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New talent: South London Ordnance on graphics, grime and endgames

Written by FACT Team on Monday, May 28 2012

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‘Sanctuary/Roofy’ (2nd Drop) ‘Sanctuary’/’Roofy’ (2nd Drop)

South London Ordnance takes pains to dodge the spotlight, but his name is increasingly difficult to avoid.

Although interest has been ramping up for the good part of a year, South London Ordnance has only just released his debut 12”, the excellent ‘Sanctuary’/’Roofy’ on 2nd Drop. Mosca, Martyn and Dark Sky have all featured the twentysomething producer’s work in their sets, and he’s got the tap on the shoulder to contribute to LuckyMe’s killer mixtape series. Mary Anne Hobbs, never a reluctant cheerleader, has waved her spirit fingers with particular vigour.

In his work thus far, South London Ordnance has demonstrated a real gift for detecting new resonances in familiar sounds. His music is resides in one of the darker nooks of the current house/techno spectrum, but there’s an oneiric quality that sets his work apart from more dour practitioners. ‘Sanctuary’ takes hard dance signifiers (rave horns, neck-snap snares), and wreaths them in an analgesic fog. ‘Crows Nest’, meanwhile, resembles UK funky heard through some semi-porous amnion. Stifled vocal samples and industrial textures rumble in the distance; tones sing, hang and slowly degrade.

Still a relative new arrival to the production game, South London Ordnance in that fascinating developmental stage where his sound develops with each new track. The brand new, sinewy ‘Siren’ shows the producer adding new levels of bombast to his sound, and recent freebie ‘Shutter Island’ is borderline spangly. FACT collared the unshowy producer ahead of his set for FOUND at Hidden on June 29 (details here), to discuss grime, future releases and the intersection where production meets penmanship.

“It always comes back to this idea of the endgame.”

How did the South London Ordnance project first develop for you?

“Basically I wanted to start producing for quite a long time, and I never had the time or the money. Then I managed to find a really cheap copy of Logic, so I actually bought it, in comparison to lots of people who just rip it. I got this copy of Logic, started messing around, started playing with stuff and most of it was rubbish. The endgame was always to make actual finished tunes, so a few started to come together. Then I needed a name, had a think – I thought of some pretty silly ones. Then I thought of that and it just kind of stuck. I had a bit of a package then: some half-tunes, and then an alias to do it all under.”

Am I right in thinking you were DJing – privately rather than publicly perhaps – for sometime before that?

“I was, and publicly – quite a lot to be honest. It was more through affiliations with promoters and that kind of stuff. I’d done some big gigs – New Years Eve at O2 and that kind of stuff, a few random things. I’ve been messing around on turntables since I was about twelve, and I’d been pretty obsessed with that side of it for quite a long time.”

Moving into that production mindset, was that new territory for you?

“Thing is, I’d always messed around in one form or another. A lot of my mates are trying to get into production, and I’d sit in on them making tunes. And I was desperate to have a go at it. I’ve always done creative things: I’ve done a lot of illustration and graphic design and that kind of stuff in the past, for everyone from quite big record labels just to my mates. So I like creative outlets. The music thing, everyone wants to get into it. I wanted to give it a crack and see if I could do it, because it looked like a lot of fun.”

“A lot of my mates are trying to get into production, and I’d sit in on them making tunes. And I was desperate to have a go at it.”

It’s interesting that you talk about a background in illustration, because something that struck me listening to your music is that your work is unusually sensitive to the possibilities of creating different sorts of spaces. ‘Roofy’ in particular – the use of reverb, the atmospherics, are very immersive. Is there a visual or 3D quality you strive for?

“Yeah, absolutely. You’ve hit the nail on the head. No one really believes you when you say ‘I see sound’ – you start sounding like a nutter. But at the same time, I’m very interested in the way thought processes work, especially creative processes, and the different approaches people have to it. Everything is shapes and textures for me, regardless of what it is, whether it’s marks on a piece of paper or stuff in the interface on Logic. It’s all shapes and figures. The way I produce now – and I’ve only really started capitalizing on this idea – is like the way I would put together a piece of artwork. I’m making a sound in a synth, then bouncing it out and then messing around with it, putting it back into Logic. It’s just like when you have a drawing: you do it with a pencil, you’re rubbing stuff here and there, and what ultimately comes out is the finished product, but it’s got a whole history of marks and scratches. It’s the same sort of thing, really.”

I guess that interfaces like Logic must be the first instruments that offer you an instant graphic representation of what you’re doing. I can’t think of a more visual instrument that’s ever existed.

“Absolutely, and I think that’s why I took to it quite quickly. I have played instruments and recorded them in the past, but when you’re using an actual recording sampler device, it’s very difficult. With Logic, you can see it all there. I like to structure my tunes a lot. I’m very keen on ‘intro’, ‘main’, ‘drop’, ‘reprise’, that kind of stuff. It’s very important for me to be able to see it in 16 bar sections, which is at complete odds with how some other people make tunes. I remember sitting down with a friend who said ‘Well, I start at the beginning and I finish at the end’. I try and build a whole skeleton of a tune, maybe five minutes long, and it might only be a kick and a few elements. I have that, and then I bounce that all down into stems, put it into a new project – just fleshing it out. That’s seemed to work relatively well thus far.”

Moving on to a different sort of space: obviously your name has a geographical slant. Is your work a reflection of, or a tribute to, South London in some way?

“It’s inescapable in one sense or another, in that the place where one’s brought up generally has an impact, especially if it’s London. I think yes and no. When I look at the stuff I put out on 2nd Drop, that’s grime, UK house and UK bass culture influenced. But then when I think of the stuff I’m making now, it’s not so much connected with South London. It’s more the sense of the area – it’s not a particular thing or building, it’s the idea.”

In your LuckyMe mix, there are quite a few grime shoutouts. Grime’s a type of music that’s synonymous with the place that produces it. I wondered if you saw your work as doing something similar, but in a different way?

“Yeah, kind of. Maybe I shot myself a bit in the foot with the name, because I find that one of the most frustrating things about grime is…I just find it a really frustrating scene. The producers want to make it – and I really don’t want to be cussing them – they don’t want recognition, but they do want the bookings. But in terms of the idea of repping where you’re from, I don’t know. I’m much more interested in semantics. I like the expression and I like the word. I think it’s got more to do with the way it rolls off the tongue rather than a particular geographical reference.”

“No one really believes you when you say ‘I see sound’ – you start sounding like a nutter.”

The way that you produce, it sounds as if you weave in field recordings or fragments you’ve grabbed yourself, which I guess is a way of interpolating one’s area into the music directly. Do you use field recordings?

“I do. I’ve got a great mate who got me into this. It’s funny when you get sound and start messing around with samples, and you might delve into a couple of sample packs in the beginning, but there’s something a little nicer about ripping your own sounds and recording your own stuff. It’s not perfectly recorded in a studio, it’s not subject to all kinds of compression. It’s just a bit freer, and I think it comes back to the scratches and the marks on the page. Those imperfections are nice to have, the rough bits – they give the mastering engineer a bit of a tough time, but I think they perhaps make for more interesting music, definitely.”

‘Siren’ (unreleased)

That makes sense, because your tracks are very sensual. They nod towards techno and dubstep in different ways, but they avoid the coldness of techno and the overload of dubstep – you find this sensuous midpoint. How do you see your music relating to those two influences?

“It’s funny you say dubstep. I have to be honest: I didn’t find it the religious experience that lots of people found it. There was definitely some stuff I liked, because I used to listen to a lot of garage. The darker sort of Oris Jay, El-B, Groove Chonicles sort of stuff. Elements of dubstep in that respect appealed to me. But it’s more actually drum ‘n’ bass. It’s hard to say this now because the only two tunes I have out at the moment, people might not necessarily notice the relationship. Moments of my stuff come from drum’n’bass.

In terms of the techno aspect, I’m not that comfortable with the association with straight up techno. I don’t really know what people mean by that either, because die-hard techno fans get upset if you call yourself techno, and lots of people in the press might then call it techno, and then everyone’s a bit confused. It takes some of the good bits from it maybe, I don’t know. [laughs]”

“When I think of the stuff I’m making now, it’s not so much connected with South London. It’s more the sense of the area – it’s not a particular thing or building, it’s the idea.”

Funny you mention drum’n’bass. There’s that moment in ‘Sanctuary’ where there’s muffled dialogue discussing the glory days of acid house.

“The name ‘Sanctuary’ comes from the rave in Milton Keynes. Incidentally, it’s one that I’ve never been to. You listen to a few tape packs. I don’t want to go overboard with those kind of references, because it can be a bit contrived. But at the same time, I like that kind of vibe. When I was making the tune, there were all the reverbs, and it had that big-top atmosphere. I was watching this documentary and that popped up. The two came together relatively well – people seem to like it.”

