I'm going to be in Tokyo this June, from 19th-23rd. I could easily pack some dubs.
Does anyone out there know any promoters who want an upfront dubstep or dubstep + grime set from me?
email me on firstname.lastname@example.org innit.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Martin: So for the record, I’d first like to ask you to state: are you Basic Channel…?
M: … Kode 9?
M: … The Bug?
B: I’m not The Bug.
M: OK so in terms of ‘who’ you are, you’re Burial, let’s just leave it at that. Instead, tell me how did the link with Kode 9 come about?
B: I’d been making tunes for a few years, literally just for me and my brothers. That was it. I never thought outside that. There was a wall between the tunes and ever remotely thinking they would come out. For ages I couldn’t believe I could even make tunes on this shit little program I had.
B: I became obsessed with El-B and garage. Those drums. I’d been into jungle but then heard that stuff and loved it. Looking for those records I found the Hyperdub website, so I emailed Kode 9. I sent him some budget first tunes and he played one of them on Groovetech, which was so funny. For a year I had a break and didn’t send him anything. Then I sent him a CD that was a big step up to see what he thought – and we went from there.
B: It’s just wicked: I like the name “Hyperdub”. It sounded dark. That website – which is down now – was quite important for me. I’ve never sent tunes to anyone except Kode 9.
M: When did you start making beats?
B: At school I just loved jungle/drum & bass, I fell totally in love with it, just at the time when people other people didn’t. I realised my brothers had all these old d&b records, so I was going back into the older stuff and loving it. When I started making tunes it was an attempt to get that vibe like Foul Play and Omni Trio. Photek drumz … listening on headphones on the way to school. This must have been 1997, when the metal Metalheadz boxset came out.
M: Haha that’s when I stopped buying Metalheadz…
B: There was a tune on there by Digital called "Special Mission." I just thought ‘fuck - this is for me’ … but I’m not a musician, and I’m still not, in any way, but when I heard those tunes I realised you could make tunes without being ‘a musician.’
B: So to me garage sounded the same: it was also just sub and drums. Rollage. Pirate sounding… like early jungle before it became regimented and boring. MJ Cole: I love those drums just as much as I love “Hidden Camera.” He’s obviously a badman: his sound is a bit slicked out, but I still love it.
B: I discovered EL-B and garage at the same time. I heard his Brandy remix, then “Buck n Bury” and “Passage of time” - and I hadn’t even heard “Stone Cold” yet, though I’d heard of Groove Chronicles on something else I didn’t like. Then I heard “Stone Cold” and I was just like “fuck…”
M: The name says it all.
B: It's dark. That tune’s never left my head. That tune is still going around my head from the first time I heard it. And the thing about those drums: they’re still the future. It’s not a lost art – people still don’t know how to do those drums. It’s an unknown thing. It’s like the last fucking secret left in music: how you do those drums. I’ve tried. I’ve locked myself away and tried. And the thing about garage is: the more you look at it like some tech-boy producer, the less you get it.
B: It’s not the drums, it’s the impression of the drums. I’ve done bare drums I love – but then they fall apart when some studio boy says “oh your snare’s too loud.” But that’s the pirate sound… just rollage. Not an individual drum sound, it’s something else. It’s just the spirit of it, the roll of it. The drums, they’re slinky. Cold sounding. They could go anywhere. And I know some of that stuff sounds well dated, but I love it.
M: El-B’s drums are a disease - and if you understand how good they are, you’ve caught it. I had to stop trying to understand them, stop trying to re-make them. The first two-to-three years of my producing were spent trying, and only after the rhythmic consolidation of grime drums and halfstep came along did I accept there must be other better ideas, because I can’t do this better than El-B.
B: What I realised is I don’t know what he does … quantised them… he’s got kit I don’t have so I started covering everything in crackle, to hide it, bury it, so I could do those drums I love. I didn’t have the equipment to make it sound like Photek-fucking-sculpted, proper heavy, El-B heavy. So I had no choice but to put the crackle on it and get away with it.
