Zed Bias - Part 2 (of 2)
Continued from Part 1
OK well that’s the downsides of the garage scene there, but what about the positives?
The club nights were amazing. Proper made clubland friendly again – in certain cases, of course; I can’t generalise because as with everything it varies so much from place to place. If you’re in some ghetto neighbourhood or a bit of a ghetto club, the likelihood is that whatever the musical style you’ll walk in and it’s just drugs, air stinking of crack smoke, and you just want it all to be over as soon as you’re in the club. But there was a lot of people that ended up liking garage, and in that sort of four, five year window it ended up touching everywhere, and that included the high-street in places like Milton Keynes or whatever. And going from commercial clubbing to UK garage clubbing, you’d find it was a vastly different experience, people started getting more involved with the actual music and the happening – the MC would create more of a communication vibe, an interaction, where before there was just some guy playing commercial stuff, suddenly you’ve got a face, and you can communicate with the DJ through the medium of the MC, the whole thing of shouting “BOOOO!” meaning the track is great, all of that…
It made it into a party, a get-together, rather than the total mania of rave or the mindless get-pissed-and-pull mentality of the commercial nights?
Yeah, just that, it was bringing back the party vibe. And even though people began to dress up a lot, and there were a lot of posers which got on my wick a bit at the time, looking back on it, as long as people weren’t shooting each other or beating each other up it doesn’t matter does it? As long as people are having a good time, it doesn’t matter if they’re strict Moschino types or if they’re a total Swampy, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people can go out and listen to this stuff and not get intimidated, and that was there for a good while – it got lost a bit, and more recently dubstep has taken up that torch, in a different way, obviously after ten years it’s a different experience, but you can go out in most towns Thursday, Friday, Saturday and go raving to dubstep, even though the music’s not commercial in the same way as garage… I think the taste of the nation’s changed, and they just accept these gnarly basslines and weird sounds as normal now – but I’m seeing the same smiles on the same typical girls’ faces as back in 2000, 2001.
I think Annie Mac taking over the flagship dance slot on Radio 1 was really symbolic of this shift actually – instead of house and trance, the commercial dance music now is the stuff she plays, which spans electro, dubstep, drum’n’bass and the rest, and which has a lot of aggro basslines.
Absolutely. And the internet itself, and the whole phenomenon of how we listen to music itself, has changed so much in all this multitude of ways – just these tiny little things, like the way basslines get less subby and more in the mid-range with these buzzing sounds, that isn’t for the club, this is so people can differentiate between good and bad basslines on a laptop.
Or even on their phones!
Yep, I mean a year or two ago, you could get on a bus up here and just hear Niche music [i.e. northern bassline house] for an hour or two. I guess if you’ve just got a beat and a sub bassline, however well produced – well, let’s face it, Mala tunes are not going to sound so good on a phone speaker as, say, Doctor P. It’s an evolution that comes from technology and how we consume things, that’s inevitable as each particular technology spreads, but it’s very weird as a producer to come through as many layers of this as I have, to find myself thinking about these things when I’m making music and considering these things and thinking, well, actually sub-bass isn’t what this needs because nobody’s gonna hear it!
Maybe you just need to fire your Amiga up again, then, go back to lo-fi?
Mate, if I could have my Amiga back again, I would love it [laughs].
Heh, that makes me think, there must be so many boxes full of floppy discs, squirrelled away in people’s mums’ attics, with big producers’ first experiments on Amigas and STs.
I’m tellin’ yer! And you know what, even back when I got my first one they were old then, they were old hat and you could get them for about five, ten pounds at a car boot sale… Who knows, they’ve probably gone up since then because of the whole retro thing.
Well, Zomby supposedly did that Where Were U In ‘92 album of retro rave tracks all on an ST… But going back to the garage, the musicality of it – again there was this whole soul-funk thing coming back in which I guess had gone out of drum’n’bass at the time.
