OUAG Mix Series // #10 // DJ Citrus

© Luke Ballance

Essex's DJ Citrus has rapidly ascended to grime scene prominence over the course of the last two years. A skilled selector—first on Don City Radio and now Mode FM—and a passionate advocate of the vinyl medium, he's seen in the new year in a strong way with a fifteen-DJ festive extravaganza on Mode and an appearance at Sharky Major's prestigious event The Next Legacy. He also helms the newly established Bookey Records; the label's first offering, Defiant's Red Ritual EP, has been a staple in many a DJ's arsenal since its November release. For the tenth guest mix in our series, Citrus has pulled out all the stops and delivered a 30-minute all-vinyl mix, packed with plenty of classics and rare gems. Listen below, and read on for our full interview.

How did you first get into grime?

I think the first grimy sound that I heard was probably Dizzee Rascal. It wasn’t his early, early stuff – it was after he released Maths + English. Funnily enough, my dad lent me the CD. He said “this is different to what you normally listen to, but I think you’re gonna like it.” I listened to it, and I was thinking it was similar to some hip hop stuff I’d heard, but it was clearly very British, and very raw, which I really liked. Because of my age, I didn’t really explore it any further; I didn’t really think to.

When I was in secondary school—probably about 13—one of my mates was playing “Next Hype” by Tempz on his phone, and I was thinking 'shit, this sounds similar to some of the Dizzee Rascal stuff I used to listen to'! I thought ‘yeah, I’m feeling this’, so I got him to send me a couple more bits. I think he sent me the Roll Deep “Eskimo” vocal, which, again, was a different style to the other stuff I’d heard – a faster flow and not quite as angry in places, but at the same time there was a lot of passion behind it, which I liked. From there, I started to explore different artists.

What inspired you to start DJing?

When I was younger, I’d always try to show my friends certain tracks that they might not have heard if I thought that they’d like them. Even if it was completely different to what they’d normally listen to, I’d say ‘can you appreciate what’s going on musically?’. When I was about sixteen, a friend was selling a Numark controller for about forty quid, and I thought ‘you know what? I’ve always been into music. I’ll pick it up and give it a little go.’ I started off mixing really trashy EDM [laughs], just because I was in a social circle where a lot of them were into house and EDM, and if they ever wanted any music on at a house party, that was what they wanted to hear. It was only after about a year of doing that that I thought ‘actually, I don’t like this. I like grime. I wanna mix grime. Even if no one wants to hear it, I still wanna mix it!’

A quick scan of your Discogs page reveals that you’re quite the vinyl collector – what’s your most prized possession?

I’d probably say “Pulse Eskimo” by Skepta. It’s an amazing instrumental. I’d been after it for ages, and I didn’t have a lot of connections in grime, so it wasn’t like I could source a good quality vinyl rip of it. I thought ‘I need to buy this myself if I wanna be able to play it’. It’s quite a rare one, pretty much the most I’ve ever paid for a vinyl – fifty quid off Discogs. I thought: do you know what? I wanna own this track, and I wanna be able to drop this in sets, so it’s worth it to me.

Is there much of a scene in Essex for you to get involved in?

There’s definitely a lot of talent in Essex, but where I’m from, in Southend, there’s not a lot going on in terms of events. I’ve never come across any big nights that I’ve felt I could get involved with, or go and spin tunes. Obviously, you’ve got Tommy B and all the Payback guys; Gen; Sonny Green as well. He’s a sick, sick guy. I’ve been listening to him for a few years and he’s doing some amazing stuff. But nah, I’ve never really got involved with the Essex scene much because I feel like in my particular area, there was never much of an opportunity there to do my own thing.

Was Don City your first taste of doing a radio show?

In terms of live radio, yeah. I did a pre-recorded show on LVLZ probably about three years ago, and at the time it felt like the most amazing thing ever that I’d done this mix and it was being played to other people! [laughs] I don’t know, it just blew my mind.

Radio has always been a massive part of why I’m into grime. More often than not, I’ll have either a new or old radio set playing if I’m driving about, or walking about, or whatever. It was really cool to get involved with something that I’d always been such a fan of.

Citrus on the decks at Mode FM for Luciferian's birthday set, 4 November 2018. © Luke Ballance

How did you end up landing your Mode FM residency?

At the beginning of 2018, I was in the smokers’ area at Grime Originals, chatting to Tiatsim and saying ‘I wanna progress as a DJ and I wanna move onto the next step. What do you think it is?’ He said ‘all these up-and-coming guys, and even some of the bigger names, are doing a lot on Mode right now. The Mode family’s looking strong; you could do worse than try and get in with us!’ 

I said ‘I’d love to, but I don’t think I’ve ever spoke to J [Beatz] or Scope. I don’t feel like I can just approach them and be like oi, let me join!’ So, with that, he saw that Scope was quite near, went over there, and was like ‘this is Citrus. He’s a sick DJ, he mixes vinyl, and I think he deserves a spot on Mode’. Scope took my number, and literally about a week later, he texted me with the slot. I’m so, so grateful to Scope, J, and all the family, because it’s seriously done wonders for me.

