Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008: thank you and good night

Well, 2008 is nearly over. Merry Christmas and happy New Year to you all! So I thought a little present might be seasonal, scroll down for more.

Looking back it's been a pretty amazing year for me and Dusk. "Margins Music" got finished and came out as the same time as a 12 page booklet and 6 minute video and I didn't quite have a total mental breakdown. I dont think I have ever put so much of my heart and soul into any one thing before, so thanks massively to Baked Goods (distribution), Transition (mastering), Charles Nomad (PR), Stu Give Up Art (art), Shaun Bloodworth (cover shots) and Jonathan Howells (video). Thanks to everyone who put it in their end of year charts (Simon Reynolds, Starkey, The Observer, The Wire, Time Out Chicago, T++, Boomkat, Melissa Bradshaw and more).

DJ-wise it's been amazing too. Highlights were definitely the album launch at FWD>> and any time we played for them at Plastic People. Joining Rinse was a total honour: having Trim show up unexpectedly was a total buzz. Playing DMZ and Dub War in New York were both pretty incredible. Clashing on Mary Anne Hobbs' Radio 1 show was a lot (audio here and here). Emptying the room after Ghetto's Dirty Canvas album launch was remarkable. Going out onto the main stage of The Big Chill was hillarious for that "what are we doing here?" vibe. Hold tight Fabric, The End, Scala, Ministry, Herbal, Bristol, Belgium, 93 Ft East and Plan B.

So what does 2009 hold? Onwards and upwards I think. More blogging: if there's stuff I'm inspired enough by to want to share I'll give it coverage here. More Rinse shows, trying to maintain the standard of the beats we select. More Keysound releases, of that there is no doubt. Starkey ft. Durrty Goodz EP is next. More comps: Roots of El-B is done, expect samplers v soon. Musically I want to keep pushing at the edges, in multiple different directions and styles be they 2steppy, percussive, beatless, funky, wonky, grimey, instrumental, vocal, MC-lead, masculine and/or feminine but mostly bassy. 2009 should be a make or break year for dubstep: it's time to ride on through, or indeed past, the darkness. Let's roll.

Digital Mystikz in Deuce Magazine Jan 2004 p1 - by Martin Clark

So yeah, a little present, as tis the season. I recently scanned in my 2004 Deuce magazine interview with Digital Mystikz and my more in depth piece featuring Loefah from Dummy in 2007. I'm pretty sure the Deuce piece is the first ever DMZ interview, commissioned when "Pathwayz," their breakthrough track, was on dub. You can either download them all here or check them on Flickr. They're upped as hi res, just click on the image and "all sizes" for the largest version. Enjoy.

Digital Mystikz in Dummy Magazine Spring 2007 p2 - by Martin Clark

Merry Christmas. See you on the other side.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Going on differently: grime meets the YouTube refix

Tenchuassassin screenshot 1

From the moment Dizzee and Wiley decided they were “artists” not MCs, grime has presented itself as a culture rather than a musical sound. Moving beyond the UK garage legacy of being just one-dimensional DJ-hosts in clubs, this shift suddenly enabled new directions of creative possibilities. One of those was, naturally, the visual angle.

For a while grime specialised in gritty realism. The grime DVD, be it Lord of the Mics or Conflict was, before the mixtape took over, one of the dominant mediums. A classic example of this is the fallout between Crazy Titch and Dizzee, from Conflict. As they spill out on the twilight of the Déjà Vu roof, the contrast between their respective fates couldn’t be larger: Dizzee began the new phase of his self-signed career with a number 1 single. Titch is inside for murder.

There’s no shortage of gritty grime footage on YouTube, moving from rave footage and roadside DVD slewage to increasingly professional music videos, like JME’s Serious Remix or Ruff Sqwad’s “RSMD”.

But as the audience of YouTube grew, so did it’s potential to become a front door for exciting new video talent, allowing grime to move away from these two styles into new avenues (check Newham Generals viral "Violence" video).

