Cover Story: Interplanetary Criminal
Cover Story: Interplanetary CriminalApril 17, 2023
As years go, the recent one has been far from monotonous for Interplanetary Criminal – and a distant cry from his dance music epiphany in 2012, when Huxley’s moody house track “Box Clever” resonated so deeply that he began to navigate writing and mixing music for himself. Hailing from Bolton, Greater Manchester, the producer and DJ — real name Zach Bruce — is still reeling from his collaboration with Eliza Rose, “B.O.T.A (Baddest Of Them All),” reaching UK #1 last summer. And rightly so.
“It was this amazing, beautiful thing,” he recalls. “My mates were so gassed. It felt like everyone around me was celebrating it and I really didn’t process it at the time, actually. And it’s this crazy thing now where I’ve got a number one with Eliza. Like, I had a number one record. It’s so weird to think — you take a step back and it’s something I never would’ve wished for, especially not underground music, you know?”
Speaking over Zoom from Australia following a lengthy run of shows, Bruce talks fondly about the record, and in the wake of its success, his eagerness to stick by his beloved underground — and northern — roots, regardless of the increased numbers of folk now following his every move.
“This is where I came from and I felt like I had this affinity with that. I think maybe this is why the song was so successful, because it was these two underground artists that came together, made this tune and it crossed over.”
“The speed garage sound is very northern. As a northerner, once you resonate with that, which you’re so proud of, that you’ve grown up with…” he trails off, grinning wistfully. “I’m from Bolton and it was all donk, and the cool people were into niche stuff. So to go back to that and make tunes that have context of what your surroundings have been, where that flourished back in the day, is a really beautiful thing.”
Paying homage to both locational and sonic influences is evident throughout Bruce’s discography, “B.O.T.A” and all; there’s a continual emphasis during our conversation on the importance of the originators of the sounds apparent in the Interplanetary Criminal alias. Since the beginning of his musical journey, initially delving into house and bass before exploring lo-fi and ultimately settling on garage, Bruce’s Mancunian roots and nearby previous base of Leeds — ironically, the less tropical location where I’m speaking to him from — all contributed to the artist we experience today.
“I felt like for me the input of British music has been something I’ve always been very proud about being British for, because I think we do it really well,” he explains. “So when I thought of dance music, it was UK dance music, it had to be. So really, I think that the UK garage sound, I always felt like it was totally engrained in our culture, you know? I remember coming to a point where after a few gigs I’d played garage and I was like: ‘I’m gonna try make some tunes that are totally inspired by that old school sound’. Make sure the context is all there.”
Noting influences such as El-B and Jeremy Sylvester at the time, 2018 saw Bruce and his peers begin to explore and push boundaries within the garage sound. “When I was making tunes I was swapping them with my mate Adam, known as Main Phase, and I remember there were a bunch of breaks artists like: ‘Oh, we’ve made a garage tune.’ It’s funny: my mate Breaka said to me that his brother had started making garage — and his brother is Bakey, who is a massive garage artist now — but back in the day, you know, it was different. And then fast forward to now it’s totally the sound. There’s so much of it, and so many different subgenres.”
These subgenres, and the variety existing under the umbrella term of UK garage, are precisely what Interplanetary Criminal aims to showcase within his latest project. On the one hand, he’s been navigating a sold-out UK, Australia and New Zealand tour plus a plethora of shows elsewhere internationally, singlehandedly sending TikTok crazy by dropping a Vengaboys edit by Bristolian producer Badger.
“I remember having it on my USB for some time and I wasn’t sure what the vibe was and I didn’t play it for ages,” he laughs. “I played it back in November and it’s been in every set since. Some people just are able to make that one tune that really is one of the standout tunes of a set and it’s got the little grimey breakdown, it’s banging. People can say what they want about it but I’ve seen the reactions over and over again and it bangs!”
On the other, he’s been donning the curator hat, fabricating a V/A compilation for the iconic Locked On Records, titled All Thru The Night. Having reached out to the artist some time ago now, the label — founded in 1996, legendary in the UK garage sphere — were keen to capitalise on the genre’s resurgence, building bridges between the old-school and new-school sounds of garage.
“When you’ve got labels around you that are supportive and really wanna help push the sound that they helped carve again it’s great,” Bruce says, the gratitude for his partnership with Locked On very much at the forefront of his words. “I felt such an honour [to be approached]. It’s a legendary label — and if you look back, some of the most influential garage tunes, classic garage tunes, came from that label.” He recalls back to 2018, laughing that besides dodgy vinyl rips, the only new authentic garage sounds were stemming from Locked On’s output, highlighting its influence throughout his experiences with dance music as a whole.
