Big bad bass and beats
Dudes. Who are the people behind the Urban Nerds brand and how did you all meet?
“There are three of us who run Urban Nerds on a day-to-day basis, James Rompani (Rompa), James Benenson and Mark Hodson. We met through mutual friends a number of years back and Urban Nerds was set up in 2007. There is also a big team who help behind the scenes, with Rattus Rattus, Klose One and Marcus Nasty representing us as resident DJ’s to Anthony Black our trusty designer who keeps the fliers, stickers and clothing designs looking fresh. It’s a team effort.”
What sort of clubs were you all going to before forming this insane club collective?
ROMPA: “I’m originally from Reading so spent a lot of my youth at a club called the Matrix at a night called ‘Bassheads’, that was probably Readings best period of clubbing history in my lifetime. We’d always travel to London though to go to ‘Renegade Hardware’ nights at the End, ‘Movement’ at Bar Rhumba and often travel further afield to nights like ‘Slamming Vinyl’ at the Sanctuary in Milton Keynes. I’ve also spent a lot of time in Bristol I went to nights at Creation, Lakota, Trinity and The Level.”
JAMES: “I remember being 15/16 and going to the ‘Black Tie Balls’ at Bagleys, King’s Cross. Probably the first time I heard garage or grime and people like Wiley and Pay As You Go. It all went over my head at that point though. I think it really hit home that I wanted a piece of this game a couple of years later when I started buying the fabriclive compilations and braving those legendary Friday night queues to see people like Hype or Andy C or even Westwood! I got the bug in room 1, that system and the energy said something to me. Also have to mention the early ‘Dirty Canvas’ nights at The Whitechapel Art Gallery, then later at the ICA. What they achieved for nurturing that grime sound and giving true, grass roots British underground music a home should not be underestimated.”
MARK: “ I think one of the first clubs I went to was the Dome in Kentish Town when I was about 15; it was a bit of a hole but a lot of jokes and good memories. Then I started going to squat parties and clubs like Fabric, The End, The Dome and Turnmills.”
What artists/DJs influenced each of you before you started Urban Nerds?
ROMPA: “I’ve come from a drum and bass, hip hop and reggae background so some artists that have influenced me have been Bob Marley, Taskforce, Prince Buster, Roots Manuva, Congo Natty, Jackie Mittoo, Shy FX, Sizzla, LTJ Bukem, Skinnyman, The whole Metalheadz crew, Eek-a-Mouse, Curtis Mayfield, Nightmares on Wax, James Brown, Rage Against the Machine, The Pharcyde, Wu-Tang. I could carry on all day.”
JAMES: “I‘m too young to claim any affiliations with jungle but I do remember being at ‘Jungle Splash’at The Mass one time and feeling completely out of my comfort zone. I was probably 17, looking about 7. Initially it was garage and most of the time the frowned-upon cheesy end of the scene! When I was 16 or 17 those classic Sidewinder recordings found their way to me, Dizzee, Wiley, Slimzee…on Side B! That one definitely did the rounds and rightly so. Then grime came into play and the scene really excited me, specifically because of the ability to see it played out live at nights like ‘Dirty Canvas’ ‘Run The Road’at Fabric,’Straight Outta Bethnal’and ‘FWD’(it was on a Thursday then). On an electronic tip it was certainly drum & bass, particularly Hype, Zinc, Pascal…True Playaz really. I have also from a young age always been a big Massive Attack fan, thanks to my father. Likewise, my dad had a vast reggae collection that I was exposed to as a toddler onwards.”
Your night began on the underground tip, but today you have worked with such brands as the DMC Mixing Championships, Mixmag, Fabric and the Snowbombing Festival – you even have an excellent clothing range. Was the aim to become one of the scenes most well known names or back then was it just a bit of fun?
ROMPA: “Initially Urban Nerds was born out of a want to create something fresh and innovative, incorporating everything each of us involved liked from our experiences of raving and the different genres of music we listened to. Back in 2007 this format was not seen in the capitals clubs. As time has gone by Urban Nerds has grown into what it has become today and there did came a time when it went from being a hobby to becoming a full time job. I don’t think any of us really ever dreamed that we would have done half of the things we have done today back in 2007, it’s been an amazing experience and we look forward to each and every new opportunity that Urban Nerds brings to our lives.”
What has been the best ever Urban Nerds event?
ROMPA: “Each event has its highlights; our 4th Birthday at Scala back in May of this year was pretty epic. The warehouse parties have all been ones to remember in particular our new years eve events are always on point, each gig has its merits so its hard to pin point a specific one. Working with Snowbombing and Fabric are always special occasions and stick in the memory for a long time to come after.”
JAMES: “For me it’s the 2009 / 2010 New Year’s Eve warehouse with DJ EZ, Skepta, Roska and Redlight, or the Carnival warm-up warehouse party at The Hewett Street Car Park last year. The energy in a packed warehouse is second to none. Every element and fine detail of those events has been worked back and forth, over and over for months ahead, to make sure we get it right. Because of that attention, those events really feel special and for me I automatically feel a much stronger sense of ownership at those parties, having orchestrated them from scratch.”
