“Music is what I live for, it’s what I’ve always done, and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve got a lot of determination to make it”.
The aspiration in Jon E Clayface, aka John Charles’ voice is palpable, but there’s an honesty behind his words. John is unassuming, the authenticity behind his quietly spoken manner unquestionable – a noticeable contrast to his ferocious, but nonetheless calculated output. Originating from Charlton in south east London, John’s been on the scene for a while, and his hard work has paid off in the last year, having exploded into the public eye with his single ‘Keep Up‘ last year, as well as an impressive EP of the same name in November.
Influenced by dubstep, grime and metal, his sound is wholly unique, born of a lifelong love of music. “I first got into music playing guitar. When I was younger I really wanted to be in a band, I taught myself how to play, and it kind of just evolved from there”, he says. For John, it’s not always been hip hop and grime, he’s just as comfortable talking about about his love for Deep Purple, or his musical roots in Slipknot and System of A Down’s early demos as he is discussing classic Wu-Tang and trap music. “Some of the lyrics I use as well, the depth of writing about real life, are very influenced by the heavy metal side of things”. This notion is reflected in the nuances of John’s lyricism, aggressive on the surface, but full of depth. “I think a lot of people don’t realise that they talk so much realness, so many people are ignorant to a lot of what these bands are saying”, he adds.
Whilst John grew up aspiring to be a metal musician, it wasn’t until he went to college to study music engineering that he happened upon production software. “[At college] I got introduced to Reason, Logic – I knew about music software but I’d never used it, before that it had all been electric or acoustic guitar”. College was also where he met W.A.V.E Gang affiliate Shannon Parkes, whose formidable beat mastery has landed him production credits across the board, most notably on Lewisham crew The Square’s landmark 2014 tape The Formula. “Shannon was awesome – he was the guy. All his beats were great, we’ve been working together since college”. The influence of meditative dubstep, which he picked up on at college, is also a huge part of John’s sonics. “You can hear it in some of my tunes in the drum patterns I use. I’m also a big fan of the trappy kind of sound that’s around a lot, it’s kind of part of my style now – it definitely influences me as a producer”, he says.
John is also hugely enthusiastic about the importance of digital radio, and it was through producing dubstep that he discovered his talent as an MC. “When I used to DJ on a radio station called All Things Urban back in 2011, DJing dubstep and drum & bass, I knew this guy Jack Fitz, he used to come on the show, and he introduced me to Ten Dixon”. John and Ten Dixon almost instantly became friends, and John was encouraged by him to start MCing. “I’ve still got the recording [of their first set together], we’ve been working together ever since. Ten’s showed me a lot, now I have my own connections and I can do my thing, but even now he’s the guy I’ll go to, I owe a lot to him”.
As a fully fledged grime artist, John (and the rest of the W.A.V.E crew) is a regular fixture at Balamii, Radar Radio and Mode FM. “Radio’s really important… you don’t just put one track up on Soundcloud, or a YouTube cypher and suddenly you’ll be up there, you have to hit radio, you have to hit those stations up… it’s like training almost, we always say that”. Radio is vital for John, and as he sees it, for grime in general. “It’s like a massive network, who’s connected to who. There’s a lot of people who aren’t at the same level but you’re still good friends with them. You could get on a DJ set at Mode FM and proper shell off the set, just through word of mouth because you know that other DJ from Rinse FM or something. It kinda goes like that”.
John is incredibly supportive of Balamii radio, and it was through his own tireless work ethic that he first found himself there. “I got hollered at by the owner, just because we’d been on the radio doing a lot of sets – he’s a great guy, big up James”. Located only a few miles from his home, it’s one of John’s favourite places to go. “It feels more homely when we go there, it’s like you’re on home turf, maybe ‘comfortable’ is the wrong word because I feel comfortable wherever I go, but it feels more like it’s our place”. The positive impact of Balamii has definitely been felt in the local Peckham scene, though as John puts it: “Unfortunately, south London lacks a lot of support, even for us lot – if we stayed in south we wouldn’t be anywhere, we go to east London or north London a lot more, but we’ve got plans to put more stuff on down here”.
Peckham is also one of John’s favourite locations for live shows, and it’s tiny venues like Rye Wax that he’s most enthusiastic about. “Sometimes when you go to a proper basement rave at somewhere like Rye Wax, you just go down the stairs and it looks really old school. It’s just a basement, it’s mad, it’s proper grimey, everyone’s just packed in there, the energy’s crazy”. Bussey Building is also the site of John’s favourite show of 2016: “Bussey Building in Peckham – moshpits and everything – it was crazy. Kruze jumped in the crowd at one point, I love to see moshpits at shows, it’s sick to see”, he says.
Though ‘moshing’ at shows is still a hugely divisive notion in electronic music, John’s roots in punk and metal have put him firmly in favour, as he believes the influence of the genres goes beyond the physical as far as grime is concerned. “I’ve heard a couple of people say this – sometimes the grime scene reminds me of punk, everyone seems free at grime shows. When I go it reminds me of seeing videos from those old underground punk shows where everyone’s going crazy. The music is quite different, but the messages are very much the same; ‘the system doesn’t like me, so I’m not going to like the system’. There’s a unity in that, it’s a similar route, that youthful rebellion, it’s in my bars a lot. We all go through struggles where it’s not exactly your fault. I often write about hard times, they influence me a lot”.
With the impending release of the first ever W.A.V.E Gang posse cut, things are looking up, even whilst his G.W.O.P EP was scrapped it was only because he wanted to put more music to it. “I figured everyone’s making an album these days, so I decided to make an album instead”, he says. In the wake of the LP, the future is bright for John: “I’m really happy with it, right now I feel my music’s the best it’s ever been”.
Words: Richard Lowe