Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pure rollage

A few months ago I interviewed Grievous Angel for use in my Pitchfork column. Now the dust has settled on that, I wanted to publish the whole piece. It’s a little rambling but contains enthusiasm and discussion on so much of what interests me, Grievous and much of the Woofah magazine audience, that it seemed a waste to leave it on my hard drive.

Most of all though, you should check his mixes. Seriously, he’s not fucking about.

Blackdown: So since it’s out now, tell me about the album “Belief is the Enemy,” what was the plan?

Grievous Angel: The idea for the album started back in 2002 / 2003 when UK garage, which I had absolutely adored, had fairly abruptly run out of steam and morphed, as we all know into grime. Back then I had two big desires. I wanted to keep as much of the garage swing alive as I possibly could, and I wanted to do music that had the potential to be banging, yet rooted in dancehall. I became obsessed with the idea of ragga techno - music that wasn't techno and wasn't ragga, but which had the propulsion and force of techno, combined with the beats, flavour and MCing of ragga. As it turned out, a lot of other people were going in the same direction, though they were less acidic and more subby. So the plan was: dub-rooted dance music, garage swing, with scope for MCs, as well as scope for some noise, and for different BPMs. I just about made it.

If I'd have had the skills, I would have made a garage album, pure and simple. But UKG is surprisingly hard to do well. The UK still has unfinished business with garage, as the recent resurgence of 2step within dubstep and even in grime here and there demonstrates. It's probably fortunate that I didn't do a pure garage album; I wouldn't have done the bashy stuff or the straight ahead dubstep stuff if I'd have focused purely on 2step.

Conceptually, I'd always wanted to do an album called "Belief is the Enemy". It's one of those aphorisms that's a little logic bomb. Belief is one of the paradoxes that our lives revolve around. Because whatever you believe about the world, conditions how you see the world; reality tunnels are inescapable, and all reality tunnels are limited. So all beliefs, all world views, are a prison.

Yet at the same time, belief is essential. You need a reality tunnel to function. You need - humans need, really viscerally desire and want and require - a sense of the world and their place in it. It's a classic catch 22. So the anger in the phrase "belief is the enemy" is directed at rigid belief systems - belief systems that will not submit themselves to critique, that enforce themselves by fear. Belief systems of that nature are a genuine violence against humanity and really are the enemy. Or an enemy, at least. But a faith in the self is precious. That's why I called the second CD “Believe In Dub.” Because dub really is something you can believe in. You can believe in the space.

These ideas are rooted in the music on the album. On the one hand, some of these are fairly "tracky" tunes; that was deliberate, because "tracky" music has a tendency to be much more satisfying than stuff with very evolved musical themes. On the other hand, these tunes are usually about something. Gone and Long Gone Dub are clearly about both loss and space - about grief, and the consolation of emptiness. My father died ten years ago and a lot of that sense of tender loss had to come through in the music. Stuff like “Move Down Low” is a counterpoint to that; that's a straight-ahead fuck tune. Don't you think there is a terrible dearth of sexiness in dubstep? I sometimes think that the dubstep scene is so stoned it can't have sex. Garage never had that problem.

B: totally, the entire masculine/feminine balance has been totally skewed in favour of sexless wobble-riff-metal, hence why I've been working with Farrah, making 2step again, naming tunes “Feminine Pressure...”

GA: I think that using quotes from Simon Reynolds as track titles is a delightful way forward! Perhaps we should do a tune called zone of pointless intensity. It would be a bit prog.

B: It’s from Kpunk but anyway…

GA: But the thing that always really impressed me about dubstep was how its focus on sub and its deliberately slowness or rather its skewed sense of speed actually makes it not just very female music, but very maternal music. The sense of the archetypal "cosmic mother" embedded in this sound that evokes the womb, and elicits a sense of transcendent compassion. That is what DMZ is all about. More than that, I would say that it is menstrual music; music whose rhythm interlocks with a profoundly human sense of organic growth, decay and rebirth. I've got a half-finished tune called “Music for Menstrual Boys” that's going along those lines. It's very Coil-like. If it's Mark then we'd have to do something along the lines of "Niceness Sucks!"

