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context-mcA rising star of the underground music scene, Context is a producer, writer and MC from Norwich. Just 23 years old with a string of releases and list of prestigious support acts under his belt, this is just the beginning for an artist who is doing it all for himself. Commix, Caspa, Rusko and Andy C are some of the acts on the bill of Context’s UK tour to promote his latest EP release: ‘Mental Breakdown Music’. He performed at Beach Break Live this year and has featured on Radio 1, 1xtra, Rinse FM and Bondi FM in Australia, where he has been awarded sensational support.

So what is next for Context MC? His lyrical style is fresh and raw, and combined with dubstep infused with hip-hop, trance and grime, this artist is certainly a master of versatility and originality, and you can expect to see him up there with the rest of the underground elite in only a matter of time. Jessica Board chats to Context for 247magazine.co.uk…

So, Context, you’re a producer and MC; tell me when it all began and how?
I first picked up a mic in February 2005. I won some local battles in Norwich and recorded a few bits and pieces of mainly UK hip-hop orientated stuff. I started getting more and more into dubstep and drum and bass, and combined that with my love of hip-hop flows. I started recording and producing in October 2007 and had my first EP out by Christmas, and by early 2008, I was getting Radio1 and 1Xtra play. I’ve only really been on this recording thing for about 18 months and it all came together really fast! My producing has kind of slipped away as I’ve focussed more on writing and working with some really talented producers.

Where does the name Context originate from?
You often find that people who are in the music industry have a large group of mates they do it with. For me, none of my mates MC, none of them produce, and not many of them really are into the same kind of music I am into. We were watching MTV Base and they asked me loads of questions about who the people were and what they did. I said they needed me to put this kind of music into a relatable context and I feel like that’s what I do. Plus I was doing some mad uni work on structuralism that was about how language is just a collection of sounds and is meaningless without context. It just made sense for me to be called that. I had to add the ‘MC’ to the end to differentiate myself. It’s OK but it can be curse when people think I’m a host MC – which I’m not really. I do host, as I have for Bar9, Nero, Benga and Joker but when I approach people about doing a night, sometimes they instantly think of me as a host are a kind of reluctant. I have to explain what my live set entails and how I’m an artist.

You have labelled your remix of 4 strings ‘take me away’ as clubstep and I see you have a Facebook group dedicated to the genre dubhop. What is dubhop and clubstep? What influenced you to come up with these genres?
Clubstep was actually the name of the track. It wasn’t a genre I was pushing as such. It was a combination of the ‘clubland’ trance one of my Welsh mates is really into, and dubstep. I loved how it sounded together to put out this little bootleg download. That’s what inspired the ‘As the Sun Goes Down’ tune. I describe my genre of music as dubhop. It came about in an ironic way from everyone I knew at the time being so genre obsessed with their music and calling stuff like ‘post hardcore melancholic deep house techno’. It was also necessary as my music is not really dubstep, not really hip-hop, not really grime. My brother coined it and it stuck!

Do you think of yourself as being in the same class as pioneers like Hatcha, who has added something unique, fresh and original to the underground music scene?
I feel like what I’m doing is an original look for sure. To class me as a pioneer is the job of others I think, not me. It’s not only my musical approach (rapping over dubstep, as that’s not necessarily like inventing the lightbulb), but it’s doing music like this, with lyrical honesty and poignancy which people often shy away from. Basically, I’m yet to see anyone doing what I’m doing, in the way I’m doing it, and being received in the way I am.

You have recently just released a six track EP ‘Mental Breakdown Music’. How has that gone down for you?
I’m pleased with the response. The first single ‘Is It (Rat Attack Mix)’ went down really well which was heavy. Got 1Xtra, BBC6, Bondi FM in Australia, Sub.FM and Rinse FM spinning it, plenty of downloads and club play. Similarly with the second single ‘As the Sun Goes Down’: got Radio1 and 1Xtra on board. I’m pleased with it; but like all creative processes, you always know you can do better! It’s my best work, and it’s just great to have a product that you can say ‘this is mine and I made it’. It’s a presentable product you can show people who know you aren’t messing about and take it seriously enough to invest time and money in yourself, so, maybe they should invest time and money in you too.

Tell me more about the songs on the EP. How did you get your inspiration for the lyrics?
Each of the tracks is quite different thematically. It’s got the wordplay/bragging style of tune (‘Is It’), which is littered, with different influences (Wes Craven, Caravaggio, Blame – try and pick them all out!) and wordplay (like ‘my flow’s in sick bay, yours is basic [bay sick]’!). Like ‘That Fear’ has each verse spelling out the things I’m afraid of (failure, being alone, and fear itself). For the tune, ‘Mental Breakdown Music’, I remember writing that at about three in the morning when I was just madly stressed from music and work. That one is really purely expressive. ‘Headbutt Your Trainers’ is the flip side to that coin – i.e. alleviating your stress by just wonking out! The deepest tune lyrically is ‘There Goes the Time’. That song was originally called something else and was just a scattering of thoughts, then the hook by ‘Well Red’ just slotted in perfectly. Maybe it’s a cliché, but my life is enough inspiration for all my lyrics. They are all things I do, see, experience and feel.

