“I wanted to help teenagers get somewhere”: how Pressplay became the UK’s most influential drill channel

The essential YouTube channel has released its first compilation featuring stellar alumni including Skengdo X AM. Founder Danny Olkhovski tells Kyann Sian-Williams how he launched an empire

The world has experienced a drill overload in the past 18 months as the Chicago-born, UK-raised genre finally made its way back home to the US last year. Thanks to the late Brooklyn star Pop Smoke, who wowed with his own husk interpretation of the frenetic rap subgenre, almost every rapper of note – including Drake, whose ‘War’, which appeared in this year’s ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’ mixtape, was like a parody of the sound – has tried to jump back on the drill wagon. And Pressplay has played a huge part in this.

The UK YouTube channel, launched in 2012, has shown the world plentiful the new talent when it comes to drill, showcasing stars such as Ard Adz, #12World and even Top 40-charting Poundz (‘Opp Thot’ reached Number 33 last year). Its creator, Danny Olkhovski, once a small boy living in a council estate in Acton, west London, always had big dreams for himself and all his friends. Just eight years later, Pressplay is poised to become UK drill’s answer to Lyrical Lemonade, the influential Chicago-based YouTube music channel and media company.

Trusted far and wide to display the hottest drill newbies, Pressplay holds a lot of weight in the drill world. So it seems natural for the channel to be the first outlet to release a drill compilation mixtape featuring some of your faves. ‘Pressplay Presents: The First UK Drill Compilation’ boasts the likes of genre heroes RV, OFB and Skengdo X AM, whose street anthem ‘Macaroni’ was the channel’s most-viewed video before it was removed by the police for allegedly inciting violence.

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“I’m technically providing playlists and everything on YouTube,” Danny explains, “so I thought, ‘Why not do like a Pressplay tape?’ Show people that it’s more than just filming and editing; we could actually get a lot more through.”

And Danny has always thought outside the box. Seeing that many of his London friends were beginning to rap, he wanted to support in any way he could. Now, the multimedia all-rounder does it all (directing videos, managing artists, you name it). And it all began with a true DIY ethos.

“Growing up in South Acton, there wasn’t much to do,” he tells NME. “I spent all my time outside on the estate and I remember Jamal Edwards [the former NME cover star and entrepreneur behind hip-hop brand SB.TV] was filming. We had rappers coming through and everyone was trying to rap. I wasn’t into the whole rapping thing, but I realised that everyone’s got to play their position in life. No one was really filming around Acton, so I just picked up a camera and filmed people rapping. Then I thought, ‘I’ll start a YouTube channel’.”

Danny was just 14 at the time. Like many great things born out of passion and impulse, the project was just meant to be a side-project for the teenager, who would lug a camera around with all his rapper mates. But after shooting his first video, the Pressplay creator couldn’t put his camera down: “It was just a hobby, and then I tried my first music video and I enjoyed it. It was literally just for fun and then, slowly, it graduated into a business.”

As a creative, you never forget your first piece of work, and of course Danny still remembers his for the late UK rapper Slasher D: “It was a short track, only a minute-and-a-half long, but it took me ages to edit because I was so new to everything. I’ll always remember that one. Looking back at it now, it was so terrible, but at the time I thought, ‘Oh, yeah – this looks amazing!’”

Danny explains that he was “always with the underdogs”. Pressplay championed UK juggernauts such as Stormzy and Krept & Konan early on, but Danny has never wanted to enter the mainstream and only post for clout. He once saw his home estate on “a show about London’s poorest homes”; the 20-something has now moved away but is doing everything he can to help others achieve success too: “I always liked helping up-and-comers and trying to build something to help teenagers get somewhere.”

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Despite the channel’s DIY ethos, Pressplay has even helped to break a few stars into the mainstream – see Bellingham, south London rapper Russ Millions. His infamous shoulder-shifting dance became the hottest move around when he dropped ‘Gun Lean’, the single that showed you how to follow suit. But many don’t know that Danny Olkhovski helped to create the viral dance that put Russ on the map.

“It was Russ and Taze [of West London drill group CGM] who originally had the dance, but they did it differently [in different videos]. And then I used to play around with the effects in other videos and they’d change the dance up a bit. We thought it was just the time to make a song called ‘Gun Lean’ because everyone started doing a similar dance. So we wanted to put a stamp on it like, ‘Yo! This is us’”.

“I was always with the underdogs” – Pressplay founder Danny Olkhovski

And just like that, Russ Millions’ career was launched. Pressplay surged ahead of other channels such as Link Up TV and GRM Daily for top-quality drill content. But that comes at a price, says Danny: “I think with Pressplay, what makes us so different is that we’re all about quality rather than quantity. I’ll get a song, which I think is good, and the artist may ask me if I could film it and I’ll be like, ‘I’ll film it for free’. I actually have passion and love for the industry that I’m in, and I actually want to help it grow.”

International drill has been booming for the past couple of years, showing off the true influence UK culture has over the world. With thriving drill scenes in Europe as well as Australia, it was only natural that Pressplay showcased a few stars from those scenes. From New York drill pioneer Sheff G to the Netherlands’ T.Y. and Stackz, Pressplay’s shown the UK another world of drill. “It was interesting,” says Danny, “because I wasn’t sure how the fans would take to it. I was unsure, but my aim was to educate the UK that there are drill rappers out there using our style, and to show them that [UK drill] is actually going somewhere. It’s not just staying in the UK.”

And it would be remiss not to ask a drill connoisseur about his favourite drill music scenes. “I would obviously say the UK is definitely there as my favourite,” Danny replies, “but I would say France and Brooklyn. Spanish drill is good, but there’s not a lot of [those artists]. I see a lot of Portuguese stars coming through as well. I’ve had a lot over the whole world content-wise because they could see that I’m working with different regions.”

So, after launching a load of careers, linking overseas stars with UK vets and now with a swanky compilation mixtape, what’s in the pipeline for drill’s favourite YouTube channel?

Read more: The best drill songs… ever!

“I’ve got like a podcast show coming,” Danny says. “I’ve got more compilation albums coming. I’m going to start linking artists together for more and more collaborations. I film so much and do so much editing that I don’t get around to doing a lot of the other stuff I want to do. I want to do more documentaries, short films – stuff like that. So, I think that in due time I’ll have more cameramen and team members that are able to do more of these little things. But music has always been my passion. I’m tryna be like the UK drill DJ Khaled.”

– ‘Pressplay Presents: The First UK Drill Compilation’ is out now

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