Joe Muggs: The Interview!
Joe Muggs is a venerable music journalist, one who has contributed to The Wrap Up previously, among many others. He's recently been working with Ministry of Sound, the world's biggest independent record label, on a compilation entitled 'Adventures In Dubstep And Beyond'. Another accolade to add to dubstep's mainstream invasion. Jayga Rayn had a chat with him to talk dubstep, dubstep, and, erm, a little bit more dubstep...
The Wrap Up: So, working for the world's biggest independent record label, what's the atmosphere there like?
Joe Muggs: I couldn't exactly tell you much about the atmosphere, I've essentially done this as a freelancer and like so much these days, 99% of this has been organised and done online. The one time I went into the Ministry offices it was much as I'd expected to a hilarious degree - a complete hive of activity, but with lots of people with Ibiza suntans and louche-looking DJs lounging on couches in reception. When I helped out on the first 'Sound Of Dubstep' compilation, it was all very brisk and efficient, but doing this one has been good fun: Gavin in their specialist compilations department who's been overseeing 'Adventures...' is excellently enthusiastic and has been really encouraging.
TWU: How important do you think major label support is for genres like dubstep, given that it has such a large underground following anyway?
Joe Muggs: Seems funny to say for a genre that's been growing for the best part of a decade, but its early days yet. Obviously Magnetic Man getting into the top 10 is a big look, but now we'll have to see how their album does and whether others follow. The success of Benga and Katy B's single adds to the sense that it's really happening now. I still don't think the bigger labels have quite got a handle on it overall yet, though. I suppose that's not surprising: after all, dubstep is this really constantly-changing and multivariant thing, it's much harder to pin down as a particular recognisable sound or rhythm than other dance genres maybe are. A couple of acts have been signed that aren't really of the dubstep scene, but are more straight chillout/electronica that's adopted the sub-bass and half-tempo rhythm; nothing wrong with that, there's some very nice tunes, but it does make me worry a little that we'll end up with some awful Morcheeba TV-theme supermarket checkout CD sales version of dubstep at some point. But there's everything to play for yet, the problem, as with all dance genres, is that working in the album format doesn't necessarily come naturally to artists used to rolling out the dubplates and 12" releases. Magnetic Man and Skream have nailed it, Pinch completely nailed it with 'Underwater Dancehall', which was a criminally overlooked album, I think Joker and Benga both have dynamite albums in them, but I think maybe the most interesting stuff might happen when more existing big acts start realising the potential of dubstep artists' collaborative skills. Rusko, for example, really came good with his production work for M.I.A, perhaps more so than on his own album and I think this might be a way that others can really make their mark within the major label world.
TWU: How did you choose what songs to put on the CD? How much pressure is there, knowing that this could be a big commercial representation of an entire scene?
Joe Muggs: Oh, I didn't think of it like that! Start thinking like that and it all gets a bit over-serious and self-important. I just saw it as an opportunity to have some fun and expose new or under-appreciated artists. Variety was always the watchword, but representing the ‘entire scene’ would be impossible, I just put out the requests, waited to see who agreed in principle and then worked with what we had. And frankly there's an embarrassment of riches out there, I could have filled the double CD three times over and not had a single duff track in there, so the selection was more about creating something that flows overall, that creates a proper listening experience. I definitely put this one together for the ravers; it's something I hope people will whack on in the car or at a party, rather than a museum piece or a ‘representation of the scene’.
TWU: Do you think it's going to remain true to the music? Or, do you foresee dubstep being saturated with artists jumping on the bandwagon?
