Big Bad Dark City: how Alley Cat dropped her debut EP 26 years into her career
Kokeshi boss brings us up to speed and drops an awesome mix to celebrate
It doesn’t matter how short our attention spans get, how instant our gratification needs become or how quick it seems like the rest of the world moves in comparison to our own ventures…
The best things are always, always, ALWAYS worth waiting for.
You can ask Randall, who released his debut EP at the age of 50, after being regarded as a venerable daddy of the scene since day one.
You can ask the Samurai bossman Presha this too, as he’s also dropped his debut releases after nearly 30 influential years in the game.
Right now, though, you need to ask Alley Cat. An established DJ since 1997 with a production discography that dates back to 2000 (with a massive remix from the mighty Konflict no less), she’s literally just dropped her debut EP… And it’s definitely worth the 26 year wait.
Three tracks deep, Big Bad Dark City is the sound of Alley Cat (real name Alicia) reconnecting with her roots and passions as an artist. Flexing from the more musical, deep D&B style of the title track to uncompromised weaponry like May Day, it’s had support from the likes of Dom & Roland and Kemal and marks the start of an exciting new outlet for Alicia’s creativity as she has plenty more to reveal in the coming months.
Amplified by her presence on the all new Kool roster, it’s an exciting time for Alley Cat but it’s important to note that she’s never been away. As the head honcho of Kokeshi, a hugely respected label that has forever flexed between the tempos and championed artists such as Kiat, Lung and Konessi, AND as the co-owner of drum & bass agency ESP, Alicia has been neck deep in the culture 24/7 her entire adult life running things behind the scenes more than she’d ever publicly say.
Finding time for her own productions amid her many other commitments – both industry and personally – has been the major challenge. But it’s something she’s made a priority in recent years and we’re all about to enjoy the benefits of this as we’re reminded, once again, that this game is a marathon and not a sprint.
To mark the moment, Alicia has dropped this stunning mix loaded with tracks from the EP, personal favourites and a few little surprises along the way. Check it and get to know as we go deep with Alicia in this extended interview.
What a mix! Thank you! I’ve recently got decks again and have remembered how good for the soul a good mix can be. It’s up there with a good gym session in terms of how it makes you feel.
Oh for sure! It’s a very similar experience to what a lot of people get from meditation. When you’re mixing you’re not thinking about anything else, you’re not worrying about the ills of the world, you’re just lost in the music and focused on what’s happening in front of you thinking about what you want to play and how you’re going to do it. It’s a very special process and great therapy isn’t it? I’ve found when I’m DJing more, I’m settled in other aspects of my life and my job. I can express myself creatively in that way and forget everything else for a couple of hours. I’m glad I’m doing a lot more of that now.
Did you ever stop entirely? For me you never went away but I think that’s because you have a presence in other aspects of the industry as the co-owner of an agency. Alley Cat operations have always been going on in the background haven’t they?
Yeah I guess I didn’t completely stop, I just went through different phases. It takes a lot of effort to keep relevant doesn’t it? So there’d be times in my life where I’d go quieter and not push so hard or release music or be affiliated with a particular brand. It’s life; you have ups and downs and I’m also a mum so there have been a lot of moments where I want to focus on family life over anything else.
And, sure, as you mention, I have a duty of care for the artists on our roster. It’s my responsibility to care for and elevate the careers of all of them and that does have to take precedent over my stuff a lot of the time. But right now I’m putting myself forward more which will be beneficial in other ways. I feel I’m better at my job when I’m nurturing my creativity in this way if that makes sense?
That makes total sense! It sounds like you’ve been nurturing it well, too. Big Bad Dark City is vibes! It’s your first release in quite some time isn’t it?
Yeah it’s been about 10 years. My last release was on Kokeshi alongside Lung. That was more dubstep type of stuff. My last D&B release was Sweetspot on Offshore which was around 2009. And actually this is the first time I’ve had my own EP. This is the first time I’ve done an EP by myself.
Oh wow! Congrats!
Thank you! I’ve been working really hard and putting in the hours most evenings after work. I’ve barely sat down with the family to watch TV in the evening for the last six months. I’ve just focused on music and sacrificed everything I could for the time being to push myself as much as I can.
