As a long running NTS DJ and producer, Lewisham born Bradley Miller, aka Cktrl (which stands for can’t keep to reality) has come a long way since his early days of making grime and dubstep whilst working in a Soho record store. Off the back of his debut EP, Forest, we talk to him about his evolving tastes, the importance of collaboration and the struggles of self-releasing a record.
What was it like growing up in Lewisham?
It was a lot of fun growing up, and I’ve stayed here because of friends and family. It’s changed a lot, they got rid of the model market and the estates, the whole place looks different… like a construction site at the moment.
What initially got you into music?
My dad and my uncle’s record collections; my dad wasn’t a musician, he was just into records and music, but my uncle was in a reggae band. I think that was the original thing that got me into production, reggae it influences everything I do sonically. My music may not sound like it but it carries the same production values.
How do you think your sound has evolved since you first started making music?
I’m just trying to do my own thing. I just make what I like to hear and it doesn’t always sound the same because I don’t always listen to the same things, or feel the same when I’m making something. It’s very much an outlet for me the whole process. I listen to music and wonder how they made certain sounds. So I’m constantly trying to express what I’m actually going through so the pictures can only get more vivid as I create more music.
What would you say were your biggest influences when it comes to making music, are there any particular artists that inspire you?
Friends really; all my friends are musicians so we just bounce off each other, we also make totally different music as well, so whatever happens it’s fresh you know, which is always good. There’s a lot of different artists; Andrew Ashong, Sampha, Nautic, Arca, Moses Sumney, Alex Isley, Young thug. I’d like work with him, Kid Cudi.
Do you think collaboration is particularly important when starting out as a producer?
Definitely, I think for producers it’s probably the most important thing because until that point no one actually cares! I’ve got so many friends, from Lewisham as well, they’ve been making tunes for ages and no one’s ever heard them because they haven’t done all of that. You do need it, whoever it is, get the biggest artist you can who fits what you’re doing and get on that, and afterwards people will care about your beats.
How did your NTS show, 72 Nations, come about?
I worked in Uptown Records in Soho, it’s shut down now, but I was making a lot of grime and dub influenced music at the time, and the stuff I was making was kind of like, roots and reggae influenced. I used to cut records on to dubplates, because around Soho you couldn’t show people your music on CD, they didn’t even have CD players in record shops. So I went to Sounds of the Universe because I knew they had a label based at the shop. I played it to them and they were into it and then Thristian, who was involved with Boiler Room and NTS, worked there some days, so I got introduced to him, played him the tunes, told him how I wanted to get a show, the station was only about four weeks old at this point. Then the next week he sent Femi, who runs NTS an email and the week after I started.
Has it changed much since the beginning?
Well originally it was a roots/reggae show and now it’s kind of evolved into a sort of experimental show where I just play whatever I’m into. I do still play reggae sometimes, my taste hasn’t really changed, it’s just evolved into other genres. I’m mad about singer-songwriters, I love well-written songs but I’m also crazy about hard hitting beats, so the show is just all of that in one. Sometimes I’ll do the first half where I play things like Moses Sumney, Sampha, Sean Nicholas Savage, Nautic for example, then weirder stuff like Drool, Inga Copeland, Dean Blunt who’s been around NTS from the beginning. He’s a really good guy and gave me the confidence to put out the record. He talked to me about self-releasing and how he wished he did that, so that kind of stuff, Tribe of Colin, John T Gast, all sorts!
I know you started as some part of the grime scene; do you still play those kinds of tracks?
Yeah old grime, what I like about that is that it’s so experimental and no one really plays a lot of the stuff that’s from round here, like New Cross and Brockley - and I’ve got all of that old stuff on vinyl. There used to be a record shop in Lewisham called Independance, and they sold mostly Grime music, so I used to just buy that. I used to go there when I couldn’t even reach the top of the counter. Bossman, who used to work there, was in a crew called Essentials and for me, getting into music was listening to them. They used to do Pirate Radio, they used to do sets around the area, I would go and watch them at Lewisham People’s Day. He’d just put the records on for me because I couldn’t reach, I didn’t have decks so I used to just buy one record at a time and just play it on my Dad’s belt drive turntable, just one little tune at a time.
Speaking of decks, you’ve obviously done a few Boiler Rooms sets, do you enjoy DJing?
Definitely, I got into it because it’s another way to get your music heard. But I guess five years ago now, London was a completely different place; you’d go out without expecting to know what you were going to hear really and that was fine. Now, people need to know, you need to play ‘that’ song, they’re probably going to come up to the decks and be like ‘have you got that song?’ Whereas before you were there to discover new sounds and that’s why it was fun, you could just get dubs cut and play out new records you’ve worked on.
What’s been your favourite place to play?
Tulum, Mexico for the Young Turks’ New Years Eve Party, that was insane. I was playing in between people like Grimes, The xx, FKA twigs, which was incredible. It was on the beach. All the people had come there knowing what expect from the artists, so as the DJ I could just live my life and play freely. Playing music that I made in my room to a crowd full of people while the sun was rising, no better feeling.
Bit of a difference to London, what about over here?
I’ve actually played in here before (New Cross Inn), Amersham Arms; there are loads of warehouses in Deptford that are really cool. Deptford is just getting there, like back when Boiler Room and NTS started I guess, only a few people know, it’s not quite there yet though. They need to work on getting the right warehouses and sound systems and making it better, but it’s definitely got the potential to be a party place at some point. Also Rhythm Section, I played there a couple of years ago, that’s the best party in South London.
Your debut EP, Forest, came out a couple of months ago, how did you get to that point?
To be honest, I think it’s been a long time coming. It’s one of them things where I was just waiting for a label, to cover costs and do what’s necessary. It’s different now though labels aren’t just investing in people and putting out records like they were five years ago. I kind of just did it as more of a statement of intent, to get the ball rolling; let’s just put a record out and see how that goes, rather than just posting things on Soundcloud and waiting for others to make me happen, but it was hard work. Making the music was the easy bit.
Do you think there are benefits to putting out a record independently?
Yes, but you need to give it a lot of time. The reason that artists opt for labels is that you need to give releasing music everything; there are so many jobs to do. You can’t do them all yourself, unless you are super organised (which is not me, ha). From getting PR to distribution to radio play, just promoting it all in general, it’s crazy. You have to believe in yourself though, I think the main benefit is the feeling you get when big DJs pick up on it and it was all you with little to no PR or radio plugging. Benji B, Moxie, Toddla T & Gilles Peterson have all supported the record.
As you seem to know South London pretty well, what are your favourite places here?
Hillyfields, it’s a nice park in Ladywell/Brockley and I’ve got loads of good memories there; also Honeypot on Lewisham way. And there’s a little cake shop in Catford called The Little Cake Place, you need to go there! They make the best cakes.
Words: Chloe Spencer
Photos: Design Butler and Sharkkana