2020: More Cowbell
2020: "RollageLive vol 1: Nightfall" on Bandcamp or Spotify.
Monday, December 31, 2018
Last month on Rinse we did an impromptu vinyl "roots of dubstep" show. While I think about this era a lot - it's one of my favourites of all time - and use it for inspiration while writing music, I don't tend to play old school sets very often. It is now as it was then: my jam is digging through new music to find what's next. The last "Roots of..." I did was for Holloway & Foxmind's Radar show a year ago, and so we approached this set with the intention of digging a little deeper.
The thing is every scene has its prominent tunes, its anthems, its staples. And they're there for a reason: "Red" by Artwork is rightly a certified classic of this time, for example. But the reality is in scenes many producers contribute many tracks, and for every anthem and every Artwork, there's dozens of other contributors and hundreds of other productions. This is especially true of the earliest dubstep, as it began as a darker d&b-influenced flavour amongst many other flavours in UKG. So for every now-lauded El-B, Zed Bias, Skream or Artwork, there's (say) Roxy, The Brotherhood, Hyper-Hypa, Ride It Riddims or Injekta - early producers who contributed to the journey but are now less recognised at the destination. There is a long tail of white labels, one-release imprints, UKG mainstays that went a little darker, offshoots and side experiments that contributed to what is dubstep today.
Naturally, many of those long tail records aren't as strong as the classics, but even from the producers who creatively contributed the most to the scene, there is a larger body of work than their classics. And in addition there's a set of producers who probably aren't looked back on as dubstep co-founders, but contributed records to this emerging darker strain - examples in this mix being DJ Zinc, Marcus Intalex, KMA Productions, Wookie (aka Exemen), So Solid Crew and Ras Kwame. There's more - like DJ Hype, DJ Narrows or Chase & Status to name a few.
So yes, Dusk and I couldn't resist drawing for known bangers like "Red" or "138 Trek", but for the most part in this set we went a little wider (MI:ST, Ras Kwame, KMA) or a little deeper (Horsepower's release on Turn U On rather than, say, "Gorgon Sound" on Tempa, and the overlooked Zed Bias mix of "138...").
As I listened back to the set it evoked a bunch of reflections for me, some about that time but others that felt about now. I've captured them here:
- Marcus Intalex + S.T. Files "Taking Over Me" [Hospital Records]
First of all RIP Marcus Intalex. I chose to start the set with this one because it kinda represents what things were like in 2000 in terms of sonic moods and personnel clusters. I'd clocked there was this darker vein in UKG that connected to the d&b moods I loved, but UKG records with that flavour were rare. So Dusk and I were grabbing stuff from all over the place (broken beat, techy break house, UKG etc) and mixing it into those early "Roots of..." UK garage records to backfill the right vibe. This was one of them and fittingly it came from a d&b producer. It's a masterclass in space and groove; bass, drums and pads - it just rolls and rolls, like a LTJ Bukem set or the sour euphoria of Detroit techno. 23 For Sale from £1.98 on Discogs, r u nuts?
MI:ST links us to Hospital Records. It's worth noting that in 2000 the label felt like a small peripheral on the bigger d&b movement - amazing in retrospect, since I now bike past 8 foot posters of entire festivals they're hosting. Tony, Chris & Tom began focusing on the warmer side of the scene; that 'liquid' flex. But equally at that time they were super active and present in lots of the other key small clubs & scenes, especially Forward>> and Co-op as they began to flourish in Plastic People from 2001. Chris was into the funk, beats & breaks stuff too if I recall.
I've written about this before but it's worth re-stating: what people think of "dubstep" right now is merely what became the most dominant of the many strains and style of music played at FWD>>. And while I was certainly partisan in the debate, it's historical fact that you were as likely to hear 2step beat patterns, broken beats, early 8bar grime and the harder breakstep strains as what would become 'dubstep'. In fact the "halfstep" beat which is now the dominant pattern in dubstep hadn't formally emerged until later, Loefah's "Horror Show" and Wonder's "What" being the first notable examples played in dubstep and grime respectively, though DJ Abstract's earlier gem "Touch" has 3,4 snares, rather than 2,4 but it personally didn't catalyse change.
Anyway, pointing out the historical diversity of the percussion in this time is only one point to be made here. I guess I would optimistically re-iterate that it's possible now again too. There are just as many place to, say, put or not put a snare in the bar in 2018 as there were in 2000. Rhythms - stiff, funky, urgent, subtle - move bodies just as organically as ever. Take those risks.
A key but now criminally overlooked member of the Hospital camp is Landslide so after playing his Kaidi Tatham remix on the Holloway show, we choose to pull out a bunch of his original productions here. Where Hospital focused on & got traction in the d&b scene, Landslide built quite unique records that sat between broken beat, early dubstep and UK garage. I think it's fair to say that Tim Landslide was definitely one of the most musically trained and talented producers of that era, in the classical sense. And from spending time with him during that era, I recall this was as much a curse as a blessing - it took him long periods of time to finish records, though many producers are perfectionists. This contrasts sharply with the more raw and rapid fire approach, say, Skream took from that era. "On that old drive I had 600 files. On my new one I’ve got 800. it gets ridiculous, I can’t remember them all" - Skream, 2005). Just listen to Benga's "Half Ounce" that we played on the show: stripped back, raw sub and kicks, alien zaps, super minimal. While I can't be sure, I suspect it was much quicker to write than something by Landslide. Equally, in the classical sense, it has a lot less 'musical' parts - chords, melodies, etc.
I think it's a false dichotomy to say that a dark raw track is in some way intrinsically better than a warmer more "musical" one, or vice versa, just like saying a "well produced" dubstep track is objectively better than a brick wall limited FL Studio grime banger - they are both great but have different - in this case opposing - aesthetics. To me the higher level observation is great scenes or moments can nurture and celebrate oppositional approaches and in fact are stronger more inspiring when they can. When DJing or on radio, Dusk and I have called this "rough with the smooth," which I suspect might have been be a fragment of a Crazy D lyric but is now long since passed into internal Dusk + Blackdown lexicon (we've been DJing b2b 22 years now!), but you can look to great DJ who can find ways to flow between contrasting but coherent moods. Different enough but similar enough. Those classic dance music tensions and the celebrations thereof.
(Side note - to complete the Croydon trifecta - I can remember exactly where I was when I first had the "oh, some of this dark ish sounds so road/raw because it's dissonant or atonal" epiphany. I was in Plastician/Plasticman's loft studio/bedroom interviewing him in 2003, and asked somewhat naively how he got everything to be "in tune". From his answer, I realised I'd had assumptions that had been thinking about the music the wrong way. I know it was 2003 so exactly because while in the loft I got a call from The Guardian Comment desk to write this piece about Dizzee, a life highlight).
- Phuturistix "551 Blues" [Locked On]
- Phuturistix [Zed Bias + Injekta] "Thelonius Punk" [Hospital Records]
- Maddslinky "Dark Swing" [Sirkus]
- Maddslinky "Reject" [Sirkus]
If we're going to talk about Landslide, his connections with the broken beat scene and a more classical, musical approach to early "roots of" productions, I think you can't leave out Zed Bias aka Maddslinky aka half of Phuturistix - a massive, massive contributor to the early Roots era scene. Already a big player in UKG, not least because of "Neighbourhood", but one with roots in jungle (contemporary of Steve "Foul Play" Gurley for example).
In all honestly I could write 10,000 words on the output of Zed during this time, not least because loads of it appeared using pseudonyms (Quest, Almighty Beatfreakz, Daluq, E.S. Dubs, F.O.S. Project, JMD, Maddslinky, Nu Design, Phuturistix, Ruff Cut Bias, Seven Wonders, Tallisman, The Henchmen, Undadoggz) so there's so much of it, it's all of such a high standard and in many cases was quite distinct and original compared to other producers operating at the time. The Maddslinky & Phuturistix output is no exception.
Put simply, I think the Maddslinky & Phuturistix albums of this time are two of the most important and under-rated dubstep LPs of all time. In fact so bold and original are they, that I can see a world (probably in YouTube comments - never read the comments!) where post-2006 dubstep fans don't recognise this as dubstep at all, though that speaks more to the narrowing of dubstep's scope, the trade offs it made to grow ("be more direct/instant/noisy, less diverse, gain audience") than anything else about the creativity of this Roots era. To generalise about these two LPs, the Maddslinky LP is more focused, darker, sometimes broken, sometimes 2steppy garage. Whereas the Phuturistix project with Injekta was broader, more sonically ambitious taking in soul, jazz & funk influences to stretch what was possible within the confines of existing genres.
Again, people keen on revisionist history might try and argue that this LP "isn't dubstep," and that argument very much relies on a narrow idea of dubstep: 140, snares on the 3 n all that. But the most creative periods of dubstep were much more diverse than that, implying anything was possible.
It still is.
