Cas­sell the beat­maker

Gig­ging with The Streets, win­ning awards and in­spir­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of drum­mers

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - WORDS: CHRIS BARNES PHOTOS: JOBY SES­SIONS

If ever there was a per­son who em­bod­ied the phrase ‘mu­si­cal chameleon’, then Lon­don-na­tive Cas­sell The Beat­maker is it. From the ten­der age of 16 the young drum­mer was record­ing and tour­ing pro­fes­sion­ally with ev­ery­one from hip-hop artists to funk leg­ends. Then, through a com­bi­na­tion of raw tal­ent, im­mer­sion in the Lon­don hip-hop scene and em­brac­ing ev­ery op­por­tu­nity, Cas­sell was able to add pro­duc­tion, song­writ­ing and artist de­vel­op­ment to his ever-grow­ing CV. It’s a range of skills that have kept him in­cred­i­bly busy.

Some of Cas­sell’s ca­reer high­lights in­clude scor­ing a pres­ti­gious Ivor Novello award for co-writ­ing and drum­ming on Plan B’s hit al­bum

The Defama­tion Of Strick­land Banks, and work­ing with artists as di­verse as pop star Natasha Bed­ing­field, award-win­ning rap­per Akala and French Cana­dian singer Garou, with whom Cas­sell has pro­duced two multi-plat­inum al­bums.

These suc­cesses in­spired Cas­sell to share his ex­pe­ri­ences with younger mu­si­cians. Pre­sent­ing work­shops in the UK and beyond, and through his own artist de­vel­op­ment plat­form In The Mak­ing, he has been arm­ing as­pir­ing mu­si­cians with the tools to thrive in the in­dus­try. It’s an area he wants to grow in the fu­ture.

Cas­sell’s drive to in­spire has rubbed off a lit­tle closer to home too – his son Bai­ley is al­ready log­ging his own suc­cesses in the mu­sic world. At just 11 years old he snagged a fea­ture role as the drum­mer in the School Of Rock mu­si­cal, bag­ging a pres­ti­gious Olivier award in the process. Now, un­der the watch­ful eye of dad, Bai­ley and his

School Of Rock band­mates are climb­ing the lad­der with their own band, Now As One. Wit­ness­ing Bai­ley chop it up on Cas­sell’s kit dur­ing Rhythm’s pho­to­shoot, it’s clear he’s been pay­ing close at­ten­tion to his dad.

Be­tween spin­ning mul­ti­ple drum­ming, pro­duc­tion and artist-de­vel­op­ment plates, Cas­sell has been busy re­hears­ing for The Streets’ first tour in seven years. He’s clearly rel­ish­ing the prospect of re­turn­ing to a gig he first landed in 2009 and this seems like an

“I be­lieve that when you’re play­ing in a band it’s not about clinic drum­ming, it’s about mak­ing peo­ple dance”

ap­pro­pri­ate place to start our con­ver­sa­tion about in­spi­ra­tion, re­la­tion­ships and the im­por­tance of mak­ing peo­ple dance…

You’re cur­rently re­hears­ing for The Streets’ hotly-an­tic­i­pated tour. How has it all been go­ing?

“It’s been bril­liant. It’s been a long time. Ev­ery­body’s aware that our show has got to be so much beter than the last one. We watched the Melt Fes­ti­val [The Streets’ last gig] and it was re­ally good. I think ev­ery­body aims to do that ex­tra level. There’s a lot of ex­cit­ing things hap­pen­ing in the set so it’s gonna be re­ally cool. It’s just re­ally good to be back with the boys. Mike’s been bril­liant, so in­spi­ra­tional. He’s been com­ing to all the re­hearsals. He’s been throw­ing all these ideas in and we’ve been re­ally gelling. Be­ing in this band has re­minded me why I wanted to be a mu­si­cian.”

What do you think it is about your play­ing that made Mike want to work with you again?

“Mike could have any drum­mer in the world. It re­ally is an honour that he’s asked me to come back. It just shows you don’t have to be the best drum­mer in the world. I don’t think I’m the best drum­mer in the world. I’m not the clinic drum­mer. I be­lieve that when you’re play­ing in a band it’s not about clinic drum­ming any­way, it’s about mak­ing peo­ple dance. You’ve got to hold it down so the main per­son can do what they do, and it all works to­gether. That’s how I see mu­sic.”

