Shawn O’Sullivan is one of the more opinionated people in electronic music. On top of that, he has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of little known or recognized strains of music. During our conversation, he referenced his angst filled teenage years and the various types of music that accompanied it; that explains why his music tends to veer toward brooding, borderline thunderous, techno. From gabber to industrial, his taste for sonically destructive forms of music balances his cool composure. Under a variety of alias including Vapauteen, Civil Duty (in conjunction with Beau Wanzer), Further Reductions (with Katie Rose), and his band Led Er Est, he keeps himself more than busy. What’s next for him isn’t entirely clear, but he’s in no way slowing down, musically. His most recent work comes via Anthony Parasole’s fledging imprint, The Corner and New York Staple L.I.E.S. (under Vapauteen.) With numerous collaborations and a few records on the hush hush, we can expect to see his name (or variations of it) crop up more frequently. Below, is an excerpt from our chat. He’s also dusted off a few records and contributed the 79th installment in our Truancy Volume series.
Can you talk a bit about your background? “Keeping the story short, I grew up mostly in the Midwest, Farefield, Iowa. It’s the transcendental meditation town. I started DJing when I was 16. I was an eccentric youth and naturally gravitated toward eccentric and extreme music, so I was into noise, gabber, early industrial, breakcore, and hard acid – basically the most extreme electronic music I could find. That was really what I cut my teeth on – playing noise records to teenagers at the local youth center and terrorizing them until they kicked me off the turntables. I went to Bard College upstate and gradually got into italo, electro, post-punk, wave stuff. I DJ’ed that all throughout college and drank myself stupid; I had been DJing regularly at a bar. Eventually I drank myself out of college and wound up in New York. I met Will Burnett, Ron (Morelli), and all those people at some point over the last decade. Started going to the Wierd party in the mid ‘00s. That was a game changer for me. It was the first time in New York that I had encountered something that felt so new and interesting.”
Being from the Midwest, where did you buy all of these records? “I would go up to Iowa City. There was a record store called Record Collector that I pestered them into stocking some of the records I was looking for. The Midwest in the ‘90s had a really good culture for hardcore techno with the Drop Bass Network scene. All that stuff was just around. I’d order from mail orders and when I went to other cities I would check it out. Going to Strange Records, which used to be in New York, and Sonic Groove.”
What made you want to start making music? “I had always made music since I was a teenager. In college, using a laptop and Max/MSP was it. If you were seriously into electronic music you devoted yourself to the laptop. That was the absolute cutting edge. It took me a long time to realize I didn’t work well on a screen. The big developments for me were: meeting Sam, who I started Led Er Est with, and seeing Sean McBride, Martial Canterel play. Sean put into perspective the possibility of truly live electronic music. That was one of the big things that got me excited about making music again.”
The music of Further Reductions and Led Er Est are sort of in the pop realm, but still dark and has your signature on it. Are you into pop music at all? “With Further Reductions Katie and I met because we both DJ’ed and it has been a platform for us to play around with a slightly different set of influences. She definitely has more of a pop ear and ear for melody than I do. There’s a lot minimal synth and italo influences, some techno and early house influence. We’ve kept our parameters pretty broad. We have a record coming out at some point on Cititrax, the Minimal Wave sublabel. That stuff has some darker techno elements as well as early IDM.” When will that be released? “I have no idea. Katie needs to finish up some vocals on some of them. I don’t know what the schedule is like these days. Hopefully, it’ll be out by the fall.”
What’s the process like with you guys? “Vocals are always recorded afterward and sometimes Katie will overdub a synth part. Generally, it’s the same process – everything recorded pretty much all at once. When you work with other people it’s hard to be as purist. Streamlining your methodology allows you to work a lot faster and that for me is the real key to it. When that methodology becomes a hurdle itself then you have to rethink it. When you’re working with other people it may be hard to get the right take and if you’re recording a song 14 times before the right take then that starts being a hassle.”
