Sydney via Seoul’s Victoria Kim deliver our 103rd Truancy Volume, a whirlwind exploration of the hybridization of K-Pop and the UK’s pummelling drum trax. Initially producing a host of housey RnB edits, the duo have recently turned to Korean vocal work for inspiration, setting in motion a host of bootlegs that will be compiled on the forthcoming Karaoke Pt. 1 mixtape. Quietly working away in and behind the scenes of Sydney’s small but dedicated dance music community, Victoria Kim have expanded their horizons and began to garner some international interest – not always an easy step for artists from this part of the world.
Picking up the philosophy of hybridity in Fade to Mind’s edit culture, Victoria Kim’s bootlegs add something new to the conversation. This glocalisation, casually referred to as ’K-grime’, reflects the duo’s geographical and cultural duality but also breaks down the constructed barriers between the cultures it investigates. TV103 demonstrates that there is an incredibly large amount of amazing music made in Asia that is overlooked by the Orientalist gaze and the industry’s media that sits together beautifully with Europe’s equally forward-thinking club trax. There’s more in common with contemporary pop’s Other than we may initially think and, perhaps more importantly, the combination destabilises the binaries of East and West, underground and mainstream, promoting instead an idiosyncratic chimera in which the lines are blurred. While there is a long discussion to be had about the cultural sensitivity of this stance (some of which was covered in our interview, in which our differing approaches came to the fore), the mix is nonetheless symptomatic of our obsession with speed and newness: “there’s this obsession with impatience, people want to hook onto as many trends as possible in as short a time as possible.” While some, this writer included, approach this fact with some apprehension, Victoria Kim seem to revel in it, feeding off its multiplying ability to distort and abstract.
Stitched together while in Seoul, the mix tracks a journey from the city’s mega-cafés into its clubs, where different spaces induce odd juxtapositions – the café’s RnB vocals linger and mix with the club’s clanging drums. The result is unlike anything we’ve hosted and lays out a heap of new ground to be explored. We met up with half of the duo in Sydney’s most marble and glass-laden shopping center to discuss hating Australia’s house fetishism, appropriation and doing things wrongly.
The first thing I wanted to ask was just about the Australian dance scene – there’s a big predisposition for house and techno but recently there are people like yourself, Air Max ‘97, Strict Face and Dexter Duckett who are doing things differently. “The thing I love about Australia is everyone is just imitating someone else’s music. I guess that’s how I understand Asian music as well – K-pop is just a copy of American pop music and American RnB, so the same applies to Australian club music except we do it so wrong that it becomes something new and becomes something fresh.” I think that’s a really interesting aspect of Australian culture in that we are, in a sense, culturally nomadic, with very little homegrown culture to rely on. That’s why I’ve been really excited about how a different sound might develop here, particularly with someone like Air Max 97. “That’s true, you can see where he draws stuff from as well though. I think we all are trying to imitate something, like I’m just taking ballroom rhythms and stealing K-Pop vocals and using that instead of queer or American stuff, because that sounds more exciting to me. I think Strict Face has got this perfect thing where he’s doing grime but he isn’t doing it as a British person and I know a lot of people who find that kind of unsettling…. It’s cool and funny. I love appropriation, I don’t really know why people get so worked up about it. I mean, I’m not queer and I’m not black but I did a track with Divoli (S’vere), and he just doesn’t care. If you look at someone like Koppi Mizrahi from Tokyo – she’s a woman and she doesn’t do drag or anything but she’s part of Qween Beat and they love her. Appropriation is a funny thing, it’s something that people get pissed off about but the actual people who make the music often don’t care, or they love it, in fact.” Right, well especially with ballroom you have these really pertinent and meaningful cultural symbols, like the Ha! crash, and I guess the worry is that it will just turn into some empty trend that forgets a really important social and political element to that music, in turn effacing and silencing the original voices. “Yeah, there is the worry that it just slips into something like the trap hi-hat trills. But I remember talking to someone from Fade to Mind and they were saying just make your own Ha, so I did. It’s a high pitched Chinese gong, and then a Korean person going “ha!” Appropriating something and making it your own is a different thing.”
