A powerhouse in the DIY scene, having maybe achieved what most can only dream of, Dabbla and his Potent Funk label have been there and done that. His latest release sees the reunion of his, Jam Baxter and GhostTown’s supergroup Dead Players and reminds us just how far they’ve come. In a mood of great retrospection, I caught up with Dabbla to talk about the said release, the journey, the scene and how he has expertly juggled creativity with the more common expectations of ‘real life’. New Dead Players after oh so many years, what sparked this rekindling between yourself, Baxter and GhostTown?
Jake’s (Jam Baxter) birthday was coming up, and he realised it coincided with the 10-year anniversary of our first record, so he decided to reach out and get the old gang back together for some more big fun times.
Did you ever think you three would release another tune together?
Yeah, man, we’ve always planned to continue the legacy. Dead players will never die.
And just a bit on the process: I’m guessing geographical restrictions played a part, so was it a case of you and Baxter both receiving the beat and doing your own thing? Some of the verses carry on from the previous, so I’m interested to see how that materialised.
I wrote the bars for DBATCS (Death by a Thousand Cocktail Sticks) almost six years ago, pretty much the day I heard the beat. GhostTown sent Chezza Turbz (Cherry Turbo) to us in a folder, but it was only when Baxter sent me a version with three 8-bar sections that it came to life. He set that one nicely. I filled in the gaps, punted the second verse a bit further, and then the hook came last. There were a couple of back-and-forths to finesse, but it was done in a couple of days that one- I was expecting a baby any minute, and it all had to go to press pretty urgently for the anniversary release.
If you had to pick one project from your vast discography to be like “here you go this is Dabbla”, which one would it be and why? (Or maybe each one reflects something a bit different about yourself as an artist?)
Ah, man, that’s a hard one. I think I’d have to go with Death Moves- it was the first album I released entirely by myself. Flew to Cali for the first time and shot a bunch of music videos, one in Death Valley on the way back from Vegas! It was wild. I learned a lot from making that album. I didn’t really appreciate the time and energy it takes and the work that goes into releasing music professionally before then. I’m pretty fucking proud of how that all came together. It’s also got two of the most incredible CGI music videos any UK rapper has ever released – ‘Tweeters’ and ‘FUTD’, and I can say that with my chest. Love to my cuz George and Lewis Hart for making that happen.
Exploring new approaches when it comes to visual and audio output has always intrigued Dabbla and his audiences. Even with exceptional bars and beats, you need a little something extra to keep listeners looping. Dabbla has more than achieved this no-less through his madly experimental music videos, which are as much an art form as the track is itself.
More broadly then, how are you viewing the UK’s underground rap scene at the moment?
All seems to be doing a lot better than ten years ago, that’s for sure. I think it’s only gonna get more organised and successful now that you’ve got platforms that can connect millions of people to your stuff within a few hours.
Obviously, it’s been a while since you first entered the scene, and you have achieved so much since, but what has changed both for yourself in terms of releasing music and for others, opportunities-wise, scene-wise, good, bad, ugly observations?
I can’t answer that without sounding like an old fart. Personally, all these social media platforms (especially YouTube) used to offer at least a vaguely realistic sense of how things were doing and growing. Then, around 2020 it seems Zuckenberg sucked the life out of it all. It’s like some uninvited Silicon Valley twat turning up to your business one day, demanding a cut and if you don’t cough up, you’re getting cock-blocked from your own audience. Digital police. Great if you got hundreds or thousands of pounds to chuck at it. Tough for small independent labels and artists just starting out. Creative people just wanna focus on that creative energy and release art without getting sucked into targeted ads and all that bollocks. That’s the shittest buzz for me: having to use the internet in its current climate to release music.
It is a struggle most independents have to battle with. As with any technological advances, there are pros and cons which waltz in along with the smugly smart software and companies alike; clickbait and playlists encourage artists to fit a certain agenda or format, and for those who want to pursue their own style, trust must be placed in their audience to follow them into the unknown – Dabbla has certainly brought an army with him. What would you say triggered you to start your label, Potent Funk, and what’s the mission goal with that, and how has that changed as the label matured?
Potent Funk started releasing music with my mates, which is still the mission: I still work with some really good friends and made a solid bunch of new ones along the way.
Maybe giving new artists a platform could be one motivation, would you say there are opportunities for emerging emcees and producers, and what maybe could the scene improve on?
Label-wise, there’s nothing I’d love more than to be able to release more music. We’re a very small team, though – all holding down jobs, families and, sometimes, it’s not easy to give it the attention it deserves, so expanding and being able to give more opportunities at the moment isn’t easy, but that’s just at the moment!
Do you have any words of wisdom for an artist or creative looking to start their own label?
Maybe stack a good year or two years’ worth of projects and releases to stay consistent? I really don’t have the answers.
Juggling creativity with real life and earning enough money to live isn’t always easy, how would you say you’ve managed this?
I was working in a warehouse during the first two Dead Players albums, and when YOTM dropped, even when we were touring Australia, I had to book that time off work – it was very intense combining those two very different lives, haha. My twenties were very mad, but I saved every penny from shows and royalties and reinvested it all into starting up Potent Funk. It wasn’t easy and tough, but I still have the passion and drive to make things work. I think the why is always more important than the how. It has to work, or I’ll have to return to warehouse work.
What do you do to escape the stresses of everyday life, or is everyday life not too bad at the moment?
There’s no escape! Joking, music and exercise are my only therapy at the moment. Usually, I’ll combine work and travel, but that’s on hold for now because we’ve just welcomed our daughter into the world- so exercise is the only soothing escape… for the moment.
Do you feel you’re in a position now to relax, or is the desire to create, produce and release still there?
The desire has never been stronger to create than right now!
The level of honesty in this conversation is as refreshing as it is eye-opening. As any disinterested recipient of a conversationalist would say, life is about balance. What this means may vary from person to person and artist to artist, but there has always been a mission goal to create and produce what matters to him, and that is what makes Dabbla so likeable and successful.