INTERVIEW

Meet the masked north Londoner hoping Nigella Lawson will dig his unique take on retro-released grime.

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I meet Stu Stubbs, founder and editor of Loud And Quiet, as he hops off his bicycle on a cold November morning in Holborn. Shifting from foot to foot in an effort to keep warm, a frisson of excitement runs through me as I take delivery of the brown paper envelope at the centre of the transaction. Onlookers watch on in quiet curiosity, our hushed conversation condensing in the crisp, cool air.

I’ve just been handed a Walkman, it turns out. As in, an actual grey plastic cassette player. I’ve Googled it and I’ve seen what passes for a Walkman in 2015 but this one doesn’t play mp3s, let alone mp4s – whatever they are. “It has a rewind button,” Stu enthuses, “so you don’t have to take the tape out and turn it around.” Bliss, really. Accompanying this sleek piece of throwback hardware is a tape that will form my homework over the next couple of days, before I get the chance to speak to CAS (also known at CASisDead), the North London grime artist behind ‘Commercial 2’. And putting my dry, superior wit to one side for a moment, I have to admit that this is the most excited I’ve been to stick on a pair of headphones in quite some time.

“It’s old, innit?” says CAS, when I eventually ask him about the format (and there really is no other way to listen to his latest music, online or digitally). “In every sense of the word. The vibe’s old. Even the physical music itself is old. It’s from years ago. People only seem to be catching up now, so I thought it would be fitting to put it on tape. “The exclusivity of it intrigued me. Nowadays everything is so readily available,” he complains with good reason. “Everyone has everything right now, whenever they want it. And I think it takes away from the beauty of it so I wanted to make it a bit more challenging for people, you know? If they want it, then they have to get it. I’m not going to just force it down their throats.”

CAS is a mysterious character. He wears a mask, for a start, and though I’m never quite sure when to take him seriously – there’s a razor sharp sense of humour behind the (literal) façade – he’s confident that it’s been a permanent feature for quite a while. “As long as I can remember. It’s part of my head now, bruv. I can’t even get it off. Always wearing it. Shagging birds with it.” Indeed, he’s even adapted it over time to deal with a changing lifestyle. “I’ve fitted a little bit under me nostril so I can do gear and that. Design and technology weren’t wasted on me in school.” Take note, Nicky Morgan.

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But if there’s a healthy helping of front, there’s also an acute sensitivity to the nuances of his art form. ‘Commercial 2’ – a sequel to another tape constructed solely from CAS rapping over ad music – takes chic eighties synthpop and puts it through the grime wringer. Think Wiley getting his hands on the Drive soundtrack and you’re pretty much there. It sounds fresh and it was a labour of love, and the mere mention of the eighties pop experimentation which underpins it piques his interest immediately. “I just feel a sense of belonging. I feel like that’s where I’m supposed to be. Maybe I died in the eighties and that’s when I was reincarnated,” he suggests. “I hear songs that I’ve never heard before and they sound familiar.”

It’s revealing of his central aim to stay true to the music he loves, regardless of outside influences. “I think a lot of people like music because it’s hot or because everyone says that’s the in thing but I don’t really do that. I like to listen to what sounds good to me and there’s something about that era that resonates with me. I listen to more older music – eighties, nineties, early 2000s.” Indeed, the liner notes contain shout-outs to Steve Strange and Gary Numan, revealing an obsession with the craft of pop music that you might not expect from a grime artist. “Pop music was cool, from soul and RnB like SOS Band. And then rock was cool. Even the cheesy songs were cool. I would struggle to tell you the last pop record that I liked.”

It’s the indelible, timeless quality of a great hook that CAS hopes to emulate with his own work, which he believes stands in contrast to the get-rich-quick approach of his peers. “All these dons who are coming up fast and in a year no-one will remember them. That’s the thing that they don’t understand. They’re going for cheap thrills and there’s a formula that seems to work in this crappy music economy that we seem to have right now but it won’t last very long. I – well, we – intend to make stuff with a longer shelf-life so that even after we’re gone people are still listening and they say, ‘Them lot were fuckin’ serious, man.’” CAS bristles as he talks but I suggest that it would be nice to get some recognition in his own lifetime. “Well, if that’s what happens then that’s what happens. Que sera, sera. I’m starting to try and relax a bit more and be less neurotic,” he muses. “Let whatever happens happen, man. Because you do yourself injury worrying if things are going to fall in line and into place. It’s just best to live, man!”