One of the two most gratifying things anyone has said about my music, is that my tunes are the ones they play when they want to get the girls dancing. Tim Dub Boy said that and it really put a smile on my face. Dubstep is woman-friendly in terms of attitude, in terms of bass, and in terms of the key players in the scene, the structure of the scene. Let’s not lose that please! Speaking of whom, have you checked out Vaccine's new stuff? It's extraordinary.

But what has amazed me is how dubstep has been able to regenerate and extend itself. I have this sense that dubstep has all the potential of dance music contained within it, but filtered through a post-garage rhythmic template with a focus on sub. Within that you can have anything. Halfstep was just the first big innovation. When you look back it was actually quite surprising how fast a 4x4 form took hold. So you've got that, in both its techno and house forms. And you've got break-y stuff, both subtle rollers and coked out nastiness. You've got sweet sexy garagey stuff (D1 etc), you've got African and Indian inspired stuff (Dusk & Blackdown leading the way there!). It's all there. But it's all dubstep. It's incredibly diverse and stimulating. The one thing that is missing - I think - other than in some of the Various Productions stuff is a folky slant. That's something I'm trying to get my head round. I've been doing some dub poetry stuff with a poetess from Sheffield and it would work really well with sub at the bottom and acoustic drones and strings over the top. I haven't hit the spot yet.

B: Hmm, tbh sometimes I honest I don’t share your enthusiasm. What you describe is it's potential, not the reality, if you look at the genre’s output as a whole right now...

GA: Oh, I think there is huge variety out there already, with scope to grow. And there is a space even for the mid-rangey stuff. I like quite a lot of it even if I wouldn't play it out. I see it as dubstep's ardkore - an inheritance from The Prodigy. A record like “Well Ard” or “Africa” is so funky, so dayglo, I love it. What I don't like is stuff that forgets that dubstep comes from garage, and it comes from jungle, rather than modern-era d'n'b, and that its roots are shared with grime. There's revisionism going on already, Some people say it comes from techno! Now I like techno, and I'm involved in a techno label (Dust Science), and dubstep has a techno current in it - but it ain't FROM techno. These are the kinds of people who turn their noses up at garage and don't like female vocals.

B: well, to say it all comes from one thing is a clumsy reduction, surely...

GA: Well, it comes from garage, but that means it comes from a hybrid, from a vast melange of influences. Garage was post-jungle, and therefore post reggae, but also garage was from r'n'b - many of the producers came up working in r'n'b. So going forward, the key to me is how to combine that garage swing.

In r'n'b studios and a lot of garage beats are r'n'b beats speeded up. Plus there was a huge hip hop influence, there was house and US garage. The history is important. But again, it's not as important as where it's going. For me, the key to me is how to combine that garage swing with a bit of dubstep sludge - and some vocal pressure.

That's the point of the Devotional Dubz series. To make records with all of the transcendent, meditational glory of dubstep, yet with the sweetness and dirt and sexiness of r'n'b. The plan is to do three records, all r'n'b refixes, with a dubstep side and a garage side. Each release gets its own little mix that provides a context for it. “Lady Dub” is the first - it's coming out in the next week or two. I think I might have the next one 80% of the way there. It's pure rollage - pure garage, just drums and bass and a snatch of vocal, very tracky. I might have to make it even simpler though.

B: I'm with you 100% musically as you know, but a garage was a movement as much as a sound, can making revival 2step ever recreate both aspects? I ask this myself too…

GA: Yes, this is exactly the issue. We do not want another northern soul. This is why I say that the UK has unfinished business with garage. For a start, historically, 2step got locked off when the police decided to tackle the symptom and not the problem. Overnight - almost literally - venues were told not to put on garage raves. (One of the glories of dubstep is that it found a way under the radar, which is immensely difficult.) So I believe that garage swing, with sinuosly funky beats that command dancers of all genders to move on the floor, has got a long way to go before its creative potential is exhausted. But a revival is anathema. We cannot recreeate 1999.

