OXIDE & NEUTRINO
Interview by Rick Thorne. Photo by Brian Bartholomew
From Murder Dog Vol 9 #2 (2002)
How would you break down the garage scene?
Neutrino: I'd say you mainly got two types. You got your younger generation and then you got the older generation. The older generation have tried to lock everything down and tried to let no one in the scene. What's happened is you got the younger generation from the streets, thought to themselves 'fuck it', went to the studio, saved up their studio money, did a coupla beats, emceeing, and took over the older generation. In a way now, the younger generation are runnin' tings in this garage scene. And we proved a point with So Solid, bam. That's how I can describe it man.
Is that through coming up with pirate radio too?
Neutrino: Yeah man. When I worked on Supreme and Delight I used to go up there, put the transmitter on the roof as well y’get me, and set up. Put in technical stuff like that so I've been there and done it. And like you get DTI (Department of Trade & Industry) comin' out every week taking transmitters, and that's like another £300, £250 down the drain like that, bam. So you gotta maintain that as well.
Is the government coming down hard on pirate radio?
Oxide: The government, they don't have a clue because like if you have a community radio station for everyone in their area it gives you a goal innit? Everyone likes music innit, and everyone wants to be a deejay or an emcee that I speak to now, everyone. People have started doin' Internet radio now as well. That's catchin' on a lot, you can see how much people are locked in and that, people that wanna vibe to that. I probably wanna start doin' that in here, could get all So Solid down here dy’know what I mean.
Do you know how many pirates there are in London?
Neutrino: There's about 200 man.
What kind of hours do they operate?
Neutrino: Pirates will come on weekdays, you got 'em from like 6 in the afternoon 'til let's say 2 or 3 in the morning. Friday 'til Sunday it's non-stop, it's just all the way through. You get rivalry, like you get other pirate stations come in, they might kick off someone's studio, take your stuff, take your transmitters, that's how it is. Someone on your frequency as well.
Oxide: Like you might go off and then from nowhere you'll hear someone else come on. They got their name comin' up.
Neutrino: What's happened now is that they got more advanced in pirate radio stations. It used to be like just a frequency, then it was just like the name, say Delight FM. Now they've got radio text like 'Delight FM - the number one station. Do remember on the 20th of this month check out the so and so'. It's going even deeper on pirate radio stations.
Do you know how many people are listening?
Neutrino: I don't know. I'd say maybe 3000, 4000 people.
Oxide: The phone, from like when you give 'em out the number it just don't stop until you switch off. You have to turn your phone off.
What do you give the number out for?
Neutrino: That's for people ringin' up, askin' for shouts, askin' for tracks, rewinds. Also you get live callers talkin' on air and that's when the phone line's jammed. You can jam networks where they've cut the phone off, like cut our line off, said we've had too many calls comin' in.
So would you say pirate radio is the key to holding down the streets?
Neutrino: It is, that's the key element. That's where everything starts, pirate radio stations man. Without them this wouldn't be nothin'.
How important are the clubs for your music?
Oxide: The clubs is almost like the same kinda thing. Kids have thought 'right, I'm gonna try and hold my own now'. A lot of younger people started tryna do rave nights and that. But there's still them older people, with names like Twice As Nice and they're still runnin' things but there's still a lot of younger people comin' through doin' the club scene, pirate radio stations, they do like their own radio and things.
Neutrino: See, when you do the club scene, that's like an underground response. When you're playin' your new stuff and the stuff that ain't goin' like mainstream, that's a good response to see how well it goes down. That's how you tell so it is important to get the stuff out there and play it in the club scene and see what's happening. Pirate radio is even more, that's the first taster, that's where you've come from, that's how you find out. When there's a mad buzz on the pirate stations, the underground scene, everyone's like 'what's that tune all about?' Everyone's talkin' about it. That's the key point, that's where it all starts. It's like even though we're doin' the mainstream thing as well, if we do a track now there's always a coupla whites goin' out on the underground, the pirate radio stations.
When I used to hear garage, it used to be like soulful shit but then I heard what you were doing and what So Solid were doing, and I was like 'woah'.
Neutrino: In a sense, we've started with garage and we've ended up with our sound now, it's like our style of music. 'Coz when people think of garage, like you said, they think of that kinda soulful beat, but then you said yourself you listen to us and you're like 'that's garage?' So it's kinda hard to describe. I don't know how to come up with a name for it. It's branched off from garage basically.
Oxide: Even from the last album it's movin' on. Half of the next album will be like hip-hop, kinda like slower beats and that, dy’know what I mean? So it's moved on quite a bit from the last album.
So you see the music evolving and you're updating it?
Oxide: I just can't stand makin' the same thing that someone's done before so I'm always trying new things. The hip-hop kinda sounds like hip-hop but not like hip-hop still. It's like our own kinda style.
What kind of sales are you puttin' up on albums and singles?
Neutrino: It's like 300,000 (U.K. platinum) on albums, which is a lot if you're like debut artists. That's just in the U.K.
What's your biggest selling single?
Oxide: It's 200,000, that's 'Casualty'/'No Good 4 Me'.
Neutrino: It's over 200,000, it's like 270, something like that.
How do you think you are achieving those kinds of sales when that's a phenomenal struggle for most artists?
Oxide: 'Casualty' though, that was kinda held back, like it wouldn't get radio play or nothing. So everyone wanted to hear the tune and the tune had been built up from underground since like a year 'til release, so everyone knew about it. It's just one of them tracks like, everyone remembers the first time they heard it. It's just one of them different tracks. When we first made it, we'd just started this new pirate Delight FM. So there's this big hype about this new pirate radio station and the 'Casualty' tune, and the only place you could hear the 'Casualty' tune was on the pirate radio station. People were lockin' into the radio station so they were both benefiting each other y’see what I'm sayin'.
When it was bubbling in the underground were you worried that someone might take that idea?
Oxide: Yeah definitely, people catching up with us. It was mad how it happened. I was working in this job like I was sayin', got this record and mad hype started building up on it. Then my brother pressed up the first thousand, took them round all the shops in his car and they just flew out. We was gettin' like £3 a record. Then Essential Distribution, they said 'yeah, we can sell this tune'. So rather than give them the DAT and for them to turn round and say 'yeah, we sold 5000', we was pressing up the records and sending them over to them so we've got our eye on what's going on. And we ended up selling like 13,000.
What areas were you pushing that record in?
Oxide: It was mainly London but then it started stretching up, like we didn't really realise, we thought it was just London. But then we started travelling out doing PAs like even as far as Manchester, they all knew the tune and all going mad so it must've been sold all over the U.K.
Are there different garage sounds in different areas of the U.K.?
Neutrino: It's even in London, like you got different sounds in south, east, west and north, like just between different crews where you can just hear the type of emceeing as well, the type of beats are different. So we have a kind of influence when you go up to like Birmingham, Manchester, 'coz they're lookin' at us and they're tryna follow the stuff that we do.
Oxide: I think it's hard for emcees now because there's so many people in So Solid who've made it and that. They must've captured like nearly every style of emceeing between like everyone. So when you hear emcees it's like 'he sounds a little bit like whoever', dy’see what I'm sayin', so I think it'll be hard for them to make new flows. But you can hear that they've kind of adapted 'coz it used to be 'A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, follow me', now it's 'right, I was walkin' down the road and this happened' and the people are talkin' real life.
Lyrically and productionwise, what do you try to get across in your songs?
Neutrino: A lot of people said, when the So Solid album come out, it was more about hatin' and stuff. But we just felt to ourself that we had to get that message across because that's what everyone experienced in their lives and are experiencing now, so that's the frame of mind a lot of us were in 'coz it was mad mad hatred against us. We were the only people from the streets seen as successful, pushin' big cars, jewellery, and people didn't like that, they thinkin' 'how can they do that in a way so legit and I'm out here sellin' drugs?' So that's why the album was kinda like a hate thing, like we're just talkin' about it. I think now, the hate's still there but we gone over that now.
