THE INSPIRING RISE OF STEEL BANGLEZ FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS TO BECOMING A HUGE NAME
by ASJAD NAZIR
ONE of the biggest British Asian musical success stories of recent years has been the remarkable rise of London born Steel Banglez.
The hit-making producer has scored big in the western mainstream with superb songs, smashed glass ceiling, blazed a trail with his unique brand of music and introduced new talent with a fearless swagger. Gaining global attention hasn’t gone to his head and the terrifically talented music star has been putting the finishing touches to his hotly anticipated new album during lockdown, along with giving undiscovered talent a platform on his popular Instagram live broadcasts.
Eastern Eye caught up with Steel Banglez during lockdown for an inspiring discussion on his incredible success, ambitious plans, what kept him going during his struggle, new music and advice he would give newcomers wanting to follow in his giant footsteps.
How have you been coping with the Covid-19 lockdown? Basically, I did what everyone else did in the beginning and started panic buying. (Laughs) I think I got about 50,000 toilet rolls. So at the start, I did that, filling up my fridge and freezers. I started feeding into conspiracy theories and wasn’t coping that well. All this crazy information that was going around was cracking my head up. But I started focusing on the music and spending more time with my family.
How has that been? I’ve seen it as a blessing to spend more time with my parents. I have also been in the studio, so I’m always isolated anyways. I’d been spending 16 hours everyday in the studio, whether the world had coronavirus or not. Being in the creative industry, I’m used to being isolated. The impact you have made in mainstream music has been immense.
Have you had a chance to reflect on your success during lockdown? I haven’t really taken it in yet. I think that is the humble side of me because I am very work-orientated, but I am grateful for where I am and what I’ve achieved. I mean it has taken me over a decade to get to where I am. From toiling the streets of the underground to where we are today making music. It is more about my role to keep production at a high level.
What I admire about you apart from the songs is that success hasn’t changed you. What keeps you grounded? (Laughs) My age. I am 33 years old now. Had I been maybe in my early twenties, like the artists I work with, earning the money I am, it might have got to me at that age, but I think it’s also my upbringing – the humble household I was raised in Forest Gate, East London, and just the cultural values and what my parents always taught me. They prepared me for the world and to be successful. I saw people lose themselves when they became successful.
What do you mean? As I was coming up, I saw a lot of people on their way down, and started to decode what was bringing them down and lot of it was ego, not being humble and just being lost in the moment. I am here for as long as my life, as an extraordinary producer. Producers have very long careers and it is vital that I keep going.
Would it be fair to say that you are fearless? Yeah. My best friend Suleman Saleem and I have a saying; anything that comes at us, including in my career, we just respond with, ‘we don’t care and we don’t fear’. That’s it! We have come too far to be in the public eye for people to drag us down. People love dragging others down because of their own insecurities on social media, spreading lies and things like that. Firstly, I don’t do the internet beef thing, that is not where I come from and secondly, we don’t care and we don’t fear. We leave it at that! I have got my brothers with me and have come from nothing to where I am today. No one can take that from me. I am fearless and doing it for the Asians as well. I’m battling and am kind of alone out here right now. We need more Asians to come through.
I love how you open doors for new talent. How important is that for you? To keep the game moving and fresh sounds coming in, it’s always important to give new people recognition. Also, I never used to get that sort of recognition when I was coming up. I used to always wish that someone would reach out and give me a platform. It is my role as a producer and someone with a voice to give new talent a chance. They are with me today. They were new talents and I worked with them at the start.
You have become a strong role model. What advice would you give young people starting out in music? My advice is based on what you are, if you are a vocalist or a producer. Find yourself one of each and then stick together, work on a sound and create something unique, evolve, build and you will get your time.
What kept you motivated during your days of struggle? Knowing where I come from and remembering going to Queen’s Market, when my mum couldn’t afford groceries. This is for my parents and for my family. This is for people calling me a f**king Paki for 20 years, do you know what I mean? Being abused and being told Asians can’t make music. I feel it’s overlooked, the kind of racism Asians received, that I received. We are programmed to accept it, but I don’t accept that.
Would you tell us about your forthcoming documentary film? I have basically had my friend and cameraman Jeff follow me for nearly a year, whatever I have done. Whether it is all the festivals, the making of my album, every session with every artist. Whether I was in Dubai, Paris or Toronto, wherever I have been, I’ve been filmed. We compiled this documentary for the release of my album, coming out soon. It’s the history of Steel Banglez. Many don’t know where it began and think it all started when I released my first record. It is a document of my growth, where I have got to and am heading. It’s a documentary of Steel Banglez so far.
When is the album out and what can we expect from it? It is one of the most unique and musical albums you will hear from the UK, but it’s not complicated and I haven’t overcooked it. The coronavirus has delayed things because there was a big promotional campaign I wanted to do and take over every screen, and really go for it, but can’t do that right now. I’ve invested my own money into this album. I am talking six figures. It would be a shame for fans of music and a let down for me if I have taken the last six to eight months to work on my album and I just released it on an audio format.
So what is the plan? I think I will drop my album when the world is ready to listen to it, after Covid-19 and people are in a good place to consume it. What I am gonna do is release two songs, off the 28 track album, within two months of each other. One is out in June, called Drip Drip, which features Mist, Nines, Mostack and Mastermind. It’s a big song. After that, I got another Steff London collaboration with a special guest. Then I will wait and hopefully this corona stuff will be over. I am gonna drop the album when people can take it in.
You have made the right moves, do you have a master plan going forward? The master plan started when I sat in jail as a 17-year-old. I always knew I was going to be one of the biggest producers in the country. I read a lot of books on self empowerment, on the mind and attracting stuff. I was just thinking outside of how I was raised too. I want to be one of the biggest music executives in years to come on the likes of Jimmy Iovine and Dr Dre. I think I hold the history, heritage and blueprint for UK rap music. That will play a major role in years to come. So I think I will be championing new talent, still be producing and will be an exec of my own record label on a grand stage.
Tell us more… I will be responsible for creating future superstars, like ones you see today. I will be creating the next superstar wave of the UK. Everything I have been doing so far has been built towards that; all my knowledge, my ups, downs, successes and losses, have been built towards that next level, which is being a music exec.
Why do you love music? I love music because it is in my family, in my blood. It’s not something you can describe to be honest, but I think what made me really fall in love with music was the lyrics in Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi, and the meanings of the songs I learned. That whole South Asian style of musical notations and choices that producers made and singers sang made me fall in love with music, along with our culture and growing up in the UK.