I was there, and I actually don't want to recreate it. There are new moves to be made and new grooves to be crafted. Musically, we should be following the inspiration of OneMan's DJ sets. His combination of current dubstep with both the dark and light versions if UK Garage creates a remarkably fresh-sounding sonic hybrid. And as ever in dance music, to go forward often requires reaching back further - in my case to Tackhead and Renegade Soundwave, and to Bandulu, as well as to UK Fast Chat. Which is what the garagistes of 1999 were doing - reaching back to UK and US house, r'n'b, reggae and remaking it with new drum patterns.

So if we look at what you and Dusk are doing, on your album you've reached out and sideways to all kinds of urban London music and made something completely new - yet it's completely dubstep. Doing high stepping versions of those tunes with garage-influenced beats is likely to create something very powerful and quite different from the album. Similarly, you can see the techno-and house-influenced gear - which is really doing it for me at the moment - from people like Martyn, 2562 and in particular Ramadanman as being as much about a new template for garage as it is about bringing in a techno influence. In fact I'd argue that with a tune like “Carla” the influence is going to go the other way - it's a rough, fast garage / dubstep tune that shows the house and techno guys how they should be doing things. Same for 2562's Techno Dread - it's techy, no doubt about that, but it's a heavier version of broken beat, and that massive bassline is pure garage. Then you've got people like Narcossist whose tunes are just evil and the beats are like two hits away from being straight up 2step. As ever, Mala is the teacher (I just wish he had time to put more records out!). The “Blue Notez /Left Leg Out” 12” and the Alicia refix show exactly how to remake garage.

B: So tell me more about the plan behind Devotional Dubs?

GA: It's all a bit weird and there's a limit to what I can talk about publically (!). It started with dubstep sufferah 3 and DJ Premier. I mixed in a Premier cut with an early version of Loefah's “Natural Charge,” partly because “Natural Charge” is so minimal and is a good basis for mixing in other more vocal stuff and partly because I think Loefah is Premo's true successor in terms of super-deep, in-the-pocket beat-making. So that went well and I started searching out more DJ Premier beats - sadly although I really like him I don't have much of his stuff. I found a remix he'd done of an r'n'b track - which is an exciting proposition right there - and it turned out it was of D'Angelo's “Lady,” and D'Angelo's stuff has always been a big turn on for me. I just got obsessed with this tune - I was listening to it over and over. As in, I was listening to this one track and nothing else for literally days on end. That beat, those vocals, it was just captivating. It became a really iconic piece of music for me.

So I started thinking, this isn't a random tune, this is something I really need to work my way into. So I slowed it down to 70BPM and just started playing with it. There was this one night I was in the studio and I loaded Premo's Lady remix into Live, locked it up with Reason and things just flowed straight away. I'll never forget that night - my studio is on the third floor of the house, we're on the edge of Sheffield and I have this view that goes right down a valley heading off into the peak district, and it was a full moon - huge, gibbous moon hanging over me. I switched off all the lights and just played with beats and bass while different loops of Lady went round, and I was bathed in this amazing lunar glow that seemed to actually come through the music. I worked through the night in this weird semi-psychedelic state and by around 3AM I had the basic structure there.

I worked on that beat for the next month until the next full moon came round and exactly the same thing happened, there was a perfect clear sky and I worked through the night again, bathed in this perfect crystal lunar glow. So it was one whole moon cycle and it created that tune.

I then realised that I was pretty much committed to doing this new style. It wasn't 3:2 riddims over heavy electronics or squdigy jazzy halfstep; it was all about going back to vocals, combining the vocal and the version in one track, but doing it with proper r'n'b, not with reggae. I didn't really think anyone would be into it - in fact I thought that only a few people who'd been through 94-era jungle and all the soul samples that were used then would really get it.

B: Is there the intent to re-connect dubstep with soul and r&b, one of it's forefathers (UKG)'s primary influences?

So naturally I sent it off to Kode, since he knows all that history, lived it, same as me, only more so, and of course he picked up on it straight away. I mean, he didn't play it, so far as I’m aware, but he saw what it was about. That encouraged me. And then the next step was obvious - reconnect dubstep with soul and r'n'b, which had been not just one of UKG's key influences - maybe even THE primary influence - but also with jungle. It's all been bleached out of d'n'b now but I did a whole 74 minute mix of soulful jungle, all just from 94 - there's loads of it. The testosterone has wiped it out.

