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.”
“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.”
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.”
“There’s definitely a lineage that we feel a part of, from the early hardcore, through to jungle, through to the Metalheadz era; through garage, grime and dubstep, especially when DMZ came around.”
People do seem to think your music strongly evokes certain precursors, for example the Metalheadz crew or DMZ. Who or what inspires you all?
Amen Ra: “Growing up I was all about jungle and hardcore from the age of about 12 or 13. I’m infected by a lot of that style, it won’t ever leave me! Also house and garage, 2step, all those old pirate sounds were all me. Broken beat sparked me massively and when dubstep started emerging that was a very deep time too, early FWD vibes. Everything I do comes through that filter. But I can’t deny my biggest musical influence, which is hip-hop. From hip-hop I got opened up to a whole world of music. I grew a deep love for free jazz, Brazilian music, psyche-rock – loads of stuff. The LA beat scene has to get a mention as well. I’ve been inspired by certain philosophers, writers and films too. The wider influences are all recorded in the music – the titles of the tunes, the samples.”
Double Helix: “The musical history that London’s streets and surrounding counties hold are important to me as an individual and a producer. I see the hardcore continuum as the UK’s gift to the world – its effect on the way that a massive cross-section of society interacts is huge and can’t be overlooked. Early jungle and breakbeat hardcore pioneers feature heavily in my record collection. Metalheadz 01-50 are quite possibly the most influential tracks that I own, and what Goldie did with Timeless and then Platinum Breakz Vol.1 is actually ridiculous. 90.6 FM under its many names was the home of two crews that without doubt had a massive impact on our sound, SLT and Bass Inject – they always came with new dubs on a weekly, nobody had the tunes they had and it was seriously fertile ground for music. Garage and the significant founders of the early movement that evolved from 2step into dubstep are seriously close to my heart… the beat patterns they came with were an eye opener as to what can be done at those tempos.”
Low Density Matter: “Ant Hill Mob, RIP, Groove Chronicles, Steve Gurley, Wookie, LTJ Bukem, Shogun, Nookie, Nubian Mindz… anybody that brings that warm, classic edge to production, the subtle tones that draw you in and take you into rainbow of deep vibes.”
Solar Man: “RZA, J Dilla, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Santana, Portishead, Photek, Hidden Agenda, Flying Lotus, Kutmah, Burial… any artist or label that is happy to push boundaries and open up new avenues. I’m into big thinkers and music needs these people.”
If music from what’s often referred to as the hardcore continuum is important to a lot of you, do any of you feel some sense of descent from musicians in its past? Do you think it’s necessary to be familiar with it to understand your music?
Amen Ra: “Definitely, people who do not come from the continuum will have a different understanding of our music – just as valid an understanding as people who have come from there as I think there’s enough to cater for both. There’s definitely a lineage that we feel a part of, from the early hardcore, through to jungle, through to the Metalheadz era; through garage, grime and dubstep, especially when DMZ came around. But things aren’t like what they were in the past, they aren’t as rare and underground, so we kind of have to draw a line under them eras, while remembering them at the same time if that makes sense.”
Double Helix: “It’s almost impossible to avoid the impact of its sonic lineage when you’re exposed to those sounds and ethics from a young age – the way that they interact and resonate with London as a multicultural society becomes clearer the more you look, and it’s a really powerful thing . I don’t think that grass roots familiarity with the continuum is essential to experiencing our music fully, but there will naturally be far more reference points in tracks for people that grew up with the continuum.”
Low Density Matter: “I think it’s inescapable really: if you lived anywhere near the M25 corridor once it was built, no matter how old you were, the continuum would almost definitely have affected your life in one way or another – be it through friends giving you tapes, record shops opening, people talking about the convoys, picking up rogue pirate stations in the car or even the bad press about raves. We’re no exception. The FM dial was rammed full of pirates and a ridiculous cross section of music was on tap, so you naturally develop an affinity with those sounds over the years.”
Solar Man: “We take a lot of influence from styles that have a direct connection to the continuum, and some that have influenced aspects of it without being so obvious, so it’s open to listeners of all backgrounds really. If you check beats by Amen, Helix or LDM for example, elements of garage, jungle and house are all clearly present in the sound they produce, but they’re all fused and punctuated by bursts of Bollywood, jazz, hip-hop, soul and a variety of samples from many genres.”
No Fixed Abode: “You don’t have to be familiar with the continuum to understand our sound, but it helps: there’s definitely a certain understanding of the continuum required to truly get it, I think. I twist the traditional format and bring in other influences that other heads might find too risky, as it goes too far from “UK” shit. I don’t care, this is no time to play it safe and this ain’t the time for those who just stick to what is comfortable and keeps them “in the team”.”
“I think it’s inescapable really: if you lived anywhere near the M25 corridor once it was built, no matter how old you were, the continuum would almost definitely have affected your life in one way or another”
Are there specific aims in mind for any of you when you make music?
Amen Ra: “To experience that feeling that comes from understanding something new. That feeling of newness is something that I seek in every lab session. Approach it with a beginner’s mind!”
No Fixed Abode: “A beginner’s mind! I always go in with that beginner’s mind: just go wild, no preconceptions, just expressions. I want to reach places I didn’t reach on the last tune.”
Does this phrase, “beginner’s mind”, come from somewhere in particular? Non-musical influences have been mentioned, in the context of samples and titles. Can you give a few examples of what you’re into?
Solar Man: “If any subject matter or topic takes my interest I’ll read around it and most probably try to find a source of material to sample some related dialogue from. I listen to a lot of films and documentaries late night while drifting off to sleep – never really watching the visuals, more keeping an open ear for samples, as you’re in a different place at those times.”
No Fixed Abode: “I love aphorisms, really short ones that can make you think for days, that’s what it’s all about – “half long twice strong” as GZA says. Bruce Lee’s one inch punch is inspiring in that respect, ’nuff power concentrated into one short movement. There’s something really exciting and deep in that, it’s like a Zen Koan; I try make tunes like that. They don’t seem to have loads going on but slowly they get under your skin.”
Amen Ra: “The Beginners Mind thing comes from Zen, it’s an expression that really resonates with us. You know how people talk about “beginners luck”, well how does it work that someone trying something for the first time can sometimes be better than a so called “expert” in that field? Because the experts mind ain’t fresh or open so maybe it doesn’t see the thing as clearly as the beginner, and maybe it isn’t as flexible as the beginner’s mind. Approaching music in this way results in more interesting sounds I found. This attitude is what makes LHF difficult to approach for some people because there’s constantly new spaces being found and we don’t settle on any definition. As soon as I feel like there’s a definite idea forming about who we are, I naturally change my approach because I always want to feel that newness. LHF is evolving all the time because members are always turning on lights for other members to see more possibilities, it’s a constant exchange between all of us.”