Terror Danjah: “We’ll smoke them out later.”

03.09.09 Words by: Charlie Jones

It’s a windy August day when Patricia and me make our way to meet one of my favourite grime producers. We’re in Hounslow, a stretch of London/Middlesex characterised by pleasant post-war housing and a massive motorway because TERROR DANJAH is recording at his friend Ramzi’s house. Since 2001, Terror’s beats have backed MCs like SWAY, DIZZEE, KANO and loads more, but he’s not yet received the out-of-scene canonisation that people like WILEY have received. Which is funny, because in a lot of ways, his music is closer to the continuum of black British (or British music full stop) than the abstract noises his peers make. His tunes burst with ideas and span jungle, funk, abstract house, pop, noise, electro, soul, and US hip hop but never feel confined by genre, space, or time and always sound utterly alien, kind of comforting and heart-stoppingly urgent at the same time.

In a few weeks. Planet Mu are releasing ‘Gremlinz’, a kind of greatest hits CD of his instrumentals, and it’s pretty much essential if you give even the vaguest toss about interesting pop music or the sound of British cities in the 21st century. Before then I’d advise you, in the strongest possible terms, to get a hold of ‘Hardrive Volume 1’, an excellent mixtape he put together last year. In person he is friendly, absorbing company, (maybe) even a little shy.

Hi Terror. How’s it going?

Yeah, alright. Had to tussle and hustle last night with someone, so…

Oh yeah, what about?

Oh, you know, industry stuff. Someone try to say my beats weren’t good and I went mad. Which is never the real problem – never, never. [Laughs.]

What’s the first step with coming up with a beat?

It depends on the vibe – sometimes say a new album or mixtape comes out I’ll listen to it – say like Jay Z’s album comes out or something like Calvin Harris, I’ll get wound up because it’s good, and I know it’s good, and I need to take em out! It’s like a ritual, get the inspiration and go in for the kill. I need to be inspired because I don’t listen to a lot of stuff because it’s boring.

How do you mean?

Well, you know, got to listen to know where the gaps is.

What do you listen to a lot of?

I listen to a lot of grime. I listen to what a lot of the producers are doing but I don’t get inspired by them as such, but I like what they’re doing. Simple, OCD, I like what a lot of my producers are doing, Rudekids, Wiley, Wideup Boyz – do you know the Wideup Boyz?

No…

Oh they’re good…

Patrica asks him to take his hat off and he’s like “What you trying to say, what you trying to say?”

What else do you listen to a lot of?

Um, 50 Cent – for a strange reason, I listen to a lot of hip hop – I like what Dre is doing, he picks a lot of good beats. I listen to a lot of Radio 1, too. I like what the Prodigy are doing. I want to challenge what Liam is doing, you know. And Ramzi too, get some of that Arab money.

Something that I really like about you is that there seems to be a much wider palette of influences than the average grime track.

Maybe because I was brought up in a house where I was the youngest – my brothers nearly 40, and I’ve just turned 30 now, my sisters just a grandmother…

So you’re a great uncle? Congratulations.

Yeah, cheers! So it’s that, growing up around Afrika Bambaataa, Kathy Dennis, Loose Ends, then to Soul II Soul, Bobby Brown, Herbie Hancock. Then obviously with my West Indian background, the reggae stuff, right through stuff to the late 80s deep house stuff – gosh, showing my age now! – through to hardcore tapes at school, which then became jungle. That’s my background, and I’ve been lucky, because kids today, all they know is Tupac and Biggie as their legends, but to me that was part of growing up – going to dances where there’s Biggie in one room, deep house in another and hardcore in the next – that’s the beats I grew up with, and it’s mad to think that some kids now grew up with me.

Of course, yeah – to a 16, 17 year old, 2003 is ancient history. They have basically grown up alongside you.

You know what made me realise that? I was chatting to Stringo, and he was like “You inspired me to start” and I was like [pulls stunned grin] “…What!” And that’s a privilege you know – I never imagined that when started making music, just looking out of my window, prospects, no audience, that a few years later, everyone I know is in the charts, getting gold, silver albums – and it’s just through listening to what was on the radio and recreating what we saw out there. It’s weird, in 2002, Dizzee was like 17 then, and he was like [petulant teenager voice] “You’re Terror, the jungle DJ” – you start to realise what I was listening to when I was 17, and the impact that has. It’s weird to think that you actual do affect people. Then you’re like “Woah… I’m responsible.”

Obviously you’ve worked with so many people, like Sway, Wiley, Dizzee, Kano, Chipmunk so on and so on, but I’ve always thought it paradoxical that your music sounds like nothing else out there. Do you look at today’s grime scene and say “ that’s me, that’s totally what I gave birth to”, or are you like that’s something else?

