In conversation with Sir Spyro

Sir Spyro is one of the great mainstays of the grime scene. He’s been active for the better part of a decade, playing nights all over the country (and the wider world, increasingly) and providing Rinse FM listeners with a reliable weekly dose of 140 bpm mayhem in the form of The Grime Show. Recently, his studio output has been mind-boggling, from the skull rattling ‘Topper Top’ to his phenomenal collaborative EP with CapoLee – Stop Talk.

Soon, he’ll be appearing as a part of the Red Bull Music Academy’s UK tour, during the Bristol leg, flanked by long time partner in crime Faze Miyake. There’s a twist though, he’s not just playing a set, he’s lecturing as well. Spyro has always done his own thing, largely unaffected by the turn of the musical tide, he’s just kept on doing him, and in the process he’s helped scores of MCs and other producers find their audience. By the sounds of things, this isn’t a trend that’s going to run out of traction any time soon.

How does the process of picking out MCs for The Grime Show play out? Do you pick them yourself or is it by committee?

At one stage it was totally me, but as the show grew bigger and bigger I couldn’t just control it by myself, I needed the help from Rinse. It’s easy when you’ve got friends in the industry up to a point, but beyond that you need that extra helping hand.

It was getting out of control, there are times when the shows are booked in the diary going ahead for four or five months and there are still people asking for certain days like two months in. They’re looking at February when the nearest one is some time in July, it got really peak. It’s good though, because we’ve created a platform, and people want to be heard.

Have you ever had to fight really hard to get a particular MC on?

I’ve had to fight to get people on when they’re actually being long, but sometimes the timing is off and I have to respect that. People go through stuff, and I don’t necessarily know what they’re going through, so when they say no I just have to respect it and come back when the time is right.

You’re about to give a lecture (and play) at a Red Bull Music Academy event in Bristol, which is particularly interesting because you’re self taught, and you started out when you were about eleven?

Ten going on eleven, yeah. The first turntables I ever put my hands on were Soundlab, Soundlab Direct Drive, it was at a local youth centre that I used to go to. I kind of ended up teaching myself because my big brother didn’t like me touching his records, but I taught myself when he went out (laughs), he’d go out on his BMX with his friends and I just took his records.

My older sister actually knew how to mix as well, she’d have her own set of records and everything. I actually learnt off my sister, as well as that. They both still collect records, and I think if I put them in front of some turntables they might actually be alright!

Maybe that’s a future project, the Spyro family dance.

Family dance (laughs)! That’s jokes man, yeah. I like that.

Speaking as someone who is self taught, what do you think the biggest benefit of programs like the Red Bull Music Academy is?

Well, I taught myself using FruityLoops, really, and when I say taught I mean the real basics, because obviously the free version is very stripped back. I could see the benefits of the educational side then because I was making tunes but I didn’t know how to EQ or mix down, so I started using programs like Logic, and I realised that it was really the program I needed to be using but the thing is, as a person I find it hard to start on one thing and move onto another.

It’s like you’re playing a Playstation and then moving onto Xbox. It might basically be the same thing but I just can’t wrap my head around it, because I know the other one so well. So I just slowly but surely learned how to use Logic, knowing that I could get a better sound out of it. I think it’s important to learn the hard way, it took me a really long time to get where I am but I’m glad of that because I know everything I know, and even now I’m still learning.

Is that the approach you’re taking with the lecture? Do you have it planned out?

I don’t, but it’s like this interview, you’re firing questions at me, I don’t have it planned out but I think that’s good. I’m really looking forward to the lecture because it’s out of my comfort zone, I’m talking in front of an audience, do you know what I mean? It’s going to be sick. It’s a different kind of challenge.

You’ve been getting into the studio a lot more frequently recently, did anything in particular spark off this increase in producing?

I think it was CapoLee and Ghetts man, them two really made me change the way I work in the studio. Before I was just making tunes and hoping for the best, but then I thought, well actually I didn’t think, and that’s kind of the point, we were just doing it, laying it down, doing vocals, and then just finishing it off.

It made me realise that’s how you should make tunes, because you’re thinking about the here and now. Whatever gets made gets made, I can’t even explain it, these tunes would just come out one after the other and man were like “fucking hell Spy what is going on!?”. Someone put something in my water, surely, 100%. When it’s linked it just works better for me, whether it’s a rapper, a singer, a songwriter, if I’m with an artist in the studio it’s just better.

What was it that brought you and CapoLee together?