M: I was noticing with your album today how complex the drums are. You know drums are like a language you can learn to follow? And yet even when you learn it, at their best, most brilliant, drums blur, they move in patterns beyond your brain’s ability to think or follow? I noticed with your album, your drums are sometimes indistinct, like they’re blurring into the crackle. I couldn’t tell where the drums were ending and the crackle was starting.
B: When I started sending music to Kode 9 he sent me CD back all this music with glitches and crackles. And I was like ‘aw fuck.’ He played me Rhythm and Sound, and told me about Basic Channel and Pole and I thought ‘fuck it sounds like I’m making some kind of electronica’ and I fought so hard against that because I wanted it to be just vibes, urban, that sound I love, proper UK. No genre, just a sound.
B: That’s why I like dubstep now because that’s when you know the music is in good shape because everyone’s in splinter cells. They’re in the ditch – there’s no highway to attract the rubbish producers. The lights of the highway – that’s when it goes shit. But right now it’s all ditch, just darkness, everyone’s just off, off wandering. That’s what I love and original jungle was like that, before it went shit. I mean I like a dark bassline like the next man, but you can’t have ‘male rage’ music. It’s good to have girls liking it. I want that slinky drums to come back, not bigtime but I love it in a Hatcha or Youngsta set when you suddenly hear the ghost of that sound come back.
M: Lemme play devils advocate. The club’s called FWD>>, dubplate culture is progressive, the sound moves relentlessly forward and it never looks back: how do you feel that a lot of what you do is looking backwards when everyone else is looking forwards?
B: It’s more of a thing that I tap into when I want to. When I listen to an old tune it doesn’t make me think ‘I’m looking back, listening to another era.’ Some of those tunes are sad because they sounded like the future back then and no one noticed. They still sound future to me. El-B’s stuff is still ahead of the game. I’ve heard plenty of halfstep tunes that are just a Reese bassline and wannabe glitches – they sound dated to me. That swung sound, that real vibe – I’m aware maybe the scene might move away from that, but I’m still obsessed with what the most hardcore future sound would sound like. I can hear it in my head and it hard not to go back to the goodness you like when you make a tune.
M: I’m really uncomfortable with ‘futurism’ in dubstep. Detroit techno was talking about ‘the future’ in 1988, drum & bass did it in 1997 too - and neither have brought us the future yet, it’s a false prophecy. Dubstep to me isn’t some cyber future sound, it’s now music, that ‘UK London vibes’ you talk about.
B: We’re lucky that there’s loads of producers around now who are real vibes producers, not tech-boys. They’re the real thing.
M: So what producers do you rate?
B: In terms of ‘production’ I don’t really know what that means.
M: Yeah exactly, so who do you feel?
B: I love Digital Mystikz. Similar to this whole scene, I couldn’t have dreamt them up. Their tunes go beyond other tunes straight into the heart of something else. You can’t fake that, it’s the real shit. I love Loefah’s stuff. Digital Mystikz and Loefah’s stuff is so good they make me want to stop making tunes. Some of those tunes are so good I can’t even listen to them, like “Misty Winter.”
M: You sample a lot of female vocals…
B: I’m not a big r&b fan but I love the way my favourite jungle and UK garage records use samples. Instead of having a girl sing all the way through, they just used one line and kept on circling it around. I love the way whatever it said in the vocal – that’s the name of the tune. Chuck them on some drums: that’s the sound I love, the sound I hear on pirate radio. And I’m obsessed with echoing vocals.
B: With the vocals, because I have no equipment and no studio or anything, I like putting tunes with vocals on because they give it a hook. I haven’t got kit good enough to make the music instrumentally stand up to itself.
