Croydon-born DJ and producer Plastician is a progressive figure in UK music, one whose foundations were built on the golden era of the grime and dubstep scenes.
Plastician's career has blossomed from working in a bar and DJing at house parties to hosting his own shows on BBC Radio 1 and Rinse FM and also playing global festivals and arenas, purely off the back of his drive to focus on the experience of his audience. Whether DJing to 50 people or 10,000 people, Chris Reed's pure love for bass music is still pumping through his veins today. "A great set—for me—is one where I can really take the audience on a journey and keep them interested," he says.
As a producer, Plastician's 2007-released album, Beg To Differ, broke boundaries across the grey areas of the community within grime and dubstep. A testament to his wealth of substance and music knowledge is evident in the longevity of his productions, with cuts like "Japan" and "Intensive Snare" still in rotation in both scenes. Today, Chris is taking a backseat on radio as he focuses on his love of DJing and spreading new music with culture-shifting abilities. Complex caught up with the underground legend at the recent We Are FSTVL—where he headlined the Desperados Clubhouse—to get the soundtrack to his life.
Which track inspired your first move into the role of producer?
Hearing "Pulse X" by Musical Mob was the real spark I needed to hear and realise "I could do that!" I'd been dabbling before then, in garage, but not getting anywhere at all as the production level was so high. My first release on Slimzee's Slimzos label was called "Venom", and I based the structure of that song on Big$hot's "Stomp". I liked that it was an 8-bar tune but it had a bit more to it than that, which was my aim with "Venom" too.
As a DJ, you've put in the hours at some legendary club houses. Are there any tracks that remind you of a great or wild memory from those golden era dubstep and grime days?
"Haunted" by Coki always reminds me of a Skepta set. We walked into Ministry Of Sound once, many years ago, and there was this guy in a backpack dancing around mad to it and, for years, that became the dubstep dance for us. Last summer, I played at Roskilde Festival before Skepta and I spun it on-stage while he was waiting in the wings. I looked over at him and we both nodded, and grinned. It was like I told him an old joke! I love that about music. There's loads of songs from that grime/dubstep fusion era that spark fond memories for me, but this track always reminds me of playing shows with Skep—it was like an anthem for us.
What's your favourite type of set: live show, house party, festival or radio?
A great club night is probably the best for me. Something under 500 capacity, packed in. But I also love playing festivals too; they're both two completely different settings, but equally as exciting as each other. In terms of selecting tracks, my process stays the same, but I'm usually more likely to veer towards bigger, more obvious songs if I'm trying to keep a festival crowd on side; I don't want too many of them to disappear so I like to mix it up with stuff more of them are likely to know. In a club show, particularly if it's a headline show, you can get pretty weird—especially if the sound is good. The energy will dictate everything there but I'll often try to get as many styles in the mix as possible and lean towards more of what seems to be working well.
You've played some great festivals so far this year, like We Are FSTVL. What should we expect from your current sets?
Right now, I'm playing quite a lot of stuff that sounds a little like garage actually. But not that bassline end of the spectrum—for me, that's not really a sound I'm into at all. It's a bit more like the 2-step stuff, but darker, kind of like Burial meets Metro Boomin. A lot of this 'Wave' sound I've been pushing since 2013 too—there's definitely still a lot of that. I've really been enjoying a lot of UK rap as well, so that creeps in a lot. It's really all over the place, but on the whole, it's still mostly dark, bass-driven music with a lean towards grime and rap vocals.
How important is the essence and philosophy of DIY culture with how you approach your producing and DJing?
For me, it's everything. If you want to carry on in the industry, especially as a DJ or producer, you'll come to a point where you need to do some stuff yourself. I've run a label on my own for over 15 years, I have to read spreadsheets, I run events... I could go on forever how much I do that people don't see. For me, though, it's hard to stay relevant so sometimes you have to prove your relevance to the wider industry by doing things yourself to prove your worth. When bookings went quiet, I started running my own club night. When that started gaining interest, eventually promoters wanted in again and I was back on a roll. I'll never let myself fizzle out quietly. It's really got to be all—or it may as well be nothing in this game.