Yes. It had absolutely gone out of drum’n’bass. All the guys who were big in drum’n’bass at the time, the Bad Company and Ed Rush & Optical, they were just hammering it out – and they had lost a lot of ladies from the crowd. Just from my experience, I know a lot of my friends weren’t enjoying going to these sausage-fests to hear drum’n’bass – and it weren’t even drum’n’bass any more, just two kicks, two snares and a motorbike bass, they were just lusting after that heavy 808 and Amen thing… So a lot of people I knew that were into the scene went over to the garage scene, because it was a friendlier clubbing experience, but also because like you say, the soul, the rare groove, the synth lines, the Fender Rhodes samples and all the rest of it, that was all there, and that was vital to it – it was great.
Now, I mean, as you well know there’s a fine line between a funky bassline and a well-written melody and a cheesy, nasty, horrible bassline or nagging melody that could quite easily cross over, but it’s no longer soul or funk, it’s just pop and nothing else – and that line was constantly being blurred for quite a while. But I think my favourite period was about ‘98 to 2000, in fact I could probably mark it out at Millenium eve, because Millenium eve was the start of the big cash-in, I remember the whole thing of clubland going crazy, charging £100 a ticket to get in, and DJs really starting to get above themselves. There was a lot of tunes going in the charts in ‘99 and 2000 – but obviously there was really good stuff, things like Groove Chronicles, things like “First Born” by Crazy Baldheads, one of the first two-step tunes ever, fucking amazing, using Anita Baker samples… and I was bitterly jealous that they’d done that because I am the biggest Anita Baker fan, and if anyone was going to do that it should’ve been me. Sorry, I’m off the track again [laughs]
You were just talking about what happened around the Millenium to garage…
Yeah, just the focal element, there was a lot of people who began to drift away too, maybe. A lot of the people who are the 40-somethings of today, the early-30-somethings back then, who’d experienced a bit of the good music, the soul revival of the 80s, had gone to blues parties and this, that and the other, and really did know the score about that sort of music – and they were quite a solid force behind it, the whole going out thing, and I guess for that era the garage scene was the last real going out experience before their mid-30s collapse of the social life and all that [chuckles]. I’m still in touch with these people now, and they’re still harking back to the garage days like it was the soul revival – which is kind of reassuring in a way, because that tells me we were doing something that inspired that same feeling, that we were part of something like that.
In a way it never stopped… It was really funny to me that when the whole interest in 2-step came back around in the last couple of years, having lived in London and listened to pirate radio I just thought, well, garage never went away did it? Half the radio stations were still playing it non-stop right through the 2000s, and every weekend there were raves out in Luton, in Southampton, in Kent and Essex, whatever… ladies free before eleven, no trainers, same vibe, the same people going out who ever did, even the same people making the music, with Wideboys and Agent X still making straight garage tunes for that scene…
Yeah and fair play to those guys, I have a lot of respect for them actually. At the time I remember thinking – not about Wideboys or MJ Cole who I have utmost respect for – but I remember thinking that the guys that have made it commercial in the first place were no longer anywhere to be seen, but it had just been a matter of taking the money and then disappearing. People who continued to make that kind of music like Wideboys and MJ Cole, they definitely helped in creating the climate for the resurgence of this kind of music now. If everybody had just upped and left, that’s just party over right there.
A lot of people into the soulful, vocal side that we’re talking about were so turned off by the youngsters like So Solid, and everything that came with that, that they just backed off into R&B or whatever it might be.
Yeah, I remember that happening with the whole So Solid and Pay As U Go and Heartless Crew, it was a complete metamorphosis – and there was a lot of people that were blaming the likes of me and other producers who were making more bass-led stuff, there was this “garage committee” formed, and I was being named by one of them as one of the people making tunes that encouraged MCs to do their thing, the sort of MCs they said shouldn’t be booked, all this kind of thing. These tracks shouldn’t be played, fucking crazy, very Nazi really [hollow laugh]. And as soon as I heard about all this, I just lost my interest frankly – having come from Milton Keynes, and never really pandered to the Londoners anyway beyond turning up to do this or that gig or get dubs cut, I was just “well if you want to be like that, fine, I mean it’s just life as normal for me, not like you’re inviting me down anyway, so whatever.”
