Written for Clash magazine, September 2006 issue

If one sound leads the electronic underground in 2006, it’s dubstep. As the scene broke free of its South London shackles last year, dubstep’s bass science, slow-motion beats and urban atmospherics captured the imagination of music lovers all over the world. And if anyone can take credit for helping the scene grow wings, it’s DMZ.

The Digital Mystikz production duo – Mala and Coki – are the driving force behind the DMZ bi-monthly club night in Brixton, alongside fellow DJ/producer Loefah. Together the trio also run the DMZ record label, whose nine releases to date have showcased some of dubstep’s most influential and sought-after tunes. But while the crew are on a roll right now, it wasn’t always this way. Mala explains: “DMZ started in early 2004 because me, Coki and Loefah were producing music but there was no one to put it out. Distributors didn’t know what to call it or how to sell it, so we decided to do it ourselves. We pressed up some white labels and sold more than we ever expected, which allowed us to go and do the next one. When we came to number three we decided that we were going to do proper artwork and take things forward.”

Softly spoken yet fiercely passionate, Mala’s lack of ego and constant quest for perfection mark him out as a true individual in the music industry – and one whose modesty masks a formidable talent. He adds: “What we were doing two years ago seemed to be going against the grain, but I never really worry about what everyone else is doing. It’s not about money for me – I’d be happy to sell ten records if it meant someone else was listening to my music.”

This approach was extended to DMZ’s bi-monthly party at Mass, in Brixton, which in less than two years has become the world’s biggest dubstep night with fans jetting in from all over the UK and Europe to attend. Mala explains: “There’s nothing complicated about it – it’s just a room with minimal lighting, a bar, and a massive sound system. For me that’s what going out to hear music is about – I don’t need fancy décor, for me it’s about the sound. DMZ has always been about music first, and we’ve been really lucky with the people who come down because they just bring this wicked energy.”

As dubstep goes global, the DMZ crew have begun to DJ increasingly further afield, bringing their music to fresh ears. Mala says: “If the music’s heard on a good sound system, so it’s given a fair chance, the response seems to be really positive. You got to Bristol and they’ve got great nights going on there run by Pinch. The vibe in Sheffield is deep, and it’s the same in Leeds, Nottingham, Brighton, Belgium, Holland, America… the people who like the music don’t seem to be afraid to us know they like it – they’re not afraid to shock out and make noise. And I love going to play new places for the first time, that soldier shit where you’re on the front line, and it could go either way. It’s definitely a positive time for the sound.”

© Tom Churchill 2006