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In Conversation: Degs

In Conversation: Degs

Every now and then in drum and bass, a hidden gem of an artist is unearthed - someone who has been working at their craft for years, patiently waiting for the opportunity to be uncovered and showcase their talents to the world on the big stage. And when you discover one of these artists, sometimes you just know they are destined for greatness.

That artist is Degs - a vocal talent Hospital Records revealed earlier this year through a stylish introductory video of himself singing. Signed to the label as only the second vocalist in Hospital’s history, Andy Degs represents not only a historic change of thinking for Hospital, but also a new and exciting prospect for the scene to celebrate.

If you’ve been to a Hospitality night recently, then you will likely recognise the cheeky grin and exuberant character Degs possesses. It’s this likeable personality combined with a constant determination to excel himself that has rapidly transcended Andy into not only a beloved member of Hospital, but a firm favourite of the entire D’n’B scene. With such stage presence and popularity, you would think that he had been a part of the label for years, but it was not until last October when Degs got his first opportunity to step on stage for Hospital.

His journey has been remarkable to say the least. In the space of a year, he has gone from recording freestyle sprayouts at home over liquid D’n’B tracks, to performing his own productions front of stage to thousands at festivals including Sun and Bass, Hospitality on The Beach and Liquicity. To add to this, in August, Degs achieved his most monumental career milestone to date, with the official release of his first multi-track body of work under Hospital Records - Degs’ Mixtape Sprayout.

This may have been the moment when things really started to slot together for Andy, but in order to fully appreciate the road he has travelled it’s important to look back at how his musical journey has evolved over the years - one stretching back to his time at Birmingham City University in 2008, where he began to immerse himself in D’n’B and focus on his passion for lyricism.

‘My flat mate and I would freestyle over hip-hop and then switch to to D’n’B.’ Degs recalls. ‘I had loads of rhymes and freestyles in my head before that as a bit of a joke, and I had sung on tracks a few times, but it wasn't until the first year of uni where I was like - this is the direction I want to go.

We did a thirty minute rinse out on Soundcloud and suddenly started getting booked. But it was more a case of jump up events. I had a bit of success in places like Belgium and Holland, with residencies out there in 2013, but it was nothing compared to playing top shows in the UK.’

Despite being regarded as ‘one of jump ups best kept secrets’, and being booked at events such as Invaderz, Degs had doubts over his future in this scene due to it being a fierce market - one where he felt his lyrical abilities were being restricted due to the nature of the events.

‘I’d kind of fallen out of love with the scene a bit because of its competitiveness. I was in it for quite a long time and it involved a lot of driving around to play room twos and threes. When you're in Belgium, there’s less emphasis on bars and more focus on crowd hype. I wanted to write more songs.’

It was at this point Degs decided he needed to take action in order to pursue his songwriting ambitions. This paved the way for the beginning of a new venture in Kikuyu Soul - an r&b and hip-hop project he started up alongside his brother Matt.

 

Swiftly followed by a 17 track album, Degs considers the project to have been a refreshing change of styles, one providing him with the inspiration to start writing for D’n’B again.

‘Because I hadn't been writing proper music for years, when myself and my little brother started writing, I had so many ideas. Previously, all I was doing was writing bars for jump up, and all of a sudden it’s like - okay, I’m going to start producing music and writing songs where I sing and rap, doing different tempos and styles. It all came so organically. Working with my brother on that album definitely helped me on my journey with writing D’n’B.’



Degs’ unique ability to combine singing and rapping has brought a breathe of fresh air to drum and bass. With bars inspired by the likes of Eskman, Skibadee, Funsta and Shotta, combined with singing inspiration taken from MC Fats - one of the first MCs to sing in a rave - Degs has been able to carve out a unique sound drawing in multiple influences. However, opportunities to combine these styles had been very limited.

‘When I first started spitting, I was just like an Eskman clone.’ Degs reiterates. ‘I mean, I’d been singing a bit at raves, but there weren’t many melodies to sing along to at jump up ones. I did used to take advantage though, as I had about fifteen to twenty hooks in my head, and I’d just sing whatever worked best with the key of the music. But those opportunities were getting less and less.’

As important a part of his life jump up had become, Degs always had the deeper ambition to work with liquid D’n’B - with the particular desire to spray over a liquid mix. And it just so happens his friend Daniel Gergel, who makes jump up under the name Danger, had recently started a new liquid alias called Vision in Autumn 2016.

‘He sent me a half hour liquid mix and I was like - this is perfect. I just experimented - writing some bits where I was half singing/half MCing. I sent it back to him and he said that it really worked, so we posted it on Soundcloud and it got a very good reaction.’

 

At the time Degs was only getting around thirty views on his productions if he was lucky, but this mix drew a much bigger audience, and as a result he thought to himself ‘this style feels a lot more natural to me, and I’ve always done elements of it, so why not focus on the singing mixed with the MCing?’

