Friday, August 24, 2007
I’ve loved Forward>> like no other club, since its inception six years ago. I’d been badgering El-B to start a night so I can’t lie, like a total fanboy, I turned up far too early to the first one at Velvet Rooms. There was no one there at first but a stush garage industry crowd soon mooched into the venue late and Jay Da Flex rocked it with a headline Ghost set.
So it’s with real excitement that, six years later, I can share with you that Dusk and I will be making our Forward>> debut, in the warm-up slot next Friday (31st August).
Although its evolved, I’ve lost count of the amazing sets I’ve seen at Forward>>. There’s Jay Da’s aforementioned Ghost set at Velvet Rooms, and several Zed Bias rinse outs there too. I recall Slimzee and Maxwell D there in the proto-grime, Pay As U Go days.
Moving to Plastic People – a far superior venue and still my favourite place in London – makes me think of Youngsta cutting up dubplate (!) doubles of “Request Line,” Roll Deep shocking out to “Request Line,” Mala b2b Loefah smacking it, Newhams pon mic, Kode9 dropping “Subkon,” and most of all those peerless 2004 headline sets by Hatcha which really set the cement in dubstep’s foundations.
Given all this, it’s a pretty serious opportunity, being given the chance to step the few yards from my favourite spot in front of the speaker, to behind the decks. But really and truly, when your name is called it’s important to step up.
Since autumn last year Dusk and I have been quietly focusing on building an entire new Keysound set. For anyone that’s tried to build, they’ll know it takes hours, days, nights, and quite often years. All going to plan, we’re hoping to present what we’ve been working on at Forward>> alongside some tunes we've cut by some of our favourite producers. As I said, we’re playing the early set 10:30-12, so if you’re up for hearing what we’ve been building, try and reach early if you can.
This is probably also a good occasion to mention our new single too. Keysound’s been a bit quiet this year, overwhelmingly because we’ve been focusing on the slow process of writing but we’re trying to ensure the pace picks up a little from here on in.
Our new single is done and will be out in October via Baked Goods:
a) Dusk + Blackdown ft Trim “The Bits”
b) Blackdown “Northside Cheng Dub”
Audio of the single is now available on MySpace and Virb.
Both tracks are built from a master template we assembled of samples from the Chinese instrument, the cheng. “The Bits” is essentially Trim over three separate but related grime-inspired cheng riddims, juggled together. “Northside Cheng Dub” is also built from cheng samples but is more dubstep focused. Together we hope they form a kind of dark Sino sonic reflections of the London experience. I hope you can join us for their airing, next Friday at Forward>>.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
For the last three years or so, grime couldn't get a club night in central London. For large parts of the 2001-2005, dubstep couldn’t get an audience. If you came to some of the many Forwards>> when there were more bar staff than fans, hold tight you. So even in a year when Mala and Benga can play to 8,000 fans at Roskilde, or Oris Jay, Skream and Kode9 can take down Sonar, it still makes me smile to come down New Oxford Street at 10:24pm and see a queue for Rinse and Forward>> at The End that stretches from the front door, around the side and all the way down the length of the building to the main road. It was a roadblock.
I’d come down early to see Appleblim, who’s deep, delayed and techy sets have been a real pleasure recently. Funny thing was, there was almost too much delay, so that in a room of that size (the main room at The End), his whole set felt drenched in reverb, all reflection and no signal, so that you couldn’t tell any of the detail.
This wasn’t ‘Blim’s fault though: throughout the night it was apparent how much of the ‘big room’ clubbing experience this was, sonically, with only the most obvious parts of the track cutting through the cavernous room. With scale, you gain audience but loose detail.