And looking around for something else to do, for different influences, it all came down to the same jazz funk and rare groove for me. So the natural progression for me, once I’d got production nailed in terms of being able to mix down my stuff and make beats and basslines and make club hits, in my head the next progression was to get to recording vocalists and musicians, and to try and make these kind of grooves that I’d been sampling for all these years. So I suppose between 2000 and 2005, I really started another sort of apprenticeship, which was going into the world of recording soul vocals – and not just vocals, because I’d always recorded vocals, but I’m talking big intricately structured harmonies, vocals that were inspired by Quincy Jones productions and stuff like that.
So I’d basically given myself a massive task with this, and to do this I needed a nice mixing desk – but luckily in 2001 I got signed to EMI publishing and was able to spend 20-odd grand on a TL Audio desk that would enable me to get that distinctive, warm, ’70s/’80s sound. And even more than the vocal it was about horn and string arrangements too, learning to work with arrangers and musicians, bringing together the two worlds if you like – the electronic format and the studio format. I’d never worked in a studio as an apprentice or engineer or anything, and I had to learn all this stuff as I went along.
This seems like quite a perverse move on your part – I mean this is a point in music and technology where everything is miniaturising and miniaturising, or going completely digital, and you decided you were going to move from digital production to dealing with real strings vibrating and people in the room.
Yep. And it was this real learning curve, and I found myself at the bottom of it again, just like when I first started: I had to move once again from really terrible sounding mixdowns, and really hollow sounding recordings, learn to really value the equipment and get it right again. So for the Phuturistix album, and the Maddslinky album – the first one – that was where I really started to get the skill of what I’m doing. Not necessarily all the fine scientific points, but if I listen back now to that period I can get hold of what I’m trying to do on a producer level, and definitely think that here’s a white boy from Milton Keynes but I’d got the spirit of what I was trying to achieve. And so I was happy enough with that, enough to fully commit myself in about 2004 to moving to Manchester to basically run an even bigger studio, massive, about 500 square metres, and set up this soul label, Phuture Lounge putting out soul, broken beat, jazz funk – live bass, live drums, horns… I basically sold my house in Milton Keynes, spent a bucket on making these records over four years in Manchester, and even though not one of those bits I recorded has seen the light of day yet, I have no doubt that they will sooner or later because they’re songs, real songs, and they’re good. They’re for the vault just now, I suppose…
And were you aware at that time of the offshoots from your previous bass-heavy garage productions, whether that’s Wiley, Terror Danjah and the grime producers, or the FWD» thing that became dubstep?
you know that FWD» I was kind of part of from day one, up until about two thousand and… three I suppose. But it became mutually obvious between the guys who run Ammunition, and ourselves – ourselves being Phuturistix, which was myself and DJ Injekta, we had the residency at FWD» and did the bulk of our work together from 2001-2003 – it became obvious that musically we’d gone in different directions. What they were doing was going over my head, and what we were doing was going over theirs.
To put it in simplistic terms, you were about adding more to the garage framework in terms of jazzy chords, instruments and so on, and they were about stripping even more away!
Completely. It was completely the opposite happening, completely opposite directions, nobody disrespecting anybody’s music, just a matter of “oh, you’re doing that now”. I mean, Sarah Souljah from Ammunition, she signed me to EMI publishing back in the day, she knows me, my journey, my likes and dislikes, and I know hers – and she’s a soul girl, too, she loves her Roy Ayers all the way, likes her rare groove. So she knew where my heart was at all the way through that period and there was never any hint of “oh Dave you should be doing this or that”, just very much a case of I was doing what I was doing and it was there to be appreciated or not.
So yeah, you had that whole period where I was going completely soulful and jazzy and they’d gone all minimal, then it was a really nice change to come back and discover how it had all gone. From the early days when they started putting out tracks, those early ones by Benga and Skream and Cyrus, these young lads coming through the ranks doing this incredibly minimal music made on Playstations, on Music2000, and… I wouldn’t say I turned my nose up at it, but I really didn’t understand it!
