I’d be a liar if I told you I wasn’t fucking stoked about this interview. Sometimes in life, you get the chance to talk to someone you really rate as an artist and it can be difficult to be objective when, in reality, you’re a massive fan.
That aside, I plan to try and keep it as real as possible and get on with the task in hand, so, without further delay, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the legendary “truth seeker” himself … MC Fokus.
GCB … Firstly, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Secondly, I would like to personally congratulate you, as I hear on the grapevine that you’re about to be granted lifetime guest list to the most exclusive club in the world … Fatherhood … I wish you and family all the best for the future fella.
Pleasantries well and truly dealt with, lets get down to business.
Last year, or possibly the year before (if memory serves me correctly) you we’re nominated for “best newcomer MC” at the DnB Awards. Now its always nice to be nominated for any accolade and I think its awesome that people in the mainstream are finally noticing your talent and giving you the credit you deserve … But … Wasn’t it a bit odd being nominated for “best newcomer MC” when you’ve been killing it for 15 years or so ? … Could you tell me a bit about how you felt when you heard the news about the nomination ?
FOKUS …Wow, what an intro! Thanks for the kind words, truly appreciated. Yep, going to become a Dad any day now, exciting times. I’m pretty well versed in the art of sleep deprivation already, should be a doddle!
Regarding the DNBA Awards, it was back in 2012 when I was shortlisted for ‘Best Newcomer MC’. In all honesty, I didn’t read too much into it. It was cool to be in the runnings for an award, but it’s not really what I’m all about. I went to the awards ceremony and it wasn’t my cup of tea. Way too much schmoozing for my liking! The whole ‘Newcomer’ tag is understandable, I’ve never really moved in those mainstream circles, so people hear me on a track or the odd DNBTV set and think I’m brand new on the scene. Look at the nominations from the last few years, Codebreaker, Strategy etc. These guys are vets as far as I’m concerned. Just goes to show how hard it is to get recognised by the masses I guess.
GCB … Ok, next up. You spit some of the most truthful bars in DnB and you’re also quite technical when it comes to structure and delivery. You’ve made no secret of the fact (on twitter) that sometimes, you find the writing process difficult. Can you give us a bit of info on how you write, setting, conditions, concepts etc … And could you tell us why you find it a struggle sometimes ?
FOKUS …Truth is … I find writing quite challenging. I love performing to a crowd, I love being in the rhyming zone when it’s almost an effortless flow of energy, but actually WRITING, that’s not my strong point. By my nature, I’m too critical. I over analyse the words on the page. My OCD tendencies don’t allow me to scribble ideas down, I have to write neat, perfect sentences. I hate crossing out!! This makes it hard to really get creative. I’m getting better though, but it involves a lot of effort and motivation, I’ve been using spider diagrams to brainstorm ideas, then pick the best bits out and build a few verses. I spend hours on it. I’m not a natural writer. My best lyrics come when I’m not trying, in the gym, driving to work. I have to remember the ideas until I can grab my phone or a pen. I’ve recently turned my loft into a recording space, so I generally go up there, put a track on loop on Cubase and start spitting. If I get a few rhymes that stick I’ll write them down and try to build from there. I’m always listening to other MC’s and thinking ‘How did they come up with that lyric, wow!’ I think if I surrounded myself with other creative people more often, I would probably write a lot more. I’ve always dreamt of being in a Wu-Tang style crew where everyone vibes off each other!! That’s why I rate the Manchester/Estate lot so much , they all work together. Being alone in a room with a paper & pen doesn’t excite me.
GCB … Can you name 3 MCs in the “darker/deeper” end of the DnB spectrum that inspire you and can you tell us a bit about why you rate them ?
FOKUS …Without a doubt, I would have to mention SP:MC. Hearing him for the first time had a huge impact on my approach to DnB. While he wasn’t the first to come with that slowed-down hosting style, he certainly laid down the blue print for a whole generation of other MCs. Check the clarity and power in his projection and the effortless delivery, always on point. I’ve had a lot of people over the years say that I’m an SP copy cat. I’ve spoken to SP directly about it. I’ve never denied that my style and voice is similar, but everyone is inspired by someone or something. Inspiration doesn’t equal imitation. People naturally compare you to someone else that they already know.
Stapleton is also a big inspiration. He helped me get involved with Renegade Hardware and has always been a source of support and positivity. He’s not afraid to be himself and do his own thing, and I really respect that. In my eyes he is a true artist rather than an MC.
Finally, I would say DRS. The man’s work rate is truly inspiring. He always seems to be on the grind, churning out quality music across the spectrum. From the days of Good Looking & Broke n English, through to everything he’s doing with the rest of the Manchester squad, it’s always dope. I don’t know him personally, but he strikes me as someone who knows the value of hard work & effort and a positive mentality. All attributes of an inspirational character.
GCB … When I first saw you perform (over a decade ago, yeah we’re both cranky old bastards lol) you were doing a lot of gigs/bookings alongside MC Phantom. Over the last decade you’ve both had a decent amount of individual success in your respective areas of DnB. Why did you guys part ways and do you think you’ll ever team up again in the future ?