‘That Fear’ featured dubstep producer Rob Sparx. What was it like working along side such a respected figure?
His whole attitude was cool – just do your thing and lets go from there. Vermin is like that too. Just lets me try things and then we get it refined. I am not really into, nor know anything about, the details of music. The words ‘frequencies’ and ‘wave forms’ and ‘compression’ are just like Japanese to me. I just want to crack on and get the music made!

‘Mental Breakdown Music’ is quite a dark track with gospel vocals and is different from your upbeat tracks. Is there any particular reason as to why you have produced such a dark song?
My music covers a wide spectrum. It’s not just club music, or all hypey. Of course that’s there, but the other side of me is the grim, dark, bleak side. Like I say in the tune, I’m a bit of a “bi-polar border”. There’s the mania and the down too. Not all of the emotions I want to express are upbeat, and some are pretty uncomfortable to hear. It’s all acknowledged and conscious, like how the track that comes immediately after tune on the EP is basically saying, if you feel like you felt on the last track, forget about, go about, have a mad one, and forget about it, even if only for a few hours.

What was it like performing at Beach Break Live Festival in Kent in June this year? Are you down to play any festivals in 2010?
Beach Break was heavy. Really enjoyed the experience! I want to play every festival; Glastonbury, Glade, the works. I feel like what I’m doing now, the live mixed dubstep with MC’ing not in the form of a host, but as an artist, will go down really well. I guess I’ll just wait and see what comes my way!

Tell me more about the success you have received from having your music featured on Radio 1. Did it help to accelerate the release of your singles and help to get your name out there?
They’ve been wicked actually – especially Ras and Huw. I’m four for four at the minute: the last four songs that I have sent to radio (‘The Harrier’ and ‘Frantic’ off Dialectics) and ‘Is It’ and ‘As the Sun Goes Down’ (off Mental Breakdown Music) have been played by them. It’s like an endorsement or a stamp of approval that says, people who are in the know, know you are doing a lot. Someone who has just got a tune out and saying ‘come and check this out’, is overlooked compared to someone saying ‘come and check out this tune that Radio1 and 1Xtra are playing’. That’s helped me get my name out there; from either the record spins or the live interviews.

How helpful has the internet been in getting your name out there and sharing your music with the public?
I was thinking about this the other day when I was chatting about the tour I’ve organised and I realised that I organised this whole tour through Facebook. I’ve got my blog, Youtube TV channel, Twitter and Myspace as well, so collectively, it’s a pretty big digital package to get my name out there. It’s a double edged sword in a way – I mean, without it, I have no idea how I would be getting the attention I’m getting at the moment. It’s sometimes difficult to get your head above water and keep it there.

You are in the middle of your ‘Mental Breakdown Music’ Tour. There are some pretty big names that you are touring with: Commix, Andy C, Rusko and Caspa. How does it feel to be touring with such renowned and esteemed artists?
It’s really great how all the dates have come together for it. I wanted a nationwide thing to promote this release coz I felt it needed to be heard by as many people as possible to be honest. I’ve got dates all over with some amazing acts like you’ve mentioned. The promoters have just been wicked with linking up the nights – Jake and Dash, Ed and Rob, Dom and Anan, Gareth, Massi, Rob, Liam and Pete, and Paul. It feels great to be sharing the night with Caspa and Rusko, or Joker, or Andy C. It’s a great platform for me too, as obviously those names bring people in which means more people get to see and hear what I do. This was a tour I put together pretty much off my own back with no labels, tour managers or PR so the operation can only get bigger.

What do you think the future holds for you? Can you see yourself as the next Mercury prizewinner? What were your thoughts on the current winner Speech Debelle?
It’s always what I’ve had in the back of my mind. Right now I feel like I’ve gathered the momentum and I’m smashing a brick wall with a sledgehammer, and in a few hits time, I’m going to smash a massive hole in it and just strut straight through. That strutting could be Mercury, or charts, or whatever you want to classify as “success” – but either way, it’s happening. Winning the Mercury Prize is a lot and she hasn’t done that by just sitting around, so you got to respect that. The music is not my taste, but all power to her, and I like what it’s doing for UK hip-hop in terms of elevating it as a music and not just leaving at the underground.

Anything you would like to say to your fans?
I want to say a massive thanks to everyone supporting what I’m doing – whether you are playing my tunes in your room or at a party, or putting me on in clubs, doing interviews, producing heavy tunes, or my Canadian clothing sponsor (Vice and Virtue). Success is a collaborative process. I started late in this really. I’ve only been on it for 18 months, so this is just me warming up. Finally are there any shows you have coming up in the future that your fans do not know about yet? Ha. Yeah, I actually just lined up a massive gig to start off 2010 with. It’s the biggest scale of anything I’ve done, and I can’t say much more than that at the minute.

Context MC’s six track EP ‘Mental Breakdown Music’ is out now.
Catch Context on 13 November at Basement 45 in Bristol, and on 28 November at Beat Redemption in Bournemouth.


Words: Jessica Board