You shout out producers like Artifact and Thefft. You three acts, and others, seem to be being championed from the same sorts of quarters. Is there are a shared direction of travel between you and other producers on the scene at the moment?

“Yes and no. We’re all at that same stage, where you may or may not have the first release and you’re thinking about the next moves. But if you want to talk about us three, our sounds are so very different. Thefft has that tough glitch thing, and Artifact owes a lot more to techno that my stuff. I think the next six months are going to be the ones that really show where everyone’s going. In my opinion, it feels a bit too early to say who’s going to go where. I do know where people want to go because I chat to these guys on a daily basis, I know who they’ve had offers from. One of the things I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been doing this thing is never, never to tell anyone who you might have had an offer from, or count any chickens before they’re even close to hatching.”

What’s certainly proceeding apace for you are your DJ bookings. What are you trying to achieve with your work as a DJ under the South London Ordnance moniker?

“I really want to carry on in the same vein that I always use to play. I used to play a little bit of hip-hop, grime, garage, dancehall. I delved into techno, and then funky started coming along, it was becoming a bit more like techno, Night Slugs were getting more recognition, along those sort of lines. It was a big mish-mash of stuff, and I kind of want to do that with South London Ordnance.”

“At the same time, one has in one’s head: what is the endgame? Where do you want to play? If I want to play big rooms at big clubs in exciting cities, you have to gear your set more towards that. There’s no denying it – and lot of people are getting upset about it – but techno and house more than ever before, even in the smaller cities, that’s the main room sound. A lot of people go out, and if you are playing in Room 1, that’s what they want to hear. I still play a lot of broken beat stuff halfway through my set, but I generally tend to start with quite upfront house and techno – small ‘t’ though. [laughs]”

“Everything is shapes and textures for me, regardless of what it is, whether it’s marks on a piece of paper or stuff in the interface on Logic”

Your online persona has been quite shadowy thus far. Images of you are obscured, your tracks pop up and then disappear – is there any rationale behind that mystique? Is it inadvertent? Are you attempting to do something with it?

“As I say, I’ve done a few other projects. It’s nice not to have it connected to anything else. In the beginning, I just didn’t have any press shots. I spent a lot of time on the internet, I saw a photo I liked, and it was quite fun, undeniably. With the putting stuff up, it kept people a bit more interested. It always comes back to this idea of the endgame, what the point of everything is. If you want to get signed to a big label, you don’t want your best work stagnating on Soundcloud.”

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‘Crows Nest’ (unreleased)

Image control is a means of getting yourself to an ‘endgame’, telling other people what sort of artist you want to be. In an age of oversharing, there’s a degree of artistic control in keeping things back from the web.

“Absolutely, you never want to be found giving too much away. People can make up their own opinions – it’s much more important to let people to decide about things themselves. One doesn’t necessarily want to be judged on what you look like. It pains me to say it, but you do want it to be about the music. I know that sounds awful because it’s a horrible cliché, but it’s kind of true, really.”

Honing in directly on the music, am I right in thinking you’re currently running a label project under the SLO moniker?

[Pregnant pause] “No, not under South London Ordnance, no.”

Is any label you’re running at the moment something you can discuss?

“Erm…not really. It’s just a different thing. But I’ve got a plan – I will be launching a label in January 2013 under the South London Ordnance alias which I’m really looking forward to. For the veritable goldmine of music that I’ve come into contact with. At the moment, it’s just in the planning stages. I’ve got a name!”

Are there any new releases in the works with the South London Ordnance project?

“Yes, there are! By the way, shout out 2nd Drop – it was a real pleasure to work with them on that release. Those are two of the first tunes I ever finished, so it’s nice to see them come out on a label I really respect. Next month, I have a 12” on Well Rounded which I’m really looking forward to getting out. I think people will be really interested by it because it’s very different. It’s nothing like the 2nd Drop release – I’m not going to try and describe it.”

“The month after that , I have my first full EP with a Dutch label called Audio Culture. I was recently over in Amsterdam mixing that down in the studios there, and it sounds really good. It’s five pretty much unheard tracks – a few of them have been around and about. I’ve got one more release in August with a Copenhagen based label , which I’m really excited about. I’ve just got some great remixes back for that. I don’t know which one’s coming on the EP, but there’s definitely a West Norwood Cassette Library remix, and there’s one other big room techno artist who’s done a remix – I’m probably not supposed to say yet. But it’s really, really good.”


Joseph Morpurgo
Catch South London Ordnance along with Jimmy Edgar and more for FOUND at Hidden in London June 29. Details here.

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