Full set tracklist:
Keysound (All Vinyl Roots of Dubstep Set) - 22nd November 2018
Marcus Intalex + S.T. Files "Taking Over Me" [Hospital Records]
Exemen (aka Wookie) "Saturn" [Manchu]
Zinc "138 Trek (Zed Bias Remix)" [Phaze:One]
Jon Cutler Feat. E-Man "It's Yours" (Ras Kwame Remix)
KMA Productions "Cape Fear" [Urban Beat]
So Solid Crew "Dilemma" [Relentless]
Menta [aka Artwork + Danny Harrison from 187 Lockdown] "The Soul"
Artwork "Red" [Big Apple Records]
Menta [aka Artwork + Danny Harrison from 187 Lockdown] "Sounds Of Da Refix" [Sounds of Da Future]
Benga "Half Ounce" [Benga Beats]
Phuturistix "551 Blues" [Locked On]
Phuturistix [Zed Bias + Injekta] "Thelonius Punk" [Hospital Records]
Maddslinky "Dark Swing" [Sirkus]
Maddslinky "Reject" [Sirkus]
Landslide "Incurable Voices" [Hospital Records]
Landslide "Hear My People" [Hospital Records]
Hyper-Hypa + Julius ft Juiceman "Congo Fever" [Shelflife]
Horsepower Productions "Classic Delux Part two" [Tempa]
Re-Animator "Return to E Horsepower remix" [Vertical Drop]
Horsepower Productions "Electro Bass" [Turn U On]
Hatcha "Crazy Intro" [Tempa]
Nude v El-B "Reality" [Shelflife]
Es-G (Steve Gurley) "Dirty" [Shelflife]
Visionary "Acid Flex (Oris Re:Flex Mix)" [Mainframe]
Darqwan "Friday at the limit" [Texture]
Ms. Dynamite + Menta [aka Artwork + Danny Harrison from 187 Lockdown] "Ramp" [Biggerbeats Records]
- Finished reading? Check my recent Hugo Massien interview on how deep tech came about.
Thursday, November 22, 2018
Hugo Massien's "Remnants / London Underground 2014 - 16" EP is out now: hear it on Spotify or buy vinyl & digital
Blackdown: So I think the very natural - if not very original - place to start is to hear a little bit about your beginnings of making music and the beginnings of releases because everything will probably build from there. Can you talk me through how you decide to make that step. Like “okay I'm going to make music rather than just enjoy it?”
Hugo Massien: Making music. It came in very natural steps but the steps went from listening to listening to music listening to electronic music wanting to select out music for parties and then I did just the natural progression from there is to go further and further into detail. And then I sort of wanted to make the make the music itself you know it was just about diving deeper and deeper into the core of what was going on and maybe will talk about it later but the progression after learning how to produce the next step was then learning how to create audio software. So I learn how to code C++ and developed audio software so it's all part of the same continuum.
Hugo Massien: Making music. It came in very natural steps but the steps went from listening to listening to music listening to electronic music wanting to select out music for parties and then I did just the natural progression from there is to go further and further into detail. And then I sort of wanted to make the make the music itself you know it was just about diving deeper and deeper into the core of what was going on and maybe will talk about it later but the progression after learning how to produce the next step was then learning how to create audio software. So I learn how to code C++ and developed audio software so it's all part of the same continuum.
B: Wow, did you do that right around the time you were learning to make music itself?
HM: There was a crossover yeah definitely. Yeah the sequence was you know it was it was sequential in it when listener > DJ > producer > audio software developer. But yeah it was definitely a big overlap with learning how to write the software because I was learning that university and that was also when I was making most of my music so there was a lot of crossover between those two things.
B: It's really interesting because I've seen this progression can go a bunch of different ways. So a lot of the dudes that like Super Collider or Pure Data or any of these things get really into going under the hood of synths. But what often that happens then is they get interested to make on sounds not making music, if you get the distinction.
B: I know a bunch of friends of mine who just want to make crazy noises they don't want to make any tracks, songs, .wavs or MP3s or vinyl. They just want to make mad sounds and they often want to do it through code as well. Do you ever find yourself in that path, that you prefer sound generation to music making?
HM: No I've never lost the drive to actually finish music and get it wrapped up and out there. And I think that's you know I've had so many mates as well who make amazing sounds and they have amazing ideas but they just don't finish stuff off. I think as for me personally is has been a strength is I am able to actually focus on finishing things and also because you know I'm just writing synthesizer software so I'm not I'm not really writing algorithms that write music themselves. As in I'm actually yeah I'm writing the tools which I use to make music so the reason why I decided to learn how to write audio software. Well I guess there is kind of two things but the first part was that I knew that that was the best way to become a proficient sound designer and learn how to use a synthesizer from back to front. I calculated the best way to do that was to build one and master up the other side. And it's another way to kind of bring money in as well which is a bit more which is a bit more stable that still relates to the music world as well.
B: Are you saying that this is your day job? That as well as music as a creative passion, you work for audio synth company?
HM: Yeah I run a company with a guy based in L.A. which makes audio software. We've got a synth called Circle and we're working on loads of new stuff. After university I just kind of came straight out to Berlin to try to write audio software. This is probably the best place in the world to make audio software at the moment. So yeah I just came out here and yeah music is music is... I Want to say hobby but it is more than a hobby you know it is kind of a huge thing for me it is like in many ways one of the most important things that I do. Day to day and I'm running the company we had with Gavin.
B: Yeah it's a very interesting question this because for example in lyrics you'll hear people say "f**k a 9-5" job. What they probably mean is "I don't want to do of these is a sh*t job for sh*t money." The converse of that is that you want to do your hobby for a living. And I've done both sides of that coin. I've had both those thoughts in my life. And the one that always gets more glamorous is your hobby as a living and it is possible that it can pan out for different people but like what's interesting that you're doing it's a little bit of both at once, but also there's the slight risk - and I don't know if you ever feel this - that the last thing you want to do a see a synthesizer when you go home, from work. Do you ever feel like that or do they are they can you know the creative process and the kind of work processes are separate enough?
HM: Yeah there are periods when that does happen but it depends what I'm what I'm actually working on at the time. You know seeing is only two of us and you know some contractors doing other bits and bobs and I'm doing such a variety of stuff at work that a lot of the time I'm not staring at a synthesizer all day. So yes sometimes but it's hasn't been a major blocker for me.
B: Great. Because nothing worse than like doing it as your passion then it becoming a job and then it becomes boring to you. You see DJs who clearly start because they care deeply about music and clubs and mixing with things and then comes a formula and deep down they're bored by the experience and you know as it is soul destroying to watch as you know they're not really 'in it'.
HM: Sometimes it actually it actually helps me because I will be kind of working on sound related stuff all day all working on the synth or working with artists that we're you know involved from a marketing standpoint and the you know at the end of the day I've got such a buzz from what I've been working on, it actually gives me a buzz to go and create myself.
B: That's great. I mean, long may that last! If you've got a synergy between the two sides of things between things and you work on those things that you do for the creative part of it than that's amazing. That's "Holy Grail" stuff, a "third way" between a bad 9-5 or a hobby you want to be paid for.
HM: Yeah I think so. I think part of it as well is because it's super flexible. If there's a moment where you know inspiration strikes I can hop onto Ableton for a second it's flexible. We just need to get the work done and then other than that everything's super flexible.
B: I suppose that's an advantage of you being a founder of the company because that isn't afforded to people who work as employees.
HM: Yeah. Gavin set up the company and then I came along into it. Yeah. And now the two of us are running it together which is just really cool.
B: And are there any synergies or communities that come from there being other audio developers in a similar space in Berlin? Or to reframe the question how is it different the fact that there are lots of other world leading software company in Berlin versus if you happen to be sitting in Tromsø, Norway or say Birmingham, UK and there's no one else around to like this. Does it turn out there like there are conferences, pubs or parties or parties where you can talk to other developers?
HM: Yeah yeah this conference is there's meet ups there's there's loads stuff there's oh you can feel the buzz. Definitely. I don't know if you've heard Superbooth that's every year everyone's down there which is a modular festival which happens in summer. It also includes all other kinds of synths as well but the modular stuff is just the kind of major focus and then yeah there's ah there's always meet ups. There's definitely a buzz.
B: Before we talk about how that is that sort of environment has affected your musical direction, I'd love to hear more about the beginning of your musical directions before we can say how it's changed. You had early releases all on Audio Rehab in the deep tech scene. Can you talk me through the first sort of general flavour of the records you were making, the one that first came out and what you were inspired by at that point?
HM: When I first started making music I was I was attempting to make minimal dark dubstep the kind of thing that Youngsta would have been playing around 2009. And that was my kind of entry point into production. So I probably started making music in about 2009 in. I was writing music for that time 2009 or 10. Yeah that's why I was doing I just wanted to make a make a tune that Youngsta would the play - his quality control was so high that that was the kind of benchmark.
B: Dan's legendary attention to detail! And how did that progress? Did you get any tracks played by those kind of DJs?
HM: Yeah yeah. there was a bit of interest, I remember Distance played one or a couple. They were picked up by picked up by a couple of guys, Crises as well as was playing some. And then there was a label called Innamind which is still running and doing still doing well and I briefly hooked up with towards the end of that period. Yeah. So yeah people were playing tracks and I was getting I was getting stuff played here and there on Rinse which was super exciting for me.
B: And how did things shift because obviously that was 2009 but by 2013 you at your releasing with [deep tech label] Audio Rehab? How did that progression take place?
HM: A lot of it was to do with what just happened in in the UK in terms of the musical the way the clubs went. So I moved down to Bristol in in 2009/10. And that was that was for uni, and at that time you know 140 bpm music - grime dubstep - there was still exciting stuff happening and there was still cool stuff happening in the clubs at that time and I'd gone to Bristol because of that music and because you know its status within that world because of the amount of stuff that was on my plate to investigate.