But this was not a night for audio purists, it was a full on, hot, rammed, hyped rave – and the energy was really enjoyable. The crowd was an welcome blend and the press surrounding the night (Radio1, Metro, The London Paper to name but a few…) seemed to bring headz out from all sides, so that even though it was on such a massive scale, the community vibe absent at other raves of late, returned. So in no particular order hold tight: Mel B, Dan Hancox, the mighty Farrah, Rahul Virma from Metro/Knowledge, Sarah “where have you been, girl?!” Bentley (please send me the Mavado transcript!), Chris Blacklay from Kiss, Stu Give Up Art, The Bug, Terror Danjah, Henny G, Mr and Mrs Spaceape, Artwork, N Type, Markle, Luke Envoy, Mary Ann Hobbs and of course Soulja and Geeneus. Beats are one thing, but I’m increasingly reminded how much people make the night.
I also enquired about the no camera rule and got, surprise surprise, a perfectly reasonable answer. At a rave of the size of this one, you could easily have had half a dozen waste-DVD makers pushing cameras in the face of the DJs and shoving the punters away from the small, floor-level DJ booth, both of which you have to agree, would detract from the night. Who remembers all the annoying photographers and German TV crews climbing all over the booth at DMZ?
In addition the lack of visual record keeps a mystique to the night, so that to see it, you had to come along. Ammunition are not filming it themselves, instead preserving the sacredness of the live moment, in a similar way to why Mala doesn’t do many radio mixes, to preserve the surprises of his (amazing) DJ sets. Anyway all this seems pretty reasonable: people really need to calm down with the knee jerk conspiracy theories.
The first real peak of the night was Wiley and Karnage – Trim was sadly a no show (hold tight Boomnoise’s builder’s mystic prediction). Karnage began flicking through one raw grime instrumental after another: think variations on Maniac’s “Bow E3” beat. It was Wiley that really made the set come alive, shooting around the booth with a muscular energy, taking request-shouts from the crowd before spitting a greatest hits set of his bars. He looked hungry and ready for battle, which is Wiley at his strongest.
The biggest tunes of the night seemed to be either Benga and Coki’s “Night” or Rusko’s “Cockney Thug”, the latter of which N Type finished with and was the perfect kind of tune to cut through the immense noise in the venue: it’s got one big wobble sound and some swearing. Little else can nor needs to be heard. Cue the reload.
The next highlight was Kode9 ft Flowdan and Killa P. While Kode played a mix of really percussive, kick-lead housey stuff (esp. Mala’s “Lean Forward”), it was the live versions of “Skeng” and “Jah War” by Flowdan that killed it. Between Loefah, The Bug and Flowdan, they really have nailed the dark, intense, dread-war halfstep anthem. Both tunes and their mixes are stone cold ruffness.
I couldn’t help but make sure I wandered through to see Rinse’s Supa play in the bar. Soulja seems to be using the term “UK house” for the London funky house movement, but while I get how it’s new in terms of its audience, to me I’m still waiting for a musical “wow” moment. I got the same reaction I always get: I wander in, think “oh this is nice.” 30 minutes later it’s still “nice,” the tune doesn’t seem to have changed at all and I’m bored. Still, it was good to see Crazy D bouncing around to it and Arthur Artwork, ohmydays, did he dress up for the occasion? It’d have to be a wedding or funeral to get me in such a dapper suit and tie. I salute your style Mr Smith.
Back in the main room Geeneus and Tubby were doing a ferocious back 2 back, with the tunes crazily pitched up. Footsie and D Double were hyping things to great effect but for me at least, the pain barrier was reached and it was time to fall asleep on the night bus. Again.
Friday, August 17, 2007
7 years after Gorgon Sound, Benny Ill getting his dues on Radio 1...
Last night, if you listened to Mary Anne Hobbs’ Radio 1 show, you’ll have heard a bunch of us up on her show. The plan was to celebrate the early days of Tempa, as well as to look to the future of the Ammo stable, starting with tonight’s massive Forward>> & Rinse presents rave at The End. The whole thing was fun.
