A beginner’s guide to LEVELZ

“It’s a family! I mean, it’s a dysfunctional family, but we have a lot of fun…” Rich Reason is trying to pinpoint the unique appeal of LEVELZ, the 14 man crew he manages. It’s not an easy task because there’s nothing else out there quite like them. A pack of Manchester based producers, DJs and MCs, LEVELZ who came together three years back, LEVELZ stretch in age from the early 20s to the early 40s, musically cover everything from dusty 70s street soul to aggy DnB bangers, and mix the surreal humour and lust for a knees up of the Happy Mondays with the menace-in-numbers and innovation of So Solid Crew. Essentially, they go their own way, and they don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks. “Some artists are worried about upsetting people, so they really watch what they say” Reason confirms, “but these lot, no way. I think they take all their interview cues from Liam Gallagher…”

Reason is the level headed manager (apologies for the pun…) trying to bring some semblance of order to LEVELZ’ natural state of chaos. Having been a promoter and DJ around Manchester for years, in 2013 he decided that someone needed to bring together a host of the cities talent together under one banner, a-sum-being-greater-than-its-parts mentality that he was pleasantly surprised to find paid off.

“Everyone in LEVELZ I’ve known from around Manchester for years; like I’ve known Chunky since he was 18 and Metrodome since he was 10. I was putting on Chimpo years ago. We see each other every day, and we’re always round each other’s houses. About three years ago, when I approached the more established artists, I was pleased that they were up for coming together- the likes of Chimpo and Biome are already well established, I mean Biome is pretty big in North America, he tours there twice a year already, but they believed in this, and were up for giving the younger artists their shine. Now Biome and Metrodome are monsters in the studio, it’s all worked out that we just came together as LEVELZ”

The close knit background had led to a crazy gang mentality to LEVELZ that’s immediately apparent when you try and interview them – whilst Reason is struggling to give serious answers, the rest of the crew shout out whatever they feel like, subverting any attempt at a normal interview with a steady flow of pisstakes, in-jokes and surrealism. To give you a taster, here’s how DJ Jonny Dub describes LEVELZ coming together;

“LEVELZ came together because we were all having a sleepover at Rich’s Mansion where we watched an episode of power rangers and decided that’s what we wanted to be. Super heroes of sorts. So we formed LEVELZ and then realised that none of us had any special powers apart from Metrodome who is a wizard, then we realised we didn’t have enough money to get cool costumes made, so we decided we would make some beats instead…”

Possibly wary of all this zaniness leading to LEVELZ being written off as an extended trolling session, Reason, always there to wrestle things back on track, is keen to insist that the band aren’t a novelty act;

“I mean everyone loves life so much, it makes them hard to control, they take the piss, but they have the music to back it up. Metrodome is a prodigy, he’s only 22 and he builds his own computers and builds his own synths. And Dub Phizix, he’s a total music nerd; if you go round his house he’s always got a soldering iron out, he’s always building kit. Even with the aesthetic, they really put the effort in – most grime videos are often just one camera on the street, but look at the Rowdy Badd video and you’ll see that they’re serious.”

He’s right – looking at the massed line up of LEVELZ, and you see veterans who have been producing hot records for nearly a decade alongside kids reshaping what bass music can be – all with one thing in common; skills. Still, with so many of them it’s hard to keep track of who’s who – which is why we’ve put together this handy guide to the biggest band in England – press play on their exclusive mixtape, and get to know…

Role: DJ/ Producer/ MC
As an equally proficient DJ, producer and rapper, Chimpo is pretty much the Renaissance Man of bass. When he DJ’s he’s been seen to draw for everything from classic reggae to new mutations of bass, running tempos anywhere between 80 and 180 bpm. As a producer he’s released tunes on iconic DnB labels Exit, Metalheadz and Soul:R, and as an MC, was an original member of Manchester hip hop outfit Broke ‘n’ English, where he could be seen on the mic as much as behind the decks. A corner stone of LEVELZ, watch his recent Boiler Room appearance for a clue as to what he’s going to offer…


Role: MC
One of the oldest members of LEVELZ hgas also provided some of the crews biggest moments. Fox is famous in DnB circles for his hoarse-voiced bashment bars – and in the last 4 years he’s appeared on at least 2 monsters- first he vocalled Dub Phizix’s underground smash Never Been back in 2012, then followed up in 2013 with a performance on Chimpo’s track Frontline – the Calibre remix of which was a modern jungle classic, Calibre eschewing his normal liquid style to team Fox’s Jamaican/Mancunian flow with cascading amen tear outs. 12”s of Frontline currently change hands online for the best part of £100 – it’s probably cheaper to just come see Fox play live…


Black Josh
Role: MC
Prior to LEVELZ, Black Josh had built an underground hype for a sound that drew it’s influence from 90s hip hop icons such as Busta Rhymes, Redman and Notorious B.I.G, and the head nodding, sample driven hip hop beats they favoured. He combined this with an unapologetically UK flow, his lyrics rooted in Mancunian daily life, going so as far as to name a track after Paul Scholes. His latest mixtape, Apetape, is already picking up props in the UK hip hop scene for it’s mix of guttery Wu Tang Beats and surreal humour..


