Blackdown: OK so to start off, I'd like to go back to the origins of how you found your sound, this dark rolling flex. Can you tell me how you got to that?
Beneath: It was getting into Funky I think. I was making tracks before around 134ish and that, trying to make dubstep really. But then when I got into funky properly I sort of saw it as a template for what I wanted to do. Which is something dark and UK.
Blackdown: Why do you like dark as a musical flavour?
Beneath: It just suits me, the kind of person I am I guess. It's a good soundtrack for thinking about things. I used to walk round my estate at night smoking spliffs listening to Youngsta sets from '04-05 and I'd just think about loads of shit. The kind of stuff that you start to think about as you become an adult. Worries, paranoia, questions.
Blackdown: Let me flip the question: fundamentally, why don't you make gloriously colourful, happy, euphoric music?
Beneath: Cus I'm not a happy person? I dunno I guess some people make that kind of music to express themselves and make themselves happy but I just bury myself in this dark kinda vibe, its the only thing I know really. The way I see the world is pretty dark, I mean look at the world today, its fucked. I think of happy europhic music as being quite escapist as well but with darker stuff I feel like its more about facing your fears, sort of, you know what I mean?
Blackdown: Totally. My take on the appeal of darkness in music is that there's a reality to it. Years ago, a friend of mine described what it was like becoming depressed. She said she'd fall through this state from being optimistic to where suddenly she'd see things as they really are. The problem with full depression of course was that she'd then fall too far and be unable to see anything but the worst in everything nor be able to come back.
To me I think I relate to darkness in music as it has an honesty to it, that things aren't relentlessly upbeat or positive and people who act like that seem delusional. So it's not that the music is depressed or negative, but it's honest and real and as a life choice I'd rather know the truth than be deluded but "happy".
Beneath: Yeah exactly man. Like when I was listening to those Youngsta sets I was maturing as a person, seeing the world through a new perspective and the music fit so well with what I was thinking about. It made me happy listening to it because I understood what they were saying, the producers that is.
Blackdown: Happy is a funny word in that context though right? funny/strange not funny/haha.
Beneath: Yeah I guess so.
Blackdown: So you said "dark and UK", what is it about being UK that's important to you too?
Beneath: Well before I was into the UK stuff, jungle, d&b, dubstep etc, I was into like house and techno but it was pretty bait stuff to be honest but when I got into the UK stuff it just related to me so much more cus it was coming from where I was from, it resonated with me more. And whats the point trying to sound like your from Detroit or Berlin or somewhere else if your from the UK, thats just bait. We have a great history of music in this country, I wanted to add to it.
Blackdown: What I think's interesting is the issue of music from your local tradition being something you more strongly relate to, as if it taps into something more fundamental in you than something, say, from further away... does that make sense?
Beneath: Yeah definitely. All the music that I was listening to before wasn't really making me feel or think anything that strongly but the UK stuff just tapped into something in me
Blackdown: Did you feel you were part of something broader or going your own way, when your mentality changed to knowing where you were going..?
Beneath: Well I was listening to people's music and watching there movement/scene whatever you wanna call it but I wasn't really part of it personally but on a broader scale I probably felt I was part of something because I understood their music and what they were saying and how they felt.
Blackdown: It's a funny balance though, right? Because on one hand you talk about being part of a broader tradition (UK), on the other you found your own way, your own path, during periods of essentially solitude (walking round the estate.
Beneath: Yeah I've never really noticed it though. I just thought maybe if I can do something in a similar vein maybe I can become part of something or make my own thing.
Blackdown: For the record I don't think this is a binary, either collective or solo, scenius or genius, I think it's both - and stronger for it - though people differ on where they fit on the scale. Some artists argue that they work alone and their ideas come from their own personal source of talent, in isolation: they are a genius. Whereas people (Eno and more recently Simon Reynolds) argue for "scenius" within dance music scenes that there's a collective exchange of ideas, that they come from a pool & community of people who bounce off each other.
Beneath: I think your right it's both. Although I don't really feel like a belong to a scene I've taken a lot of inspiration from what other people have done or doing but I haven't tried to replicate them exactly, I've tried to do something different.
