Interview: Bok Bok

Bok Bok the proficient DJ, designer and producer, as well as the co-founder of Night Slugs, is currently locked up in his studio finishing the first release that he’ll put out through his own imprint himself. We caught up with him to ask how that’s going, talk the past and the present of the label as well as the definition of the word riddim, and his true calling to be an 80’s fusion producer.

How are you doing, what have you been up to? Bok Bok: Yeah, not bad! Since I was meant to be in America all month and then VISA shit failed on me, I’ve been holing up in the studio. My EP is coming along well, too. You can expect fairly tracky, uncompromising club music. Pretty acid-y and grimey, I don’t think it sounds like much that’s out there currently.

Looking fwd! How long does it averagely take you to finish a track? From first sitting down to finishing it, it usually takes about a week. That usually includes a show where I test a draft and then go back and make changes. I have a lot of unfinished projects, which was very wasteful but I’m getting a lot better with that. You have to find a groove for your process and that takes a while, I’ve learnt to be methodical. For this record I’ve been making 16-32 bar ‘core’ ideas and then moving on to the next. Right now I’m in the phase of consolidating all of that. When do you feel like they’re good to go? As for being content with tunes that’s a hard one; I’m only happy some of the time, and much more so lately actually. I‘ve been happier with what I make, which is just as well since I’m about to drop a Night Slugs EP. I’m happy when I hear a tune buss up a dancefloor, obviously!

How do you go about approaching visual artwork as opposed to your music? Is there a relation or similarity between the two? I guess for both it’s a case of I have to sit myself down and do it as opposed to doing behind the scenes type of thing. So there’s a similarity in that sense, also the way I build stuff is actually a little haphazard even if that’s not an obvious aesthetic in the results. There’s a similarity there, too. Don’t you really plan it out then, do you sit down and see what happens? Or do you construct an idea in your head before you start on something? Oh no, I definitely plan the art. I have a background in communication design and it was a very concept-driven education. Idea is king, and all that. I sit and plan it carefully, but the making process is a bit like lego. In music its a bit vaguer though, but that lends itself more to lego because it’s not a visual language you’re speaking, it’s a vibe language.

Ha, I like that. What kind of mindset are you in when you make your best work? These days I need no distractions which is a #myth, I need to be zoned and not be reading emails, again.. #myth. The life of a label guy, it’s really, really distracting! That’s why I didn’t put out anything solo last year. All those other guys kept me too busy with their genius. You’ve managed to balance it well though, I don’t necessarily feel like Night Slugs has slowed down too much (NSLP001/ NSWL007/forthcoming releases). It definitely has, as opposed to last year. Last year we did almost an EP a month, all artworked and everything. Right now a lot of the schedule is being taken up with NSWL releases, which are always more of a low-key affair. They’re supposed to be a little under the radar. There will definitely be less of an intensive schedule this year which was what I decided in December, so that I actually have time to make tracks.

Is this a deliberate decision from your side, was last year too overwhelming?Not TOO – as in I have no regrets. Last year was incredible! But that’s behind us now, we need to consolidate and like I say, I need to make tracks, ha! People haven’t slowed down, though. Everyone is still hard at work, I’m sitting on so much material.

You’re a myriapod. DJ’ing, producing, running a label, designing, what else! In the past you have directed videos as well (Simian Mobile Disco’s “10.000’s Horses” and “Synthethise”), do you have any plans of resurrecting that talent in visual art/animation? I can’t sit still that’s why! I really did intend to keep it up but I’m far too busy with the Night Slugs life to run a freelance business just now. I’m kind of sad about that sometimes, maybe I’ll fall back on it one day. I really enjoy art directing Night Slugs, though.

You’re doing a wonderful job when it comes to the presentation of the label. Are there any other musicians that you admire and feel put their visual art to good use in their videos, album covers, etcetera? When I was still studying I was always a big fan of Julian House who does Ghost Box. They draw on a lot of classical references like Penguin Classics, so stylish. It really illustrates the music well too, and there’s a real continuity to it. You could say he’s an influence. I thought Institubes always looked fly, as well. There’s probably tons of others but I don’t know, to be honest all my favourite music always looks bad or has kind of a naive and basic functional visual aesthetic. All my most favourite stuff is on white label, so that’s why I do NSWL’s. When it comes to album covers, I don’t know if I follow them really, I just like ephemera mostly. I can tell you right now that I absolutely love the Bruton music series of covers, check it out. It’s so good! They look amazing, still so on point. Do you collect them? I’ve got a few yeah, it’s a buy on sight sort of series for me. Uniformity is key to these. I guess it’s another subconscious influence. I just love stuff that has a template to work to I guess. The music is fucking mental too, it’s all synth funk licks that are like ten seconds long.

