The lost grime anthem behind Stormzy’s Shut Up
London producer XTC talks the making of Functions On The Low – and his impending comeback.
In 2015, one tune caused more chaos, more rewinds and more mosh pits than any other: Stormzy’s triumphant, ferocious park freestyle Shut Up. Originally surfacing on YouTube as the fourth instalment of his Wicked Skengman freestyle series, the hype around Shut Up grew to fever pitch, until eventually Stormzy re-recorded his vocal, dropped the track on iTunes, and crashed into the UK Top 40. There was even a campaign to make it Christmas No.1.
Besides Stormzy’s mic-chomping flow, Shut Up had one big thing going for it – the beat, an ethereal, beautiful grime rhythm that was as melancholic as it was hard. The one thing it wasn’t was new. Originally, the track had been released as Functions On The Low – a white-label produced by XTC, an associate of east London grime crew Ruff Sqwad, way back in 2004. On its initial release, Functions became a minor hit – but has grown in stature over the years, gaining more and more plaudits from fans.
Below, watch Stormzy's Shut Up – then scroll down to read our interview with XTC on the lost anthem that's inspired a new generation.
Had you put anything out before Functions?
XTC: Functions was the first track I ever pressed up. I put it out to see what it would do. I pressed up about 1000 copies at first, then I pressed up another 1000 after. When I first put it out I wasn’t hearing anyone playing it. It was only after the last thousand that I really started to see the feedback; someone in Canada messaged me on MySpace and sent me a picture of the vinyl, and I was thinking: ‘How the hell did you get that in Canada!?’ The guy was telling me how they have a rave in Canada, and my tune is the last tune that gets played, and no one will leave the rave until it gets played! Then I started hearing from people in Australia, and I was thinking, wow, this tune is getting around the world!
But I still wasn’t hearing the Pay As You Gos and the Roll Deeps or anyone like that playing it, and these were the people I was locked into constantly. I wasn’t really even hearing Ruff Sqwad playing it. That was the reason why that was one of the only tunes I put out, other than the stuff I did for Tinchy’s album, or on Rapid’s mixtape. I was kinda like, if I can’t even hear my closest friends playing my tracks, then why is anyone else gonna play them? And at that time I was kinda doing my thing on the road as well. My focus wasn’t totally on music.
What did you write it on?
Did you have a keyboard as well?
Nope, no, all I had was my computer, and I used the computer keyboard as a keyboard.
Did you get it mastered?
No. Nothing, it came straight off my computer. I rendered it and took it to the pressing plant.
Wow. That’s raw. When you were making Functions did you have something inspiring you?
I’ll never forget the whole way I made that track. I’d made my mum go and get me the Fruity Loops program, she got me Fruity Loops and she got me Cubase. I loaded up Fruity Loops, and then I just gave out the CD to everyone, and told everyone ‘we’ve all gotta start making music’; Rapid, Slix, everyone, because Pay As You Go, More Fire, So Solid, they’ve got tracks, so we need tracks as well.
One morning before I was meant to go college, I woke up and I just had this little melody in my head. I got on the computer and laid it down. Before anyone else in the house had woken up I’d finished the track.
How long did it take you?
Maybe about half an hour. When my sister woke up I called her to come and listen to it, and she loved it, so then I called in my brother Fuda Guy, and my youngest brother, and they all liked it, and then that was it, I just left it on the computer. Then one day I went to college and played it to my music teacher and he liked it, I played it to the rest of my class and they liked it, and still that was that, there was no real plan of doing anything with it.
After that I sat on it, then one day either Rapid or Dirty Danger was going to press some of their tracks, and I’d done a remix to Dirty Danger’s Misty Cold, I wanted to put that out. I ended up putting Functions on the B-side.
It must be pretty strange seeing Functions getting in the charts over 10 years after you made it.
It was mad. When I first heard Stormzy’s freestyle over Functions, I liked what he’d done. I just thought it was a little freestyle. Then I saw he’d performed it here, and he’d performed it there. He’d just picked up the track and decided to use it, and the Shut Up freestyle picked up momentum – I just sat back and was like, you know what I like what he’s done with it. I’m a fan of his – I think he’s a very, very, very good MC – I really rate him, I think he’s one of the leaders of the new school.
One day I tweeted him and said, I like what you’ve done with the track, and he messaged me back saying I’m trying to get hold of you. And it was from that day I found out he was actually releasing it on Wicked Skengman 4. I did feel a bit funny about this, considering he hadn’t actually contacted me for the tune, and now he was gonna start selling it. But at the moment we’re negotiating things [Stormzy's people tell us splits of the track have now been agreed]. But as I say, I’m not a bad mind person, I’m not gonna shut down what he’s doing. I’m actually grateful that he chose to use Functions – how many tunes are there in the world and he chose that?
I’ve seen people sing along to the instrumental in the rave as though it’s a football chant.
Slix said to me recently that the track didn’t get what it deserved when I first put it out. It was beyond its time – there was nothing like it around at the time.
What’s the deal with the name?
Sometimes it’s called Havana. I have not got a clue where the name Havana came from! It’s always been called Functions On The Low, that’s what I named it from the beginning.
Why did you call it that?
Basically it was just like, I’m doing what I’m doing, but I’m doing it by myself. No one else really knows what I’m doing. I’m functioning and I’m doing it on the low. It was also because at the time I made the track no one else was awake, so no one knew what I was doing.
And have you got any new tracks coming?
There’s something but I don’t know the name of it. Rapid, Roachee and Fuda Guy are on it. I’m just trying to capitalise on it all and be consistent again. I’ve never stopped making music, but for a little while I got a bit disheartened by it, I wasn’t happy with the music that was getting played. I’ve got a back catalogue of back catalogues. There’s even stuff from the same time as Functions that no one outside my inner circle has heard to this day...
Ian McQuaid did the detective work – follow him on Twitter at
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