Truancy Volume 87: Opal Block

Opal Block, a self-confessed 1992 obsessive trapped in 2013, has found a home for his first full-length release in Jon Phonics’ Astral Black imprint. Having released music from Phonics and Jaisu, and with a beat tape from Inkke in the works, the label knows a thing or two about how to bridge the gap between hip-hop and electronic music. Enter Tyson, the second in Astral Black’s introductory cassette series, which sees Opal Block combining crunchy hip-hop with swirling rave synths to devastating effect. A more poised affair than last year’s free Warm Up EP, Tyson’s ten tracks span crunk maximalism, cosmic rap joints and blissed-out electronica. Hold tight and read about everything from his shoe size, to his own voice on his forthcoming 12″, before proudly presenting to you our eighty-seventh Truancy Volume.

Stream: Opal Block – Star of David (Astral Black)

Hi! First up, for readers who may be unfamiliar: tell us a little bit about yourself. “Hey hey. If you’re a reader who is unfamiliar with me my name is Pete, I’m nearly six feet tall with blue eyes and I wear a size ten shoe. I have extensive knowledge of hair products and synthesisers and I enjoy soup. I can also use Microsoft Excel and Word to a high standard, I hope that helps. I moonlight under the pseudonyms Pete Cannon and Opal Block. Opal Block gives me a gateway to express my more electronic musical needs. In comparison, when I’m Pete Cannon I rely purely on making hip-hop with big banging drum breaks. I love hip-hop but I’ve been making it for about fifteen years. I’m a music lover and a musician, not just a beatmaker, so naturally I love to experiment and get as far outside the oblong as possible – hence the introduction of Opal Block.”

Last year you dropped the free Warm Up EP on Bandcamp, with the promise that your debut release was to follow on Prism. Are you able to tell us why that never materialised? “I still have a release coming with Prism, I guess it’s just the way these things pan out with release schedules and PR. I must big up Prism though, it shall materialise. Astral Black and Prism are fam.”

The main difference I noticed between Warm Up and Tyson is how boisterous and energetic the former is. Tyson seems so laid-back in comparison – especially in its darker, more contemplative moments. Can you talk us through how your influences and production methods have changed over time? “You know what? I sometimes look back through the music I’ve made over a year and I do see patterns. I suffer from rave nostalgia (it’s pretty serious you know, ha) and I wish it was 1992 about once a month. Having such an eclectic taste in music and an extensive record collection means my mind becomes a wash of excitement whether I’m listening to Sonny Rollins, James Blake or obscure gangsta rap. As my influences develop, I’d hope my skills and productions do too. Our experiences are our reality so as obvious as it is my music is a reflection of myself, which means it’s quite all over the place. It’s me being pretty much unapologetically me.”

Despite the divergence of genres that can be heard on Tyson, the tracks fit together very cohesively. Did you create Tyson with the album structure in mind? “Jon Phonics, the label owner, helped me with this. We’ve always traded music. With this it was just a case of sending Jon loads of tunes I was happy with and then him going through it and whittling it down to create something coherent. As I said before it’s more about matching my patterns and cycles of production. We didn’t just want a mish-mash of stuff, that’s for sure.”

Tyson is being released as part of Astral Black’s cassette series. How did your relationship with Astral Black come about? “As I say Jon is the label owner and me and him go back. We met in the UK hip-hop scene and I was instantly drawn to him because he was a bit of a sarcastic fucker, he looked like me, loved synths and was a dab hand with the beats. I feel like through the whole Louis Den beatmaking society (where I met Jon), a lot of producers would meet up and vibe together. I bloody loved it. There was so much talent and diversity; it was just a cross-pollination cauldron of music where we all developed. With that development we all took an interest in many forms of electronic music (not just hip-hop), and with that we wanted to express and explore different roots. In comes Astral Black.” I noticed you were responsible for mastering the Jaisu release; how involved with the label are you? “I help out with the mixing and mastering side of things for the label. I wanted to be part of the team so I offered my services to be down. I’ll be mixing and mastering the next release by Inkke as well. Jaisu smashed it though with A Short Album, go cop that if you haven’t. “

Can you tell us about your personal relationship with the cassette format and what is it that draws you to tapes? “Wow, okay. I told you I’m a big fan of the early 90s rave scene. Growing up for me was pretty much making music on an Amiga and buying new tape packs every week. It came to a point where I had thousands of the things in my house, and I still have a Walkman and a tape deck in the studio. I remember I could dub a whole 8 tape pack in a night on my dad’s stereo if I did it on high speed dubbing. Then I could go to school and sneak the headphones up my blazer and listen to the music through class, great times! We’ve seen a revival of the tape as it is a cheaper means for artists to produce something that is a tangible bit of art. Many are making handmade covers, numbering the tapes individually and getting the product out there themselves. It feels, to use a shit word, real. I mean this release is on orange tape – that’s cool as fuck, right?”

