The Tipping Point 03:
Practice Hours With Troy ‘A Plus’ Miller

In a new series led by veteran music journalist and artist manager Chantelle Fiddy, TRENCH resurrects the stories of yesteryear—via those behind the scenes—mapping the landscape of UK music past. This time: a conversation with Troy ‘A Plus’ Miller, DIY DVD creator.

Before the days of YouTube, if you wanted to see what your favourite MC or producer looked like, you’d be looking to the likes of A Plus and their latest DVD project. Responsible for capturing early Eskimo Dance footage during the Watford era, A Plus went on to film for DJ Target’s Aim High series, 679’s Run The Road 2 (where Jme demonstrated his Rubik’s Cube and BMX skills), Roll Deep, and founded his very own brand called Practice Hours.

Having since completed a degree in digital film-making, he’s back behind the camera with recent music videos being delivered for Jamakabi and D Double E, J-Fresh and Madders Tiff, as well as PK from YGG. Currently recovering from a broken ankle, sustained after attempting to fly-kick a door on a video shoot, Troy ‘A Plus’ Miller reflects on the early days of DIY culture.


Let’s take it back to the start. Was Eskimo Dance your first work in the early 2000s?

I think it was; I remember having the idea to get a camera and do behind the scenes stuff. At that time, I’d just come back from holiday and Wiley was always getting me to roll. Geeneus had given me a show on Rinse, but I didn’t really like it—I was a DJ but playing grime wasn’t really my thing. I filmed some Pay As U Go studio sessions, then Wiley told me to come to the Dance, stand at the side of the stage and get what I could.

And there was no training involved here?

Not one bit! I’d asked my ex-girlfriend, who was doing some kind of media degree, for advice and she told me about Final Cut Pro. I bought the Loot newspaper and found someone selling a copy of the program for a score (£20). It was still dial-up internet these times, you know when you couldn’t use the house phone at the same time... But I was still missing a piece of the puzzle in getting the footage from the camera to the computer. I went to see Gifford (TNT) at his studio and he showed me my first firewire lead—£24 and I was set!

So, you filmed Eskimo Dance—how did the DVD come about?

It was the day after the event. Everyone was hyped about it, so I bought three blanks and it took me all day to get it onto a DVD without it fucking up. When the DVD popped out at midnight, we found a TV and flung it on, super gassed. It was a bit dark, for my liking. But a couple of days later Slimzee rang me and said someone wanted to buy a copy of the DVD in Rhythm Division. I was baffled! Slimzee said to me, “Get yourself together! Get some artwork.”

I remember it was a blank DVD with handwriting on it, probably why it’s so collectable to a grime head today.

I did mock-up covers, though: printing one, photocopying the rest and cutting them by hand. To tell the truth, it was the only way. I didn’t have money, just change.

It’s the rawness of that footage that makes it so great.

Yeah, I was looking at some yesterday and I don’t care that I can’t see D Double’s face. What I can see, and what I can hear... That’s sick! That’s how you’d see it in the rave. And sound wasn’t recorded through separate channels. You’d hear everything, people commenting in the background—you knew what was really going on.

A lot of people thought of Eskimo Dance as the ultimate hood ravecompared to, say, Sidewinder in Milton Keynes, which still felt quite happy hardcore in its appearance—and it’s the most authentic representation of that time in London.

I know what you mean. I remember conversations myself, Wiley, Riko, Flow Dan and Slim had about Sting in Jamaica; you know, Ninja Man, the vibe, how the performers came out, clashing elements... It was a conversation before it happened in grime. That influenced what was to come and what Wiley was to do with Eskimo Dance. Smack DVDs were about too, and they played a part, but Sting was the main one.

When did the bootlegging of DVDs—when they’d be readily available on market stalls of a weekend—begin?

That came a bit later. I had a good run on the first few Eski Dances. When Slim told me I could probably get up to £7.50 a unit per DVD, whereas on a record you’re getting £3.75 max—unless you’re Wiley—that sounded like a lot of money to me. I met Stamina Boy around this time and asked him to help me burn copies; it was time-consuming and too much work for one. The last Eski Dance I filmed, they were moving a bit ‘funny’, so I didn’t get as much as I wanted and that’s where the 25 Best Reloads piece of footage came in.

So, what came next?

Conflict DVD and Jammer’s Birthday Bash. Conflict was a radio set that turned into one of the most iconic moments in grime: Dizzee vs Crazy Titch. It was edgy, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before. I know it’s not serious like some of the road stuff going on now; this was music.

How do you know when to turn the camera off?

