Disorda All Day...

Back in early ninetysomething an eager teenager with a passion for music was regularly driving his mum’s car out of his hometown with two turntables and a bag of vinyl on the backseat. Having linked a local graf writer named Solo One, he was now hitting up Hinckley town every weekend to take the reins at a pirate station and hijack the airwaves with carefully selected picks of the freshest hip hop. The broadcasting bug had sunk its teeth in long ago whilst recording tapes with a best friend in his bedroom and supplying mates with improvised exclusive shows. Now he was beginning to satisfy his hunger more substantially. With his eyes on a bigger prize, however, he soon decamped to the capital to start making in-roads proper and get a foothold in the game that he’d already come to love.

Fast forward to 2010 and it’s very much business as usual for Disorda - the UK hip hop scene’s most faithful and longest-standing proponent. With more knowledge and experience than you’d care to shake a stick at, and his fingers in all manner of independently baked pies, UK All Day thought it only right to pay the man a visit at the Suspect Packages bunker to pick his brains.

You’ve probably been asked this a lot, but what one record first got you into the hip hop scene in the UK?

“It's hard to pin it down to one. Possibly Battle Creek Brawl by Gunshot, or something from Blade, Hardnoise or Hijack. I think Battle Creek Brawl was when I first heard proper breakneck, hard drums and tongue-twisting, rapid-fire lyrics that you just weren't hearing anywhere else. It was the early Britcore scene that got me into the UK sound. And that was it – I latched on and just had to buy everything and immerse myself in as much of it as I could.

“Back then, Hip Hop Connection was a vital lifeline for knowing what was going on. If you didn't live in the capital, you didn't have the Richie Rich radio show, Dave Pearce's show or Westwood doing the pirate thing – we had National Fresh with Mike Allen, which was syndicated, and even he didn't play much British stuff. Or John Peel for the odd UK hip hop track he’d randomly play. I can remember the day I bought Hip Hop Connection, the first issue that came out. Before that I was buying Smash Hits to get that one little bit of hip hop, like Public Enemy lyrics or something like that. Then I started collecting vinyl and am still collecting today.”

You’ve been running the online store for as long as I’ve been into hip hop from this country; you also host your own show and are running one of the scene’s top nights. What do you enjoy most about your work and how did it all jump off?

“Radio's a big love of mine. Once I'd moved to London, I was promoting my group, Intelligent Maddness. Through that I got to meet people like DJ MK, who was at Handspun Records at the time. This was around '94 and by then I was a fully fledged hip hop head. I linked up with a guy called Sticka, who was doing a show on Beat FM, which was a reggae station in Harlesden. I ended up doing a drive-time show on there, playing anything from reggae, R&B, soul, hip hop. Then Itch FM started up and I was asked to do a hip hop show on there, which is where the Suspect Packages Radio Show started. Ever since then I've kept the format I had on Itch, and when they stopped going I carried on with a monthly online show. It's been going for nearly ten years. Now people from all over the world can download it, and they do. The amount of people we get listening to the show is crazy.”

Suspect Packages was the main outlet for buying UK hip hop when I was a kid and the only online shop I knew of. How did it come about?

“It started when I first moved to London because that's when I was selling the Intelligent Maddness EP. I realised that I could sell other people's mixtapes too, as I had a mailing list – a physical mailing list that I printed during the day at work. I was cutting corners everywhere! That was the start of the shop. I sent out leaflets advertising the UK Hustlerz tapes, because no-one was pushing UK artists. I had all this product and knew MCs that could come through and spit to make the mixtapes a bit special. Then I started selling MK's mixtapes, DJ Kuku’s tapes, Ruf Beats. Then came the vinyl sales and it just snowballed from there.”

Suspect Packages Live is a platform for both established acts and newcomers to reach an audience. What made you set it up?

“We need more live shows. A lot of live shows have gone from the scene. Kung Fu was massive and that wrapped up a while back now. They were always rammed. It'll be interesting to see how this night is gonna go off, whether the interest is still there – I'd like to think it is.

