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Dirty Freud: ‘The unruly Prince of Electronica’

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“You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but you can be someone’s shot of whisky.” 

That was the golden advice once given to Dirty Freud : the live performer and producer, whose explosive blend of 2step UKG, electronica, dub, techno and bassline is as intoxicating as a bottle of hard liquor. 

Freud started his career as a scriptwriter and poet, and now lectures Music Production and DJ techniques. Since moving from London to Sheffield, Freud’s worked with prestigious labels and platforms like Ninja Tune, Rough Trade, BBC Radio 6 and 1xtra to name a few. 

Staying true to his majestic title “the unruly prince of electronica, the bastard son of electro bass music”: his latest single ‘Ninja Man’ (self-released on Keep it Dirty) is a hypnotic concoction of Afro Beat, tribal Techno and modular synths.

To celebrate this red hot release, we caught up to learn more about his journey through sound… from Bassline Garage raves in Sheffield, through to strategic moves within the industry.

Hey Dirty Freud! I read online that you were brought up listening to classical music like Chopin, as well as other styles including rock, folk and reggae. When was that golden moment when you got into UK bass?

I was doing loads of different stuff! But especially making beats for people. UK hip hop, all that carry on. I always found it easy, that’s probably why I stuck at it. I was going to all these battle nights with different MCs in Brixton at the time. That was the world to me at that point. I was like “Ah, these guys are so clever. He’s just said this – ooh he’s just said that! What’s coming now!” It was so incredible. I still remember Kano and Wiley going at it, doing it off the cuff. And I thought “yeah, this could be me”

It wasn’t until my cousin sent me this CD in the post. Hahaha, that sounds so old school now! It was Dizzee Rascal rapping on this beat I’d never heard before. I was in school, I remember shoving it on, being like “this is some madness”. Turns out it was some live thing when he’d come up to Niche in Sheffield and he’d spat over Bassline. I was like, “I’ve gotta come!”

Captured by @dannyallison_illustration and @bentallon

Do you mean Niche as in Sheffield’s legendary Bassline Garage nightclub!? It’s before my time but I’ve heard so many great things! Did you go?

Yeah! I was too young but my cousin was older, he always got me in. It was madness in London and that, but this was different gravy. A different madness, it was definitely lawless haha. Wow.

So Dizzee Rascal over Bassline Garage was a crossover moment for you then?

Yeah it kind of got me! I don’t think I realised how big a moment that was. I was like “yeah yeah this is cool”, discarded it and handed it to mates. If I’d thought about it now, I’d have taken better care of it. 

That was a thing for me, watching people do crossovers and stuff like that. With my sound, it’s got a bunch of different influences and that’s what’s helped me carry on. There’ve been times when people said you’ve been so much bigger if you did House. But that’s never been me.

Speaking of your music, tell me about your new track Ninjaman… it’s a banger!! What was the inspo?

My stuff has definitely been growing! I’ve been getting mentored by Jon More [founder of Ninja Tune] and Mr Scruff, they’ve helped me add a lot more textures to my work. This was pretty much the first tune where I was trying to put all my influences on it. There’s a bit of Modular synth going on at the beginning, a bit of Afro-Beat as well, definitely got that Techno structure in places. It’s not as long as a techno tune though haha. 

Plus, I was watching a lot of martial art films. I was watching one on Channel 5 and for some reason, the TV sped up and slowed back down, and I imagined if it had some bad soundtrack that went with it. Well, that was Ninjaman!

One of the things you do is film scores, right? So that’s no surprise that movies inspire your music!

Definitely, I probably wouldn’t have got to do film scores if I’d have stayed in London. It wasn’t really happening for me there, I’m not gonna lie! I moved to Sheffield and 2-3 years later I ended up being in Mixmag, playing in Dogstar, Fabric and I was like, OK cool this is happening. But clearly I had to move for people to care!

Sheffield is definitely less saturated than London! Is that where you got in with Ninja Tune?

I was in Manchester, and they were doing these open sessions. I finally got a grip of myself and I had three tunes ready. So I went in, sat down and played the first one to Jon More. His face was deadpan. I was like, “this is gonna be fun”. Played the next and the third one. He was like, “Cool. Nice one”. I was like “fuck’s sake” ahaha. 

But later that day I got an email from Jon being like “I loved those tunes, are you still in Manchester? I’d love to sit down”. So we met in this pub and I showed him some more tunes and we just chatted for ages. Then he asked if I wanted to come to their office in London, and they gave me a developmental deal, which means you can be released with whoever!

Captured by @dannyallison_illustration and @bentallon

Congratulations! So why did you start your own record label – Keep it Dirty?

I got this advice from Jon, who was saying don’t let anyone say no to you. If you’ve got tracks you think are dope, just put them out yourself. Ninja Tune has got so much competition on their label – you’ve got Bonobo, Mr Scruff, Roots Manuva, Bicep… it’s always gonna be competitive.

I’ve got a lot of friends who are wickedly talented. We were always talking for years – drunkenly – saying we’d do a label one day. It was a drunken talk but now I’ve set it up with my mate Jordan who goes under the name of Neuro Bliss, he’s a ridiculous dubstep artist!

Last question: do you have any advice for the next generation of artists looking to breakthrough?

Don’t follow genres. Don’t get in this industry to get mad famous, just be true to yourself and true to your sound. And know that this is what you wanna do. It may take longer, but you’re gonna get there if your sound is original enough. It’s so easy just to get someone’s gratification. Someone telling you yes. Ninja Tune said no to me 23 times!

23 and counting? Ahahah!

Yeah, they said no loads, but I kept on! Sometimes it’s not even your music. What happened to me was that the A&R wasn’t it to it. A different A&R guy came in and he liked it. People take it too personally. You can’t take things personally or it’s not gonna work! 

Click here to buy/stream Ninjaman and follow Dirty Freud on Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Facebook, Spotify and Instagram.

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