Arson! Wrestling! Vanilla Ice! We asked Metalheadz' murkiest new recruit to reveal his deepest secrets...
Detboi may have built his sound on a foundation of hard-nosed, fidget-style bass house bangers in the late 2000s, but his roots go back much further. Schooled at Goldie’s Metalheadz university in the late 90s/early 00s (a time many cite as Headz’ most inspired period), lecturers such as Photek, J Majik as well the dean himself introduced the Dublin artist to the dark art of low-end theory and triggered a lifelong infatuationthat would eventually lead to a career in bass music. Never in his boldest aspirations, however, did he think he would actually sign tracks to the label - let alone release drum & bass on it.
But here we are in the summer of 2017. A full 10 years after he first emerged alongside the like of Herve and Sinden on labels such Cheap Thrills and Skint, and exactly one year after he made his Headz debut with his 130BPM jungle/breaks Joyride EP, these are the circumstances he’s found himself in. What’s more, his first drum & bass releases on the label are the first drum & bass tunes he’s ever made.
The tracks in question are Secret Venom and Claws. Two stinking slices of raw sci-fi 170 fracturism, they’re part of his outstanding Secrets EP, a release that builds on his already firm relationship with the label. As with his previous release, he’s picked very specific and personal photography for the cover that relates to his upbringing in 90s Dublin. Also as with his previous release, it’s a ruddy monster. So we called him up to find out more…
It kinda sounds like you’ve been making drum & bass all along...
"Thanks. You know it’s weird, but Secret Venom is the first drum & bass tune I’ve ever made! That’s the truth. I sent it to Ant [TC1, Metalheadz manager and all-round D&B lynchpin] and Goldie, and I was so nervous. I sent it looking for guidance or help and asked if they had any advice to make it better, but they loved it straight away. The mixdown needed tweaking and it needed a slightly longer intro, but the guts of it were there. I was speechless. I was thinking worst case scenario would be them telling me it’s not their thing or it sounded too dated. I don’t listen to new drum & bass as such; I’m kind of stuck in that era so my biggest fear was that it would become too much of a nostalgia trip.
How about Claws? Was it made in tandem, or after you’d had that feedback?
"They were pretty much written in parallel. I was finding my way on Secret Venom and got ideas for another track during the process, so I started Claws. It was getting me moving so I thought I’d develop it and sent it over a week or two after Secret Venom. The feedback on Secret Venom made me think, ‘If they like this one, they might like this one’."
Tell us about the artwork...
"That is basically taken from a film called Notes On Rave In Dublin. The shot is from this old rave where you see the sun bursting through the warehouse windows in the early morning. It really blew me away, so I asked if I could use it and luckily one of the main guys behind the rave, Matt Mcafee, blessed it."
Your last EP, Joyride, had some iconic Irish photography on the cover too, didn’t it?
"Yeah, that was from an estate called Ballymun by a photographer called Ross McDonnell. All these images tie into my youth and what’s made me what I am, really. And I just love photography like this. It’s fucking real, you know?"
It’s great that Metalheadz give you that freedom for the artwork - Paradox and Nucleus had the same with the graffiti artist Vodker earlier this year. Not many labels that give the artist that much control...
"It’s amazing, isn’t it? To be given carte blanche is unheard of! I love it, they don’t interfere at all. It’s got to the point now that if I worked with another label and didn’t have that freedom then I wouldn’t feel comfortable or as fulfilled. I guess Metalheadz are stuck with me now!"
The EP is called Secrets, so I'd be a fool not to try and find out some of your deepest, darkest secrets. What did you want to be when you grew up?
"You’ll find this really boring, but the first job I decided I would study for and aim towards as a teenager was an architect or a graphic designer, which is exactly what I do for a living now!"
Okay, but what was the first job you wanted as a kid, though?
"Ah, right, that’ll be a WWF wrestler! WWE now, I know, but I’ll always know it as WWF. Growing up seeing guys like The Ultimate Warrior, Jake The Snake, British Bulldog, Macho Man Randy Savage. He was the man."
When was the first time you got into real trouble?
"I once burnt my school down. Part of the school, anyway. Me and a bunch of friends, typical kids playing with matches, that kinda thing. We had no idea the school would catch so quickly and burnt several classrooms down. How about that?"
Crikey. How old were you - and how much shit did you get into?
"I was about 11 or 12. It’s an Irish thing to be threatened to be sent off to this all boys school on an island and we were all threatened with that, but eventually we got expelled for a while, then they let us back in. No more matches for me, though. I’m the Firestarter!"
What was the very first record you ever bought? Honestly now...
"Ah, that's easy! Vanilla Ice - Ice Ice Baby. Classic."
Can you do the rap for us, then?
[Detboi instantly lays down the first two verses and chorus, word-for-word, without hesitation. For the purposes of brevity and various copyright laws, this has been omitted from the transcript]
So Vanilla Ice is where your love for beats began?
"Ha! He played his role, I guess. But you grow up to different things through different sources, don’t you? Shit like mates' older brothers; collections would be there in the background influencing you. The Prodigy and Public Enemy and NWA were always being played. But then, on the other hand, you’d get this mad exposure from the charts. The likes of Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer and even the KLF were massive when I was 10. So without any control of my own, I was immersed in a rich musical world that already ranged from underground things to very commercial stuff. Everything has some type of influence, right?"
Indeed. Coming back to your career now, what was the worst gig you ever had?
"Probably one in Israel. From the second I landed it was trouble. I had a nightmare getting into the country, then at dinner the promoter and his boyfriend had a row and began punching each other’s heads off at the table. Really violent fight, you know? Busted lips, noses and blood everywhere. Then all night they stood in the DJ box with me.
"The tension was building up really intensely right behind me, and to make matters worse, only three people came to the gig! It was so bad the coatroom and bar staff came out and danced to try and make it look busy. Then to top it all off I had trouble leaving the country. They kept me detained for three hours asking my business and swabbing equipment. Easily the shittest gig I’ve ever done!"
Let’s end on a high. What’s been your best gig?
"Obviously things like fabric will always stay with me, no matter how many times I’ll ever get to play there, but I’ll go for a recent one because it relates to everything I’m doing now. It was my first gig for Metalheadz last year at Phonox in London. My set went well but it was when Goldie dropped Joyride things got really cool. It was such a special moment, growing up to this man’s music and his label and that sound and having him playing my music was just beautiful. It will be hard to top!"
Words: Dave Jenkins
The Secrets EP is out now on Metalheadz. Buy it here.