This month Carhartt WIP Radio welcomes Dego and his ever-eclectic record label 2000BLACK. The British music producer and DJ is best known as one half of influential duo 4hero, alongside fellow producer Mark Marc Mac Clair. Both were part of a circle of friends that ran the pioneering jungle and hardcore label Reinforced. It was a platform upon which Dego released solo work under the moniker Tek 9 during the 1990s, as well as more collaborative jungle works with Marc Mac, under the name Cold Mission, and their prolific breakbeat and hardcore project Tom And Jerry.
With their third album Two Pages, released in 1998, 4hero had a significant influence on London’s emerging Broken beat, or so-called BRUK scene – a musical style characterized by its syncopated 4/4 rhythms. As well as 4hero and other pioneering artists like by Bugz in the Attic and IG Culture, Dego’s very own label 2000Black, established in 1998, also played its part in shaping a seminal genre that perhaps never quite received the recognition it deserved.
But it would be impossible to peg Dego to a single genre. Past-releases have included elements of hip hop, jungle, drum'n'bass, downtempo, jazz and fusion, all released under various aliases, such as Pavel Kostiuk or Cousin Cockroach.
In recent years the producer’s main focus has been 2000BLACK, its name and spirit infomed by the 1975 Roy Ayers lyric, “Think about the future, think about change.” This has seen the label craft its own “genre-defying” sound, fusing elements rooted in funk, soul, jazz, hip hop, “and pushing [their] boundaries to form contemporary innovations.” Besides his label work and production output, Dego also spreads his musical soul as a DJ and is part of the Sounds Familiar family alongside artists such as GE-OLOGY, Jay Daniel, Kaidi Tatham, Sadar Bahar, Volcov or DJ Spinna.
For Carhartt WIP Radio, Dego dug deep into the 2000BLACK label catalogue, in order to “expand the Carhartt WIP listener’s palette.” As always, we also spoke with our host in order to gain a deeper understanding of his ramified creative cosmos.
What kicked-started your musical passion in the late 1980s? What was your first encounter with music that stuck in your memory? Please share a bit of your history in relation to music with us.
Dego: I run an independent record label and production group called 2000BLACK. I was born in London to Jamaican parents. Music was part of the household and Reggae, soul and the blues were heard constantly. I remember my Uncle Aston playing T-ConnectionDo What You Wanna Do and Robbie Vincent spinning MFSBMysteries of The World on Radio London. One had me dancing at six years old and the other a few years later had me in total wonderment. The music that made me participate of my own accord was hip hop. So, I used to breakdance, body pop and try drawing graffiti pieces. Raps over disco breaks and boogie were the norm then, plus the truly astounding sound of electro brought me my first introduction to the 808.
What do you personally consider to be the most important moments in your career?
Dego: That would be when our distributor went bust and left us with hefty manufacturing debt and the work ethic went from hard working to never stopping. Having said that, before then we used to be associated with the UK hip hop scene and witnessed acts shopping for deals for years and so we promised ourselves if we ever made records, we would release them ourselves and never go hat in hand to anyone.
After all the labels and projects you have been involved in, how do you keep yourself fresh and continue to find new musical expressions?
Dego: I love music. It’s not a fashion accessory or a means to another end. This love has me very inquisitive about methods and ideas. I want to constantly improve and aim for some sort of perfection. My record collection has taught me a lot and I want to have part of my back-catalogue worthy of sitting next to these records. I have always had a fertile imagination and this combined with not having “made it” keeps me fueled for sonic expression.
I love music. It’s not a fashion accessory or a means to another end.
Will there ever be a new 4hero album?
Dego: There are grand ideas for this but I cannot say what as things are still not in place. I will not promise anything today nor tomorrow.
Which of your records are you most proud of?
Dego: My work in the past was fueled solely by my teenage youth and energy. I knew nothing about making music and had to learn as I went along. My first ten years of musical output is like looking at school essays from eleven to 16. There are horrendous mistakes and obvious bad choices but I own it all as it has gotten me to where I am today.
Some of the stuff was groundbreaking, it signified a specific time and the London underground vibe. I am proud that I was able to make blueprints for the future but I also recognize that was only possible due to the open-mindedness of Marc, Ian and Gus (editor’s note: Gus Lawrence and Ian Bardouille have also been a part of 4Hero and Reinforced) and the influence of the great music I was constantly digesting from the past. I cannot back many of the recordings from those days but I am proud of the effect they had and their standings in that time. Those would be the Nu-Era LP, early Tom And Jerry and Jacobs Optical Stairway. After 2000 I can start being confident in backing everything I/we did.
Has the breakbeat/drum ‘n’ bass revival pushed you to do new stuff in the spirit of Tek 9 or Tom And Jerry?
Dego: I left Reinforced records a very long time ago, the last projects I saw through were the G-Force & SeijiJust Another Number LP, Sonar Circle and the Alpha OmegaJourney To The 9th Level LP. So, from 1999 I had no involvement and concentrated on my own imprint instead. So the “breakbeat renaissance" you speak of is the drum and bass revival, yeah? Well this I am aware of, because of the work my brother DJ Stretch does in that scene. One thing I will state is it has always been there. It’s just getting attention from people that thought it had disappeared as they were focused on some other “trend.”
The role of an artist is always subject to change. How do you feel about the idea that, in 2020, part of that role is also to respond to wider political and social issues?