How do you feel about the health of the club scene in Sydney? “I think it’s cool but I don’t get why everyone is so into analogue technology and ‘hardware’. Too much white boy music. Maybe it all started in Melbourne, probably did. And that whole Australiana thing of wearing weird jackets and making music in the desert… whatever. (laughs)”
So what are some of the processes and thoughts behind the hybridization of K-pop and grime / club music you’ve been working on? “Well, firstly, bootleg culture is very common in Asia. With every major album that comes out they always release acapellas and instrumentals alongside. The point of this is to encourage bootlegging, but it’s also so that the tracks can be used for Karaoke. So if you have the instrumentals, people cover it on Youtube – so many artists get picked up from Youtube by the major record labels. I also see Asian pop music as a clone of American pop music, but it’s a clone that tries to be ten steps ahead always. So the example people often talk about is Hyuna’s “Bubble Pop“, where you have these EDM or dubstep drops 30 seconds in. So there’s this obsession with impatience, people want to hook onto as many trends as possible in as short a time as possible, and consequently people don’t really last so long over there. So with guys like Her Records, who are pushing stuff out as quickly as possible, digital only, I’m watching this strand of dance music moving so fast but trying to parallel it with this strand of pop music that’s moving so fast. Because there’s nothing interesting about putting a Destiny’s Child acapella over a new track. It’s like, why not use new vocals?” I suppose there’s also an interesting parallel there between how Asian pop music functions and how the Soundcloud trend cycle functions, where you have these genres – one month its moombahton, then it’s footwork, then it’s kuduro – that are ingested and spat out at a rate of knots. Everyone’s just ruthless. “I think that’s good, I think you need to be as ruthless as you can in music. I buy lots of vinyl but I also don’t care for it. It’s too slow. I might play around with it at home, but when it comes to playing out, USBs only… no questions. Sometimes I have these sound guys come up to me like, “are you playing a Youtube rip!?” and I’m like, “Yep…” (laughs) But that’s the thing, I’ve talked to sound guys everywhere in Sydney and they just don’t understand, they just like rock music. It’s not like we have Funktion One in every club here, or even that what we play is mastered properly. All we do is slap a limiter on to make it louder… it doesn’t matter.”
On a lot of your promo material you refer to your stuff as ‘Asian house’ or ‘sino house’, I was just wondering how being between Australia and Korea has influenced your stuff. “Honestly, when we try and make music we try and think of ourselves in that in-between space. That’s kind of the Victoria Kim idea – it’s a music between worlds that’s compromised between worlds. There’s a guy I know from Cakeshop in Seoul who often plays our tracks, the mashups in particular, and people love them there, because they’re hearing these raw UK drum tracks with K-pop vocals over the top and they don’t know how to react. It’s that same idea of not knowing how to react to dance music, but that’s the way you can introduce that kind of music to them, you know. You can do that the other way around as well, we’re also trying to introduce European people to K-Pop because they know their NS and FTM instrumentals but they don’t know the vocals.” So it’s a very cultural project. “It is, we’re really trying to make the two cultures meet. It’s a project of multiculturalism. It’s a project of assimilation maybe.” Oooh, I think we’re getting into probo (read: Australian for problematic) territory there with assimilation… I tend to think of it more as hybridization, that at least there is some form of exchange. “Yeah, it’s interesting though. I’m from Hong Kong, my entire country was assimilated by bloody British people… but we kinda liked it. (laughs) But a lot of Hong Kong people will tell you, “we love the British, we like the fact that they came here”. Which is obviously a very different approach from most colonized countries and that really feeds into what we do.”
When I first encountered your music it was more of a straighter house or garage variety, and I feel like at a certain stage a whole lot of things changed perhaps with the entrance of the Night Slugs/Fade To Mind diaspora. “It’s always been there, but I don’t think we’ve ever taken the risk to make that kind of music. I think the first thing that got any attention was “Talk Talk“, which is a Korean cover of Justin Bieber so the Korean influence has always been there. With Night Slugs, in terms of production, I don’t think there is a huge influence, but in terms of approach there is a huge influence. This idea of pinching from different areas and… making something wrongly? I remember reading an interview with Bok Bok where he talked about making “Silo Pass,” and he was saying that he was trying to imitate Wiley but did it all wrong and that’s how it came about.” This idea of making something wrongly is so prevalent in the narrative of dance music, since the very beginning with the development of Acid House through to UK Garage and footwork. “Yeah exactly right, and we just need to keep doing it with newer stuff. Do it wrong. Have your little Ableton stretch marks in there … whatever. There’s no need to argue about authenticity… be happy! Asian music is the fakest music in the world, it doesn’t matter, same with the PC Music stuff. I’m so happy it’s happening, if anything its actually finally driving people towards Asian music. People are only just realizing.”
Could you tell me about the karaoke mixtape that you’re working on? “Well, it’s supposed to be a series. Druture from Los Angeles will be on it, and maybe Strict Face. I have an EP that’s done and a single with Breach that was supposed to come out but I’m not sure about that. I don’t worry too much about releases. I’m hoping to start this thing called Pure Ginseng, which will kick off with the Karaoke mixtape and will hopefully release music as quickly as possible. I’m mainly looking towards Asian producers, producers who are imitating the Night Slugs thing but very late in the game, really. Guys like Moslem Priest, a couple of Korean vocalists like Kitty B and Hoody, Strict Face. A lot of the karaoke stuff is on the mix we did for you guys. Then hitmaking in Seoul with Druture, going on all the big labels… putting dance music in a different place.”
