“‘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!”
Both of you – what do you have in the pipeline for late ’09/’10, both for your own productions and Blackdown, for you and Dusk’s label?
BD: “So I’ve been working really hard in the last year to change gears with Keysound Recordings, which was designed as a London-inspired home for our (Dusk and Blackdown) releases. We’re starting to get some momentum going, which I’m both pleased about but it gives me newfound respect for the labels I look up to, given the work involved.
“Recently, as well as Margins Music Redux CD, we’ve put out Grievous Angel’s VIP of ‘Soundclash 1’, Kowton’s ‘Stasis (G mix)’ and the Zomby remix of ‘Concrete Streets’. Up next is Sully’s ‘The Loot’ remix / ‘In Some Pattern’ which I’m hyped about: Sully’s an immense talent and someone I’m so excited about for 2010. With all the talk about garage and the new hybrids of it, Sully is a really key artist for me. “The Loot remix” is speed garage but ‘In Some Pattern’ is a perfect example of how you can have a swung 2step framework but go in completely different directions with it, in this case part 80s electro part detuned synth/purple wow.
“After Sully I’ve got two lost classics from Skream, ‘Sweetz (2005 flex)’ which as the title suggests is a 2005 beat, really melodic and Detroit-esque. On the flip is ‘Angry World’ which is cinematic and swung in a sort of Horsepower way. They both hark back to an earlier era of dubstep, the 3rd Base times: an era I think Dusk and I will never stop loving. Skream’s such a badman, I think he’s really going to surprise people in 2010 with tracks like ‘Give U Everything’ and ‘Listening to the Records on My Wall’.
“After Sully I’ve got two lost classics from Skream…”
“After Skream we’ve got a striking 12” from LV. It’s a five track EP which features vocalist Josh Idehen on all five tracks, talking from five different perspectives and loosely themed around the 38 bus. I’d first heard ‘Early Mob’ by LV and Josh and said to them how struck by it I was. It was like a completely different take on grime; like grime from a ‘Sign of the Dub’ vantage point. I mentioned how much I liked it to LV and within a few weeks they’d written four more tracks with Josh to accompany it. I just can’t stop listening to it! LV, Josh, the Keysound photographer and I are shooting the photos for the EP tonight, riding the 38 all the way to Clapton and seeing what works.
“Finally after LV we’ve got an EP from a collective I don’t think people are ready for: LHF. There’s material from Amen Ra, Double Helix, Low Density Matter, Octaviour, No Fixed Abode, Escobar, Solar Man and more. Together they’ve got this sound like Sun Ra’s hijacked Rinse FM and is using it to communicate with the heavens. They’ve signed to Keysound and after this EP they’re dropping an album in 2010. We’ve been working together closely and seriously, they’re on some next shit, part past, part next ting. Buried inside one corner of LHF is a junglist fighting his way out: these guys have got drumz. Then there’s another part of them that is lost in LA, their wonky beats falling off of the grid. Other members of the collective remind me of Horsepower’s ability to transport you to lands far, far away: to Bollywood films or damp Brazilian riverbanks.
“So yeah, that’s Keysound for now. We’re focusing on our Rinse show and writing beats. There’ll be new Dusk and Blackdown releases in 2010, we’re just busy writing at the moment but for now you’ll have to come to our DJ sets to hear the new beats.”
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GA: “I’ve just put out the ‘Soundclash’ mix on Keysound, plus the ‘Ice Rink’ refix on Devotional Dubz. They’re just about the best things I’ve ever done and both do serious damage on the floor. I played ‘Ice Rink’ on Saturday and couldn’t believe how the club went off. Coming up there’s a load more funky. ‘Move Down Low’ is coming out on Soul Jazz, a new mix of it, with the VIP on the flip which is huge – massive drums, a tiny snatch of vocal and absolutely nothing else. It’s killer, loads of people have been on it, Sinden’s been caning it.
“Plus I’m on the second release on Idle Hands, out Bristol’s brilliant Rooted Records – that old Bristol / Sheffield connection that’s been going on for years. Atki2s superb remix of ‘Bola’ is the main cut and it’s like the best deep house record to come out Britain in five years. I’ve remixed Dub Boy and Atki2’s ‘Tiger Flower’ into this rough as fuck UK funky monster, real peak time stuff. Plus I’ve remixed Forensics’ new project, A Bridge Too Far, a track he did with Indi Kaur called ‘Drift’ – so it’s more Indian vocals, but done as really sour, heavy, crunchy dubstep this time. There’s one or two other things bubbling too. More funky, more garage, but I’m getting more interested in dubstep right now, there’s a strand of rolling dubby gear that I’m dying to get involved with. Lets face it, 2009 is the most exciting time since 2005 and the people in the clubs are loving it. It’s time to give it some.”
2009 saw UK dance music sport more colour than it had in a long time.
Much was made of Joker, Gemmy and Guido’s ‘purple’ sound, which owed much of its aesthetic to pitch-bent West Coast hip-hop, woozy soul music and 8-bit computer game programmers (Gemmy cites this format as a particular inspiration on the way he makes his synths “sing”). I didn’t find Hudson Mohawke’s debut album that enjoyable, but it was perhaps the most high-definition, colour-saturated release of the year – turning the neon of its synths into a kind of piercing pollutant.
