Our latest One To Watch are causing a rumble in the urban jungle. This is what happened when Daniel Fahey went to meet True Tiger...
December isn’t always the most forgiving of months, for temperature or expenditure. So while Virtual Festivals is quietly content with broiling alone by an open fire in an East End watering hole, we’re somewhat resenting the reality that we haven’t caught sight of our supposed company, the elusive True Tiger.
We were due to meet Stanza, one quarter of the emerging dubstep pack, at his home studio a while ago, but he’s yet to materialise and our phone calls have gone unanswered.
Still, the beer is good, the fire snapping. Even Barbra Lynn and The Stones are whirling pre-selected over the pub speakers.
Then, as would happen in those stinking, intolerable movies, our mobile phone judders against the oak table, an unfamiliar voice croaks details of Stanza’s whereabouts and we speedily stuff our scribbled sheets under one arm, taking off like Malcolm Tucker.
Along a pretty characterless East London backstreet, I spot Stanza skulking against the entrance of his home through a soft mist of some long-drawn grass.
The truth about his earlier absence then unfolds.
Last night was True Tiger’s first-ever live show and, consequently, he tells us, the celebrations got a little wild. The final guest at the post-show shindig (held at Stanza’s home, a previous British Library warehouse) managed to stumble back into the cold daylight around 8am.
An unexpected landlord visit (and consequential eviction notice) weren’t far behind and now Stanza has just two days to find a new place. Now probably isn’t the best time to have lined up a chat.
He doesn’t seem that bothered though as he invites VF into his digs and upstairs to a self-made studio. He brushes the eviction news aside, and shuffles stacks of sprawled clothes with it so we have somewhere to perch. Then we begin to chew the True Tiger fat.
“Dubstep has become one of the main sounds of the younger generation,” Stanza is explaining, already onto the role of dance music today. “Definitely over in America it’s the new punk/metal/rock – there are more kids going to dubstep gigs now than there are rock gigs.
“The music just takes you away from the usual bullshit that people have to put up with every week,” he concludes. “When you’re at a gig there is a good vibe. You don’t have to worry about anything, you’re just there to have a good time and enjoy the music.”
But it also feels like dubstep means more than that right now. Its heavy and distorted basslines mirror the throbbing lows of the UK’s young. It shadows the overbearing darkness of the current hopes that are out of reach: jobs, money, opportunities. It’s also a very UK export.
“A lot of the big names that are leading and pioneering and innovating – which is the main word really – are people from the UK, who are pushing the envelope,” enthuses Stanza. “They’re making stuff you won’t expect to get in the charts, chart.”
It’s hard to argue with. Clubs and charts and festivals and iPods are alight with bass-shaking riddims. Dubstep is soundscaping an era of unease, of riots, of political unrest. These are the songs that will soundtrack a ‘lost generation’.
“When the riots and that were happening [people played] our track ‘Jungle’ with Professor Green and [Maverick] Sabre. Even at the student protests [protestors played] the same tune,” Stanza admits. “Kids were playing tunes like that and wherever you go out now, kids are into that.”
It’s not just about the high-rise flats and low self-esteem, perhaps people are after a generational spokesperson: the one they’ve elected into office by streaming on Spotify, buying from iTunes or stealing from blogs and torrent sites.
With True Tiger becoming popularity on the increase, do you want to write material that speaks out about the riots or the state of society at the moment? “When it was all happening we were disappointed and pissed off about it and what not,” he says, steering from the subject. “But if we had the right rapper who was deep into that then definitely.”
You’ve collaborated with the likes of P Money, Ed Sheeran and Maverick Sabre. How do you decide who to work with? “We already have an idea for artists, especially new artists,” he starts. “When we first had Ed Sheeran, we were just buzzing and the first tune we did we were like: ‘wow it’s one of the tracks for our album’. And we knew we wanted to do that with Ed.
“‘In The Air’ we knew Maverick Sabre had to sing the chorus. We had sampled a [David] Bowie line and we knew it needed this distinct voice because of the way Bowie has done the line,” he adds. “Maverick Sabre wasn’t really that big at the time, he was just doing small acoustic showcases and he had a good little buzz about him but he didn’t have songs in the charts.”
True Tiger is actually the graft and groove of four producers – Gowers, Blue Bear, Sukh Knight and our host Stanza – who all soundboard ideas off of one another. “Some of us love the more traditional stuff, some of us like listening to the experimental, more leftfield stuff or really alternative or 70s and 80s stuff,” he explains. “Blue Bear could start an idea and send it to me and I’ll think something about it and then send it to Gowers and he’ll think something about it and then it will be done.”
It’s a true democracy then? “We don’t have many major arguments about ‘no let’s do this or let’s do that,’” he laughs. “But this is our first album – and I might regret saying this now – but we might get to that day when we’re all going mental about it. But up to now we’re normally all right… everyone has got a similar final taste point so hopefully it will be cool.”
That as yet untitled debut will also see True Tiger change their stripes from a team of producers to a live outfit, the one first road tested last night. Surveying the post-party evidence, including Stanza’s crumpled McDonalds bag, the performance was a success.
“We’re used to DJing so we were nervy,” Stanza admits. “Everyone was really happy, it’s a good feeling. I was quite interested to see if I would have the same kind of energy onstage with the crowd when the tunes were dropping and how I’d react,” he adds. “Everyone was really in it and we were all smiling.”
A live show will also mean True Tiger are elevated from the small tents and dance crannies of festivals onto the bigger stages and Stanza has got the taste for a full summer schedule already. “I want to be at them all,” he laughs, but jesters do oft prove prophets.
Reminiscing about his first Glastonbury, which he says was “fucking crazy”, Stanza recalls their Shangri-La show as one of the best they’ve ever done. “It was absolutely packed, they said it was the busiest it had been at that time and they came and gave us two bottles of booze at the end, like ‘well done’. It was mad.”
Do you change your set for festivals? “We played a lot wider, it really opened up our game a bit. Blue Bear was drawing from some old garage tunes and some old dance classics or hip hop classics, which we wouldn’t really do if we were playing at a dubstep gig. But now, even at dubstep gigs we’re bringing in a lot of tunes you wouldn’t expect to hear at a dubstep rave.”
And does it work? “It kicks off. When you drop old skool stuff it either really goes off because everyone knows it or it doesn’t go off because they’re too young [laughs].”
Check out True Tiger’s One To Watch page with festival dates, free downloads and more.