You have a new Premier kit for the shows?

“Premier have been re­ally loyal to me. Colin [Ten­nant, Premier’s Cre­ative Man­ager] has been amaz­ing. Be­fore I even signed with Premier they sent me two kits. When I did Plan B they didn’t have a Pur­ple Sparkle Fade so they made one for me. Colin gave me two kits be­cause I was do­ing Plan B and The Streets at the time. They got me ev­ery­thing in time for when I needed it. This new kit sounds even bet­ter than my last kit. They’re a Bri­tish com­pany, my first ever kit was a Premier Royale – it all made sense. Their sup­port has been amaz­ing in ev­ery sin­gle way – the drums, even just help­ing with so­cial me­dia, com­ing up with new ideas, Colin comes to my gigs. Then, when Bai­ley started do­ing School Of Rock, they sup­ported him too.”

You have an ex­tra­or­di­nary cym­bal set-up too?

“I went down to Zild­jian and Tina [Clarke, In­ter­na­tional Artist Re­la­tions Man­ager] hooked me up in a mas­sive way. Ev­ery time I’m with The Streets I ex­per­i­ment. My last set-up was pretty crazy, but this is even cra­zier be­cause of the spi­rals and the ef­fects. The kit’s like a space­ship. I know my drum tech’s look­ing at me, know­ing he’s got to set it up. He’s try­ing to urge me not to use more cymbals. I have an­other 10 cymbals in my bag. Who knows! The rea­son I stuck with Zild­jian is be­cause Tina gave me stuff when she didn’t even know who I was. I’d just started with Plan B and my tour man­ager rang her up. She sent me seven cymbals. To get that from some­body who didn’t know how I played, she just took the word of my tour man­ager. She didn’t have to do that. I built a relationship from there. Vic Firth, Remo, Roland the same. I think the key is to be loyal to ev­ery­body who sup­ports me in that way. Don’t jump around. You can’t just keep­ing tak­ing s**t off peo­ple. Any chance I get to pro­mote the brands, I do, be­cause I be­lieve in them.”

While we’re on the sub­ject of gear, you’ve be­come in­volved in the world of hear­ing pro­tec­tion lately?

“I like be­ing in­volved in new tech­nolo­gies. I met Flare Au­dio first. They have this new tech­nol­ogy where they use one speaker to de­liver all the fre­quen­cies. They’ve given me these ti­ta­nium in-ears. Flare were work­ing with Snugs who made me some in-ears with their new tech­nol­ogy, 3D scan­ning my ears to cre­ate the moulds. Snugs make it easy for drum­mers to get moulds who can’t af­ford to get the proper gener­ics. You can get Snugs to fit most in-ears, if you’ve got Beats, Sennheis­ers. I’ve got a pair on my Shures. They asked me to be­come an am­bas­sador. We want to do a cam­paign about sav­ing drum­mers’ ears. When I first started [play­ing] you used to have these big 18" mon­i­tors on each side of your ears. That’s re­ally not good. You’re gonna go deaf if you carry on like that.”

Have you ex­pe­ri­enced any hear­ing prob­lems from play­ing mu­sic pro­fes­sion­ally?

“I do re­mem­ber com­ing off some gigs and my ears were ring­ing. I just knew if I kept on do­ing it I’d def­i­nitely have prob­lems. Luck­ily I don’t, but I know a few drum­mers who have. I use the Porter & Davies BC2 sys­tem with my Snugs and Flare in-ears. It’s a good sys­tem. It saves your ears ’cos you don’t need to have things up ridicu­lously loud. Take care of your ears oth­er­wise you’ll have a short ca­reer.”

You’ve achieved a lot through your ca­reer so far. Talk me through some of the ma­jor step­ping stones that got you to where you are to­day?

“My first ma­jor tour was with a guy called Keziah Jones. That was a mix­ture be­tween Afrobeat and funk. I toured the world with him. It was only three of us and it was the best ex­pe­ri­ence. It was like my ap­pren­tice­ship of drum­ming.

