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Back Then: Youngsta

For the next in our ten-year-themed birthday features, we spoke to a true pillar of the dubstep scene – Youngsta. In a climate that changes so much and so quickly, there will always be DJs and producers that choose to earn their respect without following trends. Countless artists born from the very dubstep movement that Youngsta still represents have gone on to huge and deserved success – think Skream, Benga, Addison Groove, Loefah, and Rusko – but none can still claim the faith Youngsta has shown towards that original sound.

He offers another perspective on the last ten years – shedding light on his early years in pirate radio, the progression in both his DJing and the dubstep sound, Rinse and more…

Firstly, when was it you starting DJing?
I started when I was 13, in 1998-1999. It was on a North London pirate radio station called Freak FM. It was a big garage station – Heartless Crew came from it and DJ EZ too. It was around the time that garage was crossing over into dubstep, and I was playing a lot of the dark, 4×4 and 2-step stuff from guys like Horsepower and Ghost, and the Artwork, Skream and Benga records on Big Apple.

I know when you started playing dubstep you used to only play a few people’s tunes, is that still the case?
Yeah well I definitely have a very specific taste. Back then there was a very limited amount for me; I used to pretty much only play Mala, Loefah, Skream, D1, and Headhunter at one point. Now, though, I’ve got a lot more options because there are a lot more people making the sound I like.

So who are you playing a lot of now?
Well Loefah’s stopped making the kind of stuff I play, Skream makes the odd tune I play but him and Benga are doing their own thing really, Tony doesn’t do much as Headhunter anymore, but I do still play Mala. There’s a whole new wave of producers like Kryptic Minds, Distance, LX:One, SP:MC, Icicle, Verse, J:Kenzo, Vivek, Truth, KIllawatt, Thelem, DJ Madd and a few other Tempa releases too.

How similar does you standard DJ set sound now to ten years ago?
There’s definitely a lot more variety in my currents sets than you’d hear in any old school recordings. My set is more diverse, I’m playing a lot of 4×4 stuff at the moment, which I wouldn’t have done back in the day. Nowadays there are more artists making the styles of dubstep I like, giving me much more options.

How does the overall quality of music coming out of the dubstep scene compare to when you first started?
Yeah there’s a lot of well-made stuff coming out now. There’s also a lot of young people making dubstep at the moment with less experience in producing and engineering but amazing ideas; in general the standard is pretty high.

Has the more tear-out, mid-range kind of dubstep tainted the genre’s reputation in your eyes?
Well it obvious depends on the person you ask, but yeah the majority of people would associate dubstep with the jump-up sound these days.

Has that affected you at all? Now when you tell someone you’re a dubstep DJ do you feel the need to specify which kind?
No I don’t think it affected me at all. I’ve always played the type of dubstep I like, I have never played a tune I don’t like just to get a massive crowd reaction. I don’t care how popular it is, if I dont like it I’m not playing it. I don’t follow trends, that’s what has made me unique and given me an edge. I’m known for playing the style of dubstep I play. Also, the deeper, minimal, sound of dubstep has become more popular recently, which balances things out a bit.

How do the crowds compare?
There’s definitely a massive difference. Dubstep has blown up and now you can fill massive venues. When it was taking off it was hard to fill a 200-capacity club, now you get thousands and thousands.

What do you miss most about life as dubstep DJ at that time?
Nothing to be honest. Life hasn’t changed much, apart from we’re all much busier. Back then it was restricted to London and a few other places in Europe, now, it’s successful all over the world so life is obviously a lot busier.

You mentioned Tempa earlier. What’s happening with the label right now?
There’s a J:Kenzo album that came out at the end of September, and a Proximo tune called ‘Lie Detection,’ out now! We have a Truth 12″, and bits from Killawatt, IP Man, SP:MC lined up, and a release from myself in November – ‘Destruction & Poseidon’

And finally, a word on radio and how its evolved. For the better do you think?
For me, DJing on the radio is definitely much better nowadays. Its a much more professional setup so technically there are less problems, and you’re not getting raided! There are some things I miss about the old pirate stations obviously, we had some great times. Rinse is now unlike any other station; we don’t want to be like Radio 1, but we don’t want to be pirate either. We’re keeping it fresh and doing what Rinse has always done!

Richard Akingbehin