M: But with the r&b vocals, a lot of dubstep is very masculine and you often sample women…
B: It makes it a bit more sexy. I like that. I think people are afraid of that sexy garage slinkyness. Those rhythms. I love in FWD>> sometimes you’ll just hear one of those tunes. I’m not saying girls only respond to sexy Twice As Nice music, that’s bullshit, but there’s vibes to be had there. But there’s plenty of people who if they were given any room, would make dubstep sound like slowed down drum & bass. And those people are terrified of those sexy vibes I’m talking about. They don’t want this music to have come from garage.
M: It’s almost like a fear of inner city black culture.
B: But it’s also white culture, anything from the suburban rave culture that went into drum & bass. People’s sampling video games, films. They’re scared of all that history. They just want it to be tech…. Drum & bass was a mix of all those things, so was garage and so is this.
B: I was brought up listening to drum & bass. The thing that was scary for me was when I started liking club tunes that were a bit sexier. I was tempted over to that, totally.
B: I’ve got this amazing old Foul Play tune that I love called “Dubbing You” - it sounds just like an El-B tune. I dunno: all my favourite producers came out of no-where and then went back underground. That’s what I want to be like.
M: you know the link between Foul Play and dubstep right? That Steve Gurley, the early proto-dubstep producer that El-B rated, was half of Foul Play?
B: Yeah man definitely.
M: Your album is full of reverb, that gives it the sense it’s made in a space, like it’s echoing off London walls and coming over the pirate ether. Was that deliberate?
B: If I’m making a tune sitting in my room with a cup of tea, I’m not making a tune about sitting in my room with a cup of tea, it’s like I’m out there somewhere. That’s how I started listening to jungle, going through the lightless neighbourhoods, the districts.
B: I wanna make tunes that are like a space in London but also a space in a club or in your head. A club is not that dissimilar to sitting on your own with headphones.
M: Tell me about “The Car Test.”
B: ‘The Car Test’ started with me boring the fuck out of my mates, trying to play tunes. The car test was ‘do they sound good on the car stereo at night time, driving through London?’ That’s ‘The Car Test.’ Some Detroit tunes have that too, that distance in the tune. The ‘thousand yard stare’ in the tune.
M: On the album what’s the vocal sample in “Gutted” about? “Sometimes you’ve got to go back to the ancient ways…”
B: For ages I’ve wanted to do a tune with a spoken sample in it, sound like an old hardcore tune, ‘Lord of the Null Lines’ thing. And that sample is like it could be talking about El-B or any of those producers.
M: Explain about the production set up you use…
B: I’m not a ‘musician,’ no training, nothing. So I was always scared of people who had studios. Heroes of mine like Photek suddenly became Rupert Parkes in his studio, telling everyone how he did it. The magic got a bit lost.
B: So I thought to myself fuckit I’m going to stick to this shitty little computer program, Soundforge. I don’t know any other programs. Once I change something, I can never un-change it. I can only see the waves. So I know when I’m happy with my drums because they look like a nice fishbone. When they look just skeletal as fuck in front of me, and so I know they’ll sound good.
M: So you don’t use a sequencer?
M: So does that mean your drums are not necessarily in time?
B: My drums are definitely not necessarily in time. When I try and do drums that are too regimented, they lose something. But the moment I put drums where I think they sound good, rather than in time, they seem to have that roll, the swing of the jungle and garage tunes I love.
B: Some of the elements in the drums that make that swing are the ones that don’t fit in to a time signature and that are out. The little bits that are wrong. If I used a sequencer my tunes would sound rubbish.
B: Because I don’t have a sequencer I can’t really mess around. I can’t noodle, at all. I got to shove it together and vibe off it. I make the tune, fucking quick. Not a single tune on my album took more than a few days to make. They come together real quick and then I spend some time on the details so they’re alright to listen to.
M: So once a tune has been started how do you go back and change it?
B: I can’t. I can only affect it. I have to fade bits out or fade it if I don’t like it or replace it and hope it’s in time. It’s budget. It’s not perfect.
