How one of dubstep's biggest stars has rediscovered his sweet spot deep in the underground trenches
In an age of excess, limitation can be a luxury. The overwhelming bombardment of information is removed, so time is increased and focus is that much sharper. An artist doesn't need 100 plug-ins or 2TB of snare samples to make a great tune. A music fan doesn't need to be saturated with EPs loaded with seven tracks and 13 remixes every month from their favourite DJ. As artists continue to scream from the cyber ceilings, firing more and more (often half-cooked) content at us in a bid for plays/likes/follows/numbers/bookings/friends, one really strong, unique track can be enough.
Take Caspa's Vibrations series. One-track rockets fired off from his Fulham HQ every six or so weeks, each dispatch gives you time to digest it. There's no neediness or overblown fan-fair about it. Just boom, ‘There you go, have a banger mate, see you next month'. Each one is direct, dark and aimed squarely at the club, too. No fluff, no frills, just the sound and actions of a man who's taken dubstep to some of the dizziest heights and returned to the sound that made him fall in love with dark UK bass music in the first place. Sounds like this…
Lean, mean and untainted by current dubstep trends such as EDM-ification, trap beats, the raffish, brute-force nature of what's being called riddim or upping the tempo to 150, Caspa remains resolute in his approach and dynamic. Just as he has been since his 2015 500 project, an album inspired by the 500-or-under capacity clubs he cut his teeth in back in the early 2000s, long before things went a little crazy for him, his long-time sparring partner Rusko and peers Skream and Benga as dubstep began to take over America, change electronic music and, for a few years, soundtrack our acceleration in the excess age.
The last time Caspa was interviewed in iDJ was in March 2009, when he graced the cover fresh off the back of his first US tour. In the years that have passed he's helped to take dubstep to the charts, and to a much wider audience. Perhaps much more notably, he was also one of the most faithful and passionate dubstep champions when the genre fell out of favour around 2013 and many of his peers jumped ship. Refusing to budge or change lanes, and always frank and honest about the state of affairs, Caspa's loyalty to dubstep is just as much his signature as his groaning, curmudgeonly basslines or 10-tonne kicks.
His latest Vibrations cut, Déjà V , is rattling our souls with technoid insistency. He's about to drop a brand new mixtape (Caspa Mix 2.0) and next month he'll be releasing two of his most demanded recent dubplates, Gutter Riddim and The Hothead, on Youngsta's burgeoning Sentry Records. It's high time we caught up with him to see where he's at. Fittingly, he's just returned from another US tour - his third this year.
You're back from the US… again!
"Yeah, I'm doing a lot of mini-tours out there so I can get back to my family during the week. America is still my main place to play and has been for a very long time. The UK and Europe have got more nights going on now than they've had for a good few years, but it's still not as strong as the US. Dubstep goes up, down, left and right in favour over there, too, but there's always sick parties across the whole country."
You lived in Denver for a while, right?
"Yeah, and I was in LA for a few years before that, too. It was never permanent. My heart is in the UK but I moved to LA because I could see what was happening. I could see dubstep going through the waves of popularity that it has done, and I could see a lot more opportunities over there, so I went out and rode the wave. Then I moved to Denver because I wanted a change of scenery, and somewhere I was happy just writing music and nothing else. I actually wrote the 500 album while living there."
Denver's got a strong rep for all forms of bass music, hasn't it?
"Yeah, and a lot of that is down to a girl called Nicole [Cacciavillano], who now owns and runs a club called The Black Box. She pretty much started dubstep in Denver with her night Sub.Mission; now she owns her own club and it's one of my favourite places to play, full stop. Just a black box with a ridiculous soundystem. It's killer."
The type of club 500 and Vibration Series tracks are written for, by the sounds of things...
"Exactly, it's properly underground and intimate. Last time I played I did two nights there because the club was too small for everyone to come on one night. I love those type of places. That's where we started, and where I still am in my head when I write music. I never planned to be on stage playing right after Arctic Monkeys or The Chemical Brothers or any of that mad shit! It's just the ride I've been on but I'm much more comfortable playing in a proper underground dark room, you know?"
