Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Pitchfork June + Untold interview
My new Pitchfork column featuring Untold, Silencer and the rise of grime producer mixtapes is here. Below, the full interview with Untold...
Blackdown: When did you start producing and why?
Untold: I got my first sampler and keyboard in 1993. I’d bought some cheap decks a few months previously and was deep in the dark jungle sound emerging out of hardcore. It was a mad year. I went from listening to pirate radio and tapes clueless as to how the tunes were created or mixed to discovering raves, buying tunes and learning to beatmatch and string sets together on these belt drive decks.
I played all these amen jungle tunes on 33rpm just so I could hear what was going on with the beats. I remember being so blown away by all those pitch shifted, timestretched and reversed drum edits on the early Reinforced and Moving Shadow releases I just desperately needed to clock how they were created. It was never about getting tunes out on vinyl, just being able to make those mashed up beats.
I’d love to be able to listen to those tape packs again with the same naivety, appreciate them as a half hour slab of sound… unaware of different tunes being blended, hearing those classic breakbeat samples just as futuristic rhythmic noise.
B: Interesting that you've been producing since 1993, did you have any relases in the 90s or were you just mastering your craft?
U: It took years to produce anything listenable, by which time jungle and its production values had moved on. I sent a few demos off but nothing got picked up. I quit producing for a few years until I found Dubstep Allstars vol.1 which was the inspiration to make music again.
B: People as diverse as Loefah and K Punk cite early Reinforced as seminal, do you think you the rhythmic chaos of those "mashed up beats" can be sensibly incorporated into dubstep without becoming incoherantly chaotic? Where do you draw the line between dense arrangement variations and chaos?
U: There’s room for it, as long as it doesn’t sound too self indulgent or nostalgic. Variation in rhythm and texture can only be a good thing. Lets not all use the same drum kit just because it hits hard in a club.
For me beats need to keep a consistent tempo and be arranged into mixable structures. I only use one palette of drum sounds in a tune, but that palette might have lots of subtle variations. Those are the only rules I set when I’m writing, but that said I’m making tunes to be played in clubs - its design not art.
A lot of the complexity in those early jungle records was born out of restriction. You could only fit 11 seconds of samples in the sampler, but you could pitch them, stretch and reverse them without using up extra memory. Artists were forced to push their equipment to get a unique sound. Studio technology seems to have made dance music more uniform and refined. I’d almost have expected these unlimited resources available for producers to have the opposite effect.
B: So what is your involvement with Hessle? How did you get to know them?
U: They put out my first record. Hopefully they’ll continue releasing some of my music and we’ll play at more events under the label brand. The odd tune like Pangaea’s remix of my recent Hessle release “I can’t stop this feeling” might end up on (my label) Hemlock.
We got in contact in early 2007. Around that time I was close to finding a sound I was comfortable with so I sent over some beats for their Sub FM show. I always liked the variety in those sessions, the way they effortlessly mixed up old and new styles, going from 4/4 into breaks into halfstep.
They gave good feedback on my early beats and started dropping them on a few shows. I made “Kingdom” around the time of TRG’s Hessle 001 release and they were feeling it, so it seemed like an ideal label to debut on.
B: When and why did you start Hemlock? What is the vision for it?
U: Hemlock is about connecting various musical styles using “dubstep” for glue.
I formed the label in 2008 with a mate who I used to work with. We were pretty sure we could create something with character that would be fun to develop, something that served as a platform for my quirkier stuff as well as introducing other new producers.
It allowed some valuable freedom to experiment with the next couple of releases following my Hessle debut. It’s also nice to be able to say to a debut artist “We’d like to put out (that tune), and for the flipside just go all out, write something with balls, don’t feel constrained or worry if it sounds like dubstep – just make sure people can mix it.”
Sometimes I’ll be working on a beat that’s got something unique lurking in it, but I haven’t a clue whether it will work in a club, whether people will pick up on it, whether it’ll get supported. If the tune is still saying something the next day then it’s a nice buzz knowing you can have it in the shops within six weeks. If it doesn’t sell then it’s back to the drawing board – it will have been worth taking a punt. We try to sign up what we can manage; only planning a couple of releases ahead. That helps to keep things fresh and allows for nice surprises like the Fantastic Mr Fox tunes landing in our inbox and being able to get them out there straight away.