M: I like your music and find it refreshing because it’s about the vibe and not about the science of the sound. It’s emotion not studio engineering, which is what music should be about, primarily.
B: There’s no ‘musicianship’ in my sound, that’s the enemy of my tunes. Fuck Rhodes chords, fuck that noodle stuff. There’s been a lot of times when producers I’ve liked have gone all ‘musician’ on me and just produced shit, not underground.
M: It’s the difference between some ruff Rodney Jerkins or Timbaland production of Destiny’s Child – which is this perfect balance between sweet and sour, hard and soft, male and female – and then hearing Destiny’s Child live in a stadium backed by a session band complete with some fat drummer with too many 80s toms, a poodle-rock guitar player and some jazz-y keyboard player drawing for the presets.
B: Fuck that. If my tunes sounded like Herbalizer or some shit, I’d shoot myself. I’d throw myself under a train at Clapham Junction.
M: The LP has strong vibe of sorrow…
B: That’s the vibe old records have and I just can’t shake it. And once you’ve got a vocal sample over sub and drums, you don’t have much choice with the rest of the elements. It’s basically a Source Direct thing: it’s pure darkness but all the elements circle. You hear something and you know at another point in the tune it’s going to circle back around.
M: You also do that thing where you use a key element only once in the tune, like when you pitch up ‘now that I’ve found you’ just the once on ‘Distant Lights.’
B: All my favourite tunes ever - “Being With You remix” by Foul Play and Lonely by D’Cruze – are just rolling drums, no bullshit and just killer vocal samples. You combine that with circling stuff, it’s an ambient thing, the opposite of riffage.
M: you did your own artwork for the LP, what is it of?
B: That’s south London, from high up. The signal, like a pirate signal above London, just floating in the air. That’s what I wanted. Epic… distant lights. I love this film called Nil By Mouth by Gary Oldman because it’s the only film I’ve ever seen anyone get London properly in it, which is just distant lights, down the end of your road. That vibe, but then sometimes I don’t love it.
M: London’s a struggle, if you don’t love the struggle even to keep your head above water, you shouldn’t be here.
B: It’s a big deal. If you’re a Londoner you join some big history of people who’s lived here but are long gone. So the cover is south London, and when I’m making a tune that’s what I’m thinking of.
M: The interesting thing is that people might go ‘oh look he’s just another south London dubstep producer following on from Skream, Benga, DMZ, Loefah, El-B, Horsepower, Artwork etc…’ but the difference is while there definitely is a scene in south London, you’re not part of it, as much as you don’t know any of them or hang about with them, at all, apart from Kode 9. None of them have ever even met you. You just share an environment with them.
B: I don’t know any other producers. I don’t know anyone who makes tunes. I’m just out there. I’m not part of the scene and I can’t get up and DJ. I’m proud of this music but I’m not a fully paid-up member of the board. I’m none of those things.
M: A DJ/blogger in the US called Kid Kameleon and I talked last summer about the relationship between scenes and outsiders, how they interact and it made me think about exceptions. One example is Joe Nice, who doesn’t live here, so should in practice be an outsider, but totally isn’t, he’s completely inside and gets it 100%. You’re the opposite example, you live here and make the music, yet are an outsider.
B: To me it’s about tunes. That’s what’s reached me and that’s what I’ve put back in. I first got this when I was a kid, listening to pirate radio in my room at night and buying records. Even the internet ruins that a bit for me, the hunt to find this. I imagine other kids like this with all types of music all over the world who are also margin walkers. They’re on the outskirts. They don’t know where it’s from, they just get the music.
M: Margins are so key. When has there ever been a good record from central London? Streatham, Bow, Romford, Croydon, Newham, Thornton Heath… it’s all margin music.
B: Maybe that’s what I mean when I talk about the vibes music I love.
