'Street Bass' Pioneer Starkey on Grime, Fresh Prince & Ringo Starr

By Oscar Holland, June 19, 2017

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Pioneer of his own genre (‘street bass’), long-time Philadelphia resident Starkey is one of the most innovative producers to emerge from the late-2000s dubstep wave. We caught up with him ahead of this month’s set at Dada Beijing and Shanghai.

This may sound like a stupid question, but did you only play grime on your recent ‘All Grime’ tour?
Yes! I play a lot of grime in my sets, and always have. But for the ‘All Grime’ shows, I restricted my sets to only grime. So no hip-hop, trap or baseline was mixed in.  

Last year was billed as the year in which grime would win over the US. Has it fulfilled its promise over there?
People always ask me about this, and my opinion hasn’t really changed over the years. Grime will always be a niche thing in the US, I think. It’s really difficult to permeate the cities in the US – which is what’s needed for grime to really take off beyond college or experimental music crowds. It’s mainly because of the accents, the slang and the approach to live performance. It’s definitely grown and expanded, but I don’t think it will ever be a complete breakout mainstream success.

You seem to have been influenced by UK – and especially London – sounds. Have you spent a lot of time there?
I went to school in London in 2001 when garage was huge. That was my first taste of that scene. I kept in touch with it after I moved back to Philly. When grime and dubstep emerged from garage – that was when I really got into it. The raw energy in the sounds was inspiring.

So were you West Philadelphia born and raised? And if so… where did you spend most of your days? (Sorry.)
That’s the Fresh Prince [laughs]. No, actually I was born in a city called Allentown which is west of New York City and north of Philly. I moved to Philly when I was 18 for college. I spent a year in London, then have lived in Philly since then.

Did you know that there are places called Starkey in New York, Oregon, Virginia, North Dakota and Florida? Have you been to any of them?
I’ve not been to any of them and known about it [laughs]. Maybe I’ve driven through at some point. I’ve always enjoyed the Beatles, and Ringo’s real name is Richard Starkey. I thought Starkey sounded good, and went with it. Before that, I started producing as Aunt Jessica, which I thought was a really stupid name. It’s another Beatles reference. Aunt Jessica became a group with a rapper and singer... so when we broke up, I had to change the name I perform under.

Last year you remixed a song by the classical composer Erik Satie. Are there any other unexpected musicians or genres that you’d like to remix?
I listen to a ton of classical and jazz, but I’ve never actually remixed a jazz record before. That would be a lot of fun but also really challenging, depending on the track, since jazz is so much about improvisation and riffing off a chord progression. I’m a huge Billie Holiday fan, so I’ve always wanted to remix something of hers.

What’s the one piece of advice that you wish someone had told you when you started in the music industry?
Honestly, I think working with people who you really like, trust and care for is one of the most important things. There are so many people who are, in my opinion, in the industry for the wrong reasons. Working with like-minded people is really the only way to enjoy working.

Fri Jun 23, 10pm-late; Price TBC; Dada Shanghai, see event listing.
Sat Jun 24, 10pm-late; Price TBC;
Dada Beijing, see event listing.

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