After putting out that mix, Degs really began pursuing this sprayout style in the raves in October 2016, which then transcended into him posting sprayout videos on social media over tracks including Red Eyes & Lenzman’s ‘We Were Kings’. But this was not something he found easy to do, meaning it took time to build up the confidence to post on his socials.

‘This time last year I was putting freestyle videos up online’ Degs recalls. ‘The Black Sheep freestyle was the one that set everything off. The reason why I called it that is because I felt like my style was different, and I wasn't sure whether or not it was going to be received well… That’s why I was so uncomfortable to post it online in the first place. Also, some of the lyrics are quite painful.’

Despite being a difficult decision to post the video, it was one of the best choices Degs has made. Social media is an important platform for any music artist - allowing them the opportunity to connect with their fanbase and build relationships. But for Degs, it ended up being something much bigger - the start of his destined career path.

The mix of Degs’ social media videos combined with a fateful entry into a Random Concept MC competition with Bellyman and Gary K, which he was unable to make the physical final of, proved to be the vital pieces of the puzzle for Degs - with multiple life-changing doors opening at once.

‘I posted another couple of videos and one was called ‘Fine Art’, which is probably the most successful of all the videos I’ve posted. Chris Marigold from Clinic Talent contacted me and said - I’m interested in speaking to you a little more. Are you up for coming to Hospitality on The Park?’

At the time, Degs had already quit his job in corporate sales - one that saw him travel up and down the country to earn a living - so he told Chris that money was too tight. But Chris responded ‘It’s okay, you’re on the guestlist.’

‘I was in shock. Me, guestlist…’ Degs jokes. ‘And then a few days after, Tony Colman (London Elektricity) from Hospital Records hit me up on Instagram, and so did Chris Goss. All of sudden everyone had contacted me over the space of a few days - it was surreal…

I’ll be honest with you, at the start I thought it was some kind of elaborate joke. There’s no way these three are hitting me up! Before they contacted me, I’d never had dealings and conversions with people this far into the scene before.’

After signing to Clinic Talent, and whilst still in negotiations with Hospital regarding a record deal, Chris Marigold contacted Degs to inform him that Tony wanted to test him out as an MC for London Elektricity.

Taking place at Hospitality Bristol in October 2017, this was Degs’ big moment to impress one of the label heads and show off his potential. But it was a nerve-racking one to say the least, considering the size of the artists he was now rubbing shoulders with.

‘I was unbelievably nervous because I hadn’t signed yet.’ Degs recalls. ‘It was the first time I met SP:MC and Logistics, so I was like - this is pressure… But the person who really settled my nerves was GQ, who was playing before me with Fabio. The calibre of people on that stage was not something I was used to before…

GQ came over to me and patted me on the back and said - mate, you’re a breath of fresh air. I’m looking forward to this. That really did help me. When I saw people were enjoying it, combined with the way Tony catered for me with the style of his set - letting me sing a little and go in on the bars at times - it completely settled my nerves.’



Being able to associate with artists as renowned as GQ, SP:MC and Logistics is something that Degs does not take lightly, because it has been a career nine years in the making - one that has thrown many challenges at him - but all of which have helped make him the person he is now.

‘This time last year was so different…’ he emphasises. ‘I make no bones about it, when I started in this game I was below average. It took a lot of self-reflection and criticism to get to where I am now. I feel less important and believe that people should never give up on what they want. If you are dedicated and try hard to improve your output as much as possible, you can find success.’

After impressing at Hospitality Bristol, and at following performances including Hospital’s NYD show at London's Printworks, Degs officially signed to the label February this year.

Joining the label was not only a huge milestone for Degs, it was also a head-turning moment in the history of Hospital Records, because alongside Inja, Degs represents the first wave of lyricists to exclusively sign to any drum and bass label, let alone Hospital.

‘I am actually really proud of that.’ Degs reiterates. ‘It’s also why I wasn't sure whether Hospital were being serious when they contacted me… When I sat down with the label to understand the gravity of what they were offering to me, I saw it as the most humbling thing. That is a piece of history myself and Inja both share.’

As an artist trying to break through, Hospital was always a label Degs looked up to, but it was never the place he thought he would be right now.

‘I actually sent Tony a screenshot recently of one of my Facebook memories. It was a video I’d posted and one person had commented - your sound would really suit Hospital Records. And I was like - that would be a dream, as a passing comment. It’s very ironic… Hospital was always on the radar, but it was never necessarily something I was aiming for.’

It’s not hard to see why Hospital took the decision to sign Degs and Inja. In a short space of time, both have become two of the most prominent and likeable characters on the label - performing at countless shows, oozing infectious amounts of personality, alongside constantly inspiring others through the positive messages they relay on social media.