Joe Muggs: As I said before, there's always the danger of a washed-out version becoming the TV advert and naff boutique soundtrack of choice and it was looking like the harder, more blokey version was in danger of overwhelming the scene for a while. You know the sound, buzzing synths, really obvious build-ups and breakdowns, basslines that sound like ‘trying to start the car engine on a cold morning,’ as Kamal Joory aka Geiom so memorably put it. I know that even the biggest artists got sick of being expected to play the same sound to keep the energy of a night up: Skream and Caspa both told me about getting to the point of really craving some variety. But the thing is; they've managed to create that variety: listen to Skream's album, listen to the stuff that Caspa's putting out on Dub Police now and you'll hear a huge range of sounds, absolutely huge. The new variants just keep coming. One of the things that's exciting me most at the moment is how dubstep seems to be completely merging with grime, there's a lot of tracks from this area on the second CD of this mix, a lot of tracks have this really hype energy, that'll get a crowd leaping around, but without the tedious predictability of some of the harder dubstep of recent years. And that's how dubstep has always stayed strong, it is, as Skream put it, ‘Mongrel music,’ it's always had hybrid vigour and the ability to absorb other sounds into itself. So at the moment, I'm cautiously optimistic.
TWU: Was it more about songs you liked, or considering the wider audience's tastes? Do you think they'll be one and the same?
Joe Muggs: As bands in the NME always used to say, ‘We just do what we do and if anyone else likes it that's a bonus,’ hahaha! No, of course I want people to hear and like it, I want the artists on the CD to get a wider audience and I want Ministry to commission another mix! In a sense it's a great test of my tastes and I've loved the challenge in that respect, as a reviewer sometimes you can feel like you're just sitting on your arse telling people what's good and bad, but doing this is kind of requiring me to put my money where my mouth is. I'm very, very happy with the feedback I've had from folk whose tastes I respect, so even if it were only to sell four copies I can be happy with what I've achieved in one way! I'm hoping it will sell a lot more than that though...
TWU: Is there anyone not on there who really should be?
Joe Muggs: Oh far, far too many to mention. Like I said, there's an embarrassment of riches out there. I worked with what was immediately available, rather than chasing particular tracks and the fact I could do that says so much about the richness of what's out there right now.
TWU: What's your favourite element to add to dubstep? Is it the vocals? The MCs...?
Joe Muggs: Bass! As the slogan for Pinch's Subloaded night in Bristol says, ‘If your chest aint rattlin' it aint happenin'.’ I was a teenager when the first rave explosion happened and the music that REALLY did it for me was the old 'bleep & bass' rave tunes, LFO, Nightmares On Wax, Unique 3, all that with huge sub-bass. I've always loved dub reggae too and jungle, so when dubstep emerged with the emphasis on sub-bass, over all it was a natural fit for me. The great thing is that everything else is flexible, as I've been saying, the hybrid nature of dubstep means it can go into songs, into grime, into harsh industrial sounds, into steady house rhythms, into so many different things - as long as the BASS is there.
TWU: How did you get into music journalism and what advice would you give to a young, budding journalist?
Joe Muggs: It's a very, very long story. I spent most of the 90s being in bands, DJing, just generally dicking about in Brighton, it's very easy to dick about in Brighton and go nowhere without noticing. But I was also writing here and there for local papers and whatever, mainly just to get freebies for clubs. My real break came when I started going on the Popbitch messageboard, right when it started, about 2001 - because it was all anonymous, I was able to mingle with really established journalists and industry people even though I was just some scruffy no-mark and then Neil, who founded Popbitch, got given the editorship of The Face and asked me to write for him. It took a long time even from there, for a good four years I was still working doing filing and stuff in a doctor's surgery part-time, even though I'd be going to Vienna to hang out with Basement Jaxx or to New York with Sean Paul on my days off! Journalism DOESN'T pay a lot and very, very few people can make a living out of it, so the advice I would give is a) make sure you're doing it for love, and b) make sure you've got a sidleine!
'Adventures In Dubstep And Beyond' is out now.
Stay up to date with Joe Muggs on Twitter – www.twitter.com/JoeMuggs
Words: Jayga Rayn (@Jayga)
Online editing: Joseph 'JP' Patterson (@Jpizzledizzle)