B: You say "valuable freedom to experiment". Is there enough of this about at the moment? How do you musically create this space for yourself?
U: As the scene grows there seems to be these perceptions creeping in on what dubstep does and doesn’t sound like. In reality I think people will dance and get into much more diverse sets than a lot of djs are playing. Similarly. Label owners are willing release music that sounds unique – its just they’re not being sent enough of it.
A lot of the stuff I’m getting from new producers is beginning to sound the same, its dubstep referencing dubstep. This is one of the most inclusive and undefined scenes to surface in the last decade. The interesting stuff is coming from producers exploiting the grey areas, building tunes that are dubstep by accident.
B: Where are you trying to take your sound?
U: I’m exploring as many influences as possible, trying not to get too comfortable with a particular arrangement style or set of sounds. I was listening almost exclusively to jungle and D&B until dubstep came along so I’m new to a lot of the influences that are going in my tunes. I’ll binge for a few days on a few artists who I’ve recently discovered, write a couple of tunes vibing off them and quickly move on.
At the moment I’m into clashing two or more musical clichés but from contrasting styles, for instance playing a classic deep house stab over a jungle sounding pad and putting them on a beat that’s got some dancehall in there. The tunes I’m most proud of are the mongrels bred from lots of different styles. There’s bound to be some car crashes along the way but hopefully I’ll be able to spot them and stop them being inflicted on people.
B: You said: "I’m new to a lot of the influences that are going in my tunes. I’ll binge for a few days on a few artists who I’ve recently discovered". Simon Reynolds recently expressed the sentiment that access to too much music was making musicians 'gutted.' - where do you stand on the current availablily of music and how it affects musical creativity?
U: The trick is not to download it all just because it’s easy, not to choke yourself. I prefer buying music as a physical product because I find I’ll build more of an emotional attachment to it and have a greater attention span when I’m listening.
I actually love the fact that all this obscure music has been archived and is instantly available, and there are tools like Spotify and Youtube where you can “channel hop” absorbing really short bursts of unknown artists and genres. I think that’s a really powerful creative resource.
B: How do you feel about dubstep in 2009?
U: 2009 has been a vintage year so far. Yes there are plenty of tunes adhering to strict formulae catering solely for the raves, there’s lots of so called “deep” tunes that are utterly dull and polite. Get past these and you have a vast no-mans-land of experimentation and development. I’ve heard loads tunes with depth and attitude this year, lots of mutant stuff where tempo is the only reference point. It’s a very liberating and rewarding time to be making music.
B: What's inspiring you most right now?
U: Aside from the general sense of freedom just mentioned, probably hearing how funky is growing and reacting to new input - I’m loving the new Roska bits that are really Detroit sounding. I’m working through the catalogues of Moodyman, Theo Parrish and Omar S. Mount Kimbie are doing lots, still making epic reflective music but the new gear I’ve heard has got some rough beats and subs under it as well,
Tracks like 'anaconda' and 'stop what you're doing' seem to be re-wiring dubstep in the grand tradition of people like kode9, mala and loefah. How did they come about and what was your intention with them?
I was going through of some of the old eskibeat instrumentals, and loving how some of them sacked off the kick drum and were driven by a deep percussive stab that also took care of the bassline. That also reminded me of a few dancehall riddims like “Diwali” where the kick is tonal. “Anaconda” and “Stop” are just me messing about with that technique and sticking different influences over the top. I wanted the individual sounds and mix to be very dry, almost plastic sounding like they could have been made on a Playstation or Casio keyboard.
B: You mentioned one of your tunes might get vocalled by a grime MC. how do you feel about grime?
U: I can’t really comment – I’m only just starting to work through the 2005 stuff upwards but I like a lot of what I’m hearing. I don’t really have a clue what the sound is about or who’s on it at the moment. If anything I’ll just use the outsider aspect to come up with a couple of things that hopefully sound fresh, that aren’t too retrospective, bringing something that people might want to go over. I don’t see myself writing beats for vocals on the regular, instrumentals need to have real clarity; most of my tunes have too many tractions.