Fame, he is quick to clarify, is no longer the central goal, but integrity has been hard won. “For a time,” he admits, “I did listen to other people more than I should have, and as a result I probably put out some stuff that I didn’t really like that much. Not loads, just maybe a few tunes that I wouldn’t have done if I was totally steering the ship myself. But I’m glad to say that we’re firmly back on track now and I’m captain of this ship,” he exclaims. “You end up so wrapped up and one day you’re just sitting in your house and you think, ‘Why did I even make this shit song? Whose idea was this?’” There’s a marked maturity as he holds his hands up and reflects on poor creative decisions he’s made in the past. “You start blaming people and it’s like, well, really, you should’ve just said no.”

While the beats on ‘Commercial 2’ are easy on the ears, the collection elevates itself by adding clinical substance to its stylistic pomp. All dry ice and neon, the smooth eighties samples would be empty without the hard lyrical content. Standout track ‘Tick Tock’ is a case in point, telling the tale of an abusive uncle and the mixed emotion the rapper felt when the aggressor died in a road accident. “It’s easier to say it in the booth because I just have to say it for those three minutes and I don’t have to talk about it ever again, you know?” He struggles with the topic, he says, even with those close to him, but the music provides a succinct, one-way conversation that allows him to at least get some of the pain off his shoulders. “If I speak to people about personal shit then they’re going to pick me apart and ask me this and that and try and find the ins and outs of how it happened, why it happened. And that’s when I get pissed off.” He trails off into silence, and it’s clear that he doesn’t want to go any further.

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As well as name-dropping CAS’s musical influences, the mixtape’s sleeve sadly reads like an obituary section of a local newspaper. “It’s mad,” he says, flabbergasted as he thinks of the friends and family who have died in recent years. “The people that I’ve lost were quite a big part of what we were doing so it’s pretty devastating. People, especially rappers, talk a lot about killing but no one really thinks about what happens when someone gets killed. There’s so much pieces to pick up afterwards.” It’s a touching counterpoint to the chutzpah that bubbles under throughout our conversation. “My brother, I lost him this year in really tragic circumstances. But I know he wouldn’t want us to slow down. He was there, every show,” he says fondly. “So there’s more pressure on us now to go on and do this because it’s for him!”

The atmosphere is understandably heavy, but there’s a determination in the air that suggests this is a character who won’t give up until he’s achieved what he feels is his destiny. He’s careful to keep his cards close to his chest, however, when I broach the subject of a debut album. “It’s just coming along organically,” he insists. “If I were to book a month in a studio for a month’s time it’d be like leading up to a boxing match. Too much pressure.” He tuts. “It’s got to be natural. I’m in no rush and I’ve got lots of little projects to keep people quiet.”

One of those, he hints, might be to take the skills he has honed making his music videos to its logical conclusion. “I’ve got something coming on the film side of things in 2016 so keep tuned for that one. I don’t want to say much now but it’ll be scary, that’s all you need to know. You’ll be shitting yourself,” he reassures me. It all comes from a celluloid fascination picked up when he had extra time on his hands. “When I was up to no good in my younger days,” he reminisces, “there wasn’t much I could do apart from sit in various derelict houses watching television and waiting, so a good DVD would pass the time while I was waiting for – let’s just say – business communication.” I imagine a knowing wink under the mask, but it’s impossible to tell.

Before I leave him to it, I have to mention the apple of his eye, Nigella Lucy Lawson. “Oh, my babes,” he coos. Unfortunately, Ms Lawson just doesn’t understand. Yet. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She’s acting silly. She ain’t returning my calls. Nothing. I’ve reached out to her loads of times.” Her coyness is perhaps understandable given recent romantic tribulations, and CAS is understanding. “That geezer, he obviously didn’t care about her. Saatchi, he was just mugging her off. She was just a little trophy wife, but I genuinely love this bird and I could give her the time of her life.” That isn’t, he’s quick to explain, innuendo. “I’m not saying that in a disrespectful or vulgar way or anything like that. I just want to go out with her.” The penny drops. “I’ll cook for her! How about that? I’ll say this publicly. Nigella, I’ll cook something for you. I’ll make a wicked spag bol or shepherd’s pie or something. We’ll have a nice evening in, watch some films.” Well, you can’t say fairer than that. Nigella, if you’re reading: get in touch.

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