I’d broken my balls to get music with real sound quality together over the years, and here were these people making music on Playstations and they were getting pure love. I was just in a state of disbelief, but also I didn’t really get it because I wasn’t hearing it in context, I wasn’t hearing them on loud soundsystems any more – same with the 8-bar, which turned into grime, that was another scene that totally passed me by. That again was Music 2000 on the Playstation, and you could really tell. So I suppose I just became a little aloof, because I wasn’t backing it myself, I fully wasn’t getting it.
But then again, you get to 2007, 2008 and boy did I get it! Suddenly people like Benga and Skream whose early tracks I couldn’t listen to and understand in any way, shape or form – these guys were now properly accomplished musicians. There’s actually no other way to look at it, they’re properly accomplished musicians. They’re not just DJ/producers on some half-hearted this-or-that, on a suck-it-and-see for an experience, these guys have developed and honed and really composed their way to the top. I see them as really like classical composers in a way, they don’t have the musicians and the vocalists to fall back on – everything in the tracks they’ve made has been them. I mean, not going too overboard about it, these kids that I just didn’t understand at one point had flowered and absolutely come into their own musically, and I am digging it, I mean proper digging it.
So in 2008, when I had my birthday party in January I went down to FWD», very very drunk with Jay Electronica and Simbad, and really found out the leaps and bounds that the sonics and the music had made – and kind of felt like a bit of a lemon in a way because I should’ve known what these lot were capable of, I should’ve kept more of an eye on what was going on along the way. But I’m really like this – unless people put something directly under my nose, I’m not the sort of person to be out there looking for new stuff, I’m more likely to go back in time and draw from my previous experience whether that’s music or old films; I’m very much a retrospective sort of a person.
So yeah, it was funny discovering that all this was happening – and I daresay I could’ve been a part of it back then if things had been different as I was part of the initial FWD» movement, but as I just didn’t understand it I guess it was only proper the way things went.
But did you find you could slot back into it easily when you did rediscover the scene? Were they happy to have you, as someone who’d been a strong influence early on, say “yes, I’m into this”?
Well, what actually happened was they booked me for, I think it was the seventh anniversary do, at a big warehouse off Curtain Road in Shoreditch, and they asked me to play all the bits I used to play at FWD» with a little bit of what’s going on now. No mention of dubstep or anything like that, but obviously dubstep’s happened by then, it’s well on my radar by then, but I just didn’t know either how good it really was, or how much love that scene still had for where it all came from. So when I went down there and played what I consdered to be my standard FWD» set with a load of early Menta and J Da Flex, all the stuff that I never used to hear in the garage scene, when I played them and had the whole place going berserk like it was back in the day… well it sent me a bit evangelical if anything.
For a few months after, to anyone who’d listen I was just “fuckin’ hell, this dubstep scene’s fuckin’ off it’s head, it’s great!” and I started to want to be… not exactly properly in it, I didn’t see myself being part of it, but I just wanted to experience more of it and get my head around what it all was and where I fit into it. And then once I started properly digging, and going on dubstepforum and stuff, I couldn’t believe what people were writing about the early days and the Roots of Dubstep and the dark bits of garage – and especially that a lot of tunes that I’d written off, or even forgotten making, were actually a big part of this thing, still. I was so happy people were still writing about these things, and the Roots of El-B and Roots of Dubstep things, these albums that came out shone a torch on some of the old productions… well, I was a bit gobsmacked, still am to some degree.
But it’s given me my new hobby, which is, ummm, making dubstep! [shakes head, laughs in semi-disbelief] And I absolutely love it. I’ve got my head right back into it. I’m not approaching it from the point of view of “I’ve done it before and I want to dig back into that for all it’s worth”, though – the rules have completely changed and my inspirations have changed. I can’t get any more inspiration out of rare groove and jazz funk, I’m 36, I’ve listened to those records hundreds of times, I’ve been to all the blues parties I’m ever going to go to, all the soul revivals, it’s not going to happen for me in that way any more.