Blackdown: Let me ask about another binary: the past/present. One of the things I love about your music is the sense of rhythm & the focus on interesting percussion and I see such a strong contrast between it and so many flavours right now. With the exception of maybe juke, many current popular or emerging styles (brostep, dungeon halfstep, tech house, minimal, trap, grime, road rap, jackin' etc) don't prioritise interesting percussion. OK yeah so you could find the odd exception in each of those scenes but generally the drum patterns are not the focus, rhythmic simplicity is more important as they foreground other elements. But your sound is different and seems to draw from older ideas, maybe from ones that are obscured to people if they only consume current music..
Beneath: I dunno, I just like drums. I love jungle, I love funky. Both have great drums. Yeah, drums are an important thing to me. That's what I loved about funky so much coming directly from a long period of listening to dubstep, the halfstep stuff anyway. When I got into funky I got more into the earlier dubstep/dark garage stuff as well
Blackdown: The roots of dubstep stuff?
Beneath: Yeah. All the early stuff that had more percussion in, I'd heard it before but I started to appreciate it more after funky.
Blackdown: Do you think good drums are a dying art?
Beneath: Nah not really but there might not be as much as emphasis on "different" drums at the moment
Blackdown: Right. So, who are your all time drum programming heroes and why?
Beneath: Erm, Source Direct. Sometimes in their tracks that rhythms are hard to get into but when you do they are fuckin' amazing and they jus roll oooouuuuuttt.
Blackdown: Hahah I always was a Photek man m'self...
Beneath: Similar vein tho. All the DMZ crew, maybe less Coki but Mala and Loefah, "Jungle Infiltrator," "Indian Dub," "Conference," "B", "Chaniba," "New Life" etc. Even the halfstep stuff; Loefah "Midnight", everything is so rigid but it still has a sick groove. The hats are amazing in "Midnight." The drums in "Conference" are uplifting to me, bare hyperactive and meditative at the same time.
Blackdown: That's quite a pair of differing emotions to achieve!
Beneath: Also with Mala tracks it can take you ages to actually hear all of what the drums are doing, he brings stuff in and out all the time, it's so free. Cooly G: she's my favourite drum programmer from the funky end of things, really raw, tough, hard but lots of groove.
Beneath: Ricardo Villalobos: not always but when he gets all funky and weird he's next level. Even the simple stuff is good to be honest.
Beneath: Amazing really. Danny Native. I think I prefer him over Cooly really, both different sounds tho, but he has amazing drums.
Blackdown: Danny's drums are great but his arrangements need to develop more for me. We've been battering "Allwhere" recently though. Amazing, sour and rolling with an awesome set of vocal samples.
Beneath: Yeah they could do with more development, they are great for mixing with though. I could go on for ages.
Blackdown: Five more?
Beneath: Well there's Shackleton, I haven't listened to alot of his stuff to be honest apart from a few Skull Disco bits and the new thing he did but yeah his drums are next level, I don't listen to alot of his stuff 'cus Im scared of it, it's too good to listen to you know what I mean; makes you realise how far you away you are from reaching his kinda level. Gotta say El-B 'cus before I got the roots of El-B, garage and swing was lost on me and that was a revelation listening to him. Proper club drums, but not bait club drums.
Beneath: El-P: but that might be just his tracks in general, he has really weird off drums tho but somehow retain a groove.
Blackdown: That's interesting, since I'm not sure i've heard you talk about hip hop much before...
Beneath: I love hip hop, I'm just picky about what I listen too, like most things and its only recently that I've got back into it through being obsessed with Company Flow/Cannibal Ox. I know the drums aren't off in this one but I do love El-P's drums, sounds like Loefah to me.
Beneath: I think it might be just hip hop drums in general, when done well anyway and he's my favourite producer from that scene.
Blackdown: So you know around the time of "Horror Show" i.e. Loefah coming up with halfstep, he was sharing studio space with Spacek/Morgan Zarate. I always felt there might have been some kind of imbibing of that hip hop vibe from that proximity.
Beneath: Yeah there probably was… Theo Parrish. The release he did last year or early this year called "Shut the Fuck Up." Drums are sick.