B: That's because quite mad looking back, that basically Pinch unexpectedly affected your life, by attending FWD and DMZ in London around, say 2004/5 and then bringing dubstep to the city, which in turn you came to the city for your university.
HM: That's why the Tectonic 12" release feels like you know really special to me yeah yeah that's really that's amazing because was you know Tectonic was was yeah massive for me and obviously what he did did really put Bristol on the map for that stuff and that's how I ended up going down there. So that release was a real full circle moment for me because I'd gone from sort of in 2008 to just absolutely loving that stuff, you know, that scene, I'd be going to Outlook Festival I'd be trying to get on the Tectonic boat parties and stuff like that. And then you know how many years later it is. Yeah I've kind of gone a really strange route but somehow connected back with that branch.
B: One of the things that's interesting about the dissolution of the original dubstep scene is that it's I saw it as kind of like a divorce between the people who wanted the tempo and the genre formula ("dubstep is and can only be 140 bpm snare on the 3 with bass") and the people who understood the broader spirit of what was happening, especially the diversity of ideas gets at Plastic People & FWD>>, and then DMZ at 3rd Base.
Because the more complicated idea that was less easy to sell 'is you have a coming together of people who can roughly share a tempo and a space for something in common but then you can ask really creative, diverse space where anything goes.' And like in those peak years really it was so many brilliant ideas coming together. Whereas like the other side or take on dubstep was like 'it's literally a formula. It's literally a tempo, it's literally a vibe, if we all make literally this then you are "dubstep"'. So what's interesting about coming back to Tectonic is like some of the sound in that stuff they're not explicitly out and out dubstep but I personally really relate to the mentality - which is why I like your music - that you can in places hear the touches, the moods I come from that era, though there are other influences too and that's a much more interesting idea to me than saying 'here's a formula, I'm going to copy it'. Instead it's: 'here's a bunch of like amazing and different flavors I can blend with other things, and place them in a new structure' - which is what I think you're doing.
HM: Oh yeah massively so this is this is my thing you know that you just mentioned blending there. It's become something semi-conscious in the way I think. I think what I do, basically, and what I what I have been doing since I've been able to convey my ideas OK now I know my way around the software. I think what interests me is kind of making something which I feel like I haven't heard before. I think that's what gives me the excitement to finish something and send it out and be proud of it and I think I think the way to do that is to combine things. So it's like combining to choose sounds from one scene with the kind of sonic parameters of another or combining all of this sound design style used or the mixdowns style in one scene with something else and I think it's these combinations which allow you to sort of enter these into these realms which are kind of not strictly within what we know of as our lanes of genres.
B: I mean I was reading something recently about describing about creativity and trying to define creativity and a lot of people think it's a big, seismic shift "eureka" moment. That it's Isaac Newton an apple dropping from a tree and inferring gravity or it's Archimedes getting into a bath and going 'oh I understand that the volume of water displaced is equal to his body's volume' but I think the reality is I think it's much more than what most people think more realistically like as a series the iterations and a like your blending idea because it's like chipping away at stuff pushing things through suddenly you'll find you're somewhere new that feels like a much more natural way of making something creative.
HM: Yeah it's a kind of strategy for it. And yes that's something which you know I do think about: what can come from this place and then be applied to another place. And it can be it can be something abstract. So I think this is this is what happened with the deep tech stuff in in some ways and we weren't doing it very consciously at the time - I wasn't doing it very consciously at the time. But you know we were kind of combining in a lot of it was combining like an attitude of the early dubstep and the grime and then applying that attitude to the production process of house and techno. And so yeah it doesn't even have to just be combining what might be the more obvious like sounds of two scenes it can be like just an approach.
B: And "approach" is a very interesting abstraction abstractions of the word self because I think the obvious move in this situation is let's get the Wiley 'Ice Rink' chirp and stick it into a house beat. Let's get the "Pulse X" bass and stick it into house and don't get me wrong I've done all those things and I've played records that have them and when they were first done in say 2010 it was quite an interesting idea but if that was the only references to grime that you apply, you run out of new ways of doing it. But what you're talking about 'the attitude' is a much broader approach that could have a much more diverse set of creative output.
HM: Yeah that that sums it up. Absolutely yeah.
B: So tell me the story. There's the dubstep time and then there's this the beginning of this 'attitude' with deep tech. How do you get between those two places?
HM: So I was going to Bristol Uni and basically did the dubstep scene it kind of imploded and disappeared you know. And then the clubs it seemed like overnight the clubs kind of filled up with what I think to me were quite generic house tune which sounded as if they could have been made at any point in the last you know 15 to 20 years you know. In fact people trying to sound like they they're making a tune in 1995 or something like that. That's what happened that's what the kind of music scene became in Bristol at that time or the stuff that I was being exposed to. And to me I was kind of... I was lost at that point you know. I was quite lost. I had felt like I really had a home in that kind of dubstep and grime world. And you know as a listener, as a producer as a kind of participant in a culture and then that disappeared and what came along afterwards it felt it felt insincere to me and I couldn't connect with it.
HM: So yeah I was kind of a musically quite musically lost at that point and I think yeah that's where my kind of nomadic spirit which I think kind of has continued to today that that kind of started then I've kind of been wandering in in directions sort of strange direction since then. But yeah the transition then happened. This scene had imploded there was nothing kind of exciting for me to make dubstep, at that time especially considering where I was geographically in Bristol as well you know as I don't wanna say there wasn't exciting things happening anywhere or sh*t or anyone was doing but just where I was there was there was there was there was nothing there so I kind of ... I had friends who were playing at these house nights and I wasn't really DJing at that point maybe I was doing the occasional, like, messing about a house party or something like that. So I started having a go at making some of this house music because that's what people were doing at the time. But yeah it didn't really have anywhere to fit and almost it in parallel just by chance I flicked on Rinse you know something like midnight midweek and heard yeah I heard Mark Radford playing and instantly just kind of connected some dots in my head. I was definitely grabbed very very quickly.
B: What kind of dots did you hear connected?
HM: So you know I talked about having this this kind of feeling like there was this home within dubstep and grime music and that really made sense to me and felt like something very sincere and very exciting.
HM: As an aside, before dubstep came along I was really disappointed that I'd missed out on drum & bass and I always felt like I've missed out, and that I'm not going to have something which defines my generation, my generation is going to be looking back at the exciting things that have happened before. So I've yeah I've always been keen on the music of now not not looking back and trying to replicate something that's been done before just for functionality.
HM: So yeah going back to the Mark Radford deep tech stuff, I just heard I heard house music which connected the dots between what I'd been missing after dubstep and grime, that kind of thing had had disappeared. The dots were between those two things and I guess it was it was just ... it's quite abstract but I guess it was just a mood in many ways. Or a feeling. It's quite hard to describe in more than that. It was it was just a feeling of sound system music again the within house you know and darkness within house... darkness and sparsity.
-- Mark Radford, Oct 2014 set ft MCs Tippa and... Maya Jama! Check the Chic refix at 39 min!!!
-- More 2014 Radford sets here.
B: I think it did have a very interesting tension between a bunch of different things. And that point that you describe with the Mark Radford stuff you know I definitely had my head turned too. But it felt like right on the edge of a bunch of things that were being held in tension, like between say dubstep and grime on one side and house and techno on the other. It was fighting between how far it goes back and forth between those. I interviewed him around that time. And it was really clear to me how aware of the history of those other genres and the trajectory of those genres he was. And I mean specifically with regards to MCs and their impact on scene and how and how the power dynamics change and so on. You know they were very aware of what happened to UK funky and they were very aware to grime and it wasn't like a whole generation started doing that and didn't know what happened it seems like they almost knew too way too much. Like "we can't let the host become MCs or artists because we know how that goes - they will become the focus of the genre or there will be trouble" - that kind of thinking.
HM: The MCs things is interesting there was a lot of little different feeling about that but it's also I think is it needs to be said that when I first joined tuned into that Mark show he was just selecting music made by house artists from all over the place. Right. That he was just selecting music that had this feeling to it. By that point by that point you know the producers hadn't been pulled into it to play. Mark was just pulling these tracks together which we've somehow had had this had this feeling.
-- read the full interview here.
B: You remind me of the interview I did with him. He was talking about Tiefschwartz and Booka Shade. German producers that had the vibe he was looking for. It had nothing really to do with London or anything or just a bunch of sounds and he was selecting them together.
HM: Yeah all over Europe. It was just tracks being pulled from all over the place to fit his selection.
B: So he's talking about his eureka moment just saying: "I heard a couple tunes of played that night. They had an electro beat but the basslines were so big and powerful and the drum & bass influence on me I thought I can make a whole set of that, it would smash it." That's from 2014.
HM: Yeah. So that was it. It was just selecting music which we each had that... it's hard to describe it but ... it felt like it had a connection to the hardcore continuum kind of stuff in some in some way.
B: So am I right in saying the first phase was him selecting that stuff and the second phase is that people come in and start making it and contributing to his sort of dubplate arsenal?
HM: Yeah exactly the way it goes. And you know I don't know if Mark was the only guy doing it, because I wasn't in London at the time. He might have just been the guy that had the Rinse show, so I can't really speak for that because I know there was there was something happening with you know in London at the time. At that time at that time there was no producers which is which were kind of contributing to him that came afterwards. Mark was selecting music with a certain style that pulled in certain producers and then we started making our music and it was almost like Mark was pulling this stuff together which was the closest he could get to what we needed and then us lot came in and made what he was kind of trying to trying to pull together from these other tracks.
