past and I’m sure they will continue, it’s just an industry that isn’t set up too well for it. I think it can be hard for dancehall artists to take time out of a rolling stream of riddims and singles to focus on a big project and to hold yourself back for a more traditional album rollout.”

Your Truancy Volume covers a lot of ground geographically and sonically, blending seemingly disparate genres like dancehall, kizomba, dembow and Jersey club. Your sets and mixes are similarly nomadic – what’s the common thread between the tracks you play that draws you to them? “They’re all tracks I love for some reason or other. When you peg the tracks to their genres I guess it seems nomadic and that I’m drawing all these theoretically disparate elements together, but as a DJ I see a lot of similarities in the music. The backbone of this is definitely dancehall – for instance dancehall is integral to dembow and dembow is integral to bubbling, and I think dancehall is also integral to so much UK club music as well. It’s not really something conscious per se, but I suppose that’s the path I’m on – weaving dancehall’s influences through different club musics. Club music is certainly a thread here too, as is the way the underground interacts with pop music. It’s heavily bass-driven, vibesy music from all over – that’s what I love and what I want to share with people. I would hope that you could lose yourself or find yourself to these tracks. At the start there are some tracks from young NY producers – like Immortal Instruments who makes Flex tunes, which are super dancehall-inspired and made for dancers (kinda like the first track too which is a Litefeet track). Some of these are also tracks from friends and/or people I’m working with.”

What’s in the pipeline for the rest of 2015? “We just opened up a new studio which is super exciting; now we have a lot of people passing through and I think it’s gonna mean a lot of positive things happening this year. We’re also on the cusp of starting a new and kinda different radio show. We have more releases from Murlo, Palmistry, Dre Skull, and others that I can’t mention this second. On the personal DJ front I’m just looking to visit new places, so I’m hoping I can get out to some other parts of the USA to play parties. Plus I’ve got some other new things that I’m working on – it’s gonna be fun!”

What tracks are doing it for you right now that didn’t make the Truancy Volume, and what’s your prediction for the track that is gonna dominate throughout carnival season? “There are a lot! I’m really feeling this track by Dexta Daps called “7 Eleven“, it’s a slow jam and burning up in Jamaica – I expect that will keep growing for a while and probably into carnival season. Same for his collab track with Tifa (“Jealous Ova“) – that’s a big tune, as is I Octane & Gaza Slim’s “Cyan Do It“. Busy Signal’s new track “Text Message” dropped while I was making this mix but that’s a fire track.  I’m sure “Way Up, Stay Up” will still be doing the rounds as well. Right now is the time when the songs that are gonna rule the summer are dropping, so keep watching I guess! I’d be super happy if this summer was all about Kranium, Popcaan, Kabaka Pyramid, Protoje and Dexta Daps.”

The Ice – Strike Flightning
Busy Signal – Tamara (Swing Ting Smooth Mix)
Future Fambo – Bloodclaute Song
Immortal Instruments – Forgot Riddim
Mimi – Rude Gal
Ayo – Dj Paparazzi & Dj Zolalopez
I Don’t Wanna Bubble Up (Durkin Remix)
Rambow – Take Yuh Gal
Gage – Throat
Arems & Kemo Truffle Butter Rasklaat Dancehall Flip
I Octane – Ride & Wine
Popcaan – Number One Freak
Popcaan – Rup Rup
Vybz Kartel – Ignite The World
Serani – Boss (Yuh Fi Ride)
Demarco – Puppy Tail
Kilbourne – El Teke Teke (Ynfynyt Scroll Remix)
Vampira Instrumental
El Alfa – El Mananero
Vybz Kartel – My Rainbow
Lechuga Zafiro – Amatista Riddim
Rambow – Sucia
Dj Choko ft The Dutch Grim – Latin Brutality (Bubbling Remix)
Paleman – Beelzedub (Famous Eno remix)
Dj Tameil – Rude Boy Giddy Up
CZ – Moon Beam
Smutlee – Cosa Nostra Remix
???? — ????
Murlo & Gemma Dunleavy – Deep Breath 4×4 VIP
Ice Underlord – Sevyn Streeter Sex on the Roof Meltdown (The Large ghosts live rub feat. Tiffany & Erykah)

Sophie Kindreich

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