B: And it's being wiped out of dubstep too, by both the heavy-metal wobblers and by quite a few of the techno boys!

GA: I sent it to you, you gave it the thumbs up, so then it was time to try and do a 2step version. Bear in mind that at the time, late 2007, there really was a rash of bad wobble tracks and the more housey gear was only just getting released. It was clear that we needed to do something to stop the soul element being wiped out of dubstep too. It wasn't about revivalism. It was about bringing out the original forms of dubstep, the Horsepower, Landslide, roots of dubstep side out. 2step beats at 140 bpm with bigger bass and subtle wobble - wobble that MEANS something.

After a few weeks of intensive meditation - literally meditation - on El-B beats I started realising one of my life's ambitions, which was to make a half way decent 2step beat.

So by the time I'd talked to Baked Goods, the whole idea of Devotional Dubz was forming in my mind and they crystallised it by saying, what label is this going to be on and will there be a follow up? I just said the label is Devotional Dubz, we'll do three singles, all of them r'n'b refixes with a more garage-y / steppy remix on the flip.

B: What's funny is it seems like such an obvious move in retrospect, yet no one had tried it recently. I suppose the perils could be that the sound is too smooth, "jazzy" but your approach - by using samples - reminds me of Moodyman, and keeps the roughness around the edges as well as the sweet soul...

GA: I've always been a pretty big fan of Moodyman and Theo Parrish and, well I think it's pretty well known now that Mala is too. So that current is part of dubstep's influence anyway. So I wanted to get that dark, filtered, transcendent vision of soul that Theo and Moodyman have and put it into a dubstep setting... really meditative, spiritual music, but pretty dirty... So you’ve got this tension between the languourous, vocal-focused r'n'b flavour, which actually goes incredibly well with dubstep's heavy bass and slow motion beats because the vocals just sit right between them, and the tracky, 2step, rollage flavour.

Of course me being me I also have to do this banging, big-room techno version as well... but that's not really Devotional Dubz. Yeah, as soon as I got into dubstep I could see the potential for a coffee-table version of dubstep with Zero7 type songs over big bass. I thought Various Artists were going to do that but I don't think they have. That's a valid approach but it's fraught with danger.

I was clear from the start that I wasn't going to do that. By the time I'd done Devotional Dubz I'd already worked the jazz seam pretty thoroughly - it's all over the album. It was, like, the second thread of dubstep production I'd done. And it wasn't clean at all. It was filthy, druggy, electric fusion style stuff. When you see Kode playing with his On The Corner t-shirt on - well velvet dub encapsulates that mood, but does it even better than you think it will. That sound arrogant but I really believe in that tune. And the black dog remix is just amazing.

So the r'n'b style was the third wave of dubstep production for me, after dark jazzy gear and ragga techno bangers. But the interest in soul and in vocals over dub goes back to the second dubstep tune I did, which was a refix of “No Sunshine.” That wasn't exactly a hit but a lot of people seemed to like it and a lot of DJs have played it.

A lot of people don't understand how you can come to dubstep and immediately start laying vocals over the top. But I've been a heavy, heavy reggae fan for a long, long time. I mean in terms of DJing I'm basically a dandcehall DJ who also does a bit of dubstep and a bit of jungle. But the big learning that came out of dancehall was that the vocal cut and the MC cut and the version and the dub all flow into and around one another. Just because you have the word "dub" in the word "dubstep" doesn't mean it has to be instrumental. That's a total misreading of dubstep's DNA. And if you spend more than half an hour actually listening to dub tunes there's loads of vocals in them anyway - they hold the drum and bass together.

B: So tell me about Ableton: you've made some pretty mindblowing mixes in it, that couldn’t be done with vinyl...

GA: As well as using decks, I'd been doing cut-and-paste mixes in Cubase for years. I was actually really late to the Ableton party, I only started using it about four years ago. The aim was to do a series of reggae mixes with my partner in Woofah magazine, John Eden. We'd combine recordings of vinyl mixing with digital mixing and sound collage. What sold me wasn't the tempo matching - it was the delay! There's this cheap little ping pong delay in Ableton that's just amazing - the rhythm of it is always bang on. I mean, Logic's tape delay is fatter and more emotional but Ableton's delays are just so usable.

