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UD x Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson x Polymer Zine

Joseph 'JP' Patterson (Founder, TRENCH Magazine)

Ahead of Industry Takeover 2023, TRENCH founder Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson talks grime, church, ChockABlock, MTV’s The Wrap-Up, Complex UK, TRENCH and how raving opened doors (and his eyes!) to a career in music with Polymer Zine

If you’re not familiar with the name Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson, chances are you’ll have visited one of the websites he edits, read one of his articles or been to one of his club nights — whether you realise it or not. An entirely self-made, self-taught promoter, blogger, writer and now editor, he has taken on a godfather role in UK music media over the last 15 years, and is now a key voice in the black music culture space. From grime and localised, grass-roots scenes through to the A-list artists now occupying the charts, JP is viewed as a trusted voice from all corners of the industry — from PRs and writers to fellow editors and even the artists themselves. However, as our conversation unfolds, it becomes clear that his journey has been far from conventional.  

JP was born in the Wandsworth Road area of South London to parents of Guyanese and Jamaican heritage — “..it was kinda in between Stockwell, Brixton, Clapham Junction, Battersea … right in the middle” — and recalls a fairly happy childhood; “I was very much a child, I wasn’t doing any madness”, he acknowledges, “but I did see and hear a lot from watching my older brother and his friends.” Born into a Christian household — his father is a practising minister with his own church, which JP still attends — he credits church with being a big part of his early life and a major influence on the music he was exposed to as a child. “Obviously, as Christians and the type of Christian my dad is … you know, Pentecostal … it was very strict growing up. We couldn’t really listen to any of music apart from gospel at home, but my sister had a little cassette player that she kept out of sight. We used to go and hide in her room and listen to Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, Jodeci and all this RnB stuff. My older brother was into hip-hop, but eventually got into the whole jungle, UK garage thing. He was a proper rebel and local MC at the time who called himself Flego. Basically, it meant I was kinda seeing the future of grime without really knowing. He’d always be spitting bars around the house and people used to think he was going a bit loops, but yeah, that’s how it was.”

He ended up moving out of London to Wellingborough, a small town in Northamptonshire, shortly after his 13th birthday — a move that would change the trajectory of his musical life completely. “I moved there with my mum after my parents split up”, he recalls, “so it was just me and my mum at first, although she was pregnant with my little sister at the time. I started at Weavers School in Wellingborough, where I made some friends who were basically all MCs, producers and DJs. I’d never liked grime before because growing up, I’d been very much into RnB and hip-hop, but it was just different there. I vividly remember just sitting in the corner at my friend Meshach’s house after school and watching people just running sets for hours and thinking, ‘what is this, bro?’. I think being from a sheltered Christian household, I hadn’t really experienced some of the stuff they were speaking about, even though I’d seen my brother go through certain things. Maybe I was trying to block that out and wasn’t trying to understand, I don’t know. But moving outside of London changed all that, which is weird because I think a lot of people think that’s where all the madness happens. Moving there taught me a lot of life lessons as a teenager.”

If moving away from London would introduce him to grime, then clubbing would see JP fall in love with it. Recalling the first club night he ever went to at Club Teeze as a fresh-faced 16 year-old back in 2004, he starts to smirk. “It was at this spot called Club Teeze in Northampton and Skepta, D Double E and Flirta D were booked and I think … was it Cameo or Logan (Same) deejaying? … I can’t remember but it was a proper grime rave. The vibe was wild, to say the least. I’d never experienced anything like it before but after that, I got into the whole grime thing hard. I never looked back from that night.”

In fact, it was grime promoters taking events outside of London during the early to mid ’00s— the belt of surrounding cities like Milton Keynes, Swindon and Northampton all played host to brands like Eskimo Dance and Sidewinder — that gave JP crucial, up-close-and-personal experience of grime in its infancy. Inquisitive and besotted with the music, he became a regular face at Club Teeze and soon started making his own connections. “I was just hooked on it, bro”, he says matter-of-factly. “It made me wanna try and put on my own rave. So I did.”

Now legendary grime rave ChockABlock was JP’s first brainchild at the age of just 17. His first event in 2007 saw Skepta, Tinchy Stryder, Logan Sama and Bok Bok amongst others touch down at a social club in Northampton; “..and this was before they were all big!”, he’s quick to point out. “It was dingy”, he continues, “and I mean dingy. Two hundred and fifty people all paying £7-10 entry and it was just rammed, which was kinda fitting of the name.”

