Taking some time away from the mic, MC Fokus sat down with Kmag to chat about his latest project The Full Specification podcast, as well as his journey through the UK music scene, and forthcoming collaborations with the Dispatch and Renegade Hardware crews.
Welcome MC Fokus, would you like to introduce yourself and tell the Kmag readers what's going on right now?
My real name is Phil, and I've been MCing since my teens, although I'm not sure if some of those early years would count! I'm 30 now so I've been doing this for a while. You can find me regularly holding the mic at Renegade Hardware, and representing Dispatch Recordings. I've had releases out on both of those labels, where I've collaborated with artists including Skeptical, DBR UK, Optiv & BTK.
I would say my style is pretty versatile, I'm equally at home hosting a harder set as I am rhyming over more laid-back beats. I've always been deep into my MCs, so I try to keep my rhymes fresh and spontaneous as much as possible.
You've just dropped episode one of the Full Specification podcast, presented by yourself, is the pod a concept you have been working on for some time?
The podcast is something that arose from a conversation between myself and the guys at GRAM Agency. I wanted to find a way of expressing myself outside of the usual DJ / MC mix format. Starting my own podcast seemed like the perfect outlet, a way for me to delve into different genres and play some of the music that I love.
It took me a while to get the first episode together, I'm not gonna lie - it was hard work. Even though I'm used to being on the mic in front of a crowd, it was totally different playing the role of a presenter, not having an immediate audience felt strange, but it's good to go out of your comfort zone and try something new. I'm not a natural, but the first episode had a really good reaction, and I'm looking forward to getting the next few done and dusted.
Episode one of the podcast had an 'introducing MC Fokus' vibe to it, is this a project that's going to showcase your origins and development as a musician?
The first episode was my chance to say 'This is me, this is where I come from and this is what I like'. People don't get to find those things out when they see you playing in a club. It was good fun pulling out some of the tracks that have had a huge impact on me over the years. Everyone has a certain tune that takes them right back...
I'll certainly be exploring all of my different musical tastes. However, the aim of the podcast series isn't to focus on myself - far from it. I want to put other people in the spotlight and give the listener's more than just another DnB podcast. Each episode will have a theme, and there will be plenty of variation in the musical styles. The Full Specification is the name of the radio show I used to do back in the pirate days, alongside Danny from DBR UK.
I'll have plenty of guests passing through - there will be people that you'll recognise from the scene, showcasing what they get up to both in and out of DnB. Not gonna mention any names yet, but expect everything from dancehall to house.
You talk quite a lot about how hip-hop and rap influenced you growing up, do you ever consider branching out to experiment with other genre?
Hip hop has always been a huge part of my life and still is. I love listening to other MC's and hearing different flows and rhyming styles. Especially the UK guys like Jehst and Task force. In the past I've messed around with a few hip hop beats in the studio, dropped a few free-styles, even written the odd track, but nothing that's ever seen the light of day.
I enjoy hosting over dubstep, although I'm not so good at riding those kinda tempos with double-time flows! Part of me would like experiment more, but I often feel like I've still got a lot more to accomplish within DnB, and that's where my heart is. No other genre gets me amped up in the same way. I love that feeling when a sick track drops in the club and you just grab the mic and go in hard...
What have you got locked in for the next episode?
I'm still trying to pin down the guest that I'd like to feature, but the theme of the next episode is simply 'UK lyricists'. Not genre specific, just my take on home-grown talent.
Performing your own lyrics as well as improvising on stage takes a lot of self belief. Did you have to deal with setbacks as you learnt your craft, or did you find it was a process of natural progression from a hobby into a career?
Sure, I've had a lot of set-backs over the years, and plenty of things to knock my confidence and test my commitment. I've never felt that I fit the typical blueprint of what most people would expect from an MC (even though this is somewhat a cliché). I'm not a particularly outgoing person, in fact I'm quite shy and introverted sometimes. I've worked pretty hard on my performance skills and stage presence.