B: And then it's almost like comes a lightning rod or a feedback loop that accelerates around a given style.
HM: Exactly yeah, complete feedback loop. I think the best the best moments happen when producers are not working consciously, you know the music is just happening to the producers... Somehow... You know that that's what was going on at that time. People weren't calculating like a career or calculating... anything. They were just like just cranking out the tracks.
B: And I would say there's an interesting tension - a little bit like the 3rd Base DMZ dubstep times - between there being the walls being too wide and so that there's no cohesion between what people were making or being too much definition which in the dubstep analogy is everybody is just writing 140 with a snare on the three and it's like totally defined. That mid point is always the sweet spot for me where there's enough room to express yourself but enough cohesion is everyone's pulling in the same-ish direction. It's very hard to formulate or to make it happen but when it happens you know what happens is you know it's happening because everyone's just coming up with crazy ideas and it all makes sense together. And I live in London to me I think deep tech the last time I felt that happen in DJ-based bassy musical circles. That energy is happening with drill now but it's a slightly different set of actors and circumstances (they're not focused on clubs/DJs/producers/raves etc).
HM: Yeah yeah I agree. You know I feel the same. Like I was saying this happened with how I was viewing drum & bass when I thought I'd missed it. But I cannot think what else can happen - if I could I'd be making it.
B: So I suppose this leads us a bit to your Keysound release because it's called "Remnants / London Underground 2014 - 16" and you know if I'm getting my facts right your first Audio Rehab releases was 2013. And that Radford interview that I did that I quoted from I did is 2014. So here's a period of time when there's lots of music being made of the deep tech style. Can you tell me a little bit about the tracks that are on this EP and how they came about?
HM: These are some of these tracks said written at very different times within and within that scene. So it happened very quickly like you just said and I think one thing that you touched on before was about there being you know boundaries set and I think if there's very wide boundaries and then a scene has more kind of potential for longevity. If the boundaries are narrower then you know now you're just going to expend the possible innovation within that until it becomes repetitive...
B: Though I would argue if the boundaries were so wide it's not a scene, genre or sound i.e. some subset of music, it's like all music, ever. That's the great paradox.
HM: Yeah massively. I guess I am thinking dubstep it had a great run because for a long time it could have been almost anything at 140 which was kind of what you were saying. Whereas I think one of the reasons why the deep tech stuff happened quickly was because...I guess when these scenes happened these kind of boundaries are laid out and these parameters are you kind of work inside of are laid out. And I think from where they were they were explored but didn't take a very long for them to become explored. What I think that rhythmically it didn't progress as far as it possibly could have done. So that's definitely something.
HM: So yeah essentially yeah these EP tracks: I was playing I was playing out quite a lot between and between those years that was probably my heyday in terms of gigs within this circuit of deep tech... and I'm still not even sure about their name. But you just have to call it that don't you? I think that name itself... especially when you're talking about the wider house and techno scene because that name kind of doesn't fit within their within their framework... It's a descriptor that kind of diminishes what it is you know and it makes it to them look to them as if it is uninformed because by their by their words it is kind of incorrect.
B: It's a complicated and nuanced point about the naming of deep tech and how it relates to genres that are sonically close to it - and I definitely had that debate with Mark in that interview at the time. The point is whether by using a different name does it make it small but distinct scene or genre of its own or would they rather be part of house music and have been basically a small player in a very large scene.
HM: It needed a name 100% needs a name yeah, as a subgenre. Yeah I mean it can be called house maybe I guess people may say "deep tech house."
B: Because it's not really classically tech house and it's not really classically deep house not in the sense and meanings of the genres have existed since the mid 90s at least. So the issue is the fragments of the two words that make up "deep tech" are comically close to existing long established house genres (eg "deep house", "tech house" and "techno"). You can just about infer from it that deep tech is part of house.
HM: It is pretty interesting and I think that's yeah that's exactly what I'm saying about these words. Because of the way that name evolved. Yeah it isn't quite deep house and it's not tech house. And kind of the people who are really in the know the real house people who maybe were the real house like aficionados they kind of look at this how these how these words are being used just in a kind of terminological way and instantly that's attached to some of this. So in a way that it was viewed from the rest of the scene.
B: It's really complicated: from the outside the things that made deep tech distinct from house music were its strengths. I think there's definitely a kind of a house purist position from within the black or urban London house community that thought that these things made it worse. I got the vibe from certain house purists in London that like "this deep tech stuff it's like it's like a house but worse, it's house but more rude." But those are the aspects I like about it! But I could definitely see this quite history-aware house purist position. The kind of house purists within London and especially even within the black community in London were like "no no this deep tech stuff is getting too rudeboy, and we know what happened last time with that stuff [UKG > grime, UK funky], there's gonna be MCs, there's going to be trouble, we don't want that, we want these 'well produced' cleaner, housier- stuff."
HM: Oh, massively. Yeah, but like you said, that's kind of what was kind of fresh about this production time. Applying the spirit of those early heyday days grime and dubstep production where people were just exploring, feeding off each other and applying that kind of spirit to house and techno. A lot of people were making it on Fruity Loops, when these kind of really 'finely produced' types, whether you want to call it ‘highbrow house music’, a lot of those guys would probably turn their nose up at Fruity Loops but that was what made it. So yeah, I was playing out a lot between those years and this EP is the tracks of mine which were absolutely killing it over those years, which people were asking me about. These are the ones that people wanted. These are ones that the DJs were playing that never got to see the light of day.
B: Sure. But the essence of what you’re saying is because of release schedules you weren’t able to release these tracks?
HM: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And that's why we set up our own labels. We set up our own labels to get the music out.
B: Can you describe the trajectory of the deep tech? So this 2014 / 2016 period is like a distinct time where you're saying that there was a lot of hype around and creativity and unity, but now (2018) deep tech it isn't really a big thing. And people might find that odd because techno and house are still big things. Can you describe creatively how things changed? I'm talking about how did things sonically move on.
HM: So, what seemed to happen is that a lot of the scene realised that there perhaps money, or opportunity for money elsewhere. Or let's say, to be less cynical, is to say there was opportunities for a wider audience elsewhere if there was, if you could just adapt your sound slightly.
B: So if that’s the opportunity what was the cost? Or what was the change they had to make? To people not familiar with the sonic changes from deep tech into the stuff that deep tech producers now make, how would you describe that? In aggregate, in general, how would you describe those sonic changes?
HM: The scene moved in a kind of rolling tech house, tech house direction and that in unison… the ravers and the producers. Myself, yeah, I wasn’t… I didn't get taken in. That way wasn’t something which I… which I surfed myself, but that's where most… most of it went.
B: I mean, I'm not in that scene or never was, so I can speak more freely, but what sounds like to me what had happened is in this tension between the template of the sounds of dubstep and grime and then the template of house and techno, and maybe UK funky as well, that tension kind of got resolved where a large bunch of people said, “We just want to do the house and tech bit. We don’t want to do the r&b and rap samples so much. We don't want to do the darker bass lines, the bleepier bass lines. We just want to do the bit that is very familiar to people, which is more mainstream house.” That's what it felt like it sounded to me.
HM: Yeah, that's what happened. I don't know why it is. I don't know if it was because something was resolved…
B: Okay, sure, so to me, what made deep tech sound distinct to me, or distinct enough, was that it used some of those sounds of the hardcore continuum before, like chopped up rap samples as hooks, and bassier stuff and bleeps, and things that were darker and edgier than mainstream house, but put them in a percussive template of house and house techno with a bunch of the pads and the high hat structures and so on. That also was like a tension between two worlds of like…You know, that kind of continuum of jungle and grime and garage and UK funky on one side that focuses on bass drops broadly and then kind of house and techno on the other which focuses in on groove broadly, the latter of which has been a consistent lineage since the late 70s. And deep tech, to me, sat right between those two things for a brief period. That was made it distinct enough, and then it felt to me like sonically people said, “Actually, we can…” And I'm not going into the ‘why’ like you are, but I'm just observing… They had this sound in a new inter-space and then they then said, “We’re just going to do more of the house and techno side of it and less of the darker underbelly or the weirder sounds” or whatever. That's the resolution I'm talking about. There’s no tension anymore. It’s like we’re fully part of house and techno. We're not halfway in-between house/techno and other sounds.
HM: Yeah, that’s a 100% what happened. That's really what happened. The house side of it, the gravity, the gravitational pull of the house side of it just won out, won out in the end. And also, I think there's an element of… I guess I'm getting back to the ‘why’ because this is something which, you know, I kind of find interesting as well. Who knows? You could… You could write an essay on potential reasons why, but…
B: But, you were there, Hugo! You were there haha! You have a much more unique ‘why’ than me, that’s the thing.
HM: Yeah, man, but there's so many… so many conflicting things, you know. So many conflicting things and also because - and this is what I mean about me being kind of feeling a bit nomadic as a producer, is you know - this shit was happening in in London and Manchester. I was never living there. I was living in Bristol. And then towards the end, in Berlin. So, I still have a perspective on this, which is kind of… I was on the outside just… just kind of chucking the grenades in. I wasn't on the front line, if you know what I mean?
B: So something else that we should talk about during this period is the fact that you got a release on the world's largest indie label, which is XL. And I mean that is the highest compliment. It’s the maximum level you can go to without getting near the major labels. Can you tell the story of how you ended up having a 12” on XL?
