Like the harshly angular yet brutally beautiful architecture of the Barbican itself, there is an element of compelling juxtaposition about chatting with Flowdan, one of grime’s fiercest MCs and true veteran of hard-hitting UK music, in the arts centre’s eerily tropical conservatory. But here we are, tucked in a corner beside the kitchen, away from the bustle of Native Instruments’ latest Native Session: ‘Bars’, beset by illuminated greenery and concrete, talking about the next step in Flowdan’s career.
On record, Flowdan is instantly recognisable: a towering presence on whatever piece of wax he is lacing, whether that be with Pay As U Go Cartel (‘Dem Not Ready’) back when grime was just emerging from UK Garage, on dead-eyed grime classics with Roll Deep (‘When I’m Ere’), with The Bug for earth-shattering dubstep beasts that still inspire frenzy today (‘Skeng’), or on any of his long list of solo hits (‘Horror Show Style’).
In person, the effect is similar. He is tall and though there is mischief in his grin, his one gold tooth sparkling when he flashes his teeth, he is generous and thoughtful. His words carry the weight of a man who has dedicated his life to a craft and is duly respected for it, and it is this respect that has allowed him to take his most recent steps in the scene with the launch of Spentshell: a label and brand for Flowdan to release tracks of his own and of any young artists that pique his interest. Plus, crucially given the nature of the event at which we meet, it is a platform for his own production – something to which he is relatively new.
The catalyst for this, besides his affection for Native Instruments’ Maschine unit (something he talks excitedly about to us and later at the workshop he features in), is his insatiable work ethic. “I got fed up of being that annoying MC that’s always on the phone to producers. I have no shame in doing that – I love the music and I love the chase” he says, with another glint of that golden canine. “But at the same time I spend so much time in the studio that I know I can put my ideas to use, so I was excited to start the production journey.”
Of course, starting your production journey doesn’t usually involve almost two decades of studio experience with some of the most celebrated producers in the world. With Flowdan though the list could provide a stellar line-up for a mid-sized festival, including the likes of Wiley, Swifta, Khan & Neek and course The Bug – something that isn’t lost on him. “Yeah that is the highest percentage of what I know about music. Anyone whose work I’ve appreciated, especially if I’ve had the opportunity watch them work, I will take from. I’m never shy to learn and apply.”
This sentiment, as well as the knowledge accrued, is something he feels he can pass on to a new generation, which brings us on to the other purpose of Spentshell: as a place for younger artists to flourish. He describes it as “about creating an umbrella for [creativity] to happen in a comfortable environment.” Noting that “a lot of people are experimental with their output but don’t always have the confidence or support, be it financial or just verbal.”