My work is usually based around the themes of questioning consciousness and dreams.
During the pandemic, I learned that if I set an intention before going to sleep I could use my dreams as tools to solve creative barriers I had while awake. There’s a surreal eeriness that comes from this practice.
Using music as therapy during this time, the songs are a reflection of my feelings in isolation and wanting to fill the first club I played with as much bass as possible when the pandemic was over.
You're a visual as well as audio person, what do you see when you hear these tracks? Did you visualise anything when you were made them?
Yes, especially “Life’s Different Now (Roots VIP)”. I took a lot of trains home in the middle of the night that either had myself and one other person in the car or were completely empty during 2020 .
This was a very unsettling feeling as a New Yorker and those days when you’re completely drained and are falling asleep in these situations is what I was seeing and trying to capture. The feel near abandon transit system and the hypnic jerks that bolt you back awake.
You're based in NYC, but some of these have a very London feel, while others parts almost have a Detroit techno mood, is this something you intentionally meant to evoke? If so, how come?
I was listening to a lot of Footwork/UKG/Gqom and Detroit techno and I wanted to see how I could mold these sounds together and make them my own.
Life is different now, but can you explain a little bit what you mean by that? Different for whom? And where? And when?
The quote stuck out to me because of how different life became and still is. I don’t think we'll ever return to 2019 world and there is still a profound sense of hopelessness moving forward.
It’s amazing that as a world, we all are going through the same things differently and it’s okay to not be okay.
I think we first spoke (for BigUp Magazine) in Feb 2014. In your eyes and the creative areas you're interested in, how has New York's underground music scene evolved in that time? What are the notable trends, if any?
Speed! Lots of percussive Techno and Bass experiments around 140+ BPM.
I feel the NYC bass scene is going through a renaissance at the moment especially since established European and UK labels are taking notice. Lots of forward thinking ideas.
Thinking about NYC in 2022, what pockets of musical creativity are you excited about? Acts, collectives, scenes, venues etc?
In the bass scene, Kindergarten records and SLINK are two collective I always keep my eyes on. Both groups are multi-cultural and bring a lot of different influences to their music.
There’s also HOMAGE records which is run by Ryan Clover and Fabio Castro if you’re into Big Room bangers. NewTypeRhythms/ NewType Flash helmed by Sheepshead at Jupiter Disco and Heaven or Las Vegas are always fun nights for people looking for established and emerging artists in the scene.
As far a clubs, Nowadays is probably the one that’s blowing me away the most. They’re sound-system is killer.
Despite being a New Yorker, to me your music has a really authentic relationship with some of the London bass music genres from the last 20 years, especially elements of dubstep and grime. Can you tell me how you think about this?
From the past 20yrs I would have to credit Getdarkertv every Tuesday from 7pm-11pm. Minimal Mondays with Youngsta, The Grime Show with Sir Spryo, Anti-social with Jay5ive and top it off with Reconstrvct.
When dubstep was still a dirty word in 2012 Reconstrvct was New York’s for-front dubstep/grime/130 and forward thinking techno.
I’d had never been to a party where the bass rattled your chest and shook a warehouse from floor to ceiling. It was a night where everyone was excited to hear and dance to new music.
Reconstrvct was a family, I made a lot of friends stateside and internationally from those nights. It was a special time that has had a significant impact on how I produce music.
Based on your radio show, you also have a passion for music far wider than bass music (which is extremely healthy)! Do you ever feel like wider listening informs your productions?
Definitely. I love trying to expand my sound by bringing in other influences. I listen to a lot of industrial noise music and have been trying to figure out how to add that into my productions.
Have you been working on any visual work recently? If so, can you tell us about it and how you find working on visual work?
I’ve been trying to finish one of three feature length psychological horror films. This is where my dream practice comes in hand the most.
That taxi car crash you had (& posted on Insta about) looked serious: are you OK? Do you know how it happened?
I was asleep when it happen. I read the police report that said the Uber was rear ended, but that all I know. At this time, I am fine. I gotta away with a sore neck, nothing broken possibly just a minor ligament sprain.
OK these are all overly serious questions: what's the most you've laughed recently and what was it about? 🙂
I told a friend his new hair cut made him look like he stormed the capital on January 6th.
Finally: would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses, and why?
[B]: Can you tell me a little bit more about the house track that you're making or some of the stuff that you're like excited by at the moment? What have you heard recently or made recently that's got you in back in the studio?
[O]: You know? Weirdly I think because of lockdown I’ve been watching movies so I what I used to like do any sampling films in sound so the last the last EP I put out as Oris Jay at 140bpm, I think all three of those tracks are just from movies, like the sounds, might have got sound in are two of them are from movies. Yeah, coz one's from like [big Hollywood film], which is I don't know why I use [big Hollywood film] but it worked. And then the other one was from the movie [another big Hollywood film].
And I think that's how I used to like to do things, that I would hear a clip of a film and think how can I put that in a track? You know, it used to be like the jungle days you'd hear stuff, you'd hear things from old own fashion movies or reggae sound system tapes where they’d robbed some vocals off the back of there.
That was how I used to like to make music is just find some weird thing that somebody said in a film and find a way to put it in a song or in a track. So I did that for a bit last couple of tracks that I did, just sort of find influences from movies or just sounds or just listening to things like that. So that last EP I did was literally just from watching a couple of films where I did it.
The house stuff is harder to do that with because it's not really a genre where they throw in bits from films really, or bits from reggae sound systems, so it's a bit more difficult because you've got to find say, maybe a vocal that might recognize or vocal that sounds similar to something they might recognize. Or something that's a little bit catchy.
Your thought processes a little bit different when you make in house then it would be 140. At 140 I can literally could have thrown anything in and try to make it into a track, where when I'm doing like 123 BPM or lower, I've got I think this is, this is not a genre that is heavily influenced by reggae or heavily influenced by movies..
[B]: Could be, it could be, surely you should do whatever you want!
[O]: If you imagine if you had like a Scarface reference in like a dubstep track, you'd go, yeah, I could understand why that's in there.
But if you had like Scarface referencing like the house track, you almost be like, not sure this works in this. You're almost expecting it to have a female or male vocalist in a house track, you're not really expecting to hear Scarface, do you know what I mean?
So you're right, you could probably put it in, you could try it, but what you're doing is, you're almost…. you're almost how can I put it, you're going a little bit off piste. So you're taking a bigger risk that that track’ll work. So you’ve still got to spend the same amount of time with a track that you might not work as you would that a track, you know, will just fit anywhere.
[B]: So seemed like a whole bunch of a whole generation of lockdown discovered Double 99 “RIP Groove” for the first time. And yeah, that's a pretty ragga-y house track. I mean, I know it's garage, but you know...
[O]: But again, that would have be somebody like I don't know, it'd been some massive DJ somewhere. As for you know what I'm going to play this tune for fun, see what happens. Now the minute they would have done that, all the kids would have been like, what's tune is this? They've got the Shazams out. It's very easy to Shazams a tune like that.
And then they'll play it as well, because they're the big DJ that just heard playing it, so it must be a big tune. They don't know its history. They don't know his heritage. They don't care about that. They just care that it's fun and it's loud and it's got a big bass line and their favourite DJ played it, on some mix.
So but, but your right, that’d be like an anomaly? Or should I say that's not, that's not an invention. That's something I've just pulled from old school and brought new school for fun for a minute. So I think if somebody was like, “I'm going to make a set of tunes, like ‘Rip Groove’ with the same style.” I think it'd be fun for a minute, but then the people would be like “I want to go back to some girl or some boys singing…”
[B]: To be fair, that tune is difficult to top. It's pretty, it's pretty special. It's been pretty special for a long time, on a whole bunch of levels. But I don't think you can make a whole set of tunes that are that hype because it's kind of the peak of the whole speed garage movement isn't it? It was literally a UK number one record wasn't it?
Talking about [London’s] speed garage, did you ever connect with [Sheffield’s later genre] baseline? Was that ever your thing?
[O]: Erm…. [laughs]... not…. not really. I'll give you a little short story. So, when I started playing UK garage but when it was 4x4. And to me, I thought this was, I thought this was universal music. I'm like, “how can, how can everybody not like this?” It's got 4x4, which everybody knows it's got bass, which everybody knows. Yeah, it's got a couple of you know, little bits and bobs or like ragga samples in there but so what, it works.