So just how on earth did a 17 year old kid living in Wellingborough convince some of grime’s biggest names to trudge up to Northampton to play a rave? “I used to go down to Dirty Canvas nights in London quite a bit”, he explains, “which is where I first met Hyperfrank, Chantelle Fiddy, Hattie Collins, Danny Walker, Dan Hancox and others who were documenting the scene at the time. That must have been towards the end of 2006. I actually ended up interning with Dirty Canvas for a bit when they were putting out this Ruff Sqwad project and I think they wanted me to write some press releases or whatever. It didn’t really work out but that was my first proper thing in music. Aside from that, I was just going to bare grime raves in London and meeting people.”

A matter of weeks after that first club night, JP was contacted by Egg — the iconic 1000-capacity nightclub in Kings Cross — about the possibility of bringing ChockABlock down to London. For JP, it was a no-brainer. Promoted mostly via MySpace and Facebook, it quickly became one of the capital’s go-to club nights. “They just hit me up one day”, JP says, “and I’m still not really sure how news had spread to them, but I was like ‘yeah, why not?’. We ran ChockABlock raves there for about three years straight. All the MCs were there, basically every grime artist you can think of, every DJ. A load of bassline heads came through as well. While the whole grime thing was going on, I’d got really into bassline so I’d be going up to Niche in Sheffield, Leicester, wherever the baseline raves were up north, I’d be there on the regular. That was a big part of my life as well.”

“The London raves were just mad”, he continues. “There used be fashion designers like Cassette Playa stood next to road man, who’d be stood next to art kids … the crowd was just mad, but that’s what made ChockABlock what it was. And it’s probably the reason why people still talk about it today. The vibe was just different. I remember people used to turn up in roller skates and skate around my rave, bruv … on some proper nu-rave stuff. Thinking about artists I used book, I was the first person to book and interview Giggs. ‘Talkin’ The Hardest’ had just come out and I remember he came to the rave with about 30 man. I was like ‘broooooo, what’s going on here?’. He messaged me about it the other day, actually. Those days were epic man, for real.”

To help chronicle the stories emerging from ChockABlock, JP started his own blog in 2008, which functioned more of a scrapbook than an editorial outlet. He’d post tracks and videos and share flyers from ChockABlock in a simple, as-it-says-on-the-tin blog format; it wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was certainly effective. And as with everything he’s set his mind to in his career so far, he was consistent with it, too. “I used to write terribly”, he says, chuckling to himself, “but I’d use my blog to share flyers and videos and whatever. I’d use words like ‘wagwarn’ and ‘them man’ and ‘dat’, it was all very colloquial but people liked it weirdly enough. After a while, I did naturally find myself starting to take the writing thing more seriously.”

Although not a natural writer — at school, he got an E in his English GCSE — JP had found his vocation in grime and buoyed by how far he’d taken ChockABlock, felt he could make a difference writing about the music he loved too. “I ended up starting to pitch out to editors, but obviously I had no idea what I was doing, I was a novice”, he recounts. “I remember I’d just put all the editors email addresses into one email, no bcc or anything like that, and just send my pitches over. One day, everyone just started merking me like, ‘who’s this guy? why are you emailing us?’. One editor in particular replied like, ‘don’t email me again until you can string a sentence together’. Over time, I just taught myself. I read articles, spoke to people about their journalism journeys, and really honed in on the writing.”

“My first big breakthrough was actually with SuperSuper Magazine”, JP continues. “I’d pitched a three-page piece on bassline to their editor, Steve Slocombe, and he went for it. I wrote the piece and it got a really good reception, so they decided to offer me a Contributing Editor role, which really propelled me to keep going. From there, I started getting through to places like NME and Mixmag.”

Kept afloat by the success of ChockABlock and a series of jobs — he worked in customer services at TalkTalk for a spell and was on the front desk at a local bank, where his mates would roll up in their tracksuits and laugh at him — JP was able to persevere with writing until he got his first editorial role proper with MTV in 2010. “I was approached by a lady called Arfa Butt”, JP explains. “I think she’s still at MTV now actually. She just messaged me on Facebook one day and asked if I’d be interested in becoming the new editor of The Wrap-Up, which was MTV’s platform for black music, or urban music as they called it then. I went in, had a meeting with a guy called Akhil Suchak and got the job on the spot, it wasn’t really an interview. Everyone in the bits was gassed for me, to the point where some people still call me ‘MTV JP’ to this day.”