I’ve figured out a better workflow as a result. I’ve been producing since 97 but not engineering until 2008 when I got into FL Studio. Like most people, I was scratching my head for such a long time about the technical side of. We all know how technical drum & bass can be, right?
It’s one of the most defining characteristics of the genre!
Yeah, and that’s great for those who have a real passion for geeking out on that side of production. But it’s not me. My focus is more on the songwriting side. I can’t worry about the mixdown, I’ll just sit down and write songs. Every night. And that’s what I’ve been doing all these nights. And through that process I developed better mixdown techniques and a better workflow.
I want to shout out Alibi actually. He gave me some great advice. He didn’t do anything physically on the mix but he taught me stuff over facetimes and we went through a few things that really clicked. S.P.Y gave me some good advice too. He told me to stop overthinking things. NonRev is another inspiring friend who has shared some advice and has such a prolific work rate.
That man is a machine!
I can’t keep up! He’s given me some great advice. It’s advice I think a lot of people can benefit from about the admin side of being a producer – the set-up, the workflow, the pre-planning. Once you’ve got a process in place you’ve got a structure that makes everything else in the process a lot easier to navigate. So it’s things like that that I really learnt from. Although I will say that if the tunes were mixed down for me by someone else then that would also be fine. There’s a lot of stigma in D&B about this but it’s absolutely fine if someone else has mixed down a song you’ve written. Male, female, non binary…
Massively. Play to your strengths and work with others. No person is an island!
I remember years ago Breakage said something which stuck with me. I was stuck in my head about a tune for ages and he said that he and a lot of producers share ideas to each other and give each other feedback. I was like, ‘Oh okay, I didn’t realise!’
I think because I’m a girl I just didn’t understand that or I felt like there would be that stigma for me asking for any feedback. Now I’m in a place in life where I don’t care about that stigma anyway, I’m going to do as much as I can myself and keep learning. I’ve learnt loads in the last year but it’s also okay to get feedback from people.
Totally! You’ve been very emphatic about the fact your new music was produced and engineered by yourself though and I feel that’s because you’re a female artist. A male artist wouldn’t feel they have to stress that so much.
Definitely. But maybe also because I’m a little older and have been doing this a long time I have baggage from the past. Even when I did some mix CDs in the early 2000s on a label we had called Skunkrock I remember people accusing me on DOA of not doing a live mix and doing it on software. This was the early 2000s so I don’t even know what software I would have used to do them any other way than mix them on turntables! I actually recorded those mixes 100s of times and wanted them to be perfect. But it doesn’t matter how much you try, some people will always try to put you down. Especially back then. There’s been some progress since then but I will always carry a little baggage there.
Understandable. Unfortunately. Talking of Skunkrock though, one of your earliest release had a Konflict remix!
Yeah Payload. That was the first release I ever had. We used to have this house in Charlton, around 1999, and loads of DJs and artists would roll through there and myself and Tha Countamen produced that in his bedroom in that house around then. The fact it came out with the Konflict remix was really cool. It was super different to their sound at the time. It felt more Detroit influenced. They did another remix for us a few years later too; UFO!’s My Personal Blackmail. The original was really good already but Konflict took it apart in such an amazing way.
Classic Konflict! It feels like you’re tapping back to that sound and vibe with Big Bad Dark City…
I think I’m tapping into all kinds of sounds and vibes with the EP. Big Bad Dark City is quite musical, Construction Tune is more rolling and May Day reminds me of the 97 techstep era. Obviously it’s up to the beholder, but there was no intention about the sound or direction besides the fact I’ve made some tunes, someone likes them enough to release them and I feel they work well together. I feel if I was tapping into any sound or vibe than it goes back to what I always see my DJing identity is… The sound and spirit of those really iconic collections like Platinum Breaks on Metalheadz and The Prototype Years on Grooverider’s label. They were so influential to so many of us and it’s a vibe that I look to be inspired by in everything I do to a certain extent.
Yeah you can hear that. The EP marks start of quite a lot of material you’re going to be releasing, right?
Yes that’s right. It’s a dubstep project which is very special to me. It goes back to 2008/2009 when I was making a lot of dubstep stuff. I started Kokeshi when I found Lung on MySpace. There was so much going on in dubstep at that time and I was so inspired.
