Taking it back in time – and looking forward – Maria Hanlon caught up with one of UD’s founding fathers and former DMC Champion, DJ Pogo, who flew in from Brazil especially to attend the Talent House launch party…
Maria: Did you have a good time last night?
DJ Pogo: It was really surreal because of where we started UD, to see where it is now. So it was kind of shocking and I saw people I hadn’t seen for 10, 15 years. I remember Ghetts when he was younger. When I saw him again last night, I didn’t recognise him. I’ve seen him on YouTube and stuff, but when I met him physically, I was like, Jesus Christ! So that was strange.
Maria: Let’s rewind back 20 years ago when the conversations about starting UD first began, do you remember those chats and what the initial idea was back then?
DJ Pogo: Well originally me and Sparkii, who was the other guy I worked with who’s like my brother, we were doing education work but freestyling it. We never really had any kind of direction in what we were doing, we were just doing it. We were basically just street kids doing what we love, but we never had an idea of how to put it in a professional way where people in a professional position could really understand where we were coming from. Pamela (UD’s Founder and Director) was the glue for that. Pamela used to manage me from when I was DJing and doing little things here and there and Sparkii too. So basically, it progressed from that.
Maria: Why did it feel like starting UD was an urgent need at the time?
DJ Pogo: I think it’s always been an urgent need. We knew there was something that was needed, but we just didn’t know how to do it. I grew up in East London, my school is walking distance from my mother’s house and the majority of my teens weren’t good. I’m not saying that in a bad way, I’m saying I didn’t learn as much as I should have done. I don’t know if that was because they didn’t have the facilities, but school for me, wasn’t really a good thing. I could see a lot of the young kids around me were just disillusioned. There were no youth clubs as the government closed all the youth clubs and there was nowhere for the kids to hang around. Loads of kids were into music but there was nowhere for them to practice it or do anything. So some of them were getting into trouble, some just weren’t doing anything. Because of our position in the community and what we were doing internationally, it gave us a face so we could use that as an example to basically back up what we were saying about education and where we came from. Pamela really got into the administration side of everything to manage it and put it together. We used to put our own money into our own events to make things work and use our name as clout to get into venues and certain things. I think that’s when people in the higher places started to really say, ‘Hey, these guys are actually doing something here and they’re doing it with their own money’.
Maria: So what were the early days of UD like and how have things changed? Obviously, it must have been amazing coming back to London and seeing the Talent House, but what was it like back then?
DJ Pogo: The majority of the things were outreach projects, and it was basically just going into schools. If I remember correctly, it was a Tony Blair government that gave us the initiative that was in at the time and helped us get into doing workshops with the school, like DJ workshops, production workshops. Sparkii would bring in all the midi equipment and everything and we would bring in the turntables. There was a lot of carrying around, putting stuff in the back of a van, doing workshops and working with children that people lost hope with and just put them in a classroom. We did lots of things in areas where it needed a breath of fresh air and that’s how it started. When I look back at it now it was a slog because we were sometimes doing two a week and it’s a lot of work, a lot of preparation, a lot of organising, a lot of maintenance, a lot of things. It was just us doing it, you know, a really small team of people on a shoestring budget trying to make it work. So those were really the seed planting days.
Maria: Sounds like a lot of hard work but you achieved so much in that time. Let’s fast forward to now, so you’ve been living in Brazil. What have you been up to over there?
DJ Pogo: I went to Brazil because we were doing workshops all over the world. I’ve been doing workshops all over the world since 1997. As I got more into workshops, I started doing more education stuff than actually performing live. So I was doing a balancing act. I would do a show then do a workshop, or if someone booked me to do a show, I would say, can I do a workshop? I first went to Brazil in 2002. I took TY with me (rest in peace TY), because we took him under our wing to help him with what he was doing. The Evening Standard sent a photographer to come and see what was happening in Brazil with us, like a fly on the wall thing. So we went to Brazil for a week and it was a really weird experience. I nearly got robbed (laughs) and we saw how people were really living. I went there to do a workshop and I had all this nice flashy gear, turntables and stuff, everything, and these people are struggling to buy things to eat and I turned up with all this equipment to do a workshop and I’m gonna go again. I felt so bad, I felt absolutely terrible. It just made me readdress what I was doing, workshop wise and what was important.
So I started to get a lot of companies to sponsor my workshops and I would donate the equipment to the places where I was. So I donated lots of my own personal equipment and loads of equipment from sponsors to lots of the community in Brazil. So they had workshops. Then they could use the stuff after I left and I went back again, just to check to see what they were doing… I went back for a holiday and met a lot of people. Then, because I was involved in the DMC championships and I’d won the championships, DMC never had a branch in Brazil for over 15 years. So South America wasn’t represented in the world championships and I said, that’s not right. How can it be a world championship with no South American branch in there? So I started working with a lot of DJs and practising with them and giving them music and equipment and using my name to help build their name, to give them a voice and a platform and eventually we had a world champion from Brazil. The first Brazilian world champion! And Brazil is one of the names everyone looks at now when they talk about DMC, so we are visible. The guys just get on with it themselves now, I don’t even need to get involved with it anymore. It’s not about saying this is mine, it’s about building something, planting the seed so it can grow and then you can move on and do something else, you know? So I still do a lot of educational work and I have private students that I teach out there as well, but it’s the place where I live now.
Maria: That’s incredible! Let’s talk a little bit more about DJing because I DJ too. You absolutely smashed your set at the UD launch party last night. I noticed you were using some software linked to the turntables right? Is that your usual setup?
DJ Pogo: I was using the Technics (turntables) mark five yesterday, the 12 hundreds models, they’re the standard. I can use almost all types of turntables. I’m not too much of a fan of the CDJs. Not because I don’t like them just because I like the things when they spin by themselves. I’m so used to the way the turntables work, I can use them, but I prefer just to use the original art form because everybody else uses the new stuff so sometimes to go back to the old stuff is a really nostalgic feeling. I think you should be able to adapt to everything if you’ve got the basic fundamental tools. I don’t really plan sets, I just look at the room, see what’s there and then I just go off that vibe and put one record on and move… I write the story as I’m doing it. I think if you know music, if you’re comfortable with the technical skills that you have, you should be able to do anything that’s presentable and what’s needed for the day, you know?
I try to play different stuff that can sit with the young and sit with the old. I try to play things that are new and old. I think sometimes DJs are so conscious about what they play they take the fun out of it. You know, a DJ’s job is supposed to be breaking barriers. You’re supposed to make people move. So if you’ve the right selection, it’s impossible for DJs not to be able to do it because you’ve got things like Serato and rekordbox now where you can put thousands of songs. Every DJ plays an hour or two hour set. A two hour set is roughly maximum 300 records, 400 records. You’ve got a thousand records, 2000 records in your crate, how can you go wrong? It’s impossible. So if you can’t do a good set with all the ammunition you have now, you haven’t mastered your craft yet.
Maria: So what did you think of the Talent House and this exciting new chapter for UD? What was it like going and seeing it all last night for the first time?
DJ Pogo: It was like watching your child grow up or getting a diploma. It was a long time coming, long overdue actually but due to the current problems we’ve got in the world and we’ve had over the last few years, I understand. If you look at it from a business perspective, art is a billion dollar business world worldwide, internationally. So if you wanna be a businessman about it, you have to make a product and to make a product you have to invest. So if we don’t invest in order to have our own crop of new emerging stars, there is gonna be nothing for the future so they have to invest on another level. If you look at it from just a humanity side, we need to invest in the kids for the future. Kids need to be creative, it helps bring out the new artists for the future. I don’t know what they’re gonna invent in the future, but if we don’t give them the blank canvas so they can paint that picture, where are we gonna be in 10, 20 years time? Like, think about it. If there was no UD, think about it if we didn’t plant the seeds, where would we be right now? When you think of all the artists who have been through UD, there’s been hundreds. I don’t think we would be in disarray, but considering the fact we were flying the torch for so long, for so far back, and we had a vision, where would we be now if there wasn’t someone that was doing that?
Maria: Finally, what do you see in the future for UD?
DJ Pogo: International partnerships. Why stay where you are? It gives you a chance to give the people you work with work experience in different countries. It gives you a chance to bring other people in, to see what you are doing and mix the cultures and break down those barriers and get proper international ties. They’re the ones we need to start to do. UD wants to be a true leader so that will be the next big step. It’s a big step, but it’s the one that has to be taken.
Words by Maria Hanlon @mariahanlon
Listen to Maria Meets on the 2nd Friday of the month 3-5pm on voicesradio.co.uk