MARK: “Scala was a great achievement for me but also I loved the Urban Nerds take over at Lounge on the Farm Festival in the cow shed this year where we hosted the main room to over 2500 people.”
What can we expect at your fifth annual Carnival Party at Xoyo in Shoreditch this weekend?
ROMPA: “We’ve got some really exciting artists on the bill for this years warm up party, Schlachthofbronx are two producers and DJ’s from Munich who are doing big things right now on the European bass scene and beyond having released tunes on Diplos legendary Mad Decent label; they incorporate the carnival vibe to a T and will definitely be providing the whistles and horns atmosphere that is synonymous with carnival. Mele who is just about to blow up in a big way will also be making an appearance. A1 Bassline, Rattus Rattus and Klose One will also be in room one as too will up and coming DJ’s, Mista Men, so keep an eye out for them. Reggae Roast will be bringing their team down alongside special guests The Heatwave in room two and they will be bringing the reggae, dub, roots and dubstep vibe to the table. We’ve also got another special guest in the form of Lud Dub who’s coming over from San Francisco. All in all it’s going to be a strong look with big bass and big riddims.”
What are the 20 all time Urban Nerds classics?
ROMPA: “That’s a tough one indeed, but here is a definitive list of a top 20 tunes that have shaped our raves over the past 5 years, this was put together by our number one DJs Rattus Rattus and Klose One not so long ago so should give you an idea of what we’re about…”
1. Cockney Thug – Rusko
2. Wot – DJ Q Ft Mcbones
3. 26 Basslines – Benga
4. Bumbaclart Badman – Skepta
5. Pon Di Floor – Major Lazer
6. Badman Riddim – Vato Gonzalez
7. In For The Kill – La Roux (Skreams Lets Get Ravey mix)
8. Where’s My Money – Caspa (Jack Beats edit)
9. Bits – Chase & Status
10. Dub You – 501
11. Different – Lil Silva
12. Blunt Edge/ Wile Out – Zinc
13. Siren – Hard House Banton
14. Timewarp – Sub Focus
15. Gangster 4 Life – Coki
16. Mind Dimension – Tiga (Soul Wax remix)
17. Stupid – Redlight
18. Anti War Dub – DMZ
19. Clarks – Vybz Kartel
20. Bullacake – D’Explicit
Rompa what is the Top 10 you are playing at the moment?
“At the moment I’m playing a lot more funk and soul sets than jungle and dubstep but here is a mish-mash of some of my favourite tunes and what you may hear from Daddy Nature at this years Urban Nerds Carnival warm-up…”
1) Ward 21 – Jah Army Riddim
“A big version of the Jah Army Riddim produced by Stephen Marley, one of 9 amazing versions.”
2) Guinney Pepper – Lick A Chalice
“A full smokers sing-along reggae tune, time to wave the flag with this one.”
3) Congo Natty – Rastaman
“One of many favourite Congo Natty tunes, this is a sunshine tune.”
4) The Bug, feat Flow Dan Jah War Loefah Remix
“BIG dubstep tune right here with lyrics from Flow Dan, this normally gets a rewind.”
5) DJ Nut Nut – Special Dedication
“Jungle at it’s best, rat-a-tat drums with a touch of ragga vocals, just how we like it.”
6) Undergound Crew – Must Feel
“Another jungle tune that never leaves the box, absolute fire.
7) Buju Banton – Champion
“The classic reggae smasher from Buju Banton, always works on the dancefloor.”
8) Gappy Ranks – Mountain Top
“A really good feel good reggae tune from Gappy’s latest album ‘Put the Stereo On’.”
9) Dennis Brown – Promised Land
“A classic reggae tune form 1977, again it never fails to please.”
10) DJ Fresh – Heavyweight
“This is a fast paced hard hitting drum and bass tune that takes no prisoners)
How instrumental do you think Urban Nerds were in the whole Dubstep movement?
ROMPA: “When we began promoting in 2007, dubstep hadn’t really taken root as much as it has done now, James B actually found Rusko through MySpace and he played our first gig, now its almost impossible for us to get him for a show as he’s in so much demand and the fees we’d have to pay now would be literally 100 times more (I kid you not, we managed to get a very good price back in 2007). In terms of how instrumental, we were definitely in the midst of booking the first generation of dubstep DJ’s and producers who laid the foundations for what the scene has become today so in that respect I suppose we did go some way to pushing the sound when it was a relatively new concept for many.”
JAMES: ”We gave a platform to certain acts at a certain time but then, ample others did too. I’m not naive enough to think we were at the forefront of the sound in the way that FWD or Rinse were and still are. However, it’s fair to say we were one of a few in East London who were supporting the scene by booking the acts at that time (2006 / 2007). Where Urban Nerds came into its own was with the willingness to amalgamate the many different strands of underground British music that was around then – dubstep of course but also grime, garage, drum & bass, jungle and even reggae and at times house. To our knowledge there was no other underground club night of our kind that was openly expressing a mashup of these very different sounds in the same way that we were. It’s something that’s since been adopted across the country and the club circuit and that’s something we do have a claim to.”
