Serial Killaz have become a household name in the world of ragga jungle. For years the duo of Tobie Scopes and Graham Warnock have been cranking out track after track, classic after classic. Their songs get heavy play pretty much anytime someone wants to bust out the reggae flavour. They’ve made a name for themselves doing tons of remixes for the legendary Congo Natty, but also through their own label, Serial Killaz Recordings.
In a sea of artists looking for the “next big thing”, these two have stayed true to themselves, and stayed true to the music that moves them. This doesn’t mean their tastes are not eclectic, but, rather than chasing popularity, they admire talent and innovation in their peers. These two have a unique outlook on opportunity and success, perhaps an outlook that has enabled them to stake a claim in the musical hearts and playlists of many loyal fans and supporters.
I caught up with Graham of Serial Killaz for a chat about some of his thoughts on the aforementioned “opportunity”, what working with Congo Natty is all about, and what 2014 holds for Serial Killaz – both as artists and label heads.
I know before you and Tobie got together to form Serial Killaz you were both doing solo projects, which of course included some collaborations. I’m wondering what made your partnership with Tobie click as opposed to some of the others?
I’d say that’s got to be because of a couple of things. One would be we were both around in an era we wanted to recreate a little bit. That 92-95 era of jungle that was the foundation of what today is known as drum and bass. We both loved the reggae influence and at that time a few people were starting to do it again, along with the few jungle heads that had always been doing it on the underground. So we had a direction and focus of what we wanted, which is a good starting point to come from.
The other would be Tobe’s fortunate position working at a distributor at the time, which enabled him to have access to a lot of labels in the scene and the tracks up for remix. So, when he come over for the first session, he had in his possession the acapella of Peter Bouncer’s Junglist Man from Congo Natty. That was the first thing we remixed, which again is a very good starting point!
Because of his work at the distributor often people thought of him first kind of thing?
Yes, and labels would come in and say we want to get this remixed, so he often had first choice on things. Especially after the success of our first remixes.
Well, that’s handy!
Very. We kind of got together and it wasn’t like a real plan to say we’re going to do this for years. We wouldn’t have looked at now back then and think we’d still be doing it like we are. I’d say because we’re both very different in where we come from with music. Tobie’s a great sort of guy with a song, always listens to music, knowing the history and which sample comes from where and stuff, a real musical database of a mind. I’m more the producer side that sits in the studio hours on end with a bit of herbal remedy and love to be creative and play with the ideas and samples Tobie has sent over. So we don’t clash on that side with both people trying to do the same thing. I think that’s why we clicked and continue to just do it. We were also shocked and surprised at the response of some of the first works and it just coming in. It wasn’t a planned thing. It was a combination of things.
I guess the second part of that question is what makes you join forces with someone when you both seem to be doing ok independently?
I think working with other people is always better. Two minds is not times two, it’s more like times the power of ten. You get something more from harmonically coming together. If you’ve got two producers and they’re both doing very much the same thing, sometimes they might clash a little bit. Whereas if you get two people that have different strengths then it’s a lot easier as it were, and you get a bit more from it.
How did you decide to start doing music as a full time job as opposed to working some other crap job?
It goes quite far back I suppose. I always wanted to be a DJ from quite a young age, and to get into producing.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]…when he started playing jungle tapes there was an energy there that I just feel in love with. [/quote]
How did that start?
Taking drugs and going to raves.
How old were you?
Maybe 17, 18. A lot of the big raves in London, although they were quite mad back then, they were a little bit strict with checking ID and stuff. Once we got looking a little bit older, closer to 18 we’d go out. It was just that whole era. Before going out I was into the music. My older brother had a lot of tape packs and I was copying them.
So, you had the influence of a sibling?
Yeah. My brother was two years older and was the person who first played a lot of dance music to me, from as far back as 88 he’d have these crazy tapes from different raves that were happening back then. But when he started playing jungle tapes there was an energy there that I just fell in love with. The passion was lite.
It was never a conscious decision? You were kind of just going with flow?
