The Fanatix shouldn’t need an introduction, but just in case you’ve been sleeping under a meteor sized rock for the last ten years, here is a quick summary. Rising to prominence throughout the mid-2010s, the Fanatix have established themselves as an integral members of the world of UK production. Making genre-bending bangers ranging from afrobeats to dancehall, drill to rap, and even a garage cut on Chip’s recent album, there is a certain essence to beats by The Fanatix which ensures their timeless appeal to rappers and listeners alike.
Stylo G talked about this recently on Twitter, writing how they were the only producers who if they wanted him at a session he would drop anything just to make it. High praise, but a quick look at their catalogue reinforces this point immediately; having produced countless bangers for the likes of Popcaan, Chip, and many others, there is no denying that The Fanatix have a certain intangible flair for creating high-quality hits.
We sat down with Dro and C Dot, two out of three of the illustrious group, to get the inside scoop on their journey.
I’ve talked to a few producers since Covid started and from what I can tell, there’s a bit of difference in opinion about how the pandemic has affected production. Some say it’s given them the necessary time to take a step back and focus on the music, whereas others say the weirdness of the whole situation has been off-putting. How has Covid been for you personally, as well as on a music front?
Dro: “It’s been quite an uncertain time, but I think certain aspects of the music industry have carried on a bit. In the first lockdown, we did competitions, because everything was on pause. We threw a beat out there and let everyone do a verse and send it in, and it ended up being judged by us and Ras Kwame, and he played the winners on 1Xtra. We did little things like that to keep us busy, and it got a really good response.”
In terms of production specifically, have you found it to be a time to be experimental, or have you been feeling not as inspired in what feels like a paused world?
C Dot: “Its been a bit of both really. Like you said, we’ve been able to enjoy taking a bit more time and exploring new sounds, but there’s a flip side to it. We’re not working with artists in the studio as much, which is an experiment in itself. In the studio you can experiment a lot more with the artist, so to not have that experience as much has been challenging. So yeah, I’d say a bit of both.”
Cool. Taking it right back, what was the initial spark that drew you into the world of producing? Was it a particular genre you were in love with, or a love of making music? Take me back to that time and place when you first started to dip your toes into music?
Dro: “I think our stories are probably slightly different. For me, back in the day I used to be an artist, and I just couldn’t get a hold of beats. It was really hard to just get good instrumentals. I started off with a program called Ejay Hip Hop, which was just a load of loops which you could put beat patterns to, but everything was premade. That allowed me to understand the concepts of the different layers of a beat, and from there I went to college and studied contemporary foundation music, which was where I first learnt how to use Cubase.
“Then I met C, and made the migration over to Logic. Initially, it was just to fill the need for good music to work with. Then when we wanted to approach other people for features and for exposure, people would say “I don’t really know you like that to make a song together, but where did you get your beats from?”. That was a recurring thing I kept hearing, so I decided to make the transition into just being a producer.”
C Dot: “For me, I’ve always been into playing the piano. Even though I never got proper piano lessons like that, I was always messing around trying stuff out and trying different instruments on the Yamaha keyboard. From there, I just got onto Djing because of my uncle, he was really into sound systems playing stuff like Reggae and Dancehall, all that kinda stuff. I then moved back over into producing because I always loved the creative process of making music. Carried on doing that for a while, working on the craft.
“I started engineering in studios, gaining that skill, making that into a job. Retail and things like that were never for me, so I wanted to find a different way to make myself money. I was using Youtube tutorials and getting tips from people and what not. I was then introduced to Dro as someone to mix a project he was working on, and that’s how we came together. Eventually we started putting ideas together and decided we should put together a production team. That was how the Fanatix was formed.”
Was there a particular sound which you would directly associate with yourselves at this time?
Dro: “I think it was just mainly the types of music we were influenced by. Growing up, I was a huge Missy Elliot, The Neptunes, Dr Dre, Busta fan; those were my types of influences. I found that their music was always high impact, there was always something about it that was different from everything else out there. They didn’t conform to what was around them, they just made bangers that were such bangers it didn’t matter that it didn’t really fit into what was going on. So we were just trying to make high impact music like, really and truly.”
Talk me through the process from when you initially started producing to now being ready to release an album under your name and market yourself more as ‘artists’ as opposed to just being known as producers.
Dro: “To be honest, it’s been quite a gruelling process. It’s very hard for producers to stand out, especially today when music is consumed so quickly, and there are no real physical copies where you open it up, take out the sleeve and find out who produced what. It’s almost like it’s released and then people move on.
“One of the main things that got us noticed was putting our tag on beats. I reckon there are loads of producers out there who we’re all fans of who we don’t even know we’re fans of, because we didn’t know they produced X, Y and Z, because there was no way to identify that. With our sound being so diverse, if we didn’t do that, I don’t think people would have connected the dots, so I think that definitely helped us to cut through and get attention.
“Also, throughout our journey it’s been very rare that we approach people. It’s always been more of a word of mouth kind of thing, where people hear songs out there and then approach us and then we start working. There wasn’t any clear route to where we are now, but it was definitely helpful for people to have something to identify our music with.”
Producer tags are a really interesting topic in the music industry at the moment I think. I personally agree with you that they’re really useful for the producers to get their name out there, but some musical purists argue that it’s not the role of the producer to take credit and that they should stay completely behind the scenes. What do you guys think about this type of argument?
Dro: “(Laughing) Yeah, I think at the end of the day there’s already so much emphasis on the artist. To a statement like that, I would say that the role of the producer is downplayed too much. There is a lot going on in the studio that the public and the listeners will never be aware of. The producers are there, telling the artist, “no you can’t do that line, you need to do this with more energy on this part, etc”. A lot of the time, good producers are crucial in steering what comes out, so then to be told that “you sit in the background, no one cares who you are” isn’t fair; the credit needs to be equal.”
This conversation reminds me of a video I saw on the youtube channel “Cord” recently, where they had a producer roundtable with the likes of Chris Rich and Nyge talking about the distinction between a producer and a beatmaker. A beatmaker is to create sounds, whereas a producer creates sounds but also directs and steers the direction of the track itself. Would you agree with this distinction?
Dro: “Definitely. Even when an artist has laid their verse and gone home, and they want a copy, you gotta sit there and make sure it sounds A1 before sending it over. Obviously, it’s in your interest for the song to sound good, because you might not get the placement if they think it sounds sub-standard. You gotta do a load of extra work after they leave. Then you have people saying that producers should not try and get out of their role! In America, I think producers are celebrated a lot more, people like DJ Mustard for example. England is changing though, and there are a lot more producers standing up for themselves and wanting more.”
I completely agree. You look at America and you got someone like Metro Boomin, who’s tag is everywhere, and as a result is able to have a proper live career as a DJ. I’ve seen him DJ, and technically he’s not very good, but because he’s got his name out there so much with his tag, he’s opened so many doors.
Dro: “I think it’s only fair that producers can have a live career as well. Whether they’re good at djing or not, like some artists aren’t good at performing either but they’re able to make a great living off shows.”
On this topic, is djing and touring as a live act something which you two personally want to explore?
Dro: “Absolutely. I think a set of Fanatix music, fused with other sounds, would be so lit.”
I want to talk now more about your catalogue in general really. One of my favourite songs which you have produced is “Golden Brown” from the Insomnia tape. When I heard that beat, and the way Skepta was singing on it, it really felt like a massive moment where it was clear you guys were trying to push the boat.
Obviously, you played an integral role in the song as the producers, so could you give me some background as to how it came out about?
Dro: “Yeah, I guess we just get into different moods sometimes. Certain times we just want to make some epic shit, and that was one of those days. We were in a particularly epic mood that day. We’re gonna have to do a breakdown for that beat, cause there’s no samples in that beat; even the vocals in the background are sampled from ourselves and pitched up, so that was a special piece of music to us.
“To me, when we made it I thought it had to go to someone who could match how epic it was, like I had Rick Ross in mind. Chip then reached out and said he was doing a tape with him, Skepta, and Adz, it was top secret, and that he wanted us to send him some stuff. I thought it sounded crazy, but I wasn’t sure if we should send the beat, as it was just so epic. Ended up sending it, and Chip hit me like “wait until you hear what Skep’s done on this chorus…”. So we weren’t in the studio at the time, but we went and checked them the next day, and Chip was writing his verse. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I heard Skepta singing, I just completely didn’t expect it. There are some times when you give an artist a beat, and you don’t feel like they’ve taken the beat to its full potential, but that one they definitely did.”
Obviously you have a very esteemed catalogue with a very diverse range of artists, but would you say there is one artist who stands out when you think of your favourite artist to collaborate with?
C Dot: “I would say Chip. We’ve worked with him for a long time and made some great music together, who do you think?”
Chip definitely makes sense, like you said you’ve done great music with him. How about someone like Popcaan? He’s another guy who you’ve worked with for a long time.
C Dot: “Yeah, we’ve made some amazing music with Popcaan. It’s mainly been online or through someone else, but it’s no less. Tracks always come out really quick with him.”
Dro: “We’ve got quite a good relationship with Stylo as well.”
Of course, and I’m glad you brought him up actually. I saw in his DJ Dubl interview he had a lot of high praise for you guys, talking about how you have a certain ability to create great songs, and how if you ever wanted him to a studio session he would always be right there, which says a lot. How important has it been for you to develop and build such strong relationships with the artists you work with?
Dro: “It’s vital to have good connections. Creating music, you’re in a studio with people for sometimes 8/9 hours. It really comes from being ok in each other’s presence and not finding each other annoying. It’s a journey that you actually have to go through together in the studio, you have to bounce off each other and work together. The best sessions we have are definitely with people we get on with.”
I guess trust must be so important, not just to try things but also to be honest if something isn’t working.
Dro: “Absolutely. Such an important skill in being a producer is having good diplomacy, being able to tell someone that you don’t like something without offending them.”
I bet you’ve had to do that a lot!
Dro: “You know what it is, as producers when you’re working on something I’m always thinking what kinda flows and melodies would sound sick on the beat. So if someone comes in and completely destroys that vision, unless they’ve done it in an amazing way that surprises you, sometimes you have to rein it in a bit and say “I don’t think that concept works on this beat” for instance. A lot of work, and how the song ends up is down to the producer.”
What is your thought process when you sit down to make a beat? Do you just think I’m gonna see what happens and let it flow out of you or do you go into making beats with a particular goal in mind?
Dro: “Sometimes I go into it with an idea, but then other times we’re just going through new plugins and hear a sound and want to experiment with it straight away. It can be really random, but we try not to really think too much about what other people are gonna think. It has to sound sick to us to first, and then other people will like it.”
Do you think your best beats have come from those random moments of inspiration striking you?
Dro: “Yeah definitely. When you have too much of a brief, sometimes it can just slow down a creative process. Like if we’re working with an artist and the label says “Yeh we need a hit!”, that’s just a dead thing to hear. It’s like I said, you have to go through the process in the studio, and even then it can be hit and miss. It’s just about energies, and everyone’s energies lining up. There’s no way you can force, or even plan that to happen.”
We’ve already talked about Chip, so I want to get into Snakes and Ladders, his most recent full-length release, which I believe you produced five tracks for. I’ve got my favourites, which we will get into, but what are your favourites on the project?
Dro: “Ahhh I don’t know man. Chip sessions are lit, because he just dances around everywhere. In general, if we do a session with Chip, we do three songs in a session. He is an alien. He doesn’t write things down…there are very few people I have seen do what he does, continuously coming up with new concepts and things to say.”
C Dot: “He really doesn’t run out of bars!”
Dro: “Imagine, the last session we did with him we had already done two songs, and we were done. We were dying, it was going up to 5 in the morning, we were exhausted. By accident, I played him another beat, and he heard it, and he just goes “Please please please bruv let me record, I got an idea!”. I don’t want to do it, like I’m already packing up, but he just promises me he only needs ten minutes so I’m like cool. He records a verse and chorus, on the spot, which he hadn’t written before, in ten minutes.”
I want to talk about some of your releases in the UK rap world which I think are particularly slept on. “Next Ting” with Clue and Skeamer is a gym anthem for me, I don’t know if there has ever been a more hype song made. I’m interested in it from a production standpoint though, because it was released back in 2017 and combines grime and drill influences to create a beat that doesn’t really fit into either genre. What was the process behind making that beat?
C Dot: “You know what it was, it was just in the days of us first making drill, so we were trying to figure out how we would make drill, drawing on our own unique influences. I guess that’s what came out of it!”
Dro: “It was an accident basically! (Laughing) Nah, not an accident, we thought it sounded sick, but it was completely experimental. We weren’t going into it trying to bend genres. Whether we make a dancehall beat, a rap beat, an afro beat, we’re always trying to make our interpretation of that, as opposed to just trying to copy or go with the formula. We see what elements are core, and then we add our own elements.”
Around the time “Next Ting” was released, so was “High Specs” with Chip and Skrapz; yet another beat of yours which I think doesn’t get the flowers it deserves. Can we expect more beats in this vein, that gritty yet melodic approach, in the future? With the resurgence of the UK rap scene over the last couple of years I think the audience is there.
Dro: Absolutely. When we’re in sessions, it’s kinda like we just have to go down the tangent of what the artist wants. Back then, that sound was much more prominent, and it was what they wanted so we made more of those beats. But like you said, its coming back, and we’ve got the ammo in the clip. Bro we’ve got so many beats! But it’s about finding the right song for them.
Fast forward to now then, and you’ve released the visuals for your debut single, “These Streets”, with Millionz and Popcaan. I want to talk about the song first; first of all where did that sample come from?
Dro: “We’re not telling you! (Laughing) Nah, nah.”
C Dot: “It’s actually a reggae track from Tanya Stephens, it goes way back. It’s one of them songs which was always playing in my home, and I loved it. I thought, “you know what, that could work with a beat”, and the lyric itself, how it could tie into something you would hear on a drill beat, and how the artist could write to that, it just made sense.”
What was it like recording that video in Tivoli Gardens in Kingston with Millionz and Pocaan? It looked like it was good vibes.
Dro: “It was, it was insane. We were in a part of Jamaica, in Kingston, which is quite a notorious area, not the type of place you can just walk through. Knowing the reputation of the area, but also experiencing the great vibes on the day was unbelievable. It was a really good experience.”
Looking to the future, are there any particular artists you want to work with?
Dro: “Yeah absolutely, there are a few artists, especially in the dancehall scene. We really want to work with Skillibeng. I think a Fanatix and Skillibeng collaboration would be ridiculous. Just as a fan, from an enjoying music perspective, I would love to see what he would do on some of the beats we would select for him. But everything in due time. For our project, we have some great names lined up, but the nature of the game is sometimes you speak on something prematurely and it doesn’t happen, so I won’t say anything, but we’re very excited.”
As producers, what do you think, sonically, of the current production scene in the UK? We’re seeing lots of young producers come into the game and bring with them some really interesting sounds.
C Dot: “To me, it’s like rah, there’s just a barrage of different producers now, it’s crazy.”
Dro: “I feel like our scene has come a long way. As a kid, I used to go to America a lot, and I was heavily influenced by what was going on over there. When I used to listen to UK music, maybe ten years ago, there were very few things I heard that immediately inspired me. But now, like, it’s just brilliant. I hear things all the time, and just think “who the hell did that?”. It’s a healthy scene now.”
How different is the scene now to when you were first coming up? Has the transformation been as dramatic as some say?
Dro: “Definitely, there’s kids coming up now with one single, and that one single can buy their mum a house. That wasn’t really happening in 2013, and if it did, it would have been a more watered-down sound. Right now you can do whatever you feel like, and if it is put out the right way it will do well. The scene is becoming more and more uncompromised.”
Being relatively older producers, do you feel a need to be always on top of the new music coming out so that you can keep up with that “barrage of different producers” coming out with fresh stuff all the time?
C Dot: “Not really, I think we have the sound anyways, so it’s not so much of a fresh thing, or that the sound is just for now, so it doesn’t feel like such an issue.”
Dro: “I think what made us make headway was that same ethos of not doing what others do, making something that people hear and go rah. That’s still what we’re trying to do, even with “These Streets”, at the time when we first done it, there weren’t really any international drill linkups going on, especially with Jamaican artists.
“Plus we’ve taken an old Jamaican sample. We are still trying to keep our heritage and culture alive in our music, and through our whole catalogue, there has always been an underlying dancehall tone there. We’re always trying to be the pioneers rather than follow what other people do.”
That’s an interesting point, because it highlights how your primary influences aren’t situated within the UK rap scene or the wider scene in general, but it is for a lot of these young producers.
Dro: “Yeah exactly, it’s not like our first influence was Drum and Bass or something like that. We can do those sounds like we did our first garage beat for “Grown Flex” with Chip and Bugzy, we’ve experienced that sound through raving and by the fact that we are English.
“But because it’s such a multicultural society anyways, Steel Banglez and Sevaqk for example bring their cultures into their music, the African producers over here bring that heritage too. So I think a lot of the time, your culture comes through in your music.”
More and more we are seeing producers do their own projects. How far in the pipeline is that goal? When can we expect a project?
Dro: “Well “These Streets” is the first single for it, so let’s just say its imminent. Sooner than you think.”
Nice and vague, love it. This year?
Dro: “Yeah, I think so.”
Keep it locked on GRM Daily for any further developments with the Fanatix and the scene in general. Be sure to check out our last instalment of The Architects right here.