Dropping Knowledge with Dubstep Originator Caspa

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Gary McCann, aka Caspa, is one of the undisputed originators of the dubstep genre, as it is known today. He and a handful of friends, including longtime bredren and former label mate Rusko, are largely responsible for garnering both underground and mainstream recognition for the bass-heavy genre worldwide over the last ten years or so. At the time of this interview, Caspa seems a bit homesick—a self-proclaimed “London-boy at heart,” he's been stationed, like many other European DJs and producers, in Los Angeles for the last three months, striking while the iron is hot and dipping out on weekends to make some clubs shake and some heads bang and collect some of that steady-flowing EDM cashish.

Over a few Red Stripes and some Champagne (a staple at any Caspa gig) we sit down with the owner of Dub Police and Sub Soldiers to figure out how the fuck things went from borrowing money from his grandma to press up some dubs at age 19 to living in a downtown LA high-rise penthouse and doing just about whatever he wants in less than a decade. Hope you enjoy the knowledge dropping that follows.

You’ve been living in LA for the last three-and-a-half months. What’s the experience been like?

Yeah, it’s been good. Party central. Go out every night, when you want to. Been DJing on weekends, writing tunes during the week. Trying not to party every night. Been tough, with the explosion of bass music here.

People seem to go harder out here. People seem to appreciate it more. When you go to smaller towns outside of LA and New York, it goes nuts. LA and NY do too, though. I’ve got to say London is better than anywhere else, though.

So you think LA is a hub for that in the US?

Yes, definitely. For the moment.

Who do you think are the key people?

For dubstep, well, it’s hard not to mention Skrillex, isn’t it? I still think the UK has a huge influence out here, though. It’s more like people from the UK are spending a lot more time out here touring. Rusko lives out here now, you know, he’s been doing it for a while… and I suppose that’s why I’ve come out here too—to kind of be that person. To come out here and push it, make my presence felt, to make some noise, you know.

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What are your favorite and least favorite things about being out here?

Favorite thing is the weather. Least favorite thing is my diet…Chicken wings and pizza, and Chinese food at 4 in the morning 'cause it’s still open.

What are the differences between the dance music scenes here and in the UK?

Well, I always find that America is a little bit slower on the uptake and embracing stuff—a little more careful, you know… but when they do, like everything, they go over the top on it, as it were. Not necessarily in a bad way all the time, they go quite hard at it. I think the UK and Europe is a little more forward thinking and risk taking. People can be like that there, it’s a smaller place, people can be a bit choosier.

How about the party scene—same, different?

People seem to go harder out here. People seem to appreciate it more. When you go to smaller towns outside of LA and New York, it goes nuts. LA and NY do too, though. I’ve got to say London is better than anywhere else, though.

In my mind I’m not the ‘originator,’ what I’ve done is just taken it and put it on a pedestal for everyone else to see.

Are you solely interested in producing dubstep and bass music or other types of music as well?

Well, I’m not even a producer, really. I’m a DJ. I started making tunes to get bookings. I don’t really have interest in producing other people. I write tunes that I’m enjoying, and that’s dubstep at the moment. It’s what I’m involved in. I don’t really produce that much anyways. I’m not one of those producers that like sits in the studio and smokes loads of weed and says like “Lets write a jazz tune. Man, I’m on the vibe.” I’m not a musician. I just write beats and bass.

What do you use to produce?

Logic re:wired with Reason.

I would say you are one of the dubstep originators. Who are some of the others that you say created the genre?

Digital Mystikz, Skream, Benga, Rusko, but there’s even people before that.

Well, I think most people would say the guys you just mentioned, but who do you feel are, really. Who came before you and them?

Well there are loads of people before us. In my mind I’m not the “originator,” what I’ve done is just taken it and put it on a pedestal for everyone else to see. Some of the guys before me were Oris Jay, J Da Flex, Lombardo, Horsepower… even Chase and Status were writing stuff on labels that all these other guys release on before they were making drum and bass. It’s sort of come around full circle. All these other guys are like end of garage, pre-dubstep.

So what happened? What sparked the change?

Garage turned into a champagne scene. Everyone was drinking champagne; there were loads of girls listening to quite cheesy soulful Garage. Some people got sick of it and started making some more grimy shit. 6 or 7 instruments, just a kick, a snare and bass. Emcees started feeling the vibe, it got kind of hip-hoppy and that’s how the grime scene started. Then you also had the breakbeat scene getting a bit housier. Then you also had Oris Jay making something called dark garage—really heavy bassline breaks. Then it all kind of molded into one. A guy called Hatcha started playing stuff like Digital Mystikz and some tribal type stuff and it just made the scene. There was a night called Forward where they played it—tunes that people didn’t really like playing in Garage clubs anymore because they called it “dark.”

Where was that?

At a place called Velvet Room in London. That closed down and they moved it to Plastic People. The night was called Forward, which stood for forward thinking music. That’s where it started. That was the beginning of the scene. It got pushed out of Garage and made its own scene.

Do you remember the first time you heard your tune on the radio?

Yeah J Da Flex, the guy I mentioned earlier, had a show on 1xtra, a branch of Radio One. He had a show called UK Garage, because dubstep wasn’t even a term then.

This was what year?

2004. He head a segment called Hot Off The Press. He played my track “Bass Bins” and that night I got a call from Lombardo, the resident at Forward, saying he just started a label and asked if he could sign the tune. That’s how I got my foot in the scene. I remember that day I went online, printed out the tracklist and put it in a sheet and I was so happy. For me it was unbelievable. I still have that printout actually. Then my heroes started hitting me up asking for tunes and I was like, what the fuck. I got to meet my idols…then I knew it was on.

