Exclusive Interview: DJ Stretch

Hey Stretch and thank you for answering my questions for us! Been a while… Last time we interviewed you in 2016 you linked up with DNB 4 Life for events, started to sell merch & had some cheeky collabs with a few big names. What has been happening since then?

Wow, it’s been that long since we had a chat! Well, let’s see if I can condense this and I’m clearly going to miss out on a lot of things… So, we started releasing compilations and solo LPs on the label and continuing to push awesome music and stay true to our sound with some great releases. Started a few sub labels which have now become household favourites and the supporters are growing. AKO Nights have really taken off which has been an unbelievable journey and makes me very proud that I continue with it. When lockdown happened, I wasn’t sure we would continue but after doing a boat party and our first club event last year was absolutely amazing plus having a few legends pass through to show support meant a lot.

AKO celebrated 25 years and that makes me very proud to see the journey the label, music and artists have made in that time.

We managed to put together a 25 year documentary during lockdown and I must send a personal shout out to Verity from Rave Report for all her hard work and N.E Girl who did the editing on the documentary. We also released some Nike/AKO combo merch. I worked on and released an album with my brother Enjoy, we also had a big release on Metalheadz in collaboration with Reinforced records earlier this year.

How did you end up in the dnb/jungle scene?

I was always listening and buying music from the acid & hardcore days and was a big Reinforced fan along with Production House, Suburban Base, Moving Shadows etc and was going to raves when I was underage with my cousin Stephen. I’d gone round my mates Joseph house and seen him making music on his Amiga and eventually I bought myself an Amiga. My brother was also a DJ and was playing a lot of that music, so I was digging and learning. Eventually I connected to Reinforced through a family friend and started to learn my trade as I was DJing in my bedroom a lot. I also linked up with a friend from the area and we started to make music when the tune ‘Worries and The Dance’ was made, and after a special night at AWOL the tune absolutely blew up and completely changed my life in music and has given me the opportunity to travel the world. That’s a condensed version, there’s obviously a lot more that went into my past.

Of course, most of us know that you are not just a DJ, you are also a label owner for AKO Beatz which you started in 1995 if I am right and then re-launched it in 2014 after taking a break from it. How has it been since the relaunch for your label?

It’s definitely been the best decision I’ve made as the label is in such a strong position and has made all the hard work, highs and lows, worth it and I still feel like we’re just getting started with all the plans I have.

What is the hardest part of running a label?

I think the constant costs, especially in terms of price of vinyl materials going up; a lot of people don’t understand that material constantly keeps going up and some of us are constantly trying to keep the price down. the love for music can only go so far when you’re actually trying to run a business as well. The way the world is going at the moment, you just have to be on your A-game and smart about what you’re releasing, which is a positive thing also. Impatient artists can often get on my nerves sometimes, they don’t realise I actually have a 9-5 job, and a family life outside of music so I have to balance everything and not burn out. Also, people think they can have an opinion on how you run your label…

What is the best part with running it?

Working with a lot of the artists on the label; I have conversations with them and we always end up feeling motivated and eager to get the studio to do something. I have a lot of these conversations with Decibella, Marc Mac, Enjoy & Threshold to name a few. Getting new music, locating unreleased gems & finding new artists who want to learn and seeing them shine when the moment comes on the label.

The creative side when talking concepts, I always drive to look at the next thing.

What do you have planned for AKO Beatz in the future?

There is a lot planned, so here is a few…

The AKO Major Defence sub label; we have the new Defender 2 album coming and we’re in the process of doing a Major Defence game and some more comic books. We have a couple of solo artist albums planned, an I’m looking into animation and I’m building something a little bit different. We have a couple of solo artist albums planned, including an AKO10 album that has been sitting there for a little while. We have more nights planned along with collaboration nights with other labels, and a new line of merch dropping soon. Currently, we are updating the website which is looking really nice and should be ready within a few weeks.

Where did the name come from?

AKO stems from the 47 Ronin Samurai from AKO in Japan and The Guyver, which was one of my Alias name on Reinforced so I’ve merged the two.

How do you choose artists to be released on AKO?

I’m looking for a vibe; a soulful sound where it’s not sounding mechanical or following a format like a lot of tunes I hear. I also don’t want to hear blatant copying or remixes of mine or music on Reinforced – that’s an instant no with me and it gets shut down. Just be true to yourself and take your time when producing your tracks.

You are also running a very successful night for AKO Beatz, usually Halloween (which I still haven’t been able to go to) – do you have more of these planned? What do you enjoy with organising raves? 

Yes, we will be doing AKOWEEN as it is now known as. I couldn’t stop the AKO nights even if I wanted too. It has a special family atmosphere. The AKO Tribe get excited around that time of year so we’re just finalising a few things now, so expect an announcement soon.

I love the build-up to the night; you see the excitement on social media where people planning their outfits and DJs thinking about their sets. The crowd level up every single year with their costumes and their energy especially on the night. I think my favourite part of the night is when I play because that’s me giving back my gratitude to the crowd for supporting the night and that moment is my time to escape from thinking about everything around me and just concentrating on playing music. I also love that we have a very diverse crowd and everyone feels welcome when they come through the doors, and that’s important to me and artists that perform.

