“‘The Bits’ is crucial. In many ways, Trim is London.”
There’s been several dubstep and grime full lengths released to acclaim this year – from Martyn, 2562, Peverelist, Rob Smith, Roll Deep, Terror Danjah, FaltyDL and more – but late November saw an album quietly released that unfortunately seems destined to fall through the cracks and miss end of year lists.
Sheffield dubstepper Grievous Angel‘s Margins Music Redux is a remix album with a difference. Overwhelmingly measured in the care it takes over – and the love it clearly shows for – the original material on hand (all from Dusk and Blackdown‘s 2008 LP Margins Music), it’s mixed into one long track on Ableton, and is one of the year’s most emotional, euphoric listens, spending extended periods of loops and samples building up to heady vocal climaxes.
Dusk and Blackdown presented Grievous Angel with the task of “mutating the DNA” of their debut album after becoming “enthralled by [his] Albeton mixes that blurred the lines between DJing and remixing” – one of which was presented by FACT last year. Blackdown and Grievous can both famously talk for England, so I sent them some emails to find out more.
Blackdown – what did you have in mind when you gave Grievous the parts to Margins Music, and how did it compare to the finished result on Margins Music Redux?
Blackdown: “I was flying down the fast lane of the motorway in January 2008, probably slightly over the speed limit listening to one of Grievous Angel’s Dubstep Sufferah mixes and was amazed by it. At the time I was thinking about how we could twist and mutate our album to push it further but was convinced how incoherent “remix albums” were: essentially they’re a collection of 14 or so unrelated production trademarks. Given what he’s capable of with Ableton, getting Grievous Angel to remix our whole album seemed like a much more coherent way of approaching it. As for the finished result it sounded as I’d hoped: something greater than the sum of its parts that flowed, was not the same as original album but yet was not totally random and disjoined.”
Were you precious at all about someone remixing your entire debut album – especially when it’s an album that clearly has quite a personal theme to it?
BD: “Yes, I won’t lie, I had to fight the primal urge that said ‘what are you doing??!!’ It was hard to give someone the parts but it’s a trust ting and we trusted Grievous and he did us proud. I actually now give him all our upfront Dusk & Blackdown beats now because of this.”
Grievous Angel: “Martin did relate to me how it was a big deal for him to let someone else so deep into his music. But he was unstintingly generous and helpful when I asked for more and more parts!”
Grievous – how did you initially approach the project? Did you have any specific ideas before even getting the parts, or did you just jam with them and see what you came up with?
GA: “I had some very clear objectives and some very deliberate inspirations, and I knew exactly what shape the mix would take and what effect it would have. But I had no idea how I would execute each element. I’ve described quite a lot of this in the sleeve notes. I felt directly inspired by Dusk and Blackdown’s vision of the album, I was utterly gripped by it musically for months when they sent it to me, and the concept of a mythical and concrete London was so well executed I knew exactly where I wanted to go with it – a gutter transcendence.
“I knew I wanted to intensify that sense of genius loci which so many writers have identified in London, and which utterly possessed the original album. I also knew that I wanted to link the grooves and the themes both across the tracks and within, mixing the parts of different tracks together. The aim was to weave, not to add – I wanted to preserve the integrity of the tracks.
“Because the inspiration was things like Panthalassa, Bill Laswell’s Miles Davis mix / remix album, where he added very little other than effects and the odd bit of tabla but sharpened the focus on the most gripping elements. And Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, with its lush, enveloping symphonic soul. Once you’ve got a good structure for what you want to achieve you can just let rip. I didn’t jam exactly, but I did let it flow – then edited savagely.”
Is the Trim track ['The Bits'] the one that initially stood out to you as the album’s centrepiece? You spend a lot of time building to it on Redux.
GA: “Musically I think ‘dis/East’ is the centrepiece – that is one heavy, heavy piece of music!
“But in terms of the what the album’s about, ‘The Bits’ is crucial. In many ways, Trim is London. He is streets and he is Canary Wharf, he’s the Commercial Road and he’s the river, he encapsulates it all and he expresses it all. This is something me and John Eden talk about all the time – Trim is just incredibly important as an artist, yet he’s almost completely marginalised.
“So having his voice on the record – and one of his very best performances, and some of his greatest verses – was a very big deal for me. And those are really precious assets, you’ve got to make the most of them, got to sweat them! It was obvious you could use his voice as a hook for the long accelerating run through Akkaboo and then bang – stop the forward motion dead with this stark, dread focus on the voice. So you have this lush, slow-fucking drift up from the keysounds at the start, picking up energy all the time, until you hit Trim and it’s all sucked into this hole. That’s a very dubstep thing to do. Very Eski. They’re two sides of the same coin, dubstep and Eski. And it puts Trim and his utterly compelling, utterly uncompromising vision of E14, of London, right bang in the middle of the record. And he steals the whole thing. And then you build it up again.
“Cos Dusk and Blackdown have so many great riddims on that record, you can do a big drop and know you’ve got loads of ammunition left to take it back up again. But that long slow build up to Trim is crucial. I almost wish I’d used even more. And of course there’s loads of bits of Goodz and Roll Deep scattered through the record, in the background, timestretched.”
BD: “What Grievous Angel did with ‘The Bits’ was nuts, just as good as I’d hoped it would be: like some devil mix of ‘The Bits’. It’s probably my favourite part of the mix, really just strips The Bits back to its exoskeleton. Given Untold, Zomby and my devil mix of ‘Knife & Gun’ it really fits in with the eski flavour that’s been so inspirational of late.
How did you approach it compared to the way you approach your Ableton mixes, or even your own last album, which came with its own mixed version?
GA: “Redux came straight out of the Dubstep Sufferah series, where I was being both really rough and really scientific, smashing tunes together but also dissecting them, carefully recombining them. ‘Cause with the Sufferah series I was merging soul and dubstep and hiphop and grime and dancehall, but in a way that reinforced the pulse of dubstep, instead of being some eclectic toss. With Redux I could do the same thing but much deeper, cos I could link different elements of the tracks together. I was really disciplined – I think I had five or six stereo tracks plus two sends, one delay and one reverb, that was it. But it took months to get it where I wanted it.
“For my album it was more a live thing, a proper DJ set, mainly to show you could actually do something really banging and interesting with those tunes. But I was working with a lot of different tempos and doing some little tricks like making things sound like they’re slowing down when they’re actually speeding up. The first album is all about the mix CD for me, the unmixed CD is just ammunition for DJs.
“Going forward I’m just being a lot faster. I’ve been playing out with Ableton a lot more so I can do most of what I need to do in one pass now and I’ll just go back in and remix things to add the flavour I want. I’ve done that with the promo mixes that are going up on the Blackdown Soundboy blog – loads going on, great combination of dubstep rollers and Jill Scott vocals, but I did both of them in one night, with another night’s editing.”
What about the artwork for Redux?
BD: “Margins Music Redux is Margins Music remixed so I asked Stu Give Up Art – who designs for Keysound, Rinse, Tempa and Applepips amongst others – to go back into the original source material for the art for our debut album and mutate it. He grabbed all the old photos of spaces and places by us both and started re-layering them. So the two albums visually feel related yet also are distinct: this time the cover isn’t Dusk and I in Green Lanes, but an Indian restaurant that I shot just after interviewing Roll Deep in Whilehouse in 2004. In the back the affluence of Canary Warf looms.”
GA: “Yeah the artwork is heavy. They made the mistake of asking me how I’d like the art to look like and I put together this crazy brief for Stu about how it should infused with the spirit of both Hawksmoor and Stewart Home – I think he really delivered!”