My inspirations are current producers, doesn’t have to be dubstep, there are quite a few producers up there at the moment whose music inspires me. Benga and Skream are obvious; Benga, I think the way he puts his beats together is amazing, like vooodoo, totally unexplainable, and the way Skream gets power into his tracks in just unfathomable. Having worked with him it’s still unfathomable, he’s just got such skill about where he goes and where he stops, it’s all about knowing where to stop and leave a sound where it is, you can tweak and tweak and tweak and you’ll tweak the goodness out of something, but he’s really inspired me because he’s on such a production level and it’s all about knowing when to stop.
Because Skream works fast and he works a lot – it’s like breathing.
We both do! We’re both capable of knocking out three or four tracks a day, if we want, if we’ve got time, if we’ve not got little boys running around biting our knees [as his small son is doing at this point].
But Skream does quite extreme things as well, he’s accessible, but he’ll do things like put in a snare that’s so harsh it’s actually shocking the first time you hear it, and yet it creates this really distinctive sonic signature and makes a track work in its own right.
It’s all about how it sounds in a club, and, really importantly, how it’s going to sound on dubplate – because you don’t get the same sound playing an mp3 as you do playing his track mastered and cut to vinyl. Same with Mala, because Mala’s a producer for vinyl, Coki as well… I mean fucking hell, Coki is a mindblowing producer. But over the years, I would say that my biggest producer influence, a real inspiration in so many different ways, on so many levels, has been Mark Pritchard. We’re talking since 2001 at least, I think – in fact, I can date it back exactly, to the record launch party for “Neighbourhood” in 2000, and my mate John had just been to some record shop in Soho and picked up this remix by Mark Pritchard of “Carambola” by Azymuth. And that is really, to this day, one of my most played tracks ever, one of the most impersonated tracks by me, a proper inspiration. “Strike Hard” by him [as Troubleman] is another massive tune, that’s some of the best drum programming ever on that record.
What’s incredible about Pritchard is he’s been going twenty-odd years but his mojo is still fully intact, he’s doing some of the best tracks of his career right now, and fitting into the current scene absolutely.
It really is amazing, and that’s another inspiration – to just keep doing what you’re doing and whatever that is to be 100% committed to it yourself. Because it’s very easy to let your musical brain feel it’s run out of inspiration if you let up the pressure on yourself…
Especially if you’re reliant on a scene or a sound – but Pritchard never really has been, since the very earliest days when Reload and Global Communications were part of techno and ambient…
Well yeah, but he could just as easily go onto Good Looking in ‘95, ‘96 and do drum’n’bass stuff that really set the sound for things that came after…
OK let’s go back to you, because there’s a gap to fill in here – in between you moving to Manchester and starting this real instruments, soul music stuff, and your reconnection with the dubstep scene which is only very recent. What happened in between that?
Right, let’s take it back to 2007. In 2007 a couple of things were happening, first among which was that I was rediscovering my love of house music, big time. And [from that] I teamed up with a few people – and I don’t want to put too much importance on this, but it really sorted my head out being able to work with these people, sorted my confidence out, gave me the kick-start to get up and at it. I’d sort of lost motivation by 2006, moving to this new studio in Manchester wasn’t really paying dividends, then in 2007 I put out an album on Sick Trumpet called Experiments With Biasonics as Zed Bias and sold about 350 copies. Regardless of what the album was like, that tore my confidence right up.
But around that time I started working with Phil Asher and Paul Randolph. Paul is the front man and bass player in Jazzanova at the moment when they do their live thing, Paul’s on the road all the time with them, and he also performed with Amp Fiddler; on Amp’s last album I’d co-produced three of the tracks up in Manchester, and Paul was another person I really wanted to work with. So Phil Asher and Paul Randolph I made quite a lot of house music with. Paul I’ve got an album with that we’ve just got coming out soon, it’s very very nearly finished, and that’s going to be exclusive to Japan. It’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that, but mainly house music. And [with] Phil I had a single out last year on MN2S, ”Take me Away”, featuring Fyza on the vocals who was also on our track on his Phlash & Friends album.
