Few releases this year have intrigued like Enter in Silence, the debut EP from mysterious dubstep collective LHF. Well, we say dubstep – their sample-drenched sound is rooted in the atmospheric half-step of classic DMZ, but also adopts the rough textures of jungle, the sun-kissed funk of Los Angeles and more. So who are LHF? FACT’s Robin Howells investigates, chatting to the crew about their background, their relationship with label boss Blackdown and their position in the UK’s dance music lineage.
On one level, LHF incarnate an archetype of London music. From Reinforced to DMZ, similar crews have operated by reflecting motivations and influences inward – doing it primarily for themselves, in other words, with the unit itself first in line to function as audience and DJ. There’s an argument – only more tempting with LHF as a case in point – that the results on the whole tend to be more intensely singular than those of contemporaries working alone. That connection isn’t this collective’s only one with their predecessors: others thread through their material, at their most visible weaving the kind of humid, oversaturated textures familiar from 4hero’s route to the jungle, or picking out parallels to dubstep’s early rhythmic forays.
If it seems dubious to point out such resemblances at the same time as calling LHF’s music singular, you could say it proves a talent on their part for paradox. Epithets such as ‘Keepers of the Light’, along with scattered voices sampled from cryptic sources, with a little imagination cultivate the image of some esoteric discipline under pursuit. And in practice, the crew do appear to engage subtle techniques, such as following the charts to cosmically itinerant hip-hop and jazz without quite having to say goodbye to planet Earth. If they had discovered the power of bodily teleportation instead, with the coordinates set to Metalheadz at the Blue Note, 1996, the mind would most likely come untethered somewhere in the region of Saturn or Los Angeles.
Long-term followers of dubstep have seen, with its rise to popularity, a part evacuation of the sphere that once served as its natural province. Something, of course, has been siphoned into its wake, although nobody knows what to call any of it (suggestions so far being disappointing pieces of terminology) and the direction if any is attractively uncertain. Curiously in this scenario, it’s rare to hear real dissonance – not necessarily in musical terms, but in the sense of a cognitive kick that can accompany the apprehension of sound, especially new rhythms, along underused pathways. LHF’s seven producers (all strictly pseudonymous) share a knack, though, for touching a nerve like this. Paradoxically again, the trigger is often a kind of distant but luminously familiar aura, amounting to an unusually ungarbled re-emission of the pirate spectrum’s cumulative radiation.
Although the group claims currently to guard a store of almost 1, 000 tracks, to date only three are fully available, on Martin Clark’s Keysound label. An album is apparently in the final stages, but until it appears, a series of all-LHF mixes available online is a well recommended introduction. It still feels as if its members’ creations are accustomed to resist exposure; but as it’s surely not because it isn’t deserved, we asked them for an illumination of some of the ingrained puzzles.
EP1: Enter in Silence samples
It seems like you keep things close to your chests: when you started distributing your Keepers of the Light mixes at the end of last year, they showcased a huge amount of material from the crew, as if it had appeared from nowhere at once. Is this a deliberate strategy?
Amen Ra: “It’s not a strategy, we just found it natural to keep it to ourselves at first. I grew up listening to pirates: certain times you’d just get a DJ playing a tune, no talking and certainly no tracklist. There was this unknown element to it which meant more possibilities for it in my mind. LHF is kind of like that. I think pushing what we’ve got would spoil it a little bit.”
Double Helix: “Strategy isn’t a word that I would use to describe the way that we’ve handled our material, it’s more about our ethics and the way we see our sound in relation to other music. If you look at it, pioneers of new sound have been doing it from day one, since the early sound system and pirate days. We kept our beats close for no particular reason other than to build something we could call our own, without conforming to the expectations and preconceptions that can come when you join a scene. LHF’s beat archive is the best part of 1, 000 tracks deep at the moment, 90% of which will probably stay unreleased, as there are new tracks built every week, but it’s really not an issue and we’re in no rush to get them out – this is the start for us and we’re continuing to build steadily.”
How were the tunes for the Keysound EP chosen?
Double Helix: “It’s been a gradual and invaluable process that we’ve been through with Martin, from the formulation of the album long list through to the selection for the EP. We sent a stream of material on disc for about two months consisting of beats we wanted to put forward and those that he had caught on the United Vibes show.”
Low Density Matter: “I think we owe a lot to the listening time invested by Martin into our music…I mean the man gets beats sent to him at a phenomenal rate daily, and he still found time to filter through what some might call a life’s work and others might call a complete nightmare!”
Amen Ra: “He’s helping us file our stuff properly, he’s been a pure blessing and I’m truly grateful for the knowledge he’s imparted and the vision that he has, ’cause without that LHF would still be a mess of different forces all trying to find some ground. Also there is the age old wisdom that you cannot see what you’re doing all the time without some reflections from the outside, and his reflection is pure. I can see how he’s connected the dots between different strands of LHF and I’ve learnt a lot about our sound through him.”
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves, your backgrounds and how you came together?
Double Helix: “As friends we’ve known each other from as far back as 1989 and have always lived in close proximity. London pirates from across the dial were the building blocks of common ground for us. Swapping tapes of sets we’d recorded was standard practice. You know the deal: standing in the one spot in your room that has a good signal, using a coat hanger for an aerial out the back of an old ghetto-blaster. I’ve still got boxes of TDK D-90s from way back. Amen got his first set of decks when he was about 14, around the same time I got my first hi-fi separates system and since then we’ve recorded sets using kit we’ve accumulated over the years…dodgy belt drives with horizontal pitch controls that go to +/- 7, wobbly strobe platters, mixers with busted faders and crackly amps, we’ve had it all.”
Low Density Matter: “I came into contact with LHF on a musical level in 2007, but I’ve been going to raves with them for years. I was fascinated by the depth of sound that was coming from this one source – the mad tapestry of abstract melodies, diverse drum programming and crazy ideas around sampling just felt right to me, so I got into producing beats.”
Solar Man: “LHF had been on my radar for a while as we’ve got similar social circles, but after catching No Fixed Abode’s material I saw an avenue I felt I could express myself through which had never been open before. All those broken hip-hop styles mixed with mad jazz and all things different was totally me, so I started putting beats their way and working on tracks with Helix and Low Density Matter.”
Is it possible to explain what the expression “Keepers of the Light” means to you?
Amen Ra: “It was something I used to say a lot on the United Vibes show on Sub FM, especially when LHF beats were running – “The Keepers of the Light in session”. It’s not like we have meetings to say “hey, we should put this idea across”, it just seems to happen that certain ideas come to the fore. That’s why I say this thing feels like it has a will of its own sometimes. The light means many things. Mostly for me it is connected to illumination and forgotten wisdom. The light relates to our sound, there’s elements in there from the past that have been completely forgotten about, there’s an attitude in our music that doesn’t get represented any more. The light is the light that makes things new again: we can look at our history now and interpret it from where we are now; it’s not about looking back and saying “it was better back then”. The light allows us to do that, it illuminates the past in a pure way and allows us to see this moment more clearly and how we can apply history in a way that is useful now.”
Escobar: “I think it means something different to all of us because it’s a personal thing. It’s what you draw on at times of inspiration and creativity, where you go when you’re thinking deep. It’s that light which gets you through and clears the path when things are murky.”
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