Tell us a bit about the mix you made for us. “Well, there’s this habit I got into when I was in Seoul, because coffee shops there close at like 2AM and, like, everyone is in coffee shops all the time, so I would just sit and smoke and make mixes and mashups all day. But there’s this idea of going from the café to the club. You’d go and get a coffee, the cafe would close and you’d catch a cab to the club, finish at seven in the morning and go back and get another coffee. So that was kind of the culture that I wanted to capture. This thing would always happen where I’d be at the club but still singing these acapellas in my head from the café – there was a club that I went to that was opposite a convenience store that was blaring the same 4 songs all day, so you’d come out of the club with melodies in your head and be affronted by a thrashing EDM beat… The mix came from this idea that you’re listening to Korean RnB and it kind of lingers, then all of a sudden these UK drum tracks come in, so that was my experience. Basically it’s Korean acapellas all the way through but the music and the rhythms change vastly. Just bridging that gap, that’s the idea. It’s not a club mix. People have this thing of like, “it’s just what I’m playing out at the moment.” No, this was made on Ableton, straight up. It was meant to portray that experience of going from the café to the club and having those ideas lingering in your head and crossing over when you don’t want them to. It’s not what I play out, that’s boring. (laughs)” There’s still a whole lot of untapped potential in Ableton mixing, in using that new technology wrongly. “Yeah, there is a different attitude to making a mix on Ableton, it feels very rehearsed, which is fine. People tell me that I lose the live element, but that’s just not interesting to me, we’ve moved on. I’m all for it being as produced as possible, where you can hear the stretch marks and it sounds all artificial, it doesn’t matter.”
Words by Tobias Shine, 21 October 2014. 1 comment
If you’ve been following our Functions Of The Now series, you’ll know that Miss Modular and Sudanim are responsible for one of its biggest hits to date. Her Records have continued their course up to the stratosphere since then and we’re delighted to be working with them once more for the first few iterations of Temporary Trax. First up is “No Clouds” by Miss Modular. In line with what we’ve come to expect from him and the label he represents, it’s a dynamic, vibrant 8 bar weapon that’s as bound to Jersey club and the likes of Rustie and Hudson Mohawke as it is to grime. It’s also spectacularly funky, which makes a whole lot of sense when you consider what the track’s source material is. We got in touch with Miss Modular to talk about this, his process for remixing and more besides.
“It was started and finished in the same day. Maybe a 10 A.M to 4 P.M session in my home studio, which isn’t actually a studio. At the moment it’s my laptop, a pair of Beyer DT770s and a basic, broken midi controller. Suda and CYPHR were playing on NTS and at The Alibi that night so I thought I’d build something for it. I had listened to this new Prince song, “Clouds,” and heard about four things I wanted to sample in the first twenty seconds! His sound palette is really influential in dance music. Perfect claps and snares. “Clouds” itself is kinda throwback. I dig it and it’s cute, but I don’t really have much use for it on it’s own. I don’t think I’d ever play it out, whereas I used to work in things like “Erotic City” and the 12” mix of “Little Red Corvette” quite a lot in my sets. So I was chopping it up as I was listening, rather than playing it through all the way, really taking things out of context. It was more of an experiment to see what I could do with the sounds, some sort of personal challenge, and wasn’t until I heard the “Kiss on the neck” refrain that it really became a remix. It’s actually one of the only tracks I’ve made recently without a broader project in mind so it seemed perfect for this! The Functions of The Now mix we did just under a year ago was our first feature and maybe the thing that actually made people listen to us so we’re really happy to be working together again!”
DOWNLOAD: MISS MODULAR – NO CLOUDS ➝ Donate £1.99 or more on Bandcamp.
Temporary Trax: Ever since the inception of Truants, we have been proudly dedicated to providing you with the best content while remaining free of advertising and other external influences. We’ve managed to do this through a certain level of self-funding, as well as through donations from our wonderful readers. It goes without saying that this means an awful lot to us and we’ve been hard at work to offer you something a little more tangible in return. Temporary Trax is a new feature in which we offer you the chance to download something completely exclusive in exchange for a donation. 100% of your donation goes towards our running costs. Each track will stay live for two weeks and once we roll it out you can no longer get the previous offering. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. We’re also delighted to be working with graphic designer Taylor Trostle to deliver you an exclusively designed piece of artwork with every new instalment. Mixing engineer Jeremy Cox also continues the impeccable work he does with Her Records and others on “No Clouds”.
If you have donated £15 or more in the past and would like to reclaim your Temporary Trax downloads for free, please mail us at email@example.com and we will get back to you with a download link shortly.
