[Interview] Compa Shares His Perspective on Dubstep Culture
The Atlanta dubstep scene has been steadily growing under the guiding hand of a small group of promoters, DJs, and producers who have heavily invested into bringing great soundsystems and talent to intimate, dark rooms and filling the air with bass. They’ve started to pull in really interesting names like Goth Trad from Japan (read my interview with him here), and the latest installment of the culture came from Compa out of the UK. I sat down with him in the green room at 529 in East Atlanta Village before his set to talk about his use of vinyl and his rising status in the global dubstep scene.
When was the last time you were in the States?
Do you get a sense that the scene here is changing over time as you make each visit?
Definitely. For example, my first tour was five shows. My second tour was eight shows. This tour is twelve shows. So, every time the interest has grown, the crowds have grown, it’s just crazy. The reaction to the music always gets better. So, evidently, it’s growing.
You live in Manchester now?
How’re you doing?
Well, I don’t spend very much time there, to be honest. I’m always in the studio, on tour, or spending time with the girlfriend. I’ve only just heard about it [the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester]. I was just about to board a flight yesterday and my girlfriend texted me. I’ve only found out today what actually happened.
What was the reasoning behind setting up multiple labels?
WX/WL is a white label series which I use for bootleg remixes whenever those happen. The new label which launches next week, CPA Records, is for my original music that doesn’t come out on Deep Medi or Artikal, which are the two labels that I’m signed to. So, if I make a track and it doesn’t fit on those labels, and I really like it, it’s going to come out on my label. So, it’s just to enable me to release music that doesn’t sit elsewhere. Every label has its own sound, innit? You’re not gonna hear a heavy American track on Deep Medi. That’s not the ethos of the label.
You’ve said that Denver is the home of American dubstep. Why is that?
It’s not strictly true is it? New York was the first place to ever have dubstep nights. The first ever American dubstep night was at Dub War in New York. I think the first night they ever did was Skream and Loefah, so technically it’s not true. But, nowadays, if you didn’t know about Dub War, the main night in America is Sub.Mission in Denver. That’s the night that books every dubstep artist that comes through on tour. It’s the most notable club night, which is why people would refer to it as the home of American dubstep.
You play on vinyl, and you can hear the warmth that it imparts to the music. How do you reconcile the love of audiophiles who want a loud and clear sound system with the damage that can be done to people’s hearing?
Well, it depends where you’re playing. It depends on the kind of crowd you’re playing to. I think especially in our music, people really understand and respect sound quality. So, on a night like tonight where the show is really branded around the label I’m signed to, Deep Medi… people would come with a certain expectation of the sound. Knowing that I play records, knowing that I’m signed to Deep Medi, and knowing what kind of sound I play, they should come expecting sound quality. I was here 90 minutes before we opened to check the sound, and annoying the sound guy, testing all the records, making sure the sound is going to be as good as it possibly can be.
When I started DJing, there was no CDJs. There was no laptops. There was only records, which is the reason why my ears know what sounds right. I spent so many years listening to records on good sound systems, and I still do. There will always be people who don’t care, who don’t respect it. But, in this music the vast majority of people do, which is why it’s important for us to respect it. For me especially, to do the best job I can with sound check, and playing dubplates, and making sure that it sounds the best that it can.
You’ve described your music as “meditative.” Do you meditate or follow a mindfulness practice?
You know, I don’t. It’s something that I really want to get into because I find touring so mentally exhausting. Yeah, meditation’s actually something that I’ve considered. I go home with such a crowded mind after a tour, and it lasts a long time as well.
It’s not about turning it off, but it is nice to press pause. I talked to Goth Trad here a couple months ago, and I think he approaches vinyl as an interesting part of the musical creation process. How do you view the significance of the dubplates that you play?
The main reason that I play records and still cut dubplates is that when I started DJing the only option as a DJ was to buy records and play those records. And, as a producer back then, before you could use a USB or a CD, the only option was to cut a dubplate. So, for me, coming from that, I just never changed.
When one of the other DJs arrived, I was asking to look through his records. I would never have done that if he had USBs or CDs. I would never have said, “Let me scroll through.”
Because part of asking was sharing the experience of acknowledging his collection. That tangibility is something that I really treasure, and I know for a fact that other people who buy records and collect them do as well. It’s really important to me and to other people that we have the real thing, not data. I say to people all the time that if I started DJing now, I’d use USBs, but I didn’t. I started DJing then. It was about 10 years [ago], so when I was about 15 years old. If I changed now, that would be compromising my integrity. I’ve come too far and I’m too in love with it. Things change though. Never say never.
Never say never. So what’s up next for you?
My next record, and the first record on my new label, CPA, is announced next Tuesday. It’s a new record featuring a UK grime MC called Footsie who’s an absolute pioneer of grime that I’ve wanted to work with for a very long time. I’m not quite sure what I can mention to be honest. When’s this interview coming out? I don’t want to get told off. I’ve got new records coming out on the labels that I’m signed to is easier to say.
Section 8 and Clerks provided heavy support for the all-vinyl evening, and the room was heavy all night with rumbling bass and dark, heady visuals projected over the artists. 529 offers a wonderful tucked-away-feeling atmosphere for this sort of a night, and the outdoor patio allowed everyone to drink and smoke freely as the momentum built for Compa’s set. His mixing was smooth, but his track selection was the really impressive piece of his performance. He confidently took the room down rabbit holes of bizarre audio that stayed true to the feel of dubstep in mood and atmosphere more than specific beat structure. I was delighted at every turn to hear new tunes, and the knowledge that from his little case of dubplates, we were all being treated to songs that we could never have a chance at hearing anywhere else made it just that much more special.
Photos by Stephanie Heath for Bullet Music.