Dego: I grew up on Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, James Brown and Millie Jackson. All these people had something to say on the times they saw around them. Then when hip hop came along, I heard Melle Mel, Chuck D, KRS-One , X-Clan and Lord Shabazz. These are two separate generations speaking the truth on the world. So, what I am trying to say is, this has been instilled in me. The difference is I am not a vocalist or rapper so my message/lyrics I have written have been sung by one of the many singers I have had appear on my records. We can go back to I.C 3 Salute by Tek9 in 1991 or Just Leave It in 2019. A broad range of topics have been expressed but I guess the nature of dance music is not to see or hear past the groove. Every generation must speak on the status quo and not get swept up by the hype or the work for the man. Distraction has caused great harm, and indifference even more so.
What’s the technical differences between producing music today and when you first started out?
Dego: The main difference between music production now and when I started is a computer can do everything and before you would have a whole room full of equipment. Today’s advantages are around convenience – travel, swapping files etc – but I feel when I started you really had to work hard and create innovative techniques to make your ideas a reality. I love the challenge when using old methods. What I think has been lost is the human feel and spirit, which I think was apparent even in Chicago house and Detroit techno. You can make machines tell your story and not the other way around!
How important was the CoOp Sundays party at London’s Velvet Rooms and the Plastic People series for you personally, and the Broken beat scene? Do you miss having a regular hang-out where you meet like-minded peers and play the music you create and love?
Dego: CoOp was important because no one was playing our music, so I thought, I better start our own night. It was good and helped people understand the music but I do not miss it because I know nothing lasts forever and to sustain a club night for an extended period is not easy. That’s why I left after the 4th year and never looked back. Living in the past will be the death of your career.
The syncopated beats of broken beat music were fresh in the early 2000s and the music press hailed the genre as a new futuristic dance music. Why do you think Broken beat did not go global?
Dego: Music of that time and since then has needed to be artist-driven. I do not mean the faceless or producer-led acts of that scene, but a face and a lifestyle that the audience would want to see themselves in. Unfortunately, that scene never saw that personal talent or no one molded that act and so the hot iron was never struck. The music was not too sophisticated, it just made some feel insecure and others who were not well-experienced in black music found it too hard to catch up to! Everything in music has been devalued and instead “lifestyle” has been pushed forward.
How would you describe to someone the 2000BLACK identity who is not familiar with the label?
Dego: 2000BLACK is group of musicians that learn from the past whilst thinking about the future. We are Afrocentric grooves, a Soulful poise, Steppers riddim with a Funk lean.
If you compare the 2000BLACK output from the early 2000s to current day, what would you say has changed or evolved in the past 20 years?
Dego: The output is much better now. Quality control is much stricter and our presentation much improved. We have our own sound and have made sure that people can recognize this whether the music is hip hop, soul, disco, jazz etc.
How do you decide what to put out on vinyl and what to put on Bandcamp, CD, Spotify? What’s your musical medium of choice?
Dego: Everything drops on vinyl and we love using Bandcamp. (Spotify as a company is all that is wrong with the music business). Vinyl has always been our favorite format. You just cannot beat that sound, warmth is everything. Plus, it’s something tangible gives you a sense of investment and ownership.
Music-streaming sites as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today? In what way does the abundance of music change our perception of it?
Dego: I have no problem with the abundance of music as I think if you are willing to explore your taste you will find what you love and much more. My issue is with the companies that obviously hold no value for music nor respect. It’s the same old conflict between art and commerce but it has now swung way too far in the hands of capitalists. Now the commercial market does not have the varied representation of the music world and the top thirty seems to be a series of one trick ponies. People seem to be not as invested in music as much as previous generations. It seems to be more an accessory or the new style trend, but I can understand how this happens when accountants have taken over who only pump money into soulless fodder for the consumer.
Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience. But listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the process?
Dego: You can only “win over” people that are open minded and in fact have their own mind to start with. The listener must have a willingness to invest some time into music and then, more importantly from my perspective, recommend LPs to their friends and family. Word of mouth is way more powerful than any advert or playlist.
What or who inspires your today work as a musician?
When you go into the studio, do you follow a typical workflow?
Dego: No, I have no formula I think that brings about bad habits and comfort zones. The only thing I try to do on occasion is imagine in my head first what I wish to do. Having a goal helps to bring the production together.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Dego: Both are important, but the main thing is, does it make the song/music better? If so, it goes in. Composing is great as it is focused, but if the song takes its own life and pulls you left instead of right then I say improvise and follow it there.
What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?
Dego: Guitar! I am an awful guitar player. I hate the damn thing but have many ideas that can only be done with it. Thankfully Mr. Mensah and Matt are able to get these ideas out of my head. I am also going through a very stop-start lyric writing process. One thing I hope to get is more production work for vocalists.
Can you describe the relation between your work and your identity?
Dego: I have been working for myself since 1991 and steered my career and output how I saw fit. All the mistakes and the triumphs have come from my own efforts, so what I mean to say is that I am my work for a large part, as it’s my imagination brought into reality. My family, my roots, my quest for my roots help to create my work. All in all, it is probably 40% of who I am.
Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a hugely negative impact on the global music scene. How do you see its future and what will change in your opinion?
Dego: I am certain the underground will reemerge and hopefully it will return with music-first ethics rather than corny populism.