So to me, I thought this was universal. So I was, I was coming to London and I was buying all these UK garage tracks and we had a club in Sheffield called Niche.
And I got booked to play at Niche and for our wicked, so I can introduce Sheffield to… well, really baseline because that's kind of what it was but we just called, 4x4 garage at the time.
And I played a set there and the crowd liked it. But at the end of the finishing set the promoter came to me when, “I don't really know what that was that you play that jungle music. But you can't play here again.” So, I was like, “alright.” I got hired and fired in an hour. That's a first.
[B]: Did you play jungle or garage?
[O]: That was garage, but to them, it's so different… right? To them it felt like it was jungle music. That's what they define it as just because they hear the odd man talking about you know, gunshots. So to them the music was so different to what it was used to in that club. Didn't want it in there anymore. Now, as it turns out, it basically then became baseline anyway.
[B]: Yeah, for people who don't know, as far as I understand it, bassline was Sheffield and Leeds taking really heavy 4x4 speed garage stuff and just keeping it going in their own way, like making their own stuff
[O]: I just, I just did it too early in there. That's all it was.
So, I mean, I could have persevered and I could have changed the style and made it a little bit more, you know, user friendly for a few weeks, and then, threw in the odd track, but I didn't want to do that as like, I've got a bag of these brand new music have just bought up on the train from London, I’ve come all the way up here to try to introduce it. They weren't ready.
So I thought I'm not taming it down for them, I'll just stay playing in London. That was it. So, so whilst I was down south, that's when baseline became bigger up north.
So, but there was some DJs up here that I proper love like DJ Q up here, you’ve got Fredo up here… Skills. So these are DJs when I can sit and listen to them all day playing the baseline stuff. When you hear it you can see it was influenced from the old school garage-y stuff.
Yeah, exactly. It's just that at the time when I was playing it, it was too new. Easy way to put it: too new for Sheffield.
[B]: I saw you played recently in Sheffield, what was that?
[O]: Yeah, that was alright. It was my first gig since lockdown. So weirdly, I was kind of nervous was like: “how can I be nervous when I’ve been DJing since I was 14?” But I was kind of nervous in there. And then it’'s like my phones didn't work and I'm like, “is it me? Or is it the headphones.” I can't tell headphones on for like two years.
But the vibe was all right people's in there was loving it. It was more me who just it was just me just a little bit like “this is a strange feeling to have that I've been in this industry since I was 14 years old. And I'm now nervous to be behind a pair of decks” This is not me! But I've got over myself after about 10 minutes.
[B]: I mean… I don't want to be too flattering, but you’ve always seemed like a really natural DJ. So it's kind of funny to hear you say that!
[O]: Well, that was the same thing for me. I'm literally I'm going to the club almost to check my music about 20 times on that day just to make sure of it.
And then I'm like, it was like the weirdest experience I've gotten behind these decks. I'm like, “What am I supposed to do? What am I'm I supposed to do with these?” I'm like, they're just decks … but you forget you get for a minute.
Because all the way through lockdown I've got some CDJs here but I don't touch them. So this was literally the first time I've been in a club situation since before lockdown. Now the only saving grace is just before I did the gig I did a radio spot before it. So that gave me sort of like the courage to remember where things are and what I'm doing.
But I played jungle sets so it was a little bit different. So it was easier because I didn't MC so I was like, “wow, no one's gonna notice if I make a few mistakes because the MC will cover it up.” But at the club, obviously, there's no MC. So that's just me. So it was a little bit more pressure to get it right. Because there was no one to cover me up. Just meet me, me, me.
[B]: I find it weird that you're weirded out by the decks. I think I'll be weirded out by the number of people. Because like for two years in covid lockdowns, we had to hide ourselves away from large groups of people.
[O]: Yeah! The walking in is where I got that first, right. So as I pulled up and I was like, “there's a lot of people outside here.”
So that's when I've got that sort of wave of “there's a lot of people in this place.” And you start thinking about Covid. But you know, I tell you once you're in the club, and you are behind the decks, you're not, you're not thinking like that anymore. It was just more when I looked at these CDJs are like, “I don't really know what I'm doing with these things here. But no doubt I'll work it out.”
So, I put the first song when it worked, was like “right I’m in”. I mean, it worked. I didn't need to get too technical, didn't need to find the engineer to press play - it worked.
[B]: Yeah, when the Rinse studio shut in lockdown, me and Dusk got Pioneer DDJ-1000s, and I'm glad we did because it's a really beautiful bit of kit and has allowed us to keep the radio show going during lockdown. And then yeah, yeah, you have to get used to each piece of kit, but it's really well made.
But I wanted to ask you about lockdown. How did you find your behaviour and your approach to music change, when suddenly we had all our community and our connections taken away?
We couldn’t share the music with a lot of other people or be in a loud sound system or there was no clubs to play the tunes. And there was, for me at least, there were periods of feeling like, “is this the end of the world? This feels bad” Like people - a lot of people - are dying. I can't go out. We're asked to stay in our houses. Did you find your approach to music change at all? Or your emotions around music change at all?
[O]: Yeah, I had a lot of mixed feelings. I'll be honest with you. I didn't like lockdown at all. I know, a lot of people were like “oh wicked, I could play Xbox 24/7” or whatever, but I'm not build like that. So I didn't really like it.
And then my first thought was right, okay, so all I'm going to do now is make music all day. That was my first thought.
And then I had this weird sort of reality of, well, I only make, I don't make songs, I make club tracks. My tracks don't sound great if you just play them, on a radio sort of thing. They're built for a club. And there is no clubs. So what am I building this music for, if there's no where to play it?
So then I was sitting there and I was like, “well do I start making the arrangements different?” so they work as a radio track, or they would work if you just went on to Spotify or whatever.
But I was then saying, “well, that's, that's not me.” So I'd be changing who I am as a producer, for the sake of lockdown. And I didn't really want to do that, because it took me too long to get to the point where I'm comfortable with the music I make to then completely change.
I was getting people saying to me I should just make some songs, all that sort of three minute things, with basically no intro and you know, and I was like “I could…?” And then I started thinking, “well do I do a club version and then do like a radio version?”
But in my mind was still saying to me, but “there is no club. So why are you making a club version, if there is no clubs?” And without a club version, I then couldn't make the radio version.
So I was in this weird catch 22 where I was… I couldn't… I didn't really see why I was making music. So I didn't really make much through lockdown.
I was thinking in the 18 months, I probably did one EP, in that length of time, like, in reality that length of time you got off work or whatever I should have be able to make two albums or three albums out of that. But I didn't. I made three tracks in a whole of lockdown. That was it.
[B]: That’s pattern many of us felt andI heard from many other people. I think it's been a really unusual social ‘experiment.’ And experiment is not the right word for it. But like, it sort of has been a bit of an experiment.
And I think in the arts club music had it worst because it turns out I think you were if you were to invent a formula for super-spreading Covid it would probably look like a club.
Get a bunch of people together, yelling and breathing on each other and then lower the ceiling and make it hot and then don't have any ventilation. Like that's what my favourite clubs felt like! Clubs like FWD>> and like Blue Note and DMZ [and Corsica room 2]. That's exactly what they were.
But instead if your thing was playing classical music in a big field, then maybe you were like, okay after a while. Or your thing was singing outside with your friends doing choral music or something. But for club music, we were hit so hard with that.
But I suppose the thing that's interesting for me is the difference between percussive music and then music for a club which are kind of the same. But in lockdown I didn't feel like I stopped loving percussive dance music just because clubs were shut. But I certainly made less music than I thought I would as well [probably because of the early sense of dread].
[O]: You know when I've started listening to almost like old school and new… people like Mighty Crown, the reggae sound system and listening to stuff like that and hoping one of them would make me go actually “know what I'm going to make a tune off this!”
All I just kept telling myself was “when this tune is finished, what are you actually going to do with it? Because there's nowhere to play it. It's built to be on a sound system and there's no sound system.
So, on my little Rokit speakers I'm not writing albums just to play on them. It’s literally almost like I feel like I missed an opportunity to write another album, which I kicked myself for in a way… but I wouldn't want to do a half hearted album. I wasn't in the mood or the mindset to make music… If I've did it I’d be making music by numbers, that was it. It would be just math.
[B]: It sounds like it took away the “why” for you… the “why you do it?”
[O]: Exactly what it did yeah, if you think [I had] the arrangement, the format, the sounds, everything you would need to make music: I had. In the process of lockdown I’d got a new computer, brand new sounds. I’d literally made it so I was ready to go for go to write as much music as physically possible.
And then did three tracks in 18 months.
And even those I was like, I'm going to shorten the intros to like 30 seconds. Because I think, I don't think people are playing one minute intros anymore. So even that I didn't like how they started. But I thought 30 seconds I still kind of got an intro so I’m alright with that.
But again, these are not things I should have been thinking about. Normally I’ll just sit in the studio and just jam. Where now I'm sitting the studio, I'm like, “well I've got think about this I've got to think about that, what if...?” And that took away creativity because I'm thinking about too many other outside influences rather than just seeing in there making music.
[B]: Yeah, I think the bit that kills me is like when a mixdown is not working. That can be that can be like really… like… a bit of a head f**k. But yeah, it sounds like it wasn't a great creative period for you. And I really heard it all over the place, people saying the same thing is like, should have been amazing, but it really affected everyone how they felt about music.
[O]: Yeah, you know, it comes down mental health init? Because, you know, when you're you you've got too many things telling you can't do something, but really it’s just your mind stopping you from doing it.
I could have wrote an album, but I just literally tried. I sat down in the studio, I'm sitting there, and I’ve got everything turned on. I'm good to go, cup of tea on the side there. I've got peace all day. I turn it on… probably be near 20 minutes… turn it off, literally just turn it off, because I don't really I don't really know what I'm doing. It's almost like… imagine you're pro footballer, but there's no football pitch or football. So you’ve got nowhere to play. So as much as you want to and your minds ready to do it, if you haven’t got no football pitch what are you going to do?
[B]: Are there any kind of memories of the early Forward>> stuff that's worth sharing? Like, for those for people that didn't go to the really early Forward>> parties like Velvet Rooms.
I was there for that photo shoot for The Face magazine photo shoot… you're in that right and Zinc and it's like it's on the roof? Yeah, that's it. Those are like 2001, 2000, those are really early times, right? For folks that weren't part of that or didn't get a chance to see it, do you have any good memories of that or can describe what it felt like?
[O]: You know, it was an awesome feeling to be part of something new. But some of the people that was in that scene were already established producers. So it was almost I had to try harder to be better. Because this is not a set of people who have just started making music yesterday. These are people who know what they're doing.
And if you imagine, I didn't really know what I were doing. So in a way I was happy to be the underdog or happy to be at the bottom because I know that means I've got to work up.
So when I did “Bigging up the Massive” I was on a little course, a little music technology course in Sheffield. Me and a couple of the other guys, students who were around at my house. I had a few drinks and I put the format together, just based on a clip I had from a [club night] promotion a friend of mine did.
[B]: To be fair, I have to say no one at the time thought you were like, making it up or an amateur, when you were making music, if you, if you were trying really hard at a point to step up levels, it worked because like, I can't ever remember thinking “Oh Oris Jay doesn't know what he’s doing production-wise.”
But I think what’s in what you're saying, which maybe is worth teasing out: is it true that the early era of producers around what became dubstep but certainly the early Forward>> stuff was pretty competitive?
[O]: Yeah… a lot of the guys already knew how to make music, so it was already very, very good at producing. But if you imagine in a new genre and a new era: whose sound is the one that people are going to follow?
So imagine you've got the El-B sound, you have the Benny Ill sound. They sounded similar but different. You had Zed Bias' sound: he was a little bit more musical. Even at that time, you had a bit of Wookie as well doing some of the harder stuff then you had Zinc doing breaky stuff.
So it's like: everybody was holding their own. But still, it was a bit competitive, because you're almost thinking “well, I've heard that tune, that tune is going off. I need to make a tune that sounds like me but will also go off in a club as well.”
[B]: So I think there could have been scenes… well there are scenes… where people are just focused on having a few beers, mucking around and having a party. I think there's probably been loads of them.
But [in Forward>>] I witnessed this kind of arms race with like producers and I think, I'd totally I think it was, it was competitive in a good way. I definitely like remember things like people saying “well, I heard that big tune last time that was Forward>> so I got to come back with something that's even bigger” and that may be just that competitiveness pushed the scene forward.
[B]: No pun intended!
[O]: I wish there was still a little bit of that now, you know, because imagine you got booked for Forward>>. You can't go to a record shop and just buy whatever the latest releases were and play them. That doesn't work.
So the minute you got that call from Sarah [Soulja - co-founder of Forward>>/Ammunition promotions etc], saying “I want to put you on this gig.” Your whole life from there is changed.
Because what you then got to do is think: “I've got to now make as many dubs as possible or get tunes from people I know who only exist in this space, to be able to play a set.
So, you'd go in studio think “I saw what happened in the last Forward>> I can't be under that, I can be on par with it, I'm not trying to be better than it, but I can't be under it. It's as simple as that.
So if you think your music production went up because it had to. But you had a baseline so you almost knew where you're setting your bar.
So imagine now, there's no bar to set, you know like I could go in and I can make some any music or like there's no, I'm not competing against anything, I'm not comparing it to anything. Whereas back in the Forward>> eras, you saw what Hatcha did in there. All you saw was J Da Flex did in there. And you're next. So: what are you going to do?
[B]: Because the funny detail you’ve got to add, for folks who weren't there is you're saying Sarah rings, books and you think “oh, this is basically my Olympics, or this is my marathon, like, I've got a come and put time in the studio and come up with an amazing set. And, you know, you can't buy in a shop”
But we got to remember, a lot of those Forwards>> were pretty empty. Yeah, the way you describe the story, if you don't add this detail, and you think like your like Andy C going into [legendary 93/94 jungle rave] A.W.O.L. and it's rammed.
So the mindset, I totally agree with you as I was there but often it was like, 40 people, or less, you know, 10… or 50? But like, it wasn't like some massive Metalheadz rave or some massive Jungle Roast thing where there was loads of people and… maybe that made it worse haha...
[O]: When, when you think of it, though, they would be 10 or 20 or 30 people in there what, what almost like, would be trainspotting your tracks. For instance I might have gone there and I brought a new version of “As We Enta” or something like that, where if I did a VIP mix of hours track now I don't really think anyone would notice it was a VIP track to be honest. But back then people would notice.
Right, they would notice that the track is different. Like I remember going to Forward>> and I can't remember what track it was I did, but I had free guys just staring at the dub just going round and round and round. And they was telling me what this track is.
Now if you think: I've just made this and it’s not like the internet even existed where it could have read it, but the reason they knew what it was is because they knew it was a VIP [mix] of something else.
But there was like, so they almost even got the timeline right, when I must have made it based on when that came out, and now I'm playing it. So these, these are people that studied the sound. So there might have been 40 people in there but 20 of them were like scientists when it came to what new music is. So it was still fun to do because it was like proper appreciation.
Because you've just been in studio all day just to make a version of a track you've already done just to play at Forward>>. So you want somebody to notice. That was a place for it.
[B]: I got to add though, like this sounds like it could also be really dry or really boring. But the sound systems were so physical that they were fun… exciting, almost like flight or fight, as your chest is coming in [from the sound/air pressure] and, and you're like, “whoa, my head's exploding because it was this new tune?” The way you're describing, maybe if you hadn't been there, you can think “oh, that sounds like a bunch of people in a very dry way.” But no, it was the excitement of the rush of the new and this competition.
[O]: Absolutely. Yeah. One, one of my one of my favourite nights there, I think I drove to London to just play it Forward>> and was driving straight back. And I was doing a back to back with Hatcha. And I didn't know Hatcha that well back then. I wish I did haha… because basically we would play three tunes. Yeah, wicked…
But I think I only played three tunes, because what he was doing is every tune he played rewound it, and then they played it again and then rewound it, so one tune would probably get four or five rewinds. Right. And then he played another tune and then rewind it and then he played a VIP of that tune and then rewind it, right?
So if you imagine his three tunes was actually more like a journey into these three tunes. So I'm sitting there going to “so when am I going to play mine?” Because I was trying to just get my in and out to get him back on, so we can you know, we can juggle. Nah, he wasn’t juggling. He was literally going rewind, rewind, rewind and the crowd were loving it.
