Illustration by @Sorayea
True to our Editors Note, a big part of the THUMP mission is to bring taste-makers into the fold; the DJs, producers and in-the-know figures who can bring you the latest from the underground in a more direct, personal and sincere way. Pied Pipers is THUMP's brand new monthly grime column by noted grime heads Elijah, of DJ duo and grime label Butterz, and Slackk, the boss of the Boxed club night, and an NTS Radio regular.
As our very own Pied Pipers, Elijah and Slackk will head up artist-to-artist interviews, preview the new music that's breaking in the scene, and cherry-pick the best mixes that show grime in its characteristically forward-thinking and raw form.
Welcome to Pied Pipers.
Elijah: For the heads and novices alike, grime has always been a difficult scene to keep track of. In the early years it produced many talented MCs - Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Kano, JME, Skepta to name a few - and in recent years the focus has changed in the producers favour; artists like Preditah, Faze Miyake, Logos, Visionist and Wen catching a completely different set of eyes and ears. As a producer, DJ and promoter, I've always enjoyed a balance of both - and especially having gone to grime nights for the last ten years, and eventually starting my own club and label. THUMP have kindly let me in to bring you the latest and greatest of the 2014 Grime scene, as I see it.
I'm starting off by talking to Kahn and Neek from Bristol, who have an old school mentality to their approach. They rarely do interviews and the labels they choose to release on - Bandulu, Hotline and Peng Sound - don't do digital releases. Strictly dubplate.
Elijah: The first time most people became aware of you as a duo was via the 'How we roll to Nandos' video, which eventually became the 'Percy' and 'Fierce' release on Bandulu. What were you two doing prior to this?
Neek: I have been playing out I'd say since early 2006, mostly mixing grime and dubstep. I met Kahn properly at a club night I started that year called Sureskank Convention, which was one of the earliest dubstep and grime parties in the city. Then in around 2008 we began making dubs for that would fit in with the mixture of music we were pushing at the time; dubstep, grime, bassline, dancehall and reggae.
Kahn: I'd been making music since an early age too, and around the time we met I'd just begun experimenting with production and DJing. It was a really exciting time to be growing up in Bristol, with the dubstep movement really taking off and all this great music coming from the city. Over the following years we formed a close friendship and were part of a larger community of musicians, DJs, producers and general enthusiasts of the culture. Then, in 2010, we began getting more serious in the studio. The Kahn & Neek and Gorgon Sound projects have grown steadily since.
Tell us about the current state of the scene in Bristol. It has always had a rich sound system culture, which is definitely reflected in the way you do things.
Neek: Bristol has been a hotbed for dance music for many years now. Right now, we have a great crew of new producers making grime and finding their sound. The music is there, but the club situation isn't that great at the moment.
Kahn: Yeah. In my opinion, things have changed pretty drastically from when we were coming up. A lot of the key venues and parties have been closed down, and the emphasis on a lot of regular club nights now seems to be on attracting students with what is essentially a commercial dance music policy.
Of course, that has always gone on, but it seems particularly dominant in Bristol right now. I just think it's a shame. There used to be a lot of diversity in the night life, and a genuinely exciting atmosphere around; that you were part of something kind of unique to the city.
Neek: Yeah, a lot of our best 150-300 capacity venues have closed down in the past few years, so there isn't really any good spaces anymore to put on lesser known, more underground DJs. We're really missing those spots we used to have; where you could build up a club night and a vibe from a grass roots level, which in turn helped keep the creativity in the scene thriving.
Kahn: That said, I do still think on the whole Bristol is still a vibrant and inspiring place to live and work in. Considering how fast things move in electronic music, there's always something exciting on the horizon.
There seems to be a lot of different people you guys work with, like Young Echo, Peng Sound, Hotline Recordings and Tape Echo. What other entities and crews do we need to be looking out for?
Kahn: Bristol isn't a big city. The community here that really contribute towards our music culture on a daily basis isn't that large, and the framework could be viewed as quite fragile I think. That said, we're still fiercely independent and proud of what our city has to offer. We're not afraid of doing things our own way. The thing that seems to resonate within all the different aspects of what we're involved in is the tradition of dubplates, vinyl and sound system culture.
Neek: Young Echo, Peng Sound, Hotline Recordings and Tape Echo are all linked in one way or another. The crew involved in all of these things is only about twelve people! Other people to look out for right now are Sector 7 Sound, run by producers Boofy and Lemzly Dale, Hi5Ghost and OH9, who are all making big tunes at the moment.
Staying with sound system culture, your Gorgon Sound music embraces the roots full on, much more so than most other young artists out at the moment. Do you see a lot of crossover in terms of the people listening to those sets, and coming to your more grime and dubstep sets as Kahn and Neek?
Neek: I have definitely experienced a lot of people coming to Gorgon Sound shows who start requesting we play our grime stuff as well, and vice versa. I think people hear the dread in the music - whether it be grime, dubstep or Steppers - so I guess they like those sounds regardless of genre. We like to keep the two projects separate though. You'll never catch us playing a grime dubplate at a Gorgon Sound show.