HM: Yeah, I’m still quite amazed and chuffed. They’d noticed something bubbling up around London and the A&R team just reached out to me. We kept in touch for a while, just talking about music and stuff down the phone, getting to know each other. It turned out we were really on the same page with a lot of things musically, so it felt right to put out a record. I had these four belters I’d been sitting on, holding out to do a big release with, so the timing was great.
B: What was that like? I mean, you went through an A&R process, the 12” came out. Presumably compared to underground labels it has a status and a kind of a wider audience? What did it feel like to put the music out with XL?
HM: It felt very, very vindicating for me because my peers in Bristol had no interest in what I was making, and what I was doing was not on the radar of anyone in Bristol. I had friends that were producing, but they were making other stuff. Basically, I didn't follow the trend in Bristol, I didn't become part of the community there.
B: Except for Blazey. You had a release for Blazey. I know he’s a big deep tech fan.
HM: Oh yeah, yeah. Blazey was like… He was one guy in Bristol and he was showing my stuff to Pinch, in - I don’t know - in 2011.
B: He’s Bristol royalty. Bristol royalty.
HM: Ah, massively. Yeah. Hooking up with him was really cool as well because I had a lot of respect for what he'd done. So that was some level of vindication as well because it showed that, kind of sticking to my guns and doing this thing which was more unusual… was actually not shit, not a waste of time. And yeah, it was the same with XL, because I was never really part of the community of producers or the scene in Bristol. I was always on the periphery, so when the thing happened with XL it was very vindicating in a sense that I'd felt like it had been… I don’t want to say that it’s the only reason. It wouldn’t have been worth it if it hadn't happened, but it just meant that it was time well spent. It felt great but there were definitely also some negative aspects of it. One thing which changed a lot was, the whole release process slowed down a lot. I said that we didn’t get many releases but we addressed that by setting up our own labels. So that wasn't an issue after a while. And at that point we were smashing out the music. Speaking for myself, I had my label, I was smashing it out… I did artwork for the first couple and then I just thought, “fuck it, what’s the point, you know?” I'm smashing out these tracks. I'm going to smash them out. I'm going to just get them get them out into the clubs and then get them out, get them released.
B: And for people that don't know, what was your label called?
HM: It was called, ‘Top Shelf Material.’ Quite early on, some of the deep tech seemed to dilute its sound a bit from the real hard… nastier stuff. And, yeah, those labels had been a place where other people had released the harder stuff, I guess, at least like the harder, darker things. So yeah, going back to XL. So that was that was one of the downsides. But maybe just say one of the effects or whatever, was that my release schedule it went dramatically down. The amount of music I could get out… And that caused a real shift in my state of mind. Going from having like absolute control over finishing something up, sending it to the distributor and then it hitting the shops in a month or whatever. Yeah, that definitely caused a shift. And definitely, I had to had to adjust to this, had to adjust to a new way of working, I guess.
B: And so the XL the relationship came to an end after a while, so then I suppose this begins to talk about this kind of third phase of your musical wandering. You’re in Berlin and deep tech probably isn't a thing as much as it was. Where did you find musical inspiration?
HM: Oh… inspiration!
B: I wouldn't say it as a theme, but of the stuff you've released recently on Tectonic and E-Beams and so on, what are the touch points for this?
HM: So yeah, the inspiration thing, I find it a really interesting question because it’s something which I think to try and explain your inspiration… I think if I was to even try, I don't think I'd be able to come close to doing it any kind of justice because I think that it’s a lot more abstract than it’s possible to really.
B: Well, let me put it in simple terms that rule out what it's not: would you say now that you feel connected to part of a scene in a way that you were with dubstep or deep tech or would you say that you're exploring your own path in your own way?
HM: Yeah, I’m not part of the scene whatsoever, you know. I don't really belong anywhere. This is what I was saying about this…this nomadic feeling.
HM: And that’s a thread which has run through for, I guess since the beginning, including with the deep tech being this on the periphery, just chucking this stuff in and then dipping into play shows and then dipping out again. And then going in this different direction. That was a moment which I could really grab onto, and become a part of the development and the fruition and the ideas that got added into the pot at that time. So yeah, it’s kind of continued through, but yeah right now, I’m really not connected to anything. In some ways that feels great, but in other ways it feels… like it creates this tension. Like you said earlier, there's this tension between it feels nice to be part of something, but then it also it feels nice to be unrestricted. And I think, like I said before, I don't think I'd ever be able to join a scene insincerely. So I think until something which genuinely makes me think, “Wow! This is something which… maybe a group of us can focus on, fleshing out or exploring… exploring for a while,” then, I don't think I'll kind of attach myself to anything explicitly or implicitly.
B: I feel like that about say, a footwork or a dancehall, like, I quite like some footwork tracks and I quit like some dancehall tracks, but I never felt like I could sincerely contribute to that scene, or those scenes. They are distinct and they are communities that I don't have any real connection with. And I love the idea when you’re inside with the raw elements of the music and really can feel it rather than being on the outside and stumbling in.
HM: Well, no, I was going to say it would be difficult to sincerely become integrated with something which is so far from where you are or where you are culturally, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think it is probably possible if it’s done in exactly the right way. So yeah, currently a bit like in this kind of nomadic phase I’m in at the moment, sometimes it is like there is a feeling of “Okay, what do I make next?” And I think that's maybe what you're saying about inspiration, is maybe how do you know what to make or something like that? And yeah, I think at the moment I'm just not kind of putting my eggs into a basket, I really am just pulling ideas together from all over the musical spectrum and seeing what happens. Yeah, that’s kind of what is unconsciously happening.
B: With the template and the palette and some of the things you’re choosing, I’m curious to know how you feel some of the more recent releases have been received: any responses from say the wider techno community? Berlin is a very technocentric city and love that type of percussion and some of those moods. Have you had any response from those kind of clubs, venues, DJs, promoters in the area?
HM: No. No, aside from some rare exceptions my music continues to resonate mostly within London’s gravitational field.
HM: Yeah, it’s not by choice. That's just what happens. Yeah, it’s just what happens. And what I'd really like to be able to do, and I talk about pulling these things together… I think London has its gravitational pull. Berlin has its gravitational pull. What I find quite exciting is to be able to bridge that gap. I think that’s a really difficult one to bridge because they're so far apart in so many ways, and I think that's kind of where I am at the moment, but it’s a very difficult connection to make.
B: There’s a couple of people in the broader German area trying to do the reverse, if that’s any consolation. People like Orson and Hops feel like to me like they're starting from Germany and trying to edge towards that London gravitational pull. I mean, there’s only a few people amongst many, many producers. Orson is a guy I know from 3rd Base from very early DMZ parties. When I was writing about them, he was filming them. So Georgina from Drumz of the South was taking the pictures, I tended to write about them and Orson was one of the few guys who came from Germany to the early DMZs and was the one of the few people to ever film them. And he now runs a label called Version. I only reference to that not because it's particularly Berlin or whatever. It’s like dark percussion stuff that's quite influenced by early Loefah. I like Version a lot. They do really cool things, but I guess it’s just a sort of the parallel when you're describing about bridging from London to Berlin. Well, they definitely sometimes feel to me they’re bridging from Berlin to London.
HM: Yeah, that also makes me think of Ilian Tape and the Zenker brothers, Skee Mask, who… they are bridging that gap in the other direction. The breaks and the rhythmic formula which they're using in the BPMs. They are successfully making that work in the other direction and I find their stuff is amazing.
B: Breaks are something that I've heard some dialogue about recently from people like Andrew Ryce, from Resident Advisor, and leading to a bunch of DJs that seem to be playing stuff that's in the house and techno realm, but has breakbeats in it again. Is that something you’ve clocked? I’ve heard a few of your tracks and it sounds like they might have breaks in them. Maybe I misheard that, but…
HM: So I haven't really seen it happening, but I don't listen to very much. I don't really know what's going on in the scene. I'm not a good person to talk about what's happening in electronic music. I think people are always quite surprised how uninformed I am about what's happening elsewhere.
B: It can be very liberating, that.
HM: Yeah. People are sometimes shocked about who haven't heard of. I don't know, I’m not one of these people who’s trying to track everything that's happening everywhere. To be honest, I don't really know if it's happening. If it’s happening a lot.
B: Well, let me rephrase the breaks question. Tell me a bit about the fact that you’re using breaks in some of your tracks. How does that mood or the percussion vibe work for you? How is it a thing you're exploring at the moment?
HM: So for me, breaks have been something which I'd never done, I'd never used before. Drum & bass was always this thing before dubstep came along. So yeah, the breaks has been a kind of a consistent interest, and I think I’m just using them opportunistically right now.
B: Yeah. And why not?!
HM: Yeah, yeah. I’m just… That’s what I’m doing because I’m exploring… exploring stuff.
-- the Amen Break, visualised
B: There's a weird resonance for me with breaks because they are inherently cyclical. They are a cycle of drum, typically a bar long. A break is typically start & end in a one bar cycle. And above that is the pattern is that breaks come in and out in cycles or fashion in dance music. I’m just seeing the double parallel of the word ‘cycle’ there. So fair play, you're saying you’ve not observed this somewhere else, but I certainly have heard people talking about this recently and I’m like, “Oh wow, a bunch of house and techno people have decided that breaks are a thing again.” It's like the cycle has come in again. Certainly a bunch of house and techno people were really not playing something with breaks in it before, but obviously there's a long history of that happening with hardcore and breaks of the genre, tech breaks, tech house in the 90s, all these things, and then dubstep itself.