This post highlights two video directors not central to the core grime scene but taking it in an entirely different visual direction. Starting from a sampling and refix mindset and applying it to visuals, these videos combine manga and cartoons to provide both free promo for grime MCs and exciting new visual/audio contradictions to boot.


Plastician featuring Skepta- Intensive Snare
Directed by DR. SMOOV

The first interview is with DR. SMOOV, who by his own admission isn’t steeped in the grime scene, but was definitely the first visual artist I noticed working with grime in this style.

Blackdown: Can you tell me a bit about your work, how did you get into making videos? how long have you been doing it?

DR. SMOOV: I'm an artist, I reside in Los Angeles, CA, been working as a freelance Producer/Director/Editor for about 9 years in the industry. I have hundreds of videos on the internet, and have worked professionally for all the major American television networks at one time or another in the last decade. In the past couple years, my web series of GiJoe and Transformers cartoon mashups have been gaining significant popularity. DR. SMOOV has a long history. Between film school, producing cable access programs in NY in the 90's, and working professionally in LA, I've logged about 18 years total making videos- I started when I was 13 and have never stopped. (nor will I ever) It's just what I do.

B: Can you tell me about how the Plastician video came about?

DR. SMOOV: I was contacted by Plastician in early 2008 about the possibility of commissioning me to cut a video for a track off his upcoming "Beg to Differ" album. I had directed and edited professional music videos in the past, and Plastician expressed that he was particularly a fan of my mashup music videos using GiJoe cartoons. He wanted me to custom craft a video to his track using retro cartoon footage. He sent me a track called "Intensive Snare ft. Skepta." After hearing it for the first time, I knew I wanted to do it.

I had a lot of ideas right off the bat that I pitched him like using some of the black characters to represent Skepta and using some of the "computer tech" characters to represent Plastician. I wanted to incorporate cool action sequences, images of technology, and feature some of the badass characters like the ninjas: Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, and also tool on the lame characters like Lifeline. But more importantly, I wanted to create a video that would have that retro 80's cartoon feel and be relevant to the song regardless if the viewer was familiar with the original cartoon or not. I think he chose me because he was familiar with my style and knew that I could pull off a video that would deliver that and appeal to our fan-bases respectively.

B: Your video for intensive snare seemed to be almost visual sampling, how do you go about finding all the relevant clips?

DR. SMOOV: Because I'm familiar with much of the material, I usually have a ballpark of where to look for certain subject matters. But the process takes a long time. I scroll through hours upon hours of footage and make detailed logs. I am quite thorough. The video for "Intensive Snare" features footage from approx 30 different episodes of the 80's GiJoe cartoon by Sunbow. For this video, I wanted to use a lot of footage of computers, sound equipment, cars, satellites, and technology, so I would pull as many of those clips as I could find.

The next step was carefully placing them and manipulating them appropriately. Every image in my videos is placed where it is for a reason - everything you see is pre-meditated. In any given instance, I try to capture the essence of the lyric, or the feel of the hook, or in some cases provide a literal example of what's being said (which can sometimes be quite humorous like "Are you stupid in the face?" and a woman pulls her face off) And that's the point - each image is a commentary or makes a statement based on where it pops up in the video. So yes, it is like adding an extra level of visual samples on top of an already massively brilliant track.

B: How do you feel about remixing, appropriating and re-using copyright content in general?

DR. SMOOV: Being an artist first, the challenge of using "found footage" to create something new and interesting is the goal, and the results can be quite rewarding. You can take something that was already cool in the past and make it cool in a whole new way - sometimes better than it was before. (unfortunately the flip side of making it worse is far too common amongst certain artists these days.)

But using familiar material can be a way to connect with audiences on a common ground. I am continually amazed at the diverse cross-section of people throughout the world that connect with the GiJoe cartoon (or Action Force in the UK.) and are willing to give something new a shot if it has anything to do with it. But in general, I think "sampling" is an excellent vehicle for both presentation and re-introduction.

Anyone who's sampling from the "old" is usually doing it because they like something about the material. By freshly re-appropriating it you're sharing it with new audiences, vouching for it, and making it relevant again.