So because he was on a flow I couldn't say anything. And I was like: “yeah man I drove from Sheffield, to London, and I played three tunes and drove back.”
But it was vibes, it was vibes. And that was the bit where I was like, if I'm trying to explain this to someone who lives up north, they would say are you crazy? Like “you drove to London for three tunes?” But I’m like “if you was there, you would understand that it was still beneficial, it was still awesome to see and to watch.”
[B] History is on your side, history was made there. We couldn't have been sure that that scene was going to go anywhere and clubs come and go, nights come and go but it turns out that what happened there made history in loads of different ways. Maybe it was worth driving.
Now, I feel like Dusk would kill me if I don't tell you this [Forward>> era] story. And I don't know if, I don't know if it's something we ever told you about. You've just reminded me of this. Maybe Dusk could tell it better than me.
There was one time we were at the back of Plastic People. It was one of the few times that Normski turned up. Like, I don't know how well known Normski is now but obviously he was the face of Dance Energy on Channel 4 and like the rave generation, right? He's pretty famous, much more famous than anyone in that club mostly - a big personality.
And anyway so, he comes running off the dance when you just played your set. And I don't remember exactly how this conversation started or went, but basically he was kind of talking to everyone and no-one and the bit that just stuck in me and Dusk's head is he goes, “I've got all those tunes. Yeah, I've got all those tunes,” [pointing at the decks] but then he kind of walked up the stairs and leaves like and we’re like “hmm alright… because Oris has just played an upfront selection of his own dubs that literally nobody else in the world has?” Like, there's just no way Normski you have these tunes: that's the point of this club. And we’re just laughing in disbelief.
[O] Because he came to me! And he said to me “all them tunes you've got there I've already got them.” [laughs] And I was like “riiiiight! Okay, well…” because one of the last one that I played there, it's not even finished.
I literally had to run out of my house, because we had a guy up here in Sheffield where we used to cut dubs in Sheffield and I literally called him with the last thing before I set off. “I know I’m getting you out of bed or whatever but can you cut this for me right now? I've got a play it tonight.” And I played it and it wasn't finished at the end but I thought “you know what, four minutes is enough.”
But Normski is telling me, he's already got that. He's had that for a while, that tune. And I'm like: “this acetate still smells of acetate because I've literally just cut this right now.”
But he was excited. You know, he was jumping around and he was like, he was getting a vibe. He was telling lots of people that all these tunes, he’s got them all already.
[B]: It's kind of weird, because he didn't come many times. And I don't remember him being part of the scene and there were a bunch of well known people did come. Ms Dynamite came a bunch of times, loads of times, and obviously, Wiley and Skepta were there a whole bunch of times too. And Geeneus and Slimzee were a huge part of it.
Normski: I only remember him a couple of coming a couple of times. And it's just too weird … maybe he didn't even know what a weird thing that was to say? The whole scene is about dubplates and he's telling you he’s got dubsplates - yours - and he's got them…
[O]: He was convinced and it wasn't for me to un-convince him that he didn't have any of the tunes that I played, as he was excited. And I didn't want to take someone's excitement away from me as he was buzzing. He was like, “yeah, got all it got all of them.” And I was like “riiiight, okay, because I've literally just got these, you know. And he was like, “yeah, I know. I know. I know. But I've already got that.”
[B]: I reckon it’s a skill - and I’m not sure I've got it - in just looking really deadpan and not saying much in the face of total absurdity, just maybe “uh huh… right.” Or just quietly “no” but without even saying the word “no.”
[O]: He was too excited. You know, it was like, it wasn't for me to take that excitement away but I'm surprised you remember that because I remember saying the exact same thing: “Normski just told me he's got every one of these [tunes] for ages. And literally this one here is so fresh, I cut it and came straight to London. I didn't even know if it played, it because I didn't even test it before I set off. So, the minute he was cut, I was gone.
[B]: And, yeah, well, there were a bunch of great moments before, but probably few were as funny as that one.
Now I wonder if there's enough water under the bridge where we can talk about the whole breakstep thing because again, it's one of those funny things that at the time, was really political [inside Forward>>].
And actually, even though that we'd met each other through “Biggin’ Up the Massive” and some of that stuff in the really early Velvet Rooms. But the time they got to the full breaks thing and the breakstep thing I remember it being like you and I were on the other side, different sides of the fence a little bit, and I was unpopular for expressing views about that.
So how do you look back on that, on that era?
Sorry, just to clarify for people: there were a bunch of styles that came out of or were played at Forward>>. Broken beat, grime was played there, though, obviously, grime was invented somewhere else. Like, you know, there's the break-y sides of dubstep, dubstep itself, garage all those things.
And then eventually there was a brief period where there was quite a polarised camp between the people playing stuff that was breaky-er and folks who were playing stuff that had no breaks in it. And that second bit became probably more recognized as what we call dubstep now.
So anyway, what do you remember that stuff? How do you reflect on that era?
[O]: Um, it was a it was a strange thing, right, because… I used to like breakbeats because I come from jungle anyway… so putting the odd break here and there in garage…
And it wasn't me trying to be in a scene or me trying to do anything else. I was still using an Akai sampler, filled with breakbeats. So I'm not going to dismiss them just because it's not in the scene that I'm in. Right? So I've started throwing the odd one in here and there.
Now, I remember doing a track. Well I've done a couple of tracks before. 'Confused', which was basically the first one on Texture was a breakbeat, I took that from Erica Badu and the b-side is the exact same breakbeat, I just played it differently.
So if you think of putting a break in music…it wasn't an alien to me, it was just what I did. And then I did 'Said the Spider', which is just a break again. And all I did is I just kept the format of 2step but used a breakbeat to do it. And had like a weird didgeridoo bass in there.
Now, I remember first time, I think the first time I sent that to Sarah, and only did it coz I wanted a dub what no one has got for Forward>> as well that track “Said the Spider.”
So I played it to her and she’s like “I don't know what this is, but I'm not sure this is gonna work out.”
So I was like, “Okay!” because I literally I just did it, just to play for me anyway, so it doesn't really matter. I'm just gonna just play it Forward>> and she went “yeah, cool. No problem.”
And that was kind of the story; that was done. And then about, about three four hours later she rang me back and she went “that tune there, you haven’t scrapped it, have you?”
I was like “no, I'm not you made me think I should play it but I ain’t scrapped it” and she went “keep the tune! I have just played it a few people in there telling me that they want it.” So I was like, “alright cool.”
So now that tune, I don't know what happened there. But there was a breaks scene really in sort of adjacent to the garage scene. I was unaware of this at the time. But after “Said the Spider”, what started to happen is people I've never heard of, DJ I've never heard of, who've got kind of status in their world, but I didn't know what their world is, are saying “we need that tune.”
So, I'm kind of like, “eeerm…. okay, well, what, what do you do?” They’re like: “We do? We do Breaks and breakstep stuff, right?” I’m like “What's that?”
And I started to listen to the stuff and I was like “oh okay, I get it.” But some of the breakbeat what they was doing was very much almost like slowed down drum & bass. That's what that that was like, so I… I didn't fit there. So then I became this like grey area.
Because if you imagine the breaks scene was a different scene to the dark garage scene. But they were playing my tracks in that scene. So I was in this weird grey area. So I think that's where people say, well, what you do is kind of like breakstep because it doesn't sound like the dark garage stuff but it's not breaks, what you are [using breaks].
[B]: 'Confused' is a good tune for that, because I remember it being quite like funky and like the hits are on there. But I think… break thing is the breaks thing, right, that was always a big scene anyway.
And but then there's also that, that era of that history where [the Forward>> scene] started using breaks within the camp. I guess maybe Search & Destroy is a good example of that sort of made things within the camp of the people making [what was played there] harder and breakier and more a bit more distorted. Whereas “Confused” is super light and funky, and you can still hear the hits.
And it felt like, it was like the energy levels and the production levels we're heading towards basically where the harder end of dubstep ended up. But certainly was quite different to what was going on with folks, I suppose [producers like] Digital Mystikz and those [sort of strands] like within, within the scene.
And I just remember that era getting quite political and people getting quite angry about a bunch of the sides getting angry at me for saying, “Well, I think this bit is dubstep and I think this is a breaker thing.” I mean, maybe it doesn't matter either way, but I remember it being difficult to talk about for a while because people were polarised...
