Dubstep is mutating at a breathless rate. There’s a whole lot of heavy wobble tunes out there at the moment, of course (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but elsewhere contemporary bass music is getting skippier and more explicitly 2-step-influenced, or merging with streamlined techno, or getting on a wonky electro tip. The old caricature of dubstep being a half-step beat plus a massive bass-drop no longer applies.
Bristol is an epicentre of new developments in dubstep, from the grimey contortions of Joker to the techno psychedelia of Pinch. Peverelist – Tom Ford to the authorities – is a central figure in the Bristol dubstep scene. He’s the proprietor of Rooted Records, the place to buy your vinyl if you’re a Bristolian with a fondness for big riddims, and also runs the Punch Drunk label. Since its first releases last year, Punch Drunk has become quietly revered worldwide, consistently pushing bleeding-edge innovations from the Bristol scene. Peverelist’s own productions cover a great deal of ground, from ghostly, dubbed-out techno, to skeletal post-2-Step, to the kind of bleeping sound-poems that the likes of Wiley and Danny Weed were putting out in the earliest days of grime.
Your ever-dutiful FACT got Tom on the phone last week to pay our respects and talk dubstep, Bristol, and how on earth we’re meant to pronounce ‘Peverelist’…
What’s your musical background?
“As a teenager I was in loads of bands – the usual stuff, really. And I got into electronic music through jungle; I guess that’s really what unites a lot of people in the dubstep scene, that background in jungle. And through jungle I guess I moved into the tail-end of garage. I didn’t get into dubstep till about 2004, though. Back then I was more focussing on early grime stuff, things like Wiley and Danny Weed. I’ve always dabbled in making beats, but it’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve started to take things more seriously and put stuff out.”
Were there any early dubstep records that were particularly important to you, that got you into the sound?
“Well, I was always aware of it – working in a record shop, you have to be, really. So I knew about the stuff that Tempa and Big Apple were doing. But I think it was a Mala set that was recorded for a John Peel tribute show on Radio 1 just after he died that made me think ‘OK, that I something else. This is special’.”
It’s interesting that you mention that you were especially into early grime- some of your tunes remind me of early Danny Weed stuff. Would you say he’s been an influence on your music?
“Not really, I don’t think. What excited me most about grime was the punk attitude to it, the anything goes idea, more than the particular sounds involved. But I listen to so much music, from all different styles, that it’s all going to come out in the woodwork, in my music, somehow.”
Has techno been an important influence?
“Definitely, I love techno. I don’t think that I’ve ever consciously tried to make a techno-dubstep crossover tune but techno’s influenced me in a different way I think; like, I come from a different tradition or background to that jump-up drum n’ bass idea, where everything builds up to a massive bass-drop. I like my tunes to flow a bit more, and may be that comes from techno.”
There’s been a lot of interest in the Bristol scene recently, as a focal point for a techno-fied take on dubstep. Is that how you see the scene in Bristol, as originating a new sub-genre within dubstep?
“No, not at all, I don’t really think there’s a distinct Bristol sound. The Bristol producers, from Pinch to Joker, each have completely different sounds. To me, the Bristol dubstep scene isn’t based around a sound – it’s more a social thing, a group of people who meet up and swap beats at clubs, and put on nights, and run record labels.
How has Bristol as a city, with its musical heritage, affected your music?
“Music from Bristol has always been really important to me; I grew up in Essex, but I moved to Bristol ten years ago because of the music – people like Full Cycle and Smith & Mighty are really important to me – and I’m still very excited about the music. What excites me is getting involved in a scene. That’s where Punch Drunk comes from. The dubstep scene in Bristol is really small. Bristol’s like a village anyway – everyone knows everyone, but especially within the dubstep scene, it’s really a group of about 20 people who make beats, and DJ, and put on nights. There’s bigger dubstep events like Subloaded, but the people who go to that probably won’t go to the more underground stuff, like the nights that Pinch has put on – Context and Dubloaded. Me and Pinch have also started a night inspired by that FWD>> idea, of a regular club where producers can come and swap beats and dubplates. It’s a small, close-knit scene.”
When you’re making beats, are you thinking about what’ll work in the smaller dubstep clubs in Bristol?
“Well, I don’t really make dancefloor tunes. It’s more of a personal thing for me- I just make beats for my own personal entertainment. And if people like them, I’m happy!”
Do you DJ?
“Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot more DJing this year than previously. I’ve been DJing for years, but I’m still not very confident at it, but I’m getting better. With DJing, there’s an element of being an entertainer, and I’ve always been more comfortable behind the scenes, or just making beats at home for myself. But saying that, sometimes people think that producers like me, who don’t make big dancefloor tunes, are snobby about the more full-on stuff, and I’m really not. I love watching someone like N-Type or Benga DJ. And when I DJ I try and mix it up a little bit, with some big, bassy tunes, and then a lot of Bristol stuff, and of course 2562 and Martyn – stuff that goes without saying, really!”
What’s the ethos behind Punch Drunk? Do you see it as distinctly a dubstep label, or something broader than that?
“Well, I’m not quite sure what dubstep is; I think lots of people whose music is called ‘dubstep’ would say the same thing! ‘Dubstep’ is a word that’s been put to the music that a group of people make, but it’s really a scene of people, not a sound, I think. But I guess what’s behind dubstep, and also Punch Drunk, is the idea: what happens next after Jungle? So, it’s about bass music, and soundsystem music, but apart from that, it’s not really one sound. I started Punch Drunk to document what’s going on in Bristol, and it’s quite focussed on that scene. I might start another label, to release music that’s not from Bristol.”
Any releases in the pipeline, from yourself and Punch Drunk?
“Our new release for Punch Drunk is actually out this week; called ‘Speeka Box’ by RSD, who’s Rob Smith who used to be in Smith and Mighty. It’s a proper soundsystem tune, a really big tune. It’s Bristol Carnival this weekend so I’m really looking forward to seeing how it goes down there. As far as my production goes…I’ve got a remix of 2nd II None’s ‘Waterfalls’ out soon on Heavy Artillery, as well as a few other things that I should probably keep under wraps for the minute…”
Will you be collaborating with Appleblim again?
“I’d love to, but we just don’t have the time at the moment. He’s DJing every weekend, and I’ve got the day job at the record shop. But we were really pleased how that EP we did came out. It takes me forever to make tunes. I know loads of people bang out tracks in about 5 minutes, but I work really slowly. I’m also a massive procrastinator.
Finally, and perhaps inevitably, how do you pronounce ‘Peverelist’?
“Ha ha, I have the most unpronounceable name in dubstep! It’s ridiculous. So, it’s pev-er-el-ist. Four syllables. On a poster for a dubstep night last year someone wrote my name as ‘Pervelist’. I’ ve never quite lived that down. The name comes from when I used to DJ jungle. I’m originally from a place called Hatfield Peverel, and I used to DJ under the name ‘Hatfield Peverel Junglist Massive’. A ridiculous name, so I shortened it to Peverelist.”