Beneath: And the fact that you know he's mixing it all down live, just jamming at his desk, bringing the drums in out, changing up the processing, make me appreciate them ever more.
Blackdown: So, do you think of yourself as a perfectionist? I sense a level of standards from you, or concern around sonic standards, that's rare in people relatively early in their production career.
Beneath: Yeah definitely. I want to be the best at what I do and I always try and do things to the highest standard that I possibly can. I'm not ultra critical of other peoples stuff though like I am my own.
Blackdown: You reserve the biggest criticism for yourself and your productions?
Beneath: Yeah but I do that for everything I do. All the work that I did at uni I was like "thats shit" cus I was comparing it to other works of a really high standard made by professionals. So when I'm trying to mix stuff down I'm comparing it to producers who have really good mixdowns but I'm obviously a long way of those kinda standards I think
Blackdown: The concern I have is, while I'm all up for agonising about mixdowns - and me and Dusk do it a lot too - there is a stage you can go beyond that where you edge into paralysis and all you hear is the mixdowns not the emotion the music is trying to evoke. I'm just hoping you never get there!
Beneath: I'm like that now with some tracks to be honest. I just get sick of them though and scrap them.
Blackdown: Be careful!
Beneath: Yeah I know the dangers but I cant help myself
Blackdown: Futility! OK, lets take a different line: how do film and music interact for you?
Beneath: Good one. I never really thought about it before how they interact for me personally. I remember the music bits were my favourite parts or at least the ones that I would remember the most when I was younger but even when I studied film at college and uni, music didn't really interest me that much, I was more interested in sound in general; music can be a bit bait in films I think. For my final work in my degree I designed the sound for two films but I didn't use any music in either of them cus I thought it was a bit obvious.
The films could have had music in them but worked a lot better without any music. I hate music when it's not needed in films, like it's just been put there to help the viewer feel what they are supposed to feel. I guess the film I worked on were pretty empty though in their feeling, they weren't exactly happy films, so the exclusion of music helped to emphasis that sense of loss and confusion that they were trying to convey. They have a lot of similarities though in their form and function. Like how they are structured, what they leave out and what they pull apart. Writing a film and writing a song are similar I guess. You have different sections and you can manipulate each section to take the listener/viewer where you want to take them.
Blackdown: What films have especially good soundtracks for you and what is it about the soundtrack that is so effective?
Beneath: Well I think David Lynch's films always have great soundtracks but not for the musical moments where a track is played, I cant really remember any moments like that to be honest, its more for the overall vibe he creates through sound. He uses a lot of low frequencies in his soundtracks, just rumbles and stuff; a lot of eerie sounds. Yeah his films are eerie themselves but I love how it sort of sounds like there is nothing to it when there is, you really need to watch them in a cinema where you can feel it rather than hear it. It's like the big sound system, dark room club thing. Darkness and low frequencies, the womb and all that.
Taxi Driver for the parts where the taxi is gliding through the street of New York at night and you have got those big cascading sort of drums and that soothing saxophone of whatever it is. I cant remember any other musical moments in that film apart from that, those images and sounds are so strong they have written over everything else in my head about that film.
Clockwork Orange is pretty fucking amazing as well for its sounds. I think Delia Derbyshire or Daphne Oram did some sound design for that or something but yeah. It mixes up alien sounds with like classical music, they blew my head when I watched it the first time. Film and music really interest me when there is a strong juxtaposition between the image and the sound, when it makes you think. To be honest I cant really call of the top of my head that many cus I think music and film isn't that important to me. Yes when its done right it can take moments and images in films to new levels but a lot of the time music doesn't work for me in films. Its information that I don't need. You'd think I'd know where I'd stand on it after years of studying it but I don't.
Blackdown: You say "I think music and film isn't that important to me" but your sound is cinematic in a way: stripped back, spacious...
Beneath: I think those sort of influences come from the part of UK music though rather than films.
Blackdown: Ah OK, despite your degree?
Beneath: Yeah, I mean a lot of stuff that I learnt on my degree was more theoretical I guess, like when I make sound design for a film, I'm influenced by certain music, not from films but like Source Direct. Obviously it depends on the film
Blackdown: Can you tell me about you slowing the bpms down, from 126 to the 110bpms, as your newer unreleased material has, and why you feel the urge to head down there and I guess by implication, where do you see your sound going now?