HM: They’ll keep coming back. I'm sure they'll keep coming back. Whatever happens, people are going to realise they can stick them over the top and humanise things.
B: Yeah, there’s that organic factor, isn’t it? It’s like it’s come from a human, it's been recorded in a room. The drums have happy accidents and swing, I think the person that’s used the most interestingly to me in the last maybe five years is Detboi, and obviously I’m very biased on Detboi as we released with him. But his 130 bpm stuff applied almost like early Remarc ideas or early Reinforced ideas of crazy percussion and breaks. They were almost arresting, actually. We play them in clubs and people are like, “What the fuck!” But yeah, that doesn't create a groove as much as creates the sound of like both arresting and lurching forwards.
HM: No, definitely. I've listened to a couple of releases where I have to listen to them again with that in mind. Yeah, and I think for me… For me, someone who’s done some… that’s done amazing stuff on breaks recently is Skee Mask. You’ve maybe heard “Combro” his last album, but yeah, the kind of… I love music where you listen to it and… as a producer you think, “How the fuck did that happen?” Yeah, how does that work? It’s one of those. Yeah, it’s one of those.
B: And in a good way too, not like, “Oh, wow, you threw in the whole kitchen sink and the bathroom…”
HM: Yeah, in the best possible way. It sparks a curious reaction. Like, how does that work? How did that…? How did that technically…? On a processing perspective, how is that possible? And, you know, because I do have this kind of. I don't know, micro level association with electronic music as well through the software being kind of quite engaged with what's happening what's happening with technical developments in music. Yeah, just wondering: “how?” And I think that's something which I'm also now becoming more interested in is because I think I've said before that I have no interest in kind of being, making music which is overtly retrospective.
HM: And doesn't feel like it's in some ways present. I've always felt the same with technology as well. So I've always avoided equipment which isn’t of the current generation. There's definitely an area there which is kind of something for me to explore, which is allowing myself to bring in an element of vintage processing into what I’m doing.
B: Well, dance music has a long history of recontextualising things. It’s quite hard to know when it works and when it doesn’t, or when it will work and when it doesn’t. But some of those classic drum machine sounds, for example, feel very of a certain era, but others sound really, really alien and really, really futuristic still. They still sound completely like the future. I struggle with this. “What should I use? What should I not?” I personally can't really go near breaks for the reasons that you’re describing, but I can for example, open 909 hats. Just sound like the maddest toughest hat you ever made and it’s probably 20 or 30 years old.
HM: Yeah, it’s a good point. I have used a lot of classic sounds, samples throughout the years. So, no, you're right. You are right, has been moments where I have been recontextualising things. I guess the thing which I'm not interested in, which a lot of people seem to want to do, is you know deck themselves out with a studio which could have existed 25 years ago or something.
B: And then you make the soundtrack to Stranger Things basically.
HM: Yeah, yeah. I haven’t actually seen it, but…
B: It’s very 80s and arpeggios and clean. It’s fun, but like it's “so 80s” and it was only made recently.
HM: That’s it exactly. You can make great functional music with this stuff and people will love it. If you do it well, you can make a good career off of it and fair play, you can make some great music using retro approaches and equipment. But yeah, what really excites me is trying to make something which is deeply relevant to the current moment.
B: Yeah. A bit controversial question - do you think this current generation will have a sound of their own from the bassy DJ-centric world that will look back and say, “that sound, that was us!”
HM: It's weird because when you say ‘this generation.’ I kind of… What age is currently in this generation?
B: Yeah, that's the problem of sociologists is they haven't really defined what a “generation” is, which is quite comic, but they talked about generations and they’re not well-defined.
HM: Well, in my head, I think there's this really defining period between, I don't know maybe 16 and 20, when there's some kind of brain development happening.
B: There is literally brain development. I won’t derail you, but I recently read about the neuroscience of music behind that. Yeah, it is literally happening at that period.
HM: Right. Nice. So, I think these kind of youth cultures and these movements: the people who are really, deeply into them that, becomes a massive part of their life, you know, for the entirety of their life. I think they've experienced it during those years. So maybe I can… Shall I try and answer the question with those kind of people now? Do I think they'll have a sound to…? You said, do I think they'll have a sound to call their own?
B: Yeah, in the way that you said you really want to be part of deep tech and you really feel frustrated that you've missed jungle. My position here is one of musical optimism. I would wish that feeling upon everyone at least once. I've been lucky enough to witness a couple first hand and I would wish that upon every generation. It's the most amazing musical blessing there is. It’s exactly what you're saying about the opposites of rehashing old house music or whatever, old hardware. It's like having something that is truly of a given generation. But I haven't noticed it recently – I’ve noticed a large amount of people playing large established genres that have existed for quite some time. Bassline house for example seems to be big but it’s a formula that dates back to niche/bassline. Can we think of artists and DJs who are exceptions and outliers to that? Yes, of course. But I’m talking about en masse movements here.
HM: Yeah, you’re exactly right. And that was me when I hadn’t discovered dubstep and I was looking back at this drum & bass era thinking, “why did I miss out on something that I could call my own?” So but yeah, I think one thing you just said was I really wanted to be part of deep tech, to have something, but I think it was dubstep I was saying did take that thing. I didn't really… It wasn't something that I really wanted to be a part like that. That happened very organically and, yeah, there wasn't… That kind of just happened.
B: Sure. I mean, the motives is where they are, but I’m saying that you managed to achieve something, the overall goal, which was like you contributed to a great wave of an uprising, which is like the Holy Grail.
HM: Ah, man, yeah, it’s amazing, but there's only a couple of people that… I feel like that happened, but in all honesty there's only… there's only a handful of people that feel like that. And this is why it’s like disheartening when, I think it was a certain journalist or someone who’s a real gatekeeper. People will read their his articles or whatever, and then base their opinion on that. What they say will become taste in some ways. One reviewer showed like a deep misunderstanding of what had happened. And I think this is what I was saying about… you to me, how it’s like a Holy Grail to contribute to the flourishing of something new. And I definitely agree. What I was saying is that it's disheartening that to maybe us and people who watched it happen. It’s kind of clear that there was something interesting and worthwhile. So it’s disheartening when the kind of supposed authorities within dance music seem to be oblivious, you know.
B: It's really hard. I've been on both sides of this fence. I can't be too hypocritical. I've been a journalist and I’ve been a producer/label owner. I've had my record savaged as a producer or label owner and I've done critical writing. And I think as a journalist to be critical and take a position on something, it’s right for a musician to expect a fair review. I think what would be the worst case scenario is when a journalist has almost no context of what the person’s doing and then says, “Oh, it's obviously this,” and it’s like, well, often there's a lot behind it.
HM: That’s it exactly, and it’s… Yeah, yeah, a 100 percent. You should at least. I think if you write about something, you should try and have a fairly deep understanding of the context in which it was made. I think that's a pretty important thing. I guess that's a debate. Maybe some people don't think that there should be… Music shouldn't be judged on the context it was made. Maybe it should only be judged on its sonics.
B: Fair, but no… it is a hard one because then you’re rolling out the cultural context, which is a very interesting angle in itself. You were talking about, again earlier, about not wanting to use old hardware and not wanting to go with the retrospective stuff. And also about pulling things from different places. I thought of something that I noticed when I was preparing for this. I went on to Mark Radford’s Instagram and he played a kind of a free party, like a party in some unlikely venue, maybe in the woods or something. I was looking at those videos and it there’s a riff coming in on a house track and it’s from “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors. Without house beat and it’s just that endless cascading riff that sounds like a kind of a storm breaking or a cloud or something. And it just goes over and over then descends into a house beat, and I just thought, “They’re just a bunch of dudes in their teams just going mad to a house party,” but you’re just thinking, “can you imagine, you being in The Doors, and imagining 40 years later, that people would be dancing to it like… DJs would be making people dance to that." That is amazing…
HM: Was it a good song? Sometimes it’s quite hard to touch that kind of thing.
B: I agree. And sometimes it’s very ill advised. It was a 30 second Instagram clip I don’t know, but I don’t normally hear classic rock records in a house music context, and I just wondered … it doesn’t matter maybe whether people knew that it was The Doors or not, but it was a very interesting juxtaposition of like, “Holy Shit. Those two worlds don’t normally cross,” like illegal house music raves in forests and The Doors.
HM: And then, yeah, something which was belonged to another generation, now belongs to a new generation in its in new form. So, yeah, I think I kind of… Yeah, I missed out on the thing you asked about, do I think that this current generation who are just in their formative times, do they have anything to call their own? Like I said, I don't really know what's going on in the ground. From my perspective I think in Berlin it seems that music moves at a very different pace to London. It seems to be massively slower. Over the past 20 years or something like that, you know, there's been some… some kind of consistency, whereas in London it's been just… It's been explosive, you know.
B: The drill thing now is just amazing. A whole generation of rappers coming through making a variant of US. hip hop, that’s just mad.
HM: But yeah, I think. So yeah, drill. I think that Afrobeat stuff in London, I think that's wicked. Yeah, I think that's London doing what London does, you know, which is bringing like bringing different cultural ideas together and somehow creating something out of that. So yeah, I think, I think maybe that's… Maybe that's the music for the people today and you’re right with the drill. I don't know enough about the drill to know if they are still just emulating America.