Because ever since I was like 11 years old I've been doing re-edits. I started with the pause button on tape machines. And Ableton is the king of re-edit software. There's an obvious criticism there - it's too easy. Which means that your sense of quality control can go out the window and you can be too self indulgent. But what I want to do is

But my aim is to make mixes that really hold the listener's attention all the way through, so there's ear candy coming in all the time. That means doing mixes where you can really recognise the track, so all the personality and flavour comes through, but where tracks also get translated into something new. Not distorting the track but bringing out some potential that wasn't full realised. In particular with dubstep I've been keen to add vocals to it. That means reggae MCs and singers and grime tunes.

But I've just done a promotional mix for Devotional Dubz that should be going out on Steve Barker's On The Wire radio show. Stever Barker does the dub reviews for The Wire and was an engineer at On U Sound - he's a seminal figure in UK sound system culture. In fact he's been reviewing my stuff off mp3 in the Wire for years. But for this mix, it's all r'n'b tunes, screwed and chopped down to 70bpm, cut up and dubbed up, with dubstep and dark garage tunes underneath - stuff like DJ Abstract. I'm really proud of that mix; the first 15 minutes are probably the best thing I've ever done. It really encapsulates what Devotional Dubz is all about: dubstep that uses soul's language of love to express not just romantic affection, but a deep love of the world and of life itself, a spiritual connection. To be honest with you, the process of creating Devotional Dubz tracks is a spiritual, meditational process. I totally trance out. Hopefully some of that is communicated to the listener as well. (But that's one reason I go on about rollage all the time; you have to have that dubby garage punch to stop it getting too noodly. I don't want to go too "tribal house"!)

B: The mix you did for FACT is incredible, it's like a greatest hits of my brain (download it here).

GA: lol! I thought you might like it. What I'd like to do is take the cut of “My Love” that's mixed in with DJ Abstract's Touch and turn into a record of my own - but re-doing Touch is just too damn hard! That's where “What We Had” came from - just a little fragment that doesn't sound like it's from the song together with fresh beat.

I'm starting to do more mixes just with decks though. I'm increasingly aware that people want to hear a performance - a recording of people having a relationship with the music. Ableton inherently puts a distance between the DJ and the tunes. You can't reach out and touch them and worst of all, you can't spin them back. They really need to add a button for that! Frankly, there's a limit to the number of people who want to hear Ableton mixes. I think most people want to hear a DJ beat matching live. My Ableton mixes complement those kinds of mixes but they don't replace them. So I’ve got an all-vinyl techy dubstep mix in the works, and a potentially very good grime mix, plus a couple of all-vinyl dancehall mixes. I just don't have enough time in the day to polish them off...

B: no, I think you're wrong about Ableton. I think this the avenue has massively more potential. Someone just needs to invent a visual interface with it. My idea is a cross between Ableton, the Flickr API and a touchscreen glass panel.

GA: I think grime and dancehall are showing us that you might be right. It's obvious that the focus of both those forms is moving to digital. As you know, reggae vinyl is now produced for the overseas market - for people like me. Similarly, and sadly, few grime fans buy vinyl but download instead. Which means that while the absolute hottest grime mixing is probably people like maximum who - correct me if I'm wrong - cut to dub, the next echelon down use CDs with downloads burnt. (Doesn't Spyro use cd decks?) Now, already, the cost of a decent laptop that can run Ableton plus a decent controller like the x-session is less than the cost of a set of decks. A £600 pc laptop will do it. Hell you can almost get a Mac for that money. Now most people don't want to walk into a gig with a grand's worth of laptop. But make that 300 quid and you're taking on no more risk than with two boxes of records in terms of theft.

B: Maximum uses CDrs and the hottest mixer is Spyro by a long margin. Tell me you've heard him?!!!

GA: Well there you go. Spyro is AMAZING technically but he's also GOOD musically. He can sequence. Maximum doesn't always sequence that well, and that's more important than mixing.

The real potential with Live is that it's not just about playing two files. It's about the re edits, the FX, the ability to plug a bassline from your own tune over someone else's beat. The argument - and it's a MASSIVE one - is about the desirability of choice and flexibility. In a nutshell - too much choice and flexibility is BAD. It stymies creativity. The key to doing Ableton properly is figuring out how to set your own limits. The damn thing is so extensible you wind up chasing your tail. It destroys focus.

Surgeon is very interesting in the way he uses it. He is THE master of live Ableton. And over the years he has pruned away what he bothers to do with it. Half the time he doesn't even mix with it - he just slams the next tune in even more savagely than you can do with vinyl. And it really, really works. He's brilliant at it. the Black Dog have their own way with it - two or three laptops, six to eight channels of audio, and a very rigidly defined set of audio files.

The question I don't know the answer to is whether Kode's experiment with Ableton was just that, or his preferred way of playing? Because for live production it makes perhaps even more sense than "DJing". You can really control your different track elements very well as long as you don't have too many stems. But again - this goes back to what Total Science said to Reynolds about DJing being dance music's live performance. The limitation of playing with two files - two records - as a means of communication tension and release to an audience is very powerful, very useful. Having six decks and sampler to play with dilutes that power because you're asking the audience to focus on too many "bits". So do we want dubstep or grime to be "live"? I don't know. But I think Magnetic Man did a really good job of carrying it off. The question is, wouldn't you prefer to see one combination of Benga and Skream and Artwork playing back to back?

B: can real time sequencing ever compete with studio sequencing? The trade off is performance versus sonic ideas surely. My tracks have around 25 parts... but no one can perform 25 decisions a bar. Even a bassline can have four to eight notes a bar, which a live bassist would decide on, but it’s impossible to play all these in real time electronics if you also need to make decisions on 24 other sounds…

GA: It's more a question of mixing stems. That can work. I saw Scientist do a live set off ADAT where he had eight tracks of audio coming off digital tape and a rack of analogue FX. That worked. But then he had the best riddims in the world to work with.

[The interview broke off here and a few weeks later I returned with some more questions, some of which came from a little reflection on what he’d already said…]

B: You say "these tunes are usually about something" but bar a track name, how do you go about connecting the music with the concepts? how would your audience know?

GA: With some tracks it’s obvious. No one is going to fail to notice that “Culture Killer” is about a) fucking and b) being the baddest MC. He’s a killer – a lyrical killer. And he slays the gyal dem. This is true – Rubi really is a killer MC and he really is very popular with the girls judging by the email I get! I think people will be able to tell that “Gone” is about loss as well as being about losing it, not really being in control. It’s also a reference to a tune Miles did on his version of Porgy and Bess. “Immigrant” is pretty obviously the fear and dislocation you’d experience if you were a new immigrant to a country. “Velvet Dub” pretty much expresses how it sounds in a tactile way – that sense of soft, strokable darkness. It’s also a reference to an old reggae group called the Velvet Shadows whom Tubby did a mix of on this amazing tune called “Dubbing and Wailing.”

Whereas “We Want You” is all about wanting that cold, garage flow, wanting that sound, but personifying it, turning the musical feeling into an entity. Because garage flow does actually haunt the dancehall; you can feel it when it sweeps through the room. When Yunx hits THAT spot, where the dub is levitating the room and making it stand still at the same time, that’s when rollage takes on an almost physical form and possesses the dance. You used to hear it all the time in Hatcha’s sets on Upfront FM back in 2000. I mean there’s no argument about that. If you’ve been to DMZ or FWD or Bash, you’ve felt it, it’s touched you, you’ve been in the room with it; you don’t need to rationalise it or explain it. Those who know, know.

So I put all this in there and I think it’s in the grooves. Especially with “Lady Dub.” But in the end you have to let go of your track. People are going to make of it what they want. I can’t control that and I don’t want to.

B: tell me about your (amazing) 2step bloggariddims mix?

GA: Ah, that was about pure pleasure – both in terms of concept and execution. Mixing 2step records is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. Blogariddims is something I’ve been involved with from the start – it’s a series of podcasts which have principally but not exclusively been made by music bloggers which is run by a guy called Droid. He’s a well known Dublin-based reggae and jungle DJ who runs a label called the fear that does really good ragga jungle and weird but good electronica. The album by Naphta called “Long Time Burning” is particularly good. Blogariddims is best known for being where the Heatwave soundsystem first did there “An England Story” mix which is THE definitive compilation of UK MC culture. Soul Jazz heard the podcast and thought it was so good that they had to put it out – which is just totally mental.

