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On Cue: DJ IC

On Cue: DJ IC

DJ IC demonstrates Afro house mastery for the On Cue mix series, and speaks to Tice Cin about his evolution through London’s club scene, growing up on the Aylesbury Estate, celebrating togetherness, and championing young talent

London artist DJ IC’s productions brim with lessons learned from his deep engagement with Black British music throughout his life and career. When you hear one of his sets, or take in one of his regular releases, they are like lectures ready to be shared — his sound is often minimal, breathy, percussive and always engaging; in-depth presentations of his connectedness to the many lineages of Afro house and Afro tech.

Inspiration meets him on a regular: “I get sent music daily, from emails to WhatsApp group chats. Rap, old-school jungle, d&b, dancehall...” Jungle in particular was one of his first loves, and its presence can be felt in the heavy basslines of the Afro house he makes now. “Sometimes it might sound like jungle slowed down,” he says. 

Inducted by his children, he also listens to UK drill. “They’ve been pushing for many years, a lot of their beats are deep with the FX and sounds they use. I wouldn’t rule out dabbling,” he says. Crucially, when experimenting with new genres, he doesn’t cut ties to his past, but carries his influences through so they remain present in the evolution of his sound.

IC takes inspiration from the world outside too. He loves going on walks, “out in the open, away with your own thoughts”. As such, foley regularly finds its way into his productions — during his walks he always keeps his thumb near the record button. Bird and nature samples are abundant on his early EP ‘No Time 2Wait’, with the track ‘Stomp 2’ featuring a melodic line with a rich natural warble. He even discovers sounds from people passing by playing music in their car.

IC keeps his sound actively informed by other music scenes. His mixes act as presentations of sorts, particularly on his weekly All Shades Of The Drum show. The recent amapiano edition dishes up underground cuts like ‘Woza’ by popular fusionist Ntokzin. 

Now, he’s set to release ‘Aquarius’ (named after his star sign), an amapiano LP that reflects the years he’s spent immersing himself in the scene and its culture. “It’s important not to go to a few big DJs’ SoundClouds and just mine three good songs from each set, then call yourself an amapiano DJ,” he says. “You need to do your research, listen and pay attention to the producers, as well as the DJs. Go back and check their old tunes, discover and make anew. At [house collective] Circle that’s what we love to do, when we find an artist like Shredder SA or Prince Kaybee, we go and check their whole back-catalogue together.”

DJ IC pointing at the camera playfully on a yellow/orange background

Community, creativity and discovery are at the core of DJ IC’s approach. His emergence came with Aylesbury Allstars, the South-East London grime and garage crew he was part of in the early ‘00s with friends from knee-high Tippa, Ricardo and Kaspa D — picking up press, playing big events and pirate stations like Entice FM, Taste FM and Delight. Later IC and Tippa played together on Rinse FM and 99.3 FM, before the pair formed Circle collective with Supa D, Kismet and Feva. 

Individually, his “Sounds of the IC” motif thrummed through London’s best nights, including iconic garage and R&B night Cream Of Da Crop where IC played alongside key influences like DJ EZ and Spoony. It brings a smile to his face to recall. On his 18th birthday, during a particularly cold February, he rocked up to a Cream Of Da Crop night to DJ and catch a vibe in his finest regalia — fitted beige polo neck and Maxes on his feet — before having his shots swapped out for triples by his friends. “It made for a very short night!” he smiles, adding that he’ll “always cherish good fun times with good close people”. 

“Towards the end of my residency on Rinse FM with Circle I started studying,” IC remembers. “DJing a few nights a week and trying to prepare for exams wasn’t the best combination, so I practically came off the scene altogether, DJing at a handful of places and putting out compilation mixes. Five-and-a-half or six years later, I got my degree and set up my own business.”

Today, IC is a member of London Afro house and tech collective My Vibe My Tribe. Their show reaches 2,000 people every Monday morning, platforming emerging Afro house talent, while each Saturday, IC has a resident show on Drums Radio. 

IC works closely with collaborators in South Africa, creating a sound that’s intimate and vibrant. He believes in music as an expression of togetherness, one that knows no boundaries. “The end goal for me in a collaboration is to have learnt, to have listened and seen what they want to bring to the party. I learn so much from other people everyday. I’ve been making music I wouldn’t have thought to make myself,” he says. His frequent collaborator and friend, DJ Jim Mastershine, has introduced him to a lot of SA artists, like Tzaneen’s CeeyChris. Recently, they co-produced ‘Wind’, a glimmering song that blends aspects of jazz with kwaito and minimalist techno — it’s both ethereal and effective. “These guys helped me massively,” he says. “They guided me in how to perfect the art of making Afro house music.”

