Speaking to...Sir Spyro

I don’t think I’ve ever danced harder than when I went to WHQ in Newcastle where Sir Spyro was DJing. I even posted snippets of the night onto my Instagram story, that’s how gassed I was about the set. Sir Spyro, DJ, producer and radio host, is one of the biggest names within grime, having mixed several grime instrumentals into the now holy grails of the genre as well as producing multiple bangers such as “Side by Side”, “Tekkerz”, “Night Shift” and “Topper Top”. You knew it was going to be a good track when you heard that ‘Sounds of the Sir’ ident.

Spyro’s time at Rinse FM cemented his place within the grime scene. Listeners celebrated him for his ability to mix tracks faultlessly as well as his knowledge of coveted beats and records. It was the music that both ravers and up-and-coming MCs craved. For 12 years, every Sunday, Sir Spyro hosted the Grime Show at the station.

Spyro had tapped into the grime genre entirely and given credit where it was due. Both newcomers and OG Grime MCs came through the show’s doors to spit their verses alongside his mixes. Novelist, P Money, Slimzee, Prez T, Lyrically Strally, YGG, Mez, PK, Flowdan, Ghetts, Stormzy, AJ Tracey, Faze Miyake… the list is endless.

After more than a decade at Rinse FM Sir Spyro made the move over to BBC 1Xtra where he now hosts ‘Sounds of the Verse’ as well as showcases grime’s most exciting freestyles and tracks. And when he’s not acting as the driving force behind radio stations, he’s dropping EPs with new-gen MCs, producing tracks like P Money’s ‘10/10’ and just generally being a really nice guy. I had the chance to sit down and talk to him at the 'Native Instruments : BARS’ event a few weeks back where he was performing, and went through his career trajectory, his take on the grime scene and the way he goes about mixing music and making beats.

How did you get into DJing and producing – where did it all start?
It all started when I asked my dad - my dad used to make reggae and stuff like that – so the first time I ever put my hand on the keyboard was basically when I asked my dad to help with a song he was making. I was probably like five years old. And that’s where it all started, that was the very moment.

And then in terms of a career, how did you get your first break?
The first time I got my break was on a radio station called Raw Blaze 90.00FM. I was taking it seriously all the way up until then but that’s when I knew, rah, other people in serious positions were taking me seriously. From then, and then progressing onto other stations like Rinse FM and now 1Xtra.

Where do you feel you learnt the most and gained the most skills?
I gained a lot of them at Rinse because I was there for a long period of time. I was there for 12 years. So before Rinse FM I was on all different kinds of radio stations. I was learning about different environments. I could go into a radio station and you would be in someone’s kitchen. The other radio station would be in someone’s front room, and the other one inside a metal container on a motorway. So, I was learning that, but also I learnt the most at Rinse FM because I met a lot of people who was doing the same thing as me and with the same passion.

So would you say that working in different settings and environments is important, like, knowing how to manoeuvre in your surroundings and the people you’re with?
100%. There was one time that we went to a radio station and I had to basically crawl underneath two walls to be inside the radio station. And it was inside a room already. It was a room inside a room. Yeah man, there were like hooks on the front door if the DJ can’t hear you and so that you could let yourself in. Obviously only the DJs know that, so yeah, it’s weird. It’s like a little code thing [laughs] but these are the little things I remember.

Yeah that’s jokes. Would you say you spend more time making beats and producing or mixing?
Back then there wouldn’t have been a day where I wouldn’t mix, but nowadays because there’s so much work on the table it’s like I have to make sure I make time to mix because obviously I am still a DJ as well as a producer. I have to balance the two.

Which one do you enjoy more?
I can’t answer that question, I really can’t. I enjoy them both so much I really really can’t. So firstly, I mean taking it seriously, I started mixing and DJing. But, saying that, there’s nothing like putting together and composing a track, d’you know what I mean? I can’t really choose.

So you work a lot with grime. Why that genre of music?
I make grime, hmm, I don’t know, it’s like when I was into collecting garage and that was a bit dark… I don’t know man I’ve always loved dark music. I’m not even a scary person when you hear me but that’s just the music that I’m into.

Who were you listening to back then, who inspired you?
I was listening to Wookie, I was listening to Terror Danger I was listening to Skepta, P Jam, Jammer, Lewi White I was listening to… Big E D, Macabre Unit, Wiley, the names could just go on. Ruff Squad, Rapid, Dirty Danger, oh and Mr V! Mr Virgo was from Nottingham and it was so hard for… ok so when I was collecting samples it was really hard to find bangers. Some of the bangers were coming from outside of London, from certain areas like Nottingham etc. He was really sick from early.

Yeah it’s interesting how it started off in London but now we see regional clashes and competitions on YouTube.
Yeah man, for real for real.

I see that you like to champion young talent like Capo Lee. Do you think like it’s your responsibility to push these artists forward with the platform you have?
Oh 100%. It’s my job to this. It’s very hard to capture everyone but I just try my best because this is what I do. I was the annoying kid that loved grime that wanted to get into grime. It didn’t really turn out like that. I had to work my way up, it was the long way round. So now that I am here in this position where I can help people out, help the ones that I can see potential, it’s easy for me. That’s my job now, my job is to help kids just to me. Whether they’re a DJ or an MC, whatever they do, maybe they make music videos, but they’re sick, I just have to link it up somehow.

So when you say you see potential in people what do you mean?
The weirdest thing is, yeah, when I am looking for stuff, I don’t know what I’m looking for. That is the maddest thing because I can just hear something and think ‘ok I need to look into that person a bit more because rah what I just heard was bare sick’. Know what I’m saying?

