The Love Children of Garage: An Interview with Durkle Disco’s Tom Koast

Son Raw goes to Bristol and interviews the don of Durkle Disco.
By    June 2, 2015
Photo By Theo Cottle

Son Raw is in Dublin Airport.

The world of U.K. music is endlessly deep, and there’s always something new to discover. I came across Bristol’s Durkle Disco last year when they dropped Lojik’s outstanding Saracen EP, and since then I’ve worked my way backwards and discovered a label with a focus on DJ-ready plates ranging from dubstep to garage to grime an all the spaces in between. In an era full of sometimes overly heady/abstract releases, those that focus on the DJ and the rave are welcome. Recently, while in Bristol, I spoke to label head, MC and rave-scene fixture Tom Koast about his label’s history, Bristol’s music scene and more.

Durkle Disco’s latest single is “Hustlin’” by Daffy and Unkey. It’s dark as fuck and yes – it samples THAT rap tune you’re thinking of. It’s hard as fuck and tears up a set, so go buy it.

Introduce yourself and the label

Koast: My name’s Tom, AKA Koast, I run the Durkle Disco label out of Bristol and we’ve been rolling for about 4 years now. We put out a whole range of music – a few hip-hop releases in the early days and have specialized more and more in what you could call the love children of garage: some dubstep stuff, some of this new dark 130BPM stuff, and grime as well. Everything that’s come out of the death of U.K. garage.

You’re based in Bristol, are you from there originally?

Koast: I grew up in London and moved to Bristol in 2003 so I’ve been here 12, coming up on 13 years now. Bristol is very much home for me: Durkle Disco a Bristol label, and all of our parties are based here but at the end of the year you’ll see a compilation with artists from beyond the city, whereas so far our releases have been all been by artists from here.

You mentioned parties, did the label start off throwing raves?

Koast: It’s a bit of a weird one. I used to be in a crew called Central Spillz which started as a hip-hop crew and then we got really fucking bored of beats sounding like ripoffs of Premo, Pete Rock and Dilla. As much as I love that classic boom-bap sound, it’s been done. It’s not our thing, it’s a New York thing – I felt it was getting a bit stagnant.

That’s around when we started going to dubstep raves in Bristol around 2005-2006, we started catching that vibe and a lot of guys in the crew had done the garage/grime thing so they could spit at 140BPM anyways. We were like:

“Hang on, why are we spitting over rebore American beats when there’s this amazing music going on here and we know people making it?”

We tried to bring proper hip-hop songwriting, as opposed to one line flows, to dubstep. We made an album called Space Travel, which ended up being the first Durkle Disco release. The only reason we made a label was no one would put it out and we cared about it so much… so why not do it ourselves? We then got fucked over by our distributor, which is common. [Laughs] It kind of went a bit quiet then, but I came to a point in 2012 where I realized I really enjoyed the process of putting a project together and marketing it. I decided I didn’t want to stop because of one hiccup. That’s when the label got serious – I got an album called Match in the Ocean by a group called Se Fire – they’re one of the greatest U.K. hip-hop stories never told.

The Se Fire guys really had that very dub and jungle influenced Bristol sound even if it was still hip-hop – the opposite of the derivative stuff I mentioned. The album was just sitting around collecting dust – so we put it out, put out a remix EP with Kahn and Superisk. And that was the start!

Since then I’ve looked at who was around me – Oh91, Unkey… I met Lojik through my day job, one of the few good things that came from that! And yeah, it’s slowly picked up! The real turning point to me was our Lamont release last year – he’s an incredibly exciting producer to me and we were blessed to get remixes from Zed Bias, and Hi5Ghost.

That’s quite a history! I remember that Lamont release being the first thing I saw with the Durkle Disco name – it might have been featured on a record store.

Koast: Yeah, possibly Juno, I think. It’s funny with online shops.

You know what, I barely go to online shops anymore. It used to be I had to search high and low to find music I liked, now I get sent so much stuff directly…

Koast: You know what, that’s good! I completely agree, when dubstep tailed off a bit… even if it was strong when we started, I made a conscious decision with the label not to focus on a saturated market cause we always wanted to do something different. But as an MC, that was my bread and butter in terms of hosting [events] and there were a couple of years where it was tough to figure out what was good out there.

It’s funny though, there’s so many people that stick to genres – they’re into “proper dubstep” or “proper D&B.” I don’t get that. You guys handle the intersection really well.

Koast: It’s funny cause our next two singles are straight up grime! We’ve got Daffy & Unkey that just came out and a Lemzly Dale bit coming out in July. We’re gonna put some bangers out for the summer and see where they go!

You guys have put out a couple of releases with Unkey, including the latest “Hustlin'” single with Daffy and he’s been a consistent presence at the label. How’d you guys link up?

Koast: To cut a long story short, he was gifted to the label! As I mentioned, originally Durkle Disco was started by Central Spillz, which was me & three other guys who ended up dropping out for various reasons. Unkey is a childhood friend of the last one to bail. Basically he was so guilt ridden at leaving me on my own with this fledgling label that he thought he should leave me with some music to work with – so he introduced me to his friend who’d just moved back to Bristol and was making these crazy, energetic dubstep-influenced grime tracks. We became mates through a mutual love of cheese, wine (well, any booze) & grime (here’s the evidence) and he’s been a core part of the team ever since.