The footage from cartoons I tend to use is 25 years old already. For many, they are nostalgic images that rekindle the excitement they once had for it. For others, it's their first time seeing it. I think it exposes a lot of younger viewers to the material. I receive a lot of feedback from younger people that say they became interested in Transformers or GiJoe after seeing the footage in my videos - it peaked their interest enough for them to learn more about it. I personally became a fan of a lot of classic 70's funk/soul/jazz due to all the sampling I heard in early 90's hip-hop. Made me want to find out where all that great music came from. So I think that re-use and re-appropriation is a major way in which older franchises receive new exposure. It's essentially free advertising for them. The entities that are smart about it and can recognize that, seem to reap the benefit of longevity.

B: Have you watched many other grime videos?

DR. SMOOV: In the grand scale of things, I have not seen that many. Working with Plastician on this video was my first exposure to the grime/dubstep scene overseas. I did some initial research on the web and watched a handful of videos on youtube trying to see what was already being done and familiarize myself with the style and some of the artists. The most informative video for me however, was a documentary on the London grime/dubstep scene which told about the evolution of the music style and the characteristics regarding unique tempo, the electro sound, and the innovative ways the synths are being used. Being a fan of both hip-hop and electronic music (I grew up listening to a lot of Kraftwerk as well as being a fan of great lyricists like KRS-1 and Big Daddy Kane) the sounds of grime were quite appealing to me right away. Not to mention the clever vocals and lyrical flow of the MC's - Skepta and JME stood out to me in that respect. When taking on the video for "Intensive Snare," I wanted to be just as intricate and meaningful with the visuals as the work that Skepta and Plastician had put into the lyrics and tracks.

B: I'm interested in the fact that visually your video doesn’t use the same old grime narratives, was that deliberate?

DR. SMOOV: I think Chris (Plastician) is responsible for some of that in terms of the vision he had for what this video could be - If he wanted to shoot a typical grime video, he could have hired me or anyone else to do that, but that's not what he wanted. He came to me because he was interested in letting me "do what I do" to his track - knowing that I would be able to find visuals that would compliment his music and put it together in a way that was unique. He's a true artist and innovator in that respect. He wasn't interested in trying to do what everybody else was doing in their videos, he wanted to take this video to another level entirely and I think we achieved that with this piece.

tenchuassassin screenshot 2


AMV-Wretch 32 Ft Ghetto - Ina Di Ghetto
Directed by Tenchuassassin

Blackdown: So, where are you from?

South east London, New Cross

B: Can you tell me a bit about your work, how did you get into making videos? How long have you been doing it?

Tenchuassassin: At first I just watched other peoples videos then I asked a friend how can I do that he told me window movie maker then I started making videos. Anyway I’ve being doing this for about 5 years on and off. I use to make hip hop & rock vids but then I said why does everyone make hip hop & rock vids so then I made my first grime vid skepta autopsy

B: your video for Wretch 32 seemed to be almost visual sampling, how do you go about finding and choosing all the relevant clips?

T: I just listen to the tune over & over then remember what anime I just watched and take the clip from there.

B: In practical terms if you hear a word like "stripe" or "flame," how do you and find a scene from another video to match it?

T: When I hear stripe I think of gun grave a gun anime & flame that will be naruto

B: How do you decide when to match the visuals to the words and when to deviate?

T: Well when it comes to matching words I have about 3 or 4 choices and I just pick the best one. The only time I deviate is when I can’t find what the person is saying

B: How do you decide how many different sources to sample from, in each video?

T: I don’t limit myself I just use as many clips as I have to.

B: How do you feel about remixing, appropriating and re-using copyright content in general?

T: It’s not like I’m selling them I just do this for fun

B: Have you watched many other grime videos? What do you think of them?

T: yeah I’ve seen some good ones by:

ELITE1010, Ozyboi and Coolkavi.

B: have you had any feedback from the artists you make videos for, like JME or Wretch 32? What do they think?