That’s the same thing that happened with Capo Lee. I met Capo Lee and I knew him under a different name, I didn’t know he was under Capo Lee because I knew him from before that was his name. So when I met him again I didn’t realise that was him until I heard one of his tracks on the grime forum’s Soundcloud and I was like ‘wait a minute’. I called him and said ‘listen… is that you?’ And then from that day it’s been this.

Yeah, you just have to help out where help is needed.

You’ve had some crazy remixes out. I was wondering whether you think you have a signature style when it comes to mixing. Something like Energy and then Rhythm n Gash, the new and the old, they have a similar kind of tone to it. What is it about your remixes that is so signature you?
I don’t know you know. I just get the job and try and make it as best as I can. But, saying that, I might get a remix and the artist might be massive but I won’t be able to physically find anything coming out so I can’t use the song. And then I might get a track from someone that ain’t as big, and I can do it straight away. It depends on the track.

There’s some big remixes that I’ve had to say no to because I just couldn’t find anything, I couldn’t vibe with the riddim. But then there’s some like Hell to the Liars. When I heard it I put my dinner down and I cracked on. As soon as I heard the acapella I was in.

Do you think that’s the best way to go about music, seeing what you naturally connect with?
Of course because if not then you’ll find that you’re doing this stuff for money. I’m not really about that. If I can’t physically do it then it doesn’t really make sense for me in my head. That’s just because it won’t be a good riddim, a good produced tune from my side of things. If I can’t gel with something then I don’t touch it.

What’s the vibe like in the studio, like with your EPs with Capo Lee and K2 World? Are you both involved?
Oh yeah yeah yeah, 100%. Anytime it’s works like that it’s always on site. Other stuff was running at the same time. Hell to the Liars was happening at the same time as the EP with K2. That’s why the EP was called ‘No Sleep’ [laughs]… we got no sleep! And that’s a true story, me and K2 were literally up nights and nights just working on it, just working on tunes and getting the people we need for the features. It’s fun though, I’m not gonna lie, it was fun.

So you collaborate a lot, you use each other as springboards for ideas.
Sometimes yeah. It’s the best way because when you’ve got so many musical friends, and then you can also ask your closest friends who don’t do music, they can all give you advice on songs. That’s whether they’re into your music or not, you know?

And, obviously, being in music I’ve met some real good people as well.

You recently moved from Rinse to BBC’s 1XTRA. You were the spear-head of Rinse FM - who do you think can take over your mantel that mantel?
I was there for a long time and obviously Rinse FM is my family. Spooky, Grandmixxer, A.G. and Logan Sama, doing my show, it’s like rah. It’s slyly an honour. You’re getting different flavours every single week. I think any one of them can take that job on, any one of them. It’s definitely getting taken care of.

And how’s your slot at BBC going? Is it different?
Yeah, definitely different, but it’s amazing. It’s just a new challenge init. I was at Rinse FM for over a decade and I was always going to carry on. I was always going to do radio. But then I was like, d’you know what, this show needs to be handed over. I needed a new challenge and it’s going well at the moment. I’ve got new features like Sounds of the Verse that’s picking up and going well. I started off with a big ‘un, I started off with Ghetts. Then I thought to myself ‘let’s get some emerging and new sick people on here fam’ and that’s what I’m gonna do.

Now and again I’ll be hosting a big MC but it’s all about what’s next.

Do you think telling stories and narratives about social issues has become a lot more powerful in grime?
I think some people have dipped into that zone. There’s nothing wrong with that because there’s always other people doing other stuff. It’s my job to make sure that it’s all being heard, get what I mean?

Anyone can do what they like and if it’s within my margin of what I’m meant to be doing and playing, and if it’s sick, I’m going to be showcasing it.

On my radio show now I try play the bangers of the day, I play old school, I play what’s new, and I do Sounds of the Verse. I haven’t really done it recently but I’m gonna be doing live sets again because the ones I’ve done on Rinse, yeah I get flashbacks so… I’m gonna just basically merk, I’m gonna merk everything.

Where’s your favourite place to perform, where’s been good?
I’ve got a few. The first one was Sidewinder. It was the one that I wasn’t even booked at – I got to perform and I did really well. It made people take a little bit more notice. I wasn’t even booked, I just turned up and Bruza asked if I wanted to do a rave. He basically put me on and said ‘get your bags and records, we’re doing this rave tonight’, and it was Sidewinder in Cambridge and I had to go on after Logan, Boy Better Know… this was when Wiley clashed Nasty Jack. After that set I had to go on. I don’t even know how I kept the set up [laughs]. Mad times.

So yeah, Sidewinder, then I think also Eskimo Dance, Boomtown Festival – yeah that was a crazy festival – and Grime Originals.

Sick. Who would you like to work with that you haven’t been able to yet?

Yeah, if I could work with anyone it would be Skepta.

He’s been one of my influences from when he used to produce music, back in the early grime days. For me to have a producer that I looked up to and I fuck with his lyrics heavy as well, that would be a goal.

And what can we expect from you this year?
I’m working on another release. It’s gonna be all vocals. I’ve worked on other stuff as well – instrumental vinyls getting ready for the press. And then I’ve worked with Treble Clef “Trumpet Boom”, I’ve got an EP coming out with him on vinyl soon. Trends as well, got an EP coming out, done a remix with one of his songs and that’s out right now. I’ve got more things coming man, and it’s just none stop! Non-stop work.

Cheers Spyro.

Written by: Marianna Mukhametzyanova

You can find out more about Native Instruments here. 

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