Phil Asher is one of those people who has been around for so long, his influence is kind of etched into the fabric of things. I know a few people in the very, very early UK garage scene were playing his tracks…
Phil is just one of those unsung heroes. Always been there, always played the best stuff out there across sub-genres, he’s really one of the behemoths of British house music – I’d put him up there as one of our best, like a Kenny Dope sort of figure. Besides being really, really good on the MPC, he’s royalty. House royalty.
And he seems to remain influential to this day, behind the scenes, as it were.
Well he’s been a big, big influence on me [recently], not just in terms of tunes but in terms of just going down to his place, chilling with him, telling him me problems and getting advice. It’s nice because I feel like I provide that role, and have done, for so many younger people I work with, but I’ve not been in the position where I could go to people for advice, not since the very first days when I was starting out above a record shop in Milton Keynes trying to work out how to string breakbeats together.
So yeah having him as someone who was a sounding board, and would give me an honest reaction on things was so important around 2007 when really it felt like I was starting again from scratch. The distribution I’d set up for my solo things and Phuture Lounge dissolved, I had two or three companies go down, including one I’d sold two or three thousand albums with – taking all our money with it. Mmmm, that was an interesting time… But then I remember January of 2008, I was asked to do a DJ set at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards with Phil Asher, and that again was a massive confidence boost.
Gilles has always supported my stuff, but for a few years hadn’t so much – then out of the blue he got in touch and asked me for a remix for one of his acts, Soil & Pimp Sessions, then asked me onto his show, and then onto the Worldwide Awards. It was a crazy time for him to do it, because at the time I had nothing going on, no singles, just a few bits and pieces on this Sick Trumpet album, but judging by the sales that wasn’t going to set the world on fire. So I just thought “fair play”, Giles just judging the time right, and I used that as a springboard to come back from the ashes or whatever – made a whole lot more house tracks, got a new publishing deal, which again added confidence having someone else on the team to consult on certain things.
It’s important because if you don’t have a load of mates in the studio, like you might when you’re young and starting out, nodding or shaking their heads, or just taking the piss, you can find yourself in a place where musically you go further over the edges than you intended, you’re not doing what you should be doing, or you’ve just slipped into doing things in a way that doesn’t show your strengths without even realising it. So yeah, it’s good to have people to give you more perspective.
And the timescale of this, then, it kind of overlaps with your reconnection with the dubstep scene? It’s like you were rediscovering the music industry – or being rediscovered – on two fronts at once?
Yeah, that’s right. Between, I dunno, 2004 and 2007, 8, I was only playing jazzy stuff, nu jazz, broken beat, soulful house all that kind of thing to small crowds, not so much international stuff just a little gig once in a while somewhere small like the Jazz Rooms down in Brighton. And it was good, but when I got into the house thing with Phil Asher I realised I had to start again completely and it had to be from a place where it was just pure love, pure love for the music. Now my first choice of club music since I was really young, as you know, was proper house music and garage – OLD garage, four-to-the-floor, vocals, you know… Even now, not that I go out much except to play, if I were to go out it would be to check a Phil Asher set, I can still do a little Rick Astley shuffle to a bit of soulful house!
So the house music is there and it’s at the heart of what I do, but one thing I decided at that point, and actually it was a little bit scary, was not to separate the pseudonyms and the different styles of music as much as I had done. So I want to put the name Zed Bias to everything and be done with it; you’ll see the Maddslinky one has “aka Zed Bias” all over it. The days are gone when everyone bought vinyl, and you might buy a bit of vinyl just because it’s got so-and-so name on it, you buy it because it says Zed Bias on it then you get home having spent blah-blah pounds on it, put it on and it’s not what you wanted. Those days are gone; as soon as you do anything online people know what it is, there’s no surprises, the word’s out. So that’s one reason for me to think I can do that.