What do you find hard? I think sometimes trying to do most things on your own can become a lot, and then on the night it can be really busy and you don’t get time to take it in and I’ve always said I’ve never fully enjoyed an AKO night from start to finish because I’m busy running around but I get satisfaction from people being happy and DJs enjoying their sets.

We have seen you have been in Japan as well which looked absolutely fantastic! How did this come about? What would you say is the difference between the crowd in the UK & Japan if any?

Originally it came about as I was planning to go and see my brother Dego out there and a couple of my friends Nami and Yuki, as I wanted to explore more of Japan especially the AKO shrine of the 47 Ronin samurai which is a big influence of the label. A couple of people caught wind of it and after some discussions decided we would do a gig or two out there and as time went on the gig became bigger which involves Goldie which made me very happy as it can be quite a buzz to meet your people in another country to enjoy your passion.

I think the crowd in Japan really appreciate you coming out and respecting their culture as an artist or human being. When I played there was no MC along with Goldie, but we connected through music and there was a relationship that is quite crazy. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, this music connects us and the atmosphere felt the same like being in London. At some point it was an intense atmosphere which I love, where the crowd know something is coming and you know as the DJ something is coming and when it comes the atmosphere is electric. They’re happy with you experimenting and they will feel if you’re in what you’re doing or not, so you can’t come there being too confident and lazy. Japan is definitely one of my favourite places to play and can’t wait to go back.

Producer, label owner, running a label night, DJing – is there anything you CAN’T do?

Hahaha, I think I’m lucky to do the things I enjoy and when you add that with my day job, being a dad and somehow fitting it all into a daily routine, I feel blessed.

Any forthcoming releases we should be excited about?

There’s a few coming soon I’m really excited to have Hidden Agenda with a debut release on AKO10, DJ sofa on AKO MD with her EP (which is fire btw!) and we have the AKO VIP returning along with another special a AKO10 release which will be announcing and the long-awaited Defender 2 album and a lot more.

What’s next for Stretch and AKO Beatz?

I will be playing for Sub Culture in London tonight at Prince Of Peckham and then next weekend we will be celebrating MC Bassline so i will be doing a set at Peckham Audio for Essence Of Chi & Whistle Crew Horn Crew.

We are also planning to keep upgrading the website to be more interactive with supporters. We have loads of releases planned which we are very excited about. We are looking forward to the graphic novels of Defender’s story in the future along with the game album and other surprises linked to the label. Specialist X album, another Last Ronin and Guyver Album. Planning a follow-up EP on Metalheadz with Enjoy. Look out for Verb solo release, DJ Sofa EP, Hidden Agenda Solo release, DJ Chromz and Shay. We have a new merch line dropping soon as well on the new updated website which we think you will love. Sticker packs, Coasters, speakers and you may see some sneakers.

AKO have also collaborated with J.J’s hot sauce and have been releasing a series of flavoured hot sauces which have been taken well and I’ve been selling out. We have our next hot sauces dropping for summer within the next 1 to 2 weeks. With new flavours mad mango and smoking gun fingers.

More AKO nights and collaborations with other promoters and we want to take it around the country and world, if possible, with selected artist. We have some other exciting things planned which I won’t speak about yet as I know some people will try to jump on some of these ideas but the scene is in a beautiful, strong place and there are some great labels and people that I’m proud to call friends and I look forward to the journey together to see everyone grow and live the dream.

What’s next for David?

That’s a very good question as I always think about others, but I do want to go back and study some things that are important to me. I’m very close to my daughters and I want to be there to see them succeed in their dreams as they are very ambitious, creative and been very supportive to me. I want to do more work to support the young generation to achieve and believe they can do anything in this world! I’ve seen so many things we had growing up that have now been taken away, which leaves a lot of young people living their world through a phone or device.

Any final last words?

Shout out to Marc Mac who I speak to a lot about projects and things we want to do going forward. Goldie aka big bro who always checks in on me – love you brother. Dego for having my back and advising when needed. The Reinforced family for setting the foundations and giving us all an opportunity to grow. The Rupture family, Indi and Dubz as I owe them a lot. Nami & Yukie for everything when I was over in Japan, my extended family in Japan. Blackeye, Charlotte (I don’t think I’ve seen you this year), Djinn, Sweetpea, Equinox, Moose, Mr Reaper, Dextrous, Dwarde, Anca, Decibella, Sofa, Dissonance Bristol Crew, J.J’s Hot Sauce, Unearthed Crew, The next generation of talent, all the artists and forthcoming artists on the label. We’re excited for the future!

All the supporters; AKO Tribe that have stuck with us and continue to support through thick and thin – this gives us the drive to keep going and providing you with more products that we know you love and cherish. Shout to Beau the mastering don, all the record plants. Kae Creations, Malx (underrated gem of the scene) – if you know you know. My girls Renee and Shadae continuing to push yourself. My entire music family. Verity nothing but love for you and keep doing your thing I see you shining. NE Girl, Label owners, record shops, big love to Planet Wax. Woody behind-the-scenes at AKO and everyone generally connected to the label + Drum and Basics for the support and interview. And of course, big love to my parents, always! ❤️

Stretch mix incoming as well – watch this space!

Sign up for SubCulture for tonight HERE and get your ticket for Jazfest on the 1 July HERE


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