I'm not someone that relishes being in the limelight, so MCing is a strange choice for me in some ways! I spent years earning my stripes on various pirate radio stations, and have done my fair share of crappy gigs. Everyone's had them - driving half way across the country for no money to play to an empty room. But there's always been something about doing this that I love. I've rarely passed up an opportunity to play somewhere; you never know what might happen.
The DnB scene is very cliquey, it's no secret. There are times when I've felt like I'm not in with the right people, and that I'm struggling to progress any further. But at the same time, you've got to keep things in perspective - I regularly work with artists that I respect, and feel that I've built a good reputation as someone that knows how to control the mic. Not everyone likes what you do but that's never going to happen.
I have a career outside of DnB, my day-job keeps me busy. After gigging all weekend, Monday morning in the office can be a real come-down, but that's my reality, I feel like I live a double life!
Could you give us an insight into how you write rhymes? Is there a standard procedure or a mind frame you have to be in, or can you just free flow?
I've never been someone that can just sit down and right page after page of lyrics. I need to be in the right frame of mind, and truly believe that you can force creativity. My best rhymes have popped into my head at the weirdest moments, and I just grab my phone or a scrap of paper and write them down. Sometimes I've just got a page full of random words that I build into a lyric.
The vibe needs to be right. Sitting in my house with a beat playing doesn't really inspire me. It's good to have your written bars fresh in your mind, but I like free styling as much as possible. It feels good to be spontaneous. When I'm in a club and it's going off, I don't want to be thinking too much about lyrics - I go with the moment and drop whatever is in my head. A good crowd and DJ really help me to let go and just spit!! That's when I'm in my element, and the ideas are flowing.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to emulate MCs such as yourself?
I'd say the most important thing is to enjoy what you do - don't make it all too serious, and try not to get caught up in any politics! Practice your craft, take all the opportunities that come along and persevere. I can't deny that vocaling tunes recently has helped boost my career. Get in the studio, work closely with those around you that are into production and keep learning.
You're closely tied with the Dispatch and Renegade Hardware crews, is this the sound within drum & bass you are really feeling at the moment?
Yeah, I'd say that both of those camps represent my kinda sound. I don't want to pigeon hole myself, but I like my beats on the tougher side, with a bit of dirt! I've been a Hardware raver for years, so working with guys such as Loxy & Ink is a privilege.
I think the Hardware sound has really evolved over the years, and I'm glad to be a part of it. I'm also at home working with the guys at Dispatch. The label captures everything that I like about DnB right now, and I'm proud to be associated. There's a lot of variety within the camp, and my style works well with the artists releasing on the label.
Where can people catch you performing and on the airwaves in the near future?
Over the next few months I'm all over the place. I'll be at Fabric for the next RAM event, and will repping at more Dispatch and Hardware nights later in the year. In between that I'm abroad quite a bit with Skeptical, Ant TC1 and various others. I'll be out in Croatia this year for both Outlook and Echo festivals. I'm not doing so much radio anymore, but I'm sure a guest slot on Rude FM with DBR UK is on the cards!!
On the production front are you set to feature on any upcoming releases?
I've got loads in the pipeline; it's just a question of timing. I've done a track with Amoss that's on their forthcoming EP for Dispatch, and feature on the much anticipated album from Octane & DLR. I'm currently finishing off my next track with Skeptical, and there's a tune with J Robinson that I'm really feeling. I want to get some more vocal-free stuff out by the end of the year to follow on from Fluctuate which I co-wrote with Skeptical.
Anything else to add or shouts to give?
You can book me through GRAM Agency here. Thanks to Kmag for taking the time to put together such a solid bunch of questions. I'd just like to shout all the people that are feeling what I'm doing right now. It's great meeting people at gigs who are so enthusiastic and positive. Shout out to everyone at Hardware, Dispatch, GRAM Agency and CODE Apparel. And keep your eyes peeled for the next podcast. Cheers.
Words: James Paterson
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