When did your Civil Duty project with Beau Wanzer form and what are some of the goals with it? “Beau and I met a long time ago. He would come to New York to come to the Wierd Party and whatever shows. We talked about making music for a while and then we actually got around to it. He works in more or less the same way that I do, which is working as immediately as possible. We speak a similar language in a musical environment. Collaboration with Beau has been very easy and fruitful. We recorded a bunch last fall and that was one of the tracks on The Corner record. We recorded more when I was out in Chicago doing a few Further Reductions gigs with Katie.”
Is there going to be another record with The Corner? “I think we’ll have another 12-inch out next year on The Corner. We need to organize those tracks. Anthony [Parasole] wants to do another Civil Duty record; it’ll just be a 3 or 4 track 12-inch. I’ll also be doing another solo record for The Corner.”
Can you tell us a little bit about your Truancy Volume? “I was going to do a mix of just hard ‘90s techno and acid, Downwards, PCP stuff. I pulled records out to do this. Then I put them aside somewhere and when I went to pick out records again I picked a bunch of contemporary stuff. So there’s a mix of contemporary techno and older stuff. It did come out a little weirder than I expected – it’s pretty scattered and abrasive of course.” It’s a really rugged mix. “There’s a lot of great techno going on these days. That’s one of the reasons I got back into doing proper dance floor stuff. Techno’s in a better space than it’s been for years. Arguably, it’s even better now than during certain periods in the ‘90s.”
Who are some of the artists you rate highly? “Ancient Methods were really the first that I heard who pricked my ears up. I had stopped listening to dance music for years. Everywhere had gotten bad. In the mid to late ‘00s the only interesting things to me were some of Jamal Moss’s music, some of the Dutch stuff – Legowelt, Bunker Records. There was a lot of productive experimentation going on. Anyway, my friend Evan burned me a CD in 2010 with some Traversable Wormhole, Ancient Methods, some Sandwell, and some other contemporary stuff I had slept on. Hearing Ancient Methods was thrilling. For me it evoked the best of the Downwards and British Murder Boys stuff as well as some rhythmic noise and even a little bit of PCP Records. As far as other new stuff, I like most of the stuff on Avian and Perc Trax, Sonic Groove, Milton Bradley’s Acid Rain stuff, there’s lots of good stuff these days really.
Finally, what’s your drink of choice? “Tito’s Vodka.”
Words by Jonathon Alcindor, 11 September 2013. 1 comment
With the gothic pop of WIFE’s “Stoic” EP and Saa’s self-titled EP, one could be forgiven for thinking that left_blank was moving away from the more dancefloor-oriented styles it promoted with its first releases in 2011. One Circle’s “Flight To Forever”, the label’s eighth release, reverses that trend. The EP comes from a triumvirate of Italian producers, Lorenzo Senni, Vaghe Stelle and A:RA, and combines a range of pulsating styles across its six tracks. Oscillating bleeps and swooning synths lead the way on the title track, a sense of lift-off prevailing throughout. Jerking screeches hint at a primitive craft struggling to make it off the ground – the feeling of different types of machinery is one that appears again and again on this EP. A lengthy track, this one seems initially to be lost in the throes of a never-ending series of awkward, triplets that seem stunted and never quite fully play out. Mechanical instruments gurgling in the background add to the sense of anticipation, until this tension is relieved with the arrival of a solid beat, nearly four minutes in. “Delta City”, meanwhile, opens with the sound of a steam engine powering along, with syncopated beats that don’t quite fit standard 4/4 patterns lending the track a disconcerting air, and that’s before the haunting riff that plays like the invasion of an army of robots. Slightly off-pitch droning adds further menace. This is challenging, unsettling listening.