You've never seemed uncomfortable in the other situations, though?
"I'm a chameleon, mate! You know what it's like in the industry, it moves so rapidly that if you don't adapt you die. I have enjoyed every experience and opportunity I've had, but this is where I'm happiest and have been for a few years. The underground. It's where my music sits."
The Vibrations series takes up where 500 left off, doesn't it?
"Yeah, it does. But it's even more stripped back, sonically and how I'm putting out the tracks one-by-one. It reminds me of the vinyl days - you'd have two tracks and cut them to dub and have 12"s.You get them done, get them cut and get excited. It doesn't need to be EPs or albums - it's made for the dance."
I like how you're not swamping people with massive dispatches. Each track has a month or so to settle.
"I think there's just too much music on offer right now. People go to the buffet and everything's there to scoff, but you don't appreciate it all. Sometimes you need to go for a six-course meal that's nicely paced, and each course is quite small but you get all the flavours and have time to let them digest and settle. Just little doses. EPs get lost, albums get lost, I've got a much better chance of having people take the time to hear one tune than hammering them with loads."
It must be liberating, as well, to write a tune for the sake of it, when you're not thinking of an album or an EP or a bigger plan?
"This is it. It's just me having fun in the studio. It's the first time in years I've literally gone into the studio every day with no intention but to make something I love. I'm learning so much because I got time to try things out and just fucking play. I'm just making what comes to my head and what sounds cool to me.
"I'm not even making them to release! Déjà Vu was made because I couldn't hear anything like that out there. Same with Get Higher: I was sick of the same old shit, so I made something that sounded fucked up. That's what dubstep always did - you'd walk into a room, hear something and say, ‘That's fucked up!'. These are made for that reason, and I put them out when I feel it's right."
It all appears a bit more planned and strategic than that, I must say...
"Oh, it is once we've picked the tune that's going out next. Then we think about a video and art for it. Standard! But every month I do look at my folder of tunes and get stuck working out which one to put out. Whatever one I'm feeling at the time. Even if other people aren't to be honest. Déjà Vu didn't go down too well with some mates when I asked them for feedback, actually... Youngsta told me it was boring! But you've got to see it go down on a proper system. It's system music, it's not made for any other purpose. You got to drop it at the right time, too."
I always think of the stories in D&B, of a record clearing the floor but DJs playing it again and again until people 'got it'. Not everything has to be instant...
"That's such a good point. Dubstep became a victim of that: we'd have to play a lot of our old tunes 10 or 15 times until people started to really shout for them and go fucking mad to them. But now, if crowds don't instantly kick off I think a lot of producers won't bother putting it out or playing it again. It loses the point of why you're making music."
Sounds like the Vibrations series is going to go on indefinitely!
"I'm keeping it rolling until the music runs out. And that's not looking too likely for a while – there's tons and I'm making more and more. If I could perfect my mixdowns and stop getting caught up on the details too much I'd probably put them out a little bit more regularly."
You can tweak forever, can't you...
"It's the art of letting go, which every producer struggles with, I think. You want that rawness and spontaneity, but you also want that punch and for it to stand up against everyone else's records. The line between over-producing and under-producing is so fine it's invisible."
Speaking of rawness... you and Rusko's historic Fabriclive 37 mix was done in one take, in that rough and ready style - and it's 10 years old this December!
"Fuck me I'm old! [laughs] Time flies too fast man. I have guys coming up and chatting to me about it saying they heard it first when they were 12 or whatever. I'm like, 'Fuck! Am I that old?'!
"We made that mix when I was 25 and Chris was 23! It is a legendary CD. It's taken me a long time to say that and accept that, but it changed everything for us, for dubstep, and it really opened things up in the States. It's still super-humbling when artists tell me our CD influenced them or inspired them, and we'll never forget what we did with that. Obviously we need to shout out Rusko in a massive way here. Lots of love mate!"
Words: Dave Jenkins