On Cue: Tim Reaper
Tim Reaper records a whirlwind trip into contemporary jungle for the On Cue mix series, and speaks to Gabriel Szatan about his Future Retro label, earning the respect of veteran headz, and the art of creative sampling
Perspective is everything in the underground. To jungle fans, Tim Reaper is already part of the furniture. He’s been a mainstay in the scene since his teens, with an extensive discography and a heavy presence across radio and specialist mix series. He’s not just an artist keeping the flame of a classic sound alive, but a torchbearer outright. And yet, Tim Reaper is a name people are tipping for a breakout in 2021, bandied about as a new commodity on the market. How can both be true?
“The goals in jungle are a bit more humble,” explains Reaper down the phone from East London. “The desire is to shift 300 or 400 records, maybe pick up some DJ play, and that’s fine — so long as you’re selling well to the core, it’s all good. Producers care deeply about how they make their music, but not always necessarily about where that music gets to.”
This mentality has begun to shift in the past couple of years, Reaper continues: generationally-good club nights like Rupture and crossover success for artists such as Sully, Coco Bryce, Djinn and Homemade Weapons have cemented a feeling that there doesn’t need to be a ceiling on ambition. “The next step of growth for this little scene is getting recognition outside our bubble. If we expand it, we have an opportunity to get more life out of the music.”
Now the opportunity has arrived, Reaper is moving fast to nail it down permanently. At DJ Mag’s Best of British awards this year, he’s up for Best Producer and Best Remix (for ‘Lanterns VIP’). The double nod is confirmation of an unrivalled hot streak over the past 12 months. His work-rate has been prodigious, saying yes to the majority of mix, radio, remix, release and stream requests that came in. “I’m under no illusion that in a year’s time none of these people might be interested in my music or my DJing anymore,” Reaper states. “So I may as well do what I can right now.”
Adapting to turbulent reality, Reaper parlayed the idea for a jungle-focused club night into his own record label. Future Retro was inaugurated with an ambitious collaborative series called ‘Meeting Of The Minds’, foregrounding producers including Phineus II, FFF, Dev/Null, Kloke and Dwarde. A similar run of collaborations had been road-tested since 2016 through Globex Corp — an eye-catching sub-label of 7th Storey Projects that is steered aesthetically by Dwarde and Reaper, both diehard Simpsons fans who can rattle off word-perfect quotes at 10 paces. Jungle, you see, isn’t their only ’90s fixation.
In the summer of 2020 arrived ‘Cityscapes’, a four-track EP put out through leftfield techno label Lobster Theremin. Reaper reckons this record more than any other lit the fuse and exploded him into the minds of a broader audience. ‘Cityscapes’ is sensational, a perfect calling card for Reaper’s dexterity. Each track moves like a stealth bomber navigating alien terrain, surging past waves of breakbeat pressure, haunted rave vocals and sub-zero pads; executing daredevil manoeuvres through breakdowns that are less drops and more vertiginous plunges. A life’s work? “The answer is not going to be as interesting as you think,” Reaper chuckles. “I had all these tunes sat around. They just picked the ones they liked out of a bag.”
Reaper’s On Cue mix spotlights contemporary jungle’s wealth of talent. By our count, there are only five tunes currently available in the wild — the rest an assortment of forthcoming originals, coyly tagged unknowns and dubs from friends. If you’ve been paying attention to him this year, this is a familiar flex: when guesting on Anz’s NTS Show in July, he drew exclusively from Future Retro material. The third and fourth installments of ‘MOTM’ aren’t even up for pre-order at the time of writing, yet Reaper already has the fifth and sixth ready to go. And a 12-inch on Green Bay Wax. And a split Globex Corp x Lobster Theremin EP. And an official remix of J Majik’s ‘Meridian’. And another high-profile Rinse FM guest slot in December. You get the picture.
Though he is only 27-years-old, we detect wariness in the voice of Tim Reaper (real name Ed, but don’t worry about it). He’s a natural introvert who is sceptical of social media and struggles with the apocalyptic looseness of the free party scene that a handful of his friends and contemporaries are involved in. He speaks about music with the acuity and authority of someone twice his age — which was on display during an edition of Electronic Beats’ ‘Blind Test’ series, where Reaper beat veterans like Bailey, Fabio and Klute in identifying ’90s tunes. Given that he wasn’t born until 1993, that’s not bad going. There’s a simple explanation for all this: his entire adult life has been fully committed to jungle and drum & bass.
Having had his brain rearranged on a molecular level by ‘Super Sharp Shooter’, Reaper began producing tunes on his laptop with no surplus equipment — still how he works to this day — and would log onto the Subvert Central forum after school, talking a big game amongst established heads in a tight-knit community. This drew bracing criticism at first. “I will admit I had youthful arrogance to me, so I copped some flack. That just came from excitement to be involved. Any resentment is pretty much gone by now. I’m still here putting in the work, and they can see that.”
Tinkering with one of the most beloved and fiercely-guarded templates of British club music has its risks, but Reaper laughs that the positive reception his tunes get from original nuttahs in nostalgic jungle Facebook groups confirms he’s doing something right. And although he leans toward a certain vintage, there’s been progress along the way. With the history of hardcore, jungle and drum & bass at his fingertips, each stage of Reaper’s musical evolution is like an adjustment of the depth field on a microscope; little tweaks bringing him ever-closer to clarity.