[O]: Oh yeah, I remember, because I was kind of getting booked for breaks clubs and it was a weirdest situation being in a club I didn't know anyone.
It was like… the demographic was completely different. It just felt odd being there. And then it was almost like some of the garage people would say, “why are you doing them clubs?”
To me I'm just playing my music in there. But I could see where the divide was because they had a different principle, it was different discipline. Like the guys who were at the top of the breaks scene, he wanted to keep it clean, keep it breaks. They didn't really want hybrid music. That's not their thing.
But then on the flip side, they did play Zinc tunes and play my tunes, but they didn't really want to go beyond that. So it's almost like we need the hype of this other genre, we just don't want that genre.
So I could see where there was a bit of a divide back in a day because I felt it myself. I met some good people in the break, scene, and I'm not gonna lie, but I also got a lot of pushback as well. I didn't “fit.”
Like an easy way to put it: there was like me and another DJ called Tayo. That was the only version of kind of colour in that scene.
[B]: Did you feel explicitly that the pushback was about colour as well as the music you were making?
[O] I wouldn't I wouldn't have said it was that but, like… imagine I went into a club, the first time I went to a breaks club I had my Avrex on. So when I walked in and as I walked in, the first thing a girl said to me is “are you So Solid?”
And I was like, “So Solid’s like a crew, it’s not like a one person thing, there's like a few of them. Right?” And I laughed because I thought you know what “she's just she's drunk.” And then I got to the DJ box and another guy says to me “are you So Solid?”
I was like “so this is a thing around there, like if you're black and you've got an Avrex you've got to be So Solid.”
Like, now if you imagine it in the scene I'm from that is just a jacket no cares about that, that wasn't like a thing.
But in the breaks scene it was if you imagine… I’d walk in a club and I would be representing all ethnic minorities in one in the breaks scene so it was a different… the scene was a lot different and I think they kind of wanted it to stay like that. If I'll be honest.
[B]: That's pretty unpleasant.
[O]: Yeah, and I know. At the era you had the MCs and at that point people were talking about “garage's clubs are getting shut down” and the issue of MCs. And I think that their mentality was “if you just keep it away from that scene as much as physically possible” i.e. take the colour out of it, then you're more likely to be able to hire clubs you know, you're not going to get any issues you're not going to get any problems so I think that was their mentality.
I don't think there was going in there actually thinking “let's keep it white,” I think it was, just, just we'll just keep it as “let's just keep the MCs out.” And the way to keep the MCs out is always to keep it as sort of one dimensional as possible.
[B]: Funnily enough you mentioned that you have made me think about a little connection back to deep tech. If you ask what happened to deep tech… and you can probably help me out with that but… I got the sense about the middle point of deep tech as it got bigger, a bunch of them [had strong opinions about MCs]...
Because there was UK funky before that wasn't that far behind deep tech. And they felt like those people had sort of seen it before, as UK funky came out of producers like Kerri Chandler are some of these other US folk making more like traditional house and stuff.
And I definitely remember with the deep tech there were [scene] conversations, “like no, we can't involve MCs coz we look what happened with [polarising UK funky MC novelty track] 'Heads, Knees & Toes'”, and all that stuff and all the MC tracks in UK funky we gotta we got to keep it instrumental and the fear of what [would happen if they didn’t].
And yet my memory of deep tech was like it was more multicultural than way you describe breaks. So in the case of deep tech I think a lot of the producers that are saying this are black. They're just saying keep the MCs out because that's because then you know the MCs take over. Do you remember any of that?
[O]: I missed the UK funky scene. I knew of it. But I didn't really make any of that beat, that sort of that sort of pattern. I didn't really do many tunes like that. So [got into deep tech] when it became something new and uk funky started to fade out a little bit. So I don't remember it. I haven't really got much that I could comment about the transition of those two, because I weren’t really in that scene.
[B]: Yeah, I don't know what to say. I think I've always loved MCs. And I think one of the things I loved about Forward>> was there were people from all different walks of life. And I met people there that I never met in other parts of life and we had something in common for many years and that was like, actually a really special thing, even though the music was good, that was a bonus: getting to meet people.
[O]: Yeah, yeah, I've got people that I'll probably talk to for the rest of my life that I met at Forward>> you know, like that's it that's what it was about. As it older you know, and it got became more popular, yeah, you had ravers in there at that point. But at the beginning, they were just people who just wanted to hear the latest greatest music by a specific DJ or producer.
If you had one of your tracks played in there, it was like an honour. You know, like, like now if I hear one of my tracks play in a club I woudldn’t think “it’s is an honour to hear it.” I'll be just more like, “ah all right, wicked, you did get that email then.” But the mentalities has changed. But back then it was special if somebody played one of your tracks at Forward>>.
[B]: Yeah, I didn't get many plays. But when I did, I remember them very clearly.
[O]: That... I used to buzz off that. That's the reason I would travel three hours or whatever from Sheffield to get there, listen to it and drive back. That was why we would do that.
[B]: So I for the last few questions I want to ask about the Keysound EP, so 'I'll Be Good,” “My Mind” and “Ticking me off.”
It was just one of those things that Dusk and I were just thinking about, like, “hey, we like we were really curious about the deep tech scene, I put a Truce EP out as well as one from Hugo Massien. Truce’s was really basically in bleepy.
I just come back to tracks that have like a groove and bleepy baseline and I'm just was like “I wonder if Oris would be up for doing something like that?”
Can you tell me a little bit about making those tunes and what you thought about when you were doing?
[O]: Yeah, the “Ticking Me Off” one, out of those it was wierdly probably my favourite one because I've had that vocal for like forever, and I could never get it to fit in a track. I've tried numerous tracks I just can't get it to fit, because he was almost singing it off [beat].
So I've started, scrapped it, started, scrapped it. And then, I thought for the final time I’m try this vocal just one more time. If it doesn't work at this time, then I'm not supposed to have this, right? Move on with your life, leave it alone.
So l loaded it in last. So, I loaded it, I started a track first then I thought let me try if it fits. I can get it to just fit. And it fitted into grooves, like… almost by itself.
So I think it must have realized that it was going to get deleted if it didn't fit this time, right? It fit into groves.
I was like “wow, okay.” So, yeah, I had to do a bit of manipulation to get it to be like, right. But I think that track there was probably my most favourite, out of the EP.
But that was probably our most fun out of the three to make. And then the, the other one that I really enjoyed making was the, I think was the first one I sent to ya, which has got like a weird grove.
[B]: 'I'll be Good’?
[O]: Yeah,' I'll be good'. Yeah. Again, I found a vocal, I really liked it. I was like it's not going to fit in a 140 track. So let me see. I'll do a house track with it.
Just got some new sounds for the studio. So I was like, let me see what I can do with these new sounds and a vocal that I’ve just found and sat there and it kind of, it kinda was quite fluid that track it wasn't one that was a nightmare to me in any way.
I probably got it wrapped up… it was probably done in a day and a half. That was fully finished. So I enjoyed making it.
The middle one, “My Mind” took longer. So that was about three, four days in time to do it. I think the longer it takes me to make a track the less love I have for ‘em, because I've heard it too many times.
So it's a good it's a great track like obviously, if you wasn't sat in a studio for four days with me you will like it is just for me it just that track was the longest out of the three to do.
Just because everything I've tried I wasn't happy with this bit. This bit didn't sound right, took this out, put it back in. Change the bass, then it sounded like a different track, I put the bass back in, then “was that exactly how I put it in? I can't remember.” So it was a lot of to and fro with that one.
[B]: But what I think is cool about them is… house music is mostly routed around the kick, right kick & the hat, kick & the snare. That's the main focus. And dubstep is was really quite a lot about the baselines very obviously, right?
But those tracks on your Keysound EP are doing - and some of the deep tech stuff - there is an interplay between the bass and the kick. It’s just a really beautiful thing.
I think if you get just a really beautiful bleep or baseline or bassy bleep - they can go down to like frequency - then it is so perfect.
And I think a lot of dance music is about… so I don't do it very well, but I think dance music can sometimes about finding a few really amazing elements.
But not loads and loads and loads of elements… not like you're not running an orchestra for a film wherever you need everything to be in key and 17 parts.