Role: MC
Tumarni Gresham- aka T-Man – is a spitter who’s at his best firing machine gun bars over grime or dubstep. That said, on the LEVELZ mixtape LVL 11, he’s one of the most heavily featured MCs, switching his style to cover fat back funk samples of King of the Disco, or the old skool boom bap of LVL9. But for pure bass fire, check him collaborating with dubstep producer Thelem on the bass tear out We Ain’t The Same


Role: Producer/ DJ
The young prodigy of the camp, 22 year old Metrodome is a production wizard who has released tunes on Hyperdub, Red Laser, Ape Cult and more. His sound twists and turns, mutating soul classics into wonky beats, or experimenting with footwork rhythms. The best introduction to his special brand of weirdness is his 2015 Boiler Room set which found equal space for disco burners as it did for freaked up garage.


Role: Producer/MC
Sparkz cut his teeth with much loved Manc hip hop crew The Mouse Outfit, dropping hazy, smoke filled lyrics over true school beats. As a solo artist he’s released two instalments of his ‘Angle’ project which show a new direction – with a little mix and mastering from local hero Zed Bias, Angle Two found Sparkz switching up his sound to jump on harder UK beats, bass ramped up, snares cracking loud.


Dub Phizix
Role: DJ/Producer
Dub Phizix has been one of the major players in underground DnB in the last half decade. His murderous drums n’ bashment track Marka almost single-handed defined the half speed drum step sound, quickly busting out of the DnB scene to be spun by bass DJs worldwide. Currently the Marka video has been watched over 4 million times, an almost unheard of feat for an independent DnB release. This year his cut Do One, featuring DRS, has already become a club anthem, the repressed rage of DRS’s delivery driven by Dub Phizix’s trademark skittering spidery percussion, while flipside Doberman sees Phizix working with bonafide bashment heroes Ward 21.


Role: Producer/ DJ
Bricks is a stalwart of Manchester’s hip hop scene,who’s productions have included the Skittles album Poor With £100 Trainers, and features with the likes of Calibre, Marcus Intalex and Zed Bias. As he puts it, “all this without even trying. Too many pies, too many fingers.” One of his finest moments came 3 years back when he wrote 8 Gold Rings; the definitive version of A$AP Ferg’s trap banger Shabba, with Ferg replaced by much loved – and now sadly departed- local rave legend Salford John.


Role: MC / Producer
A Manc veteran, Skittles' flow has evolved into a cavalcade of nouns rolling over and around each other in a bevy of complexity. Listen to his solo September release Problematic to hear an MC who has matured to the point where he’s become a credible contender to be one of the UK’s most talented lyricists.


Jonny Dub
Role: DJ
Jonny Dub has got his fingers in all sorts of pies. Gaslamp Killer has described him as ‘my favourite DJs’ – and we can assume he kinda knows what he’s on about. Dub is the founder of Hoya:Hoya, a clubbing institution that has regularly travelled down for Fabric takeovers, and kick started the careers of Krystal Klear, Illum Sphere and Lone – this in itself would be no mean feat, but apparently it’s not enough for Dub, who also runs the weekly mix series Hold Your Corner, an exploration of the furthest reaches of bass music.


Role: Producer/ DJ
Biome has been releasing dubstep and bass rinsers since 2007. With 12”s coming out via Tempa, Black Box, Macabre Unit and more, it’s fair to assume that he’s responsible for the more vicious bass pulses in the LEVELZ sound. Biome is notorious for pushing tracks that are as cinematic as they are dark – and his near scientific production can be heard in the sets of luminaries from Youngsta to Slimzee to Loefah. His most recent cut Griddled is a typically forward looking assault – joining the dots between techno grime and bass to create a long, dark tunnel of sound.


Truthos Mufasa
Role: Producer/MC
Truthos started out as a core member of 2 High Clan- one of Manchester's first underground grime crews - where he was known as Truth MC. He then went on to join Ape Cult, before going on to be affiliated with Mouse Outfit (along with fellow LEVELZ crew Sparkz and Black Josh. His sound has since spiralled out into something far wonkier. His current solo release The Mud EP is a fried psychedelic sprawl, with Truthos speak-singing like a 50s beat poet over rhythms that shift in and out of focus. With tracks that meander down untravelled paths, and Truthos’s laid back vocals coming along for the ride, he’s current chief keeper of LEVELZ weirdness quotient.


Role: MC/ Producer/ DJ
A mainstay of Loefah’s Swamp 81 label, whilst Chunky started off running the mic at Swamp 81 and Hoya Hoya parties, he soon graduated to making oddball techno and dubstep. This years’ release Tolk to Meh is a case in point – on the track Chunky deconstructed UK garage rhythms into cycles of corrupted, sparse percussion that flickered and stuttered – this was a sound that was as close to techno’s original avant garde spirit as it was to the bludgeon of the bass scene.