“Saying that, it's fine putting artists on but they've got to deliver a show. They can't just stand there looking at their feet, shuffling around and mumbling into a microphone. If you've been given a platform it's even more important now to deliver a show. It's fine rehearsing, it's a different matter when you've got a really hard crowd in front of you.”

Aside from their live performance, what advice would you give newcomers in terms of their music and how to push it?

“Be good. After that? Get their names out there. Artists need a buzz about them and to get in people's faces. They need to do shit for free. They can't bring out a CD and just expect people to buy it. People need to know about them. Do live gigs, do radio shows. There are so many different avenues these days for getting your music heard. It is difficult. With the whole MySpace explosion, there are so many more artists coming to the foreground. A lot of the fans have turned into artists and there are less fans.

“If you look outside of hip hop at Arctic Monkeys, they were doing shows, probably for a pittance, and giving away CDs. That created a buzz. Instead of standing on the corner trying to hustle their product, they need to be giving it away. People stop me trying to sell CDs when I'm on Oxford Street, and I explain to them what I do and how I can help them – and they still wanna sell me it! Sometimes you need to give your music away, to be heard. That’s the biggest way to promote these days. At the same time, it's got to be fucking good. If you don't think it's any better than your favourite artists, then why the hell are you doing it? Why are you wasting your money?

“There needs to be more quality control as well as it's too easy to press stuff up and get it out there. I’m all for helping artists sell their product but it has to be good and people have to want to buy it. You can't just put out a CD and expect it to sell. There's only so much work I can put into selling stuff on the website. If artists are backbiting and saying ‘Disorda only sold x amount’, I've done what I can: I've played tracks on the radio, I've got it up on the website with snippets. It's about physical awareness of that product. If you're promoting it in your areas and doing what you've got to do and no-one buys it, what does it come down to? It's down to the music.”

What's the end game to that strategy? Is it that you'll generate enough interest that when you put out your next release you can charge for it?

“You can't put out just one release for free, you need to keep doing it and build up a rep by doing guest spots and networking, getting to know other artists and getting on their releases. If you take someone like Sonnyjim, he's done lots of guest appearances, gone out and battled, and only now are Eat Good starting to get somewhere with their label and what they're doing. But if you look at what he's done so far, it's all been very consistent and very good. That's how you create longevity in the game – you keep coming with quality music and don't expect money straight away. Let's face it, there isn't much money in this scene anyway, so if you want to be around for a while you have to be good at what you're doing. Give away free releases, then you need to make an album that people will think is worth buying.”

Selling music these days is tough and people are constantly uploading material on the internet for fans to get hold of for free. You’ve been vocal recently about bootleggers. Anyone in particular you want to address?

“I don't think there's any need to name names; I think most people know who the main blogs are, and if they don't, could find them with a two-second Google search. I'm guessing most people know places to download a certain album without paying for it. It's killing the music industry. I've been in direct contact with these blogs and the people behind them, and they think they're helping. They say it's all promotion and they're helping the scene, when I've been involved in the retail and distribution of UK hip hop for 15 years and can say for a fact that they're not helping the scene. Their argument is, 'We bought it in the first place, so, surely, it's fine for us to upload it.' Try telling that to the artists that spent their money putting it out. And it's blatantly journalists and DJs doing it, because they're the ones getting the advance copies. And then sometimes the fans themselves. Why?

“The younger generation are growing up not having to buy music, knowing that you don't have to buy music. That's what's scary. In the bigger scheme of things, kids who are just starting to get into music, when they get a bit older they'll take for granted that music is at the click of a button, for free, a throwaway culture.”

I always got the feeling there was a sensibility in this country where fans wanted to look out for their own and support domestic hip hop by buying it.

“You would think so. As one of the main retailers, I don't see that. Sales-wise, Suspect Packages is doing half of what it was in 2006. And that's when a lot of this blogging first started. Another factor is that a lot of the fans have turned into artists and don't seem to be supporting other product coming through. There also hasn't been a steady stream of solid product in the last three or four years like there used to be. There is solid product, but not as much of it. There are good up-and-coming artists that are making noise, but you don't have that foundation of solid labels, like Low Life, that used to put shit out every two or three months. There aren't many labels like that anymore. YNR's still going, which is great, and when they release something it's always solid, and what you need is them and labels of that size coming with something every month.”