Favourite/funniest festival story you’ve had.
ROMPA: “Benga at Snowbombing was quite a funny story, in retrospect that is, he fell back and collapsed five minutes before the end of his set due to a healthy amount of Sambukka consumption, we all thought there was a big problem, he had a little time out on the floor laying horizontal after returning to his feet to drop one more tune after the crowds chants seemed to stir him from his drunken state, that was a good one, although we were genuinely concerned for his well being at one point. The guy is a like a rock star these days, he can handle it.”
Tell us about the Outlook Festival you are starring at in Croatia in September.
ROMPA: “Well we’re off at the end of the month with a massive team in tow and we’re hosting one of the now infamous boat parties there. Last year the festival ticked a lot of boxes and the site is literally amazing, an abandoned fort next to the sea, beautiful scenery combined with the top DJ’s and producers in the scenes we represent surrounded by a lot of our close friends and family – what more could you want?”
Not a lot of people know this about the Urban Nerds team but…
ALL: “Mark has just past his level 4 wizardry exam and runs workshops on the weekends; Rompa is a published author and James can speak four languages.”
Money no object, you are putting on a New Years Eve event – what 3 DJs and 3 live artists do you book and why?
ROMPA: “Well it wouldn’t really have anything to do with the money, although the following line up would cost a great deal on a NYE, so this is more about what my ideal raving experience would be. So I would have to say Andy C b2b Skream b2b Shy FX on 6 decks with Roots Manuva, Stevie Hyper D (RIP) and Bassman MCing. I think I’d have a heart attack if this were possible.”
JAMES: “DJ wise, I truly believe that for what we do and stand for as Nerds, the UK born and bred current spectrum of underground acts are where it’s at but it would be cool to get someone like DJ Pierre to do a really early Chicago influenced acid house set in the early hours. Also, on a more personal tip, Diplo – no matter how much work he does with the more commercial, global acts, his knowledge of global underground dance culture is second to none and he’s got the tunes to prove it. Live…
1) Dizzee Rascal b2b Wiley with DJ Slimzee (Classic Sidewinder set) – this is where Britain’s now thriving – the rap / grime / hip-hop / ‘urban’ (for want of a better word) scene or whatever you want to call it set out with good intentions, or importantly I suppose, without any intentions, which is why it was most definitely when it was at its best, even before the term ‘grime’ was coined. Music aside, to re-ignite Dizzee and Wiley’s lost partnership would be something very special.
2) Outkast – for the madness of Andre 3000 doing the countdown
3) Faithless – it’s NYE, it’s London, massive warehouse, what could go wrong? That would be epic.”
How would you describe the music policy at your night?
ROMPA: “First and foremost with the ever-increasing number of genres and sub genres constantly being created, our music policy is always open but we encompass everything big and bassy from grime and garage to dubstep, jungle, drum and bass, bassline, and everything in-between.”
Have any of your parents ever come to a night?
ROMPA: “I don’t think they have you know, we may have to change that soon.”
You have promoted a huge amount of then unknown artists who have gone on to smash the charts – who have been your favourite live artists and why?
ROMPA: “We’ve been lucky enough to have booked the likes of Tinchy Strider, Chipmunk, Professor Green, Katie B, Rusko and many others who have gone on to achieve massive chart success. Katie B was probably the biggest surprise and when she played our NYE event last year she really stepped up to the mark. Miss Dynamite, although having always been at the top of the underground so to speak, gave an amazing performance at our birthday gig this year; we’ve got a big soft spot and a lot of love for her here at Urban Nerds.”
And who has been the best guest DJ at the club?
ROMPA: “DJ wise most of the line-up is already booked before the night but Killa Kella phoned up last minute at last year’s carnival event and came down and did his thing for the love; that was a nice touch. We’ve had quite a few guest MCs who roll through with other people we have booked, that always makes the crowd extra hyped when something like that happens.”
What has been your proudest moment at Urban Nerds?
ROMPA: “Each opportunity that we get to work with a new company, DJ, promoter or club is a proud moment for us. We’ve taken a lot of steps forward over the last few years and continue to expand and elevate the brand to the next level at every opportunity. We’ve worked with so many good people over the years that it is hard to distinguish and find one particular moment for me personally.”
JAMES: “There’s a few but for me the stand-outs – the first sold out NYE warehouse in 2009 and the first time we were invited to host room 3 at fabriclive.”
MARK: “For me it has to be hosting the main stage at Lounge on the Farm this year or getting a brand new Volvo XC 90 delivered to us so we could do the Volvo Snowbombing road trip.
And finally, have you any plans for 2012 yet…?
ALL: “We got a lot in store for 2012 so make sure you keep an eye on the site for regular updates and info. There will definitely be a lot more going on with the clothing side of the brand and keep your eyes and ears open for the record label that’s soon to come, you heard that here first and remember; music is a mission, not a competition!”
Urban Nerds Carnival warm up at XOYO, London 27th August
Urban Nerds at Outlook Festival 1st – 4th September, Croatia