And of course, their MC, Rubi Dan, is the main Grievous Angel MC after we hooked up when we played a party together. Anyway, Droid’s an old online buddy, and when me and John Eden were doing our dancehall mixes, one of the aims was always to make Droid happy, because he really knows his stuff and has a very refined taste in dancehall. He’s also a really great designer and is the design and production supreme for Woofah magazine. So me and John did a ragga mix for Blogariddims, then I did a dub mix, and then this heavy duty Jazz fusion mix where I took a load of dirty electric Miles Davis tunes from the seventies and re-did them in dub, taking over from where Bill Laswell left off with his Miles remix project.

Anyway, I really wanted to do a 2step mix for the series because it was such a good way to showcase the music, especially since I wanted to do a mix without Ableton. Most of my really good UKG records are in storage while we’re building the house, though a fair few are on the Abstract 2Step mix, and there’s another mix from 99 that I haven’t upped yet that has loads more. But I still had an hours worth of garage hanging around cos I’m always buying it. I worked really hard on the track sequencing – I always do, but this one was particularly important to get right, because I wanted to hit a massive peak of dark garage energy with “Body Killing” before taking it down to end with “Stone Cold,” and I wanted to get in a load of stuff before then that showed where dubstep and grime came from, especially with stuff like “Wicked Press,” which is a seminal wobble track, and “Rinsin’,” which is a classic junglist garage MC track. It came out alright, though I reckon I could do with a better-sounding mixer. Around the same time I did a 4x4 mix that finishes up with this absolutely mental East 17 remix – it’s huge!

B: Can you tell me about the dub poetry project with Fassy M?

GA: That was really weird. Fassy M is this old mate of mine but not only did I have no idea that she was doing poetry, but I had no idea that she was actually getting some traction in the poetry world and doing regular performances. And I definitely had no idea that her stuff was so good. Hard, visceral, penetrating language with this delightful flow. I mean, she’s a poet, she’s not an MC, but she has a fabulous sense of rhythm. We’ve done recording session with Justin from the old Mother Digital in Hoxton where Wiley and Danny Weed did some of their early stuff – he’s in Sheffield now. That went really well but I haven’t had time to do much with it except add some basic beats to it. I want to go in two directions with her stuff: really hard edged grimey dubstep with very sharp beats, and pure folky dubstep. Large bass with slivers of acoustic instrumentation on it and her poetry in the centre. I think there’s real scope there – ever since I heard Ben UFO start one of his radio shows with a folk tune, I’ve had this idea burning in my head. We’ll see how well it works.

B: Can you tell me about the Mix for Electronic Explorations?

GA: Not yet – I don’t know how it will turn out yet. The mix for the Boom and Pokes show was supposed to have a load of garage on it, but it turned out really heavy! I know he wants me to show case my tunes – he’s been supporting me by playing things like Immigrant. So there’ll be some heavy Grievous Angel gear, probably the new tune I Love Dem that Hotflush has been playing, and if I can get away with it a bit of 2562 and Martyn and Ramadanman cos that stuff is such a joy to mix with, even though everyone’s already got the tunes. Maybe add Narcossist’s new tune, Metronome, in there, cos that is just amazing, it’ll be one of the tunes of the year. And maybe a garage section with Lady Dub in the middle. I don’t know – I have 40 minutes to play with so I can go in a few directions.

B: Can you tell me about the Promo mix for Twilight Circus?

GA: Ryan Moore runs Twilight Circus – he does modern dub but working with really serious reggae musicians. He’s cut tunes with people like Luciano, Fred Locks, Jah Stitch, Admiral Tibet, Sugar Minott, Cornell Campbell… really serious people! And he does vocal stuff, proper artist album with people like Michael Rose from Black Uhuru and Big Youth, as well as dub stuff… He’s amazing and he just doesn’t get the respect and attention he deserves. He heard the Dubstep Sufferah series of mixes and really got off on them so he’s given me his back catalogue to mix and dub. I’ve got a box with 23 CDs in it under my desk that I need to go through! So it’ll be version excursions all the way with vocal, MC and dub cuts, all mixed together and re-dubbed, with sirens, yard tapes, the works… it’s just going to be a promo mix for him but it should be pretty good. But first I have to get this other single-artists DJ mix out of the way first. I can’t really talk about that though, it’s kinda secret.