B: For a long time, road rap bothered me for that reason. But I think it's shifted in the last couple of years to be distinct enough. And part of it is around just how dense the slang is. I heard a new Loski track recently. It’s so London.
HM: Yeah. Loski’s got some bangers. Does that count as drill, what he does?
B: Think so.
HM: So why are they calling it drill and not road rap?
B: Don’t know precisely but obviously the name “drill” comes from the scene in the States. I don’t know if road rap was a name that came from within the scene or was imposed from without.
HM: Yeah you know, I think there’s been some bangers, that have definitely made me feel like this is this is something exciting and current. Same with the Afrobeats. There seems to be some kind of some kind of this fusion happening, which is what's so great about music in London, I think is these kind of these moments.
HM: I’ve got the E-Beams one is coming out before. The next one coming out after Keysound is going to be a bootleg, a white label series that I'm starting up just so I can release so I can release stuff that I’ve made that I make or have made, which has great samples in it. Yeah, vinyl only. Yeah, some cool stuff coming out of there. These releases are an interesting step for me. I think it will appeal to emotions which, you know, are quite new for me to explore. Yeah, so that's exciting. Oh man, I've got a lot of music. I've been making a lot of music and yeah… the last couple of sets I've played, I've done, just set of all my own unreleased music. like the Solid Steel mix I did is well worth a look because it's an hour and a half, just 100 per cent unreleased forthcoming stuff. So basically I got loads of tracks and I’m in the process at the moment of working out where is a suitable label, which is the suitable label for them to go is essentially. Good stuff on the cards and music that I'm really excited about playing out, and yeah, I tend to play a lot of my kind of unreleased things.
B: Great. I love the fact that you’re keeping that dubplate mentality going, no matter whatever it's called. Wow!
HM: Yeah, completely. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think you want people to… I think if you want people to not know what they just heard. I think that’s quite an exciting feeling. Also, that’s part of raving as well, don’t you think? It’s going to hear things that you know just works made earlier that day or just put on a dubplate, is an equivalent…
B: Well, that's a moot point and I think it's a very interesting point of our times. I wouldn't want to assume that the things the way they were would be the things that are the way they're going to be, and that's not always the case. And I observe, for example, there is a whole breed of DJs who make a living by what they're doing is basically triggering a form of memory rush, like a memory flood, either by just playing things you already know or by saying… like just going back through time and taking classics, so like the top one per cent of all tunes for the last X years. And that is probably a way of getting quite famous because you, and I think people quite like it. It’s probably very accessible to some people, you know. It’s the equivalent of the DJ wedding playing every No.1 record ever, or whatever. And you know there are equivalents in dance music, but I think what you're doing is the harder path, and I think it's got more longevity to it and it's more adventurous because it's truly making new memories for every generation for you. That’s amazing. I relate to that as a DJ. People who are doing that are probably swimming upstream now, but I will commend them. They’ll be the ones who persist, but it’s not the only way it’s done anymore.
HM: It also means a lot, you know, for you to commend it as well because, yeah, definitely… Yeah, I think it is swimming upstream, but I think… Yeah, a lot of people… A lot of people go for the low hanging fruit, but like you said, I think it’s much more exciting to create something, create new things.
- "Remnants / London Underground 2014 - 16" EP is out now on Spotify or vinyl & digital
Friday, March 23, 2018
"Alright people, let's move like we got a purpose..."
B: So, could you introduce yourself? Where are you from, where you at as we speak?”
K303: This is Kellen303 I am in Brooklyn, on my bed, Superbowl Sunday not giving a shit about sports.
B: Could you tell me a bit about when you began the ‘WHB’ EP?
K303: That happened last year, last August. I had a couple of friends of mine whose work I was really digging and I had the itch to get back into making music but I never took the step. A friend of mine gave me FL Studio and I just started tinkering with it, not really taking it seriously and then I decided one day to sit down and try to figure things out. I used the interview with said MC [who is sampled on ‘WHB’] who is dear to Keysound’s heart.
To be perfectly honest I kind of got a lot of inspiration from what you and Dusk were doing and just how the whole 130 scene was very very minimal, very sparse. So I decided that I wanted to try and do that and “WHB” happened. That’s kind of how it started.
B: Having voices in tracks, the link between journalism, spoken word, dialects and slang – they’re something I really relate to. And if you recall, the first time we “met”, was when you interviewed us for BigUp magazine ahead of playing Reconstrvct NYC a few years back. But how did you find yourself come about blending interviews in tracks?
K303: The interview stuff came from Rabit. There's Reconstrvct set he did where he was using a lot of different interviews and soundbites from different things and it kind of got me interested in taking on that type of concept. When I remembered the set, it was one of those things where I said “I have interviews that I’ve done.” so I was like "Let me see what I can do with these interviews and just started experimenting. When homie said ‘what’s happening brother,’ I was like ‘that’s it!’
B: And to be fair, people have been sampling dialog in music since recording sound was possible. Off the top of my head The Beatles did it on ‘The White Album.’
K303: Yeah, ‘number nine, number nine...’
- Photo credit Hayden Schwartz
B: so how come you came to choose the phases “who do you think you are, a big shot?” in “Big Shot?”
K3: The phrase really struck me. You know I was building the beat and the phrase fit with the mood of the track. It wasn’t anything that was overtly significant.
With the track “W.H.B,” I used the sample as away of discussing things that were happening in my personal life. As if someone was asking me the question. I have another version of the song that expands on that, where I just picked out more samples from the interview that related to me.
I just started trying to take that recording and attribute it to what was going on my life – talking about how certain people are fake and talking about how to stay true to yourself, and I think that idea started to develop, started to manifest from just a hook to “how can I make this personal?”
B: you didn’t think about recording yourself?
K303: Well man’s not going to sing, ever.
B: To me that “Big Shot” sample really sets you in a moment, like it’s in a scene on screen. You’re a film director as well as a music producer, how are the mediums connected for you?
K303: Sometimes if I hear something I can see a visual and vice versa. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. With ‘Big Shot’, I knew wanted to do something that was kind of vougey and kind of 130 as well. I wanted the intro to feel really creepy and when I was looking through soundbites for that tune it was literally something from this vintage movie file I had and the lady just said, “who do you think you are, a big shot?” and I was just like “okay, let’s see what I can do with this and how can I build a world out of this”. Not a defined idea but a space to explore, I don’t know if that makes any sense whatsoever.
I guess how I try to work my music is if I can bring someone into an atmosphere versus just playing you a song, that’s my goal. I guess it comes from filmmaking where in you’re writing dialogue, you’re writing a scene, creating a world or and atmosphere, so I’d attribute that to how I started making music. Trying to build an atmosphere for you to be in and most of the atmospheres on this record are kind of unsafe.
But I wanted that because I was in a very unsafe time period, so it was just getting all of that anger and darkness out. And I like scaring people so that helps haha...
- Photo credit Hayden Schwartz
K303: Jersey club, vogue are big things in New York and I love the vibe. At the time, I was surrounded by that and footwork, which is also big within my crew. I was just trying to take those aesthetics that I was listening to and attribute them to the 130 sound. One of the biggest pieces of advice that I got from another producer was “when you’re making music, don’t listen to the genre your making, listen to everything else and bring those influences into your work” which really helped me a lot but it didn’t help me when I had to DJ because I wasn’t listening to anything else but my own stuff so I was like “what’s new? I don’t know what’s happening now”.
But it’s a tip something that helped me a lot. I've always been a lover of Goth, Industrial and EBM stuff. I was listening to a lot of it and it definitely made it's influence in my sound. “What I noticed with that genre of music was panning and how voices pan left, pan right, they sound like they’re above you, they sound like they're behind you and that was something that I started doing a lot with and it all kind of came to a head with “Planet X” because I panned those breaks back and forth.
I wanted that song to sound like you were surrounded by something that you can’t see and you're trapped. So taking that effect and that influence from that music helped shape that song and helped shape how I go about building atmospheres for my music.
B: haha that’s mad...
K303: Yeah ‘Big Shot’ was definitely inspired by this one group called Xmal Deutschland I fucking love the shit out of that band and I was listening to them over and over and over again. The one song that I love to death is called ‘Eiland’ , just listening to those drones of the guitars and that heavy atmosphere that I loved so much, I thought “how can I do this in what I’m doing?” so that one song and that bands was a major influence.
B: And what’s it like for you - once you’ve found some inspiration - the actual process of making a track?
K303: Well it's funny. I've worked on songs with Mike Empyrean [fellow Transit FM family] and he’d be like “that’s how you do it?” and I’m like “yeah” and he’s like “that’s crazy because I wouldn’t think of doing it like that” I know that's incredibly vague, but I'm a bit shy about talking about my process. The strangeness of it I think also came from being the new producer, how does FL Studio work, what are the limitations, just figuring shit out which I think is really interesting. I think this record shows how I grew in way – going from just crazy kicks and pitching them up and down, to like ‘Big Shot’ and exploring more with space and atmosphere and then to ‘Planet X’ and Spy Glass.
B: Well, I think sometimes the best most free ideas come from people who are just beginning to master their tools. I for one fight against my own pattern recognition to try and find net new twists and turns in where my music is going. Amen Ra from LHF always talks about “playing with the beginner’s mind” and there really is something in that. One of the things I feel is really creative is how you’ve woven film dialog into a sense of scenes and place, and this has then looped back into the visual narrative of the promo videos you’ve been making for your own tracks. As an example, can you tell me about the narrative for “Planet X?”