Having curated one of our favourite mix series on the internet, the Astral Plane’s move into release with their excellent Heterotopia compilation is all kinds of hype. Alongside Jacques Gaspard Biberkopf sit other Truants faves Air Max ’97, Victoria Kim and Divoli S’vere who all contribute club-ready fireballs. Heterotopia, the theme driving the compilation, refers to Foucault’s conception of alternative political space, utopias of Otherness, difference and plurality existing outside of social hegemony. This idea manifests itself beautifully in clubland, in the cultural safehavens that were the Paradise Garage and Fantazia, that are Vogue Knights, the Battle Groundz and the dark warehouses of Newark. It also manifests itself in the state of liminality we are shrouded with in the club, as well as the embodied rituals of drug use, dance and listening. Though we shouldn’t forget nightlife’s intrinsic ties to the leisure economy, the club space’s ability to foster alternative community and subjectivity is nonetheless an incredibly powerful tool Jacques Gaspard Biberkopf seems to take the theme figuratively, establishing a widescreen architecture that hones in in the absurdity of Jersey club through dehydrated textures and his trademark use of voice. In a far away room, someone tinkers on a piano. As the arms of power continue to strangle public space, whether through surveillance or the monetization of Soundcloud, the Astral Plane remind us of the powerful political agency ‘real’ club space offers.
Heterotopia will be release on October 21, revisit Biberkopf’s Functions of the Now here.
Words by Tobias Shine, 16 October 2014. Leave a comment
Chris Farrell has been a major player on the Bristol scene for some time now. He set up the Idle Hands label with a release from Peverelist in 2009, and followed that up with releases from local boys and girls like Kowton, Shanti Celeste, Lily and Bass Clef, as well as from artists based further afield like AnD, Strategy and Kevin McPhee. Three years ago he set up a record store under the same name as his record label, where he sells a small but vibrant selection of, in the website’s words, “the best house, techno, reggae and bass music on vinyl.” We caught up with Chris before his DJ set at this year’s Electric Picnic, taking in the past and future of the label, new developments in the store and his opinion on Dire Straits represses.
Hi Chris! For those who don’t know you, can you sum up your musical path to this point? “Like a lot of people, my family’s quite musical, not necessarily in a playing music sense, but my dad’s a soul DJ, my mum’s a big fan of music and we always had music playing in the house. I was taken to a lot of record fairs and stuff when I was a kid and continued to be big into music as a teenager, getting into raving, dance music etc. Then when I moved to Bristol for uni in my second year I got a job at Imperial records. I’ve just been knee deep in music since then in terms of selling music and putting stuff out and what have you. I went from Imperial to another shop called Replay, to one called Rooted, the famous dubstep one, and when that closed down we opened this place [Idle Hands]. That’s about it then.” By that stage you had already set up the label, is that right? “I set up Idle Hands in 2009 when I was at Rooted Records.” That was the sort of semi-famous story about Tom Ford (Peverelist, red.), who was then your boss, calling you in. “Yeah. Tom called me in: ‘What you doing, you gonna start a label then? All right, then.’”
So how did Idle Hands the label become the shop? “I’d been running a label for about 18 months, and it became apparent that Rooted was going to have to close down, because our overheads were too high, and it kind of ran its course. By the time it closed it was just me and Joe Cowton working there. Pev had left a few months beforehand, and it was really Joe who encouraged me: ‘Man, why not just start your own shop?’ I’d always thought it was a bit of a stupid idea and I’d always said you’d be mad to open your own store, but Joe and a few other people were saying ‘you should do it’. We opened this shop two months afterwards, and a happy coincidence was that people in Bristol were more interested in house and techno than they had been in a long time. I’ve always been known as the guy in the record shop selling that stuff, so when people’s ears were turned to that, that was around the time we opened. I think within a month we’d done a feature for RA, a video about Bristol, so even that, with the camera’s glare on us, kind of solidified what we did and what we wanted to do with this place – nothing much more than wanting to have a record shop that serves good underground music to the small amount of people in Bristol who want it.”
You mentioned Joe — how did you fall in with people like him and Shanti Celeste? “Bristol’s a small place. I first met Shanti when she used to do a poster run for one of the big house nights, and she used to come into the shop and we’d just chat about house music, and then her really good friend Kim Oakley, we set up agency together. I was out one night with a friend (we’d gone to see Floating Points), and he’s a really good mate of mine, but he’s very much [the type to] stand in the corner, dissecting what the DJ’s doing, and I was just a bit bored really. I saw Kim and Shanti dancing at the front and I thought ‘fuck it I know these people’, and I went over and started getting down with them. Those two have been quite a big inspiration for me in terms of just enjoying dance music, what it’s meant to be — dancing and having fun and spending time with your friends.
