Interview: Joy Orbison

By , Sep 9 2009
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Joy Orbison still hasn’t released his debut single, but already there’s more hype about him than there are 90% – if not more – of people making dance music in the UK right now. That’s mostly due to the strength of said forthcoming debut single, ‘Hyph Mngo’.

Leading dubstep commentator Martin Clark refers to it as an anthem in the making, Energy Flash author Simon Reynolds calls it a ‘talisman’ (albeit not in a particularly positive way), and it’s garnered massively positive reviews from FACT, Pitchfork and Resident Advisor. On Monday, ‘Hyph Mngo’ will finally be released on dubstep veteran Scuba’s Hotflush label – but who is Joy Orbison?

Well, as FACT found out when we spoke to Joy this week, he’s actually 22 year old Peter O’Grady, the well-mannered nephew of drum ‘n’ bass legend Ray Keith; he grew up in South London listening to garage icons Todd Edwards, Groove Chronicles and Zed Bias, he’s got future singles coming out on Aus Music and his own fledgling label, and he’s a big fan of emotion in music. Top bloke then.

Hey Joy. How’s it going? What are you up to?

“I am very well, and am currently at work.”

How did Joy Orbison get started in music?

“My first introduction to the kind of music that made a big impression on me was probably at the age of 11 or 12. My uncle is a Drum’n’Bass producer called Ray Keith; I had started to become interested in dance music so he would send me his albums and records. So from an early age I was really excited by Jungle, D’n’B and the idea of DJing.

“I got a set of turntables at the age of 13 and have been collecting records ever since. Up to about the age of 16 I was obsessed with that whole culture and through that I got into UK Garage as well. Production was always the natural progression but I actually waited quite a while – ’til I was about 18 – before I really gave it a go. At first I was just mucking about on Fruity Loops trying to imitate those 8 bar grime tracks, but as my friends got into Cubase I followed suit. From the age of 18 ’til about 21 it was more of a hobby; I was listening to lots of different types of music, playing in bands, so writing dance music was not always my main interest. But over the last two years I’ve been taking it a lot more seriously, I wrote ‘Hyph’ about a year ago and that kinda started the whole J.O. project.”

How many years have you been producing?

“About four.”

And how old are you now?

“22.”

Did you grow up in London – and did the area, or way you grew up inspire your music in any way?

“I moved about a bit when I was younger but I was born and currently live South Of London, not too far from Croydon.”

Whatever people want to call your music – be it dubstep, garage or whatever – how was it that you got into making it? What particular producers in that vein have inspired you most over the years, or inform the stuff you make now?

“I think a lot of my sound comes from UK Garage, producers like Todd Edwards, Zed Bias and Groove Chronicles. I always loved that darker side of Garage when I was younger, probably because it related so well to the Jungle I was introduced too. There’s definitely a lot of D’n’B there too, people like Calibre, D-Bridge and Nookie. Over the last few years I’ve been listening to people like Shed, Instra:mental, Peverelist, Mark E, Theo Parrish as well as a lot of post-punk bands and artists like Panda Bear and Grizzly Bear.”

Tell us more about how your style’s developed over those four years…

“Well, it started off as just grime and hip hop instrumentals but when I got Cubase I was listening to a lot of house so a lot of that stuff sounded like dodgy Morgan Geist rip-offs. I’ve experimented with all types of styles and tempos but I mainly work around 130-140 BPM. I actually think I’ve developed the most from when ‘Hyph’ was first made to now; over the last year or so I’ve become a lot more focused on the engineering side of things. I’m still very much a beginner but I can now achieve a lot more with the knowledge I have.”

What stuff do you try and evoke with your music? Like there’s a lot of ghostly, echoed vocals – are there any particular vibes or themes that run through your tracks?

“I’m a big fan of emotion in music so a lot of the sounds and vocals I use are there to sort of trigger that feeling. Although ‘Hyph’ may appear to be a relatively straight forward track, I’ve always found it quite hypnotizing and there’s a good reason why it’s so repetitive. Dance music only really appeals to me when it has that hypnotic, almost chanting feel. It’s written with the dance floor in mind so it always has that tribal element to it, but I don’t think that it has to be without some sort of emotion and feeling.”

Yeah, with ‘Hyph’, how was all that? It must have been pretty weird how big the tune got really quickly, and what a talking point it became…

“Pretty crazy really. When I first sent ‘Hyph’ to a few DJ’s I was almost sure they wouldn’t take to it; I was genuinely really unconfident about the reaction I would get. The track has definitely done a lot for me and I’m definitely very grateful for all the positive feedback it’s received. It is hard though to have your first release scrutinized so closely. A lot other artists have had time to create a sound and mature with a few releases before they really gain that sort of attention. I don’t resent that exposure but I’m definitely more excited about what’s to come than what I’ve done so far.

I’ve still never seen you DJ out – what’s a typical Joy Orbison set like?

“I play quite a range of styles in and around the 130-140 BPM range. Bits of House, Techno and Garage mixed in with a lot of fresh artists I’m really into at the moment.”

We talked about your influences growing up – who do you see as your peers in dance music, and who are current sources of inspiration for you?

“I dunno ’bout peers but I really rate Martin Kemp, Sigha, Mt Kimbie and James Blake, Joe, Ramadanman/Pearson Sound, Brackles, Pangaea…”

Tell us about your label, Doldrums.

“Doldrums is a label me and my friend Impey started, it was actually conceived before this whole J.O project. It’s basically a platform for us to release the music that we believe in; we’re both big vinyl hoarders so that’s what we’ll be mostly concentrating on. Our first release, ‘BRKLN CLLN/J. Doe’, by me, is scheduled for some time in October/November.”

What are you working on right now?

“Other than the Hot Flush and Doldrums 12″s I’ve got a few remixes on the way; one is particularly special to me as I’m a huge fan of the artist. I’m also working on an EP for Aus [Will Saul’s label] and another 12″ for Hot Flush both scheduled for next year… I think.”

Do you intend to do an album any time in the near future, and do you have any idea how you’ll approach it yet?

“I’ve been approached by a few labels in regard to an album but it’s not really something I want to do at the moment. I’d much rather concentrate on releasing some really interesting records and maybe tackle an album in a few years. I’d like an album of mine to be like a conscious project rather than a collection of beats and at the moment I’m not sure if I could achieve that.”

Anything else we should know about Joy Orbison?

“He’s friends with Kavsrave!”

‘Hyph Mngo’ is out now on Hot Flush. ‘BRKLY CLLN’ is scheduled for an October/November release on Doldrums. Photography credit for opening image: Jayne Helliwell.

Tom Lea

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