T: Yeah 3 artists have contacted me Nappa, MC Ribz and Faith SFX they were saying what I’m doing is sick and they will contact me to do future songs for them.

JME - Ju Ju Man
Directed by Tenchuassassin

From Dizzee’s “Street Fighter” beat to Wiley’s “Crash Bandicoot” riddim and Bashy’s recent Superhero’s video, you can see a proximity between grime and computer games, animation and CGI but it is perhaps is tied the strongest through its audience and their shared interests outside music.

What makes Tenchuassassin and DR. SMOOV’s videos so compelling is the contrast between when the visual and audio elements converge and diverge. What grime and manga have in common is that they are both youthful and violent mediums. In these videos, lip synching and clever choice of visual themes ties the soundtrack and the visual subject matter further together. Yet in the face of these similarities are the massive differences which make for such a striking contrast. Manga and GIJoe’s cartoon textures are a million miles from the gritty photorealism of “Lord of the Decks.” And while the directors have worked hard to find synergies, in essence the heritage of US cartoons or Far Eastern manga have little in common with UK street grime. Yet though the clever editing and direction we see here, they find shared space with the end result an opportunity to expand grime’s fan base beyond its heartland.

Looking at the stats, Tenchuassassin’s view seem to recieve up to 9,000, except for “JuJu,” thanks to the endorsement of JME, who’s inclusion on his main MySpace page has pushed the views up to 44,000. It'a a size of figure that competes favorably with a monthly magazine circulation.

This success owes so much to the rise of YouTube. Just as grime can be attributed in part to the ubiquity of cracked digital music production tools (Sony Playstation Music 2000, Fruity Loops…) and the democratizing effect the ability to share them had on young garage fans circa 2001, so is it also hard to imagine these videos being popularized without the massive YouTube audience.

It can surely only be of benefit to grime artists. Ever since the birth of MTV, labels decided to see videos as a marketing expense not a primary commodity to sell (like music), and as such they bore the brunt of these costs, costs that can prove debilitating to independent acts. With a Darwinian pool of talent competing to make videos for artists for free, the survival of the fittest in the YouTube elemental pond should only serve to naturally select the best new generation of video directors. If artists see common ground with hungry new directors, they both stand to gain.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The man who cycles through glass walls part 2

In the second part of my interview with photographer Nico Hogg, the first part of which is here, Nico takes the time to talk though some of his shots...

Blackdown: The Thamesmead estate. This is the first shot of yours I ever encountered and it was my laptop desktop for some time. A black south London-born friend of mine saw it and shuddered, explaining that for someone who remembered the 80s, the Theamsmead Estate was synonemous with anti-black racism. What were you doing there at this time of the night? How long did it take?

Nico: "I think I'd been out in Central London one night and come the end I decided to jump on a night bus out here to see the place under the cover of darkness. I was amazed by the concrete madness of Thamesmead straight away - I don't think there's anywhere else in London that has that sort of urban chaos quite like this.

"One thing I learned from coming back to this place is that appearances can be deceptive; it isn't nearly as rough as first impressions give out, and there's a lot more to the Mead than just the grey estate here. It's still growing with new bits springing up every few years, and it's one of the few places a family might be able to afford to move to from inner London to raise a family – name a cultural group and they're here with their children, London's next generation.

"It's about people trying to get on with their lives to the best of their means. (And some of it is going amazingly, spectacularly wrong – blocks of flats built in New Labour's time sitting semi-derelict with weeds flourishing in pavement cracks.) The games are played out, new lines are drawn, new territories defined as the new streets arrive. It must've been the same every time a new bit of Thamesmead was built, from the sixties to today and it'll probably stay that way into the future as more of the place appears. That fascinates me, warts and all. I think perhaps this photo marked the beginning of coming to see the special in the place."

B: Becontree Heath. This is just pure light...

N: "A spot few Londoners know about, but one I felt like it was worth giving a bit of exposure."

B: Broadwater Farm Estate. This just looks epic, cinematic...