‘I haven't even been signed to the label for a year yet… It’s crazy’ Degs stresses. ‘It shows that Hospital are forward-thinking, and obviously saw an opportunity, which is why I count myself extremely fortunate to have been making music at the velocity I was. I was churning out tunes and freestyles - just so happening to do it at a time when Hospital were altering their direction, so to speak. All the pieces fell into place.’

Joining the label was an easy decision for Degs, as he knew Hospital operate like a family - welcoming people in and nurturing them to be the best versions of themselves possible.

‘When I first met Tony at a coffee shop, he emphasised the family values of the label. I left that meeting thinking - if I did join this label then these guys would support me. And since then, the label has exceeded my expectations because they really do treat me like a member of the family.’

Family values are a core element of Hospital’s operations, one they have always proudly stood by. The introduction of Hospitality on The Beach earlier this year represented just how united Hospital and the rest of DnB are with its fans.

There was a touching moment during London Elektricity’s set with Degs that really defined the family aspect of the label’s productions, when Tony’s son ran on stage and proceeded to dance alongside his dad, with Degs looking on in amazement.

‘That came completely out of the blue!’ he laughs. ‘It was unplanned and that’s the best thing about it. Seeing him on stage doing the floss dance, and his brother also coming on stage, was a special sight. It was a family vibe.

The general atmosphere and people’s attitudes towards each other was unique. So many phones got handed in and people were getting them back two hours after they lost them.’

As Tony’s sons danced on stage, Degs emphatically relayed the message ‘This is why drum and bass is the best music in the world.’ It was a big statement, but one carrying a great element of truth. The sense of community shown between the labels, artists and fans is something that motivates Degs to continue working towards his d’n’b aspirations.

’It’s not often you get such a sense of unity in other scenes.’ he stresses. One of the best characteristics of our scene is that it’s injected with humility. It was nice to see artists chatting away with people at the festival. There wasn't a hierarchy. We’re all the same and we’re there for one reason - because we love D’n’B. That idea of being together as a community is something we are lucky to have in our scene. Hospitality on The beach was special - more than anything I’ve experienced previously.’

For Degs, this wasn't just any festival. It was one of those moments where he had to ‘pinch himself’ at the realisation of where he had got to in his career. In the space of a year, he had gone from posting videos online, to performing front of stage at one of the biggest drum and bass festivals to touch down on the Adriatic coast.

‘After 29 years of searching, this is where I find solace’ were the words Degs used to describe how he now feels when he is on stage.

A particular moment during the festival signifying exactly that occurred during the Hospitality boat party with London Elektricity, Nu:Logic, S.P.Y and MC Fava. On an intimate boat with the crowd huddled no more than a metre away from Degs and the others, his debut Hospital single ‘Poveglia’ began playing.

Released earlier this year, it’s arguably one of the label’s most successful debut releases - one provoking a barrage of positive messages and support spanning the entire genre.

As the track played out against a backdrop of a shimmering blue ocean, with the crowd singing the lyrics so passionately that Degs didn't even need to open his mouth, there was something particularly special about this occasion. It represented how far Degs has come in the space of a year - from posting his first online sprayout in May 2017, to releasing his first official single in May 2018.

‘It was absolutely amazing.’ he reminisces. ‘I’ve been so grateful to everyone who has supported that single. Myself and De:Tune wrote that track last year, and 100% neither of us thought it would find the success it has… He was on that boat party too - it was a proud moment for the both of us. The fact that the majority of people on the boat knew and passionately sang the lyrics is indescribable.’



The scope of people who know the track doesn't end there though, as it has become somewhat of an internet sensation with videos emerging of babies reacting to it.

‘I didn't think that people would ever show one of my tunes to their baby and get a reaction from it… It all started when a friend of mine, Jamie Kelly, posted a video of his baby watching the music video and it got a reaction. People just started sending me these videos of their babies listening to the track… If the music doesn't work out then I can start looking after babies for a living!’

There’s no question whether or not the music will work out for Degs though. Signing to Hospital and releasing ‘Poveglia’ was just the start of his journey with the label. In August, he achieved his biggest accomplishment yet with the release of his first multi-track d’n’b body of work - Degs’ Mixtape Sprayout.

Dedicated to his time working alongside his brother, the mixtape features some of the sprayouts that helped Degs cement a name for himself through his social media posts. The mixtape is more than just a release, it’s an insight into the journey Degs has been on - one shining a light on the sheer desire and dedication he has tirelessly poured into his craft over the years.

‘It took a lot of personal courage to even post those videos’ he emphasises. ‘I never used to have the confidence to even post material like that online, so to see those tracks turned into official productions for Hospital Records, and to perform them on stage, it’s crazy… I couldn’t have even dreamt this. I never thought I would be able to enjoy this life style. I am unbelievably grateful for it.’

Degs will be returning to the place it all began at Hospitality Bristol on October 27th at Motion.

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