In February 2020, Ploy shared a bill with Batu and Loraine James, celebrating five years of Batu’s label, Timedance. Playing the closing hours of the party, Ploy’s ferocious set spanned techno, grime, footwork, breaks, gqom, edits of FKA Twigs and Nina Sky, and everything in between. Six months later, he shared two hours of the set on SoundCloud. Early in the year, Ploy said in the caption, he’d reached a particular aesthetic with his DJing that he was happy with — captured in this set from Manchester’s The White Hotel. He fittingly described it as “rough and ready with bags of energy” — just what was needed halfway through the first year of the pandemic.
Soon after, in October 2020, Ploy quietly released his debut long-player, ‘Unlit Signals’, on Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S. label. A marked contrast to his previous releases — like 2018’s Timedance-released percussive techno cut ‘Ramos’, which found itself on many a ‘best of’ list that year — the album was full of dark, moody rhythms and atmospherics. He describes the production process as a years-long “laborious slog” that began long before Covid-19 hit, but the resultant mood — this time sombre, as opposed to uplifting — was once again an ideal fit for the times.
Speaking to DJ Mag on Zoom, Ploy often refers to his use of themes and reference points in his creative process. “I’m consciously trying to inform the music I make now by all my other musical interests and influences,” he says, “thinking about how referential I want to make it and how to do it in the best way. I’m more interested in stuff outside of the UK, taking inspiration from other dance music scenes from various other places and putting it back into my own thing.”
In an interview with No Symbols in August 2021, Ploy described what he likes best at a party — “unapologetic dance music hammering out, intense at times but [with] so much groove and soul”. Informed by baile funk from Brazil and the rhythms of dembow and kuduro, Ploy’s most recent EP ‘Rayhana’, released on his label Deaf Test, rings true to this want for hammering club music with soul.
Ploy — aka Sam Smith — grew up in the West Country, near Bath. His mum was an avid music listener who’d always have ’70s tunes playing in the house, and once he was around 12 years old, she started taking him along to gigs and festivals. He recalls some of the first live shows he experienced — luminaries like Stevie Wonder and John Legend. At school, he and his friends would listen to hip-hop and rap, getting tips from his peers’ older brothers, who had turntables and records. When he was around 14, he bought a pair of turntables from one of them and started on his own record collection. Beginning with UK hip-hop and grime, he went on to explore electronic music, describing his entry point — with a chuckle — as “bad drum & bass and dubstep”.
It was around the age of 17 that Ploy’s interest began to really shift, starting with a rave at Bristol’s Carling Academy (now the O2 Academy) featuring Andy C and Skream & Benga. (All these years later, he still has the flyer for that formative party.) In 2009, he went to one of Pinch’s Subloaded parties, also in Bristol, and experienced DMZ for the first time. “I was buying dubstep records mainly because other people were buying them,” he admits. “But dubstep doesn’t make sense at home. When I went out and heard it, that was when it made sense.”
At the same time, Ploy began studying for a BTEC in music technology. “I did A Levels at school,” he says, “but I only wanted to listen to music — I wasn’t interested in anything else.” Some of his lecturers at college were also key members of Bristol’s dubstep scene at the time, and he felt increasingly inspired to keep learning. A couple of years on a BTEC turned into many more spent studying his craft, as Ploy went on to get a music technology degree from Bath Spa University. It was there he ended up spending countless hours with fellow producer Bruce, sharing tunes and practising DJing together.
For a couple of years, Ploy was putting out records under the alias Samuel. He debuted on BRSTL in 2014 with a two-track EP of bright, grooving house, before 2015’s ‘Static On The Dancefloor / Pump Room’ on Mosca’s label Not So Much saw him go a little weirder. The following year, Smith, now releasing as Ploy, found his groove: wonky polyrhythms, frenetic percussion, a dose of classic Bristol sub-bass.
Ploy considers the two EPs he put out in 2016 — ‘Sala One Five’ on Hessle Audio and ‘Iron Lungs’ on Timedance (Batu was also among the Bristol producer contingent who studied at Bath Spa) — as two of his most important achievements so far, for the way that they established a blueprint for his intentions as a producer. “I started to find my feet,” he says.
Similarly, there are certain events that feel particularly meaningful and important every time he plays them, like Timedance parties or anything at The White Hotel. “I think it’s the best [club] in the country,” he explains of the latter. “Probably even in the world.” The venue offers the full package, he explains: good programming, a strong soundsystem and a team who know exactly what they want the club to be — not to mention the transformative occasions when it gets light and the shutters open. “All those characteristics put together make for some amazing moments,” says Ploy.
As for other clubs that can match the energy of The White Hotel? For Ploy, only one comes close — Venue MOT in South London. At the time of writing, Ploy has just hosted his third Deaf Test party there. The new label/party is a space in which Ploy can retain full creative control.
“I’ve got a loose theme in mind for each one that reflects my taste,” he says about the parties. “But they’ll always have this similar aesthetic: kind of dark, fun at times but also sometimes serious.”
Unannounced artists join Ploy on the bill each time, so far including the likes of Parris, Mad Miran and Pearson Sound. Over time, he says, he hopes it’ll establish enough of a community and a reputation that people will keep coming back because they trust the vibe will be good.
Ploy suffers from cholesteatoma, a condition that causes the bones within the ear to erode. He is deaf in one ear as a result. But as it’s a condition he’s had since he was young, he explains, he doesn’t know any other way of hearing, so it doesn’t significantly impact his way of making music. “It’s quite annoying as a DJ though,” he says. “I have to concentrate a lot more, and the booth setup has to be really good.” Deaf Test is named after a mix Ploy prepared for the AFFIX clothing brand. Prior to working on the mix, he’d gone swimming, got water in his ears, and ended up with no hearing whatsoever for a few days. “I recorded the entire mix visually,” he says. He later named the file ‘Deaf Test number one’.
Ploy has another club-focused EP incoming, as well as a collection of edits he’s been playing out for a while, but having spent lockdown making music for dancefloors, he now finds himself wanting to push slightly away from that, towards something “a bit more listenable”. Not too far from the dancefloor, he adds, but something “you’d be happy to just sit down and put on. I think that will inform where the label goes next.” In the meantime, his biggest focus is to keep improving as a DJ. “I just really, really enjoy it,” he says. “I want to push to be really good.”
Ploy's Recognise mix is a perfect example of his skills in that department, capturing his percussive, pulse-racing and sub-bass-shaking sound. Listen, and check the tracklist, below.
Hajj ‘Reverse Catharsis’
Nicholas G. Padilla ‘Hymn to Atabey’
DJ Gay-Z ‘KA$H SHIT x TOCO’
AceMo ‘New Style’
JK Flesh ‘Targeted’
DJ Baba ‘Call To Space (Tribe)’
El irreal Veintiuno ‘Demagogia’
Azu Tiwaline & Al Wooten ‘Nine Points’
Ploy ‘Ninety One’
Asna, anyoneID ‘Abissa’
Sha Sha Kimbo ‘Physically Closed’
Chromosav x Jags ‘Dolo R3MIX’
DJ Narciso ‘90 Cent’
DJ Narciso ‘DADA 2’
Tearz ‘Team Doctor’
Mia Koden ‘10easy’
Lil C ‘We dem with the braids’
Girls Revenge ‘The Magic of Defiance’
Jossy Mitsu ‘Turismo’
Stones Taro ‘Magma Driver’
DJ co.kr ‘Samulnor.E’
Sukubratz x Xakalele ‘Bala’
Sepher ‘Lavashack love’