Kingston-upon-Hull's finest has delivered one of the most gorgeous sets we've heard all year. Just don't call him a Balearic DJ.
James Abbott Donelly
For nearly 30 years now Kingston-upon-Hull based producer and DJ Steve Cobby's been releasing music that defies strict categorization. As happy to beaver away at semi-ambient breakbeat as he is dubbed-out house, liquid jazz or sunrise-friendly rollers, he's, in essence, a one man industry, and an artist we should truly cherish and treasure.
Cobby's backstory takes in running his own labels—Pork, Twentythree, Steel Tiger, and Déclassé— globetrotting with downtempo giants Fila Brazillia, and being committed to pushing himself in any and every direction possible. Having fallen in love with 2015's absolutely exceptional Everliving LP we went back and devoured as much of Cobby's work as we could find. Which is why we tracked him down and got him to put together a mix for us.
The man's having a great year thus far, and his recent release on Aficiando, the Rich Arthurs featuring "Bushfarmer" has been everywhere, so it's not surprising that he dropped it in his set for us. The result is a genuine stunner, and one of the best we've heard so far this year. Ranging from blissed out cosmic chuggers to squiggly acid inflections, dreamy African BBQ belters to sunset-ready reggae, Cobby's mix is the perfect accompaniment to endless days under the blazing Croatian sun. Or wet weekends in Solihull. Whatever works for you. Check it out below, and have a read of our interview with Hull's finest.
THUMP: Steve, it's fair to say that you've been around the block. If you had to pick five records you've had a hand in that define who you are as an artist, what would they be and why?
Steve Cobby: Here's five that I think work....
1) Fila Brazillia - Old Codes New Chaos
Our debut LP released in '95 but which was in fact a collection of various 12"s we'd released in the previous four years with some bridging incidental tracks. I had, in fact, been signed to Big Life Records in the late eighties with a band called Ashley & Jackson which was ultimately an exercise in futility. So to have the freedom of releasing anything we wanted on Pork Recordings without A&R constraints or interference was like being released from jail.
2) Solid Doctor - How About Some Ether
My first solo release. Also from 1995. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the Big Life deal as the 80's became the 90's and found myself writing tunes more to escape the drudgery of trying to write commercial material with A&J, than with any realistic aims of putting it out. On Pork it found a home. Its iconoclastic nature appeared to appeal to a surprisingly large amount of listeners. A 21st anniversary edition with an hour of unreleased is planned for release in the form of a deluxe six disc vinyl box set later this year.
3) Fila Brazillia - Brazillification
When Fila started to do remixes around the mid nineties it pushed us out to a much wider audience. The second mix we did was for Lamb and their tune "Cotton Wool" which certainly got the ball rolling and we eventually were commissioned for acts as diverse as Radiohead and Busta Rhymes. I can't pick any particular one of the 70+ remixes we eventually turned, in but this compilation collected quite a few of the favourites. Again, it's a pretty broad spectrum of tempos and styles, something that has been a hallmark of my work. I get bored easily and never wanted to be associated with a definite sound.
4) Steve Cobby - Saudade
After having an epiphany in late 2013 I decided to leave the label I co owned and revert to the cottage industry model that Pork favoured. Now with the added help of the internet and the capability to form a relationship direct with customers effortlessly, avoid the pitfalls of the old business model and glean better profits by avoiding the traditional route to market via record label, distributor and shops. I had spent the best part of a decade after Fila ceased recording trying to get some traction for various collaborations I'd formed but with limited success. This first release under my own name heralded a sea change in sales, coverage and perception. I was back on radars I'd flown underneath since Fila went into hibernation.
5) Cobby & Litten - My People Come From the Sea
This is my latest release, and it's a collaboration with good friend, author and poet Russ Litten. We'd been getting together on a very ad hoc basis, throwing ideas down and recording them quickly over the last few months—more for our own pleasure than with any great masterplan. Once we had ten tunes we realised it was a pretty solid body of work so touted it around. Filthybroke, a small US independent, fell over themselves to put it out in boutique handmade fashion. As you are often defined by your most current work I decided to include it.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role in the British balearic scene?
Apart from a couple of tunes getting licensed on to Cafe Del Mar compilations I'm not sure I had any kind of role in the British balearic scene. Any forensic deconstruction of my back catalogue would be very difficult to categorise I think. Intentionally so. I've cross pollinated funk, soul, house, disco, ambient, rock, jazz and electronica in my work—with varying amounts of success it must be said—so I'd be loathed to pigeonhole it into any one particular genre.
Why do you think it's got such a stronghold up north? Admittedly my experience of anywhere above Oxford Street is pretty much limited to away days in Leeds and Sheffield, and the odd weekend with my girlfriend's parents up in Todmorden...
Escapism? The weather's pretty shit after all.
How was Love International? From the photos I saw you and Moonboots et al post it looked like paradise. Is it as good as that?
Next level. I've been visiting and performing in Croatia for over ten years and it has never disappointed. The company, food and weather is astonishingly good. Can't recommend it highly enough. I'm off back to do Dimension festival in August. Can't wait.
What's the eternal appeal of balearic? Why do we still daydream about sunsets over Cala Mitjana?
It's not just Balearic that has the ability to lift you out of the mundane and transport you to another realm. Almost all music has that capacity. Whatever floats your boat will do the trick.
Steve Cobby's most recent album, Everliving , is out now on Déclassé Recordings.