Absolutely – it’s amazing that over the course of 2018 you’ve ended up landing some big bookings and packed-out radio sets with MCs. How have you found your first live shows?

In the middle of last year, I was in Nottingham with the Reloaded guys, and obviously I had The Next Legacy in January. I was honoured when Sharky [Major] asked me for that. I was so taken aback when I saw the message!

Radio was always my main passion. I was never really that fussed about bookings, because obviously it’s a different environment, but I must admit, especially at The Next Legacy, when I was up there and the MCs aren’t just in a little room in Enfield, it feels like the energy that we all have together is amazing, so I’m definitely looking to get in a few more bookings this year.

I’ve witnessed you do some mad choppy business on the decks… Have you ever broken a fader?

No, I haven't! Funnily enough, I’ve had this chat with a lot of other DJs who’ve never broken a fader, and we all say the same thing – we don’t have a clue how people do it! I don’t know what these guys are doing, but obviously, there was a bit of a running joke with the Mode family where every other day, there’d be another fader snapping, and no one knew really how it was happening. But me, myself, I’ve never broken a fader, so touch wood it’ll stay that way! [laughs]

Glad to hear it! Have you ever been tempted to partner with MCs or crews as their official DJ?

Fairly recently, two MCs have basically said that when they start to get bookings, they’d like me to be their DJ. I was like wow, that’s really cool that they’ve asked me out of anyone they could have asked, and 100% I’d do that. But when it comes to the whole crew thing, I’m still trying to cement my name and get people to know who I am. I still wanna do a solo thing for a while, and maybe when I get to a point that I can work with other people and we can all help further each others’ careers, that’s when I’d be doing it. But at the moment, I’m not sure if I joined a crew, I could bring that much exposure to the other guys. I don’t think that there’s a lot to gain from it at the moment.

© Luke Ballance

Let’s talk Bookey Records… are you aiming for a particular sound with the label?

When Defiant agreed to do the first release, obviously he’s got a very powerful sound, and I was thinking 'I’d really like to tailor the label to release more stuff that sounds like this'. But the more I listened to it, the more I was thinking: what I like about him is that he’s different to other producers. So, I think what I’m looking for now is just people that sound a bit different. People where the tune’ll drop, and you’ll go ‘yeah, that’s definitely so-and-so’. I just wanna put releases out there that people are gonna recognise for the label and the producer – the stuff that’s gonna stand out.

That’s a great way of going about it. What inspired your decision to make its releases vinyl-only?

The reason I got into vinyl was because when I was just mixing tunes for the fun of it, I really wanted the version of [Lethal Bizzle’s] “Forward” that’s got the last verse on the end by Hotshot. That version didn’t make it through to the final release, basically, but was on the B-side of the test pressing. I heard it in a set, and I was searching and searching, and I realised that you couldn’t buy it digitally, so I thought if I wanna own that track bad enough—if I wanna play that track—I need to have the record. I found Discogs through a Google search, and then I got a copy of it, bought a cheap little turntable that you can connect up to your laptop, and I ripped it.

From there, I just started exploring other stuff that was vinyl-only. That’s just basically what I’m trying to help push in 2019 and going forward. I want people to hear tracks like [Defiant's] “Dragonslayer” and say ‘I wanna have that tune so bad that I’m willing to start collecting vinyl for this’. I just wanna try and encourage more people to feel what I felt, and to get into it for that reason.

That’s great – and it’ll help keep vinyl alive as a medium, I guess.

Yeah, exactly that. A hundred percent.

It’s a real treat to hear that extended “Forward” version in your new guest mix, too!

Yeah, I often do drop that in. Even though it’s the very last verse and normally I don’t play tracks to the very end, I make sure that when I’m mixing it, I get that verse in, because that’s the whole reason I’ve got the record! [laughs]

So, what’s next for the label?

Just working on getting some different sounds out there. I’ve got one EP lined up that I’m just tryna finalise from one of my favourite—I don’t really like this term, but—‘up-and-coming’ producers. I’ve got a fantastic EP from him that’s gonna be coming out soon. I’m gonna start doing some promo for that, so everyone keep your eyes out. He’s a sick, sick guy and he’s gonna do big, big things.

Thanks for your time! Any upcoming radio shows or live performances you’d like our readers to know about?

If you wanna hear what I’m all about, then I’m on Mode FM every other Sunday 7-9PM, and I’m regularly doing cover shows, so if you follow me on the socials, it’s @DJCitrusMusic on everything. Anything that I’m up to, I’ll plaster it all over there. Give it a listen, let me know what you think. If you like it, if you don’t, I’m open! Just give me a shout. Get involved.

Find DJ Citrus on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more updates.