You might know DJ Smutlee as the swaggering DJ that plays ballistic sets that raid Hip-Hop, Dancehall, Moombathon and heaps more. The guy that drops some severely slick mixtapes and has been getting love from Annie Mac, Toddla T and Mistajam.
What you may not know is that he is also the don behind our artwork, and a bit of a dab hand at the old graphic design. We had a quick chat with him to discuss some of his design ideas and his current musical ruminations.
Tell us about where your name came from; were you a big Wacky Races fan as a kid?
Yeah definitely, I used to love it. The name Smutlee is kind of embarrassing now, I thought it was funny years ago, it was just a play on words, as my real names Lee – see what I did there. It was more about the Muttley laugh than anything else.
Your style has always had Hip-Hop and Dancehall at the heart of it all. Has the music been a massive part of your life since you were a kid, or was it a more recent discovery?
Yeah, I always loved Hip-Hop, and would get cassettes off older kids at school. It wasn’t until I was going to college that I really started to buy any records, but I started with Jungle and Hip-Hop, then it seemed like a natural progression into Dancehall
Tell us about the sounds you’re currently rocking.
I like to mix it up, keep a kind of carnival sound and always keeping it fresh and current, and get girls dancing. You can expect alot of Dancehall, Hip-Hop, House & Moombahton. I’ve been involved with the Moombahton scene from very early on, and have made several Dancehall edits & remixes that have become staple tunes in a lot of dj’s sets.
I got interested in the sound, ‘cos to me, it bridged a gap between House & Dancehall, and began using it as a transition to go from one tempo to another. I have been representing my take on the sound over the last year or so, from London to NY, LA, Australia and Essex.
What sounds have you been creating in the studio?
Right now I’ve been working on Dancehall that sits in the tempo of Moombahton, so around 110 Bpm, I’ve also got a couple of Funky/Dancehall sounding tunes on the go.
Where can we catch you playing in the future?
A few highlights include Fabric in Feb, Bristol in March, a Moombahton party in Holland, and I’ll be supporting Munchi for his Mad Decent Ep launch party, alongside Dave Nada, that’s gonna be in London at the start of April.
As well as deejaying your also a designer. When did you first notice your eye for this kind of thing; and how has it crossed over into music?
I’ve always been into drawing / art / design / whatever from an early age. I was never gonna be a scientist or a Lawyer, and focused from secondary school to get where I am today. I think design & music go hand in hand, they definitely both influence me, and music inspires my design work.
You’ve done the sleeves for the Greenmoney releases. Talk us through some of the thoughts behind the ideas around this work.
Bang something out fast and quick, and take the money!! GREENMONEY!!! haha, nah, between us, I think we’ve created a strong label identity – the artwork relates to the track titles, in a kind of graphic / comic style, and it is bold and iconic to the Greenmoney look.
How important are sleeves and designs around music in the digital ages of music?
Vinyl sleeves were/are one of the most fun things to design, sadly that has changed, but you have to adapt. It has definitely changed the way I think about designing sleeves, everything is much bolder, as it needs to recognisable at a such a tiny scale. Small text is definitely a thing of the past.
Now that anyone can put a tune out digitally, and everyone’s got Photoshop, people think it means they can design, and sadly now there is now a lot of horrible covers about, it has definitely cheapened the design of sleeves. Each to there own though I suppose.
Have you been inspired by sleeves from Hip-Hop in the past? Has there been any artwork which has really had a big impact on your designs?
Ummm I wouldn’t say there’s one cover, I try to look outside of other record covers for inspiration… but there is probably still a feel of Hip- Hop & graf in my artwork, as music definitely inspires my design.
If you could pick your top five album sleeves of all time, what would they be?
I haven’t got time to think about that, but I’d suggest that any of these would be top 5 contenders: The 25 most ridiculous pen pixel album covers
And Game Recordings were onto something with all their sleeves: