Functions of the Now I: Strict Face

It’s often said that grime is an unfinished project, its untimely jolt into the mainstream cutting short the intense burst of creativity that characterised the style’s ‘golden age’. In 2013 a whole host of producers have taken it upon themselves to finish off the job, rearranging grime’s molecules to suit the ears and minds of 2013. Most will feature on Slackk‘s monthly mixtapes or the Keysound Rinse slot — these platforms, the beating heart of the sound, will give you a better introduction than we ever could. On these shows you’ll hear grime’s open mind tangibly expanding, its arms reaching further and further afield in its embrace. But, intertwined with this, you’ll also hear a backbone of over twenty years of British dance history and culture propelling the wave forward. This ghost appears not to haunt, as the ‘nuum generals have it, but to reinvigorate, as Strict Face, whose mix will kick off this series, says: “While a lot of the OG stuff is definitely seminal and timeless, I think the new wave more or less is in a good space of its own. There’s enough energy bouncing off each other and healthy contributions for it to stand on its own feet alongside the first wave of grime.” That is to say, the current crop of producers exists within the hardcore continuum, but they also visibly exist in the American and European dance continuums, the virtual continuum (which may not be so much of a continuum as a network, spanning witch house, h-pop, chillwave, seapunk, vapor wave etc) and all the other ‘continuums’ the internet proffers us. We mustn’t forget the Night Slugs and Fade To Mind crews whose output in their post-Classical Curves soundscape continues to shock clubs worldwide and whose bootleg steez matchmade grime’s blossoming relationship with American sounds. This particular mixture of past and future makes for a potent concoction, one that has sent many a Truant stumbling and slurring their words into the night. In this series we’ll try to sober up, zero in on the burst of creativity happening at the moment and have a listen to some producers working within new spaces in grime.

A major shift has been grime taking flight from Bow and consequently receiving some intriguing responses. Testament to this is the genre reaching Australia’s far-off shores and catalysing its own crop of producers. There are veterans like Juzlo (his recent Big Dada mix showcases many of the country’s best producers), chameleons like Sydney’s Dro Carey, icey eski from Perth’s Dellity and mikemidnight and harder, dubbier sounds from Melbourne-based Arctic. Another excellent expression of UK sounds is the Templar Sound label which has moved outwardly from its solid foundations in grime to encompass a wide variety of club tropes (NB: check an incredible 3 tracker from Templar signee, Mokonahere and look forward to a forthcoming 12 with Rapid).

With all this in mind, where better to start than a quiet Australian city known better for its tasty shiraz and churches than its brooding squarewaves? Adelaide’s Strict Face first appeared with the “Buss Mi Gunz” EP with Drippin’, a roughneck vocal onslaught that was a sign of what was to come for both producers, before straightening out on a 4/4 flex on the “Vanilla Pattern” EP. Recently, Strict Face has focused on synth-heavy, symphonic, futuristic grime that slots in with the darker sound that many Keysound artists are exploring. His free Birthday Riddims EPs survey similar territory, if more churning and rough than cosmic. Highlights for us, however, came in the form of swooping bangers like “B Riddim“, the mammoth, gates-of-heaven synths of “Highbury Skyline“, and a solemn collaboration with the UK’s Chemist.

Strict Face’s mix embodies the worldly approach, with the first track revealingly marrying ballroom’s hard, skipping kicks and cathartic Ha crash with the dismembered spectre of the classic Rhythm n Gash vocal. With one foot in the club and one in the sky, one in the past and one in the future, Strict Face reveals the many faces of the 2013 sound. No tracklist for now, just let the new wave wash over you. He was also kind enough to sit down for a quick chat with us.

So first up, where’s your head at, musically speaking, at the moment? “It’s kind of in two different worlds, so to speak, which I’m really happy about. I’m not usually one to throw genres around too much, but one half of it’s in this sort of dystopian, incisive “club/grimy” environment, which most people have probably heard compared to the other side, which is this romantic, sorta frozen/astral melodic territory. I think where I’m at right now is a lot better than where my head was at a year or so ago. The two worlds kind of link up with each other as well at times, which also helps, I guess.”

Can you tell us a little bit about what’s going on down in Adelaide generally? “At the moment, there’s a lot of love for old school house and techno going on in the city, which makes sense since Adelaide was a central hub for those two genres back in the 80s and 90s with guys like HMC. HMC’s been playing out a lot more since people started getting back into his stuff again, and there’s guys like the UNTZZ crew, the carter bros. and 12” phildo who are putting out some cool stuff as well. There’s a small dubstep contingent of sorts as well, which is slowly starting to grow alongside the DnB and jungle crowds. There’s a few producers who are making some sick stuff, like Gunda G and inuk, and there’s a small but devoted crowd who support each other throughout the DnB and dubstep gigs that happen in Adelaide. Those two things are pretty much what fuels the Adelaide club scene if you leave out all the big room/chillout/jump-up hardstyle/cringeworthy electro stuff which also factors into the nightlife here.”