It began with dubstep staging a mini flash-mob outside Radio 1’s foyer. Anyone trying to get into Radio 1/1Xtra would have had to fight through Skream, Skream’s Stella collection, Youngsta, Soulja, Geeneus, Horsepower, N Type, Benga, Benga’s afro, Jon Rust, Headhunter, Appleblim and some of the guys’ girlfriends. It was a bit like being on a school trip again, with Soulja doing head counts and N Type describing the animals he’d seen in the zoo. Skream was winding Youngsta up that there was going to be crap decks in Radio 1 and using the intercom to make voices appear out of the wall behind Benga’s head. Weasel crew on tour!
We then descended into the bowels of Radio 1, to spend two hours sitting in the Live Lounge, until we were called in pairs for our part in the show. On one side daytime DJ Scott Mills was doing his thing, on the other Zane Lowe was recording. Grooverider wandered past. Benga broke into the Zane Lowe’s broadcast for a chat, but not knowing who he was, didn’t mention that he has the biggest tune in Ayia Napa right now.
I thought something was up when Target played Benga and Coki’s “Night,” mixed into some funky house last Sunday on 1Xtra. He then described how he’d heard Roll Deep’s Maximum playing it and demanded a copy.
Killing time in the Live Lounge, I asked Geeneus about “Night.” Turns out the Target trail comes back to him, as he slipped Maximum a copy. Since then Skepta – a real pan-genre music fan and the one who championed Skream’s “Request Line” to the grime guys – has hyped it across the isle.
The crazy bit is it’s big with funky house DJs too, confirming my suspicions that Napa 07 may be a crucial ‘nuum melting pot this summer where grime, (southern) funky/UK house and (northern) Niche/bassline house will collide. Thing is, it looks like dubstep’s a massive part of that too. “I’m a house producer now,” joked Benga on several occasions, but the reality is that despite all the inroads into electronica/d&b/experimental territory and despite all the derision from grime fans over the year, dubstep and grime have never been closer – which can only be a good thing
As is usual with big instrumentals, there’s talk of a vocal version of “Night.” Given it’s not happened yet I don’t want to jinx it, but let’s just say they’re aiming very high in the MC game. We’ll see.
Two by two, we got called in to the studio for interviews, and I was honoured to be called in with Soulja, someone I have so much time and respect for. Maybe the journalism training helps, but I felt pretty comfortable on the mic, in fact it felt fun. Someone asked me afterwards did I forget what I was going to say. R U Dumb? This shit’s in my blood, I have to find ways to think about it less, not more.
Soulja and I got two interview spots and it was good to see her finally talking about what she does. She’s a relentless powerhouse, someone who takes little credit but makes so much happen. It’s literally true that without her there would be no dubstep, as in the scene would have died when Ghost imploded and would have never been given the chance to incubate at Forward>>, on Tempa and through her bridge-building, on Rinse (a vital lifeline in 2004/5). She was even there when her then business partner, Neil Joliffe, invented the word “dubstep.”
It was great to Benny Ill finally getting some high level props. If you look at the first 14 releases on Tempa – a run only Hyperdub and DMZ can really match in depth and quality – Benny’s influence dominates them. They didn’t sell much then but they’ve stood the test of time. To me, like Burial, Kode or Mala’s output they really are a benchmark of quality, a yardstick of how good dubstep can be.
I was totally honoured, then, to close the dubstep section of the show out with my choice “Sholay” by Benny Ill and Goldspot, a deep, deep persyingle of a tune. I tried to describe how good it was to Mary Ann, but really and truly, like the Ghost tune, “words can not express.” “Never forget,” indeed.
Preparing for the show, I wrote down the following, by way of explanation of the setting for the emergence of Tempa:
If you think about 2000/01, we were very much in the UK garage era, and when the first Ghost, Shelflife and Tempa 12"s came about, nothing really sounded like them. UK garage is essentially a hybrid of US r&b and house with some UK jungle bass - and was mostly vocal.