It was a conscious decision. After having the passion for it I was like, ok I want to be a DJ, this is what I want to do. I got a friend to help me get a loan for my decks when I was 18 and started mixing 24/7 to learn what you had to do. I started playing a little locally but once into the music it wasn’t long before you were wanting to try your hand at making it and getting into a studio. I hooked up with a friend who was also DJing and looking for studio time and we decided to save up and get our own, after a few years of saving I then went and got a big loan from the bank and then we went on a studio shopping spree.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I gave up a good career in chefing and went to work at a greasy spoon café so I could have more time for the studio.[/quote]Wow, got a loan and everything?
Yeah, it took years to pay off.
That’s definitely a conscious decision then!
Yeah. It was a conscious choice, I used to have a goal list on my wall sort of thing, like this would be a perfect day, and it had DJing, traveling the world. I planned to get into music, and I mean back then it wasn’t like get a laptop, download a few programs.
You had to get equipment.
Right. Hence the big loans and saving up. You went into it with the mindset of this is what I want to do. At that point in my life it was my desire and my dream to make music my career. I gave up a good career in chefing and went to work at a greasy spoon café so I could have more time for the studio. After a few years that’s sort of where it took off. I started to get tracks signed as Vital Elements which lead to me meeting Tobie and forming Serial Killaz. It was only a few years later after forming Serial Killaz enabled it to become full-time. Once that took off and the success of it, we were getting better offers for the DJing than either of us were individually doing our own things and it made sense to push it more.
All the more reason to partner up.
Exactly, exactly. So it was sort of an organic sort of flow from the records basically.
Like perpetual motion.
Yeah, basically. The more tracks we made the more bookings came in, and the more we had the opportunity to come full time.
I actually want to chat about opportunity. One thing that I’ve learned from chatting with artists is that in life you have to be able to recognize opportunities as they come to you. Do you have any advice in regards to that?
I do. I’d say yes, recognize opportunities, take them when they come, but at the same time I’d also say work on having the mindset that opportunity is everywhere at all times.
On the other side of it how do you recognize an opportunity that’s maybe not an opportunity, that’s more of a dud?
Well, I don’t think anyone does do they? [Laughs] I’d say you use your judgment. The music game is a business and can be very shark-like in places. Use your judgment. Use your ability to look at something and see if it’s good. What we’ve always done is to just do our own thing. You must create a lot of the opportunity by the work that you do. I kind of like that mindset. You can create the opportunity.
I like what you said about recognizing it everywhere.
That in itself is something that you’re outputting in your thought patterns … Thoughts that then basically become reality. If you have a mindset of thinking opportunity only comes every now and again, then it’s going to come along every now and again. If you have the mindset that opportunity is everywhere at all turns, then at any point you can create opportunity and find opportunity. I’ve always had that sort of view, a slightly more positive angle to my outlook. If anything I’d say that’s probably one of the strongest things that you need if you’re going to try and make it in an industry that’s hard to get recognized. You must have the belief in yourself and the vision, and positive determination to be proactive and make it happen.
It seems very strange to me that a man with such a positive outlook would come up with the name Serial Killaz. How did you guys come up with that?
It actually means every track’s a killer. There’s a massive reggae dance hall Killing Culture so it’s a play on words of that. It’s also a memorable phrase.
It seems like dnb has some of the most ominous names around. Why do you think that is?
I would say it’s just the modern world we’re in. People are always looking to stand out and be shocking or memorable. With drum and bass a lot of it is quite heavy hard music, so you’re going to have that angle to it as it were. It’s not like that name Love and Light who I’m playing with next week, Love and Light and Serial Killaz. [Laughs].
Quite the billing! [Laughs]
I know you’ve worked with Congo Natty a lot. Can you share a story or something about him? He’s someone I would love to know more about.
He’s quite a spiritual man, quite a deep man, quite a researched man. He’s someone who for me has a great history of being almost one of the godfathers and creators of the Jungle sound. With Congo he’s continued to do that style and sound, and push it. There’s a message with his music as well. For me, he’s one of the pioneers of this music.
How did you first meet him?
Tobie was working as A&R and label management at Nu-Urban. Congo Natty was one of the labels on his books, so that’s how we had the opportunity to do the remixes. Tobie working there was sort of my link, and then the other guy working there was a guy called Phil Wells, he used to run it, and he was managing and helping out with doing things for Rebel. Phil was singing our praises saying these guys should come down, you should meet, see if you can do some more work, because of the success of the first remixes. So we went down and met him at his house in Brighton in maybe 2006 or 07 I think, he gave us a DAT tape full of most of the old acapellas and samples. It was a license to remix pretty much what we wanted from the back catalog.
If you want a little story or something interesting, that first time when I met Rebel, one of the things he said to me when I wrote down my name and number was ‘Graham’ he looked at the writing of my name then said, ‘Abraham, you’ve been sent to me,’ as he looked at me straight in the eyes.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]…there’s a mystical element to working with Congo Natty and that label. [/quote] Did you get shivers up your spine when he said that?
At that time no, I didn’t. As years have gone on and I’ve become much more spiritual, much more aware there’s a mystical element to working with Congo Natty and that label. I really like a lot of people in the Congo Family. They’re pushing stuff with a message. It’s not always played on the radio, but it’s stuff that’s truthful and is a reflection of the times.
Who are your favorite producers at the moment?
Myself and Tobie are both hugely sort of open to what Major Lazer does. We’re not always into every aspect, but it’s very forward thinking and always surprising. That’s the sort of thing that we’re always looking for as producers. Diplo has some really different things and some really innovative things. I can’t really speak for Tobie, he would be here for about an hour telling you all the music he’s into, numerous bands covering many styles, he’s a big fan of watching live bands. For me, I have to mention Chronixx is someone who I’ve been listening to a lot, really loving his vibes. On the dnb front I always like to listen to Noisia for hearing boundaries being pushed and we’re both quite into what Chase & Status do. I’m also really into a lot of the UK artists we’re are lucky enough to have worked with and remix.
That’s really lucky! Well not lucky, because luck doesn’t really exist. I mean, there’s an element of that, but for the most part people get where they are from working hard.
Luck is preparation meets opportunity.
Yeah, totally. I love that.
So is 2014 going to be a big year for Serial Killaz?
Well, I’m not a psychic, but I work on my abilities.
I guess I should say is preparation going to meet hard work in 2014?
Yes, it always does. I’d say that we’re always on it, working towards doing stuff. We’re very busy on the DJ circles as it were, so we can’t complain there. But there is plenty more remixes and tracks coming also.
Do you guys get enough time to spend time together?
Not as much as we’d like. We live a good distance a ways from each other now. I’ve moved out to the coast, but I think with the Internet and different ways of connecting that’s how we like to do things. As well as that, the way we work, you don’t always need to be together.
Do you have any plans for releases?
Yes. Now, with 2014 the other thing I’d like to mention is we’re planning to work with a few more artists, sort of helping them through. We’re launching a digital label. It’s to help bring through artists that we’re liking what they’re doing. There’s a few things with that coming that we’re just finalizing. We’ve also just had a couple of releases out on vinyl towards the end of last year, one of them a new guy. The track was called Gunshots from a guy called Upgrade. He’s a young guy who we like working with. He’s got some great music. He’s got a younger brother making some great music as well. They’re both very young and quite talented so we’re looking forward to what will come from them. On the other side of that release is an Annix remix of Killa Klash. We released In Your Eyes/Lovely Woman around the same time and we’ve also got a lot of tracks and remixes floating on dub which will see the light of day in 2014.
To conclude, I just want to end off with a more personal tip. What’s the most important piece of life advice you’ve ever seen or coined yourself from your own experience?
Going back to the positivity, and just sort of keeping focused, visualizing things. Not letting negative thoughts and influence from around fault anything that you want to do, but at the same time having a realization — you don’t want to think you’re the best when you’re not … an element of keeping your feet on your ground with it. I would say that having the right outlook, the mind is where everything is. That’s where it lies for me. I know many talented people in many sects, and they’re not necessarily the best or the most successful, and that’s because there’s a lot more that goes with it. I would say you have to concentrate on owning your own mind, and bringing forth what you want to see, which can be quite hard in these days of distraction.
Any last words?
Just would like to say thank you to everyone that’s supported our music or helped us on the way.
Many thanks to Graham of Serial Killaz for your time!!