After hearing some of your recent stuff, would I be right in saying you are looking outside of the club at the moment? “Yeah, I think that’s partially because I’ve never gotten to play much inside a club, so that environment hasn’t really influenced the way I view production as much compared to other producers. There isn’t much of an audience for the kind of stuff I’m into in Adelaide compared to Melbourne or Sydney either, so I suppose it’s easy to get away with it.” I was wondering about how else Australia might effect your music. Coming at grime from that outsider perspective, I feel as though it frees you up from the more restrictive aspects of being part of a scene. “Yeah, definitely! I think there’s not as much pressure on me to ‘fit in’ or sound like too much of a particular thing. It wasn’t as easy a year or so ago when the ‘Vanilla Pattern’ EP came out though, because people thought I was going to stick with the house stuff, when it was kind of the opposite. Looking back on it, though, I think it’s more challenging to make something that doesn’t stick itself to a particular scene here, which is more refreshing in the long run. I’d been making grimier stuff around the same time I first made ‘Vanilla Pattern’ which didn’t get as much attention, so that kind of perception based around scenes and sounds kind of stuck with me for a little while.”

Why do you think there’s been such a creative burst in grime and what draws you to the sound at this particular point in time? “I’ve kind of been within that zone from the start, really. I think what drew me to the sound when I got into it was how stark and heavy it was in its balance of silence and bursts of sound, which connected to the stuff i was listening to as a teen. Listening to Wiley and Ruff Sqwad’s instrumentals for the first time were mindblowing enough… Just how they managed to toe the fine line between atonality and that kind of top 40-worthy melody material.” Word man, those melodies! Tell us about some of the stuff you were listening to back then and does that still inform part of what you are doing at the moment? “I was heavily into minimalist/avant-garde stuff and hip-hop back then. Stuff like Timbaland’s instrumentals were an absolute mindfuck when listening to them paired with, say, Missy Elliott or Aaliyah’s voice. Wu-Tang’s a bit of a no-brainer, but their production approach was definitely an eye-opener as well. I was sort of into avant-garde stuff before I’d opened myself up to rap, but pieces like Gavin Bryar’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” were pretty seminal too. I think it was kind of how they used structure or little banal details and samples to augment the sound that got to me. I’d say they definitely influence how I view production to this day.”

Tell us about you interactions with the Keysound family. Do you feel a certain unity between producers and, for you, what are the ideas driving the sound forward? “My relationship with Keysound’s fairly recent, though I’d known of some of the names beforehand and had tuned into some of their Rinse shows prior. Moleskin suggested I send some stuff to Blackdown a few months ago. I was a little wary about it because that kind of process was hit-and-miss in the past, though that comes with starting off as a producer. I was pretty psyched when I found out he liked some of my stuff though, so I guess it wasn’t all in vain. I definitely feel a sort of unity between some of the producers, like rabit and moleskin, though guys like wen and EMMA are absolutely nailing it as well. I think the fact that the sounds are based more on a vibe or aren’t totally rooted in a certain genre/movement kind of drives it forward. Like, little pieces of UK club music and stuff beyond that that kind of converge into one, but without the obligatory pigeonholing that comes with it.” Yeah absolutely, it’s been amazing to see that vibe develop.How do you think that vibe ties in with the OG stuff? “I guess my sound kind of tips its hat to the OGs at times. Stuff like the Black Ops Crew, Bossman, and Hindzy D in addition to the obvious ones… but as a few people have said in the past, it’s important not to stay rooted in the old-school stuff, which I agree with. While a lot of the OG stuff is definitely seminal and timeless, I think the new wave more or less is in a good space of its own. There’s enough energy bouncing off each other and healthy contributions for it to stand on its own feet alongside the first wave of grime, I think. It’s kind of like the next progression, paying homage to the forefathers but also moving beyond that.”

You’ve also been championed by Slackk recently, and I’m feeling a lot of your more symphonic, synth-heavy stuff of late complimenting his sino-lean nicely. Where is that synth sound coming from for you? “The synth sound more or less stems from listening to a lot of pop music as a kid, haha. I went through a phase of listening to OMD and New Order constantly during my last year of high school as well, so that rubbed off on me heavily. It’s one of those things I look at from beyond the club.”

Tell us about some of the things you’re working on at the moment, what’s in the kitchen for the rest of the year? “I’ve got a few collaborations in the works… there’s one with Moleskin and a three-way one with Arctic, Dellity and possibly Juzlo as well so far, though there’s a couple more in the works as well. I’m working on material for an EP or two as well, though it’s early days on that front. By the year’s end you’ll hear the third instalment of the Birthday Riddims EP and a remix I did for Tony Phorse is coming out on the District Sound label in September. I’ve got a track slated for release later this year on a label called block24 in addition to the EP I’ve got in the works for another label.”

Functions of the Now: Strict Face by TRUANTS

Artwork Credit: Joseph Jackson

Tobias Shine

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