“This was the year before we opened Idle Hands, and also Kim and Shanti knew Joe Cowton, who by that point was a good friend of mine because we were working together. A lot of my friends, a lot of the people I know I’ve met through record shops. Joe and I met when he first moved to Bristol and was coming into the shop, and I was selling him techno records, like ‘mate you’ve got to hear this,’ building up a rapport with him. It’s very important for us at Idle Hands that it is about a community thing, that we’re welcoming of people who are coming in. Especially at the moment in Bristol, a lot of people are moving here from other parts of the country, more so than I’ve ever noticed. It’s crazy. Loads of people moving here from London — that never really used to be a thing.”
Do you reckon that’s because renting and finding somewhere to live is very difficult nowadays? “A little bit. But Bristol has quite a good rep these days. I think a lot of people will always know people who’ve lived in Bristol because there are two big universities here, and most people who come here have something good to say about it — life moves at its own pace. It’s great. I think society works better when we’re all talking to each other, face to face.”
Getting back to the shop — could you sum up what your ethos is in terms of what you sell and what you stock and so on? “To start with, we always listen to what our customers want; I’ve been doing this for a long time so I’ve a good feel for what people are going to want to buy. Generally though, the main ethos is just good, underground dance music, stuff you’re not going to find elsewhere as well, like rare white labels or little grime 12s that only three shops have. That can sometimes be our bread and butter.” Did you get that Stitch-Up record? “I don’t think I know that?” It’s this anonymous record by The Stitch-Up called ‘The Stitch-Up’, one sided, it’s just got one track, and it’s got a stamp that says The Stitch-Up and a little sewing needle on it. “No, I’ve not seen that! There’s always something you don’t know! One of the big things is just trying to keep on top of everything. House and techno is really re-energised and revitalised, much more so than it was a few years ago, With the reggae stuff and the bass stuff that we do it’s a bit easier, it’s more precision, certain labels are always going do well, but the main thing is we try and represent something about Bristol you know, plus records that I like [laughs] and think other people should like.
Absolutely, that’s key. You’ve just had a new addition to the shop, can you talk about that? “Myself and Marco Bernardi had been chatting for a long time about doing something together, and just last week he’s opened up an equipment shop in the back of Idle Hands called Elevator Sound selling synths, entry-level controllers, wires, all that kind of stuff — the idea being you can buy the stuff to make the records in the back, and if it’s good enough you can get it pressed and we’ll have it in the shop.” Nice. I read a short interview with him and he said that it’s not this off-putting thing where you’re going to be scared to ask what equipment to use. “Marco’s a real personable guy. The last few months have been quite stressful getting everything together, but this first week of being open has been really nice, there’s been a nice through-fare of people. He’s got a few people helping him out as well who are all super keen, one of them’s October, he’s also an old friend of mine.” He did a mix for us last year. “Jules is a top, top boy. It’s been nice; it’s been a bit of a kick up the arse for me you know! Sometimes I’ve been just sat in the shop, being like ‘ugh, whatever’, but to have more people about, again the community thing, just building on that, that’s been nice. There’s a lot of people who make music and don’t buy music, so it’s nice to see them coming in.
“We’re doing this thing once a month from September called Escher Music — it’s a bit like CDR in London I guess — people bring in their CDs to the shop, and we have a few beers and just play them over the system and people can have a chat. We’re trying to encourage people like Pev or Pinch to come down, people who actually put this shit out. Again it’s better when people talk to each other.” That’s really cool, it’s a really good idea. “We’ve only done one so far but it was really nice. Like I said, you don’t necessarily see these people all the time because they’re not buying vinyl, these newer producers. There’s some really interesting music being made, and it was interesting to see how coherent it all was with each other, in six months to a year what will be coming out of Bristol on labels.” The Bristol sound? “[Sighs] Yeah, the Bristol sound…!”
Speaking of Bristol sounds, you’ve said the label is very much about pushing the subtle differences that arise in dance music. How you manage to keep that ethos going? “I sometimes look back on the label and think maybe if I’d pursued one of the sounds we’d done we’d be a bigger label, but then I think no, that’s not right. The label’s a reflection, obviously of where my head is at, but also a reflection of things we think we can get behind. I’ve been sent tracks that I’ve thought were fantastic before and haven’t signed them because they wouldn’t quite be right — I try and keep it moving a little bit and not be too fixed on one thing. I know what I want with Idle Hands, sometimes artists try and second-guess what I want, and just make something for me, and generally it’s always wrong [laughs]. So it’s quite often the tunes I get sent, there’ll be the last tune in the bottom of the folder, where they’re not really sure about it, I’ll be like, ‘oh, that one’. Maybe when people aren’t thinking too consciously it just comes out. I think now we’re like 25, 26 releases deep, hopefully people can see the coherence on the label — ‘oh you’ve put out a lot of dark techno’, uh we don’t really. Or ‘oh you just put out shiny house’, we don’t! Or ‘oh you’re a dubstep label’, well, we’re not really any of those things! We’re a dance music label. Dance music for me has always been the whole spectrum. We’re not going to put out a jungle record or a gabba record any time soon, but we’re very comfortable doing what I consider a bit of a wide range of stuff.” So the tracks might be different genre wise, but there’s an overarching theme or approach. “I’d like to think so. A lot of sustained minor chords.”