Some of the dance music is about the really hard problem of finding a few perfect music elements. And some of those tracks like, you know, especially 'I'll be Good' has really got that… the riff, the way it just always comes back to the last two notes of the bar. It’s hypnotic. Anyway, that's my enthusiasm for those tracks!
[O]: Yeah, I did like that groove. The groove in a ways like a one off because I've tried to do another one similar with a similar groove and I can't get it to roll as nice as that.
So that's probably going to be like a one off sounding like that. Like a lot of tunes sometimes I can make this sound, sound a little bit like that sound, and you can hear that it’s me that’s done it, it's got that, idiosyncrasy to it.
But that one 'I'll be good' was I just sat there and it came to me like that: I just felt it.
It just fitted it in there. I wish I had that feeling often where I can just do it like that!
[B]: Dance is about about slightly breaking rules in interesting ways - not smashing the rules - otherwise, you can't dance to it.
But what I like about the tracks especially, especially in 'I'll be good'... is it breaking the rules because basically the baselines hitting on the 3 and 4?
You think of dancing being putting your foot down on the one, up on the two, down on the three, up on the floor, right?
But that groove just like, you know, it ends in the 3-4, 3-4. And that's kind of a really happy, like, tweak of the rule. It's not like 1 2 3 4. And it's not like one, two or up and down, you got this groove and it just gets into my brain, Oris it’s brilliant!
[O]: Yeah, it's a good tune, I like that tune, the groove kind of just came to me. And again, I've tried doing a similar one to that. After that and it didn't work the same. So that was that was kind of the ideas kind of like a “one off” idea.
[B]: It's great. All right, I'm gonna leave it there. It's getting late. Thank you so much for all this time.
[O]: It’s good to talk, I haven’t talked to you in years and you were there. Alright see you in a bit, bye!
So as his Keysound EP (as RS4) dropped, I wanted to catch up with him to hear his studio tips, memories of the roots of dubstep, what it was like being in deeptech and more.
[B]: First off, I am most curious to hear a little bit about the Audio Rehab deep tech era, which I was watching but wasn't in the middle of, like I was in the middle of the Forward>> stuff and dubstep with you. How did you first hear deep tech coming about, how did it grab your ear?
[O]: It was kind of down to one guy, my old mate DJ Lombardo, who's from, represents the Leicester crew.
[B]: A legend!
[O]: Yeah, so our journeys have always been pretty similar. It's almost like it'd be similar but it's not that we talked about it. I was into playing jungle back in the day, so was he. Then when I moved to garage so did he.
But if you imagine we never spoke about that, I just rang him up, and I'm like, “so what you on at the minute?” And he’s “like I'm doing garage” and I'm like “so am I!”
So we're very like-minded when it comes to the type of music we like. And I'd got to a stage where, if I'll be honest, I had no motivation to make tunes. I just weren't... I wasn't really vibing. So I rang him up. And I was just like, “what are you on at the minute? Because currently I'm on nothing…”
[B]: What kind of times are we talking about? What, what sort of years are we talking about for this conversation?
[O]: So this must be five, six years ago, maybe seven years ago [2014-2016]? No later than that I don't think. And he was like “there's a new sound coming out of London in a minute, which is called deep tech.”
And I was like, well, what is it? Tech house? Or is it deep house? He said that it's kind of both but he sounds raw and young and it's like a new scene.
So, I was saying at that time the house scene is kind of “interesting,” because it's quite a closed door, that scene. If you don't know the right people, you're probably not getting in. So, I was like “let me hear some of [deep tech] music. Let me see what he's talking about.”
And he sent me some of the music and one of the tracks that he sent me was, well he sent me two actually to listen to. One was by… well, the other one was Carnao Beats anyway, so that was one of them.
And, he sent one on Audio Rehab. And I was like, “it almost sounds like garage but 4x4, and a bit techy”. And he was like, “yeah, you should try one, you should try and see what you can do”.
So that day on that day, when I spoke to him, I thought, well, I'll load up the sounds I would use to make like a garage track and to see what happens. And what I ended up doing was my first release on Audio Rehab called “All Around”.
And I did that track and he said “right you should send it to this guy called Mark Radford. Because Mark Radford might play this tune. It's quite a vibe this tune.” And so I said “okay, like I've never heard of him, but I'll send it to him.”
I sent it to him when he rang me and he's like “you know I like this tune I wanna sign it…”. And I thinking like, “I don't know what deep tech is, I don't know if this fits, I don't really know much about it. But I'll go with the flow. Because you know, I like the vibe, see what's happening.”
So I did that there. That was just done one random Wednesday afternoon. Took me about four or five hours to do. Got a wicked response off that tune. So, I made another one, and I made another one, then another one.
[B]: Did you think at that point about using a different name for it? Because you use the RS4 stuff Audio Rehab… did that come later?
[O]: So, I had a 4x4 release before then about two or three years before then. It came out on vinyl with a DJ from Sheffield called DJ Veteran. And it was like “DJ Veteran featuring RS4.”
And where the RS4 comes from, it's not a desire to be any affiliated with Audi in any way whatsoever. It was just an abbreviation of Oris… RS and then because it's 4x4, I'm doing just number four, RS4.
So it was that. People were like “oh do you just love Audi's or something?” But it’s not really, it's just it was just an abbreviation [of Oris] I used years ago for 4x4 that I did. And so I just kept it because I thought, you know, it’s 4x4. It's me, Oris, 4x4: RS4.
[B]: I’d wondered whether it was like a phase like, your fourth phase. Like: Darqwan, DQ1, Oris Jay, then it was like RS4, like the fourth Oris wave...
[O]: Yeah, yeah, so, DQ1 was…, if you imagine a Darqwan anyway, right, so, Darqwan I had that as it was a brand and it was a name that I use all the time.
But then I wanted to do some much more simpler music. So, I thought, well, an abbreviation or short version of Darqwan is just DQ1. So it just means music that, you know, MCs would use more, that I'm not sitting there trying to make a masterpiece. I'm sitting there trying to make music and that a MC will be on. So it’s just an abbreviation of Darqwan.
So, RS4 was pretty much born at the same logic where Oris Jay, is just a short version RS. And number four for 4x4. So, that was all… it's not actually that creative when you think about it.
But that's, that's what I use in it kind off, took off the RS4 sound. I think it was more, it took off because the, the actual scene was new, it was quite a fresh and it was quite green. So there was scope for you know, for new players to come about and join in.
Mark was very supportive. Introduced me to his crew the Audio Rehab guys.
And it was I got into a sort of vibe of it, you know, it was almost like, I was probably doing about one or two tunes a week of that sort of production rate was much higher, because I had less pressure.
So, if you think when I'm doing a normal stuff, like the 140 stuff, I've got pressure because I'm trying to make this tune better than the last tune or I've got history with this, this this genre.
So I don't want to get it “wrong.” Where you imagine you're starting fresh in a brand new one. But it doesn't matter if it's ‘wrong’ because nobody knows what ‘wrong’ is. Because it's new. It's green. It's fresh.
[O]: Absolutely. Same thing I remember the first time I went to London, I was in the Forward>> thing. And I was like, well, this music is so new, you can't really, you can't really get it wrong.
So yeah, it's got a bit of a format, it's got to be a certain tempo and it's got our bass, but everything else is wherever you want it to be.
And this just felt like that so the deep tech era, or the deep tech sort of scene felt like the original scene when I started like for the Forward>> thing because it was new you know the door was open, it was welcoming to anyone who's … if you could hold your own you invited you welcome and it just felt the same.
So, I just rolled with it for a little bit. Ended up weirdly just playing all over, like all over the world played RS4 stuff and I was like you know I did not predict that, I just I just liked making this music it just sounded young, fresh, it was green again.
And it was basically making me go back in studio was just something that was, it was like pressure-less music that I was making.
Rather than when I was making my own stuff is pressure because I'm like “I need to get this hi hat right and that's go...,” and I'm like and, and by the time have analysed a track I've probably spent all day on it and I've got probably about the first eight bars of the track.
You know with with the RS4 stuff in about three four hours I could have got a tune done. And that's because I've just found a vibe, put it together with a little bit of mathematics to the arrangement and that was it done.
[B]: You say that it felt like there was “no rules” but is it also true that - and I really like deep tech but - it feels like it has a set of rules that are like “it's got to be roughly of the similar tempo and it's got to be roughly 4x4.”