FOKUS … So we must be from the same area then? Myself & Phantom go way back. We played on the same pirates back in the day, and his brother Carl is part of DBR UK, who I’ve rolled with for years. I’ve got loads of respect for Phantom, he’s always been able to smack it over any type of DnB. Got some great memories of us going back to back over some murky beats. I don’t know if we’ll ever team up again, we seem to move in different circles these days, but I’d certainly be up for linking. Wayne is a pro and he’s probably got the loudest voice in DnB!
GCB … You’ve done a fair few features on tracks for several high profile artists and released on some very respectable labels. Out of these tracks, what’s your personal favourite and why ?
FOKUS … Has to be the ‘Horsementality’ track, which featured on Loxy & Ink’s album of the same name. Ink called me up and said he had a concept in mind. He wanted me to capture the Horseman vibe and summarise what the whole collective is all about. As a long-time Hardware/Horseman fan this was a real honour. DBR UK made it easy by serving up a dirty beat. I remember Ink playing it at Hardware in London, I went and stood in the middle of the dance floor. A very proud moment.
GCB … Do you think you are paid what you’re worth for you craft, bookings wise ?
FOKUS …Yes and no. I would never complain about what I earn. It’s a privilege to get paid to MC. Especially when promoters fly you out to different countries and take you out for dinner and show you great hospitality. However, like you touched on in your last blog, the gap between what I earn and what the DJ I’m playing with earns is often quite big. Especially when I sometimes play for three times as long. I think promoters definitely get their money’s worth when they book me! But I still miss out on gigs because the promoter books an MC who will play for half of what I charge.
GCB … Its not secret that you’re a massive “real ale” advocate. If you had to pick 1 as your last ever pint, which one would it be and why ?
FOKUS … Oakham Ales ‘Citra’. Why? … Just try it. Freshness in a glass.
GCB … What are you views on pilled up sweaty fuck boys approaching you and tying to spit bars in your ear whilst you’re trying to make your way to the stage ?
FOKUS … It’s cool. Let them do their thing. I’ve never done that myself, but I would never dis someone for wanting to be heard. However, interrupting me during a set is a no go. That’s where I draw the line and politeness has its limits.
GCB … You “earned your stripes” the old fashioned way. Do you think the internet has made it easier for new MC’s to earn theirs ?
FOKUS … I think it’s easier for MC’s to share their music and get in contact with people. It’s debatable whether this counts as earning your stripes. Someone might sound amazing on their You Tube clip, but could flop when they’re in a dance in front of 500 people. The internet is a good thing, but I think the sheer volume of music available makes it somewhat more disposable. There are hundreds of internet radio stations about now. You can broadcast from your bedroom. Years ago it was all about the pirates, which were not so easy to get on. Pirate radio was where you proved your worth. When I wanted to get on Renegade Hardware, I spent days putting together a demo CD. I then followed Clayton around The Fridge in Brixton, trying to find a moment to get his attention. I finally cornered him, not sure if he ever listened to the CD though.
GCB … Who is your favourite DJ to work with and why ?
FOKUS … I like working with people that I’m friends with, the connection is evident in the performance. I love MC’ing for Skeptical. Aside from the fact that his selection is excellent, we’re mates and that makes it work so much better. I’ve always been a big fan of Loxy, so working with him is also a privilege.
GCB … Be honest. Are you, or have you ever been a member of CAMRA ?
FOKUS … I’m ashamed to say I’ve still not submitted my membership application. Must do it this year.
GCB … Among the many studio mixes you’ve done over the years, the “deep rising” mix series with Lost Sequence was definitely up there with the best of them (imo). How did that come about and do you have any plans to do something similar in the future ?
FOKUS … I met Lost Sequence out in Switzerland, playing at a night called Dezibel (shout to Don Phillippo – still one of the best promoters in the game). I became good friends with Kenny, and we just kept In touch and worked on the series of mixes. I was all about the techy beats in those days. Spent ages recording the vocals in my bedroom, going in on loads of ad-libs and delays. Got plans to do some studio mixes later in the year for Dispatch, and I reckon me & Loxy will get something sorted as well.
GCB … Lets face it, no one on the planet is getting any younger. What age do you think is the right age for an MC to “call it a day” ? Are we still gonna be seeing you on stage at Hardware in 2030 ?
FOKUS …. Hahaa, if I’m still relevant and at the top of my game in 2030 then yeah! I’d like to think I’ll always be involved with DnB in some shape or form, but I’d hate to be past my sell by date, trying to cling on to something that’s no longer there. By 2030 there will surely be a new breed of MC’s that will put me to shame. The weird thing is, there have hardly been any new MC’s to emerge in the last few years, why is that?
GCB … Probably because guys like you set the bar too high and they can’t keep up lol …
Next up. You have a 9-5 job. How do you find the “back to reality” transition on a Monday morning ?