That grime vibe in Bristol is interesting. When I spoke to Hi5 he mentioned how he picked that up in London and Bristol was more into dubstep…

Koast: Way more! When I moved to Bristol that was the golden era of grime. 2002 through 2004 or 05, and it was a real shock coming from London and being able to see Wiley and Dizzee up close to… it not being around. I feel blessed to have been able catch legends in the beginning of their career, for a fiver, in a shitty little club. I saw Roll Deep, Nasty Crew, Boys in the Hood… but in Bristol there was not a lot, really. That’s why I gotta give [promoter] Blazey credit cause he was the one really pushing it.

The link to me, was that purple sound that Joker, Guido, and Gemmy were pushing.

Koast: As part of Central Spillz, we worked with all the purple guys! Those three, Mensah and Superisk – that sound was classed as dubstep by journalists but a lot of those guys would have probably thought of it as grime. I love that vibe – when it doesn’t quite fit in genres, but then, I also loves stuff that defines a genre like that early DMZ sound.

That kind of scene thing is funny from an outside point of view because to an outsider… the difference between a sound based in East London and South London… the geography is abstract. In the same way, people say I’m from “America” and I got to tell them that it’s not one place! It’s a continent. It takes me 7 hours to get anywhere.

Koast: I think the Internet has made the whole world a bit smaller and I don’t know how I feel about it because my musical growth was youth club parties, going around to someone’s house to make a tape. It was a real physical connection – you had to go to the same place! You’d go to 4-5 record shops in London cause that’s what you needed to do to get music. It’s more democratic now I guess, with easier access, but it loses the community side a bit, which is why Bristol’s great! We still have that.

It’s small though, You can still do it. I feel blessed because I can hear it now – I remember hearing Dizzee’s album and liking it, but I didn’t hear pirate radio and that’s what I would have needed to UNDERSTAND IT. It was sold to me as English hip-hop and I was like “right… we’ve got our own, original hip-hop. Why do I need this?”

Koast: That’s something I can talk about for HOURS [laughs.] You’ve got U.K. hip-hop but to me grime is the true British hip-hop because grime had its own slang and dress. Avirex Jackets, Academiks tracksuits, New Era caps. It was similar to Dipset but there was a London twist – the Americans were VERY flamboyant and London was blacked out. That’s what Skepta’s bringing back!

I think Dipset might have had a bigger influence here than America. They were big in America but out here? EVERYONE brings them up.

Koast: Dipset had a massive influence on the second wave of grime. The first wave sounded like NOTHING else, it was about pirate radio. There weren’t any classic albums except Boy in Da Corner and maybe [Kano’s] Home Sweet Home. There’s classic vocal tunes but that era was about 20 emcees and Slimzzee or Geeneus on radio sets. The second wave when The Movement were the best crew was MASSIVELY influenced by Kanye, Just Blaze and Dipset.

The weird thing is, to me that hurt grime’s chances in North America at the time.


Yeah, ’cause–as much as I respect The Movement–we already had our own version of that sound. With the original wave–love it or hate it–its completely original. In the same way, I don’t expect U.K. scenes to care too much about outsiders replicating their sound, why would they?

Koast: When it came to dubstep, the instrumental-focused stuff, it wasn’t quite as identity obsessed. People are quite happy when someone from abroad is into it–like say Gantz. When it comes to emcees though, it becomes really local. Even in America–it’s what you’re saying, “Why do we need that?”

Was there a class difference between grime and U.K. hip-hop? In America it got weird because grime was received by hipsters at first, unfortunately.

Koast: Yeah, ’cause it was the blogs that broke it. My first musical love that stayed with me was garage because it was so English [the U.K. garage stuff]–I caught it in a great era. But then I also loved American hip-hop because it was so different–hearing New York and Biggie.

Montreal isn’t far geographically from New York and it’s the weather that connected me to New York rap. It sounds like this snow and hail!

Koast: It’s true! When its pissing rain I wanna listen to Mobb Deep but when it’s sunny I want to hear reggae or garage.

Back to the question–at first with grime, the fans were the same people making it. I remember seeing Roll Deep at Carnival in 2002 and it was so crazy to see kids losing it. Today, grime’s different–it’s almost a part of the general bass music scene. I’ve been around Bristol for years now and to be honest, I’m less drunk and more observant than most of the crowd. As a host, I see everyone from the stage. I see the same kids changing their wardrobes every six months where they’re gurning to dubstep one minute and in black tracksuits going nuts to grime the next. [Laughs.]

It’s cool to see you even mention the word “dubstep.” Most producers I speak to today try and avoid it.

Koast: You know what? Maybe a year ago I might have. I feel like in the last year or so it’s become less of a dirty word and people started to remember that there was dubstep before it got all EDM and screechy. Outlook plays a big part–I get cynical every year and then in August I see people from all over the world bugging out to music that matters to me. There’s more mixed-genre events now–reggae and dub getting bookings with new dubstep and classic dubstep artists. It’s good, you know?

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