Thursday, March 28, 2013

RBMA interview: the directors cut


So in the last few weeks I've written two pieces. One is why mixing is getting easy and EZ is the best for Sonic Router and the other was an interview with the mighty Todd Burns, former editor of RA, now at RBMA (He only works for companies with acronyms beginning with R, hold tight his next job at the RHS ahaha...).

Now we were up against a deadline with the RBMA piece and some of the latter questions didn't make the main article, but having answered them I thought I'd include them here:


Todd Burns: One of the keys to the emergence of a genre in your mind, I think, is getting something "wrong"… That may be a gross oversimplification. But I guess it's just impossible to really get tech house "wrong" isn't it?

Blackdown: “Wrong” sounds, erm, wrong if you know what I mean, it seems to have pejorative connotations. All I’m saying is there’s a natural dialog of appreciation -> imitation -> mutation that goes on between the UK and the US & Jamaica, amongst other places. So whether you call it “copying” or “taking inspiration from” or “getting it wrong” or “mutating,” it’s all part of the same creative continuum. The results are there to be judged for themselves.

So the follow up question is ‘why is some copying ‘terrible cloning’ and others ‘really healthy mutation?’  For example all the tepid Burial clones we’ve seen since “Untrue,” none of them have a patch on what they’ve drawn inspiration from. Whereas the UK funky guys getting excited about Dennis Ferrer records and making more exciting tracks inspired by them, well that’s the opposite result. I suppose the simple conclusion is it’s about how much originality gets added into the mix during the process.

T: I was so interested Radfords Rinse CD because it did KIND of feel like he had found the bass-heavy tech house records that might/possibly be UK-approved…but then it also was just straight boring stuff that, if any German DJ had done it, would have sounded tired and silly to my ears. I'm…baffled by all of this.

B: This shuffling/minimal tech/house sound is clearly blowing up on the London underground right now, the energy is unmistakeable, it’s just really baffling when you hear it if you’ve heard house in the last 20 years because the comparison between the sound and the way the audience talk about the sound doesn’t add up. Which is to say: they talk like it’s a brand new thing but it sounds like generic techy house.

For context, it’s worth looking at these two quotes from a London underground house documentary. Firstly a quote from (the more experienced) DJ Pioneer:

“The sound now, that people are after, is house again. Whereas it went through the UK funky phase and some of it sounded a bit… grimey. It had it's distinctive sounds, don't get me wrong, and it had it's other sound, which was a bit gimmicky - some of the MC tunes that people didn't like - but those people that left that UK funky side started to search for a deeper sound and started realising 'oh there's house." So for them it's kinda new, but for someone who's been in it for years… it's just a cycle. It's kinda gone back to where it was in the '90s. We're back here again, the house/garage sound.”

Contrast this, from the same doc, with a quote from one of the hyped DJs, Lance Morgan:
“The scene right now is really healthy, there's a lot of new faces and lot of old faces coming back… It's a different genre of sound & music we've got coming through, and that's what people need to realize and push forward. It's not all-round deep house, it's not tech, it's not underground, it's just our own genre: the London underground, so lets just keep pushing it forward, y'get me?”

So what Pioneer describes is how the UK funky crowd migrated to house/minimal/tech/shuffling having never really paid any attention to house before. And this is the energy you see in Lance Morgan’s quote, people hyped about a new scene based on music that’s new to them. Their “own genre” – ownership and hence identity and reputation of course being a massive driver for change & creativity within London genres in the last 20 years. Now I was reporting and speculating three years ago that this scene could grow & mutate and within any normal degrees of resolution it didn’t. House purists will argue the micro-differences between vocal/dubby, minimal, techy, housey etc but structurally its not mutating like the DNA changes required to get from, say, early Tuff Jam to MJ Cole “Sincere” and into Dizzee Rascal “I Luv U.”  But then to judge them by that standard or even that aesthetic is to miss the point, I don’t think they want to mutate or change – this is about raving to house. Mark Radford, on the electric “Maxwell D v the house scene” debate show hosted by Heartless Crew, was very clear that he had a mandate from his people and they didn’t want MCs & their vibe as the focus. This scene have an in built sense of house purism and given that, to their audience, so much of this is all new, they can afford to.

