“Things have changed,” Bradley Miller glances around the room of the café by Brockley station where we meet. It’s another of those fashionably quaint cafés that have nudged their way into every corner of every London borough. “Back in the day, this wouldn’t have been here, no way!” He laughs. Miller, aka CKtrl, is a young producer from south London and has lived in the capital all of his life, Lewisham being his home. At the age of 17 he had his debut on the Boiler Room, playing a set strictly of his own productions. Needless to say, I was blown away. Not simply because of the quality of the music but the maturity of it. He had taken the old dubstep/grime sound and fashioned it flawlessly into his own. Even meeting him now, a few years on from then, there is a self-assurance about him that surpasses his age.
“I used to MC and make beats with friends,” he remarks as we chat about his home studio set up. The Boiler Room set was enough proof Miller made beats, and well, but hearing he had MC’d was news to me. “That’s the thing,” he cuts in to quell any premature praise, “grime’s trendy now so it’s cool for people to say this and that but I suppose when you live around here and in, you know, places like this, grime is your culture, more than the music is your culture. You come out of school, everyone’s spitting in a circle. At the back of the bus, everyone’s playing tunes you made the other week.” Grime sums up his early adolescence – he talks about how Roadside G’s were a foreign turf favourite, how Bashy was the only one who could freestyle well, and educates me in the fall of “homegrown” grime to the hands of Peckham’s Giggs. Grime is a topic he is well versed in but not one he associates with his music. “Everyone’s calling the last release grime, I don’t know why,” he tells me mystified, “it’s like, you know, grime’s in and around 140 BPM, ‘Azula’ is 127, and the other one’s like, 132, so it’s just club music I guess.” For Miller, grime was a chapter that inspired him to make music, and the odd MC tape here and there, which he is adamant “will never ever see the light of day,” but besides that there is a lot more to his musical palette.
From a young age Miller was surrounded by music, “music’s just always been in the community” he explains. His uncle, who played in a band called the Reggae Regulators around the same time as Aswad, would come around and jam on his guitar while he and his older sister, Elle, played the keyboard. Other relatives and friends were involved with Saxon Soundsystem. Not to mention one of his favourite hobbies from the age of eight was, besides messing with his father’s “off-limits” Goodman’s turntable, making fake radio shows with his sister. “One day my sister got a Sony hi-fi and a mic and we’d do our own radio show, make loads of tapes, make music and just chat shit on the mic.” A precursor to his monthly show on NTS, 72 Nations.
72 Nations – inspired by the seventy-two nations that attended Haile Selassie’s coronation – “traces through the culture of Rasta and black identity, with music ranging back from roots reggae to sound system culture’s modern incarnations: dubstep, grime and more.” Quite a mouthful as NTS would have it, but Miller has a more digestible way of wording it, “what MOBO is meant to stand for is what the show actually represents, you know?”. He continues, “I just play music that comes from black origin, like most music does! [Laughs]”. That, and a pure attitude to radio, is what typifies his shows; “the shows are the only place I get to show everything that I’m into, from my own music and other people’s music.” Fortunately, NTS’ unique laissez-faire attitude has allowed Miller and many others like him, who prefer a more organic approach, to build themselves a portfolio, “I make all sorts of music but the hard part about releasing music is getting people into all of it.”
Looking back at 2012, his sound veered closer to dubstep. The Boiler Room dubplates feature jaded rasta vocal samples and a prevalence of bass weight. Fast forward three years and his Forest EP and Azula/Misc flutter between melancholy electronic and hard-hitting club music. “Electronic” is the genre Miller is aiming for, “you know how people like Floating Points, Caribou, Jamie XX, and like, Four Tet, it’s just electronic and you leave it there, that’s what I’m pushing.” A modest goal, and certainly a genre that has a lot of leg room and somewhat frees itself from prejudice, but one that perhaps puts him in too wide a bracket to be noticed. Although his music is finally out in the open, the difficulties of distributing and knowing his fan base are his next obstacles.
“In hindsight I should’ve released the earlier dubplates because I had a really good support system. NTS was relatively new and on the come up […] now everything’s like a big major empire, people haven’t got time.” Miller laments, “I mean, you can pull in favours…” Boiler Room have debuted two tracks of his, ‘Misc’ and ‘Pictvres’, earning him a healthy dollop of listens, but the rest of the page is very quiet. “I feel like it’s really hard now with the Internet to know who your fan base is, it can be really obscure. You know when you put a night on, that was always my biggest fear.” He put on two launch nights last year, one being at the Alibi in Dalston. He’s not convinced by that approach however. “Obviously friends come down but they’re not necessarily crazy about what’s going on, they’re just your mates, you know? Sometimes you need to find out who your fans are, I think that’s the next step for me.”
At my suggestion of running his own label as an answer to his woes, Miller recoils. The stresses of waiting for his last records to finally arrive and then having to distribute them himself on top of working full time was too much. “I’m glad I’ve done it now for the experience, what it’s like and everything, but trust me – I. Am. Finished. I can just about do my own but everybody else, they’d hate me!” The beats are all he has time for and fortunately for us there are more on the horizon. Indi is his next project, a collection of around fourteen tracks he hopes will surface around the end of March this year. However, he’s keeping collaborations and the like under wraps.
“What’s behind the name Indi?” I ask. “It’s a collection of things I suppose, it’s more about not belonging to one particular thing, or anything. Just being individual, independent,” he pauses, “…indispensable! [Laughs]” It is the former two words, however, that will cause Miller to make waves in music. “I’ve always just tried to do it the whole time, you know, slow, small steps.” While popular culture feeds a rapidly changing environment, be it intangible like the music or tangible like the café we sit in, Bradley remains steadfast – individual and independent. “I don’t really react to what’s going on, but I can get inspiration from anything,” he puts it. He is adamant to do things his own way and steadily pave his own path, and why not? After all, it was the tortoise that won the race.
Words: Joe Mills