N: The other way round! A well documented place, difficult to get a shot of that could count as unusual. I was just riding through the rec on my bike when I saw the skate park flooded out and saw a rare opportunity. I wanted to try and get the tower blocks reflected in the water and it sort of worked, but I was kicking myself for leaving my tripod at home – I was balancing the camera on a bench for this.

B: South Kilburn Estate, NW6 - do you research the estates before/after you shoot them? Do you think 'estates' as a housing concept are successful?

N: "Yeah, I do a bit of research, especially if they're going to be coming down soon. I like to bring some background to the pictures, and some of these photos are already history in themselves just a few years after they were taken.

I think the view, the popular one, that dictates that estates should be pulled down, that's highly politicised. Some of these estates that are going really have failed, an entrenched rot that can't be shaken off, but sometimes I think the authorities are too quick to come to that decision to demolish, and that falls back to ideologies and agendas on their part.

I think basically speaking they work – and I like the extra layer of identity that coming from a certain estate has over, say, living in a terraced house in a street in a grid of streets.

But in a way the perception of that identity comes from the same sort of misty thought that says estates have failed, estates need to be pulled down, flamed in some sort of witch-hunt ritual. If you strip that layer of thought away, on the basis of it, people could (and can) live quite ordinary, happy lives within the estate – many do, and for them there's no reason why an estate isn't working for them. But the loudest get heard. It's about mindsets. Really though, it's hugely complicated."

B: This is North Woolwich, what can you tell me about this shot?

N: "This is one of my own favourites. You get a sense going to North Woolwich that it's a very different place to the rest of London – elements of an earlier time, shabby union jacks, graffiti that looks like it appeared in the 80s – some racist, some of it to do with class warfare. It's cut off on three sides from everything else by water, probably one of the hardest places to leave on many levels. It can feel pretty miserable."

B: Kurdish march, Stamford Hill: who and what were they marching about?

N: "They were marching for the leader of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party serving a life prison sentence in Turkey. It was a pretty major march, there were a lot of people there. That part of North London has quite a large Turkish Kurd population, and they're in strong support for his release as far as I know. But it's a seriously complicated and contentious issue along ethnic, historical and political lines, and I really don't know enough about it!"

B: Sundermead Estate, Lewisham. Do you know anything about the fire damage?

N: "I don't think there was any fire involved here. The estate was being demolished and it's normal to have hoses running in to douse the rubble as it comes down, to stop any fires breaking out."

B: Looking west. Don't you think sunsets paint a very rosy picture of London? Is it a 'true' one? What about West London, how do you feel about it? It's different to the other quarters, right? And not one you choose to shoot much...

N: "I surprise myself at how few pics I have of West London, I'm across there a lot but it feels slightly alien to me in a way I haven't got to grips with yet. London is probably as different West to East as it is North to South, but there isn't a big river cutting down from the top of the city to the bottom to define the divide in the same way that the Thames does, so there's less debate.

But still, taking a trip on the Hammersmith and City Line west from Paddington gives one of the best pictures of the city you can get. It never loses its magic for me – out alongside the Westway, over the terraces around Ladbroke Grove, between the tower blocks round Latimer Road, over Shepherds Bush Market and the cranes of the new Westfield centre, stasis and change, success and failure sitting as two sides of the same coin. But it's all the same city, good and bad and I think it deserves to look beautiful sometimes, even if it is in a cheesy sort of sunset way.

"But eh, if there's a great sunset sky there's something reassuring in knowing that, even in a divided city, there are probably thousands of people from all different walks and minds seeing and thinking something at least similar to you for a few minutes. We could do with a few more unifying moments like that. It doesn't have to be sunsets – thunderstorms, raining tea, locusts, a good riot, anything [carnival? - Blackdown]. Just no more bomb explosions on the tube."

B: Do you use reflections in your work? Is the reality of the photo inevitably much less glamorous?

N: "It is, but this one is best seen in the context of all the other photos I have of that area. I feel a sort of personal responsibility, it's home to me and I was beginning to feel at the time that I was taking a lot of photos of the place in too much of a negative light. This one seemed to make a bit of a compromise on that. The opportunity was there and I jumped at it."