So now, I’ve got a soulful house release coming up, I’ve got a dubstep release with Skream, I’ve got a free giveaway garage track – then remixes I’ve done lately are a soulful house mix of El-B ‘I Feel’, an old-school steppers 2-step mix of Mighty Moe featuring Wiley… I’m spreading it out, I’m not limiting myself to a certain vibe or a certain style or a certain tempo – and this is purely for my own benefit, mind: I just don’t want to drive myself crazy trying to fit things into boxes. If I wake up one morning and want to do house music then that’s what I’m going to do, and I don’t have to worry if it fits with whatever project I’ve got on the go.
The last act of breaking the shackles, I suppose, was hooking up with Tru Thoughts and then realising this was a label that has dealt with all of these styles, and when I came with a bit of house music, a bit of dubstep, just general weirdness and hybrid sorts of production, they believed in it. Obviously they didn’t like ever single track I played them, but basically when I put all this stuff in front of them that I was doing, they understood it and were enthusiastic about the whole lot. So that’s played a massive part in just being able to march on and do what I do with an air of confidence.
It’s interesting that you’ve found the space to do what you wanted in Manchester and Brighton, both towns with their own deep rooted club scenes that are quite independent from London…
Yeah, I think Manchester’s gone full circle actually, it’s absolutely amazing again at the moment. I’ve seen it go from really quite poor when I moved up there to being one of the best nights out in the country. Monday nights at Hit and Run are sick. You’ll hear drum & bass, dubstep and all sorts, and they bring all the good guests up to Manchester; Skream loves playing there, MJ Cole really loves it, I’ve done it and loved it… and on a monday night, they’ve got six, seven hundred people – now I can’t remember the last time I went to London and played to seven hundred people who were bang into it, let alone on a weeknight, unless it was a one-off special or something. But the last three or four gigs I’ve played in Manchester have been really heavy.
And Manchester’s got the history of eclecticism in clubs like Electric Chair and now Hoya Hoya.
Those Hoya Hoya guys have really done something good there, I have loads of respect for those guys Ryan and Jonny – they’ve just stuck to their guns, walked their own path and the times have caught up with them. They’ve got kudos in Manchester now, where a lot of people had just written them off as some weird fringe thing. Now they’ve got all these links with that Brainfeeder scene and the Scottish guys which everyone is into, so they’re doing the right thing at the right time now – but the thing is that’s what they were always into and always doing anyway, so it’s great, all power to ‘em!
Talking of what’s current, but on more of a London thing, what have you made of funky?
Not wanting to make a pun, but I felt like I’d been here before. Absolutely. To me it’s Masters At Work, it’s DJ Gregory, it’s Phil Asher… I’ve got tracks of his from years back that people would say now are funky though-and-through. It’s young kids being exposed to a certain strain of high-quality house music and wanting to make it their own. Having said that, when I first heard it, it was four-to-the-floor, that snare rhythm, quite a standard rhythm – but there are definitely those coming through now who are pushing it somewhere more interesting. Roska is the obvious one, he’s come on leaps and bounds since I first became aware of him.
He got in touch a year or two ago and asked if he could remix a couple of my old garage things, way before he was doing anything popular – and he’s a very popular lad right now – but he got in touch and I sent him parts of an old track I did called “Spare Ribs”, and he absolutely annihilated that, so I thought “OK, righto, this kid’s on something”, and every time since then I check out where he’s going and what he’s doing he’s just gone from strength to strength.
The great thing about Roska is how he’s kept to his style of really sparse, bare, rhythms but done it on a huge scale. I saw him tear up Sónar in front of 2,000-odd people, and he had the confidence to keep it raw and rough.