M: Also it’s interesting to think about pirate radio, which is local community broadcasting. Yet radio waves can’t be contained by community, they spill out inspiring people for whom they weren’t initially broadcast for and becomes part of our lives.
B: Where I live now, I can’t get a good pirate radio signal – and that to me sounds better. Sounds badder. It’s more like I can’t figure it out. The track on the LP called ‘Pirates’ is the one I always wanted to make. Fithy, dirty tune. A couple of the tunes on the LP have Rinse on in the background, playing.
B: Now I’ve finished my little DIY rave album I always told my brothers I’d make, it’s the end of a little era for me. I wanna follow it up with something really dark that this scene, whatever it is, doesn’t divide them, unites them. Not in an anthemic way but I wanna make a tune like my favourite tunes were back then. The tunes you can make and then disappear happily because you know you made that tune. That’s the tune I wanna make.
B: I’ll probably never do it. I’d like to make a summer tune. I’d like to make the ‘Metropolis’ of dubstep. There’s a tune I’d like to remix, but I’d probably never will get the chance.
M: Why don’t you say which one that is?
B: I really want to remix Misty Winter by Digital Mystikz. Please. It’s the baddest tune ever made.
M: What about your remix of Kode 9’s ‘Ghost Town?’
B: Yeah I’ve done one where I’ve pitched up Spaceape’s voice a bit. My one’s more uplifting, though it’s a sad tune. That tune is to me is the real thing.
M: Do you ever have that thing where you fall asleep and when you wake up you realise the idea of one particular tune has been burning itself into your head? ‘Ghost Town’ has been in mine for months. I see the pair of bass notes, forward and reversed.
B: There are certain tunes that haunt me when I wake up. I don’t find melodies catchy, I find drums catchy. When you have a bassline in your head for a day, you’re fucked. You can’t think. Big sub slugs. I get them a lot. Because I work with waves I can write them down.
M: you’ve developed your own kind of shorthand?
B: Yeah. I can draw a fishbone and remember it later. I also used to get thrown out of class for drumming on tables, so sometimes I have to record myself drumming in case I forget a beat.
M: How many sources of crackle do you use?
B: Pirate radio crackle, vinyl crackle – I like. But most of all I like rain. Fire. I’ve got recordings of rain and fire crackle that would put most electronica producers to shame they’re so fucking heavy. That crackle sits over my drums, hides the space between them. When I started making music I could see through it and I was disappointed because it destroyed the mystery for a bit. But when I chuck crackle over it, it hides it under layers, it’s no longer mine. And you get a feel of a real environment.
B: There’s one tune on the album, ‘Prayer’ that has a recording of one dude walking down the street and the walking into a church. You can’t analyse what the change is, there’s just some change in the air, the air in the tune.
M: it’s insane because your use of crackle is exactly the reason why about two years ago I started using sonic “keysounds” in tunes and why I started Keysound Recordings, because I felt I could see ‘through’ the space in the tunes between the percussion into empty space and because I wanted to fill that space with an environment, my urban environment and consequently to place my tunes in that space. Hence I use looped “keysounds” in my tune – which is what you were doing, but without each other knowing it.
Burial “Burial” is out on Hyperdub in May. Album of the year anyone?
· Burial “Distant Lights”
· Burial “Gutted”
· Burial “Pirates”
· Burial “Prayer”
· Burial “Spaceape ft. The Spaceape”
· Burial “Wounder”
· Burial “You Hurt Me”
Also by Burial:
· Blackdown “Crackle Blues (Burial remix)"
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
First there’s the selection, a crucial element in any DJs arsenal. This defines the range of emotional spaces likely to be encountered along the way. For this mix, Kode 9 drew from his London surroundings, taking south London dubstep and east London grime and heading into uncharted waste ground.
