Friday, August 17, 2007

Tempa special

Benny Ill live on Radio 1

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.

Benny Ill and YoungstaTempa flashmob @ Radio 1 foyer

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!

Skream, Benga and Benny Ill

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 GeeneusBenga and Youngsta

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.


dan hancox said...

re dubstep and grime never being closer... you should have seen benga's 8-bar set last night man, it was unfrickingbelievable, i could hardly believe my ears.

Anonymous said...

Just finished listening to this - Sholay is on right now - and I just want to say, thank you so much for the El-B project. Dream come true.

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work! Please dig out that first Horsepower interview and good luck with the El-B project. Can't wait to hear it!

Anonymous said...

nice read and nice listen but where was neil jolliffe? i was under the impression tempa was neils baby? would have been really good to hear his thoughts on it all...

Blackdown said...

Yeah I agree about Neil, I did mention it, and you're right, it was his baby (though the primary credit must go to Benny Ill). But Neil doesn't want to be involved with dubstep anymore, and hasn't for some time.

I also thought that the Tempa designer, GiveUpArt, should have been there as he gave Tempa such an iconic visual identity but it was radio after all...

Anonymous said...

Big Martin!

joe said...

I can't claim to know what everyone's playing, but I sure ain't heard enough swing at the nights I've been hitting recently. I hope the balance is sorted out, too. (And I'll try and help it, as well, if I ever finish a tune.)

I am not Kek-w said...

Nice One! Well excited about this El-B project...!!

Anonymous said...


Chris said...

I'd be interested to see that Jockey Slut article.

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neil jolliffe said...


Just reading the blog about the show! Didn't even know about it, would have been heavy to have gone and I'm sure stuy (give up art) would have come too. Still lovin the sounds but life moves on eh... biggup all ammo crew and martin and dan

Obviously would dust off the recoeds for a gig in japan : )