Stream: One Circle – Flight To Forever (left_blank)
A deep, pitched-down vocal groans “Please” on the next track, as a hazy, trance-like wash sits over slow claps and otherworldly sirens hover overhead. It’s the brightest moment on the release, which gives a sense of the sombre atmosphere. “Wipeout” recalls 90s videogames in more than name alone, opening with sounds that recall “Food and Revolutionary Art”-era Carl Craig. That’s until African rhythms kick in and take the jam into space. It’s a proto-trance anthem, skiffling beats and epic synth washes soundtracking your astronautical racing league. The beautifully haunting “3D Immersive” closes the EP proper, with synth riffs that cry with painful yearning over a scuzzy drone that sounds like the rain that’s captured in the appropriately enigmatic video that was released last week. For digital purchasers, however, there’s an additional number that shows an all together different side to the trio. “Kadikoi Terrace” is a tongue-in-cheek refrain, with agonisingly infectious percussion and a bright, spacious chorus section that uses – shockingly – major chords. All the while the droning hum of a flight taking off undercuts this joyous mood, suggesting in a sense the titular journey setting off or coming to a close. You can be the judge. It’s very easy to put out a release with six entirely different tracks for the sake of eclecticism, and it’s just as easy for such a release to suffer on account of its lack of focus or direction. That is far from the case with Flight To Forever. left_blank continues to grow as a label, fostering new talent or providing a space for artists to follow new ventures. One Circle have proven a worthy addition to the label. In an interview with Dazed Digital, which accompanies a beautifully rendered mix, they say they plan to work together again soon, so we await such labours with great fervour.
One Circle – Flight To Forever is out now on left_blank. Buy here.
Words by Aidan Hanratty, 10 September 2013. Leave a comment
Promising young Westside rapper ZMoney belongs to a generation of Chicagoans, raised on dudes like Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, who have mutated swagged-out ATL hip-hop into their own uniquely midwestern strain with its unique marble-mouth flows and roughly pretty autotune hooks. Although his music might sound at home alongside Southside drill rappers, ZMoney is more insolent than misanthropic, more of a rude hornball than a gritty trap rapper. His massive ego and juvenile sense of humor command attention and set him apart from his peers.
ZMoney dropped his first two mixtapes, Heroin Musik and Rich B4 Rap, on the same day earlier this summer. Both tapes are hosted by DJ Hustlenomics and feature a variety of local producers serving up skittery beats that leave plenty of space for the rapper’s big personality. Raised in the wealthy suburb of Olympia Fields, ZMoney came up in North Austin, where he dropped out of high school after his dad was locked up. “My old man was rich as shit,” he brags on “Born In This Shit“, and across both mixtapes, ZMoney presents himself as a someone who grew up around luxury and expects to maintain that lifestyle into adulthood. Getting paid isn’t his goal, it’s his reality. “Don’t you wish you could just wake up and buy everything?” he listlessly drawls on his strongest single “Everything,” as if nothing less could satisfy him. It’s the kind of question only an ambitious rich kid would pose. Materialism is his most consistent theme; most of ZMoney’s songs are about how no one has as much money as he does.
If ZMoney lacks the “hunger” often valued in young, unknown rappers, he also never sounds like he’s rapping because he needs to be, but because he wants to. He just seems to enjoy the activity of rapping, which might be why he sounds so effortless when he delivers puerile zings like “no love for thots, they smell like cocks.” His raps are genuinely fun to listen to, jam-packed with funny hooks that beg to be blasted out of car windows and memed to death on twitter. His weirdo delivery style alternates between mush-mouthed incoherence and nasty, biting punchlines. At times he is deadpan, but often he veers into the hyperemotional whining tones, like a more immature Rich Homie Quan. He manages to find seemingly endless ways to rap about getting paper. He names it (“Ben Franklin”), brags about it (“Flexin”), humble brags about it (“Problem,” “Want My Money”), and makes fun of you for not having it (“Lacking,” “Regular”).
It was a risky move for ZMoney to release his first two mixtapes on the same day. Both tapes are relatively long, creating a relatively inaccessible body of work for new listeners to contend with. Fortunately for ZMoney, his music is so immediate, so hooky and fun, and his mixtapes have far more hits than misses. The large volume of music feels like a gift, not like homework. It’s even more impressive given that ZMoney has only been rapping for a year. His rhyme skills might still improve, but he already has the raw talent and personality to become a breakout star. Afterall, it is ZMoney’s charisma and pop sensibilities that carry what could be a tedious amount of music. Instead, we get two hours of nasty jokes, catchphrase hooks, autotune weirdness and a whole lot of new ways to talk about money.