Colour highlights of the year for me included the rapid fluo-garage of Brackles and Shortstuff, Ikonika’s woozy sandslides, Greena’s loping synths, the Terror Danjah revival, Bok Bok’s robo-funk remix of Jinder, Fantastic Mr Fox’s Sketches EP (inc. Sbtrkt remix), and the analog nightmares that were Kode 9’s ‘Black Sun’ and James Blake’s remix of Untold’s ‘Stop What You’re Doing’. It’s telling that when California’s Dam-Funk brought his synth-led space boogie to London’s Plastic People, most of the above attended. As Bok Bok puts it: “it’s been the year of the neon synths.”
US R’n’B has always been an influence on 2step, bassline house and grime, but it was 2009 that the genre started to show its face in dubstep – or at least, this post-everything UK dance scene where even the lines between house and dubstep aren’t clear. Present in the productions of Deadboy and Joy Orbison and the DJ sets of Ikonika, Jackmaster and more, it’s a trend that should continue to gather steam with Deadboy’s forthcoming remixes of Ashanti and Cassie and Skream’s next album, which features a stunning collaboration with Jazmine Sullivan.
The producers that weren’t stepping up their colour were switching up their production: Untold’s ‘Anaconda’, ‘Flexible’ and Gonna Work Out Fine used drum patterns, rather than overwhelming sub-bass or mid-range, to stop dancefloors in their tracks, while Pearson Sound’s ‘Wad’ was a minimal masterpiece, using little more than drums and cut-up vocals to ignite crowds. Baltimore man Karizma’s percussive shufflers became touchstones amongst the UK DJs who knew.
Speaking of minimal, the second half of this year has seen a firm techno revival at Plastic People. Ame’s ‘Rej’ went off like an anthem when Cooly G played it at Beyond, and Ben UFO’s been sneaking Omar-S, Jus Ed and more into his sets – likewise Geeneus with Dubfire and John Tejada, and Joker with Claude VonStroke. Rinse FM’s Braiden has favoured a house and techno DJing style for a while, and that tendency became reflected more and more in his setlists as the year went on. Wonder – a grime touchstone whose ‘sino’ productions are revered by Kode 9 and more – now plays strictly ‘tech house / minimal’ off Ableton, while Funky House king Marcus Nasty recently spoke about people “jumping ship to minimal” en masse.
The return of tech-house and minimal is – obviously – a knock-on effect of Funky’s popularity, a genre that continues to grow in influence. Untold, Ramadanman, Bok Bok and more dropped the tempo of their tracks so that they could mix them easily with both 140bpm garage and dubstep, and 130bpm house, resulting in one of the year’s buzz phrases, “dropping the tempo and upping the groove.” Slower, more swing-focused tracks in the latter part of the year from Kowton, Dusk and Blackdown and Joy Orbison is where you’ll find the results.
In the actual Funky scene itself, the big figures got bigger: Roska became one of the world’s most in-demand remixers, Cooly G one of its most in-demand interviewees, and for me there are very few DJs better than Scratcha DVA and Marcus Nasty. Crazy Cousinz’ new double-pack EP proved they were no two-hit wonders (not that it should have been in doubt after their remix of Shontelle’s ‘T Shirt’), while everything Ill Blu or R1 Ryders touched seem to be pretty close to gold. Skank tracks came and went, and generally the scene seems to be stronger for seeing them off.
The producer who, for me, still stands head and shoulders above the rest is Zomby, a man who seems to exist completely outside of trends, and produced much of the year’s most haunting, beautiful music. Singles ‘Tarantula’ and ‘Digital Flora’ were delicate techno tracks that broke down and reformed in real time, while One Foot Ahead of the Other, his mini-album for Ramp, featured faster, paranoid treble jams that seem to stare out in every direction like some inverse kaleidoscope.
If that’s not enough, there’s his brilliantly synthetic remix of Animal Collective’s ‘Summertime Clothes’ and some stunning unreleased dubplates doing the rounds on YouTube and radio show rips: check ‘Aquarium’, ‘Ghosts of Lovers Past’ and ‘Earthbound’ for starters.
Darkstar weren’t as prolific as Zomby, but equally care nothing for trends, denouncing dubstep’s influence on them in various interviews, and releasing two of the year’s best tracks in 2step lament ‘Aidy’s Girl’s a Computer’ and a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Videotape’. Their debut album, due next year, should be fantastic – as should their labelmate Ikonika’s.
Plenty more happened this year – shouts to Elijah and Skilliam, Oneman, Jackmaster and the rest of the Numbers circle, L-Vis 1990, Mosca, Jam City, SRC, Highpoint Lowlife, Ramp Recordings, Rustie, Actress, Lone, Roll Deep, Geiom, No Hats No Hoods, Kingdom, Pangaea, Deep Teknologi, Mount Kimbie and many more for amazing music – but there’s no point going on all day. Hopefully next year sees even more wild developments in this undefined, mostly untempered music scene, and the promised albums live up to their potential.