Um… Let me think about. With grime now, it’s almost like it’s non-existent to what we’re doing now – it was all about a culture of making the beats, doing to a radio, Mak 10’s playing it, or Nasty Crew, Carnage playing it – it wasn’t about the artists as such – it was all about the DJ, producer thing – the whole dubstep thing took that idea and made it their own. I mean, it’s almost that there were two different scenes – the instrumentals scene and the vocals over the top. When you started to get commercial radio stations like 1 Extra, it started branching out into different areas – you get artists who are making “grime” but the real connoisseurs would never call it that. People get called grime, because that’s where they came from, but that’s not what they are.

In a lot of your DJ sets you play funky. Is that a world you want to operate in, or are you happy to stand on the sidelines?

I am grime. Wiley gets the accolades for it – obviously I don’t emcee and that so he’s seen as the face of it – people call him the King Of Grime – [kisses teeth] Whatever. [Laughs] Wiley’s my boy, we also talk and that. But where we are now, it’s a good place for the artists – but a bad place for the DJs and the producers.

That’s interesting – I’ve been hearing anecdotally that it’s a good time for producers and a harder time for MCs.

The grime scene is very depleted now – five years ago you had that FWDs, you had the Get Me!’s, you had the models, the videos, the parties because everyone wanted to work there. Now it’s moving onto the Funky scene – now it’s unfashionable to say you’re a grime producer.

What are you plans for the next few months?

‘Hardrive Vol 2’ coming up vocals side of things, ‘Gremlinz’ intermins. Mu are one the labels, they just get it, you know.

They’re excellent, yeah.

Mike and all the staff just get it, you know? Got another tape called ‘Zip Files’.

Hypedub-slash-Planet Mu is a great fit for you – you both seem to operate in that space where it’s not grime, it’s not hip hop, it’s not dubstep, it’s not house, it’s something in between.

Yeah, Kode9 and Mike just get it you know, they get the vision. Mike heard it on Mary Ann Hobbs Warrior Dubs, that song I did with Bruiser and it started from there. I will add this though – when I started making this music, there wasn’t no name for it back then. Some of the songs on ‘Gremlinz’ go back to 2001, but didn’t get released till 2004. The music came out had no restrictions then, which is why it sounds so free. So as long as n one knows about me, I can make what I want.

So what technical equipment do you use?

None of these keyboards or or nothing, I just use Cubase. I got like five PCs at home. But I can’t tell you anymore, they’re my trade secrets.

Right… Well, what is it that makes your music sound like it does?

One of the main assets is going the opposite way to everyone else. It’s harder to go it alone cause no one else is going with you, but it works in the long run. A lot of producers are carbon copiers and even claim other people’s beats as their own.

Naming any names?

Naming no names. We’ll smoke them out later.

What’s your working day like?

Well, to be honest, I’ve been getting – not producer’s block – but I haven’t been able to make anything apart from Grime. Inspiration’s gotta come from the artists. I’m really lazy, you know?

Yeah, me too.

I mean, when I’m on my game, I’ on my game, but most of the time I’m like “…Oh, come on… just chill out.” I’ve got a mad, bad attention span.

You also DJ out and about. Do you like DJing?

Yeah, it’s what I started doing. I was a jungle DJ. I played ragga – as it was known then – at house raves. D-Double-E and all that from school – that’s how I known Wiley and all that. Club’s was stricter then, and we couldn’t get into clubs, so we’d walk the streets at night, hear a bassline and go “Ah, it’s a rave.” What we learnt to do was walk around with records, yeah, find out who’s it was, and cut out, like “[moody teenage voice] We’re on the radio, let us have a go”. That’s how we all started out, all us and the Bow lot – we’d go to these raves and clash all the time.

Would you ever take up MCing?

Maybe on the album, I’ll do something abstract, but I’d never want to be an artist, no. Personally for me, I can’t just walk into a Yorkshire club and be like “[impossible to understand MCing] yeayyayheyah” cause they’ll be like “[pretty bad Yorkshire accent] What’s he saying like?” It’s better if I’m saying “Right, let’s put together an electro tune, what shall we do…” You gotta embrace it – either do what you love and work in Sainsbury’s or do what you love full time. You got to be adaptable to be a producer. Take Wookie – he’s one of the greats, but he never gave himself to that. And you’ve got to, you’ve got to work with artists. To tell you the truth, I don’t even like MCs.

Really? How come?

They don’t bring anything to the table! I know what their purpose is, but they’re not telling me anything – it’s like Sci-Fi – not many of them are gonna be real to themselves. “I roll with a shot, roll in a shop, roll up on people, shoot up the block, through got my thing strapped” – how you gonna incriminate yourself on a track? Lies. Not saying it’s all MCs, but – I come from the roads and seen the real guys, the heavy hitters, I’ve seen where they go. And these kids are not that, but they wanna be that. And I get it, but my music ain’t for that. It’s for anybody.

Terror Danjah releases ‘Gremlinz’ and ‘Hardrive Vol 2’ soon.

Terror Danjah’s myspace

Dummy interviewed Dizzee Rascal back in the summer of 2007. Go for the rewind here.