So you're playing at a festival and the crowd isn't moving—what's the perfect track to get them off their feet?
There are so many. I guess it depends on the kind of stuff I'm playing at that given moment. If I'm drawing a classic dubstep record, right now "Filth" by Skream seems to work every time. But the most versatile record for me has to be D Double E's "Wooo Riddim". You can mix that with pretty much any genre of music, I reckon. It'll get you out of any tight spot. It's like a defibrillator: once that's in the mix, you just have to make sure you keep it moving with the next one and you'll make it through just fine!
What was the first ever set you played as Plasticman or Plastician, and how did that experience shape you?
I'd been gigging for a few years before I started releasing music as Plasticman, under the name DJ Darkstar. I played on various South London pirates and was in a crew called Fearless Crew as the DJ with three MCs. We played a bunch of gigs together; it was around that So Solid/Heartless era, so it was mostly dark 2-step, early grime and the tail end of vocal garage. In terms of gigs, as Plasticman, I think FWD might have actually been my first; I played B2B with Mark One, aka MRK1 who now operates as one half of tech-house duo Solardo, and we had the opening set. My first tune was my remix of Mark One's "Fight". It had a really quiet intro and I'd never played at Plastic People before but wanted it to hit hard! I turned it up a bit too loud—when the bass dropped, the wind from the subs actually blew my hair back from the back of the room [laughs]. There was only about 20/30 people in the room at the time, which was actually quite a lot for FWD back then—this was in June 2003, so was proper early days. It went off though, and was a super memorable gig.
Which track reminds you of growing up with your family?
My mum and dad had a pretty standard record collection. I've not got too much cool to report on that front [laughs]. As a kid, I remember my favourite record being Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark", or Lionel Richie's "Dancing On The Ceiling". The first album I really loved growing up was Snoop Dogg's Doggy Style. I'd have been maybe 11/12 when that came out, and I think the swearing was most likely the initial draw for me at that age.
Is there a particular track that makes you think of Croydon?
A few years ago, I'd have said "Midnight Request Line" by Skream all day long! But since the success of Stormzy and seeing his "Shut Up" freestyle video all over the place, which was shot just over the road from where I grew up, really feels like it belongs to Croydon a bit.
What was the first CD or cassette tape you ever bought?
Boom Boom Boom by The Outhere Brothers was the first CD I bought with my own money. I can't remember what the first tape would've been, though—I had loads of tapes growing up, lots of Michael Jackson.
Which track refocuses you after a really hard day?
Burial's entire Untrue album is one that I still love. It reminds me of a really bad time in my life, but it's weird: I somehow still enjoy listening to it. I used to stay up all hours of the night back then. I'd sleep at around 7am and wake up at around 3pm every day, hardly speak to anyone, rarely seeing daylight. That's kind of what that album sounds like. I guess that revisiting it helps me focus because it reminds me of a real low point, somewhere I don't want to find myself again.
Is there a certain track or album that helped shape your personal taste?
I think all of them have played their part, in some way. Joker's "Gully Brook Lane" felt special for me. I knew signing that, that was the vibe I wanted to bring through. It was an elevated grime instrumental which brought really fresh ideas to the table, and that's what I wanted to present via my label to the world. It's still the case now, just with more genres and influences beyond 140bpm.
You've recently had your second child—big congrats! Has having a newborn changed your taste or inspired a new route within your career?
Not yet! But who knows? I definitely find a lot less time to check for music, so I'm definitely feeling like I'm really ready to hear something truly exciting or fresh. I don't know what it'll be or when I'll hear it, but I think I'm ready to explore new ground again, musically, once everything settles back down at home with the new baby. I never really plan to make a new direction or anything like that, but I think things like having kids can really change your taste. I connect with a lot more expansive music now; it's less about big drops and big hooks, and more about the slow builds. I appreciate albums more, long dance records, old extended versions of '80s pop songs I grew up on as well—I'm fascinated by that era right now. I don't know if there's scope for me to explore that from a production angle but I've been playing a lot of sets like that of late; '80s disco, funk, soul, etc. It's a lot of fun. For me, I love to DJ, so I'll be directly influenced by the music I play that keeps me in the clubs.