Read the first part of the interview here. The next parts of this interview will follow on soon...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Beak tuff

zomby's parrot, Rebel

The Zomby parrot quiz

Blackdown: I hear you're a parrot fan and owner, what kind of feathered friend do you have and what is his name?

Zomby: yeah he’s called rebel after rebel mc, he’s a Senegalese, I’ll buy a Congo African grey soon and call him Natty.

B: What is keeping a parrot like?

Z: Pretty fair-to-chillin, they demand a lot of attention and I mean you have to feed them and clean them out and tolerate being shit on and stuff but really it’s bless, like having a monkey with wings.

B: I love how you describe him just pottering around your house, twittering to himself. What kinds of noises do they make and which is your favourite?

Z: There’s various parrot noises as stock but then also like dub siren whistles and space fx twitters, he growls too if you vex him, my fave is the wonky shangooli lead he whistles.

B: What roughly different kinds of parrots are there and how are they different?

Z: There’s a few you know, hyacinth macaws are probably top of the tree for brains and size, they look pretty fucking rad, Congo African greys are good too, they’re bright and talk a lot, the Macaws are generally pretty arsey but they’re good fun too, and the Senegal which is like the Marmoset of the parrot world I suppose.

B: Parrots are reportedly very intelligent, have you seen this in action? Which type is smartest?

Z: The Hyacinth Macaw are the smartest. They’re fully switched on, but the average parrot isn’t a fool, mine seems fairly busy a lot of the time,

B: Parrots are reportedly emotional, have you seen this in action?

Z: Yeah kinda, he’ll get excited if your excited, like if I see a record on Discogs cheap and I’m buzzing, he’ll sqwawk with enthusiasm for the bargain.

B: What do you think Rebel thinks about mostly?

Z: Getting it on with Rihanna's parrot.

B: How does Rebel feel about your aquabases/aquacrunk/w**ky?

Z: He’s kinda into it I think, I mean he’s comfy enough to sit on me and crap while I’m playing synths... maybe he’s not feeling it actually.

B: How does Rebel feel about the Rebel MC?

Z: Yeah he’s a big fan you know. I know he likes a tune cuz he’s quiet as it plays. Otherwise he’s sqwaking in disapproval.

B: How does Rebel feel about YouTube?

Z: It’s a lot for him, he’s feeling a few vids. Lots of old skool and jungle mostly of course.

Zomby's top three parrot YouTube videos:

1. Einstein
2. Python
3. Kaja

Margins Music makes Observer albums of the year

"Margins Music" has made The Observer 50 albums of the year. We're officially bigger than Guns & Roses!

Shout to Emma Warren, without who's advocacy, this would never have happened. Shout to Charles/Nomad too.

UPDATE: We made The Wire top 20 of 2008. Rah.

Also look out for "The Bits ft Trim" on Rough Trade Shops's compilation "Counter Culture 08" out in Feb.

UPDATE 2.0: Out to Dusted Magazine, who put our album in their list not just once (in the top ten) but twice.

UPDATE 3.0: Out to Simon Reynolds, who puts our album in his top 16!!!

UPDATE 4.0: Time Out Chicago put "Margins Music" in their top 10 Dance/Electronic albums of the year. It's an album about London, Time Out London where are you?! Par.

UPDATE 5.0: It's made Melissa Bradshaw and Jonny Mugwump end of year round ups too.
As well as Boomkat's top 100, Starkey and T++'s top 10.

UPDATE 6.0 It's South Africa's The Weekender's album of the year.

Woofah 3

Woofah 3 cover

Woofah magazine volume 3 is out now. Out to John Eden, Grievous Angel and everyone else who put in the hard slog.

If you're able to ignore the inane waffling by me and Dusk, you'll find great features on Soulja and the Bomb Squad by Mel plus Flowdan, 2562, UK Dub and of course, my personal favourite, the Badman Commandments.

Badman nah miss nah copy of Woofah. Seen?