At the time I was building up a project that I was very excited about but I had to pause because of life stuff. Then during covid I started to go back over that material thinking the mixes would sound awful. They were actually fine. I overprocessed things a little but they’re totally fine. In the meantime I’ve been making a bunch of new tunes as well and the end result will be an album next year in spring.
I’ll be announcing things and sharing more about it around Halloween. It’s a really important body of work to me. Being able to step away from something for 10 years and come back and still love it, maybe even love it even more than I did, is a special feeling.
What was it like to listen to? Music holds some very strong memories or emotions doesn’t it? There are things I cannot listen to any more because of that!
I hear you on that! And it does come from such a heavily emotional time in my life. When I was writing a lot of it my dad almost died and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s so there was a lot of worry and a lot of emotion happening behind the scenes. It was a very challenging time. He was in the US and I felt very helpless being over here in the UK. It was definitely a dark time. But he passed in 2019 and got to enjoy life for a lot longer than any of us anticipated, so I have some special feelings and memories of that time. I get what you mean, though. I have records I’m so deep in I can’t listen to any more but with this it’s like, ‘You’ve created this, it’s banging, get into it!’ I’m surprised by that reaction but maybe because I’ve left it so long it’s really positive. More than I thought it would be. It’s been a great boost for my confidence in that way.
Lush! Makes it more meaningful doesn’t it? Big Bad Dark City marks the start of this for you publicly doesn’t it?
Yeah! And I have loads more tunes as well. Anyone who listens to my Kool show will have heard other things I’ve got ready. It’s been really cool because previously I wouldn’t play my own music. Sweetspot I would play, but the others I wouldn’t. it’s crazy to think that I didn’t but I’m in a different headspace about it now. And actually it’s a really great feeling when you’re mixing your own material with records by artists you really love and it sounds okay then that’s a great feeling too.
Sick. How’s it going with Kool?
It’s going well! I was very happy to be invited. I don’t know who put my name forward but bless you whoever you are! Thank you! It made my year really. And it’s little things like that which give me the boost and help me appreciate the value in what I do.
I did a lot of radio in the early 2000s. I did a lot of shows on Groovetech which was a really pioneering platform as a streaming radio station. It was ahead of its time. I was on there for a few years, did some pirate radio in London and did a show on Life FM for years which I loved. It’s full circle for me and it’s a great outlet, I don’t play out every week so this gives me that outlet to test out tunes and go in and have a vibe. I’ve done every show live so far and I love the excitement of that. It’s quite a challenge… you’re mixing, you’re live, you’re talking on the mic. It’s intense but I love it. I hope I can keep doing it. I had Deeizm on one show and we had such a great time rocking out for two hours. She has so many amazing lyrics. She blows me away, she’s an amazing writer and I hope people see that.
Salute to Deeizm! On the flip side, I know you’ve got a show dedicated to your good friend who sadly passed lately, Vaccine.
Yeah I just want to honour her. It’s so so sad. It sucks. We had a release together which was one of my favourite releases I’d ever done. Mine was Sweetspot and hers was Radiate. It came on Offshore and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. We got to know each other really well during that time, having loads of conversations over AIM and I respected her so much as an artist.
It’s such a bummer. I tried to get hold of her a few weeks ago and I’m so upset we didn’t have another conversation. I’m going to do a tribute on my Kool show in October and I’m currently gathering stuff for that and want to share my love for her art and hopefully articulate what her music meant to me. She had a unique style and approach and produced in a very different way. She used a DAW called Renoise and had an amazing mind in general. Her workflow was very different and her sound was too. It was very different to the sound coming from the UK at the time but she was highly regarded and will be sorely missed.
Rest in peace! So the Vaccine special is the next Kool show? And following that you’ll be announcing more material?
Yeah by the time you read this, DJ Roxanne will have done a mix for me on my show which aired on September 18. My shows are once a month every third Monday 9-11pm and my Vaccine tribute will be October. In the meantime, yeah I’ll be making an announcement around Halloween time later in October and there’ll be more drum & bass before the end of the year, too. It’s all very exciting and I want to quickly give a big shout to some people who’ve helped me make this happen. Vaccine, Red Army, Robyn Chaos, Deeizm, Alibi, NonRev, S.P.Y, Battery, Presha, M + L and Tabitha. Thank you!