It was a shift in focus that saw JP call time on ChockABlock in 2011 and instead invest his energies in writing. Emboldened by his editorship at The Wrap-Up and picking up valuable new experience, his pitches finally started to land in the inboxes of editors receptive to his grasp of the music he was writing about. His next opportunity would come via now defunct US-based MTV platform, MTV Iggy, where he was offered a retainer contract in 2012 — a job that significantly widened the scope of his work. “MTV Iggy basically covered all types of music from all over the world”, he explains. “They basically wanted me to write about and commission stories on UK-based stuff as their UK correspondent, which.I did for two years or so. I did a lot of it remotely but I still gained a lot of experience and it set me up nicely for what was to come.”

What was to come would lay the foundations to the career JP has today — and it came via one of the first editors to ever trust in his writing. “Randomly, Steve Slocombe (former SuperSuper editor) just messaged me out of the blue like, ‘yo JP, how’s it going?’ and whatever”, he says. “He told me about this new publication launching in the UK called Complex, and obviously I knew they were a big deal. Steve explained they were looking for someone to head up their music department in the UK and then asked if I could start in the next two weeks. I literally rang my dad, told him about the job and that I needed to find somewhere to stay and that was it. I moved back down to London and got to work. I started as Music Editor in 2014, was made Senior Editor in 2016 and as of a couple of weeks ago, I’m now Editor-In-Chief, so it’s been like a seven-year journey, man.”

While the groundwork was laid at MTV, Complex UK gave JP the opportunity to start building upwards. Separating his roles as a writer and editor for the first time — “I did everything myself a lot at The Wrap-Up because we didn’t have a commissioning budget!” — he identified a core team of writers and contributors to help realise his vision, including long-time friend and fellow grime commentator, Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan. Crucially too, he was never subject of any external pressure from his bosses — Complex was to be a home of culture, not clicks. “It was always about building culture, it’s very much a cultural platform”, JP affirms. “Me and Steve have always had a good rapport between us as well, a lot of banter. Sometimes I’ll just message him like, ‘Steve, I’m not coming in this week, I’m just gonna work from home’ and he’s always totally cool with it. I’ve always been able to work how I want to work, which I’m grateful for. I think they see that when I have my time and get to focus that I can produce results. It’s been a blessing in that sense.”

“My own vision for Complex UK hasn’t changed since the very beginning, it’s still the same”, he continues. “It’s about giving a platform to artists who don’t get any love or don’t get the right type of love. Over the years, I’ve seen people write about artists, especially black artists, and not do them justice and I’ve always tried to counteract that by giving them the respect they deserve. Complex is a globally-loved brand, a respected platform, and I’ve tried to give it the same legacy in the UK along with the rest of the team.”

JP’s time at the Complex helm has been just as valuable for writers too, ushering in a new vanguard of journalists that have been crucial in making sure black music — notably grime and more recently, drill — is being documented accurately. The likes of Jesse BernardYemi Abiade and Aniefiok Ekpoudom were all given early breaks under JP’s editorship and are now regular contributors at The Guardian, for example. “I think Jesse had his first piece published via Complex in 2015”, says JP, “and it’s been great to see him grow, the same with Yemi. One thing I’ve always tried to do as an editor is work with the writers to make sure their voice is still heard throughout their pieces. Some editors take ownership of people’s writing and voices get completely lost. I know every platform has its own house style or whatever, but I think it’s really important to keep a writer’s voice or else, what’s the point? If something’s not reading right, let’s try and fix it, fine-tune it. But I think it’s important for a writer’s voice to shine through.”

While Complex ticked a lot of boxes as a global-leading media brand, JP still felt there was something missing from the UK music media landscape. “Obviously, with Complex we’ve got our UK content but I still thought there was a space for a strictly UK publication”, he explains. “There were still a lot of mistakes being made as well. I don’t want to call any names out but there was the Giggs piece in NME that totally misquoted his lyrics. Like, there’s a whole Genius dot com on the internet for people to check lyrics and they still published it? I found myself getting upset a lot back then. And it was the same for Hyperfrank.”

In response, JP established TRENCH — a powerful and dedicated UK-focused platform that has allowed him to build out his Complex UK vision to its full potential since first launching in 2017. “I’d always wanted to start my own publication for a while anyway”, he explains, “so I just rang up Hypes and said ‘Hypes… let’s do this magazine!’. We came up with the name and then we worked on the artwork together, managed to secure an investor and a bit of p and it went from there. I’ve known Hyperfrank since 2006 so the trust was already there and I think we both knew there was a space for it. People that read The Guardian can read TRENCH, land on a Jesse piece or a Yemi piece and be like, ‘rah, these guys can write, let me bookmark it’. That’s what the aim has always been.”

Alongside its journalism, TRENCH has also birthed a number of its own trends including TRENCH Radio — a weekly round-up of the week’s best online DJ mixes from both in-and-outside the conventional dance music canon — and the spike in popularity of archive footage clips, which have been regularly shared across the platform’s social channels since its inception. Overseen by Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan, who spends hours trawling through the internet to find choice clips — from golden-era footage of early grime raves to iconic, long-lost freestyles — these bitesize memories have helped re-affirm where today’s scenes emanated from. “Every day, five days a week”, JP says, laughing. “I’m pleased you’ve noticed that. Hypes does it for us every day, literally. A lot of it is spending hours searching on YouTube, but people send us stuff too. I’m glad that people enjoy it.”

TRENCH also saw its first physical version release in 2018 in the form of a limited-run zine covered by grime MC, D Double E, and JP and his team are now going to print with a new six-cover physical magazine, due to drop this summer. “It feels like its time to do another one”, he says, leaning back in his chair. “We did the first one in 2018 with D Double. I’d known him for time, from booking him for my raves to supporting his music with my writing, so it just made sense for him to be on that first cover. I’m looking forward to getting this next lot out there now.” 

Going forward, stability and consistency are key to JP’s vision for both Complex UK and TRENCH — “we’ve just got to keep doing it, keep building” — but he also hopes to branch into more visual content, specifically podcasts, over the coming years too. “They’re definitely something I want to explore a bit more”, he explains. “I want to build the whole audio-visual element into both to be honest because I think we’ve got the journalism thing on point now, humbly speaking. One thing I do want to talk about is this trend of bad writing that’s being passed off as good. There’s a lot of people blogging about grime and rap and it kinda reminds me of when I first started and that part is dope to see. I had people telling me I couldn’t write though and I learned from that, whereas now there’s a lot of stuff being shared online as if it’s of a good standard with no one chiming in. I’ve worked with a lot of young writers over the years and I still try and do as much as I can because I know what it’s like thinking you’re doing amazing work when, in fact, it’s not always the case. Sometimes the advice I give doesn’t always get through, but I want everyone to excel for the music’s sake.”

While bad writing might still irk him, great music still excites him — and none period more so than the 2014-2016 grime explosion that kicked down doors and made the power and popularity of black music in the UK feel undeniable; without it, JP argues, things would look very different. “That whole resurgence was sick”, he recalls. “I remember popping off to Radar Radio and all these young MCs would just be shelling whatever time of day it was. I met AJ Tracey down there, Novelist and loads of others, it was a really exciting time. That grime wave has influenced everything that has happened since then. Maybe not sonically, but definitely in terms of being respected, being written about and even getting a look in at chart level. I mean, don’t forget you had the whole Drake and Boy Better Know thing, that Kanye performance at The BRITS with all the MCs behind him, all of that. It was all a grime thing and so I think we need to put a bit of respect on that period, definitely.”

As our conversation begins to wind down, JP’s reflections are thoughtful and honest. There are no wild ambitions nor any overstated claims about what’s to come — just an acknowledgement of where he’s at and where he’s come from. “I just wanna keep building on everything I’ve achieved so far, man”, he says after a brief pause. “It’s been a long journey to this point but there’s always more I can do. Aside from work, I just want this pandemic to end so I can go on some dates at Burger & Lobster, find my wife and settle down. I’m giving myself a few more years though, ‘cos I still think I’ve got some shapes to cut at Circoloco.”

Book tickets for the TRENCH Industry Takeover panel HERE.

The original version of this article appears at Polymer Zine, written by editor, Tomas Fraser. Online. Twitter & Instagram.

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