Italian producer Raw M.T’s self-titled EP, set for release at the end of the month on Ukrainian label Wicked Bass, comprises four serious selections. Wicked Bass have been releasing some hot stuff – we were 100% down for that Innershades EP a few months back, and of course we’re big fans of your boy Huerco S – and this EP does them proud. “Walkman Is Dead” is an exquisite combination of elasticated bass, heavenly synths and guileless percussion which trips its way around Raw M.T’s uptempo dreamscape, whilst “Sara” is an astute marriage of melancholia and buoyant drums. The originals definitely have a persuasive edge of their own, and would be plenty welcome in the mix, but Greg Beato’s remixes steal the show a little on this one. His recent releases on FunkinEven’s Apron Records and L.I.E.S have seen the Miami son putting out cuts that are anything but sunny – his name is already associated with cruel, distorted dancefloor beasts, rather than palm trees and azure waters. Beato’s reimagination of “Walkman Is Dead” empties the track out, stripping it down and saturating each element until it moodily sinks down to earth. But it’s the rework of “Sara” that really gets us going. What kills is how Beato turns the track into a seven minute tease that somehow leaves you satisfied. He takes the silken sadness of the original and beats it into something more bitter but no less tasteful. The delicate hi-hats draw you in, only for you to discover that awaiting you are kicks which live up to their name with a nasty violence. Here, the prettiness of the highs make the lows altogether meaner and more dangerous. But the synths still spiral, and the bass melody which makes an appearance occasionally is pure charm – innocence that finds itself in the wrong place at the right time. This one is diamonds in the dirt, filth that you thank your lucky stars for finding. What’s next, Wicked Bass? We’re yours for the taking.
Stream: Raw M.T – Raw Music Theory [Wicked Bass]
Words by Tabitha Thorlu-Bangura, 06 September 2013. Leave a comment
Glasgow is a city of people with vociferous musical appetites, but there are a few individuals and collectives that excel in particular fields of expertise. The staff at Rubadub are pretty much walking encyclopaedias when it comes to techno, and a night of classic dubstep wouldn’t be complete without a set from one of the Fortified family. But if you want an expert on grime? Look no further than Inkke. Nothing if not multi-talented, the Scottish producer has had stints presenting on both Subcity Radio and Nasty FM, hosts club nights as part of Likwit Fusion and more recently I Hate Fun, and even has a side-hustle as an illustrator. For a while he was known as Jinty, and it was under this name that he earned a reputation as Glasgow’s grime aficionado.
A quick look at his SoundCloud is enough to make you aware of his love affair with grime – a breadcrumb-like trail of its influence on him can be found across his mixes, blends and refixes. But it’s his productions as Inkke, which tap into the sound that our Functions of the Now series hopes to chronicle, that have propelled him into a wider sphere of recognition. His free “Pink Dot” EP from 2011 set the template for his sound: laid-back sketches of grime with just the right amount of darkness. “Sakata Riddim”, available on I Hate Fun’s compilation (also free), was a three minute frenzy of militant syncopated handclaps, with a synth line that splintered and ricocheted like a laser beam through a prism. The ornamental gong percussion even nodded its head to the resurgence of sino-grime. The inclusion of his “L-O-K” on “Grime 2.0“, a compilation which sought to earmark the swell of new producers toying with familiar grime tropes, was the catalyst to his ascension from the River Clyde to bigger waters.
With a selection of hip-hop beats forthcoming on a cassette for Astral Black and his tracks making regular appearances on LuckyMe’s Rinse FM show and Slackk’s monthly mixes, Inkke is in prime position to dominate 2014. With this in mind, we approached him for an interview. He spoke to us about grime’s evolution, Trim, and Aaliyah remix fatigue, and provided a blistering thirty minute mix that crystallises some of the key players in this year’s instrumental grime landscape.
I’d like to talk about Glasgow first. I’ve come to think of Glasgow as a house and techno city, a reputation that often comes at the expense of other genres. Is it frustrating at all to be so tied to a sound (as a fan and as a producer, as a punter and as a promoter), that gets comparatively less spotlight? “There’s always been a lot going on up here club-wise, Glasgow is a really versatile city when it comes to its musical background. Although there is a lot of house and techno about, there have always been smaller nights pushing other stuff they enjoy, purely for the fact that they enjoy it. I wouldn’t say I’m tied to grime in particular, but yeah, there isn’t a lot of it about up here – although when we do a night it can work really well. There are a lot of fans of grime here so if we put on an event then the people that come are totally there for the music.”