You were saying about things people send you — do you get a lot of demos? Or does it come out of conversation, chatting with friends or whoever, and suggesting ‘oh you should send me something, see what we can do’ — how does it work? “I get sent a lot of demos but these days I think producers buy emails off people. So I get a lot of Italian trance records and stuff like that. I’ve had EDM producers from America sending me things and being like ‘I love your label’ and I listen to it — and most of the time I just let it go obviously, but one time I asked ‘mate have you even listened to the label?’ and this guy said: ‘If I was you I’d put out more banging shit!’ I said ‘I’ll decide what I put out, thank you very much’. Generally, there’s quite a bit of a culture here, we all listen to each other’s music that everyone’s making and sometimes it’s like, ‘um, can I have that one?’ Apart from that, with the people from further afield it’s always been quite natural — friends of friends. I’ve never signed something just off someone sending me a demo. It wouldn’t really feel right. One of the things I like about putting out Bristol music is the fact that — with producers in Manchester or the States or something I’m constantly emailing them and we have these big long chats and obviously everything’s fine, but sometimes it’s just easy to go and have a pint together and be like: ‘Right, let’s do it like this. We’re gonna press 300 copies and blah blah blah, we’ll get it out.’ It’s just easier.”
Can you tell us what’s coming soon? “Yeah sure! This year’s been a bit of a funny one, because we moved distributor at the start of this year and that took a couple months to sort out, and then Record Store Day kind of fucked every small independent label by delaying things. We haven’t had a particularly active year, but we’ve got a bunch of stuff lined up. The next thing, coming out next month, is an album by Strategy, who we did a 12 with last year. This LP is an ambient dub thing that I really like, for adventurous DJs. Going back to the label thing, one thing I always said was that I could imagine all the records on the label being played in a set together, even if it was quite a wide-ranging set, it still would make sense together. Then after that we’ve got a 12 from… actually I’m not going to say about that one. Then we’ve got a 12 from Leif coming. Recently I’ve been looking a bit further afield outside of Bristol, just for a bit of difference – like with Leif, we’ve been chatting for about three years about doing something. I love his tunes, his production’s fantastic, but he’s another one who sent me tunes and I just haven’t been able to put them out because it wouldn’t have made sense on the label. We’ve got to a point now where we’ve got two tunes that are just perfect and I’m really looking forward to putting that out because he’s one of my favourite UK producers. Then next year we’ve got a bunch of other stuff coming. I’ll leave it there, because I don’t want to give too much away.”
Can you talk about BRSTL? I don’t know how you pronounce it – the label you run with Shanti and Rhythmic Theory. “B-R-S-T-L. Or Borstal as Sam Binga calls it! The name was Rhythmic Theory’s idea – obviously it references the city we live in but it’s also a nod to one of our favourite jungle producers DJ Crystl, and everything that genre has meant to us. We’re really pleased with how that’s gone recently, we’ve got a really good response to some of the things we’ve done. And again that’s very much centred on what we do here in Bristol. The next thing coming up is a 12 from Outboxx, which is a really deep techno thing. After that Shanti’s got another 12 and then we might do something with October or with Jay L, or Samuel. ” So there’s a lot? “There’s quite a lot yeah, but this year everything’s just taking a little bit longer to get out now that vinyl’s cool again. Three years ago, some of the first 12s we did with Kowton – the tunes were made, took it in to master and we had it out within two months, which in an ideal world is what would happen with all releases. Time… Time and everything else just gets in the way. I’m actually thinking about starting another label.” Is this an exclusive? “Yeah! I won’t say too much about that, but it’ll be something completely different from all that as well. Let’s just say I’ve been watching a lot of grime videos recently. Since what you said about vinyl being cool, that was my next question. You’ve expressed a very passionate fervour and favour for vinyl over digital, what’s your take on vinyl in its present state? I’m not going to use the word resurgence, but…
“I mean it’s good. Like everything when there’s something new people rush towards it. So we saw that with the whole computer thing and then people come back from it a little bit and kind of question (it), ‘well hang on, for all we’ve gained what have we lost?’ So I think we’re at that point with vinyl. It’s nice to see people in their early 20s or late teens coming in, really keen about vinyl but even coming up asking ‘I don’t know how to use a record player, how do I put the needle on?’ I don’t have anything against digital music and I think at times vinyl can be fetishised into something it isn’t, but for me it’s a good format to listen to music on and I think sound-system music, music for playing out loud, sounds really good on a good, well cut 12″. Maybe I think too much about this but when you walk in a club, you can hear if someone’s playing vinyl. If someone’s been playing a digital set, and sometimes people don’t take that much care about that, they’re playing these really shitty mp3s, and the next person steps up and plays vinyl, it just sounds great. I mean they might play a shit set! But the sound’s all right. I don’t know if it’s a bit unfair, but I would say a lot of the time with older collectors playing on vinyl, they’ve a different approach to playing music. It’s about finding those rarer bits that people haven’t got. With digital, it’s about playing new upfront stuff. There’s the vinyl culture that goes around it too – there was a record earlier in the year and me, Jay L and my friend Andy Payback, we were all trying to hunt it down, it was a bit of a competition between us all, and I found it! And the week I found it they announced that they were going to do a reissue of it. It was one of these records from the 80s, quite hard to track down. And they reissued it.”
Reissues are a funny one, one of the Record Store Day releases was the Coldcut remix of “Paid In Full”, and you can find it in Tower in Dublin and it’s €20 for a 7″. Not only that, it’s not a true reissue, because it’s not what was on the original release, it’s just two tracks. “Some of these things don’t need reissuing! Definitely some of the Record Store Day things you just wonder why it’s pressed up! Or like you see these guys who are buying 180g Dire Straits records, and you’re like, just go to the fucking charity shop, they’ve got one for 25p.” That’s exactly what Ben Morris said when I tweeted about getting “Paid In Full”, he said you’ll get that for a pound in the charity shop – don’t buy it. “And actually some of these things sound better as well. One of my things is I don’t really like the sound of some of those remasters, they just make them sound like CDs. I think, especially, rock music doesn’t serve being remastered that well, but some of the old 80s dance tracks, when they’re remastered that’s quite a good thing because it means you can play them against modern stuff and they’ve got the punch to really work. But I think rock and jazz loses a bit with all the remastering and shiny packaging and everything.”
Can you tell me a bit about how you DJ? What’s your approach and how do you like to play? “I don’t know, every gig’s different. I love DJing, it is one thing I’ve spent a lot of time on and for years I used to prang myself out about it and think ‘Oh I don’t know if I’m very good’. And then about two three years ago I went: ‘Hang on, I’m actually all right! I’m being booked, I’m playing.” Generally what I do, it’s like the label as well – the thought of playing a two-hour techno set would drive me mad, so I try and incorporate elements of different things and try and get a bit of emotion in there. I quite like playing some vocal tracks as well to create an atmosphere. Sometimes I just like playing records in the pub.”
Does this lead to you playing more ‘warmup’ sets? “I don’t know really! I’m as happy playing warmup sets as I am playing closing sets, and every set is different. I’ve been DJing a long time now so you get a sense of what people might want, but you don’t want to make it too easy for them. Sometimes you go out and you get a crowd and it’s not really working, and there’ll be records in my bag that I’m like, if I play that, it’ll go off. But they don’t deserve it! I could play that but they’re not going to get that. They’re going to have to work a little bit to get that. It’s a cliché, but it is the interaction between yourself and the crowd. Actually sometimes the warmup’s a hard thing to do because if there’s no one there it’s quite hard to get that vibe, because it is about the interplay between you and the audience. I sometimes see these DJs and they turn up and it wouldn’t matter where they were playing, they’d turn up and play that set. I don’t really do that, I try and tailor everything. Me and Joe used to DJ back to back all the time but we don’t really do it so much now, but me and Shanti play together quite a lot. We all come from the same mindset with music.”
To wrap things up, what is your drink of choice? “It changes all the time! I never stick on one thing. But I would say my favourite drug is coffee. That cup of coffee, black, Americano in the morning, is amazing. In terms of alcoholic drinks, I generally drink ale, but I’ve never met an alcoholic drink I don’t like!” And when was the last time you danced? “Last Saturday, when we put on Pender Street Steppers. I’m very into this idea – I like dance music because I like dancing. I’m not ashamed. I’ve got friends who don’t dance at all and I think it’s bizarre. It’s great fun! I love dancing. Not as much as I’d like – this year has been terrible for parties in Bristol so I haven’t danced as much as I’d like to, but the last time I had a bit of a boogie was to Pender Street Steppers last week.”