I was in the studio, and he came through, I knew of him at that point, I’d heard some of his bars, but I didn’t think anything of it. Then I was on the way home and I found CapoLee online, like one of his freestyles, and I remember thinking “that’s not the same guy that was in the studio, he was too quiet” but I had his number so I rang him and asked “Is this you?” and he said “Yeah, yeah yeah”, I asked him to send me some tunes like immediately. It just cracked on from there after that.

When did you first start working on the Stop Talk EP with him?

We sent out a couple of tunes before that, then there was this one night in the studio and it was proper late, like three maybe two in the morning or something, and I’d already been in the studio for the whole day. I said to Lee “We need to skedaddle mate, I’ve been here for ages” and then he said “Twenty more minutes”.

Twenty minutes came up and ‘Mud’ just popped out of nowhere, just flicked out of my wrist. Lee called D Double E and got him in on it, that’s another thing I like about working with artists, when they know what they’re doing, they don’t let anything get in the way. So he went with it, despite the fact that he was working with a lot of other people at the time.

Faze Miyake is playing the RMBA night. You two have worked together extensively and you came up at around the same time, do you ever find yourselves comparing your experiences?

Faze was using Logic before me, I was using FruityLoops, but when him and Terror Danjah were showing me how to get the best sound out of it, it was like going to school again. I had to take time out. Now I’m able to show him things that he might not know, so we’re definitely always helping each other out. He even took me on tour to Asia, I’ve got big respect for that guy.

You’ll also be playing alongside Norway’s Drippin at the RMBA event, adding to a long list of international artists you’ve played alongside. As someone who came straight out of East London, what’s your take on the way so much homegrown music has taken hold in the rest of the world?

It’s amazing, when I first starting doing bookings as DJ Spyro or Sir Spyro I started seeing things I’d never seen before. I’d go to Prague and see them wearing Boy Better Know t-shirts, not a thing in England but out there, knowing how big it was getting, that’s what made me want to really pay attention to my guests. I’m always bringing up people you need to be paying attention to, but it made me realise that I need to get everyone that I can up because they need to be seen.

This new generation, there’s so many people, like when AJ Tracey first came to see me at the Grime Show, he was, like, a boy, do you know what I mean? You see people properly grow through the music. When I see all these different people in all these different countries and the way they welcome the music, it’s crazy man. I came up through radio, I know what it’s like trying to get your tune played, trying to be seen or heard, I’ve got to use what I have to get the people out there. It’s my job to do that.

You’ve always been great at evolving and developing your live sets and keeping them distinct, is there anything you’re particularly focusing on with them at the moment?

I’m not one of them guys that goes to a rave with a planned set, I know what I want to play, I know how I’m going to play it, but I don’t plan. Sometimes it might even come out wrong, but I’m going off the crowd.

You’re about to play your first ever shows in Australia, how are you feeling about that?

I’m excited, I’ve got the chance to go and do what I do on the other side of the world. When I do the The Grime Show I do exactly that, I keep it me, and it’s the same when I do these shows. I’ll play a fucked up instrumental in a rave to test it, to see if that’s what people really want.

It’s similar with your production, you play around with a lot of different styles, from more melodious, soulful tracks like ‘Pull It Up’ to ‘Topper Top’ which is just gigantic. Do you consciously try to move around a lot or does it just happen naturally when you get into the studio?

Again because I prefer working with artists it depends who I’m working with. If I’m working with Ghetts he likes to be skanking on stage, he likes to dance a lot, so I know that he likes a jump up vibe. It’s naturally easy to do that with him because that’s what his vocal will sound better on. If you think about ‘Dun Know Already’, it’s a garage vibe, but ‘Scary’ has, well, a scary vibe, and then ‘Ten Out of Ten’ is ravey. So it’s different kinds of vibe on the same tempo, I keep it tight at the same time but I don’t want to be stuck doing one particular thing.

Is there anything outside of the 140 range that you’ve thought about trying?

That’s a scary question. I’ve made tunes before that’s not grime, and music is music, but I love grime. It’s like if I ask if you listen to music other than grime, of course you do, well I’d hope so anyway, and it’s the same with production, you’ve got to make other things. Whether any of that will see the light of day I don’t know, but you’ve got to do it.

Are there any other MCs or producers who are really taking your interest at the moment?

Tre Mission. His productions are absolutely sick, when I mix for Essential Mix I always get questions about his songs. It’s not even a vibe that I would normally play, but if I’m going off the original grime vibe, sticking to what I know, even then I have to include it.

What are you focusing on, looking to the future?

Everything! There’s so many things happening at the same time, it’s hard to focus on any one thing. The studio is happening, the rave is happening, the radio’s happening and there’s family happening. I’ve got to fit that all in, I have to.

Words: Callum Davies

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