Like I don't hear a lot of people, say, using elements like breaks in it or half step or soca patterns. It's like its “kick snare kicks snare” with like a big [resonant mid-ish] bass.
I’m trying to square off what you're saying about being having “no rules” with like actually it's got a some set of percussive rules that are pretty specific.
[O]: Yeah. So it's got an arrangement. So it's arranged… easiest way to put it is it’s arranged for DJs to play. Over the years, DJs get lazier and lazier, the bigger they are, the lazier they are.
So, if you got tracks that are complicated at the beginnings or are complicated to mix, they're probably going to bow out using it. But even if they're really like the tune, it’s probably not going to get no further than playing in the car or played in the house.
So if you imagine with the deep tech, the beats are really simple at the beginning, because you want that to just be mixed. Very simple.
You don't want to give no DJs or these up and coming DJs or whatever no complications, you just want it to just be as smooth as learning to ride a bike. That's how the formula was.
And you’re right, it hasn't changed. No one's kind of gone outside of the box of, of that. But I guess if you keep the arrangement simple, you're more likely the club DJs are going to want to play it.
[B]: When I emailed you… I guess it was a while back about saying, “hey, would you like to do a Keysound release?” Or more like haha “it's pretty ‘rude’ that I've never emailed you before about it. We should do this, if you're interested.”
Well, the connection (or resonance) I kinda heard in deep tech was the Sheffield bleepy thing.
And that's why I was wondering whether we might make a lot of sense. Because I don't think those guys are making bleep or were making bleep in like 2014. But I could hear this other like pattern… is that's something you felt, or you could hear or..?
[O]: Yeah well, you know, when you’ve started again, you’re starting in something that's green, you can introduce what influenced you.
So I've already done it once when I did with the dubstep scene where I wanted to introduce where, where I started from. So the bleep & basses is what got me into music or got me into electronic music.
Obviously in the 90s, I didn't know how to make music, so at the point where I did know how to make music, then I kinda added it to the music that I make because that was my main influences.
And then obviously, I've joined a joined a new scene, which is loosely… once you're in you can change it a bit. So the first sort of songs that I did were quite what you would expect from like a bassy house track.
But then as I went on and on and then I started to add more influences, like what would have pulled me in so there might be ragga influences in some of the tracks or there might be bleeps in some of the tracks.
But the type of music that would have influenced me back in the day came into the RS4 sound as well, because I was making probably maybe one or two tunes a week.
I might have just heard something and thought “oh, yeah, yeah, I forgot, I like that sound. All right, let me try, let me try house music, house rhythm with this influence.”
So it, it was fun, because it was almost like I could reinvent myself in a different genre. But to me, it's kind of all the same, it's still me but I could try again.
I might have made a tune years and years ago, I didn't fully like it. I didn't sound fully finished, where then you can start again in a different genre. And they can fix the issues you had with the track.
Because your mixes is better or your arrangement is better, or your mastering is better. So rather than keep remixing the same song every sort of five years or whatever, you just make a new song with the same influence but a different genre.
[B]: I think influences are a really curious thing. And it might be hard to imagine if you're like 16 or 20 and you're just having that first rush of falling in love with some music for the first time. But when there's been a bunch of (moments of musical falling in love) in your life is a strange sort of blessing and curse.
I know I can't throw my influences away. I'll always be a jungle fan. I’ll always be interested in funk and hip hop. And I'll always be a dubstep fan and even though I'm making stuff at the tempo (130bpm) that we make at now.
I'm always slightly thinking like “would Hatcha have played it?” Or “would this have been good enough for [90s Metalheadz venue] Blue Note?” which I went to but was never never made any music in those times.
And everyone's got those influences.. I think deep down it's really hard to ever get rid of them… and maybe we would never want to, because that's who we are musically.
But you can't start making music in 2021 - if you've got 20-30 years of music listening - with a completely clean slate, I don't think I think it's possible.
[O]: If I was sitting in studio today and I thought I'll start a new house tune and listen to it. I'm thinking, well, it sounds like that, like the old house tunes that I would listen to years ago, but I'm not trying to do, that is just that's just what came.
Once you've listened to music as much as we have, it's almost impossible for you to not be influenced when you're in studio. The only thing I used to do when I made music full time was try to be influenced by some brand new sound.
So I will listen to music I've never heard before, genres of music I've never heard before, to get an almost a different dimension or a different vibe. Because what I found, especially in a dubstep scene, a lot of the guys in a dubstep scene only listened to dubstep so they were being influenced by dubstep, which then it almost made a lot of the songs sound exactly the same.
So I get when it comes to from a DJ perspective, that's wicked, because it means you can do very, very clean mixes because that tracks are pretty similar to this track. So I understand why you would do that.
But then it just makes everything sound the same. And then you almost… you don't know is this a new tune or is this an old tune? I can't tell.
[B]: I think there was a similar thing with all the stuff that came after Ed Rush & Optical’s ‘Wormhole’ in drum & bass. Like there was a whole generation that only listened to that album. And that style of quite dark grey, striped back techstep and then just, you know, and then then the scene just comes in on itself.
So in that case maybe that's you can't escape your influences, but your influences are very narrow.
[O]: Yeah, exactly. So, every so often, you know, I'd wanna to listen to someone else or something different and just put on an album on I've never heard, put it on and just listen to everything.
Why do I like this? What is it about this that I like?
And then you know, I would think now I've got this now I've heard this album and it's, it's fresh in my mind I’d sit in studio and just make some music right?
Now, if you do that, yeah, you're probably going to pull in some subliminal, you know, thing that you've heard in this album, but you're still going to work to your format of the genre you're, in right? So it's, it's still going so it should still work if you do it that way.
Following a thought provoking tweet about sets focused on unreleased music, I'm going to try to respectfully make the case for why they have value.
Before anyone gets funny, Eich is perhaps my favourite DJ of the last 3 years and the person I feel musically closest to outside of Keysound. We talk regularly, we've done interviews together, she’s supported us a ton. I’d go so far as to say we’re mates.
So this is a discussion about an idea or a position on DJing, not a person, because that person is great.
I’m going to try to make the case in favour of DJ sets that are focused around new unreleased or exclusive tracks. But first, here’s where I’m coming from when I try and make the case:
We live in an era of unprecedented access to - and abundance of - music from all eras, even though our daily attention remains finite. DJing is in part a way of filtering down music for our attention, in different settings.
There’s no objectively right or wrong way of DJing and/or having musical fun, though I have a personal preference.
To say one way of DJing has value is not making the case that other ways do not. They all have value - but they also may have very different goals. This is OK.
The case for unreleased sets
To me, DJs sets of unreleased music are:
Just one of many ways to approach DJing
A positive, optimistic vote for the now: this moment, a community
A proven way to build something creative and lasting for DJs, producers, scenes and community members. There are other ways too
A powerful way to form a distinct identity as a DJ
A powerful way to support new producers and the unheard talent of the future over those who already have a voice, especially people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community who have been given less voice before today
A hard and sometimes thankless approach: all other things being equal, it’s harder than sets of well known music and hence harder still to become popular doing it
NB: to be super clear here: just because a track is newly made, doesn’t mean it’s expressing a new or interesting musical idea.
Being new or unreleased is necessary - but not sufficient - on the path to saying something interesting, right now.
What is your goal as a DJ?
Let’s step back a second. Here’s some strong beliefs I have long since held:
“I hold deep, long term optimism for the ability of all people to be creative and that includes DJing & music making communities - but that creativity needs to be actively supported and incubated.”
“While each community has the chance to look back and see the big creative moments that came before it, every community also deserves the chance to make its own unique creative works that persist over time. To get the chance to say: ‘this is us, this is now.’”
“I have been blessed with being in close proximity when several bass music scenes were founded and I wish that blessing on everyone who wishes for it, at least once in their lifetime.”
“The works made in these times may well be connected to what came before but are more likely to be remembered and cherished if they are distinct from what came before. And again: creativity needs to be actively supported and incubated for it to happen.”
That strong belief is what has motivated my decades of music listening, productions, A&R, journalism, blogging and events, in and around London black music and multicultural bass-heavy, pirate radio-inspired sonics for many years. I mention this to support my points by my actions, not just words.
