Caspa “It’s just beats, bass and energy.” One of dubstep’s leading producers talks hype, rubber chickens and not shooting hoops.
It seems that dubstep is treating Gary McCann well. The 26-year-old West London producer better known as Caspa pulls up outside Gunnersbury tube station in a brand new Audi TT. He’s just got back from a short tour of Canada. We’re off to his studio in Chiswick, located in an old air raid shelter. It seems appropriate given the explosive force of tunes such as his remix of Where’s My Money by TC (listen here) and Marmite , taken from his forthcoming album, Everybody’s Talking, Nobody’s Listening (listen here). By contrast, McCann himself is an easy-going sort, with a cheeky rudeboy accent and an open manner. “I spend a lot of time here,” he says gesturing at the three-metre square room stuffed full of electronic equipment, a vintage 808 drum machine and a miniature fridge full of Red Stripe. “I haven’t actually slept here yet, but I think I might have a vitamin D deficiency because of the lack of sunlight. But so what. It’s all about the music at the end of the day, just beats, bass and energy…”
Why is the album called Everybody’s Talking, Nobody’s Listening?
In music, especially in dubstep, there’s so much hype people forget about the music. But the music is the most important thing. It’s a universal language that has no barriers. You don’t need to talk about it all the time.
Does the hype surrounding dubstep annoy you?
It doesn’t annoy me, but I think that people talk too much and don’t actually listen to what’s going on. Like when people say I just make dancefloor tunes. Before you say that, listen to the album. I do make that stuff, but there’s a whole other side of stuff that I make. I want people to listen to the album and not talk about it too much.
That’s kind of unavoidable in an interview! What’s your favourite moment on the album?
I’m really pleased with the intro, which was done by [UK reggae DJ] David Rodigan, who’s an absolute legend. I did a tune on the album called Riot Powder, which sampled him. It said, “No sound in the world can play this tune”. He lives in Acton, which is round the corner. I thought there’s no way I’m going to sample a legend and not clear it with him. I got his number and called him up. We had an hour-and-a-half talk on the phone. He’s an amazing guy. He’s seen it all. He was telling me stories from back in the day, from when he first started out and he went to Jamaican and Kingston and met King Tubby. When I got off the phone, I told my girlfriend, I’m going to remember that phone call for the rest of my life. To have him on the album is a real honour.
You’ve remixed Depeche Mode’s new single, Wrong. Are you a fan?
Being honest with you, I wasn’t really, but I‘d never really listened to them, so it’s not like I didn’t like their music, I just didn’t know it. When I told my dad, he was like, Whoa! It’s an honour. They’re huge.
Would you ever make musical concessions in order to crossover?
Definitely not. When a scene gets quite big, people start making music to please people. Dubstep’s not like that. It’s a bunch of producers who used to meet up down a club, FWD>, five years ago to play tunes to each other, and it hasn’t really changed. It’s a bunch of producers doing what they do, but it’s just taken off. I think the reason it has is that everyone understands a bit of it because there are so many elements in there – techno, dub, hip hop, drum’n’bass, house.
When did you first get in to music?
I’ve always been into music. My dad is a huge record buff. He collects everything from Elvis to Cliff Richard all the way through to The Damned. He’s really into his punk. My younger and older brothers are both record collectors too. My older brother was really into hip hop; he was a scratcher. My younger brother is in a ’60s garage band. So I got three hardcore music fans in my family. I didn’t have much choice.
What were you into as a kid?
I used to listen to jungle tape packs at school, but I was more into basketball. I played every day from the age of eight. I was pretty good. I got picked for England. I had a scholarship to go and play at a high school in America. But then, when I was 18, I dislocated my shoulder whilst I was playing. The doctor was like, Look, I don’t think you’ll be able to play again unless you have some major surgery and take two years off to recover. But at that age you can’t afford to take two years off. And I’ve always been someone who likes to be at the forefront of it all. So I had to give it up.
You must have been gutted…
To be honest I was quite depressed. It was my life. I was playing seven days a week. I went from that to nothing. That’s why I got into music. It was like my saviour almost. I needed something to take me away from thinking about not being able to play basketball.
Did you start out playing drum’n’bass?
No. I was listening to garage around that time. I bought myself a pair of decks even though I couldn’t DJ to save my life. It was when EZ was really hot. I liked it when garage started getting really dark, like when DJ Zinc was doing his Jammin stuff on Bingo. Oris Jay, Zed Bias and [early FWD>> resident] Lombardo, all those characters who were doing it early in ’99. I went down to one of the first FWD>> nights in 2001. It was amazing. I started making tunes that sounded a bit similar.
What was the first tune you made?
It was called Bassbins. That was 2002. It got signed to Lombardo’s label, Fragile Beats. Lombardo was really well respected, so once I’d been signed by him, I got offered a show on Rinse FM. That was 2003. They gave me a set, 9-11pm on Tuesday in-between Hatcha and Slimzee from Pay As U Go Crew, which was a prime time slot. I was called Quiet Storm back then. In the end, Bassbins never came out for one reason and another.
What was your first release?
It was 2004 and a track called Rubber Chicken (listen here). It definitely changed things in dubstep. It was the first track to use that wobbly bass noise, which has become the sound I’m associated with.
You and Rusko often work together. How did you meet?
Rusko’s from Leeds and he was really into [digital dub soundsystem] Iration Steppas. I signed his first EP, SNES Dub. We started making tunes together. In 2007 he wrote Cockney Thug (listen here). Around the same time I had a big tune called Big Headed Slags (listen here). They were the biggest tunes on the scene at the time and they’d both been released on my label, Sub Soldiers. That was the point when things started to get big.
Do you think that dubstep can ever cross over to a different audience, or is it too niche?
I think it’s ready for that now. There’s a lot of interest from other scenes, people wanting to do tunes with dubstep artists and big labels interested. I’ve been approached to do loads of remixes like the Depeche Mode one. I think it’s a sign that dubstep is becoming more respected. Dubstep producers are starting to be regarded as serious producers by people outside the scene. I think 2009 is going to be a good year for dubstep.
If you could turn back the clock, would you still want to be able to play basketball, or do you prefer music?
I’m actually so glad the injury happened, even though I’ve dislocated my shoulder 22 times since. I see a lot of the people that I was on the same level as me in basketball struggling now. They have nine-to-five jobs and play basketball at the weekends. My nine-to-five is music. I love it so much. To get paid to travel the world, work with great artists like Depeche Mode and be able to have that freedom to express yourself is the best job in the world and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Caspa’s debut album, Everybody’s Talking, But Nobody’s Listening, is released on Sub Soldiers/Fabric on May 4.