“Be­fore that I was in a jazz/funk band called Quite Sane. We won Cap­i­tal Ra­dio’s young band of the year. Our gigs sold out and Gilles Peter­son sup­ported us. Then I got a Prince’s Trust grant that I used to set up my first stu­dio. Then I started do­ing this thing called The Apri­cot Jam which was like a hip-hop event. All the MCs and hip-hop peo­ple of that time would come in and we would back them as a band. Then I did this thing called Aero­plane Man which was still a hip-hop en­vi­ron­ment but it was theatre.”

What age were you when you started play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally?

“I didn’t have a drum kit un­til I was 18, but I was play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally on the cir­cuit when I was 16. Imag­ine not hav­ing a drum kit and do­ing that! I would go to my friend’s. His dad had a Hay­man kit in the shed. I’d go there from 11 in the morn­ing and leave at 8 o’clock in the evening.

“I was also the first drum­mer to do [live mu­sic and artist de­vel­op­ment plat­form] I Luv Live. Jade Richard­son, who signed Ms Dy­na­mite, started that. There was no money in it, I did it more for her as a favour, but it ac­tu­ally turned out that she did me the favour. That’s where I met Plan B and Akala. I spent the next 15 years with Plan B. I co-wrote his Defama­tion Of Strick­land Banks al­bum. I got my Iv or Novello award for that. You can do things and they might not seem to be big, but it’s what you get out of it. If Jade hadn’t got me to do I Luv Live, I would have never met Plan B or Akala. They are the two artists I’ve been work­ing with for years. Then I met The Streets through do­ing Plan B.”

You’re a big be­liever in shar­ing your ex­pe­ri­ences and in­spir­ing young peo­ple. Tell me about some of the ways you’ve been able to pur­sue that?

“I didn’t like teach­ing at all, but once I started do­ing it I loved it. I do work­shops in Hong Kong. It’s not even all drum-based, it’s more pro­duc­tion and song­writ­ing. There’s a class of kids, they put them­selves into bands and some of them haven’t even played mu­sic. They have to learn two cov­ers and two orig­i­nals, then they do a show at the end of it. I’m work­ing with the kids through­out the week. By the end of the week you would never know some of

them haven’t played mu­sic be­fore, they’re that fo­cused and that into it. I’ve been go­ing there ev­ery year for about four years. The per­son that runs that is Mar­cel [Pusey] who’s from Bas­sistry Arts. We’ve been asked to go to some other schools in Sin­ga­pore. It’s re­ally sat­is­fy­ing and I want to do it more. This is why I set up the ITM.”

Your own artist de­vel­op­ment scheme?

“Yeah, In The Mak­ing. It’s ba­si­cally about de­vel­op­ing young artists. Some peo­ple want to sign these artists up, make them do things they don’t want to do and they get stuck in these deals. I’m try­ing to get fund­ing. I get flooded with emails from kids ask­ing, ‘Can I come in the stu­dio and work with you?’ I’ve only got so much time and time is money, so I need fund­ing to be able to do it. It’s not just about do­ing the mu­sic, but it’s about get­ting your mu­sic out there. I have a team who do the so­cial me­dia, im­age and ev­ery­thing. We set them up to do what­ever they want to do. They can stay with me or go do their own thing. I teach them what I’m do­ing, I show them my tech­niques. This is what it’s about. Pass­ing it on so it’s eas­ier for them. Nowa­days you don’t need a record deal, you can do it your­self.”

Talk­ing of young tal­ent, your son Bai­ley is at the start of a very promis­ing mu­sic ca­reer.

“He was al­ways on at me say­ing, ‘Dad, I want to be

“Mu­sic helps with ev­ery­thing else – maths, co­or­di­na­tion, things that peo­ple over­look. It’s in­spir­ing kids to do what­ever they want to do”

in a band, I want to play with kids my own age.’ It was re­ally hard for me to find any­body. School Of Rock was this per­fect op­por­tu­nity. He’d never done any act­ing or singing. He just knew how to play drums. I wasn’t re­ally ex­pect­ing him to get a main role to be hon­est. I hadn’t seen him do any­thing like that un­til I saw the first show. I couldn’t be­lieve it. Now he’s act­ing and singing just as good as all the kids who were trained. Then he wins an [Olivier] award which is equiv­a­lent to my Ivor Novello. The cer­e­mony was held in the Al­bert Hall. That’s the same place I did a show with Plan B. I’m see­ing him in ex­actly the same place that my drum kit was set up, do­ing a gig to the same amount of peo­ple. He was 11 years old. I started drums when I was 11! I was re­ally proud.”