Beneath: I ain't gone as low as 110 yet, well I've done a few things but Im mainly finding that tempo interesting cus theres more room for experiments cus generally there ain't alot of music being made at them slower tempos on a darker kind of vibe.
Blackdown: Is it important to you to have your music somewhat isolated from others?
Beneath: Yeah was just about to say I kind of feel the need to move away from the 130bpm thing cus its a thing already. I'm not looking to create a thing or anything tho but I just felt a bit more comfortable making stuff at that slower tempo at the beginning of this year.
Blackdown: Your music has a huge emphasis on drums. At what point, when you drop the bpm, does the sense of momentum or energy implode?
Beneath: It doesn't, I think. It can but its just like any other tempo, you can make stuff sound fast or slow. Remember "Internal," I think thats like 116bpm but to me there's more energy in that than the 5 snare funky thing I've been making at 130bpm.
Blackdown: So it's about drum density rather than tempo?
Beneath: Yeah exactly. I think another thing about moving down tempo is that less people are likely to play it cus there ain't as much variety of music at that tempo. I suppose that can be seen as backing yourself into a corner though but at the same time it gives you room to breathe I think. I'm all about pushing new stuff anyway so if I've got people making new music at that tempo I'm sound.
Blackdown: You say "less people are likely to play it" - does that appeal to you? Many producers, who crave attention or recognition, would find that an alien position to take.
Beneath: Maybe yeah. I keep saying to myself when Im writing stuff, this definitely ain't career music.
Blackdown: Maybe or definitely?
Beneath: Well yeah it does appeal to me that less people are likely to play it 'cus then I can just play it myself. Or maybe a few others who are on the same tip.
Blackdown: The glorious thing I've noticed over time is that the more people want to make music to be accepted the less it often means or stands out, whereas those who go their own way regardless of what people think - people see that for what it is and believe in it. That's how I've felt about artists I believed in anyway
Beneath: Which artists?
Blackdown: Oh just the ones I've banged on as my musical heroes for ages: El-B, Kode9, Mala, Burial etc
Beneath: Yeah all legends.
Blackdown: Sure, but I guess they share the trait that they went their own way. And that can mean a lifetime of obscurity, or sometimes, paradoxically, the opposite happens.
Beneath: Just noticed that the people you just mentioned are all apart of one thing though really
Blackdown: Well how about Wiley too or even the experimental jazz guys from the Impulse Records era like Coltrane in the early '60s.
Beneath: Did they do it consciously though or just naturally?
Blackdown: It's a good question, probably hard to generalise but I do suspect built into those who wish to innovate is the urge to find clear water between themselves and others, no?
Beneath: Yeah I think so. Dont you think that kind of thing with Keysound?
Blackdown: Yes, increasingly I think keysound is isolated but I don't seek it out overtly - whereas I think some label owners like say Kode9 do - but now it's happened I've come to see it as an opportunity.
Beneath: How did it happen with Keysound then?
Blackdown: Well… I'm a stubborn fucker, I know what I believe in and feel strongly and if fashions change and people go another way and I try that and really don't connect with it, then… I don't care - I will go our way anyway, rather than seek validation from others or follow fashion.
Beneath: Is that why you're not releasing house/techno stuff lol?
Blackdown: YES. Unless it's got some dark rawness and the beat is corrupted and funky i.e. you or Kowton, but Joe's even stuff wasn't straight techno to be honest, it had that dread. He too was massively into early Youngsta - that's how I first got to know him, he was sending me his dark halfstep dubstep as Narcissist, back in like 2005.
Beneath: It was interesting what you and Pinch were talking about on that Fact interview. I can't decide who I agree with.
Blackdown: Which bit?
Beneath: "tempo or mood"
Blackdown: yeah I want various moods within the same tempo/genres, diversity within a coherent community but not chaos.
Beneath: What would be chaos?
Blackdown: "Eclectic" DJing? Randomised selections? 1. UKG track -> 2. random d&b; 3. r&b -> 4. funk etc. It'd be jarring.
Beneath: yeah that is all over the place...