This June, dubstep producers Dusk & Blackdown will take their acclaimed 2008 album, Margins Music to the live setting.
A blend of dubstep, grime, Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu vocals and field recordings from London’s, well, margins, it marks dubstep’s most conceptual album, and thus a record that’s pretty suited to this sort of treatment.
The live show, supported by the English Arts Council, promises an intense listening experience that builds to club-ready music, with a strong visual aspect that references old Bollywood films as well as footage from contemporary London. We caught up with Blackdown to discuss the ins and outs of Margins Music live.
“I was very sceptical about the entire concept from the beginning and so I want to be very open with people about it here and now: we don’t see this as some higher artistic endeavour or something superior to club-based DJing”
Margins Music – how will it translate to the live setting?
“The aim is to translate what worked well about the album, add in remixes, dubplates, bootlegs and new material and try to reproduce it live in a way that is neither too static nor too unlike the original material in impact, tone and mood. It should be very visual too, with new imagery being built for the show that we hope will dominate. We’re also planning to run it like a DJ set: no breaks, just beats, bars, vocals and rollage. Who knows if it will work but we’ve decided to its better to try and fail than not to try at all. We hope people can come and share this experiment with us.
We’re guessing there’s live instrumentation and vocals, are you and Dusk doing live manipulation of sorts? Any particular guests we should know about?
“We’re going to use a hybrid of Ableton and live musicians. With Ableton we’ve built a set where we can arrange and remix all the different elements of all the tracks on the fly. It strikes the balance between freedom and structure, while being faithful to our sonics. We’ve found a wicked keys player who can use all our synth sounds and then let rip with them, an Asian vocalist to work in parallel with our own Farrah, a percussionist to add variations to our own studio EQ’d drums. The show will also feature bars from someone who needs no introduction: Durrty Goodz. The Brighton and London shows may or may not feature a special guest, depending on which way the wind’s blowing.”
“Visually, the director who built our original video, Jonathan Howells is going to VJ for us. He’s devised a system that allows him to work in real time and in sync with the music. He’s expanding on the feel of the video into new directions, with visuals built specifically for each track. We’re also working with an engineer that has done a lot of work with dub and reggae soundsystems, so understands impact and bassweight.
“Then of course there’s the DJs. We want to share the experience as much as possible with Keysound DJs so we’ve booked LHF to support us at all the gigs plus LV, James Blake, Scratcha DVA, Grievous Angel, Vibzin (as part of United Vibez with Amen Ra) and Kowton across all the gigs. I’m as excited about hearing these boys DJ as I am about the live part of the tour.”
Tell us about the genesis of Margins Music live…funding, conception, etc.
“Three years ago some people affiliated to the Arts Council got in touch saying they were interested in the space between the then emergent dubstep scene and the live arena. I put them in touch with Magnetic Man and they worked together to build the festival smasher we now know. Two and a half years later they came back to me and said ‘now, about your album…’ They pitched to the Art Council, won funding and now it’s ‘money where your mouth is’ time.”
“While lots of people have done it well – Kode9 and Reprazent for example – we’ve seen other producers approach live sets and either really disappoint or effectively lie to their entire fanbase in public”
There’s, for better or worse, a certain element of stigma surrounding live performances of electronic music. Is that something that’s affected your approach to this project?
“Massively. To be honest I was very sceptical about the entire concept from the beginning and so I want to be very open with people about it here and now: we don’t see this as some higher artistic endeavour or something superior to club-based DJing, just as we see being on Rinse FM as the pinnacle of radio not some stepping stone to a cosy dull slot on legal Housewife FM. We’re underground producers / DJs and always will be but when the opportunity came around we wanted to see if we could build something dynamic and flexible that represented our sound too and break through the glass ceiling that DJs face with live venues. Oh and drop some sub b-lines on unsuspecting gig-goers.
“While lots of people have done it well – Kode9 and Reprazent for example – we’ve seen other producers approach live sets and either really disappoint or effectively lie to their entire fanbase in public. We stood backstage at a “live” “dubstep” gig once and what the audience couldn’t see from where they were was that the laptop was playing a series of one mastered wav after another. Regardless of what the bloke was or wasn’t doing with a trombone, and the “band” had just pressed play on their laptop.
“The fear of these two polar opposites: that it will be live but sonically crap or faithful to the studio recording but fraud has driven us on and honestly, if we hadn’t found a way to make it work it would all have been off. However we see it as a challenge and so to make it work spent quite a while researching how it could work, reading Dissensus slayings of dysfunctional live sets (and praise of those that worked), speaking to people like Kode9, Artwork, Benga and Skream on how they did it, and working out what could run for us. We’re about to find out.”
What else have you and Dusk been up to?
“We’ve been writing new music, which you can hear lots of in our sets and in the live shows. We’ve been DJing quite a bit recently: we played in LA and Austin, Texas recently and did our first 100% 130bpm set at Manchester’s Future Everything / Futuresonic festival. We’ve been trying to maintain standards on our Rinse show, and had fun with the LV boys when they guest-mixed recently. If you heard it then you’ll know that “Footcrab! Footcrab!” that’s the old ting. “Boomslang! Boomslang!” that’s the new ting! Their 38 EP has just dropped on Keysound Recordings and LHF’s EP1: Enter in Silence is forthcoming. Honestly right now I wish I could put a record a week out, there’s too much material in the wings, so much freshness in the spaces between dubstep, grime, UK funky, grimey house and 2step.”
You can catch Margins Music Live at the following dates.
5th June @ The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford, London SE8 4AG
8th June @ Brighton Dome, 12a Pavilion Buildings, Castle Square, Brighton, BN1 1EE
11th June @ Band on the Wall, 25 Swan Street, The Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 5JZ
16th June @ South Street, 21 South Street, Reading RG1 4QU
11th Sept @ Kendal Brewery, Highgate, Kendal, Cumbria, LA9 4HE