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Published 1st February 2020

Diccon Mayfield, AKA Conrank, talks about his journey from Tanbridge House School to Shanghai, where’s he’s made his name as a top Dubstep DJ and Producer...

I started taking an interest in music when I was 15. I lived on Victory Road in Horsham and around the corner was a petrol station where Killa Kela (Lee Potter) worked. He would become one of the world’s best beatboxers. We became good friends and he taught me how to beatbox. I joined him at live shows in London and a couple in Europe. 

I left Horsham to study Media Production at university. In time, I grew tired of beatboxing, as it didn't speak to me musically. So, I learned how to be a DJ. My interest in dance music grew when I co-founded a hip-hop DVD magazine called Indelible with a friend from Tanbridge. We travelled the country, documenting the music scene, and were even on MTV for a while. 

I enjoyed video production, but it was still music that moved me the most. I spent two years in London and had great times with my friends, but it was impossible to focus on creating music, as we were out every night. I needed to disappear and immerse myself in it. So, in 2010, I packed my bags and headed to China. 

When I left the UK, I was making good music, but it was not at a commercial level. I thought that if I continued to improve, it might go somewhere. When I arrived in Shanghai, there were very few promoters or DJs on the scene. It was not a hub for dubstep or drum and bass music. But over the next decade, electronic music exploded in China. That’s exactly what I wanted; to be part of a shifting social scene.

Initially, I had only two contacts. One was a friend of Killa Kela, who I stayed with for a time. The other was a promoter, who helped me get a foot in the door at a club. I performed live at The Shelter, which became one of the most legendary dance clubs in Asia. It was awesome! Even though it’s since closed, The Shelter was a big influence on my music and life and I have the entry stamp tattooed on my arm. 

Success didn’t come overnight. During my time in China, there have been times when I’ve needed to take residencies in clubs, sometimes playing commercial records. Playing Lady Gaga wasn’t what I dreamed of, but sometimes you must be patient and take opportunities when they come along. In this scene, your career can go up, down or plateau for a while. Overall, there’s still an upward trajectory for me. 

I had an unexpected boost when I helped promote a Chinese website. A marketing guru had the idea of me hitting the streets and cooking egg fried rice. Something about a Brit cooking rice captivated people and the video went viral, clocking up 20 million views on a Chinese video streaming site. This earned me the nickname ‘Chaofan Ge’ or ‘Fried Rice Brother’. Only recently, I was in a small town in China when someone shouted, “Chaofan Ge!”  

That drew people to my music, but I didn't want to sell my soul, so I resisted the temptation to become DJ Chaofan Ge. Instead, I use the name Conrank. When I was first collaborating with Killa Kella, I needed a name that flowed after his. ‘Con’ is the second part of my Christian name and ‘Rank’ was a term prominent in dubstep at the time. So, I brought the two parts together. For ten years, I’ve travelled around China, playing in Shanghai and most major cities. Sometimes, I have performed live to several thousand people. However, I had a desire to become better known internationally. 

Quite unknown to me, my music was being played in America. In 2014, I released an EP featuring a track called Exhale Therapy, a collaboration with famed American producer DJ Shadow (best known for his critically-acclaimed UK Top 20 album, Endtroducing…) Following this, I released music through his Liquid Amber imprint, which put me on more people’s radar. Then an EP I released through Saturate Records in Germany was picked up by dubstep producers in America. This all led to me being invited to the States to play 25 shows. It was incredible, as I went to amazing cities like San Francisco, New York and Seattle. 

My sound is electronic music, based on dubstep and drum and bass. Dubstep originated in Croydon and there is still a significant following here, but we don’t have the promoters to support the scene. In America, you can be an underground act, essentially unknown in mainstream terms, yet sell out venues of 5,000 people. Bass Nectar, a DJ most people will not have heard of, performs to thousands of people and is a leading producer. Having him support me by playing my records has been huge, as he has dedicated fans that research the songs he plays. We’ve also collaborated on a track, Easy Does It, which has been well received. 

When it comes to writing, I use keyboards and synths, but my main piece of production software is an Ableton device. This helps me include loops, samples, basslines and anything I need. Some producers work to a set format, often starting with drums and expanding. But when it comes to creating music, I have an open mind as I never know when inspiration will come. I use vocals – ranging from snippets from sample packs and even my own voice – on about half of my tracks. Occasionally, a track requires new vocals, where I work with a singer. 

When you first finish a song, it’s normal to think it's the greatest thing you've ever done! You hear it as a fan and dance around the studio. Then after two weeks, when you’ve carved away at it, you start thinking it's terrible. It’s only when you play it and gauge the reaction of a crowd that you know if it’s any good. When it drops and you see people go crazy, the feeling is unlike anything else.

I grew up listening to bands like The Prodigy. So, to be able to work with them last year was mind-blowing. A producer suggested I contribute an idea for a remix EP of songs from The Prodigy’s most recent album (No Tourists). I did a version of Timebomb Zone and they loved it.  

I have released several EPs, mostly through Liquid Amber, as well as a full album, entitled What’s a FKNG Conrank? though Circus Records. One track, Drum in Time, has been a big hit in the clubs and has even inspired a remix competition, attracting 250 entries. Circus is a legendary dubstep label, with artists like Flux Pavilion and Doctor P, so it’s great to be involved with them.

It’s an indescribable feeling to keep people dancing for an hour on music you produced. That’s why I get hyped-up and energetic on stage, especially when you’re playing to thousands of people. Sometimes though, you have to play to 25 people, so it’s not glory all the way. 

In the last ten years, I’ve only played one UK show, in London. I will soon return home with my wife, Lulu, a fashion designer I met in Shanghai. I hope to play live here more often in future. 

Although dubstep is still a hard sell, the UK remains a melting pot for cutting-edge music and Horsham is well represented. Carl Cox lived in the town and has been one of the world’s leading DJs for 20 years. Many of my childhood friends are also successfully involved in music or film production. 

I’m releasing a new single at the end of January, No, a collaboration with American producer Mersiv. I’ll also be releasing an EP with an independent label, Wakaan, hopefully leading to another album with Circus later this year or early 2021. In the meantime, I’ll carry on performing, pushing my music as much as possible.

You can follow Conrank on Facebook or listen to tracks on many online music and streaming sites, including Spotify, YouTube and Soundcloud.  


Conrank (Photo: Toby Phillips)