And what’s interesting about all this, especially when certain commentators like throwing mud at other scenes for being to “knowing” of the past is that this is shuffling/house scene seems very cognisant of what happened to UK funky via the gimmicky (“R U Gonna Bang Doe?”) MC tunes and in before that the negative effect of focusing on MCs had on grime (i.e. it destroyed its grass roots club infrastructure, due to the issues with getting club licences in London for black MC-based events). This is what I took from Mark Radford’s sense of mandate.

So the big question here relates to what Lance Morgan is saying: is this really a new genre?  Can it really be a new genre given its allegiances to house, a point Geeneus made 6 (!) years ago when UK funky was first breaking. Culturally this stuff is a new wave; musically it’s so beholden to house right now it’s hard to say it’s “new.” Maybe the latter will come with time, but that’s what I made a call on three years ago and it didn’t so maybe this wont and indeed doesn’t want to, it just wants to rave and party all night long: fair play. But the irony being is that if they do go down the route of sonic change towards signifiers that fit more closely what we recognise as “London underground” by putting kicks and snares in interesting places, as Lee B3 Edwards and Lance Morgan suggest in that documentary, they might find themselves back at UK funky again, already!

T: I know you're not thinking about it that hard, but do you think something could blow from what you're up to [with Keysound]? Is there a Burial-esque figure on the horizon that might be able to accidentally tap into something a bit deeper?

Burial was a once in a generational or multi generational singularity, it’s really not a formula that can be cloned or a sensible benchmark to measure against. And also, I long since stopped worrying about “blowing up” as being some kind of objective, given the creative sacrifices or changes that are sadly often required. We’re trying build and sustain something creative and underground that we feel. That’s the holy grail.

T: Crews. It seems like you might have one growing around the label at the moment, but I wouldn't say it's quite as tight knit as something like Hessle or Numbers somehow. Is this something you aspire to? Or do you like have the artists on the label doing their own thing alongside what they do with Keysound?

Yes, we overtly, openly aspire to it; in fact we call it the Keysound family. How I see it is we’re trying to bring together people who share a certain musical outlook. Now it would be constrictive if everyone on Keysound sounded the same or liked the same influences, but there’s overlap, connections and from that dense interactions. That’s what the different coloured circles represented on the cover of our album “Dasaflex” – it was as much about our inspirations as the Keysound family members themselves, who of course, inspire us. And so that’s why we returned to an image like that for the cover of “This is how we roll.” For the artists we work most closely with, all I ask is that they release what we mutually agree is their strongest work through us. It’s great if other people have other opportunities but in general it doesn’t help to spread yourself too thin. Focus is good. So is strength in numbers: roll deep.

T: You mentioned the Skream interview on Twitter recently. And I remember you saying nice things about an interview with RA that Loefah did a bit ago. Both artists were very up-front about how hard it is, in some ways, for them to evolve as artists when they have a large audience that loves what they've done in the past. Was that your takeaway from those pieces as well? Or was there something else that struck you?

B: Well I think this is a well-known phenomenon, that once you have huge success for a given style it adds an unexpected pressure to reproduce that style without stagnating. Dubstep has no monopoly on this. I just enjoyed those two interviews because Loefah and Skream spoke, as they do, so honestly. I’d say Loefah’s the one that has made such wholesale changes in his style – it’s a very long way from “Mud” to his new label School – whereas it sounds like Skream is now making brave decisions about his musical future. And they’re brave because people are making millions of dollars now from the mainstream dubstep formula, so if you have a kid to feed and thousands of people go crazy every night when you drop a banger, there is a very strong impulse to just keep on doing it, no matter what your heart says. But then call me some kind of purist, but this is why I think people should separate making a living from making music: only very few people are creatively untainted by this kind of association.

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