We talk about the process on his track ‘Elevation’ (taken from his recent ‘Adrenaline’ EP, co-produced with DJ Jim Mastershine). It has a kick underneath it that’s been EQ’d to deliver a swift heaviness. He gets sample packs sent from up-and-coming producers regularly — relationships built through his mailing list — mainly from artists in Germany and Brazil. He’ll formulate a beat with 15 kick-drums and hi-hats, broken up with FX running through his kicks.

IC in a coat and scarf on a yellow/orange background

Growing up, IC couldn’t go into a household without hearing music, especially on Sundays. It was mostly reggae — music that you could “feel the emotion in”. As a younger on Aylesbury Estate in South-East London, he’d be brought along by olders to parties, walking through the doors to see rooms full of aunties and cousins, smiles all round. He’d always focus on the DJs, and they helped him get into DJing as young as 12. He notes, “In an estate like Aylesbury, it’s huge, you know everyone but you don’t know everyone. You’ve got associates you say hi to. At these parties, you’re getting to know them a bit more.”

He paints a picture of people congregating in doorways, standing at the sides chatting — he’d look at what got people moving. To him, the magic was in that feeling of community. The people around him really did look out for each other, something that’s “so important when you’re from a place that is notorious for being one of the ‘worst’ estates in London. It taught me to have respect for people I speak to, olders, and learn how to take good things away from your conversations.” 

To IC, these are the tenements of longevity, manifesting now in ways such as taking time to message the people who share his music and talk to fans who come to see his sets. “I never take things for granted. If I’m in a club I want to thank people who have come through for me — I see you.”

It’s important for DJ IC, as someone experienced in the music industry, to create safe spaces for others coming up. He has studio spaces in West Hampstead and Epping, and he lets people with limited resources use them for free. “I always want to give something back. I’m big on the youth, especially in these current times. When I was growing up we had more libraries, swimming pools, youth clubs — they’re all getting shut down. Being able to open out the studio to people allows them to have a safe space, where they’ll have an engineer provided and be able to use music as a form of release.” For him, there’s a social aim to this too: “Entering that space can allow young people to speak with people and meet people they may not have met elsewhere, and they can be themselves while getting creative.”

IC sends out bi-weekly mailers to 15,000 followers, highlighting key emerging talent across the world — sharing his audience with talents like InTuit, Simone Martinez, Des.UO, DJ Mutembz, Colombia’s Queen Rami and London’s Angela Rose (recently a winner of Defected Records’ UNSUNG HEROES competition for future DJ stars). 

In terms of creating a healthy ecosystem for people working in music, he explains how he’d like to see a level playing field: “I know women DJs who have been putting the work in and playing as long as I have and I’d like to see them on event line-ups, especially with the bigger brands.”

As well as working on his own record label, All Shades Of The Drum Recordings, he’s currently focusing on remixing songs for upcoming and established artists within the UK, Europe and SA. DJ IC is an artist who knows what’s happening around him. He’s done his research, and has become a music educator in action, imparting wisdom one track at a time.

Listen to DJ IC's On Cue mix below. 


GMG DJ, Fernanda, Txngos feat. Motion ‘My Dreams’
DJ IC ‘Dreams’
DJ IC, CeeyChris feat. Mvelodanature ‘Imvula’
Caiiro & Argento Dust ‘Kaos’
Caiiro ‘The Akan’
DJ Jim Mastershine & DJ IC ‘Roller Coaster’
DJ IC & CeeyChris ‘Set It Off (Revisit)’
‘My Joy (Re-Edit)’ 
DJ IC & Jim Mastershine ‘Fantasy’
DJ IC, CeeyChris feat. Hannah O’Donnell ‘Lost (Instrumental)’ 
DJ IC, Jim Mastershine & Idd Aziz ‘Meremeta’ 
CeeyChris & DJ IC feat. Mimi ‘Motherland (Instrumental’)’

Read about the UK Afro house renaissance here

Tice Cin is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @ticecin

Photo credit: Wacfoo