Yep, that’s it – confidence. I’ve said the word a few times now today, but confidence is what makes the difference between a good producer and a great producer. A great producer, like I said with Skream, is someone who knows when to stop, who knows when to stop tweaking. Like a great artist is someone who knows when to make the last brushstroke. And with Roska, I listen to tracks he did a couple of years ago and they’re not as stripped down and dynamic as what he’s doing now. The elements are the same, but it’s what he’s decided to leave out that’s making it better. And he absolutely smashed it with his remix of “Neighbourhood”, a hard track to remix or so I’m told! [chuckles]
And in between funky, dubstep and all the other variants of sound, there’s a whole genre meltdown where something like Hyperdub, Deep Medi, Swamp81 or Hessle Audio labels can become completely flexible with sound and tempo; is that something you feel at home amongst?
Yeah. It’s a very brave move to attempt to make a label that can have such wide parameters, it’s definitely brave. Obviously it’s a lot easier to market a label if you can say “we make this kind of music”, it’s much easier; not necessarily better or even more successful but definitely much easier. It’s so much easier if you come from the dubstep world and have a label to just go “I’ll get the best of the dubstep world, whack it out, everyone knows that’s what we’re about, there you go”. But anyone who is looking to be that eclectic these days, it’s gonna be hard work, but Loefah’s label is really proving that it’s not only possible to do but possible to do with amazing A&R. He’s picked some really great artists, and great tunes from them. Ramadanman, I’ve had my eye on for a little while, he was making great tunes that were just sort of garagey, within a certain style, very El-B back in the day with a hint of Burial spaced-out kind of thing, but a really nice sound. To begin with I’d say, it’s really nice, I love this sound but I can’t play your tracks in my set, but now I can’t stop playing his tracks in my set! ‘Work Them’ is a big tune, a really big tune across genres, and that proves that the crossover can happen – same way as the Joy Orbison track last year. And also on Swamp81 “Footcrab”! “Footcrab” IS a genre. People ask me lately, “what sound are you into at the moment” and I just say “Footcrab”!
And so your Maddslinky album is an attempt to pull this diversity together into a coherent album format? Do you think it worked, as something to listen to from beginning to end rather than a selection of varied club tracks?
I used to worry that it hadn’t. Coming from where I come from and being conditioned into thinking there was this rule and that rule when it comes to making an album, I was concerned that it wasn’t a coherent listen. But actually I stopped listening to it after I compiled it, then started listening to it again quite recently, and now, knowing that Rob Luis of Tru Thoughts has signed it off, I can listen to it more as a punter – and taking into consideration how much more widely accepted dupstep is now and the general gnarliness and extremity that is acceptable in even chart music right now, I think yeah, it is coherent, and it does hold together properly. You can sit down and listen from beginning to end, even if, worst case scenario, you’re skipping one track that’s not your taste.
Well it’s not short of variety, you’ve gone all the way from fully abstract electronic tracks to an out-and-out ballad.
Yeah ‘Further Away’ with Tawiah; it’s a ballad, definitely. The thing is, if you go back to 70s music and pick up an album, 70s bands – I’m not talking rock bands, but pop, soul, funk, that sort of thing, the sort of thing that was really my first introduction to music – you’ll get lots of different tempos, loads of different styles even. You’ll have one or two ballads on an album, a couple of really uptempo numbers, a couple of out-and-out singles, more commercial things, and you’ll have a quirky thing on there. Well, I could’ve just described my album there, couldn’t I? So we’re full circle, back to the stuff I grew up on… I suppose, thinking about it, fifteen-odd years on since I picked up my first software, got my first Amiga, I’ve got something that represents my angle on it, that gives a nod to what I love rather than trying to remake it, giving people a clue to what I’m about in quite an honest way.
If there’s one thing I can say about this album it’s that it’s not contrived, I’ve never set out to do this style of track or that track for that point on the album – all of them have come from a blank canvas, from experiments, and going “I’m going to do whatever comes natural right now”. Some have been in stages – pass a skeleton beat to a vocalist to write to, or get someone else involved – but the origins of these tracks have never been “right, this is going to be a dubstep track” or “this one’s the garage track, we need a garage track on there”. I was determined for that not to happen in fact. So there you are, it worked, I think!