K303: How that happened was, I was messing with this one note that became the main pulse theme, the “whomp” bass and when I made that, literally just by changing the pitch, adding a reverb... I saw in my head that little Geiger counter that they have in all the alien movies.
When they're looking at the screen and they're seeing where the aliens are in reference to where they are. And that pulse when it’s just getting closer and closer and closer to you – I literally saw that in my head. That’s when I said okay let me go and get that sample because I know it exists. That was the beginning of that track. I was like okay let me just basically make you feel like you’re in that movie and there’s no escape.
B: I’ll be honest, I hadn’t noticed or particularly thought recently about what an iconic badass SW is until “Planet X?”
K303: SW is dope. She is one of ultimate badass women in film, I don’t really attribute the song to be about her journey. I think that to me that song was kind of like, “you’re going out there to destroy the dance, to make people go crazy” and that’s kind of all I meant by using that quote, that was my point behind it but what it became was this bigger world that I didn’t know that I was creating for myself. Making the ‘Interstellar’ version of that song was just me saying “okay I haven’t done anything that was similar to weightless so let me try a hand at that” that song has become one of my favourites.
B: And then you built this amazing short Instagram clip for the weightless “Planet X [Interstellar version]” that took it somewhere else, like SW was waking up from deep, deep slumber in this really groggy but almost erotic way...
K303: The scene from that video clip I did where SW and her team all wake up, that was the inspiration. That's exactly what I was seeing with all those sounds. “Planet X” is more about getting ready for war and the interstellar version is about traveling to that war. I wanted it to feel like cryo-sleep, more dreamlike, thoughts of the day passing in and out in that version.
B: So there’s just the two versions?
K303: There’s the other one that no one has that I’m just keeping right now. ‘Planet X (Into Darkness)’ and that one is basically just ‘You Lose’. Yeah the aliens win. Or you narrowly escape. I was listening to a lot of metal at the time and I wanted to focus on drumming. That tune and the other song I did called ‘INk’ were more focused on drumming – I mean the crazy kicks are in there – but kind of trying to tone it down a little bit and focus on something that I haven’t done before. So yeah, metal.
B: can you tell me about how the vocal collab with Rainey came about?
K303: So, I shopped ‘Spyglass’ to a couple of people who were working on it but just was a fit for them, which is fine. Rainey I knew from the crew that I hang out with from the BX; Kush Jones, Bojaq, BassBear and El Blanco Nino. They're work is mostly footwork and Jersey Club. Rainey did a show with BassBear and I was like, “he’s a dope MC and he’s always supported me” so I reached out to him and he immediately texted me back and said “this reminds me of a story". Then the next day he was like “it’s done” and I was at work like “what do you mean it’s done?” and he was like “I’ve finished it, it’s done” and he sent it to me and that’s how that happened. He’s amazing, I don’t know what chord I struck with him to get that back to me in 24 hours but the verse he put down and the story that he was telling just really hits. He helped make everything I wanted. It was already a moody track and he just enhanced it tenfold. I owe him a lot for that.
B: What I think is interesting from a Keysound point of view, is that maybe if I’d done a tune with a US MC, it wouldn’t feel right in terms of the roots of Keysound and where our energy has come from. But for you, based out of Brooklyn, to work with Rainey – that feels more interesting & authentic to me. A black US producer from Brooklyn working with a Afro-Dominican MC from the Bronx.
K303: Yeah it’s like the influences are just melded together. The ‘Spyglass’ tune was really influenced by the whole trip hop scene, I’m a lover of that music too and I wanted to make something that sounded similar to that even though it sounds like a CSI crime scene. Talking about more influences, taking like a Bristol based genre of music influence and then having him make it completely the Bronx, New York City... just worlds crossing worlds you know?
B: I’ve only ever been through the Bronx in passing, what’s it like?
K303: I don’t actually know; I’ve only been in the Bronx twice so I don’t really have a good reference point. I don’t really have a sense of where my friends live, where I am in Brooklyn people get shot up at the corner and the day goes on but I’m not really too sure what the Bronx is like from his experience.
B: so as well as producing and making films, you also co-founded a radio station Transit FM. Can you tell me a bit about that?
K303: Transit FM started out of a little experiment. I was supposed to play a gig in DC but a blizzard hit the east coast and pretty much trapped everyone in their homes. Friends and I decided to make the best of it and do a soundclash over the internet. Throughout the day we had other homies jump in from around NYC, Philly, Jersey and the DC area. The soundclash went from I think 2pm-12am on MIXLR. The next day, it kept going. People who didn't play the day before kept the spirit alive. I said to Hayden, “I think we started a radio station”.
We had meeting with our friends, Mike Empyrean and Joe Milazzo who lived out on Long Island at the time and had been involved in the clash the first day and drummed up how we could make everything happen in my basement. The main focus was and still is to big up our friends in the States. We said “well we’re all a family so let’s big up our family, let’s start putting our homies on more and showing what the locals do” and just trying to showcase that. People look out of the country instead of in and we wanted to shift that. I think what you saw at the 1 Year anniversary party [Sunnyvale BK, May 2017] is just a culmination of that fact that we all know each other and we all love each other a lot and we’re all pretty tight knit even though we cross cities and different states.
B: yeah, that party was insane, genuinely life-affirming as a DJ, to be able to really go deep into 130/rollage dubs and have people really, really come with us – it was nuts. And NYC has had a few special nights over the years, well, a few I’ve been lucky enough to see, like Reconstvct and Dub War before it, but that one...
K303: I missed all the Dub War parties I was out on Long Island for school not knowing anything about dubstep at the time.
B: so you’ve got Transit FM up and running, what creative people should we be looking for from NYC?
K303: So the 130 stuff, I know there’s like a handful of people making it and I wish I could find more, my homies; A0, Diyr, they go in and out of 130 and different influences. A0 is a terrific producer who does a lot of work, be it weightless stuff, clubby stuff and grime. I featured him on my Rinse mix I did last year.
Diyr, I think is another amazingly underrated producer. I really dig his influence on grime and how he puts that into 130, how he takes that seemingly icy, Wiley, eskimo sound and kind of makes it his own thing - I’ve always told him that I love what he does.
Mikey Dubs, his tunes always bang. He's been a broadcaster on Transit FM for a minute and has become a really good friend of mine. We share a lot of the similar influences. Bojaq, another homie, who I featured on my Rinse mix last year. He is another really talented producer, mostly Footwork but also explores various genres music.
B: one of the things that was so positive about the 1st Birthday to Dusk and I, was how diverse the crowd was – age, race, gender, sexuality or vibe-wise. There’s a photo on my Instagram taken from the decks looking back into the crowd and seeing that meant a lot to me, because personally I just try and play the music that I think is interesting and and find new ways to re-frame certain other vibes but you never know who will relate to it. You never know who’s locked on Rinse, where they’re from or where they’re at.
But these sounds came from a place – FWD>> particularly - where different cultures, classes, races, groups from within London met up around a love of new music and that was pretty rare to be honest and I treasured it, because I have always loved meeting new people on shared musical ground and learning about where they were from and at. So it was amazing to see how the sounds we have been working on have connected with such diverse crowd in NYC.
K303: I think that’s just us. Male, female, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, non binary gender: “are you a good person and do you like music?” that’s what it should boil down to and that’s what we try to boil it down to – there’s no discrimination. I’m glad that you felt that because that’s all we try to do.
B: If I’m being honest, I think between you guys in NYC and Ganessa, Squane and the Jelly Bean Farm camp on the west coast, Son Raw in Montreal or Panch in D.C., the North America “gets” Keysound more than London right now, and so it’s doubly special that it’s such a blend of people who connect with it.
- Photo credit Hayden Schwartz
K303: There's always been and open mindedness in my crew, since I’ve been coming here to party and since I moved here. We don’t really bleed into the pop mainstream scene like the Space/Ibiza and all that other crap that goes on where you have to dress to impress, that’s kind of unto itself. If there’s a dark room where people are playing good music on a system you’re going to find everyone there.
I remember going to parties and thinking I was the only gay dude there and then also being like, it doesn’t matter though, you could vibe at whoever you want, you can dance however you want. That aspect has always something that’s been pretty healthy. There’s other dumb shit that has gone on in New York that our crew hasn’t taken lightly and we’ve kind of kicked people out for whatever reason – just bad energy.
B: yeah, I’ve had a bit of a remote window onto that particular world via Facebook, but all I’ll say is... anyone who uses hugs to stage a non-violent intervention and make a peaceful rejection of someone who’s unwelcome due to sexual harassment... well bigup that person and her non-violent, hug based methodolgy. If only there was more of that in the world... So, are you going to make a film of/for your sound?
K303: I do need to get back into it. Music took over last year and I haven't written a thing, I still have stories, ideas I want to share. The last film I did is a short psychological thriller called ‘Closure.’ I have started a video interview segment on Transit FM called EXPRESS. Each one is on a different local artist/producers in NYC electronic or not.
I’ve talked to Ben [Lyeform, Keysound] a lot because we kind of come from a similar background where film is a big influence on us and I’ve talked to him about trying to build an audio film, kind of writing a script and making the script pretty sparse but having the music and the script kind of being this album that’s an audio film. I think that would be pretty cool because it would be blending everything I love.
- The "WHB" EP is out now on Keysound Recordings. Buy the vinyl + free digi at Boomkat or hear it here on Spotify: