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Get To Know: Deft

From: Croydon, UK
For Fans Of: Stray, Commodo, Shlohmo
Three Tunes: ‘For Sudden’, ‘Around’, ‘Scope’

Words: Ben Hunter 

Deft is the alias of Yip Wong. Born in Croydon, he has a talent for loping, sophisticated beats which, if you didn’t know otherwise, might trick you into lumping him in with his fellow Croydon-based, dubstep pioneers. In reality, he tells DJ Mag that he “grew up listening to pop-punk and commercial hip-hop” and, when played some early Digital Mystikz by his brother-in-law, he “just didn’t really understand it”. That same brother-in-law worked at Croydon’s legendary Black Sheep venue and, after getting hold of a copy of Fruity Loops, passed it onto Deft, who was drumming at the time. He attempted to just replicate his drumming but quickly “realised that I could actually do a lot more”. This germinated into a passion for dance music whilst at university in Brighton, where he met experimental producer Ital Tek and began regularly hitting the local clubs.

His university experience also solidified something already inherent to Deft as an artist: an ability to blend ambience with toughness. “I’ve always struggled to make straight, purely functional dancefloor music,” he tells DJ Mag. “I think I’ve always hit the balance of making music that’s for the headphones, but that you can also play out in a club.” This is key for understanding Deft’s unique stylistic location, one that straddles halftime, jungle, footwork, ambient and cinematic scoring. He describes it as “influenced through dance music, IDM, hip-hop and soundscapes”, but this sells short what seems more like skilful, genre cherry-picking: the broad sweeps of cinema, the snapping drums of halftime, the gargled warps of acid techno. This cross-genre approach has seen him work with a diverse range of labels, including Project Mooncircle, WotNot and Hypercolour sibling Space Hardware, as well as having the opening track for Maya Jane Coles’ ‘DJ-Kicks’ mix.

An already contemplative approach to music has been given extra impetus ahead of his forthcoming debut album ‘Cracks’ for Ivy Lab’s 20/20 LDN. Written mostly during his sister’s terminal illness, Deft explains, “A big part of it was just me escaping everything that was going on and I kind of shut myself off for a bit. It played a big part in helping me cope with everything that happened.” It’s given Deft a clear narrative, a story that conceptualises his sound. Nowhere is that more apparent than on ‘In Passing’, an ambient track which ends on a home recording, one of the last voice notes Deft had on his phone of his sister. It’s a sensational album, and something deeply personal. Deft describes it as “a reaffirmation to myself of what I can now do in the future”.

And what of that future? “I’d love to try something different, change my approach in the studio, change my set-up and my workflow.” Deft seems more focused on the process rather than the end result, an attitude which seems healthy in our current age of social media, high expectations and bad mental health. By his own admission, he prefers sitting at home writing music to DJing at big shows — although he’s done plenty of that too. Deft is a disciple of the creative process, not just a slave to the destination, and his new album might just be his best destination yet.