But around 2000 there were a few people who both liked UKG but missed the edge of jungle, the synths of Detroit, the dub of Jamaica and Berlin and wanted more. To them, me being one of them, Horspower's first singles, esp "Gorgon Sound" (Tempa 002) was the best of both worlds, combining the sexy percussive swing of UK garage with the edge of the other sounds like jungle, dub, techno and more.
Horsepower brought more too - esp a sense of new sample sources from around the globe ie India and China, not just the usual US/JA axis and a love of cinematic atmosphere. Their first LP "In Fine Style" is peerless in dubstep, still one of the two or three best LPs from the genre. Its like an entire world in one LP, brought to the listener via the power of samples and diaglog from film.
I interviewed Horsepower for Jockey Slut around the time of the first LP, which I could dig out if people want. My interview from Deuce for their second LP is online here.
Mary Ann also dragged something out of Souljah and I that we’ve been working on for over a year. If you didn’t hear the show, it’s true, we’ve been working on:
Ammunition and Blackdown present: The Roots of El-B
After the Roots of Dubstep, a process which was a total joy to do, compared to dealing with 679 for Run the Road 1, I began to wonder how the compilation could be furthered. “The Roots of Dubstep 2” would have been easy to do, but would it have been better? Instead I decided to build out the El-B section, to focus the whole next compilation on him. Of the three founding trinity – El-B, Zed Bias and Horsepower – the latter two have CD albums you can find. Yet El-B’s peerless material, as Groove Chronicles and as part of Ghost, is scattered across 40 or so obscure and long since gone white labels. The El-B LP never happened: I have a recording of the DAT of what did get done, but in truth his best work came out on the 12”s. The plan is to pull them all together. As I said on Radio 1, this is unfinished business.
It’s also timely, I feel. Burial’s comments in interview about the lost, secret art of swing created some interest, but as I’ve said on the Dubstep Forum recently, the focus on groove, swing and percussion is being obliterated right now. Perhaps this release will help redress the balance.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
So I’m driving Dusk home late last night from studio and we’re clipping over the flyover. Goodz’ “The Music” is blaring out and I’ve got goosebumps from how amazing it is, when the “no petrol” light comes on in the car.
So I drop Dusk off and head back towards Tottenham, the nearest likely place to fill up. After two laps of Tottenham Hale’s confusing gyratory, I pull into a petrol station.
It’s deserted, apart from the attendant locked inside the shop. Oh and there’s three guys hanging around the air pump.
It’s 1am in Tottenham. What are three kids doing in a petrol station, hoods up, without a car or a motorbike?
So I’m filling the car, trying to have eyes in the back of my head, and I can hear some distant discussion. I look up and sure enough, one of them is coming over to me.
OK I think, now it’s on top.
The kid’s about 16, white, rocking a tracksuit and looking a bit lean.
“’Scuse me mate, you couldn’t spare me some change could you?” he goes. “My Auntie’s kicked us out.”
When people ask for change, I usually give them some. It’s not that I think the money will or won’t be used for drugs as well as bus fare, but it’s a dignity thing. If someone has opened themselves up enough to admit they need to ask for change, it’s hard to kick ‘em when they’re down.
“Sure,” I say and reach into my pocket, giving him a few quid. “It’s all the change I have.”
“Thanks mate,” he says and leans towards me.
1am, petrol station in Tottenham. Kid tryin’ a ting. Not being funny, but lets be real: now it’s really on top.
In an instant he’s really close. His lips look a bit white and flakey. Then he says pretty much the last thing I expected to hear: “give us a hug?”
Before I can really answer he’s giving me a hug. Damn this is strange, but OK, no trouble so far.
Then he really does it.
As he pulls out of the hug, he kisses me on the neck.
He chips back to his mates and the three of them shuffle off, god knows where to, since Tottenham Hale is an industrial wasteland, especially at that time of night.
I pay the attendant and head off home, getting mildly lost to the excellent Kush Arora CD. I’m a bit stunned but … damn, you gotta see the funny side.