I Hate Fun has been responsible for bringing acts like Bloom to Glasgow, as well as inviting local heads to play at parties like Strictly Grime. Can you tell us a little more about I Hate Fun – what it is, your role in it, and the position it holds in Glasgow (and beyond) in pushing the sort of sounds that it champions? “I Hate Fun is a website and a club night; I’m the illustrator for the site and I help run the events. I Hate Fun was basically built to be used as a platform where we could push the stuff we’re into musically – we host guest mixes, interviews and other general music-related stuff. The club night is more of a recent thing but it has been great.” You’ve been interacting with Slackk; any plans for an I Hate Fun x Boxed spectacular? “Haha, no plans as of yet but that would be cool. Maybe we can sort something out for next year.”
Has your distance from London, grime’s nucleus if you will, allowed you an outsider’s perspective as a producer? Strict Face told us in his interview that he felt like there wasn’t so much pressure to fit in or sound too much like a particular thing. Being based in Adelaide, he’s a lot further removed from London than you are, but can you identify with what he’s saying at all? “I guess I probably do have an outsider’s perspective but it’s not something I notice. I’m not trying to fit in with anything, I’m just doing what I’m into. I’m into grime so I make a lot of grime, but I take influence from all over the place. If I was living in London I still think I would be making weird shit.”
For two years you presented Gutter Riddim on Subcity Radio; you also held down a weekly slot on Nasty FM for a while. What sort of vibe did you aim for on either show? “I was just playing music; most times I would be on the decks, or have guest DJs or MCs in. Other times I would just let the music run track to track – no mixing, just let it play. It was another platform to get stuff out there, and it was fun! I think when I first started the show on Subcity I was one of only a select few that was playing grime, and almost exclusively at that, so the show became quite popular. Then I started a show on Nasty – two hours weekly on top of my show at Subcity so it was quite demanding. After about six months of running both shows simultaneously, I ended up taking a step back from both stations to concentrate on my studies.”
How is your mix for us different (if at all) from what you’d play on the radio or in a DJ set? “The majority of my sets are all vinyl; this mix was fully digital. Mixing digital is something that’s pretty new to me but I’ve been sent so much really good music recently that I felt I needed to do something with it.” We were surprised by your choice to keep it free of your own productions; was there a reason for this? “I really didn’t feel the need to, I’m happy the mix pushes the tracks that it does.”
Your tracklist features cuts from many of your contemporaries – the two I’d really like to mention are Strict Face’s “Toxic Gunner Refix” and Murlo’s take on Ashanti’s “Movies”. R&B samples have kind of been done to death in 4×4 house music, why do you think r&b and grime sound so fresh blended together? “I wouldn’t say it’s a new thing. Grime tracks using r&b cuts have been floating about since the start of the genre, it’s just that back then the majority were white label dubs. I think producers and bootleggers just wanted to mix the popular vocal tracks of the time with their underground hits, and it’s probably the same idea nowadays. There totally has been a revival of it recently though, which could be to do with the Night Slugs and Fade To Mind camps pushing that style, but it’s impossible to tell. Everyone’s influences are different. I think sometimes it can work really well and other times it doesn’t; it’s a fine line and some tracks have just been done to death. If I hear another Aaliyah remix I think my head will explode.” Your own “Dilemma” bootleg was featured in Slackk’s August mix; we also saw you mention a “21 Questions” bootleg on Twitter. Can we expect to hear a lil compilation of your bootlegs any time soon? “Haha yeah, I’ve remixed a whole bunch of rap songs from that era. I want to record a mix using just the bootlegs, I’ll call it Millennium Edits or something.” Correct us if we’re wrong, but we’re guessing the DJ Milktray “Hotel” edit that I Hate Fun shared the other week is yours too? “Nah Milktray isn’t me, his bootlegs are rad though. You need to hear some of his original tracks too, they’re so heavy.”
