Exclusive: Stööki Sound reminisce on early trap days, return from hiatus
Jamal Alleyne aka Jelacee started making music at 14 years old as a teen who, unbeknownst to him as he played with innocuous sounds on music DAWs in and around Stratford, was on the cusp of a new genre.
“There weren’t a lot of things to do as a kid growing up in London. We’d be hanging out in youth clubs, and a lot of people in my area were making music. One of my friends was like, ‘here’s Fruity Loops, it’s free, make some music,’ and I did. I just hit the ground running once I realized it was something I was naturally good at,” said Jelacee who, 15 years later, continues to produce dance/electronic music with his collaborator and long-time friend DJ Lukey. Together, they’re known as the UK trap duo Stööki Sound.
The other half of the esteemed act is Lukey, whose musical prowess stems from a lineage of classically trained musicians. Growing up, the artist’s mother and three sisters played the violin, cello, and the piano, and his father was a reggae artist in a critically-acclaimed UK band. “I was always making music at home, but it wasn’t until secondary school that my cousin introduced me to Fruity Loops, Cubase, and eJay [music creation software] that I became truly obsessed with music,” said DJ Lukey.
In the years that followed, Lukey went on to attend university, DJing live sets at parties in East London and Shoreditch and eventually, established art collective Stööki: “I was playing smaller 100-cap parties with these mixed hip-hop sets,” he said.
The two like-minded artists met in the ’90s, during a hip-hop night at a mutual friend’s birthday party at a Vietnamese restaurant in London. “So, me and Jamal linked up and started playing out these ‘Three 6 Mafia mixed into grime’ type tracks and lots of 140-BPM dubstep. Hip-hop was huge then and we were having fun…Soon after, we created the Stööki Sound project.” It was around this time that the trap genre had begun to emerge in the UK.
In 2012, the pair released “Ball So Hard,” their first original single as Stööki Sound. Previous releases included two successful reworks: a Lil Wayne flip of “A Milli” and a remix of “Mercy.” Officially established by DJ Lukey in 2011 as a lifestyle brand for apparel and jewelry, Stööki is now a three-tiered venture—”Sound, Vision & Play”—though Stööki Sound’s official launch was heavily focused on music and fashion. Shortly after the iconic trap tune’s release, the two musicians found themselves immediately thrust into the frenetic whirlwind recognized by many as the frenzied golden era of trap and dance/electronic music.
“Since the beginning, it all happened so fast. Everything took off while we were still learning,” said DJ Lukey. It was during this time that the Stööki Sound project began amalgamating into what Jamal and Luke now remember fondly as the “Stööki Movement.”
“I remember listening to Hucci for the first time at 16 thinking, ‘this is different, and I want my music to sound like that.’ At the time, we didn’t know who else was in the trap scene—there wasn’t one in the UK. I knew of [Mr.] Carmack, Hucci, Flosstradamus, TNGHT, Hudson Mohawke, and then the list started dissipating from there. It wasn’t until we made it that we said, ‘wait a minute. Here it is, we’re it,’” Jelacee recalled. “This is why we have such a unique sound—because we accidentally put ourselves into that realm of music by listening to what inspired and influenced us.”
After being catapulted into the limelight as UK trap’s frontmen, the two young artists—Jamal was 19 and Luke, 21—went on to collaborate with their influences (Mr. Carmack, Hucci, and many other trap icons) while remaining true to their hip-hop-meets-dance-music roots.
“People have commended us for sticking to our unique sound over the years, continuing to look up to us and how we’ve stuck to it over the last decade, and then we ended it almost four years ago. It doesn’t feel that long, of course, but COVID put us in a time machine. It’s quite interesting to see that we’ve left the music industry for what we thought would be a permanent break, and still, people are very much interested in listening to our project. It definitely feels like a testament to what we’ve done from 2012 to 2018,” remarked Jelacee.
He recalls struggling during these fruitful years as they navigated through the industry pipeline and live event sphere with no guidance and no mentors—no one they knew had ever experienced the dance/electronic frenzy that they would embark on:
“There was no one looking out for us, telling us what the right and wrong things to do were. We had to figure every single thing out on the fly, all while balancing our personal lives and everything else. We learned to create these music caricatures of ourselves…It’s a skill in itself, remaining authentic in this industry. I commend people who make their way to the top and can stay there, the journey isn’t easy. At the end of the day, our journey feels quite surreal, but we wouldn’t change it for the world. We’re proud of the success we’ve had with just a few sounds.”
After almost a decade of producing records and touring internationally, they announced their permanent departure from music on August 19, 2019, citing their plans to continue to pursue their goals independently of the Stööki Sound project. “Me and Luke were going, going, going since 2012. We didn’t make time for friends, for family…We didn’t have time for ourselves. A lot of people think this life is glamorous—and I’m not saying it’s not fun, it is a privilege, this lifestyle—but it’s not what a lot of people think it is. It is grueling, tiring, especially when you’re just kids, like we were—traveling from sea to sea, country to country on a daily, weekly basis. I remember we did a tour flying from London, to China, India and Australia all in the course of four or five days. That was one of those moments where I sincerely thought, damn, how long can I keep doing this? There are still parts of that period that I don’t even remember, a lot of it felt like a blur. This time away gave us the opportunity to sit down, me and Luke, and reflect and think about everything that happened, things we did and didn’t get a chance to do,” said Jelacee.
In between going on walks, creating new content for their lifestyle brand, and still trying to make sense of the punchy, neon-Kandi-bracelet-glowstick-riddled hurricane of an era, the two artists kept returning back to where it all began—music. During the global lockdowns, while Jelacee enjoyed making memories with his family and friends, gaming, and producing music, Luke found himself narrowing his focus to the Stööki jewelry lifestyle label. “As I began shooting content with local collaborators here in London, doing some sound tracking, and even laying down a few London sets, it all felt like a reset…a moment to regroup and really be honest with ourselves,” said Lukey.
The artists evenly split mix and mastering work over calls during the lockdown period, seamlessly ricocheting ideas and stylistic choices during sessions. They attribute this ease in their workflow and the longevity of the Stööki Sound project to their longtime partnership. “We sat down and had a three-hour conversation over Nando’s last year, discussing everything we wanted to do separately and talked about what we could feasibly align and accomplish together…And now, here we are,” said Jelacee. It was after this period of respite and reflection that the duo decided that it would return when it was safe to do so, post-pandemic—and with plenty of surprises and new music.
For their new single “Lost,” the artists return to their roots, circling back to the sound they quintessentially created. The trap cut is one that fans will find is reminiscent of “Ball So Hard,” their claim to fame.
“The music I began making during the lockdown was music that I miss hearing, because I haven’t been hearing it made at all lately in its true form. ‘Lost’ is an ode to the old Stööki Sound essentially, and trap music. It’s for the fans who miss trap music the way it used to be done and for the new fans as well who don’t realize they want to hear that sort of thing,” said Jelacee.
Stream ‘Lost’ below.
Featured image: Cameron Inniss