Over the last few years there has been constant news of labels going under as well as other creative outputs such as magazines, yet every day more and more independent initiatives are created.. All things considered, what gave you the confidence to start a label in “these times”? You know to be honest, I didn’t really consider it. In financial terms I guess me and L-Vis felt confident when launching that there actually was an audience for it there, other than that we had good people working with us and everything just felt right. I also left my job at at an agency at the height of the financial crisis, so I guess I’m not so concerned with the times. I’ve been lucky in that aspect. Yes, I think for many labels it probably is frustrating keeping up. We’re lucky to have something unique though. In some worlds they call it a ‘U.S.P’, ha. All you need now is a tacky quote in between brackets that comes with the Night Slugs brand. Haha, “quality ensured”. Yes! “U dun fukin kno!”.

You’ve always mentioned sincerity and authenticity being a big deal for you. As Night Slugs is getting pretty big out there as a label, how do you plan on maintaining that sense of original integrity you had in mind when you first started the label? Yeah, I think in these times its more important than ever you know? I feel like the internet has made things about as muddled and post-modern as they get so it’s more important than ever to stay routed in something concrete. I can’t see it being a problem in the future though because it’s what comes naturally to us. I plan on doing it exactly as we have so far, but not making one move we’re unsure about. We’re not releasing a single record we don’t truly love, etcetera.

With the popularity of the label it’s been inevitable that people began to take huge influence from you and the rest of the Night Slugs family. Has this been hard to come to terms with or is has it been embraced? Honestly, everyone trying to replicate what we’re doing fails because they’re not quite sure themselves what they’re copying yet. I can’t really put my finger on it. I don’t want to get too deep into this to avoid sounding really conceited, but in my head there’s this concept of a canon that reaches way back into music history and I guess for me it’s about not being some flash-in-the-pan thing crippled by post-modernism, but actually trying to keep an element of earnestly trying to contribute to that great canon. Let’s not over analyse it, though. You know the real deal when you feel it in ya belly.

What label do you see as an example of having constantly maintained their integrity over time? I don’t know because those are pure value judgements now, so I’ll just reel off the same list I always do because it’s what I truly love and get inspiration from: Geeneus’ dump valve label, Trax and related labels and Dancemania. Locked On for garage. There’s so many more that create the plethora, though.

How would you define success for Night Slugs? I guess when I hear about DJ’s playing our releases and people enjoying them. I’ve always been happy with each release though, so from my perspective they’re a success because i love the final package each time and I make sure I do before releasing it!

That’s the only right way – where would you like to see Night Slugs in 5 years, any dreams or aspirations? I know a few of the guys would love to be producing for the right kind of artists for stuff that might get played widely on radio, actually. In the short term I would want to see us do more work with vocalists because there’s so much production talent in the camp and not that many vocalists, except the odd collaboration here and there. The L-Vis album will break the mold on that front. We’re about to put out that “Ride Every Time” track that Kingdom made, and in five years time I sort of hope that kind of thing won’t have to be him using an existing a capella, you know what I mean? Or even less than five years ideally, haha. Real collaboration with real great singers is what I want, I know Girl Unit wants to go down that path, so we’ll see.

Would you like to get involved on that tip too? I’m so picky with vocals, it’s hard. For the foreseeable future I want to make club trax. That doesn’t mean they cant be vocal though. I just recorded myself the other day for lack of anyone else to say something over my trax, haha. Sometimes you cant find the right samples. If you could collaborate with ANY vocalist who would it be and why? Ciara, The Dream, Electric Red, Diamond / Princess, God’s Gift or Riko Dan. Let’s dream on..

A while ago you tweeted “Don’t say ‘riddim’ if you don’t mean it.” What inclined you to say this? Oh god, haha. Like the concept of riddims to me is similar to that of trax, in the sense that there’s a modular nature to them. There is some functionalist, repetitive nature, and those tracks slot into other tracks that have that quality to them as well. That is what that sort of means to me, like all those kind of tracks have a different sort of internal logic to them that differs from traditional songwriting. Take 8 bar grime for example, at one point i was getting a lot of tracks sent to me that just had that word tacked on because it was a thing to do. Another one: “Everything doesn’t need a remix”. Please elaborate. The blog house release format is still around: one O.G. track and a gazillion remixes, pointless. What does a good remix need in your opinion? It should keep the idea of the O.G. and take it somewhere else, which is an obvious thing to say, but so many don’t! The best ones for me are the ones that run with a concept but it’s whatever. Trax is trax, mane.

Complete this sentence: At heart I’m just a frustrated… 80’S FUSION PRODUCER, HELL FUCK YEA! I’ve been listening to so much Paul Hardcastle lately, sometimes I think I should just make that music. If I could, maybe I would.

When was the last time you danced? Each time I’m in the club, so that’s at least once a weekend. Even if it’s a little on the sly behind the scenes skank. I’m not one of them ‘them and us’ guys. #stilllikemusic

Soraya Brouwer
Soraya Brouwer

LONDON VIA AMSTERDAM - Soundcloud & Instagram

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