B: "I will probably kill off Grievous Angel then." - why the hell would you do that? especially now?

GA: If things go to plan I won’t have to but there’s a couple of reasons why that might happen. First off is the David Bowie syndrome; I’m already beginning to notice that thing that artists often complain about, of feeling boxed in by their own musical identity. Grievous Angel is new to everyone, but to me it’s been going for years. This phase started in 2002; there were phases before that. I mean, I had T-shirts printed with Belief is the Enemy on them back in the mid-90s. So I might just want to do something under a different name – one that sounds a bit less like a bad heavy metal band. But the bigger reason is that we’re building this big house in Sheffield. If things go to plan it’ll be finished in October and I’ll have a lot of rooms to paint. It’s this L-shaped modernist box with a green roof that’s built into a hill and we’re doing the decorating so that’ll take up a lot of time. Plus there’s a quarter of an acre of garden to sort out, and we’ve got two kids, and I work abroad a lot. So the plan is to get everything sorted by October – the next two Devotional Dubz singles, singles off the album on my own label, some Fassy M gear, the artist mixes, plus a couple of other mixes that are on the go. After that there’s bound to be a hiatus, though I should have moved to a laptop by then, so even if the new studio isn’t finished I might still be able to do a few things. It might be a bit tight time wise though.

B: For people who dont know, what is your relationship with Woofah?

GA: I’m the dubstep editor of Woofah. I run it with John Eden – he’s my best mate, my DJ partner, and the guy I’ve done various projects with for years and years. Although I’m the one who used to be a journalist, he’s the one who’s more focused on the writing side of things – I mean his blog is excellent, much better than mine even though I was blogging before he was. He does reviews for the Wire and that got him thinking about doing a print zine. France has a couple of proper print magazines about reggae even though their output is miniscule compared to the UK and there hasn’t really been a proper reggae zine in the UK since BoomShackALack in the 80s. The lack of reggae coverage, and the desire to complement the work that RWD does with grime, made us want to think about doing a zine. Plus, the disposability of the internet age made us want to kick against it by doing writing that was like a 12” single – a print zine, that you can’t just copy like you can with an mp3 or a PDF, something you have to physically hold. No downloads! And no advertising. A pure labour of love. It was going to be really basic like a Stewart Home pamphlet but then Droid got involved! So now you have this utterly professional, high quality glossy magazine that has more actual content, more wordage, than you’d get in Mixmag or whatever, but crammed into this little A5 book. It’s mental. And it’s pure scenius. We couldn’t have done this without the mates we’ve picked up over the years. Droid, Dan Hancox, Tom Lea, Paul Jasen, Simon Hampson, Martin C [ NB this is no relation to me - Martin Clark/Blackdown], Georgina Cook, BokBok, Matt Woebot – these are all serious people, really talented, genuine professionals. It’s really good but incredibly hard work. Issue three should be out in July with Flow Dan, Peverelist, 2562 and loads more.

B: when the hell do you find the time to publish Woofah?

GA: It’s tough. The first issue was done when I was trying to finish the album. Then the second issue happened when I was re-mastering it while dealing with a Mac that had died and taken the album with it! I just don’t watch TV. Or sleep much. I’ve got a fucking good compost heap though.


Anonymous said...

Excellent interview and excellent mixes!

pollywog said...

yeah werd on the mixes but i dunno...

...sometimes words get in the way and you can overthink things so it comes of as too highbrow and alienates people

not saying dumb it down but keep it stupid fresh...

Anonymous said...

That Wire promo mix looks like the hound's testicles but the link is broken...

Anonymous said...

change the wire mix file to .mp3

Rob Booth said...

what a lovely interview... big up Blackdown.

Check out the latest Grievous Angel mix here for 'electronic Explorations'

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