Working with Locked On also aligns with musicians’ yearning to stay authentic to the genre, pay homage to the OGs, and appreciate those who paved the way for you. “When I make tunes it’s all inspired by the stuff that came before – to have one of these labels that was, the pioneers in a way, very very important in the scene back of the day… for them to appreciate what you’re doing now and ask you to do the next compilation while garage is having a resurgence —” he pauses, again with his admiration for the label shining through, “It was just like ‘wow, this is sick’, you know?”
All Thru The Night is formed of 15 original tracks meandering through various soundscapes of UK garage: 4/4 swiftly shifts to speed garage, before organ tunes and two-step take hold. Alongside three Interplanetary Criminal tracks (one of which is a collaboration with Todd Edwards, another a link-up with band Porij), those involved include Bakey, Main Phase, Ell Murphy, Holloway, Perception, Highrise and Soul Mass Transit System to name a few. For Bruce, it was instinctive to spotlight artists from all cruxes of the UK garage scene in the record, both old and new-school. The aim? Curate a body of work in an ode to authentic UK garage music.
“From 2018 there was a community of people that derived from a Facebook group called Shuffle n Swing. A bunch of garage heads started the group and it was a community of sharing tunes, sharing records. And [in] there [were] people like Perception and Highrise that make these super authentic, old ‘98s sounding records. That is real authenticity.” Both producers feature on the compilation, alongside those who Bruce describes as “the other side,” with Main Phase, Holloway and Bakey amongst others bringing the new school vibe of “dark, two-steppy” material. “I just wanted to make sure that the people who influenced me in terms of the new sound and what I saw from the start of this resurgence were appreciated for that. And I really do feel that this compilation does represent everyone who basically carved it from 2017, 2018.”
He might be a number-one hit artist — but the adoration that Interplanetary Criminal holds for his predecessors (both close to home and further afield), those on the journey with him right now, and everyone in-between, is immense. Firmly cementing to me his duty to pay tribute to these people — even more so since the success of ‘B.O.T.A’ — there is a keenness to represent all corners of the UK, with particular fondness for his stomping ground of Manchester. And doing so is not restricted to solely the music; the record’s artwork is created by his best friend, contributing to what Bruce describes as a “wholesome” final product.
Interplanetary Criminal’s V/A compilation All Thru The Night is out now via Locked On. Buy it on Beatport.
Local music scenes, he elaborates, are a mighty force. The quirks and elements associated with each subculture are something held in high regard by the artist and is something he tries to embody within his work persistently. “I was always so proud to be a Manchester artist. And the sounds — especially on the “Why” tune on the compilation was inspired by a lot of Zed Bias, who’s another Manchester garage legend.
“I like the idea of cities having a specific sound,” he smiles, referring to the compilation as a record which embodies just that through each individual track. “If you look at Birmingham it’s speed garage/bassline, Sheffield the same, Manchester had like acid back in the day… I love that. These subcultures within a city are sick. If I knew a particular artist was from, let’s say Birmingham, and they were making proper bassline house, I’d be like ‘mint’, because they’d grown up with it; they understand it. Someone from Bolton making donk, it’s sick, they grew up with that.”
Once more, it all returns back to the pride and love Bruce holds for British music culture and embracing your home turf. “I love context. People that take their surroundings and put it into their work are sick. And I think that’s really important.”
At the beginning of our call, Bruce and I immediately bonded over living in similar areas of Leeds, our love for the club scene there and its rich musical tapestry. Towards the end of our discussion, almost poetically, he returns to that very notion — and, of course, the lasting impact of “B.O.T.A.” “We were talking about being really proud about being from the north earlier, and I want my music to have the little homages in there from all [of] its different types of music. The stuff that resonates with me is timeless, so the stuff that I make I wanna be able to look back in 20 years and play it again and not be just like it’s a product of that time. People liked ‘B.O.T.A’, a speed garage, organ-y tune, as that crossed over [into the mainstream]. Chances are they’ll be into the sound that we’re doing because it’s all influenced by the same thing, right?”
Interplanetary Criminal might be known to many as a speed garage number one hit-maker, sure; but take a moment to scratch beneath the surface. You’ll be left with a proud Bolton lad holding deep admiration for his craft, his genre and those who laid the foundations for him to propel onwards.
Listen to the full All Thru The Night (Locked On Vol. 4) compilation below, or check it out on Beatport.
Niamh Ingram is a freelance journalist living in the UK. Find her on Twitter.