Words by Aidan Hanratty, 14 October 2014. Leave a comment
For good or ill, techno will be techno. There’s huge space for variation under that umbrella, but for every serious-looking white male photographed in ominous shadows, there seems to be a dozen new different aliases to keep track of. Games Have Rules is the child born of two such men who also share the virtue of experience within the field: Function and Vatican Shadow have both been crafting blistering electronics for many years now, though the latter has collected more monikers and as such is our pick when it comes to techno Scrabble. Vatican Shadow is a relatively recent project of Dominick Fernow’s, hovering around Western intervention in the Middle East, though Fernow’s also been known as Prurient, Window Cleaning By Ian and Dom Guwop. He’s previously ran a record store that had a hand in shaping one of our current favourite noise-makers, Pharmakon, and he’s also responsible for Hospital Productions, the label that Games Have Rules calls home. Then there’s Function, a name of David Sumner’s that released a full-length on Ostgut Ton only last year. Sumner is most notably an alumni of retired collective Sandwell District, a seminal presence in British techno. What with resumés like Sumner’s and Fernow’s, you’d be forgiven for expecting Games Have Rules to proceed with the subtlety and subduedness of a Michael Bay film, though both have proved their deftness and versatility in ambient realms before. This would be one of the first times they’ve had to perform in that vein on such a large scale however, and the pair successfully restrain themselves with great finesse on what turns out to be a soothing stroll through city twilight.
Stream: Function / Vatican Shadow – Things Unknown (Hospital Productions)
Everything about Games Have Rules feels like the city, from its development in New York and Berlin and the Empire State Building on the sleeve to the content of tracks themselves. “Things Known” and “Things Unknown” could pass for field recordings of a sprawling megacity night from the future. Electronic cricket croons and croaks wind in and out of synthetic pulses as rain peppers concrete and traffic passes in the distance. The pair share some motifs and tones but the former is pulse-heavy whilst the latter is fixated on exploring atmospherics. Though the bridge between those two openers is modestly straightforward, transitions seem to be one of the more salient themes explored by Sumner and Fernow on the record: changes inside the pieces, between them and surrounding them as context.
Sumner and Fernow find themselves isolating moments and stretching them out over several minutes on their collaborative album. If tracks don’t seem to go anywhere, it’s because they’ve never attempted to. The pair paint still lifes with their sweepers, and even when the kicks do come in later on in the form of “Red Opium”, the music is a straightforward 4/4 affair that doesn’t serve as the entertainment but rather as an aide for the mind to find its own. Atmospheric pieces that make up most of the album are largely intangible, gently swelling with new textures that seamlessly surface before fading into the overarching soundscape just as effortlessly. It brings to mind the way the chests of the sleeping rise and fall with tranquil delicacy, and Games Have Rules comes across as intentionally attempting to distil that elusive warmth of nighttime solitude. There’s a single instance where Sumner and Fernow push for a more heightened rush of adrenaline, appearing as the final movement “Bejeweled Body”, and their closing gambit proves victorious as the record finishes with a breathless flourish.
Stream: Function / Vatican Shadow – A Year Has Gone By (Hospital Productions)
Some of the tracks appear as partners in sound – the aforementioned introductory pair, “Things Known” and “Things Unknown”, and also “A Year Has Passed” and “A Year Has Gone By”. The direct segues between them initially conjure an illusion of a prequel-sequel relationship (and that model works, too), however it’s more likely that they are simply different ways of understanding the same constants – different paths between points. That brings us to a solitary gripe with the record: sequencing. In Games Have Rules, the water lies still for the most part, but for a few ripples and waves here and there, until the end rumbles the pool and boils it to the point of its acidic outburst. As pleasant as that is the first time round, the record makes for an unbalanced listen. “The Nemesis Flower” sits in the middle of the proceedings and as rivetingly unsettling its eerie submarine radio samples are, they could appear anywhere with little consequence. That said, the artists are clearly focused on mood ahead of narrative with this record and the variety is there, even if it is lopsided.
Whoever wrote the press release for Games Have Rules reckons it has been imbued with “a sense of night turning into day” – that proves accurate considering the contexts we’ve listened to the record in. We’d abstract the sensation further, bringing it into that theme of transition. It’s an album for walks beneath the grey sky, for getting enveloped into the surrounding world or a soundtrack for counting sheep. There’s no static listening experience as the release coaxes the mind to wander, beckoning the imagination out of its cage to make like helium and float the head off somewhere far away. Even the tenth time round and as fans of both Sumner and Fernow’s other works, any sense of unfulfillment seems impossible – experiencing both artists pace themselves and expose facets of their creativity that are usually seen as peripheral is an unexpectedly reassuring adventure. Games Have Rules arrives with impeccable timing, shaking up the discographies of two prolific artists just as nights grow longer and those twilight moments begin to really integrate with all our daily lives. Take it from us – those moments in-between are especially worth looking forward to when Sumner and Fernow are along for the ride.
Stream: Function / Vatican Shadow – Bejeweled Body (Hospital Productions)
Games Have Rules is out now on Hospital Productions in vinyl, CD and digital formats.
Words by Tayyab Amin, 13 October 2014. Leave a comment