Over the last couple of years, anyone watching underground British bass-driven music will have helped notice there’s something stirring up in Manchester.
The northern metropolis that likes to pretend it’s the second city (yes, this writer is a Brummie) has been a serious musical hotspot since the late 80s, consistently turning out some of the best producers, MCs and parties around.
But in recent times, the heat from the north has been coming thick and fast, with the likes of Chimpo, Skittles, Dub Phizix, Chunky and Fox turning up the temperature at raves and on record.
And then, last December, that heat hit boiling point with the release of ‘LVL.7’ – one of the most exciting and original tracks to hit the UK underground for some time, and with it a video that left you not just gawping the LEVELZ collective’s outrageous on-mic skills, but pissing yourself laughing at their tongue-in-cheek on-screen antics as they rolled round MCR.
From Skittles rocking two caps at once while tossing a brandy bottle in the air, to a red-wigged Truthos Mufasa with a water gun and, of course, a bespectacled Chimpo reclining on a Chesterfield sofa drinking Ribena with Lillian from ‘Shameless’, the video and track were a rocket up the batty-hole for a usually far-too-serious scene.
And that was the just the start. With a mixtape on its way and the camp recently completing a 16-date nationwide set of parties, including a full Room Two takeover at fabric, the collective of Biome, Black Josh, Bricks, Chimpo, Chunky, Dub Phizix, Fox, Jonny Dub, Metrodome, Rich Reason, Skittles, Sparkz, T-Man and Truthos Mufasa are clearly on a mission to bring a slice of Manchester madness to all our lives.
We caught up with several of the crew’s members to find out more – and as their growing rep and answers to our questions prove, taking life too seriously gets you absolutely nowhere…
Yes LEVELZ crew. First up, how and why did you come together as a collective?
Chimpo: Rich Reason was running Hit & Run, a night in Manchester that we all played at regularly. He never paid us, so we got together and decided the best way to get back our debts was to utilise his services as a manager and, if we became a crew, it would be harder for Rich to escape.
Rich Reason: I’d been running Hit & Run for years and guest artists would always be surprised by how most of the Manchester artists didn’t just know each other, but were a tight-knit bunch of friends.
I wanted to make it explicit that these lot have a creative chemistry between them that’s very rare and special. Dub Phizix and Skittles had been saying for a while I should try to bring us together…
Black Josh: Pause.
RR: Everyone involved is doing great things in their respective individual careers, but before everything took off for them all too much individually, we wanted to come together and try to create something bigger than the sum of our parts.
Manchester seems like quite the spot at the moment – is it as close-knit and vibing as it seems from outside?
RR: ‘The LEVELZ Project’ has only been running about 18 months – but the history and roots run deep with this lot. There are other talented MCs and musicians who were in the running to be involved, but the chemistry between us had to be right for this to work, and that comes across when we’re in the studio or on a stage, or even just on the bus together.
Truthos Mufasa: There’s just a shared idea of a good party stemming from good music and vibes. We all grew up with that, so it helps our egos coincide quite neatly and brings out the best in each other.
Chimpo: We used to all be really close but then Fox slept with everyones wives.
Most other city’s with similar talent pools would struggle to get everyone together to work towards a common goal. What is it about Manchester that’s enabled LEVELZ to happen?
“We used to all be really close but then Fox slept with everyones wives.”
RR: Shared history and a shared love of genre-bending eclecticism.
Chimpo: Shared girlfriends and a shared love of genre-bending drugs.
What’s the long-term goal for the LEVELZ project?
RR: To join the pantheon of great Manchester bands. I want the world to realise that this lot are as talented a bunch of musicians as any of those great artists that have preceded them. A Nardwuar interview would be pretty sick, too!
Jonny Dub: To get so famous that when we split up there is a national day of mourning.
TM: To nurture each other artistically, achieving our own individual and collective greatness that can be shared widely through a well known platform – LEVELZ.
Metrodome: Stick me in a room full of synths and leave me there.
Chimpo: Bigger and better faux fur coats.
If you could recruit anyone to join LEVELZ, who would it be?
RR: The point of the project is that it’s a Manchester-based thing. Anyone else we’d want to work with would be other dons from Manchester like DRS, Trigga, Tyler Daley, Jenna G, Shaun Ryder, Ian Brown, John Cooper Clarke…
Chimpo: T Pain.
Chunky: Riot Jazz Brass Band, Kaleidoscope Orchestra, Mr Scruff.
What’s been the best LEVELZ experience so far?
RR: Going to a mansion in Wales for four days to record a load of music. We did a massive show at the Ritz with The Mouse Outfit and Riot Jazz that had nearly 1,200 people there. To do that in our own city, with just Manchester acts, was a great feeling.
TM: Roaming around central London at 5am with the LEVELZ crew, screaming my head off, thinking planes were transformers. Nothing has come close yet.
M: Tripping bollocks at 6am outside London Bridge.
Chimpo: When Rich set the back room on fire at Gottwood festival.
Chunky: Skittles on a floating platform; when Jonny left.
T-Man: Driving to London in a stretch hummer.
What should we watch out for from LEVELZ for the year ahead?
RR: Our mixtape and loads of tour dates, both in the UK and Europe.
Chimpo: Individual Playgirl centrefolds and talking action figures.
M: The growth of my beautiful hair.
Chunky: Scandal and the unexpected.
Watch out for the LEVELZ mixtape dropping soon and head over to their facebook page to find out when they’re playing near you.