Kahn: The soundsystem origins of all the music we're in to plays a huge part in our identity as producers and DJs. Whereas a lot of new artists now are constantly looking to the future for inspiration we tend to draw inspiration from forms and traditions of the past, and I think that comes across in most of the music we make. We see our music to be a continuation of those traditions and movements, those that came before and laid the foundations.
Adding to that, does one production style inform the other?
Neek: We often find ourselves starting a soundsystem tune and hear something in the track, or a certain sound, that we feel might work in a grime context - so we quickly start a completely different tune with it, ha. In that sense, the two projects can and do overlap a fair bit.
Kahn: That happened when we wrote 'Percy' - we were originally working on a bashment tune! We tend to just switch from Gorgon Sound to Kahn & Neek mode or vice versa, depending on what our mood is in the studio.
It's hard to talk about Grime without MC's. You just played with Newham Generals for the first time, and have done a lot of sets with Flowdan. Who else is on that bucket list for you guys?
Neek: I mean, for me, it's people like Wiley, Skepta and JME. It was so great to mix with Newham Generals and Flowdan on the set. It was such a different energy compared to us just playing instrumentals. It was mad!
Kahn: Yeah man, that set was a real dream come true for us in a lot of ways. Certainly something we'd been working towards for years. The pyrotechnics were a nice addition too! I'm a particular fan of the yard man flow in grime, so working with Flowdan has been amazing. We've been doing some amazing shows together over the past year.
Somehow, this is you are playing your first Butterz party this Friday! What can people expect to hear?
Neek: They can expect to hear lots of dubplates, unheard grime from the Bristol crew in large, some older classics and maybe even some bassline!
Kahn: We've been pushing a lot of the newer instrumental stuff coming out of Bristol at the moment, as well as a bunch of our own dubs. We always tend to throw in some old gems from the golden period too. We're really looking forward to the show. I'm sure it'll be one to remember.
You can catch Kahn and Neek at Fabric, London, on Friday 7th February. Tickets and more information here.
Slackk: On the Boxed side of things, we’re just coming out of a recent date at Fabric ourselves. At our first date we had Bloom and Spooky, and at our most recent date we had Visionist and Murlo come through. It’s been mad that we’ve been able to host a room in Fabric twice in such a short period, but I think that says a lot about the quality of the grime music coming through at the moment.
Visionist’s set was mostly a showcase for his own label Lost Codes, which I think had a very strong 2013; with Saga's Crescent EP and Bloom’s Maze Temple EP especially. Judging by that set too, 2014 is probably going to be just as good. As for his own productions, Visionist's second EP is coming out imminently on Lit City Trax.
I think the main strength we have with this instrumental grime sound coming through right now, is that there are a lot of producers that really don't sound like anyone else. Murlo, our other guest from that Fabric show, is a prime example. I’ve known him for ages now, but I think over the last eighteen months he’s really come into his own; with the Last Dance EP on Glacial Sound, and the Ariel EP on Mixpak in particular. Whereas some producers are quite dark and moody in their approach, I think Murlo’s sound is more of a really hyper, technicolour feeling.
There are quite a few things coming from Murlo early this year, such as his joint EP with JT The Goon coming on Oil Gang, and his 'Twin Warriors' remix, which seems to be the one that people are really excited about. It's becoming a bit of a Boxed classic, really. We try not to deal with rewinds at our raves, but that always makes it come close.
In February, some amazing music is due for release.
Oil Gang is part of the crew who I run Boxed with, alongside Mr Mitch and Logos, and there are two EPs dropping imminently on the label. The first is the Sniper EP from Novelist, who’s part of the younger generation coming through Lewisham. They’re all really young - almost too young. They make me feel so old. 'Sniper' feels like a real descendent of that minimal Slew Dem sound: all gunshots and blasts of bass.
The other release Oil Gang have coming soon is one from JT The Goon, who’s been around this thing a lot longer than most. He was part of that original Slew Dem crew of producers alongside Waifer, Top Dolla and so on, but has long since set out on his own. His EP is, much like the forthcoming Murlo material, a real set of Boxed anthems. JT The Goon has become a real staple among the DJs playing this new sound too, which is telling. The mix he did for Fabric recently is a prime example.
Another EP to look out for from our crew is Mr Mitch’s next EP, which is coming out this month on his own label, Gobstopper. He’s a really varied producer, and this EP feels almost contemplative in places. 'The Man Waits' video is heavily influenced by Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I’d say that suits the sound perfectly; there’s a real sense of space to what he does. Part of the reasoning behind Boxed is that each of the residents brings our own sound to the table and, although his sets aren’t always like his music, there aren’t many people taking such an elegant approach to this new grime like Mr. Mitch is.
Our next party is March 7th, which is also our first birthday. We’ve got Inkke and DJ Milktray coming through for that. They’re both from Glasgow, and have been a big part of the Boxed sound this past year. Inkke should have a really strong year with EPs forthcoming on Local Action and Lit City Trax, and DJ Milktray made one of the few sing-along tunes we have at Boxed, 'Hotel'. That'll be out on whitel label in the near future, and it can’t come soon enough really.
Also, keep an eye out for the Major Grave remix of DJ Q’s 'Trust Again', again on white label too. You can hear that at the start of my most recent show on NTS Radio.