Now he’s pur­su­ing a new band, Now As One, com­pris­ing mem­bers of the School Of Rock band?

“We’ve had a ma­jor man­age­ment com­pany in­ter­ested in them. They have a sec­ond video ready, they’ve fin­ished six songs. They’re ready to roll. They’ve been asked to do a few fes­ti­vals off the back of one video. The band can play. It’s not a gim­mick. Toby on guitar has five mil­lion views on YouTube. He’s just done Ellen. The band’s first ap­pear­ance on TV was Lon­don Live. That’s with­out man­age­ment or any­thing.”

You must have given him some ex­pert guid­ance?

“I want Bai­ley to take ev­ery­thing I’ve taught him and be bet­ter. I want him to in­spire other kids his age, whether they’re do­ing mu­sic or not, telling them that if they be­lieve in some­thing they can do it, no mat­ter what. It needs peo­ple of an older gen­er­a­tion to sup­port them. When I was at school, mu­sic was down at the bot­tom of the list. Now my old school has me in their ar­chive of suc­cess­ful peo­ple. Mu­sic helps with ev­ery­thing else – maths, co­or­di­na­tion, so many things that peo­ple over­look. It’s about in­spir­ing kids to do what­ever they want to do, whether it’s mu­sic or be­ing head of a bank.

The whole point is you have to be in­spired and mo­ti­vated to do it.”

Away from the drums you spend a lot of time in the stu­dio. What’s your favourite as­pect of pro­duc­ing mu­sic for other peo­ple?

“I just love pro­duc­tion. I’m 50 per­cent drums and 50 per­cent pro­duc­tion now. When you’re in the stu­dio with artists or mu­si­cians it’s re­ally cre­ative. I’ve worked with Natasha Bed­ing­field and a guy called Garou – he’s the male ver­sion of Ce­line Dion. We did two al­bums with him and they both went dou­ble plat­inum. Now I’m work­ing with peo­ple like Dionne Brom­field, who is Amy Wine­house’s god­daugh­ter, and a new artist called Josh Barry. I did four tracks with him and then per­formed with him dur­ing the Glas­ton­bury Emerg­ing New Tal­ent com­pe­ti­tion. He won it. He’s gone on to work with Rudi­men­tal.”

You seem to have an ear for ris­ing tal­ent?

“I’ve got this knack for telling when some­one’s gonna do well. I told Plan B he was gonna do well when he didn’t even know. I love work­ing with up-and-com­ing artists. It’s harder to work with signed artists. It’s eas­ier to start with some­one who will grow so when they’re big you’re al­ready in there. I think the younger artists are more fresh and they have fresh ideas.”

Do you think it’s im­por­tant to of­fer ad­di­tional skills on top of be­ing a great drum­mer?

“Most peo­ple don’t make loads of money just by be­ing a drum­mer. It dries up and you are al­ways chas­ing some­body else’s ca­reer. You need to do some­thing that’s around you. What you do then is you ping- pong – I go from tour­ing to teach­ing to pro­duc­tion. That’s how I’ve kept in the in­dus­try. If I was just play­ing drums I’d prob­a­bly be work­ing in Sains­burys or some­thing.”

“I’ve got this knack for telling when some­one’s gonna do well. I told Plan B he was gonna do well when he didn’t even know”

Cas­sell also does a lot of pro­duc­ing: “I just love pro­duc­tion. When you’re in the stu­dio with artists or mu­si­cians it’s re­ally cre­ative”

Cas­sell and his tal­ented drum­ming son Bai­ley

Cas­sell: “I go from tour­ing to teach­ing to pro­duc­tion. That’s how I’ve kept in the in­dus­try”

Cas­sell: “My last set-up was pretty crazy but this is even cra­zier be­cause of the spi­rals and the ef­fects. The kit’s like a space­ship”

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