Stream: Submotion Orchestra – Blind Spot (Opal Block Remix)

You did a remix of Submotion Orchestra’s “Blind Spot” a while ago and managed to create something that was pretty distinct from the source material. How did you approach the remix? “I know Fatty, the bass player from Submotion. We lived together at music college, he used to make Marmite and cereal toasties. He hooked me up with the parts for the track; when you get stems like that it’s easy. The ideas just start running round your head and you’re almost tripping over yourself to get your thoughts out into the sequencer. I based it around the keys’ parts and the manipulation of the vocal. I wanted something smooth to fit with the band’s dynamic and for it to be a little bit cheeky, that’s when that bassline comes in. Anyway myself and Fatty have been making other music so watch out…”

Do you play live at all? If so, talk us through your live show. If not: why not, and is it something you’d like to explore in the future? “Basically I’ve played out live many times but with electronic music it’s about how deep you want to go. In future I plan to incorporate the talk box a lot more and use the APC40 again. I also want to take the Sequential Circuits Pro One on the road, it’s just so powerful. I think using a mixture of the digital and analogue helps to stand out when playing live. I just need to put together a new set which I will be doing soon.”

Tell us about your Truancy volume. How did making it differ (if at all) from how you would handle a club set? What’s the ideal listening environment for the mix? “In a club, with Traktor or Serato and a hard drive full of music, you can read where you need to go – depending on the crowd, of course. The ideal environment for this mix is seven o’clock on a Friday night with your first drink.” What makes a good DJ set for you, and what DJs have you vibed to recently? “Being able to read the crowd and build a set; I love a good house set that can keep you interested for hours. I’ve been to Ibiza so many times, I love it there. It’s the DJs that can hold you right at the front and make you not want to leave. I saw some great stuff at Outlook too, I loved the daytime sets on the beach especially. All those DJs matched the mood perfectly to the time of day.”

You’re originally from Blackpool but now reside in Manchester; what inspired the move? What’s your impression of either area and what role have they both played in the development of your sound? “I also lived in Leeds when I studied music production at the College of Music. I loved it there, it was just a whole host of music heads vibing all day. There would be live performances in the uni bar every lunchtime and then it was over to The Wardrobe for a pint to watch more music in between class. Blackpool didn’t and doesn’t offer too much except cheesy clubs, but it was an incredible introduction to record collecting for me as they had some great shops. My dad is a huge vinyl fan so we would go around all the car boots and buy hundreds of records a week. I also lived in Bristol and Bath, and am often in London. I live thirty minutes down the road from Manchester but damn, I love it there. It has a great scene for hip-hop and electronic music. I guess the influence comes with the people I meet there and Manny has a great host of influential promoters and musicians.”

Whenever I speak to Manchester-based artists I always marvel that there can be such a healthy club scene in spite of Warehouse Project, which I’d always assumed held a monopoly over other promoters. Warehouse Project will be taking a backseat next year; how do you see this impacting the rest of Manchester’s clubbing community? “The Warehouse is incredible, some of the line-ups they put on are like mini festivals. I’m aware that there is a bit of a monopoly and that it really isn’t for everyone. I love it but might only get to a couple in a season due to the expense. It can’t be every genre under the sun every night but Manny is a big place and there are other wicked nights out there. Perhaps it’s an obvious thing to say, but next year we may see a few smaller nights expanding. Where would you recommend in Manchester for dancing? “Will Not Be Televised for hip-hop, Hit & Run and Hoya:Hoya for your electronic needs, and if you fancy entering a rap cypher get to In The Loop.”

You’ve got a 12” vinyl release due on Astral Black in 2014. How is that coming along and what can we expect from the record? “It’s in its infant stages but I’m planning on doing a lot more singing. I’m not the world’s greatest singer but I feel with the right amount of emotion I can hit the ideas home. Oh and more talk box.”

Thanks for talking to us! Obligatory final questions: what’s your drink of choice, and when was the last time you danced? “Spiced rum, fiery ginger beer, 2 segments of lime in a rocks glass with two small thin straws: bosh. With regards to my dancing, that would have to be in the shower playing “Ready to Die” by Biggie off the Fisher-Price turntable about an hour ago.”

Truancy Volume 87: Opal Block by TRUANTS

Ludovico Einaudi – I Giorni
Kaytranada – At All
Stefano Esposito – Frog Pond (Original Mix)
Chris Malenchek – So Good To Me (EJECA Remix)
Ian Dury – Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt. 3
Lone – Airglow Fires
Cashmere Cat – Kiss Kiss
Homeboy Sandman – The Carpenter
Opal Block – If
Jon Phonics – Bruck Out
Opal Block – An Ode To Jon
Evil Needle – Vibin
IAMNOBODI – Thankful
Pomrad – Dwang
Opal Block – Lower 5th
Opal Block – Kickin The Moon Across The Aky
Morrissey – One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell

Sophie Kindreich