In a very short time, MATTHEW XIA has been and done many things: actor, director, not even to mention his DJ-ing, which last year took him from pirate radio to the Paralympics opening parade – via a lauded stint presenting his own show on BBC 1Xtra. I guess you could call him something of a polymath, a latter-day renaissance man. And he has now added another string to his increasingly diverse bow, having recently taken up the role of Musical Director at the Everyman Playhouse Theatre.
It really is amazing that someone can accomplish so much in a relatively short space of time, so how has he done it? It is immediately obvious that Matthew – or DJ Excalibah as he will be known to 1Xtra listeners – is not one for basking in his achievements: “It doesn’t feel like such a short time, but a cod answer is not wanting to get a real job.” We’ve all been there, doing absolutely anything to put off the inevitable decline into turning into your father, but Matthew has avoided that so far, so there must be something more meaningful driving him on.
As a matter of fact there is, “A deeper answer… would be that I just like telling stories”. Story telling would, it seems, be the common thread of his life, from his hip hop DJ-ing through to the theatre. “It’s all talking about people from similar circumstances as me, expressing themselves through art. It’s all about perseverance… the plays I’m into reflect that, too.” Well that’s something Matthew knows about, having told his mum at 17 he was dropping out of college to take his DJ-ing work on London’s pirate radio scene full-time, before being headhunted for 1Xtra (and directing music for plays on the side – joining the board of directors at Stratford Youth Theatre at 19). Other than storytelling, it would appear the other overarching theme to all his work is telling the stories of the streets: “of shining lights into dark crevices where you shouldn’t go and why we shouldn’t be sat in a scrap yard in Fleetwood watching people eke out an existence”. It should be pointed out that we’re not actually sat in Fleetwood, but upstairs at the Playhouse on the set of Daniel Matthew’s debut play Scrappers, which Matthew has been directing.
So how has a man who has spent his whole life in London ended up working in a provincial theatre? Other than the fact there was a decent job going, he felt like he had been “banging my head on a glass ceiling in London. It’s a chance to learn new skills and learn about regional theatre. And get out of the London bubble. Plus, there’s the personal link: my girlfriend’s from these parts and my old drama teacher runs 20 Stories High [a theatre company based in the city], so I’ve got a readymade network.” But he always manages to find a way to come back to the music and it’s multifaceted relationship with theatre, despite putting music somewhat on the backburner, “as it exists as a brand down in London, so I’m prepared to concentrate on directing … but I have actually been asked to write a piece of music for a short piece as part of Everyword at the Blind School [opposite the Philharmonic]; it adds a sense of experience to what could just be the small showing of a new work.” I guess you could say that re-appropriating derelict spaces and turning them into something new is part of the ‘quiet revolution’ that is part of so much of Matthew’s work; from Scrappers to the backpack hip hop he’s helped so many fall in love with.
Nonetheless, it’s going take some time for this restless chap to settle in, right? I mean, he is here for the long haul (especially as his other option was Shrewsbury – no disrespect to our Shropshire brothers), but “I’ve not really discovered [the local hip hop scene]; I’ve always known Kof and his manager Yaw [Owusu], but that’s my only link to it. I’m thinking about setting up a club night if I can. If the audience is there…”
It really shouldn’t take him long to find his feet – our nascent scene is beginning to properly flourish, with the likes of Bang On, No Fakin’, Nicky Talent, 2K and Jamie Broad beginning to make waves – including an excellent night earlier this summer with a crop of the city’s finest supporting the legends that are The Pharcyde. Well, Mr Xia, Liverpool really does hopes you stick around for a while.