The majority of the material is unreleased; fresh and upfront, it’s carefully selected for its strength and potential. The effect of this is twofold. It ensures the listener is receiving the very latest sounds, the very edge of the expanding dubstep sphere as defined by the collective imagination of a self-sustaining musical community. The second effect is internal: by selecting the best tracks that fit his vision, and not simply big tracks from the most established names, it feeds back creative energy into the very community from which it they are drawn by suggesting a production meritocracy.
Given the six year history of dubstep, this is key. Evolving out of an unsympathetic early ‘00s 2step garage scene, the dubstep community has been built by the collective efforts of committed and determined individuals, without the support of major label or other financially lucrative scenes. And within that community reward and recognition are essential for long term growth.
His selection made, Kode 9 then cut them to dubplate. Not out of historical reverence or status statement but out of love for the medium’s inherent properties. Responsive and tactile, dubplates allow a DJ who wants to shape a nebulous selection of unreleased music into a coherent whole. Scraped, nudged and blended together on dubplate, individual tracks blur, while pitches and tempo interact with each other to produce new tones, keys and cadences.
While most electronic production equipment encourages composition in fixed keys or intervals, DJing makes a mockery of this. Within the +/-8% pitch range of most decks there are an infinite number of tonal subdivisions. Beat matching a given pair of dubplates often means abandoning one or both of the original tempos, and as a consequence, the original keys or tones. The mix is thus volatile and singular, not least because it’s also encoded with a unique background of decaying pops and micro-crackles from the dubplate’s fading surface.
But the mix is yet more volatile. Beatmatching is an imprecise science, the iterative art of aligning two tracks by ear in realtime. As mixes ebb and flow in and out of lock, the DJ corrects them with little nudges. These in turn produce transient flickers in the key of the riddim, a live reproduction reminiscent of grime producer Terror Danjah’s pitchbent synths or Kode 9’s own off-dissonant, mystical melodies.
Though predominantly dubstep in selection, this mix is further informed by grime’s rapid-fire DJing style. A great deal of dubstep is built from linear instrumental tracks that both evolve iteratively to give a sense of progression and are designed for precise and smooth beatmixing. By contrast in grime, where the propulsive momentum comes from the MC, riddims are often constructed in interlocking blocks of 8 or 16 similar bars. Consequently sharp switches or even gaps in sets are possible, just as long as the MCs’ bars continue to flow. DJs like Plasticman, NASTY Crew’s Mac 10 or Roll Deep’s Karnage have perfected a rapid-fire DJ style to capitalise on this.
Here Kode 9 ventures into similar territory by mixing swiftly, long before the tracks fully evolve. This both ups the sense of momentum and narrows the listeners’ field of view, blurring the line between grime and dubstep by seldom giving enough time to observe the longer progressions of dubstep tracks, nor time to appreciate whether the grime riddims are repeating their variations. At this resolution, they are one.
The effect of this kind of mixing is also to mutate the boundaries of the tracks, so production and mix decisions are blurred. Repeated listens imprint the mixes in the listeners’ memory, so that when one of the 28 tracks is subsequently heard in a dance it leaves the listener also craving for the track it is mixed here with.
Kode 9 also blurs the line between dubstep’s predominantly instrumental nature and grime’s focus on lyrics. During the first half of the mix, once dancehall MC Warrior Queen has vented her anger at London being bombed last year, Spaceape’s vocals begin to dominate the mix. Unlike a grime MC however, there’s no momentum through aggressive, percussive lyrical fury. It’s far closer to dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson in style, yet the spirit of frustration remains embedded in the lyrics. Spaceape questions social progress and gives bittersweet hanks for his own existence, despite a happy-go-lucky childhood.
By the second half of the mix Spaceape’s voice becomes far more of an instrument, bouncing around different parts of the stereo spectrum, descending from different spaces and places, to complement rather than dominate the mix. Yet it remains a welcome addition, a reminder of the Anglo-Jamaican heritage that surrounds modern urban music and the voices of ghosts lost amidst dark electronic textures.
• Dubstep Allstars Vol 3 is out next week on Tempa