Now, you have the UK dubstep vs. US dubstep or “brostep” thing going on. What’s your take on that?

Well Brostep is just the stupidest term for me. What is brostep? “Oh it’s loads of guys going crazy to dubstep.” So, what does that mean, then? Is there a “girlstep” as well, is there, then—when girls go crazy to dubstep and take their tops off? People like to pigeonhole things to make themselves feel better and it makes things easier to describe. Now there’s that word, you don’t have to describe the music as “oh, guys with their tops off going crazy.” That’s what you think when you hear brostep, isn’t it.

Also, like I said before, Americans take everything to the extreme, so that’s what they’ve done here. But I don’t care; I think the scene needs different types of music—the harder shit and the softer shit. That’s what makes a scene, right? But it really doesn’t matter what it’s classified as, to be honest. I play what I like. A tune’s a tune, man. If you’re black or white, or American or European or Japanese, does it really matter? That’s the way I see it.

It’s like when dubstep didn’t have its name “dubstep” and someone asked you what kind of music you made. You would try and describe it “Well it’s kinda like garage, but a bit darker, it’s not reggae or dub, but kind of sounds like it sometimes. Also, it’s got a bit of drum and bass in it.” Then you asked me two years later and all I had to stay was “dubstep.”

Who came up with the word?

It was a Hatcha CD called Dubstep Allstars. We all used to play 10-inch dubs (specially cut vinyl records). You had two-step garage, but this was our version, on specially cut 10’ inch dubs. So I guess it kind of got its name from there. So, for me, when you ask who is the guy who started dubstep, it’s Hatcha. He played everyone—Benga, Skream, Digital Mystikz, Loefah, my tunes… everyone’s tunes. He was like the Andy C of dubstep, or the King Tubby of dubstep. He had to have the tunes and he used to play them out.

So, what projects are you working on now?

I’m just getting ready to put out some more singles from my upcoming album. They should be out early June and then my album will follow. The album is going to be out on…. Well, I don’t know if I can even say it yet, since I haven’t signed the contract.

A major label?

Yes, via Dub Police.

So you’re going to do Dub Police label deal?

Eventually, yes, upstream things for right projects, the big tunes, you know.

So, you still have two labels?

Well, three, really—Dub Police, Sub Soldiers and Storming Productions… Storming has dropped off a bit. That was what I started with during that transitional garage era when it was going from garage and breaks into dubstep.

How old were you when you started that label?

Nineteen.

What were you doing when you started it? Studying, working?

I was unemployed. Didn’t have a job. My Nan (grandmother) leant me her pension money to press up my first record. Part of her retirement fund. I pressed up 500 vinyl records and me and my mates took it to all the record shops in London—like 50 different shops and gave them to them on an SOR basis: “Sale or Return.” We dropped them off then went back every week to check the sales and pick up the money.

Out the back of the trunk, huh?

Yeah, the first five records, then I got a distribution deal when people started to come in and ask for “Storming Records.”

What work are you most proud of in your career?

The Fabric CD. Also, to be honest, the labels because of how they’ve brought through other artists and put them on the scene. Trolley Snatcha, Emalkay… oh, and Rusko. Before he was signed to Mad Decent he was signed to my label.

Are you and Rusko going to work together again?

Well, that’s the million $ question that everyone asks. We always talk about it, but it never happens. We’re both busy. I texted him the other night to see if he wanted to go out for dinner, he was in South London. I’m in LA, where he lives and he’s in South London, where I live… What are the chances? We have gotten lots of offers for big tours, we’ve talked about getting back in the studio together, just hasn’t happened yet.

Let it marinate for a little longer, eh?

Yeah. The money would be great, but it would just be a sick show also. Once both our second albums are out and things calm down, maybe we’ll do it.

There’s obviously huge hype right now around your style of music. It keeps growing and growing. Do you see an end in sight?

The bubble is about to burst, definitely. I was watching TV the other day. There was a dubstep tune on the Nerds candy commercial. Every film trailer I see—dubstep tune. Everyone’s rinsing it right now in the overground. “What are the kids into these days—dubstep, lets use it.” But at some point, on the overground, where it’s getting pushed, people are going to get sick of it. “Oh, yeah dubstep, I’ve already heard it before.” Then it’s going crash and it’s going to make it underground again. And that’s going to happen within the next 12 months.

If/when that happens, will you still make dubstep?

Yeah, of course. I make it not for the money; I make it because I love it. The money is just a bonus. If you’re doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. Well, sometimes you have to do things for the money, to live, though, you know. But if all you do is chase the money, it will show and you’ll last five minutes.

But the bubble is going to burst and the dust is going to settle… and when the dust settles, we’ll have a look around and see who’s really there still. A lot of people are going to jump ship.

It’s almost like a relationship. When you first get together, it’s amazing. It’s really exciting and you’re still finding out about one another and the sex is wicked and dah dah dah, but when the fucking honeymoon’s over and you have to live together it might not end up well.

When you were sitting in London and carrying these records to the store, did you think it would ever get like this? Did you think you’d ever be able to rent this LA penthouse apartment because of the music you made and played?

Hell no. I mean, on a scale, compared to other people in music, this is really nothing, but when you look at where it came from it’s amazing. Going from being broke and unemployed and having to borrow you’re Nan’s pension money to now this, it’s pretty crazy. I never would have thought it. I had a goal, to bring in 600 quid a week. That would be 2,400 British Pounds a month—that’s a decent paying job in London. It’s all I wanted—get a car, get a house, and go out and get some nice clothes. When I reached that I was happy. I will say, now, though, that the more money you have the more problems you’ve got…but I’d rather have a call about how much money I’ve got than how much money I owe any day, though, actually.