You just have to use your judgement. When I was doing my degree, I did my dissertation on ethics and it made me look back at moments in my life; was it right/wrong, ramifications etc... I had footage I didn’t let off for that reason. Now it’s just so normal to be filming everything on your phone, but you need to think.

Let’s talk about Practice Hours, another popular brand you birthed…

It was more professional, like a collage of what I was seeing at the time, presented like a DVD magazine.

Where does Risky Roadz and Lord Of The Mics fit into the DVD timeline?

Eskimo Dance came first, then Lord Of The Decks dropped, then I think around the same time me and Roony (Risky) started dropping stuff. I remember seeing Roony and Sparky filming for their DVD when I was filming Practice Hours and Jammer and Ratty were doing Lord Of The Mics. At the start, Ratty, who always looks out for me, and Capo wanted me to go with them, but it sounded too exclusive [laughs]. I can only ever rely on me.

You’ve always been pretty low-key and handled yourself a bit differently to most—has that helped?

I remember when I had the meeting with Dan Stacey to do the Run The Road DVD and he seemed more impressed with my approach than anything else. It was never money at the forefront of the mind, always the work first. To take a brief and satisfy people who’d already seen my work and liked it didn’t feel like a hard thing to do.

And the point of that DVD was to school a perhaps more commercially-leaning audience on grime, by putting it in alongside a CD compilation.

Jammer on the mini moped, Jme on his bike... ‘Imagine if this footage wasn’t there now’ is how I like to think about it. I also have so much unreleased footage, like all of the Straight Outta Bethnal raves. I have great footage of Slimzee on rooftops but at the time, the legal side of it meant I couldn’t use it. Today, it’s a different conversation.

What came next in your story?

YouTube was born and the ground shifted so quickly, no one really knew how to monetise it. I didn’t have a clue—you’re telling me to give my shit away for free? It disheartened me. I did the PHTV DVD, in a smaller case, more lifestyle-based with singers appearing, trainers etc... At the time, the sneakerhead thing hadn’t taken off really.

Everyone was relying on their free adidas drop! No one had the p’s for trainers, like that.

We were literally looking at what WOULD you buy, not which trainers are you GOING to buy! Ultimately though, by this time I thought ‘fuck it!’ I didn’t feel like I knew enough. There was a lady I’d met when I was working on the Roll Deep DVD, she really helped me up my levels, but I kept thinking of all I still had to learn, I didn’t understand the terms people were talking to me in. Gary and Gee got me to do a Skepta video which didn’t get edited, and I felt worn down. My confidence was knocked and I fell in over my head, so I ended up opening a studio with Mega. It was cool, busy, getting used, but again—I felt limited. I could make mixtapes but what’s next? Plus, the music was at a funny stage.

Record shops were shutting, recession hit, it was all happening.

Yep, so we dissolved the studio and I remember feeling like grime MCs can be really unreliable, and ungrateful, and the only person I can rely on is myself to push myself. And that’s when I discovered funky. I started mixing with the 7” records Gary had—I’ve always been a DJ but didn’t know these tunes—and I didn’t have money, but he told me about Traxsource and online stores. I discovered Traktor and with the combination of what I mashed together—Gee gave me a Traktor box—I didn’t think about anything else; mixing and smoking, that was it. I went back on Rinse as A Plus doing a funky show.

In the creative industries, it’s like if you don’t constantly re-invent or morph, you’re washed up...

Exactly. When it comes to being relevant, I look at what’s going on around me and I manage to stay relevant—even if it’s not at the very forefront. Authenticity and relatability are key. Even with the drill stuff I’m like ‘let the kids live!’ I don’t necessarily agree with the violence, but the music side, they’re being creative the only way they know how.

Can music and road ever be separated?

For myself, it’s a situation where you have to make a choice when you hit that fork in the road; continue with the bullshit or take the other path to a possible career. When it comes to the money, most of my creative and successful things have come from a time of struggle, where there is no money. Whether that’s selling drugs or DVDs, you start from nothing. Moments of struggle inspire me to come up with a concept or formula and to grow it.

So what’s next?

The confidence is back! I’ve been in music since I was 12—I was in one of the biggest youth sounds in Hackney with my primary school best friend, Glamma Kid—so it’s always going to involve an element of music. I want to do a short series too, containing elements of my life; I’ve been in so many mad situations I’ve survived, and I want to turn that into something. I can turn most things into something when I put my mind to it.

Watch more of A Plus’ work here and contact him on Instagram for all of your video needs.

Posted on December 07, 2018