FOKUS … It can be pretty hard. You spend the weekend travelling around, enjoying the buzz of being on stage and living that lifestyle. Then boom! It’s Monday morning and I’m back in the office after a few hours sleep. People are discussing their weekends and they think it’s crazy that I’ve driven to Bristol and back just to MC for an hour. Last year I flew to Singapore to play on Friday night and I was back at my desk on Monday. That’s 26 hours of flying, my colleagues thought I was crazy! I sometimes feel like I’m living a double life, but I love both parts of it. I enjoy my job though, I couldn’t do DnB full-time.
GCB … Name 3 DnB producers you would like to collab with in the future ?
FOKUS … I feel like I’m already lucky enough to work with most of the people that I’m into. I’m doing stuff with Loxy, Gremlinz, Homemade Weapons, Skeptical. That’s the sound that I love. Right now the future is looking good.
GCB … You mentioned an “8 hour – slow roast pork” dinner on twitter last week. Can I have the recipe ?
FOKUS … Mate it’s really simple. Good quality pork shoulder (got a great local butchers on the high street), marinated overnight with a dry rub of paprika, garlic flakes, onion salt. Give it a quick blast in a really hot oven to seal, then reduce the heat to 120, cover with foil and slow roast for 8 hours. Every now and again I baste with some apple juice. Perfect Sunday food.
GCB … Ok, if I fuck it up, I’ll be on the phone and straight round yours next Sunday lol …
Moving swiftly on. What’s your favourite event you’ve played at in the UK ?
FOKUS … I’d say that one of the most memorable would be the Farr Festival. It’s a local event with a real grass roots feel. Skeptical and I are residents Last year they had us, Spectrasoul, AlixPerez & DBridge all playing in middle of this clearing in the woods. It felt like being in an enchanted forest. We rolled out ‘til 5am, everyone dancing in shorts & t-shirts. Great memories.
GCB … When you collaborate with producers, is it just vocals you provide or do you ever have a hand in the actual production side of things ?
FOKUS … I mainly provide the vocals. I mix some of the vocals myself, it really depends on the producer. With Skeptical, it’s more of a joint effort. He’s on the buttons, but I have a lot of creative input on the track. For other collabs I’ll simply send the files and that’s my bit done.
GCB … What’s happening with the “full specification” podcast series ?
FOKUS … Not a great deal. I had plans to a lot more with the whole concept. More guest mixes and features. But I haven’t found the time or resources to do it properly, and I think right now, it’s not high on the priority list.
GCB … Do you feel you have reached your full potential as artist ?
FOKUS …That’s a definite NO. I often feel like there’s a part of me that’s holding back. I’ve got plans and ideas, but haven’t yet executed them in the way I envisaged. I don’t really see myself as an artist, that sounds too fancy. I’m a guy that spits over beats and likes hyping up crowds. I’d be the first to admit I’m guilty of self-limiting behaviour. The day that I let my creativity override my thoughts, I’ll be unstoppable.
GCB … You’re one of the very few MC’s in DnB who can actually freestyle live. Its clear you enjoy this area of Mc-ing and evidently its something you’re very comfortable with. Do you think more DnB MC’s should incorporate freestyling in a live setting ?
FOKUS … I do enjoy freestyling, and my best performances often come from being in that zone where you don’t need to think. The mood is right and the lyrics just come out. That’s not to say that I’m an amazing freestyler, there’s plenty of guys in the hip hop scene that would piss all over me. It’s more of a feeling. Pre-written lyrics are restrictive, like a DJ that plans out their whole set before they even get to the club. Being spontaneous is exciting, and the crowd can feel it.
Should more DnB MC’s freestlye? Sure, if they can do a good job of it. Freestyle isn’t a licence to chat shit. Respect the art form.
GCB … We’ve touched on the subject that you’ve worked with some decent producers and featured on a number of tracks in recent years. Have you ever been compensated/paid by the labels for your efforts ?
FOKUS … Interesting question. Payments for the tracks I’ve featured on have ranged from zero to £100.00. It’s safe to say that, from my experience, there is very little money in it. It’s all good though. It’s a great way of raising your profile, and nothing beats hearing your tune in a club. I still get a buzz from that.
GCB … Finally, what are your plans for 2014 and where do you see yourself in 2015 ?
FOKUS … This year is all about learning to be a good father and concentrating on my family. That’s priority. On the music side of things, I have a project that I want to get stuck into. Hopefully by 2015 it will be ready to reveal, but I’m taking my time on it. Expect to see some more releases featuring my vocals dropping later this year, I’m really excited about a track I’ve finished with Homemade Weapons called ‘Chrysalis’.
GCB … Its been an absolute pleasure talking to you today fella. I wish you all the best for the future, hopefully next time we can do this face to face over a couple of pints.
FOKUS … Mate I should be thanking you for being so proactive in putting this together, and coming up with some interesting and original questions. A pint sounds good … Just make sure it’s in a pub that serves decent real ale!
GCB … Naturally, can’t have you drinking Fosters now can we lol.
Thanks again fella, as usual, you’ve set a precedent with you words. I truly hope every other artist I interview can answer the questions with the same honesty and humility.
I hope the readers enjoy this interview as much as I have.
Until next time … Peace.