Over the last five years the line between UK hip hop and grime has started to blur. You previously mentioned that you weren't a fan of grime, but what's your take on it nowadays and what's your opinion on how quickly it’s penetrated the mainstream?

“If you look at what's in the mainstream, it's not grime. It's pop music to me and they wouldn't be at No. 1, or even in the Top 10, with one of the songs that got them where they are. The problem is you still have to water down your product to get it heard by a mass audience.

“In terms of authentic grime, I grew up on early 80s hip hop, so I have and always will come from a lyrical perspective when listening to an MC. When I hear certain grime MCs, their flow, the structure of their lyrics and what they're actually saying...That's why I initially dismissed it, most of them have come from a garage scene, not hip hop culture. Slowly but surely the MCs have evolved and are creating proper songs, as opposed to throwaway tracks. Also, from a hip hop angle, the scene has split and you've got street MCs and a whole street hip hop scene, where MCs rap over grime beats and hip hop. Things are crossing over so much. British music has always been like that, though. We've always been the leaders in new music forms.

“What angers me is when you read articles in the mainstream press that say ‘UK hip hop artist this’ and ‘UK hip hop artist that’ when they talk about grime MCs. That annoys me because, as I said, most of them have come up from garage raves. None of them know a Jehst, and that's what gets my back up. They started rhyming on garage beats and called it grime – now they're labelled as UK hip hop because they're rapping! Everyone's got their own opinions on it and it's hard to say what's what.

“With Suspect Packages it's always been a hip hop thing and when we've tried selling grime, it’s not sold. The crowd that know about Suspect Packages are hip hop-minded. That's not a bad thing because it means I've got that market cornered.”

It’s easy to see why Disorda has become disillusioned with the artist-fan relationship. Nowadays it seems to be a one-way street, with artists slavishly giving and fans blithely taking. The grime scene blew up quicker than you could cry “sell-out!”, and is now labelled UK hip hop by the mainstream media. It’s enough to make anyone want to pack up and start afresh.

So far, and thankfully, it’s not been enough to dissuade him from putting in work. Others haven’t had the same patience: artists have come and gone, pockets filled with nothing but lint, and even the biggest record label to have done it packed up shop – its owner escaping the Big Smoke for sunnier climes and a life away from the scene he helped create.

I've got a hot potato for you. You’ve toured with and had a working relationship with Braintax through selling the Low Life back catalogue. What's your view on the dissolution of undoubtedly the biggest hip hop label in the UK and former signees badmouthing Braintax for how he went about business?

“It's really hard for me – and this is the story of my life – because I'm good friends with pretty much everybody I work with. Before this all came about, I used to work at Low Life. I went out to Australia a few years back to DJ and when I came back I told Joe he should be out there. He booked up a tour and asked if I wanted to come. We went out with Mys and had a wicked time going all round the country. I know Brains really well, we were good friends and still are. And to be honest on all this, you’d really need to speak to him direct, it’s not my place to talk on the subject. Yeah it’s a real shame he decided to stop running Low Life Records, as it was a dope label releasing some groundbreaking hip hop. Not many have come close to them since.”

Do you ever want to get away from the music business like him? Do you see yourself still at it in five years’ time?

“Will we even be here in five years' time selling music? Probably not, the way things are going. I hope we are – it's brought an immense amount of joy into my life. I don't wanna stop, I'm still mad passionate about it. Fifteen years later and I still love it; I still get hundreds of CDs sent to listen to every week and I love it. I feel like the John Peel of British hip hop!”

Copyright © 2010 UK All Day

Get yourself over to Disorda’s blog
to see what he’s supporting, visit his outlet to do a spot of shopping and get yourself along to the monthly Suspect Packages Live nights @Vibe Bar, Brick Lane, for a right good time and the chance to see the UK’s best hitting the stage.