It’d be fair to say you came to prominence with the inclusion of “L-O-K” on Big Dada’s “Grime 2.0″ compilation. The emergence of this new wave of grime has divided fans and critics alike: as someone who seems to be as indebted to old grime as you are invested in its newer echelons, what’s your take on it and where do you consider your work to fit on the grime continuum? “I don’t see how new grime can be a bad thing, if people know what they are doing and if it is actually grime. It does my head in when someone makes a rap beat and calls it grime, because it isn’t – it’s rap. I’m all for evolution in sound but that’s just confused. I’m not sure where my tracks would fit and I don’t really think it’s down to me to decide. I would rather let the listener make up their own mind on that one.”
Stream: Inkke – L-O-K (Big Dada)
You’re pretty much considered one of Glasgow’s authorities on grime; tell us about when the genre first made an impact on you. ” Haha I wouldn’t say that, I’m just into it. There are plenty of other people that have been about longer than me. I’ve always been into fast music, that’s something that dawned on me recently. I was really into jungle and I think I was introduced to grime through that and just found it interesting. Hooked.” What else do you like listening to? “I listen to a lot of different music but recently I’ve been getting into a lot of jazz and dancehall records. The music I listen to definitely influences what I make, even if it’s on a subconscious level.”
With the new wave of grime being largely instrumental, who’re your favourite OG MCs and who would you love to hear over one of your own beats? “Ah that’s a hard one, there’s so many. There was a time when everyone was so hungry and radio sets were huge. I’ve always found that some MCs were better on radio than they were on tracks; there was just a type of energy that you can’t recreate in a studio. I’ve always been a fan of Napper, Shizzle, Bruza, Ivan-O and General LOK, Terminator, Wiley, Flirta, Titch, Esco, Stamina Boy and Dizzee. Crews like Meridian, Ruff Sqwad, SLK, Roll Deep, Macabre Unit and Slew Dem. I would love to work with Trim, I think we could build something really interesting.”
We’ve included you in Functions of the Now because of your ties with grime, but tracks on your SoundCloud like “Enoch Beat” betray a fondness for dusty hip-hop styles too. We hear you have some hip-hop tracks coming out on cassette; what’s the word on that? “Yeah, well I’m a big fan of hip-hop. I make a lot of beats like that, they just don’t get heard as often. I’m putting out this beat tape with Astral Black; it’s a selection of real lo-fi and gritty Memphis style rap beats. The project has been a long time in the making so I’m happy it’s finally coming out. Astral Black is a great label too, I’m really happy to be working with them on this one. The project fits perfectly.” When you’re in the studio do you go in with a grime mindset some days and a hip-hop mindset on others? That is, is it difficult to switch between the two styles or can time in the studio lead you down any path? “Nah, I think if you go in with a certain mindset you’re just limiting yourself. I don’t really have a creative process, sometimes an idea just hits you and you have to get it sketched down as fast as you can. It might sit there untouched for six months while you work on other stuff but I try not to throw away any projects. There’s no point in rushing things if you’re not feeling the inspiration to work on it all the time. If you come back to a project with fresh ears it can do a lot of good.”
You illustrate on the side. Forest Swords said something interesting about how being a designer informs his music in a recent FACT interview: “Because I’m a designer, and I’ve trained as a designer, I quite often think in terms of modular projects.” Can you relate to this at all? Does the creative process when you’re illustrating mirror that of when you’re producing? “It probably does, yeah, just in the way that I work. But again I don’t really notice it. I know that when I first started producing I tried to build up the music the same way I would a painting but things have kind of evolved since then. You end up learning your own methods and just develop on them.” Would you ever be interested in designing your own artwork? “Possibly one day. I think I would rather design someone else’s artwork than my own; I’ve got a lot of ideas that just don’t fit any of my stuff. I do like to hold a lot of creative control when it comes to the artwork for my own releases but I don’t like to get too involved. I would rather work personally with artists, photographers and designers that I really like, and just help direct.”
Finally, what else is on the horizon for you? “I’m working on a set of EPs that should be ready for release early next year. I’ve been holding onto a lot of stuff and I’m really excited to get it out.”