It’s motivated the Keysound show on Rinse FM, which - as I have been trying to articulate a bit more on Instagram recently - has been dedicated every month for nearly 15 years to finding and showcasing unreleased music, sometimes from established producers but more often than not from producers who have not yet reached their peak of recognition.
Our approach goes like this:
Begin with a set of moods, influences & musical values: without this it’s chaos.
Dig for producers that are currently being creative in these spaces regardless of stature.
Filter their tracks based on which ones best articulate their ideas & fit with the base values.
Mix them in clusters to find creative similarities and novel juxtapositions. Tell small stories of today and of now.
Share with the widest audience to try to inspire further creativity.
Loop back to 1.
Now if we’re being critical, why can’t step 2 involve digging back in time?
Many DJs are making sets by looking for moods and vibes across all eras (and that’s great!), but our goal here is to “support and incubate” new artists such that they get the “chance to make [their] own unique creative works that persist over time.”
All DJs may have their own goals and motivations by the way - rock the crowd as easily as possible, have a laugh, get messy, get famous/adored/rich, escape difficult circumstances/bad jobs etc - and that’s OK, this is mine.
The reason why I believe in this new and unreleased music approach, is in part because almost every black music or pirate-centric scene I have loved through history has come about by a series of committed creative people making new music in the moment: dubstep, grime, jungle, hardcore, house, ragga, uk funky, deep tech, gqom and now UK’s flirtings with amapiano.
Generally speaking this has happened by looking to the now and moving forward with what you’ve made, not reviving old tracks, relentless anthem bashing etc.
If your goal is to make your “own unique creative works that persist over time” then this is a good approach that has worked for every pioneer I can think of: DJ Hatcha (dubstep), Slimzee & Mak10 (grime), Fabio & Grooverider (jungle), Larry Levan (US garage), Mark Radford (deep tech), Roska & Marcus Nasty (UK funky) + more.
(And yes, no doubt there are other ways (“genius not scenius”): I’m just pointing to the value of this one, while not saying it has a monopoly on helping make “unique creative works that persist over time.”)
Here’s something I wrote on this blog having observed the process, back in 2009:
Put simply: a band of like minded community members break away from the status quo, experiment a bit and find some “unique creative works that persist over time.”
What has the British wedding DJ ever done for us?
To see this more clearly, here’s an extreme, absurd example to contrast with it: British wedding DJs.
Everyone loves a wedding, I love a wedding, but in truth I have never gone to one to hear the DJ.
I have however DJed a whole bunch of weddings, usually with Dusk and we have our go-to selections there that I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know are quite unlike our Rinse sets.
But generally speaking other wedding DJs are the opposite of everything I stand for musically (apart from the Sikh wedding, I went to: that was amazing).
The approach of most UK wedding DJs is to play something everybody already knows, often zig zagging around haphazardly, or narrowing down to generational slices on the bride+groom’s orders. And having been there as a DJ, I really am sympathetic to the challenge because unlike clubs, you have a super wide age group, literally none of whom have come to see you play so the DJ has to go to the lowest common denominator.
But the case I’m trying to make with this absurd example is this: no musical scene, great lasting sonic works or cultural movement has ever come out of UK wedding DJ sets.
Why? Because they are playing records everybody already knows.
The memories and moments that those known records are tied to, have already happened. So the DJ playing them now will be forgotten tomorrow.
The same applies broadly to revival or old school nights: fun? Yes. Breaking new musical ground? No, literally by definition.
There is also another huge advantage wedding DJs and other “anthem bashers” use: someone else found the diamonds in the dirt for them already. So going back years or decades, it’s just so much easier to find dozens of (now) popular tracks and play them back to back than it is to listen to a dozen or even ten dozen tracks now and find one that will become popular.
This is totally OK by the way, wedding DJs have a very different goal but the point stands: if you think that each community deserves their “own unique creative works that persist over time” then playing records everybody already knows isn’t effective, even if it gets granny on the dance floor.
Why do people return to their teens for music?
As it happens, for a long time I wondered about wedding DJs and the music they are asked to play. As I went to weddings I thought to myself:
“Isn’t it weird that as many people get married around 30ish, the bride and groom almost always want music from when they were 14-20ish?”
Often when I thought “weird”... I also thought “depressing,” since there were bangers in the charts at that moment and lots of great music made in the decade since being a teenager. Why ignore all of that?
This led me to read “This is Your Brain on Music” and I learned why that usually is. This is why I think it’s objectively harder to play music people don’t know or music that contains new patterns - to people and get an emotive response, than it is to play music with patterns they know or even more so tracks they already know.
So according to the book’s author Levitin, the reason why people getting married want songs from when they were 14-20ish is because in this period your brain is still knitting together new connections, after which it peaks.
I think we’d all recognise this period as the time we formed our identity and neuroscientists are making the case that the brain behaves differently before compared to after it and the music you’re exposed to then and the patterns and complexity it has, sets the pattern for what you find enjoyable. After that it’s possible to find new tastes, it’s just that bit harder.
So what we’re hearing from Levitin is that there’s a special time in our lives for setting your music tastes but there’s something even more amazing he reveals. I think he can also tell us why it’s objectively harder to play tracks people don’t yet know or styles they don’t easily recognise, and get a positive emotional response.
Put simply: there’s no memory of the future.
“Each musical genre has its own set of rules and its own form. The more we listen, the more those rules become instantiated in memory.”
Turns out, the parts of the brain that are activated by music are shared by the parts that store memories. Music is a series of real time sonic patterns: each sound relates to what has come before it - a beat or a chord - and your brain processes that in real time using your musical memories.
As you listen to music you are real-time using your memory to see if you recognise the patterns in this song, against musical styles you’ve heard before or even if you’ve heard that song before.
Musicians even leverage this, when they set up a series of patterns that you then recognise, then in real time break the pattern - like a drum break with hits offbeat or a note that is suddenly out of the major chord. They then un-break the rule, resolve the pattern and as our memory recognises the pattern, the relief is pleasurable.
So let me try and summarise how unreleased sets have value, while repeating “to say one way of DJing has value is not making the case that other ways do not”:
Music freshly made now is by definition of the moment
Great tracks don’t come by often: there are far more of them in the past
People’s brains are hardwired for tracks and musical patterns they already know, so playing unreleased sets is the harder path
Every day someone falls in love with a song from an older era but that older song will never speak for a community in this moment as well as their new body of work can
By playing sets of unreleased and upfront music, we are making positive, optimistic vote for the now and what could be, rather than what already is, giving a voice to those who are not already celebrated.
So there it is, my case for unreleased sets. If you were unconvinced before, I hope I convinced you a little.
Appendix: outtakes, offcuts...
The fundamentals of DJing
DJing fundamentally has several key components that have not changed in maybe 40+ years:
choosing of tracks
the order in which you play tracks to tell your story
the process of getting from one track to another
this is a bit of a catch all, it could be the bits of mixing that are more creative less functional, it could be all the visual signs you give
This piece is mostly about selection.
Given that advances in DJ equipment from the vinyl through the CD to the digital era have made mixing so much easier, it’s never been more true that selection is hugely important in being creative as a DJ.
Zooming out, I think DJing is quite established now and it’s more likely that this decade will be better remembered for creative works and societal changes in other sectors, as they seem to be evolving faster. Also it’s not long before machine learning (AI) can recreate what most average dance DJs can do, in fact it’s probably already happening. Dance producers too.
Here’s what I mean by some terms involved:
Tracks that only you as a DJ have. Crucially, they do not need to be new to be exclusive to you: some DJs hold onto exclusives for decades. See also “specials:” a form of exclusive that mentioned you by name as a DJ.
"New music" also referred to as "dubs, dubplates, unreleased or demos."
These terms have related meanings but in this context what they mostly have in common is 1) they were probably made recently and 2) in most cases have not been made widely available (released by a label, free DL etc). They’re new and probably scarce.
A track may be new - newly made - but it may also have musical patterns that are long since familiar. Imagine, say, a bait, formulaic piano-house-by-numbers banger made in 2022: the track is new but the form is not.
Now, it’s hard to make something that fits the patterns our brains think of as music (rather than noise) and is also completely and utterly different, so to be clear what I am interested in as a DJ is new music that nudges the forms, moods, feelings of music within the broad constraints of black dance music in novel ways, rather than obviously pastiching the past.
Anyone who says in earnest “there’s only two types of music ‘good and bad’” needs to go and have a word with themselves.