“Each time I find a label or an artist that I’m unfamiliar with,” he explains, “I’m digging deep on them — frantically. That’s what it’s all about. You listen to every single tune within a catalogue, mark your favourites, and move onto the next: building, building, building to retain that knowledge in your head and carry it with you in the form of selection.” Operating within narrow confines galvanized Reaper’s need to be permanently on top of his game. “You can feel it when your peers aren’t impressed. Sometimes it’s subtle, like, ‘Oh... I like it’. That might sound polite but it cuts deep. You can stand there feeling helpless in the face of critique, or you can show them that you’re still capable, like, ‘Alright, with this next tune I’m going to blow the guy’s head off’.”
A few years into his development, Reaper realised he had been subconsciously neglecting anything prior to jungle’s inception. Once he began seeking out cuts from ’91 and ’92, his technique made a dramatic leap forward. Even to jungle-attuned ears, people struggle for terminology when describing his style: it’s intelligent and darkside and roughneck and 4x4 and atmospheric and Photek and Bizzy B and DJ SS and Smooth But Hazzardous all at once. This era-switching is the point, Reaper says. “I mean, if I didn’t bounce between it all, I think I’d get pretty bored? I want people to not be able to fully predict what they’re going to hear.”
When it comes to making tunes, Reaper’s key rule is to avoid echoing someone else’s work. You can be a magpie, just “don’t sample jungle to make jungle,” he reasons. “If you have to, either sample something genuinely interesting or else you’re regurgitating the sound. You won’t be saying anything new if you work from a limited pool.” That doesn’t mean Reaper’s tunes try to mask their origins, though. Early into his On Cue mix, your ear might catch the lilting reggae of Sanchez’s ‘Rough Neck Sound’ drift around the stereo field. Or he might throw convention out the window and sample Lisa Simpson’s hillbilly tooting on a jug. Yes, seriously.
Tim Reaper’s marriage of reverence for jungle’s history and confidence to colour outside its lines is what makes his records, mixes and radio shows buzz with energy. The only real drawback in an otherwise-shining year is a lack of time playing out to people. Future Retro #001 was originally planned for April, stalled until June, then postponed entirely as the pandemic took hold. With a line-up of Dead Man’s Chest, Coco Bryce and Sully, as well as Dwarde and Reaper himself, it was intended to be a flag stuck into fertile ground. The lost potential chews away at him.
“We’re in an old school sound by trade, so a lot of people who are into it have been into it for a long time. I was hoping that by booking new jungle, we could bring in a younger crowd,” he says. Reaper mentions Rupture as a guide for what he wants to do, citing Mantra and Double O’s careful curation of the music and the experience at large. “If you invest ideas into a night through representing all colours and genders, then the crowd should reflect that. I mean, even just knowing that it’s a young Black guy behind all of this could positively affect the participation and the support. I’ll never put my face out there too forcefully, but if you know it’s not run by an established promoter on the circuit — some guy trying to sell you jungle while it’s hot — that makes a difference. I’d want the audience to look like the line-up. It’s important to me.”
The fact that Tim Reaper has spent over a decade putting out a mountain of material before a co-sign from a non-jungle label springboarded him to wider prominence is a structural problem that should give us all pause. For every Reaper and Sherelle, there are 10 more who fail to get their appropriate dues. Ever the rationalist, Reaper sees the positive side of that slanted dynamic: he’s been able to develop on his own terms; minimal distractions, maximum finesse. “It’s good to be confident and get to know yourself,” he muses. “You know, anyone can buy into the luck of hype in music. Then one month you realise websites aren’t reporting everything you do anymore and bookings aren’t coming in as readily.
“There will always be a next producer who comes in and refreshes the sound, who catches people’s interest. You need to be ready to handle that worst-case scenario so you don’t fall from grace with a frown,” he continues. “Right now I’ve got this buzz outside the scene, and that’s great, but I’ve got one foot in the jungle scene — permanently. I’ve put down solid roots and I know where my priorities lie, and that’s what matters.”
Phineus II - X-Scape [Green Bay Wax]
Workforce - Two Words (Tim Reaper Remix) [Must Make Dub]
Coco Bryce - Restless Soul [Kniteforce Dub]
Response & Pliskin - Anima Morta [Western Lore]
?? & Tim Reaper - ?? [Future Retro Dub]
The Chalice Crew - Righteous Teachings (The Most Sounds) (Verse I) [The Holy Chalice]
Tim Reaper - Seeeeeen! [Dub]
KeeZee & Tim Reaper - The Roughneck Sound [Future Retro Dub]
FFF - It Began In Man's Mind [Myor]
Dev/Null & Tim Reaper - Give It 2 Me [Lobster Theremin Dub]
Phineus II - Woodland Stomp [Dub]
Dwarde & Tim Reaper - Hydraulics [Globex Corp x Lobster Theremin Dub]
Unknown Artist - ILL 003 A [Ill Behaviour]
Tim Reaper - ?? [Dub]
?? - ?? [Dub]
Sonar's Ghost - Beyond Our Time [Amenology Dub]
Kid Lib & Tim Reaper - PTSD [Future Retro Dub]
Equinox - Xmas 93 [Green Bay Wax Dub]
Subjects - Murder Style [Deep Jungle Dub]
Kid Lib - Baddadanman (Live & Direct) [Amenology Dub]
Love Dove Jay - Dark Loving [8205 Dub]
Dwarde & Tim Reaper - ?? [Dub
Gabriel Szatan is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @gabrielszatan
Photo credits: Cathy Whatever, Last Japan, Asia Ella
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.