Do you talk about gangsta shit?
Neutrino: Yeah man, we deep in certain tracks. It's not promoting violence like people say 'oh you lot promote violence'. We're talkin' about if we were put in a situation, what we would do ourselves. That's all we're talkin' about. We talk deep in certain tracks. You get certain people listening, don't understand. Like 'oh he said a gun, he's going to kill everyone'. I didn't say that, I'm sayin' if someone came to take my shit, I'm gonna protect that innit and I end up killin' 'em or somethin' but they don't see it like that. They see it as he's gonna kill everyone for no reason.
Are you influenced by American rap?
Neutrino: I think it's like, you sit there listening in your car and you think 'yeah for real, that's like me'. Then you think 'right, I'mma have to go and do that in the studio as well'. You think this is what happened to me. I listen to the Jay-Zs, the Snoops, Dre's productions, Nas.
Oxide: Timbaland's beats.
Neutrino: You don't really get a lot of the hardcore stuff over here. It's kinda the mainstream rap.
Oxide: I think that's kinda changin' with Master P and Cash Money and that.
Does your music have things in common with some of the gangsta rap in the States?
Neutrino: It is kind of but they're more on a bigger scale. I think certain things that they go through are like ten times harder than here. I think it is kinda gettin' that way on the streets of London now. It's like everyone's got a gun and people are gettin' killed for fun now, like you say something to someone and they shoot you. It's kinda gettin' deeper and deeper.
How did you get together with So Solid Crew in the first place?
Neutrino: I was like the first one on the station, Supreme FM. There was only like three members in So Solid at the time. It was everyone in their different crews and stuff. I think when we had a little mishap at Supreme like the management was goin' a bit stupid, we left and tried to set up our own station. Everyone that left there kinda went into So Solid as a one crew thing. That's how it started man. This was about '99.
Do you still kick it with the same people now as before?
Oxide: Of course, but it's gettin' harder now because like when I go on my friend's estate, I used to go in there, just chill and a couple of people be like 'look there's Oxide'. But now it's kinda mad, like you go in there and all the kids want autographs, kinda embarrassing man. All you wanna do is kick a football about or have a little smoke or whatever but it's mad.
Neutrino: It's mad comin' from just being a normal person and you still got the frame of mind that you are a normal person but then you try and be normal and you realise that damn, people are watchin' every single thing you do, people runnin' up to you, it's crazy man.
How did it feel coming out of that underground scene then having your first single go straight in at number one in the pop charts?
Neutrino: You don't realise it until say up 'til now. When it goes further in the year then you look back and think 'right, I did that'. When you're living the moment you don't realise it, you just don't notice it innit.
Oxide: It was a proper slow build up from first hearing the record, to hearing it could get in the charts, could get in the top ten, could be top five, to like blam, it's gone number one. You hear the progress so you've always got that in your head.
How long had you been signed to East West before that first single dropped?
Neutrino: I think it was like a coupla months.
So they wanted to sign you initially off that single?
Neutrino: Yeah, but where we came different is like a lot of labels were offering single deals and it weren't about that 'coz people who took them single deals back when we started are no more, you don't hear about them. We had the potential to do an album, to show 'em what we're made of. It weren't no alright one track, novelty track, one hit wonder, fuck it then gone. It was a thing where we had potential on a larger scale to show 'em what we're made of.
How do you think you managed to get serious mainstream sales without compromising?
Neutrino: The people that are buyin' our records, we represent them. It's givin' them a feelin' like they're normal people and they can do what we do. It ain't manufactured, went to auditions, act like some puppets and told what to do. The generation that's out there that's buyin' the records are bored of that shit now, we found out they want a new thing. You come along bam, from the streets, they're thinking 'what's this all about?' It's real live talent. No one mimes in our crew, none of that, we produce our beats, there's no one sayin' like you gotta sing about flowers and stuff, there's none of that. It's pure real man.